Friday, November 30, 2007

Malade en France

Greetings from the Toulouse airport where our EasyJet flight to Paris has just been delayed, allowing me to buy a quick WiFi session. The first two dates of the French tour have been a mixed bag -- Wednesday night in Bordeaux, I had the job of kicking off the night at midnight, directly after a hip-hop/reggae/drum 'n' bass fusion kind of combo, so I bore the brunt of the stand-and-stare-with-arms-folded crowd, and I'm not really sure what French people like to be honest. Cheese. And I thought I played enough of it! The set went okay I guess but I like to have a more dynamic kind of audience experience and like to see more people dancing, but again, it was the nature of the gig I think. In Toulouse last night we had more of a club environment but I had to DJ so late there wasn't much of a crowd left. Of course, DJ Moule and DJ Zebra are carting along their guitar and bass so of course they're the rock stars on this tour, and I'm just, you know, the American mascot. Assuming we make it to Paris, the gig is kind of early tonight, 6-10pm, and I kick it off at 6:30 which I assume is the moment of least pressure (or least attendance) but I'm still a bit worried -- the French gigs have been the toughest of the tour. What I wouldn't give for Warsaw right now!!

Also I'm still pretty ill, so if anybody knows of any secret cures for the flu, I'm honestly willing to try anything. How does so much gunk come out of one man's sinuses?!

Not to complain. I guess I'm complaining. Sorry. I suppose it's all about expectations -- I approached Poland and Germany with like zero expectations and so of course they exceeded them. France, honestly, I was hoping you'd be a little nicer.

But in any event a lot of the French crew I know will be at the Paris gig tonight, and of course it's an incredible honor just being included. I just wish I didn't have a bright red nose for what is apparently a 4-camera video system to capture...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Munich Pictures...

...are here.

Thoughts on France

First of all, let me just establish that I'm pretty ill, actually miserably so, with a painful hacking cough and a runny nose that's used up most of the tissues in DJ Zebra's house. While I'm thankful this has come on at a point in the tour when I have a free day (and don't have to travel) it does suck to be sick at someone else's house. You feel like a disgusting bag of germs and you can't exactly give your kind hosts a break from your face by taking a long walk in the cold. Plus, there's Paris out there which would be nice to see, but again thankfully I have a few extra days planned at the end of the tour next week for sightseeing. While I'll probably miss today's interview with France's international radio channel, my main concern is feeling better by tomorrow when we have to take off for Bordeaux. Apparently one can secure antibiotics without a prescription in France so we might try that later today. Anyway, sorry Zebra (and Zebra's family) and sorry anybody who wanted to hear my terrible attempts at speaking French on the radio today.

Speaking of Zebra's family, my French lessons were put to an unexpected test upon arrival here Sunday night when I came into the apartment to discover Zebra's parents, here for dinner. They were of course incredibly gracious about my bumbling French but wanted to know all about San Francisco and the presidential candidates and stuff, and I realized sadly that I don't really know how to say "Kucinich saw UFOs at Shirley MaClaine's house." During dinner, the TV was on, and a couple things kind of threw me that I couldn't really express at the time: one, the weather came on during the newscast and everyone turned to see what conditions would look like for the tour. What I was noticing, however, was the weather lady had on the skimpiest black silky cocktail party dress and makeup and hair done up like for an awards show. She'd pose dramatically (seductively, even) as she pointed at the maps: "sunny and 10 degrees celsius in the south of France Thursday, mon cherie." Later, a movie came on and at one point I look up to see a naked old man in complete full frontal display who has apparently walked in on a young couple in bed accidentally. Nobody at the table batted an eyelash.

My dad woke me up at 2am to alert me to a new round of French riots, and yes, apparently two teenagers drove a motorbike at high speed into a police car (an unlicensed bike, and without helmets) last night in the northern suburbs of Paris and were killed; people in the area have some hazy accusations that the police didn't do enough to help the kids or something, but most reports are saying they were aiming right for the police car. Not to be unsympathetic to the racism and xenophobia faced by France's ethnic and relligious minorities, but it just seems like setting the McDonalds on fire after something like this doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But, you're angry and feel powerless, so what do you do, I guess. Anyway, it's all very far away from here so nobody worry about me, and I promise that if I feel like setting a McDonalds on fire I'll wait til I'm home.

Monday, November 26, 2007

More Stuff About Munich and Sausage

Left: sausage breakfast with the guys

Finally: a second to sit down. I'm here on Air Berlin's cheap-ass flight from Munich to Paris—I think it was $60, and I only booked it like a month ago—and it's the first second I've had of relative calm in about 30 hours. That last post below was written in a hurry in the last 15 minutes before we had to leave for the airport, and the drive was kind of hilarious: Comar's flight was leaving at 4pm and mine was scheduled for 5pm, so we just went together, but of course we were running late and Munich's airport is a bit of a ways outside the city (make a note of that if you're traveling—45 minutes by train, 30+ by car). And you know how everything goes wrong when you're in a hurry? Well, first, Alex (DJ Bootox) had forgotten to get gas so we were way below the red line, and even his well-engineered VW wouldn't have made it. We stopped for gas, and when we went to get back on the autobahn, I noticed something odd: were we on the right onramp? Nope, Alex had taken the wrong turn and aimed us right back at Munich. Plus those autobahns don't have a ton of exits and turnaround points, dontcha know. It actually turned kind of good for me since where we eventually turned around was the exit for the new Allianz stadium, a bit of an architectural marvel that changes colors depending on the team playing--red, white or blue. When we drove in last night in the misty rain, the whole sky was glowing red in the distance and I was like, "what's on fire? Austria?" But no, it was just the stadium, switched on because the soccer team was playing, bright red lights turning it into a kind of giant glowing spaceship.

In fact, I saw lots of interesting architecture in passing from the autobahn: of course there's the Olympic stadium and grounds (anybody see that Munich movie?) and the BMW World center, a sci-fi-looking thing whose massive roof appears to float over huge glass windows, sending off a tendril-like bridge that spirals down and expands into a weirdly organic entrance. And yes, the autobahn is speed limit-free in parts: I noticed the speed limit signs (light-up LED screens over each individual lane, of course) said "120" at points (that's km/hr) and then later would say "120" with a line through it. I asked if that meant the speed was lower now and they said no, that's where the no-speed-limit zone begins. Apparently Germany is planning to impose country-wide speed limits within the next couple years--interestingly enough, for environmental reasons.

Right: In Germany, mustard comes in tubes

At the airport, I got a sandwich and a tea at the only snack bar in the gate area, and of course everyone is getting big mugs of beer. When I ordered tea the woman looked at me with a mixture of shock, pity, and disgust, and asked me what I assumed was something like "are you from the planet Pluto, where beer is poison, because otherwise there is no excuse not to imbibe our Hofbrau and you have deeply insulted our country and will not be allowed back." I gestured half-heartedly at my scratchy throat and sniffled a little, but she just shook her head and threw a teabag in a cup.

Anyway, I can't emphasize enough how awesome the Munich party was, and while I know the list of DJ names involved sounds kind of like a sci-fi villain convention (Bootox! Schmolli! Morgoth! Comar the Barbarian!) they were all really fantastic. I expected as much from the latter three since I'm familiar with their mashups, but Bootox I'd never heard spin and his wacky EQing and segue-ing reminded me of my own goofball style. Huge thanks to them and everybody involved and all the mad Germans who came out.

Coming up, France...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

München ist Verrückt

Left: the early crowd at Bootie Munich

Grüß Gott (good day) from München, where the beer and the Bavarian pride is as strong as ever. I'm recovering from Bootie Munich last night which was completely insane, and I was unfortunately unable to enjoy it as much (and as long) as everyone else since I've finally succumbed to the dreaded cold I'd been afraid I would catch. Cough.

But let's begin back in Liege, Belgium on Friday night where the Soundstation was one of the most professional clubs I've ever worked with. It's an old train station and every once in a while a train will rumble over on tracks that are directly above what's now the club's entrance. The dressing room is perched three rickety flights of stairs above the main room, and evidence of the building's old purpose is everywhere. It's more of a performance venue, unfortunately for me, since I prefer to be in a DJ booth and don't like being up on a huge high stage with bright lights on me, but my co-DJ Zebra revels in the limelight, and during his headlining set before mine from 12-2am, he jumped around the stage and sang along with his (mostly French) tracks. I'm not that kind of DJ, plus I don't speak French well enough to shout cool stuff at the crowd. It was a little rough, since even during Zebra's set the uber-hip young Belgians were more interested in standing and nodding than dancing around—honestly, it was a kind of rock-feeling venue so that's what people do. So my set from 2-4am was a little less interesting to watch but hopefully interesting to hear, and surprisingly there were Party Ben fans in the audience requesting some of my mashups, which ended up helping me out since I would have forgotten to play "Walking With a Ghost in Paris." My camera died right as we'd arrived at the club so of course I don't have any pictures but a lot of people there had cameras so I'm sure some will turn up. Anyway, we headed back to the hotel (the adequate Liege Holiday Inn) around 5, where I slept three hours, and then it was time to get up and head back to the train station.

The Thalys train wound through the frost-dusted Belgian and German hills for about 90 minutes until we were back in Koln, and then I headed out to the airport for the flight to Munich. Bootie Munich was put together by a couple crazy German dudes, and I'd like to reiterate that none of us at Bootie in SF have necessarily pursued the international "franchises;" Booties Paris and Munich came to Adrian & Mysterious D to see about starting their own versions of what I guess is our now-legendary club in the Bay Area. So these guys are, shall we say, wildly enthusiastic. I was in town with just enough time to go to dinner and experience the real German beer hall: the Augustiner, one of the oldest such establishments in Munich, and one which is apparently off the beaten track enough to avoid most tourists. The place was cavernous and completely jammed with beer-swilling, pork-knuckle-devouring Bavarians. Solidly-built women would barrel through the crowd with trays filled with giant mugs of the eponymous lager, and if you happened to inch even slightly into their path they would just shove you out of the way with a guttural shout of "Auf d'seitn!" ("off the side!"). It was, in a word, awesome, and the pork knuckle and dumpling was melt-in-your-mouth fantastic.

But soon enough it was time to head over to the Munich club, located in a kind of complex of night spots out by the train station, with about 30 or 40 bars and clubs all in the same zone. We still weren't sure when (or if) people would show up, but by about midnight the place was pretty jammed, with some of the attendees tracking me down to let me know they'd driven in from different places just to see me, which was of course humbling. It was a hopping party with a great crowd and tasty drinks, but I had started to feel under the weather on the train to Koln and was both exhausted and somewhat ill at the club. I actually felt terrible but didn't want to worry the promoters or let down all the fans so I was trying to put on a good face, and I sucked down "Cobras," the local version of Red Bull, to try and wake up, a bargain with the devil since I knew I'd feel worse the next day but what are you going to do? Thankfully, whether it was the caffeine or the infectious energy of the crowd, I jumped back into the old routine, running out of the back room with my light saber and Jedi robe and giving the crowd a " Grüß Gott" and my typical silly intro which I'd memorized in what I'm sure was barely-comprehensible German. The crowd went nuts and only proceeded to get crazier: Germans are completely insane! Fellow DJs Alex, Schmolli, Comar, Morgoth and the whole crew were drunkenly jumping around the stage and hollering my name, and they seemed to think that despite my exhaustion, my set went off pretty well. The crowd responded a little less enthusiastically to their specially-made German mashup than the Poles did: I'd put together a track using '80s German duo Modern Talking's "You Can Win if You Want" with Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," and I think the shock of hearing this quintessentially German hit mixed with a current smash was a little much for everybody, and the energy level of the room seemed to go down a little bit as people's jaws dropped. But thankfully I got them back with some of the Baltimore-style stuff I've been playing lately, and a drunken DJ Comar told me afterwards it was one of the best sets he'd ever seen.

Left: Frank from Bootie Munich, Austrian DJ Schmolli who's also a resident in Munich, myself, Paris' DJ Comar, Berlin's DJ Morgoth, and Bootie Munich mastermind/madman Alex (Bootox)

I had used up all my energy on the set, and when I finished at 3:15 or so, I crashed, and could barely stand up. The party was still going strong at 5am when I told the guys I needed to catch a cab back to the house and go to sleep. This morning they told me people were still there until 7am, with new arrivals paying the entry fee way into the 6am hour. I wish I could have stayed to witness it but I needed the rest.

Alex put together a breakfast of sausages and pretzels (I know, I know!!) and now Comar and I have to head to the airport to catch our flights to Paris. But yeah, especially because I wasn't sure if I would be able to stay upright for the whole thing, my DJ set here was another one of the highlights of my career—a crowd that up for it is an honor to play for.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Auf Wiedersehen, Köln...

Above: Köln's "Dom" catching the rays of the setting sun bonsoir, Liege!

Above: the Santiago Calatrava-designed (and still unfinished) Liege Guillemins train station, and by the way, when I mentioned I was excited to see it to the guys from the club who met me there, they were like "yes, Calatrava is good, but it does not fit here." They kind of have a point, and perhaps a word of warning to New Yorkers?

How Much Longer is This Tour?

Left: Köln, photo not by me

Happy Thanksgiving (yesterday) everyone, I'm here in Köln, Germany, a place I chose to fly to from Prague based entirely on the cheap German Wings airfare--$60 one-way. It's a quick 90-minute train ride to Liege, Belgium, where my gig is tonight, and thankfully, the German train strike was quick and efficient, German-style, and I was easily able to reserve a seat thanks to the very helpful and fluent-English-speaking lady at the Deutsche Bahn office, who had a nose ring, by the way. It came to about 30€ ($44) round trip from Koln to Liege and then back to the Koln Airport on Saturday where I'll catch a flight to Munich. I'm starting to feel a little like everything in Europe is within what Americans would consider commuting distance: if you can't fly directly to your preferred country, fly to the next-door country and hop the train, and it'll take you basically the same amount of time it takes to grab BART to the airport in San Francisco. By the way, Prague got much more enjoyable on my last day, and I met some more people who restored my faith in American expats, two English teachers who were very sympathetic to my run-in with the Transit Police and said they'd also tried to run the first time they got accosted, thinking they were being robbed. We had phenomenal Indian food at a random place in Prague's outskirts, randomly enough.

But now, I'm in Germany, and I kind of forgot how tough it is to be alone in a country where you don't speak one word of the language: a flustered inability to make yourself understood is far more anxiety-inducing when you're standing there by yourself. Köln is lovely and about 15 degrees warmer than it was in Prague or around Poland, enough so that I've been leaving my scarf in the hotel room. Speaking of the hotel, the CityClass Europa, directly adjacent to the main train station and the cathedral, was 48€ ($70) for a single room, and while there were a lot of nicer-looking places in the 80-90€ range, I figured the $40-50 savings would be worth it, but jeez, it's pretty bad: smaller even than my tiny room in Frankfurt, with a built-in twin bed that wasn't quite long enough for me, non-functional WiFi, and a distinctly orange tint to the water when you first turned it on. But with even an espresso, tiny juice, roll and yogurt at the free-WiFi coffee shop I'm writing this from coming to 7€10 ($10.43), you take your savings where you can.

Perhaps it's the holiday or the fact that I'm under the aforementioned language blackout, but I'm kind of pooped. My feet are sore from walking around, my one pair of jeans I've worn the whole trip are starting to sag unpleasantly, and I could really use a burrito, pollo asado, especial style. But coming up in a few hours I won't have time to dwell on my petty annoyances, as things will start to ramp up again: the gig in Belgium is set to be pretty large, Bootie Munich should be wild on Saturday, and then it's off to France where from what I understand the transport strike has pretty much wound down, merci Dieu. I'm completely baffled about what to play for the Belgiums, and unlike my mini-hit in Poland, I don't have any tracks that explicitly address, say, the country's current governmental crisis or anything. Also, hopefully they aren't too perturbed at me for rooting for Poland over them in the recent Euro 2008 qualifying match. Sorry guys, but when in Warsaw…

So, what do Belgians throw when they hate your set? Waffles? Mmm, airborne breakfast cake.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Prague, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down

Left: the funicular that, ironically enough, brought me up, and not down

Well, I suppose I deserve it: there's no better way to invite Larry David-style annoyances than to gloat about how lovely a place is on your blog. Today started out okay with a visit to the Veletržní Palác, Prague's 20th century art museum (where I discovered the amazing František Kupka), but went downhill from there. First, I'm in the subway about to get on a train, and a weird-looking dude grabs my shoulder and says something in Czech. I shake my head and try to get out of his reach. He jogs up after me and says something again, and I keep trying to move away—is this just an aggressive panhandler like I'm used to in San Francisco, or is somebody about to take out their anti-Bush sentiments on a random American? In about three seconds, a policeman appears, and I'm relieved: they'll get this weirdo away from me. But the cop goes right for me, getting in front of me and hollering at me in Czech. What did I do? What's happening?! "Ne razumiem!!" I wail in Polish, hoping it's also Czech. "Ticket!" says the policeman. Ohhhh. It's my first transport ticket check! If you aren't familiar with much of the rest of the world's transit systems, a lot of them operate on the honor system, where nobody checks you when you get on a train but there are supposedly random sweeps for scofflaws. I dutifully bought a 7-day pass in Warsaw but never once saw anybody get checked, and thank God, I had my Prague 3-day pass in my wallet here. I'd read in a guide book that Prague employs plainclothes officers to check people, but jeez, isn't this taking it a bit far? Although, again, perhaps I'm just so used to dealing with crazies on the SF Muni that I'm a bit jumpy. Anyway, I showed the guys my ticket and we had a good chuckle—they were very apologetic. After another annoyance—the whole point of my trip on the subway at that point was to go visit the Prague historical museum which turned out to be inexplicably closed when I got there—I came back to the same subway station and saw about six similar scenarios playing themselves out near the entrance: old women with pleading voices, sporty-jacket dudes searching their pockets, all surrounded by the same policemen and plainclothes officers. So, if somebody grabs you on the subway in Prague, you might not necessarily want to run.

Right: view from up by the castle zone

Other annoyances today include a pastry stand that wouldn’t sell me a small pastry since those are not sold by the piece but only by the 100 gram weight and they wouldn't just weigh one, and the equivalent pastry (a blackberry thingamabob) did not exist in the large pastry section for individual sale; the Deutsche Bank that took me 20 minutes to find in order to make an ATM withdrawal since BofA has a no-fee deal with them was temporarily unable to dispense cash, and the funky café the guidebook recommended for breakfast seemed to have vanished into thin air. Also, I think I found a general flaw in what seemed like Prague's unassailable façade, and the flaw is us: annoying American expats. I met a couple people last night, friends of a friend here in town, and I'm just going to go ahead and talk about them: they were snobby and rude in this way that I'm theorizing may have something to do with long-term life abroad, although perhaps the seeds were there already. When I met them I was exhausted and I tried to apologize and explain that jet lag (and my wonky schedule) is kicking my ass unexpectedly on this trip, and the guy pauses and says to me, "Do you complain about being tired in America?" What the f***?! Later I see a sign on a garage we're walking by that says "NEPARKOVAT" and I laugh, since that was just starting to be an imported Americanism in Russian when I lived there, and I ask the gal if that's a real Czech word at this point or if the writer was being funny, and she rolls her eyes and says, "It means 'not to park' or 'no parking'." Oh does it now. Perhaps the fact that I'd just pronounced the word correctly might have clued you in that I'm familiar with it? They had this way of making sure to flaunt their knowledge of Czech and only grudgingly explaining the random insider-y stuff they dropped hints about in the conversation. Later in the evening the guy turns to me and says, sneeringly, "jeez, I'm just so out of the loop, so tell me, what's that Britney Spears doing?" Which I suppose could be innocuous but in this context (and tone of voice) took on an air of "you silly home-based Americans and your petty concerns." Anyway, I'm not really worried about them seeing this since they didn’t give one whit about my tour or what the hell I was doing there, and didn't ask my DJ name or anything. But if they do see this, sorry guys, but you were a little rude.

Left: old town square

Boy, I really hope I wasn't that much of a jerk when I lived in Russia and met Americans who were kind of clueless about the place. I suppose I probably was, but I was also like 22 and thought I was the only foreigner to ever truly understand the Russian soul. Sigh.

But even with all these annoyances, Prague, I still love you: I had an awesome lunch at the Café Louvre of French onion soup, a glass of the new Beaujolais, a towering club sandwich, a raspberry caramel sundae, a local fizzy water and a frothy espresso, and the total price: 300 koruny, or about $15. Plus I freakin' smoked afterwards, right there in the restaurant!! Also the city continues to dumbfound me with its beauty: there's this spot by the river where some buildings are built out over the water on a pier and the water cascades underneath into a kind of lagoon by the Charles Bridge, and it's just about the coolest spot in the world. Like on much of this tour so far, I can't help but think to myself, "this would be really awesome if it wasn't freezing."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Polska Boyz" Now Available...

...back at the regular website, remember that one?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Prague: Cheap and Easy, But Also Cute

Like a fantasy date! Well, after riding a wave of Polish good tidings, it finally came time to say goodbye, and so I headed out for Chopin airport to hop on Czech Airlines for a flight to Prague. A DJ gig didn't quite come together in Prague, which really has turned out to be a bit of a relief -- after the madcap tour of Poland, (and before the madcap tour of Belgium, Germany & France) I could really use a few days to recoup, and it turns out Prague is the perfect place to do it. First of all, my friend Ashley is living here, a former LIVE 105 employee (like myself) who came over almost a year ago, currently working at a fancy crystal and home-decor store. She knows her way around and last night I got my first whirlwind tour of the city, and despite all I've heard and seen about Prague, it, like Krakow, is still a bit overwhelming, with its winding streets and hidden passageways. What's awesome, though, is that it's cheap.

Below right: snack aftermath

Poland was surprisingly expensive: for instance, yesterday I went to Starbucks clone "Wayne's Coffee" for lunch before I left for the airport, and my sandwich, a small dry roll with salami and cheese, was 15 Zloty, which at 2.5 zl to the $ is a whopping $6, and the espresso was like 8 Zloty, which is over $3. I'm not sure if this is a recent development due to general European exchange rates pummeling the dollar into oblivion, but still, it was a bit annoying: aren't places that feel kind of ex-communist supposed to be bargains? So Prague's cheapness has turned out to be a crazy surprise. Dinner last night at an amazing multi-level cafe (whose name I forget, sorry) which included spicy toast, croquette appetizers, a cabbage salad, two entrees including my pork stuffed with cheese and olives, and two glasses of wine, all came to about 560 czech koruny, which at about 5 cents to the koruna, is around $28. For everything! Our glasses of totally tolerable Czech wine were 32 czk each, and yes that's $1.50. My hotel, the amazing Miss Sophie's (which is part hostel and part hotel), where my beautifully modern room with custom metal furniture and an awesome glassed-in walk-in rain-head-shower thing, I booked at 1450czk/night but when I showed up they charged me 1100czk/night, which is just around $55. It's hard to believe that there's anywhere left where Americans can use their rubles so effectively, but here it is.

Below: the astronomical clock in the town square, and the awesomest thrift store in the world which is right next door to my hotel

I'd also heard there was grumbling (and general Eastern European dourness) on the part of the local populace about foreigners, especially loud Americans, and to expect unfriendliness, but again, totally not the case: everyone's been incredibly nice and only mildly smirking at my pathetic attempts to try out some Czech, which is only 35% like Russian as opposed to Polish at around 60%, so in other words I'm not getting it right.

Back to Poland for a moment: Fellow DJ on the Polish leg of the tour Liam B sent me this video of my Party Ben Kenobi entrance in Krakow although you can't see a damn thing and it cuts off right before I get on the mic. Come on, Liam, learn to run your camera!

Also check out a gallery of pics from the Krakow gig here, including some highlights like this one of P.B. Kenobi or this one of regular Party Ben wielding the light saber while Duze Pe whips up the crowd.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Poland Update: Krakow & Warsaw

It's Sunday afternoon in Warsaw and I'm finally back in reach of a wifi signal, and more importantly, I have a few minutes to write some things down. It's been a phenomenal couple of days and I'm not sure where to begin, so let's just start at the beginning, grabbing a train to Krakow on Friday afternoon.
Left: Scene from a Polish train

The Poland leg of this little tour has basically been put together by DJ/MC/promoter/musician Duze Pe, who along with cohort DJ Spox have a whole variety of musical projects, and they both accompanied me on all the dates; I'd corresponded with them via e-mail before the trip but hadn't met them until my arrival here and thankfully both of them are awesome and hilarious and speak pretty fluent English. Anyway, we piddled around on Friday and went to a Georgian (as in Tiblisi, not Atlanta) restaurant and just about missed the Krakow train, a 3-hour express from Warsaw's central station. About halfway there I looked out the window into the dark Polish landscape only to realize that the ground was in fact covered with a thick blanket of snow.

Below: Krakow at night with reflected chandelier

Our arrival in Krakow was overwhelming. Warsaw, with all its luxury hotel updates, still feels like a rough, modern city, hampered by Soviet-era infrastructure. The train station in Krakow was similar, bare and concrete, but then we emerged into the connected mall and another world: a brand-spaking-new luxury shopping establishment, filled with fancy brand-name stores, under a glittering skylight, putting San Francisco's new megamalls to shame, and packed with Saturday night shoppers. Leaving the mall under its glowing colored glass exterior, I got my first glimpse of Krakow, and it was jaw-dropping, covered in about a foot of snow, a fairy tale of ancient buildings and glittering lights, cobblestone walkways filled with people. The walk to the nightclub was like an assault of beauty, something amazing around every turn: the snowy park ringing the city center, an ancient city wall, the central square. But there's no time to linger, we have to get to the club and start to get set up.

Below: Party Ben banner outside Prozak in Krakow

The city is a real tourist destination for Europeans, especially Brits apparently, who take advantage of the favorable exchange rates to get rip-roaring drunk and roam the streets hollering like Amy Winehouse at the MTV Europe awards. As the night wore on, and the club started to fill up, there was clearly a high tourist contingent, and probably mostly regulars at the venue who didn't really know who I was or anything, but that didn't mean they weren't totally up for it. The venue itself, a winding two-story labyrinth built into the basement of an old building, was stunning, and our cavernous dancefloor was totally packed. I pulled out the Obi Wan getup which people seemed to enjoy, and had a really fun set where I tried a bunch of new stuff, as well as the good old standards that had the crowd singing along. After my set I went upstairs only to realize they had been piping the music to an upstairs dancefloor almost as big as the first, jammed with people. The night lasted until about 4:30 am, at which point we were put up in the club's own apartment on the 4th floor of the building, accessible through two winding staircases and a tiny elevator, and outside the double-paned windows the city sparkled and the first trams of the morning rumbled by.

Let's not get romantic about it though because after about 5 hours of sleep it was time to get up and head back to the train station to return to Warsaw. Sorry, Krakow, but I'll be back, I'm sure.

Back in Warsaw, I'm told an interesting bit of news: Poland's national soccer team is playing Belgium that night in a qualifying match for the Euro 2008 championships, an event whose importance is second only to the World Cup and which Poland has apparently never qualified for. The game would be shown out at our club immediately preceding our event, and we were all a little nervous: if they lost, would people even feel like having fun? Well, we needn't have worried. Poland dominated the Belgians and cinched a spot in the finals with a 2-0 victory, and the place erupted. I later found out people had poured onto the streets all over the city, chanting "Polska, Polska."

(Below: Moment of Polish victory)
Out at our club (Balsam, part of a rehabilitated complex of old army barracks in which the writing of German soldiers can still be seen on the walls), things started to pick up around 11, and by the time I went on at 12:30, the place was packed, the giant disco ball swinging wildly. I had a bit of a rough set – a drunk guy came up and started bugging me and threw me off, and I made some technical flubs, but managed to recover. I'd been given a soccer scarf to wear during the set, which I sported proudly, and as my set built up to a frenzied finale, Duze Pe thanked me and described for the crowd the mashup I'd made of the classic Polish band Kult, which I proceeded to play as my last track. Let me just say: if you're a DJ, and there's any way you can plan your set to immediately follow a massive soccer victory, and then play a track you've made whose lyrics repeat the country's name over and over, and you have a scarf you can hold over your head with the name of that country on it to incite the entire crowd to sing along, and then you grab a bottle of that country's local vodka to take a big swig of it to the crowd's clear approval… that wouldn’t be a bad way to end your DJ set. It was mayhem. My only regret is that my camera, set next to the cold window, fogged up too much for the pictures to be anything but a white blur, but other people had cameras so hopefully there's video somewhere. I left the stage and was immediately set upon by people wanting autographs and pictures, some of whom had just caught the CDs I'd thrown out to the audience, and some of whom actually knew who I was and gave me embarrassing compliments. Anyway, a real highlight of my life as a DJ, and while it was clearly just riding on a wave of soccer victory euphoria, hell, I'll take it.

Below: Party Ben poster at the club in Warsaw behind serious condensation -- it was hot in there!

In a bit of a daze I stumbled to the front of the club for some air and called a friend back in San Francisco to shout (incoherently, I'm sure) about Poland winning and I had the scarf and Polska Polska! The night ended around 5 and I collapsed into bed, turning on the TV to see what looked like a Polish Sally Jesse Raphael hosting talk show on which the topic seemed to be, well, gay people, although a subtopic might have been involved which I didn’t understand, since the descriptions of each of the guests said "gej" and then a bunch of other stuff. It might have been "gays with terrible fashion sense" because they were all wearing giant goofy sunglasses and had weird hairdos, perhaps in an attempt to remain anonymous?

Today I have to go buy gloves since I left mine in the taxi last night, and we'll all go have a celebratory meal; tomorrow morning: Prague, and converting Zloty to Koruny!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Oh, and Jay-Z...

I was wayyyy ahead of you.

Płock: Pwawesome!

That's funnier if you know Płock is pronounced "Pwotsk." Or maybe not. Ahem. Anyhoo, yes! Just got back from the first gig of the Gettin' Euros Tour, and while I got Zlotys instead, it was still great. A little context here: this gig was the last one finalized -- after setting on venues in Warsaw and Krakow for Fri. & Sat., we just filled one in for Thursday night at a smaller club in this city about 90 minutes drive west of Warsaw. I had no idea what to expect, and besides I'd been having an annoying day, with somebody stiffing me for about $10 in change and not realizing it til I was back on the tramway (dargh, unfamiliar coinage!) and still feeling perturbed with myself about the Bis set, yada yada. So, here I am, heading west of Warsaw in this crazy country to a city whose name I can't even pronounce. Pwonounce. What the hell am I doing? Would anyone show up, would they be nice, and have they heard of Lyrics Born?

Well, yes, yes, and oddly enough, yes. (Answer to that first question still to be determined). The venue was small but great, with a bar area in front and the medium-sized dancefloor area in the back. When we got in around 8:45 there were a smattering of people (as well as posters announcing my arrival with a kind of disconcerting skull motif, am I a death rocker? Plus that's supposed to be "Mash Up Your Life"; "For Life" sounds like, I dunno, an anti-abortion bootleg party. But no matter.) and by about 10 the place was hopping, with everybody responding really well to the opening DJ's stuff. When I went on at 11:30 I didn't do the full "Obi Wan Kenobi" drag since I was a little nervous about it, but I did pull out the light saber to start "Galvanize the Empire" with. Anyway, a really great response, and people sang along to a whole load of the songs, and surprisingly it got completely nuts when I launched in to what I thought might be a bit of a challenging set of sped-up Baltimore-style beats including the Lyrics Born mix you can hear on my Myspace page and some other new stuff. Of course it wasn't without technical errors -- I mistook the "pan" dial for the "bass" dial and when the speakers were shaking I tried to turn it down, and was actually just turning it all to the left. Derrr. But I figured that out quickly enough.

And yes they were labeled in English, I'm just dumb.

Special note to DJ John, whose "It Takes Two to Kiss" got played 3 times during the night: I played it in my set, not knowing that the opening DJ had played it, and then as we were leaving the DJ after me puts it on. "Hey, DJ John, again," I said to DJ Spox, one of the opening duo who rode with me. "Oh yeah," he says, "he's my favorite, and 'It Takes Two to Kiss' gets played all the time here. Why doesn't he make more mashups?" "Well, I dunno," I said, "I'll ask him," feeling like I'd just said "I'll check with Brangelina about getting you a kid."

Anyway, a great night. A whole bunch of people had heard of me and came up to express their positive feelings for my productions in halting English, to which I would respond with a hearty "chen-kwee" ("thank you," yes turns out it's Borat language). Thanks to Club Forma and everybody who came out, nice to meet you all. Not too many good pictures though, since I was busy, you know, DJing and stuff.

Tomorrow, heading off to Krakow by train and not sure when I'll be back in Internet range, probably Sunday.

Look, Party Ben's on the schedule

These nice ladies were singing along with everything.

Weird sign at the gas station on the way back. Put on your best Pterry the Pterodactyl voice and say: "Why no PB?"

Pierogi, Barszcz, Underground Cafes

In the midst of my frustration at the radio set last night, I forgot to mention a couple good things: food and drink. First up, I had been demanding Polish cuisine, especially pierogi, the wee dumplings that are a lot like the buttery pelmeny I adored back in Russia. So last night Marcin ("Duze Pe"), one of the guys helping book the Polish leg of the tour, took me out for pierogi, and in a very weird coincidence, the restaurant ended up being one I had walked right by and even looked at their menu. In fact, it's on the left in this picture right here from yesterday. I had turned down this street in my wanderings, almost as if drawn there: It's like I have a sixth pierogi sense. So anyway: yum. I got a kind of garlic/spinach/cheese filled thing, and then a big steaming thing of borsch, or "barcz" or whatever it is here. Plus: kompot, syrupy fruit drink! The restaurant itself was just a couple small tables with a window into what looked like somebody's kitchen at their house, and the adorable little 3- or 4-year-old girl running around the place added to that feeling. Of course it wasn't without international incidents: after all the salty borsch, I went up and asked for a glass of water, proud that I could say it in Polish; they asked me something in return I didn't understand so I just nodded. They hand me a thick glass cup and I go to take a drink and recoil in pain: it's boiling hot. Marcin is like "Yeah i heard them ask you if you wanted it hot but I didn't know if you understood." I was like, why would i want hot water?

Afterwards we walked back down the main street in Warsaw's historic district, past the presidential palace with news crews parked outside, and Marcin goes "oh yeah let's go to this bar where I know people," and we duck into a stairwell I would never have noticed in a million years to find the coolest little underground dungeon of a hipster hangout. "Indeks" it was called, and with its multiple tiny little smoke-filled vaulted-ceiling rooms and a tiny stage for performances, it was exactly my image of underground Warsaw. Since it was before the radio set I was desperate to wake up and only indulged in a sludgy coffee, but still.

Anyway I forgot to take pictures of either of these places (I'm terrible about that) so here's a picture of the sun coming out this morning from the hotel window.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Polish Radio 1, Party Ben 0

To anyone listening to my live set earlier tonight on Radio Bis: I'm sorry. If you weren't listening, I'm glad. But to all of you, let me explain. I did in fact do an interview during the hour previous to the mix, but I didn't get a chance to look at the CD players until about a minute before I was supposed to start the mix, and there was a bit of a problem: one perfectly functional CDJ-1000, and one completely shot-to-hell Numark CDX. The cue and search functions didn't work right, and sometimes the CDs wouldn't register when I put them in, requiring one to turn the thing off and on again. When it actually read the CDs, I'd have to just start the tracks at the beginning and speed them up manically to try and get them to the right intro point and match it all up... needless to say, it kind of sucked. Of course I had a whole bunch of complicated mixes planned--it's a radio station, what could go wrong? So, after the first couple major mixing flubs I just stopped trying to beatmatch with that CD player and would just start the songs. Sigh. I suppose it's comeuppance: I was just talking to the TV crew that filmed my arrival and interview at the radio station that I use CDs because laptops are unreliable. Touche, great god of laptops! You have taught me humility.

The tracklisting, such as it was:
Party Ben - Boulevard of Broken Songs (2007 Crunk Mix)
Party Ben - Galvanize the Empire
Party Ben - Pump Up the Doorbell
Party Ben - We Will Jump Around (with Go Home Productions - Rock In Black)
Party Ben - Callin' Up the Pieces (B-more Remix)
Chemical Brothers - Star Guitar (Party Ben's a Big Bright Shining Star Remix) (with Ludacris - Stand Up)
Party Ben - The Way I Keep Me Hangin' On
Obvious Productions - Standing In the Way of Your Friends
Party Ben - Somebody Rock Me
Party Ben - Wild Thing / Hustlin' / Feel Good Inc + Justice (no name for this)
Party Ben - Rehab (Can't Help Myself)
Party Ben - Tender Umbrella
A+D - Deceptafreakon
Party Ben - Boyz in Polska (Kult vs. MIA)
Party Ben - Dr. Who on Holiday (with Freedom Intro and Mega Outro)

Well, anyway, the staff at Radio Bis were very nice and they all seemed appropriately surprised by the track with Kult, a Polish band from back in the day. Thanks to host DJ Lexus and everybody at Bis, and again, sorry the mixing sucked.

Top: me in front of the Polskie Radio building.
Below: Duze Pe (who's basically organized the Polish leg of the tour), DJ Party Sucksalot, and Bis host DJ Lexus.

Gettin' Euros 2007, The Video: Chapter 2: Warsaw

These videos have to be pretty short due to limited camera memory (and super slow upload speeds) but that's probably for the best since they're pretty dopey.

Much better are some still photos, here of of Warsaw's Stare Miasto (old town) area. I'll post more of these on my Flickr site when I'm back or have a better connection to the intertubes.

Warsaw: Second Impressions

Last night, after a few welcome hours of afternoon shut-eye, I decided to venture out into the Warsaw wilds in search of an ATM, some form of snack, and perhaps a phrase book, since the only Polish thing in the whole gigantic language section at Borders in SF was an ancient-looking dictionary. I stepped out of the brightly-lit hotel into a bit of another world: trams barreled down the center of wide, Soviet-style boulevards and a bit of drizzle was intermittently falling out of the dark sky. Directly adjacent to the hotel, the street crosses a train line that's only partially underground, and the glimpses of the rickety train and poorly-lit platform below were oddly nightmarish. Flashing back to my days in post-communist Russia circa 92-94, I start to get those where-am-I-going-to-find-food-today jitters, but right across the street a line of restaurants and shops fills the first floor of a series of apartment blocks, and there's a bank right over there too, whose ATM dispenses 100 zloty to me without any problem. Hmm, 2.5 zloty to the dollar, that's kind of tough; you divide by two and then, uh, add some? Or subtract? Alls I know is: it's not Euros, and that can only be good.

Left: not my picture, i didn't take my camera with me last night since it was, you know, dark.

My walk towards the center of town takes me past the Palac Kultury i Nauki, the Soviet building that was a "gift" to Warsaw after World War II; it's in the same style as the gargantuan Stalinist gothic fantasy buildings that dominate Moscow in a foreboding "Batman" kind of way, but here, possibly because of the neon decoration and a sign for what appears to be a movie theater, this one seems far less threatening. Walking along the street, I come to an intersection that doesn't appear to have any crosswalks, and then I notice that what I thought was a subway entrance is actually for the good old, well "perekhod," another Soviet indulgence that I kind of like: elaborate tunnels under the streets filled with small businesses and restaurants. I note the kebab and sandwich stalls for future reference.

Emerging on Marszalkowska street, there's an inviting line of stores, like your H&M and Benneton and stuff; I wander along to find Empik, a kind of Polish Virgin Megastore with albums and books and a 3rd floor café facing the Palac. It's after 9pm and not much is open but Empik is, and after some searching I find a tolerable phrase book, and go grab a hot chocolate in the café. Super-stylish young women are giggling over a laptop at the table next to me, and KT Tunstall is on the house stereo. But old habits die hard, and at about 9:40pm, a deafening basso voice rumbles out of the speakers, informing patrons that, from what I can gather, the store is closing at 10, please make your purchases. It's so loud it's hard to concentrate, and after it runs for about 3 minutes, I realize it's on a loop, repeating over and over, to drive us stragglers out of the store. I do not think this would be tolerated in America, but maybe I'm wrong.

I go to buy the phrasebook as the store shakes with admonitions to approach the cashier. I'd already noticed the little "put your money here, don't hand it to me" tray when I bought my hot chocolate, another thing I remember from Russia, but the Voice is distracting me so much that I just hold my 20-zloty note out to the guy, who gives me a quick but pity-filled look and points at the tray.

I emerge from the store, my head still rattling with admonishments to "cobirat' do kassu" or something, and the world is transformed: snow is falling in giant, wet, fluffy flakes. I feel like maybe taking the tram back to the hotel but I don't know which number to take, and besides, the guidebook says that while you can buy tickets on the tram, there's no guarantee the driver will actually have them and if not you can still be fined, which seems like an invitation to an international incident, so I walk back to the hotel through the falling snow, collecting on my jacket, and every once in a while landing right in my eye with a wet splortch.

Back at the hotel, I finish work on the Polish-themed mashup I'm making for the mix on Bis as well as a new mix of a secret thing I'd just completed for an upcoming multi-producer Chemical Brothers bootleg album project being arranged by Electrosound (stay tuned). Finally I start to get excited about the mix; funny how it is, and no wonder I make these mashup things, since I get so bored after playing songs once or twice that I just can't help but mess around with them, and then my nervousness and dread I get before almost any live set turns into can't-wait anticipation. I wanna play this Polish thing and see if Poland freaks out!!! We'll see: could we be on the eve of another international incident?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Anybody Know How to Drive a Paris Subway Train?

Jeez, France, it's always something. Two years ago, immediately previous to my trip there with fellow Bootie DJs Adrian & Mysterious D, Paris had erupted in riots after the deaths of two teenagers being chased by police in an eastern suburb. The city was still under a travel advisory when we got there -- they had even warned against taking the aiport RER train into the city, since it passed through some of the affected suburbs and people had been throwing stuff at the cars. Thankfully, of course, things had calmed down by the time we arrived, but this year, there is another, perhaps more serious threat to my trip, one even more traditionally French than riots: strikes!

French transit workers went on strike last night to protest, if you can believe it, the potential elimination of the special retirement category that allows certain public service workers the right to stop working at age 50. 50! As in, Sally O'Malley "I'm fiffftyyyy!" As in, if I was a transit worker and not a DJ, I could retire in 13 years, from my still-incredibly-youthful-and-good-looking 37! The strike is affecting both long-distance trains and the local Paris subway and commuter trains, all of which I was, um, planning on taking in about two weeks. I'm flying into Paris after Bootie Munich, so I can get there, but then Zebra, Moule and I were planning on taking the train to Bordeaux to start the all-France mega-tour, and continue utilizing ground-based transport for the duration, so, I dunno, if the strike continues, I guess we'll all have to rent motorcycles?

I'm usually a supporter of labor (you go, Writers Guild, get those residuals!) and I'm of course no fan of Sarko, whose insistence on labor reform was a big part of his platform, but come on, people! Do you have any idea how bad it is in the rest of the world? Try getting a doctor's appointment on the CBS health plan, that'll make the extra 5 years of driving the subway look like a walk in the park.

Anyway, with my arrival in France still two weeks away, hopefully things will all get worked out before I get there. And maybe during the negotiations they could also take care of that whole different-price-for-coffee-if-you-sit-down thing?

Warsaw: Weird

Well, that's not fair: it's normal for Warsaw, but weird for someone who lived in Russia. Everybody looks vaguely Slavic, but maddeningly, I can only understand half the words they say. It's like, "bliggle blag it's possible to go fleep flapple in the florg because tomorrow we'll buy dargle barg." Yes, I think? The aging infrastructure and apartment blocks (and the dreary gray sky and freezing temperatures) are very familiar, but the super swank hotel I'm safely ensconced in (the Kyriad Prestige) is way nicer than the places I usually grab on Priceline even back in the homeland. Thankfully I have a free day today so I believe my first priority will be to lie down. After that I'll be working on a couple secret surprise mashups featuring Polish tunes for my set on Radio Bis tomorrow, and then hoping the weather clears up so people feel like coming out to the gigs, or maybe they're used to it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I Can't Get No Sleep

Ugh! Misery, thy name is insomnia. The plan was: fly out of SFO at 6pm, arrive Frankfurt at 2pm, stay up til normal bedtime, then get a good night's sleep and be totally adjusted to the new time zone scenario. Well, of course, it didn't work out that way. All afternoon and evening yesterday I'm wandering around Frankfurt in a kind of stupor, and when I sit down I can barely keep my eyes open. Finally I get back to the hotel and hit the hay around 11, and I'm wide awake. 7 hours of BBC World later, here I am, not a minute spent unconscious. What's the deal? I guess back in the good old Pacific Time zone it's afternoon, not my usual sleepy time, but now I've got to get up and fly to Poland and, you know, do stuff, and unless I pass out at some point, going to bed tonight I will have been awake 48 hours. At what point does one have to watch out for hallucinations? Hold on, I'm going to ask this giraffe right here. ...Uh-huh. You don't say. Really? Well, I wasn't planning on operating any heavy machinery, but thanks Mr. Giraffe.

One More Frankfurt Photo

Gettin' Euros 2007, The Video: Chapter 1: Euros!

Willkommen aus Frankfurt

Fier einen nacht only!! Hey, thanks, crazy tailwinds in the jet stream! Your nutty river of air pushed our little 777 along so fast that a whole hour was shaved off the flight, although your turbulence did keep me from getting much sleep. But wow, you go, wind.

So, Frankfurt. I'm just here one night but rather than stay out at the Airport Hilton or whatever for 200€ / night, I figure why not take the conveinent train into town and stay here for 50€ a night? A smart idea, thanks to European planning: going from the gate to the airport train station took about 7 minutes, and while the automated ticket machines there were a bit complicated, once I bought a ticket and got on the train, nobody ever checked it. The ride to Frankfurt's main train station took all of 10 minutes, and the Hotel Excelsior is directly across the street from the main station. It's 53€ a night, and while the room is hilariously tiny (see photo at right), otherwise it's perfect: spotless, free internet, free drinks in the in-room minibar (!!?) free breakfast. The 'hood around the Hauptbahnhof isn't exactly buzzing (and there's a creepy lady talking to herself in the lobby as I type this) but who cares?

Sven Vath: He freakin' owns this town

I wandered around Frankfurt while there was still some daylight and enjoyed its lovely, if somewhat generic, sights. The Zell, the main shopping street, was packed with people but still oddly quiet; in the States that amount of people would create a deafening roar. The street vendor bratwurst was just about the best thing I've ever eaten: a succulent sausage topped with spicy mustard in a fresh bun, with a sparkling apple juice. But at 4€50 ($6.60!) even the street food is kind of pricey when the Euro is whooping your ass. I thought I'd take the subway the two stops back to the hotel but when I entered the station name on the ticket machine, it said it would cost 2€20 ($3.23), and I was like, "I can walk it."

Tonight, trying to see how long I can stay up to just get that jet lag out of the way (I'm fading fast), and tomorrow morning, back to the airport and off to Warsaw.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What's First Class on an International Flight Worth?

This is kind of amusing. I'm flying from SFO to Frankfurt today, and after much searching and fretting, I ended up buying a business class seat with my "Mileage Plus" miles that I've been accruing over the years. A coach seat would have cost $550-ish, and those fares are non-upgradeable -- i.e., there's no amount of miles or money that can sneak you into business class, because of the fare structure. So I was randomly looking around United's website to see about buying the ticket with miles, and I saw that a business class seat cost 80,000 miles, which I had. The seat would have cost like $1500 in money, so I figure that's a pretty good bargain, and besides, that airline's probably going under any minute now so I should use these miles while the gettin's good, right?

So I went to check in online today for the SFO-Frankfurt flight, and after giving my info, the website asked me "Would you like to upgrade to United First?" Whaaa, hummmm? The flight is on a big old international 777, where business class is pretty good but not the super spread-out business class like on some planes I've been on. So I click the "continue" arrow to check it out. The next screen informs me that "Upgrade to First Class for: $619." Gulp! So, wait, let's figure this out. A round-trip first class ticket probably would have cost like $5,000, and if you assume 100 mileage miles=$1, my flight "cost" $800. Multiply $619 x 2 (if it gave me the round trip option, which who knows if that would have happened), and you have a grand total of about $2000 for a first class ticket. Of course for God's sake there's no way I'm spending $600 for a one-way first class upgrade, but for a brief moment, the possibility was thrilling.

So I guess the question is: how much would I have paid? A 12-hour flight from SFO-Frankfurt, I'm already in business class although I got it for "free" with miles, a one-way upgrade to First... hmmm. Maybe $150, $200? I mean, those are lie-flat beds I think, that's worth about the cost of a night in a hotel, right? Well, anyway, of course I'm mostly just interested in getting there in one piece.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

How to Pack for a European Tour

Don't forget the American flag T-shirt and cargo shorts! Actually I've been stressing out a bit over the packing process for this upcoming jaunt. I haven't checked a bag for a flight in about 5 or 6 years; not only am I a bit concerned about lost baggage (which, if your bag contains your CDs and your, um, light saber, could be catastrophic) but also the trouble of waiting around while your bag eventually shows up at baggage claim, not to mention traipsing around Europe on subways and whatever, you don't want a humongo suitcase. So, I'm just taking the carry-on roller bag.

I spent some money on a Victorinox Parliament rolling carryon bag this year before I had about 5 big trips right in a row. It was almost $400, but it was back in my days of being slightly more flush. I bought this size because it seemed like it would fit my big CD book, my 17" laptop, and some random junk pretty well, and looked to be pretty sturdy. It made it through a couple trips alright, but two months ago on a trip to LA, the pull-out handle completely disintegrated in my hand just as I was getting off the plane at LAX. It was honestly like a cartoon, with little bits and geegaws flying off of it, and a "ba-doiiinng" noise, followed by the "waaap, waaa" sound of disappointment. The handle was just gone, there was nothing connecting the two extend-o-poles, which now ended in sharp busted crap, making pulling the thing impossible, and of course these rolling bags are a bit heavy. Needless to say I was perturbed, having to cart it around all weekend. Now, because of the warranty (and me yelling at Edwards Luggage) they quickly repaired the thing, but I have to admit I am pretty nervous taking it on this trip: if it breaks again, I'm throwing it in the Danube and buying a $20 duffel bag.

This guy over at is a strong advocate of the non-rolling bag, and I was seriously tempted. I don't love strolling along with my bag bouncing on the pavement behind me like a stewardess, and with my long legs (and wide stance) I'm always banging my heel into the thing and knocking it sideways. But my crap is heavy, with the laptop and everything, and I just don't want to develop the shoulder bruises I used to get from my shoulder bag.

So, I'm taking it, and then a little Dickies shoulder bag for the CD book actually, that was my compromise so I have room for a couple more pairs of underpants. I wanted to replace my ancient Technics record bag that's falling apart, but I've been looking for a new one of those for a year and can't find one anywhere. Help?

What to pack is entirely another matter. There wasn't room for much even in the roller: about 5 T-shirts, 6 or 7 pairs of underpants, some socks, 3 more serious shirts. That's basically it, for almost one month of European galivanting, and it's gonna be kind of cold, and buying anything new will cost me a zillion dollars (see Euro posting below). So who knows how it'll work out. I'm only taking the pants I'm wearing on the plane, too -- that'll probably set some kind of record.

Friday, November 9, 2007

No I Haven't Left for Europe Yet

For the last two weeks, I keep getting e-mails saying "I know you're already in Europe, but..." and running into people on the street who are like "Oh, are you back already?" Why does everybody think I'm already in Europe? Just because I've been talking about it all the time for like 3 years? I think you're all acting a little too anxious for me to leave the country. Is America planning a secret house party at my apartment while I'm away? Damn you kids! Use coasters at least!!!

Seriously I only announced the dates like a month ago so I don't think I'm overdoing it.

Anyway, I leave on Sunday.

Euros is Awesome Moneys

I don't know what the deal is, but ever since I was a junior high school geek, I've been fascinated by currency exchange rates. I was always interested in foreign countries in general, I guess, and despite being isolated in the middle of Nebraska, I was lucky enough to stumble into some opportunities to travel. When I was about 13 (I think) a nearby college sponsored a junior high school student trip to England and France, for about 10 days in July. It was pretty cheap, although you had to get recommendations from teachers and write an essay to qualify or something. Anyway, the idea that my cash, earned from furious lawn-mowing for the months before the trip, might be worth more or less in these other places was intriguing to me, I guess, so I watched the exchange rates in the paper like a hawk, and was excited when the dollar went up right before our trip: I could buy more Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Ultravox records!!

Fast forward, er, some years. Now, on the eve of my tour of Europe, our lovely American dollars are basically worth less than toilet paper all over the continent. $1.47 at last check, which is completely bonkers: when I was in Amsterdam over New Year's 2001-2002, the Euro was a joke of a currency, floating around 80 cents, and everything was a bargain. I did the math, and even McDonald's was cheaper in Amsterdam than in San Francisco. Crazy. I stayed in one of the best hotels in the city and flaunted my riches around like a feudal lord. (Of course I got desperately ill and threw my back out and had a miserable time anyway, but whatever, fuck Amsterdam).

But this trip will be very different. Searching for a Paris hotel for part of the trip made me feel like a desperately poor student all over again: anything under $150/night was basically a shoddy hostel in the 900th Arrondisement. I'm trying to save money these days, so it's even more stressful--I can't just say "hey I'll buy a pair of shoes there if these hurt my feet," since those shoes might cost the equivalent of $200. On the other hand, my DJ fees will be paid in Euros and of course they have already been set, so every day it's like my fees go up a couple bucks. Planning a European tour, it's like an investment in your future. I couldn't afford not to go.

The question will be if I can resist tasty European snacks enough to make the Euro's dizzy heights work for me and actually bring home a profit. We'll see... I'm awfully tempted by snacks.