By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Illustration by Winston Smith
Shortly after Bush’s dubious ascent to office, I drove my friend Dara Schlissel to LAX. She was, as she had been threatening to do, moving to Paris. Threatening isn’t the right word. Weeks prior to her departure, even before Bush was elected, her theoretical move to the City of Lights was more something for us to discuss over coffee and cigarettes than a threat. After all, she wasn’t petulant about moving. She was considered and sober, and of course I didn’t believe her. I mean, Alec Baldwin had threatened the same thing and he’s still around; it doesn’t look like he’s skipped a beat (or a meal) in three and a half years. Nobody really leaves anymore, do they? Besides, our friendship had been growing for less than a year, a blip in the lifespan of true friendship. I didn’t want her to go. We were both underemployed and chatty — who was I going to share afternoon cigarettes and coffee with? She rolled and brewed her own. There’s just not enough of that kind of thing in this world.
I was jealous of Paris. What did it have over L.A.? I said bad things about the French and Paris. I said good things about Americans and Los Angeles. I talked about all the Parisians I had met who were the most L.A. Angelenos I knew, with their thrift-store cowboy shirts and worship of Quentin Tarantino. Dara talked about an increasingly alienating culture both here and across the country — gas guzzling, video violence, money for nothing, right-wing witch-hunts. She said it was a culture that was already fast moving toward moral bankruptcy even before the 2000 elections.
Then came Bush’s coup d’état, and while I stood across from the Federal Building in Westwood holding signs, Dara packed her bags. As I drove her to the airport, I remembered that during the height of Nixon’s hypocrisy in Vietnam, my parents sold the house in suburban New Jersey and moved us to Ireland. We came back when he was out of office. Now I wonder when my friend will return. I wish Alec Baldwin had gone instead. Following is an abridged version of an e-mail exchange in which I asked Dara about the nature of her ex-patriotism.
L.A. WEEKLY: Why France? Was it a romantic notion fueled by tales of expats past? Take me through the mindset that led you to flee.
DARA SCHLISSEL: I’m not sure I would use the word flee. I have a long history with Paris, dating back to 1987, and had spent a semester here while in college. Frequently, I would go through phases where I was just pining for this city. While I started thinking about how I could have a more international life, I was also busy having no life in L.A., working constantly and not feeling in synch with my friends, just not finding my place, I suppose. Then, I launched EXPN.com [ESPN’s extreme sports site] and immediately decided to take a quick break, to visit friends here in Paris, where I hadn’t been since 1994. I arrived and it was like coming home. I saw a simpler, freer lifestyle, less encumbered by the acquisition of things and more rich where it matters to me — culinary pleasure, socializing with friends and family, taking time to truly be where you are and experience life. That’s the personal side.
On the sociological and political side, the whole dot-com boom had started to repulse me a little, seeing 20-year-olds drive around in Mercedes SUVs and things like that. Despite the fact that I was a beneficiary of this boom, I just felt that something wasn’t right, that people weren’t paying attention, that I wasn’t even paying enough attention, and that at some point things would come crashing down to earth. Bush’s ascension facilitated my disgust. I mean, the guy had never even traveled abroad. He didn’t even know who the world leaders were, not their names. After all the information we had about how uneducated that man is, seeing the red-and-blue map the eve of the elections was something I found hard to swallow. By the elections I was already on my way.
Tell me about the different political and cultural atmospheres.
To respond to your question on a weekend such as this, one filled with editorials and opinions and reflections and personal anecdotes about D-Day and the Liberation, I have to warn you that I’m feeling emotional. Having already shed tears twice while reading tales of a survivor’s American saviors and another of a German boy’s discovery of the GI with a gun and a smile saying, “Hi,” I may have a hard time remaining objective.
People here — the newspapers and the people with whom I speak — all feel similarly: Today’s problems and fears are significantly more complex than the issues which divided and then united the Western Hemisphere during and after World War II. France, having lived through invasion and occupation and then liberation, is, simply put, more generally anti-war than its former liberator. This is a natural extension of what happens when you’ve been through it. And as a culture, the French manner of analyzing things is rooted in (and occasionally mired in) a much more spherical, multifaceted style than the American “get to the point” style of speech. That said, the countries share a great many traits that include cultural pride and a certain degree of arrogance. Most unfortunately, ignorance, stupidity and opinions are without borders. Simultaneously, the debate in Paris over domestic politics is certainly not the same debate taking place in the countryside, so my perspective is limited.
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