Tuesday, December 25, 2007


We stayed in Annecy through Sunday afternoon, and then took the train to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, which, as the name suggests, is at the foot of Mont Blanc. It was incredibly beautiful. I realized that this was my first time in real mountains during the winter. It also helped that the weather was quite sunny :-)

The mountain in the middle behind these buildings is Mont Blanc. It's the white one :-P

On Monday we went up into the mountains for some mild adventures. I was too nervous to ski, but fortunately the risk of avalanche was only mild!

Instead we went snowshoeing. In the video you can hear the distinctive sound it made :-)

On Monday night we had a lengthy (4-hour) train ride back to Lyon. It was surprisingly crowded for Christmas eve!


My stay in Berlin ended this past Friday, December 21. Ich bin traurig :( However, I'm sure I will be back, considering that it's become like a second home to me.

On a more upbeat note, I left Berlin for France, where I am visiting my friend Julia in Lyon and traveling around the country a bit before heading back to the U.S. On Saturday we departed on a quick trip. The first destination was Annecy, a beautiful little town on a lake near the edge of the Alps.

The water was incredibly clear, and one could see the mountains from practically every angle. The town consisted of various beautiful old buildings, scattered among small canals.

We consumed fondue, vin chaud, and bought some regionally produced nougat :-)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sachsenhausen part 2

This is a plaque memorializing the homosexual victims of the Nazis. It says, roughly, "fatally beaten, and fatally silenced. To the homosexual victims of Nazism." It refers to the fact that the silence and stigma surrounding the closet preventing even a general acknowledgment of these victims' existence until the 1980s, approximately.

This shows where some of the barbed wire would have been. It's on the fence surrounding the Jewish barracks.


Today Liz and I visited Sachenhausen, which is the concentration camp closest to Berlin. This was my first visit to such a place. A scary fact is that one can take a regular transit line all the way from Wannsee (where it begins) to Oranienburg (where it ends)

This is a monument to the victims erected by the East Germans. The triangles represent the identification patches worn by the prisoners. The second picture is another memorial.

The trench in the foreground is where mass shootings took place. It was really rather deep, but I could not bring myself to take a picture from inside it.

The steps on the left led to the gas chamber. However, if you were a victim of the Nazis, you would have actually entered from the room to the right of that, where you would have undressed and been inspected for any valuable fillings in your mouth.

There were many homosexuals imprisoned, tortured, and executed by the Nazis, especially at this camp. This uniform shows the pink triangle they would have worn identifying their orientation. As with all other prisoners, they were made to sew it on themselves.


Last Saturday I took a walk with my friend and colleague Liz to the grave of Heinrich von Kleist. He was a German writer of the early Romantic period. In true Romantic fashion, he made suicide pact with his beloved, and they carried it out near the waters of the Wannsee, where there is now a memorial.

Here is Liz by the water. Shortly after I took this picture, we sat down for a bit. Subsequently, a wild boar ran past us. It looked like a miniature bison, we decided. Scaaary!

Some more Tübingen pics

There is a pretty river in Tübingen called the Neckar. And beside it, a tree-lined path called the Platanenallee, where I suppose Hegel and other philosophers-in-training strolled while cogitating about the Dasein and so on...

On a quite unrelated note, I saw a series of weird stencils on buildings pertaining to falafel and currywurst. This one says something like "Currywurst makes you super-lucky." WTF??

This is the old town clock, which still functions:


On Thursday 6 December I gave a lecture at the University of Tübingen, which is in the southwest German state of Baden-Württemburg. (The closest major city is Stuttgart.) Tübingen, like Madrid, is also the opposite of Berlin, but in different ways: it is small, both geographically and in terms of population; it is cozy but not that exciting; it is old (dating back to the 11th century, and with much of the architecture from the 15th and 16th centuries); it has narrow, close, winding streets; and it has hills and is generally vertically oriented. This is a view from my hotel room window.

My lecture was at the Ludwigs-Uhland Institut für Kulturwissenschaft (= cultural studies, approximately), which is in this building:

This, and several other departments, are located in the old castle. Here's an interesting walkway within it, and a view from one of the garrison slots:

This was my hotel:

Monday, December 10, 2007

Some press

The Academy has been great about developing press opportunities for me here. There have been articles about my work in the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel and the magazine Tipp. I was also interviewed for a radio show called "Deutschland Radio Kultur." The piece was broadcast on Sunday, December 2, and you can hear it here. They translated my answers into German, but it's only about 5 minutes long so it might be interesting for you to hear even if you don't speak Deutsch.

An essay of mine was also just published in Lettre International, a high-end magazine that is sort of like a European version of the New Yorker. The article isn't online but you can see the issue listed here.

Madrid days 3 & 4

On Saturday I woke up, incredibly hungover, at 3.30 in the afternoon. That's what going to bed at 8 a.m. will do to you... I had wanted to go see Guernica and other modern works at the Reina Sofia, but it just wasn't happening. So I recovered with some glasses of tinto and took a massive nap.

I later had a traditional Spanish dinner at a restaurant called Tienda de Vinosi, which, according to TimeOut, has the nickname "El Comunista" because it was a leftist meeting place during the Franco era. Anyway, it was very pleasant and tasty.

The evening's clubbing consisted of a place in Chueca called But (how is this pronounced??), where the night was called "Spandau." This is an obvious allusion to Berlin-infatuation, and the music was suitably minimal. It was a really pretty space (reminded me of Nation in DC, sadly now defunct), though the crowd was not as special as the previous evening's.

Sunday was a beautiful day. Before returning that evening to cold, gray Berlin, I spent the afternoon in the park with one of my new friends :-)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Madrid day 2, pt. 2 (evening)

On the recommendation of a friend of a friend from Berlin, on Friday evening I went to a club night called "Cool." In the U.S. such a place would inevitably be filled with braying hussies from Cherry Hill, but in Madrid it was chock full of the most fashionable people I have ever seen. Like Berlin it was running very late (not really populated until 3 a.m.), and with excellent music, but it was much more chic.

The looks I saw there were so new to me that they are hard to describe, but I came up with two monikers, which are "Betty-Page Dominatrix" and "Adolf-Hitler-Genderfuck." Yes, really! Basically everything was extremely androgynous, with various elements of S/M couture. I stupidly forgot my camera, but I wrote down descriptions of some of the outfits I saw:
-A "female" (?) wearing a pleated A-line skirt, a vinyl "shawl" binding her torso, and a multicolor/psychedelic socklike thing covering her head (sort of like in photos of the bizarre Australian/British artist/club kid Leigh Bowery).
-A skinny guy wearing an 80s girl outfit, but with the top cut out to expose his nipples and hairy chest. He had a beard + heavy eye makeup. His real hair was normal, short and dark, but he was wearing a big blonde puff on top of that.
-A "male" with a Mussolini haircut, stubble, eyeliner & plucked brows, and a silver lame scarf.
-A woman w/ a Betty Page hairdo and a sock-hop dress, only that the dress was much larger and more exaggerated than the 50s version would have been.
-Someone who was clearly male, wearing a frumpy blouse, tight women's slacks, no makeup or breasts, and his own girlish hairdo.
-A "female" who had a look like one of those large couture hats worn on the side of the head, except it was a big flat wig. And she had a Hitler mustache drawn in.

The next night I went to a club where I saw two of the same people in similar but different outfits, so here are two photos:

Madrid day 2

Friday was incredibly beautiful, not a cloud in the sky, and at least 60 degrees. I had not seen such a day in at least 3 months!

The above picture is of Plaza Chueca, in the neighborhood where I stayed. It had the advantages of being right in the middle of everything, a trendy and fun part of town, and the complete center of gayness. The things in the sky are in rainbow colors, obviously, which the sun projected onto people standing in the square.

After pulling my hungover self together, I went to Retiro Park for a walk. There were palm trees!

After that I went to the Prado, where I saw works of art by Velazquez, Goya, Bosch, Caravaggio, Rafael, Rubens, and Botticelli. There were so many Velazquez paintings that they had a whole room full of dwarf paintings!

Madrid day 1

Having limited my travel to business recently, I decided that at least one pleasure trip was in order during my time in Europe. So I booked a Kurzurlaub (short vacation) to Madrid. I had never visited Spain before and knew some sun would be in order by this point.

I arrived on Thursday, Nov 29. It was so much warmer than Berlin that I was immediately happy. I walked around my neighborhood and got my bearings on the city, which was packed with people and completely decked out in holiday lights:

I later had a tasty but complicated dinner of assorted fresh shellfish, which involved eating barnacles for the first time. They came attached to little rocks!!

After that I met a very friendly young man from Colombia named Carlo, who took me around and showed me some of the many crazy drag queens:

Went to bed around 5--not bad for a Thursday!!

The weather ...

in Berlin has been driving me crazy. This is what it looked like after the 1st snow, which was about a month ago...

And this is what it looked like a couple of weeks ago after the 3rd snow. I was returning from Tape, where I saw Miss Kittin, at 4.30 a.m. She was good but not great...

Basically, the sun comes up sometime after 9 a.m., but only weakly, through a thick and almost permanent layer of clouds. It starts getting dark again sometime after 3 and is pitch-black by 4.30. The temperature has been hovering in the 30s most of the time. The leaves have been totally off the trees since early November.

Much of November I was in transit or ill. A week in Baltimore for a conference, during which time I caught a really nasty cold, then back here. Then to Madrid last week! (more on that soon).

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, spoke at the Academy on the day of my return from the U.S.

And here is a great picture of fellow Fellows Gary Shteyngart, Liz Goodstein, and me in the U-Bahn, taken by Julia during her visit here!