man, i was hoping these posts would never be timely again:
Sep 01, 2005
Notes From The Road
Here I sit on the Blvd. St. Germain, in the shadow of some minor church that looks to have been already old when St. Joan was a schoolgirl. From a radio somewhere Curtis Mayfield is singing “Superfly” – bless the French, they may like J. Lewis, but they like the good stuff as well. I have just finished a fine omelette with tomatoes, onions and gruyere at a brassiere that is wonderfully indistinguishable from a dozen others. In front of me a grand parade of great Gallic noses ranging from large to magnificent pass by. The cliche is that the eye is the window to the soul but it is the nose that tells you if the soul is interesting enough to bother peeping into. If the French are looking down their noses at the rest of us, who can blame them? They are just enjoying the view.
I have no idea where the French got the reputation as being rude to travellers. I find them wonderful. And that is not just because I am from Boston, a city that really can not cast the first stone when it comes to being rude to others. The only trouble I have ever had was on my last trip here when I ran into a very rude person at the Tourism office. That was more than made up for this time by the man at the tourist office who helped us find a toy store that sold tanks and made Collateral Damage Jr. very happy. <BTW, French keyboards are laid out differently and don’t have apostrophes, so I am not totally to blame for my poor spelling this time.>
Looting in New Orleans? Isn’t that redundant? Given the corruption of that city’s government in general and the police department in particular I cant help but think the citizens view this as though they are finally getting their cut.
What is truly appalling in the wake of Katrina is how badly the relief and rescue efforts have been bungled. It’s not like they didn’t know this was coming. Officials have been expecting and planning for this disaster practically since the French <AH HA!> settled the damn city. Even so all the government agencies appear too have been caught flat footed: This should deservedly cost a lot of politicians and bureaucrats their jobs
Sept. 02, 2005
More notes from the road
I am writing this from an internet cafe across from the Lycee Charlemagne – given the age of the students I would say roughly high school. It is oddly relieving to note that French teenagers look every bit as stupid with a cigarette as American teens do. I have just stumbled across a wonderful English bookstore on rue Saint Paul called The Red Wheelbarrow (after the poem by William Carlos Williams). I had a fine conversation with the owner, whose name I didn’t get (bad jounalist bad! No croissant for you!). She, who has my dream job, is from New York and went to school in Boston. I am (now) from Boston and went to school in New York. Those fine coincidences make the day.
We talked about how difficult it is to be in the midst of current events – both the aftermath of Katrina in the States and the two horrible fires that have killed so many families here in Paris – and at the same time remembering to cherish our blessings and good fortune.
It is a strange thing being so far away from the states when a disaster hits. It’s not as though being in Boston would put me closer in any real sense to Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, but still I have the feeling I should be home – plugged into my communication network and therefore being responsible, not frittering my time away on something as frivolous as vacation. Call it vacationer’s guilt.
In watching the president on CNN and the BBC, I am struck by how much this disaster needs and doesn’t have a Giuliani. If not a hero, then at least grown up who is willing to say honestly how bad things are and what they do or don’t know. That gave Rudy a credibility so we trusted him when he said things will get better. Never mind getting the Ex-Presidents involved in this, maybe the current president should see what Mr. G is up to.
Watching the coverage of all this on those two TV networks, their reports are so at odds with what the people at FEMA and elsewhere in the government are saying that I am forced to conclude that either the press has grossly overplayed how bad things are or that the government is more concerned with spin than facts – sadly, either is a real possibility.
What is certain, and what we are just beginning to hear about, is that the defense of “no one could have predicted this” is absurd. The threats to New Orleans have been documented thoroughly. If you doubt this go back and look at coverage at the start of every hurricane season. The “what will happen if New Orleans gets it” story is written and re-written every year.
There is a huge difference between how the Beeb and CNN are covering Katrina. Both because the Brits seem to feel that there is still other news going on in the world as well – the deaths by stampede in Iraq, the anniversary of the massacre at the school in Beslan in Russia, typhoons hitting both Taiwan and mainland China – and because the BBC people are much more comfortable asking people, officials and people on the street, difficult questions. At CNN, they appear much more concerned with being liked, with letting the viewers know that CNN feels the same things the viewers do. It is the difference between an having an avocation and building a brand. CNN has put a heavy emphasis on heartwarming and funny stories of survival. Last night’s interview with the two ex-prez was one soft ball question after another. The only thing more appalling was what I saw of Diane Sawyer’s interview with the current president. I assume the president is upset by the devastation, so stop asking him about that. Facts, please.
1. If, in fact, the word refugees is accurate and sticks around, there will be hell to pay from the American public. Refugees happen in other countries, not the US.
2. Louisiana, being Louisiana, there is a story of corruption and malfesance at the heart of this disaster that will boggle the mind.