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Saturday, August 14, 2021

Narita, at the Airport


I must confess that I like Airports, to experience the atmosphere, to observe the architecture, to see people travelling and the unformed air crew walking like on a catwalk, the decorations, the spacious and clean toilets, and not to mentioned good stuffs in the souvenir shops not found in the city. 

So, I like to leave our hotel early, apart from to get enough time to travel in case there are traffic jams  on the way, or in case I board the wrong bus or train, or get on the wrong terminal, I just like to come to the airport early.  Arriving early also give us enough time to check-in, considering that sometimes the queues are very long, to go the faraway tax refund counter, then going through the lengthy security check, and passport check. Depending the country, the security check could be slow and annoying, and so is passport checking. So, allow time for that. 

The travel from downtown Tokyo to Narita is about 60 km, if we take the non-stop express train it will take about one hour depending on our hotel location, the door-to-door journey takes between 90 and 120 minutes. Many train stations in Tokyo are huge, have confusing layouts, the direction signs are not so clear and most of them do not speak English, so it is hard to find your train if you are not familiar with the train station. So learn first the train station though the website, and even better if you come before your travel to familiarize the layout. 

Like other travel writers, I have to frequently fly solo, I generally arrive at the airport more than two hours before my flight. This way I get time to wander around the airport corridors, looking at the fabulous design of luxury brand shops, hearing the crispy announcements, watching various airplanes  landing and taking-off. At the Narita Terminal 1 and 2 observation decks, we will have a perfect view of the planes landing and taking off, and from the corridor windows we can see the parked and taxiing planes. 

The airport is also great for people watching, I think every one like to do that, to look at the excitement on the face most of the travelers, the cool frequent travelers, the worried face of the late travelers, the honeymooners, but there are also sad faces. In Narita most of them are trendy upper middle class people, the older dressed neatly ironed clothes with hats, the younger more hip hop and bright. I also saw a couple of lovers, the woman looked like in the early 30’s wearing very boutique like clothes, shoes, bag and colored hair while the man much younger in the early 20’s wearing red black checkered shirt loosely and baggy pants. They looked so much in love. 

If you missed a meal before travelling to Narita, the Airport has many restaurants decent to good food, a wide variety of Japanese food, tempura, yakiniku, tonkatsu, sushi, ramen, and soba, but also Western, Chinese and vegetarian food. Unlike any other airports, food here is also not much more expensive than in central Tokyo. If you are in a hurry go for the ramen noodles, you fill full enough and have more time to wander. In one of the ramen noodles shop I saw a teenage girl with a teddy bear backpack, eating her ramen thoughtlessly, she seemed to miss someone left behind in Tokyo. 

If you still have time, try the Japanese specialty snacks, dried foods, crackers, tea, jams, and the like. There are many types of rice crackers flavoured with various taste from garlic, miso to seaweed.  There are also chocolate-covered wafers flavoured like matcha tea, wasabi, plum, sake, melon, peach, grape.

But hurry-up grab your snacks, your plane is waiting!



Saturday, July 31, 2021

A train from Tokyo to Narita Airport


As Tokyo is such a big city and Narita Airport is located about 60 km from downtown Tokyo, we have to travel about one hour from Tokyo train station to the Narita Airport. There are many ways to go from Tokyo to Narita Airport, we can choose train, bus or taxi. I choose to travel by express train, it is not the cheapest, but it is most comfortable and the travel duration is certain. If we take bus or taxi, we never know whether there is traffic jam on the road, and we could be stuck for hours on the road. 

With the ticket price of around 3,000 yen one way and 4,000 yen round trip, the Narita Express train offers comfortable seats with spacious leg room, large toilets. Not to mentioned the very clean and quite atmosphere found in most of the trains in Japan. We can only hear the monotone clacking sound of the train railway which is soothing and tranquilizing. 

The train departs every 30 minutes and always on time, so we can rely on the travel plan based on the train schedule. But as the layout of train station in Tokyo is complicated, we must first familiarize with the train station layout to avoid getting on the wrong train or wasting time searching for the right platform. We can search in the internet or survey it ourselves before the departure. 

The journey from Tokyo to Narita Airport will pass urban towns, it is enjoyable to watch the scenes of Tokyo passing by the window, the concrete buildings of the city gradually disappear as the countryside of Chiba appears. The dreamy journey ends as we hear announcement that the train is approaching the airport. 

We need to get ready to disembark if our flight is located in Terminal 2, and pick-up our luggage. The train will only stop for a while as it will continue to Terminal 1. Therefore it is more convenient not to lock-up your baggage at the storage rack, because if you forget the code to unlock it then you have to ride the train till the end terminal, Terminal 1, to get it unlocked by the officer. Not to mention that you have to convince the officer the luggage is yours. It could really mess-up your well planned journey. 

I saw this Japanese lady went pale and breathless as she forgot the code, nervously asking in Japanese how to get it unlocked. Her young daughter also looked helpless. I hope their flight didn’t say ‘sayonara’ to them on take-off.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

Tokyo, at Meiji Shrine


Entering the Meiji Shrine ground from Harayuku station we will find a huge wooden torii gate which marks the beginning of this Shinto shrine. Like other Shinto shrines, a visit to this place is like a pilgrimage which gradually transforms the world from the mortal to the sacral. The torii gate serves as the entrance dividing the profane human world from the sacred home of the divine spirit (Kami). We see people bowing when they pass under the torii, to show respect as they enter into the sacred site.

Then we follow the winding gravel path approaching the shrine, called sando. The pathway is surrounded by huge trees, like a deep tranquil forest.  It doesn’t feel like we are in the middle of Tokyo, in Shibuya district, one of the busiest commercial area. In this serene forest we can only hear the sound of birds chirping and the visitors’ footsteps on the gravel.

The shrine is dedicated to the divine spirit (Kami) of Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji laid the foundation of modernization of Japan, known as the Meiji Restoration, ending the Tokugawa shogunate influence. Under his leadership Japan adopted Western ideas and production methods to industrialize the country. Japan opened the country to the world and emerged from a closed society to one of the most modern societies in the world, in less than 40 years. After the Emperor died in 1912, the parliament decided to build a memorial site in the area near Yoyogi Park, this shrine site, because the emperor and his wife liked to walk through the gardens here.

Photo: Wikimedia

In Shinto, something divine is regarded as Kami (divine spirit), it can be found in mythology, in nature, and in human beings. Japanese people are amazed and have gratitude towards such Kami and enshrined them. In this way the Meiji Shrine is dedicated to honouring the Kami of Emperor Meiji and his wife. We can feel the whole site as an awesome home for the Kami, reflecting how the Japanese people honour and feel grateful to their emperor and empress.

The gravel pathway leads us to a number of sake and wine barrels stacked up along both sides of the pathway. More than 200 sake barrels were displayed as offering to the Emperor, donated by famous sake breweries in the country. As the Emperor loved French wines, wine barrels were imported from France and displayed along with the sake barrels. 

Photo: Own Work

Passing the Ootori (Second Torii Gate),  we reach the Temizusha (water font) at the entrance to the main sanctuary, to wash your hands and cleanse mouths. Wooden ladles are provided at this water font so we can wash our hands and cleanse our mouths. This is a ritual to purify ourselves before entering the main sanctuary.

Before entering the main sanctuary we can also go to the Juyosho, Amulet Kiosk, to buy charms and amulets or writing our wish on an ema, a wooden tablet. People wrote everything from wishing good luck, passing exams, to get a child, love and broken hearts, forgiveness and gratefulness. There are also omamori (protective amulets) for traffic safety, health, or success in education. Omamori are usually attached to or put into a bag, purse or pocket, and kept until they have fulfilled their purpose.

Photo: Own Work

Then we approach Minami Shinmon, the main entrance to the main shrine complex. The gate is a two-story building, made from Japanese hinoki cypress, and copper roof. We can see small heart-shaped patterns carved into the wood work as ornament. When passing through the gate, we must step over the wooden beam under the gate, and not step on it, and bow our head to show respect while passing through the gate.

Photo: Own Work

On the east side of the main shrine complex there is the Kaguraden, a building where the Shinto people pray and participate in the special ritual (Kigansai). During the special ritual a kagura, or sacred music and dance, Yamato-Mai, is performed as an offering to the Kami. This sacred dance is based on a poem by Emperor Meiji saying that we should not forget paying respect to the Kami, as we owe our existence to the them.

Next to the the Kaguraden, is the most sacred building, the honden, where the Kami are enshrined. The main shrine is built in the nagare zukuri style, a common style of Shinto shrine architecture. In this style, the roof at the front of the shrine is extended covering the steps up to the building. The honden includes the noritoden (prayer recital hall), the naihaiden (inner shrine hall), and the gehaiden (outer shrine hall). The gehaiden is at the front of the main shrine, and is where visitors pray. 

Photo: Abrahami -Wikimedia

On the way-out we pass through the Iris garden, a beautiful garden designed by the emperor for his wife. In summer, many types of irises, the empress' favorite, blooming in violet, blue, and white colors. Further down there is the Kiyomasa’s well a pure spring. It is named after a military commander who dug it around 400 years ago. The well was visited frequently by the emperor and empress while they were alive.



Sunday, June 13, 2021

An Interview with Deng


Photo: Wikimedia

When I visited Huangshan in Anhui province, my guide showed me the place where Mister Deng often sit during his leisure time to enjoy the scenery of the magnificent mountains, floating above the clouds. This place seemed to be Mister Deng favorite spot and he chose this mountain area to deliver his 'Huang Shan Speech' to promote this place as a key site to revitalize the tourism industry, and to address the future direction of Chinese tourism. Years later, the Chinese tourism market has transformed into one of the world's most-watched tourist markets, the number of domestic trips reached six billion in 2019, indicating an exponential increase compared to the number of trips made in China ten years ago. 

Known as China’s “father of reforms” Mister Deng in 1978 announced a new policy, the “Open Door Policy”, to open the door to foreign businesses that wanted to set up in China. The policy of “reform and openness” (gaige kaifang) laid the foundation for a successful transition from a planned economy to a market economy, achieving unprecedented high growth rates. Average annual growth rates of 9.7 percent pulled hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty. The policy of reform and openness also led to a fundamental departure from norms in Mao’s China, replacing collectivism and group conformity with individual performance and diversity. 

Enough said about him, I desperately wanted to interview this man and made an application through the CPC (Communist Party of China) office in Beijing. Knowing the tight bureaucracy of this office I wasn’t expecting approval soon and might be never ever get the approval, I was just trying my luck. I knew there were not many foreign journalists that got the chance to interview him personally, Mike Wallace, Oriana Fallaci, Ezra Vogel to name a few, who else? 

Then after 4 months, I found a red envelope in my apartment letter box, it was from the CPC office indicating an appointment in the next month meeting Mister Deng. Wow , really? It made my day!  It was my first interview with a political leader, and from China! 

So on a Saturday, at the CPC Office at Chang’an Avenue in Beijing, I met a small man in a gray Mao suit, white socks and black Neiliansheng shoes. I didn’t expect that he was Mister Deng, he looked so humble for such a paramount leader. For sure, he didn’t look like as what once pronounced by Henry Kissinger, a ''nasty little man''.


I said:

“Good afternoon Mister Deng, you are known to be the de facto leader of China, in the way that although you are not the chairman of the CPC and neither are you the President of China, but you are the chief policy maker and reformer of China throughout the decades leading to China’s great development. You are a member of Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, and the chairman of the CCP’s Central Military Commission, but it seems you avoid to be the top leader of China.”


Mister Deng:

“See, we must remember that chairman Mao for most of his life, he did very good things to China. Many times he united China and saved the party and the state from various crises. Mao Zedong Thought lead us to victory in the revolution and it will continue to be a treasured possession of the our country, and we will always remember him as a founder of our party and state. 

Because of his leadership he was treated like an emperor reminiscent of the country’s imperial past. The people created Mao Zedong’s cult of personality, fueled by fanatics, mass media, propaganda and books, elevating his status to that of an infallible heroic leader. The whole nation mimicked his style of drab clothing, memorizing his quotations from the little Red Book and living under the gaze of his imposing portraits. 

He then became authoritarian and led the country in patriarchal ways, one-man rule, which are feudal in nature. He became unwilling to listen to other comrades, did not listen to differing opinions. We can’t say that all criticisms were right, but neither was he ready to listen to many right opinions put forward not only by me but by other party members. At this time, he increasingly lost touch with reality. For instance, he did not consistently practice democratic centralism and the mass line, and he failed to institutionalize them during his lifetime. Democratic centralism was impaired and so was collective leadership. 

I opposed the notion of lifelong terms, of personality cult, and of one-man rule and desired to prevent the emergence of a Mao-like strongman. I promoted ideological pragmatism and emphasized above all the necessity of a fundamental reform of the party, especially by reviving the inner-party discussion and decision-making processes, known as collective leadership.”


I said:

“The world can observe the great progress that China achieved in economic development in past decades, but many Western scholars believed that China’s reform and opening-up policy only achieved great success concerning economic modernization, with no significant progress in political democratization. Some even went so far as to claim the reason for the successful Chinese economic modernization was precisely because China did not have any accompanying democratic reforms.”


Mister Deng:

“In this century China has been a land of warlords, invading armies, floods, famines and revolution. Tens of millions have died violently, or wretchedly from starvation. I told President Bush in 1989 that if all one billion of us undertake multiparty elections, we will certainly run into a full-scale civil war. Taking precedence over all China's problems is stability, therefore to avoid disorder and the violence we  opposed political pluralism. 

However, as I told Oriana Fallaci of the Washington Post, I can tell you that after the overthrow of the Gang of Four we emphasized very much the promotion of the socialist democracy. Without giving up, of course, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Democracy and dictatorship of the proletariat are the two aspects of one antithesis, and I should add that proletarian democracy is far superior to capitalistic democracy.”


I said:

“I guess with proletarian democracy you mean the key concept of democracy held by the Chinese elites who sought to combine democracy with authority, dictatorship and centralism. “


Mister Deng:

“The essence and the core of socialist democracy is that the people are the masters of the country, and it is the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CCP. We practice democratic centralism, which is the integration based on democracy, with democracy under the guidance of centralism. Democratic centralism is an integral part of the socialist system. Under this system, personal interests must be subordinated to collective ones, the interests of part to those of the whole, and immediate to long-term interests.”


I said:

“ John Naisbitt, a well-known American scholar of future studies, predicts that a new ‘vertical democracy’, which combines the bottom-up mass participation with the top-down central command, emerging in China, and is likely to become an alternative to the Western style of ‘horizontal democracy’.

We can observe that this ‘vertical democracy’ worked well in achieving fast economic development in China.  The world is impressed by the striking economic reform under your leadership, but through the eyes of many Western observers there has been slow progress toward political reform. Despite some random democratic free speech, as in the ‘Democracy Wall’ period during the late seventies, political freedom has shown almost no progress.”


Mister Deng:

“I deeply understand this point. If we fail to do political reform, we shall be unable to preserve the gains we have made in the economic reform. Without political reform, economic reform cannot succeed … So in the final analysis, the success of all our other reforms depends on the success of the political reform.

We do allow political reform, but on condition that the three elements of China’s socialist democracy are upheld:  first, the people’s rule over the government, which is the main principle of democracy; second, the CCP’s leadership and centralism, which are necessary for democracy; and third, collectivism, which is also the major principle for resolving the conflicts of different interests in practice.”


I said:

“I think while there is general agreement that democracy literally means ‘rule by the people’ the Communist Party concept of ‘the people’ differs from the Western concept. The Western liberal view of ‘the people’ is all-inclusive, referring to all members of society and viewing society as an aggregation of individuals and a plurality of diversified social groups and interests. By contrast, in the Communist Party view, ‘the people’ is a collectivist concept. The emphasis was on the pursuit of collective interests, rather than being based upon, or even recognising, individual autonomy and expression of interests.” 


Mister Deng:

“What China needed is socialist democracy, for this is people’s democracy, and not bourgeois democracy, individual democracy.  We practice democratic centralism, which is the integration based on democracy, with democracy under the guidance of centralism. Democratic centralism is an integral part of the socialist system. Under this system, personal interests must be subordinated to collective ones, the interests of part to those of the whole. The purpose of socialist democracy is not, after all, to validate individualism or pluralism, but to unify the people for the pursuit of common interests and objectives. “


I said:

“According to Western media, you ordered to use military force through martial law in order to squash the protests that had erupted in the Tiananmen Square in 1989, despite resistance from some leaders. The result was bloodshed and within 48 hours Tiananmen Square was cleared. According to intelligence estimate about 1,000 people died and several dozen of soldiers and police were killed by protesters. Did you order the bloodshed or was it a military blunder, Mister Deng?”


Mister Deng:

“I praised the army as ‘the bastion of iron of the state’ and stressed that China would continue the basic policies of economic reform and openness to the outside world. This incident has impelled us to think over the future as well as the past sober-mindedly. It will enable us to carry forward our cause more steadily, better and even faster and correct our mistakes faster. 

We cannot tolerate turmoil. We will impose martial law again if turmoil appears again. Our purpose is to maintain stability so that we can work on construction, and our logic is simple: with so many people and so few resources, China can accomplish nothing without peace and unity in politics and a stable social order. Stability must take precedence over everything. 

We can't handle chaos while we're busy with construction. If today we have a big demonstration and tomorrow we have a great airing of views and a bunch of wall posts, we won't have any energy left to get anything done. That's why we have to insist on clearing the square.” 


I said:

“There was a dramatic incident during the Tiananmen Square crackdown that captured the whole world attention. The Western media called it ‘The Tank Man’ incident, a lone man holding a grocery bag was photographed and videoed standing in front of a column of tanks leaving Tiananmen Square via Chang'an Avenue. As the tank driver tried to go around him, the ‘Tank Man’ moved into the tank's path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position in front of the tanks, the man was pulled aside by a group of people. The fate of "Tank Man" following the demonstration is not known and for the world the ‘Tank Man’ remained faceless and nameless. 

May I ask you Mister Deng, who is this man that stopped the tanks, and what happened to him?” 


Mister Deng sat motionless on his overstuffed chair, his feet barely touch the floor. Suddenly an officer came approaching him and whispered something in his ear, Mister Deng nodded and then declared that he had other appointment in his schedule and must go now. So the meeting was over….



This is an imaginary interview in memory of Deng Xiaoping



Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Tokyo, at Omotesando


Walking the one kilometer Omotesando street is a great experience. Known as Tokyo's Champs-Elysees, it is a zelkova tree lined avenue,  featuring numerous fashion flagship stores. Omote being ‘frontal’ and Sando being ‘approach’, it has been serving as the main approach to Meiji shrine since the Taisho era. Nowadays the broad avenue stretching from the Meiji shrine entrance all the way to Aoyama Street sees millions walking its pavements to shop at the luxury brand stores. 

The narrower, winding back streets of Ura-Harajuku on either side of Omotesando are also interesting. In these streets, we find many not so branded stores yet charming clothing stores, themed cafes, and some of the best Japanese restaurants in Tokyo. 

But even if we are not in Tokyo to shop, just walking along Omotesando is refreshing, enjoying the atmosphere, and observing the distinct architecture of the buildings designed by Japan superstar architects such as Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito, Jun Aoki, Hiroshi Nakamura and Norihiko Dan. 

Tadao Ando designed the shopping mall Omotesando Hills, with 250m facade made along the street, each floor was built along a slope to create a continuation from the street, giving additional public space. A garden was made on the rooftop, to continue the atmosphere from the zelkova trees along the street.

Photo: Wikimedia

Toyo Ito designed the building especially for Tod’s, famous Italian shoe and handbag brand. With the L-shaped and  a narrow frontage, the concrete wall gives the impression of a row of zelkova trees in relation to environment in Omotesando.  Where many luxury brand boutiques have been built, by selecting concrete as a material the designer daringly proposed a substance and strength in contract with the surrounding glass buildings.

Photo: Wikimedia

Jun Aoki designed the Louis Vuitton building in the image of a stack of trunks, as Louis Vuitton is famous for its luggages and bags . The trunks, each representing a unique room, are connected with corridors between trunks. The building with the soft texture of the metal fabric on the facade representing fallen leaves from the zelkova trees in front of the building.

Photo: Wikimedia

Norihiko Dan’s Hugo Boss eight-story building is surrounded by Tod’s L-shaped building. Thus, he designed it trying to loosen the influence of the Tod’s building by creating vertical shapes combined with circular floors. This seems to accentuate the adjacent Tod’s building, and creates a symbiotic harmony. The building’s structure is composed of columns made from steel with a wood-like texture.

Photo: Wikimedia

Another shopping mall, Tokyu Plaza, has emerged as a fortress of fashion. The unique structure was designed by Hiroshi Nakamura, an award-winning architect. It officially becoming the home base for big fashion retailers, as well as a host of smaller domestic Japanese brands. The front elevator walled with mirrors looks attractive from far, but when we climb the elevator it is quite dizzying to see all the reflections on the mirrors. It is like walking inside a tunnel with walls of discotheque glittering ball. Fancy, but not something for the minimalists.

Photo: Wikimedia




Saturday, April 24, 2021

Verona, at the Cathedral


The cathedral, at the banks of Fiume Adige in the northernmost point of Verona, is just a short walk from the Ponte Pietra bridge. It is actually a cathedral complex, since it includes the San Giovanni in Fronte baptistery, the church of Santa Elena, the remains of the first paleo-Christian basilica built, the Cloister of the Canons, and the Capitoline Library.

The cathedral Santa Maria Matricolare, is a fantastic mix of Veronese Romanesque with Gothic elements. The interior of the cathedral mainly represents a Romanesque church, divided into three naves by pilasters from red Veronese marble supporting Gothic arches.

When we enter the cathedral, the first thing to strike you are the richly decorated side chapels, featuring works of art produced over several centuries of Venetian control. In the first chapel to the left hung a picture by Titian of the Assumption. It is a grand painting, showing the apostles kneeling and staring at Santa Maria floating in towering clouds. This painting was taken off to Paris by Napoleon I during his reign, but restored to Verona after he had left Europe.

The sanctuary is enclosed by a curved choir screen made by Sanmicheli and decorated with a Crucifixion by Giambattista da Verona. The sanctuary itself has frescoes by Francesco Torbido, based on drawings by Guilio Romano.

From the back of the cathedral we pass into the adjoining small church of S. Giovanni in Fonte, which served in past times as the Baptistery. The baptismal octagonal font located in the middle of the church was carved from a single block of marble. It was created by the Veronese sculptor Brioloto.

Next to the baptistery we will find the church of Santa Elena. On the facade of the church of Santa Elena a Latin tablet indicates the poet Dante Alighieri who here in 1320 presented his "Quaestio de Aqua et Terra", an important issue in medieval cosmology.

In the altar of this church there is a painting by Felice Brusasorzi depicting the Madonna on the throne with Child, St. Stephen, St. Zeno, St. Giorgio and St. Elena.

A church dedicated to Saints George and Zeno was built on the site and consecrated between 842 and 847, but was destroyed in the earthquake of 1117. The current church is the result of the reconstruction of the destroyed church, which was completed in 1140.



Saturday, April 3, 2021

An Interview with Fyodor


Photo: Wikimedia

The title of his famous book is Crime and Punishment does not suggest that this book is a novel, rather it sounds like a philosophical or social political book. So, at first it did not interest me as there are already so many books written about this topic. But as I read a review about this book it looked interesting and compelling to read it, although I expected philosophical discussions about this topic in the book.  Indeed, there are some discussions like that, but it is written like ordinary discussions between students. It is not hard to digest. 

So, after reading such an exciting book, I took a train from Moscow to St. Petersburg in winter to meet this great writer. We met at the apartment in the corner of 19 Grazhdanskaya Street  where Raskolnikov used to stay. At first glance, Fyodor looked like a timid, pale, introverted writer, and he moved so clumsily and jerkily. But his sharp grey-blue eyes gave the impression of a strong character, looking at me intensely as if trying to look into my soul and judge me. 

Actually, this man is known for his bravery and strong sense of justice, criticized corruption among officers and helped poor farmers.  I would spare asking him though about a traumatic incident in his life, as many people might had asked about that already.  Many people knew about what happened on December 22, 1849, as the young Fyodor was sent to Semyonov Square to meet his fate – to face the firing squad, as a punishment for his engagement with Petrashevsky Circle a literary group considered subversive by the Tsar and the Church. When the firing squad started pointing their rifles to this group, a messenger came into the square waving a white flag at the very last minute. He declared a pardon from the Tsar Nicholas I, in a “show of mercy.” But, this was not a show of mercy, but rather a staged way of terrorizing the group, a twisted form of psychological torture. He wrote about this experience in his novel The Idiot. In fact, his whole life story by itself can be written into a novel, a great novel it would be. 

But this time I rather talk with him about the criminal in Crime and Punishment, so, wasting no time I started asking him: 

“The protagonist, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a 23-year-old man, a former law student murdered an old woman for her money, by two blows of the blunt side of an axe.  Listen: ‘He pulled the axe quite out, swung it with both arms, scarcely conscious of himself, and almost without effort, almost mechanically, brought the blunt side down on her head.’

 It was a contemplated, planned, bloody murder, yet he thought it was not a crime, listen to this: ‘When he reached these conclusions, he decided that in his own case there could not be such a morbid reaction, that his reason and will would remain unimpaired at the time of carrying out his design, for the simple reason that his design was ‘not a crime….’

 How on earth he thought his horrific murder of a helpless old woman was not a crime? “



“The old woman, Alyona Ivanovna, was a pawn broker, who sucked the blood of poor people such that she was described as ‘No more than the life of a louse, of a black-beetle, less in fact because the old woman is doing harm. She is wearing out the lives of others.’

 While Raskolnikov lived in extreme poverty in a tiny rented room in Saint Petersburg. ‘It had a poverty-stricken appearance with its dusty yellow paper peeling off the walls, and it was so low-pitched that a man of more than average height was ill at ease in it and felt every moment that he would knock his head against the ceiling. He was crushed by poverty.”


I said:

“When Raskolnikov was a student he wrote an article titled ‘On Crime’, which in the words of his best friend Razumihin: ’There is a suggestion that there are certain persons who can … that is, not precisely are able to, but have a perfect right to commit breaches of morality and crimes, and that the law is not for them. A right to crime? But not because of the influence of environment?”


Fyodor said:

“In his article all men are divided into ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary.’ Ordinary men have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because, don’t you see, they are ordinary. But extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary. But, Raskolnikov did not contend that extraordinary people are always bound to commit breaches of morals, as you call it. In fact, he doubted whether such an argument could be published. He hinted that an ‘extraordinary’ man has the right … that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep … certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfilment of his idea, sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity.”


I said:

“Despite his perceptions about crime, Raskolnikov found himself racked with confusion, paranoia, and disgust for what he had done. He struggled with guilt and horror all the time and confronts the consequences of his deed. The psychological conflicts were written very well in the book, I think it is the most interesting part of the novel, as it is very intense, full of suspense, about the murderer’s struggle with his inner thoughts.  You described how Raskolnikov struggled with the crime even from the first time he conceived the idea to murder the old woman.”


Fyodor, citing the first Chapter of Part 1:

“When he was in the street he cried out, ‘Oh, God, how loathsome it all is! and can I, can I possibly…. No, it’s nonsense, it’s rubbish!’ he added resolutely. ‘And how could such an atrocious thing come into my head? What filthy things my heart is capable of. Yes, filthy above all, disgusting, loathsome, loathsome! — and for a whole month I’ve been….’

 And in another moment he cried: ‘Good God!’ Can it be, can it be, that I shall really take an axe, that I shall strike her on the head, split her skull open … that I shall tread in the sticky warm blood, break the lock, steal and tremble; hide, all spattered in the blood … with the axe…. Good God, can it be?”


I said:

“And the nightmare he had about him as a young boy witnessing the graphic killing of a little mare was horrific : ‘Take an axe to her! Finish her off fast,’ shouts a third... The nag stretches out her muzzle, heaves a deep sigh, and dies... ‘Papa! What did they...kill...the poor horse for!’ In his dream he sobs, but his breath fails, and the words burst like cries from his straining chest.”



“However, it did not stop him, a trivial conversation he had overheard from a student with an officer strengthen his intention to carry out murder. The student casually said: ‘Kill her and take her money, so that afterwards with its help you can devote yourself to the service of all mankind and the common cause’... ‘Of course, she doesn’t deserve to be alive. Besides, what value has the life of that sickly, stupid, ill-natured old woman in the balance of existence! No more than the life of a louse, of a black-beetle, less in fact because the old woman is doing harm.’

 Raskolnikov thought about how much similar they thought about this woman and related to his extraordinary man theory, he thought that this all cannot be just co-incidence, why must he listen at this particular moment to that particular talk and those particular ideas. As though there had really been in it something preordained, some guiding hint, it made Raskolnikov think he is the chosen person to kill the woman.”


I said:

“Then you wrote how he planned to murder her, the way and the timing to murder the woman. How he prepared for a noose to hide the axe inside his coat so it could not be seen from outside, how he stole the axe, how he diverted the attention of the old woman for a time, to gain a moment to swing the axe, what was in his mind when he walked from his apartment to the woman’s home, climbing the stairs to the flat. He was out of breath and his face became pale. For one instant at the door the thought floated through his mind ‘Shall I go back?’ ‘Am I not evidently agitated? She is mistrustful…. Had I better wait a little longer … till my heart leaves off thumping?”



“But he did it. He dealt her another and another blow with the blunt side and on the same spot. The blood gushed as from an overturned glass, the body fell back. He stepped back, let it fall, and at once bent over her face; she was dead. Her eyes seemed to be starting out of their sockets, the brow and the whole face were drawn and contorted convulsively.”


I said:

“Then unexpectedly her half sister came home and saw the dead body.’ She was gazing in stupefaction at her murdered sister, white as a sheet and seeming not to have the strength to cry out.”



“He rushed at her with the axe; her mouth twitched piteously, as one sees babies’ mouths, when they begin to be frightened, stare intently at what frightens them and are on the point of screaming. And this hapless Lizaveta was so simple and had been so thoroughly crushed and scared that she did not even raise a hand to guard her face, though that was the most necessary and natural action at the moment, for the axe was raised over her face. She only put up her empty left hand, but not to her face, slowly holding it out before her as though motioning him away. The axe fell with the sharp edge just on the skull and split at one blow all the top of the head. She fell heavily at once. Raskolnikov completely lost his head, snatching up her bundle, dropped it again and ran into the entry.”


I said:

“It was very tragic Fyodor….. I think Raskolnikov punishment started when he had to murder the innocent Lizaveta for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This thought appeared in his mind: ‘It’s strange though, why is it I scarcely ever think of her, as though I hadn’t killed her? Lizaveta! Poor gentle things, with gentle eyes…. Dear women! Why don’t they weep? Why don’t they moan? They give up everything … their eyes are soft and gentle….! Gentle!”  


I saw Fyodor sharp grey-blue eyes softened, he was immobile, silent … his pale, thin, earthen-colored face covered in dark red spots. Then we said “Прощай” (good bye) warmly.



This is an imaginary interview in memory of Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Source: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Paris, at Alexander Calder Exhibition


I didn’t know about Alexander Calder till I saw his exhibition at Musée Picasso in Paris, his art works were displayed together with Picasso’s works. Alexander Calder is known for inventing wire sculptures and the mobile, a type of kinetic art which relied on careful weighting to achieve balance and suspension in the air. He didn't limit his art to sculptures; he also created paintings, jewelry, theatre sets and costumes. 

An important Alexander Calder work is the monumental "Floating Clouds" (1952-1953) of the Aula Magna (Central University of Venezuela) of the University City of Caracas in Venezuela. This work is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Calder's clouds were specially designed to combine art and technology, making the auditorium one of the top 5 university auditoriums in the world by sound quality.

Photo: Wikimedia

While residing in France between 1926 and 1933, he cleverly constructed three-dimensional art works  using wires which give impression of  ‘drawings in space’, he turned out charming representations of birds, cows, elephants, horses, and other animals, including the extraordinary Romulus and Remus of 1928 that depicts the mythical founders of Rome being nursed by a she-wolf.  

 He also created intricate tableaus of circus performers, but Alexander Calder particularly recommended himself with his sensational full-body portraits of jazz-era dancer Josephine Baker and bust portraits of many in his Parisian artistic circle, such as Miró, composer Edgard Varèse, and socialite Kiki de Montparnasse. 

                                                                                Photo: Wikimedia

With seemingly inexhaustible energy, Alexander Calder expanded the repertoire of forms in his mobiles from spheres to discs to organic shapes adapted from plants and animals. The World War II years saw shortages of sheet metal, and Calder turned toward bits of wood, shards of glass and ceramics, tin cans, and other refuse he found on his Roxbury property, creating a series dubbed Constellations and some of his most-beloved works, including Finny Fish, 1948.



 Source:  Wikipedia

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Paris, at Picasso Museum


During the walkaround in Le Marais in noticed a street direction to Musée Picasso….., wow the Picasso Museum of Paris is here ?! Certainly not something to be missed. Hurriedly I followed the direction to the museum thorough the cobblestone streets lined with chic cafés and galleries to reach rue de Thorigny where the Hôtel Salé wherein the Picasso museum is located. 

Set in the great 17th century Hôtel Salé, Picasso’s masterpieces hang on the walls of bright, spacious exhibition rooms. It contains many of Picasso’s paintings, drawings and sculptures. On the day I visited the exhibitions were mixed with the works of Alexander Calder, which was also very interesting. 

Pablo Picasso was famous a Spanish painter, sculptor, regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.  He is known for co-founding the Cubism, a revolutionary style of modern art in response to the changing modern world. Some people say that Cubism is like looking in a cracked mirror everything becomes disorientated. The artists used multiple points of view to fracture images into geometric forms. Figures were depicted as dynamic arrangements of volumes and planes where background and foreground merged. Picasso did not feel that art should copy nature and did not like the more traditional artistic techniques of perspective, he said: “If the subjects I have wanted to express have suggested different ways of expression I have never hesitated to adopt them.”

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon - Wikimedia

Women play an essential role in Picasso’s paintings expressing emotion, psychological insight and the drama of human existence. Known for being a playboy, he had two wives, six misstresses and hundreds of lovers throughout his marriages. His romantic relationships provided inspiration for countless paintings,  drawings and sculptures. Each lover he painted can be seen to correlate with a different moment portraying a fascinating individual stories – sometimes joyful, defiant, or tragic in their endings.

The most famous of his women included those of Fernande Olivier, Olga Khoklova, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar, Françoise Gilot and Jacqueline Roque. 

While his lovers were such a valuable inspiration to his art, they seldom emerged from their relationships happily. Jacqueline Roque, his second wife, and Marie-Thérese Walter, mother of one of his daughter, committed suicide, and Olga Koklova, his first wife, and Dora Maar, his private muse,  became somewhat insane. 





Saturday, January 23, 2021

Paris, at Place de la Bastille


On the second day of our free time from office, I and my colleagues went to Bastille and other parts of Le Marais. We thought we would see the historical Bastille prison raided during the French revolution on July 14, 1789, but there is such prison there. The prison has been demolished and in place instead a column symbolizing peace was erected on the site and still stands there today.  The name of the Column is Colonne de Juillet, the July Column. It measures 47 meters in height and comprises 21 cast bronze drums that sits on a white marble base with ornamented bas reliefs, designed by the architect Jean-Antoine Alavoine under the orders of King Louis Philippe.

The square is now known as the Place de la Bastille and is an official historical monument of France. On the south side of the place there is a large curved and reflective building, it is the Opéra Bastille. It was built by the architect Carlo Ott, and was unveiled by President Mitterrand for the 200th Anniversary of the French Revolution on the eve of July 14th 1989, The Bastille Day.

Over the years this district became one of the most famous places in Paris. The night-life here is well-known, there are many bars and nightclubs laid between the Rue de Lappe, the Rue de la Roquette and the Faubourg Saint-Antoine.

Walking on the left side of Boulevard Beaumarchias, going away from the Place de la Bastille, at the second street we came to Rue du Pas de la Mule.  After a left turn, in a few steps we noticed the red-bricked buildings that make up the Place des Vosges. This mansion, built in the early 1600s, is a square composed of 36 houses with an arcade that runs the perimeter of the square. The park in the center of the Place des Vosges is called Square Louis XIII. Often, the grassy areas are available for use here.

Walking down an arcade with columns and a vaulted ceiling of the Place des Vosges, it felt as if we had just entered the 17th century. Directly ahead, past the fine cafés and art galleries, at the corner of this arcade, is the house addressed 6 Place des Vosges, Maison de Victor Hugo, the house once lived in by Victor Hugo. It is now a museum, opens every day, except Mondays and holidays.




Saturday, January 2, 2021

An Interview with Oriana


Photo: Wikipedia

That day Oriana came out of her room wearing a violet pantsuit, greeted me and sat on a chair in front of a window, resting one of her foot over the thigh of the other. In her right hand she held a Virginia Slims cigarette and smoked continuously. Although she is tiny, perhaps five feet one and around 90 pounds, her posture gave the impression of a confident, self-assured, and assertive woman. Her interviews with famous leaders of the world confirmed it all. This is the woman who dares to ask political leaders “brutal questions” in her interviews. This is the woman who dared to remove her veil while interviewing Khomeini, dared to ask Nguyen Van Thieu “How corrupt are you?”, and dared to accuse to Yasir Arafat “You don’t at all want the peace that everyone is hoping for.” 

Her most popular book “Interview with History” compiled interviews with 14 political leaders, with a cover inserting Rolling Stone magazine quotation “the greatest political interviewer of modern times.” During my student time I read a few of her interviews that made her famous, with Henry Kissinger, Khomeini, Yasir Arafat and I was fascinated. Only recently I found this book and was even more fascinated by interviews with the less popular Shah Iran, King Hussein, General Giap and even a rather “not well known” Alexandros Panagoulis. Before reading them, I had no idea how interesting the interviews were, they gave fresh views and opened up windows to the personality of these politicians. 

So, I came to her apartment in Florence through the famous Ponte Vecchio and sat with this vivacious woman to talk about this book. She answered the questions with a husky voice, Italian accented, and with a lot of arm movements. Despite her temperamental reputation she seemed to me  a caring and sweet person.


Then I shot the first question: 

“Generally speaking, journalism emphasizes on objectivity in the writings in order to portray issues and events in a neutral and unbiased manner, regardless of the journalist opinion or personal beliefs.

While you are internationally renowned for your impassioned, confrontational approach. You became a celebrity because of your interrogative interviews, the imposing questions that made Shah Iran shared his religious view, made General Giap to disclose his military game plan for defeating the Americans in Vietnam, and made Nguyen Van Thieu sometimes had tears in his eyes. “



“I do not feel myself to be, nor will I ever succeed in feeling like, a cold recorder of what I see and hear. On every professional experience I leave shreds of my heart and soul: and I participate in what I see or hear as though the matter concerned me personally and were one on in which I ought to take a stand.

So I did not go to these fourteen people with the detachment of the anatomist or the imperturbable reporter. I went with a thousand feelings of rage, a thousand questions that assailing them were assailing me, and with the hope of understanding in what way, by being in power or opposing it, those people determine our destiny.”


I said:

“In your interview with Shah Iran you indeed assailed him, it was like boxing, you threw punches to him, he defended himself and even threw uppercuts to you. “



“He is a character in which most paradoxical conflicts merge to reward you for your pains with an enigma. He believes in prophetic dreams, in visions, in a childish mysticism, and then goes on to discuss oil like an expert, which he is. He governs like an absolute monarch, and then refers to his people in the tone of one who believes in them and loves them, by leading a White Revolution that would seem to be making effort to combat illiteracy and the feudal system. He considers women as simply graceful ornaments incapable of thinking like a man, and then strives to give them complete equality of rights and duties. Indeed, in a society where women still wear the veil, he even orders girls to perform military service.”


I said:

“Did you ask him whether he is a dictator?”



“He said he wouldn’t deny it, because in a certain sense he is. Then: ‘But look, to carry through reforms, one can’t help but be authoritarian. Especially when the reforms take place in a country like Iran, where only twenty-five percent of the inhabitants know how to read and write. You mustn’t forget the illiteracy is drastic here- it’ll take at least ten years to eliminate it. 

Believe me when three-quarter of a nation doesn’t know how to read or write, you can provide reforms only by the strictest authoritarianism - otherwise you get nowhere. If I hadn’t be harsh, I wouldn’t even been able to carry out agrarian reform, it would have been stalemated. Once that had happened, the extreme left would have liquidated the extreme right within a few hours, and it’s not only the White Revolution that would have been finished. I had to do what I did. For instance, order my troops to open fire on anyone opposing the distribution of land.”


I said:

“You said in the book that he was cold during the interview, stiff, his lips were as sealed as a locked door, his eyes as icy as a winter wind, stared at you rigidly and remote.  Yet he was so different when he talked about oil. He lighted up, vibrated, focused, he become another man.”



“He thought he knows everything there is to know about oil, everything.  He said: ‘It’s really my speciality. And I tell you as a specialist that the price of oil will have to go up. There’s no other solution. But it’s a solution you Westerners have brought on yourselves. Or, if you like, a solution brought on by your overcivilized industrial society. You’ve increased the price of wheat by three hundred percent, and the same for sugar and cement. You’ve sent the price of petrochemicals skyrocketing. You buy crude oil from us and then sell it back to us, refined into petrochemicals, at a hundred times what you paid for it. You make us pay more for everything, scandalously more, and it’s only fair that from now on you should pay more for oil. Let’s say…. ten times more.’ 

I will never forget him curtly raising his forefinger, while his eyes glared with hatred, to impress on me that the price of oil would go up, up, up ten-fold. I felt nauseated before the gaze and that finger….”


I said:

“Many of the political leaders you interviewed in this book had socialism view, Golda Meir, Willy Brandt, Indira Gandhi, Pietro Nenni to Helder Camara. But their socialism has many different colors, from mild to liberal. Are you a socialist Oriana?”



“No, I am not. Socialism as it’s been applied until now hasn’t worked. Capitalism doesn’t work too. I better quote what Indira Gandhi said in the interview:

‘I don’t see the world as something divided between right and left. Even though we use them, even though I use them myself, these expressions have lost all meanings. I’m not interested in one label or the other--- I’m only interested in solving certain problems, in getting where I want to go. I have certain objectives. They are the same objectives that my father had: to give people a higher standard of living, to do away with cancer of poverty, to eliminate the consequences of economic backwardness. I want to succeed. And I want to succeed in the best way possible, without caring whether people call my actions leftist or rightist. 

It’s the same story as when we nationalized the banks. I’m not for nationalization because of the rhetoric of nationalization, or because I see in nationalization the cure-all for every injustice. I’m for nationalization in cases where it’s necessary.  We realized that the banks had not done any good, the money still ended up in the hands of rich industrialists or friends of the bankers. And we did nationalize the banks, without considering it a socialist gesture or an antisocialist gesture, just a necessary one. Anyone who nationalizes only so as to be considered on the left to me is a fool. 

The word socialism now has so many meanings and interpretations. The Russians call themselves socialists, the Swedes call themselves socialists. And let’s not forget that in Germany there was also a national socialism. Socialism to me means justice. It means trying to work in a more egalitarian society.”


I said:

“One of your remarkable interviews is with General Giap, the North Vietnam General during the Vietnam war. He was famous for his cruelty, the French had fallen into his traps full of poisonous bees, his pits full of snakes, or they were blown-up by booby traps hidden corpses abandoned by the wayside, and in 1954 he defeated French at Dien Bien Phu. He was also feared by the Americans, for his courage Ho Chi Minh used to call him Kui or Devil.  

When you met him, did you find him to be a frightening person?



“I was astonished first of all at how short he was, less than 5 feet, and his body was fat. His face was swollen and covered with little blue veins that made him look purple. No, it was not an extremely likable face. Perhaps of the purple color, perhaps because of those uncertain outlines, it cost you some effort to keep looking at him, where the things you found were scarcely interesting. The huge mouth full of tiny teeth, the flattened nose enlarged by two huge nostrils, the forehead that stopped at the middle of his skull in a mop of black hair…. “


I said:

“Did he boast about his fighting strategy?”



“He said that the Americans underestimated the spirit of the people that knows how to fight for a just cause, to save its homeland from the invader. The war in Vietnam is not a question of numbers and well-equipped soldiers, that all doesn’t solve the problem. When a whole people rebels, there’s nothing you can do, and there’s no wealth in the world that can liquidate it. Their enemies aren’t good soldiers, because they don’t believe in what they’re doing and therefore they lack any combat spirit. 

Oh, this isn’t a war that you resolve in a few years. In a war against the United States, you need time, time….. The Americans will be defeated in time, by getting tired. And in order to tire them, we have to go on, to last…. For a long time: ten, fifteen, twenty, fifty years. Until we achieve total victory, as our president, Ho Chi Minh, said. Yes! Even twenty even fifty years! We’re not in a hurry, we’re not afraid.”


I said:

“Your interview with General Giap caught Henry Kissinger’s attention, thus he invited you for an interview.  Very rarely does he grant personal interviews, he speaks only at press conferences arranged by the administration. What did he say about the Giap’s interview?”



“He didn’t speak about General Giap, instead he asked me about Giap, Thieu and other Vietnamese generals. He even asked me: ‘What do I think will happen in Vietnam with the cease-fire?’ On Vietnam he could not tell me anything much, and I am amazed that he said: that whether the war to end or go on did not depend only on him, and he could not allow himself the luxury of compromising everything by an unnecessary word. He said: ‘Don’t ask me that. I have to keep to what I said publicly ten days ago… I cannot, I must not consider an hypothesis that I do not think will happen, an hypothesis that should not happen. I can only tell you that we are determined to have this peace, and that in any case we will have it, in the shortest time possible after my next meeting with Le Duc Tho.”


I said:

“Did Henry Kissinger say whether the Vietnam war was a useless war?”



“He said he agreed: ‘But let’s not forget that the reason why we entered this war was to keep the South from being gobbled up by the North, it was to permit the South to remain the South. Of course, by that I don’t mean that this was our only objective…. It was also something more…. But today I am not in the position to judge whether the war in Vietnam has been just or not, whether our getting into it was useful or useless. 

After all, my role, our role, has been to reduce more and more the degree to which America was involved in the war, so as then to the end the war. And it must be ended in accordance with some principle.

In the final analysis, history will say who did more: those who operated by criticizing and nothing else, or we who tried to reduce the war and then ended it. Yes, the verdict is up to history.”


I said:

“Now, the last part of your book is an interview with Alexandros Panagoulis, a Greek politician and poet, who actively participated against the Greek military junta, also known as the Regime of the Colonels. He became famous for his attempt to assassinate dictator Georgios Papadopoulos on 13 August 1968, but also for the torture to which he was subjected during his detention. 

Reading this interview, the readers couldn’t help but to notice that you highly admired him, even an amorous way.”



“That day and night in Athens, just two days after a general political amnesty had resurrected Alexandros Panagoulis from prison, I met him for this interview and fell in love with him. “


I said:

“Panagoulis was the real thing: A hero who had been condemned to death for attempting to assassinate a dictator. He only regretted having failed. Do you see him as a hero?”



“He said:’ I'm not a hero and I don't feel like a symbol . . . I'm so afraid of disappointing all of you who see so many things in me! Oh, if only you could succeed in seeing in me only a man!’


I said:

“And you asked him: ’Alekos, what does it mean to be a man?”



“He said: ’It means to have courage, to have dignity. It means to love without allowing love to become an anchor. It means to struggle and to win. . . . And for you, what is a man?’

I answered him: ‘I would say that a man is what you are, Alekos."


And so did the interview end. Arrivederci Oriana….




This is an imaginary interview in memory of Oriana Fallaci.



Interview with History by Oriana Fallaci.