January 11, 2010

Europe and the People Without History

I lost my Europe-virginity last week. Crucially marking the cosmopolitan milestone in my memoirs. Savoured the subtleties of duck-liver, herbed omelette, A-line fur coats, emerald rings, cigarettes, chocolat, cheese, wine, French beards, tall towers, cobbled paths, masculine-garments-tightened-around-the-waist,cravats, burees and all things symbolic of subtle imperialism. The hijab and Afro-rap eclipsed themselves from my starry-eyed tourist gaze. Things were delicate, shapely. Empire was not screaming out loud. Empire lay back and contemplated its Alpine contours and sipped sparkling wine. Pondered on its own poetics. Guarded in a fortress of trade tariffs. Cabs refuse to run on Saturday evenings (as they understand the precarious balance that work and life must achieve, shame America) and the government with its lefty baggage won't fuck with them, says a Frenchman. The suburban American accepts with shame and fortitude his entrapment in the labyrinth of capital, as he learns to create identity out of mortgages and SUVs and the afternoon run, he says. His French equivalent immerses himself in an odd vanity of history, as he puffs out and looks on at the indeterminate Alpine horizon. And if you want the rush of real capital and the raw pleasure of a taxi on a Saturday night, you're shamed.

I absorbed for a week the air of empire that lay back and did not strike back. That pushed up its tariff walls and aesthetised its whiplash. So Vicky, Cristina and the postcolonial come here, tiptoeing apprehensively into its castles and cafes, hoping some of the real bourgeoisie will rub off and cleanse their souls of their utter confounded petit bouregoisness. And I snap out of reverie at the JFK thud and a two-mile immigration queue of claim and comfort and a Hispanic immigration officer saying if you ever wanna talk about anthropology, give me a call. I love America.