DAY 189 The big clearance?

September 26th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

François Hollande, the ‘socialist’ president of France, visited Calais today. He didn’t take the opportunity to visit the camp, or to meet representatives of the volunteers; he didn’t go to the Afghan cafe or Jungle Books

14344223_559478250913201_7511265452458798476_nEid celebration at Jungle Books

or show any interest in the extraordinary community which had been established on this wasteland. If they had had any intelligence, the French government would have understood that the jungle was a part of France’s long tradition of rebellion, but also of inventiveness, of improvisation,  and recognised that it was a self-organised democracy. They would have seen the unique way in which different ‘nations’ organised their separate spaces so as to create an area which was neighbourly for everyone. Instead of demolishing the jungle, France should be celebrating it, looking on it as a work of art, a national treasure. We, when we’ve visited, have been offered tea, conversation and hospitality wherever we went. The President missed the chance.

Instead, he wanted the refugee camp – home to up to 10,000 people includinglone 1000 lone children – to be “completely and definitively dismantled”.

Closing down the camp would be an “exceptional operation prompted by exceptional circumstances” and the UK had to take some responsibility, he said.

“Just because the United Kingdom has taken a sovereign decision, [that] does not absolve it of its obligations towards France,” he added, referring to the Brexit vote and the Le Touquet bilateral agreement signed in 2003, which in effect established Britain’s border controls at Calais.

However, the British government said “the dismantling of the camp in Calais [was] a matter for the French government”.

Hollande’s language is becoming more and more Orwellian;Unknown as he speaks of ‘humanitarian efforts’, which will certainly be made by riot police using tear gas. This is how the problem of 10000 refugees will the solved; and they will be dispersed to ‘welcome centres’ across France.

This cannot happen peacefully, however much we might wish it would. And of course, as I’ve continued to point out in these pages, the refugees will certainly continue to come, as their countries continue to be racked by war and famine.  And they will certainly settle in some place not far from Calais.

It’s not my place to call for resistance – though I would support anyone who decided to go down that road. But, at least, I appeal to you to support the many emergency appeals for support which are now circulating. It will be a bad and difficult few weeks.


DAY 188: The worst is not

September 16th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

For some reason (which is probably obvious), quotes from King Lear keep rising to the surface of my mind like dead fish in a pond. Hence, Edgar’s ‘The worst is not,

As long as we can say: This is the worst.’ A natural corrective to my tendency to think that it can’t get any worse – they can, and probably will.

I’ll give you my views on how the situation does seem about as bad as it can possibly be; but very probably (and this is something we have to face up to, comrades) will get much, much worse, from the point of view of both refugees and the world generally (Clinton v. Trump ? How would that play in Syria, let alone in the West Bank?) – in a short while; but first, you’ll want to know what the Arabic for a ‘question mark’ is: it’s of course علامة الاستفهام, and what’s particularly engaging about it is the use of الاستفها, form X from the verb for ‘enquire’. I’ve been banging on about form X on Facebook for some time, and on Wednesday in my Arabic lesson I was introduced to all the ones that people bother about, particularly X. So there you are.

And now we’ve got that out of the way, here’s Izzy, a recent post, on top form, and every word of it true.

‘There is a world that exists with kindness and harmony, unfortunately it’s not the one we all live in. It exists in tiny hospital rooms hospitalinnocent people are kept in, sick with illnesses left to fester in overcrowded, unsanitary camps.

It exists in tents in the heat, pushed together on an overcrowded beach exposed to Greece’s unforgiving sun. In the sharingcampfood of bread, water and tea. Of company, of blankets, of everything that one has come to own in this little space.

It exists in the hearts of those who drop everything to help them, working hours and hours to try and push for a solution.

garbageGarbage pickers in Nicaragua

A solution made so hard to reach by those with money, power and an ensuing disregard for humanity.

Sometimes working in this situation is heartbreaking, sometimes it feels like one can’t go on; faced with such evil and indifference.14358978_167772193665728_7552464573618946562_n

But the resilience of people, that dared to fight for a life, for themselves, for their children and for their friends is achingly apparent. The abundance of individuals who make mistakes but are united with an aim to end this suffering, this disgraceful inhumanity Europe has created and turned away from; provides hope.

We will win, together those of us who fled and those of us who helped will build a better world. One where sharing is championed over greed and compassion over indifference. You will see; everyday I meet the bravest, most incredible individuals who are each worth more than the entirety of every penny and every drop of sweat poured into this society bloated and sickened with money and neoliberalism.

You will see.’

It’s nice to see her using the N-word in the last sentence. And of course, she’s right. I’ve sometimes seen her described as a kind of saint, sacrificing her health for people in that other world of the oppressed and the exploited (described so intensely above). Nonsense! there are dozens, if not hundreds of others, ordinary peoplecalaiswho are doing the same or similar things, not paid, sometimes not even thanked, because it’s the right thing to do. How is it that you, and I, and all our friends can see how obvious this is while others can believe that it’s right to put up walls and barriers, to do all they can to prevent unaccompanied children from coming to the UK (for example)? Setting King Lear to one side for the moment, it does remind you of the most luridly painted characters in Dickens.

I write this appropriately on the eve of a demonstration which will protest against this appalling state of affairs, the rule of this cruel and heartless class of people. If you are in London, I appeal to you to join it. I’m not saying that a march will change it quickly; but we’re not looking for quick results. We do, though, want to halt Europe’s drive to worse inhumanity, to more exclusion.

Here is famed revolutionary Syrian poet Nizam Qabbani’s ‘Damascus, What are you doing to me?’: If I find the original, I’ll try to include it.

My voice rings out, this time, from Damascus
It rings out from the house of my mother and father
In Sham. The geography of my body changes.
The cells of my blood become green.
My alphabet is green.
In Sham. A new mouth emerges for my mouth
A new voice emerges for my voice
And my fingers
Become a tribe

I return to Damascus
Riding on the backs of clouds
Riding the two most beautiful horses in the world
The horse of passion.
The horse of poetry.
I return after sixty years
To search for my umbilical cord,
For the Damascene barber who circumcised me,
For the midwife who tossed me in the basin under the bed
And received a gold lira from my father,
She left our house
On that day in March of 1923
Her hands stained with the blood of the poem . . .

I return to the womb in which I was formed . . .
To the first book I read in it . . .
To the first woman who taught me
The geography of love . . .
And the geography of women . . .

I return
After my limbs have been strewn across all the continents
And my cough has been scattered in all the hotels
After my mother’s sheets scented with laurel soap
I have found no other bed to sleep on . . .
And after the “bride” of oil and thyme
That she would roll up for me
No longer does any other “bride” in the world please me
And after the quince jam she would make with her own hands
I am no longer enthusiastic about breakfast in the morning
And after the blackberry drink that she would make
No other wine intoxicates me . . .

I enter the courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque
And greet everyone in it
Corner to . . . corner
Tile to . . . tile
Dove to . . . dove
I wander in the gardens of Kufi script
And pluck beautiful flowers of God’s words
And hear with my eye the voice of the mosaics
And the music of agate prayer beads
A state of revelation and rapture overtakes me,
So I climb the steps of the first minaret that encounters me
“Come to the jasmine”
“Come to the jasmine”

Returning to you
Stained by the rains of my longing
Returning to fill my pockets
With nuts, green plums, and green almonds
Returning to my oyster shell
Returning to my birth bed
For the fountains of Versailles
Are no compensation for the Fountain Café
And Les Halles in Paris
Is no compensation for the Friday market
And Buckingham Palace in London
Is no compensation for Azem Palace
And the pigeons of San Marco in Venice
Are no more blessed than the doves in the Umayyad Mosque
And Napoleon’s tomb in Les Invalides
Is no more glorious than the tomb of Salah al-Din Al-Ayyubi . . .

I wander in the narrow alleys of Damascus.
Behind the windows, honeyed eyes awake
And greet me . . .
The stars wear their gold bracelets
And greet me
And the pigeons alight from their towers
And greet me
And the clean Shami cats come out
Who were born with us . . .
Grew up with us . . .
And married with us . . .
To greet me . . .

I immerse myself in the Buzurriya Souq
Set a sail in a cloud of spices
Clouds of cloves
And cinnamon . . .
And camomile . . .
I perform ablutions in rose water once.
And in the water of passion many times . . .
And I forget-while in the Souq al-èAttarine-
All the concoctions of Nina Ricci . . .
And Coco Chanel . . .
What are you doing to me Damascus?
How have you changed my culture? My aesthetic taste?
For I have been made to forget the ringing of cups of licorice
The piano concerto of Rachmaninoff . . .
How do the gardens of Sham transform me?
For I have become the first conductor in the world
That leads an orchestra from a willow tree!!

I have come to you . . .
From the history of the Damascene rose
That condenses the history of perfume . . .
From the memory of al-Mutanabbi
That condenses the history of poetry . . .
I have come to you . . .
From the blossoms of bitter orange . . .
And the dahlia . . .
And the narcissus . . .
And the “nice boy” . . .
That first taught me drawing . . .
I have come to you . . .
From the laughter of Shami women
That first taught me music . . .
And the beginning of adolesence
From the spouts of our alley
That first taught me crying
And from my mother’s prayer rug
That first taught me
The path to God . . .

I open the drawers of memory
One . . . then another
I remember my father . . .
Coming out of his workshop on Mu’awiya Alley
I remember the horse-drawn carts . . .
And the sellers of prickly pears . . .
And the cafés of al-Rubwa
That nearly-after five flasks of èaraq
Fall into the river
I remember the colored towels
As they dance on the door of Hammam al-Khayyatin
As if they were celebrating their national holiday.
I remember the Damascene houses
With their copper doorknobs
And their ceilings decorated with glazed tiles
And their interior courtyards
That remind you of descriptions of heaven . . .

The Damascene House
Is beyond the architectural text
The design of our homes . . .
Is based on an emotional foundation
For every house leans . . . on the hip of another
And every balcony . . .
Extends its hand to another facing it
Damascene houses are loving houses . . .
They greet one another in the morning . . .
And exchange visits . . .
Secretly-at night . . .

When I was a diplomat in Britain
Thirty years ago
My mother would send letters at the beginning of Spring
Inside each letter . . .
A bundle of tarragon . . .
And when the English suspected my letters
They took them to the laboratory
And turned them over to Scotland Yard
And explosives experts.
And when they grew weary of me . . . and my tarragon
They would ask: Tell us, by god . . .
What is the name of this magical herb that has made us dizzy?
Is it a talisman?
A secret code?
What is it called in English?
I said to them: It’s difficult for me to explain . . .
For tarragon is a language that only the gardens of Sham speak
It is our sacred herb . . .
Our perfumed eloquence
And if your great poet Shakespeare had known of tarragon
His plays would have been better . . .
In brief . . .
My mother is a wonderful woman . . . she loves me greatly . . .
And whenever she missed me
She would send me a bunch of tarragon . . .
Because for her, tarragon is the emotional equivalent
To the words: my darling . . .
And when the English didn’t understand one word of my poetic argument . . .
They gave me back my tarragon and closed the investigation . . .

From Khan Asad Basha
Abu Khalil al-Qabbani emerges . . .
In his damask robe . . .
And his brocaded turban . . .
And his eyes haunted with questions . . .
Like Hamlet’s
He attempts to present an avant-garde play
But they demand Karagoz’s tent . . .
He tries to present a text from Shakespeare
They ask him about the news of al-Zir . . .
He tries to find a single female voice
To sing with him . . .
“Oh That of Sham”
They load up their Ottoman rifles,
And fire into every rose tree
That sings professionally . . .
He tries to find a single woman
To repeat after him:
“Oh bird of birds, oh dove”
They unsheathe their knives
And slaughter all the descendents of doves . . .
And all the descendents of women . . .
After a hundred years . . .
Damascus apologized to Abu Khalil al-Qabbani
And they erected a magnificent theater in his name.

I put on the jubbah of Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-Arabi
I descend from the peak of Mt. Qassiun
Carrying for the children of the city . . .
And sesame halawa . . .
And for its women . . .
Necklaces of turquoise . . .
And poems of love . . .
I enter . . .
A long tunnel of sparrows
Gillyflowers . . .
Hibiscus . . .
Clustered jasmine . . .
And I enter the questions of perfume . . .
And my schoolbag is lost from me
And the copper lunch case . . .
In which I used to carry my food . . .
And the blue beads
That my mother used to hang on my chest
So People of Sham
He among you who finds me . . .
let him return me to Umm Mu’ataz
And God’s reward will be his
I am your green sparrow . . . People of Sham
So he among you who finds me . . .
let him feed me a grain of wheat . . .
I am your Damascene rose . . . People of Sham
So he among you who finds me . . .
let him place me in the first vase . . .
I am your mad poet . . . People of Sham
So he among you who sees me . . .
let him take a souvenir photograph of me
Before I recover from my enchanting insanity . . .
I am your fugitive moon . . . People of Sham
So he among you who sees me . . .
Let him donate to me a bed . . . and a wool blanket . . .
Because I haven’t slept for centuries

Music: I never know (I d0n’t know who to ask) when in my musical selections I may have strayed onto dodgy ground; although I’ve avoided (say) a Daesh song. Here, anyway, is a Kurdish female singer who I can hardly think is a reactionary.

DAY 187 An unexpected interlude

September 4th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ll introduce, as it deserves, another fine angry description of the situation in Chios and across Europe from Izzy; but first, you’ll want to know about my own health and debility. Or, ‘decreased mobility and general decline’, as the hospital put it in their well-phrased discharge note (after two days of tests which turned up, basically, nothing of interest). You get a fine view from the Royal Free – I could see the Emirates; and my neighbouring patients, while still mad, were unhinged in a more classy and Lacanian way than those at the Whittington. Can you blame them, with the general decline – their own and that of the NHS? So here I am at home, back to studying Arabic arabicand such. In hospital, I found a diversion reading Dostoevsky’s White Nights, which related almost exactly to my own situation: that of a man who found, in midsummer, that his friends had deserted the city leaving him on his own. (I didn’t get round to seeing the Visconti adaptation, or any of the three others.) And of course the tests – for brain injury, DVT, and such – turned up nothing of interest.

But why am I boring you with this self-obsession? Here’s Izzy: ‘When you wake up this morning please read this story about my two friends, who won’t be waking up in a bed, but inside a tent on the outskirts of an overcrowded refugee camp.

Yesterday we sat together during the evening, as usual I was offered every kind of food and 13912643_10153578589142820_6238926140389419057_ndelicious tea. One has attended an informal English class we setup every day without fail for over two weeks. It’s not an easy task, when so much of your life is filled with uncertainty and the need to join numerous lines for food, pieces of clothing or other things at varying points in the day. ”I’ve learnt over 2000 words.” One told me proudly, after apologising repeatedly for the behaviour of a man who lives nearby him with mental difficulties. Our other friend speaks perfect English, he hands me a business card from Fendi – explaining his previous job at the Italian designer. He tells me he wants to go to England, when I ask why he doesn’t hesitate. ”Maybe you think it’s silly, but I have a dream… I will be standing in the rain, wrapped in a scarf, wearing a hat and pulling my coat around me, clutching a takeaway cup of tea. I will work for a designer brand again like before and I will be happy. I love England” There is no way I can recreate the feeling in his words and the smile they brought to his lips despite the sadness he clearly feels at them not being a reality. As I ran from their tent to assist a family who needed to take their daughter to hospital they were talking of how scared they were. One is planning to leave the camp, the other is both scared to lose his friend and scared to go with him. ”Here I have a tent, and friends… I find it hard to make friends I trust… and my tent is quite big,” he falters. The other insists they must try but his fear is completely visible, too, stoked by the endless stories of prostitution, trafficking, police brutality, disappearances and other horrors that meet refugees on the mainland route. Europeans. What are you doing? Please? When your children wake up in their beds and go to a history class in ten years time… They will ask you why you treated those waking up in a tent, with big dreams and bravery in equal measure with such shocking cruelty and you will hang your head in shame.’ I don’t know what your life is like, reader, but I doubt that you’re living in a tent; so take a moment to imagine what it would be. Week after week, people I know and those I don’t are describing such situations across Europe, contrasting the real suffering and sympathy of thousands with the indifference and hostility of authority – think of Cassy Paris’ witness from Calais a year ago, which I reposted recently.

And, as Izzy points out, the situation is getting worse; more policing, more tensions. There seems to be no end to the misery; and no way in which we, the people of good will, can affect it since, however many people join our side, they will not be the people who affect policy.

As I keep saying, the French authorities are persisting n their futile attempts at demolishing the Calais jungle: to quote: ‘France is to gradually dismantle the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais: ‘The interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, told the regional newspaper the Nord Littoral he would press ahead with the closure of the camp “with the greatest determination”, dismantling the site in stages, clearing the former wasteland where record numbers of refugees and migrants are sleeping rough in dire sanitary conditions as many hope to reach Britain. He said France would create accommodation for thousands elsewhere in the country “to unblock Calais”. French authorities have made repeated efforts to shut down the camp, which the state was responsible for creating in April 2015 when authorities evicted migrants and refugees from squats and outdoor camps across the Calais area and concentrated them into one patch of wasteland without shelter. Less than six months ago, the authorities demolished a large area of the southern part of the camp, saying the aim was to radically reduce numbers. But this month the number of people in the camp reached an all-time high of almost 10,000 people, aid organisations estimate. The French authorities put the official number of people in the camp at almost 7,000. (It’s actually nearer 10,000.) Authorities have said over the past year more than 5,000 asylum seekers have left the northern French town for 161 special centres set up around France. Cazeneuve said places for another 8,000 asylum seekers would be created this year and thousands more in 2017, saying efforts would be focused on getting peole in Calais to leave voluntarily.Currently a record 1,900 French police are operating in Calais, Calais-jungle-demolitions3 and Cazeneuve said another 200 would be added to their ranks “to reinforce the battle” against migrants smuggling themselves on to lorries bound for Britain. Daniel Barney, of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which opened a health centre in the camp, warned last week that the French and UK governments were turning a blind eye to the growing problems. He said the French authorities’ decision to demolish the southern part of the camp in March had made the situation worse. “Half the camp was dismantled. So now we have double the population living in half as much land, with access to the same amount of water points and toilets. There is an extreme problem of overcrowding. Conditions in the camp5760 are getting progressively worse. With overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, food shortages and a rise in the number of violent attacks on lorry drivers heading to the UK, there is growing tension in Calais and politicians from all parties are seizing on the seemingly intractable problem of how to deal with refugees and migrants trapped in France hoping to reach England. In the run-up to the French presidential election next year, the French right and far-right have increased their calls for hardline action on Calais. Cazeneuve will visit Calais on Friday afternoon, as French lorry drivers, shopkeepers and farmers plan to stage a blockade of the port on Monday to demand the camp is demolished. The Socialist president, François Hollande, who has until now avoided visiting Calais, is to visit the city later this month.’ The only reason for optimism – and it’s reason enough is the determination of the refugees, staying put and learning their 2000 words; and of their friends and allies, that rag-tag army who stubbornly resist the state and its police.
Poetry It seems appropriate to introduce a stretch of Derek Walcott’s ‘Omeros’, poem of sea-travel and empire:
I watched the afternoon sea. Didn’t I want the poor

to stay in the same light so that I could transfix
them in amber, the afterglow of an empire,
preferring a shed of palm-thatch with tilted sticks
to that blue bus-stop? Didn’t I prefer a road
from which tracks climbed into the thickening syntax
of colonial travellers, the measured prose I read
as a schoolboy? That cove, with its brown shallows
there, Praslin? That heron? Had they waited for me
to develop my craft? Why hallow that pretence
of preserving what they left, the hypocrisy
of loving them from hotels, a biscuit-tin fence
smothered in love-vines, scenes to which I was attached
as blindly as Plunkett with his remorseful research?
Art is History’s nostalgia, it prefers a thatched
roof to a concrete factory, and the huge church
above a bleached village. The gap between the driver
and me increased when he said:
                                              “The place changing, eh?”
where an old rumshop had gone, but not that river
with its clogged shadows. That would make me a stranger.
“All to the good,” he said. I said, “All to the good,”
then, “whoever they are,” to myself. I caught his eyes
in the mirror. We were climbing out of Micoud.
Hadn’t I made their povertytrinidad my paradise?
His back could have been Hector’s, ferrying tourists
in the other direction home, the leopard seat
scratching their damp backs like the fur-covered armrests.
He had driven his burnt-out cargo, tired of sweat,
who longed for snow on the moon and didn’t have to face
the heat of that sinking sun, who knew a climate
as monotonous as this one could only produce
from its unvarying vegetation flashes
of a primal insight like those red-pronged lilies
that shot from the verge, that their dried calabashes
of fake African masks for a fake Achilles
rattled with the seeds that came from other men’s minds.
So let them think that. Who needed art in this place
where even the old women strode with stiff-backed spines,
and the fishermen had such adept thumbs, such grace
these people had, but what they envied most in them
was the calypso part, the Caribbean lilt
still in the shells of their ears, like the surf’s rhythm,
until too much happiness was shadowed with guilt
like any Eden, and they sighed at the sign:
HEWANNORRA (Iounalao), the gold sea
flat as a credit-card, extending its line
to a beach that now looked just like everywhere else,
Greece or Hawaii. Now the goddamn souvenir
felt absurd, excessive. The painted gourds, the shells.
Their own faces as brown as gourds. Mine felt as strange
as those at the counter feeling their bodies change.

and, because I haven’t played this artist before, under Music, Beyoncé‘s ‘Sorry‘ from ‘Lemonade’


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