I am in a nation of super-models. The girls who sell tickets in the art museum are super-models. The girls behind the hotel desk, ditto. The clerk in the 7-Eleven shop (yes, 7-Eleven is here in Gothenburg, Sweden) could command the fashion runway in the New York Meatpacking District. Everywhere you look: super-models! They are healthy, tall, and beautiful. It must drive the men crazy. However the men, too, could all be super-models in GQ. And I must say, everybody wears very nice clothes.
Now, I suppose you think this is superficial and fatuous. Maybe so. But it leads to some other observations. An inescapable one, of course, is that I have come from a nation populated by monstrous quasi-human creatures who might be described as land-whales, and who generally present themselves in clothing that a five-year-old European would be embarrassed to wear. But that might be superficial and fatuous, too.
No, there is more going on with this. I first noticed it at the boarding gate area at JFK airport in New York, waiting for the flight to Berlin. For some reason there were a lot of teenagers on the flight. They were Euro teenagers. They were distinct from American teens. The Euro-teens acted like civilized people with what can only be called a sense of decorum. They were not costumed like clowns, criminals, sports stars, or zombies. Every day is not Halloween for them. Being a person seemed enough for them, as though the human condition were an honorable state-of-being. There were no obese Euro-teens. They were not stuffing their faces with pizza, French fries, and cinnabons. They were not obsessed with texting or other cell phone demonstrations of their social status. They waited patiently through the boarding delay and appeared to enjoy each other’s company without impulsive demonstrations, tantrums, tears, fights, or fits.
When I got to Europe seven hours later I found myself in a world of purposeful adults who take care of themselves and the place they live in. It was the weekend. I was there for an architecture conference beginning Monday (hence the delay in this blog). For two days I walked all over Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, about the size of Buffalo, New York, in population, but far denser, more alive, and in much better condition. The streets of the little city were filled with these beautiful super-model people and their children. I saw something that is virtually unknown in the US: both parents enjoying the day in public places with their kids. As described above, there were no emotional histrionics from the kids, no tears and tantrums, even from the tiny ones. This detail was startling for one who lives in a nation where six-year-olds are called “motherfucker” by their moms.
It gave me a fresh outlook on the tragically irresolvable banking crisis on-going here in Europe – though the Swedes themselves are not directly involved, since they still use the old krona currency. The European Union experiment began as a noble idea that has turned out badly. The Germans, who can’t seem to help being powerful and successful lately, attempted to preside over a general European peace and prosperity. Perhaps they are still trying to make up for the mad destruction they twice induced across the continent in the last century. In any case, the financial part of the recent peaceful era in Europe is now unspooling. The various Euro club member states, starting with Greece, can’t pay the interest owed to their bond-holders, can’t borrow more to keep running their government services, and face uprisings in the public square as standards-of-living collapse.
The leaders of France and Germany can’t devise a plan to mitigate the situation that is not transparently absurd – such as offering further leveraged loans to fatally over-leveraged countries. They seem determined to protect the bond-holders and their banks, but their efforts are inadequate. It is very sad to see people so polite and adult-looking in such a terrible predicament. One thing it demonstrates, I suppose, is that decorum is not necessarily enough when facing the consequences of decisions that turned out badly. The doomed gentleman who serenely accepts a last cigarette from the officer in charge of the firing squad nonetheless must absorb the fury of the bullets, which will surely disrupt the activity in his vital organs, no matter how exemplary his bravery is.
All of this financial trouble in Europe will also surely disrupt American banks, too, and may even drive several of them to their knees. On the trading floors of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, sleek young Ivy League men and women in expensive clothing who call each other “motherfucker” probably deserve all the ruin that will rain down on their craven souls, but the nation would plunge into something worse than the Great Depression of yore whatever the fate of individual bankers. Occupy Wall Street may yet evolve into something that is not so much about singing “Give Peace a Chance.” When will they open a branch in Washington D.C. and camp out on the steps of the Federal Reserve, where they can greet the comings-and-goings of Fed officials with the charge that the Fed is a claque of lying motherfuckers whose interventions and manipulations are killing what’s left of the US economy? I suppose I reveal my essential American loutishness when I suggest that the horse-whip and fungo bat might be the only means to re-educate members of congress. It would be fun joining a mob to chase such puffed-up grifters around the D.C. mall – better, too, for all concerned than speed-walking on a cold morning.
One idea floating around the Internet is very good: a constitutional amendment aimed at redefining downward the alleged “person-hood” of corporations, so as to drive vast amounts of money out of our politics. Notice that the President of the US shows no interest in this idea. If the President were an honorable fellow, he would announce his intention to decline running for a second term. A free-for-all in the Democratic Party may be the only thing that can save it from extinction. Not since the Whigs under Millard Fillmore has a US political party been so feeble and purposeless. It can crawl off and die now. Something else will take its place, I’m sure. I wish Occupy Wall Street would show up at the next Republican candidates’ debate and hurl bushels of rotten tomatoes at the fakers and imbeciles arrayed on the stage. They need to be publicly humiliated beyond their own self-induced humiliations when they open their pie-holes to yap about “faith in God” and “liberty” and “family values” and all the other mendacious platitudes from their scanty trick-bag of so-called ideas. They make me ashamed to be an American – as if there wasn’t already enough.
But I am still in Europe for another day and the spirit of the place has got under my skin. I sincerely hope they don’t fall to fighting among themselves again like they did a generation or two back. I do get the feeling, however, that if by some caprice of fate they end up fighting with America again, the next time they will kick our bloated, tattooed asses, no matter how many times we call them motherfuckers. Anyway, Wednesday, when I am winging back to New York, the Euro leaders will wrap up their umpteenth attempt to prop up the darn EU and absolutely everyone expects another grand failure. The super-models, the nice clothes, and all those polite, normal-sized children are some consolation, but it’s awfully sad to see the old place in such a pickle. I am missing the entire World Series. Obviously, I never really got over the jet lag. I’m speaking (and writing) as though I were a Swede speaking English. I can’t help it. You fall into their mannerisms.They speak well, but you always know they are Swedes, and I’m sure they know I am an American.