Berlin: one big Eurocity?

London to Paris
Amsterdam to Berlin
Walking the same streets
Thinking the same thoughts

Walk down Wardour to Saint-Germain
Is one big lonely city but I don’t care
One big Eurocity but I don’t care

I’ve been singing this since forever, until recently missing the last bit, Berlin, in order to conclude yes, that’s right!
Yet, no. This loneliness sharpened by the beauty of big Eurocities, while setting off to the inevitable long walks, is a recognisable yet rather late effect; that means, it hits after you’ve astonished yourself by walking through Paris (and London and Amsterdam) in the drizzle without umbrella nor a map, but still finding the milestones; or missing them just the same. And while this kind of wandering probably is set in other times, Berlin resets the standard by offering back the rare feel of breathing space. London is crowded, Paris is huge, Amsterdam is exhausting; and there stands Berlin spread as if any possible space can be its own.
A few notes of a fresh passenger:
  • People do dress up to go to cultural events and dressing up is very personal and imaginative without obvious restraints.
  • The fashion trend is different than in Holland; dresses are worn in any style; knee socks, brightly coloured shoes and haircuts are no rarity. Hats are worn casually by men and women.
  • It is somehow unclear whether extreme appearances are meant to shock, are suggestions of belonging or manifestations of freedom and individuality.
  • There is lots of space in old buildings that is used, or can be used for arts and culture, but for businesses as well; available space in general seems not to be a problem. Big squats do exist unaltered in feel and aesthetics.
  • Bicycles make a good part of the traffic.
  • At night the streets are lit mainly by the house numbers; it is quite dark.
  • There is excellent simple food; despite the clichéd sausage-potatoes-sauces there is decent vegetarian too (spicy tofu with Saigon beer was delicious and harmless).
 …as the sense of vanity comes to me in waves, sometimes rushing immediately away but often staggering for days or weeks (months too), this thought of lives lost for nothing, then, a hundred years ago, now or any time, appeared on a breakfast menu; and I honoured it.
First morning coming down from our one floor hotel inside a residential building, we turned right on the Frankfurter Allee to find a café, not sure of the breakfast culture of the city. A few minutes later we were eating a breakfast called Vive la France of fruit, jam and croissant; all bio of course.
East Side Gallery at night, remnants of the wall
East Side Gallery at night, remnants of the wall
during the Vive la France breakfast at the café Tasso-Das andere Antiquariat
a circus and circus school among other things
painting-advert of the circus school
the one floor hotel; the rest of the building is normal apartments

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The Bukowski party

In the article signed by Sebastian Kort titled “Vrouwen willen seks. Bukowski niet” (women want sex. Bukowski not) published in nrc-next on 4 March, I read about the project in progress of uitgeverij Lebowski (Lebowski publishers #LebowskiBooks): to re-publish all the works of Charles Bukowski. The first three books are about to appear, within March, and for this occasion the publishers are organising a party with chicken and beer, film projections and performances. The author of the article found this rather anti-Bukowski(an), thinking that the poet himself would hate the idea of so many people around him. However, just for displeasing the expectations, the party can very well fit in the spirit, I find.

Breaking the pattern of compulsory book buying whenever travelling, I felt cool about not buying any during my last visit in Athens; the house of my parents has still a lot to offer book-wise. But then again, poetry (just like art) saves lives; I walked in front of it; this edition not new not old either, not  Greek neither in Greek.

“Love is a dog from hell” appeared on the shelf and I had to open it. Page 139: “the meek have inherited… if I suffer at this/ typewriter/ think how I’d feel/ among the lettuce-/ pickers of Salinas?” … eye down the page … “some suicides are never/ recorded.”

I turned, page 193: “melancholia … the history of melancholia/ includes all of us…”

I don’t know if Bukowski hated parties or was sometimes bored of women and sex; he did though hate paid slavery but kept it up for 13 continuous years, while keeping up writing too; there’s your hero and a good reason to party; off to Amsterdam!

P.S.1 The quotes are from the edition “Love is a dog from hell” of 2003 by HarperCollinsPublishers, poems 1974-1977 by Charles Bukowski; a beautiful edition.

P.S.2 It is great that Lebowski publishers undertook such a project, but it will be in Dutch; I always preferred dual language editions, when poetry was somehow difficult; but here, it is clear as the sky(?); saying this made me curious again…

"Assimilated information/ 3" , acrylic on wooden board, 2009
“Assimilated information/ 3”, acrylic on wooden board, 2009

Figures from the deep

Exhibition “The Antikythera Shipwreck” at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

ending on 28 April 2013

The exhibition running since April last year, 2012,  has the quality of the rare: a small exhibition where you can spend at least one hour (in three rooms) and leave overwhelmed of the story, the findings and the research. The sculptures alone will hunt you as unbelievable figures reshaped in the deep of the sea, there where the ship sunk, close to Antikythera island, in the sea between Peloponnesos and Crete. For years we only knew the Antikythera Ephebe, one of the first findings of the shipwreck, during the initial archaeological operations around 1900 and of course the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient analogue computer designed to calculate astronomical positions. I am linking this to the wikipedia page but for detailed documented information and image material (where you will realise that the research project is ongoing) I refer you to this website:

And some practical info: the exhibition is temporary but no extra ticket is required. To visit it you walk through the museum, already preparing yourself for a breathtaking experience. Do not forget to go afterwards downstairs to the café of the museum and assimilate what you just saw in the interior garden amongst ancient sculptures and two equally antique turtles.

The whole package is a must!

figures from the deep

Asides about China. Παραλειπόμενα

paralipomena=the things omitted/passed over

Non Greeks will take a few minutes to read this long Greek word; they will use school earned skills and a considerable part of brain memory; success is not guaranteed. Imagine now to try to guess, because this is the case, the Chinese words-labels on food even at a snack bar where everything is at show. I can tell you with certainty that you will be lost and will eat whatever, unless you choose the straight forward broccoli and equally honest noodle with something greeny; bless them. Shanghai is an international city, has always been, as a port since the old times. At main hotels and international stores like Marks & Spencer you will manage with English, but that’s about it. To taxi drivers you have to show written in Chinese where you are going and must make sure you have your own address also on paper to make your way back.

paralipomena: people carry food and eat at all times of the day; you see bags with tappers going around, noodles, rice cakes and buns are eaten on the streets everywhere; at half-hidden corners of buildings you  see men gathering and acting with tension: it is just gambling, that also happens all around;  you don’t hear the motorbikes coming after you even on the pavement because they are all electrical, in the beginning I thought they had the engines turned off…; the green man of the stoplights is actually running and not casually walking; people work constantly, the sense of leisure does not seem to exist; people shout often when talking even in awkward places like the national Museum, it is totally acceptable; coffee is a problem; tea is also a problem if you are not accustomed to the larger area’s whereabouts; tea is usually prepared loose in the pot or the cup, so not in sachets or special instruments as we know; when you ask for water at the restaurant they bring you hot water; the windows of  houses, talking about small houses, are blue or covered with blue curtains; does not work in China; the party is apparent in public spaces and of course on tv;  employees are controlled on the spot for their work, at the airport immigration control we could push a button, while our passport and visa was checked, to evaluate the officer’s work: excellent, good, poor, bad; the famous “Bund”  of Shanghai offers a river sidewalk worthy of every tourist guide’s mention.

One thing I put well on my mind: if I ever want to travel again to China I have to learn some Chinese. Sign language does not work since signs have different meaning.

Shanghai, close to People’s square
small houses, blue windows
The Bund, river sidewalk
The Bund, tourist attraction

Leaving Shanghai

I had decided to drop the idea of visiting the Shanghai Museum, as on the first day here I saw a long queue waiting and that is what the guide also mentions as normal. So this morning I took the subway to Xintiandi station, only two stops from my starting point. The task was to walk around the neighbourhood known as “French concession”, the most European part of Shanghai, the most chic, cool, etc. I wandered for a while, had two coffees, looked at the little cute shops and then felt bored and took the way back on foot. It was a bright sunny day so by reaching People’s square I had enough energy to give one more chance to the museum. That went well; there was no queue! I walked in passing through control like at the airport and then no other burden; admission is free. I don’t know why it looked smaller from the inside and the halls were not that big and full either. The ceramics are beautiful; in the hall there is also a short introduction about the process and real size models of the kilns used in different periods. I had a look at the painting hall, at the calligraphy hall and last at the ancient Chinese sculpture hall, from stone carving to pottery making. Last piece to see was a dog made of clay, real size I thought. That was a good end of my stay in China. Happy with it I went to a pure Chinese diner where they don’t speak a word of English and ordered the cheapest meal of my trip, 18 Yuan that means 2,50 Euro; it contained a soup and a bowl of noodles well stuck together for managing with the chop-sticks and something meaty which on the picture looked like soya. I must note that they do not understand the word soya and that the dish “foe-yung-hai” which is standard vegetarian Chinese dish is Holland here does not exist…I think I will survive; my bags are packed.

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Last day in Nantong

What a day! A total contradiction to what textile art promotes, which is peace. It was raining all night and the morning was dark and misty, so much that I had to wear my glasses to see clearly in the distance. I walked, having a few hours free of any programmed plans, towards the centre of the city, passing through the “Moat Haohe Scenic Area”; first little stop at the Jugue Pavilion where people do their morning exercises looking a the river water.

the Bonsai garden

I felt a bit of their energy and walked further on the riverside; second stop at the Bonsai garden, another place of peace. Then my walk became more adventurous, battling against cars, motorbikes, mud of the constructions spreading all over and of course the rain. All this was happening before 8am; I walked and walked and as much as I wanted to look around I felt that something was missing. I will not be embarrassed to say that I stopped at a KFC to have a coffee; then life could be reasonable again.

On my way back to the hotel to get ready for the day’s activities, I stopped at the Nantong book-store where they also have books with English titles but that was all that was in English. Of course the people felt embarrassed for my sake so I did not stay long; the only book that could make sense to buy was the dictionary but I found this a bit premature. This embarrassment or surprise to see me, is something I myself face with equal surprise; so, we are all a bit surprised but with good or indifferent intentions. I must say that the young people that have been around us, coming mostly from Universities and working for the show as volunteers, have the most innocent eyes and did their utmost best to accommodate us. Their English is fantastic especially if I think that they don’t really use it! They look more used to “the others”.


But it is already late; after a seminar, which was basically a panel discussion between consultants/ jury board members, an award ceremony and then a deadly diner a the Four Seasons hotel, it is time to pack my bags and get some rest. Tomorrow morning at 6:30 am a bus will take us to Shanghai; other stories there. Still, I have more to say about the deeds in Nantong, but that will come later. I got the catalogue and can be more precise with the photographs of works but now, in a little haste, I will only publish some generic photos (apart from one, check the captions). Goodnight or good day; word of the day “Grassroots”

the 7th “From Lausanne to Beijing” Fiber Art Biennale, Nantong, China

After a good night sleep I stood up ready to attend the day’s main event. The opening of the exhibition took place at 10 am with girls in costumes, drums, speeches, pyros and balloons. Nantong, being a city of textile industry of long tradition, has passed to its people and apparently to China’s conscience a certain respect for fiber works and fiber art as extension. The idea that fiber art is a form that comes from the people and therefore people can understand and associate themselves with it was not only sensed but also proclaimed aloud and with conviction. Yet, I did not expect it to be such a highly appreciated event. The ceremony of course was bathed with importance but the exhibition itself is the actual festivity; it is filled with inspiration reflecting it back at every step. If you are around do not miss it. The area of the venue is also interesting, making the after taste of the day somehow edgy; at one side the pyros and at the other side people standing outside the gate getting a glimpse of the festivities of others.
This is the address: “1895” Cultural and Creative Industrial Park, 18#, West Street, Gangzha District, Nantong City, Jiangsu Province.
I am publishing here a few photographs of the exhibition without names of the artists nor titles and materials used (added on 18 Nov.), as I do not have the catalogue in my hands yet to be able to be precise. Tomorrow, since we are supposed to be there for the seminar and other activities I hope to get the catalogue and finish my tour in the actual show which today proved to be squeezed in a very tight programme. The last visit today was at the new Museum of the City of Nantong a fabulous building of human dimensions made of white marble and black stone. The word of the day (continuing reading the book China in Ten Words by Yu Hua): “Disparity”

see images at

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Amsterdam-Helsinki-Shanghai and the bitter-sweet of China

6 November; the central European airports are celebrating Christmas already. Amsterdam hits the top as always, with the Finnish one being more modest and aligned to its grey environment with only little blue lights on the Christmas trees; far at the back and over the white snowy field, the same trees in real are forming a dark horizontal line on the grey landscape.

The actual flying time is something that I try to forget; my discomfort on airplanes is known, I think. Luckily I found the perfect book to read on the airplane so my wasted time found some meaning: “China in Ten Words” by Yu Hua, a book with a straight forward voice on the bitter and on the sweet of China. Till they switched off the lights on the second flight I had devoured 120 pages of careful reading. I intend to finish it tonight.

Shanghai transparent

My flight arrived exactly at the foreseen time. The Pudong airport is a brand new one, huge in size giving a feeling of being empty. All went fast with luggage and migration clearance; somewhere at the far I could see groups of uniformed people walking after someone with a flag; other uniformed people with obvious authority were doing their routine walk up and down, which I did not know where to place but it did give a weary feeling. In between total newness and communist symbols, I entered China. A most helpful young man was waiting for me, as promised, to take me to Nantong. We walked through the vast not busy corridors and came to the car which already had collected the first two passengers. Off to the other airport of Shangahi for the last passenger, I was introduced to the light and air of the big-cities China. The sunshine was dampened by a thick cloud of smog, dust and humidity. Rolling on the enumerable highway air bridges designing the landscape, I could grasp snap shots of normal street life behind this new design of prosperity. Lots of people, motorbikes, steaming pans, street merchandise, small tracks and all types of carriages, work, movement, business and at the back somewhere the port of Shanghai almost transparent. The first contact with Chinese billboards fell in the same area as the new Chinese painting that we see at big art events; it is as sticking the tongue out to aesthetics having at the same time something fresh and something totally conservative; the clog in the throat is almost inevitable despite the up-mood images; about the text I have no comments. From the first meters of the drive it was clear that the driving ethics are completely different to what we know in central Europe, stopping at the side of the highway, blowing the horn a lot, behaving more nervously than expected. In city streets the chaos is bigger, with motorbikes (lots of them) even driving against the official stream. There is a lot officiality here but the road is not part of it. This evening, to get with the assigned busses from the hotel to the river for a sight-seeing cruise, a police car was engaged to open the road for us.

arriving in Nantong

Anyway, while waiting at the ‘ banana’  level of the airport for the last passenger of our car, I decided to close my eyes for a few minutes. From that point, tiredness took the upper hand and I spent basically half asleep the last bit of our trip from Shanghai to Nantong. Once at the hotel though I picked up my energy and walked to a building 50 meters further that seemed to attract thousands of people of obviously low income. Walking into the building, I realised that it was a kind of shopping mall for fabrics and garments, set up in a way unknown to our experience; practically hundreds of stores packed in this building seeming to do some kind of business to earn the day’s bread. Speaking of bread, I was hungry. The lousy food of the airplane had left me with a disturbed feeling; I found again some meters further away a noodle fast food and had something that helped me go back to the hotel and get some sleep. I woke up two hours later and stood up reluctantly; needed to get ready for the cruise on Haohe river. On little boats and with a young girl as our guide, we drifted on the water admiring somehow the effort that this city made to decorate with all kinds of colored lights (many of them moving) the buildings that stand out as architecture or as historical points. This I want to mention: it does impress me the sense of admiration that Chinese people seem to have. Our guide was explaining that for Nantong we are talking about one city, one man and one river. One city because Nantong though old as establishment, is the pioneer modern city of China, one man because all this modernity is owed to a man called Zhang Jian who believed that progress comes through industry and education and one river because all important buildings are around the river bank. I can do nothing else than nod, yes.

On the way back and in the bus, I noticed that actually there are also many statues that entail light moving parts. Without any comment; I do try to see their view. Tomorrow, the opening of the exhibition but also seeing other things, like maybe Shen-style embroidery (?); the new fibers that they produce here in the area would also give a shot of inspiration, but now back to the book, finishing the word “Revolution”.