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February 19th, 2017


11:24 pm

Olivia Manning – The Balkan Triligy

 

Much has changed in Bucharest since 1938 when this book is set, but a lot hasn’t. Olivia Manning I think was a woman with remarkable powers of observation, her writing has an almost forensic quality about it with each character dissected with almost forensic detail. The first moments of the book tell us almost all we need to know about the main players, Guy and Harriet, with Guy giving almost all he has to a refugee who has lost his papers while Harriet, sympathising, is more circumspect. Later, Harriet tells her husband she loves him, to which he responds ‘I know’.

I can’t decide whether this book is more remarkable for the details of daily life and descriptions of Bucharest and Athens (although the latter is less vivid for me, perhaps because I do not know it). I know all the places she describes and can imagine the peasants, the beggars and the spirits of dead Bucharest. She captures the fact that Bucharest has always been a city of big and grand dreams which never quite come to fruition, its grandiose ambitions and aspirations which somehow seem absurd rather than natural when she describes the characters such as Bella, Sophie and Sasha. But she is not kind to the Romanians, while describing the dark sides of the national character (which again I recognise) does not describe the warmth and humour of the people I have chosen. The Greeks are more sympathetically written of (which reminds me how one of the players in the book remarks that no one admires the Romanians and Manning certainly doesn’t).

Of the individuals Guy and Harriet are vivid but the others, although well drawn (especially the tragic yet cruel figure of Clarence and the toadying Toby) the others less so, I got especially irritated with Yakimov who is 2 dimensional and while such narrow figures exist in real life reading about them is tiresome. However the delicate interplay of Guy and Harriet is superb as each grows to know each other they realise that love is more than daydreams and that as they realise what the other is they will be disappointed. However where she does not have real experience the author is weaker, I would not describe her as a great imaginative novelist,I have no doubt she is describing her own marriage.

The real triumph of the books lies in describing events and nowhere more so than in describing what it is like to live in a place which may ver soon become a war zone where you don’t quite know what is going on. Gossip and rumour abound and there is only a sense that something bad will happen but you are powerless to do anything in reaction. Reading it I felt as though she were describing the shit that we are living through now as my emotions and Harriet’s are as one.

 

It was a good read and I look forward to the Levant Trilogy which I hope to get read this year.

Shakespeare on Toast - Ben Crystal.

I enjoy the videos Ben Crystal does with his Father (the wonderful and Erudite David) about Shakespeare and this little book is a nice introduction to what makes Shakespeare's stuff great, some elementary poetic and linguistic analysis for the non specialist and context of the theatre and performances. Good as a simple and easy to read intro on the bard.
 


(ribbit)

January 10th, 2017


10:46 pm - More reviews
Reviews

Kiss – Jaqueline Wilson

Children’s books are often the ones I return to again and again. They have a purity of story which adult fiction doesn’t. I hadn’t read any Jaqueline Wilson before but on the advice of Zed I read this and was not disappointed.

Sylvie loves Carl and wants to marry him, Carl loves glass and Sylvie but does not want to marry her because he loves Paul, who does not reciprocate to put it mildly… Paul fancies Miranda who is trying to turn ‘ickle Sylvie into a bad girl and it all comes to a head when Car is inadvertently outed and is made to suffer for his honesty.

It’s quite rare that a coming of age story has the main character keeping her innocence and Sylvie is drawn remarkably well, having that not quite child but definably not yet woman thing that young teenage has. She gains in wisdom but still keeps her essentially artless nature intact. Carl was also well drawn – I felt she caught the dilemma of being a sensitive young man in a macho environment in a realistic way. I felt Paul and Miranda were more crude, the latter especially being too much of the cliché of the spoilt little rich girl for me to find quite credible (also she’s a bint).

Nonetheless, a fine portrait of the trials of youth (I thank god I am not that age any more!) and coming to terms with the complexity of the outer, and perhaps more crucially for one’s sanity, the inner world.
Plus Wilson wears almost as many rings as I do which naturally disposes me to like her work!

The Making of Home – Judith Flanders

I find Flanders occasionally preachy when talking about the Victorians but there is no denying she writes extremely well and has that enviable trick of keeping many threads going simultaneously and making it seem effortless. It is a very easy to read work summarising some serious scholarship covering both historical and anthropological ideas of ‘home’.

She distinguishes between nations where house and home are distinguished and not (Germanic and Latin respectively) and the evolution of the concept of home. Among the distinctions are the more public nature of life in Romance lands. She also covers how the growth of wage labour created more of a distinction between pubic and private spheres (not altogether new to me as I have read Engels but I assume it is useful for those who eschew Marxism). What I found more interesting was the evolution of the layouts of houses, the really riveting chapter for me was about changing ideas of privacy and how corridors aided the growth of what we would understand by it (made sense having visited Marian’s cousins in the country. Their home does not have corridors and if you have to traverse different rooms to get to your destination you are not going to be fussy about it!). I was less interested in the origins of different things within the home, it seemed rather patchy and has been covered better by other writers imho.

Nonetheless I would say it is well worth a look as there is still a lot of interesting meat there.

Never Mind the Balkans – here’s Romania Mike Ormsby

Found this in the airport bookshop ( published by his Missis) before heading Ukwards and bought it in the hope that it might enlighten me a little more about this country.

It’s an entertaining series of vignettes written by a long term resident of that enchantingly maddening city which is Bucharest. and he deals with potentially difficult topics (nepotism, animal cruelty, the brain drain, the failure to move on from Communism) with few words and a light touch which nonetheless is illuminating about the country at this moment in time.

(ribbit)

January 6th, 2017


10:08 pm - Book reviews

In keeping with my new year’s resolution to keep track of what I have read:

 

The alabaster girl.

 

I am not the target audience of this work. As such I found it oft-times rather risible.

 

I have met them before, those men who love women, who are addicted to their company and delight in simply sitting in the same room as one even without talking. And I admit that the man who loves women is, for a straight female, good company. Even for a little bit more if you feel so inclined – and why not? Being lovers of women they are concerned that the encounter should be agreeable all round. But such men are unreliable for anything more than this, being in love with the woman as an archetype, the beautiful, the work of art; the human soul behind is sadly often obscured behind the ‘love’ for women in general. I find their company, although superficially pleasant, unsustaining for long and leaves me with the urge for real conversation about the real world.

 

This book was written by the self proclaimed ‘globally acknowledged authority in seduction’, a practitioner of the art of love, for those men who wish to have more success with the female of the species. It is intended as a (much needed admittedly) challenge to the pick-up artist movement which regards women as the barely sentient quarry for the satisfaction of male lust and vanity. The book notes that women need to be listened to, to be enjoyed as people in their own right. Men and women should live in a series of exquisite moments, enjoying the chase and culmination that comes with the union of masculine and feminine.

There is a lot to be liked about his advice, not least his insistence that men should actually talk to women and listen not just regard them as canvasses of their bragging- why is it that such a patently obvious things need to be reiterated?

However my complaint of this book (or the ideas behind it) is that it is written by a benevolent sexist who despite claiming to be responsive for the human desire for adventure, beauty and romance.

I agree these are necessary and at gloomy moments to have been given an admiring gaze has done me me more good than all the philosophy and planning in the world.

But the woman is not just an exquisitely beautiful thing to be enjoyed and then remembered fondly. We are organisms who fart and poo and have to leap out of bed after lovemaking to pee as a guard against UTIs (not talking from personal experience here tralalalala). The alabaster girl of the title is an archetype which may or may not chime with the experience of the individual in question. (I don’t even what to get started on how distressingly heteronormative the whole text is!)

Finally at the end of the day the wonderful moments are fine, but I am sure that most of us also long for the deeper connection that comes from getting to know a real human who does the dishes and laughs at you when you fart. As a primer for dating you could probably do worse. But please actually talk to some real humans who identify as women lads!

 

The Dark Side of Love – Rafik Schami

 

“Damascus isn’t so much a city, a place named in an atlas, as a fairy tale clothed in houses and streets, stories, scents and rumours” (p317).

 

Although the year is young I think I can confidently say this is one of the best books I will read in 2017. It is wonderful.

 

At its heart is the often tragic love story of Farid and Rana (the scions of 2 warring families) but in the background we have family feuds, the turbulent history of 20th century Syria, murders, jokes and friendships. It begins with a murder mystery, who was the murderer of Mahdi Said? This we discover but not before excursions into the realm of the Arabian Nights with the history of the Mushtak family, founded when George Mushtak and his lover fled as her parents had already promised her to another man and his fateful rivalry with the Shahin family which has consequences which, in the way of the middle east, reverberate for decades to come. The mosaic reads like individual stories cobbled together to create one majestic whole and includes a whole host of episodes which could be cut yet you would not wish them to be for they are as dazzling as the wares of a souk and adds to the whole sensual experience of Damascus a city I now grieve for because I will never know it as it was.

As I read it, I heard about Assad and the war and now the whole catastrophe seems so much more vivid having read this. In the last part of the novel I read of the early experiences with dictatorship and torture and of men being arrested on whims and to satisfy bloodlusts began decades or even centuries prior. Somehow it made sense when read against the backdrop of the news.

 

But above all it is an absolutely thrilling family saga and a loving portrait of a country and a city which, despite its many dark sides, is obviously so longed for by the exile.


(ribbit)

January 1st, 2017


09:03 pm - 2016 meme
  1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?
    Got engaged, split up with and got back together with someone, seen a hoopoo, gone t Danube Delta, written for 16 hours, celebrated a birthday in Czech Republic and gatecrashed a 3 year old's birthday. Driven on the right, failed to pass a course first time, eaten rabbit.

    2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    1) No
    This year: Lose weight, keep track of spending, get the bloody DELTA done.

    3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
    A few friends

    4. Did anyone close to you die?
    No but an acquaintace from uni died at 44 and the number of celeb deaths was terrifying

    5. What countries did you visit?
    UK, Romania, Moldova, Czechia

    6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
    The DELTA.

    7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

    Mid Feb, my chap announcing he would be moving to Denmark. This crushed me. 1st May, celebrating Easter in Tulcea and learning he was coming back and feeling amazed. 7th August, m birthday and having one day of rest in the middle of DELTA insanity. The last Monday, skiving off to visit the Zoo. 12th December, being on a mountain in Bucovina and receiving a proposal of marriage.

    8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    Not totally dying after learning I had failed last DELTA assignment

    9. What was your biggest failure?
    Failing it. Not getting to grips with limba Romana

    10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    Gum infection and cystitis and a diagnosis of periotendinitus

    11. What was the best thing you bought?
    Trips!!! Plane ticket home (in fairness this was reimbursed)

    12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
    My chums :)

    13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
    52% of those who elected for Brexit, Theresa May, My fiance before he realised the error of his ways, Trump. Bigots.

    14. Where did most of your money go?
    books, travel, jewels

    15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    Finishing DELTA

    16. What song will always remind you of 2016?
    Toy soldiers

    17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier/sadder; fatter/thinner; richer/poorer?
    a) Not as happy but not sad.
    b) Fatter
    c) Poorer but frankly it's worth it..

    18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
    Improving my mind, writing, learning

    19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
    Faffing

    20. How did you spend Christmas?
    Avec the fiance's family

    21. Did you fall in love in 2016?
    Not fell in love per se but realised I loved the man as I thought I was going to lose him.

    22. How many one-night stands?
    0

    23. What was your favourite TV program?
    Romanian cartoons which I have been watching/

    24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
    No

    25. What was the best book you read?
    Poisonwood Bible, The Ibis trilogy, Nick Clegg's autobiography, The Eyre Affair, Burial rites

    26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    Not been a very musical year but I rediscovered Musica Populara

    27. What did you want and get?
    Love (or sex!), travel

    28. What did you want and not get?
    Passing the DELTA M2 first time

    29. What was your favourite film of this year?
    Fantastic beasts, Star wars, The Teacher, Jungle Book. How to be single (rubbish but it made me feel better).

    30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    35. I went with an old friend to visit Konopiste palace near Prague.

    31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    A victory for remain and Hilary Clinton.

    32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
    Garish! as usual.

    33. What kept you sane?
    Fighting.

    34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    None.

    35. What political issue stirred you the most?
    Refugees, Brexit, Trump, Syria, Putin......

    36. Who did you miss?
    The family, the man.

    37. Who was the best new person you met?
    Folks on the DELTA

    38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.
    Fight.

    39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
    Everyday is like a battle.

    There will be trouble in the world this next year, and perhaps love will be what we need most.

 

I wrote that as a summation last year and I am impressed how prescient it was. The world seems to have lost its humour and its joy this year, bile reigns and I will look back on this and wonder how we got ourselves into this mess. How we would survive. My country is bitter and Torn, America will lose its soul in the next four years and we will look to China to defend us against Russia. IS will fall but leave viral traces in its wake.

 

And I will marry and settle. I will mourn my country but hope to build a life for myself in Romania. And hope to buy land, get a home together. Build our fortress.....

 


(1 croak | ribbit)

December 31st, 2015


09:59 am - 2015 Meme
1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?
Learned to Scuba dive, dived in a coral reef and in an icy palace (Silfra) and dipped in the dead sea, been terrified crossing a national border (Jordan/Israel), Been seeing someone for more than 2 months, got into serious trouble at work, rented an apartment for myself in a new country, spent more than one night in a tent, held a puffin, climbed a live volcano, had a heartbreak, been pecked by a bird, moved back to old familiar places (Edinburgh and Romania),

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
One I remember was to appreciate the people round me and I did keep to that.
This year: Don't waste money, eat more healthily, be more disciplined about sticking to your study timetable, spend half an hour to an hour studying Romanian, don't get stressed about things you can't change.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
No

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No

5. What countries did you visit?
UK (when I was living in Saudi), Jordan, Israel, Bahrain for an 8 hour stopover, Iceland, Moved to Romania and Moldova

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
More money. A plan.

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Mid January, going home and being slightly shocked in Newcastle and miniskirted females openly grabbing their men. February, trips to go diving in the Red sea and seeing such prettiness I could hardly stand it, March, seeing displaced Palestinians in Israel. Finally getting the fuck out of Saudi, A great birthday in Edinburgh and 8th Sep, moving back to Romania. 13th Sep, meeting a couchsurfer who took a shine to me. We have been dating since.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Not being tempted by the money and getting the Hell out of a place I was really unhappy in.

9. What was your biggest failure?
 Spending too much, putting weight back on, failing to focus on study

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Gum infection and cystitis and an inflamed tendon

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Trips!!! Plane ticket home (in fairness this was reimbursed)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My chums :)

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Some people I thought had been my friends but weren't. Good luck to 'em. Bigots of all flavours, white, brown, Muslim and Christian.

14. Where did most of your money go?
books, travel, jewels

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Travel! Leaving Saudi.

16. What song will always remind you of 2014?
Comme d'habitude.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier/sadder; fatter/thinner; richer/poorer?
a) Happier!!!!!!
b) Fatter
c) Poorer but frankly it's worth it..

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Improving my mind, writing

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Faffing

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Looking after My sisters kids.

21. Did you fall in love in 2014?
Become very fond of someone but I don't know if I love him.

22. How many one-night stands?
0

23. What was your favourite TV program?
Romanian cartoons which I have been watching/

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
No

25. What was the best book you read?
The Lacuna, Siberian Education, The Romanian, The Electric Michaelangelo

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Not been a very musical year but I rediscovered Musica Populara

27. What did you want and get?
Love (or sex!), travel

28. What did you want and not get?
Saving

29. What was your favourite film of this year?
Legend of Barney Johnson, Star Wars, remastering of the Third Man, Inside Out. Song of the Sea. Not been a terribly intellectual year folm wise!.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
34. worked but some friends came to visit and their effort was the best present and we had a great time.

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having saved more and a clearer idea of what I want to achieve.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Garish! as usual.

33. What kept you sane?
Concentrating on a happier future.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
None.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
The election, the refugee Crisis

36. Who did you miss?
The family.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Lots of new people in Edinburgh

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.
Don't look back.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
The Best things in life are free.

I end this year in a better place by far than I did last year. I feel much calmer though I have a feeling there will be storms ahead, at least I have had some time to replenish my energy. I am going out with someone and while it is going well I have my doubts about it being long term. Nonetheless It is nice to feel appreciated and also to know that I am loved by my old friends and people who really matter. There will be trouble in the world this next year, and perhaps love will be what we need most.

(5 croaks | ribbit)

January 9th, 2015


07:07 pm - The problem of good.
I lack the philosophical tools for this, but the case in France made me think.

The Charlie Hebdo murders were wrong. Absolutely wrong, there is no questions of that.

 

Yet my mind hasn't been on that,, but the more abstract notion of goodness. More specifically, does goodness exist in the abstract? What is it? Like pornography 'we know it when we see it', but can it be defined at all? Theologians talk about the problem of evil, but surely then there is a problem with good?

 

 

Evil, as the character Ikonnikov in Grossman's Life and Fate writes, is not done in the name of evil, but in the name of good. So what is this 'good'?

There is good, as found in everyday kindness, affection, family. There is the common good where we do things to benefit everyone. We all want to think of the things we do as being good. What are our first experiences of 'good?' Our Mummies and Daddies tell us it is good to do certain things and so we do them. The child is told to share, the be gentle, to help around the house and she/he is rewarded by approbation. Do these instincts come spontaneously? Perhaps, but the child is amoral and must be guided. We all know how obnoxious a spoilt child is. Goodness is something to be trained.

But the child is told not to lie, and when she is given a present she does not like and says so she is told she has not been good because she has been rude. A boy sees his sister getting bullied and he goes and hits the bully. He has been bad, but in the name of good – protecting his sister.

There are too many compromises for good. In my youth I admired Tolstoy's ideals, how he tried to live a vision of pure Christianity. It is easy to try this in the abstract, but can we? The Gospel of St Matthew rather surprised me when I first read it, for in chapter 10 we find ““Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn

“ ‘a man against his father,

a daughter against her mother,

a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—

36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’c

37“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.39Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Strong words, completely contradicting what we are told about the importance of family, of compromise and so called Christian values. People who are good, inflexible in their values and beliefs, are exhausting. Impossible to love everyone as I suppose we would like to do, we do what can can to maintain social harmony. A person who gave all of his or her worldly wealth we do not value as a disinterestedly good person, but as a bit of a nutter. The societal norms are not being met.

What is goodness, except a means of imposing order on a formless, amoral and ultimately lonely and frightening universe? And what if those rules are as arbitrary as the chaos it is supposed to combat?

Perhaps it is no wonder we may get confused. This morning I was listening to a French guy who works at the UN talking about the importance of liberal democracy (that which we in the enlightened west consider to be 'Good' and where we have caused much bloodshed in its name in the Middle East, in charitable moods I think the wagers of war truly believed in this 'good') saying words to the effect of 'our lives may be endangered, but our democracy must never be', and somehow that makes me shiver, is any ideology worth a human life? What abstract good is worth dying or killing for? What is the difference between being killed for another country's democracy or being killed for offending the Prophet of Islam?

I don't like the word tolerance. It is a cold word, a clinical word, lacking the warmth of phrases like kindless, love, brotherhood. But these can be difficult to maintain, so perhaps the muted neutrality of tolerance is the best we can hope for, the only universal 'good' we can agree on.


 


 

 

 

 




(ribbit)

December 30th, 2014


05:47 pm - On being rich
Probably the biggest thing I dislike about this country is the goldfish bowl aspect. Except for going to the souk where one may people watch happily for hours(an activity alas which taxi fares prohibit too often) it's not really a culture for a westerner, certainly not a female, to walk around in.
http://www.thecultureist.com/2012/12/12/expat-women-in-saudi-arabia-compound/
 There is a most telling quote at then end of this article

"I thought back to the conversation I had with a fifteen-year old Russian girl in our compound, who was born in Jubail and has never left except for yearly holidays back to St. Petersburg. “I don’t like Russia,” she confided. “There are too many people, too many cars, and they are all scary. It’s not safe out there, you know?” She then excused herself to go to meet a friend, running down the street of this picturesque village, an ersatz version of safety, a mirage of the real world."

I don't know how much of it is cultural and how much is to do with wealth. Women have never played a public role in this society, even in public the veil is a visible reminder of the internal privacy in which they are kept. And as previously noted family and tribe are everything. Most people only socialise and have fun within the family sphere. When I talk to my girls about what they like about Riyadh, they answer 'it's safe'.
I suppose it is, crime is low and they never have to go outside, they have their cars and malls. They never have to deal with what I really want to deal with - life.
I miss Life. I miss seeing corpses on the metro in Moscow, I miss the pang of sympathy upon seeing the disabled beggers of Bucharest and the frisson of fear at the packs of dogs. I miss the grannies selling flowers all over Eastern Europe, I miss the markets of Japan, the bustle of the city. I even miss feeling annoyed at the drunks coming out of British pubs on Friday and Saturday! I miss just walking on the street without it being slightly taboo, fishing for change for the bus, avoiding dog poo. I miss dirt and hurly burly.
But it makes me reflect on wealth and why it has this deadening effect. Why is it when people get rich they want to isolate themselves. It makes me wonder when I see the nice identikit houses to which the middle classes of the UK aspire, although at least they are not gated, that is for the really rich. Why do the wealthy wish to keep life out? Obviously there are security elements but i simply cannot understand why someone would eschew real life for beige banality.

(ribbit)

December 28th, 2014


10:47 am - 2014 meme
1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?
Went to a bunch of new nations, had a random guy give me his number, one night stand, lost friends due to politics, went to a camel show, flown on a 13 hour domestic flight, nearly got arrested at a political rally, stood for hours outside the Belorusian embassy in Moscow, visited a Buddhist temple, seriously considered jacking in a job with no notice, had jewellery custom made, worn a niqab, visited a death camp, visited Niagara falls, gambled, went to Tomsk, went to Kamchatka. I will be going to an embassy party!

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Well, I worked hard and saved! But But then I spent it all. And I failed to read Das Kapital.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
A few friends

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Sergei Koshkovitch :(

5. What countries did you visit?
Russia and the UK (if they count), Spain, Belarus, Poland, Canada, the US, Saudi Arabia (I'm living there so I don't know if visit is the right word), Sri Lanka, Bahrain. It's been a record for new countries! And the airports at Doha and Beirut.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
More money, calm, a boyfriend

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
January, having fun with Mum in Barcelona, early March, when I was worried due to the invasion of Crimea and I saw my first arrest at a political rally and wondered what was with the Russia I loved. 22nd May, leaving Russia. End of August - Saudi.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Saving!

9. What was your biggest failure?
Losing students, Spending too much, putting weight back on

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Books and train tickets, a ticket to Sri Lanka and a trip to Bahrain.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My chums :)

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Politicians. People who I thought were my friends learning to dislike me because they thought because I didn't like Putin I hated Russia.

14. Where did most of your money go?
books, travel, jewels

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Travel!

16. What song will always remind you of 2014?
Family of the Year - Hero (for the delightful film Boyhood, and the rare feeling of optimism in the summer), Blixa Bargeld - what if

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier/sadder; fatter/thinner; richer/poorer?
a) Sadder
b) Fatter
c) About the same.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Improving my mind, writing

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Faffing

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Marking and then in a car to Bahrain where I drank and danced the night away :)

21. Did you fall in love in 2014?
I had my hopes up, but no.

22. How many one-night stands?
Two. One of which I had hoped wouldn't be...

23. What was your favourite TV program?
I didn't watch any tv. Game of Thrones I guess.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
No

25. What was the best book you read?
Barracuda, The handmaid's tale, One Summer

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Discovering Blixa Bargeld's collaboration with Terho Teatro. The Kinks.

27. What did you want and get?
Money, travel

28. What did you want and not get?
Love

29. What was your favourite film of this year?
Calvary. Boyhood. Grand Budapest Hotel.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
33 I was working but I went for a curry with my friend in the evening.

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Love, calmness.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Garish!.

33. What kept you sane?
Concentrating on a happier future.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Not saying.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Crimea, the Tory sell off of the NHS. Iron Dome and the Gaza shit.

36. Who did you miss?
The family.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
My new housemates here at the university.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.
Take mental health over money.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Another year and then you'll be happy.

There have been a lot of highlights this year, but it's also been a year of emotional upheaval and bloody seismic shifts in my life.
My friendly, benevolent Russia showed her ugly side, I cannot say I like my new life in KSA much at all and I only hope I can last till June. I feel permanently on edge here and I hate the angry, sour person I am turning into. All my energy is concentrated on getting through the year.
I had some fun at a party in October with a guy but he has since been blowing cold so that's been a sadness lately.
One thankfulness is that my parents seem to be ok and my sister has a new job to enable her to spend more time with the kids. But I worry whenever I think of them.
Dreams of settling have seemed ever more elusive, I am gradually reconciling myself to the fact that stillness is going to be a pipe dream, maybe even forever and perhaps I should start looking at downsizing my life yet further.
I've got my beachball feeling again, where I am tossed on the waves and don't know what will happen - hoping only the sharks don't bite me nor the waves overpower and puncture me.
Current Mood: pensivepensive

(1 croak | ribbit)

December 1st, 2014


05:35 pm - Curiyiryuriosity
There are a lot of cats around our compound, although lately I have seen rather fewer of them.

I don't know who or what has done away with them but a chat with my flatmate this evening has made me reflect that it was certainly not curiosity.

In most countries I have been in, students ask me questions about my experiences in other countries, about me, what I think of their country. I really don't have conversations like that with my students. I will sometimes talk about the world outside and they might listen with interest. But as I have previously noted what I may talk about is tres limitee. A lot of the girls are obsessed with their phones, with their friends. One girl in my class reads (and in English) but books are in short supply and no one seems to mind.
Views are parroted. The other day I asked students what they liked about Riyadh, I was told 'because it is safe for women', no comment. As I normally don't wear a scarf when I go out I am frequently stared at by a lot of men and it's not a comfortable sensation. Someone tried to squeeze my mammary in the souk the other day. It's harassment such as could happen anywhere but I would certainly not describe this as a particularly safe place for a woman. i felt safer in Moscow. But because they have drivers and never walk how could it occur to them otherwise?
They also said because it is a good place for Muslims. I can understand that, many of my colleagues are Muslims and have opted to live here because they want to live in a Muslim nation. But it doesn't tend to foster critical thinking. I was fascinated the other day by my colleague, a Londoner of Yemani descent, talking about the gym and modesty. She was talking about how she didn't want to see flesh in the gym, how the body was a temple and we had to make sure not everyone has visual access to it. We must not incite desire and how showing flesh in the (all female gym) could potentially be alluring for lesbians (!) and then in the next sentence went on to say how she only wore subtle makeup - but why is she wearing make up in an all female university? why does she make an effort to dress nicely if she doesn't want to attract people? At least to me it was contradictory. Saudi girls are taught their Islam is the only correct way and regional differences are just plain wrong. According to this lady most schools spend a more than a quarter of school time teaching religion http://saudiwoman.me/category/education-2/
And then you get stuff like this http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/05/saudi-sharia-justice-1000-lashes-liberal-activist-bloggers.html#
Their faith is deeply held, but any questioning of any Saudi social more is considered questioning Islam.
I don't think it's entirely that. They are children after all and children don't question things. Indeed I would hate to be a thinking Saudi woman, I would be frustrated every day of my life.

(ribbit)

November 21st, 2014


08:22 pm - Mother Russia vs the Magic Kingdom.
I keep comparing the KSA, mostly unfavourably, to Russia. This is I think natural, I lived there for 3 years and I liked it, I do not like KSA. My job is absurd at best and I am counting down the 6 months till I can get the hell out of here.

But it has to be said they are not unalike in many ways.

1)Extreme weather. Extremes of heat and cold respectively.

2)A complete and utter inability to plan. In the Saudi instance, their history as desert people, nomads who did not know what one day would bring to the next. Their reliance was on the mercy of God. Even when I ask their students to bring their homework in it is always 'Inshallah'. Never definitely. Most of my colleagues interpret it as laziness. I feel it is a legacy of that time where who knew what the next day would bring. Unfortunately in a modern country which has developing infrastructure the ad hoc jigsaw approach isn't conducive to getting anything done. The whole country is being made up as it goes along as no one has ever before seen the need to think ahead.
For the Russians, living on hard land, they were at the mercy of God, the land owners, the Tsar or the state. poverty, and the despair of finding anything good in this life is etched deep in the Russian mentality. There is a veneer of prosperity but I think the events of this year will wipe it out. Why therefore plan and save? While this causes something I love about the Russians - a devil may care contempt for thinking about tomorrow, again this is not what we expect of a modern country. And I think it in part accounts for the mess they find themselves in atm.

3) A certain passivity, combined with a total lack of responsibility. This is related to the above point, taking charge of your own destiny? Playing an active role in the running of the country? Naaaah. let the wife/foreigner/Philippina maid/King/president deal with the crap.

4)A general contempt for the greater part of the population. Saudi society is deeply, deeply, deeply tribal. The saying is 'I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against the world'. If someone does something wrong their their tribe is impugned or even out and out insulted. Most people will marry their cousins, in the past it was a means of preserving resources. Now it's about honour. And woe betide anyone who offends honour! For the Russians, again the weight of history. No one has ever been quite sure who they would be able to trust, either in the village or round the table in a tiny Moscow kitchen. Liberals are justifiably rather terrified of their co nationals. And the government has always been very good at promoting divide and rule.

5)A difficulty dealing with obscene wealth. the Saudis have something of an edge over the Russians, of 40 years or so. The country has externally modernised but people really have more money than they know what to do with. Saudis get paid 2500 rial a month for just being Saudi. Women can fly their hairdresser over from Paris for an hour and think nothing of it. The wealth of course does breed insensitivity. In Russia (or rather Moscow) there is wealth a plenty. If you can afford a flat in the centre of Moscow you are either a gangster or an ex one. But because of point 4 above, there is not much charity or kindness exhibited by the rich of either country. But then rich people are generally dicks anyway.

6)'I hate my country, even so it is the best in the world and you can't say anything against it. Foreigners are less important, are ignorant and not worth anything if they have brown skin'.
Saudis will criticise their country, because of the lack of freedom, because of the lack of things to do. But they are Muslims and are proud of the fiercely Muslim laws of the country. Their land contains Mecca and Medina and God rewarded them with oil and wealth. They are arrogant, they ostensibly hold to values of charity and mercy yet the mass ranks of foreign workers are treated like something that came from the back end of a dog.
Russians love Russia. they will attack it and wonder why you live there and are all trying to emigrate, but they will defend rodina to the death. Their religion bares more resemblance to romantic nationalism than to Christianity. Dare to offer a critique of Russia and you are automatically anti Russian (and God I got into some rows with people over my last year there!). It seems you cannot be anti Putin but pro Russian. And that is one reason I felt I had to leave.
I was also really put out by the rudeness of a young Russian woman on the platform of Colombo fort station. We were waiting for a train and a Sri Lankan chap began chatting. the Russian girl kept complaining about the train and at one point interrupted the (extremely nice) man with an idiotic remark about how under Stalin the person in charge of a late train would have been shot. I don't know if she thought about it but I did not dignify her with a reply and for the first time saw why people hate Russians - and I am always the person to defend them.

These are the main things. Others of course, both very patriarchal (though Russian women are allowed to exist independently, yet they are complicit in being kept down which makes it worse). The women of both nations live to be approved of by men. Both obsessed with sex (openly or covertly). Both chaotic nations (though in the light of Saudi Russia is like Switzerland).
There are more differences than similarities (the main one I miss is the Russian students actually have some respect for teachers and a genuine reverence for learning. and there is an anarchic streak to Russian culture which I miss) but it's funny how some of the fundamentals are the same between such different cultures.

(2 croaks | ribbit)

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