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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bad Filters - Good Filters

The idea for this post came to me as we were sitting with a group of friends in a Spanish restaurant in Brussels in November. A friend of mine started complaining how dirty Brussels is, how terrible the weather is, how many Arabs there are in the streets. I was struck once again how some people seem to filter out the good things and leave only the bad things or mostly the bad things to penetrate their minds.

There are other people however – and I fortunately belong to this category – who have a predisposition to filter out the bad things and let only (or mostly) the good things in. I don’t know where this comes from – being mostly positive or being mostly negative - but it is a natural thing and rarely the result of deliberate attitude. I don’t know. I simply think that subconsciously I feel that there is so much negative energy around, that if one surrenders to it one will perpetually grope in some endless mazes of pain. And…isn’t it true that there is so much beauty, love and pleasure around that it would be enough for several lives?

So, the conclusion for me is, let’s clean the good filters – those which let the good in and filter the bad. Because, to take this particular example, Brussels is a lovely and charming place with excellent old and modern architecture, interesting cohabitation of French and Flemish cultures, curious bilingualism, tons of ethnic restaurants (in 4 nights I ate in Maghreb, Greek, Brazilian and Spanish restaurants), terrific museums and a great variety of culture they say.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ottoman Empire, Empire of Tolerance. A Short Business Trip to Istanbul.

Kabatas. View of the ferry port.

Kabatas. Sun on Marmara Sea.

Yesterday I was browsing through the CDs in a music shop in Istanbul when I came upon a CD with the title ‘Ottoman Empire, Empire of Tolerance’. It really made me laugh and think once again how different historical period are interpreted in entirely opposite ways depending on the political circumstances and the belonging to the ruling majority or the ‘tolerated’ or ‘oppressed’ minority. I am not qualified to say who is closer to the truth: the Turkish historians or the historians from the countries that were once a part of the Ottoman Empire. All I can say is that most probably they are both wrong. Most probably the truth is somewhere in the middle, maybe a bit left or a bit right of the middle depending on the precise period of the empire and the sultan in power.

I had a fully unexpected wonderful trip to Istanbul this week. I was a bit reluctant to get up at 3.30 am on Wednesday to catch an early plane, go west to Frankfurt in order to immediately come back East and fly over Budapest on my way to Istanbul. (By the way, this makes me think that if we invent a technology to kind of upload passengers in planes flying over cities, this might change the aviation business. Just imagine some kind of platforms hanging on 11,000 m. Then you are put into a vehicle that accelerates to the speed of the plane. Then the vehicle attaches itself to the plane and the passengers walk safely into the plane. Simple and cheap, isn’t it?)

So, I didn’t expect much from this trip but then the plane approached Istanbul from the Bulgarian coast and I started slowly getting into an Istanbulu mood. It was amazing to see so clearly the Bosphorus linking the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, so short from above but actually about 20 km. Then the plane started descending over the Marmara Sea went as far South as the level of the Princess Islands and then made a huge turn to land on Ataturk Airport (of course, what else could be the name of the Istanbul Airport).

I immediately got in a taxi and I was so happy to be there: a perfect spring day (on 21 Jan), a smell of salt and sea, people walking leisurely by the coast. In the afternoon I met my friend Ayzen and her husband. It was great to get in touch with her after almost 9 years. Ayzen was almost the same, a happy mother of the small Efe who, it turned out, was only five days older than Andrej.

I was really sleepy after the meeting and I even hesitated if I should go to bed at 8, having slept just two hours the night before but…I decided to ‘venture’ into the Taksim neighbourhood (Beyoglu), one of the liveliest in Istanbul. And lively it was, thousands of people woken up by the spring weather were out – talking and laughing.

If there was a device to measure the human energy, la joie de vivre, it would be measuring high. I forgot how tired I was and enjoyed enormously the walk. I browsed through old photography albums, listened and bought CDs, ate mussels with rice, spices and lemon at the Balik Pazar (Fish Market) and simply watched what was happening around:

- sellers of chestnuts were putting the grilled ones in a strange mysterious figures;

- CD shop sellers were playing nice new Turkish music;

- couples were playing backgammon in small cafes in the side streets;

- shops were trying to fight the global crisis at 10 pm.

The next day was even better. I woke up to a gorgeous view of the Bosphorus and the big bridge leading to Asia (by the way I paid 20 EUR more for that and it was worth it). I worked a bit with an open window (temperature about 20 degrees) and then went to REC’s office in Kabatas. It is by far the best office in REC’s structure with such an amazing view that I would have difficulties working if I had to be seated there.

We had a great lunch with Kerem, Yunus, Sibel and Yasin at a fancy, coastline café ASSK in Arnavutkoy (the Albanian quarter). It was sheer pleasure to be there at lunch, dressed in a shirt only, 2 m. from the water with a fantastic view over the Navy School on the Asian coast and the two bridges left and right. Unfortunately we had to get into a room with an artificial light but to compensate this, yesterday our UNEP Financial Initiative CEE Task Force meeting was at Kabatas again in a room with a fantastic view. This time the sky was low and grey but it was equally beautiful. And the tankers kept passing by….

Monday, January 19, 2009

What would Scarlett Johansson sound like in Hungarian?

Originally uploaded by antaldaniel
I don't think I want to know, but I almost found out last night.

We were excited about going to the movies after a long time; yes, we've watched a lot of films in the past couple of weeks on DVDs but that's never quite the same. We miss proper cinema.

We're actually lucky to live in the city which managed to preserve a lot of its so-called art cinemas--places that are not part of some huge commercial chain but are small, independent with a friendly and cozy feel.

Yesterday, we picked one such spot and happily seated ourselves with popcorns and a packet of M&Ms in a tiny room (about 50 seats altogether), with only three more couples in the audience. We were goingto see 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona,' Woddy Allen's latest movie. We are both his fans and this fim was recommended to Ruslan by someone, although I read a damning review in 'The Guardian' months ago so I was a bit sceptical.

Unfortunately, we didn't get past the opening credits when we realised that we have bought tickets to see an American-Spanish movie with Hungarian dubbing. That's real bummer because:

a) as I mentioned, we came to see an American film, not a Hungarian take on an American film, and

b) we wouldn't be able to understand much of it because we don't speak enough Hungarian, but that is beside the point.

Speaking for myself here, even if I did speak fluent Hungarian, I want to hear the original language and the original actors acting, not some Hungarian chick impersonating Scarlett Johansson. In fact, when we are in Bulgaria and watch TV there, I am equally pissed off by this whole dubbing business, even though my Bulgarian is fluent.

It's not only unnatural, but so much of the acting is in the voices and you just completely kill that off when you dub a film. So why do they keep doing it in some countries? One of the arguments I heard was that it is cheaper, but that sounds pretty ridiculous, because you have to hire at least 3-4 people per film to read the stuff, whereas you only need one person to translate a film and put the subtitles in proper places. Not to mention that, when you dub, you still need someone to translate the film.

Another argument is that this is better for people who have reading difficulties but how many of those go to the cinema? Hungary has a pretty high literacy rate, as do most other countries in these parts, so it can't be that this is done for the sake of those 3% of general population who can't read?

Whatever the reason, I really wish they would stop doing it. It's STUPID!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hey dude, where's my gas?

Just as I was lulled into force sense of security after Russia and Ukraine signed the gas deal a few days ago, I read today that the gas supply to Hungary remains uncertain. Incredulous, I logged onto BBC News Online and what do I see? Same old bickering between Russia and Ukraine about who blocked which pipe and suchlike.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Let's save energy

These days, as out gas supplies were cut off in the middle of the coldest winter in years, the issues such as energy and using it in an efficient way were foremost on my mind. Today I ran accross this cute video from the EUTube--it's common-sensical but it doesn't hurt to get reminded that little things can make a big difference.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Where Streets Have No Names…..But Memories

Sliven – my home town - was the second stop on our Christmas Balkan tour. I grew up in Sliven and lived there from the age of 3 to the age of 19. Sliven has a special meaning for me. My childhood and my adolescence had the blue Balkan mountain as background. That’s where I kept bruising my knees, climbing the trees and smelling the limes.

That’s where I spent endless summer days with my neighbour friends chasing the ball in the morning, playing cards in the hot afternoon hour, then chasing the ball again and later in the evening – playing hide-and-seek and even later telling stories before our mothers started calling us home after 10 pm. In Sliven, I discovered sexuality when being no older than 7-8, my neighbour Vanina and I went to our house basement and pulled down our pants to show what was hiding there. Of course, many more things happened there: that’s my entire childhood and adolescence after all.

My point in writing this post was about streets having no names in Sliven but layers of memories. Walking there is like walking in Troy, Efes and the Partenon at the same time. I hardly know the names of more than 5 streets around my place but the whole city is scattered with memories of events, walks, conversations, fights, biking, hiking, spying the girls from the neighbouring class and what not. As if I see myself biking in the rain or kicking the ball in the yard of the school or most often walking the streets of my neighbourhood looking for my friends Ivo, Krassi, Borislav, Rumen, Ivan, Anton, Vanina, Sabin, Katja.

I am not saying that this is bad. Sometimes it is nice, sometimes it is bitter but whatever it is, it is not empty.