Thursday, 28 February 2013

A sex-free sex scandal

Rod Liddle sums up perfectly a story that is even less important than the one about horsemeat, the story of a Liberal Democrat peer repeatedly (and unsuccessfully, it appears) propositioning women.

Peter Oborne in today's Telegraph says it is an apparently sex-free sex scandal. Indeed. 

Think how Asquith would have fared nowadays. No young girl was safe with him. I am sure Mr. Gladstone was perfectly altruistic in his attempts to save fallen women but he would not be believed nowadays. As for the caprine Lloyd George, well. I am not sure whether Liberals are made of sterner or less stern stuff these days. 

Anyhow, what a lot of fuss about very little, whether it is horsemeat in convenience foods or this fat man targetting women who had long term boyfriends - is this what politics in our feminised welfarist age is going to be like for the next few decades? The answer is yes, until something seriously worrying happens, but that might be soon. Let's hope that by that time the wind will have blown the Liberal Democrats away.

This analysis from the BBC is interesting but it assumes that the intervention of the law in the office is a good thing. Sexual harassment seemed a ridiculous concept, I recall, when the phrase first came in in the early 1980s and Romanian women nowadays tend to giggle at the expression. Some things are better than then and others worse. I did find this sentence scary:

"From the 60s until relatively recently, there existed a pervasive attitude that unwanted sexual advances were an irritant rather than a disciplinary matter or a crime."  

Sex of course was one of the arguments used by men who wanted to prevent women having careers and the absence of women does prevent the atmosphere of low level flirtation which one woman friend told me was one of the charms of work. I personally like sex and flirtation kept out of the office completely. I enjoyed the clubbish calm of my first job, in the House of Lords, where most people were men. But should all unwanted advances per se be disciplinary matters or, save the mark, crimes? The world must be peopled and who is to know an advance will be unwanted? But this comes from America, where office relationships are considered very wrong. 

In Romania, things are at the other extreme, office affairs are taken for granted, everyone flirts and women are certainly pressurised to have sex with their bosses every day. This is wrong (the pressuring and the adulteries, I mean). But I do not think legal sanctions are the solution, in Romania or elsewhere. We have far, far too much employment law, and far too many restrictions on freedom. Romania already has very restrictive employment laws and having got away from one kind of authoritarian socialism, she is about to have a lot more imposed on her, by the EU. But that is the beginning of a long discussion.

On the subject of sexual harassment, this article by that delightful minx Petronella Wyatt is well worth reading.

This is so true

“Thousands of people have talent. I might as well congratulate you for having eyes in your head. The one and only thing that counts is: Do you have staying power?” 

Noel Coward

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Pope Benedict XVI had a library of 200,000 books installed

Pope Benedict XVI had a library of 200,000 books installed in the papal apartments when he was elected in 2005. That makes up for not having a wife.

He also, like me, loves black and white comedy films and Mozart. I love him.


I feel outraged that I had better replace my 2006 laptop at home - I shall do so with an equally old desktop - that'll show them.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Muslims murder a Catholic priest in Zanzibar

The Catholic Bishop of Zanzibar, Augustino Shayo, says his priests are terrified after one was murdered on Sunday. A group calling itself 'Muslim Renewal' have tweeted the following message to the bishop:

"We thank our young men, trained in Somalia, for killing an infidel. Many more will die. We will burn homes and churches. We have not finished: at Easter, be prepared for disaster.”
Three men were arrested and Scotland Yard and the FBI are helping the Zanzibar police with the investigation. The shooting came barely a week after another a Christian  pastor was beheaded by Muslim extremists on the Tanzania mainland. 

More than seven churches have been burnt down in the last five years in Zanzibar. Let's hope this is not the start of the persecution of Christians in yet another corner of the world. 

I met and talked to Bishop Shayo last summer. He was anxious about the attitudes of some local Muslims on the island, where Muslims make up 95% of the population. He asked me about Muslims in England and I told that people in the UK were not worried about Muslims but were worried about 'islamophobia' instead. He said Muslims behave very differently when they are a minority and when they are a majority. 

I wrote about my encounter with the bishop, an impressive man, here.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Living purely for pleasure

I made many resolutions for the New Year and gave up a number of things for Lent and am having a lot of success but today, like every day, I have a new insight into life and its meaning. I intend from now on to live solely for pleasure. Pleasure means: prayer; meditation; physical exercise; creativity; self-expression; friendship; conversation; travel and books. And fulfilling ones vocation, which you could call, if you were so minded, service.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Story or style?

"What's more important in fiction: story or style?
I'm against story. I remember [the painter] Howard Hodgkin really disliking being called a colourist. People love talking about writers as storytellers, but I hate being called that: it suggests I got it from my grandmother or something, when my writing really comes out of silence. If a storyteller came up to me, I'd run away."

Colm Toibin, the Guardian, quoted by Nick Hornby

Miss South Carolina answers your questions about maps

I was reminded of poor, dear Lauren Caitlin by something someone (a blonde, as it happens, called Sarah) posted on Facebook, which was copied onto Lamebook:
ok just found out that south africa is a country AND its also part of africa witch makes no sense bcause how can a country be in another counry. #confused

Was it really as long ago as 2007 that Lauren Caitlin went viral? If so, without any malice towards the dear girl and just for fun, it's time to post her again, answering your questions about MAPS.

When I first posted this I was too hurried to be witty about Lauren Caitlin, but this blog is and made me smile. 

I do think she looks wonderful and now I come to think of it I would not know how to answer the question of why Americans cannot find countries on maps. What is the answer? If I were 17 and on live television it would be even more of a difficult one. 

I do think that there is far too much prejudice against beautiful girls, on the part of men and women. Being beautiful is a form of wisdom. It not only needs animal cunning but it implies a healthy attitude towards the universe. Beauty and sex appeal come from within.

There is also a strong dislike of people from the American South on the part of the  Northerners. The South is the sin-eater for Americans and is often written off as stupid, rustic and, above all, racist, racism being the unforgivable sin in modern America. This attitude is exemplified by an American who told me, 'I hate Southerners because I hate racists.' I replied that I hated racism but I didn't hate racists. 'I hate racists', he said firmly and afterwards I realised it was he who was the racist. 

On this subject, an American friend, a Yankee who studied in New Orleans, told me what a Southern friend told him, 'Southerners don't like blacks in general but love them as individuals. Northerners love blacks in general but don't like them as individuals.' 

Who knows? I was never in the USA except for a few hours in Buffalo, New York. Fortunately, blonde jokes are not yet considered racist.

Christians have killed each other

Christians have killed each other, quite persuaded 
That all the apostles would have done as they did. 
(Byron, Don Juan.)

Wonderful lines - Byron was not a great poet until Beppo and Don Juan, where he approaches, at a fair distance, the greatness of his idol, Pope.


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The mottoes of this blog

''Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. '' -- Cyril Connolly

‎'All that a man has to say or do that can possibly concern mankind is in some shape or other to tell the story of his love -- and to sing; if he is fortunate and keeps alive, he will be forever in love.' Thoreau

Never apologise, but by all means try to explain

I am glad David Cameron resisted the temptation, while at Amritsar, to apologise in a speech for the killings by British soldiers there, a sad and dreadful thing though it was. It was worse than a crime. It was a blunder. But perhaps the Indians should apologise for the Mutiny and for invading Goa. 

Although he did say, in the visitors’ book at Jallianwala Bagh, the walled garden where the killings took place, that it was “a deeply shameful event in British history.” And it was, although Andrew Roberts, like Kipling, takes another view and thinks the massacre justified. The truth is that Communist and Fascist regimes can govern using methods like this but, although the Mutiny had been followed by similar massacres by the British, the British as Christians could not rule like this indefinitely. As Max Beerbohm said in another context, the nonconformist conscience makes cowards of us all. Their Christianity was what brought about the decision of the Afrikaners to give blacks the vote rather than to continue to rule by sheer brute force.

The Amritsar Massacre led to Gandhi and other nationalists deciding that they wanted India to be independent and this led in less than a generation to partition, where not three hundred but up to a million people may have died.

There is no end to the apologies that every country can make but there is on balance very much to be proud of about the British Empire which did much more good even than the Roman Empire and certainly very much less harm. Democratic India, with common law and speaking English, sans suttee, is a great British achievement.

Africa also gained very much from British rule but it remains to see how our former colonies in Africa turn out. So did the Caribbean, despite slavery. However terrible slavery was and it was (as was serfdom in Europe), it was an African institution which whites adopted and it brought Africans to civilisation. This point is made by the (black) Governor of Jamaica in a great interview. It also made them Christians.

Pope put the case for colonialism best:

'For forms of government let fools contest
Whate'er is best administered is best.'

Signing things

I love signing contracts, but feel I should be signing treaties. 

What fun Admiral Horthy and General Noriega must have had declaring war on the U.S.A. 

(Old Pineapple-Face seems recent to me but he is not.)

The Kretzulescu palace at night

The Kretzulescu palace at night at the north end of Cismigiu, in Bucharest  Not a building that I ever liked, but this picture makes it fascinating instead of ugly.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Bob Astles, Idi Amin's henchman, has died

Bob Astles has diedAnother recollection of that low dishonest decade, the 1970s, unheroic and tawdry as it was. I suppose Astles was the real Flashman and someone should write a good novel about him. I remember him well. A fascinating account of his life is here.

What a disaster independence was for Africans. It was the right thing for the colonial powers to leave, from a realpolitik point of view. They were therefore saved the kind of wars the French fought in Vietnam. The Portuguese were the only colonial power who fought (gallantly against the Communists) rather than leave. But ask the people of Congo, Uganda and Angola etc whether they wished the whites had stayed another thirty years or more. I see the British left-wing socialist politician Chris Mullins was arguing last week that France should go back into Mali and run the place for years to come. I heard a Congolese historian saying that everything in the Congo had been better under Belgian rule than now - and the Belgians were the worst colonists of all, with the probable exception of the Germans.

It seems odd, now, that somehow Mike Yarwood, the impersonator, and Alan Coren in Punch turned Amin into a joke, when he was anything but funny. But I suppose there was something blackly humorous about Amin, or to give him his full title, His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular. 

Why are evil dictators from Caligula to Gaddafi so often ridiculous? Is it because they have no sense of humour where they are concerned (although a horribly cruel sense of humour when it comes to killing people)? In Amin's case he may have used his reputation as a buffoon to palliate his crimes in foreign eyes. He is thought to have killed at least one hundred thousand people. Some have suggested five times this number died at his hands.

Alan Coren made a cottage industry out of his weekly bulletins from Field Marshal Amin, which I found tiresome, but many people laughed at. If people did laugh at Punch. I read it only in dentist's waiting rooms and so, famously, did many of its readers, but I suppose dentists alone could not have kept it in the black. I usually found Alan Coren very funny but not as Amin. Alan Coren's joke was always the Field Marshall's pidgin English. This is a sample of the style: 
Where Is You, Adolf Hitler, Now We Needin' You?

ALL RIGHT, we makin a ricket on de Peace Corpse lot. Turn out dey ain't de advance guard o' de 17th/21st Nigerian Light Horse wid big eyes on de radio station an' de late Indian supermarkets, an' dey ain't Israelis, neither. So what? Don't mean they ain't subversives, comin' down here an' interferin' wid de smoothe runnin' o' de Dark Continent, an' it don't mean dey ain't Jews, neither, can't let a load o' Jews slip through de net jus' on account o' they got de American passport, you think de famous Adolf Hitler wot already bin pubberlickly admired by me woulda got to de top if he botherin' about readin' every bit o' paper wot landin' on his desk? Sit aroun' readin' six million passports, before you know it de oven gone out, de Second Front openin' an' you never gittin' around to de final solution. All de top SS men, you spendin' a fortune on de trainin' an' de flash uniforms etcetera, all standin' aroun' Auschwitz an' Dachau an' so on lookin' at de watches an' wonderin' why no-one turnin' up, ain't no way to run a progressive country. (Punch July 18, 1973)

I remember when the obituaries were full of heroes of the Great War. Now famous people from the 1970s are being culled by the Grim Reaper. For a much more benign impression of the 1970s, click here for Jamie Delingpole on the much more benign Richard Briers, who has also just died. 

The Cretin Club

Rutland Weekend Television (a spin-off from Monty Python's Flying Circus) had a sketch about a man who scores nought in an IQ test, but, because he managed to write his name at the top of the paper, the examiner (Eric Idle) gives him two points and membership of the Cretin Club, entitling him to Cretin Club cufflinks, a club tie and an 'I Am A Cretin' t-shirt. Eric Idle had a Romanian sense of humour.

In Romania the words cretin and moron are bandied around a lot as is  'handicapat' 'handicapped'. Snobbery tends to be intellectual snobbery. People who did not go to university are regarded almost as helots. Pretty girls are suspected of being stupid - Cozmin Gusa told me women were not taken seriously here unless they were plain. The sexy former Tourism Minister Elena Udrea encouraged Romanian scepticism about attractive blondes with successful careers by not knowing Norway was a monarchy and thinking it was in the E.U. I knew a pretty girl (a blonde but not a dumb one) who told me she rejected the advances of a fabulously rich tycoon/politician, not because he was married, or twenty years older than she was, or even because he was bald, but because he didn’t have a degree.  It was painful to watch gypsy politician Marian Vanghelie being asked to conjugate the verb to be on a television show and failing. How grammatically one speaks Romanian (an inflected language) is as important as accent and vocabulary are, or used to be, in England. Though my sister, who lives there, says it's about money there now.

Romanian grammar has rules of great complexity. At least grammarians made rules of great complexity because the language has almost as many exceptions as rules. Michel de Laufenbourg once said to me he loved the English language because it had the same qualities as the English themselves - it is straightforward and practical. What qualities does the Romanian language have, I asked him. He had not thought about this before but replied: it is illogical, needlessly complicated, hard to understand and follows few clear rules.  Rather like, he thought, life in Romania. 

Romanian, like all languages where nouns and adjectives have genders, does have the virtue of making the difference between masculine and feminine something elemental. It is no coincidence that nouns in English do not have genders and Anglo-Saxon countries gave the world feminism. The Anglo-Saxons are sexless in more than one sense. In Romania the utter difference between masculine and feminine is as obvious as the fact that the sun sets each night and rises each morning. In so many ways Romania is so much wiser than the UK and the USA.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

There has been no global warming for at least sixteen years


I was disappointed at lunch today with some intelligent friends, three British and an American, to discover that none of them knew that there has been no global warming for at least sixteen years. Just in case you missed it (it was published on Christmas Eve, presumably not to attract public attention), here is the good news again. Rejoice!

My left-of-centre friends, far from rejoicing, refused to believe it. The self-righteousness that worrying about global warming induces is a subtle but heady emotion, like many altruistic feelings.

I finally am completely convinced this the global warning scare is an ignis fatuus and makes politicians and civil servants look very fatuous too. It is eschatology for a Godless age. Let us worry about the real dangers to the world, like declining birthrates in rich countries and unprecedented mass migrations. 

Wonderful new production of Don Giovanni at the Bucharest National Opera

A wonderful new production of Don Giovanni opened tonight at the Bucharest National Opera (O.N.B.), directed by Anda Tabacaru Hogea. Do go and see it people. It is on again next Sunday evening and I intend to go again. I enjoyed it more than the last production I saw which was the Coliseum in London two and a half years ago though ENO had good voices. This production does not glamorise the Don, serial rapist, paedophile and psychopath as he is, but the ENO production was the bleak, un-Mozartian story of a London council estate sex criminal.

Horia Sandu as the Commendatore and Maria Jinga's wonderfully sexy Zerlina stood out for me, as did Daniel Pop's Don. There were also some ballet sequences which worked very well. I was told Cătălin Ţoropoc who played Leporello was singing for the first time in Bucharest. He was good.

A woman I chatted to in the interval thought the cast too young to have enough life experience to act their parts which seemed to me an odd criticism. I thought they acted very well because they were young. Unlike my first evening at the opera in Bucharest  Bellini's Norma, where the vestal virgins were all over fifty, something which hugely amused the young girl I took to see it. Looking back now I wonder if vestal virgins had an age limit and don't see why they should but a youngish virile Don is a good thing. This one has a rock star quality.

I told the woman that Romanian singers were so much sexier than our English girls and she said 'We Romanians say English women are like horses.' I never heard that before though I heard Romanian women being very rude about the appearances of their English sisters. And not only about the English. 

I don't think horse is an insult though - horses are the most beautiful of all animals. I think Elizabeth Hurley in her twenties had something of a thoroughbred about her. 

Cosmopolitan Norwich

Ploughing through the innumerable supplements to the Friday edition of the Times, while I was in London last week, my eye alighted on the property section and an article headlined 'Focus on ... Norwich', which begins:

'A cosmopolitan, buzzing and beautiful city...'



And why is cosmopolitan a term of approval? 

I hoped Norwich was still provincial. What is the point of Norwich otherwise? If East Anglia is not the provinces where is?

Perhaps nowhere is.

What would Norfolk men such as Sir Thomas Browne or George Borrow have made of a cosmopolitan Norwich? Or the poets of Eastern England like Cowper or Crabbe? Or John Betjeman or H.L. Morton?

I do not want to live in the provinces myself - I should hate to do so. I would not choose to live anywhere but the centre of a capital city, and I love living in an odd, seedy Balkan capital, but I want the provinces to be there and be provincial, the ballast in every country that keeps the boat from overturning.

The article in the Times went on, balefully, to declare that Norwich is one of the ten most important shopping destinations in England. 

Camus said, 'Modern man fornicates and reads the papers. There is nothing more to be said.' Modern man (person, sorry) in our day fornicates, shops and is cosmopolitan 

All in all, The Times put me off the idea of going to Norwich. Private Lives comes to mind. 

I met her on a house party in Norfolk.

Very flat, Norfolk.

There's no need to be unpleasant.

That was no reflection on her, unless of course she made it flatter.

Minette Marin said in an article a while back that as we grow older we all of us find ourselves living in a foreign country. At least I really do live in a foreign country, Romania, and one that, happily, is reassuringly old-fashioned.

P.S. I looked on the net to see if Sir John Betjeman ever wrote a poem about Norwich. It seems he did not but I found instead a poem that he wrote about somewhere else in Norfolk. It is one of my favourites among his poems and I feel like quoting it here, though it has nothing to do with the subject of this post.

Oh Lord Cozens Hardy Your mausoleum is cold,

The dry brown grass is brittle

And frozen hard the mould

And where those Grecian columns rise

So white among the dark

Of yew trees and of hollies in That corner of the park

By Norfolk oaks surrounded

Whose branches seem to talk,

I know, Lord Cozens Hardy, I would not like to walk.

And even in the summer, 

On a bright East-Anglian day

When round your Doric portico  Your children's children play

There's a something in the stillness 

And our waiting eyes are drawn

From the butler and the footman  Bringing tea out on the lawn,

From the little silver spirit lamp 

That burns so blue and still,

To the half-seen mausoleum  In the oak trees on the hill.

But when, Lord Cozens Hardy, November stars are bright,

And the King's Head Inn at Letheringsett  Is shutting for the night,

The villagers have told me 

That they do not like to pass

Near your curious mausoleum 

Moon-shadowed on the grass

For fear of seeing walking  In the season of All Souls

That first Lord Cozens Hardy,  The Master of the Rolls.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


‎"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment". Ralph Waldo Emerson. (It is easy to invent a false self, though, and act the part for so long that one forgets who one really is.)
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit." 
"In my opinion all men are equal when it comes to a knowledge of the gods." - Herodotus

The library is full of stories of supposed triumphs, which makes me very suspicious of it. It's misleading for people to read about great successes, since even for middle-class and upper-class white people, in my experience, failure is the norm.
Kurt Vonnegut, from Hocus Pocus (1990)

"Thrillers are more like real life than real life is." 
Graham Greene
“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.” Cicero
‎"Monarchy considers man in his ties with society; a republic considers man independently of his relations to society." Louis Gabriel Ambroise de Bonald, French counter-revolutionary philosopher 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Black popes

Pope Benedict XVI is greeted by the Cardinal Vicar for Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini during his meeting with the priests of Rome, Thursday 14 February

There is a rumour that the Pope originally intended to abdicate suddenly in Latin on a cold Monday morning with immediate effect, but was persuaded by the Curia to stay till the end of the month. Somehow this theatrical gesture seems in keeping with the man, despite his shyness. Now we are discussing favourites to succeed him and, for lack of anything concrete to discuss, the possibility of a black pope.

A conservative African pope might be great though race and colour do not seem relevant. We are talking about a pope not an American president. However, the most stupid comment about the papal election (what great fun conclaves are) is the statement that there have already been three black popes. (By black pope, I do not mean the Superior General of the Jesuits. I am talking skin pigmentation.) 

Sigh. Pope St. Victor I, Pope St. Militiades and Pope St. Galasius I were - not - black - even though they came from AfricaAny more than the Emperors Septimius Severus or Caracalla, who were also born in North Africa, were black. Septimius Severus, who died at York, nevertheless figures on a list of 100 Great Black Britons. As Richard Littlejohn would say, you couldn't make it up.

Septimius Severus

I recall seeing someone insisting Tutankhamen was black. 

Pushkin was asserted by some shrill librarian in the USA to have been a black writer, with more justification. He was an octoroon. You can always tell Russian statues of Pushkin by his lips, even if you do not have much Cyrillic. No doubt this post could be continued for a long time were I better informed. 

Peasant couture

From a piece in the New York Times:

"Romanian-based French designer Philippe Guilet, who has worked with the likes of Jean-Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld, has created a collection inspired by Romania's ancient peasant traditions and modern urban jungle.The collection, which premiered at the French embassy, thrilled Romanians, leaving some in tears over the spectacle of their humble village crafts being whipped up into world-class couture."

A great pope is about to abdicate

"The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable."  (Lord Macaulay)

I cried when Pope Paul VI died. Pope John Paul II's slow death was terribly moving but I was too old and too wicked to weep. Now, when I met friends for lunch in Victoria, they told me the astonishing news that Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will abdicate at the end of this month.

Astonishing news and yet not really surprising and exactly the right decision, of a piece with the humility of the man. I remember him at some time pointing out that Catholic Church is the only institution where its leader continues until death. 


The present Pope is the most intelligent and also (not the same thing at all) the best for centuries. When was there so intelligent a head of state? And he has coped well with the huge forces of malice and hatred directed at him and at the throne of St. Peter. He took some steps towards admitting the terrible crimes of wicked priests who interfered with boys and sometimes girls. He made the Tridentine Mass once more the Mass and he is responsible for the vast improvement in the liturgy in English. He sad that it is not a sin to use a condom in marriage for self-protection. He defended the historicity of the Gospels and is one of the few men clever enough to make Christianity seem intellectually respectable.

Of course the papacy, like the English monarchy and many other institutions, has been Diana-ified and the pope was not a theatrical figure like his predecessor (who had been an actor) able to use television. This made the faithful love him less than Pope John Paul II.

Dear BBC, popes do not resign, they abdicate. Or so I thought but the Vatican News Service used the word resign in its English edition. Nevertheless  the Vatican is not infallible on English usage and abdicate is much the better word. The pope used the word renuncio in Latin -  he renounced the papacy. One mistake some have made is to think that only hereditary monarchs abdicate, in which case the throne is automatically filled - the king is dead long live the king. In fact the papacy is an elective monarchy, like the old Polish monarchy.  Doges of Venice also abdicated because although Venice was a republic they were elected princes.

More of this important debate here.

A very wise comment on the abdication by Anna Arco, the Bavarian Editor at Large, at The Catholic Herald:

"I think it’s the right decision on his part as he avoids becoming a pawn in Vatican power games as he gets older, frailer and less able to defend himself. I think it’s sad because I think he was a brave strong man who faced horrible attacks and media storms and didnt grovel like most politicians but would wait to speak and usually say something different, worth listening to that would diffuse the situation.

He was not a slick media operator or a cold manager or icy prince of the church, but a genuine priest, a great theologian, a pastor who loved his flock and everything he said or did comes out of an understanding of reality and human frailty but with a belief also in the framework of the religion and is coloured by love." 

He was not a slick media operator or a cold manager or icy prince of the church, but a genuine priest, a great theologian, a pastor who loved his flock and everything he said or did comes out of an understanding of reality and human frailty but with a belief also in the framework of the religion and is coloured by love." 

Another good comment was this, that someone posted on Facebook:

By the way, I do not agree with Macaulay about the origins of the Papacy being lost in the twilight of fable. Eamon Duffy, carpingly, does not think St Clement I was Bishop of Rome but only in charge of corresponding with other churches. This it is clear he was, but St Clement was certainly one of the leading figures in the church at Rome and he sounds like he may have been its leader to me. The office of bishop was not of course in his day very defined. He lived in the 1st century and was said to have known and conversed with the Apostles. Tertullian says he was consecrated by St. Peter. 

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Weekend in England. Maybe I'll return more often. It's cool.

I went back to England at the weekend to have a kind of postponed family Christmas and to see two of my last remaining friends in London, relics of another life. 

How do the English seem to me after living so long in Romania?

Modest. Unsmooth. Grown-up. Uncool. Not flash. Homespun. Very teutonic, of course. A race of great poets but they seem prosaic, or at least down-to-earth. Comfortable in their skin is wrong, because the British are so embarrassed and tentative, but they seem to know who they are and have the courage of their convictions. This goes with being modest.

In fact after fifteen years away from England and more than twenty away from London, intimations of mortality are unavoidable. Was it January 1986 that I left Chelsea, the first place where I lived on my own, not counting university? Yes it was and this was my first time in Chelsea since Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister, consule Planco, in the days when hereditary peers sat in Parliament, vicars and almost all MPs were men, there were 11 Liberal MPs and marriage was between people of the opposite sex.  

I felt guilty liking the 1980s because of the terrible unemployment but I did like it. Yet I remember that like every decade it was very newfangled, despite some partially successful attempts to put the clock back (class distinction came back, hereditary peerages were very half heartedly reintroduced, architects suddenly started building things that looked nice). Anyway, how Edwardian the 1980s seems now.

Chelsea is still wonderful and not, as I had been warned, all about faceless money. The Phene (in my day, The Phene Arms) now serves (very good) food and admits state school men, or at least state school women. The Surprise, in Christchurch Terrace, is still a mythical and wonderful pub. I think it is so called because it is almost impossible to find. I lived very close to it in 1986 in Cheyne Row and could never get there except by losing myself -  a bit like entering Narnia, you could never get there by the same route twice.  A beautiful pub and the menu looked great: black pudding, game pie, rice pudding. I shall eat there next time. It boasts an enchanting barmaid named Francesca, who is playing truant from Oxford, as well as good wine (pub wine 25 years ago was generally a sin against the light, though this was not true in Chelsea even then). Gratifying  that I still know my way around and that the women are still beautiful and feminine. In these postal districts the English have chic and joie de vivre, élan and all those other French words for things the English usually lack. 

I shall save my recollections of Chelsea for another post.

Yesterday began with breakfast with an old friend, rich and pagan, and then a novena at Westminster Cathedral. Westminster Cathedral is my favourite church in England and, by a long way, my favourite spot in London but I do know why the fellow said it reminded him of the bathroom department at Harrod's. Westminster Abbey is a much more beautiful Catholic church, but it moves me less. It's a shame the barbarians removed the tomb of the Confessor from the Abbey. I suppose the Protestants of the mid 16th century were the Al Qaeda of their age.

Book shopping. Lunch and Claudes at the National Gallery, Mooching in Jermyn St.  I thought book shopping was the only shopping I enjoyed, but buying cheese at Paxton and Whitfield's and finding bargains in the sale at Harvey and Hudson are also fun. Perhaps I am finally being corrupted: it may be so.

I took my sister to Peter Konwitschny's wonderful new production of La Traviata at English National Opera. See it if you can. Great singing and I liked the way the opera was performed in two hours without an interview and with an almost empty stage. The setting was the 1930s and the production was fast-moving and spare. It felt like a pre-war film and would make a very good film.

Then dinner at the river restaurant at the Savoy. I do not like the way the Savoy was renovated and its ghosts expunged but the food was very good. The clientele were ungrand but so I suppose am I.

Everywhere I went from the flight with BA to the flight home, in shops, pubs, restaurants, the National Gallery and everywhere, I found myself talking to chatty people who poured themselves out for me enthusing over wine or salted butter or the decor at the Savoy. I applaud this effusiveness and lack of British reticence which makes life much more pleasant but I do not think it is completely spontaneous and I suspect it may be linked to training courses. If so good for training.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Herod at the ballet and Dinescu's great restaurant

I gave my colleagues - 'team' is a word I cannot bring myself to use - the office Christmas party this week. It was postponed because they keep the Orthodox advent fast and are vegans in December. But we created a Christmas atmosphere in February by going beforehand to see The Nutcracker Suite which I was sorry I missed at Christmas.

it was great except for the children. An entire row of five year old girls without adults sat behind us.  I  never thought Anthony Hope's line 'Oh for an hour of Herod!' was funny before but now see it is not funny but bitter.  The mothers sat in the row behind, rarely interfering with their offspring. I found refuge in the farthest corner of the stalls but the girls were strategically placed so that it was hard not to be in earshot of them. Not much Christmas spirit from me.

There was also somewhere one single little boy. Full marks for gender stereotyping in bringing up children, which thankfully is the universal rule in Romania. As a result, Romanian men are men and women and women and everyone is happy about that. On the other hand I think little boys should appreciate ballet too.

At least the girls seemed to enjoy the performance and had to be dissuaded from clapping to the music. How different at matinees of the Nutcracker, full of children, in London where the audience preserves the silence of an ossuary. This is partly because the English upper middle classes are cold-blooded but mostly because we do not take children below the age of ten to the ballet. Romanian adults in any case chat through ballet and opera and answer their telephones in the cinema.

Romanians tend both to spoil and neglect their children, in ways that surprise an Englishman. It's probably connected to the fact that this seems like a nation of only children - even the generation that were born in the time when contraception and abortion were illegal contains an enormous number of only children. Children play on the streets and talk happily to strangers - I remember some coming up to me and one of them touching my sleeve and saying  'Ghinion!' which means 'You're it!'. Children are left at home unsupervised at a very young age or dispatched for months to their grandparents (nannies and babysitters are few). The children of the rich often behave very badly at private schools which is why rich parents of discernment often prefer to entrust their children to state schools. On the other hand there is more deference to adults by teenagers than is thinkable in England. It is all part of the fact that the 1960s did not happen in Romania. Corporal punishment used to be used a lot until it was abolished in order to please the EU, but it will be very long before child centred educational methods get a look in here.

Then we went to the poet Mircea Dinescu’s restaurant Lacrimi si Sfinti and had a wonderful meal. Like almost every restaurant these days it is near my flat in the Old Town but I had not been there. Dinescu himself was at a table nearby. He has rethought Romanian cuisine and uses only the best fresh ingredients from south of the Danube. It is very different from the usual traditional Romanian restaurant. The wines too were good. The sausages, pastrami and cheeses were better than anything I tasted for a very long time and the puddings were delicious, especially a kind of trifle made with forest fruits and the sweet cheese pie.

The fact that young Romanians prefer when eating out to eat Romanian food rather than foreign muck is one of the things that give me hope for this country. That and their love for traditional and pre-war Romanian music. 

"Stop funding anti-Semites"

‎'I was asked to Brussels to address the matter of what the European Union might do to tackle anti-Semitism. The answer is easy: "Stop funding anti-Semites."'

This is an interesting item by Douglas Murray. It is very important that not only the EU but the UK stops funding anti-Semitic organisations. And the EU and the UK should stop funding a huge raft of other things while they are at it designed to change people's thoughts or behaviour, from tackling obesity to lesbian outreach officers. Anti-Semitism is deplorable, and increasingly prevalent in Europe, especially although not only among Muslims. Something should be done about it but why is it the EU's duty to tackle it or the duty of the state for that matter? If politicians want to do so, as they should, they should do so without the use of the state or public money. Surely this is essential in a free and civilised society.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Romanians make good immigrants

Admitting a million Poles, even though in good manners, industry, church attendance and many other ways they put the English to shame, was certainly a mistake on the part of the UK. We know this because ministers said they expected tens of thousands to come. Still, if Britain and other Western European countries have decided that they need immigrants, and they have, they should be very grateful that the EU has a supply on hand of Eastern European would-be immigrants. Yet while the British press worry about an influx of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants after January 1 2014, David Cameron announces that 

‘There is no limit on the number of  students who can come from India to study at British universities, no limit at all. All you need is a basic English qualification and a place at a  British university. What’s more, after you’ve left a British university, if you can get a graduate-level job there is no limit to the amount of people who can stay and work, or the time that they can stay at work.’

Romanians, like other people from the former Eastern Bloc,  are highly-educated, conservative, Christian and European. Romanians come from a Near Eastern culture, unlike the Poles, who are Catholics and Central Europeans, but they bring with them so many qualities that the British seem to produce less often than in the past. Romanian women are womanly (and very often beautiful), Romanian men are virile even if they seem very effete at first sight. Romanians are family minded, esteem education and usually believe in God. Best of all, they come from a part of the world where the 1960s never happened.

Romanians were disappointed but not in the least surprised by the noisy British reluctance to let them settle in the UK. As far as Romanians are concerned, they blame this reluctance on confusion abroad between Romanians and Roma. (Roma is the modish, EU-approved term for gypsies.) It is no use saying to Romanians that Romanian gypsies are both Romanian and Roma. ‘Romanian’ is understood here as an ethnicity not a citizenship. A Romanian man I know, for example, always says that he is Greek not Romanian, even though his family came to Romania in the t860s. Similarly, few ethnic Romanians think Romania’s Hungarians, German or Jewish minorities are Romanian. Children of mixed marriages do though.

Romanians usually have a very high opinion of England, based partly on books and films. I would expect Romanians to be disappointed by the reality of violent crime, binge drinking, feminism and innumerable rules. Romania, where people smoke in bars and say whatever they like about most things, is a much freer country these days. But no, Romanians usually love England and so they should. Things work in England and people are kind and honest, though the trusting nature of the English provokes wonder and seems naive. Britain is still a wonderful country and London is the only big city in Europe which is not a museum. The small minority of Romanians I spoke to who did not like England gave as their reason the number of non-white people there.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Dr. Johnson on happiness

That all who are happy, are equally happy, is not true. A peasant and a philosopher may be equally satisfied, but not equally happy. Happiness consists in the multiplicity of agreeable consciousness.

There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.

 I would not give half a guinea to live under one form of government rather than another. It is of no moment to the happiness of an individual.

Resolve not to be poor; whatever you have, spend less. Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable, and others extremely difficult. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Romania's ethnic minorities

I surprised a friend at university by telling him that you cannot understand the history of Northern Ireland unless you understand the history of Eastern Europe. This is true and unfortunately the English never understood either. I must one day write a short history of ethnic minorities in Romania and Romanian attitudes to religion and race as well as the fascinating role in Romanian history of Hungarians, Germans, Jews and Gypsies. Just to talk of film stars, Bela Lugosi, Johnny Weissmuller and Edward G. Robinson came from the first three of these Romanian minorities: Dracula and Tarzan were born in Romania.

Romania is a national state but not a mono-ethnic state. She has numerous small ethnic minorities  living in certain localities in their own communities, and a very large minority, the Hungarians and Secklers (they are almost always considered one community and called Hungarians). They are the overwhelming majority in two counties in the centre of Romania, Harghita and Covasna, as well as existing in other places, most notably the Banat and the Crisana. 

The Hungarians were until 1918 one of the master races of Eastern Europe, meaning the races from which the landowners were drawn. The other master race in what became Romania were the Germans. The German minority, which numbered 200,000 in 1990, has mostly, though not entirely gone, to my sorrow and Romania’s loss. The Germans built the wonderful towns of the Banat and Transylvania which remind me of the Anglo-Irish towns of Ireland under the eighteenth century Protestant Ascendancy. Beyond the towns, John Paget, a British traveller to Transylvania in the 1830s, compared the Romanians and gypsies in the villages to the Red Indians and negroes of North America. By the way, I highly recommend Paget's Hungary and Transylvania, a wonderful book that I read while at the university.

The Hungarians will remain, but are much depleted by emigration to Budapest. The Jews tended to live in towns throughout the country  and came mostly in the late nineteenth century. Many were slaughtered by Germans in those parts of Romania that Hungary annexed in 1940 or in Bessarabia when it was reconquered by the Romanians from the USSR but in the rest of Romania most survived. After the war, most Jews left, many of them 'sold’ to Israel under the Ceausescu regime. Their children sometimes come back as foreigners, Israelis.

Muslims, in the Ottoman period, were forbidden by law to settle in Moldavia and Wallachia for the reason that had they done so they would have been able to appeal over the heads of Christian magistrates to the Sublime Porte. Only in the sparsely populated Dobrudgea did Muslims live and this historical absence of Muslims is what makes Romania very different from the other Balkan countries. This spared Romania the bloody fighting between Muslims and Christians that took place elsewhere in the Balkans and the former Ottoman Empire, leading to many European Muslims leaving Europe and most Christians leaving the Middle East. There are about 20,000 'Turks', meaning Muslims here near the coast, very nice people in my experience, and a number of mosques in the Dobrudgea, which seemed to me for years exotically Near Eastern, until one day it occurred to me that there are now many more mosques in England and France.

There were some but not many Jews in what is now Romania before the nineteenth century when they came in large numbers and met great popular hostility, especially on the part of liberals. The Great Powers forced Romania to give civil rights to Jews twice, at the Congress of Berlin in 1878 and at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. On both occasions, Romanian government reluctantly agreed, but applied only the letter and not the spirit of their treaty obligations. 

This baroque pattern, baroque in the sense of the triumph of form over substance, repeated itself when Romania came to adapt to the requirements of the European Union. Up to a certain point, it could be said to be how Romania adapted to Communism, at least in the years of Ceausescu’s National Communism, although this point is more clever than true. Ceasusescu's belief in Marxism Leninism, which he shared with millions of his countrymen, was never in doubt.

Anti-Semitism as much as rural poverty led to the Peasants' Revolt of 1907, the last peasants' revolt Europe will see. The religious-fascist Iron Guard in the 1930s adopted a very anti-Semitic policy as had liberals like the revered historian and statesman Nicolae Iorga before the First World War. iorga, who later recanted his views on the Jews, appears on Romanian banknotes. So does the national poet, Eminescu, who wrote many diatribes against the Jews. In early twentieth century Europe anti-Semitism was considered by some as progressive and in the 1930s great Romanian intellectuals like Mircea Eliade were also anti-Jewish. Under Antonescu, the wartime military dictator, it is now known, though was until recently denied, that between 280,000 and  380,000 Jews were murdered, though  most of  the Jews on what is now and was then Romanian territory survived. Those in Romanian lands taken by Russia in 1940, which now are in Moldova and Ukraine  suffered much the worst. along with those in that part of Romania annexed by Hungary, where perhaps 120,000 Jews were killed. In most of Romania - those parts which were then and are now in Romania - most Jews survived.

Some degree of hostility towards Jews still lingers on with some people, even though there are few Jews left.The minority you hear Romanians talk about most, though, is the gypsies and rarely in terms other than of fear, dislike or loathing. Eastern Europe does not have an underclass but in many ways the gypsies are the nearest equivalent. 

Romania has it seems the largest gypsy population in the EU - this is based on anecdotal evidence and the fact that every gypsy beggar I have spoken to outside Romania answered me in Romanian with only one exception. Moldavia and Wallachia are  also noteworthy as the only places where gypsies were enslaved and some people have suggested to me that during their enslavement the iron entered their collective soul. But collective souls are a very unfashionable concept.  

The Romanians are solving what they see as the gypsy problem, because of free movement of people within the EU. Gypsies are nomadic by instinct and I think most will not stay here to be mistreated but go to Western Europe where they can be mistreated in greater comfort. This has started but will take a decade or two. 

Almost everything that people say about gypsies in political discussions, whether pro- or anti-gypsy seems to me to be misinformed or ill thought out. And that is in Romania. It is very funny to read journalists in the English press struggle to make sense of them. I shall have to take my time to decide and formulate what I think about them. All I can say is that, when I feel a wave of love for a Romanian scene, on nine occasions out of ten there are gypsies in view. But their picturesque and exotic qualities are  not in question and have nothing to do with the gypsy question. The gypsies are yet another example of the folly of denying that ethnic groups have group characteristics. Also of the folly of believing in human perfectibility and believing that governments can solve most problems.