Gratefully we cast our bread upon the blue-green waters of the Salzach to give thanks to this festival city. Across the river the famous castle stands fortress over the old town. On the terrace of the Cafe Bazar one hears the tongues of France, Italy and Spain as well as Austria, because this is old Europe. Not ‘European’ as defined by the EU, European as in the Arnoldian sense, handing on from one generation to another the best that has been thought, or said, or done.
Paris for lovers, tick. Paris for gastronomes, tick. Paris for the fashion-conscious, obviously. But children? Funnily enough, I find it one of the most child-friendly cities we go to. The proprietors of grand boutiques and restaurants who cold-shoulder grown-ups are all smiles when it comes to children. Propping up a bar with my two on the Rue St Honoré on a damp Sunday evening, the young man sitting next to us with his girlfriend chatted with my five-year-old daughter, treated her and the brother to an orange juice, presented her with €10 to buy a croissant and was rather hurt when I gave it back.
You’ve done the sights: the Hagia Sofia and the great imperial mosques, the Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar, the Bosporus cruise and Basilica Cistern. With the tourist boxes ticked and the past squared away, it’s time to start exploring the real, living city. You may have had enough of museums, but Orhan Pamuk’s new Museum of Innocence in the Bohemian neighbourhood of Cihangir is worth a visit, if only for the abiding oddness of the concept as much as anything in the exhibits.
New York The western world seems not just unhappy, but intoxicated with anger. It is the kind of anger that feeds on itself. Offence is not just taken but relished, and multiplied as in a hall of mirrors. I have a name for this kind of anger. A few years ago, in a book about how Americans had learned to brush aside their old ethic of self-control and plunge into the delights of sneering and rage, I christened it the ‘new anger’.
We’re just saying our farewells to the Post Office Hotel in Chillagoe, in the outback of Far North Queensland, and I’m telling Dorothy Lawler, the hotel’s 70-year-old part-time cook, that the coleslaw she made with the steaks we had the other night was the crunchiest and most delicious I’d ever eaten. (It’s a great place, Chillagoe. Go there!) Dorothy says she’s off tomorrow to visit her 103-year-old mother for Mother’s Day.
There is nothing as dangerous, they say, as the zeal of the newly converted. So it was when Labour under Tony Blair suddenly discovered capitalism. What had been a small-scale pragmatic policy under John Major’s government, the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), was taken up with huge gusto in order to see the rebuilding of hundreds of schools and hospitals. Gordon Brown loved it too, because, although less wedded to private enterprise, he spotted a way of fiddling his borrowing figures: by shifting billions of pounds of new investment off the government’s books.
On my first visit to Egypt, soon after Hosni Mubarak succeeded the assassinated Anwar Sadat as president, a cruel joke was circulating among Cairo’s cognoscenti. ‘When Nasser came to power, he looked around for the most stupid member of his party and appointed Sadat as vice president. When Sadat came to power, he looked around for the most stupid party member and chose Mubarak. But when Mubarak came to power, he looked around… and couldn’t find a successor.
We all know what a city does when a local boy or girl has done good. But what do you do when the local boy turns out to have done very bad indeed? This is the dilemma facing the Georgian authorities in the city of Gori, not far from the boundary line of South Ossetia. For as well as being the first target of Russian forces during Vladimir Putin’s 2008 invasion, Gori is best known for giving birth to Joseph Stalin.
Last week, a distinguished Chinese thinker arrived in Oxford University to give a talk. His mission was audacious: to explain to Britain’s brightest young things that far from being a repressive or unhappy place, China is in fact pretty perfect. More to the point: now that Europe is on the rocks, China will be the next great world-shaping civilisation. He began boldly: ‘China is a unique country,’ he said.
We live in thoroughly PC times, when tweeting rotten things about a black footballer can land you in jail and opposing gay marriage can see you branded a bigot. But there are still two groups of people it’s OK to hate: chavs and toffs. The tracksuit-wearing poor and the tweed-covered rich. The blinged-up yoof who haunt urban bus stops and the Burberry-sporting poshos who get blotto in Chelsea. These two sections of society are being buried beneath a mountain of media abuse.