Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Last night in the Writers' Union

A dusty event in the wonderful grand room of the Writers’ Union. An event to mark the 135th anniversary of Brancusi's birth; not I thought an excessively significant epoch. Most of the historic centre of Bucharest was like this when I came to live here in 1998. Gilt ceiling in Mid-Victorian taste of the 1870s overlaid by the patina of Communism, the dusty 19th century room shrouded in opaque grey net curtains. Do you know that the heart must stop? From the yellow Italianate ceiling do you hear the plaster drop? Everyone present seems deliciously dusty and the speakers make cloudily poetic repetitive speeches about Brancusi and God. Romanians who are at ease in Zion speak about God in a way that Englishmen do not. As if he exists just as surely as the sun rises each morning. Vlad Ciobanu the sculptor. An artist beside him whose jacket, billycan hat and trousers are all one size too small as if he is starting to increase in stature like the hero of Mircea Eliade’s A Great Man. A long list is read out by the President of the Writer’s Union of dignitaries who are awarded a medallion  for services to culture starting with the Prime Minister. Almost none are present and the list goes on for twenty minutes like a scene from Gormenghast. Everyone here is nice, intelligent and none rich. How little I know of Romania. Florica Pacea is a chic blonde explosion in a black and white film  as she receives a medal for her absent husband.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The average age in Libya is 22. All else is detail.

I went to bed last night sure Gaddafi cannot last. The broadcast by his son admitting the revolt was happening and threatening 40 years of poverty if his father goes is an admission of defeat. And then it looks like it will be, not 1989 of course not, but 1848. If Gaddafi can be overthrown anyone can be overthrown.

How like some fading 1960s rock star Gaddafi looks. A household name of whom we know almost nothing his true fame will come late when we learn the secret history of his court. I hope there is a Procopius keeping a diary.

Note on November 6:

How very foolish I was and how different this will be from 1848. As the Christians and Shia will see if the Syrian government is toppled, as the people of Tripoli are already seeing.

Following the success of the King's Speech, can we expect Noel Coward's love affair with the Duke of Kent, set to music?

I am not sure if I want to see The King's Speech or not. Apparently people call the King Your Majesty which sounds Hollywooden. Very C. Aubrey Smith.

Poor King George VI was so unintelligent as to be almost mentally retarded. Which is absolutely fine. So were many of his subjects. He reviewed a battalion of WRACS just arrived in Sicily, asking the first: When did you arrive in Sicily? and receiving the reply: This afternoon, sir. He then repeated exactly the same question with the remaining 40 receiving the same reply each time. He will be remembered for one remark, made to W.H.Auden at a reception which is immortalised in the Oxford Book of Quotations: Abroad is bloody.

But he was a fine man who truly might like King George III have gloried in the name of Briton and he exemplified two very British characteristics of shyness and philistinism. A better man though much less influential monarch than King George V or King Edward VII too. He smoked 60 a day I think and died as a result of lung cancer. He received a telegram telling him of our present Queen's birth on the golf course and, perfectly reasonably, continued his game. He was as right-wing as Edward VIII but did not thankfully share the latter's insouciance about Fascism. King George VI thought the NHS a bad idea. 'You might as well give people free shoes...'

Were we right to declare war on Germany?

My father and grandfather both joined up in 1939 but neither saw action. But I still consider 'we' defeated Germany (or rather Russia did). Our finest hour. Or was our finest hour the Delhi Durbar of 1911? I am sure we should have avoided war with the Kaiser's Germany (not because I am unaware how unpleasant that regime was) and had we made peace in 1914 or 1915 between France, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany and equally important managed to remain at peace with Turkey that surely would have been our finest hour. 1939 is very much more problematic. Hitler wanted European war at some point though not with Great Britain. I am not sure how 'we' British could have avoided going to war in 1939 and had we done so how we could have kept out and yet I think it would on balance have been better if we had. Would a Europe ruled by Germany have been much worse than the outcome we had in 1945? Not for Central or East Europeans. We fought to throw away our power, our Empire, to become a client of America, for the USSR to conquer half of Europe. My educated guess is the Jews would not have been killed had we been neutral lookers-on. Are these speculations important? Coulda woulda shoulda..

I at school was bored by the familiar history of Western European fronts in both wars when what mattered clearly was Eastern Europe. The Great War after all was won in Bulgaria but how many know that? 'We' knew a lot in 1945 about Auschwitz but people at the time were surprisingly uninterested - see the postscript to Tony Judt's Europe. Yet the history of the Western World since 1950 is a disquisition on Auschwitz. The colonial powers had also ruled over subject races, sometimes with brutality (80,000 Madagascans may have been killed by the French in an uprising in 1946 though this figure is disputed) and in the moment of their restoration this fact and the loss of white prestige inflicted by the wartime Japanese made empires and colour bars untenable. It would scarcely be an exaggeration that almost everything flows from that.

In the former Communist Europe there is very little interest in the subject and no guilt even though Romania's record, for example, on Jews is pretty bad.



In Transylvania one is reminded how the Germans and Hungarians preserved the Romanians (Vlachs and gypsies too). Elsewhere Germans ruled over Estonians, Latvians and other subject races for centuries, whereas  the British Americans killed their indigenous peoples.

A. J. P. Taylor: ''If the Germans had succeeded in exterminating their Slav neighbours, as the Anglo-Saxons in North America succeeded in exterminating the Indians, the effect would have been what it has been on the Americans: the Germans would have become advocates of brotherly love and international reconciliation.'' Hitler himself said: who now remembers the Armenians?

Train journey from Bucharest to Clacton-on-Sea, 2010

 31 July 2010.

I woke with no thoughts of leaving Bucharest or starting the holiday that Francis and Geo had thwarted yesterday. And then I spoke to Mr K who advised going to the Bierten Show via Medias and I found the train to Medias left at 9.50 which meant I had plenty of time and then I saw that I didn’t and rushed and made it with my usual minutes to spare. This sounds like my account aged 10 of my family holiday by train in the Norfolk Broads. And the diaries I started before puberty for a few days after Christmas very narrative. I woke up watched Top Cat. We had cheese on toast for breakfast. The same little boy is writing like children tell stories. The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.

The train will be an hour late because of works on the line and this too is life. I speak to Geo who went alone yesterday after telling me he wouldn’t be able to. He was too shattered by my SMS (saying if you says you will do something you should do it) to call me and invite me to come. And we agree to meet in Sighisoara.

Sighisoara ten years ago a gem of a German town out of the Brothers Grimm is no longer supportable. Some towns can absorb tourism but Sighisoara is too small to do so. Cafes in what Nancy tells me the guide book calls a charming square. I am resolutely not charmed of course. Oh joy, mediaeval music from a bar. Nancy arrives with Eugeniu and how well one knows someone from Facebook. Much better than from a dozen cocktail parties. She has a hat to protect her from the sun and seems truly happy. Eugeniu is unchanged. Geo arrived with tourists he has picked up and has settled at a table in a cafe and expects me to come to him and my coffee has just arrived. Eugeniu flatly refuses to meet to go to Geo. All parties are proud and I find this absurd but am I also guilty for noticing or caring? Nancy liked the Biertan festival. I say I think X is a phoney. “I don’t rely on anyone and I expect nothing from them.’’ A good philosophy. What is mine? X is harmless. Why does she irritate me? Because she is affected. Like Geo. And it is her false persona and we all have them but hers is intended to draw undue attention to herself by a false individuality. Physician cure thyself Paul.

Two enchanting Saxon villages towards the end of the day with fortified churches closed. A horse and cart which has survived the EU, horses with scarlet to avoid Geo tells me the evil eye. I remember reading that the evil eye is about envy and being disappointed that it did not mean P.’s psychopathic stare. But P. is consumed by envy and this is close to the root of evil in her and every case. ‘He has a daily beauty in his life which makes mine ugly’ was all the explanation Iago gave for his crimes. P. could say the same. 'The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light; but if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!'

A solitary middle-aged Saxon with the key to one of the churches refused to open it. The Romanian fields at the end of the day. I am enchanted. Make a special effort to be nice to Geo and listen to his story about how badly organised and Communist the festival was - his film was mangled when shown at the festival and the accommodation he was given after much prodding was dam even though he told them he suffered from pulmonary problems and at the far end of the village. Why did it cost an effort to sympathise? I did say: but you know things are always like that in Romania.
He suggests Viscri where the Prince of Wales has a house and this is an inspired idea. Although the little road that took us there had two (only two) potholes and this made him regret it.
Not innocent of tourism as it all was ten years ago but I should learn from my mistakes to visit it now. Some pensions though this is as serene as Biertan used to be. Also on the UNESCO list. The lane to the church with trees. Could anywhere in Greece be lovelier? Something Balkan somehow in this little Saxon town.

The Germans colonised Transylvania, Estonia, Latvia and Poland and in the end with the coming of nationalism they lost their dominions. While the Anglo-Saxons exterminated their natives the Red Indians and aborigines. A. J. P. Taylor: ''If the Germans had succeeded in exterminating their Slav neighbours, as the Anglo-Saxons in North America succeeded in exterminating the Indians, the effect would have been what it has been on the Americans: the Germans would have become advocates of brotherly love and international reconciliation.''

The long street lined with Saxon houses, some painted lilac or ochre, very poor, very serene. Like Biertan in 1999 one wants to capture the calm of the place in a jam jar and keep it like a pot pourris. Why didn’t I build a house in a place like this like Patrick Leigh Fermor did in Manas? And the place to do it would be as Andreas insists Pestera......

A pension where we cannot stay but can sit outside eating very god mushroom soup, a good stuffed pepper, much tuica, execrable homemade rosé wine. Geo talks animatedly to the group of French tourists. One is a Romanian who left in 1980 who asked us many questions but when we ask her about herself and I ask in jest if she were a spy she as Geo notices quickly leaves. She is he is sure a former secret policewoman. He is I am sure paranoid and it is unlikely. Spies always say they are diplomats. Why writing this did Geo irritate me so much? – he was after all making all this possible. He is a control freak. This suggests I am one two. Jung said when someone irritates you you thereby learn much about yourself. His fussiness. His need to be in charge. His studied eccentricities. Dancing tango in the street for example which is fun, actually. And many nice things. His dislike of expensive places, his liking for low dives, his mourning the old Lipscani. I liked the sense of a party but went off before Geo to share a bedroom with him but not luckily a bed.



Sunday
Geo’s alarm played for 15 minutes without pause before he awoke and we exchanged words, Mr Pooter expression.

Breakfast. A Polish architectural historian with his Austrian wife who has lived in and loved Poland since 1990. At first she met some anti-Austrian prejudice. Not now. The Poles are forgiving I thought.

I walk through the village. The fortified church. The paintings on wood C17th, angry and red. The war memorial. It is the Sunday for one of the Lutheran Masses which are held every two weeks. The pretty blonde Saxon lady spent 15 years in Germany but is happier here. Jessica Douglas-Home is her boss. I wish I had met JDH via Robert Silva in 1990.

I am trying hard not to lose my rag with Geo. Why? His jaunty walk, his hat, his smile are annoying. Finally we detonate, and part angrily. I feel the violence of this but also a great calm. However am now stuck in Viscri without transport which is good and bad.

No-one want to take me anywhere on Sunday. Enjoyed the peace of the village. I was alone with Eugen at dinner and discussed how much he likes the peace. He started his pension in 2004. A bottle of tolerable wine from the shop which cost 10 RON.

Monday

Slept 11 hours.

Ica short form Domnica lived and works 5 years in Sighisoara for five years but disliked the hurry of town life. Life here is poor. She lets out rooms. Keeps cows. Her husband makes food for pigs and sheep. Their son Cristi is 10. This is a way of life which will shortly vanish. Thomas Hardy’s England. The way Europe was from prehistoric times till after the Second World War. The Europe of the poets and painters. I have passed 12 years in Bucharest pent and shall do so no longer I vow.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

I fall into agreement for Ica’s husband (name?) to drive me to Rupea and take in Homorod. All I see of Rupea is the great castle overhanging the little town. The little town after two nights in Vicri transportless seems a different place from what it would seen passing through from a car window. It has shops and a railway station.

Homorod. Wonderful church as much castle as church. Johannes Martin (Hans) has the key. We rouse him. His is in house clothes pyjama like old amid his vegetable garden. 84 he tells us proudly. He opens the church.

Between the thick walls and the church are brambles. The walls are two feet thick and more. The Tartars and Turks never took it he says. I admire very much the paintings on wood on the stalls. Jesus dressed like a 17th C Saxon farmer broadcasting seed.
This colony surrounded by Tartar and Turkish enemies, illiterate Romanian helots with an alien religion, Hungarian and Szeckler allies.
Hans is asking about Vicri. What does Carolina do these days? The Saxons left and now only seventeen remain instead of 800 familIes. Gypsies replaced them. Saxons built the impressive school in 1900. I forgot to ask him if he had descendents.
In 1944 when the Russians came his father feared deportation but they had a good doctor who invalided him out of the army. Why die fighting for Russians? said the doctor. Hans fled to the forest alone and lived in berries like John the Baptist for five months till he judged it safe to creep back.
The Securitate and the Communists were terrible people with no culture and no souls he told me. I believed him. Their children are now capitalists and flock to Monte Carlo each summer. They preferred gypsies and Romanians to Saxons. But sto Hans said we never had any problem with Romanians. But the Hungarians drink.
I finally catch a personal train, the first in my life which takes hours to travel a few miles the best way I always knew to see Romania. And I retrace my rail journey via Augustin of Saturday. I resist the temptation to stop there for four hours. Brasov. I am tired. Lunch and the internet and looking for somewhere to stay eat the day. An email from P. is surprise. Strolling in the evening. What was once a great Saxon town now Romanian. Erika her mother having got her passport will leave tomorrow morning. What a shame and my plans to see the fortified churches of the Szekerfold are postponed. I call Akis and am invited to stay tomorrow in Cluj.

Friday
Budapest hot. Airless.
Saturday
Missed the train caught the second. €39 return to Salzburg. Dullish journey without mountains. Gleaming factory roofs caught the sun. 


Sunday
E in pyjamas revolting repellent soft has decided not to go to Mass despite ordering me to be there at 8. Because the weather is good as I had told him it would be. He had irritatingly said the BBC forecast was propaganda for tourists. Half dead and half alive. I did not want to pray alongside him but spent the Mass trying to pray rather than listen to Haydn and did neither, most of the elderly congregation were there, I decided, to do the latter and then told me other peoples prayer lives are not my business.


Berchtesgaden six bus journeys (and 6 hours in all) but I replaced one with a taxi and one with a steep 3 mile downhill walk. The taxi driver who seemed unashamed of his country’s past said Hitler was only there 4 times because he suffered from vertigo. At the summit was a tea room where Germans enjoyed the view. I remember an old lesson: when you’ve seen one mountain you’ve seen them all. Only towns are interesting. And perhaps the sea.


In Salzburg much was closed, the Nepalese student who was Connie to Basil Fawlty when I asked her if she liked Austria said it was paradise. The Sikh in the restaurant also liked it and I understand very well why. The awful room beyond the lumber room. I take a shower.

Monday, 9

Journey to Feldkirch via Innsbruck.


Wonderful Alpine scenery. The reason I remember why I made this journey. E agreed with me that mountains are not interesting but from a train they are, though literally Not Memorable. They leave no trace in the mind unlike buildings towns.

Innsbruck
In parts a lovely Alpine Sinaia or Borsac but the parts with painted mediaeval buildings are thronged with tourists and full of souvenir shops. Who buys this stuff? Much much more touristy than Salzburg. 3 and ¾ hours enough. Some great churches. But the empty baroque of the monarchy, the family in search of or flight from an idea.

Feldkirch. Tim (or I?) got the dates wrong. A long bus journey to another place. Long walk into town and town seems unattractive until I found the market square and Reinhardt handsome authoritative and cool Alexandra’s crony and ate in his cool restaurant one of the four or five best meals of my life. Beef topped by friend onions a description that does not do it justice at all. F feels like a forgotten Alpine principality. Like Bellinzona. Suddenly Austria is redeemed.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The mad old woman who keeps the hotel told me it was 500 m to Liechtenstein and was astonished I proposed to walk it.


I wish I enjoyed the magnificent mountains. Instead I counted and recounted the numbers of countries and capitals I had visited. Lichtenstein according to Wikipedia is one of 4 doubly landlocked countries. Unlike Einstein signing the patent for toblerone which is a poem enlarging the universe this fact is deeply un life enhancing and train spotterish. But I try without success to think of another. Slovakia! Yes. Belarus no. Rwanda? Burundi?
The road asphalted suburban. 2 miles? Then the border. Empty police station with photograph of the prince. Mountains as beautiful here as anywhere else. I am doing this for my 10 year old self fascinated by miniature countries. A village called Mauren.

A woman drives me to the bus stop and then I take the bus and change at another village. The village is called Mauren. All the buildings are no older than late 70s. Like Japan. Prosperous people eat on balconies and the place is calmly disgusting. An inscription names many distinguished persons who were born there including an auditor general in the department of military justice in the 1860s. Such is the nature of fame for which men give their lives.

I reach Vaduz in the intense heat. Vaduz is entirely modern. Well spoken British tourists buy souvenir visas and I do too. This is another world from mine. Chinese or Japanese. The toy train which inevitably twines through the place. Paul Gallico. Frank Muir. A fat porcine faced man running in an ill fitting suit. Banks. A five star hotel which turns out to be a law firm. The castle hanging over the placed. How lucky the Liechtenstein family were. Others submerged by Communism or the lucky ones bled by progressive taxation in Austria.

Hell I suspect resembles Liechtenstein. Underground garages, large new houses, ugly Victorian churches, crucifixion statues, money laundering for distant dictators.
Christianne who says she was 50 the day we met is nice, young in spirit and looks around 38 or 40. Just divorced. She knows the Prince of course and after forty years has become one of his subjects. Her father was the first German officer killed in the Second World War. I am not sure how sympathetic to be.


The long bus ride home. Another bus ride very long from my old to new hotel. A very nice woman saves me from being lost. She is in Feldkirch for her health. Sent by psychiatrists. Suffers from unstable behaviour a kind of psychopathy. I ask if she has no empathy. None. No idea of right and wrong? None. Psychopaths stare, I say. 

Oh so do I. 
but she is on drugs. She is not I said to myself a psychopath. Fat, intelligent, I liked her and wanted to help her.

The mad woman told me to take the wrong bus but the psychopath put me on the right one. Feldkirch turned out to be old and have a cathedral but I missed all this and the possibilities of rest by long bus journeys dull Vaduz and anxiety about my things. A woman on the bus told me to take my wheeler which I had left at the bus stop otherwise I might have lost it and would certainly have lost two hours made much worse by merciless self laceration.


I unlike Tim am anxious. Anxious about forgetting things.


Two women with tattoos. I wondered after a moment if they were whores standing by the road looking for custom or not. Then they crossed the road and entered the church. Which still left the matter in some doubt.


The cool restaurant which very unusually for this country opens 7 days a week but today is the cafe menu and I have an unmemorable and expensive pasta and write this.


Wednesday 11

Train journey spectacular to Zurich. I envy the professor of medicine at the next seat who is going to be consulted and is clearly clever. I should be a professor.


Zurich a complete surprise as everything is if you don’t read guidebooks. (How I once prepped.) it is not Frankfurt but a charming old town straggling both sides of the lake which hear is the breadth of a river like the Thames in London. Then Berne a bigger surprise and my time was running low as I once more got on the wrong train and lost 2 hours. Once more the mistake was an easy one and I forgave myself. I used to fear making these mistakes because I feared my sadistic superego. Berne a complete surprise. And the German Switzerland reminded me much of Geneva. Switzerland is one country. And different from Austria. The cathedral closed. The long main street full of treasures.


Lake Geneva from the train window. A Pole buys me a drink in the bar and tells me about life in  Lausanne where his parents moved to in 1990. He cannot remember Communist Poland. Lausanne is fun he says because of East Europeans. Lake Geneva suddenly seen like a poem. Rain.

Thursday

Breakfast with P. in Lausanne exuding insincerity mixed occasionally with momentary flashes of self-congratulatory cruelty. Carefully ensured that she showed  a glimpse of rather skinny thigh as she crossed her legs and smiled her creamiest smile, lied a lot, boasted about her income but complained that no-one picked her up which sounded true. She is terribly bored by chaste, law-abiding Switzerland. They do not have office affairs. The only prospect who invited her to dinner a 70 year-old Belgian tourist brought his daughter with him. What an evening that must have been. 


The second female psychopath in two days.

It difficult for the female psychopath when she reaches the age of 40 but she shows psychopathy is no bar to success in a multinational company. How very very bored she must be. Evil can fascinate good people but it must actually be terribly boring to be evil. Evil is a negation, the absence of something or or many things.It is a dreadful thing to grow up without a conscience I suppose. Rather like from the Catholic point of view being homosexual.



She claims untruly to have brought about the dismissal of X. But P. is not a sadist. Sadists take an interest in other people. They feel their pain. Like Bill Clinton but in a less benign way. Other people are real to them. Other people are real to P. because she wanted to and knew how to use them to help her achieve her goals. And that she said was all. Know what their drivers were. Usually money sex or status but sometimes other things. But people were also important  because they provided what she needs more than  the power which she thinks is her only goal. They provided the audience which she craves as much as any actor or any writer.  She wants to be admired, to be feared, to be desired, best to be hated and envied. They were as real as the human figures in Adolf Hitler’s eerie talentless landscapes.




The secret sadness of the psychopath. I am not sure I buy that. Her life is crowded  by ego pleasures and as at the moment by ego pains. Lots of people live like that. She couldn’t bear to be alone of course when she ceased to exist. Many people who are considered normal are like that too. I am the one who is odd living without these things.



P. is the classic psychopath but that is an tautology because all psychopaths are classic psychopaths. They all resemble each other like happy families, just like a pickpocket resembles Adolf Hitler or Edwina Curry. But I sometimes wonder if the psychological explanation for P. omits another aspect of her makeup. Is Romania is psychopathic culture where people lie and fuck and bribe and politicians take kickbacks from heroin importers? Do Romanians have consciences? They have a fear of losing face like a psychopath, a fear of being caught but do they have sense of right and wrong? Is that psychopathic or because they are oriental? And so we move from cod psychology to the cod psychology of nations.

Two interesting quotations from Martin Israel on this subject.

The light of the demon-possessed individual with a yearning for absolute power consuming their soul is alluring and scintillating, its strength magnifying itself and deceiving its object so that its source lies unrevealed except to those of spiritual sight who can discern the emptiness of the chalice from which it emanates. This falsified light also comes primarily from God, who is the source of all life, power and light, but it is shown to be perverted by the corrupted will of the creature who has grasped at a divine status.

..some frighteningly destructive people seem to have had all the social ingredients for a happy, constructive life. They are called psychopaths, but this categorization does nothing to explain their character. It is they who are especially powerful mediums of destructive cosmic forces, and their power is related to their intelligence and their ability to communicate on a psychic level with other people.

From Lausanne to London in seven hours with time for hasty (Indian) lunch in Paris.

Friends in Covent Garden, a wine bar, a good curry. Then El Vino’s just before closing time and we are allowed in without except in ones case ties. The long running saga about their refusal to serve women must have finished much more than thirty years ago. Yes. Now two female barristers sprinkle four letter words. The wallpaper so dingy and 1860s, the whole place like a RS Surtees novel. The quintessence of England. Until it closes to be replaced by a sushi bar owned by an Israeli investor

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Age

Alexandra expressed shock that I am 49 and I felt guilty, that I was letting her down. That I ought to have stuck at 42 for a few more years.

The curse of the vanishing mummies

A surprisingly objective and untrendy article in the Independent reports the surprising news that quietly over the last few years more and more museums in Britian are taking mummies from display or half closing sarcophagi. Why? – out of respect for the dead. The impetus for this comes entirely from the museum curators, not from the public or the press.

‘In the past 40 years, the foundational principles of museum institutions have undergone critical scrutiny and this has led to a crisis of purpose. Museums were formed in the time of the Enlightenment (the 18th century), when the pursuit of knowledge was considered paramount. While there has always been some hostility towards the principles of this period a number of intellectual trends since the late 1960s have consolidated this critical view.
‘Through the intellectual trends of postmodernism, cultural theory and post-colonial theory, the traditional justifications of the museum have been questioned to the point of crisis. The pursuit of knowledge has come to be seen not as universal or objective but as an expression of European prejudice. Not everyone in the sector supports these ideas of course, but for a while the dissenters have been pushed aside by an influential group of activists.
‘The question of how human remains are researched and displayed has become a lightning rod for a wider debate over the purpose of the museum. I have spoken to many campaigners who see the issue of repatriating or repositioning human remains – once considered scientific objects – as a way to signal a change of purpose for the institution. Removing them is a way of showing research is no longer a priority.
‘One of them explained that campaigning for repatriation and the removal of human remains from display was more important to him than his area of trained expertise. He told me: "I am an archaeologist. My specialism is the Persian period. A big find has just happened and I should go, I am the expert in this area, but I would much rather stay and do this. This is more pressing and important for me now."
‘This senior curator, and others like him, are taking it upon themselves to remove and hide the exhibits. In doing so they are also dismantling from within the purpose of the museum as an institution. The remit of research, learning from past peoples and the display important.'


This odd unsensational story disquiets me very much. Museums are about colonialism of course (like tourism). Although I do not think I remember ever seeing a mummy except in films. I rush to the tomb paintings in the British Museum from Hellenistic Greece but that’s different.

I saw St Teresa of Abila's preserved brown thumb in Abila - should that be removed from view or venerated?

I saw mummified bodies in one of the two cathedrals in Dublin very well preserved. What harm? And a certain number of mummified and embalmed saints in my time. I was too late for Dmitrov's body which had been burnt a month before I visited Sofia in 1990. We are very often nowadays in logical dilemmas as enlightenment values tie us up in knots. Oddly enough unlike the curators who believe in enlightenment values (as did the men who discovered the mummies in the first place) I am not sure whether I do. They contain the seeds of their own destruction as we see each day nowadays. I believe in freedom and the rule of law but this is the fruit of the English Common Law rather than the Enlightenment or the Whigs.

The politician's body turned to clay
Will make a clout to keep the draught away.
I am not fond of draughts but yet I doubt
If I could bring myself to touch that clout.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Edmund Spencer, “Travels in European Turkey, in 1850″

Edmund Spencer, “Travels in European Turkey, in 1850: through Bosnia, Servia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Thrace, Albania, and Epirus, with a visit to Greece and the Ionian Isles, and a homeward tour through Hungary and the Slavonian provinces of Austria on the Lower Danube”, London, Colburn and Co., 1851, vol. 2, p. 404

We would recommend the traveller, who may be desirous to make the tour of the Danube from Constantinople, to land at the little port of Kostendshe, on the Black Sea, by which he will escape a long and disagreeable voyage round by Soulina, the only navigable channel of all the outlets of the Danube. At Kostendshe he will find an agent of the Austrian Navigation Company, whose duty is to aid the traveller and attend to his wants. There are vehicles always in readiness to convey him to Tchernawoda, on the Danube, where he can amuse himself by visiting the villages of the Bulgarians in the neighbourhood till the arrival of the steam-boat.

In the time of the Romans, the Emperor Trajan entertained the idea of making a canal from this place to the Euxine, which, if completed, would shorten the distance from about three hundred miles to thirty, an enterprise that might be carried into effect at a very trifling expense, when we consider that the ground is quite level, with the Karasou lake in the centre of sufficient depth to assist the undertaking.

The late Sultan Mahmoud, who was really a man of energy, caused the ground to be measured and marked [p. 405] out, and would have carried the work into execution, had he not been prevented by the Cabinet of St. Petersburg. We presume, because it was contrary to the treaties of the navigation of the Danube, which secured to Russia the only practicable route to the Black Sea — that by Soulina; but as this treaty has expired or was said to expire in 1850, leaving the navigation of the Danube open to every nation, this much-desired work ought to be carried into execution, which would not only pay the contractors an immense profit, but considerably benefit the commerce of the Lower Danube. We fear, however, that the weak sovereigns of Austria and Turkey dread the displeasure of the Autocrat too much to carry the design of the vigorous Roman into execution.

In the mean time the poor mariner is obliged to adopt the long and tortuous route, the Soulina channel, which, owning to the accumulation of sand at the bar, can only receive vessels of a hundred and fifty tons burden; and we have still greater cause to regret, the non-completion of this work, when we remember the number of lives that are lost every year by malaria and fever during this voyage, rendered so long and tiresome, by endeavouring to avoid the sand-banks, as the mariner is almost certain to carry home with him the seeds of a disease, which it is said never leaves him.

Such a canal as we have alluded to, if constructed of sufficient depth for large merchant vessels, would materially facilitate navigation; for after passing the Delta of the Danube, the river deepens considerably till we arrive at Kladesitza, in Servia; here the navigation [p. 406] of the Danube is again interrupted by a ridge of rocks running across the river, called the Demirkapa (iron gate), and notwithstanding all Count Sz’echenyi, that excellent Hungarian, had done to deepen the bed of the river, the passage is still dangerous. This was proved a few years since by the loss of a vessel, its crew and passengers. The boat, on arriving in the midst of the rapids struck against a rock, became unmanageable and turning round with the most frightful rapidity, was instantly submerged in a whirlpool sufficient to engulf a man-of-war. The only panssenger that escaped was na Osmanli, who, being doubtful fo the ability of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of the Danube to ensure the safety of the vessel, landed with the intention of pursuing his journey on the banks of hte river till the danger was past. But the laughter and ridicule of his fellow passengers induced him ot alter his determination, and as he was in the act of stepping on board, a ring containing an amulet slipped from his finger, this was decisive — he would not tempt Kismet, and thus to the loss of a ring he owed his life.

Like that between Kostendshe and Tchernawoda, this break in the navigation of the Danube might easily be avoided by cutting a canal on the Servian side of the river at Kladesitza, which would then open an uninterrupted communication from the Black Sea into the heart of Germany, and shorten the route between Constantinople and Vienna, to a five days’ voyage at the utmost. It would appear, from the appearance of the marsh, that a canal had actually existed here, at some time or other, perhaps the work of the Romans, [p. 407] and which on their expulsion from the country, and the barbarism that followed, fell into disuse, and in process of time became filled up.

Can anything afford a more decisive proof than this, of the want of energy and enterprize in the inhabitants of these provinces; and of the indolent supineness of their rulers. We may ridicule the apathy and inertness of the Turks, yet here we see the noblest river in Europe running a course of eighteen hundred miles from its source to the Black Sea, traversing a succession of the most fertile countries, and uniting by the most natural, direct, and least expensive route the commerce of Central Europe with the vast countries of the East, still remaining in a state of nature. Every successive flood carries away with it the soil, and not unfrequently even the villages on its banks, and form accumulations, which impede navigation, together with vast marshes and stagnant lakes, from which arise exhalations, the most prejudicial to the health of man.

A few hundred thousand Anglo-Saxon colonists, if they found these countries a desert, would have done more in fifty years for the navigation of this noble river, and the salubrity of its banks, than all its Czars, Kaisers and Padishahs, Krals and Ko:nigs, Herzogs, Hospodars, Beys, and noble Princes, have effected in centuries. It is true they perfectly understand the parade, the marching, drilling and stuffing of soldiers (we do not mean internally), the ‘eclat and magnificence of courtly etiquette, the maintenance of an army of spies and court favourites, nor are any more sensitive [p. 408] to an invasion of their own royal will, or more prompt in cutting the throats of their own subjects, and those of their neighbours, about some crochet of precedency, or an acre of disputed territory. To support htese undertakings money is ever forthcomming; but for the execution of any great work of public utility, the advancement of industry and commerce, there is not a farthing to be found in the exchequer. Can we then wonder at the discontent of a people, ground down by taxation to support all this theatrical display, and finery of the State; or at Socialism, Republicanism, Deutsch-catholicism, Panslavism, Panteutonism, and all the other isms, which have already shaken Europe to its centre ?

Tradition saves, traditionalism kills

I love the past but hate conventionality or narrow mindedness. I am sometimes a reactionary but not really a conservative because I don't much like the status quo. Despite all my attempts I can't help being very broad minded.

Bucharest Babylon

One can imagine quite a few Romanian VIPs at the court of Nero. One can imagine Mr. Prigoana on a couch and Mrs. Udrea dressed fetchingly. But does Romania have a Petronius Arbiter? Probably several but not yet a Satyricon.

Thursday 17, February 2011 with unrest in Yemen, Bahrain and Libya

Apropos of the Middle East and life. 'Nothing is inevitable until it happens.' A.J.P.Taylor.

With the Egyptian revolution, as the Chou En-lai when said asked his opinion of the French Revolution, it's too early to tell. Everything depends on what happens in other countries in the region.

Nevertheless worth bearing in mind that Tunisia and Turkey were westernised by despots not by democracy.

On the net this is going the rounds by Burke: 'When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle at work; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it. The wild gas, the fixed air, is plainly broke loose; but we ought to suspend our judgment until the first effervescence is a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared, and until we see something deeper than the agitation of a troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolerably sure, before I venture publicly to congratulate men upon a blessing, that they have really received one.

Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver, and adulation is not of more service to the people than to kings. I should, therefore, suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France until I was informed how it had been combined with government, with public force, with the discipline and obedience of armies, with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue, with morality and religion, with the solidity of property, with peace and order, with civil and social manners. All these (in their way) are good things, too, and without them liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is not likely to continue long.

The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations which may be soon turned into complaints. Prudence would dictate this in the case of separate, insulated, private men, but liberty, when men act in bodies, is power. Considerate people, before they declare themselves, will observe the use which is made of power and particularly of so trying a thing as new power in new persons of whose principles, tempers, and dispositions they have little or no experience, and in situations where those who appear the most stirring in the scene may possibly not be the real movers.'

Revolutions in Egypt and Romania 2011 and 1989 compared

'People shouldn't compare us to France. If you compared Romania to Syria we're not doing badly. A Romanian friend's remark led me to visit Syria. The Christian quarters in the old cities in Damascus and Aleppo are reminiscent of the lithographs of Ottoman Bucharest. Egypt an important part of the Ottoman Empire, Romania an obscure outlying province with autonomy, both badly ruled by venal foreigners, Romania is saved because she is part of Europe. In other words principally by her geographical position, although Christianity gives her a big difference and her Latin language makes her European too.

The differences between 1989 and 2011. One is that Ceausescu did not tolerate a strong Iron Guard putting up candidates at elections under other party labels whereas in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood is a very important factor. Another is the Muslim religion which has not been the mother of Parliaments. Lack of parliamentary tradition or tradition of clean government sound pretty similar to Romania who would have to look to the Tsarist General Kissileff for her last honest ruler?

Ion Iliescu and his National Salvation front could have eben Romania's Egon Krenz but instead dominated politics for 14 years and were a disaster for Romania but a local Iliescu would be the least worst possible outcome for Egypt, Libya, Bahrain.

Churchill writing about the Sudan campaign wrote: “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities - but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.”

1980s joke

Radio Yerevan said: Yes, it is possible to foretell the future with complete accuracy. It is only the past that keeps changing.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

The Irish are a very fair people

‎"The Irish are a very fair people, sir. They never speak well of one another." Dr. Johnson might be talking about Romanians but his joke, very true of the Irish by the way, contains a compliment. Romanians like the Irish are theologians who understand original sin and know people are bad. They are also metaphysicians who know that time and space do not exist and so are sometimes very late for meetings but when they come to condemning sin they are very accurate indeed. Though it is true that they lack the infinite sorrow in condemning sin which is said to be the mark of a perfect Christian. On the contrary, they have a relish for it.

Of chairs and men

There comes a moment with chairs as with friends when they let you down once too often and you can never trust them again. My chair sprang apart in the end after many warning lurches and collapses. It lies in two halves on my carpet. I am always too tolerant for too long of people and chairs, reluctant to give up on them.

Satire died the day they gave the Nobel peace prize to Henry Kissinger - Tom Lehrer.

Kissinger: America doesn't have friends--only acquaintances. Kissinger forgot the one exception to his rule: the only special relationship the USA has is not with Great Britain, of course, but with Israel. Which is not about interests, oddly enough. I don't know what it is about actually but Palmerston's dictum about interests being eternal is out of date.

Strange to watch Kissinger 12 days ago being interviewed and being extremely cogent. He thought Jordan might be the next domino to fall. He is a figure from my childhood like Pope Paul VI, Harold Wilson, the Two Ronnies and Inspector Clouseau. All the others have left the stage but he goes on. I remember he was considered a sort of superhero by the mass of English people. His extraordinary accent once familiar from the news every night now is surprise. Did I hear it in the last twenty years? Thirty?

Disjointed reflections on the revolution in Egypt - as Mubarak goes

Mubarak was the best ruler of Egypt since Muhammad Ali (or maybe Kitchener?). Compare Nasser whom the Left admired and whose legacy was poverty, ethnic cleansing and war. Mubarak's party is still theoretically socialist but so is the Baath and the Israeli Labour Party. Eden's judgement in invading Egypt in 1956 is vindicated? Eisenhower's lack of judgement over Suez was never in doubt.

‎"Whatever order emerges will almost certainly be less favorable to Israel and the United States, both symbols to many protesters of Egyptian subservience." IHT today. Very natural. I perfectly understand why America is hated on the Arab street. But you would need a heart of stone not to sympathise with Mr. Obama and even (a first for me) with Mrs. Clinton this week.

I feel a sense of joy and Romanians naturally feel more for they see the parallels with their revolution but they also know that the revolution replaced one group of Communists with another. A difference between Romania in the 80s and Egypt now is that Ceausescu did not tolerate a widely popular Iron Guard putting up candidates at elections under other party labels.

Poor Mubarak. No-one should have to live in Sharm el Sheik.

How old he feels now and angry.

Which will be the next domino? Iran? Yemen? Jordan, suspects Kissinger who is still alive and well, his extraordinary accent once so familiar now sounding odd. I haven't heard it in decades. Fatah corrupt and unelected in the West Bank is safe and its people prospering despite the tear gas and wall. For forms of government let fools contest, whate ‘er is best administered is best.

Paradoxical that Bin Ali and Mubarak were the perhaps two best of the despots in the region; both had huge accomplishments despite the torture and stealing which are fairly universal in Arab countries. There are liberals in Tunisia who want liberal democracy but not I imagine enough of them in Egypt. I could just about imagine Tunisia becoming Turkey if we are very lucky indeed. Bin Ali and his predecessor were Kemals. So hopes my head. My heart frivolously mourns the Bey of Tunis and would like the monarchy restored as Michael Wharton would have done (or would he have backed Al Qaeda?) but this is silly romantic nonsense.

Liberals and egalitarians - including neo-cons – who forms a sort of soft dictatorship in the first world think the idea that Arabs might not be ready for liberal democracy is outrageous. The implication would be that some cultures are more advanced than others - this could justify Western self-regard, colonialism, the idea that hierarchy is natural... Any yet so many countries south of Egypt have some kind of rough and ready sort-of-democracy. Perhaps it could work. Egypt is ethnically homogeneous an important basis for a democracy (N.B.), has a (smallish) educated class. It also has the Brotherhood. Do Islam and representative government or any solid political institutional institutions go together very much? The Balkans since 1990 is an exception that proves the rule, Pakistan occasionally, many other places? Perhaps George W Bush and the Neo-Cons are going to be rehabilitated slightly or perhaps Obama is going to go down in flames like Jimmy Carter.

“President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the position of the presidency. He has commissioned the armed forces council to direct the issues of the state.” They are ringing the bells now- will they be wringing their hands soon?

Mubarak: "I will not leave Egypt until I die." Egypt: "WE CAN TOTALLY HELP YOU WITH THAT." I received this on twitter. I do not wish for anyone’s death and do not believe in revolutions usually but it made me grin. But Mubarak is less important than Omar Suleiman the legendary spy chief who is now Vice-President.

US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Thursday before a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, described the Muslim Brotherhood as a peaceful, “largely secular” organisation that “eschewed violence.” In Clapper’s words:
“The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ … is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam… there is no overarching agenda, particularly in the pursuit of violence…” Hmmm.

History never repeats itself. Historians repeat one another. It will not be Iran 1979 all over again. Maybe as Marx said of Napoleon III’s coup d’etat, history will repeat itself first as tragedy, then as farce. Farce would be a good outcome. Was Carter to blame for Islamist Iran? I was still at school. He like Gorbachev reminds me of Napoleon III; a blessing to other countries e.g. Romanians .and a disaster for his own. The unification of Germany in 1871 was one of many unforgivable mistakes which liberals cheered.

‘They dance with foreign ladies, wear Frankish clothes, smoke cigarettes, enjoy French plays and, but for their Eastern habits of tyranny, peculation, insincerity and corruption, they might for all the world be Europeans.' Stanley Lane-Poole on Egyptians, 1892 quoted by the incomparable Max Rodenbeck. Tyranny seemed alien to Europe west of Russia in 1892. Europe in those days was still civilised. A question - was Louis XIV a tyrant?


Corruption was not nearly so big a problem in Europe in the days of the small state as it became.