Not so much, though, as to get in the way of treating China as an indispensable element in any stabilisation of perilous situations in Korea and Afghanistan. Without China’s active participation, any attempts to immunise Afghanistan against terrorism would be futile. This may be a tall order, since the Russians and the Chinese are getting a “free ride” on US engagement, which contains the jihadism which in central Asia and Xinjiang threatens their own security. So was it, in retrospect, a good idea for Barack Obama to have announced that this coming July will see the beginning of a military drawdown? The question triggers a Vietnam flashback. “I know from personal experience that once you start a drawdown, the road from there is inexorable. I never found an answer when Le Duc Tho was taunting me in the negotiations that if you could not handle Vietnam with half-a-million people, what makes you think you can end it with progressively fewer? We found ourselves in a position where to maintain … a free choice for the population in South Vietnam … we had to keep withdrawing troops, thereby reducing the incentive for the very negotiations in which I was engaged. We will find the same challenge in Afghanistan. I wrote a memorandum to Nixon which said that in the beginning of the withdrawal it will be like salted peanuts; the more you eat, the more you want.”
always thought that mapophilia was a lonely affliction until I started my blog, Strange Maps, in 2006. I remember the first map I posted – it was a map of the location of asylums for the insane in Pennsylvania. It provided a bizarre geography of insanity, and it interested me because it was not the kind of map that would have a place in mainstream cartography. Equally, the map didn’t tell us much about mental health. I loved it because it was such an interesting juxtaposition of a condition that is so difficult to define with something as cool, rational and delineated as cartography.
I’d find strange maps online – I don’t draw my own – and then categorise them, describe them and link them to other maps. I have more obvious categories such as history, science and tech, and politics, as well as unusual ones: love, sex and happiness, life and death, truth and justice. One type is the allegorical map. In the 19th century, symbolic maps were very popular, especially during prohibition in America. Prohibitionists would draw moral maps. They’d describe the country of drunkenness and how to travel from it to the continent of sobriety. The road to success was drawn across chasms of despondency and mountains of procrastination.
Both Matt and myself have been covering the tragic events surrounding the Tsunami in Japan. I have left Japan now but Matt is still there and headed back into the disaster zone to do more reports. I’m sure both of us will talk more about what it was like later on, but for now the story is the priority.
Like everyone, I have been gripped and stirred by the events unfolding in the Maghreb and Middle East. Unlike some admirable and astute commentators, I didn’t feel primarily moved to try to “make sense” of what was happening in Tahrir Square, or to speculate on what the millions of Egyptians not in the square were thinking. Such speculation seemed and still seems to me beside the point and actually rather odd. I didn’t hear a comparable call at the time of the demise of Salazar and Franco and the Greek colonels, or the fall of communism and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, to try to “make sense” of those events, or to wonder what all those not celebrating and tearing down chunks of concrete were up to.
People, not everyone to be sure, but an overwhelming mass including the bravest and best and most articulate spirits, no longer wanted to live in police states or kleptocracies. They no longer wanted to be tortured or murdered by goons or spied on by spooks and kept under surveillance by their neighbours. They wanted free and transparent elections. They wanted the greater measure of control over their lives that they imagined to be a function of democratic government. No doubt they also wanted a better chance of prosperity. None of this, as we watched it unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya and other places, seemed to me to need to be teased out by some subtle process of reasoning. The primary sense of it was overwhelmingly clear.
THE West has rightly marvelled at China’s economic miracle. Less noticed is a minor miracle in its own midst. It is time to pay attention to Germany’s new Wirtschaftswunder.
Germany had a savage recession as manufacturing orders dried up, but its economy has since bounced back strongly, expanding by 3.6% last year, far faster than most other rich economies. For sure, this was partly a “bungee effect” after a particularly deep downturn, but it is no one-year wonder. By several measures, including keeping unemployment down (it is at its lowest since 1992) and the prosperity reflected in the growth of GDP per head, Germany was the star performer among the rich G7 countries over the past ten years (see article). Germans entered 2011 in their most optimistic mood since 2000, according to Allensbach’s polls. Business confidence is at its highest since the Ifo institute began tracking it 20 years ago.
What’s Germany’s secret? It helps that the country did not experience a property or credit bubble, and that it has kept its public finances admirably under control. But above all Germany’s success has been export-driven: unlike most other big rich economies it has maintained its share of world exports over the past decade, even as China has risen.
The night before I am due to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, I take a battered taxi to the ancient Shwedagon Pagoda where it all began. It was here on an August morning in 1988 that the daughter of General Aung San, Burma’s independence hero, gave her first big speech, an address that was to plunge her into the cauldron of Burmese politics.
Although she was naturally reserved and the crowd was extraordinarily large – anything between 300,000 and 1m people – she spoke without apparent fear. Behind her was a portrait of her father, the Bogyoke, or “big leader”, assassinated at the age of 32, only months before his dream of Burmese independence was realised.
“Reverend monks and people,” Suu Kyi, then 43, began, asking for a minute’s silence for the 3,000 democracy protesters gunned down or hacked to death in that momentous month of revolution and suppression. “I could not, as my father’s daughter, remain indifferent to all that is going on,” she said, launching what she called “the second struggle for national independence”. Although she sought reconciliation over conflict, the underlying message was clear. Her father had liberated Burma from the British. She would help liberate it from Burma’s own generals.
America’s exceptionalism finds it natural to condition its conduct toward other societies on their acceptance of American values. Most Chinese see their country’s rise not as a challenge to America but as heralding a return to the normal state of affairs when China was preeminent. In the Chinese view, it is the past 200 years of relative weakness – not China’s current resurgence – that represent an abnormality.
America historically has acted as if it could participate in or withdraw from international affairs at will. In the Chinese perception of itself as the Middle Kingdom, the idea of the sovereign equality of states was unknown. Until the end of the 19th century, China treated foreign countries as various categories of vassals. China never encountered a country of comparable magnitude until European armies imposed an end to its seclusion. A foreign ministry was not established until 1861, and then primarily for dealing with colonialist invaders.
America has found most problems it recognized as soluble. China, in its history of millennia, came to believe that few problems have ultimate solutions. America has a problem-solving approach; China is comfortable managing contradictions without assuming they are resolvable.
American diplomacy pursues specific outcomes with single-minded determination. Chinese negotiators are more likely to view the process as combining political, economic and strategic elements and to seek outcomes via an extended process. American negotiators become restless and impatient with deadlocks; Chinese negotiators consider them the inevitable mechanism of negotiation. American negotiators represent a society that has never suffered national catastrophe – except the Civil War, which is not viewed as an international experience. Chinese negotiators cannot forget the century of humiliation when foreign armies exacted tribute from a prostrate China. Chinese leaders are extremely sensitive to the slightest implication of condescension and are apt to translate American insistence as lack of respect.
In a fascinating space designed by the architect Renzo Piano inside the historic industrial complex of the Lingotto in Turin, the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli permanently houses 25 masterpieces from Giovanni and Marella Agnelli private collection.
Opened on September 20th, 2002, the gallery marks the final step in the twenty-year-long restructuring process of the whole Lingotto site.
The structure that today hosts the picture gallery of the Giovanni and Marella Agnelli Foundation in the “Scrigno” (literally, jewel box or treasure chest, an extraordinary container that dominates the roof-top test track), is the result of a long historical and architectural process of development that begins at the turn of the twentieth century. After this huge conversion process, the 90 years old building maintains the architectural power and freshness of the car factory designed by Giacomo Mattè Trucco, and wends its way effortlessly to the Lingotto designed by Renzo Piano.
A stunning place, particularly the roof top race track on the old Fiat factory.
View the full screen panorama here.
Lodging recommendations & comments:
- Lyon, France: Artelit. A superb location with a fabulous proprietor. Frederic Jean’s friendship and professionalism was a joy to experience, particularly when facing a very difficult parking situation! Highly recommended.
- Turin: Best Western Hotel Piemontese. A surprisingly spacious facility, conveniently located near the rail station, bus stops and a number of Turin destinations. Great service and a surprisingly extensive breakfast.
- Parma: A number of hotels were closed over Christmas. We stayed here: Vittorio Dalla Rosa Prati. Friendly service and a fabulous location adjacent to the Baptistry. Rooms include a refrigerator, sink and range so one can shop at the nearby markets and prepare meals.
- Florence: Relais Uffizi. A charming, small find next to the Uffizi Gallery Musuem. Close to everything with very helpful staff.
- Bologna: Albergo Centrale. Tremendous location in a fascinating city. Don’t forget the gelato, which was poetic.
- Venice: Hotel Antico Doge. Very helpful staff with superb restaurant recommendations. Well located, but smoke seemed to be present in the room, unfortunately.
I am very thankful to have “met” Madeline Jhawar, who suggested the stops in Turin, Parma and Bologna. I am grateful for her assistance and intelligence. I also took a look at Lonely Planet’s suggestions, the New York Times travel section and Karen Brown.
We rented a car from Europcar, flew via Lufthansa (insufferable coach seats in my experience but very friendly staff) and used buses, trams, water buses, gondolas and most of all our feet.
Herat, in western Afghanistan, is one destination in that tragic country that is still safe, or relatively so. It is one of the most spectacular cities in the entire region and, for a brief period after the death of Timur in 1405, was the capital of the Timurid empire. Here Bihzad illuminated his miniatures; Babur wrote some of the most telling passages in his memoirs; and the Timurid princess Gohar Shad built one of the great colleges of the world. Today there are occasional reports of kidnappings and hold-ups between the airport and the town. But inside the city, there is no sense of tension or danger, and no one looks at you askance as you wander through the mosques, the ruins and the fabulous covered bazaars.
Instead, it feels welcoming, gently prosperous and, by Central Asian standards, surprisingly middle class. On the outskirts, on the hillside of Takht Safar, where the bright young things of Herat gather to watch the sun going down, to picnic, sip tea and listen to music under groves of cedars, mulberries and umbrella pines, you can grasp what Afghanistan would be like if peace were miraculously to break out: it feels not dissimilar, and no more threatening, than inland Turkey. In some ways, Herat feels as if it is high on the Anatolian plateau not far from Ankara; but here, you have the place, and the ruins, to yourself. There is not another traveller to be seen.
When Robert Byron was here in the 1930s he loved not just the grand ruins but also the eccentricity of Herat, and much of that still survives. When our plane touched down on the tarmac, the passengers were not taken into the old 1950s terminal, as the man who had the key had gone off for noon prayers. So, instead, our luggage was delivered by tractor, and dumped on the edge of the apron. It seemed an unsurprising fate for bags carried by an airline, Pamir Air, which at check-in had given me a boarding pass marked “Kabul-Riyadh” and when I pointed out that I was going to Herat, replied that it didn’t matter: “They’ll let you on the plane anyway.”