WickedEye's Quotient

12/29/2009 at 12:57

Epistolarian (& Eavesdropping)

Letters are outdated.

Or so I'm told. Every time I mail someone a letter or card (other than a postcard), the response I get is delighted surprise. But the sensuousness (as in “of, concerning, perceived by, or appealing to the senses”) of paper and pen continues to please me. The smell of good paper, the way an ink pen scratches over it, the way stationery takes the ink...it's a physical record of my thoughts of, and attachment to, the person to whom it's sent.

Email is now my primary form of communication, though I swore when I started using it that that would never happen. Most of my letters now take electronic form—they're written and mailed as epistles, narratives of my stream of consciousness and salient events (and not mere communications of quotidian fact) in the same style as my physically written communications.

I think about letter-writing every time I do it—especially when it happens on paper, as in my now-15-year correspondence with Maria—because it's a dying art. And it is an art: the art of conveying your thoughts with an immediacy that reminds the person reading the letter of conversations with you, while maintaining a style and narrative structure that allows the reader to enjoy the story the writer's thoughts tell. There are many, many classic examples of the letter-writer's art: from the Biblical Epistles to Napoleon to Beethoven to Dr. Samuel Johnson, from Benjamin Franklin to Jane Austen to Isaac Asimov...

But I hadn't really ever thought of my letters as a consumable art form.

That's been changing in the past few months.

Friends with whom I've corresponded for a long time have pointed out to me that my essays follow the structure of my letters (and not the other way about; I've been an epistolarian for far longer than I've been an essayist), which are more personal (and funnier, though honestly given my brand of humor and the scarcity of response to it, I don't think that's saying much). By what is no doubt an odd chain of coincidences, within the last 3 months I've had 3 different people urge me to publish (the publicly-consumable) parts of my emails.

Part of that urging is that I've very little time for essay-writing now. I've given up my outside reading entirely (and I honestly never thought that could happen); and my writing time—what precious little I can salvage over long weekends and holidays—must be spent on high-priority academic projects and fiction. Publishing one's letters requires editing, of course, but the amount of time spent rereading and editing is much smaller than that spent writing, rereading, and editing.

So I've been rereading a few of my emails, and have come to the conclusion that some of the things they say might entertain people other than those to whom I originally wrote.

Anything I publish will be a missive I've written. If it contains quotes from the person to whom I'm writing, rest assured I've gotten that person's permission to publish it. (And in any case, chances are that if you see and recognize something you've read from me before, I've already discussed this project with you.) Because the privacy of current correspondence is something I value, no correspondence less than 2 years old will be edited or published; and so far as it's possible, I'll be removing any reference which would allow anyone but the person who's already read the epistle to identify the recipient of it.

I send some of my longest emails when I travel, so the ones with which I've decided to start are from the time of my trip to Europe 3 years ago. These will, no doubt, be the most chronologically coherent set—the rest will move forward and backward at random.

They'll be published in fits and starts, of course. And though most of them contain some useful information, most of what you'll be reading is a conversation with a friend. Eavesdropping, really.

But with my permission.

On form: These are to different people, at different times, though they're in (rough) chronological order...Munich, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Florence, Venice, Vienna. A row of asterisks indicates a separate email.

You may begin in Munich, then, if you wish...


In from Das Alte and Neue Pinoktheken—won't have a chance at the science museum today. Not enough time for me to sail on the ships and walk through the coal mines plus see all my geek-pilgrimage goodies. Oh well. Munich is only 2 hours from Innsbruck.

Off to the Schatzkammer shortly. Gold and jewels from 800 AD on. Yum.

What are your favorite periods in terms of European art? The Alte Pinokthek is outstanding in terms of everything from Ren on up; the Neue Pinokthek likewise from 1850 on up. Not a big fan of modern, so I didn't hit the Moderne Pinokthek.

Yes, of course I'm having a great time. I'm in a new and beautiful place with a bunch of kind and interesting people—how could I not be?... Know what you mean about the museum time—I'm about to be surfeited with it, but that takes quite a bit of doing. Two months in Europe should just about do it, though.

Then again, maybe not...


Wandered around the Schatzkammer, got a few decent photos and a lot of crappy ones, totally need a nap and am going to crash.

...Nifty new roommate in the dorm—Aussie named Ben who works in geology. We swapped stories—he asked initially if I was a geologist too—and I explained I was able to ask intelligent questions because I retained my childhood interest in dinosaurs long enough to take a paleontology class in college. Whereupon he said he was interested in paleontology too, but had ditched it for more lucrative commercial work.

Also said, as soon as I explained what I was studying, that he would have "pegged me for a doc" even if I hadn't said anything. When I asked why, he shrugged and said I looked and talked like a very intelligent person. Which didn't answer my question, as I pointed out. He just grinned and said he'd a friend who was gonna be a doc and I "had the look". With which unsatisfactory reply I had to be content.

He's an avid surfer, and there's apparently a place here where people surf inland, so he asked if I wanted to go with him—he was heading out at the same time as I. I said no way in hell am I setting a toe in the Isar when the AIR here makes me cold. Which made him laugh and inform me that he knew my Yank-ness (i.e. inherent delicacy) had to come out sometime.

I told him that yes, an aversion to hypothermia was a quality inherent in all Americans other than those from Minnesota, and was one of our more admirable traits, and that Aussies should consider emulating it. Which made him laugh more. Rather off-putting when you're trying to insult someone back.

Anway, the upshot is that I'm promised a dino tutorial before we both leave tomorrow. F***ing WICKED.


Oh yes, the backpack.

The coat-check women at the Schatzkammer didn't believe I actually carried my backpack—asked where my 'boyfriend' was. Shrugged, said, 'no boyfriend, it's mine', picked it up, put it on, and tightened the straps as they—and one of the two Schatzkammer guards, the one with the automatic weapon (the whole museum is a steel-lined vault)—made disbelieving 'Ooooo' noises and flexed their biceps. I flushed red, smiled, said thank you, and managed to make my way out without tripping.

Not one of my more graceful exits, but honestly, how am I supposed to respond to that?


The band playing in the Winter Garden totally stole this bassline from 'My Sharona'. Bet they didn't credit it either. Wankers.

Yes, Osterreich beckons, and I leave tomorrow. The trip is by train, so hopefully it should be worry-free, and classes begin on Monday. The good time is optional, but I hope for it too.


I stayed in Munich for one more day. Had a message from Heather this morning that the Karwendel "may not be able" to be open for reception this afternoon, so rather than take the chance of getting down there and having to pony up 70-100€ for a room in Innsbruck I chose to stay in Munich for another day. So I extended my stay at Wombats, switched my ticket, and took off for the Deutsches Museum.

Ah, the Deutsches Museum.... *gibbers incoherently* Been to the Smithsonian, the National Gallery, the Art Institute, the Field Museum, the Monterey Aquarium... you get the idea. But this is the first museum I've ever found that I could literally spend two weeks in, still not see everything that was there, and still not want to leave.

The things they had in that place.

Original laboratory equipment from Joule to Coulomb to Watt to Kelvin to Faraday.

The lab bench on which the first atom was split.

The first steam engine.

An enormous 3-masted sailing ship, space shuttles, airplanes, a Foucault pendulum, salt and coal mines so realistic that my claustrophobia started kicking in, materials physics... I think I actually nearly fainted several times. (Though that could have been low blood sugar. Who can be arsed about food when the giants of science are looming around you?)

Oh, I'll be back to Munich. Someday, sometime. I could have told you that before, but this afternoon confirmed it. What a wonderful introduction to Europe this place is. Even the natives are friendly—my stilted and mispronouced mishmash of a few German words seems to produce nothing but amusement, but genuine courtesy seems to surprise and please these folks. Not a soul in this entire place has been less then kind to me in my time here.


...There was a woman on the subway who was staring at me today, and I wondered why. Her face looked as though it'd been through a shredder, and it took all my presence of mind to maintain a pleasant, neutral expression as I met her eyes—I wanted so badly to flinch. But I didn't—I smiled at her, and she looked very surprised, then smiled back.

Odd, the things that make a deep impression on one—as much as anything else I'll remember from Munich I'll remember the surprise and pleasure on her face, showing even through the bloody scrapes, as she smiled back at me.

S4, from Ostbanhof.


Glad you like reading what I write. We've always discussed my prolixity, both orally and in writing—I'll probably have to cut back once I start class...

Being chatted up by a 19-year-old who is too drunk to talk or walk straight and who I've been trying to tell—politely—to go away as I type and who just offered to let me slap him for bothering me. (!?!! Original, though daft.) Poor lad. 19 if he's a day, actually. No, kiddo, I ain't going to the bar and I wasn't at Bonnaroo just because I'm from Nashville. Sorry.

Most of the police and guards here don't carry submachine guns. And I don't agree that more heavily-armed gendarmes lead to a more pacific police force... Like I said, the Schatzkammer is a museum entirely located in a locked, metal-walled vault. The guards there carry submachines because there are more diamonds in there than in the f***ing Antwerp exchange. No kidding.

Just interrupted my typing to check scores on the Met game for a guy who was desperate to see them—poor fellow, he reminded me so much of Bill in the throes of his mania that I couldn't ignore him. He was ridiculously grateful, which was nice, but I don't know why guys have to touch you to say thanks. I'm not deaf—don't really need physical signs. Words'll do just fine, thanks.

I really do want Joe here. In addition to the joy of his company, his presence itself—large and THERE—could be useful. I usually give off the 'go away' vibe pretty successfully—it just seems to be short-circuited here for some reason. Hrm. I'll have to work that one out.


...I think I figured out why my 'go away' beacon isn't working as well—in an unfamiliar milieu, people seem to tend to overinterpret friendliness, especially when feeling insecure or unsteady. A lot of these guys have never been out of their home country; add to that the appalling fact that a lot of women seem to come here and utterly forget all commitments at home...

(Yesterday I was sitting and typing an email when the girl beside me said calmly to her companion, "Yeah, if I stay here I'm gonna cheat on him. It's more or less inevitable"; why this sort of thing still disgusts me, after all this time, confuses me, but I find it so revolting that it was all I could do not to give the girl some sharp words—restrained only by the thought that if such things are acceptable enough to her to be a topic of casual public conversation then no words from a stranger would make a dent anyway—and my goodness, another parenthetical longer than the original sentence; I have a talent for these.)

...and the entire phenomenon becomes easier to understand, though not less repulsive.

Whew. Inadvertent rant on fidelity while inside foreign borders over. We now return you to your regularly scheduled stream of consciousness.


...I would have said "of course" but for something that had happened earlier—I mean, based on my assumption of Ben's lack of interest in the manner which you seemed to be positing. I was blithely assuming it was limited to semi-informed paleontological discussion.

That was the story I said I'd tell you later... and given the time constraints I'm under at the moment (to check out, buy my tickets, etc.) it won't be in this email.

Brazen, huh? Yes, there seems to be a lot of that going around here... I have to confess that in the case of Ben I found it surprising. He didn't seem the type—and I have types pegged pretty well. *shrugs* Chalk another one up to the specimens displayed under 'experience'.


Leaving for Osterreich in a little less than an hour and a half. Getting myself plus bags down to the station and onto the train should be fun. The people who said, "putting your books in your bags should be no problem" were big fat liars.


Okay, got myself checked out, luggage sorted (for now), train doesn't leave for 3 1/2 hours—I'll tell you this story before I leave to wander about the English Garden/Karlsplatz one last time.

Yeah, okay, so. Ben. (And save the admonitions as to my cluelessness, please. You and Joanna—and Joe, and Vicki, and Becky—can have a great time belaboring me later.)

Went up to nap after beating myself to shreds in the Munich museums yesterday, and woke to Ben coming in the room. (VERY light sleeper. I'm sure you remember.) He was moving around, so I closed my eyes and waited for him to stop.

After a minute he stopped and I started falling asleep again, but it sounded like he'd stopped close to my bunk (upper bunk) so I turned my head—and found him looking at me from about 2 feet away. After which I was, of course, wide awake. I quirked a brow and didn't say anything and he looked at me for almost another minute. When he kept looking at me without saying anything I said, "G'night", turned my head, closed my eyes, and waited for him to go away.

Which, eventually, he did.

That was enough for me to go, "Hey, wait a minute,"—I'm not completely clueless, just a bit slow on the uptake—but when I got up and was pondering climbing down from the bunk and checking my email Ben was in the room again, lying on his bunk and reading "Slaughterhouse 5". I got up, climbed down, grabbed my bag and was about to leave when he asked me to hold up a minute. So I waited.

He then asked me if I was a one-night stand kind of girl.

This made my eyebrows soar, not only because it is or should be patently obvious that I'm NOT, but it had also seemed that he wasn't either. Shrugged off my evidently faulty judgment and said, "No", to which he said, "Well, I'm not either."

This left me puzzled and utterly lacking any sort of response, so I said nothing.

He then asked me if I had a boyfriend. This—curse my compulsive honesty—left me sort of searching for a response. So after a second I said, "No, but there's someone I'm attracted to and I'm really not interested in anyone else." (Okay, so it wasn't totally true. But it has been, until recently. And yes—yes, I know. But the 'terminally monogamous' discussion goes well with the 'terminally clueless' one—and a bunch of red wine—so you can just bite your tongue for now on that one too. Sigh.)

And he said, "But he's not your boyfriend." And I lost my temper just a little at his persistence (and the somewhat bizarre bunk thing) and snapped, "It doesn't matter." To which Ben said, "Tell him I said he's a lucky guy." To which I glared and said, "I won't," and left.

*winces* Except, of course, that I did...


That's it for Munich. On to Austria, at some point...if anyone is interested.

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