Author Archive: Eamonn Fitzgerald
Ex-pat Irishman keeping an eye on the world from the Bavarian side of the Alps.
Today is the Feast of Saint James, patron of pilgrims. His symbol is the scallop shell, which marks a network of pilgrimage routes that leads to the Romanesque cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, where his remains are said to buried. Saint James’ Day is a public holiday in the autonomous communities of the Basque Country and Galicia, and the feast day is celebrated in the Canary Islands, Castile-Leon, La Rioja and Navarre.
This magnificent scallop-shell door handle was spied last week by a pilgrim in the Benedictine Abbey in Schäftlarn, which is 2,208 km from Santiago de Compostela.
Hens are famously random. They live in the moment and their actions are completely unpredictable, as anyone who’s ever tried to herd hens will tell you. When logic suggests that turning to the right will lead to shelter and food, the hen will turn left. Hens spend lots of their time huddled together under bare light bulbs thinking up intricate escape plans. Once free, they get busy scratching out maps of the best routes to liberation. Then, they forget about it all and return to randomness, and life under bare light bulbs.
The French filmmaker and photographer Fabien Ecochard made this “Hommage à tous les Niçois. Parce que Nice est et restera toujours Nissa la Bella.” Despite the Bastille Day terror on the Promenade des Anglais, “Nice is and will remain Nissa la Bella,” he says.
In the third attack on civilians in Europe in eight days, an 18-year-old German-Iranian killed nine people and wounded a further 21 at a shopping center in Munich last night before shooting himself. As in Nice, the victims were killed randomly, cruelly.
But like Nice, Munich will recover from this horror. Humanity will prevail.Tweet
Tomorrow, Frank Turner is playing in Latvia, in Cēsis, to be precise. To give you an idea of how history has had its way with this region, Cēsis is called Wenden in German, Venden in Livonian, Võnnu in Estonian, Kieś in Polish and Цecиc Tsesis in Russian. After Latvia, Frank is off to the USA for a huge three-month tour and he’ll be back on this side of the Atlantic on 16 November when he’ll play Dublin, Ireland.
“Hear ye, hear ye, now anybody could take this stage.
Hear ye, hear ye, and make miracles for minimum wage.
Hear ye, hear ye, these folk songs for the modern age,
Will hold us in their arms.”
There’s a lot of history in the baroque wrinkles of Kloster Schäftlarn, the Bavarian Benedictine abbey where monks continue a tradition that stretches back 1,500 years to what Saint Benedict of Nursia started at Subiaco in 529. According to legend, the Benedictine motto is Ora est labora, which would mean “Pray equals work.”; the actual motto, however, is Ora et labora, meaning “Pray and work.” Daily life in the monastery is governed by The Rule of Saint Benedict, which emphasizes prayer, work, study, hospitality and renewal. The result is a legacy of enduring value.
“This was my conversion to the baroque. Here under that high and insolent dome, under those tricky ceilings; here, as I passed through those arches and broken pediments to the pillared shade beyond and sat, hour by hour, before the fountain, probing its shadows, tracing its lingering echoes, rejoicing in all its clustered feats of daring and invention, I felt a whole new system of nerves alive within me, as though the water that spurted and bubbled among its stones was indeed a life-giving spring.” — Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” — Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat
FinTech? It’s a portmanteau word created from “Financial Technology.” It’s hot because it threatens to grab some power from the bloated banks and give the the entire byzantine money business a much-needed shakeup. Heard of Bitcoin? It’s the most popular FinTech cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency? It’s a form of digital currency that uses cryptography for regulation and security. No one is really sure who “mined” it, but the open-source software underpinning it has a shady history. Heard about the Blockchain? It’s where cryptocurrency transactions get recorded. It operates like a public ledger and once data has been entered, it cannot be altered.
All this brings us to our FinTech WOTD (Word of the Day): Tokenization.
Tokenization replaces sensitive data with unique symbols. These “tokens” enable users to retain essential information about their credit cards and transactions without compromising security. Tokenization also turns complex information into short, useful codes.
If you’re still not convinced about the power of FinTech to do good, don’t forget that its advocates say it may help the underbanked to become, well, more banked. Win win.
Language note: There’s tokenization and then there’s tokenism. The latter is the policy and practice of making a superficial gesture towards members of minority groups. Adding a token employee to a workforce usually is intended to create the appearance of diversity — racial, religious, sexual — and so avert accusations of discrimination. Following the Bastille Day terror attack in Nice, Channel 4 was accused of tokenism by putting the hijab-wearing Muslim Fatima Manji in the anchor’s chair.Tweet
“These timelapses are all recorded in the western part of Norway, where the mighty fjords Geirangerfjord, Hjörundfjord, and Storfjord sits quietly and waits for anyone who wants to seek something else than watching the latest show on TV.” So says the Norwegian photographer and videographer Jonas Forsberg.
Watching TV these days is not very good for the soul, especially given the news from Nice, Turkey and Baton Rouge. Fjord watching, like whale watching, offers a temporary, healing respite from the woes of our troubled, tele-visual world.
Nerd note: The 4K resolution standard was created for digital cinema and computer graphics. It was so named because it offer 4000-pixel horizontal resolution (4K is technically defined as 4096 x 2160 pixels). 4K provides higher image definition quality, more detailed pictures and larger projection surface visibility.Tweet
Family, friends, colleagues will gather today to honour Professor Christian Schreiber, whose 51st birthday should have been celebrated on Friday. Instead, he was taken from those he loved on 4 July after a year of unbearable suffering. Franz Kafka put it aptly: “One sees the sun slowly set, yet one is surprised when it suddenly becomes dark.”
Orhan Pamuk’s brilliant novel Snow is recommended reading for those trying to understand the forces at work in Turkey these days. Early in the book, the central character, Ka, is sitting in the New Life Pastry Shop in the east Anatolian city of Kars when an Islamic extremist kills the director of The Education Institute, who had barred headscarf-wearing girls from attending class. Because the victim was carrying a concealed tape-recorder, Ka is later able to get the transcript of the fatal conversation from his widow. In this excerpt, the killer pours forth his murderous ideology:
“Headscarves protect women from harassment, rape and degradation. It’s the headscarf that gives women respect and a comfortable place in society. We’ve heard this from so many women who’ve chosen later in life to cover themselves. Women like the old belly-dancer Melahat Sandra. The veil saves women from the animal instincts of men in the street. It saves them from the ordeal of entering beauty contests to compete with other women. They don’t have to live like sex objects, they don’t have to wear make-up all the day. As professor Marvin King has already noted, if the celebrated film star Elizabeth Taylor had spent the last twenty years covered, she would not have had to worry about being fat. She would not have ended up in a mental hospital. She might have known some happiness.”
Upon hearing this nonsense, the director of the Education Institute bursts out laughing. Pamuk describes the end of the transcript thus:
“Calm down my child. Stop. Sit down. Think it over one more time. Don’t pull that trigger. Stop.”
(The sound of a gunshot. The sound of a chair pushed out.)
“Don’t my son!”
(Two more gunshots. Silence. A groan. The sound of a television. One more gunshot. Silence.)
Talking of Turkey and fanaticism, of blood and violence, From Russia, with Love, the fifth 007 novel to feature the British Secret Service agent James Bond, might not be where one expects to find insights relating to last night’s coup, but it’s full of surprises. Ian Fleming wrote the book in 1956 at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, and the story was inspired by the author’s visit to Turkey on behalf of The Sunday Times to report on an Interpol conference. Fleming returned to London via the Orient Express, but found the experience drab, partly because the restaurant car was closed. Bond observes:
“From the first, Istanbul had given him the impression of a town where, with the night, horror creeps out of the stones. It seemed to him a town the centuries had so drenched in blood and violence that, when daylight went out, the ghosts of its dead were its only population.” — Ian Fleming, From Russia, With Love
Ce fut le temps sous de clairs ciels,
(Vous en souvenez-vous, Madame?)
De baisers superficiels
Et des sentiments à fleur d’âme.
— Paul Verlaine
It was a time of cloudless skies,
(My lady, do you recall?)
Of kisses that brushed the surface
And feelings that shook the soul.