ONCE UPON A TIME, in a realm called England, literary fiction was an obscure and blameless pursuit. It was more respectable than angelology, true, and more esteemed than the study of phosphorescent mold; but it was without question a minority-interest sphere. In 1972, I submitted my first novel: I typed it out on a second-hand Olivetti and sent it in from the sub-editorial office I shared at The Times Literary Supplement. The print run was 1,000 (and the advance was 250 pounds). It was published, and reviewed, and that was that.
Now that the first round has ended, let’s talk about a topic that’s dear to my heart. Of course, by the term “let’s” I mean “let me,” as in let me unload this off my chest. You, my dear delightful readers, can add your input, but first, allow me. Does it seem to you that with every tournament, the number of footballers who are unlikeable—or as my grandmother would say “slightly disagreeable”—seems to increase? Oh, why am I putting this in the form of a question? I’m venting here. I dislike quite a few players in this tournament.
The video lasts all of twenty seconds. We see the doorway of a nondescript apartment building, several stories high, and neighbors above peering curiously down. A newlywed couple proceed down the steps: The groom wears a top hat and formal suit, the bride carries a lavish bouquet. The camera pans up, and there she is, leaning out of a second-floor balcony, instantly recognizable. It’s Anne Frank: Her mop of thick dark hair, her angular features. She looks down at the bride and groom—she turns her head to call to someone inside—she looks out again.
A rumor of a possible military coup against Pakistan’s sitting though often invisible president, Asif Ali Zardari, made big headlines in the country this Christmas weekend. Leading newspapers claimed that a selection of top army brass had met in early December with leaders from the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), a party led by two-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
It was first reported by ABC News on Monday night. I read it (in Tel Aviv) in a Washington dispatch by Scott Shane and Robert F. Worth on The New York Times web site Tuesday morning. (Then I went off to my high school English class.
I was en route home from South Africa yesterday—and still haven’t made it to D.C.; I’m sipping a Jamba Juice and typing in the lovely JetBlue terminal at JFK—so I still haven’t seen all 120 minutes of USA-Ghana. The last 30, however, I did catch during a short layover in Dubai. I was drained, the U.S. seemed drained. Maybe it was sitting in a quiet airport lounge, listening to play by play in Arabic, with just a couple of American fans in a small group around a flat screen.
You may recall that, during the Bush presidency, Dubai World, a flagship corporate asset of the emir and his kin, had been discovered servicing and actually owning some U.S. ports on the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico. You will not be surprised that I wrote against this. Or that Tom Friedman wrote for it. Frankly, I didn't trust the emirate to serve as guardian to the ships going in and out of the docking facilities or, more generally, to patrol sensitive entry points to great harbor cities like New York, Baltimore, Miami and 19 other municipal areas.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates— At JFK, waiting to board the Emirates flight to Dubai that the Times Square bomber guy was yanked from trying to flee the country, I sit next to a guy from San Diego wearing a blue USA jersey with the excellent Joe Gaetjens 1950 throwback sash. My unofficial lounge tally: more Mexico shirts (plus two sombreros) than American ones. Then there’s the dude with a rooster mohawk in an Argentina shirt with a “10” shaved above his left temple and—this is the beautiful part—a mirror image “01” above his right.
On the surface, it seems as if tomorrow's Egyptian elections will be a dreary formality. Although the official campaigning period for the Shura Council, Egypt’s upper house of parliament, has been going for two weeks, the streets of Cairo are noticeably silent. The only overt evidence of political gamesmanship is the paraphernalia of the ruling party’s candidates plastered in the city’s central squares. Campaigns here tend to be lackluster because they don't usually matter.