Sunday, July 31, 2005
Returning to normal & A lovely intimate dinner party
Fritz and I credit our bouncing back from jet lag so easily to a product called--No Jet Lag. It's a homeopathic product made in New Zealand and it WORKS. We were introduced to it by good friends who now live in Seattle when we stopped with them for a couple of days last time we headed for Australia. I had been to Asia before in one hop, crossing ten time zones and being devastated for days after arrival. So I proposed to Fritz we break the trip with friends or new places to explore along the way. M & S (I would have writen S & M, which is the order in which we always speak of them, but the boys aren't into that) for two days before heading to New Zealand and they said we HAD to use No Jet Lag which is available at health and whole food stores. You take a pill every two hours unless you're sleeping, from the moment the plane pulls back from the gate until arrival. We hit Auckland airport at 4:30am feeling great, got our rental car, drove for about five hours, spent the day doing stuff, spent the evening having a Hongi (Maori dinner baked in a fire pit underground) and about 9:30pm began to feel a little sleepy. No Jet Lag is that good, and we've used it ever since whenever we travel.
The famous "Bamberger Rider"
The Cathedral in Bamberg is one of the gems of this town that was virtually untouched by by the second World War--we visited other cities that had been 85% flattened by American bombardiers (my father among them. He personally helped take out Berlin, Kiel, Frankfurt and Regensburg). Mounted on one main pier of the sanctuary is this handsome fellow, one of the most famous statues of the Medieval period, because it's the only life-sized equestrian statue known to have been attempted between the end of the Roman period and the Italian Renaissance. The realism and detail are remarkable.
When we booked the cruise we wondered what our fellow passengers would be like and were hoping for a mix of ages and nationalities. The reality was that the majority were in late middle age, and mostly American although there was an Israeli couple, some Brits, two New Zealand couples who were lots of fun as Kiwis almost always are,
a Chinese couple now resident in the US and a German couple. All were hetero.
We were the only two gay men on board. Our sister ship that sailed from Budapest at the same time but went only as far as Nurnburg, had a big group of very lively gay men with a nice spread of ages, but that was not to be for us. It didn't take us long however to gaydar out a lesbian foursome from southern California, one couple and two of their friends. Smart, sassy and great amounts of fun, they made a frequent sixsome with us for lunch and dinner.
Fritz and I tried to mix as much as possible. We like people and had some good times with a wide variety of types. A small number of couples figured us out and were frosty--these were red state Republican types--and we accepted the fact they were folks we probably didn't want to know anyway. Still, it made us realize how lucky we are to be on the east coast and involved with Academia.
Another nice thing about teaching is that a number of former students keep up with you with some frequency, some eventually becoming valued adult friends who keep you in touch with the life and culture of their generations. I hosted a 30th birthday dinner last night for one former student who did lots of design/technical work with me, mostly in lighting, and his new boyfriend. S, the birthday boy who manages events and has taken rock concert tours nationwide, had called before we left, said turning 30 was going to be traumatic and that of his two options, dinner with his parents or with me, he preferred the latter. Also he wanted me to meet J, slightly younger and doing a PhD in physics at Harvard, who was more and more looking like The One. Instead of going out, I suggested they come here.
I had a Mediterranean antipasto platter for their arrival, and began dinner with white cheddar and asparagus soup, moving on to quiche lorraine, lightly curried summer squash and zucchini, home baked wheat bread with dried apple and candied ginger mixed in, and champagne for dinner. The birthday "cake" was individual confections of chocolate truffle in fudge cake balls covered with dark chocolate ganache. As daylight failed and we kept on talking and laughing, I lit the candle chandelier and brought some candles onto the table to surround the enormous bouquet of mixed flowers they had brought me. They're truly, glowingly in love and the evening was a joy from beginning to end.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Back Home, processing it all & The Budapest Baths
Boston's Logan Airport
Fritz and I landed at Logan just after 7pm on Thursday. I don't think I actually accepted that the trip was over until we were out of the terminal and on the ground in Boston. I adore traveling and I'm good at it. I can take some hardships and changes of plan, I travel light and flexibly, and I can adapt to foreign customs and languages. I don't want everything American to follow me abroad. When I'm in another country--another culture--I want to find out how they do things, how they eat and how they live. Fritz is very much the same, so we travel well together.
Not that there was really any hardship or upheaval of plans, although two days after the ship left Budapest we almost lost the cruise. There had been torrential rains all through the Danube valley, so the river was very high and really roaring along. It was also quite a sight to see whole trees ripped from the river's banks coming at us fast in the current as we pushed upstream against the turbulent waters. We made it to Bratislava, capital of Slovak Republic OK, but there it was announced that the Danube and all its many locks that let you navigate through the changing heights above sea level in Mittel Europa, had been closed to shipping traffic for what turned out to be about 36 hours.
We were bussed to and from Vienna instead of sailing there, which robbed us of some valuable time, but we did get to see a few things and, more importantly, connect with Hans as planned. Two execs from Viking River Cruises came on board for a day or so to assess the situation. When the Danube was reopened they sailed with us and, as conditions had eased just enough, decided we could continue.
So, to expand a little on the baths in Budapest and the gay scene there. What I realized once were at the end of our cruise in Amsterdam was that we had gone the whole spectrum from highly repressed to completely liberated sexuality during the course of the two weeks afloat. In Budapest, in a highly Catholic country, there is homophobia. I checked out a few gay guides to the city on the web last night and read some interesting things that expanded on our experience. We had chosen the Kiraly Baths, state-owned like all of them, because they were near us on the Buda side of the Danube, were genuine 15th century Turkish baths, the oldest in the city, were mentioned specifically in many of the guide books, etc.
They were also somewhat shabby and lacking in maintenance after the long years of Communist neglect. After paying not a great deal by U.S. standards to enter, we undressed and headed to our massage that was a twenty minute waste of time. I should mention that tantric and erotic massage loom large in our lives, part of our continuing experience with the Body Electric School and its programs for gay men that are offered at Fritz's center. Many of our friends are skilled in massage therapy. These guys were real light-weights and managed a little skin stimulation at best. Then they tried to hustle us for more expensive oil massages, but we got out of the massage room fast and headed to the bath pools.
The Kiraly Baths, built by a 16th century Turkish Pasha
The photo shows the oldest part of the complex, the actual baths, from the outside. Under the big dome is a thirty foot diameter octagonal warm pool. The near small dome tops a shower room, the central rectangular dome is over the hot pool and beyond it is another small dome over the steam room. The waters come from underground hot springs that are all over the area and there was a light scent of sulphur. Bathing naked was not allowed and I found out while researching last night that the place had been busted on Hungarian national TV about a year ago when a reporter snuck in a camera and documented sexual activity. The Kiraly had always been known as the baths for gay men, but there was a big scandal when actual sex was shown to be taking place. So, everything went "underground" and caused the furtive, repressed scene we encountered.
In the main pool a good looking man was standing to one side and was the object of rapt attention. No action, just adoration. When we went from the warm pool to the hot one, we found a man reclining on a step just below water level, his suit in his hand and his knees drawn up protectively. Men would walk by, kneel and grope him, one talking to him, another just silently fondling. He said nothing. To my left two men were engaged in some tit play, one sitting on the other's lap facing him, all the action going on under water. They, at least, were laughing and talking quietly as if allowing themselves some pleasure. We passed on into the steam room, which was intensely hot. When we were finished there, we went to the cold plunge pool where the man making himself available for groping had relocated. Warily, he looked all around as he let someone feel him briefly and then he headed into the steam.
As we left the pool area, we passed the shower. A stunningly handsome, tall man, about 30 years old and gorgeously built, had dropped his suit and was taking a long shower for the benefit of a crowd of men who were focused on him, standing at a distance, just staring as he turned in the spray and passed his hands over parts of his body--nobody else moved a muscle. We dressed and left, chalking up as a cultural experience but a frustrating, not terribly happy one.
ITC Hotel, Amsterdam
Fast forward to Amsterdam. Rainbow flags hanging in front of gay clubs, bars, restaurants and hotels--at our hotel it was flying from a pole right outside our window. At breakfast one morning at an outdoor cafe, two men were making out at the next table. Gay couples were everywhere. Gay Pride events, safer sex info, ads for transvestite shows and and gay saunas, AIDS services, etc., etc. were all out in public. Sex shops have signs welcoming gays and straights equally. There is a heady freedom and pervasive acknowledgement of homoeroticism that's part of everyday life.
At the hotel, they offered guides to gay activities all over the city and two channels of 24/7 free hard core gay porn on the room TV. As we settled in on our first evening, we flipped on the set and found what looked like the Leather Channel and the Vanilla Channel, although in the following days those distinctions turned out not to be hard and fast. Fritz was getting into the leather boys big time, which really isn't like him--it's more my taste in porn. When I commented on this he looked at me with his big innocent blue eyes and said his interest was, of course, purely sociological. So I stripped down and joined him on the bed and we began what turned out, delightfully, to be a little four-day sex marathon, beginning with breaking all previous records for number of times in a one day period (actually 21 hours) and ending our European vacation, literally and figuratively with a bang.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
On the water in Amsterdam
We've been talking about how hard a landing it's going to be from the style of the cruise--no more mimosas and selection of delightful pastries for breakfast any more!
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Wine as well as Beer
In Vienna we had the real pleasure of spending the afternoon with Hans of Castor's Diary. He suggested the Theater Museum that we dodn't know about and that turned out to be an ideal place for us. We ended with a drink at the American Bar--a tiny but very elegant place unchanged since 1910. It really pays to know someone when you get to a new city and Hans is a man of great charm, knowledge and enthusiasm.
More from Amsterdam.
Friday, July 15, 2005
Greetings from Passau
The weather has become perfect and watching the engineering of getting these river ships into and out of the many locks we pass through has been fascinating. We're having a fine time and enjoying the trip immensely.
Best to you all from Passau on the Danube just inside the German border.
Friday, July 08, 2005
We flew in this morning having gotten the word about the London bombings last night as we packed in Copenhagen after an idyllic week in Denmark. Danish airport security in didn't seem to have been beefed up but at Budapest airport their were squads of tall, strapping young men with very intimidating automatic weapons, steely gazes and the legs-spread stance of guards from the old Communist days everywhere.
Budapest itself is definitely a visit back in time. Baroque-era buildings in brightly colored stucco with tons of cornices, volutes and statuary are mixed in with flowing art nouveau and ninteenth-centuary faux-Gothic in a very pleasing way. The inner city is very beautiful but the outer neighborhoods still bear teh cement block curse of teh bad old Communist days.
Fritz and I are dealing as best we can with Magyar in the streets--it's unlike any other language except Turkish and Finnish/Estonian, and the Hungarians can no longer speak with teh Turks and Finns. Fortunately, most people speak at least a little English and are most kind in using it. Tomorrow night we hit the baths--as in the ols Turkish hot baths that dot the city, not quite what gay Americans think of when using the term.
I'll report from a little further down the line if and when I can.