Stories by Carla Power

  • Arts: The Sacred History

    September 11 made Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis a fashionable map for the 21st century. Right-wing pundits and religious zealots alike used it to argue that Islamic and Western societies have always been incompatible. Now "Sacred," on view at London's British Library (through Sept. 23), provides an elegant riposte to clash-mongers. The collection of manuscripts from Christianity, Islam and Judaism underscores that the traditions of the three religions bear striking similarities. Their emphasis on scriptural truth is the same, their cultures are intertwined and their followers lived—usually peacefully—in multicultural societies for centuries.With the Middle East riven by religious and political tensions, it's bittersweet to see such gorgeous proof of its multifaith history. A 13th-century Christian manuscript from near Mosul, Iraq, depicts the three Marys at Jesus' tomb. While many of the details are Byzantine, the tomb's onion dome and the stylized cedar trees...
  • Touring Europe's Museums

    The world is nervous. War-bruised, jittery about climate change and terror, worn down by the diplomatic acrimonies between Iran and the West, Europeans could be forgiven for taking refuge in pretty, apolitical art. The impulse, in such turbulent times, might be to run to your nearest waterlilies or Delft still life. And summer is traditionally the season for crowd-pleasing museum shows. Luckily, "anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity," as T. S. Eliot observed, so current nerves have produced a clutch of vibrant shows this summer. Across Europe, curators have mounted exhibits that reflect and refract geopolitical realities, from the rise of China to the evolution of the modern metropolis.If news headlines bolster cultural stereotypes, art breaks them down. That's, in part, the aim of "Persia, 30 Centuries of Art and Culture," at the Hermitage Amsterdam (through Sept. 15), the Dutch satellite of the venerable St. Petersburg museum. Clichés of Iran as a dour, monocultural society...
  • Anglo-Indian Shakespearean Humor

    For Londoners, who live in a city where one in three inhabitants is foreign-born, there's nothing more banal than exotica. Except, perhaps, for yet another production of a Shakespeare comedy. So it's testimony to British director Tim Supple that even jaded Londoners are surprised by his rich and strange new production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which re-imagines the comedy as a bawdy romp through rural India. Athens becomes a village built on a stage of red earth hauled to North London from Rajasthan. Mismatched lovers couple and recouple in a jungle of bamboo scaffolding and scarlet silks. Most controversially, the dialogue tumbles out in eight South Asian languages, and English, spoken by 23 Indian and Sri Lankan actors. Somehow, it comes together intelligibly."Dream" has a long history of association with India. The country is embedded in the text, with fairy monarchs Oberon and Titania quarrelling over Titania's adoption of an Indian boy. It's probably the Subcontinent's...
  • Monet Exhibit: Filling In the Lines

    Anyone walking into the new Monet show in London expecting the cool familiarity of light lapping on water lilies will be soundly surprised. The first room of "The Unknown Monet," at the Royal Academy of Arts (through June 10), contains a shock: a row of caricatures of 19th-century gentlemen, their bulbous heads dwarfing spindly bodies. The artist we know as the master of color, light and atmosphere got his start as a caricaturist. Before he decided to go by his first name, Claude, the teenage "Oscar" Monet sold bold, jokey sketches of celebrities and local grandees in his hometown, Le Havre, for 20 francs apiece—a considerable sum at the time. The man famous for his solitary landscapes, it turns out, could deftly capture character and human form. His charcoal of a man with a snuffbox catches the subject's quick, quizzical glance with a near-photographic immediacy.Capturing a moment in time—when sunset pinkens haystacks, or mist rolls across Westminster Bridge—was to become a Monet...
  • Seeing Clearly

    Aside from the flag, no piece of cloth in history has been imbued with as much power to liberate and oppress, rally and divide as the veil. Throughout the Muslim world, women have donned the veil as a form of modesty, piousness and defiance, and thrown it off to express freedom, strength and protest. Muslim governments have legislated head covering as a sign of religiosity and banned it as an obstacle to secularism. For liberal Western societies, the debate over the higab --a scarf that covers the head but not the face--crystallizes a key modern dilemma: how to reconcile the commitment to protecting freedom of expression with the ideal of integration and social cohesion?As traditional as it seems, the veil has gone through perhaps more radical changes in use than any other item of apparel. It has been embraced, banned, enforced and made optional, often in the same country within a matter of years. Indeed, throughout history its meaning has been shaped by the political and social...
  • Not Just Vegas

    Dubai is now the world's leader for outrageous development, from a $5 billion theme park the size of Monaco to The World, a man-made archipelago selling private islands for as much as $50 million. There are doubters, but Dubai's Crown Prince Mohammed Al Maktoum, welcomes them. "Whenever people say we can't keep growing, or that it's all going to collapse, I'm delighted. Because I will prove them wrong just as I have in the past," he says.Although the emirate's baroque taste may suggest a Vegas of Arabia, its real ambition is to be another Singapore: a center for travel, tourism and business. Both are city-states with scant natural resources, driven to grow by a strong leader. With oil now providing only 6 percent of GDP, and expected to run out by 2010, Dubai is diversifying. In 2003 tourism beat out oil revenues as the prime source of income, and Dubai aims to treble its number of visitors--to 15 million--by 2010. "I want this city managed to world-class standards, nothing less,"...
  • FIGHTING FOR GOD

    It's only an airport thriller. But the best-selling "The Da Vinci Code" has so irritated leading members of the Roman Catholic Church that one prominent prelate, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa, last week mounted a public offensive debunking its "lies." Chief among them: that Jesus fathered a daughter with Mary Magdalene. "What would the reaction be," the potential pontiff told the daily Il Giornale, "if a novel came out manipulating the whole story of the Holocaust?"...
  • Fighting for God

    It's only an airport thriller. But the best-selling "The Da Vinci Code" has so irritated leading members of the Roman Catholic Church that one prominent prelate, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa, last week mounted a public offensive debunking its "lies." Chief among them: that Jesus fathered a daughter with Mary Magdalene. "What would the reaction be," the potential pontiff told the daily Il Giornale, "if a novel came out manipulating the whole story of the Holocaust?"...
  • Not the Queen's English

    The name--Cambridge School of Languages--conjures images of spires and Anglo-Saxon aristocrats conversing in the Queen's English. But this Cambridge is composed of a few dank rooms with rickety chairs at the edge of a congested Delhi suburb. Its rival is not stately Oxford but the nearby Euro Languages School, where a three-month English course costs $16. "We tell students you need two things to succeed: English and computers," says Chetan Kumar, a Euro Languages manager. "We teach one. For the other"--he points to a nearby Internet stall--"you can go next door."...
  • NOT THE QUEEN'S ENGLISH

    The name--Cambridge School of Languages--conjures images of spires and Anglo-Saxon aristocrats conversing in the Queen's English. But this Cambridge is composed of a few dank rooms with rickety chairs at the edge of a congested Delhi suburb. Its rival is not stately Oxford but the nearby Euro Languages School, where a three-month English course costs $16. "We tell students you need two things to succeed: English and computers," says Chetan Kumar, a Euro Languages manager. "We teach one. For the other"--he points to a nearby Internet stall--"you can go next door."...
  • New Imams

    It's easy to see why Dalil Boubakeur is the go-to guy for Islamic issues in France. In his wood-paneled study at Paris's Great Mosque, the head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith switches fluidly from French to English to German. He enthuses about his visit to Abraham Lincoln's log cabin in Kentucky. And he's frank about the short and troubled history of his council, set up by the French government in 2003 to give Islam "a seat at the table of the Republic," in the words of then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. Would he prefer radical fundamentalists to be inside or outside his tent? "I would rather not have them inside or outside," says the Algerian-born Boubakeur. Then, in a faux Bond villain accent: "They have to disappear." How, exactly? He laughs. "I don't know. Maybe a virus?"...
  • HARD WORK, HARD TIMES

    It's close to midnight in Warsaw, and Marzena Beresciuk has taken a taxi straight from work to a 24/7 convenience store to buy groceries. Late nights are the only time the carefully coiffed record promoter can find to shop, given her standard 12-hour days. Like the rest of those lucky enough to have jobs in high-unemployment Central and Eastern Europe, she works hard. The average workweek in Europe's new member states is 44.4 hours, compared with 38.2 in the 15 Western members of the European Union. "Let's get to work," Warsaw professionals like to joke. "The earlier we start, the later we'll finish."...
  • REVIEW: BETTER THAN SEX

    Sisterly love doesn't get much press. Sex and romance have all the good songs and big plots; loyal siblings tend to be relegated to B sides and back stories. But sisterhood is at the center of Andrew Lloyd Webber's ambitious new musical, "The Woman in White," which opened in London last week. Based on Wilkie Collins's 1860 novel, it's the story of heiress Laura Fairlie (Jill Paice) and her half sister Marian Halcombe (Maria Friedman). Together they attempt to escape the clutches of an evil pair of fortune hunters with the help of a mysterious Woman in White (Angela Christian). Sure, they both fall for the same guy: their drawing master, Walter Hartright (Martin Crewes). But the story's grand amour is the one between Laura and Marian."The Woman in White" souvenir tapestry kits on sale in the lobby suggest that Lloyd Webber expects this to be a mammoth hit, on the scale of "The Phantom of the Opera." And his fans will recognize much from that show: Victorian horrors, villains with...
  • What Kids Should Know

    Being tech-savvy is one thing. Being cultured means exploring the unknown
  • Mommy Economy

    To the untrained eye, Patricia Hewitt's two jobs might seem an odd combination. As Tony Blair's secretary for Trade and Industry as well as his minister for Women and Equality, she deals in trade deficits and gender disparities, IT entrepreneurs and nurseries, industrial productivity and parental leave....
  • Newsmakers

    Culture Vulture ...
  • Chirac's Great Game

    Late in life, Francois Mitterrand let slip the news of a secret war. "France does not know it yet, but we are at war with America," reports his biographer, Georges-Marc Benamou. "A permanent war... a war without death. They are very hard, the Americans--they are voracious. They want undivided power over the world."...
  • Now, The Palestine Question

    In 1919 Britain's foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, drafted a candid memo on Europe's diplomatic record concerning Palestine. European powers, he wrote, "have made no statement of fact that is not admittedly wrong... and no declaration of policy which they have not always intended to violate."...
  • The War At Home

    History presses heavily in a narrow Islamic bookshop, just off Baker Street in London. Amid the collected works of ninth-century Islamic theologians, three British Muslims speak about the war in Iraq. "I've watched Muslims killed since I was born," says one young woman. "I feel as though I'm living in the Age of Crusades." The conversation crosses centuries and continents, from Chechnya to Palestine to Britain's Terrorism Act to the impotence of Arab leaders. It's polite, if laced with frustration. But then, suddenly, it stops. "We don't want to talk," declares the portly, bearded bookshop owner. He refuses to sell a reporter the Islamic magazines she'd chosen--and asks her to leave....
  • The Long Road Home

    In all the column inches spent on the growing gap between Europe and America, one crucial difference always gets missed: Europe doesn't have a "Godfather" trilogy. No saga of immigrants knitting themselves into modern society via corruption, ruthlessness and Old World loyalties. No patriarchal Marlon Brando glowering about family. No tale of the journey from docks and tenements to power, wealth and the American way....
  • Changing The Rule Of Law

    With her glasses, plump rosy cheeks and white crocheted higab, Souad Salah looks more like a grandmother than a revolutionary. But don't be fooled: this 56-year-old Egyptian scholar is quietly challenging the Islamic establishment. Currently head of the Islamic law department of the women's college at Cairo's Al Azhar, the premier academy of Muslim scholarship, Salah was among the first women to be admitted to the university back in the early 1960s. Now she's campaigning to become Al Azhar's first female mufti, or Islamic judge. "Islam never forbade women from being judges," she says. "In the mind, [a woman] is like a man."Salah has already begun to prove the point. She's been issuing informal fatwas, or religious proclamations, for more than a decade, counseling women on marriage, hygiene and sex. In books, in lectures and even on her own satellite-television show, "Fataawa An Nisaa" ("Women's Fatwas"), Salah offers a uniquely feminine perspective on Islamic law. In her view, women...
  • Who Are We?

    On the last day of this year's Ryder Cup, the biannual showdown between European and American golfers, a strange cry rose from the crowd: "Eur-ope, Eur-ope." Unfamiliar as it was, the cheer appeared to work. Europe won. And at the award ceremony, the Ryder Cup committee played eight anthems--one for each European player, followed by the European Union's official anthem, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." It was, onlookers agreed, a long ceremony....
  • Europe's Gouging Gap

    The food strikes didn't make an impression. Neither did the cappuccino boycotts. It wasn't until Rosa Berlusconi told her son, Silvio, that pasta prices had trebled since the euro's launch that the Italian prime minister took action. To combat Italy's fast-rising prices, Silvio Berlusconi is calling for a three-month freeze on electric, gas and postal prices. Italians share Signora Berlusconi's outrage. No matter that ISTAT, Italy's official statistician, says inflation is actually lower than last year. Italian consumer confidence is the lowest in three years.The euro may have been created to unite Europe, but 10 months after its birth, the currency has split the Continent. Whether angered by a 3 euro cup of coffee in Greece or a 1.50 euro can of soda in Spain, consumers are furious and blame the new currency. The Jan. 1 introduction of euro notes led many merchants to round prices off, which almost always means up. French gourmands saw some meat and dairy prices rise 30 percent....
  • The New Flesh Trade

    Prostitutes have always been a part of French life, from the caravans haunting the Bois de Boulogne to the Chanel-suited call girls of the Place Vendome. In the 1967 film "Belle de Jour," no less than Catherine Deneuve played the bourgeois blonde who daylights at a brothel--and nobody arched an eyebrow....
  • Planting New Seeds

    It's a rare day that suited bureaucrats from the staid corridors of Brussels are accused of being threats to civilization. But Franz Fischler, Europe's commissioner for agriculture, is an exception. A few years back, when the Austrian politician tried to limit the number of olive trees grown in Andalucia, the Spanish press and farmers dubbed him a "barbarian," a man so devoid of taste that he failed to understand the superiority of Spanish olive oil.Once again, the "barbarian" is at the farm gates. Last week Fischler proposed the most radical revamp to the EU's agricultural policy in its 41-year history. His reforms would transform the EU's notoriously expensive and protectionist Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which at 40 billion euros a year gobbles up half the European Union's budget. As it stands, Europe pays its 7 million farmers subsidies linked to the amount they produce, a system that has led to massive surpluses. During the 1980s the program generated much-derided lakes...
  • Dreaming Of India

    Old Empires die hard. Fifty-five years after the British gave up India, they are still pining for its vermilion and emerald silks, its diamonds and rubies, its drums and dancing girls.A century ago, Britain sent its Oxbridge finest to govern the Punjab, and they returned home with tales, trinkets and tiger-skin rugs. During the hippie era, the Beatles and other seekers went to the Subcontinent for spiritual enlightenment and came back with sitars and gurus. Today, Britain's glitterati, glossy magazine editors and theater impresarios make the trip and have come back with "Bollywood"-inspired razzle-dazzle.This summer, London is gripped by Bollywood fever, obsessed with the Bombay-based movie industry's muscled heroes, spangled heroines and shoulder-shaking rhythms. Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer of "Evita," "Cats," and "Phantom of the Opera," has produced "Bombay Dreams," a Bollywood extravaganza. Oxford Street ran a monthlong salute to Bollywood, stocking maharajah-worthy jewels and...
  • The Shackles Of Freedom

    When Natasha M.'s circle of friends met at the University of Kiev back in the 1980s, they were full of hope for the post-perestroika era. Over late-night sessions in local cafes, they discussed their dreams of glamorous travel, successful careers and the freedom to run their own lives. But for many of them, the dozen years since communism's fall have been rough ones. Luda--who, like the rest of the group, doesn't want her last name used--went abroad and married an Italian man 15 years her senior, only to find out he wanted an unpaid nursemaid, not a wife. Irina married "a new Ukrainian," who drove a Mercedes and outfitted her in Dior, but forbade her from working or seeing her old friends. Lena and Julia started "shuttle-trading," traveling to Turkey with empty suitcases that they would fill with cheap goods to sell back home. While abroad, they sold their bodies to earn money, too. Daria, 33, who holds a Ph.D. in physics and cybernetics, has been working as a property valuer, where...
  • What Happened To Irish Art?

    Rain beats down on W. B. Yeats's grave in Drumcliffe, but still the faithful come. As the guide talks of the Irish poet's death in 1939, a tall professorial type nods solemnly. Japanese tourists in dripping red Windbreakers grin gamely for the camera. Until a few years ago, literary pilgrims to Ireland could find shelter from the rain in an old stable, where a local woman would serve tea and homemade Guinness cake. Today, tourists flock to the stout new visitors' center, built two years ago with funds from the European Union. There, they can hunt for information on Irish writers at the computer center, sign up for the audiovisual tour and buy Celtic fridge magnets, Yeats pens or Irish tin whistles, complete with their own instructional CDs.Yeats, who declared "romantic Ireland's dead and gone," would have been bemused. His country's astonishing economic success during the past decade, built on the IT boom and huge tax breaks for foreign companies, jacked up the GDP by 11.5 percent...
  • Into The Light

    At dusk, immigrants gather on the south side of the Duomo, the famous 15th-century cathedral, in Milan. Peruvian and Filipina maids, construction workers from North Africa, Ukraine and Moldova, and Nigerian and South Asian street sweepers chat, smoke and piazza-watch. For Lofti Ben Hassan, a 41-year-old Tunisian who has been working in Italy for seven years, dusk at the Duomo provides a break from nine-hour days on a construction site and nights squatting with 11 others in an abandoned house. His wife arranges flowers for the dead; he takes a 1,000-lire shower once a week at a public bath. "They say Italy is the First World, but it's the Third World," he says, pulling on a bent cigarette. "They do nothing for us here except give us work."Italy is one of Europe's newest immigrant societies. Until about 20 years ago it exported more workers than it imported. Today immigrants still make up only 2.9 percent of the population, the lowest percentage in Europe. Immigrants have received a...
  • Women Robbing Women

    The Women Empowering Women flier reads like the manifesto of a feminist collective. "Our main goal is the empowerment of women by providing for them the financial and emotional abilities to support themselves, their loved ones and their community," it says. "We are literally creating a new economic experience." The mimeographed fliers are passed through networks of friends and acquaintances and handed out at parties for this women-only "gifting circle" that has recently won members all over Britain. To join, you simply hand over £3,000, which buys you a "heart," representing a link in the gifting circle, on a mimeographed sheet of hearts. Find eight friends or relatives willing to do the same, and you can leave the circle with £24,000.So much for sisterhood. In a country where £3,000 amounts to many people's life savings, the promised "empowerment" tends more toward "impoverishment." For eight people to receive the promised £24,000, the setup's structure requires 64 new investors,...

Pages