“THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE” – A BOOK REVIEW

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‘The Man in the High Castle’ is a work of alternate history, yet manages to avoid the common tropes of far-fetched fantasy to produce a text that is as believable as it is immersive, with characters and settings proving to be disconcertingly realistic. The world Dick creates is one steeped in oppression; Roosevelt was assassinated in 1934, thus prolonging the Great Depression into the beginning of the second World War and weakening the position of the USA. Hitler conquered Europe and Russia, murdering vast swathes of ethnic groups as he went, before assisting the Italian invasion of Africa. The allies surrendered as the Axis prospered, and by the ‘60s, America was split by the two world superpowers, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.

Japan creates the “Pacific States” using the former territories of the Western States, and leaves the East for German rule; the Rocky Mountain States are neutral separation zone. It’s a world of death and totalitarianism that drudges up the worst that history has to offer; Chinese people are reduced to second class citizens, and blacks are once again enslaved. However, instead of bowing down to expectations of a hero bent on returning democracy, and acting as a savior of the people, Dick’s use of the ordinary citizen thrusts the reader into the severity of the horrors, and enables you to swiftly align your life with those trapped within the page.

There’s Robert Childan, the owner of an antiques store that feeds Japan’s insatiable fetish for all things American. He simultaneously reveres and despises the Imperial rulers he must serve, and is at an end with this inner turmoil that plagues him throughout. Frank Fink, formerly Frink, is a metal worker for a factory producing, amongst other things, high quality fake antiques that Childan unknowingly stocks in his store; the change of name is due to his attempts to hide a Jewish heritage, and a quest for survival against those perpetually hunting for his head. His ex-wife, Juliana meets a truck driver in the Rocky Mountain neutral zone, yet their relationship is riddled with murderous secrecy and taught with regret. These are people, normal people, living in an abnormal universe. That’s why it’s so easy to believe.

It seems they have as many questions as we, the readers, do; life continues in a regular fashion, yet the idea that their existence could be turned to another whispered rumour in an instant seems to loom gloomily over their heads, and the mystery of German/Japanese war crimes is discussed so briefly it hurts; Africa, for example, is said to have been completely obliterated in a Nazi experiment, yet no other details are provided at all. It’s an eerie, chilling sensation when you realise you want to know why, as if that would somehow make the whole thing more acceptable.

This is a book that somehow balances a cobweb of plots into a cohesive work of sci-fi genius; Dick creates a spy thriller (where Banes, a German spy, travels undercover to reveal Nazi plans to the Japanese), that is riddled with a plot regarding an arts and crafts business (where Frank Fink and his friend create a jewellery company), whilst ensuring nearly every character turns out to be far from what they seem (such as Juliana’s ‘trucker’ boyfriend, who is actually a Nazi assassin), and nearly every item turns out to be fake (such as Childan’s stock of replica antiques). To top it all off, the lines between history and fiction are blurred once more as Dick writes in a book within a book, entitled “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy”, which is written by a controversial and widely banned author, and proposes that the Allies really did win the War! This soup of mind boggling ambiguity seeps into every corner of every page, and ensures that there is no solid conclusion to anything, but that, for some reason, is what makes the book so wonderful. It’s confusing to the point of satisfaction, which, I admit, is an incredible feat.

Frederick A. Kreuziger, in his work “The Religion of Science Fiction”, said of the two realities that Dick presents: “Neither of the two worlds, however, the revised version of the outcome of WWII nor the fictional account of our present world, is anywhere near similar to the world we are familiar with. But they could be! This is what the book is about. The book argues that this world, described twice, although differently each time, is exactly the world we know and are familiar with. Indeed, it is the only world we know: the world of chance, luck, fate.”

I, for one, don’t think that this book winning a Hugo Award has anything to do with any of those, but stands as testament to the intricacies of Dick’s genius, and the complexity of his tale; ‘The Man in the High Castle’ is a book I believe everyone, especially those that want to write themselves, should read. I’ve got a copy of “A Scanner Darkly” on my desk, which is another well known work of Dick’s, and I can’t wait to test the waters; I hope John Brunner’s assertion that he is “the most consistently brilliant SF writer in the world” is as true as I need it to be. 

Fred Ostrovskis – 21/9/17.

RUIN BARS & JEWISH FOOD – TRAVELLING DAY #15

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After a short and pleasant train journey from Bratislava to Budapest (wherein I managed to finish off my travelling read, “The Man in the High Castle”, so expect a review of that soon) we arrived at the station at around 16.30 and wasted no time getting to our hotel. Most museums/galleries closed at 18.00, so in a little bit of a rush, we headed straight for the “National Museum” to get our history fix.

With it’s giant pillared entrance, the building is almost intimidating as you walk through the doors, yet the vastness of its structure meant that there were plenty of exhibits to peruse. We paid for our tickets, HUF. 2100 for both us with photo rights for myself, and went upstairs, beginning with a room dedicated to Christian persecution in the Middle East. I was quite ignorant to this issue, but I’ll let the words of Louis Raphaël explain:

“Our problem is that we’re associated with the West. The Muslims think that all their troubles come from there. The West supports Israel, attacks Muslims, and exploits their oil, and develops whilst they lag behind. Since they consider the West to be Christian, its guilt falls on us as well.”

The rest of the museum shows a large deal about Protestant ways of life and how they were influenced by events of the 20th century; a thorough and complete history of Hungary from the 400,000 BC to present; an entire section dedicated to archeology; and other extremely interesting subjects. We’ve been to a lot of museums on our travels, but this one was actually up there with the most enjoyable, I’d recommend it if you have an hour or two to spare, or want to get out of the rain.

We were starving by this point, and after a little research we stumbled upon “Mazel Tov”, an Israel inspired bar/restaurant, and one of the coolest places I’ve ever eaten at. As someone of Jewish heritage, I was actually really excited to taste some proper Middle Eastern cuisine. You enter into a converted warehouse, with fairy lights and hanging bulbs casting a casual light across the central bar, whilst planted herbs, trees, and ivy running down the walls ensure that their emphasis on green and fresh is heard. Oh, and the menu is amazing. I found it so, so hard to decide upon one thing as I could have happily chosen anything and been content; it’s all homemade pitta, houmous, salads, and Middle Eastern meats, A.K.A the best things in life.

I chose the snappy titled ‘Parsley Beef Patties Roasted in Lamb Fat with Special Seasoning and Herbs”, and Jacob got “Schwarma Chicken”; served with matbucha salad, beetroot salad, parsley tahini and a freshly grilled pita, they were both gorgeous. This place is definitely taking a place on the overall ‘best eats’ we do at the end of the trip, and you shouldn’t hesitate to get there. They also do in house lemonades of all sorts of flavours, which are the most refreshing and zingy bottles of goodness you’ll ever try. It’s a very, very cool spot, and we might even return for a drink tomorrow.

After paying the bill (HUF. 12,000 for two meals and four drinks) and finishing with a shot of ‘Palinka’, which is 60% and tears a hole down your oesophagus, we were ready to go out, and went straight to “Szimpla Kert“, a ruin bar with a golden reputation. I’ve never been to anything like it, which according to the Hungarian guys we met was quite a usual reaction; it’s a line of bar after bar after bar under a mass of fairy lights, red bulbs, and hanging plants, with graffiti lined walls and an outside area that looks like its under a multicoloured parachute. Projectors show a constant stream of spinny images and movies on the walls, and the room for the live band is packed and sweaty in the best way possible. This was probably the most relaxing and enjoyable night out I’ve ever had, and I can’t believe how friendly and welcoming it all was, although that might have been the vodka. Oh, and just next door is “Karavan Street Food”, where you can pick up some drunken delights of any variety, be it Hungarian, Japanese, Italian, or another. You will have probably been told to get to Szimpla if you go to Budapest, and for good reason; it’s bloody good fun.

We’re hopefully getting to some public baths and the citadel next, but as the weather looks eager to ruin our plans again, I’ve no idea what we’ll end up doing.

Happy Travels!

Fred x

PHOTOS OF TODAY – HERE

 

PALM – A POEM

Writing

Tucked well beneath a blanket,

Morgue white, the colours run,

Rusting iron begs to feel

the wilting winter sun,

As the outstretched hand

of a heartless moor

drips all its palette into one;

Purple, lavenders wheezing face,

Lies deep beneath the silver lace

of an icy frozen pond,

Its violet blood clings hard to mud

to preserve sweet summers bond.

The golden glow of grass, in shoots,

Hides in respite from the soles of boots

that love to roam the land,

Tufts of ferny feathers wait to

scatter grains of sand, under this white

that lives forever

in the palm of winters hand.


READ MY SHORT STORY – HERE 

BRATISLAVA SUMMARY / HOTEL REVIEW

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BRATISLAVA – Our See, Eat, Visit Shortlist.

See – Three different countries from the view up Castle Hill.

Eat – Fine Italian at “Gatto Matto”; traditional Slovak with a modern twist at “The Savoy”; and grab a burger or some sous-vide delights at “Korzo”.

Visit – Bratislava Castle and the fantastic Baroque gardens there

Hotel Review – RADISSON BLU CARLTON HOTEL

The hotels we’ve stayed in so far have been comfortable enough, but only the Radisson has earnt the title of ‘luxurious’. This hotel is wonderful, sleek, and due to its close proximity to the American Embassy and other important sights, houses huge groups of businessmen, ambassadors, and all sorts of other posh gits. We felt a little out of place with our backpacks and sweaty t-shirts, but after seeing the room and the amenities on offer, we couldn’t care less. Here’s the lowdown on the room:

Rates – we got this much, much cheaper due to block booking all of ours about 6 months in advance, but a twin room this evening would be GBP. 179, but leave it a month and its only GBP. 60.

Beds – the first one to rival mine at home, getting out of it in the morning was a real struggle though, so there are definitely pros and cons (we talked about the feasibility of taking it on the train with us, but Jacob said it wouldn’t fit…)

Shower – there was both a shower and a bathtub, and the bathroom itself was spacious and modern. No complaints here.

Storage – I walked in and saw the cupboards and decided I could definitely fit myself in there. I tried. I succeeded. So unless you’ve got luggage taller than 6ft 4” and heavier than a chubby adolescent, you’ll be absolutely fine. The desk was huge, too, which made blogging a much more comfortable experience

A/C – worked quietly and efficiently, unlike our other hotels.

WiFi – Outstanding, I managed to upload three albums in about ten minutes, which is faster than mine at home. It’s also FREE.

Notes – The television was ginormous and offered several English channels, so I no longer have to torture myself to the theme tune of BBC world news; the view from our window was of the castle itself, which was beautiful at night; there’s room service, laundry service, a mini-fridge, and even a bible should you want to say your prayers in Slovakian. Honestly one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in in my life.

Staff – Amazingly pleasant, speak perfect English, and always looking to help you out.

Food – “The Savoy” is attached to the hotel, so the food here is stupidly good. You can even get it delivered to your room if you’re too lazy to go downstairs.

Location – The castle is ten minutes walk away, the shopping district is over a street, and there are seven highly rated restaurants just outside the door (Slovak, Italian, Japanese, American, etc). Perfect.

Checking Out – City tax is required, but check-out is as easy as throwing your key on the counter.

To conclude – I pride myself on my ability to be pissed off at extremely small details, but this hotel has left me without a single, minor complaint. It’s luxurious, comfortable, and in a brilliant location for good food and casual drinks. If you’re heading to Bratislava, you should be heading here; we’re giving it a solid 5*/5*

BRATISLAVA BLOG – HERE

BRATISLAVA PHOTOS – HERE 

 

REFUGEE – A SHORT STORY

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Nobody else knew that the fountain was alive. He watched, spine pressed into the metal bench, as they walked past, blind. Tall men in woollen armour, brogues tapping over the cobbled street, phones pushed to ears, umbrellas tucked under arms like rifles; a steady stream went by. For a moment, he thought that one man was going to talk to him; he shuffled nervously as the strides closed in, recoiled as the arm outstretched, then heaved relief as it stubbed a cigarette on the bin beside him and joined the others as they marched.

He’d sat there for hours, staring, shivering. Burrowed hands in pockets of the jacket he’d been given, zipped so far up it threatened to close a clasp around his throat; I’d rather that than freeze. The fountain spat again. A different cycle, a change in bursts. He lost himself to the vision.

“Come here, quick, look at it!” A desperate whisper ripped towards him. He looked down from the tapestry of stars to see her hand grab his, and although he hated her for dragging him inside, the warmth of skin, velvet, silk, was apology enough. He followed.

“Stay quiet. Don’t you dare wake her.” She ordered, tiptoeing without elegance, crawling without sound. Soon, her hand left his and placed a palm upon the door. It crept open, aware of the necessity of stealth, and she turned to him and smiled.

“Look how fat she is.”

Their mother lay, propped against cushions, safe in slumber upon the floor. Faint moonlight shone onto her form, fell with the delicacy of whispers, and revealed that she had, indeed, become quite fat. They watched. Her belly was another being; a crescent, lifting, falling, stalling at the peak as if to try and reach the sky. She nudged him, pushed him forward so there was room to lie together, and propped her head upon his arm.

“That’s how we were made, you know. Dad told me.” She reported, proud of forbidden knowledge that she’d stowed away for weeks. He heard but did not listen. Look at it rise and fall!

It had stopped. The water collapsed, a drunkard, without a shadow of its grace. He looked around; even the men had left him now. He thought about standing, yet he knew as soon as he placed his weight onto weary feet, the fountain would roar again, mock him for his impatience or drench him in its wake. He paused. Seconds later, it was back, bored of elegance, of steadiness and calm. The rhythm took him, bellowed with laughter at his stillness and pulsed within his veins. He shone red with embarrassment. I can dance like that.

The sand was still hot under their feet. The sun had passed over like a tyrant, unforgiving, burning indiscriminately as they sheltered in the shade. He had got her a drink, shaking, nervous, trying not to drop it to the ground. They sat together, hiding, and he drank her words. Bathed in her presence. Soaked up her scent. She inched closer until her lips tickled the hairs upon his ear.

“Can we dance?”

Thoughts flew like arrows through his brain, it’s too hot, I can’t dance, I’ll look foolish, it’s too hot, I can’t dance, I’ll look foolish… She retracted, he composed himself and leapt up, held her waist, circled her feet, fingers entwined, moved with the energy of the moment without thought nor fear. They laughed, the sand burned, they went fast and hectic in the middle and slow and loving in the shade, a cycle, a pattern, I don’t want this to end.

It did. He grew jealous of the water. Angry at the past. He wanted to leave now, run toward the rabble from before, but he was jealous of them, too. He was stuck. Resentment grew within his chest and he didn’t care about the cold anymore; the fountain turned to fire.

It’s everywhere. He awoke to the smell of burning. Screams raped the divine silence of night, calls for help, for God, for mercy. A cacophony of suffering. A nightmare, surely. He ran, naked as the first man, muddled from the grip of sleep; movement, voices, the world sounded like a thousand horses raging into war, where are they? The rooms were empty aside from the thunderclouds of smoke. Where are they? He was outside now, facing the fury of the blaze, orange, red, warning of the danger it possessed. They were running. Neighbours, friends, lovers, handfuls of clothes, fleeing out towards the hills. His lungs drew plumes of sickly smog, eyes stung with heat and fear and tears. Where are they? A hand, not theirs, clawed at his skin. A mouth, not theirs, screamed echoes. He ran. He had no choice.

He closed his eyes, understanding now why the men ignored the fountain. His breathing had become shallow and sharp, and he fought to suck it deep. The bursts of flame had sunk and died; he embraced the cold once more. Just listen.

The waves slapped lazily against the boat, never-ending, a constant battery of sound that simultaneously reassured and nauseated. He was sick. Hanging over the metal frame he retched like an animal, spitting and frothing just like the ocean was below. He would have been ashamed if the others weren’t asleep, or pretended to be at least, huddled, drowning in their own way, a tsunami of despair.

It ended. It had all ended; the fountain swirled and groaned as if someone had pulled the plug, draining slowly away into a silence that was louder than the world. He could feel her hand, velvet, silk, even as he froze.

 

 

MY OTHER WRITING – HERE 

CHORES AND CHEESEBURGERS – TRAVELLING DAY #14

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Last night, we went to “Korzo” for dinner, and were really quite impressed; it’s relaxed vibe and modern culinary menu ensured that we had a casual yet enjoyable evening, with good food and even better cocktails. They place emphasis on freshness and quality, and they pride themselves on their daily made pasta; I browse the sous-vide menu, tempted by the sesame crusted pork, but Jacob persuades me to order the ‘Korzo Special Burger’, complete with chipotle remoulade, pancetta, and cheese. I ordered a side salad, with rocket, parmesan, and sun-dried tomatoes too, as we’ve been pretty atrocious at eating anything remotely healthy for the past four days. Jacob got the same.

The burger was good; the patty was meaty and juicy, the pancetta added a slight crisp, and it possessed a good depth of flavour, but the real highlight was the homemade remoulade; this was so, so tasty, and was flavoured with onion, garlic, chilli and mayo, and without the huge jugs of Pilsner we were served, the beautiful heat might have got a bit too much.

For the next three hours, we enjoyed their cocktail menu, and I had one of the best ‘Old Fashion’ cocktails I’ve had for a long while; the price is reasonable too, and I would recommend going there for a quick bite to eat or a few relaxed drinks in the evening. 

Today, the pissing rain has made us decide to do a few chores we’ve been putting off for a while; I need new trousers (as I’ve torn a giant hole in my current pair), Jacob needs to buy a few things, we need to get some food for the train journey tomorrow (as we’re heading off to Budapest), and laundry is definitely necessary. I’ll end this blog here as I’m sure you don’t want an in-depth review of washing my boxers, although I am going to publish a short-story today if I get it finished in time. EDIT – I DID

Budapest is somewhere I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about, so if you’ve been and know a few jewels there please comment below, there seems to be so much available and we’re only staying for one whole day, so I’ve no idea how we’re going to prioritise. Also, if any of you are travelling at the moment drop me a comment and I’ll be sure to give your blogs a read, I love getting inspired from you guys!

Happy Travels!

Fred x

THE BEAUTY OF BRATISLAVA – TRAVELLING DAY #13

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Stepping off the train in Bratislava, we were both full of a little trepidation. I knew next to nothing about Slovakia, nor the city we were in, and we had no idea what to expect during our two night stay. After picking up some dried banana pieces from a little kiosk, we got a taxi to our hotel, and from that moment knew what the crack was.

Bratislava is beautiful. The buildings, statues, fountains, landscape…basically everything that we saw was aesthetically pleasing, and we decided to drop our bags off, grab some lunch, then see what’s directly around us. We ended up at the “Savoy Restaurant”, which promised traditional Slovakian cuisine with a modern twist – I was intrigued, and we were swiftly seated on the patio area in the heat of the emerging sun, a welcome break from the cold temperatures of Vienna. Their menu is small, but promises seasonal specials and locally sourced ingredients, and after ordering a ‘Pressburger Schnitzel’ (where the pork is marinaded in white wine before being breadcrumbed), the waiter gave us a small selection of butters (one herb, one mushroom, and one goats cheese with peppers) and a basket of bread. 

We weren’t sure how long service would take, but moments later he arrived with two giant plates; the schnitzel was divine, with the perfect level of tender meat and crisp coating, and the potato salad with raw onion served as a great accompaniment. What was instantly noticeable was the fact that this dish was much lighter than the monstrous dinner we’d had in Austria, but if I were to compare the two, I think Vienna has the edge. It was EUR. 36.50 for two meals and three drinks, and I believe we will be returning tomorrow for their seasonal dinner menu (with promises of honey glazed pork, slow roasted lamb, and all sorts of other delights).

After paying, we thought we should utilise the wonderful weather and head up to “Bratislava Castle”, the must do of pretty much everyone that travels here. It was only 15 minutes walk to get there, through a wonderful park with statues and fountains, and boy is it impressive. There’s been people living on castle hill as long ago as the stone age, but it now serves as a meeting point for the Slovakian government and houses the collections of the national museum, but due to restoration work, the interior is currently closed to the public. The first thing you notice is the view; from those mighty walls, and on a clear day like today, you can see Bratislava, Austria, and Hungary, whilst bathing in the glory of blue skies above and the flow of the Danube below. I cannot put into words how scenic this place is, and that’s coming from somebody who’s lived in the Peak District for nineteen years. I’d go as far as saying it’s idyllic. 

There are four main gates to get in; Sigismund in the southeast (the oldest and best preserved, stemming from the 15th century); Vienna in the southwest (from 1712); Nicholas in the northeast; and Leopold in the northwest, which is where we entered. The courtyard offers some astounding photo opportunities before climbing the final stairs to the castle itself; I didn’t realise just quite how big the walls were. Standing at 154ft at their highest, they dominate the landscape and you can quickly see why they trusted the place to once protect the Hungarian crown jewels; the white walls are like man-made cliffs of Dover, and even the windows of the inner courtyard made me feel like a dwarf. We toured around the grounds for a while, taking plenty of photos and generally snooping about, but I was actually disappointed that much of it was closed – I would have liked to go in the treasure room and Knight’s hall, but maybe I’ll return in the future to get my fix of jewels. 

As we were leaving, Jacob spotted another segment, and we found ourselves in the “Baroque Gardens”. The original disappeared in the 19th Century (after being initially finished in 1784) but were reconstructed in 2016; something we were both extremely glad about. Spiralling arrangements of mowed grass, white pebbles, flowers, and bushes roll down slopes lined with parallel regiments of identical trees, all in the presence of the fountain in the centre, and the castle at your back. It’s so quiet there that I could have curled up on a bench and slept, but the longer you stay awake the more you realise how lucky you really are.

I think the plan tonight is to grab some food in one of the restaurants in the park we passed through earlier, and then have a relatively early night. I can’t forgive my ignorance as to the wonders of this city, but I urge you not to make the same mistakes; if you have the chance, you should come here for sure.

Happy travels!

Fred x

PHOTOS OF TODAY – HERE