Lest anyone reading Chuck's view of the
Inauguration [See Jan 27 below] be put off by the weekend's
events, I thought I'd add my interpretation
and ruminations on American patriotism.
This is not to say it wasn't cold; it was.
Nor was Clinton's speech good or short; it
wasn't. Nor was the singing all that
fantastic; it wasn't.
Okay, so maybe I agree more with Charles's
description than I care to admit. But the
one POV I can offer is that of an American
watching and celebrating the American
inauguration, that most American of events.
Granted, I try to think of myself as at
least somewhat cosmopolitan and I tend to
believe I have a less jingoistic attitude
than most of my compatriots (SAIS-Americans
not withstanding), having lived in and
assimilated to other cultures (England,
Italy, Texas...). I remember distinctly my
return to the States from London in early
July 1992, my desire to hang the Union Jack
rather than Stars and Stripes on the Fourth
of July, and my disdain for all those
copies of Old Glory fluttering above
countless homes and public buildings in my
native Orange (i.e., Republican) County,
Calif., environs. What was the big deal
that people seemed to idolize and worship a
piece of cloth?
My favorite U.S. cities are thus New York,
where the flags fly too high to be seen,
and Washington, where enough other flags
adorn the various buildings as to confuse
the visitor (or resident) as to her
Imagine my surprise at actually being
excited on January 20, then, when some
teen-age girls volunteering along the
parade route handing out cheap
Stars-and-Stripes-on-sticks gave me one to
flutter when the Motorcade passed. Could
it be that I was proud to be an American?
(Maybe I simply realized I could be
patriotic AND a Democrat at the same time,
that Republicans don't have a monopoly on
the Star Spangled Banner, America the
Beautiful, and all those other songs I was
forced to learn in fourth grade.)
Yes, I was happy that day, and friendly,
and warm (weather notwithstanding;
actually, my boyfriend's Norwegian parka
did keep me toasty-warm -- as did my
British wool scarf, my French hat, my
Italian gloves, and my Canadian boots, good
in temperatures down to -20 F).
Washington was happy that day (had all the
Republicans left?), and I was too. Even
the police were friendly, and I think even
the sharpshooters atop the federal
buildings and hotels lining the parade
route had smiles on their faces (views
courtesy of Japanese binoculars).
Accoutrements aside (if I learned nothing
else, SAIS economics taught me the
foolishness of "Buy American"), I guess I
am proud of my country. Just don't make me
sing God Bless America again...
Throughout the seventh grade, a horrible period for me, I spent much time
dreaming and wishing I were somewhere else. I especially liked to fantasize
about being transformed into a movie. Hanging with Luke Skywalker and
making out with Princess Leia, that sort of thing. The grown-up variation
is my new hobby of screenplay writing. Then or now, I never expected to
actually find myself living in a movie. I certainly did not think such a
thing would happen by moving to Hong Kong.
It is possible to understand the atmosphere of this city without visiting.
Go to the Angelika Theater at Houston and Mercer Streets in New York at
midnight on a Friday or Saturday, and there is a good chance you will see a
viewing of Ridley Scott's "Bladerunner." That is Hong Kong: the
totalitarian glass towers, the claustrophobic streets crushed below, the
rushing hordes of people, the web of skywalks, the neon, the myriad Chinese
signs, the slam of ultra high-tech against rotted buildings. I learned last
week that Scott did in fact design the film around a visit to Wan Chai,
which is the area where I initially stayed. No one so far has mistaken me
for Harrison Ford. (Wan Chai used to be a sleazy red-light district and a
favorite destination of sailors; now it is cleaner but remains a leading
nightlife spot. Unfortunately I don't have any thrilling stories about
The main business area is in Central on Victoria Island, and Institutional
Investor keeps an office there. There are about fifteen people in the
office, several of whom I met before. All of us report to people either in
London or New York, which means the office is quite casual. My boss doesn't
get in until 4 or 5 pm my time so my day is my own. People tend to get in
anywhere from 8:30 to 10 am, sometimes later. But we stay late as well. I
haven't left before 7:30 pm yet, and usually end up working a twelve-hour
day. The freedom is really nice, and as long as you get your work done, the
pace can be quite relaxed. Unfortunately stories are hard to get here and
it can take hours just to track down the phone number for a particular
company, and I'm in the process of still introducing myself to people in
My apartment is a seven-minute walk from the office. In Hong Kong, status
is derived from altitude. Central is on the waterfront. Mid-levels rests
above Central, half-way up the mountain. The real movers live on the Peak.
Rents rise accordingly. So while I live conveniently near work, I am at the
bottom of the social ladder. By accident I moved into one of the hippest
parts of town, however. There is a main road in Central called Hollywood
Road, and moving south of this you approach Mid-levels. The local
cognoscenti have begun calling a small area just above Hollywood Road SoHo,
for South of Hollywood, and are comparing it to SoHo in New York and London
because it is the site of a slew of new restaurants.
This Chinese area once was just something to pass through on your way home
from work. Now it is becoming rather fashionable and my apartment building
is in the heart of it. I would caution against the comparisons to the Big
Apple and the Big Smoke's arty 'hoods, but Hong Kong's SoHo does offer a
wonderful mix of new bars and eateries with the charm (a dubious word) of a
Chinese city neighborhood. The side streets linking the main roads, called
ladder roads, are actually pretty cool, with loads of strange little shops
and bright food markets. I can't identify half the items.
The problem with my apartment, aside from the rent (USD1,700 for less space
than I had in New York--typical price), is the construction crew that moved
into the courtyard below the day after I signed the papers. My view should
in no time be obscured by yet another high-rise. Worse is the non-stop
noise--the drilling begins a little past 8 each morning, including
weekends. I try to console myself by calling this the ultimate Hong Kong
Construction is everywhere in urban Asia, and this city is no different. I
used to lament the ubiquitous scaffolding around Europe's towers--very bad
for a tourist. But I've never seen anything like this. Everywhere you go
Asia is building. Asia hurls up sixty-foot towers every hour. New massive
highways blast through city and earth as a river breaks a dam. And while
the city is free of litter or graffitti, the pollution is horrendous. I
have been here three weeks and have not yet had a clear sighting across the
harbour to Kowloon. Attention New Yorkers: your air is fresh and clean.
Stay tuned for the next installment, featuring a high-stakes game of Liars
Dice at the Foreign Correspondents Club....
So, Bill got sworn in this weekend. This is the weekend when Washington
becomes the place to be, be seen, be zantine in its complex yet elegant
ritual. The weekend of excessive balls, of circuses, of triumphal
parades--throw in the odd Christian (to a lion), perhaps some bread,
maybe a fiddle, and it could be ancient Rome. Except Rome is balmy
enough that they could all go around wearing breezy togas. If Nero had
tried to set light to Washington last weekend, his zippo would have given
him chill burns.
And Nero's fiddling would have been eminently
preferable to the combined choirs of Washington DC singing a song
'especially written for the inaugural about bridges. Take the concept
of composition to a theme determined by an event which always seems to
dog the Israeli, Cypriot, Croatian and Bosnian entries to the Eurovision
Song Contest. In that case peace, love and harmony in a united Europe
with qualified majority voting. Add to it the fact that in this case the
theme was bridges, and Simon and Garfunkel had already stolen the best
lines. Imagine it sung by a group of singers who prove that believing in
yourself is not enough, there is an objective standard, and some people
should have their mouths wired shut. Finally, have these performers act
out a dance of macarenic stupidity. If this is culture, I'm with Himmler.
The swearing in was moving. It also allowed for some brief reflections
on the idea of defending the Constitution: the document or the ideas? If
the ideas, can these be defended apart from through discussion and
debate? In which case, who needs the Pentagon? If Derrida had been here
he would have a lot to say about this. Sadly, he wasn't. Instead, we
had a Medly of Patriotic US songs, sung in the style of Wagner by Jessye
Norman. Sublimely ridiculous, or ridiculously sublime?
The presidential speech was, as usual, tight, short, with not a word
wasted. By the end of it, he'd made a good start on dealing with the
Social Security time bomb through freezing and boring to death thousands
of listening baby boomers. He even managed to employ the few bargain
basement metaphors involving bridges that hadn't been grabbed up by the
composer. The poem, I'm told, was good. But by that time we were long
gone. Off to stand around another few hours in order to catch a glimpse
of Bill and Al behind six inches of bazooka-proof glass sixty yards away
as they wheeled past in their limos. It's weird to see the thirty-odd
secret service agents jog Clint Eastwood-like along with the cars. You
would have though a country as rich as the 'States could afford little
Went home to watch the parade on TV. Couldn't face it. What is it with
the heartland in this country that it produces thousands of marching
xylophonists. Who would ever want to be a marching xylophonist? It even
sounds like a malignant intestinal tumor. At that point it was time to
change into the tux and head out to the balls. Instead, I sat down to
watch the NBC Monday night movie. Not that I wasn't invited, you
It all started on a boat.
I wasn't looking for trouble, but boats have always been bad luck for me.
there was that time around the Cape of Good Hope when the short-wave signal
was lost and the shipping forecast was nothing but a sea of static. There
could have been gale force eight in Cromertie and we wouldn't have known
anything about it. Then there was that time on the Sally-line ferry to
Calais when She dropped my duty free over the side.
This puppy was a different kettle of fish. Arching bows, sleek like wet
seal fur. A fourty-foot mast that scraped the laps of the gods. A sky like
The DM's had been prepared as they ought; smokingly freezing, dry, with a
drop of lemon--remember, olives make the surface oily. Luis Buñuel was
rumored to want his so dry that he'd call up film-type friends in New York
from his Paris apartment and ask them to open a bottle of vermouth next to
the phone, and close it again very quickly. He had also experimented with
reflecting the sun's rays through a bottle of vermouth into his own private
bell-shaped refuge from the sordid worries of the everyday.
Four later, in the words of Dorothy Parker, I was under my host*. My host
happened to be the daughter of the billionaire founder of Somesuch Widgets
Corp., next to whom Cresus doesn't even bear mention. Her perfume was
stashed in the company safe, sources close to the negotiations say. Her
divine ears dripped with diamonds. Lobes of perfection, draped with
nature's greatest paradox: the hardest substance known to man that
nevertheless softens the most petulent of egos.
"I like to have a Martini
But only two at the most,
Three I'm under the table,
Four I am under my host"
As we glid into Monte Carlo to dine with Jacques van der Gustavberger and
his delightful wife, Bridget, I decided there and then to write my novel.
It would feature boats prominently.
But after that, I lost my train of thought. Boats, boats, boats. God it was
all so tedious. I threw the chair away from the table in disgust, with
myself and the parasitic world I had been seduced by. (I later discovered
that Herr. von der Gustavberger had terrible taste). I resolved to leave
Monte and never return. I thought, my mind spinning over the many famous
works of fiction that I had read, that if some people can get novels
published that are nothing more than thinly disguised versions of their
first 27 years in Hannover, Oxford and Bologna, why shouldn't I be able to.
"It's all about art," explained the now world famous novelist Herr von
Schrum Schrum, later that day. "And maybe one day you will appreciate what
that is all about." He swept off his Fashion Cafe baseball cap in one
glorious sweep and tossed it onto a pile of interior decorating magazines
which had annotated comments in the margin such as "interesting," and,
"could do better." He continued, "I am an artist."
Of course! It's the old dichotomy between gemeinschaff and geyourschaff: I
might think you are full of crap but as long as you believe in it, nothing
Three days later, I could have sworn I saw Søren Kierkegaard coming out of a
bookshop on the Charing Cross Road. By this time, Ms. Widget Corp. was out
of my life--a mere memory of a social folly. The Gustavebergers had
committed suicide in a bizarre suicide pact. They left no note. I had
overcome my fear of boats too, by drowning a small child on a pedalo on
the Regents Park boating lake. But no, my companion said, Kiergegaard has a
moustache and tuberculosis. "I'm sure he wouldn't have been shopping at
Harvey Nicks either, there's far too much choice."
"By the way," she added, "I'm getting really annoyed that all these commas
are appearing before I finish speaking," she continued. "There it is again.
It isn't even a chance to draw breath." She passed me an envelope that had
come in the post that morning. Inside was a postcard. On the back it read:
"It all started on a boat." Too dreary, and I tossed it. The second letter
said, "I have moved from the cloistered calm of westminster to the rough
and tumble of the east-end:
"37 Telfords Yard, 6-8 The Highway, London E1 9BE, tel 44 171 488 2910."
"What in sam hill does that mean?" she asked.
"I'm not sure," I said, and it followed the previous letter into the trash.
"I suppose it might have been important, but I doubt it. How about lunch on