Saturday, 5 March 2011

Asia begins at the River Jordan

An Israeli just told me this week there are five great cities of Europe: London, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Tel Aviv.

I was interested that he a Jew mentioned Berlin a city I always forget about - the only East European capital I haven't visited, for 21 years, and probably the most exciting. Actually I have never been to Berlin. I have been to two cities which no longer exist called East and West Berlin.

Tel Aviv to my surprise does not feel American and it has a wonderful buzz, even though the old Middle Eastern Jewry in Cairo and Damascus would have been far more interesting than their descendants. Tel Aviv feels Near Eastern more than Middle Eastern. Greece and Turkey and Israel are the same cultural area. But Tel Aviv is also an important appendix to East European history. Romanians tell me they hear Romanian spoken all the time in Tel Aviv. Someone told me 10% of the population are Romanian Jews.

Since we in England are not European either I don't feel very qualified to judge where Europe ends but clearly it does not include 97% of Turkey. Nor Cyprus, nor Malta. Maybe I do feel qualified...

Europe includes Reunion and Guadaloupe, Ceuta, Melilla, St. Pierre and Miquelon. Spain was in Africa when Muslim and the Spanish still talk like we English do or did, about going to Europe. "Asia begins at the Landstraβe" said Metternich. Catherine the Great was more powerful than Metternich and moved the border of Europe from the Volga to the Urals. It will, disastrously I think, begin at the Iraqi border with Turkey if the EU, the State Department and the FCO have their way. 

In any case Romania is doomed to be a success because she lies indisputably in the geographical expression (for it is not a continent) Europe. Georgia is much less fortunate. 

A Romanian once said to me: 'You know people make the wrong comparison when they compare Romania to France. They should compare us to Syria. Compared to Syria we aren't doing badly.' And in the Christian quarters of Aleppo and Damascus I discovered an unknown Balkan country. In Armenia and Georgia I found two more.

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