Sunday, March 15, 2009

'Please hate these people'

My checklist for spring break includes filing taxes and reaching the end Zola's L'Argent, translated as Money, a novel about scheming bankers circa 1867. So even if I wanted to hole up in my apartment, live off accumulated bags of dry pasta, and pretend there was not such a thing as currency...

Not helping: the never-ending flow of articles about New York's oblivious rich, articles that drop the word "recession" to rile up an angry mob, but that have nothing to do with job loss and ensuing tough times. The market for $118 tank tops and thousand-dollar brunch has not dried up. The only difference is that now, the fury such profligacy inspires is something the journalist puts out there, and is no longer the between-the-lines can-you-believe-these-people? condemnation it once was. Now it's basically an upfront declaration: 'Please hate these people'. Whereas it was kind of understandable how, in a different economic climate, the trendies being interviewed did not get that they were being mocked, and indeed readers were also sometimes unsure, now there's really no excuse for announcing your decadence (or your halfhearted attempts at hiding your decadence) to the NYT.

Sample passage from the soon-to-be-torn-apart-everywhere-if-it-hasn't-been-already piece on brunch-time debauchery:

Remi Laba, a 32-year-old Frenchman who is a co-owner of Bagatelle, suggests that such celebrating is possible because his guests are not what he calls “recession-prone.”

“There’s a very specific Saturday brunch clientele,” Mr. Laba said, seated at a corner table near the window as brunch was getting started. “Most of them are old money, people who don’t mind coming here and spending $5,000, up to $18,000 or $20,000 on a table.”

In addition, Mr. Laba said, the typical Bagatelle customer has a cultural affinity with this sort of rosé-soaked afternoon reveling. For the most part, the customers are what he described as “European friendly,” meaning they either are European or aspire to be.

There, in those few sentences, is the best argument I've read for leaving New York and raising dachshunds somewhere in the wilderness. (Best argument for staying put, also from today's Times: Paul Rudd lives in the West Village.)

The article ends brilliantly, with what reads as a cry, 'To the guillotine!':

A 29-year-old man who works for a large investment management firm and was at Bagatelle’s brunch one recent Saturday and at Merkato 55’s the next, put it another way: “If you’d asked me in October, I’d say it’d be a different situation, and I don’t think I’d be here. Then the government gave us $10 billion.”

Hehe, awesome, dude, well done!

Of course, a non-sarcastic 'awesome' goes to the journalist, Katherine Bindley, for ending the piece in an ambiguous way, such that it sounds as though the "us" the government bailed out was not failing banks but was a set of especially spendthrift brunch-goers. Libertarians and socialists alike will occupy Kimmel in protest. Imagine how tragic, if bankers had to overpay only $9 for their daytime weekend socializing?**

*Witness here a continuation of a WWPD theme: love-hate re: (Western) Europe. What's frustrating about the wave of Europeans (tourists and expats) so visible these days, even in out-of-the-way corners of New York is that this new set arrives as instant insiders, better-dressed and more "old money" than the natives, who, in turn, suddenly appear to be nouveau-riche arrivistes, whose crassness can't even be described in words originating in English. Yes, there is such a term as 'Eurotrash', but on the strange NYC hierarchy, that still outclasses 'bridge-and-tunnel', making at least some people feel that if a trashy party in the Meatpacking District is 'like St. Tropez', it is somehow no longer a trashy party in the Meatpacking District. Plus, most of the NYC Europeans do not dress in, say, skintight Armani Exchange, and as far as I know, do not attend these mega-brunches, but are instead just a more tasteful version of hipster than their American counterparts. Quit making us look bad, Europeans! And be sure to leave some tights in Century 21, for next time I need a pair.

**Meeting friends for weekend lunch is a good thing. But eggs, even the most spotlessly organic ones, laid by the most joyous of chickens, are a cheap, cheap food. Which makes me ambivalent about 'brunch.' Not that the 'brunches' profiled in this article necessarily involve anyone eating eggs, except perhaps those of a fish.


Paul Gowder said...

Hmm... I think I want to found the Bank of Gowder and convince the Treasury Department to give me huge truckloads of unmarked hundreds on the condition that I promise to think about loaning some of it out sometime. I'd kind of like to go to one of those brunches. From here. In a private jet.

Phoebe said...

Where I'm at in L'Argent, something a bit like that appears to be happening, but much stranger and more religious...

I just can't imagine, if 'bailed out', spending it on... that. Not that what it would go to would be 'better' or more intellectual or something, but fancy cheese, expensive-but-possible-to-walk-in shoes, travel, a dishwasher, and, fine, some book purchases might be nice. (I could even get to own a copy of L'Argent!) But waking up early on a Saturday to vastly overpay for alcohol and go dancing with women wearing (what I'd imagine was) the Official Clubbing Outfit of 1998? Not seeing it.

Paul Gowder said...

hmm... I think I have an copy of Zola's collected works around here somewhere. Now very tempted to read L'Argent. But it's probably not nearly as good in translation. (Is it just me, or do other people find French novels vastly overwritten in English? Case in point, Colette. Does Cheri sound totally normal in French?)

(Wow, that was digressive. Sorry.)

Phoebe said...

I read Cheri for the MA exam, and don't remember it being particularly overwritten. Then again, I read a lot for that exam, and my mind's now on other novels and exams, so who knows, maybe it's a mess in French and English. Or maybe it's just a crappy translation?

PG said...

I wasn't at all bothered by the Europeans or faux-Europeans with family money -- I'm glad they're spending it. The bailout guy is annoying, but bothers me far less than the Wall Streeters who say they made enough in the past 5 years that the road goes on forever and the party never ends. That makes me think "clawback." (Refers to "clawing back" bonuses that ultimately turn out not to have been earned: if they gave bonuses based on how well the funds etc. did, and it turns out that that was a Bear Stearns house of cards, take back the bonuses -- they weren't genuinely earned.)

Phoebe said...

"I wasn't at all bothered by the Europeans or faux-Europeans with family money -- I'm glad they're spending it."

I guess I should have been more precise. I'm not bothered by the (faux-) Europeans, so much as by the attitude that somehow trashy decadence (or discount designer rummaging) is more understated and acceptable when the participants come from Europe than when they come from Long Island or Kansas.

"the Wall Streeters who say they made enough in the past 5 years that the road goes on forever and the party never ends."

You're right, that quote may have been the more annoying one.