what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fragility and frugality

The last few days have been cool, overcast and windy here in Sofia. An early morning cycle this Saturday to the old market’s arab shops for basmati rice and other cooking delicacies showed central Sofia at its best – the great low urban skyline; Vitosha mountain edged sharply against the skye; the coffee-carriers and smokers; the small shops with people happy to open the shop early for me and to chat and. Ali (from Lebanon) from the butcher’s next door wanted to know where I was from and what I was doing here. The shop with the rice seems to be Syrian - certainly the jar of fig jam and hugely chunky orange jam were from there - and the beautifully elegant but simple grey cardboard box of olive and laurel oil soap I bought was from Aleppo. The supermarket chains just don't care that they drive out such gems of experience from our lives. And we fail to appeciate the significance of such loss. Except those covered in the pages of Paul Kingsnorth's (unfortunately entitled) book Real England - the battle against the bland.
Because I’m so impractical, I’ve always had a sense of wonder about things other people seem to take for granted – electricity, running water, These days, more people perhaps are feeling a sense of fragility and beginning to rediscover the values of frugality. I don’t think this is a bad thing. What is unacceptable is that those who have saved honest money and put in what they regarded as the safest place (banks) are having to worry now where they should put it. I don’t have anything sensible to offer on the Greek crisis - but John Lanchester is one of the few journalists who offer us clear insights into the global financial crisis when it first revealed itself in 2007 and has a good piece in the current London Review of Books. Real World Economics also had a good post recently on the subject.
And somewhere in the last couple of days I read something interesting about Estonian people (I think) not being as addicted to credit cards as some other countries I might mention (France is another honourable exception I understand?)
I’ve just finished reading what I consider is one of the best novels I have ever read – A Perfect Peace by Amos Oz written some 25 years ago but one of several of his writings available at half price in a nearby bookstore. I've slightly amended the only review I could find -
it's 1965, and the children of the first settlers of an Israeli kibbutz are grown-ups. Here is the way one character sees them: "Neither Asiatics nor Europeans. Neither Gentiles nor Jews. Neither idealists nor on the make. What can their lives mean to them, raised in this whirlwind of history, this place-in-progress, this experiment-under-construction, this merest blueprint of a country..." This is a good example of some of his writing - the way he piles up expressions and descriptions. The main plot centres around a young man, Yonatan, who has a quiet wife, Rimona. His father (Yokel) is a former cabinet minister who now heads up the kibbutz. Yonatan's mother (Hava) is an energy-packed harridan. Yonatan works as a mechanic in the tractor shed, but he longs for a different life. One rainy winter night a miserable little fink (he calls himself that) shows up, talks incessantly (mostly quoting Spinoza) and gradually makes a place for himself. He becomes Yonatan's friend and (ultimately, with Yonotan’s encouragement) Rimona's lover after Yonatan fulfils his threat to flee. Oz provides brilliant portraits of a handful of characters. Oz is an interesting, original writer. Several of his characters serve as narrators of this story, taking turns, adding thoughtful layers of depth and meaning – and there are 3 of the most powerful outporings of emotions I have ever read – 2 of then in draft letters, the other in mean and savage outburst from Hava.The result is a suspenseful and moving novel that never glosses over the harsh truths about a "mob of the strangest individuals who ever pretended to be a people."

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