Archive for November, 2011

Greu de categorisit o carte cum este 'Orasele invizibile' a lui Italo
Calvino. Structura exterioara aduce cu cea a colectiilor de povestiri
orientale, cele '1001 de nopti' vin imediat in minte la lectura
dialogurilor intre hanul mongol Kubilai Han si calatorul venetian Marco
Polo si chiar si evolutia relatiilor intre cei doi (unul dintre
putinele elemente dinamice in narativul cartii) are ceva din tensiunea
dintre conducatorul ultra-puternic si supusul care isi castiga
favorurile sau doar timpul incercand sa croseteze noi tesaturi din
panzele fragile ale imaginatiei.  O examinare mai atenta dezvaluie insa
nu numai o rigurozitate a compozitiei ci si reguli matematice ale caror
sens ascuns pare sa promita semnificatii misterioase: cele noua capitole
include fiecare cate cinci povestiri cu exceptia primului si ultimului
care au cate zece fiecare; cincizeci si cinci de relatari deci, fiecare
cuprinzand descrierea cate unui oras imaginar, descrieri grupate in
unsprezece categorii (numar prim!) de cate cinci fiecare. In sectiunile
intermediare nu sunt amestecate niciodata doua povestiri din aceeasi
categorie. Simetrie deci si joc aritmetic secund. Nici numele oraselor
nu par a fi alese la intamplare. Toate orasele pe care Calvino le pune
pe seama lui don Marco au nume de femei, adaugand dimensiunea erotica
la fantasticul fermecat al relatarii.  

Dincolo de structura narativa cititorul descopera o colectie relatari
produs al imaginatiei scriitorului, imbinand relectia sociala si
filozofica cu tonul poetic. Daca ar fi sa caracterizez senzatia pe
care mi-a lasat-o lectura acestei carti unice cea mai aproapriata
asociatie ar fi cea a citirii unei carti de poezie, una dintre acele
carti in care satisfactia lecturii se imbina cu bucuria cunoasterii,
in care sentimentele si rationamentul  se combina cu permanente
trimiteri la repere culturale si de civilizatie familiare. La momentul
aparitiei cartii preocuparile ecologice si sociale legate de
extinderea urbana necontrolata erau deja la ordinea zilei, si Calvino
nu a ezitat sa infiltreze in fiecare elemente si mesaje sociale care
sunt perfect aplicabile si contemporaneitatii:'opulenta Leoniei se
masoara nu atat dupa lucrurile fabricate vandute cumparate in fiecare
zi, cat dupa lucrurile aruncate in fiecare zi, pentru a le face loc
celor noi' (pag. 102)

Placerea citirii fiecareia dintre descrierile oraselor invizibie
este imensa si fiecare poate fi citita separat, ca un poem, iar
ordinea citirii nu prea conteaza. Din acest punct de vedere este o
carte de o perfecta simetrie, fara niciun aparent inceput sau
sfarsit. Multe dintre secvente sunt mai degraba calatorii in propria
imaginatie decat in memorie, calatorii in timp mai mult decat
calatorii in spatiu. Adevaratul spatiu este cel al imaginatiei

'Feriti-va sa le spuneti ca, uneori, orase diferite se succed pe
aceeasi intindere de pamant si sub acelasi nume, se nasc si mor
fara sa le fi cunoscut, fara sa fi putut comunica. Cateodata, pana
si numele locuitorilor raman aceleasi, si tonul vocilor, chiar si
trasaturile fetelor; dar zeii care locuiesc dedesuptul numelor si
deasupra locurilor au plecat fara sa spuna un cuvant si in locul
lor s-au cuibarit zei straini. Zadarnic este sa te intrebi daca
acestia sunt mai buni sau mai rai decat cei vechi, fiinca nu
exista niciun raport intre ei, dupa cum vechile carti postale nu
arata Maurilla asa cum era, ci un alt oras care, intamplator, se
numea Maurilia, la fel ca acesta' (pag. 30)

Publicata in 1972, cand Italo Calvino se afla in fruntea pleiadei
de scriitori italieni dintre cei mai cunoscuti ai epocii ajungand
la rangul de cel mai tradus prozator din peninsula in intreaga lume,
'Orasele invizibile' apare acum la editura ALLFA in colectia
'Strada Fictiunii' intr-o traducere precisa si eficienta semnata de
Oana Bosca-Malin, care nu da impresia ca traducatoarea ar fi tradat
prea mult continutul si limbajul cartii. Este o lectura redusa in
dimensiuni dar concentrata in continut si senzatii, una dintre acele
carti care definesc profilul unui scriitor in memoria cititorilor sai.

One way to look at Taiwan is to think about it as a small scale version of what China could have become if history had taken a different turn. While mainland China went after 1949 through the radical changes brought up by the Communist take over, the island of Taiwan became host not only of the defeated nationalist government but also of some of the treasures of imperial China (like much of the Forbidden City thesaurus today at the National Palace Museum in Taipei) and continued cultural or religious traditions which were forbidden or at least much diminished in the rest of China. However this view risks to be somehow simplistic, as Taiwan itself has a history of its own which is to a large extent different and sometimes even antagonistic to the one of the Middle Empire, a history that mixes the seek getting rid of the successive foreign occupations while integrating their influences and the attraction of the great empire across the straights. There is no better way of understanding the culture of Taiwan than visiting its temples, marvels or architecture and art by themselves but also a mix of influences where the dominant Buddhism coexists with Confucianisms, Taoism and local beliefs in a way only religions of the Far East can do one near the other rather than one against the other as religions clash in the rest of the world.


Longshan Temple in Taipei


All the temples I could visit during my stay in Taiwan are located in Taipei, and I have seen them all in one day. Liliana had the chance to see a few more out of the capital city of the island. The first we got to is probably the largest, the most beautiful and the most crowded temple in Taiwan – the Longshan Temple. It is located in the Wanhua district which is the Old Taipei whose buildings date mostly from the first half of the 20th century when the island was under Japanese rule. The neighborhood is by no means impressive, think like south Tel Aviv or Athens around the old airport, but as in the two Mediterranean cities districts this is where real life is. The first characteristics of the Taiwanese temples is visible from the first one – the dimensions are not meant to impose, and although the style and the decorations are exceptional, the buildings are organically integrated in the day to day life, they do not tend to impose or dominate.


column at the Longshan Temple


It is when entering inside that you get the feeling of the complexity of the gathering of art and faith you are living through. The Longshan temple of Taipei was built the first time in 1738 by colons from the mainland province of Fujian, and was many times destroyed and rebuilt since then, the last major destruction taking place at the end of the second world war. It is said that much of the temple was then destroyed but the wooden statue of the goddess Guanyin, goddess of goodness stayed intact.


roof at Longshan Temple


The visitor meets here some of the best examples of the splendors that are characteristic to the Taiwanese temples – the columns sculpted in stone, bronze or wood, the golden altars, the roofs with the arched shapes and the decorations that profile arabesques on the skies, the statues of the deities which sometimes smile, sometimes are angry, never indifferent, more human than representations of deities in other religions.


Crouching Tiger at the Longshan Temple


One of the motives met in the Taiwanese art is the crouching tiger which lent its identity to the country and the fellow Asian fast developing economies in the last decades of the 20th century. If the economic push-up may have cooled down the art in the temples remained.


fountain at the Longshan Temple


Integration with nature is another theme which can be found in or around the temples, including the Longshan, maybe also an effect of the Japanese influence in the period of half a century they ruled over Taiwan between 1895 and 1945. Even if it is located in the middle of the city Longshan has a masterly man-made natural oasis with a fountain decorated with golden statues of sirens and dragons.


praying at the Longshan Temple


The most striking aspect for me was however the fact that all the temples that we visited in Taiwan were active temples, full of active practicing believers. I had visited several temples in Beijing, the sensation was that they were museums, and the ratio between visitors and believers was 99 to 1 and more. Here the situation is quite the inverse, an active and effervescent religious life dominates the atmosphere, and the visitors are the exception. Young and old people, women and men and mothers and fathers with children, people of all social conditions come and pray, and you feel that praying is part of their life and they are part of the permanent living soul of the temples.


flowers for the gods


The way people pray and relate to their gods may seem sometimes strange to the Western visitor. They bring flowers and food, they burn incense and knee and talk. Food offers may range from bags of potato chips to elaborated trays with roasted duck. What happens with all this food? it is used to feed the monks and nuns in the monasteries and if there is more left it will be distributed to the poor in charities.


asking for the advice of the gods


One distinct tradition is consulting the opinion of gods on day to day issues, small or big, by throwing pieces of painted wood with crescent shapes. The position of the fallen pieces is read by the believers in ways known only to them and used as advice.


entrance of the Quingshan Temple


We continued our itinerary in the Wanhua district with the Quingshan Temple. The name of the temple comes from a  king whose statue was brought to Taiwan and at the very place the temple was built became that heavy that the porters could not further move it, which lead them to the conclusion that it is the wish of the king to have a temple raised here in his honor. This is what happened and the year was 1854.


one of the fierce guardians - Qingshan Temple


The statues of two fierce generals of the king not only keep guard of the temple, but also of the law and morals of the whole neighborhood, which it is said they patrol sometimes at night. There are many such stories in Taipei, which seems to be a city haunted at least as Edinburgh in Scotland is. Even the modern hotel we stayed in was said to be haunted by ghosts. Take a look at the statues and observe the striking difference to statues in the Western iconographic not only in the relation between divinity and the person who looks at the statue, but also in style, colors, closing. If there is a similarity it is more to carnivals and rites in the Spanish and Latino-American versions of Catholicism. The gods of the Far East are mostly exuberant and colorful, and not cold and cast in stone.


Quingshan Temple - the ceiling


One of the beautiful elements of the Quingshan temple is the octagonal  ceiling of the first hall, with delicate carvings. The number eight is considered in Chinese numerology as auspicious and lucky.


Qingshan Temple - the altar


There are three levels in the Quingshan temple, each of them with praying halls, columns and altars. The rich decoration and the collection of objects – ceramics, wood carvings, golden statues – can be admired for hours.


Quingshui Temple - the entrance


The third temple in the neighborhood is the Quingshui Temple. It is built at the end of the 18th century and well preserved. The access is through an alley boarded by small restaurants. The god the temple is dedicated to is a protector of the Anxi province (where the tea of oolong originates from) but his protection extended to the city of Taipei since the temple was built.


Quingshui Temple - decoration in the interior courtyard


In the courtyard we could admire the combination of the sculpted columns with traversal ornamentation of stone, wood, ivory, bronze – the mix of colors and materials providing an effect of richness and joy which is almost Baroque in its consistency and elegance.


Buddha statues near Keelung


Liliana had more time during the week that followed and visited a few more places out of Taipei, and the itineraries of the trips included more temples. Above are the statues of the Buddha in the temple near Keelung. Observe the huge ‘happy Buddha’ in the first plane and also the swastika symbol, which has of course nothing to do with the Nazis. In Chinese writing the symbol means eternity and Buddhism.


temple in Bitou


The temple at Cape Bitou is located in a natural environment that includes a lot of natural formations, one of them visible in the background of the picture taken by Liliana.


Zushi Temple in Sanxia


The place that probably I should be mostly sorry to have missed is the Zushi Temple in Sanxia. Most of its elaborated sculptures in stone and wood were created by or under the supervision of the local master Li Mei-shu (1902-1983).


column at Zushi Temple


Li Mei-shu was a painter, a professor of fine arts and a renovator and decorator of temples. The temple in Sanxia built initially in 1769 was destroyed during the war and it was Li Mei-shu who took over the renovation and decoration, achieving a masterpiece of the traditional art on a traditional structure brought back to life.


wooden decoration at Zushi Temple


He was an artist of many media – wood, stone, sculptures and carvings. The delicacy of the line, the realism of the expressions and the elegance of the details are striking in all.


roof at Zushi Temple


The combination of art – new and old – and of a vibrant and active religious life is the strongest characteristic that remains in memory from visits in the temples of Taiwan. When you visit churches in the Western world one has the feeling that the period of great artistic achievements of the religious art is well past, and the newer forms of expression are seldom equal to the ones created many centuries ago by the masters. It is not the case of the Buddhist religious expression the way we experienced it in Taiwan. I actually am pretty sure that creating art continues as we speak and new forms and objects will be added in the future to the treasures that we could admire during our visit.


In her book On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD describes five stages of coping with the malady that she observed in the psychology of many people hit by cancer. The stages may last for different periods of time and will replace each other or may exist simultaneously: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. There is one common feeling through all these stages: Hope.

This information is well known by everybody who faced a disease that can be terminal or who had somebody close and dear who had to cope with such a malady.  Playwright Anat Gov not only has the chutzpah to bring to stage the very delicate and emotional subjects of dealing with cancer and the perspective of death, but also does it with artistic tools and from a perspective different from the one taken by the majority of the artists or writers who did it before.




There is no melodrama in the text of Sof Tov (which could be translated as Good End or even Happy End) written by Anat Gov and the staging of Edna Maze at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv. We are watching a comedy and a musical and if there is anything that is close in genre it is not the psychological journal or reflections on life and death but rather the kitsch medical soap operas that are quite popular on TV. However, the subject and the approach are unexpected. A famous actress enters hospital for chemotherapy for an advanced form of cancer. Statistics are not on her side, the disease was discovered late, she can at best win a few more years of life spent in hospitals and treatments, probably slowing but unable to stop the disease. She seems unable or unwilling to cope with the five stages of the relationship between sick people and fate, and decides to fight back her own way, refusing treatment soon after it started. Does she have the right to do it to herself and her family, has the medical personnel around the right to assist or must they continue the treatment against her own will? The moral and emotional questions asked by the play are smart and difficult if not impossible to answer. The amazing thing is that the low key approach and the comical register work so well in dealing with them on stage.




The mix of comedy text, music and dance on such a serious subject succeed to ask the right questions, put in move emotions and entertain most of the time in the version of the play created by Edna Maze. The emphasize is on the strong acting with a wonderful Anat Waxman in the main role, and a supporting cast in which the three actresses playing each one of the other three fellow patients creates wonderful portraits of the ex-rock girl, of the Auschwitz survivor and of the young haredi woman brought together by the destiny of the same malady. Oded Leopold as the doctor was the only actor which I liked less in the performance, he fits the exterior of the role but does not catch and relay the human vibration. Dancing and singing are not the best, the Cameri knows to do much better, and certainly Broadway or West End will do better if they will have the inspiration to take and remake this play. I am pretty sure that they will do it, as the daring and well written text of the play deserves an international career.


Duminica 27 noiembrie va avea loc in Bucuresti la Targul de Carte Gaudeamus lansarea primelor doua volume dintr-o serie care isi propune sa recupereze scrierile (o parte deja publicate, altele inedite) ale Hanei Luana Fratu. Conform informatiei publicate pe Facebook de editura Brumar vor prezenta cartea la lansare Anni-Lorei Mainka, Radu-Ilarion Munteanu si Robert Serban.



Publicarea cartii este frumoasa initiativa a familiei Hanei si rezultatul trudei unui grup de prieteni entuziasti adunati pe o lista internetica, care si-au dedicat in anul scurs de la disparitia prietenei lor timpul si energia pentru a munci cu dragoste la recuperarea si publicarea scrierilor ei. Cu aceasta ocazie este anuntat si un concurs anual promovat de o fundatie initiata de familie, care doreste sa incurajeze publicarea tinerilor scriitori debutanti.


Too many trips accumulated and too little time was available to me to write about them, or at least post some commented pictures on the blog. I will try to catch up but I will probably mix and alternate information from different trips – in Romania last fall, in Sicily earlier this fall and now from my most recent business trip to Taipei in Taiwan.


Let me thus start with information and pictures about Taipei 101. No, it’s not a basics training course, although the name may be fit from some points of view. It is about the tallest building in Taiwan, and the third in height world-wide, a building which kept the title of highest in the world for five years after it was inaugurated in 2004, and is 180 meters higher than the Eiffel Tour. It was the first building which crossed the 500 meters height threshold. 101 is the number of levels over the ground, and there are five more underground. It is also a symbol of exceeded perfection in a culture that has a cult of the numbers close to the Jewish obsession with numerology – one more than 100, one of the ‘perfect numbers’ for the Chinese.


The mayor of Taipei made a present for all those who registered for the social event of the IETF conference a free access ticket to the 89th floor, where the indoor observatory is located. We did not use them for many days, as rain and fog hit the city the day after we came in and lasted for most of our stay. The silhouette of many superposed pagoda shapes is however visible from distance in any weather conditions and dominates this part of the city same as the Eiffel tower seems to dwarf everything around in Paris.


Each evening of the week the tower is lit with another of the seven primary colors. On this shot the color seems to be violet so it must have been Sunday.


Here are the flags around and a more unusual perspective of the tower.



Most of the floors are occupied by offices. On the list there are many banks and the stock exchange, but also various global or foreign corporate brand names as Google Taiwan, L’Oreal or Starbucks. The lower five floors are ocupied by commercial spaces, the highest ones by the indoor and outdoor (which we did not caught open) observatories and by restaurants. Here is one of the two quite exclusive restaurants where we ate one of the evenings our traditional (during the IETF week) gourmet dinner. Unfortunately it was a rainy night, and the top of the tower was in the clouds (no, not networking clouds, but real ones!)


Here is a different perspective of the tower in a picture taken in between two of the 14 columns sustaining the Sun Yat-Sen memorial located at less then one kilometer from the tower.


And then Saturday came, my first (and only) free day after a very busy week of meetings. We woke up with the sun shining and with blue skies the first time during the week. We hurried through the breakfast and were wise to do it, we crossed the street from our hotel to the tower, we stood in the lines and eventually we were up there. In this picture you can see the Grand Hyatt hotel where we stayed on the right, the fairs building near it and the convention center where the IETF meeting was hold across the street, near the ‘small’ tower building.


By the time we were up there and started to take pictures the sunshine and blue skies had disappeared and clouds started to take control. We could see however most of the city and the suburbs from all directions.



The city of Taipei is surrounded by mountains to which the rather fierce character of the inhabitants is due, the character of people in a city that never fell to a foreign occupier (and they were a few during the history).



Modern construction in Taipei seems to have been designed with bird of if you prefer skyscraper view in mind. Clear contours, elaborated gardens and grounds for every sport you can imagine.


We descended one level from the 89th to the 88th store, were we admired one of the keys of the secret of the stability of this architectural wonder. A huge pendulum named by engineers ‘tuned mass dumper’ ensures that the silhouette of the tower stands to the threats of hurricanes and earthquakes which are not that rare in the region.



By the time we reached the line to descend back with the fastest elevator in the world (according to the promotion materials), fog gathered again around the highest levels and rained soon started. Friends told us that the observatories closed in the afternoon because of the bad weather. As that was also our last day in Taipei, it had really been ‘then or never’.


Receptarea de catre critica si de catre cititori a primei carti scrise in limba romana si publicata direct in Romania de catre Petru Popescu dupa trei decenii si jumatate de absenta nu a fost usoara. Nici subiectul si nici abordarea autobiografica nu ar permite o detasare pur literara si facand abstractie de context decat poate doar daca recenzentul sau cititorul ar fi nascut la o varsta cand perioada si personajele cartii nu ar mai avea niciun impact sau rezonanta directa, adica sa zicem mai tanar de 25 de ani. Nu este cazul meu, asa incat nu cred ca nici eu nu am reusit sa fac o citire detasata a cartii, sa fac abstractie de subiect sau de personalitatea autorului.

In legatura cu ultima de altfel nici Petru Popescu nu doreste sa ne lase sa uitam. Cu doua straturi de prefete – una formala si una aparent inclusa in corpul cartii – scriitorul care acum patru decenii isi facuse o aparitie stelara pe firmamentul literaturii romane si care scrisese romane care mie mi-au ramas nu numai in amintire ci si in suflet ca reprezentative pentru sentimentele generatiei mele si a celei imediat precedente – incearca sa se repozitioneze direct in campul activ al literaturii romane, cu ambitia explicita a celui care stie ce a fost si doreste din nou sa devina. Revenirile nu sunt insa niciodata prea usoare. Sigur nu atunci cand celalalt erou sau mai exact eroina a cartii este ‘fata puterii’, ‘printesa Diana a comunismului’, odrasla dictatorilor care au ingropat in intuneric Romania vreme de un sfert de secol, femeie cu care scriitorul a avut o poveste de dragoste care este si tema principala a cartii.




Actiunea cartii se petrece in anul 1973, la doi ani dupa ce Nicolae Ceausescu intorsese macazul ideologic si pusese capat scurtei perioade de liberalizare inceputa de precedesorul sau cu un an sau doi inainte de venirea sa la putere in 1965 si care culminase cu ne-alaturarea Romaniei la invazia Cehoslovaciei in 1968. Acesta a fost anul cand o parte din intelectualitatea romana s-a alaturat regimului, multi scriitori aderand la Partidul Comunist. Petru Popescu – romancierul cel mai talentat al generatiei sale – ajunsese la o pozitie (membru supleant in CC al UTC) care este oarecum minimalizata in carte, si care fara a-l propulsa in primele randuri ale nomenclaturii era suficienta ca rampa de lansare si pentru obtinerea de mici privilegii cum ar fi o calatorie in Berlinul de Rasarit, care chiar si ea nu era la indemana oricarui tanar in acea perioada. Este imprejurarea in care firul narativ al cartii il aduce in contact cu Zoia Ceausescu.

‘Fata puterii’ asa cum o descrie cu tandrete peste ani Petru Popescu face parte din alta lume. Crescuta intr-un turn de fildes se bucura de privilegiile puterii si da dovada de un amestec de naivitate si de inteligenta care il atrage pe tanarul scriitor. Este o atractie erotica dar este si atractia pentru putere, fascinatia de a se apropria de cercurile si mai ales de omul care tine in maini intr-o grimasa a destinului soarta Romaniei. A doua parte a cartii descrie unul dintre turneele politice ale cuplului Ceausescu in septembrie 1973 in America Latina, inainte si in timpul loviturii de stat care l-a inlaturat de la putere pe presedintele marxist Salvador Allende care urma sa fie gazda cuplului de dictatori romani. Scenele in care Petru Popescu descrie grandomania dictatorului, tzopismul consoartei sale, servilismul clicii care il inconjura pe Ceausescu, dezinformarea permanenta care amplifica simplitatea ideologica a gandirii acestuia sunt demne de o farsa caragialeasca, doar ca au sanse mari sa fie si autentice factual, si in acest context capata o dimensiune tragica. Scriitorul insusi se gaseste angrenat in mecanism, fascinat de magnetul puterii dar si subjugat de atractia pe care o exercita asupra sa Zoia. Dezmeticirea si desprinderea in final se petrec doar sub socul vestii despre moartea tragica celei mai bune prietene, singura fata din cercul sau de prieteni apropriati, victima a criminalizarii avorturilor prin faimosul ‘decret’ promulgat de regimul Ceausescu la scurta vreme dupa venirea la putere.




Paginile cele mai autentice ale cartii sunt cele in care este descrisa viata de zi cu zi in Romania anilor 70, sentimentele generatiei tinere de atunci ramasa cu putine alternative de viata decenta in propria tara.

‘Aud si simt gustul plictiselii de atunci. Zilnic, gustul de cenusiu, de adormitor si pasiv si opac. Cum am putut sa-l uit? Era mereu prezent, cum era si gustul rusinii. Fuseseram tradati, fuseseram invinsi si, dupa tradare si infrangere, ni se lasase limba ca sa spuna laude invingatorilor si sa se increteasca intre gatlej si cerul gurii de un gust ca niciun altul, gustul rusinii (pag. 33)’

‘Oare nu exista niciun mod sa traim fericiti aici, unde ne-au zamislit mamele noastre? Asta e pantecul din care am iesit, geneza si matricea si sperma si ADN-ul din care am fost facuti, si continuitatea si mostenirea istorica, intr-un cuvant, TOT. Deci ce optiuni aveam? Sa traim aici, dar nu fericiti? Ori sa fugim si sa devenim liberi, dar printre straini, deci tot nefericiti? (pag. 56)

De ce atunci senzatia de facilitate, de superficialitate, chiar si de kitch care emana din multe parti ale cartii? Petru Popescu scrie cursiv si se citeste usor, dar aceasta nu este neaparat un pacat. Din substantialitatea scrierii sale pe care mi-o amintesc din romanele anilor 70 (pe care nu le-am recitit de atunci) au ramas doar fragmente, si a aparut in schimb o tehnica a naratiunii comerciale asimilata in perioada de scenarist si de autor de romane ‘de aeroport’ scrise in engleza. Si relatia dintre scriitor si Zoia este descrisa in termeni de melodrama. Chiar daca ea ar fi relatata in mod 100% autentic tot nu ar putea salva cartea, caci pozitia personajelor ne este cunoscuta din start, povestea are un sfarsit nu numai cunoscut dar si previzibil si din punct de vedere istoric si din punct de vedere psihologic.

Astept totusi cu interes viitoarea carte a lui Petru Popescu, a carei tema mie personal imi spune chiar mai mult decat cea a ‘Supleantului’. Va fi vorba despre ultimele luni petrecute in Romania inainte de ‘fuga’ si de primele luni sau poate primii ani in lumea noua, visata timp de jumatate de viata si a carei realitate este atat de diferita de ceea din vise. Pentru a reveni insa in esantionul de elita al literaturii romane Petru Popescu va trebui sa regaseasca filonul grav si autentic care ii permitea sa fie in tinerete un barometru al trairilor generatiei sale. Usurinta naratiunii nu poate compensa autenticitatea vocii scriitorului adevarat, care scrie nu numai pentru a povesti dar si pentru a se exprima pe sine si pe cei din jur.


With a new director (Daniel Alfredson) taking charge of the second film in the Scandinavian version Millennium series, The Girl Whi Played with Fire is not at all a disappointment but is less striking and less memorable than the first film, who introduced the characters of the trilogy. The judgment may be more severe than the film really deserves because the it is certainly a well written and well built crime story, with solid characters brought to screen by a team of actors who each makes his job wonderfully, from the leads to the smaller parts. It is probably the surprise effect that is unavoidably gone and maybe also the more standard cinematography that replaces the frozen landscape that dominated The Girl with The Dragon Tatoo. Yes, the Swedish summer can be very pleasant but the winter films better.




There are more biographical details that we learned about The Girl in the title of the movies, and the action of the film turns around her family and her traumatic childhood we had a glimpse about already. Noomi Rapace is as good as in the first film, but she still keeps enough secrets to have us interested for her fate in the final film of the series. Michael Nyquist‘s character is slightly relegated to the role of the classical seeker of truth, but his acting is still so good that I continue to be concerned about Daniel Craig taking over his role in the Hollywood version in-making (although I like the actor and I believe he deserves and can make much better than a Bond).


(video source trailers)


Maybe the secret of the magnetic force of these films is that faced with the most sordid vice or violence or put  under the darkest physical or psychological threats the heroes created by Stieg Larsson remain without doubt human. Too bad that these series un-naturally end in a trilogy. The quality of the dialog and the building of tension, the sophistication of the crime story and the human dimension of the characters ask for more. On the other side, the sonata is one of the most perfect pieces in music and it always is composed of three parts. There may be logic in fate sometimes.


I will divide in two parts the collection of impressions and pictures from our recent vacation in Italy. It started with a four days prelude or intermezzo in Milan, followed by one full week in Sicily. This first part is about the Milanese stay, our first time in the North-Italian city.


over the Alps


The flight itinerary took us to Amsterdam first, and then over the Alps to Milan, where we arrived in the early afternoon.


Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II


After checking in at the hotel we walked towards the center of the city. Soon we were to discover that two couples would rather use cabs in Milan, as the fee was always around 10 Euros, not exceeding by much the price of four metro or tram tickets. As we often do when we are for the first time in a previously unknown city we took the city circuit bus, which has two loops and for 20 Euros one can use it for 48 hours as much as he can. It was a good introduction for understanding our ways into the city, although most of the principal objectives are located in the center, on a surface that must not exceed 10 square kilometers. We first saw the famous glass-covered arcade Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II which was originally designed in 1861 and built 1865 and 1877, which connects two of the most famous landmarks of Milan – The Duomo and the Scala Opera Theater.


Duomo at Night


We took the first pictures at night of the quite spectacular Duomo, which we were to visit three days later.


Santa Maria delle Grazie (exterior)


The second day was the day of the churches and of Da Vinci. The weather was great, according to a local cab driver autumn was milder than ever, and we encountered very little rain during all our stay in Milan and Sicily until the last day of our vacation. We started the day at the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, whose annex building hosts Da Vinci’s masterpiece ‘The Last Supper’. We were lucky to catch an out-of-season period which allowed us to book tickets for the same afternoon. The painting can be seen only in groups of 25 people, and what was once the dining room of the monastery is now climate-control in order to protect it from exposure, and try to stop or at least slow the pace of its degradation.



What can be said about a work of art that so much has been written about, which was described, analyzed, dramatized and romanced in so many ways? The state of the painting is not good at all but this not something recent, its decay started soon after it was painted because of the technique used by Da Vinci. Recent restorations focused on bringing back the details covered by time, but avoided reconstructing the colors. The strongest impression is made the architectural conception, and you realize it only if you wank back and look at the painting from the opposite wall. Suddenly the two reversed triangles – of earthly and heavenly perspectives appear obvious and they continue naturally the proportions of the room designed by the architect Donato Bramante who took over and completed the construction of the church and of the monastery at the end of the 15th century.


lunette over the entry door at Santa Maria delle Grazie


Back to the church, another smaller work of Da Vinci can be admired in the lunette over the entry door. It represents the Madonna between Lodovico Sforza and his wife.


inside Santa Maria delle Grazie


Entering the church, the combination and contrast of the two styles and periods the church was built becomes visible. The elongated nave with the arches was built by Guiniforte Solari while the large octogonal apse at the end belongs to Bramante’s completion of the work.Gothic and Renaissance styles meet and meld in the same structure built in the period of transition between the two epochs in the European culture.


Tryptic by Nicolo of Cremona (1520)


Among the many beautiful pieces of art in the church I liked the tryptic signed by Nicolo of Cremona representing the Virgin Mary in the center, with St. John Baptist and St. Peter Martyr on the side panels.


Sant'Ambrogio's Atrium


Our next stop was at the Sant’Ambrogio church. Dedicated to the patron saint of Milan, the first basilica was built by the saint himself in the 4th century. Much of the structure of the current building dates from the 10th to 12th century, with final improvements belonging again to Bramante in the Renaissance period at the end of the 15th century. Badly damaged during World War II the church was renovated after the war and includes today invaluable treasures of the religious art from the period of early Christianity until the Renaissance.


capitals at Sant'Ambrogio


The atrium dates from the 11th century when it was a place of refuge in the period when the city had no defense walls. The columns end with decorated capitals representing biblical scenes and fantastic animals representing the fight between Good and Evil as imagined by the Middle Age artists.


chapel of San Vittore in Ciel d'Oro


Of the many remarkable points of interest inside the church the chapel of San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro with the gold mosaics in the vault and the realistic representations of Sant Ambrogio is one of a striking beauty and priceless value, dating from the 5th century.



apse mosaic at Sant'Ambrogio


The mosaic in the apse dates from the 4th to the 8th century. It depicts the enthroned Christ in a genre a composition that I will meet a week later in Sicily.


sarcophagus of Stilico


The relief sculptures on the sarcophagus built in the 4th century are also impressive. Stilico was a roman general, but other theories consider the remains inside being these of the emperor Gratian.


the ciborium


The ciborium is a 10th century baldachin laying on four elegant columns protecting a Golden Altar.


the five monks (15th century)


Last I am posting the picture of a group of five enigmatic monks, painted sculpture from the 15th century, composed in traditional Gothic attitudes with techniques and mastership of the Renaissance.


the Roman columns at San Lorenzo


Our next stop was one of the oldest round churches in the Christianity, San Lorenzo alle Colonne, originally built in the 4th century and serving as imperial chapel for some of the first Christian Roman emperors. Unfortunately we arrived there after 12:30 discovering one of the characteristics of the visiting schedules in Milan and Italy in general. When a place is supposed to be closed it will certainly be closed. When it should be open it may be open. So we admired the building from the outside and took pictures of the 16 Corinthian columns that give the name to the place, part of a second or third century Roman temple.


statue of Constantine at San Lorenzo


The statue of Constantine located in front of the church is actually a bronze copy of a Roman statue of the emperor.


Da Vinci's Wing


Our next stop was in the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci. I have visited many such museums around the world, most of them with my kids (when they were kids). By all criteria, in size and content, the museum in Milan is one of the best – with extensive sections dedicate to the history of flight, to time measurement, to communications, and other fields of science. It is however the section dedicated to the models of the machinery of Da Vinci that captivated us. In the city that maybe best keeps his memory his manuscripts were analyzed and many of the machines he created on sketches with the imagination of a genius were constructed in relative small size models.


Da Vinci's Mud Dredge


The only similar place that recreates the inventions of Da Vinci that I visited is the castle of Clos Luce in Ambroise, in the Loire Valley, the last residence of Da Vinci after he exiled to France in the last years of his life. The models in the park of the French castle are larger size, maybe the size Da Vinci wanted them to be. In Milan they are reduced in scale bu much more numerous.


La Scala


No, we did not attend a performance at La Scala, this is a dream left for another journey. We just visited the museum which allowed us a glimpse to the famous theater. The building seen from outside is less impressing than expected, but it is the music inside that makes the fame of the place.


McDonalds and Beit Midrash


Back into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II we took a picture of a combination that for sure was not imagined by the time the gallery was open. At the ground level, in between exclusive shops and restaurants, some older than one century a McDonalds proudly ocuppies one of the four corners of the principal intersection. On the second floor a Jewish school and praying place. Times are ‘achanging, as one of the bards used to sing.


San Sepolcro - The Flagelation of Christ by Agostino De Fonditius (16th century)


Out third day was dedicated to visiting the two most famous art collections of the city – Pinacoteca Ambrosiana and Pinacoteca di Brera. Both are of the kind of museums we could spend a couples of days in each. Italian art from the Medieval and Renaissance periods are the core of the collections. No photos are allowed in any of the two institutions. The library and Pinacoteca Ambrosiana are located close to the Duomo. The art collection was started in 1618 by Cardinal Frederico Boromeo, and some of the works he collected are still among the best and most famous in the museum.




The Portrait of a Musician by Da Vinci is one of the finest works in the collection and the only work of Da Vinci in Milan out of a church. The original manuscripts on which Da Vinci imagined and put on paper his scientific research and technical innovations were exposed in the library.


via Verdi


A ten minutes walk took us on the right side of the Scala on via Verdi which continues with via Brera. Here is located the Pinacoteca di Brera, founded by the end of the 18th century, during the occupation of the city by the Austrians, as the collection of the school of arts of the city.




Mantegna’s Dead Christ is one of the masterpieces hosted by the museum. The temporary exhibition was dedicated to the works of Francesco Hayez, a painter contemporary to the unification of Italy and to the great musicians of the period.


official building from the 30s


On the way back I took a picture of a solid building, built in what looked to me as Stalinist style. It was a savings bank built in Fascist Italy of the 30s. I had the same feeling as when I saw some of the government buildings in Washington, DC – it looks like the totalitarian style of the time had many shared characteristics was it put in practice in the Soviet Union, in the US, or other parts of the world.


Milanese cutlets at Caffe Biffi


In the evening we met with our friends who had chosen to spend the day in Verona and near lake Garda, which we had visited about ten years ago. We ate at one of the famous (and expensive) restaurants in the gallery – Caffe Biffi. One of the treats was Milanese cutlets, which I took a photo of. My personal opinion is that the dish is a remnant of the Austrian period, it’s not much different than the Viennese shnitzel plus a bone.


detail on the doors at the Duomo


We started the fourth and last day with trying to visit the Duomo. We were not too lucky as access of tourists to the church was not allowed until noon. We took our time visiting the Scala museum, and then taking pictures of the magnificent doors of the church, which although they date mostly from the 19th century are marvelous in their rich decoration of Biblical scenes, detailed and expressive, well fit with the Gothic ensemble whose construction started in the late 14th century.


inside the Duomo


When we eventually made it inside it was pretty crowded. We decided to give up climbing on the roofs (and its 3500 statues) and admired the stained-glass windows. The odest date from the 15th century but the majority is again completed in the 19th century.


Trivulzio Candelabrum


The Trivulzio Candelabrum dates back to the medieval period and looks suspiciously like a menorah, maybe a little stylized and rounded but close to the representation on the arch of Titus.


Garibaldi's statue in front of Sforzesco's castle


The next and last tourist stop of the day was at the Sforzesco castle. Coming from via Dante we passed the huge statue of Garibaldi, a historical figure who seems to be very much in the hearts of the Italians, especially in an year when the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy is celebrated.


the Rondanini Pieta


I was a little disappointed by the building, which looks more impressive seen from outside with its fortified walls giving a sensation of solid and brutal power. The museum inside has many remarkable sections and works, but we may have been a little too tired of museums to fully enjoy. Yet the last work of Michelangelo – The Rondanini Pieta – executed when the artist was older than 90 is an amazing unfinished work of art.


the Rondanini Pieta (detail)


Two different versions of the work fight to detach one from the other. Seen closer the Madonna seems to have two heads, the exterior one belonging to the previous version of the work.


Calvary by Maestro di Trognano


A splendid piece of painted wood composition from the Medieval period.


Giovani Bellini's Madona and Child


A Madonna and Child by Bellini in the museum catches the moment when artists of the Renaissance used the religious painting as a pretext for human realistic portraits, in this case combining human feelings with the spirituality of the Mother.


a great Chianti


It was Liliana’s birthday and our last night in Milan, so we went for … shopping in the via Buenos Aires area. We were lucky enough to fall upon Ristorante Pizzeria Sabatini which we later found out it was started in 1946 and is one of the original and most authentic places of its kind in Milan, the food was great and the restaurant is not expensive relative to the Duomo area. We had a bottle of great Chianti with our friends to celebrate the event and seal the four days intermezzo in Milan.



The Caretaker is one of the first plays of Harold Pinter and his first commercial success on the British stages. Published in 1960 it was strongly influenced by the works of the masters of the absurd theater, especially Ionesco and Beckett. The story brings together a triangle composed of two brothers who take into their houses a homeless who becomes the turning point of their relations and actually of the whole universe of the three. The game of power between the two is played via the third character, in dialogs that combine wit, dry humor with emptiness and despair.




The performance at the Cameri theater has many premises to succeed. The cast (Itzhak Heskia, Alon Dahan, Oded Leopold) is well chosen and accurate in execution. The set designed by Eran Atzmon is one of the most inspired that I saw lately, with the post-war England rusty atmosphere being generalized to any post-apocalyptic world. And yet the performance never takes off, the text translated by Ehud Manor (which would be another potential plus) lacks humor and misses the British dryness and despite the original three acts being shortened to less than 90 minutes the show seems too long.


(Excerpt from the Clive Donner’s 1963 film of Pinter’s play, with Alan Bates, Donald Pleasance and Robert Shaw -  video source twelveangrymen)


Did Harold Pinter’s early plays or the whole theater of absurd from where he found the inspiration of that period lose relevance in the world we live in (which some may say is anyway governed by absurd, so why look for it on stage)? I would rather say that it’s mainly director Yossi Pollack’s failure in creating a performance that matches the expectations of the meeting between one of the greatest British and world playwrights of the 20th century and the best theater in town. Pinter and Cameri deserve a second better chance.