Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding of HRH Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge and HRH Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge: The Dress and The Literary References

Blessedly, THE DRESS, designed by Sarah Burton, was elegant, relatively simple, with just enough lace detail, and a well proportioned train. Not a meringue in sight! Even the bouquet was suitably prominent without overwhelming. The tiara was the 1936 Cartier halo, her "something borrowed" on loan from the Queen.

The ceremony included 3 literary references by 3 of Britain's internationally renowned poets; Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century), John Milton (17th century), and William Blake (18th century). They are reproduced below. Notably missing are all of the quotations from arguably the greatest work of English literature, 400 years old on May 2, 2011--The King James Version of The Holy Bible. The full program including the Biblical references is here.

Love will not be constrained by mastery;
When mastery 'comes, the god of love anon
Beats his fair wings, and farewell! He is gone!

The Franklin's Tale, The Canterbury Tales  Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?-1400) "The Poet of London"

“Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon,
Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon.”

Excerpt quoted in the original Middle English by the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Dr. Richard Chartres, Lord Bishop of London and Dean of Her Majesty's Chapels Royal, in his address to the married couple. Full text of his sermon here.

"Jerusalem" (1804) by William Blake (1757-1857)
Short poem from the Preface to his epic Milton a Poem
Music, Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1916)
Arranged by Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
The Third Congregational Hymn of the Ceremony

BLEST pair of Sirens, pledges of Heav'ns joy,
Sphear-born harmonious Sisters, Voice, and Vers,
Wed your divine sounds, and mixt power employ
Dead things with inbreath'd sense able to pierce,
And to our high-rais'd phantasie present, 5
That undisturbèd Song of pure content,
Ay sung before the saphire-colour'd throne
To him that sits theron
With Saintly shout, and solemn Jubily,
Where the bright Seraphim in burning row 10
Their loud up-lifted Angel trumpets blow,
And the Cherubick host in thousand quires
Touch their immortal Harps of golden wires,
With those just Spirits that wear victorious Palms,
Hymns devout and holy Psalms
Singing everlastingly;
That we on Earth with undiscording voice
May rightly answer that melodious noise;
As once we did, till disproportion'd sin
Jarr'd against natures chime, and with harsh din
Broke the fair musick that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion sway'd
In perfect Diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience, and their state of good.
O may we soon again renew that Song,
And keep in tune with Heav'n, till God ere long
To his celestial consort us unite,
To live with him, and sing in endles morn of light.

"At a solemn Musick", an ode
John Milton (1608-74)
Music, Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1887)
During the signing of the Registry, and the Clergy procession to the Great West Door,
one of the choir hymns of the ceremony.

Related Posts:
Political Aspects of the Prince William-Kate Royal Wedding: From the Dress to the Syrian Ambassador
Saudi Royals' Gifts of Jewellery to British Royals

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Political Aspects of the Prince William-Kate Royal Wedding: From the Dress to the Syrian Ambassador

I am trying to squeak this post in, before we all become blinded by "THE DRESS". The imminent Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton has multiple political aspects which have repercussions far beyond the festive day. I thought to share ideas about some, and look forward to your comments on the topic.

A Distraction from Austerity, A Salve for the Economy

I am one of those who thought from the very announcement of the engagement that the timing of the announcement, the preparations, and the wedding were all part of the Royal effort to distract the British from recently budgeted austerity measures to come into effect on January 1, 2011. And it certainly has done so for many. Technically there was no need for a huge fuss--Prince William is not yet the Crown Prince (his father Prince Charles is), and this is not a State Occasion. Yet all the pomp and circumstance will apply as if both were true.

The wedding is a boon to the economy through tourism before, during, and after. Even if that boon proves insufficient to redress much of Britain's economic woes, there is a perception of economic activity and a hopefulness about revenues. Taxpayers are bearing a significant part of the expense with the Royal family bearing the rest. Many think it is worthwhile--economically, socially, historically. Others do not, but protesters and naysayers, including satirists have been largely silenced.

Assuring the Succession--A Bait and Non-Switch

Support for the British monarchy has declined in recent times and the unpopularity of Prince Charles has many wondering whether the monarchy would survive his reign, or even survive beyond the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Charles is disliked not only for how he treated Diana, or for his perceived oddities and eccentricities, but for his political interventionism and plans to continue on in the same way. His book Harmony, which is something of a political manifesto, and the interviews he has given about it make that clear.

He is most active in areas where he not only has firm beliefs but where he has firms that stand to profit. I was aware of the British medical establishment's dismay in his holding forth as if he were an expert on various medical topics and favouring naturopathy and alternative medicine where they are inappropriate. I wasn't aware that his organic farming extends to private companies selling naturopathic products and alternative medicines. I was also aware that he openly reviles modern architecture, but not that he had used his personal influence to block a much needed public housing project in London because he didn't like the much heralded and award winning design. Not coincidently, he has his own housing developments business which would stand to benefit from blocking others. I was enlightened by a worthwhile article, Britain's crisis of succession: Charles and the story behind the royal wedding.

One idea is that the imminent wedding is a necessary step to putting William and Kate front and centre in the hopes people will wait out the as short as possible reign of King Charles IV. The wedding benefits from and enhances their popularity. Moreover, it resurrects the popularity of Princess Diana whose son the popularity of William and his mother Diana who has been resurrected through this marriage of a son who looks like her, wishes to include her, and whose wedding is an occasion to revisit hers, from engagement ring to the kiss on the balcony.

The wedding also lends weight and time pressure to modernize the Act of Settlement to allow the monarch's firstborn to become the heir to the throne whether a boy or a girl--true primogeniture, as opposed to the current succession through the male line, and only passing to a woman if there is no direct male heir. There is an expectation that the newlyweds will have a child almost immediately, and that the succession should be modernized within the next year.

Creating A Monarchy for the 21st Century

At least one pundit has remarked that Charles is barely in the 20th century. Indeed, some of his interests and beliefs are rather more 19th century and transcendentalist. His architectural preferences are definitely pre-Modern, that is from the very earliest years of the 20th century at the latest. He is also known for a more general disdain of post-Enlightenment Modernity and a preference for a spiritualist approach to life exemplified in his book Harmony.

In following the traditional social dictates in his choice of bride and his marriage, Prince Charles was also behind his own times. As has been pointed out only recently, and by comparison with Prince William, he did not assert his authority to find greater latitude within the tenets of the monarchy to marry the bride of his choice. Instead, he followed along with all the out of date customs, much beyond the legal requirements to keep his place in line for the throne.

From the aristocratic sacrificial virgin to the upwardly mobile commoner

Royals historically married other royals: Queen Elizabeth II to Prince Philip of the royal Danish and Greek houses; or, at least, aristocrats, King George VI to Elizabeth Bowes Lyon of the Scottish aristocracy, Prince Charles to the aristocrat Lady Diana Spencer, whose family is longer standing in England than the House of Hanover, changed to Windsor, from which Prince Charles descends. Prince William, second in line to the thrown, is marrying a commoner. Kate Middleton is not the first commoner to marry into the British Royal Family. Wallace Simpson (whose marriage to Edward VIII precipitated the Abdication Crisis), Sarah Ferguson (ex-wife of Prince Andrew), Sophie Rhys-Jones (currently married to Prince Edward) are among the women to do so. Kate Middleton is the only one expected to become Queen.

Camilla Parker-Bowles, also a commoner, upon her marriage to Prince Charles was given the title HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, in parallel to one of Prince Charles' titles as Duke of Cornwall. This was done to avoid giving offense to the public by taking the usual title of the Princess of Wales, still associated with Princess Diana. The public was further mollified by assurances that upon the coronation of Prince Charles as King Charles IV, Camilla would take the title HRH The Princess Consort--consort to further emphasize that she would in no way be regnant. However, unless there is an Act of Parliament to change the usual law, Camilla will become Queen Camilla. Also, as King, Charles could advocate or insist that she have that title. Does anyone doubt he would, or at least would want to and try?

Not only is Kate Middleton a commoner, but she comes from a highly upwardly mobile family--coal miners only a few generations back, her parents moving from modest careers in the airline service to self-made millionaires through a mail order business in party decorations. They sent their children to the best schools and to the best recreational facilities where they would also meet all the right people. By income, they are considered upper middle class--not really the average British family.

Kate Middleton attended university and worked in the family business, and briefly as a fashion buyer. Some argue convincingly that she has made more of a career of being Prince William's future wife, negotiating the potential pitfalls of the relationship with skill and purpose. It is as if she has learned from the mistakes of Diana and Sarah Ferguson--over-emotionality, over-exposure, and over-sharing in public--and from the proper discretion and reserve of Camilla.

Kate will be expected to produce and heir and a spare--a primary function of a Queen--though there is more discretion about that task than there was for Diana. Rarely mentioned now, it is well documented that prior to her marriage Diana was examined by the Royal Obstetrician and publicly pronounced to be fit to bear children, and a virgin.

Diana's young age and still being a virgin in the post-Pill, pre-HIV/AIDS late 70s and early 80s was a main reason for her selection as the one to marry Charles. She met these  customary virginity and fertility requirements of a Queen, as well as the British legal requirements of not being Roman Catholic and having the reigning monarch's consent. Many of the women Prince Charles had dated, including Diana's older sister, and his beloved Camilla Parker "had a past" that made them unsuitable.

In fact, since Prince Charles was over 25 (32) when he married, he could have married the woman of his choice, subject to the approval of Parliament (according to the Royal Marriages Act) not the Queen. He wasn't willing to put up the fight to do so, it seems. So instead, he married Diana, out of duty, and "whatever love means".

From inherited savoir faire to professionalism

Whatever "career skill" Kate may have used in getting to the engagement, one thing that has been made clear is that the commoner Kate has been receiving training in being a Royal that the aristocratic Diana never did. It seems it was assumed that since Diana was "to the manor born" she would have the skill set to handle her "job" within "The Firm". That she had such difficulties was proof more of the highly specialized skill set required to be a contemporary British Royal, and of the media demands, sense of entitlement, and lack of restrain than personal failings. It seems the Royal Family do not wish to repeat the fiasco of the scandal and divorce-ridden middle generation.

Kate is embarking on this Royal career at an age when many professionals are just finishing their training and becoming the junior whatever. Like other professionals she has a university degree, and now the 6 month on the job training period. Diana was not only a very sheltered 19 year old, she had little formal education, and little confidence in her intellectual abilities or worldly knowledge. That she succeeded so well as a humanitarian when she was a bit older suggests she managed to mature into a role for which she had had little preparation.

The People's King and Queen

Kate Middleton has been heralded as having the "common touch" and Prince William has won accolades as "the People's Prince" for his surprise walk about to chat with those already along the procession route near Buckingham Palace and planning to camp there over night.

Both are much better at cultivating their popular appeal without over-exposure than other Royals have been in recent years. They will need to be, as the waves of republicanism which are currently waning, even in Australia, inexorably rise again. The idea of Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla becoming King and Queen already feeds that movement.

Republicanism is expected to be that much more potent a force when the current Queen passes and the coronation of Charles becomes a reality. The British monarchy, despite its great wealth, and its long tradition has little real power now. Furthermore, in a way, all monarchies exist at the will of the people. That is more true of ones where the people are free to protest, demonstrate, and actively seek to transform the government, including ending the monarchy.

The survival of the British monarchy in its present form depends on William and Kate being dear enough to the people, and palatable enough as future King and Queen to keep the republicans at bay.

The Guest List and the Uninvited Ambassador from Syria

Like the guest lists of most weddings this one includes people the bride and groom know and want there, people their parents want to invite, and who are otherwise important to the family. In the case of a Royal wedding, though not a state occasion, a certain protocol--given Grannie's job--must be followed. Protocol sets obligations and guidelines but has a certain flexibility and plasticity for the times. Royal supporters have been at pains to find a plausible explanation for the inclusion of Conservative but not Labour Prime Ministers.

The collection of dictators and human rights abusers among the international government representatives is explained as the automatic invitation of certain head of state or their representatives based on diplomatic relations. If Britain has normal relations with a country it is represented. Not only long standing offenders but recent shifts in the Middle East have resulted in a number of invitees to whom protesters in Britain object. The Crown Prince of Bahrain who had accepted his invitation, later declined citing political exploitation of his attendance. However, Bahrain's Ambassador to Britain will attend. The Libyan government of Colonel Gaddafi and the Colonel himself have been excluded--understandable what with Britain's participation in NATO's bombing against Gaddafi's military capacity.
Just yesterday, the Ambassador of Syria to Britain was uninvited, given the Al-Assad's murder of 500, mostly civilians, in the last 6 weeks.

The Dress

While it might seem the most frivolous, if the most speculated upon aspect of the wedding, the dress does have political implications. Whatever she wears, Kate is expected to be stylish--in keeping with the styles of today--while showing personal flare and respect for tradition, including Diana's memory in the form of the engagement ring and perhaps the choice of tiara. The dress is to contribute to her persona as a thoroughly contemporary woman with elegant and streamlined taste, not too ostentatiously luxurious in an economic downturn.

In that sense, Kate is expected to do much as most Royals have done throughout the ages. With a little knowledge of the history of fashion, it is easy to see that most Royal brides have worn a dress that is obviously within the styles of their specific time, yet with some detailing or distinction that expresses both individuality and their high position. Often the dress has been designed with the bride's suggestions, but by the court stylist who is well aware of tradition, classic lines, and station.

Not so Diana's dress, which was created by the husband and wife design team of David and Elizabeth Emanuel. Her dress was a collage of styles, none of them in contemporary fashion. While some wedding dresses of the time (check Google Images for "wedding dresses 1980's") had puffy sleeves, or a frilly neckline, or a full skirt, or a long train, none had as giant and floppy elements of each so awkwardly combined. The train was so long as to border on the grotesque. The back of it was still in the carriage when the front of it had already reached the top of the steps at the entrance to St Paul's Cathedral.

It was the quintessential meringue wedding dress, one that dwarfed even the very tall Diana. Though better proportioned meringue wedding dresses were popular in the 80's, many other styles were available. Diana's meringue in particular was reminiscent of an unfortunate combination of styles from a much earlier age like the Renaissance, perhaps in keeping with Charles' pre-Enlightenment preferences.

It is more likely that Kate's dress, like those of other Royals will make a statement about being a contemporary bride, one with her own imprimatur, but with a certain restraint in the lines. It would be in keeping with the motif of this "wedding of the century" actually being of its time, and leading the monarchy forward in a 21st century bid for survival.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

An Explosion in the Café Argana, Djemaa al Fna, Marrakech--Sad for the Whole Country

When I first learned of this explosion, I wasn't yet awake enough to process it accurately. My first thoughts were: no family or friends would have been there; possibly Islamic terrorism (hopefully not); possibly opponents of the King (unlikely); possibly the demonstrators who have asked for democratization but not regime change (unlikely); I wonder if it is one of the cafés I was in; I wonder if it is the café frequented in the past by American author Paul Bowles, and why no one is addressing that.

Later, I looked at photos and realized I hadn't been in that particular café. I knew there was something not quite right about the Paul Bowles connection, but had to Google "Marrakech café blast Paul Bowles" to be reminded that Bowles' favourite café--the one he appeared in as a cameo of a café regular in the Bertolucci film The Sheltering Sky based on his novel of the same name--is in Tangier. The search did turn up the proper city, and author Juan Goytisolo, a Spaniard who has lived full time in Marrakesh since 1997 and part-time for decades before.

Brain fog, indeed. Impossible to confuse these two expatriate authors or their chosen Moroccan cities--when fully awake. I have seen and read works by both, including Bowles' biography, and have met Juan Goytisolo, whom I think is a brilliant author and courageous humanitarian. Fortunately, he has not been mentioned, and is unlikely to have been there.

I knew right away after seeing the pictures that I had never been to the Café or Restaurant Argana. The cafés/restaurants I stopped at when visiting Djemaa al Fna on my first visit to Marrakech were more of the popular sort, ones affordable on a student budget. I don't recall any European or American tourists in either.

One café, where I had breakfast on the terrace, was located on the square, and served good coffee, tea (Moroccan) and pastries.The other, where I had lunch, was more of a stall in the square, and served excellent tagines. I ordered my favourite, Moroccan chicken with lemon and green olives, which was prepared and served in the tagine clay pot as is traditional. We all sat at large tables around the central cooking area.

I was aware of a number of young boys hovering closeby, but my suspicions about why were only confirmed when the owner yelled at them to stay back farther; and, the hub was upset, because they were obviously very poor, and waiting to eat the left overs from the plates after the customers had left. I left almost all of my dish, even though the hub told me not to be inhibited, and I made sure before leaving completely that the little boy who slipped into my place had been allowed to eat, without the owner becoming angry. The hub basically did the same.

The victims of the bombing of the Argana Restaurant were both European tourists and locals, especially those who had been on the second floor, which was the most devastated. Although there has been no credit claimed for the bombing yet, investigators have determined that the explosion was a criminal one, not an accident. As usual, eye witnesses have differing stories, except that the explosion was forceful, frightening, and damaging to people and property.

Further damage is likely to the Moroccan people more broadly. Tourism will likely decline for a time, and the stock exchange has already shown a downward response. If this is a new attack from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, there will be reprisals and crackdowns from within the country and likely pressure from outside interests. If it is from a southern separatist movement within Morocco, or even less likely, from those demonstrating for a greater democratization of Morocco's "monarchy-heavy" constitutional monarchy, such movements will also be under greater surveillance.

In the case of those perpetrating violence this is justified. Unfortunately, "security concerns" are invoked to deny a voice to those who would reform Morocco for the better, including greater rights for Berbers and improvements across regions far from the central power.

This explosion is sad for the immediate victims, and for the country.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

War is a Hell Where the First Casualty is the Truth: Photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros Die Proving It

Two sayings about war that seem to hold universally, no matter where or when the war, no matter just or unjust, short or prolonged are: "War is Hell" and "The first casualty of war is the truth". One may combine these as I did for the title of this post into "War is a Hell where the first casualty is the truth". Though war reporters, photographers, and photojournalists are supposed to report objectively on the truth of war, often that truth is predetermined or gets turned into propaganda. Objectivity is elusive, even when subjective human beings behind the lense, the video, the recorder, the keyboard are doing their best.

Some war correspondents are more dedicated to capturing the action as it unfolds. They leave their hotel rooms, the bars, and the wire services, are genuinely embedded, and take considerable risk. Like others in the conflict, they come under fire, are injured, may be captured, may be a prize hostage. And, like others, they may suffer both acute traumatic stress disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Oscar-nominated British film director and photographer Tim Hetherington (L) climbs from a building in Misurata on April 20, 2011. Getty Images photographer Chris Hondros walks in Misurata on April 18, 2011. Both men, 41, were killed and two other Western journalists were wounded in a mortar attack on April 20, 2011, in the western port city of Misurata. Hetherington and Hondros were the second and third journalists killed in Libya during the two-month-old war between rebels seeking to overthrow Moammar Gaddafi and forces loyal to the strongman, who has ruled for 41 years. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images) From Tribute to Chris Hondros with his last images from Libya, The Big Picture, The tribute is intended for both photojournalists, though Tim Hetherington's photos in Libya, taken for an assignment with Vanity Fair weren't available to the editors. The New York Times offers an appreciation of both men, and the photojournalists who continue on, in "War, in Life and Death".

Two such correspondents died last Wednesday, April 20, 2011, in Misrata, Libya, covering the gruesome siege of that city by Gaddafi's forces. Both were fully embedded with the opposition forces, and both died from injuries sustained in the battle they were covering--Tim Hetherington immediately, Chris Hondros a few hours later in what little clinic facilities are available in Misrata.

“In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO.”
--Tim Hetherington's last, of only a few dozen tweets on Twitter.

I was more familiar with the work of Tim Hetherington, thanks to his co-direction with Sebastian Junger of the Academy Award nominated documentary Restrepo--about the life of an American platoon, fighting in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, over the course of a year. I was so struck by the film, I saw it twice, did a post on it--"Afghanistan: 9 Years and Counting--Part I Good Morning Vietnam! Good Afternoon Cambodia! Restrepo!"--and recommended it to everyone, including 2 pleasant Saudi tourists who happened to be sitting next to me one day at lunch. They were very interested in seeing it too. Among the many things that struck me about the film, was the fact that the filmmakers had to have the same level of fitness, and same battle smarts as the soldiers. They were caught in fire fights, and ambushed--a clip of Hetherington arriving back to safety, and breathlessly recounting how it happened has played in numerous tributes to him by his colleagues.

Another aspect that struck me was how much the filmmakers' perspective was stimultaneously detached, encompassing myriad aspects of the experience, empathic to the soldiers' plight, and revelatory of the sheer folly of it all--the immense disconnect between the Americans and the Afghanis, particularly the village elders, and the impatience and angry condescension, at times, of the American officers. That the platoon takes and retakes the valley or parts of it, has a change of leader, then is rotated off with a new platoon trying to do the same, and that the war still goes on with little real "result" except for death on both sides, and destruction, is the overarching folly.

Tim Hetherington's capture of a weary US soldier in the Korengal won World Press Photo of the Year, 2007

Chris Hondros' work was less familiar to me, though I did recognize immediately some of his images from Libya, and the prestige of the Robert Capa Award he received for his work in Iraq. Until a couple of days ago, I hadn't seen the image for which he won the Award--the one that opens this post. It shows 5-year-old Samar Hassan, in her red rose covered dress, her face and hands splattered with blood, screaming in terror after the family car was mistakenly shot on by US soldiers. Her parents were killed, one brother paralyzed by a bullet, and another was too young to do anything but stand in shocked silence. 3 other siblings were in the car.

This particular photo certainly deserves the Robert Capa Award, yet it was one of a series that Hondros took of the accident--putting himself at risk to capture the truth of the hell of this particular war:

An alternate image of Samar.

Another image of Samar, with her younger brother standing shocked in the background.

An image of the car, with Samar's 8-year-old brother Rakan lying paralyzed by a bullet in the spine, in front of the car.

Rakan propped up against a wall for safety.

Rakan being carried away by medics.

The excellent blog, Visual Culture, Politics and Criticism, has 2 outstanding posts on the Samar Hassan photo, the implications of the world finding out about it, the positive efforts organized by Edward Kennedy to get treatment and rehabilitation for Rakan, and the task of the Boston Globe to spin a tragic killing into a story of one Iraqi boy's healing, and American redemption: "Photojournalism, Ethics and a Trail of Blood"; "Photojournalism, Ethics and the Afterlife of a Photograph".

It is hard to forget an image of hell though:

Happy Easter!

Today is Easter Sunday, the day that Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection after his crucifixion on Good Friday (good because he died for the sins of mankind, and thereby assured redemption from the original sin of Adam and Eve). This is a day of rejoicing after the somberness of Lenten preparations for Easter, and the passion of Christ--from His arrival in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, celebrated on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter), to His betrayal by Judas, and trial by the Romans and the Jewish leaders, His punishments and humiliations and then death on the Cross, and then His entombment.

Easter, or more specifically Holy Week, is a religious festival for all Christians, and in fact the most important celebration of the Christian calendar, in religious terms. In certain countries, particularly Catholic, Orthodox, and Mediterranean ones, it is a far greater traditional celebration than is Christmas. Easter Sunday is a time attend religious services to celebrate with others the joy of the Resurrection.

Easter is also a time of celebration of the signs of Spring, of nature awakening from the dead of winter. A moveable feast, it is sometimes in March at the very beginning of Spring (the Vernal Equinox), and at other times in April when Spring is (supposedly) well established. This year it is particularly late in April, yet due to unusual weather, in some parts of North American it is far from Spring-like.

Still, in other parts, and in various places around the world, Spring is well established, with flowers blooming in the warmer, more sun-filled days.

Nonetheless, all seem to be happy to celebrate the Spring aspects of Easter, with flowers, fashions, and gifts from the Easter Bunny, a traditional and pre-Christian symbol of Spring's fertility, who delivers other fertility symbols, notably eggs--coloured, and chocolate--in baskets, nests, and sometimes accompanied by toys.

Most often the Easter Bunny seems to pass in the night, so that children arise to an Easter egg hunt for the treats he has left in their home. In some traditions the weekend is also a time for Easter egg colouring, and hunts, or Easter egg rolls.

This past week, I asked a member of the university cleaning staff, who regularly cleans my office, if the Easter Bunny would be coming to her house this year. She told me no, that they were Muslim (which I knew), and I replied that the Easter Bunny is for everyone, especially everyone who likes chocolate! Later, when we passed in the hall again, she said she now realized what I had meant, and that her 10-year-old son sometimes receives something from a classmate, or makes something at school.

Later that day I gave her a dozen Lindt chocolate eggs nested in a small tin decorated with Easter bunnies and flowers. The nesting material was shredded mauve coloured paper, and the tin was mauve with yellow and green motifs that were fanciful but not childish. I thought it was sufficiently "grown up", non-religious, and yet "boyish" enough that it would be acceptable to her son and the family. I told her it was for her son on Easter to share with the family. She was very surprised, and pleased. She thanked me and gave me a hug in return. I'd call that a fair trade.

Happy Easter to All!

To those who celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus!

To those who celebrate Spring!

To those who celebrate Chocolate!

For more information on the religious and cultural celebrations of Easter around the world, see these related posts:
Passover, Pasqua, and Pilgrimage: Yeshua, Jesus, and Isa
Cross Cultural Easter Celebrations: The Easter Bunny, His Eggs, and Chocolate!

For more information on the Spring (Vernal Equinox)connections with Easter, see also these related posts:
The Vernal Equinox: Springtime in Saudi and the Equinoctial Day and Night that Join Us All
March Equinox 2011--A Supermoon Bonus!--NB: This post was blurking in the drafts when it should have been among the published posts. I have now published it at its originally scheduled time. Check out the great photos of the "Supermoon".

For more on Spring festivals and flowers, see also this related post:
Rabih Festival (Spring Festival) in Dammam, Saudi Arabia; and Other Floral Celebrations

Did the Easter Bunny come to your house?
What other celebrations have you participated in this Easter?
Religious? Secular--egg roll, egg hunt, gift-giving, Spring hike, Spring planting?
Still on a chocolate high?
Other thoughts, comments, impressions, experiences?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Reading the Arab Spring Uprisings As a New Power Balancing of Saudi Arabia and Iran

In a country-by-country analysis, and overview article, journalist Patrick Martin frames the current events in MENA as a rebalancing of Saudi and Irani interests in the area, played against those of the United States and Israel. While he is not the only one to do so, I appreciated the graphic representation of the balances of power, and the thought-provoking nature of the analyses and overview.

The above map is a cropped screenshot from the online interactive map that accompanies the country-by country analysis of Saudi-Irani influence in MENA below. The map version with the text below is here, and the larger map, from which this was cropped, with the same text in the side-bar/ pop-up is here.

The country names below are colour coded for greater and lesser Saudi and Irani influence in a given country based on the hatch marks of the print version of the map. I have re-ordered the countries in the text from Saudi at the beginning to Irani at the end, with the others by where they are on the spectrum, and within that, from east to west, to better facilitate the graphic perception of the influences (not least for those with red-green perceptual difficulties).

A country-by-country breakdown of Saudi and Iranian influences in the Middle East
From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Apr. 14, 2011 9:00PM EDT

SAUDI ARABIA: Quiet on the home front

Popular opposition in Saudi Arabia placated with financial incentives, including homes and jobs.

Religious puritans oppose the regime for its supposed decadence and Western-orientation. Members of Shia minority, inspired if not supported by Iran, quietly protest for equal rights and opportunities.

No opposition group is sizable enough to make a difference.

Wildcard: Many new jobs are in state security, so the regime satisfies economic needs and provides more protection for itself.

YEMEN: A state in play

Popular protests, with the loss of life, reveal scale of opposition to long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Even Washington, worried about terrorists in Yemen, calls for Mr. Saleh to go.

Saudi Arabia, more worried about Iran gaining influence, is directly involved in mediating a handover of power.

Wildcard: What will militant Houthis do in northwest Yemen? This Shia group is encouraged by Iran.

JORDAN: Oasis of calm

A close ally of Saudi Arabia, Jordan’s King Abdullah has no intention of moving closer to Iran.

Even opposition groups, seeking economic support and political reform, don’t want to change the Hashemite monarchy.

Wildcard: Jordan’s treaty with Israel has not been an issue with protesters. Iran would like to change that perhaps by cultivating Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood.


Hamas rulers in Gaza are happy to take moral and material support from Iran, while Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is closely tied to Saudi Arabia.

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is attempting to reconcile his Fatah party with Hamas, the group that drove him out of Gaza, hoping to detach Hamas from Iran and reconnect it to Saudi Arabia.

Wildcard: Will Israel break off ties to the PA over its reconciliation efforts? It opposes Hamas, but it opposes Iran more.

BAHRAIN: Proxy battle

Sunni monarchy makes it a natural ally of Sunni monarchy Saudi Arabia.

But restive Shia majority, encouraged by Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is demanding equal rights and political reform.

Nervous Saudi Arabia sends in troops to bolster Bahrain’s security forces: local dispute becomes a regional campaign.

Wildcard: U.S. Fifth Fleet is based here, and Obama administration would like al-Khalifa royals to resolve the uprising through reforms, rather than a crackdown.

EGYPT: Iran’s new friend?

Ousting Hosni Mubarak costs Saudi Arabia its greatest ally against Iran (and shakes Saudi faith in Washington when Barack Obama supported Egypt’s protesters).

Cairo permits Iranian warships through Suez Canal and announces it is ready to restore relations with Tehran after three decades.

But Egypt can’t afford to burn Saudi Arabia, its biggest Arab backer, and will compete with Iran for regional primacy.

Wildcard: Egyptian Islamists are swelling in number: Will their fundamentalism lead to support of the House of Saud or criticism of it?

QATAR: A delicatbalance

Small emirate lies between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It’s a Saudi ally and host to a large U.S. airbase. Also has excellent relations with Iran, with whom it shares a major underwater gas field.

Seems unaffected by uprisings in the region. Supports Saudi effort to shore up Bahrain, and supplies aircraft to safeguard rebels in Libya. But Iran needs Qatar, its best friend in the Arab Gulf states, as much as Qatar needs it, so balance is intact.

Wildcard: Qatari royal family funds al-Jazeera television, a thorn in the side of many Arab regimes for its support of protest movements.

LEBANON: Powder keg

Saudi-backed Saad Hariri runs Lebanon’s caretaker government; Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s choice, Najib Mikati, tries to form new cabinet.

Mr. Hariri vows Lebanon will not be hostage to Iran’s influence; Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says Lebanon should be proud of an alliance with Iran.

Wildcard: UN tribunal, investigating 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, is soon to name those indicted. If it points to Hezbollah, Saudi allies in Lebanon could benefit.

LIBYA: Potential for intrigue

Moammar Gadhafi supported Iran in its 1980-88 war with Iraq, so few Arab states support him in his battle for survival.

Saudi Arabia has allies among the more religious elements of the rebels and may be supplying them.

Wildcard: Don’t expect Saudi Arabia to take in an ousted Col. Gadhafi as it did Tunisia’s former president.

IRAQ: One foot in the Iranian camp

Iran’s allies have upper hand in this Shia-majority country, which concerns Saudis.

The Obama administration says it will accept request to keep some troops in Iraq, but Iran ally Muqtada al-Sadr vows to prevent any extension of U.S. “occupation.”

Wildcard: United States plans to double the size of its already large embassy next year to 18,000 personnel.

SYRIA: Under threat

Popular protests continue to roil this Iranian ally.

President Bashar al-Assad, who hails from minority Alawi sect, a Shia-related group, is cracking down violently against protesters – while doling out incentives to Kurds and Sunni Islamists.

Should the regime fall, Iran loses the country that gives it a direct connection to Lebanon and to Hamas in Gaza.

Wildcard: Saudi Arabia, covering its bet, carefully shows public support for Mr. al-Assad, but may decide its interests are better served by the protesters.

IRAN: Suppressed on the home front

Iran’s opposition, reeling from questionable results of 2009 presidential election, is brutally suppressed.

That opposition is said to serve as a model for protesters in the Arab world.

While Tehran’s means of disposing of it is a model for many Arab countries’ leaders.

Wildcard: Iran fears that its own opposition will be reinspired by the successes in the Arab world and will return to the streets of Tehran.

Arab uprisings scramble regional power structure of Saudi Arabia, Iran
From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Apr. 14, 2011 6:48PM EDT
Last updated Friday, Apr. 15, 2011 10:12AM EDT

The Arab uprisings of 2011 are having a profound effect beyond the borders of the individual Arab states. For the regional powerhouses, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the events are shaking their alliances and altering the course of their foreign and domestic policies.

Saudi Arabia, a long-standing Arab leader, has the most to lose with its influence weakened already in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, and its interests threatened in Bahrain and Yemen.

Persian Iran, starting with little, has the most to gain in the Arab world. It has made inroads in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, and has increasing influence in Bahrain. But its interests also are vulnerable in Syria and, consequently, in Lebanon and Gaza.

Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was believed to be as securely ensconced as the pyramids. When he was ousted from office, Saudi Arabia lost its greatest ally in the campaign to keep an ambitious Iran in check, and Iran gained an opening into a country with which it had not had diplomatic relations in three decades.

When popular protests unexpectedly challenged even the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the linchpin to Iran’s regional sphere of influence was suddenly threatened, and a glimmer of hope appeared for greater Saudi influence in Damascus.

For these two Gulf giants, the popular Arab protests have become a battleground with both countries scrambling for position. Each is trying to shore up its alliances and is hoping to exploit any openings that come about from vacuums of power.]

The United States, Saudi Arabia’s greatest protector (and the Iranian regime’s greatest critic), is in a bind.

Strategically, Washington is committed a) to the protection of Saudi Arabia (as well as its Gulf allies) and their oil, and b) to the secure existence of Israel.

To those ends, the U.S. seeks to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, and to promote political reform that would empower people in the region (at least in certain countries in which it finds it necessary).

However, in promoting political reform, Saudi Arabia and Israel worry, the United States may diminish Saudi (and Israeli) allies and strengthen the very Iranian regime it seeks to stop – unless, of course, the U.S. administration also succeeds in promoting political reform in Iran.


To what extent do you agree/ disagree with framing the current events in MENA in this paradigm?
To what extent do you agree/ disagree with the details of the analyses and overview?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Saudi Royals' Gifts of Jewellery to British Royals

The Cambridge Lovers' Knot Tiara, worn by Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, and...

Though it is easy to become saturated with all things British Royal in the lead up to Prince William's wedding on April 29 to Kate Middleton, and in particular with the excuse to resurrect all things Diana, some of which are better left to rest in peace, my channel surfing did find the documentary, Princess Diana: Her Life in Jewels, interesting for the Saudi connections, and then for the other stunning jewellery gifts given to British Royals by other GCC leaders, notably the Emir of Qatar and the Sultan of Oman.

Princess Diana in Saudi Arabia, in 1986, Photo: Anwar Hussein/WireImage in Life

The King Faisal Diamond Necklace: A Gift to Queen Elizabeth II (1967); Loaned by Her to Princess Diana

The King Faisal necklace was made by jeweller Harry Winston, in a design resembling lace. It was given as King Faisal's gift to Queen Elizabeth on His state visit to England in 1967. She loaned it to Princess Diana on a number of occasions.

Princess Diana: Her Life in Jewels Part 2/5; Youtube playlist for the 5 parts. King Faisal's State Visit to England 1967 from 5:50; His gift of a diamond necklace to Queen Elizabeth II, worn by Princess Diana on a Royal Tour of Australia, on loan from the Queen, 5:57-6:44

Queen Elizabeth II wearing the King Faisal Necklace, with the Russian Kokoshnik Tiara, made as a gift from Lady Salisbury and the peeresses of the UK to Princess Alexandra who asked that it resemble a Russian girl's headdress, a kokoshnik.

Princess Diana wearing the King Faisal diamond necklace, on loan from Queen Elizabeth II, on Royal Tour in Australia (1983). Image: © Tim Graham/CORBIS

The King Khalid Diamond Necklace: A Gift to Queen Elizabeth II (1979); Loaned by Her to Princess Diana

The King Khalid Diamond Necklace was also made by jeweller Harry Winston, as a sunburst design with round and pear-shaped diamonds. It was presented to Queen Elizabeth by King Khalid during her state visit to Saudi Arabia in 1979. Princess Diana wore it on loan, often.

Queen Elizabeth wearing the King Khalid Diamond Necklace at a London premiere.

Princess Diana, at a Royal Gala in London in 1982, wears the King Khalid Diamond Necklace given by the King to Queen Elizabeth on her state visit to Saudi Arabia in 1979, on loan from the Queen, and the pearl and diamond earrings that were a wedding gift from the Emir of Qatar to the Princess.

The Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Suite: Crown Prince Fahd to Princess Diana

Princess Diana: Her Life in Jewels Part 1/5; Youtube playlist for the 5 parts
Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Suite shown Part 1, 8:35 ff; Part 2, 0:00-0:30 (above).

From 'The Queen's Jewels' p.147 by Leslie Field, 1987:
"...The Princess of Wales's most magnificent wedding gift was a sapphire and diamond suite from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Made by Asprey, it consists of an enormous Burmese sapphire pendant set in a jagged sunray fringe of baguette diamonds and hung on a thin diamond necklace; a matching pair of earrings and ring; a two-row bracelet of brilliant-cut diamonds with a smaller version of the sapphire pendant as a centrepiece; and a wristwatch, the face set in the same diamond sunray fringe and the strap consisting of seven oval sapphires set in clusters of diamonds..."
"...The Princess often wears the necklace and earrings, and occasionally the bracelet, but she has used the stones from the watch and ring to make completely new pieces of jewellery. Four of the sapphire and diamond clusters from the watch strap were made into a pair of earrings, with two of the clusters as detachable pendant drops. The oval sapphire from the ring was set in the diamond sunray frame of the watch and is now the centrepiece of a wide choker of midnight-blue velvet backed with Velcro. On either side of the sapphire is a chain of small diamonds, three deep, which runs halfway round the choker. The Princess wore the choker as a headband on her official visit to Japan in 1986, at a State banquet hosted by the Emperor."

The original earring design made from the Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Suite earrings,
and chandelier drop attachment made from the watch

Single earrings made from the Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Suite watch: sapphire surrounded by 10 diamonds

Single earrings made from the Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Suite watch: sapphire surrounded by 10 diamonds

Princess Diana's 21st birthday portrait: double earrings from the Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Suite watch,
sapphire ovals surrounded by 10 diamonds, with added sapphire drop surrounded by 11 diamonds

Princess Diana wears earrings made from the Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Suite watch,
and a headband made from the suite's bracelet, to Emperor Hirohito's banquet. Image: © Tim Graham/CORBIS

Princess Diana wears the earrings from the Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Suite,
and a choker made from the suite's bracelet to a formal event,
the dress is in a dark blue velvet and lace. Image: © Tim Graham/CORBIS

Princess Diana wears the earrings, diamond and gold chain, and sapphire and diamond pendant,
from the Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Suite, along with the Spencer family tiara.
At a state dinner, Brisbane, Queensland Australia, April 1993. Image: © Tim Graham/CORBIS

Another photo from the same event, showing the Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Suite bracelet as well,
and the family order of Queen Elizabeth pin. 
Image: © Tim Graham/CORBIS

In Melbourne in 1988, wearing the Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Suite earrings made from the watch, the diamond and gold chain with the sapphire and diamond pendant, and the bracelet. Image: © Tim Graham/CORBIS

Princess Diana at a reception in Washington DC, 1996, wearing the Saudi Sapphire and Diamond Suite earrings, 
bracelet (R wrist) and watch (L wrist). Photo: AFP/Getty Images in Life

Photo: Robert REEDER/AFP/Getty Images

Arriving at the same reception (Photo AP)

Princess Diana wearing the chain of brilliant-cut diamonds set in solid gold that was part of the sapphire and diamond suite she received as a wedding gift from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the detachable sapphire pendant removed and replaced with the diamond Prince of Wales feathers pendant given to her by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, as an engagement present, with its detachable emerald drop, in the style of Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the original recipient on her marriage to the future King Edward VII (in 1863).

Gifts of Jewellery to British Royals from Other Gulf Rulers

Princess Diana: Her Life in Jewels Part 3/5; Youtube playlist for the 5 parts. Royal Tour to the Gulf, 1986. In Saudi Arabia with King Fahd, 3:40-4:45; 4:46-5:22 in Qatar, and in Oman; 5:23ff a comparison of the Middle Eastern jewels with the Maharajah jewels given to George V and Queen Mary; 6:21ff the crescent moon jewels from the Sultan of Oman; 7:37ff dancing in Melbourne wearing the Saudi sapphires and diamonds; 8:01ff wearing the Emir of Qatar earrings in Pakistan; 8:40ff wearing the King Faisal Diamond Necklace

The Emir of Qatar Earrings

Princess Diana wearing the chain of brilliant-cut diamonds set in solid gold that was part of the sapphire and diamond suite she received as a wedding gift from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the detachable sapphire pendant removed and replaced with the diamond Prince of Wales feathers pendant given to her by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, as an engagement present; also wearing the earrings that were a wedding gift to her from the Emir of Qatar, and the Spencer tiara.

Princess Diana wearing the Emir of Qatar earrings with a pearl choker, 
set with the sapphire brooch given to her by Queen Elizabeth II.

The Omani Suite

Princess Diana wearing the Omani crescent earrings and necklace in Germany, 1987. Image: © Tim Graham/CORBIS

Princess Diana wearing the Omani crescent earrings and necklace, in Sydney, Australia. Image: © Tim Graham/CORBIS

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

*Photos and information for the captions for most images of Princess Diana from:

Princess Diana at a banquet, Saudi Arabia, 1986, wearing the Cambridge Lovers' Knot Tiara.
Photo: Anwar Hussein/WireImage in Life


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