Friday, March 30, 2007

The Game of Art: APPENDIX: Homage to Favorite Painted Ladies

That the dictum that beauty is truth and truth beauty applies more forcefully in art than in life, one need seek no further demonstration than that it is not absolutely necessary to have a beautiful human being or setting or scene to make a beautiful artwork, but a great artist who is able to penetrate in some way to the truth of his subject. I find the girl in the Chapeau de Paille beautiful or desirable because the artist has seen and given her qualities, has maximized her humanity in a sense, beyond herself, and often beyond the self of the person viewing the picture as well. If one has some affinity with an artist it is not impossible that one will see in actual life what the artist sees and is able to capture. With most artists however, and Rubens is such a one for me, there is no deep affinity of mind, personality, sentiment, etc; thus the beautiful women of his paintings must remain for me exclusively works of art, without any corresponding existence in actual life.

When one does encounter an artist with whom one has more affinity, however, this enables him, among other things, to fall into love primarily with the subject of the painting, and not the painter. This is a noble goal, not merely in art but in literature and music as well, where the cult of the master artist as often as not forms a barrier between the receptive human brain and the work that in a truly perfectly realized and executed production should, in the immediate moment at the very least, be forgotten. I wanted to conclude my little series of art ravings with a commemoration of some such pictures as had this effect on me, in which are depicted such women as made me wish I had known their like in life--yes, indeed, been such a commanding lover as they and all beautiful women doubtless require--at the first encounter, rather than moving immediately from the subject of the picture to the comtemplation of the artist's genius. Not that the contemplation of genius is not a worthwhile and ultimately more important pursuit, but I think ideally, as I have indicated in other essays on poetry and the like, that the awareness of it should quietly complement rather than overhwelm the experience of the actual work.

Some brief notes before I move on to the pictures: I am far from being widely learned in art history, and thus my selections are drawn from a very small pool of paintings that I have once seen either in museums or books and happened to remember. Having culled ten pictures out of my memory as having made an impact on my sensibilities when I first saw them, I have doubtless forgotten a few, and am ignorant of many more images that I would find far superior if I knew about them. I may add supplementsin the future if I come across any new pictures of the type.

My intention is to display the pictures in chronological order. It may be objected of some of the earlier ones, that they depict very high aristocratic ladies with whom I must have nothing in common to discuss or otherwise connect in an intimate manner; however, I counter that in the pre-democratic, pre-bourgeois era, sophistication was only relative to classes of people--rustics, artisans--who were completely uneducated, and therefore likely had intellectual and sensual predilections more similar to that of modern bourgeois than those that later sophisticates developed. All the women in these paintings look to me like people I might have thought about approaching at a college dance, which means their sophistication must be within parameters that I can relate to.

I confess that the working title while I mused on this series was "Come, Come Ye Babes of Art", but I really didn't want it to be, so I didn't use it. It just insinuated itself in my brain and I could not banish it for several weeks.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Assessment of the Current State of this Blog

It is about eight months now since I began publishing this paper. There is as yet no evidence that it has attracted a single reader. The primary goal of this undertaking, to afford me the opportunity to demonstrate, if only to myself, that I was not left hopelessly far behind every capable person in the world in every area of human life that was of value to me, has not been attained. The quality and polish of the writing, which was to be the signature attraction of the blog, have been disappointments. Much of this no doubt is due to the hurriedness and half-attentive process of composition that circumstances tend to impose; however these are the conditions under which everyone operates today; and as with all developments in history, some minds thrive beyond the wildest imaginings of their owners` childhoods under the novel conditions, while others prove completely unable to adapt. Obviously the greatest question facing me over the next decade is how to give my children at least some hope of moving among the agile ones, the ones among whose language and thought all action, all vital life outside our charming but unfortunately isolated household, is led. Of course these vital, world-shaping people know their share of confusion, failure, shame, heartbreak, and all the rest, as these are the experiences that primarily constitute human life at all its levels, but there is still a quality of scale, and of the consolations and compensating activities at the disposal of the better-ordered mind and spirit that makes life worth the trouble, perhaps, I begin to worry, more worth it, than for those minds and spirits that are not so happily developed.

I do hold out hope, however, that these awful ideas, which have only taken possession of my brain because I cannot seem to overcome/disprove them through my own agency, will eventually dissipate. Anthony Powell, whom I have been referring to a great deal lately, wrote of one of his characters (the one the reader can assume is based on himself) that he had never felt so old as when he was in his mid-30s (and he lived to be 95). I suspect this is because at this age one is conscious that there is still a rather long time to have to continue existing set before one while the prospects for one's further improvement or any excitement comparable at least to the possibilities that were conceivable in youth appear increasingly hopeless. At the same time I am reminded also of the ravings of the hapless uncle Carlchen character in the movie Fanny and Alexander. This fellow looks to be in his mid to late 40s, is constantly in debt, though what for is not exactly apparent, the implication being that his income is insufficient with little hope of ever increasing. Among his better lines (in subtitles of course) are "When does a man become second-rate?" and "Why am I such a coward?" Part of the astuteness of this movie is that this speech takes place during the part of the film that will later be looked back on as the happy (or at least a happier) period. There is a lesson I suppose in both of these examples. In Powell the best and liveliest parts of the book, which are set over a fifty year period, are those that take place in this period where we are to suppose the narrator frequently discouraged and on his most uncertain footing. My theory would be that desperation, or some approximation of its sense, plays a part in this, which is of course observable in innumerable other stories as well.

I often wonder that I did not end up like one of those Japanese people one reads about in the papers who never talk to anyone, never leave their bedrooms in daylight, for whole decades, slipping out only in the dead of night to procure food from vending machines (of course the vending machines in Japan are of reputedly of a much superior quality to anything we know here, and you can get beer at them as well). I have been trying in my blog to keep the extreme pessimism, to which I am unfortunately prone, to a minimum. Like everyone else nowadays, I am really a great pragmatist, a man of respectable, rational sense. There is too much information, too much research in human biology, too many breakthroughs in the study of economics, and so on and so on, for anyone of modest sense and awareness to be ignorant of what he is and what he can reasonably expect to be able to do, or even more chillingly, what his children are likely to be and be able to do. Such at least seems to be the consensus and the primary obsession of the age's philosophers, whose tone becomes all the time increasingly impatient with anyone below international-class levels of talent and intelligence; especially such of those in the middling range who instinctly and ignorantly try to resist these salient truths, though it is actually impossible to do so. The demand for talent is so great now, the supply of it so scarce and precious, the search for it on a worldwide scale unprecedented except by comparison to that of minerals in previous ages, that it is become inconceivable that anybody of real worth should go unidentified deep into his life. This is one of the existential truths of any time, I suppose, but ours especially, given the present organization of society and and its peculiar social conditions. This at bottom is of course what this blog is really about; it is also, however, the work of an individual who has had several opportunities to be evaluated for any sign of serious ability by people at fairly high levels of intellect and achievement, and has in every instance failed to make any necessary impression to progress. Thus the blog, as well as the biography and education and activities of its author, are not de facto self-justifying, and indeed in recent years all have been increasingly called to account, both on a personal level and as a general sense of dissatisfaction that has infiltrated the zeitgeist. Thus the deep, dark purpose of the blog, perhaps a hopeless one, has been a stab at justifying my very existence, including the three sons I have propagated, of whose place in anything resembling an identifiable human community or even a normal Western-model economic hierarchy I have no sense whatsoever. I have not yet accomplished this to my satisfaction, to say the least.

I have lamented before the amount of time it takes me to write these entries; though I only post on average once a week I work on this probably five days in the week for an hour or more at a time per day. I cannot work near fast enough. As of now I have at least my next 14 posts planned out all in order, with notes scribbled on various workpads setting out images, ideas I dread forgetting, strategies for ordering paragraphs--but like having a list of hundreds of books before one and being bogged down in a very slow and very long one, you cannot proceed as quickly as you wish if you are going to do it at all well, at least if you are me.

I am literally falling asleep at the computer so I am just going to post and be done with it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Game of Art--Part 6


By the time I have arrived at the high moderns my connection, both emotional and cognitive, to museum art, is already grown feeble. After them it evaporates entirely. Abstract expressionism, Postmodernism, Pop Art, whatever came after those things (I have a hard time even reading about anything that has happened since about 1970, so impossible is it to find a neutral or at least reasonably phlegmatic account about what is supposed to have actually happened and why it is important) have no resonance with me. Whatever particular delights or aspirations motivate its admirers to seek it out and try to lay claim to an identity with this work remain beyond my ability even to experience them, cold and inscrutable and indifferent as most of the world and most of life becomes.

Though we have reached the end of the game for me both chronologically and with regard to the height of the social levels I can glimpse, at the end I do not remain confused and despondent among the teasing Picasso and his uptight sensualist-wannabe fans, but decamp back a few centuries in time to a moderately high ground, 2/5ths of the distance from the center to the remote edge of the landscape, an excellent position from which to view nearly all the other hills populated by Westerners anyway, from the Sumerians to the last of the pre-1945 modern Europeans. My hill is fairly sparsely populated, mostly men in proper dinner dress with a scattering of good-looking but forbidding women, all in appearance rich, capable, expensively and carefully educated, possessed of frigid taste, stridently conservative in politics and social behavioral ethics, nastily disdainful of almost everything that does not approach the (not very) various personal standards they have set for themselves. Though they are formally polite enough to me I do not enter into serious conversations with any of them but observe them from a distance. I listen in on them because they speak more often about the things I am interested in than any of the other groups, though they are rarely able to get through a whole relation of anything without encountering a particularly unsavory specimen of their ideological enemies, who must be intellectually skinned and flayed and rendered wholly impotent before they can return to the story of the expatriate poets of 1950s Alexandria or Henry Green's half-decades lost to drink or whatever had been engaging my attention. The totemic painters of this my hill, approved heartily by all my fellows, are Poussin and Tiepolo. I had never heard of either of these artists, and probably would not to this day consider them any more special than dozens of others of their stature at the just sub-Rembrandt/Leonardo/VanGogh level of fame, until I was confonted by each's having a substantial part to play in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time (painting by Poussin which inspired the title, above). It is not that I consider Powell or the supremely self-satisfied men and women on my hill paragons of taste, but it is clear that they have had such an education as both makes them capable of having it, and of having a fairly indomitable confidence in such opinions as they do form.

These painters have achieved a most comfortable and, to the confirmed bourgeois, enviable position in the art-stature game by the mores of early 21-century technocentric culture, though they are never set in the very highest niches of the pantheon; they are nonetheless largely unassailable by any force that the most rigorous current criticism seems to have at its disposal. Their technical proficiency is exemplary; their taste in and execution of their subject matter is uniformly of a high and thoroughly intellectually considered nature; in them, man is a more dignified creature in his degradation than moderns are generally able to conceive him in his triumphs. Their works appear, albeit by my very limited anecdotal evidence, to be relatively rare; Poussin's scattered a painting or two at a time around many minor and major museums, though with a decent concentration in London; Tiepolo having the bonus advantage (for snob value) that many of his finest works are on the not easily transportable ceilings of Venetian palaces, many of which remain in private hands and therefore inaccessible to the general public. Indeed I do not know that I have ever seen any of Tiepolo's work--certainly not since I became conscious of who he was, and the fresco of Candaules and Gyges that Powell writes about at such length I have not even been able to find any other reference to in my researches, though I find it strange that if he does refer to an actual work that there should be any difficulty in finding out basic factual information about it. In the Game of Art that I have been writing about however this (very intimate familiarity with and understanding of a painter's work) is often not so important of course, if a certain artist, or certain works or types of works fill an obvious symbolic need in the persona that the player wants to adopt to attract the potentially superior admirers/friends/contacts he seeks by engaging in it. Certainly there are other artists who occupy a similar position with me, especially some of the hyperbolical French romantics, David and Delacroix and the like, many English painters such as Constable and Hogarth, and all manner of academic painting, which I think it is not so hard to find charming if one can find television commercials charming, which doubtless in certain conditions most people probably do in spite of themselves. All these however are vulnerable to attacks in various major points of intellectual or even artistic weakness or failure, where the other two seem on stronger ground, only lacking that highest sublimity which is so rare that very few are in a position to attack it without making themselves more ridiculous than it is possible for their intended target to be. This kind of solidity of mind and competence has always fascinated me because it is the very remotest state to my current existence--sometimes more remote than genius I think.
Thus ends the game of art.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Jeanne d'Arc Part 3--EXCURSION: Joan of Arc's France

Below: the house known as Joan of Arc's birthplace, Domremy, Lorraine


The life and travels of Joan proceeded in such a neat and convenient order--she never re-traced a step or returned to a place she had once left--that following in her footsteps makes an ideal itinerary for a French vacation, and the air of venerable pilgrimage implicit in it might even be the sort of unifying theme or purpose, consecrated by long historical distance and high associations, that the discouraged or angst-ridden tourist can grasp onto to justify himself in being there; if nothing else it might fill his heart with more hope at the outset.

Joan never made it to Paris, but since anyone coming from the Anglosphere will most likely arrive there first, or will have to pass through it to get to Lorraine, one might as well stop there for 3 or 4 days before setting out for the provinces. For this trip I would recommend a restful or at least a not high-intensity 4 days of modern culture and consumption in the capital, since it is important to try to get into the mindframe of the Middle Ages, which I have been promoting in several places as probably the most proper way intellectually to approach this area of the world, including Paris itself. One could visit the Musee de Moyen Ages, I suppose, which some intelligent people have said is good, and of course Notre Dame. I am aware that it is somewhat trendy to eschew the great masses and hucksters at this church altogether and brave the more decorous and tasteful ones at Sainte Chappelle, which is not as universally known. By all means go to the second of course. Many people not ordinarily given to deep spiritual experiences claim to have them there, and this is a vital requirement to getting anything out of our tour. Notre Dame however is, and as long as it stands, always will be the heart of the city, its most important structure, the one constant that links, however tenuously, the medieval city--and in the 1200s and 1300s, Paris was by far the largest city in Europe, and probably the world, and more utterly dominant and essential in European learning and culture than it was even in the grand siecle--to the present. The building has been the greatest and most renowned landmark in the greatest or second-greatest city of European civilization for over 800 years, a tourist attraction for 500, and it still exists; all of which carries much weight with me. And I am telling you, when I get in there, jostled and tossed hither and fro as one of the post-Christian equivalents of the animals who used to graze among the ruins of Greece and Rome during the dark ages, I love my fellows. I do not mean a mushy, weepy personal love of a bunch of random and ill-dressed nonentities, but a properly manly and aristocratic vision of human possibility in which one is oneself an actor. Such is the power of my method.

Other possibilities for medieval activities in the Ile-de-France include a jaunt up to St Denis to see the basilica where the tombs (emptied during the Revolution) of most the French kings are. This is also where Pierre Abelard lived out his days after the legendary events he became entangled in during his prime. Of course the Latin Quarter/Sorbonne has come down in history as the center of the vital life of the city in that period, though I must confess I am not familiar enough with this neighborhood to say how much, if any, of the spirit of the time survives there.

By now the pilgrim must be ready to set out on his journey. The birthplace of Joan of Arc is at Domremy (now Domremy-la-Pucelle), and like Shakespeare, the house in which she is believed to have been born still stands, though it has undergone many alterations in the intervening 595 years. The church that she would have gone to likewise apparently still stands in some form, though it too has undergone many renovations, to the extent that entire parts of it have been destroyed or reconfigurated. Bourgeois Surrender does not believe in rushing through any town of any historical significance in an hour if he can help it, so you are going to have to hang around all day and wander about a little on foot and absorb some impressions of the country.

Next we have to journey back quite a ways across the country and through the English lines, as it were, to get to Chinon, where the future Charles VII was idling with ladies and defeatist church magnates when Joan got to him. This is in the Loire Valley, so we will substitute the many wine and gourmet food tourists we run the risk of encountering for the English as our designated enemies. The chateau is largely a ruin now (note: I have not been there, or to most of the places I'm writing about). In the throne room only the fireplace remains. To be sure the exhibits feature much Joan material (4 rooms worth) and there was a claim for some time that her ashes had not been dumped into the Seine but were miraculously saved and brought to the Chinon castle, though recent testing has determined the said ashes to belong to a cat (trying to tell which story to my wife, who is one of the least credulous people currently living, she immediately swarmed over me with "how do they know it's a cat? You can't identify anything from a pile of ashes" I don't know. If scientists say they can do it, what choice have I but to believe them?) Chinon looks to be a somewhat popular tourist stop, so perhaps if one stays overnight and has a personality and some nerve there is a possibility for romantic shenanigans. This last is completely speculation however.

From Chinon it is necessary to proceed up to Orleans, where of course Joan raised the seige of that city and achieved her most glorious victory on the battlefield. Orleans calls itself the capital of the Loire Valley--I would have thought it was Tours, but that shows you how well I know anything. It has a cathedral, as well a reconstruction of the house where Joan stayed during the battle, and looks well worth visiting, as old, mid-sized cities without any particular compelling sites often are in Europe (see below). From Orleans one then must venture back toward Joan's home territory, to Reims in Champagne, which of course has the ancient and important cathedral which was the coronation site of the French monarchy through the middle ages up to the revolution. Besides several churches, Reims also has a number of champagne cellars. Something about this sounds not as bad as going to wine tastings at Chateaux and vineyards, presumably because I imagine the cellar as a dark, dank place and I can't imagine you sniff champagne and swirl it around and take a wee dram and spit it out and all that pussy stuff. That isn't how the Russians do it, and they drink a lot of champagne. I still probably would avoid the manufacturer though. Maybe there is a quasi-rowdy (by French standards of rowdiness)champagne bar somewhere in town.

The glory being short-lived however, Joan was captured and taken to Rouen, where she met her end. I have actually been to Rouen, and it was one of the better times I have had visiting any place (though I did not pay much attention to the Joan sites). It is one of those mid-sized, old, historic and reasonably-preserved European cities that have managed to escape excessive popularity. Mantua in Italy, and Chichester and Lichfield in England are others that come immediately to mind. Their centers are all attractive, and they all retain some atmosphere of the pre-EU, pre-globalization character of their respectives regions and nations. You do not have to worry about being taken in by the uncool hotels, bars and restaurants that rip off stupid American tourists and divert them from the real fun, because there are not enough such visitors in these towns to warrant such business coming into existence. In Rouen English is--or I should say was, for it is some time since I was there--spoken less frequently than it was in Paris in 1990 (which was considerably less than it was there just 10 years later). I can barely communicate in the French language myself, though I read it passably; but I find generally in most European countries that the atmosphere is more interesting and less strained, certainly less artificial, for a foreigner, when the traditional/local language is the dominant one in the scene. This is not to dismiss the great multinational spectacles, and no doubt rich cultural exchanges common in the great city squares and train stations and downtown cafes and bars of Europe's grand cities, which so excites those who already live confidently with one or both feet in the hyper-globalized future. I have a weakness for poignancy, however, a decidedly unaristocratic/unelite sentiment; and places that can evoke an air both of having a "high" past and of being always a little stuck there, and not really very much of the present, are very poignant. Likewise highly intelligent or pretty people can be poignant, can be downright luminous in such a setting. The great cities seem to be evolving to a point where only the wretched and the innately inferior can have poignancy, though if that is a state wholly incompatible with meaningful high culture then perhaps this can be a positive change. I don't know.

The Joan sites in Rouen--the tower where she was imprisoned, the supposedly tacky museum, the modern church built on the spot where she was burnt--are generally shunned by the touring establishment. But I'm going to go to them if I ever get back to Rouen, and I am going to enjoy them. Her ashes, as noted earlier, were supposed thrown into the river Seine nearby.

This was quite a lame post. I apologize to my audience. I think I won't do any more 'excursions' for the time being. I will publish it because I want to get in the habit of posting copy, and because having the mind of a democratic man, I believe that there will probably be people out there who will be amused even by this, and I neither desire nor feel the responsibility of the aristocratic intellectual to keep such low entertainments from them.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Notes on My Trip to Florida




So as I intimated in my last posting, I was recently away for ten days, about a week of which were passed in Sarasota, Florida. This is the second year in a row that I have partaken in this New England ritual of taking a winter vacation in the Sunshine State, though prior to that I had certainly not thought of myself as the Floridagoing type. I have not yet been corraled into going to Disney World, my children being still small and unaware of its existence; but can anyone doubt that I will be there someday soon, happily relieving myself of fistfuls of cash and failing to feel properly the visceral recoil any serious-minded adult must experience when confronted with such a place? I didnt think so. This however is a matter for another time.

My image of Florida, which I had only been to once, when I was eleven, a time of my of life of which I remember virtually nothing, was that whatever might be said of it, it did not appear to exist for the likes of me, nor I for it. Intimidation, in my teens and twenties at least, I must confess was a factor: I was not affluent, nor did I have any particularly rabid ambition to appear so; I did not have an appropriate physique for hanging around attractive people my own age in the sort of attire customarily worn at beaches, yachts or trendy nightclubs in that region, which I imagined to be the only places in Florida that existed for socializing with young people; besides that I did not have any of the aforementioned suitable attire and my general appearance tends to wilt in heat and humid conditions anyway; having seen too many episodes of COPS set in Miami and Jacksonville I feared I was in no state to survive a likely encounter with one of Floridas innumerable well-built, often shirtless or tank-top sporting criminals (I am uncomfortable with displays of toned flesh generally, as one scarcely ever sees such a thing in New England. Such scary people as do exist in Boston are at least always dressed and are wearing parkas half the year, which makes them much less forbidding to cope with). This was combined with a general apprehension of the hostility I supposed from listening to too much right-wing radio anybody who enjoyed hanging out in France and Vermont could expect to meet with in that faraway and very mysterious region known as The South. This last of course seems absurd on reflection, but it is true that when we first got down past Richmond on the first trip, I felt very strange until we stopped somewhere and everything went off pretty much as normal. Still though, I was more comfortable and felt more attuned to people and the psychological environment when I was in Poland, than when I was in South Carolina. The real South psyches me out. I dont get it.

Sarasota, as anybody who has been there knows, is not the real South, and in my unscientific opinion, once you hit Gainesville going the western route or St Augustine on the eastern, the northerner is actually back in a somewhat recognizable milieu, indeed among many exiles from his own country, albeit with palm trees, a much greater community commitment to football, and at least in the wealthier areas along the coast, a much healthier-looking population. Sarasota and the keys that accompany it constitute one of those areas where not much nature apart from the actual ocean has been preserved quite as one might expect to find it. Insects, for example, appear to have been eradicated from large areas, including the--I dont know what to call it, development, I guess--where we stayed (we were lodging with some older relatives). The average age of people on the beaches is about 74, which greatly relieves the pressure on ones physical vanity. It is also a wealthy town, though one thing I have observed over the years is that if you are actually poor but vacation in the same place as upper middle class people the tendency is for most of them, even if they still consider you to be not so wonderful as themselves, to assume you are wealthier or more substantial than you really are, which of course causes to quiver a little the same ego I have just been relaxing on the point of physical beauty. There are about a thousand restaurants and bars there, not that I went to any (the children you know), so I cant gauge how much fun they would be, or different from the same type of place anywhere else in America. There are actually some decent tourist sites around Sarasota itself, which for somebody like me who can tolerate about a day and a half of beach time, is a happy circumstance. The Ringling estate (see top picture, which I fear I have stolen illegally from some professional), formerly owned by the circus mogul, is rather an extravaganza: with the outrageous mansion, which resembles a circus version of an Italian palazzo (I nonetheless like it), beautifully set with a great 1920s Gatsbyesque terrace right on the water; some circus displays and artifacts which can at instants offer one distraction from complete existential despair; and a very good art museum--really--from Ringling`s personal collection, of which I was only able to see about 40%, though I did at least get to see the Poussin, which was the closest feeling to a triumph I experienced the entire trip. The Spanish Point estate and grounds, quite extensive, was another good site for people like me who feel like they ought to spend time outdoors if they go somewhere warm, but like their nature subdued by the landscapers and engineer`s art. St Petersburg, about 40 miles away, is supposed to have 2 or 3 good art/culture museums too, though I didnt make it there. One of them is a Dali museum, which is not the sort of thing I would go out of my way to see, but would go to if I were in town for a week with nothing else to do, which is a state I am never in at this point of my life, but...
So Florida is starting to grow on me a little. I still would not want to live there, but if I had a lot of vacation time I could tolerate going for a week or two most years. Most of what there is to do there are not the sorts of things that I generally like doing, or seem not to be done at least in a way that I would like; but while this attitude might be tolerable in a Parisian philosopher, in me it only confirms my longstanding reputation as an incurable stick-in-the-mud. In other words it is not getting me anywhere.

It is moderately exciting to be in vacationland Florida during spring training (the Reds are the team in Sarasota nowadays) since this is about as aged a tradition as Florida has. I haven't been to any playing sites, but it is amusing to be around them, you know, and know that Yogi Berra and Bob Feller are somewhere in the neighborhood, and I also can better appreciate any stories I come across where somebody is feigning injury to skip out on the bus trip to Ft Myers and go on a bender (of course no one does this anymore).

In keeping with the ethos stated in an earlier chapter, we drove down. According to this guy, such adventures for people at my level of society will soon be distant memories, and I can expect within a few years to be toiling in a field within walking distance of my house (assuming I have one) alongside my fellow members of a revived native peasantry. As I dislike it when people go on a vacation and tell you all about the restaurants and hotels they stayed at, however great or awful they were, I dont want to go too much into that, but the state of things along I-95 between basically D.C. and Florida is pretty grim in that regard. I put a picture of the Waffle House up here because there about five hundred of them on the way south, and I had never heard of the place in my life before these trips. I have a high tolerance for inferior chain food compared to the sort of people who ought to be my friends but are not for such reasons as this, but this place, and its doppelganger in crimes against cookery, the truly execrable Huddle House, were too abysmal and depressing even for me to endure. Imagine Denny's at 2am on Saturday night, but half the size, and the chairs and counters smaller/lower and more cramped as well (and of course you are not drunk either). Our New England chains (Friendly's, Papa Gino's, D'Angelo's Subs, etc) are almost elegant and relaxing in comparison. Though I enjoyed the idea of driving through these faraway states, I still felt slightly cheered when we got back to Washington, and then we had dinner in Annapolis (where we went to college) and then we went on to Philadelphia where my family lives and has lived for a very long time, and returning to these scenes of youth and--I won't lie--more sophisticated areas cheered me of course even more, for I had been a little melancholy just before we got back to that familiar region.


I have lamented about the decline of the affordable but not completely gross and dispiriting American hotel elsewhere in these pages, which decline is of course felt most drearily along the far-flung outposts of our highway exits. Some have tried to persuade me that it was always thus, that the rathole motel is embedded in American lore and so forth, but I am talking about something else. Something else that still exists in Canada, by the way, that is a place where you pay $50-$70 for a room, no fripperies but reasonably comfortable and not brutal aesthetically, a la the Motel 6 model, which appears to operate under a policy that people who don't want or can't afford a $150+ room deserve to be spiritually punished for it; where the coffee and muffins probably lack dynamic flavor but someone has at least bothered to check that the milk isn't rancid or the donuts stale before setting them out; where the sheets have been competently laundered and the blood entirely mopped up from the bathroom floor. Now in the current economic and cultural climate, I know that I run the danger of implicating myself as impoverished or beyond the pale of respectable society merely by indicating knowledge of such places, letting alone confessing to having stayed at them. I have to plead nolo contendere. I do not think it is seemly for the likes of me to have to spend hundreds of dollars a night on unnecessary luxuries to be assured of avoiding squalor; though to be honest, if Mrs Bourgeois Surrender, who is a frugal Yankee of the old type, were not even more adamant on this point, I would assuredly be doing just that (So you see I could never have married anybody from Texas).

It seems pointless not to comment on what everyone must observe, that a great many, if not almost all, of these ramshackle hotels in the boonies are managed/owned (I'm not sure how it works) by persons who appear to be of a Subcontinental origin, most of whom exude a singularly indifferent attitude towards most of the traditional and noble functions of hostelry apart from collecting the fees. Not that this isn't all innkeepers' favorite part of the profession, or that native hotel employees are noted for their enthusiasm; but the these are usually not displayed quite so baldly, without even feigning to care about anything else, and especially by the proprietors. I know these motels are just roadside pit stops. There are however a lot of bad elements/vibes/what have you coming together in this trend that bother me a lot. The main thing being that, in large swathes of the country, these are not lowlife places you can just avoid and easily look elsewhere, but are the dominant accommodation. Therefore they set a standard of attitude and effort and attention to aesthetics for most travelling life in this country that I would prefer the nation to find wholly unacceptable. The Indian model of business/professionalism, as well as its attitudes towards services, seems to be ideologically an even more ruthless and extreme, status-obsessed version of the American one, which is the last thing this country needs at the present time. I did notice somewhere on the way down a hotel rather brazenly advertising itself as `American owned and operated` which I assume addresses a more widespread sense of discontent with the current state of affairs in this area. These are such touchy issues of course, when you feel compelled to criticize some identifiable group of people, something or other about whom just annoys you tremendously. These hotels are awful, though. In the old world you can get away sometimes with a nasty bathroom and sheets because you have other compensations; you are overlooking an ancient street, the food is good, the bar is lively, the other guests are attractive people of some parts and learning, and most importantly probably, you are in no way at home. But obviously I am beating this to death.

I had been getting excited because every time I checked by profile my visitor total was going up...by 1. I finally realized that the only person visiting it was me.