Changes in Latitudes

Nothing good ever comes out of a 4 a.m. text. I got one Sunday at that time telling me my 8:55 a.m. Eurowings flight to Düsseldorf had been cancelled due to a strike, and that I was supposed to call customer service to reschedule. I called, sat on hold for a good half hour, even though I had been told upon connecting the waiting time would be five minutes. Finally, I gave up and booked a flight with easyJet – the only other one going to Düsseldorf that morning – hoping Eurowings would reimburse me. The reason I had to be in Düsseldorf that morning was because my connecting flight to Miami departed from there at 12:30 p.m.

I showered, drank a cup of coffee, got all my stuff together and said a sad goodbye to Erica. Then I was off, into the soft gray light of early morning Neukölln. One thing you can always count on seeing at that hour in the city is a myriad of drunken stragglers. I passed a handful on the walk to the train station, and on the train they surrounded me, most of them sleeping or nodding off between stations, looking like zombies. Sometimes, in their half-comatose state, they’d screw up an eye and catch a glimpse of me sitting across from them – freshly-washed, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed – the personification of sobriety. I must’ve been a total buzzkill.

When I got to the airport, I spoke with a representative for Eurowings about the flight I booked. She told me they had nothing to do easyJet, but I could talk to them about cancelling the flight. In the meantime, she told me she could put me on a plane going to Frankfurt in 45 minutes and that I would connect to my Miami flight from there. I told her to do it, knowing that I would have no time to talk to easyJet and that that money was just pissed up a rope. Whatever. I had no other choice. At least this flight had a meal on it. Plus it arrived in Miami a couple hours earlier.

I’d taken 3 books with me on the trip. Cellini’s autobiography, Im Westen Nichts Neues (auf Englisch: Alls Quiet on the Western Front), and Delacroix’s Journals which has taken me forever to finish because I love it so much and have been savoring it. I put it right up there with Van Gogh’s Letters.

Anyway, on the flight to Frankfurt, I read about Cellini’s crazy goldsmithing and soldiering life in 16th century Italy, drank an abominable cup of coffee, and did this five-minute Rembrandt-inspired sketch in my notebook.

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On the flight to Miami, no sooner had we taken off than the stewardesses were coming down the aisleway with their carts offering free drinks. I requested a can of Warsteiner, and not long after that our meal came, which I had with a glass of red wine. The stewardess refilled it after I was done, and then the other stewardess offered me a shot of Cognac, which I of course could not say no to. I don’t think I’ve ever turned down a shot. It’s not in my nature. I finished it off and got one more refill of wine, and then the New York Times fell into my hands. In it, there was a short piece by Paul Krugman about the Trump administration called Corruption Hits the Small Time. I recommend reading the whole article online if you can find it, but here’s an excerpt.

Long ago Tom Wolfe wrote a memorable essay on what really drives many powerful men. It’s not so much a taste for the finer things; the truth is that private planes aren’t all that comfortable, and my guess is that most of the people who drink $400 bottles of wine couldn’t tell the difference if you served them a $20 bottle instead. It is, instead, the pleasure of “seeing ’em jump” — of watching people abase themselves, jump through hoops, to cater to your whims. It’s about making yourself feel bigger by getting other people to act small. Doesn’t this explain everything (head of the EPA) Scott Pruitt does? The absurdity of his demands is a feature, not a bug: I have doubts about whether he ever uses that $43,000 soundproof phone booth, but he surely took pleasure in making his staff jump to provide it.

I once had a mechanic working for me named Walter Eustace Peabody. Wally, as we called him, was a 58-year-old North Carolinian transplant who gobbled anti-psychotic horsepills like they were candy and had a collection of pistols and confederate flags and frog-gigging supplies. With those credentials, you’d think he’d be a republican, but I think he hated everyone too much to be anything. Once (the year was 2003), I asked him what he thought about Dick Cheney, vice president of the Bush administration.

“Cheney?” he said. “I’d slit his throat and throw him out into traffic, that’s what I’d do with that mutherfucker.”

Which is exactly how I feel about Trump and his groveling toadies, Scott Pruitt especially.

If I could get away with it – if there was a country I could go to where it was legal – I am pretty sure I could murder Scott Pruitt (Wally’s way or with my bare hands if necessary) and feel good about it afterwards, knowing I had done bird, beast, flower and mankind a great favor.

I put the article aside, took a sip of my wine.

It’s better not to give too much of yourself to politics, I told myself. It’s all just a game anyway. You might as well funnel your rage into something that you can control, something noble, true, impervious to greed and (to all our misfortune) nonexistent in the Trumps, Cheneys & Scott Pruitts of the world – I speak of poetry, art & the imagination.

 

15 thoughts on “Changes in Latitudes

  1. My husband flew with Eurowings when he returned to Greece. The flight was delayed – I remembered now because you mentioned the firm.

    Good point in the article about powerful men. They need to belittle everyone else, so they can feel bigger. Small tools? Wetting their beds until they were fifteen? Who knows what is behind the need to sent people across the kingdom to bring you golden apples.

    Love the sketch, as always.

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    • Hey Basilike! I think your right. Wetting their beds till 15 or small tools is the answer. One thing that strangely didn’t get mentioned by the press was how shortly after Trump and Kim Jong Un met, they went marching into the bathroom with a measuring tape to do comparisons. Luckily, Kim was only 1/8 centimeter longer so the nuclear holocaust is off. For now. Glad you like the sketch!

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  2. First, I love the sketch—please keep sharing your drawings, you’re counteracting the post-postmodern staleness by doing so—and that’s a good photo with fine detail, I even take interest in the lines of the ruled paper, and the handwritten text that bleeds thru: I like the texture, the tactile illusion (at least it’s an illusion for me, as I view it on a computer): I’m convinced I could run my fingers over the screen where the image is represented and feel the relief of these indents or projections on the background. Between the characteristic of the sketch itself and the lived-in tone of its surroundings, it provides a nostalgic and much-needed air of humanity, for those of us trapped online.

    Second, about the text of the entry: I could easily devour a book-length compilation of these recollections, where you relay your experiences of airplanes or airports. I’ve only been on one air-trip in my life, when I was a toddler, and all I remember is vaguely being scared – so your reports are, to me, as exotic as the chronicles of Herodotus must’ve been to the ancients. I know that airline travel is common nowadays, but the ability to articulate the event is particularly uncommon, especially if it’s filtered thru a mind that thinks, reads, cares; & a heart that’s sensitive, in contrast to the blank of a typical businessperson. Even the details that might seem mundane to you, the voyager—or I should say especially those details—I can’t stress enough how fascinating they appear to us homebodies among your readership. What you ate or drank, & who served it; your impressions of the staff and fellow passengers; descriptions of the unprepossessing decor; the small snags in planning; the mood of places and passersby; what you thought of what you read…

    Thirdly, you & I have spoken repeatedly of how much we’re worn down by political talk, and how much we’d like to backburner it in favor of poetry; but you accomplish the impossible: when you bring these current events into your writing, they remain alive and interesting – something about the way that you frame them, or the way that you ramp up to their inclusion, actually allows me to enjoy your delving into political matters and venting of irritations. It reminds me that such things are part of life, after all; and to hide their effect upon oneself is just as dishonest as to overstate their importance.

    And of course I love that you note what you’re reading, the specific titles. We’ve talked about Delacroix’s Journals before, and I’m eager to read them myself. (I, too, like to go slow and savor my favorite books, especially diaries or notebooks, which don’t suffer from intermittent attention like plot-heavy narratives.) —Now I don’t want to annoy by questioning too much or too explicitly, but I gotta at least ask: What moved you to pick up Cellini’s autobiography? I know almost nothing about him, so I’m all ears to discover your path of interest. And you say that during your flight you read about his “crazy goldsmithing and soldiering life” – now I’m thirsting for an example of such craziness (& I hope it’s easy to give one – of course just ignore the request if it’s too involved.) …And a similar wonder about the second book of your three: Why choose to brave Im Westen nichts Neues, & also: Do you like it so far? I’ve read the English version, and I didn’t love it or hate it, so I’m wondering if it’s able to excite you either way.

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    • Bryan — your comment is better than my post. It’s not the first time you’ve done it. Hahaha. Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful words. When I wrote this I was still jet-lagged & lacking much sleep, so I wasn’t sure about it, but your words have encouraged me… not just about this but for my next trip, and to be more detailed.

      A lot of my repeated desire to put politics on the backburner in favor of poetry is just that – a desire. The task is Herculean with the constant bombardment of it coming from every direction. I’ll keep working at it, and in the meantime probably several more times about burying my head in the sand.

      Ok, here’s how I found Cellini & Delacroix’s Journals. It’s amazingly simple. I read of quote by someone on the back of my book of Van Gogh’s letters comparing it to the 2 former works, and that piqued my curiosity. I bought Journals right away (about 3 years ago), and dip in and out of it all the time. I don’t think you can really read a book like that straight through. It’s like certain books of poetry. You just take small bites here and there. Cellini’s name, after I saw it that first time (I think) kept coming up. I read a bio and book of letters by Michelangelo and read a letter of their correspondence, and then I found out Goethe was so impressed with his autobiography, he translated it into German after he got back from his Italian Journey. I’m only about 1/4 done with the book right now, so I can’t yet cast judgement, but it’s worth noting Cellini was considered the greatest goldsmith of his time, and his sculpting was maybe even on a par with Michelangelo. But for all that, he had a violent side, to say least. “Then I raised my dagger above his bent head and drove it between his neckbone and the nape of his neck. The dagger went in so deeply that although I used tremendous force it was impossible to withdraw it…”

      As for Alls Quiet, my girlfriend got it for me. It’s not something I’d pick out for myself, but she said the German in it is pretty easy, so that’s mainly it.. just a German lesson. I probably won’t get to it for a while. I’m actually kind of dreading it. German is like that.

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      • Ah, thanks so much for answering in detail, especially about the books! To read Remarque’s novel for the sake of sharpening your German sounds like a fine idea – I should do that too; even tho I lack the practical, pragmatic push that living in Berlin gives you, I still love the language, and love itself seems like a decent enough reason to do anything. …I’m impressed with Cellini now—he’ll be on my radar. That quote you give is shocking; I’ve heard that our man Schopenhauer also had a violent temper, but nothing (at least, to my knowledge) like Cellini’s dagger action! …Lastly, I’m pleased that you use that word dip when speaking of your reading habits – about your copy of Delacroix’s Journals, you say “I… dip in and out of it all the time. I don’t think you can really read a book like that straight through.” This reminded me of a passage from Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde: “‘You are reading?’ said the reporter. ‘Yes, I am dipping,’ Wilde replied. ‘I never read from the beginning, especially with novels. It is the only way to stimulate the curiosity that books, with their regular openings, always fail to rouse.’”

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    • Thank you. I just started drawing a couple years ago. I COULD do it all the time and totally love it, but then I would be neglecting writing and improving my miserable German. Still, I fit it in whenever I can. The YouTube tutorials I’ve been watching have been a great help.

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      • Your miserable German, you say.
        I had a follow-up with the doctor last week and needed to write down my family medical history. I’m seriously forgetting my German since I was trying to remember how to say ‘aunt,’ thinking ‘Ante’ or ‘Ente.’ The doctor’s struggling, frowning, can’t make out my handwriting (or German?) and asks, to which I confidently reply ‘Ante.’ ‘Tante?’ she corrects me. Yes, yes, Tante, of course.
        Now tell me, Michael, how bad is that. I burst into laughter when I saw Ente at the supermarket the following day.

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      • Hahaha! Been there, got the t-shirt. At least you’re Dr. didn’t switch to English on you though. In Berlin, as soon as you make an error or hesitate for a moment, they do that. It’s no good!

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