Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Money talks

They put out the new 1000 lira bill last week (who's they? there's no government...) It looks quite nice. The 1000 was my favorite bill before and they made it even better. They've kept the best part of the bill - the chart that shows the Phoenician alphabet and beneath it the evolution from Aramaic to Nabataean to Arabic. This chart may just make the 1000 pound bill my favorite bill in the world currently in circulation.

I am a bill collector and have been since...well, actually, since my first trip out of the country to Australia in 1994. Coins, too, but those are more difficult to carry around. I put my bills in my copy of my favorite book, James Joyce's Ulysses. It's for my own odyssey...

What a country puts on its money tells a lot about the people of that country. The US puts George Washington, the leader of the War for Independence and first POTUS, on its most commonly circulated bill, the one dollar. The man who saved the union and abolished human slavery in the US, Abraham Lincoln, appears on the five dollar bill. Then it gets a bit, well, it shows what Americans value most by placing the first treasurer of the country, Alexander Hamilton, on the ten dollar bill. On the twenty you find one of my heroes, Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence. On the fifty is Ulysses S. Grant, put there for his military leadership during the Civil War, not for the mediocre job he did as POTUS. Finally, the hundred, the largest bill in the dollar arsenal, with the face of Ben Franklin, the last American renaissance man, a guy who was too old to be the first president of the country he helped create. On the backs of the bills are institutions rather than personalities. What's interesting is that all of these personalities and institutions are GOVERNMENT-centric. Tell that to all of the government haters in the US.

The very first bill you find when you open the book is my favorite bill that was ever used, the Irish ten pound note, sadly replaced by the euro. On one side is a picture of Joyce, and on the flip side is a map of Dublin and the opening lines of Finnegan's Wake, which is actually a continuation of the last line in the book.
riverrun, past Eve and Adams, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius view of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
I'd write something here about how the Irish really know what to value except elsewhere in the book is a five pound note with the picture of a nun on it.

Other bills in the book:

Lebanon: An old 1000 pound note, the same that was produced during the war, though the one I have was minted in 1991, the year after the Ta'if Agreement. I also have the old version of the Lebanese 1000 pound bill, not the old old one but the one printed until this year. I used to have a 5000 but I spent that last week.

Luxembourg: A 100 franc note featuring on one side the Grand Duke and on the other a nice drawing of Luxembourg City. The Luxembourgish notes were semi-rare because they had a monetary union with Belgium and we just used Belgian francs all the time.

Egypt: One pound features on one side an old mosque and on the other the temple of luxor and some writing even older than the Phoenician - hieroglyphics. Five pound note features cool ancient Egyptian stuff on one side and a mosque on the other.

Northern Ireland: A 5 and a 10 pound sterling note issued by the Ulster Bank I picked up during a trip to Belfast. On the front of both are some hills and haystacks, the city of Belfast, and the Giant's Causeway. The back features the Ulster crest with its motto "nihil impossibile erit vobis" which I'm guessing means something like "nothing is impossible." Quite a good motto considering Ireland has been at peace for more than a decade now. The two bills are identical except for their color.

Turkey: A one lira Turkish note I picked up in Istanbul, which isn't very common since they use one lira coins. It features a picture of Attaturk on one side and what looks like a dam on the other side. I admit I don't know much about Turkey to know what the significance of the dam is.

Mexico: A 50 peso note from I picked up when I was driving from Monterey, California to BFE Texas. I stopped in El Paso and walked across the bridge to Cuidad Juarez, which is now apparently a warzone. On one side of the bill is a picture of Jose Maria Morelos and some canons. As an American I do know something about Mexican history; however, I have no idea who that guy is. On the back of the bill are some guys in boats with what looks like giant nets. Also, there are butterflies and some scary looking masks.

Australia: Five dollar bill. It's a rainbow colored piece of plastic with a clear window in the corner. On one side is Queen Elizabeth, England's queen, because Australia never broke away from the monarchy like we did in America. (It's a source of political tension and the subject of many songs by Australia's greatest band, Midnight Oil, whose lead singer quit to be a member of the parliament.) On the other side I'm guessing is the parliament building and I don't know what else. It's really a mess of a design with drawings and scribbles everywhere. You can barely see the Australian flag on it, that blue cloth with the Union Jack of Great Britain in the corner.

France: Fifty franc note featuring aviator and author of Le Petit Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who, as we learn from the bill, died when he was 44 years old. What we don't learn from the bill is that Saint-Exupery's plane disappeared in 1944 during the war. He had joined the French Free Forces after French cowards signed the armistice with Germany. They actually found his plane a few year ago in the Med. The bill has pictures of Le Petit Prince on both sides and some airplanes. Considering France's long intellectual, artistic, political, and everything else history, Saint-Exupery seems like an odd choice to feature on currency.

Jordan: One dinar, featuring on one side King Hussein and on the other three guys riding camels who are supposed to represent the "Great Arab Revolt." Not a great design for combating global stereotypes of Arabs, in my opinion, but a pretty bill.

Poland: A fifty zloty note featuring some king who looks like he belongs on a deck of cards on one side and drawings of some Polish cities on the other.

: A two leva note featuring, if I can remember the Cyrillic alphabet correctly, some guy named Paisi Hilendarski, who lived from 1722-1773. He must have been some kind of scholar because there is a drawing of what looks like a university on his side of the bill. On the other is the Bulgarian lion and some Cyrillic scribbles. St. Cyril, who invented the Cyrillic alphabet, was Bulgarian.

Hungary: A 200 forint note featuring some King Robert on one side and the ruins of a castle on another.

Romania: Another plastic bill, a five lei bill, but this one is cool. The clear window is a music note. One one side is composer George Enescu and on the other is the music conservatory with some lines of music and a subtle piano in the background. It's very nicely designed, and I give props to anyone who puts the arts on their currency rather than politics.

Iraq: This is the only bill I have for a country I haven't visited. It's a 250 dinar note with Saddam Hussein's picture on it given to me by an Iraqi colleague.

USA: George Washington's face on a $1 silver certificate back when US money was based on more than just a theory and debt to the Chinese. A one million dollar bill featuring the Statue of Liberty on one side and Mount Rushmore on the other. It's fake, of course. A 9/11 deception bill featuring George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld on one side and some kind of retarded stuff on the other.

Also in the book are a postcard featuring Ireland's great writers I bought in Dublin and an old photograph of my last purely Irish ancestor holding my baby grandmother.

I wish I had kept a Belgian franc note, a German mark note, an Austrian mark note, an Italian lira note, and a Dutch guilder note but for some reason, despite going to each of those countries multiple times, I never kept any (I have coins.) I also didn't keep any British pounds, Czech crowns, Slovak whatevers (guessing crowns), or Swiss francs. And I spent my five euro note in Charles De Gaulle airport while waiting for my connecting flight to Beirut last year.

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