Tuesday, November 20, 2007


This link should take you to a TIME mag photo essay entitled


It shows a series of families around the world sitting around the amount of food they consume in a week, with the cost indicated. It ranges from $300 in some instances to a bit over a dollar in others...

If it's about Thanksgiving then I thought this was appropriate to post when my friend who works on Africa sent it to me--thanks A!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Biographical Notes Four

(This exists in my mind half-dream like in the sense that it is all very vivid but my sense of time, is not so much. What it does have though, is this untamable ability to make me really feel viscerally. A range of things. A panic and a dread. But usually a deep sense of my own joy and laugher and freedom in this crazy time of what, in retrospect turned out to be a strange & traumatic childhood). When we were living in Louvain-La-Neuve or LLN, Belgium, my parents were broke college students. Some of the behavior would appear to me to be vagabond like, but in a good way. For instance, my dad made us both “sleds” that were essentially garbage bags, the heavy duty black ones. I didn’t care about the other kids having the wooden fancy—read: real—ones because mine sped way faster. In fact we sped into a park bench once and that hurt. My parents would often check out the garbage dumpster for stuff that people threw away and bring it home. This was a very neat (francophone?) garbage dumpster enclosed by cement, where along the sides you had the huge bins of trash proper but then all over you’d have what looked like a Salvation Army floor or a good old American yard sale. I remember three choice items for my bedroom: a hugely fabulous desk that I could literally, lay on top off, which I did, to feign flight in my adventures (I will return to these adventures another time), a fantastic metal bunk bed painted orange and a mini navy blue leather arm chair. Together looking back on it, it all suggests a 1970’s Howard Johnson’s Motel room. Those items furnished my bedroom in the second apartment, number 41, where I did have a space that we called a bedroom although it was more like the walking around space in the top of the duplex studio situation.

LLN was a pedestrians only city, and propped above an underground network of parking lots. You could drive into the underground and then literally, had to park the car and go up the stairs and conduct your life on two feet, or a bike, or (and these were huge, I wanted one so bad) mopeds. Cars were sort of exotic for me. As were buses, but we took them to go into a “real” city with superstores where we’d get cheap groceries and carry them back on the bus, in my father’s Puma duffel bags. Cars buses and phones were exotic. We didn’t have a phone. The old university city of Louvain was beautiful and whimsical and historical and all the things that new Louvain (that’s english for Louvain-La-Neuve) was not. But for a kid, LLN was perfect—who wants to live in gothic european architecture when you can live in a Legoland city with an acronym for a name and where no cars are allowed? A Legoland full of university buildings—think the faculty the Sciences Po, Law, Medecine, etc—adjacent dormitories or student family housing, the necessary types of stores needed for living, a movie theatre where I very much made my home, a book store with a vast collection of BD’s (or bandes dessinees, or comics—but think Gaston LaGaffe and Comanche and oui, Tintin), where I also made my home. The bookstore-movie area was amazing. They were one above the other and I relished coordinating a schedule of daily activities around that area that started with going to the candy store across from the bookstore, usually to buy very little and steal very much. I was a bit of a delinquent in grades K to 3. I would steal the loose candy that you were supposed to buy by scooping it up and putting it in the baggies, that then you’d weigh. I was addicted to the gummy coca-cola bottles. Once furnished with my gummy-cola-crack snack, I would go into the bookstore to read entire collections of books I couldn’t afford to buy. I did get BDs and my parents collected as well but never at the rate they would come out. Also, in the bookstore I could sometimes read the adult comics with the graphic sex. Not always but sometimes. In the bookstore, the clerks used these plastic stools to access the top books on the shelves and these had wheels, so naturally, my hours there were spent on the stool, “driving” around the store and making reading pitstops. Once that was done, I would go up the stairs, over the overpass, and the back of my friend Yoenn’s building (actually) and into the movie theatre. The best part of LLN for me was this, the way it was build for me to own by my superhero powers of mapping. I could open a door and head down to the underground parking lots and promise you the exact address where I would come up. Every building seemed to have a connecting overpass or a back entrance or complicated connecting tunnels or something--that magically led out to a friend’s house or my favorite store. The movie theatre was special because Hatem’s dad worked there and before they moved back to Cairo—a devastating blow: this is the house where I learned that you could eat as many sunny side eggs as you wanted per meal without death and where I defiled Hatem’s religion by sneaking him some salami and bacon on occasion so he could taste some pork--he used to let us sneak in for free. One day we watched a a m movie based on our favorite BD, Lucky Luke, all day, by hiding under the seats after the end of each show and coming up at the start of the next one; we got a headache. Sometimes I snuck in to see movies I was not allowed to see at my age, though not often. I vividly remember doing that for Gandhi and later A Passage To India. Yeah that really does work on you in 2nd and 3rd grade. Gandhi I fell in love with, A Passage was very haunting viewing, obviously. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom—though ostensibly unrelated, and age appropriate, in my experience very much related. I put all those together in my head and determined that a once lush and beautiful place, India, had totally been fucked over by the (nasty) british colonialists, which was not surprising to me. About Passage I remember this strangeness of completely understanding instinctively what the fuck was going on and how fucked up these people were and then allowing myself to maybe not understand the full detail? Or having a sense of the depth of it that was yet still a bit beyond me although it probably wasn’t by that age. This time is drenched in that density of knowing too much—certainly life with my mother was always that way. Always invasively prying my eyes open to things I was not ready to see. I don’t have a sense, real or not, of anything I did not “know of” by 3rd grade—you know, of the things people wait to tell children about? Sex, death, drugs, whores, pimps, and junkies, blood, tears, and of course Jesus. The miniseries Jesus of Nazareth occupies a huge space because as I have mentioned I became strangely terrified and attracted to Jesus at the same time. In adolescence this vibe repeated itself with films about Satan, ironically. But in this time it was JC. When I watch that film now, it’s apparent why that the face of that actor does inspire equal parts fear and devotion though. It is also apparent that their idea of how to make Laurence Olivier appear to be from Judeia was putting eye liner on him—this made me thing they did not have color contacts in the early 80s right? I also famously walked into a lot of inappropriate cinema playing on our little 1970’s black and white TV set and for many many years thought the Deer Hunter russian roulette scene was a b&w situation.

It’s only parenthetically depressing that perhaps all this is so vivid in part because it’s trauma or because it was experienced partially traumatically. I can run a mental picture in my mind of my epic bike rides that I would map out, ever more (to me then) adventurously, (to me now) dangerously nihilistically—hours and hours of biking further and further away from the center of town and pushing the time to come back and playing catch with the sun going down with the temperature. My little bike had this pedal fueled headlight and I remember the way that by he time I made it back, the sound of the pedal fuel thing would be slowing down, my throat would be dry, my body would cold, and I would be exhilerated but sad about night coming. The ride I have done in my mind, after the fact of it, all my life. I start right on the front lawn and head as far as I can that way along the train tracks to Bruyere, then cross then back around there, that part is a bit dark and under the trees so race past there, watch the wet leaves because they make me slip, come out by the side of the Ferme du Biereau , then from the farm into the schoolyard of my elementary, the College, go under that overpass across the playground, past the windows to the cafeteria, come out on the other side facing the gym (let’s not talk about the teacher, who I only now realize was a Mega Lesbian Terror in tennis shorts and white headban, the first of many people who looked at me like I was a serial killer because I could not understand how I was supposed to do athletic stuff without being taught: I still don’t, I think it’s genetic discrimination to think every kid’s gonna do a cartwheel without training). Across from that, the high school, Martin V, I think was its name. Then down the long hill heading down back to my neighborhood. I will let go of my hands and stir by just squeezing my thighs to make the bike lean and make the loop just so and I will not watch incoming bikes, and my tummy will drop. I will think how the hill is so fun going down, but not fun walking up cold alone in the mornings when everyone else is getting walked by their parents and I feel embarassed to be walking alone. I get to the Creperie, and down the stairs (motorcross style on my little bike!) to my door step. I will open the door and the house will be slightly toasty, the heat too high, the colors inside are orange-tinged. If she’s there there’s music and food smells. Maybe weed smoke if this is 1984. And I will wonder what mood she is in today and if she plans to go out tonight and leave me home alone in the night.