Archive for the ‘travel’ Category
There was a time, not long ago, when transit systems – those urban knots of intermodal connection – held great fascination. In particular, the places where the connections were made were of special interest. From taxi cab (two bags in tow, his and hers) to Heathrow Express – and in the middle, the newspapers and the bottle of mineral water, the ham and cheese croissant, the cigarette taken sneakily in the gap where inside vaguely becomes outside at Paddington Station. Later, having arrived at the airport and having negotiated the ticketing and security procedures, there are souvenir stands and more newspapers. One purchases what one wouldn’t normally when a long-haul flight is imminent. One purchases these things without guilt or worry at the airport, as it is a special zone, an exceptional place where spending is permitted – as the purveyors of Duty Free know all too well.
The first WH Smith was at Euston Station, and wasn’t just the first WH Smith but the first train station newsstand on earth. I can remember the thrill of visiting one, and seeing the stacks of the many British and international newspapers, though that thrill is long-since gone.
There are Relais newsstands in America now, at airports, although there they are called Relay.
The only thing worse than not being able to smoke outside of a bar (because it’s in an airport terminal) is the lack of natural light in them. Windows seem to be reserved for the executive clubs.
The iPad has relieved one of the need to purchase news in newsstands. A bittersweet development, like all of the others. But that is not the only reason why the newsstand – and the transit hub in general – holds less fascination than it used to.
A trick is played upon boarding. Having been offered a window seat in trade for his middle, so that two can sit together, the canny American businessman takes the aisle instead. When he meets with resistance, he blusters through, saying that he needs to be “nearer his family.” Within five minutes, and through some rapid Blackberry exchanges, he subsequently swaps his new aisle for an aisle elsewhere and isn’t heard from again.
On the smaller jet to Halifax, the bathroom door swings open during take-off and it is promptly slammed shut. This seems to break the lock – incapacitating the only toilet on the plane – until the flight attendant comes to the door and shifts the little metal sign that reads “lavatory” which reveals a tiny button which when pressed overrides the lock. One of the smaller mysteries of passenger aviation revealed.
The rental car is upgraded for free from a “small SUV” to a “large SUV.” Which means a Chevy Suburban with three rows of seats plus a trunk.
A stop for burgers in Wolfville, the home of Acadia University. Some wondering while he steers through the town and stops at the crosswalks about what life would be, quiet and 60 miles from Halifax.
Ten years ago, Nan sold her teetering shoreside house and purchased half of her sisters plot of land to build a prefab but lovely house. From the second floor deck, one can make out scraps of blue water in the bay. The view of the surrounding hills is better.
The old house is still there, but will one day soon, probably due to the vestiges of some hurricane or nor’easter or other, fall into the sea. A family from Boston has it now for a vacation house. Likely it is filled with lawn toys and drying shells, just as it was during summer visits twenty years ago.
An awareness of mortality has entered into these trips. In fact, one of the driving reasons for the trip is this awareness of mortality. Great grandmothers do not live forever. Thankfully, she is of earthy stock and this is more a subject of humorous banter than the bilious flow about death, its mercies, and the reticence of grandchildren about it all that would come from his other set of relatives, the post-Quebecois Catholics.
He decides, over the course of several conversations, that he will keep the house when it is his. He will go there during the summers to write and relax. Perhaps, if he can, he will rent it out for ten months a year for the sake of upkeep during the harsh winters.
There is a second-hand bookshop in town – actually a nice one – called Crooked Timber Books. The proprietor of the shop owns the website crookedtimber.com. When asked if he is aware of the website crookedtimber.org, he claims ignorance, but then asks if it is run by philosophers.
There are real delights in limitation. The internet is borrowed from a neighbour and intermittent, which is good. There is nowhere to shop but souvenir shops and a Canadian Tire and a Walmart, as well as two supermarkets. Each morning he picks up the Globe and Mail and a box of doughnuts for the family breakfast.
At night, after the kids are asleep, Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. A perfect choice. The cosmopolitanism of the rural, the fact that Norfolk was once the western side of the mouth of the Rhine.
What to do with imperial history when explaining it to children? All that is left out from the dioramas and posters. The English defeated the French, yes, and sent them on their trek to Louisiana, yes, which made Cajuns of Acadians but what of the others, whose descendants are ensconced on First Nation reservations. Why the reservations, at this point?
A Mi’kmak necklace, made of porcupine quills, is purchased for $60.
Nan’s maiden surname is Denton. According to a popular genealogy website, the Dentons left their farm in Jamaica, Queens, New York in 1776 to move to Digby Neck, NS. Loyalists, Tories, and above all, bad businessmen.
Fort Anne, in Annapolis Royal, looks like a port and Port Royal looks like a fort. This confuses nearly as much now as it did twenty years ago. The former is constructed according to Vauban’s earthwork principles, which you can read about in Sebald’s Austerlitz.
Port Royal was a short-lived French fur trading settlement, established by Champlain amongst others.
In Lunenburg, there is a fine museum of fishery complete with docked trawlers you can explore at your leisure. Belowdecks and above. The borders of the UNESCO World Heritage district are indicated with dotted-lines on the maps of the town. Across the small bay, a giant golf course spreads in voluptuous green.
Most of the map-marked towns in rural Nova Scotia possess nothing more than a convenience store: pop, cigarettes, gasoline perhaps, hockey cards. Some lack even that – an old church, not yet nor probably ever converted into condominiums.
Brooklyn is a maritime place. You can still hear the horns of the boats and sometimes the air carries a sniff of salt. Brooklyn was once loveable for that reason, and others, but as with the newsstand and transport hubs, it no longer solicits the affection that it once did.
Lobsters: before and after.
Someone who hid from travel through photography. Trips were for the generation of photoessays to be posted to a blog. It is hard to shake the sense that cameras are a sort of prophylactic against contamination by the places one visits and the people one visits the places with.
To stage one’s disappearance not into the diffusion of the style indirect libre but elsewhere and otherwise. Into an accumulation of blank noticings, into reading whether of printed texts or not.
Sebald on Lowestoft:
The last time I had been in Lowestoft was perhaps fifteen years ago, on a June days that I spent on the beach with two children, and I thought I remembered a town that had become something of a backwater but was nonetheless very pleasant; so now, as I walked into Lowestoft, it seemed incomprehensible to me that in such a relatively short period of time the place could have become so run down. Of course I was aware that this decline had been irreversible ever since the economic crises and depressions of the Thirties; but around 1975, when they were constructing the rigs for the North Sea, there were hopes that things might change for the better, hopes that were steadily inflated during the hardline capitalist years of Baroness Thatcher, till in due course they collapsed in a fever of speculation. The damage spread slowly at first, smouldering underground, and then caught like wildfire. The wharves and the factories closed down one after the other, until all that might be said for Lowestoft was that it occupied the easternmost point in the British Isles. Nowadays, in some of the streets almost every other house is up for sale; factory owners, shopkeepers, and private individuals are sliding ever deeper into debt; week in, week out, some bankrupt or unemployed person hands himself; nearly a quarter of the population is now practically illiterate; and there is no sign of an end to the encroaching misery. Although I knew all of this, I was unprepared for the feeling of wretchedness that instantly seized hold of me in Lowestoft, for it is one thing to read about unemployment blackspots in the newspapers and quite another to walk, on a cheerless evening, past rows of run-down houses with mean little front gardens; and, having reached the town centre, to find nothing but amusement arcades, bingo halls, betting shops, video stores, pubs that emit a sour reek of beet from their dark doorways, cheap markets, and seedy bed-and-breakfast establishments with names like Ocean Dawn, Beachcomber, Balmoral, or Layla Lorraine.
The one sea-side bar in Digby is, during the middle of the summer, so overrun by mosquitos as to make sitting outside undesirable, almost as undesirable as sitting inside.
The lobsters, apparently, are caught and then penned for later use. In the pen, they are inserted into a plastic tube and chilled to the point where they go dormant – they hibernate. And then one afternoon, they are awoken.
Amazon, the Kindle app, all of those books on-line. Occasional but relatively frequent trips to London and thus the British Library and New York and thus the NYPL. In Buffalo, not even as small as this, an instantaneous sense that this is the place where real work could be done, a magnum opus.
Of course also a fantasy that develops as if instantly and without due permission. A wine bar and art gallery, with a bookshop attached. Something that would serve as a magnet. Gentrification, studies have shown, often helps the natives – at least those in a position to help themselves. The family of course are natives; Richard wants to buy the empty pier and set up a steakhouse amidst all of the seafood restaurants. So it is said, and then quickly forgotten as impracticable if not wrong – and wrong for more than one reason.
Whale-watching and the uncanniness of these mammals float along the surface, sucking fish. Fishing and the murk of the water off the wharf, under the wharf. Someone spots a young seal on a rock. Someone says the mackerel linger near the other end of floating docks.
Addiction is perverse allergy. Many people from small towns, it can easily be imagined, spin on a line of bored desperation, desperate boredom, when they finally reach the centre of the world.
Young as she is, she is not accustomed to the radio. To the fact that you take what you get from it and that there is a pleasure in that.
German tour buses roll slowly past the statue of the WWI Infantryman at the centre of town. The buses stop, as they must, to allow pedestrians to clear the crosswalks.
A hospital visit for someone’s separated shoulder. Clothes washed to avoid spreading MRSA amongst the very old and the very young.
Thoughts, nearly aspirations, of a better sort of life. A subsequent thought that the ennui (some would call it depression) isn’t permanent, essential, but contingent, locational.
A narrowly focused accounting of detail, especially that which fails or even refuses to shout out its need to be noticed. (The strange opening section of The Pale King – there but unsustained as if an object lesson, a performance, of what the book wants but cannot allow itself to have). The ditch that has opened (when? this year? a thousand years ago?) between igneous and sedimentary rocks at Point Prim, the pink Queen Anne’s Lace which is either the same species only younger or a different one altogether. The churn of the currents off the point as the Gut meets the Bay, which I point out to my daughter when she asks if we could swim.
The small salvation that comes of that, the unobtrusive detail retained, for me and for her and, if not all of us, then
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.
If the militant dysphorics ever want a good picture for an event poster or a bookcover, I think I found l’image juste while walking in the Jardin du Luxembourg yesterday.
Step 2 seems especially relevant, no?
Just kidding. Seriously. But I did make myself laugh for a full 3-4 minutes after seeing, passing, returning, shooting, and then contemplating posting this sign.
(On another level, and I know you can do this with just about any set of instructions, but: hilarious to think that some bureaucrat thought that it’d be necessary to instruct les citoyens de Paris in the fine art of inside-out-poop-scooping. For years, I’d been grabbing the dogshit with my bare hand and then dropping it into the plastic bag! Thank you, municipal government, for the instructions that have kept my hands free of dogshit streaks and the accompanying unpleasant odor!)
Anyway. I’m sorry about the light blogging! I was away! But that’s not the whole story. I’m actually, finally, making some progress on the finishing the Monstrous Tome. And I actually like what I’m writing! As a rule of thumb, one needs to remember simply to explain what one is trying to talk about rather than do quickwork quickstep dancing around the point. It doesn’t hurt (except, of course, it does) that someone’s basically called me into an office and put a gun to my head, extracted promises from me, etc. But I’ll get back to the blog soon enough once I’ve written what I need to write, if not sooner.
Well, my youngest’s passport and visa have finally come through, which means that we’re off on our summer holiday! In October! None too soon, either – the natives are getting a bit restless about foreigners like me swiping jobs away from honest Englishmen. So I’m headed to a place that is way less ambivalent about immigration and immigrants…
So from Saturday AM, two days at Eurodisney (I know, but come on, the oldest one is four for chrissake! It’s two hours away! I stopped liking traveling places a few years ago so someone may as well enjoy themselves!) and two days in Paris. I’m sure I’ll get some photoblogging done, one way or another.
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?
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
People keep telling me they like my angry posts. Of course it’s dawned on me that they might be telling me this to keep me from being angry at them. Or even writing an angry post about them. Or perhaps they simply pity me, bathed as I am in pathetic anger, or maybe they all get together sometimes to laugh at what a bad blogger am I.
Did I mention I’m back in the States. That should be explanation enough, I think. Angryish notes on my travels so far:
Strange to learn today that there are currently no privatized airports in the US. Stewart International in the Hudson Valley was privatized only to be returned to the Port Authority of NY/NJ, and it looks like Midway in Chicago will go private very soon. This is especially interesting to learn once you’ve spent some time living in the UK, where basically they’ve all been privatized, and redesigned to suit their new purpose, profit-generation. I probably should do this in an independent post, but Heathrow’s terminal 4 (which I flew out of) is perfect materialization of the microtortures of everyday life in an evermore privatized world. Long story short: I think we’re all becoming fairly familiar with these terminals that are basically just shopping malls with little doors hidden amongst the shitty shops where at some point, swooning from all your duty-free deals, you stumble onto your plane. That’s no surprise. It’s no surprise, the whole elimination of seating so that passenger-consumers are basically forced to wander around buying things rather than oh-so-unproductively sitting and waiting for their flight.
But Heathrow’s terminal 4, in a subtle way, exposes just how far we’ve gone, and gives a experiental sample of where things are headed. There are a few seats scattered around the terminal. A rough estimate suggests that there are enough seats to accomodate maybe one-twentieth of the total passenger load on a moderately busy day. But what is a bit surprising, even mildly shocking, is a cynical step that the designers have taken that rubs in just how bad things have gotten. In short: there are a few seats, and there are a few screens where you can see what gate you’re supposed to use when they finally, as late as possible, let you know where your plane will be boarding. (In most cases, from what I can tell, they know which gate it will be long before it’s called – these are long-haul flights, the airlines seem to rent the spots. Continental to Newark probably always uses the same gate, etc etc etc). The cynical, disgusting step that they’ve taken is that under no circumstances, in no instance, are the departure boards visible from a single seat anywhere in the terminal. I know this is true because I was bored and had an hour to kill so I checked. You can sit, but if you sit, you’ll eventually have to get up. And probably more than once. It would be very easy in many cases to position the screens so that the passengers can see them from where they’re sitting. The planners have deliberately made this impossible. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a chair, you will soon enough have to give it up to check. You will then lose your seat, and thus be forced to wander the mall again until your gate is called.
This, to me, is an emblem of just what life is like, and promises to be ever more like, as finance capital swallows the last bits of the public and the useful. Life will continue to move from capital’s provisioning of a wonderful set of opportunities toward a stunstick on your ass, keeping you moving as you negotiate the space that once was collectively yours.
On the other hand, it’s impossible to describe how dense my feelings are for Newark airport. It’d be soppy to go into just why, but they are. I haven’t been there in years, but was there the other day. And one of the most interesting things about having a consistent, long-term relationship with an airport is that a lot of the history of the place where you’ve lived is fossilized there. I remember when you could park right up at the door of the bottom level, and then, during the early eighties, when they started to push the cars back out from under the airport and road ramps for fear of truck bombs a la Beirut. The security infrastructure, the gate access or lack thereof, the slow then fast dissolve of smoking areas from everywhere to just the bars to nowhere at all… The flapping Budweiser eagle in the parking lot, now on its way to being owned by ImBev, much to the chagrin of the locals…
I could go on and on about EWR, and perhaps will on my way back…
We have lunch everyday at a place by the beach which is entirely stocked with people just like us, well sorta like us anyway: youngish couples with kids visiting parents and in-laws. All the women look exactly the same. My wife and I were talking about it and, elitist twat that I am, I tried to do it in pigFrench so that we will not be understood by the targets of our bile. Elles sont minces, avont les seins tres petits, et les visages pinchees, angulair, carees, et autres choses comme ca qu’on regarde dans les WASPs… That sort of thing. A minute later, I realized that the thin, breast-less, angular faced waspy-looking woman sitting next to us was in fact French. Ah, c’est la vie, right class comrades? All in gest, and it’s inevitable that your mari amarican is a trader of some sort, so I’m sure you’ll have the last laff on us.
Of course the men all look the same too, but even less interestingly so…
Starbucks at the nearby Barnes and Noble isn’t, um, the same as the one on Tottenham Court Road where (as I keep saying) you can find me from 3-5 PM each day tapping away. I’m sure the employees are mistreated and generally exploited at both, but the fucking boss here is breaking in two new employees during my daily thirdspace break. She criticizes every single move they make, and does so while looking at the customers with a “what are you gonna do with these fucking semi-legals, eh? Hard to find good help, even during the recession.” I want to lean into them and call their boss a bitch in spanish, but I don’t have the words. It’s puta, right? Es una puta grande. If you reply with the right phrase (please, no fucking around and giving me like some sort of noxious pickup line – I will def google translate before I try) I’ll give it a shot.
I went to get a new drivers’ license yesterday (and in doing so officially “homesteaded” in Florida… huh?) You should get one while you’re here, wherever you’re visiting from. $25.25 and no questions asked. Only one thing. If you go to the one I do, when it comes time for them to take your money, the woman behind the desk may bizarrely adopt a blackface patois and ask for twenay faaave dollah n’ twenay faave cent. (Hard to understand if you’re not American, but trust me – this was pure Eddie Murphyism she was schticking, not southern belletism. At home, just folks, other shit comes after it – trust me.) It may not help to admit that you’re a democrat (sorta, of course) when she’s filling out your voter registration card. You’ll know you’re at the right counter when you see the placard on her desk that reads Calling an illegal immigrant an undocumented worker is like calling a drug-dealer an unlicensed pharmcist.
I’m not enjoying the DNC on TV. Step away from the superbowlic reversion of everything to Charles Barkleyite profundity for a few months and it all just seems so, you know, unwatchable. But my wife and I both agreed and disagreed about Hillary’s speech last night. I won’t go into the disagreement, but we agree she did tilt a bit left, didn’t she? The promotion of unionism? That’s not a phrase I’ve heard lately from the mouths of the dems or anyone. Just for now: interesting that the tilt to the left can function as an in-your-face parting shot, stirring up discontent in the party faithful, but can’t be allowed to be mobilized during, you know, an actual campaign, where it’s all home invasions at 6 AM and Iran nuking bluster. It’s like a parting shot after a breakup, when you pull out the impossibly good material you’ve not been saying all along, stuff that might not even be true, but now, just as it ends, you fire for effect and it stings.
Anyway, off to gotham tomorrow for a long-stretch and all by my lonesome, lucky dog that I am. (Payback for missing the first half of the trip taking care of a cat with a UTI. Yeah…) I’m generally more reverent than angry about NYC when I’m actually there, but I’ll try to scare up some shit from the Southerners at the bar at the (goddamm) Sheraton Midtown for you.