70th Birthday Party

Gaza

On Saturday Israel won the Eurovision song contest for the fourth time, despite not actually being in Europe.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.  To mark the occasion the US are moving their embassy from Tel Aviv, where most nations have their embassy, for political reasons, into Jerusalem.

When the state of Israel was created the City of Jerusalem and the town of Bethlehem were supposed to remain outside the politics of Palestine and Israel as a “Free City”.  Any movement of political influence into Jerusalem carries very weighty connotations for all sides.

The announcement that the Eurovision 2019 will be in Jerusalem is a further turn of the screw for hardline Jewish nationalism.  Strangely so because the real hardline ultra orthodox Jews absolutely hate the Eurovision, which is the greatest outpouring of gayness of the year for the European LGBT community.

On the Gaza strip Hammas have been leading assaults on the Israeli border all week.  The death toll in clashes with the Israeli military have doubled in one day today.  Tomorrow is the anniversary of the catastrophe, Nakba, when the Palestinians fled their homes, taking the keys they still hold today as symbols of their right to return.  As I have remarked before the Palestinian leaders love to squander the lives of their children in futile gestures because they are bought heavily into the martyr culture.  They fight a propaganda war with the blood of brainwashed innocents.

Keys

The Israeli military are as bad as the Hammas terrorists.  It would be possible to diffuse tensions with non-lethal interventions, but the hawks in the Israeli military like to make their points with unnecessary force.  It is a modus operandi born of too many years living in the shadow of dictatorial Islamic regimes who want to wipe you from the earth.  The truth today is that Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq are no longer a de-facto threat.  Palestinians are a paper tiger, armed with rockets by Iran and Saudi money, but rockets that are barely more than toys.

This birthday party is not a celebration for anyone in the region.  It is like a funeral in a dysfunctional family where everyone is trying not to be the one who starts the fist fight in the carpark, but secretly wants someone else to be that person.

Will the 100th birthday be any different?  Will it be any better?  Are people content to spend the next 30 years doing what they are doing today?

With everything going on in Israel/Palestine the least strange thing has to be an Israeli woman dressed in a Kimono in front of waving Chinese cats singing a song supporting the #MeToo movement.  Sing more, fight less.  The symbol of the Eurovision…a heart!

Eurovision

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How does your garden grow?

Titchmarch

Today,  May 2nd, is the birthday of Alan Titchmarch who is one of the UK’s most celebrated TV gardeners and gardening authors.  As an avid gardener myself I have great time for people who can turn an introspective pursuit into mainstream entertainment.  This is a classic example of what I call #tainment as in #Edutainment, the blend of education and entertainment that makes education accessible.  So Titchmarch is a proponent of #Gardentainment

There is a Chinese proverb which says : If you want to be occupied for a year get a job, for a decade get a wife, for a lifetime get a garden.

Paradise is derived from the old Iranian word for a walled enclosure, paridayda which described a royal palace enclosure or park.  These might be hunting parks, or simply royal gardens.  In any case just remember when you are ripping out your weeds by hand, it’s another day in paradise.

Titchmarch has been decorated many times with things pinned onto him by the Queen of England.  So what does a celebrated gardener, TV presenter and author do to top off his life?  He writes a book of poetry of course!  His book is called “The Glorious Garden” which is a beautiful name for a book of poems.

 

Winter Garden; by Patrick Kavanagh

No flowers are here
no middle-class vanities - 
only the decapitated shanks
of cabbages
and prostrate
on a miserable ridge
bean-stalks.

Topless towers burnt down

Sophia_schliemann_treasure

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? asked Christopher Marlowe in Dr Faustus.

Ilium, the city of Troy, canvas of heroes.  On the fields of Troy Homer introduced us to Ajax, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Priam, Hector, Paris and a cast of thousands.  Achilles the almost invincible and his lover Patroclus.  Cassandra who saw the future but was cursed never to be believed.  The wily Odysseus, AKA Ulysses and his 20 year journey home.  The seeds planted in Troy have germinated and multiplied to inspire a wealth of literature from ancient to modern times.

The Julii Caesares, who gave us Caesar and Augustus, claimed descent from the hero Aeneas who fled from burning Troy with his bride, a daughter of Priam.  Virgil made a career of that tale in the court of the First Emperor of Rome.

It was ostensibly on this day, April 24th in the year 1184 BC that Troy was sacked and burned by the Greeks.  For many that was as far as the myth went.  Then Heinrich Schliemann, a German Businessman, decided that there was no smoke without fire.  So he read Homer as a travel guide instead of as a legend.  He followed the clues and lo and behold he found the ancient city.  Burned, exactly as described.

He bedecked his wife in the jewelry he found there and put her on display for high society to see.  Then he followed more clues and found the tomb of Agamemnon at Mycenae.  A new form of archaeology was born and led to many discoveries all over the world.  Today the science has evolved to the point where Satellite images from earth orbit are being used to search for ancient sites.

 

No Second Troy; by William Butler Yeats

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
with misery, or that she would of late
have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
or hurled the little streets upon the great,
had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
that nobleness made simple as a fire,
with beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
that is not natural in an age like this,
being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

Chapter & Verse

Catholics don’t quote scripture.

I was watching Designated Survivor Series 2 Episode 10, Line of Fire.  Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci) is in hospital with the mother of a baby who is undergoing an operation but her church does not permit blood transfusions.  The mother spits out the beginning of a bible quote and Rhodes completes it.  She then goes on to tell the mother that she went to Catholic school.

Carrie: Are you devout?
Emily: No. Nine years of Catholic School and I never saw God there.
Carrie: I’m sorry.
Emily: Don’t be. I see it other places, like in a Mother’s love.

Immediately all my alarm bells went off.  The writer got this scene so wrong.  Catholics don’t quote scripture.  Chapter and Verse is a mark of the protestant religion.  It is just not a Catholic thing.

The foundation stone of the Protestant religions is the vernacular bible.  When Martin Luther published his 95 theses in 1517 he was challenging the elements of church dogma that departed from the teachings of the bible.  The Catholic church was perfectly happy to continue with Latin mass and have the faithful rattle out their pater nosters and ave marias in ignorance of the meaning of their words.

It was not until the 1960’s following Vatican II that the Catholic church moved to mass in vernacular languages.  Even today Catholic children do not read the bible in lessons.  They learn prayers and catechism. Many Catholic families do not even own a bible.

At the core of the Protestant religions is the need for the faithful to read the word of God directly, without the clouding effect of interpretation through filters imposed by men such as the Pope, Bishops and Priests.

It is no accident that the timing of the Protestant reformation followed the invention of the moveable type printing press.  In order to become a Protestant you had to have access to a bible, and you had to be able to read it.  The vernacular bible was born.

It then became the mark of a good Protestant to reference the Bible on any point of faith.  If you could back up an action with a quote directly from the Bible that supported the validity of the action.  If you could place your quote precisely in the Bible, by quoting the relevant Chapter & Verse that made the point even more forcefully.

This focus on the word of God bleeds into all aspects of church design.  Catholic churches are gloriously decorated architectural wonders filled with images of saints, Holy Mary, angels, martyrs, votive candles, icons, side chapels, expensive ornamentation.  They are designed to be palaces fit to house the Lord.  You don’t speak directly to God though, you work through intermediaries.  You pray to saints to intercede on your behalf.  You then pay a priest to put in a good word for you too.  The economy of the Catholic church is founded upon the concept that you buy influence.

The most fundamental protestant churches are the plainest.  The focus is on the word.  The only object you need to commune with God is the Word of God and that is in the Bible.

In this regard the most fundamentalist Protestant religions share a great deal of common ground with the most fundamentalist Islamic sects.  Islam also focuses on the word, albeit in the Koran.  Islamic art avoids images of people in case they be interpreted as the image of God, a graven image and an object of idolatrous worship.

Below is the Sancaklar Mosque outside Istanbul.  It is a modernist Islamic space.  The design emulates the cave in which the Prophet Mohammed received the Koran from God.  The only decoration in this Mosque is a piece of calligraphy, the Word of God.  This is a space that would work well for any hard line Presbyterian.  It is a long distance away from the splendorous excess of the Vatican.

Sancaklar.jpg

Calendar Wars III

Nizar

Nizar Qabbani : Syrian Poet

Last night was the spring, or vernal equinox.  In astrological terms that makes today the first day of the new astrological year.  The first month of the Zodiac calendar is Aries, the Ram.  We all love to make fun of horoscopes and the notion that you can predict your future from the rotation of the planet and the precession of the stars.

At the same time the human brain is pre-programmed to seek patterns in nature.  Random chance is a frightening threat, so we seek solace in order and causality.  Reading horoscopes is simply a manifestation of the real human need to make sense of our world.

Today is also the first day of the new year in the Bahá’í calendar, a religion from Iran.  Year 1 of this calendar begins in 1844 CE making this year 175BE.  Though it originates in Iran it is most heavily persecuted there.  It is sad that Islam, which was once renowned for its tolerance of other faiths, has become so prohibitive of other peoples beliefs.

So to poetry and today I have a poem from one of the most famous and best loved Syrian poets.  Nizar Qabbani was born on March 21st 1923 in Damascus which he described in his will as “the womb that taught me poetry, taught me creativity and granted me the alphabet of Jasmine“.

The suicide of his older sister when he was aged 15 had a profound influence on the young Qabbani.  She made the ultimate refusal to an arranged marriage.  All his life he advocated feminism and an examination of the relationship between men and women in Arabic society.

The defeat of Syria and the Arab allies in the 6 day war by Israel also had a profound effect on his work and shifted his focus from the poetry of love to the poetry of politics.

A lesson in Drawing; by Nizar Qabbani

My son places his paint box in front of me
and asks me to draw a bird for him.
Into the color gray I dip the brush
and draw a square with locks and bars.
Astonishment fills his eyes:
‘… But this is a prison, Father,
Don’t you know, how to draw a bird?’
And I tell him: ‘Son, forgive me.
I’ve forgotten the shapes of birds.’

My son puts the drawing book in front of me
and asks me to draw a wheatstalk.
I hold the pen
and draw a gun.
My son mocks my ignorance,
demanding,
‘Don’t you know, Father, the difference between a
wheatstalk and a gun?’
I tell him, ‘Son,
once I used to know the shapes of wheatstalks
the shape of the loaf
the shape of the rose
But in this hardened time
the trees of the forest have joined
the militia men
and the rose wears dull fatigues
In this time of armed wheatstalks
armed birds
armed culture
and armed religion
you can’t buy a loaf
without finding a gun inside
you can’t pluck a rose in the field
without its raising its thorns in your face
you can’t buy a book
that doesn’t explode between your fingers.’

My son sits at the edge of my bed
and asks me to recite a poem,
A tear falls from my eyes onto the pillow.
My son licks it up, astonished, saying:
‘But this is a tear, father, not a poem!’
And I tell him:
‘When you grow up, my son,
and read the diwan of Arabic poetry
you’ll discover that the word and the tear are twins
and the Arabic poem
is no more than a tear wept by writing fingers.’

My son lays down his pens, his crayon box in
front of me
and asks me to draw a homeland for him.
The brush trembles in my hands
and I sink, weeping.

Warrior Poets

ramli

Muhsin Al-Ramli is an Iraqi expatriate who now lives and teaches and writes in Madrid.  He was born on the same day and in the same year as my wife.  He translated Don Quixote into Arabic.  He is the brother of Hassan Mutlak, also a writer, who was known as the Iraqi Lorca.  Hassan was hanged in 1990 for his part in a coup d’état.  That was the year of the Kuwait invasion and the beginning of the first Gulf War.

Maybe it is simple romanticism on my part but the brothers call to my mind the Islamic warrior poet kings of Andalusia in the middle ages such as  Ibn ‘Ammar and al-Mu‘tamid.

From one Lorca to another ; by Mushin Al-Ramli

Once again to Hassan Mutlak*, and it is not the last.

What was has transformed into what is left…
and I said goodbye to Iraq

I abandoned the police stations, the cemeteries.
I crossed the walls of weapons
and the empty pharmacies.
I had been hard with the garden of hands in farewell
and with the tears of the girls that were left behind
because my weeping, in front of me, is long
and my map is a blind man’s cane.
My heart is a cemetery full of loved ones
and my medicine is there…there,
with the gypsies of Andalucia.
I crossed countries, many cities
and lived briefly in little towns
because Granada was waiting for me,
and I for her;
Because Lorca laid down his gaze
over the hand of the watch and the olive groves.
My friend, my brother, is waiting for me
since our very first notebooks.
I will cry inside his arms.
I will wet his shirt embroidered with songs.

I will tell him all that the tyrant has done
between the two rivers, between the palm trees
and between friends.
I will describe the rope they used to hang Hassan Mutlak,
and the machinery that minces souls and makes Iraqi meat.
But I have found his house empty
with the exception of his rocker, trembling,
between the window and the poem.

I called out: Lorca. Lorca.
Oh, the secret of my mother’s insistence on smoking,
despite her asthma.
Where are you?
My friend and my partner in innocence.
Where are you?
Nothing, but his rocker, trembling,
between the window
and the piano.
I kept calling
until his neighbor appeared, a gypsy girl,
and said:
Your friend left us what remained.
He had said farewell to his rocker…now
I will describe the handkerchief with which he covered his eyes
after his final gaze at his watch, waiting for you.
I will sing you his last poem;
his last breath.
The shots agitated him and
we became entangled
The twisting…
The weeping everywhere…
Everywhere there is weeping.
Our hands have signaled
to the clouds
and to the height of confusion.

“I have come to Granada
in search of Lorca.
Maybe…
so that I might write about the assassinated ones of my family.
But…I found him assassinated.”