vineri, 10 iunie 2022

A Portrait of Zelensky

First I heard of Tanya Vorontsova on a Facebook group for Romanians trying to help Ukrainians fleeing the war. She was trying to sell a few paintings, and her message caught my eye. Not only because it was unusual, but also because of an underlying despair.

I messaged Tanya and asked about her story. Through broken English and partial responses, I think I have reconstructed most of her story since February: she is a commission painter based in Kharkiv but was in St Petersburg when war broke out. Unable to go back to Kharkiv and afraid to stay in St Petersburg, she headed for Finland and lived for a couple of months in a refugee camp outside Helsinki. With no access to her studio or her paintings back home, with no tools or materials to keep painting, and only three canvases in her luggage, I cannot begin to imagine what life must look like.

I offered to send her some money. She said no, but accepted that I'd buy a painting from her. My favorite, the portrait of Volodymyr Zelensky you can see here, was back in Kharkiv, so she had to redo it. I send her half of the money before, the other half on delivery. I hope it helped.

And yesterday I received the painting, which I absolutely love. 

Tanya is currently in a refugee camp near Zurich. I didn't understand why she had to leave Helsinki, my understanding is she is trying to reunite with her son, then move to Canada together. I wish I could help her more. So here's what I'm gonna do:

I will start an auction for the portrait of Volodymyr Zelensky, from today until 1 August. It's oil on canvas, 100 x 70 cm. All of the money will be used to help Ukrainian artists fleeing from war. Biddings will be received on multiple channels, but I will keep them all updated with the current front-runner. The auction starts at £1,000. The price of postage and packaging will be added to the final offer.

Please spread the word. And if you're not interested in Zelensky's portrait, please check Tanya's other work:

You can also buy t-shirts with the painting, get in touch with Tanya directly if you want to:

Needless to say, all the money will go a long way towards helping someone rebuild their life.

sâmbătă, 21 august 2021


Ioana Nicolaie - Pelinul Negru, Humanitas 2017

Pelinul Negru e povestea primilor ani de scoala ai Augustinei Bulta, o fata nascuta la cateva luni de la explozia centralei atomoelectrice din Cenobil. Augustina traieste in nordul Romaniei, intr-un oras de munte, probabil Sangeorzul nativ al Ioanei Nicolaie, dar citind romanul am recunoscut multe din cliseele copilariei mele, cliseele primilor ani de dupa comunism.

Insirate pe hartie, se citesc ca un lung pomelnic de barbarisme, de situatii specifice unui stat esuat si unei societati in paragina, lucruri pe care le-am vazut de aproape in copilaria mea, pe care nu le doresc nimanui si despre care sunt recunoscator ca am avut norocul istoric sa le depasim. Ce e interesant insa e ca am citit cartea destul de detasat emotional, recunoscand atat situatiile, cat si viata interioara a protagonistei, dar fara sa fiu prea miscat de ele. Pana aproape de ultimele pagini. Si cred talentul scriitoricesc al Ioanei Nicolaie e cel care m-a facut sa fiu atat de miscat de unul din cele mai banale evenimente ale Romaniei post-comuniste. Copilul speriat de taierea porcului e un tablou care a tot fost descris in literatura romana si un fapt despre care se poarta frecvent discutii la mai toate nivelele de varsta si profunzime. Un fapt care, descris intr-un roman, nu pare sa mai aiba suficienta seva artistica incat sa poata misca cititorul. Ei bine, sfarsitul Guitului familiei Bulta reuseste sa aiba acelasi efect sfasaietor ca despartirea autorului de Micul Print in romanul omonim.

Si asta e un mare compliment, Micul Print e cartea mea preferata. Dar da, periplul Augustinei prin lumea literelor care nu stau locului si prin societatea care incearca sa se regaseasca pe sine imbina elemente din Micul Print (de unde motivul prieteni vulpe e furat fara rusine si, am impresia, si fara justificare) si din Flori pentru Algernon. Augustina e un Charlie Gordon de Romania, fara norocul de a cunoaste performanta academica, dar cu speranta ca teritoriul nu-i este complet interzis.

Astept cu nerabdare sa citesc mai mult din... saga Rodnei? Trilogia familiei Bulta? Nu stiu cum sa-i spun, pentru ca Ioana Nicolaie nu i-a dat nici un titlu, si nici nu da vreo indicatie in ce fel romanele s-ar lega intre ele. Dar Cartea Reghinei si Tot Inainte sunt si ele pe lista mea, si o sa am un verdict mai clar asupra povestii familiei Bulta odata ce le citesc. Pana atunci, ma bucur sa gasesc in Augustina o protagonista feminina a literaturii romane, scrisa de o femeie si care nu se defineste in nici un fel prin raportarea la masculin, nu-si vede rolul in lume ca purtatoare de copii si obiect al placerii masculine. Suna banal, dar nu prea am reusit sa gasesc multe alte personaje asemenea in literatura romana. Sper ca mai sunt, in special in literatura romana recenta, si ca n-am reusit sa le gasesc pentru ca n-am citit eu suficient, nu pentru ca-s asa rare. S-ar putea face un caz pentru Vitoria Lipan si, intr-adevar, ea e prima oprire pentru cine cauta femei puternice in literatura romana, dar lumea in care se misca Vitoria e una a barbatilor. In lumea Augustinei barbatii exista, dar sunt o chestie cu care mai degraba nu vrei sa interactionezi. Si pe buna dreptate.

In rest, Ioana Nicolaie merge cu pedala lirica apasata tot timpul, uneori chiar prea tare. Povestea e spusa la persoana intai, iar ochii Augustinei sunt un filtru prin care cititorul primeste o lume diferita de experienta senzoriala cu care e obisnuit, o lume pe care trebuie s-o traduca inainte s-o inteleaga. Ceea ce e bine, efortul te tine angajat in poveste, iar faptul ca nici personajul, nici autoarea nu simt vreo obligatie de a explica tot ce se intampla face lumea romanului foarte reala. Augustina e dislexica sau doar usor intarziata? Cat de mult a afectat-o Cernobil? Cat de mult i-a afectat familia Cernobil? Putem sa intuim, putem sa ghicim, dar nu stim cu siguranta. Iar explicatii suplimentare nu ne datoreaza nimeni.

luni, 12 iulie 2021

Euro 2021 - Un Estate Italiana

Italy - England 1-1 (3-2 penalties)

When all is said and done, you know this is a good outcome. Italy was the best team of the tournament - by some distance - and deserved to win. Not only that, they brought with them the track record that is the bread and butter of football pundits (however many games undefeated, however many consecutive victories) and left us with plenty of stuff to make legends of. Whether you want to go with Chiellini's smile in tense moments, with the father-son Chiesa symmetry, with the best winger injured in the key moment or with whatever else, plenty to choose from in Italy's trajectory in this Euro. They have, as expected of a tournament winner, furthered the game of football.

And England? Punching above their weight, first time in donkey's years in a tournament final, young time, coming back stronger, plenty of feel-good stories the media can use for the nation's ailment. And a tad less vandalism tonight, and quiet streets. All positives, really.

There was a time, I think during the first half of extra time, when I was like... 'You know what? England can actually have it. I wouldn't even mind that much.' It wouldn't have been right, but life seldom is. In purely footballing terms, coming into the game, it could've gone either way. It's true that Italy played the best football, and us neutrals were right to fall in love with their football right from the first game against Turkey, but they have also constantly lost speed. 3-0, 3-0, but then only 1-0 against Wales. Conceded their first goal against Austria. 1-2 against Belgium, too tight for comfort. And they needed penalties to beat Spain.

England, on the other side, have played relatively boring football, although I think they would call it 'pragmatic' in this country. Crowd the center, don't concede, then snatch what you can. Worked in group stages and worked against Germany. Then Ukraine's game plan crumbled faster than their defense in front of Russia's forced annexation of Crimea and against Denmark, well... Let's just say Sterling has been too much of an asset thus far and felt the need to even things out with the run, dive and beg style of football he is known for. Denmark was the unlucky victim, but it was all about the bottom line by now. After all, it's the hopes of a nation we're talking about, and if they only live at the expense of another's hopes well, we only care about ours anyway. Besides, if anyone can complain about other teams winning ugly, Italy is not it.

Wembley, Wembley, do you know how we get to Wembley? was the word on the street, and on every train platform in London. And Wembley, overflowing with people and hope since this morning, must've been quite a sight in the second minute when Luke Shaw scored the first goal. I suppose I should be happy for Shaw, Manchester United player innit. More on that later.

For know, the acknowledgment that it was a good goal, brilliant run down the wing from Shaw, inspired (albeit a tad lucky) cross from Trippier and a cold-blooded shot to leave Donnarumma stunned. Italy took a while to get into the game and frankly, I thought the first half was the poorest I've seen from them the whole tournament. They only started to get into the game after some 10-15 minutes, and even then, it felt like they're afraid to attack. They were refusing to throw men forward, every run down the wings ended in nothing as there was no one in the box to receive the ball, Immobile didn't really feel like a striker and the midfield line was staying back even with the ball and with space ahead of them.

Slightly different story in the second half, when they started pushing more and more, led largely by a very lively Chiesa. And the goal did come, halfway through the second half. Scored by another defender, sweet irony. Maybe because, just as no one expected Luke Shaw to be in the box for the first goal, no one really expected Chiellini and Bonucci can combine in the opposite box with the same ease they do in theirs. It was kind of clumsy, the kind of goal scored by willpower rather than skill. I doubt Bonucci's gonna care.

The closing minutes of regular time were fairly evenly balanced, with both teams having chances and none of them very serious. Italy was huffing and puffing, Chiellini had to pull down Saka as to outrun him was inconceivable by that point, and when it become clear that we're heading to extra time it became just as clear that it was a case of Italy resisting rather than hoping to score.

Maldini used his substitutions smartly though, Bernardeschi, Belotti and Locatelli provided enough physical freshness for Italy to have the best chances during extra time. Southgate, for all the good he's done with this England team, really blew the game with the extra time substitutions. Kept Sterling in although he was obviously tired, shifted some positions about without being very clear on why, and kept some of his best players on the bench until way too late.

Obviously, sofa management is much easier than on-pitch management and it's cliche to say that the players on the bench are better. The substitutions might've looked like a good idea at the time. But even so... you're putting Rashford and Sancho in for 2-3 minutes hoping you can snatch something, but have them hit penalties? Why not Kalvin Phillips or Sterling, players whose adrenalin levels were high enough to suppress the nerves of the shootout. When you haven't warmed up properly and you have to hit that perfect penalty, you tend to think about it a bit more. And that little bit of extra thinking, of contemplating the ways in which it can go wrong, might just pour a bit of lead into the feet. And that bit of lead might make a couple of inches difference between a goal and hitting the post. Especially when the manager asked you to come on for three times before actually sending you on.

In a way, I'm glad it was our boys who blew it. Part of the reason why I can't bring myself to support England is the abuse United players have had to endure at Wembley historically. At least since Beckham's red card against Argentina in 1998, though probably earlier as well. Sure, United hasn't won as many things in recent times and have thus become somewhat less harmful, less worthy as an object of hatred. But you just wait until the first derby, and media and fans alike will be quick in remembering the Rashford and Sancho misses in the Euro final. To which I say, let them hate us. Or, to paraphrase a well respected England legend: 'Fuck it, it's only England!'

There is much to explore in the psychological and sociological layers of my dislike for England's national team, especially coming from a position of supporting them, and introspections will take place. Perhaps I will change opinion; I will admit that Southgate has done a magnificent job and turned the team from eternal also-rans into serious contenders. With this progression, and with the wealth of young talent available, a major win might well be in England's future. But for now, a European final is just about right. Enough to instill hope and goodwill in the nation, enough to provide comedy material for a continent still struggling to understand these weird islands off the coast of France. 

Let England be England. Tonight, and the next days's headlines, should rightly belong to mister Chiellini, mister Bonucci and their colleagues. The dude who got his medal in crutches, the dude from Sassuolo, the kid with a famous footballing father, and all the others. Theirs is the cup, theirs is the glory. And Wembley was a class act tonight for playing Un Estate Italiana for the trophy presentation.

joi, 8 iulie 2021

Euro 2021 - Take me to Church

Italy - Spain 1-1 (4-2 penalties)
England - Denmark 1-1 (2-1 aet)

I know, I know, I should probably support England. Adoptive country and all that, the country whose jobs I stole and whose benefits I scrounged. And some of my fellow immigrants do, though I suspect it's the less knowledgeable part, and they're a minority. Not only is this England team rather boring to watch (though, admittedly, most efficient England team I've seen), but they have this amazing talent to make themselves unlikeable. In the DNA of the nation, I'm thinking. Penalty? You must be kidding me! Sterling should get ready for Tokyo, it's the Olympics where they give out medals for diving.

I started watching the game with rather neutral feelings and the expectation for England to win easily. Not so the Danes, spurred on by an ever-improving form, memories of '92, Christian Eriksen's tragedy or fuck knows whatever else, but they certainly looked willing to play their chance. England was the most attacking team from the off, but you only need to cut off Kane from the midfielders and push Sterling to the side to annihilate the threat of a team whose only forward capable of a dribbling is on the bench. Yes, Gareth, Rashford should've played more.

And I found myself cheering the Danish goal, in contrasting mood to all the noisy kids in an England shirt on the streets and on the tube yesterday. If I am to be fair, and if England did deserve anything in yesterday's game, it was the equalizer. Fast attack, good link up with the winger and great ball in. I'm really sorry for Kjaer, one of my favourite players in this tournament. He won't be happy to put his name on the own goal, but I thought his movement was very intelligent and the best possible thing he could've done under the circumstances. With Sterling racing for a simple tap in, there's no way he should've let the ball past him. With no means of reaching it on feet, the slide was a good idea, although obviously not the best outcome.

In the second half the Danes ran out of gas pretty quickly, too, so it was either a lucky break or waiting on penalties for them. England was the fitter team, but fitness obviously doesn't translate into goal threat. Schmeichel had a great game and good awareness of the game, and after Wass came on to cement the defence, it was more of a waiting game from both sides.

But of course, the penalty came. There will be people who'll argue it was a penalty, for sure. It wasn't. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter. The traditional 50% refereeing in favour of the hosts and all that. It was given, and England won. It does seem a good time to remember, as the nation rejoices, that should VAR have existed in 1966, England might've never won the World Cup. It shows, I suppose, a consistent tradition of Wembley being the place where various ways in which Britain defrauded other countries are shown ever since 1924.

Harry Kane missing the penalty is a good indication of how the shootout might've gone. Just as well we didn't get there. All in all, it's gonna be a tough final for Italy, but I am looking forward to the azzuri painting the temple of football blue.

How obvious was Sterling's dive?

Speaking of temples... I had no doubts that once Chiesa's 60th minute goal again Spain went in, Italy was as good as qualified. And what a magnificent goal it was! Classical counter-attack, keeper to goal in 3 passes. 

The BBC pundits were saying Spain dominating the first half. Didn't really feel like it to me. Spain had more possession, yes, but then again, of course they did. Biggest chance was Italy's, the one where Unai Simon was caught of guard by the Italian left wing attack, and it was only because of Chiesa's extra turn that the score was level at half time.

Oyarzabal missed a sitter, all alone in the box and throwing his head next to the ball rather than at it; then again, all Spanish players should've used their heads better. Morata's goal was brilliant and, if ever there was a period where Spain could've snatched it, I thought it was the extra time. Italy running out of gas and pinning for the penalties, it was a good opportunity to throw in some fresh legs and force a goal. But of course, Luis Enrique made three defensive subs, because not everything in life has to make sense. I also thought Spain should've had a penalty in the closing minutes, Chiellini handling the ball with his hand in the box was clear as day, but maybe I need someone explaining 'natural position' to me.

Penalties it was, and we started off with a round of missed ones, just to add to the drama. But Morata, probably feeling the goal might actually leave a positive impression of him, decided to shoot the blandest, slowest penalty seen by man, giving Jorginho a perfect platform to make highlights with a cheeky execution. 4-2 Italy,  and Wembley awaits. For a referee mistake, probably, though I still predict a dark mood over London come Monday. It will be sunny in Rome though.

duminică, 4 iulie 2021

Euro 2021 - The Germanic half

Czech Republic 1-2 Denmark
Ukraine 0-4 England

Find the center of the Universe
So it ended up like this. It's gonna be a Mediterannean team against a Germanic team in the Euro final which, you know, is an accurate reflection of how both of them see Europe. Which makes me wonder, as an Eastern European, what continent am I from? I thought the clue is in the name, but maybe Vltava is an ocean separating the two continents of Europe. Culturally, at least.

With no ethnic bias - no conscious one anyway - I have been sympathetic towards most Eastern European teams in this tournament, and yesterday in particular I expected more from both of them.

The Czechs squeezed past the Netherlands, but Denmark sounded like an easier proposition. Credit to the Danes though, they have steadily improved throughout the tournament, and England should not expect a walkover in the semifinal. Early goal might've shattered the Czechs somewhat, but that goal should have never been conceded. Dude is alone in the box, no need to jump, defenders nowhere to be found. The second goal was also floating about, I didn't see anything THAT special in the pass, but it had to happen somehow. 2-0 before half time and the game was done. The Czechs did better in the second half - they seem to be very much a second-half team - but on this particular occasion it was a case of too little too late. Sure, Schick scored his 5th, but he is now out of the competition, Harry Kane's on 3 and likely has two more games to go. Well, only one, really, it's not like he's gonna score against Italy.

Ukraine didn't start from the same 'not sure how it's gonna go' position as the Czechs, they were seen as easy prey for England and unfortunately for them, it was a part they fitted perfectly. I'm not a massive fan of England, quite away from that actually. The flack United players have traditionally gotten while playing for the National team, together with Brexit and all the steaming pile of bullshit emanating from Westminster Palace over the past 5 years or so cemented my lack of sympathy for my adopted country. They are looking good though, good enough to go one better than the World Cup and reach the final. They'll never beat Italy, but there'll still be a good feeling across the country.

4-0 is a bit harsh, but an accurate reflection of how imbalanced the game was. Harry Kane's 3rd minute goal was really good, he is a magnificent poacher and I haven't fully lost hope he might play for United come August. I'm happy to see the United boys playing well, Luke Shaw was probably the man of the match and Sancho looks decent. 

How easy will it be for England to disperse Denmark? Not very, by all accounts. But they probably will. 

sâmbătă, 3 iulie 2021

Euro 2021 - Soft spot kick

Switzerland - Spain 1-1 (3-1 penalties)
Italy - Belgium 2-1

Travel day for me yesterday, so I've only seen the second half of Switzerland - Spain. My understanding is I haven't missed much. 

When I saw Spain is up at halftime, and how the second half started, I kind of expected Switzerland to score. They are a forward-thinking team and have proved they are not phased by the opposition and can come back from behind. It fell to Shaqiri to pull level, not the best of goals but then Spain's wasn't much of a looker either. 

The Swiss red card was incredibly soft, and IMHO irresponsible refereeing from Michael Oliver. Down to 10 men, it was clear that the Swiss are gonna close the game and wait for the penalties, especially with Sommer's confidence being boosted by a few decent saves. And Spain is not much of a scoring threat either. Only problem is, when you get to penalties, you have to actually score them. This must've not been on the memo for the Swiss. Although, honestly, after the never-ending shoot-out in the Europa League final and that thriller in the previous round, with only Mbappe missing, it was somewhat comforting to see a penalty shoot-out solved before the completion of the 10 shots.

3-1 for Spain on penalties and somehow, despite playing quite poorly, Luis Enrique's team squeezed through to the semifinals. I do get the feeling Italy will be a different proposition though.

Get Insigne with it
Speaking of, Belgium - Italy was a great game of football. 1-2, but the score doesn't reflect how dominant Italy was. Unlucky to be just offside for the first goal, very soft penalty for Belgium to score one, and the Azzurri taking the tempo down a notch in the second half, maybe just to have a go at this 'closing the game down' thingy. Word is, Italians were decent at it back in the day.

What I don't remember about the great Italian teams of the past is playing this game so beautifully. Not only positive, with people in front of the ball and building attacks, but also - incredibly - with a permanent smile on their lips. Go back and watch Chiellini in the game yesterday. Dude's got a large smile on his face all the time, making jokes with teammates and opponents alike, hugging Witsel like it's a charity game. Donnarumma is making jokes in the closing minutes with one-goal advantage.

I don't know how Maldini did it, but he created a team that is not reminiscent of previous Italian teams, but rather, of the Brazil teams of the 90s, minus the stars. Italians might've known how good the likes of Insigne or Veratti are, but the world had no idea. Look at Barella's first goal: scooping the ball from between 3 defenders, then cooly throwing it in the opposite corner. Lukaku has never done anything like that in his career. And he's rated a tad better than the Italian.

Insigne's goal was another beauty, but you get the feeling he didn't even mean it; it came out of pure swagger. I almost don't want the Euros to end now, I'd like to watch this Italian team a bit more please.

Also, how long until it's clear that Federico Chiesa is a better footballer than Enrico?

joi, 1 iulie 2021

Euro 2021 - The story of Harry Kane

England - Germany 2-0
Sweden - Ukraine 1-1 (1-2 aet)

Never in a million years would I have thought England will beat Germany. Sure, my English friends will be quick to point out, it has happened in 1966, and that's only 55 years ago. No disrespect to Sir Geoff Hurst, but there was no VAR back then. I would thus reply back that when they complain about Maradona's 'hand of God', it might be a good idea to start from Geoff Hurst's goal that never was. Water under the bridge now.

And it is true that this English team is actually pretty good, while the Germany team, while decent, can't hold a candle to great German teams of the past. Also true that Low seems to have lost his way a little bit, but a display like the 4-2 against Portugal should have seen them brush the English aside.

The game itself was rather boring, with sterile German domination in the first half, and we had to wait until 15 minutes from time for the breakthrough to happen. I hear there were loud noises across the green and pleasant land. Just as well, it's actually heart-warming when the English do come together, and the national team scoring provides such an occasion. What doesn't sit well with me is Sterling scoring, taking his tally up to 3. He's not that good of a player. Harry Kane's goal,no qualms with that; difficult execution, but one that Harry Kane has done in the past and seems to have mastered.

So, yeah, football has evolved so much that the Germans do not always win nowadays. 

Sweden - Ukraine was expected to be a boring game and of course it wasn't. I also expected Sweden to win and of course they didn't. All in all, you can see a difference in tempo and skill between this game and one where the big boys play, say France - Switzerland. Regardless, the first half was pretty animated, with Ukraine scoring a goal that the keeper should've totally denied, and Forsberg pulling level 2 minutes from time.

Second half, not so much. Whether for fear of losing or simply from lack of fitness necessary to sustain the tempo, it started looking pretty quickly like it's gonna go to extra time. I thought Sweden is gonna pull it off until about 80th minute or so. But one thing I noticed with the Swedes: they don't really shoot. Pretty damn hard to score when you don't shoot. Ukrainians seemed slightly inferior in skill, but they made it up by extra tenacity and a determination not to lose.

Extra time turned into something of a Muay Thai match. Absolutely horrendous foul from Danielson on Besyedin and, regardless of intent, that's a red card all day long. And it's at that moment I moved my preferences firmly in the Ukrainian camp. I really hope Besyedin's gonna recover quickly, and fortunately, by the look of it, the bones in his leg are not broken. But career-ending injury brushed past the kid. The remaining 20 minutes were marred by really bad fouls on both sides, and a really fragmented game which, again, spelt 'let's go to penalties'. I usually feel playing to run the clock down to get to penalties is cheating the game somewhat, and I was really glad to see on this particular occasion it's been punished. You don't get to see this every day, and it's a painful way to lose, but Sweden brought it upon themselves: a gosl in the injury time of extra time. Well done, Dovbyk, just make sure to keep your lucky bra on for next time as well.

Next time means England in the quarter-finals, and it's a difficult proposition, but by no means impossible.

Speaking of,  let's see how many I get this time. They're all hard to call, by the way.

Switzerland - Spain. The Swiss did wonder to take out France, but Spain has squeezed through so far and I get the feeling tehy'll do it again. Spain

Belgium - Italy. Sorry Lukaku! Italy is like a bulldozer, best thing to do is get out of their way.

Czech Republic - Denmark. I want Schick to get the Golden Boot, and I think he can do it. This game might just be the occasion.

Ukraine - England, I said above, trickier than it looks, though I still go for England. Apparently they're doing semifinals now.