very, very important and very, very glamorous
June 10, 2008, 3:33 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , ,

Lewis Lapham writes about the nomad and the settled.  The nomad thinks about himself and not much else; the settled develops systems of thought and begins to see beyond himself.  When they travel, the idle rich are like nomads:  they have a vague stupid apprehension of the world around them.

“If he can afford the price of the ticket, the nomad comes and goes with the seasons of his desire.  He has neither the time nor the inclination to think very much about the people standing by the wayside.  The settled townsman makes art, science and law; of necessity he must understand something other than himself.  The nomad merely gathers together his tent, his music and his animals, and wanders over the mountain in search of next year’s greening of America.

Transported from place to place at high speeds, suspended in a state of dynamic passivity, the American equestrian classes devote themselves to questions of technique and the relief of boredom.  They can concentrate their attention on the logistics of going to Pasedena for the Super Bowl or to Japan for the cherry blossoms, or the ceaseless repetition of gossip and description of scene.  But when, after prodigious labor, they find themselves on the fifty-yard line or standing under the trees in Kyoto, they can think of nothing to say.  They have no idea of what any of it means, only that it is there and somehow very, very important, or very, very glamorous or very, very sad.”

Lewis Lapham, Money and Class in America

half century merry-go-round
April 1, 2008, 8:26 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Here is an excerpt from Suketu Mehta‘s Maximum City.  A story in a story about being nomadic, but in the city instead of the desert, and presumeably with more red tape, and with taxis instead of camels.  I guess there are differences, but really the fundamentals are the same:  necessity and property owners are my overlords; I must pare down my dependence on things and be careful to not invest emotionally in people that I soon may have to leave.  Material property and the world are as insubstantial as the time between moves, and the idea of home.

The Rent Act leads to peculiar constructions of “home,” unique to Bombay.  Each April 1, a parade of taxis and tempos will take the residents of the F.D. Petit Parsi Sanitarium at Kemps Corner to the Bhabha Sanitarium at Bandra.  Four months later, they will all move to the Jehangir Bagh Sanitarium in Juhu.  Four months after that, they will all come back to the Kemps Corner.  The mass migrations back and forth to the same place, often the same room, happen because the Parsi Panchayat, which owns the sanatoria, knows that tenants who are allowed to stay on become de facto owners.  So they keep their tenants constantly on the move, even as they provide them shelter.  Some of the families have been doing this merry-go-round for over half a century.  Every time they move, they must reapply, coming up with a health certificate, to prove they need the salubrious quarters of a sanatorium.  They are allowed to keep their bags and some furniture – but not a refrigerator.  Installing a fridge is claiming home, so the residents must subsist on powdered milk.

~Suketu Mehta, Maximum City