End Times

I love a good doomsday scenario,
But I prefer mine served
On a bed of cooled lava
And drizzled in sulphuric rain.

I want to see a meteor crash
Violently into the horizon.
I want weeds to take over.

Highways of kudzu,
Parking lots of new forest,
Radioactive cesspools of oceans.

Boiling rivers,
Buckling pavement,
Brimstone faucets.

I have considered Christians
Shooting through ceiling tiles
And doe-eyed virgins ascending to
Islamic bedrooms.

I’ve envisioned angels directing traffic,
Lines of grown men waiting in line
To sit on God’s lap on a cumulus cloud.
It doesn’t appeal to me.

I’d much prefer to drop dead in good company.
Bash my head on the bathroom wall
When the shockwave hits.
Go when everybody else does.

Who Paid for It?

“Who paid for this?” inquired a skeptical voice from the back of the group upon passing first the Rodin sculpture, and 20 paces ahead, the exquisite Miro that interrupted the hollow whitewashed museum of an entry hall.

“Well, most of it comes from the EU’s annual budget, and the rest from the settlements that we receive when a state loses a case.”

“And where,” I asked myself, “does that settlement money come from?”

Our guide delighted in pointing out that, while the statues themselves were donated, it costs more for them to be insured every year than he earns. This was clearly a point of contention for his colleagues, who had gathered inside the palatial lobby to protest about an apparently unsatisfactory salary.

This was at the European Court of Justice, but could have just as easily have been at any of the dozen institutions we’ve visited. Each was lavish, ultramodern, and – if I can inject the first of my criticisms here – entirely over-the-top and unnecessary.

Perhaps if it had been just one institution I might have shrugged it off. But there are so many of them: there’s the Council of Europe, the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Court of Justice, the European Parliament, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Commission, the European Court of Auditors, etc.

The list is astounding, and if I was so inclined, I could regale you for weeks on end with the various other offices and acronyms, the treaties that created them and the excessively long job titles of the people who run them. I’ll humor you with just one: The High Representative of Common Foreign and Security Policy and the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy were effectively merged to form the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. This official, Catherine Ashton, since you asked, also acts as Vice President of the Commission, administrator of the European Defense Agency AND the External Action Service.

Most Europeans have no idea that half of these institutions even exist, and many of these “Eurocrats” aren’t directly elected. Even in the case that they are elected, the mere fact that a country is part of the EU means that the will of the people of one country – rather, the will of it’s leaders – is tied to the will of another. Given the enormous scope and diversity of the EU, there is just no feasible way to operate without undermining democracy.

I’m utterly bemused by the Europeans’ apparent love for bureaucracy. They just – they adore it. You will find no shortage of committees, councils, commissions, services, agencies, administrations, and programs dedicated to practically everything.

To be fair, the US boasts some equally overarching bureaucracy, but there are legions of Americans for whom the “B” word is a thing to be scorned. I don’t get a sense that that is a popular attitude here. People seem to have learned to love (or at the very least live with) the fact that you could maypole dance your way around the continent with all the red tape.

I suppose I wouldn’t find it so astounding if the Western world wasn’t hokey-pokeying around an economic sinkhole. If you consider that the 2012 EU budget is 147,200,000,000€ and there 503,500,000 citizens in the EU, that works out to be 292.35€ per person. Considering that I spent roughly 30€ each week at the supermarket, that works out to be about 10 weeks of groceries for me.

Of course it’s nice for every Eurocrat to have a corner office in some palatial building in Strasbourg or Brussels or Luxembourg (the fact that it’s a traveling circus adds another layer of absurdity to it), but Who Paid For It?

“Luh shat aye syur luh tab-luh”

Paris-bound tomorrow. Very excited about venturing forth into the land of wine, cheese, and labor strikes. I’ll be at my host’s place in the 15th arrondissement by twilight (unrelated: I’d like to reclaim that word from its association with juvenile vampirism, please and thank you) so there will be plenty of evening left.

I have been to France twice but this is the first time I’ll have the opportunity to make it my own. Last time I went with my grandparents and uncle, and the only thing I managed to say in French was “un petit peu.” Everyone rattled off in English the moment they detected the Anglophone clan ambling up the Rue des Étrangers with an angsty teenage me in tow.

I’ve taken enough French to get by but they can only teach you so much in school. “Le chat est sur la table” surely won’t get you very far when you find yourself being swarmed by an army of putrid trinket salesmen at the Eiffel Tower.

It’s said that learning a new language is like creating a new soul – one must learn to express oneself all over again. On the rare occasion that I’ve had the opportunity to converse in French, I’ve felt like a toddler – I get flustered and end up intonating everything as if it were a question. It feels silly at best not to be able to find the right word; at worst it’s downright agonizing. But there are no shortcuts. I would love to be able to rebuild my personality in French but that is many eons away.

It helps to swill back a couple of adult beverages before you endeavor to recreate your soul anew. Arnaud was so patient with me when I got slightly drunk and tried to explain to him, in French, the difference between the Amish and the Mormons – “Comment dit-on ‘batshit fucking crazy?'” said I. It was a good start.

The best part of language is learning those expressions that we wish we had in our native tongue, and conversely, taking pride in our own language. I don’t yet know of any untranslatable and beautiful words in French, but I’m sure my linguistic victories and defeats will be central to this trip. In English, for example, we use “human” as an adjective as well as a noun. We use the concept of human-ness to emphasize the fact that we aren’t just bags of blood and bones. It’s a go-to expression that we don’t really think about, but it’s no easy feat to try to break down the idea without invoking the expression itself. Divine would be the closest thing, but that sounds a bit self-aggrandizing. “Human” evokes both sides of our condition – the humble and the noble.