25
Aug

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In wake of Brown shooting, vigil honors black teen killed by Lexington police in 1994

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25
Aug

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How about gorgeous landscapes, a spellbinding cast of wildlife (both on land and under water), exuberant festivals, romantic hideaways and thrilling adventures, sumptuous seafood and rum-fuelled parties and the chance to mingle with some of the cheeriest people on earth.

And you’ll have no worries communicating with them. Alongside Tagalog (Filipino), English is the Philippines’ official language (a legacy of the country’s strong American influence).

The Manila skyline at dusk. Photo: iStock

Compiling a maiden Filipino travel itinerary can be tricky (did I mention there were 7107 islands?).

So here are some ideas to get you started.

MANIC MANILA

Classic Filipino Jeepney. Photo: iStock

Most travellers fly into Metro Manila, which, with its Bangkok-style traffic jams and its glaring chasms between the ostentatiously rich and the heart-wrenchingly poor, provides an in-your-face introduction to the Philippines. However, the Filipino capital is an absorbing and enthralling place to explore.

To familiarise yourself, join a walking tour with Carlos Celdran (celdrantours.blogspot.com), an acclaimed guide who uses street theatre to trace Manila’s topsy-turvy history. His signature tour covers Intramuros – the photogenic, and fairly placid, old walled quarter founded by the Spanish colonialists in the early 16th century.

It was partially rebuilt after being flattened during World War II when the US and Japan fought for control of the city, then known as the pearl of the Orient. Another Celdran tour (Livin’ La Vida Imelda) explores the controversial life of Imelda Marcos, the shoe-loving wife of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. She was was said to have owned 3000 pairs of shoes when first lady.

Lao secret: Luang Prabang. Photo: Getty Images

You can shop for nifty footwear, and other goodies, in the sleek airconditioned malls beloved by Manilenos across the social spectrum (the fanciest are in Makati, a modern American-tinged enclave strewn with cosmopolitan hotels and restaurants). Don’t miss the sunset over Manila Bay; it’s the city’s traffic pollution that contributes to the startling orangey-red spectacle.

After dark, kick back with drinks on a trendy rooftop bar such as Skye (skye.ph) or try your luck at Manila’s new $1.3 billion Solaire casino (solaireresort.com). You could also partake in the national obsession: singing. Karaoke bars are everywhere; some are family-friendly, others not so, dripping in neon and sleaze, rife with sex tourists and ladies, and lady-boys, of the night.

THE BIG ISLAND

Boracay White Beach.

Manila sprawls at the centre of the Philippines’ largest island.

A touch smaller than Cuba, Luzon could easily eat up the 30-day visa-free allowance that Australian passport holders are given upon entering the country.

After the smog, heat and bustle of Manila, it’s bliss to ascend into the cooler Cordillera, a pine-forested chain of mountains sheltering laid-back towns like Sagada, a faintly mystical, hippy hideaway, and Baguio, a hill station established by the American military, who forced Spain out of the Philippines in 1898.

A little sister gets a lift. Photo: Getty Images

The Cordillera hides waterfalls, sacred caves with entombed mummies and museums that depict the customs of ancient headhunters.

But the main pull is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed rice terraces skirting the small towns of Banaue and Batad.

Dating back to the days before Christ, these magnificent amphitheatres — hewn with hand, mud and stone by the Ifugao people (one of several tribes still living in the region) — are edged by invigorating hiking trails. Travellers can do bamboo and nipa hut home-stays in Batad, where the worst of the noise pollution comes from crowing roosters and playful children.

Further north, the Philippines’ best-preserved Spanish town, Vigan, has cobblestone streets, Mediterranean mansions, sturdy Catholic churches that were built to withstand earthquakes; one form of disastrous natural phenomena that the Philippines is vulnerable to and vibrant festivals like January’s Vigan Town Fiesta – it’s a blaze of colour, music and processions.

You can tour Vigan in a calesa, a two-wheeled horse carriage that is just one of the country’s eye-catching (and often hair-raising) modes of transport. Most prevalent is the jeepney. A Philippines classic, the ex-US Army jeeps-cum-minibuses daubed in technicolour graffiti spawning messages of love, politics and religion. Similar designs cover tricycles, the Filipino rickshaws that are basically motorbikes with bolted-on sidecars.

In South Luzon, you can swim with giant butanding (whale sharks) off the coast of Donsol, and climb smoking Mount Mayon (a perfect cone volcano blooming from rice fields). Volcanoes loom either side of Manila. Day-trippers scale Mount Pinatubo, which last erupted in 1991, and Taal, which emerges, rather magically, out of a lake.

BORACAY BLISS

Choosing the Philippines’ most beautiful beach is nigh-on impossible; there are so many. The most hyped is Boracay Island’s White Beach, a luscious, four-kilometre lick of powdery sand, edged by giant, lurching coconut palms and stroked by gentle azure waters crawling with paraws (traditional sailing boats).

Though Boracay is paradise to many Filipinos (and South Koreans, Taiwanese and Chinese, who comprise the bulk of the international tourists), some complain that it’s become too developed.

Compared to Thailand’s Patong and Bali’s Kuta, however, Boracay is still pretty laidback. And as I enjoy a seafood platter — grilled squid, octopus, shrimps and snapper – with a chilled San Miguel beer, while watching the sun melt into the sea, sending the sky into a frenzy of pinks and oranges, White Beach doesn’t seem such a bad place to linger.

The bill, by the way? 600 pesos ($14.80).

SEE CEBU

Less frenetic than Manila, Cebu is the Philippines’ second major gateway. Its international airport is on Mactan Island, where Iberian explorer Ferdinand Magellan met his end at the hands of tribal leader Lapu-Lapu in 1521.

A 20-minute taxi ride away, Cebu City boasts the country’s oldest street and church, a ruined Spanish fort, and renowned eateries, like Zubuchon, where globetrotting celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain feasted on lechon (spit-roasted suckling pig). His verdict? “Best pig ever!”

While not as famous as Thai or Vietnamese food, Filipino cuisine is pretty varied and flavoursome.

Touted as the national dish, adobo is a vinegary, garlicky stew that comes in beef, pork and chicken variations, with rice.

It’s served everywhere, from upscale bistros to boisterous street markets where families and friends munch and socialise around plastic tables and chairs.

Balut (half-developed duck embryo) is among the more offbeat culinary options. A favourite Filipino dessert is halo-halo, a revitalising concoction of milky crushed ice, fresh fruit (like mango, banana and papaya) and ice-cream.

The hub of the Visayan archipelago, Cebu is the launchpad for ferries and catamarans to myriad tempting islands, best explored on a motorbike or bicycle. Gems include Siquijor which is famed for its witches and shamans and the bucolic Bohol, which is on the road to recovery after suffering back-to-back jolts in late 2013.

A devastating 7.2 earthquake was followed three weeks later by Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda, as it was known in the Philippines).

Although some of Bohol’s centuries-old churches were reduced to rubble, its iconic, tubby Chocolate Hills are still largely intact.

These 100-metre high mounds turn brown in the dry season between April and May (but are a luxuriant green during my February visit).

Another Bohol highlight is the tarsier. You can glimpse these cute, wide-eyed creatures — some of the planet’s tiniest primates — in the trees of Bohol’s Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary.

BEST OF THE REST

Like Borneo, Palawan conjures up a sense of the far-flung and unexplored. Its languid provincial capital, Puerto Princesa, is just an hour’s flight from Manila, but oozes Eden-esque qualities.

One of the few pockets of civilisation, El Nido is a traveller-friendly town surrounded by hulking limestone cliffs, pristine beaches and sparkling emerald lagoons. Hop in a bangka (an outrigger vessel) or kayak and imbibe scenery that resembles Phi Phi in Thailand, only with a fraction of the tourists. North of Palawan, the Calamian Islands are believed to have inspired Alex Garland to write The Beach.

Calamian includes the hallowed wreck-dive spot of Coron, where more than a dozen Japanese ships were sunk during World War II. Coral-rich reefs teeming with tropical fish, turtles, sharks and dugongs, pepper Filipino waters, with world-class dive sites off Panglao Island, south of Bohol, Apo Island, off Negros, and Puerto Galera, Mindoro.

In the Philippines’ deep south, hardcore surfers tackle the “Cloud Nine” break off Siargao Island, while adventure-seekers are drawn to Camiguin, a pear-shaped island with seven volcanoes. Both are near Mindanao (the country’s second largest island), which is seducing more tourists after decades of political unrest.

Mindanao’s Catholic-majority north is already deemed safe to visit, and, with peace talks ongoing, it’s hoped the deserted beaches and misty mountains of the Muslim-majority centre and west will gradually become a hot-bed for wanderlustful travellers. Watch this space.

The writer travelled as a guest of Philippine Airlines, the Philippines’ Department of Tourism and associated partners.

ABOUT THE WRITER

A regular contributor to Traveller, Steve McKenna has visited, and written about, more than 80 countries, and reserves a special affection for Europe, Latin America and south east Asia. But it’s the diversity of travel that most excites him.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Philippine Airlines flies from Sydney to Manila four times weekly, with return fares from $789. From Melbourne there are three flights a week (fares from $870). Connect on PA’s budget airline PAL Express to the Filipino islands. See philippineairlines.com. Cebu Pacific is offering tickets for under $500. See cebupacificair.com/au-en. Qantas also flies regularly between Sydney and Manila, with fares from $977 return. See qantas.com.au. Ocean Jet ferry services link the Visayan islands and Mindanao. See oceanjet.net.

STAYING THERE

Bayleaf Hotel, a tranquil option amid Manila’s hubbub. Rooms from $74. See thebayleaf.com.ph.

Palawan Legend Hotel, a launchpad for tours around Palawan. Doubles priced from $76. See legendpalawan.com.ph.

Crimson Resort Spa, a deluxe beachside hideaway 45 minutes from central Cebu. From $190. See crimsonhotel.com/mactan.

Marco Polo Plaza Hotel, a smart choice above the city, from $50. See marcopoloplazacebu.com.

Grand Vista Spa Resort has a magnificent hilltop location just north of White Beach, rooms from $120. See egrandvista.com.

Discovery Shores – this five-star hotel is one of Boracay’s plushest; rooms from $330. See discoveryshoresboracay.com.

MORE INFORMATION

itsmorefuninthephilippines.com; smartraveller.gov.au.

TEN ESSENTIAL PHILIPPINES EXPERIENCES

1. Sip Tanduay rum and coke, a San Miguel or a fresh fruit juice while soaking up a Boracay sunset.

2. Filipinos are rarely more gleeful than during karaoke sessions. Go on, join in.

3. Hike through and marvel at the ancient rice terraces lording over Banaue and Batad.

4. Rub shoulders with a cocktail of humanity in a jeepney (either inside or on the roof).

5. Ogle awe-inspiring wildlife, whether it be tarsiers on land or butanding under water.

6. Indulge your inner mall rat and relax the purse strings in Manila’s glut of shopping centres.

7. Navigate turquoise Filipino seas in a ferry, kayak or bangka (outrigger boat).

8. Enjoy a succulent – and wallet-friendly – seafood feast under a moon-lit sky.

9. You’ll be offered hundreds of massages on your Filipino holiday. Accept one (at least).

10. Stumble across your own empty, postcard-perfect tropical beach.

Five more forgotten places

SOUTH KOREA

After a soju-fuelled night out in the mega-city of Seoul, escape into the South Korean countryside, live like a monk while staying in a Buddhist temple, and hike in the magnificent, mountainous Seoraksan National Park. Don’t miss a tour of the nature-rich DMZ: the demilitarised buffer zone between the two Koreas. See english.visitkorea.or.kr.

LAOS

Take a two or three-day cruise along the Mekong River from Huay Xai, a sleepy village on the Laos-Thai border, to lovely Luang Prabang. Fringed by hilly countryside, the former royal capital is a riverside jewel blessed with temples, craft markets and picturesque mansions dating back to French colonial times. See tourismlaos.org.

SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka has enjoyed a mini-tourism boom after the end of its civil conflict. Surfers, tea drinkers, cricket fans, safari seekers, culture vultures, curry lovers and history buffs will all find something to savour in this ex-British colony. See srilanka.travel.

CAMBODIA

Beyond Angkor Wat, the uber-popular icon of Cambodia’s revitalised tourism industry, swish resorts have sprung up on the palm-fringed southern coast, while Battambang – a riverside city 300 kilometres north of the frenetic capital Phnom Penh – charms visitors with its arty vibes, well-preserved French-period architecture, lavish hilltop temples and idyllic rural surrounds. See tourismcambodia.org.

BHUTAN

Unlike some Asian countries, which adopt a mass-market approach to tourism, the landlocked Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan – which only opened its doors to the outside world in 1974 – attracts a more discerning type of traveller. A minimum tariff of $US200 ($215) is levied on each visitor a day (that fee includes accommodation, food, transport and an official guide). See tourism.gov.bt.

FIVE MORE TIPS FOR THE PHILIPPINES

1. You’ll easily get by with English, but knowing a few Tagalog phrases won’t do you any harm (such as “salamat po” – thank you).

2. Don’t try to cram too much in. You can fly or ferry to many places, but sometimes land travel is the only option and it’s time-consuming. Banaue to Manila, for example, is 330 kilometres, but takes seven to 10 hours by bus; Puerto Princesa to El Nido is six to eight hours.

3. Filipinos have a saying: “bahala na” (roughly “what will be, will be”). Best to adopt this strategy here, especially when faced with delays.

4. Keep abreast of political scandals and cultural fads with the Philippine Daily Inquirer; see inquirer.net.

5. The best time to visit is roughly between December and May. Monsoon season is between June and November.



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Article source: http://www.smh.com.au/travel/secrets-out-asias-most-overlooked-paradise-20140821-3e2af.html

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25
Aug

The destruction included burning the city’s university library and stunned the
world – and helping persuade millions that Germany had descended from being
a nation of high culture to one capable of barbarism akin to Attila the Hun.

The nickname, “Hun”, widely adopted after the events in Leuven, was to remain
with Germany for decades to come.

The atrocities were carried out by the Kaiser’s army in reprisals for
fabricated or real attacks by Belgian guerrilla fighters, known as
francs-tireurs.

In Leuven, alleged shots fired by francs-tireurs at German troops became the
pretext for the destruction of a historic, medieval city and university
associated since Erasmus in the 16th century with humanism, and known as
“the Oxford of Belgium”.


German soldiers during World War I in front of the ruins of the library
(AP)

German soldiers systematically burned 2,000 houses street-by-street, using
phosphor to ensure that the destruction was total.

In a fire that raged for three days, 248 non-combatant victims, including
elderly people and children, were killed.

The Catholic University’s renowned library was torched with petrol, in a
deliberate blaze that consumed quarter of a million books including
priceless works by Andreas Vesalius, the physician, and other medieval,
renaissance and enlightenment manuscripts.

Only one building in the city’s historic centre was left unscathed – the town
hall, which was serving as the headquarters for the German military. A few
days later a senior German officer told Hugh Gibson, a senior American
diplomat, that the city had been sacked as a warning “to teach them to think
twice before they resist”.

Germany’s reputation as a great power dedicated to European civilisation and
the embodiment of a high-culture represented by Bach, Goethe or Kant, would
never fully recover.

“More than the killings, the damaging moment for the reputation of Germany was
the cultural atrocity of burning the library,” said Mark Derez, the Catholic
University’s archivist.

“The fact that the library of Louvain was deliberately burned was seen as an
attack on the cultural heritage of the whole of Europe. It became the symbol
of the barbaric conduct of war by the Germans.”

In Britain, “Louvain shall be our battle cry” quickly became the name of a
popular march as Britons were mobilised for the world’s first “total war”.

Girls born in England in the autumn of 1914 were christened Louvain, later
often shortened to Lou. Rudyard Kipling’s famous patriotic poem, “For all we
have and are”, was written in response to Leuven’s sacking and rallied
millions, branding Germans as Huns, an epithet that stuck.

“For all we have and are, For all our children’s fate, Stand up and meet the
war. The Hun is at the gate,” he wrote.

Ravaged, an exhibition currently at Museum Leuven explores the role of art in
conflicts throughout the centuries and is organised around stark photographs
of the destruction taken by the Arnou brothers, two photographers from the
city.


A comparison of the Louvain university library in 1913, left, and after
its destruction (AP)

One famous picture of the gutted library became instantly famous in a world
that was being transformed by the telegraph, newspaper photography and mass
readerships.

Hélène Verreyke, head of exhibitions at the museum said that the photographs
were also being displayed around the city to remind people of events that
are often forgotten in a Leuven that is now best known as home of Stella
Artois lager production.

“People are fascinated and intrigued to find out their city was destroyed 100
years. The younger generation, especially, do not know,” she said. “The
burning of the library a century ago horrified the world, today we want to
show how culture can heal and unite people who have been divided by war.”

Marieke Vermeulen, a Belgian student who had just visited the exhibition,
said: “It still shocks. One hundred years later, it still shocks me.”

Article source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/belgium/11053962/The-city-that-turned-Germans-into-Huns-marks-100-years-since-it-was-set-ablaze.html

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23
Aug

The heritage festival is being organised to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Channel Islands

The first Channel Islands heritage festival has been announced by VisitGuernsey and Jersey Tourism.

The event will last five weeks and will mark the 70th anniversary of Channel Island liberation from Nazi occupation.

This is the first time the two islands have organised a joint tourism festival.

Organisers hope the £150,000 event will encourage tourists from the UK and Europe as well as people travelling between the Channel Islands.

The event will see coastal castles brought to life, doors opened on wartime bunkers and historic towers and the islands will put the flags out for Liberation Day.

Organisers say plans for the 70th anniversary of Liberation Day are already being worked on, and they hope it will be the biggest to date

There will be special events including Liberation Celebrations at the Jersey War Tunnels and a re-enactment of what life was like in wartime Guernsey at St Peter Port’s Castle Cornet.

Director of Jersey Tourism, David de Carteret said: “The interest in the 70 years anniversary of the Liberation is enormous among potential UK and European visitors and these events provide an opportunity for us to work together on a regional tourism project to support all of the Channel Islands and hopefully get summer 2015 off to a great start”.

The festival will take place between 3 April and 11 May 2015.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-guernsey-28901231

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23
Aug

A trio of Highlands Middle School students spent part of their summer as members of an international peace delegation.

The students were participating in the summer peace camp and exchange trips as members of the Cincinnati chapter of the CISV (Children’s International Summer Village) program.

Taylor Hosea, 12, spent 28 days in Askoy, Norway, with children from 11 other countries in a CISV “Village” camp at a local school.

And twins Claire and Jack Tinkler, 13, traveled to Paris, France, for two weeks as part of a CISV exchange between residences program.

Isaac Bassett, 11, of Fort Thomas and group leader Kate Calhoun of Florence will travel as part of a Cincinnati group delegation to meet with children from 12 other countries in a CISV Village program in Lucknow, India, from Dec. 28 through Jan. 22, 2015, said Kay Freyberger of Fort Thomas.

Hosea enjoys making friends worldwide

Hosea said she now regularly texts and talks with friends she made including Nanuela of Costa Rica, Cata from Germany and Jenny of Norway.

“My favorite person is from Finland,” Hosea said. “Her name is Nora.”

During the camp, children from each nation played trivia games about each country and did cultural presentations about their dances, foods and other customs, she said. One of the U.S. presentations was to play a game of baseball with children from the other 11 countries.

“It’s basically if you make friends around the world you learn about their cultures and way of life you can make peace,” Hosea said.

Most of the children from the other countries spoke English fluently or very well, and that was surprising, she said. The differences between the children were only in their cultural heritage, Hosea said.

“I thought they’re just like us,” she said. “They do things just like us. They like to be treated like us We all just don’t do the same things.”

Christie Hosea, Taylor’s mother, said she grew up traveling to places, including Machu Picchu in Peru, with her family.

“Even with all my travels, I had never experienced what she has because she’s with kids her age,” she said.

Parents and their children have to apply for admission to the CISV programs, and Taylor is hoping to be part of the Interchange two-week exchange program next year.

“She is already looking forward to the next summer,” said her mother.

Christie said she followed a blog detailing the daily activities of the group each day in Norway. One of the outings was a beach tour on the North Sea.

“She was the only one out of 80 kids that actually got in because it was freezing,” Christie said of her daughter.

Tinkler twins find smiles go a long way

Jack Tinkler said he plans to travel in a CISV program again if he can raise enough money on his own. In Paris, Tinkler learned some things are universal with the children he met including enjoying music, movies and having fun.

Claire Tinkler said she had never traveled outside of the U.S. before this summer.

“I learned that lots of things are universal, and you don’t need to be from the same country or speak the same language to become close to people,” she said. “Little things, like good food, dancing, music or the rush of adrenaline on a roller coaster all bring people together because you don’t need to speak to share them.”

Upon meeting Luna, a girl in the Paris home she stayed in, Claire was nervous about the language barrier they had although she did speak some English, she said. They ended up becoming friends after communicating mostly using their eyes and gestures in the car, she said.

“We would make eye contact and smile,” Tinkler said. “It made me feel more hopeful about being friends, and it made her feel more safe and comfortable with being in a foreign country.”

Tinkler said she plans to stay involved with CISV events including annual reunion events and a cookie-a-thon to raise funds. Attending Junior Branch of the Cincinnati CISV monthly meetings, where most of the leaders of the group are age 17, is another goal, she said.

“I also want to try to go to more programs next summer,” Tinkler said.

CISV information nights:

Information nights have been scheduled for parents and children to learn more about ongoing CISV programs and trips planned for 2015. Meetings will be at Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian Church, 5950 Montgomery Road, Cincinnati, OH 45213, on the following three nights:

• Monday, Oct. 6 from 7-8:30 p.m.

• Monday, Nov. 3 from 7-8:30 p.m.

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For information about CISV visit cincinnati.cisvusa.org.

Article source: http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/local/ft-thomas/2014/08/22/teens-travel-peace/14451611/

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23
Aug

The same thing will happen when tides are abnormally high in the coming month. By next summer, Mont Saint-Michel, a spectacular rock, 1,300-year-old abbey and medieval village two kilometres off the French coast, will be a true island once again at all high tides.

An ugly causeway built in the 19th century will be dismantled this winter. In future, the only access to the Mont, the most-visited tourist site in France outside Paris, will be an elegant, low, curving bridge which opened to pedestrians this summer. An ambitious, ecologically friendly project to restore the “maritime character” and spiritual dignity of Mont Saint-Michel is nearing completion. The car parks which once sprawled around its sheer rock faces like a besieging army have been banished to the “continent”. The sand and mud flats which threatened permanently to ensnare the Mont are being dispersed by a cheap and unintrusive solution to the problem set by Lewis Carroll in Alice Through the Looking-Glass: “They wept like anything to see/Such quantities of sand:/‘If this were only cleared away,’/They said, it would be grand!”

 The solution is not “seven maids with seven mops” but a small dam at the mouth of the nearby River Couesnon. The dam, opened in 2009, captures river and tidal sea water and expels it twice a day, like a giant toilet cistern. After five years of this “flushing” action, the Mont already looks more like an island than it has since the late 19th century.

If it had not been for the remaining causeway, the high tides this month would have succeeded in encircling the rock for the first time in living memory. When the causeway is gone next summer, the Mont will be truly separate from “le continent” once again for half the year.


After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

So far so good. Few dispute the success of the €180m (£144m) project to restore the natural and spiritual beauty of what the French call la merveille – the marvel. However, Mont Saint-Michel – which has a permanent population of 43, half of them monks – is also a commercial gold mine. On a summer’s day, the population of the small outcrop of rock can rise to 9,000. The single narrow, medieval street of tourist shops and restaurants (reminiscent of fictitious micro-state Vulgaria in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) can become as densely packed as a pop festival.

Over the past four years, the “maritime restoration” project, especially the banishing of the car parks, has generated civil lawsuits, criminal proceedings, strikes by the abbey staff, allegations of mistreatment of animals, criticism by the French government’s financial watchdog and formal protests to the United Nations cultural organisation, Unesco.

The former mayor, Eric Vannier, who also owns half of the businesses on the island, was found guilty last year of illegally using political influence to have new shuttle buses for tourists start 800m from the new mainland car parks but beside two of his hotels. His appeal will be heard this November.

François-Xavier de Beaulaincourt, the man who administered the project from the beginning, mostly with great success, was fired last year for no especially good reason. Henry Decaëns, a historian and president of the Friends of Mont Saint-Michel, told The Independent: “Everyone knows that his dismissal was unjust. All the problems were caused by decisions made by politicians, not by him. But that, unfortunately, is the way that things work here.”

Mont Saint-Michel has become, in other words, a tiny offshore microcosm of France. Both have extraordinary natural beauty and a wonderful history. Any attempt to introduce change to ensure their wellbeing, or survival, generates a storm of conflicting protests by special interests.

Two years ago, De Beaulaincourt, since unfairly dismissed, told The Independent: “There are so many different interests to satisfy and so many antagonisms to resolve. People see the quarrels but they don’t look at the enormous amount that we have achieved. It is very frustrating.”

Since then, there have been two strikes by the staff of the 8th-century abbey which provides the Mont with its man-made pinnacle. They complained, successfully, that they had to queue for tourist shuttle buses to get to work. Then they complained that their own special buses were not frequent enough. Staff buses now run to and fro, almost empty, while the tourist shuttles are as overcrowded as buses in Mumbai.

There are also horse-drawn shuttles. The man who leases the horses to the management company started a legal case earlier this year complaining that his animals were being mistreated. This was angrily denied. The case continues.

The bizarre decision to make tourists walk 800m from their new car parks to travel 2,000m on the shuttle buses has been reversed. The buses now start beside the car parks, but the price of parking has risen by 50 per cent. The shuttles make two stops beside the ugly jumble of hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops (known locally as “Las Vegas”) which exist on the mainland opposite the Mont. Nonetheless, business in “Las Vegas” has collapsed.

Another dispute remains unresolved. The government has insisted on bolting on to the project “for safety” reasons a new “emergency” access to Mont Saint-Michel.  A concrete esplanade will be built this winter at the foot of the island; a tunnel will be torn through the rock.

“It is a sacrilege and quite unnecessary,” said Mr Decaëns. “The rock itself is sacred. The wider project is wonderfully light-handed and respectful. The government’s idea is clumsy and intrusive. We complained to Unesco [which made the Mont one of its first world heritage sites in 1979]. But Unesco was useless and did nothing.”

Mr Decaëns has a point. Other complaints rage. The commercial quarrels continue. A lawsuit and a criminal action are unresolved. The main thrust of the project – using the power of nature to restore the natural beauty of the site – is an all-but-forgotten triumph.

At a glance: Mont St-Michel’s history

In times gone by

Mont Saint-Michel was once a “rocky needle” in a forest which, according to some accounts, was swallowed by a tidal wave. Tides can still  vary greatly, with almost 50ft between high and low-water marks. It was nicknamed “St Michael in peril of the sea” by medieval pilgrims.

What it means to the French

Its Benedictine abbey was built between the 11th and 16th centuries and used as a jail in the French Revolution. Victor Hugo is said to have remarked that the Mont was to France what the Great Pyramids are to Egypt.

What it means to the world

In 1874, the abbey was declared a historic monument by the French, and in 1979, it was added to Unesco’s list of World Heritage Sites – one of the first to be granted the coveted status.

Article source: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/after-1300-years-theres-a-bridge-to-mont-saintmichel-9686650.html

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21
Aug

Somewhere in the afterlife, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, the eagle of the Zagros Mountains, is smiling. His pleas for the United States to provide arms directly to his Kurdish warriors to repel Arab invaders are finally being answered.

The arms deliveries are late — Barzani first made his appeals in the The Washington Post four decades ago — and they are minimal, considering the Kurds’ needs. But they mark a change for the Middle East that may be more significant than realized even by the Obama administration and its European allies.

In 1972, Barzani, as gruff and commanding a tribal chieftain as Hollywood could have ever created, foresaw the genocidal assaults by Saddam Hussein’s forces soon to come on the Kurds’ mountain redoubt in northern Iraq. But Washington did not respond to his pleas for direct arms shipments. Saddam’s troops smashed the Kurds’ defenses in 1975, Barzani fled into bitter and lonely exile in a CIA-monitored safe house in northern Virginia (where he died in 1979), and Iraq’s long night of terror under Saddam began in earnest.

Much has changed since then. Indirectly empowered by the U.S. military interventions of 1991 and 2003, the Kurds regained control of their homeland. Barzani’s son, Massoud, led Kurdistan into an era of relative prosperity and stability by pursuing solid economic cooperation with Turkey to the west while deftly handling Iran to the east.

But this has not changed: The Kurds are still a non-Arab minority who refuse to be absorbed culturally and politically into an Arab-dominated society. They are relatively tolerant Sunni Muslims who speak an Indo-European language and protect their heritage with a fierce pride.

Their resistance to assimilation and rule by Baghdad helped spark Saddam’s ethnic cleansing and resettlement of large Arab populations into Kurdish areas. Today, the Kurds’ continuing yearning for self-determination helps drive a hatred of them by the Sunni extremists and chauvinists of the Islamic State movement who have seized Mosul and surrounding areas.

The Islamic State’s barbaric advance has undermined an unavowed but strong tenet of Western policy in the Middle East. Until now, the United States and Europe have been extremely reluctant — fearful may not be too strong a word — to be seen to support minority ethnic and religious groups in any Arab state. That could provoke the wrath of all of the Arab states, including important (Sunni-run) oil producers.

Such timidity played a role over the past half-century in the suffocation or dislocation of vibrant populations of religious and ethnic minorities that once made the Middle East a fascinating mosaic of Greeks in Egypt, Armenians in Lebanon, Circassians in Jordan and many others.

Even more important to the societal pressures that have squeezed the freedoms and space of minorities in national life throughout the region has been the Sunni-Shiite civil war that has raged in various forms within Islam since the founding of Iran’s Islamic Republic in 1979. The Islamic State and other armed factions wage war to achieve a social monolith of Arabness, as well as a monotheistic caliphate.

The demand by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that the Yazidi sect and Christians of Iraq convert to his brand of Islam or die is a particularly brutal example of coercive conformism. But it differs in degree rather than kind from Salafist and Wahhabist intolerance toward other religions and cultures.

By promising to protect the Yazidi sect from “genocide” and providing the Kurds with arms and ammunition previously denied them by Baghdad, President Barack Obama has — knowingly or otherwise — stepped away from traditional U.S. caution about openly siding with such non-Arab minorities. (The Kurds’ recent successes are welcome but unintended side effects of U.S. actions in Iraq.)

The president is right to have done this and should persist. But U.S. policymakers also need to evaluate the deep, civilizational roots of the conflicts in Iraq and elsewhere. Conservative, male-dominated societies in the region feel they are under mortal attack by the intrusion of the outside world and particularly by outside views on gender equality and the nature of their religion. They lash back.

What is at stake here is not simply whether Nouri al-Maliki or Haider al-Abadi should be prime minister of Iraq. It is even larger than the hopes of freedom that my friends the Kurds harbor. This is a struggle to fit the modern world into Arab society, and vice versa. A success in that undertaking would be the best protection minorities there could have — and a fit monument to the tribal leader I remember fondly as the eagle he was in Kurdistan, not the caged bird Washington let him become.

Jim Hoagland is a contributing editor for The Washington Post.

Article source: http://www.commercialappeal.com/opinion/national-and-world-commentary/jim-hoagland-will-the-us-fight-for-a-mideast-where-minorities-can-thrive_27596575

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