Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Human Voice

Sunday night: Karita Mattila as Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos, Monday night: Joyce DiDonato as Mary Stuart in Maria Stuarda. Both at Covent Garden.

What more can one wish for? The human voice can be more wonderfully beautiful than any man-made instrument. 


Why do all those people who are not really football players or regular football fans get so excited when it comes to their own national teams?

Trouble in Buenos Aires after the Argentine lost to Germany

Why do 80 million Germans [or any other nation] think that they are superior or better, or just feel good about themselves simply because 11 of them happen to have won a football match?  

Despite the claim of their coach “we are all world champions”, most of us are very far from being good at anything at all, let alone being champions at anything. Talking of “we” and dancing in the street cannot cover this up.

Cheap [is there any other?] populism has driven, or rather flown 
Ms. Merkel as well as Germany’s President, Gauck, to the cup final in Brazil  

The notion that this excitement serves as sublimation to channel aggressive energy away from destructive behaviour is far from true. In fact, this forceful “we” behaviour is in itself aggressive.  

Israel and Hamas

Does the shooting suit both sides?

What does Hamas want? It wants to ensure that no long-term peace deal is made with Israel. Unlike the PLO, Hamas has not [yet] accepted the existence of Israel.

What does Israel want? It wants to avoid reaching a deal with the Palestinians that would entail giving up some of the land it has occupied since 1967.

That is why Hamas, rather than the Palestinian Authority, are the true partners of Israel. They occasionally fight each other, increasing the heat, killing and getting killed, inciting and whipping up the hatred, only to make sure that no compromise is reached. The agendas of the extremes on both sides command the state of affairs.

Both sides are morally wrong; Hamas more evil than Israel and more corrupt than Israel, but then it does not pretend to be a western democracy, cultured, high-tech and European. A few years ago, the then Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, spoke of Israel as a “villa in the jungle”, thereby suggesting that Israel’s neighbours are wild savages. Observing recent [and not so recent] appearances of Israeli politicians makes one wonder whether they haven’t adapted only too well to their surroundings. 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Scottish Abuse

Last year the Scottish parliament passed a law giving 16-year-olds a vote in the coming referendum on Scottish independence. They justified their deed with claptrap about allowing young people to decide the future of the country they will live in. The truth is more likely that the nationalists expect kids to be more impulsive and less risk-averse than more experienced grown-ups. In a classical case of the extreme setting the tone, Labour and Lib Dems also voted for the lowering for the voting age.

What the Scottish have done is abuse of minors. For their own gratification, to further their own interests, these politicians have taken the virginity of their young. Like with sex, the young may be excited – in this case, by the fact that like grownups, they can vote to cede Scotland away from Great Britain. However, they may wake up the morning after not really understanding what they have done.

And by the way, there is no morning-after pill.

Where Naples meets Cairo

I have recently come back from a short trip to Naples. (The real thing, not the one in Florida.)

It is loud and extremely, really extremely dirty. Rubbish seems only occasionally to be collected. Rubbish collection – I was told – is in the hands of the Mafia and they must be concentrating their resources on collecting money, which leaves them little time to collect the rubbish.

However, the people – that is everyone I met, in the hotel, taxi drivers, restaurant staff, passers by in the street, just everybody – are remarkably friendly. Quite different from what you come across in Venice, Florence, and Milan.

This remarkable overflow in friendliness and dirt reminded me of Cairo. Both are full of life and there is much to see and do and both cities. I would not like to live in either of them but they are a joy to visit. 

The café owner was delighted when I showed him the photo I had taken of the sign in his toilet: 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Prince Charles

There is very little to like about Prince Charles, however… the supposedly private conversation (or is the 87-year-old Jewish lady who showed him around the Halifax museum an old Polo chum of his?)…

Like so often before, and similar to his father, Charles arrogantly says things, which he should not. This time, I like the outcome: the Putin / Hitler comparison is on the table and, moreover, it's a royal table.

But please God, Save the Queen!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Schloss Torgelow

I was invited by Schloss Torgelow, a private boarding school, an hour and a half north of Berlin and almost in Poland, to read from and discuss Die Schatten der Vergangenheit sind noch lang with their 16- and 17-year-olds. (The 18-year-olds were in the midst of their Abitur, the German matriculation exams.)

Ninety youngsters - an audience that had no prior knowledge of the subject matter, no preconceived ideas and hopefully no bias - listened attentively and when it came to the discussion, asked many good questions and… bought books.

It was a real joy. 

Ukraine / Russia

At some point during lunch with a friend in London – some fifteen years ago – I asked him for his opinion about one or other Middle East issue that was just in the news. His response was that he does not really care what “the Israelis and the Palestinians get up to.” That he was, in fact, tired of the issue. I was taken aback. How could he? An intelligent, interested, well-read, well-travelled, well-educated and cultured Brit – how could he just be not interested?

These days, everyone seems to have a view about the Ukraine and Russia story and I find myself understanding my friend’s attitude of 15 years ago. 

Friday, 2 May 2014

The A- Word

A few days ago, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said that unless Israel reached a peace agreement with the Palestinians, it “risked becoming an Apartheid state”.

The Israel lobby in the US in their not so holy alliance with right-wing Republicans, who will attack Democratic administrations regardless of merit, managed to force Kerry to apologise.

He shouldn’t have.  

Apartheid is a system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race and Israel is justifiably nervous about the use of the term apartheid in connection with its policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians. After all, South Africa became a pariah in the world until it rid itself of its apartheid system. Yet, even many Israelis agree that Israeli rule or control of a substantial Arab population (beyond the 1967-line), which may not be racially motivated, produces an apartheid-like outcome.

Kerry was wrong: Israel does not “risk” becoming an apartheid state. Israel’s course of action leading to a one-state solution, a bi-national state under Jewish rule, will undoubtedly create apartheid. AIPAC, the Israel lobby, might find the suggestion that Israel is at risk of becoming an apartheid state  “offensive and inappropriate,” but it is not half as offensive and inappropriate as Israel’s policies AIPAC so successfully defends.  

Introducing emotive terminology such as apartheid into a debate quickly raises the level of agitation and should – if only for that reason - be done with awareness. Sometimes, however, increasing the pressure is just what is necessary.   

Friday, 18 April 2014

I bet it doesn’t happen to David…Grossman

The young woman receives me with a friendly smile and tells me “we will be a small group tonight.” She adds “you know Bayern München are playing Manchester United tonight.” There are indeed very few in the hall in which I am to read from Die Schatten der Vergangenheit sind noch lang. Turns out that I am after all not Champions League material. The woman confesses that she is quite nervous, explaining, “authors are sometimes difficult.” I try to reassure her, promise that I will not be difficult, and hold back from pointing out that the football game is due to start later in the evening, only after my event is due to end.

It goes well and the questions show interest. The organisers say goodnight and do not offer to take me out for dinner. I don’t know anyone in this town and go back to my hotel. The restaurant is closed and I can only get snack food at a bar full of loud Bayern supporters.