True American glamor in Hollywood....Maryland
Henryk M. Broder

Forget New York, Washington, Boston, Houston, Miami and Chicago. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Hooters, Checkers, Target, Best Buy, 7/11, CVS, Wal-Mart, Family Dollar? Well, forget them too. If you’re looking for the soul of America, get in your car and drive out to back country. Where nothing happens. Nothing at all. Like Hollywood, Maryland, for example, 60 miles south of Washington D.C.

How Hollywood got its name depends on who’s telling the story, but the most likely version is that it came from a holly tree that used to grow near the post office. The PO has been closed for years now, and the holly tree is gone too.

Hollywood, Maryland’s only claim to fame is Socks, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s cat. When they left the White House in 2001, the cat went to live in Hollywood with Betty Currie, the former president’s private secretary. Socks was put to sleep in 2009 "after a long and difficult illness."

And there you have just about everything there is to know about the place. The people who live here are farmers. They used to grow tobacco, but now they produce soy, corn, wheat, hay, if they still farm at all. Many earn a living at the nearby Patuxent River Naval Air Station, the biggest employer in St. Mary’s County. They are politically conservative; their lives center on work, family and God.

Take Diane and Teddy Wible, whose ancestors were German and whose name was presumably either Wiebel or Weibel in the old country. Since they are retired, they have plenty of time to turn their front yard into a Christmas scene featuring Santa Claus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Kings, baby Jesus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Needless to say, these inflatable figures glow in the dark.

"We do this every year," says Teddy, "and every year we start earlier and earlier." That’s because they keep adding new figures, and the technology gets more and more challenging. Plus there are hundreds of tiny lights to string all around the garden.

Not far from the Wible home is a large shed-like construction that has definitely seen better days. This is the Hole in the Wall, a tavern that opens promptly every day at 3:35 P.M. The first clients don’t usually arrive until later, so Shirley has plenty of time to get things ready.

Born in 1943 in Cumberland, in western Maryland, Shirley used to work in a nursing home before she and her husband, an army officer, moved to Hollywood in 1967. When the marriage broke up, she needed a job – and bought the tavern. "I don’t know why I did it, but it’s been fun," she says.

Twenty-five years down the line, however, she’s looking to sell. But buyers are not exactly beating down the doors: most of her regulars have aged with her, and Hollywood’s young crowd is not drawn by the live music and karaoke on week-ends – that is, when they haven’t left Hollywood altogether. Shirley’s four children are busy with their own families, and her grandchildren (“there are around 12”) have their own interests.

She recalls how the building was built in 1935 as a storage facility but was then converted into one of Maryland’s first and biggest movie theaters in the late 1930s. The owner also had a bar license and in 1948 he closed the theater and moved the bar from the foyer into the theater.

Well, actually, there were two bars – the little one in the foyer was for black people and the big one in the theater was for white people. The toilets were segregated too. Things stayed that way until the 1970s, but those days were long over by the time she bought the establishment in 1987.

Bluegrass gospel

"Today," says Shirley, "is going to be a slow day.” Next door, at the Church of the Nazarene, there is a concert. Reverend Verne Haskell stages the musical event every year just before Christmas and it doesn’t only draw members of his own church but the “competition” as well – Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Unitarians, Pentecostals and even some Catholics – a minority in the State of Maryland. The concert is free, and every seat is taken.

After a short prayer, Haskell thanks the Almighty for the love he gives his children and turns the stage over to the Bluegrass Gospel Express Band, five men and a woman who sing religious songs. With the constantly repeated “Lord” and “Savior” who have sacrificed themselves and will return one day to save humanity, it’s what ordinary Europeans would think of as a fundamentalist soundtrack.

The band was founded 20 years ago by a Methodist, Abraham Lincoln Schneider. He and his wife Mary-Sue both worked in a hospital, and wanted to entertain the patients. At over 80, Schneider no longer performs – but Mary-Sue, Jerry, David, Curt, Steve and Bill carry on the good work. They are so professional they would win any talent contest in Germany provided the jury didn’t understand English and were immune to the religious message.

Bandleader Jerry Thompson, 67, says he would have no problem if a Jew or a Muslim wanted to join. "Why not if they had a good voice and could play an instrument?"

But the highpoint of the evening is delivered by Joe, 65, Daniel, 74, and Rodney, 72 – the Hollywood Harmoneers – who before retirement were a music teacher, mailman and auctioneer (“everything from furniture and lawnmowers, tree saws and roof tiles.”)

They’ve been performing together since 1963 and have recorded six LPs. Their voices belong to the days before playback – strong, sensual, and confident. Yes, on the West Coast they probably would have made their careers in show business. But they didn’t feel they could leave Maryland, because of their jobs, their family and friends.

"For us," says Rodney, "this is the real Hollywood."

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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