Konttori

Konttori was the most celebrated nightclub in town,‭ ‬though certainly not the best, on top of overly priced:‭ ‬its long admission queue led the customers, past the bully bouncers, to a local ‬densely permeated by cigarette smoke,‭ ‬puddled with beer and carpeted in glass debris,‭ ‬with a narrow and stifling dance floor and the worst-tempered staff imaginable.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬inexplicably though it seemed to me,‭ ‬it was the chicks‭’ ‬favourite pick,‭ ‬and therefore also the guys’.‭ ‬After all,‭ ‬its reputation wasn’t altogether unjustified –‭ ‬or at least I used to get lucky there, my expectations were seldom disappointed.
That was my last night in Konttori. It was in fact my last night in town, as a few days later I was bound to leave the country for good.
‭Posted in one of the strategic corners,‭ ‬stout in hand,‭ ‬I was keeping a watch on the entrance door, checking on the  convex-gendered newcomers and on the chicks around, like a vulture in check for a prey. Continue reading “Konttori”

Christmas Eve among bums

It’s Christmas Eve. A big full moon, very round and white, shines on the pure black of a Polish night. I drag my Christmas loneliness, on an empty stomach, along the cold and deserted streets of Bialystok. What am I doing here? Nothing exactly. It’s just that — I’d like to have supper by the warmth of people, like everyone does.
But all shops and restaurants are closed. Not even the Turks open their kebab kiosks today, so I’ll have to return to my hotel room without dinner — and most of all without company.
Suddenly, the sound of some distant music comes to my ears, and thither I turn my steps. Three musicians are playing their instruments under a small marquee, and alongside them, warm food and hot tea is being handed out by a group of volunteers. Lots of bums gather around, filling up their bellies, then having seconds, and then again ask for one extra portion, so they can take it away to their slum dens.
I come closer and look over the counter to the nice-smelling food. I have some qualms, though, to profit from the destitute’s food, which is not meant for me. But upon turning my back for going away, a smiling lady welcomes me: ‘¡zapraszamy, zapraszamy! Jest barszcz, prosze pan‘. A bit ashamed of myself, I take the cup she hands me, full of hot borsh, and there I finish off the tasteful broth among the beggars. Suddenly I feel I’m one of them; they’re my kindred; for, what’s the difference between us? Sure, I could pay this food and they can’t; but the fact is, here we are, all together in the same place, homeless people sharing an unexpected Christmas Eve that the Church has brought to us: merry music and good traditional Polish homemade food: borszcz, pierogi, bigos, herbata
Indeed, this charitable little event is organized by the Catholic Church. Not by the social powers, nor by the always-complaining mobs, nor by the so-called ‘solidary’ groups or parties — leave aside by the anti-Christian trendy movement; no. Those, all of them, are now actually celebrating Christmas Eve with their families. Only the Church cares for us and sets up this munificent counter; the much criticized and opposed Church.
I talk to the lady in charge. I’d like to give them a few bucks I have in my wallet, to contribute, to reward at least the warm food, the hot tea, the music and the nice atmosphere; but she wouldn’t dream of taking my money: this is for free–she says–; but if you feel grateful you can thank the Lord. Ah, madam!, that’s exactly what I can’t…
Eventually, I walk back to my hotel. Sauntering along the cold and deserted streets of Bialystok, under this bright full moon, I’m just another vagabond returning to his den; a vagabond who has just spent Christmas Eve among his kindred.

The bizarre Hua Qiang Bei electronic market

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Hua Qiang Bei is arguably the largest market for electronics in the world, and definitely one of the more fantastic and bizarre places I’ve ever been.

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Deep in the very heart of Shenzhen city, China, there is a street called Hua Qiang Bei, lending its name to the surrounding area: a district of about one square km surface, packed with large, neglected buildings several storeys tall, each of them packed with literally thousands of tiny little shops, more like market stalls, which in turn are filled to the brim with tens of thousands of electronic components and parts, piled up on the shelves or stuffed in bags crammed full under the glass desks; all of it easily amounting to billions of units. And the whole of it compounds a sort of disheveled futuristic world, something between Tron and Blade Runner: a true and unkempt jungle of silicon and germanium, close to indescribable in appearance and atmosphere.

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Once you get to Hua Qiang Bei, probably after riding the metro along several leagues of tunnels, you inmediately get the feeling that this is a very special site; and, if after dusk, you certainly might think yourself a 2014 Deckard hunting Zhora out of synthetic snake scales, or rather a Roy collecting information from some Chinese eye-designer: you’ll walk among endless stands with neon signs and all kinds of food, the mixed smells of which blend with the smoke of the cars’ engines and constructions’ huge caterpillars; dozens of shops lined up along the blocks, crowded with PNP semiconductors; a throng getting in and out –like ants to an anthill– each of the larger buildings that host the core of Hua Qiang Bei: Segbuy, the electronics giant.

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And if you become ant and get inside, you’ll lose all notion of time, orientation, and even reality. Like if they were underground, lacking any opening for letting the daylight in, every building is a poorly lit labyrinth of stalls, narrowly set, where it is theoretically possible –if you manage to head to the right seller– to find up to the last piece of hardware you might need; though much more likely you’ll get lost in this apparently chaotic intra-world, among humanoids who are maybe fixing some board with an electric welder, or sorting multicoloured wires or LEDs arrays, or checking a PCB with a tester; all of them terribly busy when they’re not eating noodles or soba in a corner, smoking (forbidden) a cigarette on a  stool or taking a nap on the desk, apparently indifferent to any potential customer and utterly ignorant of whatever may be going on around them.

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This, reader, is the electronic market of Hua Qiang Bei, somewhere between a scrapyard and a factory, a place that can at times excel the most fantastic imagination of a science fiction screenwriter. Pity that my unskilled pictures can’t convey an idea of how strange this place can look. I hope that my words have described it better.

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Beatlemania, half a century later

This is a great article, well worth the 5′ read; not only for the sake of nostalgia, but also as a valuable reference for many social (not just musical) events nowadays:
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beatlemania
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Who was to say, barely a week before such inmortal happening was shaking the world, another–infinitely less relevant event took place in a forlorn spot of an almost medieval Spain: among the smell of livestock and hey, donkey dungs and beehives, among the sound of horseshoes on the pebbles and the crow of cocks, a boy came to life who woud later grow up to become a lifelong devoted of that same musical band.
Indeed, as a teenager The Beatles meant for me the magical world of music, the mystery of love, the tour of emotions. And many, many more things. I can recall myself in the solitude of my home’s grave hall, playing over and over again the scant vinyls I could afford with my meagre savings. The head between the baffles for better grasping every word of their lyrics (in that British language so alien, so new to me), every note of their chords and every bit of their meanings, more than once I shed tears of thrill, sympathy and sentiment.
Later on, The Beatles were to become my generation’s symbol of identity. I learnt by heart their songs, their records and lives. I shivered and cried with the cries and the faints of their fans, as shown on TV. I admired them, and envied so much the mania they had arousen. I infinitely regretted they didn’t exist any more as a band, because I wouldn’t be able to once hear them in live; and, in this way, John Lennon’s assassination stroke me not so much as his death, but as a fatal point of no return.
Yet, I didn’t know what had gone on. Only two decades (decades!) later, my head well on my shoulders, I fully understood the whole span of their influence, the whole meaning of their music and the whole merit of their achievement: at their early twenties, being no older than my own nephews are today, The Beatles had arguably carried out the biggest spontaneous and real social revolution of all times; and beatlemania meant, no doubt, a moment in history never to be repeated… barely a week after the very day I was born.
Today, all that is but nostalgia and yearning; a bittersweet reminder of the merciless passage of time.

Mateo


‘Esto ocurría en el bar Venecia. ¡Tú pregútale por ahí a cualquiera qué pasó en el bar Venecia y verás cómo te lo cuentan! Era en los tiempos en que aquí andaba todo revuelto y cada semana había una amenaza de bomba en algún sitio. Teíamos que andar con un cuidado de la hostia; pero, ¡bah!, aunque lo tuvieses, si querían te mataban igual.
‘Pues este compañero se llamaba Mateo, y andaba siempre intoxicado. Era un borrachín del carajo; pero es que, además, estaba un poco pirado. Tú verás lo que hizo el tío. Una noche que ya llevaba varias copas entró al bar Venecia y le dijo al camarero: “Ponme un cubata”; pero éste, con muy buen sentido, le contesta: “no, un cubata no te pongo; si quieres un mosto, o un café, te lo sirvo; pero un cubata no, porque vas muy mal”. Bien hecho, ¿no? Pero, ¡bah, qué le iban a decir al Mateo! Venía ya picado y quería seguir bebiendo, así que le repite: “te he dicho que me pongas un cubata, joder”. Y el camarero venga en que no, que ya había bebido demasiado.
‘A esto que alguno de los clientes debió soltar algo así como: “¡mira el chakurra, lárgate de aquí!”, o algo parecido; y entonces el Mateo, con toda su calma, lo señala con el dedo, luego al camarero, y les dice: “a ti y a ti os voy a matar; a los dos, por hijos de puta. ¡Pedidme un taxi!” Y cuando llegó el taxi se metió en él, se marchó para el cuartel, cogió el revólver y se vino de regreso al Venecia.
‘Mateo era muy malo en el tiro; cuando hacíamos prácticas no daba una en la diana y el teniente siempre le echaba la bronca y se metía con él. Pues, bueno, al verlo llegar otra vez en el taxi, el camarero salió de la barra y Mateo, desde la misma puerta, le pregunta: “bueno, ¿me vas a poner ese cubata o no?” Pero el del Venecia no era ningún miedica, sino un tipo bien bragado, y volvió a negarse: “¡que no te pongo nada, te digo, y que te marches a dormir la mona!”
‘Entonces el otro coge, saca el revólver y apunta al cliente, al que lo había llamado chakurra, que de un salto va y se protege tras el camarero. Al disparar, la bala le atraviesa a éste la garganta y le revienta al otro la cabeza. Mateo se da la vuelta y se marcha de nuevo al cuartel, se encerró en la habitación y se trincó una botella entera de whisky Dyc.
‘¡Bueno! Estuvieron buscándolo por la ciudad toda la noche y no daban con él; hasta que entraron a la fuerza en su habitación y allí lo encontraron, aún borracho y con la risa floja. El teniente se llevaba las manos a la cabeza, todo acojonado: “¡Mateo, vaya lío en que me has metido! ¿Cómo esperas que justifique yo esto?” Pero el Mateo se reía: “¡Je, je!, mi teniente: ¿no decía usted que yo era malo tirando? Pues me he cargado a dos de un balazo. A ver si usted es capaz de hacer lo mismo.”
‘Sí, hombre; pregunta por ahí lo del bar Venecia. Esa fue muy sonada.’
‘This took place in the bar Venecia. Go and ask anyone; ask around what happened in that bar; they’ll tell you. Those were the times when everything was unsettled here, and we had a bomb warning every week somewhere. You ought to be very careful in those days; but, well, they killed you all the same, if they wanted to.
‘So, this feller was called Mateo, and he was all day intoxicated. y andaba siempre intoxicado. He was a real boozer; and round the bed too, for that matter. Listen; listen here to what he did. That night he had entered the Venecia, and he must be half drunk for sure. Now, he goes to the bar and tells the man, a tall man: “gimme a long drink”; but the guy doesn’t move and replies: “sorry, man. I can serve you a juice or a coffee if you want, but not booze, ‘coz you don’t go half straight”. Well said, huh? Sensible. But, doh!, that’s not what Mateo expected to be said. He wanted to keep drinking; so he inists: “I say, gimme a fucking drink”. But the bar tender stands, sorry but no, you’ve drunk too much already.
‘Then some other customer must have teased Mateo, telling hime something like: “look at this chakurra*!, get outta here”; so, the man stays calm, points to him, then to the waiter, and blurts out: “you and you, I’m going to kill you both son-of-a-bitches. Get me a taxi!” And when the cab arrives, he gets in and rides to the quarters, grabs the revolver and tells the driver to take him back to the Venecia.
‘This Mateo was real bad at shooting, and in the practices he never scored a bull’s eye. The lieutenant was always telling him off, and teasing him. Now, listen; on seeing the taxi back, the Venecia’s tender comes forward to face Mateo, who, from the very door, tells him once more: “so, are you going to serve me that booze, yes or no?” But the other was not a yellow; a plucky guy he was, and replies: “I said no; go home and sleep it off”. Then Mateo draws the gun and aims the customer who had called him chakurra. This one swiftly hurries away and shelters behind the barman, who gets shot in the throat; the bullet goes through him and hits the other right in the head. This done, Mateo goes back to the quarters, gets into his room, locks the door and swallows a full bottle of whisky.
‘Damn! He was looked for all over town the whole night but wasn’t found, until finally they forced open his room’s door and there he was, still drunk, chuckling. The lieutenant was back down, messing his hair: “God damned, Mateo! What a trouble you’ve put me in! How do you think I can justify this?” But the guy kept chuckling: “He, he, Sir: didn’t you say I was bad at shooting? I’ve shot them both with one bullet; now, can you beat that?”
‘Sure, man; ask around about the bar Venecia case. That was a well-known one.’
 
*chakurra means “dog” in Basque, and so they name the national policemen.