A McCarthyite smell, &c.


On Tuesday, I was walking along the West Side Highway (Manhattan), in a drizzle. Passed the Chinese consulate — wicked place. As usual, there was a line of people, protesting, across the street. I mean highway. Whatever. And when I say “line,” I mean they’re configured that way: in a straight line, a horizontal line, facing the consulate.

On this occasion, they were yelling, “China out of Tibet!” Their yells kind of stirred my passion, as I walked by. I’m glad they’re there. In China, you can’t yell at the government, unless you want very painful things to happen to you. Here, you can yell to your heart’s content.

Wouldn’t it be something if China got this someday?

Here’s some welcome and happy news:

Israel hopes to attract Christian tourists with a new pilgrimage route unveiled this week in the Galilee, a network of footpaths, roads and bicycle paths linking sites central to the lives of Jesus and his disciples.

Developing sites linked to Jewish history has long been a priority for the Jewish state. But the Gospel Trail, inaugurated Thursday by Israeli tourism officials, is a nod to the growing number of Christians traveling to the country in recent years, outnumbering Jewish visitors.

The whole development is good for Christians, good for Israel, good for everyone. Do you mind if I cite an old joke? (Well, even if you do . . .) I’m thinking of the one about Jewish merchants on Christmas Eve, singing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

I’d like to print a letter from a reader. I have received several like it, over the years. (Incidentally, I have been writing Impromptus for ten — ten years. Began in March 2001.)

Hello, Mr. Nordlinger:

. . . My wife and I were on a Carnival cruise ship all last week, sailing from Ft. Lauderdale to Panama and back. (Nothing beats cruising, eh?) Sunday, April 10, around 0930 local time, we were about halfway through the Florida Straits when a “vessel in distress” was reported and our very large ship spun around and picked up a gentleman who turned out to be a Cuban national, fleeing his island paradise. His “vessel” was a half-deflated raft with an old bed sheet as a sail.

The ship continued on a reverse course (now headed NE) to rendezvous with a Coast Guard cutter dispatched from Key West. After a few hours, the Coasties showed up, picked up the man, then headed off. So did we.

Needless to say, the vacation took on a slightly different tone for my wife and me, wondering what would happen to the fellow who risked everything like that, as so many have (most, unsuccessfully). Don’t know, probably will never know. . . .

By the way, the name of our ship was Carnival Freedom.

In accordance with our “wet foot, dry foot” policy, the man would have been returned to Cuba. If you’re able to touch land, you have a chance to stay in the United States. If you’re caught in the water — i.e., with “wet feet” — you’re sent back.

Everybody happy?

Okay, on to lighter fare (after that disturbing interlude). A little language? A reader writes,

Riding on a bus Friday afternoon, April 15, I passed a large group of teachers who were protesting. I had no idea the teachers were protesting in Los Angeles. They held a huge banner which they obviously spent money on to have commercially produced. The banner read,

Less Teachers
Less Education
More Delinquency

Shouldn’t that be “Fewer Teachers”?

What are you, some union-busting, child-hating fascist?

A little music? For my latest piece in City Arts, go here. I touch on three conductors at Carnegie Hall: James Levine (with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), Yuri Temirkanov (with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic), and Riccardo Muti (with the Chicago Symphony).

A little more music? The Philadelphia Orchestra has declared bankruptcy. Their pension obligations, etc., have been killing them. They are a little arts-world example of what has happened to Greece, to Wisconsin — of what is happening all over.

When will there be enough wake-up calls to . . . you know: waken?

A little more music? Had a conversation with David Sanborn in the ’hood the other day. He has been one of the leading saxophonists since the ’70s. The calendar says he is supposed to be in his mid-sixties. Nonsense. He looks about 37. And you know how jazzmen are supposed to be cool? How you want and expect them to be cool? Sanborn is, very: and smart, and interesting, and fun.

Nice when people are what they should be.

Speaking of cool cats, my colleague Kevin Williamson told me about something remarkable. It is an artwork, located outside the dinky but delightfully named town of Valentine, Texas. This is in the southwest of the state. And some 35 miles from Valentine is a slightly larger town, Marfa — which sounds to me like certain southerners, and certain Brits, saying “Martha.”

You know what they call the Health and Safety Executive in Britain, don’t you? “’Elf ’n’ Safety.”

Anyway, the artwork in question is a Prada storefront — just that, a storefront, an installation. A sculpture. In the middle of nowhere. An intriguingly quirky thing. Check it out.

And our lil’ finale here — a reader names the next generation:

The next generation will need a name of some kind, same as previous generations were called the Me Generation, Generation X, etc. In light of the mountain of debt we will bury them under, I propose that we call the next one the Bagholder Generation.

A person left holding the bag is one who ends up bearing all the responsibility for a burden that should have been shared. It’s a perfect name for the sorry wretches coming up, and what makes it sweetest for us older types (the Piggish Generation?) is that most of the bagholders are too young to vote on the position we’re putting them in.

They don’t even know they’ll be bagholders yet, but they’ll find out soon enough.

Strength to Paul Ryan’s hands.