Happy Birthday Ibn Jubayr

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Born Sept 1st 1145 in Muslim Valencia Ibn Jubayr is remarkable for the journal he left of his Hajj.  Travelling through the islamic world at the time of the 3rd Crusade he encountered a world where lands were changing between Muslim and Christian rule and he wrote of the cordial relations that existed between the common folk while their armies slaughtered each other on the battlefields.

Because he kept an excellent journal Jubayr became a vital source for other writers.  When the ageing Ibn Batuta dictated his travels to his scribe the resourceful Ibn Juzayy used Jubayr as a source to fill in colour and detail in Batuta’s account.

Jubayr was secretary to the ruler of Granada.  A pious muslim he was forced by his lord to drink seven cups of wine.  Afterwards overcome by remorse the ruler filled the seven cups with gold dinars and presented them to Ibn Jubayr.  The secretary thus funded was able to afford the passage to Mecca to cleanse the sin of consuming the wine.

I love how Islamic poetry is turgid with verses extolling the ferment of the grape.  So common are these poems they have a particular name for them: khamriyyat.  I like this stanza from Abu Nuwas the 8th Century Persian poet.

“Don’t cry for Layla, don’t rave about Hind!

But drink among roses a rose-red wine,

a draught that descends in the drinker’s throat,

bestowing its redness on eyes and cheeks.

The wine is a ruby, the glass is a pearl,

served by the hand of a slim-fingered girl,

who serves you the wine from her hand, and wine

from her mouth — doubly drunk, for sure, will you be!”

 

Tanegashima

On this day in 1543 a group of Portuguese travelling on a Chinese Junk were blown off course and became the first Europeans to land in Japan.  They anchored at the island of Tanegashima.  While on the island they demonstrated their firearms to the local lord Tanegashima Tokitata who was clearly an astute and entrepreneurial individual.

Tokitata immediately purchased two matchlock  arquebuses from the Portuguese and had his smith break them down and reverse engineer them.  The smith was able to replicate all the parts except for the helical drill to create the hollow barrel.  The technology did not exist in Japan and the Portuguese travellers did not bring that technology with them.

Tokitata arranged for a return visit and next time the Portuguese brought their own smith who demonstrated the technique to the Japanese.  As a result the musket was introuced to Japan.  It quickly revolutionised the Japanese battlefield.  Tanegashima prospered on the manufacture and sale of muskets.  Sales averaged 30,000 per year over the following 10 years.

The Japanese went on to customise and develop firearms on a track independent from other nations, and introduced innovations not found elsewhere.  For instance a lacquer rain cover on the firing lock to allow firing in the rain.

The arrival of firearms changed Japanese society.  A farmer could be trained to become a soldier in a few weeks, whereas traditional Samurai spent decades learning the craft of sword, bow and staff.  The Sengoku period saw 35 years of internecine chaos fuelled in part by the arrival of firearms.  This was brought to a conclusion in 1600 by the Battle of Sekigahara when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged as the dominant shogun and established the 250 years of stable peace of the Edo period of Japan.

The other great technology introduced by the Portuguese to Japan was fried food.  The technique was unknown in Japan before the Europeans arrived.  To this day Tempura is known in Japan as the “Portuguese Method”.  As with the firearms the Japanese experimented using local ingredients and created something quite different from the original introduction.

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The New Colossus

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In 1883 Emma Lazarus wrote a beautiful sonnet entitled “The New Colossus”.  It was a work of art forming part of a fundraising drive to construct the pedestal on which to mount the Statue of Liberty.  When the pedestal was constructed in 1903 the poem was cast onto a plaque where it can be read to this day.

That was back in the days before the Immigration Act of 1924 when America welcomed immigrants with open arms, those same immigrants who made America what it is today.

That was back in the days before the children of those immigrants decided to close the doors and build walls and repel immigrants with openly carried arms.

Under the presidency of Donald J. Trump we see babies ripped from the arms of their mothers and left to die in concentration camps. Call them what you like, they are camp in which people are concentrated for processing.

 

The New New Colossus; by Donal Clancy and Emma Lazarus

Just like that brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
is the imprisoned lightning, and she named
Mother of Homeland Security. From her beacon-hand
glows world-wide warning; her stern eyes command
the air-bridged harbor that twin towers once framed.

“Keep, ancient lands, your sorry peoples!” cries she
with silent lips. “Give me not your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your murdering rout.
Keep these, the homeless, tempest-tost from me,
I lift my lamp beside the sign “Keep Out!”

El-Khatun

Bell

Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence

Born on this day, July 14th in 1868 Gertrude Bell is one of the most remarkable women in history. Writer, traveller, mountaineer, archeologist, historian, journalist, red-cross worker and most importantly she was a highly insightful political analyst.

Bell also translated the Persian poet Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, better known as Hafez in her book “Poems from the Divan if Hafiz” (1892).

She was a witness to and reporter of the Armenian Holocaust when the Ottomans committed a genocide wiping out 1.5 million Armenians.  She saw Armenian women traded in the marketplaces by the Turks and Kurds as groups of the men, boys and old aged were dragged off and murdered in the desert.

Bell is one of the very few representatives of the colonial powers who is remembered with any fondness in the middle east.  She was instrumental in the establishment of the boundaries of Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  Her intimate knowledge of tribal groupings, loyalties and alliances paved the way for the division of the middle east.

Bell had a unique advantage over the French and British men involved in the process.  As a woman she had access to women.  Her Arabic title : al-Khatun is derived from Imperial Ottoman Harem politics and refers to a court lady who is highly politically astute.  A lady who works for the benefit of the state and who has the ear of the Sultan.  She was the Sheherazade to King Faisal in the creation of Iraq.

Mark Sykes (of the Sykes-Pichot Agreement) was said to have hated Bell.  She was also unpopular with the Zionists because she opposed the establishment of a Jewish state in Arabic lands.  She wrote of the Balfour declaration;  “It’s like a nightmare in which you foresee all the horrible things which are going to happen and can`t stretch out your hand to prevent them“.

This is enough for me. (Poems from the Divan of Hafiz: Translated by Gertrude Lowthian Bell)

VI

A flower-tinted cheek, the flowery close
of the fair earth, these are enough for me.
Enough that in the meadow wanes and grows
the shadow of a graceful cypress-tree.
I am no lover of hypocirisy;
of all the treasures that the earth can boast,
a brimming cup of wine I prize the most.

This is enough for me !

To them that here renowned for virtue live,
a heavenly palace is the meet reward;
to me, the drunkard and the beggar, give
the temple of the grape with red wine stored!
Beside a river seat thee on the sward;
it floweth past, so flows thy life away,
so sweetly, swiftly, fleets our little day.

Swift, but enough for me !

Look upon all the gold in the world’s mart,
on all the tears the world hath shed in vain;
shall they not satisfy thy craving heart?
I have enough of loss, enough of gain;
I have my Love, what more can I obtain?
Mine is the joy of her companionship
whose healing lip is laid upon my lip.

This is enough for me !

Margarita Pizza

Margureite

Prepare yourself for nonsense:  Marguerite Piazza, the American Soprano, was born on this day in 1920.

The Pizza Margherita is a Neapolitan classic of Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil, the colours of the Italian flag.  There is a story that the famous Pizza was invented in honour of Margherita of Savoy, Queen of Italy, to celebrate Italian Unification, in 1889.

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This is considered now to be a false history, like many tales of the invention of famous dishes.  There is a competing theory that the Pizza Margherita is named for the pretty flower pattern in which the Mozzarella slices were presented on the pizza, representing a daisy flower, the Italian for which is margherita.

The Spanish for daisy is margarita, which is also the name of a famous tequila drink from Mexico, a country with the same tricolour flag as Italy.

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But the origin of the drink actually comes from the Latin word margarita which means pearl, as in the maxim “margaritas ante porcos” meaning pearls before swine.  The margarita drink is named after the latin for pearl, as it is a pearly colour, and that may also explain why it is served with a ring of salt on the rim of the glass.

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As to the American soprano, her real name was Marguerite Clair Lucille Luft.  She took her mothers maiden name, Piazza, as her stage name.  A Piazza is a square, not a pie.  So her stage name translates as Daisy Square.

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I passed on a piece ‘a pizza in the piazza in Pisa in the past.  But not with Margherita.

Now, I ordered ages ago.  Where are my pizza and my margarita?  And do not get them mixed up again.

pizza

Revoke Article 50

 

Article

This petition will hit 5 million signatures today.  The March in London yesterday had 1 million participants.  How many British People have to ask before the Government give them an opportunity to have a say, now that the British people understand what it actually means to leave Europe?  What exactly is wrong with Theresa May and the Tory party?  Why is it a betrayal of the people to ask them “are you sure about this?”

Why are the Tory party driving forward to the worst possible outcome?  What is wrong with taking time over a decision that is going to have such a huge impact on Britain?  Who is profiting from this haste to leave?  Who is profiting from the chaos?

One thing I am certain of.  The ordinary British person on the street is not profiting from this, and will never profit from it in any way.

And I still blame David Cameron.  History will be very unkind to that man.

Brexit March

 

Harun al-Rashid

Sinbad

Born on St Patricks Day, some 300 years after St. Patrick lived, Haroun al-Rashid is considered by many to be the greatest Caliph of the Islamic world.  He presided over the Abassid Caliphate in its golden age when it was the centre of learing, enlightenment, literature, arts and science.

He corresponded with rulers as far away as France, presenting Charlemagne with a clock that was so ingenious the Franks believed it to be possessed, so many and complex were the chimes it sounded.  A good an generous friend he also proved a stern and powerful enemy.  He brought the Byzantine empire to heel and his name was feared throughout his own empire.

His name may translate as the “orthodox” or the “right guided” and for Sunni Muslims he represented a powerful bastion of the islamic faith.  So powerful indeed that the Christian world suffered the crisis of iconoclasm at this period.  Seeing the success of the armies of Islam orthodox christians questioned if religious icons, images and statues were in fact idols.  Heads were smashed from church altars, icons were thrown onto fires and emperors were dethroned based on their belief.

Legend has it that al-Rashid would don a beggars cloak and walk the streets of Baghdad or Raqqa and eavesdrop on the conversations of the ordinary folk to better understand how they perceived him and his rule.

In the West we know of this great Sultan because of a book.  “A thousand and one nights”, or the “Arabian Nights” is a collection of tales from the Asian world, originating in Arabia, India, China and Persia.  They include characters known by every Western child, The seven voyages of Sinbad the sailor, Aladdin and his magic lamp, Ali-Baba and the forty thieves, magic flying carpets and many many more fantastic and magical tales.

At the heart of the tale is the evil sultan, thought to be modeled on Al-Rashid.  Each night he takes a bride from his harem and after taking his pleasure has her killed.  The interlocutor of the 1001 nights is Sheherazade, the wife who beguiles him with storytelling instead of pleasures of the flesh.  Instead of killing her he spares her for one more night, for one more story.  And so the tales unravel over the course of many years until he of course falls madly in love with her.

From this book we have a wealth of art, music, dance and not a few pantomimes.  It was the inspiration for hundreds of childrens authors from E. Nesbit to J.K. Rowling.  Poetry of Yeats, Longfellow, Tennyson and Archibald Macleish stories of O. Henry, James Joyce and Charles Dickens.  Al-Rashid is a thread that runs trough every weave in the fabric of literature.