ice tea and rotten vegetables

The world has finally started to act as if it’s summer. The air is hot and sticky, and everything happens in slow motion, moves in slow motion. And still we sweat and we sweat. My blood pumps slowly through my veins and my legs feel heavy as I sit in the sun wondering if I will ever feel hungry again. We drink fresh mint iced tea and stay up late, gulping in the cool night air like a cure.

The vegetables melt in the kitchen over night, grow big fuzzy sweaters of grey mold. The dumpsters smell like rotting, like fermentation, and if we don’t get there the night they’ve tossed the produce, it’s already become a part of the dumpster juice.

The world smells pungent–of flowering plants, of sweat, of rotting–and I think of Werner Herzog talking about the jungle in Mein Liebster Feind. About how the jungle is a repugnant place reeking of sex and death and murder. About how he loves it anyway, against his better judgment.

Tuesday June 30th 2009, 3:38 pm Leave a Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving


the marauder’s guide to cheap-ass german beer

The mission was simple. Five people, fifteen of the cheapest beers we could find, and a blind taste test. It was a cheap beer taste test because we were broke, and since we were almost always broke, we considered ourselves something of cheap beer experts. The good, the bad, and the ugly: we’d drank it, funneled it, and thrown it back up.

So it started–like every night of drinking starts when you’re broke–with a scramble to gather up all the empty bottles and cans since the last drinking frenzy that we could take back to the grocery store for Pfand. (Pfand=bottle return money) Three people, three sacks of bottles, three stores. We’d procrastinated with the shopping until it was too late to get to the really, really cheap grocery stores (Plus, Aldi, and Lidl, for example), so we went to Rewe, Tenglemann, and most importantly (though deceivingly expensive) the gas station. We ended up with about 13 euros and 15 beers.

We didn’t have any standards to guide our grades–from one to ten, one being “reserved for beer from the Sates” and ten being the best damn beer you’ve ever tasted–but we had snacks and a tape recorder and a fridge full of cooling booze. We decided on a blind test–beer in glasses and brand names with held until the last beer had disappeared down our whetted gullets–hoping that would eliminate any brand marketing/nostalgia biases.

But beer bias is harder to lose than you’d think and whenever a beer popped up that tasted decent we automatically assumed that it must be Hansa or 5,0, two of the group’s favorite variations on cheap drunk in a can. Everytime something tasted bad, we all assumed it must be Neptun, one of our collectively hated beer brands. Which, embarrassingly enough, rated as second best of the night. I should probably also mention that along the way we tried to guess which brand we were currently drinking, and we didn’t hit the mark once.

So, for the conscious (hoping to soon be unconscious) consumer of cheap beer, here are a few to try (or avoid), and a few soundbytes from the judges to guide your shopping cart next Friday night.

the great beer verkostung

Paderborner Pils 0,50 L can 4,8%
Origin: Paderborn/Gas Station
Price: 0,89 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 3

“It smells like dish water.”

“It smells like a cellar.”

“Pfui! It doesn’t taste like beer. It tastes like Tetrapack.”

“Bitter bitter bitter bitter bitter bitter bitter. Not herb, just bitter.”

Rössel Pils 0,50 L bottle 4,7%
Origin: Karlsruhe/Tengelmann
Price: 0,35 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 4

“I see already that there’s more foam than in the last one.”

“You’re the only one with foam in your glass.”

“Well, that’s at least something! And it smells better than the last one.”

“But it tastes like a gas station.”

“Yes! Very gas station-y. Actually, it tastes like lulu.”

“Smells better than it tastes.”

“It’s not as stale as the last one. It has a little bit more spark.”

“You could get drunk on it.”

Dominikaner Pils 0,50 L can 4,8%
Origin: Bernkastel/Gas station
Price: 1,09 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 2

“It smells kind of sweet.”

“Oooeeee, it has a really terrible aftertaste.”

“It’s not bitter at all, not like the last two, smells more brackish.”

“It tastes a little bit like river water.”

“It not being bitter just allows the puke taste to come out full force.”

Oettinger Pils 0,50 L bottle 4,7%
Origin: Oettingen/Tenglemann
Price: 0,35 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 1

“Very little foam.”

“Smells like a toilet, like piss.”

“It must be all the Spuckschlucke mixed together.” (Spuckschluck=the last sip of a beer that is more spit than beer)

“It tastes terrible.”

*Puking noises, one after the other.*

“Even drunk I don’t think it would taste good.”

“It’s the worst one we’ve had yet.”

Whether this terrible rating had something to do with the remnants of the last three beers in our glasses and mouths, or if it was really that disgusting we’ll never know. What we do know is this: one of the very same testers who rated Oettinger a big, ugly 1, had brought his own Oettinger along to drink between tests. And even worse: we’d served this very same beer in the pub we all more or less run together and had been getting drunk on it nightly for years. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Instead, I’ll tell you about 5,0.

5,0 Export 0,50 L can 5,2%
Origin: Braunschweig/Rewe
Price: 0,35 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 6

“Even after a good shake there’s no foam.”

“It smells ok.”

“Mmm, tastes pretty good. Best one so far.”

“It has a neutral taste, goes down pretty smooth.”

“It was a little shy at first, but now, mmmm.”

Henninger Kaiser Pils 0,50 L bottle 4,8%
Origin: Frankfurt am Main/Tenglemann
Price: 0,75 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 6

“There’s a little bit of foam.”

“It’s pretty neutral, a little watery, pleasant but nothing special.”

“No after taste.”

“Doesn’t taste like anything. But maybe that’s the brewer’s secret. As long as it tastes like nothing it doesn’t taste bad.”

“I would like to drink some more of it.”

Karlskrone Gold 0,50 L plastic bottle 4,9%
Origin: Belgium/Aldi
Price: 0,29 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 3,5

“Eww, it smells like a toilet.”

“But it doesn’t taste quite as bad as it smells.”

“It’s kind of sweet.”

“Yeah, like decay.”

“It’s already gone stale, after barely a minute open.”

“At least it has the courage to taste like something.”

“I think I’m going to throw up.”

Neptun 0,5 L bottle 4,9%
Origin: Hamburg/Gas station
Price: 0,89 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 7

“There’s a little foam.”

“Smells ok.”

“Pleasant.”

“More!”

How embarrassing. We rated our alleged most hated beer a 7 and then begged for more. We almost gave it an 8, but, thinking it was 5,0, took a penalty point for the campaign they do with the German flag on the cans every time there’s a big soccer event. Then again, directly after a Karlskrone, I’d reckon that piss might even taste good.

Licher Pils 0,50 L bottle 4,9%
Origin: Hessen/Tengelmann
Price: 0,69 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 1

“It smells unexplainable.”

“And it has an aftertaste like BLGHJKJHUGH.” (That’s one of those barf mimic noises, folks.)

“Delicious!” Scissors was the only one who liked this one. He gave it a 9. “Give me more!”

“Tastes like bitter water. Bitter, bitter water.”

“Pfui Teufel!” (This means something like eww gross ala Deutsch.)

“Somebody shoot me.”

Faxe 1 L can 5%
Origin: Denmark/Gas station
Price: 2,19 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 6

“Low foam factor.”

“Pleasant.”

“Tastes like perfume and paint thinner and paint, kind of like people apprenticing as hair dressers smell after class.”

“The after taste isn’t so great either.”

At this point in the taste test, our lovely bartender threw a wrench into things and–since Faxe comes in a liter can–served us Faxe again for round eleven. We didn’t notice, but with a little time to air out, the paint thinner taste had disappeared, and we liked it even more, this time awarding it 7 points. Whether this speaks positively for Faxe or negatively for our judgment, I’ll leave for you to decide, fair reader.

Hansa Pils 0,33 L can 4,8%
Origin: Dortmund/Rewe
Price: 0,35 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 5

“Smells like beer. Looks like beer.”

“Gross.” (This from someone who claims to like the stuff under normal circumstances.)

“Not bad, drinkable.”

Eichbaum Pils 0,50 L bottle
Origin: Mannheim/Gas station
Price: 1,09 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 3

“Bitter. Ech.”

“But maybe only because we’ve already drank 12 beers tonight.”

“Harumpf.”

Veltins Pils 0,50 L bottle 4,8%
Origin: Grevenstein/Tengelmann
Price: 0,75 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 8-9

“There’s foam!”

“It must be Hansa!” (Here come some more of those biases.)

“Tastes great!”

“It’s almost too good, frighteningly good.”

“Tastes really good.”

Though Veltins was one of the cheapest beers at the Tengelmann, it’s considered a decent beer, I’ve been told. Whew. As the highest rated beer of the night, at least you can be certain that our taste buds aren’t completely warped and rotten.

Hasseröder 0,50 L bottle 4,9%
Origin: Wernigerode/Rewe
Price: 0,75 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 7

“There are still bubbles!”

“Pretty good.”

“It doesn’t taste like much. Smells intense, but the taste isn’t anything special.”

“Smells good. Tastes like nothing, but pleasantly like nothing.”

“Hey, guys, I think we’re drunk!”

“Hurrah,” we all yelled, finishing off our glasses happily with a chorus of clinking glass.

5,0 Pils 0,50 L can 5,0%
Origin: Braunschweig/Rewe
Price; 0,35 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 5,5

“Smells like nothing.”

“It’s ok. Strange somehow. Tastes like can.”

“Not bad. Not good.”

And with that a night of cheap beer debauchery ended as we moved onto vodka soy milk and garlic bread. Hopefully our intrepid advice will help you choose the right cheap beer for you the next time you’re broke in the land of the red, black, and yellow. And remember the wise words of one of our testers: “Just because we’ve been pouring beer down our throats for years doesn’t make us experts!” And how. Bottoms up.

(An abridged version of this text will also be appearing at www.young-germany.de.)

Tuesday June 23rd 2009, 9:08 pm 2 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,marauder's guides


wagon wheel

I imagine that it went something like this.

I was sitting in the red wagon, thinking about how I was freakin’ never going to get the money together to buy my own wagon (a room of her own, blah blah blah, etc etc). “Maybe I should just give up beer for a while, put a euro in a jar every time I want a beer. It worked for Sleeveless.”

Zoom up into the clouds were a gaggle of white-toggaed, beer-toting, white-haired old men are looking down from the heavens on me. “Another one’s talking about giving up drinking,” one says. They looked at each other, worried. “We can’t let another one go. They’re dropping like flies. Somebody go talk to the Dumpster God.”

The next day I got a call from Workshop. There was a wagon in Rüsselsheim, and the owners were giving it away. I did a cartwheel, walked to the trash, and found a carton with six unopened bottles of wine.

The wagon owners are giving away their cute little wagon because the gardens are being “evicted” so that the city can build something else there. They’re a little older, and, 20 years ago, had the great idea that they would bury most of the wheels. Why, I’ll have to ask them when I meet them. I like to imagine it was a zanny solution to not wanting to build an extra step to get in the front door.

I have yet to go inside, but have been assured that it’s “tip top” in there. The only flaws on the outside are a missing window, two or three rotten boards, and two missing bolts on the towing bar. I’m pee-my-pants excited and at the same time, don’t believe it, won’t believe it until we’ve managed to get the thing home.

The foggy plan so far is to try to dig out part of the wheels, left the fucker up with a jack, fill in the holes/put boards in the once-wheels holes, and then come back with a truck to pull the thing home. If the wheels still work. I imagine that beneath the wheel top you can see above the ground there is nothing left, that the wheels are just phantoms of what they buried 20 years ago. Cross your fingers for me.

Monday June 22nd 2009, 10:17 pm 5 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,wagenplatz


fuck shit up

The university is on strike. Not the professors, but the students. At least some of them are. Behind all the computers around me sit students, dutifully typing away at Word documents and Power Point presentations.

It’s happening all across Germany this week: students aren’t going to classes and are going to open seminars, to protests, to voküs. In Mainz a small tent camp has been set up outside of one of the student centers, and we–those kids from Haus Mainusch–have canceled the afternoon vokü and are cooking evenings in a black tent kitchen on the green next to them.

Whether the week will make any sort of difference is debatable. I suppose I’d have to first define “difference.” If the week gets a few people thinking more critically about the education system, then hurrah. If the week gets a few real changes into the machinery, then hurrah. Frankly I’m having a hard time giving a shit. I have become far too jaded for protests or strikes. Long finished with college myself, I cannot strike. I cook because it seems like the sort of action that should be supported, despite the stubborn cynicism bucking in my head. I was long ago issued the standard cynic’s porch, rocking chair, and shakin’ cane.

“I don’t think I really have time to strike from my work,” a friend told me last week. “I have a test in two weeks and if I don’t pass it I will have to wait another six months to finish that requirement.” Striking doesn’t work very well when the machine trudges on, when there are scabs and people still going to classes and giving tests. I think back to my own college days. Would I have taken the time to strike? Would I have seen the point?

Right up until that painful last year, I loved college. It meant that all my friends lived within walking distance, it meant that there were a billion things to do, and the classes themselves–well, I majored in English because I really like to read and write, not because I was chasing a piece of paper that would force me through a bunch of painful requirements. I liked it there so much that I refused the chance of a semester abroad. “We’re only here four years,” I can still hear myself explaining to a friend in the dining hall. “I don’t want to miss anything. I’d rather wait until afterwards, go somewhere on my own terms.”

It wasn’t until later that I became critical of the educational system. The way it seemed designed to teach you to be a good little obedient worker; the way it was decided for you, what you would learn and how and when; the way it favored people with middle class families and white skin. The way filling out those little bubbles on the three-hour multiple choice tests didn’t really have anything to do with reality, yet determined which colleges would even look at my application. The focus on the theoretical rather than the practical. I always got good grades, but did it really mean anything? Well, it meant that I was good at memorizing things. That I was good at forcing myself to do things I didn’t really feel like doing. That I turned in my homework on time and studied for tests. Did it mean I was particularly smart? I don’t think so. Not to say that I think I am unintelligent, but to say that good grades don’t necessarily prove anything one way or the other.

I learned to play the game in high school. I looked at the rules and saw how easy it was to bend them without disturbing the illusion that I was a model student. If I didn’t feel like going into school, or wanted to go in late, my mom would write me a note excusing me. My music teacher would write us passes to leave class for “singing lessons.” Both of them knew I would get the work done anyway. When I found out that my Spanish teacher, the irritating little strumpet who spent more of class complaining to us about her sweet but naive-sounding husband than teaching us Spanish, was sleeping with one of my acquaintances on the sly, I started having singing lessons during every single class.

At my high school graduation I remember the speeches, the tearful parents, all more or less saying the same thing, “Your years in high school and college are some of the best years of your life. Enjoy it while it lasts–after that you’ll have to face the real world.” THE REAL WORLD. The words sounded dramatic, as if there should have been dramatic horror-film music swelling behind them as they were uttered–THE REAL WORLD. (Crack of thunder, swell of violins!) Apparently the real world is where you have to do things you don’t want to all the time (like school?), to get up early (like school?), sit behind the same desk for 8 hours every day (oh, you mean, just like school?), and–the only real difference I can see between being in high school and being in the treacherous real world–pay a lot of drab bills. At the time my friends and I raised our eyebrows, shrugged, and went back to speculating about what college would be like and how we would keep in touch.

I liked high school and college at the time, sure, but I wouldn’t go back if you paid me in millions. This whole “dubious” real world just gets better and better every minute. But that is probably because I don’t have a boss or a 9-5 schedule, I have my own house but no mortgage, have sparse bills and more free time than ever before. I spend almost all my time doing things that, in other contexts, people would classify as work, but that I do not classify as such because I have chosen them, and so I embrace each aspect–positive and negative–of those choices.

It was sometime around my senior year in college that I started to question what was really at the heart of the education system, that it started to be more stress than joy. I had decided to write a thesis and had signed up for 18 credits a semester, wanting to cram as much as possible into that last year. Then there was the college radio station (I signed the checks), the writing center (that year I bumped up from regular tutor to head of the ESL tutoring program), my job at the mall bookstore (to pay the rent), the literary magazine (of which I somehow became co-editor), my weekend occasional job as projectionist for the college-sponsored film night (rent strikes again), my boyfriend, my housemates, cooking, cleaning, sleep, sanity. Somewhere between bowling and 40s nights something went horribly awry, horribly Jerry Spring among one of my groups of friends and I stopped coming around. I took Ritalin so I could stay up working, but then I needed something else to help me sleep when I finally found the time. My hangovers became panic attacks, and I spent nights locked in various campus lounges reading about Nadine Gordimer and South Africa and identity construction, my boyfriend at the time stopping by occasionally to bring me orange juice and pastries.

In May I awoke in a pile of shredded papers and pictures, disgruntled but finished, mumbling something about moving to South America to farm peanuts, about never reading another book again. Two weeks later I stared my very own 9-5 as a proofreader at a small custom publisher in town. It took a year before I noticed that a desk job was a soul-sucking monster that would destroy me if I let it. And after I quit and moved across the sea it took another six months before I remembered that I actually liked writing. For fun. Just because. When people tell me they probably don’t have the time to join the student strike, I shrug and nod. I probably wouldn’t have had the time either, but now that I do, I realize, bloody hell, I really should have.

Wednesday June 17th 2009, 6:53 am 3 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies


the f word

Here is another little piece resurrected from the never-finished These Are Our Weapons zine project of ought five, from the days when I was fresh off the boat here and taking care of snotty (in every sense of the term) five year olds for a living. Enjoy.

“So you don’t like the American regime?” Tannus asks me on the subway escalator after class.

“No. Bush is a moron. I can’t believe that so many people voted for him. But maybe that just shows you that a lot of Americans are stupid too.”

“Well what do you believe in?” Tannus is from Iran. Wants to study in California someday. Wants to know everything about America and Americans. “What are your politics?”

I hesitate–how to reduce 22 years of simmering murk into a subway station response?–then plunge. “I don’t like labels. But if you had to call me something, maybe you could call me an anarchist.” I cringe. Another. Meaningless. Label.

“But what’s that? I’ve never heard that word before.”

I look at the floor and open my mouth to respond, but it’s Laura–a classmate from Spain–who answers. “It means she loves freedom.”

Tuesday June 16th 2009, 12:34 pm Leave a Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,zine graveyard


click click click

The last month my home has been graced by the presence of fellow dumpster warrior and photographer, Tara Stewart. We’d been scheming for months about what to do during her visit, one of those schemes was a photography project, parts of which will be viewable–just for you dear readers!–on the internet until Saturday, June 20th. The a.d.d. version of the project goes something like this: take the aesthetic of fashion photography and take a set of photographs using wagenplatz residents as models and the wagenplatz itself as the background. But the long version (courtesy of Tara), goes like this:

“I’ve always wanted to be a model because I both love and hate being told I’m beautiful. I hate it in that I’ve heard it too many times, and it’s become meaningless. It’s something that has been said to me in bars when someone was trying to sleep with me, it’s something that was repeated to me over and over growing up, as if I should somehow feel accomplished for the fact that genetics granted me the type of features that our society currently finds to be aesthetically pleasing. I want to be appreciated for my skills, for my mind, for the things I’ve had to work to develop.

“And yet I still crave those words, even though when I finally hear them I dismiss them out of hand. I secretly, as I think do so many others, love to have my photo taken when I know it will turn out very well. I need some proof that I’m beautiful, that I’m worth photographing, because there are many, many times when I find myself in front of the bathroom mirror crying my eyes out because I hate myself and can’t help but tie it into the way I look. We’ve all been raised to think we need to meet some impossible standard most of us couldn’t even define, and that constantly leaves us lacking, and hating ourselves because of it.

“In response, many of us turn to the unconventional, wearing things intended to cause an adverse reaction in the people around us, because at least then we aren’t trying to adhere to their standards and failing. It feels safer, in many ways, to start out knowing “normal” people aren’t going to approve of how you look, and in many ways it confirms our own fears about ourselves.

“I’ve always had a problem with this, though, in that I love clothing. It is one of my passions, in fact, and despite my hatred of the fashion industry for its unreachable standards and its promotion of women who look like they never eat, I still voraciously consume fashion magazines to see the clothes, and most especially, for the fashion photography. If you can somehow separate out the message from the pure aesthetics of these photos, there is no denying they are beautiful: they are well shot, well set up, well lit, and the clothes, though sometimes fairly ridiculous, are more often pieces of art. There are certain arrangements of shapes and colors and patterns that the human eye naturally finds pleasing, and if we were able to divorce meaning from visual affect, as abstract art attempted to do in the early twentieth century, we would perhaps find the concept of beauty a little easier.

“Unfortunately there is a message in those photos, as there is in anything created by human hands. To be beautiful, you must be rail thin, wear expensive clothes, and arrange yourself in a ridiculously uncomfortable position you would never naturally find yourself in. You must also follow trends: those vaguely definable and ever changing whims of the industry that eventually drove me to drop out of fashion school from sheer frustration. I don’t give a shit what other people are wearing unless I like it, and I never want to define my aesthetic to what is currently in “fashion.” This has left me, somewhat uncomfortably, somewhere between the people who pay attention to their clothing but who shop in trendy stores and spend money on their clothes (another thing I inherently rebel against), and the people who claim not to care a whit what they wear and will put on just about anything as long as it covers the essential bits.

“Thus I set out to find a form of alternative beauty, which, the further I pursued it, turned out to be regular beauty, that I had been defining as alternative out of some leftover standard that had been impressed on me by the media and fashion school and growing up in modern society. I have had the fortune of being a frequent visitor at the Haus Mainusch wagenplatz in Mainz, Germany, where my cousin has been a resident for some time. Leaving the homes of my other German friends, who, with the best of intentions, typically wanted to spend my visits shopping and talking about shaving and makeup, all things I have no patience for, the wagenplatz becomes a sharp contrast, and one that initially forces me to spend several days reexamining all my own preconceived notions of the world. I am eternally grateful to the residents of the wagenplatz, not only for allowing me to take their pictures, but for their unquestioning welcome, their unconscious acceptance, and their willing and unforced tendency to share what little they have, even with someone who may start as a complete stranger. The few times I’ve brought my “conventional” friends here, they’ve been rather out of sorts, but here I find that, if I come in with an open and accepting mind, there is endless bounty, delicious food, warm smiles, and a freedom I have yet to find anyplace else in the world.

“When you step into the wagenplatz, it’s as if a thousand unconscious expectations have been lifted from your shoulders: suddenly, with a sigh of relief, the weights that daily press on our minds somewhere just outside our conscious thoughts lift, and in their place is room to breathe. That is, if you don’t continue to push those expectations on yourself, which may be the hardest part of all.

“Once inside, dirt is ok. In fact, it’s encouraged, and a clean foot is not only rare but somewhat out of place. You don’t need to excuse yourself after burping. Or farting, for that matter. It’s just something people do. Deodorant is seen as slightly ridiculous, and when it accidentally finds its way inside, everyone decries it as the foul smelling chemical substance it at heart is. When you find the most pleasing scent to be that of your dearest friends, and that smell is entirely human, the prospect of disguising it with something that smells like “steel” or “moonlight” is somewhat offensive.

“Clothes are patched, but most tears are left as they are. It doesn’t much matter so long as the item still serves its basic function, ie to provide some coverage from the elements. It’s not that there’s no thought to style, far from it. Black is a common theme, as it has the fortunate quality of hiding the spills and smudges and things you’ve wiped off on your pant leg. In addition to being the favored color of what, at heart, is still something of a punk influenced scene. Therefore nearly everyone also has their favored denim jacket, sleeves ripped out, which has been carefully tailored with a choice selection of patches and, in many cases, spikes.

“But it doesn’t matter what you wear. There’s a resident who prefers smart sport coats with a handkerchief in the breast pocket, and another who favors a bathrobe and a cowboy hat. Still others stick with your average day to day outfit that you’d see outside- jeans and a tshirt, and not necessarily with a single patch or tear.

“And it’s all breathtakingly, painfully, beautiful. Painfully because this haven of safety, of trust and welcome, has to fight for the right to exist alongside the far larger and more unrelentingly aggressive mass of modern society, who cannot tolerate an existence so different from its own. But yes, beautiful, in the bright contrast of a flame red wagon next to the vibrant green of the happily sprawling trees, of an orange zucchini flower turned toward the sun, of the open, impeccable blue sky stretched above the tree tops and the weathered roofs. And the people, too, are beautiful.

“It’s hard to call people beautiful in a place where the aesthetics of the body have been so rigorously abandoned. But I think, and this was in part my rationale for taking these pictures, that we didn’t need to attempt to abandon aesthetics entirely in order to lay claim to the right not to shower or use deodorant or patch our clothes. I don’t think we can abandon aesthetics. An integral part of human nature is to seek out the beautiful, the things which it finds pleasing to the eye. It seems difficult, when beauty has become so inexorably entwined with the conventions of our society, for it to apply to anything that isn’t polished and intentional. But that’s just the thing- conventional society defines beauty as the clean and refined. We can define beauty however we like. The human eye will seek the aesthetically pleasing no matter the context. No one would fault a wildflower for being beautiful, it does so naturally and without thought. And so I think we all need to reclaim beauty.

“It is without doubt true that I love these people for their spirits, for their ready laughter and unquestioning acceptance, and not for their appearances. But I also think I love them even more for their unintentional beauty. They set out to defy conventional standards, and often choose their look as something against something else, or for purely practical reasons, rather than as a thing unto itself. But I am hoping that with these pictures I can show that they are in fact beautiful, and that this isn’t a dirty word. If we choose how we look, including what we wear, according to what pleases our aesthetics, there should be no harm in someone else telling us when what we’ve selected pleases their eye as well. It’s ok to be beautiful when this is something you’ve defined for yourself, when it’s something that makes you happy, and when it exists in its own right, not in defiance of something else, but because it’s inherent, and a part of you, and your right to claim for your own. To be, finally, comfortable in your own skin.

“These things are hard to talk about because they’ve been, for so long, co-opted by a society that tells us, be comfortable with who you are, while simultaneously telling us we need to shave our legs, smell like a rainshower, and wear make up to be beautiful. It might be generations before a person can rightfully feel ok about being beautiful the way he or she was born, without the pretensions or masks we are constantly hiding behind, even those of us trying to defy conventional standards. We’re still not comfortable with ourselves, either, as so very often the ripped clothes and spikes and the rest are intended more to put people off than anything else, to hide the natural beauty that we’ve been taught to disdain from years of seriously fucked up attitudes toward our own bodies. Whether you grew up matching the conventional definitions of beauty or not, almost everyone who tries to escape conventions at some point reached the decision that in order to find respect for their person, and not their appearance, they had to be anti-fashion, anti-beauty, and, in some sense, confirm their fears that they really weren’t beautiful at all, when society inevitably began to look down on them for being so far outside its normal standards.

“This is why I didn’t want these photos to be anti-fashion, or anti-beauty. I don’t want them to be anti-anything. I’m not trying to promote punk style, or say this is in some way better or more free than conventional beauty (though it typically does provide a far greater measure of freedom), because it is just as much a trap as the conventional standards. It’s still, when it defines itself in objection to conventions, by trying so damn hard to be everything society expects someone living an “alternative” lifestyle to be, not any more self confirming than someone wearing clothing straight out of a fashion magazine. It’s still a type of conforming.

“Instead, I hoped these pictures would capture at least a little of the beauty that all of these people have inherently. I think it’s easier to see in people who are being themselves, first and foremost. And yes, maybe I am to an extent promoting a particular style, because I, like anyone else, am still trapped by the same ridiculous conventions that have me, like anyone else, despite all my talk of inherent beauty and natural aesthetics, looking in the mirror on occasion and hating the way I look.

“But maybe, just maybe, we can help each other forward to a place where we can look at one another and say, you’re beautiful, and have it be a true, heartfelt compliment that we can accept for what it is, embracing our bodies as the beautiful things they are, as beautiful as flowers and trees, who are entirely unashamed to find themselves pleasing to the eye.”

The selection of photos currently available for viewing is not the final selection, and still contains many of the silly “outtakes” kept for a chuckle rather than for their aesthetic or specific value to the project. The final exhibition and accompanying publication will contain a smaller selection and will be accompanied by the writings of the Madames Stewart (that is, by Tara and I) about redefining beauty, trash, and wagenplatz life, among other things. And if you look sharp you will find me in a picture or two. May your comments flow to our inboxes like Chilean bananas to the dumpster.

To the photographs!

(All photographs copyright TSHolste.)

Monday June 15th 2009, 4:30 pm 4 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,wagenplatz


no experts, no bibles

The term “dumpster diving” was coined by gonzo journalist John Hoffman in his 1992 book The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving, a how-to guide that has become the committed diver’s bible.
-Kamilla Pietrzyk in her article Freegansim: Food for Mind, Body and Soul

Damn it Peitrzyk, there may be a couple of metaphorical dumpster gods, but there is no dumpster bible. I shudder to see the word “bible” used to mean “tome of all-important knowledge on any given subject.” Shame on you.

Not only does this quote irritate me, but the quoted book does as well, even as it defiantly eyes me from across the table. (“You bought me!” it says. “Hahahaha. Got ya.” “Thank god I bought you second hand for almost nothing,” I spit back. And it is turning out to be about equal parts of amusing and irritating.) Point is, dumpster diving, as practiced by gorillas et al, is not something you need a guidebook for because that implies that you, the uninitiated potential diver, could not possibly figure it out yourself without the help of a published expert. This is ridiculous. Get on your bike and start opening lids. The rest will follow. Experts are highly over-rated. The cornucopias treasures to be found in the trash are not.

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Friday June 12th 2009, 8:04 pm 3 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving,freegan