Category Archives: Blog

New Year

Happy New Year’s Day!

Remember though …

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a river flows

into a new year

every day

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In a sense this micropoem plays on the theme of Heraclitus‘ Fragment 41:  “You cannot step twice into the same river”

Δεν γίνεται να μπει κανείς στο ίδιο νερό του ποταμού που κυλάει δύο φορές.

From today on, though, I, along with others, will be entering the river of stones every single day for a month.

For Heraclitus the appearance of stability is an illusion, “for as you are stepping in [the river], other waters are ever flowing on to you.”  However, consider the possibility of re-entering the river of stones: on the one hand, the river consists of the flowing moments of experience as represented by stones; on the other hand, each time we polish and share a stone, we ourselves change, grow through our attending to and encapsulating the moment of experience.

Happy New Year 2011!

This post also appears here

International Year of Forests

The UN declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests “to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests.”

Forests are vital to the lives and livelihoods of the people of this planet, to our planet’s existence. Yet, according to UN figures, deforestation continues at the rate of 50.000 square miles per year.

A number of activities have been planned for the year, including high-level panel discussions, film screenings, a United Nations commemorative stamp series, competitions, art and other public events. Look out for them here

While the launch of the Year of Forests will be taking place later, I am posting a short story grown out of the combination of the theme of the Year of Forests with that of “Silence,” a writing prompt set by participants of the “52/250 A Year of Flash.” It was first published there

I copy my short story below:

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The Weeping of the Trees

Last spring, I hiked up Mount Olympus. The valleys surrounding its peaks are covered in black pine, beech, yew and tall conifers. On its slopes, vineyards spread precariously; olive trees anchor deep with their roots. Streams cascade to thirsty plateaus. No wonder the ancient Gods lived there.

I stayed in refuges, drank from the streams and breathed the pine-scented air. Cicadas serenaded me; butterflies I did not know existed covered my arms. Wolves lusted after me.

Magical. Yet, I dared not return, fearing the strange sightings and the silence: ghostly shadows appearing through the trees, gathering near water, rushing through the meadows, with a heavy, voluminous silence falling all round. At first, I did not believe my senses. Gradually, I came to expect and even look for the shadows.

Whenever I tried to touch a diaphanous apparition – as if made of smoke – it pulled back, avoiding my hand. I thought I saw it sigh, more as a gesture rather than sound, and glide away.

It was recently that I understood – and felt freed to return. The shadows are the souls of trees haunting the Olympian home of their Gods. Felled unjustly, burned in war, famine, and in ruthless profiteering, or carelessness, they return to plead with them.

Next time you visit Olympus, look for the shadows; seek this silence: If it is not disrupted by a leaf falling, a stream’s gurgle or an animal’s light footstep, know you are listening to the silent weeping of the trees.

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You can find the story in 52/250, together with a number of other excellent stories on the theme of “Silence” here.

Ammersee

ammersee december
Ammersee

The lake Ammersee puts in a pre-Christmas snow show; steam included!

In the foothills of the lower Alpine Mountains, the Ammersee, one of several glacial lakes, is a real jewel in all seasons — and a place to collect “stones.”

More pictures here

See also here

Where home is

He scours streets, bus and tube stations for newspapers. Two years since he arrived in London and he is still amazed at how many newspapers lie discarded around. Although he cannot decipher the writing, they are ideal for keeping warm.

He stuffs them inside his pullover and feels like a king: he needs for nothing. He is warm and fed: the city overflows with leftovers. He beds down whenever he is tired, wherever he finds a warm doorway from where he can look at the sky.

He loves summer best. At night, sneaking into Finsbury Park, he heads for his favourite bench, near the lake. It is cool and the sky is full of stars. Not as spectacular as the sky in his village, in the floodplains of the Mesopotamian Iraqi marshes, where the stars shine like diamonds on black velvet, but it works.

It illuminates the memories that follow him like his shadow: the rice fields and the boat he made himself from reeds, the water buffalo; his father, punting through narrow channels. The Garden of Eden.

Then he counts the stars, looks for patterns, for directions; for a sign that it is safe to return home. His heart, filled with nostalgia, trembles like a bird. Often though, he counts his blessings: here, among the floods of people filling the channels of this city, he can blend in and feel safer than in the marshes of his homeland – till it is time to return.

The End

Hot from my computer keyboard, this new short story written for the 52/250 A Year of Flash project, was first posted on their website. A story about a war-savaged, homeless man sleeping rough in Finsbury Park, North London, and the cruel strands of present-day displacement and identity.

10 December 2010 

Where is your home?

Marshes in Iraq, photo here and  here 

For photos of Finsbury Park I took myself, see here

 

http://52250flash.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/where-home-is-by-stella-pierides/

The Pick and Place Robotic Arm

My very short, twitter-sized story appeared online in trapeze magazine. Read it here

This short story springs from my interest in robotic arms, dexterity, perception, and intelligence in artificial systems: what robots can and cannot do.

In any case, I am glad they cannot do what the robot in my story does – though as a fantasy it is frightening! Anyway, let us say the moral of the story is, whenever near a robotic arm, it is wise to try not to appear lost for words…

Language, Trauma, and Silence

Old Boat

In the years after World War II, a Civil War raged in Greece until 1949 which proved to be one of the worst disasters that befell Greece. Greek against Greek, the Right fought with the Left a war of the utmost cruelty.

This war left many wounds in Greek society. Memories of it still scar the Greek psyche, even across several generations, influencing the current social and political climate.

An important aspect of this war, and the horrendous atrocities inflicted during it, often by members of the same family fighting each other, has been the silence it generated. The trauma robbed people of the words to describe what happened to them, or what they did to others. Whole families stopped communicating; individuals refrained from speaking about the period of the war; history books omitted important events that took place as if they never had happened.

Over the years, the situation slowly changed, especially after the fall of the military Junta and the opening up of the political system in Greece – though even now sections of Greek society insist that there are still many unspoken matters that need to be talked about and worked through.

In my story Postcards, I allude to the period of the Greek Civil War, and to this silence, symbolized by the fighter/husband: he stops using words/language when writing to his wife and instead communicates through drawings in his postcards.

You can read the short story “Postcards” here 

Postcards

Drawing his knees to his chest, he felt the rock with his hand. The air stunk of campfire. A suffocating fog was rising from the rugged hills below.

Alerted by a stir in the scrub, he made out a wounded bird beside him, limping. A pigeon. The bird looked him in the eye as if trying to pass on a message, then scampered away.

After years of war, first against the Italians, then the Germans, now their fellow Greeks, even the fertile valleys in the Grammos mountain range below had been exhausted. The fighters had eaten everything that could be eaten, even the homing pigeons that they used as messengers when they had to maintain radio silence. Hunger drives men mad.

His eyes searched for the bird, absurdly worrying that it might be shot.

His hand caressed his breast pocket, where he kept his postcards to his wife. Poor Eirini, he thought. She didn’t even know he was still alive; still fighting.

He had been “writing” to her without words since they retreated to the top. The silence, the isolation and above all the awareness of approaching defeat robbed him of words. He drew on the rough paper the hills, the scrub, rocks that looked as if made by God, scree; the few cypresses, plane trees, and pines he remembered from his village. Recently, the faces of men who died in his arms.

One day, he thought, his postcards to his wife would be found – these drawings would be his last words to her.

———-

I am fond of this short story, as it touches on themes from my forthcoming novel, Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree. 

A version of this short sotry appeared in 52/250 A Year of Flash, on the 26th of November 2010.

Lemon Tree Magic

lemon tree
Lemon Tree Magic

This month’s theme of the Festival of the Trees is “The Magic of Faerie Trees.”  Hosted by Salix of Windy Willow, it is an interesting if bewitching topic. If you are into magic and fairies, fine. If you are not, what can you say about mystery or magic in a tree?

On the other hand, how is it that the olive tree is capable of living thousands of years? Is there magic involved? With its strong roots surviving underground, even when the trunk looks dead, the olive tree can make a claim to magic – though less so to mystery, if the strong roots explain its longevity! Then there is its outstanding beauty: its silvery foliage, almost like a whispering cloud, fused with its ragged, gnarled, twisted trunk, providing a unique image. This tree has so many associations for me that I decided to find a space for it in my second novel, When the Colours Sing.  An olive tree in pre-alpine Bavaria! We’ll see how this strand is going to develop. But first things first.

There is the lemon tree (for which I made space in my first novel, Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree) to talk about. Glossy foliage, waxy, white-purple flowers, divine fragrance, fruit to grace any table, book or poem!

Lemon trees are said to have originated in Asia and spread in the Mediterranean regions after Alexander the Great’s soldiers brought them back from India. They are treasured trees in the Mediterranean lands. They are as important as olive trees and vines. They are vital to the health and well-being of the people living in those lands, as they have numerous medicinal, hygienic, cooking and culinary uses. From the abundant vitamin C, to the taste-enhancing addition to salads, soups, and various dishes, to decorative and aesthetic uses, to the perfume industry, lemons are most versatile.

In Northern Europe and America, there are additional associations which emphasize the lemon’s bitter taste, as in the expression “when life gives you lemons,” or the “lemon car,” referring to a defective, multi-flaw car. In a painting by Paolo Morando, The Virgin and Child, Saint John the Baptists and an Angel, Christ as a child is being offered a lemon, an act frequently associated with learning a variety of tastes and therefore being weaned off baby food.

In this sense, the lemon bridges opposites in taste (bitter-sweet), between cultural perceptions, and generations (weaning the baby off baby food). Is that a clue for interpreting the Italian, unknown artist’s painting Man and Wife, in the National Gallery of London, which has a lemon tree as a background?  

Readers’ Digest lists 34 uses for the lemon. In Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree,  there is a whole number of other uses – some surprising ones – for the lemon.  But please note: try them at your own risk!

(Forthcoming:  Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree: www.voxhumana-books.com)

18 November 2010

Haiku Heaven

My haiku made it to the top five in the Iron Horse Literary Review haiku competition! I am delighted, especially since I wrote this haiku prompted by the name of the Journal and in response to their asking for haiku with either the word iron or horse.

I am particularly pleased because the competition caught me in the middle of writing my second novel, When the Colours Sing, set around the Blue Rider movement – it fitted so well. 

The five winners: Marty Smith, Lauren Tamraz, Sarah Spencer Pokla, Benjamin Vogt, and Stella Pierides.

The IHLR is a review of poetry and literary non-fiction published six times per year by Texas Tech University. I am going to follow them and read what they are getting up to from now on!

You can find the results of the competition together with my poem here

New Flash

My flash fiction story “A Private Person,” appears in the 52/250 flash fiction project, week 25.

52/250 is a project involving around eighty writers from all over the world who made the commitment to write and publish weekly, flash fiction stories for a whole year: 52 weeks, 250 words max! There is a theme for each week, and contributors can suggest themes to the editors.

I joined during week number 25, and my first flash appeared on Friday 5 November 2010. It is a short story about two individuals who see themselves as “private” persons. You can read it here.

The 52/250 project feels like a very encouraging, inspiring and warm place to be. I am going to hang out there… so, watch this space!

Three poems

Three of my poems have now been published by Vox Humana Literary Journal, “a literary journal focused on international writing, with a sub-focus on works from Israel and Palestine”

Winter Picture started its life at the North London writers’ workshop Word for Word, after a writer circulated photographs she had taken of a snow sculpture: two human-like figures made of snow on a Hampstead Heath bench. In my poem, the sculpture became a war-torn couple… read it and see.

Mystery Train was inspired by a photograph used as a writing prompt in the Tuesday poetry group of Word for Word. The photograph was of Elvis, on a train platform at the beginning of his career in the 1950s… so soon after the War…

The refugee grew out of a scene in my novel “Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree.” A refugee from Smyrni lies in her hospital bed in Athens, unable to join the other patients; she is forever caught in her own private despair.

Check out this link.  And feel free to comment!

5 October 2010

Festival of the Trees

Olive
Olive

The Festival of the Trees is “a periodical collection of links to blog posts and other online sites, hosted each month on a different blog.” Bloggers, poets, writers with an interest in arboreal matters post related material on their own blogs and submit the links to the host of each month’s co-coordinator. This month’s host was Arati, of the Bangalore-based blog Trees, Plants and More.

My own contribution to this month’s Festival of the Trees, I wrote some time ago. In “If Trees, then Olive Trees,” I use the olive tree, a precious, almost sacred tree in the Mediterranean, western Asia, and northern Africa countries; a symbol of peace and hope, connecting to the “olive branch,” and the sighting of land after the biblical flood.

Short, gnarled and twisted, the olive tree even looks appropriately old. It is said to live for hundreds of years, as its roots are capable of regeneration even if the trunk above ground is destroyed. Radiocarbon dating has confirmed 2000 year old trees in several countries! A tree known to be situated in the grounds of Plato’s Academy, in Athens, lived till the 1970s. An olive believed to have been planted by Peisistratus, the tyrant of Athens in the 6th century BC, is still to be found in Athens. Even older trees have been found in Israel and Arab lands, dating from 3000 and 4000 years ago. The trees of the Garden of Gethsemane are said to be dating from the time of Jesus.

In literature too, we know of several millenary trees: Homer featured olive trees in his poetry. Remember Odysseus bed?

My own poem is about putting down roots, both literally and metaphorically. You can read it here.

My novel “Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree” is also set around a tree, and it includes a number of surprising uses for its fruit. Not long now till the book is out. Watch this space.

For instructions on how to submit to the next Festival of Trees here.

 

Tate Seeds: close contact

tatesunflowerseeds
Tate Sunflower Seeds

Following the enormous disappointment at the Tate’s stopping the public from walking on  Ai Weiwei’s seed landscape, Tate Modern had a better idea: for all those wishing to at least touch the seeds, there is now a narrow corridor to the side of the sunflower seed installation. Now, we can walk on the edge, and we can touch.

Thank you Tate!

Guardian article about the Tate rethink (and the guards offering seeds in mugs for people to feel!), here

My own post on the Sunflower Seeds show, here

27 October 2010

Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds at the Tate

Seed Painting

I visited Ai Weiwei’s sculptural installation Sunflower Seeds at  Tate Modern just after they stopped the public walking through the field of seeds at the Turbine Hall. Like many others, I found myself feeling disappointed. The seeds looked beyond my reach (I had looked forward to walking on them, listening to their crunching sound), and pale compared to those in the pictures I had seen. A message in front of the installation explained that Tate had been advised that interaction with the installation (such as visitors walking on the seeds) could cause dust to be emitted which could be dangerous to health.

I stood in front of the pale mass of more than one hundred million seeds on the floor feeling lost, thinking that had they glazed the seeds, I would now be walking on them! At the same time, knowing something about clay, I could understand the concern. So there I was, standing perplexed and disapointed, being faced with a case of dust to dust, or rather, dust, clay, ceramic seed, dust, with a short interval in between.

Then my eye caught the video screens right next to the seeds, and my whole experience took another turn! A fab-fun-fantastic video tracing the creation of the seeds – from the mixing of the clay to the forming of the seeds, the painting and firing and selecting the best seeds – the stories of the craftspeople in it were engaging and the colors, the scenes both breathtaking and remarkably informative.

I loved the idea of the amount of co-operative work that went into producing the installation. A whole community – more than 1600 people of Jingdezhen, a Chinese city with 1700-year-old history of porcelain manufacturing: it is known as the Porcelain capital – was involved in creating something together (the porcelain seeds), something that gave them employment, as well as purpose and community spirit. If the sunflower seeds symbolize the people of China, as suggested, then these symbols have been lovingly created and treated with respect.

Seed PickingStanding there, in front of the video images, next to the seeds and the playing of the visitors’ videos, it occurred to me that the Tate installation consisted of the seeds and the video together. That they were inseparable. No, more than that. That the seeds, the video, the dust, the message about the danger from clay dust (after all, which potter/ceramic artist has not heard of this hazard?), even the interactive videos made by visitors to the Gallery addressing the artist Ai Weiwei, all were part of the same installation! After all, Ai Weiwei is an interactive performance artist, merging life and art. I still believe that this is the case. Even if unintended, unconscious, a chance happening, I think even retrospectively, the lot belongs together.

In an article “From Seeds to Dust” Ulara Nakagawa alluded to the dust possibly belonging to the installation. I consider the Seeds installation as offering the possibility of a total/comprehensive/whole art work, where the art object consists of multiple layers: tangible visible object(s), sound, video, text, interaction with the artist, and an ongoing archiving of the viewers’ experience and thinking in their communication with the artist. After all, the Tate tells us: “…what you see is not what you see, and what you see is not what it means.” Well done, Ai Weiwei!

What is a blog carnival? And do I need a carnival costume?

What is a blog carnival? And do you have to wear carnival costume?

You can tell I am a late learner. I found out about blog carnivals yesterday! I immediately liked the idea. I learnt that a blog carnival is the regular appearance of a central post containing links to other blog posts on a previously specified theme. This post is written by the blogger who hosts the carnival. Hosts rotate.  I quote from the originator of this particular blog carnival:

“there’s a given theme, and to join, you put up a relating blog post in your blog, and then send the link to the host of the carnival – who then puts a central page with links to all participating blogs / posts together.”

The > Language > Place Carnival will be of particular interest to bilingual authors living outside the country of their birth, or learning another language. There are so many of us… I take this to mean emigrants, immigrants, expats, exiles, also refugees of all kinds…all those finding refuge, or asylum, or arbour in a second language/place … travellers… after the Fall wanderers…

Visit the site for the full details.

Finally, no, you don’t have to wear carnival costume, though respecting the dress code of others is essential. And no, you don’t have to worry about eating/avoiding meat (carne). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnival Though the idea is to beef up your content!

For a succinct definition of “blog carnival” and festival have a look  here

Join the fun here.

21 October 2010

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A Bum’s Demise

Papa Osmubal’s poem “A Bum’s Demise,” published in Asian Cha, is nominated for a Pushcart. You can read the poem here. A very perceptive and thorough analysis of this poem is also published by Asia Cha, in their section A Cup of Fine Cha, here

I felt both moved and haunted by this poem; compelled to comment on it. It kept me thinking. It is a powerful poem, with many levels and even more twists of meaning. Verlaine is implicated. His liver also, though I was more interested in the state of his heart. Read my own comment in the comments section of A Cup of Fine Cha. You can also find it copied in my own Scrapbook.

19 October 2010

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Memory Loops

Memory Loops

Researching my novel When the Colors Sing, I came across information about a new memorial to the victims of National Socialism that has opened in Munich. It is a virtual memorial, with personal accounts of the victims being read out from the specific locations where the events described occurred across the city.

Michaela Melian, artist, musician, professor for time-based media in Hamburg, won the first prize for this audio art work in the competition “Victims of National Socialism: New forms of remembering and remembrance” held by the city of Munich in 2008. She was awarded the city’s art prize in 2010.

Melian collected material from newspapers and Holocaust archives, interviewed survivors herself and put together a sensitive and remarkable collection. The individual accounts, read out by actors, are indicated by blue circles superimposed on a digital map of the city, and people can click on them to hear the stories.

The digital memorial can be accessed from across the globe, especially by the younger generation more interested in digital forms of communication. In Munich, some museums are lending their mp3 players to those wishing to tour the places where the events described took place. Bayerischer Rundfunk supports the project, broadcasting narratives in special programmes. The Munich Department of Arts and Culture is also offering its support.

Incidentally, the visual image of Memory Loops reminds me of Anselm Kiefer paintings: “the dark light falling from the stars” for instance. Here is the link to Memory Loops, by artist Michaela Melian.

See also here

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18 October 2010

The Acropolis and the violence

The Acropolis and the violence

Giorgos Seferis, the Greek poet and Nobel laureate, 1900-1971 (born in Smyrni, lived everywhere else, almost), wrote:

I woke with this marble head in my hands;
It exhausts my elbows and I don’t know where to put it down.
It was falling into the dream as I was coming out of the dream.
So our life became one and it will be very difficult for it to separate again.

(From “Mythistorima,” quote: Wikipedia; read the whole poem here)

Seferis was expressing an important element in the Greek identity, an element which weighs heavily on the Greek psyche. But while this has been written about, there are other “marble in the hands” issues in modern Greece. Take the recent “reporting” on the demonstrations, discontent, and rioting that has been taking place in Athens in the last year. The last event to make the news was the one that took place on the Acropolis.

The Persians sacked the Parthenon while it was still being built on the Acropolis of Athens, along with the rest of the city in 480BC. The Athenians raised it to the ground – I should say: rock – and then rebuilt it. There had been temples on the site earlier, and more were added later. It served as a mosque after the Ottomans took Athens in the 15th century. The Acropolis survived millennia of attacks and war damage, including being bombarded by the “Venetian Army” when it was used as a weapons arsenal by the Ottomans. Only last year, 2009, the new museum was opened at the foot of the Acropolis. And now, the Acropolis is being used as a place of protest. Culture Ministry employees, protesting about working for 22 months without pay, barricaded themselves inside, not allowing the tourists in until their demands were met.

A sad story, for the tourists were reported to have been unimpressed by the protest. They had travelled a long way to see the ancient site and were understandably disappointed. Sad for those Athenian workers too, those seeing no other way of exercising their legitimate right to protest and no other venue. Perhaps they thought this was going to make the world sympathize with their plight: after all, what would you do if you hadn’t been paid your salary for twenty two months? Sad, also, that the violence continues.

And yet, the people of Athens, and of Greece must be equally disappointed that their social, political, and financial predicament is not being put in the context of the unique Greek experience and history, but is instead too readily compared with ‘that of Western European countries. Brendan O’Neill, in an interesting article in Spiked, writing about the riots at the time of the killing of the Greek teenager, argued that the Greek problems were not simply due to the credit crunch (the pet idea of the Press) but stemmed from a historical crisis of legitimacy. Without necessarily agreeing with all the points O’Neill makes in this article, one might say that by putting the situation in a wider, complex historical perspective, O’Neill went beyond the usual media fascination with violence and money. Sad that this kind of writing is not found more often in the media. Because absence of interest in what lies beneath the “news” is a form of violence too.

16 October 2010

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Ithaca

The poet Constantine P. Cavafy, or Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis, one of my favorite poets, wrote the following about his origins:

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I am from Constantinople by descent, but I was born in Alexandria—at a house on Seriph Street; I left very young, and spent much of my childhood in England. Subsequently I visited this country as an adult, but for a short period of time. I have also lived in France. During my adolescence I lived over two years in Constantinople. It has been many years since I last visited Greece. My last employment was as a clerk at a government office under the Ministry of Public Works of Egypt.

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I have pasted his poem Ithaca below – he knew what he was talking about. For more of his poetry and resources on the web, see the Cavafy Archive

The poem, quotation, and Wikipedia url can be found here

Ithaca

English Translation

When you set sail for Ithaca,
wish for the road to be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
an angry Poseidon — do not fear.
You will never find such on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, and your spirit
and body are touched by a fine emotion.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
a savage Poseidon you will not encounter,
if you do not carry them within your spirit,
if your spirit does not place them before you.

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Wish for the road to be long.
Many the summer mornings to be which with
pleasure, with joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase the fine goods,
nacre and coral, amber and ebony,
and exquisite perfumes of all sorts,
the most delicate fragances you can find,
to many Egyptian cities you must go,
to learn and learn from the cultivated.

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Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better for it to last many years,
and when old to rest in the island,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to offer you wealth.

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Ithaca has given you the beautiful journey.
Without her you would not have set out on the road.
Nothing more has she got to give you.

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And if you find her threadbare, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

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For more of his work see the Cavafy Archive and here

National Poetry Day 2010 UK

Thursday, 7 October 2010 is National Poetry Day in the UK.

“Poetry helps us to revive, heal or endure” and the official website for this day provides a number of resources to help celebrate this poetry day 2010.  There is a small selection of poems on this year’s theme of Home here

Andy Jackson, of North Carr Light, “A newsy blog for creative writers in Dundee, Perth & Angus” set out to create a

Patchwork Poem for National Poetry Day 2010

Poets of all shapes, ages and sizes sent in work; 43 of them “from established Scottish poets such as Sheila Templeton and Eleanor Livingstone to a group of schoolchildren from Aberdeenshire and attendees at an Adult Learning Centre on the West Coast…to south of the border and as far away as Germany…” Andy Jackson, who edits the North Carr Light blog, writes. (Indeed, myself included!)

Using a line from each poet’s contribution he produced a wonderful  poem:
x
x
“It was certainly a challenge, but ultimately an enjoyable one,” writes Andy Jackson.
x
The poem is also available to download from North Carr Light.

The poem itself can be read online  here

The list of contributors is included with the poem.

Happy Poetry Day!

After the Passion

Black Horse
After the Passion

In Oberammergau they waited for ten years – they prepared for several. And finally, this year, 2010, they performed the Passion Play all summer. For those new to his event, it is laid on by the villagers of Oberammergau once every ten years, to fulfil a vow made by their ancestors in 1633. They had pledged to stage the Passion of Christ in exchange for protection from the devastating plague, wars, and poverty that had been raging in the area in the 17th century.

Now, the last performance of this decade’s Passion Play, the 109th of  the season, has taken place; more than half a million people from all over the world attended this year’s production.

The costumes have already been mothballed for the next set of performances in 2020! The performers have been allowed to have their hair cut (after a year of growing it long in order to appear “authentic”), and the village to relax for the time being.

There is cause for celebration and merriment. The village has done well in this climate of global depression and economic unease. The performance was excellent and the hospitality unique.

A sad note, however, must not be left unheard. The animals that took part in the performances will be returning to their usual, mundane jobs. This would be unremarkable if it did not involve a heart-breaking separation. According to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the camels (Campari and Opi) and the black horse (Garko) – who starred in and enriched various scenes of the play, strutting their stuff nonchalantly on stage day after day – became infatuated with each other. Now however, they must go their separate ways: Campari and Opi to their home farm in Schwabmuenchen, and Garko back to his job of pulling coach-loads of tourists around Oberammergau.

Date: 5 October 2010

See also here and here

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How Time Dilates…

How Time Dilates…

atomic clock
Atomic Clock USNO

I just read that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was shown to apply to altitude differences as small as 33 centimeters. Scientists at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, using the latest and most accurate atomic clocks, found that the higher you are above sea level, the faster time runs for you.

In addition, as Einstein had also suggested, the scientists found that travel through space influences clock speed. A stationary clock ticks slower than a moving one. So, if your clock is moving rather than stationary and, in addition, you live high up, then you might start thinking about botox, moving to sea-level, or buying a bungalow!
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The time differences at these small distances are minuscule, but now measurable.
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This demonstration of time dilation leads me on to another, though I believe related, track. Einstein conceived of his Relativity Theory more than one hundred years ago, and yet we are only now able to confirm its predictions on our, human level! Atomic theory, stating that matter is composed of discrete units called atoms, according to Wikipedia, “began as a philosophical concept in ancient Greece and India” and only entered scientific thinking in the early nineteenth century. Thus, “time” is also relative, depending on the prevailing culture, socio-political conditions, etc., when it comes to the interval between ideas being born and their progressing to proof and acceptance. Just think of the effect of certain periods of the Middle Ages on the progression of ideas!
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Moving on to a more experiential level: In my forthcoming novel Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree, a little girl is obsessed with time. She fears changes of plan, the adults changing their mind, things happening unexpectedly – “Can you do that?” she wants to know. If you change your plans, then time becomes unpredictable. She keeps comparing the time on her watch with that of other family members, to reassure herself of the stability of her world. Like most of us, she confuses the subjective timeline of our lives, and its curves, ambits, u-turns and roundabouts, with the instrument of its measurement, her watch.
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On the other hand, shrinking or speeding up time, for instance through time-lapse photography, can provide us with a new, marvelous perspective on the world. The BBC has a great video on this, “Timelapse: Speeding up life” Watch it; I added it to my previous post.
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For musings and poetry on Time, read Asian Cha’s Random musings on Time: “Pray, my dear, quoth my mother, have you not forgot to wind up the clock?” They claim their clock does not tick. Not even tock?
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Perhaps this, the dilation of time, the arrhythmia of time, where the interval between “tick” and “tock” is unpredictable, or different to what our current understanding would lead us to expect, is a major, crucial point where the arts and the sciences intersect – where the subjective and objective meet. Let us stay with this thought for a minute. Stop all the clocks!

The Munich Readery – A writer’s and reader’s dream come true

A few years ago I was a member of the writers’ group Munich Writers, meeting weekly in central Munich. I got to do a lot of writing, got a lot of very useful feedback, and met wonderful people.

One of the members of the group, Lisa Yarger, together with her partner John Browner, opened an English-language second-hand bookshop in the city, the Munich Readery.

The bookshop, the largest of its kind in Germany, and I would say the friendliest, has a great collection of books; I would spend hours there, were I to live in the city and not forty five kilometers away in the countryside.  There are comfy couches, good light, quiet corners, and books from all-over the world. A book-lovers dream.  And it goes on: wifi access, cookies and book sales regularly (OK, sales and cookies, but you see what I mean), valuable book advice whenever needed, even special rates for bulk-buyers! The Munich Readery hosts a book club, which meets at the shop the second Thursday of each month, an ongoing series of children’s events, and a monthly open reading for writers.

Yesterday evening (Saturday, 18th of September) I took part in the open reading for writers there.  It was a lovely evening, with friendly readers and listeners. Writers reading, besides myself, were Mandy von Sivers,  Catherine Larose,  and Lisa Yarger.  Each writer read clearly and passionately well-written, sumptuous work. The organizer, Lisa, kept us well-timed, focused, and, thankfully for me, relaxed.

A big, big thank you to Lisa!

The members of the English-speaking community in Munich are very lucky indeed to have such a resource in their midst: a “gathering place for book lovers,”  “a place for writers and lovers of words and literature.”  Matchless, the online magazine based in Munich, this summer described the Readery as having “…a steady following of devoted readers who frequently buy and trade books or join in one of the many social gatherings; it’s become a close-knit and dynamic community all of its own.”

If you think that in their website, John and Lisa write that the Munich Readery is “the culmination of a book store romance and more than 30 years of book-selling experience,” then you understand where all this energy, warmth, and community building comes from.  Well, John and Lisa, it shows!

Murnau (Moor)

Murnau is a small market town in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. It is the place where Gabriele Münter, Wassily Kandinsky, and Franz Marc, inspired by the landscape, created The Blue Rider movement.

This is how the tourism office describes Murnau:

In Murnau nature, art and culture form a special bond. World-renowned artists like Kandinsky, Münter and Horváth lived here and found inspiration in the picturesque landscape at the foothills of the Bavarian Alps with its romantic lakes and unique moorlands.

The moor, Murnauer Moos as it is called in German, right next to the town of Murnau, is an enormous nature reserve, the largest in Central Europe and, surrounded by the Bavarian Alps, benefits from a micro-climate that supports an extraordinary range of animals and vegetation.

Meadows, marshes and mires; bog and creeks invite and nourish butterflies, insects, and rare birds. The light is translucent, the air uplifting, and the colors of the wild orchids, irises, grasses, and innumerable other plant varieties are thought to “sing.” Painters, photographers, art, nature, and bird-lovers make their pilgrimage to the moor to hear these songs.

Whenever I can, I go for walks there. My poem Murnau, published in escarp.org on the 8th of August 2010 is a twitter-sized attempt to condense the experience of walking on the moor without losing sight of some of the cultural associations of the area.

Nolde Question

Colour Clouds
Nolde Question

While working on my novel When the Colors Sing, about The Blue Rider (Der blaue Reiter) movement, especially Kandinsky, Münter and Marc, I came across the work of Emil Nolde and his struggles with the development of his art. Readers of this blog will know I recently visited his house – now a museum – in Seebüll, North Frisia, to get a better feeling of his surroundings and the areas where he liked to work.

Having dipped a bit deeper in Nolde’s bio, I came back with more questions than I went with; which is something I appreciate. For instance, I kept thinking, how did Emil Nolde hold the tension between his art and his craft; between his personal, conservative philosophy and his experimental and liberating work; between his roots in the farming community and artistically, in a German tradition of painting, and freedom of expression in his own artistic explorations of landscape, nature and humans. In other words, how did Nolde carry his own, individual cross to produce such work of great depth, intensity, and appeal?

Continue reading Nolde Question

Nolde’s Garden

Nolde's Garden

Having seen an exhibition of Emile Nolde’s “unpainted pictures” in the Berlin branch of the Nolde Foundation earlier on this year, I came to visit his house in Seebüll, North Friesland, Germany, where he lived and worked.

The house is built on higher ground – this used to be a tidal area – providing a panoramic view of the garden below and the surrounding flatlands. The “unpainted pictures” refer to the small-scale watercolors Nolde produced from 1941 onwards, after he was formally forbidden to paint by the Nazi regime. Even before that, the Nazis considered his work to be “un-Germanic” and “degenerate.”

In order to continue working, Nolde used watercolors since they do not emit the typical smell of oil paint and turpentine that would have been easily detectable by the Gestapo during unannounced inspections. Nolde considered the watercolors of this period “unpainted,” because he had planned to render them in oil after the fall of the regime.

Some of the “unpainted pictures” are of flowers, with vibrant colors that overflow the boundaries set by the line and spill over. Perhaps this is one expression of Nolde – like Kandinsky – seeing music in color: his color notes blending across space in the way musical notes blend in time.

Nolde found ample inspiration for these motives in his own garden, which abounds with joyous color and diversity of form illuminated by the immense skies of North Friesland.

The Annunciation

The Annunciation on the Wall

“Some great paintings are inexhaustible wells, forever self-replenishing,” Michael Glover writes in The Independent’s Great works: Annunciation (1438-45), Fra Angelico.  In a well-written article, he refers  to a number of other works on the same, very popular subject. Most of these other paintings include symbolic elaborations and allusions which may be said to clatter the subject.

Fra Angelico’s image is sparse: there is no holy book on Mary’s lap, other paraphernalia or decorative allusions pointing elsewhere. Mary and the angel, both with folded arms mirroring one another and looking into each other’s eyes, seem to be quietly and calmly accepting of the message of the conception – of the realisation (incarnation) of the divine. There is an acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation, respect, as well as certainty that it will be carried through.

More importantly, in this Annunciation there is a pervading sense of stillness. In the instant depicted, contact, communion, acceptance have taken place and now there is stillness and silence. Mary and the Angel face one another in a moment pregnant with meaning. They, and we, know that a whole new chapter is to follow.

For me, great works of art, or literature, are great because they are timeless representations of humanity’s most precious treasures. In this case, The Annunciation is the metaphor for the creative moment, when the “aha!” experience is reached (in-spire), when a new thought, a new conception arises in the mind. In this sense, the annunciation transcends the narrower context of Christian belief to emerge as a universal symbol of the creative, generative moment.

A print of Fra Angelico’s Annunciation – which for me captures the universality of  inspiration at the moment it materialises in the mind, as it becomes flesh, or ink, poem or book – hangs on the wall of my house. I pass it with pleasure several times a day, always looking and waiting for the “Angel” to appear.