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Index: History & Travel

The Jinn of Failaka.

Martin Rosenstock: ‘After forty-five minutes on grey and choppy waters, I see the coastline and some low-slung buildings strung out along it. The harbor of Failaka appears to have silted up, for we anchor off the coast and a smaller boat comes alongside to ferry us to a make-shift pier of plastic pontoons. The air here is crisp with a touch of salt.’

Pages from the Croatian Notebook.

Franca Mancinelli: ‘My body has an open texture from which hangs a thread. Someone at the other end, without even noticing, pulls it, and slowly I grow thin. The absence beckons me. I approach the spirits of the cold, that white wordless nucleus which governs this earth. I close my eyes, as if pervaded by a flat colorless sea.
I’m starting to translate snow…

Mauritius.

Emma Park: ‘This is my European disease, to wake up at night, tormented by the fear that I have not done enough, have not spent my time wisely — that the places where I have lived have remained and will always remain indifferent to me. I cannot bear the thought that my existence will have left no more of an impression on the path of history than a moth’s wing. Even though, if I had proper humility, I should remember how many people there are in the world, even on this distant island, and accept that there is little enough reason why I of all of them should be remembered.’

The Champions.

Peter Jerome: ‘It began with the hooked blade and another gesture of appreciation to the crowd. The contestant shrugged the gown he had been wearing from his shoulders, and surrendered his naked form to us all. He appeared unafraid and bold in his nudity, not at all as if he was preparing for bed or passing waste in the commode. This was a gallant nudity as seen in beasts of the wild.’

Leaving Sidi Bou Said.

Lorand Gaspar: ‘Things and events are at every moment what they are and nothing else. We are, each and every one, like the furrow of a drop of bird-life looking for a passage in the currents that alternately lead and threaten us.’

11.11.11.18.

Nigel Wheale: ‘Now it is time for the silence, two minutes that seem unending. Leaves fall onto the mass of people, the only movement. I shiver, not from the cold. A boy tugs at his mother’s sleeve, imploring. Across one hundred years, precisely, a final silence. ‘

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: ‘The image of the ideal man takes us to the core of a civilisation’s aspirations and particularly its system of power. For, in the four examples I have chosen, we are looking at the rulers, the elite who preside over a civilisation and are meant, to a certain extent, to be exemplars for the other 95 percent of the population.’

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). ‘