That’s why they call it a Napoleon Complex

Well that’s a phallic symbol if I ever saw one, said my great-aunt when I showed her this picture, which I took in Paris.

And Grammy, it gets better. Guess who that little guy on top of the thing is? Napoleon Bonaparte.  And guess what he made the thing out of? The cannons of his vanquished enemies.

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Luddite in a Bright Light

I can be an ornery Luddite.  I use plenty of technologies, but rarely wax poetical about them. I am usually the curmudgeonly voice of disdain.  This last couple weeks, I was in Paris with my friend Palash, who runs the internet from an inconspicuous office near the Opera.  Unsurprisingly, he geeks out on technology a lot more than I do, and over and over I met his enthusiasms with knee-jerk hesitancy.

“Why do you hate on technology so much?” he asked me in a remote Italian town.  I didn’t have a good answer, though I’m sure I came back fists flying.  Good friends both delight in you as you are and stretch you.  And so I’ve been rolling his question around in my mind, not because my position on the subject necessarily needs to change, but because knee-jerk fanaticism is no fun, and Palash’s thoughtful thoughts deserve better response.

I have thought, among others, these thoughts:

1. There are lots of technological things I like: word processors, the Internets, typewriters, food processors, crock pots, flashlights, power tools, telephones, hot water heaters, washing machines, fast transportation, music and movie players, cameras, precision dental tools….

2. However, I see most of these things as means to an end.  I am wary of any kind of internal dependence on them.

3. Sometimes things, especially cool gadgety things and intelligent things, can give you a kind of high, a little like being in a city. Our brains like stimulation and social interaction, and we like that for a reason.  But I want to balance that with the internal stillness I feel lying in a meadow on a blue sky day.

4. This kind of stillness, along with many physical and intuitive ways of knowing the world, feel easily lost in the wash of abstract, factual information the internet etc. is so excellent at providing.  Something is lost when something is gained, I guess, but I want to at least stand back and consider the trade.

5. There is just so much freaking boosterism for technology that the contrary hipster in me needs to boo at the parade,  “EMF’s suck, suckers!”  I mean, I really wouldn’t say so many bad things about technology if it weren’t pushed like a street drug.

6. The technology that is shaping our world is being actively shaped with a world in mind.  In some ways, I agree with the vision.  I like the democratic, connected, easeful, multitudinousness of the internet a lot.  But there is more to being human than diving into the flow of information.  There is something else, something still, and sacred, and strange, that smells like damp soil and feels like night arms.  It can come out through technology for sure — how could it not come out in something with so much of the human circus in it? — but it isn’t helped by technology.  Sometimes it feels like the world-shapers forget about this.

7. I care about that other thing a great deal.  Sometimes, despite genuinely loving the human carnival, and being thankful for brilliant tools like word processors, and appreciating good intellectual questions, technology just seems to be missing the point, and I get bored with it.

8. Maybe this is what Palash wants to address with his electric cats.

9. A sense of benign disregard, wry curiosity, and thought-out opinions would probably do me better than automatic disdain.

10.  Yes, stretching indeed.

Gonna Stop by France

Well, I’m back from France, and everything here is blooming and it is raining.  I have no plans.  I am like a flat gray sky: it could be any time of day. This is called jet lag and it hurts my stomach.

France was stone canyons of city, and gardeners in green suits trimming trim hedges.  In France, in Paris, on rainy days in April, no one wears color.   It is just blacks and grays and denim blues.  If they have anything colorful — a scarf, a shoelace — than for sure every other stitch of clothes on them is black.  The clothing stores, however, are full of color. Everyone wears scarves.  Men, women, dogs: scarves. If a scarf was walking down the street, it would also wear a scarf.

In Paris, I walked and walked, mostly in zigzaggy circles, not because I was trying to shake pursuit, and not because I was lost, just because I could.  I could walk in circles all day if I wanted to.  I could go up this street and down that one and who knew what I’d find and when I got hungry: bread and cheese and ridiculous pastries, and when it got dark, I could go home and pet a cat and pretty soon my friend Palash would come back from running the internet and we would go get dinner.

One night we had hot chocolate in a street cafe by the river, while an accordion played on a bridge, and I was like, yep, I’m in Paris.  One night we waited in a crepe line behind two British kids who goddamn better have had a room nearby because they wanted each other so bad they were shaking and the line went on and on and I don’t know if they actually finished their crepes or not but they better have because they were going to need some energy.  One night we ate pizza with crazy things like tartine chicken on it and it was good, but not as good as Biga Pizza in Missoula, sorry Paris, France.  One night we ate Moroccan food and Palash drew up the plans on the tablecloth for the house in the San Juans where he’s going to move to build electric cats. One night we walked by the Pont Neuf, which isn’t new at all, but has a statue on it of this king known by some as the Gay Blade who was stabbed to death by a priest and then the crowd killed the priest and ate him.  Oh, civilization.

One other night, I sort of forgot to come home because I’d met these Tunisian Parisians (say that with me, Tunisian Parisians) who were as awesome as that sounds and we were drinking beer on the bank of the Seine.  I can’t spell their names because I can’t spell in French and they couldn’t spell in English, and no one thought to write them down, but I’d drink with them again.

That night, I peed behind one of these trees. 

Then I took this dazzling photo of my foot.

One day I met a street artist who bought me an aperitif and said things like “You have so much light in your eyes.” You, said Palash, are having a different experience of Paris than I am.  Post-modernism coughs into its hand and says, obviously, but I knew what he meant.

Then we went to Italy for the weekend.

Au Revoir, (briefly)

Armed with key phrases such as “Where is my husband? Is he with your wife?” and “Not milk! I want good wine,” I am leaving for Paris tomorrow after work.  I promise some Parisian stories, but maybe not for a week or two, because why be on the internet when you can be in Paris?  Until then, may I suggest, if you don’t know it already, that you check out Dear Sugar? It is one of the best new things in my life.  It is real and struggling and beautiful and brave.  I mean, it is very, very human, in the kind of way that helps me be too.

And, if I fall in the Seine, forget English, or barricade myself in the Notre Dame (Notre Dame? Non! Ma Dame!), write to Sugar.  She will help.  I am sure of it.