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A.It's a lovely golden morning in San Francisco, which means the air is full of smoke. Not that I'm in any fire danger. The fires are far away. I'm in breathing danger. If you need to know if it's alright to go for a vigorous walk anywhere in the U.S., go to AirNow.gov, type in your zip code to find out the air quality where you are.
I've been here since 1974 and this smokey air thing never happened until 2017. That year we had 4?5? days of smoke. 2018: 14 days of smoke. And now again. This time, I'm not counting the days. My sense of outrage seems to have worn away.
It seems so damn unfair that a lot of the fires were caused by lightning strikes. LIGHTNING STRIKES? Without the thunderstorm that puts out the fires?!? I mean, come ON, Cosmos! You can't do a little better for California than THAT? I know damn well Trump is gloating.
Having been deprived of so much by the pandemic, I'm having a hard time being deprived of long walks as well. It's strange. You feel like you're adjusting, you're adjusting, you're doing OK, and then suddenly -- wait! I can't go on my Saturday Ramble?? What can I do instead?!? Sit in a cafe and write in my journal? Go to a museum? A movie theater? Visit a friend? No and no and no and no!
Somehow I scrambled and clawed my way through the day. As that great philosopher, Joni Mitchell, once said, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."
B. Here's a blog by a very down-to-earth progressive Democrat, about the convention last week. Mike Lux has been working for the Dems for decades. He lays out very clearly the work that needs to be done AFTER we win.
You know, in my reading about FDR, this is one of the things he said that made a big impression on me: When someone would approach the President with some great progressive idea, he had a stock response, "Make me do it."
By which he meant, "I would LOVE to do it, but I've got a recalcitrant Congress to deal with, and I need YOU to create a groundswell of public opinion in support of your idea so that I can convince all those Senators and Representatives that THIS is what the people demand!"
I visited my old friend Stench in Brussels two years ago. When I was there, I wanted to blog about it. That desire to write about my very enjoyable visit has never left me. A blog about Brussels is long overdue. Since I can't walk in SF, let's go to Brussels!
You know how cities spread out and incorporate suburbs into the larger entity? Well, that doesn't happen in Belgium. Every single village keeps its own identity. It's a Belgian thing. You wouldn't understand it. There are 19 "municipalities" in Brussels -- one of them being The City of Brussels. Then there's Flemish Belgium and French Belgium. I think there's also German Belgium, but I could be wrong. French-speaking Brussels sits in the middle of the Flemish-speaking Belgium. There are so many layers of government that it's kind of a weird anarchy. When I was there, they had not had a national government for three years because the political parties couldn't agree on a compromise. Stench said the lack of a federal government didn't seem to make any difference because there are so many other layers of government. He and his partner Polin live in the municipality of Sainte Gilles in the Region of Brussels.... Something like that. I'm not sure.
There's an enormous amount of gorgeous Art Nouveau architecture, lavished with flamboyant details.
It makes me happy just to walk around and see the tremendous detail on these buildings.
Stench and his partner Polin have a very nice apartment, with a garden.
People seem to live a good life in Brussels. The rents are far more reasonable than in Amsterdam, not to mention SF or New York. And you're in the middle of this fabulous city with great public transit, museums, culture, and architecture to die for! I would definitely live in Brussels, and
Stench promised, if I have to leave the U.S. because everything is falling apart here and there's a warrant out for my arrest for writing radical blogs, he'll take me in.
You may well wonder why I call this very nice-looking American gay man, whose legal name is Elliot Rubin, such an unappealing nickname as Stench. Well. We met in Amsterdam, where he was living, at a time when I was moving back and forth back and forth between Holland and San Francisco. I do not understand now how I could have possibly done that for nine years, but I did. This is how we met:
One day, I got an urgent call from the gay center in Leiden. They were having a cultural night, with a performance by a lesbian theater and a gay mens' chorus. The lesbian theater had just announced its disintegration, and the performance was scheduled for the next night. Could I be a replacement and perform my solo farce, ONE FOOL? Yes, I could.
I showed up in Leiden the next afternoon to rehearse and then perform that night. The gay mens' chorus had a full-blown production of 17 singing and dancing young men for their performance of NO STRINGS. They had taken the Pinocchio story and turned it into the tale of a young gay boy moving to Amsterdam and finding himself -- replete with songs from Disney movies! The concept was brilliant and the execution flawless.
I was a bit perturbed that my solo play had been given top billing -- that is, I went on last. How could one lesbian comic actress outshine all those beautiful singing dancing gay me in a hilarious show with Disney songs?
I shared a dressing room with the boys before the show, and they were more perturbed than me, and I don't blame them. But hey, it wasn't MY decision. They were very cold to me -- except for one person, Elliot, who was the director and the only other American.
Well, in the end, it was my job to top NO STRINGS with ONE FOOL, and I did. I really do enjoy a challenge. Elliot was suitably impressed -- and of course I was blown away by HIS work. We became fast friends.
Oh, but his nickname, right. So I went back to San Francisco, where I avidly read the comics page every day. You know the comic strip THE FUSCO BROTHERS? They're still hanging in here. Well, in one strip, one of the brothers is out to dinner with his long-suffering girlfriend, Gloria. He's sunk in gloom, bemoaning the state of the world. (I'm getting to the nickname, don't worry.)
Gloria: "But just think about spring flowers and butterflies!"
Fusco: "What's the point? We're all going to die anyway."
(It's important to know that this was quite a while ago, when it didn't seem that civilization might actually be coming to an end.)
Gloria: "But think of a playful little puppy, or the laughter of a small child...."
Fusco: "The world is falling apart. Only a fool or a baby could laugh."
Waiter (entering): "And what would you like to eat?"
Fusco: (Suddenly cheery) "I'll have a large steak with a baked potato, macaroni on the side, and apple pie with ice cream for dessert!"
Gloria: (Now totally depressed herself) "Just a salad -- hold the dressing."
Now, this comic strip had a title, "He put the Stench in Existentialism." And Fusco was just like Elliot, who was a pessimist with a gigantic appetite! So I cut out the comic strip and sent it to him. And he wrote me back, "Just call me Stench from now on." And I have. He gave me a nickname too -- Mo, short for Moses because, well, I can't remember why. So we are Stench and Mo. I love nicknames.
ANYHOW, back to Brussels. One day Stench and I went to the Museum Van Buren, which is a large very Art Deco house with a beautiful garden.
It's filled with Art Deco paintings and Art Deco design elements.
AND, incredibly, they had a very small BREUGEL right above the couch! They had pursued this painting for years.
This is "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus." You can just see Icarus's arm reaching out of the water, as his father flies above. It's a study for a very large painting, 28 by 44 inches in the big art museum in Brussels.
The next day, it was "Open Studios" day in Ste. Gilles, and we met a most remarkable man.
It's not every day you get a chance to meet an inventor, and I insisted we ring the bell, although an inventor is not necessarily an artist. Monsieur Close was kind enough to take us to his workshop, where he was processing lavender and other flowers.
Monsieur Close demonstrated to us how his invention, the lavender-processing machine, worked. He felt that lavender had great healing powers, and with the proper techniques, could be transformed into a universal panacea and would cure all ills.
To me, there is something so right about this concept. There are many kinds of lavender, they have a delicious smell and are easy to grow -- although I understood from M. Close that when you're processing lavender, you need a LOT and it CAN get expensive! I want to believe that lavender can cure the world's ills. It certainly brings us joy, with its color and fragrance.
Monsieur Close had a very sweet dog (in the leather chair) and a lot of hats and in the end seemed very happy to have shown us his life's work.
It's very special to meet someone like Monsieur Close, who is like a character in a novel -- an inventor with different colored shoes. He owns the whole building that contains his attic workshop and apartment, so he's doing alright.
Now, just a few more architectural details:
And to end our visit to Brussels: Stench, who has become a weaver, with some of his beautiful creations; and my self-portrait with a moth.
Bloggelinis, I felt we needed a treat before we head into the Republican convention. Not that this is a comprehensive account of my time in Brussels, but I feel very satisfied to have done it after procrastinating for two years. BLTN! Better Late Than Never! Terry