A French cat and a Roman dog

An autumn scene, in France, with a cat:

One these autumn photos, picked out by Mick Hartley. Other photos Hartley picked out feature some cows, a pig, a dog, and a horse.

And, an ancient Roman scene, with a dog:

Cave. As in: car vey. Or KV, as we used to say at my posh prep school, where, for all the good it did us, we actually did Latin. By which I mean we had it done to us.

Here. Via David Thompson.

Oscar looks down on his neighbours

GodDaughter2’s Dad recently sent another photo of their cat Oscar, displaying his lack of any fear of heights:

And also, in this case, his desire to keep an eye on other cats in the neighbourhood.

Photo taken by GD2D from a nearby balcony. On the left, the original photo that incame. On the right, a crop showing the other three cats down below, just in case you missed them, as I did when I first looked at the photo.

I don’t fully understand Oscar’s relationships with other cats nearby. My first impression: It’s complicated. Whenever I witness Oscar “socialising”, there seems like a lot of exchanging of territorial proclamations going on, in among other stuff, but what do I know? And note that the three cats below are also, in a quieter and smaller way, keeping their distance from each other.

When you observe cats with each other, you get to realise how nice and polite most of them are to us, by comparison.

Woodcat and Oscar

Am I becoming a cat lady in my old age? Probably. Although it may be more that, as I get older, I become less bothered about pretending not to be a cat lady, having always been one.

That’s Oscar, and a wooden cat, photoed just as I was about to leave GodDaughter2’s family in the South of France last January, and head for Carcassonne airport and back to London. I was all packed up and read to go, and waiting. So I filled the time photoing the two cats in question.

The reason I show so many photos of this photo-session is that if I merely showed you one of the last two, of Oscar next to Woodcat, you’d be assuming that Oscar was there, and I put Woodcat next to him. But, the above chronologically displayed photos show that I was photoing Woodcat, who remained immobile throughout, and then Oscar joined in. Rather obligingly, I think.

Remembering a happy birthday choral music experience

I’m now concocting a posting based on some photos I took in the South of France while visiting GodDaughter2’s family. This visit was in January of this year (which now feels like about five years ago), and I was accordingly looking for whatever other postings I had done about that expedition, so as to link back rather than repeat myself.

And, while looking for such postings, I also encountered this posting which I posted thenabouts, which also concerned GodDaughter2.

This was not a perfect piece of writing, but it was an adequate piece of writing (given that I was hungover when I wrote it), which described a perfect experience (at the party that caused the hangover). Accordingly I now give it a qualified recommendation and declare it to be worth a re-read, or, just as likely, a read in the first place. (Reader numbers here are now rising, and some people reading this blog now were not reading it then.)

Particularly recommended to those who enjoy good choral singing and who consequently find bad choral singing particularly painful to listen to.

Patrick Crozier and I talk about French military disappointments (and so does Antoine Clarke)

These disappointments happened in 1870, 1914, 1917, 1940, 1944(?) and 1954. We don’t talk about them in chronological order, because we started with 1914, which was the failed French Ardennes offensive, right at the start of World War 1. But events in all of those years get a mention.

Listen to our conversation here, where there is also lots of further detail from Patrick. Under where it says “Notes” there are 20 items of relevant information, any one of which could have been expanded into a decent blog posting in its own right.

But hello, what’s this? It’s a conversation between Patrick and our mutual friend Antoine Clarke, whom Patrick and I mentioned in our conversation, several times. This was recorded nearly a decade ago. Not having heard it before, I listened to it last night, further delaying me in putting up this posting.

My main reaction to what Antoine said is that, clearly, what I said about how the French “self image” switched, in Parisian artistic circles, from warmonger to peacenik, took its time spreading to the rest of the country. Antoine talks vividly about his ancestors telling their children that the reason they were born was to get Alsace-Lorraine back from the Germans. Also, he said fascinating things about reparations. French had to pay reparations to get the Germans out of France after the 1870 disaster. And they paid the lot, and the Germans left, far quicker than had been expected. Everyone chipped in voluntarily. I knew none of this.

In general, I think that following our chat about Lockdown, Patrick and I showed a return to form, assuming I’m allowed to say that. Maybe you’ll think better of our Lockdown chat than I do, but for me the trouble with that was that all I recall us doing was expressing our own opinions, much as anyone listening could have done for himself. But people listening need to be told at least some things they didn’t already know, just like Antoine does in his talk with Patrick, for instance with all that stuff about reparations that I knew nothing about. At least, when we talked about France, Patrick and I had read interesting books which people listening might not have read. Patrick had been reading this book, and I’d been reading this book. (I copied both those links from Patrick’s Notes.) That may not be anything like an eyewitness account following one of us having been present as a small child at Dien Bien Phu, or a great uncle reminiscing about bombing French civilians following the D-Day landings. But it is something.

Two fearless cats

First, a cat I met during Lockdown in June, enjoying the almost empty road, and strolling across it like he owned it:

If Lockdown ever ends, the urban animal tendency is going to be mysteriously baffled as to why things became so mysteriously nice, before going back to being regular old nasty.

And second, Oscar, the cat of GodDaughter2’s family, as photoed perching on some railings by GD2’s Dad, earlier this month, in the south of France:

I bet it’s hot down there just now.

Actually, Oscar is being quite careful, and is perched in such a way that if anything did go wrong, he’d fall onto the balcony, not to the ground outside.

Nice pics there GD2D, but I think this photo, also illustrating Oscar’s fearlessness of heights, is even better.

When podcasting clashes with the cricket

Monday before last, on July 20th, Patrick Crozier and I were fixed to do another of our recorded conversations, about France’s military activities and ordeals during the two world wars, and especially the first. However, there was some kind of problem with the kit and we had to postpone. Which suited me because that was the final day of the second test match between England and the Windies. England spent the day pressing for the wickets they needed to win that game, and there might have been silences from me when I was supposed to be responding to Patrick about something or other but was instead checking out the latest wicket.

So, instead of doing it on July 20th, we’re doing it today.

That today is the final day of the third test match between England and the Windies, and England are now pressing for the wickets they need to win this game, and thereby win the series, is just one of those things. Windies began the day 10-2 and just lost their fourth wicket as I began writing this. So for England, so far so good, fingers crossed, touch wood and hope to die, metaphors all working nicely so far. But any sort of prolonged stand, probably involving Windies captain Jason Holder, and it could still get tense.

Our recorded conversation about French militarism (and alleged lack of enough of it (Patrick dissents from that widespread Anglo-allegation)) will eventually, assuming there is no problem doing it this afternoon, show up here.

Windies now five down, and it’s not even lunch. At this rate, it might all be over before Patrick and I even get started. But, now I learn that it’s raining a bit. “Shower” though, as opposed to the real day-ending thing, like they had yesterday. They’re having an early lunch, which will hopefully minimise the time England lose to take those last five wickets.

LATER: Well, we did our recording, and it seemed to me to go okay. And get this. We like to start our conversations at 3 pm, out of habit because that’s when they always started when Patrick called round at my place in person. So, 3 pm is when we started today. And when do you suppose England sealed victory in their game against the Windies by taking the final Windies wicket? 2.58 pm. So, no cricket distraction distracting me when I was picking Patrick’s brain about France and its military vicissitudes.

And it was as well for England that they did this at 2.58 pm. Not long after this, it started raining up there in Manchester. Really raining, as opposed to a mere shower. Had the Windies hung on only a few more minutes, they might have got their draw.

Big red bike

I seem now to be following the rule here, for the duration of You Know What, of two postings or more a day rather than just the one. So, here is a quotor, to adapt a word, motorbike.

I think we can all agree that this motorbike, the one on the right of the two, is a Honda Goldwing:

I photoed this motorbike in the town of Vannes, on the south coast of Brittany. The French do love their giant midlife crisis motorbikes, and I do love to photo these motorbikes.

My family used to holiday at a place called Saint Gildas, which is near to Vannes, so I visited Vannes a few tunes as a kid. When in Quimper in 2014, I went back to see it again.

See also the first comment, from Rob, at this posting, which included a yellow version of the above, that I encountered in London in 2013.

Rodney Stark defends God’s Battalions

Recently I quoted a chunk from Emmanuel Todd’s Lineages of Modernity, in the course of which chunk Todd praised the historian Rodney Stark. I looked up Stark on Amazon and encountered a familiar book cover. I realised that I already possessed Stark’s book defending the Crusades, entitled God’s Battalions: The Case For The Crusades.

Here is the Introduction of that book, entitled “Greedy barbarians in armor?”:

ON NOVEMBER 27, 1095, Pope Urban II mounted a platform set up in a meadow outside the French city of Clermont, surrounded in all directions by an immense crowd. A vigorous man of fifty-three, Urban was blessed with an unusually powerful and expressive voice that made it possible for him to be heard at a great distance. On this memorable occasion, addressing a multitude that included poor peasants as well as nobility and clergy, the pope gave a speech that changed history.

Urban had arranged the gathering in response to a letter from Alexius Comnenus, emperor of Byzantium, who had written from his embattled capital of Constantinople to the Count of Flanders requesting that he and his fellow Christians send forces to help the Byzantines repel the Seljuk Turks, recent converts to Islam who had invaded the Middle East, captured Jerusalem, and driven to within one hundred miles of Constantinople. In his letter, the emperor detailed gruesome tortures of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land and vile desecrations of churches, altars, and baptismal fonts. Should Constantinople fall to the Turks, not only would thousands more Christians be murdered, tortured, and raped, but also “the most holy relics of the Saviour,” gathered over the centuries, would be lost. “Therefore in the name of God … we implore you to bring this city all the faithful soldiers of Christ … [I]n your coming you will find your reward in heaven, and if you do not come, God will condemn you.”

There were many reasons that Europeans might have ignored any plea for help from Byzantium. For one thing, their cultural heritage as well as their Christianity was Roman, while the Byzantines were Greeks, whose lifestyle seemed decadent to Europeans and whose “Orthodox” Christianity held Latin Catholicism in contempt-often persecuting its priests and practitioners. Nevertheless, when Pope Urban 11 read this letter he was determined that it be answered by worthy deeds, and he arranged for a church council at Clermont, which he followed with his famous speech.

Speaking in French, the pope began by graphically detailing the torture, rape, and murder of Christian pilgrims and the defilement of churches and holy places committed by the Turks (he called them Persians): “They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either pour on the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate on the ground … What shall I say about the abominable rape of women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you?”

At this point Pope Urban raised a second issue to which he and his illustrious predecessor Gregory VII had devoted years of effort – the chronic warfare of medieval times. The popes had been attempting to achieve a “truce of God” among the feudal nobility, many of whom seemed inclined to make war, even on their friends, just for the sake of a good fight. After all, it was what they had trained to do every day since early childhood. Here was their chance! “Christian warriors, who continually and vainly seek pretexts for war, rejoice, for you have today found a true pretext … If you are conquered, you will have the glory of dying in the very same place as Jesus Christ, and God will never forget that he found you in the holy battalions … Soldiers of Hell, become soldiers of the living God!”

Now, shouts of “Dieu li volt!” (God wills it!) began to spread through the crowd, and men began to cut up cloaks and other pieces of cloth to make crosses and sew them against their chests. Everyone agreed that the next year they would set out for the Holy Land. And they did.

That is the traditional explanation of how and why the First Crusade began. But in recent times a far more cynical and sinister explanation of the Crusades has gained popularity. Thus, in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center by Muslim terrorists, frequent mention was made of the Crusades as a basis for Islamic fury. It was argued that Muslim bitterness over their mistreatment by the Christian West can be dated back to the First Crusade. Far from being motivated by piety or by concern for the safety of pilgrims and the holy places in Jerusalem, the Crusades were but the first extremely bloody chapter in a long history of brutal European colonialism.

More specifically, it is charged that the crusaders marched east not out of idealism, but in pursuit of lands and loot; that the Crusades were promoted by power-mad popes seeking to greatly expand Christianity through conversion of the Muslim masses; and that the knights of Europe were barbarians who brutalized everyone in their path, leaving “the enlightened Muslim culture … in ruins.” As Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C., has suggested, “the Crusades created a historical memory which is with us today – the memory of a long European onslaught.”

Two months after the attack of September II, 2001, on New York City, former president Bill Clinton informed an audience at Georgetown University that “[tjhose of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless” vis-à-vis the Crusades as a crime against Islam, and then summarized a medieval account about all the blood that was shed when Godfrey of Bouillon and his forces conquered Jerusalem in 1099.

That the Crusades were a terrible crime in great need of atonement was a popular theme even before the Islamic terrorists crashed their hijacked airliners. In 1999, the New York Times had solemnly proposed that the Crusades were comparable to Hitler’s atrocities or to the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. That same year, to mark the nine hundredth anniversary of the crusader conquest of Jerusalem, hundreds of devout Protestants took part in a “reconciliation walk” that began in Germany and ended in the Holy Land. Along the way the walkers wore T-shirts bearing the message “I apologize” in Arabic. Their official statement explained the need for a Christian apology:

Nine hundred years ago, our forefathers carried the name of Jesus Christ in battle across the Middle East. Fueled by fear, greed, and hatred … the Crusaders lifted the banner of the Cross above your people … On the anniversary of the First Crusade … we wish to retrace the footsteps of the Crusaders in apology for their deeds … We deeply regret the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by our predecessors. We renounce greed, hatred and fear, and condemn all violence done in the name of Jesus Christ.

Also in 1999, Karen Armstrong, a former nun and a popular writer on religious themes, proposed that “crusading answered a deep need in the Christians of Europe. Yet today most of us would unhesitantly condemn the Crusades as unchristian. After all, Jesus told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. He was a pacifist and had more in common with Gandhi, perhaps, than with Pope Urban.” Armstrong went on to propose that, in fact, “holy war is a deeply Christian act,” since Christianity has “an inherent leaning toward violence, despite the pacifism of Jesus.” And a prominent former priest, James Carroll, agreed, charging that the Crusades left a “trail of violence [that] scars the earth and human memory even to this day.”

These are not new charges. Western condemnations of the Crusades were widespread during the “Enlightenment,” that utterly misnamed era during which French and British intellectuals invented the “Dark Ages” in order to glorify themselves and vilify the Catholic Church (see chapter 3). Hence, Voltaire (1694-1778) called the Crusades an “epidemic of fury which lasted for two hundred years and which was always marked by every cruelty, every perfidy, every debauchery, and every folly of which human nature is capable.” According to David Hume (1711-1776), the Crusades were “the most signal and most durable monument to human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation.” Denis Diderot (1713-1784) characterized the Crusades as “a time of the deepest darkness and of the greatest folly … to drag a significant part of the world into an unhappy little country in order to cut the inhabitants’ throats and seize a rocky peak which was not worth one drop of blood.” These attacks also reinforced the widespread “Protestant conviction that crusading was yet another expression of Catholic bigotry and cruelty?” Thus the English historian Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) claimed that the Crusades were all the pope’s doing and that this “war would be the sewer of Christendom” in that it attempted to deprive the Muslims of their lawful possession of Palestine.

However, the notion that the crusaders were early Western imperialists who used a religious excuse to seek land and loot probably was originated by the German Lutheran church historian Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1693-1755), who wrote: “The Roman pontiffs and the European princes were engaged at first in these crusades by a principle of superstition only, but when in the process of time they learnt by experience that these holy wars contributed much to increase their opulence and to extend their authority … [then] ambition and avarice seconded and enforced the dictates of fanaticism and superstition.” Mosheim’s views were echoed by Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), who claimed that the crusaders really went in pursuit of “mines of treasures, of gold and diamonds, of palaces of marble and jasper, and of odoriferous groves of cinnamon and frankincense.”

During the twentieth century, this self-interest thesis was developed into an elaborate “materialist” account of why the Crusades took place.” The prolific Geoffrey Barraclough (1908-1984) wrote: “[O]ur verdict on the Crusades [is that it amounted to] colonial exploitation.” Or, as Karen Armstrong confided, these “were our first colonies.” A more extensive and sophisticated material explanation of why the knights went east was formulated by Hans Eberhard Mayer, who proposed that the Crusades alleviated a severe financial squeeze on Europe’s “knightly class.” According to Mayer and others who share his views, at this time there was a substantial and rapidly growing number of “surplus” sons, members of noble families who would not inherit and whom the heirs found it increasingly difficult to provide with even modest incomes. Hence, as Mayer put it, “the Crusade acted as a kind of safety valve for the knightly class … a class which looked upon the Crusade as a way of solving its material problems.” Indeed, a group of American economists recently proposed that the crusaders hoped to get rich from the flow of pilgrims (comparing the shrines in Jerusalem with modern amusement parks) and that the pope sent the crusaders east in pursuit of “new markets” for the church, presumably to be gained by converting people away from Islam.” It is thus no surprise that a leading college textbook on Western civilization informs students: “From the perspective of the pope and European monarchs, the crusades offered a way to rid Europe of contentious young nobles … [who] saw an opportunity to gain territory, riches, status, possibly a title, and even salvation.”

To sum up the prevailing wisdom: during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam.

Not so. As will be seen, the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations: by centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West and by sudden new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places. Although the Crusades were initiated by a plea from the pope, this had nothing to do with hopes of converting Islam. Nor were the Crusades organized and led by surplus sons, but by the heads of great families who were fully aware that the costs of crusading would far exceed the very modest material rewards that could be expected; most went at immense personal cost, some of them knowingly bankrupting themselves to go. Moreover, the crusader kingdoms that they established in the Holy Land, and that stood for nearly two centuries, were not colonies sustained by local exactions; rather, they required immense subsidies from Europe.

In addition, it is utterly unreasonable to impose modern notions about proper military conduct on medieval warfare; both Christians and Muslims observed quite different rules of war. Unfortunately, even many of the most sympathetic and otherwise sensible historians of the Crusades are unable to accept that fact and are given to agonizing over the very idea that war can ever be “just,” revealing the pacifism that has become so widespread among academics. Finally, claims that Muslims have been harboring bitter resentments about the Crusades for a millennium are nonsense: Muslim antagonism about the Crusades did not appear until about 1900, in reaction against the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the onset of actual European colonialism in the Middle East. And anti-crusader feelings did not become intense until after the founding of the state of Israel. These are principal themes of the chapters that follow.

Historians disagree about which events were Crusades and therefore about when they occurred. I exclude the “crusades” against heretics in Europe and accept the conventional definition: that the Crusades involved conflicts between Christendom and Islam for control of the Holy Land, campaigns that occurred between 1095 and 1291. However, unlike most conventional Crusade historians, I shall not begin with the pope’s appeal at Clermont, but with the rise of Islam and the onset of the Muslim invasions of Christendom. That’s when it all started-in the seventh century, when Islamic armies swept over the larger portion of what was then Christian territory: the Middle East, Egypt and all of North Africa, and then Spain and southern Italy, as well as many major Mediterranean islands including Sicily, Corsica, Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, Malta, and Sardinia. It also is important to examine the Christian counterattacks that began in the eighth century and soon “liberated” many of the occupied areas, for these were previews of the military confrontations that eventually took place in the Holy Land. Nor shall I merely recount the crusader battles, for they are comprehensible only in light of the superior culture and technology that made it possible for European knights to march more than twenty-five hundred miles, to suffer great losses along the way, and then to rout far larger Muslim forces.

Many superb historians have devoted their careers to studying aspects of the Crusades.” I am not one of them. What I have done is synthesize the work of these specialists into a more comprehensive perspective, written in prose that is accessible to the general reader. However, I have been careful to fully acknowledge the contributions of the many experts on whom I have depended, some in the text and the rest in the endnotes.

Taking off from London City Airport in 2014

There’s no way I’d be inflicted the job of sticking up these thirty photos upon myself, let along the actual photos on any of you, were it not for the magic of WordPress Gallery, which enables me to shove them all up in one big lump, and you to click through them with just twenty nice clicks. Or not. As you please.

As if often the case, I display them in spite of their photographical quality, but because what they show is so interesting. My plane that day took off right over my favourite clutch of places in the whole world.

Here’s where the plane took off from, flying from right to left:

And here is what I photoed from it, presumably in defiance of the instructions of the people bossing the plane, from just before take-off until we arrived, I’m pretty sure, at the English Channel. I was on the left of plane, pointing my camera south towards the River, at any rate at first:

I particularly like the early ones there, of the territory between the western bit of the Victoria Dock and the River. We clearly see the Thames Barrier, and the Dome of course, but I love all that ever-changing muddle in between. I may well, although of course I promise nothing, be using some of those photos again, one at a time, when discussing the details of how this part of London has changed, is changing and will change. No way does it look the same now.

Later you can see, I think, the Walthamstow reservoirs (which call themselves the Walthamstow “Wetlands”), a golf course (which one, I have no idea), a very particular road intersection (ditto), and an aerial view of The Scream, that painting of a woman screaming, with a friend. Then, would that be the Isle of Wight? Don’t know. Commenters who like this kind of thing can, if they wish, elucidate.

If that’s right we did a 270 degree turn, first going north and then going south, on our way to Brittany. Presumably this was to make sure we kept well clear of anything to do with Heathrow.