Month: September 2014
Edward Lear, Sunset on the Nile, above Aswan (1871)
Edward Lear, Sunset on the Nile, above Aswan.
Signed with monogram (lower left); bears exhibition label and inscribed, signed and dated ‘On the Nile/Edward Lear/1871’ (verso). Oil on canvas. 24 x 47cm (9 7/16 x 18 1/2in).
Purchased directly from the artist in 1871 by Ernest Noel (1831-1931), M.P. for Dumfries Burghs 1874 to 1886.
Audrey Baillie Theron (neé Noel).
Jacqueline Marie Malcolm (neé Theron).
Thence by direct descent to the current owner.
Ernest Noel befriended Edward Lear when they were both passengers on a journey down the Nile in Egypt. It is thought Noel commissioned the current lot on the basis of sketches he had watched Lear execute during the voyage.
Lear made his first trip to Egypt in 1849. He expressed his excitement about the upcoming trip in a letter to another close friend, Lord Fortescue:
“the contemplation of Egypt must fill the mind, the artistic mind I mean, with…
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Farage and Palaiokostas and Lazy Brits
I had intended to write something about animation today, but Farage presides over a UKIP conference as I write and the BBC ran a frankly scurrilous article in their web-edition about the scoundrel Palaiokostas this week. Both characters call for comment.
I think Farage gets a raw deal in the press. The impression is given that he is a racist , a sort of “BNP light”. This seems to be so wide of the mark as to be laughable, but the image somehow has stuck as nasty images tend to: do people not realise his wife is a foreigner?? Nevertheless, the image was not helped by a poster campaign during the last election, which led the Telegraph to say, “UKIP are not the fascist foot soldiers of the BNP. They’re worse.” The poster campaign called on voters to “Take back control” and nothing wrong with that. Indeed, the conservatives have been calling for the same thing- and for far longer! The tag line on the poster, which showed a finger pointing a la Kitchener, reads, “26 Million people in Europe and looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?” The problem is that this is a catchy question that does not really reflect reality. There are no British builders or stock-market analysts on the street, and despite the jokes, precious few european plumbers who have actually stolen british jobs. The miserable fact is that alot of British people don’t want the jobs that are routinely taken on by Romanians and Poles. A case in point would be the seasonal vegetable-picking in Lincolnshire which is now threatened because many of the temporary foreign workers have stopped coming, and the local Brits simply do not have the stamina or the will to pick peas in the frost. (think of Tess of the D’Urbervilles picking potatoes on the hillside after she gets dumped by Angel. No one seems willing to do this any more. It is still a part of our agricultural livelihood) A recent report from the NFU said that unemployed Brits were unwilling to get up at 6am. This is what the leader of the Framers’ union, Meurig Raymond, said, “The whole work ethic and discipline that is required with harvest work needs to be improved a lot in parts of the British workforce. It’s the benefits system and years of inactivity. They will do it for a few days, but they won’t continually stick at it. A lot of farmers are not going to plant next year’s crops if they are concerned they are not going [have the workers to] harvest them. It’s a huge conundrum.” That is quite a threat.
Expulsions and deals
The days of illegal foreign workers are largely over. Films in 2002 like “Dirty Pretty Things” exposed what had been happening in cheap hotels and at about the same time, the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett expelled 6000 undocumented migrants. Meanwhile, seasonal agricultural work relied heavily on illegal workers. They may have been illegal, but they were reliable, hard-working, flexible and cheap. More recently, a scheme that helped migrant workers exactly like these to secure legal jobs -and pay tax- working the land has been closed. Instead of singing in the streets because we have closed an immigrant loophole, we should, instead, be worrying about the loss of British jobs and the rise in the cost of home-grown vegetables and produce. Because the sorry reality is that without these workers, we cannot harvest what we have grown and farmers and farm-linked industry will go out of business. This has led to calls from the National Farmers’ Union and threats by local farmers to stop growing vegetables that are difficult to pick. If farmers stop growing stuff, we risk losing all the British jobs that are currently there to support that industry.
So, the 21,250 Romanians and Bulgarians that came to the UK every year under the scheme for a maximum of 6 months will no longer be coming. This scheme provided 1/3 of our current agricultural workforce. Instead, these same people can now look for longer-term employment as fully-fledged members in their own right of the EU. They no longer need this scheme to come here. The NFU had appealed, instead, to the government to extend the scheme to cover Turkey, Russia and the Ukraine, or to target students outside the EU, but insisting their immigration policy was sound, the whole scheme has been scrapped by the current Government.
This is madness. The immigration minister, Mark Harper, said about this, “Our view is that, at a time of unemployment in the UK and European Union there should be sufficient workers from within those labour markets to meet the needs of the horticultural industry.” But he is living in cloud-cuckoo land.
Harper got into trouble for suggesting that many disabled people were shamming, and lazy. Then he was discovered to have employed an unregistered immigrant.
Whoops! We might think of Hamlet!
For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard, an’t shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon. 3.4
So, in a year when there have been bumper harvests in grain and brassica, there is every chance that next year Lincolnshire farmers will be producing less; we may even see the return of fallow land. We have come a long way from the self-sufficiency of the war years. UK prices have tended to rise above those in the EU and abroad, meaning that cheaper foreign food makes it into the supermarkets and on to our tables. The last 10 years, for example, have seen a 20% decrease in consumer demand for British vegetables. At greatest risk are things like cauliflowers, runner beans and pears. A shame, because I like pears, and not the huge imported pears, but the little British ones! A fear of genetically modified crops and the ban on pesticides, without providing a suitable and equivalent way to control and protect our crops has also had a catastrophic effect. Farmers in Brazil and Paraguay are not constrained by these rules and are doing much better. It’s not that we need to follow what the farmers are doing in South America – it’s that we need to stop bashing the people who are trying to do an honest job here in the UK.
I cannot understand how any Conservative government can preside over schemes to limit business by some bureaucratic bluster about immigration, or by some geographical boundary. Business thrives on merit and fair competition. If we need the best, we get it no matter where it might be.
This brings me to Mr Farage and the CAP, or Common Agricultural Policy. In simplistic terms, the UK pours £18bn into the CAP fund and takes rather a small handout while in contrast France contributes relatively little and takes alot. This seems unfair. But is it then appropriate to scrap the CAP and duck out of the EU? Actually, for all our griping, we depend quite a bit on EU funding. Without the EU subsidies, framers would be entirely at the mercy of the supermarket chains, and our farms are simply not up to that challenge. Also, the EU invests in the wider Rural economy.
The UKIP position on the EU is that our links with Europe would continue after we left, for the simple fact that the British market demands it. We buy more from the EU than they buy from us. “We should run our own country and our own agriculture,” says Farage. But our agriculture is in shreds from years of Brussels’ bullying and mismanagement. To add to the misery, we have shot ourselves in our bucolic foot to satisfy the media’s anti-immigration lobby. If we want to pull out of the EU, whether we wave a Conservative flag or a UKIP one, we need to get our farmers working effectively first!
But there is more than just preparation. The thorny issue remains immigration, and all the current parties assume the same solution – to close the door, or add a turnstyle. The problem with immigration is that people have become obsessed with numbers and have forgotten that they are really talking about people- and people who for the most part came here to work, bringing skills we no longer have, and need. It is not always easy to determine what you do not have, so blustering about arranging immigration to fill the “gaps” does not work. We have to change our way of looking at this issue completely.
To counter the threat of immigration, we need to think differently. We need to think less of letting people into the Uk and more of making sure that such people use their time here wisely while they are here, pay tax, learn english. Labour, we are told “oversaw the fastest and largest wave of immigration in this country’s history” but the Conservatives have not really changed this and both have focused on number-counting and bureaucracy, attacking those people who are documented rather than seeking those who are not. My great concern is that students, the most well-documented of the lot, face a misery of visa demands when many would happily pay a bond to stay here without the fuss for the duration of their academic career, and most plan to return home to take the skills they have acquired here back to their own country anyway. They face that visa- misery incidentally because they are well-documented and they are an easy target for a lazy inflated bureaucracy. What is needed are immigrants who will work hard and contribute to our society. If we give them a good example too, we will know that when they return home, they will take our values with them. This was the old theory of the Raj when we had a much more open-door approach and far less abuse, as well as far less resentment than we see today. A nice example of how the UKIP approach is distorted was a report in the Huffington post that wanted to see hypocrisy in the employment of East European canvassers who were working for a firm called “Fast leaflet” and who were caught delivering UKIP literature during the European elections. But, the fact is that these three east Europeans were working hard. I have delivered leaflets. I know how hard a job it can be! What is needed is a different perspective on the “problem”. Ideally jobs would be given to people in the UK, but if that is not possible, then it seems absurd that I should be constrained to offer the same job only to people in the EU. Why not offer it to people from Turkey or Russia who might be better qualified, or even to members of the Commonwealth to whom we really owe a great deal more, and with whom we share so much common history, though currently these people are geographically and politically challenged by their exclusion from the EU club. National borders do not make good business sense: instead, we should offer a job to the best person available, whatever background that may involve. Merit and excellence are the only way to ensure success. As for immigration control, what we need are less pen-pushers and more front-line security staff.
Parallels with school policy in the 1970s
The calls to throw immigrants out of the UK is a negative knee-jerk response and appeals to the baser elements in our society. Also, be in no doubt that it will lead to racism, if it is not racist in its basic call. It parallels the knee-jerk baying of the labour party in the 70s, that called for the destruction of the English Public school system in the belief that such destruction would bring equality, eradicate the class system and lead to an improvement in standard state education. The destruction of the Grammar school was the beginning of this negative crusade and we are still suffering the effects of this today. Comprehensive education has meant dumbing down in general, whatever social benefits it might offer in terms of integration… and that, only when it works as well as it can! Thankfully wiser minds have prevailed and today we are beginning to see a softening of the boundaries between the private and State sectors and the reintroduction of “selection”. A negative does not automatically usher in a corresponding positive. In all likelihood, destruction brings more destruction as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. What we need now is care and control. Not necessarily a knee jerk response, but considered action. Unfortunately, as we stand at the moment, Brussels does not allow us either care, or control, and this is not a UK problem alone. Most European countries realise we are in a muddle- too many people milking the system and not enough contributing. Back to simple farming imagery. You cannot have milk without a decent herd. A herd of cattle needs proper controls. I hesitate to use the term “cowboy” but if we do away with the fences, we are left with cowboys!
Greece and the BBC
Now, a few days ago, there was a lengthy article on the BBC website about Palaiokostas. This is a man who has been in and out of gaol, notably the infamous Korydallos Prison from which he escaped twice by helicopter and continued to live the life of Riley on the run, with an Albanian sidekick, Alket Rizai, robbing occasional banks, kidnapping industrialists and donating some of the money to the poor. The BBC played up the Robin Hood image but I think it needs to be checked. A man who robs you at gunpoint is still a frightening criminal and certainly to the bank clerk who is threatened. The bottom line to this surely is that “a thug is a thug”, and I have never had much time for Robin Hood.
The crime of injuring the monarch, whether physically (which would be treason), or verbally, is a serious one. I wonder whether caricatures fall into this sphere and indeed this very question was debated a deal in the 18th Century when George III and his son were routinely held up by the early political cartoonists as figures of fun.
Defacing banknotes even today I think is a crime based on the principle of Lèse-majesté.
Does this crime ever result in actions- well, yes, there was a Polish case where a man was fined about £6000 for insulting John Paul II during one of his last visits to Poland. The specific words used in the offensive article are these- that John Paul II was “an impotent old man offering a spectacle of horror to the public,” though the article itself was entitled “The Walking Sado-Masochist”. In the article similarities were drawn between the Pope and the dying Leonid Brezhnev. This, in turn, was heavily criticised by the international press and especially “Reporters sans frontières” which argued that freedom of expression was effectively denied to Jerzy Urban and that Poland had agreed to freedom of expression when it joined the EU in 2004. More recently, there was a case where a man farted to express concerns about the Prime Minister lech Kaczyński, one of the twins and the man who was killed on the way to commemorate the Katyn massacre in the plane crash in 2010.
Now, it is one thing to gag the press or to try to cork the wilder expressions of political discontent, but it is quite another when a senior politician is heard mouthing off about his monarch. School-boy gossip, gloating is not really something we should tolerate from a statesman. So in the UK, there is a clear example of Lèse-majesté in the garrulous stupidity of our own Prime minister. I cannot see that an apology can really explain the smug contempt of the word “purred”. Alex Salmond spoke quite clearly about his shock at the way Cameron openly discussed what he had said to the Queen. Salmond is right and Cameron wrong. But it goes further. If Cameron cannot be trusted to respect the Queen, how can he be trusted to respect the Country?
Here is an earlier Cameron cartoon. I think this one is better actually:
Personally, I must confess that this leaves me in a bit of a dilemma: I had intended to stand for some form of Political office with a Conservative ticket in May and had gone through the struggle of selection. I am really not sure this would be right now. I have never liked Cameron – I remember being encouraged by one of his Eton contemporaries in Oxford to cross the street so that we might avoid meeting him – but now I am afraid I think he is a twit and a liability. If Boris were leading, it would be a different matter, but with Cameron there… well, I have to think very seriously! This is not just a gaff; it exposes the way the man thinks and it is not a pretty image I am afraid. Mrs Thatcher (she of the deepest curtsey ever) would be shocked, shocked, shocked.
Edward Lear Drops Holman Hunt’s Letters (An Unpublished Letter)
Here is an interesting Lear-based story about an unpublished letter. Holman Hunt encouraged Lear to paint in the open air and to use a more interesting range of colours. Lear was encouraged by Hunt but eventually retreated back into the studio to paint. His drawings were done with great speed as he travelled.
The following is a note Edward Lear sent to William Holman Hunt explaining what happened to two of Hunt’s letters Lear was supposed to post from London. There is a short reference to the accident in today’s diary entry (19.ix.64):
3 PM. 19. Sept. /64
My dear Daddy,
I was miserably vexed this morning at what happened to your letters ― tho’ as no harm has come of my mishap you may forgive me. In taking out a letter from my jacket ^[front] pocket, I took out 2 of yours by mistake, & replaced them inadvertently in the similar pocket of my overcoat. This latter, finding myself too warm in walking, I took off, not supposing there was anything in the pockets, but unfortunately the 2 letters fell out, & were ― luckily, ― picked up by the man who brought down my luggage ― who…
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Two updates- on Vodafone and Golden Dawn
Just two rapid paragraphs- the first about the odious deputy leader of the far Right Golden Dawn party. I discussed this in a post a few weeks’ ago about a Greek island policeman caught in a photo doing a nazi salute. Now, Kathimerini reports that the deputy leader has been coaching his children into giving the fascist salute, not only that- getting them to say “Heil Hitler!” at the same time. It makes it impossible for these people to turn round now and say that they were giving a “Roman salute” rather than a Nazi salute however absurd that distinction may have been in any case. There is a fuller review of this in Damian Mac Con Uladh’s excellent blog here: http://damomac.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/video-shows-golden-dawns-no-2-teaching-children-to-chant-sieg-heil/
The video link is here:
Στις τάξεις των ΝΑΖΙ
there is another here:
and here is damage recorded to foreign cars in Pireus: Golden Dawn was implicated in the attacks.
Here is a photo of the Golden dawn leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos being arrested after the stabbing of rapper Pavlos Fyssas in Sept 2013:
To his credit, Archbishop Ieronymos is also on record shunning Golden Dawn, so it is naivity rather than Political dodgyness of which he is guilty. This at least marks him out from his ghastly predecessor, Christodoulos
Today there is news of a rescue of Phones 4U workers. EE have offered some of them jobs and vodafone have also offered jobs taking over 140 of the retail outlets rebranding them as Vodafone stores. Indeed, in the press today, vodafone which originally put these jobs at jeopardy comes out smelling of Roses. Does it not make you sick!
The former owner of Phones 4U, John Cauldwell, who sold the company in 2006 for £1.5bn apparently told the BBC that the company had been a victim of “unprecedented assassination”. Vodafone has rejected suggestions that it acted inappropriately during contract negotiations.
Incidentally, at some point I must write about the Greek “watergate” scandal which involved vodafone tapping 106 phones including a number of government phones in advance of the Olympic Games. Kostas Tsalikidis, (Κώστας Τσαλικίδης) was the network planning manager who killed himself or was murdered- no one really knows- following the discovery of the fraud on 9th March 2005. He was found hanging in his apartment. There was no suicide note, no autopsy was conducted nor fingerprints taken at the scene. Vodafone kept his personal computer and personal effects. Regarding the wire-tapping, Vodafone spokesperson Ben Padovan says “We have never discovered anything like this before or since.” The key word in this statement is “discovered”.
Vodafone was fined 76 million euros.
Not at all clear in Islam or in Christianity
A few weeks ago, I posted a lengthy piece about the Biblical texts that appear to condemn homosexuality in the bible, about the way they are sometimes interpreted and about a general progress that has seen a more charitable and positive attitude emerging both in Judaism and Christianity in practice. My article focused on the work of Photios of Constantinople and the distinction that he observed in Paul’s analysis of the Jewish law. On the basis of this, it is possible to see Paul’s statements that appear to be so negative in a much more positive light. Of course, this cannot be the last word and will almost certainly not “do” for the strict evangelical fundamentalists who bombard the internet with such hate and bigotry. Equally, people like the politician, Andrea Leadsom, will undoubtedly continue to pontificate about these 6 scriptural texts as if they really knew what they were talking about. There will always be a sentence here and there that can be plucked from a religious text to defend bigotry and prejudice.
A while back, I was intrigued to find a story about “the Unity” mosque, a relatively secret gay mosque in Paris located in a Buddhist Temple headed by Ludovic Mohammed Zahed. There is a lengthy talk here, though in French. While many imams condemns homosexuality as a perverse “choice”, Zahed said, “Homosexuality is not a choice, and it would be crazy to choose to be gay in the socio-cultural environment I grew up in.”
“Current Islamic ethics condemns this sexual orientation, but in fact nothing in Islam or the Quran forbids homosexuality,” Zahed argues. “Indeed, for centuries, Muslims did not consider homosexuality to be the supreme abomination that they do today.” In his book “The Koran and the Flesh”, he says, “There is nothing about homosexuality that ‘goes against nature’ according to one interpretation of Islam. Quite the opposite…I am sure that if the Prophet Mohamad was still alive, he would marry gay couples.”
Zahed is openly gay and married his partner, Jantjies-Zahed in a version of Nikah (the muslim marriage contract, without which any form of sexual contact is regarded as “haram”). “Common prayer practiced in an egalitarian setting and without any form of gender-based discrimination, is one of the pillars supporting the proposed reforms of our progressive representation of Islam,” he says.
Today, there are reports of a Gay Mosque in Cape Town, so the idea is clearly spreading.
Now to the theory: There are 5 major verses in the Qu’ran that are generally assumed to condemn gay behaviour unequivocally, but like the 6 texts in the Bible, they are not at all as clear as they first appear. The two main verses are:
1) Surah 7:80-81 refers to Lut, لوط, the Muslim equivalent to the Bible’s Lot. “We also sent Lut : He said to his people : “Do you commit such immorality as no one has preceded you with from among the worlds? Indeed, you approach men with desire, instead of women. Rather, you are a transgressing people.”
2) Surah 26:165: “Do you approach males among the worlds. And leave what your Lord has created for you as mates? But you are a people transgressing..”
(there are often further verses cited about the condemnation of the people of Lut: 11:77–83, 21:74, 22:43, 26:165–175, 27:56–59, and 29:27–33)
3) Surah 27: 55: Do you indeed approach men with desire instead of women? Rather, you are a people behaving ignorantly.” It seems to me that a statement of stupidity, however firmly made, is not quite the same as condemnation.
4) Surah 4: 15: And the two who commit it among you, dishonor them both. But if they repent and correct themselves, leave them alone. Indeed, Allah is ever Accepting of repentance and Merciful. (this is actually about adultery in general)
5) Surah 4:16: The heavens, the Earth and the mountains tremble from the impact of this sin. The angels shudder as they anticipate the punishment of Allah to descend upon the people who commit this indescribable sin.
The last two verses are a bit vague about the reasons for God’s condemnation but the first of these two verses emphasises God’s forgiveness and the context is adultery. This is part of the problem in Islam, that there is a tendency to avoid the use of terms like “liwat” and opt instead for “Al-Fahshah” (Shameful activity) that may or may not denote homosexual sex.
There are also some hadiths: “When a man mounts another man, the throne of God shakes.”
“Whomever you find doing the actions of the people of Lut then kill the one doing it, and the one it is done to” (Al-Hudud) The book on Legal Punishments كتاب الحدود عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم
مَنْ وَجَدْتُمُوهُ يَعْمَلُ عَمَلَ قَوْمِ لُوطٍ فَاقْتُلُوا الْفَاعِلَ وَالْمَفْعُولَ بِهِ
But despite this, there remains devision among the three major legal schools of thought. The Hanafite (in South and East Asia) generally believes no punishment is necessary, the Hanabalites (the Arab world) believe in severe punishment following the example of Abu Bakr who had a gay man burnt at the stake and the Sha’fis (also mostly in the Arab world) require extra witnesses to the homosexual act before punishment is carried out. About 4,000 gay people have been executed in Iran since the revolution in 1979.
Variety of interpretations
Because Islam is a Religion of the Book, it would seem reasonable to suppose that everything should be clear, but in this case, everything is not clear and there is a range of response to homosexuality that extends from execution to toleration and now a range of acceptance.
Some scholars today claim that there are no explicit condemnations of homosexual activity in the Qu’ran and some people stress that what the people of Lut do wrong is to reject his prophethood. They are condemned for their lack of faith, not their sexual behaviour. (Scott Kugle Homosexuality in Islam. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications. pp. 42–49). The Hadiths, in contrast, can be very severe. that severity alone means that they can only be relevant in the most extreme societies. In other words, the extremity alone means they are already questioned.
The modern position seems to be that Islam condemns adultery and thus homosexual sex outside a committed relationship. Therefore, within the context of commitment, it cannot be considered wrong.
I will try to deal with some of this again at a later date. Let’s go back to the news report today. Dr Taj Hargey is an Oxford professor at the Muslim Educational centre and seems to be behind the “Open Mosque” in South Africa. There is some precedent here because of the activity of Imam Muhsin Hendricks- a few years ago he said of a Gay Mosque,
“In the last five years, there have been more discussions and debates than ever before. Just the mere fact that there has been no strong opposition is an indication for me of some sort of acceptance. It just can’t happen publicly now. People understand that if they oppose homosexuality publicly, they could get into trouble. I guess we are kind of blessed in South Africa … I don’t think it would be possible in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.” There was also the Indian Parvez Sharma, and the idea of gay Islam was explored in a Channel 4 film, “A Jihad For Love”.
The debate is certainly developing and in some predominately Islamic countries (like Albania. Lebanon and Turkey) there has even been discussion about legalising same-sex marriage. Homosexuality was decriminalised in Turkey in 1858, long before the Oscar Wilde trial in the UK! Lesbianism is legal in Kuwait. That said, one must be careful because countries which profess tolerance are also inclined to impose strict penalties when they are forced into making legal or police statements or challenges. I recall a particular incident in Egypt, a country which has no laws against homosexuality, but where such activity would be seriously ill-considered, about which we will undoubtedly hear more. What is done in private, one might suppose, should remain private. And a last word to the current developments:
Dr Hargey also encourages women to lead prayers. Of course one of Mohammed’s wives, Khadijah, famously led prayers though arguably under special circumstances.
Here is a link to the Christian views analysed
Richard Williams rightly deserves all the adulation he gets from animators. Sadly, the general public is less aware of his significance, though most have seen and admired his work in “Roger Rabbit” and all of us have seen the effect he had on the industry. Anyway, I am always amazed by Williams’ generosity. It was clear when he was presenting his cut of “the Thief” a few months’ back.
When I was a schoolboy, and later when I was at university, he gave up his time, had me visit the studio and talked for hours to me about the process of animation. On that second visit, he took me to a restaurant where I remember eating a plate of smoked salmon and otherwise hanging on his every word, none of which I have forgotten. “I think in colour” was the most amazing statement. I envy that. I think in lines, not colour at all, and I think I struggle with colour. I wrote an article based on what he said which was printed in an oxford magazine.
Afterwards, I had time to kill before getting a bus back to Oxford and I went to see a show called “Another Country”. Within a year, I was doing front covers for Amber Lane Press which printed the text of the play. (Here are some of them together with the programmes for Another Country)
I vividly remember Rupert Everett and Kenneth Branagh, and later went back to see their understudies, Daniel Day Lewis and Colin Firth. Day Lewis was the godson of a lady who lived in my house and sat in my room with the poodle chatting about the past. I lived in a converted conservatory: there was a swimming pool at the bottom of the garden.
It had only been a year or so since Mrs Thatcher had announced the identity of Anthony Blunt in the Commons as one of the Cambridge Spy ring. What had not been emphasised I suppose was the fact that most of the spys were gay and had been to the better Public schools. “Another Country” picked up these themes, of treason, homosexuality and espionage in the mid 1930s. The play began in Greenwich and transferred after stunning reviews there to a 19-month run at the Queens in the West End, almost unheard of for a straight play both then and now. Years later, I directed my own production of “Another Country”!
All the screams on the page above are copies of Richard Williams’ sensational “Christmas Carol” which I was watching while I was without a computer for the last few days: I have to draw a screaming face. As ever, Williams has already done it, and done it better than I could ever imagine doing. I have been sent lots of Roger Bacon paintings as reference.
Ah, here is a link to a youtube upload of Errol le Cain’s film “the sailor and the devil” Simply tremendous to see it after all these years. I was amazed to find Errol le Cain was working for Williams: two of my heroes in the same place. More on Errol le Cain later I think….
Escaping the Holocaust in Albania
Today Pope Francis is visiting Albania and the news footage shows him saying Mass just down the road from Enver Hoxha’s tomb. Hoxha outlawed religion but this was just one small negative in an otherwise profoundly tolerant society. This is what the Pope has to say about religion in Shqiperia,
“There is a rather beautiful characteristic of Albania, one which is given great care and attention, and which gives me great joy: I am referring to the peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among followers of different religions…The climate of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims is a precious gift to the country.Nobody should use God as a ‘shield’ with which to justify ‘acts of violence and oppression’.”
A few days ago, my Macintosh died and was sent to be repaired. During that time, I was given a story about the survival of a wonderful little book, barely measuring 6 inches square, in Sarajevo. This is the Sarajevo Hagaddah which was written and illustrated in the 14th Century. The Haggaddah is a story book deriving its name from the Hebrew word “to tell”. Because of images of a Rose and a wing, it is presumed that the Hagaddah (a prayerbook containing stories, songs and prayers for the Jewish festival of the Passover) was a wedding gift for Shoshan and Elazar. It was subsequently saved from the Spanish Inquisition and made its way to the “European Jerusalem” that is or was Sarajevo, what Rebecca West described as a city cradled by the mountains “like an opening flower”. At the end of the 19th Century, it came up for sale to a Jewish cultural centre, “La Benevolencia” and was eventually bought by the National Museum, Zemaljski muzej, for about $10,000. And here is the interesting little story that caught my eye…
The Germans invaded Sarajevo, annexing it to the puppet state of Croatia and demanded the book as part of their “Indiana Jones” project to collect and exploit the religious power of assorted talismans. Hitler also planned a “Museum of an Extinct Race” organised by Alfred Rosenberg and this would have been a prized exhibit. Jozo Petrović, the director of the Museum and Derviš Korkut, a dapper curator with a waxed moustache and fez had hatched a plot to protect the book from the Gestapo as well as the Croatia secret police, the Ustashe and the Handjar, the Muslim division of the SS. They believed that as “kustos”, they had responsibility for the book’s survival. The head of the Ustashe was an aggressive Anti-semite who goes down in history saying “Not a stone upon a stone will remain of what once belonged to “the Jews. The city’s eight synagogues were destroyed. When the Obersturmbannfuehrer Johann Fortner requested the book, they said “Oh that’s very odd. Another German officer has just taken it away.” The German asked, “What was his name?” and here was the brilliant reply, “I did not think it my place to ask such a question.” The curator then scrambled out of a window and down a drainpipe, taking the book back home to his wife who was interviewed late in her life about the story.
“I knew he had a book from the library, and that it was very important,” she said. “He said, ‘Take care, don’t tell. No one must know or they’ll kill us and destroy the book.’ ”
The book was promptly hidden under the floorboards of a Mosque in Zenica and was put on public view with liberation in 1945. After the Bosnian war when it was again in danger of destruction, it was restored and has been back on public display since 2002.
Derviš and Servet Korkut not only arranged the hiding of the Haggadah, but also hid a Jewish Ladino-speaking girl who could no longer be sure of her safety with the Yugoslav partisans. This couple was Albanian and the Albanian Muslims have a code of honour called Besa which obliges them to hospitality and the protection of their guests. Mira Papo was kept as a member of the family, right under the noses of the German soldiers in Sarajevo. Later, I understand that the same Mira Papo, now an old lady in Israel, arranged the safety of Korkut’s daughter during the Bosnian war in 92-95.
Derviš died in 1969 after serving 8 years in solitary confinement for falling foul of General Tito. Servet died last year aged 88.
Defiance in Albania
The principle of Besa is seen in Albania itself. Besa is what motivated Derviš and Servet Korkut. In 1934, the American Ambassador to Albania, Herman Bernstein said, “There is no trace of any discrimination against Jews in Albania, because Albania happens to be one of the rare lands in Europe today where religious prejudice and hate do not exist, even though Albanians are divided into three faiths.” Maybe, BECAUSE they are divided into three faiths!
Albania has a long history of tolerance which was briefly compromised during the Enver Hoxha period after the war, but now appears to be as solid as ever, with an Orthodox cathedral rubbing up against the old Mosque in the central square of Tirana. Jews first came to Albania in 70 AD after the fall of Jerusalem, mostly washed up on the shore as escaped captives from the Romans. They build the first synagogue near the Greek city of Βουθρωτόν in Sarande, in Greek Άγιοι Σαράντα, the capital of the Albanian Riviera, pretty well directly opposite the northern villages of Corfu, Nissaki up to Kassiopi, where the English have created Kensington on sea. The Jewish community remained secure but small until the Spanish Inquisition when, like Kosovo, Albania began to welcome fleeing Sepphadis. The false messiah and Kabbalist, Shebbetai Zevi, (שַׁבְּתַאי צְבִי), took refuge in Albania – of course, by that time he had been forced to convert to Islam (one of the “Dönmeh”) when he was brought before the Sultan Mehmed IV on 15th September 1666. There remain groups of Dönmeh incidentally in Turkey who combine practices and beliefs from Islam and Judaism and were very active as “Young Turks” in bringing about the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Attaturk.
Other Jewish communities developed in Berat and Koritsa. The security offered by Albania led a British scholar Leo Elton, to suggest that Albania might be a better refuge than Israel and a national home free from persecution. As the second world war broke out, and Albania fell under Mussolini, the Italians set up a camp for Jews in Kavaje and a number were sent on to Italy and the gas chambers, but most Jews in Albania survived the holocaust because of the principle of Besa. There are numerous stories of personal sacrifice because of Besa, and many families competed with one another to outdo the demands of hospitality. A good example is Nuro Hoxha. His son records, “My father sheltered four Jewish families. They all were his friends. I remember my father’s words to those he took in, ‘Now we are one family. You won’t suffer any evil. My sons and I will defend you against peril at the cost of our lives.'” The Kadiu family records, “My father said that the Germans would have to kill his family before he would let them kill our Jewish guests.” Impressive stuff.
“Albania was one of the only European countries that had more Jews at the end of the war than at the beginning of the war,” said Michael Berenbaum, former project director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
There is a good summary here:
To return to the words of Pope Francis,
“What the experience in Albania shows is that a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic.”
Here is a video of Francis arriving in Tirana. Given the fact that there is a serious death threat from ISIL, this is one brave independently minded man – arriving in an open jeep waving to a pretty impressive crowd. This is not something that would have been done by his two predecessors who are drawn here:
One of the most instantly recognisable figures from Albania’s recent Religious past is Mother Theresa. Here is a picture of her together with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Pope John XXIII and for some unaccountable irony, Mr Murdoch and his cronies. It is a still from the film “How to be boss” which won an award for Best Animation in 2012!
A link to “How to be Boss” is here:
Here is a link to our new video which is in part a real-time drawing of the above. This ia a picture of the current Vodafone Board of Directors and while I was posting my own story, I was also told about the ruthless activities of this company that have led directly to “Phones for you” going into administration. I know about the shabby way in which I was treated so my heart goes out to the 5500 employees of “Phones for you” whose jobs are now on the line.
If you can think back to the days when Ernie Wise made the first Vodafone call in the Early 90s, this was not what the company created.
Here is the link to the youtube video: