(… with apologies to Sebastian Faulks).
One day in November 2011. Two views of the City of London.
1) St Paul’s Cathedral, from the top floor of a major European bank;
2) The Occupy London protest. Down to Earth, in St Paul’s Churchyard.
Truly, we live in interesting, fascinating times. When distance and detail each yields its own perspective.
Posted in 2011, economics, heroes, history, London, politics, winter
Tagged London, November, occupy, protest, St Paul's Cathedral
As I stand below the Blue Mosque in the early morning, the Call to Prayer is deafening, drowning out all the other senses and sending forth the unmistakeable message — Istanbul is an Islamic city.
But this narrow street hides a wider view. Because just across the road stands one of the great ancient cathedrals of Christendom. The Agia Sofia spans the history of the Holy Roman Empire.
The first church here was founded in 360 AD whilst the present structure dates back to 532 AD — and for almost a thousand years formed the largest cathedral in the world.
Contrasts run through this city, at every level. We landed here in Asia, but we’re staying in Europe.
Last week, this place felt bafflingly exotic and full of oriental mystery. Yet returning now from central Turkey, Istanbul’s efficient trams and city bustle seem much more familiarly European, almost recalling Zürich rather than the Middle East.
I wend southwards through winding streets to reach the city wall. High above it run the last few kilometres of the mighty railway line which carried the Orient Express towards its European terminus at Sirkeci.
From there, the ferry across the Bosphorus sails to Kadıköy, the town which gave the quartz mineral chaldedony its name, where another line begins at Haydarpaşa station for the onward journey to Baghdad.
The long odyssey from Western Europe into Asia is divided in two by just this narrow stretch of water which lies ahead of me now.
A major tournament – contested on the best links I’ve played, and won by the gutsiest golfer I know. There could scarcely have been a better result to this year’s Open Championship.
Amongst the courses on the British Open rota, Royal St George’s is the toughest and biggest one out there. And those are qualifications which could apply perfectly to Darren Clarke, as well.
Daybreak, 250 km east of Havana.
The sun is rising languidly above Cienfuegos as I take in the view of architectural wonders from the hotel roof.
Far below me in the city’s famed central square, Plaza de Armas, stands a fine statue of José Martí, most inspirational of Cuba’s great nationalist heroes.
The square is, quite simply, stunning.
Alongside the classical lines of its cathedral, theatre and town hall — all adorned in white — stands a billboard to Martí’s spiritual successor, Che Guevara.
Tu ejemplo vive — tus ideas perduran:
Your example lives — your ideas endure.
The colonnaded streets of Cienfuegos would thrill any aficionado of Hispanic architecture.
Posted in 2011, Cuba, summer
Golf is a sport which can make you humble.
Yet the new US Open champion had already learnt humility the hard way.
In April, Rory McIlroy led a major championship for the third time in a row, starting the last day of the US Masters with a four-stroke lead. That was before a spectacular Amen Corner collapse raised doubts if Rory could ever win a major.
After all, his final round at Augusta only matched the score he had made in a gale at St Andrews last July, after opening up with a 63.
Scoring 80 twice when leading majors seemed to ask serious questions about Rory’s appetite for the fight.
Yet really, his fortitude should never have been in doubt.
The hotel may be still asleep, but by six o’clock a Scottish May morning is already in full swing.
Outside the sky is clear and blue, the lawns still dew-swept and the rhododendron in full flower.
At the end of the driveway, I turn right, and set course hard along the kerb. Any Aberdonian knows that the lethally fast South Deeside road is no place to play in traffic, but for now it’s quiet and a gentle mile is all I need.
A few minutes go by as I ponder the wonders of travel and the rewards of rising early. A long day in meeting rooms will pass more swiftly with an hour of energy spent before the taxi calls to find me.
On the other side of the road, the trees are opening up a longer view, and I step gingerly across the highway to take in the morning glory of the River Dee and the open farmland stretching far beyond.
The river is tranquil here, in the later reaches of its 87-mile journey from the Cairngorm Mountains to reach the sea at Footdee beside Aberdeen harbour.
The Celts worshipped the Dee as a goddess, and today she is blessed with diverse riches. Upstream from here lie some of the most scenic salmon fishing grounds in Britain, whilst downstream the waters flow into the busiest oil port in Europe.
This peaceful view alone has more than repaid my early alarm call, but the fast cars won’t be long in coming, and so I hit the road again and gratefully turn right, uphill and full on into the face of rural Aberdeenshire.