"FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) - More than 450,000 anti-war protesters from across Europe marched through this Italian Renaissance city on Saturday, denouncing any U.S. plans to attack Iraq.
Authorities estimated more than 450,000 protesters were on the streets, and people were still streaming in from a fleet of buses and trains hired for the occasion.
Organizers said the crowd could swell to more than a million people, making it one of the biggest rallies ever seen in Italy.
"The atmosphere here is wonderful. Absolutely perfect. It shows that a new young left is emerging," said Stavos Valsamis, a 27-year-old Greek activist from Athens.
French farmer Jose Bove arrived on a tractor. Protesters clambered up scaffolding around arches near the city center to get a better view of the massed throngs.
Some 7,000 police were on call but security forces kept a low profile, with most held in reserve some distance from the seven-km (4.5 mile) rally route.
The rest of Florence was a ghost town with most shops in the art-rich historical center pulling down the shutters for fear of violence. The city's famed museums were open and offered free entry to the few tourists around.
"We no longer have any illusions about institutions like the United Nations and their ability to help humanity," said Alain Krivine, a far-left French politician. He was convinced the United States had already made up its mind to attack Iraq.
"Marches alone won't stop wars, but this is quite literally a first step," he said.
While Friday's U.N. resolution gives the Security Council a central role in assessing the new arms' inspection program for Iraq, it does not require the United States to seek council authorization for war in the case of violations. "
Ever since reading Kathryn Harrison's The Seal Wife, I've been considering living somewhere icy-- where most of life is white, blue, gray and remote. Harrison's getting too good at bringing out pathos and meaning from suffering, silent women-- it's becoming a formula. But damn, can she render setting. So maybe that explains my fascination with this particular blog, Life in the Freezer , where naturalist Gillian Hadley writes about tagging seals in the Arctic. I keep wondering if, after Bush is through with the world, these seal taggers will be some of the only people left.
The day after the election I talked to a fellow activist on the phone and one of the first things he said was, "What do you know about Montreal?" Now that's really apocalyptic. I'm not moving to Canada. Maybe Ireland-- where things are green-white, green-gray, green-blue. I've actually bookmarked all this Irish emigration information, and it's freaking my M out. But that's the question-- do you stay and watch it go to hell, doing what little you can, or do you leave & hope to survive (body and soul) elsewhere? The elections on Tuesday are a dismal turn. Why am I always surprised when things get worse? I'm essentially a pessimist; isn't that supposed to be one of the perks of pessimism? That you're not surprised when everything goes to shit?
I had a nightmare-- really a morning-mare as it was the last dream I had yesterday morning, and I woke screaming. I dreamed that I lived in the home where I was born, of 1950's midwestern construction. But the house was now filled with anti-choice protesters who had with them the paraphernalia of their mission-- rosaries, baby dolls, pictures of fetuses on forks and in garbage cans, "saved baby pictures" of their own children, reduced to props. I could not get them out of my house, though I threatened them and ineptly belittled their god. I thought to call the police & then realized I would be arrested because I was not god-or-cop fearing enough. So I screamed myself awake, only to find a day much like the house in my dream-- filled and fueled with the wrong-headed and hateful.
In the late '80's I participated in many clinic defenses in the Bay Area. During that time, Operation Rescue was trying to shut down clinics which provided diverse health services for women, not just abortion. The protesters would harass women going in for routine pap smears, birth control or other check-ups as well as abortion, by taking their pictures and shouting "murderer," etc. at them. I would escort the women through their ranks to the clinic. Usually I think that people are reasonable, that even when there is no way we will ever agree, we can live together and make our separate arguments. But after doing clinic defense I realized this is not so. We were at war, and women were the enemy, not unlike the viscous witch hunts of the 17th century that decimated the female population of Europe. The protesters were the angry peasants and their clergy, full of righteous hatred. I believe they would have killed me and those working with me if only they could have gotten away with it. The clinic shootings and bombings affirmed this feeling. We were at war, and indeed still are.
I had just forgotten.
I have forgotten the power of ignorance and fear which has taken hold of this country. Nothing good can come of it.
Oil tankers off the coast file into the harbor, one after the other. Has the stockpiling begun? Something is happening here, an inevitable movement, a sea change momentous in proportion. But what this new world will be, I don't know. The Bush Administration is planning ahead, beyond this war, which they now have a green light from the UN to wage. They look beyond Sadam's inevitable bombing of his own oil fields, beyond the years it will take for the US to rebuild them in "our image," beyond the years of occupation which will facilitate this, beyond the recession/depression that will result in the inevitable inflation of oil prices this operation will produce. They are thinking, in Daddy Bush's words, of completing this "New World Order," starting in the oil fields of Iraq, ending where?
They claim this order will maintain the "American Way of Life," but as the brilliant Aryundahti Roy has put it, "the American way of life is simply not sustainable." And indeed when the Bush administration speaks of Americans, it does not consider all of us, but only a few who have put themselves above the law, above the rest of the world.
It is a lonely place. Somewhere, somehow there is the feeling that they cannot stay there while the rest of the planet suffers and dies. As they try, inevitably, to herd us to some dark hour, many resist. This is my only hope, that as this regime crumbles, that it not destroy us with it, and that when it is over there will be some left to build anew and live freely, with acceptance, creativity and love, which is not an American right, but our human birthright.
Last week I was at an anti war vigil on the suburban shopping street in the wealthy area of Long Beach called Belmont Shore. Numbers at the vigil have been growing steadily each week, and standing there with over a hundred others, being greeted by the waves and honks from passing cars, you'd know that the majority of Americans are ambivalent about Bush's war, if not outright against it.
Last week something puzzling happened at the vigil. A woman on the passenger side of a tall white SUV stopped in front of the vigil-- she was the embodiment of the "soccer mom" stereotype: manicured simplicity, "natural" blonde highlights, beige makeup & clothing. She looked down from her perch in the vehicle and said to us: "Kill them all and let God sort them out." Her delivery was blank, emotionless. It was difficult to tell if irony was intended. Wasn't this the motivation of the terrorists who killed so many on September 11? But I have to assume she was serious-- simply because she was so dazed.
The phrase she used is old, attributed to Arnaud-Armaury, the Abbot of Citeaux, and advisor to the 13th century Albigensian Crusade, intended to purge southern France of the Cathari heretics. When Arnaud-Amaury was asked who should be killed, he said "Kill them all. God will know his own." The Crusade began in 1209 and ended 20 years later. On the first front, the town of Beziers, crusaders slaughtered nearly everyone. They killed the estimated 200 heretics, as well as 20,000 Catholics.
I'm sure she was unaware of this alliance she'd made. And it seemed to me, coming from her pale mouth, more a statement of angry despair, rather than a conviction that God could make order of this chaos, whether here or in the "beyond." Is this where we are now? To say that we've returned to the dark ages does Medieval culture a disservice, it seems. These are truly an apocalyptic times, and the threat of nuclear holocaust is with us, as it was in the 80's during the last gasp of the cold war as well as during the 60's Cuban missile crisis.
Yet what makes this crisis more apocalyptic is that it is fueled with the rhetoric of holy vengeance, and shadow fights shadow in a war without a clear enemy, in a war without end.
While I was tabling against the war at Cal State Long Beach, the Campus Crusade for Christ, the cult-like born again Christian recruiting group common on college campuses, had surrounded the Muslim student's booth. The Crusade's leaflet read "They honor me with there [sic] lips, but their hearts are far from me." How ironic-- they cannot see that their lies resemble the hypocracy of the Pharisees more than any others they may accuse. Beneath the heading of their flyer there is a two column chart which lines up Jesus Vs. Mohammad, much like the "Hot/Not" pieces on fads in fashion magazines. "Sinless-- Sinful", "Miracles...-- No Miracles..." etc-- Not unlike Falwell's claim that Mohammad was a terrorist, which let to a protest in India where several people were killed.
The more the warmongers demonize this Muslim "other," the closer they get to us. We must not forget that the US trained and funded the Mujadeen, and Osama Bin Laden, in their fight against the USSR in the 1980's. And the US supported Hussein while he gassed the Kurds in the '80's. Indeed, the US has sent Iraq some of the very same weapons that inspectors are now being sent to find. Jihad and Hussein's ruthless dictatorship were useful to US business and military interests then, and useful to those interests now-- in manufacturing an enemy that will replace the Cold War leviathan of the USSR and destabilize the region indefinitely.
And, in turn, this planned war will destabilize our country. We have our own "home grown" terrorists, and the most recent suspect, the east coast sniper, has taken the name Muhammad. He is a "penniless" Gulf War Army vet., trained at Fort Lewis, aka "sniper school". In an article from ABC News, Oct. 24, 2002, the snipers' role in current military strategy is explained: "They are part of the Army's first new medium-weight combat brigade, which includes a large complement of snipers trained to operate in urban areas..." It is clear that snipers will play a key role in the invasion of Iraq, which Defense Department leaks have stated will be centered in the cities this time. At a recent visit to Fort Lewis," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Fort Lewis a 'central part' of the Army's effort to become more nimble and responsive." It is disorienting to find this among so many articles about the East Coast sniper who shot people as they shopped or filled their cars with gas. "In March, Lt. Victor Satterlund told The News Tribune newspaper in Tacoma that snipers' motto is "one shot, one kill,"..." (ABC News) In the context of the article, the snipers here are the Army trainees who will be sent to the next war, "Army officials have said most of the 3,600 soldiers in the base's medium-weight combat brigade are expected to be ready for deployment as early as January 2003." But the sniper trained for the last war, now home and still shooting, obviously also operated by this motto, and was trained well.
So can those dead of the sniper's bullets be considered victims of "friendly fire"? And the women murdered in Fort Bragg by their husbands, recently returned from serving in Afghanistan, are they "collateral damage"? Past wars are already haunting us, and this future war will come home in many ways. In any war the enemy combatant, the shadow, looks a hell of a lot like us.
The first image is a photo of a dust bowl migrant from the depression era, taken by Dorothea Lang. The second image is from the September 9th issue of the New Yorker, from a Herb Ritts fashion photo spread. I'm sure you can tell the difference, but the audacity of this image is startling. That was the point, probably.
Through my more idealistic days in San Francisco I was very moved by Lang & Kollwitz's work, and they inspired my own printmaking. The fact that political conviction strikes me as nostalgia means I've caught the disease, too, apparently.
This disease of mediated disorientation is fully apparent in the Ritts' photo, where the models' combined ensemble, by Louis Vuitton, Junya Watanabe, Balenciaga and Dolce & Gabbana, is worth something over $10,000.
The copy reads like this: "Fashion has been looking over its shoulder again, and this season's collective gaze has landed on the 1930's, among other escapist moments. Designers have drawn from both the glitter and squalor of the age-- satin shoes and dungarees, gimlets and dry rot-- and the result is something like dust bowl glamour..."
OK, what exacty is dust bowl glamour? Something like-- gee whiz-- I wish I could suffer authentically. Or just look like I do. My stock portfolio's not worth as much, life's rough. Maybe I'll pay Watanabe a grand to give me something with holes in it, so my loss will be legitimized-- even enviable. Just like those poor people I've stepped over on my way to 5th avenue.
There is another photo in the spread-- delicious in its contradictions, but also somehow sickening. A girl's hands and legs-- that's all you really see of her-- hands crossed as if waiting, (dime a dance & nobody's even got a dime!), legs in stockings (by Fogal!) which are full of holes, one sewn up in a rough way resembling an autopsy suture with thick floss. The sequined hem of her dress shows. But the shoes-- like high heel tap-style shoes of crocodile and leopard-print pony skin tied with a satin ribbon, take center stage. At her feet a newspaper is crumpled. It reads "Extra! Chicago Clarion Stock ("Market" blocked by ankle) Crashes." It's that time again, apparently. There's no real allusion to corporate corruption, to impending war, and yet it looms in the photo, amplifying the shoes with this vertiginous sense of impending history.
The shoes, the photo-- who's fantasy is this, anyway? Suffering has some seductive power when contained in this vampiric way. This is nothing new, really-- John Galliano's "Hobo Chic" of 2000 featured models with matted hair strewn with paper, gowns ripped and decorated with junk. He claims to have been inspired by the homeless, destitute and insane which he witnessed while jogging along the Seine. These dresses-- worn by the sickening Courtney Love, among others, allude to the fin de siecle "Rag Balls" of the 19th century, where the rich would put on the "costumes" of the poor.
It's strange that we haven't moved any farther from the gala insensitivity of the Rag Ball-- and though we have more and more information-- the suffering of the world is not only on the next block, but also a mouse click away-- it seems there are now newer, more sophisticated methods of co-optation. What was once juxtaposition-- suffering and insensitivity, is now layered seamlessly over itself, so that we wonder if what's happening really is.
Next thing you know, Vogue will do a Crepes of Wrath spread, featuring party dresses, and a geezer Rumsfeld at Kate Moss' starvling tit. It's dark. Really. *Wink Wink*
It's strange I would get a copy of the Dutch Gardens catalog when I don't even have a patch of grass to call my own. But I've always loved the names flowers are given, the stories around them in the Metamorphosis-- Oscar Wilde's descriptions of flowers. This catalogue is kind of amazing in that same way. I love reading the names and descriptions.
The Flower Record
Ivory Queen Allium Dreamland Tulip Arabian Mystery Queen of the Night (a black tulip!) Big Smile Tulip (vulvic!) The Dog Tooth Violet ("Carefree!") The Maureen White Fire Parrot Attila Tulip ("Big! Bold! Beautiful!") Salome, Las Vegas and Juanita Daffodils The Festiva Maxima Double Peony Early Stardrift
Today I've been considering this idea of throwing my completed novel into the sea. It's melodramatic, I know. But it's simple and perfect. The only thing is I've got copies of it on the hard drive, on the memory tower, on various floppies. I'd have to delete those first, and that just dampens the appeal of the ritual.
To be free of the fact of the book's existence-- and that it exists means I was (am?) a writer, that I believed in writing-- my own and other's. That is painful. I didn't know it would be so hard, heartbreaking. And I feel my writing has suffered from this awakening. The joy that was there on the page-- a kind of freewheeling daring, is gone. Kind of beaten out of it.
The whole destructive idea must be related to the fact that I can't open an issue of The New Yorker, or go into some awful chain bookstore, without seeing huge photos of Alice Sebold promoting her book. The photo of her is beautiful, she's in chiaroscuro, with dark lipstick. She looks just like a Russian ballet dancer.
I remember when it seemed like the book deal might fall through she was worried & I sent her these intensely worded emails saying how the book had to happen because it was important; she was an important writer. That all seems so stupid now, now that I won't even be able to read the book.
She told me she could not be my friend anymore because being with me reminded her too much of what it was like to be a failure.
Sometimes I think I will never get over that. I don't know why I give her so much power. Probably because I did respect her & believed in her. And for a short time she treated me like a dear friend. Sent me letters from MacDowell, etc.
While she was writing the book she said some character popped up, some "nice jewish boy" that the girl in the book gets to be with, someone kind. The girl in the book is dead, murdered-- narration from beyond the grave, you know. So she told me that that boy is based on M. That seemed weird at the time, but not so weird, as writers do that all the time. It's inevitable that we'll take things from the people around us. But now that bothers me, and I hope he was written out of it, and that there's not a trace of either one of us in the book, or in her mind anymore.
I hope someday I'll look back on that rejection and see it as silly, that somehow, somewhere, there will be vindication-- something like what she is enjoying now. That sometime I won't need to consider her as anything more than another well-reviewed writer, a stranger.
Last night I had a dream, which was more of a nightmare. There was some general decree about the "browning" of the populace, and overpopulation in general, so women were forcibly put on birth control pills. I remember in the dream going from house to house in this neighborhood in someplace that looked like New Orleans to see if other women were complying with this, but no one would talk to me.
I refused to take the pills and was shipped off on a train with other women who were presumed pregnant. We were put in someplace that looked like a cross between a wearhouse and an old high school-- maybe a bit like the school in Dario Argento's Susperia--. We were given drugs to help us forget what was going on, and though I struggled to find a way not to swallow the stuff, eventually I started to forget. Maybe it was in the food, I thought.
But I "came to" in the dream, wandering the building. They had told us that once we had our babies (though I wasn't pregnant) they would be adopted. But I wandered into this vast storehouse filled with row upon row of dead babies who'd all been poisoned or gassed or something-- they were all extremely pale and their small faces somehow webbed over.
I woke up from this, shaken, and when I finally was able to get to sleep, the dream continued. I was in exile somewhere-- it looked like a cross between Dublin and Portland or Seattle. I lived in the basement of a hotel and had nothing. I'd lost everything while at the camp. My job was to somehow monitor this huge weather forecasting device via email, and I was always reading numbers, which meant different kinds of rain to some guy over the internet. The machine was huge, black and rotating. One day I woke up and saw piles of bodies outside, covered in blankets in front of what looked like a pizza place. I took the elevator up and two blonde girls in their bathing suits were giggling. They were on vacation. I walked through the gift shop filled with glittery clothes, like show girl outfits, and once outside, the bodies were no longer there. The sun was coming out and the buildings began to turn, revealing the interior designs, much like the cross-sectioning of doll houses, many faux Rococo, others neo-Colonial. It was a good show, and I imagined what it might be like to live in one of them.