New York City

A few days in Manhattan with very generous friends yielded some wonderful experiences: a night at the Met for two operas, visits to the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection, the former unrivalled in the scope of its collections and latter functioning as a one-stop introduction to the main developments in Western art since the Renaissance, the delights of Central Park, […]

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Movements of Peoples

The partition of India which saw Pakistan, including East Bengal, depart from the remnant mother country in 1947 unleashed an astonishing movement of people from one side of the borders to the other. Estimates of the number involved vary widely, but are generally upwards of ten million; some authorities go as high as 18 million, the number of Muslims moving into Pakistan being approximately the same […]

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Interesting Words

I recently overheard an American point to a large lizard of a kind familiar in Australia and say ‘Look at the iguana!’ In fact she was looking at the animal known as a goanna, but the mistake was a very easy one to make (particularly in the light of something I’ve just discovered in editing this post: the spell-checker doesn’t […]

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Arriving in Singapore

On the way in to the city from Changi Airport I strike up a conversation with a taxi driver, who informs me that the population of Singapore is growing very slowly. When I ask him why this is so, he tells me that it’s because people in Singapore, like the Japanese, don’t have sex very often. The conversation is taking […]

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Back in the DDR

The excellent DDR (German Democratic Republic) Museum in Berlin presents fascinating material. It’s immensely popular, and clearly arouses mixed feelings among those who attend. On the day I visited the crowd was at its thickest around a machine playing the national anthem of the DDR, to which people were responding in different ways. (Similar emotions are raised by the kitsch but oddly attractive […]

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Making Sense of the Holocaust

At one of the entrances to Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn station in western Berlin, near which I was lucky enough to stay recently, is a sign commemorating those who left on a trip from which they never returned. There follows a list of their destinations which you suddenly identify as one of Nazi death camps, and you realise that these travellers were victims of the […]

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Walking the Streets of Berlin

I hadn’t realised that most of Berlin was bombed to pieces during World War II. One wonders whether this wasn’t excessive even in military terms, for the war ended when Soviet troops occupied the city, and it hard to see how this was aided by such things as the destruction of the Neue Synagoge by British bombing in 1943, an act that deserves […]

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Universities in England and Germany

England has two universities that are invariably included in lists of the top ten in the world. Founded by the early thirteenth century, their immense prestige, the able international students funnelled in their direction by the Rhodes Scholarships and Gates Foundation, their ability to raise money from their alumni, the way in which their leadership is plugged into centres of […]

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Mountains in Hong Kong

Surely the skyline of Hong Kong observed from Kowloon is the finest in the world. Like all great skylines it’s seen across water, but this one has a back-drop, Victoria Peak. When I first saw it the Peak, which actually is quite flat, framed the high rise buildings. Then, towards the end of the colonial period, a few buildings, outstanding […]

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O dolce stil italiano!

Some people are afraid of crossing the streets in Italy, and it’s easy to see why, for the subtle conventions that regulate interactions between pedestrians and drivers are different here. But there’s no reason to linger on the footpath; all you need do is project an air of confidence as you step into the traffic, while being prepared to retreat […]

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