Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Log 500 Jan 25 2016: I bring up a milestone number of pieces with this one about the latest hit films

The trunk shot is used in many Tarantino films...
The trunk shot is used in many Tarantino films, including Reservoir Dogs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Leonardo DiCaprio at the Body of Lies film pre...
Leonardo DiCaprio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Français : Javier Bardem and the Coen brothers...
Javier Bardem and the Coen brothers  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Before going any further I should say that since I began to write on my own web site in 1996, I have written many more than 500 pieces.  I began with what I called a place to sound off on; I determined I wouldn’t spend any money on keeping it; and I had been through at least three versions of the site on different addresses, before, in 2010, hitting on the present address, on which I have written 427 of the 500 pieces. ( Since I was more active in my earlier years, I could probably claim to have written about 1800 pieces all told over the 20 years).
My reason for changing addresses was that at least one of my sites was not designed for carrying  this sort of web site, and was not open to being included in the periodic sweeps made by whoever is the boss of these things so that attention could be drawn to the site’s existence.  I have stuck to my vow not to spend money on the site, and have never made any secret of the fact that it is used just for occasional thoughts: in other words, it is not a work of serious journalism, which would require of me to keep more closely in touch with events. I am retired from direct journalism, although I hope I still have the capacity to explain what I want to say in a fashion that is clear enough to be comprehensible to anyone.
Okay, enough of that: this piece is about some of the recent film releases that I have managed to see, partly because they are, unusually, now being screened in Dubrovnik, where I have been for a few weeks. Normally in Montreal I never get to see the up-to-date releases, because I tend to rely more on Netflix, with its offering of films I have missed earlier, or the excellent films that are screened in the Cinema du Parc, downstairs from where I live, which offers probably Montreal’s best selection of films of the brand usually screened in  a “film art house.”
I suppose of most interest currently are the two contenders for this year’s Oscars, The Revenant, the remarkable film directed by Mexican director Alejandro Inarritu, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy and a cast of other good male actors. It is about a hunting party of military men, or quasi-military men, in 1823 in the middle of winter, that is put upon by a band of Indians, after which, their main preoccupation is to return to their base whole. The character played by DiCaprio is attacked by a bear when he is alone in the bush, and almost killed. His mates fix up to carry him along with them in their hasty retreat, but he is so severely injured and is delaying them so much, thus opening them to even more danger of Indian attack, that they begin to quarrel over whether they should kill him or simply abandon him to die.  The latter course is chosen, and he is half buried, and left to gasp his last, as they think.
However, he recovers sufficiently to drag himself out of his half-grave, and thereafter shows so much initiative in somehow managing to keep himself alive that eventually he makes it back to camp.  Probably the most remarkable thing about this movie is that they succeeded in shooting it at all, out in the Canadian and American winter wilderness, in terrible conditions requiring the actors to stand in freezing water and to suffer very much what the characters they were playing suffered.  Inarritu, as I discovered when seeing him interviewed on TV this week, looks and sounds like the sort of man capable of inspiring his team to make extraordinary efforts, and  he appears to have done just that in the making of this movie. I am not surprised it has been nominated for 12 Oscars, and I expect it to be a runaway winner.
Mind you, I have little faith in the Oscars as a guide to the best movies: I felt almost personally offended in that year when Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnificent  There Will Be Blood, derived from the early chapters of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil,  a movie that in my book has a claim to be considered among the best movies ever made, was beaten out by No Country for Old Men, made by the Coen Brothers, in which Javier Bardem played a homicidal maniac who went around killing people with no explanation as to why he did it, or what made him do it. It was all simply a meretricious use of insensate violence that can only be called gratuitous.
Anderson’s film by contrast, starred Daniel Day-Lewis in surely one of the most remarkable of his many noteworthy  acting performances, as an oil man who arrived in the American West determined to make his fortune by persuading simple-minded farmers that he could make them rich if only they would allow him to pump oil from their properties.  An accompanying story to that of this hard-hearted, determined bloke is the story of a child he adopted who grew up to be unable to speak, but who, after watching his father in action over the years, eventually decided to strike out on his own in what he hoped might be some more morally supportable  business. The denouement to this film is as violent as anything in the aforementioned films, but the violence arose from the main character, was bred into him, and was essential to the story; and personally I have found that film, seen quite a few years ago, unforgettable.
One of the competing films this year is called  The Hateful Eight,  another film set in the Old West which features such an extreme level of gratuitous violence that, as I left the cinema I remarked that “the man who made that film is a madman.” That man is Quentin Tarantino, whose previous films have been marked by similar levels of unnecessary and unconvincing violence. One of the best descriptions of this director --- who for inexplicable reasons is held in Hollywood to be some kind of boy genius --- was made by one of my sons, when he said Tarantino’s films seem to have been made by someone who has had no experience of life except sitting and watching TV and movies all the time.
In this film, as in the Inarritu film, most of the action takes place in a brutal snow storm, from which the eight central characters have sought refuge in a large country cabin. There a diverse collection of people, one of whom is a black man played by Samuel Jackson, quarrel, start shooting, and eventually all of them die: or maybe two of them live, just, but seem likely to die as the movie ends.  This could have been called The Hateful Film about eight hateful people. One of the eight is a woman played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of Hollywood’s most experienced actresses with a huge filmography, including many memorable performances, but I am willing to bet she never had a roll so demeaning as his one. She finishes the film with her face completely covered in blood sprayed from some of the dying men, and vomit, from others, an indication of the obscene level of violence in this terrible movie.
The third notable film I have seen lately is The Big Short, an effort to bring to the screen an explanation of the 2008 meltdown in the global economy. Directed and co-written by Adam McKay, it is shot and edited in a staccato manner that certainly suits the raid-fire production of information as it drifts across the screen, just as it drifted across the stock markets of the world. Personally, being myself uninstructed in the vagaries of the stock market, I missed much of the most important information, which was rattled out and left to die, as far as I was concerned, although no doubt younger people with a better background in these matters must have gotten more detail out of it than I did.   I was left in do doubt, however, that the four central figures in the film were, if not evil, certainly extremely self-centred, criminally so, in fact, pursuing their own enrichment and disregarding the evident disaster that would ensue for millions of people.  Having learned that major banks were gathering worthless house mortgages into bonds, they bought these bonds up, and at the same time bet against their failure.  They couldn’t lose, except if the bonds against which they were betting did not collapse. The central figure is a former doctor, become a fund manager, played by Christian Bale, who eventually begins to see the error of his ways when it is pointed out to him by a former broker who has retired in disgust from the business, but who, when the big crash comes, stands to earn $200 million if he sells. He considers it seriously for about five minutes, but eventually says, “Okay, sell.” So, while portrayed as a relatively sensible centre of this plot, he knew exactly what he was doing, realized the impact it would have on millions of people, and yet he carried on with his schemes until the final great payoff. 
It is said in the film that six million homeowners lost their houses, and eight million people lost their jobs.  But although it all happened because of this monstrous fraud by the bankers and fund managers, only one banker, an obscure functionary somewhere in Europe, went to jail. If ever the leftist belief that capitalism is crime was confirmed, it was by by this event. And that uncomfortable truth is not shirked in this excellent film. Some leftist writers have objected that the film pleads for sympathy for the evil-doers, but I didn't find that, and don’t agree with this criticism of the film.

In addition to these films, I am presently watching an excellent British spy-thriller called The Honourable Woman. It has eight episodes, I am past the fifth and am gripped by every episode. It deals with an Israeli-based company whose two young owners have invested in providing fibre option communications to the West Bank, only to run into trouble from both sides, plus the American and British secret security services.  This has been a widely praised series, and rightly so. But then the British are expert at this kind of drama, their expertise reaching from the wartime drama, Foyle’s War,  a beautiful series that is constantly being re-run, through their pitiless look at MI5, through to this new one, every bit as expertly written, directed and acted as the previous hits.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My Log 499 Jan 19 2016: Wonderful biography of H.G. Wells by Canadian Lovat Dickson, like all of us lost in admiration for his energy, creativity and imagination

English: Plaque commemorating H.G. Wells.
 Plaque commemorating H.G. Wells. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Alien tripod illustration by Alvim Co...
Alien tripod illustration by Alvim Corréa, from the 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: H.G. Wells Book War Of The Worlds
 H.G. Wells Book War Of The Worlds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A Short History of the World (H. G. Wells)
A Short History of the World (H. G. Wells) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
H. G. Wells in 1943.
H. G. Wells in 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have just finished reading a biography of H.G. Wells by the Canadian Lovat Dickson, who got to know the great writer in his later years when he, Dickson, was working in publishing in London. It is a book I have had for many years that has somehow survived the clearout I have made in recent years of the thousands of books I once owned.
Of course, as I now realize, I should have read the book years ago, for I belong to that generation for whom H.G. Wells and Bernard Shaw were the two great sages of English-language literature. One of my vivid teenage memories is of sitting in the library of my high school in far off Invercargill, New Zealand, reading Wells’s last publication, called Mind at the End of Its Tether, a little volume written in 1945, at the end of the war which --- although he had prophesied exactly such an explosion if the world did not accept his prescription for a World Government, that would control all the armed forces on earth  ---- had plunged him into despair. I cannot remember exactly what he said in that book, but another vivid memory I have of his impact on me as a teenager is that I remember him writing that if all the children born in England had been transferred in infancy to Germany, and all the German children to England, each group would have fought for the opposite side from that into which they had been born.  When analysed, that convincing formulation, for me, called into question every influence that is brought to bear on human beings, every institution of our government, every decision one might expect from them, and everything one might read in our newspapers, magazines, even books. Just that one blinding statement of the obvious, which I had never thought about before, fixed in me a scepticism about the current state of affairs and those who were managing it, that has lasted until this day, seventy years later. In other words I am, intellectually speaking, a child of H.G. Wells, even though I had no idea where he came from, against what enormous odds he struggled his way to eminence, or even the immense range of his influence, which stretched eventually to every country on earth.
This wonderful biography by Dickson, published in 1969, twenty-three years after the great man’s death, fills us in on Wells’s immense output, so vast that  Dickson could not include it all in his book, but referred his readers to the H.G. Wells Society, formed in the 1960s, which still exists, and is planning to have a celebration in July of this year of the 150th anniversary of Wells’s birth, and 70th of  his death. I have consulted that full bibliography, which begins in 1893, and ends 52 years later in 1945, and lists no fewer than 156 published works. Their range is what would now be called mind-boggling.  Early in his life he had one ambition, to be recognized as a serious novelist, and in that he succeeded by producing some superb novels, such as the comic stories, Kipps (1905) and The History of Mr Polly (1910), two books that established him as the poet of the working class from which he arose, but also many others which combined his interest in science with his interest in affairs of the heart.
His mother was a lady’s maid in a great house in Sussex, kept by a Miss Fetherstonhaugh. Mrs Wells had gathered enough money to establish her husband, Joe, in a miserable shop in the High street of Bromley, Kent. Dickson writes:

“All Wells’ early years up to the age of fourteen had the background of the dusty little china shop, always on the edge of bankruptcy, with its basement kitchen and scullery where the family had their being all day in a sort of half-light drawn from the pavement-grating in the front and the scullery door at the back which led on to a little paved yard, odorous with its brick dustbin and bricked out-door privy and rainwater tank. Mrs. Wells, who had been a lady’s maid, had the timid confused manner of a Victorian domestic servant. Joe Wells was a jovial outdoor sort of man. He hated the shop and kept out of it as much as possible.”
Their youngest child quickly showed signs of being a fast learner, eager for knowledge, but his mother, trapped in the morality of a domestic servant, was determined to get him launched into a paying career as quickly as possible. He was not yet 14 when he was deposited at the side door of a draper’s establishment opposite Windsor Castle, where he lived in a bedroom over the shop with two other apprentices and an assistant, a place where “the deadly monotony, the servility, the feeling he was imprisoned for life in a great machine from which escape was impossible… made him seriously contemplate the extremes of running away or suicide.”  He was saved from that by the decision of his employer that the boy was, as he wrote to Mrs Wells, “inattentive, uncivil, dreamy, didn’t seem interested, and was singularly inept at giving the right change,” and requested his removal.
He next spent three months in the enchanting presence of his Uncle Williams, as he was called, an entertaining rogue masquerading as headmaster of a small school, who treated the boy as an equal and kept him agog with stories, before the authorities realized he did not have the  necessary qualifications as headmaster and dismissed him, leaving Bertie once more to return to his mother.
Fr a second time he was apprenticed, this time to a chemist, from which he absented himself when he realized the cost of taking the necessary exams would be beyond his mother. Mrs Wells asked the agent of the great house in which she worked to help her, and he got the boy a place with the leading draper of Southsea, bound to a third apprenticeship, this time of five years, after two unbearable years of which he asked a schoolmaster he had briefly met along the way if he could possibly take him on as an under-master. The schoolmaster remembered the boy’s thirst for knowledge, and hired him. And all that then remained was for him to persuade his mother that she should agree to his breaking yet another apprenticeship. So, he got up one Sunday morning at 5 am, walked the 17 miles back to see his Mother, spent the entire day trying to persuade her to allow him to break his apprenticeship, and left to return to the shop, vowing that if his indentures were not cancelled, he would commit suicide.
So began the history of the figure we came to know as H.G. Wells, as an under-master in a village school. His employer decided to try to make a few pounds more by having his under-master follow a course that would train him in  the new subject of science, a course from which the headmaster could gain four pounds for a first class pass.  Needless to say, Wells succeeded with a flurry of A passes, and was offered by the Department of Education a studentship at the Normal School of Science in South Kensington with a bursary of a guinea a week, leading on to a possible B.Sc in science. He was eighteen, and at the school he came under the influence of Professor Thomas Huxley, an atheist and a friend and defender of Charles Darwin. He flourished there in the first year, managed to get through the second, and was renewed for a third year, but, as Dickson remarks, “literature and love and socialism had captured his interest, and…..the bright hopes with which he had started were coming to nothing, and he was quite conscious of it, but helpless to do anything about it… His mind was alive and glowing, all right, but not with the facts necessary to pass his examinations. Reading the works of the great English writers was of no use there, and when he left the examination hall he knew that he had failed….”
He got a job as a schoolmaster in a small country school near Wales, but he fell when refereeing a football match, and one of the bigger boys took advantage of the opportunity and kicked him in the back, precipitating damage to the lungs that plagued him for the rest of his life. He spent his twenty-first birthday in bed, recovering. At the age of 22, he embarked on his second assault on London, determined as never before to become a writer.
Well, we know the result of that determination. Within five years he had his first, tentative writings published, and two years later in 1895 he produced one of his enduring masterpieces, The Time Machine, which even now, 120 years later, is one of his works that remains in print. The Island of Dr. Moreau followed the next year, and after that The Invisible Man and the next year The War of the Worlds, and by this time, before the turn of the century, the young man was established as a major literary force, although so far with particular skills in scientific subjects and works of prophecy about our scientific future.
This was not enough for him. A man of boundless energy, rather unprepossessing in appearance, a dumpy little figure, but with an endless flow of talk, and a rapier wit that made him excellent company, he wanted to establish himself as a master of the regular novel. And so he used his experiences as the basis for many future works. He was sexually voracious, and after the success of Kipps and other novels, he embarked on a work called Ann Veronica whose defence of the modern young woman was so frank that his regular publisher Macmillans refused to publish it. When it was published by another firm, it was brutally attacked in the press for the immorality of its ideas, in language that seems hardly credible to our present ears: all he did was portray a young woman who was as ferociously interested in sex as he was himself, who was determined to live her life unrestricted by the mores of her particular world. It was really nothing that wasn’t already being lived by plenty of young men and women. But rumours began to spread about Wells’s own sexual exploits. For a second time with a novel called The New Machiavelli he had a manuscript refused by his regular publisher, and once again the novel brought vicious attacks on Wells for his lifestyle as much as for his freely expressed opinions, at the basis of which was his belief in sexual freedom between consenting adults.
It was from the turn of the century until the outbreak of the First World War that Wells developed, in addition to his scientific, straight and comic novels, his interest in the direction of society in general, the need for socialism, and the imperative need for a change in human affairs. He joined the Fabian Society, dominated by Beatrice and Sidney Webb and Bernard Shaw, and confronted them with a far-reaching programme for transformation of their purpose, which was rejected by the founders, who preferred to keep it as a debating society, rather than as an instrument for immediate social change. So he quit the society and thereafter followed his bliss as a prophet of future glory, if only people would listen to him. Dickson remarks at one point that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Wellsian thought was his contempt for humanity, coupled with his urgent belief that mankind could have a glorious future if only people would listen to him. The years leading up to and through the war are peppered with works whose titles suggest the urgency of his appeal to his fellow men: Essays in Construction, The Labour Unrest, What are the Liberals to Do?, The World Set Free, The Peace of the World, What is Coming?, War and the Future, one after the other, a veritable blizzard of advice and admonition, and then in 1919, The Idea of a League of Nations. Under his plan, every nation in the world would have been admitted to the League, which would control all armed forces. This, of course, was more than almost anybody else in England could even contemplate --- what, give up the Royal Navy? --- an idea he put forward first in 1917 in a letter to wrote to The Times, who found the idea so shocking it refused to publish the letter.
 Unfortunately, once again mankind did not follow his advice. He never believed in the national state, regarded it as an instrument holding mankind back from its glorious potential, and more or less washed his hands of the mess that was made, against his advice, of the peace following the war. Throughout all these years Dickson makes it clear that Wells was always interested in the money he could earn from his writings, of the contracts he seems to have negotiated personally with publishers, and that he was always seeking ways to draw attention to his latest publications. If he sold 5,000, sometimes perhaps 10,000 copies of a book, he was doing well, but then in 1920 he took a year to produce his monumental Outline of World  History,  a work designed originally for schools, produced first in 25 separate serial issues, each of which sold more than 100,000 copies. When it appeared in book form 2,000,000 copies were sold in England and America. Subsequently it was translated into nearly every language in the civilized world.
No one writer had ever before attempted a work so comprehensive in its scale, and of course, it laid Wells open to corrections and criticisms from various experts who faulted his detailed descriptions of their specialties. Dickson quotes Lytton Strachey as saying, “I ceased to think about Wells when he became a Thinker.” Dickson comments: “Wells might have replied that he was writing not for Strachey but for the new public emerging from the war who had missed some precious years of enlightenment and had to rebuild from a shattered world a new human order.”
Though by the 1920s Wells was probably the world’s most famous author, it is probably true to say that he had already passed the peak of his creativity by that time. He continued to write novels and social tracts. He produced two more astounding enclyclopedias, The Science of Life (1930) and The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1931). He went to Russia and America, and conducted long interviews with Roosevelt and Stalin, contrasting their programmes and their attitudes to modern society. The approaching war --- which he had prophesied many years before, putting the likely date as 1955 --- filled him with despair, as can be seen from the titles of works he produced --- The Fate of Homo Sapiens, and The New World Order (1939), and What are We Fighting For? (1940), leading up, almost inevitably, as his last published work, to the aforementioned Mind at the End of its Tether.
Dickson records that when he died on August 13, 1946, “all the world recorded his passing.” He adds:
“For those who met at the Royal Institution on 30 October, 1946 to honour his memory, nearly all of whom had known him personally and had had their lives to some degree changed by him, a great character had gone from the scene, one who had done so much to wake us up and prepared us for the harsh rigours our century had in store for us.”
That he is not much read today --- it appears that only three or four of his romantic novels looking into a scientific future are still in print ---  Dickson ascribes to his being “all brains, and very little heart.” I prefer the suggestion made by G.D.H. Cole in his eulogy at the 1946 meeting to memorialize Wells:

“…He only wanted men to behave in their own interest with tolerable common sense…. He could not believe that men, if they but understood, could go on behaving so foolishly; and his life as a writer was one long effort to help them understand. If so far he seems to have failed, that is not because he has taught us little, but because the forces he bade us control have moved unprecedentedly fast. If, even yet, we succeed in catching up with them no one will deserve more thanks for it than H.G.”

Monday, January 18, 2016

Link of the Day: I have never seen a better description of the reality of the United States’ Second amendment, the phony defence given by the gun-owners for the present chaotic situation in which 350 million guns are floating around the United States, than was given in a recent Real News Network interview by Dr. Gerald Horne, Professor of History and African American Studies, the University of Houston, Texas. First, the amendment was designed to ensure that militias could be armed to keep the peace, if needed, something that has been translated into the right of every American to bear arms. More importantly, Dr.Horne reveals the racist and class bias of the US constitution, whose provisions were designed to keep arms OUT OF THE HANDS of African American slaves, and the indigenous people. The provision on bearing arms was designed mostly to ensure that arms only went to the settler class.  Read here the full interview, under the title THE RACIST HISTORY OF THE 2ND AMENDMENT AND WHY IT MATTERS TODAY.

Friday, January 8, 2016

My Log 498 Jan 7 2015: Journey through Dalmatia --- 5: Diocletian, Roman emperor whose retirement palace in the city of Split is today the cosmopolitan centre of the Adriatic

Nederlands: Paleis van Diocletianus
The Peristyle of Diocletian's Palace, showing
entrance to the Emperor's quarters Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Head from a statue of Diocletian at the Istanb...
Head from a statue of Diocletian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My preferred method of travel, of visiting a place, is just to mooch about, ignoring the churches (I never visit churches, believing religions are the work of the devil) and museums, and concentrating instead on those sidewalk cafés from which one can  watch the world go by. I have to confess it is not the ideal way to see a city like Split, a metropolis of 200,000 people, which regards itself as the cosmopolitan centre of the Adriatic. It is a city that can boast of having already had, in its original location five kilometres from the present city, a population of 60,000, when it was first mentioned in history more than  2100 years ago.
Two shots of many taken by myself and my partner, Sheila, inside Diocletian's Palace, showing the excellent restoration of the walls

The present city’s claim to historical fame rests on Diocletian’s Palace, a huge affair which was built in the fourth century AD by a local boy made good, Diocles, or to give him his full Latin moniker Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus,  a Croatian who rose to be Emperor of Rome, and chose to return home to live after his retirement.

Everyone talks airily about  Diocletian’s palace, and yet I never met anyone in Croatia so far who talks about how it was that a man of such modest birth in an outlying territory of the empire, managed to accede to the halls of supreme power. So I have looked him up and since I found the account of his life and work in the Encyclopaedia Britannica so interesting, I have taken the liberty of reproducing some passages from it in the hope that it may interest anyone who reads this.
First of all until he acceded to power, he lived most of his life in army camps. He came to power because of his position in the Roman army, and not without performing some of the skulduggery normal to his times: for instance, apparently killing one of his rivals.  Once in power, however, he appears to have been mainly interested in reviving the Roman empire from its anarchistic and degenerated state, and with that object in mind he shared power with three other men on whom he also bestowed the title of emperor. As the Britannica writes:
“All his reforms led toward a kind of centralized and absolute monarchy that put effective means of action at his disposal. Thus, Diocletian designated the consuls; the senators no longer collaborated in the making of laws; the imperial counsellors (consilia sacra) were distributed among specialized offices, and their functions were strictly defined so that the power of the praetorian  prefects  (personal bodyguards to the emperor) was limited; the specialization of administrative work grew; and the number of bureaucrats increased. This was the beginning of the bureaucracy and technocracy that was eventually to overrun modern societies.”
In other words, he was a modern-minded kind of fellow, this Diocletian. Further:
“A conservative, Diocletian was concerned with the preservation of the ancient virtues: the obligation of children to feed their parents in old age; of parents to treat their children justly; of spouses to respect the laws of marriage; of sons not to bear witness against their fathers, or slaves against their masters; and of private property, creditor’s rights, and contract clauses to be protected. He forbade the use of torture if truth could be discovered otherwise and encouraged governors to be as autonomous as possible.”
And, finally, in summary of his achievements, the encyclopaedia writes:
He may be accused of several things: of having been cruel, but his harshness was not the act of deep-seated brutality; of being miserly, but this miserliness was inspired by the desire to obtain resources for the state; of cutting a slightly muddle-headed, visionary figure, but these were the traits that led him to reflect on better methods of governing an immense territory; of having paved the way to bureaucracy and technocracy, but this was done with greater efficiency in view. Personally, Diocletian was a religious man. No doubt he did not manifest any unusual piety, but he always thought that the gods of the emperors governed the world. He exercised an absolute, divine right monarchy, and he surrounded it with majesty.”

The main fault held against him nowadays is that he persecuted the Christians, his persecutions giving rise not to their decline, but rather to a strengthening of their convictions. For myself I could wish that he might have strangled this religion at birth, so we would not be confronted with its numerous mistakes, and constant wars, and heavy hand on the personalities of individuals right into our own day. We might well have been better off without it, But there you go, we are stuck with what history has handed down to us.
The extremely ancient walls have been added to with modern
installations, as shown here, without affecting the overall
coherence of the total

Diocletian abdicated as emperor in 305  AD, after 21 years of power, and died, more or less in obscurity, six years later. Thereafter the palace, as it was called (though it was far more extensive than a mere palace) lay empty and abandoned for several centuries and was used only occasionally by, for example, some local people seeking shelter there from invading Croats. But from the seventh century, the palace has been used as a place of residence and business. It was virtually unknown to Europeans until in 1764 a Scottish architect, Robert Adam, and a French artist collaborated on  a book celebrating its ruins, a book whose influence later, for the first time, brought measured drawings into the design vocabulary of European architecture. At one time the palace housed as many as 9,000 people, but today, although there are many shops, restaurants and hotels within the walls, that has been reduced to 1,000, and there are now severe restrictions on what can and cannot be built within the walls.
Just outside the Palace walls, a resident has hung his/her washing,
adding a human touch to a beautiful building

Centrepiece today is the so-called peristyle an elegant open space that leads to the former emperor’s quarters. I will have no difficulty remembering this name, because I had a booking in one of the hotels, the Peristel, but when I arrived I found I had mistakenly made the booking for two nights later than the day we arrived, ready to take up residence. At my age, this is a humiliating mistake to make, suggesting the onset of a mild dementia. I comforted myself by remembering that the last time I made that sort of idiotic mistake had been when I was a young reporter in my home town of Invercargill, New Zealand, more than 60 years ago, when I was hauled on to the editorial carpet because I had reported that an accused person had pleaded guilty to murder, when I knew perfectly well that he had pleaded not guilty. What I had done was to omit the word “not” in my copy, and thereafter had failed to notice its admission when I reviewed my copy. 
Growing up in the south of New Zealand,
I never heard of garlic. But in Italian life,
 garlic is never far away, as this shot
of garlic sellers outside the walls shows

In exactly that way, I had booked two nights for Jan 1 and 2, had approved the booking when I made it, and yet had it in my mind --- never a doubt entering --- that the booking I made was for Dec 30 and 31. I know I will not last another sixty years, but I will never forget, for however long I may live,  the name of the hotel, the Peristel. Fortunately for us, they were able to find  a room for us on each of the two nights of our stay, but the experience --- I had to pay a hefty penalty for cancellation of my original booking --- has taught me that I have to check, and recheck my copy from here on.
Like Zagreb, Split is the site of an immense, and immensely impressive statue, at least three times the size of an ordinary man, which has been moved around from place to place, even removed during the Italian occupation of the town during the Second World War, but has been re-instated in a position not far from one of the gates. This statue is of a man known in history as Gregory of Nin (or Grgur Ninski) by dint of his having been bishop of Nin from 926 for three years. Exceptionally, in those days, he opposed the reigning Pope, and dedicated his main efforts to replacing Latin in the church services with the local Croatian language. He did not last long, having failed in a struggle with a neighbouring bishop, leading to the abolition of his bishopric. The sculptor, Ivan Mestrovic, is also a man of interest, widely recognized as one of the greatest sculptors of Europe during the days of such others as Rodin, Brancusi, Giacommetti. A village boy from the Dalmatian hinterland, he was spotted as a remarkable talent at the age of 16, educated in Vienna, and had become a sculptor of note by the First World War. Thereafter he moved back to the then-Yugoslavia, but during the Second World War he was arrested by the Ustache fascist government of Croatia, and after the war he moved to the United States. He was invited to return to Yugoslavia by Tito, but refused to live in a Communist country. He sent many of his works back to his home country, however, although taking up permanent residence in the United States. He died in 1962 at the age of 79.
The huge statue of Gregory of Nin, made by master sculptor
Ivan Mestrovic in 1926, stands just outside one of the Palace gates.
Gregory  defended the local language against Latin and the Pope in 926 AD.

We ended our 10-day tour of Dalmatia by sitting overlooking the wharf in Split, a busy port whose large ferry boats service the many islands in the vicinity.  We wandered around the Palace one last time, noting the curious juxtaposition of new buildings nestled in beside the ancient walls, of washing hanging in front of elegant buildings, of the various boutique shops, excellent restaurants and comfortable hotels now accommodated in this ancient shell.
We had expected the bus home to Dubrovnik to be crowded: but, as elsewhere, we are almost the only passengers, once again. The journey home was memorable only because a young woman approached me and said she knew me from Ottawa. The next day we introduced her to the wonders of the Gaffe --- one of the three Irish bars in Dubrovnik --- where a new owner has vastly improved the quality of the food on offer. Like so many other young people, traditionally, she was wandering around Europe, taking advantage of any good airline deal she could find.

A good place to end this series of articles would be where I started, with recognition of the ever-presence of the past when one travels in Europe. Here is a transcript of a wall plaque we came across in Split, testifying to the intense life lived in ancient times, in that very place on which we stood:

"Julius Nepos (430-480) was a Western emperor (474-480). During the last stage of the Western Roman Empire he reigned. At first, over Italy and adjoining areas held by the Western Empire. As of 475 he had influence only over Dalmatia, having been deposed and replaced with Romulus Augustus (in effect if not in law) in the rest of the western remnant. The Eastern Roman Empire continued to recognize Nepos as rightfull Western emperor to the end of his life. He was murdered by his soldiers in Diocletian Palace on the April 25 of 480. Nepos was therefore either the next to last or the last Western emperor depending on how one looks at that matter."