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Index: History, Anthropology & Travel

Butchering the language in Rwanda.

Tom Zoellner: ‘Historical arguments about the Rwandan genocide will likely never end, and one source of continuing disagreement is the degree to which the French foreign ministry and and military were complicit in the slaughter in the name of propping up the shaky government. ‘

The dreams and nightmares of four civilisations.

Alan Macfarlane:

After the Snowbird, Comes the Whale 1.

After the Snowbird, Comes the Whale 1: ‘He knows I know his name is Tulugaq, but still I call this mighty individual Sharva, who visits me these late spring evenings. A specialist in kung-fu manoeuvres reproduced from Bruce Lee movies, small hours, visio­nary conversation, Sharva’s passage through the village keeps the girls awake and some in terror as he guns his machine to the edge of my storm-shed and opens the throttle in a final bellow. Then in the after-blast, he strides through the snow, my outer door groans and his glove smacks the lintel.’

Pin- and pencil-making in the twenty-first century, 2.

Brent Ranalli: ‘What if we let go of the prissy public/private distinction Kant made for the sake of the Prussian censors, and recognized that it would be unbecoming of an enlightened adult to show abject and blind obedience to anyone at all, even an employer? There are a variety of structures available to give people more autonomy and dignity in the workplace, some more radical than others—including several with established track records of viability in the global marketplace.’

Thoughts on Germany.

Orson Welles: ‘His most recent set-back is popularly supposed to have taught Fritz to abhor the sight of uniforms and forever after loathe the sound of march music. Tourists from the victorious democracies can’t seem to get over their astonishment at finding German instincts less damaged than German cities. The truth is that human nature in this forest land is neither an invention of Doctor Goebbels nor an easy target for bombs.’

Pin- and pencil-making in the twenty-first century.

Brent Ranalli: ‘To delegate the function of a governing class to the masses is one thing. To impute the virtues of a governing class onto the masses is quite another matter, and here it takes concerted effort to make reality conform to doctrine. Public schools are the engines that turn children into citizens, citizens putatively armed with enough knowledge of history, art, music, grammar, science, mathematics, social studies, and gymnastics to be passible Whole Men and Whole Women, capable of taking a broad view and intelligently directing the affairs of a nation in the few waking hours that aren’t devoted to making a living.’

A Defence of Modern Spiritualism.

Alfred Russel Wallace: ‘The spiritual theory, as a rule, has only been adopted as a last resource, when all other theories have hopelessly broken down; and when fact after fact, phenomenon after phenomenon, has presented itself, giving direct proof that the so called dead are still alive. The spiritual theory is the logical outcome of the whole of the facts. Those who deny it, in every instance with which I am acquainted, either from ignorance or disbelief leave half the facts out of view. ‘

Further notes from South Sinai.

Hilary Gilbert: ‘If a revival in tourism is to bring real benefits to Bedu, then, the authorities must take a new view of their value. Bedouin culture should be respected, not commodified for ersatz excursions. Security forces should recognize the Bedouin contribution to safeguarding Sinai and lift the ban on desert trips, so visitors can be offered hospitality in an actual Bedouin tent. Bedouin ecological expertise should be recognized; they should be consulted and involved in Sinai’s infrastructure developments.’

Words ‘dreadful as the abortions of an angel’.

Anthony Howell: ‘I would identify this as “illuminated writing”. Readers may find it “over the top” (but that is what is being described). It’s as if Dylan Thomas were to find himself storming Hill 50. This might be thought an unfashionable, adjective-laden style these days, when writing such as Edith Sitwell’s is so often vilified (at least in “aware” poetry circles). But no one can take away from her poem “Still Falls the Rain” its right to be considered one of the great expressions about the suffering brought about by war (specifically the air raids of 1940). ‘

Bigotry from birth.

Tom Zoellner: ‘The rest of the world now comprehends Rwanda as a post-genocide state alongside Germany — the very worst expressions of mankind’s fear-virus — but the basic causes of the violence are too-often left as a matter of conjecture as to how otherwise decent people can be reprogrammed to kill their neighbors. This luminous novel never mentions the genocide but deals with it sternly nonetheless. It explores terrain that previous characterizations of the violence have skirted: the “peaceful” slow boil right up to the moment of the first drawing of the knife, the time when fear of internal traitors germinated so gradually and under the cover of normal political jingoism that almost nobody outside Rwanda grew alarmed.’

The Bedouin of St Katherine.

Hilary Gilbert: One of the oldest monasteries in Christendom is guarded by a tribe of mistreated Arabs: ‘Bedu are barred from the Armed Forces. Education is poor or non-existent: 44 per cent of Bedouin adults have had no education at all, compared with 7 per cent of Egyptians, and professional Bedu are almost unknown. Many lack electricity and accessible water. With healthcare poor, unaffordable or absent, and a heavy-handed security presence, Bedu feel with good reason that their country is failing them.’

The mosaic of the Transfiguration at St Catherine’s.

By CYRIL MANGO. THE GREAT APSE mosaic of Christ’s Transfiguration in the Sinai church, today partly hidden from view by the tall sixteenth-century iconostasis, raises a number of questions: Most controversially, what message was it meant to convey? And, when and by whom was it done? In the apse the mosaic illustrates the Transfiguration as […]

Venice Inside Out.

here is not a building in Venice, raised prior to the sixteenth century, which has not sustained essential change in one or more of its most important features. By far the greater number present examples of three or four different styles…and, in many instances, the restorations or additions have gradually replaced the entire structure of […]

Venice and the theatre of memory.

Hoyt Rogers: ‘Venice teaches us that history is never dead: the humblest portico affords us a proscenium composed of centuries—but not as an album of faded recollections, settled and done. The theatre of memory unveils its meaning only when we behold it as a vital, breathing gospel of the present.’

City for sale.

Robin Saikia: ‘Venetians themselves contributed vigorously to the new hell: magnificent palaces and houses were carved up into rentable apartments or cut-price alberghi; restaurants began to serve cheap, anaemic and barely edible versions of local cuisine; the cost of everything from coffee to public transport was set at astronomic levels in the sure knowledge that the dazed visitor was faced with no option but to pay up; commercial premises in Rialto and San Marco were and are progressively sold or rented to the highest bidders, most often the Chinese; the Venice Carnival, in the eighteenth century a spectacular and beautifully-styled piece of civic theatre, has become a sorry example of gimcrack design and disappointing events: a perfect example of a hit-and-run operation designed to remove money from unwary tourists. It comes as no surprise that for over twenty years, in the wake of this vandalism, there has been a deadening sense of paralysis and resignation in the city.’