Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Few Thoughts On The Cannabis Cup (While I Still Have Some)

I just got back last night from a fantastic trip to Amsterdam, where I got to see the Patti Smith Band perform four times in three days, all of which I had to sit down and write about for Paste magazine, as mentioned in the previous post, this morning. The first of her gigs was at the Cannabis Cup, the competition High Times magazine in the States runs during pot-harvest week, which culminated on Thanksgiving evening, Nov. 24.

Because a friend of mine was visiting Amsterdam and would leave on Friday morning early, and in order to be able to see him, I came in a day early, and after setting up a time to meet him, I decided to wander over to the Sugar Factory, a club across from Amsterdam's famous Melkweg club, to see what the hoo-hah was all about. For €20 I got a flimsy laminate which allowed me unlimited entry to the trade show for the next two days. For €110 I could have gotten a judge's pass, which would have entitled me to sample the entries, but that would have been both self-indulgent and counter-productive, since I would have been too paralyzed to do the job I was being paid to do. But I was still curious about what was going on.

Turns out the Sugar Factory is a rather small venue, and despite exhibitors setting up in a balcony and on the stage, it was pretty much too crowded to walk around in comfortably. As for the exhibits, they were pretty lame. There was a machine which allegedly "bubbled" the THC out of your waste products and made a sort of hash thereby, and a group of chemists who were selling a kit which enabled you to extract all the THC from pot or hash and turn it into a substance which could be ingested via a capsule ("I almost ruined my lungs forever," said one of the crew at this table, "but I haven't smoked anything in two years."), but mostly it was seed companies (four or five seeds from a good strain can set you back a couple of hundred Euros) and people with gewgaws like pipes and stash boxes and the like. The unhappiest exhibitor I saw was a mammoth black guy in the balcony who was trying to sell t-shirts and sweatshirts with a pot theme from his radio station, Alaska Hip-Hop. I don't think he moved a one of 'em.

Sure, you could get samples to smoke from the seed companies, but, again, I was wary of having to be alert and knew all too well how strong this stuff was. I probably picked up a bit of a contact high because the air in the Sugar Factory was thick with smoke, and I admit, it smelled good. It was against the law to be selling any or giving any away to be taken away, however, all part of the bureaucratic maze the Dutch have set up for the cannabis industry.

What was creepy was the crowd. Just walking around the Leidseplein, the general area in which it was held, you could pick out the C.C. attendees even without their laminates. For one, lots and lots of them were American. This makes sense because High Times sells tour packages from the U.S. For another, they were acting very, very stoned. This makes sense because unless they were being as puritanical as I was, they were very, very stoned. Third, they were dressed appallingly. Nearly every single person under 50 at this thing looked like they'd picked up their clothes from a heap on the floor and shrugged them on. This was because they were overwhelmingly male, of course. There was one hugely obese father-son couple, dressed in overalls, who were staggering around looking like stoned farmers. Of course, there's every reason to suspect that they were, and would perhaps smuggle back a few dozen of those expensive seeds to fund next year's expenses.

Now, you'll notice that I singled out people under 50. There was an interesting gap here. There were all the young stoners, vaguely hip-hoppish, but I'd say their cohort peaked at about 35. Between 35 and 45 there was virtually no one there. And then it picked up to people who were obvious veterans of the '60s. For the most part, they were rather straight-looking; I got talking with one during the awards ceremony (the first show that Patti played) and he claimed to have been a road manager and techie for dozens of bands during the '70s, now out of the biz and doing something he didn't specify based in Houston and Las Vegas. There was one prominent Texas writer, there out of curiosity. I only spotted one beads-and-bells hippie type, and he was apparently a beloved Amsterdam counterculture icon named Cosmos or something. But yes, there was a bit of grey hair around.

In the end, I decided that my pre-visit characterization of the event as being like Oktoberfest was pretty accurate. Like Oktoberfest, it celebrates only the local product, although Moroccan hash, illegally smuggled in but tolerated once in the country, was one of the categories being judged. Like Oktoberfest, once you've attended you'll likely not want to attend again if you have any taste or self-esteem, because no matter how much you may like the product being celebrated, you don't want to be associated with the, uh, "overserved" masses. (Unlike Oktoberfest, there was no equivalent to the "you must be seated to be served" rule which promotes and maintains a certain level of order in Munich). And, again like Oktoberfest, I'm willing to bet that any number of the coffeeshops in Amsterdam would be just as happy if the Cannabis Cup didn't happen next year, since they're doing quite well being the equivalent of a friendly neighborhood bar.

What irks me slightly, though, is that I wasn't able to sell a story on this event. I tried, sent out a damn good pitch letter, but was turned down flat. I wasn't interested in promoting the damn thing: in the pitch letter I said I'd be interviewing police, emergency medical folks who deal with over-stoned tourists, and the proprietors of little coffeeshops, as well as such celebs as might be around. But, whether it's the pall of conservatism which is still sitting over America, or the lack of interest in stories about Europe which I've always had to deal with, or the fact that nobody read far enough down in the thing to see that I wasn't asking to be flown in from New York, but to take a simple €68 round-trip train journey, I can't say.

So instead I did the story someone was willing to pay for, at least in part, and did a little half-assed snooping around to write the sadly incomplete and one-sided blog entry above. I'm not complaining; the Patti Smith shows were great, and it was wonderful to see my old pal Lenny Kaye again and hang out with him a little, and I got to go to my favorite Indonesian restaurant and my second-favorite Indonesian restaurant, and even have a bacon cheeseburger on Thanksgiving at the Hard Rock Cafe (hey, they make decent hamburgers, and when you live over here you occasionally let your base desires overwhelm your sense of good taste). I also picked up two liters of Beerenburg (see previous post), so I'm set for the winter.

Nope, not complaining. I just wish the U.S. media was a little less blinkered, that's all.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Another Decent Interval

Boy, I haven't even been back in Berlin long enough to get pissed off at it again, and I'm off on Wednesday for another adventure. This time it'll be a trip to Amsterdam, where I'll be doing a story on Patti Smith for Paste, the enigmatically-named music magazine. She's doing four "guerrilla" shows there, one closing the Cannabis Cup ceremonies, one at the van Gogh Museum, one at a tiny blues bar called Maloe Melo, and, apparently, another at the Paradiso, but I'm not sure what that's all about.

I'm looking forward, too, to bringing back a winter's supply of my favorite miracle drug. No, not *that* miracle drug. I mean Beerenburg, a herb liquor made in Friesland, in the north of Holland, which actually can prevent colds. In fact, during a long period of puritanism in that part of the world, Beerenburg was the only alcohol not banned, because as everyone knew, it was medicine, not a drink. My favorite, after sampling about a half-dozen varieties over the years, is made in the city of Sneek (pronounced "snake") by Weduwe Joustra, the widow Joustra, who's long since gone to her reward, but whose products are still being made. Her variety has 25 different herbs, but does not include one whose name (both Friesian and English) I've forgotten, which contains so much caffeine that it defeats the purpose of Beerenburg. I was introduced to the stuff by a friend who lived near Sneek when I showed up at his farmhouse one evening, clearly coming down with a cold. "Oh," he said, "I can help there. I'll be right back." He got on his bike and pedaled down to the nearest bar, bought a bottle, and came back. "This isn't the best, but it'll do," he said. A couple of glasses and I got real tired and went to sleep. The next morning I awoke, blew my nose a dozen times, and discovered that the impending cold seemed to be gone. I've now socked in a couple of bottles nearly every winter here, and proclaim it a wonder of folk medicine. The taste varies, and the first sip can seem bitter, but the best description of it I've been able to come up with is what Coca-Cola would taste like if it were a vintage beverage like wine, and this would be a well-aged Coke.

Anyway, should you find yourself in the Netherlands, I've been able to find the widow hanging out at Holland's largest chain of liquor stores, Gall & Gall, although if you're in Leeuwarden or Sneek, it's everywhere.

So if I don't post anything before I go, or anything from the road, I'll be back Monday evening.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Montpellier Aftermath

Wait, you were there for four days and you didn't take one photograph??

Well, not exactly. I took what I thought were two of a sunset, but it looks like only one of them registered with the camera, and I'm not sure it's all that good.

But I wasn't there to take photos; I was there to meet some people and look at some parts of town I'd missed before, try to figure out the public transportation, and, as I said, see where the fly might be in the ointment. That, I managed to find right where I expected: the bureaucracy. I was told that the French make it very hard for Americans to get a carte du séjour, a "green card," unless they're buying property. But I plan to play the same card I played here: native-language journalism. That's one that almost no natives can argue against. Anyway, immigration is, as you may have noticed, a bit of an issue in France at the moment.

In fact, I was shocked, getting to Paris, to start reading some of the commentary that the International Herald Tribune was publishing about the problems non-French people have getting jobs in France. Every time I've come to Paris, I've wound up in the Metro station at the Gare du Nord, and I've been virtually the only European face in the crowd. To think that there's no affirmative action program, that there's still such blatant discrimination...well, no wonder they're burning cars.

Except they weren't in Montpellier, at least not that I was aware of. Saturday night, when I got in, was as peaceful as could be, and I was so tired from the train trip that it was all I could do to grab a little dinner and stagger back to the hotel. Sunday was spent walking around a couple of quarters I'd missed before, most notably Beaux Arts, which is just north of the historic center and has a number of rather nicely funky old buildings in it. So does Arceaux, over by my hotel (incidentally, if you're a map freak like me and want to see where this stuff is, go to the Montpellier Tourist Office site and download the map they have there as a .pdf file). Arceaux might be more expensive, though. But I saw enough affordable-looking housing within the pedestrianized center that I'm still hoping to score something there.

Sunday night was cold and rainy and I spent far too much time walking around looking for a restaurant that was open. I not only wandered around on the hill for ages, but I came back to the hotel hoping the West Indian/African restaurant around the corner might be open, and it wasn't. The hotel clerk went through the guidebook he had and found a couple of places he thought would be open, but the first one wasn't and the other was clear over in Beaux Arts. It wasn't all that good, but it was okay, and it was, as I said, open.

Monday was meetings. I started off with lunch at an interesting chain restaurant which only has one thing on the menu, entrecote steak, with a mysterious "special sauce" they've made famous (I tasted sage, tarragon, anchovies and caper juice) with Peter, who runs The Languedoc Page, a wonderful resource for people in the area. The man's a born networker, and he's seemingly in touch with all the expat Brits and Americans around. After lunch, he conducted me on a whirlwind tour of the local seaside communities, which do look deserted at this time of year, and then we swung over to Aigues-Mortes, a walled city which had been a port when St. Louis launched the Seventh Crusade, and which still has a fortified church from the days of the religious wars. This was also close to the famous Camargue salt pans, which have been in use since Roman days, and which play host to flocks of pink flamingoes, the only ones in Europe, who get their color from eating tiny brine shrimp in the salt pans.

No sooner had he dropped me off at the end of the tram-line in Montpellier than I had to turn around and meet a couple of other people who are working on a project I can't reveal at the moment, but one with which I'm going to be involved. One of them, however, is in the real estate business and volunteered to help me with the apartment search when it becomes time for that, which is very good news indeed. Talk went late into the night, and I left with a feeling of optimism.

The next day I was going to have lunch with an Irish journalist who's lived in the area for decades, but she was still whacked from her last trip to London, so she didn't make it into town to meet me. Instead, I checked out the amazing market in front of the hotel again, which was a trifle less obscene in its offerings because it wasn't high summer (but it was still mightily inspiring) and then wandered around the city some more and looked at more odd corners, checked out the local mall, the Polygone, a bit more carefully for things that might come in handy, managed to stay out of the fantastic supermarket they have there and felt virtuous about not spending money there, and got back to the hotel for a really wide-ranging conversation with the Irish woman, who was the one who put me onto the possibility of immigration problems. But again, the conversation ended with her saying "I think you're really going to like it here," and the feeling that I could, despite everything, conquer the bureaucracy and the bullshit.

As I tend to do, I decided to try the Restaurant That's Never Open that night, and guess what? It wasn't open! That's three for three. Maybe when I move there... But then I'll be cooking for myself.

There was an odd symmetry the next morning. I set the alarm on my cell phone for 7:15, and it went off at 6:15 because it hadn't readjusted to standard time yet. Since I almost missed my train out on Friday because my alarm clock didn't go off and I slept for an extra hour, this was pretty ironic. And it was annoying having to wait four hours at the Gare du Nord, which was unheated despite its being cold as hell, and looking at the signs announcing wi-fi access, which neglected to mention that said access was only for people with certain cell-phone plans who could charge the access fees to their bills. I could have blogged from there instead of watching the clochard with the cat, a very deeply schizophrenic guy who kept packing and unpacking a bag and his pockets while his cat, on a leash, yowled at the other people in the waiting area. The guy took 90 minutes to get his act together, and it was painful to watch.

At any rate, it was great to get back to Amsterdam, discover a decent Indian restaurant there, and get back on the train to Berlin yesterday morning. Not that I was looking forward to coming back here, but I was very definitely looking forward to doing some more work to pay for all of this and turning around again this coming Wednesday to go back to Amsterdam to do a story on Patti Smith, my first rock-mag story in ages and ages.

It was a great trip, and I agree with everyone who said I'm going to like it there. Now to make sure I can afford it.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Listening To The Train

I've never understood people who have to be plugged in to music all the time when they go about their daily life, but then, for some reason, the amount of music I listen to has been decreasing steadily for a number of years. I'm not sure why that is, except for the Lesbian Threat (my next-door neighbors, nice ladies, both of 'em, but insistent that their time is more precious than mine and that if they hear any music after 10pm -- and that means 10:01 -- they won't be able to sleep, so they'll call the police) and the fact that I hate headphones.

But also, there are sounds all around us that sometimes have their own fascination. I discovered this the other night as I got on a so-called Sprinter train from Amsterdam to Utrecht (it's actually the kind we call milk trains, since it takes 15 minutes longer to get there than the other kind) on my way to go see Jon Dee Graham.

As the train gathered speed, I noticed the sound of a cheap electronic organ. I listened a bit harder, and realized I wasn't overhearing anyone's walkman, not unless they were playing something really dementedly minimalist and primitive. What it sounded like was a child messing around with the keyboard, its hands too small to actually play more than a range of just a few notes. The tones changed chromatically, and, busting up the image of the kid, there were occasional octave unisons. And this kept on and on until we got to a station, at which point it stopped until we got going again.

Now, this was baffling me. I remember the sound of the Montreal Metro, which I believe has rubber tires, as it takes off: a tone, its fifth, and the octave, after which it just stays there. That's all easily explained by phyiscs. Seconds, and seconds descending by a half-tone, is a bit harder to understand. But the train was almost empty, there wasn't any kid, or, strange as it may seem, anyone wearing ear-buds (that particularly painful type of listening device preferred by just about everyone, it seems). True, as the train sped up leaving a station, the "organ" would creep up the scale, sometimes by half-tones, sometimes by whole tones, so it was probably related to that. But by the time I found the Muziekcentrum at the edge of the Utrecht train station (right were Alex said it'd be), I felt I'd already had a concert.

I got another one, though: Jon Dee Graham's got a good solo act, and he plays his acoustic guitar so well you don't even miss his band, which, of course, he couldn't afford to bring over. Sounds like some good new material's being written, even if he doesn't have a record company, having had the ignominy of being dropped by an indie for not selling enough records, although he topped a lot of critics' top tens last year. Afterwards, I talked with him and Mike Stewart, who was road-managing this tour of Holland by train with him, and caught up on a bunch of stuff. And yes, I didn't go in to hear Grey DeLisle, because I was able to walk right onto a fast (but non-musical) train back to Amsterdam and make it to Kantijl en Tijger, my favorite Indonesian restaurant, well before they closed, and then, having started the day by waking up an hour late in Berlin and almost missing my train, heading back to the hotel for a few hours' well-deserved sleep before getting up at 7:30 to head to Paris and then to Montpellier.

Which is where I'm writing this from, as a matter of fact, because the great hotel where I stayed this summer has wi-fi in its rooms. In fact, I could probably post to this blog from my new Palm, but I suspect it'd be a pain.

I walked around some today, looking at some neighborhoods I'd been tipped to as being affordable, and it all goes into the database. Tomorrow I meet some locals and start asking stupid questions. And I might shoot some photos, although those will have to wait until I get back before I can post them. But I gotta say, I do like it down here, even though it's been raining like crazy most of the time today. I'll admit it, though: I'm also looking for a few flies in the ointment. Starry-eyed people annoy me, after all.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Decent Interval

I'm off on the road again starting tomorrow morning. First to Amsterdam, where I'll take a short ride to Utrecht to see Jon Dee Graham, who's opening for somebody named Gray Delisle I don't much want to see, and then, the next morning, to Paris, and thence to Montpellier, where I ought to get in at about 7pm, if the TGV doesn't fail me.

I've got a number of appointments there with people who are doing some interesting projects -- can't say more than that at the moment, I'm afraid -- and I'm also going to be looking into some other neighborhoods a former Montpellierian pointed out on the map a few months ago as the site of potential apartments. Moving day isn't all that much closer at the moment, but I'm hoping to sell a couple of stories in the next few days, and, I hope, a couple of books in the very near future.

Meanwhile, of course, I've got my collection of San Francisco posters up for sale. As I've said, it pains me to part with these, because of the circumstances in which I got them and the fact that they're living mementos of a piece of my history. But continuing to have a history trumps all of that, so if you're in an eBay frame of mind, you might want to check this rare Sierra Club poster, or this one, which comes from a venue nobody I know has even heard of, or classic designs like this, this, this, this, or any of the others found at this link.

And, as I wrote to a friend who expressed concern this morning about my going to France, I don't have any business at night in the immigrant neighborhoods of industrialized cities -- Montpellier is all university and hospitals -- and that's where all the trouble has been. Nor has Montpellier been hit by rioting or unrest, as far as I can tell, although a map in the New York Times online edition the other day listed it, but it seemed to be an unedited map of France showing the major cities, and a number of other quiet places were also included. (But no, I'm not going to be a good blogger and blame the MSM for the mistake).

I'll be back next Thursday, and will very likely be able to get my e-mail while I'm gone, since the entire Place de la Comédie seems to be wired with a free hot-spot. We'll see, though. It's France, after all.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dear M. de Villepin

What you'd better ask Père Noel for is a Franco-African Martin Luther King who speaks fluent hip-hop and gives good SMS. Be nice if he had a girlfriend/wife who was similarly equipped and had a sassy public image, but I realize you can't have everything. Not that I'd have a clue where to start with this, but my fellow Americans seem to think this is a jihad thing instead of a civil-rights thing.

Your (I hope) future neighbor,

Ed Ward

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Two Further Thoughts on Al and Beate

I've been meaning to add some stuff to the previous post, but this has been a week of scrambling for stories and waiting for answers -- none of which have yet arrived, of course. But I'm leaving for the Netherlands and France on Friday morning, and have a few deadlines before then, so I thought I'd grab some time this afternoon to post two further reflections on the Du Bist Deutschland matter.

The first is a story, which may seem a tangent, but hold on, it should pay off.

Some six or seven years ago, my friend The Count had a birthday party at his favorite restaurant, and his wife invited me to join them. From his odd grab-bag of acquaintences he had, as usual, made a great selection so that conversation at the table was always on the highest level, and intellectually and socially enriching. In particular, I was enchanted by a young woman who worked in the Berlin art world, and, when the party adjourned to the bar next door, we continued to talk. She seemed to be as smart as she was good-looking, and she was very, very smart.

The next morning I was delighted to find her business card in the pocket of my pants, and wasted no time getting in touch with her. We spent an evening having dinner and hitting a couple of the illegal clubs which flourished on the east side back in those days, both of us marvelling at how utterly mundane they were and how the local and international media made such a big deal out of nothing: one much-vaunted avant-garde musical space/club consisted of one bored DJ putting on one record after another, and a few bored people sitting on cushions drinking Becks. She took me to a club frequented by artists which was just as stimulating, albeit more crowded. We finally left, she hailed a taxi, we agreed to do it again sometime soon, and she blew me a kiss as the cab sailed off.

Thus started the weirdest courtship I've ever had. I use such an old-fashioned word because, unless we collided at some point during that first night out, I never laid a hand on her over the course of the year this thing lasted. We'd go out to some event, hang out, and say good-night. It didn't take me long to figure out that there was something in her past that made it a bad idea to make advances too quickly, so out of respect I held back. We were also both busy: I was not only doing a lot of work for the Wall Street Journal Europe, but I was also starting a company that was going to publish a magazine, a website, and maintain a clearing house for information on the city in English, and she was involved with dozens of art projects here and in other countries, so hooking up was always a problem, but it was always fun when we did.

About six months into this, she confessed that she suffered from clinical depression, and I told her I had been given a piece of advice about that which had worked like a charm: a regimen of physical excercise, which, in my case, meant an hour's walk every day, enough to elevate my heartbeat and give myself a good workout. Coincidentally, she lived a block away from where I had lived when I'd first moved to town, so I had a path I'd worked out that took exactly the 55 minutes you're supposed to do this for, and I offered to show her. That turned out to be a particularly wonderful afternoon, and I made her a cassette of some of the music we'd talked about afterwards, as much in thanks for her turning me onto some great art that I'd been able to turn into Journal articles as for anything.

In return I got an e-mail saying "I must lower my dosage of you. Please do not contact me for a while."

So I didn't. Still, the world we moved in was small enough that we ran into each other again, and the old attraction was still there. But again, she backed off. I had to go back to the States on an emergency, and at one point I remember being in a bit of turmoil, so I took the car and drove out into the Arizona desert, determined to hash this all out or drive to Las Vegas, whichever came first. Fortunately, I came to a decision well before the Nevada state line: when I got back, I'd lay it all on the line and ask her what it was that was bothering her, because I wanted this thing to move forward.

I'm a little hazy on how things finally got to where they did, because I was busy putting out a magazine by then, as well as holding down a three-day-a-week radio show and travelling and writing stories for the Journal, but I do remember sending her an avant-garde flower arrangement done by a professional florist friend from New York and getting snarled at for it, and finally, on the telephone, of all things, the confession and explanation of The Thing In Her Past. At last, what I'd needed to know, and yes, it was pretty much what I figured it was, and this was the point at which, in my experience, you could actually start a relationship.

But not her. At the climax of her long, sad, and sordid tale, she said "Now that I have told you this, I never want to see you again. Don't try to contact me. I won't read e-mails, and if you call I will hang up on you without a word. I will never speak to you again, so don't try to talk to me!" and she banged down the phone. I knew she wasn't kidding or bluffing, either: she'd once told me of the great joy she'd had frustrating a guy she'd broken up with by hanging up every time he called. "I always have the last word," she'd said at the time, "because I mean what I say."

So I was sitting here at my desk, half glad it had resolved itself, half wondering what the hell had happened when the phone rang. Naturally, I answered.

"Hi, Ed, it's Albert!" said a merry voice on the other end. Now, Albert is a guy I barely know, a sometime journalist who checks in with me about every two or three years. He is actually so crazy he spends his summers in Florida, where it's too hot to walk on the beach, and his winters in Berlin, where it's cold, dark, and miserable. "What's happening?" he fairly chirped.

So I told him. Hey, he asked.

There was a brief silence on the other end, and he said "Ed! Don'cha know? German girls all hate themselves!"

There followed one of those moments when thousands of pieces of experience all tumble into place and form a picture. A theory has made order out of chaos. And this Albert was no Einstein, believe me.

But over the next couple of days, I kept sticking my failed relationships with German women into the template, and found that I didn't have to force any of it. Compulsive sexual experimentation? Check. Inability to find a career suited to your intelligence? Check. A long string of abusive guys? Check. Preference for guys with half your IQ? Check. And more. Oh, so much more.

A couple of weeks later I was in Copenhagen doing a Journal story, and, as usual, I had dinner with my pal Scandigirl. "So are you still going out with the Art Babe?" she asked. (She'd seen her picture in German GQ and had been much impressed). No, I said, and told her the story, right down to Albert's phone call. "Oh," Scandigirl said, "I don't know if I agree. I think German men hate themselves, too." And, since she had some experience here, I had to defer to her.

Okay, see how that fits into Du Bist Deutschland?

But there's something else. When the dancer read my post on Du Bist Deutschland, she said "Oh, Beate Uhse is a hero!" and then said something about how there had been a law that was only taken off the books in the 1970s which had stipulated that women had to have written permission from their husbands to work outside the home, and many other things. Once I asked for details, she backpedalled a bit, but we're still looking into this so-called "alte Familienrecht," which also regulated under which circumstances one could get a divorce.

And so this fits into it, too: feminism, as we know it in the United States, at least, never really happened in Germany. Like many new ideas, it came into public discourse through academia, of all things, and so by the time it hit the average woman, it was tainted with connotations of elitism and extremism, which its proponents in the universities never bothered to challenge. Feminists were often rightly accused of being man-hating lesbians, and lesbians weren't part of the common experience of the average Hausfrau, sheltered as she was by the Familienrecht. Getting a job was illegal unless the Herr (the word also means "lord" and is the one used to address God in the Bible) allowed it. The sort of gradual feminism, the Ms magazine kind, the kind gently introduced into the womens' magazines, that we got in the States -- where there was still a lot of opposition, and still is -- never happened in Germany. True, feminism grew apart from its academic/theoretical beginnings, and true, there are plenty of women in places of power (including the Chancellery, of course) in some parts of German society today, but its landing in the mainstream was more a belly-flop than a graceful three-pointer. There just have to be ambiguous feelings. Residual ones, perhaps, but they just have to persist.

So I'm contemplating a society that doesn't like itself, a population of self-hating men and women, men who hate women, women who hate men, and everyone hating themselves. A portrait drawn with far broader strokes than is realistic, of course, and one verging on a cartoon. Yet, if there's a kernel of truth there -- and I believe there is -- then a part of the malaise has been diagnosed.

I got an e-mail from The French Guy, a regular reader, when I posted my travails with Bewag/Vattenfall a couple of weeks ago, asking me if I really thought that the French fonctionnaires were going to be any different than the German Beamte, and I had to confess that no, I didn't. But to move from a society that doesn't think highly enough of itself to one that thinks far too highly of itself ought to feel like a homecoming: I am, after all, American.

I'm just hoping that the rioting which has resulted from excessive self-regard causing disregard of others will have cooled off some by the time I head down to Montpellier on Saturday. But stay tuned.