Incidental New Yorker XI

November 29, 2015

The bloodbath in Paris was an attack on humanity. This attempt to tear apart the fabric of our life briefly left us speechless and stunned. And while civilians of all convictions and colours en masse are now gathering forces and doing their utmost to defy Da’esh’s challenge to the beauty and meaning of life, Western governments are playing the ball right back in to the very hands of Da’esh by accepting the violent challenge to democratic values by undermining them, precisely as intended; and in the process they are fostering even more marginalised youngsters who become spiteful desperadoes, offering their goalless energies to the calculating forces that make out Da’esh. This is a great tragedy of our time!

I can’t help but think that when some maniac attacks a Planned Parenthood centre in Colorado Springs, it is the same kind of terror – an attack on democracy and the right to make you own decisions in life. I don’t know whether the murderer is religious, but if he was guided by his religion, in my book he is a heavy weight fundamentalist in the same league as the mass murderers that hit on Beirut, Tunisia, Turkey and Paris and more.

And back in my home country the snow has arrived. The authorities are putting Syrian refugees up in tents! We have lots of empty buildings that would serve relatively okay as temporary housing. But we put them up in tents! It is a disgrace – and not what we were taught to be. Also, I am so sorry to let you in on that Denmark is far from the paradisaical welfare state that both we the Danes and Bernie Sanders remember and are incredibly fond of. Joe Stiglitz put it like this on CNN: Actually, DK is becoming more like us! Also, we are no longer leading in conservation, recycling, sustainable energy forms = combatting climate change. Neither of course is the US; but at least there is one guy here, who must be the absolute champion in limiting waste produce. He managed to produce less than six pounds of waste in one year. This is app. 0.4 per cent of the US average. Washington Post did a piece on the wonderful fellow.

Here in my temporary home in NYC I have kept an eye on the Libyan permanent mission to the UN for several months now, wondering who actually runs it and lives there. Who does it represent? All through summer the top 10 storeys out of 20 had open windows, which leads me to believe that the building has no air conditioning, or no money to run it. They have begun tearing down the reception area. I will keep observing and let you in on any news on the subject.

Both of us had speaking appointments at University of North Carolina a few weeks back, on the UN and mass communication in oppressive conditions respectively. Even if our thoughts circled around Paris and events in Europe and the Middle East, we spent a delightful long weekend in wonderful company in Asheville. Surrounded by the Black Mountains, gorgeous views and wonderfully fresh air. Asheville is one of probably very few last hippie stands in our day and age. Shops offer yoga, pilates, scented candle lights, drum therapy, salt therapy, lots of local organic food, micro breweries, and several inspired chocolatiers. Great break from hectic NYC, the chain stores and coffee shops, the clogged air. Asheville is chain-store-and-chain-restaurant free zone. The town has next to no chain stores or restaurants, at least downtown. Lots of coffee shops, eateries, burger and other restaurants – all of them individual and local. Okay, our hotel belonged to a chain, and there is one chain clothes store, the rest are uniquely local.

Beer, roasted peanuts, mexikorean snacks in the happy outskirts of Asheville © Mette Holm

I saw an inviting window exhibition of broken dreams and shattered illusions; Asheville’s oldest (& perhaps only?) pawnbroker, Finkelstein’s from 1903, exhibits jewellery, lots of guitars, drum sets, accordions that people have pawned and never been able to buy back. I easily envisioned all the failed musicians that had had to pawn their dreams of stardom along with the women who have traded in their heirloom jewellery for something else … Perhaps they swap Grandma’s pearls for a ukulele?

Finkelstein’s window of broken dreams © Mette Holm

Asheville has a Drum Circle; a small amphitheatre in a public square where people meet to drum themselves crazy and into a trance. This particular evening it had moved in from the cold, only a shadow of its usual summer self, they told us, but nevertheless inciting, insisting, extraordinary with mystic dancers moving to the beat – as well as to some inner experience, obviously beyond what most of us saw and heard … In summer scores of drummers gather, each beating their own to make up a great and consuming rhythm.

And then there was Biltmore … A huge castle, said to be the largest private home ever built in America, built by a seemingly megalomaniac Vanderbilt just before 1900. The Vanderbilts routinely bought up land. The beautiful area had been used as a health resort for TB patients. Vanderbilt bought it and (Vander)built (Vander)Biltmore – a huge castle copied in the smallest detail from European royal palaces and residences. Imagine: you have all the money in the world, you can build exactly what you want to – and then you simply import thousands of people to copy something others have made before you – including a village, a winery, farm and more. That struck me as really weird and unimaginative. But quite interesting to see. At some point a daughter was the only child in the castle, which must have been pretty lonely, particularly in the huge swimming pool.

I have looked into it a bit. It seems to have been quite a fad in the early 1900s for hugely wealthy Americans to – illegally – purchase medieval or even older castles and monasteries in Europe, dismantle them, pack them in crates and ship them to the US to assemble them here … William Randolph Hearst bought several. Due to depression and what not, one waited a long time to be reassembled; and in the process it was unpacked and repacked – with no one remembering to carry the numbering and drawings forward from the first set of crates to the second, which had to be reassembled from scratch – one mean beast of a jigsaw puzzle to assemble! Much more on this fantastic chapter in American History by wonderful Atlas Obscura

Saw this happy foursome in Asheville: Pigs and – I like to imagine – Honest and Abe, the turkeys pardoned by the president for Thanksgiving 2015. 

© Mette Holm