Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Prairies, Flags and Trains

The Sound of Music was on again the other night:  flibbertigibbet  Maria singing about her favorite things (stuff like schnitzel with noodles).  I never actually watch this movie anymore, since its denouement is posited on such a colossal gaffe in geography (the Von Trapps cross over the mountain from Salzburg into, get this, SWITZERLAND.  Apparently neither Rodgers nor Hammerstein noticed that those lively and musical hills actually lie between Salzburg and GERMANY).

Well, anyway, if Maria can be consoled by thinking about favorite things, so can I.  Here is a modest list of my "Happy Thoughts" (oops, wrong musical):

First of all, I like prairies, provided they look like prairies--relatively flat and, most especially, empty.  No people!  No trees!  Just grass, as in the National Grasslands of Kansas.  Even if there are no buffalo, one can easily imagine a kind of George Caitlin scene.  Some desert landscapes are similarly evocative--but the mountains tend to get in the way of the nothingness.

I also like flags, especially those that bear some kind of full-scale design--not merely a lazy and boring tricolor of three vertical or horizontal bands of color.  Best flags:  UK, US, Canada.  Worst:  China (almost all red, ho hum--single color/single-party/uniformity),  Poland (a good candy wrapper), France (which probably invented the whole dreary tricolor idea).

However, I have pretty mixed feelings about what the flags represent--nation states.  In general, I think that nation states are a notion whose time is past (or never was).  Empires are better, at least once they've reached the point where only "maintenance" wars are required.  Then we can have an extended period of stability-- a "Pax" of some sort--Romana, Britannica, etc.  Of course, I'm not sure I'd much enjoy a "Pax Islamica" :  in such an empire, I'd probably be imprisoned for life or, more likely, buried alive.  Like Henry Higgins, who wondered why a woman can't be more like a man, I'm wondering why the rest of the world can't be more like sensible, Anglo-Saxon folks.  I have trouble forgiving Samuel Adams and Thomas Jefferson for sabotaging (at least partially) the British Empire.  If we had only been a little more patient, we might have become another mild and cozy Canada--instead of a slew of supercilious, sanctimonious, scarcely united States.  Well, anyway, I sorta believe in world government:  run by phlegmatic, English-speaking prefects.  (French-speaking might be OK, too--better food, worse poetry).

And if the Chinese want to run things, I could handle it.  But wouldn't it be awful if ALL of San Francisco wound up looking like Chinatown?

Trains are definitely "good things."  But I'm not entirely in favor of high speed.  The TGVs push the envelope a bit--too hard to see the scenery when you're zipping along that fast.  I'm more a "wagon-lits" type:  I like to pay the exorbitant fee for a roomette--just enough room to sprawl out during the day and to sleep (on a bed of sorts) at night.  I love sleeping in trains, even when they're clunking around adding cars in Oakland or Albuquerque:  it's cool to do two things at the same time--sleep and "go somewhere."

Birds appeal to me for the same reasons that trains do:  they're usually beautiful and they usually go someplace.  Ever notice that trains often get named for beautiful, swift birds:  eagles, cardinals, wolverines (oops, sorry about that).  Of course, there is no train named "Turkey."  That's because turkeys are not beautiful and they're too stupid to go anyplace, even if they could.  Hence, we eat them.

Eating is also one of my favorite things.

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