My Way or the Ai Wei

I was given a poem on my birthday—but don’t worry, I also got some wine.

The first lines of the poem read:

The years have wings
They nest and fly away

And as the winter comes, that strikes a chord. In Portugal, older people say mais um Inverno, one more winter, as another year goes by. But life’s been good, and that merits a little tune. Music isn’t just the food of love, it’s the food of life.

Earlier in the week I caught a cab driven by a guy who must be pushing eighty. We got talking (well, he did). Turns out he’s been retired for eight years.

“What did you do before?”
“Drove a cab. Before that I was a driver for the casino.”

The casino at Estoril was built towards the end of the First World War, and became a spies playground during World War II. Despite the odious nature of war, there were such times and places in bygone wars, and movies were made about them. In modern asymmetric warfare, it’s hard to imagine such scenes, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria.

Estoril became a refuge for deposed despots, including the king of Italy, who was as gay as a Mexican handbag. It was in this gay town, which kisses the Atlantic by way of a beautiful sandy beach, that the young prince of Spain died in 1956. Infante Alfonso, full name Alfonso Cristino Teresa Angelo Francisco de Asis y Todos los Santos de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias, had just returned from mass and taken communion. He died from a bullet wound to the forehead.

The Spanish embassy released a note reporting the accident, in which the young prince had been shot when a revolver was being cleaned. Since that day, there are persistent rumors that the child was shot in the head by his elder brother Juan Carlos, the present king of Spain. The eighteen year old heir to the Spanish throne thought the gun was unloaded. The fifteen year old boy died in his father’s arms.

My driver told me he keeps on working because his pension is insufficient, which I don’t doubt, but I think the main reason he does it is for company.

“If you’re alone,” he said, “what do you do?” He turned to look at me. “Wake up, have breakfast and watch TV in your slippers. Next thing you know it’s lunchtime, and you’re still sitting there.”

Funny how poverty has returned to so many places that thought they were rid of it, like the reccuring stages of syphilis. Southern Europe, parts of the US, Japan…

We must however dwell on those places where things are worse. And count our blessings if we don’t dwell in them.

China is struggling with its own direction, shutting people up when it can, locking them up when it can’t. The development path it has chosen now leads it to the crossroads of democracy—a good many think the Middle Kingdom cannot progress for long without going down that road.

Internecine struggles at the very top of the party apparatus, moated and guarded by a wall of silence, have left a trail of bodies, some dead and some living.  Westerners see China as a production unit with docile workers, a kind of mega-ant colony whose threat lies in job theft. In fact, China is volatile, violent, and unforgiving—any period in its history will attest to that.

In a global village, the consequences of major unrest in China will be far-reaching. The country is preparing for its harvest festival next week, the moon festival—during which, surprisingly, mooncakes are served. Following that, it’s China National Day. Expect a good amount of anti-Japanese sentiment. If you want to learn a good deal of history in the most light-hearted way, read ‘The Blue Lotus‘.

From China to a story that has passed almost unnoticed this week, amid presidential race speeches in the US, Cameron’s gaffes on Letterman (who has himself put his foot in it once or twice), and the Spanish riots. Don’t take those lightly, by the way. What makes them different is that they’re not politically organized protests, but social media-driven actions by the country with the highest youth unemployment in the developed world.

Young people are not experienced enough to take pain, and that often has very painful consequences.

Sex change: in a different religion, or a different era (time and space are interchangeable) this picture would be worth a fatwa. Tician’s rendition of the resurrection is wonderful, but it also highlights an underdressed man and a fully clad woman. Perspectives from days of yore.

And my story is about two young people, a couple in Tunisia who were being intimate in a car. Now by intimacy I don’t necessarily mean making out, although every young person knows that’s what cars are for. Not so long ago, an amorous couple found themselves one night in the Tagus Estuary, avec car, presumably after one less judicious thrust dislodged the parking brake.

The two young Tunisians have stated on the record that they were not engaged in any immoral activities, and were in fact in separate seats. The Tunisian police, on the other hand, state the two were engaged in ‘intentional indecent behavior.’ Makes you wonder what ‘unintentional’ might be.

The story reaches the point of outrage when we hear that the three cops came upon the couple, and attempted to extort money to let them go. Then, while the boy went with one cop to an ATM, the other two raped the woman inside the car. I read the report yesterday, reviewed it just now on various websites, and my blood still boils writing about it.

Tunisia was the first of the so-called Arab Spring revolutions. The ousted dictator Ben Ali did many terrible things, but Tunisia had the most liberal laws on women’s rights of the whole Arab world. And those are rapidly being lost as the country reverts to the dark ages on emancipation. Feminist associations in Tunisia claim that since the moderate Islamic Ennahda party took power, civil liberties for women are under attack.

The couple, facing six months imprisonment, is accused by the Ministry of the Interior of being found in an ‘immoral position’. My reaction to that charge, particularly given the circumstances,  is simple and subtle. It is possible because I live in a free country: go fuck yourselves.

What happened in Tunisia happens in places such as Pakistan, and helps understand that what separates Judaico-Christian culture from Islam is greater than what unites them.

On and off, I’ve written about the Arab Spring, and how I believe it to be a misnomer. It is in fact a rise of Islamic parties that are not supportive of secular power structures. This will change the face of Mid-East politics within the next few years. For the worse.

In Europe, we had centuries of religious rule, and it did the continent no good whatsoever. In Portugal, the Marquis of Pombal kicked out the (holy) inquisition in the XVIIIth century, but not before they had excoriated, persecuted, tortured, and expelled the Jews. As I recount in the pages of The India Road:

“Portugal has received many Jews. Your king welcomes men of science, men of business. I may stay. But some feel that an ill wind sweeps through Iberia. Such men will stay only a short time. Their destination is the Ghetto, in Venice, or perhaps Antwerp and Amsterdam, the netherlands of the north.”
These were families with names like Espinoza or Mezquita. Their descendants would later build some of the greatest diamond houses in northern Europe and find their way to the streets and riches of New Amsterdam.

In Europe today only one religious state is left. It’s a tiny enclave in a Rome square, permitted to remain there by the good graces of the (secular) Italian government. Let’s keep it that way.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.


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