Sunday, November 14, 2010


I have to say this has been a happy week. Not a whole lot has happened; work has been busy, I've managed to sell some of my Craigslist AND Edward Gorey items (to the respondents--thank you very much!), and had two very intelligent conversations this week. Plus, I'm thinking about Europe, particularly about taking a cruise in Southern France. This won't happen in 2011 unless my finances get significantly better, but you never know. I find that with money, the unexpected can go both ways--either you take a huge hit or end up with a huge windfall.

I'm not sure why I'm so fixated on getting out of the country these days. Maybe it's because Americans have been pissing me off lately. The recent elections are exactly what I expected, but disappointing nonetheless. No one has any patience, everyone is into instant gratification. Economy sucks? Obama-Jesus was supposed to wave his hand and fix it his first month in office! Never mind that he said right in his inaugural address that our problems might not get much better in his 4 years in office; after all, they weren't created overnight. No matter; Americans want it, they want it now, and if they don't get it, you're a loser and they'll support your opponent again. This goes around and around until you feel like a ping pong ball in a clothes dryer. The other problem with Americans is what I call the "action movie" problem. Too many Americans are influenced by the old Lethal Weapon--Die Hard--Deathwish kind of heroes, who solve problems by blowing the other guy away. Sure, it's fun to see the bad guys get their due in a movie, but they translate it to real life. Screw diplomacy and peace talks! That's for wimps! Real Americans just shove it in your face and you'll like it, or they'll just blow you up! Solves everything, right? Just don't do it to us!

Okay, I'm not interested in giving myself a headache today, so I won't go on about that. But this is definitely the mentality among the conservative factions in this country. I should know--I grew up in a family where this largely IS the mentality. Not my mother or siblings per se, but my father and aunts and uncles. And it's really tiresome. Lewis Black did a wonderful piece about this at his Broadway show several years ago:

I am not blind to the fact that the grass is not necessarily greener elsewhere. Europe definitely has its own set of problems, many just as serious, if not more so. But from what I've seen, Europeans spend their time fighting real problems, and they do it well. American protesters could learn a lot from Europe. And the press there does not suffer fools. If you're a greedy jerk, you're going to be called out for being a greedy jerk. People there seem to be smart enough to recognize that. I'm not a fan of violent protest--I don't think it solves anything. But some protests are quite creative. For instance, the French expressed their displeasure with President Sarkozy by going out en masse and buying the one book that he hated. People were reading it everywhere on the streets of France. No one would think to do that here, except maybe one of the library associations. And they wouldn't get the same buy-in.

In any case, whether it be for a nice long vacation or an eventual emigration, I really want to visit the rest of Europe. I say "rest of", because I spend a lot of time in England.I speak the same language, and I've gotten to know my way around. But I've never been to France, Italy, Germany, Spain--nor any part of Eastern Europe, which is where my mother's family is from. My biggest issue is language. I took 7 years of French instruction, but I haven't used it in years, and my vocabulary is quite rusty. The last time I had a chance to use it was when I visited Canada; I was staying in Ottawa, but had frequent cross-overs into Quebec. Canada is bi-lingual, but I found that when I attempted to speak French (and I remembered a lot more than I thought I would), they were obviously pleased. Not amused--pleased. I can tell the difference. But in general, I would be nervous about trying to hold an entire conversation in French--I need to seriously brush up. But French aside, I'm not that familiar with any other European languages. I usually can decipher writings in other Romance languages, because I also took 7 years of Latin. But I am nowhere near having any skill in speaking those languages.

Now, my friends who either live in Europe or have visited tell me that speaking the local language is not necessary--everyone speaks English. There are some places where I would want them to speak English--at the immigration counter at the airport, for instance. But beyond that, I feel like it's somehow morally wrong to not even attempt to learn at least some of the language of the place you're visiting. We expect foreigners visiting America to speak some English. Why do we think we can go to Europe and not give the native people the same courtesy? There's a certain arrogance to that, and it just underlines how isolated we are as a nation from the rest of the world. I realize some people are not good at languages, and may be afraid to sound like an idiot. Plus, we're not all linguists. Still--if you're going to spend any time abroad, it doesn't hurt to try to learn something new. In fact, one would hope you would go abroad with some intellectual curiosity, and not with the "Johnny Ramone mentality". (When the Ramones toured Europe, Johnny Ramone was known to complain--"F**k these old rocks, doesn't this place have a McDonald's?").

Native Americans aside, the United States as it is today has a cultural heritage borrowed almost completely from Europe. The colonists and founders of our government were Europeans. I'm always interested in getting to the roots of things, and Europe is certain part of our national roots. I've been to England many times, and never fail to be awed by the history that's there--something the English may take for granted, since they see it all the time. Even the visible England is relatively new--London has had so many fires, and has been rebuilt so many times, that you really have to look for the most ancient parts of the city. One of my favorite experiences of London was in an inexpensive hotel. My room was nothing special, but it overlooked the rooftops of the city, and was quite near to St. Pancras Church. There was something very sublime about sitting with the window open, with a summer breeze coming in at dawn, with my cup of tea. The horizon over the old chimneys turned from a deep blue to pink to orange, and you could hear the bells tolling on the church as the city was starting to wake up. I've been to many cities in the U.S.--many beautiful places in their own right--and never experienced anything quite like this. It's hard to put into words. You just feel the age of things, and it reminds you that you are just a small part of a large universe. It's as if the ancient city blends with the modern city, and resonates across time, and you're there to experience the music.

Ah yes. Time to pay things off and start saving my money again...

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