Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes. —Voltaire (1694 – 1778)
About the only good thing that comes out of huge natural disasters is that it brings otherwise feuding and even warring countries together in humanitarian rescue efforts. Immediately after the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria, rescue teams from all over the world amassed huge amounts of food, medicine, clothing, and rescue equipment, boarded airplanes and trucks and swarmed into the two heavily damaged countries to do some genuine, unadulterated good.
An 80-member world-class search and rescue team plus four search dogs with world-class noses from the UK hit the ground in Gaziantep, Turkey, barely two days after the quake. The team arrived with specialized seismic listening devices, concrete cutting equipment, and shoring materials. The crew is self-sufficient and brought its own food, water, shelter, communication, and sanitation gear.
An 80-member rescue team from China, also with four dogs, arrived in Turkey the same day as the UK team. The Chinese came with 20 tons of medical and communications equipment. Read more »
When I am dead, then bury me In my beloved Ukraine, My tomb upon a grave mound high Amid the spreading plain —Taras Shevchenko
If you didn’t know who Vladimir Putin was and you ran into him in, say, Dayton, Ohio, you might take him to be the owner of a small family-run mortuary. With his pallid complexion, dour bearing, and ordinary features, he has all the makings of a good mortician who could feign enough concern and show enough solemnity to upsell you on a walnut coffin for a distant aunt.
An impressive figure, the man does not cut. He is short, pale, balding, and lacking in a good Soviet chin. It’s been said that great leaders need to have enough charisma to rattle the furniture when they walk into a room. But Putin has a reptilian aura, only missing the scales and a tail that can grow back when the original is torn off while desperately escaping a raptor.
It makes you wonder what sort of knots Mother Russia has tied herself in to choose such a demonic milquetoast figure to rule such a glorious land. What we know about the Russian people is that they are gifted beyond measure in literature, music, poetry, drama, dance, sports, the hard sciences, and of course, chess. But with their otherworldly gifts they seem to have a self-destructive element manifested in a revolving door of imprisoning their heroes in their gulags, choosing despotic leaders, high rates of alcoholism, and a skepticism only immune to world class agitprop. Read more »
On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in a typhoon of steel and firepower without precedent in history. In spite of telltale signs and repeated warnings, Joseph Stalin who had indulged in wishful thinking was caught completely off guard. He was so stunned that he became almost catatonic, shutting himself in his dacha, not even coming out to make a formal announcement. It was days later that he regained his composure and spoke to the nation from the heart, awakening a decrepit albeit enormous war machine that would change the fate of tens of millions forever. By this time, the German juggernaut had advanced almost to the doors of Moscow, and the Soviet Union threw everything that it had to stop Hitler from breaking down the door and bringing the whole rotten structure on the Russian people’s heads, as the Führer had boasted of doing.
Among the multitudes of citizens and soldiers mobilized was a shortsighted, overweight Jewish journalist named Vasily Grossman. Grossman had been declared unfit for regular duty because of his physical shortcomings, but he somehow squeezed himself all the way to the front through connections. During the next four years, he became one of the most celebrated war correspondents of all time, witnessing human conflict whose sheer brutality beggared belief. To pass the time in this most unreal of landscapes, Grossman had a single novel to keep him company – War and Peace. It was to prove to be a prophetic choice. Read more »
A year ago (February 2010) I met, in Lagos, Nigeria, Pascal Pecriaux, “Ambassador” for French champagne brand Moët & Chandon. The profile below provides insight into Pecriaux’s life – in and out of wine-tasting – and the Nigerian obsession with champagne. Nigeria ‘discovered’ champagne in commercial quantities (by importation, of course) following the oil boom of the 1970s (starting in 1973/74 and lasting much of the decade). The love affair has continued to this day. Time Magazine reports that the coup-plotters who murdered Nigerian Head of State, Murtala Mohammed, on February 13, 1976, “apparently made their move after an all-night champagne party.”
I wrote this piece not long after meeting Pecriaux:
By Tolu Ogunlesi
On a Friday afternoon at the Lagos Sheraton, a group of people are gathered in one of the banquet rooms. Most are Sheraton staff – waiters and waitresses. There are also a few journalists, like me. We are all waiting for Pascal Pecriaux.
Pecriaux is a “Wine Ambassador” who has flown all the way from the village of Champagne in France, to spread the gospel of Moët to a Nigerian audience. By the time he steps into the room, two hours behind schedule, we are not the only ones waiting for him. Rows of empty champagne flutes line the tables in front of us, and half a dozen or so bottles peek from ice-boxes at the far end of the room.
Moët is one of the most easily recognizable badges of honour flaunted by Nigeria’s elite, especially its young upwardly mobile class. If the frequency of its appearance in the lyrics of Nigerian hiphop songs and in music videos is anything to go by, Marc Wozniak, Deputy General Manager of the Lagos Sheraton, is absolutely right when he says that Moët is “the most common and most well-known champagne in Nigeria.” David Hourdry, Moët Hennessy’s Market Manager for Western Africa says that “Nigeria is today the biggest market for Moët & Chandon in all Africa.”
I saw Andrzej Wajda's Katyń when visiting Warsaw a couple of months after the premiere on September 17, 2007. I went to the cinema with my 79-year-old grandparents, my 51-year-old aunt, and my younger cousins, aged 23 and 25 at the time. We left the cinema, and sat down at a nearby cafe. I broke the silence first.