I enjoy making observational notations, describing in prose what I see and hear — the verbal equivalent of an artist’s sketch. The people-watching-while-drinking-coffee habit of Paris should be perfect for me but I feel vulnerable and exposed sitting alone at a table, so don’t do it much.
I do listen and watch as I walk, however. My sensitivity to the words people use as well as their turns of phrase has had an additional benefit of making me highly attuned to the content of their conversations, the swift change in ideas, and how and what people care about. Such observancy extends to architecture, most aesthetics and nature, but that’s not relevant here. You would think I’d love social media as it’s a voyeur’s heaven, but I hate it. I receive too few cues there.
I never watch tv. Never listen to the radio. Read only a few blogs. Have no social media presence. Never been on Twitter. I go on Facebook only when someone points me there but will never have a page.
Having said this, I often wind up in the fulcrum of power. I’m not sure why or how. I’m the little mouse who whispers honest words into a pol’s ear – my value to him is my seemingly direct knowledge about what’s going on among the people and an uncanny ability to write using the people’s language, that is, simply and directly. I’m very careful not to manipulate either the pol or his audience. The key to reaching people, I’ve learned over the years, is to NOT use clever tricks and distractions, but to unearth from the pol a genuine concern, even love, for the people to whom he’s speaking. This must be genuine. I can’t write into a man what isn’t there, what he doesn’t feel; negotiating the “true” distance between the speaker and audience may be just a skill, but it’s a necessary one because an audience easily senses when a pol has listened to them before the speech. They intuit when they’ve been regarded and acknowledged.
One unexpected discovery made during this first week in Paris has to do with the role of body language, gesture and the subtle cues we give to each other while communicating. I discovered this because I don’t speak French well. I only understand about half of what I hear and speak haltingly. But my understanding of what they’re thinking, that intuitive sense of how they feel when they talk politics together, was only slightly impacted by my stupidity in the language. This is amazing. I’m not sure why this is happening. Still ruminating …
Many elitists try to prove to each other that they’re unlike “the masses.” Those who preen the most are often the ones most desperate to disguise their own plebian roots. In contrast, genuine upper-class sorts are not ashamed of being compassionate and loyal toward their compatriots.
Only insecure climbers tut-tut about the “sheeple.”
Yet, like most of us, few pols are comfortable in their own skin. I’d much prefer to write for a lusty, out-of-control, angry, and bastardly old codger who is himself than a slimy, handsome, articulate chameleon who pretends to be someone he’s not. At least I’d know what I’m working with.
I’m not writing for anyone right now … I want to make clear that this visit to Paris has nothing to do with an assignment or contract.
There are few beards here.
Continuing yesterday’s post … Paris is a shopping culture of people who buy only for the day. This suggests that deep inside, ordinary Parisians expect tomorrow to be just like today, that the fruit, veges and meats will be purchasable tomorrow. Part of French confidence has to do with their benign view of government. This may be why cities are more liberal than outlying burbs and rural areas: people self-select to live in cities. After a while, the “type” is concentrated.
The culture of any city is one of dependence ... not interdependence: this can be a consequence, but not a necessary one.
To borrow business lingo, Parisians personify the “just in time” supply chain mentality. Though supply chains are notoriously fragile, they can usually move an item from A to B. As items are manufactured, the problem is that a missing part or two can throw the entire manufacturing line off. That’s the “thing” problem, that is, the supply chain loses a link somewhere which musses the entire thing up. But there’s also the “time” problem. If one link on the chain breaks down, the amazingly calibrated motion of an item from A to B suddenly stops. Most of this just happens through unseen, uncoordinated forces, much like Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Smith described how people pursuing their self-interest also met society’s needs, but no one planned or understood what was going on. If ONE company handles everything, like UPS or FedEx, the movement of a good will be rationalized. The movement of most stuff, however, is irrational. Stuff passes through containers, pallets, trucks, more trucks, cold storage, back to trucks, distribution, more distribution then finally a truck to it’s final destination — obviously, a lot of links can be broken.
This is what’s slowly happening now. The worldwide supply chain is losing a link, or two, every day, quite consistently.
The french seem blissfully unaware of the fragility of the supply chain. Food miraculously appears in the markets every day and gas gets plumbed into the lines. Things just work. When they don’t work, the french get furious with political tantrums — their expectations of what the government is capable of doing are very … generous, lets say. I have not heard anyone express fear that the supply chain could let them down. This suggests Parisians have a deeply rooted “liberal” or “leftist” mentality. They defer to authority because they believe the government is on their side and capable of maintaining the backdrop of society. They believe authority is well-intentioned and that the structures and rhythms of society will continue ad infinitum.
This is faith. It’s a tenet of secularism to believe that the things that are will be and that secular power can organize existence to human benefit.
For their sake, I hope they’re right, but in my heart, I know they’re wrong. Perhaps the war between NATO and the RF in Ukraine shook a few elitists who were forced to contemplate the possibility of an entire society crumbling into coldness and hunger because of their own inflexible ideology — I don’t know. They don’t seem to have changed or grown.
Similarly, the people remain, as I said, blissfully oblivious to the changes that are rumbling below the surface of this city.
One of the things I like about the French food culture is that it provides an excuse to gather together for a meal. Americans tend to eat alone, on the run … often in their cars. For us, eating food is analogous to putting gas in the car — it’s just the way we juice our bodies so we can meet our goals or do whatever we’re doing. In other words, to Americans, food is a means, not an end. You can see, I’m certain, how this atomizes the culture. For generations, people have eaten together … the last thing Jesus did before His crucifixion was eat a long, shared meal with His best friends, the disciples. We’re to be like Christ.
In France, food binds family. It doesn’t sustain the individual. To eat with one’s family is a cultural imperative and a very nice one, at that. I’m ashamed of the way I’ve treated the fellowship of eating in my past.
I will change.
I’m rather amused by Paris’ walking society, even more so by bicycles, though they make sense. The city is just too crowded and streets too narrow to drive. So bicycles/scooters are the most rational way to get around faster than walking, even though this walking culture irrationally evolved. No group of pols sat down and said, “We’re going to create a walking city in Paris.” It just happened. Again, I’m seeing Adam Smith’s invisible hand — it seems that the most important activities and patterns of shared behaviour generally just happen.
I have a gazillion questions floating around my mind, now.
- Do people build a culture or does it just happen?
- Can it be dictated, top-down, or does it rise from the people?
- Can the government reflect or lead/create culture?
- Can a culture be destroyed? Substantially changed?
Though the walking/bicycle culture predates the Green politico-religious movement, it definitely makes the Greenies happy for walking is retrograde, very yesterday, limiting and small-minded. These, too, are part of the liberal mentality. Liberals love urban density, living in small spaces — hives! — moving slowly, taking time to do the mundane because the mundane, like cooking and riding bikes, has a ritualistic religious quality in their minds.
Cars, however, open vistas and possibilities that could never exist in a walking culture. I remember reading, somewhere, about how medieval Europeans rarely travelled more than fifteen miles from their homes, and how regional accents were so strong and localized that a resident of one town could tell by an accent alone who wasn’t from his town. That’s hyper-localism! And, that’s the unstated nirvana of Greenie religionists.
Sorry, folks. I worship a different God. I LOVE driving. I’ve driven hundreds of thousands of miles, to every state except Maine, including Alaska and Canada. When I drive, I determine my own schedule. I’m not on some public transportation schedule, submissively moving when they tell me I can, but I move in my OWN LOVELY WAY. I stop when I want to stop. Explore things that interest me. See things … drive through the night … observe the changing landscape. Driving is freeing, folks. The passage of miles is like a ticket away from the small confines of my past.
Walking forces a person to repeat yesterday — driving permits a person to chart a new course for tomorrow.
Several decades ago, historian Sidney Mead wrote a book — the title of which escapes me — in which he compared the European and American mentalities.
Though Europe, he wrote, had limited land, time stretched backward endlessly. Europeans cling to their own history and were situated, culturally, by the endlessness of their past … or used to be before EU homogenization and unassimilable immigration. They live life slowly without “excessive” personal ambition and aggression. They’re used to jostling for space in crowded circumstances, and don’t seek new land. It makes sense, then, that urban liberals like to walk.
America, he wrote, had limitless land and not enough time to take it all in. Americans are in a hurry. Always conquering. Moving fast. Their vistas are endless, possibilities limited only by how quickly they can conquer their own character as well as chug through the problems that have to be hurdled on their way to success. You betcha Americans drive. It’s fast. Efficient. Fun.