I needed salt. The house we moved into the previous night had no salt at all. The water for the pasta was boiling and the people we invited to enjoy our shady house and cool swimming pool were on the way. It was a hot summer Sunday, and the nearest shop where I could buy some was about ten kilometers away and closed. I got in the car. There must be some neighbors who will be generous with their salt, I thought. But our part of Tuscany was a sort of waste land. We wanted it that way, would it not have been for the lack of salt. There was no one on the farm closest to our house. A mile on, there was a renovated fancy villa with the huge lock on the entrance gate. Further down the road, I saw a sign that read “Frantoio” and “Trattoria,” or ”Olive oil mill” and “inn.” I turned in, drove for awhile on what seemed to be a completely abandoned road. The drive ended at the small group of countryside buildings, a borgo of some kind. There was no sign of people, there was no sound of plates and forks, that lazy chatter typical of Sunday family lunch.
I was fresh and rested when I got back to the country a few days ago. I’ve been traveling for a month across countries I like, and love. I have been taking trains, buses, and other public transport because I wanted to feel the pulse of the countries I was traveling in. And meet friends. It was some sort of vacation from Trumpland, by which I mean the obsession the United States has with its accidental president. Coming back to this country felt good, but having spent a month without Trump was better.
Europe spends very little time following the American president. The Europeans are concerned about their own matters, and more in a philosophical way. They’re older, so they think they’ve figured out Trump, dealt with his kind before, and they lost interest in following him. When they mention the 45th president’s name, their mouth twists into a mocking grin. Madness is the word they use most often, without making an effort to go into deeper analysis of the causes of the irresponsible behavior of President Donald Trump.
I tried to stay away from discussions about the president. First of all, because of the bad internet connections when I traveled (almost never watched tv) I was spared of the annoying reporting on the microcosms of the man who sits in the White House. As for my answers to questions on the American president–by my readers and friends–I followed a stereotyped formula of repeating a Slovenian joke: Slovenia has a great future because, after the divorce of Donald and Melania, my country will inherit half of the United States. To the Slovenians and others, I was saying that Slovenia and the EU managed to plant a secret agent in the White House, who ignites Trump to go after Europe and divide it. As we know, the latter had some really remarkable results in the greater integrity and unity of Europe. So the EU should pay Melania well. If not Trump himself.
So all this nonsensical rest was great until I got back to the U.S. Watching some news, I could not get a sense of what was going on, or better, I can no longer share the passion of following the presidential nonsense or maintain my curiosity in figuring out how America will liberate itself from this burden drowning the whole country.
Among Trump’s highlights upon my return, I think that his dealing with North Korea has been spectacular, but thanking Putin for expulsion of 755 American diplomats from Russia was beyond belief. Whoever might think that Trump was trying to be sarcastic on that one is woefully wrong.
There was, however, the third little thing that made me shiver, just by making me realize how many values have been lost with Trump only six months in command of the country. When I read that CNN fired their conservative commentator Jeffrey Lord, already a controversial presence, because he tweeted “Sieg Heil” I realized that there is a man sitting in the Oval Office saying and tweeting much more horrible things, and he is running the country. Has this country lost all sense of proportion? Have we really bore into the dark, open sea where nothing, not even the smallest thing in this world, can be guaranteed and respected?
I have been traveling for a few weeks now, on a journey filled with inner dialog. Searching first for long-desired destinations, I was soon digging deep into my childhood. It was a walk toward the past–a backtrack of the images and sensations that were important in forming my personality. Doing it together, in part, with my siblings, I was able to recreate some of the events I’d forgotten, and also shed a different light on the events that had anchored themselves in my mind for decades. My trip, therefore, was sort of like the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon, in which all the protagonists have different recollections of the same event; different narratives that only manage to offset the perspectival subjectivity of events by adding them up, reconstructing them, and, in Kurosawa’s case, explaining a murder. No murders in my case.
“A few hours after we boarded and sailed out into the open ocean, I got a feeling that we, the passengers on this gigantic ship, were the only survivors of this planet, that we were saved on Noah’s Ark,” said Sean, the insurer from Red Hat, New Jersey. Sean and his wife were among the other hundreds of passengers on the Queen Mary 2, the world’s biggest ocean liner, that on the late afternoon of July 6 sailed out of Brooklyn Harbor towards Southampton, England. A few days into the cruise, as we were sitting in one of the restaurants on the Queen, fascination with the power and sheer mass of this boat had already settled in.
It was curious to hear what drove these passengers to board this humongous ship to cross the Atlantic, and I found Sean’s apocalyptic description one of the best. Sean, though, was not referring to Noah’s Ark in a biblical sense. He instead meant that we–the passengers of the Queen Mary–were the only survivors of the madness that is America. It, its people left behind, unaware of our small, life-saving departure, obsessed with Trump and his corrupt family.
How much impact can a Harvard University professor have on the relationship between two super powers contending for the world’s supremacy? Can a single person, professor or otherwise, sway the public opinion into thinking that fast-developing China can be compared to the Athens of the 5th century BC, the state that with its vibrant economy and flourishing democracy threatened Sparta, the military super power, 2500 years ago? Is the U.S.– as Sparta was of Athens–right to fear the expanding power of China and therefore, by analogy, would it be legitimate for the Trump government to attack China before Beijing becomes too powerful? Does history repeat itself, and what might be done about it?
Twenty years ago to the day, something funny happened on the tarmac of Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak airport, located on the Kowloon side of the then-British colony. When the big Air China Boeing 747, with the entire Chinese leadership on board, landed on a single landing track, the new, returned patrons of Hong Kong were greeted by the mainland crowd with Chinese flags and little kids handing flowers to the communist leaders. But this was not the reason why Jiang Zemin and Li Peng and others came down to the former colony. The rulers of then-rural China came down to Hong Kong to claim back the territory that British rule turned into the most brightly shining jewel of Asia.
“Oh, we are the biggest and the best, and do not forget that California has been producing wine for more than two-hundred years,” said Mike Duvall, a salesman at the tasting room of Truett-Hurst, the first winery I visited during my short trip to Sonoma. You have to get up early in order to get tipsy in Sonoma, or you risk dizziness from navigating through the swarms of tourists that migrate through the area wanting to do exactly the same thing you are doing: absorbing information about grape varieties and soil quality, and the wood used for making barrels; discovering whatever new technological innovation making wine crisper or airier or denser or darker; and becoming savvy about the winemakers, who combine these wild factors into a single bottle of that precious drink, wine.
It is amazing how swampy Washington became with the presence of Donald Trump in the White House. There seems absolutely nothing else he can say or do but further his story, imposed mercilessly on the entire nation, day in, day out. This president must be happy to see himself at the center of attention, of both the national media and the political chatter traveling across the nation. Once again, it is Silvio Berlusconi, unlike Stalin and Hitler, who we can look toward when seeking an example of a person as equally self-absorbed, and in love with himself, as President Trump.
Who did not read what Thorstein Veblen wrote in 1899 on the emerging leisure class of America, in which he coined the term “conspicuous consumption” and examined how the wealthy used purchasing decisions to demonstrate their class? No one. Well, 120 years later there is a new book on the new “leisure” class, by sociologist Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, called Aspirational Class. “Aspirationals” are the group that the writer sees as the new elite. The book has been recently published and was described in a review published by Quartz:
I first visited the U.S. when I was a young student. Curious about the country while having nothing much to do in Europe during the summer of 1974, I applied for the ICCP (International Camp Counselor Program). They were looking for foreign students who would be able to work with American kids in summer day camps, “providing leadership and delivering programs.” But it was also about giving young Americans a taste of a foreign culture. So I got the job in spite of my scarce outdoor skills and got an American visa only because I was not a member of the Communist Party.