Barbara Tuchman, The Proud Tower: a Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914. xiv.

We have been misled by people of the time [1890-1914] themselves who, in looking back across the gulf of the War, see the earlier half of their lives misted over by a lovely sunset haze of peace and security. It did not seem so golden when they were in the midst of it. Their memories and their nostalgia have conditioned our view of the pre-war era but I can offer the reader a rule based on adequate research: all statements of how lovely it was in that era made by persons contemporary with it will be found to have been made after 1914. A phenomenon of such extended malignance as the Great War does not come out of a Golden Age.


The Suitcase Mood

Can a country die? Edward Hugh at Fistful of Euros thinks about the Ukraine, and what will spread to southern Europe. He’s talking about the combination of the net outflow of population and falling birth rate – both of which are true of  Italy, too. I have to admit that I’m not entirely certain that when I next lead students to Rome, Spring 2014, the Bancomats will be spitting out Euros.

via Marginal Revolution.

Wow. The Euro starts to disintegrate, periphery first

Imagine waking up to find out that your bank and your nation, in collaboration with an transnational authority, had earmarked 6.75% of the money in your bank account – or if you had more than $100,000 they took 9.9%. Just took it. You can withdraw whatever other money you have, but they’re keeping that 6.75% (or 9.9) until they get around to an electronic transfer.

European officials said people with less than €100,000 in their accounts will have to pay a one-time tax of 6.75pc, those owning more money will lose 9.9pc. Cypriot bank officials said that depositors can access all their money except the amount set by the levy.

So that happened in Cyprus. I’m planning to head to Spain soon – will there be any ATMs left?

Not a Collapse (pace Jared Diamond) but a Retreat? Vikings and Greenland

This interesting article suggests that isolation and cultural dissonance prompted the Vikings to abandon Greenland – not privation, disease, and starvation. Jared Diamond is interesting, but that doesn’t make him always right.

The article points out that archaeological analyses of skeletons of both man and beast show interesting things – there was not a lot of disease – no more than in Iceland. The Vikings made a swift transition to eating seals. They didn’t try very hard to preserve their herd animals.

The Diplomat’s Life

Few foreign secretaries have faced more difficulties than those which faced Sir Edward Grey from 1906 to 1914 and few grappled with them more steadfastly.  The first of the various charges from which Grey should be exonerated is that of insufficient concentration, a charge based on the somewhat irritating frequency with which he expressed his preference for bird-watching at Fallodon compared with his duties at the Foreign Office.  The evidence is rather that this was no more than an oblique and wholly creditable method of expressing his sense of the magnitude of his task and of the distatesfulness of the men and the tendencies he had to deal with as Foreign Secretary.  To express, however frequently, a preference for studying the habits of wild birds and ornamental ducks in the midst of a working life devoted to coping with the consequences of policies controlled (if that is the right word) by men as unreliable as William II, Bülow, Kiderlen-Wächter, Aehrenthal, Conrad von Hoetzendorf, Izvolsky and the rest is evidence not of idleness but of an acute and understandable sense of strain.

L.C.B. Seaman, From Vienna to Versailles, London, 1955, p 157.

Hard times in Bosnia

The National Museum of Bosnia in Sarajevo, home to the Sarajevo Haggadah, is set to close.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is an important 14th Century manuscript of the Seder service produced in Spain (testimony to the Sefardic tradition), brought to Italy sometime in the Renaissance. It was sold to the National Museum in the 1890s – so though it is an important object documenting Jewish history, it doesn’t have much to do with Bosnia. I hadn’t read the provenance until just now – I, silly early medievalist, had always imagined it got to Bosnia (an example of the Spain-to-Islamic-Ottoman-Empire) in the wake of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain rather than an example of the Spain-to-just-as-Christian-Italy population movement. I’ve never read enough to know what the relative sizes of emigration to the Ottoman Empire versus other Christian territories.

German over-reaction to a Swastika?

It’s not that I’m in favor of Nazis – let alone tattoos! But really, if a young Russian is in a metal band of COURSE he will have lots of tattoos. And then he becomes an opera singer . . . and the Bayreuth Festival doesn’t want him to sing because of the lamentable association between Wagner, his descendants, the Festival, and anti-semitism.

The article on CNN has no pictures, so I googled. Yes, Evgeny Nikitin has a lot of tattoos, but you have to go to the second page to see the swastika on his chest. It wouldn’t show in performance, but Bayreuth is queasy just that audiences would KNOW Nikitin has a swastika. Is that an overreaction?


I’ve really enjoyed my first little visit to Arezzo. I saw Piero della Francesca’s Invention of the True Cross Cycle, a Cimabue Crucifix, some Luca Signorelli paintings, and more Vasari than you can shake a stick at (he’s a native son). The food is splendid and MUCH cheaper than Rome or Milan (though still not really a deal – but comparison makes it seem so).

Arezzo is pretty bustling, but even here there are signs of The Crisis. Milan was worse. The piazza in front of the Stazione Centrale is still unfinished, though it’s further along than last year. Most times I passed there were a grand total of 3 workmen active working on laying the pavement for that enormous square. And there were lots of vacant store-fronts. That’s a noticeable element here in Arezzo.

The contrast with Germany couldn’t be more stark. Something’s going to give – and I hope it doesn’t turn ugly.

(Pop) Cultural Shift

I’ve noticed something different about the audible landscape in Europe this year (and now that I’m thinking about it, last year, too). Far fewer people have individualized ringtones on their phones. I’m not sure what that’s about, but the time when riding a bus or train in Italy was a musical adventure seems to be over.