Thursday, September 15, 2005

Strasbourg, one of several capitals of Europe.

It seems inevitable that this blog will sometimes reflect the cities and places I visit in a slightly unfavourable light. Strasbourg makes this difficult for me to do this as it is the town of my birth and my childhood. Never the less, I will still try.

For all cretins who can’t be arsed to look at a map, I must state once and for all that Strasbourg is in France not Germany and that you will always be the one who is made to feel really thick when playing Trivial Pursuit. I will concede the town’s decision to put the street signs in Kraut can lead to confusion (in theory it is not Kraut but Alsatian, a distinct dialect that just happens to written exactly like German, have the same grammatical rules and sound very, very similar. Do not say this to the locals as Alsatian identity consists of 2 centuries pretending not be German). Strasbourg also happens to be a fine gem of a city, a place fit to raise yours truly. I myself am aware that some of my attributes reflect both German and French culture. By that I mean that I have a beergut as well as being work-shy

Another difficulty I have is in providing a description of the town is that I have mainly visited places that have a sentimental connotation for me, usually places that serve booze. I have wobbled through the streets in the wee hours, slightly cupsprung, reflecting on my previous presence in some of these places, also in the wee hours and also drunk. As Strasbourg is a beautiful place I can now see that that my youth’s haunts were indeed splendid. This has taught me a key lesson in life, that it is far better to behave disgracefully in a nice setting. To act foolishly, as any pissed teenager will, in some gritty concrete shithole makes you look part of some scene of urban decay but to do it in a scenic plaza or on top of a medieval cathedral is bohemian high jinks. That’s why it’s more fun to yell drunken abuse and fall over at a wedding than it is in a car park. Context is everything.

If you want a guided tour of the place, I’m sure the town has some sort of website telling you how fucking great it is. Knock yourself out.

One thing that I think I should recommend is to go eat in Winstub. Alsatian food is German chow cooked in a French way. It is satiating and still tastes nice. The places are also more friendly and relaxed than standard restaurant. A good waiter will impress you with his dedication to the French concept of terroir (no, I’m not going to translate complex French notions). I distinctly remember a podgy chap waxing lyrical for a quarter of an hour on the great virtues of some spirit made out of the buds of young saplings. It was a beautiful demonstration of his love and knowledge or all things good and traditional. We bought the spiel despite the fact that he had basically told us he was flogging wood alcohol and ordered the round. It was vile and the effects on some of the party were nefarious to say the least. One in particular, that will remain anonymous, managed to fall unconscious in several places in the course of the evening (bars, the boot of a car after a quick punch to the gut, the stairwell of a block of flats, six feet away from the couch he was aiming for, two feet away from the couch he was aiming for) and ended at midday in a lunch and breakfast type place, drinking beers and asking two kindly middle-aged chaps if they were child molesters. Glorious stuff.

In Paris I was parasiting off wage-slaves which meant that my days lead naturally to visiting the place as my hosts were off sucking up to their bosses. In Strasbourg, I do not have the same impetus as most of my friends have rigged up their lives to do as little as possible yet earn enough dosh to develop drinking problems. This leads me to my next cultural interlude:


First of all I must state that this is not a criticism. I am fully aware that calling myself a backpacker does not change the reality of me being unemployed and that my days are filled with many hours of fuck-all. I did work and save for the privilege of doing so but I know that if I could do otherwise, I would. So here goes:

1. Find the right job:
This might seem contradictory to proper slacking until you look at the provisions that the French state makes for a select group of workers; its employees. A friend of mine has been paid as a teacher (in France they are civil servants) for the past 4 years despite managing to see only one group of her unfortunate charges through a school year. All she had to do to achieve this was lie on her back and watch her husband sweat. She got pregnant. The intricacies of baby vacations in France still elude me but she seems fully aware that she can contrive various ways to play with her sprogs at the taxpayer’s expense and not get fired unless she touches up one of her charges and, what with the disproportionate power of unions in France, even that isn’t a cert.

2. Find half a job:
The people with whom I am staying are artists, a.k.a alcoholics with delusions of grandeur. A lot of them have managed to gain the coveted status of “intermittent du spectacle”. From what I understand they get to work part-time rigging stages or anything else remotely linked to art and get shedloads of benefit payouts the rest of the year so that they can be creative. This was set up so as to ensure that French culture will not be stymied by the harsh reality of the market. It has been kept in place mainly because of French paranoia about being swamped by American cultural imports. The idea of producing stuff that people might actually want to see and hear is seen as an Anglo Saxon barbarism. The UK is overrun by shit music and film because a lot of people are tasteless fuckwits but France is overrun by equally worthless stuff because the French state pays for it. Hooray for culture.

In case you wander what my arty acquaintances have produced thanks to this system please follow the link I undertand they will have samples of their music online as soon as they find the time (sober up) to finish their website. When they do and if you are brave enough to try it I strongly recommend you lower the volume on your PC and ensure your pets are out of the room. If, like me, you are not quite sure in what language the chappie is “singing” in, I have been told it is English. Clap, clap for the valiant efforts of France to preserve its culture.

3. Don’t get a job and read books.
Become a student. In Blighty, Tony Blair has decided that today’s youth are somehow less deserving of the same free university education he and his Oxbridge mates got. As a result, anyone wanting to develop their minds past the age of 18 must saddle themselves with crippling debt. The French have decided that it might be in the nation’s interest to have an educated workforce have wisely decided to cough up for a few years at Uni. However they have been perhaps a tad too generous.

Most French universities do not have a pre-selection and as a result, any cretin who barely scraped a pass at the French equivalent of A-levels can sign up for any thing they want. Unsurprisingly a lot of them fail dismally so the powers that be give them a few more chances to find a course they have at least a faint chance of passing. Once this is done and provided you don’t fuck up too badly you can carry on waking up at noon and scribbling bollocks about your preferred subject late into your twenties.

4. Don’t get a job at all
I also know people who somehow manage to lead a decent lifestyle despite being dole-monkeys. I could say that this is an example of the abuses of a welfare state but I suspect that their families are coughing up. That or low-level drug dealing.

There was the cultural bit. I am off to do what many French people my age does; smoke cigarettes and watch the Simpsons. I love the way this travelling malarkey is constantly flinging new experiences in my path. I’m sure I will one day be able to tell you how people in Turkmenistan smoke cigarettes and watch the Simpsons. The road beckons.

A final note on Strasbourg. It is a nice place to go to and a nice place to leave. Like all home towns, Strasbourg for me is somehow the real starting point of my travels. The evolution of the people here and the place itself retain my interest far more than it really should. Mates who, like me, have fucked off elsewhere become items of perpetual motions. Strasbourg presents me with a paradox; I wish for it and my friends here to evolve, change and progress but part of me wants it frozen in time. I have this selfish desire for the whole place to become a time capsule to my youth. A sure sign I am getting old and, judging by the last paragraph, a sure sign that I should drink some fucking coffee and stop being a sentimental whiner.

Got to go now, this twatting frog keyboard is driving me up the wall and I am going to spend a quarter of an hour correcting typos. If you are eagle eyed and can still spot mistakes; fuck you, this isn’t an essay.

Tchuss (German for cheerio)



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