Archive for December, 2007

Happy Christmas to all from Sumptuous World!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Well, it’s always worth injecting a little bonhomie at this time of year – and, might I add, to mark exactly eight months of Sumptuous World.

So here are some photos from my recent trip to the heart of Germany, where they remember how to celebrate Christmas well: every town and city will have its winter, Christmas market (where people will gather after dark for some outdoor, winter socialising, as well as shopping) – like this one from Goslar, on the edge of the Harz mountains (think Brothers Grimm) –

… where many town halls are converted into giant advent calendars –

… and where the old can be blended with the new in effective ways –

(Jetzt means now.) This last pic is from a central church in the old Hanseatic port city of Lubeck.

I am very ignorant of the treasures of Germany, which is unsurprising. For more than one reason, the place and its people have received a bad press. And what with the iron curtain, much of what was in the former eastern bloc was unknown to even the younger generations in west Germany; for example, at school they weren’t taught sister place names across the border, regardless of ancestral ties. I had no idea about streets like these, conveyed by my lovely assistant, Marion –

The corner building on the left side, with its door lanterns, is a pub built in 1573, and has gold-painted inscriptions that wrap around its corner; they say something like, may all who enter and leave this place be blessed by God. The brick and timber house, just behind the lovely lady, was a gem we happily chanced upon: the 1693 home of Hans Siemens, forebear of the electronic-engineering empire. I say happily because the company and its founding family have a close connection with my own family history.

Unsurprisingly, cities and towns like these have been anointed World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. (I’d heartily recommend visiting Quedlinberg, not just for their Christmas market – the medieval houses have their own courtyards, that the owners of which give over to craft stalls, mulled-wine sellers and the occasional wild boar being turned on a spit. Let me know if you’d like the address of a lovely apartment in the old city centre, in one such courtyard.)

So, as another year comes to an end, have a very happy, and special, Christmas.

Just for a parting note, here’s a silly quiz (courtesy of Treehugger); nothing to do with the season, but at least it nicely lays out the sumptuousness of this world we’re part of, what goes into things, and what people are capable of. And, of course, it continues the German theme already enunciated –

Is this a picture of:
a) what mechanics have nightmares about;
b) a college prank perpetrated by extremely determined students at the local Polytech;
c) a commercial for VW circa 1980-something;
d) the only way to really find those sunglasses you lost;
e) what engineers see in their heads every time we designers show them a simple concept sketch;
f) at least 562 reasons why we prefer to bicycle, or, why we’d rather say “Solvitur Ambulando” than “Vroom vroom”?
Via Core77

… and a Sumptuous New Year to you and yours!

“I believe in my tusks. Long live freedom and damn the ideologies”

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sober seasonal thoughts, and some poetry, from Paul Kingsnorth responding to the outcome of the United Nations Bali climate change junket  –

[…] I am not depressed. Why? Because I have given up expecting better. I am cultivating an almost Buddhist detachment. I am no longer naive enough to imagine that Hilary Benn can go to Bali and save the word. Not naive enough to imagine that the rich will give up their riches to save the future. Not naive enough to imagine that the corporate/government complex can get us out of a problem it got us into. I have lost faith in the political process. And you know what – it’s joyous. I haven’t felt so free, so creative – so hopeful – in years. There is nothing for it but to find our own way. To stop expecting The System to deliver. It never can.

What will save us? Who knows if we even need ‘saving’? I know it’s Christmas, but we don’t have to think like fundamentalist Christians all the time – don’t have to keep worrying that apocalypse is around the corner. Even if it is, there’s nothing Gordon Brown and Greenpeace can do about it. What will save us? Digging our garden, being in love, writing poems, standing up for our inevitable place, belonging, fighting off the encroachment of corporate culture, walking in the woods, knowing who we are, grounding ourselves – and not believing the talk of those who expect the suits and the bankers and the big-picture thinkers to get us out of what they so long ago dragged us into. This system has its own momentum now. This tide will not turn until it is ready. And us? We have to ride it. And you know what – I am beginning to believe that we can.

Have a good Christmas.

The Stars Go Over The Lonely Ocean
Robinson Jeffers, 1941

Unhappy about some far off things
That are not my affair, wandering
Along the coast and up the lean ridges,
I saw in the evening
The stars go over the lonely ocean,
And a black-maned wild boar
Plowing with his snout on Mal Paso Mountain.

The old monster snuffled, “Here are sweet roots,
Fat grubs, slick beetles and sprouted acorns.
The best nation in Europe has fallen,
And that is Finland,
But the stars go over the lonely ocean,”
The old black-bristled boar,
Tearing the sod on Mal Paso Mountain.

“The world’s in a bad way, my man,
And bound to be worse before it mends;
Better lie up in the mountain here
Four or five centuries,
While the stars go over the lonely ocean,”
Said the old father of wild pigs,
Plowing the fallow on Mal Paso Mountain.

“Keep clear of the dupes that talk democracy
And the dogs that talk revolution,
Drunk with talk, liars and believers.
I believe in my tusks.
Long live freedom and damn the ideologies,”
Said the gamey black-maned boar
Tusking the turf on Mal Paso Mountain.

Healing the rifts, in America and beyond – Andrew Sullivan on the presidential election

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Good piece of writing published in The Sunday Times today –

To be black and white, to have belonged to a nonreligious home and a Christian church, to have attended a majority-Muslim school in Indonesia and a black church in urban Chicago, to be more than one thing and sometimes not fully anything – this is an increasingly common experience for Americans, including many racial minorities. Obama expresses such a conflicted but resilient identity before he even utters a word. And this complexity may increasingly be the main thing all Americans have in common.

None of this, of course, means that Obama will be the president some are dreaming of. His record in high office is sparse; his performances on the campaign trail have been patchy; his chief rival for the nomination, Senator Clinton, has bested him often. At times, she has even managed to appear more inherently likable than the skinny, crabby and sometimes morose newcomer from Chicago.

The paradox is that Hillary makes far more sense if you believe that times are actually pretty good. If you believe America’s current crisis is not a deep one, if you think pragmatism alone will be enough to navigate a world on the verge of even more religious warfare, and that what appears dark today is an illusion fostered by the lingering trauma of the Bush presidency, then the argument for Obama is not that strong. Clinton will do.

But if you sense, as I do, that greater danger lies ahead and that our divisions and recent history have combined to make the American polity and constitutional order increasingly vulnerable, then the calculus of risk changes. Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution.

Close up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary. At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable. We may in fact have finally found that bridge to the 21st century that Bill Clinton told us about. Its name is Barack Obama.