Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Is Civil War the Only Solution for Israel?

Israel is deteriorating and it is deteriorating fast. In the past, intransigent Israeli prime ministers such as Golda Meir or Yitzhak Shamir used prevarication as a strategy to put off a compromise with the Arabs. Now this could be the cleverest option for the Palestinians: hold out for a bit longer and the Zionist experiment will implode.

The extreme right has been permitted to thrive under consecutive Israeli administrations ever since 1967 (and that includes much to Israel’s shame, Labour party administrations). Yesterday, yet another peak was reached when right wing settler activists attacked an Israeli army-base in the occupied West Bank. They threw rocks, burned tires and vandalised military vehicles. A senior IDF officer was hit in the head by a rock thrown at him by one of the Jewish terrorists.

Jewish settlers have been terrorising Palestinians for many years. Occasionally, when they feel that they do not get enough support from the army for their outrageous behaviour, they attack the army.

Is it possible that civil war is the only solution that will save Israel? We are unlikely to find out, as the left of centre in Israel will not really go all the way.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

France and her Prostitutes

French parliamentarians have a habit of dealing with the truly important issues: In 1913, they lengthily discussed the colour of their soldiers’ trousers and rejected the suggestion to issue French soldiers with camouflage coloured trousers. No dull colours for French soldiers. They should appear on the battlefield in bright red trousers. “Le pantalon rouge c’est la France” was the explanation given by the War Minister. Now, as Europe is descending into what may become war-like chaos, the French parliament had nothing better to do than pass a decision on what French men should do when they take off their red or other coloured trousers: under a new law, clients of prostitutes are to be criminalised and prosecuted.

With London disconnecting from the Continent again, we could offer frustrated French males some …what’s the French word for massage?

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Bernhard Meinhof at the Grand Canyon

They started a conversation on the shuttle from the park's visitor centre to the top of the trail. It was clear that they had just met on the bus. He was American, she was Russian and he spoke about the "Red Army of Bernhard Meinhof Gang". She had not heard of the Bernhard Meinhof Gang and so he continued: They were Germans and they liked East Germany. Carlos the Jackal was part of it. They attracted mainly supermodel type girls who only wanted to sunbathe when they went to training camps to help the Palestinians.

She was not that interested in his story but she did want her photo taken at almost every rock on the trail. For that purpose, she posed with her hair flung out in various reclining positions in numerous spots overlooking the Canyon. Occasionally she would shriek something that she must have heard in Russian versions of romantic Italian trash.

By the time they reached the first stop, he already had his arm around her. Soon thereafter they were kissing. A few hours later, on the way back, he was vomiting.


1. Is bringing up Baader-Meinhof (or his version:Bernhard Meinhoff) a proven chat-up line?

2. Did he play sick to get her to play nurse?

3. Does the Russian girl need an immigration visa?

4. Did she poison him in order to play nurse to prove her long-term value?

F****** on Amtrak

A couple of months ago, I took a train from Los Angeles to San Juan Capistrano. Two friendly-faced young black men were talking quietly in their seats across the aisle. At some point the not so young white woman who sat in front of me called across the aisle “excuse me, please do not use that word.” And just in case it was not clear, she called out the letters “F-U-C-K”.

The word fuck was not even used as a swear word in their conversation and the black young men looked at her with some bemusement.

"Why do you object to the word?” I asked. “I am an English teacher” was her response. “Yes?” I said. “This is not a nice word” was her explanation. “Fucking is a word for something rather nice, actually” I said “don’t you think?” This was too much for the lady; she got up and said, “I am getting the train supervisor.”

A few minutes later, she returned with the ticket collector who asked the black men to refrain from using blasphemous language on the train. “You must also tell him,” the white moral authority said pointing at me and the ticket collector told me to please behave on the train. Blasphemous language should not be used on the train, I was told, not even in private conversations. I asked about my rights under the First Amendment, and whether they do not allow me to say fuck on the train. But the ticket collector said no, adding that she did have the authority to instruct me.

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Tickets to the Frankfurt book fair allow entrance (to non exhibitors) from 9:00 onwards. My first appointment was in Hall 8 at 9:00.

Hall 8 is a ten-minute walk from the entrance and I did not want to be late. I tried to explain this to the ticket controller but he would not budge. “I am only following orders”, he explained. There were four or five more people in a similar situation.

I asked to see the supervisor who, after a few minutes and some shouting, agreed to let me in before 9, provide I could show her evidence that I did indeed have a 9 o’clock appointment. Fortunately, I could.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Send the Former IDF Chief Rabbi to jail.

The man has already earned his place in hell but before that he should go to jail.

In reaction to the prisoner swap in which jailed Palestinian murderers were exchanged to free Gilad Shalit, Rontzki, the former chief rabbi of the Israeli armed forces has said that Israeli soldiers should “kill terrorists in their beds”. This would make such people, who according to this revered rabbi “should just be shot, exterminated”, unavailable for future prisoner swaps. “A lot of cases shouldn’t reach court”, instead this religious moral authority explained that the army should rely on the “wisdom of commanders and fighters.”

Had an Arab called for such action against Israelis, Israel would have him in jail for incitement. Israel seems to have different rules when it comes to Jewish terrorists. They are allowed to roam the country, spread hatred and attack Arabs. The Israeli security service – so successful when it comes to finding Palestinian terrorists – finds it very difficult to find perpetrators of Jewish hate crimes against Arabs.

Brigadier General (Res) Rabbi Avihai Rontzki – is a shame to the Jewish people and a disgrace to the State of Israel - save us from any more of his disgusting hatred spewing mouth.

Gilad Shalit and Israel’s Mass Hysteria

He is finally back. It has been reported that 79 per cent of Israel’s population approve of the prisoner exchange.

Not all, but many of the 1027 Palestinian prisoners are murderers, men and women with blood on their hands. Many have made it clear that they do not regret their deeds and many of those released are likely to go back to terrorism. Some Palestinian terrorists who have been released in the past, have gone back and killed again. So why has Netanyahu agreed to this deal?

Natanyahu has previously made it clear that he is against such swaps. He attacked previous governments for agreeing similar exchanges and is ideologically opposed to what he has just done. With this deal, Israel has handed Hamas, with its unwillingness to recognise Israel, its call for the Jewish state to be abolished and for the continued armed struggle against Israel, a coup vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority run by Mr Abbas which has chosen the non violent route to achieve statehood. It may be that that Mr. Netanyahu wished to do just that: weaken that Palestinian element that does not fit Israel’s view and propaganda. If Hamas gains power in the West Bank in addition to ruling the Gaza Strip, Israel will be able to claim that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. This would suit Netanyahu and his friends and enable them to continue with building of further Jewish settlement in the Occupied Territories.

However, I believe that what really pushed Netanyahu to act against his deep convictions was the Shalit family campaign. Much has been written in the last few days about solidarity in Israeli society as the driving force that generated the deal. I would call it mass hysteria. Well and professionally orchestrated mass hysteria into which the Shalit family has very successfully propelled Israel’s population. Wherever you went, you could not avoid seeing Gilad’s photo, on big road signs, on car stickers, in electronic media in social networks. Calls for the government to pay whatever price to get Gilad back became part of life in Israel. They set up a camp in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, held marches in which wives of senior cabinet members took part, infiltrated every public debate with their propaganda of “Free Gilad Shalit”. This family managed to force Israel’s President, it’s Prime Minister and his wife meet with them, almost at command. Families whose sons were killed in action do not benefit from such attention. This was an amazing, well-oiled marketing operation.

The willingness of parents to turn the world upside down to get their son back is obvious. Yet, the by-product of Shalit’s release is the message given to the Arab world that Israeli society will pay any price to release a prisoner. In their hysteria they did not consider the almost certainty that Israelis will die as direct result of the release of unrepentant murderers. The next murder will turn the same people hysterically to demand action against Hamas. In such actions Israeli soldiers might get killed. This is why the deal was wrong. Hysteria does not lead to good decision-making. Unfortunately, that is how weak and visionless governments function.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Dates for readings from "Ist es noch gut, für unser Land zu sterben?"

Current dates for readings from Ist es noch gut, für unser Land zu sterben?

4 October Frankfurt
6 October Lübeck
17 October Braunschweig
18 October Hamburg

Mrs Merkel – More Pressure, Please!

Earlier this week, at the Berlin book launch of my new book, “Ist es noch gut, für unser Land zu sterben?” I was asked why Israel was stubbornly disregarding the advice of Mrs. Merkel. Indeed, Germany regularly reprimands Israel for building in the Occupied Territories and Israel regularly disregards these lectures.

Two days ago, it was reported that the German Chancellor, Mrs. Merkel, had yet again called Mr Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister and expressed anger” over the approval of 1,100 housing units in the Gilo neighbourhood, an area of Jerusalem that Israel annexed in 1967.

According to the Chancellor's office, Merkel told Netanyahu that the new housing permits "raise doubts over the Israeli government's readiness to begin serious negotiation with the Palestinians.”

I could have done my bit to help the German economy and saved the German taxpayer the price of that phone call. There is nothing to doubt. Mr. Netanyahu and his government represent that part of Israel’s population that wants to hold on to territory and are willing to pay the price of no peace.

Israel is likely to continue with this strategy, as it seems to be bearing fruit. Poisoned fruit, some may say.

Mrs Merkel, more pressure, please!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

A Palestinian State?

Why not?

Israel has been acting energetically to persuade members of the United Nations to vote against the recognition of a Palestinian State. However, I have yet to hear a sensible explanation why the Palestinian Authority should not be granted its wish.

Israel is apparently worried that as a full member, Palestine would be able to take Israeli officials to the International Court in The Hague. Should that disqualify Palestinians from statehood? Incidentally, quite a few countries, including China, Russia, India as well as the USA and Israel who have withdrawn their signature, have either not signed or not ratified their membership of the Court.

Curiously, Israel is complaining about the unilateral aspect of such recognition. Are not Israel’s occupation and settlement of the West Bank somewhat unilateral too?

Anyone who can offer good reasons for a no vote is urged to comment.


The Dead We Mourn and the Dead We Don’t:

2,977 - Died and missing September 11, 2001

1,994 - Hurricane Katrina

c. 40,000 - US Traffic fatalities per year

Monday, 22 August 2011

Ist es noch gut, für unser Land zu sterben?

Some of you have been kind enough not only to notice that I have not written for a while but also to say that they missed reading my blog. The reason for my silence was that I had been busy with the last corrections to my new book that is due out at the end of September.

In case you have always asked yourselves this question, whether it is still good to die for your country, you will soon be able to get my book on the subject.

The book with monologues of 27 young Israelis deals with their attitudes to the military service and possible moral issues connected to their service in the army.

The book, which is published (in German) by Nicolai Verlag, Berlin is coming out just in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Please let me know if you would like to be invited to the book launch that will take place in Berlin on Monday, 26 September.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Bibi and the Hamas

Recently, Israel too has enjoyed its own version of popular revolt. The most vivid representation of this unrest are the tents set up by the mainly middle class youngsters in Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard to demonstrate the lack of affordable housing in the country.

The continued occupation of the West Bank and the building of Jewish settlements by Israel sadly only produces occasional one-off demonstrations and has no chance of turning out a rebellion with similar stamina.

In the last few days, terror attacks that killed 8 Israelis have brought about Israeli retaliation as well as threatening declarations by Israeli politicians competing with each other in their bravado. Former Labour leader and Bibi Netanyahu’s Minister of Defence, Ehud Barak, informed us that those who act against Israel “will have their heads separated from their bodies.” Nice language Mr. Barak.

It may be that deterioration into another round of slaughter will be avoided this time. However, politicians of the extreme right in Israel and their brothers on the Palestinian side will do their utmost to prevent any agreement or compromise. This is the real purpose behind their actions. This time there is an added bonus: the recent round of fire may conveniently get the social demonstrators off Bibi’s back. Instead of sending the air force, he should really have sent the Hamas leaders a thank you note. Flowers perhaps?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Should one buy goods made by Jewish Settlers in the Occupied Territories?

The new law that was passed by Israel’s parliament prevents me from advocating a "geographically based boycott." Under this law, the party injured in the boycott call could sue me for damages in a civil court.

Whilst not advocating a boycott, I would like to inform my friends that I make a point of not buying goods produced by settlers in their illegal settlements. Moreover, I can well imagine that those buying Israeli goods may wish to know whether what they are about to buy has been produced in Israel or whether it stems from one of the Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories.

If, despite Israel’s attempt to shut up free speech, boycott would succeed, thriving companies might wish to reconsider: For example, perhaps the shareholders of Ahava, a company making cosmetics from Dead Sea minerals, will consider moving their plant from the Occupied Territories into the area of the State of Israel?

Murdoch – Back to Australia

There is an old British tradition of sending criminals from England to Australia. Let's find the old law that arranged for the shipping of unwanted Britons to that country and send Murdoch back to Australia, the country he came from. Now is the time to get rid of him.

With a bit of luck, if the allegations of bribery by Murdoch’s company will be proven, that will also be the end of his US media empire.

The phone hacking scandal could become a blessing if it brings about a change in our rules on media ownership.

Let us have no compromises – Murdochs and their ilk should not be allowed to control the media. We should not let them – just because they successfully seduce us with titillating stories - manipulate our politics and have power over our lives.

Seize the moment.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

I Have Finally Made It

A friend who has come back from China has told me that she tried to read my latest blog during her short trip to China and was unable to access it: The Chinese government has blocked my blog.

No longer disregarded – I have been cut by the censors – I have finally made it.

A Call for Boycott

Israel’s parliament has recently passed, in its first reading, a law that would punish Israelis who call for boycotts of Israeli institutions. This new law explicitly includes boycotts of goods and services originating in the Jewish settlements of the Occupied Territories.

This outrageous undemocratic law that would try to gag free speech should not be allowed to pass. If it does, it should be disregarded by so many as to make it unenforceable.

Do not buy goods produced in settlements in the Occupied Territories.

Murdoch - Wounded

Rupert Murdoch owns or controls 20th Century Fox, FOX Broadcasting, BSkyB , FOXTEL, Sky Deutschland, SKY Italia, The New York Post, the Wall Street Journal. In the UK he owns the Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun, the News of the World. In Britain, Murdoch owns 37% of the newspaper market whilst in the USA, content of his media organisation reaches 40% of the domestic audience.

Murdoch has not invented such unhealthy and democracy threatening control. Germany’s late Axel Springer and the still alive and kicking, hair dying Silvio Berlusconi are but two famous examples.

Ownership structures of the media do not excite the general public. But the same people who buy sleazy newspapers because of their sleazy content are the first to get worked up by the techniques employed by these papers to acquire such sleaze. The rich and famous, whose phones were hacked by a private detective who had been hired by Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, were offered compensation. Now it turns out that they also hacked the phones of a disappeared and murdered 13 year-old-girl as well as those of bereaved families of British soldiers and the proverbial shit has hit the fan.

To appease the public, Murdoch has just closed down the News of the World. The 200 staff of the paper will be made redundant, whilst the woman who was the editor of the News of the World when all the phone hacking took place and who is now Murdoch’s CEO is glued to her chair. Doubtlessly, if the closure of the News of the World will not suffice, Rebekah Brooks will also have to go.

Finally there is blood. But this is not enough. Murdoch should now at long last be gotten rid of. People like him should not own any media. We should definitely not allow such concentration of media ownership and not allow a Murdoch to decide who will be the next prime minister.

Other People on MY Plane – II

My call for more consideration by those entering the public domain managed to anger some readers. However, not one of those who suggested that to avoid being disturbed I should fly first class had offered to buy me first class tickets. It is not that I do not appreciate luxury I simply cannot afford it. I can hardly afford the fares they charge for economy these days, let alone first class.

I know, beggars can’t be choosers but this is not the point. We no longer let people poison us with nicotine exhalation, why should we tolerate other people’s noise or dirt?

Friday, 24 June 2011

Who Needs Lourdes?

Of the twenty people who arrived in wheelchairs to board a recent flight to Tel Aviv, 19 could miraculously walk again once on board the aircraft.

Fly El Al and we will make you Walk might not be quite the right slogan for an airline but I trust their advertising people to find a suitable alternative.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Other People on My Plane

Flights to and from Israel are very often a nightmare. Too many ultra-orthodox with too many babies: The babies are constantly crying whilst their fathers are busy taking over the aisles for communal prayers.

Even the non-orthodox seem to constantly move about. Why can’t they remain in their seats during flights?

The man who sat next to me last week, was not orthodox, nor did he have any babies but he chose to fly to London in his polyester pants and a neon green sleeveless vest. Flying in beachwear seems to have become fashionable. A few days later, at Heathrow in London, I saw a man board a flight to Amsterdam in similar attire.

Should there not be some protocol for those entering public space, be it a restaurant or an airplane? Are we not entitled to fly or eat without others imposing their bodies, smells or noises on us?


She was black and fat, very fat, actually very very very fat and she came into the waiting room carrying plastic shopping bags in both hands. With her own body weight and the weight she was carrying in her shopping bags, walking did not come easy. She did not sit down, did not even bother to take a number, just chatted to some of the nurses and then entered the department.

Ten minutes later, when my number was displayed on the electronic indicator, the fat black woman stood at the entrance to a cubicle, showed me in and asked me to roll up my sleeve.

She had magic hands and I never even felt the needle go in.

So much for bias.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Overheard in Lucca

As I was leaving a restaurant, two Bavarian couples walked by and one of the men approached and asked the Albanian waitress: ”wo ist hier das PUCCINI Denkmal?” The hopelessly sad looking waitress pointed at something on the map and the well-fed Bavarian who was not sure that the Albanian understood must have thought that shouting in German might help: “DENKMAL, DENKMAL, JA!”

Drink with a friend of a friend

One of my friends suggested I meet with a Florentine friend of his. I did.

For the price of a glass of wine, I was told that “Florence is polluted by tourists and that “we really do not like it”. I am not even sure that she liked the wine. She never said. She later sent me an email with a photo that shows her talking with Sarkozy. I imagine that the wine at the Élysée is better. Sorry.

The Brancacci Chapel

There were two groups at the Brancacci chapel whilst I was there: A group of Germans and a group of Italian 12-year-olds from Ferrara. The kids were neither listening nor looking at the frescoes. Most were busy playing with their mobile phones. I asked their teacher why he had brought his class to the chapel and he told me that kids had actually learned about the chapel and the frescoes at school.

The Germans were very serious and asked questions. Their poor guide, after the third question that she was unable to answer, explained that she had mislaid her papers:“Ich bin ziemlich irritiert da ich meine unterlagen verloren habe. Da verlieren wir halt alle.”


They are all looking for David. Occasionally, I get stopped in the street by tourists who ask me where to find David. The more attractive ones, I tell that they need look no further – that they have found David. However, spoiled by pictorial depictions of Michelangelo’s David they are rarely willing to compromise. Occasionally, to make clear to me what they are looking for, they show me a photo in their guidebooks. “Where is this?’ they want to know.

The lines in front of the Accademia, which houses the original David, are almost always very long but tourists come in droves and prefer the original over the life size copy in the Piazza della Signoria or the bronze copy at Piazalle Michelangelo.

One of those who asked me was Jack, an ex-marine from Indianapolis who was in Florence for just one day. He had to be in Milan for work, had never been to Europe before and decided to “tour” Rome for two days and Florence for one day before going back to the US. Jack asked me what else he should see in Florence. I mentioned the Uffizi but he explained “no, I’ve already done art and stuff at the Vatican." He did, however, want to see the original David and not a copy and was willing to stand in line for that. Before saying goodbye, I had to find out who this Midwest ex-marine ha voted for. "I don't trust Obama", he said and explained "...we have to stop spending so much money." I did not ask but I hardly think that it was the defense budget he wanted the President to cut.

Public Aesthetics

Fat and ugly men and women walk about in shapeless shorts that make most of them seem even fatter and uglier whereas the young women walk around in slip-shaped tight mini trousers that just about manage to hug their nether region. This mass of unsightliness is especially insulting inside museums – supposedly temples of beauty.

Open Letter to the Directors of the Uffizi, Pitti, Accademia and other Museums

In the good old days, museums were depositories of art that were open to the general public and to scholars and most visitors were people who were interested in the exhibited works. This is no longer the case. At some point someone came up with the ridiculous idea of herding masses to museums. They have become part of the tour itineraries of mass tourism, just like souvenir shops. Museums are full of groups each following its own coloured rag waiving guide. The guides talk, the people don't listen: Only a small fraction of the tour participants actually listen to their guides: Some chat to each other, others are on their mobile phones or send text messages. The rest just dream away.

This really cannot go on. Dear museum director:

1. Sort out the acoustics. The extremely high noise level, which is due to the acoustics of the museum buildings, to the tendency of Italians to talk loudly, to your allowing so many groups to come into the museums and to a total mismanaged museum-guards workforce, prevents anyone from concentrating on the exhibited works of art.

2. Totally forbid any group of more than five to have guidance without using wireless speaker and earpiece systems.

3. Limit the number of groups you allow at any time.

4. Tighten up your guards: they should wear uniforms and look smart. Take away their mobile phones and their sudoku magazines. At work – they should actually work. Currently, your guards’ only interaction with visitors is to shout “no photo” when they notice a camera flash. Instead, they should be available for information requests and ensure that the rooms be quiet to enable visitors to concentrate on the art.

5. Get professional lighting experts. Many of your lighting systems are just bad! As a result, objects can often not be appreciated.

6. Glass panels – replace the reflective glass panels in front of many of the paintings with non-reflective glass. Currently, one sees oneself and others reflected in the painting one is looking at.

Above all, forget this notion that museums should be judged by the numbers of visitors.


There was an attractive 30-ish gypsy woman “working” on the train I took from Firenze to Lucca. I was on the phone when she insistently demanded my attention.When I asked her in my broken Italian why she was begging instead of working she responded with words that did not quite sound like a blessing. Nor was it Italian.

Florence is full with working foreigners: Senegalese sell sunglasses, umbrellas and handbags. North Africans sell “art” in the streets, Palestinians are said to be working in the Pizzerie. Thousands of Chinese run an entire economy that is apparently invisible to the Italian authorities. And then there are Gypsies, lots of them everywhere. Their line is begging. Some say that they also steal. According to my Italian teacher, they get free accommodation from the city.

The regular one sitting next to my supermarket sometimes leaves her begging bowl and sits across the street to chat with her co-workers. Every now and then she goes into the supermarket to change the coins that she has collected into € notes.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Why Florence

I have repeatedly been asked by friends why I have chosen to go to Florence. As if one needed a reason for going to Florence. Some suspect an ulterior motive but you do not need to worry: There will not be a Florence book. The truth is that I fled.

Like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown I had not been invited to the royal wedding in London. Rome was out too because unlike Robert Mugabe, I had not been invited to the beatification ceremony of Pope John Paul II. So I couldn't go to Rome either. Funny people those chefs of protocol.

On the other hand, Buckingham Palace was right not to invite me: I have –after all – not made a secret of my views about Camilla. What bad taste for Camilla to be placed in the first row at this wedding! I wonder what the protocol arrangements would have been had Diana still been alive? Would the divorced mother not have been placed next to her ex-husband? Where the hell is the sensibility of William and Harry? They even made Camilla’s granddaughter a bridesmaid. Their mother would not have been dead had Camilla (and their father) not connived to deliberately corrupt, drain and quash that marriage.

That explains my exclusion. But why exclude Blair and Brown?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

My Cleaner and Brunelleschi

A couple of days ago, on hearing that I was in a hurry for a history of art lesson, the 60 plus year old Italian Signora who cleans “my” apartment wanted to know where my lesson would take place. San Lorenzo, I said and the cleaner immediately instructed me to make sure not to miss the pietra dura and not to forget to also visit the crypt. She continued with more details and promised me that I would enjoy this beautiful church.

She was right. Angela, my art history teacher, was not surprised.

Florence and the stranieri’s Garbage

Either the Florence municipality is extremely visitor friendly or the foreign visitors are extremely undisciplined with their trash: What other explanation can there be for English language garbage collection instructions on street containers in some parts of Florence?

Italy and EU Flags

Italy must have done some kind of a deal with the bureaucrats in Brussels by which they get paid for every EU flag they hang. There are too many of them as it is but this week, there are even more of them everywhere in Florence. Some kind of a “Europe in Florence Week”, I was told.

Money well spent no doubt.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Italian Bread

The Italians may be good cooks but their bread leaves a lot to be desired. This has only one advantage that I can think of which is that one does not overindulge in the pre-meal bread that restaurants serve.

Yet, competition between the many bakeries is evidently tough: to outdo their rivals, my next-door forno offers bread that has already been blessed: pan di ramerino benedetto. Buy your bread here and it will save you having to go to the church to have it blessed. The local priest doing his bit to help local business?

EU (and Italian) Flags

Every semi-public building flies a flag. Nowadays, they don’t only fly the national flag but always also the EU flag. Why do bureaucrats have to plant their flags everywhere? Who needs flags over the beautiful row of Andrea della Robbia ceramic plaques that decorate the 15th century spedale degli innocenti.

Instead of planting flags, those public officials should do a better job of keeping the city and its riches in a better state of repair: The fountains in the Piazza Santissima Annunciata are filled with dirt and dry moss. Such dilapidation is not to be seen at the various palazzi that house government departments around town. These seem to always be in a wonderful state of refurbishment.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Pozzo Divino

I know, pozzo in Italian is not putz in American, however... why am I not surprised that the person who named his shop Pozzo Divino chose to establish himself in canto alle stinche? Where else?

Room with a View

Who is complaining?

I have three rooms with two views: from my bedroom I see the dome of the Florentine Cathedral, the duomo, and from the two other rooms I have a view onto Fiesole over the garden of the palazzo in which I am staying.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The David Ranan Peace Plan

A Facebook friend of mine put the following question to his friends:

What is the craziest, non-political, non-violent idea you can think of to get Israelis and Palestinians to come together and make peace?

My response was:

Put the leadership of both sides under curfew: Lock them up in their own countries. Close the rest of the world to the top 5000 on each side. Prevent them from travelling, shopping, investing and accumulating money overseas. They are all so corrupt that they will not hold out: Soon enough, the Israeli as well as the Palestinian leadership will agree a deal.

One will, of course, need international cooperation for such a boycott to work and that is unlikely to be agreed. It is a shame really, because such a travel boycott would most probably deliver peace.

Social Mobility

In a Radio Four debate on social mobility it was suggested that Britain has become a more meritocratic society, allowing upward mobility, but that this could not go on forever as there might be a limit to available middle class jobs. One of the participants made the point that downward mobility is less traumatic than one might expect: dim middle class men – he said - who in the past became stockbrokers in the City have not been relegated to being dustmen - they have now become estate agents.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Not so Gut

Not all Germans are like that like that but so many of the ones I met continue with their adoration of former Defence Secretary Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg who was forced to resign after he was found out as a cheat who had deceived his way to a PhD.

Last weekend, I constantly ran into Germans who explained to me that:

1. Everybody cheats at exams.

2. It’s the professors’ fault for not having caught Guttenberg’s plagiarism.

3. It was deplorable that opposition speakers used such strong language in parliament, as they demanded Guttenberg’s dismissal.

Why do they adore that arrogant, über-Catholic aristocrat who thinks that he was born to lead? Why does the man who abused their trust not disgust them? Why do they defend the man who despite all the advantages he was born into had to steal his academic title and who instead of hiding in shame tried to brazenly deny his deeds and then told the country that they he was too busy burying German soldiers who had died in Afghanistan to deal with petty complaints about his PhD.

But above all: How can they tell their sons or daughters that they may not cheat if they are willing to accept a cheat as their leader?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Shimon Peres: “our hearts are …with the entire settlement in these terrible moments."

Several days ago a family of five was murdered in their home in Itamar, a Jewish Settlement in the Occupied Territories. The people who live in Itamar are orthodox Jews who believe that land that was promised to the Jews by God may not be given up.

Despite international condemnation and despite the fact that most other countries consider Jewish settlements in the territories occupied by Israel in the Six Day War to be illegal, these have mushroomed with the support of Israeli governments over the years and prosper under the protection of the Israeli army and security services. Ideology-driven Orthodox Jews are willing to risk not only their own lives but also the lives of their children. The Israeli government risks the lives of its soldiers to protect them.

Murder is despicable. Murder of innocent children even more so. But settlers’ activities in the Occupied Territories are often also detestable. They very rarely stoop as low as murder but with the backing of the Israeli government they get away with a lot.

In retaliation to the murder in Itamar, the Israeli government has announced that it will allow the building of a further 500 homes in the Occupied Territories.

Will this promote peace or is it a case of "extremists of the world unite"?

Friday, 11 February 2011


From the first day of the troubles in Egypt, western media, spokespeople and the general mood were for the street and against the Mubarak regime.

You could not open the radio or TV without hearing someone talking of how exciting this was and how it reminded him or her of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Reporters forgetting that they are meant to report the news and not salute them, couldn’t hide their glee. None more so than the Independent’s Robert Fisk who climbed onto a tank that had been taken over by an anti government crowd at Tahrir square in Cairo.

Is Mubarak more corrupt than Berlusconi or Putin? Is Putin’s Russia more democratic than Mubarak’s Egypt? Do Egyptians who want to leave get shot at the country’s borders as they used to in Soviet bloc countries?

Does Egypt fund hate preaching mullahs, as does Saudi Arabia? Do they fund terror, as do Iran and Syria? Do they allow extremist Islamic training camps and religious schools to flourish, as does Pakistan?

Why is the West so happy to support a revolution in the most stable and peaceful country in the Middle East? Why compare this uprising to the fall of the Berlin Wall?

PS: In 2009 the US courts had 52 people killed under US justice compared to 5 who were given the death penalty in Egypt.

Plumber: Parts II - V

Plumber – Part II

Michael the plumber came back from his skiing holiday and finally came to see my hot water boiler. He would email me a price quotation over the weekend, he said.

He didn’t.

I emailed him on Monday. No response. I rang him on Tuesday and he promised to have an email out tonight.

Plumber – Part III

I did not get an email and rang again on Wednesday. Spoke to the plumber’s mother who explained that she was very busy as their accountant was leaving for a holiday in Mauritius… She promised to email the quotation right away.

She did.

Plumber – Part IV

Chasing the plumber was a mistake. The family evidently expects me to personally fund the plumber’s skiing vacation; perhaps even chip in for the accountant's trip to Mauritius. The quotation I was sent allowed for some £900 for a day’s work (not including materials). The notes that came with the quotation added that I would also have to pay for the parking of his car and that he expected half the money upfront. No mention was made of what he expected on his sandwiches or whether I would have to pay for the dry cleaning of his soiled overalls.

I turned him down.

Plumber - Part V

Can anyone recommend a reliable and reasonable plumber (registered to do gas work) in London?

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Pope and Berlusconi

I find myself in the curious position of empathising with the Catholic Church.

In reference to the latest disclosures about Berlusconi and the young girls he is alleged to have paid to have sex with, Cardinal Bagnasco, the head of the Italian Bishops Conference said, “Whoever accepts a public position must understand the sobriety, personal discipline, sense of measure and honour that come with it.” The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, added that the Roman Catholic Church urged greater “morality” and “legality” in public life.

Should the fact that its own priests and bishops have screwed, raped and abused the vulnerable prevent the Church from preaching to others about their behaviour? True, those Catholic priests rather forgot all about “sobriety, personal discipline, sense of measure and honour” that apparently come with public office. But preaching about morals is the gist of the Church’s business and the Church would have to close shop if prevented from preaching to others. And what then?

I wonder what Latin for Chutzpah is?

On Not Finding a Plumber

Four or five months ago, I asked a plumber to give me a quote for a new hot water cylinder. He gave me a ballpark figure and promised to get in touch with a detailed offer. After a week, I rang to remind him. He was surprised that I had not received his letter and then remembered that he had forgotten to send it. He promised to send the quote the same day. Nothing came. A few weeks later, I asked another plumber to have a look. Same story.

The third plumber who had done work for my neighbours was very friendly and seemed quite knowledgeable and interested in the job. Whenever I rang to remind him, he was truly apologetic and promised to send me the offer within a day. After the fourth time, I stopped reminding him.

It is not a small job and I would have thought that in the recession we are meant to be in plumbers would be happy to get the work.

Now I am on to the fourth plumber. Michael was recommended by my landlord. I chased him on the phone for about a week. Finally, last Tuesday, I managed to speak to him. He was unable to come before Friday but he would come on Friday to look at the job. He promised to ring later that day to arrange the time for Friday. He didn’t. Nor did he ring on Wednesday or on Thursday. Finally, I managed to speak to him on Friday and I was told that he would not be able to come that day. Moreover, as he was leaving for a skiing vacation, he suggested that I get in touch with him after his return.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Culture and Politics – III

There is a wonderful Thomas Lawrence exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Go, if you haven’t been. It ends on 23 January.

Various owners, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, the Tate, as well as the Queen lent paintings to the Portrait Gallery for this exhibition.

I was surprised to see that the only paintings that had a © sign attached and shown in the catalogue are those owned by the Queen. None of the other owners felt the need to secure their copyright over the art they own.

According to the Queen’s own website the art is “held in trust by The Queen for the Nation.” In a country in which most museums are free, the Queen charges a hefty £9 for visits to the Queen’s Gallery. Most of “her” art is never seen by the public.

Should not all this wonderful art be placed in freely accessible public museums instead of being locked up without access at Windsor, Buckingham Palace and other Royal residences?

Culture and Politics - II

In Freiburg, to celebrate Epiphany, my friend Corinna invited to a cultural soiree: Life and Music at the Pringsheim Residence was the subject of German writer Inge Jens’ lecture. A piano trio played Pringsheim’s music.

Pringsheim, whose residence in Munich was nothing but palatial, emanated from a very wealthy Jewish family. Until 1933, invitations to events at the home of mathematics professor and arts connoisseur Alfred Pringsheim (1850-1941) were highly sought after in the city’s high society. Nowadays, he is known mainly as Thomas Mann’s father-in-law.

Jens depicted the tragedy of this assimilated bourgeois German Jew who like many other educated German Jews had absorbed and integrated into German culture. With Pringsheim, this climaxed in his worship of Richard Wagner. So fascinated was he by Wagner that he not only supported him financially but also composed his own convincingly beautiful piano arrangements for some of Wagner’s music.

Leaving all this was not easy and the Pringsheims left it to the last moment. They did manage to get out of Germany in October 1939. The distressed old man, who by then had lived through six years under Nazi rule, was 89 and perhaps too weak to consider the tragedy and irony of having a joint idol with Adolf Hitler – who had caused his misery and degradation.

Culture and Politics – I

Spending Christmas in Venice had the added bonus of being able to enjoy the city at it emptiest. The narrow streets were almost spacious and looking at paintings rather than at other visitors at the Accademia was an unusual treat.

I don’t know what financial arrangements enabled French billionaire, Francois Pinault, to get his hands on the iconic Punta della Dogana, having already got hold of Palazzo Grassi on the other side of the Grand Canal. Rather large posters with a photomap create the impression that this whole part of Venice is Pinault-land. Moreover, Pinault seems to think that he owns the artists as well as their work. His posters inform us that the two museums jointly exhibit “Artists from the Francois Pinault Collection”.

Pinault charges a €15 entrance fee. This is more than twice the Accademia’s €6.50. If we allow the rich to create such self-aggrandising projects should they not be made to open them to the public free of charge?