memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘history’ Category

An all-seeing God (1)

The idea behind the following little tale I shamelessly borrow from one of my heroes – Roald Dahl.

Once upon a time there lived in Austro-Hungary towards the end of the 19th century a family of five – father, mother and three children.

They lived in a country village near the German frontier, where the father worked as a customs official. The family was staying at an inn, the Gasthof Zum Pommer, with its pretty orchard of apple trees at the back. While the father went to work every day at the frontier post, the three children attended the local village school and the mother, who was very pious, busied herself around the village with good works and worshipped daily at Mass in the church.

HOUSE IN THE COUNTRY – PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

One day the mother found herself to be expecting another child.

In those days Society and the Catholic Church in general, and her authoritian husband in particular, all conspired against her to produce babies – a task to which she was neither physically nor temperamentally suited. She was a thin nervous woman and her previous two pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. She decided to visit her friend the priest at the church and confide her fears and doubts to him. She explained about her abusive husband and trembled lest the birth should be problematic.

–          Put your trust in God, my daughter and let us kneel down and pray for the safety of your unborn child.

So she and the priest knelt in the church and prayed fervently and she derived spiritual comfort therefrom. Before she left the priest blessed her and urged her to say a novena of her rosary each day.

(To be continued)

The last Tasmanian

The last Tasmanian.

Sailing to Byzantium (1)

Sailing to Byzantium (1).

Saramago & Censorship

CHARLES DARWIN

CHARLES DARWIN

I read somewhere that during the time of Portuguese dictator, Antonio Salazar, The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin was banned.

BANNED BOOKS

BANNED BOOKS

Several Portuguese intellectuals have showed how the various forms of censorship have hindered the cultural development of Portugal with the cultural elite becoming something of an aristocracy, disconnected from the rest of the population.

This is evident by the prevalence of a gap between popular culture and high culture, with the arraiais (popular gathering with light music and ball dancing), pimba music (based on double-entendre or straightforward sexual slang) and racho folclórico (folk and ethnological dancing and music groups) on one side, and literature, drama and classical music on the other.

I stepped from one side of the divide to the other.

Portugal has become one of the countries in Europe with the lowest attendances of theatre and the lowest rates of book-reading.

So during my years here, in this place,

Physically I have taken one step forward

Spiritually I have taken one step sideways

But culturally I have I have taken one step backward

Of course, philosophically, none of this should matter

But it matters to me

It matters to me

JOSÉ SARAMAGO

JOSÉ SARAMAGO

In 1992 the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Souza Lara, who had final say on applications from Portugal, prevented José Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ from participating in the European Literary Award, positing that the work, rather than being representative of Portugal, was divisive for the Portuguese people.

As a result and in protest against what he saw as an act of censorship by the Portuguese government, Saramago moved to Spain, taking permanent residency in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.

ISLANDS OF LANZAROTE

ISLANDS OF LANZAROTE

In 1996 José Saramago won the most prestigious award in the world for a writer – the Nobel Prize for Literature.

OOPS!

The reaction of the Portuguese government was muted and ambivalent. On the one hand the (very natural) desire to vaunt the achievement of a Portuguese citizen was offset by the writer’s evident hostility to the culture of his native shores to the extent of becoming a permanent resident of a Spanish island.

Sailing to Byzantium (1)

Another grim passage in the history of Christianity was the sacking of Constantinople, the rich centre of the Eastern Byzantine Empire by the Western armies in 1204 after a two-year siege during the 4th Crusade.

byzantium

The Crusaders mainly composed of Frankish and Venetian troops, looted, terrorized and vandalized Constantinople for three days, during which many ancient and medieval Roman and Greek works were either stolen or destroyed.

The famous bronze horses from the Hippodrome were sent back to adorn the facade of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where they still remain.

TWO OF THE FAMOUS BRONZE HORSES IN BASILICA ST, MARK'S

As well as being stolen, works of immeasurable value were destroyed merely for their material value. One of the most precious works to suffer such a fate was a large bronze statue of Hercules, created by the legendary Lysippos, court sculptor of no lesser than Alexander the Great. Like so many other priceless artworks made of bronze, the statue was melted down for its content by the Crusaders whose greed blinded them.

The Library of Constantinople was destroyed.

Despite their oaths and the threat of excommunication, the Crusaders systematically violated the city’s holy sanctuaries, destroying or stealing all they could lay hands on.

Nothing was spared. The civilian population of Constantinople were subject to the Crusaders’ ruthless lust for spoils and glory.

Thousands of them were killed in cold blood.

Women, even nuns, were raped by the Crusader army, which also sacked churches, monasteries and convents. The very altars of these churches were smashed and torn to pieces for their gold and marble by the warriors who had sworn to fight in service of Christendom without question.

This was the final nail in the Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

We can therefore build up a profile of the western Crusader knights.

They were cruel sociopaths whose value for human life was zero, whose belief-system was completely twisted and warped and whose lust and greed knew no limit. They were narrow-minded xenophobes with minimal aesthetic appreciation for Eastern art.

They were the profane destroyers of Temples and places of worship.

Thus was the sacking of the holy city of Byzantium.

HAGIASOPHIA - CHRIST

HAGIASOPHIA – CHRIST

The last Tasmanian

Certain great crimes stain the pages of history – the Slave Trade and the Holocaust are two that spring immediatly to mind – while others fade with time and are downgraded to mere footnotes in nation-building.

Such a case is the systematic genocide of the aborigines of a small island first called by the Europeans Van Dieman´s Land and later Tasmania off the south-west coast of Australia.

Never before had a race of men been utterly destroyed within seventy-five years.

Destroyed not only by a different manner of life and imported disease but also by sheer hostility and ill-will of the usurpers of the race’s land – colonial militia, home-steaders, stockmen and ex-convicts backed by a sanctimonious Christianity.

At one point they organised themselves to form a human chain from the north coast to the south, armed with guns and knives, and walked from the top to the bottom of the island flushing out the natives (who had inhabited those forests since time immemorial) and slaughtering them. With no defences but cunning and the most primitive weapons, the natives had little chance and by 1876 the last of them was dead.

So perished a whole people.

QUEEN TRUGANINI – THE LAST TASMANIAN

On May 7, 1876, Truganini, the last full-blood Black person in Tasmania, died at seventy-three years of age.

Her mother had been stabbed to death by a European.

Her sister was kidnapped by Europeans.

Her intended husband was drowned by two Europeans in her presence, while his murderers raped her.

It might be accurately said that Truganini’s numerous personal sufferings typify the tragedy of the Black people of Tasmania as a whole.

She was the very last.

Don’t let them cut me up, she begged the doctor as she lay dying.

After her burial, Truganini’s body was exhumed and her skeleton, strung upon wires and placed upright in a box, became for many years the most popular exhibit in the Tasmanian Museum and remained on display until 1947.

Finally, in 1976–the centenary year of Truganini’s death (despite the museum’s objections) her skeleton was cremated and her ashes scattered at sea.

Lest we forget

Another of the great crimes that stain the pages of 20th century history was the Allied bombing of the ancient and beautiful medieval German city of Dresden in February 1945 during the closing months of the Second World War.

The American writer Kurt Vonnegut Jr. joined the U.S. air force in World War Two. Captured by the Germans, he was one of the survivors of the fire-bombing of the city of Dresden.

He was one of the volunteers from the nearby P.O.W. camp to form a work party to go into the city and (under supervision) help the civil authorities in the maintenance of infrastructures etc. They were quartered in a former slaughterhouse under which was a cellar carved out of solid rock to cool the meat.

A character (presumably based on Vonnegut) in Joseph Heller’s sequel to Catch 22, Closing Time, takes up the tale:

That night the bombers came for us. In the daytime American planes flew in low, far apart, and shattered buildings in different parts of the city, and we thought it strange that the bombs should drop so far from each and be aimed at nothing but houses. We wondered why. They were making splintered wreckage for the fires to come, but we didn’t know that. When the sirens sounded again in the evening we down as usual to our meat storage locker underneath our slaughterhouse. This time we stayed. There was no all-clear. Through our rock walls and cement ceiling we heard strange strong, dull thumps and thuds that did not sound to us like bomb explosions. They were the charges of incendiaries… An unusual roar arose, came closer, grew louder, stayed for hours. It was like the noise of a train going suddenly into a tunnel with a blast of wind, except it just stayed … The roar was air, it was a draft miles wide sucked into the city by the flames outside, and it was as powerful as a cyclone. When it finally lessened, near dawn, two guards climbed timidly back up the stairs to try a look outside. They came back like ghosts.

«Es brennt. Alles brennt. Die ganze Stadt. Alles ist zerstört.»

«everything’s on fire,» I translated, in the same hushed voice. «The city is gone.»

In the morning they led us up outside into the rain, everyone else was dead. They were dead in the street, burnt black into stubs and turned by the ash still dropping from the layers of smoke going up everywhere. They were dead in the blackened houses in which the wood had all burned and dead in the cellars.

In his bitter and satiric novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Vonnegut drew on his Dresden experience.

The book used that bombing raid as a symbol or metaphor for the cruelty and destructiveness of war down through the centuries.

FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD

Lest we forget.

 

%d bloggers like this: