Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Today : The ghosts of Rwanda

14 years on I am still haunted by what happened in Rwanda. The recent conviction of some of those responsible reminded me again and opened the door to those ghosts. Which is odd, because I had no involvement. I wasn't there, and until this year had never even met anyone who was connected to the country.

But therein lies the reason. In 1994 the genocide was something happening on the TV in the corner, whilst I was doing other stuff and not really paying attention. It was just some more bad things happening in Africa. Perhaps of the kind that had been happening on the TV in the corner for much of my life. As a child I remember watching scratchy maps of the MPLA's territorial gains against UNITA, or snatches of news about Idi Amin and the raid on Entebbe, and of course the images of famine set to Drive by The Cars.

But in 1994 I was not a child. I was an adult with money and a vote and the capacity to pay attention and understand what was going on.

When the tenth anniversary happened I started to pay attention. The film Hotel Rwanda had already won Oscars even though I didn't see it. What initially, momentarily, piqued my interest was a radio interview with Gen. Romeo Dallaire, promoting his book Shake Hands with the Devil. Even then, I didn't delve any further. It wasn't until a year later that I was in the supermarket and Hotel Rwanda was being sold on DVD for a fiver. I'd had a vague notion that one day I would watch it. I like to see films that win awards to judge for mysefl if they deserve them (on this basis I still haven't watched Little Miss Sunshine, nor Driving Miss Daisy for that matter, but did see, for example, Sling Blade, Crash and Enchanted).

I sat down to watch the film and was stunned and impressed. It's terrific. Shocking, moving, horrifying, uplifting, resonant. In fact it was all the things that Schindler's List was meant to be. What stuck with me was the brightness of the African light and consequently the vividness of the colours, which somehow made the horror much more real than the usual film-horror tactic of denying light.

It was then that I realised I was generally pretty ignorant about the situation. Like I said: at the time it kind of passed me by and the only bit of detail was that I'd gleaned from the half-listened-to interview with Romeo Dallaire. So I used the internet to find documentaries and old news reports. I even tracked down the film of Shake Hands with The Devil, which in turn inspired me to read the book. The genocide occupied my cultural consumption for the next couple of weeks (which was the time it took, in 1994, about 150,000 Hutus to be macheted to death).

The ghosts of Rwanda began to haunt me, as they do now. It was a selfish kind of guilt. I hated the idea that I had let it pass me by and not raised my voice. Yes, I know my voice is just one amongst countless millions, including that of General Dallaire. But a letter to my MP, a donation to a charity, a conversation over a beer: I could have done or said something to express my outrage at was being allowed to happen. And how many voices would it have taken for Clinton to have acted? We will never know. But then again we didn't speak up enough to find out.

Earlier this year I met two people from Rwanda. A man and a women. Not a couple, but each of them -14 years on -still escaping the insanity of the genocide. I was really impressed by their grace and they appeared to em to radiate some kind of inner resolve. I guess I was probably projecting survivor stereotypes upon them. During conversation, I couldn't help replaying scenes from Hotel Rwanda, scenes from news and documentaries, and thinking about the trivial mid-twenties stuff I was doing in 1994. My guilt welled up inside me. I went to both people, hugged them and said I was sorry. It wasn't uncomfortable, like spontaneously hugging strangers from another culture probably is in 99% of cases. It had the potential to be a an act with a level of miscommunication and embarrassment worthy of Curb Your Enthusiasm but didn't. I guess my motivation was still selfish - in some ways using these people to assuage my own guilt. But I really did want to show them that I was genuinely sorry for my own inaction in the face of their hell, and that I cared, however abstractly, belatedly and uselessly. Frankly, it's too big to deal with. How do you talk about a genocide with people who were there? Any kind of commiseration seems pathetic and inadequate.

But they countered my tears with broad smiles and concern. For a moment I thought they could be laughing at me. But then the man spoke:
He nodded his head slightly and paused for a moment.

"Thank you sir," he said.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

today : credit crunch holiday

Due to the credit crunch MSE is closing over Xmas for an unprecedentedly long time.

As is tradition, I am leaving a link to Fairytale of New York, plus another Xmas tune.

Geseende Kerfees! / Gëzuar Krishlindjet! / Gozhqq Keshmish! / I'D Miilad Said! / Nabidà! / Shenoraavor Nor Dari! / Bones Navidaes! Mbung Mbung Krismie! / Shuvo Baro Din! / Mi wisim yufala eerywan one gutfala Krismas! / Nedeleg laouen! / Vasel Koleda! / Bogem h n mh m! / Danistayohihv! Hoesenestotse! / Glædelig Jul! / Fröhliche Weihnachten! / Merry Christmas! / Jutdlime pivdluarit! / Gajan Kristnaskon! Rõõmsaid Jõulupühi! / Gledhilig jólHyvää Joulua! / Zalig Kerstfeest! / Joyeux Noël! / Bon Nadâl! / Noflike Krystdagen! / Gilotsavt Krist'es Shobas! Kala Christougenna! / Barka da Kirsimatikuma! / Mele Kalikimaka! / Mo'adim Lesimkha! / Okresmesa ombwa! / Shubh Naya Baras! / Vrolijk Kerstfeest! / Selamat Hari Natal! Nollaig Shona Dhuit! / Ojenyunyat Sungwiyadeson homungradon nagwutut! / Buon Natale! / Shinnen omedeto! / Sugeng Natal! / Gute Vaynakhtn! / Seng Dan Fai Lok! / Bon nadal! Noeli Nziza! / Isangle Krismen! / Bon Natale! / Appi Krismes! / Sretan Bozic! / Seva piroz sahibe! / Bon Nadel! / Wanikiya tonpi wowiyuskin! Prieci'gus Ziemsve'tkus! / Linksmu Kaledu! / Amazalibwa Agesanyu! / Schéi Krëschtdeeg! / Selamat Hari Natal! / Nixtieklek Milied tajjeb! Salama' Natal! / Kung His Hsin Nien! / Nollick ghennal! / Kia orana e kia manuia rava! / Streken Bozhik! / Festusu Natale! Esimano olyaKalunga gwokombandambanda! / Krist Yesu Ko Shuva Janma Utsav Ko Upalaxhma Hardik Shuva! / God Jul! / Ungil Kurismas! Wesolych Swiat! / Boas Festas! / Sumaj kausay kachun Navidad ch'sisipi! / Mata-Ki-Te-Rangi! / Bella Festas daz Nadal! / Bachtalo krecunu Thaj! / Craciun fericit! / Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva! Buorit Juovllat! / Bonu nadale! / Nollaig chridheil! / I'Taamomohkatoyiiksistsikomi! / God Jul! / E guëti Wiënachtä! / Sretam Bozic! / Bon Natali! Vesele Vianoce! / Vesele bozicne praznike! / Feliz Navidad! / Krismas Njema Na Heri! / Maligayang Pasko! / Ia ora i te Noera! Suksan Wan Christmas! / Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce! / Veseloho Vam Rizdva! / Kellemes Karacsonyiunnepeket! / Chuc Mung Giang Sinh! / Nadolig LLawen! Winshuyu sa Svyatkami! / Quyanalghii Kuusma! / Sinifesela Ukhisimusi Omuhle!

Friday, December 05, 2008

today : I listen to The Beautiful South

I wouldn't call myself a fan of the Beautiful South. I never rushed out to buy their records, never even bought one of their albums, never seen them live, nor even tuned in to see them on TV. But yesterday I was tootling along in my car listening to one of my MP3 compilation CDs. What I did was simply strip out all the MP3 files from my computer and put them on CD for use in the car. I never bothered to make cases or tracklistings, so I just have a bunch of about 10 CDs, each with about 120 tracks.

It's fun to have random music. MIA followed by Grieg, AC/DC followed by Shearwater followed by Mann Parrish. I have this thing on the steering wheel that selects the tracks, so if one comes along that is jarring I just press it and it skips forward. Anyway, so there I was tootling along in the crisp, pale autumn sunshine and on came Rotterdam by The Beautiful South. It was a precursor to a knot of TBS tracks on the CD. Perfect Ten, You Keep it All In, I'll Sail This Ship Alone, Old Red Eyes is Back and some others.

And it struck me that TBS were a terrific band. I remember the Housemartins. I once saw them live just as they were getting famous. Something went wrong with the soundsystem and the band all congregated around the one working mike and regaled the audience with a cappella versions of a few songs until it was fixed. They were really good, and it's no surprise that two of them have gone on on the last 20 years to be hugely successful. It's rare that successful bands split up and more than one member avoids sinking into obscurity, never mind going on to be dead successful.

As I said, I am not particularly a fan. In fact there are some of their songs that I don't like much. But the beauty of the Beautiful South is that, as a band, they were kinda stealthily successful. They were like a little band that remained little even when they got big. Perhaps this was to do with Paul Heaton having already ridden the wave of pop success once before and not wanting to do it again. But they managed to avoid glamour gimmicks and stardom whilst remaining hugely successful.

And somehow I find it reassuring that the British public still have the taste to buy records by people who deliver song-craft and catchy tunes played simply on traditional instruments, as well as buying atrocious horrors such as Leona Lewis murderously disemboweling Snow Patrol's Run.