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Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Roads Not Taken

Usually, I take decisions easily and I trust my intuition. Sometimes, it has taken me a bit longer to take decisions for important things but once it was done I didn't reconsider and I didn't try to think too much of the alternative roads.

After all, each choice is made on the basis of a methodology. While very often the method is the intuition, the blink (Malcolm Gladwell), other times - it is a value. In third cases, the decision is taken by someone else or by chance.

Recently, I had a strange nostalgic sensation about what has not been. I was missing the un-happened and the almost-happened. It was not something concrete, just a cumulative longing for the untaken roads so to say. If only I had a second life like the cats, go back from the beginning and each time an important decision had to be made I would take the 'other' one.

Well, one more life would not be enough as most of the choices made lead to other choices which would not have been available otherwise, etc. Therefore, there is a multitude of lives out there which could never be checked against some criteria, for example happiness.

The only practical conclusion is that one should not regret that much the decisions taken. There certainly are choices that cannot be undone and that is a bit tough. However, other choices take us to yet more interesting places in life geography and we are actually at constant crossroads.

The crossroads are so numerous that basically there are no two lives that are identical as mathematically it wouldn't be possible that two people live in identical circumstances and take exactly the same decisions at every crossroad. That is, our lives are unique. Yet, I was missing a second uniqueness the other day....

Road at Chantilly, Paul Cezanne

The Road Not Taken

(Robert Frost)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

Thursday, October 22, 2009

So Near, So Far

A recent conversation with a friend made me think of some things around us that are at the same time very near to us but also far because of insurmountable barriers. See for example Mount Ararat for the Armenians. Those who have been to Yerevan know that the mountain and the peaks are a mere 30 km away from the city Turkey. And the relations between Armenia and Turkey are not exactly the point of closing the common border. So Armenians keep looking at those beautiful pyramidal peaks knowing that they cannot even come close to them.

Mount Ararat as seen from Yerevan (2005)
- Greater Ararat (5,137 m) and Lesser Ararat (3,896 m.)

Ararat is a holy mount for Armenians. It used to be a part of Big Armenia as indicated on the map below. Everything in Armenia is called Ararat - hotels, restaurants, dogs, people. Even Noah's Ark was docked there when the trip was over and the rains stopped.

I would call the Armenian disease 'longing for the sky'.

Old Armenian Map, 1729

There is a similar situation in Bolivia. Because of historical reasons Bolivia is now a landlocked country. Bolivia had a small chunk of land at the Pacific Ocean but it lost it to Chile in 1904. It seems the Bolivians cannot get over it and they still keep a fleet and ships at the Lake Titicaca. Apparently they also have a day of the sea each year that is more important than anything.

Bolivia nowadays

The Bolivian sickness is 'longing for the blue ocean'.

Territorial loss map of Bolivia

The Hungarian immune system is not that strong either. Everyone who lives in Hungary and who is not a Hungarian nationalist by nature is a bit (or a bit more) tired by seeing the pre-WWI map of Hungary on cars, motorists' leather jackets, T-shirts....It includes a good chunk of the Adriatic Sea in nowadays Croatia (the blue part on the map below). These must have been cool times for Hungarians but....

Map of pre-Trianon Hungary

I would call the Hungarian disease 'longing for the glorious past'. It comes together with a kind of swine flu called 'longing for the Southern Sea'. It is a dangerous condition.

I think we all (including the collective national psyche) need to long for something lost and something past. It must be a kind of piece in the psychological puzzle. I guess we especially need the psychological equivalent of a southern sea - warm and refreshing at the same time and opening to the wider world.

Unfortunately, this psychological need comes handy to cunning politicians who easily exploit it need and call for action. the better case - distract the collective attention from trivial robbery and mismanagement - here and now.

I think we'd better know that these things should remain where they are - so near, so far.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

He was bored and he was bored too

It got hold of me today at 3.45 in the main hall of the Central European University. It came suddenly and unexpectedly and I felt it like a punch in my diaphragm. L'Ennui came to pay me a visit while listening to how wonderfully corporately socially responsible Magyar Telecom is. Don't get me wrong: they are certainly doing a great job but I felt that I couldn't care less about that at that particular moment. I had to leave but before that, in a purely masochistic manner, I endured a coffee break. There is nothing worse than a coffee break when one doesn't feel like speaking.

I rushed home in the rainy streets feeling strangely weightless. I passed by a Thai Massage place which looked so boring, the castle hill view at the end of a rain-washed street was so banal, the metro - so commonplace. I knew what had happened to me as it had been there before. I came home with the firm intention to consult what some of the theorists of l'ennui familiar to me thought about that. I open 'Les Fleur du Mal' (Baudelaire) and I read in one of the poem 'Spleen' poems:

'J'ai plus de souvenir que si j'avais mille ans/I have as many memories as if I have lived 1000 years'

I think that this is one of the causes - being greedy of life experiences we end up hoarding too many and it becomes more difficult to get new, fundamentally different ones which leads to a lousy feeling of repetitiveness.

Then I continue : 'L'ennui, fruit de la morne incuriosite/l'ennui, fruit of the sad incuriosity'. I knew I would find this. It was exactly this today: I didn't care about MT and about several other things. One of the main things that makes us get up each day is the curiosity, isn't it? When I am curious I feel I wouldn't have a boredom problem if I lived a 1000 years but no: curiosity is not guaranteed at all, it seems.

By the way, I was thinking of writing about boredom since last weekend when I visited Robert Capa's exhibition and heard the following words from a Hungarian guide: ' Capa lived a good life. He stayed at expensive hotels and earned lots of money. But he wanted more, he was bored. Then he met John Steinbeck. Steinbeck was bored too. They decided to go together to the Soviet Union......' At first, I smiled at the simplistic way of describing Capa's urge to visit war zones and places like Soviet Union in the 1940s but then I thought that she was probably right.

I remembered an old theory of mine (well, it must be someone else's of course) that war is not caused by the arcane dealings of politicians but more so by the people who agree to get involved in it. And, it seems to me that war can be a desired escape from the tedium of everyday life. In fact, I think that people are perversely attracted by it as it saves them from the boredom of commonplace existence. This also reminds me of a thought of Boris Vian in this line of thinking that if each individual soldier disagreed to go to war there would be no war.

This was also confirmed by Richerd Holbrook who said about the Vietnamese war that 'the terrible truth that people do not like to admit is that the war was fun for young men, at least it was fun if they were civilians or journalists'.

L'Ennui, Sylvia Plath

Tea leaves thwart those who court catastrophe,
designing futures where nothing will occur:
cross the gypsy's palm where yawning she
will still predict no perils left to conquer.
Jeopardy is jejeune now: naive knight
finds ogres-out-of-date and dragons unheard
of, while blase princesses indict
tilts as terror as downright absurd.

The beast in Jamesian grove will never jump,
compelling hero's dull career to crisis;
and when insouciant angels play God's trump,
when bored arena crowds for once look eager,
hoping towards havoc, neither pleas nor prizes
shall coax from dooms blank door lady or tiger.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog action day 2009: climate change

I signed up to participate in this year's Blog Action Day which means that, together with about 7000 other bloggers from around the globe, I am going to write about climate change today. You can check out the details here and, of course, if you feel like writing about climate change you can do that without registering as well. The idea is to create a big buzz in the blogosphere about the most important global topic of this year (ahead of the Copenhagen summit in December).

I think by now even the most die-hard conservatives have accepted that climate change is a fact and that we need to deal with this problem sooner rather than later, lest we risk the future of the entire planet. It is a complex problem, it doesn't have simple solutions, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of it.

It is also easy to forget, while we wait for the world leaders to take some serious measures, that there are many things we can do as individuals. It might seem that our individual impact is so tiny that it makes no difference at all in the bigger picture, but that is not true.

Remember how a group of people walking on a bridge in a synchronized step can create vibrations so powerful that they can bring the whole structure down? If each of us does whatever is in his or her power to do, the sum of billion small parts will add up to something big.We can start with simple things: recycling, saving paper, turning off tap when you brush your teeth, taking showers instead of bath, taking public transport/walking/cycling instead of driving, etc.

Check out this great resource on WWF's website where you can get lots of useful advice on how to green your living. And take a look at the video, as well--it's funny, but the ideas are good.

That much we can and must do--we have no choice.

Monday, October 12, 2009

You were walking smiling

On Sunday, summer suddenly bowed goodbye and retired behind the curtains. Autumn came to play a violin tune - there was no breakfast on the terrace, we didn't take the kids biking in the park either. I performed a ritual of anticlimax - removing the summer shirts from the hangers and packing them high up in the wardrobe. I did exactly the opposite so recently. Where is expectant March....

Driving back to town today I was thinking that my body and mind have to adapt to the new circumstances: the new gray light, the lack of regular biking in the morning, lunches in the kitchen instead of the sunny meadow. I even subconsciously played Leonard Cohen in the evening who is not exactly a merry influence.

Florence street in rain, 1888
Bernardo Strozzi

However, rain can be so beautiful when we adapt to it or....when we forget how wonderful the sun is. I thought of Jacque Prevert and his Barbara.

Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest ce jour-là
Et tu marchais souriante
Épanouie ravie ruisselante
Sous la pluie...

...Cette pluie sage et heureuse
Sur ton visage heureux
Sur cette ville heureuse

It translates roughly:

Remember, Barbara
It rained on Brest that day
You were walking smiling
Relaxed, enchanted and dripping
Under the rain....

...this wise and happy rain
on your happy face
on this happy town....

Raindrops are beautiful on a loved face.

Autumn rain and bad weather make us turn inside to ourselves and suddenly a wall is built between us and the outside world. It reinforces the cosyness of inner spaces, it makes us fix the lights, adapt the music, take out the good books. It's good to listen to autumn rain from the bed, very early in the morning in the dark or late in the evening.

On the other hand, it is also good to venture in the rain. One gets a feeling of a mini-exploit. I remember once going to pick tomatoes almost naked under a very strong rain. Well, we had drunk things as well but I was also happy.

Rain also accelerated the rotting of fallen leaves and this gives a nice deep smell.

When it is raining outside and I am working it is also good because I don't have a feeling that I am missing something. Suddenly, work becomes so much more appealing which, most probably, is the fundamental reason for the economic success of Northern countries versus Southern countries.

But, let's not forget that spring is New Zealand.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The analogue experiment

(a gratuitous photo of a flower, taken with a P&S)

I can't share my first analogue pictures in years because I don't have a scanner so you will just have to rely on my judgment.

I wasn't too happy with what came out, primarily because a lot of the pictures look a little bit washed out. My camera is theoretically supposed to warn me if I am overexposing which it didn't do; in retrospect, I think I got carried away trying to achieve very shallow depth of field, totally ignoring the harsh light in which most of the pictures were taken (as in midday light on very sunny days). I was shooting on aperture-priority, like a good student of Spud's.

Then again, I got interesting colors on some of the images, even if they look like someone has been playing with Photoshop contrasts a bit much. Some have a problem with focus, so that's definitely an area for improvement. Well, frankly, there's lots of areas for improvement and I hope my "Understanding Exposure" is going to arrive soon because I don't quite know what I am doing (I canceled Scott Kelby because he wasn't in stock and I had already waited for more than a month).

I keep on shooting, though, and the second roll of film is almost finished so now I'm curious to see if I made any progress. I did make diligent notes all the way about what I shot, with what aperture and in which kind of light, which helped immensely when I sat to analyse what went wrong (or right, occasionally). Let's just say that, despite a little bit of disappointment, the experiment goes on...