Notes from an Airport Lounge
(Well, maybe holding bay would be more appropriate.) Looking out onto the snowy drizzle of a very white Dublin morning, planes parked under drapes of snow, with the news that Hunter S. Thompson
has offed himself with a gun. Not like the Doctor to go for the broadly symbolic exit, neither for dramatic purposes nor for want of Papa-worship or anything. Either the drugs stopped working or Hunter simply stopped working. Massive betting debts, writer’s block, sheer ennui and antipathy at the Bush regime or the general decline of the American state and the ultimate disenfranchisement of its citizens; these and probably a dozen other reasons and theories will roam the mediasphere. Or, of course, it could be something very simple like bad health. Rolling Stone
will do a loving but misguided tribute on HST’s madness under a deadline, written by a hack going for a ten-gun Nixonian send-off; Johnny Depp will come out distraught and maybe Bill Murray will provide the most moving and respectfully insightful eulogy of them all. I see Ralph Steadman has done the Independent
and the Guardian
the service already. Whatever comes out of it, I am certain that the world is going to seem a lot less sane without him around. Leuven
: Leffe Bruin, Mort Subite (kriek), Westmalle Tripel (trappist) and Orval (trappist). Four beers and I'm already in heaven. And these just from the local corner store. My long and no doubt continuing novel about all of Belgium's beers is progressing. All that editing is just so much additional fermentation.
I wish it were possible to write while drunk
or at least mildly hammered on Belgian beer. As I sit in a warm café at the foot of the St. Pieterskerk of Leuven (sadly stunted and incomplete without its tower, but impressive enough in the swirling snow), I consider sending off a quick mental prayer to the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson, asking for guidance and stamina in the task ahead. The good Dr. Thompson, you will recall, had an almost superhuman ability to conflate drugs and alcohol with the journalistic brief at hand. The Doctor could've aided my long and continuous researches into these beers. But I believe that ultimately, when faced with the sheer scale and variety of Belgian beers and their swift alcoholic punch, that even he would've taken an early retirement.
Also, I've the bad luck to be in Belgium at the same time as George W. Bush
. Some observations I've made: a president who preaches fear and militarism naturally believes his own cult of fear. When his blue jumbo landed at Zaventem airport, his was the only plane in a deliberately restricted airspace and landing schedule. The airport was blocked off, a massive garrison of US security guards and FBI agents took over, including sharp shooters on roof buildings, riot squads etc. The Pres got into his bomb-proof limo and drove as part of an armed convoy direct to the US embassy in Brussels in what must no doubt be the record time of 26 minutes. I mean, this is Belgium; the Prez could've cycled in and heckled a few startled shoppers and none would bother to take a pot shot at him, if only to relieve the boredom. That massive defence budget must be spent somehow, and his trumped up importance underlined by any means and technology available. Secondly, and this is in line with the jibes levelled at Bill Clinton during his regime (all fries and cheeseburgers): every time George W. comes out of some conference or meeting with European dignitaries and does the smirk for the cameras, all he seems to be able to talk about is the meal just consumed. First there was the breakfast with the Belgium PM ("We had a nice lunch together") and later on there was a little glad-handing with Chirac (who just towers over GWB in every sense, statesmanship, presence, seniority) in what was declared to be a dinner he "had been looking forward to a lot" and which was the "first since getting reelected". All the time, Prof. Rice sits nearby with a look of blank concentration. She doesn't really need to be here as part of the ambivalently billed "charm offensive" (would that be bilateral or unilateral charm?) but she has the deliberately studied look of the understudy hard at work, waiting for a morsel. One of the strangest double acts in politics today. When the Belgian news used direct feeds, it again becomes glaringly clear how inept GWB is at attempting to string together incoherencies and platitudes for the media: the same old spluttering inanities, just as Blair (for instance, as breakfast guest) stands next to him with that decidedly bambi-ish look of open-mouthed dazzlement and reels off something far more coherent but subtly GWB-propping.