Squat Berlin

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I spent the afternoon at a Berlin squat house, getting drunk with Slavic anarchists.  As I was walking by, they were in the first floor window, smoking, playing punk music, and muttering angst against criminal government.  Germany, too, is a police state.  The outer walls were draped with banners and painted in anti-establishment slogans.   The building looked on the verge of condemnation, but apparently they own the title.   50-60 squatters live there, in a share-what-you’ve-got living arrangement.

A fella returned with Chinese food.   He had buggy blue eyes and patched pants.  I forgot his name.  He grew up in Brooklyn on Avenue X, and these days works as a salmon fisher in Alaska.   He has been camping on the beach in Spain for the last two months, is currently squatting through Central Europe, soon on his way to impregnate his Lithuanian girlfriend, per her request.

Police recently raided a nearby Squat House.  The activists retaliated with 1 million in city damage, swearing Berlin möchte brennen (Berlin will burn) if raids continued.   They bragged about their influence and numbers, drawing 6,000 supporters to a demo[nstration] they organized in less than a week.  The numbers are self reported.

A gal from the Anarcha-Feminist House (self described as a collective and social living house-project) came through gleaming with pride for her steel frame fixie bike.   She had dreaded hair died red, a soft hippie voice, and sores on her face, which was probably once pretty, many years ago.  Maybe more.  She starting with no one else is to ride her bike then, somehow, segued into when I was on mushrooms and speed, I was riding, and broke this bone here (pointing at her sternum).  She removed the heavy chain and pad lock from around her waist.   The bug-eyed anarchist chimed in calling it a “smiley”, saying they use it to beat bad punks.  A Polish anarchist said it is great for smashing taxi windshields.  We drifted onto the topic of picking locks and copying keys, unanimously agreeing to make a copy of a key isn’t very hard.    With a marker, a file and enough time, you can copy any key.  We all laughed about having plenty of time.

Anything spoken about with passion is worth listening to, may it be an underground alternative subculture, or the political views of radicals.  “People look at us like we’re freaks, but we think they’re freaks.”  I feel their plight, at the convenience of a fading afternoon.

Rather than railing against the establishment, as they honorably do, I participate directly in the mainstream economy they loath.  I suppose if you’re clever, you can respect the play of both sides, and commit to neither.   Can’t change the game, unless you play the game.



What year is it?  My thoughts bumbled, then rusticated.  The old country.   As if I was driving this half torqued macchina at light-year speed, we returned back decades.   We were in Barile, a hillside hamlet of Basilicata, the last known home of our name: MECCA.

We carved down the winding roads of this Arbëreshë settlement, one of several in southern Italy.  We were about half way between Roma and Bari, rolling along viale della Magistratura, trying to navigate the confusing roads.   We kept shifting, staling and turning around, laughing off the agita.  We aimed for “that center piazza, down there, by the fountain”.

We arrived just before 2PM, rem-deep into siesta.  Southern Italy keeps the siesta.   Though the Italian peninsula was unified as one nation-state, in 1861, under King Victor Emmanuel II, the cultures within are distinctly and pridefully different.  Namely, The North vs. The South.      


Barile was ghostly.  We wandered through the eerily empty cobble stone streets.  Beyond the shortly stacked buildings were wine vineyards and country side, all under an infinite and bright grey sky.   The temperature was in the mid 50s, the air was dry, and the winds were gusting.  Cats stalked around corners and parked Fiats.     Just us, our faint shadows and centuries of unknown family ancestry mazing through these old roads.

The doughty miss Christiana went inside the only opened establishment to use the restroom.  I basked in respite, freed from the Ford confines.  I stepped into the bar, intent on a snack.   I was carrying a photo of my great grandfather, Mauro Mecca, who had left Barile early last century.    The fella running the joint was about 40 years old, and had salt-n-pepper hair.   He didn’t speak any English, but he was determined to help us find our family.


The first women the barista phoned came quickly, and left just as fast, utterly convinced we were of no relation before I could put my cappuccino down to properly greet her.  Begrudged for a moment, we’re too beautiful, I  whispered across the table to Christiana, justifying her departure.

Soon after, a tall handsome man stood at the entrance, bemused but bright with anticipation.   Maybe this fella wants to be our family, we hoped.   Smiling big, we greeted him, explaining our relation to the man in the old photograph.   Nonno, nos nonno, nos grande nonno.  It was a lot of charades and grammatically treacherous Italian.  Yet, we knew this broad man with grey hair, gentle eyes and the same Roman nose as my father, was our uncle Giovanni! (12 times removed)

With hugs and a gaiety, we left for Giovanni’s home.  Here, we’d eat pastries, drink wine, and meet the cousins, Angela & Giuseppe.  The cousins spoke a little English, and then more, with every word.  They had the basics.  I should have figured they’d be intelligent people.  Christiana and I abandoned our feeble efforts to continue in Italian.  Oh, the purpose of our visit?  You! We’re discovering our roots, and yeah, we came to find and hang out with you and whatever other family is down to chill.  How do I say this in Italian.  genealogia?

It is customary for our family to name the first son after the paternal grandfather.  Uncle Giovanni’s father is Giuseppe and his grandfather [was] Giovanni (~1884), who had nine brothers.  One of these brothers was Great Grandpa Mauro.  Also known as Morris, he came to America on a ship The Canada in 1912.  They departed from Napoli with a wave of Italian emigrants looking to live out The American Dream.  Mauro began as a a wine maker in Brooklyn, near Atlantic avenue and Brower Park.  Soon after he’d raise a family in North Jersey, marrying Raffele Rendina, also of Barile, and having four children: Michael, Filomena, Joseph (my grandfather) and Mauro.   They lived out their days in Passaic and spent hot summer afternoons under the shade of a big weeping willow tree in the front yard.  Mauro wouldn’t return to Barile for nearly 50 years.
Cousin Angela grabbed her laptop.  Aunt Carmela kept the pastries fresh and the coffee hot.  Uncle Giovanni poured glasses of homemade wine. Cousin Giuseppe was chilling.  Me, but the Barile-me, and 9 years older.   It was messing with my mind.
Bread, cheese, salami, espressos, biscotti, water, and wine.  Just as I would have dreamed. Family.
Noisy herds of sheep crept up the mountain road, and passed.  Out on the balcony we observed the 1477 Albanian settlers’ dwellings.   The Ottoman Empire captured Constantinople from the Byzantine and continued its effort to expand into South Eastern Europe.   Many fled, as the  caliphate was forcing conversion to Islam, slaughtering and enslaving along the way.  In the western Balkans, the Ottomans targeted Venetian holdings: Kroja (Krujë), and later, Shkodër.  These sieges are historically known as “the most remarkable episodes in the struggle between the West and the Crescent.”
Southern Italy accepted these lots of Albanian Christians.   In 1477 Barile, they took refuge in cave-like quarters cut from the sloping terrain.  Today, they are wine cellars (cantina).   Back then, it was all the medieval Meccas had.



Brooklyn is full of freaks. It’s cool to be weird.   It’s a self expressive, super-trend of intentionally clashing design and style, all in the name of hipness.  From odd mustaches, to children’s haircuts, squeezing into ill-fitting clothing, and using castaways for accessories, the body is our canvas.  Printed dresses, flat asses, no make up, excessive make up, old and obscure belts, buttoned up, messy hair, and off the wall.    The dare to be different dilemma – everyones doing it.   Save the world, give peace a chance, and other hippyistic, sentiments.   Yet, its far from selfless.   It’s a cry for attention amongst a choir of whiners.   Should we care, mock, or join in?

Hippyistic: adj.  of or relating to hippies.  synonym: counter-culture.

The Road to Canada

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We woke at 4:10 AM, in New Jersey, and were on the road by 5:00AM.  I was the delay.   I was loading the iPod.  But, I forgot the iPod’s car connector, therefore, we rode to the radio for all 2,200 miles of the New York – Ontario – Michigan – Illinois – Indiana – Ohio – Pennsylvania road trip.

It was cold enough to see our breath.   It was dark or dawn until about our second pit stop, near Daleville, New York State.  A town of no notoriety, and no manners.   As we drove north, the sun came up and the temperatures went up.  I didn’t get on well with the local fast-food help.

But, F’ em all.   I got my gal, an open, Canada-bound highway, Neil Young, Bachman-turner, Matt Ballamy and about 40 other rockers to keep me rolling.  Their music flowed as a rhythm for sipping a consistent stream of caffeine into my blood.

We drove up route 81 and then to 390. Eventually, we were in Buffalo.   We stopped off at a Wegmen’s, where we’d galavant around the grocer’s aisles, gleefully free from the car.  To me, it was a playground, to Jen May, less so.  She usually kept us on track with our plans.  This time:  Crossing the boarder and arriving in Toronto before sun-fall.    Her thrill to enter a new country, Canada, was bursting from her tiny face!

At the boarder we smuggled in fruits, vegetables and beer.  The sun was shining in from the clear southwest sky.  We celebrated our ride over the Fort Erie Peace Bridge.   We parked, easily, and briefed up the downtown of Niagara in search of lunch.   At first glance, we were shit out of luck.    But with a second and third look, we decided the first diner we saw would be tolerable, if  washed down with a Molson.   

Canada is quiet.   I suppose a Monday in late November wasn’t peak season.   Open the door, felt their eyes up on us.  We tried to shake off the cold.    The bar maiden must have wanted us to welcome ourselves.   We chose to sit off to the side.  She carried on about something uninteresting or another.  The people were as beautiful as they were inviting.   We ate a cheap lunch.   We just wanted to go see the Falls.

It was a very nice late November afternoon, sunshine and rainbow.   The falls were flowing!    150,000 gallons of water per second, plummeted and splashed!   

If only I could jump out and swing oto the colors, hoist myself atop, and slide down, screaming for joy as happiness pelted me in my face.   It’s simple science; the refraction and dispersion of sun’s light by thousands of water droplets in the atmosphere, appears as an arch of colors.  Yet, how fantastical!

Only 200 KM, two coffees, and a 20 minute nap in the parking lot of Tim Hortons, from Toronto!  We got there just in time to sit in lots of rush-hour traffic.  Who’s the simpleton now, Joe?!

River-tracing Hualien


We didn’t know a whole lot about river-tracing, which, for whatever reason, didn’t much bother me.  Not all shared my nonchalant attitude towards an itinerary and timeline.

The next morning we hit the road 5AM with the chase car, and drove into a bed of clouds looming in the lush mountain lulls.  It was just like the Oriental art I’ve seen my entire life.  Winding the diesel VW up and up, we stopped to marvel at the sun’s blinding shimmer on the Pacific.   It wasn’t until the accosting horns of a passing truck that I realized the extended shoulders were for big trucks to make wide-turns, not for me to angle-park my van and stand on the roof for optimal photo-sessing, as I had so happily assumed.    Long, dark, tunnels pierced through the mountains.   In a coastal village we had a rest and breakfast.   A fella with a betel nut stained grill snapped our photo with an Aboriginal Warrior of Yilan County.  Milk tea and stuffed sticky bread.

We’d soon be chucked on the side of a Mountain.  We were set to trek, boulder, and swim our way up Three Levels River, into the Golden Gorge.   This is not often traversed.   I challenge you to find much record of it.   Lead by the descendants of aboriginals, we moved swiftly with our essentials up through the current, leaping from one boulder to the next.   The rain came and provided some relief from the stifling August swelters.

After three hours of forging deeper into the tropical forests, we made camp along the river in a relatively flat bed of sand.  We pitched tents and scoured the surroundings for firewood.    It was mostly the Z crew who’d supply the fire’s fuel.  Well, it was entirely the aboriginals, but as runner-ups.

Up the river, down the hatch.  Those who started drinking hard early, passed out hard early, and all for the best.  Survivor-like opinions and alliances formed.  It was natural western behavior, and I was not exempt from it.  We’re a strategic lot, we want to get what we want. Amazing how it’s all the same in the end.  We bathed in the river, shat in woods.   The aboriginals hosted a ritualistic thanking to the mountain Gods.   Nature’s nuances, a rising moon, a flowing river, it was all very zen.

The fire took nearly two hours to get roasting, we were limited to the soaked wood of wilderness.   Typhoon season just ended.   But, to our guide’s credit, succeed on to BBQ’d pork, that had a tantalizingly melty taste, seducing my tongue in a dumb-happy stupor, like a drunkard in an empty street on his way home to his love.   The meat tendered by the boar’s freedom to roam the mountains.   We passed a bottle Johnny Walker Black about and anxiously awaited the sausage.  At this point, I wasn’t hungry, so either the mind-bending deliciousness was a real, or a result of time/place.  Probably both.

The night narrowed.

Take on Taiwan

Ningxia Night Market

Carl and I were smothering our sobriety in the EVA air lounge, high off the adrenaline of an impending adventure.   I was attempting to get some contracts completed and out before the inevitable disconnect from The West.

We left shortly after 1AM, and chased the night around the world.  It was dark for almost all 15 hours of our flight, racing at 900KM/ hour, 36,000 feet in the air, covering 14,000 total KM.

Taiwan is a tropical island of beauty, cuisine and genuine hospitality.   The people’s care is superior and not by design, but virtue.  They don’t even realize how gracious they are, as the warmth is innate and unyielding, unless conflicted with the rules.  The Taiwanese people will truly go out of their way for you, as long as they do not have to break any rules.  Because, the rules are the rules and that is the end of it.

Breakfast for 6 fat American men, please. We were taken to the local spot around the corner by the half-sexy concierge. We ordered and ate breakfast sandwiches, rice squares and mystery wraps. Once finished we ordered another round.

We are on the other side f the world and seldom would such be forgotten.  Within the first twenty four hours we knocked out a world-famous Night Market, A Mega Club and world class bathhouse.  The night market was full of weird, stinky, and delicious foods.  I ate at a duck’s head, biting the meat directly off the neck, while his noggin bobbed beneath my chin.   My teeth tearing the gamey meat, like lame buffalo wings.  I think it’s supposed to be chopped up and used in a stew.   Stinky tofu is a tough sell, but worth a try.   The grilled meat and seafood at the night market, and throughout the trip was superior in tenderness and taste.   Bubble tea, and watermelon juice washed it down with sweet refreshment.  The only thing sweeter than the Taiwanese people was their beverages.

Mega Clubs thumped with all the gaudy glamour you’d expect.  If clubbing is your scene, these are bar-none.  A sea of people raise, shout, sing, grind and move to the thunderous rhythm of state-of-the-art sound systems, beneath a quarter million dollars worth of lighting.   MYST.

By the time we wanted to karaoke, K-TV was closed.   B and I hit the bathhouse across the way.   It rivaled the best in the world.  The first room provided all the washing amenities you could imagine.  The next was open and opulent with gold dragons and numerous pools, varying in temperature, depth and jetting.  The following provided all the primping and cosmetics any man could ever need.   Next was a massage room, or, through a secret passage was a special massage room.  Special = sex from prostitutes.  If you were not to detour, you’d next walk into a restaurant, carpeted with eastern designs, and royal decor.  Big fish swam in massive tanks – it was all very zen.   You could order food, drinks, or move on to gamble at the electronic slots.   By 7AM there was only me, B and several passed out dudes, all sleeping in I’m-too-drunk-to-move positions, bracing their heads in strange ways, with their weight collapsing on the seat however gravity chose.  The only other people around were the staff, who seemed unbothered by the unconscious crowd.

I walked outside and was blindsided by that dumb feeling of the sun’s rise before my fall.   Only then did I realize the repercussions lurking in the already arrived morning.    10AM I strapped up my trainers and popped in headphones, looking to get lost in the music while I sweated out the toxins and shame.   I ran along the river until lost in Taipei.   Drenched in sweat, it was time to take on Taiwan.

Hiking Old Rag

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The Middle Wandering Mecca

Juliana and I left in the middle of a stormy night, made a pit stop at old reliable Wawa for coffee and breakfast (dinner?) hoagies, and hit the long dark road. In a James Bay induced trance, we talked about everything – family, work, guys, the past, the future, wanderlust, a lot about November Project, and a little bit about getting up in the middle of the night, in the rain, and driving two hours just to see the sun rise on top of a mountain. We realized that we may just be on the same level of crazy.The ascent is steep and the rock scrambles are plenty but the view at the top gives you that in-the-clouds feeling (quite literally).

It was a Green Friday (thanks Nat Geo) well spent.

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