Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Yesterday I read the obituaries and articles about this wonderful woman, Alice Herz-Sommer. the oldest survivor of the Holocaust who had died aged 110 - who lived her life through music and without hatred: 'I have had such a beautiful life'. A couple of articles and obituaries here:
'She had no hatred in her'
And a Youtube moment - she began each day practising Bach and Beethoven
Thursday, 20 February 2014
I have been deep in the
recently – from the safety of my armchair, enraptured by a book called Sons of Sindbad by Allan Villiers. Villiers was an Australian master mariner,
writer and photographer, who sailed and documented the last days of
wind-powered navigation. In 1938-39, sensing the end of an era, he spent six
months on an Arab dhow, sailing from Kuwait, down the coast of East Africa and
Villiers does not romanticise the voyage but he was enthralled by the experience. He appreciated the extraordinary skill, fortitude and dignity of the crew and their captain, their handling of the ship and the timeless rhythm of the voyage. When a Bedouin boy is knocked off the ship into a shark infested sea, two sailors spontaneously dive in after him; Nejdi executes a skilful manoeuvre turning the ship round in the lee of a rocky shore; no one panics. The child is rescued. No one says a word. The sailors go back to work.
But sometimes the voyage is an enchantment. Villiers is enraptured by the beauty of these ships bowling along with a good wind like enormous white butterflies and the extraordinary craft skills of the sailors and navigators: “Nejdi had no tables and he did not even know the date. The moon, he said was enough; the moon, the stars and the behaviour of the sea.”
“Allah is great,” I said. “His winds are free.”
“Swell out, great sail,
Sunday, 2 February 2014
In 1849, a British admiral, Sir Adolphus Slade, was seconded to the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul, where he served for seventeen years as administrative head of the navy. He wrote extensively about his experiences and travels. The Ottoman empire was in serial decline, already the Sick Man of Europe, trying to modernise itself amongst the rapidly developing industrial nations of Western Europe – at a time when Queen Victoria sat on the throne of England - yet still bound to the oriental practices of despotic sultans that stretched far into the past .
Probably no event impressed on Slade the character, institutions and power of the sultans so strongly as the fate of an Ottoman official, called Hamid.
Slade had a house on the Bosporus, looking out over the water. Hamid was his neighbour. The admiral recalled the fateful day in vivid detail.
“Poor Hamid, peace to his errors! I knew him well. The evening before his catastrophe we smoked a pipe together. Late that night the captain pasha [admiral of the fleet] returned from Constantinople, where he had been assisting at a divan [sultan’s council], with the fatal order in his bosom.
The next morning, the sun just peeping over the Asiatic hills, I saw a barge row swiftly from the flag-ship to the nazir’s [official’s] house, which overhung the water. Suspecting something I put a question to the officer of the boat, as he passed my window. He shook his head in reply.
The nazir was still reposing.
“The pasha wants you,” was the pithy reply.
“Why, what can he require?”
“You will soon learn. Rise.”
He adjusted his dress, performed his ablutions, prayed and stepped into the barge. I was already dressed and on the quay; passing which, he waved his hand to me, and said something, I thought “farewell’, so I took a caique and followed.
The principal officers of the fleet received him on the quarterdeck; the man whose smiles they courted the day before, they received with insults. Hassan, rialabey, gave him a kick. At this he crossed his hands and exclaimed, “I understand.”
He was then conducted down onto the main deck; there his accusation was read to him, amongst others, the unjust one of grinding the poor. He betrayed no fear, neither probably, would he have said one word, had not the captain pasha at that moment come out of his cabin to look at his old friend, who, one little spark still yet burning amongst the embers of hope, cried once, “Aman!” [mercy].
He might have spared his breath. The pasha answered by a slight wave of the hand, the usual signal in such cases. The guards understood it, and taking the nazir by the arms, led him below to the prison, where two slaves attended.
Not thinking for a moment that he was going straight to death, I was about to follow, moved by an impulse of pity or curiosity, when the pasha motioned me to come into his cabin. The bowstring soon did its task, and in a few minutes, the receipt, poor Hamid’s head, the countenance calm as in sleep, was brought up to be shown to the pasha before being transmitted to the seraglio [palace].
It is startling to see a human head carried in a platter up the ladder, down which you had seen it descend, just before, sentient and well posed on a pair of shoulders. This had an effect even on the cold-blooded Osmanleys under the half-deck. They involuntarily shuddered, as well they might: the reign of terror was begun, when no man might say that his turn would not come next.”
The sultan always required visible proof that his orders had been carried out. Neatly presented in a silken bag.