Monday, May 30, 2011

I dream fondly of the hot desert winds of Djenne as I make my way north by train, stopping for a couple of days to say hello to my dear friend Birgit in a freezing cold Amsterdam. Here we are at her African bead and jewellery stand where she sells what she buys when she visits me at Djenne Djenno during the winter months.

The following day a succession of trains sped me further north through the green pastures of Germany and and Denmark while cold rain beat down on the train windows. I arrived in southern Sweden last night, welcomed into the bosom of my family in the shape of my cousin Pelle and his wife Nanni, their children, my auntie Birgit, as well as several new arrivals in this ever-expanding branch of the family. Today a timid sun is finally attempting to warm my poor African limbs.

I just spoke to Baba at the hotel. He and Papa have both been doing a few weeks's apprenticeship at the Hotel l'Amitie in Bamako. He seems very pleased with his (first)time in Bamako, and so is Papa it appears. They both ended up with proper apprenticeship certificates, stamped and signed- they are very proud.
Meanwhile Maman (who did an apprenticeship with Amede at La Maison Rouge in Mopti last year) has been holding the fort at Hotel Djenne Djenno, with much success it appears, since we just had a very good new Trip Advisor review by a lady that just stayed at the hotel. She mentions him by name twice no less!
I am very pleased with him and he will get a good present when I return.
The hotel will now close for the month of June. I will continue further north...

Friday, May 27, 2011

This is for Amarilis-(see below!) I found you the Times Obituary of George!

George Ross
May 12 2011 12:01AM
Romanian émigré and eccentric who taught physics and the philosophy of science while living a restless, bohemian life in London
George Ross was an intellectual bohemian who, before he applied to leave his native Romania in 1963, was set for a career in physics. The communist state employed Ross, who graduated fourth in the country, as a bottle- washer and a glassblower in a light-bulb factory before letting him go. A kind, emotional man, who spent the rest of his life teaching physics and philosophy of science, mainly in London, he never abandoned the high moral principles that made life under a people’s dictatorship unbearable.
Born in 1935 into a wealthy and distinguished Sephardi family in Bucharest, Ross grew up multilingual. One grandfather spoke 14 languages. A second taught him geometry like Socrates taught the slave boy, by drawing lines in the sand with a stick. Ross longed to study philosophy, but since the communist curriculum offered only dialectical materialism, he chose physics, and kept up his real interests, and his wide reading, in private.
During the war Jews in Romania were not sent to concentation camps but his father had to sweep the streets and Ross had to go to a school with only Jewish children. There his teachers were professors banned from the university. One had taught Einstein.
Some members of his family joined the Communist Party to survive the regime, but Ross accepted the offer open to Jews to emigrate. His application lodged, he suffered five years as a social pariah. He was 28 when he arrived in Israel with his mother Anne-Marie, deprived of his books, possessions and mementoes. Ross, his wife Rosemary later said, left Romania with his brain and his extraordinary memory. He began what would become a lifetime’s second career as a private tutor while his mother waited for her husband to join them. He never did.
At the Weizmann Institute in Rehovoth, Ross was a specialist in optics when he met Rosemary Emanuel, from a North London Jewish family, fresh from Cambridge and curious about Israel. They lived there together and then in 1964 her parents threw them a grand wedding in London that Ross, a Romanian émigré without papers, almost missed. Plunged into synagogue life, the ardent individualist was shocked by being expected to conform; not a good omen for his married future. Though appropriately learned, he never wanted to be a practising Jew.
Israel, with its religious minority increasingly dictating the tenor of daily life, also rapidly displeased him. For the birth of their first son, in 1965, the couple returned to England, where they were joined a year later by Anne-Marie. A second son was born in 1969, and Anne-Marie lived with them until her death in 2002.
Ross worked for ICI, and then for three years lectured in glass technology at the University of Sheffield. He subsequently held posts at Queen Elizabeth College and King’s College London. Yet neither his official posts nor his marriage ever quite fitted him.
An unbridgeable gulf opened up between the Emanuels and Ross when he refused to have his sons circumcised and thus to bring them up as Jews. With Rosemary under constant strain to please both parties, in 1983 Ross finally declared “the need to have his own front door”. They were divorced and Rosemary remarried.
After he retired Ross turned to his old intellectual dream to dwell among the philosophers. Though he suffered as an emotional man in an emotionally inexpressive country, he had many offbeat, individualistic friends in his post-married life. He became a familiar, much loved figure at London’s many public philosophy meetings and seminars, dressed in a black T-shirt and flipflops, not least because of his great size. He knew journalists, academics and many other exiled East Europeans, and loved to mix them together at dinner parties that revealed him to be a marvellous Romanian cook and master of the supersized portion. When his small, elegant West London flat, piled with books and papers, became too hot in summer he escaped to a nudist club in Surrey.
He was a founder member of the British-Romanian Association from 1965 and later its vice-president. After 1989 he campaigned for the restoration of the Romanian monarchy. He wrote speeches for the exiled King Michael, and his own returns to Romania, in 1989 and 1992, was a time of hope. Alas, he came to see Romanian politics, about which he published a book in 2002 (Modern Romania, a Brief Historical Perspective), as almost as murky after the political change as before, and he had to accept that his vision of democratic integrity for his native country was not to be.
As friends knew who crammed into London fringe theatres beside him to see Absurdist dramas by the Romanian playwright Eugene Ionescu, what Ross learnt in opposition to communism determined his life: “Not to give into the herd mentality, to stand out against the enormous uniformisant pressures of our century, to maintain human presence and dignity,” as he put it in a last e-mail to a friend.
In his final decade he kept in touch with Rosemary. But he began to suffer from ill health owing to the weight that he just could not shed. She and his two sons survive him.
George Ross, private tutor, lecturer and bohemian, was born on October 28, 1935. He died on April 18, 2011, aged 75

Sometimes I go back to see if there are any new comments posted on older diary entries. Just now I found this which moved me, regarding my friend George who passed away. This lady will be pleased to hear that George's obituary came out in the Times a few days ago. I will try to find the reference. She can also go to his memorial website:

Meanwhile here is Amarilis:

Amarilis said...
I am Rodica, a Romanian women, a retired physicist, one year younger than George.
Many years have passed, but these days a sudden filing urged me to find out somehow a trace of George. I tried by first looking up in Google.
...It can’t be true I thought. And yet it was. ....Three weeks too late!

During all our studentship I was overwhelmed by George’s appearance, so different from the rest of us. Tall, always wearing a dark suit and a white shirt, the cuffs showing up a little from under his sleeves. A tie too, of course. A big black umbrella, strange for a student of those days, accompanied him often.
A real gentleman in a crowd of say poorly dressed students, as was usual in those dark years in Romania.
I was overwhelmed by George’s mature and elevated way of thinking and speaking, so different from what one usually heard in our student world. He seemed to belong to another world, a world I would never be able to reach, I thought.

Memories are overwhelming me now, when I thought to be so near to find him again.

The Romanian physicists have here a journal, Curierul de fizică. I think that at least now, after his passing away, George deserves to be reminded to his colleagues who have praised him and to the community of physicists here in Romania.

Could you help us? In any way you can. May be with some information about his activity in England, some photography, and by writing an article for the mentioned journal. May be by permitting us to publish also his 10 Commandments.

Is it too much if I ask you to put on his grave a flower from me too, next time you will be in London?

Have my deepest sympathy for the loss of your dear friend.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On holiday, in London still. I thought I'd better just say a quick hello.
There is no news from the hotel at the moment, only that one couple has spent 4 days at the hotel, all alone. I called the hotel to tell Maman to give them the Peulh suite for the price of a normal double. Not only have they been alone at the hotel, but there are absolutely no tourists in Djenne, apparently.
My old pal Biggles took me for lunch in our old Alma Mater the Royal College of Art the other day: in the Senior Common Room no less, where we spent a lovely time lolling around having drinks watched over by masterpieces such as the Henry Moore behind us...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One day I found this Praying Mantis on the bogolan printing table on my verandah.
I am now far,far away from Djenne of course. I am writing from the depths of Stockwell, London, but I thougt the picture might introduce a lovely prayer from last Sunday at my old church, St. Francis of Assissi in Notting Hill.
It was a First Communion Service and the church was teeming with parents and their ten year old off spring: girls in tiaras and white veils and boys in their first suits. The priest gave us his 'Parents Prayer' to say:

'Gracious God, here are our children....Guide them and inspire them,
Call them and strengthen them to respond to adventures you have prepared for them,..
Help them to get to know themselves and to enjoy the person you created them to be'

That can be prayed for all of us I think?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

When I lived in London I used to run what was referred to as a 'salon' every Tuesday night in my Ladbroke grove flat. That may sound a little pretentious and frightening but it was not, far from it. We had a lot of fun and often played silly games that we invented; there was events or music now and then: once a lady operasinger whose name now escapes me performed a one woman opera she had composed herself; there was wine tasting,(and much wine drinking...)there was a talk entitled 'How to grow sweet peas in the confines of a London flat' which had everyone actually planting some there and then in little pots and lots of earth spilled on the parquet flooring; David, my most frequent comment writer once gave a fascinating talk about Madam Butterfly.

There was a large impossibly difficult jigsaw puzzle worked on by some people while others chatted. The puzzle lived under my bed for the rest of the week. Finally we got fed up with it and one Tuesday we decided to finish it by cutting up the last pieces and banging them in any old way.

I remember a magic Tuesday- it was one of the last ones- when we started talking about Happiness. It was decided that every new person that walked in through the door had to give their definition of Happiness, and they all did, amazingly. I cannot remember what they said, only that each and every one seemed to sparkle that night somehow, and that finally one girl said: ' Happiness is to be here with you all tonight'.
I never had any idea who would turn up. Anyone could come and bring people. Sometimes there were twenty people, sometimes just three. I served soup and bread at ten o'clock.
There was only one rule: if there was ever a Tuesday when noone came, that would spell the end. That Tuesday finally came. It would of course have been possible to continue and not to tell anyone. But I felt compelled to follow the rules I had made: the magic had been broken and I believed it was over.

A few months later several of the former 'salonistas' went to Mali together. On the picture above Lucy in orange next to me (in the middle), and Andrew in cream jacket standing behind me were part of the Mali Journey Christmas and New Year 2005-2006without which there would not be a Hotel Djenne Djenno...

Last Tuesday there was a very jolly reunion of 'Sophie's salonistas' courtesy of Edward and of Zsusza, two of my most faithful Tuesday visitors. Since my flat is now let, Edward lent us his lovely Notting Hill flat. George was sadly missed, having also been a frequent Tuesday member.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

My dear friend George Ross has passed away. I went to his funeral last Wednesday in Golder's Green.
George was summed up by the celebrant as 'A sensational individual', and that is exactly how I feel about him.
Enormously learned with a razor sharp mind, he came to England from his homeland Rumania in the early sixties, not speaking a word of English. He learned the language by reading the Times with a dictionary. There is, appropriately, a forthcoming obituary of him in the Times. He had read Physics and Mathematics in Bucharest, although he always said that his real love was Philosophy. This subject did not feature on the syllabus in those days in Rumania, only in the shape of Marxism etc. He made up for this later in life when he taught Philosophy of Science at the University of London.

George was huge fun. One of his biggest heroes was Goethe, and he mirrored his hero in that he seemed to inhabit a different plane from the rest of us somehow: where the horizons and the appetite for learning and for life were on a heroic scale.

George was a reader of this journal, and he would often write me emails commenting on my latest entries. A typical example from the 3rd of March 2007 when I had written:

'I am walling myself in with turrets in a make-believe country, which never the less is true. Or is it? Perhaps it is all in my imagination? Perhaps soon I will be mad as a hatter, or am I already? Perhaps soon it will become apparent that I have lost touch with reality and some kind friend who looks in on the blog will decide to send a rescue party.
In the meantime the full moon is illuminating the turrets of my kingdom in a cold light, Jupiter has risen and in the distance a moezzin is calling the faithful to prayer. This place is still as alien as ever to me and I revel and bathe in its strangeness which soothes my soul like balsam. The ochre dust of the Harmattan envelops my kingdom and on the distant horizon flames a lone potter's pyre'

George wrote:
Yes,of course,my rescue party has been on high alert,ready to depart,since the day you went to Mali! And yes,I do think that you are mad. Well,you must be mad! But then,I remember Bernard Shaw,who put it neatly:
'Progress is due to the unreasonable person. The reasonable person seeks to adjust to the world. The unreasonable person seeks to change it'. When you come in April (?)will you bring me a banana from one of your own trees?
Yes, you are like an Empress, inspecting your crenelated turrets. And,like your great ancestress, one day you will utter 'non mi bisognia e non mi basta' (or something like this)and retire to the Vatican!

George always wrote me these sorts of uplifting and flattering messages... I have spent the day reading through our correspondence through the years, and feeling sad, but glad that I knew him.

If there was sadness in George, he shook it off by sheer force of will and sense of humour. He helped his friends to do the same- when he knew that I was down he remedied this by taking me off to a performance of a Ukulele orchestra which made us laugh, since he rightly believed that laugther is always the best medicine.

George and I were to meet up now, like always when I am in London, but alas...

George was a staunch Atheist, but he left us with his own version of the 10 commandments:


1. Sapere aude - Dare to know. Take the risk of discovery, exercise the right of unfettered criticism, accept the loneliness of autonomy. Have the courage to use independently your own understanding, without recourse to anyone else's guidance. Always question, always examine critically your thoughts and deeds. Always ask 'why?' Try also to ask 'why not?' Be creative.

2. Know thyself. To thine own self be true. Remember that an unexamined life is not worth living.

3. Universalize your actions: never do anything which you would not want to say that anybody and everybody should be able to do in a similar situation. Treat your fellow human beings as you want them to treat you. Do not have double standards: apply to yourself the principles and laws that you yourself formulate. Never treat people as a means to an end: only as an end in itself.

4. Be kind and compassionate, and be involved: remember that the hottest place in hell is destined to those who adopt a neutral attitude in a moral conflict.

5. Take very seriously your duty towards others, but do not take yourself seriously. Always aim for the best result possible, not for the best possible result.

6. Remember that all human opinions, values, tenets and beliefs are of necessity subjective and relative. Always treat them as hypotheses or premises. Never bestow upon an opinion, doctrine, dogma or belief of any sort an absolute character: this is the cause of most heinous crimes against humanity. Beware of peddlers of absolutes, for people have been – and are – exterminated in the name of absolutes. Nobody has ever been killed for a hypothesis, so far at least.

7. Be regular and ordinary in your life, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work. Do not make a virtue of banality, by calling it 'common sense'. Remember that the surest defence against evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality.

8. Tolerate any stance, except intolerance itself. To detest another man's opinions is one thing. To suppress them is quite another. This distinction is the essence of liberalism. Plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than that only freedom can make security secure.

9. Treat with respect the planet on which we live. It is the only one we've got at present and we must bequeath it to our children – and our children's children.

10. Strive to live in such a way that the world you leave behind you is a better place, freer, wiser, more tolerant, than the world you found when you were born. Try to make a difference – however small.