where to begin?

well after Budapest the posting got a bit thin, so I guess that’s as good a place as any to start.

or first I should just say that Budapest was awesome. really incredible city. not like any place I’ve ever been before. It’s interesting now, thinking back on the trip, and comparing experiences with the cities and peoples of places like Budapest, Zagreb, Pula, London, and recognizing how distinct they all are, but that Budapest really is a place unlike any others. It has almost no relatives linguistically; it’s Central but borders the East, West and the Balkans; it’s materially very poor but adopting to a consumer society, but still people get by making something out of nothing (i.e. there is very little trash on the streets because they don’t have much to throw away!); the weather was brilliant, perfectly seasonal, and the hills of Buda I am sure have something to do with it!; best of all in the peak of summer I didn’t have any allergies, which means I could well-live there; and lastly, I’ll be back! It was that good.

to Zagreb
train to Zagreb

The train out of Keleti pu to Zagreb was great. Of course, I decided to travel on the day after the end of the Sziget festival, which meant the train was completely packed with punters from the festival, meaning a lot of noise and a lot of backpacks, and hippies! Thankfully I chose a car that was eventually occupied by a friendly group of Croatians (you’ll understand my distinction in a bit) including Mati and Valentino who along with a group of about 20 people were attending the festival; in Croatia they all help run a sort-of-not-for-profit type of organization called Moving Project, which was setup to give younger people a place to go for DJ parties, gatherings, forums, etc., since this type of place didn’t exist for people of their generation. As Mati noted, Croatians are fairly open-minded people, and very progressive. Their energies are a testament to their desire to enjoy life and experience as much as they can in their time.

Unfortunately they had to depart early, as they actually live outside of Zagreb in smaller villages. Mati’s, Valentino’s, and two other seats became empty, and filled in by this group of highly pretentious French kids. They were obviously annoyed by the presence of everyone else on the train, and furthermore by that they were 6 people, the car was 6 people, and the remaining two of us would not get up (and essentially have to stand the rest of the trip) for their party, their clique. It’s amazing how well they managed to reinforce cultural stereotypes! Upon entering the car, one bloke was annoyed that I wouldn’t allow the ovehead fluorescent to be turned on – it was past sundown now – because he really wanted to read his novel. Of course, reading for him actually meant skimming a page, then going back 20 pages and mumbling to himself, putting the book down to go out in the hallways for five minutes, come back in and go 60 pages forward in the book to act like he was reading, etc. He was a prat. They were all dressed in culturally hip tshirts and clothes sporting images of Jim Morrison and fractal patterns, who knew English but refused to communicate with anyone else on the train. Whereas Mati, Valentino and I exchanged food, liquor and talk, they passed food around us, never offered us anything nor introduced themselves at any point. They were headed to Vienna eventually, this train route also goes through Zagreb. Once getting to Glovni K. in Zagreb, they were packing their stuff into our car before myself and some Croatians had even managed to grab our bags from the overhead compartments. The Croatians were mad at them, I was mad at them. They reminded me why I didn’t plan to visit France on this trip.

I was in Croatia to visit my friend Olja Stipanovic, a Croatian artist who also lives near me in Queens, and whom I’ve gotten into an exhibition or two and befriended. Olja lives in Pula but has friends in Zagreb; I was picked up in Zagreb by her friend Sandra, whom I also met around five months ago at the Albatross opening at Socrates Sculpture Park. I camped with Sandra and her boyfriend Miro overnight at their place, we stayed up until nearly 4am drinking some Unicum that I brought with me from Budapest, and some Croatian drinks including biska, a type of brandy made from mistletoe and herbs!

Maksimir park, forest

the next morning we took their Alsatian hounds for a walk in this gorgeous park in Zagreb, over 200 years old it is an all-natural forest containing five lakes! If you get to Zagreb you must walk this park! After the park I offered to make them a breakfast omelette, which neither of them had eaten or seen before! But we decided instead on a Croatian egg-scramble called frita. Let me just say that food in this part of the world is delicious: from Budapest to Zagreb, I never had a disappointing meal. The food is entirely organic as far as I can tell, because they don’t have the massive farming industries that we have in the U.S., and all the pesticides and pasteurizing that come with it. Food, as it should, has so much more flavour.

Zagreb was great but Pula was the destination. A bus trip was in order. I was picked up by Olja and her boyfriend Robi Challenge and given a ride in Robi’s 1970s French car, which gets plenty of looks and has even been written up in the local newspaper! And you can see why:

Robi's car

We went for a dinner (I had gnocchi) on the banks of the Mediterranean before heading to see Robi’s football team, Hajduk Split play Sampdonia. Unfortunately Sampdonia won 1-0 but the Croatian fans always give it their best, even when they’re down:

us on the beach
Robi joined us after work

The next day Olja and I headed to the (rocky) beach. You find a flat part, lay your blanket and padding down, and make a day of it! We made a day of it! I didn’t bring a laptop, nor music, not even a magazine or book! A whole day doing nothing is something everybody should participate in at least once a year. Me, I got that intentional sunburn! That was my only plan!

Later that night we went to the annual Arts & Music Festival (after Sziget I swore I’d never see another band again, but here I was!) held inside this old Austrian fortress on top of one of the city’s seven hills. There is only one hill higher than this one, but from the top you can see to the city’s ancient ancient ancient Roman amphitheatre. Turn around and on the other side you can see into Uljanik, a huge shipyard and the focal point of the town not only in geography and driving (in that everywhere you go you run into Uljanik) but also with respect to the working class in that it employs many thousands of people who weld and build ships there. Pula is not just a tourist trap, they also build some massive ships there! A reason I’d like to go back to Pula, possibly to do some research and work with the Uljanik yard.

Pula departure
byebye pula
London journey
london city
I flew from a warm and sparkly Pula to a cold damp and dreary London, where as the days I was there went on the weather only seemed to get worse and worse. A true English summer, few people were in short sleeves, while some had fur-capped jackets or rain coats and umbrellas were the norm. As my matey Ed remarked, at least the clouds give you something to look at!

A lot has changed in London. Throughout the city, the skyline is absolutely littered with building cranes. (see this post also) But the best example is the supposed new transportation hub being built somewhere near Liverpool Street Station. This thing is a monster:

building in london

There are very few vantage points in East London (E8, E9) where you CAN’T see this place. I’ve only been gone three years, but am told most of this development has been in the past two. It shows how fast capital can move, and change the face of not only a city but its people, as Ed and I attended the Global Cities exhibition at Tate Modern (see my Flickr set) which examined several mega- or ‘hyper-cities’ around the world and suggested that in the next decade London would add over 600,000 residents, and since 1995 over 90% of those moving to London were born outside the UK – where will they all come from?

I didn’t do too much else in London (which was the point really, time off) except for seeing the Wellcome Collection with the Heart exhibition (see my Flickr set), before heading out to Whitstable, Kent to visit my mates Rachael and Jo.

rachael and jo
Rachael (pink hair) with Cora, the baby of Sarah Andrews (standing, can’t see, but whom I was also on course with) and Jo (seated)

Rachael was one of the first people I met on course at Central St. Martin’s, and I participated in some of her early performance work. Her and Jo David were two of the best people I met while in London, and were gracious enough to offer me their then-new (and still going strong) alternative exhibition space, Space Station Sixty-Five, in South London, for what was then my first and is still my only solo exhibition.

One more night out was in order, so that I could return the phone I borrowed from my friend Noe and so that Olivia-jane Ransley would somehow get the opportunity to punch my face in:
livvy punch
I don’t remember how this transpired! Honestly!

And that’s pretty much it really. No, really, bugger off!

Related websites:
Budapest – tourism photos on Flickr
trip to Zagreb photos on Flickr
trip to Pula photos on Flickr
London trip photos on Flickr