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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

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Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Day 4, Sauced Up For The Evening

6:45 p.m.

The hostel is already pretty busy, more than usual for this early in the evening. Paul is just inside, drinking a beer and smiling at me. I start to tell him about the day and lead him toward the door. Nima is standing in front of the doorway, motionless, her eyes focused on the bartender. I look at the tables, each populated by a small group of silent young people. They’re all staring at the bartender.

“What’s going on?” I ask Nima. “Should we go? Should we get ready?”

She nods in the bartender’s direction.

“Well, I need to go up. I’d like to change clothes and--“

“We can’t go in. The door’s locked.”

“But it’s after four o’clock. We shouldn’t--“

She cuts me off with a teacher's glare, then nods toward the bartender.

It’s the one who’s so skinny he has to take some medical supplement to stay alive. He’s 6’5’’ and doesn’t weigh more than 120 lbs. He’s difficult to look at, because you can see his ribs through his shirt. I’ve seen this man speak to one person at the bar in English and one person on the phone in French, both at the same time. He switches languages like Jennifer Lopez switches husbands. Zing! He’s talking to a girl at the bar, and neither looks happy.

“I don’t get it,” I say, “why would he lock the--“

“Fuck YOU,” the girl at the bar says. I turn to look at her. She leaned in to say it, and was no more than ten inches from his face. She has a large nose, the kind that distracts from her eyes, and I imagine the bartender is staring at it. She said it with a low, even tone, and it sounded a lot like the tone you use when you say “I love you.” We felt the sincerity of her hatred from where we were standing...

Skinny guy spits his words at her. “I make fucking 7,50E per hour in this place. I don’t have to take--I DO NOT HAVE TO TAKE THIS KIND OF SHIT FROM YOU ASSHOLES! They give me nothing to work with, the staff is crap and nobody knows how to do their jobs, and on top of that is you fucking people. What’s the matter with you you want to come in here and tell me how to run this place? I should throw you the fuck out--go to another hostel. Now, I’m not opening the door until you apologize.”

“Fuck YOU!” now she sounds more excited. The bar is silent. I decide I’ve had enough. As a child of divorce, I want the conflict to end a) without causing it to escalate, and b) without dealing with any issues head-on. My weapon of choice is humor or distraction, today I will try both.

I ask Paul (and not quietly), “Remember that Simpsons when Homer kept trying to get Grand Funk Railroad to sing “Taking Care of Business,” then when they sang it, he yelled for them to get to the chorus?”

“Yeah, and then when they hit the chorus, he shouted, ‘working overtime’, ‘working overtime!’. Sure I remember. Why?”

“That’s what the Louvre was like today. I stood in front of the Mona Lisa and that’s what I kept thinking about. ‘Okay, now you’ve smiled, and you’re eyes are following me around the room. And you’re a little bit mysterious and you’re in this fancy room of your own. Well, I guess it’s time for the Venus! I was Homer today, telling the Louvre to get on with it. That’s the reason I didn’t want to do anything touristy. Now that I’ve done it I feel like I wasted my time.”

“You went to the Louvre today?” Nima asked.

“Yeah, I didn’t find my friend, so I decided to go check out the Islamic Art.”

“Ah yeah, that would be great for you, wouldn’t it?”

“It was. How’d you like it?”

“Honestly it was a bit overwhelming. I don’t think classical art really does it for me. I want to go to the Musee d’Orsay and see the Impressionists.”

I like her honesty. Most people I know (probably including myself) would just pretend to feel sad that they don't "get it".

“Yeah, me too. I think me starting with the Louvre to learn to appreciate art is like asking a three-year-old to do complex calculus. But I don’t think I’ll have time to go to the Orsay. Tomorrow I’m doing Hemingway and the Luxembourg gardens.”

She nods.

From behind her, the door opens. Skinny bastard opened it up. I guess they settled their differences, because the girl he was arguing with shoves past us and into the courtyard. Another girl follows her out there and they embrace. The girl’s shoulders are shaking as she sobs.

“I wanna go home, I wanna see my family!” she cries. Her friend rubs her back and whispers in her ear. I detest rubbernecking, so I guide Nima by the shoulders toward the staircase. She stops anyway.

“You saw the whole thing, didn’t you?” the consoling girl asks Nima.

“Yeah, and I’ve seen him do that several times to other customers. There’s no call to be that rude, not to anyone.”

“Will you complain about him?”

“Sure, mate. Definitely. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

We go upstairs. Justin is in the room already. Paul follows us in.

I suggest we get dinner, and everyone agrees. I want Moroccan, and everyone agrees. Our friend Erin shows up with the three Brazilians, and we discuss the plan.

Erin, Nima and I decide to get Moroccan after the rest of the men bail out in favor of drinking. We head up the street to r. des Entrepreneurs, not even a block away, and there’s a place. They sell it by weight. Nima and Erin order vegetarian plates, I order lamb over couscous. We eat it back at the hostel, and it’s good-but-not-great. The lamb is good enough, but it’s difficult to eat. It doesn’t fall off the bone like at Grains de Sel. No dessert. I’m starting to write off the idea that I’m here mainly to eat (four days into it). It’s a bit sad, but I'll do as much as I can in the next 48 hours to make up for it.

When we rejoin the group, there’s a new face. Angie. She’s a young American, and she wants to go dancing. She has a few French friends and they intend to meet in the Latin Quarter at 9:30p.m. I’m game, but I may not have the clothes for it. Everyone is excited, and we order another round. I’m on my fourth or fifth, and nothing is happening yet. Is it possible to develop a high tolerance in four days?

More talk of the Simpsons, American football, and avoiding politics. Angie starts to wonder if they should get dinner before they go. All the men are hungry now. They decide to get dinner. For thirty minutes and another round, they keep talking. Now it’s almost 9 o’clock and I’m talking to a charming British couple about my age. The girl is telling me that if I want to get people to get up and go, I should form a queue. Britons love to get in a queue!

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