Well I recently was tagged by my friend and blogger at Tea with a Pirate whose blog I have long enjoyed as his interests match mine so precisely with travelling tales particularly from the Middle-East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia as well as being the home of the most delicately crafted Haiku’s on WordPress.
My mission should I choose to accept it is to hold the ultimate dinner party with the simple rules being:
– Five guests and oneself. While relatives are permitted, it will be more interesting if guests are public figures – dead or alive, speaking any language – or even fictional characters.
– In turn, tag five others to hold Virtual Parties of their own.
My dinner would be based around a Persian Lamb dish but with several plates of vegetarian, fruit and sweet desserts so that even the one vegetarian would feel nicely at home.
Well it is not surprising that I have found this nigh on impossible. This is an uphill task for anyone but for a historian it takes on another level of difficulty. The choices I have taken are more those whose feats are in line with dinner conversations and more general tastes. While it is easy to admire military leaders and great emperors, they are are by and large not renowned for their linguistic capabilities so out immediately go such figures as Chinggis Khan, Hulegu and Napoleon. Other choices are harder, how I would have liked to dine with John Stuart Mills or Jean-Jacques Rousseau or great leaders such a Sulayman The Magnificent or the great Persians Darius and Xerxes. In the end I have opted for five people who I both admire and might just get on together.
My first choice is Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham. AL-Haytham for me is representative of the Golden age of Islam which is characterised not by the sometimes extremist groups of the 21st Century but rather as a culture that encouraged learning and soon led the world in all the major fields such as mathematics, astronomy, architecture, engineering, sciences and medicine. Though born in Basra in modern day Iraq, he spent most of his life in Egypt and being supremely confident of his own genius volunteered to the Fatimid Caliph of the day that he could dam and regulate the flow of the Nile. Almost immediately he realised the scope of his boast was too big even for himself and he immediately tried to back out of it. Sultan Al-Hakim being one of those infamously short tempered rulers ordered Haythams execution. In a stroke of genius Haytham feigned madness for 10 years and was instead sentenced to house arrest. Al-Haytham kept this up until the Sultan died whilst writing notable treatise on Optics which is still the basis of studies today. Once he gained his freedom he wrote a number of authorative papers on subjects such as maths, mechanics, geology and theology. However it is for his sheer cheek and genius of feigning madness to escape execution that gains Al-Haytham a seat at my table.
Such magnicicent tales such as Al-Haytham lead me directly to my second guest, Ibn Battuta. Ibn Batutta is possibly the greatest traveller of all time who in th 14th Century travelled 75,000 miles from Morocco in NW Africa as far east as Beijing in China, as far north as Eastern Europe and Spain and as far South as South Eastern Africa. Batutta didn’t just travel but was a masterful story teller no doubt due to all the improbable tales such as that of Haytham that the Islamic world of the Middle East and Central Asia was full of in those days and to a degree still are today. They are wonderful tales mixing truth and fantasy with daring deeds and religious piety I admire these tales so much and though I have heard hundreds of them but how it would be to hear them recited from the master himself and hear of the sights he saw. Battuta didn’t just travel but lived his journeys and during the course of them was married, attacked, shipwrecked, kidnapped, acted as a judge and an ambassador amongst many other things. A worthy guest at any party.
My third guest was to be Sir David Lloyd George primarily due to his welfare reforms and introductions of pensions and unemployment insurance and his fantastic parliamentarian skills but I decided that my guest list is heading entirely down the adventurist route and due to that the fourth guest is going to be T.E. Lawrence.
T.E Lawrence is best known for playing a prominent role in the Arab revolt against The Ottomans in WW1 and did much to inspire Arab nationalism throughout the Middle-East. Aside from that he was classically educated at Oxford and could speak several languages. He was an accomplished cartographer and writer with perhaps his best known work being “The seven pillars of Wisdom”. Lawrence was at heart a very private and shy man and perhaps a man out of time. Not at all comfortable with the military surroundings he found himself in, he gained a posting to the desert and after a series of successful and inspiring campaigns he became a global celebrity and then sought refuge again at his retreat at Clouds Hill cottage in rural Dorset only to shortly later die in a tragic motorcycle accident. I would very much like to dine with Lawrence, I have been to his house, read his works. When other 5 year olds would watch Disney films, I was much more interested in Lawrence of Arabia. I have trodden in many of his footsteps in Cairo, Sinai and Jordan including eating with Bedouin who knew the people who did eat with Lawrence and I recently visited his picturesque grave in Dorset. Perhaps if I was born 100 years earlier I would have been led along the same career as he did as I certainly fit his personality precisely. It would be interesting to learn his insights and hear his thoughts of how the Middle-East has turned out 100 years later. I am sure he would be as saddened as I am.
My fourth guest hailed from Albania but spent almost her entire adult life in India, her name is Mother Teresa. Although she studied at a religious school as a child it was not until the 1940’s when she found her true calling. From thereon-in she looked after the sick and poor in Calcutta. In the first years she was so poor that she had to beg for food and money herself but over the her lifetime she created charities, hospitals and schools and on the way won The Nobel Prize and also the Order of Merit from the U.K. and U.S. governments as well as many other such honorary awards from states around the world. Of course Mother Teresa frequently said that none of these awards meant anything unless they helped alleviate poverty for the poor of the world. Mother Teresa is now well on the official Papal route to becoming a Saint and there can be few more deserving anywhere in the last 2,000 years.
My final guest maybe somewhat unexpected. One the one hand he is a fictional character, on the other he is probably the embodiment of most of the characteristics of the 4 other guests. He isn’t real, he isn’t human. Guest number 5 is the legendary Mr. Spock from Star Trek. Lots of people might at this stage wonder where on earth I am going with this so let me explain and you can decide for yourself whether he is suitable for my soiree. Spock is a scientist who appreciates the arts. He has masterful knowledge on classical music, architecture and paintings but matches this with science, engineering and the timeless concepts of friendship and self-sacrifice. He might not have or want many friends but if anyone can name two more dependable friends than Kirk and Spock then I’d like to see them and more importantly, I’d like to know them. When I was little he introduced me to exploration and other ways of thinking. He is an alien but is a better human than almost anyone I know and when as a child, exploration and adventure was pretty much limited to the garden and parks he took me to other worlds and other races. If you can not just get used to but like strange blue people with antennae or beings made of rock then there is little on this planet that could truly said to be a culture shock. I am sure Spock would be delighted to meet with some of the great people of the past which I have assembled and equally I would like to learn of the future. He could discuss science with Al-Haytham, literature and politics with Lawrence and what would he make of Battutah…. perhaps more interesting would be what would Battutah make of him. As Spock would say, fascinating.
As per the rules of the challenge, I am to tag 5 other bloggers to hold their own virtual dinner party. As such my nominations who I will contact individually will be:
1 http://thebumblefiles.wordpress.com home of a wonderful blog detailing the creative processes of writing, childhood reminisces and all the happy moments that life brings.
2.http://slipperyslopebox.wordpress.com home of the celtic cat woman, a terrific writer, journalist and all round very talented individual. I can only guess who she would want to have round for dinner.
3. http://thepoliticalidealist.com the site of the only blog which I have written a guest posting on. Very politically minded but is very open to ideas and people from differing view points. I bet the “discussions” would run all night long at his meal.
4. stretchingintoinfinity the home of one of the best photoblogs I have ever seen, consistently of a very high standard which makes me dream of travelling once more.
5. http://jgburdette.wordpress.com this site is dedicated to history, perhaps with a slight prominence to naval and 19th Century North American events which is just fine by me. 99% of the time I come away learning new things on subjects I had barely heard of before or just knew a little about. It’s always nice to read history in an area out side your own speciality and I don’t doubt there could be a stunning guest list here.
I wonder what my nominees will make of this challenge. I know that I would very much like to have dinner with them all and Ye Pirate. I am sure that we would all give our dream team of diners a run for their money. If you’ll excuse me, I am going back to the table as I have so much more to talk to my guests about.