We’re in Blois, a provincial town two hours south of Paris in the Loire Valley. The area is famous primarily for two things.
First, for burning 40 Jewish residents. Their martyrdom inspired a style of poetry and an annual day of remembrance in Europe.
Second, for being the site of a giant castle built by the Medici family, infamous inventors of fractional reserve banking—the very thing that makes our economy one big house of cards, and the means by which banks create money for themselves out of thin air (a gas which must be made liquid by government bailouts now and again).
Today I signed and sold copies of Ultra Chômeur in Blois, and during the process was subjected to several hundred disdainful sneers and stone faces from passersby.
A high concentration of aristocrats often live sheltered and self-reinforcing lives in a provincial or suburban place. A place (apparently) like Blois. We have towns like this in the Bay Area, too. Orinda comes to mind.
One hallmark of aristocracy is a disdain for the poor—often the very people they (or their ancestors) dispossessed to become wealthy. Obviously, as Ultra Chômeur, I’m a symbol of “those people.” How dare I be one of them AND be so bold about it!?
Prior to Blois, we promoted Ultra Chômeur in two places in France. The first was Toulouse and nearby Colomiers, an area that is essentially a massive college town. We had nothing but good exchanges with folks there. The next stop was cosmopolitan Paris, and we had great interactions there, too.
I haven’t had a horrible interaction with anyone in Blois—actually, I’ve had several fantastic interactions with specific individuals, enough to make me doubt whether I should even write what seems like a condemnation of Blois.
That said, I felt it was important to reveal the whole truth of what I’ve seen here, because it gets at the heart of so many things in Les Aventures D’Ultra Chomeur. Remember, Ultra Chômeur starts out as the Ultimatum, an aristocratic “hero” who is at turns aloof and disdainful.
I reminded myself of the millions who struggle financially and face the same kind of emotionally degrading onslaught every day—from their in-laws, or the bank teller, or maybe even their own friends. I imagined myself embodying those millions. When people looked at me disdainfully, I didn’t look away. I met their disdain, but didn’t return it. Instead, I bore witness. There was a quiet power in that, and I think they felt it, too.
The day ended on a good note. I had a great conversation with an intellectual about the levels of satire in the book. He talked about the influence of Dadaism in Europe, so I showed him the page where Master of Degrees explains something really complicated, and the other heroes say they’ll “have to read those panels again later.” He was delighted by this and talked about Magritte, the artist famous for painting an object like a smoking pipe with the words “This is not a pipe” on the painting. Then he added, “The point is that art is created in our minds.”
As our conversation ended, we shook hands and shared a look that said, “We get each other” or as the French say, “D’accord.”