A few odds and ends that seem worth recording between slightly more substantial stuff. Today in the Guardian a remarkable story to remind us of the power of the septième art – an account of secret cinema in Saudi Arabia, a clandestine film-showing announced by text message to a select audience who are then piloted in to the hidden venue, a disused warehouse, by more texts. The projection takes place in fear of a visit from the mutawa’ leading to arrest and punishment. The odd thing is that the first parallel to come to my mind is G K Chesterton’s curious and entertaining novel, The Flying Inn, the story (among other things) of a moving, clandestine pub setting up in secret for furtive drinkers in an England reluctantly converted to Islam. Though of course, now I think of it, that too sometimes happens in Saudi Arabia. The Flying Inn, by the way, though a slight novel, is worth a look, as a strange fugue on intolerance, Puritanism and the obstinately romantic English (or at least Chestertonian) view of liberty.
Liberty again in the Guardian. Mona Eltahawy writes of being arrested for spraying a rebuttal in pink paint on a racist, Islamophobic poster in the New York subway. Waiting on the platform are photographers to catch the moment and policemen to catch the paint-sprayer. Eltahawy writes of the way in which this kind of set-up, far from rare, is used to portray the poster-sprayer as intolerant and the purveyors of racist drivel as the champions of free speech.
Two nice Moroccan snippets. There has been much in the news this week about a meteorite shower that hit the earth near a village called Tissint on the Morocco-Algeria border last July. Pieces of the planet Mars that were knocked off in some ancient celestial impact fell in the desert and were recovered by nomadic herdsmen who – apparently – spend the long nights watching for meteorite falls. These ones are now selling for between $300 and $1000 a gramme, and not just on barrows by the road: the highest prices are being recorded at auction in New York. There’s even an industry of meteorite-selling, with at least one international meteorite-dealer based in Rabat, according to the Huffington Post. Samples of ‘the Tissint,’ according to the Post, are now spread round the world, held in museum collections and at universities in Europe, North America and Japan. That seems pretty fast work for a meteorite that arrived in Morocco last July; and pretty good business for the fellow in Rabat. Each gramme therefore represents between 210 and 702 hours work at the SMIG, Morocco’s Salaire Minimum Interprofessionel Garanti, which explains why bored herdsmen scan the skies quite so assiduously. The largest single chunk, at 2.4 kgs, represents five years and eight months of 24/7 work at the same rate.
The other snippet is the news that Tiffinagh, the script in which Tamazight is properly written, designed from pre-CE rock-glyphs in the Libyan desert, is to be included for the first time in the fonts for Windows 8.
Finally, news that a statue of Yuri Gagarin has been relocated from its place outside the British Council in London to a permanent home at Greenwich, brings back memories. In July 1961 I was not quite seven years old, and I was taken by my parents to Highgate cemetery in north London, to see a great man visiting England. He was Yuri Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut, the first man to slip the surly bonds of earth, only four months previously. I was issued with a small red Russian flag, and stood by Karl Marx’s tomb, cheering shrilly, in grey shorts and a school blazer. It is the only time in my life I have waved a Russian flag, and the occasion certainly demanded it: Gagarin’s orbit of the earth was an epochal moment in human history, and unleashed the great American effort that put a man on the moon eight years later, driving much of the technological advance that the world has seen in the last half-century. Looking at old AP library photographs of the visit, I can see a child who might be me, and a man holding an umbrella who might be my father. I daresay neither of them actually is, but we had the day off school, and I was there. Today Virgin Galactic plans tourist trips into space, no one waves those red flags any more, and I am 57½, in long trousers. How times change.