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Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Short Walk in Muslim Sarajevo

A week ago I visited Sarajevo for the second time this year after a wonderful snowy trip in February which inspired the Smoke over Cevabdzinici blog post. While last time the focus was on the culinary aspects of the city this time I am showing a bit of its Muslim side. It simply happened like that as somehow, during this short walk, mosques came seemed beautiful to me especially in combination with surrounding nature and buildings.

While walking in Sarajevo with Ellen and Ana I was thinking again that Islam, Islamic art and architecture are somehow far from me and my cultural background and I have often felt unease in their presence. I don't know what it is about Islam that enhances its otherness so much. I assume it must be mainly the manifestation of its radical fractions and all the negative PR that we have been getting during the last decade after 9/11. For me personally, it must also be all the negative indoctrination about the Ottoman presence in Bulgaria from the 14th to the 19th century that kids use(d) to get in school.

Never mind, I am taking it as a personal mission in the future to get closer to Islam and therefore try to understand more and better.

Actually now that I am thinking of it for many years I have looked for manifestations of beauty in the little of Islam that I have seen. It maybe all started in 1995 in Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Alhambra is the only piece of architecture that has brought tears to my eyes. I thought that people who built this place and lived there revered harmony.

Ever since I haven't traveled much in Muslim countries except Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania. And one can find great examples of Islamic architecture in Turkey like the early 17th century Sultan Ahmed (or Blue) Mosque in Istanbul for example.

I have never been closer to Islamic culture than in 1994-95 when I took a course on Islamic culture in university. We had a great professor who opened our eyes to Islamic poets, philosophers, etc. I don't remember much and I have never done any extensive reading but I am thinking of mystic poet Rumi now. I especially like the fact that God can be reached through music and dance inspiring the turning dervishes or the order of the Mevlevi. Now I remember that the museum of the turning dervishes in Istanbul was another Islam-related place where I have felt comfortable, especially in the presence of some sleeping cats. (It's a pity I can't find my pictures from there).

This renewed trip of understanding started a month ago when, while being in Serbia, I read the balanced chapter on Islam in Huston Smith's The World Religions. Now, I remember the simple revelation about the position of woman in Islam. It seems that Islam treatment of women was a huge improvement compared to pre-Islamic times. It is indeed true, as my friend Ellen noted, that 14 centuries have elapsed since then and I don't deny it but this information simply makes us think more about it and introduces some relativity to it.

But coming back to Sarajevo. Mosques there are numerous (Wikipedia mentions 186) including many new ones. Here is a view of the Miljacka river and the Latin Bridge with a minaret behind.

The Latin Bridge over Miljacka River

This is a closer plan of the same mosque. I made this picture because of the coexistence with this beautiful building of another architectural tradition.

Mosque and beautiful house

Sarajevo mosques are perceived on the background of the nearby mountain.


As if this mosque in the Old Carsija has a ring of fire. The tree is a friend of the minaret and keeps company during the long nights.

Ring of Fire

Islam must have a special relation with roses. Remember the Budapest Gul Baba. This one is in the yard of the above mosque and they set up the lamp in such a way so that the rose is seen well.

Night Rose in Mosque Yard

The picture below is from Tbilisi, Georgia but I looked through my pictures for other beautiful mosques that I have seen.

Mosque, Tbilisi, Georgia

Come, come, whoever you are.

Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.

It doesn't matter.

Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Come, even if you have broken your vow

a thousand times

Come, yet again, come, come.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

On the shores of the Hungarian Sea... Lake Balaton is affectionately called around here. When you have no proper sea, anything goes, really. I feel their landlocked pain all right, coming from one of the few other European countries without a seaside (even Bosnia has its three and a half meters of coast, damn it!) but do check which two countries dominate water polo (I repeat, water polo) for years now.

Enough digressions, let's get down to the lake and see what we find there.

A sunset on the shore, and a tumultuous sky set against a big, calm water. Make no mistake, Balaton is huge--it is almost 80km long.

It's a great place for fishing


or having a walk in a pretty little town. Ours was Tihany, town on a hill from which you get the best views of the lake.

You can take the path that follows the shore, along the walls of a fortification from times long gone

and admire these thatched roofs resembling elaborate winter hats.

You will inevitably run into pottery--on wooden fences, window sills or on the ground, dozens of brightly colored cups, pots and plates dot the landscape. I loved the colors and couldn't resist taking (way too) many pictures so, beware, gratuitous pottery shots follow

with some flowers thrown in for good measure, shot a la Polly, who likes to look at the world in a skewed way (literally, not metaphorically, although I can't vouchsafe for that, having missed a chance to get to know her live at Blog Camp 1.0)
Of course, you knew that all this walking must lead to something or somewhere, and that's straight to a bowl of hearty goulash, on the terrace of a csarda overlooking the lake,

where you find an unexpected treat--a sea of wild lavender.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Budapest*

I have to consult my calendar to make sure we are still in June and I haven't somehow overslept half a year and woke up in November. A quick look out of the window--a milky fog and a heavy shower. What happened to our summer?!

At least I have something useful to do--I enrolled in a super-intensive French course at the French Institute. I'm a student again! Ok, technically I was a student last year, too, when I took a course with the Open University but when you only study online you don't really feel like you are a part of something.

It's also been ages (seven years, precisely) since I last attempted to take a French course, and that one wasn't much of a success--we had too many levels in the group and I missed a lot of classes because of travel so in the end I just stopped going.

To be fair, I was so not motivated. I wanted to enroll Italian but reached a pragmatic decision that

a) since French is more useful (it's one of 5 UN languages)
b) and I had some basis back from high school

I should actually try to "take it to the next level," literally. But it didn't work.

This time I think I might actually enjoy it, for a change. So, while the enthusiasm lasts I might as well go do my homework...

*a paraphrase of a poem by Jacques Prevert (Ruslan's influence is showing already)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Five favorite things, or playing along

Seaside Girl tagged me the other day with a five random favorite things meme, and since I have never done a meme before, I decided to play along. Without much ado:

Five favorite songs:

  1. Space Oddity--David Bowie
  2. Ring of Fire--Johnny Cash
  3. Help--Beatles
  4. Umbrella--Rihanna
  5. Ha Uma Musica Do Povo--Mariza
Five favorite films:

  1. Burnt by the Sun (Utomlenie solncem) by Nikita Mihalkov--I've seen it about a dozen times and I think it's a masterpiece. It manages to be both a historical film (the story takes place in the late 1930s in the Soviet Union) and a drama of complicated personal relationships.
  2. Before the Rain (Predi dazhdot) by Milcho Manchevski--another one I've seen many times, and my stomach ties into a knot every time I do. It's a story about love, about the Balkans and therefore about vicious circles of hatred and violence, but it isn't a war movie. Acting is fantastic, the shots of harsh Macedonian landscapes stunning, and the soundtrack is very mystic and powerful.
  3. Casablanca by Michael Curtiz--great dialogues, meticulous crafting. Of course, some things look a bit naivistic (the movie was shot in 1943) but it is still a fantastic movie after all that time. So many punchlines and witty exchanges--by now I know most of them by heart.
  4. Il Gattopardo by Lucino Visconti--film based on the novel of the same name by Giovani Lampedusa, about an aristocratic family in Sicily trying to come to terms with the tumultuous times in Italy in 1860s. It has an incredible cast: Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, Burt Lancaster.
  5. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Peter Weir--this one I have seen only once, as a child, and never heard of it again until someone mentioned it recently (in a blog post, I think) and the memories came back. I remember that it was very thrilling and mysterious, or maybe I was just young and impressionable.
Five favorite books:

  1. "Speak, Memory" by Vladimir Nabokov
  2. "The Tomb for Boris Davidovich" by Danilo Kis
  3. "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera
  4. "Atonement" by Ian McEwan
  5. "Good Omens" by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachet
Five favorite crushes:

  1. Toni Kukoc--probably the best Yugoslav (then Croatian) basketball player of the early 199s and very cute at the time.
  2. Roger Moore--the best James Bond ever.
  3. Michael Johnston--an online communications guru. I attended one of his workshops a few years back here in Budapest and fell in love with the whole new media thing as a result. So this is more a new media crush than Michael Johston crush, although he's a pretty smart and fun guy in his own right.
  4. Theodosii Spassov--a Bulgarian musician, plays caval (an instrument similar to flute). Saw him live once at a concert in Budapest and was stunned--he's one of those men who oozes sex apppeal without coming accross as macho or pretentious.
  5. Sherlock Holmes--I just happen to like clever guys.
Five random favorite things:
  1. Haribo jelly bears
  2. The Adriatic Sea
  3. Smell of fresh print
  4. Beautiful notebooks
  5. watching my kids asleep

OK, now I'm supposed to tag another 5 people. They are:

Delwyn from A Hazy Moon
Tulsa from The Art of Living in Japan
Polly from Sotto Voce
Squirrel from The Realm of the Lone Gray Squirrel
B from Cuttings on a Blog

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My take on Brussels

Parc de Bruxelles is where I spent, comparatively, the biggest amount of time while in Brussels because the kids wanted to play and run outdoors. This park was great for us because it is very central, so it was relatively close to our apartment, and it is in a nice part of town, surrounded by museums, galleries and royal palaces.

Around lunch time it gets filled with office workers eating their sandwiches and take away food in plastic boxes; otherwise, it is a pretty quiet place and even the children's playground was completely empty when we were there one morning.

Still in the same park, you can see Andrej by the fountain, about to grab a pebble or piece of trash and throw it into the water. Great fun.

This is Rue du Midi, a street parallel with Boulevard Anspach, leading all the way from Grande Place to the Central train station (Gare du Midi, thus the name). My guidebook described the quarter around the train station as at best seedy by day and threatening by night, so there was no compelling reason to go there. Still, Rue du Midi had a certain charm and a nice coffee place with coffee to go, so I came back a few times. I liked this street corner, with lots of flowers and a warmly-colored facade.

Look at the sky--it's so dramatic and threatening, but in a five minute's time the sun might be shining brightly. After which there might be some rain. And clouds.

The closest I ever experienced to a weather so volatile was when I lived in London, although people say that Brussels is much worse. I didn't it mind it in Brussels--I accepted it as part of the package--but I see how it can get to you after a while. It could be depressing to have so much rain and low-hanging grey clouds for days and months on end (with only brief spells of sunshine). At least they have delicious chocolate (and plenty of it) as an antidote.

I was asked for directions at least once a day every day. People assume that a single mother with two kids on a busy street must be a native because tourism of sightseeing kind and kids do not usually mix. Plus, I looked like I knew where I was going, which was true. It took me one morning to figure out the central area and I ditched the map afterwords--once you're uptown, almost anywhere you go downhill you can't miss the Grande Place. Plus, signposts are plentiful and Brussels is not that big after all.

Boris's claim to fame ("I'm a famous artist") is not entirely unfounded, as you can see. He was very proud that his name was up there--vanity runs in the family (although not so much on my side, akhm...)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Three Matches

There is a French poet - Jacques Prevert - whom I have liked for a long time.
I especially appreciate his haiku-like simplicity, cinematographic imagery and
tender playfulness.

I was actually looking for his poem Barbara but I came upon and remembered
two other beautiful short poems.

Paris at Night

Trois allumettes une à une allumées dans la nuit
La premiére pour voir ton visage tout entier
La seconde pour voir tes yeux
La dernière pour voir ta bouche
Et l'obscuritè tout entière pour me rappeler tout cela
En te serrant dans mes bras.

Three matches one by one struck in the night
The first to see your face in it's entirety
The second to see your eyes
The last to see your mouth
And the darkness all around to remind me of all these
As I hold you in my arms.

If I was a film director I would keep this image for a beginning of a film. I can
even hear the sound of the match stick.

Stormy Sky from Our Terrace


Une orange sur la table
Ta robe sur le tapis
Et toi dans mon lit
Doux présent de la présent
Fraîcheur de la nuit
Chaleur de ma vie

Still Life with Oranges, Jacques Oudry

An orange upon the table
Your dress on the rug
And you in my bed
Sweet present of the present
Freshness of the night
Warmth of my life.

If I was a painter I would design a picture: a table with an orange, a carpet
and a dress on it.

Jacque Prevert by Robert Doineau

How I would like to have a chat with him!

Pour Toi Mon Amour

Je suis alle au marche aux oiseaux
Et j'ai achete des oiseaux
Pour toi
mon amour
Je suis alle au marche aux fleurs
Et j'ai achete des fleurs
Pour toi
mon amour
Je suis alle au marche a la ferraille
Et j'ai achete des chaines
De lourdes chaines
Pour toi
mon amour
Et puis je suis alle au marche aux esclaves
Et je t'ai cherchee
Mais je ne t'ai pas trouvee
mon amour


And the last one is the coolest: he keeps looking for his love at different
places: the bird market and the flower market. At the end he goes to the
slave market and he doesn't find her there. What a cool way to say that what he
loves most about her is her freedom.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bruges, or Venice of the north

We came back from Belgium last night--it was my first visit to the country so for me the trip had all the excitement of seeing things with virgin eyes (so to speak). We stayed in Brussels, with a day trip to the medieval town of Bruges on Sunday.

I have plenty of pictures from Bruges and only a handful from Brussels, and there is an easy explanation for that--in Brussels I walked around pushing a stroller with Andrej and making sure Boris was close enough to me, so that allowed for few photo snapping possibilities.

So, in this post I'll take you on a walk (and a boat tour) of Bruges.

We were welcomed by a heavy shower and ominous looking skies, which dampened the enthusiasm. Amazingly, it cleared up and we had an afternoon of glorious sunshine afterwords.

Even though they are primarily a tourist attractions, horse carts don't look out of place among these medieval streets and houses.

Paris meets Amsterdam--the mixture of French and Flemish cultures is what makes Belgium so interesting (and unsustainable, some would say).

A little bit like Venice, on a smaller scale (minus the stench, but plus rainfall--plenty of it).

This is Van Eyck square--the famous artist lived here until his death.

This one and the following three pictures were taken from a boat while we toured the canal. It was great to see city from a different perspective, the only downside being that we zoomed passed everything, so there was no time to really pay attention.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What's in the Hair or Sheep Shearing Day

We have been silent for some days but we are in Brussels all of us and there is little time left to write - too much work and too many friends to see in the evening. Of course, you know that Brussels is the new Babylon so who would write in Babylon.... Actually, what were the people doing in Babylon? I guess one can google by 'employment Babylon' or 'occupation structure Babylon'...

However, yesterday night my hands were itching to write a post so I meanly used the kids to fill in the idea gaps. A couple of weeks ago we were in Lazarevatz, Serbia - a famous centre of culture and arts and....hairdressing wizards.

As all the art museums were closed for some reason and as the Bolsoi Theater Ballet had just left town we decided to have our hairs done.

That's how kids used to look before the interference of the hair magicians. Boris is thinking 'Don't cut my hair. It is a symbol of my individuality'.

Boris, long hair

Andrej is shouting: 'Don't cut my hair, I am a lion and I will eat you if you do so'

Andrej - little wild lion

Lately, Boris has a favourite line: he goes to English speakers and he says all of a sudden 'I am a famous artist. Do you want my autograph?'. Have I taught him this? No, not at all. Yesterday, he had a problem as our friend Helene took out a piece of paper and handed it to him for an autograph.

Boris, a famous artist. Locally.

And here is a famous schmoozer and fly hunter. He is posing for the press together with his fly extermination equipment.

Andrej, the fly hunter

Well, every famous artist needs a haircut and that's how Boris looked after it. He is obviously posing for some local magazine.

Boris, short hair

Andrej's metamorphosis was bigger and actually he lost half of the size of his head after the haircut. After that he had a more favourable brain-to-head size ratio. He was not so daunting a lion any more.

Andrej, short hair

I don't know if you have a similar thing but for me haircuts are quite a ritualistic thing. Taking place on a relatively regular basis, they kind of measure the time of life, don't they? We look into the mirror for half an hour or so and no one can accuse us of vanity. I also contemplate the colour of my hair and I have followed its change from bright red to grayish passing through several other hues. It would have been a good life project to keep a bit of hair in a book every year. I have heard of stranger hobbies.

I am also loyal to my hairdressers as they provide some continuity to the ever changing landscape of our lives. During my childhood I used to visit the same Armenian hairdresser and sit on his wooden chair, then I used to go for many years to the same woman whom I still visit when back home.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Some things don't change (a short walk through Lazarevac)

The main street (a pedestrian zone in theory, although not always in practice) of my hometown on a hot Saturday afternoon in May. It's interesting that it looks almost completely deserted on this picture that Ruslan took, because that's exactly how I think of it--a place where nothing ever happens. Small town life for me is the equivalent of a v-e-r-y slow death.

This might not be Santa Maria della Salute*, but it's the best we've got. This is the Church of St. Dimitrius which, in its crypt, preserves the remains of thousands of Serbian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers who died in the Battle of Kolubara, during the WWI. It was a major victory for Serbia and the Austrians were kicked out, but Serbian army suffered terrible losses and was later decimated by typhus so it was no match for the Austrians later on.

My old neighborhood still looks surprisingly good. I never thought of it as beautiful until I've seen how small towns in Bulgaria look like. It made me realize that where I grew up was actually clean, tidy and with lots of green, which is not bad at all for a provincial town in Serbia.

Ever since I was eleven, there have always been cats in the life of my family. They were just ordinary street cats that we would adopt, or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that we were adopted by them. Over the years dozens of cats passed through our home, some of them quite extraordinary chaps (like Beka, who had been left in a village about 20km away and managed to find his way home after three weeks of roaming). At the moment, there is only one cat who has the privilege of being in the house but my parents probably feed another dozen in the neighborhood. Pictured is one of those.

My grandfather's roses still blossom in the backyard of my father's childhood home, even though my grandfather is not around any more to tend to them. There is something reassuring in that constancy.

(My bloggy friend Delwyn from A Hazy Moon had a very thoughtful post about constancy and change after visiting her hometown in New Zealand. It was on my mind when I visited Lazarevac, and I found it curious that for Delwyin the primary impression was change, whereas for me it was sameness).

*a famous church in Venice.