Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On getting used to mass murder and suicide bombers

Leye - Every other Wednesday


80 dead. 350 wounded. Kabul, Afghanistan. Today.

23 dead. 116 injured. Manchester, England. 22nd of May, 2017.

30 dead. 40 injured. Baghdad, Iraq. 30th of May, 2017.

In each of these cases, the count of dead includes the suicide bombers responsible for the mass murders.

These are just three out of thirty-one terrorist incidents in May of this year alone.

I was going to write about governance when Kabul flashed on my phone. I was going to rant on how strange it is that countries, populations of millions, choose or endure one human being to lead them. One ruler. One person with ultimate responsibility for everyone else. I was going to propose what I’ve coined, Agile Governance, and I was going to start my argument from my observation of how the Nigerian state continues to exist even the absence of the President. I wish him full recovery from his undisclosed ailment. He is in London getting treated for something that till today is being kept secret.

And of course, I was going to touch on Trump in my rant. He, more than any other leader, more than President Buhari of Nigeria whose ill health does not tarnish his good intentions as a ruler, he, Donald Trump, is the perfect reason for countries to rethink choosing one individual to rule over them all.

But Kabul flashed on my phone screen and I stopped.

I have become used to this. To numbers. Eighty. Twenty. Twelve. One hundred. To violent, needless loss of human lives reduced to digits. To suicide bombers. I have become numb.

I think of the dead each time, but my mind hardly bothers with the wounded - until they are dead in the news updates, then they shift sides in the statics and they too get from me a pause. A pause and no more. And I move on.

I continue with whatever it was that I was doing before; writing, eating, chilling, dreaming, howbeit with noticeable quietness, like a subconscious minute’s silence.

But not today.

Today I stopped.

Suddenly, my Trump rant didn’t seem as innocuous as I hope (and I take it for granted) my rants to be. Today I asked myself again, ‘What makes a person strap a bomb to their body?’

I have my theories, there are many, and there are many more that are not mine but that are sound and have merit in their arguments, but who can tell what’s on another person’s mind as they bury their child, bend torn-off branches to build a fence along where they suspect the mines are, watch their parents dragged off to be executed for not saying prayers to the right God, live through another air raid, strap a bomb suit to their body.

Who can tell what’s on my mind as I’m writing this? Who, expect me, can know my true motives? Who, even hearing my motives from my mouth, spoken truthfully and with every intention to be truthful, can be sure that I have been truthful first to myself before attempting to be truthful with them? Who can know the mind of another? No one.

So I do not wish to know the mind of the suicide bomber, because I cannot know his mind. Or her mind. But still I wonder, why? Why, despite the billions spent and the intelligence gathered, why has the War on Terror failed? Quite evidently it has failed, it is failing now, and from all indications, it will continue to fail. Why?

Next week in the UK we are going to have a general election. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, speaking after the Manchester attack, claimed that there is a link between “wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home.”

I don’t know if he’s right, but I know I want to try something other than what we have always done. Something other than giving other people freedom by bombing them. I want to get ‘unused’ to numbers of dead and injured. I want to feel again.  And that is why I’m voting Labour.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Le Téléphone Redux


Cara remains this week incommunicado in Cuba...and so this post from the past on "ancient" communication abilities seems particularly appropriate. :)

In the early 90's Parisians were getting rid of le télépone comme ça.  France and Europe had jumped to cell technology faster because of their archaic land line system.
Much easier for them to grab on to the 'new' technology. Far faster than we did. I remember thinking how cool and special that was. How advanced.
One time in the Marais, a hairdresser, had come out of the coiffeur salon in Place du Marché Saint Catherine.
This was a warm afternoon, a time to sit in cafés in the square.
He had a cell phone to his ear, gesticulated with a cigarette in his hand during a conversation and sipped an espresso from a cup he'd set on the hood of parked car.
He was poetry in motion involved in a very intense phone call. In the middle of it, he'd gotten a call from another cell phone he had pulled from his pocket. Two cell phones! Was it his mistress? His wife?
He managed all of this; the two phone calls, smoking and sipping from his demitasse in pure acrobatic fashion.
This is Bernard Henri-Levy the rockstar philosopher, not the coiffeur but it reminded me of him and to give you an idea. Also, I remember he wore a white shirt, the buttons undone to almost his navel and gold chains. Marseilleise? Corsican coiffeur? But whatever he managed all this with a certain style, a panache, a je ne sais quo manner that I've never forgotten.
Especially when today on the street all one sees is robot-like behavior with people at that cell phone texting stance which brooks no human contact. In Asia they even have walking lanes
Ah, those were the days when cell phones were part of life, not life.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Unbearable Beauty of The Nakasendo

--Susan, every other Sunday

Last autumn, I walked a 7.5 kilometer stretch of the old Nakasendo - a 17th century travel road that once served as the primary northern travel route between Kyoto and Edo (now called Tokyo).

The Kiso Valley, as seen from the Nakasendo

Although my books are set in the 16th century, the section I walked is actually far older. Known as the Kisoji, this ancient travel road connected the mountain towns of Nagano and Gifu prefectures. (And thus, makes a perfect setting for one of my upcoming historical mysteries.)

Almost 8km, start to finish.

When the Tokugawa shoguns established designated travel roads (for monitoring and controlling commerce as they unified Japan), the Kisoji was absorbed into the Nakasendo (which follows its route exactly).

Before walking the road, I spent the night at Magomechaya, a minshuku (traditional guest house) in the preserved post town of Magome--once, the southernmost terminus of the Kisoji.

Magome in twilight.

After the day-trippers leave, the shopkeepers set lanterns along the street, turning the village into a magical place as the sun goes down.

Magomechaya, the minshuku where I stayed.

The following morning, I woke at dawn and followed the steep, winding road out of town and past the ancient notice board where Tokugawa shoguns posted edicts for travelers and townspeople along the Nakasendo:

You didn't want to see your name on this notice board.

Shortly after I set out, the sun appeared above the mountains, illuminating a lotus field:

Parts of the Nakasendo haven't changed much in 1000 years.

The road remains uneven, cobblestoned in places:

17th century cobblestones.

packed earth in others:

Silent, untouched, and breathtakingly beautiful.

It winds through mountains covered in towering pines and glorious maples:

More metaphors than you can shake a stick at.

And it hides a hidden danger ... bears.

Please have a thing out of the sound. Not a clue what that means,  but fortunately I survived.

Since medieval times, travelers on the Nakasendo have had to watch out for the bears that inhabit the mountains. Brass "bear bells" hang on stands at intervals along the road, with signs warning travelers to ring them hard "against bears."

"Ring the bell hard against bears."

I saw no bears to ring the bells against, which was probably good. The signs did not include instructions on how to make the bears stand still long enough for me to ring a bell against them, anyway.

About two-thirds of the way to Tsumago - the next town north of Magome, and my initial destination -- a road branches off, with a sign that reads "Otaki-Metaki Waterfalls." Never one to bypass an opportunity for adventure, I took the proverbial road less traveled by...

Not sure which one is Otaki & which is Metaki

The falls sit about 100 meters apart, and each is about 40' high.

It did, indeed, make all the difference.

Afterward, I retraced my steps to the Nakasendo and continued my journey, arriving in the preserved post town of Tsumago in time for lunch and a visit to the fantastic museums there.

Tsumago, Japan Alps.
But that's a story for another day.

Preserved inn and teahouse, Tsumago.

Although it's not as well-known as many historical sites in Japan, the Nakasendo is one of my favorite places in Japan. I loved every minute of my walk, even if its beauty was ...

... unbearable.

(Sorry, Jeff, I had to beat you to it.)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Of Course You Can Go Home Again


Well, we’ve arrived on Mykonos. So much has changed. Or is it we have changed? Time may answer that. Or not.  But, no matter, the creative juices are flowing, and CNN is tucked away, lost in the white noise background of competing local craziness, not trumpeting breaking news inside my eyelids.  As I said, things have changed.

Everywhere. It’s palpable.

But I’m not going to talk about that this week. This is time for easing back into the old life, and what better way to do that than through a return to the sea, the source of all life.

So, here’s a photo essay taken on a spur-of-the-moment sunset run between the island’s new harbor in Tourlos and the old port in old town Mykonos.  Nothing fancy, just a quick jaunty cruise with friends in their “zodiac.”  It’s precisely these sorts of unscripted moments that remind me I’m home again.  And what else can one hope for than to be back among so many friends who are more like family—and allow me to play the crazy uncle. :)

We're off!
Entering the old port

Huddled masses

Our Captain's imitation of the Statue of Liberty, Greek Style
A few ships along the way

Dusk, and time to move on.

Until anon...


Friday, May 26, 2017

The Castle Of the Mad King

Mad King Ludwig probably wasn’t mad.

 I think he was my kind of guy. I would have asked him to do a guest blog. And he would have obliged.
                                              (2 minutes after car park at the castles opening)

He was an interesting dude. King of Bavaria at the age of 18. Bavaria was by then, part of the new Germany although it still retained much of its autonomy. Ludwig’s problem was that he wasn’t much interested in politics ( well that wasn’t a problem for him, it was more of a problem for those around him.) On his ascension to the throne, he let the ministers keep their jobs, he let the policies initiated by his father run and decided that a ‘hands off’ approach would leave him more time to do things he really liked. Like building castles. He avoided  the big formal occasions and all those stuffy meetings, preferring to go for long walks by himself, write poetry or ride through the country side chatting to farmers and peasants, often rewarding  them with lavish gifts if they had shown him any hospitality.

                                                            It's behind you!!
He was called, the swan king, the fairy tale king and ‘mad’ but to his people he was ‘the cherished one.’

The many castles he commissioned were not state  funded but paid for out of the royal revenue. And that probably led to his own family  trying to have him declared insane. They didn’t have the foresight to see that the Neuschswanstein itself would ensure Bavaria’s place in bucket list tourist attractions – it’s in the top thirty of the 100 things to see before you die ( and walking up the hill it sits on is enough to bring about an early demise).  It has over 1.5 million visitors  a year. And Loopy Ludwig oversaw its design, the decoration,   the furnishing, the central  heating, the electricity and the funny ceiling in the bedroom.

And it was the first castle in Germany to have a phone, begging the question, who did he call?

                                                           The one that dad built.
And that’s just one castle. He did the Linderhof and a few other palaces. As the money ran out, his architects designed more and more outrageous and elaborate designs, safe in the knowledge nobody could ever afford to build them.  His Dad, a distant man, had nothing to say to his son. But as he had built the Hoheschwangau, you’d think they could at least have a conversation about plumbing or something.

It was while Ludwig was a wee kid, about 5 years old , he had looked out  a window  of the Hoheschwangau onto  an nearby Alp,  and thought  ' that would be a great place to build a castle- a fancy castle with towers and spires'.

The telescope is still there, at that window. As the tourists walk round they are invited to take a peak at the ‘Fairy castle’ just as the young prince envisioned it.
                                               Something like the view from the palace to the castle.
Although Ludwig didn’t get on with his dad, he loved his Grand pappy, who is described as a diagnosed eccentric.  Ludwig loved growing up in the Hohenschwangau, he and his close pal, Prince Paul rode around re-enacting bits from Wagner’s operas and reciting poetry to each other.
 If it wasn’t for the patronage of  Ludwig, Richard Wagner would only have completed half the operas that he did… but those of us who have suffered the ring cycle might judge  that to be a mark against Ludo’s sanity. I mean if we were meant to sit still through that I think God would have designed our buttocks differently and made us able to turn our hearing off.
And Ludwig's bed? He  designed the ceiling above his bed to show the solar system and the stars as they were in the sky above him. He also liked to ask his servants to harness the ponies to the sledge, then stand in a line, illuminating his way with candles as he  dashed  down  an Alp at midnight. He ‘d often ask young children to share the fun.
He sounds like the Michael Jackson of his day.
(At the this point , I think I should point out just how bonkers many of the royals are. It's all that inbreeding and waving out car windows that does it. Our lot are part of the Goethe Sax Coburg  clan. At least now they are allowed to marry commoners to breed the madness out but for a few hundred years they have been swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool.)
But, and here’s where the story gets dark. if  I am ever at a loose end, I’d like to dig out some official papers about how Ludwig met his end at the age of 40. There are more conspiracy theories than there are castles ie a lot ! The official version, as told by the tourist guide was that Ludo had been diagnosed with depression and then drowned. I found out that where he drowned was only waist deep and that as a younger man, Ludwig had been an exceptional  swimmer, certainly enough to right himself in the water. If he was conscious. And even then there was no water in his lungs.
He was not alone as he went out for a walk that fateful day. He was with his  doctor, Dr Gudden.
Neither of them came back. Ludo was supposed to have been stabbed or shot but there were no marks on his body seemingly although his close female friend maintained she had his coat, complete with a bullet hole. The good Dr had been beaten and stabbed.

The king was in good spirits and there was no reason for him to commit suicide. He might however have suffered a heart attack, trying to swim or wade his way across the lake on a cold, cold night. And was he doing that to get away from a life he could endure no longer?
Or had Richard Wagner just phoned him and told him that he's just written a week long opera?

So it all remains a mystery. Maybe he was just spending too much money.
But the castles  and the good will of his people have kept King Ludwig in the memory long after those that may have brought about his demise have slipped into eternity without anybody really noticing.
Here’s a few pics of him,  handsome, a cool kind of guy. He has very charismatic eyes and a fine pair of britches. Do Americans even have a word for britches?

Caro Ramsay Von Ludoblogger  May 26th 2017