Sunday, February 18, 2007

"We that are true lovers run into strange capers . . ."

I don't often find myself drawn to comment upon celebrity tabloid fodder, because of course my mind is generally occupied with matters far less pedestrian. However, even I am not entirely immune to the gross intrigues that so often titillate the common herd. Anyhow, I want to take a moment to examine this Aussie stewardess who went all "shagadelic" with Ralph Fiennes in the toilet of a jetliner, and I thought that by quoting Shakespeare, I might not entirely sully myself. I leave it up to you, gentle reader, to decide.

This morning's Daily Mail - highbrow British journalism indeed - carries a long and rather tragic profile of the "highs and lows" as it were, of one Lisa Robertson, who has now lost her position as a Qantas stewardess (yes, I am going to keep calling her that). Despite the recent turmoil, Miss Robertson exclaims,"'Ralph was a great lover. And I thought if I was going to get the sack, it would be worth it. I knew it was against the rules and wrong but I didn't care."

I think Fiennes' fee for his next film just went up by about $2 million. Unfortunately, the love-struck Robertson is, for the time being, out of her $24,000 per year job.

In case you, like me, (or is it I?) rarely dabble in the gossip pages, let me summarize this scandalous turn of events. Fiennes (British film star) was flying Business Class from Darwin (Australia) to Bombay (India). Mr. Fiennes was scheduled to tour the impoverished former British colony to educate the natives as to dangers of AIDS and the imperative to practice "safe sex." Fiennes and Robertson went, in a matter of hours, from flirting to cuddling to a rendevous in the toilet, as lovers so often do.

I suppose that to point out the various layers of irony here (engaging in random, "unprotected" sex while flying halfway around the world to promote safe sex) would be in poor form.

As a matter of curiosity, I've flown Business Class exactly twice (purely as a result of knowing an airline employee who could get me into Business Class at Economy rates), and yet on neither occasion did any member of the flight crew usher me into the toilet for complimentary intercourse. Could those of you who more frequently travel in the forward reaches of the aircraft answer me this question: Is there some special button one pushes on the Business Class armrest to request this service?

Anyway, back to the article:

Although Lisa makes no bones about having been an enthusiastic participant in the unedifying episode and is clearly still thrilled to have attracted the attention of an international film star, it is hard not to see her also as his victim.

Despite her tall, trim figure, there is sadness in her eyes, highlighted by the medication she takes for depression since she left a tough front-line job as a detective with an elite New South Wales police drugs squad.

One can't help asking whether Ralph Fiennes didn't spot a vulnerable woman, use her, and then abandon her to face the sack from her job with Qantas.

Viewed from chronological standpoint, I'm not sure Fiennes actually had time to spot her vulnerabilities before they were romantically entwined atop the vacuum-suction toilet. As Robertson remembers these events, "'I was a bit shocked that he didn't wear a condom. Looking back, I think of it as dangerous behaviour and hypocritical given that he was going to India to talk about AIDS."

Reader, are you shocked?

After their "passionate tryst", Robertson was grilled by her crew chief, who asked a series of less than romantic questions. Evidently, the toilet did not offer as much sound-proofing as the "enflamed" couple had imagined. Useful information, indeed.

Once on the ground, Robertson was soon summoned to Fiennes' hotel room in Bombay where, "they made love twice more through the evening - once in the middle of the night. But he told her, before they went back to sleep: 'I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to kick you out in the morning. I've got a lot of calls to make and things to do.'"

Gentlemen, you might want to file away this line of his and see what turn events take as you seductively whisper it to that special lady of yours.

Sadly, love is not always meant to last. In the cold light of morning, Robertson now "seems wary of men, saying she has been repeatedly exploited by them. 'So many treat you badly,' she said. 'They're just after sex. They're losers.' Ironically, she thought Fiennes was 'so sensitive, so different'."

Reader, do you share her estimation of Fiennes as "so sensitive, so different," or is she perhaps confusing him with his character from The English Patient?

After her suspension from work pending an investigation, Robertson somehow managed to track down Fiennes by telephone (I'm sure he'll correct that oversight next time). "I told him I was in a lot of trouble and that I had been suspended from work. There was silence at the other end. I told him people had seen us leaving the toilet, but all he said was, 'Nothing happened.' He kept saying, 'We weren't in the toilet.' I told him I couldn't deny it. I said I had to answer the allegation. Fiennes' reply, when it came, shocked Lisa to the core. She said: 'It was clear he was turning his back on me. He said, 'We don't know each other very well. I'm very sorry, I can't get involved. I can't help you.'"


"Then he said, 'Let's have no further phone contact. I'll call you in a month's time, just to show you I'm a human being.' I was stunned."

Reader, are you stunned?

"Does she feel used? 'No,' she insisted. 'We were both fantastically attracted to each other. I am sure he cared about me."

"But she pauses, twisting a ring on her finger, as if for the first time considering the more brutal alternatives. 'Then again, she said, he is a very good actor.'"

A word of advice to vulnerable young ladies worldwide (Robertson, by the way, is thirty-eight): Sexual coupling with strangers (especially celebrity strangers) in toilets only rarely leads to spiritual co-mingling and long-term devotion, despite what you may have read in certain novels.

Perhaps it is best if we allow Shakespeare the final word:

"Then must you speak of One who lov'd not wisely but too well."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

This is England . . . This knife of Sheffield steel . . . This is England . . . This is how we feel . . .

Those interested in preserving what remains of freedom in the US would do well to monitor events in Britain, as those interested in salvaging what's left of freedom in Britain would do well to monitor events in the US. The few lonely souls on the Continent still daring enough to show an interest in this arcane matter would, I suppose, do well to monitor events all over the place. We all seem, from our various positions, to be drifting in a similar direction, at least as regards freedom, and we can perhaps learn from each other's catastrophes before it is too late. Or not.

Today's Telegraph reports that fully one third of UK households now receive at least half of their income from the state. Government figures "also reveal the huge gulf in welfare dependency between single parent and two-parent households."

Well, who would have guessed?

Once a sense of independence and self-reliance is leeched from a population, I suspect that constitutional guarantees of freedom are easily enough amended out of existence. There is a cultural structure that under girds the Western sense of freedom; it's foundation consists of a deliberately fostered awareness of one's obligations and personal responsibilities, and an interest in the rights of others. These responses - ingrained in culture rather than DNA - are not intrinsic to human nature and are far from universal, even within our own society, as is made clear with depressing regularity whenever we turn on the TV.

In much of the world, such appeal as freedom has is based primarily on the license it grants to do whatever the hell you want, disregarding all consequences to others. Freedom, as understood in these terms, validates and unleashes what is least admirable in human nature. Hence, the understandable ambivalence toward "freedom" in cultures that do not share our curious and rapidly diminishing notion of a freedom bound by willingly assumed responsibilities. These responsibilities start with the effort to provide - to legally provide - for one's own material well-being, rather than always and inevitably turning to the state.

I don't see how a free and independent populace, in the sense that we have traditionally understood it, can sustain itself when one third of its households depend largely or exclusively on the state for their upkeep. It may be in the nature and the in interests of politicians and bureaucrats to see to it that these figures remain high, but the consequences of such dependence are easy enough to understand, and to forecast. Over centuries, we've been taught - or rather, we've taught ourselves - to value freedom, and to sacrifice security and leisure in defense of its fragile existence. Those lessons can be unlearned, or simply forgotten, and they are being unlearned, and rapidly forgotten.

Freedom, in historical terms, may simply be passing out of vogue.