coromandal


inside and outside
December 13, 2010, 5:50 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

I moved from a medium sized city to a very large city and then, when income decreased, back to the smaller more affordable place.  The smaller of the two, both American cities, doesn’t feel like a city at all, mostly for its psychology.  The people I have met there seem stuck; they give – too generously – credence to impossibility and are suspicious at best, and more likely downright antagonistic, toward what could be possible.  The big city was different.  Although many of the people I met and worked with there were merely aggressive and ambitious and entitled, many others, including strangers, wore a sense of engagement and risk and curiosity.  These are the essential qualities of a real city.  Cities use difference and possibility to incubate change.  They are the centers of this important work.

We all know the story of how American cities were abandoned during the post war period: eviscerated, evacuated centers.  We see the fallout:  it has everything to do with our current condition of overextension, debt, isolation.  And with this draining – the baby with the bathwater –  went the traditional functions ascribed to the city:  the center of trade, social and intellectual life.

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keeping it regular with the knickered and provincial

M. Fuentes again.  I can’t figure out where the prevailing cultural myth of innovation came from when you consider how prevalent the blanket of stifling regularity seems to be — it’s a malignancy and at an advanced stage.  Fuentes equates popularity with ignorance.  The ancient Greeks did too: to maintain vitality in their senate they ostracized the most popular members; here it is the opposite.

This is DC in the late 1930’s where the school yard is full of fear of outside people and ideas.  How does what must have been a veritable flood of outsiders and their outside ideas into the American capital – the world’s nation of outsiders – not temper and calm this proclivity for fear?  Baffling …

“I believed in the democratic simplicity of my teachers and chums, and above all I believed I was, naturally, in a totally unself-conscious way, a part of that world.  It is important, at all ages and in all occupations, to be ‘popular’ in the United States; I have known no other society where the values of ‘regularity’ are so highly prized. I was popular, I was ‘regular.’  Until the day in march – march 18, 1938.  On that day, a man from another world, the imaginary country of my childhood, the President of Mexico , nationalized the holdings of foreign oil companies.  The headlines in the North American press denounced the ‘communist’ government of Mexico and its ‘red’ president; they demanded the invasion of Mexico in the sacred name of private property, and Mexicans, under international boycott, were invited to drink their oil.

Instantly, surprisingly, I became a pariah in my school.  Cold shoulders, aggressive stares, epithets, and sometimes blows.  Children know how to be cruel, and the cruelty of their elders is the surest residue of the malaise the young feel toward things strange, things other, things that reveal our own ignorance or insufficiency.  This was not reserved for me or for Mexico:  at about the same time, an extremely brilliant boy of eleven arrived from Germany.  He was a Jew and his family had fled from the Nazis.  I shall always remember his face, dark and trembling, his aquiline nose and deepset, bright eyes with their great sadness; the sensitivity of his hands and the strangeness of it all to his American companions.  This young man, Hans Berlikner, had a brilliant mathematical mind, and he walked and saluted like a Central European; he wore short pants and high woven stockings, Tyrolean jackets and an air of displaced courtesy that infuriated the popular, regular, feisty, knickered, provincial, Depression-era little sons of bitches at Henry Cook Public School of the Thirteenth Street N.W.

~Carlos Fuentes from How I Started to Write