Saturday, May 24, 2008

Neighborhood Patrol II

Hmmmmm. Where to begin. Maybe by saying "so much for New Year's resolutions". I had promised in January to write more, but somehow that didn't work out. It is now the end of May, the smell of summer is in the air, and even at 11pm, it is still comfortably warm out on the balcony. And the last blog entry was in mid-January. Sometime in the past two weeks, the page registered 1,000 hits. Nice! Know that the Security Hippo loves and cherishes every single visitor to the old mudflat.

Maybe the best thing to do is simply to act as if nothing had happened, and to carry on as before. The first item will therefore be a traditional "what I did on my holidays" effort, a short pictorial review of some impressions gained during the past weeks and months.

When we moved to this flat, I decided to throw out some old T-shirts that had only nostalgic value, but weren't being worn any more. I decided this one had to be documented for posterity, fondly picturing the chap (for some reason I am sure it was a man) who came up with this extremely hip statement of near-haiku quality: "Acting Up/Who Make The/First Move/The Dramatic/American/What Guys Think".

What guys think, indeed. You have to wonder sometimes. No less amusing was this shirt seen last year while visiting the Locarno Film Festival, on sale at a market in Luino across the border in Italy:

"Die Liebe/Sommer ist/Nur Geschlecht" ("Love/Summer Is/Only Gender"). Note the elegant layout and typesetting. No doubt somebody found this to be a profound statement on the nature of human attraction and the passing of the seasons.

Anyway, here are some more bits and pieces seen while walking in my neighborhood - graffiti, art, stickers, and other stuff that caught my eye.

The offer still stands, by the way, for the next person to leave a comment (see last post) - you can win original art featuring the above observation, plus the chance to set a topic for the next blog entry.
This poster, calling for a strike in the construction business, states that your boss can never be your partner. Somebody left comments indicating their agreement.

EIMER's panda asks the cassette tape: "Soll ich in den Wald gehen, um als Räuber zu leben?" - "Should I go and live as an outlaw in the forest?" - No, you should publish a book of awesome cartoons and get really rich.

More graffiti can be seen on this short stretch of fence along a construction site:

Kreis 4 in Zurich is kosher city, baby. Just across from this Jewish supermarket was more nice graffiti:

The lovely lady accompanying me thought this mural was spooky - it reminded her of the little girls in "The Shining", which is admittedly one of the most crap-your-pants terrifying scenes in the history of cinema. Still, the effect for me was different. These ladies exude a self-assured serenity that I find enviable and reassuring at the same time. Then again, a very similar atmosphere may also be part of what makes the scene in "The Shining" so scary.

The Art of Security

Anyway... more bric-a-brac on this blog's theme of "Security in Everyday Life", or "Why You Should be Very Very Afraid" follows here, no comment necessary.

Actually, the last two are worth commenting on. The lock, on sale at the Swiss Post Office near Zurich main train station, is advertised as follows: "Lock for travel to the USA. Allows American security personnel to examine luggage without damage to lock or bag". The lock can apparently be opened with a skeleton key held by US airport security, so that they can graciously refrain from completely destroying your luggage while they rifle through it. Oh, great, that makes me feel much safer. The second picture was taken outside a meeting room of the Taliban Grand Shura in Kandahar. As you may know, many Taliban commanders are (multiple) amputees, in some cases dating back to the mujahideen struggle against the Soviets. No doubt the "international community" has now added to their number. Oh, and just in case it wasn't clear: That was a joke. The picture was actually taken in the second-hand store around the corner from our house. If you need cheap crutches, this would be the place to go.

When in Rome...

I saw lots more interesting graffiti when we went to Rome over the Pentecost weekend. A lot of political stuff, obviously, since there had just been an election a few weeks earlier, which the utterly corrupt Silvio Berlusconi won with support from self-styled "post-Fascists" and Lega Nord separatists.

Amusingly, the transparent attempt to establish a sense of continuity between the Roman empire and Mussolini's Italy through the use of Latin (in the bottom picture) fails completely. "Semper Dux Mea Lux" would translate roughly as "The Duce is forever my light". However, "sempre" is not Latin. Proximus, sed abest banana - close, but no cigar.

The origins of the term "fascist" are nicely illustrated by this part of a frieze we saw near the tomb of the noblewoman Caecilia Metella Cretica alongside the old Appian Way (Via Appia Antica) south of Rome's ancient city walls: It shows the insignia of Roman state power, the fasces, which were bundles of birch rods tied around an axe, symbolizing the authority to mete out corporal and capital punishment. They were carried by Roman civil servants known as lictores.

It seems that old-school polical propaganda is generally held in high esteem in Italy, however; I could not tell whether these posters were Communist or (post-?) Fascist or something completely different. Which is also interesting in a way, maybe:

Other messages included the following lovely sign at the entrance to St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican,

and a sign indicating the next bunker, presumably intended for blasphemers to take cover from bolts of lightning -

why is it that in Catholic countries, profanities are mainly based on blasphemy, while Protestant regions of the world swear using words related to sex and bowel movements? Does anybody know what swearing in Muslim countries is based on? Of course there was also anti-US graffiti:

Why oh why do they hate us? I am reminded of this picture recently found on the web, advertising an old arcade game from the late 1960s or early 1970s; unrelated to any of the above, of course. Res ipsa loquitur:

"Rifle gallery featuring Realistic Running Indians - Continuous Action! 17 Different Moving, Spinning, Vanishing Targets"! Looking at this vintage training equipment, one would think that the US should have been well prepared to make Iraq safe for profits ("Double Mirrors" - how prophetic). But I digress... getting back to the wonders of Rome, here are some assorted pictures of the fantastic art that can be found just about everywhere in the Eternal City.

The last two of these pictures are quite interesting as the sculptures of Moses depict him with horns, due to Jerome's mistranslation of Exodus 34: 29-35 in the Vulgate version. The Hebrew root letters kof, resh, and nun can be vocalized in different ways to spell the Hebrew words for "ray of light" or for "horn".

I had been to the Vatican several times before, but there is always more left to discover. For example, who knew that there is a sculpture of Attila the Hun in St Peter's?

This frieze shows Attila being told, in no uncertain terms, to get lost by a pope whose name I failed to note, and by the Apostles Paul and Peter, who are swooping down from on high, as they were apparently wont to do - Peter of course always having been handy with the sword (John 18: 10-11), and to judge by this statue of St Paul outside San Paolo Fuori le Mura, he was no slouch either when the chips were down:

The inscription reads "To the Preacher of Truth and the Teacher of the Gentiles". Certainly he seems to have taught Attila a thing or two, as the Huns took his message to heart and never came back ("Verily, I say unto you, speak softly and carry a huge sword; and now, scram!"; Paul's Epistle to the Huns, 12:23-24). Of course, Caesar - a certified nutcase and degenerate sex maniac (Suetonius tells us he was "every woman's man and every man's woman") -

had a few things to say on that matter too in his account of his dealings with the Helvetii tribe in De Bello Gallico. They were made up of four sub-tribes, who spoke Latin, Gaulish, Germanic, and an unintellegible dialect that nobody else understood, which didn't matter afterwards, because Caesar slaughtered every last one of them. No relation to my present-day neighbors the Swiss, who are very nice people, and adherents of the words of the Apostle Paul to the Huns - every Swiss male has a sword, pike, or halberd stored at home, yet they enjoy a fully deserved reputation as peaceful folk.

Which kind of brings me full circle; much as we enjoyed Rome, there were certain moments when, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I had a sudden feeling of "Toto, I don't think we're in Switzerland any more":

It's nice to be back in Zurich, a town that is always beautiful, but at its best in summertime. I am looking forward to BBQ on the balcony, nighttime bars on the lake, and of course I will continue to promote the cause of Bara Bröst; in conclusion, I offer the following evidence that theirs is an ancient and time-honored prerogative (statue of Diana of Ephesus, originally from the mind-blowing Villa d'Este in Tivoli, now in the Vatican Museum).

That's it for now; watch this space, and feel free to leave your comments - the Hippo wants to hear from you.