This entry was posted on May 13 2010 by

Things I Learned in Europe (Part 2 of 4): The Wire is good TV.

In 2000, I took a two-week trip to Costa Rica with some friends.  We stayed at a surf camp that consisted of a collection of bungalows, a swimming pool, and the open-air restaurant/bar where we did all of our eating and socializing, the camp being situated in a fairly remote area on the Pacific side of the country.  There, in a foreign place on the other side of the Caribbean, I had two experiences that at the time seemed to me oddly American.  The first was that I ate the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had, hands down.  The second was that I discovered the music of a country legend who has since become one of my favorite artists in any medium: Johnny Cash. 

No doubt I’d encountered Cash’s music before, either on the radio, on TV, or possibly even in my own home (my stepfather has been a fan of the Man in Black since his Sun Records days).  If I did, I have no memory of it.  If not for the Texan who everyone called “Cowboy” and his copy of 16 Biggest Hits spinning its way through the restaurant/bar’s CD rotation, I might still be oblivious to Cash’s genius.  It took the solitude of the Costa Rican jungle to open my ears to his gravelly voice, affecting lyrics, and the boom-cha boom-cha of the Tennessee Two (or Three, depending on the song) backing him up on instruments.  Cowboy, wherever you are, I owe you big-time.

Flash forward almost a decade.  For years I’d been hearing good things about the HBO series The Wire, but I’d never seen it despite being an HBO subscriber for the entire duration of the show’s 5-season run.  When a reviewer described The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone as reading “like Philip K. Dick writing an episode of The Wire,” I was finally compelled to give the show a chance, if for no other reason than to find out if I’d been handed a compliment.  So I downloaded the first season before leaving for The Surrogates European book tour, figuring I’d watch a few of the episodes while in transit.  Riding the fast train from Frankfurt to Paris to begin the second leg of the tour, I was given my first opportunity.

Two days later I was scheduled for a free day to rest up and explore the Parisian sites.  I spent the entire morning and afternoon in my hotel room, where I watched the remaining installments of the first season on my iPhone.  I’ll forego adding my two cents to the Fort Knox of positive words that have already been written and said about the series, and just say that the remainder of the tour was a constant search for wi-fi hotspots that would enable me to download more episodes from iTunes.

During one of our last nights in France, Brett Weldele and I were eating at Creperie de Cluny (quality of the crepes being what they were, if it had been a wi-fi hotspot, it would be on the shortlist of my favorite restaurants ever) with Thierry and François, our guides from Delcourt, publisher of the French edition of The Surrogates.  We got on the subject of The Wire, and Brett and François quickly turned the conversation toward their favorite moments and the show’s many strengths, both as entertainment and as art.  Four guys—one from Atlanta, one from Portland, and two from France—all of us talking about a TV series filmed in Baltimore.

We live in the era of portable art, a time when Johnny Cash can travel to Costa Rica in a suitcase, and The Wire can find its way to France via . . . whatever it is that makes wi-fi possible.  The reality of that hit home in Paris, maybe because—for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on (and that might sound traitorous coming from an Italian)—Paris is the one place on the globe that I most instinctively equate with art.  It was the adopted home of American expatriate writers Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein.  It’s the home of the Louvre and the Mona Lisa (I know, Uncle Jimmy, she was painted by an Italian, but I’m trying to make a point here). 

And, apparently, some fans of The Wire live there, too.

Post a Comment

Percy Jackson & The Olympians © Rick Riordan. Images from Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Graphic Novels © Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Powered by WordPress with a little help from Blog Oh! Blog
Site Design by Andy Runton