Basil’s contemporary, John Chrysostom, bishop of Antioch, echoed this.
“Wealth is like a snake; it will twist around the hand and bite unless one knows how to use it properly.”
“Equality imposed by force would achieve nothing, and do much harm. The rich whose gold was taken away would feel bitter and resentful; while the poor who received the gold form the hands of soldiers would feel no gratitude, because no generosity would have prompted the gift. Far from bringing moral benefit to society, it would actually do moral harm. Material justice cannot be accomplished by compulsion; a change of heart will not follow. The only way to achieve true justice is to change people’s hearts first — and then they will joyfully share their wealth.” (On Living Simply)
Travelling on bucket shop airlines can hardly be in the category of grand luxe where one is offered lottery tickets by wide-eyed and enthusiastic cabin staff and you have to pay for the drinks. Fetching up in foreign airports when the bus ride to one’s destination take longer than the flight is hardly business class. It must be admitted, however, that there are one or two hidden advantages.
Arriving in Beauvais is a delight, not least because one can pick one’s luggage off the arrival carousel within seconds of disembarkation and also because the old town, largely ignored by the travellers being shovelled into buses for Paris, is quiet and its cathedral, optimistically named St Peter’s, has the tallest Gothic interior in Europe. They built a spire once, but it fell down, being over a hundred and fifty metres in height, which would have made it the second highest structure in the world in the mid sixteenth century, but its absence takes nothing from the grandeur of a sexpartite vaulted ceiling almost fifty metres high.
|A very bored moose. Or, possibly, elk.|
If you want to know all about Stockholm, plus pictures, forget it. Look on the internet; that’s what it’s for. If you want to know what the Vikings were up to, you can buy a T shirt with all the venues and gigs on it from 793 to 1066. If I were to tell you that the city is beautiful, relaxed and full of confident, happy people with blonde hair, blue eyes and remarkably good teeth, you probably wouldn’t believe me. Should I venture to suggest that a large proportion were outdoorsy, fit, and walk around wearing backpacks – with full access for the disabled – this too might not be believed, especially in the light of the fact that tattoo and piercing parlours flourish and quite a number of persons engrave themselves, often inappropriately. If I were to also suggest that the city was unpolluted, traffic by Parisian standards was light and well-behaved and people obeyed the ‘don’t walk’ signs, I can almost hear a lightly mocking laugh. I could also make a guess that it is possible to travel in outstandingly clean relative comfort, without snarling or crowd control, to reach from one side of the archipelago to the other in less than an hour by bus, tram, tunnelbahn or boat.
|A very expensive mistake|
In 1626, King Gustav II Adolf ordered his finest shipbuilders to build a vessel fit for a king. With an extra tier of gunports. Nobody could quite summon the political will to tell His Majesty that this was a really, really bad idea, which was a shame, because the customer isn’t always right. Workers toiled night and day for two years to assemble a beautifully carved warship which sank within one nautical mile of her launching dock on her maiden voyage in Stockholm harbour, blown over by a light squall. The extra gunports meant that there wasn’t enough room for the ballast so the great beast simply toppled over like a pot-bellied pig, where she lay in embarrassed silence for the next three hundred and some years. Gustav was, understandably, a mite ticked, but since the extra gunports were his idea in the first place he agreed to let bygones be bygones and nobody was flogged or executed for carelessness. He had the idea of decorating his masterpiece with brightly coloured, intricate carvings of Roman Caesars, with the exception of Augustine, who was replaced by himself. King David also features in the lineup, since His Majesty was something of an admirer and regarded his Lutheran inspired warfare against his Catholic cousin Sigismund, King of Poland in much the same way as he had read that David attacked the Philistines. Oh, dear, not again…
|A very nice little house|
The next stop on the boat tour was Djurgården on which is housed Skansen, or Sweden in miniature, houses assembled in a living museum of mostly Swedish history amidst pleasant woodland. Apple-cheeked, flaxen-haired and pigtailed maidens in traditional clothing give history lessons in the buildings while doing a little crochet. There’s also a small zoo housing mostly Scandinavian animals. I have always wanted to see an elk, although the psychology of wanting to see a very large deer wearing a pair of oven gloves on its head is probably labyrinthine and obscure. After the brown bears, wolves and grey seals, we were finally introduced. The female and its fawn looked at me disinterestedly and I can tick it off on the bucket list. The photograph is of the creature in the next enclosure who gets in because it has antlers. I thought it was a male elk, but my so-called ‘friends’ from Canada tell me it’s a moose. It looked quite stupidly at me so perhaps they’re right.
On the way westward, a small hilltop village caught our eye. Flanked by pristinely kept vineyards and surprisingly large châteaux, a short detour was rewarded by an hour or two in St Emilion, which every wine drinker knows is world-famous for its reds in particular.
For the serious buffs, Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc are the only two wines currently classified as ‘premiers grands crus classes A’, but there are over fifty grands crus in the region. Apparently. The original owner of the Ausone lands was the Latin poet Ausonius, a late and perhaps not very enthusiastic convert to Christianity, who died about 395 CE. The modern town, only seven hundred years old, was founded by a monk, Emilion, who decided to live in a cave and around whom a cult grew based on the fruit of the vine and, presumably, of the Spirit. Mediaeval streets and monuments are remarkably well-preserved and there are old churches, ramparts and underground monuments – even a monolithic church plus catacombs – to explore.
It seemed a good idea at the time. Leaving Bordeaux – grey, uninspiring and rather too linear for my ragamuffin taste, for a visit to Arcachon on the Atlantic coast. We were rather hoping to pick up a boat at Thiers jetty and see the houses on stilts,admire the architecture – very New Orleans and chill suitably in a harbour café. But, no. The traffic into town was worse than Fahaheel on a Friday night. Customarily, we find pallets on which to lay a weary head very much along the lines of banging on the door and demanding entrance. I stopped the car outside a quite chic three star establishment. A concierge self-importantly informed me with a thin smile that there was nothing available in Arcachon. I made the mistake of not believing him and spent the next hour pleading importunately at hotel desks. “On a rien, monsieur” – the litany turned into a mantra. It seemed that the entire tourist population had descended on the town for purposes unspecified, traffic was choking and my temper was shortening by the minute. Short of stuffing a cushion up Gipsy’s front and asking if they might have a garage to spare, I was rapidly running out of ideas, and perhaps for the first time in my life felt a little like another weary traveller who got into town a bit late one night with nowhere to sleep. Eventually, even stables being unavailable I headed back towards Bordeaux and spotted a construction of glass and steel which turned out to be a four star spa resort hotel.
I’d been wanting to write something about Amsterdam for some time. The Dutch are tolerant, liberal and are so laid back, they are almost horizontal, in contrast to their town houses which are characteristically arranged vertically, with small rooms and several floors. Usually curtainless, one sees people eating or walking around in them in various stages of undress, at least that was the case on the picturesque island where we stayed with friends. Our Mexican hostess said much the same about her home town, adding that houseowners usually left their doors open as well. Only the tourists gawp, rudely. The message is clear, nothing to hide. In France, the situation is precisely reversed. French exteriors are often shuttered and nondescript, rarely as interesting as the inner courtyards and there is often a nightly ritual of closing the shutters. It occurred to me that this might be because Holland has a history of Protestant reform, and France is predominantly Catholic with attendant guilt.
Being gay isn’t exactly compulsory but, there’s – er – a lot of it about…Following the canals southeast brought us to the quaint shopping and dining quarter called the Negen Straatejs or ‘9 Streets’. Wandering further crosses humpbacked bridges and through alleys filled with countless café terraces. These often give directly on to a canal – regardless of health and safety. The British or the French would insist the café owners build small retaining walls or chain-link fences – not so the Dutch. It’s not apparently unusual for a customer, full of beery bonhomie, to topple backwards into the canal, to the riotous amusement of all. It’s only about a metre deep, so the chance of fatality is slight. I was given a whistle-stop tour of the red-light district from a friend who used to live there, and who had a disturbingly encyclopaedic knowledge of what kind of attractions were available in any one of a dozen tiny alleyways flanked by full-length windowed doorways where the occupants were displaying their wares quite unashamedly – they pay taxes after all.
The Dutch are great readers, so I felt quite at home, not least in the iconic Bibliotheek – a seven storey, open plan library with a self-service restaurant offering some of the best food in the city and also the finest views.
|Hans Holbein “Erasmus of Rotterdam” 1523 National Gallery, London|
If I prophesy, and understand all
Though I have all faith for mountains to be removed
Though I feed the poor, and give up my life…
If I have not Charity