What do they have in common? Probably a number of things but, for now, what is important is that each played a part in my Saturday.
Afghanistan. First, the exhibit at the National Gallery (“Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the Kabul Museum”) is definitely worth seeing. It is not a particularly large exhibit, but it tells a number of interesting stories. First (and this will remind you of Geraldine Brooks’ “People of the Book”, perhaps), it is the story of museum employees, sensing danger ahead, moving artifacts from the museum (at their own risk) and hiding them. The museum is destroyed. No one knows about the hidden works of art. Except for those who hid them and, as it turns out, they hid them in the presidential palace. This in and of itself is an interesting story, told in part through a brief film.
More than this, however, is the quality of the items. Items of gold, of ivory, of glass, of alabaster. They come from three separate and quite diverse archeological sites in northern Afghanistan, and they include Bronze age pieces that are almost 3000 years old, and pieces from the time of Greek occupation, more than 2000 years ago. Some are from tombs, some from public buildings, some whose precise origin is unknown. And they show influence of Greece and the west, and India and the east. And often the same pieces show both.
USSR. We saw the movie “Carnival Night”, a 1956 Soviet movie about the talented employees of the Palace of Culture who wanted to use all of the talents to put together a News Years Eve spectacular, only to be told by their boss that they are not to be frivolous, but are to be educational. They go out of their way to keep to their original plans and bamboozle their director. Apparently this movie is shown every New Years in Russia. I am surprised I had never heard of it. it’s a delight.
Scotland. I read David Daitches’ “Two Worlds”, the story of the youth of the English/Scottish literary critic, who grew up in Edinburgh, where his father was a prominent rabbi. An engaging book that shows how much things change and how much they don’t, and how much location influences life, and how much it doesn’t.