Monday, 12 December 2011

The Maramures: The Last Peasants

"The country is holding its breath today," read The Times. “Tension and nerves will be felt by millions who know that the bombers have chosen Thursday as a day of atrocity.”
The world has been rewritten by the writers of cheap thrillers. And not necessarily present day thrillers. We feel as if we are in the neurotic pre-1914 landscape of William Le Queux or early Edgar Wallace.
While Londoners were waiting pensively in the tube I was in another kind of pre-1914 landscape, driving through villages in the Maramures, the northern edge of Transylvania bordering on Ukraine. Here life hasn’t changed very much in centuries but it will soon change utterly. Here in the most conservative part of Romania, Europe’s least modern country, peasants have not completely given up traditional costumes, for example. Such tractors as were to be found here under Communism were long ago sold off and horse-drawn ploughs are universal. Old women in black scatter seed in the fields. This is subsistence farming of a kind which had disappeared elsewhere and must soon disappear here too.
It took me fifteen years to get to Maramures. In 1990 when everyone in the Transylvanian countryside wore traditional costume to Mass and cars were scarcely seen, I asked my Romanian companion, ‘Is this the poorest part of Romania?’ It was my first day here. ‘No, it’s the richest. Can’t you tell?” A disconcerting reply. ‘If you want to see somewhere poor and old fashioned you should go to Maramures. In Maramures they’re still living in the Stone Age.’
In those fifteen years Maramures has changed like the rest of Romania. Gloucestershire has been bought up by stockbrokers wanting weekend cottages and Maramures I had read was full of villas built by customs officers and police colonels.  And there are plenty of big new houses around. A lot fewer people wear costume every day than did when I missed my first chance to visit. Tourism is bigger business now than it was then and there is a steady stream of foreign visitors but the area still feels pretty undiscovered, well protected by its inaccessibility. You can’t get there easily from anywhere by car, train or plane.
In Maramures villages men in hats and women with scarves, aged from thirty upwards, spend a lot of time sitting on roadside benches. They look attentively at each car or pedestrian that passes and conversation languishes. Tranquil is I suppose the word. The bomb explosions in London seemed unreal to Londoners but less real in Maramures.
Agrotourism, putting up with peasants, is the joy of travelling in Romania. This is tourism on a human scale, bespoke. You are a lodger but treated as a friend.  Catch it before its innocence has been lost and before Romania enters the E.U. in 2007. Your hosts who are subsistence farmers provide milk for your coffee fresh from the cow at the end of the garden. How much will be lost when EU health regulations bring all this to an end.
The priest’s wife in the village of Botiza, Mrs Victoria Berdecaru, has revived the carpet making industry in the village, organised a very neat crafts museum and organises accommodation for visitors. I stayed with Vasile the handsome 40 year-old local carpenter and handyman who built the museum and who told me ‘I do everything except dig graves. I won’t dig graves.’
I came on a chance impulse to see the 38th edition of the Hora La Prislop festival. Horas  are traditional Romanian dances and every village has its dances. Hora La Prislop is held on a mountainside and participants from villages throughout the Maramures compete for prizes. It attracts a big well-mannered audience who sit on the grass watching the stage neither eating, drinking nor talking. I also noticed three or four foreigners, one bestrewn with two large and expensive cameras. The festival is great fun on a sunny Sunday afternoon if you repress the adage about trying everything once except incest or Morris dancing.
The date of the first festival, 1968, is telling. Nicolae Ceausescu was just beginning to wrap himself in the flag and emphasise the traditions of the Romanian peasantry, twenty years before he began to knock down villages to make way for agro-industrial complexes. We were back in the 1970s and you expected to see local party dignitaries in crimplene suits make speeches praising agricultural output.
This was the eve of Assumption Day. In Romania as in much of Southern Europe the Assumption of the Virgin is one of the most important days of the year. It is treated in the countryside as an unofficial holiday. The roads were full of processions, adults in full costume, and angelic girls in white as for a first Holy Communion.
People from all over the area and the two biggest processions converged on the Monastery of Moisei where Mass in the open lasted from early evening till midday. Until 1989 these processions were forbidden by the police and had to be held under cover of night but today every ex-Communist politician wants to be photographed on the Assumption at some famous monastery. Moisei was crowded with visitors and stalls selling refreshments. Long before the first procession was near the narrow road to the monastery was blocked and impassible by car.
Wooden churches are what Maramures is renowned for, with spires, steep roofs and wall paintings. I attended Mass the next morning in a Greek Catholic church in Iaud or rather in the graveyard amid hollyhocks and brightly painted crucifixes with most of the congregation. The women stood together in the front, the men together at the rear. Most of the women wore scarves and traditional blouses and skirts but there were a few in blue jeans and loose hair. Each year the numbers of the latter increase.
The priest at the close read out the names and size of the contributions made by parishioners to the cost of building the new church. (“€100 on the part of Mrs Ionela Ghica, €100 on the part of Vlad Dumitriu…”) Everywhere you go in Maramures new churches have been or are being built alongside the houses of incomers.  A few miles away an impressive Orthodox monastery complex has been built on the site of one suppressed in the eighteenth century.
Iaud is a village where half the population is Greek Catholic. The Greek Catholic rite resembles that of the Orthodox but the Greek Catholics, also known as ‘Uniates’, recognise the authority of Rome. Iaud boasts several fine wooden churches and a reputation for large families.  It seems that the inhabitants observe the Church’s teaching better than in richer parts of Europe. According to Vasile: ‘If you have three children here people think you’re impotent.’
Sighet, a pleasant Austro-Hungarian town a mile from the Ukrainian border, houses the infamous prison where after the Communist takeover the leading politicians and opinion-formers were incarcerated, tortured and in many cases killed. Today the prison is a well-designed museum that explains the Stalin era. When I visited the museum had plenty of customers. Children ran around noisily. I got a slight sense in the exercise yard of the horrors of the recent past, I stood in the little cell in which democrat Iuliu Maniu had died and I went out. I was pleased that President Ion Iliescu, a leading member of the Communist Party’s youth wing during the years when the prison was busiest, had not been to see it.
Vasile told me that the secret of a happy life is preserving tradition. ‘You have to change but you should keep the traditions.’ I thought of life in London where traditions have been dissolved by affluence, technology, pop culture and multiculturalism. In the Maramures past and present are seamless, the existence of God is assumed rather like the sun rising each morning, neighbours know everything about each other and no man is an island.
But the numbers of cars we saw everywhere with Italian driving licenses testify to the exodus of Moreseni to work abroad. In the locality where I was staying everyone went to Northern Italy, where the discipline of Italian life was irksome but the money was very good. In other parts of the Maramures I am told everyone goes to Spain. Maramures is beautiful but desperately poor and an economic impossibility. As Vasile said to me ‘When you say agriculture you say poverty.’ Europe no longer has room for subsistence farmers and even if people like Vasile would never swap their lives for anyone else’s, his three daughters will go to college and not return to live their mother’s way of life. Vasile has no regrets. ‘They must fulfill their destiny. I hope they will return here when they are old.’
© Paul Wood 2005

This was published in Vivid in October 2005, just after the bombings on the London underground by British Muslim terrorists.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Fairies' Farewell

The Fairies' Farewell

One of my very favourite poems and also a lament for Catholic England. I thought this was a widely known anthology piece but even Amanda Craig did not know it. Nothing is well known anymore he humphed.

FAREWELL, rewards and fairies, 
Good housewives now may say, 
For now foul sluts in dairies 
Do fare as well as they. 
And though they sweep their hearths no less 
Than maids were wont to do, 
Yet who of late for cleanness 
Finds sixpence in her shoe? 

Lament, lament, old Abbeys, 
The Fairies’ lost command! 
They did but change Priests’ babies, 
But some have changed your land. 
And all your children, sprung from thence, 
Are now grown Puritans, 
Who live as Changelings ever since 
For love of your demains. 

At morning and at evening both 
You merry were and glad, 
So little care of sleep or sloth 
These pretty ladies had; 
When Tom came home from labour, 
Or Cis to milking rose, 
Then merrily went their tabor, 
And nimbly went their toes. 

Witness those rings and roundelays 
Of theirs, which yet remain, 
Were footed in Queen Mary’s days 
On many a grassy plain; 
But since of late, Elizabeth, 
And later, James came in, 
They never danced on any heath 
As when the time hath been. 

By which we note the Fairies 
Were of the old Profession. 
Their songs were ‘Ave Mary’s’, 
Their dances were Procession. 
But now, alas, they all are dead; 
Or gone beyond the seas; 
Or farther for Religion fled; 
Or else they take their ease. 

A tell-tale in their company 
They never could endure! 
And whoso kept not secretly 
Their mirth, was punished, sure; 
It was a just and Christian deed 
To pinch such black and blue. 
Oh how the commonwealth doth want 
Such Justices as you!
One of my very favourite poems and in
Richard Corbet

Human 'Rights' are far more authoritarian that I ever imagined.

A Facebook conversation which makes me see how very deeply we in the West are in trouble.

Stefanie Ricarda Roos

First day of teaching Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder (Master Program in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law): Great crowd of students from all over the world.

18 people like this.

Paul Wood so much of so called Human Rights are in fact restrictions on Human Rights. Cultural economic and social rights sound like restrictions on freedom to me. Anti-discrimination legislation might be a good thing for example but it restricts freedom.

Stefanie Ricarda Roos Why do you consider them to be restrictions on HRs? Only with the basic ESC rights are fulfilled, can one enjoy his or her civil and political rights. "Freedom from want" is at the root of ESC rights (see Speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt held in 1941, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948).

Paul Wood Exactly the sophistry I had in mind. On the continent there is no real tradition of freedom. Freedom from want - coined because we were allied to Stalin - is like freedom from ill health, another use of freedom. It may be good but it is not freedom. Likewise freedom means freedom not to employ people I don't like. Etc etc

Paul Wood I am bitterly sorry I did not become an academic so that I could have dedicated my life to fighting "Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. " -And you are on the Right. I read somewhere of German Christian Democrat politicians warning Muslim immigrants that acceptance of homosexuality as normal was necessary if they wanted to live in a democracy - which does not sound like Catholicism to me or freedom or democracy.

Stefanie Ricarda Roos Paul, you do not need to be an academic in order to dedicate your life to fighting ESC-Rights. Lawyers, in particular, shall devote their lifes to this end. Have a look at the following video for inspiration:

Out of the Shadows

Paul Wood You misunderstood. I wish - but am too old - that I had dedicated my life to fighting against these so called rights.

Stefanie Ricarda Roos No, no, I truly understand: back to the old categorization of freedom rights (negative rights) and claim-rights (positive rights), to distinguishing two sets of rights, and claiming that the latter (i.e. ESC-rights) are not justiciable, and are only restricting liberalism. Back to a world in which a few can live a dignified life "in freedom" whereas the majority of people do not even have the minimum needed to live a life which you can call "dignified". That has nothing to do with Marxism, communism or mis-understood socialism, but with what is at the heart of it all: human dignity.

Paul Wood By the way many of these 'rights' - really infringements on other people's freedom - originated with cultural Marxism. This might interest you.

Sonya Winterberg Congrats and enjoy! The Viadrina is such a great place. We should have coffee some time... :)
Monday at 22:38 · Like

Paul Wood I am not arguing that the state should not help the poor by public spending but saying that such public spending paid for from taxes is an infringement of (taxpayers' ) freedom - freedom is not the only good but it is very important and we should call things by their names. Your use of the word freedom is duplicitous and in fact Orwellian. Like lumping in freedom from worry with freedom of expression. The word freedom means now what it meant in 1800.

Gregory Fabian Mr. Wood you seem to forget that what you cynically call "sophistry" are actually international human rights treaty obligations to which states have legally bound themselves when signing and ratifying such treaties as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the European Social Charter revised. Violations of these rights with impunity, if you need to be reminded, resulted, in the worst case, in the death of and personal injury to millions of persons, damage and destruction of personal property, and the displacement of millions more in the 20th century alone. One only has to witness the exhumation of a mass grave in the Balkans, or watch a video of the aftermath of the Markale massacres in Sarajevo to realize what happens when governments do not respect, protect and fulfill human rights, and how important they are to one realizing one's full potential as a human being. These rights were enshrined to provide all persons in the state with a checklist of the minimum level of each right to which they are entitled so that all persons may know demand and defend their rights no matter who that person is and no matter what government is in power. And Mr Wood, I have dedicated my life to the implementation of those rights i.e. all human rights including civil, economic, political, social, or cultural rights. They are inseparably intertwined.

Paul Wood Nonsense not entwined at all - how can you equate forcing me not to discriminate against women or Buddhists with my freedom of speech or property rights? Alas, in fact if I argued against rights for minorities I might find myself arrested under human rights legislation. The sooner the UK resiles from the ECHR the better. International law is the great threat in our days to democracy by the way. Why shouldn’t each country decide about human rights - and everything else?

Paul Wood Whether or not it is socialism I don't pretend to know - and giving the poor decent life certainly makes the world a better place - but it is not freedom. It is restricting freedom - just be honest and clear minded that's all. Public spending on social issues is fine. All anti discrimination laws should be repealed

Sonya Winterberg Dear Mr Wood, With all due respect what you write is ideological rubbish. On the eve of WWI similar statements were made with the known consequences of the humanitarian tragedies of the 20th century. Having myself worked in places as the ones described by Gregory above, I am grateful and humbled by everyone who is working to foster and/or protect said rights.

Paul Wood All the rights we need to protect assiduously are enshrined in English Common Law or the US Constitution - what sort of right is the right to privacy or family life ?? It is you madam who are the Bismarckian. I met an English schoolmistress who was teaching Romanian children about 'human rights' - I discovered she was telling them homosexual acts were fine - a perfectly acceptable point of view but in contradiction to orthodox and catholic teaching - and she was paid by the EU! What about the rights of the children's parents who I doubt held the same views? Or of the taxpayers in Germany and UK paying for this? I believe passionately in human rights by the way - for me it is almost the most important political issue (no 2 probably) - i.e. the rights of individuals not to be bullied by the state including by ECHR judges inventing law

Gregory Fabian Mr. Wood re: "your" rights and the rights of all, two quotes and a passage. "When the rights of a few are abused, the rights of all are abused" "Injustice to anyone is injustice to everyone." ML King. Also, a passage from a fiercely nationalistic German Lutheran Minister who was a WWI war hero, on coming to his senses and realizing what was happening in his country during WWII: First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, I was not a Jew, then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out, I was not a Communist, then they came for the trade unions, and I did not not speak out, I was not a trade unionist, then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak out, I was not a Catholic. Then they came for the homosexuals, Gypsies, disabled, etc. and I did not speak out, I was none of those. And then they came for me, and by that time, there was no one left to speak out for me.

Gregory Fabian And another quote from a man on the street in Zimbabwe when asked by a BBC reporter if he was going to vote in the elections that day. He said Yes I will try, but first I must find water for my family. Thus the exercise of the right to vote, for example, can depend on the ability to exercise another right, such as the right to water which is an integral part of the rights to health and an adequate standard of living.

Paul Wood Mr Fabian you are mixing things up. I am against all dictatorship including the dictatorship of the human rights industry , of international law and international QUANGOs. People have a right to speak, to organise politically, to be annoying, to argue that homosexual acts are wicked or that women should not go out to work or that Chinese people are inferior, to spy on their neighbours, to refuse to hire women or men or Protestants if they so choose, not to be arrested without good cause. No one has a ‘right’ to an adequate standard of living or to health (I think you mean health care) though if we are Christians we have a duty of charity to help the poor. Bismarck's Germany created the first national health service - a good thing I am sure - only because Germany did not and does not have a strong tradition of freedom. A welfare state - I believed in a limited welfare state by the way - is a good thing in small doses but a great infringement on freedom which is why when Europe was much freer - in 1900 - the idea seemed outrageous in England and the Anglo-Saxon world. The rights you talk about include both vitally important ones and the ephemeral fashions of our statist collectivist post-Christian ruling class. You are mixing freedom and equality which are always opposite poles. By the way Martin Luther King was not such an admirable figure - as well as being a very bad man in his private life he was a leftist and his legacy is this whole anti discrimination culture which we have today which so damages European traditional values and self confidence and is so opposed to freedom and traditional legal rights

Gregory Fabian Well that s a very interesting viewpoint Mr. Wood but a minority view to be sure. How does that square with the fact that the governments of approximately 160 members states of the UN out of 192 have recognized the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to health as human rights and have committed themselves to ensuring a minimum core obligation of those rights to all the people of their state and not just citizens, by signing and ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Further another 70 member states are signatories. Respect for human rights is an integral concept within the rule of law. Shall we advocate to disregard one of the most important tenets of the rule of law? Please Mr. Wood I have more than enough work with governments who deny rights.

Paul Wood We shall not agree. Very few members of the UN if any really respect rights or freedoms any more. I feel Europe which in the 19th century was free is much less so now. Lawyers by the way are not good at arguing from first principles. I do not share your respect for the UN run by dreadful governments, crooks and despots. You convince me that the human rights industry is much more authoritarian than I had feared. I hope the UK gets out of the dreadfully authoritarian ECHR which we should never have signed. There was talk in 2005 that we would had the Conservatives won the election.

Paul Wood The UN would like to make 'reproductive rights' human rights -  abortion. So much for Christianity Judaism and Islam.

Gregory Fabian And re: your opinion on discrimination. I have seen discrimination left unchecked for generations tear apart the very fabric of society in Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina where I lived and worked for a combination of nine years from 200 to 2009. To deny the importance of proactively combating discrimination is to allow conditions to exist which promote conflict, because discrimination is a root cause of conflict. Thus the quality of life for us all is proportionate to how we treat those who are different, and how we recognize the dignity and worth of the human person. And while discrimination occurs in all societies certain countries deny its existence. Others, instead of denying it, admit that they have it, and they take proactive measures to eliminate it as they are also required to do under the UN Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination among other international documents. That is why Europe is so far ahead of other regions in the world in the advancement of its anti discrimination laws and standards. I am now living permanently in Slovakia again where I previously worked from 93 to 2000, and I am trying to get the non Roma community to understand that discrimination against the Roma community is one of the most serious social and economic problems they have, and that if it is not addressed, it can become a security issue for all, and not just the Roma community, as the lessons of the Balkan Wars of the 90s teach us. And while there may not be a tradition of inter ethnic wars in central Europe, there certainly is always the threat of civil unrest, leading to violence and even terrorist acts. That is why it is vitally important to deal with the problems that Roma face, as opposed to the Roma problem as it is so often characterized. In the US the anti slavery clause was eliminated at the last minute from the Declaration of Independence to appease the Southern States but John Adams the Declaration s chief proponent very reluctantly consented with the warning that the US will have problems one hundred years hence and his prophesy was sadly correct. The US had a civil war that almost destroyed the country. And finally, 100 years after that War the US enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which actually began to address the root causes of discrimination and gave persons remedies against it. It is an example of what happens when discrimination is not addressed in the first instance.

Gregory Fabian And finally, on authoritarianism, my experience working in human rights against Vladimir Meciar, an authoritarian strongman in Slovakia from 93 to 98 is that it is characteristic of authoritarians to accuse their perceived enemies of the sins that they are the most guilty of. Good day.

Paul Wood there may not be a tradition of inter ethnic wars in central Europe? What about in the 20th century? I do not like discrimination against people on the grounds of race at all but discrimination in other areas is first unobjectionable (or sometimes desirable) and second none of the state's business. And what is discrimination but another word for hierarchy? I am sure you mean well but the current anti discrimination ideology which along with welfare has taken the place of religion in the West reduces freedom, disrupts tradition and has led to unhappy social changes in the role of women, in family life, sexual morality even. Slavery is not good but the North was not justified in going to war over it but this is a footnote. The Civil Rights Act has led to dreadful restrictions on freedom and the current nervous breakdown Americans have over race. The result is that we in the West no longer have faith in our traditions - which children are taught are oppressive rather than glorious - and that is fatal. Gypsies must save themselves with help from churches and NGOs not from the state. Maybe Slovakia's  problem is it is being corrupted by PC ideas feminism consumerism and atheistic modern pop culture. You see why I feel sad that I did not become an academic and argue for these ideas which I consider basic to civilization? I respect your views but strongly think you are mistaken.

O tempora , o mores: what would Juvenal have made of Sally Bercow's sex toy?

I am having the experience people said they had when Diana died and the English went wild with grief, that they no longer recognised their country. This is worthy of Juvenal.

Quentin Letts today in the Daily Mail:

Asked by 'Total Politics' magazine to name her favourite gadget, she did not, as some might have done, mention the Corby trouser press or the Teasmade.
She opted for a certain type of battery-operated sex toy. Classy.

Michael Wharton could not have invented it (and anyway would have considered it much too rude for a family newspaper). Selwyn Lloyd and George Thomas, unmarried men, are spinning in their graves. 

Saturday, 19 November 2011

O tempora! O mores! Juvenal would have had fun with Sally Bercow's sex toy

I am having the experience people said they had when Diana died and the English went wild with grief, that they no longer recognised their country.

Quentin Letts today in the Daily Mail:

Asked by 'Total Politics' magazine to name her favourite gadget, she did not, as some might have done, mention the Corby trouser press or the Teasmade.
She opted for a certain type of battery-operated sex toy. Classy.

Michael Wharton could not have invented it (and anyway would have considered it very much too rude for a family newspaper). That whirring sound is Selwyn Lloyd and George Thomas, unmarried men, spinning in their graves. 

The Society for the Prevention of Progress

The Society for the Prevention of Progress would now be considered racist, sexist and homophobic (although not Islamophobic). Fiscal conservatism though no doubt wicked can be discussed in public but social conservatism is no longer acceptable and possibly a hate crime.

The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Vol. II: Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949, ed. Walter Hooper (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), pp. 613-614, with the editor's introductory note (in italics) and footnotes:
In his unpublished 'biography' of his brother, which later became the 'Memoir' to Letters of C.S. Lewis, Warnie wrote:

In May 1944 Jack received an amusing letter from the Society for the Prevention of Progress, of Walnut Creek, California, inviting him to become a member and requesting him to forward his credentials. The signature on his reply was instigated by one of the Society's rules to which his attention had been called:—Membership and the privileges of the Society are denied to such individuals as Henry A. Wallace30and this fellow Beveridge.31


[Magdalen College
May 1944]

Dear Sir,

While feeling that I was born a member of your Society, I am nevertheless honoured to receive the outward seal of membership. I shall hope by continued orthodoxy and the unremitting practice of Reaction, Obstruction, and Stagnation to give you no reason for repenting your favour.

I humbly submit that in my Riddell Lectures entitled The Abolition of Man you will find another work not at all unworthy of consideration for admission to the canon.

Yours regressively,
C.S. Lewis

Beverages not Beveridges
(my motto) 


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Donald Dunham on the Romanians

(Donald Dunham an American diplomat stationed in Bucharest submitted his doctoral dissertation Rumanian Profile: A Study of National Character as Reflected in the Visual Arts, on May 20th, 1948, in the midst of the Communist takeover. It begins magnificently. I wish I could find a copy of the book whcih someone once lent me.)

The Romanians are a social phenomenon. As a nation among nations, they are westerners evolved in the East. They are Latins surrounded by Slavs. They are Romans two thousand years away from Rome. They are contemporaries re-produced on Trajan’s Column. 

They are peasants with the utmost in sophistication. They farm instinctively, but are suspicious of machinery. They speak a language like Italian but the majority of their words are Slavonic. They are superstitious but religious at the same time. They are astutely intelligent, but refuse to be intellectual. They submit to invasion but preserve their identity. They support great wealth and extreme poverty. They produce striking beauty yet can live in filth. 

As a collective personality, the Romanians are Oriental in their souls although Latin on the surface. Their patience is almost unending but they are quick to explode in argument; they are peace-loving yet would disintegrate without controversy. They are passive but strong in their resistance; spontaneously adaptable, still difficult t influence. They are romantic but never escape from reality. 

They are charming yet cruel in their ridicule, warmly emotional but calculating, generous yet concentrate on the ‘main chance.’ They are opportunistic but lose interest after they have gained the advantage; they seize the moment, still adopt the long view. 

The Romanians are a people of colorful contrasts and extreme extremes, born in classic times, ravaged by barbarians, indentured to the Turks, dominated by the Byzantines, the Greeks, dictated to by the Hungarians, Poles, Austrians and others, seduced by the French and not recognized as a country until 1878. Yet they emerge with a character that defies this confusion, that is definitely, emphatically, unmistakably Romanian. This character was born of a Dacian shepherd and a Roman lass, whose progeny became dwellers with nature itself, epicureans with earthy values and a tough constitution. 

It developed in composition and grew in strength under the invasions of waves of barbarians. Slavs were added to the original Dacians and the Roman colonizers. Christianization was extended in Wallachia and Moldavia by the Byzantine Church and intrigue was introduced as a science by the Greek ruling emissaries of the Sublime Porte. With the intrigue came the Greek culture of the mind – the analytical clarity of the Mediterraneans – which evaporated as Greek, as it was quickly absorbed as Romanian. Following this permeation came the magnetic seduction by Paris and the synthetic adoption of French-Western artistic values, by those classes who would afford to visit the “Rive Gauche” and return. 

Today you find the cult of the mind imbedded as an element of character in all classes second only to emotional spontaneity as a national characteristic. The Greeks were more successful than the French because they came to Romania and did not make Romanians come to them, and because their main influence was middle class and thereby could infect those classes both above and below them. The French appealed to aristocracy; the upper and wealthy classes of Romania went to Paris yearning to prove themselves by Gallic standards, perhaps eventually to return to the country of their birth to demonstrate their cultural acquisitions.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Patrick Leigh Fermor in 1966 lamenting tourism at its outset in Greece

It is the same everywhere. The Athenians look on this constant change with a mixture of abstract pride and private bewilderment. Much of this architectural restlessness may spring from the sudden boom in tourism. One's first reaction to this new windfall is delight: Greek economy needs these revenues; one's second is sorrow. Economists rejoice, but many an old Athenian, aware of the havoc that tourism has spread in Spain and France and Italy, lament that this gregarious passion, which destroys the object of its love, should have chosen Greece as its most recent, most beautiful, perhaps its most fragile victim. They know that in a few years it has turned dignified islands and serene coasts into pullulating hells. In Athens itself, many a delightful old tavern has become an alien nightmare of bastard folklore and bad wine. Docile flocks converge on them, herded by button-eyed guides, Mentors and Stentors too, with all Manchester, all Lyons, all Cologne and half the Middle-West at heel. The Athenians who ate there for generations have long since fled. (Fortunately, many inns survive unpolluted; but for how long? The works of writers mentioning these places by name should be publicly burnt by the common hangman.) Greece is suffering its most dangerous invasion since the time of Xerxes.

..In dark moments I see bay after lonely bay and island after island as they are today and as they may become … The shore is enlivened with fifty jukeboxes and a thousand transistor wirelesses. Each house is now an artistic bar, a boutique or a curio shop; new hotels tower and concrete villas multiply. (From Roumeli which I just read in memoriam and loved )

Friday, 29 July 2011

The passing of Vasile the porter

It is Vasile the porter's last day, aetat 77 (he looks 67). 'There are few things not purely evil, of which we can say, without some emotion of uneasiness, this is the last.' (Dr. Johnson.) No man is an island and every man's retirement diminishes me.
 Dr. Johnson also said: "All change is of itself an evil, which ought not to be hazarded but for evident advantage." Why do people no longer say things like this?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

No-one ever understands a foreign country.

No-one ever understands a foreign country. 

Unless one moves there in adolescence or childhood. 

After the start of old fogeyhood which William James put at the age of 25 it is impossible. 

The longer one stays the more and the less one understands.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Charters and Caldicott arrive in Bandrika

Image result for Charters and Caldicott arrive in Bandrika
Charters: If only we hadn't missed that train at Budapest. 

Caldicott: Well, I don't want to rub it in, but if you hadn't insisted on standing up until they'd finished their national anthem... 

Charters: Yes, but you must show respect, Caldicott. If I'd known it was going to last twenty minutes... 

Caldicott: It has always been my contention that the Hungarian Rhapsody is not their national anthem. In any case, we were the only ones standing.

The Lady Vanishes is one of the small number of films which is deeply engraved on my soul. 

Charters and Caldicott who became the heroes of a television series years in the late 1980s are archetypal upper middle class chaste cricket-mad English bachelor clubmen, an archetype that exists in our national collective unconscious but not any more in real life. 

Later in the civil service I found chaste well-bred public school men who were confirmed bachelors and seemed to me to have something from black and white films about them but they preferred books to cricket. 

Bandrika I'd like to fancy is Romania but it probably owes more to Czechoslovakia or Jugoslavia (it has mountains and borders Hungary).

Cecil Parker is an appeaser avant la lettre and ends up dead. Even dear old Basil Radford tries to make up to the commandant who stops the train and discovers they were both at Oxford. 

When Michael Redgrave KO-s the commandant and says, nonchalantly, 'I went to Cambridge myself', the Cambridge Arts Cinema raised the roof.

In Night Train to Munich made during the war the pair are on a train going through Germany when they are told war has been declared and they have only an hour to leave the country. Charters and Caldicott look at one another sharing a silent sombre thought until Wayne says 'You know what this means.' And Radford replies, 'We'll never see those golf clubs we left in Berlin again.' Such things made the British laugh in 1940.

Basil Radford, who played the pompous Charters, was born in 1897. He was 41 or 42 when the film was made. I can no longer disguise from myself that I am middle-aged. And I am older than The Three Musketeers were in Twenty Years After and they seemed so very old when I read that book aged 11. Where did the last twenty years go? I seem to have mislaid them like an umbrella left behind somewhere. I remember a misty eyed man in his seventies whom I saw walking around Old Court at College deep in reflection. How very old he seemed then and how very far away his undergraduate years in the 1920s or 30s.

But I cheer myself up by calculating that D'Artagnan and the musketeers would have been my age when they restored King Charles II to the throne of England in The Vicomte de Bragelonne. I still have time.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

“Otto — a mortal, sinful man!” “Let him be admitted."

I just watched these questions put and answered on television. They were very moving, from a religious and historical point of view,  though less moving to watch on television than to read.  The Capuchin monk looked nervous as he answered and glanced at the television camera. The end of a very old song.


Capuchin Friar : “Who desires admission?”

Leader of funeral party:  “Otto of Austria, former Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, Prince Royal of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, of Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Lodomeria and Illyria; Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cracow; Duke of Lorraine, Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Bukowina; Grand Prince of Transylvania, Margrave of Moravia; Duke of Upper and Lower Silesia, Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, of Osweicim and Zator, of Teschen, Friaul, Dubrovnik and Zadar; Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca; Prince of Trento and Brixen; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia and Istria: Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenburg; Lord of Trieste, Kotor and Windic March; Grand Voivod of the Voivodship of Serbia” But in fact he skipped some of these and ended “etc etc”

Friar : “We do not know him!”


Friar : “Who desires admission?”
Leader  : “Dr Otto von Habsburg; President and Honorary President of the Pan-European Union; Member and Father of the House of the European Parliament; Holder of honorary doctorates from countless universities and freeman of many communities in Central Europe; Member of numerous noble academies and institutes; Bearer of high and highest awards, decorations and honours of church and state made to him in recognition of his decade-long struggle for the freedom of peoples, for right and justice.”

Friar: “We do not know him!”


Friar : “Who desires admission?”
Leader  : “Otto — a mortal, sinful man!”
Friar: “Let him be admitted."

I might have been in Vienna today to line the streets for Otto von Habsburg's funeral. I remember Andrew Roberts making me very jealous by telling me he was there for the Empress Zita’s in 1989 just as Communism came to an end and now I have let a second chance slip by.

"In the hour of grief over this tragic loss, I associate myself with you and the entire imperial family in prayer for the deceased." — Pope Benedict XVI

Do not stay at the Hotel Del Mar, Sozopol

The Hotel Del Mar  opened a week before I arrived so I hate to be critical but don't stay there....

My shower did not have hot running water. When I told the manager he came to my room and told me three times that the shower was working fine before I arrived. I didn’t pay this remark any attention but when I went to pay he repeated this twice with the pugnacity that short men have. I said: 'Why do you keep saying that? Are you suggesting I broke it?'  'Yes!' And he told me he would charge me to have it repaired. I told him to call the police which he promised to do. He said that the maid cleaned the bathroom with the shower every day so it was certain it had been working without a problem until I arrived. Then he added a piece of clinching evidence that the  maid had told him there was water on the bathroom floor. To save time I condescended to explain to him that the shower emitted only cold water not hot. He vanished and after ten minutes returned and said without apology or explanation that I would not be charged for the damage.  

Rather unpleasant, actually.

I asked if there was someone I could write to to complain but there was not so I am writing this instead. 

Otherwise, depressingly tacky furniture and furnishings, a disappointing breakfast, good sea views. There are much better places in Sozopol to stay. Very much better to get a private room in a lovely old National Revival house with a vine-strewn garden as I had done the night before, for a mere 12 euros. I stayed in a lovely place with a lovely landlady and will post her address when I find the card

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Romanian education

I wrote this in 2005. Much has changed since then.

Romania’s greatest resources are not her mineral or agricultural resources but her human resources. But like her physical resources her human resources are poorly developed

Before Communism, Romania was what would today be described as a Third World country, with a tiny rich elite, a small educated middle-class (many of whom were Jewish or belonged to other ethnic minorities) and a mass of impoverished and mostly illiterate peasants. Industrialisation was imposed from above, as a result of the application of Marxist-Leninist principles, rather than occurring organically and Romania today retains in many ways a pre-industrial culture yoked to an ill-conceived and chaotic industrial base. In common with most agrarian or industrialising countries with large peasant populations (Ireland springs to mind and many countries outside Europe) the key social division in Romanian society is between ‘intellectuals’ and the mass of the population. In the countryside, where life has not changed much over centuries, the status of the intellectual is particularly important. In the villages the priest, the schoolmaster and the doctor form the intellectual class, subscribe to magazines from Bucharest and are looked on by their neighbours as sources of guidance and illumination on most subjects.

The word ‘intellectuals’ was recently defined by the commentator, Mircea Toma, to mean ‘free-thinkers’ but it is usually used in Romania as a catch-all expression (Marxist in origin) meaning, essentially, graduates. Between graduates and those who did not attend university there yawns an abyss almost comparable with that between the races in apartheid South Africa.

Before the Revolution Communist doctrine emphasised the dignity of manual labour and the importance of vocational training in order to produce workers, technicians and managers as quickly as possible in order to build socialism. Romania therefore restricted the numbers receiving university education especially in arts subjects. It was difficult to be accepted to study the humanities at university without a satisfactory ‘file’. In other words in order to be politically correct university students were generally expected to be the children of Party members (usually both parents had to carry Party cards).

Partly for this reason, partly because investment in capital projects was at the cutting edge of the Communist economic policy and partly because the hard sciences were taught objectively without a Marxist slant, engineering was a highly popular subject, studied not at university but at the polytechnics. From this derives the old chestnut that Romanians fell into two categories: intellectuals and engineers. After December 1989 Romania lurched toward the modern world with great numbers of well-qualified and talented engineering graduates and little use to which to put them. Today engineering graduates dominate much of business and have amongst other things produced the ingenious IT professionals who are more plentiful here than in any other European country.

From 1990 the universities did an about-turn to serve the new Romania and lecturers who had taught Leninist economic theory had to reinvent themselves and their courses in a hurry. But the numbers of school-leavers who aspired to a university education or, at least, to a university degree, far outran the number of places available at the state universities. As a result, many people pay to study for degrees full-time or at night-school or by distance learning from the plethora of private universities that have been set up since the Revolution (with varying reputations, some cowboy outfits, others excellent, but all viewed as inferior by proud graduates of the state universities).  Some TV presenters and singers study at private universities, their fees sponsored by lovers of the arts, in something of the spirit in which they accept cars or diamond rings. In fairness, Romania is not the only country where students who are not naturally intended for academic education pursue degrees of questionable value. In Great Britain the trend has gone much further and graduates there emerge with far less general knowledge or high culture. And in Romania as elsewhere the wider availability of university education has made society less hierarchical than would otherwise be the case.

Partly because educational qualifications are seen as the key to a successful career as well as social status, partly because in the 1980s the country benefited from the inestimable boon of having only two hours television per day, Romanians are exceptionally erudite in contrast to their contemporaries in Western Europe and even more markedly in contrast with those in North America. They are highly cultured and excel at the art of conversation. They read a lot, know a lot of facts and absorb a great deal of technical detail. Unfortunately, the educational system can also tend to encourage rote learning and conformism at the expense of originality and independent thinking, rather as in Japan. This is reflected in marking students out of 10 in each exam. Exams are frequent from the age of seven until graduation at 23. Marks over 9 are a source of pride, 8s a cause for anguish, in contrast with the ubiquitous ‘2:1’s of British graduates. Although university teachers use seminars, the large classes and frequency of examinations put the emphasis on training at the expense of true education.

Very many young Romanian will have or intend to have two, three or more degrees, perhaps having studied for two simultaneously or taken further degrees while working. Students also frequently hold down demanding jobs while undergraduates. Very often they still manage to pass their exams with flying colours as a result of hard work and dedication. Where hard work and dedication are not enough sometimes a discreet present to an examiner can make up for deficiencies caused by lack of time for revision. But university in Western Europe is above all a time for personal growth, the only time in most people’s lives when one has (unless one is rich) freedom without responsibility. In the West that freedom is sometime abused and more often wasted but in Romania it does not exist. It is very difficult for overworked and hard-up students to pass the endless exams and gain a true education at the same time. Some female students even take the route of thinly-disguised prostitution to make ends meet. Many tens of thousands more simply do not take up courses in order to make a meagre living in jobs which do not utilise their potential.

Because the emphasis in Romanian universities is too often on training rather than education Romanian employers and employees alike expect the subject an employee studies at university to be directly related to the profession he chooses. But because in fact the teaching at university is theoretical rather than vocational, a graduate aspiring to enter his first job will be asked to show experience of the real world as well as high exam marks, a combination difficult to achieve. Romanian universities too often therefore fall between two stools. They are apt to fail both as genuine universities which exist to develop minds by the disinterested pursuit of truth and as effective vocational training institutes preparing their students for the challenges that will face them on leaving. However, cheating in exams and bribery of examiners, although the frequency of both can be exaggerated, will teach the graduate that there is more than one way to make ones career. In a job market dominated by personal connections and where in some sectors female graduates are routinely expected to have romantic liaisons with decision-makers  before they can be given an entry-level job, perhaps these lessons are a good preparation for the real world after all.

ASE, to  name the most distinguished teaching body in the sphere of business education, produces thousands of graduates with competent technical skills but the teachers often fail to teach students how to think for themselves, how to communicate ideas, how to solve problems and how to work as a team. Perhaps we should not judge the teachers too harshly as the older ones were teaching Marxist-Leninist theory until the Revolution and all the lecturers were themselves the products of Marxist education. Certainly things are beginning to change and educational ideas from abroad are beginning to oxidize the teaching system here at all levels. Nevertheless, the multinationals, for which the majority of good graduates aspire to work, can and do provide excellent vocational training on the job. What the Romanian economy urgently needs and lacks are creative and even iconoclastic minds.

Since 1990 marketing, economics and business administration are the most popular subjects at state and private universities alike for hard-headed economic reasons, along with law. MBAs abound nowadays but Romanian graduates are still often required to memorise what they are taught rather than question it. The result is that, as on previous occasions in her history, Romania tries to adopt the forms of Western behaviour without completely accepting or understanding the ethos behind them.   ©Paul Wood 2011