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Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.

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Russia’s Classical Future

Design chosen for St Petersburg’s new judicial quarter

While a vast and multifacted state, the Soviet Union was nonetheless one in which power was highly centralised, not just within one city — Moscow — but even within one complex of buildings, the Kremlin. For the past fourteen years, however, a St Petersburg boy — Vladimir Putin — has been the man at the helm of the ship of state, and while Moscow is still the top dog St Petersburg is increasingly stealing the limelight. The number of commercial bodies (several subsidiaries of Gazprom, for example) moving from Moscow to St Petersburg is growing, and even a few government departments and other entities have moved back to the old imperial capital.

Among these is the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, which transferred to the old Senate and Synod buildings in St Petersburg in 2008. The Supreme Court and Higher Arbitration Courts have yet to make the move, however, and a scheme by architect Maxim Atayants has been chosen as the winner of the design competition for the new judicial quarter on the banks of the Neva. (more…)

September 30, 2014 12:24 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Evolution of a Napoleonic Parliament

The Salle des états in the Palais du Louvre

Among the numerous rituals of the ordinary visitor’s pilgrimage to Paris — trip up the Eiffel Tower, lunch at a tourist-trap café — braving the teeming hordes in the Louvre to view da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ ranks near the top. What very few of the camera-toting hordes realise is that they are shuffling through the room that once housed France’s parliament. The history of the Palais du Louvre is long, exceptional, and varied.

Originally built as a stern castle in the 1190s, the Louvre’s secure reputation led Louis IX to house the royal treasury there from the mid-thirteenth century. Charles V enlarged it in the fifteenth century to become a royal residence, while François Ier brought the grandeur of the Renaissance to the Louvre — as well as acquiring ‘La Gioconda’. In 1793, amidst the revolutionary tumult, part of the palace was opened to the public as the Musée du Louvre, but the Louvre has always housed a variety of institutions — the Ministry of Finance didn’t move out until 1983.

Napoleon III took as his official residence the Tuileries Palace which the Louvre was slowly enlarged towards over the centuries to incorporate. The Emperor needed a parliament chamber close at hand so he could easily address joint sittings of the Senate and the Corps législatif (as the lower house was called during the Second Empire) which opened the parliamentary year. By doing so at his residence, the Bonaparte emperor was following the example left by his kingly Bourbon predecessor Louis XVIII. (more…)

March 4, 2014 9:05 am | Link | 4 Comments »

Les jours heureux du Liban

Being an omnivore of nations I’m not short of favourite countries, but the Lebanon is towards the top of my list. I’ve spent some weeks there each summer for the past few years and we’re hoping to return this July (God willing). Friday night B. invited a few of us round for an impromptu supper and in the kitchen I happened to mention that I had met his ambassador the day before — the Lebanese ambassador.

This provoked a lament on B’s part as he relayed the history of his family’s service in the diplomatic corps and of Lebanon in the old days: black-tie dinners, summer in the mountains, the casinos and the glamour of the Beirut he was born too late to experience.

It’s become a cliché for foreigners to cite Beirut’s former glory as ‘the Paris of the Orient’ and Lebanon ‘the Switzerland of the Middle East’. Civil war wreaked its devastation on the country but its revival in more recent years has still been remarkable. Everything, of course, is exceptionally tenuous, but despite the clouds of uncertainty there remains a lot for which to be grateful.

We both wished, however, that today’s ordinary culture in Lebanon was a bit more informed by the style of the past. While old buildings are often restored, far too many of the new buildings are horrendously bland or offensively modern. Perhaps most unfortunately, a large proportion of Lebanon’s women — already endowed with a natural beauty unparalleled in the Middle East — are too mimicking of American styles: nosejobs and dyed blonde hair.

For my part, however, the conversation provoked a little dip into the photographic archives, seeking out some images of Lebanon in its halcyon days. (more…)

January 27, 2014 1:20 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

The Crowned Banner

The Emblem of the Scottish Parliament

Legislatures often have their own symbols. Often these are appropriated or stylised versions of national emblems. Stormont uses a flax plant. Some time ago Westminster adopted the Tudor portcullis which now represents the Parliament of the United Kingdom — in green for the Commons or in red for the Lords.

In Scotland, however, the unicameral parliament has adopted a crowned banner as its distinctive insignia. (For previous posts on prominent emblems of modern Scottish design, see the Clootie Dumpling and the Daisy Wheel). The crown expresses authority — ultimately the sovereign power of the monarchy — while the corded banner hanging from a pommelled pole displays the Saltire, Scotland’s national flag. While early versions of the emblem were in blue, it is now standard that the symbol be depicted in purple, long a colour associated with Scotland through the national florae of heather and thistle. (more…)

January 27, 2014 1:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

End of the Line for Rizzoli Bookshop

Another New York bookshop bites the dust

In New York, good things are only allowed to last a little while: eventually they must all be destroyed. The latest to add to the pile is the Rizzolli bookshop on West 57th Street, which has received notice that the landlords intend to demolish the 109-year-old structure in which the bookshop is housed.

Rizzoli, publishers of some of the finest and most luxuriously printed books on the market, have not yet said whether they will be opening shop elsewhere.

If so, it would be the second move for the shop, which opened in 1967 at 714 Fifth Avenue (below), just around the corner. A developer tried to tear that building down as well, but preservationists managed to have the façade, with its lalique glass, incorporated into the new tower. It’s now home to Henri Bendel.

Other New York bookshops to close in recent years include the Librairie française, Coliseum Books, Gotham Book Mart, Urban Center Books, and further back more venerable institutions like Scribner’s and Brentano’s.

Top three photos: Mais Uma Pagina

January 15, 2014 7:00 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

A Bunny Rampant

The carto-heraldic creativity of MacDonald Gill

If anything, I am a lover of maps, and as a cartophile it’s a fine thing that I spend half my life in South Kensington. Here you will find two of the best antiquarian map merchants around: the Map House on Beauchamp Place and Robert Frew across from the Oratory and right next door to Orsini. Milling about in front of church after mass today I received a tip-off from a friend suggesting I have a look at the window of Robert Frew, as there was a London Underground map with coats of arms of mostly abolished boroughs.

“Sounds like the sort of thing MacDonald Gill would do,” I said, and sure enough upon investigating earlier tonight it is the work of that inventive designer (and brother of Eric Gill).

The most splendid and ridiculous aspect is that in the central place among the municipal heraldry was a putative coat of arms MacDonald Gill thought up for the Underground: a rabbit rampant. Indeed, given the twin characteristics of being speedy and digging the earth, the rabbit is a perfect animal avatar for the London Underground to adopt. Don’t go looking for this design anywhere in the rolls of Garter King of Arms, though: it’s merely the invention of the creative mind of master map-maker MacDonald Gill.

January 5, 2014 11:20 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Two Flags Based on the French Tricolour

The French tricolour is one of the most influential flags in history, inspiring most prominently perhaps the Italian and Irish flags, but also dozens other, including the nationalist triband flags (like those of Germany, Russia, etc.). Indeed, the national flags of nearly sixty UN member states are based on these vertical or horizontal stripe combinations.

While long identified with revolution, republicanism, and nationalism, the French flag originally represented a combination of the blue and red of Paris — the colours of Saint Martin and Saint Denis — with the white of the French monarchy. Two (non-national) flags based directly on the French tricolour are those of the Acadians in North America and of Franschhoek in South Africa. (more…)

December 27, 2013 4:24 pm | Link | No Comments »

L’Osservatore Romano goes Hungarian

Magyarophiles will be pleased to learn that L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, will begin appearing in Hungarian. The new edition will appear every other week as a four-page insert into Új Ember, the Hungarian Catholic weekly founded in 1945. “We are a small editorial staff,” Balázs Rátkai, editor-in-chief of the weekly, told L’Osservatore.

“However, our intention is to probe and to make our readers think. The collaboration with the Vatican daily is of historic importance for the life of the weekly and of the entire local Church; it not only brings the Universal Church and the Pope closer to us; it will also enrich readers, and through them all of Hungarian society, with new thoughts, opinions and answers.”

Printed as a daily broadsheet in Italian, the Vatican newspaper also has weekly tabloid editions in French, Spanish, English, German, and Portuguese, as well as a monthly version in Polish.

December 17, 2013 11:20 am | Link | 4 Comments »

Kolmanskop

Ghost town of the Namib

NAMIBIA IS A LAND that fascinates me, which is perhaps surprising. This arid land is sparsely populated — just 6.6 people per square mile — but its deserts are believed to be the oldest in the world. Those who haven’t experienced its harsh beauty may wonder why this land has attracted its odd and varied collection of peoples, but here the Ovambo, the Kavango, the Herero, the Afrikaner, the German, and the Bushman all call home.

I have already written somewhat about Lüderitz and beyond it the Diaz Point. As you speed down the B4 from Keetmanshoop to Lüderitz — a four-hour drive passing through just the one small village of Aus — you can turn off just before you reach the coastal town and pay a visit to the eerily ghost town of Kolmanskop: Kolmannskuppe in the original German. (more…)

December 13, 2013 3:15 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Flags, Northern Ireland, and the Union

Flags have been in the news of late, perhaps as a late hangover of the disruptive protests over Belfast City Council’s decision to fly the Union Jack from Belfast City Hall only on the United Kingdom’s designated flag-flying days. Ironically, this would have brought the Six Counties further in line with normal British practice, but disgruntled unionists viewed it as a diminution of “their” flag and a bit of a fracas ensued with the once-traditional death threats and intimidation returning.

The BBC raised the issue of how Scottish independence might affect the Union Jack. (Pedants only refer to the British flag as the “Union flag”, but the Flag Institute points out both terms are perfectly acceptable). Scottish independence would have no automatic effect on the flag whatsoever, but it has provoked a round of speculation over what changes, if any, should be made to the Union flag.

Then Richard Haass, the American diplomat charged with chairing the inter-party talks on unresolved issues in the Six Counties, waded into matters vexillological when he wrote to party leaders seeking their views on the possibility of a new flag for Northern Ireland. (more…)

December 12, 2013 11:10 am | Link | 3 Comments »

‘Bon Voyage’

Bon Voyage
Jean-Paul Rappeneau
2003, France
1 hour 54 minutes

Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s ‘Bon Voyage’ (2003) is one of those superb films that come around all too rarely. It manages to balance perfectly all the elements of drama, comedy, action, and romance, set in a convincing historical context.

In 1940, Viviane Denvert (played by Isabelle Adjani) is a fickle, self-promoting film star who enlists her childhood friend, Frédéric Auger (Grégori Derangère), to extract herself from a compromising situation. As war creeps upon France, Auger finds himself behind bars for Viviane’s crime, but in the confusion of battle he manages to escape with the seasoned ne’erdowell Raoul (Yvan Attal). All of Paris is fleeing the German advance, and on the train to Bordeaux the two come across physics student Camille (Virginie Ledoyen) who helps them reach the western city by car when the train is stopped on the line.

In Bordeaux we come across government minister Jean-Étienne Beaufort, Viviane’s lover whom she uses to get Frédéric out of a sticky situation resulting from her own manipulation of him. Meanwhile, with all of Paris in Bordeaux, Viviane comes across another ex-paramour, Alex Winckler (Peter Coyote), keeping an unnatural interest in the affairs of the government, while the physics student Camille and her mentor Professor Kopolski are harbouring an important cargo they are determined must not fall into the hands of the Germans.

For fear of spoilers, that is all I will say about the plot, but it all comes packaged in a score by Gabriel Yared, better known for his scoring of ‘The English Patient’, ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’, and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s ‘Das Leben der Anderen’. The film was nominated for eight César awards in 2004 — best costumes, best director, best editing, best film, best original score, best sound editing, best supporting actor, and best writing — while it won three Césars that year for photography, best set design, and, for Grégori Derangère, best promising actor.

(more…)

November 20, 2013 9:08 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Zeitung für Deutschland

Given my total obsession with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung it will come as no surprise that my favourite advertising installation is the massive logotype for the world’s greatest newspaper which spans the railway tracks at the Frankfurter Hauptbahnhof.

In glorious Teutonic blackletter, it proclaims the newspaper’s ownership of the city to all comers:

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE — ZEITUNG FÜR DEUTSCHLAND.


Photo: Erhard Bernstein

And while it looks great in daylight, as the evening descends it is illuminated in neon blue. Like the FAZ itself, old-fashioned and modern all in one.


Photo: Otzberg

November 18, 2013 9:09 am | Link | 2 Comments »

A Lecture by Andrew Cusack

The
College of Arms Foundation
and the
Committee on Heraldry
of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society

cordially invite you to a talk by

ANDREW CUSACK
on

‘THREE ANNULETS OR’
THE VAN RIEBEECK ARMS
& THEIR SOUTH AFRICAN LEGACY

Tuesday 17 September 2013
at
6:00 PM

Reception to follow

New York Genealogical & Biographical Society
36 West 44th Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10036

Open to the public. No charge.
Please rsvp to rsvp@coaf.us to reserve a place.

This lecture will provide an overview on the history and evolution of South African heraldry by explaining the significance of the coat of arms of Jan van Riebeeck (1619-1677). Van Riebeeck was the founder of Cape Town and the first governor of the Dutch colony at the Cape.

As the founder of the oldest European settlement in southern Africa, he came to be seen as the father of South Africa after the country was unified in 1910. The central elements of his arms — three annulets or — obtained local, regional, and finally national significance, and influenced the design of a wide variety of South African coats of arms, many of which will be examined in this lecture.

September 11, 2013 11:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

A Maori in Buenos Aires

The Argentine stopover of Te Pēhi Kupe

So far as I can tell, the first Maori to visit Argentina (or the United Provinces of the River Plate as it was then called) was the young nobleman Te Pehi Kupe in October 1824. (The name is spelt varyingly as Te Pēhi Kupe, Tupai Cupa, Te Pai Kupa, and Tippahée Cupa). Te Pehi was born on the North Island, probably around 1795, and was a senior-line descendant of Toarangatira (founder of the Ngati Toa tribe) as well as an uncle to the more famous Ngati Toa chief, Te Rauparaha.

Most of New Zealand was a bit of a mess at the time, as various Maori tribes fought each other for land to grow potatoes on. Te Pehi Kupe, being a chief and military leader, was desirous to go to Europe in order to obtain weapons for his tribe. When the British ship Urania went past the southern tip of the North Island, Te Pehi forced himself aboard despite the violent resistance of the ship’s officers and crew. When asked what he desired by the Urania‘s captain, Richard Reynolds, Te Pehi replied in broken English, “Go Europe, see King George”.

Captain Reynolds did not think this a good idea and, knowing the Maori to be good swimmers, tried to have him thrown overboard, but the native nobleman’s physical strength prevented this. (And a good thing, too, as Te Pehi managed to save the Captain from drowning later on in the journey.)

The Urania made its return to England with Te Pehi Kupe aboard, calling at Lima and then sailing around the Southern Cone, where they called in at Buenos Aires. George Thomas Love provides us with an account of the Maori’s arrival in A Five Years’ Residence in Buenos Ayres (published in 1827):

In the month of October, 1824, the visit of a New-Zealand chief to Buenos Ayres, by name Tippahée Cupa, attracted much curiosity; he arrived in the British ship Urania, Captain Reynolds. Tippahée came alongside this ship in Cook’s Straits, with a war canoe filled with his people, and, in spite of the remonstrances and even force used by Captain R. refused to quit the vessel, expressing his determination to proceed to England. He bade his followers an affectionate adieu, enjoining obedience to his successor during his absence. The Urania sailed for London with her passenger the 8th December, 1824.

Tippahée, when he first arrived in Buenos Ayres, was clothed in an old red coat, formerly belonging to a London postman. The English paid him many attentions, inviting him to dine at their houses, and new clothing him. His behaviour at table was easy and unembarrassed; and, when requested, he would perform the dances and war songs of New Zealand. He understood a little of the English language, and spoke a few words of it; his intelligent manners, and circumspect conduct, rendered him an universal favourite.

On the map he could trace the ship’s course from New Zealand to Lima and Buenos Ayres. He knew an Englishman immediately; the Spaniards he did not much admire, fancying they viewed him with contempt, and was glad to get among Englishmen. His age is about forty; he possesses amazing strength; his tattooed face and appearance always attracted a crowd after him in Buenos Ayres.

On board ship he was found very useful, doing all sorts of work, but he positively declined to go aloft. The fate of Captain Thompson, and the crew of the British ship Boyd, ought to bespeak caution in using coercion with these savage chieftains of New Zealand.

In Cruise’s book of New Zealand, Tippahee was shewn a picture of a chief of his country, with which he was greatly delighted. The object of his journey to England is to solicit arms and ammunition, to place him upon a par with a rival chief, who possesses those requisites.

In England, Te Pehi was indeed presented to King George IV. He also learned to ride, visited factories, was given many gifts, and survived the measles before leaving England aboard the Thames on 6 October 1825. In Te Pehi’s absence abroad, peace had been agreed between the Ngati Toa and their Ngati Apa rivals. Ngati Toa eyes soon turned to the South Island, and during the military campaign there Te Pehi Kupe was killed, his body cooked and eaten, and his bones turned into fish hooks.

Still, at least he enjoyed Buenos Aires before he died.

August 12, 2013 3:56 pm | Link | No Comments »

The Dome of the Custom House, Dublin

THE MOST RECENT series of the ITV detective drama “Foyle’s War”, though set in London, was filmed entirely in Dublin. (Ah, those Bord Scannán incentives!). I’ve noticed a phenomenon in which something set in England but filmed in Ireland suffers from English stereotype overcompensation. What this entails is unnecessarily sticking noticeably English ‘things’ (double-decker bus, red pillarbox) into the frame when, if filmed in England, the directors might otherwise be satisfied without these subconscious emblems reassuring the viewer that they are not in fact in the country the programme was actually filmed in.

So two characters meeting on a street of Georgian houses will have a red post box shoved into some arbitrary place on the street to remind us we’re in jolly old England. Despite this, any devotées of the Georgian style will recognise the Irishness of the houses because of the subtle yet noticeable difference between the Georgian styles of, say, London, Edinburgh, Bath, and Dublin.

Anyhow, not to reveal too much of the plot of this latest series, but Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle is recruited into a post-war British intelligence gathering organisation. The exterior shots of the building used as this group’s headquarters is the Custom House on River Liffey in Dublin, only the show’s producers have digitally removed the building’s prominent dome, presumably in order to make it less distinctive and identifiable. (more…)

July 30, 2013 6:20 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

Lebanon Diary

Early evening sun illuminates the pendentives and architraves of the Maronite church. Discoloured prints of numerous saints — of East and West — crowd one of the few side altars. The Arabic numerals indicate the date of its dedication: 1971 — before the war.

Without internet in a remote village in northern Lebanon, elevation 500 ft, we are cut off from the outside world. Word reaches us of a military coup in Egypt. (I hate missing a coup!) The reactions are a mixture of relief and caution, and a little wonderment at how things must have moved very quickly. Curiosity is sparked as to what else is going on in the world outside Sourat.

Dappled sunlight. Unfamiliar saints. A lizard scurries past, its long processional tail trailing behind it.

D.G. of the Financial Times drops in and brings that commodity we most desire: news from elsewhere. I quiz him on the coup in Egypt, how it played out, how it was orchestrated, and what he thinks of it, but there is little time.

At night, reading Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love on the terrace with a Gauloise and a bottle of Almaza. Two wolves cry in the distance and I remember hearing the snorting of a wild boar a few nights previous. One chased Emmanuel on his way back from ‘the Palace’ (as we have dubbed the Abouna’s house, where the honoured guests stay) and was shot and killed — the photos of the quarry being displayed on an iPhone handed round.

The night is punctuated by the sound of repeated explosions in the distance. Luckily these are fireworks — a particular Lebanese obsession. It seems symptomatic of the Lebanese mentality that — having spent so long being so close to death — it is necessary to celebrate being alive. One may as well have a good time, and the Lebanese are experienced at having a good time.

In the car on the way to the pharmacy, Mahe our indispensable handyman (and a refugee) talks to Niall about Syria. “Syria. Big war. Boom boom. Muslims fight Assad. Assad fight Muslims. Big war.”

• • •

BUILD! BUILD! BUILD! Beirut is abuzz with cranes and construction and wood boarding over the site of new projects. That tower wasn’t there last year, was it? No. And doubtless by next year new spires will scrape the sky over St George’s Bay, where the saint slew the dragon. Is he dormant there beneath the waters still? Something lurks perpetually beneath the Lebanon, occasionally raising its head above the surface in open violence. Just then a Hezbollah building in the southern suburbs is bombed. The list of assassinations in this country’s history is long and depressing, from that of Maarouf Saad which (arguably) sparked the fifteen-year Civil War, and of course the former prime minister Rafik Hariri’s killing in 2005. Even since Hariri’s death, no fewer than twelve Lebanese public figures have been assassinated.

Have you ever been to Rafik Hariri’s tomb? It’s a slightly vulgar thing, still shrouded in its temporary marquee, giving it a somewhat transient feel, as if it might up sticks and away to Sidon or Tripoli at a moment’s notice. We nipped in the other day after a trip to the adjacent mosque he had built, completed in 2007 with its brilliant blue dome. The mosque’s design is traditional but not entirely perfect. The massive crystal chandelier hanging from the vast central dome is impressive but perhaps a bit much. Somehow, we are deprived of ancillary spaces: going through the main entrance one feels a certain lack of procession. No narthex, no nave, you just take off your shoes, step through the open doors, and are there. Why not one of those spacious courtyards which grace so many older mosques? Land in Beirut doesn’t come cheap.

Of course, when it was completed it was noticed that the minarets overshadowed the campanile of the adjacent Maronite cathedral, which meant the Catholic bell-tower had to be rebuilt to be at least the same height as the Sunni minaret, or perhaps an inch taller. Just to be on the safe side.

We had arranged to meet G. and the others twenty minutes later at the Grand Café on the Place de l’Étoile, which was a silly idea. A wedding was finishing at St George’s, the Greek cathedral, as we rolled up and we joined in the applause for the happy couple when they exeunted the church. In between, however, we nipped in to Hariri’s tomb, or perhaps shrine is the more appropriate word. It is choc-a-bloc with oversized portrait photographs of the smiling premier in his prime — a mix of political, semi-tribal, and religious devotion. The soldiers guard it nonchalantly and seem glad for some visitors on a Saturday afternoon. One presumes plans are being made for some grand mausoleum to supersed the transient tent with its faint hint of a vagabond yurt. We had to move on to a rather trendy place in Gemmayze, Mo stopping along the way as he ran into friends.

• • •

These nuns are magnificent: it is impossible to respect them enough. They do an impossible task taking care of so many physically and mentally handicapped, on very little resources. They take anyone and everyone under their wing — Christian, Muslim, Druze, whatever. Their founder, Abouna Yaacoub (Père Jacques), is up for canonisation and the fruits of his foundation are still flowering. We’ve visited a number of the care homes they run — in Antelias, Dar al Kamar, etc. — and while the conditions are very basic I think the love these nuns have shines through. They have devoted their entire lives to serve these men and women who often, ignored and forgotten, have no one else. They are also completely clued in; you wouldn’t be able to get anything past them. The Mother Superior’s mobile rings, she answers and buzzes off away to put something right.

• • •

Arabic is a beautiful language, though at its most beautiful when spoken by women. (But then: isn’t every language?)

“Our relationship to France is completely different. We were never a colony, only a protectorate, a mandate. My grandparents still refer to France as the mother country.” Still, the decline of the French language here is noticeable, as is the concurrent advance of English. The new global tongue dominates billboards and advertisements, not to mention the radio. In some places in the countryside, I’ve seen new streetsigns in Arabic first and English second: no French. (Beirut seems to have escaped this phenomenon).

If Lebanon ever loses the French language, it will lose part of itself. But the Lebanese, who have many admirable qualities, are expert businessmen — merchanting is in their blood — and English is the language of business. Not just business, but culture too: if you’re given a handbill advertising some small art show or exhibition, it’s invariably in English.

An evening party at a family home in Bsous, on the hills overlooking the capital. Everything is simply perfect. R, S, and I sit down amidst the grove of olive trees and immediately a small table with nibbly things is moved to just before us for our convenience. Beer, wine, and merriment flow and while the pool shines glows eerily as the lights of Beirut twinkle before us. Our hosts speak little English but we make do with French. P.A. claims (in that way that he often does) that P.’s father is so brilliant he was Minister of Finance to both Lebanese governments during the Civil War. When was this house built? 1890s? 1910s? It’s hard to tell. It suffered during the war but has been restored well and sensibly. Its location is beyond envy and I only wish we were here during the day to see the view across Beirut to the Mediterranean beyond.

July 22, 2013 5:52 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Lebanon Without Comment

July 22, 2013 5:50 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Some Aspects of the Fall of the Fourth Republic

(Only interesting, I’m afraid, to those reasonably acquainted with the situation of France in May 1958)

• When the Gouvernement Général was stormed during the 13 May protest, the enterprising businessmen of Algiers took the opportunity to destroy all the police files relating to “economic crime” (smuggling, tax-dodging, and the like).

• The French-Algerian instigators of the military rebellion led by Salan didn’t know what to make of him when he was first appointed to Algeria so they decided, just to be on the safe side, to assassinate him on his first day on the job. Salan survived the bazooka attack on his office but his ADC was killed. The general later became the only socialist freemason to lead a right-wing terror group (the OAS).

• Once the Algiers rebellion commenced and travel between Algeria and metropolitan France was cut, many supporting figures made their way across the Mediterranean by whatever means at hand. Soustelle managed to escape his police guards and get to Algiers via a secretly chartered Swiss plane, but the more romantically inclined Roger Frey — later Minister of the Interior — first tried to get to Algiers on the actor Errol Flynn’s yacht. It didn’t pan out, and instead he was forced to hire the boat of an English ex-naval officer turned smuggler.

• The man in charge of wiretapping French telephones was unsure which side would emerge on top so cautiously refrained from giving the government the full picture of the information his wiretaps revealed.

• When Corsica was seized by the rebels, Moch, the Interior Minister, decided to send in the elite of the police force, the CRS. He was afraid, however, that military transport planes would fly them directly to Algeria, so he was forced to commission Air France planes instead. Upon landing in Corsica, the entire CRS contingent was met by the rebel parachute regiment and immediately defected to the rebellion.

• So widespread was the reluctance to support the government against the military rebels that even the meteorologists send false warnings of storms in the Mediterranean in the hopes of keeping the French Navy from moving against the rebels in Algiers.

• The air force was particularly keen for de Gaulle to take power, and took to flying planes in a Cross of Lorraine formation, as well as sending troop transport planes to Algeria in case they would be needed to invade mainland France.

• Regional military commanders in France varied in their loyalty to the government and sympathy for the rebels. One commander is alleged to have told the regional prefect “M. le Préfet, I am not here to defend your préfecture, but to take it.” Other prefects warned the cabinet that any orders for the police to arrest those suspected of aiding the rebellion might result in the prefects instead being arrested themselves.

• The government had sometimes ordered firemen to unleash their water hoses against rioters in the past. As popular support for the cabinet faded away, the head of the fire brigade felt compelled to inform ministers that his men would not take part in any anti-riot measures but would merely put out any fires that erupted. “And,” he said, referring to the home of France’s National Assembly, “in the Palais Bourbon, they wouldn’t bother.”

• As Philip Williams reports in his article “How the Fourth Republic Died”:

At that night’s cabinet Pleven summed up: “We are the legal government, but what do we govern? The Minister for Algeria cannot enter Algeria. The Minister for the Sahara cannot go to the Sahara. The Minister of Information can only censor the press. The Minister of the Interior has no control over the police. The Minister of Defence is not obeyed by the army.” Said a left-wing Gaullist in the Assembly, “You are not abandoning power — it has abandoned you.”

June 14, 2013 1:40 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

No. 6, Burlington Gardens

Sir James Pennethorne’s University of London

German university buildings are an (admittedly unusual) obsession of mine, and I’ve often thought that No. 6 Burlington Gardens is London’s closest answer to your typical nineteenth-century Teutonic academy’s Hauptgebäude. And the connection is appropriate enough, as No. 6 was built in 1867-1870 for the University of London in what had once been the back garden of Burlington House (which at the same time became home to the Royal Academy of Arts). Despite the building’s Germanic form, the architect Sir James Pennethorne decorated the structure in Italianate detail, providing the University with a lecture theatre, examination halls, and a head office. Pennethorne died just a year after drafting this design, and his fellow architects described it as his “most complete and most successful design”.

The University of London was founded as a federal entity in 1836 to grant degrees to the students of the secularist, free-thinking University College and its rival, the Anglican royalist King’s College. It now is composed of eighteen colleges, ten institutes, and a number of other ‘central bodies’, with over 135,000 students.

Since its founding, the University had been dependent upon the government’s purse for funding, as well as for housing. Accomodation was provided in Somerset House, then Marlborough House, before evacuating to temporary quarters in Burlington House and elsewhere. It was not until the 1860s that Parliament approved the appropriate grant for a purpose-built home for the University to be erected in the rear garden of Burlington House. (more…)

May 29, 2013 4:30 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

The Legacy of 1916

Sunday’s address by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at the party’s annual Arbour Hill commemoration has sparked a certain amount of commentary in the press.

The commemoration of the 1916 rebellion takes place at Arbour Hill prison, where the earthly remains of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising were laid in a pit by the British military authorities. Some of the rebellion’s leaders who did not face the firing squad, most prominently Éamon de Valera and Countess Markievicz, founded Fianna Fáil ten years later in 1926.

Micheál Martin’s address is presented here without comment.

Every state should take time to commemorate and celebrate the people and events of their founding. This commemoration is organised by Fianna Fáil the Republican Party, but we come here as Irish men and women to fulfil our responsibilities to the great generation of 1916.

After 97 years their deeds resonate even more than ever. They saw an Ireland which should not accept limits on its future. They committed everything to the vision of a country with the right to shape its own destiny.

As we quickly approach the centenary of the Rising no one can doubt that the Irish people see the men and women of 1916 as noble and courageous. No one can question their central place in our history. (more…)

April 26, 2013 2:00 pm | Link | No Comments »
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