Spinning Out Of Control

I’m sure some of you reading this were born in the late 1980s and 1990s. The era of which I write about in the novels is therefore in a real sense “history” to you. It pre-dates either your consciousness of the wider world…. or even your birth itself! ;-)

Strasbourg, France. Home of the European Parliament. [Photo by me, 1996.]
Strasbourg, France. Home of the European Parliament. [Photo by me, 1996.]

It’s trite to point out that one can’t hope to begin to understand the present without understanding the past; yet it’s absolutely true. And trying to appreciate the human outlook of any “past” is a vital aspect of that effort. This article in Die Zeit about Germany’s attitude and approach to the world since 1989 could in large measure apply elsewhere in Europe as well as to the U.S.A.:

A quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall … we’ve woken up and it feels like a bad dream….

….Crisis has become the new normal. The years between 1990 and now were the exception.

The psychological repercussions of this fundamentally new situation on Europe’s political elites are both brutal and curious at the same time. Those aged 45 to 65 currently in positions of power have only known growing prosperity, freedom and cultural sophistication. They were, and to a large extent still are, predisposed to exert themselves only modestly, act responsibly and expect that they could enjoy the fruits of their labor. And suddenly history has unceremoniously grabbed them by the scruff of the neck. Do we really need to fight now? More than ever? And what does our cardiologist have to say?

I’m sharing that article and writing this post because that piece hit me hard. I fall into the “early part” of that age group; but I was certainly not “powerful” in 1989. (Nor am I now!) Speaking here only for myself, of course, I also vividly recall the post-fall of the Berlin Wall atmosphere: it fills my novels and is meant to do so.

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UK General Election 2015: No One Saw This Coming

Well, if this holds this is a HUGE surprise. And it looks like it will. BBC News:

After weeks of chatter about an election too close to call, it wasn’t that close at all.

David Cameron will be continuing as our prime minister.

A few points that non-British might be interested to read. As you know, this is not a politics blog. However, given what it is about, naturally a bit of the political is inescapable now and then; and a general election result like this one would perhaps reasonably constitute a “now and then.”

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The World’s Sexiest Nationality?

Previously, this blog has dutifully shared what we are informed are “the most attractive accents” in the world. Now this, as reported by a well-respected Irish media outlet. Understand, it is offered here purely for any “research and reference” purposes you may have:

Screen capture of the Irish Times.
Screen capture of the Irish Times.

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Politically Speaking…. Let’s Not

As you may know, there will be a British general (meaning United Kingdom wide) election on May 7. We will shortly find out if Prime Minister David Cameron (who heads a coalition government led by his Conservatives allied with a smaller “centrist” party called the Liberal Democrats), will run the British government for another five years, or if there will be a new prime minister (who would most likely be Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband). Currently, polls seem to indicate that it’s “too close to call.”

View of the Wiltshire countryside, taken next to the Westbury White Horse last Sunday. [Photo by me, 2015]
View of the Wiltshire countryside, taken next to the Westbury White Horse last Sunday. [Photo by me, 2015]

I don’t vote here in the United Kingdom, although I hope to someday after I become a British citizen. However, as a taxpayer, I feel I’ve got a right at least to a modest opinion. But I’m not sharing that here, and you probably don’t want to hear it anyway.

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Taking A Short Breather

We have friends coming to stay over tonight. (Don’t smirk. I have friends!) Although you may see me on Twitter, I’m planning on taking a couple of days’ breather from here. And it’s the May Bank Holiday weekend, too.

Free Stock Photo: Panda resting on a log.
Free Stock Photo: Panda resting on a log.

I should be back Tuesday. I’ve been doing lots of non-blogging writing all week and I’m a bit tired. I need to re-gather my “blogging” thoughts. (Again, no smirking, “He has thoughts?”)

If you’ve not been here before, or even if you have, please feel free of course to meander around the site – sort of like an “open house.” ;-) I’ve had what I consider some decent recent posts. If you would like some quick “direction,” you might want to start with one of these:

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A Home Run: 28 April 1935

I can’t believe the timing. I happened to glance up at this yesterday afternoon and noticed the date the artist wrote on it. It’s hanging over my writing desk:

My grandfather, the baseball player, in a 1935 sports pages cartoon.
My grandfather, the baseball player, in a 1935 sports pages cartoon.

It’s in a good sized picture frame. I photographed it “artistically” to post here – blurring it deliberately and cropping it because his name is on it. Drawn on April 28, 1935 and shortly thereafter published in a now long-defunct New York City local newspaper, it’s a sports page cartoon of my baseball-playing grandfather after he had smashed a “home run.”

80 years ago, yesterday.

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In The Sunshine

Calm has returned after Lebanese journalist Hala Feghaly’s presence on my modest blog here attracted a pop star-level horde of visitors yesterday.

Visitor source countries yesterday, most visitors to fewest.
Visitor source countries yesterday, most visitors to fewest.

Yet I’m seeing yesterday’s trend beginning again this morning. I’ve had many more visitors than usual this early in the day (around 7 am, as I post this), which makes sense as Lebanon is two hours later than Britain. If you’re here for Hala, “Hello,” and this is the post you are probably looking for: just click the photo to see the whole thing:

Screen capture of the opening of my chat with her.
Screen capture of the opening of my chat with her.

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A Very Special Post: An Interview With Hala Feghaly

UPDATE: 18:15, UK time: Hello, Lebanon! What a mob scene! I think I have gotten more visitors from your country just today than, well, in total over the whole life of my modest novelist blog! I hope you enjoy what you read below. I’m sure you will. And thank you for stopping by. :-)

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It’s Monday, so let’s start the week with something unique. I thought you all might like to meet someone you may not know yet. However, you may well someday see her on the likes of the BBC or CNN.

I have mentioned her before, and she requires a much more complete introduction. Hala Feghaly is a journalist from Beirut, Lebanon.

Hala Feghaly on About.me. Used with her permission.
Hala Feghaly on About.me. Used with her permission.

New to blogging, Hala’s WordPress site is “Hala Feghaly.” She is on Twitter at @halafeghaly. She is also on Instagram at @halafeghaly. Apologies, but as I’m not on Instagram I will not even pretend here to know more about it than just saying that. ;-)

Hala’s now found on Facebook too at “Hala Feghaly,” so be sure to visit and to like her page!

For ease of reading, my questions to her are in the italics. Let’s begin….

__________

Hello Hala. Thank you for speaking to me today.

Hello Robert, it’s always a pleasure.

You have recently appeared a couple of times on a television discussion current affairs program in Lebanon. Could you tell us a bit about that experience? The name of the channel and program? The host/ presenter? And so on?

I’ve been working for the past three years as a news editor and reporter in local newspapers such as L’Orient le Jour, Assafir, Annahar and Addiyar. I had many internships in radio as well but the 21st of January was a turning point because I had the chance to be in front of the camera for the first time. Frankly, I was nervous at first but it went pretty well. Although, my appearance was so unexpected. Future TV crew needed someone to discuss “Charlie Hebdo” incident with the French Ambassador to Lebanon, Patrice Paoli. So Paula Yacoubian (the presenter of “Inter-views” – a political talkshow) called me a couple of hours before the show started and I said let’s do it!

Hala Feghaly on Inter-Views. From Instagram. Used with her permission.
Hala Feghaly on Inter-Views. From Instagram. Used with her permission.

You’ve studied at which university? What was your subject area?

I have a B.A in Journalism and Radio-TV from the Lebanese University Faculty of Information and I’m currently studying Law at the same University Faculty of Law and Political Science in Beirut.

Given the choice, do you prefer print journalism, radio, or television, or a combination of them, and why?

Personally, I’d rather work in a well-known TV station. First of all, because it’s fun! Besides, it’s because you will get more paid and you’ll have the chance to write, publish and appear on TV. For example, news anchors write the news and read it, reporters write the report’s script, they shoot it and broadcast it (they just appear while doing the “stand up” part – which I prefer the most because it is very exciting… reporters have to be always ready for adventures in order to look for interesting stories.)

Which languages do you read/ speak? How did you learn them? Which is your “first” language?

I write and speak fluently Arabic, French and English (I’ve learned these languages at school – Sagesse Brasilia Baabda) and I’m currently trying to learn Spanish all by myself. It’s not that hard because it’s Latin. I’m not practicing because the lack of time!

Do you have a religion? If so, do you consider yourself religious?

I’m Christian (Catholic). I am religious but I don’t practice for personal reasons.

Have you traveled abroad? If so, to which country/countries? If you could live in one country that is not Lebanon, which country would that be and why?

I’ve been to Syria many times before 2011. It is a beautiful country just like Lebanon. They have a lot in common, almost the same weather and nature. But it has always been my dream to study and live in Bordeaux (France) but who knows, maybe I’ll move soon for my PHD!

Do you have any hobbies? How do you enjoy spending any free time?

I’m a ballerina. I enjoy spending my time dancing, reading and doing outdoor activities: hiking, biking, camping, swimming, skiing, jogging, walking at the beach and so on. We can do everything here!

Many of my blog visitors are avid readers. Do you read any fiction? If so, what sort do you prefer? And do you have any favorite books? However, before you answer please understand that on my blog Fifty Shades of Grey does not count as a “real novel.” :-)

I read history books, analysis, philosophy, novels and biographies. I just love biographies! My favorite book so far in English is 1984, George Orwell.

And for you Robert, I highly recommend Marquis de Sade. lol

Hala Feghaly. From Instagram. Used with her permission.
Hala Feghaly. From Instagram. Used with her permission.

Where are you in your family birth order? Are you an only or oldest child? Youngest? Or in the middle somewhere? Do you have both brothers and sisters?

I have a sister and two brothers. I’m the third. My older brother Fouad is a mechanical engineer, my sister Layal is a radiologist and my little brother Rawad is still at school.

About Lebanon: Do you feel there is any single most commonly mistaken view of the country foreigners hold, and if so, what is it? Your home city Beirut sadly conjures up many negative images in the minds of many foreigners. If you could share what you consider a couple of its positives, what would they be?

People in general intend to consider Beirut as a place full of terrorism and awfulness. But that’s not true! It is a cosmopolitan country, where you can meet plenty of different people with different nationalities, convictions, religions and ideologies. There is more than 17 different religions. Do you believe that? But there are many people and countries that are willing to do anything to destroy this solidarity and conviviality.

In short, we’re not terrorists nor a bunch of ignorants nor Arabs (Lebanon isn’t an Arab Country).

To a very serious issue. It is no secret there’s a horrible war going on next door in Syria that has at times spilled over into Lebanon. There is great confusion outside as to what can be done to help end the war. If there is one thing you believe that outside governments should do to help, what do you think that should be?

What’s happening in Syria is an ongoing armed conflict. The unrest began in the early spring of 2011 within the context of Arab Spring protests, with nationwide protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s government, whose forces responded with violent crackdowns. The conflict gradually morphed from prominent protests to an armed rebellion after months of military sieges. Mainly Lebanon is facing 3 major problems: Lebanon is currently overloaded with 2 million refugees in its valleys. Hezbollah’s (Lebanese Political Party) political and military interference in Syria. In 2013, Hezbollah entered the war in support of the Syrian army. In the east, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a jihadist militant group originating from Iraq, made rapid military gains in both Syria and Iraq, eventually conflicting with the other rebels.

Do you notice extra challenges in being a woman journalist in Lebanon? If so, what do you feel they are?

All the journalists in the Middle East are in constant living and working fear and danger because of the socio-professional-religious status and because of the insecurity and chaotic situation. Especially with the uprising of ISIS and the “freedom of speech” that is controlled by the governments and political parties.

Lastly, where do you hope to be in five years in your career? And what is your ultimate career goal? To present the national evening TV news perhaps? :-)

I would like to work as an investigative reporter. But before, I will have to do many workshops and trainings in the US or in Europe because we don’t have this specialty here. And later on, maybe when I finish my law degree I might work as a lawyer as well! I just remembered this French proverb that says “petit a petit l’oiseau fait son nid” it means “step by step the bird builds its nest”.

Hala Feghaly. From Facebook. Used with her permission.
Hala Feghaly. From Facebook. Used with her permission.

Hala, thank you very much for talking with me.

A huge thanks to you, Robert. I wish everyone Good Luck.

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And now we’re back to me. I hope you enjoyed that and maybe even picked up some new insights. If you are on Facebook, go check out and like Hala’s page. And be sure to follow her here on WordPress.

Have a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Coming Tomorrow!

Happy Sunday. I’m having a rest today. So no profound, thought-provoking travel, expat or literary blog post. Sorry.

While “relaxing,” I should finish The Winds of War…. TODAY!

I merely want here to offer a coming attraction:

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a megaphone and announcement text.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a megaphone and announcement text.

I want to invite you. While certainly in line with what this blog revolves around overall, tomorrow – on Monday at 8 am UK time/ 3 am ET US – I’ll share a post that is rather different. Here’s my only hint:

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When Social Media Turns Ugly

If you are reading this, you may be on social media yourself too – with a blog, a Twitter account, Instagram, etc. Recently, some “guy” I’d never encountered before evidently took umbrage with my voicing my opinion on too many U.S. study abroad students’ immature behaviors. Regular visitors here also know I attribute those primarily to overzealous parenting coupled with inexperience with legal alcohol; but apparently “he” thought attacking me on Twitter personally would get a reaction.

Free Stock Photo: Bright colored computer mice.
Free Stock Photo: Bright colored computer mice.

I yawned: I’ve seen much worse. When you put yourself out there publicly in even the smallest way, you have to expect criticisms and even degrees of nastiness. We all know it comes with the territory.

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