I have been in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, for four days, and am due to stay here for another SIX days before going to visit family in another part of the province. I am here for work, which means that I can order room service now and then. But it also means that I am forced to amuse myself alone in a foreign city. So far I have hit the famous West Edmonton Mall, where I saw "About a Boy" in one of the three movie theaters (I thought Hugh Grant looked alluringly haggard). I also viewed the wave pool and water slide complex before jumping on a bus back to downtown. Someone told me that Whyte Avenue was cool, sort of like Toronto's Bloor street near the Annex, but after I hiked for forty-five minutes to get there (including negotiating a troublesome wooded ravine), I discovered Whyte Ave is more like downtown Hyannis. The highlight of the afternoon was seeing the Peter the Positive Panda bus. It's some program for making children feel good about themselves and others, and the bus was covered with adorably crayoned posters of Peter the Positive Panda, with legends like "Saying Thank You is Important." Next I plan to check out the Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art at the Edmonton Art Gallery. And then, ummmmmmm, I'm looking forward to getting back to work next week.
I'm almost done with "Crazy From the Heat," the autobiography of David Lee Roth. It's possible there's something wrong with me, but I LOVE David Lee Roth and I always have. Recently I went with a friend of mine to meet her new boyfriend's friends. They had been drinking at a smoky bar for at least an hour before we got there, and their definitive test question for her was: "David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar?" What a brilliant way of separating wheat from whatever. The right answer is so obvious.
In fact I think that a picture of David Lee Roth played a key role in my developing sexuality because I suddenly realized that boys were not "icky," but instead were "aaaaah cool." I kept the picture in the top drawer of my pink desk along with my Hello Kitty wallet and worried that my mother might find it...it was a photo of Diamond Dave standing in a thigh-high blue ocean with his shorts rolled down so you could see his six-pack. I think it was 1985--a heady time. I've learned from the autobiography that he's 6 feet tall, has read "Huckleberry Finn" 200 times, likes to wander around the Himalayas, and washes floors daily as some sort of zen karate discipline. David Lee you are a god. I have been unable to find any good David Lee Roth websites: the best/sickest would be if I could find that picture from when I was 13. There is something called The Diamond David Lee Roth Army, but it's not very helpful. Drop me a line at logomachia at hotmail dot com if you find details, man.
I love it when celebrities do stuff other than the thing they're famous for. I am an avid collector of albums by singing movie stars--my favourite so far is "Pull Marine" by Isabelle Adjani. It was produced by Serge Gainsbourg and is exquisitely bad in a magical eighties way. Best song title: "Beau oui comme Bowie." Now I've also discovered celebrity e-commerce. We all know, for example, that Monica Lewinsky is a handbag-maker. (See her wares at
http://www.therealmonica.com.) And Kelley Deal makes handbags too. Her explanation for turning to crafts is hway better than anything Monica could come up with:
http://www.kelleydeal.net/handbags.htm. Also, two celebrity Tonys sell their work (or reproductions of it) through websites, Tony Curtis and Tony Bennett. I don't know if the phenomenon is sad (why would I buy a Tony Bennett painting except for the freakish fact that it's by Tony Bennett?) or cool (what better gift than "'The Nadia,' a Russian spy purse" straight from the hands of Kelley Deal?). Perhaps now I'll go listen to Marlene Dietrich sing "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" in German ("Schlittenfahrt").
Posted on the walls of Paris, April 1871:
"Workers, do not be deceived. This is the great struggle. It is parasitism and labor, exploitation and production that are at stake. If you are tired of vegetating in ignorance and coughing in misery, if you want your sons to be men and not types of animals reared for the factory and the battlefield, if you no longer want your daughters--whom you cannot raise and protect as you would like--to be the instruments of pleasure in the hands of the aristocracy of wealth, if you would like to see the reign of Justice--workers, arise!"
I just finished Paris Babylon: The Story of the Paris Commune by Rupert Christiansen, and now I'm full of history. I'm not a communist or an anarchist or much of anything besides a mutinous product of the American education system. The book is an anecdotal chronology of the decadence of the Second Empire followed by the Franco-Prussian war followed by the Siege of Paris followed by the Paris Commune followed by the murder of thousands of Parisians associated with the Commune: in other words, the history of Paris from 1870-1871. What I appreciated most were the newspaper stories, the first person accounts, the gossip, the diary entries, the caricatures, and the photographs that the book includes. 1871 seems a muckle long time ago, but you could see the same pictures of ruined buildings and piled corpses in the newspaper today.
I became interested in the Commune when I visited the Cimitiere de la Pere Lachaise (sic) in 1994 and noticed a particular wall where hundreds of Communards were summarily executed when the interim government at Versailles decided to take back the city by force. I'd also read, maybe in a John Irving book or in Frederick Simoons' Eat Not This Flesh: Food Avoidances from Prehistory to the Present, that during the Siege of Paris, when the Prussians surrounded the city and cut off all supplies and communications, the Parisians slaughtered and ate horses, rats, mice, cats, dogs, and the rich folks dined on special cuts from zoo animals. Because there was no regular post, they used hot air balloons (which couldn't be steered very well) and carrier pigeons (to which they attached an early version of microfilm) to carry letters and messages. Once the siege was lifted after a sketchy agreement with Bismarck, the working class basically went crazy and took over the city, while the post-Louis Napoleon government moved to Versailles to let the Reds (as they are called in the book) hash it out amongst themselves. The Communards were pretty disorganized and devoted a lot of energy to speeches, posters, and elections, and seem to have been considered "scum" by the majority of the city. This is a very primitive encapsulation of what happened. For more information, try:
Northwestern University Library collections have some photos, caricatures, and other on-line images for browsing.
The University of New South Wales has a very informative site that includes a city map, brief history, other links, biographies, and images--including a photo of the cemetery wall mentioned above.
A brief life of Louise Michel, the outspoken female revolutionary who was exiled to New Caledonia after the Commune and lived until 1905.
A very brief (and therefore helpful) description of the other events leading up to the Paris Commune is at http://www.theotherside.co.uk/tm-heritage/background/prussian-war.htm.
The Marxists have a more detailed timeline of events from January 1870 to May 1871.
More on the pigeon post at http://www.cix.co.uk/~mhayhurst/jdhayhurst/pigeon/pigeon.html.
I think if there's ONE THING we learn from this it's the importance of having trained carrier pigeons ready at a moment's notice. While I'm building my solar-powered home and making fuel for my car from vegetable oil, you can bet I will be training birds to take messages to and from the compound just in case there's a revolution.
I went to a baseball game this weekend--the Red Sox WON 8-0. I haven't been to the church of baseball since the Blue Jays were kicking ass in the World Series. It was wicked fun and also a semi-religious experience what with the standing up and sitting down and screaming and singing at prescribed times. I realize that all of my baseball knowledge comes from multiple viewings of Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, A League of Their Own, and Naked Gun. Not all of these movies are reliable depictions of the sport. (I really hate most of A League of Their Own, for the record.) For baseball idiots like me (I actually asked, "Why is he called the 'designated hitter'?"), there is a handy interactive map of the field thingy at http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/bos/baseball_basics/bos_basics_on_the_field.jsp. Now I'm afraid I'll become obsessed with the Boston Red Sox just as I'm moving out of town. It seems a very comfortable thing to watch a game on a Saturday afternoon with the air conditioning on and a big pitcher of sangria. Final note: it was hard to watch the game without an overpowering urge to chew gum.
Next time: the locust theory of popular music, is food poisonous?, tiny record labels, the discreet charm of the local food co-op.
I swore I wasn't going to write an entry while at work, but before I go back out into the heat and lose my powers of thought, I want to mention yesterday's Palio race in Siena, Italy. It's an insane horse race that takes place twice a year (July 2 and August 16) between ten of the seventeen contrade that make up the town of Siena. A contrada can be defined geographically as a part of town, but contrada loyalty is an essential part of being Sienese. As a former resident of Geneseo, New York, which seems to be Siena's unofficial sister city in the US, I've found that http://www.comune.siena.it/ has good information about Siena in general and the race in particular (Istrice won yesterday--that would be the red, white, blue & black porcupine contrada). For further reading find a copy of La Terra in Piazza (it's in English) by Dundes and Falassi...a trove of Palio information for the obsessive, including songs, glossary, schedule of events, and index of contrada rivalries.