Budapest, Day 3 (part 3) — feeling lost

Yesterday, I left off with The Lovely One and me standing at a stop (returned again southwards from Elizabeth Bridge, back down at Liberty Bridge), waiting for a number 47 or 49 tram to carry us across the Danube to the northern foot of Gellért hill to check out the exterior of some baths.

We boarded a tram fairly quickly (although I couldn’t tell you, probably even a few hours after, if it was a 47 or a 49*) and crossed the Danube to Buda. Here we were in a real commercial downtown area, much different than at the western end of Széchenyi lanchid (Chain Bridge) just to the north (the previous day, afoot). Lots of businesses lined the streets, busy pedestrians, traffic. The tram stopped a couple times, with plenty of exchange in passengers on and off. However, I wasn’t sure where to get off or if we passed right by the baths and could see what I wanted to see from the tram (or whether we were at the baths yet). Then the train, like the street we were following, climbed, turned, and rattled into a different kind of neighborhood, gradually less business-filled and more urban-residential. And the buildings gradually began to thin as we did not stop for a while. 

Now I was sure we had passed the baths without realizing, and as we eventually reached a stop in the middle of the broad boulevard down which we were traveling, wasn’t sure if we should get off here or somewhere less… empty. Here the buildings, large apartment structures, were set back from the street, traffic had thinned to nonexistent, and the very openness the civic designers had sought to create felt… uncomfortable. So I kept quiet, and we passed a series of stops in this kind of environment until the openness began to feel positively (negatively?) midwestern, verging past suburban toward potentially rural. The stops stopped, too, and we just rode.

GoogleMaps™ image showing part of our adventure — the cursor arrow points where we started; we ended up off the map about where this caption says, “GoogleMaps™” or even further southwest

We crossed multilane highways, up over a bridge, an elevated overpass, and stopped. Finally. It had been quite a while since the last stop, and we were clearly out beyond where we should be. Janet had grown wisely much more uneasy with this less-than-scenic excursion and determined we were getting off there — before it was too late somehow — to catch a return tram. 

So, in the real middle of nowhere, we exited the car, just us, finding ourselves still on the downside of the overpass, a big twenty-plus-storey residential concrete-and-glass block structure about three hundred yards away, on the other side of more tracks, off the overpass, across a green space and a street. Nearer, a yellow structure, more than a shed, about garage-sized, with elementary-kid art on the side toward us showing happy people doing something supposedly fun in an outdoor setting, was almost as high up as we were. Otherwise, a pretty barren if somewhat restricted view.

It was cold, the wind cutting. I looked around and led us to the farther side of the tracks and uphill somewhat to the spot that seemed to be the stop for trams going the other way. And we waited, alone in the empty highway crossroads, at the shaking tram sign on the embankment, under the steel sky that now looked very fraught with rain. Very alone in this very empty place, where now no trams arrived for a long time from either direction. 

Someone was not happy with me. We both continued to feel nervous, out of place, chilled and uncomfortable. After some time, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, other people climbed up the hill behind the yellow building to wait at the outbound stopping point where we had exited. A group of older people (probably our own age, although I always see my own age as people older than myself), men and women — two couples and an odd woman out, all gazing surreptitiously, sometimes obviously at us with disapproval and suspicion (well, so it seemed to me) and probably dislike. They conversed among themselves a little, while Janet and I shivered in silence.

Finally, after maybe a full half hour, a tram arrived heading back the way we now wanted to go, and we quickly got on the nearly empty train, which shuddered and clattered away back toward the river and civilization. We returned through all the sights that had seemed so ominous earlier, now friendly and more clearly suburban and residential. Back into downtown Buda by the river, across the bridge and back to Pest, where Janet quickly got us right off the vehicle immediately and headed us down Váci utca toward home. It was about 4:00 PM.

Our day wasnʼt over yet. We still had the much-foretold and otherwise heralded demonstrations to encounter…

* Checking one of my maps, I bet it was a 49. The 47 route doesnʼt appear to go far enough south.

No travel picture with this post because during the experience I forgot all about having a camera bulging in the pocket of my vest. The shot you see is a fake: I stepped outdoors just now, before posting, and snapped another gray and heavy sky. This oneʼs full of frozen rain.

Yes, I am dragging this Sunday out (probably too long, I realize). However, I did want to steer myself away from the “we did this and then we saw that and then we went there and then…” trap that travel writing (like mine) can stumble into. I wanted to express a dose of that particular tourist terror that can arise from the tiniest slip of expectations into utter surprises when youʼre in a distant place, especially without the local language. Nothing was wrong for us that afternoon, but even so we got just a little goosepimpling of spooked. And that minor and self-imposed unhappiness was an element of the whole wonderful experience, too.

Besides, itʼs true.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Budapest, Day 3 (part 2) — digressive

Budapest reminiscences continue (more or less) today. I left off yesterday with us at the Deák Ferenc tér Metro stop, having purchased our seven-day travel passes (even though we had just five days left on our trip, counting this national holiday on Sunday, October 23, 2011). So we continue…

The Number 2 tram, whizzing by this befuddled photographer by night — taken a few days after Sunday, October 23

Then it was time to reascend to the surface and visit (Janetʼs wish) the cheese festival, which in the drizzle of early afternoon was closing up. So all we did was wander among the booths, smelling food, watching people, perusing some Hungarian handicrafts, and making silly Wallace-and-Gromit “cheese” gestures at each other. Perhaps another half hour passed. Then we crossed our busy avenue over to the big synagogue (using my map, I had figured out what it was), but it was closed for the holiday (we had vaguely hoped it was open, having been closed as usual for the Sabbath the day before).* We decided to return there tomorrow, probably. So we wandered off on side streets, desultorily visiting the Jewish Quarter in the slightly increasing drizzle/mist/haze of moisture. 

Holiday (or demonstrating) crowd on October 23, 2011

The thing I havenʼt sufficiently emphasized about our Sunday/national holiday experience was the slightly (very) menacing fact of growing crowds, police presence — tape, military-like cops, vehicles — and physical preparations for rallies. The vague menace arose from our hotel desk staffʼs apparent concern about the then-upcoming “demonstrations” about which we were not supposed to worry, but from which their list of alternative activities was designed to keep us away. Elizabeth Square, a very nice block-long and block-wide park, had actual construction ongoing (carpenters pounding and powered saws squealing — building a platform, possibly a stage), and there was a steady flow of hundreds (and hundreds) of people down one or two (relatively minor) streets toward the river. We could tell that something was going to happen — actually, as it turned out, several somethings. But we didnʼt learn that until later. We didnʼt personally experience anything about demonstrations or rallies until later. 

Once we finished our tour of rundown grey buildings on curving, narrow trafficless streets, nonetheless parked with Euro cars from end to end, both sides, driverʼs side wheels up on the sidewalk (which turned out once we consulted a map later on, to be the Jewish Quarter), we wandered southwards, eventually arriving by the Great Market Hall — a location we ended up at often over our week in town. My ignorant semi-study of guidebook transit maps (and reading) indicated that the Number 2 Tram along the Pest side of the Danube was scenic, so we hopped aboard a northbound one at Liberty Bridge. 

I rather enjoy public transit. Janet is less sure about buses and now, after Budapest, trams. Admittedly, I have a record of getting us… not exactly lost but far from known regions, a history extending back to the end-of-the-line debacle in Amsterdam in 1983 (we did get back; we just had to get off and wait for the tram to turn around and the driver to take a break), through an extended bus ride into the wilds of East London, possibly beyond the zones permitted on our TravelCards (but we did hop off after questioning the conductor and did get on a returning bus right back to Oxford Street; and the areas we were “lost” in were really just working class, not slums at all — regardless how paranoid we were feeling or oddly other passengers were eyeing us), through the incident I am about to relate in Budapest, to an extensive bus ride, intended as a brief escape from the rain, in Chicago over New Years (which also involved reaching the turnaround point on the loop, where the driver parked and took a fifteen-minute — Janet says half-hour — break). The problem is that bus and tram routes are generally shown only partially on maps, particularly in tourist guidebooks, but even on some official transit maps (not that we had any in Budapest and only Michigan Avenue tourista ones at New Years), so figuring where a particular bus or tram might go can become an issue of mere guesswork.

My beloved does, on the other hand, like subways, in general. And I think the London Underground and its much imitated schematic colored map is one reason. For most subways, Metros, the Underground, the Tube you can figure pretty easily where your line is going and even pretty exactly what stops to expect (Chicagoʼs Red Line proved at New Years to be a partial exception to my rule — no posted route map in the car, just advertising). 

The number 2 tram — shot, as the blue sky should reveal, a few days later

But Budapest is our topic. We got aboard the #2 heading (if I can even remember at this remove, nearly three full months after the fact) north toward Parliament. Our vehicle/car was fairly crowded (I know we had to stand — we invariably did on trams), and the view was not very impressive, especially out over the gray river on this gray and drizzly day. We could easily see Buda over there, but rushing by as we moved along. The Pest side was mostly just walls and barriers between us and stuff (like Parliament), although we did get a good, quick glimpse of the Gresham Palace and Roosevelt tér race past. I donʼt remember how far north we went, maybe to Margit híd (bridge by Margaret Island), maybe farther, then back to the south.

This southward trip was the first taste of misadventure, as somewhere south of Szabadság híd,** at what must be the Közvágóhíd terminus, in territory that seemed unfriendly beyond unfamiliar (our typical tourist paranoia arising from going beyond the regular tourist regions, just the same as the uncomfortable London double-decker tour to East London in 2001 and just the same as our worst moments later in that holiday Sunday afternoon), having to wait and catch a different set of cars to go back northwards, we both started getting nervous. Reaching the end of the line was surprising.

Possibly, the gloomy overcast and pall of threatened “demonstrations” infected our moods, but we both felt out of place. Honestly, a (very) little scared.

We got off our dead-ended tram and wandered across tracks to two other trams that seemed to be headed, eventually, back to the north and the city center. But we couldn’t easily decide which one to get on. Hesitation and fretting led to us following a few other travelers (local citizens) onto one of the cars, which after another five or ten minutes did start back up the same way we had come down. Janet wanted off once we reached Elizabeth Bridge/Vörosmarty tér, and with my now aged notion of visiting outside one of the baths, I said we should catch a 47 or 49 tram across the Danube to Buda and see the Gellért Baths.

We caught the tram easily enough, but baths we did not see, although we got to see what The Lovely One considered altogether too much of the city/suburbs south of Buda. Probably ten or twelve stops too much.

But that will have to be tomorrowʼs tale (or sometime). Weʼre well over a thousand words today.

* (Perhaps, knowing something about the paired left- and [more importantly, probably] right-wing demonstrations scheduled for the holiday, and the proximity — of the just-then-arriving right-wingers in Erszébet tér — to the synagogue, they had wisely shut up shop this Sunday. Some security was still in evidence, too.)

** (Freedom Bridge on Vámház körút, which led around through Kálvin tér becoming first Múzeum körút, then Károly körút — the big, wide street we had encountered looking for Deák tér and the metro ticket booth — the route I think we had followed more or less until we picked up the northbound No. 2)

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Budapest Day 3 — National Holiday (part 1)

Today, finally, I have the start of my continuation of the Budapest trip (late October 2011). The most recent piece, on our Saturday, the second day in town, was here.

Crowds gathering for the National Holiday, October 23 — a gray and drizzly day — the Elizabeth Bridge over the Danube in the distance

Sunday had been our day of dread (to be over-the-top in my expression) since I had discovered during my hurried, brief stint of rushed research that October 23 was a major national Hungarian holiday — commemorating the 1956 uprising (savagely suppressed) against communist rule (eternally enshrined, at least for Janet and me, in the Chess anthem “1956 — Budapest is rising”). Our previous experience with European holidays indicated everything could be closed for the day. And it was a Sunday, too. Furthermore, when we had raised the holiday issue with the charming desk staff at the hotel, all three girls reacted strangely and mentioned “demonstrations — not to worry” (demonstrations, evidently, about which we knew nothing) before assuring us that restaurants would be open and that the staff world advise us of available attractions to seek on the holiday. 

Saturday night, when we returned from dinner and the concert, the girl at the desk stopped us to offer a sheet of paper with about a dozen things to do — all of which took us tourists out of downtown, where the demonstrations would occur. I think three of those destinations were baths, so perfectly Hungarian, as my reading back in Iowa had quickly taught me, but my beloved and I had pretty well decided, packing, that we wouldnʼt include bathing gear. Sure, a mistake — Rick Steves would be nasily disappointed. We were depriving ourselves of an experience. Even so, me particularly not imagining myself getting mostly naked, I thought we might at least see the Gellért or Széchenyi baths from the outside. After all, as long as the offices were open during the holiday, we were intending to buy transit passes first thing on Sunday and get much further out and about than we had so far. 

Sunday came rain. I awoke sometime in the middle of the night to hear rain falling outdoors.* Looking out from the living area, even my unbespectacled eyes could see the streets and masonry glistening and catch hints of the precipitation in the globular halo of streetlights. By morning (well, very late morning; apparently jet lag caught us up overnight, and we both slept from sometime after midnight until 11:30 AM), the rain had diminished to drizzle and less, but it was a gloomy, dark and chilly day — sadly so after the cloudless brilliance of the day before. Tourists, committing themselves to be outdoors, more or less, throughout the day, never really like to see it rain. But this present morning (okay, nearly noontime) damp seemed very much diminished from my blind experience in the night, and besides I had planned us to be bus borne or trolley-carried or civic-spelunking on the metro (maybe, I dreamed, on the suburban train half an hour northward to the Roman ruins of Aquincum — a dream because we never got there, not this trip). 

After morning ablutions and a bit of breakfast bread and fruit with instant coffee**, we descended the steps to the lobby so I could verify at the desk that public transit would be running and the ticket vendors present. The girlʼs reaction to my inquiry came close to “Duh. What else?” but quite polite — she assured me the transit workers and the police would be on the job today. 

GoogleMaps™ rendition of our Pest neighborhood; the hotel is marked in red, Deák tér in blue

So we set off outdoors, finding only mist in the air, through wet streets to Deák Tér. Although we had been that way once before, I wasnʼt sure just what park was Deák tér (this one mostly an open, paved square) nor just where the metro entrance was (I assumed, correctly, the tickets were inside the subway station). Our problem was that although I could, using one of our tour guide maps, steer us toward Deák Tér, passing along the edge of Erzsébet tér (where it seemed protesters or celebrators were setting up for some kind of apparently major event, supervised by police — lots of police and yellow cop tape everywhere, even along streets), I couldnʼt exactly find Deak tér. I had come to believe, more or less correctly, that a tér (“square”) was a park, like Erzébet or Roosevelt tér along the river in front of the Gresham Palace. I was forgetting, however, that the equivalent namešti (in Czech) in Prague were large open, paved areas with three to six streets converging more or less at the corners. Deák tér seems like an excessively large intersection with some bits of park and a big church (the Great Synagogue) at various edges of the street, and a tram line running through the middle of the major big, wide, multilane boulevard. Fortunately, in one green area a cheese festival had been set up for the weekend, temporary booths and Sunday crowds drawing Janetʼs attention. 

Festival meant park, and some serious damp study eventually revealed to my worried scrutiny that the stairwells leading down were more than just a pedestrian underpass for crossing the big, wide, busy avenue. We discovered, in fact, when we descended a whole expansive mall-like area with shops and food stands. But at first no metro. However, the general flow of people and a lucky guess led me to the transit ticket booth. I had tried to prepare a full Hungarian sentence, requesting our seven-day passes, which in the stress of the real encounter degenerated into, “weekly pass, two,” for which I belatedly remembered to switch my gesture for the number to the European thumb and forefinger. The woman behind the glass answered in passable, minimal English and showed me the amount to pay on a calculator. In less than a minute we had our passes for bus, tram, metro and local suburban train.

* (We nightly opened a window for the fresh air, exactly as we had with the small portals in our garret in Prague, but here in Pest we had no pigeons to worry about. They had flapped at the opening in Prague threatening to but not actually entering, forcing us to keep the windows almost but not quite closed there. In Pest, we kept the opening small mostly from a sense of security.)

** (great stuff they stocked for our kitchenette each day: I enjoyed a cocoa-coffee blend and even brought a couple baglets home to enjoy one of these wintry days)

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.


Whatʼs going on?

Astonishing.

Amazing.

Thanks to Gwen Hernandezʼs helpful comment, I got my blog to actually shut down* yesterday** instead of merely identifying the open blog as blacked out.

Actual screen capture from 4:40 PM CST, Wednesday, 18 January 2012, searching for “blackout square,” returned this blog as result #1

And we still got well over 100 hits***. Blacked out. With no blog available. Astonishing. Amazing (in a strange and twisted kind of way).

Admittedly, when one googled “blackout square,” the name I had given my home-made blackout image from Tuesdayʼs post about yesterdayʼs blackout, the first item Google returned was my square (at least for me; I really donʼt know if being me makes Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog show up higher in the search results than for other folks****). Iʼm serious. Just look at the image to the right (and go on, click it to make it big, so you can actually see). That first black square on the search for “blackout square” is my image (the one I put my cursor under, marked “22 hours ago” when I searched yesterday afternoon and then took the screen capture).

Yeah, itʼs pretty (pointlessly) ego-boosting (“Vanity of vanities, sayeth the Preacher. All is vanity”) to be the top result on Google — even if it is just for a picture, and one I created by pouring black into a new GraphicConverter image and saving in somewhat under forty seconds, just so I had an image to use Tuesday (it also became my Facebook display pic yesterday, too*****). However, itʼs fairly confusing also to realize that searchers got nothing for clicking on that image (or any of the other searched links that led hereabouts) yesterday.

WordPress.com Stats on Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog about 4:40 PM yesterday — and people who cliked search links got the generic WordPress blackout page, no matter what

Of course, people searched plenty of other things (the usual suspects around here, according to WordPress Stats — check the stats capture to the left, the one that in the top graph reveals those 100+ hits at just 4:40 PM). But internet pic trollers didnʼt get anywhere with any of those searches yesterday. How do I know? Because I tried a couple of those terms myself, using Safari and Chrome (as I already had the WordPress post-composition page open here in Firefox, writing some of these words******). And when I clicked on the links, I got the standard this-blog-is-blacked-out-in-protest-of-SOPA/PIPA*******. It must have been kind of frustrating for those image-seeking internet users.

Of course, once I changed from the total blackout setting to the just-a-protest-banner setting, those anonymous image-thieving pirates could get what they wanted again (and they probably are doing so right now). Gosh, does that bit of online behavior indicate we really do need an internet piracy law? (No.)

(One last thing — at least before you get to the plethora of footnotes below — yesterday was one of the worst days since last summer for CenturyLink******** screwing with my internet linkage: at least a dozen interruptions, half of those, at least, within less than five minutes of each other — meaning no actual getting online at all for a big part of yesterday morning. Talk about your internet blackouts. — At least I got this little item written, illustrated, annotated, linked and repeatedly saved without interruption.)

* Thatʼs a split infinitive there: “to actually fail.” Traditional stylistics dictate that one should never split infitinitives. I do it all the time. For instance, in the case above (which I did think about; viz. this footnote), placing “actually” in the position it occupies seems (at least to me) to emphasize the reality of the shutting down.  — Agree? Disagree? Comment, then.

** (WordPress.com added both the current banner and a Wednesday, 18 January 2012 SOPA/PIPA blog-blackout item sometime after I wrote and posted Tuesdayʼs little essay)

*** The final count, observed just as I posted this shortly after 9:00 AM Thursday, 19 January 2012, was 136 pointless hits.

**** Your input is welcome. Do your results parallel mine? (We can communicate and run the same search about the same time, just to be most objectively accurate.)

***** I hope I remembered to change it before posting this today…

****** Thatʼs a Chrome window with the Google search result on “blackout square” above and to the right.

******* That standard this-blog-is-blacked-out-today is also what turned up when I tried to preview this post for proofreading, too! Not quite so amusing to me somehow.

******** Itʼs mighty interesting to google “CenturyLink sucks” and find all the nearly endless number of folks who have shared my frustration with this worthless big-corporate excuse for an Internet “Service” Provider.

My alternative title for todayʼs post was “SOPA/PIPA Blackout Fail.” I thought that bit of verbiage might be arresting and rivetingly seize attention. But after my testing discussed above, I know the blackout didnʼt fail. Folks just kept clicking here anyway (some of them over and over — I do really love those WordPress statistics).  

— And, yeah, I was having a good time footnoting again.

And, yes, I do have Sunday, October 23, 2012, our third day in Budapest, coming your way really, really soon. Just not today.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

SOPA Blackout

I just spent about forty minutes trying to black out this blog for tomorrow, Wednesday, 18 January 2012, in protest over the idiotic legislation in Congress (and supported by the evidently braindead Senator from Iowa but not the other one, at least not yet) — only to discover that WordPress.com users donʼt get plugins (the recommended way to shut down for the day). Only WordPress.org users. So all I can do is declare myself officially blacked out (because I donʼt choose to close down Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog and then start a new blog on Thursday).

Censorship sucks.

The United States of America should not join in the same restrictive international club of domineering tyrant states as China, Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the First Amendment. We must defend that right, responsibly and completely.

Consider us BLACKED OUT in SOPA/PIPA protest. (And I had 1300 words on Budapest Day #3 all ready to go, too.)

* Oh, yeah. If you are reading this on Wednesday, 18 January 2012, donʼt bother with those Wikipedia links…

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Celebratory Beverage

In part to continue the little sequence of posts lately into a trilogy, but really because Janet made a batch of todayʼs topic as a gift for a friend (and had me make the label, that comprises todayʼs special image, for the recycled wine bottle into which she placed said beverage), I thought I would take another stab at another recipe. (It has been a long time.) Although I do prefer my own Snowy Evening (we have spread the name of my invention to at least a dozen people now), Janet has a real fondness for her concoction — Pumpkini Martinis.

Hereʼs her recipe for two (large) martini glasses:

  • 3 shots each of:
    • Pumpkin Smash™ Liqueur,
    • white chocolate Irish cream,
    • and vanilla vodka
  • 2 shots of nonalcoholic cream (such as Half-n-Half, vanilla- or pumpkin-flavored coffee liquid creamer)

Put in a shaker with ice. Shake to chill. Strain into chilled martini glasses. Sprinkle the top with nutmeg. Enjoy.

Itʼs pretty simple, but very pleasant. Makes a good drink at the end of an enjoyable evening. (The Lovely One and her sister enjoy them when they get together, often but not always).

Janetʼs gift

Today Janet made two or three glasses worth and poured them into a wine bottle from which she had removed the label, scrubbed (and nearly sanded the exterior to remove label glue), and then had me tape on my home-made label.

Pumpkin martinis are a little sweet for me to drink much (a good thing, as I don’t have that problem with Snowy Evenings). But theyʼre  pretty good. And I hope our friend Lisa enjoyes her celebratory bottle of the drink (with friends or not all at once).

In other news… my lovely (still unregistered) smartpen has gotten me* most of the way through day three of our Hungarian adventure, for anyone interested in what might be coming up here on Wakʼs Blog. Furthermore, while on the trip we took for New Years, I wrote plenty. So we wonʼt be idle in days to come.

Stay tuned. Stay healthy. Keep reading.

* I do like writing longhand, being an old curmudgeonly codger. And itʼs lovely to just hook up the pen and edit the few errors MyScript for Livescribe™ happens to make with my illegible handwriting, copy over into Scrivener for revision, export as HTML for copying into WordPress.

2012 could be a much more verbose year around here. Be prepared?

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Joining the Hall of Shame

1/11/12 

Screen capture taken at 3:25 CST Thursday, 12 January 2012 — click to enlarge

Today we pay off our mortgage. $932.05. The escrow returns to us in about fifteen days, a deliberate delay by Wells Fargo that stinks of greed — sucking additional profit through interest from our 27-year loan servitude). Of which Wells Fargo only inherited the loan about five years ago, acquiring it, if I remember rightly, from Fifth Third (but they may have owned my truck loan).

The worst owner was the insurance-cum-banking scum in Des Moines to whom we were enslaved until the big hailstorm (2001?), Allied Insurance and Mortgage. You see, their insurance arm would not pay us directly for our damage, insisting the cash had to go to the mortgage holder (themselves — Allied) but only after we had made the approved repairs/improvements (kind of a classic Catch-22). The worst part was getting paid for two sides of the house, siding damage, but having to replace all four (so as not to reduce the value of the property). Tight-assed, greedy bloodsucking bastards. Pardon my honesty.

We have paid for our home (but with some “improvements” in the second mortgage we took out with our friendly, local bank, who then sold us on to larger, greedier incompetents) thrice over — probably not even counting “points,” “fees” and other financial thievery.

Wells Fargoʼs corporate greed blew its public relations, at least with me (and perhaps now with you, too, Gentle Readers), three times over since Friday. 

First, after more than half a decade of handling our payments nearly perfectly — no delays in check-cashing to force late fees, as I had suffered under other institutions — on our penultimate payment, they somehow ignored the amount for which I had made out the check and cashed it for the monthly payment only, without the additional thousand of additional principal. A mistake? The probability of driving up our final payment by a couple of bucks a day made the coincidence of this “error” seem overly convenient to me. So I called the company (with three motives in mind — to complain about their deliberate error and get it corrected; to verify the final payment procedure and, after the “error” correction to determine the appropriate timing of our payoff; and to investigate our acquisition of the funds in our [currently rather hefty] escrow account). 

Check the incomprehensible bookkeeping from yesterday

Their second PR goof occurred there — not once I got to human customer relations agents, but in their labyrinthine and totally annoying voicemail system. All corporations should realize in these web-presence internet times that no one calls a corporation to deal with a machine. No one. And these foolhardy corporate managers, who insist on erecting these voicemail barricades against providing service, are making their customer-contact workersʼ lives far worse than necessary by automatically outraging each caller with the completely unnecessary barrier and frustration of voicemail (not to mention the addition of time-wasting and annoying advertising with the endless voicemail menus). 

Obviously, four menus into my (wasted) time, when I finally could dial zero for a human, I was raging, and poor Keisha, who answered, had to accept the burden. Nor was I interested in her long waits online for me while she “brought up” my check, nor her subsequent apologies. I wanted the correct amount credited toward paying our loan on the correct, original day. She could not do it; Wells Fargo could add the thousand the day I called, a weekend after (three daysʼ of interest later) but not retroactively. I kept insisting their “mistake” was not my problem. I had paid the amount I wished already. She passed me up to a “supervisor,” Carmen Kearney, in, as it turned out, “another state.” 

Carmen and I went round and round (and round and…) as well, although she almost immediately was able to postdate (predate?) their additional draw, as per my original check, on my checking account. Carmen apologized profusely (and pointlessly), too. It really got ugly — okay, I got ugly as she stoically stonewalled — when I got to my second and third topics, paying off the mortgage (delayed, thereby forcing several daysʼ more interest, by Wells Fargoʼs little “error” with my monthly check-plus-additional-principal) and acquiring our escrow account. Nothing could be done about the payoff delay (me: “Why should your incompetence be my problem?”), nothing, but she was “facilitating” the fastest possible acquisition by Wells Fargo of my additional thousand. And Wells Fargoʼs standard policy is to retain all escrow accounts for fifteen days after receipt of final payment to ensure sufficient funds in the payerʼs account to cover the payoff — no exceptions. (Me: “Yeah, Sure. Lets you collect fifteen unearned daysʼ interest on my escrow account.” No response to my repeated assertions of fraud. Me: “So are you going to pay me the four percent daily interest I could have been earning on those escrow funds if you had transferred them to my account with actual efficiency?” No acknowledgment of that idea.) 

And third, Wells Fargoʼs insistence on me (in this circumstance) having to follow their penny-ante regulations blew any respect I might have for this bloated, incompetent, cheating and deceptive, dis-serving and abusive financial giant stomping clumsily and viciously on the lives of its victims. They had mismanaged my payment, but I had to serve and obey humbly their inflexible regulations, to my detriment after their rude error. “Third” means that they cheated me. Is it fraud? I say, “Yes.” After all, they supposedly erred. They owe me reparations, not their selfserving regulations-as-usual. 

Wells Fargo joins the ranks of corporate malfeasance with Qwest/CenturyLink, DirecTV, Fox News, Allied Mortgage/Insurance, and whatever customer-abusing companies I have already mentioned here on the blog for the Hall of Shame in business (mal)practice. 

I actually wrote this (as dated above) yesterday. Janet did overnight the check via UPS, which showed it arrived, signed for at 9:54 this morning, Thursday, 12 January 2012 (as I had verified would happen, per a Wells Fargo note on the website, 24 hours in advance with their “Quinn” yesterday about 8:40 AM).

So far, although I post late in the afternoon, nothing shows to change our account status to zero. Way to suck, Wells Fargo.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Apple Sucks (Redux)

The (not quite in focus) little drive that could… in action (see its little blue light, indicating disk activity?)

Maybe Apple doesnʼt suck? Except in its Asian hardware…

Clearly, tech ace Aaron had it right. My iMacʼs optical drive is fried (great choice of substandard equipment there, Apple guys). I know because I have worked around the problem.

Although I was temporarily dwelling within a mile of an Apple store over the New Years weekend (more on that another time very soon), I decided not to carry the huge computer down Michigan Avenue from our temp residence amidst/against the crowds of post(?)-holiday shoppers thronging and clogging the Miracle Mile. Nor did I select to bring the iMac along on our four-hour drive to downtown Chicago (and then back home again) on the shot that batting my elderly eyelids at the Windy Cityʼs Apple Geniuses would get me a replacement drive for the pathetic original.

However, I did take Aaronʼs other advice and purchased an inexpensive add-on USB optical drive/DVD burner. Lacking any originality or willpower to find a better deal, I went straight for his suggestion — the Samsung drive available at amazon.com. The device arrived really quite quickly, not long after Christmas, and I got it operational by unboxing the slim little bit of blackness and plugging it into one of the three USB expanders dongling from the iMacʼs ports. Truly plug-and-play.

My single big concern with buying a new drive was adding something else to the tangle of wires extruding from the iMacʼs USB ports. (I had experienced some troubles keeping my back-up drives loading until they got their own dongle, the same one into which I plugged the two USBs for the Samsung optical — I might as well keep all “drives” together, I thought, productively, as it turned out).

The new drive is operating right now, uploading some newly acquired (Christmas-gift) music into iTunes. And I am merrily listening to the third of the Steig Larsson The Girl Who… books as (I attempt to pretend) I take my early morning “run.”

Except for a periodic issue not recognizing that a CD is a CD and instead offering a Finder window saying the disk is unreadable and do I want to format it now, the new drive works great (and I am currently giving it a workout, uploading all the CDs I had put on hold for the recent months of the built-in optical driveʼs death throes).

Best of all, the import speeds on the new drive beat the old one all hollow (and typing those words, I really wonder where the cliché “to beat something all hollow” originates). Even Audiobook CDs import in just a few minutes (for some reason those always seemed to take the longest, on The Lovely Oneʼs HP laptop and with the built-in optical drive on this iMac). Pretty cool seeing those 15.3x to 17.1x import speeds in iTunes.

Oops. The drive just pulled its “donʼt-recognize-this-disk” routine, and I stupidly hit the “Ignore” button instead of “Eject.” The disk isnʼt visible on the Desktop, and I canʼt get the drive to open its bay by pushing on the front, either. Now I think I have to restart the computer to get the disk out (or maybe… Iʼll just unplug the USB cord from the drive and see if that works — it did). However, itʼs a good sign I had better wrap this up and move on to other, probably more important activities.

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Wow. A Post. “On Art and Beauty”

Although I have been pondering any number of short little (and several long and humongous) posts to start 2012 (at least since The Lovely One and I returned from a News Years break to Chicago), some of which you are likely to read soon, I have something a little diferent for today. It does, however, remind me of the kind of thing I was posting here two years ago.

I got an e-mail after Christmas that made me think. And since Janet enjoyed receiving her BCC of the answering e-mail I finally wrote today, I thought I would post my response to the stimulating e-mail for the blog.

The e-mail I received went to about two dozen (or more; I never actually counted) recipients from the lovely woman who gave me the chance to portray Picasso just over a year ago. She was going to speak to an art class at one of the Dubuque colleges and wanted some input from people she considered artists of various kinds (including me, perhaps the non-artist of the group). She had six questions (probably the ones she was supposed to discuss for the class):

·         Why did you become an artist (i.e., why do you do what you do)?

·         What characterizes someone as an artist, in your view (i.e., what specific characteristics does an artist possess)?

·         What is art, in your view (i.e., what makes something be a work of art)?

·         What is beauty, in your view (i.e., what makes something be beautiful)?

·         In your view, does a work of art have to be beautiful (i.e., is beauty an essential element/characteristic of a work of art)?

·         In your view, what is the purpose of a work of art (i.e., why do you produce works of art; what role do they play in your life and/or in the lives of others)?

I had a hard time getting past the first one, but as she needed answers by today (yeah, I am a great procrastinator), I finally buckled on the necessaries and got to typing. This is what I wrote:

clip art

I took my time answering this because I am afraid I donʼt really consider myself an “artist,” rather someone who went into eduction for as long as possible, and thatʼs about it. However, I will try.

I became who I am because I like the arts, visual/performance/literary (I like art enough to be pretty cautious, even derogatory about considering fashion or advertising arts). I act because I liked it from childhood on (beginning with memorizing and performing the Ronald Coleman 78-rpm records of A Christmas Carol for my family when I was still preschool age) and got kind of pushed into performing by an excellent high school speech and drama instructor, Mrs. Marilyn Vincent at Mt. Pleasant Community High School. I write for vaguer reasons, except that I seem to always remember writing stuff ever since I learned the skills, memories extending back to comic books created with a friend at lunch time in first and/or second grade and my Adventures of Capt. Furgo in third or fourth grade that I was polishing into an illustrated booklet in eighth grade (gone now, sadly). Itʼs just what I do. An anthology of poetry I scammed from my motherʼs shelves also stimulated writing in verse (and probably also condemned me toward becoming an English, speech and drama teacher, too). Writing and theatre meet in my plays, of course (mostly written so the students at school had something to perform… cheaply).

An artist is somehow compelled to (meaning: by nature a person who does) perform the activities that society or culture has deemed artistic. Perhaps there is a desire for prominence or polish in those activities as well. One is able to become wrapped up in the details and even the frustrations of making something (or making something happen). One can remain focused on such excruciating details for prolonged periods of time. One daydreams (is that imagination?). Most artistic persons I know seem somehow withdrawn socially or perhaps self-involved (I worry about the relation between artistic involvement and the spectrum of autism). One seeks perfection or at least polish and skill.

Art reflects reality (as a victim/offspring of the Western Civ Romantic movement, I have to acknowledge an indoctrination at least that “self-expression” may be involved, but I find that issue is probably socially conditioned and not necessarily basic to artistic endeavor). Art imposes something new (but not always novel or innovative) on reality as well. Art is less practical than related activities such as, say, philosophy. Art may move people emotionally (I think thatʼs the “beautiful” aspect of art that I am getting at, not a mere tearjerking maudlinism). A work of artistic creation may reveal significance or meaning, if only to the maker, upon reflection. (And letʼs not forget the now obvious deeply prehistoric roots of artistic practices, which have to be [perhaps] rooted with magical or supernatural practices and/or speculation.)

Beauty is an experience for me personally, not a thing capable of definition. Culturally, beauty has traditionally been a philosophical construct (all the way back at least to Plato, obviously) and thus a muddled (yeah, I am thinking of you Thomas Aquinas) and muddied concept (no thanks whatsoever, Immanuel Kant). My personal take is that beauty comprises a set of notions attempting to abstract or describe a deeply emotional (and therefore limbic [as in brain construction] and therefore also pre-verbal) response to natural and possibly supernatural stimuli, often felt as a sense of exaltation or insight or calm assurance or personal awareness. Since its roots and nature are emotional, “beauty” is thus not conducive to getting into words or making into an abstraction. Beauty is deeply connected to the imagination. I personally question the Romantic supposed natural connection/identity between beauty and art.

The beauty of art would consist in a work of art modeling reality in an emotionally/imaginatively suggestive or stimulating way. A beautiful work of art, like a beautiful mathematical theorem or scientific theory, models reality well (although not necessarily “realistically,” just as quantum dynamics defies common sense).

Art has no “purpose.” Frequently, on a social level, art entertains, but I deeply question/disbelieve that entertainment is the purpose or reason for art. I write and I do plays because itʼs fun for me. I get pleasure from the activities involved in the process(es). As an art “consumer,” I frequent museums because I enjoy looking at the works of art (I like examining the brushstrokes, for instance, as well as “appreciating” the image on a canvas; and my wife, who adores Impressionism, and I get a kick of trying to find the correct distance from such a painting when the image, as we say, “pops into focus,” like a brightly illuminated slice of reality in a tiny rectangle [and from our experience they always do, although no museum yet has given us enough distance to really appreciate Monetʼs Water Lilies]. And thereʼs amazement in realizing just how far away from the canvas that point of clarity is. Did the artist ever see it that way, having to paint right up next to the canvas?). I like the historical aspect of museum-going, too. I like attending plays because of personal pleasure as well, getting caught up in the story but also studying the production and performance techniques being used. My most constant artistic pleasure is reading, mostly for the story in fiction and the communion with better minds and wider experiences than my own. And to experience what I simply never could unimaginatively/practically, getting beyond my own dull reality (which fits all kinds of art).

Since high school I have written wanting to become “a writer.” But throughout my teaching career a lot of what I wrote was for school in one way or another, deliberately (as in plays) or provocatively, as in bringing in my own poems (not often) to help explain and experience poetic analysis and interpretation. I do wish to/dream of getting published (although I donʼt enjoy the drudgery and rejection of actually making the effort to submit stuff), but I get a good deal of pleasure from reading my own sentences, too (even if that means I then need to revise or correct or improve).

I have acted because I could and I enjoyed it (and once now I have even been paid to act — thanks). I have directed and done technical stuff in theater because itʼs been necessary (and can be fun/pleasurable). I do like making things, even though other people often have greater and better skills than mine, so I would rather let them do that painting, construction or designing. The audience aspect can be interesting as a director, but essentially I donʼt really enjoy the performances; theyʼre just what it all builds up to.

Often I draw or act or write because me doing it is easier or simpler, faster or more practical than acquiring the result in another way.

And I never even considered music in this whole little dissertation! (And music may complicate a lot of what I said above.)

Does any of this help?

A better closing question here on the blog would be: So what about you? Whatʼs your answer to any or all of those six questions?

©2012 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.