Thursday, January 25, 2018

Full Kafka Jacket

A Virtual Metamorphosis in Prague

As mentioned before in previous posts, the wifey likes to drag my ass out of the house, kicking and screaming. She does most of the dragging and kicking, I do the screaming. In the summer, it's mostly about prodding me up slippery rocks to a near death experience on a precipice. With selfies.

In the winter, I get a brief reprieve from nature walks with the Black Widow in the form of cultural outings. Sure, as a wide body I much prefer to stay ensconced in my comfy black office chair while marinating in coffee for the entire winter. But eventually the chair's genuine Corinthian pleather seats need a breath of fresh air, and its creaking wheels need a goddamn break.

Enter: Goethe. He creeps up all stealthy-like, that dead German poet. He's got an entire institute by the river, dedicated to the language and culture of Deutschland. I'd never been there before, but last night marked a very unusual affair: a Kafkaesque exhibition, featuring a virtual reality experience wherein you become a giant bug.

Hot damn! What a great idea! It's like leaving the comfortable cyber-womb of home, riding the Metro, and being jacked back in to a 3D cyberworld! (Inner geek-child screams WAA-HOOOOO!!!!)

The quintessential Kafka story (read: my personal favorite) Metamorphosis is, was, and always will be the finest metaphor for insignificance and alienation ever written. Kafka published the book in 1915. He was clearly disenfranchised with the drudgery of selling his soul as an insurance office clerk in a faceless, Capitalist machine. Too bad he didn't live through the Czech communist period. Oh, the alienation he would have felt then. Can you imagine the novels?

Stir Fried Bugs and White Wine

Kafka was born in Prague in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Since he wrote in German, he was naturally embraced by the Goethe Institute. I'm assuming. I like to do that. It doesn't matter. There was a waiting list to enter the virtual world. Just enough time to horse down a half dozen glasses of free wine.

Of course they put up several roadblocks to the obvious free wine pillager. Corridors clogged with people unable or unwilling to get the fuck out of my way. And a hippie stir frying actual (not virtual) bugs. Worms, roaches, and other creepy crawlies. Right in front of the corridor leading to das wein. Dafuq?

I'll never understand hippies. First, they're vegetarian. Then vegan. Then raw. There's nowhere to go from there but back up the damn food chain: bugs. “They're very rich in protein,” proclaimed the hippie chef. I knew it! Thought I, These vegan bastards are gagging for protein. And there is no better way to gag on your protein than to feel the crispy legs of a crusty cockroach clawing at your craw. The hippie chef informed my wife not to chew on the roach, but to chop it in half and suck the guts out. Fuck that freak (the hippie, not my wife). I skipped the creepy crawlies and proceeded directly to the free wine.

I didn't see any bottles, just glasses filled with white wine. I guzzled the first one to wash the imaginary taste of roach guts out of my mouth. There was a tingling behind my teeth and the front of my tongue (roachy?), and my experienced art palate told me that this fine bubbling sensation smacks of a fine Gewurztraminer. Or heavy sulfites. I can't possibly be sure, as my wine snobbery is limited to guzzling free wine at various art gallery openings around the world, from ghetto boxed wine to high end vintages way too fancy for my rock and roll lifestyle. This particular number turned out to be a very nice Riesling. I knew it had to be something German.

These people were taking the whole bug thing too far. It made me almost retch up my lunch nachos. The wife had no problem eating the bugs. I'd already seen her eat bugs at a fair in the mountains when we were in the States a few years back. But I've always assumed that mountain folk ate bugs. And tourists. But still. How in the holy hell do you eat a bug?

Gettin' Buggy With It (photo by Gabriela Sarževská) 

Half empty plates of bug carcasses lay pell-mell around the exhibition hall. Half torsos and thoraxes oozing goo, legs awash in soy sauce and red peppers. Gag me with a spoonful of bugs. I swaggered through the crowd, trying not to think about the bugs. I found cold comfort in a Berlin photography book in the bibliothek. Thank fuck for squats and riots in the 90s.

The Alienation Tent

I finally got buggy up in that beeyawtch. I donned slippers with plastic doodads digging into my feet, then the gloves and the magic helmet of doom. It was incredible. I've done the VR thing before, but this one takes the roach cake. My outstretched hands were now segmented, insectoid arms feebly fumbling for door handles. I had to find a key and unlock the virtual door.

An incredible view of Old Town Prague out of the virtual window, a small room with desks, drawers, and the mirror. The mirror! Spoiler alert! Look in the mirror! It was taking the video game world to a frightening level. I'm probably way behind the curve on this one, and there are probably already many modern video game dens full of pimply-faced geek-children with virtual realities strapped onto their socially-awkward actual realities.

After minutes of searching amid knocks at the door and calls for Gregor the Bug Man, I finally found the key, placed it in the keyhole, and turned the doorknob. What would be on the other side? Would the landlady whack me with a virtual broom and chuck an apple into my soft, white underbelly?

Find out for yourself in this ongoing exhibition, which runs now through March 31. Last night was the opening of the show, so you probably won't get to drink any free wine or eat any bugs. Unless that gawdawful hippie has nowhere better to go and nothing better to cook.

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