I hate to say it, but Deutsche Bahn has just made getting to Paris even quicker, with a train that goes Berlin-Frankfurt, from which you transfer to a Frankfurt-Paris (Gare de l'Est) train on DB that gets you there 15 minutes or so quicker, not to mention that you don't have to ride the Thalys, the Belgian/French/Dutch high-speed train which I've always found dark and cramped. Plus, there's apparently some deal going with DB that gets you first class for something like €20 more round-trip, which I sure took advantage of. They even serve you a free meal which wouldn't be out of place on an airplane, but hey, it's free.
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As always, there was more to do in Austin than listen to music and eat. The Harry Ransom Center on the UT campus was hosting an exhibition called On The Road With the Beats, which I couldn't wait to see. The center of the thing (although it's displayed right as you walk in) is 48 feet of the original, unparagraphed, manuscript of On the Road, which Jack Kerouac famously wrote on a roll of teletype paper. Even though I get more ambiguous in my feelings about this book as I get older, it's still a part of every American counter-culturist's heritage, and it's an incredible thing to actually see it stretched out like that. The exhibition is text-heavy, and you're going to have to do a lot of reading if you're really going to get into it. It's also very fair, including the Los Angeles scene, and such supposedly minor figures as Ted Joans. There's posters for Beatsploitation films, photos (although not enough) by Allen Ginsberg, and much, much more. I kind of raced through it because I didn't have much time, but it's worth devoting an afternoon to if you have any feeling at all for this period of history.
Even better, next door to it is a show devoted to the undeservedly obscure artist Jess, who was a modern master of collage inspired originally by Max Ernst. You may know him from his Tricky Cad cutups of Dick Tracy comics, which got him sued, but which are often cited as important precursors of Pop Art, or, if you're into poetry, you may know him as Robert Duncan's partner (they had a wedding ceremony in 1951, which sure was ahead of the curve), who provided art for many of his books. I'd never seen much of his stuff, and was very impressed by the show.
I just noticed that the Beats show is up through the beginning of August but the Jess show closes soon, so if you're in Austin, get down there! I'm glad I did.
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There was all the music at SXSW, and then there was the best music I heard in Austin. That was on a pirate radio station I found somewhere in the middle of the FM dial (hmmm, it seemed like a familiar frequency, somehow), which brought back all the joys of free-form radio I used to listen to -- and use to discover new stuff -- back in the early '70s before consultants brought their heavy boots down on the radio industry and utterly ruined it. Oh, sure, there was stuff I didn't much like -- '50s pop a la Rosemary Clooney, one evening that seemed heavy on handbag house, some heavy-handed comedy -- but that's the way free-form radio works. At one point, a guy's voice came on and said something like "You are listening to an illegal radio station. See that cop over there? He's part of the control for this sector. Immediately change your dial to a commercial radio station. Listen carefully to the ads, and then buy everything you hear advertised. You'll feel a lot better." The signal doesn't always come in clearly -- in fact, sometimes the station's off the air for a few hours -- but in central and south Austin it usually sounds pretty good. The big problem is not knowing what you're hearing. I heard a couple of tunes by artists I'd like to investigate further, but with no DJ to announce them, I can't tell you who they were. But I sure like that rebels out there are defying overdetermined radio, and risking their necks to do so. Whoever's behind this has good taste in music and one hell of a record collection. Long may it wave!
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From Austin, I flew to Newark, changed planes, flew to Paris, and then went to the TGV train station inside the airport, waited two hours, and got on a direct train to Montpellier. I was one cripsy critter when I got there, in part because Continental Airlines now offers some 350 movies on demand and I watched a couple of them instead of sleeping, which would have been a far better idea. But the hotel I stayed at has great beds, and I was able to nap and begin conquering my jet-lag immediately.
The idea of going to Montpellier directly after Austin was to find students who'd be leaving their large, cheap places this summer, talk to their landlords, and get a reservation to move into one if I found one I liked.
Unfortunately, I looked at exactly zero apartments. Apparently, there was a student strike last year, which means that many students won't be vacating until mid-June instead of May, like usual. This means that I'm going to have to go down there again, and that timing will be crucial, since school will undoubtedly start up again in August. Fortunately, though, I seem to be developing a great network of folks down there who'll help me look. Some of them, like Marie the translator and of course Bart (go ahead, click the link; he only gets 6000 hits a day, as opposed to my maybe 100 on a good day, not that I'm jealous or anything), I know from blogs. Others I met through Bart's friends at the Bar Vert Anglais, which is a friendly spot. Others I met randomly through friends. I'm a great believer in networks, so I really hope I get results with this one.
Of course, moving means raising around €3000 between now and the first of June. I'm not at all sure how I'm going to do this. I was hoping to sell my old guitar in Austin, but it proved to need too much renovation to make this practicable at the moment. Now I'm just praying that some work will come over the transom, and that, at long last, I can say good-bye to Berlin.
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Of course, I'm back now, and it doesn't look so bad now that spring is beginning. But I got a potent reminder of where I am the very night I returned. Walking back to my building after going out for dinner, I passed a ground-floor apartment. On the wall was a huge poster edged in black, with the scowling face of Kurt Cobain on it. Beneath the photo were the words, written in huge capital letters "I HATE MYSELF AND I WANT TO DIE." Just what I'd want in my living room, I'm sure.
Yup, I'm back in Fun City, all right.