LONDON—There is much to be said about this city, where I am on vacation, but my first thought is that the English continue to love flowers, and Mayfair’s homes—windowsills, little garden areas created around front steps and between small shops—are bursting with them. I can never remember the names of flowers, but the ones I’m seeing are white and yellow and rose-colored and pink and deep red. and tall and stately or short and rough looking or kind of peeping up and looking brave. They are just gorgeous.
This seems true of every neighborhood I’ve been in, and also of the small terraces on the modest high-rises on the way in from Heathrow. The rain and sunshine have been intermittent the past week, and the flowers are not dry but full of juice, and brilliant. It all reminds me of a nice block in Brooklyn Heights, where the flowers lately also look particularly vibrant.
When I was a young woman I found all beauty and fascination in people. I found flowers boring. I ignored them when I saw them, or turned away. I think I felt they got in the way of my understanding Kafka and Sartre. I think I also thought flowers were something old ladies do to make things prettier because they don’t understand the tragedy of life. Now I think people who put flowers all over the place are the only geniuses. They know flowers are an unasked-for and essentially unearned bit of beauty given to us perhaps to suggest other, greater beauty to come. They’re in Einstein-land, gardeners, and thinking of eternity. And I thought they were just retards with spades. Anyway, flower people are generous. They make everything look prettier, at no charge and for your enjoyment, even though they’ve never met you. So here’s to flower power, and thank you, London from this American traveler.
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But let me be pundit-y for a few sentences. The Brits had bannered on all their newspapers the other morning the picture of Paul Bremer waving goodbye to Iraq. The early transfer of sovereignty to Iraq has hit everyone here, friend of the invasion and foe, as a brilliant stroke. Leaving early, and with such modesty—it was a pleasure to be here, let us know if there’s anything we can do—tends to undermine charges of U.S. imperialism. President Bush is feeling triumphant—one can tell even from here—and the Western press is looking very irritable indeed. They don’t like to be surprised, they don’t like it when Mr. Bush scores one, and they don’t like it when the troublemakers they’ve been so banking on to prove their point that Iraq was a fiasco don’t even get a chance to stop the turnover.
Hand it to Mr. Bush: He’s got guts. And whatever happens in the coming election, his administration will be remembered as one of the most consequential in modern political history. He did things, and they were all big and meaningful, and they will have implications for decades.
But let me share a thought I’ve been having that is not so jolly. It has to do with Mr. Bush’s re-election prospects and a worry I have. History has been too dramatic the past 3 1/2 years. It has been too exciting. Economic recession, 9/11, war, Afghanistan, Iraq, fighting with Europe. fighting with the U.N., boys going off to fight, Pat Tillman, beheadings. It has been so exciting. And my general sense of Americans is that we like things to be boring. Or rather we like history to be boring; we like our lives to be exciting. We like history to be like something Calvin Coolidge dreamed: dull, dull. dull. And then we complain about the dullness, and invent excitements that are the kind we really like: moon shots, spaceships, curing diseases. Big tax cuts that encourage big growth that creates lots of jobs for young people just out of school.
No, I am not suggesting all our recent excitement is Mr. Bush’s fault. History handed him what it handed him. And no, I am not saying the decisions he took were wrong or right or some degree of either. I’m saying it’s all for whatever reasons been more dramatic than Americans in general like history to be.
Here is my fear: that the American people, liking and respecting President Bush, and knowing he’s a straight shooter with guts, will still feel a great temptation to turn to the boring and disingenuous John Kerry. He’ll never do anything exciting. He doesn’t have the guts to be exciting. And as he doesn’t stand for anything, he won’t have to take hard stands. He’ll do things like go to France and talk French and they’ll love it. He’ll say he’s the man who accompanied Teresa Heinz to Paris, only this time he’ll say it in French and perfectly accented and they’ll all go “ooh la la!”
The American people may come to feel that George W. Bush did the job history sent him to do. He handled 9/11, turned the economy around, went into Afghanistan, captured and removed Saddam Hussein. And now let’s hire someone who’ll just by his presence function as an emollient. A big greasy one but an emollient nonetheless.
I just have a feeling this sort of thing may have some impact this year. “A return to normalcy,” with Mr. Kerry as the normal guy.
OK, readers, tell me I’m wrong. Or if you think I’m right or part right, tell me what Mr. Bush can do about it.