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Thursday, July 30, 2009

If a then B

I know I shouldn't write or do anything when I am angry but I want to share how sometimes it I wish I could undo some strange chain of events as cause and effect are so incommensurate.

This morning I was going to go to work by bike. I had a small breakfast and I was going out when I realised that my sunglasses are missing. I spent 10 minutes looking for them thinking that the sun is strong and it would be nice to have sunglasses. I found them and I left home. I started biking when I heard a noise in my front tyre. I leaned to have a look and then my glasses, being quite loose, started falling. I tried to catch them, I lost balance and fell off the bike bruising my arm, twisting my wrist, hurting my elbow. I know that this wrist and elbow will hurt for weeks if not months, I will not be able to bike, driving is harder, etc.

Then I was kind of angry that I had looked for my sunglasses because if I hadn't done it then they wouldn't have fallen and I wouldn't have fallen either. I realise it's a bit arrogant to mess with the cause and effect but isn't it strange how a cause of a very insignificant dimension (like looking for glasses or not) can lead to a very significant consequence?

A similar thing happened to me some three years ago. I was hesitating if I should go and play football on a rainy November Sunday. Then I decided to go and I had a serious injury to my knee which will be with me for life.

Sometimes I wish that if bad things happen at least they happen by some overwhelming necessity because otherwise it is us and our free will and our free choices which govern the order of things. And this, of course, gives us a bit too much of a responsibility to handle.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Blue, Green, Blue....

I know that a serious blogger doesn't take two weeks of holiday but somehow computer and holiday do not go together. I preferred to turn off the connection with the outside world and slow down time. And I am sure our eyes need a break from these bloody screens.

I decided to dedicate my post-holiday blogging debut to two colours - blue and green. For me some places are colours and light before everything else. Mljet is blue and green in all hues and shades, depending on the time of the day, the types of clouds and probably (not tested) the time of the year.

And that's how I am choosing to remember it: blue and green. I guess it's not very fair to objective reality to filter out every other colour and most of the other small things but isn't that the way memories work? Aren't memories stylized constructions bordering on the mythical?

So let me use this mental photo shop and let Mljet be blue and green for me and let all other colours disappear into the oblivion!

Jelica already mentioned that there are two big bays in the island called 'lakes' by the locals as they are connected with the open sea only by a very narrow strait. That's why they have different biodiversity and even the water is less salty for some reason. The two lakes and this part of the island was declared a national park some 40 years ago.

I like taking sneaking pictures of the sea. Somehow on such pictures there is a surmountable obstacle between the observer and the object. It's like a gate that you are invited to cross.

A sneaking view of the Big Lake

The noon light gives a light green shade to the pine trees. And there is this pleasant visual effect when one makes a picture of trees from below and it is due, of course, to the laws of perspective: it's as if the trees touch each other. And there is the blue sky above. It's as if Mljet is imprisoned between the blue of the sea and the blue of the sky

Pines and sky

This view of the Big Lake is above the trees. I put it here because of the intensity of the blue. There are many hiking trails on the island with splendid views.

Big Lake, Mljet

There is a small island in one of the 'lakes' - Sveta Maria - with a 12th century Benedictine monastery on it. I find it quite Borgesque: a monastery on an island in a lake on an island. Imagine if there was a small lake on this island with a small island and a smaller monastery and another lake.....

Sveta Maria, Benedictine Monastery

That's a very idyllic place where we used to go swimming in the mornings: an old boat, a pine tree stooping over it, stone path, young light-green trees, crystal-clear water. We used to climb the boat from time to time and jump. The kids called it 'our boat'.

Pristaniste (Harbour)

The only thing I was missing a bit these nine days was the rough open sea. The last day I went on an exploratory mission, parked the bike and climbed a hill separating one of the inner lakes from the open sea. This is the first glance of the sea. It was like a magnet for me after days by the quiet inner bays.

First glance of open sea, Mljet

I found a wonderful place for jumping into the sea but didn't dare to do it as it was at least 20 m high and there might have been some rocks below. I was tempted by the abyss though...

And after feeling my heart speed up at the view of a power beyond control I returned to the inner bay where there was a little floating man. Happiness!

Floating man

Don't we all need some alternation of rough seas and inner bays?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Back to blogging is so damn hard...

...after our escape to a "mysterious island," as Ruslan called in his farewell post. We were completelly offline for a good ten days and I realised, to my surprise, that I'm quite ok with that. Somehow, the whole island atmosphere worked just fine without the blog, Facebook, Skype, email and online shopping.

Time to admit to our whereabouts: we traveled to the island of Mljet, the southernmost Croatian island in the Adriatic. In my mind I'm still seeing boats from my balcony

smelling the pine trees

dipping feet in the sea whose color is unmatchable by any other

Ruslan has a theory that our spirit lingers on at the places we visited long after our body has relocated elsewhere. So the fact that my mind is still on Mljet makes it difficult to write. Plus, I'm so busy with all the beauty makeov renewed job hunting and all that.

But I promise a proper post with lots of pics and random babb witty thoughts, very soon.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Even Bloggers Need Some Time Away

Dear all,

Even bloggers need some time away far away from every day blogging. For the next ten days will be on a mysterious faraway island generating ideas for future exciting posts.

Have a nice weekend and then week!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Week Aside or a Short Escape to Halkidiki

Two weeks ago I had to go to Skopje, Macedonia for the launch of the national environmental investment strategy to which I modestly contributed last year. It is very strange when a past project which is already silent suddenly comes to life. Your mind has already moved ahead but then you have to switch to reverse gear and go back in time.

Never mind, this was an opportunity to go back to my beloved 'Skopje Desire' hotel where I spent so many weeks in 2008. Skopje Desire hotel is not a brothel: it is a normal hotel with a name which means 'pleasure' in Macedonian and 'kind of sexual desire' in Bulgarian (the original name is Skopski Merak). So much for the proximity of Bulgarian and Macedonian languages. Anyway, 'merak' is a Turkish word which has had separate semiotic trips in two different regions of the Big Empire (the Ottoman Empire).

This time I did a crazy thing: I took my son Boris with me intending to go camping for some days in Greece close to where some of my friends were staying for a week.

However, first Boris had to spend a day with my colleagues in the office while I was busy with the launch of the strategy. It was funny to see the surprise on his face when he first heard Macedonian language. Boris is a trilingual Bulgarian-Serbian-Hungarian and nothing can scare him linguistically but at first he was a bit confused. Later things got better and he had a great day with Marina at the zoo watching the monkey pee and the tiger eat.

On the next day we woke up to the sound of thunder and heavy rain but nothing could stop us from hitting the road to the sea, the Aegean Sea. It is a short two-hour drive to Thessaloniki along the beautiful Vardar River. We were supposed to meet my friend Zhulieta who arrived by train from Sofia and while waiting for her we had a nice walk in the centre of the city.

The centre of Thessaloniki is quite chaotic: it is one of these ancient cities which have seen everything, where everybody is just passing and where the ethnic map changes every hundred years or so. It is like an old attic full of bric-a-brac which simply cannot be orderly. It is also a city where the erotic index is so high - streets are bustling with life, people are drinking, eating, kissing and selling stuff.

Here is a charming abandoned house. This is Prometheus street where I parked my car, parallel
to Odisseus (Ulysses) street, parallel to Aristotle street. That's Greece after all.

Abandoned House, Thessaloniki

A cool structure very common in the Ottoman Empire. It is the precursor of the modern mall and hosts a number of small shops.

Bezistan, Thessaloniki

This is a large renewed pedestrian street that leads into the sea.

Seaside Feeling, Thessaloniki

Vourvouru is a charming little village on the Sithonia leg of the Halkidiki Peninsula. I fell in love with the place last year and wanted to come back soon. That's the bay at dusk while the fresh fish is on the grill and the fresh salad is being cut.

Peaceful Evening

Another angle to the bay - the drinks are already poured, Boris is playing hide-and-seek with half a dozen kids and an evening of talking and joking has already started.


Last year Jelica and I escaped from the kids for an afternoon to a secluded beach that used to be called Porto Paradiso. There was a great beach bar where one could sip the omnipresent Frappe while listening to Cesaria Evora. I really wanted to go back there but I couldn't find it. Then I realised that it was rebranded to Banana Beach.

Banana Beach shortly after Rain (ex Porto Paradiso)

This is my friend Zhulieta with Boris on a boat which he called the 'dead boat'. Boris features his newly learned monkey signs. Yes, I forgot to mention that in the Street University of Skopje (i.e. from my Macedonian friends) he learned the art of winking and the art of doing monkey signs. What precious knowledge!

Zhulieta and Boris by the Dead Boat

During this man-to-man week Boris was very attached to me and didn't want to go swimming on his own. Finally, he dares to do it the last day of our stay.

Boris finally dared swim on his own

So we had a great week two of us: we didn't bother about anything and we lived the days without initial planning, we ate when we were hungry, we slept on the beach, we moved between different cute bays, we ran a kite, we talked with our friends and we listened to good music with the car windows open. We only came back to the tent after midnight when we collapsed undisturbed even by the noisy Greek wedding that was raging on the last night.

However, as we were missing the other half of the team, i.e. Jelica and Andrej, we set sails to Budapest - 15 h of driving through Macedonia and Serbia. Of course, what can one do on such a day? Visit a beautiful and peaceful monastery for a quiet hour. Days after that Boris was telling me: 'It was so quiet in the yard of this monastery, wasn't it?'

Gate of Prohor Pcinski Monastery, Serbia

And that's the quiet yard where cats chase the shadows of the walnuts and the linden trees.

Prohor Pcinski Monastery, Serbia

Going away from the monastery and the beautiful Pcinja Valley.

Prohor Pcinski Monastery, Serbia

Saturday, July 4, 2009

David versus Goliath or Underdogs Have a Chance

What type of person are you when it comes to choosing whom to support in one-to-one contests in sport or elsewhere? Whom do you support: the stronger team or person or the underdog? Because of some strange psychological phenomenon I always support the underdog. It might be because I am secretly thrilled by the drama following the defeat of the stronger or because life would be too boring if the stronger one always won or because of trusting the biblical 'the last will be first' (Mathew 20:16). It might be also because there is justice in the defeat of those who think themselves invincible.

Recently I came upon a very inspiring article in the New Yorker by an author called Malcolm Gladwell. For those who don't know him, Gladwell is a very interesting and intelligent author who published several best-selling books: The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers (previews available on his website). I only read the Tipping Point (recommended by my dear friend Todd Schenk) but I also read many interesting articles by Gladwell in the New Yorker.

The point of this article is that actually underdogs (who understand and accept that they are underdogs for objective reasons) may adopt strategies and optimise their chances of cutting Goliath's head, i.e. winning.

Like that....

David against Goliath, Rubens

What Davids have to do - according to Gladwell - is to choose an unconventional strategy. This means that Goliaths should simply be attacked where their weakest points are or where they do not expect an attack. In the biblical story David does not go for the conventional sword and shield battle of the time but chooses a sling and stones strategy, i.e. agility, speed and lightness. And...apparently that's what Goliath is missing. He is strong but heavy and slow.

I just read that besides the Bible the David versus Goliath story is also mentioned in the Quran. In my opinion it simply means that an unequal battle, in all senses, is such a common pattern in life that three major religions (also Judaism) have highlighted it in their holy texts.

And indeed, don't we often find ourselves in one of the two roles? How do we act then?

It seems that research has shown that almost 30% of the recorded war battles in history are won by underdogs, i.e. armies that are smaller or less armed. That's a huge percentage and it seems that underdogs have higher chance of winning than we might think. For example the winning armies simply chose the unconventional strategy, use the surprise factor or have higher speed.

For me this means that no battle or fair cause we engage in is lost in advance no matter how hopeless the situation is. However, it also means that our Goliath heads may roll in the dust one of these days if we get full of our superiority in a certain field. Because.....the first will be last and the last will be first.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


The month of June was dominated by the element of water. We've had incessant rain, followed by an oppressive combination of heat and humidity. And some more.

On the upside, I've seen some pretty impressive clouds and I've felt, at moments, like living in London again (the London of old, when it used to rain all the time; now, it seems, they are having stuff like heat waves--go figure).

Menacing sky just before the rain--you can feel the storm building up in the air. This one was fairly mild, but just a few days before we had a really big one, with gushing winds and hale that pounded on our windows. I'm not afraid of thunder but I find all those sounds that accompany a storm much more frightening than the actual wind and rain.

This strange gray color is not a result of faulty camera or Photoshop-ing gone wrong--I tried to capture the rain. It's funny how everything looks as if covered in smoke.

On my way to the French Institute I made pictures of the Danube flooding the lower road (Rakpart). It doesn't happen often--once in a year or two--but when it does it becomes a magnet for tourists and natives alike. There is something strangely fascinating about Danube spreading like that onto a territory that should be off its limits--a kind of controlled damage.

More of the same, except in direction of Margit, rather than Chain Bridge.

From where I stood, it looked like the Parliament was floating on the Danube.

Danube, up close, neither blue nor particularly beautiful now that it's swollen and murky. These past few days I've seen countless people sitting by its banks and dipping their legs into the river. Why would you want to do that at any time, let alone now, is beyond me, although I appreciate that beach-y feeling I get just by looking at them.