Daniel Barenboim’s Proms Speech

This post originally appeared on the In The Dark blog. I agree wholeheartedly with both the telescoper and Barenboim.

In the Dark

Daniel Barenboim made this wonderful speech at the BBC Proms at the weekend. It seems to have annoyed some people who get annoyed when someone expresses something that doesn’t fit in their own narrow minds, and does it with grace, eloquence and great dignity. I’m posting it here to annoy such people still further. It’s no more than they deserve.

And here is the encore that followed the speech – Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance  March No. 1 – in full. It’s a piece I usually hate. This was the first time in my whole life that I’ve actually enjoyed it.

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WorldBookProject – Yet more island cruising

WorldBookProject is still visiting some overseas territories, dependencies and territories which are claimed or contested. A lot of these places are not permanently inhabited, but provide space for a research station or a military outpost. In other territories the number of inhabitants is so small that nobody has as yet put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and written a book. That’s the reason why many of the books I’ve read to represent these places were written by authors from somewhere else.

133 Bouvet Island:  Geoffrey Jenkins –  A Grue of Ice

This felt a bit like James Bond goes Antarctica. The characters were clear-cut into good guys and baddies and thus utterly boring. However, the scenery provided by icebergs and glaciers was stunning, I had a chance to brush up on inorganic chemistry in a fun way, and there were some pretty good action scenes.

134 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: Alice Joseph and Veronica F. Murray – Chamorros and Carolinians of Saipan: Personality Studies

At the beginning of the 1950s, the two authors wrote up their psychological explorations of the people of Saipan. If you’re interested in Rorschach, Bender gestalt or IQ tests, this book is for you. I have to admit that I find all this a bit dodgy, but then I’m not a psychologist. For me, it was most interesting to learn that the islands were under German occupation at the beginning of the 20th century. Compared to the Spanish rule before and the Japanese and American after, people told the authors that they were pining for the good old days under the Kaiser.

135 Jan Mayen: Johannes Lid and Dagny Tande Lid – The flora of Jan Mayen

20 years ago, when I had just failed abysmally badly in a botany exam at uni who would have thought that one day I would read a book about botany? Certainly not me. However, going down memory lane with this piece of writing was quite fun. Most impressive however, was the author’s determination not to translate any of the quotes he used in the text. Hence, this book came in English, German, French, Latin, and Norwegian. I dealt more or less successfully with four of the languages, but had to give up on the Latin parts.

136 Overseas Collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon: William F. Rannie  – Saint Pierre and Miquelon

This was a very good overview of what is a group of islands near Canada, but actually part of France proper. Most interesting fact: During Prohibition, the islands were THE hub for liquor trade or smuggling, depending on your perspective.

137 Territory of Christmas Island: Margaret Neale – We were the Christmas Islanders

The author collected people’s memories of living on the island, which was usually only a few years. People from China or Malaysia would work in phosphate mining, white people (usually British) ruled. After the island became Australian, things changed extremely slowly, while racism and discrimination were rife. The silver lining: the annual crab migration.

 

 

WorldBookProject – Island Hopping

WorldBookProject has taken me to many unexpected places, but this time I went to some extraordinary corners of the world. I had some kind of map with me almost all the time while reading these books. Quick overview: Guernsey is in the Channel (between France and Great Britain), the French Southern Lands are also known as the Crozet Islands and  Kerguelen Islands in the Southern Ocean south of the Indian Ocean, Heard Island is just around the corner from there, and Mauritius is in the Indian Ocean.

Many thanks to Aran and her friends from Slovakia who organised the Mauritius book for me.

129 Bailiwick of Guernsey: Diana Bachmann –  A Sound like Thunder

Generally, I like reading historical fiction, and a book set around 1930 to 1945 should make for a gripping/haunting read. Unfortunately, this one didn’t quite deliver to my mind. I found the characters way too stereotypical and the plot too soap-opera-like. Having said that, I thought the author managed very well to convey the feeling of utter despair people on the island must have felt after the Allied landing in Normandy  when Guernsey was left in Nazi-German hands for another year. The book is the first part of a trilogy.

130 French Southern and Antarctic Lands: H.W. Tilman – Mischief among the penguins

Mischief, who would have thought, was the name of a sailing ship, and the author its skipper. Together with a handful of male companions (women were not allowed) they sailed from England to the Kerguelen islands and back. I learned a lot of sailing vocabulary, but I still don’t know really what a gybe is (only that it’s bad). I don’t like people who slaughter penguins, but the sailors’ sense of adventure was brilliant. And I unexpectedly met the skipper again in book 132.

131 Mauritius: Ramesh Ramdoyal – Tales from Mauritius 

The stories offered insights into the lives of the communities of fishermen and their families, and also some background on the island’s history, such as slavery. With most of them, you could always see an invisible finger telling you how to behave. It was rather moralising at times. However, a lot of the tales had an unexpected creepy twist or a funny bit, which reminded me somewhat of Roald Dahl’s stories. There’s a second part, More Tales from Mauritius, which I’ll read in good time.

132 Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands: Philip Temple – The Sea And The Snow: How we reached and climbed a volcano at the ends of the Earth

Like book 130, this was the account of an expedition, and as mentioned above, the skipper was the same, albeit on a different ship. This time, the blokes (again, no women) went to Heard Island to climb the local volcano. It was impressive to read how they dealt with all that Antarctic nature threw at them. Less impressed was I by their careless attitude towards the environment, something the author acknowledged in the 50th anniversary edition which I read. I really liked the openness and honesty of the writer – how people behaved and how they dealt with the psychological stress on top of the physical exhaustion. And I think this must have been the very first expedition I read about which contained descriptions of relieving yourself overboard or in freezing conditions on a mountain slope.

 

WorldBookProject – Eritrea, Turks and Caicos, South Georgia and Uganda

Here come four very different additions to WorldBookProject. Many thanks to Ilana Benady who suggested more Caribbean writers.

119 Eritrea: Helen Berhane with Emma Newrick – Song of the Nightingale: One woman’s dramatic story of faith and persecution in Eritrea

This book is a short and deeply disturbing autobiography. It mainly deals with the author’s horrific experiences in an Eritrean prison. It was impressive how her religion helped her through those times, but I also have to say that such fanaticism (in this case some kind of Christian belief) makes me rather uncomfortable. I have very little patience for proselytising, and this book had way too much for my taste.

120 South Georgia & Sandwich Islands: Royal Anglian South Georgia Expedition 1991 – Royal Anglian South Georgia Expedition

When some grown-up boys are going on an adventure … and end up in snow caves and on rations – this could also have been the title of the expedition. Having been to South Georgia myself, I mightily enjoyed reading this report, especially the part of the canoeing team. My respect to the expedition member who was on quarter rations and refused to eat freshly slaughtered penguin. Hero material!

121 Turks and Caicos:  Amelia Smithers – The Turks and Caicos Islands: lands of discovery

It was really tricky to find something other than a map or a government report for this British overseas territory, even within the extensive collections of the Bodleian libraries. So I opted for this kind of guidebook, but I couldn’t find any information about the author (and that’s quite a feat these days). The book was from the early 1990s, and it was brilliant to read about movements to protect the environment of the islands, in particular from too much tourism.

122 Uganda: Doreen Baingana – Tropical Fish

I found this collection of coming-of-age stories totally gripping. The questions it raised about identity and how it is sometimes forced upon us by our environment really struck a chord. I also liked the change of perspective between the three sisters the stories were about. Highly recommended!

WorldBookProject – Notes from small islands

Here are my latest additions to my project to read a book from each country and dependent territory. I’ve read stories from and about several small islands or groups of islands. And it was a mixture of exciting and depressing.

115 British Indian Ocean Territory: David Vine – Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia 

Definitely on the depressing side. When you see what has been done to the Chagossian people by British and US governments and how, after 40-odd years they’re still fighting for justice, it makes me also angry. Having said that, I highly recommend the book to everyone who is interested in human rights or the Empire USA.

116 Montserrat: E.A. Markham – Against the Graine: A 1956 Memoir

This one was more exciting, but then the author also spoke about the racism he and his family experienced in the UK – just awful. What I liked most about the book was its diversity. The author cherry-picked episodes from his life and his favourite plays and created a fascinating web where you’d learn about a volcano in the Caribbean and obscure German poets within one paragraph.

117 El Salvador: Manlio Argueta – One Day of Life

This book is a gem from Latin America, and it made me cry.

118 Wallis and Futuna: Elise Huffer and Petelo Leleivai (ed.) – Futuna: Mo Ona Puleaga Sau

Now, this book is rather eccentric. Written by people from Futuna, it was more a collection of anthropological essays interspersed with mythology than the story book I had expected. It’s a bilingual edition in English and French. Thus I can learn about those islands of the French overseas territory, and some French too.

WorldBookProject – Burundi, Jersey and Nicaragua

WorldBookProject continues, and if you’re like me looking forward to #WITmonth – women in translation month – then here you find two very good suggestions of what you could read. Out of the 114 books I’ve read so far 48 were written by women and 6 have mixed authorship.

112 Burundi: Esther Kamatari – Prinzessin der  Waisen

This autobiography has not been translated into English, as far as I could find out, but there’s a translation into Dutch. It was fascinating to follow the author’s life from court to fields, from a school run by nuns to catwalks to being a philanthropist. She seems a remarkable woman.

113 Jersey: Gerald Durrell – Birds, Beasts and Relatives

This audiobook narrated by Nigel Davenport told stories about the writer’s childhood on Corfu in the 1930s. It’s very much of its time, but in a way also extremely modern and open, e.g. when introducing a gay character. A rather graphic account of a woman giving birth was also very funny. Many thanks to writer Jane Alexander for recommending the author. I really want to read more by him and also visit the zoo he founded on Jersey.

114 Nicaragua: Gioconda Belli – The Country under my Skin: a memoir of love and war

Of all the books I’ve read so far for this project, this one and its author are possibly the most intense and diverse. It kicks off with shooting lessons under the watchful eyes of Fidel Castro, continues with poems about menstruation, a career in advertising and as a resistance fighter, mother and accomplished writer, and so much more. I also learned a lot about Nicaragua, and the appalling role the USA played in its history. What I particularly liked was the sensuality of the writing with a focus on sounds and smells.

 

May Morning

Oxford is home to many traditions, and one of them is May Morning.

This is how you do it: get up at about 4am, try to put on your clothes the right way round and walk into the city centre. Don’t jump off Magdalen Bridge.
 

Stand in front of Magdalen Tower and admire the people who come from last night’s party and look more awake than you will feel for the whole day. Wait for crowds to assemble properly.

Wait patiently until 6am. Listen to Magdalen College Choir intoning the Hymnus Eucharisticus and madrigals, and the chiming of the tower bells. Applaud.Magdalen tower

Follow the crowds on the High Street up to Radcliffe Camera. Leave a minute or two to ponder any signs you come across.

Divert your attention to May Morning get-ups ranging from leafy headgear to walking trees.

Upon arrival or along the way, take in any occurrences of Samba, pipers and Scottish dancers, rock music, English folk music or Morris dancing.

Finally, try to find a pub that’s only 105% full so you can have breakfast. Failing that, try and make your way home. Can’t guarantee that’s possible, though.

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