Saturday, 26 January 2013

Danielle Lloyd and other wags




Danielle Lloyd is a mildly famous British WAG (WAG is a back-formation from WAGs, which means footballers' wives and girlfriends). She is famous because her picture sells newspapers and gets clicks on websites, including, I hope, mine, and famous for racist bullying of an Indian contestant on the reality television show Big Brother, though that was years ago. She should be famous for this answer that she gave on BBC One's quiz show, Test the Nation (sic). She was asked: "Who is Winston Churchill?" and answered: "Wasn't he the first black president?"'



More quotations:


Judge: I have read your case, Mr Smith, and I am no wiser now than I was when I started.
F. E. Smith: Possibly not, my Lord, but much better informed.






Judge: Are you trying to show contempt for this court, Mr Smith?
 
Smith: No, My Lord. I am attempting to conceal it.






Judge: Mr Smith, you must not direct the jury. What do you suppose I am on the bench for?
 
Smith: It is not for me, your honour, to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence.




What is a man, after all, but his old jokes?
John Mortimer

Lord Kilmuir, who heard about his dismissal from the woolsack on the wireless: You have given me less notice than I would a housekeeper.
 
Harold Macmillan: But good housekeepers are so hard to find.

We cherish our friends not for their ability to amuse us, but for ours to amuse them. -- Evelyn Waugh


Prince Phillip, in 2000: ‎"People think there’s a rigid class system here, but dukes have even been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans."


When a Protestant sins he has no-one to whom to confess except his solicitor. Philip Guedalla

Friday, 11 January 2013

Romania’s Rotten Oligarchy


This interesting article by Kostas Vaxevanis in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune this week about Greece reminded me of Romania:

DEMOCRACY is like a bicycle: if you don’t keep pedalling, you fall. Unfortunately, the bicycle of Greek democracy has long been broken. After the military junta collapsed in 1974, Greece created only a hybrid, diluted form of democracy. You can vote, belong to a party and protest. In essence, however, a small clique exercises all meaningful political power.

For all that has been said about the Greek crisis, much has been left unsaid. The crisis has become a battleground of interests and ideologies. At stake is the role of the public sector and the welfare state. Yes, in Greece we have a dysfunctional public sector; for the past 40 years the ruling parties handed out government jobs to their supporters, regardless of their qualifications.

But the real problem with the public sector is the tiny elite of business people who live off the Greek state while passing themselves off as “entrepreneurs.” They bribe politicians to get fat government contracts, usually at inflated prices. They also own many of the country’s media outlets, and thus manage to ensure that their actions are clothed in silence. Sometimes they’ll even buy a soccer team in order to drum up popular support... 


Romania like neighbouring countries is not really a democracy and how could she be? Will she be one? Some look to the EU to help but how can the EU remedy a democratic deficit? 

On the whole there is a lot more freedom in Romania than in Western Europe. People smoke in restaurants and make sexist remarks and disregard EU regulations. But they do not think government is on their side. Romanians do not have a party system which allows people to choose between parties that reflect different points of view. 

The essence of democracy is that one party leaves office after defeat to be replaced  by another party which brings in distinctly different values and laws from its predecessor, as happened in the UK in 1979 and 1997, in France last year, such as has not happened in Russia. This is democracy, rule by the masses, and this fear of the electorate colours everything democratic governments do. In Romania parties leave office regularly but the same 'Structure' of shadowy interests seems to rule. The 1996 election in Romania which ousted the revamped Communists and the 2000 election which brought them back  did represent real change but since 2004 all parties have seemed corrupt and not to represent divergent philosophies. In Eastern Europe it is hard to think that there are coherent right wing or left wing programmes. The liberals here are not liberal, by which I mean pro-business, and the socialists are not socialist. There are no conservatives as people do not think there is much worth conserving.

The present political class or their successors will In power for generations. I wonder if real democracy is possible in Orthodox countries. What Romania needs is a public minded elite and a moral revolution from below but it is not her destiny to resemble Norway or England. Perhaps corrupt but not too corrupt  Ireland might be a role model.

Economics springs from culture which springs mostly from religion and genetics. Roger Scruton writes interestingly on this  here.

Thank God Romania unlike Greece is not in the euro. 


Monday, 7 January 2013

Back to Bucharest

Back this morning from Jerusalem, a city I love with all my heart, to Bucharest under snow, another city I love. But though exotic, Jerusalem is still in the same cultural zone as Bucharest. The essentially Arab old city of Jerusalem certainly is and modern Israel is a First World country that reminds me of Greece, though more solvent.

I met a Bosnian Serb translator, crossing from Jordan to Israel, who knows Arabs and Israelis very well. She told me, when I asked her, that the Holy Land was definitely part of the Balkans.  I think so too, as is all the Levant, especially Syria and especially the Christian Middle East. 'I recognise everything here from the Balkans', she said. 

But Romania is only half in the Balkans - Romania was only half in the Ottoman Empire and never in the Byzantine Empire. More concretely, in Romania, except the Dobrudja, Muslims were not allowed to settle. Most concretely of all, Romanians have shaorma (everywhere) but not (usually) baklava. 

*

Bucharest cab drivers are fascinating and form an Aeschylean chorus in my life. The one this evening (he was 62 and looked very ancient) said the Romanians are unfit for democracy because they are ethnically heterogeneous and quotes Mircea Eliade to this effect.

I tried to say that though I agreed with his conclusion I did not agree with his premise and thought heterogeneity was one of the strengths of Romanians but he quoted Eliade at me at every turn. Apparently Romanians are not sufficiently Dacian. I said Romanians are less ethnically mixed than the British.

*

I have not noticed any changes in the weather in my lifetime but Romanian taxi drivers are unanimous that they have. I am becoming increasingly confident that global warming is not very important but the taxi drivers make me hesitate.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Back to Jerusalem


Back in Jerusalem. Crossing from Jordan by the King Hussein (a.k.a. the Allenby) Bridge is a huge achievement, not to be attempted light-heartedly.


Dear reader, if you find yourself in Petra and want to go to Jerusalem, take a taxi for JD50 to Aqaba and walk across the border to Eilat, whence buses go regularly taking four hours. It takes an hour by taxi or shared car or bus from Amman to the King Hussein Bridge where you wait (for more than an hour in my case) for a bus that takes takes you to the border. On the other side, I waited an hour after passing immigration (which for me was easy) for my luggage to appear. (I had handed it in as we entered the Israeli customs building). I was completely zen, unlike the impish American geezer in his late 60s, who was rolling from one heel to another with impatience) and the Australian journalist based in Jerusalem who was trying to lodge a formal complaint.


Then easy to catch a minibus and at chilly Jerusalem I was, I felt, completely at home, though it seemed months not three days since I was last there.. A nice Christian coffee shop owner whom I knew made me coffee, sent out for a falafel sandwich and made me feel like family. He told me that the Allenby crossing is NOT closed on Saturdays, despite what the people at my hotel in Amman told me. I was zen about this too. It turns out from looking it up on the net that the Israeli side closes at lunchtime on Saturday and so I had already missed my chance by 1 p.m. Jordanian time. But this too is life.


The dear old Hotel Imperial.


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Armenian priests, dressed in black, processing around the holy sites. Trying to get past a vast giant of a bodyguard, the name Alexei on his wristband, nonchalantly put out an arm like a tree trunk to stop me. I looked at him and at the weakling boy priests and reflected that the intellectuals need the loyal heavies and that my place belongs with the savants not the thugs but in fact I failed to find my place.


A Catholic Mass in Spanish which I decided to skip and so I tagged onto a tour party. The guide was explaining that almost every tourist group 'You are the one exception' that comes to Jerusalem comes for a pilgrimage, whether Christian or Jewish and for a life-changing experience. (Why were they the exception? Were they an atheist tour group, or Marxists or pagans? They looked far too respectable.) I reflected that my first visit to Jerusalem had not been a life changing experience. I hope this second one will be but I still react in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre first to the darkness, oddness, strangeness and mystery of the ancient churches which share the church (though the Catholic Church no longer feels ancient but 1960s modern), the Mrs. Radcliffe Gothick-Papist feel of the place, before I reflect on the site of the crucifixion and what it means.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Amman and the Hashemite Kingdom of Boredom




I must stay in Amman a second night. I cannot cross the Allenby (a.k.a. King Hussein) Bridge till tomorrow, because the Israeli side closes early on the sabbath. The other two crossings remain open all day on the sabbath but they are too far away.

I learnt this from the concierge before I paid for a taxi to take me to the bridge. I felt pleased that the journey was now taken out of my hands and someone else was running things. For a day I am no longer a tourist, a subjective person who travels for no good reason, but am here for a very good, objective, grown-up reason, that the crossing is closed. I walk around the centre of the town (in the shabby little centre, it does not feel like a city), in the pouring rain. My memory of Amman will be of somewhere grey and chilly. Tomorrow, as I leave, it is expected to snow. 

I suspect that back in 1948 there was not a burqa in sight and Jordanian women wore knee length skirts, just as I have seen Egyptian women did in films of the period. Now headscarves are common though so are blue jeans. I saw one pair of women wearing the full veil with only peep holes for their eyes and happening to be behind them in a queue at a street stall I notice that they were English, spoke with classless (meaning middle middle class) English voices and one of them was white (I could tell by her wrists). 

It was good to chill after much effort yesterday at Petra. Good to swim in the pool of the very comfortable, somewhat pricey Hotel Toledo, use the steam bath and blog. I would advise you, though, gentle reader, to get a five star hotel for this money.

Amman had 2,000 inhabitants when King Abdullah I chose it as the capital of Transjordan and it is now the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, known to foreign correspondents as the Hashemite Kingdom of Boredom.  Abdullah I first chose the town of Salt, a larger place, but changed his mind after someone in Salt was insolent to him. Amman had no house fit for an emir, so he used the railway station as his palace. 

By the time Transjordan gained independence from England, in 1949, the population had grown by 150% to 5,000 but in 2010 the population of the Greater Amman area numbered 2,842,629. Despite or because of this, the city centre is a non-event, a busy road full of shabby shops and a vegetable market rather than a souk, very unimpressive, but attractive because poor. Like many modern cities, Amman is a driving city not a walking city and has very elegant parts, like the one my hotel is in. The centre, however, has the great charm of letting you know that you are in a small country. You feel a weight lifting from your shoulders in small countries. It is the same in Luxembourg. 

Nevertheless, Amman is not a new place. It was 
known to the ancients as Philadelphia (there is a W.C. Fields joke here) and was ruled by the Nabataeans, who built Petra, before they were conquered by Trajan. To prove its antiquity, Amman possesses two magnificent monuments, the citadel, built by the Romans and substantially rebuilt by the Umayyads, and the Roman amphitheatre (actually there are two but one is in great condition). I went over the citadel without a guide and enjoyed it. I was not in the mood for the repetition of unimportant and not necessarily accurate facts.

The Jordanians are probably Palestinians but then all these identities and nations are pretty new ideas in what were parts of the Vilayats of Damascus and Jerusalem in the Ottoman days. (I repeat myself, I know, but what a shame a democratic Ottoman Empire did not emerge and survive into our day, at peace with Britain and ruled by Greek ministers, with no modern Middle East.) At any rate, Jordanians on the street looked happier than the Arabs in the West Bank and have, despite what Israeli Arabs told me, a much higher standard of living. GDP per capita here is about twice that of the West Bank.

My unscientific but persuasive survey of four taxi drivers and two guides suggests that Jordanians love their King, their Queen and the memory of the old King, King Hussein. On the other hand, all six of my interlocutors were over 40 and the median age here is 22. They all spoke English well and did jobs which earned them good money from foreigners. My last driver, a Bedouin who was born in a tent, was an East Banker, to be distinguished from the West Bank refugees from 1948 and 1967. East Bankers love their king, he says. I asked him why so many of the refugees are still living in tents and realised that until a certain number of years ago most people lived in tents. This is the kind of insight you don't get from reading the newspapers.

I asked about whether you got into trouble with the police for criticising the authorities and was told you can criticise the Prime Minister and the ministers but not the King. 'There is a red line drawn around the King.' 

King AbdullahII has an English mother, is a fresh-faced blue-eyed Harrovian, one month younger than me (a child, in other words) who speaks Arabic badly and is obviously as British as the flag, despite having a curious beard that looks like it may be stuck on with paste. He has a young, innocent, honest face. He followed Harrow with Sandhurst and a year at Oxford. He is the only decent ruler in a region full of horrible leaders. And the King is a king. Monarchies have innumerable advantages over dictatorships. The first of these is that they are legitimate, ipso facto, without need for elections. Elections in this past of the world mean the triumph of religious parties and then, often, no more elections. As Mark Steyn said, a king is his own ideology.

Jordan is the last of the British-client monarchies north of the Gulf. Like the famous Haroun al-Raschid, King Abdullah II likes to go out among his subjects, I was told, in disguise, to hear about their problems incognito. If only he had married Jemima Khan he would be quite perfect for a Richard Curtis film but in fact he is married to a lovely queen from Ramallah in the West bank who has won the country's love.

For other views of Jordan, by people who, unlike me, know something about the country, click here and here.

Talking about blue-eyed Jordanians, my second taxi driver, with skin as pale as vellum and blue eyes, turned out to be one of the Circassians I had read about, Muslims who came to Palestine from Czarist Russia. My waiter at lunch also had white hair and blue eyes but denied being Circassian and I realised he was an albino and wondered if I had caused offence. An albino Arab waiter - straight out of the pages of Bulldog Drummond, John Buchan or William Le Queux. 

The hotel restaurant has filled up since I came in here to blog. Then I was alone except for the secret policeman who was pretending to do the Amman Times crossword(Joke). Now it is full and not of businessmen but holiday - makers. Who are these people who go to a $120 three star hotel in Amman for their holidays in early January? Many of them are Antipodeans and all seem placidly content though only one table of bibulous Australians are positively excited. 

Since the albino waiter I saw a third pale man with white hair and wonder what story John Buchan could have spun from this. Probably he would have me called to see the Minister of the Interior and be told I had to offer my services to save both the King and vital British interests. 

Friday, 4 January 2013

Petra, one of the wonders of the world


My Seven Wonders of the World


The Great Pyramid of Giza,

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem,

Petra,

Taj Mahal,

Grand Canal, Venice,

St. Peter's, Rome,

The British Museum.


I decided NOT to include the Great Wall of China, which is only a wall, after all, nor Niagara, the first disappointment of American married life. I decided on Petra after today's visit. It is better than Palmyra or Cappadocia or any of the wonders carved out of rock like Lalibela in Ethiopia and the underground city I saw near Gori in Georgia. The Great Pyramid heads the list as the sole survivor from the original list and The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is there for religious not aesthetic reasons. I thought of Trinity College, Cambridge and the Royal Maritime College, Greenwich but decided that though sublimely beautiful, as beautiful as architecture gets, they were not wonders. Why didn't I follow my instinct and apply to Trinity? But no regrets was one of my New Year's resolutions.

By the way, until about eight years ago I had only seen the last (but not the least) entry on the list.

A very PC list: 3 in Asia, 3 in Europe (or 2 if UK not in Europe) and 1 in Africa. I hope no-one will suggest I should have looked in the New World for some Inca thing.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

In Petra, with a donkey


Image result for king hussein airport rabin cigarette

I did no research or planning, got to the bus stop at Nazareth at 8.00 and have just arrived at Petra now at five as it is about to get dark. With a taxi from Amman. I negotiated a price for the taxi of JD 150 coming today returning tomorrow night to Amman (leaving Petra after sunset) thinking the JD was US $0.60 when in fact the US dollar is JD 0.60, but it is still a very good price in my opinion.


I found this on the net:

Taxi fare from downtown Amman to Petra is around 80 JD.

So I am paying almost the going rate - which is a fraction of what it would cost in Israel. Plus I have the driver, Ali, for over 32 hours. Not a bad deal. The bus costs only JD 19 return but I had missed the buses for today.

Put up in the Cleopetra (thus spelt) Hotel, a comfortable place that costs JD 27 or somewhat over $40. The plump, kindly Filipino manageress is the only Christian in the little town and is sending money home to her mum and dad. Muslim men, she says, think women are below men and the Arab Christians think the same. She will turn up her nose at them and marry a Christian in some other country. She spent Christmas in Manila where there is a Catholic church.


I knew nothing whatsoever about Petra and told myself to mug up before bed but my Blue Guide and its lists of monuments and kings and unfamiliar deities completely defeated me. How much cleverer I was at eleven.

Woken an hour early because, it turns out, Jordan gave the world three days notice this autumn that she would stay on summer time all through the winter. This is national sovereignty, lest we forget. How recently we in my country could have done the same  but we English are less spontaneous. (In fact we did, one year, while I was at school, beofre the last Ice Age.) It reminds me though of the USSR, which fell 4 hours behind GMT for forty years because one autumn in Stalin's time no-one gave the order to put the clocks back an hour.

                                       

Nine and Ali the driver and i reach the entrance to the remains. My entrance ticket costs me JL 50 and Ali JL 1 because I am a foreigner. it is bitterly cold and i regret very much not having a coat. jacket and pullover are not enough but then the beauty of the Siq gorge makes me forget the cold, then the famous Treasury, which you have seen in pictures and then the sun came out.

The books say you need two or three days. Ali thinks three hours is enough. I gave Petra six and a half hours and do not feel I merely skimmed it, though I should certainly have preferred another day (it was impossible, if i am to have one last free day in Jerusalem). I took a donkey and my fear of heights made this seem like a very bad idea but then my sloth and stinginess persuaded me to stay on my mule. I was it seems committed to pay the JL 25 in any case and 900 steps upward seemed too many. It was fun, though not as much fun as it looked to observers. Petra feels exactly like a nineteenth-century lithograph and on a donkey you enter the lithograph. I wore my Ede and Ravenscroft suit jacket, a pair of khaki slacks and a Lewin shirt and was a reasonable simulacrum of the milord anglais, though I had deliberately abandoned my black umbrella (a cheap and shiny Nazarene one) in Jerusalem.

The Jordanians are much less pushy and practice the soft not hard sell, unlike Arabs in Israel. The man who provided my donkey ride told me he grew up in a cave and his mother still lived in one. The old lady gave me tea en route but did not insist on attempting to sell her handmade jewellery. She and her son both smoked Western cigarettes.

Petra really is quite astonishing and since you only see places for the first time once I advise everyone to give it two whole days, especially considering how remote it is and how much the admission ticket costs. The famous treasury is only one of dozens of tombs equally imposing. I strongly advise mounting a donkey too.

Why did Petra, which was a bishopric in Byzantine times and still existed in crusader times completely disappear and be forgotten until discovered by Burckhardt in 1812? Many other cities died or went tints severe decline under Muslim rule. This article suggests a possible combination of causes though I have no idea whether the theory would fit the specifics of Petra.


Nazareth revisited


I very extravagantly allowed myself to be persuaded by the taxi driver to let him drive me to Nazareth rather than take the bus and am glad I did. The Judaean Desert and Jericho were beautiful in the morning light as was the plain of Armageddon on which Nazareth, lovely hill-town, stands. 


Nothing very much in the Bible happened in Nazareth, except the Annunciation, which clever theology students often do not take seriously. But I remember the late Alice Thomas Ellis, asked what was the greatest achievement for women, replied 'The Annunciation'.


I stayed the night at Nazareth with an American self-described 'Episcopalian evangelical' who has come to the Holy Land to help convert people to Christianity. He has written the history of how the Anglicans established their mission in Jerusalem for just this purpose (but to covert Jews, as converting Muslims under Ottoman law was a capital offence). Nowadays, he tells me,  the Anglican Church in Jerusalem despite its handsome cathedral and the lovely Christchurch, besides the Jaffa gate, refuses to  offer non-Anglicans instruction in the woolly Anglican faith, with the sole exception of people married to Anglicans. The Anglicans restrict themselves to criticising the Israeli government (never Hamas who might react unpleasantly). It sounds very Anglican. 


Nazareth is a purely Arab town in Israel  The Arab population surrendered to the Jews in 1948 on condition that they were allowed to remain. In those days it was a mainly Christian town but now, like Bethlehem and Ramallah and many other towns, it is three quarters Muslim. The present mayor is a 'Christian' but in fact a Communist. He will not stand at the next election and it is very possible that his successor will belong to the Muslim party and try to move Nazareth in a - to use a silly word - 'Islamist' direction.


Besides Nazareth is a new Jewish town called Upper Nazareth or Nazareth Illit, which was formerly run by and largely populated by Romanian Jews but was since taken over by Russian Jews. Many of these are in fact Christians who buy their Christmas decorations from shops in the Arab town. The Orthodox Church makes no attempt to cater for these Russian-speaking Christians. The mayor of Upper Nazareth made headlines by refusing to permit the erection of a Christmas tree in a public space the town. He cannot, however, prevent prosperous Arab Christians buying houses there to get away from Muslims or the threat of Islamisation in the lower town.


Lower Nazareth, sans tourists this afternoon, is a lovely place with sere leaves, bright light and an autumnal feeling. Girls everywhere drinking cappuccinos and window shopping. 


Nazarene girls are sweet and very girly. How odd to think that the Blessed Virgin Mary was one of them, although she, unlike them, was neither Christian nor Muslim, but an ultra-religious Jewess. Who knows whether the house preserved in the Catholic basilica is the house where the Holy Family really lived but what is sure is that the well beside the Orthodox Church is the well from which she would have drawn their water. Water springs do not move in a mere two millenia.


I dipped into a book in my friend's house and read three sentences which struck me as very suggestive. The author pointed out that for Muslims Judaism and Christianity are only misunderstandings of Islam (for them Moses and Jesus were really Muslims). Therefore there is no point in seeking to understand or learn from these two defective faiths. 


Interesting thought. It reminds me that Carlyle said the Mahometanism was 'Christianity miusunderstood'. He was probably right but this has not stopped Westerners analysing and studying Islam and getting called Orientalists, for some reason a derogatory term, for their pains.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Jerusalem diary



Finally on Monday I made it to the Mount of the Temple after many attempts. This is the most beautiful part of Jerusalem, especially under a bright, blue December sky and the most historic site. 

The great mosque is built on the site of the First and Second Temples and is wonderful to look at from the outside. Entrance is controlled by the Muslim authorities and non-Muslims are admitted to the area until 10 a.m. but not given admittance to the mosque, though the Jew I got chatting to told me he had been allowed to enter it eleven years ago. People trying to enter were questioned by the doorman, presumably asked questions about the Koran.

                                                                                     What is most interesting about the mosque which is one of the oldest in the world is that the quotations from the Koran which are inscribed on the outside do not tally with the Koran we know today which suggests that the Koran underwent some revision before it assumed the form we know - which conflicts with the theory that the book was dictated by the Divinity.




I had long been doubtful about whether Jerusalem is really so important a holy place for Muslims, as i know Jerusalem was a backwater in Ottoman times. It seems, from what I can discover, that the city was indeed always the third holiest place for Muslims and the object of pilgrimages even under Ottoman rule. of course the coming of the Jews to the Holy land in the twentieth century and the creation of the State of Israel has made Muslims far more conscious if Jerusalem's importance than formerly. In any case Jerusalem is in no sense comparable for Muslims with Mecca and Medina.

*


How to spend New Year's Eve alone in a foreign country? I had intended to go to the Anglican service in Christchurch across the road from my hotel but hunger overcame me and i spent it happily in a bar at the beginning of new Jerusalem where a pretty girl of 21 told me she thought I looked 35. So a good start to 2013. As Byron said (read Don Juan, people, if you have not):


'Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter, 
Sermons and soda -water the day after.' 
New Year's Eve did not seem a big thing to the people drinking in the brasserie where I celebrated and the owner had left at home the Happy New Year song. Only the next day did I realise that Israeli Jews, rightly, regard December 31st as a Christian festival. Russian Jews, in particular, I read in Ha├íretz, are pressurised not to mark the New Year's Eve which they celebrated in Russia in lieu of Christmas.

*


gave up alcohol as a New Year's Resolution so I drank coffee this evening with a scholarly clergyman who is pastor of a church in Jerusalem. 

He told me that the reason why Muslims around the world are so exercised about Israel is because in Israel Muslims are subordinated to dhimmis, in the Dar al-Islam.

He also said Islam is a religion which lacks self-confidence. A brilliant insight.