Category Archives: ramblings

The lure of looking back

Autobiographic writing is lying he truth

ballon d'alsace 4

A few weeks from now I will turn 77. Which is a holy number but a dubious age. No doubt any more that my future is in the past. Looking ahead my common sense dictates to dispose of most of the contents of my bucket list.

So I won’t move to Scandinavia, will not resume piano lessons, forget about a degree in Portuguese and will not travel extensively in Patagonia.

Looking over my shoulder I see the long road I have travelled my previous 77 years – at the same time there is my mental cemetery. It’s huge and overloaded by my buried history.  And I suddenly feel a  urge to revisit former paradises that aren’t there anymore.  A desire to return to places where my life peaked. Exhibitions, concerts, even some inspiring lectures I attended to. Wanting to know about the girls I knew. The exes and almost exes. About the old former friends. About colleagues who faded in the mist of time. And foes or rather some of my dearest opponents.

But I won’t even try.

Because I know it doesn’t work. The one thing it will bring is disappointment. Things changed, places changed, we’ve changed, the magic has gone. Forever. They were once in a life time experiences. I know because I did put it to the test.

That happened for instance when we wanted to re-enact one of our life defining moments.

In June ’60 my fiancée and I stayed a night at the small, solitary hotel at the top of the Ballon d’Alsace, France, where we officially shared a hotel room for the very first time during our very first holidays together. There and then we exchanged engagement rings after a year of being in love.

It was special also because of other reasons.

Firstly Hotel Staufer was extremely romantic in many ways. It was located on the bare, windy top of the highest peak in Les Vosges – a “moyenne montagne”, a mountainous area with altitudes ranging from 500m to 1500m.  Moreover the atmosphere reminded of Wuthering Heights: “I’m so cold, let me in your window…It gets dark, it gets lonely, on the other side from you…. O, let me have it, let me grab your soul away” (the Kate Bush version of Emily Brontë).

Secondly, perhaps even mainly, because of the old lady who was the receptionist in the hotel.

In those years unmarried couples legally weren’t allowed to share one hotel room.  But even though it turned out we were the only guests that night, this angel showed obvious disbelief when we asked for two rooms. With a wink she answered we could get what we asked for, but that she thought young people like us in all likelihood preferred one room.

Of course she didn’t need to be  clairvoyant for that observation. But her liberal French attitude – so different from the then current Dutch Calvinism- was surprising to us all the same. Slightly embarrassed, but grateful, we accepted this lifeline bridging our tight budget, our wish for relative comfort and our huge lust.

Years later, in the seventies, my wife and I decided to revisit paradise.

That we shouldn’t have done. It was a huge disappointment.
The place had become a tourist destination. The hotel had changed in an unrecognisable way. The old lady had gone and slick management had taken over.

We stayed over the night only to discover the building’s ultimate make over was still or again in full swing. The provisional wall separating our room from the adjacent one, was that thin that we could clearly overhear that couple’s amorous exercises: “Ma chérie… Oh, mon petit chou, mon chou… Je t’aime, mon cœur… Moi aussi..”. Interesting, but no.

The urge to revisit personal highlights is nothing but a desire for sentimental journeys and nostalgia. Two misleading emotions actually. Hence my habit of burying memories, to leave them behind. Fight sentimentality, cut ties and trust on new ones. What was, will never be the same.

So forget about it. No pangs of nostalgia. No experiences of wistful and melancholic emotions.  It made me thrive..

So I will suppress this urge to organize reunions and visit places where my footsteps are already. I will stick to my habit till the end.

Apologetic?

charliehebdo 3

The home-grown terrorists’ attempts on CharlieHebdo ignited a growing number of seemingly apologetic comments and publications I read last few days. Which perhaps is not intentional. Many of them just aim to put the crime in perspective. To put the role of religion in perspective. To put the scale of the crime in perspective. And to put the public indignation in France and neighbouring countries in perspective.

Yet I tend to question them.

(1) The victims by their extremely provocative cartoons, by not taking care of the limits of their civil liberties, knowingly defied true believers and caused them to take resort to this abominable act of crime.

In the face of ten dead editors and cartoonists, can ridiculing religion ever be relevant enough motive to kill?

(2) Terrorists claiming to act on behalf of the same monotheistic religion commit much more serious mass murders in countries like Nigeria, Somalia, Philippines and many others. Paris media coverage is disproportionate.

Is that relevant in relation to West European reaction to CharlieHebdo? Should the measure of these atrocities in other parts of the world, mitigate the indignation, anger and fear in West European public domain?

(3) Western non-Muslim terrorists, say KKK and Breivik, claiming to act on behalf of another monotheistic religion, committed mass murders too. They didn’t spark outrage of comparable dimensions. And even though one (well, I) may doubt the assumption that these criminals were acting in the name of a religion, it definitely is true that in history Christian Crusaders, Roman Catholic Inquisition and the SJ, Evangelical Anti-abortionists or Protestant and Catholic terrorists during the Ulster ‘troubles’, were killing in the name of their religion.

Is that relevant in relation to CharlieHebdo? Does the fact that people of a Christian denomination were in the habit of terrorism in some way, to some extent, also, neutralize the fact that the killers of Charb and his colleagues were Muslims?

(4) Terrorists claiming to act on behalf of their monotheistic religion killed more people in New York, Bali, in Madrid and in London in recent years than they did in Paris.

Is that relevant in relation to CharlieHebdo? Does that add information in order to see the assassination in a clearer and softer light?

I wonder, are these willingly or accidentally apologetic arguments relevant here and now?

As for me I think I understand the urge of some, or many, to fit “CharlieHebdo” in their mental frame. To criticize selective indignation. To safeguard 1.5 billion people from the world’s condemnation because of a bunch of guys and dolls gone berserk – be it that the bunch is pretty widespread and not small.

I understand, if only because that’s an urge I experience myself. And I understand that perspectives may differ in relation to where you are, what you are and who you are – literary and metaphorically. What is huge at a distance of a few hours in a train may appear to be pretty small from ten thousand miles away.

But apart from all that, do these apologetic remarks really cut any wood?

I don’t think so. The bottom line in a secular state of law is that you’re safe expressing your opinion , whatever it is, in whatever peaceful way, be it subtle or blunt, without running any physical risk. You may only be held responsible by secular law. Frontier justice is off limits. Whether or not you think a Holy book, a prophet or God herself has been insulted. Period.

Who cares for the “99%”?

socialisme 1

I consider myself to be a social-democrat.

Social-democracy is the political branch of which Karl Marx is the progenitor and John Locke it’s godfather. I think that’s a happy and worthwhile mix. In the past, the present and for the future.

Alas, my political philosophy is moribund.

The British Labour Party, the German Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands ( SPD) and my own country’s Partij van de Arbeid ( PvdA), lost their ideals, lost their course, lost their appeal, lost their voters and will be extinct soon. Partly because their leadership jumped on the bandwagon of neo-liberal triumphalism after the competing Soviet Union collapsed in ‘89/’90. Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder and Wim Kok respectively misled and betrayed their party, their voters, their philosophy. Their potential voters, mainly lower class and middle class people are left in the cold.

It’s even worse. There’s a blizzard raging, bringing globalization and inequality, which in their stride destroy socio-cultural habitats as well as social economical firm ground. It creates huge distrust in national and international institutions. What’s called “reform” in reality is redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich.

Outrageously unfair. Vide Piketty.

At the same time the bureaucrats and representatives in charge are rather obscure greedy villains, rather than fighters for their noble cause. Well, at least that’s the perception of the rank and file. And those involved  don’t seem to care  too much about the motions of disapproval at the ballot boxes.

There also is a lot of anger at the cultural elites who hand over tokens of their local and national identity to supra national institutions or any other pressure group that is to be appeased. It’s being done casually and without much ado.

Social Democratic administrators, politicians, bureaucrats and progressive intellectuals have failed and still fail their grass roots. The men and women in power should take the “99%”serious at long last. Because now for them there’s only the choice of apathy, alienation, taking refuge on the extreme right (hoping for protection of what they perceive as  national identity) or the extreme left ( hoping for protection against neo-liberalism).

But left wing extremism can cause a growing number of industrial conflicts and strikes, right wing extremism is breeding ground for xenophobia and scapegoating.

A new strong movement is necessary. One that offers a perspective of safety. One that acknowledges we need a cultural elite which is at least as cocky as the French one, when it comes to defending national traditions. And fulfils the wish for a thorough narrative that presents a convincing, reassuring and aggressive answer to the challenges neo-liberalism puts to the welfare of the 99% ( which perhaps is 80, 82, or 75%).

I’m afraid I will not live to see the changes I hope for. Which of course is inconsequential. My life, that is what remains of my life, is good enough as it is. But a cohesive society demands other solutions than the present situation of ongoing austerity measures and transfer of sovereignty. The working class is competing with cheap exploited labourers from low-income countries, the declining middle class is fighting a losing battle against the privileges of big business and big banks.

In the not so long long run that’s the recipe for economic misery for most people and social disintegration of national society at large.

I’m not opposed to the EU. I’m opposed to the Lisbon treaty. I’m not opposed to globalization. I’m opposed to Big Business taking advantage of the process by restoring 19th century relations between capital and labour.

It’s about time responsible progressive leaders start making a difference for the better.

So much for Romantic Love?

Muze

“When a love relation comes to an end it shows that a lot of emotional bookkeeping had been taking place all the time while it lasted: ‘what did I receive in return for what I gave?’ “.

It’s a quote from last night’s ( 29.08.2014)  interview with Esma Linneman on Dutch public radio.  Subject was her autobiographic novel “Muze” (‘Muse, a love story in b-minor’) about an ‘unconditional love’ affair which collapsed.

I wonder is her observation gender-neutral or specifically feminine?

Grumpy

grumpy

If you would ask whether I, being essentially a twentieth century man, love to live now, my answer  will be affirmative. Actually I intend to go on breathing till I’m ninety. At least. Because we are going through exiting times. Technologically, culturally, socially, politically, economically, well, just make your pick. On the other hand, to be honest  I’m afraid gradually I’m growing  out of step with modernity.  The truth is staring me right in the face: most people love parts of modern life  I dislike. Let’s face it, I’m a grumpy old man now. Sometimes.

A few examples.

Take good taste.

I guess the first time I got that nauseating feeling was when I saw Big Brother on TV for the first time. And the last time for that matter. Since that tasteless disaster happened the stupidity of similar formats on TV is the common rule. In literature things also seem to go downhill. Just look at the huge  success of woolly and vague books in the Paulo Coelho style. Or worse than that. Isn’t it significant that  E.L. James’ “Fifty shade  of Grey” proved to be a box office champion. And look at the turn the pop-scene took. Since it headed for Techno, Trance and Hip-Hop it’s all beat, no harmony. That doesn’t make me happy either. And now, last Saturday the “the woman with the beard” from Austria won the European Song Festival by popular vote. Camp in stead of pop-music.

There’s a process going on which might result in a travesty of good taste. It’s a repulsive but irresistible premonition.

Next item for prosecution, “Mother’s Day”. Which we, eh, let’s say celebrated yesterday in this part of the world.

Great.

Yeah, I also loved my mother dearly. But actually I think the yearly event is a painful anachronism. A commercial celebration of degrading clichés on women. A commercial exploitation of the latter part of the obsolete  dichotomy of  ‘either whore or  holy’. A feast of prejudices one might hope were in the past forever now. Such as ‘women belong in bed and the kitchen, except for mothers’ (who of course are beyond any criticism). It’s the weird echo of a once prevailing but no longer usual division of  family labour, in which only the wife carried the burden of the household and the education of the children. A performance for which her children would forever have to endow her with tokens of gratefulness, regardless of the quality of that education.

So annoying.

And so is smartphone etiquette. Or rather the lack of it.

Peculiar. I belong to the sixties and it’s preference for casual clothing and informal behaviour. So I never cared much for etiquette. However times are changing. Because if you want to discuss the worries of daily life or tell anecdotes about one’s grandchildren today, people keep looking down to check their little displays. They seem not to pay real attention to what you say. Most of time they very  aptly text their messages to someone you only can guess about, while all the time you elaborately try to explain why they should try this or that delicacy. Or ask their advice on some ailment, some mishap, some love you fear to  suffer from. No doubt about it, since technology is in, genuine conversation is out. Except of course when someone happened to have bought the newest gadget for hipsters the other day. That, for a short period of time, may spark some old fashioned exchange of thoughts and opinions. Which, that goes without saying,  usually only adds to my discontent.

It’s sad but true, I often feel ill at ease seeing modern electro-technical communication prevailing over traditional communication at social gatherings . I want the immediate return  of etiquette. Or rather the introduction of good old fashioned etiquette in the world of smartphone -users. Electronics  should be ‘not done’ while in company of others. We should focus on the ones present. Show interest. Not be disturbed by the absent ones.

 

But is there still hope for less commercial rubbish, for better taste and less smartphone terrorism?

Yes there is. By way of a one-man protest-movement I refuse to carry such a devilish Apple  -or other brand- product on me as long as that etiquette is not the rule.  And I will thoroughly teach my grandchildren to distinguish between quality and rubbish :).