the column of lasting insignificance: October 5, 2016
by John Wilcock
HALF A DOZEN European communities are now experimenting with the idea of removing all traffic signs and traffic lights from their downtown areas to encourage better driving behavior. In the German town of Bohmte where the center—referred to as “a naked square”—is shared by bikers, pedestrians, cars and trucks, 13,000 vehicles each day, courteously make way for each other. “The whole village has become more human. We look at each other, we greet each other” says Ulrike Rubcic. Last year Bohmte (pop: 13,315) had 50 traffic accidents; so far this year, none. The only rule is to always give way to the person on the right, and the plan “brings people closer to rediscovering and appreciating cities, not only as traffic places but also as human, social places” states Heiner Monheim, a traffic management expert at the University of Trier.
WHY IS THERE something, rather than nothing? was one of the questions submitted to the Notes & Queries section of Britain’s Guardian newspaper which solicits answers from readers. Among the many replies was one from a Canadian reader: Because something is somewhere but nothing is nowhere. Next question: How wide is a rainbow?
AFTER BEING LONG scorned, rosé wine has suddenly become popular in France with reports that it will account for one out of every five bottles of wine sold. “The big change” writes Tim Hayward in the Guardian, “is younger French drinkers who see it as a light-hearted festive drink and seem to have scandalously little time for the niceties of label, vintage, grape varietal, or origin”.
THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT is suing a New York bank for $22.5 billion in a Moscow court which makes Fortune magazine think that this is one battle that the U.S. probably won’t win. “Moscow’s commercial court is widely regarded as not only a place susceptible to corruption” the mag says, “but one in which judges simply lack the judicial independence to rule against important state interests”. The case stems from the questionable actions of a Bank of New York vp back in the 1990s that allegedly resulted in laundering money and wire fraud. Fortune explains that any judgment, while not enforceable in the U.S., might be in some of the 100 other countries in which the bank does business.
SPEAKING OF WHICH, Russia may be just waiting for the excuse of another bitter disagreement with the Ukraine to seize the Crimean port of Sevastopol which is home port for the navies of both countries. The Berliner Zeitung explains that three quarters of the Ukrainian port’s population is ethnic Russian and they complain of being increasingly besieged as Kiev tries to redefine it as a Ukrainian city with that language predominating in schools, hospitals and cinemas. If another little war breaks out, warns Newsweek, it would make recent events in Georgia look like “a sideshow”.
BICYCLES AS ARTWORKS—that was the project sponsored by the Italian cycle-maker Cinelli which donated 13 classy frames (usually costing thousands of dollars) to artists who agreed to beautify them. Clowns and cartoon characters were the most popular creations but only one—by Barry McGee—went into limited production, selling for $2,100 apiece. All went on show this month at the opening of Lance Armstrong’s bike shop, Mellow Johnny’s, in Austin, TX.
VIRGINIA ARTIST Andreas claims to have redefined the term mixed media “by connecting philosophy, psychology, political science, literature, and cinematography”. He devoted a full-page ad in Art News explaining that he does not sell his major works because he “did not want to distract this development with marketing”. The Corcoran Museum in Washington, DC, will stage a retrospective of Andreas works next year, after which some will be sold—value enhanced, of course, by the show.
THE WILCOCK WEB: What piece of skullduggery can we expect from the GOP this month as they fabricate their traditional “October Surprise”?…. And will anybody turn up to picket the October 19 annual convention of the Mortage Bankers Association in San Francisco?…..It’s 75 years since the California legislature adopted the unfair and undemocratic rule that a simple majority doesn’t decide things. But the only people who can change it, are the only ones who wouldn’t benefit from the change…. “Everyone says they’re building a museum, but most of them just say it to try to get discounts” complains Damien Hirst, $200million of whose works (fabricated by his 150-member staff) sold at Sotheby’s last month….“Big bondholders and creditors generally go to the front of the line in a corporate bankruptcy and small parties are forced to the back”, says a newspaper report. In a less avaricious society, it would be the other way around….If rightwing pastors want to defy the principle of separating church and state by giving political sermons, let them join the rest of us and pay taxes….George H. W. Bush was president when the Savings and Loans went bust. George W. Bush is president when the banks got into trouble last week. Can’t wait to see what happens to the U. S. when Jeb gets his turn,” writes columnist Bob Patterson…. Could it ever be possible to imagine a society that didn’t exist on debt, one where nobody (including short sellers) bought anything they didn’t have the cash to pay for?…. A winner in the Washington Post’s competition for new words was Sarchasm: the gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it …. Every election since 1980 has been won by the candidate with the top-selling Halloween mask. So far this year, Obama masks are 4% ahead of those for McCain…. The men who make revolutions are always despised by those who profit from them—Françoise Guizot (1787-1874)
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— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Twelve (continued)--Traveling with Nomad; SoHo Confidential
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— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six (continued)--Tom Forcade: smuggler supreme; That pathetic drug czar
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— Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Chatting with Marilyn Monroe
— Manhattan Memories: Introduction.
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February 12, 2015
It was the first handwritten letter I'd received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I'd never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my São Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.
By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.
Forty years ago the second of my three books about magic was published, A Guide to Occult Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson) covering a wide range of sites from Stonehenge to Loch Ness and King Arthur country to the witches of Pendle Hill. It is now available as an eBook on amazon.com.
“A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego.”
-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner