Monthly Archives: December 2011

Recent reveries

Standard

Being in the British capital in itself has me in a dreamlike state. I wander around almost dazed – the mass of faces coming towards me. It is ineffably splendid to be back on familiar street looking at well crafted buildings. Happy memories pour in on me. There is a sense of unreality about all this benign disorientation.

As for actual dreams. A few days ago I dreamt of a Turkish client whom I loathed heartily. I did not detest Dursun on account of his nationality – oh no it was very personal. There are Turks whom I like a lot. Anyhow, I saw this youth who had dyed his hair blond. He was in casual clothes and taller than I remember him. I punched him a few times in the face – I saw him in a corridor. He did not react much or seem to be injured. He smiled in defiance. I was disquieted. I have thought of exacting vengeance on him.

The night before last I dreamt of that princess Lia I read about in Blue River, Black Sea. She was a tight navy blue dress with while facings on it. She was about 50 and distinguished looking with her hair tied back in a bun. Her light makeup was tastefu;. She was coming on to me and I was eager to have intercourse with her.

Last night I dreamt of walking down a street with a long stone building beside it and many alcoves were on the side of the building. I each alcove was a vert large stone bowl – a tiny swimming pool. I had a dip in each one as I sauntered by. Was it an allusion that I awoke needing to go – micturition.

There are other episodes but I cannot remember them.

Advertisements

”Blue Danube, Black Sea ” A stab at a review.

Standard

”Blue Danube, Black Sea” has a symmetric catchiness to its title that is pleasing. The prose that follows seldom disappoints.

Andrew Eames, a Britisher, is the author. He is a journalist who has worked abroad a lot. This book is his account of travelling from the source of the Danube to its mouth. He travels mostly by bikes but also on foot by boat; occasionally by bus or train. It sounds like a hell of a rodomontade. He was about half a century in age when he undertook this three month journey. To be that long in the tooth and to embark on such an adventure deserves a doff of anyone’s cap.

He is the impresario was a fascinating array of characters. There is plenty of dialogue. He can lay bare someone’s psyche in a few lines. He picks up on the unsaid word, the facial expression and he sniffs out the shameful secret. He can read people’s characters frighteningly well. It is laced with humour and is thoroughly gripping. Somehow his bitchy descriptions of people always struck me as real.

There are historical digressions but these are kept manageable and pacey. They are often tied to a particular individual who was buffeted about by the ill winds of fate. For example, Communists booting out Hungarian aristocrats.

Eames does not mention going to university but he is plainly a learned man. There are plenty of graduates who are stunningly ignorant. The writing is vibrant and a feast of adjectives without ever overdoing it.

We are introduced to German nobility – some of them are disarmingly modest. This unassuming attitude is very becoming and speaks of an inner confidence that one would hope to find in a true nobleman. There are German river police, Serbian boatmen and so forth. The ethno-linguistic smorgasbord that is the Danube Valley is made plain. On one boat is a Serb Serb, a Croat Serb and a Hungarian Serb. I was always aware of this but some readers will need it driven home to them how citizenship and ethnicity are not the same thing. One can belong to one ethnic group and yet hold the citizenship of a state that is based around a different ethnic group. One does not necessarily lose one’s identity of that other ethnicity and the ability to speak the language. In the British Isles people sometimes assume this is a recent phenomnenon what with British Indians and so on. However, this is not the case in Mitteleuropa especially.

Eames raves about the untamed beauty of nothern Romania. I have a soft spot for it myself. Northern Romania certainly puts the southern portion of that nation very much in the shade.

His opinion on Bucharest is that it gives shit holes a bad name. I have have visited it and certainly there are parts of the city that give a whole new meaning to the word hideous. I do feel that Andrew Eames was a little hard on Bucharest. It has its presentable parts. Compared with any other capital on the Danube yes, Bucharest is very much the ugly duckling.

Perhaps the most hilarious encounter in the book is with Paul Lambrino and his American wife Lia nee Triff. Paul is a soi-disant prince. The self-styled prince is descended from an illegitimate son of King Carol II of Romania. Paul Lambrino disputes the illegitimacy of his father but nobody else seems to. Paul Lambrino spent most of his life abroad and came back to Romania in 1990. He craves acceptance as king and does not get it. He cuts a faintly risible character. His wife however, is a laugh out loud character.

I do not wish to diss people who were conceived the wrong side of the blanket. Illegitimacy is not a nostrum that holds water today. However, when it comes to inheriting crowns we stick to the concept of conception in marriage.

Lia Triff’s first husband was Melvin Belli – a multimillionaire lawyer. So Lia is not a gold digger or anything. She only goes for men over the age of 50 -and that was even when she was 23. She went through an acriminious divorce from Belli who branded her – El Trampo. Shouldn’t it be La Trampa? People may argue with Belli’s grammar but not with his judgment. As for Eames description of Paul Lambrino’s physique – it seems that Lia did not wed him for his looks. As she struck the jackpot in divorcing Belli in landing a divorce settlement of $15 000 000 she was not short a buck. Having got dosh she wanted ‘class” – evidently she feels she lacks this. What to do as a washed up 50 something if your reputation is in tatters in the US? Fetch up on the Old Continent and find someone in worse fettle than yourself. Maybe she brought the lucre when her husband brought her the pretence to the title to a non-existent throne. I think he got the better end of the deal.

Triff lost little time in getting herself hitched to Paul Lambrino. Lambrino resides in Bucharest and writes to anyone and everyone proclaiming himself heir to the Romanian Throne. This is purely academic as there is no sign that it will be restored. The former king has not yet deprated this life. He has daughters and grandchildren. Paul Lambrino kept bringing out authentic but insubstantial letters from anybody who is anybody. All they do is acknowledge receipt of his letter. This is hardly the title deed to the crown jewels. There is nothing so tragicomic as the pretender to an obsolete crown. ”I am a real king really, no honestly I am.” Poor Paul lacks the gravitas and self-assurance that are regal.

Eames was undiplmatic to make the point to perfectly coiffed Lia Triff that what was the point in arguing that her husband must be king as she and he were about 60 and did not have a child together. Lia Lambrino, as I should call her, said they hoped to have children. I felt like chuckling. Then I read on the internet that with a little medical intervention she last year was received of a baby. However, their child weighed only 2.2 kg. The poor boy lived though – I hope he is not disabled. I think it is selfish and irresponsible in the extreme at the age of 60 to waste the time of doctors bringing more children into the world when we have too many already. Doctors should spend their time on people already alive – not giving children to those who are too old for them.

Lia Triff’s conduct is indicative of a terrible sense of inadequacy. Maybe I totally cynical. However unprepossessing Paul Lambrino is maybe she loves him. She could have bought herself some young beefcake.

Eames wrote in conscious imitation of the archetypal Mitteleuropean travelolgue – Between the Woods and the Water. This classic account of traveling, on a whim, from the Hook of Holland to Hungary in the 1930s recalls the journey of Patrick Leigh Fermor when he was 18. Leigh Fermor took 40 years to publish his memoir of this epic journey. Between the Woods and the Water is the second volume of his traveologue – this volume deals with going from Czechoslovakia (as was) to Hungary. The first volume is A Time of Gifts. Such a journey seems audacious even now in this age of omnipresent Anglophonism and the internet. The 1930s seems the Dark Ages by comparison.

I am eager to get my hands on a copy of Between the Woods and the Water.

Eames’ book is a fabulous example of travel writing. It is wry, fun and informative. It makes me want to get back to my travel scribbles.

”Let our fame be Great” – a lame arsed attempt at a review.

Standard

I perused this book over the past week. It is authored by Oliver Bullough. This intrepid Briton wandered all over the Caucusus region. In the Caucacus people do not have much respect for the law – particularly if they are agents of the state. They seem to see the law as a weapon in the hands of the state with which to club insensible the least dissent and not a shield to protect the rights of the individual from the domineering power of the state. Anyway, down to brass tacks. However, the misuse of state power is a theme that this book returns to time out of number.

This book is highly readable although I cannot say unputdownable. The pen portraits are vivid and the prose is always engaging. The explanations of the historical context is lucid despite him having to tackle some very complex narrative. Sometimes the historical narrative became turgid. He leaves in much literature and folk lore along the way.

The book is partly travelogue, partly journalism and partly history. He worked as a journalist in Russia for several years in the early Noughties.

His description of the countryside shows his virtuoso descriptive powers. He makes the Caucasus come alive.

The Caucasus has always been a scene for power play between Russia and the Muslim lands to the south. This has been a horrific tragedy for the people of those mountains. Even now there is fighting in the Caucasus but we here precious little about it. The Caucasus are not considered to be of strategic or economic importance. The great bulk of the oil in the region is in Azerbaijan which is stable and not hostile to any country of significance. In saying that I do not count Armenia as a significan player on the world stage.

Colourful characters are brought back to life on Bullough’s pages. Shamil, the legendary warrior of the Caucasus, features strongly. I had not known that he surrendered to Russia and was treated in Russia as an honoured guest. He was much like King Cetewayo when he came to the United Kingdom. On the other hand Shamil committed horrific atrocities – as did some Russian commanders. Cetewayo did not – to my knowledge – order the slaying of unarmed people.

I had an irrational sneaking sympathy for Russia in these Caucasian conflicts. Perhaps because I was raised as a Christian I, in my naivete, assumed that Christians are somehow more benign. Of course that is utter tosh. I saw Russia as being ‘civilised’ as compared to the Caucasus – as bringing modernity and good government. That is largely false. Russia until 20 years ago was a frank dictatorship. The people of the Caucasus were fiercely independent and had hardly any state to speak of. Even though Russia did have better technology the people of the Caucasus did not appear to want it. Russian invasions were fiercely resisted in the hills.

Russia was attacking these people for several reasons. Partly it was because it could attack them successfully though it took decades to subdue them. Partly it was because they were Muslims. Russia attacked Christian nations too but not Orthodox ones. Partly it was because these countries sometimes paid lip service to the Sublime Porte. St Petersburg wanted to roll back the frontiers of its nemesis – the Ottoman Empire. These lands had minimal economic value. Their main export was slaves. Putting a stop to the slave trade was onwe of the few positive things Russia did here. However, Russia replaced this by enslaving people for being political dissidents. People were enslaved on a nakedly racist basis that they belonged to a criminal naitonality and were deported en masse for Siberia or Kazakhstan.

I remember hearing a British patriotic song from about 1880 – The Russians may not have Constantinople. The song mentioned, ”they murdered the Circassians.” I remember the lecturer saying the same thing was going on now with relation to the Chechens. I consider myself well informed about the former USSR. However, this tome was a revelation. I had not realised that there were a score of ethnic groups in the Caucasus – the USSR was to arbitrarily and artifically subdivide them going by the adage – divide et impera. The Circassians are not the same people as the Chechens.

The so-called Circassion Genocide was much worse than I had imagined. I am not talking about a soldier losing his cool and killing a civilian or two. Nor do I mean an officer seeing red and ordering a small group to be put to the sword. There was a policy to drive out Circassians by killing so many that the rest would flee. It was largely successful. There is a reasonable case to classify this as a Circassians. I knew that Circassians were in the Middle East but I assumed they just drifted there in dribs and drabs.

I am in no way anti-Russian. There are Russians I like and admire. There are good aspects in Russian culture. Russia has been the good guy in some conflicts. However, in the Caucasus it is hard not to regard the Russian Government as the villain of the piece.

Boris Yeltsin is seen as a hero in the West for his trenchant anti-Communism. Admittedly he rose up through that system. But that was the only way to bring it down – from within. However, in Chechnya he is widely reviled.

I am not necessarily in favour of Chechen independence. I realise that some of the Chechen independence fighters are religious fanatics and have committed atrocities. Some are outright gangsters who mouth some slogans to mask their base criminality. I must acknowledge that more than a few Russian soldiers have dishoured their flag in Chechnya. I do not say all or even even most Russian soldiers have done this. There is ample evidence that torture is used a lot in Chechnya. Suspects are arrested on the flimsiest of evidence and often are disappeared.

No army is perfect. Under the stresses of an irregular conflict chivalry and concern for humanity tends to fray. However, this is not your ordinary irregular conflict. The crimes committed by some Russian soldiers have been many and have been horrific. Civilians have been killed in great numbers. Moscow does very little to stop this.

Russian soldiers are often brutally treated when they are new conscripts. I am not talking about the toughness that any army needs. I mean way beyond that. Toughness and brutality are not the same thing. Some are severely beaten up and even die. Having being brutalised like this the teenage conscripts sometimes take it out on Chechens.

Russia suffers from a lack of self-analysis. Countries should be a little self-critical. The UK is much too self-critical. Russia has little sense that dissent is patriotic.

Just think if Russia had not invaded the Caucasus. Many lives would be saved on both sides. Russia would be stronger to defend herself against her enemies. She would have better relations with Muslim countries. She would be richer.

On several occasions in the book the author’s interlocutors called him an ”Englishman”. He never records correcting them that he is Welsh. He has a sensible Mid British attitude that people on the far side of the continent cannot tell Welsh and English apart if they have even heard of Wales. Being and Irishman I know the feeling. Why quibble that Ireland is not England? That is what people in the East of Europe ask me. They often lump Ireland in with Scotland. In the former Soviet Union they say to me, ”Irlandiya-Shottlandiya” nodding knowgingly.

I recommend this book.

A dream of Yevgenia.

Standard

The night afore last I dreamt of Yevgenia. She is a twenty something 6 foot Russian blonde and would be some boys’ wank fantasy. For me she has the body of a lamp post. She is good looking till you see her face. No, that is too cruel. Her face is not that good looking. Anyhow, she is the live-in girlfriend of a certain burly bear called Arkady. I must say this in favour of Yevgenia – she does dress well. Then she has the lolly to do so.

Anyhow I saw a long dress in a shop window. I made me reminisce about a party at Arkady’s house in August 2010. Yevgenia was there in a dress down to her ankles. It did not suit her. I cannot remember what the dream was about.

I would do her. I have splashed my cream across uglier mugs than hers!

That morning my lady friend told me she had a dream about the fair German maid I lost in 2005. We got into a conversation about that which led to a nasty argument and I forgot most of my dream about Jenia.a FEW NIghts before this Central European had dreamt of Claudia my Armenian girlfriend being topless. Patently this Mitteleuropean is thinking about jealousy – about me moving on to pastures new as I dearly wish to do. Let that be my resolution for next year as it was for last year!

Is it just me or is Christmas overrated?

Standard

I like to think I am not an incorrigible curmudgeon. I have not been that into Christmas, not since my sister ruined it and told me that Santa Claus was not true. I was 9 years old at the time.

I do not dislike Christmas but I cannot say that it is the most wonderful time of the year for me. I like Christmas somewhat – time off, lots of good food, drinking, good music and presents. I do find buying so many presents and imposition. I get so many gifts that my cup overflows and I do not appreciate them anymore. There is a surfeit of fine fare.

I would like to choose time off at another time of year. Yes, I would take Christmas Day off and New Year’s but other days I would work.

I have often been travelling at Christmas to my parents or elsewhere. It is the worst season to travel. So many people are on the move that one has to book long in advance. The planes are rammed full. Airlines jack up their prices. Owing to foul weather there are lots of delays and cancellations. There are car crashes and traffic jams.

People get stressed out by staying with relatives whom they do not like. People eat too much and get drunk. They overspend on parties and gifts.

I do like Christmas but in moderation. I like the decorations but only in December. They should go up a Advent and come down at the Feast of Ephiphany – 6 January is 12th night as in the Shakespeare play, 12 nights after Xmas. I remember in 2008 in Kingston-upon-Thames the Xmas lights were up before Remembrance Day. That means I get fatigued with the whole idea. By the time Christmas actually comes around I am thoroughly bored with it.

The music is what makes it for me. I like a good Christingle. I like Christmas carols and some of the Christmas themed pop songs.

I do not like being with overbearing relations who demand I behave this way and dress that way. I am often accused of not enterting into the Christmas spirit. I am no Scrooge but I like to mark the Yuletide occasion in my own way.

Having children with one makes Yule a special occasion. One cannot beat the anticipation in the eyes of a tot who believes in Santa Claus. I remember my niece Sarah when she was 2 and a half saying she did not want Father Christmas to pay her a visit. ”Scary” she whined. The idea of a massive fat, white beared, strange old man coming into her room in the middle of the night with an enormous sack gave her the terrors.

Imagine how glum winter would be without a cheering festival to break it up. That is what pre-Christian cultures had other celebrations. Christianity grafted the Nativity onto these pagan rites. Yule fest is as much pagan as Christian. The Christmas Tree as we all know is a Germanic pagan thing. Animals that could not be fed through the winter were slaughtered at this time. Moreover, there was little fruit or vegetables to be had at this time so people had to sustain themselves on meat.

It was so cold and dark that people could not go out much. There was little farm work to be done so they stayed inside wassailing. In the darkest time of year people needed to buck themselves up. It is no co-incidence that Yule comes at roughly the same time as midwinter’s day. The Romans had their Saturnalia at the winter solstice.

I would like not to travel at Christmas. To just stay at home and have people come to us. I will travel some other time.

Celebrate in your own way. Do not feel hidebound by tradition. I wish ye each and all a joyous Christmas tide in your own way.

France declares denial of the Armenian Genocide to be a crime.

Standard

The French National Assembly has voted to frame a new law. To deny the Armenian Genocide is not punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of 45 000 Euros. I am against this law for a number of reasons. I believe that historical matters ought to be left to historians and not politicised in this way. I firmly believe that hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Government. Some were killed directly and some indirectly. However, I would not criminalise those who disagree. To some extent this issue is a matter of fact and not opinion.

Turkey has responded in traditional fashion. Ankara issued threats and tried to bribe. Such underhand tactics are, I am afraid to say, par for the course in the politics of the MIddle East. Ankara tried bullying because in historical terms the case against the French motion did not have much of a leg to stand on. The Turkish Government said it would downgrade trade links and political ties in response.

The Turkish Parliament is now debating a law about French so-called genocide in Algeria. Algeria, or at least part of it, was a French colony from 1830. Algeria only suffered independence in 1962. From 1954 to 1962 there was a horrific uprising against being part of France. It is questionable how much support the separatists had. It is true that hundreds of thousands of people died in the conflict. It is true that some French troops committed atrocities. This did not happen once or twice but on dozens of occasions. Torture was fairly widespread and terrorist suspects were often summarily killed. The massacre of civilians occured on many occasions. I am in no way anti-French and I think that French colonialism was, on the whole, a good thing. Nevertheless I must acknowledge that some French soldiers disgraced themselves in Algeria. Yes, I must balanace this by saying that the Front Liberation Nationale was just as bad maybe worse. Moreover, the FLN started the conflict so much take more responsibility. I do not wish to shame the French military as a whole. I am not trying to insult anyone. One individuals must be called to account – not whole institutions.

Ankara’s case against Paris has a prima facie basis. In defence I can say that there was no policy to kill Algerian civilians on a large scale although I think Paris did little to stop these crimes. There is no sense that the French Government wished to wipe out the Algerians or drive them into exile.

One of the differences is how these countries have handled their past. There have been apologies from the French Government. I do not think anyone in France disputes that the conduct of some French soldiers in Algeria was horrific. I have to say some – I do not wish to blame them all or even most of them. The Turkish Republic remains in denial about wrongdoing by its predecessor state.

Jean-Marie Le Pen openly boasts about using torture in Algeria. Other French veterans do the same.

France was defending an open society – a secular state and so forth/

This issue is another obstacle to Turkey joining the European Union. This is a good thing since Turkey should not be allowed into the EU for decades if at all.

No to minimum alcohol prices.

Standard

We already pay too much in tax. Alcohol is very heavily taxed. In a almost every budget the price of alcohol is increased as a sin tax. Now there is a proposal to hike the drink of alcohol. The aim is to reduce alcohol consumption. I believe that the Scottish Exective has already introduced such a measure. Now there is a proposal to extend this modicum of the Scotch Exective to the land south of Hadrian’s Wall and no doubt across the North Channel too.

We are all going to die anyway. Excessive drinking makes us die sooner. There is no moral principle in pressuring people into drinking less by using the price mechanism.

I am against raising the cost of alcohol. I realise that dypsomania causes problems and indeed premature deaths. Something like 75% of the crime in the UK is alcohol or drug related. This is a case of punishing the innocent. I like to get drunk sometimes and I have never been arrested. Why should I pay the price for another’s crime? Punish the criminals and not the good people. I am a self sacrificing tax payer. This is what is so wrong with the British archipelago. The approach is always the same – to penalise everyone and let the crims off scot free. I say punish drunks who commit crime – punish them properly. Do not harm the well-behaved drunks like myself. Build more prisons.

I doubt that even drastically cutting alcohol intake would reduce crime overmuch.

Countries where alcohol is outlawed such as Pakistan seems to have a lot of violent crime all the same. Central American countries where alcohol consumption is low still have some of the highest murder rates in the world. In the US acohol consumption is lower and the drinking age is 21 yet the murder rate is far higher than in the United Kingdom.

Alcohol in moderation is even beneficial to one’s health. Red wine is good for the heart and doctors even have to prescribe whiskey from time to time.

If this execrable measure is brought in then it can only have a deleterious effect on pubs. These are village hubs. As has been observed a line of coke is cheaper than a drink. We may drive people to buying more harmful substances.

I know this measure is aimed at alcohol bought in off licences but it could be extended to pubs too.

I take into account the pub fights I have seen, the vomit on the street and liver disease. Weighing in the balance all the harm alcohol does – it is still worth it. It brings so much j