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What I Learned From Playing Batman: Arkham City

My Friends,
   I just returned from spending the weekend at my older brother Alex’s place.  My younger brother Adam was also in town from Montreal, and it was good to have a long weekend with all three of us together.  One thing I did a lot of this weekend was play Batman: Arkham City with Adam.  I had tried some of the challenge stages a few weeks back but this time around I started a file and began the story-line.  If you don’t know, this is the only game I have had any real urge to play in the last while.  It came out while I was travelling and such was my anticipation to see/play the game that I watched a 25-part walkthrough of it on youtube while staying at my cousin’s place in Italy.  A couple weeks after that I dreamed about the game while sleeping/freezing near a highway on a cold November night in Turkey (see “Turkey by Thumb,” 16 November 2011).  Basically, I had a raging boner for this game, and it didn’t disappoint.  You can basically do whatever Batman does.  And the sheer variety of moves allows you to be very inventive and deal with problems like Batman would.
   But anyhow, this isn’t a review of the game.  As the title suggests I learned a few things, both from the game and from the conversations me and Adam had while playing the game.  Allow me to share:

Revenge is Not Sweet
   A substantial portion of the game revolves around Batman infiltrating the Gotham Museum to free Mr. Freeze from the Penguin, as Mr. Freeze is the only person who can concoct a remedy for the sickness which The Joker afflicted Batman with.  As you make your way through this part of the game, the Penguin is there at every step with his Guy-Ritchie-gangster-movie voice taunting you, killing cops in front of you…

…and trying to feed you to his shark.  

As the coup de grace, he forces you to fight Solomon Grundy, a fucking Superman villain, before submitting to Batman and a well-deserved slap-fucking.

Skip to 0:55

   Yet even though you eventually best him in combat I found I still wasn’t satisfied.  I could have done with beating him some more.  In fact I would have liked that as a mini-game included alongside the main story: How much of the living-fuck can you beat out of the Penguin in 60 seconds?  But even then I have my doubts about whether or not my lust for vengeance would be sated; he’s just that annoying.  I think this begs bigger questions about revenge in general.  For example, even though Batman beats up the Penguin he hasn’t really addressed the larger problems of trash-talking super-villains or British accents in general (more on that later).  Batman is just setting himself up for more disappointment by using his fists as a band-aid solution.  Speaking of which…

Perpetuating Cycles of Violence
   The in-game combat system is both easy to learn and challenging to master, and the animations for the fight scenes are equal parts brutal and beautiful.

However as I dealt out punishment to the denizens of Arkham City (an area of Gotham City quarantined for the purposes of incarcerating the inmates of Blackgate Prison and the now-defunct Arkham Asylum) I began to wonder if the beat-downs I was doling out were really what these ne’er-do’wells needed most.  I don’t doubt for a second that knocking them unconscious is the most expedient way to deal with them in the context of a crisis, but Batman’s 1-2 special of fisticuffs & incarceration seems to be a throwback to earlier times when (abnormal) psychology wasn’t understood as well as it is now.
   For example, while prowling the rooftops you can overhear the conversations between groups of thugs.  One particular conversation stuck in my mind as very telling of the motivations of violent criminals.  One thug alludes to how his mother got up to no good at her prom.  The other thugs, thinking he is alluding fuck-making, start to bust his balls about hooking up with his mom.  When he sees the misunderstanding, he explains that his mother actually killed a bunch of people at her prom and has in fact gone on subsequent prom-night massacres, including the thug’s own prom.  Given this type of upbringing, do we then really wonder why this thug is here in Arkham City, doing dirt for one of the various super-villains and generally waiting to get his ass handed to him by the Bat?  I don’t.
   Now I’m not sure if in his capacity as Bruce Wayne, Batman subsidizes any kind of programs to rehabilitate criminals and alleviate poverty (the Nolan films allude to the Wayne family nearly bankrupting themselves to better Gotham), but from the very day he decided to don the cape and cowl, his whole M.O. has been striking fear into the hearts of “evil-doers” and punishing them.  Surely, someone as intelligent as Batman (often touted as “the World’s Greatest Detective”) would realize that he isn’t stopping crime by beating the fuck out of people and turning them over to the authorities.  The criminals just get more inventive and brutal for the next cycle of escape-crime spree-capture.
   Ironically, Batman’s one cardinal rule, to never kill, would, if broken actually see a reduction in crime.  It’s weird to see his progressive stance on killing juxtaposed against his barbaric beat ’em up and let ’em rot in jail attitude.  However, this is not intended to be an essay on Batman’s efficacy and complexity, just what I learned from the game.  And what I learned in this instance is that as much fun as punching, kicking and bataranging (sic.) bad guys is, I don’t see it as a solution to crime.

Inexplicable British Accents are VERY Hit or Miss
   While playing the game we lauded how they had used the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (Batman and the Joker respectively), as these two had done the voices in Batman: The Animated Series in the early 90s.  Then we must have got to talking about other classic Warner Bros. cartoons because Animaniacs came up.

Pictured: The Animaniacs being ‘zany to the max’

We talked about how the show had several instances of adult humour and references which the average child would not understand.  Then we talked about what the deal was with Wakko’s (bottom left) voice.  Adam felt his voice was pretty much an imitation of George Harrison’s while I concurred that he was definitely some kind of Beatle tribute.  While we didn’t talk about this explicitly, I mulled over how this had always kind of annoyed me; even as a kid this use of a British accent for an American character had always seemed misguided to me.  
   Less misguided, but no less inexplicable is the Penguin’s aforementioned accent.  I have to say that I can appreciate the fresh direction, and by all means they pulled it off well.  Certainly someone doing their best Burgess Meredith impression for the game’s voiceovers would have taken away from the serious mood.
“YOU’RE A BUM, ROCK!!”

Definitely one of the few cases where British-accent-out-of-fucking-nowhere (BAOOFN) worked out okay.
   An instance where BAOOFN didn’t work so hot?…
Cut that shit out; it’s pretentious and annoying

Then again she’s selling records like a ma, so what do I know, really?

‘Diddling’ is Always a Bad Touch
   To explain this I need to go back to Saturday night where we were drinking at a friend’s place.  We started playing this game where you give a clue which is a synonym for a rhyming set of of words.  So for example, “Catching an STI from a 7-11 drink” would be Herpes Slurpees, “An evening of quarrel” would be Fight Night, and “A Kick to the Vagina” would be Cunt Punt.  
Any questions?

   Anyhow, this game was such a barrel of fucking monkeys (I feel like I’m dropping too many F-bombs) that we decided to keep it going while playing Arkham City the next day.  We decided all the answers had to use the name of a Batman villain.  Here’s how the conversation went:
Adam: Okay a villain who likes weed
Me: “Smoker Joker”
Adam: I was gonna say Toker, but yeah…
Me: Okay, A Batman villain with a giant stereotype for a nose
Adam: uhhhh….
Me: “Jew-Face Two-Face”
Adam: lol, okay, a villain who molests little kids
Me: uhhhhh… (a few seconds pass) …I have no idea
Adam: Diddler Riddler
Me: Diddler? That’s a pedophile thing?
Adam: Yep
Me: Hmm, I always thought it was just another word for finger-banging
Adam: Finger-banging a minor, yes
Me: So you’re saying that ‘diddling is always a bad touch?’
Adam: Exactly
Me: Fascinating…
I refuse to believe that this upstanding gentleman has ever ‘diddled.’

This guy I’m not so sure about.

This seemed profound at the time although the ramifications of this new knowledge have proven meagre.  It really hasn’t changed my life in any way, but it did give me a pause to reflect on a guy I worked with on an army base a few years back.  His name was Didiano and, well, you can guess what his nickname was.  
   It seemed a really benign thing to call him at the time.
I Can Not Own a Video Game System
   When I think about how much sunlight I missed out on this weekend I kinda get mad.  Now I don’t have any regrets because at the time it was awesome and chilling with my brother all weekend was dope.  But if I had a gaming system and a ballin ass TV with surround-sound at my place like my older brother has at his, I would be spending many a sunny day in shady isolation.  Funnily enough, I actually do have a PS3 but I lent it out to a friend so long ago that at this point I don’t even care anymore.  Besides, PS3 is the most disappointing piece of shit gaming console I ever bought, and you can quote me on that.
   Back to the matter at hand, I think it is far better for me to not own a cutting-edge system, but rather just make frequent trips to my brother’s place.  Not only can I get my gaming fix but I am also ostensibly visiting family as well.
So thank-you Arkham City for all you taught me.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo
   


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My Favourite Fictional Weapons

My Friends,
   I have been wrestling with ideas for what to write about for the last week and have a few unfinished drafts to show for it.  But I find I have been starting out on what seem like promising and introspective topics and hitting roadblocks the whole way.  The topics I want to write about very soon are “The Effects of Laws and Rules,” “The Wrong Way to Argue.””The Proper Way to Treat a Woman,” and “The True Power of Honesty.”  Rest assured I will endeavour to flesh out these topics in the near-future.
   However, in the meantime I feel some levity is in order.  One can’t simply ponder deep, existential questions and not take time to indulge in some more frivolous inquiries.  Having spent part of last evening watching Star Wars reviews on redlettermedia.com and discussing how episodes I-III could have been much better, I was once again reminded of how the lightsabre has always enchanted me.  This of course led me to think about my other favourite fictional weapons as well and compile a list which I will share with you now.
   **Note: The weapons listed don’t have to be implausible or fantastical, simply featured prominently in fiction.  Some are actual weapons used notably by fictional characters or are based on real-life equivalents.

Lightsabre – Star Wars Universe

   
   “An elegant weapon for a more civilized age,” the lightsabre was an obvious inclusion as it was the inspiration for this list.  With so many variants to choose from it is hard to pick a favourite incarnation, but Darth Vader’s red one gets point for…well, belonging to Darth Vader.  I’d like to think that as the human race advances its knowledge of superheated plasma and the manipulation of magnetic fields that we will one day be able to build these weapons.  I would rate the importance of lightsabre R&D somewhere above ending world hunger as far as global priorities go.


Tuco’s Custom Revolver – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly



   After being double-crossed by Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name,” Tuco resolves to get revenge. His first order of business is to procure some heat.  After having his common wares rejected, the gunsmith pulls out the premium firearms for Tuco; “Remington, Colt, ____, Smith & Wesson, Colt Navy,  J____, another Remington…”  The list reads like an antique revolver enthusiast’s wet dream but Tuco remains unimpressed.  He proceeds to dismantle the guns and take the choice components from each to assemble his ideal firearm in what is one of the coolest scenes in the film.  And though he doesn’t fare too well in the final standoff with “Blondie” and “Angel Eyes,” he does manage to get some good killin’ in.


Cerberus – Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII (PS2)



   This revolver is only a revolver in the loosest sense of the word.  While it has only three chambers to house three cartridges which are fired simultaneously with each trigger pull, somehow it can fire 18 rounds before needing to be reloaded.  When you can suspend belief to the point that you glaze over this glaring inconsistency, you can really begin to appreciate the elegance of this weapon.
   Since its a magical revolver, it just isn’t subject to the same rules other gats might be subject to.  Case in point: Magical charms can be procured throughout the game and then affixed to the weapon to affect its power, reload speed, weight and accuracy.  When completely decked out with these charms it is a gaudy, cumbersome affair but still kinda gets me hard.  Its kind of like a Tiffany & Co. tennis bracelet, but with bullets.


Green Shell – Super Smash Bros. (N64)



   The oft-underrated green shell is overlooked as one of the better weapons in the game because it can only be thrown, not used for melee.  However, it packs devastating power when it connects and can be ricocheted or even hit again while in motion to increase its potency.  Unlike other pick-ups in the game this one will not cover for your lack of skill, but instead will complement your mastery of a character’s fighting style.


Cougar Magnum/DD44 Dostovei – Goldeneye (N64)

Cougar Magnum
   DD44 Dostovei



   Based on the .357 Ruger Blackhawk and the Soviet TT-30 respectively, these two pistols were vastly different (the former being the much more powerful of the two) but were both more elegant than some of the larger firearms in the game.  If its not already glaringly apparent, I’m a bit gay for pistols, revolvers particularly, and I tended to prefer these two to the more powerful golden and silver handguns in the game for their realism.


Crissaegrim: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PSONE)



   The Crissaegrim is quite simply the only weapon you need to find in the game.  Thankfully, the developers had the good sense to make it appear late in the story because when it is equipped you can literally mow down any ghoul that has the audacity to proceed in your direction.  On top its power, each push of the attack button actually causes it to hit seven or eight times in overlapping arcs.  Perfect for patricide against the Prince of Darkness. (ps you play as Dracula’s son in the game)


Battle Rifle – Halo 3 (XBOX 360)



   When I first played Halo 3 I thought this was simply a neutered, 3-round burst version of Halo 2’s fully-auto Battle Rifle.  However, the more I played, the more I came to appreciate it.  It really can dole out some serious damage and the burst fire compels you to make aimed shots instead of spray & pray.  In a hectic battlefield it is an excellent balance of speed and power.

Minigun – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)



   An indispensable part of your arsenal when taking on police and military, this incarnation of the minigun scores over its Vice City predecessor by being fully aimable (sic.).  Seriously, I don’t think I ever barricaded myself into a fortified position and started picking off cops without this baby and a ton of ammo.

Ol’ Painless/Lincoln’s Repeater – Fallout 3 (XBOX 360)

Ol’ Painless

Lincoln’s Repeater



   While I played through most of the game with the readily-available energy weapons and power armor, I decided to tackle the expansions with simple combat armor and bullets.  Insofar as video games can be said to be satisfying, satisfying it was.  The “PYOOM-PYOOM” of plasma and laser weapons doesn’t do it for me like the explosion of gunpowder and the report of bullets streaking through the post-apocalyptic air.

M4 Revolver – Killzone 2 (PS3)



   A simple yet effective .357 magnum.  The number of revolvers on this list must be getting tiresome by this point but its my list so have a smile and Coke as they say.  This revolver makes the list not only for its power but its accuracy.  It fires true and as long as you can aim worth a damn it can take out Helghan scum from the other end of a multi-player map.  So effective is this weapon in fact that it has to be earned  to be used in multi-player.

Beer Bottle – Def Jam Vendetta (XBOX)

NO PICTURE AVAILABLE

   Perhaps no picture is needed.  Basically, if your opponent was on the ropes you can pick up a bottle and smash it over their head for an instant knockout.  Far more satisfying than returning it for your deposit.
Lead Pipe – River City Ransom (NES)


   Among the game’s multitude of weapons, including a tire and rock, the lead pipe was king.  It did about the same damage as any other weapon in the game but unlike the rest it made a pleasant ping when it cracked off some fool’s head.


Plasma Grenades – Halo Series



   Like a persistent booger that you wipe on your girlfriend’s sleeve, this bad boy was sticky.  While it wouldn’t do too much damage when it exploded near an enemy, if you managed to “stick” it to someone when you threw it, their death was assured.

Castor Troy’s dual gold 1911s – Face/Off


   I think any young male who saw this movie jizzed their pants when they got a peek into Nicholas Cage’s box of goodies.  But more than the golden dragon money clip holding his Benjis and the profusion of illicit drugs, we were mesmerized by his matching pistols.  Anyone who saw this contemplated “terrorism-for-hire” that day.

High-Frequency Blade – Metal Gear Solid Series



  This weapon was only briefly usable in MGS 2 and completely unusable in MGS 4, despite being featured prominently in the beautiful cinematics, but its pretty much the ultimate in non-lightsabre sword technology (NLST), beating out Blade’s katana in Blade, and Squall’s Gunblade in Final Fantasy VIII.  Definitely looking forward to the upcoming MGS title focusing entirely on swordplay.
Flamethrower – Contra 3: The Alien Wars (SNES)


   There were A LOT of weapon power-ups in this game, and though it wasn’t the most powerful and had only a finite range, the flamethrower had a certain je ne sais quoi which made it the go-to implement for alien extermination.

Dual Enforcers – Unreal Tournament


   In a game chock full of devastating weapons (ie wire-controlled nuke) the basic pistol was my favourite when dual-wielded.  Its faster, secondary mode of fire (gangster style, pictured above), although less accurate, was what really sold me on it.  I don’t play too many video games any more but I have yet to see another game let me bust my gat sideways.  Things just ain’t the same for gangsters…
Anyhow, I could probably go on all night but I have to work tomorrow.  I hope this has made some of you catch nostalgia and who knows, I may even do a sequel.  If there is any egregious oversight (and I’m sure there is) please let me know what I missed.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo




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Peer Review

My Friends,
   On a whim yesterday I decided to click the “next blog” link in the top navigation bar of the blogspot homepage.  It is essentially a “random blog” button as you never quite know where in the blogverse the button will take you.  While I never came upon the same blog twice in the course of my clickings, I did notice some trends.
   One such trend is that farmers like them some blogging; whether updating their readers on how the new calf is taking to the teat or posting the yield of their egg-producing hens, its all fair game for internet posting.  The Farmer’s Almanac of the future will be laboriously compiled from the postings of agriculturalists with an internet connection.
   Related to this is the garden/nature blog.  Horticulturalists and zoophiles also set up blogs which serve as monuments to their passions, and furthermore do so to the extent that I have yet to click “Next Blog” even ten times without coming to one such journal.  Quality varies but most seem quite good.  Still I find that in most cases the passion must be shared by the reader to really find the blog engaging.  Often this is because it is super-esoteric shit like pages devoted to the majestic blue-spotted Amazon osprey (I made that up but you get the idea).
   Finally, the most common type I have come across is the family blog or even the blog written about a kid by their parent.  I apologize in advance if this sounds overly critical but I have trouble co-signing this type of writing, especially the latter.  Perhaps its just written for the family, something like a time-capsule for posterity.  However, I take issue with people putting others out there as their sole blog-fodder.  If little Jimmy diarrhea’d all over you today that might make an interesting entry in your personal blog but the “Epic Diarrhea-ings of Little Jimmy Williams” seems like something that would get a little tired.
   ALSO, at one point I came across one such blog devoted to a child and the tagline read (paraphrase), “a blog about very happy and half-bald little boy.”  Basically the kid had some medical condition (dick cansir mayhaps?) and the parents were pimping it for e-sympathy.  Kill me if I ever resort to such disingenuous methods of generating readership.
   There were some gems out there though.  One that comes to mind is “Ukrainiana,” seemingly devoted to protest.  I only mention it because as of last night when I checked it there were some videos with boobies in them.

   I think I’m gonna check what else is out there periodically as I’d like to think that with so many productive minds at work there is bound to be someone out there whose writing speaks to me on some deep level.  But like every worthwhile find on the internet you gotta wade through the ocean of piss first.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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I Less Than Three Gin

My Friends,
   Last night I headed up to my older brother Alex’s place in Orangeville for my first visit since returning home.  It was to be a relatively quiet evening, more of a double-date night with our respective girlfriends, but his girlfriend Krystal had gone and sprung for a bus ticket to bring my younger brother Adam home from Montreal, and with the three of us reunited the chances of the evening being quiet diminished.  While waiting for Alex to get home from work, Adam and I decided that it had been entirely too long since we had had martinis.  Furthermore, in spite of being a prodigious, young alcoholic due to university life, Adam had never tried Tanqueray Gin…

My personal favourite brand

…or even a Gin Martini.  These were two oversights I -nay, “we” had to rectify.  We stepped out to procure the required spirit.  Like a good enabler, Alex already had vermouth and olives on hand.
   We returned from our foray, crushed some take-out Chinese and set about finishing the 40oz we had bought.  It had been a good year since I’d had a martini but I found my skill in making them hadn’t diminished.  That is to say we got smokin’ loaded.  Well, maybe not that bad, but I did at one point strip off my shirt and wrestle the dog.

Pictured here when she was a lot easier to wrestle into submission

At some point after I gained new tooth & claw marks all over my body, the girls decided that they weren’t tryin’ to have this nonsense and went to bed.  We moved boldly forward committed to our cause.  All of us being together we finally took the time to try out the nargile/hookah which my father and I had picked up in Istanbul.  It was a good smoke and as we sat in the frigid garage shooting the shit I reminisced fondly about Turkey and all the time I had spent in opium dens hookah lounges.  
   At some point between the smoking and going to bed I got onto facebook and noticed this picture I had recently been tagged in:
My sixth grade class photo (I’m in the back wearing a dark vest and sweater and a shell necklace with a shark’s tooth on it because that was cool back then apparently).  Seeing this photo had taken me back when I was sober but in the sloppy state I was now in I got a little click-happy and began adding all of the former classmates who had been tagged in the picture and who were (through some egregious oversight) not currently on my friends list.
   Upon awakening this morning I had an inkling that I might have perpetrated this irresponsible facebookery but it was all a blur.  However, when I later checked my email my suspicions were confirmed by two notifications for accepted friend requests.  So thanks Grant & Ashlee; apparently you two saw nothing off-putting about an elementary-school classmate drunkenly reaching out to you after midnight.  And really, that’s how it should be.
   Overall, a good night.  Didn’t finish the bottle but caught up with my brothers, had some good laughs and made some new(old) friends.  
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo 
   

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Be Vewy Qwiet … I’m Hunting Hezbowwah …

   “There is a river in the south of Lebanon that Israel occupied.  Then they went through the nearby villages and abducted every male above the age of 18.  They locked them up for days maltreating and torturing them.  They would even stomp them with combat boots in the testicles in some cases to prevent them from having children.  After days of this they would come through and distribute copies of the Quran to the captives, in the ultimate hope that the Lebanese men would find justification in its pages for a jihad against Israel and the occupation.  The logic was that with such jihadis at the gates, Israel would then be justified in taking overt action against Lebanon, including but not limited to annexation of its lands, regardless of the the actual danger posed by these rag-tag paramilitaries.  Thus Hezbollah was born”

***
   “Hezbollah started as a movement to take back these occupied lands in the south and was granted authorization to carry weapons.  As things calmed down and efforts were made to revoke this authorization, Hezbollah was unwilling to give up their power.”
***
   “So you plan on going to see the southern part of Beirut?  There is a lot of Hezbollah there…”
-A Lebanese Perspective
   This morning as I dozed before breakfast I had the most wonderful dream that I stumbled upon a pep-rally of sorts being conducted in a warehouse in South Beirut.  I entered the building and stood quietly in a corner while the MC shouted things in Arabic and English.  However I could not remain incognito and I got caught up in the group effervescence.  I began cheering as the guest of honor, the head of Hezbollah incidentally, ascended the dais.  One of the ushers indicated that it was my section’s turn to approach the dais, dancing exultantly for review by the supreme Hezbollah commander.  I remember dancing my monkey ass off for fear that if I didn’t my foreignness would become clear.  Still, I remember thinking as we approached the platform in a conga line of sorts, “Goddamn, I got a bad case of the white boy rhythm today!.”  Still, what I lacked in rhythm, I made up for with enthusiasm. 
   As I passed the dais I looked into the eyes of this man who had all of these people exultant and he looked a lot like Russell Peters,
“Some Israelis gonna get a’hurt real bad”
…or even my friend, Sammy Kunty.
Kunty, you got some ‘splainin to do…
I woke up from these visions of jihad which danced in my head, resolved to head to ‘souf-side’ Beirut and see what was really good.
My Friends,
   I apologize for the lengthy pre-amble, but I felt it necessary to contextualize the mission I set upon today: I wanted to find me some Hezbollah.  Not a lot of Hezbollah mind you, just enough.  Thats it, thats about as far as my plans went.


I’m a dog chasing cars; I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it!!”
I knew what I wouldn’t do though: I wasn’t looking to infiltrate the group or anything, and I certainly wasn’t looking to argue the merits of an inclusive and tolerant Middle East.  I just wanted some evidence that one of the big, bad names I heard on the news actually existed in real people land.  I remember drinking at a bar in Hamilton one time and I got to talking to this old guy who said he used to be IRA during “the Troubles.”  That is the kind of off-hand boast I would have settled for.  It could have been a guy talking shit at a bar to pick up chicks and I would have been happy, regardless of whether or not I suspected he was lying.
   So I set out south around 11:30 am.  I left my passport, notebeook with addresses, and credit cards at the apartment and only took the equivalent of around $40 USD.  I figured there was no point in losing all of my documents (again) if I got abducted for asking too many questions.  But then, asking questions wasn’t really my strategy: My strategy, such as it was, was to find a south-side watering hole with a television screen, wait until something about Israel came up on the news then feign utter and voluminous disgust, potentially ingratiating myself to anti-Zionists.  We would talk from there I assumed and I would mostly listen, satisfying my curiosity in the process.  It had all the makings of a successful venture.  But first I had to find said watering-hole…
   There is a major east-west thoroughfare one block from the apartment I am staying at, and although I don’t know if it bisects the city into northern and southern halves, I certainly felt like I was crossing the Rubicon when I sauntered south across it.  Since I had no notebook, I scrawled observations on the back of some song lyrics I had printed off.  They observations were a little excited and veered slightly into the realm of paranoia:
11:45 – crossing the street into South Beirut
-people looking at me
-barber giving a straight-razor shave OR concealable-weapon melee practice?
-guy working under the hood of a car OR installing a bomb?
-two guys sitting out enjoying a Sunday afternoon OR plotting death to Israel?
-shop selling air rifles OR shop selling air rifles for jihad?
-children’s playground OR paramilitary obstacle training course for youth indoctrination?
I made eye-contact with some guy at this point and he said something to me in Arabic while he opened his shop.  I explained that I spoke only English and he asked me what I wanted.  I said I was just looking around and he responded, “Good luck, sir.”
-“Good luck, sir” OR “Try not to get killed white-boy?”
   As is evident I was seeing things that probably weren’t there.  I kept walking south and west and came across a large cemetery.  I decided to pass through it because after all of this intrigue I needed a rest and cemeteries are statistically the safest places in the world, everyone being dead and such.  I got an uneasy feeling in this cemetery though, as my scraawlings reflect:
11:56
-cemetery OR Burial site of the martyrs in the struggle against Israel?
All the headstones were written in Arabic after all, so it must have have been a terrorist cemetery.  I got out, still in possession of my life, and against my better judgment, kept heading south.  Winding my way through the alleyways and side-streets I came to an open-air market on a broad, north-south avenue.  I proceeded down it and was overwhelmed by what a claustrophobic affair it was: not only were there people everywhere and loud noises, but unlike most open-air markets I have been to, traffic was not blocked off.  There were scooters buzzing around everywhere, sidewalks included, and even the occasional car passing through the fray.  The people of Beirut truly have a freestyle, make-it-up-as-you-go-along style of driving (more erratic than Turkey or Italy I can assure you) and it was a bit much.
   Sadly, my scrawlings at this point reflect a sobering observation made during all of this bustle.
12:15 – stumbled upon market in street
12:30 – little girl with a black eye and her friends sifting through garbage dumped in empty lot
Fuck!  This is the sorta shit I hate to see.  In a country where there is already a dearth of opportunities and social mobility, you get little urchins like this young girl (doubly-fucked for being poor AND female) poking through garbage and obviously getting rough usage at home.  And in the midst of all of this poverty and misery I come through all starry-eyed and enthusiastic about the adventures I am having and eager to find danger so I can give it a “mushroom-slap”in the face.  I felt guilty for being out there in grand pursuit of whimsy and exploits while this young-girl was getting beaten and living below susbsistence-level.
   Then I thought, “Tough-break, nigga. Thats what you get for fuckin’ with a rough set like Hezbollah,” and I felt better.  Kept south and came to the appropriately-named “Cafe Bob;” a wretched hive of scum and villainy if ever there was one.
12:50 – smokehouse SW of market => lots of green (colour of Islam) and militant-looking posters
I ordered a water-pipe and a cha and just sat back taking it all in.  There was a poster on the wall of a bearded old Arab dude and I asked the proprietor (didn’t get his name, lets call him “Bob”) who it was.  The “Hez-bells” (Hezbollah bells) were ringing in my head but the guy explained that the bearded dude was a Lebanese guy who had been imprisoned in Libya by Qaddafi.  At least thats what I think he said.  I got Bob to write the name down so I could google it later.  Bob asked me a little about myself and I learned that he was Syrian.  In fact, he had a much more intriguing picture of Asad Jr. up in the cafe as well but I didn’t notice it because Asad didnt look as menacing as the first guy did (no head-scarf).  I thought this was interesting but things got a little busy in the cafe and I didnt get a chance to ask Bob his feelings about Asad.  Also, the TV was playing American movies and soccer alternately so I didnt get a chance to react to Israeli aggression in the news in a theatrical manner as per the strategy.  I just kinda sat there smoking and eventually pulled out my book, “The Return of Sherlock Holmes.”
   The excitement of the book helped maintain the excitement of the quest I was on when things had obviously took a turn for the boring.  In fact, the excitement of the book was such that I almost jumped when Bob tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted some food.  I said no thanks and kept reading.  Half an hour later though, Bob’s nephew Ali tapped me and said “come eat with us…bring your chair.” Oh shit, son!  I was being invited into the inner circle to break bread with made men.  Except we didnt talk business (business being death to the Zionist scourge); I just kinda talked to Ali about travel and Canada and stuff.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps this wasn’t an invitation to the inner circle but my last meal.  But it didnt taste like poison, and they were eating it too.  No no no, this was all wrong!  I had gone looking for trouble and found only goodwill and friendship.  Story of my fucking life!!
   When the food was done I resumed smoking and talked more with Ali.  I got his contact info and we may hang out before I peace out to Egypt.  It was on the walk home that I got my only sign of any political extremism, and that was just some faded posters of Yasser Arafat stuck to the wall of an empty lot.  It wasnt Hezbollah but it would have to do.  I hadnt found the wild jackalope I was looking for but I made some new friends and had gotten a good meal.  A day well well spent.
Stay Thisty
-Andre Guantanamo


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Bootprints: A Review of Italy (Slightly NSFW)

My Friends,
   After enduring the inefficiency of the Italian Postal (dis)Service (zing!) for near a fortnight, I gots my passport, gots my flight to Istanbul booked, and gots some final impressions of my stay in Italy to share.

THE WEATHER:
   In the very second line of “In Another Country,” Ernest Hemingway writes, “It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early.”  Well, he wasn’t lying and I therefore should not have been surprised by the seemingly perpetual fog that has blanketed the GMA (Greater Milano Area) in which I have been residing for the last few days.  And the cold!  Thankfully I had some sweaters and scarves to borrow from my cousin.  That, coupled with the fact that I have been sleeping indoors, has meant that I have weathered the low temperatures just fine.  However, as we are heading into the wintertime I will make no movements further north of my current latitude of N 45° 35′ 39.537 until this weather decides to unfuck itself and get warmer.  Til that day, its south and east in this bitch, where “this bitch” = the world.

THE BUGS:
   Almost paradoxically, in spite of this cold weather, mosquitos have manifested their presence in summer-esque numbers, and spiders have manifested theirs in sizes and levels of aggression reminiscent of the movies.  I mean look at this shit:

“I SAID ‘LOOK AT IT’!!”

That’s a spider-bite I received whilst asleep at the beginning of my stay here.  In two weeks, the size has not diminished pereceptibly.  Even the scorpion sting I got in Australia disappeared quicker than this.  Sadly, this spider does not seem to have been radioactive as my body has not begun producing any new white sticky substances (I realize that making a semen/webbing joke negates any points I got for leading off with a Hemingway quotation, but I couldn’t resist).
   So as it is, I am stuck for the time being with this blemish on my bloated, distended belly.  Speaking of which…
MY BLOATED, DISTENDED BELLY: 
   Having lived on my own for years now, I had forgotten what it was like to live in the Italian-Canadian household I grew up in, and the heavy, albeit delicious, food that was always available.  As I mentioned in a previous entry  (One Night in the Big City: Part 1, 18 August 2011), this caused me to be something of a fat kid.  And although my condition has been in remission for the last few years, thanks to regular meals, a surfeit of cheese and bread, and a very liberal definition of which parts of the pig constitute food (hint: everything) I am going through a relapse.  Perhaps a practical example is called for:
   Did you know that in Italy they eat something called Lardo?  As the name implies, its pure fat, what a rational human being who was not trying to bulk up for winter hibernation might consider an off-cut.  But this fat is taken and seasoned, thinly sliced and enjoyed as a delicacy.  Even worse/better, my cousin informed me that it is best enjoyed on warm bread with cheese and honey; the warmth of  the bread melts both cheese and fat ever so slightly and the flavours become simply sublime.  Its sticky, slippery, aromatic and warm.
It’s like this, but in your mouth

   And even when you are not eating straight-up pork fat, that are as many ways here to fat (sic) as there are to die.  Olive oil for example, is used so liberally that it drips off my fork as I eat my pasta, and it flows down my mustache and beard coating my whiskers as if it were afro sheen; cookies are considered breakfast food; if it can be baked well it can be deep-fried better; nutella makes everything awesome, etc.  Essentially, in the quest to make food more delicious and decadent, pussy concerns like fibre-intake and cholesterol are not given a thought.  Italians were basically the first to do Epic Meal Time.
THE DANGEROUS CARNIVAL PRIZES:
   Taking some air last night my cousin and I stumbled upon a fair.  Though not much of a gamester I couldn’t resist dropping 5 euros at the shooting gallery.  I gripped the mock-up 9mm Beretta expertly, and my lip curled into a smile knowing that I carried 15 men’s lives BB’s in the magazine.  I adopted a firing position with both eyes open and verified the zero of the laser-sight by checking it against my point-of-aim using the iron sights.  With my zero verified I checked the trigger pull and saw it had a lot of slack.  This didn’t sit well with me as I like a sensitive pull.  However I reasoned that the carnies had to weigh the comfort & convenience of a trained killer like myself against the danger of giving guns with hair-triggers to the POGs and civvies frequenting the carnival.  They erred on the side of caution and I can’t fault them that.  Still, when I was given the word, I unleashed a fury rarely seen by men.  I shot those beer cans like they were Mexi-cans.
   And do you know how they rewarded my proficiency in killin’?  A slingshot.
Dennis the Menace Lives!!
They gave me the means to keep on killing.  There is something poetic about that.  It’s like, “Hey, you seem dangerous with projectile weapons so do let’s (sic) give you more!”  Then, as if to fuck with me, they had set up the fair on a lot filled with pebbles and had polizia municipale roaming around.  I swear its a miracle there was no “1-8-7 on a motherfuckin’ cop” last night.
This pic is one of the front-runners in contention for the cover of my upcoming rap album 

   So yeah, I guess my experience in Italy hasn’t been your typical one of ruins, canals and leaning towers.  But I lived as an Italian with Italians and that has been an experience which I found more valuable and enlightening than any all-inclusive, guided vacation package.  I love the grassroots experience and it has been just as rewarding now as it ever is.  I have learned that Italians are just people like us Canadians except with more corruption and less work-ethic (Sorry, still mad at Italian postal service).
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo
   

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