Saturday, 15 October 2011

What a year!

This year AD 2011 was quite outstanding considering what has happened to me and what thankfully did not come about.

First stunt
One of the first days of January, I visited my Dutch friend here in the village. He showed me the crumbling wall of the boiler building standing on a kind of embankment. I ran down the slope and got my left foot entangled in some brambles.

So instead of running down I had a short flight and the prospect of a hard landing on the tarmac. Thus I tried some rowly-poly but anyway, you have to touch ground on something and in my case it was the elbow instead of my head. Hospital, arm in a sling, 20 sessions with a physical therapist.

Even now, my left arm remains slightly bent instead of stretching straight as it should be. But I could have landed on my face!

Second stunt
A left arm "out of service" means no paragliding. But end of May I was ok again and thus we decided to have one weeks' holiday at the Atlantic Coast, paragliding on the Pyla Dune and having a good time both of us.

On the highway after twenty minutes' driving my wife said to me "I think the roof box opened". At 80 miles/hour that is bad news. I stopped the car on the side lane and looked back. A sleeping bag, a rug and a plastic basin lay on the fast lane. At that moment a car was driving over the basin. Bam, a noise like a canon firing or a plane crossing the sound barrier.

So I sprinted back as fast as I could to retrieve the stuff and avoid an accident. You are not supposed to spread your belongings on a French motorway where people speed along at 130 or 140 km/hour (80 to 90 miles/hour).

My left foot Achilles tendon did not appreciate the highway racing and broke under the strain. The last meters or feet I was limping along but I got the stuff. I even crossed the two lanes to retrieve the rug that lay on the left side and than limped back to the car.

When the highway police came I was already busy fixing the roof box with a sturdy strap. "Did you cross the highway" one of the cops asked me. "Certainly not", I said and he was obliged to believe me. Quite friendly the chap and even helped me to get back on the highway, slowing down those other speeders passing by.

I drove to the nearest cafeteria. Sitting next to my wife, sipping some lukewarm coffee, I had to tell her that our holidays finished here. I showed her my left foot. There, where the tendon should show a hard tight surface it has a belly-like feeling. She drove the Audi back home, slowly.

The next day, operation, three nights in the hospital, then 45 days in plastic plaster with two clutches: that is a very different way to live. Two clutches means you have no hands, only four legs. And after that the muscles are gone so I had to learn how to walk, increasing the distance one can make on foot. That takes takes time. In September I was back again at about 80 percent.

Could have been worse, I never had any pain and the highway race, let's forget that one.

During those 45 days on clutches, I decided to try obtaining the "Air Transport Pilot Certificate" on Microsoft's Flight Simulator. It's the most difficult one to get, it requires quite a lot of knowledge, a high degree of concentration and very fast reactions. Obligation to do the right thing at the right time. If somebody is interested just to have a look on YouTube, here is a kind of "walkthrough" showing what to do in order to succeed Splendidly made video. Sure, I will never fly such a plane in reality but it gives a good idea of what is required. Since I am a flightsimmer, I have the highest respect for those pilots doing this demanding job. In case your Internet connection is fast enough, don't forget to click on the HD definition.

Stunt number 3
On a beautiful Thurday morning, three weeks ago, I was driving to Aurillac to buy this and that and meeting my wife there at noon to have a bite. The road from the village to the main road is narrow but large enough to cross even a truck. Each one goes a bit on the grass at the right side and that's it.

I see the car coming towards me, driving confortably in the middle of the road. I sverve to the right, the other one, nothing, I drive a bit more to the right, rien à faire, BAM, BONG. All four airbags came out. Inside the car there was powder smoke as if I was in the midst of the battle of Trafalgar, right near a cannon, on the lower deck.

Keeping my breath I scrambled out of the car. Starting to yell at the other driver who had stopped, too. In the middle of the road where we met. Out came a very old man, nearly 80 years old, I guess. He was a bit shaken and did not say a word. Don't know what happened, he must have been dreaming or looking at the green grass in the fields. Afterwards his son told me he is in bad health and his wife has a nervous breakdown.

Those airbags of my 12 year old Audi saved me, or at least my front teeth. The bags came out so fast I don't remember seeing them coming! One of these days I go to see the old man to have a little friendly chat and to ask him how he is doing. The insurance will pay me the full value of my car but by old banger is 12 years old. They give me 5500 €, about 7400 US$.

I think I'll get me another Audi A3, I owe something to that company, oh yes, I am an Audi addict and the next car will be flaming red again.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Astronomy - a dream job

When I was around 12 to 15 years old I knew what I would like to do: become an astronomer, a stargazer.

That was largely before Hubble was launched giving us those gorgeous photos I coulnd't even dream of seeing. Nevertheless, there was open space, unlimited distance, the infinity, the idea of stars being light-years away from here.

Our little computer room. How do you like the desk top image on this 24" LED flat screen? On the wall are my flight simulator diplomas: my every-day-hobby.

Later it became obvious to me that my mathematical possibilities were next to a deflated tyre. In fact I dreaded the math classes in school, geometry, algebra, I was always a struggler, the rear guard and tried my best to be invisible to the teacher during those hours.

Professionally I had to do something else, no doubt about that. But the fascination remained. And there was something else about astronomy that would have made trouble. I don't like to stay awake at night. My daily adult life span ends at Midnight AT THE LATEST, to be continued happily next day.

Being obliged to stay awake during the small hours of next day, 1, 2, 3 o'clock in the morning: I hate that. As an astronomer I would have been compelled to become a Sun specialist, no doubt about that. But I am not that much interested in our Mother Star.

However, this love for astronomy brought me a lot of splendid hours. And it taught me a few important things and answered some questions:

- is there any sens in life, is there a destiny? No, there isn't. Look at those black holes, super novae and exploding and imploding stars, colliding galaxies. They come and go and we can do nothing about it.

- is there a superior being, a God, looking benevolently at you and me? No, there isn't, sorry for that. We are like the mice our cat is chasing day and night. If you have the right trajectory, you pass unscathed. If not..............

In about 2 billion years our galaxy the Milky Way will have a collision with the Andromeda Galaxy and in about 3 billion years they will have merged into a new, bigger one. Milky Way King Size. What does that mean to our Solar System and to our Earth? Nobody knows but all options are on the table.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Upgrading the house insulation

Our house must have been built just before the 1st Oil Price Shock, around 1973/74. At that time, heating was no problem, oil was cheap and consequently, the houses were barely insulated.

Happy times, gone forever.

Furthermore, practically all houses here are made of stone, the heavier the better. Wood is only used for the roof structure. That is a bit astonishing because France's Auvergne region is covered by forests in all directions. Pastures for cows or forests, that's it, more or less.

When we bought our house towards the end of last Century (sounds good, eh?), we decided to heat the place with a wood stove insert. So starting in 1998 I am in charge of the log preparation. We used about 15 cubic meters of firewood or 530 cubic feet. A huge pile of wood!

Finally, I was fed up to pass 2 months every year to transform oak tree trunks into logs. And an efficient outside insulation is the best method to reduce that big heap to a smaller one.

Thanks to the Internet and Google I found a company that covers the house with a 10 cm (about 4") thick polyurethane layer plus, on top of this, about 2 mm of painted aluminium, a little less than 1/10th of an inch.

Thus in August last year we got the job started and a week later all that remained to be done was to pay.

Funny thing is, the look of the house is the same as before. Only the walls are now about 4 inches thicker. And last Winter, the log consumption fell from about 530 cubic feet to about 350 cubic feet (from 15 m3 to 10 m3) meaning about one third less. And the cherry on the cake was that Goverment gave us a fat tax reduction.

Thus this year I had a new stove installed that is supposed to further reduce consumption. Mister stove's name is Max Heavyweight. Here, have a look at Max in all his glory.

Next week the missing pipe will be installed and if the present foul weather persists, we'll have a trial run.

Right now, my wife uses her iron for about half an hour and the temp rises 1°C in the living room!

Friday, 27 May 2011

The racists are among us

All news I hear of come to me through the different TV channels. I read an US weekly but this is more for in depth info world wide. If I am feeling they try to force-feed me some half truths or that I get only a lopsided picture I go to Google to find out.

So about ten days ago this stunning affair about the accusation of rape and sexual violence in a New York hotel against Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK as he is called here) came to my knowledge. Via the French TV, sure, at the evening news.

I know the man, like most people who live in France. He might well have been the next French President and I said to my wife, some months before "could be I would vote for him, if I were French".

The very day of these accusations and the videos showing him handcuffed in front of the NY prison, people, important well-known people, were interviewed and asked to comment .

Here is what I heard:

- Jack Lang, former minister of culture on television TF2 : "This was a kind of lynching inspite of the fact that no one was dead".

- Jean-François Kahn, journalist, writer and politician on France-Culture: "what happened there was a stripping of a servant".

- Robert Badinter former minister of justice) on television TF2 during a lengthy interview where he talked endlessly about the plight of DSK but not a word about the victim. When asked about this he said : "Yes, the victim, sure, that's a problem".

Bernard-Henry Lévy, philosopher, writer, movie director, journalist etc. on his blog and on the DailyBeast website : "...what I know is that nothing in the world can justify a man being thus thrown to the dogs...".

Jean Daniel, writer and journalist: "The fate inflicted upon Dominique Strauss-Kahn by the American justice system makes me think that we don't belong to the same civilisation ".

All these words have two things in common: first the men commenting seem not to care very much about the victim and second they are all jewish. The first point has been amply commented by now and I suppose this was the last time you can hear or read this kind of thoughts over here. Next time they will be more prudent I guess. But point number 2: nothing. Not a word. They are all rushing to the defence of the party but the very fact is not mentioned.

Now something else but there is a relation.The number 1 sports activity here is soccer, football as we call it rightly and the French national team won the World Championship some years ago. Have a look at this photo of "Les Bleus", the blue ones as they are called affectionately in the media.

About 3 or 4 years ago there was an uproar about the national team. The President Georges Frêche of the Langedoc-Roussillon region (bordering the Mediterranean) said one word too much "... in this crew of 11 there are 9 blacks. It would be normal to have 3 or 4...."

This triggered a big scandal. His party stripped him of his membership and they tried everything to avoid his reelection as president. Now have a look. What did he do? Nothing more than state a fact.

To conclude, Shakespeare's Hamlet comes to my mind: "There is a method in the madness" and the other one "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark".

Friday, 6 May 2011

The pleasure of reading - second thoughts

Some time ago I wrote a post about books I like most. When writing this list I really did my best and tried to be objective.

These days I am reading a book I have already read about three or four times and there are others I have even read nearly ten times. But not one of those books and its authors are in my list.

So I think I owe them something.

The book I am reading right now - for about the third time I guess - is "Tuesday The Rabbi Saw Red" by Harry Kemelman. This is a thriller as it should be, a real page turner, but there is something more to it.

The whole plot is set in a Jewish community situated near Boston/USA and this rabbi is a male version of Agatha Cristie's "Miss Marple", well known to those who like the genre.

The author who looks a bit like Ian Fleming

wanted to write a book about Jewish life in the United States but his editor told him that such a subject would be unsalable. So he wrapped it all into a thriller/mystery story and had a huge success worldwide with his rabbi stories.

So while reading this you learn a lot about those American Jews and about their religion. Strange to say, most of those Jews depicted in this book (and in the other ones) are not very likeable at all. They are constantly quarreling among themselves, are self centered and do their very best to annoy our worthy rabbi and are constantly scheming to make him loose his job.

A very interesting part of the book are comparisons between the hebrew creed and christianity. Quite enlightening, at least for me who is very much interested in religions (though myself I have none).

A very endearing person is the Assistant District Attorney Bradford Ames (not a Jew) who belongs to a very old family in the town and considers he has a duty towards his fellow citizen. He is a kind of rebublican aristocrat made in USA. Then there is police chief Hugh Lanigan, a cop as a cop should be, intelligent, broad minded, friendly.

Reading what I wrote hereabove, I have to admit that I don't say much about the plot. But it is a page turner allright, you see the police and our rabbi chasing the different links that frequently become dead ends.

I am sure, this is a great book out of a great series though it will never make it to "world literature" and the author was certainly never eligible for the Nobel Price.

Last not least, if someone feels inclined to give it a try and read a book from Harry Kemelman just after having glanced through this post, I would like to hear how it goes.

Cheers to all of you.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Heroes - they pay for us

When the Tchernobyl nuclear power plant exploded in 1986, the Soviet government sent thousands of army draftees and miners to dig tunnels or clean away debris before erecting the steel coffin to contain the radiation.

These people did not realize fully what they were asked to do: to face certain death within weeks or months or long, painfull illnesses. They suffered for the common good and I can only hope they are honoured by their people for this.

But what unfolds right now in Fukoshima is of an entirely different kind. The Japanese people know what radiation means and most certainly those who fight the monster right on spot. These days I frequently have a look at NHK World, the Japanese news channel in English and saw there those Tokyo Firefighters shaking hands before trying to spray water on those melting nuke rods. Normally, the Japanese are a kind of poker face nation but here I saw they were fighting back tears.

To do this you have to be nearby and nearby means death, a very unpleasant slow death. They were volonteers I have been told and if the word Hero has any meaning they are.
They face death out of their own choice so that others may go on living! Heroes.

As to nuclear power plants, they should have been scrapped since long. This technology is just too dangerous for dumb human species. I have been working in industry all my life and we had the saying "something that can go wrong, will go wrong, one day".

This "Sword of Damocles" hangs above our heads and this for thousands of years because nobody knows for certain what to do with the nuclear waste. Even without Tsunami, earth quakes or terrorist attacks we are all facing this threat due to our collective stupidity. And this technology is not even cheap, one of these lies we are being told from time to time. There was a Tchernobyl type power plant in Eastern Germany, shut down about a months after reunification. Now, more than 20 years later, the plant is still not totally dismantled at a cost of about 1500 Million Euro or nearly 2 Billion US Dollar! Just dismantling.

As to the waste, nobody know what to do with it. There is not a single place on Mother Earth where the geologists can say "this hole deep down is safe for the next five thousand/ten thousand years". But the search for a waste dumb goes on, worldwide, to the tune of Billions of Euros or Dollars, Billions, really, no exageration. So, for the time being, the stuff remains somewhere behind each power plant, safely stored away in big costly steel drums. But in forty, fifty years, those containers have to be replaced. Everywhere, all over the world! And so on, and so on and so on. No need for a Tsunami or a king size quake to shiver a bit. No need to panic either, those are old facts, nothing new, no surprise here.

Last not least: don't swallow anti-radiation iode pills. They are useless unless your home adress is Fukoshima or Tchernobyl. Better sit under a table with a pillow over the head.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Pieces of Music I love most

The last post here gave the list of my ten most loved books. Now I am doing the same but this time with music. My top ten are right here but it is understood that number 1 is not the biggest love, it only means I have to start somewhere and I do it at 1.

Marie-Paule Belle - La Parisienne

This is a song of a young girls who starts living in Paris and what sie does to get popular. Very dahing, daring, osé, bold and melodious. Here is the text in French

Exultate Jubilate - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Lucia Popp
This music is like Champaign, it bubbles with the joy of life. Nothing to do with the customary dour church music. And Lucia Popp is my preferred singer anyway.

Wo die Nordseewellen - Lale Andersen
This is a song dedicated to the North Sea and the people living at its shore. Lale Anderson has a very strange voice. She sings in the Northern German dialect (Plattdütsch).

Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben - Fidelio - Ludwig van Beethoven - Matti Salminen
This endearing song is all and exclusively about money. You need to have it. The singer is a powerful basso; he starts "if you don't have it you can't be happy". Here are the lyrics in German and in English

Der Freischütz - Carl Maria von Weber - Hunters' chorus/Jägerchor
That's one of the very few operas I feel strong enough to listen from beginning to end. This "Hunters' Chorus" is great fun to look at: the choir director killing off his singers one by one.

The Dubliners - Dublin in the Green
I love them. Such powerful music. As far as I know I have more or less everything they published. So it is not specially this song, it's the group! They are unique. The singing black beard is grey now but the rasping voice is the same.

Carl Orff - Carmina Burana/In Taberna quando sumus/Drinking chorus
This drinking song has a latin text. I especially like the part where they sing the long list of who is boozing along: everybody. This list starts at about 1:40.

Paul McCarthney - Mull of Kintyre
This guy was one of the Beetles. The song is melodious and the lyrics are wonderfully nostalgic.You can click on two versions, the first sung by PMC, both are great.

Joseph Haydn - Cello concerto in D major - Mischa Maisky
Another piece of melodious music! I love this concerto so much I bought 3 versions and even to me - I am not a learned music lover - there is a clear difference.

Bairisch-diatonischer Jodelwahnsinn - Münchner Gestanzln/Monika Drasch
Thi is modern Bavarian folk. Jazzy folk I would say. Monika Drasch (click on her name) belonged to this group. She is the good lokoking girl with the red hair and the green violin. In the second recording, she talks first in Bavarian German and then sings about a love sick ox driver (kind of cowboy in US English). The lyrics are from a Bavarian girl who immigrated around 1900 to the USA and died in Chicago, totally unknown and penniless.

Mikis Theodorakis/Pablo Neruda - Canto General
This is a genious of a composer. And he shows that there is more to present day Greece than brainless spending of money you don't own. Powerful melodious music. Here, too, I have two different videos of different parts of the Canto. Maria Farantouri belongs to the original performers, her voice is unforgettable. The second recording replaces her by a beautiful blonde from Finland.

Paco Ibanez - Erase una vez........ El lobito bueno
A very endearing voice and a great composer. Met him first when I tried to learn Spanish. All that remains now are his records. This is the story of friendly wolves and nice witches. This is an old recording. He is still active and singing but his voice now is not what it was (too many bottles I was told).

Hubert von Goisern - Kuamelcher
That is a kind of contemporary yodel music performed by an Austrian singer and composer. He has been some time in Tibet and in Northern India and I think he created a kind of Zen-yodeling, I am not kidding.

Sick note (kind of singsong)
For those who wish to have some fun and nothing more. This is for you!
And anyway, who is reading and hearing this from one to ten? I wonder. The Sick Note is performed by The Dubliners but it is not really a song. It is about someone who had a ton of bricks falling on him, he explains how it happened and why he could not come to work.

One last word. Those recordings come from different countries but looking at my list, all the music I really love is from here, from this small place called Europe. I did not do this on purpose, it is like that though I know that every country, every continent has music, loved by its people. So I know, like and appreciate for instance Ragas from India, Chinese flute music and those choirs from South Africa. There is some music from Morocco I like and some songs from Ms Kalsoom, the Egyptian singer but it does not go to the heart. That is sad to say but so it is.

There is however one exception to what I said here: music made in USA. Non is included but I did not do this on purpose because there are some I love very much, oh yes. Like "John Brown's Body", "Clementine, oh my darling Clementine", "Father Death Blues" sung by Allen Ginsberg, one of my all-time favourites, "Duelling Banjos" out of the movie Deliverance, or "Sisters of Mercy" by Leonard Cohen or Nina Simone singing "Ain't got no.." Another singer, long dead, too, is Paul Robeson, this amazing basso voice. "Joe Hill" is the song I love most. Most of these people are dead, dead for many years. In my heart they are classical, classics, not forgotten by me and as I can find these people on YouTube I suppose I am not the only one.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The pleasure of reading

There are people who never read. By never reading I mean never reading a book for pleasure. It simply does not occur to them. They might read a daily newspaper, the television weekly but a book? Never.

As far as I could find out through observation of others, never reading a book implies a certain lack of curiosity. Reading a book - nearly any one - makes you enter the life of someone else. I have always thought that reading can b e a kind of fast lane to the experiences of others and that might come handy one day.

As to me, well I have been reading nearly all my life. By nearly I mean since I learned reading, about one year before entering school. When I was about five years old my grandma read those Till Eulenspiegel stories to me. This guy who lived in the Middle Ages was a kind of impudent trickster and I could not hear enough. Thus when my grandma stopped I was so impatient to know what will happen next that I managed to learn it without any outside help.

Here, have a look at this photo. This is Till Eulenspiegel's stature in his birth town. I owe him something.

Not long ago I read in Smorgy's blog a very exhausting list of his readings. And in the comments he gives even the ten books he likes most. So I just imitate him and give a list of my favourite ten. Here is it, I tried to do my best. Number 1 does not mean this is my absolute best, I only start at one.

1. Peter Weiss - Fluchtpunkt
2. Arno Schmidt - Kaff auch Mare Crisium
3. Bertold Brecht - his collected poems
4. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - his collected poems
5. J.D. Salinger - The Catcher in The Rye
6. W.H. Davies - The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp
7. Raymond Queneau - Le Dimanche de la Vie
8. Michael Crichton - Timeline
9. P.G. Wodehouse - Psmith/Jeeves stories
10. Egon Fridell - Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit
11. Mika Waltari - Sinuhe the Egyptian
12. Ernst Vollbehr - Bunte leuchtende Welt

Well, those ten became twelf. I am unable to delete two books from that list.

Some are well known but others , like No 1, 2 and 10 are somehow lost, forgotten but to a very small number of readers. Some more years to go and nobody will remember.

And something should be mentioned, too. It is very difficult to find a factual description of a book. I mean a review that tells you what is going on inside. Instead of this the reviewer talks and talks but I am not wiser at the end. One of the rare exceptions to this is the blogger I Me My . But maybe this is so because this person is not a professional book reviewer.

Works of art are subject to aging like people. The fastest to age are movies. But books age, too. There are those famous writers of the 19th century, monuments of literature, but I can't help it they seem lengthy and boring to me. Most of them. Long descriptions of situations and surroundings, I am not so very much interested in. So it could well be that each century or each time has its own literature or let's say interesting and thrilling books.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Busy with other people's affairs

Imagined conversation: "..........and when you talk to the Chinese Prime Minister, don't forget to mention the Human Rights situation in his country".

To tell the truth, I hate this. Why not talk about the human rights situation right at home? There is certainly a lot to do!

These two YT's are not really unforgettable or outstanding; they just illustrate a bit this subject.

These days, it's those "presidential" elections in Ivory Coast (somewhere in Africa). Having finished these elections they landed with two presidents ready to cash in, one who did win but could not get in and one who got in but did not win. Now, in dozens of countries worldwide, they are being told what to do. "Be democratic", everybody is clamoring, respect this, respect that. Armies are made ready for a peaceful intervention, the UN votes something, etc, etc, etc. Why not leaving these countries alone and why not refrain from fostering on them our democratic procedures ?

Dear reader, if you managed to read down to this line, this is something you might appreciate:

Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve (Bernard Shaw)

And here another one from Winston Churchill:
The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter .

The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires a change of heart.
Mahatma Gandhi

I like especially the last one. So true.

Democracy is one of the few products that are absolutely homegrown, cannot be exported and should not be imported. Otherwise, we'll see those lousy copies like in Afghanistan, Irak, Kossovo and elsewhere.

However, we should try to improve our own democratic procedures. That would be a big job and would keep us busy for dozens of years. Especially our politicians - many of them - need some tuition and some improvements, not to speak of our institutions. Useless to go into details, every country has its own shortcomings.............

When a country is subject to a catastrophic event, like an earth quake, tsunami or heavy floodings we should help and everybody is honoured by doing so. Nevertheless, there are questions that come to my mind.

Take the case of Haiti: last years' quake killed about 250.000 people and flattened their capital Port-au-Prince. Now about one year has passed and I hear they have managed to clean about 5 (five) percent of the rubble. On television I see some of our gallant helpers from Europe or North America (the ever expanding NGO's) working with a shovel to help shifting the rubble from A to B.
Why can't the Haitians clear the rubble away themselves?
Yesterday I saw on the telly Haitian women complain of rape gangs operating inside those tent cities. And the Haitian police force? And the other people, living near-by?
Some months ago they had a cholera epidemy starting and Haitians got busy accusing rescue workers sent by the United Nations to be responsible by means of witchcraft. Some UN soldiers even got killed.

A few months ago, we graced the Haitians with one more election, financed by other countries through the United Nations. They elected a musician as president but it seems not everybody there is ready to dance according to his tune. So they are fighting in the rubble streets, do a little killing among themselves because not everybody is happy with the counting of the votes. Some ballots disappeared, others were counted twice.

Considering all this, my idea is that help - meaning our money - should go where the concerned nations are ready to work themselves towards the same goal and show it! That's not a new idea, the dicton "help yourself and God will help you" was not coined yesterday.

So let's stop giving lessons to other nations and to far away peoples. They don't like it as we don't appreciate to be told what to do. I remember the uproar when at the height of the second oil crisis, the OPEC boss and king of Saudi-Arabia told a reporter "if you feel cold at home because you have no heating, just put on a warmer sweater".

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Soviet Union - The Evil Empire

Yesterday - my wife was out at the local gym session - I switched to the TV channel ARTE and saw the docu-fiction "Stalin-Molotov, the tyrant and his double".

The Soviet Union disappeared from the map in 1990 and nowadays it is nearly never mentioned anymore. But to me this state means a lot, the Soviet Union accompanied practically my entire life!

When I was born, the communist SU and Nazi Germany, The Third Reich, were mortal ennemies. Looking back on this I can't help thinking they hated each others guts so much because they had a lot of things in common.

I am born in Berlin and spent my youth there. At that time, after the Second World War, the city was divided. And this dividing line, The Wall, marked the border between the Communist East , sponsored and maintained by the Soviet Union and the Western World, as we called it at that time.

Like everybody else, everywhere, I lived my life. But the impression lingered on: we are being observed by a snake that waits patiently - and sometimes less patiently - to gobble us us, me included. Those who are older may remember those sayings "better red than dead" and the other one "better dead than red".

Years later, after my military service, I decided to take a break, have a sabbatical, and I went to India.

I had some money saved but not a big heap, so I hitchhiked and passed by cars or trucks through Yougoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. All countries I crossed - in Europe and Asia - had something in common: up north was the Soviet Union. I covered thousands of miles but up North was the big entity ready to rake me in, whenever possible.

In Afghanistan I even met Russians. At that time Afghanistan was still a kingdom but also something like a colony in waiting, ready to be gobbled up. The Russians there, in the Northern and Western part of the country were doing some development work there, kind of NGO's, probably with a hidden agenda, like all great powers.

That was the time of the Cold War and thus the US Americans were present in the Kandahar region. Looking back, thinking back, I wonder if those two ever met and talked it over............

Many, many years later, I lived in Paris and managed to pass a little holiday in Bruges/Belgium, one of the most beautiful town I have ever seen. In the street someone talked to me and said "The Berlin Wall has fallen". I could not believe it. This wall and the Soviet Union behind it seemed everlasting to me.

Now this is already twenty years in the past. The mighty Soviet Union, the nightmare of millions and millions of people, lasted only 70 years!

And what will remain of it in hundred or two hundred years: probably not much more than a footnote or some lines in history books.