The second joint went a lot smoother, as I finished off Fredrick Douglass. I wanted to try my own hand at things, and experimented with rolling a filtered tobacco mix from the remains of a Marlboro that my table-mates had left. I was unpractised, high, and totally frustrated at how to roll the filter in, so after a few sad tries, I scraped the mixture and the filter in to my bag and wandered down to a pub where I had a bland dinner of veal and a small Dutch beer for less than â‚¬10. The group at the bar started talking about the career tension of writing your own code versus maintaining someone else’s versus blackbox testing, when the barkeep asked them for advice on his recent trouble reading the Excel spreadsheet attachment with the football scores from his e-mail account.
Brain cells primed themselves. The mind of an IT Systems Administrator, that has spent some time with e-mail administration, client issues, and MIME technology, jumped reflexively at the situation. The lack of useful diagnostic information was all that helped me to keep my mouth shut, for the most part.
One of the guys at the bar asked what part of California had I been from, which is always a tricky question of scale, so he offered “Obviously, Silicon Valley, right?” And I smiled, yes, Mountain View is roughly ground zero. He’d worked there these past few years, before losing his dot-com illusions. “Do you know of Molly Magees?”
Yes, I know of Molly Magees. People aren’t quick to admit their affiliation with this divey place, but I have been there aplenty, for it is all about location, and he explained that he was one of the guys who hung out in the back all night.
I explored a super market on my way back to Kabul, picking up a small loaf of raisin bread. Back at the ranch, there were two Spaniards, a Japanese, and two English girls bathing it up for a night out. The group had also begun enjoying alcohol and pot as I had been.
I produced my leftovers and offered to share, if someone could roll. Antonio admitted that he was a poor roller, and left such tasks to his older cousin. I conveyed the story of my own frustrated attempts that day, and we concluded that a rolling primer should be included in the Lonely Planet guidebook. Upon return from the shower, one of the English girls rolled up a beautiful spliff that we passed around. The elder cousin came by, and contributed more joints. We found ourselves in a convenient coffeeshop, rolling, smoking, and drinking. I purchased some Afghan Border hash, which the older cousin explained that you made in to tiny pieces and rolled in tobacco, handing me a cigarette.
I rolled a pretty good hash joint. I was quite pleased with myself, though I had difficulty finding my way smoking what felt like a cigarette. I explained that for many Californians, marijuana is far easier to relate to than tobacco.
The English girls wanted to see a peep show, so we went off in search of a place that would allow small groups to share in the experience. I lost the group when I leapt in to a bar to pee. I wandered up and down the red light district, exchanging smiles with with the girls in the windows, wearing out my feet. Shigeru found me innocently admiring a pretty, brown-skinned girl standing in the window who had, in my opinion, a perfect body. Alas, I was more lonely than horny, and found more pleasure in the relatively inexpensive companionship of a fellow traveller, rather than spending upwards of â‚¬50 on fifteen minutes with a woman, for some quick ejaculation. I prefer to spend my energy on pleasing beautiful women, taking personal pride in the long work of well-done foreplay. I would just as soon get paid for such activity, and contribute to my financial welfare, though I have to admit that I don’t live in such a world, and must instead derive my revenue from debugging e-mail attachments. C’est la vie.
I checked out of Kabul and left my luggage at Centraal, discovering the smaller lockers that ran â‚¬2.50 instead of â‚¬4. Yay. I hopped on the tram for the Rijkmuseum, but as I wandered through the galleries of art, I found that I was completely fucking exhausted, and couldn’t stand all the museum walking, and while the pictures were quite nice, compared to yesterday’s museum, I just had to go … to Haarlem!
At Haarlem station I phoned the hostel, which had a school group that day and was full. I thought I’d try my luck with the indifferent ladies at the VVV, who would be happy to book me accomodations, for a fee, give me a list of hotels, for a fee, sell me a map … well, here, look at the map / hotel guide.
I just didn’t want to. After Amsterdam the last thing that I wanted to be was a tourist. I took my notebook to the payphone across the street, and phoned the two other hostels that the friendly lady at the Haarlem hostel had given me.
The Heemskerk hostel had room. For about â‚¬2.50, the cost it would have been to book a room at Haarlem, I took the train up to Heemskerk. I’d been instructed to alight at the station before, Beverwick, but I didn’t realise this until after I had thoroughly dug the quiet, open landscape at Heemskerk station, with its beautiful clouds drifting crisply on the clear sky.
I asked a lady for advice. The trains run twice an hour. I asked her how far to walk back to Beverwick. “Thirty minutes. For a man, maybe fifteen.” I smiled and pointed at my bag, “For me, twenty.”
Maybe it was the rest on the trains, or the spirit of adventure, but the same young man who couldn’t suffer walking around the Rijkmuseum was ready to hoof it around the Dutch countryside with a heavy pack.
Actually, I wised up and phoned the hostel for the address, and found a map, and made my way there directly, instead of walking to the next town over and taking the bus that I would have taken had I gotten off there as instructed.
I had a hard time finding the place, as it was set off the road a bit, and it was a castle, which had a wedding winding down as I walked past it the first time. I was thwarted as well by the Dutch signs that warned of trespassing, and the NJHC logo of the Dutch part of Hostelling International, of a little house with a tree, that read to me as “camp site for some group that you should leave alone.”
Anyways, I found myself in the castle, with a couple of dozing, stoned Italian guys who spoke no English, and a pretty pair of Dutch-sounding girls in the next room over. I wandered in to town, explored, and had a snack at a little place that gave you a complimentary bonbon with your coffee. I also bought a couple of apples, one of which I ate for dessert, while I wandered back to the castle.
One nice thing about Heemskerk, is that I am finally some place new. I am occassionally questioned by someone, and have no idea what they’re saying, so my answer is to smile, and ask, “Spreche English?”
That evening I drifted down to the bar to work on my journal. As I was writing about the weed I’d smoked in Amsterdam, a large party consisting mainly of middle-aged Canadian women, with a few husbands thrown in for good measure, occupied the opposite end of the room. One or two apologised for being noisy during my work, but I said that it was no big deal, and anyway, my hearing was bad just then because of the ringing, so it was easier for me to ignore such distractions.
When life hands you a lemon … right?
I later discovered that they were a group of forty of a 100-women chorus from Vancouver, Sweet Adelaide. They capped the evening with a set of their four-part harmony. I found this to be extremely pleasant.
I caught the hostel’s complimentary breakfast this morning: bread, cheese, lunch meat, coffee, tea, orange juice, and various accoutrements. I sat across from a Vancouver couple that had a young kid and a baby, the only members of their vast party younger than thirty. The father explained that after the chorus gig, they would rent a car and visit, among other places, Copenhagen. Sounds familiar, as I am to meet the family there on 29 September.
I was sufficiently pleased with the good night’s sleep in the cool, clean country air, and the nice breakfast spread, that I paid for another night, and an HI membership. The membership card ran â‚¬17, and immediately saved me â‚¬5 on the two nights’ lodging. The reception set to the task of scheduling me a doctor’s appointment to get my ears cleaned, which was then set at 1440h.
Which kind of killed the idea of a 7km walk to the beach. Ah well, bummed around Heemskerk’s Friday market, acquiring socks, and grazing on Dutch snacks, you know, as a cultural experience. I dropped by the Bibliotheek, which had Internet available for the modest price of â‚¬1 per hour. Unfortunately, it was not actual Internet access, but web access on a terminal so locked down that there was this scary-looking locker device in the disk drive itself.
I asked whether there might be a place, somewhere, to hook up a laptop. The staff had to admit that Heemskerk was not the most Internetty place, but that there ought to be some flavor of Internet cafe in Beverwick. I attracted a minor crowd, as I left, of a few locals who had hoped to prove helpful, but to no avail. The journal, or even the secure shell client that I require merely to check my e-mail, these can wait. After all, I am on holiday.
The doctor was a very pleasant guy who cleaned my ears out with some sort of high-powered water-pick thing, then was able to see that they were infected, and write me a prescription for some ear drops. The ringing stopped on the next day.
A quartet of middle-aged women joined the Italians and me in our room, joining the Canadian chorus, although they themselves were Swiss. This was readily apparent from the Swiss flags that they posted on their beds, as the Canadians told them that they themselves would proudly be displaying their own red-on-white-banner at every possible opportunity. The Dutch-sounding girls in the next room over turned out to be Germans, and as they shared a bottle of Champagne with me their new roommate strode into the castle, a young Brazilian lady.
The German girls are in college. Stefi is studying to be a teacher, which in Germany pays pretty well, after a two-year internship. They were looking to drive on to Utrecht, where Stefi was to visit her boyfriend, whom she had met in France at this monastic retreat thing called Taize. Her companion and best friend, Maya, is big with the scouts, and is helping to staff the International Jamboree in Thailand in December.
The Brazilian lady, Nagi, was just off the plane, on a one-month vacation, which features a three-day conference on environmental engineering in Oslo. I’m joining her early tomorrow to check out the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.
As it is now 11PM, we suspect that the Italianos are stoned senseless in Amsterdam, and will not make it back to their gear before the midnight curfew. I myself, the Swiss ladies, and the German girls are minutes away from what we hope will be a solid night’s sleep.
The Italians did make it in last night. Nagi and I walked over to Heemskerk train station, and â‚¬4 later were in Amsterdam, sharing a â‚¬4 locker at Centraal. A tram over to the Van Gogh museum, and we had a marginal, crowded art museum experience for â‚¬7 each.
I think that Amsterdam is easily missed.
We had a long, pleasant stroll, the long way around the city, back to Centraal. Walking, talking, taking photos, enjoying each other’s company. For lack of better plans, I was inclined to join her in Den Haag, and lend a hand in reviewing her conference presentation, as she wasn’t entirely confident with the idea of a public address in English, which she usually only reads. Alas, the hostel there was full, so I saw her off at Centraal.
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For my Illinois friends, who have a very different idea of a store called Meijer’s
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As an architect, Nagi chose to be photographed at this nice doorway.
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For my Tellme friends.
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That red building may look a bit sketchy, but the buildings in Amsterdam lean forward by design. See that winch hanging out at the top of the building? Well, when moving items through the front windows via winch, the merchants didn’t want to scuff up their nice facades, so the buildings lean forward.
There was an awkward moment when she surprised me by leaning in to kiss me on the cheek. I certainly wasn’t offended, but I hadn’t thought I had made such an impression! Thinking on it later, I figured that she kissed me not because I’m such a hottie, but because she is from a Latin culture, where kissing friends on the cheeks comes naturally. I hope that next time I am in that situation I can engage the cultural norm appropriately. Whatever the purpose, exchanging kisses on the cheek is something I favor.
I took a moment and considered my next adventure. High time to break out the rail pass, I figured. Time to see … well, Paris. On a Saturday night? C’est foux! C’est une adventure!
The hostels, on the phone, weren’t crowded, but neither did they take reservations: first come, first served. Okay, I’ll just come. It didn’t sound nearly as terrible as the situation had been in Amsterdam.
Once I found the International Train Ticket area, located intuitively at Platform 1, I had a special treat in Hell’s Waiting Room, as gaily dressed Dutch casually joked among each other, and an international menagerie of passengers waited for their numbers to be called, so that they could reserve a seat on a premium rail service. A board displayed what numbers had been called to what counter.
It seemed that I had thirty numbers before me. I consulted my timetable and saw that, were my interpretation of the funky symbols correct, there was a Thalys direct to Paris departing in forty minutes. Assuming that they process one waiting person per minute, no problem. After some patient waiting, and observation, and wondering why it was so difficult for people to book rail tickets, I saw that I had ten minutes and twenty numbers ahead of me. It was harder still to reckon how fast things moved, as half the numbers were in a different sequence from my own.
Anxious, I returned to the girl who passed numbers out, who explained that the train that I was anxious about was not running that day, and then gave me a number from the other sequence, which was the “last minute” queue, and I was seen immediately. I ended up with a Sneltrain to Brussels, from where a Thalys would take me to Paris Nord. The Thalys, however, required a â‚¬21 supplement.
Apparently, Thalys is about the only high-speed rail service that requires a supplement. I was annoyed, but inclined to pay it, since I love trains, and could thus find value in experiencing Thalys. After that, I could avoid it, and save money by selecting TGV, ICE, and friends.
Thalys was cool. I wandered in to Paris’ Gare du Nord station hall and began looking for a phone card. I noticed that not only were all the signs in French, but that all anyone spoke was French, unlike the Netherlands, where nearly everyone knew English. I recalled Stefi’s lament that French, Italians, and Spanish all sucked because they never spoke English. This might seem a queer complaint for a German to make, but I’ve noticed that in my travels, English is the common language in which us travellers negotiate our way through foreign countries and customs, whether we are German, Brazilian, Japanese, or American, Canadian, or British.
Next, I noticed a booth that sold phone cards. I negotiated for the cheap one with my fingers, and was approached by an old bum who reeked of liquor. He seemed to want to take my change, hold my bags, take my phone card, and in the end contented himself by lightly brushing my buttock as I turned to walk away. I gave him a brief parting glance that expressed, “you have definately crossed the line and entered the realm in which you may be subjected to public embarassment or violence.” I thought that he was a magnificently offensive introduction to France, and I couldn’t help but sympathize with him a bit; Drunk bum in a train station, lonely for whatever it is that drunk bums in train stations get lonely for. Was it affection, or a desperately clumsy attempt for my wallet, which I don’t keep in my back pocket.
I next acquired a carnet, which is a book of ten â‚¬1.20 metro tickets for â‚¬9, and took the metro to Le Fouconnier hostel, which was this unexpectedly pretty castle in the middle of Paris. My room was down several dark hallways on the third floor, and was extremely pleasant, very clean. It ran me near â‚¬25 for the â‚¬21 room and the â‚¬2.50 membership card, as they’re not affiliated with HI. They only allowed guests under thirty years of age, and the place was crawling with many a young’n. I ducked out to enjoy my first French cuisine, which was the Bouef Plat du Jour atop fried rice at a Chinese place. The meal came in under â‚¬6 with a Coke, and tasted pretty good.
I set out towards the nearby Bastille, in search of a night club, but all the ones I could find opened at 11PM and cost â‚¬15. Given the Fouconnier’s 1AM curfew, I couldn’t justify it.
The night was spent in the company of two Japanese boys, one with a cool, punky look, and the other gaunt, pale, and subdued. Both were pretty quiet, occasionally speaking with each other in comfortable Japanese. Our fourth roommate was allegedly a Belgian, though none of us ever saw him awake.
The next morning was a baguette buffet, with butter, jams, orange juice, and a tasty cafÃ© au lait. I sat across from an American who asked if I spoke English, then told me about a wonderful, cheap hostel in Normandy. That’s my short list for aprés Paris.
I thought I’d try my luck at a cheaper HI hostel. The highly-reccommended, centrally-located, Auberge Jules Ferry was full. I found myself at the allegedly decent, slightly distant, but with plentiful facilities warehouse of a hostel Auberge Le D’Artagnan instead. You can’t check in until 3PM, so I had to add â‚¬2 to store my bag, to my â‚¬19.50-with-HI-membership bill. No curfew.
The showers on our floor were broken. Later that evening, I went a floor up and found a working shower with a clogged drain that filled the floor basin with water. The shower stall door hitches were all busted. I’ll have to find another place tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll head back to the castle.
Down at the metro station, I saw signs in French about some equipment anciens that was being exhibited this weekend, from what I could tell, to promote a future transit museum. I didn’t read the station quite right the first time I saw this sign, and so I couldn’t find the destination. Instead, I just wandered around the Tour Eiffel, snapping some pictures. Back at the metro, I saw another sign for the transit museum crowd, and made my way over to Port D’Ivry, where they had parked a handful of old equipment right in the middle of the metro station. Superb!
There were signs in French, with interesting pictures, and staff explaining any number of fascinating things, in French. I found some model train geeks, and after some miscommunication as to the nature of Samedi, which I thought was Saturday, which it actually is, I found myself on a lovely ride on the RER to the suburb of La Varenne Chennevieres.
At my destination, there was nowhere to supplement the downtown ticket from the carnet, so I followed another’s example and hopped the turnstile to leave. Outside, I saw a ticket window and tried to set things right. After all, I’d seen a video camera watching the turnstiles. I was lectured that I was supposed to take care of the ticket business downtown, and that at this point, it really doesn’t matter.
The model railroad club was locked, because they do their open house on Samedi, and this was Dimanche, le jour aprÃ©s. I chilled out by the fountain, sharing some of my Dutch graham crackers with the local pigeons.
Usually, when you feed a group of pigeons in this manner, you soon notice the one with the missing or lame foot. They always carry themselves well, and I always try to make sure they get some extra food. Sometimes you can tell that they understand that they are special. Today my friend with the lame foot would hover in front of me, flashing his colorful crest as if he were a hummingbird, and then perch off to my side, awaiting his chunk of graham cracker.
I wandered in to what seemed a reasonably-priced, trendily chill restaurant, and was quickly seated by a friendly, efficient waiter, who not only spoke English but seemed to tolerate my French. I dropped â‚¬5.65 on a salami baguette and a vin rouge, which left me feeling quite good and amenable to a creme brule, which brought the bill to â‚¬10.25. It was worth it. Back at the AJ D’Artagnan, I entered the six-digit code to get in to my room, and found four beds, one of them occupied by a guitarist, napping in a white undershirt, and the aroma of wet towels.
The available pay phone at D’Artagnan was broken, so I just hopped on the metro back to check out Fouconnier in person. They were booked solid for the next two nights, sorry, but you ought to do okay at MIJE, 4 Rue Teton, just a few metro stops away, here’s a metro map, on which I mark the stations for you.
MIJE is an independant hostel. There were about eight beds spread around my room, which was either locked or not by the key available at reception. I dropped off my stuff, since the lockout ran ’til 5PM, and ran off to the Louvre, ducking in a side entrance, where there were no lines for tickets. Yay.
The place is huge.
I dug the paintings.
And some of the cute girls.
Around 2 or 3PM I wandered outside and shared my loaf of raisin bread with a few pigeons, particularly the one with the missing foot who throughly understood that I was feeding him, and that my stomping foot was for the others. He sat between my legs, snatching the crumbs that I had. I hadn’t even noticed his affliction at first, he just sat where he figured he belonged, having become accustomed to the social contract that people must have about feeding hurt pigeons.
I saw the Arc du Triomphe in the distance, and got it in my mind that I ought to ask around for a library, as this might be the source of cheap, useful computing resources. That wasn’t easy, given my communicative abilities in a tourist zone. I was instead accosted by a short Korean schoolteacher who wanted a touring companion.
We wandered up the Seine to the Champs ElysÃ©e, taking pictures of the Arc du Triomphe, while I learned to slow my speech to help us converse in our limited English.
I joined her in visiting Notre Dame, and we sat together through a mass, relaxing and building up an appetite. She explained how she couldn’t take communion without first confessing her sins. I explained my appreciation in visiting Notre Dame with a Catholic.
We shared dinner near my hostel. I splurged on what in the end was pretty much an all-meat affair. I supposed that I could use the protein. Kyeong Hae gave me much of her meat, some of her frites, and disposed of the other half of her lunch’s chocolate chip cookie in my gullet. We arranged to meet the next morning at MusÃ©e D’Orsay.
Nearly adjacent to the hostel was a bar that had a bunch of computers in the back. Real computers, not kiosks, which apparently were sometimes used for gaming, and were sufficient to get me on the Internet with SSH. The posted rate was â‚¬5 per hour, but there was no formal timing. I dropped â‚¬4 on my way out, after wresting a few e-mails from the bizarro French keyboard, and the guy said that yes, I could bring my laptop in.
The MIJE was something of a dive: no security and eight of us to a room. The bathroom facilities seemed adequate, and I saw them mopping the floor. I liked it, though, because it is in an unassuming French neighborhood, pretty quiet despite the 2AM curfew. The canteen downstairs has all the quiet informality of a dorm, with young Japanese chatting on and on. D’Artagnan had felt more like a bad frat party.
Today is a good day. The MIJE is a dump. The shower at least had a changing area, but no bench, and the shower head sprayed all over. I layed my money belt in my pants, and hung those from the hook on the door, over which I draped my towel, to keep my important clothes dry.
After a baguette breakfast, meted out by a surly immigrant, I discovered that my bunk neighbor was planning to hit MusÃ©e D’Orsay, just as I was. He was also, like my new companion for the same destination, Korean. We ran over to Kyeong Hae’s metro stop, but we were a half hour late, and she wasn’t there. At the museum, she explained that she assumed that she had missed the boat, herself being fifteen minutes late. Kyeong Hae and I stood in line together for forty-five minutes, while our comrade had the â‚¬30 Paris museum pass, and didn’t need to stand in line to purchase tickets.
The MusÃ©e D’Orsay was fantabulous. I dug the Realist and Impressionist paintings, found some furniture, checked out a model of a part of Paris, some models of a theatre. It wasn’t long in to my visit that Kyeong Hae and I lost track of each other, never to meet again. The museum is located in a former train station and the conversion left lots of airy open spaces that are themselves worthy of admiration. In one corner they displayed some windows and house fixtures designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, with a model of the Robie House. I saw no mention of the real thing being in Chicago.
I had been thinking to grab an inexpensive, filling lunch at McDonald’s but instead succumbed to the smell from the fancy restaurant inside the museum. Le menu du jour, avec un vin blanc, and â‚¬21, I was feeling pretty darned fine.
Sometimes you just have to swallow your budget and shell out for something new and different, however extravagent.
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When I can think of nothing else to do,
I will be that old man,
only I will set my hat out,
So that amused tourists can
donate a bit for bird food.
After the Orsay, I wandered towards a bridge over the Seine, where I saw sunlight to warm me on a cool day. From there, I was heading back towards the Louvre, near which I saw an old guy sitting on a bench, surrounded by birds. The chickadees sat in neat little rows on either side of him, waiting their turn to join the party in his cupped hands, where he had bread. Occasionally he would toss a handful to either side of the bench to appease his avian congregants. At his feet, pigeons scrounged for leftovers, and tourists like me took pictures.
I sat a little while and admired the scene. A lady approached and lamented that it was a pity that she had no camera, for this was worth photography! I explained that I’d already snapped several pictures. Being, as she was, an Argentine, our conversation took place in a mixture of French, Spanish, and English. She explained that since the devaluation, Argentina was a splendidly inexpensive tourist destination, and that it should be my next place for vacation, where I could also find work in computers, or teaching English. We exchanged contact information, so I could share my bird man pictures with her, or find help exploring Argentina.
Since the Orsay took so much time, it was now afternoon. All things considered, I was sufficiently satisfied with MIJE, who locked our luggage away by keeping the rooms closed all day, that I decided to add a day to my stay in Paris. I decided on a liesurely stroll back towards the hostel, where I could then proceed to while away many hours in transcribing the past weeks’ journal entries into a digital format, and thence upload them at the nice little Internet place nearby.
I stumbled in to this gargantuan shopping complex, which seems to stretch underground forever, broken up by fountains and arching white support beams that hold glass for the sun to shine through. I bought a tart, and a â‚¬15 bath towel as I’d left my other towel at the Fouconnier. I sat down in a sunny spot, next to a Chinese university student who is apparently on exchange. We exchanged a few words in our common foreign language, which she was studying, as I ate my tart, and wrote more in the paper journal.
I got back to MIJE, pulled out the laptop, and began transcribing the paper journal. Time-consuming. I got a few entries down, leaving the electronic version five days behind the paper, and went and sat in a smoky French bar, surrounded by Backgammon players. I downed an expensive â‚¬5 ham and cheese (jambon et fromage) baguette, and spent another â‚¬9 for some time hitting the Internet from the comfort of my very own workstation with its sober, American keyboard.
Tomorrow, the Science and Industry museum, perhaps the Belgian gardens, and maybe some more Information Technology work, off to Normandy on Thurday.
On my way to bed, I had a conversation, in Spanish, with a young Japanese girl, Naomi, who is studying Spanish in Spain. Crazy crazy girl, crazy crazy fun. Dig!
Cite de la Science et l’Industre, Paris.
Our body is a complex ecosystem comprised of specialized organs that behave according to their own advantage, with no greater concern for the whole. White blood cells have no opinion about disease, except that it is good to eat.
Human organization, like ecosystems, is an amalgamation of seperate entities with differing agendae. Governments, corporations, and other organizations, like brains, attempt to organize the free agents towards a conscious goal.
It would be interesting, for modern fiction, to see a world in which at the levels of body, human world, and natural ecosystem, are played out at each level, as something for the protagonist to deal with. Douglas Adams’ work comes to mind, or perhaps William Gibson’s _Neuromancer_, where the protagonist must work against other consciousnesses, some of which have set up his own body against him.
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