Saturday, 29 December 2012

'Lord Sebastian Coe'

The BBC World Service refers to 'Lord Sebastian Coe' - it makes you despair, which is the only unforgivable sin.

Friday, 28 December 2012

The Imperial Hotel, Jerusalem



"Yesterday is already a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision, but today well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.."

The motto that hangs from the wall of the Imperial Hotel


The minibus journey from Ramallah to Jerusalem was not quite as easy as the outward journey and one Arab family were required to leave the bus by the Israeli soldiers. The bus deposited me at the minibus station near the Damascus Gate. I paid for another Jerusalem hotel (my back was giving me gyp and I had luggage to carry) and then found my favourite hotel in the world, The Imperial, had free rooms. 'Stay here for free' said the gracious and legendary manager, Mr. Dajani, so here am I in what seems like being back in a college room. Of course I shall pay him. 

'Wow!' said my Jewish Zionist friend, who has lived here for decades. 'Imagine a Jewish hotel-keeper doing that. It would never happen.'

The Kaiser stayed here in 1898. EXACTLY my kind of shabby genteel place. I feel it is my spiritual home. 

While the hotel was being built, the pool in which Bathsheba was seen bathing by King David was discovered on the site. The view from the front balcony is endlessly fascinating - from the roof there is a wonderful view of the Dome of the Rock, the old city and the Mount of Olives.

This is the real old Jerusalem, before the coming of the Jews, after 1918. In the 1950s and 1960s, this was the place for elegant Christian wedding receptions but now it needs doing up, though I shall no longer like it when it is renovated. Mr. Dajani's father, a Palestinian Muslim refugee, leased the hotel from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in 1950 but the hotel is now the subject of a lawsuit with Jewish investors. This say local Christians part of a highly organised attempt by Jews to seek to buy up the Christian Quarter. Mr.  Dajani says it is organised by a rich, politically well-connected Jew, who made his money in the U.S.A. from gambling and less respectable forms of entertainment. Elderly Arabs are offered vast sums in return for signing over their properties and are allowed to retain a life interest in the properties. Mr. Dajani says he turned down an offer of U.S. $20 million for his rights. Now the case drags on. 


You go inside the milky tea-coloured stone courtyard, ring the bell which says 'Sonnez jour 6.00-24.00' and walk up the stairs where the Kaiser trod and General Allenby, when he took Jerusalem and started all the trouble which will probably never end. The walls of my little room are stone, the ceiling sixteen feet high, the desk and wardrobe are Formica, the loo cannot cope with loo paper and a bin is provided (I suppose it was the same for the Kaiser), the bed is comfortable, the air conditioning heats the room quickly. My room feels like a monastic cell, appropriately enough considering that this is Jerusalem. Many things do not work at first but do with the help of the man from the reception.  The public rooms are a higgledy-piggledy jumble of antiques, paintings, framed maps and signed photographs. This feels like home.

It is one of my three favourite hotels in the world, the other two being the Baron in Aleppo and the Continental in Tangier.  A fourth, but it was not really shabby and has now been renovated, would be the Pera Palace, Constantinople.

Mr. Dajani, unlike most of the people I talk to, does not think there will never be peace. His gentle eyes are sharply intelligent and he sees that the Jews of the present day have lost the self-confidence and brutality that they he remembers in the boy soldiers of the 1967 Six Day War. The war in Lebanon in 2006 took 33 days not six and ended inconclusively, he points out. He wonders how many Jewish families will decide they would prefer to live somewhere else as the conflict goes on. 

He is frightened of the rebels in Syria and about whether Assad will attack Israel in a final throw of the dice.



Was that a gunshot? It sounded like it. No cars nearby to backfire.

I opened my window and peered into the dark passageway below. All I could see was a couple of gendarmes.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day in Jerusalem


My wonderful guide, Joseph Graf, finally makes sense for me of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Mr. Graf is a retired Israeli Lieutenant-Colonel who puts absolute passion into his work. His parents escaped from the the USSR, where his father would have been sent to the mines and his mother far away to a factory, thanks to friendly Jewish NKVD officers. The NKVD men gave them two sets of false papers and detailed instructions on how to slip onto the train for Romania, where, several years later, Mr. Graf was born.

Then, thanking him and saying good-bye, I wander, which is the only way to see things. 

The Egyptian monastery in Jerusalem is exactly the kind of obscure thing I love. The aged caretaker shows me a wonderful hand-written illuminated manuscript - the illustrations are mainly of a jovial looking boyish ochre-coloured St Michael and I did not ask what the book was.

I drop into the shop where I met Maro yesterday and Julienne is there and tells me I am expected at Maro's house this evening. 

The Armenian Quarter is for me the most beautiful of the four quarters into which Jerusalem is divided. It is good to be among Christians and good to be far away from polite, sotto voce Anglican Christianity. The streets and squares have the eerie poetic look of a surrealist painting.

Is the reason American Protestants (unlike liberal Episcopalians) side with the Jews in Israel because the Arab Christianity is so very far from Protestantism? Is it subliminal anti-Catholicism, even though most Arab Christians are Orthodox?

Maro and her husband Michael, an American-Armenian who returned here after decades abroad, live in a wonderful house with a very large garden hidden in the Armenian Quarter and tell me sad stories of how the Armenians were dispossessed of their properties by the Jews in 1948. 

Dinner around the corner with Julienne, in the Armenian Tavern. I remembered Armenian cuisine with affection from Yerevan but the menu seemed unexciting and as a favour to me they made the Friday special, Termed Sinyeh, a stew made with meatballs and potato slices cooked in a tahini (sesame) sauce, but though I like most new dishes I try this was too sour for me. Nevertheless the Armenian Tavern was lively. The nearby Bulghourji, which Maro recommended, I know is good from three years ago but was forbiddingly empty.

A profound conversation with Julienne about things that matter. Everyone here talks about religion almost at once which is a reason to love this city.

Christmas Eve in Bethlehem and Christmas Day in Jerusalem








Christmas Eve in Bethlehem and the streets are choked with boy scout and girl guide processions in the afternoon. Pretty girls where traditional costumes and it is a carnival. The Church of the Nativity is unreachable through the crowds I decided. Later the church is closed and Manger Square at 6 p.m. has an electric buzz. I feel ashamed that I do not make it  to stand at midnight in the Square  and watch the Mass on television screens. I do not make it to the church at all which is the reason I am here.






Once, recently, Bethlehem had a Christian majority  Now I am told Christians make up only 27% of the town's population. There are many reasons why Christians leave, including the political situation, the security wall which prevents Bethlehemites going to Jerusalem without permission reduces trade. There are also problems with Muslims, including, I was told, some cases of Muslim men harassing and raping Christian girls. Every Christian and Muslim I speak to bewails the economic problems and the wall but nevertheless I see signs of prosperity and plenty of new buildings, including the new four star hotel, The Shepherd Plaza, in which I am staying. A very hospitable and pleasant hotel that I enjoy and recommend. Palestinian Arabs are the most hospitable people in the world.




I came from Bethlehem to Jerusalem early on Christmas morning. I suddenly decided to 
escape from the somewhat yeastless people I was with  and my intuition was right. Intuition always is. I was shriven in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre close to Golgotha by a Polish Franciscan priest-friar. A half remembered line from Ronald Firbank novel swims into my mind:
'I know of no joy,' she airily began, 'greater than a cool white dress after the sweetness of confession.' 
An Armenian Christian lady gave me coffee and told me about life for Arabs in Jerusalem.

The internet let me down  by promising me a Latin Mass at the Franciscan church. Experience has taught me that when Mass in Latin is advertised it always turns out not to be in Latin but this was in Italian and in Latin and was exceptionally lovely. We sang:
Adeste fideles læti triumphantes, 
Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Lunch involved turkey but not Christmas trimmings or pudding at the American Colony Hotel.  The American Colony predates the coming of the Jews to Jerusalem and has a relaxed, aristocratic air: a mixture of the London Ritz and the Levant. The food is good but not exceptional and not as good as the ambiance. There a Jewess, originally from Ilford, felt drawn to start a conversation with me and we had a wonderful conversation. She is a so-called Messianic Jew, who accepts Jesus as the Messiah and God. I ended up sitting with her women friends.

My Christmas dinner was in a kosher Mexican restaurant with a clever Jewish journalist friend with whom I was at college. We discussed Middle Eastern politics and college and pretty girls we knew in common like the very gorgeous Vanessa Feltz. He mentioned that Stephen Fry was "so funny at Cambridge, never funny afterwards". Glad I am not the only one who thinks this. We agreed Hugh Laurie is better, though not in the dire Jeeves and Wooster.

I think this has been the best Christmas of my life though not a carouse though fairly gluttonous. I chastely drank two glasses of wine with lunch and two with my dinner and went to be stone cold sober.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas, one and all!








































He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, He the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute. 

St. Augustine


Roses are reddish.

Violets are bluish.

If it wasn't for Christmas,

We'd all be Jewish.

Christmas card I once bought

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A very happy day in the West Bank



I love Israel and love Jews but it is an enormous joy today to reach the West Bank, Arabs, a good, welcoming hotel in Bethlehem, the Shepherd, and to hear the sound of the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer. There is a feeling of warm, chaotic humanity. Blessed are poor countries, certainly from my point of view as a visitor staying in a very comfortable hotel, though, actually, I did not choose this hotel and I usually prefer to put up in dives.


The Greek Orthodox monastery St. Elias on Mount Tabor, supposed site of the Transfiguration. 


I had an enchanting day which began on Mount Tabor where the Transfiguration happened, according to St Matthew. We stood outside the Greek Orthodox monastery, feeling like the souls of the dead waiting to be judged, knocked several times but received no answer. The nuns were breakfasting. Finally an elderly nun shouted to us in good Romanian, 
'Ask the Lord to give you patience' 
and after another five minutes the doors opened and we entered. Like most churches in the Holy Land it was not interesting from an architectural or historical view, but to think this is to miss the point. Location, location, location is the thing. And as well as location the monastery was pretty and it and its garden possessed an incomparable peace which comes from prayer and goodness.

A long journey into he West Bank and the Judean desert, the smallest desert in the world, then a surprise, this wonderful Orthodox monastery of Deir Hajla, near Jericho, founded in the fourth century. This monastery was ravishingly pretty indeed. It stands near the site of St. Gerasimus's cell and on the site where the Holy Family is said to have sheltered when fleeing to Egypt. Do I believe they fled to Egypt or that Herod massacred the innocents?


Orthodox monastery of Deir Hajla, near Jericho, in Judean desert.
Everyone knows the story of how St. Gerasimus tamed a lion by removing a thorn from its paw and taught it obedience. He is the patron saint of animals and one of those rather few saints who appeal to unbelievers (most saints do not and many were pretty difficult people - think of grumpy, choleric St. Jerome who is unconvincingly also said to have tamed lions).



Qumran.
Then the ruins of Qumran, the Essene centre and source of the Dead Sea Scrolls. We have all read about the Dead Sea Scrolls but I never imagined I would ever one day visit Qumran. The ruins are not interesting in themselves but the view beside the Dead Sea, overhung by mountains is dramatic. More interesting though is the Dead Sea, where I floated. I stayed in, as advised, only ten minutes but I was wonderfully relaxed.

A place that I had not visited before because it was not interesting enough is Jericho which claims, along with Damascus Aleppo and Erbil (Irbil, Arbil) in Iraq, to be the oldest city in the world. All four cities were millennia old when Rome was forest.

Then the mountain in the desert where Jesus resisted the temptations of Satan, the generic psychopath, the Father of Lies. I should do the same. Underneath a man sold overpriced but delicious pomegranate juice and another had tethered a camel, brought from some other desert, to make a little money.


Bethlehem used to be a majority Christian town thirty years ago and now alas Christians are only 27%. The Christmas decorations are up for commercial more than any other reason. Christmas is the town's principal industry.

Yesterday I saw Nazareth and the Catholic church built on the place that St. Helen, the former barmaid, decided in the early 4th century was the scene of the Annunciation. No doubt local Judeo-Christians had preserved a tradition going back to the first half of the First Century on the matter and an ancient inscription has been found saying, 'Blessed is the family'. The church was built in the totalitarian architectural style of the mid-1960s yet is more impressive than one expects from that disastrous decade. 


An Orthodox church built in 1750 on the site of the spring where a legend, current among the Orthodox, says that the Annunciation happened. The priest told me through an interpreter that 'Israelis were very good for Christians'. 

Then another church that might be built on the site of St Joseph's workshop but probably, I assume, isn't. In the crypt, however, is a ritual bath carbon dated to the first century, the oldest in the Holy Land. This church was built in 1914. The Holy Land is not a good place for old churches. Too many churches were destroyed too many times. 

The long history of religious war continues to this day. Christians made up 20% of the population of the Middle East in 1900 but now only 2%. The million Christians who lived under Saddam in Iraq, for example, have fallen to at most 300,000 today. Christians are now leaving Egypt and Syria as well as the West Bank. Christians suffer in the Middle East because they are seen as sympathetic to the West, which Muslims rightly see is another word for Christendom, when in the West the links between the public culture and Christianity are being deliberately severed. 

I spent yesterday afternoon in Tiberias, a pretty, spotlessly clean and tidy, unexciting lakeside resort. The Sea of Galilee is the thing, not the town. it was the sabbath and the place was empty which reminded me of Sunday afternoons in the seaside resort of my boyhood, also a rather Jewish place. Boring, I reminded myself, is another word for peaceful. 


Yesterday I felt a sense of listlessness as I always did on Sunday afternoons in the 1970s but today was a wonderfully happy day and tomorrow I stand outside the Church of the Nativity, for midnight Christmas Mass. This church really is old, founded by St. Helen in the early fourth century, but, standing on the supposed site of the Virgin Birth its antiquity and its beauty (it has none) are again not the point.

Friday, 21 December 2012

“You can take possession of the whole world, but NOT of my wife!"

I am indebted to George Teodorescu for this incident from the tortured history of German-Italian relations during the Second World War.


“Il Duce protests against the conduct of German soldiers in Italy, especially the non-commissioned officers, who are presumptuous, quarrelsome, and drunken. Last night in Foggia two of them forced their way into the house of a man who was about to go to bed and said to him, “We have taken possession of France, Belgium, Poland and Holland. Tonight we are going to take possession of your wife.” To which the man replied “You can take possession of the whole world, but NOT of my wife! I haven’t any. I’m a bachelor.” In their disappointment, the broke all the furniture before they withdrew.”

Diary of Count Galeazzo Ciano (Italian foreign minister), entry of January 12, 1942

Going to the Holy Land - in the airport

The for me MOST unusual luxury of being in an airport with 90 minutes to spare, writing this with a cappuccino, the international currency, to hand.

A wonderfully pretty, blonde Israeli security guard interrogated me very thoroughly. I am going to Jordan alone and don't know where I shall be staying? I told her male colleague I live in Romania because I love the place at first sight. 'He hates it here' she said, which gave me pleasure. I said all the shopping centres have spoilt it. 

Am sorry to be leaving Bucharest as it snows this morning and the friend who drives me talks with relish of the pig he has killed and the Christmas he anticipates with tuica (plum brandy) and stuffed vine leaves. Romania is the best place to spend Christmas. Well, except perhaps Bethlehem - we shall see.

This time I have my laptop with me - having backed it up last night. I usually leave it at home for fear of losing it. Travel with a laptop is not really travel as we all live nowadays in our computers. We carry our homes in our laptops like snails carry theirs in their shells, and this may be a good thing because do we really want to leave home? 



Wednesday, 19 December 2012

How the robin came to be on Christmas cards


How the robin came to be on Christmas cards. It sounds like the title of one of Kipling's Just So stories. In the beginning, oh best beloved...

I never asked myself why robins and Christmas were inextricably linked but just knew they were, until, when designing my company's e-Christmas card this Christmas, I found (stole, I suppose) a great picture of a robin sitting atop an apple on snowy ground and one of my Romanian colleagues asked, "What has that bird to do with Christmas?"  

That was when I asked myself the same question and this is the answer I found (isn't the internet a wonderful thing?)

Postage stamps were first invented in England in 1841 and in 1843 an Englishman invented Christmas cards. Since not long after that, Christmas cards in England have usually featured the robin redbreast, a bird whose bright red breast perhaps subconsciously suggests the red cloak of Father Christmas. There is an old legend that when Jesus was suffering on the cross the robin, whose breast was in those days brown in colour, flew to Jesus’ side and sang into his ear in order to comfort Him. As a result, the blood from Jesus’s wounds stained the robin's breast and thereafter all robins carry the mark of Christ's blood. However, the robin’s association with Christmas is more prosaic, purely secular and nothing to do with the resurrection or, come to that, Father Christmas. Postmen wore red uniforms in Victorian England and were therefore nicknamed "Robin"; the robin on the Christmas card is a visual pun referring to the postman delivering the card.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Psychopaths are motivated by envy

The psychopath, like everyone, is attracted to the qualities he has repressed in himself. Therefore, according to Melanie Klein, he is drawn to good people, whom he envies and wishes to embrace but also to harm, thus relieving his painful feelings of envy. In the same way, good people are sometimes attracted by evil ones, because evil people do the things good people do not dare even want to do. This is why stories about psychopaths sell more than stories about saints.

Envy is one of the psychopath's principal emotions. If the psychopath cannot possess good qualities himself he can devalue people he recognises as good, by insults or harming them, in some cases even by murder. Psychopaths envy everything, for evil is a vacuum, negation. Evil is a very real thing (read crime stories in the press or read some history) and, paradoxically, also nothing, a kind of black hole. 

Envy and pride, not greed or cruelty, are at the heart of evil.  Particularly, envy of another's spiritual good, which the Church has always considered one of the greatest of all sins, a sin against the Holy Spirit. The myth of the fall of Lucifer is accurate, understood in psychological terms.


'His [Othello's] life had a daily beauty in it which made mine ugly.' 

was the only explanation Iago gave for his crimes at the end of Othello. Some people think this a cop out on the part of Shakespeare. In fact, it is good psychology and good theology.


This is one reason why psychotherapy for psychopaths is dangerous (the psychotherapist can be in emotional and even physical danger). Another is the fact that psychotherapy may make the psychopath worse, not better, in the sense of being better able to understand himself and better able to achieve his ends. In any case, as Freud said, the patient needs a conscience for therapy to work. It only works if the subject wants to be a better person. ('How many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to be changed.')



The evil eye, which has always been feared in traditional societies, is supposed to be motivated by envy and inflict bad luck. It is interesting that evil people, or at any rate psychopaths, do stare in a remarkably strange way.
Image result for ira einhorn 2014
Ira Einhorn, environmentalist, psychopath and murderer




Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the Moors murderers, who tortured and killed children
For more about the evil eye, click here.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Karl Marx writes about the Satanic urge to destroy the world

Karl Marx's apparent admiration for Satan in his juvenile poems (this link repays reading) seems revealing. Like Milton, he was of the devil's party without knowing it. Or rather perhaps, unlike Milton, he did know it very well.

Perhaps Marx was a psychopath. Someone on the net has argued the case interestingly here. Reading it one sees parallels with the young Hitler, another bohemian who also lacked the German work ethic, although Hitler was much more charming, which is another psychopathic trait. 

Lines from Marx's poems, which he puts into the mouths of demons, include:



Worlds I would destroy forever,
Since I can create no world;
Since my call they notice never …




Then I will be able to walk triumphantly,
Like a god, through the ruins of their kingdom.
Every word of mine is fire and action.My breast is equal to that of the Creator.



Ourselves being clockwork, blindly mechanical,
Made to be the foul-calendars of Time and Space,
Having no purpose save to happen, to be ruined,
So that there shall be something to ruin …
If there is a something which devours,
I'll leap within it, though I bring the world to ruins-
The world which bulks between me and the Abyss
I will smash to pieces with my enduring curses.I'll throw my arms around its harsh reality:
Embracing me, the world will dumbly pass away,
And then sink down to utter nothingness,
Perished, with no existence — that would be really living!


Edward Norman on modern religion

Time to repost some wonderfully good quotations from the great Edward Norman, my favourite living historian and religious commentator. I wish I had met him for more than a quarter of an hour.



"The age is described by welfare: it occupies the space for sacral values once filled by the churches. Indeed the neo-Puritanism of the times promotes welfare considerations as exclusively important."

"Extraordinarily enough, the leaders of the Church manage to identify the present welfare idealism - which is based in Humanist materialism - as fundamental Christianity, an application of the love of neighbour enjoined by Christ. But preoccupation with material welfare, whatever higher considerations may become attached to it, cultivates worldliness, and is an enemy of authentic faith."


"The Churches themselves, in fact, have rushed to acclaim the new humanism - the `caring society - as the very essence of Christianity. But it is actually quite pagan, concentrating as it does on the merely worldly needs of people in a way which is plainly contrary to the renunciations indicated in the teachings of Christ. This is not an academic matter. For when Christians identify the present secular enthusiasm for humanity as basic Christianity - the love of neighbour - they are in reality acclaiming and legitimising their own replacement."


"Through contact with liberal and Christian values the other world religions were sanitised and made acceptable to Western sensibilities: widows were no longer incinerated alive on their husbands funeral pyres, and the way was opened for that late-20th-century phenomenon, the Western idealising of Oriental religiosity, beads and mantras in Californian condominiums."

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Str. Lipscani, my manor

Str. Lipscani, my manor, in 1942. It was a much more disreputable place, full of shabby shops which sold useful articles cheaply, when I moved in in 2000. The new Old Town was invented suddenly around 2008 just in time for the crisis but, I grudgingly concede, makes people happier than the slum I loved. They had much better music in Bucharest in 1942 than now, though the 1942 hits are still popular, one of the many ways in which this wonderful city is more civilised than other European capitals.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Books read and films seen this year of grace 2012




The High Window*, Raymond Chandler
The Long Goodbye*, Raymond Chandler

Muhammad, Karen Armstrong
Stalingrad, Anthony Beevor 
Defying Hitler, Sebastian Hafner
Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler’s Capital 1939-45, Roger Moorehouse
This Business of Living: Diaries 1925-50*, Cesare Pavese
Relapse into Bondage, Alexandru Cretianu
Friends and Heroes*, Olivia Manning
Waugh in Abyssinia, Evelyn Waugh - I reviewed it here

As You Like It*, William Shakespeare
History of the Roumanians*, R.W.Seton-Watson 
A History of Romania, Kurt Treptow

Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire, Victor Sebestyen

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi - Geoff Dyer
In Ethiopia with a Mule, Dervla Murphy I reviewed it here
Tippu Tip: The Story of His Career in Zanzibar and Central Africa, Heinrich Brode
First Footsteps in East Africa, Richard Burton
The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat, Ryszard Kapuscinski - I reviewed it here
Here is New York, E. B. White
The Psychopath's Bible*, Christopher Hyatt
Remote People, Evelyn Waugh 

The Diary of TerrorEthiopia 1974-1991, Dawit Shifaw 
Solitude*, Anthony Storr
Pagans and Christians Robin Lane Fox - I reviewed it here
The Shadow of the Sword. Tom Holland - I reviewed it here.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon.
The Early Church*, Henry Chadwick



Bold means I loved it. An asterisk means I have read it before. 

What a masculine, middle-aged list. I am even reading military history, which is the last refuge of the middle-aged male. In fact I tried Beevor's Stalingrad on a recommendation from an aesthete friend but it bored and repelled me. Gibbon though is great.

I read Chandler for the prose style not for the plot, though he is a good storyteller. I thought when 14 that The Long Goodbye was too long and too much trying to be a proper novel. Now I absolutely loved it except the ending with the silly twist which I merely skimmed without attempting to understand it.

Karen Armstrong on Muhammad is not worth reading as she does not mention that the evidence for her subject's life is extremely late indeed (two centuries after the event).

Hafner's book, to my great surprise, an account of his uneventful life in Berlin in 1933, found among his papers and published ten years ago, is absolutely wonderful. It is beautifully written and deeply horrifying because of the sheer normality of his life as he describes it in Berlin in 1933 and the ease and rapidity with which Germans accepted Nazism and Nazi indoctrination. I hope it becomes a classic and is read in a hundred years' time as it deserves to be. People follow like sheep. I saw a somewhat faint parallel with another totalitarian ideology with a whiff of sulphur, political correctness, which has made cowards of us all in recent years. 

File:StellaKubler.jpg

The Moorehouse book is not particularly well written or strikingly insightful, but it efficiently covers the ground. The story of Stella Kübler, the beautiful blonde Jewess who was used by the Nazis as bait to uncover Jews hiding in Berlin, chilled my blood. She was told that, by her collaborating, her parents would be saved, but unsurprisingly they were sent to the gas chambers anyway. She herself lived to an old age before she committed suicide. One solitary Jew was permitted to survive in the Jewish cemetery burying Jews according to Jewish practice. He was still alive when the Russians came. 

This is what a friend of mine calls Hitler porn but my excuse is that I know very little about German domestic history during the Nazi period, the subject is important and I am interested in biographies of cities, writing as I am one a book on Bucharest. 

Olivia Manning's third volume in the Balkan trilogy, set in Greece, which I reread while spending the weekend in Athens and Hydra, inclines me to think that the reason I like the first two so much is because of my love of and interest in Romania not Manning's writing. She does not create characters. Her characters are clearly drawn from life in many cases and therefore do not come alive. It is the invented ones like Yaki who live. 

Seton-Watson is magisterial and should be read by all foreigners who speak English in Romania. I am ashamed that I had only skimmed it before. I had never opened Treptow, which the author gave me in 1999, before he went inside, and had assumed it would be a facile popularisation but, despite the numerous mistakes and misspellings, it was a more vivid, condensed account than Seton-Watson and taught me rather a lot. Dennis Deletant tells me it was written by a  group of Romanian historians not by Treptow and completed very hurriedly - hence the mistakes and typos - so that Adrian Nastase, when he was Foreign Minister,  had copies to give away when he visited the USA.


Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by Victor Sebestyen is journalism rather than history, but very interesting.


I read Here is New York, by E. B. White, because Johann Hari tweeted that it was the best essay of all time. It is not but it is very well written and might inspire me to write about Bucharest if I am lucky. But reading Remote People by Evelyn Waugh immediately after Here is New York makes Waugh's prose seem even more dazzling than usual. White is a very good stylist whom Waugh effortlessly outdoes. Although perhaps I am biassed as I 'get' English writers so much better than American ones. Americans speak our language but do not think like we do. And they write in English but not in the setting of the English class system, which always makes reading them seem eerie.

The Psychopath's Bible is a reminder that psychopaths, though amoral or rather immoral, have values they believe in, which they cannot be argued out of - might is right, survival of the fittest, victims want to be victims, selfishness is good, the ideas of Ayn Rand. A reminder that morality, like art, is inspired by love not logic.

'Tom' Holland went to my college years after me and took a Double First in Classics and History and has many books to his credit. I try not to be jealous, but he cannot write.

I haven't decided whether I love Gibbon yet - reading a book on a kindle makes love more difficult, for some reason - but I am enjoying him, though his paganism and contempt for the early church disgust me. He is a very good historian indeed. Cardinal Newman said, "It is melancholy to say it, but the chief, perhaps the only English writer who has any claim to be considered an ecclesiastical historian, is the unbeliever Gibbon."  


Four novels, which is much better than my usual score, although I am not sure the two Raymond Chandler thrillers really count.

Films seen

Six films is also much better than my normal score, which is none. None were any good, except In A Better World. Albert Nobbs was dull, pleasant but in the end a waste of time - please read George Moore's wonderful short story instead. George Moore is an unjustly neglected genius (like me).

The Blue Dahlia (1947)*
The Brasher Doubloon (1947)
Albert Nobbs (2011)
In a Better World (2011)
Thank you for Smoking (2005)
Goodbye, Lenin (2003)

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Ion Mihai Pacepa on the killing of the U.S. Ambassador in Benghazi

Ion Mihai Pacepa talks about the killing of the U.S. Ambassador in Benghazi, which we know, despite what Mrs. Clinton said, was not a spontaneous response to a film about Muslims: 


"My past experience at the top of the Soviet bloc intelligence community gives me solid ground to state that the Muslim attacks on U.S. embassies and the assassination of our ambassador to Libya, carried out with Soviet-made rocket-propelled grenades, Kalashnikovs and Molotov cocktails, were just as “spontaneous” as the May Day parades in Moscow – and that they have the same organisers".

He is certainly not very trustworthy but since he was working for the KGB (not the CIA)  this is probably true. 


"In those days anyone who could write at all could have a living."

Novelist Evelyn Waugh


On writing, Waugh - the author of novels such as Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust, Scoop and Brideshead Revisited - says he has always found it easy, "nothing easier". He adds: "In those days, perhaps even now, anyone who could write at all could have a living."



Saturday, 13 October 2012

Enoch Powell told me the time to start worrying ...

His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyč, Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.


Enoch Powell told me the time to start worrying was when bishops started looking young - this is the moment when they started to.



Friday, 12 October 2012

Romania the eternal (and fascinating) adolescent

This article appeared in Vivid in 2004. Romanians have come a very long way since 2004 and no long ago stopped seeming like children of a larger growth to well-disposed foreigners.


The psychology of nations is not intellectually out of fashion in Romania in the way that it has been for the last sixty years in the West. Romanians, usually their own severest critics, talk at length and often with cruel accuracy about their national character and question the reasons why so much of Romanian society appears to be dysfunctional. On the other hand, foreigners who have the luck to live and work in Romania are often enchanted and exasperated in turn, or simultaneously, by what seems to them a curiously childlike quality in Romanians (in common with other central and eastern Europeans but to a more pronounced degree), even when they are taking part in activities that are far from innocent.

In a superficial sense adolescence is over much more quickly in Romania than in the Anglo-Saxon world where baby boomers squeeze themselves into jeans at sixty. At twenty or twenty-one the Romanian is a young adult earning his living, even if still at university, and surviving in a tough and dangerous world. Older people are treated with respect in a part of the world where the generation gap was never heard of and each generation follows fairly closely in the path of its parents. Important figures in business and politics seem rarely to talk to people under fifty. Yet at a deeper level Romanians seem, at least to outsiders, in some ways children of a larger growth.

One reason is that life in the West changed out of all recognition under the impact of sudden and unprecedented economic growth and technological advance in the fifty year period in which Romania was frozen in time under communism. Life in the West was once much less pressured, slower, simpler, more human and more innocent. Watch a British film from the 1930s or 40s and you will recognise a lot. Bolshevism’s final achievement, while destroying so much that was priceless, was to act as the only conservative force strong enough to put a brake on progress and preserve a traditional way of life which with astonishing rapidity was destroyed forever in the market economies.

But another reason is that for fifty years initiative and freedom of thought inRomania was crushed. And the Communists were only the last and worst in a long line of bad rulers. The Communist tyranny, bear in mind, extended from the central committee to every factory and office in the country. In psychological terms the result is comparable to the trauma inflicted on a child who is not allowed to detach himself from his abusive parents and to mature. He remains a perpetual adolescent. In Jungian terms we can speak of the phenomenon of the puer aeternus, the eternal boy, of whom the classic literary example is Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up.

The psychologist Jeffrey Satinover has described the puer aeternus as “characterized on the one hand by a poor adjustment to quotidian demands, a failure to set stable goals and to make lasting achievements in accord with these goals, yet, on the other hand, it is also characterized by noble idealism, a fertile imagination, spiritual insight and frequently, too, by remarkable talent.” Professor Satinover went on to refer to a “refusal to take the difficult path of adaptation, or work. The grandiose fantasy is preferred to the modest accomplishment.”

If this parallel holds true, Romanians are in a sense perpetual (and fascinating) adolescents traumatised by a disrupted and painful history who dislike and scorn authority, break rules without a qualm of conscience but at the same time are sorely afraid of punishment. Leaders (adults) are idealised and expected to solve all the problems, demonised when they (always) fail to do so. The puer is obsessively interested in how he appears to outsiders because he lacks a solid sense of identity. He is passionate, artistic and warm-hearted but often impractical, passive, shirking responsibility, seeking to shift blame, preferring nostalgia or fantasy to reality on which he has a tenuous grasp.

Such psychoanalytical comparisons are beguiling but should not be pressed too far of course. The puer aeternus is  un vrai naïf and here the parallel with Romanians might seem to break down, for Romanians are nothing if not cynical. On the other hand  children who are the victims of prolonged abuse become highly suspicious and unable to trust others. Romanians often combine naiveté and cynicism in a way that foreigners don’t easily understand. Maybe that’s the secret of the present Government’s high ratings in the opinion polls.

Romania’s  orphans (in fact a misnomer since few of the institutionalised children are orphans) are, entirely due to pressure from opinion abroad, a political story that never goes away. They may well play a large part in postponing Romania’s admission to the European Union. In a front page cartoon in a leading newspaper a weary Romanian complains: ‘Why do they keep talking about orphans? We Romanians are all orphans.’ And so indeed they are. The Romanian-American writer Andrei Codrescu in a speech in 1991 put it this way. ‘Romania is a country of abandoned children, literal children and grown-up children, abandoned by its own leadership, abandoned by the West and psychologically by its own citizens.’

In another sense too Romania is orphaned. Since the demise of Communism other former Soviet colonies have found Western countries to act as economic partners-mentors: Austria supports and invests in Hungary and its other ex-Communist neighbours: the Baltic States and Poland have Scandinavia; even wretched Albania has Italy. The Romanians have no-one, for surely the Greeks and Turks do not fulfil this role. They have only the EU whom Romanians look on as a rich and benevolent distant relative who will adopt them and thereby solve all their problems. Lady Nicholson’s career as a backbencher in the British Parliament was pretty undistinguished but as the European Parliament’s Rapporteur the hectoring style and meddlesomeness which grated in England the 1990s is what Romania now requires. Whether or not she is right in her opposition to foreign adoptions, how statesmanlike and how adult a figure she cuts among the Ministers and officials whom she harries. On balance, how lucky, did they but know it, Romanians are to have her.

Romanians are the enfants terrible of Europe and if they succeed in joining the European Union in 2007 they will do so as the licensed problem children, expected to lag behind the others and embarrass the grown ups. Real children who have been ill-treated and neglected very often grow up to be child abusers. In Romaniagenerations of cynical and self-interested leaders have taught succeeding generations to misuse power. Romanians hope that foreigners, like wise and beneficent grown-ups,  will step in to make things better but what is needed to break the cycle is moral regeneration from within. Discouragingly, the only movement in recent Romanian history that sought to achieve this daunting task was the Iron Guard, the pre-war mystical-fascist movement who proposed a cure for corruption worse than the disease.

This article appeared in Vivid in 2004. Romanians have come along way since 2004 and no longer seem like children of a larger growth to well-disposed foreigners.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

America is no longer a Protestant country

Two enormously significant milestones in 24 hours for the U.S.A. 

First, America is no longer a Protestant country. The end of an old song. 


File:Grant DeVolson Wood - American Gothic.jpg

I am a Catholic, yet am sad, though I was expecting America, the only industrial country which is intensely religious, to become slowly secular. She will thereby be gravely weakened. The future for America looks European and this means wisdom, sophistication and decline. 
I am much more saddened by this than by the economic statistics showing America losing ground to China. Economics is in itself unimportant - economics reflects culture which reflects, in the broadest sense of the idea, religion (and genetics). In no country have religion, self-belief and sense of purpose always been as closely linked as in America, founded though she was by Deists, with church and state strictly separated. 

As Margaret Thatcher said: "Economics is just the method. I want to change people's souls."

It is a mistake, by the way, to confound American Protestants with the religious right.  There is also a smaller but still large and influential religious left and most American churchgoers are not in either camp. And religious conservatism is found in both parties. Black voters who mostly vote Democrat have voted down homosexual marriage in California. But there is an anti-religious strain in the Democrats and the American Left which is becoming more visible.

To Europeans, American religiosity seems odd. First because Americans, despite being proverbially rich and modern, take religion seriously, including those who do not believe. Second because, while few countries are more religious, none is less mystical. And few countries are more violent, more exuberantly keen on making money or more relaxed about divorce or sex generally. American Christianity is very Old Testament. Nevertheless, this very muscular, very individualistic Christianity is what gives America her self-belief. Victor Frankl learnt in Auschwitz that what gives an individual the strength to endure is the belief that his life has a meaning. This is true of societies too, which are made up of individuals.

The second milestone is a new Gallup poll today that finds that, for the first time, most Americans believe that the government should "not favor any set of values" rather than promoting traditional ones. Until 2004, a majority favoured the promotion of traditional values, and since then, the numbers have been in flux. A slim 52 percent majority now say that "the government should be values-neutral".

Most of that 52% do not in fact want government to be values-neutral. They want government to enforce all sorts of values like sexual and racial equality, just not traditional ones. I should add that I am not sure what traditional values are, and perhaps it is not important to know, though marriage between two people of the same sex is certainly not one of them.

Many of the 52% are 'Millenials'. I was interested to read an American demographer the same day saying that: 

"Millennials say the role of government is to be our parent. Parents set rules. " 

An interesting analogy that suggests that young Americans have been infantilised by the state like West Europeans.


The small-town Protestant America which elected Ronald Reagan is losing ground rather fast. 
This, rather than economic statistics, makes me think that America is starting to decline. It might be a nicer, fairer and more interesting place in decline, like Canada, which is in a much worse state. We shall see.

In twenty or thirty years, the USA will also no longer be a white majority country. Many Americans I learned recently, from the BBC, do not speak English. Everything flows and this tide is flowing quickly.