Cities that are married to water seem to be my favorites. It doesn’t matter whether sea or creek, an ocean, a lake or a stream, as long as it is natural water. In some cities water is a bridge, binding the elements together, walking on foot crisscross over water and land, all seems totally integrated. Sometimes a city is split by the stream: the left bank in Antwerp is not the city, and not comparable to the ‘Rive Gauche’ of the fashion houses in Paris. Cities where you hear the sea lions, the sea gulls are kept together by those sounds, when there is a sea eagle landing on a lake that too will bring about a sense of unity. All water seems give a respite, a rest of open, unused, uncluttered space even if it is a cozy bank along a canal or the distance to the next island mirrored in the water. In that sense the desert does the same for me: it asks for a closer look, yet some walks are just to far or too hot. And a flash flood will carry the sand to the sea… So all is one.
A young Jewish guide will teach you a lot about Prague's recent past. The jewish cimetary is charming, like many old grave yards are. Scrolls on a grave indicate learning and grapes and pine cones a multi layered, multifaceted person held in high esteem. The Spanish Synagogue is not build by the Sephardi Jews but by the eastern Ashkenazim. They build it in the Moorish, Spanish style and showed their opulence. The Pinkasova Synagogue is now an impressive memorial for the victims of the Nazi's. The 77.297 names are inscribed on the walls. It is a shock to find one's own last name there. There are 2000 Jews registered and practicing and about 5000 in total. 'There are no problems in Prague with Jews', said the guide, 'because you cannot see who is a Jew. We don't have an orthodox community here.' The old ghetto had been torn down under communism with the cooperation of the Jewish Council and the insalubrious place has been turned into the most expensive street of Prague: Paris street. The Guide said a generation of people is missing, since they never knew they were Jewish and she did point out there is a difference between being anti-Semite and anti-Zionist. The cultural life is vibrant , the arts are doing well and these synagogues are used as museums and as places of worship.
Antonin Dvorák's Rusalka premiered in 1901 under high acclaim of the then audiences. Now it is seldom performed since it is no longer considered a masterpiece; it is however a wonderful evening out. It is a fable, a fairytale, or a water nymph tale to be accurate. Rusalka fell madly in love with a prince who often comes to the lake. her ardent desire is to be human and know human love. The old witch she asks for help predicts eternal disaster and a a lot of sacrifice, one of them to be forever mute to human ears, thus the ears of her loved one. Of course what doesn't a woman do for love, she throws the warnings in the wind and the prince is enchanted by her pale beauty. A carnal princes (marvelously sung!!) seduces the prince because 'even if she doesn't love him, she wants him for herself' and so on. And don't hope for a happy end! The prince commits suicide in her watery embrace, while she forever remains a specter, a shadow of her former self. I loved the whole atmosphere, yet the feminist in me analyzed the story to mean that once a girl grows up and becomes a woman there is no way back. The father figure cannot protect his daughter but can take revenge on the one who made her suffer, casting her away lightly. The father , however, cannot allow her to come back to the fold of her sisters. Her feeling of muteness is a nice metaphor for marriage, where wifes are too seldom heard by husbands. The state theater was filled brimming over, we sat on the chair way up under the roof, surrounded by kids and happy people. It is a narrow, steep and impeccably kept interior in black lacquer and red chairs and floors and curtains. Tradition can be reassuring. After that, a sinful dessert and a stroll through old Prague.
Do you remember that in the sixties you couldn't wear an American flag as a scarf, a bow or a shirt. People actually went to jail for that. Not anymore and that is good. In Turkey, people get killed and go to prison for reminding that in 1915 one and half million Armenians got killed. It is article 301 that allows the state to put people in jail for insulting the state. Even at the highest levels of Turkish government there is recognition that this law is problematic. A few days ago, newly elected President Abdullah Gül suggested that it could be amended. International PEN is calling for the article’s repeal, and is thus hugely disappointed that around twenty writers and journalists are presently on trial under Article 301 and that convictions continue. On 27 September, writer, Umur Hoztali was convicted to a six month prison sentence, commuted to a fine of around 1,770 Euros. He had been charged for an article entitled ‘Irritating Men’ which criticized the police and judiciary and suggesting that they are mistrusted by the general public. In another high profile case, that of publisher Ragip Zarakolu, who was in court in early October at the twelfth hearing of a case against him opened in August 2005 for publishing a book by an Armenian author about her family history. The hearing was once again adjourned. These developments indicate that there has been little change of attitude towards the application of Article 301 despite Hrant Dink’s murder. Arat Dink, his son, and the Agos magazine license holder got sentenced on October 11 to a one year suspended prison sentence. German PEN has announced that Agos Magazine will be awarded Hemann Kesten medal 2007 endowed since 2000 with € 10.000 by the Hessia Ministry of Sciences and Arts. The medal will be presented to Hrant Dink’s wife, Rakel Dink, at a ceremony to take place in Darmstadt, Germany, on 15 November 2007, International PEN’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer. The guest speaker will be Daniel Cohn-Bendit, French-German publicist and politician (MEP). A state should be able to live with different opinions, so art 301 needs to be repealed.
Every time you read or hear about a major crackdown in the world of a protest to gain democracy, not as a perverted form of spendthrift capitalism but about the true values of free speech and free thought, you can be sure that there are writers in prison. That is why the Pen club, has Writers in Prison Committees in most countries so that there can be attention for these writers, so that the authorities know somebody cares about the wellbeing and safety of these writer/s. There are different ways of working. Each WIPC receives from the headquarters of Pen International in London deserving cases with background files. The Committee I know has chosen for two issues: A Gambian Journalist Fatou Jaw Manneh is on trial for sedition because she criticized the President. The second case this WIPC follows, is the Burmese (Myanmaran) stand up comedian, poet, political satirist Zargana. One could say he is the Burmese Lenny Bruce. Since China could be factor in a Burmese equation, and since this WIPC has a Chinese honorary member it seemed to focus the attention on one region a bit. For honorary members letters are written personally to the writer or to his family. Chinese prisons are no joke and certainly not when you have diabetes. So the WIPC pays to help with his medical situation. First Hrant Dink, the Turkish writer who sadly got killed was the honorary member of this group of dedicated and warm people who have now taken on ‘Agos’ the publication Dink wrote for… Sometimes literary events are organized, not to taut their own work but to share the work of repressed writers with the world. It is a lot of work, and there are but a few hands and many writers in trouble. Send good thoughts or if you are a writer join the Pen and their WIPC. If you're not a writer join Amnesty or Human Rights Watch.
Rockcastle had an invitation for a closed evening visit to 'Het Vleeshuis' and took me along. Just a few images and pretty concepts. You can see at the bottem the 'Nun's trompet', in paintings sometimes payed by angels. This instrument imitates the sound of a trumpet since only certain people were allowed to play the trumpet. The copper instruments were made in this atelier. The pretty organ played dance music, although one wasn't supposed to dance without permission of the police, because 'the shameless dancing going on inside, was imitated by the countless street urchins outside'. Every exhibit in the museum has a number, typing it in on a small computer you'll hear the sound or the song. A fun museum.
The peace tree with wishes and symbols was made by primary school kids
Today was the beautiful end of the peace project 'No excuse' during the peace week in Antwerp. The goal was to make people think and feel about a difficult conflict zone and work together. 3X3 artists were invited to create two works of art together: one painting and a sculpting in Carrara marble. Peace Center Antwerp, The city of Antwerp and the Unesco Center Flanders invited 3 Israelis, 3 Palestinians and 3 Germans. Countless people helped, schools were involved and brought their own creative contribution to the initiative. Was it easy? No, working together as artists is hard: they have their own mind, came from different backgrounds and religions but they worked through the problems and learned to respect each other. One could tell they were proud of the result and proud to have been part of the butterfly flapping its wings to create a storm of peace. The speeches were warm, moving and witty. The unveiling by the alderman brought new beauty and harmony to light and afterwards people talked and hugged and shared. Conclusion: there is no excuse not to work for peace, no excuse not to try and understand where the other is coming from.
Climate change, you may have the feeling you know more about it than you want, that you know too much. The technicalities of how, by what tools, in what kind of toolbox, may not really interest you, but it should. Not for your or your neighbor's and friend's children or grandchildren's sake. No, climate change has not only long term implications or consequences in 50 years time. It's implications are here today. And we helped create it. Even President Bush recognized it twice in the last two weeks... It is also recognized by the leading experts and legisators that the action plans should be global and the seat for negotiations about who does what should be the United Nations. That was also said a few days ago by Condy... That after loosing years of time of not acknowledging that something is wrong. The consequences are felt already by millions of people. I could refer to the changing storm patterns, but also to the rise in food prices in China: 18 % in one year, because of bad harvests among other for rice and a shortage of pigmeat. I could speak about the high prizes in the grain market because there was an extreme drought in Australia, just there and at the moment the climate experts had predicted it. This means that millions of people are to pay more for their daily bread... Are there advantages in global warming? If you consider growing strawberries on the north pole, yeah, if you think that offsets the drying up of small mountain glaciers and the thread of having no water in vast regions in the South West of the US, in Southern Europe, in China, in Australia, and of course in Africa... The failing crop yields today are manifesting today all of Africa: today and tomorrow! Maps have to be redrawn because satellites show that great lakes are shrinking which leads to starvation and misery. Today climate change has 'security' implications. Don't we all love security issues for deciding policies... Expect floods of people, who are displaced, looking for a livable place... Thus we, the industrialized countries must lead by example and cut our emissions by 80 % by 2020. If we don't, well than we have lost a small window of opportunity to avoid the fatal tipping point in our climate when major coast lying cities will be flooded and Bangladesh and the small island states will disappear in the ocean. The legislators have to lay down a law with the goals and the means to realize them, creating opportunities for innovation and creativity and a decent life for all within an equitable global society. And please, switch off the light when you leave the room. The best energy is the energy that we are not using.