Apr 13, 2006

DON'T MENTION THE WAR!
SANT'ANGELO, Ischia, Italy – Atop the hill, a man is crouched under a meager tile overhang, tapping on his Powerbook.

I pause in the rain. Hmmm. Has he found an open network? Could I bootleg the signal too?

No, no: mustn't be tacky. Anyway, my pirate comrades will sneak me online, hopefully. I begin picking down the worn, wet marble staircase to the harbor.

The technocrat passes. I can't help myself: "did you have wifi?" I blurt, just another media junkie jonesing for a fix. I'm on deadline, both editing and teaching, and really don't want to take the bus to Panza.

Italian doesn't work. I try English. Then halting German.

"Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" he asks, acorn-brown eyes alight.

Not really, anymore. Scheisse.

Through Germanglish, we ascertain a few facts. He was on satellite linkup, not wifi. Johannes is a photographer, hunting poor Angela Merkel. She's on holiday here, as always. But now that she's chancellor, the tabloid lackeys are swarming.

I, of course, find it immensely amusing to talk shop with paparazzi: how often does a journo traveling solo encounter any sort of colleagues? Sant' Angelo, the end-of-the-road village, suddenly is lousy with 'em. I disapprove of their modus operandi – their entire ethos, really – but still savor the shop talk, even if it's in Germanglish.

As paparazzi do, however, they create an international scandal. Spiegel Online reports: "Monday's edition of Britain's best-selling tabloid The Sun published a photo showing the partly exposed buttocks of the German leader under the headline 'I'm Big in Bumdestag', in a play on words referring to Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag.

"The paper's German equivalent, Bild Zeitung, vented its outrage on Tuesday in an article headlined 'Brits Lampoon Our Chancellor' and asked: 'Where does this hatred come from'?"

Without fail, every Limey I've posed this question to says either "do they really want an answer to that?" or – quoting the 1970s John Cleese sitcom Fawlty Towers – "don't mention the war!"

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