Friday, 29 August 2014

Notes from London - 2.

Wren churches are utterly unspiritual, utterly Protestant and yet I am very fond of them and not only because of their beauty. They are, sadly, very English.

When I was twenty I much preferred Gothic to baroque - now the other way around.

In the National Gallery:

Gainsborough's landscapes sometimes approach the level of Edward Ardizzone.

Tiepolo - there are no words. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Quotations from Alfred Adler



The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.

Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.

Every individual acts and suffers in accordance with his peculiar teleology, which has all the inevitability of fate, so long as he does not understand it.

Behind everyone who behaves as if he were superior to others, we can suspect a feeling of inferiority which calls for very special efforts of concealment. It is as if a man feared that he was too small and walked on his toes to make himself seem taller.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Notes from England - 1.

I tried to watch the new Doctor Who last night. He is a Scotchman, presumably to help persuade the Scots to stay in the United Kingdom. I was dismayed that two of the female characters in a children's programme were married to one another and try to draw comfort from the fact that one of the two is from Outer Space and has scales. 

I am reading the first pages of 'The Riddle of the Sands' - my yacht cruise whetted my appetite - and find I am saddened by how much less hierarchical England is these days. Then solicitors were ipso facto middle-class and vulgar. I sometimes think I should have gone to the bar and fought against the zeitgeist there. But better to be in Bucharest and away from it all.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Kazimierz Dolny and Warsaw

Wojcech saw that I was in Lublin on Facebook and  recommended Kazimierz Dolny. Touristy and thoroughly predigested but I enjoyed it, restaurants, amazing architecture and sylvan walks, despite myself. 


Kazimierz Dolny, merchant's house, market square
Detail from the facade of the house

Kazimierz Dolny is a village with quite extraordinary architecture. it is no longer a real village but a tourist place but it is not too full of trippers and the man in the tourist information centre told me that 80% are Polish. The churches and the houses are remarkable, especially the one in the photograph above.

Then a taxi to the nearest station twenty minutes away and the two hour journey through attractive countryside to Warsaw. 

I had forgotten - twenty years passed since I was last here - that it is beautiful. Warsaw rebuilt after the war - not a brick was left standing by the Germans - is not simply evidence of the rebirth of the human spirit because it was rebuilt under the Communist regime, baroque churches and all. The same Stalin who had partitioned Poland with Germany in 1939. 

One thinks all the time of what the Germans did here in the war. It feels like a sort of morgue.

However, Warsaw is something for Poles to take pride in as well as sorrow. The old town itself is pretty and wisely they did not rebuild the mid and late 19th century buildings but rebuilt it as it had been earlier, but it is a place for tourists, a kind of Covent Garden. Much more interesting is the long Royal Route which winds through a mile or more to the old town, full of copies of wonderful airy classical buildings. Someone said a copy is an act of cowardice following an act of courage but I wonder if this should apply to Warsaw and decide that clearly it doesn't. The centre of Warsaw is a very attractive and does make Bucharest look the shabby compromised place that of course it is.

Like Sweden, Poland does not quite feel Germanic, at least not in these parts which were annexed by Russia - and not in Cracow which was part of Austria either. Poland is herself.


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Warsaw: Palace of Culture, a present from the USSR

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Lublin and rain

I told Kevin as we drove that had my Romanian friend come with us - he was detained in Bucharest by affairs - he would have wanted to stay out late drinking. Kevin said that in that case it was a good thing he didn't come with us and I felt a great sense of being middle aged. The truth is that this no longer appeals to me either. How did this happen to us?

I had wanted to visit Zamosc since a Pole told me in 1990 on the railway platform in Plovdiv that Cracow was far too touristy and that I should visit Zamosc. All tourists hate other tourists just as all egoists hate other egoists. I have asked many people since then who lived in Poland about Zamosc and all said that they had never been there but always wanted to. Finally today, after 24 years, I made it.

And it is beautiful indeed, built by an Italian architect in the 16th century and undamaged by wars. It's small enough, tiny in fact, to be easily ruined by tourism but it hasn't been. It's still full of useful shops except in the main square which is cafes. One senses that though the architecture is Palladian the wide open spaces of the Ukrainian steppe are close and we are in the far East - the far East of the early modern period. 

Zamosc

 

Kevin has a great number of strongly held opinions, as an Englishman should so long as they are reasonably original. One is hatred of pigeons. He admires the great beauty of Zamosc but the cruel nails with which architraves are dotted to deter pigeons are what most appeal to him. 

But the real surprise was Lublin, where I am staying, enjoying a nice inexpensive central hotel, the Europa, the oldest hotel in the town and one of the oldest in Poland. Kevin has gone on now somewhere and I am chilling.

Lublin is a, by me, unexpectedly glorious discovery, where I shall linger three nights. Yes it is touristy but very few tourists compared to Vilnius or Cracow, with which it invites comparison. Still the old town is the usual array of Irish pubs and tourist restaurants. On the other hand outside the city walls there is also much to see that is old and beautiful and has not become a museum. There are a lot of wonderful baroque churches.


It has a similar gate to Vilnius's.


But next year I shall escape tourists altogether in Albania, Georgia or Armenia. They have not been transmuted into tourist industry plant. 

Crimea, though I am sure it is discovered and touristed, would also be fascinating.

When Poland ceased to exist in the 18th century Lublin was taken by Austria but it spent the century after 1815 in Russia and it does not have the Germanic feeling of Central Europe but something more northern and eastern. Its history after 1939 was tragic of course. The town had been German and Jewish but the Jews were wiped out, the Ukrainian and Polish guerrilla armies suppressed and Stalinism imposed.


I began today with a delightfully dark sky, drizzle and a very good Polish breakfast indeed. Black bread which I couldn't find in Ukraine. Wonderful roulades. I recommend the Europa for food. Indeed I love Polish food, which is wonderful. But how can a cuisine which involves copious amounts of dumplings, pancakes and meat not be wonderful? The same goes of course for Ukraine and Russia.

What a wonderful country Poland is - Catholic, gallant, aristocratic. As an Eglishman former great powers speak to me - Poland, Sweden, Spain, Portugal. If only Poland and Sweden could be great powers again in place of Russia. Although actually Sweden is far too socially liberal and Poland is moving in that direction too. 

If only Poland could free Europe from rule by the generation of 1968. But it won't happen. I suppose that is the role for which Vladimir Putin is positioning himself. And so many people I speak to assume that he must be right because the EU the UK and the USA must be wrong. The truth is I feel that the social conservatives are the KGB's new useful idiots,

Rain continues today, not too heavy, which for an Englishman feels right in August and a tremendous liberation. Towns are always at their most beautiful and most characteristic in the rain and rain cools everything down and makes it pleasant to don my linen jacket. I am always happier for practical and philosophical reasons when wearing a linen jacket. I am free. The sun has gone in and I don't have to go out and enjoy myself.  I can relax.

Cioran aphorism

I cannot admire nihilists like Emil Cioran or Samuel Beckett, but this aphorism of Cioran's is funny.

"In a world without melancholy nightingales would belch."

Here are some more aphorisms that I love.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Back in the UkSSR

I paid five lei (90p) for a shared taxi from Sapanta to Sighet, a distance of eight or nine miles and there met Kevin who had driven up from Bucharest. We crossed the Ukrainian border in half an hour.

Ukraine is enchanting, like Romania in the Nineties before things were spoilt. The Northern Maramures and the Ukrainian  Carpathians are as beautiful as anywhere I've ever been, included Bosnia, Switzerland or Transylvania. 


We started over the border and in a moment were in Solotvino, the birthplace of Robert Maxwell, the bouncing Czech, who in fact came from here - Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, which was in Czechoslovakia after being in Hungary and before being taken by the USSR.

Our second stop was Dilove, the centre of Europe, at least according to the Austrian imperial government. I remember when John Major became Prime Minister of England and said he wanted Britain to be at the heart of Europe Charles Moore pointed out that the centre of Europe was in fact some miles south-east of Vilnius. However there appears to be more than one suitor for this honour. I hope this one is the real one, outside the EU and in a neglected and forgotten country.

Statues of Bandera, a very interesting tragic figure of whom I want to know more, are seen in small towns along our way. People do not know about the war the Ukrainians fought against the Communists and the Poles during and for many years after the second world war. This war fought by Galicians often in conjunction with the Germans is what creates the hatred for Nazis and fascists in eastern Ukraine and which Vladimir Putin is trying, with only partial success, to exploit. We visited the charming house where Bandera grew up, son of a village priest, and the adjacent, uninteresting museum.

Like Romania, Ukraine does not have motorways, or not here, and so the journey is enjoyable and we see the country unfold. A poor country but a very good one.
  

Ivano Frankivsk was the town where we stopped for the first night. A pretty and very relaxing place, with the deep peace of a provincial town in a poor country. The buildings in the centre are Austrian and belle epoque and it is clear that the disappearance of the Austrian Hungarian Empire was a tragedy for everyone, even the beneficiaries. The reason the empire ceased to exist was Woodrow Wilson and his Fourteen Points, the triumph of Gladstonian liberalism. 

Wilson's direct descendants are the American cold warriors and George W. Bush. Wilsonianism is what helped overthrow the corrupt and authoritarian regime of Viktor Yanukovitch and now has landed us in the crisis we are in with Vladimir Putin. On this I cannot make up my mind. The Americans and the EU handled things stupidly because they are liberals and yet why should the Ukrainians not have the freedom and prosperity of Poland?

I love Ukraine where people seem like normal human beings, not clones and companymen. Communism is in many ways oddly less corrupting than the ideology we have in the West. Of course Ivano Frankivsk is very Western, another lovely Hapsburg city built in the first age of globalisation. I pray the Russian invaders leave Ukraine but it seems Ukraine wins even if she loses, for she would lose her backward Russified provinces. In fact Russia will surely not annex those provinces because that would throw Ukraine forever into the arms of the Americans. But even without making this mistake, I think Russia will certainly lose.


I eat blinis nonstop but they don't call them blinis for geopolitical reasons.





We stay at the George in Lvov/Lviv/Lemburg. I like to find the oldest hotel in a city, the one that's a landmark, and hope it's mildly run to seed, shabby genteel. This one is exactly that, like the Londonskaya in Odessa or the Pera Palace in Constantinople before it was renovated and thereby ruined.







We have three nights in Lviv and plenty of time but we don't see nearly all that there is to be seen - the city has about sixty old churches and i think I saw fewer than ten.




I am enthralled by Lvov though it is almost too touristy, almost on the cusp. The Lonely Planet guide I carry with me printed in 2005 says it is is like Prague was before it was renovated and overran but since 2005 much has changed and tourism has increased by 40% since 2010. I imagine though that is fell back this summer. Now it feels like Cracow in the mid 1990s, somewhat touristy but yet retaining some innocence. 


It feels in places like the Austrian city it was in the 19th century. In other places it feels Italian, truly the Florence of the East that is its nickname. Sometimes it seems the Polish city it also was. 

Two restaurants were recommended to us. One is Kryjivka, a restaurant that would horrify Russians as it is a homage to the partisans who fought the Red Army and sometimes the Germans and Poles in the Second World War. It is underground and you have to know a password before you are allowed to enter. It is fun and full of pictures of Bandera. The food is fine.

Kryjivka is a different restaurant, by the way, from this one, which was accused of anti-Semitism.


Kryjivka: underground resistance Banderist restaurant where we ate. They don't let you in unless you know the password which our hotel gave us.
The other restaurant we were recommended was House of Fairy Tales, where each floor of a four room house has the theme of a fairy tale. This seems to be very Ukrainian in its tweeness. I thought it looked enormous fun but my friend Kevin refused to eat there. He said the dwarves put him off. He felt they were being exploited. I find the Ukrainian sense of humour and fantasy delightful.



We went to the prison this morning where the NKVD murdered thousands of people before the Gestapo revealed the NKVD murders and then used it for their own political prisoners and murders. then it became NKVD and KGB again. A very searing experience. This was the organisation that Vladimir Putin wanted to join from early boyhood and which is now running Russia. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is now admired by people who should know better as a social conservative and Christian gentleman.



KGB Gestapo NKVD prison in Lvov where so many died.

St. George's Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, handed back by the Orthodox

Sapanta and the festival

I took a taxi from Satu Mare to Sapanta. It took an hour and a half, the way was beautiful and it cost RON 200 which is just over EUR 40. But rural Romania is changing. In August the villages were crammed with peasants who had emigrated and were returning for their summer holidays. Many of the villages were full of expensive houses built by people who had made money abroad.

Sapanta is famous for its merry cemetery, full of brightly painted tombstones with verses inscribed by a village craftsman, Mr. Stan, from the 1930s onwards with stories of the lives of the deceased. They have no literary value but are a wonderful piece of naive art and make me think of Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard and that peerless history of medieval village life in Catalonia, Montaillou. 

Mr. Pop the tombstone maker of Sapanta

The cemetery became a recognised tourist site under Communism and the tombstone maker claimed friendship with Nicolae Ceasescu. The tombstones are notable for the complete absence of references to religion. I am too lazy to write more about the cemetery and append this link to a very good article from the American press. 

We were here for the performance of Sean Davey's orchestral piece last night which sets many epitaphs to music. It was performed behind the cemetery itself. The occasion was haunting. The turnout was not as high as I expected and I was  disappointed for Peter and the organisers though for myself I do not want a Sapanta crowded with outsiders.



Chilly and raining this morning. Sapanta has WiFi and espressos. The old order changeth. I met many carpet makers, a farrier and other craftsmen yesterday and all say they love their work, which their ancestors have done for generations. They all seem happy but say that their children have gone to high school and have book learning and won't carry on the craft. The children will get mortgages I suppose and credit cards. As I type this clumsily with my index finger the singing from the church reminds me it is the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, a big festivity here, and I must go to Mass.

Shepherd taking it easy, Sapanta

This is what I wrote last time I was in the Maramures. I can't believe nine years have passed. 

Satu Mare in the dog days

The TV says it will be 38º Celsius in the shade in Bucharest today, which is 100º - and 50º in the sun, which is 122º. The Maramures where I'm off is equally hot. And I left my panama under a tree in Africa.

But a panama would not do for the Maramures, though it would save me from sunburn or sunstroke. I remember gratefully my hat from the last old-fashioned shop in Strada Lipscani which still sells useful cheap things. 

The traditional hat of the Maramures is the clop, which balances on the head and looks much too small. 


It's supposed to be highs 30s Celsius but it doesn't seem so hot to me which proves I have not become a Romanian because every summer hits them like an unlooked for calamity. Every winter ditto.

As i left the office on my way to the airport I asked the woman in the lift if my hat made me look like a shepherd.
'No, an agriculturist [peasant-farmer].'
Mission accomplished.


My plan had been to take the train from Bucharest to Sighet and then be met by someone who would take me to the Maramuresan village of Sapanta and Peter Hurley's festival 'The Long Road to the Merry Cemetery', but I changed my plan for a better one and flew for the same money to Satu Mare. Instead of sleeping on the hot train I hugely enjoyed Satu Mare in the evening and in the immense heat. 

A man wIth a shard-like metal leg is wearing shorts in the cruel heat. Dog days in a small, poor, once grand town. All these handsome German- Jewish- Hungarian towns that got handed out to new countries in 1919 and given new names in the languages of the local peasants. I have visited them from Grodno in Belarus to Subotica in  the Voivodina and Ljubljana in Slovenia.

I strolled around the lovely, badly dilapidated  Hapsburg streets and finally found an appetite and ate good Hungarian food: veal paprikas in a good restaurant with a jazz singer called sternly No Pardon. The intense heat starts to abate as the sun sets. 

Gundel pancakes, Tokay, jazz classics.

I feel wonderfully happy

The proof is that I feel positively benign to the three year old girl at the next table in the restaurant. She is noisy but a mid-Victorian angel.

Satu Mare is exactly my kind of town, romantically decrepit. John Betjeman would have called it dim.

It should be in Hungary of course but if it were how dull it would be, though well painted and cared for.


Monday, 11 August 2014

Many Yezidis have escaped, many others massacred



Last night we heard that many of the Yezidis had been enabled to escape from the mountaintop where they were corralled by US and Kurdish feint against the ISIS troops.


Food supplies have been dropped by the US and British air forces although, as usually happens, much of it disintegrated when it hit the ground.

I was against most recent interventions but not Rwanda or Bosnia and we should do something this time. Though this is what I thought - hesitantly - about Libya and how wrong I was. We created this horror in Iraq by invading in 2003 and therefore have a responsibility, unlike in 2003.



Conor Burns, a Conservative MP in England may have been right when he said yesterday that the British Government’s response had not been “hard enough or strong enough” and said Parliament should be recalled to discuss the situation. He said,
“Our brother and sister Christians are being massacred, beheaded, buried alive and we are flying over dropping water and food.”


I am glad that some politicians still refer to “Our brother and sister Christians" in multicultural, polycretistic England. 




I dislike impartially most of the pro- and anti- Israel comments but the comments on the Independent newspaper by thickoes with Muslim names that what was happening to Gaza was worse than what was happening to the Yezidis were utterly disgusting. These troglodytes are probably British.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Were the first Muslims Islamists?

I don't know if the Prophet Mohammed, who was certainly a warlord, was an Islamist. That is the great philosophical question of our day and only those who, unlike me, have read the Koran at length can have an opinion. However, the 'four righteous caliphs' who succeeded him presumably were. They conquered the Middle East and the Mediterranean world, until they were stopped in France at the Battle of Tours. 

The Koran compels fighting infidels and the killing of polytheists, but the Koran is full of what seem to non-Muslims contradictions. The same is true of the Bible, of course.

Everyone, including David Cameron, is nowadays an expert on Islam and is telling us that the Islamists misunderstand Islam but we kaffirs are not easily able to judge. Nor even, perhaps, are Muslim scholars who live in Christian or post-Christian countries and who read into the Koran values that obtain in these countries. 

The four righteous caliphs are known to us from Islamic history but it is not by any means clear if this is reliable or whether we really know anything about early Islamic history except a few scraps preserved in (Christian) written sources. I wrote about this here. Some doubt if Mohammed ever existed and suggest that the Arabs first conquered and then created a religion, but this seems inherently unlikely to me and there seems to be some fairly persuasive evidence that Mohammed probably did exist. Especially, though not only, the evidence from this source, a document from a previous war in Gaza.

Yezidis face massacre today



The terrible news of the Yezidis threatened with death today by ISIS, if they do not convert to Islam, deserves I feel to be given as much attention as possible. Every little helps, including this blog. The latest news is here.


There is outrage and a wave of humanitarian feeling around the Western world which has led Mr Obama to intervene - compare the motives which led Mr Putin to intervene in Ukraine. What is remarkable is that I have not heard Muslims condemning what has happened. Lady Warsi seems to be silent, for example.


Robert Fisk, in one of his annoying but pertinent pieces, points out that the danger to the Shia from ISIS did not provoke Mr Obama to intervene but the plight of the Kurds, Christians and Yezidis does. Yes, but the plight of the Yezidis moved the world which hardened its heart and ignored that of the Christians. Defending the Kurds was simply a necessity for the USA - Kurdish Iraq was the one good thing to have come out of the Senecan tragedy of the Second Iraq War.

I was strongly against intervention in Syria and am still more so when I see that ISIS would have benefited mightily from US intervention in support of the so-called moderate rebels. I was moved by humanitarian impulses to want, or sort of want, intervention in Libya - I feared that a certain town that was about to fall to Gaddafi would be massacred. Now I do not believe that this would have happened and that we were being manipulated by sloppy journalism and the British and French governments. But I believe the Yezidis are in great danger. We must help.

Lalish, the spiritual centre of the Yezidis was the most fascinating place I ever visited in my life and has, though a  pagan place, a remarkably palpable spirituality as well as being wonderfully strange.

Much misinformation is going around about the Yezidi religion. It might be the oldest in the world, is millennia older than Islam, rather than being a Muslim heresy. In fact my own suspicion is that Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism, was  a Yezidi heretic.

The tenets of this religion are mysterious even to its adherents. Only the priests know many of the teachings which are preserved in oral traditions. Books have been published purporting to be their holy books but are believed to be forgeries written by non Yezidis.

I was told that there is a secret black book in which their teachings are kept  in the village of Qasr 'tzz at-Din. Everything about the Yezidis seems mysterious, in a world with little mystery.

One of their rules is not to eat lettuce. According to a writer in the New York Times writing before the 2003 war, quoting a Yezidi



The caliphs of the Ottoman Empire carried out no fewer than 72 massacres against the Yazidis in the 18th and 19th centuries alone, he explained, with the faithful slain by the thousands in the lettuce fields then dotting northeastern Iraq.

Watching the blood of innocents gush into the greens prompted a lasting aversion to the vegetable, Mr. Juma said, speaking with what sounded like real authority.

That is not quite right, a sect elder spelled out later. Indeed Yazidis suffered persecution, he said, such that one ruthless potentate who controlled the nearby splendid city of Mosul in the 13th century ordered an early Yazidi saint executed. The enthusiastic crowd then pelted the corpse with heads of lettuce. There have been sanctions against salad ever since, the elder intoned.
Ask a government-issued minder from Mosul, a Muslim, and he mutters about how Yazidis believe that the local romaine houses Lucifer, whom he says they worship, so they refuse to chop the heads off the roots.


In the end, the art of dissembling about their religion, perhaps the strongest Yazidi tradition, triumphs. No clear explanation emerges.


As far as I know the greatest Western authority on Yezidis is Eszter Spat who wrote a book with that title that I very highly recommend. Here she is speaking about Yezidis.

Father Jean-Marie Charles-Roux has died aged 99

When I was growing up in the 1970s and at university and then at work in the 1980s, I made the great mistake of thinking that the great personalities were dead and I was living in an age of prose. Nothing could have been less the case. Now the 1980s seems as quaint as the Edwardian age: only twenty-something women MPs, an upper house made up mostly of hereditary peers, vicars were men, London clubs were mostly all male and Monsignor Alfred Gilbey and Father Jean-Marie Charles-Roux, who seem to have stepped from a Victorian novel, though old even then, were sprightly.  

Only as you get older does life seem to thicken up and become interesting and in becoming interesting, coming to seem like life, it comes for some reason paradoxically to feel like a novel or a film, things which are fictional.


Father Charles-Roux was my confessor. His death has saddened me but came as a surprise because I had assumed he was no longer with us. He had seemed very ancient when I knew him, before I emigrated to Romania. Damian Thompson knew him well and writes about him here. 

I wish very much that I had known him outside the confessional and Mass. When he celebrated the Mass in the Tridentine Rite, alone one afternoon, he seemed to be gripped by a remarkable religious ecstasy.

I wish I had gone to see him in Rome. When young he had been a friend of the future Pope Paul VI and had known the future Pope John XXIII. He told me that both lapsed into the heresy of modernism, of thinking that the Church should adapt to the world rather than the other way around.

He also gave me the good advice always to read the King James translation of the Bible. I think many Catholics feel that the Bible is a Protestant book and they should read the Douay translation. Certainly the King James translation is a Protestant one but it is the glory of English literature, comparable with Shakespeare.

Father Alexander Lucie-Smith wrote about Father Charles-Roux here to mark his 98th birthday.

Here is Father Charles-Roux's obituary from today's Sunday Telegraph. 

Holy Grail not found in pub in Herefordshire

I have loved things Arthurian since earliest boyhood. (Robin Hood, on the other hand always left me completely cold, which perhaps suggests I was a born conservative.)  I devoured Malory when I was eleven. This news item is not Idylls of the King but hey.


One day King Arthur will awake from the cave in which he sleeps and return, when Britain is at her moment of greatest peril. Could be fairly soon, the way things are going.



Thursday, 7 August 2014

This is much more important than Gaza: 40,000 Yazidis are trapped on a mountain top, threatened with murder by ISIS

This news is quite terrible and much worse than Gaza. Up to 40,000 Yazidis, adherents to one of the oldest religions in the world, are trapped on a mountain top in Iraq by the Islamist army ISIS army and beginning to die. ISIS we are told want them to convert to Islam and, if they do not, want to murder them.

Messrs. Bush and Obama are to blame. Saddam would have made short work of ISIS. But allocating blame does not matter in the least now. What can be done if anything to protect the Yazidis?

The only thing I know to do is to publicise this impending tragedy as widely as possible. Condemnation by Muslim panjandrums would help. Perhaps Lady Warsi will speak out.

Please read this beautiful post about the Yazidis.

I was among the Yazidis four years ago. What I wrote about them then is here.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

A degree in stationery

Sir Jonathan Miller says the BBC is now run by 


“twerps who all have degrees in Media Studies, which is like having a degree in stationery”. 


This applies to many degrees with 'studies' in the name, especially business studies, women's studies, immigrant studies. 

The internet seems to be saying that Stationery Studies is a course in an Australian university.

As for degrees in 'finance' or 'marketing'..


Sir Jonathan, of course read medicine at Cambridge. Like many left wingers, he is unashamedly snobby. He said he reacted to Mrs. Thatcher as to a perfumed fart. His antipathy was not simply because of her social origins but that played a large part in it.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Why the anger over Gaza and none over the deaths in Ukraine?

Why the anger over Gaza and none over the deaths in Ukraine, for which Vladimir Putin is responsible? 

It's a funny old world. 1700 people died in Iraq last month. 700 died in one day last week in Homs.

I should mention, for readers who approve of what Russia has done, that I fully believe that very clumsy actions by the EU and USA provoked Mr. Putin. Is he responsible for the many deaths in Ukraine? Clearly yes in the sense that were it not for him there would be no fighting in Ukraine. Russians and others think he was right to do what he did because he was responding to aggression from the West, but even were this true, which to a certain extent it is, he was not compelled to try to incite a revolt in Eastern Russian, a revolt, by the way, which seems not to arouse much support from local Russians. 


Part of his reason for starting the war is the brutality and courage of the little boy that Vladimir Putin once was who loved to pick fights with strangers in the street - he said proudly that as a child he was 'a thug' and he still is - but another reason was fear of a democratic Ukraine arousing expectations in Russia.

So I understand completely why Putin did what he did, though he took me and everyone else by surprise. I understand completely why Russians with a very few exceptions think he is right are overjoyed by the annexation of the Crimea and are pleased about the war in Eastern Ukraine, just as I completely understand why the USA and UK invaded Iraq in 2003. I think both wars were unjust and very wrong.

Why do the papers think Gaza interests us more then anywhere else? Quite the contrary, I'd have thought. I have been hearing the news about Israel all my life without ever taking any interest in it and I truly am what is called a news junkie. 

As for my views on Gaza, a story in which I take little interest, I sympathise with the Arabs more than the Jews, think the Arabs badly treated by the Jews before and after 1948, think it is manifestly clear that the Israelis had no choice but to invade Gaza this time, deplore the civilians killed and injured and think nothing can justify so many civilian deaths. 

But this is not my point. My point is why do the deaths in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq (Lebanon too a few days ago) attract less news than the ones in Gaza?

Of course the question is rhetorical. It is easy to cover Gaza from the Tel Aviv Hilton. Journalists, even very hard-working ones, are usually lazy. And so are we readers and television watchers. Outrage and platitudes are always easier than thinking.



Croatian yachting cruise




This was our home all last week and we had so much fun. I wouldn't have gone yachting with a random group of Englishmen, Germans or people most of whom I didn't know, and none of whom I knew well, of any other nationality but Romanians. David, the Welshman who is building a road in Bosnia (not with his hands, he's a project manager) has worked in Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. He agreed that he would not have gone with Serbs or Bulgarians and certainly not with English people who would, he said, have had tattoos. 

Tattoos? 


When we arrived hours late (don't ask) at the newly built marina, a few miles from Split, Mario said quietly to me that the boat was ‘intimate’ and so it was. 41 square metres is not very much for nine people. My cabin had a wedge shaped bed only really big enough for one and certainly not for two if the two were two fat men like David and me. I don’t know what I expected. Perhaps the royal yacht Britannia. 

We sailed through the night to our first port of call. I slept soundly and woke to life at sea and decided that this was fun. 

One of the great things about going yachting is that so many clichés acquire meaning, like fossils coming to life. Port of call, steady hand on the tiller, taking another tack, sailing close to the wind. There was a lot to drink but we were never half seas over. Well, except the second night perhaps.

Someone had asked me why I was going on a yacht with a bunch of people I didn't know and the question seemed silly. In fact it was seven days of utter fun but it could have been different with different people. We were what my father would have called a nice bunch of fellas and girls and got along wonderfully. We danced and sang. At times it seemed like living a musical



I had the idea that a yacht cruise might be more relaxing than my usual holidays which involve dashing around on buses, trains and planes to get from one old town to another. I even thought briefly about a proper cruise until I discovered they were nothing like Doctor at Sea, and angling to sit wearing black tie on the captain's table, but full of people over fifty. 

The yacht cruise at least was nothing like that. We ranged in age from late twenties to sixty but most people were in their thirties, as I think I am. And we behaved as if we were twenty-five. I think I had imagined there would be time to read books and indeed I did get through one but it was not that kind of week. It was a very unintellectual holiday and that was its great charm. Contemplation, as the Comte de Chamfort said, makes life miserable. Much better learn to tie knots. (I failed completely at this as I did when my father tried to teach me when I was eight.)


Nor was it sailing from one lovely town to another though Croatia abounds in them. What is was was mooring in the dark blue sea, which Mario told us was what the Greek poets meant when they described the sea as wine-black and swimming far from identifiable other human beings, in waters sometimes twenty metres deep which is something like ten fathoms. It was about learning to raise and lower a sail to race our sister boat and to drink a great number of cocktails that Razvan endlessly produced in odd combinations. They were fittingly submarines and one cocktail sank into another.

In the evening we moored at marinas. The second night was spent in Skradin, a picturesque little town which is proud of being Bill Gates' favourite place (why?) Otherwise, except the night we moored in the old cathedral city of Sibenikwe were on islands empty but for a marina and restaurant, and ate a lot of good food and good local wines. It was not living wild though. Every morning began with a cappuccino. 




This is called, it seems, an active holiday but in fact it is much less active than walking around streets, churches and museums all day long. It was sitting looking at the sea interspersed with swimming and eating and just occasionally steering the ship or hoisting the sail. But now, days after I came back I am still exhausted.

Madalina Pascu organised everything extremely well from beginning to end. I do not like being organised. I am not a team player. I think I am an extroverted loner. But I did what I was told and am glad I did.

The cruise she had organised was a hybrid. It was both a week long training course in yachting and half a fun cruise. She had done it last year and Zivko Matutinovic, who runs RYA Croatia, affiliated to the Royal Yachting Academy, in the UK. He is a local minor celebrity. Madalina had said,
‘a senior skipper, amazing cook and above all a great man.’
All these things turned out to be true, especially the bit about cooking. I don't especially love fish and seafood but tuna we ate a plenty and tuna is wonderful but so was the octopus and everything else.

A South African told me last year that tourism is a branch of the entertainment industry. We were talking on the remote island of Ibo, off the far northern coast of Mozambique, and I was sorry to hear him say this. I had hoped it was about solitary adventure, but he is right. Gertrude Bell, as she left Samarkand, a place she reached with very great difficulty, found they were organising charabanc trips there. 

If travel is entertainment then yachting has a lot to be said for it. First, it is very entertaining. For some reason it is never boring, even though there are long gaps when nothing happens. Secondly, it achieves effortlessly what for me is the first object of travel, which is to get as far away from other travellers as possible. In a yacht in the island dotted Adriatic Sea I was really alone, except for the eight intimate strangers with whom I was travelling.

Yacht cruising, which I hadn't really heard of, is the big thing in Croatia (especially, for some reason, with Australians) and we were not off the beaten track but it felt like it. A yacht, by definition, keeps the vulgar profane away. A boat is exclusive: it excludes the whole world except the sea and sky.