You may have heard about this band of thoughtful world travelers:
At least for once there wasn’t an American involved. Nor are they facing long prison terms. That BBC article goes on to explain:
They were jailed for three days, but their sentences were back-dated to reflect time already served.
Evidently snapping naked pics at tourist vistas has become “the thing” lately. Because there always has to be something. The respected British travel writer, the Independent’s Simon Calder, has also pointed out:
Our friends’ 11 year old female black labrador collapsed the other day. They got her to the vet. But before the vet could do anything, she was gone.
Hearing that sad news, I immediately thought of her as a puppy on a 2005 Isles of Scilly holiday she’d been on with us all. Funny how on hearing such bad news one instantly recalls that sort of thing. I have photos of her on a PC in America during that trip. She was an absolute little star.
Our own 10 year old hound (half English springer spaniel/ half labrador: a “springador“) is now living with my in-laws in London. We’ve moved and traveled so much in recent years, they had him for months at a time and eventually just took him in “semi-permanently.” Although he has been twice to France on holidays with us, that is the extent of his foreign travel; he couldn’t be packed up like cargo flown back and forth repeatedly to America with us: we wouldn’t have ever subjected him to that “treatment.” (I’ve read Air France allows dogs in the cabin, but they can’t be more than 10 kilos. We have thought, hmm, maybe a strict, pre-flight diet? ;-) )
Please pardon a very serious post, but I wish to address this in one “summation” and be done with it.
You may know by now that one Amanda Knox of Seattle, Washington, has had a successful appeal in Italy’s highest court. Her murder conviction has been quashed. As no further appeal by the prosecution is permitted, the case is now concluded.
So it no longer matters whether she did what Italian investigators claim. The BBC has reported the court has promised to release its reasoning for the decision within 90 days. Given the circus that has prevailed around this, and the roller coaster “justice” the victim’s family has endured, many of us out here are indeed very interested in reading it.
Monday, news outlets here in the United Kingdom reported that Wiltshire (our English county) police had “investigated” a newsagent in the small town of Corsham. The shop had sold copies of Charlie Hebdo, and an officer had visited and requested the names of customers who’d bought it. The Guardian explains:
Wiltshire police confirmed that one of their officers visited a newsagent in Corsham, Wiltshire, to ask for the names of four customers who ordered the commemorative “survivors’ issue” of the magazine.
The incident came to light when Anne Keat, 77, who bought the special issue from that newsagent, wrote a letter to the Guardian to warn people that wearing badges emblazoned with je suis Charlie may attract police interest….
We live just down the road from Corsham. We have to drive through it to get to London. It’s a rural, even picturesque, place.
It’s finally back here in Britain. Last night, we watched the second episode of Revenge for 2014-2015. (We saw the opener last week.) I’ve written about that escapist show before, although not in this context.
The program does accurately reflect aspects of the incredible wealth (often “weekend wealth”) seen on Suffolk County’s “South Fork” – in east end towns such as Southampton and East Hampton. But when I write of “Long Island” in the novels, it’s about the “middle class” island. In one exchange in Passports between Uncle Bill and Joanne (James’s mother), I decided to slip in this reference to the dramatic difference in lifestyles:
As her brother gave her a long look, Joanne added caustically, “You know, we were always imagining Lake Ronkonkoma as the sublime setting.”
“Really? What? Not East Hampton?” he joked.
“Oh, yeh, us Brookhaven billionaires,” she smirked.
Brookhaven is a large town (that would probably be better described as a “township” – encompassing many hamlets and villages) in central Suffolk that runs the width of the island from north shore to south shore.
Questioner: Welcome back. We are here again with author R. J. Nello. The demand to hear more from him was underwhelming. Still, we figured, what the hell, we have space and time to kill, and it’s Sunday. Part I of the interview yesterday was running long. We thought we’d give you all a break before continuing….
R. J. Nello: Well, at least this title makes more sense than yesterday’s. I’m not a legend, though. I’m still alive. I do hope someday, though, my English niece and nephews will be able to say, “He was so insightful, even for an American.”
Q: We just thought a title more akin to that for a Gore Vidal interview would have been more appropriate.
Nello: Aren’t you a load of laughs. Oh, and thanks a lot for that non-cheerleader of a lousy intro.
Q: We’d like to use this continuation of your interview with yourself to talk about something other than your uncle, Gore Vidal, and French girls.
Nello: If so, do you think anyone will actually care?
Q: Now, to go on, Passports covers a melange of themes….
Nello: Melange? A what? Oh, wait, got it. It was your pronunciation. It’s mélange. You from Long Island or New York originally or something?
Q: Let me say, you’re getting better at being the haughty novelist.
Nello: And condescending. Don’t forget that. I’m improving on that too. You know, if this were truly a European interview, like France 24, I’d probably be offered a glass of wine. I’d settle for a Sauvignon blanc. But you’re some American who doesn’t do wine of course. Still, not even a light beer?
Q: Feeling an impulse yet to overturn the interview table?
Nello: I’ll save that for nearer the end.
Q: I’d still like to talk themes and subplots. Passports revolves around global living, diverse relationships, traveling and….
Nello: I know, I know, no machineguns. Or wizards. Or vampires. I’ll try to fit those in at some point down the road in a third volume.
Q: And it’s about late twenty-somethings….
Nello: And there’s sex too. Don’t want to forget the sex.
Q: And it’s about friends.
Nello: Uh, not the Friends as in the 1990s TV show….
Q: But, Mr. Nello, in one chapter you do allude to a program that sounds just like that one.
Nello: Because they were funny at times, weren’t they? My 16 year old English niece has all the DVDs. I never understood how Ross went with Rachel over Emily. He was a moron. But Emily dodged a real bullet there because he was such a lunkhead. I married my Emily and have never regretted it for a moment.
Q: Oh, that’s so sweet, my teeth are decaying. There’s also a brief chapter in Passports about an American student who, shall we say, “misbehaves” in Italy, to the disgust of her English roommate.
Nello: It was worth only a short chapter. We should acknowledge that type exists. But it isn’t really representative of most young Americans in Europe either, thank God.
Q: Is the fictional student inspired by a certain real woman study abroad student convicted of a murder in Italy?
Nello: That’s their right. But we Americans can awkward. An American can’t be involved in a murder abroad? Really? Why not? Because we’re a country where no one murders anyone at home for asinine reasons or in a fit of pique? All of the murder victims piled up from Maine to Hawaii actually committed suicide?
Q: So you don’t think she’s innocent?
Nello: I wasn’t there. And I wasn’t in the courtroom. My view is I can’t help but believe that if we reversed the nationalities of she and the murdered woman, with the exact same evidence, too many Americans now yelling she’s innocent would be screaming for the English woman to be renditioned from England to Texas and immediately executed.
Q: Sounds pretty harsh.
Nello: Deep down, we know what we are. Think about it. And Ms. Study in Italy always has that perpetually dim expression, that look of, “What? I have to stay after class? But I’ve got a dentist appointment. I’ll get a note from my Mom.” And she was 20 years old. I dealt as a lecturer with American study abroad students in New York before they went over to Europe. More recently, here in London, I’ve seen them after they arrive. Most of them are exactly what we want the world to see. But there’s also a dopey minority we don’t like thinking about. Some of our “young” are, unfortunately, immature dimwits.
Nello: Sorry, that’s my Gore Vidal coming out again. I can do nasty and pompous really well now, can’t I? Regardless, can’t we all just settle on at least keeping her the hell off of Good Morning America?
Q: To another issue. I also notice there’s lots in your novel about “only children.” Or those with distant, or much older, siblings.
Nello: I think it’s an interesting family dynamic.
Q: Are you?
Nello: Am I what?
Q: An only child?
Nello: I have a sister who’s much younger than I am, so in some respects I could be an only child. She went to Yale for a time. She’s a helluva lot smarter than I am in some ways. She can correct a Frenchwoman’s French.
Q: James in Passports is an only child. Isabelle has only much older brothers. Virginie is an only child. The list goes on. And the cultural differences you weave into the tale….
Nello: You realize you just ventured onto the subject of French girls? I did lead you there with my last answer, though. But you didn’t stop me? Are you paying attention to your own interview boundaries? Anyway, do you have an actual question?
Q: No. Just pondering the profundity of it all.
Nello: Okay, I’ll give you a moment. Who you pondering? What’s her name?
Q: Actually, where I was headed is the issue of the French hating Americans and vice-versa. You tackle that.
Nello: The discourse is complex and multifaceted on that matter. Did that answer sound suitably literary theory-ish?
Q: So do you also perceive how the cross-cultural difference of some of the characters may be interpreted as being at odds with the notion of them as individuals possessing unique inner voices, yet faced with a commercial and capitalist construct that outwardly demands they adhere to certain mores that….
Q: Uh, I’m not finished with the question yet.
Nello: Look, I’m the intellectual here. I know where you’re going. Get to the Valérie character already, will you….
Q: God, you are indeed brilliant! You knew exactly what I was going to ask before I asked it.
Nello: I was channeling Gore Vidal again. Careful. Although I’m smiling, I could turn nasty on a dime. Us novel-writing intellectuals don’t suffer fools gladly.
Q: So you’d never appear on, say, Good Morning America ever?
Nello: Good grief, have you seen it? I mean really watched it? No wonder half of Americans think Beirut is in Northern Ireland.
Q: You champion social media, though. That’s full of lunatics.
Nello: At least they’re interesting and can be fun. You run into those who’ve figured out how the then Vice President of the United States was standing on 5th Ave on September 11, 2001, dressed as Madonna, and used a pacemaker to implode 7 WTC. At one time, independent thinkers like those were unable to make their voices heard.
Q: So you see social media as a positive?
Nello: Absolutely. Every now and then someone appears and follows you who you never would have imagined would. To be followed on Twitter as I am by Humphrey Bogart’s official estate? Wow! It’s flattering. Even for us geniuses. You do get to interact with other brilliant people.
Q: What do you think would happen if, via social media, your uncle discovered your book(s)?
Nello: He’d probably sue me. And we’d end up on Good Morning America: “Novelist uncle sues novelist nephew.”
Q: You’ve written it’s somewhat darker than Passports.
Nello: Yes. It’s not Stephen King, for God’s sakes. It’s just a bit rougher and less optimistic maybe. The death of our very close girlfriend in February still hurts every day. I miss her terribly. That did actually impact my writing. I sat down some days hating life.
Q: For a moment, this actually has become a serious interview….
Nello: I know. We’d better stop it. Here, look, I’ve actually been reading The Winds of War. Could this book be any longer? And the Pug Henry character is really amazed by writers. He should be. We are amazing human beings. I’ve also discovered the Pug in the book looks nothing like Robert Mitchum. What a real downer to learn that!
Q: Not that book again? Feel free to quote Humphrey Bogart. But don’t mention Camus, because no one reading this gives a damn about him.
Nello: Here we go. Typical. Getting all tense at being unable to control the narrative all the time. Maybe I should cry? It could be just like on Good Morning America?
Q: I think we’re finished now. Thank you for your time. I am sorry to say this Mr. Nello, but you’re damn exhausting.
Nello: Are we done again already? But I haven’t had a chance to turn over the coffee table? And I can whine like Ross if you’d like to hear it? Awwwwwwh….
Note: If you missed the gripping Part I of this interview, here it is. ;-)
UPDATE: On December 4, another interview appeared here, coinciding with the release of the sequel, Frontiers. Uh, if you click over, brace yourself. :-)
In response to events in Ferguson, Missouri, there has been a lot of discussion in recent days about the “militarization” of U.S. policing. Much of the talk lays the blame for this as rooted in the Pentagon’s casting off since 1997 of military surplus that is scooped up eagerly by police departments across the country. But the issue isn’t really that “new,” though: it has been evolving for decades.
For example, I recall how, in the early 1980s (I believe), a New York City police officer involved in a shootout with a suspect, was killed when his NYPD-issue six-shooter emptied and he was caught reloading. The killer possessed a stronger weapon with more bullets than the police officer’s. Subsequently, the NYPD “upgunned” and vowed no officer would ever be “outgunned” by a criminal ever again.
More recently, Newtown police responding to the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012 approached that building as if they were trying to take an enemy position in Normandy in 1944. Indeed, the shooter had enough weaponry – bought legally by his mother, whom he had already killed – on him that he might well have been able to have held Omaha Beach singlehandedly for some time.
It’s no secret that firearms saturate the U.S. As a consequence, a police officer approaches you warily. If he so much as stops someone for speeding, he never knows if at the car window he will be staring down the barrel of a gun. With much of the U.S. populace owning ever more powerful weaponry, police forces have responded by more heavily arming in the face of that public they in many respects greatly fear.
In Britain, routine interaction with police is far less tense than in the U.S. If you encounter a U.K. police officer, he is probably “armed” with a night stick and a radio. Because of the country’s incredibly strict gun control laws, in return he knows you probably aren’t carrying a gun either.
What’s the solution in the U.S.? There probably isn’t one. U.S. police will always feel (not without reason, as Sandy Hook, for one, proved) that they need heavy weaponry as long as much of the populace is armed to the teeth. In turn, much of the populace has no desire not to be armed to the teeth…. because, after all, the police are.
UPDATE: From the New Yorker:
Of course, the militarization of the police is not entirely new. SWAT teams date back at least to the late sixties in Los Angeles. During the eighties and nineties, many big police forces armed their officers with automatic weapons, and, partly to prosecute the war on drugs, some police departments acquired some pretty heavy weaponry. But it was 9/11 that really changed things. Under the guise of beefing up their anti-terrorist operations, police forces across the country acquired all sorts of military uniforms and hardware, sometimes using federal grants to pay for them.
Quite true. We can’t forget 9/11’s aftermath as contributing as well. Worth bearing in mind also, though, is that Britain has also invested a great deal in its own domestic post-9/11 anti-terror policing efforts, and it has done so without the overt military-style approach one sees in U.S. policing.
Please pardon an extremely serious post. A Twitter reference the other day to a novel entitled Abroad, which I had not heard of until then, caught my eye. It is based on the 2007 murder in Italy of English student, Meredith Kercher.
Her murder case is so over-argued on social media, I decided the best way to learn about the book was to seek out “mainstream” summations of it. This first is from Publishers Weekly:
A mystery based on the Amanda Knox saga unfolds…. Tabitha (“Taz”) Deacon, an Irish student studying abroad in Grifonia, Italy, finds herself caught up in the glamorous lives of a trio of beautiful, and close, fellow students while also nurturing a friendship with her quirky American flatmate, Claire….
The first sentence use of the word “saga” is a cautionary flag. So what we have here is the murder of Ms. Kercher reduced to the level of a Twilight installment? Not exactly an opener that indicates (to me anyway) an appreciation of the gravity of the real life subject being fictionalized.
….The similarities to the Amanda Knox story are myriad, and at times distracting, but [the author] explores an overshadowed element of that case: the victim, her thoughts and dreams and mistakes, as well as those she’ll never be able to have or make. “We were all alive, and we loved and hated and lived brilliant, messy existences,” Taz says.
“The [real] victim” has a name: it was Meredith Kercher. While we don’t learn that there, we do discover the tale’s told from the “fictionalized” victim’s perspective. We see noted that a phrase like “messy existences” is even put into her “fictionalized” mouth – as if this is a young adult variation on Desperate Housewives too?
It is worth recalling Ms. Kercher’s real existence was ended brutally. She had been stabbed and sliced no less than forty times. While attacked, she had also evidently been restrained and was unable to defend herself.
Thus that sentence masquerading as a profound observation on lives lived, is in fact a whopper of insensitivity. This seems creepy, disturbing stuff. And not in a “chilling fiction” way.
….Claire, Taz’s American flat mate, who speaks her mind, adores Taz and spends most of the novel trying to get her away from what she feels is the very bad influence of these girls. Claire’s clearly the moral center of the novel, and she and Taz develop a real and important friendship, until both fall for mysterious Colin, which leads to a stunning betrayal….
According to an Amazon poster, “The character who substitutes for Amanda Knox in this book is Claire.” If that person easily spots who that character is meant to be, certainly that Chronicle reviewer must have too. That any such mainstream reviewer could then label that character “the moral center” shows that to achieve that “substitution” the author must have written Claire quite sympathetically.
Allow me to inject this non-fiction. Having worked in a London university in the early 2000s, my initial reaction to Ms. Knox’s charged involvement in the murder was a shrug: she was unremarkable. Learning over time about her “studies” in Italy merely reinforced my opinion. I recalled how, in British universities, U.S. study abroad students are among administrators’ biggest foreign student headaches: some enroll and rarely or never appear, leaving the universities with no idea what they are up to.
An Admissions officer once told me, “You know who our biggest problems are, Robert? It’s [———-] and Americans.” That’s no shocker. Too many U.S. study abroads are a weird melding of childishness, self-absorption, arrogance and insouciance. They arrive in Europe imagining it’s a decadent playground, and, often away from parental oversight for the first time, they lose their minds.
I told incredulous European colleagues more than once, “Don’t look at me, I didn’t raise them.” Heavy drinking (age 18 in Europe is generally the drinking age), illegal drug use (yes, there are illegal drugs here), and casual sex (not the most intelligent of behaviors at any time, let alone when you’re also drunk, stoned, and in an environment in which you may be linguistically-challenged) are not uncommon among them.
And those who overindulge are often quite “proud” of those “achievements” in “finding themselves.” Much like Ms. Knox was. Pre-murder, apparently she had been having a great ol’ fun time “studying” abroad. (Europe’s just, like, so cool, isn’t it?)
So until the night of Ms. Kercher’s slaying, by all accounts (including the mouthy Ms. Knox’s own gaseous admissions) Ms. Knox’s study abroad “adventures” were hardly a source for a groundbreaking novel. They closely resembled those of so many others wearyingly like herself. Indeed, they were an embarrassment and a slap in the face to the many young Americans who study (and live) in Europe and do so responsibly and maturely.
All that makes this Ms. Knox really unique is that Italian authorities are convinced there is more than enough reasonable evidence proving she is one of three (and the sole American) involved in the butchering of Ms. Kercher. The only people who know the absolute truth of what occurred that night are “the victim” and her killers. Ms. Kercher’s murdered, so, absent honest confessions from those who did it, all that’s possible in these situations is to attempt to piece together what happened to her and who’s responsible.
I had never heard of that author before seeing that tweet; but it appears she has decided mythologizing Ms. Knox is a better way forward than arguing this or that fact as it sometimes appears half the internet is doing.
She seems to have constructed her Ms. Knox as the inspiration for the fictionalized, “quirky American flatmate?” She, from among the thousands of doubtless far more interesting, but also of course largely unknown, young American women who’ve also studied recently in Italy? Again, that’s any author’s right.
However, one would have thought at least waiting for “the saga’s” legal conclusion to have played itself out pre-publication would have better sure-footed any fictional effort. Still, anyone may choose to nail their literary colors to whichever mast one wishes, and whenever one wants. But if the Italian Supreme Court later this year, or early in 2015, upholds Ms. Knox’s murder guilt, well, that will have demonstrated that having retreated into a fantasy novelistic alternative universe had been the only realistic recourse left anyway.
NOTE: I’ve turned off the comments. I’m not debating evidence in the case, and won’t have others do so either in my comments. It belongs in the courts. If you feel Ms. Knox is a victim of a miscarriage of justice, please forward your suggested defense appeal tactics directly to her lawyers.
First, a brief recollection of an infamous early event in U.S. diplomatic history. In 1793, while William Short and Gouverneur Morris were negotiating in France and Spain, across the Atlantic the (mis)behaviors of one Edmond-Charles Genêt were besetting the new American republic at home. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, France’s representative in the U.S.:
….soon exceeded his diplomatic authority. Hailed as “Citizen Genêt” by Americans who favoured the French cause, he conspired with those who opposed Pres. George Washington’s policy of neutrality. (See Citizen Genêt Affair.) His efforts to bring the United States into the war [France was fighting against Great Britain] and his high-handed arming of privateers in American ports to operate against the British brought relations between the United States and France to the brink of war and risked the loss of France’s sole source of credit abroad. In August 1793 Washington, who was firmly committed to a policy of neutrality in the European conflict, requested that Genêt be recalled. Realizing that he faced arrest [due to shifting revolutionary power struggles] if he returned to France, Genêt chose to remain in the United States; he married the daughter of George Clinton, governor of New York, became a U.S. citizen, and settled down to farming.
An Indian diplomat was re-indicted Friday on US visa fraud charges that touched off an international stir after she was arrested and strip-searched last year….
Perhaps worth noting: that diplomat, one Devyani Khobragade, India’s then deputy consul general in New York, did not even try to involve the U.S. in a war either.
….The episode roiled US-Indian relations, with India taking such steps as removing concrete traffic barriers around the US embassy and revoking diplomats’ ID cards. After being indicted, Khobragade complied with a Department of State request to leave the US, and the Indian government then asked Washington to withdraw a diplomat from the US embassy in New Delhi. The US complied….
Which is where matters realistically should have been allowed to rest. As with Genêt’s seriously overstepping diplomatic bounds, diplomats have always been ejected for real, or trumped up, reasons. One would have expected roughly this chain of events in reaction to Khobragade’s alleged actions: she is expelled from the U.S.; the U.S. pays a small price in kind so India can save face; behind the scenes discussions are held emphasizing that we all – Americans and Indians – don’t want this endangering relations, and don’t want something like this occurring again; and everyone agrees to move on.
Matters did not take that course. Federal domestic U.S. prosecutors secure a re-indictment of that now deported Indian diplomat. She is vociferously defended by the government of India, so will in all likelihood never set foot in the U.S. ever again because India will almost certainly never hand her over to the U.S. to face that re-indictment in court anyway.
Nevertheless, in Washington, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf stated on Friday that the department had opposed dismissing the charges:
“….Our position regarding immunity, that the U.S. Government took in the brief opposing the motion to dismiss, was that she had full immunity only for a very brief period, a day….”
Yet in the wake of her arrest and “strip search,” we also saw a State Department scrambling to contain the diplomatic fallout. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed “regret” at Khobragade’s treatment in custody. Shortly after that, we heard the same Ms. Harf explain the department wished India to understand it was “an isolated episode,” and that the U.S.-India relationship “….is an incredibly important relationship. That has in no way changed.”
However, Indian officialdom appeared to feel decidedly otherwise. And this re-indictment in March merely re-fans the flames. So State officials may soon revert to fretting publicly as they had initially in December.
We know already of diplomatic headaches arising from non-U.S. citizens facing the death penalty in U.S. local jurisdictions that appear indifferent to “international law.” In this case, the damage the federal Justice Department’s ongoing pursuit of Khobragade is doing to what had been increasingly warm U.S. relations with India appears considerable. Evidently uneasy about that, referring to the case’s top Manhattan prosecutor (an India-born immigrant to the U.S.), one foreign service professional is anonymously quoted as saying, “….he’s not the one who will be serving in missions in India.”
Indeed currently the U.S. is up to its eyeballs internationally. With Russia annexing Crimea and its intentions toward the rest of Ukraine unclear, the Syrian civil war raging, Iranian nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s intermittent sabre-rattling, China threatening Japan, and innumerable other global challenges, India – “the world’s largest democracy” and an important U.S. trading partner – is an invaluable friend to have. But what had been a slowly healing diplomatic wound has had its scab ripped off, and with Khobragade’s re-indictment obviously re-infuriating the Indian government that wound is unlikely to heal fully anytime soon.
Even if Khobragade was not (and is not) immune from U.S. prosecution for her alleged crimes in the U.S., noticeably lacking has been a visible U.S. exercise of wider good judgment about how to deal with her without poking India repeatedly in the eye. Instead India is lectured highhandedly by domestic U.S. law enforcement about how she “was treated no differently than others who are arrested,” and even supposedly received “courtesies” – when, as a diplomat, and even if not immune, she was definitely not like “others.” Worst of all, we see the prestigious State Department, whose first secretary was Thomas Jefferson, and which is tasked with spearheading U.S. diplomacy around the world, essentially finding itself suddenly relegated to the tail of the Justice Department’s domestic prosecutorial kite.
In long ago 1793, the U.S. federal government was not even five years old and the State Department was similarly brand new. Consisting then of Attorney General Edmund Randolph and a few clerks, the “Justice Department” as we now understand it did not really exist. Had it, the U.S. might well have ended up at war with Genêt’s France.