Archive for August, 2010

Imi plac programele de vara ale canalului franco-german de televiziune ARTE. Este acolo cineva in directia de programe care are aceleasi gusturi muzicale ca mine, care este fascinat de perioada muzicala a anilor 60, cea in care mi-am format gustul muzical cu urechea lipita de radioul din care se auzea vocea lui Cornel Chiriac si muzica pe care acesta o dezvaluia tinerilor din Romania acelor vremuri. Impreuna cu alte perle cum ar fi documentare despre Janis Joplin sau festivalurile pe insula Wight, am vazut acum documentarul lui Philip Priestley despre The British Blues Explosion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1FK620bS7A

(video source Radge1965)

Cumpana deceniilor 50 si 60 a insemnat o perioada de schimbare in viata Angliei. Daca anii 50 sunt dominati inca de greutatile perioadei postbelice si ale generatiei care a trecut razboiul, la inceputul anilor 60 se aproprie de maturitate o noua generatie care nu cunoscuse ororile si rigorile celor traite de parinti si care isi cauta identitatea si mijloacele de exprese. Una dintre sursele de inspiratie este muzica americana, in special rock si blues. Mari blusmen cum ar fi Howlin’ Wolf ajung in turneu in Anglia. In sala in care canta acesta s-a aflat in una dintre seri si un tanar pe nume Brian Jones. Greu de crezut pentru cine cunoaste Londra cosmopolita de astazi ca la inceputul anilor 60 existau doar doua magazine de muzica in capitala engleza care importau discuri cu muzica de blues sau jazz americana, si ca daca intalneai un adolescent intr-o statie de metro cu un disc de blues sub brat sanse bune era ca el sa fie Mick Jagger (asa s-au cunoscut zice filmul Brian Jones si Jagger, restul este istorie, adica istoria lui Rolling Stones).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmdPQp6Jcdk

(video source Hamish500000)

Influentele nu intarzie sa se vada. De la muzica comerciala grupurile de foarte tineri muzicieni englezi evolueaza spre repertoriul american. Iata-i pe The Animals preluand House of the Rising Sun.

(video source mariomartino82)

In anii 62-63 grupurile engleze care se orienteaza spre blues devin din ce in ce mai populare, incep sa domine scena cluburilor londoneze si sa faca turnee in toata Anglia. Se impun nu numai prin muzica, dar si printr-un stil de viata, vestimentatie, tunsoare care devin emblematice pentru intreaga lor generatie. Printre cele mai interesante grupuri ale perioadei se afla The Yardbirds, unde canta succesiv Eric Clapton, si apoi Jeff Beck si Jimmy Page.

(video source johngpayne)

Au fost desigur multe formatii interesante rivalitatea cea mai pronuntata a epocii este fara indoiala cea dintre Beatles si Rolling Stones. In iarna dintre 1962 si 1963 Beatles devin deja celebri, in timp ce Stonesii pregatesc in apartamentul din Chelsea al lui Brian Jones campania care in jumatate de an avea sa-i aduca la varful piramidei. Un an mai tarziu Rolling Stones pleaca in turneu in Statele Unite, dar si aici Beatlesii ii devansasera cu cateva luni. Valul de popularitate al rock-ului si blues-ului englez cucereste America, si paradoxal readuce in atentia publicului alb de pe noul continent muzica originala a negrilor care era marginalizata intr-o nisa in America inca incomplet segregata. Formatii precum The Animals folosesc ocazia turneelor lor pentru a-i cauta in orasele indepartate pe adevaratii si originalii bluesmen, pentru a invata de la ei si pentru a canta impreuna cu ei. Se poate spune ca revolutia muzicala engleza, a carei origini stau in blues-ul american se intoarce in America si contribuie la revolutia nu numai muzicala dar si sociala americana din a doua parte a anilor 60.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzAEtLPSzRg

(video source hitomi1968)

Ultima secventa a filmului preia un fragment din concertul din Hyde Park al Rolling Stones-ilor din 1969. Multe se intamplasera cu Stones, printre care moartea tragica cu numai cateva zile in urma a fondatorului formatiei Brian Jones. Multe se intamplasera si in muzica si cultura intregii lumi. Generatia adolescentilor de la inceputul deceniilor isi impusese stilul muzical si de viata. Libertatea lor in a face muzica a germinat dorinta de libertate si schimbare sociala a generatiei de pe baricadele lui 1968 la Paris, Chicago si Praga. Muzica se schimbase si lumea se schimbase in urma ei.

I was writing a while ago that when Quentin Tarantino was making Inglorious Basterds he was not so much making a film about the Second World War and the Holocaust, but more a Tarantino film that happens during the Second World War and happens to have the Holocaust as a subject. Would this be a fair characterization of Jean-Pierre Melville‘s L’Armee des Ombres (Army of Shadows)? Is this merely a Melville film which says more about the director than about the war and the French Resistance?

source www.cinemapassion.com

Well, not really. It is true that L’Armee des Ombres has a very strong Melville touch. Made at the pick of the maturity of the director, it has an amazing familiar look with Le Cercle Rouge made one year later, the gangster story that was shown two weeks ago at the Herzlya Cinematheque, and about which I wrote about on the blog at that time. We are in familiar territory, with the director focusing on the characters and letting his splendid actors all the freedom they need to create great roles. His heroes have their own code of honor, and although we do not know much about who they are and where they come from we are led to recognize and respect their motivation and deeds, even when they may seem questionable on the sale of the accepted morality. There is also shared scenery between the two films – deserted roads and empty streets which seem a visual style mark of Melville.

(video source mongfu37)

And yet, there are more differences than similarities in my opinion. For Melville the Second World War and the Resistance were not just another theme, but a period that he lived through and a cause he participated actively in – to the point that a scene that seems completely benign today with De Gaulle decorating the fighting heroes of the Resistance let to a great outrage from some political circles and critics in a year 1969 when De Gaulle was close to the end of his political career and perceived as a conservative or even ‘reactionary’ president. Making a story about a group of fighters making the hard choices and putting in danger their own lives to do what is maybe today the obvious, but what so few people did in the real history is not just another heroic story about the war. It shows that war means not only risking own life, but also crossing the limits of accepted morality. The code of honor of the characters in this film exceeds the common judgment. While the behavior of the characters in permanent hiding and playing cat-and-mouse games with the Gestapo may remind the behavior of the heroes in the gangster movies of Melville, their motivation is totally different.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lu1tWjWObWg

(video source luvgod)

The story building in this film is not the best. The underground work of a group of fighters of the Resistance led by Luc Jardie (the actor Paul Meurisse), Philipe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), and Mathilde (Simone Signoret) is followed in the interval of an year, between 1942 and 1943. The plot has many points of discontinuity filled in by off-screen comments, and building the story is not really what seems to have interested Melville. His focus was on the situations, on the permanent tension and danger the characters live in, on the choices that they must make which are never easy – killing a traitor, risking their lives to save an imprisoned comrade, commit suicide or kill their fellows if their lives cannot be saved and endanger the continuation of the fight. There is only one choice which is not questioned – the choice to fight which seems out of doubt the right thing that needs to be done. The magnificent opening scene with the German soldiers parading on Champs Elysees is the moral background for everything that happens afterward. The defeated and humiliated France had to fight back. The question about why so few did the obvious was postponed by Melville for a film that he never got to make.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5D1nfIJ632o

(video source yaknbo)

Beside the opening there are many other memorable scenes in the film – mostly built on the relations between the characters and on the acting of all the actors in the team. Shining over the whole distribution are Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret, two splendid actors belonging to a golden generation of the French cinema who helas is gone now.  Their presence enriches a film which stays in memory for many reasons.

Monteverdi’s rendition of the story of Orpheus is a milestone in the evolution of opera, one of the first works that definitely crossed the barrier of the oratorio into a fully defined stage representation. It includes remarkable musical moments, arias and recitatives with fine instrumental backing, it has a clear story line and a duration that makes it fit to modern representations. No wonder it has been part of the repertory of big opera houses for many years, as one of the most representative and most popular pieces of the early baroque style.

(video source ladiszka3)

The version that I have recently seen on the Mezzo TV chain was put on stage at the Theatre de la Monnaie – the opera theater in Bruxelles which has a fascinating history of its own. I hope to have the time to write about it separately in a separate piece on the blog. The musical direction belongs to Rene Jacobs and the main role was sung by Simon Keenlydeside.

(video source FILMS7)

It is however the stage direction which is remarkable in this representation. Theatre de la Monnaie has a long tradition of supporting innovative ballet. Maurice Bejart was a ballet master here from 1959 to 1992, and I have seen one remarkable work of the ballet troupe in Tel Aviv a few years ago. This version of the L’orpheo is directed by Trisha Brown, one of the remarkable American choreographer of our times, and the result is as it can be expected a wonderful combination of music and movement, which fills in the recitative and instrumental parts with dance and acrobatics. It’s not an easy task for the performers, as the solo and chorus singers are required to sing and dance to fulfill the vision of a complete performance. Here is one example of the scene where Orpheus tries to cross the gates of the underworld.

(video source votregali)

Luckily I also found on youTube the final scene, with Simon Keenlydeside – the overall concept of music, dance, sets and lights can be well enjoyed in this sequence.

Nascut in 1916, Neagu Djuvara este una ditre personalitatile cele mai interesante ale istoriografiei romanesti a ultimelor decenii. L-am vazut acum aproximativ un an intr-un interviu televizat si nu am putut sa nu fiu cucerit de acuitatea discursului, claritatea si logica ideilor si farmecul de causeur. Un interviu si mai recent in Romania Literara http://www.romlit.ro/neagu_djuvara_-_cred_intr-o_forta_care_ordoneaza_care_ma_vede_si_la_care_ma_rog confirma aceasta impresie, si ofera in plus amanunte relevante despre crezul si inamplarile vietii acestei personalitati incitante. Inceputul formatiei sale intelectuale se situeaza in perioada interbelica, cand foarte tanarul Djuvara cade si el ca si multi alti intelectuali romani sub mirajul ideilor de extrema dreapta. Izbucnirea razboiului ii prilejuieste experienta militara pe frontul de Rasarit, iar apoi, dupa ce este ranit inceputul unei cariere la Ministerul de Externe, unde sansa intalnirii unei personalitati care avea sa-i influenteze cursul vietii ii schimba ideile in directia unei aderente nedezmintite de atunci la principiile democratiei si pluralismului. Dupa 1944 alege sa ramana in Occident si devine una dintre personalitatile de seama ale exilului politic si intelectual romanesc. Anii 70 si 80 si-i petrece in Africa in calitate de consilier al ministerului de externe al Nigerului. Se intoarce in Romania dupa 1989, reintrand in mod firesc in centrul disputelor istorice si intelectuale ale tarii.

Civilizatii si tipare istorice este o reeditare a tezei de doctorat pe care Neagu Djuvara a scris-o la inceputul anilor 70 sub indrumarea lui Raymond Aron. Este probabil cartea cea mai importanta a istoricului, cea care defineste filozofia sa istorica si ideile dominante ale altor lucrari ale sale, inclusiv Războiul de șaptezeci și șapte de ani si premizele hegemoniei americane aparuta anul trecut, o analiza a situatiei politice contemporane in lumina istoriei secolului 20, carte care isi asteapta in biblioteca mea personala randul de a fi citita.

Civilizatii si tipare istorice este o carte de istorie comparata a civilizatiilor, care incearca sa identifice si sa descrie tipare repetitive in nasterea, evolutia si sfarsitul acestora, si de aici concluzii in legatura cu prezentul si viitorul civilizatiei noastre occidentale. In mare masura textul scris in anii 70 este pastrat ca atare, cu exceptia unor rare note si insertii de text – deci nu este vorba despre o versiune actualizata, ci mai degraba un instantaneu al gandirii istoricului la data scrierii tezei sale de doctorat. In mod firesc, Djuvara porneste de la definirea termenului de civilizatie, ca unitate fundamentala a dezvoltarii istorice, cu caracteristici majore care sunt aria geografica intinsa, unitatea in mod de viata si tehnologie, si dezvoltarea in faze nerepetitive, caracteristici care pot fi identificate in masura mai mult sau mai putin clara la toate civilizatile enumerate de autor si analizate in carte. Fazele de dezvoltare mentionate ar fi in ordine: faza larvara (sau pre-istoria fiecareia dintre civilizatii), faza de formare, faza de inflorire, faza luptei pentru hegemonie (sau a regatelor combatante), si faza imperiala in care apare scleroza si destramarea civilizatiei.

Neagu Djuvara - sursa badpolitics.ro

Se poate spune ca cartea are o structura matriciala, dupa introducerea definitiilor de baza urmand o trecere in revista a principalelor civilizatii din evolutia istorica a omenirii, delimitarea lor fiind facuta conform conceptelor definite in introducere. Sunt trecute in revista civilizatiile egipteana, babiloneana, cretana, elenica sau greco-romana, bizantina, occidentala, araba sau islamica, indiana, chineza sau extrem-orientala, si precolumbiana. Gradul de analiza in aceasta prima sectiune numita Civilizatiile care ocupa cam jumatate din cele peste 550 de pagini ale cartii este diferit – este vadit faptul ca din motive obiective (existenta informatiei istorice) sau subiective sunt cercetate in profunzime mai ales civilizatiile majore ale zonei europeene si asiatice. Autorul face in permanenta efortul de a-si valida clasificarile in raport cu fiecare civilizatie in parte, si pregateste terenul pentru partea a doua a cartii in care va extrage elementele comune si va directiona rationamentul spre concluziile pe care doreste sa le insufle cititorului. Nu peste tot categorizarea functioneza perfect, definirea civilizatiei cretane alaturi de cea egipteana si babiloneana pe mine nu m-a convins, la fel mi se pare o lacuna limitarea civilizatiei islamice la rasarit la subcontinentul indian, ignorand penetrarea acesteia in restul Asiei si in parte din Africa. Intreg continentul african de altfel cu exceptia vaii Nilului ai a Magrebului pare a fi ignorat din aceasta revista a civilizatiilor, straniu pentru un autor care a petrecut multi ani din viata in Africa.  Oricum, lectura acestei sectiuni a cartii are multe pasaje fascinante pentru amatorul de istorie si in special cel cu rezonanta si interes la aspectele culturale ale istoriei. Ca exemple din multele astfel de pasaje as mentiona descrierea rolului unificator al limbilor de circulatie internationala in diferitele culturi, analiza iconografiei ruse si influenta meditaraneana in arta ruso-ortodoxa, sau descrierea influentei sclerotice a colonizarii spaniole asupra metropolei in pofida bogatiilor materiale acumulate de imperiu. Abordarea lui Djuvara refuza tiparele acceptate ale impartirii istorice in epoci, nu a existat o singura Renastere, ci una sau in unele cazuri doua renasteri in cadrul fiecareia dintre culturi, clasele sociale nu au in precum epocile istorice un caracter global ci ele se dezvolta in mod asincron in cadrul fiecareia dintre civilizatii. Alta caracteristica diferita a abordarii lui Djuvara este refuzul de a pune religia in centrul evolutiei istorice a civilizatiilor si asta desi factorul spiritual pare avea in conceptia sa prioritate in raport cu cel economic. Observand faptul incontestabil ca religiile ‘revolutionare’ apar in momente de criza ale civilizatiei, Djuvara considera aceasta a fi mai degraba efect si simptom decat cauza a rasturnarilor sociale din care face parte evolutia elementului religios. Foarte discutabila mi se pare caracterizarea aparent negativa a evolutiei culturii occidentale la inceputul secolului 20, Djuvara parand sa considere efervescenta artistica si stiintifica a primelor decenii ale veacului trecut ca un semn de criza si nu ca o posibila noua renastere, motor al progresului tehnic si spiritual in a doua parte a secolului.

A doua parte a cartii numite Fenomene recurente roteste matricea si abordeaza sintetic elementele comune ale civilizatiilor trecute in revista pana atunci. Sunt analizate dimensiunile spatiale si temporale ale civilizatiilor, contactele in timp (indirecte) si in spatiu (confruntari directe) dintre civilizatii, si etapele comune care caracterizeaza nasterea, cresterea, inflorirea si dezagregarea culturilor. De aici demonstratia se indreapta spre concluziile finale, si analiza lor in sine are un caracter istoric deosebit de interesant, tinand cont de faptul ca cartea este scrisa cu vreo 20 de ani inainte de cadera sistemului comunist. La nivelul anilor 70 el considera civilizatia occidentala ca dominanta, si aflata spre sfarsitul perioadei ‘regatelor combatante’, in care doar doua ‘regate’ – America si URSS ramasesera sa se confrunte. In comunism Djuvara vede o ideologie eretica a civilizatiei occidentale.Rusia de dupa secolul 18 si URSS sunt considerate ca facand parte din civilizatia occidentala, intr-un fenomen de aculturalizare care o face sa tranzitioneze dinspre Bizant spre vest. Daca pronosticul sau in legatura cu regatul castigator s-a dovedit a fi corect, nici scala temporala sugerata si nici caracterizarea perioadei urmatoare (cateva secole de Pax Americana) nu par sa se potriveasca. Greu era de pronosticat in anii 70 aparitia Internetului si revolutia pe care aceasta tehnologie de comunicare o va aduce in globalizarea si democratizarea informatiei si in relatiile inter-umane. Aici cred ca una dintre teoriile sale (tehnologia nu este suficienta, trebuie sa exista o motivatie si energie in cadrul civilizatiei pentru a o pune in valoare) este pusa la incercare. Daca renasterea Chinei este prevazuta in anii 70 ca o posibilitate, castigul spectaculos de influenta al Islamului nu este prevazut, si nici renasterea Indiei. In general, secolul 21 pare a se contura mai mult ca o sume multipolara, in care globalizarea si interactiunea economica nu mai fac posibila o dominatie imperiala monolitica precum cea descrisa in tiparele lui Djuvara. Aparuta intre analizele Hannei Arendt despre originile totalitarismului si teoria conflictului intre civilizatii expusa de Huntington la finele razboiului rece, teza lui Djuvara nu da importanta ideologiilor si ignora atitudinea fata de valorile democratice ca o componenta a evolutiei civilizatiilor. Cu toate ca incearca sa dea sens si structura evenimentelor contemporaneitatii abordarea autorului este cea a unui istoric si nu a unui politilog. Poate ca totusi este bine de examinat si cartea sa mai noua pentru a vedea in ce masura istoricul si-a revizuit teoriile in lumina experientei istorice traite in ultimele tei-patru decenii. Cel putin una dintre asertiunile sale preferate pare sa se fi transformat in realitate in timpul scurs de la aparitia cartii prin alegerea ‘perifericului’ Obama ca presedinte al ‘imperiului american’.

Inchei cu doua citate din ultimul capitol al cartii care mi se par concludente dupa aceasta lectura consistenta si interesanta. Respingand determinismul istoric si utopia progresului permanent Djuvara scrie:

La inceputul secolului al XX-lea, s-ar fi putut da drept sigur faptul ca lumea, in ansamblu, a atins un grad mai mare de “omenie”. Astazi ne putem indoi. … in virtutea carui criteriu superior putem afirma ca pentru om si soarta lui este mai important sa produca cativa barili de petrol in plus decat sa-si faca rugaciunea catre Allah de cinci ori pe zi si sa respecte postul Ramadanului?’ (pag. 448-449).

Iar in final, dupa ce proroceste ca daca tiparele istorice sunt corecte atunci civilizatia occidentala este atinsa de un grad de oboseala psihologica care semnaleaza inceputul destramarii sale, Neagu Djuvara conclude:

Celor pe care o astfel de perspectiva ii umple de groaza li se poate raspunde ca daca aproprierea unui nou crepuscul al zeilor este de temut, putem fi la fel de siguri ca zorile se vor ridica mai tarziu peste o noua civilizatie, mai nobila si mai luminoasa. Ar fi bine ca generatiile care se nasc sa se pregateasca pentru aceste epoci sumbre, mangaindu-se cu gandul ca ele comporta intotdeauna, in mijlocul sfasaierilor, al ruinelor si al deznadejdii, acele mari elanuri sufletesti vestitoare de vremuri noi. (pag. 469)

S-ar putea detecta o contradictie intre cele doua citate. Ultimul totusi permite o incheiere mai optimista a studiului, cel putin la scara istorica.

———

Un coleg de pe o lista internetica mi-a semnalat o conferinta a lui Djuvara din 2009 in care acesta isi explica teoria si incearca sa o aplice istoriei Romaniei si situatiei internationale actuale:

http://www.erudio.ro/ro/conferinte/neagu_djuvara_video.shtml

I am watching the PBS documentary series The Jewish Americans which is for me a fascinating look into the complex history of the Jewish community in the United States, with all the fights for survival, the identity dilemmas, the achievements and the contributions to the overall evolution of the American society and culture. The episode I reached talks about the first decades of the 20th century, and it amazing to see how the situation of the Jews in the US by that time was similar or maybe worse then of their brothers in Europe. Henry Ford’s antisemitism was a model that Hitler mentioned with admiration in Mein Kampf, numerus clausus was limiting the number of Jewish students in the major American universities prior to WWII, and ‘no Jews and dogs allowed’ was a common and legal restriction in many hotels, restaurants or social institutions in many American states.

source www.pianoparadise.com

Two major figures drew my attention in this episode. One of them was born in Russia in 1888 as Israel Irvine Beilin one of the eight children of a cantor. The Jewish music that he heard as a child can be felt in many of the compositions of the man who came in America as a five years kid to become one of the greatest American composers under the name of Irving Berlin.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zj3ogtzFEz0

(video source heeter71)

Starting his career in the sizzling Jewish musical theater atmosphere of the Manhattan Low East End,  Berlin became known in a few years by his dance compositions which combined Jewish and black musical elements in the popular ragtime style of the epoch. E.L. Doctorow’s novel with this name Ragtime is a wonderful rendition of the period. What better musical illustration than Alexander’s Ragtime Band sang here by Judy Garland?

(video source TheEdSullivanShow)

By the time the United States entered World War I Berlin was famous. He was however conscripted, but did not see too much action beyond waking up his fellow soldiers at the sound of his trumpet. Yet, he had time to write a musical to raise the moral of the soldiers. One of the pieces written for the musical but not included in the representations was a song that was to be premiered later and sang first at the 20th anniversary of the armistice in 1938 – God Bless America. Here is Berlin (who lived 101 years) singing this second hymn of the United States at the Ed Sullivan Show.

Louis Brandeis - source www.hillyer.org

If Irving Berlin was born in a traditional Jewish family in Russia and made his way through the American cultural and social establishment becoming the model of the American composer, the second personality I met in the episode walked to a certain respect the opposite path. Born in a family of Jewish emigrants who came to America in the first half of the 19th century, Louis Brandeis was a secular Jew, who encountered little discrimination as a young and talented lawyer. His judicial skills and strong social beliefs made him famous as ‘the lawyer of the people’ and the cases he fought for contributed to the creation of the workplace rules, insurance and anti-monopoly legislation in the first decades of the 20th century. However, when president Wilson nominated him as the first judge of Jewish origin at the US Supreme Court, the nomination was a shock for the whole judicial and political white protestant establishment of the time. For years at least one of his colleagues at the Supreme Court did not greet him, referred to him with disdain and even boycotted the traditional annual photo opportunities of the High Court. As a Supreme Court judge Brandeis is remembered for his rulings in defense of the constitutional freedom of speech.

It is however his Zionist activity that makes him remarkable in my eyes. ‘The highest Jewish ideals are American’ Brandeis is quoted to have said, and he saw no contradiction in being a faithful American and at the same time a strong and open supporter of the rebirth of the Jewish nation and of the formation of a Jewish state. He was a leader of the Zionist Organization of America , contributed to the issuing of the Balfour Declaration, was part of the American delegation at the Peace Conference in Paris  and visited Palestine. The kibbutz Ein Hashofet (Spring of the Judge) is named after him.

We are having an extraordinary celebration today – 50 years since the Beatles hold their first concert at the Indra club in Hamburg. It was the first in a series of hundreds of concerts in Germany which in the next few years saw the stabilization and the formation of the style of the band that changed music forever.

(video source proukraine)

The city of Hamburg prepares to celebrate the event with gatherings of fans, exhibitions, and of course, a lot of music of the Beatles.

(video source bogmantim)

Here is also a taste of how the band looked and sounded by that time.

Something is happening to Woody Allen … or to me … not clear exactly what, but I started to like more his latest films. His 2010 production screened at Cannes seems to have been seen by very few people, and if I hurry I may be the first viewer to post a review at IMDB. It will be released in October in Israel, and last night I saw it at a pre-screening at the Herzlya Cinematheque.

source www.imdb.com

With this film Allen is back in England, but there is very little Britishness in this movie excepting the setting and the opening quote of Shakespeare. To the same extent the story could have happened in Manhattan, or some other corner of Allenland. The quote that I mentioned is about the meaning of life, and it leaves nothing to fate or to higher goals in our lives, but rather a lot to chance and to trying to find a support that makes us overcome hurdles, any support, be it a dream, or a cheap superstition, or even a cheat. The Tall Dark Stranger in the title can be a handsome male the women in the movie dream about, or maybe the dark end that expects each of us at the finish line.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVtfduiEmY0

(video source gigatrailers)

Each of the characters in the film finds his own cheat or lie or fraud to rely upon. Helena Shepridge (wonderful British actress Gemma Jones) is abandoned by her husband Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and finds refuge and advice in a fake fortune-teller who tells her what she wants to hear. If her fortune-teller is real, the other characters can be said to have private virtual fortune-tellers of their own. Alfie marries a prostitute half his age in a vain attempt to win back his lost youth, just to find himself deceived as expected. Helena’s daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) fantasizes about an affair with her rich boss gallery owner (Antonio Banderas). Her husband, Roy (Josh Brolin) unsuccessfully tries to sell his second novel, then fate and fraud combine to help him make an apparent jump ahead which allows him to cheat on his wife and dare date the neighbor in the near-by building which he observes in a Peeping Tom manner that allows Allen to quote Hitchcock. Each of the character has ups and downs, actually more downs then ups, but we are in Woody Allen movies, nobody is really hungry, suffering is existential, and despite all problems in life there is always money for good meals and whiskey.

(video source AFP)

The story can actually end at any point in time, ten minutes earlier or ten minutes later. Each of the characters goes through convulsions of fate, but the story and the film must end, as everything ends, but do not look for meanings about the ending, it just ends. The combination of skillful story telling and abrupt ending works well. As the end is not served on the tray it is the spectator who needs to fill it in with some meaning, if there is a meaning. Yet, the overall impression is of having seen a piece of life as Woody Allen understands life, and it is funny and well acted, as the actors seem comfortable enough in Woody Allen’s films, they like acting here, and in some cases they give some of the best roles (I liked the performances of Brolin, Jones and Watts).

There are little things that I know about the next year (no fortune telling skills, sorry), but one if them is that for sure there will be a new film by Woody Allen on the screens. Maybe it will be about a director making one movie each year, I do not know. Chances are that I will like it.

I love visiting art museums and I love to do it in places which are not necessarily on the beaten track of the art circuit. Of course, the big museums of the world have their fascination, complexity and completeness, but as there are big cathedrals and small churches there are also the bigger and the smaller museums, and the feeling of spirituality for the art lover as for the religious person can be reached whatever the dimensions of the building and of the institution.

Bonnefantenmuseum - the exterior

Actually the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht is not a small institution. In a country and in a geographical area with big art museums and brilliant schools of painting from the Reanaissance until the contemporary times, the museum in Maastricht was founded in 1884 and hosted by the bons enfants (‘good children’) monastery which gives it the name. Today’s building was designed by the Italian architect Aldo Rossi, and it’s original exterior shape reminding somehow an astronomical observatory became one of the landmarks of the landscape of the city on the Maas. Three levels host a collection of fine arts that combines various styles and time periods, from the medieval religious art to contemporary art.

Bonnefantenmuseum - the interior

One of the things that makes Bonnefantenmuseum different is the refuse to present its permanent collection in a chronological order as well as the absence of the categorization of art in epochs and styles that usually guide and lead the visiting experience in the majority of the other museums. The collections of modern art and old masters, medieval and contemporary objects are mixed and as a visitor you exit from one hall and you enter another representing a totally different epoch and style, permanently jumping in time ahead and back. Each new hall represents a surprise, a different epoch, a new experience that allows you to relate to the objects without necessary following the usual didactic path. It’s an Augenspiel (play of the eyes) – concept inspired by a quote from Elias Canetti’s memoirs.

Here are a few pieces I loved most, and I will follow the same technique as in the exhibition, not presenting them in any particular order.

Census at Bethlehem

Census at Bethlehem belongs to the atelier of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, and dates from the beginning of the 17th century. It is believed to belong to the a large extent to the master himself, and inspired by a well known work of the painter’s father. Bethlehem is represented in the tradition of the Flemish masters, as a typical Flemish village in winter.

Rene Daniels - Painting on the Flag

Rene Daniels is a Dutch contemporary painter born in 1950, and he has one full hall of works in the museum. Painting on a Flag was painted during his stay in New York. It is a dialog with the flags paintings of American artists like Jasper Johns (the Dutch and the American flags have the same colors), but also an interesting work by itself with several layers of painting the older one still visible and a game of perspective that catches the eyes.

Two Pharisees

Woodcarving of religious statues is an art well developed in the area, and the Two Pharisees from an Antwerp atelier in the 16th century are a good example.

Saint Catherine of Siena

The 15th century representation of Saint Catherine of Siena belongs to Sano di Pietro, one of the outstanding pieces in the room dedicated to the works of the early Renaissance.

Anselm Kiefer - Le Dormeur du Val

Jumping into contemporaneity we can see one outstanding work of the German artist Anselm Kiefer. Kiefer is one of the most interesting artists in Germany today, dealing with the painful issues of the recent history of Germany including the war and the Holocaust, in a very expressive and daring style.

Head of Saint John the Baptist

English religious art in alabaster has a room of itself with several outstanding pieces among which the allegoric Head of Saint John the Baptist. The unusual style of these pieces are very much worth the attention, I knew very little about the style and the period (15th century) when Nottingham was exporting such works in all the Western Europe.

Altarpiece

Altarpieces combining painting ans sculpture are a genre that florished in the Flemish area around the year 1500. It cannot missed from any serious collection of all Flemish art – here is one piece created in Antwerp arounf 1518.

Sandra Vasquez de la Horra - drawing

Bonnefantenmuseum also hosted two temporary exhibitions. The first included drawings of the Chilean artist Sandra Vasquez de la Horra – combining a fantastic and macabre vision of the world with strongly opinionated political messages.

Sandra Vasquez de la Horra - La Zorpa Manca

Many of her drawings are grouped, and make sense as a whole as well as individual works. They call to close examination and reflection – unfortunately I had too little time and I need to get back some time in the future to look more carefully to the work of the artist.

Pierre Kemp - Fourrures

The second exhibition belongs to the Pierre Kemp, a local of Maastricht, who is also known as one of the finest Dutch poets of the 20th century. The exhibition here comes maybe as a surprise for part of the Dutch audiences, but for the less advised non-Dutch viewer Kemp is certainly an accomplished and mature artist.

Pierre Kemp - Concerns

His Fourrures dated 1929 are sophisticated with erotic hints. Concerns from 1941 resonate with the anxiety of the continent plunged in the horror of war. Both are works of a mature artists, synchronized with the issues and atmosphere of his times, with the artistic trends and techniques of the first half of the past century.

Maastricht is located in the South-Eastern extremity of the Netherlands, and the city is a few kilometers away from Belgium. Besides sharing a common language the Dutch and the Flemish Belgians also share the passion for good beer. Actually Belgium with its 125 breweries and its countless brands of beer (well, some people do count them, and results differ from 800 to more than 8000 brands!) is the place of origin of the best beer in the world. Maastricht enjoys some (but not all) the varieties of beer, but for me and for many other IETF-ers it was the opportunity to get as close as possible and taste as many as possible Belgian beers without entering Belgium. The Dutch beers are by far not that varied and interesting as the Belgian ones, but if you search well you may have some pleasant surprises.

Affligem Dubbel

Let us start with some terminology. A Dubbel is a almost dark (brown) beer, one of the traditional brands produced by the Trappist monks starting with the 19th century. It is typically 6 to 8% strong. The Affligem Dubbel is 7% strong and is produced in a 12,000 inhabitants village north of Brussels. The monastery there dates back from the 11th century. This was one of my preferred beers during the stay in Maastricht.

Grimbergen Dubbel

Another brand of dubbel I had in Maastricht comes from Grimbergen which is said to have brewed its first beers in 1128. No need to say, any beer you drink comes in its own glass.

Westmalle Trappist

Another Belgian dubble which I enjoyed comes from Westmalle Abbey, a Trappist brewery which dates from the mid-19th century. The concentration of their beer is 7%, the taste is complex and a little bit on the sweet side, with a consistent feel.

La Trappe Tripel

A Triple is a blonde and even stronger beer. There are seven breweries producing triples in the world, six of them are located in Belgium, and the seventh one La Trappe in the Netherlands.

Heineken Oud Bruin

Staying in the Netherlands, anybody who knows beer heard about Heineken. They actually manufacture non-boring beer as well, one of them being the Oud Bruin also known as the Flemish sour brown ale. It is aged in wooden caskets, same style as the wine aging caskets.

Wieckse Rose

Last, on a lighter note here is the fruity Wieckse Rose which was one of the beers served at the IETF social. It is not at all my style, but, hey, it was free!

A city with a history of at least two thousand years, Maastricht hosts a number of remarkable churches, witnesses of history and centers of spirituality of a city which is not only located in the center of Europe but also at the crossroads of the Christian faiths in Western Europe.

Basilica of Our Lady

The oldest church in town was built by the first bishop of Maastricht, Saint Servatius at the end of the 4th century. It was located at the place of an old Roman temple, at the place were today we find the two-towered building of the Basilica of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwebasiliek).

Star of the Sea

Much of the exterior structure of the present building was raised in the 11th and 12th century. A beautiful statue of the Madonna Star of the Sea is said to hold miraculous powers and is taken out in processions in the streets of the city once a year.

inside the Basilica of Our Lady

The interior of the church is rather dark and sober, yet powerful and elegant, in Gothic style.

Saint John the Baptist and Saint Servatius Churches

The Vrijthof square in the center of the city is sided by another two imposing churches. One of them is the protestant church of Saint John the Baptist (Sint-Janskerk). It’s imposing red tower is the tallest in the city and offers the best perspective for the audacious who climb its more than 200 stairs, but the interior is less than impressing.

galleries inside Saint Servatius Church

It is the Catholic church of Saint Servatius that catches the attention of the visitors and remains in memory as the more exquisite monument of religious architecture in Maastricht. It is a complex structure of church, chapels and cloisters reflecting a long history and a combination of styles from Romanesque to Gothic until more recent elements.

Shrine of Saint Servatius

The church is built around the grave of Armenian-born Saint Servatius who died and was buried here in 384, during the reign of byzantine emperor Theodosius and his tentative to reunite the Roman empire under the rule of Christianity. The grave of Servatius is located under the floor of the church, while a splendid golden-plated shrine can be seen in the museum.

Interior (nave) of Saint Servatius Church

The interior of the church belongs to the Baroque period.

stained-glass windows at Saint Servatius Church

Exquisite stained-glass windows have been created along the time, from the Gothic to the more recent periods.

Jerusalem Mosaic in Saint Servatius Church

The latest additions are the backdoor gate and the beautiful mosaic in front of it, with a representation of Jerusalem.

Selexyz Dominicanen - the most beautiful bookshop in the world

I could not end my tour of the churches in Maastricht without entering the bookshop that the British newspaper The Guardian put at the top of its list of the most beautiful bookshop in the world. It is located very close to the Vrijthof square, in a former Dominican church.

the bookshop church in Maastricht

The combination of the elegant arches of the former church with the three levels of the bookshop full is indeed unique. The spirituality of the former house of God is preserved and amplifies the force embedded in the endless number of book on the shelves. This renovation and second life of the former church is a daring and successful idea.