sâmbătă, 1 aprilie 2017

Innisfree

Akseli Gallen-Kallela - Lake Keitele, 1905
I enjoy coming here, though I'm not doing it very often. It's like strong medicine. Very good when you really need it, not so good when you abuse it. The sight reminds me of Innisfree. A colder, less rainy Innisfree that I've never been to, just like I've never been to the real Innisfree and I probably never will. It's like the paradise that's within easy reach, but only as long as you don't actually go there. It ain't exactly real, or it's real but it ain't exactly there, just like democracy in Leonard Cohen's understanding. See, this is something I can only properly do here. Sure, my mind goes astray a lot of times and wherever steps might take me, but in here, there's no straying away, just a vast open freedom across the body of water and beyond. And if I want Leonard Cohen to explain me how Jesus was a sailor for walking across the water and to argue the exact contrary with him I only need to say 'I'd like to speak to Leonard...' and through the dark, clouded, thick glass on the bottom of the bottle I see him pulling close in his dark suit, with the hat pulled over his face trying to convince me that he never loved me whilst I'll laugh and tell him it doesn't matter, even though we both know it. And just by sitting here, between two of my best friends, in complete silence, looking at a lake isle that is only Innisfree in our imagination everything that's wrong is being put to rights, everything that's sick is beginning to heal. And boy, do I need a lot of healing after a night like the last one...

Whoosh! A fireball drops across the pale white sky, hitting somewhere behind the hill on the opposite side of the lake with a strong thud and something that, I'm sure, is a bit of an explosion too. by the time the shock wave reaches me I've already rolled my eyes. Of course I enjoy the spectacle of it, it's majestic, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna give him the satisfaction. I know how the conversation is going to play out, I'm well aware of the gloating to ensue and I enjoy that as well, but I also need to concentrate on playing my part well. Otherwise we would not be blending into the rightful order of the kosmos, will we? So what shall it be this time?

There's a huge fireball brightening up the distant sky and a second later I can see it. Oh, wow, that is one majestic beast. I try to take the sight of it in, I know it won't be for long. It's huge, green scales, its gigantic pointy teeth, the yellow armored belly and the immense jaws that could change landscapes in a second... I wish I could see it in a slow, relaxed flight, I wish I could ride it and see the world through the eye of the beast... oh, that will take some convincing. All I see now is an unorderly, fast panic as the dragon is trying to break free. He pulls back flying downwards, spits another scorching jet of fire that I'm sure will destroy the livelihood of a few farmers too poor already, and flies away as fast as he can I a wide circle across the lake. Oh wow... this is it! It's gigantic and scared and for a second it looks like he might've escaped. Of course I know that's not the case and the barely felt whirl of air generated by an object moving at very high speed confirms it for me. Just as the dragon reaches the north side of the lake and his flight is changing into a steadier pace, I hear the hit, reverberating like something a lot stronger than it actually is. The poor animal is thrown backwards all the way back above the lake's surface and before he's got any chance to steady himself Angel is already above him, hitting and pushing with unstoppable force. There's one more flame coming out before they hit the water, less spectacular than the first one despite being so much closer. He must be tired, the poor thing... No effect, of course, but a few treetops on the island catch fire. Then bubbles of air rising to the surface for some time, I think I even saw the water brightening up yellow for half a second from the effort of a flame trying to reach the surface and I cannot help but feel sorry for the poor dragon, even though I'm well aware there's nothing to worry about and he's as safe as it can be. It's all just an act designed to... I don't know. I suppose I should be impressed? I mean, sure, it's great visually, but once you've seen the magic from behind the curtain... Once you realised there's only mortar and bricks behind the eyes of the saints in churches that barbarian hordes tried to pull out, you know for sure the actual saints aren't there. Oh, yes, I know, we've had this conversation so many times, it's all as magic as you allow it to be and yes, I'm fully aware of this too, but I do enjoy calling bullshit on it all. It's like our little game.

It's quite now, so good time for a drink. And while I slurp with the thirst of a dog that's just beaten his own record at running around the lake and quietly thank Mr. Jack for his hell-bringing heavenly nectar I feel him coming. Dusting himself off without really needing to, realising he's completely dry then adding the dew drops at the end of his long black locks and heading towards me with the pride of a child who's just finished his first artwork on the living room wall. I have to pretend I don't see him, of course.

'Did you know that was the Loch Ness monster?'
'Was it?' I mock surprise badly.
'Yeah, but not the lame-ass one in the picture. Daily Mail, what do you expect?'
'Was it really the Daily Mail that published it?'
'Made by them, not only published.'
'Oh, wow... Why am I not surprised?'
'Anyway, this is - or was - the Loch Ness monster. Like for realz.'
'Realz...'
'Yeah, stayed there for some 10-15 century, though I'm not sure he was still there when the picture was taken.'
'So what's gonna happen to him now?'
'I locked him up'
'Bottom of the lake?'
'Yeah, there's a double gate with a good locker, he's gonna go live in the center of the earth now. He's fine, he's got his brothers... his whole family is there.'
'What was the show about then?'
'What do you mean?'
'You were trying to impress me, didn't you?'
'What'you on about?'
'Come on... look at you, big muscly angel wiping the floor with the massive dragons whereas I struggled with a silly little demon and you had to come to the rescue...'
'It's different, you know that. That was your demon. It's a hard fight, no matter the size. Though in all fairness he was completely out of shape last night...'
'Yeah, yeah, yeah...'

The evening before was harder than we were both pretending it was, though for reasons that are not yet clear to me. I'm sure the lesson will be presented to me in due time, with a huge slice of humble pie on the side. I didn't notice anything wrong until I actually turned the light on in the room. I didn't see him, I can't really describe how I knew he was there. When there's a mouse in your room, you get to see the mouse. I'm sure I didn't see him, peripheral vision or not. I FELT him.
'Come out! Come out, you asshole!' I shouted immediately. I jumped on the bed and threw my hand underneath, but didn't find him straight away. It actually took me a good few minutes of moving sheets and furniture about and just as I was about to move the bed I saw him trying to run through the wall. He was unlucky, really, they usually bit but this one was scared more than anything. By the time I grabbed his leg it was too late for him, I ducked the bite easily. I grabbed both his feet, grabbed both his hand around his back with my right hand and fixed him on the floor. Then put his feet and hands together and stepped on them with my left foot. I stood up through his loud screechings and wailings and pushed my right foot heavily in his spine a couple of times, in the vain hope he'll stop. I lifted my sole high off the ground and pushed down as hard as I could. I've been told this is how they suffer the most though in all fairness I like the squishing sound they make more than anything. Then, as his horns flew straight into the wall and the organic matter that moments before was making up his head splashed across the floor, I felt a stabbing in the lower back.

'Aaaaargh! There's two of you. You stupid bloody bollocking bastards!'
It was painful as hell, but I knew I had to move fast. I twisted my right and grabbed his neck to bring him around the front. he stayed in the bite, the little bastard, of course they knew how to cause pain much better than I did. his canine tooth came in deep and as I pulled the creature in front of me I felt his teeth grating against my spine, then leaving a deep ridge cut through the skin. It was painful, but it was over. Once I had him in front of me, holding him by the neck, it was easy going. I smashed his head against the wall a couple of times for good measure, but it wasn't really necessary. I have enough experience to deal with the little ones by now, they can only get away if I let them. And I wasn't going to let this one. He screeched and wailed too, of course, though fainter than the first one. 'I must've gave him a good smashing' I thought. For a split second I even felt sorry for him. But no, he won't have it easy. Hands and legs behind the back, down on the floor...

The demon pushed just as my right foot was about to touch the floor. I heard the imp's neck snapping, but by the time I was on the level with him his head was still moving. His eyes were closing and opening very slowly as life was leaving them and I thought he looks somewhat like an aborted fetus. Only lighter. Nevermind that, I had to concentrate on the demon.
The demon was laughing. I haven't seen him that self assured in a very long while. His skin was darker than usual, looking a bit like dark red wines. Rioja, or Bordeaux, all the ones I don't like. He was still in a pretty bad state, I could see the white from two of his ribs, but there were small patches of fur scattered over his body. He pulled head of the imp clear from the body and threw it out the window. Then swallowed the body whole and let out a huge burp. I didn't really mind his awful stinky sulfurous breath. On the contrary, it reminded me of the fights we had. Angel or demon, who doesn't enjoy a good fight? But I was surprised at my inability to fight back. I tried to stand but my body said no. The demon let out a loud, malevolent laugh, took to steps towards me then hoofed me straight up the wall. I felt the bricks moving on the outer face, but that was obviously the last of my worries. The moment I fell down his hoof punctured through my stomach. I tried to stand but his other hoof was already on my neck. Hands were useless in situations like this, I know, so I stopped moving for a moment, trying to figure out his moves and where I can catch a break. He tapped my sternum with his huge pointy nail, then cracked the rib cage open and pulled the heart out. With a foot still in my stomach, he stoop up again and looked at both myself on the floor and my heart in his hand in delight. He started eating it with big bites and long chews and I could do nothing but watch him. When he was about halfway through it he took a small step forward and raised his left hoof.
'Oh no, it's the head smash!' I thought, and closed my eyes in expectation.
'Oh no, not the head smash!' I heard, and suddenly I felt my body being released from pressure. I looked sideways, which was actually looking up as I was laying, and I saw Angel tackling the demon to the ground. Then I must've passed out for a few seconds because when I opened my eyes again the demon was nowhere to be seen. Angel was looming above me. He gave me an arm and helped me stand up, then started running his fingers across my skin to close the wounds.

'Listen, I'm in a bit of a block with my two teen lovers' I said. 'Can you help me with it?'
'I will, of course I will. But we've got some restoration to do first.'

sâmbătă, 4 martie 2017

Albania Rule the Waves

S.J.A. Turney - Tales of the Empire V: Invasion, Canelo, 2017

Despite being a big fan of Simon's books, I have so far avoided his 'Tales of the Empire' series mostly due to the word 'fantasy' he uses is the description. I was wrong, and this is not a fantasy book. If anything, it is worth of the historical fiction label more so than the Marius' Mules or Praetorian series which are fictionalization of history, or historical fictionalization, if you will. Sounds like a minor difference in spelling, but it becomes obvious in meaning: whereas the two aforementioned series are based on very real and sometimes very well documented events, leaving the author with the sole task of fleshing out the documents and instill some life into characters, Tales of the Empire is completely made up, at least in terms of chronology and location. There is no doubt in anyone's mind when it comes to atmosphere or time period: we are in early empire Rome, and the changed names are not going to fool anyone, nor do they intend to. Simon's only justification for this is to have the freedom to invent his own campaigns and stray from the historical course of events. Alternative history, of sorts, that wretched thing historians hate and writers love.

Invasion deals with the conquest by 'the Empire' of an island just outside the continental mass, by the name of Alba. We are dealing with a reinterpretation of the Roman conquest of Britain in which Queen Cartimandua puts in an appearance in the guise of Verctissa, queen of the Albantes. Unlike any of his historical books though, this one does not have a lead hero on the part of the invaders, but three. There is a silent implication that Lucius Bellacon is the main guy in this story, but it is in fact the story of three Roman officers. I mean Imperial officers, of course.

Which means either or all could be killed at any point during the novel, and I did fear for their lives just like I feared for Fronto's once the main objective of Marius' Mules has been achieved.

Strangely enough, from a military point of view this book might be more accurate than its historical counterparts. It is more specific, for sure. The readers will familiarize themselves with Roman use of artillery in battles and the purposes and functionalities of scorpion bolt throwers. Plenty to cherish for the lovers of close combat or commando missions too, but I feel artillery is really the department that gets the bigger slice of this pie.

I bookmarked a self-sacrificial scene worthy to stay right next to the Oscar-nominated Hacksaw Ridge. Self-sacrifice for your fellow soldiers always makes for a good story, the only difference between this and Mel Gibson's is that Simon's soldiers do not consciously object to any sort on violence. Quite the opposite, actually.

Also in line with Simon's sympathetic view of the natives, we are introduced to Lissa, a native seer slave who is a key accompaniment to the action and the alleged story teller. Her background story is barely sketched, and for such an important character there are lots of gaps in her personal history. Just enough to fill up a book, I suppose, and I'm pretty sure there is a readership awaiting for that book, too.

Invasion ends just as it was predictable, so much so that Lissa sees the end from the very beginning: it's the conquerors' boot on the natives' neck and the conqueror's flag on top of the mud huts. But knowing the end of the journey takes nothing away from the pleasure of getting there, as it is often the case with Simon's writings.

I am, upon reading Invasion, intrigued by the 'Tales of the Empire' series and I shall take on to reading it. There is talk of Khans plundering the capital, how can one not want to see what's it all about in this beautiful historical mash-up with changed names?

miercuri, 1 martie 2017

Giselle

Edgar Degas - Ballet Dancers, 1890-1900
'Pirouette... bras... derrière... allez, alezz,  derrière! Plus vite, plus vite! Derrière! Et... Arabesque... Rosanne, I said derrière! Asleep again? A pufff... Mais non! Tu need a break? Again! Le show est pa-pa alors!'

And then the all familiar thud of the cane. Oh...

'I can't! It hurts! I can't go anymore!'

Poor Irene! I feel her looking at mix confused, with a mix of sadness and guilt. The other girls are just confused. I don't care anymore. My feet hurt like hell, I need to sit down. The little man can go as crazy as he likes, I've felt his cane on my back before and it's nothing like this horrible ache I have in my foot right now. Feels like a stabbing where the knife is still inside and an invisible hand is pulling it up and down, left and right, like trying to chop my foot off. Which is a bit ironic, because I can't feel my foot anymore. But it's there alright. There's more of it, even, I notice looking down. Swollen like the Seine after a heavy winter. And a bit blue, as well... I go towards the bench and put my feet down... oh, that feels good! Teacher's face is actually funny. I feel like I'd be laughing otherwise, luckily enough my face is too twisted with pain to be needing the effort of holding in a LOL.

'Ah bon... how long left? 7 minutes? No matter, we stop now. Mademoiselle primadonna doesn't feel like rehearsing, so everyone loses 7 minutes. Ok, get your clothes, see you tomorrow! Bonjour!'

'Gosh, he was rash today! And not a word either! You ok?'

Irene sat next to me, genuinely worried.

'Yeah, just... it hurts! He might as well kill me, I feel like I'm dying anyway.'
'No, come on, it's not that. You know he's worried about the show! He's worried you're going to pull out!'
'He! Come on, Irene, we both know I'm not gonna make the show. He won't play me like this!'
'Like hell not! You're his best ballerina by far!'
'Was, Irene. Seriously, why do you think he asked you to paint your hair red? You're going to be his Giselle, I don't know why he hasn't announced it yet. At this rate, I'll be lucky if I make a nymph. Then again, I'm not even sure I want to be in it anymore?'
'Is it really that bad? Still that stupid accident?
'Of course it's the stupid accident! I'm on the brink of giving it up altogether...'
'No!' said the choir, Curiously enough, it felt like a surprise to all the girls.
'But you've been doing this since you were three!'
'The only reason I'm still doing it, really. Learned to dance before I learned to walk properly. Come on, you've all done the same. It's just that I had my accident. That silly, stupid accident that throws half my life out the window. I'm falling behind, and I would've quit a while ago already, but I'm not really sure how to go about without dancing...'
'But surely the doctor...'
'Come on, Irene, what's the point? Let's go home.'

Poor Ali, waiting for me, as always. Strange thing, he's still reading. Oh, that's right, we were out much earlier than usual. I wonder if professor is home already. He was redder than Irene's hair when he left... mine has started to fade, I should probably dye it again. Bah, can't be bothered. Need to have a chat with mum, that'll be a blast!

'Irene, this colour looks great on you'
'Merci, Ali!'
And the awkward kiss on the cheek. I love the feeling when Ali kisses me on the cheek. I put my hand just below his shoulders and I can feel his whole body shivering. He sits away, safely away from me, no idea why, then bends towards me quite a bit, carefully avoiding my face, like making for the ear. Then whoosh! A sudden turn and a quick smack, delicate as if he's afraid to break me. Bit too late for that, I'm afraid, Ali. And I swear to God, the exact moment I feel his lips on my cheek, just barely, is like he's being electrocuted, there's like a spasm in his arms. Almost makes me laugh and I'd do it too, would I not to know how much it hurts poor Ali. He's sweet. I asked Irene if she feels it as well and she said she doesn't. Irene is convinced he's in love with me. What even is that? I mean, yeah, it's obvious he likes me, but... I wonder if... Oh, gosh, last thing I need, really. I'm so fucking pissed at my stupid foot, I'd be a right proper bitch. I suppose I am a right proper bitch anyway, but poor Ali never says anything. Yeah, how could he even...? I mean, he's still... but why? Gosh, who can understand men? Actually, Irene can. She seems to be seeing right through them. She even warned me that evening when... Oh fuck, I can't stop thinking about it! Stupid foot!

'Rosanne says she thinks she won't play Giselle, Ali'
'Yeah, she told me. I don't know...'
'Oh, she told you? I see...'
'See what, Irene? Why don't you just...? Bitch!'
'Come on, Rosanne, I was joking. I didn't you two...'
'We two what?'
'You know... talk'
'Of course we talk, Irene, what does it look like we're doing now?'
'No, but I mean... yeah, ok. You know what I mean.'
'Irene, not everyone lives down-town like you. You know you get off after two stops every day, Ali and I are going all the way to Argenteuil. Besides, you don't have to know everything!'
'Bla bla bla, we're so touchy! Am I inconveniencing you?'
'Don't be silly, Irene! Here you go, so happy to get rid of you! See you tomorrow!'

Poor Ali, he looks even smaller than usual, not knowing what to make of it and with the two rucksacks on his back. Mine is pretty big anyway, I need to bring my tutu, but his is keeping up. I wonder how much stuff can he get in there...

'Is Irene annoying you?'
'Nah, she's just taking the piss.'
'Is it because she's gonna be Giselle?'
'Ali, it's nothing to do with that. Told her today, she kinda pretends she doesn't know, but come on...'
'Well, you said you weren't decided'
'It's been decided for me. I told you I can't carry on.'
'You're still pretty great. Maybe you can just do it like a hobby?'
'It doesn't work. You do ballet to be on the stage. If you can't fight for the lead part, there's no real point to it.'
'So what happened then?'
'My God, Ali, how many time shave I told you I don't want to talk about it?'
'You said you didn't want to talk about it then. I'm asking you now.'
'Well, I still don't want to talk about it.'
'Ok, ok, I'm sorry.'

I intentionally make my sighs longer. I can tell how much they torment him.

'So, do you want to come by the pond tonight? I think my dad's cooking and we'll have a fire. And if you want to, I can massage your foot.'
'Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure you can. Like that's gonna achieve anything.'
'Ok, not massage your foot. But we can do the homework together, then maybe watch something'
'No, sorry Ali, I want to go home.'
'Ok, no biggie' He's almost defeated now. 'Maybe, if you're not doing anything on Saturday, you want to come to the lake?'
'You're obsessed with bodies of water! What if it rains?'
'I don't know. I don't think it will. If it rains we don't go. I mean, I wanted to go anyway, but I'm not sure I'm going alone. That's why I ask, is like extra motivation for me.'
'Yeah, I don't know. I don't know what I'm doing Saturday.'
'You don't have class, do you?'
'Yeah, in the morning, but it's done by noon.'
'See, it's perfect, I can come pick you up.'
'I don't know, Ali, let's talk tomorrow.'
'Ok, I'll remind you tomorrow.'

Shit, my bag is heavy. Lucky Ali brings me home... I look back at him, heading away with his hair a mess and his uniform dirty. It's sweet when he tries to look back, but then turns away immediately, petrified by the thought he could catch my eye. I'm like Medusa! Buf, why can't all boys be like Ali?

joi, 26 ianuarie 2017

Silver and Gaul

Claude Monet - Snow Scene at Argenteuil, 1875
I had moved to the village only recently. With Julius Caesar's writings having made a strong impression on me, I was wondering if the name of the village, Argenteuil, denotes some sort of silver extraction, if the Romans found a treasure within the bowels of the earth and the savage Franks forgot about it. Maybe there's still loads of silver lurking under this very hill I'm climbing, just waiting to be discovered. Maybe just a hit of the spade in the spring, once the snow slides down, will bring out the sparkling ore. Oh, wait, it's not going to sparkle, is it? Silver, the pure silver, the silver that's useful, comes mixed with rocks of all sorts, just an impure mess of uselessness until a master metallurgist boils it to extract only the bits that spark people's greed. Bah, I'm no metallurgist. But what if... what if, maybe, some Roman nobleman had some chest of silver coins he had to leave behind when this land was abandoned to barbarians? And what if that same nobleman had the foresight to bury his silver, hoping that the mighty legions of Rome are still mighty enough to push back these pesky barbarians, so he can come back to his villa next summer to enjoy the sweet wine of Gaul once more? Which, of course, never happened, as the boundaries of the empire were pulling always backwards, so our poor patrician ended up ruined back in Rome, living off the mercy of his relatives. Or maybe he got killed by some lone riders while trying to push forward ever faster his huge caravan of slaves, house wares and jewelry? Years came and years went, the hill went up and then pulled back again and his chest of silver is just here somewhere, just under the surface, ready to pop out this coming spring? Perhaps I should tread more carefully...

It was with these thoughts that I was clambering up the snow covered hilltop to be alone for a while and to soak in the view. It was always a relaxing journey, even if right now the climb was rather difficult, as the virgin snow would reach up to my waist, every step needing to first pull my feet all the way out from the hole left by my previous step. And every now and then my foot would slip down, dragging me back a few meters and dumping my face in the snow which caused me, after a few falls, to stop feeling my nostrils. Still, the thought of warming by the fire once I get back home in the evening, with a steaming cup of tea in my hand, was energizing enough to keep me going. In the summer, ah! This stroll is an absolute delight, although it usually takes me longer to get to the top as I stop every few steps to admire some flower or the immense blue of the sky, or just to lay in the dew kissed grass for a few minutes. Right now, it's a bit of a challenge, but a challenge I eagerly take on as it reminds me of childhood and who knows how many more winters we'll have to wait until we get this perfect snow? Better take advantage while it's here... Oh, there's the tree, not long now. I think I can see the river from here. Woop, let's turn around. The locals say the name of the village comes from the gleaming of the river in the moonlight though in all my nightly strolls I've never... OH. MY. GOD! That is absolutely fabulous! There must be a God, there's no better proof for it than this view. All silver in the world is worth less than this glorious, glorious, image. 'Hallelujah!' I shouted at the top of my lungs then dropped back, a broad smile illuminating my otherwise reddened face. Gosh, it was well worth it enduring this freezing cold, and then some!

I must've laid in the snow for about 15 minutes, lifting my head every now and then to marvel at the beauty of our village. Well, our... I guess I can say it's my village too, I live here now. It's true, the locals still see me as a curiosity, as the stranger, and will probably do so for at least another year or so. After all, I only landed in their midst not 8 months ago, coming from nowhere, not speaking the language very well and with no apparent reason. Argenteuil is one of those places where nothing changes and nothing happens. And when it does, everyone knows about it and it's all everyone talks about, gosh, there might even be stories told about it, like the one with the guy who claimed to see and UFO... and pretended he had a chat with a creature on it. I have been the talk of the town for most of last year and I expect this to continue deep into this year too, unless another UFO appears or some sort of war starts and shocks the village to the core.

For some reason, the way down seemed considerably easier. I was pretty much frozen all over by now and eager to get home. I did still slow my pace once the cart got into my field of view. Old Jean-Paul was coming from the forest of Saint Germain, just a black spot on a gigantic white blanket. I followed him with my eyes and kept following him as I was coming down, pacing myself so we'd be at the bottom of the hill at the same time.

'Ça va, Jean-Paul?' I shouted.
From underneath the two blankets he kept tightly wrapped around his body Jean-Paul lifted his head and struggled for a second to understand where the noise was coming from. 'Ça va, ça va, merci! Et vous?'
'Jean-Paul, where I come from we say the wise man will build a cart in the winter and a sleigh in the summer. Bit late to be carrying wood this time of year, no?'
'Monsieur, I would pass for a very wise man where you come from, then. These logs won't probably see fire until next winter.'
'Oh, surely for that it is too early?'
'Never know, never know. I should be ok for all the rest of the winter, but I freed up some space in the shed so I thought, why not? Mon Bernard enjoys a bit of exercise, he gets nervous if he stays in too much. And I had nothing else to do!'
'He certainly doesn't look like he's enjoying it, but you know him better.' The poor horse was clearly struggling pulling the cart full of logs in the cold. His nostrils were inflated and steam was pumping out of them with every step.
'He does, monsieur. He might look unhappy now, but the exercise is good for him. A ready supply of carrots and a good sleep under blankets, he'll be good as new tomorrow. And he'll be gleaming for a week! Enfait, he would be all too happy to give you a ride home, n-est ce pas, Bernard?'
The horse gave a slow neighing upon hearing his name.
'Nah, merci, Jean-Paul, but I'm good. I enjoy walking as much as Bernard.'
'As you wish, monsieur, but Bernard walks faster than yourself. I shall bid you a good day and leave you, alors. Au revoir, monsieur!'
'Au revoir, Jean-Paul! Au revoir, Bernard!'
I watched Jean-Paul and Bernard disappearing round the corner in a slow, half-hearted trot, with the old cart shifting left to right like a ship on a windy sea. I stopped for a second to catch my breath by the old wall. To me, the wall was the most fascinating feature of the village. Was this really the old abbey wall, 15 centuries old? But they said the abbey burnt completely more than 100 years ago, with no traces remaining. And no one knew who built the wall. Is this just a slip-up of historians, and this is actually the remain of the old abbey estate? Maybe Charlemagne himself stopped next to this very wall all those centuries back... Hm! Worth investigating, for sure...
To my right, the tall spire of the church was stabbing the grey sky with its skewed cross at the top, bent visibly forward in an unnatural way, as if someone pulled it from the ground with a rope, or as if... as if someone just pushed at it from behind. Which would be both difficult and pointless. Why would anyone...
'Monsieur, monsieur...'
'Oh, what's the matter, Jean-Baptiste?'
'I discovered, monsieur! I know who you are! I went to Paris last week and saw it in a bookshop, so now I know!'
'Oh...'
'It's you, monsieur, n-est pas?'
The words were coming fast from between the red cheeks of Jean-Baptiste and I'm not sure if he was cold, blushing, over-excited or all at once as he pushed towards me a copy of my latest book.
'Well, Jean-Baptiste, since you uncovered my secret I will have you know it is only half of me. It's true, I do write, but I also paint.'
'Paint, monsieur?'
'Paint.'
'What are you painting about? I mean... how is... like, you're painting walls?'
'Canvases, Jean-Baptiste. I see things I like, then put them on a canvas. Some people pay good money for that.'
'In Paris, monsieur?'
'In Paris, but not only.' I could clearly see how confused I got poor Jean-Baptiste.
'And... like... you paint persons and such?'
'Persons, too, but not my forte. I like nature more.'
'Nature, monsieur?'
'Nature'
'And people pay you money?'
'Quite a lot, sometimes. More than I'm worth it, I'd say.'
'And you also write about nature, monsieur?'
'I write... about various stuff. Not only what I see, but also what I imagine. I make up stories.'
'Like this story, monsieur, about the little Arab boy?'
'Like this one, yes.'
'But you do have an Arab boy, monsieur.'
'I take care of a little boy, yes, but he's not the one in the story. The one in the story is a mush, much sadder boy than the boy I take care of.'
'You know, monsieur, people are saying...'
'Yes?'
'People are saying, monsieur, that you have no place to look after an Arab boy. Why is he not in his country? I don't think it's right, monsieur.'
'Well, Jean-Baptiste, I'm afraid that's none of your business. Or anyone else's in the village. And he's not Arab. And I don't want to hear another word about it! Au revoir!'
'Monsieur...'

I half-muttered half-shouted the last few words. I told myself a number of times I shouldn't get so worked up about this and that the villagers are unlikely to understand it, yet I always found it hard to control myself, to not have a go to anyone who would unknowingly utter an insult not necessarily out of hatred, but out of ignorance.


'Bloody band of bastards, when will they stop?' I growled at myself as I was stepping in, ready to get cosy by the fire.

duminică, 25 decembrie 2016

Noapte Instelata

Inspirat de un exercitiu la care am asistat anul trecut la National Gallery, unde un grup de studenti la Imperial College of Music au fost comisionati sa compuna cateva bucati muzicale bazate pe tablouri, am vrut sa creez povesti din tablouri. Impreuna cu Oana am ales tabloul de mai jos. Povestea ei o gasiti aici. Povestea mea, in continuare.


'Hai ma, vino-'ncoace. Ia, stai jos aici. Uite, aici vin eu de obicei. Nu e asa adapost, ca vine tot vantul de pe dealuri, dar mi-am facut aici un culcus, langa boschetele asta. Si-n seara asta oricum e cald afara. Ia uite ce cer curat, cum se vad stelele. Parc-ar fi mai aproape de noi azi. Incalte de s-ar apropia si oamenii de cer... E-he, poate doar din varful bisericii, M-am urcat o data acolo, cand eram mic, sa fi avut 11-12 ani. Cu Gheorghita, care sta colea mai la vale, uite in casa aia din dreapta. Nu prima, a doua. A facut-o cand s-a luat cu Irina. Aia cu acoperisul ala scund si negru. E mica deh, ca n-aveau bani, de unde sa aiba, oameni tineri. Si-apoi Gheorghita s-a luat cu bautura, si mica le-a ramas. Ma, tu stai bine acolo? Stai jos ca nu patesti nimic, pamantul e cald, Nu mai piui ca un apucat ca sculam tot satul.

Asa, si ziceam, ne-am dus sus in cloptnita, si zic eu Eu eram ala de nascocea nastrusniciile, dar Gheorghita mi-o lua inainte cand era vorba sa le facem... Mereu a fost mai puternic ca mine, deh, si c-un an mai mare. Si nu zice Gheorghita al meu nici o vorba, desface franghia de pe clopot, face latz, si hop, pana sus peste cruce. Era cruce buna, de fier, ca ne-a tinut sa ne urcam. Dar cand ajungem sus, amandoi agatzatzi de cruce, ne uitam fermecati la sat cand odata auzim.... crrrr. Am sarit de era sa cadem. zic eu, . Incepe Gheorghitza sa rada de mine, ca ce ma ti-e frica, ca da-l dracu' pe popa... ce ne-a mai blestemat popa cand a aflat... Afurisenii, toata ziua buna ziua la mama la poarta ca sa-i dea bani sa repare crucea de pe biserica, ca ardem toti in iad... Mama, saraca, ce sa-i dea? Femeie singura... Si de-atunci nu-i primea popa Alexandru nici un pomelnic mamei, de se ducea saraca, la sarbatori mari, tocmai peste deal, la Turulung, la biserica. Nu zic, ca mi-am luat si-un perdaf... zicea Maria, vecina, doua case mai incolo. Uite, are lumina aprinsa si-acum baba Maria, saraca... Abia de i se mai tine casa, sa n-o ia la vale, ca-i mai si zic lu' Gheorghita...

Da' stai ma jos ca parca-mi stai in cap. Noroc, zic, ca dupa vreo doi ani a murit si popa Alexandru, afurisit mai era... Primu' din sat care s-a dat cu comunistii cand au venit cu colectivul. Cam p-atunci era, cu vreun an inainte sa-i indoim noi crucea, uite ca se si vede. Uite, apleaca-te aici, daca te uiti la tufa s-apoi la turla bisericii vezi ca e nitel indoita spre spate. Eh, burta lu' Gheorghita a fost acolo. Ce te tot uiti ma la padure? Nu vine nimeni d-acolo, nici lupii nu umbla, asa e de deasa. Cand vin, vin pe-acolo, pe dupa deal, ca p-acolo au tras si soseaua spre oras. Le place si lor, saracii, sa mearga pe sosea ca oamenii. S-apoi vin prin tufe si-ti iau oaia din tinda daca nu esti atent. Pai n-a patit-o mos Iordan, ala de sta peste drum de biserica? Uite-asa, au venit, tiptil-tiptil, vreo 3-4 sa fi fost dupa urme. Nu s-au uitat la a lu' Ilie, nici la a lu' Mitica, astia amandoi betivi, dormeau dusi. Si nici n-au gard cu lastarisul. Mos Iordan si-a tras casa mai la drum, mai aproape de biserica, desi ai lui erau evrei de neam, dupa tac-su mare, veniti de prin Moldova. zicea mos Iordan. Da' au stiut ei, lupii, ca Mos Iordan e mai gospodar si hatz... nici pas nu s-a auzit. Da' nici nu s-au lacomit, ca nu-s lupii ca oamenii, hamesiti. Au luat o oaie, s-au saturat, s-au dus in treaba lor. Nici nu s-a suparat Mos Iordan, a zis ca suflete sunt si ei... ba a mai taiat o oaie si-a chemat tot satul la masa, cica sa-i faca pomana la aia prima. Om bun Mos Iordan, d-asta l-au si luat nenorocitii astia la stuf... Eh, in fine, popa a murit... sa tot fie 15-16 ani de-atunci. A venit asta de-acum, popa Constantin... baiat de treaba. Era tinerel tare cand a venit la noi in sat, daca avea 30 de ani, da' nu cred. Da' baiat destept, a fost in Grecia, a fost de-a facut ceva facultati pe la Roma. Lumea zice ca de-asta cam l-au trimis la noi in sat, ca sa n-ajunga pe la Bucuresti sa faca scandal pe-acolo. Tocmai in capatul astalalt al tarii... Deh, ce sa-i faci, cu neorocitii astia. Da' n-a zis nimic popa Costica, si-a vazut de treaba lui, ce-a mai ras cand i-am zis de ce e crucea indoita. Cu mine rade, pe Gheorghita mereu il cearta cand il vede ca sa lase bautura. zice Gheorghita, si <Il dau dracu' cu biserica lui, n-o cere si-asta bani pe cruce?>

Da' nu e asa, popa Costel ma ajuta mereu. Uite ia, acuma are lumina stinsa. Nu la el acasa... unde te uiti ma? Ti-am zis ca nu e nici un lup in padure ca e prea deasa? Las-o dracu de farfurie ca e bine ascunsa, n-o vede nimeni. Cine s-o vada dupa tufis? Tot satul merge la lucru pe deal, in partea aia, ce-ti tot zic? Si mergem maine la popa, o sti el ce sa faca cu tine ca parca esti picat din cer.

Asa, si ziceam, acolo, in casa aia cu tigle rosii sta popa, a fost a popii Alexandru si cred ca si dinainte, de cand ma stiu eu e acolo casa popii... Da' in biserica zic, cand e liniste in sat, popa Costica tine lumina aprinsa in clopotnita. Ma duc pe la el, bem o tuica, mai vorbim... Acuma e stinsa, ca cica misuna militienii prin sat ca ulii. Ca d-asta si umblam p-aici, ca dincolo peste deal mi-e sa nu dau de ei. Nu prea am zis asta la multa lume, da' cu cine-ai a vorbi tu? Mama, saraca, i-a dus cu vorba cand au venit pe la noi cu colectivul prima data. Ca femeie singura, ca tata a murit in razboi sa le apere lor pieile... Au mai venit odata in '53, da' de data asta s-a bagat si popa Costica ca e femeie si ca eu n-am varsta cum prevede legea. Ne-a ajutat mult popa Costica. Eu eram mare de-acuma, aveam 17 ani, da' tot pe vorba lui mergeam. Cand au venit anu alalalt n-am mai mers pe vorba lu' popa Costica, i-am dat dracu' pe toti, si pe Stalin, si pe Hrusciov si pe Dej. Scandal mare... in fine, dupa ce s-a dus mama nici ca mi-a mai pasat... Faceti ma ce vreti, da' eu nu semnez nimic. Trebuie sa se duca dracu' si Dej... si uite ca s-a dus. De-atunci tot vorbesc cu popa sa vedem cum om face, poate sa mergem la tribunal la Satu Mare sa ne lase astia in pace. Ehe, ce-ar fi vrut Mitica, seful de post sa ma duca la Sighet. Asta e altu' decat Mitica betivanu' de sta langa biserica, sta la Turulung. Da' ce, m-a mai vazut la fatza de cand am ingropat-o pe mama? I-am si zis, sa ma ia atunci sa-i fie cu pacat si s-a speriat prostu'... De-asta zic, de tine nu stiu, da' stam aici pana dimineata, cand s-o lumina o sti popa Costica ce sa faca si cu tine. Pai nu zic toti popii asa, ca stiu cum sa ajungi la cer?'


Atunci a tunat. N-a facut zgomot asa mult, da' cum era liniste, nu s-auzeau decat greierii, am zis ca s-a spart cerul. Si-am simtit asa o arsura intre coaste.... Asta mic, imediat, nici nu stiu cum naiba... piu, piu, a sarit in farfurie si puf... Am apucat sa vad doar norul de praf in urma lui, si-asa, ca o urma pe cer cand s-a dus... unde s-o fi dus. 'Mergi ma Ionica, mergi ca p-aici nu e de stat', m-am gandit. Ce sa mai fug, ca de-acuma era gata. Erau mai multi, ca nu venea Mitica miltianul singur, prea e fricos. Inca una, tot acolo, in umar. M-am tarat doi pasi mai sus, mai afara din tufis sa ma mai uit o data la sat. 'Astia aici ma lasa' ma gandii. Eh, macar sa ma manace lupii, vorba lui Mos Iordan, suflete sunt si ei. Si cum ma uitam asa la sat, parca vad ca incep sa se invarta stelele, si sa se infoiasca asa, ca o gaina pe oua. Eh, m-or chema, sau cine stie. L-am simtit pe Mitica militianul cum s-a apropiat dupa mers. 'Ma!', zice. Da' n-am vrut sa ma uit la el. Am vrut asta sa fie ultimul lucru pe care-l mai vad pe pamantul asta: satul nostru cu biserica de i-am indoit noi crucea, si stelele infoiate ca si cum m-ar astepta Dumnezeu... si dunga de fum cum a plecat Ionica asta micu', cu farfuria lui cu tot, de unde o fi venit el in seara asta... Am simtit ca-s toti in jurul meu, si mi-am simtit si spatele, ud tot de la sange. Atat am mai zis: “Va fut muma-n cur!

sâmbătă, 17 decembrie 2016

Two-speed Europe

Wayne Visser - The World Guide to Sustainable Enterprise: Volume 3 - Europe, Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, 2015

After taking the best part of a year to get through the first 3 volumes of this tetralogy, I feel obliged to admit this is a difficult lecture when approached as regular literature. Its utility is indisputable, but it works a lot more as a ready reference book rather than a lecture to be done in a few sittings. I will therefore reiterate when I said in the review of the first volume, that it would work more as a website (whose need is, I think, increasingly acute) than the static and prone to redundancy format of a book.

Just like the first two volumes, the regional division is debatable: there is a clear and very necessary distinction between the sub-Saharan Africa and the MENA region in the first volume, but the second groups under the label of Central, Eastern and Southern Asia countries as diverse as Kazakhstan and Japan. A fairer division would have been probably the ex-Soviet space, SE Asia (the Sino-Indian space) and Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, though in the actual book Kazakhstan would be the sole representative of the first region.

Europe is a bit more straight-forward, at least at first sight: despite a number of people and organizations fighting against it, the two-speed Europe is still visible, and the unofficial border between the West and Eastern Europe still runs largely along the same line as Churchill's Iron Curtain. On one hand we've got the countries that have known a steady and sustained economic development after WWII, whereas on the other the former Communist countries only started their path to a free market economy in the early 90s, hindered by high levels of corruption and the need to completely reform the economical system.

At a closer look, we can run further divisions: Scandinavia, for instance, is well ahead in terms of economic development, human development and other indexes, measurable or subjectively determined, while some of the Southern European countries have been recently plagued by cases of corruption or bad management (such as Italy or Greece). In the East, countries tend to take economical leaps forward once they join the European structures, mostly the European Union, which causes countries like Albania or Serbia to fall behind economically. And if you want further distinctions within these almost arbitrarily determined sub-regions, that's also possible. But for the sake of functionality, let's stick to Western Europe and Eastern Europe.

Overall, the narrative on Europe seems to be much more consistent than on other continents, due probably to geographical closeness and historical communication links between countries/regions and despite the cultural differences. A big part of this is the European Union: encompassing 28 countries, the EU is a very peculiar construct that, the more time passes, the more it makes its member countries to look and act like one. And all the countries in Europe are either part of the EU, aspiring to be part of it or close partners in one form or another (EEA, Schengen space).

And the narrative seems to be that Europe is more or less at the forefront of human and economical development and environmental consciousness, Whilst it is obviously subjected to various challenges at regional, country or country-bloc level, it is in Europe we encounter the countries that top the Human Development Index, some of the most developed economies in the world, the most advanced legislative framework in terms of protecting human rights and the most progressive environmental consciousness. The book only snapshots the state of sustainability, development and human rights in the countries analyzed and does not attempt an analysis or an explanation for this state, though I am sure there are plenty of academic papers on the subject.

There are a lot of interesting snippets in the book, obviously, a lot of policies that work in some countries which can be transplanted in others and a wide range of case studies with companies to be used either as examples or as partners.

For instance, Denmark is measuring a notion called 'power distance', defined as 'the extent to which the lower ranking individuals of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally'. Another interesting bit in Denmark is Specialisterne, 'the world's first IT company with an affirmative business model built around the special skills of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)'.

A very interesting case is Greenland, where the environmental conditions are clearly hostile and the entire state policy is steered towards growing its ~56.000 people past the subsistence threshold. Therefore Anne Mette Christiansen of Centre for CSR Denmark , the writer of the chapter on Greenland, is actually advocating FOR mining and exploitation fossil fuels. Not what one would expect from a supposed environmentalist, but this says a lot about what local context means.

And, for all the environmental talk, we can find from the book that 'solid fuels such as coal make up 81% of primary energy production in Poland.' Still a lot of work to do in the sustainability & responsibility field in some places, such as Nestle, which is given as an example of a responsible company despite a former CEO of declaring that access to water is not a basic human right. Do you want more? There is more. UBS is apparently another responsible company, even though it has maintained an organizational environment that produced people like Kweku Adoboli. Come on, Switzerland, get a grip!

So yeah, this is where we are. We have to take the good with the bad, I suppose, and the book only provides a state-of-the-art and not a blue print. The blue print needs to be created by all of us. I suggest we start by pretending 2016 never existed.

joi, 8 decembrie 2016

These Aren't the Champions

Tottenham Hotspurs - CSKA Moscova 3 - 1 (Alli '38 '77, Kane '45+1 - Dzagoev '33), Champions League 2016/17 Matchday 6, Wembley Arena, London, 2016-12-07

Wembley a parut o arena prea mare si prea maiestuoasa aseara pentru miza meciului din ultima etapa a fazei grupelor de Champions League de anul acesta, in care Tottenham Hotspurs i-au primit pe rusii de la CSKA Moscova intr-un meci in care miza era doar calificarea in Europa League de pe locul 3 al grupei.

Spurs au avut un parcurs relativ slab anul asta in ccompetitie, chiar si pentru standardele lor, iar infrangerea de acasa 0-1 cu Leverkusen insemna ca nu mai au nici macar sanse teoretice sa se califice in faza urmatoare. Iar pentru a se mentine pe locul 3 era suficient sa nu piarda. Si n-au pierdut, chiar daca oaspetii au fost primii care a deschis scorul, in minutul 33, dupa un contraatac din 3 pase la capatul caruia decarul Alan Dzagoev a trimis mingea pe langa Lloris.

Golul a venit impotriva cursului jocului, pentru ca Spurs au atacat din primul minut avand minim trei mari ocazii de gol in primul sfert de ora: Alli a indreptat cu capul o centrare putin pe langa poarta dupa 7 minute de joc, in timp ce Son si apoi Eriksen l-au luat la tinta pe portarul lui CSKA, Igor Akinfeev.

O infrangere unui adversar mai slab cotat, cu multe accidentari si probleme de vestiar ar fi fost rusinoasa si greu de digerat pentru cei 60 de mii de fani prezenti pe stadion, Numai ca Lilywhites au reusit sa egaleze dupa 5 minute printr-un lob spectaculos al lui Alli din marginea careului. Ambele goluri si-au avut originea in pozitii suspecte de off-side. N-a mai fost cazul cu al treilea gol, inscris in prelungirile primei reprize de  un Harry Kane nemarcat, caruia i-a revenit misiunea de a trimite in poarta goala o centrare inteligenta a lui Danny Rose, care a suntat intreaga aparare moscovita.

Chiar daca gazdele au intrat la pauza cu avantaj de un gol, povestea meciului ar fi putut fi cu totul alta daca sutul lui Georgi Milanov cu doua minute inainte de pauza ar fi reusit sa-l pacaleasca pe Lloris.

A doua repriza a aratat insa superioritatea fizica a londonezilor, care au continuat sa atace in acelasi ritm, dar cu mai mult calm si prin actiuni mai elaborate. De partea cealalta, oaspetii au inceput sa resimta ritmul meciului, iar contraatacurile s-au rarit si au devenit mai putin periculoase. De altfel, in repriza a doua nu avem de notat in dreptul moscovitilor decat o ocazie a lui Lacina Traore, care a receptionat o minge in careu, dar prea sus pentru a o putea indrepta eficient spre poarta. Tottenham in schimb a trecut de mai multe ori pe langa golul 3, Harry Kane ratand cel putin 3 mari ocazii de a inscrie. Kane a trebuit sa se multumeasca cu o pasa de gol pentru al treilea gol care a venit pana la urma in minutul 77, dar tot cu Dele Alli la finalizare, si ajutat usor de picioarul lui Akinfeev, care n-a reusit sa retina o minge sutata puternic de la aproximativ 8 metri. Dele Alli a fost de altfel omul meciului intr-o seara in care Pochettino a ales sa foloseasca cea mai buna formula pe care o are la dispozitie, cu doar 4 zile inaintea vizitei pe Old Trafford.

Dupa al treilea gol CSKA Moscova nu a parut sa mai ridice vreun fel de pretentii de a obtine ceva din acest meci, cu atat mai mult cu cat antrenorul Slutsky a trebuit sa scoata din teren titulari de baza pe fond de oboseala. In acest timp, Pochettino si-a permis luxul de a-i oferi 10 minute de fotbal in Champions League tanarului Josh Onomah, care l-a inlocuit pe Harry Kane in minutul 82.

Va fi, asadar, Europa League pentru Spurs, in timp ce CSKA Moscova paraseste competitiile europene si va avea nevoie de un nou antrenor, dupa ce clubul a anuntat ca intalnirea de pe Wembley a fost ultima in care Leonid Slutsky s-a aflat la carma echipei de pe locul 3 din Rusia.

Tragerea la sorti pentru saisprezecimile Europa League va avea loc luni la ora 11 CET la Nyon.