Thursday, 31 May 2012

Sicily I - Mafia

The man leading his daughter to the altar was wearing dark wraparound sunglasses. Was it only my imagination or was he really also wearing a bulletproof vest under his suit? He could, of course, also have been a fat blind man, but when in Sicily...

My next Mafia meet was at the Temple of Concordia in Agrigento. This 5th century BC Greek temple, that was turned into a church in the 6th century AD (and thereby preserved) was taken over by the Sicilian State Police for a ceremony in which certificates of merit were handed out to policemen who have shown special valour.


Policemen singled out for arresting a Mafioso

Sicily II – Living Church

To take his mind off the continuing saga of his scandalous priests and bishops, the Pope should travel to Sicily. He would be mighty pleased. In Sicily, the Church is still getting it right and Mass, even midweek, still fills the churches. Even the young in their 20s and 30s – those you rarely see in church nowadays – attend mass in Sicily. 

Holidays, such as that of Santa Rita are even more festive:  




The church is overflowing; priests are taking confessions wherever you look.


Reporting a full house to the Papa di tutti Papi?

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Sicily III – Jesus Christ Super Star

I don’t know where Tim Rice got his inspiration for naming his musical Jesus Christ Superstar, but he may well have gotten it after visiting the Basilica of Monreale, near Palermo.

It is a splendid 12th century Norman cathedral with an enormous depiction of Christ that reminded me of the huge propaganda placards of communist dictators. I could not take my eyes of Him. This is propaganda fide at its best. 






Sicily IV – Bread

They make wonderful bread in Sicily – unusual for Italy, where it is rather difficult to get hold of decent bread. Wherever we ate, the bread that was served in restaurants was delicious.

I have yet to find out what the secret is.

Sicily V – Palermo


I did not quite know what my Italian neighbour meant when she warned me, before I left for Sicily, that Palermo was a bit like Cairo. 


Main entrance to Palermo’s opera house, 
Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele
just before the performance begins. 


Street scene in the old city of Palermo

Monday, 28 May 2012

What should Germany's President Say in Israel?


Germany’s newly elected President, Joachim Gauck, is off on a four-day state-visit to Israel today. At a time when German public opinion of Israel is increasingly negative, the purpose of Gauck’s visit is to “demonstrate German solidarity and support for the Jewish State.”

I expect that Angela Merkel will have briefed Gauck and given him her view about Netanyahu, who is considered by world politicians to be a liar. I imagine that the German Embassy in Tel Aviv will have similarly painted a bleak picture of the deterioration of Israel into a country run by extremists. If he will meet representatives of German NGOs, they may well tell him of the harsh and hopeless reality of life for Palestinians under Israeli rule.

Gauck’s Israeli hosts, however, will doubtlessly remind him of Germany’s special responsibility to support Israel because of the Holocaust. They will warn about increased anti-Semitism in Europe. Netanyahu will paint Iran as a threat comparable to Hitler and his hosts may also try to engage him in the debate over G√ľnter Grass’ recent “poetical” attack.

Will Gauck be allowed to tell his Israeli hosts what most Germans think of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank? Will he tell the Israeli people that Germany supports Israel’s right to exist but cannot and will not support Israel’s hold on the Occupied territories? Will Gauck tell Israel that unless Israel gets out of these Territories, Europe including Germany, will cease supporting Israel altogether?

He should, but he probably won’t. 

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Lufthansa Experience


I took a Lufthansa flight from City airport to Frankfurt. It was a morning flight and the flights attendant had just passed through with coffee and breakfast croissants.



The woman in this photo is not the flight attendant, but the young woman who sat in front of me changing the nappy of her child.

“No”, she explained when I asked her to use the nappy changing table in the toilet.  “There is not enough space in the toilet, my boy is too big.” She would not stop and continued to wipe her son’s ass whilst the people around her were having their breakfast.

Perhaps Lufthansa could bar this woman from future flights? Who knows what she will be up to when she flies with her incontinent grandmother? 

Lucian Freud



My friends Ls are in town and as is their habit they berated me for not taking advantage of the rich cultural opportunities on offer in London.

Had I already been to the Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery, they wanted to know. And I am really grateful to the Ls for asking. I had meant to go when the exhibition opened and had totally forgotten about it.

It is a wonderful big exhibition full of Freud’s powerful portraits. Moreover, it is a rare opportunity to see so many Freuds, many of which are in private collections, in one place.

The exhibition is running until 27 May. If you have not yet been – Go. It is worth coming to London just for that.