jeudi 22 janvier 2009

Oh Happy Day, Oh Happy New Year

L’année 2009 a enfin commencé le 20 janvier ! (2009 finally began on January 20)

For some reason, I just did not feel as if 2009 had begun. On January 20th, as I watched George W. Bush board that plane bound for Texas, one-way ticket in hand (at least as I imagined it), I suddenly realized that I was waiting for this moment to usher in the new year. I suspect I am not the only one. I found the photo above on Le Monde's website and decided that this was the image I was waiting for to create my electronic New Year's card. I had nearly decided not to send cards this year. I just wasn't into it. But now that 2009 has finally arrived, it seems appropriate and even necessary to mark the occasion. At least once in my lifetime, I will have taken part in the making of history. And that feels wonderful!

As is often the case, Maureen Dowd, who was there, wrote wonderfully about the moment the Boy King, as she called him, whirled out of our line of sight (see her op piece for this week in the NY Times):

It was the Instant the Earth Stood Still.

Not since Klaatu landed in a flying saucer on the Ellipse has Washington been so mesmerized by an object whirring through the sky.

But this one was departing, not arriving.

As W. ceased to be president, he flew off over the Capitol and across the Mall en route to Andrews Air Force Base, and then back to Texas.

I’ve seen many presidents come and go, but I’ve never watched a tableau like the one Tuesday, when four million eyes turned heavenward, following the helicopter’s path out of town. Everyone, it seemed, was waving goodbye, with one or two hands, a wave that moved westward down the Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial, and keeping their eyes fixed unwaveringly on that green bird.

They wanted to make absolutely, positively certain that W. was gone. It was like a physical burden being lifted, like a sigh went up of “Thank God. Has Cheney’s wheelchair left the building, too?”

lundi 19 janvier 2009

No victim no crime

In addition to sheltering people actually waiting for the bus, the covered stop at California and Admiral, in front of Circa restaurant, has long been a youth hangout. A frequent diner at Circa, I have seen countless mini-dramas staged at that bus shelter. Some kids sit there for hours on end. Young love comes together and flies apart; young boys scuffle and talk loud; young girls chomp on gum, whisper and giggle. Sometimes people sit there and cry.

Often, things get out of control. Shoving, littering, spitting, passing beers back and forth. Sharing smokes. One thing leads to another. Last night, my husband and I were sitting at the window table just in front of the bus stop. Our car was parked on the street, and our dog was sleeping inside. We wanted to keep an eye on her. The bus stop was particularly agitated last night. Kids were drinking beer, throwing litter on the ground (instead of using the garbage can provided, less than a foot away), leaving in packs and then coming back.

Suddenly, a fight broke out. I had my back to the scene, but my husband and everyone sitting at the bar heard the commotion, saw the abrupt movement of bodies and immediately understood what was going on. It was a really violent and viscious fight. My husband and two other men ran outside to separate the boys while someone from Circa called the cops. I ran outside to check on my dog and instead found myself looking at a smallish blond kid and his two female friends. Blood was coming out of his mouth. He looked scared and not in the mood to pursue the fight.

The men tried to subdue his sparring partner with words, but suddenly the young man jumped on the smaller bleeding boy again, ferociously. He was pulled away by my husband, who put him face down on the ground to restrain him when it became clear he was anything but ready to stop fighting. He resisted and my husband put his knee in the kid’s back and got his hands and arms immobilized. We told the kid the cops were on the way and he went ballistic. No cops, he said, I'm on probation; no cops, I'll lose my job. He continued to wiggle around on the ground, but my husband held him down until the police came.

There were four officers in two patrol cars. My husband came back into the restaurant after giving them the basic information. After about ten minutes, the police cars started to pull away. We were astonished to see the kid – who was presumably the aggressor in the fight we had just broken up – standing in front of the resaurant looking in at us. Everyone was astonished. One of the cop cars was turning around, so we went out to find out why the violent kid my husband had just wrestled to the ground was now standing on the sidewalk glaring in at us. He said there could be no arrest because there was no victim. And it was true. While the aggressor was being wrestled to the ground, the blond kid spitting blood and his two female friends had slipped away into the night. They were probably afraid of getting in trouble for underage consumption of alcohol.

It is a pity that this bus stop is not frequently patrolled, so that diners at Circa can enjoy a meal without having to watch people litter, spit, shove and get into fights. A more visible presence – even just a police car cruising the area – would work wonders, I think.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, remember to nab the presumed perpetrator and the presumed victim. That’s just common sense, in retrospect. We didn’t really know who started it and should not have focused solely on the agitated and apparently aggressive kid. We shouldn’t have let the others slip away, including two witnesses. At the same time, the bus driver who had pulled up saw it all and could have filled the cops in.

If I fault the police for anything in this incident, it is that they would have just driven away without filling us in and without making sure the kid was at least headed home had we not forced them to stop and tell us why no arrest was made.

No victim, no crime, the cop said.

This makes perfect sense. But my husband and a couple of other guys risked their lives (we didn’t know if anyone was armed) to break up a serious fight. Had the fight broken out elsewhere, in a back alley for example, someone could have ended up dead or seriously injured. It was that kind of fight. A few brave citizens performed their civic duty and put themselves at risk doing so. They should have been thanked or at least offered an explanation of what went down, to be filed away for future use.

I have a great deal of respect for law enforcement officers. But I think these officers did not show respect for us in return. It would have taken two minutes of their time. They could have thanked my husband – everyone in the bar certainly did. And they could have made sure that the kid left the premises. Who knows? He could have been waiting to see what car we were driving. I just hope I don’t read about him beating the shit out of the other guy, whose escape may have been a temporary reprieve.

I loathe violence.

jeudi 15 janvier 2009

Mais c'est un scandale !

A wedge of roquefort, back when it was affordable in America

I have just read something in Le Monde that makes me angry and terribly sad. Showing that it has an impeccable sense of priorities, the US government has announced plans to triple the customs duty on roquefort cheese imports starting on March 23. Even more outrageous is that this huge increase applies only to roquefort, a cheese made from ewe's milk that is produced exclusively in a very precisely defined geographic region in France (see below). Why? To retaliate against the very sensible European ban on hormone-injected beef from the US.

Ostenibly, the tarif is being raised to force Europe to accept our hormone-laden beef. In 1998, the WTO ruled that the European ban on this horrible shit was not backed by science and, when Europe did not immediately open its borders to hormone beef, the US promptly drew up a list of products that would be subject to higher import duties. So after a decade-long impasse, the US has decided to get things moving by targeting roquefort.

The decision was made by Bush appointee Susan Schwab, just days before her mandate comes to an end. Thanks, Susan. You bitch!

The European Commission has indicated it will file a complaint against the US with the WTO.

So all you roqufort lovers out there, enjoy it while you still can. And remember, although they are not really the same at all to real cheese lovers, you can console yourself with different varieties of bleu cheese: bleu des causses, bleu d'Auvergne, forme d'ambert, etc. But save your money. Don't buy roquefort in the US. Soon enough, you'll have enough money to visit France. You'll find roquefort for sale all over France, but if you have time, visit the real Roquefort.

Some information about roquefort and Roquefort:

The region in which the milk used to make this cheese is collected covers a 100-km radius around the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, which is in the French department called the Aveyron. The collection area in fact includes many different French départements (it's more complicated, but think of them as counties): La Lozère, L'Aveyron, Le Tarn, L'Aude, L'Hérault and the Gard. But the cheese is only aged in a specific part of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, within the natural caves of Mont Combalou, where the temperature, soil and natural ventilation combine to give roquefort its inimitable taste, which is also attributed to the particular breeds of sheep whose milk is used (Lacaune,Manech and Basco-Béarnaise), their diet and their ability to withstand harsh weather conditions and extreme variations in temperature.

Here's a cheese map of France, which I will try to enlarge. Remember, De Gaulle once remarked that a country with 400 and some odd cheeses was ungovernable. Maybe, but what a great place to run amok.

dimanche 4 janvier 2009

Fucking snow!

Sorry. One of my resolutions is to try and be all zen and accepting in 2009, but this weather is really trying my resolve. It is one thing to say "it is what it is," and quite another thing to feel the words as a peaceful utterance.

I don't know about other Seattle denizens, but I have had enough of this snow and had convinced myself that winter was over for all intents and purposes. I was ready to start enacting my resolutions! I almost went so far as to make plans - firm plans - this week. What folly! The evil white stuff started coming down at around 5 pm tonight. We had planned to go to the gym. What fools! Ha ha, the gym. What in the world were we thinking?

I don't know, but here's what we think. We now totally understand why Americans tend to stereotype Midwesterners as fat, potato-eating pigs. Walt said I could use the expression "Minnesota Fats" if I wanted to. I'll reserve that for another use. But the truth is, once you get past the utter impossibility of organizing a sledding party in your neighborhood - for reasons that are logistical, sociological and physio-psychological (i.e., you have to overcome emotional and physical inertia) - you just have to face the fact that you really can't do much of anything when it is cold, snowy, slushy, icy and just plain hostile outside. And the main reason is yourself. You don't want to go out there if you can help it. So you spend your days mostly sitting, standing at the window occasionally to look at the white stuff and walking to and from the kitchen.

Actually, I should count my blessings. At least I work at home, so I don't have to think about how to get to the office on Monday morning. I don't have to deal with the smell of wet and sweaty everywhere, or the indignity of slipping and falling on my ass on the way to the bus stop or the car. On the other hand, with nowhere to go I have, well, nowhere to go. I think it's called cabin fever. And poor Neko. I can't explain to her why our walky-walks have been suspended until further notice.

One thing is certain. I understand the urge to hibernate. And if this snow continues much longer, that's what I'm going to do.

Luckily or unluckily, I don't have/get to hibernate. Last night was a fluke. Today it is at least 40° outside and nearly all the wretched snow has melted. Neko and I took a glorious walk to the water taxi and back. We could not believe our luck! Life is good again; 2009 is back on track. Now I can formulate achievable resolutions and maybe even stick with them. But probably not.