Two windows on the world | OPINION

Any WINCO shopper understands that a lot of people from far places now call Marysville and Arlington home. They’ve become our neighbors but we don’t know much about their homelands, strange-sounding languages or cultures they left behind. Curiosity about such things makes me travel.

So many places to visit and so little time. I try to leave home with a head full of questions about new destinations, hoping they might shed light on issues that plague our planet. It happens that after time away, I return home with even more questions. Though every part of the earth is no more than a day’s flight away, flying is so pricey that I can afford only a few weeks overseas each year. That’s not much time for exercising global questions. What to do?

Newspapers help but there happen to be other closer-to-home ways than overseas travel for checking out what’s going on around the globe. First are international film festivals that pull together documentaries and feature films produced in upwards of a hundred nations. A lot of them don’t make the cut but those that do are good indicators of how other people think and are concerned about. Whisking from one foreign film to the next is a bit like riding a magic carpet from one culture to another.

Seattle has an outstanding international film festival and even Everett has started its own.  Personally, I much prefer the one in Palm Springs. Known as PSIF, It fills the first full week of January which gives a welcome respite from the PNW’s wintry chill. And it’s not jammed into a downtown environment. One of PSIF’s best documentaries for 2011 showed the new president of the Maldives, a tiny island nation with an average elevation of 1.5 meters, single-handedly changing the direction of the Copenhagen conference on global warming.

As to creative feature films, my vote went to Argentina for a pair of winners. One was set in mountainous cattle country in the far south and the other was filmed almost entirely in the cab of a logging truck. No use describing them. You have to see them yourself to appreciate the quality and sensitivity of foreign filmmakers.

It was disappointing to witness the growing sexual sleaziness among trendy European film makers. They’ve taken to tossing in garment-rending, groping, nothing-left-to-the-imagination preliminaries to, yup, there they go again. The almost identical scene was played out in three otherwise worthwhile films. It was rather like directors of action films competing for mayhem and explosion honors. But again, even the sleaze told of what’s happening on the other side of the Atlantic. Yuck.

Another documentary showed Donald Trump being somewhat humbled when his bulldozer approach to planting a resort on pristine Scottish coastland ran into opposition. I surprised myself by getting caught up in a bio-pic that followed the life and career of Diana Vreeland, editor of Harpers and Vogue. The ladies in our group had to drag me to that showing because a guy like me shouldn’t spend time on an editor of fashion magazines. Surprise! Vreeland proved to be totally fascinating, bigger than life, one of a kind visionary with enough charisma to supercharge everyone who worked with her. Film festivals are full of surprises.

The other window on the world is found at Whistler Mountain, north of Vancouver, B.C. While Vancouver is rightly called the Pacific Coast’s foremost melting pot, Whistler is even more so. Time was when Whistler catered to lilly-white PNW skiers, largely Norwegians and descendants of other European skiing cultures. That was a time of White supremacy when the up-scale earning power of Whites let them monopolize pricey pastimes like skiing and golf and yachting. I’ve been managing to make low-budget trips to Whistler for thirty nears now, and oh my, how it’s changed.

Last month I helped guide a couple’s new Mercedes into a parking garage slot under Whistler’s Cascade Lodge where I enjoy special rates. They said (in English) that they were from Mainland China, had rented the car in Vancouver and intended to ski for ten days. Wow. That’s more than $2,000 each. It seems only yesterday that Mao’s cultural warriors sent educated Chinese into the country for “re-education.” And now Whistler is all but overrun by Asian capitalists living the good life.

While films at the Palm Springs festival portray life and conditions of a cross-section of society, Whistler is largely a playground for one-percenters.  Having once been voted the top ski destination in the world, jet-setters flood to its posh hotels and pricey bistros. Meanwhile, we representatives of local color get to share slopes with the rich and famous.

It’s one thing for film-makers to display the reality of homelands where average annual wages are less than $2,000. It is quite another to rub shoulders with travelers from those same places spending the same amount for a week of skiing. The lesson learned was that no matter how gross income inequality may be in the United States, there are third-world places where it is even worse.

Comments may be addressed to robertgraef@comcast.net.


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