“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, December 02, 2005

charleston

The guard at Fort Sumter told the story of the construction of the fort, its occupation by the Federals under major Anderson, the siege mounted by the irate Charlestonian secessionists, Anderson's surrender, the Confederate defense of it from Union sortees and ironclads, and the formal ceremony of its re-surrender once more to the Union on the same day that Lincoln was assassinated in a voice exactly like that of the chief character in South Park, pitched to the level of a drill sergeant cussing out recalcitrants on a parade ground.

On the boatride back, a man told us that houses with seafront views on Sullivan island were bringing one million five. He said that in Puerto Vallarta, if you stand in the streets for thirty minutes someone will come up to you and try to sell you a time share. He made me feel very up to the moment, and yet I kept thinking of Edmund Wilson's American Jitters, and Dos Passos' U.S.A. Still later, we went to Charleston's postal museum. I would rank that museum slightly under the museum dedicated to fire fighting in Mexico City. There were old letters from the 19th century which posed the question, why weren't these letters delivered? There were pictures of 19th century Charleston postmasters, there were various puzzling machines with sharp edged parts that looked like they were designed for mangling and tearing postage, and there was a mannequin dressed up in the uniform of a turn of the century facteur. Oh, and there was a history of the post office box.

A splendid sunset on the beach. Many dead jellyfish.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A LITTLE BAR POLITICS

So we find out that the groovy place to find girls on the island is the Whale Bar from the man who tells us, in a voice that runs through its syllables at the same rate that a blender on medium shreds a banana, how to get to the public dock to launch our kayaks. This was after we'd followed his advice about going down the river with the low tide and found out that the man was one of those souls who confuses right with left: a critical defect in a man who routinely gives directions. On the other hand, it is a defect I share as well. In any case, after the dolphins and the weird bird and the oar manipulation that is surely going to reverberate tomorrow -- although I need that upper body exercise -- and we are driving away after putting the boat back uptop the car and listening to the radio and we hear what the SOB president has to say about Iraq. This is after I am thinking of who to compare that combination of ignorance and incapacity to -- Admiral Horthy? Claudius? James II? So we elbow into the Whale bar and find a very diminished crew, and not a very female one there, but what the hell. The bartender turns out to be a live wire, matching us drink for drink even though it turns out that in South Carolina by some bizarre state law drinks can only be served from those tiny two ounce bottles of liquor that you get on airplanes. Anyway, this gray haired guy with that expression of a man of fifty who still loves the Beasty Boys starts to do a bit of a rap about Iraq, and I am pleasently surprised that - here in the heart of Bush zombiedom -- it seems to be over even for the believers. The rap begins with Murtha, god bless that bloodthirsty pol, and ends with a display of an ashtray in the shape of the state of Texas and the bartender putting his cigarette out in it and saying, and so fuck him. Meaning, of course, our idiot president, a man who has mistaken his own impotence for a Churchillian stance.

Monday, November 28, 2005

setting sail, or something

LI is leaving for an unnamed South Carolina island tomorrow. Probably we will be without a keyboard to hammer on. Instead, we are going to concentrate on the time honored tradition of manfully downing tequila shots while still managing to stay supine in a hammock – not so easy once you are past the first two, let me assure you. There are more dangerous sports, but surely this is a very televisable one. At least as televisable as poker, I would imagine. Still, the cables still haven’t got back to my agent on this.

In the meantime, we recommend highly the story about treasure hunting in last week’s New Yorker. Cynthia Zarin’s story of the emeralds that were dredged from mysterious depths by unknown hands – although covered by a story that specifies both depths and hands – is all about the most romantic of subjects, unearned wealth. To edenically find, rather than to toil and labor outside the garden – even if it is the Octopus’ garden, and the treasure one is digging up was long ago taken from the bloodied populations dying in various mines in Latin America in order to produce wonderful baubles. Here’s Zarin’s backgrounder:
“The Galeones de Tierra Firme fleet had set sail for Colombia, to pick up jewels from the Muzo and Chivor emerald mines, in the dense jungle region north of Bogotá. By 1567, the Spanish had wrested control of the mines from the Muzo Indians, who had kept their location secret for centuries. They forced captive Indians to work the mines until, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, harsh labor conditions and disease had decimated the population. "Muzo and Chivor produced the finest emeralds in the world," Rebecca Selva told me when I visited Fred Leighton. "The mines are fabled. These beautiful things come out of a very dark period of Latin-American history."

In September, 1714, the Galeones fleet sailed to Havana, and waited there for the New Spain Flota, which had left for Mexico in 1712 with orders for textiles and porcelain from the Far East (sent overland through Veracruz), as well as for gold, silver, and jewels. The boats also carried newly minted currency, cocoa, vanilla, paper, brazilwood, and animal hides. The official manifests, sent ahead to Spain, did not account for all of the goods on board: twenty per cent--the "Royal Fifth"-would be claimed as taxes, and many merchants bribed officials to underestimate their cargo. According to the ships' manifests, General Don Juan Estéban de Ubilla, the captain of the New Spain Flota, carried treasure for the Queen on the lead ship, La Capitana.

On July 24, 1715, the combined fleet, eleven boats in all, plus the Grifon, a French ship, which was sailing with the heavily armed fleet for protection from pirates, set off into the Straits of Florida. It was hurricane season. The three-masted galleons were up to a hundred and sixty feet long and forty-five feet wide, and held several hundred passengers and crew. A storm hit on July 30th. By early the next morning, all eleven boats in the fleet had been lost, propelled shoreward onto the jagged worm-rock reefs that edge the coast of southeast Florida. More than a thousand men drowned. According to the manifests, fourteen million pesos (the modern equivalent of about two hundred million dollars) in treasure was lost. Only the Grifon escaped.”
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Sunday, November 27, 2005

atlanta notes 3

The aquarium proved to contain fish. Many, many fish, in scenic locales, and with background music to make your average ticket holder feel vaguely heroic, as though he was not visiting the Atlanta aquarium but shouldering through Jurassic Park.

I am not one to diss fish. I like them, I like them large, I like quantities of them swimming above my head or held in by auditorium wall sized glass. I liked them so much that at the end of my tour, I craved fish and chips. But LI’s major interest was not in the fish, but in the fish and people combo – people looking at fish.

The weather when we go to the aquarium was, for this Austinite (where the golfers are used to wearing their checked shorts under December skies, and the ac is always an option) astonishingly cold. But it was probably only in the forties. There was a milling crowd before the giant, well, ark shaped structure – what did you expect? – and we were all eager to see the wonders. Myself, I had not been instructed in the scandalous and sad lives of the beluga whales (“given to the aquarium by the owners of a Mexican Amusement Park because they knew the aquarium would take better care of them,” according to one helpful sign – but the news is these were abused belugas with the sores of Job when they arrived), or the supposed tantrums of the founder of Home Depot, whose money created the place, when news of his precious purchases, the surprises he apparently wanted to unveil before the awestruck town, was leaked to the paper. I had not seen the reporter with the Penguins, or with the sea lions, or with the sea dragon, or petting the skate. I was sorely lacking in background.

But I did what I could. I immediately bolted for the restaurant, having had no breakfast and it being five in the afternoon and all, and found the food unpalatable and expensive – which I expected. I even thought about getting a Coke. Coke is an unbearably sweet beverage which I cannot believe I relished as a kid. That adults drink it down – that my brothers finish cans of it without blinking – sorta astonishes me. I didn’t get the Coke. Then I proceeded to the ocean room, and was pleased as punch to watch kids watch fish float above them in the tunnel, and kids pile up at various places of advantage, held in place by their adoring and often aggressive parents. I don’t know what was made of the strangely macabre faces pulled by the sawtooth shark – if I was a four year old, I’d be a little leery. In fact, I always avoided certain animal photographs when I was a kid, close-ups of tarantulas and the like. But I was a whimpy kid. Still, I’d rather like some of the old gut fears kicking in when little humans, and big humans, confront those creatures with mouths and appetites big enough to swallow us down. My, what sharp teeth you have, granny. “The better to eat you with my dear” – perhaps this one sentence is the whole of the prophets and the commandments.

Actually, though, there was no creature like that. The whale shark, the star of this aquarium, is, I believe, a dedicated vegan – and I’m not googling to see if that is correct, for I’m in no mood to correct my impressions.

Getting back to the people-fish nexus: I did wonder, as people watched the large ocean aquarium for long intervals, about what it is that fills space in such a way that people are interested in it. What filled that space was an intense blue, a visible thickness of glass, various motions in the blueness, and odd shapes with eyes and prongs and cruciform tails. It is the life that brings this otherwise highly abstract (and beautiful) tableau into the aesthetic ken of a crowd that probably would be less patient of a painting or a video that eliminated the living parts but combined the same colors and the same motions. What they wanted, it seemed to me, was something to search for. I do too. Searching in crowds – being in a searching crowd – is, for me, a little hard to deal with. I get irritated. This is because I like searching to be a relatively private thing, something I do with a limited number of others. But I can’t really get very far with that irritation. Far better to forget it. I root around here between the urge to be snobbish and the urge to surrender all that pickiness and think of all the popular entertainments, all of the Coney islands, all of the ways of spending Sunday with the kids, and to not care really what I think about it at all.

In the end, though, it is a give us this day, our daily people-n-fish moment, as the Good Lord would have said if he had visited Atlanta’s museum today, no doubt.

Atlanta notes 2

Like certain plants which, removed from their native soil, have a tendency to lose their leaves, LI has an odd tendency to develop sore throats and skin rashes once removed from his apartment. Last spring, while skiing with my brothers, I suffered a faux heart attack that proved to be a pulled muscle in, of all places, my chest, caused by dragging piles of logs around for the cabin fireplace. This trip, I have endured a cold and, after a nice jaunt through a nature preserve in Gainesville, a nasty and inexplicable poison ivy rash. I’d like to think this is all some manifestation of proustian sensitivity, but more likely it is just that I am tempted to overexert myself stupidly around my family.

The Atlanta area in November is oddly bleak. November scours off the leaves, and the grass withers on lawn after lawn, and the sky lowers, tingeing the whole area in melancholic sepias. If all American suburban landscapes strive to be that Currier and Ives picture in the bathroom, this is the Currier and Ives reproduction that was left behind by the former inhabitants of the house, who are currently in prison for manufacturing meth. To keep your spirits up in such a landscape requires fireplaces and the flow of liquid spirits, or it requires massive shopping in massive malls. Coincidentally, there are massive malls all over the place in Gwinnett County. Myself, I went to a Fry’s store, a consumer electronics emporium determined to outdazzle Best Buy, and to fling open to the consumer the whole range of electronic gadgets that will make the consumer’s life a binging A/V paradise. In Fry’s, the clerks are so knowledgeable about the latest computer accessories that they rather disdain discussing the topic with customers, who are yahoos and insistent on buying accessories for ancient computers – computers that are two years old, for instance. The clerks will reluctantly point to various shabby boxes containing archaic things you can plug in your computer, but then they go back to their little conventicles and discuss everything in terms of acronyms and slashes – the SSA slash five, the ADA slash A. The glass bead game is gaining on me, and I grow old. I will keep the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Or something like that.

The latest Atlanta craze is the aquarium. We are going to see the aquarium this afternoon. If it is actually there, my theory will be proven wrong. My theory derives from the surprising difficulty in getting tickets to see the aquarium. It used to be that one lined up at a spectacle and bought tickets. No more. Now one has to be a season ticket holder. To be a season ticket holder, you buy your tickets over the internet. Those people who buy their tickets over the internet are preferred to those who merely show up and buy their tickets at the window. But buying tickets over the internet requires calling the aquarium people and being put on hold for hours at a time. Meanwhile, everybody claims that the aquarium is sold out solid for the next two weeks. This combination of difficulties makes me think that the building supposedly holding the aquarium is empty, that they ran out of money for fishes after putting it up, and that they now surround their mistake with the impenetrable shield of a ticket system designed to ward off anybody who desires a ticket.

Since we did get tickets, or at least receipts for tickets, my theory might not be true. We will see.