Fistfuls

On Monday I linked to the excellent Fistful of Leone website while enthusing about spaghetti westerns, which makes it appropriate that today I should like to the altogether-different-but-similarly-named blog, A Fistful of Euros, which has brought together a bunch of the better weblog writers out there to comment on matters European. It’s too early to say yet whether it’s going to be any good or not, but the auspices are favourable and it has a jolly good name.

The World’s Favourite Song

The BBC World Service has announced that the World’s Favourite Song is… “A Nation Once Again” by the Wolfe Tones…

A Nation Once Again

When boyhood’s fire was in my blood,
I read of ancient freemen,
For Greece and Rome who bravely stood,
Three Hundred men and Three men.
And then I prayed I yet might see
Our fetters rent in twain,
And Ireland, long a province, be
A Nation once again.

And, from that time, through wildest woe,
That hope has shone, a far light;
Nor could love’s brightest summer glow
Outshine that solemn starlight:
It seemed to watch above my head
In forum, field and fane;
Its angel voice sang round my bed,
‘A Nation once again.’

It whispered, too, that ‘freedom’s ark
And service high and holy,
Would be profaned by feelings dark,
And passions vain or lowly;
For freedom comes from God’s right hand,
And needs a godly train;
And righteous men must make our land
A Nation once again.’

So, as I grew from boy to man,
I bent me to that bidding–
My spirit of each selfish plan
And cruel passion ridding;
For, thus I hoped some day to aid–
Oh! can such hope be vain?
When my dear country shall be made
A Nation once again.

A splendid choice by the peoples of the world, and a fine, fine song.

Chris adds [23.12.2002]: An Irish friend tells me that it has long been known that the Republicans and the Devil have all the best tunes and that this comes as no surprise to the Unionists, for whom they have long been synonymous…

(Sort of) Life Imitates (So-called) Art

In the three-and-a-bit hours since the previous post, I’ve just finished watching The Godfather, Part Three, with a handful of friends — with a fine shot of Calvi hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in one of the final frames — and when I return to my computer I find that Giulio Andreotti has been convicted of murder. A certain debased variety of (sort of) life imitating (so-called) art…

J W von Goethe Presiding Over the Introduction to Rome of Paedophilia and Cunnilingus

The weblog was idle in September largely because I was encamped in Rome, in the very congenial surroundings of the British School at Rome, writing some of the final sections of my PhD manuscript. (The end is in sight!)

Which reminds me that I wanted to post an image of the Goethe monument, which stands in the Borghese Gardens about five minutes walk from the school. As Nick pointed out to me back in 1994, when we both happened to be in Rome at the same time, the proper title of the statue should be “J W von Goethe Presiding Over the Introduction to Rome of Paedophilia and Cunnilingus”, on the left and right respectively.

Nick wrote [3.10.2002]: Gosh, I must have had a filthy mind when I was younger. Thanks for reminding me.

The breaking news that matters

From the BBC:

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has won a court case against a news agency which reported allegations that his dark hair is dyed. A court in Hamburg upheld an injunction taken out by Mr Schroeder to prevent the DDP agency repeating the allegations, originally made by an image consultant.

DDP appealed against the injunction, saying it had serious implications for all journalists, who cannot always get their information from first-hand sources.

The news agency says it intends to appeal again against Friday’s ruling.

Serious implications indeed.

Image of the Week, #12

A jaw-dropping, gob-smacking image.

I had no idea anything like this existed. It’s a daguerrotype image of barricades on the rue St-Maur in Paris on 25 June 1848, during the insurrection of the Parisian working class against the Provisional Government. It was taken from a rooftop shortly before Cavaignac’s murderous assault, whose aftermath is recorded in a second image, taken the following day. As reported in the Guardian and the Times, the original plates – one of the oldest quasi-photographic images from news reporting in the world – have just been sold at auction for £180,000, and, happily, the Musée d’Orsay has acquired them.

What a good time to read again Karl Marx at his incendiary journalistic best, from the pages of the Neue Rheinsiche Zeitung of 29 June 1848:

The workers of Paris were overwhelmed by superior strength, but they were not subdued. They have been defeated but their enemies are vanquished. The momentary triumph of brute force has been purchased with the destruction of all the delusions and illusions of the February revolution, the dissolution of the entire moderate republican party and the division of the French nation into two nations, the nation of owners and the nation of workers. The tricolor republic now displays only one color, the color of the defeated, the color of blood. It has become a red republic. …Order! was Guizot’s war-cry. Order! shouted Sebastiani, the Guizotist, when Warsaw became Russian. Order! shouts Cavaignac, the brutal echo of the French National Assembly and of the republican bourgeoisie.

Order! thundered his grape-shot as it tore into the body of the proletariat. …

We may be asked, do we not find a tear, a sigh, a word for the victims of the people’s wrath, for the National Guard, the mobile guard, the republican guard and the line?

The state will care for their widows and orphans, decrees extolling them will be issued, their remains will be carried to the grave in solemn procession, the official press will declare them immortal, the European reaction in the East and the West will pay homage to them.

But the plebeians are tormented by hunger, abused by the press, forsaken by the physicians, called thieves, incendiaries and galley-slaves by the respectabilities; their wives and children are plunged into still greater misery and the best of those who have survived are sent overseas. It is the right and the privilege of the democratic press to place laurels on their gloomy threatening brow.

Next week, of course, marks the 131st anniversary of the bloody destruction of the Paris Commune by Cavaignac’s heirs and successors. Plus c’est la même chose.

Katherine wrote [12.5.2002]: Did you realize that the place where we ate enormous steaks in a café was right there in that street? The final barricade of the Commune was in the neighbouring street to mine [rue du faubourg Temple], and there is a plaque commemorating that, and every now and then one sees flowers laid there — not the official wreaths of elected officials but just something someone has put there in passing. I refused a leaflet from a Chirac supporter recently, and she told me I might just as well have spat in her face. I shall try to do just that next time.

Chris replies [13.5.2002]: I had not realised that this was the place where we ate enormous steaks, but this is excellent to hear. I trust that the café’s weekly “Philosophy for Kids” classes are still going strong…

Vespers

Nick gave me a copy of Steven Runciman’s book, The Sicilian Vespers, several years ago. I only read it last week, however, during a visit to Sicily, only to find I found that the book didn’t in fact have a great deal to do with Sicily at all, which makes a brief appearance at the beginning and at the end. It was, however, immensely enjoyable, and I learned more about European diplomacy, c.1250-1282 than I ever thought I would care to know. And the final paragraphs of the book are superb:

The Sicilian men who poured, with knives drawn, through the streets of Palermo on that savage evening struck their blows for freedom and for honour. They could not know to what consequences it would lead them and with them the whole of Europe. Bloodshed is an evil thing and good seldom comes of it. But the blood shed on that evening not only rescued a gallant people from oppression. It altered fundamentally the history of Christendom.

The lesson was not entirely forgotten. More than three centuries later King Henry IV of France boasted to the Spanish ambassador the harm that he could do to the Spanish lands in Italy were the King of Spain to try his patience too far. “I will breakfast at Milan”, he said, “and I will dine at Rome”. “Then”, replied the ambassador, “Your Majesty will doubtless be in Sicily in time for Vespers”.

It is an excellent joke, and a very fine book.

Nick wrote [20.4.2002]: It is also *invaluable* as a “Who’s Who” to Dante’s Inferno. I’m surprised you didn’t mention this.

Images of the Week, #11

Three images from the streets of Rome yesterday morning, during the first General Strike in twenty years, thanks to Jo, who has the nifty gadget which can turn her Palm Pilot into a digital camera from time to time.

Here I am, sideburns clearly visible, helping to carry the “Giovani Comunisti” banner, which needed a hand, somewhere above the Spanish Steps.

My very favourite slogan, draped from the balustrade of the Borghese Gardens above the Piazza del Popolo.

The presiding spirits of the Piazza del Popolo supervise the gathering throng.

Stewart wrote [18.4.2002]: It just struck me (no pun intended) that you bear an uncanny resemblance in that photo to Ray Manzarek, keyboard player from The Doors.

Chris adds [19.4.2002]: Best banner on the demonstration: Movimento Soap-Operaio.

Nick writes [20.4.2002]: I *obviously* don’t have enough to do. People will make posters and T-shirts from this, in years to come:

High Windows

My interest in people falling out of windows goes back a few years. Here’s a bit I inserted into the 1998 edition of the Let’s Go Eastern Europe guidebook, which I had the pleasure of helping to put together over seven weeks in the Summer of 1997:

High Windows

At decisive moments in European history, unlucky men fall from Prague’s window ledges. The Hussite wars began after Catholic councillors were thrown to the mob from the New Town Hall on Karlovo n�m., July 30, 1419. The Thirty Years’ War devastated Europe, starting when Habsburg officials were tossed from the windows of Prague Castle’s Bohemian Chancellery into a heap of steaming manure, May 23, 1618. These first and second defenestrations echo down the ages, but two more falls this century continue this somewhat macabre tradition. Fifty years ago, March 10, 1948, liberal foreign minister Jan Masaryk fell to his death from the top floor of his ministry just two weeks after the Communist takeover, and murder was always suspected but never proved. And then on February 3, 1997, Bohumil Hrabal, popular author of I Served the King of England and Closely-Observed Trains, fell from the fifth floor of his hospital window and died in his pajamas aged 82. Nothing unusual here – except that two of his books describe people choosing to fall – out of fifth-floor windows.

(Seeing the word “pajamas” in its American spelling irresistibly calls to mind Groucho Marx’s remark from Animal Crackers: “Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas and how he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.)

Life Imitates Art, Again

A couple of days ago I went to see The Battle of Algiers at a local cinema, and posted a snippet from the script in the paragraphs below, from the press conference where Colonel Mathieu discusses the death in captivity of Lardi Ben M’Hidi, one of the leaders of the Algerian resistance to the French occupation. And now the news from Paris (reported, for example, in the Independent) reminds us that, as ever, life imitates art, not only Battle of Algiers but also Dario Fo’s wonderful play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist:

SUSPECT: And why do they always demonstrate here at police headquarters? Right here, under the main window

SERGEANT: It’s always the same story. We’re always caught in-between. It’s only one week since that anarchist we were interrogating jumped out the window.

SUSPECT: That window? But it’s only two stories up.

SERGEANT: Another window – upstairs. On the fourth floor. (He walks away from the window.)

SUSPECT: Oh.

Needless to say, poor Richard Durn fell to his death from the fourth floor, too.