Jordan’s Green Guide #Europe
The other day I was longboarding through Santa Monica when I saw a woman eating an urchin. Yes, there was a woman, on the street, eating a sea urchin. You know, those spiky black ones that you’d like to step on less than even a LEGO (who, btw, has invested in one of the largest offshore wind-energy farms on the planet--go LEGO!). Back to the urchin lady; she was sitting on a bench facing the street, cars roaring by, eating her black delicacy from a to-go container filled with ice and accompanied by what looked like a lemon wedge and a sauce cup. I can only imagine that she had retrieved the bottom-feeder from the nearby fancy-schmancy Italian restaurant Trestevere. I was astonished. It seemed like quite the chore, eating that aquatic weapon with no aid from table or cutlery -- not to mention the fumes, noises, and gazes from the street.
Last Saturday, I drank a PSL (see Jordan's Green Guide #Halloween) at a xxxxbucks near my apartment. While sitting there slurpin my delectable diabetes delight, I noticed a huge wall painting, or maybe it was simply wallpaper, at the coffee shop. I sipped my PSL, in plastic of course as the damned things don’t come in mugs, and examined the painting. It smacked of the impressionist genre, although the subject and content were quite to the contrary. There were people in some sort of central park wearing scarves, sitting on benches, chatting to one another, and playing with dogs. I’m sure you can picture the soft textures and accompanying earth tones evoking the romance of autumn.
Beyond this somewhat normal space-making tactic for a coffee shop, what stuck out to me in the painting were these weird little white things in about one-third of the character’s hands. They were little to-go coffees. The scene set in this painting was one of frivolity accompanied by little white paper coffees adorned with the subtlest of green xxxxbucks logo lines. Had I been an alien, admittedly something that I feel quite often, I would have wondered, “what are those little white things the humans are holding, and why?”
And now, to Europe we go. Why is it that we Americans romanticise, and I might add generalize, Europe? Long walks through cobbled streets? Elegant, drawn-out dinners with wine? Fine food paired with town-square seating? Historic art? Or simply the “way of life”? These are some of the notions and musings we have of our transatlantic brethren. But what really is the difference between the US and say, France? I’ll tell you -- culture. Have you ever seen that romantic comedy "The Holiday"? There is a scene in that movie which perfectly illustrates why France is so different than the US. Cameron Diaz arrives at a quaint little English house in the countryside. She has traded her LA mansion for an English country house for a week. Yeah, I know, what a film it was. She sits down in the little house, lights a fire, and then has no idea what to do with herself. This is true Americanism. This is why we crave Europe.
Europeans (I’m generalizing, I'm aware) know how to just be. We Americans, don’t. It seems pretty simple, but it ain’t. It’s part of becoming a satisfied and productive adult, but in the US we have cloaked our difficulty in facing ourselves in a defeating idealization of “busy”. In order to escape the sobering and imperfect reality of ourselves, we fill our time and mind with things. Instead of learning how to have dinners and walks filled only with ourselves or conversation, we busy ourselves with things and tasks like TV and shopping. What does busy mean, anyway? I think it means something along the lines of “to be occupied” or “having a lot to do”.
I’ll tell you what busy doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean efficient or effective. It doesn’t mean good at your job. It doesn’t mean valuable as an employee or a dad. It doesn’t, in fact, mean valuable. Herein lies the crux, for we in this country have come to align busy, with valuable. We seek validation from our peers, but appearing or exclaiming how busy we are cannot provide this no matter how much we may believe otherwise.
American’s work long hours, and very hard. That’s what we do. We also rush through breakfast, lunch, and dinner because we “don’t have time” or are “too busy”. We leave work, fight traffic, hit the gym hard and grab food on the way home. We’re then so exhausted from our “busy” day that we collapse in front of the TV (monitor or phone for those of you under 30). This would be the time to just be.
Here we have it, that time that no Americans admit to having. “I don’t have time to grocery shop, pick up the kids, cook dinner, and enjoy a 2-hour dinner like those lazy Europeans!” I don’t have time to go for a long walk after work because I have to go to the gym, or stop by the store to buy toilet paper.” So walk after work for exercise, and by a bidet so you never have to use TP again. The TV or phone then tells us what we need to purchase to fix our busy lives, but guess what -- it’s the opposite. The more things you have, the more money you need to fix and replace them, as well as store and organize them. Most importantly, it requires your time to shop for and buy these things (online counts as well here you millennials).
Consider this, all 330 million of us Americans could wake up tomorrow and decide to do away with to-go coffees and urchins. We could savor our teas and coffees over a conversation. We could take our time with those urchins in restaurants instead of in front of TVs, hunched over our desks, or on the street being blasted by exhaust. We could walk in parks and grocery shop with our friends, instead of retail outlets. What an idea!
Now, I’m not suggesting we start taking 2-hour lunches and 2 month holidays. I’m merely illuminating the reality that we choose our frantic lifestyles. Ain’t nobody holding a gun to that urchin-eating woman’s head. It’s not as if Netflix can threaten homicide, lest his beloved binger elects for dinner with friends instead. There is no reason I/you/we couldn’t simply wake earlier and have coffee at the cafe and read a book, instead of spilling it down our shirts on the bus to work.
How we spend our time is our choice. In fact, it is our only choice. If you are not in control of your time, you are not in control of anything. Accordingly, this feeling of needing to “fill” is unsolvable as long as we have relinquished control of our time.
It ain’t a big surprise, then, that we busiest-of-busy Americans attempt to eat, drink, drug, and buy our way out of this disquieting feeling. This is because we are afraid to face ourselves, to simply be with ourselves. To slow down, would mean to let the realities of our selves, our imperfect selves, to catch up and say hello. This confrontation is necessary to take back control of our time, to grow up, and express our priorities with the allocation of our time. You are what you do. So, are you “busy”? Is that your title?
I have gone fully didactic -- sorry homies.
The idea here is that our consumptive impulses, our to-go cups and purchasing panics, come not from a desire to consume earth’s resources, but rather to feed ourselves. We fill the time and space with objects and substances which promise to make the uneasy feeling of spending time with ourselves go quietly.
By reflecting on what it is that we idealize about an evening in Marseille, we can find that it isn’t Marseille we desire. It is connection with ourselves, our friends, our food, and our places. So take a walk with yourself, cook a meal with a friend, and log out from Netflix -- time’s a tickin...
BONUS: If we enjoyed more coffee in mugs and scarfed fewer styrofoam-encased tropical Urchins on the streets, our food, friends, and places would be a helluva lot healthier for it!