DAY 44

May 31st, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

I think we should break with our traditional order of presentation, now becoming as hackneyed as sonata form (say), to celebrate the meteoric rise of Gaza’s Mohammed Assaf on ‘Arab Idol‘.

MohmdAssaf060513To quote Mondoweiss:

It was no small task for Assaf to travel to Cairo to audition for the wildly popular show.”He needed a visa (to cross the Gaza-Egypt border), but he didn’t have one,” his father, Jabar, told CNN from Khan Younis, a refugee camp in Gaza. Israel imposes a blockade on Gaza, leaving residents without access to an airport.

Palestinian officials had to make special arrangements for Assaf to leave Gaza, his mother, UmShadi, a math teacher, explained. By the time he arrived in Cairo, the doors to the venue where auditions were held had already closed.

“So he jumped the wall,” she said. Security guards seized him and were going to escort him out when a Palestinian official with the show recognized Assaf from his performances in Gaza and gave him a candidate number, allowing him to compete.

When asked by judges on the show why it took him two days to travel the 250 miles from Gaza to Cairo, Assaf simply replied, “problems at the crossing and such.”

Assaf is one of seven children. “We are refugees!” his father proclaimed. “We only dreamed he would get to this point and show the world his beautiful voice. Now we want him to win!”

“Palestinians are not the way (the world) see(s) them,” he explained. “They like to be happy. They like to sing.”…

“We aren’t used to the fame,” [his mother] said, “but we are very happy.”

prater    schiele  pizza





.                The Prater                            Schiele                        What they think in the

.                                                                                     Mariahilferstrasse

Still, you will be asking, how can I explain my long desertion of the blogger’s craft? Writer’s block? Disgust with the increasing poverty of my offerings? Anomie? Enough to say that I’m just back from a freudian trip to Vienna, where the hotel wifi din’t work; with holiday pix:

The long tramps through galleries! The even longer tramps to get to the centre having found that the British Sunday was still alive (as Klimt complained in 1910) and nothing runs after 3 p.m.! The endless German sermon on the Trinity probably by the Cardinal himself, before a rapt audience in the Stephanskirche! But where were the wienerschnitzel, the schokolade mit schlag, the linzertorte? Research on these will have to wait till the next trip, although they may have become as rare as jellied eels in London. But to those of you who have wearied of the hackneyed pleasures of Reykjavik, Havana or Erbil, the old imperial capital still has a great deal to offer, even if the London Freud museum has more of the goodies such as the ‘Gradiva’ (naturally, the Freuds carried their household gods with them in 1938). (I was going to mention the attractions of Mozart, Schubert and Schönberg, but noticed that the sentence was already over the limit.)

I sort of implied that my silence on Syria was due to a feeling that I was too ill-informed to comment. Not that that stops me generally, I hear you riposte. I read almost all of Patrick Cockburn’s piece in the current LRB, and am much better informed – so I offer it to you. (But perhaps the link won’t work, as the piece is being offered as a ‘taster’ to induce you to subscribe.)



Having had a Rwandan rendering of Charles Wesley a while back, here is a Rwandan poem (author seems to be pseudonymous), with a helpful reference to math. and equations.


The unthinkable world
They say you rip what you saw
Does that explain why we are products of war?
They say history builds the future
Is that why we ignore our culture?
Years in school plus years searching for a job
Equals years of death
An equation you were not taught in math
Why do some people work hard.
And earn small?
Think that explains why some buildings fall.

Unthinkable world
Be strong young boys and girls
Be strong as you tell everyone 
That you are not just a star
Which only shines at night?
Tell’em u are bigger than the sky
And that u don’t rule u lead u are the master
Boys be ready to face the unthinkable world
Make sure that everybody takes your inspiring words
Girls be ready to face the unthinkable world
Don’t let young boys lie to u with fake
Diamonds and pearls
With the unthinkable world.

The following track is a real discovery. I last heard it in the fifties – it’s a living proof that as with Alice’s Restaurant, you can find anything you want on the Internet. It dates from 1954, and was Eliza Marelli’s first big hit. I thought you’d like to know.

DAY 43 – Nakba

May 17th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

This lazy, or overextended, blog (depending on how you see it), missed getting out its intended edition for Nakba Day, May 15th; and the Nakba – as commentators agree – continues week by week, day by day.176

The Nakba

However, a strange incident in celebrity culture: – Stephen Hawking finally brought the existence of the boycott movement (and its respectability) to the attention of many who were probably unaware of it.blackhole

A black hole

Comment from the Jewish Daily Forward (so as to ensure balance):

WASHINGTON — In the battle between supporters of Israel and those calling for a boycott of the Jewish state success is measured to a great extent by symbolic victories. And nothing makes for more of a symbolic victory than getting the most prominent living scientist to boycott Israel’s most prestigious gathering.

Such was the impact of British physicist Stephen Hawking’s surprise withdrawal from Israel’s Presidential Conference at the request of pro-Palestinian activists.

For supporters of the BDS movement, who call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel, Hawking’s decision was cause for unprecedented celebration. Not only is Hawking a world-leading scientist who succeeded in making theoretical physics and cosmology accessible to laymen, he also demonstrated, in his struggle with a debilitating nervous system disease, the strength of mind over body. The event Hawking chose to boycott — an international gathering celebrating the 90th birthday of Israel’s most well-known leader, Shimon Peres — added to the BDS movement’s triumph.

“This is a fantastic move, a sort of watershed moment,” BDS activist Sami Hermez said in a May 10 interview on Al Jazeera TV. “When someone like that boycotts Israel, you have the possibility of a snowball effect and it speaks to the growing nature of the BDS movement.”

Supporters of Israel did not dispute the significance of Hawking joining the BDS camp, but they did question the significance of the move for future attempts to boycott Israel. Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, called the decision “a PR gift to the movement,” but noted at the same time that putting Hawking’s move in perspective would require acknowledging that “for every high-profile person who acquiesces to those demanding a boycott, there are dozens of others who do not succumb to this pressure.”

Reaction in Israel and around the world to Hawking’s move helped enforce the notion that Hawking was more than another name on the list of celebrities refusing to visit Israel. The chairman of the Presidential Conference, Israel Maimon, responded angrily, calling the decision “outrageous and improper.” Maimon added that the imposition of such a boycott is “incompatible with open, democratic dialogue.” The British press, which covered the Hawking affair closely, devoted lengthy articles to the decision, voicing opinions both favoring the boycott and opposing it. In the American media, usually known to lean more in favor of Israel than the European press does, the mainstream Boston Globe stood out by publishing an editorial that labeled the Israeli response an “overreaction” and called Hawking’s move a “reasonable way to express one’s political views.”

Having just started reading Little Women (out loud, to granddaughter – which may take even longer than Nostromo), I find myself irresistibly reminded of the moment when Rachel commits the worst plot-spoiler ever by telling Joey that Beth dies. (Apologies to any of you who didn’t know it – now I’ve spoilt it for you. And while we’re on the subject, here’s

Lucy playing the same trick on Linus. Is there a gender stereotype, I wonder, setting these stories side by side?

On a completely different subject, the weirdest/stupidest/most unbelievable story of the week (or longer) suggested that scientists, who are increasingly mad, were now reckoning that they could solve the problem which has eluded us all so far of predicting when we’ll die  – except (and this seems to be the point)  if we’re depressed. One naturally wants to disprove them by asking for a prediction of one’s date of death based on genetics and then walking under a bus; but it would probably be concluded that this behaviour was the result of depression, so confirmed the theory. Anyway, the report (in the Independent) says:

‘The researchers found that they could estimate a healthy person’s time of death to within a few hours by analysing the activity levels of a set of genes – whether they are switched on ‘high’ or ‘low’ – within certain regions of the deceased brain.

However, this correlation broke down when they analysed the autopsied brains of people who had suffered from depression. Their gene activity bore little relationship to the hour of death, which indicated they suffered a severely disrupted sleeping pattern, the scientists found.’

Does this mean what I think it means? Please help restore my faith in Enlightenment rationality by posting a quick explanation.


I’ve been looking for a poem by famed Indian poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan, having heard enough of his son Amitabh for the time being. There are plenty of them posted, but not with a translation and my Hindi really isn’t up to reading them even if yours is, gentle reader. However, here’s one.


वृक्ष हों भले खड़े,
हों घने, हों बड़े,
एक पत्र छाँह भी
मांग मत! मांग मत! मांग मत!
अग्निपथ! अग्निपथ! अग्निपथ!

तू न थकेगा कभी,
तू न थमेगा कभी,
तू न मुड़ेगा कभी,
कर शपथ! कर शपथ! कर शपथ!
अग्निपथ! अग्निपथ! अग्निपथ!

यह महान दृश्य है,
चल रहा मनुष्य है,
अश्रु, स्वेद, रक्त से
लथ-पथ, लथ-पथ, लथ-पथ,
अग्निपथ! अग्निपथ! अग्निपथ!


Vriksh hon bhale khade,
Hon ghane, hoh bade,
Ek patra chhah bhi
Maang mat! Maang mat! Maang mat!
Agneepath! Agneepath! Agneepath!

Tu na thakega kabhi,
Tu na thamega kabhi,
Tu na mudega kabhi,
Kar shapath! Kar shapath! Kar shapath!
Agneepath! Agneepath! Agneepath!

Yeh mahaan drishya hai,
Chal raha manushya hai
Ashru, swed, rakt se
Lath-path, lath-path, lath-path,
Agneepath! Agneepath! Agneepath!


Agneepath – English Translation

Even if there are mighty trees all around you,
Let them be shady, let them be huge,
But, even for the shade of a single leaf,
Beg not, beg never, ask never!
The path of fire you shall tread! The path of fire! Yes, That Path of Fire!

You shall never tire,
You shall never slow down,
You shall never turn back,
This oath you will take today!
This oath you will fulfill in your life!
Take this oath!
And walk the Path of Fire, every single day!
The oath of fire! Yes, That Path of Fire!

What greater spectacle,
Than to see such a man walk,
Who in tears, sweat and blood,
Is soaked, covered and coated;
And still walks on in the Path of fire!
Walks the path of fire! Yes, That Path of Fire!

Agneepath (अग्निपथ)

A poem by Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Translated into english by Riku Sayuj.

DAY 42

May 7th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

One of my more technically-minded followers pointed out that I could download books to my phone and read them on the Tube; and if they were out of copyright it would be free. So I could use my phone like a Kindle! The example she gave was Shakspeare’s sonnets (probably a page per sonnet); but overweening ambition led me to download Nostromo.

Nostromo-Scene1I don’t know if this has seriously overstrained my poor phone’s memory, but here are some tips for any of you who may have similar temptations: a) a page on the phone is so short that it scarcely covers one of Conrad’s sentences. (Don’t try Proust!) You have to keep flicking back to see what the man in the poncho was doing when you first heard of him. b) the software used to transfer text onto the phone is not totally up to scratch, and if you’re even mildly pedantic you’ll be irritated by a misprint at least every other page.

That said, the pleasures of ignoring the Metro and spending your Tube (or bus) journey immersed in events in Costaguana are huge, and I might even finish the book, though I imagine it runs to several thousand of the phone’s mini-pages. Flick, flick, flick. Just a taster:

“It has killed him!” he said.

He had walked straight out of town with the news, straight out before him in the noonday sun on the white road, and his feet had brought him face to face with her in the hall of the ruined palazzo, a room magnificent and naked, with here and there a long strip of damask, black with damp and age, hanging down on a bare panel of the wall. It was furnished with exactly one gilt armchair, with a broken back, and an octagon columnar stand bearing a heavy marble vase ornamented with sculptured masks and garlands of flowers, and cracked from top to bottom. Charles Gould was dusty with the white dust of the road lying on his boots, on his shoulders, on his cap with two peaks. Water dripped from under it all over his face, and he grasped a thick oaken cudgel in his bare right hand.

She went very pale under the roses of her big straw hat, gloved, swinging a clear sunshade, caught just as she was going out to meet him at the bottom of the hill, where three poplars stand near the wall of a vineyard.

“It has killed him!” he repeated. “He ought to have had many years yet. We are a long-lived family.”

The thick oaken cudgel! The three poplars! Read on…

The copyright restriction matters, although both Yeats and Freud went out of copyright in 2010 (see the 1940 poems on both by Auden). So you can download (e.g.) ‘Three Essays on Sexuality’ and, if someone is reading over your shoulder as I usually try to do, you may find a more interesting class of friend than you would on

Enough of Costaguana: increasingly confused about Syria, I got some clarification, after the Israeli bombardments from Robert Fisk: To quote:

Israeli airstrike at Al-Hama area Rural Damascus, Syria

Destruction after Israeli air attacks

‘Israel has now intervened in the Syrian war.  It may say it was only aiming at weapons destined for the Hezbollah – but these were weapons also being used against rebel forces in Syria.  By diminishing the regime’s supply of these weapons, it is therefore helping the rebels overthrow Bashar al-Assad. And since Israel regards itself as a Western nation – best friend and best US military ally in the Middle East, etc, etc – this means that “we” are now involved in the war, directly and from the air.

Let’s see if the US and the EU condemn Israel’s air attacks. I doubt it. Which would mean, if we are silent, that we approve of them. Silence, to quote Sir Thomas More, gives consent.

So now the Iranians and Hizballah are accused of intervening in Syria – true, though not to quite extent we are led to believe – and Qatar and Saudi Arabia funnel weapons to the rebels – true, but not quite enough weapons, as the Syrian rebels will tell you – and the Israelis have joined in. We are now militarily involved.’

As we come up to Nakba Day (May 15th), the Israelis still found time to destroy a community centre near Nablus, see this report:

‘Large slabs of wood lay scattered on the brightly tiled floor. Ripped posters were still clinging to the walls by bits of tape. A handful of computer hard drives were ripped out, and lay haphazardly on their sides. The electricity wires were cut, and broken windowpanes let in what little light entered the room.

“[The Israeli interrogator] told me, ‘We are now breaking your dream and your friends’ dreams,’” said 23-year-old Ghassan al-Najjar, while standing on piece of a broken wooden desk. “They said, ‘We will come back soon, but next time will be to take you and put you in the prison.’”’

On the way from the Euston Road to Senate House, I happened on an ‘outdoor extravaganza’ celebrating the centenary of Tagore’s Nobel prize, with readings, music, free food and collections for the Primark workers im Bangladesh.

tagoreHow long would I have to wait till another one came by? What a privilege.

Indeed here in London, after an atrocious winter, it’s been an amazing spring with cowslips, anemones and kingcups on Hampstead Heath; and more cherry blossom than I’ve ever seen. Here’s a poem (in answer to an online query, of course) about cherry trees, not by Housman:

Fujii Tikugai

Visiting Mount Yoshino

At the old imperial grave, oaks and pine trees cry to the heaven wind,
I look for a sign of spring at the temple in this mountain, but here, spring is lonely and silent.
An old Buddhist monk with white eyebrows, he stops sweeping dusts for a moment,
under the cherry blossom he tells the story of Nantyo era at its peak.

(Can anyone enlighten me on Fujii? My other sources have him down as a scroll artist, not a poet – but I expect you can do both…)

And here are probably the only Druze reggae band on the Golan Heights, ‘Toot Ard‘, featured in the film ‘Apples of the Golan’.

applesThey’re performing in Nazareth, a hit which Youtube calls ‘Roo7 Bladi’ – surely that 7 is a strong ‘h’, the word is nothing to do with James Bond. Written properly, (but it seems hard to combine Youtube’s Arabic script with Times New Roman):

 توت ارض – روح بلادي في الناصره


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