Archive for July, 2011

I like a lot some of the previous work of Neil Jordan. ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘The Crying Game’ were superb films, two of the best I have seen in the 80s and in the 90s. My problem with the prolific writer and director is that Michael Collins was the last film of his that I really liked and it’s dated mid-90s. Since then he entered genres that I am not that much fond of. Now he writes and directs ‘The Borgias’ – which belongs to a TV genre that catches popularity in the last few years – the historical drama starting from the real history dynasties, events and periods and developing into a combination of soap opera, crime and erotic drama. When it’s good (like the first season of ‘Rome’ was) it can be very catchy. In other cases the experience can be mixed, as was the case with ‘The Tudors’ or this version of ‘The Borgias’.




The story of the Borgia family can certainly be a source of great historical novels, drama or film, and now that I think about it, it is surprising that it did not generate more literature (or maybe it did and I am not aware about it). The events of the first season happen between 1492 and 1494. 1492 was one of these years in history when events seem to accelerate – the year of the discovery of America by Columbus, the year of the expulsion of the Moors and of the Jews from the Iberian peninsula. It was also the year when the first Borgia, Alexander VI ascended to papacy, history says by means of corruption. His reign is historically considered as one of the most scandalous in the history of Catholicism, although this view is disputed by more recent research. He forged alliances with the rulers of other cities in the Italian peninsula sometimes through the marriages of his illegitimate children. He tried to extend the dominance of Rome, but he could not prevent the occupation of Rome and the fall of Naples under the French forces of king Charles VIII. He somehow maneuvered to stay on the papal throne, and Machiavelli who is a character in the series had a lot to learn from him.

(video source wchannel)


While the material of the Borgia story is certainly promising the result falls well below expectations. This genre typically succeeds when it combines complicated intrigues and interesting characters, is well acted and the production recreates the epoch in a credible manner. Neil Jordan’s script is unexpectedly thin material for three episodes seem to have been diluted to nine and this is very surprising for a writer with his experience and record. His characters also fall too much exactly the expected track. A few of them are saved by superb acting, Jeremy Irons above all creates a memorable combination of evil intelligence, debauchery and sense of family, cynicism and treachery. Colm Feori (Cardinal Della Rovere) and Sean Harris (paid killer Micheletto) also step ahead the ranks. From the Borgia children it is Lucrezia (Holliday Granger) who succeeds to be the credible very young daughter married into the Sforza clan for the seek of political alliance. As we know what she developped in real history it will be interesting to see how acting develops as well (if she stays in the role). Michel Muller also constructs an interesting composition, but he somehow does not look like a king of France.

Follow-up seasons of historical series tend to be not as good as the first one. I just hope here we have a case where the opposite will be true.

A new country is born – South Sudan. A painful birth after many years of savage war, atrocities and indifference of the international community. By coincidence I fell these days upon an articled published three years ago in National Geographic about the area south of the ancient Egypt, which at one point in the history dominated Egypt and for about 75 years in the 8th century BC ruled on a territory that extends from today’s Sudan, the Kingdom of Egypt, the Bible lands and until today’s Lebanon.




One of the interesting facts that I learned from reading this article is that the ancient world had no notion of racial differences, at least not on what skin color is concerned. Some of the pharaohs of the more ancient times are believed to have been of black African descent, and the more recent period which is in the focus of the article written by Robert Draper led to a period of renaissance and recovery of the old dynastic values in an Egypt that had lost much of the power and glamor of the Old, Middle and New Kingdom. The interaction of Egypt with the Land of Kush (the word describes until today in Hebrew the colored-skin people) was permanent, but during the Black Pharaohs era the territory south of Egypt stopped to be just a source of slaves and gold, unified with the kingdom and dominated the political class.




Three kings in the dynasty – Pyie, Shabaka and Taharqa ruled over Egypt for about 75 years. Some of the deeds are described in the National Geographic article and in other materials on the Internet, I even found a blog of the first king in the dynasty :-) Expanding their influence over the land of the ancient Hebrews the Black Pharaohs closed an alliance with them against the Assyrians who were trying to conquer Jerusalem. Saving Jerusalem around the year 700 delayed with about one century the Babylonian exile and the destruction of the First Temple, which was of a decisive influence in the history of Judaism and indirectly of Christianity and Islam derived from Judaism – as it allowed the time for much of the holy books that compose the Bible to be written. When the Temple fell and the exile followed the spiritual cement of the Jewish people was in place already and allowed it to overcome one of the first major tragedies and exiles in its history.




Eventually the conflict with the Assyrians and the revolt of the local nobility prevailed and the Black Pharaohs were deposed. So ended the last great period of extension in the history of ancient Egypt. The foreign influences and conquests that followed – Assyrian, Greek, Roman – did not respect any longer the Egyptian gods and tradition and although the Egyptian culture was strong and rooted enough not to be wiped out but rather mix and combine with those of the conquerors and influence them at least to the same extent those influenced it, the original path and development of the ancient traditions was cut short. Today the material testimonials of the great civilization of Egypt survive the millenniums, but a lesser known fact is that there are more pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt. The conquered people who for a short period became the rulers of Egypt had taken back to their lands the Egyptian traditions and preserved them close to their original form for several centuries more. The little explored desert areas of Sudan keep some of these remains intact until today.


I hesitated on the title of this note about the concert last night, the last of the season in the Hot Jazz series at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, a season about I already wrote that it was one of the best in the history of the Friday night jazz series. My hesitation was about calling the music played by the Brazilian singer Ceumar and the Israeli-Brazilian ensemble Chorole, as jazz or world music. The dominant stye of the music played was choro which is a traditional Brazilian music style, and the overall sound and atmosphere was far from the usual jazz that the subscribers of Hot Jazz. So ‘world music’ or ‘jazz’? Well, after all categories matter less, what counts is the music.



Ceumar was born in Sao Paolo, but currently lives in  Amsterdam. She plays the guitar and percussion but is first of all a singer with a beautiful voice and a warm presence on the scene. She loves the music that she is making and the audiences feel it. Telling a little more about the Brazilian music for audiences that are less initiated in it (as I am) would have been very useful, but on the other side I am not a fan of those kind of concerts which include too much talking and risk to turn into lectures.


(video source bmendez1984)


The ensemble Chorole is led by Salit Lahav who last night played the flute and the accordion. Based in Israel it is close to the traditional choro band instrumental structure, and composed of two Israelis and two Brazilian musicians. They toured Brazil twice, and their repertoire includes besides the traditional Brazilian music also their own pieces which mix the Middle Eastern and Brazilian sounds. They played two of these last night and they were quite good.


(video source afratus)


I remain however with mixed memories from the performance last night, which somehow fell behind the best evenings of the season. I am sorry to say it but there was a difference of quality between the remarkable Brazilian singer, so gifted and in her element with her music and the Israeli musicians. Lahav’s flute sounded strident at some instances, and I am not sure if this is her style or the fault of the sound technicians. The dimensions and the setting of the air-conditioned concert hall in Tel Aviv seemed not to resonate well with the style of the music and although the public eventually reacted warmly it was only a partial joining and it looked and sounded a little artificial. This performance would have fit better in the outside, maybe on an open stage and in the heat of the Tel Aviv  harbor.

The choice of the repertoire seems however to belong to a trend which already started in the previous seasons and is more clear in the program of the next year season. Roughly half of the performers in the next season belong to the Latin space. This is nice and this not completely new, as in the past the series brought in Israel such performers or other belonging to the world music space, the memorable concerts of the Irish band The Willin’ Fools are the first to come to my mind. I have already bought my subscription for next year, but it looks like for the true jazz (classical and modern) sound I may need to look also for other sources.

I realize that the cycle of blog entries about the trip to Romania last year advances too slowly. There are a few reasons and a few excuses that I will not list here, but it may be a good outcome as well. As the memories sediment and the emotions I felt during that trip get some rest, I can better structure the story of this travel which was from many points of view different from any other trip I took recently. Here is the second stop we made in the second day of the trip, at the beautiful and so special monastery of Agapia.


The name of the monastery and of the neighboring village comes from the name of the hermit Agapie who according to the tradition built a wooden church in the second half of the 14th century in a place located about 2 kilometers from the current location. As the church was destroyed by a snow avalanche on a Easter Day, it was rebuilt close to the current place, and later in the 15th century a monks monastery was built around. Several kings of Moldavia donated lands and contributed to the building of the monastery and churches inside – Petru Rares, Alexandru and Bogdan Lapusneanu, Vasile Lupu, Petru Schiopu (the Lame). By the end of the 18th century the monastery is turned to the nuns, but it is almost completely destroyed by fire during the events of the Greek revolt and Russian occupation that followed.


It is after the destruction in 1821 that the monastery was rebuilt and took its present form. Painted in sparkling white the church of the monastery is not big in dimensions, but strong and elegant. The building is built on the foundation of stone, with thick impressive walls. The side wings, a new porch and the old narthex were added in 1858-1862. The roof is simple with a low inclination, pierced above the nave by a slender tower with octagonal base.



The most impressive art elements in the monastery are the paintings of Nicolae Grigorescu, one of the most important names in the history of Romanian art, founder of the Romanian school of painting. Grigorescu was only 20 when he received this work, and between 1859 and 1861 painted the walls of the church leaving here an important mark for his artistic career, as well as for the whole Romanian church painting and art in general.


Iisus rugându-se în grădina Ghetsimani - source


Inspiring himself from works of the great masters of the Renaissance, the artist added his own touch. As many other great artists dealing with Bible subject (El Greco comes the first to my mind) he took as models for the characters of the Gospels from the people he met around – nuns, monks, peasants. He added his personal touch as well as sensitivity and devotion for the subjects he dealt with.




The remarkable composition and dramatic power of telling the story are impressive in many of the more complex paintings.


Sfanta Treime - source


Also exceptional are the way Grigorescu uses the architectonic details, paints every available space and corner and succeeds to provide to the ensemble a sense of complex beauty and monumental despite the relatively small dimensions of the church. Immediately after finishing the work at Agapia, Nicolae Grigorescu travelled to Paris, He studied at Ecole des Beaux-Arts, had Renoir as a colleague and Miller, Corot and Courbet as acquaintances, associating himself to the school of Barbizon and later to Impressionism. Back in Romania he painted on the front of the Romanian Independence War in 1877 and became the most important founding figure in the history of Romanian painting.


Back to the courtyard we could admire the museum of the monastery (with more works of the young Grigorescu) and the lodgement of the nuns, some available to visitors guests of the monastery. Church economy developed around the monastery, many of the nuns working on gardening and farming around – a tradition that also continues an older way of life and living.


However newer ways of communication are also present – as you can see in the photo of this nun talking on a mobile phone.


Era in ultima mea vacanta mare de licean, intre clasa a 11-a si a 12-a.In sala de sport de la subsolul liceului Sfantul Sava reusisesm sa convingem directiunea liceului sa permita organizarea unei discoteci, folosind faptul ca baiatul directoarei liceului era coleg cu noi de clasa. Cel mai bun prieten al meu era DJ-ul principal si animatorul serilor, se ocupa serios de muzica si impreuna cu el exploram spatiul liber al muzicii rock al carui principal canal de distribuire in Romania erau emisiunile ‘Metronom’ ale lui Cornel Chiriac la Radio Europa Libera. Pe cai necai facea rost de discurile cu muzica auzita la Europa Libera, o copia pe benzi de magnetofon si o prezenta in discoteca liceului. Curaj? Inconstienta? In primul rand dragoste de muzica si de libertate.


sursa -


Data era 7 iulie 1971 – o miercuri. Ne adunasem ca de obicei ceva mai devreme, noi organizatorii, dar sala de sport era incuiata. Nu intelegeam dece, cand unul dintre noi veni cu vestea – ‘Tovarasul a tinut ieri o cuvantare, ceva cu educatia politica’. ‘Tovarasul’ era desigur Ceausescu, si noi, ignoranti in ale propagandei nu citisem ziarele, oricum nu cuvantarile ne interesau pe noi. Aceea era insa o cuvantare care avea sa ne influenteze intreaga viata, sau cel putin multi dintre anii care au urmat. In cele din urma a aparut profesorul de sport, se consultase cred cu directoarea si primise aprobarea sa deschida sala de sport si sa ne lase sa desfasuram seara de discoteca. Incepusem sa intelegem si noi ca este vorba despre ultima. Pentru un timp cel putin. Pentru vreo 19 ani.

Inspirate de o vizita facuta de Ceausescu in China comunista si Coreea de Nord cu cateva saptamani inainte, tezele din iulie nu au fost insa o generatie spontanee ci s-au ivit ca o reactie a conceptiilor staliniste si a birocratiei ideologice care dominasera viata romaneasca in anii 50 si inceputul anilor 60 pentru a fi puse in umbra de o scurta perioada de relativ ‘dezghet’ ideologic, de normalizare controlata a vietii publice si culturale si de recuperare a valorilor reale in continuitate cu cele ale culturii romanesti dinainte de dictaturile fascista si comunista. Nu era vorba despre o intoarcere la democratie, controlul partidului comunist unic era complet si nici macar nu a existat in Romania o ‘primavara’ ca cea cehoslovaca din 1968, dar totusi cenzura se mai relaxase, filme de divertisment se aduceau din toata lumea, se traduceau carti, si chiar si muzica straina isi mai facea loc – cu greu si cu multe limite si interziceri – la radio si in topurile unor reviste cum era ‘Saptamana’. Peste noapte majoritatea acestora au fost pur si simplu anulate. In zilele care au urmat programele de televiziune au fost restructurate, cinematografele au scos majoritatea filmelor straine cu continut ‘necorespunzator’, componenta redactiilor revistelor literare a fost schimbata si continutul acestora aliniat din nou cu productele realismului socialist, muzica pop si rock a disparut aproape cu totul de la radio si din presa.




Putini au fost intelectualii care au incercat sa reziste acestor tendinte si ei au fost redusi imediat la tacere si trecuti la index, cartile lor nu au mai fost publicate, piesele si filmele lor nu au mai fost reprezentate sau pur si simplu nu au mai fost facute. In anii care au urmat au luat calea exilului scriitori si regizori de film si de teatru de prima mana, iar cei care au ramas in Romania s-au luptat cu cenzura si au fost obligati la compromisuri uriase pentru ca cartile, filmele sau pieselor lor de teatru sa ajunga, chiar si in forma ciuntita la public. Locul artei si culturii autentice a fost luat de manifestari grandioase, nationalist-patriotarde cum erau festivalurile ‘Cantarea Romaniei’ croite dupa modelele de la Phenian si de un faraonic cult al personalitatii intretinut de politrucii regimului impreuna cu cativa poeti si artisti plastici colaborationisti. In anii 80, in penuria economica creata de constructiile megalomanice din Capitala si de ambitia absurda a lui Ceausescu de a sterge datoria externa a Romaniei programele de televiziune s-au redus la doua ore de emisie pe zi pe un singur canal si ziarele la patru pagini umplute aproape exclusiv de propaganda.

Tezele din iulie au esuat, dar au trecut mai mult de 18 ani durerosi pentru cei ramasi in Romania pana la prabusirea sistemului comunist si intoarcerea la normalitate. Consider ca au esuat pentru ca evenimentele din decembrie 1989, oricum le-am caracteriza au dus in cateva zile la o completa liberalizare a presei, si la restabilirea instantanee a contactului direct intre scriitorii, artistii, oamenii de cultura romani si publicul lor. Paranteza neagra deschisa in iulie 1971 s-a inchis. Ea insa a lasat cicatrici si in modul de gandire, si in educatia estetica si culturala al multor generatii, si in suferintele creatorilor si consumatorilor de cultura si in miile de creatii care ar fi putut fi si nu au vazut lumina tiparului, a scenei, a ecranului, a sevaletului. Pentru multi dintre cei care eram atunci in plina formare intelectuala, abia iesiti din adolescenta, iulie 1971 a insemnat o trezire la realitatea a ceea ce este cu adevarat comunismul, stergerea definitiva a oricarei iluzii in ceea ce priveste aceasta ideologie si acest sistem politic – o lectie dura de maturizare, pentru care insa putem astazi retrospectiv sa-i multumim partidului.

Habima, The National Theater of Israel did not yet return home during this season despite the promises made last fall. Something about construction or safety permits, an example probably of the traditional mix of bureaucracy and inefficiency which makes so many of of our national projects turn into matter of jokes or inquiry committees or both and maybe also of future theater shows. The problem is that the dispersing of the staging halls seem to have led to a fragmentation of the repertory, and the improvisation needed to accommodate with different staging places seems to have spread in the artistic choices. Not only had I a difficult time picking the three plays to see this year, but each seems in a different genre, made in a different style and almost nothing reminds that we are attending a first rank theater performance.




Post Trauma is an interesting project. It started with an exchange of experience between Israeli and German playwrights who visited each other’s country and spent time with the local artists and people, questioning and trying to understand to what extent the trauma of the Holocaust and the horror that split the German and Jewish people are still alive in the lives of the two countries and the perceptions of the two people about each other. The result was six plays, four written by Israelis, two by the German writers, dealing closer or remotely, directly or in a more implicit manner with the subject.




The idea is good, the execution is uneven. The first play Tikkun (Correction) by Yariv Gotlieb sends the conflict in the bedroom level, describing the relationship between an Israeli man and a German woman, in a manner that seems simplified and vulgar down to almost the level of pornography. Jazz by Thomas Mahle succeeds better to turn a grotesque con-story into an apparent conflictual situation, playing with the reality and the artificiality of the historical and cultural differences. The last play in the first part which also gives the name of the whole representation was also the best structured in my opinion (the author is Tal Schiff) with the alternate plans and subtle characters inserting their feelings rather than drumming them. Beit Sheni (The Second Home) by Dana Idisis which opened the second half told nicely but a little too explicitly a story about passing the feeling of fear between generations. Kentucky Asia by Johann Birk was fully forgettable but luckily the evening ended with the much better Mishakh Zikharon (Memory Game) by Noah Lazar, which created credible characters at the brink between farce and tragedy.




Director Dedi Brown had an interesting material to work with and her success is partial. The stage is filled with a grid of chairs which are under-used. Actors are doing a good job, but they are directed sometimes in the direction of grotesque, other times in a realistic manner, and again the concept is not clear. Two songs seed an idea which could have been maybe used more intensely – the first was in a German cabaret style, the second one an Israeli army band style song – maybe the juxtaposition of the two styles would have created an interesting effect if used more often. The final song said a lot about the exaggerated persistence of memory, about the trauma that turns into obsession and that risks to generate self-victimization and to obliterate the feelings of human compassion to other people’s suffering. It looked however as a patch applied too late to a performance which was mostly spent talking about something else.

Wrapping-up my vacation notes from Paris, here are a few photos taken on the streets, in the metro, restaurants (other than the ones I wrote about) – some funny, some interesting, some charming as is this city with no equal.



This shop can be found on rue de Seine, I liked the firm (which was actually built-up from pieces of mosaic) and I wondered how this translates to Romanian.



A gallery I did not write about also on rue de Seine was exposing (quite expensive) art about dogs.



Rue des Lombards in the area of Beaubourg is a place where I wish to get back as soon as I can, a lot of music clubs and terraces open from late afternoon through the night.



Here is how the theater hall of the Comedie des Champs Elysees looks inside.



Did Salvador Dali like chocolat? This is what maybe the owner of this coffee shop in the Marais area thinks. Or maybe the artists’s moustache could be seen here once?



Place de la Bastille and Opera Bastille on a rainy midnight.



Inside Kapoor’s Leviathan at Grand Palais.



Cafe de l’Olympia near the famous music theater hall.



An exhibition about the Eichman trial took place at the Memorial de la Shoah. We did not succeed to get to visit it. Here is a poster in a metro station, with an antisemitic commentary scribbled on it. Helas!



The short time did not allow us to attend any of the concerts in the cycle ‘Baroque Nights’ – we just could have a glimpse at the entry halls and the beautiful gate of the Palais Behague where many of the activities of the Institute for Romanian Culture are being organized.



A classical postcard – The Eiffel tower at night.



The two photos above are not for people on diets.



The Gibert Joseph bookshop – a mandatory stop in any of my stops in Paris.



Some of my French-challenged friends may chose the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, on the quai accross the Notre-Dame cathedral.



Le Caveau des Oubliettes is a music place located behind the Saint Julien Le Pauvre church (one of the oldest in Paris). We remembered a beautiful concert of chansonettes we attended here twenty years ago, now it seems to have changed profile into becoming a jazz and blues club.


The metro was in this trip our principal mean of transport. Here is one a station on one of the most modern lines in Paris.



Inside the Au Pied de Cochon restaurant.



This may be the place where God gets a haircut. Hebrew speakers will understand what I mean.



And here it is – to end with a sweat taste – this was our last desert on this trip in Paris (at a place in the Hippopotamus chain, otherwise a good recommendation for the meat lovers).





I discovered Florin Niculescu and his music when ARTE TV broadcast a series of concerts and documentaries dedicated to the centennial of Django Reinhardt.  As Stephane Grappelli was Django’s partner, violin played an important role in Django’s music. As Django Florin Niculescu is of Romani origin. Born in Romania in 1967 he came to France in 1991, studied violin at the conservatory in Paris and had the chance to meet Grappelli in the last years of his life and career, as well as Django’s son Babik. The two recognized his huge talent, embraced and supported him, played music and recorded with him on some of his first disks. Today Florin is considered one of the best if not the best manouche and jazz violinist alive, Grappelli’s heir. Another slow piece Tears brings tango rhythms reminding another musical territory close to the manouche style.




‘Django Tunes’ was recorded in two separate sessions in Bucharest (at the Electrecord studios) and Paris in December 2009 and January 2010. The lists of the pieces on the CD and samples can be found at All the pieces are music played by Django, although not necessarily best known tunes, but two of them (Dream of You, Vipers Dream) were not composed by Django according to the review on Django Station. A selected team of musicians play with Florin on the CD, including bass player Darryl Hall, and Django’s grandson David Reinhardt on guitar, whom I saw last month in Paris at Sunset. On the disk cover each of them says a few words about the satisfaction of playing with the Romanian artist and of participating in this project dedicated to Django’s music.


(video source gipsystrings)


The CD is a good opportunity for Florin Niculescu to prove his virtuosity while being extremely respectful to Django’s music and spirit. The first two tunes start in a French spirit (Coquette, Brick Top with some classical inflections even). A few slower pieces (Lentement Mademoiselle, Souvenirs, Vamp) are meant to sound at some moments in a sentimental mood typical to Romanian violinists, well-dosed, but enough to remind where the musician comes from.


(video source Xiphosss)


The full scale of Florin Niculescu’s virtuosity is shown in the faster pieces like Sweet Chorus, Inpromptu (with excellent piano support) and Vipers Dream. I dare say that some of these and especially the last which is also the closing piece of the album sound grappellian. Florin’s violin dominates the whole disk, but some of the pieces allow the other musicians to prove their fine talents on piano and guitar (Nuit Saint-Germain-Des-Pres, Dream of You). A more sophisticated arrangement is tried in Double Scotch, but most of the other pieces have the direct and sincere approach and appeal of manouche. My preferred piece on the whole album is however Porto Cabello which towards the end brings together all the qualities and the virtuosity of the musicians in this respectful tribute to their master.