Here’s a poem by Rishi Dastidar. Thucydides, historian of ancient Greece, chronicler of the violent struggle between Athens and Sparta in the late 5th century BC, and his trap. Relevant? Oh yes. The trap is as nasty as the tone of this poem is ominous. Metaphors slide across each other like tectonic plates, never quite making sense. We asked Rishi for some context, which he obligingly gave us… of a sort, see below. Silly request – it’s only too easy to provide a context from our repertoire of gnawing worries.
Thucydides eats a macaron by Rishi Dastidar
Once again we are facing the trap, the sea
which the continental sillies are trying
to claim as theirs rather than everyone’s;
and the old man is exceeding
his birthright by consuming civilizations
like so many macarons after a fast.
He’s indifferent to his conquests
yet obsessed by being conquered,
becoming irrelevant thanks to his desire
for omnipotence, a frog around an eternal
network, trying to enforce its forced meanderings.
You’d struggle too if all you had left
in the afterglow of European time
was a picture of reason subduing force.
As far as I can remember, this poem started during a trip to Nice a few summers ago, around Bastille Day. Have you been? You really must if you haven’t; there’s a reason why the joke about Nice being nice is continually told; the sea is heart-stoppingly beautiful. I was chatting to someone in bar one languid night: “French civil servants are always aiming for a posting here.”
I digress. Emmanuel Macron was visiting, to commemorate the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the city, so everywhere was on some degree of lockdown, and he was inescapable; still in his fresh, newly minted pomp – the saviour of Europe, liberalism, the world even.
Suffice to say that I am pessimistic. I think we’ll avoid a global conflagration in some form in the next 50 years only if we’re very lucky. And if geopolitical amour propre isn’t the cause, a fight over access to ever-scarce resources, or the blow back of people being displaced by climate change, will be.
If that’s too downbeat a note to end on remember: the sea is really nice in Nice. See it while you can.
** In case anyone spots this, both these vases predate Thucydides and his wars.