venerdì, dicembre 21, 2007

Like a bowl of soup

Aaaaaaaaaah. Vacation. And looking forward to the sitting-still time on the train so that I can finish reading Lord Jim, which rocks. Joseph Conrad is my hero and what's more, because he was a sailor I can believe his first person Marlow narratives are real - that you're sitting listening to this man talk for hours and hours and hours.

Isn't it odd to think of - during those long, long months all stuck in a boat together, before radios or TVs or video games, before universal literacy, before cheap paperbacks, newspapers - all those men would have to talk. Not just the sailors, though. Everybody would have had to talk. Talk and sing. We're probably incredibly shitty conversationalists and phenomanally shitty singers in comparison to people even 50 years ago. Well, it's evident. Most people seem incapable of talking about anything but themselves these days. Me included. My Chris Isaak vocal impression is really coming along though.

I do get frustrated sometimes - I'm not nostalgic for the past, I'd rather be alive now than at any other time in history I know of, but I feel like our great capacities as thinking and feeling beasts are being channeled down purposeless courses, courses encouraging buying lots of things, but not - well, not exploiting that side of humanity which is sublime; our power of empathy and our ability to look to a future that doesn't have us-as-individuals in it.

Mortality and the sublime may be on my mind more than usual because we've been listening to lots of Otis Redding. I've loved Otis Redding for ages and been sad that he died in a plane crash, and been touched that "The Dock of the Bay" was a big smash hit after he died despite that getting to be the Time of the Fucking Hippie Guitar Wankoff. But I'd never realized he was only 26 when he died. Can you believe it? With that voice! It's a strong old man's voice. Listen to him tell you to shake! Shake! SHAKE!!!!

mercoledì, dicembre 19, 2007

Fuckin' Belgium

So. It's happened. And in fairness to Belgium, it's taken a long time for it to happen. When I moved to Florence I was a furious wreck within hours; Paris took a couple of months at most, and it's taken more than half a year here for the rage to set in, that is, for me to say to myself "fuckin' Belgium."

As always in these cases, it feels like there was a series of triggers setting off big annoyance shots at the same time, like going to Germany and realizing I liked the food and beer better there or realizing what a pain in the ass it's going to be for me to get a residency card despite my European citizenship or the successive ineptitude of TWO Belgian banks in terms of setting up a simple current account. But the one that got to me worst was being told about the Dutroux case, because its implications of deep and dangerous legal and political corruption made me feel like I was living in Calabria, but instead of having parasitic murdering thugs at the top of the socio-political pile there're parasitic murdering thugs who're also the sort of perverts you feel an instinct to kill for the protection of the human race. Also the weather here is exponentially shittier than in Calabria.

Then of course there's the issue that democracy has ceased to function here, following on issues of nationalism, unfair tax distribution, and deeply flawed bilingualism that makes the sometimes acrimonious relationship between Québec and the other Canadian provinces look like the relationship between God and Her nicer angels. Belgium is not bilingual in the sense that much of Canada is bilingual. The French don't learn Dutch, and vice versa though less so. You cross a regional border in a fuckin' train and suddenly the train announcements are only in Dutch or only in French. So they can be that culturally separate from each other on an official level, but when enough people vote for a party promoting greater regional autonomy on the political and fiscal level suddenly the government grinds to a fuckin' halt and the king has to step in. The fuckin' king and the old prime minister who nobody fuckin' voted for.

Oh, their political shit pisses me off. People are still dying in the Congo and Rwanda because of this fuckin' country and they can't even sort out how to institutionalize how little they want to be a country. Fuckin' Belgians.

I could go on about fiscal issues, particularly how it seems here as though the taxation system has been set up to keep poor people in their place or about how publicly funded civil projects can take years and years to complete whilst paralyzing the local economy because the contracts are all crooked or about how when you drive into the country from Luxembourg or the Netherlands you don't have to look at the signs to tell when you've crossed the border - suddenly your ass is being jounced off you by the potholes - but there's another thing that's pissing me off right now: these stupid fucks don't know how to drive. I can't count the times I've nearly been hit by some moron whilst walking across a zebra crossing or intersection where he or she is running a red light. It's just like Italy except, once more, the weather is a lot shittier. And they don't look as good while they do it.

Speaking of stupid fucks: for the last few days it's been below freezing here, which isn't so bad - I like it because it keeps the weather clear and the sun out; no precipitation, which is a fucking mercy in this goddamn puddle of a country. So you'd think, no precipitation, no icy pavements; right? Fuckin' wrong. Shopkeepers - not just a few, a lot - are in the habit of washing off the pavements in front of their shops because Belgians are incapable of cleaning up their dogs' shit. Okay, fine, I'm used to that; Europeans in general don't appreciate that it's fuckin' grosser to leave their dogs' shit all over the place than to bring some plastic bags when you take them for a walk, and pick it up. Whatever. I don't want to pick up shit in a bag either, which is why I don't have a fuckin' dog.

So anyways; shopkeepers are in the habit of washing off the pavement in front of their shops, and just because the temperature has dropped below zero doesn't mean they're going to stop, right? So despite not a drop a precipitation falling since the temperature fell, about a tenth of the pavements in the commercial districts are covered with a fine patina of slippery, unsalted ice during the mania of the Christmas shopping season. The fuckin' morons.

martedì, dicembre 18, 2007

Everyday Pipol

A real problem with being functionally bilingual in a Francophone country is that you - that is, I - follow some of the pipol gossip religiously without understanding that I'm being suckered into distraction from issues that matter, as I can't participate policitally here (but who can at the moment? Fuckin' Belgium) and as it's all in a clever artsical fartsical language like French. Of course, Belgian gossip, outside of how everybody who's anybody is a dangerous and unprosecutable paedophile (unfortunately more than just gossip) basically amounts to French gossip, which these days amounts to the fact that Nicolas Sarkozy is being serviced by Carla Bruni.

I've gone on record, and I'll stay there, as saying that her album Quelqu'un m'a dit was not nearly as crappy as I'd been expecting, and that I like it. But there's very little doubt in my mind that the woman is Empress Bitch of the Drama Queens. Only part of that, I think, is having subjected myself to reading Justine Lévy's barely disguised autobiography Rien de grave, which didn't impress me. Maybe my French isn't strong enough to appreciate the force of her language but 200+ pages about getting fucked up, depressed and cranky with your new boyfriend after your husband leaves you for his father's supermodel girlfriend is just not my idea of a good read.*

And maybe another part of it is the way Bruni jumped from Eric Clapton to Mick Jagger. Maybe another is that I don't trust pale-eyed dark haired women.

It's a combination of seperate anecdotes, I guess. Because maybe in your life as a normal non-Queen-Bitch woman you have to choose between one rock star and another. Maybe you date an older man and fall in love with his married son, and then decide that the heart wants what it wants. But you don't do both those things and then, as Bruni did, brag about reading Dostoevosky hidden behind copies of Vogue whilst backstage at the shows during your modelling career. That is, she bragged about hiding her habit of reading bits of Russian literature which, great as they are, are pretty light. I mean, Dostoevsky is really readable, the sort of classic you read in highschool; it's not Proust. It just points to this conception of herself as some sort of beleaguered intellectual in a hostile beautiful woman's world, which is beyond pretentious - it's just insane.

Anyways, that's who the evil-trolly-but-strangely-compelling President of the French Republic is dating now instead of, oh, say, me, which is probably the only reason this is on my mind at all. It's causing a big flap in the Francophone media about the pipolisation of the presidency, about distraction from the issues that matter. Good - the French deserve it, like Paris deserves all those Starbucks, much as I hate Starbucks, due to a native inability to make real espresso. They had the chance to vote for real change in the last election and they fucked it up. Hah. Now their first lady will be a mad raving harpy who thinks she's clever and who'll distract them from how nothing is changing outside of slowly getting worse. Mwa hah ha haaaaah.

*Lord Jim, however, by Joseph Conrad, which I'm well stuck into at the moment, is. But details another time.

lunedì, dicembre 17, 2007

The house that swallowed a lemon seed

Feeling more or less healthy again after last week's disaster, outside of wanting to sleep all the time. A nasty frost has set in as well, which might have a lot to do with it; in an authentic and untouched Art Nouveau apartment unfortunately bed is the only place that's guaranteed to be warm. I hate being cold. We talk about southern France or Queensland a lot these days.

But who knows, who knows. It's daft to move where the weather is now. I just heard they'd had a snowstorm in Sicily and Calabria - these are provinces far more prone to dust storms than anything else - and I got a chilling sensation the world was going to end, or at last turn inhospitable for everything but dandelions and cockroaches, who'd probably make a better job of it than we have.

Anyways, because of my new found love of sleep I have to hurry off to work now but I thought I'd leave you with instructions to enchant your aesthetic nerves by staring at some Hundertwasser, and tickle your brain by reading about his barmy odd plainspoken - shall we say - wisdom? I think so. He kept coming up in conversation in Düsseldorf as the couple we were staying with actually knew who I was talking about when I went on about 'that Austrian guy - you know, with the colours and the trees growing out of things' and I was so happy to get a name for the images that have been lodged in my head ever since my first trip to Vienna.

domenica, dicembre 16, 2007

Don't mention the war

Spent Friday being violently, violently ill. Missed the Christmas staff party no more than a week after reading an article somewhere about how it's career poison to miss the Christmas staff party, which didn't add to the experience. By seven in the evening I'd stopped the violence and decided I was okay enough for us to pursue our Düsseldorf plan this weekend. Glad we did despite typical shit from Eurolines that made me wish we'd had the foresight to book the Thalys, until we realized Belgian trains were on strike. Ho hum.

Anyhoo. The F-word's friends there are good people, warm, engaged, engaging. Düsseldorf itself, which I'd only ever visited once before in great trouble of mind, impressed me favourably as well. Flattened in the last war and rebuilt with some vision - and these days, with some flair, especially in the financial/admin district in the 'harbour' of the Rhine - and what a river that is. Big swollen thing. I miss having water in a city like that. They have a set of Frank Gehrys there - red, white, and shiny. They were really nice to look at.

Another thing that impressed me favourably about Düsseldorf, and which has impressed me favourably every time I've dipped my toe into German waters, is the food. Nobody eats like the Germans, and not just sausages and sauerkraut. Fresh, delicious, varied, and cheap cheap cheap. Döner to write poetry for, big decadent brunches, and oh yes, my new best friend riebekuchen . . .

And yet another thing that impressed me favourably was, when finally we had to go back to Belgium, we stopped in a train station bookstore and found loads and loads of quality English books - a classier selection than you'll find in most Anglo train stations. These are people who like reading, in different languages no less. It pissed me off disproportionately and I went through a good twenty minutes of wishing I was German. I'm going to watch the rest of that BBC series about the Great War and I want to see some damn good excuses for our side winning. Anyways, this sign on the bargain bin in the store considerably lightened my mood: