Sunday, September 25, 2005

Chant of the prole

Notker the stutterer (what's in a name?), had come up with a mnemonic device to remember the incredibly difficult melismas...
Last night it was airless and warm by the bay. The kid and I wandered among the crowd of kids playing on the swings and slides, and their parents speaking in various languages, Russian, Spanish, Creole, Cracker, and the like. Some people brought food, others had frisbees, dogs, blankets for watching the sun which had contracted to set over the orange efflorescence of Rita. One rather large group sang, but only one song, apparently just for themselves.

Along the peninsular park extending into the bay were the docks with the yachts. Each yacht managing to look prouder than the other. Sawyer and I watched one 40-footer trot gracefully out to open water. At the helm was a small group of manicured bots, glasses of red wine poised in their webbed hands. Toward the stern -- aft -- another, smaller group, festooned with sailor's clothes and drinks, looked almost lifelike. The boat easily slid through the water. We saw no dolphins or whales, though Sawyer kept talking about how if a whale came along, we could ride on its back over to the bar on the other side, and watch a movie, and then come back. The talent above us on the large boat - The Rubicon - had its empty stare fixed on the horizon, west.

In an airless time in the subtropics, even bots need a break. Perhaps they were taking Katrina refugees out for a little diversion. Or maybe they'd packed boxes of toilet paper and smoked oysters to bring to weary Texan drivers, a 25-hour journey across open water. There is no judging the rich. Not even God, bless his heart, can fathom their needs, intentions, designs.

Carpe Diem. Ora pro nobis.
Caper Deum. Ora pro nobis.
Copper Canyon. Ora pro nobis.
Cooper Union. Ora pro nobis.
Cop a Doobie. Ora pro nobis.

Heading home, we passed a fine steakhouse, with fine wines, as it was pleased to bill itself. Large SUVs lined up awaiting valets. Candlelight melisma, sottovoce tinkle of glasses encased in winedark light, nearly audible even from the road.


Blogger Jon Husband said...

Interesting that you post this .. I am getting a headful and heart full here in Istanbul .. even though everyone is hustling for money here, and no doubt the rich here are really rich .. yet there are people everywhere in the street who walk arm in arm, arms about each others shoulders .. men with men, women with women .. and there is something intangible, almost describable, about the very basic, fundamental approach to daily life. I believe that more and more economistrs (I know of some in canada, Italy and the Netherlands) are studying what is being called the economics of happiness (which mainly revolves about the types and frequency of social interaction, in daily life, neighbourhoods, etc.)

I know it has oft been remarked, by North Americans going to other cultures (I always remark upon it when and after travelling) .. perhaps its best told by a wee story.

Raman and I were returning to our (cheap and cheerful) hotel last night when we were approached by the n00th plus one man offering to show us carpets and give us a good price .. and I just gave him a dismissive wave of my hand. Raman was walking a bit behind me .. when we got into the hotel she said something like (bless her dear dear heart) ... "it wouldn't hurt you to be a little nicer ... after all they are just doing their job. You should have seen .. after you passed by, the guy you gave a dismissive wave to looked at another guy you passed and they just rolled their eyes and smiled wryly at each other".

I replied to her, somewhat snippily .. "yeah, well those guys probably have 50 or so Turkish women working for them at near-slave piecework wage levels and do just fine, by the way" to which she said " yeah, well if those guys didn't sell carpets to people like you and me, those women's childrenn would be going even more hungry than they probably already are".

What I prefer here is that at least people are genuine when they are trying to take money from you ... I loved the line I heard often yesterday in the Grand Bazaar ... "Sir, can I help you spend your money" ?

Regardless of the hustle, they will spend whatever time it takes with you to ensure that you purchase what you want (most of the time .. there are of course the bait-and-switch scams, on which Raman also had a very interesting (to me) perspective). She said today she thought that as often as not it was the revenge of the merchant on rich North Americans who have read in the travel books that you are supposed to bargain pretty hard, and then take it to vulgar, disrespectful extremes (she had once upon a time been here with three other co-workers from her stint in Abu Dhabi, and she said one of them embarrassed her so much, in her bargaining style, that she (Raman) would have done the bait-and-switch to her .. uncharacteristic in the extreme for Raman to say some such, so it must have been ugly).

It's a different kind of mercantilism than that which makes North Americans rich and clueless, I think. And no doubt I am a hopelesly naive newbie to all this and have much to learn .. but to me there has always been something particularly unattractive or decadent to many of the nouveau riche in North America.

9/26/2005 8:53 AM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Thanks Jon - your mention of the "economics of happiness" is suggestive and most intriguing. To anyone who has spent some time in other places, the utter misery of the states is brought home in so many ways. I'll just name one: Television. Who fucking thought of that? Images of us spliced between us, sucking on our eyes, jostling us out of the picture. Corporations battened upon entire cities like leeches, cultivating saleable goodwill. Biomass in bloat, indentured farts in a windstorm of controlled substances. Who are we kidding?

9/26/2005 11:49 PM  
Blogger Jon Husband said...

I am unable to find the specific reference (to the joint research of an UBC professor and Professor Stefan Zarnagni of the University of Blogna), but the short version is thaat increasingly surveys/studies seem to be showing that onece a nation goes above (if memory serves) about $22K US in per capita income, "happiness" declines because people spend more time chasing the almighty buck than they do interacting socially .. whether dining for three hours in a streetside trattoria in Sienna or a local bufe in Istanbul, or playing cards or backgammon whilst drinking espresso .. you know the scenarios, no doubt.

The researchers, when I attended their lecture/presentation, gave examples of the big heat some 5 (or so) years ago in Chicago, when in one municipal neighbourhood (wealthier) more oldpeople died because no one knew them well enough (and this cared) to check on them in their apartments, whereas in the adjacent, poorer neighbourhood (Oak Park rings a bell ?) significantly fewer died because the general frequency of social interaction over time meant that someone said, to themselves or others, "hey, I wonder how 90-yr.old Annie Mae Smith is doing .. we should go check and see how she's holding up" .. the simple "knowing of" someone, as opposed to wondering if their second or third DVD player was melting in the heat, saved lives.

The economics researchers also had all sorts of bar graphs of how stupid GNP and GDP were (are ?) as markers of progress, and of course extrapolated to urban planning, noting that much of Europe, and especially the mediterranean regions, has boulevards, or all sorts of little squares at the intersections of all these crazy every-which-way streets that facilitated much street life and frequency of social interaction.

The older I get, the more and more I realize how suburbs, big meals and TV make one lonely, stupid, mad and ... ultimately .. sad.

9/28/2005 1:46 AM  

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