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Who was Cassandra?


  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.

MY SMALL PRESS


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October 24, 2005

Comments

How fortunate you were to witness that! And how fortunate the grandfather was to have someone like you to share the moment.
Thanks for preserving it.

Yes, observing that wonderful grandfather certainly made up for your sadness earlier in seeing so many poor and hopeless people. This is a marvellous essay of contrasts, Beth!

Thanks for this. I think I was even more moved by knowing someone else watches the supermarket queue and has such thoughts than I was by your tender perspicacity and facility with words.

Oh, damn...now I'm weeping, too...

All those people beaten and abused and cowed by getting and spending. Yes. "I had not thought death had undone so many."

Wonderful post. Thanks. (Choked me up, too.)

Heartbreaking. Thank you for this.

I couldn't help thinking of when I was in Mexico and saw people that had to be barely scraping by, but even women working as bathroom attendants would smile at people. (Excuse me, I've not gotten over noticing the generally appalling condition of public bathrooms in the US since my Mexico trip. And the grousing attitude of many service workers here, too.) Maybe the difference is, as you say, in the sense of community, which seemed very strong there - "like they were part of a continuum and a natural order; everyone had a place and a legitimacy." There was plenty of commerce there - everyone was selling something - so I don't think that's the factor. We have a more mobile society, less attached to family and place. There's benefit in geographical and socio-economic mobility, but we haven't figured out how to replace the loss of community.

I couldn't help thinking of when I was in Mexico and saw people that had to be barely scraping by, but even women working as bathroom attendants would smile at people. (Excuse me, I've not gotten over noticing the generally appalling condition of public bathrooms in the US since my Mexico trip. And the grousing attitude of many service workers here, too.) Maybe the difference is, as you say, in the sense of community, which seemed very strong there - "like they were part of a continuum and a natural order; everyone had a place and a legitimacy." There was plenty of commerce there - everyone was selling something - so I don't think that's the factor. We have a more mobile society, less attached to family and place. There's benefit in geographical and socio-economic mobility, but we haven't figured out how to replace the loss of community.

Enclosure.

Community can't be produced on demand, and can certainly be destroyed. But it can regrow, sometimes.

Oh, to have a teacher so patient, so kind, and to buy a book. That kid will do fine, and remember that day all his life.

Leslee raises a very good point, I think. I grew up among white working class people, too, and the lack of self-esteem and other characteristics you mention are endemic - but as much cultural as economic.

Thanks for this moving post.

beth,
I love your entry. The shoppers behind you at the store remind me of a few essays I read a while ago about the extremists that willing to do anything in the name of (whoerver or whatever they believe in)becuase they have nothing to lose or the system and certain group of people they despise. I'm not comparing the shoppers to them, but when a person is down and is stepped on for a long time, the result is unthinkable.

A very interesting perspective on a sadly pervasive dynamic. I like how you approach the complexity of it, all the layers you see, from your position within your own heart and memory. Thank you.

Leslee's comment resonates with me too. The difference in economic status matters less in terms of people's outlook on life, their moods etc. in other cultures. In South America, for instance Paraguay and Brazil where I've lived, people would be equally pleasant/unpleasant, kind/unkind, individualistic/conformist, whether they were poor or rich, educated or not. Glaring inequalities are there too but somehow they don't seem to have the same effect on people's temperament. The kind of supermarket line-up you describe sounds familiar. I see those blank faces here too but then it's just as likely that one of them will make a witty remark or be the kind of grandpa you noticed in Borders.

That is a touching story, Beth.

I'm not sure if you intended this to come through or not, but what I get from it is a pattern being repeated endlessly across the US (and sadly, Canada too.) Formerly small rural/agricultural/one-industry towns now faces endemic high unemployment or at least chronic underemployment and a growing erosion of their civic infrastructure, and the impoverishment of the former middle and working classes.

You're making this observation in a shopping mall (presumably built on paved-over farmland) anchored by big-box retail stores, that probably supplanted a real town center and main street populated by local businesses decades ago. Who could not love the convenience, product scope and low prices of a Borders, Home Depot or Wal-Mart?- but one must wonder, do they leave any room for independent, regional or family-owned businesses? Or any kind of store that you can get to without a car, for that matter? (Short answer: no.)

When these chains make money, only a pittance stays in the community (local salaries and overhead) and the rest goes to head office. Benefits are rare, so their workers pay the brunt of medical expenses (often bankrupting families). It's why Wal-Mart wins, and communities with Wal-Marts lose. And yet we shop there, reflexively, because that is "the way of life." The former middle classes - the shopowners and business owners - are out of work, and so too with them, their employees, driven downwards in the "race to the bottom" of pricing.

The notion that the entire economy can be given over to the construction and furnishing of suburbia and exurbs (the so-called American Dream) and that everyone will simply move from the farm to work in the service industry is a shortsighted and unsustainable one. Eventually, as energy becomes scarce and expensive, the current Big Box economy will contract....the easy-motoring lifestyle will dwindle...and agriculture (hopefully) becomes, once again, the engine of local economies. I say hopefully because at the moment, the United States is a net food importer, much as it imports its oil.

Beth, thank you for this post, and the comments, particularly from Leslee, Dave and AJ. The erosion of a cultural infrastructure highlighted in a supermarket queue.

I recently stayed with a relative in a small town in the West of England. She said that three big out of town supermarkets/DIY stores had opened in the last few weeks, and she was frightened that the family owned businesses in the High Street, particularly the ironmonger and baker, would be hard hit. She makes a point of shopping in the High Street stores, as she fully understands the effect on local community if these shops shut. But she is comfortably off financially, and more aware than a lot of people.

I am a frequent supermarket shopper here in London, due to time and financial constraints. There are no small businesses to speak of, apart from late-night shops, generally run by Asian families, and small artisanal businesses - picture framers and gift shops seem to be do very well. For the most part, the rest are supermarkets and large chains. I find AJ's forecast for the future particularly interesting. I wonder if the same scenario will play out in Europe?

Mary, that's now a rather common concern. Especially with the opening up of Eastern Europe, the worry is that big-box/factory farm/suburban development models will displace traditional/local economies and leave them devastated. On the whole, though, Europe's likely to be a bit better off, because they have functioning cities and towns, they never abandoned their rail networks, they haven't suburbanized to the extent North America did (Levittowns, etc.). On the Continent at least, there is a real cultural value in protecting the agricultural lands surrounding cities. Take Italy in particular, the bastion of the Slow Food movement, and in general, the idea of protecting regional products (wines, cheeses, etc.).
Quebec's about the only jurisdiction left in North America where the majority of people still shop at non-chain retailers, which I find hard to believe, but it's apparently true.

AJ and Mary - thanks a lot for your recent comments here. In the U.S., people have practically given up - if they think about the trade-offs at all. It's great to have a discussion that brings in the perspective of other countries where the boxes don't already hold sway.

Wonderful post. Love the little boy story.

This passage was so very rich and well-expressed:

"The script was written for most of them they day they were born; the educational system didn’t do a damn thing for them – and yet they cling to something called the American Dream, and stick red white and blue ribbons on their pickup trucks, all the while getting screwed over one more time."

This describes my husband's rural north Idaho family to a T. You caught it perfectly.

Great post! Balanced with intellect and emotion.

I think some of the reasons we feel driven to shop at the big box stores is the entrenched idea we have of getting more for your money and the convienence (one-stop shopping). That is why super-size was so popular and why we feel we must patronize the big box low prices. I didn't realize how much my life was based on convenences until I came here where banker's hours were real bankers hours.

Also, there is one benefit I hope that comes from the energy crisis. That it will force communities back into local centers. You won't drive for provisions, you will have to walk or bike. This recentralizing may be more difficult at a individual level, but it will be better for the greater good. The opposite of what sprawl has done. Convenience on an individual level, but detrimental to the greater good.

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