Thursday, May 19, 2016

Machinae ex Deus

Cartoon by R. Crumb symbolizing the futile attempt of the simple-lifers
to prevent the formation of a total surveillance, mind-control society.

Call me a Luddite, but I don't like it when machines try to read my mind. If I pop a disc in the  DVD player I don't want the TV to turn on. If I write an article about Snarf's Disease I don't want intrusive, pop-up ads for Snarf's Disease to follow me around for the next five years. If I'm in France, I don't want Google, YouTube and every other bloody thing to take me to their respective French websites. If I type "SHIT," I don't want the spellchecker to turn it into "SHOT." If I'm stuck on an actor's name (Jeremy Irons) and type in the title of an Adrian Lyne film adaptation of a certain Vladimir Nabokov novel in which said actor starred, I don't want the !@!# mechano man to assume I'm Papa Perverto and send me a stern warning against following the path of Humbert Humbert. Yeah, I don't like it, you stupid robots. You heard what I said!

Bold statement, huh? Sure.

As bold as an egg in a frying pan saying it doesn't like Teflon and conductive heat.

Tough shit, Mr. Egg. It's just going to get worse ...

In the early years of the 21st century, the stupid !@#$ robots resemble rude bastards who finish my sentences and usually get it wrong. The stupid !@#$ robots don't know what I'm thinking. Yet. But they will.

Consider the grim picture I'm painting, folks. In a nutshell ...

Contemporary cyber-society resembles the delusional architecture of paranoid schizophrenia. Basically, everything everywhere is watching you and it's all part of one big system trying to put thoughts in your head.

That's not the ravings of a lunatic. That's a !@# fact.

Forget Big Brother -- your freaking PHONE is watching you. We all thought 1984 was prophetic -- but it missed the future by a mile. Turns out, The President's Analyst was on the money ...

And the nuts were, too!

Any day now, the nuthouses will release all the paranoid schizophrenics. With a sheepish look on their faces, the Men in the White Coats will say, "We owe you guys a big apology. Turns out, you were right."

"We tried to warn you," the nuts will gibber.

But, by then, it will be too late.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Back in the USA

Back in the USA! I don't have to worry about gypsies ripping me off anymore. This is America, pal. Everybody's trying to rip me off. And they're not going to pick my pocket -- they'll stick a gun in my face or give me a good stomping.

Team America: Gypsy Crime Rapid Response Unit

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Paris: Day 7

Su and I walk a mile and a half to the police station. Gendermes station, whatevr the hell they call it. We're about to head up the steps to go in. Not so fast, Americans. A beefy guy in a blue uniform packing heat pops out of the door. He gets between us and the door. He blocks us. Delivers his message before we can say anything.

 "Go home, we can't see you today, sorry."


"You have to go home."


"We're too busy. It's the end of the day. There's too many people here. Yu have to go home, I'm very sorry."

No he isn't. In America you expect this kiond of behaviopr from the post office -- but a politce station? Never.

"We just want to make a police report."

"Not today. You have to go. Sorry."

It's like that scene in the "Wizard of Oz" when the doorkeeper pops up the little spy hole and says "The wizard can't see you today! No way, no how."

Could you at least give me a form?


We could fill it out and bring it back later.

"That won't be possible. I am very sorry."

He shrugs and goes back inside.

Car les flicks n'ont pas besoin de toi
At vieux, ils en attendant autant


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Paris: Day Six

So, a big day ahead. We're trucking on down to Montmartre again, on our own this time. Our mission: Scour the stalls near that breast-like church for art gifts, and check out the Satie museum.

I'm determined to avoid arguments, hassle and lostness so I've loaded Mapquest on my iPhone. Really love that thing.

We navigate the streets, one tells my ass where to go, the dome is in sight. The question now: How to get there. We gott go up  steep-ass hill to get there. There's quick way. And a long way.

The long way home: go way the hell around. Short way: The stairs.

French stairs.
Yep, there's a steep stairway going up. Buildings on either side, a rail in the middle. Sorta resembles the stairway in The Exorcist.
Su thinks we should go around and take the long way up. I'm determined to prove I'm not an old fart, so I stride on up. Su follows.

Two young guys behind us, closing the distance. Street-savvy Su notices. Gives me the high sign.

We stop at the landing. The two dudes stop, look confused, then continue. They walk in front of us. I'm gripping my trusty iPhone in my sweaty American hand when they do. Like an idiot, I chose that exact moment to put it back in my pocket.

I release it -- and the second my fingers drop the thing, I feel no weight at all. Like it vanished. Teleported into nothingness. Just not there anymore.

My brain takes half a second to process this. Then my mouth startings hollering

"Where's my phone? Where's my !@#$ phone."

It can't be gone. It can't ...

Pat, pat. Nothing in my pockets.

Quick look on the landing below. Left, right, front, back.

Ain't there.

"Somebody stole my !@#$ phone!"

Bellowing like a bull.

"I want my !@@#$ phone!"

The dudes are still heading up the stairs. Not running or anything. But they're already about 20 feet ahead.
"Give me back my @#$%$$% phone!"

I run up after them. Two steps at a time, roaring like an animal.


They don't speed up. But they don't stop.


Not like me, as anybody who knows me knows. I avoid conflict, turn the other cheek, blah-bah. But my blood is boiling. For a few brief seconds, I'm hulking out.

Now they're almost out of sight.

They reach the top of the stairs, turn the corner to my left.

Now I can't see 'em.

I emerge a few seconds later.

Turn the corner. look left.

They're walking away.


I run, close the distance, catch up with them.

"I want my phone! Give me my phone -- now."

They stop, turn around, look at me. Calm looks on their faces, with a slight hint of who's this weird American hollering his head off? Yep, just two young guys in their early 20s. No bandanas or gold earrings. Dark hair and skin, sure, but nothing screams Gypsy. Nice haircuts, yuppy clothing, one wearing red converse tennis shoes. Two cleancut young men here, just as cool as can be.

I holler and gesture.

These two fine fellows empty their pockets, take out various crap, their own two tiny phones, keys. They shrug innocently. See? We don't have your phone.

I actually pat them down.

No. They don't have my phone.

Must've ditched it on the other side of the wall, the second they were out of sight. A hand-off to a cute kid. A hidey hole in the wall. Something. But the phone's not on 'em now.

We figure that out later, natch. Right now, I still have a dim hope.

Su catches up.

Flicker of fear in her eyes.

She realizes what I didn't. We're standing behind a truck. The wall's on one side, the truck's on the other, our little conversation group is in the narrow space in between. That big old truck blocks the view, folks. Nobody can see us from the street. The dudes could perforate us with a stiletto like Jack Cray at the end of "legend." Stab, stab, stab, stab ... done. Nobody'd see. They could stroll away. A tourist with a Eiffel tower in a bag would find our bodies and hour or two later. We'd be dead. They'd still have my iPhone.

Su gives them the Larry David stinkeye. She says something like, "This is serious business. We know what you look like. We will report this."

They nod politely. And calmly walk away.

The next few hours are a frantic hassle contacting Apple et al and changing passwords. It's sleepytime in Seattle, so this is all through robots, no human help. A nice lady in an art store let's us use her wi-fi. Su buys a painting.

And tht's the end of our !@# tour of Monmartre.

No more photos. No souvenirs. No trip to the Satie Museum. We're done.

We turn around and head back to the flat.

And it starts to rain.

We duck into  restaurant about a block away. Su relates our sob story to an old guy at the next table. Just a wine glass in front of him, no food. Passing waitress looks at him, rolls her eyes. Figure he just comes here and parks his ass, they put up with him, don't have to like it. Colorful character, no job, hangs out here.

"You're Americans?"

"Guilty as charged," I tell him.

"No. Not guilty. What is there to feel guilty about? America is great," he says. "You saved us at the Normandy beaches. You saved our whole country, you saved France. we will never forget."

The guy stands up. And salutes us.


"Thank you," he says. Then he sits back down.

"When I see Americans, I always say thank you. I am very sorry for what happened to you."

Another angel, whispers Su.

Guess we needed one.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Moveable Feets: Paris — Day Three

We can pass a few spots like Le Bateau Lavoir where Picasso lived and painted.  His famous "Les demoiselles d'Avigon' painting was painted in this studio space.  There are odd things like the sculpture of Marcel Aymé coming out of one of the neighborhood walls, the bust of the singer Dalida at the end of the Allée des Brouillards, and the "I Love You Wall". 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Et tu, Bluto?

The Latin Quarter. Togas optional. 

Paris: Day x
We wind up in the Latin Quarter. No, various Romans aren't wandering around in togas. Or Bluto. This voisinage is the one-time hangout of James Joyce, George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway. Reason we're here actually, Another walking tour, this time literary.

Su and I meet up with David Burke at a restaurant. Our tour guide. Evidently qualified; he wrote a book about literary Paris and somebody published it.

We sit for a chitchat minute. In the scrabbly park across the street, a guy plops his rear end on a length of chain suspended between two poles, and starts playing the guitar. He left his guitar case on the ground, open for coins, natch. Straight out of central casting. The accordian player should show up any minute.

Now it's tour time! We get up, head off, wander the streets. David's talk wanders to Joyce, Orewll and Hemingway. He shares fun facts about these literary giants. Did you know ...

Hemingway wrote that he was "very poor and happy" in A Moveable Feast. Actually, he was supported by his rich wife and happy. Reports of his poverty were greatly exaggerated. By Hemingway.

Joyce finished "Ulysses" in these environs. Already his eyes were going and he had to write in a dark room. David shows us the apartment building where Joyce scratched out Molly's last "yes."

Orwell chucked his middleclass background and dived into crappy slums and lousy jobs to find out about the life of the poor. And, boy, did he find out. He started "Down and Out in Paris in London," lioving on a street he describes as full of rotten buildings about to fall over. David opens a notebook and reads ...

It was a very narrow street — a ravine of tall, leprous houses, lurching towards one another in queer attitudes, as though they had all been frozen in the act of collapse.

George Orwell was a pen name. In Orwellian fashion, the writer changed his original name to avoid embarrasing his proper, upper middle class Brit family when his down-and-out book came out. David looks at me and asks, "Do you know his original name?" Eric Blair I say instantly, like this is GE College Bowl and I'm hitting the button.; He's impressed.

More streets, more anecdotes. David shows proper respect to Hemingway/Orwell/Joyce. He also has funny stories about Villion, the wacky priest-stabbing poet from the fifteenth century. But he's a giggling fanboy when it comes to Balzac.

He points to the house where Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert supposedly lived. Or the real people Balzac turned into pretend people -- not only the incarnations in Les Miserables, but a long line of other pretend people with different names. Evidently, Balzac kept recycling his characters. New trick back then. Had a lot of funny ideas this guy.

Balzac thought jism was the source of life energy--and his prolific writing. The man figured every ejaculation cost him a novel. No woman was worth that, so he denied himself the pleasures of the flesh. 
Like General Jack D. Ripper in Doctor Strangelove, he conserved his precious bodily fluids.

After all that booking around, we finally stop moving. We're sitting at some nondescript cafe in the residential side of Monmartre. Su and I do some pre-dinner drinking. Apertifs, right? Heineken for me, champagne for Su. We watch the world go by, dads taking their kids home from school, muttering ancients bending over to pluck a glittering coin or tinfoil from the street, young lovers meeting, kissing and firing up cigarettes. Out of nowhere, an old black man appears. 83 years old, just returned from the doc inspected his new hip.

He starts talking. Words tumble ut of his mouth. Golden words that'd sound fake in movie. French words, but I follow most of it. The man was born in the Caribbean, moved to Paris in his 20s. Musician, then a music teacher. Taught and played with the giants of jazz. Old and lame as he is now, he seems happy. Su points this out.

"I am happy!" he says.

"What's your secret?"

"It's no secret." Big throaty laugh. "Happiness takes practice -- it's exercise. I'm not just talking about the smile muscles. That's just the smile on the outside -- but the smile on the inside is the most important. You have to exercise your sinew, your bones, your deepest heart. Real happiness is hard work."

It doesn't sound corny when he says it.

I say this in English. Su translates. Another deep Caribbean laugh escapes the man. An inner smile if I ever heard one.

Su gets his name before he goes. Michel. Or Michael?

Blink. And he's gone.

"Was he an angel?" she says.

"We'll find out eventually," says Mr. Clever. "In the meantime, keep smiling."

Here's Su's version of the encounter. I stole few lines.

St. Michael or Michel 

Sunday, May 8, 2016


Here I am in the Musee D'Orsay. Exceedingly cool place. Here's a link to my review:

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Paris: Day Two: -- The Marais Month of May

Michael Osman shows us the prison where they held Marie Antoinette and friends, including Princess Maria Teresa of Savoy. According to urban legend, the jailers told Princess Maria, "You're free to go." After she hit the street, the mob ripped her to pieces. Then they paraded her head (and maybe other bits) in front of Marie Antoinette's window.

We check out the Rue des Rosiers and Place de la Bastille

We hit a swell-looking square called Place des Vosges. (Actually more of a rectangle, but I won't quibble.)  King Henri IV laid it out and surrounded it with upscale townhouses. (Fake brickwork. Reminds me of Sarasota.)

Fun historical tidbit: King Henri IV is the French king who said "Be nice to Protestants, iot's the law": in the Edict of Nantes. In contrast to the sumbitch "Sun King" Louis XIV, who revoked the edict in 1749. (Which led to open season on Protestants. The usual stakebuirnings you'd expect. The French nobility also sewed up protestants in giant bird suits and hunted them for sport, as seen in Ken Russell's "The Devils.") Not my favorite French king. but King Henri IV is all right.

Michael's impressed I know this stuff.

He shows us the digs where Cardinal Richelieu and Victor Hugo used to live. Chez Hugo is a museum now. They've fixed it up, but they had to wait. An old lady occupied much of the ground floor for years until she died. Squatters rights and all that. Welcome to France.  

He shows us fragments of Paris' old city wall, Says the Scumking's hangers on left town and hung out at Versailles, and pretty much left their upscale houses to rot. Years of neglect, most got bulldozed in recent urban renewal, a few spiffed up. Fragments of Marais' Jewish heritage, too. Faded Hebrew lettering. A temple the Nazis gutted, now restored. Mementos of the Chez Jo Goldenberg restaurant bombing -- a plaque and a pock-marked wall. We walk by the Shoah museum, but don't go in. Here's what we didn't see.

Yep, it looks exactly like that. A wall of names, a moving place. The simplicity of a stone on a grave. So I'm told.

A few rabbis stroll by, the temple is back in biz and there's a deli here and there. But it's mostly fallafel shops and e-cigarettes. Gentrification accomplished what the Nazis and Abu Nidal couldn't.

As a matter of fact, you do have to live like a refugee.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Paris: Day One

Arrive at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Like its namesake, the place is imposing, loud, and really makes no sense. Long, snaking lines of more ethnic groups than a 1980s Benetton ad. Su and I stand in one for a thousand years. Finally emerge from customs/baggage rigamarole into the actual terminal. Now, how do we get out of this glass cage? Look around, no exit. Keep looking, still no exit. Agggh! We're trapped in a giant glass homage to Sartre! Wait ...there it is!

The door out. The beautfiul glorious door out. 

So we're out. We find a taxi ... or a taxi finds us. Algerian taxi driver drives us to city. (The dude specifically said, "Je ne suis pas Francais," or I wouldn't mention it.) Excellent driver, going with the traffic's lunatic start-stop, switchback flow. Maintains a constant, high-speed rant the whole time.  France hassles Muslims; kids these days don't know how to work; he works five jobs. Something like that. I understand maybe one out of every ten words, but smile and nod like a bobblehead doll. Su does the same and occasionally comments. She grasps one in five words. 

And the road leads ever on.

Streets narrow, traffic slows. Le Interstate segues to the outer rings of Paris. Driverdirects our attention to one of many security cams. Says something to the effect, "Before the attack, the French hated CCTV. They believed in liberity, equality, Fraternity, hmm? But cameras are OK, now. Soldiers too. it's security, equality fraternity today." Good one.

Speaking of les soldats, we roll past a few. They're wearing camo and berets and carrying bigass automatic weapons straight out of Duke Nukem. Is this normal? Charlie Hebdo, says the driver. Ah.

He lets us out, does the things with the bags, drives off. We made it. 
Welcome to Paris. Watch your ass.

Yep, here we are in Le Marais, Paris' formerly Jewish quarter, now its mostly gay and/or hipster quarter. (Think street art, cobblestone streets, quaint buildings, hip tourists, and commerce.) A smiling, bearded, bright-eyed dude meets us, leads us to our Air BnB dwelling. As advertised, said flat is a bright, two-story cave in a building from the 1700s. Strictly speaking, he's not supposed to be renting it out. IF anybody asks, we're visiting cousins of a woman named ... uh. Marie Le Fakename. Something like that.

After squaring stuff away, we head back out. There's a soldier with an automatic weapon right in front of our door. I feel more secure already.

More streets. More soliders. Welcome to Alphaville, my friend.

Lots of the art on the walls, too. Graffiti. Subversions of signage. A sad-eyed lady, bleeding from the eye -- a repeated icon in massive posters signed Konny. Other weird stuff.

My art musings go in another blog -- one they actually pay me for. Might get irritating if I keep yammering about paintings. So as not to break the flow, I'll drop in links to my mirror site. Like so:

Marais: Street Art

Eyes full of art, Su and I stroll Seinewards, cross a bridge, make a pilgrimage to Shakespeare & Co. Su sits at an old mechanical typewriter and looks cute. I snap her pic with my iPhone. She gets up to browse. I sit down. Was planning to type ...

"time travel" what a ridiculous notion. The fine folks at "Temporal Excursions" took my money and supposedly sent me ahead to Shakespeare and Company in 2016. As predicted I blacked out, woke up. Now here I am ... at said bookshop. Don't buy it. I wasn't, if you'll pardon the expression, born yesterday. Don't know how they did it, but this is clearly a fake and this is obviously not Shakespeare & Co, obviously not Paris, and obviously not 2016. Where when what the hell it is I can't tell you. Hallucination? Thought scares the crap out of me. Wherever this is or isn't, I want to get out. It's all so damn dirty and ugly and the people dress like clowns or overgrown children. Fat old men in shorts with lots of pockets, and wearing these idiotic hats ... it's hard to describe. The future can't be this ...

Clever huh?

Yeah, but it remains a conceptual concept, not something somebody might read on that old Olympia thinking, gosh maybe a time traveler wrote this stuff. Not going to happen. It's a non-typing typewriter. There's paper, but no damn ribbon.

Almost bought an old issue of Evergreen. Didn't.

This one.

Homeways is bestways. We reverse direction., walk along the Seine. We pass by stand after stand of calendars, Eiffel Tower models. Looks like Banksy left his mark on the wall on the other side.

Another bridge. Our returning path intersects L'Isle de Citie. We see Notre Dame cathedral, no hunchback.

Back where we started, in good old Marais. Graffito on the walls, that woman's face again. Sad blonde with bleeding eye. OR many iterations of the eye-bleeding blonde. And ...

Walking the shop-me streets of Marais, just a croissant's throw from our Air B&B flat, we run into Jacques Halbert -- a French expat artist who lived in Sarasota years back. Fun guy, painter a Fluxus inspired cherry-painting Daddy who thumbs his nose at all things, as we used to say, square. Back when Su and I put out an art rag, we interviewed him, put his art on the cover a few times. Now he's here in the flesh. And he's gob-smacked. Can't believe he's looking at us ...

Shit! Su? Marty? Oh my God! What are you doing here? I can't believe it! Or words to the effect.

As the three of us stand there contemplating the sheer metaphysical, epistemological ontological improbability of it all, a blonde haired woman saunters up, thin, early 40s. Turns out she's the artist behind all those icons of the eye-bleeding blonde. (Self portrait maybe?) Jacques can't believe it.  Shit! Konny? Oh my God, this is too much! What the hell are you doing here? This is fucking impossible! Straining probability to the breaking point, it turns out she knows Jacques and Jacques knows her, yep, they're great friends. Her name is Konny Steding, she's visiting from Germany. Now, on this fine sunny day, we all bump into each other on this one little spot in one little street in Marais in the enormous seething hive of humanity that is 20th century PAris. What are the odds?

Having concluded our philosophical ruminations, the four of us cross the street our apartment. We stay maybe five minutes, then head back out to the pizza joint on the other side. Drink, eat, talk. Drink, eat, talk. Then return to the flat. Repeat the process.

A good time was had by all.

First impressions.
France resembles a dirtier, less efficient, more ethnically diverse version of Switzerland.