Planes, trains, automobiles and dissonance, or, The Complicity Polka

June 25th, 2006 | The Artistic Condition, Travels and Appearances

I’ve gotten kind of addicted to blogging all my daily activities. I’ll stop now that I’m home and have no life again, but first I wanted to say a few things about what it was like ending my book tour yesterday.

I began this trip on airplanes, flying to the west coast and back. Then I switched to trains on the east coast. Then yesterday in Boston I rented a car for the last leg. It turned out to be a big honkin’ SUV. And it was really fun to drive. At last I understand.

My objective was Northampton, MA, where I had to give a reading at 4pm. But I decided to take a slight detour to the new Ikea in a suburb south of Boston. I needed to get some plates and silverware, and I knew that was sort of crazy since I’d never been there before and I only had a half-hour to spare and Ikea is an all-day venture at best. But I was all hopped up and feeling omnipotent in my giant vehicle, so I went for it. On the way I listened to a horrific radio program about what’s going on in the Congo. Normally I just can’t compute the news from Africa, it’s so brutal and baffling. But this reporter, Johann Hari, put things into lucid context.

It’s not some kind of inexplicable tribal violence. It’s simply global corporations at work, doing what corporations do–mining resources as cheaply as they can. Hari talked in particular about the diamond trade, and the terrible violence that stems from it so that westerners can have engagement rings. “At least I don’t have any diamonds,” I thought idly to myself as I barrelled along in my SUV. I’ve never understood why people invest diamonds with so much power. They’re gaudy, ugly things.
cloudburst

The trick of capitalism is the way it obliterates the trail of cause and effect. The news from Africa is baffling precisely because it refuses to connect the dots. And who wants to connect them anyway, when going to Ikea is so much more pleasant? And then there I was, with thousands of other SUVs, pouring into the sprawling parking lot.

As an aside, I must say that I made perhaps the quickest and most efficient visit to an Ikea ever in the history of the world, somehow navigating the vast, unfamiliar terrain, not getting distracted by all the alluring objects but homing right in on my plates and a box of silverware, using the auto-check out system and getting back to my rig in half an hour flat.

ikea

Still, it was disconcerting to find myself so caught up in this manic consumption fest. Back on the road, I was playing with the radio in the truck. There were controls for it on the steering wheel, in case it was too much of a strain to reach out and operate it from the dashboard. All of a sudden I came upon a song which was the perfect soundtrack for the moment. I grabbed my camera and attempted to capture the insane dissonance of it all in a brief movie. I still haven’t figured out how to embed videos here, so if you want to see it you have to click here and watch it on YouTube.

Later that afternoon, after my reading in Northampton, I had dinner with my aunt and uncle. I mentioned in my last post that my Aunt Mary gave me a pair of cufflinks. It was a very thoughtful gift, an implicit reference to a scene in my book where I talk about my cross-dressing tendencies, in particular my fixation with cufflinks.

But I didn’t mention that each cufflink sports a tiny diamond.

38 Responses to “Planes, trains, automobiles and dissonance, or, The Complicity Polka”

  1. Anonymous says:

    okay, the look on your face is priceless in that video, so i’m sort of glad you posted it. but, dude! you cannot be making videos of yourself WHILE DRIVING! that shit’s dangerous, yo.

  2. Anonymous says:

    i’m not sure johann hari is really that nice a guy, he fills his columns with pro-war and anti-palestinian sentiments and general smug annoying-ness.
    and driving and videoing? please, be careful – we need you!

  3. susan says:

    Friends…c’mon now…
    are you questioning our Alison’s omnipotence…
    she rocks.
    and you sound like Mo…worriers…naysayers…perseverators…
    Doncha think Alison has perfected the one hand on the camera and the other on her life thing?
    Well, okay, you’re right, it isn’t the safest thing…
    yeah, yeah, yeah, keep both hands on the wheel,
    my dad always said that to me, too.
    But, even during a post Ikea polka?
    In a rented SUV?
    Okay…okay, you’re right.
    Good thing you’re home now Alison.
    Get some rest.

  4. Deb says:

    I think that Alison would be in the “shock and awe” mode of having herself elevated to omnopotence……though we absolutely love her! I wonder if she has someone else in the monster SUV who was taking photo’s?? And on her trip as well?? I have to smirk when I pass one of the monster SUV’s all lined up at the gas stations………..while my Mitzubishi sips gas…..Hey Alison, good job getting out of ANY

  5. Deb says:

    I think that Alison would be in the “shock and awe” mode of having herself elevated to omnopotence……though we absolutely love her! I wonder if she has someone else in the monster SUV who was taking photo’s?? And on her trip as well?? I have to smirk when I pass one of the monster SUV’s all lined up at the gas stations………..while my Mitzubishi sips gas…..Hey Alison, good job getting out of ANY huge store like that in half an hour! This is impressive to say the least! Glad you are home safe and getting some rest! Hope you don’t disappear for good on the blog. It’s been great sharing your life.

  6. Deb says:

    OOOOps!!!

  7. Lauren Zito says:

    I have to say I’ve become accustomed to checking this site daily for the insane globe-trekking that our Alison has so graciously kept us up to date with. I’m going to miss the daily postings and crazy pictures!!

  8. Duncan says:

    Hm… I’m kinda waiting for your not-so-lefty fans to freak out because you said bad things about capitalism, Alison. 😎

    I used to review books for Gay Community News, sometimes using the persona of the Promiscuous Reader, so perhaps you’ll forgive my dragging a book into this, Mike Davis’s “Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World” is a remarkable, overwhelming account of how 19th-century capitalism undermined protective social structures in Asia and Africa, and combined with climate variations (before global warming) to starve millions and millions of people to death. It’s mostly readable, often horrifying, and strangely familiar. Different people, 125 years ago, saying basically the same things about wogs and the lower orders that we hear now. Amartya Sen’s writings on famine also connect to Davis, who has a new book out called City of Slums. I haven’t read it … yet.

    My comment on having read “Fun Home” back in mid-May got lost in the site’s reorganization. It’s a wonderful book, and I brought it with me to Korea so I could reread it a few times.

  9. tania says:

    wait, it’s possible to shop at ikea and not have a meltdown? everytime i go, i have some sort of low-bloodsugar crying jag somewhere between the linens and the kitchen sections and have to be coaxed with cookies into finishing the rest of the maze-like trip out of there. you have to teach me how to get in and out in 1/2 hour, because i like cheap-o swedish home furnishings as much as the next girl.

  10. Anonymous says:

    @ tania: the secret is to take the right shortcuts. for example the one between the curtains and the plants. isn’t it just great how every ikea maze is the same around the world? yeah, globalization…

  11. Suzanonymous says:

    Coincidentally, the BBC just recently did a report about child labor in the Congo, at a copper mine. I thought this report was from a week ago but it was two weeks. Not as much of a coincidence as I thought.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/5071172.stm

    I can’t understand news out of Middle East (Palestine and Israel, the security fence is the only thing that seems sane to me) or Africa (they seem imbued with corruption).

    — the report above said the owners of the copper mine were new and had inherited the problems, but also when you look into child labor in general (try Anti-Slavery International), there has to be a replacement of the income for the children, they truly are working because they need the money. There are a few programs like that in the world. Stories about exploited kids really get me, probably everyone.. Rambling a bit off topic..

  12. Farah says:

    Not quite sure what anonymous means about Hari being pro-war and anti-Palestinian. He is no longer pro-war, that’s for sure.

    He’s a complex character and I don’t always agree with him, but he is a thoughtful commentator.

    The real problem he points to isn’t diamonds, it’s various elements which go into things like mobile ‘phones and which are sourced directly from the Congo. If you have a mobile, try to hang onto it as long as possible. Don’t trade up.

  13. Farah says:

    ps. I’ve just noticed you don’t use a screen-for-humans system. You might want to consider it as any day now you will start getting spam postings.

  14. Alex K says:

    You brought the curve of the entry around wonderfully. Enjoy your plates, your food, your eating, your complicity, your diamonds.

  15. Anonymous says:

    i guess i need to let go of my irritation with things hari has written in the past and update (mo-style) my list of ‘bad things’. i’m pretty sure both the exploitation of resources through forced labour and alison not keeping a daily blog can feature

  16. Dorothy says:

    Going to miss your daily blogging. Thanks for bringing us on your trip. BTW, where were Mo, Lois etc while you were gone?????

  17. Angi says:

    I’m really going to miss those blogs, Alison! But maybe you’ll have time to do a couple new strips for us?! Pretty please? 🙂

  18. VL says:

    Part of the problem with diamonds is the de facto DeBeers monopoly (although the guy probably mentioned that). The end result is the smuggled “blood diamonds”.

    Embedding videos may not be a good idea for readers who have low bandwidth. Link allows them to decide if their system and connection can download the video file in a reasonable time.

  19. Susan says:

    I’m still fantasizing about the subscription…
    and the All New, All Nude DTWOF that I’ll receive,
    hot off the drawing board,in my email account.

    Okay, I know that isn’t exactly what Alison said…was it?

    When I saw Alison in Philadelphia she apologized with this face full of guilt (and a fleeting flash of remorse? trepidation? fear of abandonment?) about her story lines in DTWOF not being as something…developed maybe?…since she has been so busy.

    and I want to say…Oh, Alison, it’s really okay. Really. You must be more critical than anyone else would be or could be of your work. We could never abandon dtwof…we love those women…and children…and men…and transgendered folk…uhm, and queers and questioning and their allies…how could all of us end all of those relationships in one fell swoop? That ain’t gonna happen.

    No, we’re here with you and we will be here…cheering you on with your new success.

  20. Cathy J says:

    It was wonderful to meet you in Boston, and we’re all glad you’re home safe. The capitalist shit we live in encroaches on us all to a certain extent and we just have to keep our feet out of it as best we can.

  21. Ennis says:

    Actually, having radio controls on the steering wheel is a really good thing. People get distracted easily when they’re looking at the radio and fiddling with the dial, controls on the wheel is one of the few safe things about an SUV>

  22. Emily says:

    Excellent formulation there – “The trick of capitalism is the way it obliterates the trail of cause and effect.” I’m a grad student (in cultural history, basically) so I especially like neat and easy to remember formulations. And most especially about things that obscure history.

    Thanks for all your touring-blogging.

  23. Zeitgeist says:

    Alison, if you are into cufflinks: In Miller’s Falls (45 minutes North of Northampton rt.63 north) there is a company called Renovator’s supply. The owner, this weird eccentric guy has the largest cufflink collection, and in fact, in the old mill where his company is located he has a cufflink Museum! It’s not opened to the public (I told you, he’s eccentric), but if you call them, they may let you check it out. It’s really kind of creepy, in the basement of this place.

  24. Leda says:

    That clip is brilliant. That look of utter disbelief and mild distress at the latest combination of odddness the world has flung at a person – I’m sure, no, I know it has spread across my face a few times.

    Very very funny, I nearly wet myself infact.

  25. Chaka says:

    Alison….when can you come to Cuba? I know that its illegal because you are a U.S. citizen and all, but if you sneak in through Cananda…no one will know. You have a cult following here with gay and lesbian socialists. Come on, just break the law once.

  26. Chaka says:

    Pretty Please….

  27. Deb says:

    Argh for the above!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. Okay, no one should make movies of themselves while they’re driving. It’s very dangerous. I didn’t mean to endorse such reckless behavior.

  29. Susana says:

    It is a wise thing for you not to endorse driving and filming (video or photos) but when I clicked on your clip, I just cracked up. Sometimes we have to do it, it’s just so much fun. Just be careful and dexterous.
    Went to your event at the LGBT center in NYC and thank you for a nice evening.

  30. Mikhaela says:

    How the hell did you manage that quick a trip to IKEA? I get dizzy and faint as soon as I step into that place. Also, the diamond thing is really creepy (not that it’s your fault that you were giving diamond cufflinks). To me, diamonds are not pretty at all. They are just tiny polished rocks and they have so much blood attached to them, I don’t want them near me. But somehow they are “beautiful”? Women are supposed to “love them”? To somehow get a thrill at a tiny overpriced little sparkly thingie that could easily get lost down the drain one day?

    My boyfriend Masheka and I actually just decided to go home to Massachusetts and get hitched next year (Ted Rall to officiate) and as soon as people knew, they were all asking me what kind of goddamn diamond I wanted. All my friends at work showed me their diamonds but I refrained from saying that they had the blood of African children on their fingers and calmly explained that I didn’t need a ring, and if I felt like getting one it’d be some innocuous cheap gemstone set in silver because diamonds aren’t my style.

    You what is also creepy? The new way diamond companies try to double their profits is convincing women they need to buy themselves a diamond in order to declare their independence:

    http://www.adiamondisforever.com/hot/

    Yuck.

    -Mikhaela

  31. Deb says:

    I cracked up at the video in the car too! The diamond thing……when I was in my other life (straight, white, married to a catholic man and raising children) yes…..it’s shocking but true…take a deep breath…it’s OK..I am sane now……daimonds represented love and forever……the fairy tale…..the dream of happily-ever-after. Now, like I said, I am sane now….my partner (she) and I did personally engraved and decorated bands…it was very cool, but also went way beyond the sterotypical het or gay wedding by making our union a part of the larger community…..yeah…..we invited the entire town! Gay & straight. It was the event of the year and to NOT get an invitation was a huge insult..anyway, a story in and of itself! Back to diamonds. We wanted something that signified our specialness and diamonds are waaaaaaaaaaay too blah and “normal” and have too much blood on them. Diamonds are NOT a girls best friend!

  32. Kari says:

    I like the video – loved the expression! 😉

  33. Anonymous says:

    The way Western reporters portray news in Africa is diabolical. They deliberately set out to make people think conflicts are primative and tribal and that no one can interfere because it’s OH SO BAFFLING. How these natives can tell themselves apart is a mystery anyway right?

    There is no real shortcut to understanding problems in Africa, but as a rule, be sure that western influence is at the heart of whatever conflict you are reading about.

    http://allafrica.com/ is a good source of news about Africa.

  34. Eva says:

    What if you’re given a diamond and you don’t really want it? I just inhereted my grandmother’s diamond engagement ring. Any thoughts about the best way to sell it (and celebrate her life by, say, buying a really nice bed)?

  35. Niko says:

    Hari is “anti-Palestinian”?

    News to me. He has militantly supported the Palestinians for the past four years, even going to the occupied territories to report from there…

    Check out his articles about Israeli “terrorism” at http://www.johannhari.com

    I think you are falling for an SWP caricature of him! have you actually read his work?

  36. Chiara says:

    Sooooo I know you get this all the time…just checked your book tour..why is it always London?? Us paddies over here (thats Ireland by the way), would love to hear you in Dublin. Do you have any contacts over here??

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