Friday, March 31, 2006

Summit Fever, Andrew Grieg

Andrew Greig wrote one of my favourite books, 'Summit Fever' ... an armchair climber's initiation to Glencoe, mortal terror and 'The Himalayan Matterhorn'.

After two months of life in a high altitude camp Andrew describes the walk out from the mountains

Walking out is an extended decompression, an easing back into normal life. Part of the addiction of climbing is that it makes the ordinary world marvellous and desirable again. I associated everything I wanted now with items of furniture: bed, chair, table, settee. The casually intimate embrace of a familiar lover; the company of friends, shared food and drink, laughter and conversation, the cats sprawled out, books,the guitar ... Back to the warm, human world - not for safety and shelter, not running away from something, but a return to the complex, human life that's there.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Two People in Iraq

One was murdered in cold blood, the other was held hostage and released today. Der Spiegel reported on both, the war journalist and her often forgotten Iraqi translator.

Antwerpen and Kutluğ Ataman

Antwerpen's Center for Contemporary Art, Extra City, is hosting Kutluğ Ataman's project Küba. Interview extracts make me think it's something I'm going to have to go see for myself.

Kuba is a project by the Turkish video artist Kutluğ Ataman. On 40 old television sets stacked up in an old harbour warehouse, an equal number of people tell their stories about a unique society in the slums of Istanbul. All sorts of people live in Küba: criminals, drug addicts, teenage delinquents, religious extremists ... the poorest of the poor rub shoulders with one another there. Nobody is able to tell us precisely where Küba is or how it got its name. Some think that it is on the south side of Istanbul, others situate Küba near the airport. What is certain is that sometimes life can be pretty hard in Küba.

Ataman went in search of the origin and actuality of Küba, letting forty residents speak at length. The majority of those interviewed leave a lasting impression with their arresting stories of sometimes tragic, sometimes bitter events. Does Küba provide us with a picture of shared adversity, freedom and collectivity? Or is the language of violence the connecting factor in this imaginary enclave? With Küba Ataman seeks to fathom the boundaries – both geographic and mental – of an urban area. In the background Küba also goes in search of the relation between a place and individual and social desires or anxieties. Do the collectivity and solidarity evoke echoes of Castro’s cigar republic? Is Küba a section of a city with its own laws and boundaries, or is it a lawless, unbounded state of mind? The name Küba refers to a zone with secure houses that appeared in the 1960s. They provided protection against violent assaults and political terror. Today Küba consists of several hundred temporary refuges that provide shelter for a handful of non-conformists of all kinds. Whether the stories that the residents of Küba tell are autobiographical, or the product of pure fantasy, is something Ataman leaves up to us to decide.

Küba received its premiere in Pittsburgh as part of the Carnegie International. Following that, the production took up residence in an old postal sorting station in New Oxford Street in London in 2005. Ataman expended more than two years on the preparations for the project. For Küba’s stop in Antwerp, Extra City found a deserted harbour warehouse on the Kattendijkdok. Beginning on March 16, this will be a refuge for Küba’s 40 residents telling their video stories. In September 2006 Extra City will move into the building permanently.

Garden Gnomes in Germany

I couldn't resist posting this Der Spiegel article . It begins, The French blockbuster "Amelie," may have made him trendy abroad in recent years, but nanus hortorum vulgaris, has been a regular fixture in German culture for more than a century. Created in 1872 in the small town of Graefenroda in the German state of Thuringia, none of the kobolds, trolls and sprites that populate Teutonic mythology has endeared itself to Germans like the common garden gnome. Experts estimate that some 25 million of the glazed ceramic creatures now inhabit German living rooms and perfectly manicured flower beds.
But the common garden gnome has fallen on hard times in recent years, his reputation tarnished by campaigns led by mean-spirited elitist intellectuals and even perverts. To intellectuals and other touchy types, he's despised as the embodiment of kitsch and petit-bourgeois parochialism. Some outsiders have even sought to savage the image of the gnome by plunging him into a world of decadence, violence, and sex. There are pornographic gnomes, one-eared Van Gogh gnomes and "Scream" versions à la Edvard Munch ...
"The first source is traveling as discovery, as exploration, as exertion: the journey as a search for truth, not as relaxation. My travels mean paying attention, having patience to look into things, wanting to know, to see, to understand and to accumulate the entirety of knowledge. Such traveling is devotion and hard work."
Ryszard Kapuscinski


I noticed Belgian television announcing that Iraqi blogger, Riverbend had been nominated for the Samuel Johnson award last night, as written up here in the Independent newspaper ... I felt so deeply sad.

Sad ...because little is known about the author of Baghdad Burning, who prefers to remain anonymous. The blog begins in September 2003 with the words: "I'm female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway."

Sad because life isn't improving, in fact her latest report shows things are becoming so much worse. A former computer programmer before the invasion, she lost her job as travel to and from her workplace became too dangerous. Instead she has chronicled her anger and fear in postings at Riverbend ... Baghdad Burning... I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend...

The Samuel Johnson award is one of the Britain's most prestigious literary awards and Riverbend has been longlisted for the £30,000 prize, alongside literary giants like Alan Bennett Last year, she won the 20,000euro third prize from the Lettre Ulysses Award. It is awarded to provide symbolic, moral and financial support for reporters whose courage, curiosity, and integrity drives them to create in-depth, well-researched texts, bringing unknown, forgotten, and hidden realities to light. The prize is also intended to publicly honor and highlight the extraordinary achievements of literary reportage. Furthermore, by facilitating the translation and publication of texts from often inaccessible places or languages, this project aims to focus attention on diverse topics and issues

I wonder what these literary honours mean to a woman living in a world gone mad...

Nana Chen

I first noticed Nana Chen's writing in an interview she did with Rita Golden Gelman and then just in case I had any doubts, I found her interview with Hans Kemp .

Today I found a post written by George, over at e-marginalia, about an interview done with Nana on Wayne Yang's Eight Diagrams site.

And it was there that I discovered Nana has her own site called . But of course...

Nana packed her first suitcase at the age of six. The journey that started from Taipei took her to Manila, San Francisco, Santiago, Buenos Aires, La Paz, Lima, New York City, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. By the time she returned to Taipei over a decade later, she had moved thirty times and gone to fourteen schools.
Before becoming a freelance photographer and writer, Nana was the Travel Editor of interviewing some of the most well-known names in the travel writing industry. She was also Editor/Staff Writer of Ivy League Magazine and Editor of ACNielsen-Taiwan for seven years. Her photography and writing have appeared in, Still Moments,, Ivy League, and (translated to Greek). Nana's photographs and paintings have been exhibited in Taipei, Montreal and New York City galleries. Her work has been featured and reviewed on International Community Radio Taipei (ICRT), in New York City's GALLERY&STUDIO, This Month in Taiwan,, and other media. Nana speaks English, Taiwanese, Mandarin and plans to relearn Spanish one day. She currently lives in Taipei with her four cameras.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

My New Neighbours ...

I have a pair of Belgian Magpies building their big messy nest out the window next to my desk, across in the Silver Birch forest. The trees are still leafless, so I can see them coming and going as I work ...

Murat Kurnaz

In January 2006 Der Spiegel ran the story of Murat Kurnaz, a young man who was wrongly incarcerated in Guantanamo and who is still there today, more than 4 years later, and as der Spiegel writes it, he is clearly the victim of the foolish games some governments play. Der Spiegel's follow-up today writes of people finally beginning to wonder if Guantanamo is guilty of creating the enemy it imagined it was imprisoning ...

Political Philosophy: a definition

I was intrigued by this definition of political philosophy:
Political philosophy is the study of human social organization and of the nature of man/woman in society. A political philosopher is likely to ponder the following questions: What is the ideal form of government? Is it aristocracy, monarchy, theocracy, democracy, some mix of the different systems, or absolutely no government at all (anarchy)? And which economic system is best? A predominantly capitalistic one, a socialistic one, or perhaps a mix of the two? At what point in history did people agree upon the "need" for government? How did they live before the inauguration of government -- i.e., in the "state of nature"? Are people inherently good or bad, or neither? Are the problems of society owing mostly to man's fallen nature, to bad social organization and management, or to something else? What remedial agency does the world most need? More religion and spirituality? Wiser, abler rulers? Fewer laws and regulations? By what criteria can a society be judged good? By its wealth? By the way in which it treats its poorest members? By the richness of its art and culture? By the ease with which personal bonds are formed? Are we "our brothers' keeper"? Do we have any responsibility to those less fortunate than ourselves? These are merely a few of the many questions that political philosophers ponder.

Absolutely 100 Percent

Absolutely 100 Percent is a non profit, non alcoholic forum where right(and wrong)minded people can comment on the incoherent ramblings of an Otago boy press-ganged, knocked unconscious, only to awaken in the big city of Auckland. This is his story. It's not pretty. But neither is he. I'm sure there's something better on the TV...
And so it was that Mark arrived back in my life as a blogger. He and I spent some time as neighbours back in hometown New Zealand and he became a friend of the family ... a recent exchange of email revealed we'd both become bloggers during the time of silence. Today I discovered his most recent post, it suggests that all is not lost and creative times just might lie ahead.

Hunter and Waitahanui B&B, New Zealand

Hunter Shaw is a special guy ... in fact the Shaw family are special people. I met them while I was living down in Fiordland, New Zealand. He and his wife Claire became friends; a friendship that has lasted despite my many geographical relocations. I knew they were working on bed and breakfast plans but I haven't been home for two years ... of course life goes on anyway and they're open for business at Waitahanui Bed and Breakfast. They live a couple kilometres from the magnificent Lake Manapouri, out on a glacial plain, ringed by mountains ... it's a stunning location. I remember arriving there one day and Claire asking if I was scared of heights ... I said not really and followed her up the ladder onto the roof of their farmhouse. It was unbelievable ... the view, the air and just that feeling of being someplace perfect.
If I had to nominate a man who most defines my idea of a good Kiwi bloke, then Hunter would surely be that man. I had the luck to spend a couple of days interviewing him before leaving the country. We spent hours out on his farmhouse veranda going through his life and recording his stories. As you can see from the photograph we had company ... his dog and cat only abandoned us when the sun moved on. Politeness demands that I don't send people to the homes of my friends just because they're really interesting people ... Dave's photography is stunning while Jude, his business partner and wife, cooks like an angel however having strangers rock up to the house might surprise them. Hunter and Claire are open for business so, if you find yourself over in New Zealand, see if you can make a little time to visit their place ... it's an incredibly special corner of New Zealand and you won't regret it.
Hunter is up in the valley as I write this - the Red Stags are roaring and so it goes that "the roar" is on back home in New Zealand. Many hunters consider March and April the most exciting months for deer hunting, and it has to be said (apologies to vegetarian readers) no one, but no one cooks wild venison like Hunter.

Di and Dentists

One of 'things' I've had to carry with me as I've lived in different countries is a dental phobia. I never leave it behind, I've never quite grown up enough to rationalise my way out of it ... and so it is. In Turkey, expat opinions destroyed the miniscule amount of faith I have in the dental process. I would always put any tooth pain aside thinking 'I'll go to Bruce when I get back to New Zealand'. Bruce Newton is down in Dunedin and has been 'the one' for years, although he did get a bit grumpy about me not flossing once.

Time passed in Turkey and everytime I went home it was on a shoestring budget. Life was sometimes a little bizarre and I got to do things like fly back to Turkey with just $30nz in my pocket, racing a snowstorm that Istanbul was shutting down for, wondering what my Istanbul kitten had done with my credit card.

These last few days I've been fighting an undeniable fact ... I had an abcess in my tooth and ignoring it wasn't making it go away. Finding a dentist in a new land is probably the thing I hate worst. Gert offered his dentist. I interrogated him:
'Is she gentle?'
'Does she get mad with people who don't always take the best care of their teeth?'
'I can't go then!'
'No no no, I'm sure she'll be fine with you.'
'Will she be okay if I tell her I don't mind positive parenting-type dentistry ... that I won't feel patronised?'
Silence and a raised eyebrow.

Yesterday he phoned from the office with my appointment for today and my world fell to pieces for a while. I could imagine her needing to cut into my jawbone to undo the damage I'd done over time and then wondered if that would mean hospitalisation. I went out, met Gert for dinner, wished for the wine of forgetting, slept badly, walked there like a condemned woman this morning, met Gert who had taken time off work for this first visit, went in, talked a lot, let her x-ray me and check my teeth ... I was sweating.

She came back ... antibiotics for 10 days, another visit in 5 weeks just to be sure the abcess is gone otherwise it's a root canal filling ... which is SO much better than having one's jawbone cut away.

She's lovely and may have been a little amused about my fear of the process but I forgive her everything.
So ... I have found my dentist in this new land and life can proceed.

Peter Moore, Travel writer

Australian travel writer, Peter Moore, was recently written up in a student newspaper called The Daily Nouse. I loved his book 'The Wrong Way Home' described as follows in the interview: Peter’s most popular travel book so far in the UK has been 'The Wrong Way Home', in which, after a spell working in Britain, he decided he was going to use the remainder of his budget (just over £2,000) to get home to Sydney without going on a plane; “I wanted to travel home overland – without flying – as a way of blowing my mind and enriching my life.” The trail followed by Peter was originally popular with the hippies of the 1960s, who often took the journey to the Far East in droves.
On his way back to Australia, Moore decided he would use this opportunity to take a jaunt through the war-torn Balkans. “I was in Budapest during the time of the Balkan War and I thought a trip down to the former Yugoslavia was in order.” Peter ended up travelling down through Croatia, Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina. “I saw this bus with ‘Mostar’ on the front, which is a town in Bosnia, and I thought if the buses were going there then it must be ok!” This sense of adventure coupled with an apparent disregard for self-preservation sometimes has the tendency to get Moore into fairly harrowing situations, as he found out when he eventually arrived in Mostar. “The bus arrived and I saw it was still a war zone. I decided I would just sit on the bus and wait for it to turn back, but it turned out that it was stopping for the night. Understandably, the town was pretty much deserted and anything resembling a place to stay was shut long ago. I was even considering heading down to the police station and asking them to put me in a cell for the night! As it happened, I bumped into a couple of guys who offered me a place to stay at their uncle’s flat. I later found out that when the war started their uncle had taken the family to safety over in America and left the keys to his flat with his nephews.”

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Recipe for Dreaming

Distance is relative ...
There was a time when I thought nothing of driving 60 kilometres just to reach a favoured spot next to a river or lake, or to walk on a beach. Back in New Zealand I spent varying amounts of time living in four very different regions ... hills or mountains were usually involved in the backdrop of my South Island life, and then there was the water option ... lake, river or ocean.I never met anyone else with a need to slip away from an ordinary everyday kind of life, so I mostly wandered alone with my dog after everyone was gone for the day. My fictional scribblings were about women who rowed into the silence at the centre of lakes and dreamed of places like Africa, or of a woman who lived with a dog by a lake in the mountains. New Zealand encourages this kind of dreaming ...

Contemplating Morocco?

Samir, over at The View from Fez has written up a quick tour of Morocco. He writes, 'If you are contemplating a trip to Morocco, your biggest problem will be deciding what to see and what to miss. The kingdom is as culturally rich as it is geographically diverse and cannot fail to impress. Here is a quick guide to the "must see" attractions on the coastal side of the Atlas mountains.'

You know, reading this really doesn't do anything to improve a grey day in Europe ... The main attraction in Morocco is Fez and central to that attraction is the medieval medina in the colourful old city, which has been continuously inhabited since the 10th century. It is busy with traditionally dressed Moroccans, and rich with the noise of buying and selling, veiled women going about their work and bell-ringing water sellers. It is the last living medina on the planet and to enter it is to enter a time warp that takes you back hundreds of years. There are other medinas, but none approach the extraordinary experience that is Fez.

Dorte Huneke and Immigrant Integration

I was curious about Dorte Huneke, the journalist mentioned in my previous post and found this site, The Anglo-German Foundation for the Study of Industrial Society contributes to policy-making in Britain and Germany by funding bilateral research and discussion of economic and social issues which challenge both countries, and by making the results of this work available to decision-makers, practitioners and their advisers.

Dorte had joint responsibililty for this paper that questions whether it was easier to be a Turk in Berlin or a Pakistani in Bradford. I've only skim-read it so the link is being added to this electronic journal of mine however it appears to ask some interesting questions.

The Pakistanis of Bradford and the Turks of Berlin are well-rooted communities, but there is remarkably little curiosity about their collective and individual experiences. Do long-term immigrants feel they belong? Do they want to belong? What are their dreams, their ambitions? This small-scale study uses a combination of journalistic reporting and insights and academic rigour to explore the views and experiences of a range of people in the two communities. The result is a revealing snapshot of two societies in transition. Perhaps even more important, it also teases out significant questions about the nature of British and German society.

Turkey and the EU

Erkan posted this article over on his site.

It is titled, German journalists’ clichés destroyed within few days in Turkey and continues with, 'I was pessimistic at the beginning, but now I feel over-optimistic. They have been jolted deeply, and in a very beautiful sense. They have observed that Turkey is not solely Turks living in Germany and, in their own words, that "Turkey is already mature enough for EU membership",' says Engin, who guided a group of German journalists during their one-week program in Turkey.
“I took the group to various places so that they would be able to observe the spiral tissue covering the city of Istanbul,” Engin said.
Engin took the group to see a Cem ritual -- Cem ayini, an Alawite worship service, in a ghetto district, took them to a modern business center in Maslak as well as to elegant cafés alongside Abdi İpekçi Street in Nişantaşı, cafés that they would probably see similar ones of in Paris.
“It would be inadequate to say that Istanbul shook them. Istanbul -- in the literal sense -- beat them as it gave them a mini-shock with its contradictory facades.

It ends with this, In the words of freelance journalist Dorte Huneke, who takes a special interest in the immigrant integration problem in general in European countries: “Turkey has reason enough to be proud of itself. So maybe instead of saying, ‘If you don't want us, we will turn away and go somewhere else' -- that is one of the lines we hear so often here -- it would be more self-confident to say: ‘OK. You're here, we're here. Maybe we can go together, be partners'.”

Monday, March 27, 2006

GNN - Guerrilla News Network

After hearing Robert Fisk speak in Ghent I was curious to read more of his writing. I discovered the Guerrilla News Network, an independent news organization with headquarters in New York City and production facilities in Berkeley, California. Their mission is to expose people to important global issues through cross-platform guerrilla programming.

I found Robert Fisk but there was so much more there on this site. This article asks the simple question - Is the Media Only Showing the Bad News in Iraq? Paul Rieckhoff goes on to write, Here's a radical idea: Let's ask a soldier who's there what he thinks.

Italian Elections 2006

Following up on the Fistful of Euros post about the Italian elections ... I read a comment there that led me over to Wind Rose Hotel, where the blogger had written a reply.
Under the title, Italian Elections 2006 the author begins with, Giovanni Sartori is a prominent Italian political scientist. Born in Florence in 1924, as most of his fellow citizens he has a temper, which sometimes seems to cloud his political judgment. Nonetheless, one could not help but think that he is justified in passing contemptuous judgments such as the following: 'The election on 9-10 April does not appeal to me in the least. Not at all and in no respect. Were I to write on the subject, I would say bad things about everyone involved. So I won’t.'

A Fistful of Euros and Joshua Landis

There's an interesting newsite over at A Fistful of Euros. It has an extensive links list with headers that made me smile. Anyway, I was reading a post on the Italian elections over there.

If you're interested in Syria, Joshua Landis writes a blog called He's an Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies in the School of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma, and his blog is a mix of Syrian politics, history, and religion. It's updated regularly and featured by The Guardian, Reason Magazine, Juan Cole's Informed Comment and others.

Did you know ...

Approximately 50,000 Sahrawi men, women and children are being held hostage in highly guarded camps in the Tindouf region of Southern Algeria. Right now, nearly 3,000 Sahrawi children, who have been ripped from their families, are being indoctrinated in Cuba. As the international community sits passively, thousands of dollars of donated food, clothing and medicine destined for the captive Sahrawi refugees remains unaccounted for.
Zany, over at The View from Fez, has posted news of the situation I went searching and discovered The Moroccan Times had this while Amnesty International has made various comments over the years.

Steve Rubel's Site

Steve Rubel, over at Micro Persuasion , runs an interesting site if you're curious about life and the world of the web. He writes, he is a senior marketing strategist and one of the most influential bloggers in the world, according to Technorati. He currently serves as a Senior Vice President with Edelman, the largest independent global PR firm.
Rubel is charged with helping the Edelman team win new word-of-mouth marketing business as well as developing and executing client programs. He also explores how new technologies are transforming marketing, media and public relations on his well-read Micro Persuasion weblog. Widely viewed as an expert on conversational marketing, Rubel is often sought out as a speaker and appears frequently in the press.

Schoonselhof Cemetery, Antwerpen

I was surprised by the cute little office-cottage at the gates of Schoonselhof;surprised because Schoonselhof is Antewrpen's main cemetery and the cottage seemed like something Snow White might have shared with her seven dwarves. Schoonselhof began life as an estate, with its castle being used as a summerhouse for wealthy Antwerpen traders during the 16th century. Julius Moretus was the last owner and when he died in 1911 the city bought the 84 hectare estate for use as a cemetery. They were inspired by the 1784 royal decree of Emperor Jozef II, who wanted to end burials in churches and churchyards and relocate burial grounds outside city centres. It's a big cemetery, with interesting sections. We wandered through the area where the famous of Antwerpen were buried ... writers, sculptors, and aldermen to name a few. I was intrigued by this grave that had been made anonymous by ivy. There's also a Commonwealth section, with 101 soldiers from world war one, and another 1,465 from the second world war buried there.
What inspired the visit ...?
Well, I have one of those one month -as-many-tram-rides-as-you-want-to-take tram tickets. Schoonselhof cemetery is at the end of Tram 24's route. Gert has made me a map with every tram route marked on it ... let's see where the trams can take me.

Antwerpen's Diamonds

Yesterday I learned that Antwerpen and the world's diamond industry have been intertwined since the 15th century. Needing to know more of the city, I had gone wandering with my long-suffering yet patient guide ... I'm not sure how many times he heard Could you please spell that for me?' and 'Wait, I just need to note that down'. Anyway, I've been living in one the world's most important diamond-trading centres without realising it ... forgivable when you realise that the entire diamond district is actually contained within one square kilometre and tucked away on the west side of Centraal Station. I was surprised to learn that 85% of the world's rough diamonds, 50% of the cut diamonds and 40% of the industrial diamonds are handled here. The Diamond Exchange is the place where the world's diamond traders spend hours assessing, buying and selling the product behind maximum-security doors. The guidebook claims that those deals are still sealed by a handshake and the traditional phrase 'Mazzel und Broche'. We passed by the small Portuguese synagogue, built back in 1913 and used by the Sephardic Jewish community. It was the scene of a bombing in the early 80's ... 3 people were killed and more than 100 were injured. The news seemed out of place in the Sunday silence of this small corner in Antwerpen. We checked out the food in the window at Hoffy's Restuarant on Lange Kievitstraat and made a note to go back one day soon. It was a quiet tour, I'm curious to go back on a blue sky day working day and see how it is.

Exiles as Poets

I was looking for a poem by Kapka Kassabova and found her website ... She wrote, I'm a poet, travel writer, novelist, and professionally displaced person. I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1973, studied French and linguistics in New Zealand, and since moving to New Zealand have also lived in France and Germany. Although I find myself living in Britain at the moment, New Zealand remains my permanent base and the place which transformed me from a migrant into a traveller, from a double citizen into a cultural hybrid.

I left over 200 books back in New Zealand, sometimes I wish it was as simple as catching a taxi across the ocean to get the ones that I need. I can't find her poem 'All Roads Lead to the Sea' online and I need to stop searching ... I realised I was reading down sideroads, the clue was finding myself immersed in this interview with Mourid Barghouiti.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

We wandered the city today but writing the blog as I researched online sites written in challenging English affected my ability to write it all up. Mmmm so today I learnt a valuable lesson about leaving myself enough time to absorb what I research before trying to create something with it. Tomorrow's posts will be about diamonds and how a 15th century estate became the city graveyard.

Meanwhile I want to note down a little more of this prose by a poet whose writing I love so well ...'My head on the pillow in Abu Hazim's house. Another home for the traveler, another pillow for the head. My relationship with place is in truth a relationship with time. I move in patches of time, some I have lost and some I possess for a while and then I lose because I am always without a place. I try to regain a personal time that has passed. Nothing that is absent ever comes back complete. Nothing is recaptured as it was. 'Ein al-Deir is not a place, it is a time. Evidence of the last rain that we can see on our shoes even though our eyes tell us it has dried. The thorns of the brambles trained our hands and our sides to bleed early when we were children returning home at sunset to our mothers. Do I want to scramble through brambles now? No, what I want is the time of scrambling. 'Ein al-Deir is specifically the time of Mourid as a child.

Mourid Barghouti
I Saw Ramallah

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Poem for a Mother

She wants to go to a planet away from the earth
Where the paths are crowded with people running to their rooms
And where the beds in the morning are chaos
And the pillows wake up crumpled.
Their cotton stuffing dipping in the middle.
She wants the washing lines full and much, much rice to cook for lunch
And a large, large kettle boiling on the fire in the afternoon
And the table for everyone in the evening, its tablecloth dripping with the seasame of chatter.
She wants the smell of garlic at noon to gather the absent ones
And is surprised that the mother's stew is weaker than the power of governments and that her pastry in the evening
Dries on a sheet untouched by any hand.
Can the earth contain
The cruelty of a mother making her coffee alone
On a Diaspora morning?
She wants to go to a planet away from the earth
Where all directions lead to the harbour of the bosom,
The gulf of two arms
That receive and know no farewells.
She wants airplanes to come back only.
Airports to be for those returning,
The planes to land and never leave again.

Mourid Barghouti
I Saw Ramallah

A little News from New Zealand

Sal posted a story that made me laugh this morning ... it's about why my tiny nation is great. It's clear that Kiwis just don't understand or accept limits.


Longing: n. a yearning desire; adj. having or showing such desire.
This morning I woke up and began breakfast but as I prepared it I felt a real longing for New Zealand. It took me some time to understand that it had rained in the night and in opening the window, I had let in the scent of rain on the Birch forest below the apartment; a scent I had grown with back home in New Zealand.

But perhaps it was more than the Birch ... Hone Tuwhare's poem 'Rain' explains some of my love of it. He mentioned how it is when it falls on hot black asphalt on a summers day but not how it smells in Fiordland's beech forests after rain ... how it is to wake on a rain-washed morning and only smell Nature.

This morning, I woke up and smelled New Zealand and I'm missing my home. Did I ever write of New Zealand?
There are the facts: she is 268,201 sqkms, rumoured to be close to the size of Italy or Colorado. There is 15,134kms of coastline and so many stunning beaches; not only that, there's a beach for every mood. Wild seas and swimming seas, sandy or stony beaches, wild dramatic shores or gentler places where penguins and seals make their colonies. The lowest point is 0m and Mount Cook is our stunning high at 3,754 m. We have volcanoes and earthquakes, and in 2005 there were just 4,035,461 people. We're more used to living in our own houses as opposed to apartment buildings and we're rumoured to be a friendly culture.

Since living in other places the return home has become a mixture of longings satisfied ... from the moment I fly over the Southern Alps to the second I smell the air, there's this powerful sensation of home-coming. Then there is the process of reconnecting to the land ... the rivers, the sea and that first beach walk next to the Pacific Ocean or Tasman Sea; the reclaiming of old haunts, an immersion in the places that shaped me.

I long for many things and maybe it is those things that flavour my life, add piquancy to the everyday ... an awareness of people and places I miss, a need to go home, or to revisit Istanbul, a desire to immerse my Self in all that I have loved or might love.

And so it is that this morning it is New Zealand I miss.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Friday in Antwerpen

Sadly, despite good intentions, I will admit that there was a book-buying incident while I was out on the New Zealand, Canadian, American Tri-nation Antwerpen Outing today.
I blame Alison mostly ... until now I had imagined that the long shelves of A-Z fiction in English held the entire fiction collection at de Slegte but no ... there is a premium selection just across the aisle, a place I had never explored.
However Alison didn't limit herself to my self-defined boundaries ... she ranged far and wide, upstairs to the art and photography sections with Shannon and downstairs to my beloved travel book section. I survived. I put back a Robyn Davidson's 'Desert Places' with only the standard minor suffering.
It was The 8.55 to Baghdad that was my undoing ... it seems so promising.

Andrew Eames wrote this about his book. It begins, in 1928 Agatha Christie set out on a whim on what seems, today, a highly unlikely journey, but one which was to completely change her life. It was an eight-day trip from London to Baghdad by two aristocratic luxury trains, with black tie waiters all the way.
In the last days of peace before the Iraqi war I set out to re-trace this little known adventure in the life of Britain's best-selling author. I quickly realised that London to Baghdad, by train, is one of those journeys which has defied the modern era by becoming far harder, and longer, than it was 75 years ago. My motley selection of eight ramshackle sleepers and local expresses took two days more than Agatha's Wagon-Lits, and from Venice onwards there was no glimpse of a folded napkin, let alone a glass of chilled Bordeaux. The ultimate indignity was the mandatory AIDS test on the Iraqi border.

I had to smile as I paid for the book ... in keeping with the illicit nature of my book-buying escapades in these days of waiting for legal permission to work, the guy at de Slegte wrapped it in plain brown paper ... just like an alcoholic with her bottle 'hidden' in a brown paper bag.

Arts and Letters Daily

Misguided over on the DW blog posted a link to this interesting Arts and Letters Daily site.

The motto of Arts and Letters Daily is “Veritas odit moras” or “Truth hates delay,” (line 850 of Seneca’s version of Oedipus). New material is added to Arts & Letters Daily six days a week and it's a stunning collection of articles, new books, essays and opinions, with links to newspapers, magazine, columnists, weblogs and more.
I've been reading Marie Javins over at No Hurry in Kuwait City for a while now. Today she wrote a post about attending the camel racing.
Who knew camels raced ... and with robot jockeys riding them.

Marie's introduction ... An ex-New Yorker returns home from Africa and reflects on the idiosyncratic nature of daily life in the slow and different lane. And then she moves to Kuwait. And then there's her World Tour blog; her Photo Albums and ecetera ...

An International Outing

I'm off into Antwerpen city today ... the Canuck and the American are coming to town, and taking the dull cloudy day into account, our first stop will be THE bookshop. I hope to resist all temptation and remain the virtuous-in-process-new-zealander, waiting-to-work-before-she-succumbs-to-the-lure-of-book-buying-again ... but sometimes I have book-buying accidents.
We shall see.
I've ordered a copy of Samir's Black Widow novel, well Gert did really, and I slipped up with my credit card buying Gert a copy of 'Slipping Into Paradise - Why I Live in New Zealand. I think I can rest on my criminal book buying activities for now and play tour guide or companion in wandering today.
Oh ... my laptop's still on New Zealand time. Alison just phoned, they're on the train to Antwerpen and I'm sitting here typing, with wet uncombed hair and ecetera. It's not 8.46am, it's 9.46am and in New Zealand it's 8.46pm because of daylight saving.

Must dash .. tot ziens.


As I wrote in the previous post, Ghent was closing as we arrived yesterday but we did get one or two photographs that might give a small impression of place.
One of the things that delighted me wasn't ancient or pretty ... it was an odd little machine outside the closed Information Office. I was following my Belgian guide when it became clear that he was a little uncertain about the precise location of the 12th century Gravesteen castle. This was the moment when I learned that some Northern Hemisphere men might suffer from an affliction I had previously only seen in their Southern Hemisphere counterparts ... the 'I don't need to ask anyone for directions' syndrome. I'm shameless, if I'm lost I ask and I've met some lovely people that way. Anyway, it was then that I spotted 'The Machine'. It looks innocuous, dull even but it has a touch screen and it can do stuff. It prints out maps and directions to must-see places around the city. (This morning I noticed Gert has deleted the photograph I took of him using it).
The weather was stunning and just like back home in Dunedin, New Zealand - the people of Ghent were out and soaking up every last ray of sun they could find on that lovely Spring day. It's a really nice little city.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Robert Fisk and Ghent

Back in February, I wrote a post about Robert Fisk. I had found two of his books, wanted them, put them back on the shelf, told Gert about them and he remembered he'd read that Fisk was being interviewed on Belgian television that night. We watched the interview, I wrote about it, Samir commented saying he was going to be on a panel with Fisk at the Adelaide Writers Festival the following month and that he'd found my link useful.
I thought that was the end of it but no ... a friend emailed on Monday, letting me know that Robert Fisk was giving a lecture at Ghent University, Thursday 24th March ... was I interested?

I was SO interested that I almost exploded with delight and panic ... and the lecture was free. Gert surprised me, taking a few hours off work to drive me there and wander a little. Ghent had other ideas, it begins closing at 4.30pm ... the Tourist Office and the castle too. We took a few photos but will have to go back another day. Ghent is different to Antwerpen and Bruges, it feels as if the university students own it which gives it a lovely atmosphere ... and the cavalier student cyclists and pedestrians made us laugh more than once with their outrageous expectations of road ownership.

But I was anxious, I knew the venue only held 700 ... entry was free, and as it was we only got in by queueing 40 minutes early. Later they told us a few hundred had been turned away.

Robert Fisk was as interesting as I imagined he might be. I wanted to write of his lecture but I've found something close to what he spoke on and so it's better that I let him speak for himself.

Ms Baker and her Apple Mac Book Pro

There was a nice story on the power of blogging over on DW's site. It's a lovely site if you have some spare time. They write, DW is a collection of its Kuwaiti author’s reveries, rants, and mental meanderings. Thrown in for good measure in between their stories and experiences, is a hodgepodge of interesting links, literature, poetry, food and music. DW is in essence, a haven for the thoughts of wandering daydreamers and thoughtful thinkers both great and small.


George, over at Meandering Margaux wrote up World66 .
It reads interesting. world66 , the travel guide you write.

Sunshine and Ghent

I came here to work at my desk and the sun is pouring in, it's stunning. But it got 'too hot'... which has been unimaginable for so many months that I wanted to stand it, loving the light. I opened the window next to me, it helped some but my face was still burning.

After an hour I had to move the curtain a little, to cover the sun.
They're talking of rain tomorrow.

Anyway I'm off to Ghent later today ... it's medieval Europe's largest city outside Paris. Apparently it had an industrious yet rebellious past. Mid-14th century it was Europe's largest cloth importer and employed thousands of people however they were known for their armed battles for civil liberties and against the heavy taxes imposed on them ... oh how far mankind has progressed. (It's French name is Gand)
Reading up on it, I see there's a 12th century castle, complete with a moat, turret and arrow slits, called Gravensteen. Might be interesting for this Kiwi ... we only had Larnach Castle back in New Zealand but it was just a wee place built in 1871.

Erica Jong

I remember journalists and newsreaders giggling like naughty schoolboys when Erica Jong came to New Zealand back in the 90's.

I listened to them and discounted them after hearing her interview. They were schoolboyish in understanding and she was clearly an interesting woman and writer.
Erica Jong grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the second daughter in a "New York Jewish intellectual family," a milieu remarkably similar, she has said, to the one depicted by Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters. In her entry in Current Biography 1975, she recalls being "smothered with opportunity -- piano lessons, skating lessons, summer camps, art school." After attending New York's prestigious High School of Music and Art, she went on the earn a Bachelor's Degree in English at Barnard College and an M.A. from Columbia University in Eighteenth-century English Literature. She left Columbia before completing her Ph.D. to write Fear of Flying.

Some of her poems can be found here . Today I liked this one.

For My Husband
You sleep in the darkness,
you with the back I love
& the gift of sleeping
through my noisy nights of poetry.

I have taken other men into my thoughts
since I met you.
I have loved parts of them.
But only you sleep on through the darkness
like a mountain where my house is planted,
like a rock on which my temple stands,
like a great dictionary holding every word--
even some
I have never spoken.

You breathe.
The pages of your dreams are riffled
by the winds of my writing.
The pillow creases your cheek
as I cover pages.

Element in which I swim
or fly,
silent muse, backbone, companion--
it is unfashionable
to confess to marriage--
yet I feel no bondage
in this air we share.

Erica Mann Jong

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cyber Weirdness ...

I opened a bottle of Monte Ducay tonight, a little red wine from Spain.

My translator was out at a meeting and I was curious to know more about this quite oaky wine ... so of course, being a creature of the cyberworld I searched it on Google.

Much searching later, refining my word searches then hopefully adding 'English', I found a site I could read ... it was a link to a previous post I'd written about the same wine in February.

I was reassured by my opinion about it but it was a strange thing to find me in Google.

Expat Blog

expatriate I found an interesting site if you're an expat, about to become an expat or you're just curious about lives lived in other countries. It's called Expat Blog and it comes complete with a cute icon for your blog page. They have a directory that's dedicated to expatriates and their adventures around the world, offering you the opportunity to find out how life is on the other side of the planet. They provide expat resources and there's a forum where you can ask question and get answers from other exats.

UNESCO to declare 2007 'The Year of Mevlana'

Erkan's post titled UNESCO to declare 2007 'The Year of Mevlana' set me searching for more information. Erkan had linked to a newspaper article that began, Culture and Tourism Ministry Undersecretary Mustafa İsen said 2007 was the 800th anniversary of the birth of famous Turkish philosopher and poet Mevlana, and therefore they submitted a proposal to UNESCO to officially declare 2007 as the “Year of Mevlana” to mark the 800th anniversary of his birth.

You see, I twice saw the Sufis perform their Whirling Dervish in the Mevlevi Monastery in Istanbul. They stunned me but it's something you need to see for yourself.

The Lonely Planet wrote, Tucked away off a street named after one of the great poets of the sect, Galip Dede, the museum centres on an 18th-century lodge, within which is a beautiful octagonal wooden dance floor. Here, for the benefit of visitors, the sema (ritual dance) is performed by a group of latter-day Sufi devotees. At 3pm a dozen or so dancers unfurl their great circular skirts to whirl round the room in an extraordinary state of ecstatic meditation, accompanied by haunting music.

Searching the web I discovered a blog titled Sufi News and Sufism World Report and there Dr. Alan Godlas from the Department of Religion at the University of Georgia writes that, On the occasion of the 800th anniversary of Mevlana’s birthday, the great Peace Competition of Mevlana, otherwise known as Rumi, the great Iranian poet of the 13th century AD, will be held in Konya, Turkey in 2007.

I also noticed Wiliam Dalrymple's name on his site and was curious; Dalrymple is one of my favourite travel writers. He hooked me when I read his book titled In Xanadu, A Quest . But back to the Sufi site and it seems that Dalrymple has made a movie called Sufi Soul .

In it, Dalrymple travelled across South Asia — from Morocco and Turkey to Pakistan and India — finding out about this religion. The hour-long film covers quite a few aspects of Sufism — the whirling dervishes inspired by the poet and Sufi saint Rumi, the underground Sufis in Istanbul who have been forbidden to practice, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his nephew Rahat and even the qawwali sessions in the Nizamuddin Dargah.

Blogging and me

I posted the extract from Paulo Coelho because my habit of writing is as contrary as his ... my blog has become my way of trying to organise the habit of procrastination into a daily result. But I wonder, is a routine of reading and walking and taking time to think really procrastination?

To write you have to take things in, you have to savour or process them, you need time unless you are fortunate and have a mind you can manage, as some writers have.

My habit has become reading and blogging on the mornings I'm free, recovering in the afternoon and running errands, and then writing fictional things has always been something I've done in the night, after midnight preferably.

But I write of my writing so lightly ...I haven't yet learned to take it seriously, to give it the respect it needs, allocating it the hours we all give to 'real' work.

And when are you a writer ... when you write or when you are published?

The blog has become my halfway home, the place where I 'write'.

Obviously, as the saga of moving countries and gaining legal residency and permission to work dragged on, I realised I had a need for something that measured my hours and output. I have no income, I have nowhere I am required to be in these days ... and so my blog serves a double function; a reason to write and a kind of business .

It has become my measurement of time spent and today, when I fed my url details in at the 'How much is your blog worth' Business Opportunities Blog, I discovered that my blog is presently worth $15,807.12.

Not bad, I thought to myself ...

The real test will come in the months ahead when I have to prepare and present a real-life businessplan in the hope of impressing people in Belgie with my desire for work and a Professional Card. Mmmm, let's see how that goes.
I love the way Paulo Coelho writes of the act of trying to write, in his book titled The Zahir.

I notice that I go through the same process as I did when writing my first book: I wake up at nine o'clock in the morning, ready to sit down at my computer immediately after breakfast; then I read the newspapers, go for a walk, visit the nearest bar for a chat, come home, look at the computer, discover that I need to make several phone calls, look at the computer again, by which time lunch is ready, and I sit eating and thinking that I really ought to have started writing at eleven o'clock, but now I need a nap, I wake at five in the afternoon, finally turn on the computer, go to check my e-mails, then remember I've destroyed my Internet connection; I could go to a place ten minutes away where I can get online, but couldn't I, just to free my conscience from these feelings of guilt, couldn't I at least write for half an hour?
I begin out of a feeling of duty, but suddenly 'the thing' takes hold of me and I can't stop. The maid calls me for supper and I ask her not to interrupt me; an hour later, she calls me again; I'm hungry, but I must write just one more line, one more sentence, one more page. By the time I sit down at the table, the food is cold, I gobble it down and go back to the computer - I am no longer in control of where I place my feet, the island is being revealed to me, I am being propelled along its paths, finding things I have never even thought or dreamed of. I drink a cup of coffee, and another, and at two o'clock in the morning I finally stop writing, because my eyes are tired.
I go to bed, spend another hour making notes of things to use in the next paragraph and which always prove completely useless - they serve only to empty my mind so that sleep can come. I promise myself that the next morning, I'll start at eleven o'clock prompt. And the following day, the same thing happens - the walk, the conversations, lunch,, a nap, the feelings of guilt, then irritation at myself for destroying the Internet connection, until I, at last, make myself sit down and write the first page ...


Slowly but surely I'm working my way through my Favourites list, rediscovering the items I filed in a 'safe place' ... so safe that I rarely revisited them.

Everest News is one of my well-used sites, superb if you're interested in the climbing world. EverestNews is loaded with current news, facts and information on mountains, expeditions and climbers. The site is updated continuously as news from expeditions comes in. In addition, we have links for books and gear and a comprehensive archive that grows daily.

Radio New Zealand and Maureen Dowd

Back home in New Zealand I loved National Radio ... most particularly interviews by Kim Hill. Today I was going through the recent archives of her Saturday morning show and found that she had interviewed Maureen Dowd, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist.


This morning I felt like I understood why the ancients worshipped the sun ... it was lovely to find it shining today. It fills the apartment, making life seem good after our long grey winter. And someone believes they have finally solved the puzzle of why it took so long for me to get permission to reside here in Belgie. A ex-colleague of Gert's pointed out that I was making the very suspicious move of trying to come into Europe meanwhile most people dream of a life in New Zealand.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Proust said ‘a book is a product of a different self than we manifest in our habits, our social life and vices.’ This is true. The inner self of a writer, the self destined to live beyond the flesh, is not always visible in the writer’s daily life. But the writer’s true voice, once discovered, is congruent with the writer’s soul.
This voice is what all writers seek, and very few find – to raise a cry that is integral to one’s soul. Here is the paradox of writing. You can’t hide behind words. What and who you are shines forth on every page – whether you pretend objectivity or not. You strip down to the essential self.

Erica Jong,
The Devil at Large


Harvey Molloy, a New Zealand writer and teacher, has written an interesting post about Hiroshima , a book by John Hersey.

The CliffNotes he links to open with this:In September 1945, young John Hersey was sent to the Far East on assignment for the New Yorker and Life magazines. He had already published three books, Men on Bataan, Into the Valley, and A Bell for Adano, with the latter bringing him the Pulitzer Prize earlier in May. His original intention was to write a piece about Hiroshima based on what he could see in the ruins of the city and what he could hear about the bombing from its survivors. In Tokyo, Hersey met Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, the German priest of his book. Hersey soon added five more survivors to the book by interviewing people Kleinsorge directed him to as well as by screening many other Japanese survivors. Hersey wrote the story and brought it back to William Shawn, the general manager of the New Yorker, in August 1946.

Missing Istanbul

I came here to write a sad post about missing Istanbul. I'm homesick for everything I loved about it today. It's warmth, the noise, the chaos, the friendliness, the life ... maybe that's what I miss most of all, the life. Istanbul is a city full of life and the living.
But Aynur Dogan's music was playing as I wrote and it's impossible to hold onto the sadness. 'Ahmeda' is stunning, 'Ni Diyem' made me smile and I love 'Heseniko'. She's worth listening to if you can find her music.
Tarkan's 'Kiss Kiss' is another ... I defy anyone to listen to it and not smile. I introduced Gert's children to him and they loved it too.
When I'm missing Taksim, I dig out 'The Waltz of the Butterfly' ... really, it was the music that so many of the shops on Istiklal Caddesi played out onto the street and it became the music that I most associated with those days of strolling through Istanbul. Beste's mother bought me the cd on my last night there.
I miss the people ... Beste and Jason who took me home for Chechen food over in Kadikoy; Kagan and his family ... the Sweet Bayram and Ramazan feasts with them and the stories they might still laugh over when they think of this yabanci breaking things in Ankara. The kindness of Nilay, Mutlu, Evran, Lisen and Yakub, Remzi ... the stunning warmth of so many people.
And then there's the students and oddly enough, I miss them and dreamed of them yesterday, I was reapplying for a job in the first school I taught in.

Mmmmmm, so it is that today I am missing Istanbul .

Monday, March 20, 2006

A New Ocean

Geologist Dereje Ayalew and his colleagues from Addis Ababa University were amazed and frightened. They had only just stepped out of their helicopter onto the desert plains of central Ethiopia when the ground began to shake under their feet. The pilot shouted for the scientists to get back to the helicopter. And then it happened: the Earth split open. Crevices began racing toward the researchers like a zipper opening up. After a few seconds, the ground stopped moving, and after they had recovered from their shock, Ayalew and his colleagues realized they had just witnessed history. For the first time ever, human beings were able to witness the first stages in the birth of an ocean, was the beginning of an interesting article I found in der Spiegel today.
You have an image, say the burned man in 'The English Patient', then you have to unearth the story: the connections between that man and this nurse and that woman from 10 years earlier. The story is discovered by unearthing small bits and pieces - a bone here, a shoe here, an anecdote. It becomes a discovery that's not chronological. The crucial thing you discover about a person may happen at the very end, as opposed to the beginning.

The way we discover our friends in some ways.

Michael Ondaatje
Interview, June 2000.


I'm not sure how to describe this blog post I found via the blogher roll but it's incredibly thought-provoking.
Culiblog writes, In January 2004, Dutch artist Renzo Martens produced his forty-four minute art film, Episode 1, a documentation of an extensive art performance. Martens travelled to the hottest hot spot war that he could find at the time of making the film (Chechnya, 2002), and in this 'setting' he pointed the camera, not at the war's victims and/or perpetrators like most (news) cameras do, but back upon himself. In Episode 1, Martens asks his Chechen and Russian Federation subjects, 'What do you think about me?'

And ends with: Of course Martens created this film for an art context, and the film articulately addresses contemporary art issues. Quite possibly Martens would be appalled that I consider his film to be 'useful', not just for artists and an art public, but as a tool to talk about the causes of war, hunger and the politics of emergency food distribution. And the question that Martens dares to ask amidst flying bullets, UN press conferences, annoyed Russian soldiers, women in food queues and refugees living in tent camps, the initial struggle that it initiates in the interviewee and in me, the audience, as I am simultaneously embarrassed by this question, but know that it is a question that can air-lift all of us actors out of the immediate and into a larger, more important discussion. Complexity is not complicated.

Culiblog is a culinary weblog by Debra Solomon, an artist and designer based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The blog focusses on food, food design and innovation ...

Websites are conversations appears on the homepage of blogher

It's a site worth checking out.
BlogHer’s mission is to create opportunities for women bloggers to pursue exposure, education, and community. They're building a guide to women bloggers. In 20+ popular topics, you will find lists of blogs by women and constantly updating guides to what's hot, written by contributing editors.

The Physics of Friendship

I was reading while eating lunch and found this on Erkan's blog.

The Physics of Friendship from

By comparing people to mobile particles randomly bouncing off each other, scientists have developed a new model for social networks. The model fits with empirical data to naturally reproduce the community structure, clustering and evolution of general acquaintances and even sexual contacts.

Maps and I

I have this idea that I can't read maps and so whenever possible, I turn them in to written directions. If pressed I can do it but it almost hurts. However I think I give the impression I can read maps and so it was that Gert seemed surprised when I invited him to guide me, my notebook and pencil through some of the Antwerpen walks yesterday.
Many pages of scribbled notes were made as he struggled to read the badly-scaled maps which gave me hope that finding my way around Rome alone wasn't some kind of bizarre fluke and merely confirmed the Lonely Planet make maps most people can use. I don't know, personally I like to look down at instructions that read 'left onto Hoogstraat, next right onto St Jansvliet etc ... it's my preference when driving too.
Bruges is simpler, although the map I use there is just as badly scaled as my Antwerpen one but there's some kind of natural flow thing that goes on there. I haven't worked out whether it's the other tourists and their maps leading the way or the fact that the Bruges walking map follows some kind of naturally occuring route of alleyways and squares.

To make things more complicated, left and right has always been guided by the small faint l-shaped scar on my left hand ... imagine me learning direction in Nederlands class. Only I knew why I was smiling as the audio cd played out directions we had to follow on the map in front of us. Naar links and naar rechts are clear, it's just working them out fast enough to get them down on that map when all is in Nederlands.
Anyway, enough about maps ... the photographs came from our wanderings. The window is part of the medieval Priory of S. Salvator on Pieter Potstraat and the open door is part of the De Zwarte Panter Art Gallery, situated in the 16th century Sint Julianusgasthuis on Hoogstraat, Antwerpen.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

George from e-marginalia wrote a comment that left me smiling one of those something nice just happened to me smiles.

He wrote, Just blogged you (e-Margonaut Sighting!) and Wandering Woman over at Meandering Margaux. I passed along the poem that Wandering Woman posted as well as your blog motto (title?) to our readers... Great stuff! And great site. I've added both of your feeds to my reader, and I'll keep an eye on your reflections. Also, scanning your blog, I was pleased to see that you've been visiting our websites! Thanks for visiting annd come back often. We're psyched to have you.
- George

I love reading the e-marginalia site but oddly enough, I never expected to 'appear' there myself. I loved what they wrote in their 'about'... e-Marginalia is a whimsical hybrid, conjoining the name of our site with one of the most delightful words in the English language, marginalia. Defined as the notes recorded in the margins of a text, marginalia is that most human of human tendencies to annotate, expound, reference and illustrate. e-Marginalia aspires to become a collective forum for travelers to annotate, expound, reference and illustrate, to contribute and share the artifacts of our travels. Let us fill the blank margins with ruminations, lessons, wonders and confabulations.

This is how they describe their daily blog If IS immersion travel (and we like to think it is), then Meandering Margaux is the heart and soul of immersion travel. It's what we're thinking, doing, wondering, visiting, hoping, whispering and shouting. Meandering Margaux is our daily blog. Read it! It'll keep you current, keep you inspired and keep you dreaming. Guaranteed...


Until Sal wrote his post I knew very little about Absinthe and really, I still know so very little about it although he did have this to say, Absinthe has a nasty history, but it does taste good when mixed correctly (and not abused...too much). The cocktails in my photo were 5:1 water to Absinthe ratio. That's pretty humane. Then again, the Absinthe straight was 100 proof. ... it seems like something I shouldn't play with. Anyway, my local guide and I were out in the city today and we spotted this poster.

Politics ...

Politics is the family at breakfast. Who is there and who is absent and why. Who misses whom when the coffee is poured into the waiting cups. Can you, for example, afford your breakfast? Where are your children who have gone forever from these their usual chairs? Whom do you long for this morning? What rhythm is it that pushes you to hurry toward pleasures life has promised you, or to a confrontation you wish you could win just this once? Where are the children of this mother who, in her slightly crooked spectacles, sits knitting a pullover of dark blue wool for the absent one who does not write regularly? Where is your gentle chatter, your splendid isolation, your lack of need of the outside world for even a few moments? Where is your illusion laid bare by the newspaper lying on the cane chair at your side? What small act of forgiveness are you training yourself to perform today? What reproach do you wish to utter? And what reproach do you wish erased? Who threatened your wonderful mistakes, staying up to spoil your night? Who ruins your sweet inconsequential things with the awe of his authority and his driver and his servants and his happy bodyguards? Who imported this small, shiny teaspoon from Taiwan? What giant ships ploughed the seas to bring you some trivial piece of primitive gadgetry from Stockholm? How did the flower merchants make their millions and build their fine houses from selling the bouquets carried by mothers and sisters to graveyards that are always damp: raindrops, flowers, and tears. You question why even the silence in the graveyards is wet. Politics is the number of coffee-cups on the table, it is the sudden presence of what you have forgotten, the memories you are afraid to look at too closely, though you look anyway.

Staying away from politics is also politics.
Politics is nothing and everything.

Mourid Barghouti
I Saw Ramallah

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Nederlands and the Naughty New Zealander

Gert and I have this ongoing discussion about whether I should become fluent in Nederlands ...

You see, back in New Zealand I sometimes imagined how it might be to live in a culture where I could only observe, silenced by my lack of a language. Sometimes it held a certain appeal ...

Needless to say he would like me fluent but I've tried to point out the benefits. How can I be a terrible part-time stepmother if I can't speak the language, and even better, the children will be fluent in English long before they reach Engels lessons at 13 in school.

Then there are the gatherings of extended family but I've learned an impressive amount just by watching and oddly enough he's discovering most of his family speak English, just not with each other. It cuts out the smalltalk about weather and groceries and there have been magical moments, like the look on Gert's face when he discovered his father could speak fluent English.

When I was a child we were often warned by our parents that it was risky to pull angry faces... in fact we were told that if the wind changed our faces would stay like that forever. I have news for my parents, it's not the wind it's a mid-life language change, most particularly one that involves rrrr rolling, a disconcerting number of consonants per word, reallocating vowel sounds and learning new words often splattered with 'i's' and 'e's' ... oh yes, a New Zealander's speaking dream.

It has become apparent that the way I pronounce my 'a' is a Dutch 'r', my 'e' is an 'i' and my 'i' is apparently a Dutch 'e' ... stunning when you realise that Gert doesn't consider these my worst pronunciation problems ... he offered up 'schuim' and 'huichelachtig' and was laughing when he said, 'See' as I tried to repeat them.

It's an ongoing discussion; a debate that heats up on occasions and cools right down to the point where I am a malleable student of Nederlands. I'm not sure if I wrote of it but I did pass my Nederlands 1.2 examination ... a low grade for the speaking but I have until September to immerse myself in conversation at home (or convince Gert about the merits of me remaining blissfully ignorant) ;)

Riverbend writes from Iraq

Riverbend has written her latest account of life in Baghdad today ...

She begins with the title, 'Three Years...'

It has been three years since the beginning of the war that marked the end of Iraq’s independence. Three years of occupation and bloodshed.

Spring should be about renewal and rebirth. For Iraqis, spring has been about reliving painful memories and preparing for future disasters. In many ways, this year is like 2003 prior to the war when we were stocking up on fuel, water, food and first aid supplies and medications. We're doing it again this year but now we don't discuss what we're stocking up for. Bombs and B-52's are so much easier to face than other possibilities.
I don’t think anyone imagined three years ago that things could be quite this bad today. The last few weeks have been ridden with tension. I’m so tired of it all- we’re all tired.
Three years and the electricity is worse than ever. The security situation has gone from bad to worse. The country feels like it’s on the brink of chaos once more- but a pre-planned, pre-fabricated chaos being led by religious militias and zealots.

Reel Journalism - Screenings & Symposia

I received a Dart Center Newsletter today and am so envious of anyone who can actually attend this symposia; envious but sharing anyway.

Follow the link for further information about the Dart Center , suffice to say, it's a global network of journalists, journalism educators and health professionals dedicated to improving media coverage of trauma, conflict and tragedy. The Center also addresses the consequences of such coverage for those working in journalism.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Academy Award-nominated films "GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (Best Picture) and WAR PHOTOGRAPHER (Best Documentary Feature) highlight three days of films depicting the world of journalism at American University's School of Communication Reel Journalism Screenings & Symposia, March 23-25 at the Greenberg and Wechsler Theatres.
Panel discussions to explore and explain how journalists work, demystify the news business and discuss the important role of journalism in society as a whole will follow each film. Panelists will include Dart Center field director Bruce Shapiro and Ochberg Fellows Lori Grinker, photojournalist and author of AFTERWAR: Veterans from a World of Conflict, and Scott Wallace, television producer and photojournalist.
Also appearing: Frank Bond, Newseum producer and former CBS WUSA-TV anchor; Nick Clooney, legendary journalist (and George Clooney's father); Bob Edwards, XM Satellite Radio host; Patricia Finneran, festival director, AFI SilverDocs; Christian Frei, director of WAR PHOTOGRAPHER; Bill Gentile, producer and director of DATELINE AFGANISTAN; Casey Murrow, Edward R. Murrow's son; Lynne Olson and Stan Cloud, co- authors of The Murrow Boys; Ken Silverstein, Los Angeles Times reporter; and Cal Skaggs, producer and director of DEMOCRACY ON DEADLINE.

TICKETS: Free for children & students w/ID & $5 general admission for selected events. Visit or call 202- 885-2527 for ticket information.
Reel Journalism is presented by AU's School of Communication, in partnership with WAMU 88.5 FM, the Newseum, Visual Aids Electronics, Center for Social Media the SOC Undergraduate Council, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, WUSA CBS9 and Swiss Embassy. For a complete schedule of events visit Reel Journalism Screenings & Symposia ( online or call Bettina Fisher, Reel Journalism program director, at 202-885-2074.

phone: 1 (800) 332 · 0565

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sandy McCutcheon, Writer

Exciting news at the View from Fez ... Samir writes, the book I was promoting on my recent visit to literary festivals in Australia was my latest novel 'Black Widow' .

From the review on The View from Fez: "We have not survived Beslan. We are no longer the people we were before September the first. We are different people now. Deep in all of us, like deeply buried shrapnel, lies the legacy of those days. Like so many others, it has become part of who we are. We are Beslan."

Sandy McCutcheon has taken a tragic real-life event and expanded it out into a fascinating “what-if” scenario that blurs the line between fact and fiction. The impotent feelings of rage that I should imagine are experienced by every victim of terrorism are given vent in Black Widow a tale that chronicles a carefully planned and executed act of revenge.

Michele Falzone

A friend sent me a link to a travel photographer called Michele Falzone. I wandered in his Istanbul Gallery and loved what I found there. He introduces himself as a young Italian freelance photographer with a passion for travelling, photography and computer engineering. He's wandered all over the world , his photos are beautiful.

Reading the World

I've just read the world and I love how it makes me feel as I adjust to finding a life in this new world. I miss people. Belgian society is just a little more difficult to break into and I've been slightly lost in the extremes created by socialising politically while being 'in-process-unemployable'. Next week I begin interviewing people, so I know things will change - it's only a matter of getting out there.
Anyway, reading the world ... let me show you a little of the people who made me smile today. Sahara Sara made me laugh when I read her comment about life as an aid worker in Elizabeth's Afghanistan blog . She had written 'I think what isn’t understood is how much of our work is like any other job - in front of the computer. I’ve had malaria, been in a wee bit of a plane crash, gotten stranded in villages, been medically evacuated, and pedaled miles through the jungle on a bike that was way to big for me. But that’s really not normal, right? I almost feel like I am feeding into that adventurous image that really doesn’t exist. I mean, showing up at your local military doctor who speaks only spanish with a stool sample in an empty peanut butter jar and trying to mime that you’d like them to check for parasites…kinda takes the glamour out of our lifestyle a wee bit. She's an American currently living and working in the Democratic Republic of Congo and she writes a good blog.

Sal made me laugh with his post titled Looking for Comedy in the Spanish-Speaking World and Wandering woman in Spain made me smile too, with her 'top-12-things-i-hope-my-spanish-neighbours-and-colleagues-don't-find-out' post.

Erkan's blog led me over to Istanbul metblogs where I read, with some envy, of the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition on at Pera Musuem. I shouldn't be envious, I did manage to discover free exhibitions while living in Istanbul. Two of my favourite photographers ... Robert Capa and Sebastiao Salgado were discovered on different occasions while strolling down Istiklal Caddesi in Taksim but it would have been nice to have been there for Henri's work.
A girl can clearly want too much sometimes but reading the world was almost 'enough' today.

A belated postscript. D.Ma has posted a Friday special that left me laughing. You need the sound on ... (that was a note to self really, the Marcel Marceau rabbit was less interesting).

Another Wandering Woman

I found something a bit special today ... another wandering woman over in Spain. Her poem delighted me and her stories of life in Salamanca made me want to write of her here.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Besieged Press in Baghdad

An interesting article in Der Spiegel by Orville Schell of

He writes, As America approached the third anniversary of its involvement in Iraq, I had gone to Baghdad to observe not the war itself, but how it is being covered by the press.

Part 2.

Stunning Art?

Der Spiegel surfed the net and found Spamgraffiti; is a series of online installations created from spam.

Each environment is created by spooling through one email account and visually articulating the spam on a series of layers. Newer spam appears above and slowly filters out older spam below. As the rate of spam increases over time per account, the page itself appears less and less like the previous generation.

Each screen showcases the 25 most recent spam in the account.

A Post for Diede

There is a creature in the Nederlands, an old friend really, casting doubt on my way of spending today ...

Dear Diede (otherwise known as Mr Independent Leader, courtesy of the DNA test),
In pursuit of perfection, I am home and babysitting. Gert's 8 year old son is with us this week and on the couch with a fever. He's engrossed in childrens television, a spell only broken by his desire to pop the digital thermometer under his armpit and report each new reading in Nederlands.
I have served him lunch on the couch, soothed his forehead with a cold facecloth, offered a fever pill which he has so far refused with an admirable stubborness, given him water and cuddled him whenever it all got too much for him.
This morning Gert stayed home while I popped out and picked up my long-stay visa identity card. No mean feat and a long walk in the cold, snow fell briefly ... and I managed to coax both conversation and laughter out of my very uncommunicative processing officer. He even mocked me about my claim that New Zealanders didn't really carry identity cards. He asked if it was because we all knew each other ... as you know, this could almost be true.
And anyway, I have moved my blog to the position of 'my interim business' due to the situation of being caught between countries and in a state of partial non-existence.

To conclude, my mocking friend, it could be that I have actually achieved far more in my workday than you ... definately in the area of multiple-functionality ;) (and yes, it's a word, specially in my world).

A Free-Wheeling Creator writes ...

I was catching up on news from the blogs on my links list and Cat in Rabat had posted this interesting psychology test ... apparently I'm a Free-wheeling Creator. The quiz takes a little time to answer but it was interesting and now, if you run your cursor over the coloured boxes, the me that answered the questions is revealed. Sigh, I'm not sure what happened to my empathy ... I thought it was one of my better attributes.