Thursday 21 February 2013

Miss South Carolina answers your questions about maps

I was reminded of poor, dear Lauren Caitlin by something someone (a blonde, as it happens, called Sarah) posted on Facebook, which was copied onto Lamebook:
ok just found out that south africa is a country AND its also part of africa witch makes no sense bcause how can a country be in another counry. #confused

Was it really as long ago as 2007 that Lauren Caitlin went viral? If so, without any malice towards the dear girl and just for fun, it's time to post her again, answering your questions about MAPS.

Former Miss Teen USA Contestant Caitlin Upton's Divorce Settled

When I first posted this I was too hurried to be witty about Lauren Caitlin, but this blog is and made me smile. 

I do think she looks wonderful and now I come to think of it I would not know how to answer the question of why Americans cannot find countries on maps. What is the answer? If I were 17 and on live television it would be even more of a difficult one. 

I do think that there is far too much prejudice against beautiful girls, on the part of men and women. Being beautiful is a form of wisdom. It not only needs animal cunning but it implies a healthy attitude towards the universe. Beauty and sex appeal come from within.

There is also a strong dislike of people from the American South on the part of the  Northerners. The South is the sin-eater for Americans and is often written off as stupid, rustic and, above all, racist, racism being the unforgivable sin in modern America. This attitude is exemplified by an American who told me, 'I hate Southerners because I hate racists.' I replied that I hated racism but I didn't hate racists. 'I hate racists', he said firmly and afterwards I realised it was he who was the racist. 

On this subject, an American friend, a Yankee who studied in New Orleans, told me what a Southern friend told him, 'Southerners don't like blacks in general but love them as individuals. Northerners love blacks in general but don't like them as individuals.' 

Who knows? I was never in the USA except for a few hours in Buffalo, New York. Fortunately, blonde jokes are not yet considered racist.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Cosmopolitan Norwich

Ploughing through the innumerable supplements to the Friday edition of the Times, while I was in London last week, my eye alighted on the property section and an article headlined 'Focus on ... Norwich', which begins:

'A cosmopolitan, buzzing and beautiful city...'



And why is cosmopolitan a term of approval? 

I hoped Norwich was still provincial. What is the point of Norwich otherwise? If East Anglia is not the provinces where is?

Perhaps nowhere is.

What would Norfolk men such as Sir Thomas Browne or George Borrow have made of a cosmopolitan Norwich? Or the poets of Eastern England like Cowper or Crabbe? Or John Betjeman or H.L. Morton?

I do not want to live in the provinces myself - I should hate to do so. I would not choose to live anywhere but the centre of a capital city, and I love living in an odd, seedy Balkan capital, but I want the provinces to be there and be provincial, the ballast in every country that keeps the boat from overturning.

The article in the Times went on, balefully, to declare that Norwich is one of the ten most important shopping destinations in England. 

Camus said, 'Modern man fornicates and reads the papers. There is nothing more to be said.' Modern man (person, sorry) in our day fornicates, shops and is cosmopolitan 

All in all, The Times put me off the idea of going to Norwich. Private Lives comes to mind. 

I met her on a house party in Norfolk.

Very flat, Norfolk.

There's no need to be unpleasant.

That was no reflection on her, unless of course she made it flatter.

Minette Marin said in an article a while back that as we grow older we all of us find ourselves living in a foreign country. At least I really do live in a foreign country, Romania, and one that, happily, is reassuringly old-fashioned.

P.S. I looked on the net to see if Sir John Betjeman ever wrote a poem about Norwich. It seems he did not but I found instead a poem that he wrote about somewhere else in Norfolk. It is one of my favourites among his poems and I feel like quoting it here, though it has nothing to do with the subject of this post.

Oh Lord Cozens Hardy Your mausoleum is cold,

The dry brown grass is brittle

And frozen hard the mould

And where those Grecian columns rise

So white among the dark

Of yew trees and of hollies in That corner of the park

By Norfolk oaks surrounded

Whose branches seem to talk,

I know, Lord Cozens Hardy, I would not like to walk.

And even in the summer, 

On a bright East-Anglian day

When round your Doric portico  Your children's children play

There's a something in the stillness 

And our waiting eyes are drawn

From the butler and the footman  Bringing tea out on the lawn,

From the little silver spirit lamp 

That burns so blue and still,

To the half-seen mausoleum  In the oak trees on the hill.

But when, Lord Cozens Hardy, November stars are bright,

And the King's Head Inn at Letheringsett  Is shutting for the night,

The villagers have told me 

That they do not like to pass

Near your curious mausoleum 

Moon-shadowed on the grass

For fear of seeing walking  In the season of All Souls

That first Lord Cozens Hardy,  The Master of the Rolls.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Romanians make good immigrants

Admitting a million Poles, even though in good manners, industry, church attendance and many other ways they put the English to shame, was certainly a mistake on the part of the UK. We know this because ministers said they expected tens of thousands to come. Still, if Britain and other Western European countries have decided that they need immigrants, and they have, they should be very grateful that the EU has a supply on hand of Eastern European would-be immigrants. Yet while the British press worry about an influx of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants after January 1 2014, David Cameron announces that 

‘There is no limit on the number of  students who can come from India to study at British universities, no limit at all. All you need is a basic English qualification and a place at a  British university. What’s more, after you’ve left a British university, if you can get a graduate-level job there is no limit to the amount of people who can stay and work, or the time that they can stay at work.’

Romanians, like other people from the former Eastern Bloc,  are highly-educated, conservative, Christian and European. Romanians come from a Near Eastern culture, unlike the Poles, who are Catholics and Central Europeans, but they bring with them so many qualities that the British seem to produce less often than in the past. Romanian women are womanly (and very often beautiful), Romanian men are virile even if they seem very effete at first sight. Romanians are family minded, esteem education and usually believe in God. Best of all, they come from a part of the world where the 1960s never happened.

Romanians were disappointed but not in the least surprised by the noisy British reluctance to let them settle in the UK. As far as Romanians are concerned, they blame this reluctance on confusion abroad between Romanians and Roma. (Roma is the modish, EU-approved term for gypsies.) It is no use saying to Romanians that Romanian gypsies are both Romanian and Roma. ‘Romanian’ is understood here as an ethnicity not a citizenship. A Romanian man I know, for example, always says that he is Greek not Romanian, even though his family came to Romania in the t860s. Similarly, few ethnic Romanians think Romania’s Hungarians, German or Jewish minorities are Romanian. Children of mixed marriages do though.

Romanians usually have a very high opinion of England, based partly on books and films. I would expect Romanians to be disappointed by the reality of violent crime, binge drinking, feminism and innumerable rules. Romania, where people smoke in bars and say whatever they like about most things, is a much freer country these days. But no, Romanians usually love England and so they should. Things work in England and people are kind and honest, though the trusting nature of the English provokes wonder and seems naive. Britain is still a wonderful country and London is the only big city in Europe which is not a museum. The small minority of Romanians I spoke to who did not like England gave as their reason the number of non-white people there.

Beauty is a short lived tyranny

Beauty is a short lived tyranny. (Socrates)

A tyranny made perhaps more protracted by the lights of perverted science. (Churchill)

Sunday 3 February 2013

Romania's ethnic minorities

I surprised a friend at university by telling him that you cannot understand the history of Northern Ireland unless you understand the history of Eastern Europe. This is true and unfortunately the English never understood either. I must one day write a short history of ethnic minorities in Romania and Romanian attitudes to religion and race as well as the fascinating role in Romanian history of Hungarians, Germans, Jews and Gypsies. Just to talk of film stars, Bela Lugosi, Johnny Weissmuller and Edward G. Robinson came from the first three of these Romanian minorities: Dracula and Tarzan were born in Romania.

Romania is a national state but not a mono-ethnic state. She has numerous small ethnic minorities  living in certain localities in their own communities, and a very large minority, the Hungarians and Secklers (they are almost always considered one community and called Hungarians). They are the overwhelming majority in two counties in the centre of Romania, Harghita and Covasna, as well as existing in other places, most notably the Banat and the Crisana. 

The Hungarians were until 1918 one of the master races of Eastern Europe, meaning the races from which the landowners were drawn. The other master race in what became Romania were the Germans. The German minority, which numbered 200,000 in 1990, has mostly, though not entirely gone, to my sorrow and Romania’s loss. The Germans built the wonderful towns of the Banat and Transylvania which remind me of the Anglo-Irish towns of Ireland under the eighteenth century Protestant Ascendancy. Beyond the towns, John Paget, a British traveller to Transylvania in the 1830s, compared the Romanians and gypsies in the villages to the Red Indians and negroes of North America. By the way, I highly recommend Paget's Hungary and Transylvania, a wonderful book that I read while at the university.

The Hungarians will remain, but are much depleted by emigration to Budapest. The Jews tended to live in towns throughout the country  and came mostly in the late nineteenth century. Many were slaughtered by Germans in those parts of Romania that Hungary annexed in 1940 or in Bessarabia when it was reconquered by the Romanians from the USSR but in the rest of Romania most survived. After the war, most Jews left, many of them 'sold’ to Israel under the Ceausescu regime. Their children sometimes come back as foreigners, Israelis.

Muslims, in the Ottoman period, were forbidden by law to settle in Moldavia and Wallachia for the reason that had they done so they would have been able to appeal over the heads of Christian magistrates to the Sublime Porte. Only in the sparsely populated Dobrudgea did Muslims live and this historical absence of Muslims is what makes Romania very different from the other Balkan countries. This spared Romania the bloody fighting between Muslims and Christians that took place elsewhere in the Balkans and the former Ottoman Empire, leading to many European Muslims leaving Europe and most Christians leaving the Middle East. There are about 20,000 'Turks', meaning Muslims here near the coast, very nice people in my experience, and a number of mosques in the Dobrudgea, which seemed to me for years exotically Near Eastern, until one day it occurred to me that there are now many more mosques in England and France.

There were some but not many Jews in what is now Romania before the nineteenth century when they came in large numbers and met great popular hostility, especially on the part of liberals. The Great Powers forced Romania to give civil rights to Jews twice, at the Congress of Berlin in 1878 and at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. On both occasions, Romanian government reluctantly agreed, but applied only the letter and not the spirit of their treaty obligations. 

This baroque pattern, baroque in the sense of the triumph of form over substance, repeated itself when Romania came to adapt to the requirements of the European Union. Up to a certain point, it could be said to be how Romania adapted to Communism, at least in the years of Ceausescu’s National Communism, although this point is more clever than true. Ceasusescu's belief in Marxism Leninism, which he shared with millions of his countrymen, was never in doubt.

Anti-Semitism as much as rural poverty led to the Peasants' Revolt of 1907, the last peasants' revolt Europe will see. The religious-fascist Iron Guard in the 1930s adopted a very anti-Semitic policy as had liberals like the revered historian and statesman Nicolae Iorga before the First World War. iorga, who later recanted his views on the Jews, appears on Romanian banknotes. So does the national poet, Eminescu, who wrote many diatribes against the Jews. In early twentieth century Europe anti-Semitism was considered by some as progressive and in the 1930s great Romanian intellectuals like Mircea Eliade were also anti-Jewish. Under Antonescu, the wartime military dictator, it is now known, though was until recently denied, that between 280,000 and  380,000 Jews were murdered, though  most of  the Jews on what is now and was then Romanian territory survived. Those in Romanian lands taken by Russia in 1940, which now are in Moldova and Ukraine  suffered much the worst. along with those in that part of Romania annexed by Hungary, where perhaps 120,000 Jews were killed. In most of Romania - those parts which were then and are now in Romania - most Jews survived.

Some degree of hostility towards Jews still lingers on with some people, even though there are few Jews left.The minority you hear Romanians talk about most, though, is the gypsies and rarely in terms other than of fear, dislike or loathing. Eastern Europe does not have an underclass but in many ways the gypsies are the nearest equivalent. 

Romania has it seems the largest gypsy population in the EU - this is based on anecdotal evidence and the fact that every gypsy beggar I have spoken to outside Romania answered me in Romanian with only one exception. Moldavia and Wallachia are  also noteworthy as the only places where gypsies were enslaved and some people have suggested to me that during their enslavement the iron entered their collective soul. But collective souls are a very unfashionable concept.  

The Romanians are solving what they see as the gypsy problem, because of free movement of people within the EU. Gypsies are nomadic by instinct and I think most will not stay here to be mistreated but go to Western Europe where they can be mistreated in greater comfort. This has started but will take a decade or two. 

Almost everything that people say about gypsies in political discussions, whether pro- or anti-gypsy seems to me to be misinformed or ill thought out. And that is in Romania. It is very funny to read journalists in the English press struggle to make sense of them. I shall have to take my time to decide and formulate what I think about them. All I can say is that, when I feel a wave of love for a Romanian scene, on nine occasions out of ten there are gypsies in view. But their picturesque and exotic qualities are  not in question and have nothing to do with the gypsy question. The gypsies are yet another example of the folly of denying that ethnic groups have group characteristics. Also of the folly of believing in human perfectibility and believing that governments can solve most problems.