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disneyland paris and disneyland paris: a photoessay

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Disneyland Paris has the distinct feel of an office park in one of the semi-prosperous suburbs that ring mid-sized American cities. We didn’t have much of a view from our room at the Newport Beach Hotel. I hate Newport, Rhode Island – went once and once was enough.

Inside the park, erm, parc itself, I amused myself by taking pictures of the curiously foreshortened buildings. Each story is smaller than the last, you will notice. I wonder if there’s some sort of golden formula that they use to come up with the shrinking proportions – like a Disney modulor – hidden in a vault next to Walt’s brain…

The visitors, too, are foreshortened, as if automagically, by the landhumps that Disney’s designers, following Olmstead, have placed to keep your eyes where your eyes belong.

After the parade passes, an army of sweepers swoops out from somewhere to clear away all the guest-debris. Despite the fact that Disney Co. is very big on uniforms (you’ve surely heard the stories about the costume-characters forced to wear shared underpants and thus contracting pubic lice…) they seem to have at least some of the cleaners dress in their own, randomly selected clothes. I am trying to think about just why this is – would the guests be disturbed by seeing an army of janitors, all clothed alike, marching in the wake of the parade?

I find the cartoonoisotypes almost as disturbing as the increasingly centrality of “princesses” with the Disney pantheon. When I was a kid, surely the parade ended with Mickey and Minnie. Now, an entire flotilla of one princess after another, most rags to riches, and saved by handsome, beardless men. We tend laissez-faire with this stuff in my house, all too aware of the perverse consequences of making pleasure decisions for your kids,  but we’re thinking it might be time for a crackdown. A few too many But I don’t look beautiful in this dress tantrums from a four-year old and something’s got to change.

There’s something to be written about Disney’s bizarre take on historical reconstruction. You build a castle designed to look like one of those insane German ones, Neuschwanstein for instance, but then you decorate it with images and animals drawn from your own 1950s-era cartoon pantheon, as if this roundeyed creatural aesthetic had always already existed.

Ah but then we left Disneyland Paris and went to Paris proper. It’s funny – almost everyone I was in touch with, electronically, while I was away responded with some variation on When you said Disneyland Paris, I thought you meant Paris itself in its Disneyification. Everyone’s right of course. We spent lots of time in the kids’ section of the Jardin du Luxembourg, where there are ponyrides and playgrounds and in fact a super-French puppet theater, which feels like it should be the setting for the start of a Bertolucci film about very very young Parisians about to be caught up in the evental events of souxiante-huit.

Though you hear about him all the time, I never really understood who or what Guignol was until now. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand much of the dialogue. Why is French so hard?

The playgrounds are lovely and well kept. But you have to pay – and pay quite a lot – to visit them. Parents pay too – which results in the curious phenomenon of 18-month olds toddering around the park by themselves, fenced off from their mom and dad who skipped paying the prix d’entrée, while said mom and dad smoke cigarettes and read serious novels on a bench beyond.

I am trying to think when was the first time I met someone who spoke a language other than English. * My daughter chatters on with the other kids in the playground, both she and her interlocutors oblivious to the fact that they lack a common idiom.

Flaubert! My wife asked me whether I wanted to have my picture taken while standing in the shadow of my guy, and I said that I’d think about whether it’d be appropriate or not. I never made a decision on the point.

Perhaps a picture in front of my saint – whom, it should be noted, I ended up more than once dressing as, with wings, with sword, when I was a little Catholic school boy – would have been more appropriate. My what a curly sword though! My sword was never so curly as that!

We walked a giant circle around the city one of the days we were there. Montparnasse to Notre Dame (my daughter likes cathedrals) to the Arc de Triomphe down under the Eiffel Tower and back to Montparnasse, all of that with double-buggy filled with alternately sleeping children. In the Jardin des Tuileries, I experience a sudden apprehension of the fadeur of Paris, and of France in general. Beyond all the Disney-preservation, or perhaps marginally because of it, there’s a sort of insipidity to the place, a consoling blandness almost totally absent from a city like London.

And the funny thing about that is that I’m very soon going to start writing a piece, ultimately destined for my book but perhaps (from what I understand) placeable at a nice journal that some of you read, about Barthes, China, and blandness. It will center on a short piece that Barthes wrote after a visit to Maoist China,  where he states that, having left behind the West and its “turbulence of symbols, we address very vast, very old, and very new land, where signification is discrete to the point of rarity. Right at this moment, a new field is discovered: that of fragility, or still better (I risk the word, quitting it to come back to it later): of blandness [fadeur].”

Barthes found in China “a people (who, in twenty-five years, has already constructed a considerable nation) which circulates, works, drinks its tea or performs solitary gymnastics, without drama, without noise, without pose, in short without hysteria.” But it occurs to me now that only a place bathed in its own brand of blandness – obviously a different type than the Maoists with their calisthenics and their tea – could become so preoccupied with the event, the remarkable emergence. But of course, Barthes was far from the first to take up the subject – the rhythm of blandness and astonishment is the baseline of the French writing of modernity all the way along.

This photo shows where Baudelaire was born in 1821. It’s a block off of Boulevard Saint-Michel, in a house that was destroyed when Haussman put Saint-Germain-des-Près through. I’m about to put up a separate post about Baudelaire – something a bit too interesting to dump in at the end of a photoessay post that itself is a wee bit fadeuse.

My daughter’s learning to read. No, she’s not actually up to perusing the French papers yet. But due to a newspaper distribution strike the last day we were there (devilish irony! half the reason I travel is so that I can buy all sorts of newspapers!) all there was for her to pretend to read was a two-day old copy of some arms-industry owned rag.

* Actually! I do remember the first time I ever met anyone who spoke a different language. It was in Nova Scotia, where my mother’s side lived and lives. We stopped on the drive from Yarmouth Airport (now basically defunct, but it used to have a flight a day from Logan) at an Acadian village on the Bay of Fundy for ice cream. I asked for a flavor – ice cream man yammered back en Français. I remember feeling extremely confused, a bit ashamed. I’m sure my grandmother consoled me by saying something rude about the Frenchies. This seems suddenly and oddly determinative, this episode, and I haven’t thought about it in years.

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October 31, 2009 at 6:16 am

Posted in photoessay, travel

photoessayer (v.)

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Was just looking at triple canopy’s issue #5, which is devoted mostly to photoessays and videoessays. Worth looking at… good choice for a theme, no? I wonder why the photoessay is so persuasive as a form, all of a sudden.

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March 30, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Posted in photoessay

“and the animals will love it if you do” (another sunday photoessay)

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I do not live in my favorite part of London. It’s no great tragedy; these things happen. But my favorite part is rather large. Basically, if you sketched it, it would look like one of those WMD dispersion maps after a weapon of some sort went off at Waterloo station on a day when the wind was blowing NNW. Or N and then NW and then N again – as the area in question hangs a rather sharp left turn at Euston Station and then a right at Regent’s Part and heads toward Hampstead and….

… Jesus, why am I making this so hard on myself? Radiation dispersion? What’s wrong with me? Basically, I like the run of the Northern Line (Charing Cross and Edgeware Branches) from Waterloo to Hampstead! Southbank, the Strand, the bit below the British Museum, Bloomsbury, Regent’s Park, Belsize Park and South End Green, Hampstead and the Heath.

Just about smack in the middle of this cloud or scatter or Underground continuation lies the London Zoo. It’s on the north side of Regent’s Park. This is, of course, the park where one of the best scenes in modernist literature takes place, the bit when Peter Walsh walks past Septimus and Rezia and both recognizes and utterly misrecognizes the scene that he’s seeing:

“But I am so unhappy, Septimus,” said Rezia trying to make him sit down.

The millions lamented; for ages they had sorrowed. He would turn round, he would tell them in a few moments, only a few moments more, of this relief, of this joy, of this astonishing revelation—

“The time, Septimus,” Rezia repeated. “What is the time?”

He was talking, he was starting, this man must notice him. He was looking at them.

“I will tell you the time,” said Septimus, very slowly, very drowsily, smiling mysteriously. As he sat smiling at the dead man in the grey suit the quarter struck—the quarter to twelve.

And that is being young, Peter Walsh thought as he passed them. To be having an awful scene—the poor girl looked absolutely desperate—in the middle of the morning. But what was it about, he wondered, what had the young man in the overcoat been saying to her to make her look like that; what awful fix had they got themselves into, both to look so desperate as that on a fine summer morning? The amusing thing about coming back to England, after five years, was the way it made, anyhow the first days, things stand out as if one had never seen them before; lovers squabbling under a tree; the domestic family life of the parks. Never had he seen London look so enchanting—the softness of the distances; the richness; the greenness; the civilisation, after India, he thought, strolling across the grass.

Jesus! Amazing! He’s goes on to do the 1918-1923 bit. Go read it for yourself. What a brilliant woman she was. Anyway, I was Septimusy a lot recently, despite not having had my buddy blown up in front of me, but I’m feeling a lot better now. And so we went to the Zoo today, a fine fine day, but I’m a little short on snaps because, don’t know, nothing was really doing it for me in the clique clique sort of way. And I guess I was having enough fun with my daughter that I wasn’t reaching for the Nikon every thirty seconds. Photoessay without pictures – there’s a concept! More later…

Here’s another picture of that canal with which I started the post.

It’s the Regent’s Canal, built during the early nineteenth century like almost all canals, and now (or latterly anyway) seems to be mostly something along which to build posh condo complexes in Camden town. The Zoo abuts the canal, which gives it all a bit of an inland island sort of feel.

I’ve been starting to think more and more about the fact that so many leisure areas / tourist attractions seem to descend in terms of layout and design from some sort of general “pleasure garden” sort of place from the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Worth looking into a bit, but there’s a way that all of these things, Disney World and the London Zoo and Central Park and, I don’t know, lots of other things have the same phenotype, carry some basic layout principles deep in their DNA. More to come, when I’ve got more to say on the topic.

I’m starting to recognize distinctively English florascapes as such. I am very sensitive to such things. I am absolutely positive that if you blindfolded me and dropped me in the middle of the woods in Northern NJ, I’d know instantly just where I was, from the trees and the plants and the skyshape and, I don’t know, the color of the dirt and the low roar of I-80 somewhere in the background. London, or the thing underneath London that pushes its way up through the city wherever it is allowed to, I’m just starting to see and sense.

Yeah, Jesus – fortunately this isn’t in the zoo itself. I guess I could have taken some pictures of animals, huh? We didn’t really look at all that many. One of the best things about having a zoo membership is that you don’t really feel any pressure to see much of anything. Saw the gorrilas, the penguins, some bearded pigs, and the giraffes, yes, but mostly played in the playgrounds and rode the carrousels and ate a halfassed pizza in the cafe (should have gotten the hotdog outside. Always get hotdogs at zoos! It’s like one of the fundamental rules of life!)

But here’s a brand new Foxton’s estate agent office in Camden Town. Not sure exactly when it was completed, but we think the last few months, as my wife didn’t recognize it from the last time she was at the zoo. And it seems to be the last and best of its breed. A full espresso bar, wall-to-wall plasma screens scrolling available properties, and an utterly ridiculous color-scheme.

The truth of the boom somehow appears most vividly in the last things that it spawns, the things that it makes that are born obsolete and obscene in their obsoleteness. You can imagine this branch office closing a few months after it opens. The color scheme will seem even more garish, more tacky, as the next few months pass.

Ah that’s better. We had a stroller-sleeping child on our hands, so we stopped at a pub for a half-hour. I am befuddled, still, by the kid-in-the-pub thing. Sometimes it’s fine – some of them are like day-care centers on Sunday afternoons. Walk into another with a sleeping child and you’ll be asked to leave before you even clear the door. We sat outside at this one, which clearly wasn’t for kids. (Hmmm… The Spread Eagle... I guess not, eh?)

Bits of Camden Town are awful reminders of the worst bits of the West Village in New York. But other bits – just like the best bits of the West Village – are lovely. This part, the Parkway part, is AOK. But soon, as is wont to happen on Sunday afternoons, it was time to go home.

I’m shitting myself about work this week. Not a nice week at all. I should have spent the weekend, part of it, working, but I did the parks and zoos and lunches instead. I will wake at 6 AM tomorrow, I will try to make every minute count. I promise! I promise!

There was a sign by the gorilla house in the zoo that described a day in the life of the gorilla, and ended with (approximately) Snacking, wandering around with friends, taking rests in the grass. Wouldn’t you love to be a gorilla… at least if it weren’t for the difficulty of finding food and the possibility of being killed by a poacher? Hmm. Maybe. I’d settle for being one of my cats. At least I think I would. Cats don’t know the sadness of Sunday afternoons. Unless, as I suspect, having spent my whole life with cats, it’s sort of always like that for them, just not in a work-related way…. This is my prized Brooklyn stray who knows no father but me. What do you think? Does she look anxious?

Ah, but there’s a post that I really want to and have to write very soon about Gerhard Richter, a fabulous set of things that you can see here, and a few other things. Among those things, I am going to write about what it means for GR to rub out and deface personal images, pictures of his family, what the difference is between rubbing them out and thematically distorting them, and lots else. Coming soon! Too big to write quickly!

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March 1, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Posted in london, photoessay

ridge running in north london

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I’ve been working way too hard this term. Since I had my daughter, I’ve made a point of taking weekends off from work. Somehow, this time around, it seems like I’ve been in the office almost every weekend at least for part of the time. Not nice. But this past week was “reading week,” the equivalent of “spring break” but not (for one thing, a lot of my students actually do seem to spend the period reading, which is rather amazing. It’s the exam culture over here, among other things, which merits another post altogether….) so I’ve been able to do normal stuff on weekends for at least a few days.

One of the big thrills about the prospect of moving over here was the amount of travelling we’d be able to do. I mean, we have a kid, but still – not having to do a long haul flight to go to all of these places is a big thrill. But in just over a year, we’ve been to…. Belgium. And the grand list of extra-London places we’ve visited in the UK still comes to Edinburgh and Cambridge, the latter visited (god!) twelve years ago.

We’ve been busy. London’s very very big, so you don’t easily get bored with it during your first year or so. So, despite the fact that we had freetime and no obligations during the last two weekends, we travelled a grand total of approximately six miles, there and back, there and back, in search of leisure activites. Today we went to Hampstead via Hampstead Heath.

To get to the Heath from where we live you can either take two buses, or one bus to Archway and then walk the rest of the way. We chose the latter, and when you do this you walk right past the southern side of Highgate Cemetery, where of course Marx is buried. I’ve done it countless times, but I’ve never gone in. I’m not even sure where the entrance is, but it’s definitely not on the Archway side. Not sure what it is about author/thinker sites that puts me somewhat randomly off them or onto them. I’ve walked up the side of a mountain to see Joyce’s grave in Zurich. I’ve skipped a day in Paris to go to Rouen to see the hospital where Flaubert grew up. When I was a kid, my wife and I drove to Lowell and saw Kerouac’s grave. But in college I lived right next door to Emily Dickinson’s house for three years but never visited it, not a single time. Hampstead, which I lived in for the first several months of my time here, has stuff that people flyover to see: Freud’s house, Keats’s house, etc. I’ve visited none and neither. I’m not some sort of bonfire of the fallacies type – I’m increasingly interested in artist’s lives, especially their material lives (money, where they lived, the actual writing process, where they wrote) and the relation to the works.

I’m closing my eyes right now and trying to decide if there was any literary site I could see anywhere in the world what would it be. I can’t think of a single place. I do like walking past lots of literary sites in a day without going in them, like today, so I guess I’d just choose that.

Ah, here’s one side of Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath. My first experience of North London, the place where I now live, came with a shocking surprise. Before my trip out for my job interview, I’d never really left – as most tourists don’t – central London. But the day before my interview (terrible jinx faced and beaten in doing this, and as a baseball player of yore, I am a deep believer in the jinx) I wanted to walk around to see some neighborhoods where we might actually live were we to move here, as I’d be flying out the morning after and so there’d be no time. Naively, I visited St. John’s Wood and Hampstead. Look, I’m sure lots of people coming to New York to live are thinking, dunno, the East Village and Brooklyn Heights or something before they see the pricetags hanging from the doorknobs. And in fact we did end up living in a subleased place in Hampstead to start, so it all worked out in the end. (Also, that night was the first time I met IT and Owen Hatherley in the flesh, at the New Piccadilly, soon sadly gone… So it was a big day for me…)

Anyway, what was the surprise? North London is fucking hilly. Rather mountainous, actually. That day I took the Jubilee Line from St. John’s Wood to Finchley Road, as it looks on the map like an easy stroll from the later to Hampstead, half-a-mile tops.

But in reality, it’s like half-a-mile over and half-a-mile straight up. Anyway, that was my first brush with a geographical formation that I deal with now every single day. My block is relatively flat, but the block to a south rises I’d say 15 stories from one cross street to the next. It’s just a continuation of the formation that makes Parliament Hill a hill. Here’s wikipedia on it:

To the north of the City a ridge capped by sands of the Bagshot formation forms high ground (in places around 130m) including Hampstead Heath and Highgate Hill. The ridge continues eastwards in the London clay to Crouch Hill and Queen’s Wood. To the south, fingers of the ridge run down towards Primrose Hill and Parliament Hill. This ridge is a surviving area of Tertiary rocks younger than the London Clay, surrounded by former routes of the Thames where much younger deposits overlie the clay. Smaller outliers of younger Tertiary high ground exist to the west of the main ridge including Harrow Hill where Bagshot sands survive and at Horsendon Hill and Hanger Lane, where the Claygate Beds of the top of the London Clay formation are capped by much younger gravels deposited by the Thames.

Yep, that’s my ridge. Anyway, Marx used to bring his family for picnics on Parliament Hill, which wasn’t far from his house (no longer in existence) located in the interstitial space between Kentish Town, Belsize Park, and South End Green – Gospel Oak.

We wanted to have lunch at an embarrassing place that I cannot name in Hampstead (no, not McDonalds, better than that, more um French. But fuck are the Croque Ms ever good, and the Hampstead one is the only branch  I’ve found that will serve you a Stella en pression, that is to say in proper portions) but were hungry upon arriving at the Heath so we stopped at the pleasantly obsolescent (they’re tearing it down, I overheard) cafe near the PH tennis courts. My daughter’s doll took an awkward looking nap on the table.

There was some sort of gigantic cross country meet (is that the right word here?) on at the Heath today. It was very odd to see, here, now, since I went to tons of these when I was in high school as my best friend was a big time long-distance runner. I remembered today that we used to egg each other on, not very helpfully, to get disastrously drunk the night before our biggest games / meets, my baseball games and his meets. And I remembered that both of us plunged toward mediocrity, probably blowing chances of scholarships and so on, as we moved from our early high school careers toward the end. Monstrous and sober sophomores turned into middle-of-the-pack seniors, but we filled bucket after bucket with puke in my basement. My hand-eye coordination got shakier and shakier; he tended more and more to get cramped in the middle of races. Demon drink! He still runs. I can’t find an email address to contact him at, but I find reports of the races he’s run for a major NYC running club.

Feel like I’ve said this before, but my favorite thing about the lower end of Parliament Hill fields, where the playgrounds are, is the fact that the Overground runs right next to it. You can almost feel like you’re in proper Europe, Europe proper, pushing your kid on a swing with a council-cafe bought latte in your other hand as a blue and gold Overground train shuffle by just beyond the fence. I missed the picture that got it all in – you’ll have to do with an image of a train idling at Gospel Oak station.

People famously fly kites from the top of Parliament Hill as it is very very windy there. We forgot the kite today, so we did not.

When you leave Hampstead Heath to the south, you enter a really lovely area called South End Green. If it weren’t for school complications that we were saying today we should have just gotten over, we’d probaly be living in a flat there instead of the house here. It’s fucking lovely, one of my favorite parts of London. Walter Gropius and László Moholy-Nagy both lived there at one point, among many many others. Hard to explain just why, beyond that, it’s so attractive to me – it’s still expensive, it’s full of American expats (yuck!), it’s underserved when it comes to life-necessities, and the transit is poor. Instead of an explanation of why I love it so much, despite its flaws, you’ll have to do with the photo above. It’s a branch of Le Pain Quotidien, which is a poshish chain, Belgian not French, that moved into this corner after a fancy burger place closed just as we were moving out of the area. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that this was the location of the bookshop where Orwell worked and about which he wrote “Bookshop Memories”:

But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can’t borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles.

Next we went to Hampstead village proper, had lunch; went to the Waterstones, where I bought Kafka’s Letter to my Father, which somehow I’ve never read but really should; checked prices on a venue for our daughter’s birthday party (wtf? a venue? what happened to some cheapass pinup pin-the-tail on the donkey scotchtaped to the wall and two cans of juicy juice set out on an unclothed table? ah, kids today) but I forgot to take pictures. This despite the fact that Hampstead is the only place where I myself have ever actually recognized a celebrity other than Peggy Noonan (another long story) – but not long ago I saw Russell Brand (for the benefit of Americans who won’t – and shouldn’t – know who he is) eating brunch at a cafe by aforementioned Waterstones. I have no doubt at all I’ve seen lots of them, but they’ve mostly remained, as it were, in the optical unconscious because I hate celebrities. But on the way home I got a shot of Royal Free Hospital, which is a brutalist masterpiece, and apparently the first hosptial designed (in Europe or the world I am not sure) with the aid of CAD. Ah, computers should berth us when we are sick, as only they really know how it feels.

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February 22, 2009 at 12:49 am

Posted in london, photoessay

questions without answers: memphis

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What is the relative smallness of the Pyramid when seen from an airplane window a symbol of?

What is “baggage claim” a symbol of?

What is a decorated Christmas tree, when erected in a rental car airport office, a symbol of?

What is the rental car and its smell a symbol of?

What is grass that turns light khaki in the winter a symbol of?

What are apartment complexes for elderly baptists a symbol of?

What are aging grandmothers a symbol of?

What are in-laws a symbol of?

What is the fact that it is easier to engage with a dreary world when I constantly snap pictures of it with the camera mounted on my phone a symbol of?

What is the nervous way the white teenagers eye the black teenagers at the mall a symbol of?

What are Christmas presents, when purchased after Christmas, a symbol of?

What are camouflage jackets, when worn by women who are mothers of young children, a symbol of?

What is the fact that, just like London, the primary indigenous fast food in Memphis is fried chicken and french fries, served in a little cardboard box, a symbol of?

What is the woman sitting in the Barnes and Noble cafe at 10:30 PM reading a book about husbands and infidelity a symbol of?

What are the teenage girls who hang around Barnes and Noble’s cafe on Saturday night a symbol of?

What is the solitary displaced academic who reads Bleak House at the Barnes and Noble cafe until it closes a symbol of?

What is Bleak House a symbol of?

What is the $3.99 fee at Barnes and Noble to use the internet a symbol of?

What is the paid use of the internet at Barnes and Noble a symbol of?

What are blog comments a symbol of?

What is the Barnes and Noble cafe in general a symbol of?

What are photoessays a symbol of?

What are Germans visiting Memphis a symbol of?

What is the “country,” where we are going tomorrow, a symbol of?

What is Walmart a symbol of?

What is “they’ve been troubleshooting it for the last two hours, and they should have the wireless internet running again by tomorrow morning” a symbol of?

What are hotel lobbies a symbol of?

Beyond Christ and the two bad men, one less bad than the other, what are the illuminated crosses that hang over the eastern suburbs of the city at night a symbol of?

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December 29, 2008 at 3:15 am

my holiday’s more ballardian than yours

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Shooting so far with the iPhone camera. I think it adds to the effect, but sorry in advance… Imagine it adds to the effect even if it doesn’t!

My daughter, lucky her and thank god, has become urban enough a kid that while she pukes almost automatically in cars, she’s quite content on the train, in this case Gatwick Express. She colors pictures of famous TV pigs instead of throwing up. The ticket guy never came around and so we’re ₤30 up for the trip. As of last night’s rates, that’s almost $12 or €4.

Gatwick was a madhouse!!!!!! Actually, it wasn’t. It was fine. Funny that, on some level, we’ve come to think a strange set of perverse thoughts about things like this. The airport is something less than nightmarishly crowded, and just a week before Xmas! The world will end just after the start of 2009! This is the second to last plane ride I’ll ever take!

The crisis is tough to visualize, to render visible, when strange logics set the score. It’s an ordinarily busy day at the airport / mall / supermarket…. Except that ordinary is extrordinarily bad!

I’ve seen this sort of machine before in the lobby of a very downmarket hotel in Bloombury, but here it is in the US Air depature lounge. Books like candybars, like prophylactics in the men’s room! Obviously, I’m not often in the market for the sort of stuff dispensed – soduku isn’t my game. But I like the idea at back of this. Only I think they should take it further. No author’s names, no titles. Just covers of varying colors, and texts composed by Boolean algorithm to somehow suit the shade in question. The green brings Thoreauvian meditations on pond scum cut with Irvine Welsh describing the inscape of a glaswegian pubpot. Mauve runs you choice bits of homopanic in Victorian novels as well as extrapornolatemiddleaged chic lit. I don’t know – maybe this needs another post. I’m running out of battery and have to move on.

My vacation reading unfortunately doesn’t come out of a machine and includes, more or less exclusively, this 1000 page novel that I a) have never actually read before and b) will intensively teach this term. It’s brilliant but, yeah, long. And so far on this trip I alternate between only three positions: 1) free to read but unable because I am sitting on an airplane and nicotine withdrawal makes attention and retention difficult for me 2) unable to read because I’m busy vacationing and/or 3) unable to read because I’m so fucking tired and/or blogging instead.

Fuck I’m back.

The end of the boom means, perhaps, that there’ll be no one left to put ads in strange spaces. Sixty seconds of prime time during the season finale of I’ll Do Anything For Money! Well, No, Not That. How Much Again? Well OK…. will cost as much as this traytable did to  clutter adhesively.

Finally here after 21 hours, door to door. The iPhone’s camera captures only the spectral essence of other condos at night. It’s not a special setting; it’s just that the camera sucks.

There, that’s better. My father took the car keys this morning, so I was forced to walk to Barnes and Noble in order to get my morningly Mayfairs in and to stock up on the daily news. But it’s good – walking allows for better photoessayism.

A portrait of the artist as a shadow on a decorative rock.

The famous Ballard River of southwest Florida. You notice that it sprouts rather unceremoniously out of otherwise normal looking grass and soil, and that it’s too small to be a river or a stream. Things in American quasi-suburban developments are always and at turns either too large or too small. Nothing is ever just the right size.

I used to think of this place in Florida where I keep coming as a sort of American Herculaneum, a beach resort where the sons and daughters of the Empire would frolic, especially in their golden years. It’s all a bit more tame than that, I suppose. And even tamer now, as it’s core constituency is made up of retirees from GM and some of the other car companies. There are Michigan plates all over the place. I should write about it, do a bit of research and write something. But I’d rather photoblog, so, here:

The underworks of American sprawl hide in the bushes. At night, the pipes and plugs slide off their groundings to enact the brutish rituals that keep America running, keep the shit flowing into the sea. I was thinking I’d like to hide in the bushes with them, and was about to until a security van slowed down to figure out why I was holding the iPhone sideways and peering into the bushes…

But the good news is, following from recent events in Greece and at 5th Avenue and 14th Street, a wee little communist republic has declared it’s sovereignty over this patch of very thick grass. Either that or landscapers have recently treated this grass with pesticides that will kill your dog or infant if either steps on it and then licks the appendage in question, as dogs and infants are wont to do.

Where? You’ve got some? Well maybe they currently have it in stock, but just you wait to see what happens if the Fed injections finally do comfort or provoke the banks into lending money to each other and other businesses. Wait, if? I mean when, right? After all, that’s the point of TARP, if I’m not mistaken. When that happens, good old U.S. Trust – in the greenback, in the guys administering the bailout, in Paul Krugman, in ourselves and our way of life – will have to close up shop. Perhaps a dollar ten dollar store will open up in its place.

Ah, here’s the sole pathway through the bushes that gets me from the semi-sidewalk of the five lane road I walk from apartment building to bookstore. Without it, I’d be jumping the hedge – and hedge jumping, you may not know, is illegal in the USA.

Now we’re in the store itself. Ah, Carrie, I know what you mean. I’m eighteen days without a drink and counting. It’s a test being here, what with the parents driving-me-to and the cold beer on offer at the beach. On the other hand, and luckily, all of Florida taken together still contains fewer drinking opportunities than a single block of Tottenham Court Road, so on balance being here is something of a relief.

I have decided that when and if I actually get a book to print I will not be pictured in the guise of any of the many space opera characters I have played. Gotta take your stand somewhere – are you hearing me HUP?

There’s a specter haunting American book jacket design, a specter called Hatherleyism….

Hey, there’s the boys! Hemingway, Orwell, Nabokov, Joyce and some unnamed chick who loves the coffee… It’s a little known fact that these murals were actually painted on the escalator overhangs by leftist artists employed by the WPA during the Great Depression. Rumor has it that some of us will soon be paid to add new panels featuring present day celebrity authors including Gordon Ramsey, Jewel, Dr. Phil, Bill O’Reilly and, yep, Carrie Fisher.

I bought no books, as I have no time to read anything but the monstrous Bleak House but I did get a stack of papers. Which? Oh, just the NY Times, USA Today (sports section, especially for dad who only reads the sports sections of things), the local paper, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial TImes (better over here, weirdly, than in the UK, because it’s tauter), the NY Post, and, yes, the Daily Mail (choice was this or The Sun… ugh…) The latter is important because, well, now I understand what my GP was up to the other day when he kept asking what year it was and who the current prime minister is. And I was only in for a sinus infection!

BTW. I read each and every one of those papers today, though I’ll admit I skimmed the WSJ. Cost me $11.50 in total! And I’ll buy them all over again tomorrow! Vacation!

Man, are there a lot of fucking churches in America. This despite the fact that 3/4 of them have been turned into condos. Maybe 3/4 of those in turn about to be retrofitted back into churches as the nation comes to grips with its abhorrence in god’s eyes or something…

On the church’s front lawn, they had a mock up of some new form of temporary housing for those whose homes have been repossessed. It’s not as nice as those IKEA prefab apartments that come flatpacked in a box, but they are, from appearances, pet friendly and that’s something as rural Americans love their barnyard companions.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when, as I made my way back to our place, I found an uncannily perfect image to end this photoessay on. What unforeseeable, romantic comedy-style, luck! A positive case of um

Written by adswithoutproducts

December 23, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Posted in america, photoessay, travel