Archive for November, 2010

This episode is less about the wonderful Alsatian wines than one would expect. I surely would have liked to write more and especially to taste more wine during the driving tour we made in the 7th day of our vacation from Strasbourg to Colmar, but I was the designated driver and I am imposing on myself zero alcohol tolerance when driving. I’ll talk more about wine in the next episode when I will talk about the dinners in Colmar. The itinerary that we took that day avoided the highway and took the picturesque route among the vineyards, flanked at West by the Vosges mountains, from Marlenheim in the North to Tann in the South. We drove about two thirds of the route.

a market day in Obernai

Our point of entrance in the Route des Vins was in the small town of Obernai. We were lucky to find parking place not far from the central Place de Marche, as it was a market day. The market square is dominated by the 60 meter high 16th century Gothic tower.

inside the Saint Pierre and Saint Paul church in Obernai

We entered to visit the beautiful neo-Gothic church of Saint Pierre and Saint Paul. Although built in the 19th century the altar dates back from the 15th century.

crucifixion stained glass window in the church in Obernai

Beautiful stained glass windows filter the light in the church. Here is one of them representing the crucifixion under a rosary that reminds in shape the Star of David.

Mother Mary statue in the church in Obernai

The statuary works in the church are also remarkable. Here is a fine painted statue of Mother Mary.

the convent at Mont Sainte Odile

Part of the road was blocked by roadworks, so the detour almost forcibly took us towards the picks of the Vosges to Mont (Mount) Sainte Odile. Odile is kind of a patron saint of Alsace, a blind-born princess daughter of duke Etichon who is said to have regained eye-sight when baptized in the year 700. The convent built on the place where the castle of the duke once laid is a place of pilgrimage for the believers from all over Alsace. The current building and church dates from the end of the 17th century, but it is the beautiful chapels around the main building that give the unique character and beauty to this place.

view from Mont Sainte Odile

The location of the convent is magnificent, at 763 meters it allows a splendid view towards the Rhine valley, Strasbourg, Obernai and the smaller towns and villages around.

Chapelles des Larmes at Mont Sainte Odile

Chapelles des Larmes is located on the site of the ancient cemetery from the Merovingian period and is ornate with golden mosaic dating from the 12th century reminding the Byzantine style.

Chapelles des Anges at Mont Sainte Odille

Chapelles des Anges has similarly beautiful mosaics composition inside, but the dominant tones are darker blue and red, in a palet that reminds the monasteries of Sucevitza and Moldovitza in Bucovina, Northern Romania.

cave vinicole

Back to the road we passed near numerous wineries and restaurants offering the liquors of the area. Some of the famous names producing the Riesling, Gewurztraminer and other sorts that make Alsace one of the most popular regions producing wine in France.

winery on the Route des Vins

Helas, I was the designated driver!

entrance at Haut Koenigsbourg

The spectacular castle at Haut Koenigsbourg was our next stop.

view from Haut Koenigsbourg

Also located at more than 700 meters and offering another splendid view to the valley, the first mention of the castle is from the 12th century, but under its current form the castle was built in the 15th century by the Habsburgs to be sieged and destroyed in the 17th century, during the 30 years war.

ceiling in the main dinner room

We enjoyed a tour guided visit at haut Koenigsbourg, and much of it was dedicated to the impressive renovation work performed here between 1900 and 1908, during the German rule of the region. The works directed by builder Bodo Ebhardt were a beautiful example of German engineering. The interior decoration try to reinforce the link between the castle, the Habsburgs and the Hohenzollern family of the Geman kaiser Wilhelm I for whom the castle was built by the city of Selestat who owned it.

room in Haut Koenigsbourg

I could not stop myself to compare the building with the Peles castle in Romania built at Sinaia in the Carpathian mountains during the same period when Haut Koenigsbourg was renovated for the first king of Romania, Carol I who was also of German origin (actually family related with Wilhelm). While the setting of the Alsatian castle is much more impressing, the internal decoration of the Romanian palace exceeds by far in beauty and refinement the one in France. To complete the history, after the first world war the castle as the whole area returned to French control and in 1937 Jean Renoir filmed here La Grande Illusion.


The last stop on the Route des Vins was in the little town of Riquewihr, for many years the property of the dukes of Wurtenberg, and a three stars objective in the Michelin guide. Unfortunately we got there too late to be able to visit the castle, and we could just see that the picturesque streets full of boutiques, wineries and restaurants would have been a place to spend a few pleasant hours.

vineyards near Riquewihr

We gave up, took some more photos of the vineyards around and decided to head to Colmar. The Mercure on Champs de Mars in Colmar was our comfortable and well located residence for the following two nights. How we spent our time in the city and around will be the subject of the next episodes.

Alsace is a special place from a culinary perspective. Some say that French and German influences combine to create une cuisine which at best is refined as the French know to make it and solid as the German like it. Other disregard it and consider it to be rough and neither French not German. Liliana and me love it.

auberge-restaurant S'bastberger-stuewel

Out first encounter with the Alsacian cuisine in this trip was in fifth day of the trip, when lunch time caught us hungry on the road. We could not resist the view of an auberge nicely decorated with flowers and sculptures in the picturesque village of Imbsheim which is kind of a suburb of Bouxviller where we were heading to, and stopped there for lunch.

the bar at restaurant S'bastberger-stuewel

It proved to be one of the most beautiful restaurants we have ever seen. It’s a family place on the road combining a restaurant and a small hotel, and it must be pretty famous in the area as the owners were taking reservations by phone during all our lunch there.

witches on the walls at Restaurant S'bastberger-stuewel

The decoration inside included flowers, and rustic paintings and comic posters in German or Alsatian dialect and witches puppets which reminded us immediately about one of our preferred restaurants in Israel – the Witches Casserole and The Milkman near the Nimrod fortress on the Golan Heights.

menu fix au Restaurant S'bastberger-stuewel

What about the food? Well, we were quite late for lunch so the owners suggested that we have the fix menu. Three course, soup, chicken with potatoes prepared in a rustic style and a tasty cream to end – pretty simple but inexpensive and tasty. The full menu included many local specialties that we would have loved to try, but these had to be left for another occasion.

Strasbourg - La corde a linge

We were not very hungry that evening, but we could not avoid a good beer and a bite on a terrace in the Petite France area of Strasbourg. We chose La corde a linge by the river Ill.

music by the Ill

Although the pick tourist season was over the place was quite crowded because of the location, the perfect weather and the music band which was playing on the pedestrian street in front of the restaurant for the customers of the restaurants around.

spaetzle keltch and salade Corset

The bite ended by not being that small, as the restaurant has generously sized portions. We especially enjoyed the spaetzle keltch which is kind of a consistent and tasty pudding of German egg noodles with cheese and ham. Diets start the day after the vacation – did you know that?

gateaux chez Christian

The next day was the full day that we spent in Strasbourg. We had one very specific recommendation from our friend Erica for Christianpatisserie and chocolatier near the cathedral. We found it late in the afternoon after we had already eaten a fast street food lunch so we just tried the cakes and acknowledged that the recommendation was completely in place.

Maison des Tanneurs

We could not leave Strasbourg before having the best of the local specialty – la choucroute. The place that we chose – also located in the Petite France area – was La Maison des Tanneurs. The building is one of the oldest typical and beautiful buildings in place in the area, built in 1572, and renovated in 1972 for the four centuries anniversary. It was a tannery for most of its history and became a restaurant in 1949.

Maison des Tanneurs - interior

After enjoying the stylish interior we met our waiter who had a look and accent that were not at all local, but rather Mediterranean. Soon we learned that he is a Turkish Kurd, and we became friends after he identified the language we were speaking as Romanian and we found the common subject of discussion between almost any Romanian and any Turk – Gheorghe Hagi.

choucroute - the real thing

The specialty we came there for was at the level of the expectations.

choucroute au poissons

We tried also a variant of choucroute with fish – it proved to be very different than what we expected. Good but different.

yes, we are in Alsace!

The wine we chose was a Riesling Grand Cru from Domaine Klipfel. We such started the preparations for the Route des Vins which we were planning to travel the next day.

The previous book of Philip Roth that I read was The Plot Against America which a historical ‘what-if’ type of story describing an alternative path that the American history could have taken in the period at the start of the second world war, and speculating about the possible fate of his own self and family in that hypothetical loop of history. It’s also the last solid and long breath novel that Roth has written to date. What followed were a cycle of four novels (until now), much shorter in length, closer to novellas in size, and more personal in subjects. The Humbling is the third novel in this latest cycle, and the 30th of the author.


The hero of The Humbling is Simon Axler, an aging theater actor of some fame who one day loses his artistic gift.

… he had lost his magic as an actor for no good reason and it was just as arbitrarily that the desire to end his life began to ebb, at least for the time being. “Nothing has a good reason for happening” he said to the doctor later that day. (pag. 16-17)

After a short treatment for his suicidal tendencies he retires in a remote mountain chalet which somehow reminds the setting of Stephen King’s horror stories, incapable of finding too much sense for the rest of his life, with suicide still lurking around permanently

Every morning when he awoke to his emptiness, he determined that he couldn’t go another day shorn of his skills, alone, workless, and in persistent pain. (pag. 45-46)

The salvation comes, how else, under the form of a woman. It’s not a simple relation, but it’s fascinating. Pegeen is 25 years younger than him, is the daughter of fellow artists that he had seen as a baby, and is just out of a long lesbian relationship. There is everything to be feared in this companionship – age, sexual orientation, persons from the past (as one of the former relations of Pegeen named Louise), Pegeen’s parents who disapprove the connection, and among all the fear of failing, the terror of going back and being completely finished. The terror of becoming the next Louise (pag. 95)


I will not tell more in order to leave to other readers the pleasure of discovering where lead the accumulated signs of warning around the relation of the two characters. Despite the relatively reduced number of pages Roth succeeds to build a convincing pair of characters which fight the incertitude of their identities, the doubts concerning their power of creation and power of living. The solution of seeing the salvation in each other at a moment of crossroads in the life of both seems for a moment convincing. The outcome is one of the possible outcomes of such situations.

(video source TheDailyBeastVideo)

Some may consider this minor literature in the bibliography of a writer who is one of the few who have defined in his books in an authoritative manner what is America nowadays and what are the principal dilemmas of its inhabitants. The personal universe and the social universe combine in the best books of Philip Roth. As many of his heroes try to build their own world and live into it, the world outside intervenes and prevails. In this short novel the outer world is represented by the intervention of Pegeen in Simon’s life, and the question that the hero is asking himself from the start, and that we as readers are also lead to ask is whether this intervention is blessing or curse. To answer it you will need to read the book, which despite its rather depressing mood is a beautiful reflection on love, art, sex, aging and loneliness, concentrated and well written as you would expect from a book signed Philip Roth. The pleasure of reading another book of his was all here.

Gershwin’s (or The Gershwins’ as the performance program says) Porgy and Bess performances in Israel were not spared of some non-musical controversy, as a few weeks before the show there was big pressure on the Cape Town Opera to cancel the tour (apparently planned for four years) in Tel Aviv.  Luckily the South-African institution decided not to boycott the Israeli audiences and there I was last night enjoying a very different first performance as a subscriber of the New Israeli Opera new season.

(video source ntobekoleo)

The history of Porgy and Bess is not deprived of controversy at all, and this more recent would be just one added and probably not the last one. Composed by George Gershwin in 1933-34 on a libretto by DuBose Heyward and based on his novel, the opera is written for an almost all black singers team, and the lyrics are written by Ira Gershwin in an Afro-American dialect. Although the structure and the lyric material represent a very solid and self-contained operatic material the opera was premiered on Broadway and did not reach the Metropolitan Opera where the Gershwins dreamed to be mounted but after their death and 50 years after the premiere. While a popular film by Otto Preminger staring Sidney Poitier (doubled by a singer voice) made the opera famous world-wide, and the opening area ‘Summertime’ made it back to the first page of the big American songbook and famous jazz standards, part of the Afro-American community did not accept easily the opera as a cultural accolade but pointed to the racial stereotypes that accumulate in the story and its characters. I found a detailed and well-written description of the racial controversy around Porgy and Bess at Having the performance staged at a major opera house in the country that walked the difficult road from a racist state to freedom and reconciliation is symbolic.

(video source Praguedive)

(video source korkhmmaregon)

The vision brought to stage by the Opera from Cape Town and the director Christine Crouse transplants the conflict from the South Carolina fisher’s village to the Soweto suburbs during the peak of the apartheid rule, using the sets and costumes designed by Michael Mitchell. It is the first time that I am hearing the opera sung in a full performance, so I had quite a strange feeling in some moments, as the more famous tunes sounded different than in their jazz or pop music variants. Yet it was a convincing version with the gospel vibrations coming up much stronger than some of the Jewish roots of a few tunes and motives in the score – but this was expected. The team of singers were good and authentic in their African rendition of the story, with baritone Xolela Sixaba impressing with his musical but also acting talent as Porgy, and with sopranos Philisa Sibeko (Clara) and Tina Meme (Serene) showing great vocal skills, better last night in my opinion than those of Sibongile Mngoma who was trusted with being Bess. The Opera Orchestra (which is also the Israel Symphony Orchestra from Rishon LeZion) directed by David Stern was uninspired and too loud but this seems to be an almost chronic problem of its performances.

With Inception Christopher Nolan ends a decade in his carrier marked by a series of movies which brought together the best in the traditional Hollywood cinema with intelligent scripts that explore the space beyond reality. His latest film is closer of all his precedent movies to the one that opened the decade and his first success – Memento that he made in 2000 – in being a challenge for the cinema viewers who are asked to do more than just relax and eat popcorn while the story runs for itself.  The sophisticated story of dreams control requires attention beyond the usual visual effects satisfaction granted to science-fiction blockbusters watchers.


The idea that reality may be a controlled dream of ourselves or of some supernatural divinity, that the world is the subjective summation of thoughts and feelings of all living is not new in philosophy, literature or cinema. It gets however more and more attention lately, also due to the increased popularity of virtual reality computer programs and communication. The script of Inception plays well into the genre, with a team of dream controllers taking the apparently impossible mission of getting into the brain of a corporate shark heir in order to change his mind about the destiny of the corporation. The rather non-important pretext allows Nolan to develop a sophisticated web of action scenes in which reality, dreams, dreams in dreams, and yes, dreams in dreams in dreams play the most important role. All the structure is carefully build, and the logic seemed to me perfect during the viewing, and very well supported by visual effects as well as by the explanations given by the characters.

(video source hollywoodstreams)

Yet, this is not enough in my opinion to justify the super-hype created around this film although I agree there are not much better in view around this year, and especially not the #4 where it stands now in the IMDB all-time viewers preferences. With the narrative structure put aside we are left with a rather schematic set of characters, some of them incompletely developed despite the almost 2 and a half hour of duration, with a love story which we have seen too many times for us to be impressed despite Leo’s presence, and with a sometimes questionable choice of actors (Ellen Page?). For a film with such an innovative structure it is surprising how much stuff is borrowed from the typical Hollywood bag of tricks. Action scenes seem to clone a Bond film, and if the story pretext has any importance we never know actually how the intrigue ends but we are served with a very conventional and sentimental rosy style ending instead.On the good side Leonardo DiCaprio is better and better in each film he acts. As in Memento the idea of the movie is mind-blowing. None of them succeed in being the great film they aspire to be, Memento was too cool (in the negative sense, lacking human touch) and Inception is too conventional in the details of its execution. Both are however films to remember coming from a director who does not seem to know how to make forgettable movies which is certainly no little thing.

Detailed information, viewers and critics opinions (404 critic reviews to date!) can be found at

Ametitoare este cariera de scriitor a lui Petru Popescu, cariera intinsa deja in timp peste mai bine de patru decenii. Dupa ce debutase ca poet, isi face nume de romancier de mare succes la critica si public intre anii 1969 si 1974, anul in care paraseste Romania profitand de o invitatie la o universitate americana pentru a schimba destinul dar si limba de scriitor. Apucase sa publice cinci romane dintre care Prins si Dulce ca mierea e glontul patriei sunt dintre cele mai bune romane romanesti ale celei de-a doua jumatati a secolului trecut. Schimbarea de profil a scriitorului ajuns in America pare a fi o completa renastere nu numai intr-o limba noua dar si in genuri pe care Petru Popescu le asimileaza cu aviditate si le schimba cu o frecventa neobisnuita la alti scriitori. Scenarii cinematografice, carti despre vampiri, carti despre Holocaust si memorii personale si de familie sunt genuri pe care le incearca succesiv. In niciunul dintre ele nu a avut un succes fulminant, in niciunul nu a esuat total. Am citit unul dintre romanele sale publicate in anii 90, Almost Adam – o carte de aventuri antropologice localizata in Africa. Este ceea ce se cheama ‘literatura de aeroport’ – carte usurica cu o intriga bine construita combinand actiunea cu pretextul stiintific. Doar engleza mi s-a parut putin greoaie cu toate straduintele, dar poate stiind ca autorul nu are engleza ca prima limba am fost influentat in aceasta judecata. Sigur doar ca era alt condei decat cel al scriitorului roman care promitea sa fie una dintre vocile autoritative ale generatiei sale.


Fata din Nazaret este traducerea cartii aparute original in engleza sub titlul Girl Mary. Genul caruia ii apartine cartea este fictiunea biblica, gen destul de apreciat in Statele Unite. Cam in orice librarie americana raionul de carti religioase (inclusiv cele de fictiune) ocupa un loc de cinste. Trebuie sa mentionez de la bun inceput ca eu nu sunt credicios si deci nu ma pot pune in pozitia cititorului pentru care credinta se afla la baza sau ocupa un loc important in viata sa. Am citit deci aceasta versiune romantat-istorica a vietii Sfintei Fecioare, a dragostei sale pentru tamplarul Iosif si a conceperii lui Iisus ca o fictiune istorica si ca o poveste de dragoste. Despre aspectele teologice voi lasa altora locul sa comenteze. Petru Popescu creaza in aceasta carte o imagine veridica si documentata a Tarii Sfinte in ajunul aparitiei crestinismului, imbinand informatia istorica cu o cunoastere destul de aprofundata si de corecta a modului de viata si a traditiilor iudaice la care se adauga personaje istorice imaginare sau bazate pe personaje reale. Pontius Pilatus de exemplu este prezentat ca fiind spion si emisar al imparatului Octavius Augustus, trimis in cautarea unor argumente care sa intareasca pretentiile de divinitate ale imparatului si cazand in fascinatie fata de religia monoteista si mai ales cucerit de frumusetea si spiritul tinerei Marianme care avea sa devina mama lui Iisus. Triunghiul Mariamne – Iosif – Pontius sta la baza intrigii, dar lui i se adauga inca un personaj care joaca un rol cheie in intriga – Dumnezeu. Petru Popescu creaza o imagine a lui Dumnezeu care reprezinta o prezenta permanenta in gandurile eroilor sai evrei, un Dumnezeu implicat in viata supusilor sai, caruia eroii cartii nu numai i se roaga dar ii si pun intrebari si il trag la raspundere pentru destinul lor si rolul lor pe Pamant care nu este niciodata usor.


Ca cititor poti accepta sau respinge conventia dar nu poti nega scriitorului talentul in a crea personaje veridice care capteaza interesul cititorilor. Mariamne a lui Petru Popescu este unul dintre acele personaje memorabile, o fata calita in viata aspra a exilului in desert, o feminista avant-la-lettre punand sub semnul intrebarii rolul aparent inferior al femeii in iudaism si in lumea biblica, si inainte de orice o femeie indragostita care va face totul pentru a-si implini dragostea pentru cioplitorul in lemn Iosif. Mai putin reusite sunt alte aspecte ale intrigii cum ar fi descrierea obsesiva a moravurilor sexuale si obsesia careia dupa parerea mea i se dedica prea multe pagini cu virginitatea si detectarea virginitatii. Pornografia biblica nu se impaca cu genul de fictiune istorica populara la care aspira aceasta carte sa apartina. Constructia epica creata cu o abilitate dobandita in genurilor scenariilor de film si romanelor de actiune culmineaza spre momentul conceptiunii localizate pe un varf biblic de munte, intr-o scenografie de dezlantuire naturala controlata de divinitate. Conceptiunea nu este chiar imaculata si solutia aleasa de Petru Popescu in a o prezenta poate ridica dubii si teologilor dar si cititorilor obisnuiti care o pot recepta ca pe un fel de tratament de fertilitate sub obladuire divina. Cum am spus citirile vor fi diferite si depinzand de categoria careia ii apartin cititorii. Inca un avertisment in legatura cu transcrierea problematica in traducerea romaneasca a lui Mihnea Gafita a cuvintelor ebraice – este preluata in multe locuri transcrierea din engleza, ceea ce face ca ‘betula’ (fecioara) sa devina ‘beto ola’ sau ‘ima’ (mama) sa fie ‘Ee-mah’. Tot efectul de autencitiate pe care aceste inserari de cuvinte ebraice il cauta este astfel ratat.


Una dintre intrebarile principale care raman pentru mine deschise dupa citirea acestei carti este incotro se va indrepta de aici cariera lui Petru Popescu. Fictiunea religioasa este un gen popular de mare succes si s-ar putea sa-l vedem pentru o vreme continuand in aceasta nisa. Una dintre cronicile pe care le-am citit mentiona de altfel Fata din Nazaret ca pe un prim volum dintr-o trilogie biblica. Cartea care a urmat insa – cartea autobiografica Supleantul, pe care nu am citit-o inca – indica o alta directie, cea a intoarcerii spre spatiul romanesc al tineretii sale scriitoricesti. Sau poate isi va continua cautarile spre un alt gen, cu inca o schimbare de directie in neobisnuita sa traiectorie literara. Ramane sa-l urmarim in viitor, si sa speram ca in orice gen va scrie Petru Popescu va reveni cel putin in parte si la valoarea literaturii sale din tinerete.

I will start by mentioning the museum that we did not get to see, although we very much wanted to. It’s the Musee d’Art Moderne et Contemporain which was recommended to us by knowledgeable friends.  Unfortunately the time was too short, we just had one full day to spend in Strasbourg, and we had to give up to this one and a few other in a city which has a lot of fine institutions of art, trying to match its pretensions to be more than the bureaucratic capital of Europe.

Palais Rohan

So we decided to limit ourselves to two of the museums located close to the Cathedral. The First was the Musee des Beaux-Arts, located in the beautiful Palais Rohan built at the end of the reign of Louis XIV, in the period of consolidation of the French rue on Alsace. The history of the museum starts a century later, at a time when after the French revolutions palaces belonging to the aristocracy of the vieux regime were turned into museums and the national collections (including the one at the Louvre) were founded. The collection of the city of Strasbourg was then established and in time its evolution led to one of the finest collection of classical painting that can be found in France.

Raphael - Portrait of a Young Woman

The most interesting section belongs to the period of the Renaissance. A few remarkable portraits are to be found, among which Raphael’s portrait of a young woman, full of freshness, nobility and delicacy.

El Greco - Mater Dolorosa

El Greco’s Mater Dolorosa has a poignant look of a woman who questions the burden of destiny fallen upon her.Having just read Petru Popescu’s Girl Mary I can imagine this woman being the character described by the writer years after the events in the book.

Salvator Rosa - Selfportrait

Salvator Rosa’s self-portrait with its slightly daemonic stare is a remarkable combination of character and mythology painting. The position and angle of observation remind Caravaggio.

Flemish Anonymous - Nightmare

Leaving the Italian painting section, here is one striking and macabre Nightmare belonging to a Flemish anonymous painter and dated around 1530.

Melchior Blocksberger - The Creation

Discovering local artists may be many times rewarding in museums that are out of the very beaten track. A complex composition representing the Creation belongs to a local artist who lived in the 16th century named Melchior Blocksberger.

Quentin Metsys - Portrait of a Humanist

An interesting temporary exhibition was hosted in the last room of the collection. It included 11 paintings that belonged to the Oppenheimer family, one of the richest Jewish family of the city at the beginning of the 20th century. Associated with the German-speaking high classes they were obliged to leave the city after the first world war to find refuge in Berlin.  As the Nazis came to power another exile started, and the family resettled in the United States. Their descendants now returned to Strasbourg with part of the art collection presented in this exhibition among which the Portrait of a Humanist by Flemish 15th century painter Quentin Metsys.

Musee de l'Oeuvre Notre Dame

Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame which we visited later in the afternoon is located in an adjoining less impressive building, but its collection matches the value and the beauty of the Fine Arts Museum. The collection is made of donations made for the cathedral, and it includes many treasures related to the cathedral itself, and objects which have once been part of the internal decoration, but also a splendid and probably unique collection of Medieval and Renaissance Alsatian art.

12-13th century stained glass windows

Some of the original 12-13th stained glass windows are exposed in one of the rooms, here is one representing the Jews of the time.

a damned figure

figure d'homme tirant la langue

Sculptured decorations from the Gothic period are characteristic to the French cathedrals. Here are two of them.

Christ and Saint John

Polychrome painted sculptures in wood were a very popular form in the Middle Ages. When the Renaissance shows up as in this sculpture dated around 1430 the genre flourishes for a short time to disappear shortly after. I still love the genre which in its best works combines simplicity and elegance, sincerity and beauty.

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The Adoration

Here is another example, a more complex work representing the Adoration, part of a triptych realized around 1470.

Nicolas de Hugenau - busts of reclined men

bust of monk

Around the year 1500 the altar of the cathedral was decorated with busts of holy monks and saints realized by local masters. Some of these are proofs of an exquisite mastering of the art of portraits, expressive and hauntingly realistic.

altar of Saint Sebastian

As trade developed in the Renaissance period portable altars carried by rich merchants were at high demand. Here is one dedicated to Saint Sebastian combining polychrome sculpture and painting.

Saint Mathew and Saint George

Last here are two splendid paintings on wood representing saint Mathew and saint George. They belong to a local master named Hans Baldung Grien, who was born in Grun but lived and created in Strasbourg. Although painted around 1530 they carry a medieval style and symbolism that give them elegance and an atemporal aura of beauty.

The Notre Dame cathedral in Strasbourg is one of the two poles of attraction of the city of Strasbourg. Beyond being one of the most beautiful religious monuments in Europe its history is deeply related as in the case of many other cathedrals in the French cities with the history of the city. A Roman temple was originally located in this place, to be replaced by a church and cathedral built during the reign of Charlemagne. When a fire consumed it at the edge of the millennium a new Romanesque church started to be built in 1015. Its construction will continue for more than 250 years.

Portail de L'Horloge

The oldest part of the Romanesque building is located on the Southern extremity, and it includes the Portail de L’Horloge, the gate located closest to the Astronomical Clock that I will describe later. The material used for the building from its inception and then in a consequent manner during the centuries is pink sandstone from the Vosges, which gives the whole building an original look and appeal.

The West front

Another singular treat is the fact that the Cathedral has only one tower, which is actually a relatively late (15th century) addition to the West front with its magnificent gates and statues dated in majority from the 13th and 14th centuries.

central gate on the West front

The creation of the central gate is dated 1277 to 1290. The Gothic style took over by that time and replaced the Romanesque style of the first sections.

the kings of the Old Testament

Scores of beautiful statues ornate the Western front. Here are the saints and kings of the Old Testament.

Notre Dame

The cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary – Our Lady, Notre Dame. In 1521 when the Reformation extended on this area the interior of the cathedral was deprived of much of its original decoration. Catholicism was restored during the reign of Louis XIV but one century later during the revolution another wave of iconoclasm led to the irremediable loss of more than 300 statues in the wave of militant anti-Catholicism that followed the French revolution.

inside the cathedral - the nave

Entering the church the feeling is of space, to a larger extent than in many other similar buildings.

stained-glass windows

Some of the stained glass windows date from the 13th century, one of them above representing portraits of the kings of France.

the pulpit

More than 50 statuettes decorate the pulpit designed in Gothic style by Hans Hammer, one of the few valuable parts of the church created during the Reform period (16th century).

the organ

An organ in a beautiful polychrome case dates from the 14th and 15th century.

statuary in the Saint Laurent chapel

There are several beautiful side chapels. One of them is consecrated to Saint Laurent and includes an impressive and complex statuary group representing the crucifixion belonging to the period of the last major renovation of the church in the 19th century.

the choir and the transept

The choir and the transept belong the oldest part of the interior of the church that survived the times. Created around 1200 and perfectly conserved (and probably also renovated) it has a flagrant resemblance to the Byzantine churches in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

the Western rose stained-glass window

The Western wall rose-shaped stained-glass window is of an exquisite, abstract beauty. It was created in the second quarter of the 14th century.

the pillar of the Last Judgment

Another spectacular and original structure is the sculpted pillar representing the Last Judgment created around 1230.

the Astronomical Clock

The visit in the cathedral ends with the Astronomical Clock,  a Renaissance masterpiece combining the crafts of clocks building and some the most advanced scientific elements of these times in fields like mathematics and astronomy. A previous clock named the Clock of the Three Kings existed in the cathedral in the 14th and 15th centuries, but got broken and a new one started to be built in the mid of the 16th century. The sculptures and paintings on the front of the clock already show Baroque influences.

the ecclesiastic clock

The clock is a very complex mechanism build by Swiss masters (many of them from Schaffhausen) and it measures time, keeps a calendar, and makes astronomical computations. The ecclesiastic is activated once a year, in the night of December 31st and performs the astronomic computation according to the rules known at the time to determine the date of Easter.

the aparent time

The apparent time indicates the solar time the relative positions of Earth, Sun and Moon.

solar and moon equations

It is the solar and moon equations mechanical machinery that makes the corrections and determines the correct alignment on the display of the planets positions.

day of the week

Each day of the week has its own symbol.

Overall the astronomic clock is an amazing and complex piece of art and engineering in a period when churches were the center of the spiritual, social and cultural life of the city.

I was last week in Beijing for the IETF meeting, and after an intense week of work as all IETF meeting weeks are and one day spent on airplanes and airports I landed in Israel late on Saturday night (or early on Sunday morning). Yet, at 11 in the morning I was in the AVAYA office for an event that I could not miss – hearing Yoav Kutner speak about the Beatles.

Kutner is one of the well-known music experts and radio presenters in Israel. His radio broadcasts promote best quality Israeli music and sone of the TV films he made trace the history of the rock and pop music in Israel. He is also probably the best expert in Israel in what concerns the Beatles.

(video source zooootv)

The meeting hosted by my company had Yoav Kutner present the history of the band from its first record in 1962 until their formal split in 1970 (actually the breakdown started a few years earlier). Using musical clips in order to create the atmosphere and illustrate the principal steps in the evolution of the band, Kutner marked the key moments in their evolution and made pertinent comments about the musical track followed by the Beatles from the early simpler rock tunes to the sophisticated music and arrangements of the later disks, the impact they had on the young generation of their time, the characters of the principal members of the band, and their evolution as musical creators while they were together and after they broke away. Interesting to note that his sympathies in the creative duel and personalities clash between Paul McCartney and John Lennon go in favor of Paul, whom Kutner considers a much more fulfilled musician as well as a more balanced character. Overall Kutner shows that he not only masters well the subject, but also is in love with the Beatles, talking about them with warmth and familiarity. For him as for many people in his generation (which is also mine) Paul, John, George and Ringo are heroes and also close people, important persons who marked our lives.

Exactly because Kutner is almost the same age as I am, it also was interesting to see the differences in perspective and reception the Beatles had in Israel and Romania. Initially their music and influence was not welcome by the establishment in either place. They almost came to Israel on tour in 1964-65 but bureaucratic and ideological resistance prevented two planned visits. In Romania as in the rest of the Communist world they were perceived as ideological enemies as the documentary film How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin (which Kutner was not aware about) shows. While in England and the US the band got quick acceptance and became part of the nicer face of the pop music (compared to other music genres as rock or underground) it would take a few years in Israel and a few decades in Romania until their music became part of the main cultural streams. Their influence however was overwhelming in all places, censorship and ideological resistance could not defeat the talent and the impact on the young generations of – maybe – the most important musical group in the history.

(video source ThoughtRidden)

Lectura cartii lui Cristian Teodorescu ‘Medgidia, orasul de apoi’ mi-a adus imediat in
minte ‘Cartea soaptelor’ a lui Varujan Vosganian. Cele doua carti aparute in ultimul
an au multe elemente comune. Ambele sunt intitulate ‘romane’ dar structurile lor epice
sunt fiecare in felul ei diferite de cea a romanului clasic, si se aproprie mai mult de un
mozaic social si istoric cu o puternica nuanta autobiografica. Ambele carti isi plaseaza
actiunea (cartea lui Teodorescu exclusiv, cea a lui Vosganian in parte) in epoca istorica
a tranzitiei din anii 40-50 de la dictatura dreptei nationaliste spre dictatura stalinista cu
specific romanesc instaurata dupa 23 august 1944. In ambele carti apar ca personaje
principale la dimensiuni aproape mitologice figurile bunicilor autorilor, si in ambele
carti unul dintre orasele in care nu se intampla nimic ale Romaniei devine un univers in
care se intampla totul, o combinatie intre un microcosmos etnic si tipologic reprezentativ
pentru intreaga Romanie si un spatiu nostalgic si formativ, in care fiecare autor in parte
se maturizeaza sascultand povestile batranilor si isi construieste romanul mai tarziu
punand pe hartie tragediile si comediile mai mici si mai mari ale istoriei. Sunt desigur si
deosebiri, cea esentiala fiind ca saga de mai mari dimensiuni a lui Vosganian se ocupa
cu prioritate de istoria comunitatii armene de-a lungul unui secol, in timp ce cartea lui
Cristian Teodorescu acopera de intregul mozaic romanesc simbolizat de Medgidia, intr-ul
stil mai concentrat, dar cu un rezultat similar in ceea ce proveste complexitatea imaginii
si farmecul si satisfactia lecturii.


‘Medgidia, orasul de apoi’ este organizata ca o colectie de vreo suta de povestiri, aproape
egale ca lungime, fiecare pretandu-se la o lectura individuala si avand in centrul ei fie
un personaj din complexa istorie a urbei in tragicul deceniu de tranzitie, fie unul dintre
episoadele care marcheaza aceasta perioada martora a catorva dintre cele mau dramatice
schimbari si cele mai tragice momente ale istoriei nationale. Tipologia personajelor
descrise in carte este remarcabila prin diversitatea ei, si prin tehnica concisa si impecabila
folosita de Cristian Teodorescu pentru a le face reale in mintile si inimile cititorilor.
Figuri cum sunt cele ale bunicului Stefan Theodorescu sau a chelnerului Ion/Ionica/Jean,
a judecatorului neidentificat prin nume ca un simbol al conceptului de justitie indoit si
ingropat de greutatea vremurilor, sau ale maiorului Scipion si doctoritei evreice Lea si
povestea lor de dragoste sunt materiale pe care de obicei le denumim in mod apreciativ si
in sensul cel mai pozitiv posibil ‘de roman’. Dar si multe dintre personajele ‘secundare’
sunt memorabile cum sunt cele ale mosierului Caludi, politistului Pomenea, ‘martirului’
comunist Paulica sau a bijutierului erou Marcel, precum si episoade si situatii care citite
ca proza scurta reprezinta fiecare in sine un concentrat exercitiu de expresivitate virtuoasa
(‘Vestitorii Apocalipsei’, ‘Bairam Ramadan’, ‘Poporul ales a doua oara’). ‘Dans pe linie
moarta’ poate avea sansa sa devina una dintre schitele cel mai frumoase de inceput de
dragoste din literatura romana. De retinut este si imaginea simbolica a carciumii de gara,
o lume in sine si o poarta de legatura a orasului cu restul lumii. Satisfactia lecturii fiecarui
episod individual este intensa, iar episoadele si personajele se leaga si se combina bine
si intr-o citire continua (cum a fost a mea, prizonier vremelnic al unei curse de avion de
lunga distanta cu aceasta carte si neputinta mea cronica de a dormi drept companioni de

Cristian Teodorescu - source:

Am apreciat scrierea lui Cristian Teodorescu si pentru refuzul solutiilor usoare in
abordarea istorica a materialului bogat cu care se ocupa romanul. Desi simpatiile sale
sunt evidente din tonul aproape elegiac de plangere a pierderii aproape totala a unei
lumi si a celor care au populat-o abordarea relatiei cu dusmanii care o vor distruge, fie ei
huliganii criminali legionari, fie ocupantii sovietici nu este in niciun moment schematica,
si autorul nu evita prezentarea aspectelor umane din caracterul acestora, acolo unde ele
ele au existat. Postasul legionar si criminal Claudiu, primarul colaborationist si turnator
Mitica sau plutonierul rus Zaharici devenit din preot raspopit propagandist de ‘ateism
stiintific’ sunt personaje dincolo de schema maniheista pozitiv-negativ, complexe si
integrate alaturi de ceilalti cetateni ai universului descris in carte. Este prima carte a lui
Cristian Teodorescu pe care am citit-o si lectura ei mi-a produs o mare placere si mi-a
starnit interesul sa caut cartile mai vechi ale autorului si sa le astept cu nerabdare pe cele