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Friday, 27 November 2009

To England

Emirates 039 to Birmingham: over the Low Countries
Lin met me at Birmingham New Street. I was home just after one in the afternoon - English winter time. I'm feeling as though it's 7.00am Saturday morning, when - as I wrote this - it's actually coming up to 8.00pm Friday evening. I'll take myself to bed soon, having stayed awake through the early dark of a chilly English November day. For the journey I'd finished Loaded, continued The Triumph of the Nomads, digesting Blainey's arguments eroding the view of a great Eden - static and innocent - before Europeans trod the fatal shore, snacked on the in-flight menus and , despite dubious sound, in-flight entertainment - The Time Traveller's Wife - and the passing view through plane's downward camera, and when this seemed too narrow and hazy, peering enviously down through one of the Boeing's small windows to the mountainous terrain along the Iraq-Iran border before our passage north took us over the winter cloud cover.
** ** **
I got an exit seat to Singapore and Dubai this time and another for the next flight onto to Birmingham leaving at 0802 local time. The difference it makes to be able to stretch my legs. News is bad about the economy of Dubai - a sort of Blackpool on the Arabian Gulf with more concrete, higher buildings, censorship, Victorian attitudes to sexuality and gender, dominated by cars and shopping malls, whose monarchical rulers have striven to create a Middle Eastern economy driven by tourism, real estate and financial services instead of oil. From February foreign debt has left each of the emirate's quarter of a million United Arab Emirate's citizens owing $400,000. As I passed through, Dubai World, the emirate's investment agency had just asked, in language clothed in incomprehensible euphemisms about 'restructuring', for six months delay in normal repayments. I guess this is an historically significant event which will impact on the rest of us, but I struggle to understand or feel compassion. [30/11/09 BBC on Dubai's economy and a fine piece of Swiftian prose from James Howard Kunstler] [New York Review of Books Aug-Sept 2010; 'Goodbye to Dubai' by Joshua Hammer]
Friday morning Dubai transit
I'm still contemplating the whirlwind tour of 20th century art at the National Gallery of Art at Melbourne. After dropping off Geoff's bike at the top of Collins I attached myself to a guide and started with impressionists, artists becoming more and more sophisticated about how colour worked, wanting viewer's eyes to do the seeing rather than using paint, however brilliantly, to show people what the artist thought they ought to see. When these painters first appeared people hardly knew what they were looking at. Now we are used to seeing as as impressionists, but struggle with other ways. We jumped to Mark Rothko, marking a movement from Paris and London, as artistic centres, to New York - and learned how things changed even more. "He's having a conversation with you." Thus did art vexingly become Socratic, and we know how much he irritated people who didn't want a conversation that challenged the reliability of their common sense, a shared understanding of wisdom and beauty and, even worse, their faith in an idea of goodness.
We - our guide, me and a couple from Newcastle, New South Wales - ran by a mixture of artists, Australian mixed with the rest of the world, finishing, more or less with Lee Bul, a Korean woman who's untitled construction hung beside Cell by Louise Bourgeois and Yayoi Kusama's Tender are the Stairs to Heaven a frail colour shifting ladder, reaching - up and down - to mirror-made infinity.
* * * An 'oh well' email from Jonathan Davies at Warwick picked up on my WiFi'd train into New Street:
Simon. I'm afraid the ESRC says no 'we'd like to fund it, but insufficient funds', which means we fell one step short. The reviews of the bid are generally good (I will copy them to you when I can). They liked us as a team and thought the approach was innovative, but felt the academic contribution was under-elaborated, which means we bent the stick too far towards the practitioner side - a bit of a surprise to me. There were a couple of criticisms, perhaps the most significant being what one reviewer called the 'lack of ambition' - a single case study in Birmingham rather than something comparative in the UK or abroad. In my view, it is probably worth repackaging and resubmitting - or perhaps going to a different funding body with the current offering. Realistically, I can't come back to it until next Autumn, but would be interested in giving it another go if you are. Sorry to be the bearer of disappointing news. If you can think of other ways we might get this moving in the mean time, let me know. Best Jonathan
* * * Sir Michael Rose has suggested to The Chilcot Enquiry into the invasion of Iraq that Tony Blair might suffer the fate of Admiral Byng to "encourage future prime ministers not to wage costly and unnecessary wars in times to come." At least this enquiry (official site) will allow 'the great and the good' to say publicly what loyalty to the state prevented then saying at the time - perhaps.

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