Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Chris Cooper on Longer life would make most of us (certainly me) more energetic and ambitious
Brian Micklethwait on Indian sign cautions against selfie sticks
Michael Jennings on Indian sign cautions against selfie sticks
Brian Micklethwait on Photoing last Friday's Last Friday meeting
Michael Jennings on Photoing last Friday's Last Friday meeting
Brian Micklethwait on Tim Marshall on 'Sykes-Picot'
Patrick Crozier on Tim Marshall on 'Sykes-Picot'
kenforthewin on The most newsworthy thing so far done by a drone
6000 on UPS drones and drone vans
6000 on Guess what this is
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- Looking up in the City
- Indian sign cautions against selfie sticks
- Leake Street photo session
- Longer life would make most of us (certainly me) more energetic and ambitious
- Azure Window broken
- Beltane & Pop van parked on the South Bank yesterday afternoon
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- Die Meistersinger was very good
- Spring in Islington
- ROH Covent Garden here I come
- Today’s plan
- Photoing the faces of strangers (or in my case: not)
- England crush Scotland in the 6N – plus the hugeness of home advantage
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Category archive: France
Here are some more quotes from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography. (See this earlier posting, with another quote (about the Arctic), at the top of which I list all the earlier quotes from this book that I have displayed here.)
These ones are about what happens when European Imperialists ignored geography (p. 146):
When the Ottoman Empire began to collapse, the British and French had a different idea. In 1916 the British diplomat Colonel Sir Mark Sykes took a chinagraph pencil and drew a crude line across a map of the Middle East. It ran from Haifa on the Mediterranean in what is now Israel to Kirkuk (now in Iraq) in the north-east. It became the basis of his secret agreement with his French counterpart Francois Georges-Picot to divide the region into two spheres of influence should the Triple Entente defeat the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. North of the line was to be under French control, south of it under British hegemony.
The term ‘Sykes-Picot’ has become shorthand for the various decisions made in the first third of the twentieth century which betrayed promises given to tribal leaders and which partially explain the unrest and extremism of today. This explanation can be overstated, though: there was violence and extremism before the Europeans arrived. Nevertheless, as we saw in Africa, arbitrarily creating ‘nation states’ out of people unused to living together in one region is not a recipe for justice, equality and stability.
Prior to Sykes-Picot (in its wider sense), there was no state of Syria, no Lebanon, nor were there Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel or Palestine. Modern maps show the borders and the names of nation states, but they are young and they are fragile.
So, what happens if you ignore geography like this? Answer: geography comes back to bite you. More to the point, it bites all the people upon whom you have inflicted your indifference to geography (p. 148):
The legacy of European colonialism left the Arabs grouped into nation states and ruled by leaders who tended to favour whichever branch ofIslam (and tribe) they themselves came from. These dictators then used the machinery of state to ensure their writ ruled over the entire area within the artificial lines drawn by the Europeans, regardless of whether this was historically appropriate and fair to the different tribes and religions that had been thrown together.
To name but one.
… is a prime example of the ensuing conflicts and chaos. The more religious among the Shia never accepted that a Sunni-led government should have control over their holy cities such as Najaf and Karbala, where their martyrs Ali and Hussein are said to be buried. These communal feelings go back centuries; a few decades of being called ‘Iraqis’ was never going to dilute such emotions.
Time I finished my review of this book.
The Londonist logo looks like this:
But under this logo, here, is an illustrated piece about how that logo might have looked rather different. London, says the piece, might have acquired itself an Eiffel Tower of its own, at Wembley. Seriously, the various towers that were apparently under consideration include at least two that look remarkably like the Parisian original, despite Eiffel himself not wanting to be involved:
Towards the close of the 19th century, rail magnate Sir Edward Watkin was intent on all manner of ambitious schemes, including a tunnel under the Channel (it’ll never work). He also dreamt of a gigantic tower, to rival the wonder of Paris and draw tourists to his rail network. Gustave Eiffel was himself unsuccessfully approached to design the behemoth, before the commission was eventually opened out to competition. Some of the entries are presented below.
The illustrations that follow are well worth a look.
In this age of primitively simulated 3D reality, superimposed upon dull old reality itself even as you wander about in reality, the day is surely approaching when you can wander around a city and see it not as it is, but as you would prefer it, at any rate as far as more distant buildings are concerned. It might be rather hard to walk along a street that has been obliterated by a huge skyscraper, or to visit a skyscraper that was never built. But your preferred view of St Paul’s could be preserved from a distance. Or, you could insert a London Eiffel Tower, and see how you like that.
The idea was that, all alone in my snuggery, I would do lots of tidying up. I have done some, but mostly I have been reading Anthony Beevor’s book, misleadingly entitled ”D-Day”, and unmisleadingly subtitled “The Battle for Normandy”. For Beevor’s story goes from the early agonising about whether (because of the weather), and if so exactly when, the landings would be launched, right up until the German catastrophe that was the Falaise Pocket. Then as now, despite much behind the scenes agonising, the short-term weather forecaster got it spot on, despite having far less to go on than his equivalents have now.
There’s nothing like the misfortunes of others to cheer you up. Which is a terrible thing to say and I wouldn’t say it if there was any chance that my bad attitude was able to reach back into the past and make the sufferings of those soldiers, and all those French people caught up in the fighting, even worse. But it won’t do that. And anyway, what I mean is, I am really just acknowledging how much worse things were for that generation than they have been for mine.
And then, come Christmas time, there was the Battle of the Bulge for all the participants in this book to put up with, if they’d not already been killed, or injured and stretchered off.
I haven’t been reading this book solidly, in its correct order. I have been dipping into it, reading about this or that episode, pretty much at random. Today I was reading about how Brittany was liberated, which until now I knew very little about. It helps a lot having been to all the towns and cities that get a mention.
Earlier, I read about what those Hawker Typhoons did, known to me until now only as an oil painting. What the Typhoons did was destroy a hell of a lot fewer counter-attacking German tanks than they claimed at the time and ever since, but they scared the hell out of the German tank guys, which was almost as effective. The counter-attack was duly snuffed out.
And when that book has finished entertaining me, I have another book, full of more evidence concerning how nice my life has been, this time about something that happened a year earlier. Kursk.
How to say that I am at home alone over Christmas without you feeling sorry for me? I can’t do it, but please: don’t. In exchange, I won’t feel sorry for you that you are reading this instead of having “fun”.
Each to his or her own, but I love it that holidays, for me, really are holidays, rather than just burdens of a different sort to the more usual ones. Don’t get me wrong, burdens are often well worth bearing, as when I visit GodDaughter 2’s family in Brittany, and must bear the burdens of living in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar facilities and unfamiliar routines and with the fear of inflicting various sorts of offence and inconvenience upon everyone, with them being too polite to say. But, these are still burdens. This Christmas, as is my usual habit, I have been ensconced in my little snuggery, with no burdens at all.
I haven’t been fobbing you people off with nothing but silly old photos because I’ve been gadding about around town, catching up with friends and family and attending swanky functions. No gadding about. I’ve been fobbing you off with photos because I have been relaxing, even more than usual.
Here’s another silly photo, to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I haven’t found any Merry Christmas messages out in the streets lately, so here is a Christmassy photo that I think I took in Oxford Street, definitely in December 2008:
Which tells me that I was fascinated by Bald Blokes Taking Photos for quite a while before I had worked this out in the fully conscious part of my head. I love how green he is.
On Christmas Day itself I will not be alone, for I am to have a Christmas lunch with friends. This will bring with it the burden of having to travel across London on Christmas Day, which basically means two very long walks. (I don’t know how to Uber, since you ask. I’d rather walk.) If I come across any Merry Christmas messages while walking, and manage to photo them, I’ll pass them on.
While searching yesterday for Brittany lighthouses, I came upon this photo of some Brittany sea:
Judging by the other photos taken at the same time, this one was grabbed through the window of a moving car. If that’s right, not bad, although I attempted some straightening, with rather imperfect results. Those programmes that can rotate in 0.1 degree increments, rather than just in 1.0 degree increments, have a definite edge, in my opinion.
Mostly, when I try to photo very bright light, my camera either tones the bright bit down or it turns everything else far too dark, one way or another trying to balance everything, and the effect is lost. By which I mean, it is not anything like what I saw. But sometimes it seems to know exactly what I wanted, and this time was, I think, one of those.
I hope to do something rather more substantial here tomorrow.
For the last week or two or more, I have been unable to reach the 6k blog, which is one of my favourites. I’ve been able to reach everything else I wanted to, but not 6k. Odd. My computer has been behaving strangely in recent weeks, so it’s almost certainly me rather than him. Or maybe, as The Guru suggests, it might be my internet provider. Whatever the reason, it’s been a frustration and a worry.
But today, for no reason that I can think of, I clicked on 6k yet again, and back it came, like it had never been away.
To celebrate, here are some more lighthouses, something which 6k likes, and which in a more ignorant and casual way I do too:
That’s a crop from the middle of a hastily snatched shop-window shot, full of reflections and general confusion. Memo to self. Next time I visit my friends in Brittany: better lighthouse shots. Of postcards, of toy lighthouses like these ones (I seem to recall entire walls of lighthouses in tourist crap shops), and of actual lighthouses.
6k likes lighthouses so much that the little square graphic at the top of the window where his blog is windowed, or whatever is the word for that, is a red, white and blue square from a red and white lighthouse picture.
Friday was the day here for cats, but now I have widened it to all kinds of creatures, cats included.
This week, a snake! On a vintage car!
I took these pictures in the square next to Quimper Cathedral, in the summer of 2008:
The snake is most clearly to be seen in pictures 1.2, 2.1, 2.2 and 3.3. I think it must be some sort of air intake, for the engine, or for something. But what do I know?
Berliet seems to be an enterprise that makes lorries these days. But if you scroll down through the images you get when you type “berliet” into google images, you start to see vintage cars, in among the more recent lorries.
If you scroll down at this site, you get to something that looks like the above vehicle. And if it is the same vehicle, or something very similar, then it is a 1907 Berliet C2 Double-Phaeton, or something very similar.
There’s a number plate on the front of my Berliet, which says: 1909 VS 29. I thought that might be a clue, rather than, you know, a number plate, so I tried “Berliet 1909 VS 29” with google images, and guess what I found. A Berliet “Double Phaeton” at a car museum in Malaga.
I even found a photo of the car in question, with a ludicrously long internet address attached to it, which I now offer you, in the hope that it works
Well, the link does seem to work, but if it doesn’t, take my word for it. Although this is not the same car as my one above, it is very similar. So similar that the car in the Andalusian museum also has, just like my car has, attached to its side, with its mouth wide open, sucking in air, … a snake. Weird.
This time last week, it was birds on an aerial. Today, more birds on another aerial:
It been very aerial here of late. What with yesterdays aerial videoers, and another aerial on Tuesday.
It’s the bright blobs of light on the TV aerial that gets me putting that here. Taken in Quimper in June 2008.
TV aerials in France appear to be exactly the same as in England.
As with cranes, what I like is the absolute functionality of aerials. They are as they are because that does the job best. Aesthetics has nothing to do with it. Yet, the result looks, to me, aesthetically most pleasing. See also: pylons.
Recently I acquired, in the remainder shop in Lower Marsh (in the basement beneath which Gramex now operates), a copy of a little book by Rod Green called Magna Carta and All That. This is now going for £0.01 on Amazon, and is well worth £2.81.
It takes the form not of a few longish chapters, but rather of lots of easily digestible chunks of verbiage, many of them biographical, and typically concerning persons I had never heard of.
Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of Henry II, and more to the point from the Magna Carta point of view, mother of King John, I have most definitely heard of. (She was played by Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter.) This (p. 22) is what Rod Green says about Eleanor’s immediate antecedents, and in particular about Eleanor’s grandmother:
Born in 1122, in the Duchy of Aquitaine, Eleanor was brought up on spellbinding tales of her family’s adventures, especially those of her grandfather, William IX of Aquitaine. William, a big man with a fiery temper, was a warrior and a renowned poet who loved to scandalize his audiences. He was never one to let tradition, custom or even the law stand in his way. He divorced his first wife, Ermengarde, and married again, his second wife, Philippa, giving him seven children before he fell in love with Dangereuse de l’Isle Bouchard, wife of the Viscount of Chatellerault.
Dangereuse, it seems, had not earned her risky name lightly and was so called because of her beguiling, seductive manner. She appears to have been a willing participant when William decided to kidnap her while visiting the viscount. He spirited Dangereuse off to his palace in Poitiers and installed her in the tower which was the living quarters of his immediate family. This kind of abduction wasn’t unheard of among the nobility in medieval Europe - however, that didn’t mean that William’s wife was best pleased when she returned from a visit to her family in Toulouse to find another woman in her home. Eventually, she left William; later, she was instrumental in getting the pope to excommunicate both William and Dangereuse from the Church.
William, however, was a very rich and powerful man and eventually persuaded the pope to allow him back into the Church. Aenor, Dangereuse’s daughter from her previous marriage ultimately married William’s son, also called William, and it was from this union that Eleanor of Aquitaine came into the world.
Like I say, I long ago heard of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but never, until now, of Dangereuse. She is all over the internet. I have no idea if any of these many pictures of Dangereuse are in any way genuine.
Although I promise rien, expect more bits here from this most entertaining book.
This photo was taken in 2008, in France. I took it myself, and though I say it myself, I think it’s great.
There’s a particular sort of car you see in France which is old school in its styling, but so beautifully shiny that you suspect it may be a brand new reproduction rather than the genuine old article:
Those big buses behind don’t spoil it. The flowers in front don’t spoil it. This is my blog, and I decide about such things.
Alas, you can’t tell what sort of car this is, and hence get agoogling about whether it really is a real vintage car or merely a pretend one. My bet would be: real. Which only makes its shininess more shiny.
Yes, another quota photo, but this time I’m doing it in the small hours of the morning for tomorrow, rather than for yesterday.
Continuing with snaps taken ten years ago, in Quimper and nearby spots, the French love their Harley Davidsons. Here is one:
And moment later, I zeroed in on one of this particular Harley Davidson’s details, a lady wearing a yellow top and blue trousers, listening to music, with evident pleasure:
It’s not the first time I have photoed a Harley Davidson in France. I still recall this photosession fondly, which happened five years later.
The directory with all the snaps I took in Quimper and surrounding places, ten years ago, contains some fine images.
And some rather weird ones:
Okay, Citroens made of wood is not that weird. Certainly not in France.
But those really rather realistic black baby dolls is something we surely don’t do nearly so much over here. I’m guessing we have too much of a history of what you might call derogatory black dolls, unrealistically racist dolls, and that means that all black dolls are now tainted in our eyes, even much more realistic ones like the ones in that picture. They evoke a tradition and a way of thinking we would prefer not to be reminded of, or worse, to be thought to be perpetuating. When the British are being sentimental about black babies, they do it in those (I think) ghastly charity fundraising telly adverts.
But what do I know? I’m just thinking aloud. Maybe we do have lots of dolls like these in British shop windows, and I merely haven’t noticed them. But, my first reaction when I say these black babies was, as I say: weird. Certainly striking enough to take several photos of.
In September 2006, in other words exactly ten years ago, I was in Quimper, which is in Brittany. And today, looking for a quota photo, I looked through the photos I took on that expedition. As it happens, I was blogging only very lightly at the time, and I didn’t get around to posting many of the shots I took on that trip. Here is one. There’s another in this. And that was about it.
So here, now, is another of the photos I did on that trip:
… I’m a sucker for a photograph which includes a lighthouse, ...
If he clicks on the above shot, he’ll get to just the lighthouses in that shop window picture, a lot bigger. Sadly, the picture, even in its original and unshrunk size, is a bit blurry and hard to decypher, although I could when I really tried.
Neither of the two Bénodet lighthouses - not this one, which is called “Le Coq”, nor the other bigger one - is in that group portrait of lighthouses at the top of this. Even the big one is not big enough, I guess.
LATER: 6k responds, with some dramatic detail about the second lighthouse from the left in the poster. He also explains what the circles mean, which had me puzzled.
No apologies for such retrospection, because it can often be very interesting. But today, I wanted to show a photo that I took today, and I wanted to do this even before I set off to take it, whatever it was.
However, today was grim and gloomy, a bad light stopped play day, not one for bright colours or grand vistas.
But perhaps a rather good day for this, which I had never noticed before:
I like the idea of public signs, offering little history lessons to passers-by. (I recall noting that the French do this a lot with their street name signs, in a blog posting, once upon a time, somewhere. Yes, in this.)
I also like those blue circles which say that someone interesting once lived here. I try to photo those whenever I see them. But, I hope you will agree that the above photo deserves to be on its own, rather than being, so to speak, diluted.
Indeed. Photoed by her in a zoo in or around Quimper, where she is staying at the moment.
First, an elephant. At first I thought there was a camera smudge in this, in the middle. But the elephant is chucking dust over itself, and also some into the air:
GD2 particularly drew my attention to its legs. Also indeed.
And here are some monkeys, looking very learned:
This picture cries out for a caption competition, but caption competitions don’t seem to work here. By all means try to change that if you’d like to.
These - I think - very nice photos were apparently taken with an iPhone 6. Impressive.