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Oliver and I

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I am standing in the middle of the courtyard paved with sand, surrounded by a high wall made of mud bricks, for the house once used to belong to a Turkish family…

Outside the courtyard can only be seen the tall poplar trees and a few black locust trees,  just like the one with all branches cut off and a stork nest at its top, where the stork was just combing its feathers.

My nephew, five year old Oliver, whom I call Ollie, and who can’t see me, enthralled by playing with a small white piglet, petting its tummy while the piglet was laying next to the house wall and enjoying the sunlight covering only half of its body. Oliver is petting the piglet and talking something to it. I am not def yet, but still can’t make out what he is saying to the piglet, and I could not, for Oliver has instinctively noticed my presence and ran towards me. He came a couple steps near me and then stopped without moving further keeping his distance.
At that moment one of the hens passed in between us and made it to the empty through made of wood in which the pigs are fed. The hen moved its head around a few times and then decided to start pecking on the inside of the wooden through, when a skinny black crow flew in silently from the top of the silo right next to the wooden trough. It landed and started settling its wings while still walking; I noticed one of the crow’s feathers was gray.

The hen was busy pecking at the leftover food, did not even notice crow’s presence, not until the crow put her beak inside the through, in a blink of an eye the hen stroke the crow and kept her hanging in the air on her beak. The crow had to fight for her life and got away somehow…
Oliver was still smiling when he asked me:
–    Uncle, did you see how our hen attacked the crow?
–    Yes Ollie, I saw it.
–    Very brave our hen, isn’t she?
–    Yes, a big hero she is!
–    And you, uncle, are you a big hero?
–    Well, not so much, I don’t think I am a big hero – I responded.
–    Oh, so that means, you are a small hero then!?   – Oliver concluded all worried and scratched his head.

I got him into a predicament. I had to get out if it although it was obvious that was too late. The only thing I could think of at that moment was the idea to ask him if he was a hero. I was however afraid that it would not have been much of a consolation, therefore continued to stare at the stork’s nest, Oliver not wanting our conversation to end, quickly started to tell me how that stork was theirs too.

–    Why then the stork has its nest in Urosh’s yard …?  – I asked
–    That is Cane’s house not Urosh’s – Oliver responded
–    Well, anyway, but… what I wanted to say was that still the nest is not in your yard.
–    See, I was trying to get the stork to move over to our yard, but the wall is too high, the stork did not want to come over…
–    So how were you trying to make the stork move over?
–    From over there, from the top of the wall. I was waving with both hands, that’s how I fell on my back on some dried wood, right on my spine!
–    Augh! Well, did you get injured a lot? Did it hurt?
–    I cried and then grandma heard me and came running and kissed me where it hurt and then it stopped hurting. It’s only a scratch now.
–    From that piece of wood, right?
–    Yeah, from the damn wood!…

Oliver responded with a curious smile, afraid that I may criticize him for the bad language.
When I saw his smiley face – even if I really wanted – There was no way I could reprimand him, instead, with no need I was quickly changing my view over the courtyard, looking at the house of Guljaks next door neighbors and thinking of the Turks that once used to leave in the same house, up until fifty years ago or so.
Just how much of beauty and not needed sadness was in my look, and how much of the things around me were right in their own place, It made me swear at myself for the wrong feelings I had.     
Sadly, one from the Guljak’s family had passed away. Only his brother Urosh (Urke for short) was still alive, who has been watching us all this time from his balcony, without us noticing.

–    Hey, Sande! Is that you!?  You would not believe me, I could not recognize you!?
–    I believe you, Urosh. Hello, how are you?
–    You have come to see your mother and brother, I take it? – continues Urosh, confirming the reason of my visit like for himself and letting some small steamy clouds  come out of his wide open mouth together with the words.
–    Well, it was about time, uncle Urosh!
–      Good, good!… So, how is over there at the sea? – asked me after a short pause, after his approval.
                                  
 I found myself in a pickle and almost answered him with the old lame “well yes of course!” but the fear of being inappropriate made me act politely. That took a lot of time.
Meanwhile, Oliver was waiting patiently. He was waiting and kept looking at me from down below at the yard while I was looking above, but soon I looked back right at the top of Oliver’s head full of thick dark hair with a small white spot in the middle of his double cowlick.
Ollie was at that moment in his deep thoughts and looked all serious. I would pay a fortune just to know what he was thinking about.

 The idea about money seemed good, so I asked him loudly almost the same second:
–    Ollie, do you like money?
–    Yes I do, uncle! – He shouted, quickly like a gun.
–    Well, since you like money, here, uncle will give you some money!

I reached in my pocket and pulled all change I had. Oliver had his hands open and ready as if I was going to give him a fortune. However, it was far from that. Nevertheless, Ollie was still happy, for he was quietly taking all coins and breathing little heavier.
As I was looking at him, I thought how he was going to like money even when he grows up. I thought about it and laughed to myself, but Ollie sensed my smile and was ready to ask me another question:
Uncle, why are you laughing now?
That got me all confused. I did not say anything, instead took his hand and walked him to the porch like the culprit who is paying for his earlier sins.

We got to the concrete sidewalk in front of the porch when he pulled his hand away from mine. I looked at him how he was running to his bedroom, most likely to hide his just acquired fortune. Deal Lord only knows where would he hide the money, anyway, it was certain that he was going to hide them well. No doubt about that!
He went away from me and left me alone.
I set at some tripod chair made from an aspen wood. I set on it like some old Bey, Pasha, or god forbids, Sultan!           
It felt like an eternity!
Many thoughts crossed my head, but none of them wise.
Many years went by, decades; I did not get any better or any worse, but always felt some narrowness.
During that time Oliver had grown up and had become a student. Got his Bachelor’s degree in Economics, some internship here and there and winded up in America!
When, how – don’t ask! The kid left for a better life. He even sent a video tape, and on the tape besides him a chunky and all blonde baby…
I am watching the video and trying to spot and feel the atmosphere of American South, to be like in “Dry September” by William Faulkner… Waiting for the barber shop scene to show up, with an old fashioned fan blowing the hot air pointlessly…*
None of that, however; None of anything else, nothing has changed, and I am still the same as before, or at least that’s what I think…
And Urke, he had died fifteen years ago!!!

In the courtyard in front of the porch, this time two piglets, one somewhat smaller than the other.
They walk thru the dusk always together like a small gang.
And the nest, on the top of the locust tree all dried and dead by now, is empty and forever abandoned… One has to be completely blind not to see how sad is all that. It is indeed so sad, good thing it is not worse…
At last, I got up from the tripod. Took myself to the bedroom, not to look for the money that once long time ago Oliver put away, but to sign myself up in some club where they worship life after death and where they heal you with some magical herbs that make you hallucinate…
At the same time I wanted to be a mushroom picker and to roam some unknown paths…
I was calling for some imaginary time portal thru which I could travel all in one piece!
I sighed against all that and in my all reasonable mind, without caring about anyone and anything, always wanted to look like some Arabian Sharif and someone special, at the same time forgetting what I really wanted to be…
I have forgotten, but I remember it as if it was yesterday!
So I deserve!
I entered the bedroom at last. Closed the door behind me and noticed the icon hanging on the wall, it said on it >> Saint George Slaying the Dragon <<

I was staring at the icon, when something stung me. It stabbed me so bad I dropped on the floor. I blacked out. I felt like an overloaded donkey, lying on the ground all broken by the weight and will never get up!
The power of time goes by and I can’t catch a break. It hurts. I can hardly breathe. It hurts so much that I see stars in my eyes. I am trying to call for help but no one is here. Or maybe no one wants to help. Maybe that is how it has to be so I am not even expecting much help.
But still I soon cry for help again. Begging for the help to come soon; To save what could be saved. To take the load off me, but no one wants to come thru my time portal… Just some voices from faraway laughing at me asking if I have ever helped anyone!? Not only asking but want to know and want my answer that I have never helped anyone!     
That beat me down but it did not knocked me out. At the last moment I am calling Saint George from the wall: Georgia, you help me, if you know god!

Saint George, however, was mumbling something under his grey beard and as if he is saying how he does not talk to infidels to begin with.
Soon I realize that everything has gone away from me. Only darkness and emptiness in which I am helping myself,  but the voice is not leaving me alone. The miserable that I am, the voice is still asking for a list of all my flaws and merits so that he can summarize and draw a line.
I listen for some time with a look on my face hoping for mercy, until I lost it all and swore at the voice just like Oliver swore at the piece of wood that scarred his back.
That is how I saved my soul, for I have always imagined myself like someone who is a little bit nuts.
Or is it just a little bit!?…

Djenovici, Montenegro 2003.
(Biografy: Sande Dodevski,  1947., Kumanovo off Macedonien)
                                                                                                

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Tandin Bidha: The Grace of Bhutan

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Tandin Bidha, leading actress from Bhutan sheds more light about the film industry in Bhutan and her life and experiences in the Himalayan Kingdom. Tandin Bidha is one of the most popular actresses in Bhutan and has worked in various national award winning films.

In this interview with Modern Diplomacy, Tandin sheds more light on the film industry in Bhutan and its growth over the years.

31 movie titles in your name spreading across different genres. Also, a two time National Award winner for Boom Batha Chenmi Renzi and for Chi Sem Chi Lu. People and critics alike seem to love your versatility. How did it all start? Did you imagine being the most recognised face in the industry and achieving an illustrated career in a short span?

It all started when I was helping my mother out in her restaurant. A well known director of Bhutan walked in, he saw me and something clicked. He immediately told me that he wanted to cast me in a film because I looked like an actress. I did not know anything about acting then because Bhutan does not have an acting school. I waited to get a call from him for 3 months. There was no call. One day he called me and gave me a role as a supporting actress. Even if I wasn’t the lead in the first film, it meant a lot to me and I decided to take it up. I then got many leading roles. I am truly grateful to my stars for aligning at the right time. I have given acting my best shot and I work really hard to be where I am.

Do you plan to carry forward that persona and art international anytime?

I am open to everything. I have never once thought that I can or cannot do this. I don’t plan my life like that. I generally see where life is going, let opportunities come my way, and when something clicks, I do it. Being open to things is the key to being successful, don’t shut any doors in life till you are sure that it isn’t for you, till then navigate and explore life through.

How important do you believe it is, to have a good work dynamic and a mutual understanding between an actor and a director? Do you personally think a good director helps an actor grow?

I believe that a movie is never about one person, it is about the entire crew. We all mutually depend on each other to get things done. I don’t believe that a single person can create or take credit for a movie alone, it takes an army of people to do it. I am grateful to my crew and everyone working on the same team as me for working really hard behind everything that goes in. I believe that good actors and good directors help each other in numerous ways. All relationships should be mutual and everything is centric on growth.

You seem to have a very positive and optimistic approach towards life and towards work. Despite all the fame and fortune, you lead a very ‘normal’ simplistic lifestyle. What fuels that inside you?

Most of the people of Bhutan are very simple. We all believe in living a life filled with the sentiment of community. I am an actress on screen and a human above anything. I believe in leading a simple life because that is all that counts. I enjoy spending time with my son. I also like reading in my free time. In Bhutan, for showing my films in theatres, I have also been to counters to sell my own film tickets. I deeply love Bhutan because I can be myself here.

You have been an avid reader of some really interesting books ranging from soul searching, inspirational women, The Buddha, the Mitch Albomesque emotional sort. Tell us more about some other books that you would recommend everyone should read in their lifetime. What is the book you are currently reading?

I really love reading books. I went through a divorce a few years ago and I was in a really dark phase of my life that time. I felt disconnected with the world. However, one day I picked up a book and I started reading it. After that, I have read so many books because I feel like books hold the key to life. I have also started a book cafe in Bhutan because I want the youth to read more books and get all the knowledge out there. I really love books and I recommend the youth to read books everywhere.

You have also travelled a lot. Your favourite destination so far and why is it special?

The more I travel, the more I realise how great Bhutan is. I love Bhutan the most. I have been to several countries worldwide, but I really love Bhutan the most. People here may not have dominos or burger outlets, but we are really in touch with ourselves and we love this country a lot. The more I travel, the deeper my appreciation grows for Bhutan.

Aamir Khan from India has always been a champion of rights in the national and international arena. You met him in one such similar event. What did you discuss? What other actors, male and female, do you look upto in India? If given a chance and if an amazing script comes your way, would you be interested to be a part of an Indian project?

I would love to work with actors in India. I met Aamir Khan at an event in Bhutan. I went to him and I told him that I’m his biggest fan. He was very humble and he told me more about his work. It was a great conversation. I respect him a lot.

OTT platforms are taking over the world. Do you think cinema in Bhutan can reach more people through this medium?

I believe that Bhutan has some wonderful stories which need to be shared with more people across the world. We do not have a film school so most of the people here are very raw in the film domain. However, we are all willing to learn and explore new avenues. I think Netflix is a great platform to share stories of Bhutan with other people. However, there are certain restrictions on the platform regarding quality of filmmaking, which Bhutan will have to match if we want our films there. Overall, I really would love for our country to have some representation on Netflix. I would love to take a lead in that domain. I really want our stories to be shared with the world.

What message would you like to give your fans who look up to you and your work?

I want to tell everyone that do not let go of your dreams even if it looks like it may never happen. It will happen when your stars align. I want to tell the youth to hold on to their dreams strongly and to keep working hard for it. If you work hard, one day, your efforts will be recognised. Never let go of your dreams.

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Architecture Reflecting Culture: The Alhambra

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Throughout history civilizations have been overtaken by successors.  These in turn decline and fall as time marches on.  Often all that remain are monuments, an occasional palace or temple often a tomb, usually in ruins unless of relatively current vintage.

The ancient Egyptians built massive pyramids to bury their pharaohs, projects lasting a lifetime and ensuring a reliable source of income for the workers and others involved. 

The Greeks favored exquisitely proportioned temples and statuary rendered with a skill that was not matched again until the Renaissance.  One would be remiss not to mention their vast output of the mind from philosophy and logic to the poetry and drama played out in the amphitheaters.

If Roman entertainment relied on blood and gore, it was part of a culture of brutal wars, subjugation and suppression of foreign peoples welded into an empire.  Then there was Roman law, even if it applied only to citizens.

Of more recent vintage are the great cathedrals of Europe like Chartres, tall, massive, constructed in a span of time unimaginable in our era of haste.  Preceding them were the great mosques of the Muslim era decorated in geometric shapes and colors to dazzle the eye.  Damascus and Isfahan come to mind.

Then there are the Nasrid kings of Grenada in southern Spain, al Andalus to these descendants of North African Berbers and Arabs who ruled there for several centuries.  A time when the three Abrahamic religions coexisted in relative harmony it saw the flowering of a civilization noted for its mixture of opposites.

The city of Cordoba with its great mosque was an early fruit of this admixture becoming the largest city in Europe during the 10th century, although civil wars had diminished it considerably by the 13th century.  Yet the 13th century began the growth of a city on a hill now called Alhambra probably due to the reddish color (alhamra in Arabic) of the rock face.  Housing some 40,000 citizens then, not many of the buildings survive.  Notable are the defensive citadel Alcazaba, three palaces — the Mexuar, the Comares and the Court of the Lions — and an encircling wall with battlements and towers.  The great mosque was replaced by a Franciscan monastery in the 15th century and is now a parador — a government-run hotel that was formerly a castle or palace or the like.

The Courtyard of the Lions is justly famous as the symbol of Alhambra.  The twelve lions at the center appear to be holding up a water basin right in the center of a network of channels …  on the periphery, colonnades supporting delicately carved arches form an abbey-like cloister.  But the walls in the adjoining rooms hold their own surprise in intricately carved geometries of colored tiles and plasterwork.  Glancing up, the ceilings are designed to take your breath away.  Even more intricately constructed, they comprise thousands of meticulously carved sections of wood rising layer upon layer to feast the eye as small apertures allow in shafts of sunlight or moonlight.  Watercourses run through many rooms spilling across portals into pools among enclosed gardens melding interior with exterior and joining it with nature. 

The architect LeCorbusier called it ‘the intelligent, just and magnificent interplay of volumes made harmonious by daylight.’  Henri Matisse exclaimed, ‘The Alhambra is a marvel’ and Washington Irving captured imaginations throughout the western world with his 1832 book, The Alhambra.  At the time going to rack and ruin, his romantic vision helped to trigger an effort to preserve the precious gem.

Now a magnet for tourists, it remains a precious reminder of what an intermingling of cultures can produce — just as the Taj Mahal does in India where Mughal emperors often married Hindu Rajput princesses and Shah Jahan (whose mother Manmati was one) built his own marvel.

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Don’t avoid what is easy – diplomacy meets art

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Harbour for Cultures - Yerevan cards

Individuals should and need to feel like they have the right to want. That is the message that artist Anastasia Lemberg-Lvova is continuously expressing through her artwork. Exemplifying socially-engaged art, Lemberg-Lvova aims to be a part of a much broader political movement which discusses important historical and modern-day social processes through creative means.

The second-wave feminist movements from the 1960s is one example of such a powerful movement. With their infamous quote, ‘The personal is political’, authored by millions of voices of women collectively rather than one feminist author, the message that every individual has the right to a voice was heavily stressed. As personal experiences took center stage and the individual became a political platform during the feminist movements, crowds of individuals also gained new meanings of courageous collectivity. Ultimately, the movement gave opportunity for previously ignored and taken-for-granted personal circumstances to be framed in a bigger picture – a picture that women as minorities were often left out of.

Continuing to portray the central message that movements such as the feminist strikes and many other historical crusades have fought for, Lemberg-Lvova uses her own art to focus on the younger European generation, highlighting the vast diverseness of the voices that live in Europe and sending a bold message that evidences a heterogeneity which needs to be more thoroughly discussed amongst the European community. With her projects, she is able to recognise the ways in which the systemic infrastructures that exist around the individual leave them feeling insecure or insignificant in relation to their voice and its right to exist in public. By initiating healthy conversation and focusing on this very elemental act of daring to express one’s desires towards public space, she has created a platform that encourages individuals to learn to voice their opinions more often, ultimately leading the person to be engaged as the multiplicities of voices are amplified to lead to more diverse discussion and perhaps outcomes. 

Anastasia avatud stuudios Kogo galeriis (foto Mariia Nedosekova)

Her exhibition, ‘Don’t Avoid What is Easy’, on show from August 14th – September 9th at the Freedom Gallery in Tallinn, Estonia, is thus the result of 2 years of research conducted mainly through interviews of younger generation individuals during her own expenditures through Europe. Although seemingly humble in its outcome as portraits, there is a strong message behind Lemberg-Lvova’s work, depicting the notion that we should feel more confident to voice our opinions about our public surroundings, Lemberg-Lvova uses art and representations to give a voice to over 100 participants from 24 European countries.

By painting vibrant oil portraits of a selected 7 individuals whom she interviewed, she touches on the concept of art and its political capacity by explaining “There will be portraits of participants with a visual interpretation of their wish as the background. The experience of, as we often say, “putting a face to a name” has a profound effect and is more intuitively understood than just going through text or trying to grasp abstract ideas. Painting as a form of expression is immensely malleable and useful when getting ideas across.”The desire to initiate discussion and give it a platform within the context of a gallery means Lemberg-Lvova’s art is inherently social and public. These qualities make for an intriguing space where the audience can identify small changes that resemble the tip of a much bigger iceberg– or at least the ignition of confidence and curiosity. 

This focus on the first and easiest step sometimes being the hardest is something of great importance for Lemberg-Lvova as she explains “An inhabitant of a city logically has the right to express ideas or wishes when it comes to their surroundings – it is, after all, their home. But they are often stuck in the belief of not being able to change anything. In this instance, I am not talking about taking action or creating a plan. This is about the simplest first step that does not require anything – feeling like one is entitled to express a wish. It doesn’t have to lead anywhere; just remember that you have the right to want something. What follows is a different matter, but it is clear that nothing will happen without this first step.”

An interactive wall installation where participant answers are projected for all to see will pay homage to the importance that Lemberg-Lvova holds for communities to listen to the expressions of their surrounding civilians. She explains “From an early age, our heads are flooded with subliminal messaging and that often diminishes internal self-worth. Let me explain this from the point of view of a woman – a frame of reference I am most familiar with. As a woman one feels that unless they have perfect dazzlingly white teeth, flawless hair, a tiny waist and the right kind of shoes they are not worthy of expressing an opinion. Because if you do not fulfill all of the criteria above, no one will listen to you or even consider you worthy of attention. This is a cliché, yet it exists because it is true. It describes the reality of many women, because we are surrounded by sources reaffirming it – adverts, friends, sometimes parents or spouses, fitness centers and the list goes on. At the exhibition, I am striving to fill the space with messaging that reiterates one’s right to express their wishes whoever they are.

What to maintain_ – Lemberg-Lvova 2020

Her message is clear – we should not avoid formulating our wishes in matters that concern us. Her persistence to initiate discussion and to give it a platform within the context of a gallery means her art is inherently social and public. These qualities make for an intriguing meeting space for the artist as well as her audience amongst each other.

Open Studio at Kogo Gallery, Widget Factory (Aparaaditehas), Tartu, Estonia: 08.07-01.08

Exhibition “Don’t Avoid What is Easy – Diplomacy meets art”at Vabaduse Gallery: 14.08-09.09

*Valeriya Billich also contributed to this article. Photos:Mariia Nedosekova

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