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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A stone's throw away from Africa - Malta

Two months ago I was lucky to spend several days in Malta - a place that had always attracted me by its marginal geographical position and its yellow stones seen on pictures.

Just as an orientation, Malta's history is linked to Carthage, Rome, the Arabs, the Phoenicians, the Kingdom of Sicily, the Knights of St. John, the French and the British.

Valetta is fantastic as seen from a boat in the bay. It looks haughty and inaccessible, strangely austere in its warm colours. The trips takes you to a cholera hospital, run down custom houses, magnificent palaces....

View of Valetta from the port

The two pictures below can give you the impression of the many nooks and crannies hidden in the wide Valetta port. One wouldn't have a problem finding a parking place for one's boat which is not the case for one's car.

Valetta or Sanglea or Vittoriosa (they are all linked anyway)

Fort St Angelo seen from Valetta

A place not to miss on Malta is the inner city of Mdina and its suburb Rabat. They say it was built by the Phoenicians who obviously preferred to stay away from the coast. Too vulnerable to the pirates I guess...

Mdina, the old capital

The small towns adjoining Valetta - Sanglea and Vittoriosa - are of particular interest at dusk and before storm when water is motionless.

Martaskala and Marsaxlokk were two happy fishing villages on a Sunday morning late October. The African sun dries the puddles from the evening rain and caresses the men sitting in cafes enjoying the renovated waterside in Martaskala and the cute white benches. Who said EU funding doesn't have an impact?


Although we looked hard for it we couldn't find a nice piece of coast. If I go back to Malta it will not be to the seaside but rather to Valetta. And of course, to confirm the cliche, we immediately ran into a bird shooting party. If you don't know local people are famous for shooting the birds that migrate from Europe to Africa and vice versa. Pretty mean I would say but maybe they also have their justification.

However, imagine that you are a tired bird finally seeing a piece of land. You hear the sound of your brothers and sisters (which are actually recorded), you get closer and you get a bullet.

Malta West Coast

Another disappointment was that no one was spared the 1990s and 2000s building spree damages. The empty apartments are in the thousands and they are simply not nice unlike the great old yellowish houses that were pulled down to make space for the new monstrosities with a sea view. Business and economic growth can't be an excuse here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Grey Economy of Ourselves

A couple of days ago I stayed at my friends Adriana and Robert's place in Brussels and we had a good long conversation watered with Beaujolais Nouveau and Hungarian palinka. Staying without work for several weeks some years ago Robert was testing people's reaction by telling them that he was taking care of his kids when answering questions on occupation. Surprised reactions made him think how much we are associated and somehow defined and unjustly framed with what we are doing as a profession.

Some time ago I came upon a quote from Nietzsche Untimely Meditations: How we labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than necessary to sustain our daily life because to us it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think. Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from herself; universal also is the shy concealment of this haste because everyone wants to seem content and would like to conceal more sharp-eyed observers......."

I think Nietzsche got it right: we are afraid of ourselves and the emptiness that lack of haste and full occupation could possibly reveal. Life is easy when we are busy, we have a reference point, a business card, a story to tell. We also have deadlines, direction, schedules, pressure. Where are we? Is our character defined by how well we keep our deadlines, how organised we are to deliver what we produce: knowledge or cars. Is our smartness proven by the quantity of products we sell or our inventiveness by the advertising lines.

Gulag labour

I think Nietzsche was feeling that modern society was speeding up and the faster we go, the more we lose ourselves.

It is obvious that there is time needed for just being, for watching the sky 'that will be there after us', for looking for little gems crystallized in our loneliness and silence or in other words: facing ourselves, the fears, the unpleasant truths and the beauty. There is a need for an entire, legitimate identity outside of the regular economy, a grey economy of ourselves (not to be understood as valuation of house work).

On the other hand, I am convinced that what we do is important. I disagreed with my friends Dimitar and Irina when during a discussion in Greece they stated that work doesn't matter and it is a means and not an end. We should not seek escape in work but it seems to me that those who can should try to prove a point in life through work, to make a little difference. I realise this is a luxury but those who can - should afford it.

Only in this way, a compromise can be found between Nietzsche's constant escape from ourselves and the imperatives of modern society.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Courbet comes to Frankfurt

Two days ago I was walking in Frankfurt on a warm October evening when I noticed that there is an exhibition of Gustave Courbet. I had seen some of his paintings before and I was quite excited to see a dedicated exhibition.

I went out an hour and a half later quite excited by his paintings and personality. Later I found online those paintings which impressed me the most.

I would start with a theatrical ‘Portrait of a Desperate Man’ which he painted in his late 20s while passing through an existential crisis. One can see that his hands are not relaxed but quite tense as if he wants to pull out his hair. There is a look of desperation and surprise in his eyes by what is happening to him. However, he is defying destiny and his force of character transpires. He is also trying to remove his hair from his eyes as if he is trying to look better and deeper into himself.

Portrait of a Desperate Man

The ‘Desperate Man on the Verge of an Abyss’ is in the same category. This is again a self-portrait from the same period of his life. The posture of the body is a artificial defying the laws of physics. It seems to me that this is a deliberately sought effect illustrating the dramatism of his state of mind. There is a similar look of terror and defiance at the same time.

Portrait of a Desperate Man on the Verge of an Abyss

I liked quite a lot ‘Jo, the Beautiful Irish Girl’ painted in 1866. While very often the female beauty idea has changed beyond recognition during the years this one is surprisingly modern. The woman is watching herself in the mirror but this is obviously not an act of vanity as vanity implies a temporary oblivion of the passage of time and the ephemeral beauty. While realizing the perfection of her traits and the exquisiteness of her hair Jo is conscious of the passage of time – fact that makes her endlessly sad. She might also be missing her faraway beloved realizing that beauty loses its force and fades away if not actively contemplated.

Jo, the Beautiful Irish Girl

The Happy Lovers is a touching painting. Courbet did not have a family and it seems his love life was a series of disappointments. I have the feeling that this painting is more of a dream rather than a depiction of a common state of affairs. Although this is a self-portrait the man resembles strikingly the representations of Jesus. Probably this is a deliberate effect conveying the idea of the ultimate innocence of the happy lovers. However, despite being in a blissful state both of them are in separate universes – a transition phase to primordial loneliness.

The Happy Lovers

At first the Clairvoyant or the Sleepwalker scared me a bit because of her piercing look and her expressive forehead. It seems to me that people with such open foreheads possess extraordinary intelligence or at least sensitivity. Her face has a strange triangular form because of the slightly displaced perspective as the observer looks a bit from above. Her plaits resemble snakes. After looking at her a bit longer the fear disappears and the layer of aggressiveness is peeled off from the portrait and she is left alone with her utmost fragility.

The Clairvoyant

Monday, September 20, 2010

What's in a name?

"...That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

crossposted from Borderline

Before I got married I considered changing my family name to that of my husband, but the consideration was brief. Even if the thought of administrative hassle would not have been enough of a deterrent, my new name would simply not sound good and, given how my husband's family name was spelled at the time, it would have given rise to awful mispronunciation.

My decision did not mean that I didn't care about marriage as such (I certainly did more than my spouse), or that somehow I cared about my husband less than if I had taken his name. Nobody around me raised an eyebrow, except, typically, my best friend M., who said that he would not have tolerated something like that. Luckily--as he had been told countless times--I am not married to him.

I remember having a conversation with my grandfather (my father's father) back when I was in high school and marriage was a very abstract issue. I told him that I intend to remain Jelica V if and when I get married, and he said that would be the right thing to do. And although he did not live to see me marry, I thought of him when I was signing at the registry, knowing he would be proud.

I am also sure he would have been just as bemused as I was the other day, when Credit Agricole repeatedly tried to make me put my husband's family name as my prenom, on the grounds that this is how it was done in France.

My interview for opening a bank account was going swell, I was managing the conversation in French and was very proud of myself, when the lady noticed that my lease agreement lists me and Ruslan under different family names. That's where she started fretting. In France, apparently, you are supposed to take your husband's name.

"I know that in some northern countries there is a choice and, obviously, it is the same chez vous (her face at this point reflecting the effort of someone trying to place chez vous on a mental map, but alas it all gets fuzzy to the east of Germany) but here in France it is not like that."

At first, I am amused and I smile at this unexpected cultural difference, thinking to myself that at least chez nous is more progressive in something, which is rare. But unfortunately she starts trying to make me change my name on the bank account, so that it doesn't say Madam V but Madam Z.

"Excusez-moi, mais Madam Z n'existe pas!"

At this point I would like to give her a lecture about democracy, progress and women's rights, as well as to remind her that we are in France and not Saudi Arabia, but my brain is slow in French and a tirade ridden with grammatical errors would surely loose punch. Besides, she notices that I am getting annoyed so she drops the subject. After another half an hour of talk she mentions the "name issue" again (I swear this is how she refers to it) at which point I look at her menacingly and say very slowly, and with emphasis.

"Madam, this is my bank account and this is my name. Let us leave my husband out of this."

And so we do, but I still don't have my bank account. I would like to think that is because I am yet to submit proof of address (justificatif de domicile) and not because my name is problematic. But I am preparing my lecture (see above) just in case. The next person who dares suggest I change my name has no idea what's coming at them...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Through Lavoix

Cross-posted from Borderline

The first weekend in Geneva was spent exploring the Swiss side of the Geneva lake. The guidebook was full of praise for Lavoix, a wine region between Lausanne and Montreax, so we took the train to Cully and started from there.

A pedestrian road winds through the wine villages, each a few kilometers away. The view is fantastic--on the one side, wide expanses of neatly-ordered vines, and on the other, a view on the lake and the Alps in the distance. The houses are few and far between, which makes the landscape even more beautiful.

We passed through the village of St. Saphorine on our way to Vevey. Although quaint and picturesque, it would not have been different than any of the others we walked through had we not glanced at one of the local restaurants and noticed a menu of 150CHF. That was a no-nonsense introduction to Swiss prices that took some time to sink in. For the record, we went to Vevey and had a gyros for 15CHF.

I could not pass up an opportunity to take a photo of some boats. When you see them like this in a small marina, you could be forgiven for thinking you are somewhere by the sea.

And if you don't own a boat, you can always get on one of these regular cruisers--the view of the mountains is even better from the water.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Stop on Via Ignatia - Kavala

There is a place in Northern Greece which I think is largely underestimated: Kavala. For the last 20 years Bulgarians visit regularly Greece and I haven't heard anyone say any words of praise for this cute little town.

For the first time I went to Kavala in 1989 with my parents as a part of a fantastic two-week tour of Greece. This was only two months before the Berlin wall came down and it was my first trip to the 'West'. All I remember from Kavala are lots of tears from a dramatic dispute with my parents whose cause I have totally forgotten. I remember it was very dramatic though. I have a nice fhoto with my father in front of the Turkish (and not Roman) aquaduct which I would have scanned if I had access to it.

Old Town

I hadn't been to Kavala ever since as somehow my international travels did not involve Greece. However, this summer I went there twice within a month and I liked it a lot. This is the main town in Aegean Thrace or Eastern Greek Macedonia - a 50-60 km band of land that is squeezed between the Bulgarian mountains and the sea. The famous Roman Via Ignatia linking Istanbul to the Adriatic and then Italy runs there. It was the main road linking the Western and the Eastern Roman Empires and later Constantinople and the rest of the Eastern Roman Empire (nowadays Greece).

Sunny Street

After driving along the road from Thessaloniki east along a totally empty motorway (built with EU Structural Funds) one descends for several kilometres across the city neighbourhoods to the port.

Town seen from ferry terminal

Kavala streets are full of life as, obviously, having lost their jobs, many Greeks spend time in cafes. The streets are busy but still the Thessaloniki hustle and bustle is missing which is nice. I feel that many young people just go down from their homes on the hills to the port to mix and enjoy the sea. It must be a bit harder to go back home after several ouzos. In the evening families walk along the sea and kids eat grilled corn and sugar cotton.

Street behind the port

In the past Kavala was Roman and then a part of Byzantium of course but the current flavour obviously comes from the Ottoman times. The Ottomans even constructed the aqueduct so all was not black and white at that time.

Kavala was also a target of Bulgarian appetites as it was occupied both during the WWI and WWII for three years. Because of love for Goethe and Shiller Bulgaria was always on the wrong side of the combatting alliances so they were the bad guys. This time I came upon a sign on a building explaining how the Bulgarian fascist occupiers tortured Greek resistants there. I can believe it.

I am sure there were tactical reasons for this occupation but maybe it also symbolized the longing for the Southern Sea. Hungarians have the same thing for the Adriatic: they find it really unfair that even a small part of it does not belong to them.

Street in the old town

Unfortunately we could not explore properly the old town because of the heat and the ferry to Thassos which was leaving soon.

After Bulgaria and Greece opened a new crossing point in Zlatograd, Kavala becomes easily accessible, even for a day trip or a weekend, for those who live in Central Southern Bulgaria. The road is indeed winding but it crosses the Southern Rhodope mountain which is equally beautiful on the Greek side.

Ferry's going away to Thassos

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Doors, Walls and Pubs

Don't ever tell me that English society is founded on democratic principles stemming from Magna Carta that progressively evolved over time. This is the official view.

In my opinion English society is founded on three major pillars: doors, walls and pubs. I discovered this secret during a trip in Peak District in June. I was told this from above. I wish I could do a PhD on the topic but I have to wash the dishes later.

If you go hiking in Peak District get ready for opening and closing doors. These are really good, stable doors with a cute closing mechanism that makes a nice 'clic' . I suspect producing doors in the UK is a serious business listed on the stock exchange. Forget about blue chips. Focus on doors, field doors.

A door to be opened and closed

I presume that opening and closing doors is a symbolic act all British kids exercise since tender age. Imagine the positive impact on their minds, imagine the problem solving skills this develops - one always breaks away from closed spaces, one always finds solutions. And then one carefully closes the passage to the past and continues forward until the new obstacle comes.

Properly working doors also strengthen your belief in the system. Things are not falling apart as the pessimists predict. These are not doors that are drooping sadly, difficult to close, bloated by the rain. These are lean, clean doors that make clic, clic, clic.

Wall and a bee-hive

I don't know if you ever thought of that but doors in the fields live in harmony with walls. You need a wall to have a door despite the saying that in some countries laws are like locked doors in an open field.

I think that in the UK, walls delineate private property which, they say, is very very important. It is important because it created the illusion of immortality. Otherwise, it also gives incentive to work a bit more.

Walls also keep sheep from straying away in the wilderness or into some motorway. And no one wants to see sheep invading the cities.

Playful steps and a wall

The interaction between private property and doors is called 'right of passage'. It is a fundamental English law giving the right of the public to cross private territories. Isn't it the pinnacle of civilisation? Have your own land, work it, improve it but please be kind enough to let all good willed wanderers cross it. I read somewhere that the public path was crossing a house and the owners of the house were obliged to let people pass. - Good morning, how are you? - I am going to my toilet and you? - I am on my way to the market?

No kidding, a good balance between private and public interest is quite important, isn't it?


According to my well-founded, scientific theory pubs are the third pillar of English society. Last but not least. Besides being places where people vent off some of the miserable steam gathered during the day old pubs are a symbol of continuity. Look at the picture above where the owners of the pub are written on the beams. They went on until early 18th century. I noticed that in the beginning they stayed for 30 years and with time the period decreased. Is this acceleration of time? Or....was business simply bad so they had to move to door making?


This has never happened to you, right? Watch out next time, please!

Many walls and many doors in Peak District

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pictureless Istanbul

Palace Hatice Sultan, Melling

There is a certain charm walking a place without a camera but I realised I went too far in perceiving a city landscape through the lenses so I often mentally framed certain images. As I have forgotten the cable to download pictures from my brain to the computer (I guess this will also come one day) I will have to rely on words which can also convey smells and Istanbul is a lot about smells. So here is my Istanbul from the past week:

- the mussel sellers and the nice spicy filling, only 50 kurus;
- the washed streets of Sultanahmed neighbourhood in the morning, water evaporating under the sun;
- the intense dark blue sky over Galata tower as you descent to Galata bridge at dusk;
- the cats in Cihangir;
- the ice cream sellers turning it and battering it with a happy face awaiting admiration;
- the grilled corn filled air;
- the happy bustling crowd around Taxim;
- the cheap sad grey pants in the underground passages totally contrasting the city's bright colours;
- Ayran, ayran, ayran;
- the hanging crescent moon over the roofs;
- the jetons for trams, boats and underground;
- the daunting ferries at Kabatas and the powerful trace they leave behind;
- the charming crumbling villa of Black Sea Commission in Dolmabahce Palace;
- the ladies peeking from the windows in Phener;
- the Bulgarian metal church in Phener, made in Vienna;
- the small car repair shops in Phener;
- Dolmabahce and Arnavutkoy seen from a boat at sunset;
- the new fashion for kids toys - devil's horns; angel's feathers; shining electric glasses; flying shining loops; plastic nose and fake mustaches;
- the snaking Bosphorus as one lands from Ankara;
- the ships waiting to cross the strait;
- the crumbling paint of old Ottoman mansions and houses;

And....the seagulls laughing at all that! God bless this city and its people!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Is there life after the World Cup?

I am suffering from post-football blues.

Today felt so empty. There was no more anticipation of the next match and no more excuses for slacking on work, or house work, or blogging. All this time to fill and all you feel is one big "blah" of anticlimax. Whence the adrenalin of near-misses, squandered lifetime chances or impossible goals? The camaraderie, shared joy of winning, and friendly rivalries to add the element of tension? All gone, and 2012 seems so far.

This was one of the most fun football tournaments for me, and that means since Italy 1990, as that one was the first I followed. I watched more games in 2002 than now, but I didn't support any particular team so I wasn't so invested. I was very much into Euro 2000, watching all the games in favorite pubs and restaurants of my university town. I remember the sweltering heat in Blagoevgrad, eating from plastic plates and with plastic cutlery because of water rationing, and my tears as the Dutch sent us packing 6:1, while friendly strangers tried to comfort me and my roommate Marija (even more tears). It took me ten years to finally warm up to the orange team again, which is no mean feat (forgiving is one thing, forgetting another--just for the record).

After that, my interest in the tournament understandably trailed off, although Marija and I did manage to wake up for the final and drag ourselves to a pub to watch it, only to be awarded with the most boring match in the history of football (that's Italy:France for the uninitiated). We were rooting for the penalties to get at least some particle of excitement in that ocean of boredom but in the end France managed to squeeze a win. Yuk.

But back to the blues--what to do? I think a change of scenery would help, especially if it involves a sea coast, lots of lying about, a book in hand, and an ample supply of cocktails. Oh, I'll be stuck in Budapest's oppressive heat all right, and with a million things to do for at least two more weeks, but there has been talk of Greek islands and Bulgarian mountains so I have hope. Plus, I finally have a DSLR (and I didn't even have to sell an internal organ--easy peasy!) and one should never underestimate the power of a new toy to cure vague and melancholic conditions of the spirit. Exit ennui, enter Lightroom...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Have we eaten on the insane root that takes the reason prisoner?*

The Octopus got it right and Netherlands and Spain made it to the final. Today this same Octopus sent me the video of the upcoming match which I would like to share with you.

Here one of the Dutch strikers is warming up ambitiously. Look at his pace and determination. His will is bigger than his abilities.

The Netherlands is attacking vigorously while Spain is playing with flowers. Spain is contemplating a secret move. It is a pacifist approach,a David against Goliath situation. Let them attack as much as they want, I am doing my ikebana.

Obviously things got out of control and Spain had to resort to the local witch. The witch is brewing old football shoes and Spain has to drink the potion if they want to have a chance - an undeserved penalty, an unmarked offside, at least something. Pleaaaase! The only problem: the witch is Dutch.

Both teams are in a stalemate. The result is 0-0 for the last five years. The game is stuck. The teams' official masseurs summoned the services of the local shaman who called the God of football. He is a cross between the right foot of Pele, Maradona's hand and Puyol's head. The God of football is huge and only his legs are as high as the new clock in Mecca.

After he is gone, Spain took the initiative and continued playing with hands. It is not in the rules but many things were not in the rules and FIFA accepted them. The video replay is not allowed, the whole world saw it but the referee - didn't. Never mind, who cares - hand or foot?

Spain is sad. Did they concede a goal or are the flowers to blame? Maybe the bouquet didn't turn out as it should have.

The Netherlands is frustrated. They took the ball and dashed to the local witch as well....

* Macbeth, Shakespeare

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Friendships 1.0 and otherwise

In a relatively recent study conducted by Crowd Science about 36% of respondents said they prefer to keep in touch with friends through social media than by phone. On the bright side, about 8 in 10 people prefer face-to-face contact, although there are 10% of weirdos who actually prefer online media.

I have to admit I am one of those people who use online tools—be it email, or social media sites—much more than the phone, even though I send a lot of text messages. Someone I know recently said to me that text messages are the postcards of today—what a romantic way to look at it (for the record, I am also one of possibly no more than 10 people on the planet who sends real, paper postcards every now and then). Phone conversations don’t do it for me, being a poor relation to real face-to-face contact; yes, you hear the voice, but there is no time to relax and talk about things that matter, it always stays on the surface unless you have hours to spare. I really much prefer to sit down and write a long and thoughtful email.

Or, for that matter, a blog post. Because, this is how it all started for us, way back when Andrej was a baby and we had little time on our hands but wanted to keep friends updated. So we figure a blog would do the trick. We quickly realized, though, that we have no inspiration for recording our everyday lives, and why should we? I personally don’t care about what my friends are doing every minute of their waking lives; what I want to know instead is what they are thinking, what inspires them, what are the things they feel passionate about.

This is why this blog evolved very quickly from a diary into something where we share a bit of our inner lives. It’s not a substitute for real-life exchanges of thoughts, or what a friend of mine calls “relationships 1.0,” and it is not meant to substitute 1-on-1 communication, either. But it makes me really happy when friends—particularly those whom I see only a few times a year, or I don’t see at all-- tell me that they read something I wrote and it resonated with them, or they thought it was interesting, or it made them think.

Ideally, we would be sharing our thoughts over a glass of wine and a leisurely dinner that would extend well into the night, and possibly until dawn. That’s relationships 1.0 at their best, but in between those (alas, too rare) encounters, we have to substitute somehow—enter relationships 2.0. We are simply sharing animals like that…

Friday, May 14, 2010

My two pence

Two Pence
Originally uploaded by Karen Roe
Is it political correctness gone mad, this trend in online communication to put a disclaimer to any thought by prefacing it with "in my opion" or, worse yet, "in my humble opinion"? I actively dislike it, and so does Amber Naslund, whose article is a must read if you share the sentiment that, if you care to have an opinion, you might as well stand by it, instead of hiding behind meaningless phrases.

Being clear and direct does not equate to being rude, aggressive and personal. Because, if you are, then no amount of IMOs and IMHOs are going to change that. Likewise, if you are not (rude, aggressive and personal) why would you want to cheapen your own words?

"The world is full of ambivalence, of risk mitigation, of qualified statements and milquetoasts and deliberate middle ground. And while I don’t think you need to kick up dirt just for the sake of it, we’d all do well to demonstrate that if we believe our thoughts worthy of public air, we have the courage to take ownership of them, too." (A.Naslund)

I like this idea of owning up, not just of your opinions (goes without saying) but also of your thoughts and feelings. Too often we hide behind euphemisms, and lack the courage to call things by their real name--to tell it like it is, even if only to ourselves.

I'm even willing to go as far and say that owning up to your thoughts/feelings is a true act of heroism (as defined by Ruslan in his post long time ago) because there is a sacrifice involved, and what you sacrifice is (often) a nice image you have of yourself, when you have turned the mirror of honesty towards you. To face your weakness and your imperfect self without reaching for the sugar-coating of euphemistic (and untrue) explanations--there is your hero.

In my humble opinion, that is.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Weekend of sleeping under the stars?

After surprising everyone--including myself--with that bike ride from Szentendre to Budapest (22km of cycling, a few more of pushing uphill), I agreed to a weekend of hiking, trekking and sleeping outdoors somewhere in Peak District where there is no mobile reception.

It must have been a moment of temporary insanity because I hate sleeping in a tent and have adamantly refused to try again after that one camping attempt in Croatia (claustrophobic tent, rocky surface, bugs, 78C in midday and no hot water--sleeping under the stars is overrated).

Except this time there will not even be a tent... gulp. Everyone has to create their own shelter and sleep in it for two days (something tells me that this might change my sentiment about tents).

That is actually the whole point of the exercise because this is not an ordinary (if weird) weekend in the nature but a challenge in which teams compete while doing fun stuff and all of that to raise money for charity. I'm really looking forward to the walking-in-the-hills bit and team games (this family does not lack competitive spirit) but the shelter making part really worries me.

We are supposed to bring our own recyclable shelter parts to the event site and I can imagine the look on the faces of airport staff as I argue that a bunch of cardboard boxes and nylon are absolutely necessary for my trip to the U.K. Plus, I am completely incapable of doing anything with my hands other than typing (ok, cooking too, but you see my point).

So, I think I need help. Who's willing to join me in this adventure and save me from the embarassment (and inconvenience) of sleeping under the stars quite literally? There is still time to register for the event (June 11-13) and if you live in the U.K. getting there is not a problem (the nearest train station is Edale).

Spud? Polly? Anyone?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why I love Jose Mourinho

Serie A
Originally uploaded by tpower1978
He is (c)rude, confrontational and arrogant, with a charisma of a pit bull terrier. He seems to thrive on conflict, conspiracy theories, and making enemies. If he listened to Serbian turbo folk, there's a line from a song he could easily adopt as a motto: "those who don't like us can only hate us" (sounds infinitely better in Serbian)--fits great with his quarrelsome personality.

But all of that is completely irrelevant in the light of his coaching skills--he might be evil, but he's an evil genius. For a guy who started out as an interpreter (something that Barca fans like to remind him of contemptuosly) he came a very long way.

Whatever it is that makes a great coach, he's got it. Who would have thought he would take Inter to the finals of the Champion's League (something that hasn't happened in 38 years)? I am awed by this ability to take a pretty mediocre team and parachute it to success and glory.

I also find his complete lack of PC quite disarming. Why should a football coach be slick like a banker and sleazy like a politician? I am increasingly irritated by the reign of political correctness and its celebration of well-packaged mediocrity over unpolished competence--not just in football.

So what if Mourinho is an arrogant bastard? He has every right to be. Go Jose!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Critical mass baptism

This weekend I rode my first Critical Mass--well done me!

We were about 35,000 people on Saturday, biking from Roosevelt ter, via Lanchid and Erszebet
bridge, past the Parliament and all the way to the City Park (see the route map here). In my imperfect estimate that was a bit less than 10km in length.

The weather was fantastic and so was the ride, despite the inevitable bottlenecks and having to push the bike occasionally. I was alone so I looked around in curiosity, observing the crowd, and I was impressed by how diverse a group it was--there were kids pedaling patiently, babies on the back of their parent's bicycles, over-enthusiastic teenagers, couples, mothers with daughters, even an elderly citizen here and there. Before I had thought that Critical Mass is just for bike pros, but it is far more democratic than that, and I loved that aspect of it.

This was also my longest ride ever, given that I am a complete novice and that this was only the third biking attempt in my whole adult life. Until now, I haven't ventured far from home because I was afraid of traffic, or that I would get too tired and have to push the bike back home. These are probably typical fears for someone very green but I realized they were totally unfounded--it is possible to have very long rides in Budapest without going into traffic, just following bike tracks around the city. My friend Greg from Cycling Solution would probably say that there is a lot of room for improvement but from my amateurish point of view, Budapest already has great infrastructure for biking and more people should be made aware of that.

But the best thing about this Critical Mass event for me is that I got very confident and absolutely excited about biking, so this is definitely not going to be a one-off thing for me. My next challenge is to try to ride all he way to Szentendre (20km from Budapest)--watch this space!