Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

No cards this year. Just didn't get around to it. I've only been back for a month and a week, and it seemed like something has been going on since I've been back. No the best excuse, I know, but an accurate one.

When I got home from work the other day, a package from was waiting for me. It was a book I wanted, so I figured it was a gift. However, there was no gift card, and the "bill to" address contained my name and address. "Oh God, did I go online while drunk and order this and now have no memory of it?" I know someone who that happened to. A box of books arrived from amazon one day, he had no memory of having ordered them. When he went to "my account" online, he saw that he had ordered them in the early hours of the morning after he had been on a binge.

Had I done the same thing? It was possible. I've been known to send drunk mass emails, especially after someone famous has died. But I have not been that drunk (ie to the point of not remembering the events of the night before) in a long long time.

I went online to see if I had indeed ordered them, only to discover an email from my sister Erin. The book was a gift from her and my sister Julie (whew!). For a moment I thought I might actually have to change my lifestyle. That was close.

Hope everyone enjoys the holiday season and here's wishing 2006 is an improvement on 2005.

Monday, December 19, 2005

T-shirts in Rome

While walking down a street in Rome, I passed a tourist shop with t-shirts hanging outside. One in particular caught my eye: in silver sparkly letters, written in a pretty cursive, were the words "Germany Jews." "Germany Jews?" I thought. "That's a pretty ballsy t-shirt to wear. Not the sort of thing I expected to see in Italy. Maybe the East Village or Williamsburg in Brooklyn, but Italy? Maybe it's the name of a punk band. I haven't heard of them before..."

I looked again, only to discover that what the shirt really said was "Armani Jeans."

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Same But Different

For those who don't read the comments section, this is from the "Images of Morocco" feedback:

"Julie said...
Sad to think that American style clothing is replacing ethnic diversity. Someday we'll all look the same, eat the same foods, etc. How boring!"

It seems Julie is a little uncomfortable being assimilated into the Borg. We can help her with that...

Okay, maybe not a good idea to start this with Star Trek references. I'm not the first one to point out that religious fundamentalism and global capitalism both have the same ultimate goal: worldwide conformity. Everyone joined under one system. A marketing success is something bought by the largest number of people possible. A fundamentalist is convinced that their belief system is the One True Way and isn't happy till other belief systems are eradicated. This isn't hyperbole, but history. Neither capitalism nor fundamentalism has much use for peaceful coexistence. As far as I'm concerned, the worst case scenario would be a leader who is both a former business executive and a religious fundamentalist.

One of the reasons I went to Europe was I wanted to be the "other" for a while. I like being around people and places that are different from me. Alien. Foreign. But they weren't foreign. I was. There are tourists who want to travel but want things to be as similar to home as possible. I heard them in Europe complaining about the food, the prices, the laundry service, etc. I want the basics to be the same (ie I don't want to hunt and kill my own food, but go to a market or cafe) but I want said basics to be different enough so that common everyday tasks become interesting again. Familiar dish, but new spices.

It's not just that the lack of diversity is boring, although it is. It's also a system of control. If you aren't aware of differences, you accept the status quo and soon lose the ability to conceive of something better. One of the horrifying aspects of Orwell's 1984 that's usually forgotten is the way Big Brother is eliminating words from their language, eliminating diversity of expression. Language is connected to thought and if words don't exist to express an idea, than the idea itself doesn't exist.

If kids in the Atlas mountains want to wear Yankees caps and Chicago Bulls shirts, that's fine. For them, that's diversity. It may be as much a kick for them to wear US-themed clothes as it is for me to dodge mules in a millennia-old medina. Perhaps the shirts in some small way give them a different way of thinking, hopefully opening their minds to something beyond acquisitiveness. I still dig the differences, such as how odd the Mickey Mouse slippers looked. Sometimes it's more interesting when people get it wrong. If we are moving towards a Monolithic Culture, we're not there yet. In fact, it seems like there are more subcults and strange strains in world culture than ever before. It's the opposite of the Dark Ages: there's such variety that there's no way of keeping track of it. Who knows if it will last? History doesn't travel in a straight line. It moves like a drunk finding his way home from the bar on payday. But to end on a happy note, here's a picture of Jeff Koons' topiary dog standing guard in front of the Guggenheim Bilboa.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Images of Morocco

"So, how could Morocco not be your favorite place?" a girl asked me at a Christmas party on Saturday. This was after I had raided the mixed nut bowl of its cashews but before I had gone down the fire escape and climbed the fence in the backyard to crash (almost literally) another party*. The people at this other party were standing around a bonfire wearing the ugliest Christmas sweaters you can imagine: one had blinking lights on it and another had a stocking, complete with gifts, sewn on the front. I had taken it upon myself to discover if these sweaters were on purpose. They were. They were having an ugly sweater contest and even asked for my opinion. Gimmicks like blinking lights and stockings were impressive, but they couldn't match the horror of the winning sweater. Even so, while expaining why I chose that sweater, I still felt the need to be as polite as possible to those in deliberately awful clothing.

Similarly, I wanted to warn Giselle about the disappointments of Morocco (diarhea, getting treated like a walking ATM by the locals) without squashing her interest in going. God knows I would go back if the opportunity arrived. I think one of my greatest disappointments is that I did not take more pictures. A fascinating land completely unlike our's, but I only got a few shots and a little video. Being sick in bed for a day or so will do that to you.

*Reading this sentence, I've just realized for the first time that I am not someone who should be invited to social events.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Images from the Sevilla Cathedral

Built in the 15th century on the site of an old mosque, the Sevilla Cathedral was created in a spirit of showing off, a celebration of Christianity's victory over Islam and the region's growing economic power. It is the largest gothic cathedral in the world, and in my opinion its beauty gives St. Peter's a run for its manna. The cathedral also contains Christopher Columbus' tomb, although there is some controversy as to whether he is actually buried there.