Modesto in Brussels

"It's a California wine," Linda said, picking up the bottle of zinfandel left as a welcoming gift at the Brussels Hilton. "Where's it from?" I asked. There was a pause. "Modesto," she said. We both laughed at the idea of a wine from Modesto waiting for us in the Brussels Hilton. It wasn't until we were in the Hilton at Trafalgar Square in London that she threw it on me.

She didn't do it maliciously. For every virtue we found in the Brussels Hilton, it's shadow was waiting for us in London, where we were greeted with the explanation that "This isn't a typical Hilton." And indeed it is not. A typical Hilton doesn't have a side entrance off the alley leading into a lobby that doubles as a disco. The help is very nice but they can't compensate for the elevation of form over function in the hotel. And a tedious form it is, too.

We arrived this evening and didn't want to venture to the restaurant after getting acquainted with what is called a suite. Three stairs with no observable function other than a navigational challenge divides the sleeping area from a platform with the desk and a leather chair and ottoman. The walls are a dark brown, and absorb all the light from the inadequate lamps, one of which goes off and on at the direction of a faulty connection somewhere, and another, a modern hallogen, can suddenly go limp and collapse. There is internet service, but it costs more for a day of use than I pay for two months of DSL in San Francisco.

Oh yes, the wine ...

We have to have internet service, which is why they charge so much for it. If I didn't have internet service I couldn't complain to you about the cost of it. So as I was checking my mail I said, "Open that Modesto wine and lets try it out." I had put it in the luggage so as not to insult my hosts by leaving it unopened in the room, and because I am a wino. Linda used her Swiss Army Knife corkscrew but couldn't get the cork out. I pulled it out and went back to the elevated desk. A couple of minutes later she caught a foot on one of the non-functional stairs, breaking the glass on the desk.

Purple wine flew everywhere. We soaked it up with towels and I put my clothes in the tub to try and soak out the stains.

But the outland zinfandel itself is surprisingly good; I am having a glass as we speak. Don't underestimate Modesto. It's a comer. And it takes a lot of wine to compensate for the ass clown who designed this hotel. In Brussels we didn't want to leave the room we liked it so much. The best feature was the shower, which was also a steam cabinet. It had shower heads that sprayed at different angles, so that it was hard to leave it. The suite was large and well appointed, with a great view of the city from the seventeenth floor.

This one we don't want to leave because of a fear of what might await downstairs.

Tomorrow is another day. Perhaps in the daylight we'll have a better attitude. We are tired, having awakened at three a.m. in Brussels because of the time changes. I couldn't go back to sleep and turned on the television. I watched a special on the Iraq War. American soldiers were being interviewed, and every other word out of their mouths was "fuck" or "shit." There was footage of body parts being put into plastic sacks, footage I never see in the United States. There, the war is portrayed the same way sex was portrayed on television in the fifties. Everybody is dressed in pajamas and sleeping in twin beds to avoid any suggestion of actual fucking. It's all shuck and jive to feed the illusion of a childlike version of life, sanitized for your protection.

Networks play along with this because the government can hurt them economically if they actually operate as news organizations, instead of public relations operations. They have a real deal right now, using public airwaves to make billions of dollars, paying nothing. The original mandate was that they were going to provide public service in return for the use of the public airwaves.

That is gone. The news that they were supposed to provide has become a commodity, like toothpaste or orange juice. It is increasingly sublimated to entertainment, in an effort to try and appeal to more and more people who don't watch news unless they are paid off in chump change. They don't see the bodies being shipped home, they don't see the dead children, they don't have to be bothered with anybody pointing out the lies without more lies presented in the name of "fair and balanced" coverage. The cops are on the take.

It's interesting to notice that American voices in general have become unrelentingly vulgar, imitating the language of the ghetto. Language is the organization of thought, and as it disintegrates thought has less metaphorical subtlety, so that it begins to reveal an increasingly mindless simplicity to thought and to action. At the same time, as an American I can't help but feel an empathy for the soldiers who are reduced to this level, because they are, every one of them, somebody I know. I feel dismayed that they are caught up in this tale told by an idiot, with no way to separate themselves from it, because military leadership is the one place where trickle down actually works.

As one soldier said when he was being jacked up to re-enlist, "If I don't re-elist you'll just extend me anyway, without giving me the bonus. No matter what I do I can't get out of here." These guys want to come home, but they can't get loose from Mr. Rumsfeld's tar baby.

There is a tangible mood here in Europe that Americans are not the people we once were. I can feel it. They are nice enough to us, but there is a reserve, the kind of reserve one has for a drunk who has become loud and unpredictable. There is a recognition that he might be better later on, but for now he is impaired; he suffers from an altered state of consciousness, a mass hypnosis that makes him unaware of his incapacity for reason.

This is unfortunate because the Arabs are suffering from their own paranoid schizophrenia. They are regressed to tribalism, and are being run by the radical right of fundamentalist religion. Our doing the same thing is like throwing gasoline on the fire.

But talking about these things makes no difference. It is, after all, a spell, and one best seen from outside the country. You can't see the snake that has swallowed you while you are being digested. Best to sit in London in your underwear and drink a Modesto zinfandel.

Posted: Wed - March 15, 2006 at 11:24 PM