The blessing of snow, in unlikely places

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The Article

Today is one of the few days when, if someone asked me why he couldn’t get service from his Internet provider, I might have a clue to an answer. This answer might not be right, but it would have that thin veneer of plausibility that I can otherwise seldom provide on Internet questions.

It’s like this. That service advice comes from India, likely as not: from Bangalore, or Poona, or Delhi perhaps. (I’ve found myself speaking to soothing, patient, empathetic, concerned, and basically useless people in all three cities over my own service problems from time to time.) That is where North American companies tend to outsource customer service tasks that require mastery of the English language, now that the planet is all wired together.

But bandwidth from Egypt to Bangladesh is currently (or was as of yesterday) cut to about half. And by analogy to other traffic issues, you can imagine what driving along a freeway would be like, even if only half the cars had piled up.

How did this happen? According to several industry news reports, a ship, asked to wait outside the crowded port of Alexandria, Egypt, dropped its anchor unwittingly in a tangle of underwater cables. By this extremely simple manoeuvre, it may have shorted out Internet service across a substantial part of the planet.

You have to laugh. True, it would be harder to laugh if you were a contract manager in India, just now, losing a million rupees an hour while your Internet connections were down. And it is easier to laugh from this distance. My own experience has been, that laughter becomes easier in inverse proportion to excruciating pain. But it is even more useful in the pained condition, so there you go. “Offer it up,” as the Catholics say.

Surprise plays an important part, alike in humour and in military tactics. Perhaps it is even more important to humour, for as we’ve seen through recent history, the United States Army is more or less irresistible even when you can see them coming from miles away. And for human events, this paradoxical metaphysical conceit seems written into nature. Here we were preparing the dykes against global warming, when some ship’s anchor did more economic damage than the perfect storm.

More, anyway, than the perfectly wonderful storm: the blanket of snow that descended this last week over large parts of the Middle East, and indeed also right across China. It was snowing, even near Riyadh (for the first time since 1968), and on Abu Dhabi, with lots on Persia. It was really snowing, in towns at higher elevations, such as Jerusalem and Amman. Beautiful snow, piling up inches deep, bringing almost everything to a stop, except the gleeful children. (Alas, no evidence of snow in Gaza.)

“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem.”

I was in Jerusalem in January 1971, as a very young man, during one of the rare, proper snowstorms that happen once in every decade or so, in that city one must love (“for otherwise you would hate it,” as one of its fine old Yiddish-speaking residents explained). My only shoes at the time were sandals. I was living in “Cairo House,” a cheap hostel in the Arab quarter near Damascus Gate, and about to be fired from a temp job at the Jerusalem Post. I walked and slid to work in the sandals, but with two plastic bags for socks. Did not have a camera, either: but the picture of the Damascus Gate, under the snow, and of the dimpled roofs wearing snow across the Old City, becomes one of those “postcards” one carries in one’s mind.

So far as I could detect, there was no political insinuation to this snow, whatever. It fell alike on Zionists and Palestinian nationalists; on Christians, Muslims, and Jews; on the Ultra-Orthodox under their wide-brimmed hats, and on hatless teenagers emerging from a pizza parlour. The snow, and only the snow.

Jerusalem is a hill town, and on every clear slope I saw the children playing. The little Arab kids had ingeniously contrived sleighs out of cardboard, plastic, the inner tubes of tires, and anything that came to hand. There is no joy in this world like that which shines from a child’s eyes, when he first discovers snow.

It is snowing as I write. According to the forecast, it should be snowing in Ottawa in the morning, when you read this. The world is so very beautiful under snow.

David Warren
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