Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More pictures

You said you wanted to see me in the pictures? Well, here comes the least likely version of myself, wavy hair and all. Don't cry out in indignation - it was for a wedding, and a big wedding at that (about 300 guests) so I felt I had to do something out of the ordinary for an exceptional moment.

Two roses ;-) Itir is just so very pretty!!!!

In his memoires of the city, Pamuk talks often about his recollections of the early 1950s, and among the recurring images there are the Bosphorus yalis. Most of them were supposed to be gone, destroyed by fire as they were constructed out of wood. These days some of the old houses are still in some precarious condition, as you see both below and above, but some othres have been either renovated or reconstructed to illustrate the financial stability of their owners. In some extreme cases, you can see the old and the new side by side, but even without immediate proximity, you can feel the constrast.

Leaving the luxury real estates from the banks of the Bosphorus, one can observe an increase in the number of national flags displayed from the windows of private apartments. I would say that this particular building is an extreme example.

Finally, a postcard view of Istanbul, with its skyline dominated by the beautiful and old Galata Tower. The buildings, like the city itself, are such a mixture of everything!

Monday, December 03, 2007


In order to describe my impressions of Istanbul I would have to write pages, a most worthy occupation but one that cannot be completed at this time. This time, meaning this week, is already full of of meetings, conferences, lectures and other activities that keep one employed but that do not allow for much writing on the side. Therefore, as always, instead of words - pictures.
The blue bead is the Turkish cure against the evil eye. Everyone has it, in the buses, in their homes, and even on themselves. I also have one now, just in case :-) !

This gun store is situated just outside a metro stop. Turkey does have gun control and one needs a permit to purchase weapons of all kinds. Still, to see them sold in the same location as pastry and paper products was a bit of a shock.

Just a taste of the delicious and very diverse selection of Turkish sweets.

Some historical views. This is the water reserve, or cystern, of the old city, now used as a museum, concert and exhibition space. The water comes from outside the city and used to be stored in this underground reservoir to supply the city with a constant flow of water.

Interior of the Topkapi palace, the traditional residence of the Ottoman sultans for about 500 years. In fact it is not a single palace but a complex of numerous buildings all located within the same inner perimeter protected by strong walls.
Topkapi palace, the Eunucs courtyard in the harem, or the private apartments area. As everywhere in the palace, there are lots of decorated tiles, some with Arabic inscriptions some with floral and vegetal motifs.

Topkapi, the Turban room (yes, the sultan had a specific place for his imperial turbans!) Again lots of tiles and inlaid mother-of-pearl, another decoration typical of the Ottoman style

Traditional houses in old Istanbul were all made of wood, which explains why so few of them are still standing and why even fewer are in a decent shape. The municipality forbids their removal but does not have enough money to restore them... Apparently as late as the 1950s old wooden houses were seen burning (if you read Orhan Pamuk's memoires there are quite a bit of references to this).

Inside the Orthodox patriarchate. Constantiople used to be as important for Eastern Christians as Rome was for the Western ones, but it obviously lost its power during the Ottoman period. The original seat of the Patriarchate was Hagia Sophia, the present location is in the traditional Greek neighborhood of Fener and is much reduced in size.

Interior courtyard of Hagia Sophia, the church turned mosque and now museum. Everywhere one can see how Christian and Muslim symbols are side by side (but only today, during its time as a mosque, the Christian references were hidden, though not destroyed). Hagia Sophia served as model for all the other mosques in the Ottoman empire, which differ quite a lot from their counterparts in India or the Middle East.

Sunset on the Bosphorus, with the Süleymaniye mosque in the background.

Sarcophagus from the Archeological Museum, smth like 500 B.C. And so serene.

The Library in Ephesus, the capital of Asia Minor province of the Roman Empire and one of the largest cities of its time, with a population peaking at about 200 000 inhabitants. The library is one of the few larger constructions that survive.

Ephesus is also a primary tourist destination for all those who visit the Aegean coast, so there is the very old and the very new, side by side...

On a hill on top of the old Efes, lies the first church dedicated to Saint Mary, who came to these parts when she together with St John the Evangelist had to flee Jerusalem. Apparently she died and went to heaven from this particular hilltop, and this is a pilgrim site for all Christians. Pope Benedict the XVI (is he really the 16th Benedict!?) visited here last year.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Books: Athena, by John Banville

Banville is just the most amazing magician of the English language. Even when everything else seems to be less interesting, as is the case with the plot in Athena, the very words that pour out of his pen have the power to entrance. I was disappointed by the book as a whole, but all the reading was worth it if for nothing else for the first paragraph. It reminds me of a John Lee Hooker song, all the blues's passion, längtan, knife in the wound, hope beyond hope...
"My love. If words can reach whatever world you may be suffering in, then listen. I have things to tell you. At this muffled end of another year I prowl the sumbre streets of our quarter holding you in my head. I would not have thought it possible to fix a single object so steadily for so long in the mind's violent gaze. You. You."
Or on page 3 "This is what it must be like having a wasting illness, this restlessness, this wearied excitatation, this perpetual shiver in the blood. There are moments -well, I do not wish to melodramatise, but there are moments, at the twin poles of dusk and dawn especially, when I think I might die of the loss of you, might simply forget myself in my anguish and agitation and step blindly off the edge of the earth and be gone for good. ... The rain falls through me silently, like a shower of neutrinos".

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nobel Peace Prize

Al Gore shares the Peace Nobel Prize with UN's pannel on climate change. How strange a choice! I am not sure that I agree with the judgement of the Norwegian academy. Gore is already so famous so he does not need more publicity, and on top of everything he only made a movie, and a movie that can be criticized from many points of view! But I guess it's a way to bring to world's attention the importance of climate change and its relevance for peace. It may though thin out the meaningfullness of the Peace prize.
Nevertheless, this decision is in agreement with some recent studies on the impact of environmental damage and resource scarcity on conflict levels. Clearly when a region decays environmentally both migration to other, livable, places and strong competition for remaining resources occur. Migration may lead to conflicts between the local and the refugee populations, and the resource competition may grow into war.
Therefore I see the argument in favor of ICCC and Gore, but at the same time cannot help but deplore that it is just the Peace prize that must draw attention to climate. Maybe there were some other, better, choices this year, including a 97 year old Polish woman who saved the lives of Jewish children during WWII. Or maybe I am too traditionalist in my definition of peace.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Political leaders

In her third volume of memoirs[1], Simone de Beauvoir writes about the war in Algeria and about the referendum held to allow General de Gaulle to return temporarily to power in order to restore French domination in Maghreb. When she discusses the results of the popular consultation (around 80% in favor of the general), she says: The heart of the matter is that they [the people] don’t want to be governed by their equals; they have too low an opinion of them, because they have too low an opinion of themselves and of their next-door neighbors. It’s ‘human’ to like money and watch out for one’s own interests. But if one is human like everybody else, then one is not capable of governing everyone else. So people demand the non human, the superhuman, the Great Man who will be ‘honest’ because he’s ‘above that sort of thing’. (p. 171)

This speaks millions about the attraction of populism and of the amazing opportunities that providential leaders can exploit to take themselves in the vicinity of absolute power, carried on the shoulders of a cheering crowd. Just watch what is going on right now in Venezuela – Chavez is to be admired for his audacity and for his brazen use of people’s feelings (incl. government by television, a new expression!) to justify his take-over of the country’s government.

[1] Simone de Beauvoir ([1963] 1992). Hard Times. Force of Circumstance, II 1952 – 1962. With a new introduction by Toril Moi. New York: Paragon House

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Splashes of color

I am not sure why, but I blame the grey and sad summer we had this year for my strong thirst for color. As the days remained darker, I dreamed only of sun, of happy colorful places, of blues with tropical intensity. The only refuge from the fog and rain came to me in the shape of flowers - I have managed to gather more than a 100 pictures of various species, mostly taken from that typical Swedish landscape marker, the kolonilott: a place for gardenless apartment inhabitants to grow their own (anything from flowers to apple trees to grape vines).
Here are some splashes of color that made summer standable.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Short trip to Paris

It seems this blog turns more and more into a travel documentary rather than into a day-to-day account of life local. This may have something to do with the lack of dedication and complete laziness of the blog owner, I suspect (insert shameful mine here...).
No matter how lazy though, it is impossible to not write some quick lines about our short trip to Paris this past long weekend. We have the privilege of knowing good friends in the city, and we were lucky to meet all of them this time - there is nothing like catching up with the latest news and preoccupations over wine and cheese, in the good French tradition!
Besides enjoying wonderful culinary experiences (undocumented picturally here, to avoid making the potential reader extremely hungry and perhaps envious of the Parisian gastronomical diversity we enjoyed), we also took the chance to walk leisurely around town and, on Sunday, to drive out and discover the palace of Versailles, or more precisely its French gardens. It was the first time and a good time, because of the perfect weather and then because of the very styled art pieces that were the bosquets. Not to mention the fountains! It was easy to imagine the royality and aristocracy taking an evening walk, or having a romantic or diplomatic meeting along these alleys!
Here are some pictures, to give a taste of how it was; it has been a very tough job to decide which pics to show here, there are so many good views! I may even add some more images later on...)

The Sacre Coeur on a foggy morning, before the turist invasion (and when you think that Magali and Cyril can observe the Sacre Coeur in ALL its variations without leaving their apartment!)

A little boulangerie, closed during the month of August, like many other establishments in Paris

And the greatest most delicious mouthwatering macarons in the whole of Paris, from Ladurée (and we got the chance to eat some of them, not only to admire the window display - thank you Jean-Luc and Fiona!)

An accent of color, in front of one of our favorite cafés at the foot of Montmartre

A waterfountain built in 1872, near Rue Linné

There are numerous variations on this type of table display, I think it is quite pretty

And another green face, this time a grafitti on a small street close to Magali's place

The Versailles - Poseidon and behind him the main building of the palace, with the ballroom of mirrors at the center

At 15:30 the Versailles fountains (here Neptune) came alive with water splashing to the sound of baroque music

And a final view of the palace with a statue gifted by the founders guild to king Louis XIV

Monday, July 23, 2007

Rainy days

This summer has been not much in terms of warmth or sunny skies. I am getting impatient with the weather and dream of tropical heatwaves (I know that a lot of friends complain about being exposed to too much heat, so I would suggest swapping places, what do you say Viki?). To be fair, there were a couple of days when the sun shone, and those moments were truly cherished. Which makes me think about these yummy fruits, which Martin picked (oh ye tall ones, you have lots of advantages in the picking of fruits, that's for sure) and I ate!

Friday, July 13, 2007

London trip

After half a year or more of blogging absence, here I come with a wee bit of information about our latest excursion, to the UK, or more precisely to London and Cambridge. We stayed with friends, and that was great, and then we traveled around the city with the (in)famous tube. One of my best moments, besides the obvious ones, was to find a very nice South Indian restaurant and to eat a huge Masala Dosa, something I have longed for since I left India three (!!!) years ago. It was the real thing, with coconut chutney and dhal, delicious! Also in terms of food, right in the middle of the city, in the Covent Garden area, we stumbled upon a Romanian sweets shop, loaded with some of my favorites. The decision was hard to make, but eventually I picked one, a chocolate-filled amandine!
Cambridge also blew me away, despite the massive amount of tourists. Charming old town, and ideal colleges. Some cozy and nice, some imperial in proportions - King's College by far at the top of the scale. Nowhere was the English obsession with the perfect grass carpet more evident than at King's, as I hope you will notice in the pictures below. King's College, built by Henry VIII at the height of his power, also displays a magnificent cathedral where we had the chance to listen to an organ concert which filled me literally with good vibrations. Final point on Cambridge, punting on the river Cam. When you see the pros, you think they are as graceful as the gondoliers of Venice, but when you see the novices, you cannot help but laugh until you drop at their acrobatics. We also observed some very interesting traffic jams and small accidents which cruelly amused us :-) !

Punting Chaos on the River Cam

More Punting, with spectators watching from the Magdalene Bridge

Greenwich time ball, on the zero meridian

A typical London view, rows of identical houses (here, Highgate)

Now Cambridge, where lots of colleges are closed on weekends to avoid tourist invasion

King's College was open though - here is the marvel called English grass carpet

King's College majestic cathedral

The delicious Amandina mentioned above

The angel (or Eros?) of Picadilly Square

In some cases, old unused churches are desacralized and used as apartment buildings

Besides its collections, I really likes the hall of the British Museum

The Rose and Crown, one of the many Elisabethan pubs spread around town (this one in Greenwich)