Idaho burning

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So much ash in the air. It settles on the black of my bike seat, finds its way through my screen and covers my sheets with grit. My eyes sting, I wake up congested every morning. I sleep in because the red haze seems like dawn. The Northwest is burning.

The rain doesn’t help because it comes briefly, with lightning. The fire is more powerful than the water, and more fires spring up after a storm. The last time it rained, I was at a concert in a field, and for ten minutes the crowd held its hands to the sky and danced, writhing in ecstasy together, pagans praying to an ancient god as the lightning lit the clouds. I left the concert barely damp, already drying in the heat of 11 pm.

The next night in the same field, I saw a man who looked like Viggo Mortensen’s character from The Road. He had his hood pulled up over his head, and he glanced at me keenly as he passed. He looked hungry, haunted, in a hurry. I wondered if the actor had bought a ticket to the festival, or if I was seeing things. I wondered if the trees would smother under the ash, start to fall over like in the movie. Around midnight, I heard that my parents had been told to evacuate, that our farm was in danger of incineration. They hadn’t: they’d loaded up two cars and stayed put to see what happened. The winds shifted, and the farm was saved.

A friend of mine got a similar call, and in a matter of a few hours had cleared his family’s cabin of trees, running full-tilt to create a firebreak. The cabin was also spared, but now it has no shade.

The Bear and the Maiden Fair

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I live in a place where there are still wild things. I live in the kind of place where men still hunt bears. Where men accidentally kill a mother, and then rescue the cubs from the tree they’d climbed, yowling. Where people still raise bear cubs, letting them roam in the woods outside their cabin, letting them come into the cabin at dusk and climb into their laps for cuddles. “I know it was illegal,” said a friend of mine who had done this, “but she was so cool. So affectionate, with her little noises. The Game Warden found out and took her away. I’ve never looked at bears the same way since.”

The bears here usually keep to themselves, high in the mountains, and for a very long time I’d never seen any. But this summer has been hot, and the huckleberries expired more quickly than normal. There have been fires, too. Last night was exceptionally hot, meaning at 8:30 it was finally cool enough to go hiking. There was still light on the horizon, but in the trees it was dusky, difficult to make out details. I padded along through the dust in my bare feet, wearing nothing but a sports bra and a pair of yoga shorts. Normally the Syringa trails, an easy system close to town, are heavily populated — or heavily populated for this area; you’ll see a few clusters of hikers and mountain bikers over the course of an hour or two. But last night there was nobody. I like this trail at dusk, I thought. I feel almost like a primitive human in the wild, engaging all my senses.

I was rounding a left-sweeping bend when I heard something heavy in the underbrush. I stopped. There was a screen of trees in front of me, and I peered around them. I saw something black, an inky blob between the trees a stone’s-throw from me. Are my eyes playing tricks on me? Is that really a bear? And then it moved, crunching along in profile so that its bulky shape, long muzzle and rounded ears were obvious. Go up the trail, get away from it slowly, I thought. But no: the trail went left, so it was in the trail, thank you very much. Ok. Go back down the trail, then. But that also meant moving closer to the bear, thanks to the sweep of the path. Ok. Make noise. Alert it to my presence, in case it hasn’t noticed my very-obvious hot-human smell, and it will probably leave. So I called out into the darkness, warning the animal. And, indeed, it started to move, only… it was starting to move in my direction. It walked at a lumbering pace that did not seem particularly threatening, but I figured a curious, friendly bear was not something I wanted to be in close proximity to either. So I backed away from the approach, into the underbrush, and then I turned and wiggled through a thicket in the hope that a fat bear would be less likely to choose this path. I was thinking MovNat! MovNat! Fit to be useful! and I kept going until I reached a clearing. Stopped. Listened. Horrors: I could hear a large animal in the underbrush, closer than before.

I’d been scoping out the terrain for an easy tree to climb, and at this point I spotted one. It had fallen into a ramp between a cluster of small pines, and it was still heavily frilled with branches. The perfect MovNat tree. I picked my way up it until I was level with the cluster of pines, figuring that in a pinch I could stem my way up between two trunks, or else run the rest of the way up the ramp, hang and drop. Bears can climb trees, but they cannot climb like monkeys. Mostly, the tree offered a nice vantage point, and a nice place to start making copious amounts of noise. I started to yell out to any other hikers: “HEY! THERE’S a BEAR! And I’m up in a TREE! What do I do NOW?” No response, so I figured it was a perfect time to practice my Sub-Saharan yodel, a high-pitched, authoritative vibrato that has no doubt been used to strike fear into the hearts of large predators for millennia. Or at least that’s what I was telling myself.

After ten minutes of cawing yiyiyiyiyi at the top of my lungs, I reassessed my situation. It was pretty obvious I was not going to be rescued by anyone, and it was getting darker all the time. Soon it would be too dark to find the trail again — not that I was totally clear on where that was anyway. I briefly considered staying in the tree all night. Very briefly. That seemed like the least safe option, really.

It was up to me to rescue myself, so I climbed down from the tree. Just before I jumped to the ground, however, I imagined what my family would say if I died blundering into a bear in these dim woods. Why, they would say, why did she need to be so crazy? So I yodeled all the more fiercely and found a stick. This stick was going to be useless as a weapon, but it looked like a spear in profile, and maybe that would give the bear pause. And, let’s face it: I felt a lot braver with a stick in my hand. I walked in the direction of the trail, trying to avoid pokey things in the dark. In this I was unsuccessful, and my bare feet retained a number of prickles. But after only five minutes of searching, I found the trail again, and I marched along with my stick, chanting, yelling, puffing myself up like a near-naked peacock. “I AM A HUNTER!” I yelled “BUT NOT REALLY SO DON’T FEEL THREATENED!”

By this time it was so dark that I could see almost nothing. I imagined bears all around me, although I was pretty sure I’d hear them. As I’d discovered, bears are not silent, not even a little bit.

I made it safely to the bottom and went home, watching for bears even in the city limits. I just couldn’t stop seeing them now.

Evening meal

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The beauty of man, of woman; child
Each is perfect and of perfect form
Each delightful to the soul, the mind, the heart
The strong enduring curves of women, the hard and graceful lines of men,
the determination of childhood, reaching toward man and woman with arms outstretched.
They are my kindred, my kin, my sisters, brothers, sons and daughters.
I love each: the tanned skin of my female friend as she lies sprawled in the shade, slick with sweat; the white emerging confidence of a man I know; the blond-headed children running dappled through the woods.
It is impossible to enjoy masculine, feminine, parenthood, until you have seen the perfection of each person. Each is wondrous, each kind wondrous. Knowing this makes the self wondrous. I, too, am part of this gathering, brave and full of admiration. I have nothing to hide, nothing to prove. I am none, all, and more myself than ever.

I dace barefoot with this assembled tribe in a trampled-down clearing in the forest, sun sinking, disappearing. The day is night, we are night, swaying like darkness now, trees looming overhead and summer heat lingering in the grasses. Children, men and women, we dance and dance, fueled by the flesh of the animal we have consumed together.IMG_3886

Fit to be useful

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Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall is one-part tale of how a ragtag band of Greeks and British misfits kidnapped a German general in WWII, and one-part manifesto on the health benefits of moving naturally and fueling your body on fat. Hero in this case means one thing: “be fit to be useful,” MovNat (movement naturale) founder Erwin Le Corre’s mantra. MovNat, which is increasing in popularity around the country, involves acting like a human being in a natural environment. Ideally, it re-creates scenarios like running across logs while carrying a small child.

MovNat dadMoving naturally means training your body to respond well in any given situation, and fat fueling means you can go for hours, even days, on literally nothing but your own fat stores, while keeping a clear head and light feet. Hence why that ragtag band of kidnappers could haul the Nazi General around in seemingly impossible conditions.

Your body stores about 2,000 calories from sugar and roughly 140,000 (give or take) from fat — and burning sugar always comes first, until the crash that gives you tunnel vision and makes you prone to injury. I experienced sugar burnout during a recent Iceland hike, when, coming down the trail at my usual quick-paced trot, trying to hurry through the boinking haze, I slid on loose gravel and sprawled, bruising my face and knee in the process.

“Skillful marketing has made carbohydrate consumption a religion among athletes,” McDougall quotes Dr. Tim Noakes, formerly the “High Priest of Carb Loading,” who for many years advised everyone to load up on carbs to fuel their athletic endeavors, until he abruptly switched his stance after digging into the research. “The same foods Noakes had assured people would make them stronger and faster were a slow-acting poison making them fatter, weaker, and more prone to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and dementia.” Noakes went on to co-write The Real Meal Revolution and write Waterlogged, a treatise against energy drinks and water poisoning.

McDougall notes that throughout history, people, and particularly warriors, have eaten a lot of meat, the fattier the better. But in 1977, the US started pushing grain consumption as the base of a healthy diet. “Soon after, America’s obesity rate shot up and hasn’t stopped.” The switch was supposed to prevent heart disease, but instead, medical procedures for heart disease quintupled from 1.2 million to 5.4 million annually.

A big part of the obesity epidemic is related to insulin. “Simple carbs are absorbed too fast; your cells get their fill and the rest is turned into fat before your insulin has a chance to dissipate. The still-active insulin in your bloodstream goes looking for more sugar, which makes you feel hungry. So, you chow another donut, starting the whole process all over again. Enough years of this abuse and your cells can become insulin resistant.” However, if you fuel your body with good fat instead, you provide yourself with slow-burning energy.

For the ARICCHWANDWI

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It was during an attempt to make a self-deprecating joke to a friend that I realized there is no single word for Adults Raised In Cloistered Christian Homeschooling Who Are Now Dealing With It, so I coined the unwieldy ARICCHWANDWI. Somewhere between that moment and now, I seriously considered going back to school in order to specialize in therapy for the members of this tribe, until I remembered something crucial: the ARICCHWANDWI are penny-pinchers; they do not pay for therapy. So here is a generalized stab at it for free.

Dear fellow members of the ARICCHWANDWI,

You are smart. You know this about yourself because it’s been your strongest sense of your worth in the world. You are strong; you physically are capable of doing things that people admire, whether that is raising children or cranking tools or running marathons, and this also makes you feel good about yourself. Your capability, overall, is something you pride yourself on.

You may have even have gone so far as to say — as I have heard more than one of you say — that you’d never done anything you weren’t good at. I laugh to myself at this, because I know it is hubris. But I also know you don’t really feel so confident, that this is only true because there are many things you’ve never tried on purpose. You are afraid of not being good at things, and failing is not something you do. So, sometimes, you hang back, waiting for the perfect situation, some safe, failure-proof scenario that mysteriously never arrives.

Because for a long time, you learned that perfection meant not doing the wrong thing, and that in most practical ways, love and admiration was contingent on being “perfect” in this way. Growing up, you learned all about unconditional love, about agape. But no one really offered it to you consistently; you were spoon-fed fear and judgment from the cradle, and the angry sky-god who would smite the wicked, or really anyone who had a little, tiny impure thought about something, was modeled for you in the immediate correction you received anytime you were too messy, too loud, too slow, too absorbed in something else, too this, too that. Too you. You were not supposed to be you, exactly; you were supposed to be a neater, tidier, more manageable version of you. And this was called love; this was called modeling the love of God. You were told: God loves you even though you are worth nothing, even though you’re a filthy rotten dirty little sinner going straight to hell unless you say the right things, believe the right things and never, ever stray from the path of righteousness. So is it any wonder that you still, on some level, believe you are worth nothing unless you manage to be perfect?

But that is no longer true. You are safe being imperfect. You can still be a good human being if you fail at something. I’m sure you know this intellectually by now, but perfection has nothing to do with avoiding the wrong thing. Emotionally, however, it’s hard to restrain your sense of impending doom or guilt when something isn’t going right.

There is something you should know: you can have made mistakes and still be careful with yourself, discerning. And you never have to rush your process. You are right to wait if you’re not comfortable with something — particularly in romantic relationships, which are complicated to navigate when you go from courtship-only to dating-in-the-modern-world. There is nothing wrong with that, or with you. Above all, be compassionate with yourself and with those around you — and the most compassionate thing, in many cases, is being as honest as you can be about who you are and what you want. You might not know, and that’s OK too. It’s OK to take the time to figure that stuff out.

As part of your process, come to terms with your own attractiveness — in your clothing choices, in the way you look at people, in the way you move in your own skin, to eat and drink and play; in the way you think of yourself. Not in an arrogant way, but in a factual way. There is nothing wrong with being attractive. It’s nice to be attractive. It’s nice to be able to look at someone across a room and know they think you’re attractive. You do not have to apologize or feel guilty about this. And you are not only attractive if you smile, or say the right thing, or prove you’re smart. You are attractive, period.

You are worth something, period. I love you all.

Doug Wilson on the Confederate Flag

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I don’t read Doug Wilson’s blog much; I have better things to do with my time than subject myself to long-winded prose whose tagline should really be “theology that chews its own leg off.” Unsurprisingly, Wilson has spent a lot of energy recently not-exactly-explaining why the Confederate flag is fine-just-fine, the foremost reason of which is abortion. Wilson pulls out this argument quite frequently; it’s so obviously a logical fallacy (thing A isn’t bad, because thing B is also bad) that I’m going to call it distractio ad abortus: failing to address the actual issue and instead launching into a diatribe about the evils of something else, tied in tangentially with raw outrage and statements like “I think this is relevant, because it makes sense in my head, so I’m not actually changing the subject at all.” The American flag symbolizes abortion in Doug Wilson’s mind; therefore it’s Ok the have the Confederate flag flying high after the mass murder of blacks in the south. Makes perfect sense.

Another reason the flag is ok: drugs. Wilson says, “If you insist on having a national conversation about these iniquitous shootings, then why don’t we start by talking about psychotropic drugs? Take all the mass shootings perpetrated in the last twenty years by young males under the age of twenty five. What percentage of the shooters were on prescribed psychotropic drugs? What drugs? How long had they been on them? And, most importantly, why do you not have immediate access to the answers to these questions? I will tell you why — it is because the industry that promotes better living through chemistry is a politically protected class, in a way that gun manufacturers and Sons of Confederate Veterans are not.”

Actually, Wilson brings up a great question here. Why aren’t the medical records of individuals accessible with a few Google clicks? I’m personally wondering what prescribed drugs Wilson himself is taking: Viagra? Lipitor? Afrezza, or some other type of prescription insulin? Given his symptoms (advancing age, a large distribution of abdominal fat, perpetual crankiness, worsening logic, obsession with male prowess and “feasting,” the insistence that the American flag symbolizes something that has existed since there have been recorded pregnancies) there’s a good chance he’s on something — or should be. HIPAA be damned; we should all know exactly how sick the people who pretend to be medical experts are.

So, Wilson, what drugs are you on? How long have you been on them? And why haven’t we seen your medical records yet? By your own logic, you’re hiding behind the class protections of “better living through chemistry” by not publishing the last 20 years of your records for all your detractors to analyze. I mean, there’s no way we’ll know for sure that you’re on, say, Zoloft, unless you prove otherwise. And clearly, if you’re on Zoloft, you’re a danger to society.

Yet a third reason the Confederate flag is cool: Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kayne West. Again, Wilson actually is onto something. But why stop there? If we can find celebrity-based reasons to keep a symbol of an institution that was so convinced it had the right to own other human beings that it decided to secede from the Union and sacrifice the lives of its sons and daughters in the process (and please, don’t tell me that the Confederacy was about state’s rights — the only state’s right that was a die-hard issue to the Confederate states was slavery), then we can surely do the same with the swastika. The symbol has appeared throughout history, on Roman tunics, in Sanskrit manuscripts; Rudyard Kipling had it on the cover and first page of his early published works, a nod to the Hindu symbol of good luck.

Called svastika in Sanskrit and manji in Japanese, this is a symbol of auspiciousness in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Called svastika in Sanskrit and manji in Japanese, this is a symbol of auspiciousness in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Doug wilson betty boop

Just proof that I’m funny because I don’t take this subject seriously at all. But isn’t she cute? Doesn’t she match the color scheme?

Before the 1930s, Oklahoma's 45th Infantry Division's symbol was a red square with a yellow swastika, a tribute to the large Native American population in the southwestern United States.

Before the 1930s, Oklahoma’s 45th Infantry Division symbol was a red square with a yellow swastika, a tribute to the large Native American population in the southwestern United States.

Or maybe not. I was in Berlin earlier this month, and was struck, not for the first time, at how openly Germany acknowledges the atrocities committed under the Third Reich. Just within Berlin, you can go to any number of sites documenting how, when, why and who was killed under the Nazi regime. This openness is not shared by former slave plantation tours in the South; there is no museum in the US, that I know of, documenting the horrors of Native American genocide at the hands of European invaders and the US Army. There is no museum — again, that I know of, and I’ve traveled this country extensively — showcasing the death letters of young Native Americans or young slaves, showing photographs of families torn apart and killed, mapping the sites where killings took place. And maybe herein lies the difference between the swastika and the Confederate flag: the United States, unlike Germany, is unwilling to fully admit when it does anything wrong to people as a class. IMG_2677

My Own Private Iceland

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Inwards from Route 1 at the town of Hveragerði, a mere 40 minutes from Reykjavik, I find the trailhead to the area’s famous hot river. The sign says Reykjadalur: 3 kilometers. Not so far, I can easily go up and back and continue along on my day of Iceland sightseeing. A steaming landscape of bubbling mud and green algae, pleated hills of cooled lava rock and the thick-peated moss cushioning it, ending in this hot river, or so I’ve heard. I have my swimsuit on under my clothes, but as I walk up the trail I see that nobody else appears to have come for the bathing. Instead, there are Europeans in thick hiking boots and rain coats, some with hiking poles for good measure. It’s steep, steeper than I was expecting — this is by far the longest 3 kilometers I’ve ever walked. I’m starting to wonder if the sign was accurate, or what exactly it was measuring. There are streams along the path, and I dip my fingers in every so often. Some are warm, some cold. I finally reach a river: warm, maybe 100 degrees. And not deep enough to swim in.

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But the trail continues, so I go along with it. I spy off the trail a pool of opaque pastel blue, the same color as the Blue Lagoon the tourists flock to. I know the conventional wisdom in geothermal areas: don’t leave the trail; you might melt your shoes, you could fall through the crust of the earth into a steam vent and die. But there are tracks — boot tracks have worn a thin trail down to the lagoon, and there are tire tracks too from a tractor that sits off the trail not far away. So I go gingerly, circling my destination, fingers outstretched against trickles of moisture to test the coolness of the earth. The water is cold, running cold into the blue pool, and the water coming out of the pool is the perfect temperature, hot without being too hot. I follow the white-silica streambed up higher and higher until my hands are in the edge of the pool, and then I shed my clothing and climb into the pool, just a bit, then a bit more, kneeling because I know better than to get any closer to the drop off into the earth, the unknown sinkhole with its unknown rivers of volcanic water. I dig thermal mud from the sides of the pool and coat myself in muddy black. And I sink down at the edge of the pool, looking up at the trail, watching the hikers go by, watching them stop and point at me, and I lift my foot out of the water and wave. I am probably a bad influence. Perhaps I trust my ability to spring out, nimble and sure-footed, practiced in the art of barefoot escape across otherworldly landscapes, if the pool bubbles up suddenly.Katie Botkin in Iceland

It’s around 40 degrees F and windy, but I decide that I will hike back down to the river barefoot, cross-country in my wet bathing suit, which I do, over the spongy moss and the odd loose rock, following the stream downwards. The marshes next to the river are freezing, but the river itself provides relief when my feet get too cold. I warm up in the river and then I provide myself with the task of changing out of my wet bathing suit in plain view of the trail without actually being seen, which I manage by draping myself in the odd assortment of clothing I have packed along in lieu of a towel. It’s times like this that I feel like I might, comparatively speaking, be crazy. But I’m laughing too much at myself to care. This is Iceland. You survive in Iceland by being crazy, comparatively speaking.

Sauvage, Das Paleo Restaurant

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IMG_2699 IMG_2702At the crossing of Christburger Straße and Winsstraße lives Sauvage, the world’s first paleo restaurant. I arrived 15 minutes early for my 6 pm reservation and studied the menu posted outside. I wanted it all. Wild duck rillettes, bone marrow, braised pork belly, grass-fed steak tartare, lakto-fermented veggies, raw quail egg. Yes. With bounty like this, who would ever miss bread?

Only they had bread, also. Paleo bread, made so cleverly that, if you squinted, it tasted like the real thing. “With beef fat,” said the German server, waving to the yellow pool of fat. Darn; I wanted butter. Butter is plenty paleo.

I ended up ordering several appetizers, and my favorite was the succulent quail breast (seasonal only), fine and delicious and also comical, in that it reminded me of the story of a girl I know, who, when she was five, tried quail for the first time. She thought the dead birds were adorable, so she was crying while gobbling them up. “I’m so sad!” she said. “They’re so cute! And so delicious!”

Indeed, these were also cute and delicious, as was the beef tartar. The quality of food, the spices, the exotic — altogether it was the best meal I’ve had in a long time. And I felt so good afterwards, nothing like when I stuff myself with brie or pasta.

How to: Day trip Berlin-Szczecin

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IMG_2773At this point in time, a round-trip excursion into Poland from Berlin will only put you back 29 euros, and here’s the weird part: the ticket is good for up to five people. There’s no cheaper option (that I found, anyway) for just one person, and the experience is somewhat confusing, so here’s how it works: If you haven’t already bought the ticket online here, you can go to the vending machines at a Berlin train station (such as the Hauptbahnhof) and navigate (in English) through the options for buying a second-class round trip ticket to port city Szczecin. Some of the options will be for around 150 euros, which I’m assuming is what they would tell you it cost if you booked using a real live DB agent at the train station. Ignore these options and just pick the ones (outgoing and return) that say 29 euros. Then, mysteriously, you will be shuttled to a screen that says Brandenburg-Berlin-Ticket, total: 29 euros. This is not a mistake. It’s just the name of the least-expensive ticket you can get to Szczecin. The ticket is also good for certain regional travel, and includes the S-Bahn in Berlin and Brandenburg. So, great! Now you have your ticket and you’re trying to read the German, and you realize you have no clue where this train to Szczecin is or when it leaves, because the ticket lists no destination and no platform. First of all: the ticket is good all day, and there are multiple departures. So you can do a couple of things: you can look for trains going to Angermünde (where you’ll switch) or direct to Szczecin (at certain times of day). The easiest thing is to march up to the DB information desk and ask when the next train is to Szczecin, and they’ll give you a print-out with the listed connection, if applicable. I left at 9:33 am on a weekday for Angermünde from the Hauptbahnhof, and in Angermünde followed the flux of Germans wheeling small suitcases to the rail cars bound for Szczecin. Note: you need your passport for the crossing into Poland; officials will come around on the train and check to make sure you’re legal. I arrived at my destination around 11:30 am and immediately studied the timetables back to Berlin. There was a direct train at 14:37, and another at 19:52, which was the last train direct or otherwise. Make sure you check; trains are subject to changeIMG_2607IMG_2592 IMG_2587

Then it was dIMG_2627own to business: wandering around and eating. Wandering around was good for somewhat random photography and getting a feel for Poland. Eating out was better: eating in Poland is substantially cheaper than in Germany — three reasonably substantial appetizers (self-styled “fine” chicken liver with apples, fried zucchini and feta-spinich perogis) were about 14 euro and constituted lunch and dinner. Most or all restaurants in Szczecin accept euros, though the prices are listed in zloty, the local currency. Having slept four hours in 40 or so, by the time I’d toured the old city and stuffed my face, I was exhausted and ready to head back to Berlin.

Mauerpark on a Sunday

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Mauerpark Berlin



You can tell a lot about a city by the way people use its parks. Not the tourist parks, but the parks locals use to the hilt, the ones with flea markets and music and playgrounds — in this case, a crazy wooden structure with ropes to balance on. Sundays in the summertime, Berliners flock to Mauerpark. They paint, they play, they recline on the grass. They drink a lot of beer. They smooth each other’s auras. They play soccer with empty plastic bottles and, when the sun goes down, they dance to boom boxes pulsing fast German techno.

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