Saturday, July 25, 2009

You probably think this blog is about you, don't you?

He's a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans
for nobody.
©1965 Lennon-McCartney, Nowhere Man
"You'll meet people," my friends said, before I left for my Swedish trip. I was a little anxious about traveling alone.

Well it was day 8 and I hadn't met anyone to speak of. I'd had a short conversation with a German couple on a boat trip to the island of Birka, and I'd chatted briefly with an English couple one night at dinner at the hotel. But I hadn't actually socialized with anyone.

I'd just got back from a walk around Södermalm and was having a quiet drink in the residential section of the hotel's bar when a woman spoke to me. "Hello," she said "please come and join us. We are sitting at the front." Yes, I was - meeting someone - my friends had been right. And so I agreed and trotted off to sit with the woman and her friends in the open bar.

The woman who had invited me to the group had startling cornflower blue eyes and was about my age. She introduced me to three fellow Swedes - a couple and her own male "friend". I sat down next to the female of the other couple. Her eyes were cat-like green.

After I told them where I was from and Green Eyes and her partner had had their bit of fun mimicking (badly) the Australian accent, and asking me about "The Beach", we were busy making polite conversation, when green-eyes hissed at me, "SHE (pointing at Blue Eyes) met HIM (pointing at Friend-of-Blue-Eyes) in a CHAT ROOM!" Peals of scornful Green Eyes laughter.

"Oh," I said. She then raised her voice several decibels and said, "Please change your name. I can't remember it. Please change your name to something I can remember!"

"No," I said.

From there things started to deteriorate. Blue Eyes and her friend decided to leave, and while I was sitting there trying to think up a way to extricate myself, Partner-of-Green-Eyes started attacking me verbally. "So you are Australian. You have BEACH HaHa. And why you here in Sweden? Why you feel NEED to come here. Hey hey?"

I stared at him.

Green Eyes started to cry. "Why are you saying this?" she asked him. And to me, "I have known this man twenty years and NEVER has he spoken like this, Jane."

"The name's Kate," I replied.

"I am lonely man, I have friends but I am lonely man," Partner-of-Green Eyes was bleating.

I as thinking that at least it was getting Bergman-esk, when Green Eyes piped up, "We KNOW you are lonely man but she, this woman, er, her name I never know, didn't make you lonely. It isn't her fault! This is a DISGRACE to Sweden! Apologise to Claire"

I decided not to argue, and to just be Claire, and was sitting quietly when Partner-of-Green Eyes stood up and said he was paying for the wine. It was then I realized that his outburst had coincided with the other couple leaving. Perhaps they had stiffed him with the bill.

So I offered to chip in - I'd had one drink from a bottle of rosé. Partner-of-Green-Eyes snatched the notes from my hand and sneered, "That is cheapest drink you ever had. Australia! BEACHES! Ja you have BEACHES! So good HaHa!"

Green Eyes resumed her sobbing. I got up to go. "Claire is leaving," I told them.

Before I left I took a photo of Partner-of-Green-Eyes, just so I'd know I didn't imagine this bizarre scene. I looked at it just now, and he's clearly there but his head is obscured by part of an ornamental tree.

Claire is disappointed!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Remembering Ben

A hundred years ago when I lived in Northcote, Australia, I was in the habit of travelling to the more trendy Fitzroy for my haircuts. One of the salons I frequented was called Antenna. I think it's closed now. But in any case, the guy I usually booked to style my hair decided to open his own salon and he let me know the address.

It was in a seedy part of Fitzroy - a part no one who cared for their safety would venture into after dark. So I booked in for 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon and rolled up on the dot. It was the dead of winter and I shivered as I took my seat ready for Ben to do his work. "I don't have hot water so you'll need to put your coat back on while I wash your hair," he told me. "I don't HAVE a coat, I came by car," I whimpered.

Ben told me he was thinking of buying up coats from the local op (thrift) shop for his customers to wear while he washed their hair with icy cold water. "Do you think that'd be a good idea?" he asked me. Was I in Charlie Brown's hair salon, I remember wondering during a Lucy van Pelt moment.

I remembered Ben today when I sat down at the Cafe Albert in Stockholm's Ostermalm district. You can see the pink blankets in the photo above. And around the corner there was a cafe with blue blankies. Seems that Ben may not have been so silly after all.

After I had my cafe latte and my little reminiscence about Ben, I set off to shop. I decided I'd spoil myself and buy something Swedish to show off in New York. After a bit of a wander I came across this. Obviously in need of a blanket ...

I went to lots of shops and tried on quite a few clothes but nothing inspired me. I settled for buying a pair of gray tights at Wolford, which the attendant wrapped exquisitely. You can see the package below, stylishly placed amongst the geraniums on my hotel room balcony.

But it doesn't work. I just can't get that Swedish style. I'm just too new world I suppose. Or should I be American and say, "I guess". I suspect style can't be leaned.

At least that's what I was thinking when I had my second latte for the day. I was sitting nearby some Parisians who were impeccably dressed in an oh-so-casual-stylish way. Even the way they had their scarves carelessly knotted and slung round their necks was perfect. I sat there feeling very unrefined and non-European. There's just no way I can ever be elegant.

I thought of Ben and his overcoat idea. And of the pink blankets. I thought of the refreshing crassness of Americans. I thought of Beyoncé singing, "Put a Ring on It". I thought of the in-your-facedness of Australians. I thought of the Cobert Report and the Chaser's War on Everything.

Style, who needs it!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blue on Blue

With your sheets like metal and your belt like lace
And your deck of cards missing the jack and the ace
And your basement clothes and your hollow face
Who among them can think he could outguess you?
©Bob Dylan, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

Today I saw a dog with blue eyes. His master also had blue eyes. Here they are.

The photo was taken at Gamla Stan Stockholm, the old town. I'm sure this was once a very interesting place. Nowadays though, it has a sleazy theme-park feel to it. Full of tatty souvenir shops and 'pubs' catering to lost Irish wannabes. Not my cup of tea.

But still it's worth a trip, and not just for the people-watching. Today I visited Gamla Stan - for the second time, intent on seeing what the island really had to offer. And I found one place - not to say there aren't others.

But should you ever be in Stockholm, do take the time to visit the Nobel Museum. As well as the standing exhibits - the history, past prize winners and so on, this year there's a poster exhibition on freedom of speech. I will not even begin to go into it here - suffice it to say it was compelling, subtle and intelligent. I was privileged to see an excerpt of the late Theo Van Gogh's documentary, "Submission" which portrays violent treatment of women in Muslim society.

After the Nobel Museum, I decided to just wander. Gamla Stan is tourist-infested. But ... there's more to it, if you take the time and energy to blot out the tawdry tourist shops selling plastic Swedish flags.

Look at this man, having a smoko on a break from working in an Indian restaurant. Or this young woman, on the steps of the Nobel Museum.

Stockholm has its image. It's an image of self-sufficiency, and if not a complacency, something antiseptic and Abba-like in its blond-on-blondness.

And dare I say? An obviousness? Has the icon become the image, if not the message?

I close today's blog with some obvious images. All cities have them. Perhaps Stockholm's are just ... a little more obvious?

Blonds and bikes

A Big Bag

Going up?

To Consider?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Through half a glass, lightly

Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair where I sit:
There isn't any other stair quite like it.
I'm not at the bottom,
I'm not at the top:
So this is the stair where I always stop.
©AA Milne

Through half a glass, the Diplomat
Today I left the world of Germans with their maps.

I'd been staying at the Hotel Rex in Stockholm, which I have no hesitation in recommending. But when I booked it, four nights was all that were available. And so I "expedia-ed on". And found...

The Hotel Diplomat.

The Hotel Rex is low cost, functional and tasteful. Most of the clientele appeared to be non-English-speaking German nationals, complete with guidebooks, maps and a blond child in tow. Serious travelers, they were polite, if distant and self-absorbed. One knew where one stood. Feet firmly on the ground. No waiting around for Godot. No looking for the meaning of life. Philosophy by numbers. It was as if the world of Igmar and his enigmatic dance of death did not exist. We are all Berliners, n'est ce pas?

Not so fast ... I've only been at the Diplomat a few hours but already I sense that I will after all, find the strange world of Igmar Bergman and the black and white Swedish show.

For starters, after only ten minutes I discovered my true inner being. I'd never realised it before. I was, I am ... a perfect mix of New York and Australian.

It happened like this.

Lift Entrance, Hotel Diplomat
I arrived at the hotel Diplomat and was confronted in the lobby, with an old fashioned elevator - one like in the movies, where you have to manually open the door, and then manually open an inner door and then crank it up, or down or wherever you wish to go.

So I pushed the button and stood for some long minutes, staring at the elevator entrance, noting the sign that clearly stated that Reception was "one flight above".

Nothing. Nix. Nyet. I waited. I looked behind me, shrugging, at a late-middle-aged couple seated on a sofa, with suitcases, clearly ready to depart. They stared straight ahead. Expressionless.

Minutes flew by. I realised nothing was happening and so tentatively pushed the outer door sideways. It opened. It had been waiting for me all that time.

I turned to the refined-looking couple behind me. "Thanks for letting me know," I snapped.

And in that split second I wondered. Was I New Yorker? Or Australian. Both I thought. And how.

The female half of the couple on the sofa spoke. She was English. Oblivious in their Englishness, the refined couple did not appear (as would Americans) embarrassed or (as would Australians) belligerent /defensive, but unhurried and confident. After all, Britannia once ruled the world! Lifts or no lifts. "Oh," she enunciated, "it happened to us didn't it George you just open it and go up. But there's no reception there either. It is behind you. We'd label it correctly, in England, of course!"

As I thanked her, I noticed a slight wince as she detected the colonial accent.

And off I trotted to Reception with a question or six. But I had to wait.

Straight out of Highsmith's "Ripley", he was. A dapper young Englishman explaining why his credit card had been declined. "Drat! Let me call my bank," he was saying (demanding), grabbing the phone before the reception person could respond. "Bloody hell, Ashley! D'you mind raising my limit a thou or two. Bloody cards and foreigners. Yes say hello to Samantha. Dratted nuisance eh what?"

Was this guy for real? Unfortunately yes.

She bought it. "Thank you sir, just sign here." Which he did. Unhesitatingly....

And so now I have settled in. Almost. I just tried to get to the spa and sauna. Apparently it's on a mezzanine (or as the brochure states, halfway between floors one and two).

So after I unpacked I got into the old rattler of a lift, punched the button that said the halfway thing, eh what and strike me dead if it didn't stop exactly halfway between floors 1 and 2. I could see through the ornamental door - the floor was at approximately chest height.

"What's a chap meant to do I?" mused. Can't bloody complain. It said halfway up and halfway down.

Time for half a glass. Of something ...

O for those German tourists and their maps ...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Untitled #1

There's something very Last Year at Marienbad-ish about the Hotel Rex, where I'm staying in Stockholm.

That is, although it's obviously very civilised, I don't quite understand it.

Don't get me wrong. I highly recommend the Hotel Rex in Stockholm. It's advertised as the poorer sister of the Hotel Hellsten which is directly opposite, and more up-market than the "Rex Petit" which is somewhere else instead.

I like the sound of the Rex Petit, as the flyer says that the rooms are tiny (6 square metres) and windowless - which means they are completely dark, a plus when dawn is around 3:00 a.m.

But the Rex non-petit is fine by me. The room is small but like all other rooms in the hotel, tastefully decorated in everything wood, with framed photos (all taken the 'THE OWNER') on the walls. The staff speak of him sotto voice with reverence. Apparently he "travelled a lot". I suspect he is a BABY BOOMER ...

I have two "OWNER" photos in my room. One appears to be of a headless rooster and the other of a very short man trying to hang up paintings on a concrete wall. All black and white. All very enigmatic.

Yes, all very
Last Year at Marienbad(-ish).

Actually I've taken heaps of photos, though not of any "places of interest". I prefer taking photos of the Swedes themselves. The one above is a spoiler. So stay tuned ...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Through a Glass Darkly, or a Whiter Shade of Pale

And although my eyes were open
They might have just as well've been closed

©Procol Harum 1967

We had a wonderful cinema experience. Best of all, after watching Persona, we went to a coffee shop and discussed the film for a while. There was a lot to talk about.
Review: Persona by Ingmar Bergman 1966 Movie Masterworks March 19th, 2006

Imagine a bare foot crunching down on a broken glass on a pristine white tiled floor. Or a screen at a cinema displaying a scene that is totally white, except for a narrow stream of water and a pale young girl on a white horse. Or the now iconic image of black figures silhouetted in the distance on the crest of a snow covered hill.

Or not.

I keep telling myself (unsuccessfully) to rid my mind of these Bergman images.
But they are on my mind. For two reasons.

One is that I recently finished reading A Reliable Wife, which takes as its theme winter at Black River Falls Wisconsin in the depression years of the 1890s. Talk about spooky. But I was intrigued when I read that the novel's background consisted of actual documented - by photo and newspaper articles - events of madness, murder and mayhem in the rural Wisconsin community which consisted of mainly northern European immigrants.

The famous dance of death in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.
This afternoon I watched the documentary of the events which made up the background theme of A Reliable Wife - "Wisconsin Death Trip". The movie is largely a narration from a collection of the newspaper articles illustrating the photos which were taken in Black River Falls WI, by Charles Van Schaik between 1890 and 1910. The subject matter ranges from children in coffins, to farm animals, to family portraits of some of the grimmest-looking people imaginable. Truly bizarre.

And although it appears that most of the immigrants were from Norway and Germany, there's something Bergman-like in the photos of elderly burgers staring stoically at the camera against a background of a desolate snow-scape.

The second reason for my Bergmanesque meanderings, is that I'm about to set off for a short vacation to Sweden, and I've just realized that I know hardly anything about the place. When I think Sweden I think of Bergman films, white on white with white subtitles.

My early years at Melbourne University when I hung out with an in-crowd of self-proclaimed intellectuals was pure hell apart from when I was experiencing the new-found joys of sex. Our outside-of-bed activities consisted of not only going to Bergman, Fellini (and Antonioni if we were feeling particularly frivolous) films, but of actually DISCUSSING them afterward.

I'm trying to forget the blinding whiteness of it all.

My mind wanders to a later movie, in color and American. Max von Sydow as the melancholy artist in "Hannah and her Sisters". Things are lightening up. And none too soon, as I must think of packing.

If I had an Abba album I'd put on Fernando. Do you think that'd do the trick?

My mind veers back into the Bergman films. The things we women did for men in those pre women's lib days of the sixties. For rest assured, it was no woman who suggested watching "The Virgin Spring" on a sunny Australian day when all our friends from state high school were swilling gin-slings at Portsea. "How frivolous," we pretended to think, as we nodded as if in agreement with someone else's observation on the meaning of whatever.

Meanwhile our sisters in Sweden were no doubt whooping it up drinking vodka and hopping in and out of bed with gloomy Max van Sydow look-alikes.

I'm very interested to see Sweden. That culture has a lot to answer for.

It seems positivity bi-polar - what with Abba on one hand and van Sydow on the other. I just don't get Sweden.

I am starting to see the trip as a sort of pilgrimage to the roots of my days of angst. Perhaps I'll eventually understand what I was meant to understand all those years ago. I doubt it somehow.

Still, after an afternoon of watching "Wisconsin Death Trip", one thing's for certain.

Sweden is going to be FUN!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

EF for TJ

It's too big, it's too wide
It's too strong, it won't fit

"Ego" ©Beyoncé Knowles

Married three times, and the defendant in as many rape trials, Flynn lived a scandalous but brief life.
Errol Flynn - the 100th Anniversary

Errol Flynn may not be household name outside of Australia. Indeed I suspect the only thing that Australian Generation Xers know about him is the expression, "in like Flynn".

But as today is just over a week from his hundredth birthday, I am dedicating this LFNY to Australia's own gold prospector, patrol officer, slave recruiter, pearl diver, diamond smuggler, fish dynamiter and Hollywood matinee idol of the 1940s, Mr. Errol Flynn.

The expression "in like Flynn" means "to be quickly and/or emphatically successful, usually in a sexual or romantic context." And it's based on Errol Flynn's reputation as a hard-drinking, hell-raising ladies' man - a reputation that Mr. Flynn encouraged in his autobiography - My Wicked Wicked Ways: The Autobiography of Errol Flynn. The autobiography also did nothing to dispel the incredible but nonetheless widespread rumours as to the the size of his penis and his success with getting women to jump into the cot with him.

You can hear about Flynn's early life and Hollywood adventures on Australian ABC's Life and Times, where Flynn's biographer Jeffrey Meyers and Bob Casey (Errol Flynn Appreciation Society) talk admiringly of the man. Life and Times also features clips from Flynn interviews, and a radio show recorded during WWII - Mr and Mrs Smith - starring Flynn and Lana Turner.

But just how Australian was Flynn? Certainly in his early years in New Guinea and the UK, his larrikinism attests to the Australian Flynn. But later?

His accent is decidedly English in the recording of "Mr and Mrs Smith" (Flynn and Lana Turner). And at the end of his life he took out American citizenship.

Sadly by then, all that remained of his Australian heritage was his penis size.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

America's Got Talent

And be careful of what you do 'cause the lie becomes the truth
Billie Jean, Michael Jackson

It isn't often I'm proud to be American. Or Australian. Or proud of anything that I did not achieve myself.

But today I was. Proud to be American, that is

Today I was not ashamed to be associated with today's tribute in Los Angles, to Michael Jackson.

Despite all the negative crap of the last ten years, Jackson will rightly be remembered for the artist that he was.

A dash of French mime, a splash of Chaplin, a squeeze of Astaire, and a strut of Jagger. Who of us who were privileged to be alive in the 1980's will ever forget him?

Watching clips of the Jackson tribute tonight I was impressed at the lack of the expected Hollywood hype, with the sincerity, and above all with the emotion and conviction of his black brothers and sisters.

And so looking for a video clip to use in my humble tribute, to a humble man, I searched YouTube. There were a number of clips well worth using, but in my search I couldn't help but look at some of the comments. And felt, how sad.

Pure vitriol, against a man who was convicted of no crime.

I wonder at those people who have nothing better to do, it seems, than to imagine the worst. I remember an article by a Bob Herbert who somehow had the insensitivity to write, "Meeting Michael Jackson in the mid-1980s was one of the creepier experiences of my life .... One case of alleged pedophilia against Jackson, the details of which would make your hair stand on end, was settled for a reported $25 million. He beat another case in court."

Yep, that's right Mr Herbert. Ever heard of innocent until proven guilty?

But then, as Mr Herbert points out, he was at the time of the interview, Editor of the (Rupert Murdoch) Daily News. Nuff said!

There's nothing sadder than those without talent, attempting to malign those with.


Saturday, July 04, 2009

Step Back

"I was finally able to stay with some very kind friends; since then I've been crashing on various couches (an exciting adventure best avoided when you're 63 years old, as I am)."
(ex) Resident 772 Second Avenue The Launchbox

Upper East Side WomenLet's start today's letter with a photo - or rather, a section of one.

Three women strolling down a New York Street. It was around brunch time. You can see there's a restaurant to the left. Perhaps that's where they are headed this Fourth of July.

I had just had brunch myself and was on my way back home to write a short letter about being the mother of an X-generationer ... but that'll have to wait.

If we step back a little, in order to see a bit more of the photo, it doesn't look so attractive.

There's a garbage bag, and some hard wire fencing in a lump of concrete.

That's because a huge subway construction is being undertaken on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It started two year's ago and will be another two year before it's finished. And it's certainly affecting the residents' quality of life.

Let's step back some more.

We can now see some closed store-fronts. And believe me, they are not closed for the Fourth of July holiday.

A few month's ago I wrote Smile You're on Second venue about the effects of the recession on our neighborhood.

But things re getting worse.

If we look at the whole photo we can see suitcases on the sidewalk. Suitcases of the evacuees.

In the past few weeks a few buildings have had "Vacate" notices plastered on their doors. The neighboring construction has rendered the buildings unstable. And so with hardly any warning, tenants have been locked out. Not only have they nowhere to go, but apparently they are now having problems getting their possessions out.

The following photos say it all.

The Big Easy
The Old Big Easy Bar

Sorry We Are Closed
91st and Second

View from 91st and Second

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Curious Incident of the Tent in the Sand

V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N! In the summer sun!
Put away the books, we're outta school!
The weather's warm, but we'll play it cool!
We're on vacation, havin' lots of fun!
From 'Vacation' © Connie Francis circa 1965

Could she have known?
It happened in a town whose name I've long since forgotten. Though I do remember that it was on the eastern coast of Australia, somewhere north of Eden and south of Sydney.

Friends had invited us (us being myself and husband #1 and toddler) to come for a vacation. The friends were a couple and I'll call them Mike and Molly, just in case they are reading this and decide to sue.

Although now I think of it, it is extremely unlikely that they have become internet savvy.

Mike had recently had an epiphany and had decided that all people needed was physical contact. He explained, quite seriously, that it was lack of contact that had driven modern man to have head-on collisions. Because of that, he'd given up driving his motorbike. Whatever ...

I was pleased we even HAD friends. Husband #1 was in the habit of "barring" people who didn't meet his standards. "He's barred," he'd say to me, about some previous friend who he'd recently discovered liked mainstream music, or drank instant coffee. Or had been five minutes late to an appointment. Quite disconcerting.

So when Mike and Molly invited us to stay with them near the beach on the New South Wales coast, I was all for it.

"Bring your tent and sleeping bags, but no cooking stuff as we'll all be camping in Molly's mum's backyard. We'll shower and cook in the house. We have other friends coming. You'll like them."

Sounded good. And so, come December we packed the tent, some summer clothes and drove north. We found Molly's mum's house quite easily as Mike, being a contact-kinda-guy, had written down detailed directions. We drove up and parked in the drive. I could see through to the backyard. I could not see any tents.

As I was lifting grumpy-from-the-trip toddler daughter from the car seat, a woman came out the front door. "Hi," I said, "You must be Molly's mum." "Yes," she answered "and you can't stay here. No one can. I've told them all to camp at the beach. We want our peace and quiet. Drive straight ahead. You can't miss them."

Back into the car. Silence from the staring straight ahead husband. Would Molly be barred? Mike? Both? I wondered.

Sure enough, we found them just as Molly's mum had said. You couldn't miss them. Four young adults attempting to set up tents in the fine white Australian beach sand. No sooner than they'd staked and pegged one side, than the other would collapse. Australian-style, the men stood around scratching their heads in puzzlement. The women kept digging.

We pulled out our tent and joined them. "Pity about Molly's mum," they said. "Bloody bourgeois what do you expect blah blah. Because of her we have no pots and pans." Or brains I thought, but said nothing.

We put up our tent - on higher ground. Were these people barred? I honestly can't remember. I do remember long nights as we tried to cook food for six adults and three toddlers, on fires made of twigs in the sand. I think we must have heated up cans of baked beans. Or perhaps we just ate them warm.

Fun in the sun.

Why has this long-ago vacation surfaced in my mind? Could it be because of my planned trip to Sweden which turned into Stockholm-Warsaw-Barcelona which turned into Stockholm - Riga? (Turn Left at Naypyidaw)

A lesson that should have been learned.

If something is too good to be true it's too good to be true.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Azheimer's Clocks

Thompson's Diner
Diner, Queens, New York
I've passed the diner in the photo nearly every week day for the last 100 years. And I never cease to wonder about its clocks. What do they signify? What can they mean? Surely there must be some connection to something. Or are they self-referential?

They annoy me, reminding me of those IQ test questions where you had to name the next number or shape in a series.
Which comes next?
Who cares? Like the delightful character, Alice (who suffers from Alzheimer's) in Lisa Genova's Still Alice, when asked "What month is it?" I always feel like answering, "Ask someone else, they'll know."

Talking about Alzheimer's, today I thought I caught a glimmer. Could the diner's clocks be referring to the clock drawings of Alzheimer sufferers and if so, why?

Clock drawn by typical Alzheimer's Patient
But perhaps even more interesting is what the photo illustrates in the section of it reproduced below. Hardly what one would expect of the cultural capital of America! I wonder how many people would pick America as the location of this diner if they had not been here? It looks positively third world.

And I must remember to point this out when one of my American acquaintances tells me he would not travel outside the States for fear of the living conditions and the quality of the food abroad.

America as the leader of the free and prosperous world is one of the many myths about the country. Another is that Americans have no sense of humour. And yet another that American soaps and sitcoms give a false view of American life.

What is REALLY scary is that they give an accurate portrayal of American life and culture.

Back in the olden days when Mary Tyler Moore starred in The Dick Van Dyke Show and the Petries slept in separate beds, it may have SEEMED that the sleeping arrangements were so, in order not to offend the public's sensibilities. An example of the so-called puritan streak. We now know better.

As family-values-Republican-White-House-aspirant, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has pointed out, the reason for separate beds is merely one of different functions. For example, his bed in Argentina is for his soul-mate, and his bed in South Carolina is for his wife with whom he claims he is "trying" to fall back in love with.

Sometimes you don't even need a soap, as the need is completely bypassed by the use of live press conferences. New York Mayor Giuliani broke up with his second wife on television. Just imagine - learning that your spouse intends to dump you when watching him participate in a televised news conference whilst ironing his shirt. Except we don't iron their shirts anymore. They can wear them with wrinkles for all we liberated women care.

As well as breaking up with wife #2, Guiliani was seen by the press in the company of prospective wife #3 (a nurse) while in hospital for treatment of his prostate cancer. And while all this was going on Guiliani was trying to ignore the Louima case which was about the jailing of a policeman for ramming a broomstick into the rectum of a man who was wrongly arrested while hailing a cab to get away from a sidewalk melee.

With politicians like these, who needs soaps?

But back to sitcoms.

We had Larry-I-did-nothing-inappropriate-in-the-airport-bathroom-Craig (The Craig Case, Simply). We had another governor, Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York and the prostitute scandal. We had John Edwards' wife referring to the baby her rival had with her husband as "it." Governor James E. McGreevey of New Jersey decided he was gay and left his wife for another man while training for his second career, as a religious councillor.

All this has led to Oped journalist, Maureen Dowd, writing a The Practical Guide to Help Spurned Political Wives Survive Old Problems in the Era of New Technology.

Old "Got Milk" Ad
There was a time those, back before the web became commercialised, when there was a brief window of purity an enlightenment in America. I'd barely arrived here. The news was all Clintons. Bill and Hillary. And of course, Monica Lewinsky. A big ad campaign at the time was the "Got Milk" campaign, where attractive young models were photographed with a milk moustache. On one of my first trips to the Village I came across posters for sale, showing Lewinsky instead of the model, with the signature white moustache and the caption, "NOT Milk".

Yes those were the days. Days of miracle and wonder. Innocence lost. Days of er ... milk ... and honey.