Category Archives: Culture

The Calm Place

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I.

Name five things you can see, the app said.

I counted drapes, floors, slippers…

I couldn’t name the truth.

I knew I had it somewhere, but I didn’t want

To slide open the drawers of memory again

(the place was so tidy).

Name four you can hear, it menaced.

I strained but heard nothing, nothing.

The room is dead quiet.

I am alone. The sun is quiet, the floors are quiet, my clothes are quiet.

There are no voices, there is no inner music.

Nor did I smell, or touch, or feel.

There was a vague odor of petrol in my rough woolen sweater, but the place

Was unscented.

 

II.

I went to the river.

Here the air is warm and smells

Of dead things that used to be living.

It wraps around my neck like a shawl.

Here the grass is moist and the leaves

In it dry and rustling.

I rub my palm against thick hedges. They scratch.

The autumn sky lowers it golden gaze like a shy geisha.

Young birches lean with honey-tinged bibs toward the water.

They come alive with black birds.

Like inscrutable lenses, willow leaves swirl through the air

Then alight on an eddy.

You guessed it: there’s a breeze.

 

I went to the river.

It is warm.

It goes places.

It hurtles away, quietly.

An old man dressed all ocher and chestnut sits by it and listens

Then checks his pulse.

It is still there.

The river and me, we walk along in opposite directions.

A bike rolls on by, turning the gravel sunwards.

A handsome young man asks me for the time.

I give him what little time I have on me – and he smiles back, clutching a beer.

I came out here to read some Ezra Pound but the place

Is teeming with poets.

 

III.

Let us make here three tabernacles, said the apostle.

One for thee, and one for Moses and one for Elias.

You’ll never know it, but

I’ve never known happiness until now.

By bringing me here, you brought me into being.

 

 

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48 Hours in London – Plus 3 Misconceptions Gone

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The graduation cap kept slipping off my head and the tassel was getting into my field of vision, occasionally blotting out important surrounding objects, like pillars or toilets. I couldn’t bend down, nod, or even glance at my phone. I was beginning to get an inkling into why all graduands look so dignified – standing tall, chin up, gaze fixed firmly ahead, stiff smile. They must be terrified of dropping the thing…

I hadn’t worn a robe before either, and this ceremony at the London Barbican for alumni of the University of London’s International Programmes was my first British-style graduation, national anthem and all.

So when the lady at the dressing booth carefully placed and arranged the heavy black robe on my shoulders, the eerie weight of responsibility settled on them too.

I was on my best behavior: walked across the stage confidently when my name was called (having wisely ditched my stilettos in favor of more sensible flat-sole boots), bowed imperceptibly to the Vice-Chancellor and the other members, looked proudly (how else, cap was unstable) up into the audience, shook someone’s hand and was utterly relieved to be seated again without any major incident.

I was all too happy to relax and watch the long procession of excited graduates that followed, their enthusiasm, the faculty speeches, and the subtle yet undoubtedly motivating and inspiring pomp of the ceremony.  I barely fidgeted. The fact that I was dead beat after hours of walking through London must have had something to do with it.

Trying to pack this buzzing and fascinating city into only 48 hours and tick most of the major boxes on my to-see list is no small feat. It is, in fact, for no small feet at all. I have come dangerously close to a broken back, but I did manage to get a pretty good sense of the place, if I do say so myself.  Yes, boys and girls, it can be done!

So, as my throbbing, swollen feet are my witness, and in my capacity as surface-scratcher extraordinaire, I feel it is now my duty to dispel at least 3 common misconceptions right off the bat:

1. English food is terrible.

No way. Not necessarily. The gusty winds of healthy living are sweeping through the busy streets and teeming bike lanes of London, with tasty treats, leafy salads, fresh thick soups and vegan sandwiches on every corner. Things like pumpkin or papaya slices on rye bread with seeds, arugula, coleslaw, vegan mayo, vegetables and cheese can make a wholesome yet light and savory breakfast at a fraction of the price of fish and chips. Eat away! The food scene is amazing, and old traditional pubs, local steakhouses, elegant seafood restaurants, or first-class international cuisine are equally sophisticated and delightful. I particularly liked the looks of some eateries around Covent Garden.

2. The British are sticklers for protocol. (You know, stiff upper lip, haven’t been properly introduced type of stuff…)

Well, what can I say, if you marry into the Royal family (new wedding coming up!) most likely, but then you’ve brought it upon yourself. In my experience, however, even during official ceremonies there is the occasional cutting of slack, and guidance is always offered with smiles and in a calm tone of voice.

On the streets, the British are considerate and friendly chaps (and lads), who do not seem at all phased by the bustling crowds and will always take a second to give you directions or duck while you’re trying to photograph the sights. There will be a polite sorry for every brush against your arm, and thank yous are abundant. Never an arrogant snarl, never a condescending eye roll. There is a touch of affability and humor with every interaction. (Oh, I love decorum and a good upbringing!)

And even though the city is as vibrant, diverse and fast-paced as they come (more than 300 different languages are spoken in London schools), I did not get a sense of hectic rage among its inhabitants at all. They are lax and at ease in the commotion (occasional exception: cyclists – no, they are not training for the Tour de France, they’re just pedaling to work). To my complete surprise, most pedestrians don’t pay the slightest attention to red traffic lights. These seem to be optional, as jaywalking is common. So no sticklers there.

The hard focus on discipline and immediate punishment so typical of Germany is oddly missing here, as is the idea that human communities can only be held together by an obsession with conformity and the strict enforcement of procedures.

3. London is outrageously expensive.

Again, if you want an apartment on the riverbank, overlooking the Tower Bridge, or a nice flat in a posh neighborhood (ok, rents are pretty high everywhere) that will bore a significant hole through your bank account. High-life central London entertainment and tickets to most tourist venues will also take a toll on your finances; croissants and hot dogs in the immediate vicinity of a tourist attraction tend to be quite overpriced. But regular food and transportation fares are decent and even a couple of nights in a pleasant hotel not very far from the City are affordable.

You will see the occasional homeless person, and beggars on the Tube. But you will also see great culture and art (Tate Modern has sections with free access); impressive architecture – an eclectic mix of old and new, gleaming glass-and-steel structures cuddling the grimed walls of old churches, townhouses emblazoned with heraldic symbols, and charming little gardens redolent of rhododendrons; garrulous seagulls on the Thames and a buzzing fleet of red double-decker buses that will seem like they’re all driving on the wrong side of the road!

So be careful when you cross the street, pack an umbrella and enjoy five o’clock tea!

I’ll interrupt my reminiscing now and stand for God Save the Queen as my graduation ceremony closes. London, it’s been a pleasure!

Spoiler alert: here are (some) pictures. Don’t forget to also follow me on Instagram, under ipesardna, for more interesting stuff.

 

See you next time!

 

 

The Darkest Hour

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“În vremurile aspre și triste, oamenii liberi pot să se consoleze întotdeauna cu lecția de bază a istoriei, și anume că tiraniile nu pot dăinui decât printre neamurile slugarnice.”

Winston Churchill,

în Humes, J.C. – Vorbele de duh ale lui Winston Churchill, ed. Humanitas, București, 2008.

 

 

Thought of the day

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“Sufletul omului se aruncă în dezordine pe sine însuși mai cu seamă când devine, atât cât stă în puterea lui, un abces și, ca să zic așa, o excrescență a lumii; a-și arăta nemulțumirea față de unul din evenimentele care au loc înseamnă o distanțare de natură, în care sunt conținute ca părți toate naturile celorlalte ființe.

În al doilea rând, se aruncă în dezordine când respinge orice ființă umană sau se îndreaptă împotriva ei cu intenția de a o vătăma, cum fac, de pildă, sufletele celor aprinși de mânie.

În al treilea rând, sufletul se aruncă în dezordine atunci când se lasă învins de plăcere sau de suferință.

În al patrulea rând, când se preface și face sau spune ceva în mod fals și nesincer.

În al cincilea rând, când acțiunile și impulsurile sale nu sunt îndreptate spre vreun scop anume, ci se produc fără rost, la întâmplare și în mod inconsecvent, în timp ce e de datoria noastră ca până și cele mai neînsemnate acțiuni să aibă loc țintind spre o finalitate; dar scopul ființelor raționale este acela de a se supune rațiunii și legii celei mai respectate cetăți și guvernări*.”

*(cosmosul, guvernat de rațiunea universală și divină)

Marcus Aurelius – Gânduri către sine însuși, Ed. Humanitas, 2013.

 

 

Thought of the day

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“Te lași influențat de impresiile care vin din afară? Oferă-ți un răgaz pentru a învăța ceva bun și încetează să te mai lași purtat de colo-colo. Trebuie să te ferești totuși de o altă rătăcire: căci proști sunt cei care, chiar datorită acțiunilor lor, sunt obosiți de viață și cei care nu au niciun scop către care să-și călăuzească orice impuls al lor și, într-un cuvânt, reprezentările lor.

(…)

Întotdeauna trebuie să-ți aduci aminte acestea: care este natura Întregului și care este a mea, care este raportul dintre aceasta și aceea, și ce fel de parte este ea și din ce univers; apoi trebuie să-ți amintești că nu există nimeni care să te împiedice să acționezi și să vorbești întotdeauna în acord cu natura din care ești o parte.

(…)

Cât de ușor este să respingi și să ștergi orice reprezentare, fie supărătoare, fie nepotrivită cu natura ta, și repede să te găsești într-o desăvârșită seninătate a sufletului.

Marcus Aurelius – Gânduri către sine însuși, Ed. Humanitas, 2013.

 

Romanian sights 2017

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Exploring (and enjoying) the Carpathian garden! 😉

 

Italy. 15 hours near Pisa

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Italy. 15 hours near Pisa

To even consider a 15-hour drive (round trip) for a measly 15 waking hours in Italy, you must be pretty desperate.

We not only considered it, we actually went. Three weeks of winter in the month of May, all hell breaking loose at work and a nasty throat infection did it. We wanted Italy. We needed Italy. We found a nice bed-and-breakfast near Lucca at €120/night for four (Triolivo, in Guamo), packed a bag, and didn’t think twice.

An ambition that had been simmering in our subconscious quickly developed into a full-blown obsession. We want to see the leaning tower of Pisa! We’ve been to Italy so many times by now, how could we have missed it? I mean, it’s not exactly hard to find. It’s right there, on every children’s atlas, right next to the red Ferrari. Simply had to see it. Simply had to climb it.

293 steps and we were at the top for the noon bells! Was it worth it? Well, our son was crawling on all fours under the large bell to explore the sound mechanism, and was so excited he even forgot to cover his ears in the hubbub, so you be the judge of that.

What else was on the list? The charming little citadel of Lucca (where Giacomo Puccini was born), sun and storm in the Tuscan hills, a seaside view of the Apennine mountains with surfers in the roaring waves, profiteroles, dry soup made of fresh tomato puree and white bread, and the hot sand at Camaiore.

We only spent one night, but came home with a bagful of great memories. I think our son’s exclamation on the way back pretty much sums it up: “But we were there for 3 days!”

Enjoy… 🙂

The Sacred and the Profane

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“Just as a modern man’s habitation has lost its cosmological values, so too his body is without religious or spiritual significance. In a summary formula we might say that for the nonreligious men of the modern age, the cosmos has become opaque, inert, mute; it transmits no message, it holds no cipher. The feeling of the sanctity of nature survives today in Europe chiefly among rural populations, for it is among them that a Christianity lived as cosmic liturgy still exists.”

Mircea Eliade – The Sacred and the Profane (The Nature of Religion) – written in 1956

PS: Could science (or rather, scientism and other isms) supply the new non-theistic religious experience? Certain ideological positions seem to enjoy “sanctity” status, while others are taboo. There is even talk of “brand religion” in marketing, with brand communities built around a consciousness of kind, traditions and rituals (for shared memories, experiences and behaviors), and a sense of solidarity and moral responsibility among members! Can man make sense of his journey and his life without transcendence, and without a higher authority or a fixed frame of reference (the Absolute)? What do you think?

Quotes of the Day

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“When one tries to rise above Nature one is liable to fall below it. The highest type of man may revert to the animal if he leaves the straight road of destiny. (…) There is danger there – a very real danger to humanity. Consider, Watson, that the material, the sensual, the worldly would all prolong their worthless lives. The spiritual would not avoid the call to something higher. It would be the survival of the least fit. What sort of cesspool may not our poor world become?”

Arthur Conan Doyle – The  Adventure of the Creeping Man

“- Your life is not your own, he said. Keep your hands off it.

– What use is it to anyone?

– How can you tell? The example of patient suffering is in itself the most precious of all lessons to an impatient world.”

Arthur Conan Doyle – The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger