The Friends of California Libre...

21 June 2005

Milky Days and Amnesiac Nights

Greetings, friends,
Not even two weeks have gone by, and already I'm resigned to the road rage back in my lovely but angry Los Angeles. This is JUNE, the most comfortable month of the year hereabouts. When I flew home from Paris, we had milky days, the city covered by marine clouds day and night, a lukewarm grayness with the temperature hardly changing, like living in a drowsy fog. It was the perfect environment for sleepwalking, a good thing as I made the transition from fresh food to fast food, from chalkboard cartes and good wine to six page menus and Coca Cola, from talking heads to "infotainment". In Paris there is the personal life, bookstores, cafes, the Metro, work, play. In Los Angeles we have the natural life, mountains, oceans, vast skies, and the long, lonely drives in between.

I was snapped out of jet lag and culture shock both, as many of you already know, by the experience of calling the paramedics on my father last Monday, then shepherding him (and my sister) through a week of irritable doctors and one straight-out-of-Dante post-hospital care center. I think even my dad will agree that there was something cynically amusing about the whole situation, but that's the American Way: keep dreaming and DON'T get sick. For those who are interested, he's fine now, with a very valuable lesson about what happens in this country if you let yourself go.

Now we've got the sharp, clear nights of the Santa Anas, the winds blowing down from the desert, with hot, dry sunshine by day. I can't say what I like better, but it's all very comfortable and oh so JUNE. And tonight that lonely full moon is blotting out the stars on the Summer Solstice, a real witchy event if you dig me, and I'll be at the Dragonfly watching Strange World Carnival, something I probably should have e-mailed a few days earlier, eh? So you all could come too, but there's plenty more to come during this long, globally-warmed summer here in California. PLUS there's a big sale at Victoria's Secret and Ikea! If that isn't witchy I don't know what is.

My nightmarish experience changing planes in Toronto and then shoving through other Americans just to meet the friendly assholes at US Customs made me think perhaps Europe is more than a day's an experience worth a week.

The Budget Traveller's Guide to Sleeping in Airports

Brief stories from thousands of people who have slept in airports throughout the world. Includes ratings, best and worst lists, photographs, and an airport survey with opinions about airport bathrooms, gyms at airports, showers at airports, and more. Browsable by location. Also includes a discussion forum and airport sleeping tips. From the founder of the Cheap Like Me Travel Society.

Alas, friends, I'm aching for my next fix of Europe, but you sure don't want to find it driving around Los Angeles. YEECCHH. Still, we have a much better scene for repertory film than we did even a year ago (and to add to the pomposity,) mo' better hip bars springing up in the Downtown sector, "smoking in the back patio darlink", and enough good ethnic restaurants to even challenge Paris (but not Ticino.) The best way to honor Europe, I suppose, it to live LA the way it was designed to be lived, waving off a huge cloud of "funny smoke" and watching the sunset from Venice Beach with a tall, cold one! Yes! Let the keyword be PLEASURE.

But I still do grab at the little bits of Europe flying through the air, some on the BBC, some from Deutsche Welle. Tonight I learned, for example, about the Feminist party in Sweden and the wonderful elections coming up in Bulgaria. It may not be interesting to YOU or even ME but hey, it's a huge improvement on the Middle Ages! This is what I really adore about the Old World...that embrace of the "profane", the feeling that, however crowded or half-built or skewed the world may seem, it was designed with two feet on the ground. Even the great Cathedral at Chartres has a more mundane, practical feeling than a similar "superchurch" in the American suburbs. America, in contrast, has that feeling of the extra portion, the flash bulb lighting up the celebrity, endless space and winner take all, and Heaven take the hindmost, center and front. It's a struggle, especially in Los Angeles, to feel connected to other people at all, unless you're planning on meeting them all in heaven. YEEECCCHHH.

I've been getting a nice historical fix anyway, reading Alistair Horne's The Fall of Paris, a nice thick tome that looks dangerous (and smells slightly mildewed) on the subway to work. I found it in a damp and incredibly overcrowded Canadian bookstore, the Abbey, on the Left Bank (and there's nothing pompous about it, even though I was on my way to return a bottle of corked Minervois wine!) The book is a close and rather archly British study of the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent Paris Commune of 1870-1871. I'm not going to bore you with the details, but on this second trip to Paris I was convinced more than ever that the siege and the Commune were the great destructive events that gave birth to the modern Paris, the dark soul you'll find in almost every great city. Chicago had its fire at the same time, San Francisco its earthquake a generation later, London the Blitz and the Great Fire...Los Angeles, alas, though regularly wiped out on film, has never really suffered a good healthy, cleansing Act of God (or Man). The city was destroyed in the Tejon quake of 1857, but hey, that little then-village can't really count. The worst experience I've lived through here was undoubtedly the riot of 1992, after which I began to notice the sound of the soul being sucked out of LA...sluuurrrpp. Except for a few weeks after the Northridge quake, that sound is just gettin' louder and louder. But it was hardly the traumatic rebirth this city really needs. Sydney, too!

Paris suffered its great transformation just a few years after New York City, which always seemed to me became "modern" after the Draft riots in 1863, which some of you saw the black-lynching-sanitized version of ("Gangs of New York", but didn't Cameron Diaz look cute pretending to be a colleen?) This coincidence helps me answer that nagging question of the unmistakable similarity between Paris and New York City (and Chicago for that matter), both in the reality and the stereotype. I do regret missing my friends' trip in Paris to see the "short" 6-hour version of Peter Watkin's re-enactment "La Commune" (the long version is over 9 hours) but the Horne book describes it tragically enough. In the most exciting Hollywood synopsis, the Prussians easily goaded the French Emperor Louis-Napoleon into a war the French were ill-prepared to fight in 1870. Louis had already been responsible for the major reconstruction of Paris in the 1850s, but when he was captured by the Prussians in 1870, he set the city up for a REAL French to-do. The city was put under a siege for four months, not much by St. Petersburg standards (the Germans invested them, unsuccessfully, for almost 3 years, and I DID see that movie, yeechh) but it sparked the first Socialist revolt that I know of, the Paris Commune. I haven't gotten that far in the book, but I know from other books, including an excellent book of photos I bought (this time at the City Museum in the Marais) that Paris was heavily damaged with the French monarchists invaded their own capital to end the Commune; many more people were killed than even during the more famous "Reign of Terror" of 1793. I'm really having fun (and so you know one of my ideas of fun) seeing the real personality of a city I'm so fond of coming to light, the secret history that you don't find in the tourist shops or many bookstores. I owe a lot to my friends, nous nous réunirons bientôt encore, who accepted me into workaday Paris, the living Paris that is outside the Louvre and away from the Seine. And so I found the city of today, with further modifications wrought by the Germans throughout the 20th century (which is now officially over, and good riddance.) I can reaffirm, with my most recent adventure ended, that I adore them all, Wien, Sevilla, Madrid, Mexico City, Vancouver, New York, New Orleans, Zürich...maybe even Belfast and Milano...but Paris earned that bullshit romantic reputation that it has, and to my friends paying too much rent to live there: cling to those lovely balustrades as long as you can.

SO, I enjoyed several major events while I was in Europe: The Grand Prix of Monaco (in Jonathan and Rose's parlour), the end of the Cannes Film Festival (stuck in heavy traffic looking for a hotel room), the French Open (everywhere!), and, of course, three elections in the Swiss Confederation, the Netherlands and la France. On 5 June the Swiss approved entry into the Schengen and Dublin Agreement, which essentially erases the Swiss border much as internal borders within the European Union have been erased; they also approved registration for same-sex marriages, although my Swiss friends can tell me if this essential legalized same-sex marriage or is a lesser kind of "union"? In the Netherlands and France, of course, the EU Constitution was rejected. Once my friends (especially Dr. Hillary, merci) explained more about the Constitution and I had a chance to peruse it (in French, natch) the rejection seemed like a positive step to me. If Europe is going to live up to its full potential as a transnational entity looking to the future, it must be built upon a very strong foundation. Instead the EU Constitution was a very long, complicated document more suited to flexible regulation than fundamental law.

Some explanatory documents (the American ones, not surprisingly, being less than accurate); there is a lot here to digest, but this is an issue of great importance to the future of the world (my talent for understatement leaving me):
The Voters of Europe Are Demanding More Democracy, Not More Free Markets
By Johann Hari
The Independent UK
'No' Votes in Europe Reflect Anger at National Leaders
By Richard Bernstein
The New York Times
A no vote could be just what Europe's constitution needs
The French political elite may get a bloody nose. Good.
Jonathan Steele in Lyon
The Guardian,7369,1488439,00.html
Meanwhile: Democratic savoir-faire in the streets of Paris
The Boston Globe
Maybe the quarrelsome, arrogant, petulant French do get touched now and then by divine inspiration.
The French "No" Consoles Those Burnt by NAFTA
By Brigitte Morissette
Le Devoir
** Q&A: EU constitution - what happens next? **
What is the significance of the Dutch vote on the EU constitution?
< >
European Leaders May Scrap Constitution
By Anthony Deutsch

This article was especially positive and interesting:
Europe: an identity against civil war
[] Josep Ramoneda
2 - 6 - 2005
Europe’s political forward movement appears stalled by the French and Dutch referenda on the constitutional treaty, but Josep Ramoneda is convinced that a deeper process of rebirth and unification is underway across the continent;debateId=109&articleId=2568

You too can read the long, long (and now very dead, dead) document here:

A Constitution for Europe

A hypertext adaptation of the European Union (EU) Constitution. Browsable through the "Table of Contents" or the "Content Map." Available in several languages. From a member of the Text Technologies Research Group, Department of Language, Culture and Information Technology, Bergen, Norway.

Indeed, the kind of transnational entity that Europe is being built upon is not governmental, but "civil society", i.e., Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Oxfam, etc.:
'New Superpower' Seeks 'Better World'
By Thalif Deen
Inter Press Service
Montreal - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's characterisation of civil society as "the world's new superpower" reverberated through the corridors of McGill University here this week as 350-plus representatives of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) met to hatch strategies to prod world governments on crucial political, social, and economic issues that plague the world's poorer nations.

Europeans are good at going on and on about nothing, but they also have a wonderfully refreshing way of getting to the point, which is why so many NGOs are headquartered there. I hope all of you had the chance to see this English MP tear a few American senators a new asshole, but if not, here's a transcript of this hilarious attack:
Galloway Dismisses Congress Oil Claims
By Mark Turner and Edward Alden
Financial Times

And individuals and organizations both are having their effect upon the US, whether they want it or not:
Europe's Rules Forcing US Firms to Clean Up
By Marla Cone
The Los Angeles Times
Airbus official ridicules US anti-missile proposal for super-jumbo - Yahoo! News

Which reminds me to tell some of you the "secret", that yes, my mission to Europe was successful. Good timing, because real estate in Los Angeles is flying into the stratosphere:
Riotous Real Estate
By Mike Davis

Alas, I'll miss you guys:
Meanwhile: A guilty longing for America
International Herald Tribune
Sometimes I long guiltily for a sense of cottony safety, right in the center of America, miles from either coast.

But there are some real advantages to living in Switzerland (and it ain't cuckoo clocks):
Ease Your Conscience about Chocolate
By Sabina Casagrande
DW-World.DE, Germany

You can even buy some real Italian lard there (hopefully a joke):
Bar of human soap sells for 10,000 pounds - Yahoo! News

But hey, that's art.
Paintings by Chimpanzee Outsell Warhol - Yahoo! News

And finally, something to look forward to this Friday (Mom, are you listening?):

Take Your Dog to Work Day (TYDTWDay)

Provides details about this annual (June) event that "encourages pet owners to take their well-behaved, well-groomed dogs into the workplace for one day ... in order to encourage dogless co-workers to adopt pets of their own from local animal shelters, humane organizations, and rescue groups." Download of "Action Pack" requires free registration. From Pet Sitters International (PSI).

Vive le screed!

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