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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Five Whips Per Day

Some months ago I came upon a great game of imagination in the French magazine 'Philosophie'. A dozen philosophers were asked to let their imagination free and answer some crazy questions. What would happen if......: - there was eternal peace; - a feminist revolution happened in the Muslim world; - teleportation was possible; - sexuality was finally free etc.

Tonight I decided to ask myself a question. What if technological revolution happened in some lopsided and erratic way?

Sometimes I have dreamt that photography and moving pictures were invented some 2000 years ago as I wanted to see pictures or videos of my family through the centuries. Imagine opening some video files of your ancestors in the middle ages in some strange middle age video format recorded on potatoes for example. Well, potatoes is not such a good idea not because they would smell a little bit but because my potato reader just broke. Maybe it should be electronic chips or.....

Who knows, isn't it possible that technological revolution was much faster in the Balkans and somehow strangely isolated? And while Vikings were cutting the heads of the non-Vikings and of other Vikings as well, while Spanish were chasing Muslims away and Jews too, while all these strange things were happening, in a small town at the skirts of the Balkan mountain, people were calmly assembling their PCs while listening to their peach-pods.

Peach pods are devices made from the stones of peaches. They were invented by an Ottoman shepherd (MA in agriculture from the University of Izmir) while he was bored one day. The day was sunny, no wolves were attacking his sheep and he was reading the letter of his daughter -Angie - who left a year ago by rickshaw to Baghdad to study political studies in the local university. So this shepherd started playing his wooden flute and had the idea to record the music on the stone of the peach he had just eaten.

Later a decree was passed in the local parliament (shepherds had just won the elections against barbers by a narrow margin) that one has to put the peach stones in one's ears and the music starts playing - the link between politics and science was much closer then than now. In was not music. Maybe people just wanted to listen to the silence being emitted by the peach-pods.

Then there was this blacksmith who discovered that silence is different while it is caused by different lack of noises. He discovered that silence when he was not hitting his hammer was different from silence when dogs are not barking. This blacksmith took the scientific prize of the year which, to his surprise, was missing because he was the inventor of the lack of things. He really appreciated this and didn't say thank you at all and didn't say 'I owe everything to my family' either. He just said 'Amen'.

And, by the way, the daughter of the shepherd had just started dating a date-grower on the precise date of the end of Ramadan in 1333. They had really good time together listening to the Rolling Stones while kicking camel dung in the dusty streets of unconquered Baghdad. There was a local madman who discovered a device for downloading music from the future directly into the heads of those who believed strongly. The madman was offered a scholarship in the Madrasa of Isfahan at the amount of five whips per day. At that time, people really liked pain because after pain there is no pain and that's what they liked but to get to this point they had to go through some pain.

By the way, a dog is barking, I am really thirsty from the Chinese soup I ate by the opera at its 125 anniversary so maybe it is time to go and eat some grapes before reading Misha Gleny's McMafia.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I'm going analogue

The truth is, I love my internal organs, after all, and I wouldn't want to part with any of them unless the doctor orders so. That means selling kidneys to buy a DSLR is not an option. But I still want to practice with the holy trinity of aperture, shutter speed and ISO and to learn to understand exposure and goof around with the depth of field and such. Which I can't do with my point and shoot, lovely as it is.

So just as you're thinking that it's, basically, a "no-win" situation, a little lamp lights up in her head and she gets this ingenious idea (as usual, i might add)... to go analogue.

The thing is, we have this beautiful Canon EOS 3000 which had the bad luck to be bought just a year before we got our first digital camera so it's been patiently collecting dust (loads of it) on our book shelves for at least five years. It's a total "video killed the radio star" situation, which is a shame, because it is a very capable camera that made nice photos--those three or four times that we actually used it.

This is just a temporary solution, obviously, because there are many downsides to working with film, as you might remember from the old days. Like, the fact that film actually costs something and so does developing it; it's not much but if you shoot a lot of pictures it adds up. Plus there is the carbon footprint issue: the film just adds to the amount of junk we're littering the planet with, and the chemicals used for developing it are toxic. And then you have to wait until you've shot the entire roll and developed it to see what came out of it. I guess that's the strangest part, once you got used to reviewing your work immediately and deleting what you don't like right there in the camera, before it even gets downloaded.

But maybe that's not a bad thing, to hold off that instant gratification urge and learn some patience, in addition to learning how to make better photos. I've also noticed that it's making me really think twice before I press the shutter: wheather the composition is right, and if it's a picture worth taking. As a consequence, I am not taking many photos but they should be better than average with all that thinking involved. Right? Or you simply need to shoot more to learn more?

(and where is Scott Kelby when you need him?, I am soo disappointed this time!)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Where friends meet

Our favorite square, about which I waxed lyrical just the other day, was voted as one of the seven most popular green getaways in Budapest in some kind of online poll that went on this summer.

This is how it was described:
Szabadsag ter is said by many to be Budapest's "most European square" with its well-tended lawn, historical buildings and old trees. This was the site of Pest's first pedestrian square, founded when the wife of great statesman István Széchenyi planted a tree there in 1846.
I'm not quite sure what they mean by it being "most European"--is this a synonym for clean and tidy? --but never mind, it gives me a perfect excuse to post some more pictures from the square, taken this Sunday.

The best thing about Szabadsag is that many of our friends love it, too, so it's a great place to meet and chat while kids run about doing their own thing...

or, less frequently, they sit in one place and share a rice cake...

occasionally harassed by smaller siblings wanting attention...

Age difference is no obstacle to this budding friendship between Lia (4.5) and Andrej (2.5)--kindred adventurous spirits that they are.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thirty days hath September

...and they are running out really fast. Technically, it's still summer for two more days, but we know better.

At least this weekend we can "count" on good weather, if we are to believe the forecast heard on the radio. So far, so good--it's warm and sunny, with that beautiful soft light that only happens in September.

This morning we took the kids and their bikes to our favorite place--Szabadsag ter, or Liberty square, in the heart of downtown Pest. It's a beautiful spot, both peaceful and lively, where kids can bike and we can sip a lemonade, enjoy the architecture and daydream about what it would be like to have a flat there (it would be great, I can tell you that right away, but it's not going to happen).

The place definitely has an autumnal feel now, compared to only a few weeks ago when I was last there. The green is still the dominant color, but the first signs of aging cannot be missed (an apt description of yours truly, in fact, as she prepares to celebrate 32nd birthday).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sound of Silence

Some time ago I was listening to a programme on BBC about capturing unique sounds and I was thinking that sounds suffer from the dominance of images. Nowadays, it's all about cameras and capturing an unique individual angle to the visible world: people, nature, architecture....Our computers are full of thousands of images - raw images as the world actually is in a given place at a given time. And almost no raw sounds.... I am not talking about music, of course, which is organised sounds. Or at least most of it.

One walks along the Danube in Budapest and there are dozens of tourists making pictures of the parliament, the bridges, the castle. And there is no one sitting there and recording the noise of the traffic, the splashing of the river, the passing boats, a passing ambulance, a faraway laughter. Why is it like that? Are sounds simply less interesting? Is it because images stimulate instantaneously and easily our brains with colours and forms? Is it because mathematically there are more combinations of physical objects to be photographed? Our wonderful eyes maybe interact with the outside world in a richer variety of ways than our ears. Take for example a building: there are so many angles to see it and perceive it. the end, the good picture is exactly the original angle with the best possible light.

While, it seems to me, we can't do that with sounds. Take an ambulance siren. You can hear it weaker or stronger and the only variety comes through the strength of the sound through the manifestation of the Doppler effect. There are very little nuances to it.

However, recording interesting sounds is a fascinating idea to me. Thinking of it one may follow the development of city life through sound. Imagine that someone has recorded 10 minutes of sound at the crossroad of Andrassy and Terez boulevard (or any major crossroad in any city) at lunch on the 23rd of April every year since 1878 when sound recording became possible. Imagine the difference: horses-trams-cars and the interrelation between them. So some sounds are unique in a way.

And...other sounds are probably eternal. Has the splashing of the sea been the same over the past 5000 years? What about the sound of falling raindrops on the dust or the gust of wind in the leaves of a tree? Is the wind playing the same tunes with the branches of the same tree or are they endlessly varied?

In the early 90s I' had heard of a French ethnologists who hunted for disappearing sounds like National Geographic photographers take pictures of disappearing species.

But, anyway, sound reality is very rich. I am on our balcony now, 21.56 on a Wednesday night, 16 September, 2009 and I am hearing:
- the sound of gentle wind in the branches;
- the singing grasshoppers;
- the background noise of Moscva square;
- an occasional passing car;
- Nina Simone on our CD player;
- a closing door;
- a faraway kid's voice;
- a faraway clapping;
- the sound of the keyboard.

It's a rich sounscape if one thinks of it.

I am also thinking of some favouirite soundscapes of mine:

- the singing grasshoppers on a summer's night when the window is open and some soft music is playing in the other room;
- the absolutely silent sea early in the morning with an occasional splash of water;
- a faraway happy laughter.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Surprising trip down memory lane

Sometimes you hear a song where and when you don't expect it, and it teleports you straight into a different time and place before you even realize it. Like today, when I was trying to do some work in one of those Starbucks-lookalike cafes that have sprung up in Budapest like mushrooms in the last year.

There I was, happily immersed in web strategizing when I heard Freddy Mercury's voice in "Too much love will kill you" and, bang! off I go straight into early 1990s. That was the only time when I actively listened to Queen--it lasted for a year or two, not more--before I moved on to different stuff, but I always like to hear it again.

And it always brings the same memories: four people (my sister, my best friend, his younger brother and me) listening to Freddy Mercury ad nauseam, talking high school stuff, collectively adoring Michael Jordan, creating a makeshift campsite in the middle of their bedroom (no idea why), talking politics already, being silly but also very mature and serious.

It's a memory of an island of calm in the middle of madness--our country was disintegrating, the war was about to begin, we were sliding into poverty and hyperinflation and we knew what was ahead, we knew it would be years of despair but, at the same time, we just wanted to be teenagers and do what teenagers do. Queen always reminds me of that struggle to remain normal, against odds.

Plus "Too much love will kill you" is a wonderful song--check for yourself:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Just Copenhagen

A cool retro bike, looks like something straight out of Henri Cartier-Bressons' photos, except in color.

The Wheel of Copenhagen, reminded me of The London Eye.

At the entrance to Tivoli amusement park.

I like the way the sky contrasts against all the warm colors of the city.

When he's not on manhole covers, he is on boats. In fact, he is everywhere.

Every shop window is a little design exhibition in itself.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

That one spot

Last Friday I had a walk in the beautiful city of Lund, passing by scores of students and looking out for aggressive cyclists who have no mercy for poor, disoriented pedestrians. My only complaint: "frisk bris," which was neither fresh nor a breeze, more like a very chilly gale (ok, I may be exaggerating, but only slightly).

Then on Sunday it was Copenhagen, with its gorgeous canals, countless stores with impeccable Danish design and manholes with engraved profile of H.C. Andersen.

Finally, yesterday I found myself in Bratislava, bathing in the Indian summer sun, its old town bustling with life. For the first time, I actually liked it.

But as the train crawled back through pretty hillsides of Northern Hungary, taking me "home," I thought about what it would be like if I had to travel like that all the time.Ruslan spent about 70 days on the road last year and I thought that was excessive; he liked it at first, I think, but at some point it weighed down heavily on him. And just the other day julochka talked about one of her previous jobs in which she spent 200 days traveling in one year (for those of you fraction-challenged, that's almost two thirds of the year :).

Would that send my head spinning? No doubt. I think I would feel suspended in some kind of parallel reality of airports, train stations and schedules.

Yesterday I was reminded of something written by Mesa Selimovic, one of my favorite Bosnian writers, who said that travel is all about just one spot, the one from which everything starts and to which you always return, the place that you long for when you are away. Without it, travel would be pointless nomadic roaming leading nowhere; but then, if you only had that one spot and never left it, it would lose all of its worth.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Those Wolves Are Real Pigs

Lately, the kids started cracking incredible jokes. This morning we had our serious morning discussion with Boris and Andrej while Jelica is neither blogging nor camping at the notorious blog camp in Copenhagen. I don't know what these guys are doing out there. They must be setting some new age Odin sect whose followers perform their worship in blue rooms instead of churches.

So, these are the kinds of conversations that take place on the morning bed.

Andrej said 'Did you see the wolf coming down in the living room?'

I said 'Coming down from where?', imagining an ET wolf landing in the living room.

Andrei said 'He was holding to the lamp and he came down, didn't you see him?'

I agreed with him, impressed with his quick thinking as actually this is the only place a wolf can realistically come down from in a living room.

Boris, realising that this is a serious debate he was being left out from said 'Oh, I slept so profoundly that I didn't notice the wolf this night'

Then Andrej said 'I am a pig'.

Then I said 'No, you are not a pig. You are a little piglet at the most'.

To which Andrej answered 'The wolf is a pig!'. I didn't answer anything wondering if it was a wolf or a pig that came down from the lamp in the living room this night.

Two days ago there was another line that I liked a lot. It was raining outside, we were coming home and then all of a sudden Boris said 'Daddy, do you want us to pay attention to you now?'. What could I answer to such a kind offer but accept. He was acting so differently from the peasants in Brueghel's picture the Fall of Icarus a commentary on which you might have missed as Jelica poured on top of it some hot news from the same Odin sect meeting in the blue temple.

Today in the afternoon we were driving with the car with Boris and Andrej when we saw a fire truck on the street.

Boris says 'What is this fire truck doing here?' I say 'I don't know', really not understanding what they are doing in the middle of the road. Then Boris says 'They must be putting several houses on fire. I know that's what they are doing in Serbia'. Then I start laughing and explain that fire fighters extinguish fires rather than put them up. What would the world be like if fire fighters put houses on fire and arsonists - extinguis the fires?

Later this afternoon we are walking along Andrassy, I bought them a pack of chewing gums and gave them one each and put the rest in my pocket - a currency more precious than gold. A bit later, I take one chewing gum too. Boris asks 'Why are you taking a chewing gum?' I say 'I am a human being. I have the right to have a chewing gum'. Boris answers 'So human beings eat chewing gums too?' I say 'Yes'.

10 min. ago they get up from bed to brush their teeth in a team. Andrej wants to drink water from a dirty cup. I say 'Don't drink from this cup. It is dirty.' Andrej starts crying so I give him water from the dirty cup as it is not that dirty after all and the least thing I want after 14 hours with them is to be unreasonably tough. Then Boris says in a whining voice 'I want to drink from the dirty cup toooooo'. So never underestimate dirty cups. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

What's in the Blue Room

Beautiful things, blue and otherwise

creative people, bloggers or not

sustenance, because blogging makes you so hungry

to say nothing about thirsty

and plenty of books: some great, some useful (the jury is still out on Scott Kelby), some with misleading titles...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What blog camp is all about

Talking photo walks, like this one in Lund, Sweden, where lovely Kristina showed us around town. This is the spot where a handsome guy stopped us to ask if we were interested in aerobics classes.

Making funny clay figurines

Showing off with your Nikon, if you've got one

Eating yummie cupcakes but only after Spud has immortalized them in about a dozen (or was it a score?) of pictures

Looking out for that axe

And taking photos, lots of them, especially if you're Spud

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Splash Quite Unnoticed

I was in high school when I somehow discovered Brueghel's picture 'Fall of Icarus'. I remember I was so moved by it and the powerful message behind it - no one pays any attention to Icarus drowning: the plougman continues ploughing, the shepherd keeps staring at the sky while Icarus is disappearing in the sea.

The witnesses' attitude could be either interpreted as an 'apathy to suffering' or 'apathy to dying dreams'. Or....maybe as a 'It serves him well' attitude, kind of punishment by the common people for Icarus' daring and curiosity.

When I was in high school I understood it more like 'an apathy to dreams' or 'the loneliness of the flight '.

It is funny, it seems to me now that the landscape really resembles the Ligurian coast south-east from Genoa and reading about Brueghel's life he really travelled to Italy before moving to Brussels.

Anyway, it is a beautiful picture and if you want to appreciate it, you have to enlarge it or...go and see in in Musee des Beaux Arts in Brussels.

The Fall of Icarus, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

That's exactly what W.H. Auden did in 1938, a visit which gave birth to the beautiful poem below. Auden mostly saw it as 'an indifference to suffering', a small curiosity maybe.

Musee des Beaux Arts, W.H.Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

It is quite clear that this theme was close to Brueghel's heart as a similar motive is repeated in the picture below - Procession to Cavalry - where hardly anybody is paying attention to Jesus walking to Cavalry.

The Procession to Cavalry, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

By the way, I didn't have a similar problem this evening as while we were walking into the house with Boris and Andrej, Boris made me an offer 'Daddy, do you want us to pay attention to you now?'

* The title is a line from Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, William Carlos Williams

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tickets to ride

picture by flickr user pascalg_1991

The countdown is now for real--only 2.5 days to go until Blog Camp 2.0.

"Blog what?!"

"What kind of camp?!"

Yes, I hear you. Here's the explanation: it's five bloggers meeting in real life in Denmark with the aim of taking cool pictures (and learning to take even better ones--right, Spud?); drinking lots of wine; talking even more (as Anna said, we seem to be a chatty bunch); blogging, maybe; and generally having fun. No bonfires, no girl scout stuff and no tents (yay!) but still, hopefully, lots of camp-like camaraderie.

So, I'm about to spend three days with four women I have never seen, except on pictures. I think I know a fair bit about them but you can never be sure. Suppose they turn out to be sociopathic serial murderers? There was an axe featuring prominently during Blog Camp 1.0 and a threatening knife. But I'm trying to be reasonable--bloggers have been known to attend blog camp AND come back alive to tell the tale so I am just going to assume there will be no involuntary contact between the mentioned axe and my neck.

Which will allow me to get excited about the fact that, in two days, I am going to travel somewhere by myself. No kids, no husband--just me. Even if that means waking up in the ungodly hour of 3:45.

There was a time when Boris was small, Andrej wasn't yet born and I was working, when I did everything possible to avoid travel because I couldn't bear being away from Boris. Those rare trips that I had to make were filled with guilt and anxiety. I knew Boris was in the best care possible but I was still very uncomfortable being away.

Well, that's changed. I don't know when or how, but possibly as a result of having to stay at home for extended periods of time with kids while Ruslan globe-trotted in his job. I suppose the long hours spent entertaining a small child and a toddler taught me to appreciate an opportunity to get away (especially when it doesn't come by so often).

I am now off to choose my flight reading, pack the prezzies (if I remember where I put the wrapping paper? or when was the last time I used it?), make some more lists, and if, in all excitement, I don't forget to pick up the kids from kindergarten on time, I'll just go on feeling smug (tickets firmly in hand).