So the Australian election has turned into a cliff-hanger. Predictable! Reading Julius Caesar yesterday was escapist and uplifting. But it was a bucket of cold water to return to the TV world to watch Gillard and Abbott mouthing electoral fodder, nutritionally deficient on issues and vision.
In a world in which caricature all too often is presented as the truth – the frightening fact is that the presenter all too often perceives it as the truth – complicated and complex issues are reduced to sound bites and prejudice. So 18% of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. I know 9/11 was traumatic. But I find myself saying America stop applying a 'them and us' philosophy to everything and experience the world, things are not as simple as they look in Colorado, California or Connecticut when you’ve been to Lahore, Lagos and Lima.
I have not been to those three places either. But I shall never forget the courtesy and hospitality of hosts in Ishfahan, Indianapolis and Istanbul, Bangkok, Berlin and Beppu. Alas, my travelling days are over. Anne has just been to Melbourne. She says she understands now my habit on arrival of taking a brief stroll to get my bearings – newsagent, coffee shop, chemist and nearest tube or bus stop. It’s like a dog in a strange place, you claim and mark territory and orientate oneself, a form of sniffing the breeze.
But always such orientation’s with the excitement of encountering a different culture, fascinating and in its own terms valid. (Even America and I include Britain). I suppose I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve not felt hostility or experienced violence. (I discount snobby Parisians who scorned my lack of their language in my first visit. They improved with age, or maybe it was my confidence).
Of course I regret that my travelling has now finished.. But memory remains a great asset. And the changing scene outside is invaluable. Yesterday, watching a DVD, Ken Burns’ documentary on The West, the slaughter of the buffalo following the building of the railroads. I became aware of movement through the window. I turned off the machine and watched. A tui sought nectar in the red camelia – a lovely close-up view of his white throat-tuff. On the lawn two rosella searched and scratched for the last abandoned acorns. They found a few – colourful Australian larrikins on our section - hoeing into the nuts. They departed and a chaffinch pair landed on a search and rescue mission. Rosella are messy eaters, so the chaffinches did well. Peace and quiet descended. I went back to the impact of the rail, settlers and cattle droves and Indian displacement.
On a different tack, officially, the Iraq war is over, ‘mission accomplished’. Saddam’s vile rule was ended but at what cost. Well, I don’t see it as an end. 50,000 troops remain remain, some of whom will die as they continue to fight against the 'insurgency'. The invasion has been a catastrophe. Up to a million Iraqi are dead. It can not be called a victory.
And nearly 20% of Americans think their president is a Muslim. The whole Middle East including Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Iran is involved. But so is much of Africa and South East Asia. America is involved because of its oil interests, power interests and its belief about the export of its version of democracy. (I've been watching on The West the same determination to Anglocize the Indians). The more America and the Muslim World misunderstand each other, the more the fundamentalists blog the airwaves, the more hate is fostered, the more likehood is that this powder keg will ignite again. And Pakistan, possessing the nuclear deterrent, is flood stricken with threats of political instability.
I’ve finished my course of anti-biotics. They make me depressed I realise. Which probably tends this blog to the pessimistic. Coherence has escaped me as thoughts have scuttled around. But the see-saw was balanced when I had a look at the Tuesday Poem blogsite. (See my quill). An American member T Clear has posted an amusing prose piece called ‘What happened to my Car’. Embedded in the piece is this description of Obama, (she’d attended a dinner at which he had spoken).
‘The man is polished, gracious, intelligent, witty, articulate and certainly knows just to tell a joke. Comfortable in his skin (and his skin colour), he seems to be genuinely happy and not beaten down by the fact that every moment there are untold numbers of people on the planet who look down on him (to put it politely) just because his skin tone is different from theirs. ‘
Thank you T Clear. You help restore some faith in America. The West is about vision and hope as well as destruction. And we have old American friends coming to dinner tonight. They’visited us several times, Kristin has worked here and loves the place and Anne stayed with them in their Phoenix home. I've been to Grand Canyon. What an achievement it was to push rail through those mountains and link coast to coast. The technology that helped wiped out the buffalo also enabled great change. The human spirit triumphant means casualties along the way. I tell myself I must try to savour the tui, rosella and chaffinch more and worry less about incompatible factors beyond my control. Deep down I know I won’t follow my own advice. The historian and citizen in me worries foolishly about the future.
Words - Douglas McLennan
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