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?