Saint George and the dragon

This guy’s *all business*, you know?

Most of you know the story, but for those of you who don’t I’ll run through it briefly. St George and the Dragon. The English know it. Anyone who grew up in the Anglican Communion knows this one.

St George slays the Dragon. Exciting, eh?

You probably know a dragon or two from that trifling trilogy by Peter Jackson. Hopefully, you’ve also read the books. Tolkien was a brilliant writer. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Well, you know I don’t talk much about religion here, and I’m not about to start. I’m not opposed to religion, and as a matter of fact I truly believe we’d be better off if people stopped talking about what they believed and actually started believing those things they profess.

However, like I say, I’ve no truck with religion. Not my bag, as the kids today are saying.

But I do like some St George, me. Many people who’ve been to Hamburg know the Alster and the harbour, but drive right past the neighbourhood of Sankt Georg without ever realising what they’re missing.

Homosexualists don’t. They know a good part of town the way my boydog Louis knows where to scratch. It’s innate. This ability to find/create the coolest part of town. Those homosexualists should go into business. Open their own shops and whatnot.

Oh, they already have? Really? Where?

In Sankt Georg? Well, let’s go there.

Hansa Platz in St Georg…here’s the beginning of our little tour.

This blogpost isn’t going to be a very thorough tour. That’s not my point. Not at all.

Let’s go to church, ok?

 

Domkirche St Marien

I’ve never been a Catholic, but I’ve known one or two. This seems like a nice enough church. If you’re moving to Hamburg and happen to be of that flock, take a gander at St Marien. It’s in a great neighbourhood, after all.

Need you shoes quickly repaired? Or your shirts laundered?

Really enjoy the architecture in St Georg. Really.

The door between Vasco de Gama and St Georg Bar is kinda sweet, innit?

This is one of the oldest buildings in St Georg, which means it’s one of the oldest in Hamburg. Don’t remember where I read that, but it was years ago in some guide book. You want facts? Go get a guide book, why don’tchya?

 

Café Uhrlaub…for breakfast…

Great place for breakfast. Clocks everywhere. The name of the place is Café Uhrlaub, which is a play on the two German words ‘Uhr‘ (clock) and ‘Urlaub‘ (holiday/vacation). Clever, eh? I thought so.

Tell me, do you want to come to Hamburg after my recent posts about my favourite German city? If so, my work here is done. See you back home in Munich.

Oh, one last thing. When I was a child, there was a preacher pontificating on a Sunday. You know the scene, right? He was preaching about St George slaying the dragon. It was a weird situation, because the congregation had given him his marching orders. Said to him, ‘We don’t care where you preach, but it’s no longer going to be here.

He was clearly hurt and a tad bit offended. He preached fire and brimstone for what seemed like an eternity, and then he ended with the most curious sentence that still haunts me in my dreams sometimes.

He said, ‘Sometimes the dragon wins.’

Sometimes indeed.

MünchnerKindl

20120911-191756.jpg

Saw this at one of the universities in Munich last week, I thought it was too funny not to capture.

Munich or the German München means something like ‘of the monks‘ and the symbol of the city is actually a small child dressed as a monk. It’s the MünchnerKindl and when I see him after being out of the city for a few weeks, he always makes me smile.

Here’s a photo of the MünchnerKindl on the side of a bridge here in town.

Enjoy:

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getting a baby’s consent is no easy matter

a delicate matter of judicial curiosity

Several years ago, I was reading Gary Shteyngart‘s 2006 Absurdistan, and there was one thing I found rather curious. It’s possible that everyone knows about this, but in my circle of friends the topic of late-in-life circumcision rarely, if ever, comes up. Ahem…as it were.

This is undoubtedly a sensitive subject, and I assumed the author was using it for effect. The main character, Misha, insists that losing his foreskin was a traumatic experience. That this event was something that continued to plague him. To cause him emotional anguish. It was part of the satire, right? This wasn’t a real thing. And if you were so inclined to have such a medical procedure when you were a teenager or young adult, then you have only yourself to answer to.

I filed this in my mental file as a non-issue. Used by a novelist to make a point. Nothing more. Nothing less.

But the subject has reared its ugly head again. Well, not specifically late-in-life circumcision, but you’ll soon see how it’s related. See, a German court has made a curious ruling on circumcision. Just the old-fashioned baby snipping. Before I get to my point, let me let Der Spiegel’s English page describe the facts of the case:

Circumcision Ruling Is ‘a Shameful Farce for Germany’

The press in Germany has, for the most part, supported the outcry about this decision, and you can see reactions from several prominent papers listed at the bottom of the article. To summarise, the court ruled that circumcision amounted to inflicting bodily harm on the baby. Ok, that seems a bit weird to me.

It’s been in the news for weeks. In the printed media, there’ve been many German doctors who have publicly questioned the practise of circumcision. The entire uproar has seemed bizarre to me. I assumed that what I’ve repeatedly heard was true. Male circumcision was hygienic. Case closed.

Apparently, that’s not necessarily the case. Or the data is more inconclusive than one might have been led to believe. I’m suddenly really curious about the whole story. Are the German doctors politically motivated? Are they hostile to religion?

Then I read this in the Guardian:

Circumcision ruling condemned by Germany’s Muslim and Jewish leaders

Not sure you really need to read the whole thing, but it does tell the same story in simply another way. There was one part that stuck out, though.

‘After much deliberation, it concluded that a circumcision, “even when done properly by a doctor with the permission of the parents, should be considered as bodily harm if it is carried out on a boy unable to give his own consent”.

It ruled the child’s body would be “permanently and irreparably changed”, and that this alteration went “against the interests of a child to decide for himself later on to what religion he wishes to belong”.’

Here I really had to do a double take? Consent? From a baby?

Oh, no. That’s the point. The baby can’t give consent. He’s being de-foreskinned against his will. Or potentially against his will. Suddenly Misha’s issue doesn’t seem so preposterous. Well, actually. It still does.

Yet, is the widely-held belief false that this is a practise done for hygienic reasons? Are the doctors, as well as this specific court, persecuting religion?

It seems hyperbolic, when Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt says that this is the, “…worst attack on Jewish life since the Holocaust”. But is it really?

Look, I’m really curious about this. If you can shed light on this, I’d love to hear your explanation. Leave a comment if you like. Don’t be a jerk, though. I don’t have any sort of comments filter, but if you write something inflammatory, I’ll delete your idiocy in a heartbeat.

What’s the deal with this ancient custom? Is it a barbaric act that the Germans are making a stand against? Because it’s a religious practise, does that mean that questioning it makes us intolerant bigots? We’re dealing with integration next week over at The Munich Times this week. This actually might become a topic of emigration if it’s not resolved adequately.

these genes would make an ugly sister

these genes would make an ugly sister

Although I don’t have a sister, I found out some weird news this week. Turns out I can legally artificially inseminate my sister, but it’s against the law for me to actually have intercourse with her. That’s a relief, right?

Wait, what? It’s true. Them’s the rules.

Unless you’re in Germany or pay attention to German media, you likely haven’t heard about this. Here check out my colleague Michael Owen‘s take on the whole thing in Incest laws in Germany may be a bit outdated.

Here’s the section of his article that I found most intriguing:

‘Many developed countries have no laws banning incest, though often they are not allowed to marry. These include France, Japan, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Finland and Brazil to name a few. The countries which do have strict laws forbidding incestous relationships tend to be former countries of the British Commonwealth like Canada and Australia, and include the USA. Germany‘s law on incest is quite peculiar. If a woman would like to be artificially inseminated by the sperm of a lineal relative, i.e. by a brother or her father, this is allowed. But if she becomes pregnant through coitus (sexual intercourse), this is outlawed. The law is actually a law against sex between two consenting adults. Incest is not banned for the safety of the possible progeny, but is a kind of legislation on what happens within the bedroom.’

Perplexing, isn’t it? Now, let me be really candid here. When I first heard about this, I thought, ‘Of course incest is illegal. As well it should be. Right?

Yet I read about this in so many papers, and the general consensus was that laws against incest were old-fashioned. Not everyone, mind you. Just many more than I expected. And it made me really ponder the whole issue. Why was I not only repulsed by the very thought?

Was it purely an issue of religious beliefs that then seeped into my sense of right and wrong? Was it a matter of ethics?

I immediately found myself insisting that there’d be birth defects in not only the next generation but in the ones to come. If you’re truly libertarian in your beliefs, then maybe you can insist that the government has no right to interfere with the actions of two consenting adults. And it’s not like I relish the idea of interfering with people’s private lives.

However, I must admit that I still don’t like it. I think there are some situations where the State must set rules to protect people from themselves. My gut reaction is that this is exactly that sort of matter.

So all of this is academic…theoretical. You know, the having no sister thing. But if I did, I hope I would know better than to procreate with her.

No matter what the law was.

What has to be said

more thunking brought to you by lahikmajoe

This is going to be a post that really breaks from the tenor of my regular offerings. It sort of has to. See, I normally avoid  religion and politics. It’s just not my thing. I certainly have opinions on these topics, but most of the time I’d rather be writing to a general audience.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned my grandfather and his stance on this. He often said something to the effect of, ‘Only fools and morons talk about religion and politics in polite company.‘ I can’t even begin to imagine what he’d think about this blogging lark. It’d probably take me a while to explain to him exactly what was going on here, and even then I’m not entirely confident that I could convince him.

Oh well.

Here goes:

Günter Grass, who is a Nobel Prize winner in literature, has caused an international incident by writing a poem that’s appeared in several major European newspapers. What could possibly be the subject  that’s caused all this controversy? Well, Israel of course.

I don’t know if you know one of the unwritten rules of international politics, but quite simply Germans don’t publicly criticise Israel. It’s just not done. There’s this little matter of the Holocaust, which for obvious reasons makes any relations between modern Israel and Germany rife with tension. Actually, the German government deals with this by publicly supporting Israel on nearly everything.

You could look at an incident such as this public poem as Germany really growing out of its postwar paralysis, when it comes to the world stage – that same way many people including me saw it when Joschka Fischer confronted Donald Rumsfeld  and insisted that he wasn’t convinced by the evidence leading to the  invasion of Iraq. I assure you that it’s not the way the Israeli government (or many of its citizens) sees Günter Grass and his outspoken opinions.  This German intellectual‘s position is not welcomed and his reputation is purportedly tarnished.

Here, the writer is quoted by Der Spiegel (an influential German news magazine):

The overall tenor is to not engage in the content of the poem, but instead to wage a campaign against me and to claim that my reputation is damaged forever,’ Grass said in an interview with a German public broadcaster on Thursday.

So without further ado, here’s the poem in the original German:

Was gesagt werden muss
Von Günter Grass

Warum schweige ich, verschweige zu lange, was offensichtlich ist und in Planspielen geübt wurde, an deren Ende als Überlebende wir allenfalls Fußnoten sind.

Es ist das behauptete Recht auf den Erstschlag, der das von einem Maulhelden unterjochte und zum organisierten Jubel gelenkte iranische Volk auslöschen könnte, weil in dessen Machtbereich der Bau einer Atombombe vermutet wird.

Doch warum untersage ich mir, jenes andere Land beim Namen zu nennen, in dem seit Jahren – wenn auch geheimgehalten – ein wachsend nukleares Potential verfügbar aber außer Kontrolle, weil keiner Prüfung zugänglich ist?

Das allgemeine Verschweigen dieses Tatbestandes, dem sich mein Schweigen untergeordnet hat, empfinde ich als belastende Lüge und Zwang, der Strafe in Aussicht stellt, sobald er mißachtet wird; das Verdikt “Antisemitismus” ist geläufig.

Jetzt aber, weil aus meinem Land, das von ureigenen Verbrechen, die ohne Vergleich sind, Mal um Mal eingeholt und zur Rede gestellt wird, wiederum und rein geschäftsmäßig, wenn auch mit flinker Lippe als Wiedergutmachung deklariert, ein weiteres U-Boot nach Israel geliefert werden soll, dessen Spezialität darin besteht, allesvernichtende Sprengköpfe dorthin lenken zu können, wo die Existenz einer einzigen Atombombe unbewiesen ist, doch als Befürchtung von Beweiskraft sein will, sage ich, was gesagt werden muß.

Warum aber schwieg ich bislang? Weil ich meinte, meine Herkunft, die von nie zu tilgendem Makel behaftet ist, verbiete, diese Tatsache als ausgesprochene Wahrheit dem Land Israel, dem ich verbunden bin und bleiben will, zuzumuten.

Warum sage ich jetzt erst, gealtert und mit letzter Tinte: Die Atommacht Israel gefährdet den ohnehin brüchigen Weltfrieden? Weil gesagt werden muß, was schon morgen zu spät sein könnte; auch weil wir – als Deutsche belastet genug – Zulieferer eines Verbrechens werden könnten, das voraussehbar ist, weshalb unsere Mitschuld durch keine der üblichen Ausreden zu tilgen wäre.

Und zugegeben: ich schweige nicht mehr, weil ich der Heuchelei des Westens überdrüssig bin; zudem ist zu hoffen, es mögen sich viele vom Schweigen befreien, den Verursacher der erkennbaren Gefahr zum Verzicht auf Gewalt auffordern und gleichfalls darauf bestehen, daß eine unbehinderte und permanente Kontrolle des israelischen atomaren Potentials und der iranischen Atomanlagen durch eine internationale Instanz von den Regierungen beider Länder zugelassen wird.

Nur so ist allen, den Israelis und Palästinensern, mehr noch, allen Menschen, die in dieser vom Wahn okkupierten Region dicht bei dicht verfeindet leben und letztlich auch uns zu helfen.’

Here’s The New York Times‘ response to all of it:

Günter Grass’s Poem About Israel Provokes Intense Criticism

And the article in the International version of Der Spiegel:

Nobel Laureate Under Fire: Grass Says Campaign Against Him ‘Injurious’

I could spend my time translating the poem, but instead I’ll update this when a decent English version is released. Instead, I’ll just say that I’m very conflicted on all of this. Generally, I’m very sympathetic to Israel. I have a lot of Jewish friends, and I cannot begin to fathom what it’s like to live in a country where all of your neighbours want your nation destroyed.

Anyone who says this issue is black and white is either lying to themselves or to you. Or even more probably, they’re lying to both.

Someone who understands rhetoric knows that it’s more effective to show both sides with equal respect. I’ve said  nice things about Jewish people and Israel’s predicament, and now you’re waiting for me to offer you the other side. Well before I do that, I just want to say that those aren’t empty thoughts. I’m not desperately waiting to get around to supporting the other side.

As a matter of fact I’m not even going to talk about the Palestinians other than to quickly mention them. It’s not that I don’t also sympathise with their plight. In fact, I do. But there’s no way I can begin to address that in the limited time I have. That’s too big an issue and would distract me from what I feel needs to be said. Or as the poet’s title says, ‘What has to be said.’

So what is it? What exactly is the What that has to be said?

Grass goes on in Der Spiegel article:

‘It has occurred to me that in a democratic country in which freedom of the press prevails, there is a certain forced conformity which stands in the foreground along with a refusal to even consider the content and the questions that I cite.’

One of his main points is that the German government should no longer be selling Israel submarines that could or would be used in an attack on Iran. The response from the Israeli government was covered in the same Der Spiegel article:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the poem with particularly harsh words.Günter Grass‘ shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran, a regime that denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel, says little about Israel and much about Mr. Grass,” a statement released by Netanyahu’s office read. “For six decades, Mr. Grass hid the fact that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS. So for him to cast the one and only Jewish state as the greatest threat to world peace and to oppose giving Israel the means to defend itself is perhaps not surprising.’

But the thing is that the writer didn’t make any moral equivalence between the nations of Israel and Iran. That was neither what he said nor what he implied. It’s true that the Nobel Laureate was in the Waffen-SS when he was a teenager, and he only admitted it after including it in his 2006 book Peeling the Onion.

Does that mean he can no longer speak his mind about his country’s military involvement? Because of Germany’s deplorable atrocities in the mid Twentieth Century, have its government and its citizens been stripped of the right to speak out on matters of international importance?

Really?

(update: here’s The Guardian‘s translation of the poem -it’s not the whole thing…I’ll be watching for more of it to be translated)

What Must Be Said by Günter Grass

But why have I kept silent till now?

Because I thought my own origins,

Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,

meant I could not expect Israel, a land

to which I am, and always will be, attached,

to accept this open declaration of the truth.

 

Why only now, grown old,

and with what ink remains, do I say:

Israel’s atomic power endangers

an already fragile world peace?

Because what must be said

may be too late tomorrow;

and because – burdened enough as Germans –

we may be providing material for a crime

that is foreseeable, so that our complicity

wil not be expunged by any

of the usual excuses.

 

And granted: I’ve broken my silence

because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;

and I hope too that many may be freed

from their silence, may demand

that those responsible for the open danger we face renounce the use of force,

may insist that the governments of

both Iran and Israel allow an international authority

free and open inspection of

the nuclear potential and capability of both.

update: There’s been plenty in the German press, as well as the international media, about the response to this story about Günter Grass and his poem. I thought I’d include something from the often satirical left-leaning Berlin newspaper die tageszeitung. Although this paper dealt with the topic seriously and critically, they saved a bit of space on their last page to poke a stick in Grass’s eye. To put this in context, Good Friday (the last Friday before Easter) is a national holiday and there are no newspapers sold that day.

The short article is called an ‘Open Letter to Günter Grass‘, and it’s written in an overly polite tone. Here’s how it looks in German:

‘Sehr geehrter Günter Grass. Sie haben gestern ein politisches Gedicht veröffentlicht, das in den Medien wie eine Atombombe eingeschlagen ist. Es dauerte auch nicht lange, bis wir von ganz oben dazu aufgefordert wurden, uns etwas dazu zu überlegen: “Das ist doch eine Steilvorlage für Satiriker! Das könnt ihr euch nicht entgehen lassen!” Uns gar nicht dazu zu äußern, kam also nicht in Frage. Wir überlegten darum hin und her und her und hin, was wir von dieser verschnarchten Altherrenpoesie denn nun halten sollten. Bereits durch die flüchtige Lektüre des lyrisch-rheumatischen Mahnmals um etwa drei Jahrzehnte gealtert, kamen wir schließlich zu folgendem Ergebnis: Herr Grass, hätten Sie dieses Scheißgedicht nicht erst einen Tag später veröffentlichen können? Dann hätten wir nämlich frei gehabt. Auch das musste einmal gesagt werden.’

Essentially, it says: You released an atomic bomb in the media, and of course the powers-that-be here at the paper insisted that we satirical writers couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass us by. So, we kicked the idea back and forth of what satirical thing we could say. Something appropriate to respond to this snore-fest of an old man’s poetry. We’ve aged as a result of having to read the volatile teachings of this lyrical and rheumatic monument of a writer, so here’s what we decided to say to him: Hey Mr Grass! Couldn’t you have waited just one more day to release this crap poem? Then we writers could’ve actually had the day off. That had to be said, as well.

(my very loose translation)

soft as mother hard as father

The Tree of Life

How does one even begin to write about Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life? When it first came out, critics were clear that this wasn’t your average film. I think I remember one review I read said something like love it or hate it, you won’t forget this work. It was called many things and there was a kind of hold-it-at-arm’s-length quality to some responses.

That’s why I approached it with a bit of trepidation. What if it’s great, but I just don’t get it? What if it’s terrible, but no-one wants to say that the master film maker’s made some Emperor’s New Clothes? Luckily, neither of these turned out to be an issue.

Rather than attempt a traditional review, I’d like to do write about what it made me think of. What flights of fancy I found myself on not only while I was watching it, but over the next few days as I thought about it. It was that sort of film. The perfect sort of movie to see with friends and then bicker about the meaning of certain things afterwards. Since I saw it alone, you’ll have to stand in for my friends who’d think my impressions were madness. You can do that, can’t you?

There’s nothing standard or even straight-forward about the narrative, so it actually seems appropriate to write about it in an equally impressionistic manner.

‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth … when the morning stars sang together?’                (Job 38: 4, 7)

Seems like the entirety of the work is a swing back and forth from the mother’s side of the film to the father’s. The mother in the film is not only devastated that she’s lost one of her children, but also because she thought she had an agreement with God. If you’re weird about talking/thinking about God, then insert the word ‘universe‘ whenever I mention God. Even if you approach this topic purely on an ethical plane, it’ll make sense and even possibly be worth pondering.

the mother’s contract

The mother thought that somehow if she chose the way of grace, rather than the way of nature, that she’d be spared the indignities of life. That she’d not have anything as horrible as losing a child if she somehow followed a spiritual path. Yet that’s the whole point for those who believe such things. No matter what little deals you make with the universe, there are no guarantees. None.

We seem to think that doing good is a kind of insurance that goodness will come to us. That success has everything to do with our goodness. That it’s somehow a reflection of our kindness. From my perspective, what’s intriguing isn’t that she thinks she can make such a deal but that she’s so completely unprepared for the possibility that God wouldn’t keep up his side of the bargain.

In the middle of all of this, there’s a break in the story. Suddenly, there are scenes that look like they belong in a nature film. But one of the most delicious and beautiful nature films you’ve ever seen. The beginning of the earth and the evolution of sea creatures to dinosaurs are shown, as are geological forces a bit like something out of Koyaanisqatsi.

But back to The Tree of Life

the father’s training

We hear his voice:

‘Your mother’s naive. It takes fierce will to get ahead in this world. If you’re good, they’ll take advantage of you…

Don’t do like I did, promise me that…get sidetracked…

the world lives by trickery. If you want to succeed, you can’t be too good.’

The mother is the symbol for the spirit, and in this case that means the father stands for raw natural forces. We see the father teaching his sons to box. We see his tempestuous temper, and we cower with the rest of the family not knowing what will set him off on one of his unpredictable tirades.

At some point, there’s a voice asking, ‘Why should I be good if you aren’t?’ For me, it’s the critical question that the film poses. The boy is in a battle with his father and his feelings about this are tormenting him. As much as he feels for his mother, he can see himself slowly becoming his father. That he’s already cold and cruel in the face of her love.

We’ve heard the father’s world view in the words I included above. The mother’s words are far more soothing and offer a kind of warning:

‘The only way to be happy is to love.

Unless you love, your life will flash by…

Be good to them…wonder…hope…’

We see the boy as an adult, and it’s almost as if he’s finally coming to terms with his mother’s earlier guidance. He doesn’t know exactly how to process the waves of emotion that’re rolling over him, but my impression was that the maternal prophecy was exactly what he was ultimately being faced with.

It’s not easy to watch. Well, if you simply watch one picture flow into the next, then I suppose it won’t be so difficult. It is beautiful, after all. But the questions of grace versus nature have been nagging me since I first saw it. My first response was to reject that those were even proper opponents.

Grace and nature can be on the same team, right? Not in this case. For our purposes, you’ve got to choose. And in a strange way, you’ve probably already made your choice. I know I have.

I’ll leave you with a wonderful quote I found in an essay The Religious Meaning of Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ by Rabbi David Wolpe. Here’s what he says, and I completely agree:

The great Dutch writer Harry Mulisch died this past year. Once asked the secret of life, he responded “make the puzzle bigger.” Malick makes the puzzle bigger, and so expands our sense of the intricacy and beauty of the world. In reworking Job for the 21st century, he teaches us anew of the grandeur of the world, and the grandeur of God. 

St Francis’ dog carrying a doughnut

probably St Francis of Assissi

Looming above Nice is the hill where the Château once stood (there are still ruins) and the Cimetière du Château (cemetery of the Château) still stands. Quite majestically truth be told. Actually, I’ll point you to a much better travel blogger than I who’ll explain this succinctly. Here it is: France Travel Series : The Nice Side of Cemeteries. There. If you actually clicked over, you’re much better informed.

But as beautiful as the cemetery on the hill was, and I’ll include a few photos below, I was somehow transfixed by the statue of what I can only assume must be Francis of Assissi that you can see above. I’ve seen this saint depicted with birds on his shoulder and even sprightly animals that you might see in the cartoon film Bambi scurrying along at his feet, but I’ve never seen him with a dog.

What is that? Or I should say, ‘Why is that?’

I’m ok with all those, but this dog at his side thing just made St Francis infinitely more interesting to me. You can see that, can’t you?

Even more important: What is that he’s holding in his mouth? St Francis‘ canine companion appears to be carrying a doughnut. Well, there’s nothing wrong with this development. That doughnut can’t be for the dog. For one thing if St Francis really loves dogs as much as he says he does, he knows the refined sugar in that doughnut is going to cause his dog nothing but trouble.

So the next logical conclusion is that the dog is carrying the doughnut for good old St Francis. How about that? Pretty impressive, eh? Not too shabby.

I didn’t have strong opinions one way or another, but if this dog loves him enough to carry that doughnut without eating it himself, St Francis just went up mightily in my estimation.

And now for several of the photos of the cemetery that I promised:

cemetery statue

the view pointing north
Greek-influenced statue in the Jewish section of the cemetery
a view of Old Nice from above

money and beauty

'The Calumny' by Sandro Botticelli

Don’t want to dwell on this, because hypocrisy can be such a tired topic. Nevertheless, it’s a very succinct description of how a letter of exchange wasn’t officially seen as usury. Here, give it a gander:

‘The Church’s ban on usury and the images of usurers burning in hell troubled lenders and borrowers alike. But people needed loans and there was no point in lending without a return. It was important to find a solution that wasn’t just “a way around” the ban, but that really did not seem to be usury at all. The letter of exchange was a “most delicate invention” and “a most subtle activity,” wrote Benedetto Cotrugli in 1458 and what’s more “impossible for a theologian to understand.”

For more than two hundred years, it allowed bankers to make a profit on loans without feeling they were usurers. Foreign currencies weren’t usually held in quantity in any one town, so if someone wanted to change florins into, say, English pounds, the florins were handed over in Florence and the pounds picked up in London. Officially, travel to London took ninety days, so someone kept the florins a while before repaying since the exchange rate was always more favourable for the local currency. In London, a similar exchange deal could be made to turn the pounds back into florins, so that after ninety days in Florence again, there might be a profit of 10 to 20%.’

(source: Money and Beauty exhibit at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence)

Did you catch all of that? Today, most of the non-Muslim world doesn’t give the subject of usury a second thought, but we certainly have plenty more examples of this sort of double standard in our societies.

I doubt I’ve fully explored all the things I thought about during my short stay in Florence. Might write about other things and then come back to Money and Beauty. Who knows where this lahikmajoe blog is going anyway.

Am I the only one enjoying it so far?