Monday, 30 April 2012

Romania loved France and France permitted herself to be loved

In the late 19th. century, 'Romania loved France and France permitted herself to be loved.'


We all know that feeling. I certainly do, at least.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

My father and George Bernard Shaw

My father's first job was as a delivery boy for Sainsbury's and on his bicycle one day he knocked down George Bernard Shaw in about 1935 or 1936. This is my family's only brush with a literary giant. My father told me Shaw retired to Ayot St. Lawrence shortly after. 

Alex Woodcock-Clarke trumped this by telling me that his stepmother's uncle, Lord Howard de Walden, on his first day in Germany in 1931 ran over Hitler. How curious, I thought, that not only that the history of the world would have been so very different had his Lordship killed Hitler but Howard de Walden would have been consumed by guilt about it till his dying day. 

Though when I said this to Alex, he said, 'That doesn't sound like him.'


My father's collision with Shaw brings to my mind Alan Bennett delivering meat to T.S.Eliot's mother-in-law. He has often told this story and did so here in a lecture:


I was born and brought up in Leeds, where my father was a butcher, and as a boy, I sometimes used to go out with the orders, delivering the meat. One of our customers was a nice woman called Mrs Fletcher, and I used to go to her house and she had a daughter called Valerie. Valerie went to London and became a secretary and she got a job with a publishing firm and did well in the firm, and became secretary to the chairman, whom she eventually married. Now the publishing firm was Faber and Faber, and the chairman was T.S. Eliot. So there was a time early in life when I thought my only connection with literature would be that I once delivered meat to T.S. Eliot's mother-in-law.
Some time after that, when we'd left the shop but were still living in Leeds, my mother came in one day and said, 'I ran into Mrs Fletcher down the road. Nice woman. She was with a tall fella, elderly, very refined. She introduced me and he passed the time of day,' and it was only some time afterwards that I realized that without it being the most seminal encounter in Western literature, my mother had met T.S. Eliot. 


Bennett adds:

...if we take T.S. Eliot to represent Art and Literature and Culture and everything in the upper case, my mother indefatigably in the lower case to represent life, then it seems to me that what I've written teeters rather indecisively between the two. 



The Oldie, a paper I do not read, apparently ran a riveting series of articles in which members of the public talked about their chance meetings with the famous. They were collected in a book and I read a review of it by Craig Brown. You could read a three volume biography of Anthony Powell and know him less well than you do after reading this story, as retold by Brown:


A plumber recalls being called out to fix a burst pipe for the novelist Anthony Powell. The plumber rang the doorbell. "An elderly man opened the door and looked at me quizzically. 'Yes,' he said. 'How can I help you?'

'Hello,' I smiled, thinking that my overalls, the toolbox in my hand and my van behind me would make my quest obvious. 'Well?' he said.

'Mr Powell?' I asked. (I pronounced the name Pow-well.) 'There is no one here of that name,' he intoned."

The plumber apologises and drives off, imagining that he has come to the wrong house. After driving around in the snow for 20 minutes, he is directed back to the same house. The same man opened the door. "This time I tried a different tack. 'Does a Mr Powell live here?' 'No,' he said. 'However, do you mean Pole?' I nodded. 'Ah! Then go round to the back door, the leak is in the kitchen.'

My great-uncle Joe once got talking to a nice cove on a park bench who turned out to be Delius.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Professor Geert Hofstede on Romania

Thank you to David Pratten for posting this link in a  comment on my site. This is an exceptionally interesting take on Romania. 

The question Professor Geert Hofstede asks in his site is also worth thinking about: will there be one big world culture in fifty years time?

A Romanian academic economist told me that he thinks in 50 years Romania will no longer exist. I said surely people will still speak Romanian in 50 years time but he looked doubtful. English is more economically useful. A young Romanian Yale graduate whom I know hopes that by that time the majority population of Europe will be African, which she says will be a fitting recompense for the sins of European colonialism.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Yes, Sir; there are two objects of curiosity, — the Christian world, and the Mahometan world

"Yes, Sir; there are two objects of curiosity, — the Christian world, and the Mahometan world. All the rest may be considered as barbarous." (Dr. Johnson.) 


I have not yet gone beyond these worlds except to Bombay, Madagascar and Mauritius. Israel does not count, being part of both the Mahometan and Christian worlds. Delhi and Agra do not count either.


I wonder if he is right. Possibly, although the Chinese and Japanese would disagree. It all depends what you makes you curious. Barbarism and civilisation are more intermingled than in his day. Look at the United States for example.


But from the tourist point of view there might objects of curiosity in South-East Asia and China. Bombay, Madagascar and Mauritius were not interesting from the architectural or historical point of view though from the point of view of food India would be peerless were it not for the medical problems.


I am off to Ethiopia, the third oldest Christian country, and Zanzibar in August as a delayed birthday present to myself and will thus stay in the Christian and Mahometan worlds. Dubai where I stay en route is also Mahometan but I am not sure if it will be an object of curiosity. How much I want to go to Sana'a in the Yemen for 24 hours but it although I am a courageous traveller it seems foolhardy to go there at the moment, alas, though I am tempted. Sana'a is certainly an object of curiosity.

The Melton Breakfast by Sir Francis Grant

"The Melton Breakfast by Sir Francis Grant, R.A." which my father had as a jigsaw and which I did many times. It breaths the spirit of Surtees and virile, hierarchical mid-Victorian England. More importantly, it has wonderful red jackets. Red is my favourite colour.


Image result for The Melton Breakfast by Sir Francis Grant

Surtees is no good, by the way, unless you hunt which I do not, and I have no idea why I read so many of his books. If only I been focused instead of a promiscuous reader.. 

 Mr Jorrocks openly debauches housekeepers in a way you do not expect in a Victorian novel, but sporting novelists and their readers evidently preserved a little of the old eighteenth-century licence. 


By the way, I have no interest in horses (beautiful and noble beasts but animals do not interest me) but the one writer who writes well of this world is Arthur Morrison, in his detective stories about Martin Hewitt. Just as Trollope and Balzac are the only fiction writers who can make business interesting, Arthur Morrison is the only one who makes the turf come alive. I have not yet read his famous book A Child of the Jago. I shall. It is about a boy growing up in Hoxton, the infamous slum in the East End where my grandfather grew up. He danced as a boy in music halls at the intervals for pennies, a contemporary of Charlie Chaplin, fought at the Somme and lived long enough for me to remember him.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

An old-fashioned restaurant


In my 14 years here Romania has grown up and become less exciting and so have I. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than the Old Town in Bucharest where I have lived since 2000 which until around 2006 was edgy. Now it is a standard inauthentic piece of hospitality industry plant just like the centres of every other European capital. I except Minsk and Tirana but Minsk and Tirana are new cities with almost nothing old in them and no-one visits them except for reasons.

The Blanduziei  Restaurant a couple of hundred yards from the Old Town close to the porticoed front of the National Bank in Str. Academiei, and five minutes from my flat, is a refuge from the gallimaufry  of newly opened restaurants and bars, an oasis of civilisation in a sea of kitsch. Though unkind people might describe it is an oasis of kitsch which is also possibly true. It is a restaurant I walked past for eleven years before last summer I started going there and is just my kind of place. A pretty Romanian terrace with a good gypsy band and inside a brown and purple  chiaroscuro which looks nineteenth century. Although the waiter informs me that the Blanduziei under its present name dates back only to about 1970 he also says there was  a restaurant on this site from the 1870s and Mihai Eminescu the national poet ate there.  

The other night I ate a chicken breast and Bulgarian salad in the open air and chastely drank mineral water in the cool air, just warm enough to eat outside. Two other solitary men sit at tables in the terrace both wearing hats. The gypsies play Ionel Ionelule. I feel this could be the 20s or 30s, we could be characters in a story by Mircea Eliade.

Downstairs when I brought Ronnie and Rupert to talk about the books we are writing I felt like a Republican conspiring to overthrow the monarchy in the 1870s. Ronnie and Rupert though they are around fifty groaned at the  1930s musica populara – they were playing the wonderful Ioana Radu - and I remembered people  at school sneering at my pre-war taste in music. One of the many things I love about Romania is that people of all ages like the wonderful Romanian popular music of before the war. I hoped British people by the age of fifty would have learnt to like old music too but it seems my generation is blighted by bad taste as by original sin. I except myself from the first, the curse of 1970s ideas and tastes. 

Orthodox Easter in Bucharest, last weekend


The tiny Catholic Church in Greece celebrates Easter on the same day as the Orthodox, a timid step towards healing the Great Schism. I wish the Catholic Church in Romania did the same. Instead this year as most years Easter fell on a different date depending which side you take in the Great Schism. For Catholics Easter was a week earlier.


For the first time in a quite a few years I was in Romania for the Orthodox Easter and shall try to be so every year. Next year perhaps I'll go to the Bucovina and go to Mass in one of the painted monasteries as I did ten years ago or in the Maramures or in Milea 23 in the Delta. Easter I realise is best in the villages. 


As my friend Alison Mutler, said ‘Romania is a most magical country at Easter. Romanians really get Easter in a way they don't in other countries (myself included, I am always touched after all these years).’


Theologically Easter of course is much more important than Christmas but in Catholic and protestant countries Christmas is much more important in real life but in orthodox countries Easter is given its rightful pre-eminence.

Good Friday is not a public holiday but many take it off and in the countryside it is considered like the major saints’ days an unofficial holiday.


Catholic churches close on Maundy Thursday to reopen late on Easter Saturday but the Orthodox for their Easter behave otherwise.


On the evening of Good Friday I went to Mass in what is to my mind the most beautiful church in Romania, the Stavropoleos Church a three hundred yards  from where I live. Until a  few years ago I had the Old Town almost to myself at night but now the streets are full of light and noise and in the early morning  loud with the sons of Belial flown with wine. The Stavropoleos Church (actually a  monastery with enchanting cloisters) seven years ago used to share an empty pot-holed street with secondary buildings of the  National Bank and the empty behemoth of the state-owned Caru cu Bere, the late 19th century German beer hall which now privatised buzzes with life and laughter. The church is a hundred yards from a thriving Japanese restaurants something like many things that would have been unimaginable but now seems like it was always here. Yet in the church and crammed outside the faithful of all ages gather to hear Mass.


The friends I was supposed to be meeting has her telephone switched off and so eventually I have to walk away with reluctance before we get to the ceremony of the burial of Our Lord where a simulacrum the coffin containing of His body is taken to be buried. I saw this last year in Hydra, enchanting Greek island where cars are not allowed and the narrow streets of the little island were full of burial processions from the many churches. Romania is said to be the most religious country in Europe but as Eugene Ionesco said Religion in Romania means something completely different from what it means in catholic or Protestant countries. It is much more centred on God and about the other world and  the liturgy than about ethics or social responsibility. It is a very individualistic faith but one that is embraced by the community as a whole. It almost is true to say here what is no longer true of Italy os Spain that belief in God seems as natural as believing the sun will go down tonight and rise tomorrow.


The Romanians revere their priests and religious but many respect the Church as an institution rather less. The Church though it is always easily top of institutions Romanians respect (there really is not a lot of competition) it is damaged by the fact that it cohabited and collaborated with the Communist regime and by its wealth. Even here in the Balkans the idea that the church is the oracle of God has to fight hard against Enlightenment ideas and belief in a  personal relationship with God unmediated by priests.
For Midnight Mass my friends chose a very good location in the Izvorul Tamaduirii (healing spring) church in Strada Monateriei behind the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant. Under an archway  the church has a large courtyard. The priests at Midnight came out of the packed church and said Mass to the one waiting outside in the rain, something that at many churches does not happen. The words of the nativity story from the Gospel are sung beautifully in Romanian. A paschal candle is born aloft from the church and the candles of the faithful are lit one candle from another. The beauty of the words and music and ritual and the faith of the congregation formed a critical mass, something deeply moving and almost tangible. Within half an hour the streets of Bucharest are sprinkled with candles.


I love very much the Orthodox Mass and wonder how different the Catholic Mass was before the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation. The Orthodox Church does not let light in on mystery.

I saw at Mass that it is faith and the Church which is one of the main reasons why Romania is such a wonderful place to live. I wish I did not think all this will be swept away by money, foreign ideas, comparative theology and human rights taught in schools according to EU directives and  the idea that all this is terribly picturesque but parochial and out of date.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Smelling Thackeray

Thinking about the strange pungent small of the pages of Thackeray's Collected Works in the Smith, Elder edition, bound in the green buckram popular edition. I didn't like Thackeray but loved that smell. Aged 13, I tried to make my way through The Newcomes and quite a few other books of his, bought for pennies, because of that smell which only Smith, Elder editions of that era have, the heavy cream paper and the illustrations which tantalisingly promised much more than Thackeray ever delivered.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Loving the past

I am in love with the past but not with the past as it was when it was the present, when it was materialistic and mundane as the present almost always is except in times of calamity, but the past as it is now, a memory. This means I am a romantic, half in love with easeful death I suppose, a morbid child of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution despite my best intentions.


Carlyle said 'the past is attractive because it is drained of fear' and this is very true indeed. But another reason it is attractive is that the past being unfamiliar lacks the boring quality which life has and which people who do not fully grow up do not bring themselves to accept. More simply the young boy seeks to learn to be a man by emulating his father and mine was dreaming of the vanished glories of life in the 1930s and 1940s when things had not been better for him in material terms but when he had been young.


Churchill is supposed to have tried to say in French that when he looked back over his past he saw that was divided into two equal parts but said mon derrière  instead of mon passé. 


It is priggish and a great mistake to reject ones own generation though a sign of sensitivity and wisdom to love the past. But the past does not exist, remember. The past is smoke.

Monday, 16 April 2012

"There is always a danger of confusing one's childhood with the universe."

"There is always a danger of confusing one's childhood with the universe." James Wood in the London Evening Standard began thus a hostile review of Roger Scruton's remoselessly backward-looking England: an Elegy in 2000. I found the book unsatisfactory even though I feel elegiac about England myself, but liked Mr. Wood's wonderful sentence.

Two absolutely fascinating articles from 2008 about the origins of the Koran

I rarely read any historical writing more interesting than these pieces. I was reminded of them by this review of a new book on the subject, by Tom Holland, which seems to render it pointless to read the biography of Mahomet that I bought recently by Karen Armstrong. Charles Moore who is always so good reviews the Tom Holland book interestingly here.


However, Carlyle in his Heroes and (surprisingly, because he was not a good historian) Belloc are both timeless on Mahomet and the origins of Islam. Carlyle greatly admired the Prophet. I heard Carlyle described by Lord Dacre (Hugh Trevor-Roper) as a proto-fascist which is rather harsh.


The Lost Koran Archive
By Andrew Higgins

On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran.
The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Quran, the text Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God's word. The wartime destruction made the project "outright impossible," Mr. Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.
Mr. Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along. The truth is only now dribbling out to scholars -- and a Quran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave.
"He pretended it disappeared. He wanted to be rid of it," says Angelika Neuwirth, a former pupil and protégée of the late Mr. Spitaler. Academics who worked with Mr. Spitaler, a powerful figure in postwar German scholarship who died in 2003, have been left guessing why he squirreled away the unusual trove for so long.
Ms. Neuwirth, a professor of Arabic studies at Berlin's Free University, now is overseeing a revival of the research. The project renews a grand tradition of German Quranic scholarship that was interrupted by the Third Reich. The Nazis purged Jewish experts on ancient Arabic texts and compelled Aryan colleagues to serve the war effort. Middle East scholars worked as intelligence officers, interrogators and linguists. Mr. Spitaler himself served, apparently as a translator, in the German-Arab Infantry Battalion 845, a unit of Arab volunteers to the Nazi cause, according to wartime records.
During the 19th century, Germans pioneered modern scholarship of ancient texts. Their work revolutionized understanding of Christian and Jewish scripture. It also infuriated some of the devout, who resented secular scrutiny of texts believed to contain sacred truths.
The revived Quran venture plays into a very modern debate: how to reconcile Islam with the modern world? Academic quarrying of the Quran has produced bold theories, bitter feuds and even claims of an Islamic Reformation in the making. Applying Western critical methods to Islam's holiest text is a sensitive test of the Muslim community's readiness to both accommodate and absorb thinking outside its own traditions.
"It is very exciting," says Patricia Crone, a scholar at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study and a pioneer of unorthodox theories about Islam's early years. She says she first heard that the Munich archive had survived when attending a conference in Germany last fall. "Everyone thought it was destroyed."
The Quran is viewed by most Muslims as the unchanging word of God as transmitted to the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. The text, they believe, didn't evolve or get edited. The Quran says it is "flawless" and fixed by an "imperishable tablet" in heaven. It starts with a warning: "This book is not to be doubted."
Quranic scholarship often focuses on arcane questions of philology and textual analysis. Experts nonetheless tend to tread warily, mindful of fury directed in recent years at people deemed to have blasphemed Islam's founding document and the Prophet Muhammad.
A scholar in northern Germany writes under the pseudonym of Christoph Luxenberg because, he says, his controversial views on the Quran risk provoking Muslims. He claims that chunks of it were written not in Arabic but in another ancient language, Syriac. The "virgins" promised by the Quran to Islamic martyrs, he asserts, are in fact only "grapes."
Ms. Neuwirth, the Berlin professor now in charge of the Munich archive, rejects the theories of her more radical colleagues, who ride roughshod, she says, over Islamic scholarship. Her aim, she says, isn't to challenge Islam but to "give the Quran the same attention as the Bible." All the same, she adds: "This is a taboo zone."
Ms. Neuwirth says it's too early to have any idea what her team's close study of the cache of early texts and other manuscripts will reveal. Their project, launched last year at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science and Humanities, has state funding for 18 years but could take much longer. The earliest manuscripts of the Quran date from around 700 and use a skeletal version of the Arabic script that is difficult to decipher and can be open to divergent readings.
Mystery and misfortune bedeviled the Munich archive from the start. The scholar who launched it perished in an odd climbing accident in 1933. His successor died in a 1941 plane crash. Mr. Spitaler, who inherited the Quran collection and then hid it, fared better. He lived to age 93.
The rolls of film, kept in cigar boxes, plastic trays and an old cookie tin, are now in a safe in Berlin. The photos of the old manuscripts will form the foundation of a computer data base that Ms. Neuwirth's team believes will help tease out the history of Islam's founding text. The result, says Michael Marx, the project's research director, could be the first "critical edition" of the Quran -- an attempt to divine what the original text looked like and to explore overlaps with the Bible and other Christian and Jewish literature.
A group of Tunisians has embarked on a parallel mission, but they want to keep it quiet to avoid angering fellow Muslims, says Moncef Ben Abdeljelil, a scholar involved in the venture. "Silence is sometimes best," he says. Afghan authorities last year arrested an official involved in a vernacular translation of the Quran that was condemned as blasphemous. Its editor went into hiding.
Many Christians, too, dislike secular scholars boring into sacred texts, and dismiss challenges to certain Biblical passages. But most accept that the Bible was written by different people at different times, and that it took centuries of winnowing before the Christian canon was fixed in its current form.
Muslims, by contrast, view the Quran as the literal word of God. Questioning the Quran "is like telling a Christian that Jesus was gay," says Abdou Filali-Ansary, a Moroccan scholar.
Modern approaches to textual analysis developed in the West are viewed in much of the Muslim world as irrelevant, at best. "Only the writings of a practicing Muslim are worthy of our attention," a university professor in Saudi Arabia wrote in a 2003 book. "Muslim views on the Holy Book must remain firm: It is the Word of Allah, constant, immaculate, unalterable and inimitable."
Ms. Neuwirth, the Berlin Quran expert, and Mr. Marx, her research director, have tried to explain the project to the Muslim world in trips to Iran, Turkey, Syria and Morocco. When a German newspaper trumpeted their work last fall on its front page and predicted that it would "overthrow rulers and topple kingdoms," Mr. Marx called Arab television network al-Jazeera and other media to deny any assault on the tenets of Islam.
Europeans started to study the Quran in the Middle Ages, largely in an effort to debunk it. In the 19th century, faith-driven polemical research gave way to more serious scientific study of old texts. Germans led the way.
Their original focus was the Bible. Priests and rabbis pushed back, but scholars pressed on, challenging traditional views of the Old and New Testaments. Their work undermined faith in the literal truth of scripture and helped birth today's largely secular Europe. Over time, some turned their attention to the Quran, too.
In 1857, a Paris academy offered a prize for the best "critical history" of the Quran. A German, Theodor Nöldeke, won. His entry became the cornerstone of future Western research. Mr. Nöldeke, says Ms. Neuwirth, is "the rock of our church."
The Munich archive began with one of Mr. Nöldeke's protégés, Gotthelf Bergsträsser. As Germany slid towards fascism early last century, he hunted down old copies of the Quran in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. He took photographs of them with a Leica camera.
In 1933, a few months after Hitler became chancellor, Mr. Bergsträsser, an experienced climber, died in the Bavarian Alps. His body was never given an autopsy; rumors spread of suicide or foul play.
His work was taken up by Otto Pretzl, another German Arabist. He too set off with a Leica. In a 1934 journey to Morocco, he wangled his way into a royal library containing an old copy of the Quran and won over initially suspicious clerics, he said in a handwritten report about his trip.
The Nazis began to use Arabists early in the war when German forces began pushing into regions with large Muslim populations, first North Africa and then the Soviet Union. Scholars were used to broadcast propaganda and to help set up mullah schools for Muslims recruited into the German armed forces.
Mr. Pretzl, the manuscript collector, appears to have worked largely in military intelligence. He interrogated Arabic-speaking soldiers captured in the invasion of France, then, according to some accounts, set off on a mission to stir up an Arab uprising against British troops in Iraq. His plane crashed.
Responsibility for the Quran archive fell to Mr. Spitaler, who had helped collect some of the photos. During the war, Mr. Spitaler served in the command offices in Germany and later as an Arabic linguist in Austria, gaining only a modest military rank, records indicate.
After the war, he returned to academia. Instead of reviving the Quran project, he embarked on a laborious but less-sensitive endeavor, a dictionary of classical Arabic. After nearly half a century of work, definitions were published only for words beginning with two letters of the 28-letter Arabic alphabet.
Mr. Spitaler rarely published papers, but was widely admired for his mastery of Arabic texts. A few scholars, however, judged him overly cautious, unproductive and hostile to unconventional views.
"The whole period after 1945 was poisoned by the Nazis," says Günter Lüling, a scholar who was drummed out of his university in the 1970s after he put forward heterodox theories about the Quran's origins. His doctoral thesis argued that the Quran was lifted in part from Christian hymns. Blackballed by Mr. Spitaler, Mr. Lüling lost his teaching job and launched a fruitless six-year court battle to be reinstated. Feuding over the Quran, he says, "ruined my life."
He wrote books and articles at home, funded by his wife, who took a job in a pharmacy. Asked by a French journal to write a paper on German Arabists, Mr. Lüling went to Berlin to examine wartime records. Germany's prominent postwar Arabic scholars, he says, "were all connected to the Nazis."
Berthold Spuler, for example, translated Yiddish and Hebrew for the Gestapo, says Mr. Lüling. (Mr. Spuler's subsequent teaching career ran into trouble in the 1960s when, during a Hamburg student protest, he shouted that the demonstrators "belong in a concentration camp.") Rudi Paret, who in 1962 produced what became the standard German translation of the Quran, was listed as a member of "The Institute for Research on and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life." Despite their wartime activities, the subsequent work of such scholars is still highly regarded.
By the mid-1970s, Mr. Spitaler in Munich was nearing retirement at the university there. He began moving boxes into a room set aside for the dictionary project at Bavaria's Academy of Sciences. His last doctoral student in Munich, Kathrin Müller, who was working on the dictionary, says she looked inside one of the boxes and saw old film. She asked Mr. Spitaler what it was but didn't get an answer. The boxes, she now realizes, contained the old Quran archive. "He didn't want to explain anything," she says.
In the early 1980s, when the archive was still thought to be lost, two German scholars traveled to Yemen to examine and help restore a cache of ancient Quran manuscripts. They, too, took pictures. When they tried to get them out of Yemen, authorities seized them, says Gerd-Rüdiger Puin, one of the scholars. German diplomats finally persuaded Yemen to release most of the photos, he says.
Mr. Puin says the manuscripts suggested to him that the Quran "didn't just fall from heaven" but "has a history." When he said so publicly a decade ago, it stirred rage. "Please ensure that these scholars are not given further access to the documents," read one letter to the Yemen Times. "Allah, help us against our enemies."
Berlin Quran expert Ms. Neuwirth, though widely regarded as respectful of Islamic tradition, got sideswiped by Arab suspicion of Western scholars. She was fired from a teaching post in Jordan, she says, for mentioning a radical revisionist scholar during a lecture in Germany.
Around 1990, Ms. Neuwirth met Mr. Spitaler, her old professor, in Berlin. He was in his 80s and growing frail, but remained sharp mentally. He "got sentimental about the old times," recalls Ms. Neuwirth. As they talked, he casually mentioned that he still had the photo archive. He offered to give it to her. "I had heard it didn't exist," she says. She later sent two of her students to Munich to collect the photo cache and bring it to Berlin.
The news didn't spread beyond a small circle of scholars. When Mr. Spitaler died in 2003, Paul Kunitizsch, a fellow Munich Arabist, wrote an obituary recounting how the archive had been lost, torpedoing the Quran project. Such a venture, he wrote, "now appears totally out of the question" because of "the attitude of the Islamic world to such a project."
Information about the archive's survival has just begun trickling out to the wider scholarly community. Why Mr. Spitaler hid it remains a mystery. His only published mention of the archive's fate was a footnote to an article in a 1975 book on the Quran. Claiming the bulk of the cache had been lost during the war, he wrote cryptically that "drastically changed conditions after 1945" ruled out any rebuilding of the collection.
Ms. Neuwirth, the current guardian of the archive, believes that perhaps Mr. Spitaler was simply "sick of" the time-consuming project and wanted to move on to other work. Mr. Lüling has a less charitable theory: that Mr. Spitaler didn't have the talents needed to make use of the archive himself and wanted to make sure colleagues couldn't outshine him by working on the material.
Mr. Kunitzsch, the obituary author, says he's mystified by Mr. Spitaler's motives. He speculates that his former colleague decided that the Quran manuscript project was simply too ambitious. The task, says Mr. Kunitzsch, grew steadily more sensitive as Muslim hostility towards Western scholars escalated, particularly after the founding of Israel in 1948. "He knew that for Arabs, [the Quran] was a closed matter."
Ms. Müller, Mr. Spitaler's last doctoral student, says the war "was a deep cut for everything" and buried the prewar dreams of many Germans. Another possible factor, she adds, was Mr. Spitaler's own deep religious faith. She opens up a copy of a Quran used by the late professor, a practicing Catholic, until his death. Unlike his other Arabic texts, which are scrawled with notes and underlinings, it has no markings at all.
"Perhaps he had too much respect for holy books," says Ms. Müller.








Indiana Jones meets the Da Vinci Code
By Spengler

Islam watchers blogged all weekend about news that a secret archive of ancient Islamic texts had surfaced after 60 years of suppression. Andrew Higgins' Wall Street Journal report that the photographic record of Koranic manuscripts, supposedly destroyed during World War II but occulted by a scholar of alleged Nazi sympathies, reads like a conflation of the Da Vinci Code with Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail.

The Da Vinci Code offered a silly fantasy in which Opus Dei, homicidal monks and twisted billionaires chased after proof that Christianity is a hoax. But the story of the photographic archive of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, now ensconced in a Berlin vault, is a case of life imitating truly dreadful art. It even has Nazis. "I hate those guys!" as Indiana Jones said.

No one is going to produce proof that Jesus Christ did not rise from the grave three days after the Crucifixion, of course. Humankind will choose to believe or not that God revealed Himself in this fashion. But Islam stands at risk of a Da Vinci Code effect, for in Islam, God's self-revelation took the form not of the Exodus, nor the revelation at Mount Sinai, nor the Resurrection, but rather a book, namely the Koran. The Encyclopaedia of Islam (1982) observes, "The closest analogue in Christian belief to the role of the Koran in Muslim belief is not the Bible, but Christ." The Koran alone is the revelatory event in Islam.

What if scholars can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Koran was not dictated by the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammad during the 7th century, but rather was redacted by later writers drawing on a variety of extant Christian and Jewish sources? That would be the precise equivalent of proving that the Jesus Christ of the Gospels really was a composite of several individuals, some of whom lived a century or two apart.

It has long been known that variant copies of the Koran exist, including some found in 1972 in a paper grave at Sa'na in Yemen, the subject of a cover story in the January 1999 Atlantic Monthly. Before the Yemeni authorities shut the door to Western scholars, two German academics, Gerhard R Puin and H C Graf von Bothmer, made 35,000 microfilm copies, which remain at the University of the Saarland. Many scholars believe that the German archive, which includes photocopies of manuscripts as old as 700 AD, will provide more evidence of variation in the Koran.

The history of the archive reads like an Islamic version of the Da Vinci Code. It is not clear why its existence was occulted for sixty years, or why it has come to light now, or when scholars will have free access to it. Higgins' account begins,
On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Koran.

The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Koran, the text Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God's word. The wartime destruction made the project "outright impossible", Mr Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.

Mr Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along. The truth is only now dribbling out to scholars - and a Koran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave. Why Spitaler concealed the archive is unknown, but Koranic critics who challenge the received Muslim account suspect his motives. Higgins reports,
"The whole period after 1945 was poisoned by the Nazis," says Gunter Luling, a scholar who was drummed out of his university in the 1970s after he put forward heterodox theories about the Koran's origins. His doctoral thesis argued that the Koran was lifted in part from Christian hymns. Blackballed by Spitaler, Luling lost his teaching job and launched a fruitless six-year court battle to be reinstated. Feuding over the Koran, he says, "ruined my life".

He wrote books and articles at home, funded by his wife, who took a job in a pharmacy. Asked by a French journal to write a paper on German Arabists, Luling went to Berlin to examine wartime records. Germany's prominent postwar Arabic scholars, he says, "were all connected to the Nazis".

Why were the Nazis so eager to suppress Koranic criticism? Most likely, the answer lies in their alliance with Islamist leaders, who shared their hatred of the Jews and also sought leverage against the British in the Middle East. The most recent of many books on this subject, Matthias Kuntzel's Jihad and Jew-Hatred, was reviewed January 13 in the New York Times by Jeffrey Goldberg, who reports
Kuntzel makes a bold and consequential argument: the dissemination of European models of anti-Semitism among Muslims was not haphazard, but an actual project of the Nazi Party, meant to turn Muslims against Jews and Zionism. He says that in the years before World War II, two Muslim leaders in particular willingly and knowingly carried Nazi ideology directly to the Muslim masses. They were Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, and the Egyptian proto-Islamist Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It may be a very long time before the contents of the Bavarian archive are known. Some Koranic critics, notably the pseudonymous scholar "Ibn Warraq", claim that Professor Angelika Neuwirth, the archive's custodian, has denied access to scholars who stray from the traditional interpretation. Neuwirth admits that she has had the archive since 1990. She has 18 years of funding to study the Bavarian archive, and it is not clear who will have access to it.

When the Atlantic Monthly story on Koranic criticism appeared nine years ago, author Toby Lester expected early results from the Yemeni finds.
Von Bothmer, Puin, and other scholars will finally have a chance to scrutinize the texts and to publish their findings freely - a prospect that thrills Puin. "So many Muslims have this belief that everything between the two covers of the Koran is just God's unaltered word," he says. "They like to quote the textual work that shows that the Bible has a history and did not fall straight out of the sky, but until now the Koran has been out of this discussion. The only way to break through this wall is to prove that the Koran has a history too. The Sana'a fragments will help us to do this.
In 2005, Puin published a collection of articles under the title, Die dunklen Anfange. Neue Forschungen zur Entstehung und fruhen Geschichte des Islam ("The dark beginnings: new research on the origin and early history of Islam," Hans Schiller Verlag, 2005). This drew on the work of the pseudonymous German philologist "Christoph Luxenburg", who sought to prove that incomprehensible passages in the Koran were written in Syriac-Aramaic rather than Arabic. Luxenburg's thesis became notorious for explaining that the "virgins" provided to Islamic jihadis in paradise were only raisins. The Koran, according to the research of Puin and his associates, copied a great deal of extant Christian material.

Apart from the little group at the University of the Saarland and a handful of others, though, the Western Academy is loathe to go near the issue. In the United States, where Arab and Islamic Studies rely on funding from the Gulf States, an interest in Koranic criticism is a failsafe way to commit career suicide.

Neuwirth has led the attack on "Christoph Luxenburg" and other Koranic critics who dispute the traditional Muslim account. According to Higgins, "Ms Neuwirth, the Berlin Koran expert, and Mr Marx, her research director, have tried to explain the project to the Muslim world in trips to Iran, Turkey, Syria and Morocco. When a German newspaper trumpeted their work last fall on its front page and predicted that it would 'overthrow rulers and topple kingdoms', Mr Marx called Arab television network al-Jazeera and other media to deny any assault on the tenets of Islam."

Despite her best efforts to reassure Islamic opinion, Higgins reports, she has stepped on landmines herself. "Ms Neuwirth, though widely regarded as respectful of Islamic tradition, got sideswiped by Arab suspicion of Western scholars. She was fired from a teaching post in Jordan, she says, for mentioning a radical revisionist scholar during a lecture in Germany."

The story thus far recalls the ending of another Indiana Jones film (Raiders of the Lost Ark), in which the Ark of the Covenant is filed away in an enormous warehouse, presumably never to be touched again. The Muslim world will continue to treat Koranic criticism as an existential risk, and apply whatever pressure is required to discourage it - albino monks presumably included.

But that is not the end of the matter. The Islamic world is forced to adopt an openly irrational stance, employing its power to intimidate scholars and frustrate the search for truth. It is impossible for Muslims to propose a dialogue with Western religions, as 38 Islamic scholars did in an October 13 letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders, and rule the subject of text criticism out of the discussion.

Precisely for this reason, Church leaders see little basis for a dialogue with Islam. Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, who directs the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told the French daily La Croix, "Muslims do not accept discussion about the Koran, because they say it was written under the dictates of God. With such an absolutist interpretation, it's difficult to discuss the contents of the faith."

Throughout the Internet, Islamist sites denounce the work of a handful of marginalized scholars as evidence of a plot by Christian missionaries to sabotage Islam. What the Muslim world cannot conceal is its vulnerability and fear in the face of Koranic criticism. In the great battle for converts through the Global South, this may turn out to be a paralyzing disadvantage.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd.)
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Buggers and badgers footnote

The Earl of Arran whose Private Peer's Bill was enacted to make homosexuality legal in Great Britain (Northern Ireland had to wait much longer) later introduced a bill to protect badgers. He complained to a friend that he had a full turn out in the Lords to debate his 'buggers' bill but an empty house for the badgers' bill'. 'That's because there are no badgers in the House of Lords'.


Lord Arran said, when the bill completed its passage through both Houses, how pleased he was that no-one in either House had spoken in defence of homosexuality. This was in 1967.


Legalising homosexuality, unlike changing the law on abortion and divorce, was a very good thing and it is hard to understand why it took so long and was so very unpopular. People should usually be free to do what they like if it does not restrict others' freedom (though I do not want incest to be legal). People who want to condemn homosexual acts should be accorded the same freedom. But in fact as Arthur Balfour wisely said, 'Society is perpetually persecuting.' Today persecutions are still in full swing though the victims have changed. It was ever thus.


Before homosexuality was legalised in Northern Ireland we had the 'Keep Sodomy out of Ulster' campaign which someone, possibly Andrew Roberts, told me was run almost entirely by... but there is a law of defamation and I should stop there.

Psychopaths are very sane

What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.

So said Dostoevsky, but he was mistaken. The psychopaths I have known were not happy, but not unhappy. Their emotions are very shallow.

The Norwegian mass-murderer who killed so many young people (I prefer not to name him and help him have the fame he craves) was not mad. A madman could not have killed so many people so efficiently. He seems to me, though I am not a psychologist, a psychopath and psychopaths are saner than normal people. 


I published an article on this subject in 2005 in Vivid, which I republish here: 


The Psychopath in the Office



The word ‘psychopath’ instills a pleasurable ripple of fear into anyone who saw a conscienceless killer in a Hollywood film such as Basic Instinct or The Silence of the Lambs.  But psychopaths exist outside the movies. Only a fairly small minority are violent criminals, more are confidence tricksters but most are not criminals at all. Many hold positions of power (think of Saddam Hussein or Slobodan ). Psychopaths are also known as sociopaths and the syndrome is also named Anti-Social Behaviour Disorder. The Victorians used the term ‘moral insanity’ but in fact psychopaths are exceptionally sane. They simply have no consciences and no empathy. Every reader of this article has knowingly or otherwise met some. Long-term their goal is always to accumulate power or money by any means available and to damage and abuse those over whom their power extends.


 ‘Industrial psychopaths’ is the term recently coined by psychologist Paul Babiak, author of Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work,  for psychopaths who hold good jobs. They can be priests, academics, charity workers, actors or media stars, HR managers or accountants but very frequently  they are found in professions that enable them to have power over others: in particular, the medical and legal professions (they are especially attracted to becoming judges and prosecutors), the police and armed services and, most irresistible of all to psychopaths, in politics.How do you recognise a psychopath in a social or business setting? You probably wouldn’t. They are pathological liars, masters of dissimulation and excel at interviews, the perfect theatres for their talents. In the West‘s increasingly atomised and competitive world, where ambitious go-getters are valued and efficiency sometimes prized above moral scruples, the psychopath’s qualities resemble those of the successful business leader. In developing economies where power structures are fluid and standards of business and political ethics are hazy psychopaths thrive. Present-day Romania is a perfect breeding ground for the species.


The psychopath thrives in situations of rapid change. The industrial psychopath identifies and ingratiates himself with the people whom he identifies as easily manipulated and those with power who can help him reach the top. According to Professor Babiak, 'During the manipulation stage, the psychopath spreads disinformation to enhance his image and disparage others. He is adept at creating conflict between those who might pool negative information about him. This is followed by a confrontation stage in which he abandons the pawns who are no longer useful to him and takes steps to neutralise detractors. Finally, the most successful psychopath enters an ascension phase during which he abandons his patrons - those who have helped his rise to power.' In the Romanian expression “treading on dead bodies to the top”. 


No-one knows what are the causes of the condition although research suggests that the psychopath’s brain functions abnormally and that a lobe may be missing. There is no cure. No-one can be given a conscience transplant.


Professor Robert Hare, Professor of Psychology at Vancouver University, is the world’s  leading authority on psychopaths. He estimates that about 1% of the population are psychopaths. Hare says they are "amusing and entertaining conversationalists, ready with a quick and clever comeback, and can tell unlikely but convincing stories...They can be very effective in presenting themselves well and are often very likeable and charming. To some people, however, they seem too slick and smooth, too  insincere and superficial. Astute observers often get the impression that psychopaths are play-acting, mechanically ‘reading their lines.’  Psychopaths are always highly intelligent (a parallel can be drawn with autists) and often possess photographic memories but their knowledge tends to be wide but superficial. They can be superb linguists and readily assimilate the latest jargon expressions as they emerge. Lacking normal human feelings, they are actors who learn how to behave by mimicking those around them. They may therefore come across as affected, insincere or false. Hare says they have a "narcissistic and grossly inflated view of their self-worth and importance, a truly astounding egocentricity and sense of entitlement, and see themselves as the centre of the universe, as superior beings who are justified in living according to their own rules.” They can seem very  charismatic but are rarely popular with those who work or interact with them closely. A few perceptive people sense at once that they are evil.


The psychopath will always prefer what he can gain by trickery, dishonesty or force majeure to the fruits of honest toil, which bores him. He  is usually lazy and unfocused where routine work is concerned  although at networking or marketing he can be a workaholic. As a boss he will steal his subordinates’ ideas, pick on victims to bully and very often sexually harass staff but also use manipulative skills to retain subordinates’ loyalty (Adolf Hitler remembering his secretaries’ birthdays).  In business psychopaths will take pride in using every dishonest subterfuge from bribes to blackmail to acquire mandates or retainers, happily getting away with  substandard work as a result. They are exceptionally astute at reading others and are adept at gleaning  information about those around them to feed their sense of power and enable them to exploit others. If they judge it safe to do so, they will delight in hurting those whom they can injure (I know of one HR Manager who framed a series of staff members with no ulterior object beyond the fun of sabotaging their careers). Psychopaths inhabit a Hobbesian universe where power is the only value and love of power means love of mischief.


The female psychopath (there are thought to be roughly two male psychopaths for every one female psychopath) is exactly as pitiless as her male counterpart but will use the advantages open to her as a woman to help her career path. If attractive she will exploits her looks, sleep her way to promotion or with clients to make deals happen, while at the same time she may be ready to concoct false charges that she herself is the victim of sexual harassment rather than the perpetrator. If appropriate she will cultivate the image of a devoted wife or mother as a useful cover.


Industrial psychopaths of either sex can be very effective at PR, at sales and marketing and their management techniques can be effective in the short or medium term but in the long term their business enterprises are likely to founder, their companies fail, their partners part ways from them or their employees vote with their feet. Psychopathy causes enormous damage in all our lives. We have seen in recent years the consequences when a succession of fraudulent businesses have collapsed. Who will psychoanalyse Enron or Worldcom, Bancorex or FNI?


So what should we look for as pointers to alert us against this dangerous breed of people when for example conducting interviews? The tell-tale signs include contradictory lies, oleaginous flattery, haughty body language, the penetrating and prolonged ‘psychopathic stare’ with which they fix their victims, poor spelling, an excessive interest in status and material things, their love of belittling others, boasting particularly about their lack of scruples and all sorts of unusual ways of talking, dressing or behaving, designed to draw attention to themselves.


Hare and Babiak have joined forces to create a new diagnostic tool, the “B-scan”  intended to help businesses keep psychopath- is a series of questions asked of referees rather than candidates, looking for sixteen key qualities including: insincere, arrogant, insensitive, remorseless, shallow, impatient, , unfocused, parasitic, dramatic, unethical and bullying.


How many do you know?




For more by me on the subject of psychopaths, please click on 



Vampires do exist
The wisdom of psychopaths and monks
Psychopaths are motivated by envy
Sir Jimmy Savile, psychopath 

Diamonds are a girl's best friend

A rather Romanian story this but then Brazilians like Romanians are Latins.

From the Daily Telegraph obituary of Brazilian one-time billionaire Jorge Guinle who was 5'5" and spent all his money:



When, in 1962, "Jorghino" (Little George) Guinle flew to California to meet his former flame Marilyn Monroe and to escort her to the Venice Film Festival, he had in his luggage a topaz necklace that a jeweller friend had asked him to give her; but on arrival in Los Angeles, Guinle was shocked to learn from the papers of the actress's death.
Having checked in to his usual room at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Guinle recovered his poise; he scanned his address book and telephoned the recently divorced Jayne Mansfield. When they met, he gave her the necklace intended for Marilyn Monroe. "She was delighted," Guinle remembered. "We spent the next two years together."
The obituary ends: 

"I have no regrets," he said, looking back. "I had a much better life than I could have imagined. I met the A to Z of Hollywood and had a great time. I might not have any money left, but when I sleep, I dream of Marilyn."
But according to his New York Times obituary, in the last year of his life, Mr. Guinle said he had only one regret. "I wish I had studied the saxophone more seriously so that I could really say that I play it."







Friday, 6 April 2012

'Today is Good Friday. There is no news.'

Once in the 1930s the BBC news programme on the wireless broadcast this announcement. 'Today is Good Friday. There is no news.'


For some reason, this reminds me of C.R. Attlee being asked at the end of an interview by the BBC in the 1951 general election campaign if he had anything else he wanted to say to the British public, to which the Prime Minister replied, 'No.'


My mother said when she was a little girl grown-ups told her there would be not be any news after the War was over and she felt very deceived when she found that there was.

Viktor Bout, 'merchant of death', is sentenced to 25 years imprisonment

Can anyone explain what Viktor Bout is supposed to have done that is wrong or why arms dealing should be a crime? Or why the state of New York has jurisdiction to try a Russian who did not live in the USA for defying U.N. sanctions outside the USA?  He was described as the largest non-state arms supplier in the world and as having traded arms from Tiraspol in Transnistria. All countries trade arms, especially the U.S. Government which captured him in 'a sting operation' meaning Bout was set up by agents provocateurs. Why shouldn't random Russian private individuals trade arms too?


Washington had been attempting to prosecute Bout since the early 2000s - even as it had contracted his company to provide logistical support for the 2003 Iraq invasion - including moving to freeze his assets in 2006.
US authorities were held back, however, by the lack of any law that they could charge him under.


Sir Basil Zaharoff who began his life in the back streets of Constantinople and whose first job was as a fireman in a time and place when firemen made their money from looting burning buildings (others say as a boy he was a brothel pimp), rose to control major arms companies throughout Europe including Krupp and Vickers. I once read a fascinating hugely enjoyable biography of him written not long after his death but I do not know how much is legend, how much true. Zaharoff armed both sides in the Boer War and various other wars including it was said the First World War but he was knighted by King George V, was the confidant of Lloyd George and Briand and effectively bought the principality of Monaco, making the Prince more or less his employee. Basil Zaharoff was a very successful merchant of death who died loaded with honours. I can imagine him getting along fine with Dick Cheney and Tony Blair.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

I lunch with an intellectual

I had a wonderfully enjoyable break from meeting businessmen and women today and lunched instead with the urbane director of the National Peasant Museum, Dr. Virgil Nitulescu. 


I liked him very much and into my mind came the words of the American diplomat, Donald Dunham who was here just after the war,  

“…I found this gently ironic look in the faces of most of the men in authority whom I met in the country. It acted as a second voice while they were speaking, seeming to say: ‘You must listen because the vocal sounds I am making are very important. On the other hand, you know, we are in a lovely country and the wine is good, the women beautiful, there’s plenty of everything and no need to hurry. Life is excellent fun. There is nothing really to worry about.’ "


Of course, the people who made this impression on Dunham in 1946 and 1947 are to be admired for their sang froid because in those days there was very much indeed for almost all Romanians to worry about.


I also remembered someone telling me that 


people like Mugur Isarescu don't talk to anyone under fifty. 


Having to my bewilderment just reached this milestone I suppose I can now talk to great men in Romania.


Mr. Nitulescu told me something I did not know that December 1 was chosen as the National Day only in 1990 and that two or three MPs had the wit to argue for 10 May which is the day King Carol I proclaimed Romania's independence in 1877 and the also day he first set foot in Romania in 1865. And is a sunny day, warm but not too hot. December 1 has dreadful weather and Romanians take off to the mountains then to eat and drink too much and trudge tipsily through the snow and it is standing insult to the Hungarian and German communities who had no wish to become part of Romania on December 1, 1918.


But I could not persuade him to adopt my theory about museums, that the National Archaeological Museum in Naples was the best museum I was ever in because all the inscriptions were only in Italian, the walls were off white, the atmosphere metaphorically though not literally was dusty and nothing was, dread words, family-friendly. A museum which welcomes everyone but is designed for scholars and people with scholarly tastes. The Egypt Museum, Cairo and all Romanian museums thankfully are like this but in Romania's case for how long?


We discuss the National History Museum which was created by Ceausescu to encourage national consciousness and how France and Holland are now in the process of creating national history museums. In response I suspected to large scale immigration just as Ceausescu acted in response to Soviet Russia's invasion of Czechoslovakia. 


Mr. Nitulescu is also responsible for liaising with UNESCO about something called intangible cultural heritage and gave me as an example, căluşul, a tradition which long pre-dates Christianity whereby young men leave their villages on 10 May for a week to perform this ritual dance which involves wearing masks and using sticks. Apparently the first historical reference to this dance occurs in the writings of Dmitri Cantemir. When they come back to the village they are men not boys. Even when a television programme was made recently about căluşul the television team was forbidden to record the rehearsals for the dance. I said that Marie-Louise von Frank the pupil of Jung, explained that it was vital that women not be present at male initiation rituals as one female smile of laugh would emasculate the boys.


He is the first person who satisfactorily explained Ion Iliescu to me. How, I always wondered, could a man who, if not still a Marxist-Leninist. which Nitulescu is sure he to his credit no longer is, is certainly a convinced Leftist, has presided over a kleptocracy of rich sio-dixant thieves who stole vast sums from a very poor country, first from 1990 to 1996 and then  a second time from 2000 to 2004 (eheu fagaces). Iliescu receiving the reports of the secret services knew better than any other man in Romania the full extent of the defalcations taking place.


Nitulescu explained that Iliescu knew that he had to work with the system. Obvious really and shows how little I understand the Balkans. Nitulescu reminded me of the story which I had forgotten of Adrian Nastase imploring the PSD barons to be less blatant in their behaviour only to have the boss of Dolj tell him 'We do not owe our positions to you, but you to us.'


The sad thing about Romania is that though I like in principle to mix with people ten or twenty or more years my junior, how very much more interesting Romanians over 45 are than the younger generation, who had the benefit of pop music, television and consumer goods in their formative years. The most formative in some ways being the first few years after university. Tom Gallagher was right when he told me that Romania in 1990 was a society that was maimed but though I am glad there are more goods in the shops I know I prefer the Romania I remember from 1990 to the Romania of today.