Irvine Welsh at Lit Fest

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When I met Irvine Welsh at Lit Fest in Chicago, the stadium was not packed. I can’t imagine why, considering the man has written some of the best fiction I’ve ever read, including Crime, Acid House, and Trainspotting. We watched Jennifer Day ask the standard questions and corrected them in our heads, thinking we could’ve done the interview better, banter and all.

Welsh told us he moved to Chicago to escape the monotony of London life. Dealing with high-end publishers is so New York, and he and his wife wanted a change of pace. Chicago, Welshit seemed, offered a reprieve from the non-stop hustle of places like London and New York City without the confetti and cake of Los Angeles. With all the Irish influence in the city, he felt right at home.
After spending hours in pubs making his liver beg for sweet mercy, Welsh realized he had to get down to business. He said that some writers have the great task of reconciling their socialite tendencies with their creative sensibility, which requires them to isolate themselves for days on end with people who don’t exist. These fictional characters become a part of them–he even creates a soundtrack for each character to inspire him to write from a particular perspective.
Welsh’s next novel will focus on the serendipitous encounter of an overweight artist and a personal trainer in Miami. The trainer will sequester the artist in order to monitor her caloric intake, and the two will learn loads from each other about life, love, and all the rest. Sounds satirical, no ?
Welsh quipped about frequenting pubs for “character building”, but his most accurate remark was about the quality of life in America, establishing him as a social critic and a classic Chicagoan. Progressive taxation, he argued, is a must for a society that wants to have healthier workers and higher productivity. Take that, Tea Party.
In his book Ill Fares the Land, Tony Judt argues that progressive taxation leads to a more trusting society that is egalitarian. The crux is that when benefits like health care, unemployment, and time off are similar across the board, people trust each other not to screw each other over for a raise at work or a better deal on car insurance.
A slice of the proverbial pie is available to any and all.
This opportunity makes social reform easier to propose on a grander scale. So the higher our taxes, the more likely we are to lead harmonious lives. Associating higher taxes with happiness is unheard of in modern American culture. Maybe what Welsh means is that it all makes for a fitter, healthier, and harder-working community and that should be Big Brother’s number one priority.
Regardless of whether or not we agree with what Welsh said, it’s important for us to have people with diverging opinions in our country, especially when these people are literary boons and social critics. It’s been years since an author spoke out about anything for fear of jeopardizing their sales.
Irvine Welsh waxed poetic on the formation of the world’s most egotistical, innovative, and productive nation, pointing out weakness to a public with a keen literary sensibility. He also told me that his favourite brand of whiskey is the Scottish Highlander. For his courage, his insight, and his sense of humor, he deserves to stay in America.
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Seven

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As a continuation on my last post, the exception to the moderation rule seems to be McDonald’s. Lovingly called Mack Dough by the Froggies, these establishments are more like three star restaurants than greasy fast-food joints. Glistening tables and well-groomed employees give way to a stellar food menu that forms a solid first impression on foreigners entering a French McDonald’s. The chevre (goat cheese) wrap is particularly tempting, as it is glazed in a honey sauce and topped with toasted dill flakes. I don’t eat McDonald’s regardless of which country I’m in, but I guess if I didn’t grow up in a culture that raised me to be afraid of meat, I, too, would visit this magnificent mecca of American commercial culture to sup with Ronald by my side on the reg.

chevre wrap

The portions at Mack Dough are significantly smaller than in the United States, and the ‘super size’ option has never existed here. Moderation is in effect–not in the frequency of McDonald’s visits, but rather in the amount of food the establishment designates for one person. http://www.france24.com/en/20110203-fat-patients-force-british-ambulances-supersize

Paris is the fashion capital of the world, but the women’s wear is decidedly more conservative than the places I’ve been in America, save for Amish country. That being said, I have yet to visit Salt Lake City, so I can’t make any generalizations. Skirts and shorts are most often fingers’ length and are worn with tights. When worn without tights, they’re met with scorn and shock from other women who feel bad for the naïve little girl who dares to enter the metro with bare legs– doesn’t she know the unspoken code ? When I visited the biggest mosque in Paris with a guy friend of mine in October, I was wearing shorts without tights (I don’t care) and was forced by the proverbial “bouncer” to put on a long wraparound skirt in order to cover my lascivious legs before entering the premises. It seems that bare legs should be saved for night clubs, but even that is a rarity. Apparently tights just give your outfit that little extra flair, and that’s definitely what Parisians have got going on. The girls have mastered the just-rolled-out-of-bed look replete with bomber jacket, messy hair, combat boots, and cigarette in hand. The men are more or less metrosexual, which has given my already-faulty gaydar a run for its money. A scarf, matching clothes–usually consisting of tweed, corduroy, and/or skinny jeans–and oversized headphones can hip-ify even the homeliest of males.

stylin

I brought my Lacoste shower bag with me thinking it was BCBG (bon chic bon genre,) but it turns out that Lacoste is the thug brand of Europe. Lacoste is to Europe what Rocawear is to the United States. This uninformed mistake has done nothing but boost my street cred, so I’m not too upset about it.

ally

But after reading Crime by Irvine Welsh, I realized that criminals identify more with the little alligator than with the inflated prestige of the brand itself.  Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister & Co. are huge here–flashback to the 1990s ! I tried explaining to multiple French people who were the same age as me that these brands are no longer that popular in the States. This statement was met with a confused stare, and I followed up by explaining that many people try and dress as the Europeans do. This is the biggest conundrum I’ve found so far : America is like Europe’s annoying younger sibling. America is profoundly influenced by Europe’s rich history, but Europe is undoubtedly influenced by America’s creativity and innovation in all things, but especially music and cinema.

The American music is a couple of decades behind the times, but that’s okay. I don’t really mind hearing R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” in a bar, but when it’s followed up with “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations, I start feeling like maybe the Parisian metro is really a time machine.

Sidenote : Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is an allegory for the ways in which Paris has retained so many historical qualities, as well as for how French culture preserves old ways of doing things that are stereotypical to what is considered by many as the Old World mentality. He wasn’t actually going back in time, he just felt like he was. I feel like that too sometimes, especially when they play old music and young French people swing dance to it. Yes, this behavior is totally normal at soirees and house parties, and it’s called Le Rock.

One example of the vagueness and disorganization characteristic of French bureaucracy is the lack of courteous people when waiting to be served. The lines here are non-existent. A queue forms inadvertently and resembles a swarm of fleas; there is no linear formation. Rather, people stand in a triangular crowd and elbow each other to get to the tip of the triangle before everyone else does. The movie theaters are a great manifestation of this phenomenon–I remember the first time I walked in to a movie theater. It was a bank holiday, and I was at the back of the triangle. I looked around at the old wall paneling, the grimy carpets, and the paper posters of the features that were playing, and felt as though I had been teleported back to the 1980s. It turned out that Les Intouchables was sold out– I could not have been happier to leave the scene of déjà vu / pre-cell-phone era. I finally saw the movie not long ago, and it probably deserves a blog post of its own at some point. All I will say for now is that I can’t understand how it blew up so big in France but not in the United States. Aren’t affirmative action and lesbian secretaries what make up a progressive young person’s dreams ? …..

good film