Saturday, 29 December 2012

'Lord Sebastian Coe'

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

Friday, 28 December 2012

The Imperial Hotel, Jerusalem



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

The motto that hangs from the wall of the Imperial Hotel


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day in Jerusalem


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Eve in Bethlehem and Christmas Day in Jerusalem








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






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




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

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

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

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

Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas, one and all!








































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

St. Augustine


Roses are reddish.

Violets are bluish.

If it wasn't for Christmas,

We'd all be Jewish.

Christmas card I once bought

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A very happy day in the West Bank



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


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


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

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


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



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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Friday, 21 December 2012

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

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


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

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

Going to the Holy Land - in the airport

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, 19 December 2012

How the robin came to be on Christmas cards


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

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

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

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

Monday, 17 December 2012

Psychopaths are motivated by envy

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

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

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


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

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


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



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




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

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Karl Marx writes about the Satanic urge to destroy the world

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

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

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



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




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



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


Edward Norman on modern religion

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



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

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


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


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

Auschwitz and Voltaire

To people who blame Auschwitz on Voltaire, I say that the invention of the wheel is the cause of many contemporary problems. 

Alphabets have killed millions.

Blaming Communism on Voltaire and Rousseau I go along with, to a certain extent at least.

A rather thin news story

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Str. Lipscani, my manor

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

Friday, 14 December 2012

Quotations for this week

"Happiness is bloom upon the cheek of youth." Aristotle.

"No man is on oath when writing a funerary inscription" - Dr. Johnson.


"Before either had spoken the General sized William up; in any other department he would have been recognised as a sucker; here, amid the trappings of high adventure, he was, more gallantly, a greenhorn. "Your first visit to Ishmaelia, eh? Then perhaps I can be of some help to you. As no doubt you know, I was there in '97 with poor `Sprat' Larkin " "I want some cleft sticks, please," said William firmly. Miss Barton was easier to deal with. "We can have some cloven for you," she said brightly."  Evelyn Waugh, Scoop


“Had I asked them what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses.” - Henry Ford - is this genuine?


"I live in London but I leave it often enough to know that parts of the country are pretty white, enough to scare my "white" children because they are just not used to such a monoculture and find it disturbing, unreal and, to be frank, lacking." Suzanne Moore - unfortunately, this is genuine.


"From quiet homes and first beginning, 
"Out to the undiscovered ends, 
"There's nothing worth the wear of winning, 
"Save laughter and the love of friends."
Belloc (later in life he said this was not true)

"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory


"All damaged people are dangerous because they have no pity." Howard Tullman
This is not true but useful to remember. Damaged people can be very dangerous but I am not convinced that evil people are necessarily damaged. I think they may be born that way.


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Books read and films seen this year of grace 2012




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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

File:StellaKubler.jpg

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

Films seen

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

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

Why traditions die

I found the other day that a friend of mine, who has a Ph.D. in a subject I feel is not quite a real subject, Political Science, had not heard of Gibbon or the Decline and Fall. This is a man who wanted to be in the Commons and who would certainly be much more intelligent than most Members and not only among his intellectually undistinguished party, the Liberal Democrats. 

I told my friend once that for me the two desiderata in politics were freedom and tradition and he said only freedom mattered to him. I now realise that tradition does not matter to him because he does not know what tradition means. Or know about anything much that happened before 1945. He considers George Orwell an old writer. 

Our rulers should be marinated in sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century books, in Chaucer and preferably Latin and Greek, not just to enlarge their minds but to give them a foothold outside their era and to let them understand what tradition means - English, British, European traditions. instead we are led mostly by people who think everything that happened in the past was wrong and only our own age is moral and just. That probably includes a lot of people like Nick Clegg (why can't I call him Nicholas, since I have no wish to be chummy with him?) who were expensively educated and should know better.

Here is an example of lack of concern for tradition, by a writer I enjoy, Suzanne Moore. This article makes me feel like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact made Guy Crouchback, in Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy, feel: here is the enemy in full view, the modern world in arms. 

She writes:
"I live in London but I leave it often enough to know that parts of the country are pretty white, enough to scare my "white" children because they are just not used to such a monoculture and find it disturbing, unreal and, to be frank, lacking."  

Suzanne Moore speaks here for the modern British Left, but only for part of it. Others on the Left have accused the article of being racist. As Americans say, go figure. 

She also talks about:
"the ludicrous spectacle of the Tories offering gay marriage as a signifier of modernity. This might be more credible if it came from a government that has any sort of drive to equality in its other polices."
The Tories surely seem very keen on sexual equality, I'd have thought. They are talking about having quotas for women on boards of directors. We are a long way from Burke or even J.S. Mill. We have come a long way too from Churchill suggesting in Cabinet, in January 1955:
Keep England white. That would be a good election slogan.
Mono-cultures are bad, it seems. Personally, I love Romania for being mono-cultural but I like traditional societies, whether mono-cultural or otherwise. However, the long established multiracial societies have become mono-cultures while the old mono-cultures become multiracial. I mourn the Constantinople and Vienna of 1900 but they were ethnically cleansed.

Traditionalism is deadly, tradition is the source of growth. Waves of migration in very large numbers dissolve tradition in a way that is arbitrary rather than organic.

Autumn

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

USL landslide

I feel total indifference to the Romanian election results. I remember how sad I was 12 years ago when the PDSR got in.

The paper Ring says the turnout was high. It was less than 50%.

This blog post is what Wikipedia calls a 'stub'. I suppose I shall add to it but the thought does not lift my spirits.

Death in the lavatory

The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings.

I knew King George II died in the lavatory but only learnt today that Catherine the Great, Evelyn Waugh and Elvis Presley also died in the loo and that King Edmund Ironside was said to have been stabbed to death in his privy (though the source is late). 

I checked on the net and Palgrave does not mention where Edmund Ironside's death took place, nor did any of my children's books about the English kings and queens.  The chronicler Geoffrey Gaimar tells us that Edmund Ironside was murdered on the privy by the sons of Eadric Streona. They used a crossbow positioned in the midden pit to fire into the King from below while he was crouching. It is said that the missile passed so far into his body that it could not be extracted. At Christmas 1017, King Canute ordered the execution of Eadric Streona immediately after Canute was beaten by Eadric at chess and a dispute had ensued over the rules of the game. This does sound like Sellars and Yeatman, I know. Asking for his life to be spared, Eadric pleaded that he had assassinated Ironside for Canute's benefit, something previously unknown to Canute, but Canute had Eadric executed on the spot anyway. It was not a successful Christmas party, by anyone's standards.

King George II died from an aortic dissection. According to Horace Walpole's memoirs, King George "rose as usual at six, and drank his chocolate; for all his actions were invariably methodic. A quarter after seven he went into a little closet. His German valet de chambre in waiting heard a noise, and running in, found the King dead on the floor." In falling he had cut his face.

As I know from Gibbon, whom I am currently reading, the Emperor Caracalla died when one of his personal guards stabbed him in the heart as he urinated on the side of  the road Gibbon describes his death thus:



He was attended by a body of cavalry: but having stopped on the road for some necessary occasion, his guards preserved a respectful distance, and Martialis, approaching his person under a presence of duty, stabbed him with a dagger. The bold assassin was instantly killed by a Scythian archer of the Imperial guard. Such was the end of a monster whose life disgraced human nature, and whose reign accused the patience of the Romans.
The Emperor Elagabolus is said, on the net, to have been murdered in the lavatory, although I do not know what evidence we have for this. Gibbon does not mention where the Praetorian Guard killed Elagabolus. 

King James I of Scotland is said to have also been stabbed while urinating but I do not think Scots kings matter very much. King Wenceslas III of Bohemia was murdered with a spear while sitting in the loo on August 4, 1306 but a Czech king also does not matter unless he is the famous Wenceslas who looked out on the feast of Stephen, a story invented, by the way, by the English writer of the hymn.[1]

Many have committed suicide in the bathroom including Judy Garland and someone I know is very famous called Lenny Bruce.

Sir Richard Burton, 
while disguised as an Arab and making the pilgrimage to Mecca, was seen urinating in the western way, i.e. standing, by an Arab boy. British public opinion always suspected Burton of murdering the witness but he insisted that he did not do so but persuaded the boy that he was not an imposter. Burton would have been killed had the fact that he was a Christian come to light. He had previously taken the drastic expedient of being circumcised. I wonder if England is still great enough to produce men like Burton. Or even men like Evelyn Waugh, come to that. 



[1] I have now bestirred myself to check and King Wenceslas III was not Good King Wenceslas - that was King Wenceslas I.