Sunday, August 19, 2007

Big Town; News Travels Slowly

Last night I suddenly realized it was a quarter of ten and, having unwisely missed Mark Morris's last night at Mostly Mozart, I had just a few minutes to make it across town for an evening of Romanian avant-garde theater a the Fringe Festival. I've been Fringing all week, with pretty fair results: Bukowsical! (terrific), The Penis Rising from the Flames (very good but didn't live up to the title -- it couldn't, eh?), Sustained Winds (a bunch of New Orleans performers acting out living through Katrina and its aftermath -- had moments but also a weak cast member or two, and dull spots that perhaps were intended to mimic spending a weak in a sweltering mudbath without power, food or water), and I wanted to hit this East European reflection on the times changing.

Hopped on the bike only to run into blocked traffic on Sixth Avenue going north -- very odd at 10 on a Saturday night. The reason soon appeared: thirty cars and trucks in front of the local firehouse (Sixth and Houston), turning half the road into an obstruction. There were also firetrucks speeding all over, sirens blaring. It was work to get to Bleecker, then easy enough to reach Lafayette. At midnight, back across town to my regular pub; more fire trucks all over. Curious. Where, as the saying goes, was the fire?

But I didn't turn on the TV; I never do.

This morning the Times answered many (not enough) of my questions: The Deutsche Bank building, a tombstone when it was new at the south end of Ground Zero, worse after the attacks, when it received much collateral damage, worse still under cloth wraps for years as people debated whether it was salvageable, and now at last coming down as was surely inevitable (and small loss to anyone, visually) -- caught fire yesterday at about 3:30. No one knows how, but a workman's cigarette is suspected. Fire raced around the 17th floor; 495 fireguys showed up -- and two suffocated. They were both assigned to my local firehouse, which had lost 11 guys on 9/11 (out of 12) -- which explains the cars. My local house is one of the more modern in this region of the city and so is often picked to HQ disasters and the like -- it was HQ on 9/11 and thereafter for several security agencies and I was nearly expelled from my home in consequence. (I live a mile and more north of Ground Zero.)

Like Katrina and the Holocaust and the Bush presidency, real disasters never end -- they just -- evolve.

The Romanian play -- Bucharest Calling -- was engrossing due to five excellent Romanian actors fluent in English. The story was something of an old-fashioned "well-made play" (an odd thing to encounter at the Fringe Festival): five people who do not believe they are connected, but they are, in ways that gradually emerge; a talismanic 60,000 euros that keeps moving from person to person and symbolizes hope and renewal, "your second chance at life!" to all the characters and somehow never gets put to any purpose but dissolves -- as (almost) does hope; aspirations and ambitions dashed, horrors survived, guilt murky, relationships formed and, just as abruptly, dispersed. Drugs, sex, porn, theft, murder, hatred of the authorities (who are more corrupt but probably not doing any better), the roots of life forgotten or denied (a girl trying to get someone to murder her paralyzed mother remembers how great that mother was before the hit-and-run), the next step ... visas to America? a film contract? a real job? true love? always disappointed.

And it occurred to me that there was nothing very Romania-specific about it. (A few street names, maybe. And that was just one or two scenes in two hours.) It could have been the same or similar five people in any weary, crumbling city in Eastern Europe. No, make that Europe. No, make that the entire West. And since the West now includes Moscow and Istanbul and Mumbai and Dubai and Bangkok and Seoul ... and Shanghai? Lord, that's the CAPITAL of the West these days -- well, then, what city could this not have been?

So that is the bleak news from Romania: it's no longer a separate country; it's part of all of us. Corrupt and depressed and not very democratic or prosperous as it is, it has reached out and absorbed us all. Or has Los Angeles done that? Or Sao Paulo? Or Manila? Or Toronto? Nothing is exotic, nothing is strange, all the world is globalized. If you really want to get away to a place where you can go native, hear the local music and eat the local food and escape the world ... there are a number of ant colonies and caribou herds I can recommend. Otherwise forget it.

The crisis of 9/11 is STILL GOING ON. The reason we can't distinguish our friends from our enemies is that they're the same people, viewed from slightly different angles. (This, too, was a moral of the play, in which all five characters were pitiable but, morally, deeply compromised , four of them habitual liars.) (The axis of evil is not a proper vector.)

So at midnight, ducking fire engines (one of them even asked me to stop so they could zip by my bike), I went to Ty's and encountered Orlando, gloating at Hugo Chavez's latest betîse -- we do appreciate anyone who makes the Bush junta crazy -- and also at Hurricane Dean, now slated to miss Cuba, hit Jamaica dead on, and then slam Houston. Orlando identifies Houston with Bush Power, so he wishes it deep-sixed. I recall a pleasant week there last autumn, the snazzy opera house, the pleasant neighborhoods, the bumpersticker that read "Co-exist," the C being a crescent, the X a mogen David, the T a crucifix. They can't be all bad. Besides, my friend Jean is flying there on Tuesday. (Politics is always local, and personal.)

Today the weather is gray but there are two more plays to see and two volunteer shifts (which earn vouchers towards free plays): the Festival runs another week. Maybe there will be time to take a flower or something by the firehouse.

A gift from Peter arrived: a little statue of Hermes he has made for my altar, to preside (it is to be hoped) over happy travels to Istanbul et al. and perhaps defend the flat against break-ins (not that there's much to steal).