Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Disjointed thoughts on prolific writers, prolific facial hair, pubic hair, and so on

George Saintsbury 















Here is an interesting list of 'the top ten literary beards ranked in order of increasing awesomeness'. A shame though that Edward Lear is missing.
File:Edwardlear.jpg
Edward Lear


Not only did he have a prolific beard but he penned the most famous poem about a beard.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Lunch with a Syrian refugee


Until a year or so ago I had never seen a  woman in Bucharest wearing a Muslim headscarf. The head-scarves Romanian peasant women wear are different. Now I see Muslim women and girls almost every day. I started a conversation with two recently and they said they were Syrian refugees staying with their uncle. I  suspect Bucharest is full of Syrians but I can find no  numbers on the internet.


It is a whole year exactly since I last met my Syrian Christian friend, though I had intended to see him much more often. He is a very nice man but I have a self-interested motive, to find out what is really going on in Syria from someone whom I trust and who is a Christian, meaning he is therefore neutral between Sunni, Shia and Alawi.


I invited him to lunch with me but he with characteristic Arab hospitality insisted on inviting me. We ate at Piccolo Mondo, the most famous of Bucharest's Arab restaurants. I of course pumped him.

He is a very discreet man who has a business in Syria and avoids commenting on what is happening there in public. This is why I am not giving his name. A year ago he told me he expected to be back in Damascus in a month, after the Government had been overthrown and peace restored. I knew he would be here for years but said nothing. A year before that, I remember him telling me that he and the other Christians would never leave their country but now I feel he is thinking of spending is life in Bucharest, at least for many years while his children are educated. Two million Syrians he says have left Syria. That's a lot out of twenty-two million and, naturally, they are disproportionately the well-educated and intelligent ones.


Last year he told me all the Christians and almost all the Sunnis wanted the regime to go and even half the Alawis agreed. This time, he talked about the horrors of the war and has even less liking for the regime which has perpetrated so many of them but, in the end, he said quietly that he prefers that the regime wins. The rebels are not organised and if they win or share power chaos will be the result. Rebels are beginning to fight each other and some are coming over to the government side. The best hope, he says, is that the regime remains but reforms itself and a peace is made. I cannot persuade him to say that Christians in general are now on the side of the regime. He is certain that he does not want the UK and France to intervene.

His judgement is, as it happens, exactly the same as the conclusion I had reached, but until I spoke to him I had kept my opinion to myself, waiting to hear what he thought. 


Why did the regime not fall last summer? Because Iran and Hezbollah intervened to support the government.

He also thinks it possible that the fighting in Syria may lead to a redrawing of national boundaries. It is not difficult to imagine the artificial boundaries imposed by Britain and France to create Iraq, Syria and Lebanon being torn up.


He says what he said last year that until the unrest started Shia, Sunni, Alawi and Christian had no problems. I hear many Bosnians tell me the same thing in 1996 immediately after the war ended and I believe him. He emphases now as he did when we first met in Syria long ago that he has very many close Muslim friends and most of the people in his class at school were Muslims. Nevertheless though he likes and admires Muslims, whom he think make good businessmen, he would not invite one into his house '
because their way of thinking is too different'.  Would his unveiled wife wearing lipstick be the reason? Syrian Muslims have told me that if I were invited to their houses their wives would be unveiled. That would only be a small part of the differences my friend says, without enumerating others.


If I were to say that I had many close Muslim or Jewish or black friends but would not let them in my house this would not sound very friendly of me, but in the Middle East, as in Romania, people do not often invite others to their house but entertain in restaurants instead. In addition, in the Middle East men socialise among themselves and Muslims never seem to take their wives out to restaurants.



As I am an imperialist it pleased me to hear him say, without any prompting, how much Syria owed to the French who created the country and ruled it for twenty-five years. His school was built by the French,  the educational system was created by them and they founded hospitals and did other fine things. When the regime complained about French colonial rule this stands in ironic contrast with the way the country was ruled after independence.


It occurs to me as I write this that Ba'athism, founded by a Syrian Christian, in its nationalism, socialism and secularism owes quite a lot to the French, though the former British mandate, Iraq, was also ruled by the Ba'ath. Iraq was ruled brutally and wickedly by Saddam and the Ba'ath, but in Iraq what succeeded the Ba'ath was much worse and so it would be, I think, in Syria.

The Balkans and the Christian Middle East belong to the same cultural space. Syrian Christians, someone in Athens told me recently, like emigrating to Greece more than any other countries, because there they feel most at home. Romania also has many things in common with Christian Syria, including the same Orthodox religion. It will probably also have a sizeable Muslim minority as a result of the refugees. I was told recently that in addition to Syrians there are sizeable numbers of Muslim immigrants entering Romania from other countries and some Romanians have converted to Islam. Until recently Romania had 20,000 Muslims, in the Dobrudgea, the only part of Romania where before 1878 they were allowed to settle, but this figure is out of date.



I believe my friend completely when he says he is not opposed to Muslims but he tells me with utter conviction that I should warn people about the danger of Muslim immigration into Europe. Europe he believes and fears will have a Muslim majority in the foreseeable future. 


Syrian Christians do not understand why European governments are so easy-going and laissez-faire with Muslims and fear that the Muslims will quickly out-breed their Christian hosts. Islam, so Syrian Christians think, is an inherently intolerant and aggressive religion. 

It all sounded like the Catholic Bishop of Zanzibar telling me last year that Westerners should see how Muslims behave where they are the majority.

Friday, 26 July 2013

An Englishman in England might go to prison for calling an MP a coward

This story deserves as much coverage as possible.

Think about it. A man called Alex Cline is being prosecuted simply for calling an MP a coward.

I am not blaming the MP whose complaint led to this grotesque prosecution, though I hope even his party faithful refuse in disgust to vote for him at the next election. No, he did not decide that Mr. Cline should be prosecuted. In any case, I am grateful for this prosecution - because we now know how authoritarian English law has become. Except only readers of the Brighton and Hove local press do. The news may have travelled as far

Monday, 22 July 2013

Hurray! It's a prince! Thank God not a princess!



Hurray! It's a prince! Thank God not a princess! 


Because, lest you don't know, a first-born Princess would have taken the throne in preference to a second born prince, thanks to David Cameron's vandalistic recent change to the constitution.

Apparently the BBC and Twitter is full of people regretting that it is not a princess because she would inherit the throne instead of her putative younger brother. 

Can anyone tell me what is the point of trying to introduce the concept of equality into the concept of monarchy? I ask for information. 

But actually, thinking hard about it,  I do dimly understand. Sexual discrimination, like racial and anti-homosexual discrimination, is the equivalent, in a Godless society, of Satan. Where sexual racial and anti-homosexual discrimination conflict, as when discussing Muslims for example, sex equality always trumps anti-racism.

Thank God we are spared the sight of the horrible Nick Clegg going around TV studios taking credit for the change in the rules of succession, the even more awful Vince Cable too.

What name? My money is on James. King James VIII would please the Scots, as he would only be England's third James (we are not counting of course King James III, the Old Pretender). George would keep them quiet - all the Georges came after the union and so George VII would be the seventh George in all parts of the UK. Charles IV or Philip would be nice - Philip II (Philip II of Spain was King of England) - but it won't be Philip.


I hope the next one is also a prince - one's the heir and one's the spare. I mean of course that I hope the next one is a prince in case the prince born today were to die and a second born princess inherit in preference to a third born prince - not because I am against Queens Regnant per se, although, as a matter of fact, the influence of the monarchy always declines under them. King Edward VI had he lived would have been much more powerful than Elizabeth I and a considerable decline in influence happened under Anne and Victoria. Now the monarchy is so weak that it cannot even prevent hunting being made illegal or the succession to the throne being monkeyed with.

My friend Alex Woodcock-Clarke made a good point on Facebook:


"It's a boy. Thank God. If it had been a girl, her younger brother would quickly have become a twisted hunchback actuated only by his desire to topple her and regain the crown she and the doctrinaire progressives and stolen from his brow." 

There are republicans, bored by the media hooha today, who say they have nothing against the royal family as people (how could they have?) - it's the idea of a hereditary unelected monarchy that they hate. I, on the other hand, am not interested in the princes and princesses in the least , only in the institution, the idea of inheritance. (Except for the Prince of Wales, whom I love to pieces.) Are you not moved by the idea that King Edgar was first king of England and was rowed along the river Dee by the other English Kings as a sign of their fealty in 973? Before King Edgar descended from Alfred the great and the the kings of Wessex, savage men, and from him an almost unbroken line leads to H.M. the Queen - broken though eleven years of republican government and by the Revolution of 1689. The monarchy represents hierarchy and inequality, two important and good things, but these are not what matters- it represents tradition and the sense that we English, Welsh, Scots and (Northern) Irish are one family.

Though, oddly enough the Queen represents us far better than President Douglas Hurd or President Roy Hattersley - she is just an ordinary upper-class countrywoman with no ambition or special attributes who happens to be Queen. Boasting that you don't approve of the monarchy (because for some reason it always is a boast) is like boasting that you don't believe in God or have no ear for music.

I wonder what the legal status would be of a King's husband were a future king to contract a homosexual marriage.






Footnote from Hansard, thanks to Rafe Heydel-Mankoo:




House of Commons Debates 15 April 1953 vol 514 cc199-201 199


Lieut.-Colonel Elliot asked the Prime Minister whether, in advising the Sovereign to assume the title of Elizabeth II, he took into consideration the desirability of adopting the principle of using whichever numeral in the English or Scottish lines of Kings and Queens happens to be the higher.

The Prime Minister: "The decision to assume the title of Elizabeth II was of course taken on the advice of the Accession Council and the form of the proclamation was approved by Her Majesty's Government.
Since the Act of Union the principle to which my right hon. and gallant Friend refers has in fact been followed. Although I am sure neither The Queen nor her advisers could seek to bind their successors in such a matter, I think it would be reasonable and logical to continue to adopt in future whichever numeral in the English or Scottish line were higher. Thus if, for instance, a King Robert or a King James came to the throne he might well be designated by the numeral appropriate to the Scottish succession, thereby emphasising that our Royal Family traces its descent through the English Royal line from William the Conqueror and beyond, and through the Scottish Royal line from Robert the Bruce and Malcolm Canmore and still further back. Her Majesty's present advisers would for their part find no difficulty in accepting such a principle. From this it naturally follows that there should not in their view be any difficulty anywhere in acknowledging the Style and Title of Her present Majesty."

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot: "Will my right hon. Friend have a special note taken 200 of this matter for the archives in future years so that a point of great interest to many people and one of much historical importance should never be overlooked?"

The Prime Minister: "I cannot conceive that it will be ignored by the regular methods of reporting, and not remembered by all who take a special interest in it."

Praying for a prince, not a princess. Anyway, the rightful King of England is a Bavarian

H.R.H. the Duchess of Cambridge is in labour as I write this. I pray that she is delivered of a healthy prince and we can forget, for a generation, the recent change to the rules of succession to the throne (I assume it has been enacted by now) allowing an elder princess to inherit the throne in preference to a younger prince. If it is a princess I shall feel only great sadness. In the words of the last Lord Chancellor of Scotland, when the Act of Union passed the Scottish House of Lords, it will be the end of an old song.

The new prince or princess will be related to most people you can think of, including Vlad the Impaler and almost all Americans, including: George Washington, Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton and the two George Bushes. He or she will also be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, via King Pedro the Cruel of Portugal. If King Edward VII's son and heir the Duke of Clarence was, as some have speculated, Jack the Ripper.... but the better view is that the poor simple-minded Duke was innocent. In any case, the new baby is heir to any number of savage and bloodthirsty conquerors who wore skins. It all reminds me of the birth of Titus Groan, heir to the Earldom of Gormenghast, in Mervyn Peake's great eponymous novel.

I may be wrong but I think this will be the only the second time that three heirs to the English throne in three successive generations are alive at the same time as the Sovereign. The other occasion was the birth of the future King Edward VIII, who was heir to the greatest empire the world had ever known and died a forgotten and déclassé figure living in France. One journalist (A.G.Gardiner I think) described Prince Edward in his teens as 'the greatest gentleman in the Empire', but he was not a gentleman at all. Let us hope the new born baby, who is born to reign over but not rule a social democratic, multiracial island on the western edge of the EU, is a gentleman and that he makes a better king than King Edward VIII.

The birth of a royal baby is 'the princely edition of a universal fact', in Bagehot's famous phrase and this is why it is both interesting and boring at the same time, as is the monarchy itself. Here is the new-born Prince Charles, surrounded by King George VI, who had just over three years to live, the present Queen and Queen Mary, widow of King George V:




On July 14th the man whom many (myself included, when I remember) consider the rightful King of England, Scotland and Ireland celebrated his 80th birthday. King Francis II, or as he is usually styled, Francis (Franz), Duke of Bavaria, is the legitimate heir to the House of Stuart. He is the closest living relation to the last legitimate king, King James VII and II, who was overthrown by the English Revolution in 1689 (a coup d'etat or putsch, accompanied by a coup in Edinburgh and, in 1690, a war in Ireland between Protestant rebels and loyal Catholics).

But, though I have been known raise my glass of wine and pass it over the water jug before toasting the King (over the water, the Jacobite toast), would I really want to change matters now? I think I would, actually, although Dr Johnson said if he could restore the Stuarts by lifting his finger he did not know if he would do so and he was speaking twenty years after 1745. However, since the rightful King will never be restored I in practice accept and support the present regime, faute de mieux. Time heals all wounds.

After all, years have gone past and there is a Yorkist claimant too for that matter.

The deputy political editor of The Times, Sam Coates, tweeted today:


Love how Kate gets admitted in early stages of labour. None of the "sod off home again you're not far enough along yet..."

How the National Health Service doth make sullen socialists of us all, all us Britons that is. The implication of his tweet I imagine is that she is getting preferential treatment because she is our future Queen giving birth of our future King or Queen. I assume that she is in any case not using the NHS. Unless the world really has gone mad. 

Hmmm, now I think of it, who knows? Perhaps as part of a drive to make the monarchy seem less elitist? I suspect that the National Health Service means almost as much to the British as the monarchy, possibly more. It certainly means far more than the Church of England or the British Empire.

People are speculating that the baby might be called James or Victoria. Another King James would not be James III but James VIII because James II of England and Ireland was James VII of Scotland- they changed the rules in 1953 to please the Scots. A King James VIII would be very good for unionism in Scotland. Victoria II would be a wonderful name too even though I hope it will not be a princess. Some website opines that the new prince or princess will be named Qatar Airways as part of a sponsorship deal. I thought this rather droll.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Mandela was a terrorist

James Delingpole does a splendid hatchet job on Nelson Mandela here, on his 95th birthday.

I am ashamed of my ignorance. I had a vague idea that Mandela had turned to small acts of violence but not that he was responsible for murders of women and children. He really was, as South Africans one spoke to in the 1980s always said, a terrorist. I knew very well, of course, that his trial was fair, that he got far more time for political speeches than he would in England and that he could have left prison much sooner had he renounced violence. I wrote about him here attacking the way he is glorified and pointing out that he was a Communist, but I did not know the half of it, it seems. Far from being slightly more likeable than Martin Luther King or Gandhi, he is very much less so. 

I apologise for misleading readers. On the other hand, he did win the trust of white South Africans while he was president, which was very important and things could have been infinitely worse with any other leader. We shall never know if there were better ways, but there may well have been: some alliance between whites, coloureds and Zulus perhaps or an independent Western Cape, where blacks are a minority, with its capital at Cape Town. P.W. Botha had he been more statesmanlike might have achieved something much better than did F.W.De Klerk.

I always thought that apartheid was an appalling system, though not nearly so appalling, not by a long way, as those in most independent black African states in the 1970s and 1980s. I always thought majority rule was inevitable, though regrettable from everyone's point of view, most of all from the Africans'. Or rather, I should say, the black Africans', since the South African whites are just as African as the blacks. 

Of course, Mrs. Thatcher was right in principle not to impose sanctions on South Africa or on a very much worse regime, the Soviet Union, although I thought sanctions against South Africa might be right purely for the Machiavellian realpolitik reason that one day the blacks would win and it would be politic to curry favour with them. I was by no means always right about politics (I badly wanted Margaret Thatcher to go and would have preferred, I blush to own, Neil Kinnock) but I seem to have been spot-on about South Africa.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Cheers!



Last night I had dinner with a Harrovian (Cambridge too) who said 'Cheers' and saw no harm in it. 

All the landmarks are going. People will be saying 'phone' and 'pardon' next. Even, save the mark, misusing the word 'presently' to mean 'at present', which is the sin against the Holy Ghost.


It all very perplexing for us grammar school boys. If these people do not set us a good example, who will?


Actually, I am culpably mixing two completely discrete things there. Misusing 'presently' is just wrong, ignorant, uneducated, shameful. 'Cheers' and 'pardon' are perfectly correct words, used by very nice people, and the objection to them is purely snobbish, that they are not upper class. Or even upper middle-class, for that matter. However, I think Harrovians should either keep the snobbish rules or only break them deliberately. 

'Cheers' is very Non-U, of course, or so I learnt when I left my nice genteel loving family in Westcliff-on-Sea and was taught at Cambridge to be a word snob. A snob in fact, I am afraid to say. A bit like Pip being made a gentleman in Great Expectations.It was the spirit of the age, when Mrs. Thatcher was Prime Minister and Brideshead Revisited was the hit television programme. I try hard in general, with I hope a lot of success, not to be a snob, but I notice Non-U words.

An old priest whom I loved, the legendary Monsignor Alfred Gilbey, who lived to a very great age in the Travellers' Club in Pall Mall, used to say that snobbery is a bad thing but social hierarchy is a good one. But this is getting too serious.

An article in the Guardian today by Ben Pobjie discusses the etiquette of how one closes an email. Many people, he says, do so with 'Cheers', which makes it obvious that our social spheres have been widely different. I use 'best wishes', as everyone did on notes written by hand when I was at university, because 'best regards' is meaningless and, worse, I suspect it is an Americanism. But this sounds a bit formal so often I say 'Best', an idea I got from my friend who is a literary agent in London and, very possibly, spends the Friday to Monday at great houses.

Ben Pobjie discusses how we end our emails but does not go on to mention that some people, I included, use so-called email signatures when mailing from their personal accounts. They are terribly irritating after you see them the first five hundred times or so, of course. One of my friends has signed off, for over a decade


There is a fine line between flying and falling.
I have thought to myself for a decade that the line is not so fine as all that.

Another has said to me, 800 times at least,


The purely economic man is close to being a social moron.

Mine, self deprecatingly, is


"People think it must be fun to be a super genius but they don't realise how hard it is to put up with all the idiots in the world." Calvin and Hobbs

I added the quotation-marks and Calvin and Hobbs, after some months, in case people thought it was my coinage.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The world’s ten most beautiful buildings


Taj Mahal

Lonely Planet is always spamming me with things - of course I could unsubscribe but I like being reminded of travel possibilities when I am supposed to be working. As Tony Hawks put it 
'I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine.'

I rarely open them as I consider Lonely Planet my sworn foe and the foe of civilisation (along with Al Qaeda, feminism and out of town shopping centres) but I did look at this list of the world's most beautiful buildings.


First the boast, which is what travel is now all about. Which ones have I seen? Four: the Aya Sofia, the Winter Palace; the Taj Mahal and Craque des Chevaliers.

I longed to see the Sagrada Familia from childhood but when I spent 24 hours in Barcelona my childhood training, looking round churches with my father on holiday, was too strong. I did not really have time for both and Barcelona Cathedral, being mediaeval, had to have priority I felt. A mistake, though Barcelona Cathedral is quite wonderful. Did I glimpse the Sagrada Familia from a bus or train? I think yes, for a moment.

I stayed three nights in a hotel a very short distance from the Winter Palace but never entered. A wise Russian woman (that makes her sound like a witch but she was nothing of the sort) whom I made friends with advised me that the Hermitage required an entire day and as I had only three in St Petersburg I should devote them all to St Petersburg. She was right.

Winter Palace

T.E. Laurence visited Craque des Chevaliers about twenty times (he also left the Hotel Baron in Aleppo, where I also stayed, without paying his bill). Craque des Chevaliers is simply astonishingly beautiful. Though I used to love castles so much as a young boy, my adult taste is for churches, but Craque des Chevaliers is incomparable. Do its friends shorten its name to Craque? It seems a gross familiarity for such a noble structure.

Aya Sofya

When I first visited it the Aya Sofia reminded me of a bus station, as the aunt says it does in Graham Greene's Travels with my Aunt. Travels with my Aunt was written in the early 60s, when Istanbul seemed to the meek retired bank manager nephew and to almost all Greene's readers an impossibly exotic place. An era long before Lonely Planet readers settled on every old city like vultures on carrion. I thought the Blue Mosque amply achieved its aim of being more beautiful. I am no longer so sure and in any case think the Aya Sofia very beautiful or at least thinks its icons and interiors very beautiful, which is not quite the same thing.

Which would my ten be?

The Taj Mahal. I suppose the most beautiful building I ever saw. I have almost forgotten its association with Diana, Princess of Wales but for some reason I do not remember it very well. I know it was as beautiful as it looks in pictures, which means the most beautiful thing on earth, women excepted.

The Royal Maritime College, Greenwich, is like a chord of music. It pips Trinity College, Cambridge Great Court. (Why did I let my headmaster talk me out of applying to Trinity?Apart from the Wren architecture, Dryden and Macaulay were two of my great heroes, not to mention Bentley, Wordsworth and Byron. And in my year, the first where women were admitted, I had two girls I thought stupendous, both now TV stars, Vanessa Feltz and Daisy Goodwin.) I might give the Royal Maritime College second place.

Aachen Cathedral

St. Peter's in Rome

The Blue Mosque

St. Mark's in Venice

The Lloyd's Building, London

Where else? I have three places left.

English churches come to my mind like Rochester Cathedral, Waltham Abbey or Wells Cathedral or....  Clare College, Cambridge? One of the wonderful churches in Georgia? The Stavropoleos Church in Bucharest is no slouch and probably beats even the gorgeous monasteries of Armenia. If paintings rather then architecture is our criterion then Suceviţa monastery in the Bucovina certainly deserves a place. The Houses of Parliament, a.k.a. the Palace of Westminster, where I began my career and adult life? For Barry's structure and Pugin's interior design of the House of Lords I think possibly yes. But St James's Palace is more beautiful....

I have decided. The last three places go to:

The Stavropoleos Church, Bucharest

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey (a surprise finisher which came up suddenly from behind) Perhaps I chose it because I was 11 when I was there and could see beauty much more easily than I can now.

St. Mary's Church, in the market square in Cracow.

And Trinity College Great Court. Even though it fills me with jealousy and regrets that I went to Queens's, which had a 1970s dining hall. Eleven.



Sunday, 14 July 2013

A long weekend in Kadakoy = Chalcedon

I spent a wonderful long weekend in Istanbul, which I do not quite have the courage to call Constantinople, even though an  other worldly parson friend encourages me to do so. Actually I was not in Istanbul but in Kadakoy, on the Asian side, which is very easy to get to from the Gokcem airport, where the budget airline Pegasus flies to. Pegasus is a delight among budget airlines, flying at normal times from Bucharest and using spacious planes. 

And Kadakoy is Chalcedon, where the Council of Chalcedon met! I could google to remind myself what that famous and great ecumenical council decided, but the truth is I do not any longer know and I leave you to  find out. Kadakoy, unlike the tourist museum Sultanhamit, where no Istanbulians venture, is the real Istanbul. More so also than the charming Beyoglu, where the restaurants are, which is the much more charming, Turkish-elegant equivalent of Covent Garden. Kadikoy is not plant for the tourist industry. Relaxingly, it has no sights. It just is and is a busy little port on the Bosporus, full of cheap hotels. The Kadikoy bazaar, which twenty years ago was just shops and stalls, is now home to some restaurants too and they specialise, of course, in freshly caught fish.


Nimet

So my friend Tufan told me after inviting me to meet him in an excellent one, called Nimet, where we sat drinking much raki (I have a childish delight in watching it turn white when water is added), eating delicious fish and discussing God and the events in Taksim Square. 

My friend is an old Communist (Turkey much more even than Greece abounds in them and they are sound anti-Islamists) who feels that thanks to the events in Taksim bliss is it in this morn to be alive, even if he is not young enough for it to be very heaven. He spends every evening there and gives advice to the kids on what to do. He it was who said having gathered a huge crowd they had to do something and persuaded them to march across the Bosporus bridge and confront the police. I felt sorry for my friend that his gammy leg stopped him leading the procession to its denouement. He is the stuff of which charismatic revolutionary leaders are made but is far too decent and good to last long in a real Bolshevik regime.

Kadakoy market has a buzz at night. There seemed no foreigners but probably there were some - foreigners are everywhere these days. People played good street music. A girl, her eyes shining with idealism, came round singing an unmelodious song about the demonstrations in Taksim. Tufan gave her money but I think on political not musical grounds. It was late and dusk was gathering at the close of a long hot summer day. Turkey feels modern but it has a lot of texture. Romania is much less modern but is slightly thinner.

Kadikoy is where the ferries leave for the Spice Market on the European side, one of the areas of maximum interest to visitors, so it is a great place to stay to see Istanbul. The drawback of Kadikoy is the length of time it takes by road to cross the bridge. Getting to Edirne for the oil wrestling festival took me five hours each way as opposed to three hours when i went from Taksim. Istanbul my friend said had a population of two million when he was a boy. Now it is twelve of thirteen, perhaps fifteen million. This is what would happen to all the big cities of Europe were there no planning restrictions and this is why property prices rose so high around the world and then became so disastrous a bubble. The huge drift of Anatolian peasants to Istanbul is a small part of a great exodus of people from the poor world towards richer places, especially Western Europe, which will transform bourgeois Europe.

Dinner with two old friends in Nimet again and breakfasting with some more Turkish friends, still in Kadakoy. At breakfast I met a Turkish political scientist with whom I discussed Erogan and Enver Pasha. Like so many Turks I have known she had just made her first visit to Greece and loved it. Greeks I know have made the same discovery in reverse and when I was in Athens recently I was told a Turkish production - mirabile dictu - was the most popular soap opera. I said that Greeks and Turks had so much in common and the political scientist said it's a shame that Greece and Turkey did not remain one loosely federated country. I warmly agreed and was pleased to hear a Turk say so. And had they held onto the Arab lands they would have had all the oil and there would be no Middle Eastern problem.

Had Turkey and Greece remained one country perhaps Constantinople would have continued to have a Christian majority, as it did in 1914, Adrianople continued to have roughly equal numbers of Turks, Greeks and Bulgarians and Salonica remained a leading centre for Sephardic Jews. I feel that at least Constantinople, Salonica, Smyrna and Jerusalem should have been made international cities or independent city states, but the spirit of the times was strongly in favour of nation states. I wonder if Mr. Woodrow Wilson is in hell.

Now these cities, with the partial exception of Jerusalem, have been ethnically cleansed and are dull reminders of their vibrant pasts. Formerly homogeneous cities in Western Europe, by contrast, have become full of many races, even as their respective host cultures have become semi-American.

By a piece of luck, as I walked back to my hotel to pack and leave, I stumbled on Mass in an Armenian church. I counted about forty people in the congregation. There are, I doscoverd, somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000 Armenians in Turkey, mostly in Istanbul, though no-one seems very sure. There are others who have converted to Islam and become Turks or Kurds or have pretended to have done so (the so-called crypto-Armenians).In 1914 there were up to two million. What happened to them is not well documented at all but it seems that most were killed and the rest fled or shed their national identity. As Adolf Hitler is said to have said (though this has been questioned) 'Who now remembers the Armenians?'

I have decided after some hesitation in the past that, like many of my friends, I do love Istanbul, even though it is a pale shadow of the real Constantinople, built of wood, full of ghosts, where Muslims were a minority. The real Constantinople lasted until property developers ruined the place in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Until the inter-ethnic riots in 1955 there were still plenty of Greeks too.


Istanbul is wonderful, a bright, happy place, very modern despite its monuments, but, coming back, I definitely prefer Bucharest. Prefer it for being much smaller and much more old fashioned, more shadowed, more provincial, much less globalised too. For being a gossipy 19th century village. Odd to think that fifty years ago both cities had populations of two million. Now Istanbul is a mega-city like Delhi or Bombay and has at least six times more people, housed in 
seemingly well constructed tower blocks built by housing cooperatives. These cut a very favourable contrast with Bucharest's jerry-built blocks of flats. If I lived in one I should much prefer to live in Istanbul. For a weekend or a holiday it is delectable.


Friday, 5 July 2013

Twenty-four hours in Adrianople


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In 1990 when I took a traın journey to Constantınople and fell ın love wıth Romanıa I had planned a day ın Adrıanople or Edırne but dıd not make ıt. I spent a couple of hours here fıve or sıx years ago and now have come back to the loveliest city I have been to ın Turkey.

Adrıanople was capıtal of the Ottoman Empıre for the best part of a century before Constantinople fell. After the Balkan Wars it remaıned ın Turkey but only just. The Bulgarıan and Greek borders are a few mıles away and both Bulgaria and Greece occupied the city at different moments. In the Battle of Adrianople in 1913, in the Second Balkan War, the town had the sad dıstınctıon of beıng the fırst town in the world to be bombed, if we ignore the Austrian bombing of Venice, using bombs carried in pilotless balloons, in 1849.

At one point in the Balkan Wars the Sultan thought it should be made an international city, with provisions to ensure the wonderful mosques were well kept. Part of me wishes it had ended up in Christian hands (a hundred years ago the population of the town was the usual mishmash of Turks, Greeks, Slavs, Armenians, Jews and Gypsies) but I doubt they would have preserved the lovely mosques. (I wonder if there were churches in the city. I saw no reference to any.)

The people have ıncredıble hospitality lıke all Turks. I had just arrıved and a nıce man from the bus ınsısted on fındıng and drıving me to my hotel. The Turkısh hospıtalıty ıs ınfectıous and two foreıgners then bought me lunch then took me to drınk Turkısh coffee ın the wonderful garden of the Hotel Edırne Palace where they allowed me to pay. Nıce people but one of them, grey haired and grey bearded, was  52 and though thıs ıs only one year older than me I feel confused to be wıth such aged people. Especially when they have wives children and own companies in various places. And yet the people of 29, whıch I feel ıs my real age, now seem unınterestıng. 


My pals took me to see the oıl wrestlıng and then to a hamam (Turkish bath). Karım gave me a wonderful massage and then trıed to be over famılıar. No thank you I saıd feelıng very Brıtısh. The last man to feel me up was Danny Blancheflower ın brıght green evenıng dress at a receptıon at the Cambrıdge Union. 

I am supposed to be here for the annual week-long oıl wrestlıng festıval and I must say oil wrestlıng ıs one of the dullest pastımes ımagınable. Far from the stands in which spectators sit, young sallow men grapple with each other. An umpire stands close peering at them until one falls to the ground and then, after a while, that is it. Even crıcket ıs more excıtıng. I remember Dr Johnson said ıt ıs a sad reflectıon on the paucıty of human pleasures that huntıng ıs accounted one of them. He could have been talkıng about oıl wrestlıng. But I am glad I went, because the festival has been held since 1346 and persuasively claims to be the oldest sporting competition in the world. It is also good for the soul to remember how uninteresting sport is. One feels purified.

I love this town, which, now cleansed of all but Turks and a few Jews, feels like Edirne not Adrianople. An obscure jewel, dım, unfashionable  down at heel, full of beauty.  It has three very fine mosques but either they are not as movingly beautiful as the ones in Istanbul or I am losing interest in mosques. The former is likely, but mosques are very empty and one can only admire tiles for so long. Perhaps the austerity of Islam, which had a cold beauty in my eyes, now seems slightly lifeless. 

Raki was very hard to find (Islamisation or just that people prefer beer in Edirne?) but I found it at last in in a little place called, appropriately, Raki, an open air restaurant on a shopping street, where the kebabs were good. Most of the customers were old men (a good sign) and all save one middle-aged couple were men which reminded me of the Middle East.

I am typıng thıs ın an ınternet cafe - Adrıanople ıs the sort of place that stıll abounds ın them (as does Istanbul which tells you Turkey is still Third World) and the Turkısh undotted ıs I hope gıve my post the qualıty of beıng wrıtten ın a mınor Hıttıte scrıpt or in a Moabite cypher. (There was once a dull book by a very dull detectıve story wrıter called R. Austın Freeman called The Moabıte Cypher - one of the best tıtles for a story I ever came across. A book of his I read, The Eye of Osiris, had an equally good title and was equally pedestrian. Someone saıd readıng Freeman was lıke chewıng straw whıch was about rıght.)

I wanted to stop here in 1990 because I knew that it was in its small towns that one saw and felt a country and it is true. Especially of not very prosperous towns that get few tourists, like Edirne, because they are not very accessible. Edirne is one of those towns, Arad and Oradea in Romania are two other examples, which became separated from their hinterlands by political boundaries and have become dusty backwaters where they could have been thriving centres. In the 19th century Adrianople was the capital of all Thrace and had 100,000 inhabitants of various races and faiths, but by 1945 it had about a quarter of that, all Muslim Turks apart from a few Jews.


Edirne is in Eastern Thrace. Western Thrace is in Greece. Although Western Thrace was exempted from the compulsory population exchanges under the Treaty of Lausanne, which ended the Greek-Turkish War in 1923, but Eastern Thrace, including Edirne, was ethnically cleansed, like everywhere in Greece and Turkey except for Constantinople. This was very sad, especially because, oddly enough, most of the Thracian Turks lived in Western Thrace and most of the Greeks in Eastern Thrace. The forced migration caused great suffering, before tobacco was planted by refugee Turkish farmers in the vineyards of Eastern Thrace, where Christians had cultivated the vine for centuries.

Since then bigger population transfers have taken place in Western Europe. As a Greek once said, everything flows.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Treason ne'er doth prosper

Apparently today is American independence day. a day to remember the brave patriots who fought and in many cases died or were exiled for their loyalty to their king. God bless the American Tories and loyalists. Their defeat was the death of American conservatism.  As Michael Wharton used to say, perhaps one day the rebel colonists will realise the benefits of fealty to Her Majesty. Reunited, our new empire would be the world’s dominant power for the foreseeable future, unchallenged by any other powers brought against it.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Was James Buchanan the worst US president? No, George W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln were worse



A very interesting article from the BBC asks if James Buchanan was the worst US president?
I think George W. Bush was the worst president of all except for Lincoln, but it is too tedious to talk about Bush, the gambler who won the 2000 election by the narrowest of margins but then kept on losing. We know the story too well. He paid insufficient attention to Al  Qaeda before September 11, he greatly over-reacted to that incident, he did not get out of Afghanistan quickly, as he should have done after an old fashioned imperialistic punitive exhibition, he started an unnecessary and unjust war in Iraq in which more, perhaps many more, than one hundred thousand died, most of them innocent civilians, although soldiers, sailors and airmen are equally innocent. He destroyed the prestige and respect that the world's only superpower enjoyed when he became president by these follies, by permitting prisoners to be detained indefinitely without trial and permitting torture. These were all grave blunders and some were crimes. There is no need to dwell on how he overspent, the cronyism, the lax immigration policy, his failure  in the New Orleans flood. His period in office was a crucial stage in the decline of the  imperial USA. He destroyed for a time American conservatism - we shall see for how long.

Lincoln should have allowed the South to secede and thus prevent civil war and hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. Contemporary Great Britain would have prevented Ireland from leaving the U.K. by force and Russia, Austria and Prussia prevented the Poles and Hungarians from becoming independent in 1846 and 1848-49, but these powers were not democratic republics which had themselves rebelled only eighty years earlier from their king. No one with an ounce of decency can argue that states whose population overwhelmingly voted to secede should have been prevented from doing so. This is so even if some legal justification for the Unionists can be cobbled together by a rather strained interpretation of the US Constitution. The war which Lincoln could have prevented  killed many more people than George W. Bush's Iraq War and they were Lincoln's own compatriots. He killed the republic at the same time. There began the imperial American state that we have today.

Buchanan is greatly to blame for contributing to Lincoln becoming president, but from the point of view of the world as a whole, Woodrow Wilson, about whom I blogged here, did even more harm than the younger Bush, who is in spirit Wilson's son, not George H.W. Bush's. Wilson was a liberal who idolised Gladstone (and prevented coloured men from studying at Princeton while he was president of that  university). If only he had idealised Disraeli the history of the twentieth century might have been less tragic. Wilson is responsible for the break up of Austria Hungary and thus did a very great deal to make Hitler's rise to power possible. 

The harm these three did, Lincoln, Wilson and W, far outweighs the harm done by triflers such as Johnson or Harding.  

Coolidge and Eisenhower now look two of the best - who would have expected that? - though I dislike Coolidge for liking eugenics (as did Churchill). Nixon and Ford also look good. F.D.R. was one of the greatest from the British standpoint but not if you are an isolationist, which I might be were I an American, and especially not if I thought he knew about Pearl Harbor in advance. Truman is one of the very greatest if you are not an isolationist and are glad America stayed in Europe, became the world's policeman and dished out Marshall Aid. If not, not. I am glad to see John Tyler described as the best of all. He tried to keep the Union together then rightly sided with the Confederacy. Remarkably for someone who was president in the 1840s, he has two grandsons still living.

Zachary Taylor was my favourite as a young boy. He conquered large swathes of Mexico before he reached the White House, no doubt in breach of all international law but it was a famous victory, as old Kaspar would have said. To set against this there is nothing much to put in the debit side since he was President for only sixteen months. When I was eight I also liked him because I liked the name Zachary.

The worst president the USA never had was Henry Wallace. That was a close shave.

Where to place F.D.R. and L.B.J.? That would require two very long blog posts and depends on your political position and a lot of disputed facts. In brief, they created modern America and the modern world. 

It is not true that America never had socialism. L.B.J. was de facto a socialist, as socialist  as Clement Attlee. Nor was Huey Long the nearest the U.S.A. came to a fascist leader. In some respects F.D.R. resembles a fascist, even though he fought fascists.