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Monday, July 31, 2017

Alexis de Tocqueville


This taken from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835). He spent nine months touring towns and cities. During his tour, the aristocratic Tocqueville was impressed by the fact that American Democracy actually worked. He wrote:

"There is one thing which America demonstrates invincibly, and of which I had been in doubt up till now: it is that the middle classes can govern a state. I do not know if they would come out with credit from thoroughly difficult political situations. But they are adequate for the ordinary run of society. In spite of their petty passions, their incomplete education and their vulgar manners, they clearly can provide practical intelligence, and that is found to be enough."

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Milan Kundera

Interesting. This is part of an old article, taken from Paris Review, I think.


Afterword. A Talk with the Author of “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”
   Milan Kundera: Take the other theme of the book, forgetting. This is the great private problem of man: death as the loss of the self. But what is the self? It is the sum of everything we remember. Thus, what terrifies us about death is not the loss of the future but the loss of the past. Forgetting is a form of death ever present, within life. This is the problem, of my heroine, in desperately trying to preserve the vanishing memories of her beloved dead, husband. But forgetting is also the great problem of politics. When a big power wants to deprive a small country of its national consciousness it uses the method of organized forgetting. 
  This is what is currently happening in Bohemia. Contemporary Czech literature, insofar: as it has any value at all, has not peen printed for twelve years; 200 Czech writers have been proscribed, including the dead Franz Kafka; 145 Czech historians have been dismissed from their posts, history has been rewritten monuments demolished. A nation which loses awareness of its past, gradually loses its self. And so the political situation as brutally illuminated the ordinary metaphysical problem of forgetting that we face all the time, every day, without paying any attention, Politics un­masks the metaphysics of private life, private life unmasks the metaphysics of politics.
   Phillip Roth: the, sixth part of your book of variations-the main heroine, Tainina, reaches an island when: there are only children. In the end they hound her to death. Is this a dream, a fairy tale, an allegory?
   Milan Kundera: Nothing is more foreign to me than allegory, a story invented by the author in .order to illustrate some thesis. Events,. whether realistic or imaginary, must be significant in themselves, and the reader is meant to be naively seduced by their power and poetry. I have always been haunted by this image, and during one period of my life it kept recurring in my dreams: A person finds himself in a world of children, from which he cannot escape. 'And suddenly childhood, which we all lyricize and adore, reveals itself as pure horror. As a trap. This story is not allegory. 
  But my book is a polyphony in which various stories mutually explain, illumine, complement each other. The basic event of the book is the story of totalitarianism, which deprives people of memory and thus retools them into a nation of children. All totalitarianisms d0 this. And perhaps our entire technical age does this, with its cult of the future, its cult of youth and childhood, its indifference to the past.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Jack London

Taken From Writers Almanac:

On this day in 1897 21 year old Jack London sailed fro San Francisco, on his way to the Klondike to search for gold. He was on board the SS Umatilla with his brother-in-law, James Shepard, who was close to 70 years old. Shepard and his wife, Eliza, who was London’s sister, mortgaged their house to afford the passage and gear for the two men. They had a smooth eight-day trip from San Francisco to Juneau, Alaska, and then took boats to Dyea Beach, the start of the Chilkoot Trail. The Chilkoot Trail was a difficult 33-mile journey through the Chilkoot Pass, but it was the most direct route from the coast of Alaska to the Yukon. When Shepard saw the Chilkoot Pass, he realized that there was no way he would make it. He gave all his gear to London and went home to California.

The Chilkoot Trail was brutal. The trail rose a thousand feet in the last half mile, and men had to carry all their gear on their backs because it was too steep for animals. Prospectors climbed in one single-file line. If anyone faltered and got out of line, they were not let back in. So many men were unable to survive in the Klondike that the Canadian Mounted Police mandated that all prospectors bring one ton of supplies, the minimum for a year there. So London had to climb up the Chilkoot Pass over and over, with 100-pound loads each time.

Once London made it over Chilkoot Pass, he was in Canada. From there, it was 500 miles to Dawson City, the outpost of the gold rush. After hiking through a frigid marsh up to his knees, London arrived at Lake Lindemann, the beginning of a web of rivers and lakes that would eventually lead to Dawson City. London reached Dawson City just as the Arctic winter was setting in. London came down with scurvy due to the lack of fresh vegetables, and was forced to head back to the ocean. He was not alone in turning back. Of the 100,000 potential prospectors who set out for Dawson, only about 30 percent made it, and of those, about 4,000 actually found gold.

London returned to San Francisco sick and depressed, but he started writing about his adventures in the Yukon. The Atlantic Monthly accepted his story “An Odyssey of the North,” in which he wrote: “On the bottom there was a cabin, built by some man, of logs which he had cast down from above. It was a very old cabin, for men had died there alone at different times, and on pieces of birch bark which were there we read their last words and their curses. One had died of scurvy; another’s partner had robbed him of his last grub and powder and stolen away; a third had been mauled by a baldface grizzly; a fourth had hunted for game and starved – and so it went, and they had been loath to leave the gold, and had died by the side of it in one way or another. And the worthless gold they had gathered yellowed the floor of the cabin like in a dream.” In the year 1899, London published more than 50 pieces – poems, essays, and stories. Early in 1900, he published his first book, Son of the Wolf, a collection of short stories based on his adventures in the Klondike, and that led to his book The Call of the Wild (1903), which made his career.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Amsterdam — Last Looks

Ethics Police
I’ve notice many minor changes on these Red Light streets—new rules to protect a group of more innocent and affluent tourists coming in. Window hookers used to knock on their glass doors to attract attention of potential clients passing by. This is prohibited now. Posters have appeared warning tourists of street vendors who, we are advised, might be pick pockets or sellers of bad, tainted or illegal drugs. I was approached by one trying to sell cocaine.
There is a large round bench by the Oude Kerk, a good place to sit and watch the never ending stream of tourists passing by.

I was smoking my pipe— just tobacco, as a couple guys near me were puffing on something more interesting. They were interrupted by the ethics police—not the real name for them.

Handhaving means, enforcement, which seems an ambiguous label. I could not find a better title for them though some of the locals had rather demeaning interpretations. The enforcers informed the smokers that inhaling pot in public was not allowed. One is expected to be discrete, they were informed. I’ve never noticed these guys in years before now and asked when they began to patrol.

“We’ve been around for years,” I was told. “But these are new uniforms. They make us more noticeable.”

I doubt these smokers would have been bothered last year, and certainly not two years ago. Drinking on the streets is also illegal, but goes on all the time.

Maintenance also goes on all the time, as you might expect with these centuries old buildings. I tried to get some shots of what it looks like underneath these structures, but it was difficult to do without getting in the way of work in progress. Behind these bricks I could only see sand, just sand.

 Last Look—A political view.

I was looking down at the canal from my window one afternoon. A man who I assumed to be the owner of Casa Rosso was in front of the place with what must have been a manager. The owner looked surprisingly like Donald Trump from this distance, same unruly mop of hair. He looked tired, or bored, slumped forward, leaning on an elephant.


As I was watching the Trump doppelganger rested his head on his forearms and seemed to nod off. A mailman arrived and handed a bunch of letters to the manager (guy in purple shirt). He took the letters inside and came back with a large envelope which he handed to the owner who opened it and took out several sheets of paper. He stared at them a bit, then shook his head, seemingly not able to understand what they were about. He gave them back to the manager who studied them, then handed them back with a pen for him to sign something. The virtual Trump signed, then went back to sleep. A slide show view of U.S. government—in my opinion.

It’s been an interesting trip, and perfect weather—as good as it gets.

Next stop - Stockholm, where I’ll meet my daughter and her family. First time in fifteen years.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Amsterdam - Room With A View 15 July 2017

Room With A View

It is small, but enough. I pack light, the bed is good, and there is a desk. What else does one need for five days in a place like this Dutch Mardi gras. Free breakfast, same as what I eat at home. The staff knows and looks out for me. $350 for five days. The highlight is the window that looks out on the canal and Rossos live sex show. I have never been. I always think about it as a sort of science project, a Jane Goodall thing. But I just can’t bring myself to do it—Been there. Done that.

It was the later 1960’s. I was forty something, on my own and curious in Bangkok, Pat Pong Street. One of three avenues open to any kind of sex you might imagine.I went to one of the ‘Live Sex’ shows, but don’t remember much of it. A woman shot some ping pong balls into the air, then later some snakes were brought out and at the same time I heard to door lock at the entrance of the place. I get claustrophobic behind closed doors and had seen enough. A thing like that changes you. I got up to leave and was stopped by a guy standing at the door.

“No no. Is okay,” he assured me. “No problem.”
“Out.” I just said, out, and he could see I meant it.

That’s the only show I ever saw—part of, but I’ve been curious about Rosso’s. What do they do? I can’t help but wonder. There are lines waiting to get in the place by early evening. Thirty or forty tourists, some in tour groups. Some all female groups. Women giggle in the queue. From inside the show I often hear laughter echoing over the canal.

I got some information today as I was walking behind a pair of middle age tourists. As we passed Casa Rosso a tout standing at the entrance approached them and I stopped to listen as he made his pitch with a heavy Russian accent.

“Four Four couple make sex,” he says. “Smoke cigarette with pussy. Girls write with pussy. 6 p.m. night show is 55 Euros.”

Last year it was 40 Euros. 50 Euros was the listed price for fifteen minuets with one of the window prostitutes, but their prices may have gone up.The couple tells him, maybe later. They will be coming back, but there’s no lack of customers. The show is now on both sides of the canal. The second one is smaller and takes care of overflow, a constant problem. There is a string of colored lights across the canal, from the big show to the smaller one. There is some place selling tickets farther up the canal, and when the lights are green it signals sellers to keep pushing tickets. When the light is red it means, Full Up. The lights are almost always red.



I can’t imagine what they make. 300 people a day, minimum — times 55 . . .  Fifteen thousand?  More I think.

There are four hooker window to the left of Russo's. I’ve never seen anyone go in, but men are tricky about it. Most kind of loiter around, then jump in, real fast, when they think no one is looking. This is the first year I have seen any of the four windows empty.

There's a for rent sign on the glass. Eighty Euros for the day shift. Prostitutes have to be licensed, and as licenses expire they’re not renewed. There are fewer every year, but still a couple hundred window workers here.

Last year a wise guy at the hotel bar asked Anna how she could compete sexually with so many professionals around.
She said, “I give my boyfriend more than fifteen minutes.” They never see her comin’.
Sex is the other big draw here. There are dozens of sex shops, for gay and straight, all kinds of devices—costumes.

There are tattoo shops, and piercing shops with all kinds of silver adornments, fast food places, coffee shops where you can smoke, but cannot buy.

Sports bars and places offering organic drugs, truffles, seeds, and stuff that will improve your sex life— ‘Natural Elements.’ There’s a place selling CBD juice.

This started last year, but is more out front now. I don’t know anything about it. The word is nobody really knows that much about it.

                                                                     CBD Oil
Oils with a high CBD content have enjoyed a rise in popularity in the European market. As long as the THC content is no higher than 0.2% in most (but not all) European member states, CBD oil is legal. The surge in awareness and demand has created a large-and unregulated-industry. 

 *          *          *

There are several paraphernalia shops selling bongs that can cost up to a thousand bucks. Who buys these things? I’m talking about businesses on Warmoesstraat, the main drag.

There are no places selling pot on Warmoesstraat. The only two I noticed in the entire Red Light area were the Bulldog, and Feels Good. Both of them out of the way enough to be almost out of sight, and making millions. Both shops have two dealers, side by side—like bank tellers. There is always a queue of at least three or four customers waiting, often more, and no purchase less that twenty Euros. Transactions take about four minutes. One does not ask questions, like, What’s good? If you don’t know what you want, get out of the way. Both places crowded, twelve hours a day. 2 dealers X 15 customers X 20 Euros, about 900 Euros an hour X 12 hours…. Something like ten thousand bucks a night.
This is getting too long. More on drugs next post.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Amsterdam – Observing the Red Light Day 3— Part 1

It’s my third day here. I’m kind of settled in. I love my room at the Torenzicht. I’ve had the same one every year, for five years — all except the last. There was some kind of booking confusion and I got transferred to another hotel.

The first time I had this room was the most interesting. I’d come back from an afternoon walkabout, charting a cognitive map of things on my first day. The Oude Kirk (Old Church) makes an excellent landmark, it’s very big and everyone knows where it is.

Only problem is there are about five of these structures, all of them old and look about the same. One is called, ‘The New Old Church’, I‘ve no idea what the names of others are, but only one is in the center of the Red Light Distinct.

I was standing at the railing of a small porch outside the hotel bar with a guy from England, watching the endless parade of tourists.

We fell into an easy conversation: Where ya from? How long have you been here? Stuff like that. He was smoking a joint.  You can’t smoke inside, so people come out here to have a puff or two.

“You want?” He held the blunt out to me. “Good stuff,” he says without breathing.

“Sure, why not.” We talk for ten or fifteen minutes, time enough to take a few drags before going up to my room. The “good stuff” didn’t seem to affect me very much, though I realized I had been more chatty than I usually am. We had gotten down to wives, and pets, and kids before the conversation ended—a standard sort of pot experience.

My room was adequate, if Spartan. Just the bare essentials, two reasonably comfortable single beds and a sink— bathroom and shower down the hall. I start to throw my backpack down on the nearest bed where I’d left the clothes I’d changed from after checking in last night.

I notice the mattress is wet and dump the backpack on the floor, then take a closer look. It’s very wet. In fact, there is a puddle . . . of water. OMG! I'm tripping. This can't be, I tell myself. I did not do this, and no one has been here. I'm only occupant, and the sink is on the other side of the room. Jesus, what have I been smoking? Keep calm, I tell myself. You’ll be okay. Relax. Close your eyes. When you open them things will be back to normal. Things did not go back to normal. I put my hand in the puddle. This is water. This is real water. How did it get here?

At last, a drop splashed in the puddle, coming from the ceiling. Pipe leak in the room above. Thank God. I am still sane. I go down to the bartender and tell him what happened. He says I can get another room and they will pay to launder the wet clothes I’d left on the bed. Seeing an opportunity for free rent I said I would spend the rest of my stay in the ‘wet bed room’ if they would give me two days rent free. He happily agreed.

The Torenzicht’s rooms have been updated since that first year, 2013. My room has been divided into two rooms, each with a single bed, TV, and Wi-Fi. Rent is just a little more than what I paid five years ago. View from my window’s still the best in Amsterdam, in my opinion.

View From My Window