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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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Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth: Ideals and Images in the Chinese Study

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Photography by Shouqi Chen, Courtesy OLI Architecture

Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth: Ideals and Images in the Chinese Study, an exhibition designed by New York-based firm OLI Architecture, has opened in the Palace Museum. Located in the center of the 72-hectare complex in the Forbidden City, built in the fifteenth century, the museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of ancient Chinese artifacts, calligraphy, paintings, and porcelain. Working closely with curators at The Palace Museum, OLI Architecture has created a space that brings together art and objects spanning from antiquity to contemporary art within the historical architecture. 

Housed in the Meridian Gate Galleries, Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth centers on the evolving role of the scholar throughout Chinese history, exploring the relationship to the court, to other scholars, the natural world, and the universe. The exhibition brings together 105 works ranging from antiquities to contemporary art, including books, scrolls, vases, sculptures, paintings, screens, cups, and seals. Alongside the art, the displays also include materials such as brushes, ink, and paper ranging from the 6th to the 21stt centuries. The three gallery wings are divided into three chapters: “Chapter One: Sanctuary of Literature and Music,” “Chapter Two: A Channel for Enlightenment,” and “Chapter Three: A Bond of Companionship.” These chapters deal respectively with the themes of a spiritual haven; self-cultivation and the bond between humanity and nature; and the appreciation of the finitude of life against the infinity of the universe.

The exhibition encourages a dialogue between heritage objects and modern artworks. For instance, an eighteenth-century plaque bearing the words ‘Chamber of the Five Classics’ in the Qianlong Emperor’s hand, that typically hangs in the hall that served as the imperial study, is prominently displayed at the beginning of the exhibition. The Five Classics include some of the oldest surviving Chinese texts and are the central works of Confucianism.

Contemporary artists represented include: 

  • Liu Dan (b. 1953) an ink painter trained in traditional style ink painting, he lives and works in Beijing, China. 
  • Xu Bing (b. 1955) is a multimedia artist known for his calligraphy and printmaking, who divides his time between New York City and Beijing. 
  • Xu Lei (b. 1963) an ink painter heavily involved in China’s 1980’s New Wave movement who currently serves as the Art Director of Beijing’s Today Art Museum. 
  • Bai Ming (b. 1965) a ceramicist and painter who teaches at Tsinghua University in Beijing. 

Young Ho Chang (b. 1956) an award-winning architect and researcher who is currently a professor of architecture at MIT. Hiroshi Okamoto, Founding Partner of OLI Architecture, remarks, “Our office often works with contemporary art and artists.  It was a challenge to design this remarkable exhibition with pieces from famous contemporary artists paired with such rare and prominent antiquities.  When we started the project the idea of the scroll and the ephemerality of paper became a central concept.  Where the art and antiquities were displayed on a transparent softly glowing surface which flowed from the vertical to the horizontal at the datum of a scholar’s table height giving the viewer an intimate experience.”

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World Economic Forum Announces 2023 Crystal Award Winners

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2023 Crystal Award: Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba, Renée Fleming and Maya Lin. Image: Alex J Piper; Evan Zimmerman / Met Opera; Andy Romer, courtesy MSPC

Artist Maya Lin, acclaimed soprano and arts/health advocate Renée Fleming and actors and humanitarians Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba are the recipients of the 29th Annual Crystal Award, the World Economic Forum announced today. The winners will be honoured at the opening session of the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, on the evening of Monday, 16 January. The award celebrates the achievements of leading artists who are bridge-builders and role models for all leaders of society.

The Crystal Award is presented at Davos each year by Hilde Schwab, Chairwoman and Co-Founder of the World Economic Forum’s World Arts Forum. The cultural leaders receiving the 2023 Crystal Award are bridge-builders. They connect us to each other; they help us reflect on the human condition and they provide visions of the world that can cut through the limitations of short-term or linear thinking.

Awardees

Maya Lin receives the 2023 Crystal Award for her extraordinary creative talent in combining science, art and architecture and her exemplary leadership in the promotion of nature and environment. Lin has fashioned a remarkable interdisciplinary career through her highly acclaimed art and architectural works, showcasing sustainable design and emphasizing a stronger connection to the land and nature.

From her first public work, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., Lin has been committed to focusing attention on the key issues of our time: women’s rights, civil rights, Native American history and the climate crisis. In 2016, on awarding Lin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President Barack Obama said her Vietnam Veterans Memorial “changed the way we think about sacrifice and patriotism and ourselves”.

Lin’s latest memorial, What is Missing?, is experimental and multidisciplinary in nature. In this work, Lin uses science-based artworks to raise awareness of the current mass extinctions of species, while emphasizing that by protecting and restoring habitats and reforming our land-use practices we could significantly reduce emissions and restore and protect biodiversity

Renée Fleming receives the 2023 Crystal Award for her leadership in championing the power of music and its relation to health, community and culture.

Renée Fleming is one of the most acclaimed sopranos of our time and a leading advocate for research at the intersection of arts, health and neuroscience. She launched the first ongoing collaboration between the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) with the participation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Sound Health initiative explores and brings attention to research and practice at the intersection of music, health and neuroscience. This collaboration has led to workshops at the NIH and events and performances at the Kennedy Center. It also led the NIH to recently award $20 million in funding for music and neuroscience research over five years. The Renée Fleming Foundation is now partnering with the Foundation for the NIH to develop a toolkit for standardizing music and health clinical research for brain disorders of ageing. Fleming has presented her programme, Music and the Mind, around the world.

Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba receive the 2023 Crystal Award for their leadership in addressing food security, climate change and environmental conservation.

Actor, filmmaker and humanitarian, Idris Elba, and his wife, the model, actress and humanitarian, Sabrina Dhowre Elba, were appointed UN Goodwill Ambassadors for IFAD in April 2020. As IFAD Goodwill Ambassadors, they focus on issues related to food security, climate change and environmental conservation. The couple recently visited an IFAD-supported project in Sierra Leone, where they met farmers who received support for rice production and assistance with rural finance after the Ebola crisis.

The late Queen Elizabeth II awarded Idris Elba with the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2016 and the Prince’s Trust, founded by King Charles in 1976 – which Elba credits with helping to start his career – appointed him as its anti-crime ambassador in 2009

Elba supports causes related to poverty, HIV/AIDS, at-risk and disadvantaged youth, health and education. He worked with the UN and the Department for International Development in the UK during the Ebola health crisis and filmed campaigns in support of UNICEF, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals. He has recently created a number of youth-focused campaigns to promote education and learning and discourage violence.

Sabrina Dhowre Elba works with a variety of civil society organizations, including Farm Africa, raising funds to help farmers across eastern Africa, and Conservation International on environmental issues. She promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls worldwide. She chairs the European board for Global Citizen and has been a keynote speaker at leading global events.

Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elbaare board members of Conservation International.

Crystal awardees are part of a large community of cultural leaders in Davos.

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Growing demand for oriental cuisine in India

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Recent years have witnessed the mushrooming of oriental restaurants serving ‘authentic’ Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Malaysian and of late Vietnamese cuisine (in certain instances it is not so authentic!). It is not just expats or members of the diplomatic community of these countries residing in India, but even the Indian consumer, in not just metro cities but even tier 2 cities, who is always up for some lip-smacking cuisine from East and South-East Asia.  

In metropolitan cities – especially Mumbai, the National Capital Region (NCR) region and Bengaluru — apart from several other cities, it is true that several Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai restaurants serve East Asian and South-East Asian cuisine of a high quality, which is truly authentic.

 It would be pertinent to point out, that for long restaurants located in five-star hotels were the preferred choice for consumers willing to spend on some authentic oriental cuisine. That is no longer the case with a number of stand-alone restaurants (some in the fine dining category) mushrooming in recent years in not just metropolitan cities, but tier two cities as well.

 If one were to look at Vietnamese, Indonesian and Malaysian stand-alone restaurants in India, there is certainly scope for more authenticity. It is also important, for restaurants specializing in one oriental cuisine, to focus on one cuisine – while a few popular dishes from other cuisines are perfectly acceptable – a mish mash of dishes from across the orient while specializing in one cuisine is not advantageous.

 There is no doubt, that it is important to cater to Indian taste buds, it is also important to bear in mind, that a lot of Indian consumers who have travelled and have a good knowledge of different cuisines are looking for authentic cuisine.

 A number of oriental restaurants, which claim to serve authentic oriental food and specialize in one particular oriental cuisine end up serving a mish-mash of different Asian cuisines. While there is nothing wrong in the same, it is important then to position yourself as a restaurant which serves a blend of dishes from across the orient. It would be pertinent to point out, that as far as Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Korean cuisine is concerned, the Indian consumer – especially in metropolitan cities – has numerous choices.

Here it would also be important to mention that many oriental restaurants have managed to strike a balance by catering to local palette, while also ensuring a degree of authenticity and providing a mix of dishes from the orient at a reasonable price. It is also important for stand-alone fine dining restaurants to realize, that if they are excessively over-priced, they will lose their competitiveness if there are other options available to the consumer.

In conclusion, there is a growing demand for East Asian and South-East Asian cuisine in India. As mentioned earlier, it is not just expats or members of the diplomatic community, but a large number of Indians who are well travelled who are willing to spend on good oriental cuisine. It is important however for restaurateurs and chefs to remain in sync with changing trends in the market, and to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive market.

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