Coming next month to a courtroom near you: a bewildered young man, freshly convicted, trembles in the dock while awaiting his fate. But just before sentencing, a weeping widow stands, turns welling blue eyes to the bench and beseeches His Honour: ‘I cannot forgive him for his part in my husband’s death. My life is ruined. I beg you to punish him to the maximum.’ Murmurs of assent are shushed in the public gallery.
Deep below West 52nd Street is a massive stash of booze.
The cops never found it during Prohibition, and it belongs to the 21 Club. Famous for its sumptuously New Yorky dishes (like filet mignon with kumquat vinaigrette), 21 is a real boys’ den. Dark and plush, the subterranean rooms are festooned with intriguing junk: footballs, helmets, a model torpedo boat given by JFK, and a smashed racket from McEnroe.
‘Buy on the bullets’ is the cry of the most ruthless stockbrokers — invest just before a war, after the stock markets dive, before the recovery kicks in. In the same way, now is the time for us heartless continental drivers to head for poor, battered Greece. Maybe it’s not quite war-torn yet, but driving around the Peloponnese this autumn was like touring a post-apocalyptic ghost town.
Once you get out of the sun-bleached concrete sprawl of Athens, the splendid motorway to Kalamata is eerily empty at all hours of the day.
It takes a lot to make the subject of immigration respectable for liberals, at least if you’re pointing out its problematic aspects. But Paul Collier, an Oxford economist specialising in the world’s bottom billion, has, in the 270-odd pages of his new book Exodus, opened up the issue for the left — well, for all comers, actually. Which, for a book suggesting among other things that, left to itself, there is no natural limit to immigration, is quite something.
‘On the shore of desolate waves / he stood, full of lofty thoughts / and gazed afar.’ So begins Pushkin’s epic poem ‘The Bronze Horseman’, with the legend of Peter the Great founding his new city in 1703. A remote and inhospitable swampland in north-western Russia was transformed into his ‘window on the West’, a Baroque and neo-classical masterpiece.
I came to St Petersburg to learn Russian. Enrolled for an intensive course at a private language school, I opted for full immersion and stayed with a local family for the two weeks.
BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, has been headquartered in Germany since before the country formally existed. Founded in 1865 by the industrial pioneer Friedrich Engelhorn, it still occupies the vast site on the banks of the Rhine at Ludwigshafen where its first dye and soda factories were built. A third of its staff are employed in Rhineland Palatinate. It is a global company, yet as German as Goethe and gummi bears.
George Galloway is unhappy. One of his interlocutors on Twitter has told him to ‘Fuck off back to England’. Gorgeous George is in Glasgow for the first in a series of roadshows in which he sets out his case for Scotland remaining part of the Union and he’s not going anywhere. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not even to England.
This will disappoint his many critics. But Galloway has a new, higher calling: saving whatever remains of the British left.
Autumn in Paris has been immortalised in one of Rainer Maria Rilke’s most poignant poems. Having left his wife in Berlin, Rilke moved to Paris in 1902 where he wrote ‘Herbsttag’ (Autumn Day). ‘Whoever is alone now, will remain so for long. He will stay up late, write long letters and wander restlessly in the avenues as the leaves drift.’ If you have ever taken a solitary walk in the gardens of Versailles as the sun glints coldly on the bright autumn colours, you will know that feeling.
‘I remember you from last time,’ said the young man on the promenade. It was my first night back in Tangier. I was alone and tired and lonely. I liked the idea of meeting someone who knew me, if only from a brief encounter a few years before. ‘Yes, of course,’ I said, though I didn’t recognise him. In his cheap suit he seemed anonymous, like a policeman in plain clothes. It was nearly midnight, but the esplanade was still crowded.
Venice is a 10,000-carat jewel set by the greatest ever goldsmith pinned to the breast of the most beautiful woman to have lived. Built out of a need for security in the turbulent world of late antiquity, it was protected by the lagoon, which also gave it political stability, and with political stability came riches, conservatism and trade. The great longevity of the serene republic and the restricted space of the island made it a mishmash of styles and architectures.
‘You were at the Fish, I hear,’ a Berlin friend told me. ‘I didn’t know you were an old hippie.’ Reputations can cling to places as they do to people. Zwiebelfisch, the Berlin inn he was referring to, has not been a haunt of hippies — radicals, more like, ‘the class of ’68’ — for at least two decades. Now it is a home for all-comers; because, in the eyes of some of us who have spent years staring through a glass darkly, it is the finest bar in Christendom.
All eyes on the Philippines this week, and rightly so. Godspeed to those American and British ships making their way to the devastation in Leyte and Samar. It’s sad, though, that the global news machine can only process one disaster at a time. The world has all but forgotten the tropical storms and floods that have battered Acapulco in the past two months. It’s a lesser tragedy, with mercifully a much less significant death toll, but nevertheless it tears at my heart.