As part of my ongoing hostelling adventure, I slept on a boat!
We’re looking at existenzminimum again:
You get a private cabin (privacy being a plus in hostels) reminiscent of the cabin you get on a sleeper train or an overnight ferry.
Since the boat is on an Amsterdam canal rather than a life on the ocean waves, you feel no watery motion while sleeping at all.
But if you open a curtain in the dead of night… you might see a duck. 🦆
A beautiful cover of a rare book: Escape to Life by Erika and Klaus Mann. The book profiles the artists and intellectuals who escaped Nazi Germany to live elsewhere in Europe and America. The ticklish sense of justified flight is deeply exciting.
The book can be found easily in German, which is fair enough because it’s a German book BUT it was first published in English and when parts of the original draft were destroyed the English version was used to recreate the lost content. It’s a shame that it should be out of print now.
I don’t have £130+ to buy a copy from AbeBooks but the Internet Archive has a scanned library copy, which, mercifully, can be read online.
This is from Wendy Carlos, genius musical composer:
The greatest thing we’ve got going in our culture is our eccentrics. I was once embarrassed by my eccentricities but now I value them.
In other words, be different. Don’t be afraid. To plough your own furrow benefits not just yourself, but the whole world. To stand apart is not to turn your back on society. You’re at least the control group, at best the great experiment.
In the spirit of this quotation, New Escapologist Issue 15 is subtitled Experiments in Living. Our eccentric spirit animals are, if not Carlos herself, Edward Carpenter (addressed), John Stuart Mill (channelled), and Ariel Anderssen (interviewed).
Thanks to reader N for sharing this passage from Dave Eggers’ Heroes of the Frontier.
It’s nominally about parenting but really it’s about how to spend a good life versus the violence of social expectation:
She began to conceive a new theory of parenting, where the goal was not the achieving of a desired result. The object is not to raise a child for some future outcome, no! Times like these, together in the pines amid the fading light, as the kids run through the long grass, her son gravely teaching himself archery while her daughter tries to induce some self-injury, these moments alone were the object. Josie felt, fleetingly, that she could die having achieved such a day. Get to a place like this, get to a moment like this, and that alone is the object. Or it could be the object. A new way of thinking. Stretch some of these days together and that’s all one could want or expect. Raising children was not about perfecting them or preparing them for job placement. What a hollow goal! Twenty-two years of struggle for what – your child sits inside at an Ikea table staring into a screen while outside the sky changes, the sun rises and falls, hawks float like zeppelins. This was the common criminal pursuit of all contemporary humankind. Give my child an Ikea desk and twelve hours a day of sedentary typing. This will mean success for me, them, our family, our lineage. She would not pursue this. She would not subject her children to this. They would not seek these specious things, no. It was only about making them loved in a moment in the sun.
I was on The Stack recently, a podcast about magazines from Monocle Radio.
Host Fernando is a lovely and attentive guy and I think I did quite well thanks to his questions. I explained New Escapologist accurately and with good humour as well as explaining the appeal of a less work-driven lifestyle. I also had a cold at the time, so my answers are all baritone and vocal-fried. Enjoy!
The whole episode (and indeed the show) is worth a listen but the bit about New Escapologist starts at 8:34.
Thanks to Reader S for sharing this.
The YouTuber talks about economics and the stock market, but I like the way she defends the younger woman who complains about the reality of full-time work:
Clearly in a state of distress, the younger woman laments:
I know I’m probably being so dramatic and annoying but this is my first job, like, my first 9-5 job after college and I’m [working] in person and I’m commuting in the city and it takes me fucking forever to get there.
She explains how she can’t afford to live closer to work because city rents are so high, how she doesn’t have time to cook properly or work out or be with friends or find a partner, how it’s all just too much.
Predictably a lot of people in the comments call her a whiner, that she’s spoiled, that Gen Z are lazy, and “welcome to the world”-type refrains.
But… she’s right! She’s absolutely right to be distressed about the demands suddenly placed in her lap by the 9-5. And she’s right to be dismayed that this is considered normal, is the best system we’ve come to as a society. Only a liar or a moron (or, of course, a beneficiary) would disagree. And given the state of the economy (by which I mainly mean the housing and cost of living crises) it’s truer than ever. It’s her generation who should be complaining the loudest.
The economics YouTuber says:
This is a very common experience. When you join the workforce you end up feeling all of these things this girl is talking about. It’s a completely reasonable response to overwhelming stressors.
Which is obviously correct. She goes on to talk about the labour movement and all sorts of interesting things, so it’s worth a watch. But I really just wanted to say how impressed I am that Gen Z can see through the bullshit so easily and that there are fellow dissenting voices willing act in solidarity, calling this bullshit situation out.
What the Gen Z girl doesn’t say is how she’s supposed to be grateful for this lot as well, that she’s supposed to be the grateful inheritor of a clean and easy-going technocracy. She’s not aloud to be unhappy, not allowed to work grudgingly. As we all know, that sort of daily masking is exhausting.
We scraped together what savings we had, took out multiple loans and eventually managed to secure a boat mortgage (they’re a thing), before finally buying our narrowboat in July 2021. We spent the summer doing her up: I learned to tile and managed to figure out the plumbing, Nige laid down new pallet-wood floors, and my mum helped us paint. In September, we moved aboard full-time. Our daughter was born the following August.
This is something I think about a lot. We reluctantly escaped the rental market too and it required a similar sort of pairing down. We lost our spare room and had to move to a less lovely part of town.
If you’re renting and are appalled by how much rents have shot up and if you have any chance of escaping, you should definitely think about ownership if you can find a way. It pains me to sound so much Hilaire Belloc though: it doesn’t agree with my politics and I always liked renting. But needs must as the devil drives his landlordly gold-plated sports car over your face.
Whenever I’ve look into house boats as a happy alternative to bricks-and-mortar ownership, the mooring (i.e. the parking place) is always a problem. Faye explains:
We’re what’s called “continuous cruisers”, which means we move our boat to a new mooring roughly every two weeks. It doesn’t mean we flit between a few favourite places: the rules state that we must “genuinely navigate the waters”, and I’ve heard of boaters’ licences being revoked because they haven’t covered enough distance.
Luckily, continuous cruising has benefits: moving every fortnight means we’re always bumping into boaters we know, which is lovely, and the sense of freedom is unparalleled.
According to her website, Faye is “working on a memoir about my life aboard a 60 foot narrowboat,” which I for one am looking forward to.
I just got back from a happy few days in Paris. I met Friend Landis who was over from Chicago for a book tour, swanned around at the AsiaNow art fair, listened to live jazz (and got hit on) at Harry’s Bar, and visited the Louvre for the first time.
What I mean to talk about today however is the hostel. I stayed in a proper hostel dorm for the first time in perhaps 20 years. I loved it and I’m going to do it again in Holland and Luxembourg next month.
Seemingly, Paris hostels have privacy curtains on their bunks, which really changes everything. The bad thing about hostels as everyone either knows or can imagine is the feeling of overexposure; that strangers might be looming over you as you sleep. But the simple addition of a curtain makes a hostel every bit as good as a Japanese capsule hotel. You can still hear people moving around in the room at night, but I found it oddly comforting; you can tell from their soft movements, careful not to cause a fuss, that they’re just sleepy travellers the same as you.
For about £30 (instead of the £100+ you’d need for a hotel room in a city like Paris) you get the privacy of your bunk (in which there’s a reading lamp, a socket for charging your phone, and some little shelves for anything else you like to have nearby in the night), a locker in which you can stash your bag for the duration of your stay (actually a cube-shaped chest with a padded lid, good for sitting on to remove or put on your shoes), and access to the communal kitchens and toilet/showers.
Sorry to rattle on excitedly, but I am excited. I really enjoyed all this.
The toilet/shower rooms are much like the ones you’d find at a modern gym: by which I mean private shower cubicles, not the horror of shared showers like the ones in which footballers practice their heterosexuality. The kitchens, I was surprised to see, were spotlessly clean but well used: as well as being a casual social space for strangers to chat, I saw travellers preparing decent meals in there like fresh soup and spaghetti. (I just used it to fill my water bottle before vanishing off into Paris for pastries and cocktails).
There was also a cafe-bar in this particular hostel. I assumed it would be a basic affair for weary travellers so I dropped in on my first night with a plan to read my book over a quiet pint. But there was a jumping party going on! Glamorous drag queens were spinning records while the well-dressed Parisian youth gyrated and laughed and mingled. The place felt like the colonial bar in Lawrence of Arabia where he demands lemonade after crossing the desert; it was decorated with strings of muted lights and lazy palm fronds.
I was wearing my smelly Montreal Bagel t-shirt and some old jeans, so I was hardly presentable for it. I thirsted for that beer though, so I courageously ensconced myself at the bar and chatted with a bar worker who wasn’t bothered about my grotesque appearance and texted with my partner at home who assured me I was beautiful. I felt too self-conscious to read though, so I quaffed my refreshing blanche and made a dash for my bunk.
Sleeping with that curtain closed was a bit like being on an overnight ferry or a sleeper train without, obviously, the sensation of motion. For three nights in my coffin-like quarters, I slept like a brute.
The hostel struck me as quite the model for living. It was my socialist motto of “private sufficiency, public luxury” taken to the extreme and placed under one roof. I was happy to be far from material responsibilities and domestic maintenance. I think I could have worked on my books there if I’d wanted to.
If my partner ever throws me out, I’ll look into a long-stay hostel arrangement. The existenzminimum of a bunk, a locker, and access to those shared cooking and showering facilities was extremely liberating. And when you’re not sleeping or padding around in the communal spaces, you’re out there in your new town, living.
Reader O writes:
At the other end of the age scale to you, at 76 I have discovered liberation!
I am a wood turner but thanks to long covid can no longer make the huge pieces I so enjoyed creating.
My professional lathe and massive chunks of wood have been looking at me balefully for the last three and a half years, so I have given them all away to a father and son who seem absolutely thrilled. In return they are setting me up with an excellent dinky lathe and cleaned out a bit of my workshop. I have also given away all my exhibition stands and plate racks to a very grateful recipient. I feel completely liberated, especially as everything has found a good home!
I’ve attached an image of some of my work.
I was sad to hear that your crafting practice has come to an end, but it certainly sounds liberating in many good ways and your generosity in passing the flame to another generation is lovely to hear about.
Congratulations on a working life well spent and it’s good to know that you can still tinker and enjoy creative satisfaction on a smaller scale.
Shortly after this month’s newsletter went out, I received a good-natured email from Joshua Glenn in Boston:
Subject: Au contraire, mon ami!
Naturellement, j’ai consulté De Certeau lors de la rédaction de mon petit livre !
My claim that “perruque” does not appear in his glossaries was erroneous. Look! It’s right there:
Needless to say, I have already grovelled accordingly.
Oh well. Let’s all celebrate my embarrassing mistake by reading about Josh’s Adventurer’s Glossary.