Saturday, October 30, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I have been at
It was the wind roaring and rocking the bus (which weighs ten tons and is not easily rocked) which he sang about in the lyric,
If you’re goin’ to the north country far,
Remember me to the one who lives thar,
She once was a true love of mine,
She once was a true love of mine.
See that she has a coat so warm,
To keep her from the howling wind,
That hits heavy on the border line,
She once was a true love of mine,
She once was a true love of mine.
That is all I remember of it from forty years ago, but this place and this wind is the place and the wind in the song.
Not only are the north country, the wind, and the border line poignant but also the pain of modern times. It is all but lost on us that “once was” and “true love” are, or once were, an oxymoron.
In this we can learn about the way things used to be from the graffiti one used to see in and around Mexican neighborhoods in LA - “JR + MG [or some other pairs of initials] por vida”. Whether this meant that Juan Rodriguez actually intended to be with Maria Garcia for life, or just that they both knew that he had to say he did in order to get into her pants, is not for non-Mexicans of that era to know.
But it used to be a given that one fell in love, often quite easily and casually, then stayed together “por vida”. Or at least that was the expectation even if it wasn’t always what happened.
The contrary note was struck by Marilyn Monroe in “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”. “That’s when those louses go back to their spouses” she sang. Even then, though the louses had been with her, and she had been with them, in the end they went back to their spouses.
One doesn’t fault Dylan for being an ambitious musician and going off to
But it would have been clingy and dependent of her to insist on going. She had other fish to fry anyway – the
I don’t fault Dylan for it and you don’t fault him either. Nor her. That is just how life is. There are lots of women to meet and get involved with and about the same number of men to meet and get involved with. One moves on, as the saying is.
Though the rewards for “moving on” are clear, the costs are also. One is always either alone or about to be.
I am not saying I object. I personally wouldn’t now have it any other way. I am just pausing during the wind and the rain here on the borderline to reflect on the cost.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
The workmen and indeed everyone else in Provence are presented as cartoons, charming for their absurdity, but vastly less than equals to the ever-so-lofty Mayles. The Mayles who have achieved their elevated station in life by making a lot of money in advertising. Can't get more dignified and important than advertising. Especially shitty, primitive, brainless British advertising.
The delays and difficulties pile up and the refurbishing of the house which was supposed to have taken a few weeks or a month or two at most, drags on from Spring until December. Much of the book is taken up with their travails in not getting their house fixed.
At no point does Peter Mayle or his wife ever take it into their heads to pick up a tool for any part of the work whatsoever. Never in the entire year does that seem to have crossed either of their minds. Apparently because people of their class simply don't do such things. The ever-so-cute protestations of helplessness are the thinnest veneer over class pretensions.
Nor does it ever occur to either of them, at least not in the text of this book, that contracts can contain "timely performance" clauses, which impose monetary penalties on contractors who fail to meet deadlines. And that such clauses are standard in construction contracts.
While the workmen may be Provencale, it is the Mayles who are provincial. The disappearing contractor is as familiar as the sunrise in construction work all over the world, and there is nothing quaint or cute about it, nothing particularly Provencale. Which is why there are timely performance clauses. But the condescending and superior Mayles seem not to know that.
So the whole story, which is intended as a whimsical look at the quaint and amusing Provencales by a tolerantly superior English couple, is actually a look at the incompetence, ignorance, and class-pretensions of a pair of condescending morons.
The part of the book that is of interest is the descriptions of the various restaurants and the various meals that the Mayles "et" in them. ("Et" is the pronunciation given when the word intended is one we would render as "ate" or "eaten".)
Only when they are talking about food and wine are the Mayles sincerely appreciative and not condescending. There is LOTS of description of various dishes, of mushrooms gathered in the woods, of terrines, of breads, of all sorts of wines. It is only when they are genuinely appreciative that they are attractive and sympathetic.
My bad attitude and poor attendance in high school were carrying me on the long slow slide to Palookaville when the first of a long series of dumbluck happenstances came my way.
Just about the time I was being expelled from high school (as in "don't come back - ever") I took a battery of tests for an honors program at UCLA and was one of two kids in my school who got in. It meant that my going-down-the-toilet grades no longer mattered because I was admitted to the UC system and attended classes half time during 12th grade.
Further dumbluck was that UC was so bureaucratic that they only had one undergraduate status and could not distinguish high school admissions from regular admissions nor could they distinguish UCLA admissions from Berkeley admissions.
Further dumbluck was that the Russians had just launched Sputnik a few years earlier and Congress had freaked out and passed the National Defense Education Act which provided school loans for poor kids like me. So I went from expelled at the end of 11th grade to freshman at Berkeley a year later.
Between freshman and sophomore years I had a summer job scrubbing zoology lab floors that had not been cleaned in years. (The custodians insisted we do it on our knees with brushes so as not take away their jobs of cleaning with big electric floor scrubbers.) Having had plenty of experience of not spending money I saved what I made and spent it the following summer by taking the very first season of charter flights to Europe. More dumbluck.
In the course of hitch-hiking and wandering around my friend Fritz and I were in a youth hostel in West Berlin when we encountered a kid who had more money than brains - and a sports car. He had been touring the various red light districts because he didn't know what else there was to do in Europe. Fritz and I exchanged a look.
And so it was that in the summer of 1966 at the age of nineteen I learned first hand about what had been an article of conversation and ideological certainty in Berkeley. And it wasn't good. It was a huge eye-opener to actually see what everyone claimed to know all about. It was the origin of all my subsequent political skepticism. Not only had the conservatives lied to us about the Soviet Union, so had the liberals, socialists, and communists. Everyone had lied, and for their own interests.
Including one of my professors, Reggie Zelnik, whose sworn duty it was to teach the truth. But who was a shallow, lying rat-bastard more devoted to his Marxist pretensions than to academic integrity, let alone his students.
From that day to this, I have assumed that anything anyone says about politics or social theory or any such thing is just not true. My view from that day to this is that political speech is born of ignorance, prejudice, self-interest, and even intentional deception. In brief it is my belief that people who speak about politics either literally do not know what they are talking about or are intentional liars. (It does not follow that I necessarily know better. Just that I never believe what I am told.) It was then that I formulated my political philosophy which is summarized in the motto, "Oh, that's bullshit!"
This skepticism has stood me in good stead all my life, although it has gotten me into a great deal of trouble over the years, particularly with authority figures who do not like to have their word doubted or dismissed.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Since nothing ever does, nor ever has, happened in Saskatchewan there isn't much for the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina (yes, it does rhyme with....) to display. So there is an extensive treatment of the geological history of the province and of the earth. At the end there is a reflection on the future prospects of Saskatchewan and the world. It is a we're-all-screwed warning about global warming, mass extinctions, and reducing one's carbon footprint. It is a tad over-stated but perfectly conventional and unobjectionable.
But on the second floor of the museum there is an extensive treatment of the wonders and joys of Saskatchewan's prosperous oil and gas drilling industry. It may be a variation on the Christian charitable notion of the left hand not knowing who the right hand is taking money from.
On my way east I stopped at the Indian casino in Yorkton and went in both to poke around and to have lunch. The casino was much the same as Indian casinos in the US, lot of flashing lights, brightly-lit, flashing machines, the fake-excitement music, the thick carpets. What was so disturbing about it was that there were lots of people there. The parking lot was full. About two o'clock in the afternoon on Wednesday.
Almost without exception the people inside were playing slot machines. And almost without exception they were all old. Older than me and I have been retired for six years now. One woman was so concerned about protecting "her" machine from interlopers that she glared at me and pointedly placed herself between me and the favored machine as I walked by.
It was more than a little appalling. Slot machines are a completely passive activity. Gone is even the slight participation of pulling the lever on the mechanical "one-armed bandits" of yore. On electronic machines one inserts the coin and presses a button.
These were retired people immersed in boredom, people whose choices as to how to spend their days had ground down to either daytime television or slot machines. While it is easy to moralize and say that that is their choice and their failing that they had been reduced to such a flattened and tedious life. But don't people have some responsibility for one another? How could they be helped?
Literature, art, adult education, participation sports, even spectator sports, are all better than slot machines. But most of all, sex is better than slot machines. One can easily imagine old people turning an unblinking indifference on the prospect of reading Boethius' "Consolations of Philosophy", of a display of Fauvist canvases, of a course on the history of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, of ping pong or chess. But not to sex.
I think the only reason old people are not constantly in the sack is conditioning. We are told that we aren't interested so we believe it. We are told that no one wants us so we believe it. We are told that sexual exclusivity in marriage matters when it no longer does so we believe it. We are told nonsense fables about sexually-transmitted diseases that straight people are almost incapable of getting so we believe it. We are told that good girls don't so we believe it. We are told that we are dirty old men if we want to do it so we believe it.
My notion is that if the old people in front of the slot machines were getting laid a lot they would be rejuvenated and would put their loonies and toonies (dollar and two dollar coins) back in their purses. They would be hiking, playing badminton, reading books, taking courses in Photoshop, and writing the great Canadian novel.
Instead they are dying by stages, waiting to die.
Thursday, October 14, 2010