What I did on my Internet-free day

It was a crazy idea: When I woke up yesterday, I decided not to wake the computer the first thing. In fact, I decided to stay offline the whole day.

My reason was that I’m close to becoming an Internet addict. Of course, that word doesn’t really make sense, since Internet to large extents is part of your life and should be. I use it not only to pay my bills and charge people who buy my stuff, but also to do lots of other important work, not to mention communicate with friends. You know what I mean. Internet is in no way good or bad. It’s just there.

So when does sane Internet use turn into an addiction?

  • Maybe when you open a new browser window without having any particular site in mind, thus staring blankly at the address field.
  • Maybe when you in the same apathetic manner flip through the open browser windows in search for who knows what.
  • Maybe when you go to the Twitter window in the background as soon as it says “1 new tweet.” I quit Facebook partly for this reason.
  • Or maybe when you had other things in mind but just have to space-through the 100+ posts in your Google Reader before you start.

Sunday was a perfect day for taking a break from it all by staying offline and even off the screen. But it was hard! Especially since I was on my own the whole day, otherwise it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge to be honest.

This is what I did on my Internet-free day:

  • Took a walk in the light rain (it rained the whole day).
  • Studied Japanese at a café.
  • Finished Chaim Potok’s novel The Chosen.
  • Studied more Japanese at home.
  • Read some chapters in a book about the Greek language.

What I missed the most wasn’t the Internet, but the use of my computer as a tv. It would have been nice to end this text intensive day with a movie or just some short sitcom episodes in between the Japanese lessons. But rules are there to be followed!

I’m now taking these measures to make my Internet life less addictive:

  • I’m throwing out Boing-Boing from my reader. I love Boing-Boing (even read the print magazine back in 1995), but I should be doing other stuff than looking at monkeys riding goats. Also throwing out The Guardian’s book blog and some other feeds. (I wish Google Reader had a feature to deactivate feeds temporarily.)
  • I’m closing the Twitter window. It’s better to check it every once in a while and forget about it for large periods of time. After all, I’m no politician and no avid debater.
  • I’m having breakfast at the kitchen table instead of at the computer. No, I’m not ready for this one yet. And there’s also no real point in it – I love breakfasts in front of the screen!

Any other tips welcome! All in all, I had a great and very analogue day. I think I’m gonna make all Sundays Internet-free.

3 cafés I’m not coming back to

1. Bierhimmel, Berlin

Why: Their laptop ban.

I can understand why a café has a ban on laptop use. First of all, solo visitors who wifi all day long over the same cup of coffee is bad business. Second, solo visitors who facebook all day long is boring customers who don’t contribute to the good atmosphere of the café.

That’s the reason the waitress gave me when she asked my friend to shut down his laptop: It’s simply nicer without laptops.

Again, I can understand the reasoning. But I would add that it’s nicer without mobile phones as well. Or at least I can understand that some people would think that. Personally I would love a café with a ban on too short jeans. Seriously, get a fashion sense. Or a baby carriage ban. Or even better: A baby ban. That would make for a really good atmosphere, according to me, and probably most visitors.

But wait a minute. There is something that destroys a good café atmosphere more than laptops, mobile phones, babys and poor style. Namely: Bans.

Not to mention policing the visitors. Since we didn’t know about the ban, the waitress let us use the computer a little. But after a few minutes she came back and said: “I was serious about the ban. Please shut it down now.”

Nice! NICE! It must be NICE!!!

So we had to go, since our whole purpose with visiting a café was that my friend, who had just come back from Israel, wanted to show me some photos from Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin’s upcoming photo exhibition Jerusalem, in which he participated. We figured a gay café would be the right spot for this private preview of gay culture, but there you go.

At least, put up a sign on the door, please.

2. The Globe, Prague.

Why: Their ban on less than 4 persons per big table.

As you’ve figured by now, I don’t like bans. Not in cafés. As I said, I can understand that guests are more and less good from a café owner’s point of view, when it comes to both money and atmosphere. But you’re a café owner, so you’ll have to put up with the fact that not everyone spends lots of money, that teenagers sip on their teas for too long, and what else.

When I visited The Globe today, they had put up laminated signs on the two bigger tables opposite the bar. The signs read something like this:

Only 4 or more guests at this table!

I didn’t intend to sit there, but as I walked by these signs into the half-empty café, I was overcome by a strong feeling of bad energy. I made a little round through the smaller tables and then returned to the bookshop part of The Globe to regroup.

Yes, café owner, we understand that you want to reserve these tables for bigger groups, in order to make more money. But these signs is not the way to go.

I wonder if they have had problems with solo visitors sitting at these big tables? Which solo visitor would choose those big tables anyway? Actually, I sat at one of them earlier this week with a friend. (Since both of them were empty.) Not anymore. The Globe has become worse and worse since my first visit in 1997 (!), but this was it.

(So what did I do? I ordered a coffee and sat down at a table in the bookshop. No coffee ever came. Touché, The Globe. さようなら)

3. Lucerna, Prague.

Why: Their surveillance cameras.

If there’s something I dislike more than bans in a café, it is surveillance cameras. Lucerna has 17 of them, “for your safety”.

Lucerna is a classic. My Czech boyfriend showed me the rundown movie café back in 1997. We drank Martinis and red wine with the old ladies there while an old man played the piano. Lucerna was our café.

That’s why Lucerna is special to me, and that’s why I keep coming back. In the first years, it was getting even more rundown than it first was. It started to attract thugs and peddlers from the street, since it’s located at Václavské námestí. Then it was renovated and got a big extra section of tables, with fancy chairs. But the ladies stayed throughout these changes, and so did the piano player.

Now they are all gone. The piano is gone too.

I asked my waiter about the cameras. I said I spotted 5 of them, but he said there were 17 in total, and that the purpose probably was to keep track of the staff, to check that they are not lazy. (He informed me he often works from 8.30 am to midnight.) I told him to tell his boss that I, as a guest, don’t like to be surveilled while I have my coffee. He asked me to explain why, so he could give my reasons to his boss, and I said:

Because this is a café! Today you are surveilled in all places: On the street, in the shops, even on the Internet. Cafés are supposed to be a zone where you can relax knowing no one watches you on a monitor. Surveillance cameras simply don’t belong in a café!

I could also have added that the communist secret police of the 1970s would have been proud, since they surveilled the dissidents in Café Slavia in similar ways.

So, you think I’m just negative? I can admit to being sensitive. Small things usually mean a lot to me, but as much in the positive direction as the negative.

The Velvet Rage

I’ve been 17 days in Prague now, staying in two different friends’ apartments. The second friend came back from UK yesterday (and left again today). He brought with him the latest issue of the gay magazine Attitude, which a friend had asked him to buy. See how I must excuse the both of us. Yes, I do think it’s embarrassing to buy a lifestyle magazine – they feel so ancient. So I was surprised by how good the magazine was. All in all, lots of substance, and a layout that, since I read the rag last time, has become more Vanity Fair than Bravo.

Anyway, the main feature in Attitude’s September issue is called “How to be Gay & Happy,” written by Matthew Todd. It’s based on Alan Downs’ book The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World from 2005. The title says it all really, and still you won’t get it till you actually read the book. I read it about a year ago, and I agree with Todd when he says that

… reading it was one of the biggest light bulb moments I’ve ever had in my life. I believe it’s an essential read for every gay man who wants to understand the issues that a significant number of us share.

Though everything in the book didn’t apply to me (thank god), I could see traces of many of the issues in myself. It was nothing short of an epiphany to realize that they derive from those first crucial moments, at age 4 or so, of being treated differently because you were “that way” – an experience that 90 percent of gay men – if not all – share in one way or the other.

Swedes, read my short review in Swedish.

The book was published in 2005. Todd points out that it

… didn’t get much attention in the press though has been passed round from person to person, just under the radar.

That’s my experience too, and that’s how I got it. It was the read among my sorted gay friends in the summer of 2009. And I continued to pass it on. Last night I got an sms greeting from a Swedish friend between flights in Frankfurt. It ended:

Just wanted to say that The Velvet Rage has become a sort of Tupperware product, with which I’ve nourished my close and loved ones. It’s so good, because it emphasizes interesting psychological processes that everyone can embrace in their own way. … So thanks for this book recommendation from me and T and so far about 10 more gay men in Stockholm.

So if you’re a gay man, read The Velvet Rage, or the short version in the September 2010 issue of Attitude.

7 Japanese lessons in 7 days

The printing has been delayed until Tuesday, so I have loads of time on my hands. I use it to learn Japanese from this book:

I find it pretty good. It seemed to be too simple in the beginning, but the slow tempo makes for a more thorough learning. And when you’re learning from a book, you are the one that sets the pace. So far, I’ve devoured 7 chapters in as many days. (Got the book last Friday.) And I tell you, each chapter is several hours of concentration, memorizing and all the stuff that language studies is.

I love it! Haven’t learned a language from scratch for a very long time. Here’s my language studies history:

  • Age 0: Swedish. (Hey, I was great at it!)
  • Age 9: English in school (mandatory).
  • Age 12: German in school (choice; French was the other available language).
  • Age 21: Czech at university.
  • Age 28: Hungarian at a private school in Budapest.
  • Age 35: Japanese by private tutor.

When studying Hungarian I realised that once you’ve learned a language at university level, you can’t go back. I don’t want to look at funny cats or draw lines between fancy illustrations – just give me the complete grammar tables, please!

So I never really learned much Hungarian in the end. A Spanish course I took with a friend had the same problem; a tempo so slow it makes you lose interest. But what can you expect from a course with one lesson a week.

I like the cats (ねこ) in Japanese from Zero though. I gotta be patient with this language. I feel a bit like the Karate Kid – learning lots of meaningless phrases, that hopefully one day will make perfect sense. And I know that will be beautiful.

Learning a language is like going to a gym. You won’t see results immediately. But they’ll come. And they’ll reflect the time and energy you devoted to your training. Just like with your body, you gotta rest for a day inbetween sometimes, to let the new muscles/brain cells grow in you. But right now I’m a linguistic bodybuilder. I want results and I want them now!

And I got the first results some day ago. When I posted this piece of (modified) shota a while ago, the Japanese was just a bunch of exotic signs to me. Seeing the picture again, I realized I could read the text! Not understand it, because I still haven’t learned the words that the signs make up. But I could read out loud all the hiragana parts of the text.

Another result today: I saw a Japanese restaurant called Midori (みどり), and I knew it meant green. That was fun!

In another post I’ll tell you why I decided to learn Japanese.

(Oh, and I tried the street tutor thing again today, but with no luck – he was Korean.)

A little holiday

I went to Prague last Friday. I stay at a couple of friends’ apartment. They are away the whole week and it’s my duty to water the plants and feed René, their intersexual African snail. I don’t have a very good record of keeping plants alive. Never tried the snail thing, so hold your thumbs for me will you.

I’m here to supervise the printing of my next project. No secret what it is, but also no need to get into the details right now – that’s another post. I visited the printing plant today to give them a colour sample for the cover and just to say hello. Turns out they will start printing my thing on Thursday the earliest, or maybe even early next week.

So in the meantime, I’m simply on vacation.

Yesterday, I followed my friend J, his boyfriend M and their friend R to Kutná Hora, where we saw the bone chapel and St Barbara’s cathedral. R is a 23-year-old construction worker, but he also makes a living as a prostitute. The main purpose of the trip was to visit his girlfriend and his two kids. We had so fun that in the end, they decided to join us back to Prague.

The bone chapel in Kutná Hora, Czech republic.

The Czech beer is more wonderful than I ever remembered. Fresh, tickling! It’s not that strong either – you can drink it instead of water. I mean that! Pivo is so integrated in the Czech culture that even 4-year-old kids know how to order it (at least R’s kids). And what other country would have a children’s animated series where a dog goes to buy beer and drinks it? This episode of Maxipes Fik (Fik is a giant dog that can talk) is very entertaining (the beer part starts at 3:00, but the whole episode is lovely):

I started learning Japanese last Wednesday. I have a private tutor in Berlin – my friend W joined in on the first lesson which almost cut the price in half (15 euro per hour for the both of us) – I hope he’ll continue. While in Prague, I rely on a book. I’m so glad I got it before I left Berlin, since my stay here will be prolonged and I will have lots of time on my hands. With languages, as with all kinds of learning, you’ve got to act while the iron is hot. There’s no better learning tool than passion, and right now I possess it.

The day before yesterday I even found myself a tutor on the street. I walked up to a guy who looked Japanese and asked him if he wanted to help me with my studies. He turned out to be a lone 19-year-old traveller from Tokyo who would continue to Budapest the same evening. So I bought him dinner in exchange for his services as my substitute (sensei). Before we parted he invited me to come visit him in Tokyo. You bet I will – just don’t know when.

Yeah, the energy never dies.

Something sad happened this morning. I live in the suburbs, they look very “Eastern” from a “Western” perspective. (I don’t like this mental division of Europe, but you all know what I mean.) Think huge complexes of high-rise buildings at the end of the subway lines. But they’re not that bad actually, and many of the houses are being renovated and painted in brown and orange colours that actually look quite good against the lush surroundings. My friends chose to live here because they like the outdoors.

Anyway, there was a police car at one of these houses and a blanket covering a body. My first instinct was to take up my camera. How tragic isn’t that. My next instinct was, thank god, not to. I asked a young woman with a baby what had happened. “Some guy jumped from the 17th floor,” she replied. How unfathomably tragic. I’ve never been so close to someone ending his life like that.

At the moment I’m reading André Gide’s L’Immoraliste (in Swedish). For the first time. I’m half through it and I love every single sentence.

What’s more to say? I saw two men holding hands downtown today, and two lesbians who didn’t hold hands but had crewcuts and were dressed in the same kind of camouflage clothes, so I’d say that equals holding hands. The Czech republic is openminded and I think there’s a correlation with the fact that they are least apt to attend services in Europe – see this chart.

I wrote this post at The Globe, a café I used to hang out at back in 1997. It has moved since then though, and despite its fabby space it’s just a remnant of its cosy past. And the internet was so slow I had to wait till I got home to post. Therefore I can also report that the cikadas are singing in the suburb.

Another Saturday night

Just a short post to inform you all that I ended up at Haus B tonight again. Start loving that place more and more – it’s like a piece of Prague or Budapest in the middle of Berlin. So East, in the best sense of the word. After frequenting electro and indie clubs for some years I sort of welcome that. Indie is so stiff and, well, mature.

Anyway, remember the sperma? They still had the drink, so I bought the thick, grey, sweet-salty liquid for all my friends. Several times. While we watched a lesbian sex show.

Photos from yesterday/Friday by Lautundspitz.de.

Imma be creative

Entering the BOOM BOOM POW phase of a project. Every time I’ve cleaned my desk and put the speakers in place, I thank god for this life and pity those who never get to experience this feeling. The rush! The flow! THE BLAST!

And I tell you: There’s no place in my apartment for a pair of plastic Logitech usb speakers. These are Yamaha, but more than that: They’re teenage speakers. Got them when I was 16 and quite soon pimped them with a second bass unit. There have been times that I regret the EXTREME bass that this tuning resulted in, not the least since they already burned a pair of amplifiers. But then again, there are times, like now, when I realise that the second bass unit is… ME. At these times I realise I’m still that teen, and that my body needs that teenage bass. I like it when we go to extremes. Let it rock!