Friday, 31 August 2012

This week's quotations




Tis'n them as 'as munny as breaks into 'ouses an' steals,

Them as 'as coats to their backs an' taakes their regular meals.

Noa, but it's them as niver knaws wheer a meal's to be 'ad.

Taake my word for it, Sammy, the poor in a loomp is bad.

Lord Tennyson



"They [women] don't mean what they say, they don't use language for discourse but for extending their personality, they take all disagreement as opposition, yes they do, even the brightest of them, and that's the end of the search for truth which is what the whole thing's supposed to be about." Kingley Amis




"I wonder (if we survive this war) if there will be any niche, even of sufferance, left for reactionary back numbers like me (and you). The bigger things get the smaller and duller or flatter the globe gets. It is getting to be all one blasted little provincial suburb. When they have introduced American sanitation, morale-pep, feminism, and mass production throughout the Near East, Middle East, Far East, U.S.S.R., the Pampas, el Gran Chaco, the Danubian Basin, Equatorial Africa, Hither Further and Inner Mumbo-land, Gondhwanaland, Lhasa, and the villages of darkest Berkshire, how happy we shall be. At any rate it ought to cut down travel. There will be nowhere to go. So people will (I opine) go all the faster. Col. Knox says ⅛ of the world's population speaks 'English', and that is the biggest language group. If true, damn shame – say I. May the curse of Babel strike all their tongues till they can only say 'baa baa'. It would mean much the same. I think I shall have to refuse to speak anything but Old Mercian." - J.R.R. Tolkien




Evil people are just too tedious to be taken seriously. Ivo Mosley





There's something repellent about the self-conscious "traveller", boring one to death about their bus trip from Alice Springs, or even worse as a travelling companion - endlessly searching for an "authentic" place to eat, and rejecting all the perfectly attractive choices for failing to meet this criterion. Seamus Sweeney





The only true lasting benefit which the statesman can give to the poor man is so to shape matters that the greatest possible liberty for the exercise of his own moral and intellectual qualities should be offered to him by law. Lord Salisbury



Solitude shows us what we should be; society shows us what we are. Lord Salisbury



"I'm not sure if a mental relation with a woman doesn't make it impossible to love her. To know the mind of a woman is to end in hating her. Love means the pre-cognitive flow... it is the honest state."

~ D. H. Lawrence




Every child is in a way a genius; and every genius is in a way a child.

Arthur Schopenhauer



We sit by and watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches of peace we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond: and on these faces there is no smile.” ~ Hilaire Belloc



"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now." - falsely attributed to Goethe.




"Do what thy manhood bids thee do, from none but self expect applause;
He noblest lives and noblest dies who makes and keeps his self-made laws.
All other life is living death, a world where none but phantoms dwell.
A breath, a wind, a sound, a voice, a tinkling of the camel-bell." - Sir Richard Burton

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Etiopia – unul din puţinele locuri stranii rămase în lume


Îmi încep călătoria în Dubai, care în afară de faptul că e foarte urât, pare să fie un loc complet imoral. Imoralitatea are nevoie de stil ca s-o faci atractivă, iar Dubai nu are deloc stil. E ca un vast hotel de cinci stele. Deși e un loc unde oamenii pot bea în mod normal alcool fără nicio problemă, mâncarea și băutura de orice tip, cu excepția celor la pachet, nu sunt de găsit înaintea asfințitului pe perioada Ramadanului. Fiecare zi îmi începea cu un drum prin căldura încinsă, până la Starbucks sau Costa, ca să-mi cumpăr micul dejun pe care să-l aduc acasă într-o pungă maron de hârtie. Cum mai poți scrie despre călătorii în era Starbuck și Costa? Dubai în august, în vremea Ramadanului (și probabil în oricare altă perioadă) e o plictiseală totală, dar mă trezesc deodată stârnit de gândul la Etiopia, care are un climat temperat și ploios, așa cum ar trebui să fie verile – chiar și în Zanzibar sunt doar 28 de grade Celsius. Încep să mă simt bine.
Prima dimineață la Addis Ababa iau dejunul la hotel, cu cea mai bună cafea din câte îmi amintesc. Cappucino-ul e minunat pentru că și cafeaua e minunată. N-am gustat niciodată ceva cu așa aromă puternică. Ca atunci când am văzut primul original al unui tablou al vechilor maeștri ai picturii, după ce până atunci văzusem numai printuri. Sau ca primele roșii din Balcani pe care le-am mâncat la începutul anilor 90.
Sunt împotriva fumatului dar prezența scrumierelor în camere îmi dă un desfătător sentiment al libertății. Anglia era odată o țară liberă unde oamenii spuneau și făceau ce le plăcea. Acum nu mai e așa.
16°C, înnorat, prognoză de furtună cu descărcări electrice la Addis Ababa – un rai după Dubai (doar 41°C dar umezeală). E minunat să scapi de Ramadan. Tot ce am de raportat la început e berea excelentă și femeile frumoase. Pe drum, în avion, erau multe asemenea femei cu fizionomie europeană și (după expresia lui George Meredith) posterioare de regine. De fapt, fetele drăguțe din avion erau mai multe și mai drăguțe decât cele de pe străzi.
Mergem spre Hilton în atmosfera gri și răcoroasă – Addis e plin de arbori ciudați iar verdele e o culoare minunată. Mă simt ca în Anglia la sfârșitul lui octombrie, înaintea unei furtuni dintr-un loc excentric precum Cambridge, plin de grădini înconjurate de ziduri. Cumpăr cinci zboruri interne pentru un total de 280 de dolari. Sunt foarte mulțumit de asta, acum am un itinerariu.
Vremea e plăcută, răcoroasă, ploioasă, ca în acea vară englezească din copilărie, dinainte de a mă muta în Balcani. E sezonul ploios, dar sunt ploi ușoare – de fapt un anotimp numai bun pentru vizită.
Așadar ne aflăm în Addis și nu în Lalibela, cum speram, dar profităm din plin vizitând Muzeul Național de Etnologie. Care e cel mai puțin impresionant muzeu din câte am văzut. Cel mai atrăgător lucru la el e clădirea în care e adăpostit și parcul în care se află aceasta – un fost palat al lui Haile Selassie (regentul Etiopiei din 1916 până în 1930 și Împărat al Etiopii din 1930 până în 1974).
Pe stradă, un buchinist vinde cărți comuniste. Aici comunismul a ucis numeroși oameni dar totuși mai sunt unii care spun că adevăratul comunism nu a fost niciodată aplicat. Am întâlnit etiopieni care plâng după el.
Vizităm catedralele Sf. Gheorge și Sfânta Treime. Ambele au muzee cu manuscrise antice, scrise în limba moatră Ge’ez, care se mai păstrează în liturghii. La Sfânta Treime se află mormântul lui Haile Selassie. La Sf. Gheorge doi oameni se loveau, repetat, cu capul de ușile bisericii. Unul a fost înșfăcat de un tip înalt în uniformă militară care arăta precum un soldat al „albilor” din războiul civil din Rusia, doar că era negru. Știam că aici e o civilizație la fel de veche ca cea din Georgia, mai veche decât cea din Siria. Și totuși interioarele bisericilor arată ca ale unei biserici baptiste din anii 70 în Anglia. Picturile interioare sunt mâzgăleli europene ieftine. Preotul n-am cântat. Muzica liturgică etiopiană e frumoasă, dar nu sună deloc a muzică religioasă. Mi s-a părut că aduce vag cu jazz-ul. Perotul ne explică despre toba ceremonială și semnificațiile ei. Coardele reprezintă biciul lui Dumnezeu – capătul subțire pentru naștere și cel gros pentru moarte.
Etiopia e un loc tare ciudat într-o lume în care au rămas foarte puține locuri ciudate. Îmi place.
Cina de la Yad Abysinnia, lângă aeroport, mi-a plăcut. Curry-urile etiopiene sunt excelente, ca și alte feluri de mâncare de aici. Vinul – straniu dar băubil – are gust de sherry sec.
Etiopia încă păstrează calendarul Iulian. Aici suntem în 2004. La 7 p.m. aici e ora 1:00 iar la 19:00 e din nou ora 1:00, ceea ce e nemaipomenit de logic.
A doua zi luăm avionul spre Lalibela, care se oprește mai întâi la Gonder. Pe ambele aeroporturi e loc doar pentru un singur avion și amândouă par a se afla pe acoperișul lumii. Aer rarefiat de munte, lumină rece, dealuri, verde adânc.
Mergem cu mașina printr-un frumos peisaj de țară către hotelul Seven Olives (25$ pe noapte).
Iau prânzul: o versiune simplificată de tibs, destul de bună. Bucăți de carne de miel în sos așezate într-un morman și sfârâind la flacără, mâncate cu injera, care e făcută dintr-o cereală locală, are culoarea gri și arată ca o spumă de cauciuc. Echivalentul românesc al injera este mămăliga, sau polenta din Italia. Cafeaua de la hotelul meu din Lalibela este crescută în grădină. Cred că în Etiopia am băut cea mai bună cafea, poate că e chiar cea mai bună din lume. Etiopienii spun că ei au inventat cafeaua. Presupun că vreau să cred asta, deși nu știu dacă a fost vorba despre etiopienii creștini sau cei musulmani.
Da, Lalibela e turistică – un fel de Sighișoara acum mai mulți ani – să zicem 2002. Dar turiștii sunt foarte puțin în comparație cu orice loc turistic din Europa în August. Cu toate că are o populație de numai 20.000, Lalibela îți absoarbe turiștii destul de bine.
Pornim într-un tur, pentru 180 de dolari (două zile), mai mult decât aflăm ulterior că era cazul să plătim. Mai întâi vizităm trei biserici. La una din ele preoții insistă să le dăm 5 dolari înainte să deschidă porțile. Suntem la vreo 3000 metri deasupra nivelului mării și urcușurile dintre o biserică și alta mi se par dificile.
Un om pe care îl întâlnim ne invită la o cafea în sat. Sătenii știu citi și unii vorbesc engleză, dar parcurg mai multe mile, uneori în picioarele goale, prin noroi pentru a aduna lemne de foc.
A doua zi e răcoare. Arareori termometrul ajunge la 20 de grade aici. Etiopia e unul din puținele locuri din emisfera nordică unde să te duci în august, ceea ce e a) interesant și b) nu excesiv de călduros.
Mesa din Lalibela din ziua Salvării Lumii a fost una din cele mai extraordinare experiențe din viața mea.
La ieșire, i-am cumpărat unui băiat de zece ani o pereche de pantofi cu 9 dolari. Cea mai plăcută achiziție pe care am făcut-o vreodată. Ultima lui pereche se stricase acum un an.
Etiopia ar trebui să convingă pe oricine că scurta perioadă de colonizare europaeană a Africii a făcut mult bine, dar și ceva rău. Pe de altă parte, Etiopia e atât de convingătoare fiindcă nu a fost europenizată și reprezintă singura țară africană cu o istorie și o cultură datând din antichitate.
Etiopia în august are cel mai profund verde imaginabil, e ploiasă, răcoroasă, plină de arbori ciudați și credincioși mergând la mesă în robe translucide și cu pălării stranii.
De la Lalibela zbor la Dire Dawa, care e, prin contrast, tropicală și are un aer caraibian. Un minibuz aglomerat ne duce printr-un peisaj minunat la Harar. Harar, pe care l-am ales instinctiv, fără să mă documentez, e plin de oameni care beau bere și de prostituate, dar orașul vechi promite ceva diferit. Hotelul unde stau pare o serie de baruri zgomotoase și un bordel, dar mai târziu aud că e cel mai bun hotel. Mă mut totuși la un altul care costă 10 $ și are un restaurant bun și internet cafe. Aici mă împrietenesc cu Hailu, un tip simpatic și mănânc un platou yemenit care se cheamă Luni, sau așa ceva.
Harar e ceva autentic. Zona muntoasă cu bisericile și castelele ei e impresionantă dar să mă trezesc aici, în această închisoare stalinistă pentru care plătesc zece dolari (cu un mic dejun excelent), mă transfigurează.
N-are sens să mai mergi la Zanzibar după Harar, dar trebuie să-mi onorez biletul de avion.
Moscheele din Constantinopol fac Islamul să arate foarte atrăgător dar aici, deși este exotic pentru călătorii albi, Islamul mă frapează ca utilitarist și manufacturat. E foarte spiritual dar pare să-i lipsească o dimensiune. Din nu știu ce motive, în această călătorie Islamul mi-a amintit de comunism.
După o săptămână de la sosirea în Etiopia, sunt înapoi la Addis Ababa.Consider că hotelurile de lux sunt imorale și profund corupte, dar cred că eu am nevoie de ele mai mult decât majoritatea oamenilor. Primesc mult mai mult decât plătesc de la hotelul Jupiter Cazanchis din Addis. Mi-a devenit un soi de mamă-surogat de la al cărei sân nu mai pot să mă desprind.
Dormitorul meu de la etajul întâi e deasupra intrării hotelului de patru stele. Puțin la stânga se văd tufișuri în care sunt căsuțe mici făcute din fier ondulat, lângă un morman mare de plăci de faianță sparte. În fața uneia din case, doi băieți spală o pereche de blugi cu o bucată de săpun.

Russian reaction to the death of King Charles I of England

"INASMUCH AS the said Anglic Germans have slaughtered their own King Carolus to death, we hereby decree that none of the said Anglic Germans shall henceforth be admitted to Russia's lands."
—Decree of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich upon the murder of King Charles I in 1649, breaking off diplomatic ties with Cromwell's England and banning all English merchants from Russia.


Later the Tsar relented and readmitted the English businessmen, Helen Szamuely tells me.

What an extraordinary destiny Russia has. 

School uniforms and uniformity

Sad news that the great Rhodes Boyson has died, he of the mutton-chop whiskers and the wonderful Black Papers. 

And on the same morning Suzanne Moore has published an article attacking school uniforms as promoting conformism in children.


Actually exactly the reverse is true. Lack of uniforms promote conformism, whereas uniforms provide something to rebel against and children find this reassuring. It's like poetry - you need to know the rules before you break them. 


School uniforms prevent snobbery towards children from the more hard-up families. This is incredibly important.  And, anyway, children cannot be idiosyncratic individuals - it is impossible. I know - I was one.


Children all need to look alike too - children are horribly conformist, snobbish, aggressive, cruel. In my day they were very sexist, racist and homophobic too and I doubt if the thought police have eliminated these characteristics.  As Philip Larkin said, and he was certainly sexist and racist, 


'When I was a child I thought I hated the human race but when I grew up I realised it was just children I couldn't stand.' 

It is not by chance that this is my favourite quotation.

'I wandered lonely as a cow'

If Wordsworth hadn't listened to advice from his wife, his first line would have been 'I wandered lonely as a cow'. (Source, letter in The Times about 10 years ago, quoted by Leyla Sanai.)

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Horses enjoying freedom - Rodnei Mountains



Photo: Chris Rete

Neal Armstrong has died

Neal Armstrong has died. What is one to think? 

As a little boy I was spellbound by him landing on the moon and so surprised when the BBC mentioned that some people disapproved of the expense. Now it all seems such Cold War silliness and such a waste of (American) public money. Mr. Gladstone would not have approved nor any other nineteenth century statesman. 



' "But what good came of it at last?", quoth little Peterkin.' 

Well, a lot more good than the Vietnam War or a lot of other expensive ways of waging the Cold War but if the moon race brought the world satellite television then this is a very sad thing. MTV is not Agent Orange or napalm but it has done a lot of harm. Lucky St. Helena which had escaped television altogether became as dull as everywhere else. I hope the Iranians jam it.

An escaped lion in my village, St. Osyth!





For nearly 24 hours, fear, alarm and a great deal of excitement had stalked the tiny Essex village of St Osyth 





There's always trouble for someone. A great bank holiday Monday news story though.




St Osyth is famous for the two biggest witch trials in English history - oddly separated by a century - someone should write an English version of Montaillou about them - and the finest priory in England. Also for East Londoners and caravans. it is not tiny but huge, almost a town. 5,000 people live there, mostly refugees from East London (the place people mean when they say 'Essex' these days).



STOP PRESS: 

The police called off the hunt.



What innocent fun - it is in the best tradition of 1930s journalism - I am reminded of Orwell's Decline of the Great English Murder. It also has something of Enid Blyton or Richmal Crompton about it. There is still an England, despite out of town shopping centres, gay marriage and all the horrors of modern life.


This is going the rounds on Facebook.The jokes will stop if the lion emerges from the cornfields. Until then it sounds like a Just William story.





Psychopaths and the Norwegian murderer



I am reposting my take on psychopaths since the conviction of the Norwegian murderer makes the subject topical.


Though psychopaths are always topical. Quite a number get a long way in life though few make it to the very top.


Three Romanian women lawyers told me they read it wondering if they were psychopaths and  I was able to tell them that they were not though I am not sure if this reassured or disappointed them. At least two other Romanian female lawyers fit the bill perfectly.

In general psychopaths are very boring when you get to know them, though sometimes, say with serial murderers and Saddam Hussein, the things they do are very interesting. They can be interesting, in a morbid way, if they possess self-knowledge and a sense of humour (wit is a better word since they can never laugh at themselves) but evil is boring because it is a negation, an absence of good. It does not exist. 

I am that am says Almighty God in the Old Testament and the Father of Lies can say the opposite.


Evil people are just too tedious to be taken seriously. (Ivo Mosley)

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Zanzibar is a poem


The bigger things get the smaller and duller or flatter the globe gets. It is getting to be all one blasted little provincial suburb. When they have introduced American sanitation, morale-pep, feminism, and mass production throughout the Near East, Middle East, Far East, U.S.S.R., the Pampas, el Gran Chaco, the Danubian Basin, Equatorial Africa, Hither Further and Inner Mumbo-land, Gondhwanaland, Lhasa, and the villages of darkest Berkshire, how happy we shall be. At any rate it ought to cut down travel. There will be nowhere to go. So people will (I opine) go all the faster. J.R.R. Tolkien


I was not sure I would like it but I absolutely love Zanzibar. It would have to be amazing to equal Ethiopia and it is.    

I had no dollars at the airport to buy my visa. They sent me to take some cash from the  airport hole in the wall but it didn't give me any. The boy at immigration let me in anyway, beaming and saying 'This is Africa!' He told me to return the next day with the dollars. 

I have found a wonderful, old fashioned hotel, the Abuso Inn, kept by a Muslim with a long beard which gives him a look of extraordinary prescience and wisdom as if he were carved from ebony. The hotel is not thank God grand, not expensive, not full of holidaymakers (it seems empty) but I am in the centre of Zanzibar town, otherwise known as Stonetown, yards from the ocean and my window overlooks the sea. Old 19th century wooden furniture and a bed  with mosquito nets. A single room costs me $55 and I do not have the heart to try to cheapen it.¹




The view from my bedroom in the Abuso Inn. No beer was available on dhow rides because of Ramadan so I skipped them.





I felt a sudden surge of happiness as I glimpsed Stonetown as my taxi driver took me from one hotel to another. $10 buys a lot of taxi time it seems. My God, the very houses seemed asleep on a hot (but not unpleasantly hot) afternoon. 

I walked out of the hotel and found the quayside a minute away and the dilapidated Arab mansions of the merchants who waxed rich on the proceeds of slavery and ivory in the nineteenth century before the British stepped in to put a stop to the slave trade and to seize the island.  Zanzibar to my relief is very shabby and run down despite the restaurants. It is a nineteenth century poem. You would think there cannot be a place as beautiful as the name Zanzibar suggests but Zanzibar the town very nearly achieves it. It is the most inexpressibly romantic town I was ever in.  It has a remarkable flavour but I cannot say of what. Of spice - which is appropriate because I was told more than half the world's spices originate from here. It has shadows. This is a Joseph Conrad story but with beautiful architecture. It is Arabic and African with a slight tincture of Indian in the mix. 

Although not old, it feels as old as time. (Bucharest's broken streets make a similar impression.) Until 1830 what is now the town of Zanzibar consisted of a fishing village and a seventeenth century fort built by the Portuguese when they ruled here so it is less old than my home town Southend-on-Sea that ceased to be a fishing village thirty years earlier. Now Zanzibar is a city of 200,000 souls, most of whom live in the new city where tourists never venture. 16,000 people live in the mostly narrow streets of the old town, Stonetown, which feels like an old Arab town. Despite the souvenir shops and people selling CDs in the street, it is not a museum and has not yet lost its sense of identity.

I suppose I am ghoulishly attracted to the detritus of Communism. Zanzibar flourished under the Omani Arabs and the British but like most African colonies it did not flourish after independence. Independence in 1964 was very swiftly followed by a bloody left-wing uprising in which 12,000 Arabs and Indians were murdered and most of the rest fled.   Arabs and Indians  constituted the rich class of the island and one fifth of the population - they, not the British, were the colonists. (How very similar fascism and communism and their victims are: the bourgeoisie; Jews; capitalists; Indians.) This is much of the reason Stonetown is seedy and run down today, not the passage of time: the houses were abandoned by their owners. 

The revolutionary government was shunned by every country except their neighbour, newly independent Tanganyika, with whom they merged to become 'Tanzania' for lack of any other source of support or money.Tanzania became a friend of the Soviet Union and I remember Nyerere, the disastrous dictator, was widely admired among British Labour MPs. Stonetown is now ringed by jerry-built tower blocks like the ones in Eastern Europe built as aid by East Germany.

Evelyn Waugh described Zanzibar as being “insufferably hot and full of starched young men in public-school blazers.” It is not insufferably hot today, or at least it is much cooler than Bucharest in the summer. However, there are still a fair number of English people but not with public school accents. There is a big group of them dining at Maharajah, the Indian restaurant where I am eating, speaking in the slightly nasal twang of the home counties - is it racist to hate other British people abroad? 


'An Englishman does not go abroad to meet Englishmen.'
Or as the Master asked,
 'Why do the worst people travel, while the nice ones stay at home?' 
But this is not true - lots of nice people travel. Usually they are in their twenties because people in their twenties are nicer than older people and almost always they travel independently not in pre-arranged itineraries.  


Maharajah is the best of the Indian restaurants but not anything too special and overpriced by local standards. Archipelago and Pagoda are, I am told by a Canadian restaurateur who has lived here for many years, the two best restaurants of those that remain open in Ramadan.  I thank God because of Ramadan quite a few tourists are away even if several good restaurants are closed.

In fact, I had assumed it was too late to visit Zanzibar because it had been discovered and then suddenly realised it would be much worse in a decade. This proved a very wise decision. The town is what brought me here and most tourists it seems prefer the five star resorts and hotels along the coast and pay only visits to the town. And many come to the island only for a few days after a safari on the continent. It is not too late for Stonetown. It will be, but it is not yet.

We travel to find what we are looking for and ultimately to discover ones subconscious mind. I look for myself or for beauty beauty in the gutter, not in places which are gleaming or luxurious. This is not because of nostalgie de la boue but because I grew up in genteel seaside resort in Essex in the plastic and nylon 1970s and want to find the Other. I suppose some people from my home town are attracted to five star resorts for the same reason, but for me real life is life which feels like a book, which life in Southend-on-Sea rarely or never does.

The devout porter in the  Shangani Hotel where I use the internet has become human now that I sit with him and watch the subtitled prayers from Mecca. The chanting is beautiful and so is the faith of the believers but the prayers are not particularly impressive and I feel my esteem and affection for Islam, which was once considerable, is fading.  

Islam has a lot in common with Christianity which is why the Muslim world is intelligible to me but also I suspect one or two things in common with Marxism-Leninism. It feels synthetic, for all its beauty.
'God loves those who praise Him.'  This is does not sound exactly like the God I believe in. As King George III said of Shakespeare, 'It's sorry stuff, but you cannot say so.'


I should read the Koran. 


Thursday


I drank my first five delicious glasses of tamarind juice on the roof of my hotel beside  a wonderful view of the Indian Ocean. Who knew you could make juice from tamarind? I am glad my hotel is not a grand one full of dull people but a nice little one. They even have black guests, darling.

The Catholic Bishop of Zanzibar, with whom I have a friend in common, is always busy but he finds time to give me coffee. 

Do Muslims ever convert to Catholicism? He frowned. Yes, some. it takes three years, he tells me,  to instruct a local Muslim. They cannot refuse to do so "or I would lose my seat"  - but they fear the consequences for community relations. I suspect he fears inter-communal violence and feel for him. Muslims from the mainland or abroad are received into the Faith much more quickly. 

Mixed marriages do take place and the Catholic church marries mixed couples, so long as the couple agree to bring the children up as Catholics. Girls who marry Muslims always convert to Islam but Muslim girls never convert to Christianity.

He prefers Zanzibar to remain in Tanzania, for the mainland has many Christians whereas in Zanzibar 95% of the population is Muslim. As a separate country, Zanzibar might have sharia law. Yet I feel this island, a former Omani colony, does not belong in Tanzania and wonder how it would fare alone, subsidised by the Gulf monarchies and enriched by tourism.

He wants to know what people in the West think of Islam and I explain the concept, as far as I understand it, which is not very far, of Islamophobia and say it is about white guilt. Westerners should see how Muslims behave where they are the majority, he warns.


He tells me a powerful local Muslim organisation has recently been complaining that the museum of slavery at the Anglican Cathedral in Zanzibar, which was built on the site of the slave market, makes Muslims responsible for the Zanzibar slave trade and Christians responsible for its abolition. These two things are undoubted facts but I wonder if the Muslims have another theory.

I tell him about the Muslim prayers I watched on TV last night and we agree the Muslim god is not attractive. I make my adieux knowing his time is precious.

Downstairs Abdullah was eating on my tick 150 shillings worth of food and got me to give him another 500.




Ali who drives me to the airport to get my visa has six children and two wives, three with each and divides his time equally between them. I say two families must be expensive but he does not reply. For a moment I see the appeal, I who could not manage one wife or one child.

I am writing this in the internet cafe. Near me a pale American father and son, white legs in shorts,  backpacks, the son wearing a baseball hat, convince me that Zanzibar has been in one long decline since the Omani emirs ran the slave trade here. We live in a degenerate age.




I suddenly see clearly I was born to be a historian to rewrite the history of colonialism from a conservative point of view - so very easy to do and so very urgently necessary. I feel an utter failure.



Very good Chinese food at Pagoda as I was told - delicious lobster. 


Benediction in the Catholic Cathedral, which is tucked away cheek by jowl with a mosque. I found the seminarian, Proces, and invited him for a beer. For the first time in my life, I very badly wanted one. Instead of going out though, we drank warm beer (I don't really mind as I am English) in the sacristy, with two charming girl medical students from Northern Ireland who gave me good advice. They said I could do everything here in Stonetown and had no need to go outside. Yes.  They also told me patients in hospitals on the mainland  starve to death if they have no family to feed them  - hospitals in Zanzibar are better but not good at all.


Then Abdullah appeared for the third time like a character in a pantomime and I buy him a drink and give him a dollar to get some supper. A professional parasite but someone to talk to, amusing enough, unmanly, on dope. He has visited England twice where he used to have an auntie. This place is not as exotic or remote as it seems. He wants to live in England - to do what I wonder.

He pays he says $15 a month for his room from someone who is sorry for him  - $50 is the going rate.


August 11


I take it back about the British abroad. I just had breakfast with a very nice Englishman and beautiful Englishwoman, BOTH INTELLIGENT. But he says he is half Iraqi and half Irish and she is half Australian and half Italian. She is hitchhiking across Africa which is such a good thing to do instead of a job. He works for McKinsey in Dubai and says everyone there is from Essex.

Near my hotel. 
The British imperial-Arabic buildings are very beautiful - mostly built by the gifted architect J.H. Sinclair, who was accused of going native. They distantly remind me somehow of the smarter parts of Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, built contemporaneously. In former British colonies the 1930s seems long ago and exotic and in Britain it seems recent and banal.


The Hotel Tambo at 5.30 was a revelation, the beach, the milkshakes, so easy - do I really have to do the spice tour a snip at $15 with lunch where I could talk to my fellow tourists instead of lunch alone reading about Tippu Tip the Zanzibari slaver who visited and ruled much of Central Africa? Yes I want to be alone tomorrow.


But Proces has other plans and wants to show me the town tomorrow and then we drive to the north to swim on Sunday

He takes me on a long circular walk and I see I have seen nothing of Stonetown yet. The market where as night falls people are breaking their Ramadan fast with dals and chapattis in almost darkness. I am put in mind of the unlit streets like Bucharest in 1990.


He is nice but I found his English hard to follow - on the cusp of intelligibility - though he talks about Heidegger and Aquinas.





Proces, the Catholic seminarian who showed me round, standing in front of the Grand Mosque which was built by Sinclair and is currently being refurbished.




Next day

Real coffee is hard to find in Zanzibar so I went to the 5 star Hotel Serena across the road and drank a cappuccino for $3 overlooking the Indian Ocean. A pleasant, sterile place, but 'luxury requires an aristocratic setting to make it attractive' (Santayana). A couple of pale blonde guests both had tattoos on their legs of a curious design. 

Everyone is a short story I suppose, though few of us would make readable novels. Actually their story I realised later is very short  - hennaing is available for tourists in the town.




Am enjoying myself! I do not need to snorkel or lie on the beach or look at how spices are farmed. I just mooch around Stonetown = Zanzibar Town and eat and drink and read and meet and avoid people.



Zanzibar is too touristed but nothing compared to Kotor or Tallinn in August to say nothing of a Greek island - let alone of course a beach town anywhere. Lots of tourists it seems prefer 'resorts'. If I wanted beaches I would visit the neighbouring island of Pemba which is still innocent of tourism.




Drinking sugar beet juice crushed for me by a street vendor in Zanzibar and flavoured with ginger and lemon. He says it's non-fattening.


Monsoon - a nice place unlike the awful famous place I went on my last night. This is a restaurant that the Sunday Times would like - a restaurant as a concept . it felt like an opium dream by Flaubert or Delacroix.


Last day

I am happy.

Happiness is not complicated.  

It is (many) vanilla milkshakes by the beach, by the aquamarine ocean.

Though if I think about it, which I do for a second, I feel very unpatriotic and priggish about not having taken cognisance of the Olympics yet.




In Zanzibar the Christians abolished slavery but Christian Ethiopia abolished slavery in theory only in 1925. And in the British Empire, indentured Indian labourers were not so dissimilar from slaves in Mauritius and other colonies. Had the Emirs of Zanzibar really colonised Central Africa as they could very easily have done slavery would have been
entrenched there for a while (why are Muslims not good at institutions or administration, unlike the English?) but the white man would, thankfully, have conquered Africa in any case.



Whatever happens we have got 
The Maxim gun and they have not.

The white man had of course previously done very much to encourage the slave trade. I suspect to be enslaved and taken to the Americas was a less bad fate than to be taken to the Middle East where many slaves were I am told castrated to stop them breeding (I do not understand the logic.) At least the ones in the Americas became Christians and their descendants acquired civilisation. Was it better to have been a slave in Africa? I wonder.




I relented and did the famous spice tour which was fun mostly because i got to see the villages of rural Zanzibar and go to the beach. Interesting to see where cardamoms and cinnamon come from I suppose but I am allergic to these kind of things (tourist trips not cardamom or cinnamon which I like). Someone on the tour said she had taken part in a spice tour which was exactly the same in every detail a few weeks earlier in India. I am not sure all the spices in this model farm are usually grown in Zanzibar but it was reasonably enjoyable.


I go talking to a Canadian student studying International Development Studies who told me 'You have to be on the Left to study International Development Studies'. There had been one conservative student whose 'jackass remarks about women' shocked his peers but he changed subjects. There seem to be many academic disciplines where being conservative is impossible and many of them end in the word studies. The students of these disciplines are remaking the world while the conservatives worry about making money.




Village life.  The pump in their village had been broken a week so they wash their clothes at a spring and carry them home.

My only glimpse of rural Zanzibar.

Mangapwani. I finally made the beach on my last afternoon. We reached this by a climb down the side of a cliff and had it to ourselves. Black market slaves were hidden in grim conditions in a cave here after they abolished slavery. 
it was far more beautiful than this shows - here it seems rather dark

My last night. I walked around the streets and found there were so many I had not entered.  I constantly received offers of help from people in the street but was surprised to do so from a white man seated outside a hotel who turned out to be the owner. The hotel turned out to be the famous  236 Hurumzi, formerly called 'Emerson and Green'. He encouraged me to watch sunset from the roof of the hotel. This was not a bad idea and the margaritas were huge though very weak but it was a mistake to eat there. The food was unmemorable and terribly overpriced. Just go there for a drink, people.


Home flying by night to Addis, then crashing out in a de luxe hotel in Dubai (the obsequiousness of the employees is so Oriental - you have to stay in a hotel to really be in Dubai in spirit as well as body), then a stopover in Istanbul.

And home flying low above the Danube and the lakes around Bucharest  in the evening sun. The woman beside me returning from the fleshpots of Bodrum (what are fleshpots and does Bodrum have them?) could not believe that an Englishman could speak Romanian or earn his living from recruitment or holiday in Ethiopia. I wonder what she thought I really did.




A wonderful journey. 'The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.'

For the first time coming home Bucharest seemed slightly - just slightly - dismayingly normal - but Blanari, even gentrified, always perks me up.




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¹ A Rough Guide that I buy second hand (they are better than Lonely Planet books which seem to be written by cretins for cretins, but Bradt are best) tells me $30 is the least you pay for a room. This is not true. I saw a very good room close to my hotel for that money and I presume I could have haggled. I later drank with a German who had found a room in a place in the centre called Annexe 2 for EUR 13. Ignore also the self-interested 'advertorial' by a travel agent in the Rough Guide that advises that you need to book accommodation before you arrive. The place is full of travellers who arrive without doing so.

Vive la France!


We owe the Olympics entirely to Chirac. 'The English have the worst food in Europe, except for the Finns.' The Finnish vote the next day was what swung it to us.

Chirac was also right about the Iraq War and probably deserves the spare plinth in Trafalgar Sq. for that, despite his adulteries and defalcations. Certainly the Americans should build him a statue, next to the one - I presume they have one - of Lafayette.

I do not admire Napoleon however. I knew a beautiful female psychopath who liked Napoleon even more than Hitler because 'Napoleon killed so many people and yet everyone likes him'. Needless to say like most psychopaths she was a lawyer.

Nor do I admire the French Republic. The real France and the anticlerical French Republic are different things. (Muslim France is something else again).

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Ethiopia is a very strange place in a world with few strange places left


"Encompassed by the enemies of their religion, the Aethiopians slept for near a thousand years, forgetful of the world by whom they were forgotten."
Gibbon
Addis Ababa. Thankful to be in the low teens Celsius after Dubai in August and thankful to escape from Ramadan. I had intended to find cheap digs but I am tired and I am persuaded to take a four star place, the Jupiter, for $65 and this includes usefully a transfer.

I am talking to a Montenegrin lady who shares the minibus. She is a scientist who has suspended her academic career, which is her passion, for  her job in the UN, which is a complete waste of time but pays very well. She says the whole UN is like this. I suspect a lot of the aid workers one sees in expensive hotels fall into this category too. She tells me what I didn't know - I have shamefully done no homework - that Addis is the Brussels of Africa, the HQ for innumerable international bodies (mostly I suspect transferring money from the poor of the rich world to the rich of the poor world).

The buzz of a new, cheap, little-known country. The African decor in the bar of the Jupiter is very slightly reminiscent, somehow, of being in a  top hotel behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s. The bar is full of UNOcrats seated alone using laptops and I buy a nice, rather weak, St George’s beer for two dollars. 
'About the history of Abyssinia before the Flood we possess no certain knowledge.' 

This is the  beginning of an 18th century history of Abyssinia, quoted by Evelyn Waugh. It has hung in my mind since my early teens. It is one of the reasons I am here. 

Wednesday August 1 Addis

Breakfast in the hotel. The best coffee I can remember drinking. The cappuccino is wonderful because the coffee is wonderful. I never tasted anything with so much flavour. Like seeing my first Old Master after only seeing prints. Or like my first tomatoes in the Balkans in the early 90s. Then Steve sleeps and I try to.

I strongly disapprove of smoking but the sight of ashtrays in the bedrooms gives one an exhilarating sense of freedom. England used to be a free country once where people said and did what they liked. Not any more though.


 
The palace of the Patriarch of the Ethiopian church.

I post on Facebook:


16°C (= 60°F), overcast, thunder and lightning forecast in Addis Ababa - heaven after Dubai (only 41°C but humid). Nice to get away from Ramadan. All to report so far is wonderful beer and pretty women. Yesterday on the plane there were many beautiful women with European faces and (in George Meredith's expression) queenly rears.

Actually, the pretty girls on the plane were prettier and much more numerous than those in the street. 

In fact, after the plane I didn't see any more beauties until I saw the Muslim girls of Harar who are Hamitic (negro) not Semitic. The Amhara ( a recently coined word for the speakers of Amharic) are the 'people of state' in Ethiopia. They are partly or mostly Semites and have European features. In Gibbon's words:


The Abyssinians, who still preserve the features and olive complexion of the Arabs, afford a proof that two thousand years are not sufficient to change the colour of the human race. 

Abyssinians or Ethiopians were Arab nomads who started  to move into Africa  and become mountain dwellers, according to Dervla Murphy whom I am reading, between 1000 and 500 B.C. But a thousand years later the Ethiopians held parts of Arabia and in 570 A.D. came close to conquering Mecca and converting it to Christianity. 570 is also approximately the year Mahomet was born. As Gibbon says
We walk to the Hilton in grey cool weather – Addis is full of strange trees and the green is a wonderful colour. It feels like England in late October, before a storm, in some eccentric place like Cambridge, full of walled gardens. We buy tickets. I buy five internal flights for $280 in total. Am very happy about this and I now have an itinerary. I am enjoying myself. 

Nice chilly drizzly weather like a British summer of my childhood before I moved to the Balkans.It is the rainy season but the rains are light. Actually a good time to come.

So we are in Addis and not as we had hoped in Lalibela and we make the most of it by visiting the National Ethnological Museum which is the least impressive museum I ever visited. Lonely Planet said it was better than the National Museum so we gave that one a miss even though it houses Lucy reputedly the world's oldest human remains. Though this is now in doubt.


Oh let us never never doubt 
What nobody is sure about
The best thing about the National Ethnological Museum is the building and the park in which is situated - a former palace of the Emperor Haile Selasse.







Wooden pillows in the museum - they didn't look very comfortable.





Burial statues look sad in this sad museum.





We wander and pick up Beru, a student of logistics from Harar, who helps us to find our way and visit both the cathedrals one by one. 

The first known Ethiopian Christian was the Ethiopian eunuch converted by St. Philip, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (8:26-40). Everyone thinks Ethiopia is the third oldest Christian country in the world (325 is the date given in the books), shortly after Armenia (Wikipedia says in 301 or 314) and Georgia. But Christianity became the state religion in Georgia only in 337 so I calculate Ethiopia came second. By comparison, Constantine, Emperor, saint and ruthless warlord, was converted in 312. Christianity became the state religion, which I imagine means compulsory, in the Roman Empire by the Edict of Salonica in 380. 

Hugh Trevor-Roper well said that 


'There is properly no history of Africa. There is only the history of Europeans in Africa.' 

This would be more accurate had he mentioned the history of the Arabs in Africa and the Ethiopians, which is why I am here (and going to Zanzibar). Though the Ethiopians might be considered the exception that proves the rule. They are, at least partly, Semites.






A bookseller sells Communist books. Here Communism killed great numbers but still there are people in the world who say real Communism was never tried and I met Ethiopians who hanker after Communism. The Ethiopian version of Communism was not, it is true, very canonical. The tyrant Mengistu, who overthrew Haile Selassie and the ancient Ethiopian monarchy, did not get round to setting up a Communist Party here before he had murdered almost every Marxist-Leninist in the country. 

I was interested to learn that Mengistu is now said to have personally smothered to death the venerable Haile Selassie. How like a Jacobean tragedy. Perhaps Titus Andronicus or  something by Webster.




  


Holy Trinity Cathedral (above). Then St George’s Cathedral . Both had museums with ancient manuscripts in the ancient dead language of Ge'ez which is preserved for the liturgy and in other obscure tongues plus less interesting things in the case of St. George's related to Haile Selassie and his coronation in 1930. This will be remembered only because Evelyn Waugh attended and wrote about it in 'Remote People' a book I recently bought but lost unread. I can very warmly recommend his account of his second visit, Waugh in Abyssinia, which I reviewed here. But what most people will read and reread are his two great novels inspired by Ethiopia, Black Mischief and Scoop

Waugh writes in Remote People:


It is to Alice in Wonderland that my thoughts recur in seeking some historical parallel for life in Addis Ababa. There are others: Israel in the time of Saul, the Scotland of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the Sublime Porte…. But it is in Alice only that one finds the peculiar flavour of galvanised and translated reality, where animals carry watches in their waistcoat pockets, royalty paces the croquet lawn beside the chief executioner, and litigations ends in a flutter of playing cards.
Waugh did not take Ethiopia as seriously as he might have done but his idiosyncratic, sometimes facetious vision will live as long as Black Mischief is read, which means as long as English novels are read. 

At St. George's it was overcast and drizzling. At two separate locked doors two men were pummelling the doors with their heads. The second man got pulled off by a tall man in a grey army coat and top boots who looked like a deserter from the white side in the Russian civil war except that he was black. Having detached the man from the building he struck him fairly  lightly with a sort of whip.  The drunk man didn't seem to mind.  I knew that here was another civilisation as old as that of Georgia, older than that of Syria. And yet the interiors of these churches look like those of a Baptist church built in the same era the 1890s in my home town or rather  a Baptist hall. The paintings in the church are cheap European daubs.

The priest sang to us. Ethiopian liturgical music is very beautiful but does not sound like religious music. It faintly resembled jazz.





The priest explains the ceremonial drum and its significance. The cords represent the whip with which Our Lord was scourged, the smaller end our birth and the larger end our death (do I remember right after almost 3 weeks?)  and he demonstrated its use in the Mass. 




The  ambulatory  or whatever it is in the cathedral is you see decorated like a very down at heel Baptist church hall in 1970s Britain - Ethiopian churches are like that.
most things squalid but the occasional jewel shining in the mud.

Ethiopia is a very strange place in a world with few strange places left. I like it.


We had dinner in Yad Abyssinia near the airport and tasted and very much liked Ethiopian food. Most of the faces were black but whether they were Ethiopians or foreign visitors I don't know.  Wonderful buffet. I gorged and drank the local wine of Goudar.

 Ethiopian curries are wonderful - other food too. Wine odd but drinkable - tastes like dryish sherry. 

They play traditional music from every region and tribe but although on the streets of Addis I am constantly hearing really wonderful music here every song sounds exactly the same. 

We shared a table with an American couple, well-meaning, sexless and innocent, who have just succeeded in adopting a child who had been abandoned in the street and taken to the police. What a good thing of the Americans to do. How wrong Lady Nicholson is to rail against international adoptions in Romania.

Ethiopia still keeps the Julian calendar. It is 2004 here. That I knew this fact astonished Steve, especially as I said I had done no research into Ethiopia (a lie - I had read Waugh in Abyssinia).

At 7.00 a.m. is 1 o'clock here and at 19.00 it is again 1 o'clock which is wholly logical. That I knew this also impressed Steve.  Steve is aghast that this is what I consider general knowledge and I considered him the cleverest candidate I ever placed.  I seem to be better informed  than other people and this makes me feel I might have wasted my gifts.

I thought this system of telling the time was an Ethiopian idiosyncrasy but in Zanzibar I heard of an old 19th century clock that told time in this way and it was described as the old Swahili way of counting time. 

I did not know however that the Ethiopian calendar has thirteen months. Nor that Ethiopians instead of shaking hands like Americans or Europeans do (or doing nothing like the British) bump shoulders.

I never finished Rasselas which I got my Dad to buy me as a present for doing well in my O Levels - the Folio Society edition cost him five pounds second hand - but I am shocked how many people with have not heard of it. I thought it was a book you 'had' to read, meaning you should know it by repute at least. This place is not the Happy Valley, but flying in to Addis reminded me of Rasselas's escape from Abyssinia on wings - a fantasy of Dr Johnson's which is now banal. 

Thursday 2

Plane to Lalibela stops first at Gonder. At both airports there is room for only one plane and both are aerodromes which feel they are at the very top of the world. The thin mountain air, the cool light, the hills, the deep green.

We drive across beautiful country and to the hotel which I select at the airport because the hotel rep offers $25 when the rest want $30 and I realise afterwards it is the Seven Olives where Dervla Murphy stayed in 1967. She is my great friend on this journey – I am reading her In Ethiopia with a Mule and what a reviewer called the Gothic levels of discomfort that she willingly endured make me feel very soft. She disapproved of Lalibela because two or three years before she arrived the tourist plane service from Addis was opened and Lalibela had become 'transformed by greed'. She disapproved of the hotel for being a simulacrum of Home Counties comfort and being terribly overpriced. But Steve said Lonely Planet said it had the best food in town and it had a great terrace overlooking tree filled vista. Behind the trees was I suppose the town. 

For lunch I ate a simple version of tibs which was quite wonderful. Pieces of lamb in a sauce piled high in a mound and sizzling over a flame, ate with injera which is made from a cereal unique to Ethiopia, called teff. Injera is grey and looks like grey foam rubber. The Romanian equivalent of injera is mamaliga, known in Italy as polenta.




The wonderful coffee at my hotel in Lalibela was grown in the garden. I suspect Ethiopian coffee is the best in the world - best I ever drank. They claim to have invented coffee.  I suspect or want to think the Ethiopians did invent coffee - though whether Muslim or Christian Ethiopians I do not know.

The churches. These thirteen churches were hewn from rock in the eleventh century by King Lalibela who had been told in a dream to create a new Jerusalem.



The guide we met at the airport Birhan talks us into spending what I realise is a very large amount of money - $180 for two for one day to see three churches quickly and the church of  Yemrehana Kristos  and we never get back our $20 change. This is indeed the greed which Dervla disliked at its inception but he was a good guide and I am very grateful indeed he suggested Yemrehana Kristos.


Yes Lalibela is touristy – Sighisoara some years ago – say in 2002. Our hotel is for foreigners and for backpackers you would think but it is mostly people in their 30s 40s and 50s. But the tourists are very very few compared to any tourist place in Europe in August. Lalibela has a population of only 20,000 yet it absorbs its tourists well. You don't see them.

A paper I read in Addis said that last year visitors to Lalibela reached a record number of 50,000. I callously wished the number were one tenth of that.

B is brisk and takes us round three churches at slightly too brisk a pace but there is almost no limit to the time that I can stay in an interesting church. The church of St George is fascinating but though the interior is extremely interesting indeed I did not find beauty in it.   









I was not much interested in Africa except Ethiopia and Zanzibar and Ethiopia proves to be absolutely fascinating and enchanting. Like Romania where I live and the House of Lords where I had my first job, it is Gormenghast. I wonder why I like it more than India. The people I suppose, although I like Indians. The Ethiopians are more manly than the Indians and less mercantile. Ethiopia is most traditional country I ever visited. A very High Tory country.


Then we were driven in an uncomfortable four wheel drive van  to the Yemrehana Kristos Church, Lasta - a 90 minute drive from Lalibela and the part along an unmade road was pretty painful for me in the back of the van. I regretted coming until I arrived. The church is of wood but built in a vast cave and stands on a raft which floats on a marsh. A pile of skeletons stands behind the church and has done for centuries but it is not clear why they are there.

Dervla found the priests insisting on five dollars before they opened up - the priest we met was wholly delightful. It seems they get up to fifty tourists a day depending on the time of the year (August is low season) but we were alone. 


I found the climb to the church hard, unlike Steve, and I this is because we were at above 3000 metres above sea level though he is fitter than me. 



The priest showed us the golden cross, which was stolen from the church but recovered, and the liturgical drum.




 


We were invited to coffee in the village by someone we met. Unlike in Dervla's time when almost everyone was illiterate now they read and write and speak English. They burnt frankincense for us - I made a mental note to buy some in the next market I visited but forgot. The smell of frankincense was pretty unremarkable I can record.









People gather firewood and take it several miles.Often they are barefoot but the majority are shod.








The journey back in which I sat in front was blissful and was followed by a great dinner at the Seven Olives after which I went to bed and Steve went off into the town with the restaurant manager to sample the local delicacy honey wine,  a decision that proved the next day to have been mistaken.

Thursday, August 2

Steve departs, suffering from the sequentia of the honey wine. 

Ethiopia in August is the darkest green imaginable, drizzly, cool. Today is cool but my linen jacket is enough, though I see other white people, who have done their research, are wearing things that look warm and zip up to the neck, not a linen suit. I am grateful I have a long sleeved shirt and wish I had packed a pullover.  It rarely reaches 20 degrees Centigrade in Lalibela in August. Ethiopia is one of the very few places to go in August in the Northern Hemisphere which is (i) interesting and (ii) not too hot.


Mass goers in white translucent robes carrying staves and wearing curious headgear.   

Mass in Lalibela on the day of the Salvation of the World was one of the most extraordinary wonderful experiences of my life. And I got a few minutes on film despite disapproving of filming these things. 




The roof built by UNICEF a few years ago may be necessary but is a dreadful eyesore and ruins the magic of the place and I wonder why it is necessary. Is the rock porous or apt to crumble?


The empty tombs of Abraham Isaac and Joseph. I am very ashamed of how little I know about the Ethiopian Coptic church which despite being until the 1950s being ruled by a monk sent from Alexandria is I suspect very different from Egyptian Coptic Christianity.





Apparently, according to Dervla the Ethiopian Coptic Church for centuries only knew the Septuagint. According to Evelyn Waugh they regard Pontius Pilate as one of the great saints. They follow the Jewish dietary rules and also forbid camel meat and (rightly) smoking. Saturday is the Sabbath. You take off your shoes to enter a church and religion revolves around savage fasting. They have beautiful church music. All is an odd mix of kitsch and piety. Dervla is unimpressed by their religion which she sees as ritual without depth. I wish I could judge. I shall return to learn more.


I just bought this ten year old boy a pair of shoes for $9. The most enjoyable purchase I ever made. His last pair broke a year ago. I also left money with Birhan to buy him a football and hope he got it.

Friday


Waiting at Lalibela airport - Ethiopian Airlines planes are usually delayed but at least they very rarely crash. Lalibela airport does not have internet even in the airport offices so instead of blogging I talk to my fellow passengers..

I am talking to a Russian student who looks and sounds like an American. He tells me 'I have to admit that most Russians are extremely racist.' How different Russian undergraduate conversations must be from their British equivalents. I wonder which students are more open minded. I hope the Russians  are more interested than the British students in an education, as opposed to getting a better chance of a good job, but I doubt it.

A plane to Gonder, and I put up in the Taye Hotel. It is a year old and the best hotel, cost $45 and was very comfortable. It has three stars but might have had four. As we drive from the airport, an estate of detached suburban houses reared up, each exactly like the others, standing like three rows of soldiers. They looked like they belonged in the USA or England. They were being sold I was told to Ethiopian-Americans who had been given political asylum in the USA during the Communist era and were coming back with money. These houses, for some reason, utterly revolted and depressed me, whereas the poverty of Ethiopia does not at all.

Gonder is remarkable for a number of handsome castles built in the 17th century, which show Portuguese influence, though my guide denied this. 








The 17th century Debre Berhan Selassie Church at Gonder, Ethiopia. Attractive paintings from the 18th century, but not beautiful or comparable with the ones in Romania. 

Of the 44 churches in Gonder most were destroyed in the 19th century by the Emperor Theodore (my guide denied this too and blamed Muslims quite unfairly) but this one has interesting, though not beautiful, wall paintings. Interesting too that the angels on the roof are black but Jesus Christ is whitish. One wall painting shows Mahomet being drawn up from hell by the Archangel Michael to prove he was a false prophet.

I wish I had seen the castles without the chattering guide although he explained the wall paintings in the church which was useful. I had not slept the night before and did not spend long enough walking round the decrepit Mussolini era central square. Mussolini intended Gonder to be the capital of his East African Empire.

I first knew of Abyssinia as a little boy, when I read of the Emperor Theodore's holding captive British subjects, in a book my grandfather had given my father as a boy, called The Royal Portrait Gallery. It  chronicled the history of England from the Heptarchy to the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, when it was published, and I memorised it at the slightly precocious age of four. Yet I am ashamed that I did not do my research before I came.  I now discover that, after the Emperor took his own life rather than be taken alive and General Napier released the captives, he brought the orphaned son of the Emperor back to England where Queen Victoria took the young prince under her protection. He was sent to school at Rugby where he died at the age of eighteen 'of pleurisy and despair'.

August 5


The Lonely Planet guide to Ethiopia says that adultery is very widespread 'among men as well as women' and warns women travellers that a wedding ring is no deterrent against male advance, but has the opposite effect. How unlike the home life of our own dear Queen. Muslims are chaste though, I feel sure.


Ethiopia should convince anyone, if they doubted it, that the short period in which Europe colonised Africa did a great deal of good, as well as some harm. On the other hand, Ethiopia is so compelling because it has not been Europeanised and it represents the only African country with history and an ancient culture. 

Dr Johnson said 
'Outside the Christian and Mahometan worlds all is barbarism.' 
In Rasselas, as a literary device, he describes Ethiopia as the Happy Valley but I am not sure if he would have considered Ethiopia barbaric or not. Gibbon says


Christianity had raised that nation above the level of African barbarism
but elsewhere


in their lonely situation, the Aethiopians had almost relapsed into the savage life. 
But then what did either of them know about the matter? Evelyn Waugh, who wanted Mussolini to bring Catholic civilisation to Ethiopia, thought only Harar and Muslim Ethiopia civilised. Harar is where I go next.


I'm growing tired and so are you. 
Let's cut this poem into two.

For my journey to Harar please click here.