A motto for scholars: "A main cause of philosophical disease — a one-sided diet: one nourishes one's thinking with only one kind of example."

Reading.

I haven't been reading as much as I normally do lately. The past week or so I've been reading in order to develop a particular example, which always makes reading seem less interesting. The example, though, allows me to read philosophy that I'm not using directly for my thesis (i.e., Nietzsche). I'm trying to craft a little bit of a biography-theory hybrid relating the development and decline of Nietzsche's friendship with Wagner with his notion (in The Gay Science) of 'star friendship'. I then use the narrative I outline to provide an example of the way in which we connect the self-analysis, the analysis of others, and an understanding of prevalent social institutions (like friendship, marriage, etc.) in order to arrive at a judgment regarding the appropriateness or reasonability of a particular emotional experience or response. I'm spending more time on the narrative aspect of it than my actual argument and I've been reading some interesting bits of Nietzscheana I haven't read before. Most interestingly, Elizabeth Foerster-Nietzsche's edition of The Nietzsche-Wagner Correspondence. Of course there are anti-Semitic, nationalistic insertions on her part, but the idyllic anecdotes she relates of Nietzsche and Wagner in the early days are hilarious and enjoyable. In fact, I quite like her vision of Nietzsche when she doesn't endeavour to discuss his thinking. I've also been reading a mediocre version of Nietzsche's Unpublished Letters, most of which I've read elsewhere. Supplementing this are Nietzsche's own more personal remarks in Ecce Homo and The Gay Science (in addition to section 297 on 'star friendship').Aside from the Nietzsche I've also been instrumentally re-reading Philip Roth's Patrimony, mining it for examples.

Some quotes from The Nietzsche-Wagner Correspondence edited by Elizabeth Foerster-Nietzsche and translated by Caroline V. Kerr (Duckworth and Co., London, 1922):
  • "Wagner's chief problem: Why am I not able to make others what I feel myself?" (N-W Corr. 201).
  • "One of Wagner's chief characteristics: lack of discipline and moderation. Carries everything to the limit of his strength and feelings." (N-W Corr. 201-202).
  • "(Nietzsche) once said that one of the most important elements of self-discipline was to be able to raise the veil and to draw it down again when it became necessary, and that one's feelings should be the best judge as to whether this had been done at the right moment or not. He felt that the time had not yet arrived for him to lift the veil and disclose his real feelings for Wagner, and upon realizing this, he sorrowfully drew it down again, or at least endeavoured to draw it so closely that no one shoud learn the state of his mind" N-W Corr. 204.
  • (In a letter to Baron Carl von Gersdorff, who threatened to force Nietzsche to Bayreuth)
    "We both know that Wagner is naturally very suspicious, but I should not have thought it a wise thing to encourage this feeling. Finally, I beg of you not to lose sight of the fact that I have obligations towards myself, and that these obligations are difficult to discharge on account of my none too robust health. Really, no one shall force me to do anything...." (N-W Corr. 222)
  • (After Wagner threw into a rage when Nietzsche brought the score of Brahms' "Song of Triumph" to Bayreuth)
    "But later I came across this sentence inmy brother's note-book: "The tyrant admits no individuality other than his own and that of his most intimate friends. The danger is great for Wagner when he is unwilling to grant anything to Brahms or to the Jews" (N-W Corr. 223)

Item: The books I read don't do what I want them to. As step-ladders and waystations they are poor incarnations; they're already old hands at tripping me up when we first meet.

My friend, Jeremy, gave me a The Death Ship by B. Traven, which is one of his favourite books. He gave it to me perhaps 7 months ago and I tried to read it but it was awful. I told him as much and he said that he's leant it to 10 or so people and it has always been returned unread but that if I get past the first 50 pages I'll be convinced. So I read the whole thing. It's by the same author who wrote the script for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre which I liked, so I just pictured Bogie playing the leading role in order to get through it. I think it's just one of those books that, if you've read it at a certain age it sticks with you. Robert Heinlein has something like that kind of affect on me: I know he's not much of an author, and even when I try to re-read the books I once loved (Stranger in a Strange Land particularlu) I never feel what I once did. But I still think they're good books, and there's nothing I can do about it. The Death Ship is basically an unveiled hymn of the working man and against bureacracy in all forms. I can't stand messages sheathed in a thin layer of narrative very often. It's not my thing, and the reason why I hate 'philosophical novels' like Camus' and Sartre's. After you've got the idea, they lose their interest for me, and you get the idea of The Death Ship in about the first 4 pages. In any case, it's finished.

I'm reading all the John Titor stuff, it's probably more stimulating than anything else at the moment. Titor seems like a nice guy.

Not really recently, but in the last month I read the rest of Henry Chadwick's excellent History of the Early Church (or The Early Church; I can't really remember). This is one of the better books I've read lately. I didn't read it in sequence and, as a consequence, I don't remember very much of it. But, regardless, I have a much better understanding of how the church moved from a small apostolic movement to the monolithic entity it became only a few hundred years after Christ's death. Chadwick is funny at times, and chastises ancient historians at times, which I find hilarious.

Loving someone doesn't mean that you have to forgive them every trespass. It means you want to and you're ashamed that you want to.

Events

I'm unhappy, though not unlucky, in love. Things have ended up this way. We'll see what the future awaits! I feel as though my resignation (here as everywhere) exhibits me at my most arrogant. It's entirely true that I hate in others what I most despise in myself and its arrogance of any kind.

School

Poor supervisor choices. I'm nearly complete my minum opus, tentatively entitled Emotional Formation (it's the least pretentious thing I could accomplish). Comments recieved today suggest it is has not been rejected as entirely unphilosophical. Despite the fact that I haven't recieved any particularly insightful feedback, I am happy to have my writing and argumentation scruitinzed and deemed clear and, even, interesting. The first two chapters actually make me worry much more than the third, most complicated chapter. Since I'm engaging in self-absorption, I might as well explain why. I feel like writing tonight. The first chapter is largely exegetical and is original only in combining two unrelated ideas (Heidegger's "relational" account of human experience and an account of emotional rationality derived from Ronald De Sousa) and linking them to a historically produced blindness in much traditional philosophy and even common sense. The problem I have here is one I've constructed for myself. Rather than using a lot of stuff from Heidegger's later work (which I'm pretty comfortable with and which I can navigate without much research) I've chosen to use Being and Time almost exclusively. The problem is that I really only know a few sections of Being and Time (mainly section 29 and 30 really), and I make pretty bold claims about Heidegger that I haven't substantiated with anything other than my reading of late-Heidegger and my limited reading of early-Heidegger. Which isn't to say that I think I'm wrong, just that I may come off as amateurish because my reading of Being and Time isn't as subtle and worked out as the most recent literature. This is a problem but I also think it's a good thing for me to have done: only engaging these major texts through other people's thoughts and established interpretative trends can dull the risk I think is necessary in reconstructing the history of philosophy and in learning more generally. In the third chapter I really don't use any other philosophers at all. I don't really think that what I say is separate from what I read or that it's radically original, but I think there is something to be said about saying what one thinks without the academic encumbrances of footnotes and respect for the most up to date literature (all of which has its place, mind you).

Item: Take Matt's example and read some Nancy. But perhaps not any Lacoue-Labarthe!

Aside from thesis concerns, which are not as pressing at all now that I'm near completion, I have a whole new school and department to look forward to in the coming September. I'm looking forward to filling in some serious gaps in my understanding of philosophy and deepening a lot of the shallownesses that have crept into my readings of some of my favourite writers (Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Kant, Serres). I've reconciled myself to four more years of the classroom with the understanding that my activities at school and at whatever job I have have rarely undermined what I think to be important in my life and are unlikely to do so in the future. Here: to the goodness in all things!

Externals

I'll be moving at the end of the month. After taking leave of la belle province I'll make a two-month sojourn to the homeland before I move to Ottawa. The shift from Montreal to Halifax To Ottawa should prove interesting and pleasant as I like all three cities for different reasons and people. My top concerns at the moment in the world of externals are: getting my various objects from here to Ottawa, which is nearly half complete. Actually that's about my only concern on that score. I'd like to get rid of a lot of my junk, which I think the remainder of the packing process will facilitate. I'll certainly miss the people who surround me like a bright-coloured halo in Montreal. But, as Ottawa is a scant 2-hour drive away, I'm likely to see them often.

Clearance

Since I'm no longer much enamoured of E2, and I rarely get a chance to do much formatting (which I used to enjoy), I just store up snippets on my homenode to one day be cleared off and formatted into a fake-poem of half-witticisms. This is the current result. I think I'll enforce more order than my homenode has yet allowed these exiled thoughts.

#1: Links

Link: My Fascinatingly Detailed Teen Angst Bullshit Day Log - Part 5
This is one in a series of amusing spoofs on teen angst. I linked it on my homenode so I could remember where it was to finish reading the series.

#1: Pithy Remarks

  1. The poisonous and petty violence concealed by my good will.
  2. Admiring an elegant turn of phrase even to one's own ruination: culture.
  3. The result of culture: incapacity for fellow-feeling.
  4. The confusing thing is that love and hate aren't opposites. Or, more generally, that nothing is opposed.
  5. Sometimes I'm better than you expect me to be. Sometimes I'm not. Things have a way of ending up correct
  6. Fooling yourself is what you are
  7. Don't be what you are.
  8. (Don't be what you have to be)
  9. The Get Real Jerks Dun Got Realed

#1: Good Advice from E2

Borgette has good new years resolutions:
1) Don't get into other people's business.
2) Try not to talk about other people.
3) Try not to exaggerate.

#1: Insights into the human condition

AN INSTINCT FOR CATASTROPHE
Today is different than other days past.

#1: Yet more items

  • Read Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
  • Labour History (The Fall of the House of Labour)
  • U.S. Foreign Policy in the 1930's (relation to domestic policy and to Cuba particularly)
  • Further northern Siberian history (specifically Kolmya and more Vilnui river bend stuff)
  • American pragmatism and Emerson (Cavell on Emerson after that)
  • Revisit legal history (Roman, and not Medieval takes on Roman, law and the practice of law)
  • The relationship between Greek culture and early Roman Republican culture (literacy issues if possible)
  • Post-Roman northern African history
  • Early Moorish history
  • More primary documents: National Security Archive mail list!
  • Computational Linguistics (Dylan)
  • Madagascar
  • Polar islands (well, maybe not Polar but strange and far south or north: Bouvet, Novaya Zemla, etc.)
  • Kamchatka
  • Read some more Midrash (Get the Chofetz Chaim book: buy it)
  • http://www.salon.com/sept97/wsb2970902.html (Some good lines about moralism in fiction that could prove helpful)
  • http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/sciencefiction/story/0,6000,1245664,00.html (same as above)

#1: Suggestive

People might be geniuses.

Item:

Go from The Counterlife to The Facts to Operation Shylock. (In a Goldilocks/Derrida fashion.

  • http://www.csulb.edu/~bhfinney/Roth.html
  • The site of this olde read DRESS
  • Don't act surprised
  • So don't act surprised if it happens to occur that I fall asleep
  • 100,000 False Starts
  • Eight hundred thousand trillion false starts
  • I don't like anything that I like because I'm a bad person. I repent and I fail to repent.
  • #1: The only thing I know:

  • True statement: Repent sinner
  • #1: Slow Facts and

    Things get harder and heavier

    "But all thing which that schyneth as the gold
    Ne is no gold, as I have herd it told."

    Everything always looks like what it is though

    #1: A Conversation whose truth and usefulness have evaporated

    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says: how's the thesis?
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: well, im all caught up in this developmental crap now so ill let you know when im done that
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: haha
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: i think i might call it "emotional formation" as a reference to sabina lovibonds book (which i like) called "ethical formation" as it is along the same lines but more specific
    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says: so explain the premise again -- you are talking about emotions and how they are formed and how outside forces (literature, schooling) informs this process?
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: ill put it in more general terms, cause i always tell you what im thinking about at the moment
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: my main aim is
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: to show how and that emotions are involved in our ethical lives (and, even more generally, are part of our "rational" project as human beings, and not some extra/irr/arational phenomena that just interfere with "thinking")
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: to do that im following this guy ronald de sousa, who has a theory roughly like this:
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: we come to learn emotions by acquiring "paradigm scenarios" (which are like little emotinoal set-pieces for each emotion), we can then judge any instance of emotion by measuring it up against its particular paradigm scenario
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: what i want to do is develop his account further by showing how this sort of schematic paradigm measuring thing is really too schematic for complicated emotional responses
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: its more suited to children's more simplistic way of guaging the rationality of an emotion
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: i want to show that emotional maturity is a continuum and that paradigm scenarios in the simple form are on the less mature end of the spectrum
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: and when we get more complicated relationships it requries different ways of thinking
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: and that literature (for example) is good at helping us in this regard
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: though it isnt simply a matter of making literature an "Example" (which would be too simplistic and too much like de sousa's paradigms)
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: thats basically it
    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says: how do you involve literature if it is not as an 'example' ... i get what you're saying but I don't
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: i mean if something is an "example" it can sort of be reitereated very easily in another context, but that isnt really what it does, unless you want it to be paradigm-y which i dont think it is
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: like when i read philip roth im not like
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: oh
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: thats a good example of how a son and father interact
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: its subtler than that
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: Wittgenstein has this line about "the dawning of an aspect"
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: i think its more like that
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: its like you come to see things differently than you did before
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: does that make sense? its not a rigid distinction, its a continuum, but i think its still a difference
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: and an important one
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: ps: that tea sounds like a good idea
    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says: sort of like... you internalize the 'example' without really thinking (like you said), oh, now I understand this is how it happens
    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says: ?
    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says: tea - I thought it would be groddy but it is not
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: well no, not like that, its more like, its like if you were in a room where three of the windows were open and you didnt know there was a fourth one but someone told you a poster was covering the fourth one, youd have to uncover the poster yourself and look outside, and their telling you about the poster doesnt exemplify you taking the poster off the window...thats a terrible example
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: hahaha
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: its not really internalizing something external as coming to see things from a different perspective
    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says: okay
    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says: I thought it was more complex than that
    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says: but that was sort of how I was thinking abou tit
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: tit
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: haha
    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says: not that it's not complex
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: you said tit
    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says: HAH
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: well its not just seeing things from a differnt perspective Developmental.. PSYCH! says: but thats a simple way of putting it
    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says: robert and hannah keep saying "intercourse" randomly for the shock value
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: its like "why reading novels is important"
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: intercourse
    Sara mint tea + cocoa tea = addictive says:
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: tell them to say ovarian cyst
    Developmental.. PSYCH! says: thats groder

    #1: Recommendation never followed:

    the Blasphenaut, from Winnipeg

    Closing Remarks

    "The life unexamined is not worth living." But the examined life isn't much better!" Sleeping in and all the subtle irritation of the morning: life's value! Forgive what you can, love what you can't.

    And a hymn

    ...by way of an admonition to those who rule themselves:

    Serve the Lord in fear!
    Repent in terror!
    Give sincere homage!
    Otherwise he will be angry,
    and you will die because of your behavior,
    when his anger quickly ignites.
    How happy are all who take shelter in him!
    No God but that without a God! The rulerless measure of all things and times. To the arrogance of submission and to friends!

    Learning Gulf Arabic:

    and - wa
    Hello - as-salaamu alai-kum.
    Reply - wa alai-kum as-salaam.

    How are you?(to male) - kaif Haal-ak
    How are you?(to female) - kaif Haal-ich
    How are you?(to group) - kaif Haal-kum
    What (is) your news?(to male) - aish akhbaar-ak
    What (is) your news?(to female) - aish akhbaar-ich

    welcome, hello - ahlan wa sahlan
    reply - ahlan bii-(k, ich, kum)

    goodbye - ma:a s-salaamah
    reply - fii amaan Al-laah

    Arabic only seems hard because of the variations and particulars in pronunciation from our Western languages. That, and there are some rules that vary from English, like gender rules.

    Introduction

    It is entirely possible for the most cynical atheist to find God. Or, for that matter, for God to find the cynical atheist, while they're minding their own business watching TV on a Tuesday evening in May.

    God does not and can not exist

    I'm still not sure if I should be writing this - it's so exciting that I have to shout and tell the world. But, I'm wondering if it's only exciting to me. I've spent thirty years (or the portion of those thirty years during which I've been able to read) ignoring, rejecting or deriding God and those who might be sad enough to follow Him. I don't blame you if you're feeling the same. Who cares, right? I was never christened - my quasi-hippy mother had decided that if I was going to be a christian at any point, it would be my decision, not one made for me before I could defend my views. Because of that, I never sang the hymns in school assembly, I never bowed my head in prayer. I got in trouble for that, because we were all expected to do so. However, I felt that pretending to believe when I truly didn't was morally more wrong than not believing in the first place.

    So, until Tuesday the 24th of May, I was a card-carrying atheist. It was absolutely ludicrous to me that you could have an imaginary friend who loved you, while telling you to beat up all the other people with different imaginary friends. While loving everyone, he decided to sent plagues and pestilence? We're all expected to fear him, when he obviously doesn't exist? What complete poppycock. Organised religion is a method for controlling the masses.

    On that Tuesday evening, however, at around 9:55pm, something strange happened. I was watching a TV programme about five men who visited a Monastery for six weeks to find themselves, God, inner peace, or whatever they were searching for. I had watched the rest of the three-part series with interest, but had felt nothing special until these last five minutes. I had made up my mind that monks should be allowed the lives they choose - they perform useful roles in the community, and aren't just running away from life. But I was still a scientific-minded cynic who could not possibly be made to believe in a higher being who looks over us all. So that was that. All sorted out. They could have their beliefs and I'll have mine.

    All Change

    On that Tuesday evening, God found me.

    I won't say that I found God. I wasn't looking for him. But He found me for sure, and I can't imagine that I will ever doubt His existence again. You never know, things change, the world turns, water runs under the bridge, and I may turn in a different direction again. However, they'll need a pretty good explanation of what happened to me on that evening.

    It was not a magic trick. It was not the intoxicating influence of alcohol, drugs or any other chemicals. It was not a vision. It was not a voice. It was not a light. It was not a hallucination due to tiredness or illness. I was not looking for anything. It was not one of my rare bouts of depersonalisation.

    I can't really describe what happened - but it was more uplifting than anything I have previously experienced. It was warmer than anything I have previously experienced. I was struck dumb briefly - either a reluctance, or an inability to say anything. I was quite literally lost for words.

    The beginning of a journey

    Now I've been touched, I feel the need to find out more. I didn't previously think I had any of the problems which would traditionally make someone turn to God or look for a better life, or inner peace, or whatever. I'm good at taking my life in hand, sorting out problems and keeping myself and my loved ones alive, healthy and happy.

    However much I thought I was happy, my changed outlook has opened up a new plane of existence, with a level of deep inner contentment which I realise I have been lacking. I am still very much in the early stages of my journey - three weeks is not a very long time, but my initial reading on the matter suggests that I am allowed to continue my life as a money earner, have fun, have posessions, drink alcohol, and consume, while still following a path with God.

    I have begun with the Rule of Benedict. That's Rule as in the thing you draw straight lines with, not as in "No Cycling". I had also been reading wisdom from the Dalai Lama for some time before any of the events described. I assume that at some time, they're going to have to have a bun-fight in my mind while I work out which one is right - current guess: both of them.

    So here we go, thirty years into life, on a new path. Or, more accurately, on a path at all.

    Sure, there are people who blindy follow religion without thinking about it. They go to church because that's what you do. They don't, for one minute, actually feel it. They're not wrong, but I don't want to be one of them. I'd rather feel it and never go to church.

    There are those who go to church for spiritually economic reasons. If Joe Arsehole from Third World Debt Collectors Inc. goes to church so that he doesn't feel so bad about his job and life, then I think he's missed the point. I don't want to be one of them.

    I don't know what my immediate future holds, but I know it will be a better future for myself, and those around me.

    Thanks for indulging me. I'll shut up now.

    It just keeps getting better and better .

    I recently came across the following item at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:H.J.RES.24.IH:

    Presented in the House of Representatives on February 17, 2005
    Mr. Hoyer, Mr. Berman, Mr. Sensenbrenner, Mr. Sabo, and Mr. Pallone introduced the following joint resolution:

    Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the 22nd amendment (Presidential term limits) to the Constitution. Bill #HJ 24 IH

    The sad and scary thing is that with the current GOP majority in Washington and in many state houses, this has a halfway-decent chance of actually passing.

    I still can't understand the streak of masochism that caused Bush to be elected (he wasn't elected the first time, so it was not a re-election) for a second term, much less why anyone not requiring a rubber helmet to leave the house would want that chimp in office for yet a third or even a fourth term.

    If this comes to pass and this knucklehead becomes President again I will consider it the beginning of the end for the Concept that is the United States. A sad, sick, twisted perversion will remain for a while, but it will resemble the bold experiment began in 1776 in name only.

    Frankly, if the people are stupid enough to let this happen, they deserve the reaming Bush and his cronies will continue giving to America.

    All is prepared. Tomorrow I depart from Heathrow to begin my crossing of North America and my eventual attendance at We miss our friends: A dysfunctional noder family reunion. I'll be in the Bay Area around the end of next week, if anyone fancies meeting up. Seattle on the afternoon of Monday 20th and morning of Tuesday 21st. NYC in the week beginning 4 July. I can hardly wait!

    Here's an email I sent to a few friends about my first twelve hours in Kosovo.

    I'll try to get my initial impressions down now that I have access to email, and hopefully provide you with a more enlightened installment once I've actually managed to walk around this place.

    Flying in on a small Alitalia jet accompanied by a small herd of Arabic-speaking men who hardly fit inside XL t-shirts and looked like a rugby team was a bit unsettling. Could be the sheer size of them, the language they spoke, the shaved heads, the menacing attitude, the insistence on vegetarian meals, or simply the stories that have made the press about this kind of situation on a plane leading to rather rapid and unplanned landings that caused that mixture of excitement and apprehension.

    When we had descended below the thick cloud cover, the Macedonian landscape started to rear its mountain ranges, stark and grey for the most part except for jagged gashes of red rock, scars on each facet of the topology that seem to warn incoming travellers that further scars have yet to come. These dipped suddenly into gentle, verdant hills, furrowed along their length by winter streams, to give the appearance of a giant green brain, ruminating on all that they have had to witness with the numbing pace of continental drift. Another sudden drop gave way to a vast flat plain that was dotted, sparsely at first, then more thickly as we approached Skopje, with red brick houses. From time to time we flew over very regular rows of dull steel huts, possibly stores or factories, that had fallen into disuse but retained their rigid grid-like structure when viewed from above, echoes of a not-so-distant communist past.

    The pilot did not land the plane so much as drop the thing out of the sky and hope that the runway was somewhere in the neighbourhood for the event. This had everyone struggling to keep their seats and attempt to appear composed but the chorus of loud thuds inside oversize chests was most likely audible from Belgrade. We walked across a runway into an airport that was evidently a recent affair, where some form of grandeur was present at planning stage but only the delusion remained in the final execution.

    I was scrutinised by a Macedonian police woman who wore her fringe with an almost patriotic pride, skipped through the empty pages of my new passport with unsuppressed disdain, chose a page at random, and then stamped it with an apocalyptic finality. Never have I been made to feel so insignificant, such a meek instrument on the cosmic scale of things, such a useless mayfly trespassing on precious Macedonian soil. Armed with this new confidence I found myself on the street outside the airport, with no such thing as an arrivals area so that there is no interface between the passport control queue and the world outside.

    I was immediately confronted by a dozen friendly faces who solicited their taxi service shamelessly and pushed each other aside in an attempt to take me to wherever it was I surely didn't want to go as long as they had secured my fare. The more vociferous of them asked me whether I was waiting for someone and I nodded dumbly and said "My Friend" for god knows what reason but I was still feeling rather intimidated and very, very confused. He immediately told me that no, my friend wasn't coming, he had forgotten about me, and that I was going with him. He would take me to Skopje and find me a hotel. He also knows the restaurant where I'm having dinner. I listened for a while then asked him whether I could smoke there, a question that he wasn't prepared for and interrupted his script. Floundering he accepted that I wasn't accepting his offer and went on to pester some other hapless traveller, this time a huge Nordic man who must have inspired much of their mythology, looking Thor-like and possibly of the same proportions.

    I walked out of the throng and made my way to a small open-air cafeteria with eight tables and ten waiters. Labour is cheap in Macedonia. My dad picked me up a few minutes later and we headed out North towards the border with Kosovo in a white 4x4 with UN written inconspicuously in 2 foot-high letters on each side of the vehicle. It beeped frantically whenever we hit the speed limit and informed the powers that be that we had committed this crime. On our way to the border we overtook a convoy of about 12 army tanks, hospital and supply vehicles and a police escort. We stopped ahead of them and I tried to take a couple of pictures but they climbed out of the bellies of the metal beasts they were riding to wave angry fists and even angrier Kalaschnikovs at me. Bad move.

    Back into the jeep we finally reached the border and I decided to take a photo of the sand-bags and artillery. Bad move? Of course it was a bloody bad move. A police woman came up to the car smiling, and politely asked me to go with her. Internal battles were raging inside her since she was livid at my audacity but had to retain dignity when faced with a UN vehicle. Fumbling with the seat-belt I dropped the memory card inside the car and followed her to the police station like an obedient puppy. She rattled off in Albanian to two soldiers, hands on hips. Holsters, actually. Eventually I got out of it by convincing them that I had no card inside by brand new camera and that I was just practising.

    Off to Pristina then, capital of Kosovo, a bit more cautious with the snapping this time. The hour and a half drive from the border to the capital revealed a countryside with plenty of natural beauty and human interference that attempted to reverse this. Shops the size of my car sold a few apples and bottles of water, scrap-yards with hundreds upon hundreds of deceased vehicles rubbed shoulders with shops that seemingly existed purely as purveyors of rubber ducks. Plastic, it turned out, since many shops sold a small variety of plastic items, each 'specialising' in the range of items sold. So all of god's handiwork on whatever day he created plants was cruelly mimicked inside a shop that attempted to sell crude plastic representations of global flora.

    At the same time, poncey, new, glass-clad buildings were erupting at haphazard intervals, glorious European architecture surrounded by the now-familiar rubble, like a steel-and-glass phoenix rising from the ashes of a recently-torched countryside. These are all evidence of new investment that is somehow focusing on small patches of land while ignoring the surroundings. Quite why certain patches are chosen for development remains quite a mystery since these new buildings seem to spring out of nowhere, and around them the car-sized 'shops' and mounds of metal or construction waste grow unchecked.

    Another striking feature that hardly blends into this landscape was the presence of a disproportionate amount of advertising billboards, advertising cigarettes, the American School in Pristina, and a few other consumer products. The smokes and the school, however, alone dominate the vast majority of square kilometres available for public perusal.

    Into the city finally, we enter a twisting and turning maze that diverted us through ramshackle shops and minarets, casinos and mosques, kebab restaurants and tobacconists. The first impression is that of a typical Islamic town that has been infused with a certain degree of communist architecture and the crass commercial in-your-face advertising of the glorious West. The latter factor is possibly the most incongruous. We drove through quite quickly but I'll be walking around soon enough and will be able to provide you with more detail later on.

    The flat we're staying in turns out to be the only one in a neat and brand new house, with the landlord and his wife living on the ground floor and renting out the first floor to justify their investment. They seem to be obsessed with security, cleanliness, and for some bizarre reason, carpets, so each step has a tiny carpet to itself. The flat itself is comfortable and airy, with windows all around, an excellent level of finish and a massive car battery. An attempt, it turns out, to make up for the power cuts, the occurrence of which ranges from weekly to daily.

    Straight on the house of an American judge for dinner with another 6 judges. I was delivered a healthy dose of discussion about the technicalities of the farce that they call a judicial system. They entertained Article six from the European courts, separation of the church from the state, delays in the Italian judiciary, systemic responsibility in Poland, and a mind-boggling array of similar fictions. They really don't get the point, do they?

    Sending email from UN office that has two maps on the wall. One is an updated political map of the world and the other is a "Mines and Routes Map". Quite why one would want both on the same map is beyond the realms of my comprehension. Scenic route there, mine right next to it, climb that mountain for a view of the city, just be careful because it hasn't been demined, etc...

    Off to the town, for want of a better word, to forage for food and cheap cigarettes.

    More soon...

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