Saturday, July 29, 2006

[living] writer on sunday - gene weingarten

Gene Weingarten is a journalist and writer who runs a column called Below the Beltway in the Washington Post on Sunday. To access his pieces online, you need to go to the site, find the little panel to the lower left, scroll down until you find him and click.
He could also be described as a sort of blogger, in that he hosts a forum on Tuesdays at the Post Online.

He’s described as a humour writer and he certainly follows that prime directive, his Sunday articles being a must read with the early morning coffee. This, below, is from a piece called Eau de Toilet, describing his terrifying experience alone in a high end perfumerie, trying to select a gift for his wife:

Calling French perfume "pricey" is a significant understatement, like calling a tsunami "moist." Your typical ounce costs a C-note. I decided that I was going to shop intelligently and not lose my head.
Immediately, I lost my head.
I blame it on the fumes, but it may also be because perfume saleswomen tend to be young and lovely and will frequently, without warning, offer you their necks to smell.
The fact is, after about half an hour of perfume shopping, I was cheerfully looking at $150 liquids in quantities that could fit into a contact lens case.
Fortunately for me, everything stank.

He deviates from such fare from time to time to comment on the political scene and describes here the run up to the election in which Michael Dukakis was the Democratic candidate:

During the 1987-88 year, Nieman curator Howard Simons took all of us Fellows to meet a man who was running for president. Michael Dukakis … Dukakis was terrific, we said. Impressive. Commanding. Presidential. We were falling all over each other to find adequate superlatives.
Howard heard us all out, then shook his head and said: "Won't win. No sense of humor."

The Post sent him to Israel to ‘live’ what it was actually like under the threat of constant death and the result was a long piece entitled Fear Itself. Now widely acclaimed and available on the web, it put him in, as I wrote to him, ‘Great danger of losing the ‘humorous’ tag and being taken as a serious writer of note.’
This is from the introduction:

So here's a question: Would you ride a bus in Jerusalem? Right now? Here's your 5 1/2 shekels, go take a bus to market, buy some figs. Pick a bad day, after the Israelis have assassinated some terrorist leaders and everyone is waiting for the second sandal to drop. There are lots of buses in Jerusalem -- the odds are still long in your favor. Do you take that dare?
A few weeks ago, I did just that: boarded a bus on just such a day, and rode for nearly an hour. I did it because I wanted to better understand the psychology of terror. Not the psychology of the terrorist -- the psychology of the terrorized.
After 9/11, Americans are concerned enough by terror to be waging a costly war against it. But, by and large, the fear of terrorism has not seeped into our bones. We are new to this thing. The Israelis are not. Terrorism creates a hierarchy of fear; theirs is greater than ours.
Hence, this trip. Call it a scouting report.

Maybe these two commenters sum him up better than most:

Thanks for your excellent article. It was particularly gripping for me, because I felt that I lived what you described. I was in Jerusalem on Aug. 9, 2001, and was just two blocks from the Sbarro restaurant when I heard the loud explosion. In fact, had my wife not changed her mind so that we stopped at another pizza store to grab a bite instead of continuing on our original plan to eat at Sbarro, we might have been among the victims of that attack.

And another:

A great article. We sometimes forget that you're not "only" a writer of humor, and this is an excellent reminder.

Today, if you click on the Post site, you’ll get the more humourous side.

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