December 11, 2016
it does seem as though the 2 countries I care most about, the UK and US, are intent on ruining themselves. Brexit, I am sure, will not loom too large in the grand historical picture; a terrible act of wilful self-mutilation that will eventually sort itself out. But Trump? that such an obviously base, vile, corrupt, domineering narcissist could take over my beloved country is just unbearable. And even if I could bear it, what harm will he do? Or better said, what harm will he NOT do? The precedents are SO painful: there is no such thing as “conflict of interest” (because he says so), it does not matter that Russia blatantly interfered on behalf of one of the candidates in the election (“I don’t believe it”), pitting the CIA against the FBI, nominating an oilman with close ties to Russia to be Secretary of State and a Russian sycophant as Ambassador (when everyone knows that Putin is behind the “dirty tricks” brigade that invented false news stories harmful to Clinton)… it just doesn’t bear thinking about. Trump, Putin, Erdogan… the unscrupulous, dictatorial, corrupt, racist thugs are gradually taking over the world. So I will think about my next sailing gig in Greece, not until May but hey.
March 25, 2016
Time flies as they say, and as it flies it accumulates baggage… London, Paris, Beirut, Paris again, Brussels; so many dates in red one forgets what they mean (July 7, 2005 anyone? a date that could have easily nabbed Alex or me or both, as the bus he usually took and the Tube train I often took were blown up). Where will it stop? as someone said about the 2nd Gulf War (a month before), “Is there anything Saddam could do to stop this war?” “Only pounding a wooden stake into his own heart. And even then…” So what can we do? Stop bombing Syria/Iraq? Ban alcohol and unveiled females? Convert en masse (now THAT would be a neat trick: it’s what the inhabitants of Spain south of the Pyrenees did, most of them, and it worked for several centuries). O tempora!
October 24, 2015
San Francisco, picturesque city still traumatised by the 1906 earthquake. Home of all kinds of attitude I don’t relate to; as one near-native said, California is a place that should never have been developed, just left for its natural beauty and the few people who were here before the white man with his trains, lust for gold, obsession with digging and chopping and putting the mark of his heavy hand on a pristine landscape. Dined last night in a rooftop restaurant in the Mission District, full of young people having boisterous (noisy) fun, flaunting their youth and money and high (literally) spirits in what reminded this old curmudgeon of the Last Days of Pompeii. Hopefully not.
September 12, 2015
flying to Greece tomorrow at dawn, another 3 weeks in paradise. one feels so incredibly lucky, if only there were not so many people who have nothing in the way of joy. Some for whom even Greece means a transit-corridor from misery to uncertainty.
February 27, 2015 (Already!)
Anyone who will be in London and has nothing more exciting to do, is cordially invited to an evening of Ottoman music and readings from my biography of Fakhr ad-Din:
November 3, 2014
here is a link to that Saudi Aramco World article
now in rural Gascony, seems a million nautical miles from the Ionian. Last night dinner of cepes a la bordelaise, porcini mushrooms with garlic and parsley, sautéed in a little olive oil until they were just melting… it has its charm, rural Gascony.
June 7, 2014
sitting onboard s/y Moira in Vathy Harbor, island of Ithaka. Waiting for the heat to die down so we can walk over the hill to Dexia Bay and a swim in what was (probably) the Phorcys Bay where Homer says Odysseus came ashore after 20 years of wandering… A great place for an afternoon swim in any case.
the article on Fakhr ad-Din will indeed appear in the July-August issue of Saudi Aramco World. Google it and email for a FREE subscription to what I think is a very classy cultural magazine dealing with unexpected aspects of Middle Eastern and other cultures…
April 27, 2014
Old Emirs never die… Saudi Aramco World has asked for an article about him, probably for the July-August issue.
I spent the last few months writing furiously, what I think of as a novel about a young man coming of age in Aleppo during the First World War. Being Armenian, his fate is of course linked to the atrocities against his people carried out by the Ottomans in 1915, mostly. The story just took over, and the characters, and I felt almost like a medium. Before I knew what happened I had a 95.000-word blob. Whether the result is anything anybody would want to read is another question. Now to let it sit and ferment for a while, hoping to come back to it in the summer as though somebody else had written it, to see whether it quacks like a duck or sinks like a stone. So to speak.
now.. in 3 weeks I will be back afloat in the Ionian, becoming (hopefully, as they say) a Coastal Skipper/Yachtmaster. and hopefully a better sailor.
February 1st, 2014
I actually wrote “2014” on a check yesterday. So hard to believe we have encroached so far into the 21st century. I feel out of place here! But not much choice, nor about the constant rain falling on London since the beginning of this very wet and gloomy year, so far. I have been promised the proofs of the paperback edition of renaissance Emir around the end of the month, what fun! but that will be the end of the old Emir, time to do something new. I know it will be set during the end of the Ottoman empire, centred around Aleppo (so sad to think what it must be like today!). The past is a great refuge!
13 December 2013
rain and grey, it’s dark by 3:30. everyone has a cold or worse, sniffle.
Is the Med still out there somewhere? maybe it’s raining there too? ah, but not the same rain. 5 months and 4 days to Greece. But who’s counting?
2nd December 2013
Lovely review of Renaissance Emir in the Literary Review (London), Dec 13-Jan 14 issue; by David Abulafia, one of my favourite historical writers (The Great Sea: a Human History of the Mediterranean etc). A Cambridge professor who writes elegant prose utterly free of jargon and sniping at academic adversaries. And a descendant of the great 13th-century Andalusian poet Todros Abulafia, who wrote poems in both Hebrew and Arabic. He served at the court of Alfonso the Wise in Toledo, at a time when the Christian rulers of Spain were indeed wise enough to appreciate the cultural riches of the land they had conquered. alas, it was not to last. But I stray from the review of my book. It is very gratifying to read a review that picks up the points I would have hoped would stand out. And by such an erudite and civilised person, to boot. Hurrah!
14 November 2013
a beautiful autumn day, if anything improved upon by the review of Renaissance Emir in the latest TLS (Times Literary Supplement) dated 15 November. Well-known Arabist, Middle East specialist and commentator, author of a new book about the Sahara and other books Eamonn Gearon takes my story through its paces and says some very kind things (I cite the conclusion in another page). Terrible jetlag following return from San Francisco nearly 10 days ago. Could someone please do something about the Atlantic?
06 October 2013
time to leave Greece again. It has started to rain softly in the pre-dawn silence, clearly a gesture of Poseidon’s to make us feel less sorry. Wonderful sailing the last week, but days cooler. Only the sea, our great grey mother, remains warm and the last swim yesterday while anchored off an uninhabited islet called Thilia was pure bliss. Wistful bliss (say that in a hurry) but bliss, hordes of colorful fish and lovely yellow coral. See you in May inshallah! Picture of two dawns ago, from Kalamos
11 September 2013
two earth-shaking bits of news on the historico-literary front: publishers of Renaissance Emir (Quartet Books London) have just made a deal with Interlink of the USA for global paperback rights. A more affordable version will burst into the bookshop(s) in Spring 2014 (sorry for those who bought the hardback, but, well, not very, I mean it is a pretty book?). AND my review of two new books about Lebanon has just appeared in this week’s Times Literary Supplement (London). If the picture is not legible (and you really want to read it) you might have to buy the TLS analog edition…
31 August 2013 summer’s end, nights are cool though days are surprisingly warm. most summer residents have scurried back to England or Holland or wherever, the Vic market was full of locals yesterday, hanging around in their berets and reclaiming their town after the estival invasion. Tonight, brilliant starry night with no moon. now time to pack up wine and jam and confit de canard for the long trek back to Islington (London). No-one around here had any plums this year, our Mirabelle tree was groaning with fruit and the red plum (quetsch) tree was similarly abundant: former stuffed into jars for the winter’s crumbles and clafoutis, latter made into an almost black, caramel-tinged but still fruity jam that would win a prize if I were the judge.
7 August 2013 Celebrated 42 years of marriage yesterday. Every year, every day now is a bonus.
21 July 2013 The summer is racing. Most people around here are moaning about the heat, I love it so long as I am not required to do manual labour in the sun while overdressed. Hasn’t happened in a while. Submitted my review of two new books about Lebanon to the TLS (Times Literary Supplement). Apparently my use of the word “insightful” made the commissioning editor break out in spots.
18 July 2013 Summer in Gascony, wonderful hot weather like it was 20 years ago. Just returned from the lovely old house of some friends, having devoured a crispy guinea fowl and drunk some excellent Madiran (the stuff that is really good for the arteries) with jetlagged visitors from Washington DC, much hilarity despite the time zone. Still dreaming of sailing in Greece last month, and starting to dream of the next episode in September-October. A hard life, as evidenced by this photo: