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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Dialog of Music and Painting


A vision in sound, written in one go: and He saw that it was good (Ton van Os)

I find the Chaconne one of the most wonderful, most incomprehensible pieces of music: on one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings (Johannes Brahms in a letter to Clara Schumann)

Van Gogh died childless, and considered the paintings his only heirs; each viewing celebrates their father's short life (Huffpost Arts)

Yesterday, March 30, was Van Gogh's birthday.



Bach's Chaconne with paintings by Vincent van Gogh
(video by BGkowalski)

I met with Van Gogh's art firstly while in high school: an exhibition was organized in Bucharest with works brought from some German museums. I knew virtually nothing about Van Gogh's place in the history of art, but I wrote some emphatic impressions in the visitors' book. Every time I remember that episode it's for me a renewed lesson of humility.

I met then with his works in museums in Moscow and Sankt Petersburg: after being shown the old masters, the guide was telling us that we have half an hour to go to the upper level and see the impressionists and all that stuff on our own. We, me and my wife, were already tired, but the effort was of course worthily.

1985 was for me a year of great musical joys, and of terrible sorrows: it was the anniversary of three hundred years from the birth of Bach, Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti. It was a horrible winter, and I was going to listen organ recitals with Bach's music, I was dressed like going to the mountains, with a hanorack, and gloves. And then came the spring. My first wife passed away in the spring, and for a long time I was ashamed for my passion for the music of Bach.

Years passed, winters and springs, and summers, and autumns. My son grew up, he got married and I have now two granddaughters, and sometimes I think at my first wife: she should have been here to enjoy the view of the granddaughters.

My life went on, and my passion for music and for visual arts went on.

I had the joy to be with Van Gogh's works at my leisure, in Washington, for seven years: to go to the National Gallery, or to Phillips Collection, and to spend as much time as I wanted in front of his paintings. Time to meditate, time to enjoy.

Meanwhile I had watched a movie by Kurosawa (Dreams): in one episode Van Gogh was played by Martin Scorsese and was speaking with a Manhattan accent. And the main personage of the movie was entering in one of his paintings, wandering through its universe, and exiting from another painting. These two paintings are at the Washington National Gallery.

Here are two videos I have made sometime in these seven Washingtonian years. Enjoy!


Van Gogh, Gauguin, and a bit of Cézanne, at Washington National Gallery
(Musical Background: Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake - Waltz)




Soutine, Van Gogh, Chagall, Cézanne, Picasso, Braque in distance
Phillips Collection
(Musical Background: Mendelssohn - Frühlingslied)


(Amintiri din Garla Mare)

(Van Gogh)

(Cézanne)

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Vâlcov, a Little Venice Hidden in the Danube Delta



Как бы мне сейчас хотелось в Вилкове вдруг
Очутиться!
Там - каналы, там - гондолы, гондольеры .
Очутиться, позабыться, от печали отшутиться...



(video by acinletux)


Gica, a great friend, brought today on a chat list of words&palabras a splendid presentation of nine Venices: firstly of course the Pearl of the Adriatic, followed by Amsterdam and Giethoorn (the Big and the Little Venice of the Netherlands), Hamburg (the large Hanseatic harbor), Bruges (the Flemish city resembling to a dream), Stockholm (disputing the title of Venice of the North with some other harbors from this enumeration), Suzhou in China (it is said that before going to Heaven we have the chance to see the Paradise in Suzhou), Udaipur (the most romantic place in India), and Sankt Petersburg (the only Venice that I have seen, at least so far).

Well, Gica forgot one: there are ten Venices on the Earth! Or maybe more: but ten are those I know about.

The forgotten place in the above enumeration is Vâlcov, the little Venice hidden in the Danube Delta.



My father told me firstly about this small town situated on the Northern side of Chilia Arm. My father went there several times: by that time Vâlcov belonged to Romania. Now it is part of Ukraine, together with all Southern Bessarabia. In Ukrainian language the name of the town is Вилкове.

Some years after my father passed away I found among his photographs a postal card with the image of Vâlcov.

I found today on the web other images and some videos. The place is great. I would like to go there sometime. So far the only place I have seen in the Danube Delta is Murighiol.
















(Amintiri din Garla Mare)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The English Passage



Pasajul Englez (the English Passage) is perhaps the weirdest among all Bucharest passages.

Like all the other passages it was built some time in the second part of 19th century, following the Parisian ways, as Bucharest aimed to become the Little Paris. A jeweler built it in 1855. It was sold in 1885 to an entrepreneur (the famous Grigore Eliade, who should deserve a special place in this blog, sometimes before long). Mr. Eliade transformed the building into a hotel (named English, hence the name of the passage), with all rooms aligned along two balconies framing a long, narrow thoroughfare, glass roofed. Like all the other passages it linked Calea Victoriei to Academiei Street.

It was a cheap hotel, with some of the rooms getting the light from the passage, and a toilet for all rooms along the balcony. After some time the hotel went out of business and the building became a brothel. Some other time passed and the prostitution was declared illegal, so the rooms were offered for rent. Their lack of any modern comfort kept the whole in some very insalubrious status.



And so it went down more and more. With all efforts of people living there it is impossible to keep it proper and it smells the decay. It could disappear: the space is hunted by today's entrepreneurs who would rather replace the whole enchilada with a new sky-scrapper. For someone who loves Bucharest it would be a pity: a passage built with Paris in mind, carrying the panache of its English name, calling in mind the outskirts of the old Istanbul by its narrowness and darkness, and looking like some of the ugly spaces that can be found here and there in SoHo - well, it brings together the spirit of all major cities of the world!

I came here often, as I love Bucharest (you may already know). I passed through the narrow passage, dreaming at Paris and at London, at Istanbul and at New York, and falling more and more for this place which is unique.

I came again a couple of weeks ago, having in mind to make a video. I took it this time from Academiei Street, across Union Hotel. It starts with the window of a fur shop or something, followed by a door where ten years ago an inscription indicated the existence behind the door of some obscure company offering sexual consulting. The funny thing was that the acronym of the company was identical with the acronym of the research institute where I was working.

The sign disappeared. Possibly Bucharest males don't need advice anymore.

Well, if you advance, there are three or four stairs to descend and then you are in the middle of the thing.

There is a jewelry there, also a watchmaker's, and the entry to a night club - it seems that they are always closed.



What is absolutely unique is a very small pub whose appearance calls in mind Atget, the great Parisian photographer. I entered inside. The sign in front of the pub was presenting martini, brandy and champagne, but that day they had vodka, rum and beer. You could start with a shot of vodka, then pass to beer mixed with rum, you needed another shot of vodka after that.

There were only two very low tables inside, and the counter. The patrons, as well as the bartender, looked very familiar to me, only ten years older than I had known them. Honestly, I looked ten years older too. I smiled and said, Hey guys, I left you here in 2001, you have waited for ten years for me to come back! One of them had a great phrase, Sir, we are the last bohemians!


(Musical Background: Demolition Man, Absent Minded, from the album Waging War)





(Bucuresti)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Seasons


Seasons: Chinese Landscapes, exhibition open at the Freer Gallery of Art in DC until June.


Mountains and Rivers Without End, detail; perhaps by Lu Yuan (active late-17th century), China, Qing dynasty, late 17th century; handscroll, ink on paper
(http://www.asia.si.edu/explore/china/handscroll/F1947_17.asp)



(Smithsonian Castle)

Elif Shafak - Meditating the Proper Approach to God

(illustration by Marian Banjes in NY Times)

What was for Elif Shafak at the beginning a pure intellectual interest developed into an existential need: the Sufi universe. I found in one of her novels, The Bastard of Istanbul, a couple of lines in which one of the personages meditates the proper approach to God. You could find here a hint of irony, maybe. Or maybe not.

Allah could not and should not be personified... One had to refrain from attributing human qualities to him - that's to say, Him - which was not easy since every one of his - that's to say, His - ninety-nine names happened to be qualities also pertinent to human beings. He could see it all but had no eyes; He could hear it all but had no ears; He could reach out everywhere but had no hands... Allah could resemble us, but we could not resemble Him. Or was it vice versa? Anyway, one had to learn to think about him - that's to say, Him - without thinking of Him as him.

It happens that today I found in a bookshop an English edition of the Koran.

(Elif Shafak)

(Sufi)

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Yakov Protazanov: Father Sergius (1917)



A movie made in 1917, just before the Russian Revolution. It would have been impossible to make this film in pre-Soviet Russia - it would have been impossible after the Revolution, either. It was a very thin time window when the making of Отец Сергий (Father Sergius) has been possible: in 1917 just before the Revolution. And just a few months after, the existence of this movie was no more tolerated. It had to wait for another two years to be released: in Poland, no more in Russia.

It is the adaptation of a well-known story written by Tolstoi: I had read it longtime ago, I have found it today on the web and read it again. A passionate story about the tragic paradox of human condition, serving your own demons even when trying to serve God.

A young noble, officer in the Russian imperial army, renounces to everything and goes to the monastery. All his ambition to raise in the ranks of society is converted in ardent desire to approach God. After a long, painful struggle for attending holiness he will succumb to the natural call of flash and find out that ambition never comes from God. At the end the hero will become a foul for the world, a foul for Christ. Will it be the true way this time?

A profoundly religious story about a highly unconventional religious personage - no wonder that the making of this movie would have been impossible in both Tsarist and Soviet Russia.

The director, Yakov Protazanov, was the most important pre-Soviet Russian filmmaker. He made 80 movies between 1911 - 1918. Then he left the country, to come back in 1923. His first Soviet movie was Aelita, in 1924 - a loose adaptation of a SF novel by Aleksey Tolstoi. It is a genial movie. The Soviet censorship hasn't allow its circulation for tens of years. The destiny of great artworks is sometimes very much alike with the life of good Father Sergius: long and painful struggles with horrible adversities.





Отец Сергий: Part 1/8
(video by jaroeoko)




Отец Сергий: Part 2/8
(video by jaroeoko)




Отец Сергий: Part 3/8
(video by jaroeoko)




Отец Сергий: Part 4/8
(video by jaroeoko)




Отец Сергий: Part 5/8
(video by jaroeoko)




Отец Сергий: Part 6/8
(video by jaroeoko)




Отец Сергий: Part 7/8
(video by jaroeoko)



Отец Сергий: Part 8/8
(video by jaroeoko)


(Early Movies)

(Russian and Soviet Cinema)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Biserica Sfintilor (the Church of Saints)



Once it entered its modern times Romania set for its capital the aim to become a Little Paris, and the new epoch built over the old ones. There is however a spirit of the place, traveling through centuries, a time capsule, keeping the hidden message of what Bucharest really is.

To decipher the code is difficult, if not impossible, maybe because each new age did its best to forget the old one, and Bucharest is in the same time many things (one of them being the desire to model itself over the Parisian universe, of course; maybe to be in sync with the modèle du jour: think at the period between the two world wars with the superb Avant-Garde constructions downtown; or think at the present period with the huge sky-scrappers and malls). However, beyond the successive models there is something else.

The old churches of Bucharest can give you a hint on the way to discover the spirit of the place. Nicolae Iorga coined the expression Byzance après Byzance: Bucharest became at a certain moment a very important pillar of support for the Eastern Christianity, the Greek Orthodoxy.

Please excuse this digression. I want to tell you here about one of the old churches of Bucharest that I passed by often, but only the last weekend I entered inside for the first time. It is a small church, like so many old churches of Bucharest, like all of them it is very well balanced architecturally and the tiny space offers intimacy for your thoughts and prayers.

It's Biserica Sfintilor (the Church of Saints), on Calea Mosilor (not far from Hristo Botev Boulevard). It was built in 1728, replacing an older church.



What makes this church distinct is the exterior painting. There are nineteen large mural icons, surrounding the church, built on the upper register of the wall.


Nineteen icons means nineteen saints, hence the name given to the church. Actually the nineteen images are not Christian saints. Ten of them represent sibyls, and the other nine represent philosophers: the exterior icons express the deep respect kept in the Eastern Christianity for the Greek wisdom of antiquity!



The images are symbolic, following the Byzantine tradition: one of the philosophers is represented having a coffin protruding his head. Life is all vanity.

As I said, I had never entered this church so far, I passed by often, looking at the sibyls and philosophers and trying to understand, as much as I could: Eastern Christianity recognizing the efforts and achievements of the ancient thinkers on their path toward reaching the primal and ultimate truth, the Logos!



And here can be a hint to help us in discovering the hidden spirit of Bucharest! Maybe we should talk here also about other old churches of the city.





(Bucuresti)

(Icon and Orthodoxy)

Hanul Solacolu



A Bucharest landmark is in danger to disappear.

This was an inn built in 1859 by two merchants from Istanbul: the Solacoglu brothers. Throughout the years the name has been slightly misspelled by people there, so the Solacoglu Inn remained known in Bucharest as Solacolu Inn (Hanul Solacolu).

It was an imposing household, hosting merchants on their way from the Balkans toward Central Europe, offering stores for their goods, offering generous spaces for their carts and their horses.

Lyuben Karavelov, one of the founding fathers of modern Bulgarian culture lived there for a number of years. A plaque on the wall facing the street, inscriptioned in Romanian and Bulgarian, celebrates his memory.


(Musical Background: 16 Second Hum, Late Tuesday, from the album Singles)


Unfortunately the building has been in a continuous degradation during the last decades; no effort was made to modernize its comfort conditions and more and more it has become a space for squatters.

I remember the times when the Solacolu Inn was a normal dwelling, I was young. I was passing by pretty often, I was always looking at the memorial plaque and I was feeling proud: proud for my country, a natural host for our neighbors in their struggle for independence, in their struggle for building their modern national conscience. Solacolu Inn is not so far from Hristo Botev Boulevard: Botev and Karavelov, two builders of Bulgarian nation, two witnesses of the friendship our country had for the neighbor South of Danube.

And I remember the times when the building had become an unsafe place, looking more and more decrepit: there is a sickness of buildings, too, not only of humans. Also buildings suffer of sickness, when they enter old age and nobody cares.

The municipality decided to empty the space and to find funds for rehabilitation. Due to lack of funds this landmark is in a serious danger to be destroyed.

I passed by today and seeing the wounded building it hurts. I felt the need to close the eyes, but I thought it is my duty to take images and to send this dramatic message.



At least the municipality should take care of the memorial plaque of Lyuben Karavelov, to erase the graffiti. Even the effigy was stolen from the plaque! It wouldn't cost money to keep the plaque in order: it is scandalous that the municipality does not care for the memory of a great personality of Bulgarian history. It is scandalous that the municipality does not care for the memory of an important episode in the Romanian - Bulgarian common past!





(Bucuresti)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Misha's Pub & More



Misha's Pub & More: an Irish pub some place in Bucharest. I like to visit it now and then. It's close to a huge park that I love. Speaking about Irish pubs, Bucharest has a lot. It's a city of wonders. Of unexpected wonders.



(Musical Background: Ray Davies, Sonata, ANW 1120)

I visited some Irish pubs in America where I had good time always. There is one in Courthouse (in the greater DC area), the Ireland's Four Courts, where I enjoyed some nice evenings. There is the Irish Inn at Glenn Echo, MD, that I would like to write something about in the blog, sometime. There are some very stylish pubs in Boston that I remember, on Charles Street, and also near Faneuil Hall on the Red Trail. Well, there are probably hundreds and hundreds of Irish pubs in America.

But Misha's calls in my mind another Irish pub, The Burren, I was there only once. It's in a town near Boston, Somerville, on Elm Street. It happens that I have just read a book whose story develops in Somerville, and as I was reading it, I had a very precise localization of the places. I will write about this book here, before long.

When I entered Misha's bar here in Bucharest for the first time, I remembered instantaneously the pub from Elm Street. Both communicate the same feeling, regardless your day is good or bad, you are just fine.

The setting is great here at Misha's. Like in The Burr from Somerville, it gives you the impression you are in a live theater during the rehearsals. I don't know who designed the place, an architect with the soul of an artist painter: it has the balance, it has a bit of madness. Madness controlled by the architectural balance, balance subtly hiding a pulsing heart.




(Bucuresti)

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Arvid in his Studio


It's his birthday. Happy, happy, happy B-Day!


(P&C Art)

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Lake Sonata with Armchair and Cat


It looks like the beginning of a story by Bulgakov. You know, one of those stories...





(Bucuresti)

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dražesni KGB - javi se!


(click here for the Romanian version)

A teenager on a street downtown Belgrade, with a red star on the back of her jacket, together with three letters: KGB! For people let's say over fifty it's incredible, how could that be? Well, the girl is working at the KGB cafe on that street: for youngsters her age KGB is just a funny name, nothing more. It was Marx who wrote some place that departure from past always comes with a big laugh. He didn't probably know that the same would apply to his followers. When a cafe frequented by youngsters downtown Belgrade is named KGB it means that past is definitively past, it's gone, for ever. It's not to forget it, it's not to follow its coordinates and taboos either.

Well, the book having this cover, Dražesni KGB - javi se! (Pick Up, Charming KGB!) is about past, mainly about the last years of the 1940's and the first half of the fifties. The book has two authors, both of them journalists. Dragoslav Simić lives in Belgrade and his focus is on what happened in Yugoslavia after WWII, especially on those events having controversial interpretations (trial of Draža Mihailović, Goli Otok prison, etc). Milan Petrović is the Bucharest correspondent for the Serbian newspaper Politika (the oldest daily in the Balkans, it seems).


And here is the place for a personal story of mine: I know very well one of these authors. We met in Bucharest, in 1948. I was 3 years old and Milan was 23. One day he noted a little kid running after a cat. The friendship was sudden and for several years he kept coming to our home to visit me. Then, as it happens, life went on and each one followed his own ways.


It was in Montreal, sometime in 2004, that a friend talked to me about Milan, by pure chance. I took the phone number to call him. We met the following year, when I came to Bucharest for a short vacation. And now in 2011 we met again: 63 years have passed since our first encounter. Only the smile in my eyes could remember him the little boy from 1948. He gave me this book, Dražesni KGB - javi se!


Speaking about controversies, Milan offers a lot. He defected from Yugoslavia in 1948, as he was against the political orientation taken by Tito. For several years Milan was in the board of Free Yugoslavia, a radio station broadcasting from Bucharest and making anti-Tito propaganda. The station was active till 1954, when its activity was stopped: the relations between Tito and the Communist block were no more hostile. Since then the memory of this radio station was officially erased: all Communist regimes had no more interest to be reminded about their recent past, about anti-Tito propaganda and stuff like that. So it was like radio Free Yugoslavia had never existed. Even the existence of the Yugoslavian emigration groups in Romania and in the other countries from the Communist block was officially forgotten.

The book of the two Serbian journalists is opening this forgotten chapter, the activity at Free Yugoslavia station. It is not to defend it, as it is not to condemn. Remember the girl downtown Belgrade with the KGB sign on her jacket: past is no more. It is just that: a chapter in the history, and it has to be recuperated by history.

This is, I think, the main merit of the book: the past is nothing more than past; it is not to be condemned, it is not to be absolved. Elif Shafak has a superb phrase about past, it's the memory of our beauties and of our atrocities. The duty of history is to recuperate the facts, to recuperate the memory. And my friend Milan is here in the book neither defending his youth, nor blaming it. He is just authentic, remarkably authentic. There were extremely complicated times, and Milan gives their account in full honesty: thrown in a game where almost everybody was playing dirty, he passed through a controversial epoch following his beliefs (or maybe his guts), avoiding extremes as much as it was possible and keeping his verticality. And the fact that he was able to remain vertical speaks a lot about a great character.

I read the book without leaving it from my hands, eager to follow the story of Milan's life (he goes much further than the 1950's, up to the Romanian Revolution of 1989), conquered by the post-modernist structure of the book (here, I think, it's the merit of the other author, Dragoslav Simić, who organized the whole material). It's like the book is being written while you are reading it: the information is put there just as it came to the author, there is no care at all for any chronological flow, facts unrelated with the history of Free Yugoslavia have their place in the book, just because the information came by eMail to Dragoslav, or just because Milan felt the need to tell much more than strictly the years spent at the radio station. The book is in the same time its building site, you read a book in the making.

And this lack of arrangement gives us the proof of honesty: the historian has to resist any temptation to speculate, any temptation to find the most convenient way to present facts. So the facts remain in their nudity and a chapter of the past is recuperated. For all good or bad, Free Yugoslavia did exist, resistance against Tito did exist and it is now part of their history, part of their memory.

And the girl from the cover comes again in mind: this is a book about past, told to that girl. It's national memory recuperated for her. As I said at the beginning, it's not to forget it, it's not to follow its coordinates and taboos either.



(A Life in Books)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Time Memories


It's sad that Mattie has come so rarely on youTube for the last months, but each time he is back his new work is incredible. Such a mastership of the cinematic language, such a science of expressing moods through the flow of images!

Here is a trip to his grandmother, a quiet monologue of her about the times of her adolescence, as quiet as old ages are, while the video camera is gently playing with white tones over white tones, coming sometimes with a bit of gray, as to remind us that there are also variations in colors, just a bit, and then it goes back to the tones of white.



(Vlog of Mattie)

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Oldies but Goldies

1940 Willys Quad

Freedom, victory and 4-wheel drive
The original Jeep's résumé is the stuff of legend: It was commissioned by the U.S. government, went almost anywhere and helped win World War II. If you don't know the story by heart, you probably live under a very large, very un-American rock.


1948 Ford F-1

The best-selling truck in America
Before the Ford F-Series launched in the late 1940s, pickup trucks were largely based on cars. The first F truck, the 1948 F-1, looked nothing like a car, but it offered a docile personality paired with industrial-strength utility. The F-150 badge didn't arrive until 1973, but every modern Ford truck, regardless of name, is evolved from the F-1. The current F-Series trucks are available with airbags, turbochargers and even a capable V6 engine, but they're still what they were 60 years ago: good, honest pickups.


(America viewed by Americans)

Eminescu - Somnoroase Păsărele - Drowsy Birds


English Translation by Corneliu M. Popescu
(video by Lonely Moon Rise 2)


Somnoroase păsărele
Pe la cuiburi se adună,
Se ascund prin rămurele -
Noapte bună!



Doar izvoarele suspină,
Pe când codrul negru tace;
Dorm şi florile-n gradină -
Dormi in pace!




Trece lebăda pe ape
Între trestii să se culce -
Fie-ţi ingerii aproape,
Somnul dulce!




Peste-a nopţii feerie
Se ridică mândra lună,
Totu-i vis şi armonie -
Noapte bună!




(Eminescu)

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Arvid at the Reign Gallery in Newport, RI

Arvid, near Laurie and David, at the Reign Gallery

The cork looks like a fancy top of a wine bottle. Or not?

Bear Necessities




(Rhode Island)

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

19 Hours Until Nowrūz

(illustration by Mark Todd for NY Times)

I looked into the calendar: 19 hours until Nowrūz, right now! نوروز, the beginning of the Iranian New Year. Says Porochista Khakpour, as long as there is Spring, there is Nowrūz. Porochista Khakpour came to US with her parents at the beginning of the 1980's. She was four years old, and the Wienerschnitzel proved very quickly an irresistible attraction for the kid. It was not the Wiener Schnitzel, no, it was just that, the Wienerschnitzel, a fast-food chain in LA with hot-dogs and coke. American experience works always against your identity, shaping a new one. There is a moment you start to dream English, and a friend was telling me of the moment she started to keep her notebook in English, it had begun to be more at ease than to continue it in Romanian.

So the Nowrūz faded more and more throughout the years for the girl who had arrived on Californian soil at the beginning of the 1980's. It happened though what happens with many immigrants: at a certain point she started to miss the lost identity, to look back and to discover beauties and wonders.

Porochista Khakpour is now an established novelist, the author of Sons and Other Inflammable Objects. There is an op-ed by her in today's NY Times, where she's telling about the long journey from her roots to the Wienerschnitzel and slowly back again:



You should also read her blog.

19 Hours till Nowrūz. A movie by Panahi comes to my mind, The White Balloon, it takes place just hours before Nowrūz, and it is flooded by a fairy tale atmosphere, as this is what's about with this fest, it has the magic of a Persian fairy tale.

نوروز مبارک! Happy Nowrūz to you all!

(Iranian Film and Poetry)

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Five Books To Understand Modern Turkey

Today's Turkey is a very interesting case. A country trying hardly (and so far unsuccessfully) to enter the EU, evolving (this time with big chances) into the main regional power in the Mid East, the only Muslim country in NATO, and (as it always has been), in a unique position between Asia and Europe, between East and West, between tradition and modernity.

Sometimes, to understand a country, you should start by reading some books about it. A good book is a gateway to a new universe: a universe that's new either because you don't know virtually anything about it, or because you know too much.

Turkish novelist Elif Shafak suggests reading about Turkey these five books:

Deniz Kandiyoti and Ayse Saktanber - The Everyday of Modern Turkey

Deniz Kandiyoti and Ayse Saktanber - Fragments of Culture: The Everyday of Modern Turkey is composed of numerous essays by leading scholars in different fields. It goes in many directions with a fresh eye: from cinema to black humor, from the transsexuals of Istanbul to the globalized middle class.



Sibel Bozdogan and Resat Kasaba - Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey

Sibel Bozdogan and Resat Kasaba - Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey is also a collection of articles dealing with the dialectics of the Turkish society since the 1980s: the evolution of institutions, of family and the way gender issues are considered, the relationship between Islam and the secular state.



Meyda Yegenoglu - Colonial Fantasies


Meyda Yegenoglu - Colonial Fantasies is not a book about Turkey per se. Elif Shafack still recommends it if one wants to get a better understanding of the region, the veil, and the question of otherness.

How do we create in our collective conscience the notion of the other? How do we construct the idea that we (the Westerners) are different and better than them (all the others)? A book of Ryszard Kapuściński comes to my mind: The Other.

Well, this other is what the book of Meyda Yegenoglu is about: a post-feminist approach, provocative and innovative. Says Elif Shafak, we are not used to seeing concepts such as desire and fantasy parading in books on the Middle East, but this book is different.


John Freely - Istanbul: Imperial City

John Freely - Istanbul: Imperial City, a book about the past, which, believes Elif Shafak, is important to understand the background of the country. Well, she is fascinated about Istanbul, which is felt like a she-city, a city with a female personality. I will come back to this, because it seems to be one of the crucial ideas in the writings of Elif Shafak.



Anastasia Ashman and Jennifer Gokmen - Tales from Expat Harem


Anastasia Ashman and Jennifer Gokmen - Tales from Expat Harem collects the stories of foreign women who lived in Turkey for shorter or longer periods. Says Elif Shafak, it is a colorful, humanistic and sincere collection of women voices. In this book you will find cultural, social and everyday life details you wouldn’t easily encounter within the confines of mainstream academic literature.


(Elif Shafak)

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Noh and Kyōgen Theatre in DC



Kashu-juku Noh Theater will make a demonstration this Sunday at the Sackler Gallery in DC.

This Kyoto-based group is led by Katayama Shingo, a member of the prestigious Katayama noh family, which traces its lineage to the early 18th century. The group will demonstrate the art of noh and kyōgen, world-renowned forms of Japanese theater more than 600 years old. Noh plays focus on tragic themes and portray symbolic, magical events through music and dance. Kyōgen stories are comical in nature, derived from mundane subjects, and depict daily life through dialogue and mime. Kashu-juku Noh Theater will be joined by kyōgen actors from the Shigeyama family, which also resides in Kyoto.




(Smithsonian Castle)