Goodbye Winter

In W.G. Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn, he talks about Polish writer Joseph Conrad and how his father, Apollo Korzeniowski, was sentenced to exile in Vologda, a god-forsaken town somewhere in Russia. Apollo wrote in the summer of 1863:

“There are only two seasons: the white winter and the green winter. For nine months the ice-cold air sweeps down from the Arctic sea. The thermometer plunges to unbelievable depths and one is surrounded by a limitless darkness. During the green winter it rains week in week out. The mud creeps over the threshold, rigor mortis is temporarily lifted and a few signs of life, in the form of an all-pervasive merasmus, begin to manifest themselves. In the white winter everything is dead, during the green winter everything is dying.”

OK, winter is not that bad here in the sunny coast of Spain, but winter is winter. And now it’s over, so HELLO Spring, let’s soak up the sun!

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La Femme Bavarde

Here’s a cool video by artist Sandrine Estrade Boulet. La Femme Bavarde (The Talkative Woman)


Zoo Without Animals

I read about a zoo in Gaza, the Marha Land Zoo, which is now famous in its area for its creativity and ingenuity in bringing Gaza its first zebra. Many of their animals were dying and they were suffering from a lack of visitors. So they summoned their imaginative powers to transform 2 donkeys into “zebras” with the help of some masking tape, paintbrushes, and hair dye. The children were delighted and the zoo filled with visitors. The success was short-lived, however, and one year later it was once again a sad zoo with very few visitors and very few animals, including a funny donkey-zebra.

Maybe zoos should do away with animals altogether and instead have a zoo without animals? Not that I am a strongly against zoos or anything, but just take a moment to imagine what it might be like without the animals:

I imagine a cool sculpture park where you could spend the day climbing trees and cages and gazing at the weird “sculptures” all around. You could have a nap in the cool, smooth shade of the empty penguin pool, or a picnic on the little island in the middle. You could walk through rooms lined with glass tanks full of water and seaweed and rocks before resting on the dry logs where the lions used to lay, while birds fly freely overhead. Or, if you wished, and there was free wi-fi available, you could even just sit in a grassy spot and watch cute videos of cats and dogs.

Root in the dark

A car without an engine

And to finish off, here’s an excerpt from The Unbearable Lightness of Being (p. 277) by Milan Kundera:

“The very beginning of Genesis tells us that God created man in order to give him dominion over fish and fowl and all creatures. Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion over other creatures. What seems more likely, in fact, is that man invented God to sanctify the dominion he had usurped for himself over the cow and the horse. Yes, the right to kill a deer or a cow is the only thing that mankind can agree upon, even during the bloodiest of wars. The reason we take that right for granted is that we stand at the top of that hierarchy. But let a third party enter the game –a visitor from another planet, for example, someone to whom God says, ‘Thou shalt have dominion over creatures of all other stars’ — and all at once taking Genesis for granted becomes problematical. Perhaps a man hitched to the cart of a Martian or roasted on the spit by inhabitants of the Milky Way will recall the veal cutlet he used to slice on his dinner plate and apologize (belatedly!) to the cow.”

unbearable lightness of being

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This is How You Lose Her

“Ana Iris once asked me if I loved him and I told her about the lights in my old home in the capital, how they flickered and you never knew if they would go out or not. You put down your things and you waited and couldn’t do anything really until the lights decided. This, I told her, is how I feel.”

From This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

this is how you lose her


Lost Memories

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Just watched a wonderful animated film, Waltz with Bashir. It’s a kind of autobiographical documentary about the experience of the director, Ari Folman, who, realising that he has no recollection of the Lebanese War in which he fought, decides to search for his memories.

Folman is haunted by an image of him and his comrades emerging from the sea after a massacre, but he doesn’t know if this “memory” is real or fabricated. He speaks to his psychologist friend Ori Sirvan to try to understand how to separate the tangle of fantasy and reality in his memory, his friend tells him about a famous psychological experiment where a group of people were shown 10 various childhood photos. Nine were really taken from their childhood, depicting real experiences that actually took place, but one picture was fake: their portrait was pasted into a picture of a fairground they never visited. Eighty percent recognized themselves in the picture, identifying the fake photo as real. The other 20 percent that couldn’t remember themselves in the fake picture, went home, and then returned to the researchers and said, ‘now we remember!’ … They remembered a completely fabricated experience.

Folman tracks down his old comrades and speaks to them about the war. Though many of them are suffering from the same willed amnesia as Folman, they tell him the few memories that still haunt them, but its’s hard to tell if their “memories” are real or imagined. Folman puts the pieces together and gradually starts to uncover his repressed memories.

I have my own curious experience with lost memory: I was about 6 years old and on a trip somewhere in Venezuela with my family. We were in a somewhat deserted place and stopped in a small restaurant for dinner, we were there eating when a drunk man with a gun walked in. He was talking drunken nonsense and waving his gun around, he came to our table and was talking to us and I started to laugh, I was scared and nervous I suppose, but I couldn’t stop, which made me more scared, which made me laugh even more! Anyway in the end he left without hurting anyone and everything was fine. The strange thing is this memory is very vivid in my mind but my Mum, Dad and brother have no recollection of it. So did I imagine it or did they forget it?

 

This makes me think of a nice line from Milan Kundera‘s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting:

“Whoever wishes to remember must not stay in one place, waiting for the memories to come of their own accord. Memories are scattered all over the immense world, and it takes voyaging to find them and make them leave their refuge.”


Adiós, Presidente

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This is an obituary I wrote just over a year ago (on the 25/11/2011) as an assignment for my Professional Writing class. The assignment was to write an obituary about a famous person who was still alive and I thought it would be interesting and fun to write one about Chávez. Though at the time I imagined him as a kind of immortal being who would stick around for decades whether you liked it or not, in the end it wasn’t as premature as I’d imagined. The details surrounding his death are of course fictitious but the rest is (I hope) accurate. Who knows what will happen next? I only hope things will only get better for my country of Venezuela…

Hugo Chávez Obituary

Rarely has a death been received with such extreme measures of tragedy and celebration as that of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Ever since his death was announced yesterday morning, the country has been in a state of turmoil and excitement alike. Despite the official confirmation of his death, there have been no statements clarifying the cause. As such, many people remain sceptical and refuse to take part in any major public celebration until further information has been divulged.

At 57 years, Chávez will remain one of the most controversial figures of the 21st century. He was born as Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías into a working class family in Sabaneta, Barinas, and was raised by his grandmother. He says of his childhood, “I got to know humility, poverty, pain, sometimes not having anything to eat. I saw the injustices of this world.” At the age of 17, he joined the Military Academy in Caracas, and in it found his true vocation. Living in Caracas he was exposed to even more poverty than he had experienced and seen in his childhood, which made him further committed to achieving social justice. During this period he also spent a lot of time writing poetry, painting, and researching the life of his greatest idol, the Venezuelan revolutionary Simón Bolívar, as well as reading works of Che Guevara and Karl Marx.

In the early 1980s he founded the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200) with the aim of overthrowing the government which he was so dissatisfied with. In 1992 he led an unsuccessful coup against the then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez, for which he was arrested and served two years in prison. Once free, he dedicated himself to traveling around Venezuela and the rest of Latin America promoting his social revolution and searching for supporters. In his visit to Cuba he was introduced to Fidel Castro and they became fast friends, Chávez even went so far to describe Castro as being “like a father” to him. In 1997 Chávez and his supporters founded a social democratic political party, The Fifth Republic Movement, and in 1998 he ran for president of the country. His promises of social and economic reforms won him the trust and favour of his primarily poor and working class following, giving him a landslide victory.

In his 12 years in power Chávez became a very controversial figure. He won numerous elections and referendums, and carried out a constitutional reform in which he changed the constitution to allow unlimited presidential terms, he even renamed the country from Republic of Venezuela to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in honour of Simón Bolívar. By 2001 the opposition was growing larger and stronger, accusing Chávez of trying to turn Venezuela from a democracy to a dictatorship. Both Venezuelan and Western opposition media also characterized Chávez’s supporters, who were known as Chavistas, as being “young, poor, politically unsophisticated, antidemocratic masses” who were controlled, funded and armed by the state. In 2002 huge protests took place across the country against the government, guns were fired and violence ensued, involving both supporters and opposition, the army, and the police. Finally, Chávez agreed to step down, but after two days he returned to power. After this failed attempt at a coup, the opposition organized a referendum to allow the population to decide whether or not to keep the president in power, but again they were unsuccessful and Chávez was undefeated with a 59% vote in his favour.

Chávez defined his political position as Bolivarianism, an ideology he developed himself based on the writings of Simón Bolívar, the 19th Century Venezuelan general who led the fight against the Spanish Imperialists and gained independence for Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Since his days in the military, Chávez was always a leftist, but after becoming president he progressed even further to the left. He rejected all capitalist leftist ideologies and embraced socialism instead, propagating what he called “Socialism for the 21st Century”. Although he gained and maintained the support of a large majority of the population, no improvements were perceived in the country’s social distribution during his presidency. In fact, most people agree that the situation only worsened for the rich and poor alike. Throughout his presidency Chávez was accused of manipulating votes, worsening the economy, and denying freedom of speech, having shut down all the TV and radio stations which didn’t support him and arrested several people who spoke out against him.

Aside from his political ideologies, Chávez was notorious around the world for his long and flamboyant speeches, which have been known to last for a whole day. In his weekly radio show, Aló Presidente he sometimes included singing and dancing as well as preaching his political ideas. He was very outspoken, creating many conflicts with world leaders, particularly in the USA. And of course no one has forgotten the day when King Juan Carlos of Spain told Chávez, “Why don’t you just shut up” in the Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, Chile, in 2007.

Earlier this year there was a lot of speculation about Chávez’ health. In June he disappeared from the public eye, spending nearly one month out of the country. Theories that he had fallen into a coma, had a heart-attack, or was suffering lung problems spread rapidly on the Internet. In early July Chávez finally admitted that he was suffering from cancer and was in Cuba undergoing treatment. Despite his health problems he vowed to put up a fight and run again in the 2012 presidential elections. Now people are speculating whether his cancer was more serious than he made it out to be, or whether he passed away from something completely different. Needless to say, there are many theories circulating the Web.

It remains to be seen how the country will respond to this news. So far celebration and mourning has been fairly limited and controlled, clearly people remain hesitant and are afraid to take any extreme action until all their questions have been answered. For the moment, the Vice-president Elias Jaua is in power, until any further decisions have been made.

He had four children from two marriages, Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela, Hugo Rafael, and Rosinés, all of whom survive him.

And now some photographs in honour of Venezuela…

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Sleeping

 

Here’s a sleepy print I made a few years ago (monoprint + coloured pencil)

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