|The Nossiter Net
The net that shall enmesh them all
Edited, Written, and Published by Josh Nossiter
Saturday, February 24th, 2007
|The Nossiter Net is cast to snare some of the riper rascalities of the day. Comments? firstname.lastname@example.org|
|It’s a funny old world. In New York, a big exhibition on builder Robert Moses has for its theme the benefits to the city conferred by the titan of steel beams and reinforced concrete. Columbia professor Hilary Ballon claims that New York’s present day greatness is due in large measure to the man who flattened entire neighborhoods for high rises and expressways, and cut off Manhattan from its waterfronts with encompassing moats of high speed traffic. How to explain then the undiminished greatness of Paris and London, whose expressways and high rises are largely banished to the fringes? A stroll along the Thames Embankment or the banks of the Seine is a salutary reminder to New Yorkers of how much Moses cost them. Professor Ballon needs to get out more.
Speaking of Paris and London, to get from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles requires an endless dreary cruise down the freeway, bookended by crawling traffic jams in both towns. Or the expense and tedium of negotiating two airports, two city centers, and two suburbs, with the attendant cab fares, security queues, and inevitable delays. Traveling between the French and English capitals on the other hand involves no more than stepping into a high speed train, eating a champagne breakfast with the countryside whipping by, and stepping out again right in the heart of either city. Time between sipping cider in a cozy pub and quaffing pastis outdoors before a gaily illuminated Eiffel Tower: two hours and forty-five minutes. Maybe if San Francisco were divided from LA by language, customs, currency, and a major body of water, the residents of those two cities could be equally well-served. There may be hope for us yet. The former two conditions already obtain; what with global warming, the lattermost may in time.
But of course the French and the British don’t have it all their own ways. In San Francisco you can attend the theater in the reasonable expectation of being able to hear and see the piece without undue distraction. In the West End recently, the packed house chatted, text messaged, and checked email by cell phone uninhibitedly throughout the performance. While a strategically positioned program makes an excellent screen for cell phone glare in a darkened theater, ear plugs to drown out chatting neighbors are a non-starter. Unless, of course, the performance is in mime. Over-priced champagne at the bar makes for a moderately effective general anaesthetic.
On the other hand, London’s National Gallery is free, spacious, and airy, and you can view the spectacular Mantegnas at your leisure in perfect comfort. Whereas lines for the Louvre are long and entrance will set you back eleven dollars. The guards in each room will glare at you with undisguised hostility. The bathrooms will be out of order. As for the Musee D’Orsay, it is either on strike, or so jam-packed as to be impenetrable. You could try the Legion of Honor museum next door, but it will be closed. There is an agreeable café nearby that makes an excellent alternative to both.
As for the vaunted bistros of Paris, they leave much to be desired. Accompanying your steak the consistency of shoe leather (not supple Italian, but Texas raw hide) will be wreathes of throat-searing cigarette smoke, courtesy of your fellow diners. Service will be very slow; no matter how many tables any bistro may have, there will be only one waiter to serve them. He will be high-strung, fragile, hopelessly over-burdened. He will take some satisfaction in telling you that food is no longer being served, or that the special of the day is no more, or in throwing a brief but dramatic tantrum. Otherwise he takes little pleasure in life and seeks to share his pain with you, his temporary fellow sufferer.
Still, unlike restaurants in either Britain or the U.S., in France you are practically guaranteed to be always sitting next to an English speaker, be he English, American, or French. The wine will be good, ditto the bread and cheese. The charm of speaking English in a foreign land is wonderfully liberating, and soon you will be comparing notes, inconclusively, about the relative merits of your respective countries.
©Joshua C. Nossiter, 2007
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