Many Types of Lords

“Joel D. Hirst’s masterpiece is a worthy best-selling novel brimming with poignant lessons about idealism, culture, and religion. It begs us to examine the current state of the world today, a world so divided by different idealisms and misruled by many types of lords. Hirst uses language as flavorful and vibrant as the culture in the Sahara but without giving in to unnecessary theatrics. The result is an extremely satisfying literary experience.”


Riveting from start to finish, Lords of Misrule is a must-read from a master storyteller, Joel D. Hirst.

The BookWalker


Read the whole review here.

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America’s New Aristocracy

Most people have trouble thinking. It is a simple sad fact about humanity that I have been forced to come to terms with. To be sure learning does not come easy, requiring effort and patience and nuance. People prefer pre-cooked ideas, pre-digested notions coming from pre-packaged prejudices. But who is doing the packaging, did you ever consider that? How about the cooking? The aristocracy; it is always they whom you will find if you pull back the curtain – desperate as they are to hold onto a diminishing power. These days, for years in fact theirs has been the careful manipulation of outrage and powerlessness. America’s aristocracy has for decades been – as Angus Deaton has said – “…raising the ladders as they ascend”. Or, if you prefer, throwing up speed bumps behind them as they race forward. These come in the form of privileged zip codes, of licenses and diplomas and certifications and regulations; of clearances and of minimum evaluation factors and minimum wage laws. All traps to stop those who might power ahead of them through a greater talent and work ethic and spirit.

Have you not noticed who are the winners and losers of the great pandemic? For that is not by accident either. Things were getting so much better for people of all colors and creeds; more equal, a weakened aristocracy fighting tooth and nail, but losing. But it was ephemeral, not yet solidified. These things take time; hence the justifiable frustration of a hard-working population having an arriving prosperity so viciously snatched away. Who wouldn’t be angry? Of course that prosperity was the main fear, wasn’t it – of the aristocracy? Truth of the matter is inter-generational elasticity is the lowest its been in America forever, and that is by the design of the few. It goes hand in hand with inequality; also the design of the few. These same people have spent a few years out in the cold and, scheming always only about how to return think they have found a recipe; by pitting American against American. But that is only the path to violence and hatred and the road to serfdom. Hatred is a force that does not build; it is only a force for destruction. So it’s time, at last – after everything else has failed – to think. In fact, its the only way to avoid America’s arriving serfdom.

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Every morning, here in West Africa, as I prepare my little boy for his school – the gym and the recess and the library, PE and science class and field trips – I look through the window of my kitchen out over the manicured lawns, the play ground and the swimming pool and through the concertina wire to the Africa outside Elysium. There too, in the shadow of privilege, a little one-room school house has sprung up, built in a park that was quietly seized one night by the entrepreneurial homeless, a homestead in which no government official will interfere. Upon broken down benches and with no electricity, writing in pencil upon cracked paper, sharing aging yellowed books, West Africa’s urban poor hope for a better future which is, quite literally, just over the wall.

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Privilege and inequality, those are the words of the 21st century world. We in…

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After COVID-19

Monumental moments in history often follow great conflagrations. Four-hundred years ago Europe, exhausted of her wars, and seeking to put an end to the 30 years war which was only the latest in the conflicts which had stretched back forever signed the Treaty of Westphalia. In doing so, they set our planet on a trajectory toward great prosperity. They took away the political power of the church, which had corrupted her making her carnal and base; they ended (or at least began the end of) empires, putting in place geographical limits upon plots of land which defined national interests and limited what could be done outside those confined – and purposefully confining – spaces.

In the aftermath of the Second World War the League of Nations (and then the United Nations) also attempted to define a “world order”; not only limiting national geographies but introducing restraint into what could be done even within national boundaries. “Absolute monarchy” was over. Breton Woods setting in place monetary and fiscal guidelines to guarantee world economic order, to be followed by poor and rich alike.

These of course are not the only examples. The industrial revolution which both led to and ended the previous world order – that of serfs and their lords – and which led the world into World War the first, the war to end all wars, which didn’t. That war, finding an enfeebled and corrupted monarchy in Russia set in her ways and resistant to even basic change found a perfect toxic mix of ‘modern’ economics and ancient resentment, a corrupted church which no longer inspired and a bright, shiny new idea – socialism!! – which plunged the world into another seventy years of wars and famines. Until that too was over.

It is said the Black Plague before this ripped Europe from her malaise in the Middle Ages. The death of so many enslaved peasants risked pushing the gentry into poverty, and they were forced to transition from slavery to innovation to retain their wealth. The upward distribution of wealth as property was consolidated in a third (maybe half?) fewer hands created prosperity which allowed for an overflow into the patronage programs of Renaissance (starting in Italy) but which led us directly to the reformation and a rediscovery of God.

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Does our current pandemic rise to the bar of these epic events? For to be sure, there have been others. The Spanish Flu of 1918. The HIV/AIDS crisis of the 80’s and 90’s. It is said that COVID is the re-enactment of the great Russian pandemic of 1889, which too was a corona-virus although that one of bovine origin. Maybe the Indians are onto something… SARS, MERS, the list goes on. I myself have been Ebola quarantined, making COVID not my first rodeo – not a lot of people can say that…

But none of those pandemics was world-altering. Stressful, catalytic, to be sure but nothing like the plague. Except that these types of things do not happen in a vacuum, and therein lies the threat – and the opportunity. COVID has arrived at a moment of great Western angst and exhaustion. Our model, declared to be the “End of history” (no, I will never stop picking on Fukuyama. He might have destroyed the world, and with that Pied Piper the children who found his message so appealing, for it was soft and easy – and who doesn’t love that?) is unraveling. Breton Woods has been dead a long time, replaced with “Good faith and credit” first and now just “Let the presses roll!!!!” The United Nations has been unable to solve conflicts between the great powers, nor serve as a forum for collective dispute revolution in a world become small. To say nothing of her agencies, bloated and corrupt. Whose idea were those?

People’s faith in democracy is low, because people’s faith in each other is at an all-time low. They blame “fake news”, do those who refuse to recognize their own role in the mayhem. Without restraint they lash out, blaming their abandon upon others. We have become obese, addicted to Opioids, loose of lips and quick to insult and take offense. We have ceased reading, the study of history to know the experiences of those who came before and the great wisdom of those who invented it, before they too lost it. We have no more great men and women, no names which resonate, none who can stand tall and look into the face of the almighty and ask “What is now to be done?” Instead we have put our faith in scientists, weaselly little men in lab coats as a bait and switch, to no longer consider a great God in our contemplation of what man can do without the corresponding question of what we should do. We have forgotten that while our gadgets might improve, following Moore’s law, humanity itself remains the same.

A pandemic reminds us of all this. As we watch the numbers tick up the chart, the deaths mount and we realize that even our greatest minds are powerless against an invisible little bug – and at the end we just have to let nature take her course, a nature that is as old as our ancient planet – we rejoin the river of history.

So what will happen next? Will we just hold ourselves in suspended animation, floating atop a river of “stimulus” payments and red ink? Or will this be a reset – and if so, towards what? Roman England, which collapsed along with the empire, hosted great roads and epic cultural events and tremendous prosperity. A population of over four million. By the time King Alfred returned history to that ancient isle, four hundred years later, the population had halved. Not by plague, though there was that, but by hardship, of lives lived with no protection from the weather and the petty violence that mars lands no longer governed. Is that our future? An unraveling, hitting the ‘pause’ button for a season while those who still have guns lord over us and those who have means safeguard our precious antiquities for the days when they might again be of value to a world that wants to remember?

Or perhaps we can recognize our hubris and our foolishness, that which brought us to this moment, and take steps to rectify our precarious position. Not new steps, there is nothing new under the sun. Old steps – a return to communities, a shuttering of our ‘social media’ accounts which gave us only envy and hate. A compassion found as we care for those in our midst. Instead of demanding from a corrupt institution dealing itself favors from atop an old swamp, we realize that all the power we give them returns to be used against us – shackles fastened upon the slaves marching down the “Road to Serfdom“, the chains of which are very difficult to break, especially to the weakest of these – who we are said to want to protect.

Maybe we can even think beyond that, not a return to prop up structures which no longer serve us. But we can re-think governance. Not the dominion of the technocrats and the tyranny of their ‘experts’, who have given us only war and pandemic. But instead a new Renaissance of men and women who see the world and all her glory and potential in full color.

I once entered a contest for a group called Global Challenges Foundation. They were offering $5,000,000 for an innovative idea to reshape our world order, specifically a new model for the United Nations – which we can all agree no longer responds to the functions for which it was intended though the forms do continue, and those in triplicate. My idea was a “Council of Humanity” which recognized the sclerotic nature of world government and divested the power of peacemaking from them, for peace is rarely in their interests, while adding a new pillar to the governing body of humanity – the Council of Industry. AKA, those who make our food and the clothes which we wear. I wrote my idea in the form of a short story, because I am a storyteller. I didn’t win, shocker – though the effort was fun. I was superseded by our world’s worship of technocracy, and somebody who thought to try and use blockchain as a magical solution to the problems of humanity won the prize. But of course a little virus doesn’t care about blockchain.

When it was clear World War I would change everything, President Woodrow Wilson called together a council of elites, business moguls and media personalities and academics, to envision a new world order. This institution was called the Council on Foreign Relations, with offices right beside the Eisenhower Building in DC (I myself was a visiting fellow at CFR, a remarkable institution). Now, I am not Wilsonian, to be sure. There is very little utopianism left in my soul after so many years fighting our world order’s forgotten wars. But I do acknowledge the remarkable effort and the enduring legacy of a group of people free from politics and hashtags who can begin to consider what comes next. It is from such councils that new orders are born. I’m also not saying that will be a solution – rarely do solutions of the future emerge from the institutions of the past.

A parting thought. In the run-up to the 2016 American election, there appeared an online publication called the Journal of American Greatness, which hosted some of the great minds who were willing to see that the world order represented by the “Stronger Together” crowd were only ushering the world toward destruction. Writing in aliases, they explored the problems with the order as we knew it and offered solutions to arrest the entropy. In the fullness of time, I think that it is apparent their efforts came too late – the decay was too far advanced, laid bare by a pandemic. But it was at least nice to know there are still great minds who know who Edward Gibbon is and still can think realistically about our world. Maybe now is again a moment to reassemble them.

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On #BlackLivesMatter

Apropos of #BlackLivesMatter, I first arrived in #Africa in 1999, beginning my work of ten years living on the continent trying to end four different civil wars. Two of the wars still rage, two have found a shaky peace – though the violence continues in all.

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I wrote a novel, after it was over – at least for me, at least for now – and an exhausted soul wanted to settle the experiences in time and place. “I, Charles, From the Camps” is my attempt to distill the decade of walking through the camps, ducking from bullets and sheltering from bombs; of sleepless nights worrying about my teams and the extraordinary frustration of an enduring violence into one story, written from the POV of a young man born into the camps. No haters please, for I have left so much of myself in Africa, and in turn she has burned her indelible imprint upon my consciousness and will always be with me that it is a story I have earned the right to tell. It is my lasting ode to the tale of her birth-pains upon that oldest of continents, and represents my best work; how could it not? I invite you to read with me, if you don’t have the means drop me a message and I’ll get you a copy. Its more important now, as #covid destroys so delicate as was her emerging prosperity and a new hopelessness returns to haunt the land. Because #AfricanLivesMatter too.

And finally, “Why?” you might ask. Why would I choose to do this? Why would I spend 50% of my adult life in hard sad places trying to make them better? The Lord has said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” – Matthew 5:9. If you want to be a peacemaker, you must charge toward the sounds of the guns.

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Eulogy for Resistance

One of my wife’s former colleagues passed away yesterday. He was working from his unpleasant extended-stay hotel in Bogota where he had taken refuge after being forced to flee his country; locked down by COVID and still carrying on with the enfeebled tasks of defiance against his dictatorship, unable to release the leavings of a once-great resistance long after history passed him by. His family, so far away across the large water was unable to hear his heart give out, unable to see the paleness in his face, the trembling of the hands that announced the approaching calamity and he died alone.

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That really is not the eulogy anybody seeks. Life is like a wave, and we the tired surfers must develop wisdom. Which is the right wave to try and ride? If we pick one too soon, without having ourselves the right experience or training, or one which is cresting far out to sea we might be pulled under or the energy might dissipate mid-way through the ride leaving us lying flat upon our board looking foolish. When we have carefully selected our wave, we must ride it with experience and confidence, avoiding rocks and shoals – and do so with flair and panache. Elegance, that is what’s missing in our world that has become shameless and base. The hardest thing to do, perhaps, is knowing when to release the wave. We have been having a great time, after all. The sense of meaning and purpose, the tremendous applause when it tunnels and we push through, the hope that ours will be a prize-winning effort, we tend to hang onto the wave longer than we should to be crashed upon the rocks or worse – infinitely worse – be deposited into a tide pool to sit there on the sand playing with the remnant of the waters which have receded as we attempt to recreate the days of glory.

My wife is sad now too, but that is something which is common these days. So much to be melancholy about in 2020. But hers is an older sadness, a deeper sorrow – a country lost to the communists and their criminal conspiracies and never regained. The fallen friend was one of her last connections to the old days, the plans discussed over WhatsApp “When the dictatorship is ousted, here’s what we need to do,” and “What needs to happen now is…” The favorite pastime of the those on the outside: Cubans, North Koreans, Chinese, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and more – loose conjecture that inspires the imagination and soothes like a balm the open wound of stories torn from their notebooks before they were finished to remain unpublished in the chest-of-drawers of the defeated.

Truth of the matter is that life is a melancholy affair. So much is out of our control – that at least we should recognize in these our world’s days of mayhem. We often-times have one moment of great significance, maybe two in a world with seven-billion souls; and if that is so, we should feel lucky for most people sit on a solitary dune in Africa minding their goats or in a broken-down fishing vessel searching the sterile seas for the now-elusive fish which were the livelihood of their grandparents as the currents of world history pass beneath them unperceived while they wait for the moment they are sure will happen – but never does.

Powerlessness, it’s hard to be weak when there are so many great names marching across the ticker of China News Network (CNN); when there are so many people who we think are important and assume are in command of their tremendous wealth and prodigious sense of purpose, until like a pastry-chef turned philosopher they take their own lives responding to impotence and the terrible vacuum of meaning which they had sought to fill with empty words and undigested reflections. Or worse, through an oh-so-great a vigor of delivery that they hoped the emptiness did not ring through, an emptiness that nevertheless resonates like steel drums played by a toddler with a stick they found in the yard after a rainstorm. Hopelessness, that is what most of us are desperately trying to avoid. The silence into which we all are eventually immersed and in which we must sit, and – quietly, with only our own thoughts to entertain us – accept.

But all is not lost. We return to our faith, when we realize meaning is meaningless. It is not a crutch, for faith is where we began our journey as hopeful children in the first place. And we give our aching souls back to the hand of a graceful God. And that is how it should be, in the end.

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The Mountains

I am haunted by mountains, ancient and immutable, unconquerable and mysterious fortresses to the past. Sinews and muscles attached to bone, enveloped by a thin layer of skin, ripping upon contact with a rose thorn or bramble; that is not a substantial substance upon which wisdom can be written, it would seem. But a mountain, which experiences the passing of time as waves of snow and drought, of thunderstorm and lighting washing upon her only to move on, leaving her unchanged. Perhaps that year with a greater sparkling of white upon her crown, perhaps this year lesser. But the solid rock upon which is found to be written the passing of an age, that material at least does abide.

I’ve been passing my days in the mountains, waking under the supervision of one to travel high up into others on my search for peace; peace which is always to be found high above the madding crowd. Hiking into the snows with my little boy to leave a snowman up there somewhere upon a crest, an oh-so-fragile reminder to the mountain that thereby we passed, as fleeting as the seasons while the mountains are eternal. Wading through the frigid mountain streams products of the runoff from the melting of this winter’s bountiful snow, to feed the streams and brooks and rivers below which irrigate the plains and re-green the alpine meadows with their delicate little wild-flowers where the shepherds bring their flocks; protecting them in the mountains against marauding armies that traverse the valleys in the brief summers or the wolves and bears that stalk too-close to the ancient misty forests.

There was a great Georgian writer once, Aleksandr Kazbegi – Kagzbegi for Mount Kazbek high upon the spine of the great Caucasus mountain range dividing Russia in the north from Eurasia in the south, which stretches itself like an imposing wall from the Black Sea to the Caspian and through which, upon the Georgian Military Highway, an extraordinary feat of engineering, did the Russians conquer the Caucasus. Kazbegi was a novelist, one of Georgia’s great novelists, who wrote from his heart deep within the mountains filled with the rebellion of the harsh places and the indomitable spirit of those who can make the mountains their home. Silence and thought lending his rebellion depth and meaning and understanding; lending his violence purpose for it was not wanton and vicious but emerging as it did for a rebellion well-considered. It is said that once a hiker from Paris on a sojourn into quiet places seeking respite for his own soul came across an alpine Caucasian valley wherein a simple shepherd watched his flock high upon the roof of the earth, and was stunned by this shepherd’s command of an almost perfect Parisian French. For Kazbegi was also the son of a lesser noble who had studied in Tiflis and also in Russia, and had traveled the length of Europe before retiring for seven years up into the mountains in disgust for what he had seen and with only his pen and his sheep to keep him company – returning to pen “The Patricide”, his final act of immortal revenge.

I like these mountains, as did Kazbegi of old – and though I myself cannot imagine wandering the alpine plains alone for seven years I do see the draw. The cocooning silence, the depth of wisdom walking upon the ancient silken road where before travelers arrived on the way from India or from China or from Persia with their wares to off-load in the ancient port of Batumi or trekking across highlands of Anatolia to Constantinople – that greatest of all cities which has sat astride world history like a colossus forever. And I find comfort in them today, as I’m sure Kazbegi did in his days of resistance, knowing that the more things change in the world outside, the more technology advances convincing men they have somehow improved on the flesh and sinew, the more we forget the ancient fortresses of our past, the more rapid will the nonsense fall away. And watching it fall away, I must say there are worse places than nestled within the memories of the olden mountains that whisper to me of yesteryear and of what is to come after fires purifying return a more natural order to the world and wisdom to her people.

And I know it will be fine, for the mountain tells me so.

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The Arriving Ordeal

Our arriving ordeal is now upon us: “It was in fact a world disorder we inherited, we who came after and which we have bequeathed to our own children. “During the 1960s, as is now clear, America began a slow but unmistakable process of transformation. The signs hardly need belaboring: racial polarity, educational dysfunction, social fragmentation of many and various kinds.”

But what comes now?

“Europe, at least in the way that we have known it, has begun to vanish. And with it, the West itself…” Again Robert Kaplan writes – bookending the post-cold war period…”

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The Harmattan billows above blotting out the sun, dust coalescing with diluted traces of the acrid garbage fires that warm the ditch beyond the potholed road and the wood smoke from the last trees of the plains burned to cook beans and rice and the occasional dried fish from desiccated and barren lakes. A black plastic bag escapes the flames, parasailing the harsh winds over the ten foot wall crowned with concertina wire to lodge itself on a carefully pruned pine tree. I walk the compound pulling my dog on her leash, imported beer in hand brewed in a place cold and clean and shipped in to be sold for more than the value of a day’s labor. Back and forth and back again in a restless, trying parade. She was a gift to my wife, my dog was, a tiny pretentious little thing, a historical memento from days when…

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The Return of Pessimism

During the heady days of hubris which now seem so long ago but in reality were only a few months back, I was often accused of pessimism. The world, as I saw it, was not headed to a good place. The challenge (for me personally) was that pessimism or more often panic has always been the tool of the ‘nouveau Marxists‘, Gramscian these who think less about control of the means of production and more about the enslavement of the productive through a creed of victimization, placing the tiny fringe groups who consider themselves victims at the center of our societies and building the apparatuses of state around their prejudices. Or maybe New Deals of the green variety – attempts to siphon off money to the pet projects, with no possibility of any sort of success measured in increasing numbers of wild-animals, ending of our oceanic slaughters and plastic epidemics or stopping the tree apocalypse – benefiting only those corrupt few with private airplanes flying to receive their Nobel Prizes in Davos. All in the name of ‘climate’, a Pachamama who cannot speak for herself and who cannot exact her revenge. Suffice it to say, I certainly did not want to lend credence or support to that recipe for civilizational suicide.

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But, try as I might, I still could not ‘square the circle’ – brush aside my concerns about a world order careening out of control and pretend things were hunky-dory. “To the malls!!!!” ignoring debt and inequality (the latter causing tremendous instability) and imbalances that were somehow delicately balanced upon the edge of a precipice. I chocked up my mood to my six years in West Africa, “The Coming Anarchy” ringing true in an “Arriving Ordeal” I saw just over the horizon of the next morning. “Outside the compound, gazing through the bullet-proof glass they sit, though we don’t know who they are. Young men, squatting in the dust or selling phone cards and mystery meat, eyes squinting through the grimness, that wary look of both predator and prey; watching, waiting, but for what? Who knows… We fear them, and we build our walls. This is Kabul; and Mogadishu. It is Bamako, Dakar and Abidjan. Accra and Abuja and Dhaka; Caracas and Lima and even these days parts of Phoenix and Chicago and Washington DC.”

Then I moved away, to places colder and cleaner and began to contemplate my skepticism; accruing it to something like PTSD or the more old-fashioned burnout. Maybe everything was going to be OK…???

That was not very long ago, measured in months not years. Things sure look different these days. The academic argument between the more optimistic Stephen Pinker and Angus Deaton against Robert Kaplan’s anarchy, that has come. I read the headlines, and some articles, as you do too I imagine, to contemplate the extent of our current disaster. Not only those dead, though that of course is a tragedy. More in the US in 2 months than in all the wars since WWII combined. But the mayhem goes deeper; because what I was feeling in West Africa, what Robert Kaplan writes, “West Africa is becoming the symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental, and societal stress…” is true. No need to recite numbers; that is easy to do. Statistics. Trillions in new debt – far more than the wars of the last 20 years, which I too fought. Streams, rivers, floods feeding tsunamis of red ink. $100,000,000,000,000 and growing; unpayable. Crises in leadership, our political WWF spun out of control and seeming every day more and more like a drunken brawl. Enemies emboldened. Famines, that is what is coming – Nigeria and Yemen and North Korea. A new 50,000,000 poor at least; wiping away 30 years of ‘development’. Another lost decade in Latin America, commodity prices and ill governance in that perennial home-grown problem that gets confused for “open veins” by the irresponsible and those looking for scapegoats.

I am sending in my 5th novel to the editors today for the editing process. It is titled “The Unraveling” – and its about how a world order fell apart. Not one great atom bomb; not a massive asteroid strike forcing the lucky few into caves to emerge translucent, Morlock people – “The 100” floating above the earth. Instead it is about the suicide-by-paper-cut of our modern world order, one stupid decision built upon the next and the next and the one after that in a great edifice of stupidity, infinitely unstable. Until it comes crashing down; product not of new forces but of the oldest in the world, gravity – and entropy.

Because it is we, the humans, whose planned paradises go so often awry and whose foolish decisions during moments of hubris when, channeling Fukuyama we cry to the scalded skies “THE END OF HISTORY IS HERE!! WE HAVE WON!!!” until all the great labors of the brilliant are again laid to waste by a little bug, and we are humbled.

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Giving Up On Hemingway

OK, I give up. “Screw it,” as I’ve been yelled at for saying. Life is too short. 2000 books, that’s what I think I have left to read in my life. One a week; ambitious for sure but I’m trying. It’s why I rarely do book reviews when asked, wasting one of my precious weeks to wade through garbage. Sure, I do get surprised sometimes – “Pacific Viking” comes to mind – the exception that proves the rule. If I were paid for it, I’d do it. But I’m not. 

Nor am I paid to read Hemingway, instead manipulated by name recognition. Group-think does not only occur on social media; echo chambers as self-licking ice cream cones until everything is viscous and sticky. It also occurs in “art” – remember the story of the banana duck taped to a wall that sold for $120,000; the joyous prank of a mean-spirited ‘artist’ in his final mockery of his own trade; proving that art is less about “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and more “art as a positional good”. Positional good being the idea in economics that something has value only in relation to is possession by others; others who others have said are genius. Isn’t the Nobel committee the end all, judges of what is good and true – and beautiful? Lets forget they once gave the Nobel Prize in Peace to Arafat, the world’s greatest terrorist. And the Nobel Prize in Literature once to Bob Dylan, a musician whose little limericks absent the catchy tunes are basically drivel. Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in literature. He must be good!!!

I have recently tried to read “To Have and Have Not” – my fault, I know. I keep picking up Hemingway, long after I knew that his writing is grating. I have no idea what this ‘novel’ is about, beyond its crass dialogue, insulting language, and lack whatsoever of any descriptions which would make it beautiful or meaningful. Pointedly, for this novel – like all his others – I can’t find a way to care about the characters; there is virtually no beauty to be found; the plots are humdrum; and his style is grating. What could go wrong?

So there you have it, a final judgement upon Hemingway. But who cares, right? He is a novelist upon the lips of everybody who think that saying something insightful about him ushers them into a special club of those who “get it”, somehow giving them the keys to the kingdom. And me, just a washed up novelist who nobody has heard of; a traveler of the lost places who thinks for himself and stands alone. What could be more insulting than that?

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Caravanserai

I am not a normal travel blogger; not a travel blogger at all really. I frequent the lost places, and sometimes I write about them. It is an uncommon world we live in, that is what the great lockdown has reminded me. Layers upon layers upon layers of life, sadness and frustration and meaning; energy and purpose and misfortune. Each of us striving for what we believe, to make our mark in a world that is crowded and mean.

This weekend, respecting the distances less imposed and more desired in my own focus on staying healthy – no need to tempt the devil if unnecessary I say – I eschewed the madding crowd. Up, high and far afield.

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Ancient bridge upon the Silk Road

Hi up in the south Caucasus on that ancient path from the east through Persia and the ‘Stans and down into the Ararat valley to traverse the Byzantine empire (Turkey before the Ottomans) to Constantinople, there is a cool old inn. Caravanserai, they called them. ‘Caravan’ the Persian word for, well caravan – and ‘serai’ the Persian world for palace.

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The side-rooms were used for animals; the trough in the center for water I think.

I took some time sitting in the damp interior of this stone building, imagining the distant past when it rang with the choruses of travelers. Perhaps a few stalls outside selling bread or wine or cheese; vegetables from the fields above irrigated by the runoff from yet another hard cold snowy winter; a priest in the little church calling people unto himself to take the sacraments, thankful of another hard leg in the journey made safely. Maybe they were forced to wait for a short time, the road having turned perilous, the soldiers from the king on the way to escort the travelers into Dvin. Maybe the armies of the king were hunting the brigands, “Stay in the safety of the caravenserai” they might have said, “we will catch the thieves shortly.” One can see how this might have been the case, even now the lands are wild and empty and full of crevices and gorges, caves and meadows where the hearty might thrive. There was certainly a makeshift bar, perhaps inside at the far end where the mumbles of the journeymen could be heard late into the night. What is the news from Constantinople? They say the emperor is ill? What do you hear from Persepolis? Are rumblings of war well-founded?

Is it true the pestilence has returned?

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Some things never change, that is the lesson for our pandemic. We who thought we were above the ancient tribulations of the world have now been reminded of their prescience during our own times of pandemic. Cowering in our homes afraid of the mailman when we had considered ourselves the masters of the universe. That while technology might change, people do not, we have the same motivations and fears and respond to the same stimuli as the ancient travelers who walked down that road and over that bridge, through the spring valley which then too glimmered with yellow-flowers. That there is something, the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen, which was also seen by the travelers of old; that though they might not have known they were witnessing one of nature’s great wonders, they too marveled in its beauty, sitting for a season to eat a piece of bread or take a squirt of wine from their pouches before marching on in the affairs of men unsung perhaps – but to them…? the most important things in the world.  Image may contain: sky, grass, cloud, outdoor and nature

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