The lily pad fits in with its surroundings, as does the frog. Like most of nature its camouflage saves it. Human beings are the only creatures who do not fit in with the rest of nature. Nature is simple. But mankind rejects simple living. Now suppose a pond has one lily pad in the beginning. Then suppose it doubles each day, one lily pad turning into two each day. Soon the pond will be full of lily pads.
The American military jargon has adopted the lily pad to mean an outpost, an advance camp, a foreign base, or staging area, only one in a series of stops, a scaled down military facility with theoretically little permanent personnel, often used as a staging ground for Special Forces and Intelligence operations. Continue reading →
The dream and the reality are far apart and the chasm is growing bigger with each passing day, affirms our correspondent
Italy—at once anarchic, stubbornly individualistic and communitarian—is no longer everyone’s second motherland. Her warmth, her legendary charms and generosity, even her sense of humor captured in numerous postwar films, have been eroded by a crass capitalist modernity in which a bastardized, heavily colonized pop culture is ushering an era of impersonality. The old Italy is dissolving before our eyes…Does anyone care?
TWO CARS ARE AHEAD OF ME heading toward the row of a dozen or so trash bins serving my residential area. The bins are strangely empty today. The entire trash zone just opposite the fashionable tennis club that usually looks like Naples seems suspiciously clean. Almost inviting. The huge black Suv ahead of me turns the corner, slows, the darkened passenger window descends and out shoots a plastic bag of garbage which smacks down on the pavement and splits open at the feet of a bin labeled BOTTLES AND METAL OBJECTS. The Toyota accelerates and vanishes.
(Rome) The story of Roberto Rossellini is a very Italian story, encompassing Italy in change from the Fascist period and, reaching beyond his lived life, until 2009. Though Europe is not Europe without Italy, Rossellini’s story, in the strictest sense, is a very Italian story; not an European story. For Italy, separated from the rest of Europe by the Alps, is, and perhaps always has been, something apart, still today considered by North Europeans an exotic place to escape to. As is popularly said, Italy is a wonderful place to visit but hell to live in. The story of Roberto Rossellini deals with that paradox. Read Roberto Rossellini and think Italy of the past 75 years.
(Rome) One of my favourite writers, Paul Bowles, lived much of his life in Morocco. His major theme is the clash between civilized man and an alien environment. His Westerner is inevitably defeated by primitive man. In the jungle or in the desert the Westerner is not only lost but also a victim of the primitive environment. Natural man is superior and defeats the neurotic product of technological society. The Westerner searches for primitive society, loves it, needs it, but in the end is defeated by it.
Years ago in Tangier, Bowles told me that he wanted to show how badly prepared the average Westerner is when he comes into contact with cultures he doesn’t know—or thinks he knows. The more he tries to penetrate it, the worse it gets, Bowles believed primitive man has retained things that western man has lost and can operate in natural surroundings. “Americans are less prepared than Europeans in such circumstances,” Bowles believed, “because they think everyone must do it the American way. Therefore it is hard for them to establish real contact with others. It is a paradox that self-subsistent primitive man is more adapted for communal life than is dependent western man, whose attempts at communal life are disasters. Primitives have a communal life. No one owns anything. Everything belongs to all. This couldn’t work in advanced societies. As soon as personal property appears, you have to invent another system.”
(Rome-Paris) Four parties and movements of the quarrelsome and divided Italian Left have allied for the European parliamentary elections next June. That is good news. Communist Refoundation, Party of Italian Communists, Socialism 2000, and United Consumers have agreed to unify their meagre forces in order to surpass the 4% electoral barrier so that Communists, with their red flag with the hammer and sickle emblem, can again sit in the Assembly of the European Union.
For many years now such unity on the Italian Left has been painfully absent, its former voters, bewildered and confused, wandering from center-left to right, in an electoral diaspora. Running separately in national elections in 2006, the two parties using the name Communist garnered a total of 10% of the vote. In comparison to today’s numbers those were the good old days. For during the breakdown of Left unity, proletarians in the Rome periphery even voted for the neo-fascist National Alliance and workers in north Italy cast their votes for the rightwing Northern League. Communists now hope to win back their traditional Left vote that once—though today almost a political relic—counted one-third of the nation’s electorate.
(Rome) Protests, broken heads and hundreds of arrests at the G20 in London, bloody demonstrations in Kehl and Baden Baden and Strasbourg at celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of NATO, workers uprisings across the face of France, and on Saturday in Rome’s Circus Maximus a mammoth manifestation organized by the CGIL trade union underline the abyss separating the New Class of capital from labour. The current and spreading revolt of labour against capital seems to mark the second phase of the crisis of capitalism, as a consequence of the financial crisis caused by the New Class of an elite that has illogically chosen to separate itself from labour in the Occidental world. Continue reading →
Precariousness looms like a black cloud over the continent of Europe. The fragility of human life and of the life style generations of westerners are accustomed to today rages like a modern plague. Precariousness is a contagious disease. It leaps from worker to worker, from class to class. No wonder that life in our times has never seemed more temporary. Permanence belongs to another age.
(Rome) A popular Italian evergreen from the 1970s depicts a contemporary conundrum for many Europeans: “Chi non lavora, non fa l’amore” go the lyrics. The woman tells her man, “If you don’t work, there will be no love-making in this house. If you strike and don’t bring home pay, I will strike too. No love-making here!” The worker goes back to his job and strikers beat him up and call him a scab. No sex if he strikes, beatings if he works. He is truly the superfluous and precarious man. His only hope is that the capitalist boss relents and grants the pay increases the union demands and lets love into his house again. But that, he must realize, is highly unlikely.
Rome Diary: March 2009 Update—Fascist Times In The Land Where Lemon Trees Bloom
“Tottering Steps Along The Rim Of Fascism And Revolution”
(Rome) ISTAT, Italy’s Statistical Office, has announced that for the first time the nation’s population has passed 60,000,000. The disconcerting reality behind the statistic is that while Italy ages and Italians produce less children, immigration is providing the growth of the nation that until a few decades ago was an emigration country and Italian workers spread over north Europe. Today, as usual, immigrants do what Italians don’t. Over 1,000,000 Romanians are in Italy today, followed closely by Albanians and Moroccans. Immigrants make front page news. Usually negative news. Not a day passes that foreigners (until the crisis immigrants were the manpower necessary for Italian industry), are not accused of nefarious crimes.
After any crime the rule is cherchez l’étranger. Police immediately accused an Albanian gang for a series of nocturnal burglaries in houses and apartments near me. Statistics showing that proportionately Romanians commit more crimes—robbery, rape and prostitution—are regularly headlined. Moreover, the Romanian government itself is accused of sending its criminals abroad. Ditto for Albanians, who were the crime leaders until not long ago. In general, illegal immigrants prefer the chaos of Italy where they can easily evade the law.
SECURITY AND POPULISM
It is a piece of cake for the populist, authoritarian regime of Silvio Berlusconi to gain accolades from public opinion for a political platform based on security. Concerning immigration and crime, the issue today is, who is to guarantee public security, police, the military or the people themselves.
Symbols and objects held sacred by a whole people form a more powerful protective barrier than the highest of walls. Even the Great Wall of China was more a scarecrow than a real barrier to Mongol invaders. In that figurative sense I have imagined here the Russian icon as a historical defense of Russia against circling invaders, against mercenary armies and menacing space shields.
I ran into a reference to The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits and found the suggestive old poem extensively reproduced and commented on line. The work consists of a poem, The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn’d Honest, and an extensive prose commentary. The poem which first appeared in 1705 was intended as a commentary on England, as the Dutch Englishman, Bernard de Mandeville, saw it. Here is a stanza:
A Spacious Hive well stock’d with Bees,
That lived in Luxury and Ease;
And yet as fam’d for Laws and Arms,
As yielding large and early Swarms;
Was counted the great Nursery
Of Sciences and Industry.
No Bees had better Government,
More Fickleness, or less Content.
They were not Slaves to Tyranny,
Nor ruled by wild Democracy;
But Kings, that could not wrong, because
Their Power was circumscrib’d by Laws.
The ‘hive’ is corrupt but prosperous, yet it grumbles about lack of virtue. A higher power decides to give them what they ask for. It’s all quite familiar and contemporary. Eh?
(Rome) Since I have been over the whole route, from the political no-man’s land of the “majority”, across the cavernous divide to the independent and autonomous state of intense engagement, paying for my mistakes and reaping immeasurable rewards along the way, I can now permit myself some liberties of opinion. Still, I listen and listen and listen and wonder where I stand in the never-ending discussion on What is to be done? Like other emancipated people I wonder not only about my own ideas but also about those persons of Power dedicated to the methodical conditioning and fierce control of the malleable consciousness of the masses, Power dedicated to the seduction of humanity.
C’est la lutte finale
Groupons nous et demain
Sera le genre humain.
(The Internationale in its French version)
(Paris) The great tower stands like a beacon over Europe. From the top one can see the Chartres Cathedral seventy kilometers away, on a rare clear day. Evenings from my bedroom window I watch the magnificent tower illuminate. Gradually. Gracefully. As day ends the searchlight at the top at 1000 feet altitude begins sweeping the sky. During last year’s French EU Presidency, as daylight departed and night fell, the gigantic iron structure progressively turned blue, bit by bit, nearly unnoticeable. At first it was a faint, very faint, shade of blue, before, when winter night arrived, it assumed its luxuriant cobalt sheen.
A magic moment for prescient dreamers fascinated by towers and overviews. Nostalgic views, too, which might also end in illusion, in mirage and chimera.
by Gaither Stewart
featured writer Dandelion Salad
8 January 2009
Previously published 1 January 2008
(Buenos Aires) A book by the dean of Argentine writers, the 96-year old Ernesto Sabato, bears the title, La Resistencia, though the word Resistance itself is used sparingly in his 150-page book-essay. Yet, his message is clear: man must resist against injustice. I began this essay from that point.
Resistance begins in doubt. Then it grows into the adolescence of skepticism and matures into defiance, confrontation and struggle. Resistance is above all the determination to say, no. No! to euphemism and deceit. No! to falsehood and lie. No! to promises of comfort and ease and assurances that ours is the right way of life.
Resistance is real life as opposed to virtual life. Resistance is the precise opposite of acceptance of what society offers and the resulting retreat into comfort and ease, into the assurances that your lifestyle is the right one, that your way of life is the right way of life. Resistance is the rejection of Power’s version of life. It is rejection of wide-eyed acquiescence to Power’s lure. Continue reading →
(Paris) It is counterproductive to attempt to debunk Parisian cafés and café culture. Whether revisionists and debunkers approve or not, the Café de Flore on Paris’ Boulevard Saint Germain is a living institution. Since its founding in 1870 it has existed as a café and second home for writers, artists and intellectuals of the likes of Apollinaire, Camus, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and frequented by Hemingway and even Truman Capote. In the 1920s and 30s, the Flore was the meeting place of the Right, after World War II of the Left. Forming a triangle with the famous but touristy Deux Magots (today “out” and taboo for the Parisian intelligentsia) and the Brasserie Lipp just across the street, the history of the Flore has always been linked with Paris, culture and political ideas.
For purposeful and inflexible urban walkers like Henry Miller and myself certain cityscapes palpitate with the violent ideas that have made great cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, Berlin, Munich and Budapest. It is impossible to pass the Café de Flore without pausing a moment to imagine Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre ensconced at a back table in that left-bank citadel of thought on a rainy November day, discussing the rage and the alienation and the revolt and the urge for revolution of their age.
In their works those existentialist intellectuals wrote the biography of European rebellion born with the French Revolution. Much of their thought was born in the Flore.
Now we too might pause to wonder who is going to write where the history of the great modern American Revolution in the making. When will it begin, we wonder now? Or has it already begun somewhere in the guts of America? We can’t help but wonder.
Some cities are open to surrounding plains or the open seas and the eternal firmament overhead. Port cities and plains cities in fact place no limits. Such cities are to be seen, possessed and participated in. They don’t need to hold onto secrets. Other cities are self-sufficient, turned in on themselves and have no need for the outside world. The latter cities hold the most intimate of secrets, shared only between the city and its own. In such great but closed cities like Prague or Paris which curb encroachments from the rest of the world you probably feel a justified longing for space. Continue reading →