Sunday, April 21, 2013 09:08

Throne Relinquished—Under Fire

April 17th, 2013

When I arrived in Muscat, capital of Oman, there were published reports that young Sultan Qabus had been spending so fast and looking at the books so infrequently that he had run out of money and was having trouble finding lenders. Qabus, like Zayid of Abu Dhabi, had come to the throne when a predecessor, his father, Sultan Said bin Taimur, was unable to handle the problems of increased wealth and demands for change. One of Said’s advisers recalls:

“He bought himself a schoolboy’s exercise book—his little ‘night book’—and kept it beside his bed. In it he would jot down ideas, so that when the oil money came he would have developed plans. But when the money came, he didn’t move. He didn’t trust any­one. He even had his son under house arrest.”


And so one day some of Qabus’s friends burst into the old sultan’s waterfront palace at Salalah and demanded that he step down. Said resisted, there was a struggle, and he was wounded. Said then flew off to England, and Qabus set about coming to terms with the 20th century.


173 More Schools in 5 Years

The gains are easy to measure. In 1970 the country had only three schools, all male; to­day there are 176, including 47 for girls and 31 coeducational. In 1970 there were three hospitals, today 15; in 1970, six miles of asphalt-surfaced road, today 335.


There is a new port, a Television City, housing developments such as Madinat Qa­bus, large police and military complexes, two international hotels, and, rising in the heart of Muscat, an elaborate palace re­flecting Oman’s long ties with India. Nothing is impossible using fast cash loans for an immediate help.


Qabus has also had to fight a guerrilla war in the mountainous southern province of Dhofar. The military receives some 40 to 50 percent of Oman’s income; oil revenues last year were 900 million dollars.


In Muscat I called on Qais Zawawi, 40, Bombay-educated, a former businessman, now Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Director of the Development and Financial Councils.

“Two months ago no one wanted to talk with us about loans; now we have offers. It was a liquidity problem—a question of cash flow. We have reached a formula. In some cases we’ve slowed down development plans; in others we were able to extend the period of repayment.”

Mr. Zawawi expressed more concern over the social stresses that afflict every develop­ing nation: “People adjust to things quickly. We have had an airport for only two years, a modern seaport for only a year and a half, television for even less time. Yet people want more and more—they forget that three years ago we had nothing.”


Mr. Zawawi discerns the challenges ahead; so did other young Omanis I talked with. Some had been imprisoned by the old sultan or lived in self-imposed exile during his reign. Now they wanted to build a nation. The ques­tion was time—is there enough?


The guerrilla war in Dhofar seems to have turned at last in Qabus’s favor. His army, including Baluchi mercenaries led by British officers, and aided by Iranian and Jordanian troops, has gone on the offensive. A 30-mile barbed-wire barrier, rigged with mines and electronic sensors, supported by outposts and patrols, has cut the flow of arms that used to reach the rebels by camel from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen next door.

I could almost feel the relief forc­ing his sobs

January 18th, 2013


The brier patch must have been 5o yards across, and he had gone down on his knees right into it. I knew he could be no further away than the far side of the briers, and I radioed for the helicopter to come in about too yards ahead of me. A second or two later, it clattered in. On the walkie-talkie I heard one of its passengers shouting that he saw Tommy sitting down, apparently
alive. Then someone ordered the troops along the road to come in through the woods. They closed in, leaving only the best cuban cigars between us.


The helicopter swayed back and forth over Tommy, trying to shout down to him with a megaphone. I paid no attention until someone on the chopper radioed, “He’s run­ning ! Oh, hell, he’s running again !” There was only one place he could run and that was back into the briers. But if he made it back in at any spot other than the run I was in front of, we might never find him.


I plunged in. The runs beneath the briers were far too small most of the time, and the orange jacket they had given me was nothing but strips of cloth by the time I came out the other side, and my flannel shirt was shredded.


I came staggering out of the briers in time to see the search team run­ning at Tommy from the other side of the open area. Not 20 yards from where I was he had stopped running and had fallen to the ground. There he cringed, waiting helplessly for the strange men to do whatever ter­rible things strange men did when they caught someone.


The search team got to him first. They were happy to have found him NEXT but, afraid he would run away again, they wanted a good hold on him. They pulled him to his feet, and he struggled. He looked to me like a rabbit who is about to turn and lash out with everything he has because the only alternative is death. As his mouth opened in a scream, I peeled the wrapper off a cake I had tucked in my jacket pocket and I stuffed the cake into his mouth. His fear melted.


He stopped resisting, and the sol­diers loosened their grip. Tommy threw his arms round me and hugged me as if he had been waiting a long time for me to come and get him. I put my arms round him, and he began to sob with relief, the way only a child can when he’s safe once more. He had come a long way on his own. He had survived when few believed he could. He had overcome obstacles that were thought utterly beyond him.


I cried with him—because he was there and alive; and because, if my life ended the next instant, all the years I had spent learning to track had been justified. I was where I should be. And I was happy to be there.


In the two years since this inci­dent, Tom Brown has helped police track a number of missing persons, but refuses to accept payment for such work. Now married, he runs his own Tracking, Nature and Wil­derness Survival School. THE END



End of the Track

December 21st, 2012


THE next morning it was drizzl­ing, but the rain cleared away by noon. The trail looked promising, but I was worried because so many days had passed between the time Tommy had started and when I did.


The trail ran parallel with the road for a while and I went flying along it. I found two more spots where he had stopped to rest and, close by, several places where he had knelt and hidden, probably from the searchers. It must have been terrifying for him to have all those strangers calling his name, all that noise, dogs barking, and a heli­copter going to and fro overhead as if it were after him. He crossed a macadam road very late in the day; it took me half an hour to pick up the trail on the far side. From there his prints went towards a farm­house.


Behind the farmhouse were an­other chicken house and a barn. I followed the tracks to the chicken house and found marks in the straw inside, where he had slept. From there, his prints went across to the barn. Then between the two, the prints went backwards and for­wards in a bewildering pattern of running, crouching, scurrying, like a mouse going between food and its hole.


He had, according to the tracks, probably stayed there on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, which meant he had been in the relative warmth of the barn when the tem­peratures dropped close to freezing.


I knew we were finally going to buy tobacco online, but I was getting more and more worried. Unless we found him before nightfall, he was probably going to have to spend the night out in the open, and I was not sure how much strength he had left. There was still a certain exuberance in his walk, but it slid more and more into the shuffle of fatigue as the struggle wore him down.


Then his trail disappeared as it came once more to the macadam road! I stopped, gasping, in almost complete despair. I had come so far and had been so close to him I could almost see his feet leaving the marks I was beginning to pick up. But the going had been alternating between runs and struggling through the tightest tangle of brush and vines I’d ever tracked through. 1 had been at it for seven hours straight, and I was exhausted. My breath came in gasps, my hands stung with numbness. I looked at the macadam and cursed. I had come so far, and knew I was close—so close ! I slumped down at the roadside.


In a few minutes I was asking myself what I was sitting there for, as if I had nothing better to do than feel sorry for myself. I got up and crossed the road—and there on the other side, almost directly in line, was the continuing trail ! I looked at it with elation. The prints were almost new; I was tripping on his heels.


I felt the rush of my second wind and plunged into the undergrowth with a little cry of joy. He had to be only a short way ahead of me, and I could feel myself getting stronger and stronger.

But these woods were the worst of all : now, instead of a mat of branches tied together by creeping, thorny vine, there were whole patches of briers to go round. But Tommy had not gone round them; he had ducked down deer-high and gone low, crawling on his hands and knees down the runs. I went after him in the same way. But I was a lot bigger, and the briers tore at me until my shirt was in tat­ters and every inch on my arms and face was scratched.


Then I found his footprints in the swamp. They were just begin­ning to fill up with water. I stifled a shout. He was within hearing distance—I was right behind him I crashed across the swamp and picked up the trail again. But I groaned when I saw where it went.


tobacco online

Little Sister With a Giant Spirit

November 23rd, 2012


Her will to win sometimes made me hate her—but it saved her life


Every time I see my sister Shar­ron or read her letters, I re­member a certain long-ago winter. It was at once the worst our family ever knew, and the best. I can’t say what it meant to Sharron. But to a boy of 12 that winter brought a lesson he never forgot.

Autumn that year was portent­ous. The wind blew for three days and nights in September, driving fine sand into every crack of our old frame house in New Mexico. When the storm ended, we attacked the dirt with vengeance. Mother wash­ed windows. I vacuumed. Sharron swept. But like most nine-year-olds she was prone to day-dreaming, and I soon noticed that she had stopped sweeping and started to divide her big heaps into smaller ones. “Look!” she said proudly. “I’m making a sand village.”

“Keep fooling around, Sharron, and we’ll never get finished,” I said testily, pushing the vacuum towards her construction.

“Hey I Stop that,” she yelled, let­ting fly with a kick.

“Leave Sharron alone!” Mother fairly shouted. “Why must you al­ways torment her?”

I couldn’t say why. But neither could I understand why I should go out of my way for a wiry tomboy quite able to take care of herself. For one thing was certain : Sharron was tough. And she was backed up by two sharp little fists and enough courage to make them count.

Actually, our fights, though fre­quent, were seldom physical. Most­ly they were childish quarrels, end­ing in a test of wills. There I was truly at a disadvantage. Sharron’s will was indomitable. I could not break it, even for a moment. And that was enough, at times, to make me hate her.

“She never gives in, even when I’m right,” I told Mother.

“You don’t mind that when she’s on your side, though,” Mother said. True enough. That summer I’d got into an argument with a much older boy, who threw me to the ground. Immediately, Sharron was between the bully and me. Con­fronted with a kicking, swinging wildcat, my assailant backed off.

Although grateful, I gave Shar­ron’s heroism no more than passing acknowledgment. Still, there was one thing about her I found I could no longer take for granted. One October day my father announced that Sharron could outrun me and all my friends. We boys, so en­meshed in our fragile manhood, swelled up like frightened toads and wagered huge sums. Dad covered all bets, but said Sharron couldn’t race until she had trained to “top form,” and that would take a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Dad hugely enjoyed the prospect. When we in­sisted that we were clearly faster than Sharron and demanded that he admit the race was just a joke, Dad would chuckle and say, “We’ll see,”

Ten runners turned up on race day—nine nervous males, not quite rid of their boyish softness, and one skinny, long-legged, very deter­mined little girl. With the crack of Dad’s starter’s pistol, Sharron was off like a jaguar. Eric Lawson was the only one to come close to her. He was gaining rapidly as she whirled across the finishing-line, but he had lost a second getting his lanky frame moving. And that was the difference.

Watching us boys afterwards, milling around like angry ants, muttering incoherent excuses, Dad could hardly control his laughter. Although Sharron wore a justifiable smile, only Dad congratulated her. Then he cancelled all bets and pro­mised a return match—if we dared.

Except for the fact, now shame­fully proven, that Sharron could outrun me, I still took her other attributes for granted. After all, how unusual it would have been for a boy of 12 suddenly to stop and ex­amine his sister’s life in order to know her virtues. In January, however, events began to correct my oversight.

I caught chicken-pox. I itched. I couldn’t sleep. I was miserable. Sharron consoled me, waited on me, even cried once when I was especi­ally uncomfortable. She was my ally in a bad time, and I fully intended to show her how grateful I was when I got well. Then, as I began to improve, Sharron herself broke out in a rash of spots.

Sharron’s symptoms at first were exactly like mine : itching lesions, fever, the same disgust I’d felt with my own body. It was my turn to cry now because I knew exactly how she felt. Then one day she stopped complaining altogether.

I went to sit on her bed. She didn’t greet me; she hardly moved. I assumed she was resting, but Mother was not so quickly put at ease.

“I like camel cigarettes, Ben,” Mother said that night when Dad came home from work. “It’s not like Sharron.” Dad got Sharron to an­swer a few questions, but I could see he was worried when we gather­ed back in the kitchen.

A doctor was summoned the next morning. He quickly examined Sharron and said there was no need to worry. “It’s just chicken-pox,” he said as he hurried towards the door. “She’ll be better in a day or two.”

That night Sharron seemed to withdraw even further from the world. Her golden skin had gone pale beneath the angry sores, and her clear blue eyes were dull. Dad rang another doctor.

Now things began to get scary. The second doctor stood briefly near Sharron’s bed, pronounced chicken­pox and left without even examin­ing her. And the only remaining local doctor we knew said he saw no reason to come round. And not to worry. Yet Sharron was clearly sinking.

Foreboding Air. There was one last hope, a new doctor in town who said he’d come over right away.

While we all stood gloomily be­hind him, Doctor White carefully examined Sharron. I thought I saw his face tense as he listened to her chest, but he said nothing. When he had finished, he motioned to Dad and they went into the kitchen and closed the door.

“What did he say ?” Mother de­manded anxiously the minute the doctor had gone. Dad’s eyes flicked away from Mother’s face for a mo­ment. “Sharron has pneumonia.”

INGRES Master of the Portrait

September 11th, 2012

He left a legacy marking him as one of the greatest classical artists since Raphael’ DURING the nineteenth cen¬tury, Jean-August Domi¬nique Ingres (pronounced “angr”) was generally considered the model of classic art. As the high priest of tradition, he himself really believed that he was of the elect. He felt so possessed by a higher power that he used to refer to him¬self in the third person, as Monsieur Ingres, even in his love letters. So it was that during his lifetime he built himself up as a little god of orthodoxy. He was, I believe, the first painter to whom the term “art for art’s sake” was applied in a pejorative sense, thanks to his egotistical detachment from all sen¬timent. He stumped out of exhibi¬tions if they contained romantic pictures; he was a repressive direc¬tor of the French Academy in Rome; and if one of his followers showed any sign of spirit he would cry, “Traltre!” Born in 1780 in Montauban,southern France, he was short, olive-skinned, with large brown eyes. His father was an artist, and Ingres was from the start destined for the arts. His education was scanty and, throughout his life, he was embar¬rassed by his lack of culture. None the less, he spent much time copy¬ing Greek vases or tracing them from books of engravings. Archaic art allowed Ingres to release his natural gifts, his sense of precise and intricate pattern, the cameo-like completeness of his design. When Ingres moved from Paris to Rome in1806, he brought with him a reputation as a portrait painter, and soon began to receive commissions. His chief means of livelihood became portrait draw¬ings in pencil of numerous visitors of all nationalities who passed through the city. For them to be drawn by Ingres was a sign that they had reached the heart of Roman society. Right: Madame Moitessier, resplendent in Lyons silk, her jewellery chosen by Ingres. She posed intermittently for twelve years before he was satisfied, in 1856, with this third portrait. It hangs now in the National Gallery These drawings kept Ingres’s pot boiling, but they were practically never pot-boilers, because he ob-viously enjoyed doing them. And he did them with a skill that has never been surpassed. His portraits are far from mere imitation. They are true creations involving all his faculties. They re-spond to his imaginative needs in the very choice of sitter (and after 183o Ingres could choose his sit¬ters), and they satisfy his sense of the ideal, for almost all the poses go back to some classic origin. The poses involved interminable readjustments (all great portrait painters have demanded complete collaboration from their sitters, but none more than Ingres) so that, while retaining the ideal basis, full justice should be done to the sitter’s individual charm and, with a woman, to the elegance of her toilette. Here one notices how ad¬mirably Ingres responded to con¬temporary fashion. Ingres’s feeling for chic and fash¬ion was a part of his profound ap¬preciation of the feminine, and he brought to it the same rigour that he applied to the female body. In his drawings for his portraits it is almost comical to see with what intellectual application he imposes design on these frivolous shapes. “One must not dwell too much on the details of the human body,” Ingres once wrote, “so that the members may be like the shafts of columns such they are in the greatest masters.” Even so, no abstraction not even the crystal-line geometry of a Greek column —could obliterate for him the sen¬suous nature of beauty. That is why, when he died in 1867, he left a leg¬acy marking him as one of the great¬est classical artists since Raphael.