Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus

“Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will - whatever we may think. They flower spontaneously out of the demands of our natures - and the best of them lead us not only outwards in space, but inwards as well. Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection...”
Lawrence Durrell, Bitter Lemons of Cyprus

Raki is so hard to get right but this one is neither too strong nor too weak. The secret, I realise, is eschewing ice. 

I am sitting outside Niazi's restaurant in Kyrenia, across the road from the elegant colonial Dome Hotel, blogging with my clumsy thumbs on my mobile. 

Kyrenia (Girne is its guttural and rather ugly name in Turkish) is a beautiful port on the north coast of Cyprus. It was a mostly Greek town which, since 1974, has been wholly occupied by Turkish Cypriots and incomers from mainland Turkey.

Cyprus was on my short list of countries I didn't want to visit, but this is my second long weekend in nine weeks. I am not sure why. Mostly because, for some reason, it seems so very easy. 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Well happ'd on, brother-ranger of the brine!

A mixed bag of quotations today.

Formerly no one was allowed to think freely; now it is permitted, but no one is capable of it any more. Now people want to think only what they are supposed to think, and this they consider freedom. Oswald Spengler

A true friend is the greatest of all blessings, and that which we take the least care of all to acquire. Duc De La Rochefoucauld

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Emil Cioran predicts the end of European civilisation

Vacillating instincts, corroded beliefs, obsessions, and anility: everywhere conquerors in retreat, rentiers of heroism confronting the young Alarics who lie in wait for Rome and Athens; everywhere paradoxes of the lymphatic. There was a time when salon sallies traversed whole countries, foiled stupidity or refined it. Europe, coquettish and intractable, was in the flower of her age; — decrepit today, Europe excites no one. Even so, certain barbarians await their chance to inherit the finery, impatient at her long agony.
The Romanian aphorist Emil Cioran, in Syllogismes d’Amerture (1952) - the English translation of the book is here. 

It's interesting that he said this before the Algerian War, when Algeria still constituted three departments of France.

Pessimism was to Cioran what daffodils were to Wordsworth or butlers to P.G. Wodehouse. Cioran even achieved the feat of being too pessimistic for Samuel Beckett. This broke up their friendship.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Chamberlain, Churchill and the End of Glory

If I am to manage to continue reading books I probably have to give up fiction. Having taken almost two years with 'War and Peace' (do read it if you haven't), I returned with relish to John Charmley's 'Churchill: the End of Glory'.

The book caused great controversy when it appeared 25 years ago because it portrayed Churchill in a new and unflattering light. It is sceptical about Chamberlain and Deladier's decision to go to war with Germany in 1939 and the British cabinet's decision not to find out the details of Hitler's peace overtures after the fall of France in 1940. Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax wanted to. Churchill, the new Prime Minister, and the Labour leader Attlee convinced the (all-party) war cabinet not to do so.

Having been lucky to evacuate the army from France in time and having ruled out negotiations, Churchill had no plan for defeating Germany nor any means of doing so.

As Professor Charmley points out:
The Americans were not about to enter the war in December 1941, as Churchill's despair in November showed. They came in because they were forced to, just as the Soviets had done; only the British and the French were mad enough to volunteer for war.
I followed 'Churchill: the End of Glory' with Professor Charmley's 'Chamberlain and the Lost Peace', which dissects the way in which England came to go to war.

Neville Chamberlain and Benito Mussolini at the Führerbau building in München, Germany, 19 Sep 1938, photo 2 of 2:
Neville Chamberlain and Benito Mussolini at Munich, 19 September 1938

I recommend both books very highly.

They tell a very sad story about the end of British greatness.

I admire Churchill as a great Englishman, comparable with Nelson, Wellington and Dr Johnson. I have come to think, however, that Neville Chamberlain and Halifax were wiser statesmen.

Yet it was they, not Churchill, who took us to war.

The crucial decision that led to war was the decision to give a guarantee to Poland and, oddly, Romania. It was taken by Chamberlain in March 1939, under pressure from Halifax, after Germany seized the Czech lands.