Wednesday, April 22, 2009

graffiti language

Well, stayed in Brussels longer than I was expecting yesterday and ended up casually wandering around the city looking for a friend to meet with a couch to share (not that I couldn't have stayed at Matarcar another night, but I had already said goodbye to everyone and was ready to start a new adventure). This city is starting to grow on me more and more, I suppose it is an acquired taste.

I spotted some graffiti in the part of the city I was in, among other tags was an anarchist sign and the ubiquitous international squatter symbol: good signs of good people. Sure enough, what used to be a squat but is now (from what I have understood) a type of social housing collective, was close by. The people outside spotted me first, called me over, and offered me a place to stay (I had my bags loaded on my bike and looked like a traveler at the time). They seemed like good people, and I was of course looking for a place anyway, so the offer ended up being the first of many serendipitous happenings of the evening.

The house, 123 Rue Royal, offers residents (i think about 25-30 people estimation) a place to stay based on a very reasonable sliding scale rent. I also understand that they occasionally take on people, like myself, for half-week periods for free, and then ask for a small monetary contribution for each day after that. There are hot showers, a bike workshop downstairs, a full kitchen, and I think about five or six floors in the building, mostly residents I presume.

I was given a tour of the house by a local political figure and activist by the name of R├ęginald de Potesta. He is extremely hospitable and a wonderful conversationalist. I think we ended up staying awake until three in the morning just talking and watching films.

During the tour of the facility, I met some familiar faces: A couple of other American kids whom I met a few weeks ago at Under the Bridge in Amsterdam. Their names are Kayne and Tovio and they are part of a band called "Calliope of the Future" (myspace/thecalliopeofthefuture). They are meeting up with a bicycle caravan starting in Bruges (a town in Belgium I have come so close to several times but have always missed) in a few days and casually riding through France to Spain and finally ending up in Italy in July for G8. I was planning on meeting Kegan to backpack in the Pyrenees anyway so I decided to join the caravan as well for at least the first leg of the trip (and potentially even join up with them later on down the road closer to G8, after traveling with Kegan and Connor).

Anyway, these two kids are uplifting and lighthearted and it is a brilliantly random and happy occurrence that we have crossed paths again, especially with the opportunity to ride together. As much as I am in love with my little black fixie, I must say I have a bit of envey, as they are each riding on tall bikes which are loads of fun and quite a spectacle rolling down the street. I never imagined that anyone would ride across a continent on a tall bike but as they rightly pointed out, I am the crazy one on a fixed gear. They at least have brakes, multiple gears, and lots of vertical stacking space for luggage, street performance & juggling equipment.

So that's the plan, I am going to spend another day tuning my bike in Brussel, then it is off to Bruges for the start of a bicycle caravan to G8... really could life get better? how did I get so lucky?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

£€$$

Here is a link to a film called Surplus:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AEiwOM4fAY

I am not trying to advocate any particular viewpoint made in this film, but am presenting it because I think it is worth seeing. So if you have an hour and you are in a Koyanisquatsi kind of mood then check it out and let me know what you think. This link is a ten part series that takes an hour, but i think somewhere on the interweb is a full version.

I cannot get enough of the sun, and I keep humming Polyphonic Spree

Back in Bruxxels, still not my favorite city in the world, but it has some little hidden treasures here and there as well as some fantastic people, now good friends.

I stayed at Matarcar again, I really love this place and all of the people here. The morning I came in everyone was sitting around a banquet size table eating brunch and rehearsing lines for a film that they are about to make there (from what I understand, it is a modern remake of an old french play, I believe 1600s. It is in a style similar to the new remake of Romeo & Juliet, you know the one with Leo). Everyone was wearing a big smile and invited me to join when I came in that morning, so I grabbed a baguette and looked over someone's shoulder to follow along the french script as best I could.

Truth be told, I was a little worried when I did not see my bike where I had left it. It took some searching around the massive laberynth downstairs to locate it, but after a bit of hunting I felt my heart flutter a bit when I finally laid eyes on it again. I cleaned up my beautiful machine and took it for a ride around a sunny Brussels, blissful.

Falafel bars are everywhere in Brussels, most of them are ok, but not as good as Neomandes or most places in New York. I finally found one that I have fallen in love with and will be going back for lunch today. It is called Mr. Falafel, it is a completely vegetarian place. They only have one thing on the menu: a falefel sandwich for 3.50. Handed to you across the small counter comes pita bread with 4 fresh falafel, you are then directed to the salad bar chock full of traditional middle-eastern salads, fresh vegetables, and sauces to pile on top. Simple, independent, cheap, healthy, delicious, authentic; can't ask for much more.

The middle-eastern community is one of my favorite things about this city. The people are colorful and friendly. Everyone pours out onto the streets in the late afternoon to talk to neighbors, play football, and visit the markets. Everyone seems quite tight-knit, I imagine that a lot of people spend their whole lives on the same block.

So my plan is to finally ride into France. I am going to try to stay with a friend of mine in the city tonight if he is available and then head out early in the morning. Riding in this weather is going to be fantastic, no more putting on shoes that are covered with frost first thing in the morning, I might even get tan.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

moddern art = i could do that + yeah, but you didn't

I mentioned that I was taking part in some squatting actions, one of them went like this:

Approximately 70 people gathered in a squat one morning to discuss the following days events, which focused around the goal of opening a new squat.

One of the topics discussed was how the laws about squatting work here, this is how I understood the discussion: In Amsterdam all squat openings are done in the middle of the day because they are legal. So long as a building has been unoccupied for a year, people have the right to then inhabit the building. However, in Amsterdam, you can be evicted from the property if the building has been occupied more recently than a years time, or the new residents (squatters) are not "properly inhabiting" the building (according to Dutch law, a building is properly inhabited when each resident has a chair, a mattress, and a table in their respected rooms).

So the door is opened. With help from others, the ten new occupants each carry a chair, a table, and a mattress to their respected rooms (this is all organized before the opening so it takes less than two minutes to carry everything in).

On a really good day: No cops, no problems.

On a good day: Concerned neighbors call cops, cops come and simply find a properly inhabited building (hence the reason for the hasty entrance, all tables, chairs, mattresses, and residents need to be in place before the police inspect the property), police explain to neighbors that "actually this is legal in Amsterdam and that there is no need for alarm." Police leave, no problems.

On a not so good day: Something goes wrong, that was this day.

A good action is well planned, researched, and organized. This was a good action. The building was checked out and was indeed empty for a year, people were informed about what could go wrong, it was made clear what to do if you chose to be arrested, and if you chose not to, everyone wrote down the lawyer's name and phone number on their arm, we had media reps in place to talk to press that might come, we had police liaisons, we had a medic, food, and letters in several languages explaining to neighbors that we meant no harm and what we were doing.

The first part all went to plan, but when the police came they did not inspect the residence as usual. They claimed (incorrectly) that the residence had been occupied in less than a years time. They were determined to get us out.

A football game was taking place in Amsterdam the next day. Riot police had been brought in to the city to help control the event. They ended up getting some early action when the local police called them in to evict us.

Most of the day was spent sitting, waiting, and prepping. The doors were barricaded, food was brought. If the police were able to break in, all those inside would knowingly be arrested (which they were, I believe 20 in total). Naturally I chose to remain outside the building, not having any status in the Netherlands.

Once the riot police came, we realized we were going to lose the squat. They outnumbered us, had armor, shields, giant beating sticks, and horses. Quite a few of our members put up resistance, staying together in a tight mass in front of the door. This prevented any single person from being arrested (which is a much bigger hassle than a large group being hauled into jail. Police do not like lots of paperwork, but one or two people taking a fall is no big deal to them) and also kept police from immediately breaking through the barricade. This group put up one hell of a fight and gave us good publicity with the media, but were ultimately displaced (beaten and pushed) by lots and lots of riot cops. Those who could not afford to get arrested had opportunities to show support in other ways, and to remain at a distance (which is what I did).

Turns out, the squat had been legal all along, the building had been empty for a year, and the squatters were illegally evicted. The next day the mayor held a press-conference. He even almost apologized for illegally evicting the squat and for the extreme measures that were taken by the police force. While in jail, the arrested were able to enjoy a hot shower, free food, and tetris. All of those who were arrested were let out without charge; upon leaving one person even had his weed returned to him by an officer.

...something tells me it will not be long before the property is squatted again.

So, onto new topics...

Under The Bridge is now in the process of transitioning from an occupying stage (recruiting people to live in a newly squatted building after it is opened) to a social center (more operational, focused more on events and less on housing). This means that it is time for me to move on from Amsterdam, luckily I have also reached a stopping point for the Copenhagen website.

Amsterdam has been a blast. It is a great city, but almost a little too much like Boone. It is time to travel again. I am really looking forward to being on my bike, especially in the nice weather. I should be in Brussels by tomorrow morning, as I have found a ride there which is leaving later today.

I also have a bit of disappointing news. I know I promised photos to everyone, but after the last big party we had at the place several cameras turned up missing. Despite keeping mine quite well hidden, and searching all over for it, it appears that it was among those taken.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

life is a sand box, dig it.

*abjuration: for those of you who still may be unaware, my last post was fabricated in the jestful spirit of April Fools Day, April First. I am not married, I do not frequent the club scene, and I most certainly do not (and never will) work for Nike.

I am finding quite a comforible niche here in Amsterdam (a sign it may be about time to head on soon). I spend alot of my time reading, most sunny days dangling my feet over the edge of a canal with a cheap beer and a good book. The author list includes, but is not necessarily limited to: Haruki Murakami, Hunter S. Thompson, and Viktor Frankl, Edward Tufte.

This city is relatively small; it is nice to see familiar faces and friends randomly about town, this reminds me of Boone in a reassuring way. One friend of mine is starting a bike workshop in town (similar to BBI or 56A) and has tons of scrap bike parts lying around his basement. He invited me over one afternoon. I found a frame, some wheels and cranks, added some handle bars and a chain, inflated the tires, and was able to ride back to the squat that eveing with a bike. He simply asked that I return it before I leave so that he can recycle it into the community, and invited me to be a part of the workshop if I stick arround town for a while.

Under The Bridge is coming along quite nicely. We have a billiards table now (I do not really play here though, I have been spoiled by playing on really nice tables) and a ping-pong table (which is what I am really excited about). The squat now has a free-store that a few of the members worked hard to get open this week. We still do voku almost every night, and I am pretty sure there is a band playing this evening. I am really growing to like this squat and the people here, but that is not to say I don't find myself jonesing for the London group now and again. I miss them quite a bit and haven't heard news back from them since G20, so I am only hoping that everything is ok.

The MKZ (I am told is an abreviation of a dutch play on words for "mad cow disease") is another squat (now legalized) in south-west Amsterdam. They are quite active and have regular events. They also have their own infoshop, bike workshop, and get this... a sauna. The squat even has an industrial restaraunt-quality kitchen for voku, which I had the pleasure of using last night. Two friends of mine from the office I do design work in (who are also activists) and myself cooked a fantastic vegan meal for about 45 people: ginger-squash bisque, salad, black bean chili, vegetable tempura, and an apple crisp topped with vanilla yoghurt.

It is hard to eat healthy when you are riding. Vegetables are expensive, heavy, and take up lots of space. I usually end up eating alot of bread & peanut butter on the road. So I am taking advantage of being in one place with plenty of access to free vegetables. I am eating an entirely vegan diet again, which is very refreshing. Most mornings I start with a breakfast tea, whole wheat toast, tomato, avacado, apples and tahini. I even started doing sit-ups again.

The website is coming along nicely too, it will not be too much longer before I have a pretty solid prototype that I can send out for critique and/or approval from the web team that I am working with.

I have also been involved in a squating action that took place last weekend, and will be participating in another tomorow. For security reasons I would rather not discuss those here, but if you are curious let me know and I might be able to explain further at a better time.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Just Do It

Wow, that was one hell of a night. I went out to this club and just got lost in the trance music. Everyone around me was rolling hard, but I just stuck to the occasional redbull and vodka. I met this girl who I recognised from a simmilar club in Berlin. We started talking and joking about the scene a bit. Turns out she is actually from Amsterdam and her name is Mirjam. Neither one of us had big plans for the rest of the evening so we decided to stop by a mini-chapel in the red-light district. I imagine it was similar to one you might find in Vegas, but a bit more quaint. Probably more like the mini-chapel on the way to blowing rock, but more drugs. Anyway, it was a nice place. Getting hitched was mutually beneficial; Mirjam is able to get a tax break from the government, and I can eventually apply for dual citizenship. Plus Mirjam's Dad works for Nike, she says he can totaly hook me up with a design job, or at least introduce me to cool people like this guy: