giovedì, gennaio 31, 2008
You see, I always dread these work binges as I'm sure I'll have a miserable time or else blurt out something inappropriate, like 'I have a personal history of working in evil industries. Oh yeah, this one too' and 'when the revolution comes I'll be holding a clipboard and you'll all have your backs to the wall. How much sheer pleasure are you going to get out of your BMW then, buddy?'
But of course I don't have a miserable time or make silly threats (at this rate I'll have my back against the wall too), because I concentrate on asking questions and making inconsequential but slightly naughty remarks, like about how the cheapest way for couples to travel comfortably in Japan is to stay in the love hotels and how the phrase 'look at the sea' in Finnish is pronounced like one of the nastier Italian cusses*.
But mostly I ask questions, because people love to talk about themselves and I love to listen. Can't get too many layers down at a drunken corporate dinner, but you do pick up some good stories, and the odd joke about Soviet strippers that you try to remember so you can tell it to your sweetheart but then you can't because by the time you roll your drunk ass home he's asleep and by the morning you've forgotten.
Anyways, I think I understand why all the drinking goes on the expense accounts and HR thinks it's just marvellous. Not just about group bonding. It's also, I think, about the need to drink away your doubts. The company we were out with last night does a lot of business in China, and the 50-ish bloke from it who I was sitting across from chatted at length about the country. He loved it - he loved the cities, and he loved the countryside - he got this sort of soft look on his face businessmen don't know how to fake while he was talking about it, about how he felt so safe with the people, about how cosmopolitan Shanghai was, about being a one-man tourist attraction in the farming towns . . . he turned the talk to politics when explaining lots of his clients were party members - 'big communists, big millionaires'.
When it comes to these sorts of issues I always get a burning jones on to pick brains - hitting that sweet spot that indicates how the world is run! But that doesn't work - it's always dirty and businessmen go into their little shells if there's a breath of perceived accusation in the air, and then to re-engage them you have to talk about how cute puppies are. So instead I ask them the sort of questions my analyst used to ask me. "Why do you think that is?"
His soft look got all sad. "I think it's obvious," he said. Paused. "But it's a mercy too. It's not a good system but it's good it's there. With all the government's foreign investments and their closed books - who knows what would happen to the economy if it wasn't controlled? If they don't keep it rigid it could collapse anytime, and then what would happen to the world? And with those people it's easy to get things done." Another pause. "And the people aren't ready for freedom - they've had a dictatorship for so long one way or the other." Pause. "But you know, if you want to know about the students, there's nothing, no record there, absolutely nothing . . . the government is a juggernaut, fighting against it is like that kid who stood in front of the tank - you get squashed."
He looked so sad, and somehow a little baffled, that I didn't have the heart to tell him that Tank Man is probably okay, or as okay as you can get when you're a Chinese type who goes shopping, heads home weighed down with two grocery bags, runs into his own military mowing down its own people, and has the sort of fucking almighty balls that makes the rest of us believe that maybe the human race isn't on the road to perdition, the balls to stand in front of the tanks and say "What the fuck is this shit?!"
There are tough questions - even neo-conservative questions - but questions that need asking. That businessmen can avoid by drinking, by expense accounts, by the good things that they get in the commission of their work. Questions like, what if the status quo changed? What if people are ready to live in a free country? What would happen to the businessman's good things, what would happen to the economy, what would happen if making money wasn't based on predictability of the rule 'do what's easiest'? What then?
Maybe a hecatomb. Maybe not. Maybe now is a hecatomb. It's hard to know but worth wondering about. The Salaryman's Special is a good way to avoid wondering about it, or a good way to deal with wondering about it - a slow suicide. And on that happy note, I'm taking my atrocious hangover to the office.
*Cazzo merda! No, I'm not fucking joking.
mercoledì, gennaio 30, 2008
Or very very odd videos of cats dancing. Very very odd. Very. And very compelling. I don't know what it's brainwashing me into but . . . well . . . okay.
My brain has a particular tendency towards brokenness on Wednesday nights after I make deadline, so last night in lieu of dancing cats and cute kittens I watched a bunch of clips from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. The primaries in the States are followed religiously here but no one laughs at them - everybody thinking too seriously about how they really hope someone who won't blow too much shit up, but who will stop the Russians from taking over the universe, will get into power.
But there's so much to laugh about and laugh I did, particularly when Steven Colbert said anything and when Jon Stewart ragged on Bill Clinton for being such a shithead lately. That was great, especially the bit pointing out how far up Barack's ass he'd try to crawl if his wife wasn't in the race. But what's sticking with me this morning is how fucking old Bill Clinton looks. He's younger than my mum and it looks like the devil already ate his soul. I hope he manages to shut up more in the future so that I can always remember him simply as a plump little sausage with awesome speechifying skills radically outstripping his political authenticity:
Oh, lookee the ittee wikky wikky wooo. There's the cute cute face of a man who won't send in the troops when he can just send in the bombs. And his wife promises to be exactly the same. Less of a problem for the States than for the rest of the world, which of course makes the rest of the world nervous, and in the mood to follow the primaries religiously.
Anyways, a lot of time has passed since then, apparently, judging from the way Bill Clinton looks like the devil has already eaten his soul, and we're all older than we used to be, Jarvis Cocker included (though he doesn't look like the devil ate his soul these days - just sort of stringier) - unsettling to me because I'm getting to the age where I do, indeed, remember the first times. Some were better than others.
martedì, gennaio 29, 2008
Anyways, it's pretty good, and fills me with rage at the French and makes me not want to go to Oceania. But I liked Riding the Iron Rooster better. I already have The Pillars of Hercules and we'll see how that goes - I know he writes about Calabria there and I'm preparing to be offended. So far I like his books less the more recent they get. I have a feeling he's like the Rolling Stones of travel writers and Bruce Chatwin was like the Beatles - dead before it was possible to get crappy.
lunedì, gennaio 28, 2008
Speaking of, the F-word just got a DVD burner from the licensed Mac store closest to us. Despite it being the Mac store, we've been burned by surreal Belgian incompetence so many times that he asked two employees at the shop if it was Mac compatible. They both said it was and of course it wasn't. Not only that - it has a British plug. When I'm not suffering by them anymore, that's what I'm really going to miss about Belgian fuckups, I think. There's always a little surprise in them - always a bizarre extra, just to make you laugh in crazed frustration as your anger mounts. Any old country is full of fuckups, but Belgium fucks up Magritte-style - bourgeois and bizarre.
Anyhoo, I got over it because of various things on Sunday afternoon and evening, like watching the Ken Loach movie I wrote about yesterday and realizing that at least I'm not a Ukrainian economic migrant and at least I don't live in England. And then yesterday at work my boss told me I was going to a conference at a luxury hotel in Amsterdam in a few months. I can't help it, I love conferences in luxury hotels, and in Amsterdam! What's more during the school holidays, so the F-word can come and luxuriate with me - and luxuriate in Amsterdam, for god's sake; the last time we stayed there we got fleeced for a night in a fucking boiler room.
domenica, gennaio 27, 2008
On Friday night we went to a concert called Babel which was quite fucked up and interesting, though I was in a blue funk so I was less appreciative than I might have been. 22 fused pieces by a range of composers, range of styles, range of instruments - gamut of chamber orchestra to mouth organ to MacBook. Only real commonality was the peacableness and Indo-Europeanness of it all - actually found it excessively lugubrious, and I don't think it was just because of my shitty mood that night. Practically an extended lullaby. That's fine, I guess. But I was hoping for more international range based on what I'd read on the linked flyer up there - for example ever since going to the Musical Instruments Museum I've had a thing for one-note west African horns and I can't figure out why anything billing itself as musically diverse wouldn't get those in too, because they're so awesome. But then it's hard to imagine them being lugubrious or lullaby-ish.
Anyways, that notwithstanding, I was a little enchanted to see that the show managed to fill such a big concert hall. Because it was at least half new compositions from people I'd never heard of before, and I tend to hear about people; because the instruments were so odd, et cetera. There are similar events in Toronto musically speaking, but they don't fill such big venues, especially with such a cross-hatch of ages, so many young-ish people. Pop culture hasn't quite drowned in the lights of cable television here.