Sunday, June 15, 2008

UN SOSPIRO (a sigh) - Chapter 1

The Conference and the Meeting 

Florence in April 9, 1980. Magical and intoxicating! The Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, the Tower of Arnolfo shimmer like crown jewels in God’s universe. Man at his most glorious.

Contessa Lucrezia von Remo, mistress and master of Villa of the Saracen, on the Piazza di Bellosguardo, is admiring herself before the opulent mirror of the massive walnut wardrobe designed and built in 1750 by the great Florentine craftsman Fornari.

Lucrezia is in love with life and with love. She adores her children, enjoys the challenges as head of Gucci Public Relations worldwide, revels in the discipline of her piano, appreciates all her friends and admirers. Living in the 16th century villa of Bellosguardo enthralls Lucrezia. “Not even Jean Paul Getty with all his billions can surpass this splendor.”

She studies her reflection in the splendid mirror as she turns and swivels - an ensemble created by Yves Saint Laurent with someone like her in mind. A belted safari jacket with matching trousers, in a Donegal tweed of gold, light brown and champagne, accompanied by a swirling floor length cape of the same Donegal tweed lined in a dusky gold cashmere. Yes! She is satisfied with her looks, her aura, and her presence. She reaches for a gold fedora, which Rodolfo Gucci has designed in the softest suede, carefully adjusting the hat at the most coquettish angle of her face.

The light coming through the tall windows is seductive.

This is going to be a golden day, one of those Florentine mornings. I can’t help feeling that something good is going to happen to me.

Lucrezia is filled with great expectations!

“I think I’m going to walk to Palazzo Vecchio.”

As Lucrezia swishes through the Loggia of Minerva, Tristan, eight, and Allegra, six, are waiting for her. She bends down to kiss and embrace them. The fedora slips off her head, into the cobblestones. They all giggle. She picks up the hat, re-adjusts it on her head.

“Now both of you,” Lucrezia says, “pay attention in class and enjoy this beautiful day.” She steps out into the Piazza di Bellosguardo and begins strolling down the hill of Bellosguardo, while the children ride to school in the sleek, silver grey Lancia Flaminia.

She glances at the Patek Philippe she has inherited from her grandmother Esperanza, the most elegant watch she has ever seen. It is 7:45 in the morning – and the radiant light gives her a high. There is a soft coolness in the air. That means she won’t sweat in the crowded Sala of Palazzo Vecchio.

The antique and flea market dealers all have ateliers in Via del Serragli on Borgo San Frediano. They open for business at 7:00 in the morning. Dimitri greets Lucrezia warmly as she passes by. He is conferring with two clients who look like foreign tourists. She can tell, since Italians never wear shorts on the streets; it’s slovenly. He quickly overtakes her.

“Buon Giorno,” says Dimitri. “Knowing your passion for gems, I thought you might enjoy these. It is a most beautiful chain of carved amber and cornelian. It looks very old. An artisan who wishes to remain anonymous executed this object from an Etruscan burial treasure.”

“I’m whizzing to Palazzo Vecchio and can’t spare a second, Dimitri. I’m sorry,” replies Lucrezia as she continues walking.

“Please take the chain necklace, ruminate on it and let me know what you think whenever you’re ready.”

“Grazie! E bellissimo!”

“This incident is but one of the marvels of Florence and of the clever Florentines,” reflects Lucrezia. If she had even hinted at money or price, the trust bestowed on her would have been tarnished. Time enough for haggling.

Every Florentine knows the Villa del Saraceno of Bellosguardo, its history, its people and its present comings and goings. Lucrezia would be worse than dead if she ever broke the cavalier’s agreement.

Florentines are masters at minding their own business as well as other people’s businesses. Their favorite topics are money, love, and politics, which also include religion. They thrive on arguments and discussions.

Every Florentine man, woman and child is aware of “the events” which will take place shortly in Palazzo Vecchio, at the Piazza della Signoria.

The most ferocious capitalists in the world Lucrezia has ever encountered are Florentines, in particular those who vote Communist. Lucrezia removes her Fedora slips the cornelian and amber chain over her head, and adjusts it on her cape. The gold Fedora is once more, coquettishly placed on her left side “Very effective,” she tells herself, satisfied it is not overkill.

The scents of exotic coffee blends floating out of coffee bars as Lucrezia walks by Via Porta Rossa excite her, although she is a confirmed tea drinker.

Lucrezia takes a deep breath each time she gazes at Palazzo Vecchio. To this day no other state has matched Florence in its explosion of power, culture, sex and genius (let alone surpassed it) that was the Renaissance. That was 400 years ago!

She passes the famous cafe and restaurant “Paskowski”, and glances at a photograph on the front pages of the venerable Florentine newspaper “La Nazione”. She recognizes the photogenic face, for she has seen countless photographs. The caption below bold and brassy headlines says: “Akimov, Principal Protagonist at Palazzo Vecchio.”

Lucrezia is drawn to the figure of Sergei Akimov. She is forcefully attracted to men of heroic proportions, especially when they win their “defi” (challenges). Secretly distrusting authority and disdaining bureaucracy, though not above exploiting the breaches in both for her personal and professional ambitions, she admires “rebels” like Akimov. They are romantic, idealistic and brave. Victors fascinate her. Yet tragedy creates victories as well. Perhaps time is inevitably kinder to those who suffer tragic failures?

Palazzo Vecchio inflames Lucrezia’s intellect. In Renaissance Florence most of the men executed were rich ruthless, and powerful men who had lost the mastership games to even more rich, powerful and ruthless men. The losers were hanged from the balconies of Palazzo Vecchio where their corpses dangled for weeks, sometimes months, as a message to other rich and powerful families … that conspiracies were futile.

The Florentines are still fractious, quarrelsome, individualistic, cagey, biting and creative. A larger than life soccer player, political figure, and even an entrepreneur can inflame the Florentines, who are a microcosm of the universe. Such is now the case with the Russian dissident Sergei Akimov.

Lucrezia ascends the stately steps of Palazzo Vecchio amid the rumble of talk, explosions of television cameras, journalists, and paparazzi. People are tramping up the steps so loudly, Lucrezia imagines herds of cattle and buffalo. “The women are worse than the men!”

“Why was I so thrilled about coming to Palazzo Vecchio this morning?” Lucrezia asks herself out loud.

“Good question, my dear,” replies a, debonair man of the world of about 70, who looks 50 and is very, very rich.

“Harold!” exclaims Lucrezia. “Did I say what I just said out loud?”

“Bloody right,” chortles Sir Harold Acton. “You look ravishing.”

“Thank you. I feel ravishing,” Lucrezia replies, “and …” she adds “determined to live through this spectacle.”

A handsome young man calls out Sir Harold’s name and Lucrezia goes on ahead. “Ciao, till later,” she says.

Sergei Akimov is very much on Lucrezia’s mind, as an eloquent historian, a perceptive economist, a writer of Hemingway’s proportions (from the “For Whom The Bell Tolls” period), a political scientist of acute discernment and, with increasing intensity these past few days … as a man.

The Sala Ducento was built with Medici money nearly 700 years ago when Cosimo de Medici, called Pater Patriae (Father of his Country) threw endless gold coins on the tables of the Elders of the Council in the Piazza della Signoria (the Square of the Rulers). Tis said several tables were heaped with gold coins. All this largesse came from the Medici Bank in Florence, founded by Cosimo who did not tolerate dissent. He ordered the hanging of all his enemies, after the Council of Elders, generously bought by him voted for execution.

Unlike today, thinks Lucrezia, when Cosimo de Medici bought an ally, they stayed bought. If a double or triple cross was discovered, the offending party was unceremoniously thrown from the balconies of Palazzo Vecchio down into the Piazza della Signoria. All these ironies amuse me today. Are the dissidents, the guests, the media, the curious, thinking of these same twists of fate?

She swings her cape and, with an imperious gesture, strides into the overfilled Sala di Ducento.

The Communist administration of the City of Florence is sponsoring a series of conferences on “The Role of Eastern European Dissidents in the West” in order to create a greater awareness of human rights violations in the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. The emphasis is on the Soviet Union because of its status as a military superpower. The Communist Mayor of Florence pulls out all the stops. Why ever not? Florentines by tradition are hard nosed about money, they founded the first bank in history, transacting deals from stalls called Bancas, and thus the term bank was born. The coalition of Communists and Socialists promises to cut taxes, increase soft loans to merchants for expansion, and grant loans for startups. As proof that they mean business, the Mayor hosts the Conference and Forum for Dissidents.

Contessa Lucrezia von Remo is head of Public Relations for Gucci, which is sponsoring several cultural and social events. Tickets are as desirable as orgasms, as expensive as Chateau d’Yquem, and as rare as virgins.

The guest list of the Conferences and Forum is an unending Who’s Who of players, would-be and want to-be players on the world’s stage. “It is fitting that the Conference has turned into a media Circus,” muses Lucrezia. “Politics is a circus, and I am beginning to think that Life is also a huge, mad circus.”

There is no security. The guards are strictly for dĂ©cor, indeed they are wearing the costumes of Renaissance Florence. There is not even a remote possibility that any terrorist would consider an attack. The Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria was designed in the 13th century against terrorist attacks. It had many vantage points for defense and counterattack by the former Rulers and Masters - the Medici. They weren’t subtle where their personal protection was concerned.

Lucrezia spots Sir Harold Acton again, an aesthete, erudite, stylish, and “homosexual since forever.” Indeed there are several Italian activist homosexual groups attending led by “La Romina,” an alluring transsexual.

Suddenly it was the “in” thing to be seen attending a conference on Human Rights.

If you asked most people what they considered ‘Human Rights’ to be or to define what they thought Human Rights entailed or involved, you would get as many different answers as there are people, reasons Lucrezia.

The real stars are “The Dissidents”. Adored, courted and fought over by the media, the politicians, bankers, movie stars, spin doctors, and High society groupies.

The darling of them all is Sergei Akimov. Tall, golden locks, burning blue eyes, and very pale skin, which she understood came from chronic anemia. He speaks perfect English with just a tinge of a Russian accent to make him irresistible. He authored a masterpiece and a best-selling book in the West, “Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?” Every talk show host from Antwerp to Washington D.C. simply had to have Sergei Akimov on their show. The book is scholarly; most people can’t plough past the first five pages. It doesn’t matter. Everyone buys it and talks about “the interesting book by Akimov”. Sergei is a historian and an economist. For his courage and his labors, Yuri Andropov, Head of the KGB, sent Serge without an Aye or Bye to Yakutia, Siberia for 10 years.

The Palazzo Vecchio at the Sala di Ducento is tastefully decorated. An extravagant stage has been erected. There are masses of gold and white lilies with brown irises placed at strategic angles. A long monk’s refectory table holds center stage. One chair is empty; it is a symbol for nuclear scientist Andrei Sakharov who was not allowed by the Soviets to attend (although his wife Yelena Bonner, a fiery activist will speak). All the dissidents sit on gilded high backed chairs made of hand woven, hand loomed fabrics from Rutelli’s in Florence.

Opening day of the Conference on Human Rights is a fashion statement. Only Ota Sik, a statesman in his late 60’s from Czechoslovakia, is wearing a tie. All the others are elegantly disarrayed. Serge Akimov is an Armani picture in black.

The mayor of Florence, a dandy perfumed and fair, is making the opening statements. The malicious Florentines call him “Poufie”. It has made the rounds and the name is now his unofficial nickname.

People are there to see and be seen. Dozens of photographers are flashing at the “Stars” (the Dissidents) and at the audience. No one seems to mind. The dissidents are intelligent, ballsy, brave, excellent orators and experts at moving audiences – especially high powered ones.

It is radical chic at its most flagrant.

Lucrezia von Remo is sitting in the center of the front row. “Poufie” the Mayor had insisted. The dissidents are ten meters, if that away from her line of vision. Sergei is placed strategically in the middle of the long 14th century Frattina (a monk’s refectory table) made from a solid piece of oak, polished to a brilliant sheen.

It is a good vantage point to study Akimov.

Their eyes lock into each other immediately, like heat-seeking black mamba serpents during mating season. She forces herself to gaze at Yelena Bonner, wife of nuclear physicist and the Star dissident still in Russia, Andrei Sakharov. Yet, each time, her eyes are pulled towards Sergei by an invisible thread, He appears to be scrutinizing her. Inevitably, their eyes run into each other again and again.

I am not going to be the first one to look away, she decides. He speaks without notes, never glancing at the teleprompter.

He’s brilliant or, more likely he has recited these lines so often, they are imprinted on his tongue. All the while Sergei was still focusing on her!

“Criminy! He’s insolent” Her cheeks are aflame “That’s ridiculous. I am behaving like a twit on her first affair. I detest women who blush. They remind me of little brown mice who give the impression that they would not harm a fly. Underneath that modest exterior these women are sexually ferocious man eaters and like nothing better than to rob beautiful women of their rich and successful husbands.

A hint of a smile gathers around the corner of his well-formed lips. She ignores him by shifting her gaze and pretending to concentrate on the Hungarian dissident Lazlo Kodre.

“He’s the lover of Princess Domitiall Doria,” whispers Sir Percival, who is seated next to Lucrezia. Lord Stuart is one of her adored confidantes.

“He looks very much a kept man. I’ll have a petit entendre fling with the hunk. I love goulash.”

“You can’t be serious Lucrezia. He is not your type, He is more like Manfredi, your slick, slippery former husband. Take Akimov. That’s more you.”

“En boca cerrada no entran moscas.” Flies will not enter a closed mouth. A good maxim to follow.”

But the larger than life figure of Sergei beguiles her. Heroic men are in short supply. Integrity is a puzzling concept to most. She admires men who take on the powerful establishments of their countries; uncaring about their safety

At last! Intermission; “I refuse to cope with the ooh’s, aah’s, the huggy kissys, the fake How are yous. I am going to stay right here in holy peace,” she informs Sir Harold. She takes the mustard colored fedora which she has removed and rested on her lap, and places it back on her head, tilting it towards the left side of her face.

Sir Harold rises regally from his seat, nods at the fedora as if to say ”Perfect.” “Pet, this is the best time to analyze and observe these salon revolutionaries. I wouldn’t miss it for all the opium in the Golden Triangle,” he cracks with a smile.

Lucrezia sits back, shifting her torso towards the right not glancing at anyone, losing herself in her thoughts. The whole bloody world is here. We are all sheeple; no different from the ones we speak of with such contempt.

She is irritated with herself for having jumped head first into this circus. As Head of Public Relations for Gucci Inc, she volunteered to sponsor several events apres parlez. A fashion show twinned with an art auction on behalf of Amnesty International.

“There are 120 accredited members of the media attending and reporting on the Conference on Human Rights, chic little Gucci notepads at the ready, with the double GG logo, compliments of Contessa Lucrezia.

The image of Sergei pierces her self-recriminations. “I allowed myself to be inveigled by the Mayor into sitting in the front row. On the other hand, I would have probably been annoyed if I were not in the front row. Uffa! Why can’t I be satisfied with anything today?”

“I could not take my eyes off you when I was on the podium.”
A sensual voice with a vaguely familiar tinge of a Russian accent caresses her.

“What rot,” retorts Lucrezia, swirling in her seat to face the voice. It’s Sergei Akimov. What cheek. I was in your line of vision, how could you not?”

“May I sit next to you?” he asks taking her hand and sitting down without waiting for her reply.

Captivating, dimpled smile, Lucrezia notices. She replies, her blue eyes as icy as her voice. “Would it have made a difference if I had said no?”

“Not a whit, I assure you. You are wrong. I had eyes only for you. I was talking only to you. And you were aware of my actions,” declares Sergei, taking her other hand into his

“Really?” she asks, careful to keep the same gelid tone, yet her hands seem to belong in his warm palms.

He ignores her reply and goes on. “You are strong willed. A marvelous actress to sit in this medieval Sala and pretend to look interested at everything you see and hear on the stage. I think you must have been spoiled since the day you were born. That’s why you might be a little too self-centered. But … you have heart and you are yearning for passion.

She has an acid retort at the ready when Sergei suddenly squeezes her hands hard. As a pianist, she is sensitive about them.” You are hurting me. Please don’t.”

He removes his hands instantly and exclaims softly, ”Forgive me. I did not realize. Please call me Serge. I’m interested in your opinion regarding the speeches.”

“I was prepared,” she declares, taking a deep breath, “not to like your speech or even you – and surprised myself by admiring it and you. I am Lucrezia, she says slowly, pronouncing her name as the ancient Romans would have done so and modern Florentines still do – Lucretsiya.”

“You are as much a product of disinformation, Lucrezia, (he says her name correctly) as I was in the Soviet Union. Why did you not want to like me? Because I became rich and famous by writing about a totalitarian regime? Survived years in Siberia?”

No comment is my best weapon, she answers quickly.

Sergei laughs. “What? Look at you. You are full of contradictions.”

“Those are uncomfortable observations. I imagine you must be a portrait in contradictions. Must you make them?”

“We are alone. I can say anything I want,” replies Sergei waving his hand in the air as if to fan himself.

“All the Secret Service clueless spies are peering through binoculars reading our lips,” Lucrezia reminds him snappily.

“Let them,” says Serge defiantly.

“Or,” suggests Lucrezia, laughing, “the spooks might have bugged our seats.” She is surprised at her humorous reaction. A moment ago she was ready to ask him to leave.

“Everything and nothing is possible in Italy,” Serge replies, smiling.

“Nonetheless,” she says, smiling back candidly, “it is not politically correct to criticize your speech. Are you aware I am probably one of a handful of people present here today who has read your book in its entirety? She tells him, in an attempt to veer from dangerous territory.”

“I don’t care about my book right now. You are a very desirable woman,” he states intensely, staring at her long and ardently. “I am hopelessly attracted to you. You have a good mind. You are not afraid to have opinions.”

I am drawn to this stranger. Yet he does not feel like a stranger. Yet I’m not certain I want to experience any new sensations.

Sergei removes Lucrezia’s fedora ”con dolcezza”, rests it on Sir Percy’s empty seat, then, suddenly and unexpectedly, Sergei wounds his hands around her long blonde, wavy locks, leans towards her, and brushes his lips like a feather, against her mouth. He holds her in a tight embrace, almost compressing her.

This is materializing to a woman who disapproves of public displays of affection, except with her children and long established friends. She follows her rising tide, not caring what people might think.

Still in embrace, their lips fluttering against each other he murmurs, “Don’t speak. Since we first saw each other, I on the podium, you on the front row our senses have had a running dialogue between them. Let us dispense with all the social niceties. The world is passing us by. Let us be alone together.”

Lucrezia grasps for words. This is total folly. She can only think to ask, “when?”

Tonight. After the dinner at Palazzo Strozzi,” suggests Sergei, out of breath.

“I’ll try to find a way,” Lucrezia replies with difficulty. ”It’s not an original reply, but it’s the best I can think of at this moment.”

He grips her fervidly. “Lucrezia mia!! That isn’t good enough. You must do it!”

“I don’t know,” Lucrezia hesitates, refusing to be swept along any further.

“Don’t be afraid,” he says. The tenderness in his voice almost sways her.

“I’m not afraid,” she lies. “It’s just that I may not control what might take place this evening at the dinner.”

“A beautiful, and strong woman always controls the situation. Say yes. Please! I am begging.” Sergei glances to his right. Some people are re-entering the Sala Ducento. “I must return to the stage. Tonight!”

“Dum loquimur, fugarit invida actas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero “While we’re talking, envious time is fleeing; seize the day, put no trust in the future” Sergei places his lips on her hand.

“Are you married?”

“Would it make a difference?”

He pauses. “I’m not sure. Tell me please!”

“I’m divorced Italia style. What about you?”

“Does it matter? You must also explain when we have more time just what divorce Italian style means.”

“It might,” she replies referring to whether he is married or not. It is too tedious for words to conduct affairs with married men. They also usually call the shots due to “the situation”. Non-per me. Not for me.”

“My wife died in Siberia.” His eyes are focused only on her, even as his peripheral vision reveals that the Sala is once more swelling with people. “I must go,” he says and then quickly plants a moist kiss on her mouth, and ascends the steps towards the stage in a peculiar gait she can’t quite place, back to the monk’s Frattina.

He quoted Horace. The Roman poet of antiquity. The words touch her deeply. Among members of her clan in Spain and in the Philippines, Horace is the most beloved of poets, in the Pantheon of giants like Shakespeare, Goethe Dante, Tagore, Neruda and Lorca.

She is still recovering from their beloved Horace, when another one of his Odes comes to her mind. “Tu ne quasieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi finem di dederint “. Do not try to find out – we’re forbidden to know – what ends the Gods may bestow on you or me.


  1. Cara Isabella,

    Wow! This is heady stuff! The stage is set for a grand'amore con molto passione, and I can't wait for the next act. Sergei is irrestible, and Lucrezia is a bold and fascinating woman.



  2. "...radical chic..."

    Oh how refreshing. I've never walked among the circles of the most famous Russian dissidents - although a bit on their peripheries - but my experience in Russia in the late 90s opened my eyes to the cynical opportunism of many who milk the "human rights" industry for personal gain.

    Not everyone who went to a Russian prison for political reasons was a hero. And to complicate matters, some of them who were sent to prison for bona fide reasons of conscience, later exploited their prestige and cache as "dissidents" for personal gain and shoddy, sometimes dishonest, ambitions.
    (But I expressly want to exempt Sakharov and Bonner from this indictment.)

    In other words, just because the KGB were ruthless and Soviet law was mostly a sham, doesn't mean that some, or many, of those whom they arrested and imprisoned were not scoundrels or threats to public order and national security. Although the USSR had a stupid economic system and relatively few civil liberties (but more liberty than most Americans know of, to this day), they DID have a right and a moral DUTY to preserve public order and to defend the state against foreign enemies. Whether their methods were always humane or wise is another question.

    And the fact that America had thousands of nukes aimed at them, didn't help them to be less paranoid about national security.
    That condition, combined with having recently been invaded by a Western nation which intended to enslave them, cannot but have given them very good reasons to be paranoid and overly cautious about their perceived national security interests.

    In the late 90s I personally knew a
    semi-famous Russian "dissident" who had been feted in the Western media, who personally knew and was sympathetic to the Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev - yes, the same Basayev who later orchestrated the Beslan massacre of children.
    Some of that "dissident's" Western admirers regarded him as a hero simply because he was a former "prisoner of conscience." But was he, really? Did they ever get the WHOLE story from him, of how and why he was sent to prison? (I don't know, and neither do they.) At any rate, they continued to regard him as a "heroic dissident" not only despite, but BECAUSE of his sympathies for the Chechen terrorists.

    (Sympathy for Chechens per se? Good. But posing in a photograph, smiling, with Shamil Basayev, the Butcher of Beslan - and then proudly sharing that photo with friends - sorry but no, that's not what a real hero does. That's what a traitor does.)

    "Treason" is an often overused word, especially in America these days. But it's a serious word with serious meaning. I have great respect for truly heroic dissidents like Sakharov, whose way of dissenting was a way of SERVING his country in a patriotic way. But EVEN IN a state whose government has a bad "human rights" record, such as the USSR of the 1980s (and the USA today!), a clear
    line must be drawn between honourable dissidence versus treason. EVERY state has a rightful interest in national security, and outright treason is always condemnable and despicable, even in "bad" states. (Is there really any morally "good" state, really?)

    So now this gets me thinking about von Stauffenberg, who attempted to assassinate Hitler. Was he a traitor? Actually, I'm inclined to say, "NO", because he was not directly serving the enemies of his country. He was attempting a coup
    de'tat, which is NOT the same thing as treason.

    But if Stauffenberg had secretly done direct service for America - in whose Army my father was fighting on July 20 1944 - then I'd call him a traitor, dishonourable,
    regardless of whether he was helping my side. By attempting a coup, and trying to make INTERNAL changes in his own government, Stauffenberg was honourable, the opposite of a traitor.

    So I say, even in Nazi Germany (as close to a truly evil state as any I can think of - and yes more evil than the USSR) - if a German had collaborated with Germany's enemies
    WHILE REMAINING A GERMAN CITIZEN (this is UNLIKE the great Marlene Dietrich who was OPEN about her enmity to the Third Reich), then I would say they deserved to be hanged as traitors, even though their wicked government had started an illegal war. The honourable thing to do is to resist your own government directly, but not through collaboration with foreign enemies, unless you do what Marlene Dietrich did and openly change your allegiance.

    But if you collaborate with your country's enemies without openly and formally changing your allegiance, then you're a traitor and deserve to hang, regardless of how bad your government is.

    Another example: Benedict Arnold betrayed the USA secretly, under cover of his American Army uniform and officer's commission. He was a traitor, because he collaborated with the enemy without openly changing his allegiance. But the many Americans who openly joined the British Army, were not traitors. And conversely, neither were George Washington or Adams etc, as they DECLARED their change of allegiance - and the same goes for General Robert E Lee, and that's why he not only did not hang after he lost the war, but was allowed (like all Confederate officers) to keep his sidearms as a matter of honour.

    So in sum, I say, any Russian "dissident" who openly and formally enlists in the ranks of Chechen separatists, is not a traitor. But giving aid and comfort to them under cover of "political dissidence", is treason, regardless of whether their cause is just.

  3. PS, a minor quibble about literary greatness. You mention Hemingway with apparent approbation. Sorry but I say Hemingway is nowhere even REMOTELY near the "...Pantheon of giants like Shakespeare, Goethe Dante, Tagore, Neruda and Lorca."

    (And I'm embarrassed to confess that I've never read Lorca. But all the others, yes. And one of my prior Ladyfriends said one of my most incomprehensible qualities was my way of reciting from Shakepeare in one breath, and from Beavis and Butthead in the next - but I think Shakespeare would have appreciated Beavis and Butthead.)

    Hemingway was a poseur, a fraud, an opportunistic hack self-advertiser who invented himself as a "brand" to sell to Europeans.

    Ben Franklin - who was a man of immensely greater talents than Hemingway - did the same thing. Franklin never wore his "Bonhomme Richard" fur hat in America - he only wore it in Europe, as a self-adverstisement, to pander to what the Europeans WANTED TO THINK Americans were like!

    Hemingway invented himself as a "brand" to sell to Europeans - and indirectly to sell back to Americans, to sell Americans an artificial image of themselves, which Hemingway artificially personified.

    But I have a lot more respect for Franklin than for Hemingway (by the way, my Maternal line, for several generations, were all baptised in the Church where Franklin is buried), because, inter alia, Franklin was not a typical American "Wunderkind" who flamed in youth and then died young. All too many American geniuses do. Poe (died at 40) comes to mind as I love him so much. And F Scott Fitzgerald.
    But there's something fundamentally
    menacing, in a Gothic-horror way, about a national character - America's - which worships youth so much that its own geniuses tend to burn out and die young, apparently as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    And on that note, as a wise old European man-of-letters once said to me:

    "About America's cult of youth, well, if the world 'belongs to the young', then what happens to youthful idealism? The idealism of Youth is interdependent upon the rule and greater power of Elders.
    When Youths are told that the world - or their country and its power - belongs to the Young, then their idealism dissolves, but then they employ their powers without the wisdom of experience."

    Thus, China's Cultural Revolution was an orgiastic disaster - because
    the Young were given too much power too fast, too soon. And Nazi Germany was mostly a "young mens'" movement. The states and civilisations which endure, are those like China used to be, and is becoming again, governed by Elders, with an ethos of responsibility to many generations past and future.

    But as America believes in "the moment", and excoriates the Old and is irresponsible toward posterity, America is now burning out and dying young, just like its many tragic geniuses like Poe and Fiztgerald foreshadowed.


Isabel Van Fechtmann

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