Our Reality Is Fragility

Somehow I found myself in an argument over the phone on Wednesday evening with a member of the family in the States with whom I’ve argued vehemently quite a few times before. I had thought we’d by now put that sort of behavior behind us. Apparently, though, I’d “triggered” something in that individual and all hell broke loose from that side of the Atlantic.

The phone was slammed down on me. I can’t go into why and I really shouldn’t anyway. Suffice it to say we have all probably had something like that happen in our lives at some point or another.

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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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The Duke

No, not *that* “Duke”. Sorry. I mean this one:

"Wellington," by Richard Holmes. [Photo by me, 2015.]
“Wellington,” by Richard Holmes. [Photo by me, 2015.]

I’ve had it since Christmas. I thought I’d finally give it a read. Uh, it’s not War and Remembrance, of course. (Thank God!)

To French followers, please do not be offended. I have already read lots about Napoleon. ;-)

Hope you’re having a good weekend, wherever you are in the world. :-)

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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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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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. :-)

No Plans To Evacuate (At This Time)

In 2006, the U.S. State Department helped organize a mass evacuation of U.S. citizens from Lebanon during the Hezbollah-Israel war. However, currently, there seems no similar urgency on the part of the U.S. to evacuate a far smaller number of U.S. citizens from Yemen. Lawsuits have even been filed challenging the government’s not doing so.

As of April 11, this is what the Department of State has to say:

Yemen Crisis Update, April 11, 2015
Yemen Crisis Update, April 11, 2015

The page continues in sharing how Americans can perhaps leave courtesy of “third party” assistance, such as India’s:

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Meddling With Copyrighted Material

The British general election is next month. Labour Party leader Ed Miliband apparently has the time to think about who should play James Bond. He’d like to see a woman actor: Rosamund Pike in particular. Some, like this Guardian writer, agree:

….So far, the feminist revolution has been largely limited to comics. We pointed out last week that there is a thing going on in that world with feminist superheroes. If Thor can be a woman, so can Bond. (Idris Elba could obviously be Bond too, but that is a different piece)….

Actually, one would think the man who desires to be the next British Prime Minister should be rather more concerned about when they’ll finally be a woman leader of his own Labour Party. One supposes he doesn’t plan to step down himself immediately and make way for one at last?

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Our Warmest (And Coolest) Feelings: 25 Countries

USA Today tweeted this yesterday:

USA Today screen capture.
USA Today screen capture.

I enjoy polls such as that one. And that one makes for something of a change too. Usually it’s about who hates us. ;-)

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“Just write that Austria lost”

Long-time singer/ performer Madonna has readily admitted she’s interested in “being provocative and pushing people’s buttons.” Presumably this rates as another effort at being so. The Guardian:

….Speaking to French radio station Europe 1 in an interview … Madonna said “antisemitism is at an all-time high” in France and elsewhere in Europe, and likened the atmosphere to the period when German fascism was on the ascent.

“We’re living in crazy times,” the 56-year-old singer said, calling the situation “scary,”….

….“It was a country that embraced everyone and encouraged freedom in every way, shape or form – artistic expression of freedom,” Madonna said. “Now that’s completely gone.

“France was once a country that accepted people of colour, and was a place artists escaped to, whether it was Josephine Baker or Charlie Parker.”….

That commentary has unsurprisingly attracted attention in France. If you click on the picture below, or here, it will take you to the interview. Her words are translated into French, but one can hear her speaking English:

Europe 1 screen grab.
Europe 1 screen grab.

Obviously she has read and heard various things over the years, and knows just enoughdinner party” banter to sound informed. Listening to her throughout her career one has never been able to suppress a feeling that she is the proverbial “mile wide and an inch deep.” You never quite believe she knows nearly as much as she appears to position herself as knowing.

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