Sunday 31 March 2013

Duchesses and chambermaids

Virginia Woolf said duchesses and chambermaids alike despise scholars. Is this because scholars have found something more interesting than sex? Or simply women's strong attraction for biological reasons to virile fighters? Yet the female attraction to powerful men makes them attracted to intelligent men. But perhaps it is intelligence deployed outwards, so to speak, that attracts them, not deployed in writing commentaries on Horace or Virgil.

For their part do men prefer duchesses? Dr. Johnson said a chambermaid would be as attractive as a duchess were it not for imagination. Would she be as attractive as a footballer's wife? Would a duchess? I suppose it depends on the duchess and the footballer's wife, although, for obvious socio-economic and biological reasons, duchesses tend to be very attractive while of nubile age. Being a duchess is not something that they are born to or have thrust upon them. It is something that they achieve.

Easter in England

Sir John Betjeman once began an essay with the words:
St Pancras was a 14-year-old Christian boy who was martyred in Rome by the Emperor Diocletian. In England, he is better known as a railway station.

John Betjeman was a writer of light verse which I think will live and which excels Praed and Frederick Locker Lampson. But as well as his verse he has left us other monuments in the buildings that he successfully campaigned to save from demolition, in the black days of the 1960s and early 1970s, especially St Pancras Station. Coming in from Luton the Searcy's Champagne Bar on the platform transports you to from the mundane railway travelling world to something very glamorous and nineteenth century, an infinite distance away from the British Rail offices which used to take up the station or the 1970s. 

Actually the whole of St Pancras seems glamorous as befits an international railway station and like so many places in England it seems to have become a 'shopping centre' (dread words as Wallace Arnold would have said - am I becoming Wallace Arnold in my middle age? It might be so.)

Everyone in London despite the crisis seem to do themselves in great style but I am not sure whether we should worry that people have become more materialistic. I think the 1970s were very materialistic and selfish, which is why we had all those strikes. And they also hated the past and knocked down lovely buildings. 

Hard, on Good Friday, to eat a frugal haddock and I succumbed to a glass of champagne with my Godless friend and ordered cheesecake.

A wonderful full English breakfast the next morning (how I love the full English,  especially the black pudding) in a greasy spoon in the Old Brompton Rd beat our expensive dinner at Searcy's. Somerset Maugham said:

It is not true that you cannot eat well in England. You can eat better in England than in any country in the world so long as you eat breakfast three times a day.

You can eat very well in England now, unlike in his day, but it is still true that breakfast beats everything else hands down. This truth is immutable.

Then Tenebrae at the Oratory, Latin psalms sung interspersed with readings that were part of Holy Week everywhere before the Second Vatican Council and which were continued at the Oratory at the insistence of the congregation. Beauchamp Place after more than twenty years (when I was a sixth former in London for the day that street was the epitome of style), shirt shopping in Jermyn St (go to Harvey and Hudson, people, for the real thing), then lunch and exquisite conversation with Ruth Dudley Edwards. 

The restaurant where we had arranged to meet was closed, happily, and we eat in the wonderfully inelegant India Club which has not changed since I was there thirty years ago or since Nehru was eighty years ago. The food was nothing special, the prices ridiculously low and the general setting (formica tables and radiators with peeling paint) was how everything was when C.R. Attlee was Prime Minister  and we gave away India at the cost of up to a million people killed, all because Nehru and Jinnah were old and in a hurry for power. I told Ruth, who loved the place, 'This is what we are fighting for.'  Lunch with three large bottles of Indian beer and one of cider came to £28.

I knew of and esteemed Ruth for many years for her revisionist view of Irish history (exactly the one I had always held) and her strong opposition to the Irish peace process. She is better known, however, as a writer of detective stories and she would make a very good detective herself in one of her own books, a post modernist twist I must suggest to her. If Martin Amis can appear in his own novel, why not Ruth?

My sister's house and home pleasures. Last night I watched the first episode of 'Sherlock' - the first TV programme I have watched for many years. Wonderful - but the internet has made it incredibly hard to watch TV for 90 minutes. I find myself identifying closely with Sherlock Holmes, because my brain span too fast for TV, but I am not a psychopath.

Easter Sunday on the North Essex coast. Mass. I cannot forgive Pope John Paul II for altar girls but my niece Emily is terribly good and very solemn. Dreadful guitar music and communion ministers. If only every church had to celebrate a Mass in Latin each Sunday. Too much grinning and someone went up and gave the priest an Easter card at the end of the Mass. (Romanians celebrate Mass with much more dignity and solemnity.) Still a happy occasion. 

The English taking their pleasures not sadly at all, in fact we are a very happy race, but quietly and unostentatiously. I walked two miles along the North Sea in 35 minutes at a pleasant stroll. 1930s architecture which seems from another epoch in former colonies like India and Zanzibar seems so very recent in provincial England. The Easter Egg hunt. Sunday lunch. Afterwards High Society on a DVD which actually rather bored me even though I suggested it. But Sundays in my youth were boring and so is I suppose is family life - and boring is just an unkind word for peaceful. England outside London is very peaceful.

Monday at St Alban's - not only is the cathedral wonderful, despite the tragic restoration by a clown, but the whole old centre is enchanting. A wonderful place to live and only twenty minutes from St Pancras (am i growing middle-aged?). But the abiding feeling is how desperately sad the Reformation was, which cut England Scotland and Wales off from their religion and their culture.  The next most sudden and arbitrary change was mass immigration after 1950 but the Reformation was a far bigger change and one that permanently maimed our country. 

Yet would we have had representative government in the eighteenth century had we remained Catholic? We developed common law while England was Catholic but who knows? Had freedom come to the world not from England but from the French Revolution things would be much worse even than they are now though the EU is the triumph of that Revolution over Anglo-Saxon ideas of freedom.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Ceauşescu's sceptre

File:Ceausescu receiving the presidential sceptre 1974.jpg

On 28 March 1974 Romania created the position of President to which Nicolae Ceauşescu was elected. On April 4, 1974, the Romanian newspaper Scînteia published on its front page a telegram, in which Salvador Dalí congratulated Ceauşescu on "introducing the presidential sceptre." The editor was dismissed immediately. 

Mircea Toma, when he was editor of Academia Caţavencu, told me this was the only instance of a satirical publication in Communist Romania.

Friday 22 March 2013

My little article on 'Bucharest – the most interesting city in Europe' is a palpable hit

My article in Romania-Insider yesterday got over 3,000 clicks. It will be the theme of my book on Bucharest. 

I never felt Bucharest was uncivilised. I could see in 1998, when I came here, that is was in plenty of ways a more civilised place than England. As an Englishman, I always considered France the acme of sophistication and civilisation. Romania, though a very much less sophisticated place than France, was Latin enough to make me feel slightly clean-cut and, well, American. In the fifteen years I have lived here  Western Europe has become increasingly unfree, authoritarian and drifting from its traditions and Romania seems more and more a redoubt of civilisation.

davin ellicson pic 3

Thursday 21 March 2013

The individual is foolish but the species is wise

Edmund Burke:

"The individual is foolish; the multitude, for the moment is foolish, when they act without deliberation; but the species is wise, and, when time is given to it, as a species it always acts right." 

This is why long held prejudices often contain profound truth.

Friday 15 March 2013

Five profound thoughts today

Lazy people are stressed, not relaxed, unless stupid.
Stupid people should be relaxed, because they do not know there is anything to worry about, but often they suspect there might be and do not know what it is.
Happiness and fulfilment are found in giving ourselves.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast. This hope itself can actually stop us facing the truth and changing things. 
Every British and French generation produced marvellous people between about 1550 and 1950. What went wrong then? Why are there so very few great men any more?

Saturday 9 March 2013

Looking at Bucharest churches in the warm March sunshine

Martin Harris was without his family this weekend and as they do not share his love of looking round churches that meant it was beholden on us to look at some. It was also extremely good weather - Martin's car (clever car) said it was 21°

When I was a boy looking at a beautiful church was the present I most wanted for birthdays and it still is. The highlight of today's tour was the church of Sfintii Apostoli, the Holy Apostles, one of the few Bucharest churches that I have visited fairly often. (It's a ten minute stroll from my flat). It was moved on rollers by the Communists and hidden behind apartment blocks; thank God a clever engineer had the idea of the rollers and thereby saved a number of fine churches. But it was the highlight because Martin pointed out 'There is Santa Claus's hand!' and there indeed was St Nicholas's mummified hand. It is not in a very  prominent place and I had previously not noticed it.

Is there a black market for stolen holy relics? If so, they should guard it carefully. Stealing holy relics sounds very mediaeval but so do lots of things that happen in this country, which, I suppose, is why I love this place.

Mihai, our cicerone, who once told me that he is not particularly religious, is quite certain that this is indeed St. Nicholas's hand and that someone tried to steal the relic from the church and died in prison on December 6, St. Nicholas's Day. I would like to believe that St Nicholas was involved in this death, and in fact can at a stretch, but I very much doubted if it really was the saint's hand and said I would look up how many of his hands are to be found in churches in Europe. Yet now I am loathe to do so. Let us leave it that it is the saint's hand indeed. But, just as many towns claimed the honour of producing Homer, so relics of St Nicholas are widely distributed - click here.

Schitul Darvari. An oasis of calm. Rebuilt 1933, beautiful frescoes from that period. Once under Mount Athos but no more.

It was my idea to go to the wonderful Radu Voda.

In dreams, unfamiliar buildings turn up in familiar landscapes and I, like many people, quite often dream of churches.  It was dreamlike when Mihai took me last year to the wonderful church of Radu Voda, as large, old and beautiful as the Patriarchal Cathedral and yet a church whose existence I had never suspected. I had even seem it a number of times from afar and convinced myself it was the cathedral.

Radu Voda, impersonating the Patriarchal Cathedral

The Bucur church, oldest church foundation in Bucharest but not the oldest church.  A christening was going on - of a girl, which meant the congregation crowded at the door making entrance impossible. With boys the immersion takes place near the sanctuary.
The Church of the Holy Apostles, founded by Matei Basarab in 1636, was closed for renovation, a word that always strikes fear. The doorway is from 1636.

The Mihai Voda church. This one was moved on rollers 300 yards to save it from demolition under Ceausescu's urban plan. 

Friday 8 March 2013

The barometer question

I once heard Clement Freud tell this story on the wireless - and thought he said he was rector at the university in question. I came across it attributed to Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist, but that cannot be right since I hardly imagine there were many skyscrapers in Copenhagen when he was a student. The omniscient Wikipedia says it really happened, in the early 1960s in America, and that test designer Alexander Calandra wrote that he was the man called in to adjudicate on the student's appeal.

During a physics exam one day, a student was asked to "describe how to determine the height of a skyscraper with a barometer."

"You tie a long piece of string to the neck of the barometer," he replied, "and lower the barometer from the roof of the skyscraper to the ground. The length of the string plus the length of the barometer will equal the height of the building."

The student did not pass his exam. When he appealed, the university appointed an independent arbiter to decide the case. The arbiter concluded that the answer was correct but did not display any knowledge of physics. The student was called in and given six minutes to provide a proper answer.

For five minutes he sat in silence, thinking. When the arbiter reminded him that time was running out, the student replied that he had several solutions, but could not decide which to use. At last, he gave this reply:

"You could take the barometer up to the roof of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of the building can then be worked out from the formula H = 0.5g x t squared.

"Or if the sun is shining you could measure the height of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of the skyscraper's shadow, and work out the height of the skyscraper using proportional arithmetic.

"You could also tie a short piece of string to the barometer and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is worked out by the difference in the gravitational restoring force T = 2 pi sqroot (l / g).

"If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building.

"But I think what I would really do would be to go down in the lift to the basement, find the caretaker and say to him, 'Look. This is a nice new barometer. I will give it to you, if you tell me the height of this building.'"  

Thursday 7 March 2013

Smoking in Romanian restaurants

I am very sorry for people who smoke and strongly wish they would stop, but seeing people smoke in Romanian restaurants makes me happy to live in a free, civilised country. How many bad things are going to be visited on Romania in years to come, thanks to the EU. At the moment, to quote William Buckley's stirring clarion call, Romania is standing athwart history yelling stop.

When one sees ashtrays in cafés one knows one is one of the last bastions of freedom and respect for property rights in Europe. Who would have thought in 1989 that Romania would soon be far freer than England but it is, by miles.

By the way, smoking is no pleasure at all, none, a vice as pleasureless as avarice. Tobacco is the perfect industry for psychopaths and I wonder how many work in it. I know a female psychopath in a senior job (she never smoked) who loves the fact that the tobacco company she works for kills millions of people. It gives every day a savage zest for her which is in some way linked to sex.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Bucharest is the most interesting city in Europe even now

Bucharest is the most interesting city in Europe even now, despite the satanic malls.

Another great picture which could be of almost anywhere in the town (for it is more a town than a city despite its two million inhabitants):

Image may contain: plant, tree and outdoor

I walk past this every day - there are so many scenes like this. When I tell Romanians that being in Bucharest makes me happy each day they think I am crazy or am lying and am here for the girls (who are very handsome).

Bucharest has been so cleaned and tidied up in the fifteen years I have lived here that I forget how sui generis it still is. These pictures bring that out. Paradoxically, and everything in Romania is a paradox, Bucharest is utterly uncool and yet the coolest place there is.

A film noir city.Where people still smoke in restaurants (Romania is still a free country) and where there are still femmes fatales (legions of them). Men here are men and women are women and everyone is happy about this. The most interesting city in Europe. You could almost say it is the last European city. 

Tuesday 5 March 2013

No dissenting voices as media prays for liberal Pope

This is the best article I read in ages about the Catholic Church - and from a Protestant newspaper, the Belfast Telegraph.  Its points apply not just to the Church but to the world we live in and the propaganda we are fed to make sense of it.
Liberal societies take the view that no one should be allowed to impose their morality on anyone else, but then turn around and do precisely this to people who don't go along with their norms.
How refreshing but how sad to read Pope Benedict XVI's final address to the Roman clergy on Thursday. Talking about the Second Vatican Council, he says: 
...there was the Council of the Fathers – the true Council – but there was also the Council of the media. 
We know that this Council of the media was accessible to everyone. Therefore, this was the dominant one, the more effective one, and it created so many disasters, so many problems, so much suffering: seminaries closed, convents closed, banal liturgy … and the real Council had difficulty establishing itself and taking shape; the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council. But the real force of the Council was present and, slowly but surely, established itself more and more and became the true force which is also the true reform, the true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that, 50 years after the Council, we see that this virtual Council is broken, is lost, and there now appears the true Council with all its spiritual force. 
Where will we find a Pope with Pope Benedict's vision but with the strength to put things right? He may think the virtual Council is broken but I am not so sure.

What a great Pope, responsible for the far better new translation of the liturgy (the liturgy was the Church's single greatest problem) and the reintroduction of the Tridentine Rite in theory, though not, thanks to recalcitrant and disobedient bishops, in practice.

These will be remembered in years to come and if the Tridentine Mass becomes widely celebrated he will be much esteemed for this decision, though this seems at present a very unlikely prospect. What he will be most remembered for, however, will be for his abdication, an inspired decision, which will have vast consequences.

He is a saintly man but his lack of administrative gifts and his diffidence made him question whether he had a priestly vocation. He is outspoken and very honest which has caused problems. But his reign will also be remembered, like Pope John Paul II's, for the terrible, unspeakable revelations about a shockingly numerous minority of priests, though of course only a tiny minority of the whole priesthood, who interfering with boys and girls (mostly boys but girls suffered too). In fact, not only the priesthood but many secular institutions contain far more of these criminals than we would have suspected (this article by Andrew Brown, who I think is not a Christian, is very interesting on this). But, many young lives have been damaged or ruined and, rightly, higher standards are expected from priests than the laity. The harm this has done the Church is the most significant event in church history since the Second Vatican Council. Whether these things were partly a consequence of the false Council and loss of belief in sexual morality or whether they were just as common in the 1950s I really do not know, but these terrible men were the most dangerous enemies not only of innocent children but of the Body of Christ. 

The arms of the Holy See while sede vacante

Sunday 3 March 2013

If Benedict XVI was not the most intelligent head of state ever, who was?

Professor Father James Schall. who holds a chair in  political science  Georgetown University was asked in an interview recently,  "How do you think history will remember Pope Benedict XVI?" He answered:

It will remember him as the greatest and most learned intellect ever to occupy the Chair of Peter. No public official in our time has been anywhere near his intellectual equal. This disparity is itself the cause of much disorder, if we grant, as we must, that truth is the essence of intellect and indeed order. In reading Benedict, I have always been struck by how familiar he is not just with the Old and New Testaments (in their original languages) but with his constant referring to the Fathers of the Church, especially Augustine, and the intellectual popes like Gregory the Great and Leo the Great, and also Irenaeus, Basil, Maximius, Origen, Bonaventure, and I do not know them all. 

He knows German philosophy well, and always cites Plato. He is at home with all the Marxist philosophers. Indeed, in Spe Salvi, he cited two of the most famous ones as witness to the logical need of a resurrection of the body. Benedict is a member of one of the French academies. No one has really begun to do his homework on what this pope has thought his way through. The media and most universities are, basically, hopeless. I suspect his final opera omni in a critical German edition will equal in length that of Augustine, Aquinas, and Bonaventure.

I also had assumed that Pope Benedict XVI was the most intelligent and most learned Pope in history, but my knowledge of papal history was too slight for me to be certain. 

When was there last as intelligent a head of state, I wonder. No-one comes to mind. I don't think Marcus Aurelius was as bright. I am sure Jefferson and Lenin were less clever nor do I think Alexander the Great had a first class mind (how Cambridge I am), despite being tutored by Aristotle.

Evelyn Waugh: 'In a more civilised age Hans Kung would have been burnt'

Hans Kung

Hans Kung (shouldn't it be Kueng?) describes himself as the harshest critic of Pope Benedict XVI and sums up Benedict XVI's record as almost entirely negative with one significant exception:
In 2005, in one of Benedict’s few bold actions, he held an amicable four-hour conversation with me at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo in Rome.... 

For me, and indeed for the whole Catholic world, the meeting was a sign of hope. [1] But sadly Benedict’s pontificate was marked by breakdowns and bad decisions. He irritated the Protestant churches, Jews, Muslims, the Indians of Latin America, women, reform-minded theologians and all pro-reform Catholics.
Did you know that Catholic priests were allowed to talk like that about the Pope? Nowadays they are and to publish books denying dogmas such as the Virgin Birth and papal infallibility, denying Jesus's miracles and denying no end of other things. His prose in  'Why I am Still a Christian' is so turgid that I did not find out all the things that he does not believe in  but it comes to an awfully long list. (Yet I remember seeing Westminster Cathedral bookshop with a copy of one of Father Kung's books piled high in all the windows.) 

Ian Paisley, who believes in the Creed, is a much better Catholic than Father Kung. One knows why Evelyn Waugh, whose early death the Second Vatican Council caused, said that 
'In a  more civilised age Hans Kung would have been burnt.'
Father Kung seems a bitter man and notably lacks humility (in sharp contrast to the Vicar of Christ who spent four hours with him).  The Pope's most important act was meeting me! 

Irritating the Protestant churches, Jews, Muslims, women, reform-minded theologians and all pro-reform Catholics might be because Benedict XVI was thoroughly bold and unafraid to speak the truth, but it depends on what you think the truth is. It was indeed bold of the Pope to meet his former friend and characteristic of his humility and graciousness.  

Another bold move which I wish the Pope had made was to have excommunicated Father Kung. After all, Father Kung is not, by any definition, apart from his own, a Catholic. In 'Why I am Still a Christian'  he explains his reason for not leaving the Catholic Church of his own volition: the discouraging failure of people who have broken away from the church in the past. Well, since Luther's day, I suppose he meant.

Non-Catholics imagine we are still forbidden to use private judgement and required to believe what the Pope tells us. If only it were somewhat like that, though Catholics never had to agree with the Pope on everything. In practice, it is now a free for all. A low church Protestant friend of mine with whom I discussed Father Kung's book 'Why I am Still a Christian' said the title should have continued 'Even Though I No Longer Am.'

Father Kung's influence is immense and he advised British Prime Ministers James Callaghan and Tony Blair. He said a few years back that Muhammad was a true prophet but this will not endear him to Muslims because he does not believe in the Virgin Birth, which for them, as for Catholics, is de fide, an obligatory article of faith. 

[1] Gosh, Kung has a good opinion of himself. This makes me think of Chesterton:

Are they clinging to their crosses,
F. E. Smith, 
Where the Breton boat-fleet tosses,
Are they, Smith?

Saturday 2 March 2013

The second half of a man's life

Someone posted this on Facebook, which stopped me in my tracks, from Fyodor Dostoevsky:
The second half of a man's life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.
Oh no. 

So there is no hope?

I looked up on the net to see whether he said anything else as good and found another quotation from him, less arresting but very true:

If you want to be respected by others the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you.

This is profoundly true and profoundly comforting:

Accept suffering and achieve atonement through it - that is what you must do.

Here are some more:

There are things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.

The soul is healed by being with children.

It's life that matters, nothing but life - the process of discovering, the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery itself, at all.