From race to income inequality, the issues persist for generations/ by sylvia kronstadt
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|Mon, 01-20-2014 - 11:14am|
This fanciful article looks at a broad swath of history and finds that we're right back where we started from: Huddled masses yearning to breathe free, while the One Percent take everything for themselves.
Elderly Girl Helps Win the Civil War, and then Conquers 1890s Paris
After chopping off her fabulous hair, binding her bounteous breasts, and gluing a mustache above her oh-so-kissable lips, Elderly Girl distinguished herself as a Union soldier during the Civil War. Her fellow troops were so drawn to her heavenly essence, that they theorized they must have been "turned gay" by the stresses of mass slaughter, and they pursued her relentlessly, even during the Battle of Bunker Hill. What a disgrace! While fighting off her own comrades, she avoided killing the enemy by dazzling them into helplessly shooting themselves. She then went South to help with Reconstruction, and was such an adorably tireless advocate, she was named an "honorary Negro," which was the greatest distinction of her life. The rednecks down there leered at her as if she were a meaty ham hock, and smacked their lips as she walked past.
Exhausted by the wanton callousness of American men, she boarded a ship to Paris, hoping to discover a whole new world of civility and provocative ideas. Oh dear, that poor girl. It was more of the same:
For example, last year, she went to the Sundance Film Festival, and she was mobbed by fans who thought she was Charlize Theron. They're practically twins, except that Elderly Girl has a warmer, more mouth-watering beauty. She's no Ice Princess!
knows? She's been around for centuries, after all:
On a personal note, I can divulge that to me, she looks like I would have, if someone had taken more pride in putting me together. I see in her the very most brilliant and beautiful me there could possibly have been and most certainly was not. But being exposed to a perfected incarnation of myself has been nourishing for me. Now, when I visualize myself, I see her. I feel better.
WAR IS HELL, BUT ISN'T EVERYTHING?
But getting back to this whole Civil War thing, which seems like basically last week to Elderly Girl, the military squabbling was over, but the war of the sexes raged on. Like any radiant and shapely woman, Elderly Girl was constantly intruded upon by the attentions of men, whose figurative baionnettes were always pointed skyward, as if to salute her. (Running through the hilt was the "tang." Isn't that disgusting? And don't get her started about the incivility of the "Ricasso." If you want to know the details, look it up.)
It quickly became clear to our insightful heroine that Frenchmen wanted to screw her brains out, just as much as those hog-eaters back home. She might as well have stayed in Tupelo, Mississippi! At least there, the gallant black men stepped in to protect her virtue and sing her a medley of field songs to comfort her. "But first, have a frosty glass of sweet tea, little lady," they said kindly. Those sweethearts.
FRENCHMEN TRY TO TRANSFORM GETTING LAID INTO AN ART FORM! MON DIEU!
Those French bastards would not have appreciated the comparison to American horndogs. Their "variation on the theme" was that they fancied themselves as artistes in the ballet of seduction, quite unlike those "raging bull" Yanks.
The French "gallants" don't simply jump your bones after one plate of Poulet Cordon Bleu -- far from it. Their goal is gradually to finesse you -- with gifts, gallantry and deep, longing stares -- into WANTING THEM. They plot the whole thing out with timelines and benchmarks, right up to the point of your inevitable, helpless surrender.
It is a disgusting ego trip, this anticipatory rubbing of hands and slurpy salivation, as they fantasize about the climactic denouement.
In other words, "Get out, you beast!"
But being beautiful in a sense had rendered Elderly Girl a beast herself -- a poor, ever-besieged Beast of Burden. It was hard to bear, ladies. It still is.
PLOTTING AN ESCAPE FROM THE LAND OF THE 'BUMPTIOUS BOURGEOISIE'
After those two brutes were arrested for their clumsy assault on Elderly Girl, she decided to flee to Morocco, her mother's home country, where she could retreat into blissful obscurity. Being famous and renowned for eons can wear you down. But some tabloid sleuth leaked her escape plot to the media, and this juicy bit of gossip became front-page news across the nation.
An editorial in the June 2, 1889 issue of the International Herald Tribune declared: "The winsome and utterly original Miss Elderly Girl must be induced to remain in Paris, even if the city is obliged to pay her a salary simply for being in our midst. Her presence enriches the community in the most delightful and endlessly surprising ways. Since her arrival just a few weeks ago, she has become as emblematic of Parisian savoir faire as the Eiffel Tower." (Actually, the tower had been completed just two months earlier, so this was not a particularly great compliment, but it was sweet.)
As the grim specter of Elderly Girl's departure sank in, hysteria raged through Paris. This was quite typical of Elderly Girl's impact on humanity in general. Even back then, before the ensuing decades burnished her brilliance and beauty to their present sheen, she created a highly charged environment wherever she went. Shit happened, about 220 years before the expression "shit happens" was coined in 1983.
Shit happened, because Elderly Girl riveted men and women alike with her (eventually trademarked) blend of character traits and stylistic flair. Parisians were mad for her. She became a shared obsession that united this otherwise terribly stratified city.
For the second time in their history (the first was Le Revolution), the French turned anguish into action. Once the news leaked out that Elderly Girl planned to get out of this chaotic and morally distressing city, Parisians mounted the first petition drive in the history of the nation. They hoped to outdo the British "Chartists," who had amassed three million signatures 40 years earlier, in a bold demand for sweeping democratic reform.
HOW CAN YOU RESIST PIE? OH, SORRY, IT WAS 'PI'
Although Paris wouldn't have 3 million citizens for a few more decades, those wily sang-froids managed to conjure up 3.1416 million signatures (which was regarded as a magical, albeit irrational, number by mathematicians, most of whom had been driven certifiably mad, thanks to their contemplation of infinity). Everyone seemed perfectly content to ignore the blatant fraud involved in the grande ballotage.
Needless to say, Elderly Girl was humbled. That was rare. She was touched by this darling puppy love that she had inspired among total strangers. Everywhere she went, tails wagged!
What could she do? Being ungracious was not (yet) in her repertoire. So the fille agees settled in and continued bestowing her special radiance on Paris, strolling through the endless, heartbreaking slums and nodding with that all-knowing gaze of hers at passersby, who were often stopped in their tracks by her serene, creamy-skinned visage. It was like she was a supermodel version of Mother Theresa. Meanwhile she was plotting her escape from this damnable country.
RIVERS OF FECES, RATHER THAN DOCTORAL THESES
Needless to say Paris was not what Elderly Girl had expected: An island of tasteful living and intellect in an otherwise rather primitive world.
As we will later elaborate, she had been deceived by the French Travel and Tourism Bureau, which lured her with glorious imagery of "la mode de vie Francais." Flowers everywhere! Grand boulevards and inspired architecture! Inviting sidewalk cafes for champagne and people-watching!
Paris was, as a more objective person delicately described it, "a giant hole of putrefaction."
Thanks for telling her that, after she had crossed the ocean and was now standing ankle-deep in it! Merde!
"The sewer system was almost nonexistent," photographic curator Sarah Kennel later observed, "so people would just throw the muck out onto the street."
Elderly Girl loved humanity, but she could not abide sloshing through poop. Horse manure wasn't so bad. Cow pies were fine. Chicken shit and rabbit pellets were likable enough. And bat guano has a place in all of our hearts, don't you agree?
Perhaps we should reserve judgement when it comes to rhinos. But there is something about human waste that is, paradoxically, subhuman and inhumane and not humorous. It is more animalistic than animals! It is the stuff of nightmares, deathly epidemics and evil spells. It is, and always has been, an essential ingredient in the armamentarium of torture!
Oh my god, her knees buckled at the smell of it rippling through the streets, the sight of it, there mere thought of it. Aren't there any fainting couches in this town? "Find me some smelling salts, you dear child, and I'll buy you a nice warm dress in your favorite color," she said weakly, to a concerned bystander with tangled blonde curls and a joyless face. "Bleu lavande!" (lavender-blue) la miserable cried as she ran out the door.
When the hydrochloride jolted her back to normalcy, Elderly Girl dispatched that same petite adorable, who was already drenched in bowel effluent up to her knees, to buy her a pair of sturdy military galoshes, along with several pairs of thick woolen socks.
She gave the girl money to buy herself a pair of rubbers, but the child shyly admitted that she would rather have a baby doll.
"I CAN'T TELL YOU WHO TO SOCK IT TO"
"It's your thing -- do what you wanna do," Elderly Girl demurred reluctantly, being in one of her Isley Brothers moods.
Oh what the hell -- Elderly Girl got her some galoshes, too. And then she set up a "Galoushes Pour Les Enfants" fund at the bank, so every child in town could own a pair.
As for Elderly Girl, those bad-boy, bang-around boots were a stroke of genius. Oh what a relief it was! She regained her composure and went out for a good, brisk stomp around the city, impervious to the fecal nightmare around her. As one could have predicted, she created what is now regarded as the first contemporary fashion "craze." In one afternoon, galoshes became a "must have" throughout the city.
The Army-Navy Surplus Store was mobbed with people overwrought with fear that the olive-drab boots would sell out, which of course they did. Soon there was a black market for them, as active-duty soldiers sold their galoshes for unconscionably high prices, and scooted off to the nearest whorehouse, to enjoy a nice snuggle and a glass of absinthe.
I wish you could have seen all those pale-skinned socialites in their corsets and frothy dresses, kicking around town in those hot and heavy military boots, feeling "hip," which was an entirely new experience, not just for them, but also for the human race as a whole.
They called this mass copycat phenomenon "la fadaise." The Brits dismissed it as "fiddle-faddle." We know it today as a fad.
Everyone credited Elderly Girl with having contributed a new dimension to French culture, which would henceforth be electrified by one new "craze" or "fad" after another.
"Don't blame me -- all I did was buy a pair of boots," she told a reporter, in exasperation. "It's everyone else who went crazy."
WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT?
The stylishly galoshed Elderly Girl became known fondly about town as "Puss 'n Boots." Combien doux!
She was an arresting sight, with her jaunty chapeau and fluttery cape. She tucked a lenticular sword into her belt to ward off the perverts. Some opportunist began peddling bottles of "Puss 'n Boots" tonic, implying that users would be infused with Elderly Girl's vitality. She was urged to sue for copyright violation and invasion of privacy.
"I didn't name myself Puss, you fools," she retorted. "It's quelle vulgaire, you know. I should have sued for slander! J'accuse! And I haven't had a moment of privacy since I got here! Don't blame the boots!"
Yes, Elderly Girl invented being cool, along with so many other things. She invented grunge, Chapstick, fusion cooking and Pilates long before the First World War. She was saying radicale! and impressionnant! (awesome) and fessee le singe (spank the monkey) and moyens dan le (NO means no!) and !Ay Caramba! (no translation required) before the invention of the motor car.
Her admonition to "keep your kimono closed" became beloved by MBA grads way off in the 21st Century (although it is advice that would serve all of us well). She invented "bootylicious" -- but she was talking about boots!
She popularized the daring "Bob" hairstyle without meaning to. As her hair grew out, having been reduced to a crew cut while she fought the Confederates, it naturally took on this configuration. First Paris, then Europe, then the U.S., went bonkers for this rather uninspired "do."
To Elderly Girl it was just an awkward phase, until her hair was wild and leonine again, giving her that Warrior Princess image. But since the "Bob" was inspired by her, it meant the world to people. Everyone had to have it. This didn't flatter Elderly Girl. Mass conformity was unnerving and actually quite repugnant to her. "You be You!" she declared. The phrase soon resounded through the avenues, as ubiquitous as "bonjour."
SHE REMAINED ABOVE THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE
Naturally, Elderly Girl blithely ignored every style convention, creating her own fashion by tossing on whatever odd items she had found in alleyways or peddler's handcarts. This cavalier approach -- with its devil-may-care attitude -- would become a cultural phenomenon known as "thrift store chic" generations later.
She absolutely refused to wear a corset, of course, or one of those ridiculous bustles. The problem was that she had such a perfect hourglass figure, and such sumptuous buttocks, that she appeared to be wearing both of these absurd devices, which was distressing.
More than a hundred years later, the song, "Baby Got Back," by the enchanting Sir Mix-a-Lot, would be inspired by her still "juicy" derriere ("When a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist / And a round thing in your face / You get sprung!")
EVERYWHERE SHE WENT, SHE WAS IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Elderly Girl's every move was scrutinized by her rapturous fan club.
So when she walked down the street one day to buy some coffee beans and a newspaper, and was seen to be idly taking tiny bites of carrot strips, a stampede to the farmers' market broke out, seriously injuring several people. She had cut the strips so beautifully, they looked like sleek, specialty cigarettes. The little crunching sound she made was tres charmant. It was the girlish aspect of Elderly Girl. Precieux!
Before long, the streets of Paris were filled with people -- rich and poor alike -- holding high their slender, julienned carotte accessories, competing to see whose were the freshest and most expertly sliced. It was a hilarious scene, worthy of a Disney musical. The sound of hearty chomping, and exuberant stomping in shit-encrusted galoshes, filled the depressing environs with a new energy. (It was kind of an Orange Revolution, even though the more important Orange Revolution, in Ukraine, would not commence until 2004.)
CAN A CIGARETTE BE A DICKHEAD?
(Speaking of sexy, another new brand soon appeared: "Asperges," made of turgid asparagus, and with that suggestive tip still pointedly attached. Quite a few cads, as you might expect, lasciviously wagged them around as la bite. Just ignore them, ladies, and maybe they'll switch brands or crawl back into their holes.
When the inevitable shortage of carrots occurred, some resourceful Parisians sliced up parsnips, which were often used as a sweetener instead of sugar in Europe at that time. Initially, that natural, nasal French snobbery blew forth, and these white oral accoutrements were ridiculed for their dearth of couleur and dynamisme. But a shy academic wrote an op-ed in the Sunday paper, pointing out that "parsnip" contains the letters in "Paris," which is kind of a cool coincidence, and -- as everyone should have known -- this root vegetable is also a rich source of methyl-falcarindiol, a highly regarded anti-oxidant.
Soon the "Parsnipians" had equal footing. Thank god -- another controversy put to rest.
For the time being, though, these innocent snacks that Elderly Girl had eaten her whole life became a must-have aspect of fashion, as essential as a hat, a good pair of hose, and lacy gloves. Parisians were inspired by the healthful effects of these nutri-cigs, and began incorporating fruits and vegetables into their attire: cherry-tomato necklaces, grape earrings, sliced-kiwi broaches, tangerine pom-poms for their boots, for example. At night, they took them off and ate them. Thus, "Juicy Couture" was born in France, 100 years before two lovely American girls turned it into a thriving business venture.
Shortly thereafter, noticing that the stress and deprivation of living in this drab town had made her look a bit wan, Elderly Girl smoothed a bit of beet juice onto her cheeks and lips while she was whipping up a pot of borscht. When she later emerged to purchase a book on Theosophy -- "The Secret Doctrine" -- by the rather eerily named "Madame Blavatsky," the crowds swooned at her appearance of flushed vitality.
God, get me out of here, she murmured repeatedly throughout each surreal day. It could have been a Fellini movie, but he wasn't even an ovum yet!
BLAME THE WHOLE THING ON CONSUMER FRAUD
Elderly Girl had every right to be infuriated by this whole situation. She had been enticed to come to Paris in the first place by deceptive advertising, promulgated by the French Bureau of Travel and Tourism. Ce qui merde! What crap! Long before we Americans had mastered the art of cold-hearted but artful lying, the French were shamelessly promoting themselves as a land of beauty and culture.
Some call it bait and switch.
Today it can legitimately be characterized as "business as usual."
Whatever: It was detestable:
"Do join us in Paris, for a life of glittering ease and colorful divertissement!" "Ah, the elegant boulevards, the grand architecture and majestic trees you will enjoy!" "Indulge in an unparallelled social whirl." "Travel from place to place in the most refined conveyances!"
"Your wish is their command in the city's superb bistros and brasseries."
(When they go home, the will wearing rags and scrounging for a bite to eat. )
"Indulge in the sprightly amusements that only Paris can offer!"
"Better yet, enjoy discreet companionship in our graceful bordellos!" In truth, most of the city at that time was ugly, dirty and dangerous. The scope of suffering stunned Elderly Girl. Les miserables!
Where is Gay Paree? Oh, that's a gated community in an adjacent arrondisement. Elderly Girl was furious that she had been duped by this PR garbage into believing that she could live a principled, dignified life here. Like another country that we all know only too well, France was living a lie, using a breathtaking but false mythology to gain global admiration.
The French Revolution, whose principles of "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" had been so inspirational and influential around the world, had turned out to be only a tiny blip in the Glorious Dominance of wealth and privilege, but France was keeping that little backslide to itself.
All that business about the emancipation of the individual, the abolition of the privileges of noble birth and the establishment of equality were mere appeasement and window-dressing, while the old elites regrouped.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Within just a few years, after the collapse of the First Empire in 1815, the French public lost the rights and privileges it had won since the Revolution.There was no liberty. There was no equality. And there was no fraternity, unless you went to a private college, where the frat boys had rowdy, binge-drinking weekends, complete with hookers and live DJs.
In fact, as Elderly Girl realized the moment she stepped off the train from Calais, Paris was basically hell on Earth -- dense and irregular medieval alleyways with pockets here and there of snooty luxury -- peopled by a tight-assed, high falutin' One Percent.
People were falling down dead all over the place, from malnutrition and disease.
For the commoners, the 99 percent, life was nasty, brutish and short, although it really was longer than they would have preferred. People lived in squalor that was even worse than the burgeoning, rat-and-roach infested tenement firetraps in New York City, where starving immigrants were packed into tiny rooms without heat or running water.
So this was Paris: The greatest con job in the history of con jobs:
Elderly Girl's flat was in one of the buildings on the horizon -- deplorable!
Was Elderly Girl dreaming? Things seemed too nightmarish to be true.
Where was the "glittering germ of a city" she was told to expect? Ah, the ambiance of the Rue de Whatever.
The poor, overworked shoe-factory gents toed the line or got booted out.
Most stood around starving, hoping a rich person would drop his baguette or fromage.
Working in the "abattoirs" was bloody murder, but they sponged it up and made Bloody Marys.
The chiffonniers, rag gatherers, worked tirelessly to earn a mere pittance, often not enough to get a room for the night.
Hell's Cafe, in the red-light district. Why call it hell if you can afford a drink?
TURNING AN UNWANTED STAY INTO AN EXTENDED PARTY
Elderly Girl vowed to make her time here as productive and enlightening as possible. After the heartwarming petition imploring her to remain, what would be an acceptable grace period, after which she could flee without seeming unkind? She hadn't figured that out yet.
To pass the time, and perhaps learn a thing or two, she established an intellectual salon in a three-story townhouse, near the Place Pigalle, known as “la Nouvelle-Athènes,” both for the neo-Classical flourishes of its most graceful blocks and for the creative geniuses who swept in to inhabit them. People loved to drop in. The problem was getting them to leave!
Here, at at the intersection of Rue Victor Massé and Rue Frochot, she quietly (and accidentally) launched the aesthetic and lifestyle movement that would lead Paris to be called "the city of the century."
(Although Elderly Girl never had a job in her life, she was fabulously wealthy. She bought the townhouse so she could have a "second life" in Paris, but she continued to live in the dismal cold-water flat on the other side of town. She disapproved of inequality. She disdained self-indulgence and ostentation. She gave virtually all of her well-diversified portfolio's income away, through her Anonymous Foundation, which remains a global force for good today. But this townhouse charade was recreation for her. She was playing a role in order to have the experience of engaging the finest minds in Europe. So it wasn't a moral compromise!)
PRICELESS PRESENTS FOR A SCINTILLATING PRESENCE
One of her favorite "regulars," Gustave Moreau, gave this to her in 1889, the year he died:
Elderly Girl's salon was a warm, velvety place, all aglow and cozy, where the literati spent evenings drinking bourbon straight up, or fancy cocktails mixed with a showman's flourish by her barman, Abimbola ("born to be rich"), a nicely proportioned, inscrutable African, who seemed to have greater innate class and good sense than any of her guests.
'BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL' -- ANOTHER OF HER UTTERANCES
Abimbola had gone to Oxford, and spent his days teaching Classical Literature at the University of Toulouse. He was greatly intrigued by this barman's role, though, he told her. He liked the anthropological aspect -- watching all the puffed-up people getting puffier -- and he also thoroughly enjoyed the creative aspect of making beautiful boissons. Since he was a nondrinker for religious reasons, he got vicarious pleasure out of transforming a staid gathering into an uproar of drunkenness. He also enjoyed freaking the tight-asses out with his gleaming bare chest and tribal hair ornaments.
He had a phenomenally deep, resonant voice, but he never spoke, except to her. He refused to call her anything so prosaic as Elderly Girl, instead giving her the African name Chizoba ("may God save," which was OK, except that she was an atheist).
The poor man was quite insecure, but so were most of them. The poet Baudelaire, symbolist painter Carriere, the adorable author Huysmans, poet Charles Marie René Leconte de Lisle, author Guy de Maupasspant, Poincare, Mauriac, all the rest of the regulars, required Elderly Girl's figurative bosom to comfort and encourage them in their creative endeavors.
Sculptor Frederick Bartholdi was a virile exception. He was a dashing and quizzical fellow, who persuaded Elderly Girl to pose for a series of "figure studies" that he intended to use as inspiration for his future works. She insisted on wearing a brief, filmy chemise during these sessions. No one had seen her naked since she was a little baby, and she was reasonably sure that nobody ever would. Posing seemed silly and vain. Bartholdi urged her to make "a sacrifice for Art that will endure forever."
"You have classic beauty!" he cried.
People said that all the time. So what? She had more important things to do than flounce about and point her toes. She was becoming an agitator, and the Power Elite had already put her on its enemies list.
She didn't like being looked at, much less stared at intently for hours on end.
Or did she?
As it turned out, being a model was a profound and nuanced growth experience for Elderly Girl -- although she had to force herself to embark upon it with these words, which would resound over something known as "airwaves" more than 100 years later:
Strike a pose, there's nothing to it
A MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS AND "SEENERY"
Word spread about Elderly Girl's burgeoning cultural influence, so her salon gradually became a sort of self-promotional venue. People came to be seen in the company of those who were a "scene" unto themselves. It all became quite an ordeal for Elderly Girl. She wanted out! She she made sure the liquor was plentiful and the canapes were artfully arranged, and then she tended to disappear.
Or she just nodded off, and had her portrait painted without her knowledge. At least Monsieur Caillebotte gave it to her, instead of putting in online!
Caillebotte disapproved of her musculature, so he made her look flabby. Tres rude!
Elderly Girl is an intellectual and has been since birth, but she despises the trappings and pretense of intellectualism. More importantly, she has discovered that the real insight and wisdom in this world are to be found in the commoners, who actually grapple with Reality every day, usually with grace and forbearance. These are her heroes.
What these artsy-fartsy types in Elderly Girl's salon de la philosophie didn't know was that upstairs, in a realm of joyful egalitarianism, she had opened a social club for the "little people," who worked in the mines, garbage dumps, and textile factories. It was in that secret hideaway where you could undo your dress, kick off your shoes, and EAT (and chug India pale ale -- superb!).
UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS: SHE LEARNED FROM THEM BOTH
So once she'd gotten her fill of the brainiacs on level one, she said, "Excuse me, while I kiss the sky," and headed upstairs to let her hair down and cook up a huge pot of pasta for her soulmates. (Many years later, Jimi Hendrix thanked her privately for her "kiss the sky" reference, but -- like Madonna -- he never publicly acknowledged her. She didn't mind. She was coining phrases all the time, that have added immeasurable color and substance to the lingua franca of several countries and eras. Who do you think thought up "zero emissions" and "soft power"? And "hoodie" and "downloads" and "Vicodin"? And "going commando," which she had always done, but hadn't previously given a name to? Now, all these generations later, it's the "big thing" in Hollywood (along with Vicodin).
Why can't people mimic Elderly Girl's moral, political, social and environmental example, instead of choosing the whole underpants thing? It's so sad. And why don't they maintain control of the situation down there -- as the term "commando" implies -- instead of letting everything fly open?
It seems that Britney started it, years ago, and it's spread like wildfire, and we do mean wild. And we do mean yuck!
Our precious Paris Hilton commandeered lots of attention at an L.A. nightclub (isn't her butt kind of saggy?) (and yet she gets $100,000 a night for being a DJ!):
Kiefer Sutherland and friends couldn't resist joining in the fun.
The dance move has continued periodically to resurface around the world ever since. You-know-who really disgraced a long and venerable history recently, with her in-your-face rendition. As we said before, shit happens.
French nightlife was transformed by Elderly Girl's twerkily inventive "Poetry in Motion."
AT LAST, SHE REALIZED WHY FATE HAD DUMPED HER HERE
Elderly Girl's long, affectionate and poignant evenings with the common people in her upstairs "get down" venue (another of her phrases: "Get down with yo' bad self!") made her realize -- as Oprah would put it -- what she was put on the Planet to do. Just as she had been compelled by an Invisible Hand to help free the slaves, she must now strive to obtain basic human rights for France's workers.
Unions had been illegal for centuries, as the noble classes and landed gentry continued to clamp down upon the poor and exploit their labours, indifferent to their suffering. It required decades of tense, crowded meetings, draft after draft of declarations and demands, petitions and picket lines, lockouts and shootouts, before workers gained even a modicum of recognition.
Despite all they went through -- all their hopes and reasoned rhetoric and desperate pleas -- little changed. In France, as in much of the world, a shameless ruling elite continued to live off of the blood, sweat and tears of the working classes.
In a forthcoming post, we will present Elderly Girl's unique partnership with the lowest of the low, as they waged a colorful, inventive, witty and ruthless campaign for fair treatment. It's an entertaining story, but it must be acknowledged that, to quote the trusty Wikipedia, "France has continued to have one of the lowest rates of union density -- the proportion of paid workers who are union members -- in the world." We must assume that lots of French people are nice, but on a macro level, it's a detestable place. And as Americans, we really have no business making statements such as that.
Elderly Girl had paid her dues, so to speak, and now she really did have to get out of there.
AN ESCAPE SO EXCITING, IT WAS WORTH THE WAIT
Elderly Girl had done her best to make the most of her time in Paris, despite her aching desire to leave. "Keep hope alive!" she told herself, as she plotted her escape, which of course would have to be dramatic, intriguing -- something for the Ages and the headline writers.
An escape plan gradually materialized in her mind, as she smoked a Grand Marnier-infused electronic cigarette, which she had invented using such simple technology you wouldn't believe it. She shared this delicious device with only one person, her barman
Abimbola. She made one for him using a liqueur from his native country of Africa. Or dammit -- Africa is not a country, why did she keep forgetting that? She still forgets it! He was from what is now known as Chad, and she used Amarula liqueur (from the fruit of the Elephant Tree) to create a nuanced inhalatory experience.
Ambiola embraced her in a brotherly way and kissed her cheek.
"You honor me," he said. "I don't smoke, but I will take it up forthwith, out of respect for this brilliant bestowance."
Fearing it would be rude to do otherwise, Elderly Girl made one for his wife, too, a lovely girl who was Haut Gouvernante (chief of housekeeping) at the mansion of Felix Herbert, mayor of the VI Arrondisesment. Her name was Ndidi, which means patience -- a quality that must come in handy as she maintained discipline and conviviality among her staff of 30. The cigarette was infused with the liqueur Eau de Violette.
CIGARETTES PUT ONE'S IMAGINATION IN VAPOROUS FREE-FALL
What scenarios waft through the mind when one is blowing scented vapor out of one's nostrils! For one thing, Elderly Girl would disguise herself as a man, as she had during the Civil War, to elude the paparazzi. But what could she wear that would perpetuate her record of originality?
We now know that Elderly Girl is documented to have been the first woman ever to don a pair of blue jeans, which had been worn, quite unnoticed, by French sailors since the 1500s. The word "jeans" comes from the French phrase 'bleu de Genes,' meaning 'the blue of Genoa.' The fabric originated in Nimes and owes its name -- denim -- to that French village. She wore a sturdy denim suit coat as well and a big cap, into which she stuffed her long hair. Men's workboots completed her disguise.
French sailors had no idea their "blue jeans" would acquire iconic status. "Dem Jeans," a rap song that would emerge in the 21st Century, would pay humble homage the sight of Elderly Girl's luscious derriere in those comfy pants.
She would hop a train to Provence, and stride purposefully onto a freighter headed for Casablanca, with her head down and her collar up. She would chain smoke her mur vapeur, and continue her exhausting plow through "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu" (the first volume of which had just been published) (and she would surely avoid the forthcoming six) during the prolonged float-along across the Mediterranean and through the Straits of Gibraltar.
Doesn't Proust look bored and kind of blah? Such self-indulgence! Such vain melancholia! Elderly Girl felt like kicking him in the behind:
Once in Casablanca, she would get a few spa treatments, enjoy the aromatic cuisine of the area, and do a bit of thrift shopping. Then, still clad in her trousers, suit coat, cap and boots, she would hop the nearest camel and make her way to Marrakesh, to live a contemplative, anonymous life in her mother's birthplace (She was very opposed to riding camels, or using animals in any way, but she would be so kind to hers, feeding him dates the whole time, and singing Camel mating melodies in a soothing voice. Then at the end, she would throw her arms around his neck, kiss him on the nose, and whisper her profound apologies. Even so, she would feel guilty forever). If it hadn't been so far, she would have walked along beside him.
She was desperate to remove herself from the global spotlight, and the endless stone warrens of the ancient, fortified city of Marrakesh seemed like the perfect place to do so. That would turn out to be a very flawed assumption.
Where the hell is that beguiling Elderly Girl? Have we lost her forever?
Nearly 15 years after 3.1416 million Parisian fans petitioned her to stay forever, Elderly Girl departed. "I'm sorry, mes cheries," she whispered, as she locked the door of her cold-water tenement flat one last time and slipped into the night.
Little did she know that within days, Paris would be overrun with German soldiers as the First World War got into gear, and an orgy of global slaughter ensued. By the end, four years later -- even though America had been sending in 10,000 "fresh" soldiers per day -- 1.4 million French troops would be dead.
Elderly Girl was known to have an impeccable sense of timing, and this seemed to be an example of that. Images of the Civil War still haunted her dreams. She couldn't bear any more.
She hadn't realized she would need a camel. She had planned to take a train. Did you know there's no such thing as the Marrackesh Express? How absurd! Crosby, Stills and Nash just made the whole thing up. Is that even legal?:
All aboard the train, all aboard the train
I smell the garden in your hair
Blowing smoke rings from the corners of my mouth
Colored cottons hang in the air
Charming cobras in the square
Striped djellebas we can wear at home
Traveling the train through clear Moroccan skies.
It had been two years since the French had taken over, but no one had told Elderly Girl about it. Where were all those swashbuckling foreign correspondents when you needed them? They were in dark bars, having a blast, and all of them were sleeping with each other. Ask anyone! Ask Lara Logan!
("Hi!") to her Mama's relatives and checking out the sights. She bought a lovely coral maxi dress that fluttered, along with her glossy tresses, as she walked. It felt nice to wear sandals, after all those years in galoshes.
The whole city seemed to be comprised of one bazaar after another. This land of plenty seemed almost too plentiful. Isn't it a bit much? :
Elderly Girl was getting dazed and confused, and rather exasperated by all this "commercial vitality." Who was going to buy all this "stuff"? And how fairly would those who actually made the items be compensated?
She didn't have long to contemplate the matter. An angry crowd of men materialized around her in the bazaar. "You are too جميل (beautiful)," they cried angrily. "You must cover your شعر (hair) and وجه (face) at once!"
So she did. She'd forgotten that this had been her plan along. Remember her dream of disappearing into a burqa and a niqab, and finding a hideaway carved out of a mountainside?
Am I black enough for you, gentlemen? And plain enough?
BLENDING -- AND GENDER-BENDING
She liked it -- this outfit that made her indistinguishable from every other woman. She wouldn't want to live in a country that forced it upon her, and she wouldn't want to wear it forever, but for the moment it gave her a feeling of both solace and liberation. Being Elderly Girl is hard work, just as George W. Bush said of being the president. Until further notice, no Elderly Girl existed.
Except in her head, dammit. That brain of hers kept being itself, instead of becoming the "empty vessel" that prevailing religious law encouraged. She was disturbed about something that she really must share with you precious amies out there in Cyberville, or she will burst.
It has to do with sex, her least favorite subject. Or formerly least favorite, anyway. Something has happened to juice up her rusty old mechanism. Ironically, it was triggered by dressing as a man.
Until she had her first experience of cross-dressing, as a soldier heroically battling to free the slaves in America, she would never have imagined the exhilaration of striding about as the male of the species. She expected that she would have to "play a role," but it wasn't necessary: Once she was disguised as a man, she instantly felt more comfortable and confident than she ever had in her whole life. She felt like a cattle rustler. She felt like Da Bomb. She felt like a Swat Team of one. She was cruisin' for a bruisin'. She was ready to rumble, baby!
Everything changed. She stood erect! She breathed more deeply and felt a glorious competence in her hands. She was engorged with a sense of possibility. It's so much more interesting to be formidable than beautiful, ladies -- we've been kept in the dark! The world was her oyster! Or -- puke -- let's try that again: She felt like "He-Man, Master of the Universe."
Elderly Girl felt aggressive, rash, restless and terribly sexy. This is a shameful thing to say, but she felt like fucking. She felt like hauling some young farm girl into a barn and just doing it!
It was confusing, to say the least. Please don't judge her too harshly. dear friends. She was more shocked than you must be. And no farm girls were harmed in the making of this blog post.
Elderly Girl had vowed never to dress as a man again -- never to permit those feelings again -- unless she stumbled upon a fresh crop of slaves who needed someone to fight for their freedom.
But in order to free herself from Paris, she had broken that vow, and she had been awash in that same raging tingle all the way from Calais to Marrakesch. No wonder she couldn't keep her mind on that Proust book -- her privates were on fire.
Is that why most cultures either sternly discouraged or forbade women from wearing pants? Because it makes you tingle and want to do something -- it's not always quite clear what -- but something that involves carousing and grappling, a fieriness, an urgency, a scream, a plea, an explorer's energy, a psychopath's obsessive intensity, a baby's polymorphous perversity, a fragrance of some sort, some hair, some membranes, some combination of the above?
Can we blame this on pants? Or was it merely the thrill of not being oneself? Of being freed for the moment from the expectations of oneself and others? Of being disguised, so it was like a dream, where there are no real consequences?
She needs to ask the audience!
Now, here she was, shrouded in the hijab, in which her gender seemed superficially clear but her sexiness did not.
And yet, ladies, please be frank: Was her gender clear anymore? Was it intellectually honest to avoid pants -- to "lock (herself) out of Heaven," to quote her adopted "Save the Children" son, the adorable pop star Bruno Mars -- or should she put them back on and work through this conundrum in an enlightened, preferably supervised, way? Shouldn't she pursue the Truth?
And if the truth led her there, could she stomach being known as the first openly transgendered person in human history, thus losing her stature as the most luscious girl in the world? That's a tough one, honey. You get accustomed to the bling.
HOW BAZAAR, HOW BAZAAR
Elderly Girl wandered through the bazaar in a daze, seared by the sunlight that her black burqa plowed into her ever-tender, fragrant skin. She didn't feel manly. She felt girlish, and she didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed. It might be cool to "curate" (use that word whenever possible) her own gender. She was famous for too many things to keep track of, but this could be the most interesting of all, with the exception of her unique I-don't-age gene.
Her reverie was abruptly halted by the grating sound of the English language being spoken, and of that coarse laughter that is a trademark of American men. Then the nervous, embarrassed twitter of British laughter chimed in, followed by female murmuring. WTF?
The sign said حانة مغترب ("Expat's Pub").
It was so typical of colonial arrogance that the Brits had put a bar in the middle of a bustling Muslim gathering place, as if to say, "Screw your beliefs, your values and your 'god,' you filthy animals!"
Elderly Girl had mixed feelings about expatriates in general. Some were surely doing good works, or repudiating homelands whose policies had become repugnant to them, but most -- it seemed -- were people who sought a life of luxury on the cheap.They could live like the One Percent over here, on a middle-class income. Sprawling stucco homes and luxuriant acreage, all maintained for pennies an hour by faithful, uncomplaining natives. "Brush my hair, Akilah! Do the pedicure, and stop looking sad! We need more saffron and pine nuts in the couscous, Hulyah, and I want that lamb grilled properly tonight. Are the clean sheets on the beds yet, Nasira? Are the towels scented? Has the pool been cleaned, Khalil? OK then, get busy on the flower beds."
Just thinking about it gave Elderly Girl flashbacks of slave times back home.
It had always struck her, even when there was no abuse or direct exploitation involved, that "inferiors" were superior people.
Despite her distaste for expats, the thought of a Sloe Gin Fizz on such a hot day was irresistible. There were a few gasps, a snicker, and a rustle of perplexity as she entered the crowded bar as an apparently pious Muslim woman risking it all for the hot ecstasy of an alcoholic beverage.
Impulsively, she pulled off the hijab and niqab to reveal her real self, in all its kissable, peaches-and-cream glory. Her long, wild, wavy hair flew about under the ceiling fan.
"Elderly Girl!" a British officer cried, standing up and (oddly) bowing. "Where on Earth have you been all these years? Don't you know they're looking for you everywhere? For quite a while, the Americans were afraid you'd been lynched down South, along with all those blackies you were hanging around with."
"But then we saw in the IHT that you were in Paris," a corpulent American businessman said (he was here to buy up boatloads of Moroccan crafts, and sell them back home at a markup of several thousand percent. It's a strategy that is making a lot of opportunistic whitefolks rich to this day.)
"They even have Interpol looking for you -- it's being treated as a bit of an emergency," an English dowager told her, blotting her lips with a frilly handkerchief. "Aren't you being frightfully thoughtless, creating such a commotion?"
A rather handsome grad student, with bulging pecs and biceps, and long eyelashes, handed her a copy of last Sunday's New York Times. A front-page headline read:
indestructible virtue that animated my creativity," Bartholdi declares.
Needless to say, Elderly Girl was stunned, and weak in the knees. She sat down next to the young student at the large table and asked him to order her a double whiskey with a twist of lemon. A gin fizz wouldn't quite suffice. Soon, an exquisite, brown-skinned waitress appeared, topless, to take their orders. Elderly Girl was shocked.
"Isn't she Muslim?" she asked, after the girl had left.
"Sure, but these subhumans live in such squalor, they'll do anything you tell them for a few درهم (dirham). If you like اللواط
(don't ask), you've come to the right place. If fudge-packing isn't up your alley, a اللسان is even cheaper. You might as well buy two of the brainless tarts at a time, and keep them all night. It'll cost you less than a pot of tea, even if they're little virgins."
Elderly Girl's stomach clenched and her cheeks flamed.
"You, sir -- or actually not 'sir,' you prick -- are the one who is subhuman."
With that, she stood up. "I'm not going to sit here with this pig," she told the student. He picked up both their drinks, and they moved to the most distant table in the establishment.
The next time the waitress emerged, Elderly Girl approached her. She handed her the equivalent of two years pay, a nice roll of dirham. Then she threw the burqa she had removed from her own body over the trembling girl's nakedness.
" الله معك " ("May god be with you"), Elderly Girl said, embracing her.
The girl sobbed, and ran from the pub.
THE PROS AND CONS OF BEING STATUESQUE
Finally, Elderly Girl was able to sit down and throw back that drink, and think about this whole Interpol, Statue, media-circus thing. The student put his hand over hers, and wisely remained a reassuring but silent presence.
She had been pursued and even stalked since she was 13 years old, but never quite on this scale, and never without her knowledge. It was quite a lot to absorb, or to "wrap her head around," as people say these days.
She had never given another thought to Bartholdi's sketches of her, once their sessions were over and he returned to Lyons with his American wife. He had never mentioned the idea of building a monument to the affection between the French and the Americans, which Elderly Girl believed was a naive fantasy anyway, unless there was some mutual military or economic benefit at stake.
The Times article was accompanied by a drawing of the statue.
It was striking, but the only details that reminded Elderly Girl of herself were the crown and the torch, which were from an old costume she had worn in an abolitionist skit and had playfully incorporated into her posing one day for Bartholdi.
"That's not my face," she blurted. She wasn't vain, but seriously, this Liberty woman wasn't even a little bit pretty, was she?
"It's the character aspect that comes through," the student said thoughtfully. "Bartholdi was very astute, I think. It would have degraded the whole enterprise if he'd made her an object of allure. She's strong. She's brave. She's got conviction, compassion, steadfastness. That's Elderly Girl too, you know."
"Who are you?" Elderly Girl asked, quite moved by his insight.
"Just a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn," he replied.
Nothing can beat a nice Jewish boy. That had been Elderly Girl's experience, anyway. Ethics are at the forefront of their lives.
"So what must I do about this statue thing?" she asked him. "I've been putting all my efforts into escaping the spotlight. This will throw me right back in."
"Man up. This is bigger than you and your needs," he said, without hesitation. "Look at it objectively. The majesty of it. The unprecedented nature of this gesture from Bartholdi and France. Imagine what this work of art will instill in the spirits of millions of people for generations to come. The boatloads of huddled masses yearning to be free. You have to go. Be gracious about it. Then, you can do your disappearing act."
YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN -- RELUCTANTLY
Oh my god, it is so draining of one's very lifeblood to live in a principled manner! Every once in a while, Elderly Girl wished she had been born a cat. They get to lie around, effortlessly striking the most endearing poses, and they are so exquisite and cuddly they trigger our oxytocin at will, leaving us hopelessly in love with them. Elderly Girl had many of those effects on the Universe, but it required an almost saintly mindfulness for her to live up to her public's expectations.
Elderly Girl didn't want to go home. As far as she was concerned, she had no home. She was looking for a place of enlightenment and humane values to call home. Home is where the heart is. Her heart was in limbo! It was floating through the heavens, admiring all those nebulae.
SHE COULD HAVE HAD A CANOPIED BED, BUT SHE SLEPT STANDING UP INSTEAD
The voyage back to America was hellish. Of course, Elderly Girl could have taken a luxury liner, but that was against her principles. Instead, she took a regular old ship, and spent thousands of dollars to provide crate after crate of nutritious food for her fellow passengers, who were packed so tightly that it was like being amorous with about four people at once.
Anyway, she wished she could embrace all these people at once. She gazed out over their shabbiness, their hunched shoulders, their grim faces, and she was moved to tears.
Everyone agreed that the stinky cheese was so damned stinky, it made them feel much better about the odors they themselves were emitting.
Ever the instigator -- whether it was to inspire frolic or to wage class warfare -- she encouraged poetry recitations and group song, which seemed to provide a pleasing diversion for most of her fellows. It was fantastique to hear some Shakespeare, for a change, and and some Homer and Dante. It was delightful to learn ditties in various languages. Her favorite was the Persian tune " '65 Love Affair" ( داستان عاشقانه ) because it reminded her of her role in a very important and "necessary" war. People were singing in harmony as the ocean crashed around them.
She had a love affair with black people. Sorry, white people! She loves you, too, but you continue to come in second place. Some folks called the Negroes "colored people," which Elderly Girl always liked, and still does, political correctness be damned. She would love to be colored. Colorful is good.
By the time the freighter reached New York, the onboard ambiance was Paris all over again: Standing there, calf-deep in poop. Elderly Girl should have brought galoshes for everyone, as well as nuts and cheese. And how could she have forgotten sunscreen? Everyone's skin (except for hers) was burned and peeling. That would cause the Americans to look at these exhausted, lost people with even greater distaste as they disembarked into the land where the streets were paved with gold.
POMPOUS AND CIRCUMSTANTIAL
Elderly Girl cannot abide parades, and rejected an invitation to join the nation's dignitaries on the viewing stand as the moment for the statue's grand presentation grew near. Some estimates are that a million people lined the route, which extended from Madison Square, through Wall Street -- where traders spontaneously created the tradition of the "ticker-tape" parade -- and down to the southern tip of Manhattan.
Elderly Girl arrived at the harbor at the appointed time to board the yacht to Liberty Island, where the statue was to be unveiled. When she emerged from the taxi cab, a rustle and then a massive cry of impassioned affection emerged from the thousands of people who were gathered there. An ovation of applause and cheers went up that seemed to go on forever.
Elderly Girl, who looked younger than she had when she fled America so many years ago, was radiant in a filmy, silk, rose-colored dress by the Callot Sisters of Paris. Her hair flew in the ocean breeze at a time in history when hair was not encouraged to fly.
A small group of hotsy-totsy bluebloods stared at her disapprovingly, as if to say, "Where are your bobby pins, you tramp? Where is your hat? Your shoulders are offensively bare. Your ankles are showing!"
It seemed that America had its own Taliban. The iron-grip tyranny of men, and the women who bowed down to them. Elderly Girl smirked, and turned her back.
Her porcelain beauty was so flawless that she looked as if she had reposed in a protective bubble of Ivory Snow since she was born, and emerged just this one time to accommodate a Nation in Need. Her full, velvety lips drove everyone to distraction. They were clearly designed to be kissed, and kissed repeatedly.
She waved and nodded modestly to her admirers, and proceeded to board the yacht.
An officer of the law stopped her. He must have been quite an ignorant fellow.
"Only dignitaries will be allowed at the unveiling," he said. "And it's men-only, except for Mr. Bartholdi's wife."
Elderly Girl's heart leapt with relief. She had tried to get out of this whole affair via a series of telegrams to Bartholdi, but he had been ardent and adamant.
"The statue would not exist without you, Eldie," he had written. "You were my muse. I would feel like a fraud if I didn't share the moment with you."
And later in their back-and-forth, he wrote: "If you won't do it for me, do it for all those people you care about. The downtrodden! The oppressed! It will forever be a beacon of hope to them. I must insist that you complete your role in this endeavour!"
"Tell Frederick I tried," she told the officer, as she turned to leave.
But she hadn't taken more than a few steps before Bartholdi's voice resounded: "Eldie, don't go! The gentleman was misinformed!"
SO MUCH ORATORY, HER BUM GOES TO SLEEP
Ceremonies are excruciating to Elderly Girl. She hates speeches, invocations, dedications and all the fraudulence involved in moments of patriotic fervor. Everyone lies like mad, just to be congratulated for being so "inspiring." They seem to be in their own idealized world, these elitist assholes, who talk about equality and freedom while excluding and ignoring common people. Are they really so clueless that they are blind to their hypocrisy?
At last, it was time for Bertholdi to speak. It was clear from the outset that his intention was to glorify Elderly Girl's inspirational role, rather than the statue and its symbolism. She could not tolerate it. She stood up.
"Frederick, please," she said, with all the power that comes with being Elderly Girl. "Unveil your creation, and let us adjourn these proceedings. I need a nap."
Their eyes met. He paused. She stared him down, with insistent conviction. He stared back, and she watched as his will dissolved.
He reached up, and, with a flourish, pulled down the large French flag that had been covering the statue's upper body and face.
The flag is known as the French Tricolour.
Even Elderly Girl grows exhausted sometimes. Won't you step up and give her a hand? This is serious business, but it's also quite fun. You'll feel like a juvenile delinquent, but this time you'll have a Higher Purpose as your excuse. Indulge!
We must fuck up all those corpulent One Percenters, or they will put us all in "1984," even though they're a bit behind schedule. All those formal balls and luxury cruises slowed them down, along with drug rehab and prostate cancer treatments (ha ha!). But the police state they envision is upon us, and our "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are hurtling toward extinction.
Religion may not be your opiate, but we do have television, as well as food that is expertly formulated to destroy our health and our wills. Killing you softly, as Roberta Flack might sing, but it's not really soft -- it's just slow.
Let's spread the word, that our lives are going to hell, and rally our comrades to ACT UP.