GreenasSky A gambol in the goodies by Sloan Nota

Contempt in High Places

Leon's mug

Leona Helmsley’s Mugshot. Public domain.

Remember Leona Helmsley, “Only the little people pay taxes”? Remind you of Donald Trump about to barge into the White House in flamboyant disregard of laws and ethics? It’s not only mobsters who believe the US Constitution and IRS code are irrelevant to them.

Soon one of the most despicable men in American history will be sworn in as President. His cabinet choices are sharpening their pick-axes for the departments they are to dismember. None of these people show a thimbleful of awe for their fellow Americans. Helmsleys who live above common morality and disdain the huddled masses — those in crowded housing projects and those functionaries living in small apartments. Or big apartments. But not big enough to make them players.

Meanwhile members of the Senate and House of Representatives are beavering away to invalidate ethical checks and balances on their own behavior. Why?

Vladimir Putin is a known evil-ist. The KGB formed him — you think he can hang that on a shoe rack and march on without it? We grownups in our 50s, 60s, 70s — we have been made by circumstances and by our choices.  By our practices.

People practice piano, baseball, juggling. At the same time they practice values and feelings. Use it or lose it, right? Respect is a complex feeling you must learn to feel. Then remind yourself to validate again in your actions. And again — as surely as your hand must learn to feel a C chord spread, your self must learn to feel compassion.

Putin’s shoe rack again. Look at the figures hoping to be Mr Trump’s Cabinet members. In their decades have they learned to practice empathy, compassion. fairness? Because they can no more learn the habits of compassion than Putin at his age.

I fear that these men and women are well-practiced in greed and contempt for me and you.

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Black experience, flip and deep

Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I need to write this. Now.

I’d heard of a prize-winning novel by a black man writing of black experience. A quick search turned up The Sellout by Paul Beatty.  The Man-Booker prize.  OK!

So I read it and loved it — at first.  The urgency of the prose, a burning wick of intensity. If you’ve read Robert Coover’s The Public Burning you’ll recognize that unsuppressable push of words.

But then The Sellout started maundering. The snappy jokes — not the characters, not the plot — became its reason. By the end I was annoyed. Annoyed.

So I Googled the same requirements.  This time the prize turns out to be the National Book Award.  Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad. I’m blown away by the novel’s power. Its vision. Its truths.

Its worthwhileness.

If you ask me to compare the two books I’ll tell you it’s like comparing Moby Dick with Mad Magazine.

If you feel strong, read this book.  Perhaps use the January 20 Inauguration time-slot to remind you of why you’re not watching that ceremony.

Categories contemporary society, history, words, literature | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Parisians Being Parisian

 

Paris shopping carts

Rhythmic Parisian shopping carts. (author’s photo)

Whenever I go somewhere I come away wondering what I’ve missed. In Paris not what streets I didn’t follow, but rather on the trodden streets what I missed while looking at it. Did I drink in the cathedral’s master architecture and miss the robin on Mary’s marble toe? Its gimbaling head ticking quickly in all directions, for food, for foe. Or have I watched tree shadows gyre on a wall and missed the parade?

I’ve spent a month in Paris, thinking I could post here diligently daily. I must apologize — I gave Paris my all.  Walking miles, gawking (which is hard for me unless I’m still). Soaking in Parisians being Parisian the way Jane Goodall would observe wild chimpanzees — if she was a chimpanzee.

What I was watching for of course is what made Parisians unlike me. Not that they don’t breathe in air as we New Englanders do but that their Paris air is drenched with sex pheromones. You don’t see them but Mama if you don’t feel them my condolences to you. Matrons wear their breasts high and proud; it’s clear which men dress to the left and which to the right. A couple wedged at the next table in a restaurant, tall, well groomed. It’s possible that she never took her eyes off his all night. Next to her, arguing issues with my partner, I feel a buffoon. She’s so smooth, so elegant. They shared an ice cream dessert but she didn’t spoon in until he nudged the dish toward her.

Was their dinner foreplay?

You’re right, how the hell would I know?  It’s just I’ve never seen an American woman gaze so pointedly into a man’s eyes for a three-course dinner — but it felt like a mode both Parisians were well-accustomed to. Bien sur.

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The shopping carts shown at top sat lined up at our local grocery store. To me they’re part of the Paris je ne sais pas, the something that try as I might cannot quite be put in words. Their keen and twitchy nose for style.

 

 

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A Paris, of Many

 

Paris realities

Now You See It, Now You Just Thought You Had.  Poster and church, by Sloan Nota.

Paris is simultaneously so many adjectives why pretend yours is more valid than Jean Paul the taxi-driver’s, or Walid the TV historian’s or Julia Child the famous chef’s? So here are some photos to convince you I’m not in Kansas anymore.

My apartment is in the 3rd arrondissement (or Paris district) of 20 arrondissements.

The 20 arrondissements of Paris

Cartwheel array of Paris arrondissements or districts.

The 3rd is partway through a gentrification.  It’s the hot and hip area which doesn’t vary enough from continent to continent to rouse much interest. However it’s deliciously placed and myriad destinations are walkable from here.

Graffiti in Paris's 3rd Arrondissement.

Paris 3rd Arrondissement graffiti, September 2016. Underneath is painted — in English — ‘Arts Area’. Photo by Sloan Nota.

 

gentrification in the 3rd

gentrification, by Sloan Nota

In New York you’re aware of the firm grid of streets and avenues above the southern morass of cow paths. Here major streets continually meet in mad stars of traffic, red and green lights (small by US standards) control traffic in wheeling directions — pedestrian, two- three- and four-wheeled vehicular. You haven’t lived till you find yourself staring into the intense face of a suit and tie bearing down on you on a speeding motor scooter.

I remember a long-ago dinner with an inane male type who boasted of having had his Mustang shipped to Europe. Oh so many streets he couldn’t have fit down let alone parked. Yesterday on one such street there was this sign on the left,

Plaque: Picasso and Balzac worked here.

Plaque where Picasso painted Guernica and Balzac wrote.

Two or three steps across the street from this another building with a sign in stone,

Louis XIII became king here.

Paris sign where Louis XIII became king an hour after the death of his father Henry IV.

History. The lives that have left their traces in Paris. Sure, maybe someone fudged a few yards on where Louis XIII became king but in the US the best we’ve got is the old saw ‘Washington slept here.’  Something sacred about this much significance ladled over the same patch of earth for continuous years.

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Yesterday we found ourselves witlessly traveling along the back of the gendarmerie — countless navy-blue busses backed toward the building (the better to roar into action), Impeccable grillwork encapsulating each back-up light. Busses, police busses — for what other reason than massive mayhem? Yet France has its reasons. We are not frequenting large gatherings of people.

Yet on this same walk we passed massive doors into the building. Some wag had snapped a bicycle lock onto this ferocious lion-and-snake door-pull

Paris gendarmerie door-pull.

Lion-and-snake door-pull at Paris gendarmerie with added combination lock earring.  photo Sloan Nota.

C’est la vie.

Categories art, contemporary society, history | Tagged , , | 2 Comments
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