Sunday, 20 September 2009


This shot of Amedeo Modigliani has nothing to do with the following, but I like to put a picture on the blog. There should be something interesting to look at, at least.

Of late, I have been involved in a friendly discussion with an old friend, Jeff, supposedly about the Middle East. It is really about Israel.
Jeff is - or was - I think, paid to put that troubled country in as good a light as possible. Or perhaps he really does see it as the promised land. Both, I expect. Fair enough. It takes all sorts, etc.
As our chat has been to-ing and fro-ing, I have also been reading a book called 'The Rest Is Noise,' by Alex Ross. I cannot recommend the book highly enough. It is more or less a history of 'serious' music during the previous century. Don't be put off by this. The book is a compendium of gossip and scandal replete with jealousy and hate, as the song goes.

On the face of it, there is no real link between the two subjects, but, as Forster put it somewhere, 'Only connect.'
Two quotes from 'Noise' struck me as relevant. One is from a French poet, Charles Peguy in 1910 (of whom I am afraid I know nothing).

'Everything begins in mystique and ends in politics.'

The second is from Leonard Bernstein:

'It is only after fifty, sixty, seventy years of world holocausts, of the simultaneous advance of democracy with our increasing inability to stop making war, with the simultaneous magnification of national pieties with the intensification of our active resistance to social equality - only after we have experienced all this through the smoking ovens of Auschwitz, the frantically bombed jungles of Vietnam, through Hungary, Suez, the Bay of Pigs, the farce-trial of Sinavsky and Daniel, the refueling of the Nazi machine, the murder in Dallas, the arrogance of South Africa, the Hiss-Chambers travesty, the Trotskyite purges, Black Power, Red Guards, the Arab encirclement of Israel, the plague of McCarthyism, the Tweedledum armaments race, - only, after all this can we finally listen to Mahler's music and understand that it foretold all. And that in the foretelling it showered a rain of beauty on this world that has not been equalled since.'

A truly splendid rant, no question, and no more than Mahler deserves. If Bernstein were to write it today, he might omit maybe South Africa, but add several later horrors - 9-11, Bosnia, Chechnya, Ethopia, Iraq, Guantanamo, Gaza, Abu Grahib, Afghanistan. It would seem things are not improving much.

Peguy's quote struck me as particularly apt for Israel. Of course, it could just as well apply to almost everything.

Of Bernstein, as a liberal myself, I am in agreement with him on virtually all - Mahler especially.

To talk of 'the Arab encirclement of Israel,' though, strikes me as odd. Surely when the first Israelis arrived, they must have known that they were surrounded by Arab states? How could they fail to be encircled? Maybe they thought the Arabs would not mind their arrival. The Arabs minded very much from day one.
It seems as if Bernstein was trying to shoehorn Israel's predicament into a list where it did not comfortably fit.

Still on the ceaseless hunt for knowledge - in Moratinos, we never sleep - I looked up what countries constitute the Middle East. Here is the list I found:

Gaza Strip
Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates
West Bank

No Egypt? Surely an oversight. Even so, a pretty shabby bunch, I reckon. Even shabbier including Egypt. Afghanistan would fit right in as well.
It's a bit late to start asking what Israel is doing rubbing shoulders with such company - but I do. In Spain (or is it Russia?) we have a saying: Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. Can anyone have thought that any good could come of all this? Or is it that people feel they have no choice? Gotta do what they gotta do? The result may well be the end of civilisation as we know it. If global warming does't get us, racial hatred and aggressive nationalism can pick up the slack.
Might not be so bad a thing, though. After all, Mahler is nice, but not necessary.
Maybe the cockroaches will can a better job of it.

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