African Vandals

Belisarius

General Belisarius

The Battle of Tricamarum ended the rule of the Vandals in North Africa, Dec 15th 533.  I have always felt sorry for the Vandals.  Originating in the Baltic Shield area of Scandanavia / Northern Germany they were shunted through Europe by pressure from other tribes.  Constantine gave them permission to move from modern day Poland southwards of the Danube to Pannonia, an area now covered by Austria /Hungary.

When the Huns began to raid the Roman empire the Vandals & Alans found themselves in an exposed position.  They shifted westwards through Gaul, crossed the Pyrenees and settled in North Western Spain.  The Visigoths followed them and pushed them further south.  They established themselves in southern Spain, giving their name to the region of Andalucia.

Then they migrated across to Africa and established a kingdom in the former territory of Carthage in modern day Tunis.  For a time they held sway in the region, extending their reach to Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, Malta and the Balearic Islands.  When they sacked Rome in 455 they for all time associated their names with the act of Vandalism.  In 534, a mere 80 years later, they were wiped out by Belisarius, the famous general of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.

The last king of the Vandals was given estates in modern day Turkey where he lived out his final days.  I can’t imagine it was a happy retirement, and inspired this poem.

 

Gelimer in Galatia

With iron fist I rule
this soft slave army
maintaining broad estates
that sour my stomach
which was made for coarser food.

I was raised on brutal fare,
the savage greatness of my folk
in days when we sacked Rome
and carried off her wealth
to our African kingdom.

My wet cousin, Hilderic King
I ousted with my brothers
for his milksop conversion
to Eastern Heresy
and the favour of that Roman Emperor.

Three years free I led my Vandals
before my nemesis landed
and slew my brother Ammatas
the day I executed
my cousin Hilderic, prisoner.

My last hope died on the winter sands
bathed by blood of my blood, Tzazo,
his regiment, my faithful soldiers
my city, my heart,
but not my life.

A hard, cold mountain winter
glued the ribs to our bellies
and though I refused to kneel
not once but twice
at last I bowed my head.

I marched in triumph once
before cheering Roman crowds
through Constantinople’s streets
bound in chains to celebrate
the glory of Justinian.

King without a crown,
with these fine lands, soft subjects,
suitably tamed
stripped of regal pride
I delivered the words they gave me.

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”

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Musings upon learning that today would have been the 90th birthday of James Arlington Wright, had he lived beyond 1980.

Wright

Happy 90th Birthday to James Wright.

An award winning poet who was writing during the peak of the Beat generation, but remained outside of that movement.  He is influenced by Spanish Surrealist poetry, and he was a translator of German and South American poetry.

If you come across his poetry it is fun just to read the titles alone.  He has written poems called:  “In response to a rumor that the oldest whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia, has been condemned”  and “Depressed by a book of bad poetry, I walk toward an unused pasture and invite the insects to join me”.  The first of these is quite a damning condemnation of the town of Bridgeport, Ohio and I doubt the people of that town have much time for Wright.  He grew up in Ohio and appears to have had an unhappy childhood, so he does not love Ohio.

As well as interesting titles he delivers some great last lines.  This has an OK title and a brilliant finale.

It is called

Lying in a hammock at William Duffy’s farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
the cowbells follow one another
into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
in a field of sunlight between two pines,
the droppings of last year’s horses
blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

 

Enter a Pilgrim

Allenby

On this day, Dec 11th, 100 years ago, 1917, General Allenby entered Jerusalem.  In doing so he became the first Christian to take effective control of the city since Bailan of Ibelin surrendered the city to Saladin  in 1187.  (Excluding a limited negotiated return by Frederick II in the 6th crusade 1229-1244).

Allenby clearly understood the deep significance of his arrival in the holy city.  For this reason he elected not to enter in triumph as a conqueror.  Instead he entered as a pilgrim.  He walked in via the Jaffa gate in what was a low key affair, as depicted by the photo above.

I contrast this with the recent decision by Donald Trump to overturn decades of US foreign policy and order the removal of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Trump has done exactly what Allenby sought to avoid.  He made a clear political statement favouring one community over all others.

The result of Donald Trump’s announcement is widespread rioting in the Middle East, not only in Palestine but also extending into neighbouring countries.  The usual flag burning is taking place outside US embassies all over the muslim world.

This manic and destructive act neatly focuses US media attention away from his tax bill, which rewards the super-rich at the expense of the middle class and poor Americans.  So what if a few muslim youths are shot, buildings torched and the people of Israel face a violent backlash?  The important thing is that US Oligarchs can look forward to even greater expansion of their wealth.  And let’s not forget, Trump is one of them.

 

 

Scumbag

Keeler

I have a 19 year old daughter.

Christine Keeler was 19 when she was “introduced” to John Profumo.  If a 46 year old married politician started carrying on with my daughter I would promptly knock his lights out, phone his wife, and expose him in public for the scumbag that he is.

Christine Keeler was a vulnerable girl.  Product of a broken home, her parents split up when she was a child.  Her mother moved in with a boyfriend who made the pretty young Christine feel very uncomfortable if they were ever alone in the disused railway carriage that was their home.

She had a fling with a US serviceman who left her, when he found out she was pregnant.  Her mother basically forced her to have the baby unassisted and the child survived only 6 days.  It is little surprise that Christine escaped as soon as she could.

In the “glamorous” Soho club scene of the 1960’s she was a lamb to the slaughter.  Described by some as a “party girl” and others as a  prostitute she lived in a gray world in the middle.  Exploited but not paid for it.

Christine Keeler had a number of unfortunate relationships with some pretty nasty characters.  She saw firsthand how the “swinging 60’s” was in fact a pretty seedy scene.  There were rumors and the press heard some juicy tales but had no proof.

Everything came to a head when one of Christine’s “boyfriends” lost his temper and fired a gun outside the flat she was hiding in.  Stephen Ward’s flat.

The journalists had a reason to investigate and what they turned up was just too good to believe.  The British Minister for War was in a relationship with a call girl who also shared her attentions with a Russian Embassy attaché who was probably a KGB agent.

When it came to light that Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies were involved in parties with one of his government ministers the PM, Harold McMillan said that his government would not be brought down by 2 tarts.  Profumo lied in parliament about the affair.  He ended up resigning.  The government fell.  Many people blamed the 19 year old girl, by then 22 years old and dragged through the courts.

Christine Keeler died this week.  She never profited from her affair.  She had a pretty sad life.  She is best remembered for the saucy image in the photo above.  A long way from working as a tea lady to make ends meet.

John Profumo, the disgraced minister, devoted his life to the poor.  He had the money to do it.  When he died in 2006 he was lauded for his good works and not blamed for his part in the affair.

As the father of a 19 year old girl I say he was a creep and she was a victim.   It appears that rich and powerful people can attain redemption but that is more difficult for poor people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.  But what do I know?

 

Happy Birthday Ralph McTell

 

ralph-mctell

Born on this day in 1944 Ralph May is most famous for the songs “Streets of London” and “From Clare to Here”.  He changed his name from May to the stage name of McTell, after one of his favourite blues singers, Blind Willie McTell.  His first name is from the Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams because his father worked as Vaughan Williams gardener.

A corner stone of the UK folk scene through the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I love this quote:   “Nearly all my guitar heroes are black, American, usually blind and most of ’em dead,”

Streets of London was one of what my brother and I nicknamed the “Seven Deadly Songs”.  They were the songs that everyone could sing along to.  They were guaranteed to get a room going at a party.  Others of the seven deadly songs are “The Boxer” by Paul Simon, “The Wild Rover”, “Spancil Hill”, Father and Son” by Cat Stephens.

Streets of London

 

Make your moments

Tube

Photo by Matt Crabtree (16th Century Tube Passengers)

I spent years commuting to the big city on the train.  It is a journey of 1 hour 20 mins on a good day, 1 hour 30 mins mostly.  So that’s 3 hours daily on a train.

Say that to many people and they think you are crazy.  They think this is 3 hours a day wasted.  How little they know.

Much of my time on the train was spent working.  In fact it was the time getting to and from the train that had the potential to be “wasted”.  But you only waste time if you choose to do nothing with it.

That’s why I connect so well with the image above.  This lady on the Tube is not wasting time, she is eating it up, stealing precious moments for herself.  On a commute I had time to hear the music I want to hear, read books, write poetry.  Downloading podcasts gives me access to lectures on Byzantine emperors, audio books of many of the classics, some of them made hilarious by dreadful pronunciations by the narrator.

This photograph was taken by Matt Crabtree who said

One morning in 2016, on a tube journey into central London, I looked up to see a lady dressed in a velvet hood, seated in a classical, timeless pose. Immediately, a 16th-century Flemish painting came to mind. I looked around and suddenly found I couldn’t see anything else but people held in their own Renaissance-like, personal moments’.

I get that too, how travelling on public transport is like starring in your own reality TV show.  A stream of people pass each day through your life.  You have the regular characters and some who only appear in a single episode.  Each has their own part in the story and it is a wonderful story.  The story of life.

 

Feliz cumpleaños Andrés Bello

2000 Bolivars

20000 Peso

Venezuealan poet Andrés Bello was born on this day in Caracas in the year  1781.  Pray not for riches, fancy furniture or tables filled with fine foods.  Wish instead for a simple home, surrounded by natural beauty, and the kiss of the one you love.

With such a sentiment it is funny that you find this man on both the Venezuelan 2,000 Bolivar note, and also the Chilean 20,000 peso note.   Philosopher, writer, humanist, diplomat, explorer and has the claim to fame of being teacher to Simón Bolivar.

Rubia; by Andrés Bello

¿Sabes, rubia, qué gracia solicito
cuando de ofrendas cubro los altares?
No ricos muebles, no soberbios lares,
ni una mesa que adule al apetito.

De Aragua a las orillas un distrito
que me tribute fáciles manjares,
do vecino a mis rústicos hogares
entre peñascos corra un arroyito.

Para acogerme en el calor estivo,
que tenga una arboleda también quiero,
do crezca junto al sauce el coco altivo.

¡Felice yo si en este albergue muero;
y al exhalar mi aliento fugitivo,
sello en tus labios el adiós postrero!