Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

  Today, November 12 2017, the well-known presentator Leila Prnjavorac read a great Good Night Story for Rebel Girls in a gigantic bed in the Public Library of Amsterdam. It was a great act to observe, especially at the moment that all the children imitate the ‘camouflage’ that Queen Nanny (1686 – 1733) taught the Marrons at Jamaica to protect themselves from the English ennemy. See and enjoy the youtube I produced about that particular story (in Dutch, click on the image):

The book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls has now been translated for Dutch children under the title Bedtijdverhalen voor Rebelse Meisjes. The stories of 100 special women are described in a nice, easy-to-go way in combination with beautiful and colorful images.
Is it possible to be inspiring and practical on a simple page? Yes it is.
For example the book describes the story of an Irish girl who wanted to be a sailor and a pirate. When her father told her that her long read hair would get stuck in the ropes of the sails, she just cut her hair off, leaving her father no other choice than to take her onto the ship. Girls learn that there are solutions to problems they might face and that they can take action all by themselves. And they see what can be achieved. The Irish girl ended up being personal friends with the Queen of England she initially fought against. It is a joy to read the different stories of the book, with women from all over the world, from many cultures.
No shortcomings in this book then? Yes, but just one. The choice was made to describe also the stories of women still alive. That always comes with the risk that they might still do less heroic things after the story was written. For example Myanmarese Aung San Suu Kyi is in the book as a Nobel Price winning political hero. However at this very moment her Nobel Price is heavily discussed due to her negative role in the immense drama of ethnic cleansing of the Rohinya in Myanmar – not exactly the good night story one would choose for one’s kid to tell…
However, this is a minor shortcoming that still leaves 99/100 inspiring stories in the book. Therefor I warmly recommend it for all rebel girls >>> and their mothers!

Bedtijdverhalen voor Rebelse Meisjes
Geschreven door Elena Favilli en Francesca Cavallo
Uitgegeven 2017 door Rose Stories

Kedi: movie about cats or humans?

kedi

The camera in the movie Kedi (Turkish for ‘cat’) follows many cats that walk in the streets of Istanbul/Turkey from the point of view these cats have of the city. This offers a great insight in their experiences. Overall in this movie, the camerawork is very special. Istanbul as a city and the inhabitants of Istanbul – especially the cat-loving inhabitants – are shown with warmth and beauty. Just the camerawork in itself makes the movie Kedi worth a visit.
But there is more to say. The core story shows us how cats conquer the people’s hearts. The cats choose who can love and feed them. And the people warmly respond to that wish. It is wonderful to see the different characters of the cats: from a clever thief to the psychopath of the neighbourhood, from the curious cat in the bag of organic tea at the market to the gentleman who never enters the place where he gets his food, but who simply scratches the window outside whenever he is hungry. The humans adapt to the cats; not the opposite. For cat lovers, watching Kedi is heaven!
And there is more to it. For those who love psychology and/or philosophy, Kedi has a lot to offer. People explain their relationships with the cats and come up with surprising remarks about what the cats mean for them: from finding money with the help of a cat to experiencing therapy by helping the cats. And what about these comments on the world:
– ‘cats absorb your redundant energy, just like earth does’
and:
– ‘cats know about God, dogs don’t. Dogs think that humans are God but cats know that humans are an instrument in the hand of God to feed them’.
Just two examples, there are many more.
One last thing I liked a lot and that made me think is a remark made about freedom. I have written about cats in Istanbul in 2012. The perspective that humans should not take cats inside to keep them there because in doing so, they will make cats forget how to be a cat, is new for me. This movie Kedi clearly shows what is meant with this perspective. Freedom is everything, even when it comes with disadvantages.
Maybe you don’t agree. Well, all I can say is: go see it yourself. There’s a lot more in Kedi then I can show here and you will not regret. Enjoy!

In Dutch cinemas from 24 August 2017
More info and a trailer at http://www.cinemadelicatessen.nl/film/kedi/

 

Travels with Herodotus

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski is an amazing book that was given to me as a second hand book by a friend already years ago. It ended up at a pile and stayed there for years. However since I travel a lot for my work in the Middle East these days, I am reading book by book through that pile while waiting at airports or flying in airplanes.
Travels with Herodotus is one of those books that I should have read earlier and that I couldn’t let go once I started reading. It is not a new book (published in Dutch in 2005 already) but who cares, nor is Herodotus who lived in the 5th century BC.
Kapuscinki proves that Herodotus has not lost any of his actuality in 2500 years for 2 main reasons:

1. He is the first known author to check and double check his stories, indicating for his readers how (im)probable the history he offers would be; that is tremendously interesting. His way of operating is amazing, checking stories in the 5th century BC cost him years but that didn’t stop him at all. He must have felt that he was not just writing for his contemporaries but for the entire humanity. So as readers in the 21st century we can follow pretty accurately the games of power of the ancient world.

2. Herodotus shows with facts the extreme cruelty of the rulers of his time – and of their advisers, family and the like. They make you think of some 20th century dictators; indeed not mankind has changed but the possibilities individuals get to apply their cruelty in daily reality. Herodotus describes the cities of Athens and Sparta as cities with a democracy where power was limited or should we say: diffuse, divided; no one was able to rule through fear and cruelty to the extent that it was found among Persians, Assyrians, Parths and many other people where the power was in the hands of one person or family. Somehow it is the system that allows humans to be cruel – or stops them. In the light of today’s debate about the value of democracy, these are intriguing thoughts.
The division of power leads to endless discussions, even on the battle field where the Greek leaders fight although the Persians are near. It is fun to read for those who have experience with democracy; nothing changed in the ‘way it is done’. And the surprise is that small Greek states without apparent unity win the war over well organized Persians who outnumber them and do not loose time in discussions about strategy. The book proves that it would have changed the course of history in Europe, had the Persians won the war. It is an encouragement to proceed on the way of checks and balances in the institution and execution of power!

Travels with Herodotus is not just about Herodotus, it is also about the author Ryszard Kapuscinski himself. He interwaves his personal story as travel journalist with Herodotus’ book Histories in an interesting and also meaningful way. I think Kapuscinski saw this book as his personal life story. On his first foreign trip that he undertook while he had always lived in closed communist Poland, Herodotus’ book accompanied him and did so on many other journeys that followed. It was not just a source of inspiration but also a method and a continuous challenge for reflection. Kapuscinski shares a lifetime outcome of that with his readers; this book has a depth that is rarely seen. It is a gift for humanity: buy it, in a second hand bookshop if no longer available, who cares.

Travels with Herodotus is a must-read for anybody who is interested in:
– (the development of) democracy versus dictatorship
– Asian and European ancient history
– travel journalism, both content/stories and methodology
– philosophy, politics, culture and anthropology.

Useful links:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/jun/30/featuresreviews.guardianreview6
http://www.geschiedenis.nl/nieuws/artikel/912/reizen-met-herodotos (in Dutch)

De jacht op mijn vader / the hunt for my father

The hunt for my father is a very interesting documentary made by Gülsah Dogan. It is the second movie that I see from her and again I think her work is outstanding in many aspects.
In this documentary Gülsah Dogan follows the author Karin Amatmoekrim who is looking for her father Eric Lie in Suriname. Karin wants to write a book about her father; her mother left the country when she was still a baby and went to the Netherlands, apparently because she was not the only woman for Eric Lie. He as a famous Taekwondo champion and good looking man was popular among women. Thus Karin grew up without father far away, in the Netherlands and it is Gülsah’s quality to show the underlying feelings not by words, but in images. It is difficult not to feel some irritations during this documentary: in the title it is about the ‘hunt for her father’, however it is possible to conclude that it is more about the author herself than about the father.
The story takes place in the beautiful tropic context of Surinam and unfolds in interesting scenes and surprising pictures of the nature: from a cockridge defending itself against ants to trips on the river Marowijne.
Gülsah Dogan has produced another masterpiece after the outstanding documentary Naziha’s Spring. You can see it (in Dutch) Thursday 11 May 2017 at 22.55h on NPO2.

A link describing the documentary (in Dutch):
https://www.waterkant.net/suriname/2017/05/06/documentaire-jacht-op-vader-11-mei-op-npo2/

Hôtel Saint-Georges: I understood…


There is a very good bookshop just outside the kashba of Tunis where I found a pearl of Algerian-French literature: Hôtel Saint-Georges by Rachid Boudjedra. There were hundreds of books in that store so what made me choose this one? (by the way maybe they were all very good). Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t let go. It is very easy to understand the many different characters, the reader will love them all and wants to read their perspective on the life they live. This desire is largely rewarded by the author.
Also the book gave me new insights about Algerian family relations, for example I didn’t know that it is the role of the uncle from mothers side to be tender and show love (while the uncle from fathers side only gives ‘the name’). Boudjedra pictures Algerian family dynamics in such a way that you as a reader can feel like a family member. It also gives more insights in how the cultural notion of ‘collectivism’ works. Usually when people in the West discuss collectivism that exists in countries like the Maghreb, as opposed to individualism, they think a person can not be an individual due to the family relations. Boudjedra shows that within these collectivist families, family members have strong individual lifes and characteristics. The problem as pictured in this book is rather the impossibility within a collectivist structure to discuss what goes wrong and to ‘correct’ actions of individual family members, even heavy ones that really damage others. It is intriguing to read how the FLN (an army structure to oppose the colonial regime) is used to kill a family member who had an incestuous relationship rather than confronting him and seek justice in the system. The secret remains, the punishment is sought in different ways.
A very important aspect of this book is Boudjedra’s choice to see actual, cruel developments as an element of history: Algerian history since the independence in 1962, French history of colonialism 1830-1962 but also ancient history, medieval history. The 90+ year old family patriarch, Sidi Mohammed, who traveled a lot and speaks many languages, gives his conclusions of a lifetime: ‘J’ai compris aussi que la barbarie est le véritable patrimoine commun de l’Humanité. J’avais fini par comprendre que le propre de l’homme, c’est la cruauté’. (‘I have understood that barbarity is the real common heritage of humanity. I have finally understood that the characteristic of mankind is cruelty‘). From this point of view, it is not an optimistic book.
And there is something else to say about this approach. In the French literature of the Maghreb, some authors long for the colonial period of the French who introduced many good things that the countries still profit from today. Faced with the actual problems of incompetence and corruption on the one side and violence and radical Islam on the other side, authors like Boualem Sansal (le Serment des Barbares) give up hope for Arab leadership and think that the French offered more. Boudjedra shows how cruel the French regime has been in Algeria; even though that did not improve after the Algerian independence, that does not mean that he feels nostalgia for the French colonial times in Algeria, on the contrary: he is rather inclined to conclude that cruelty and barbarity is part of human history, in whatever shape or nationality.
Even though it is not a happy book, it is a very beautiful book in language, in themes, in richness – it is a book that gives you a lot of food for thought. Highly recommended!

I could not find a translation of this book. Also the links I recommend are in French only:
http://www.babelmed.net/
http://www.djazairess.com/fr/infosoir/61703

http://www.lorientlitteraire.com/

 

 

Portrait du décolonisé


In 2004, 1 year before the terrible riots in the French banlieues and 7 years before the Arab spring occurred, the Jewist-Arab-French-Tunisian writer Albert Memmi writes a stunning picture about decolonized countries and the decolonized citizens, both local and emigrated, in his book Portrait du décolonisé.
Memmi describes on a factual basis the disastrous situation of many decolonized countries: the poverty, the corruption, the oppression and how these factors interlink and prevent the decolonized countries to develop and prosper. It is a sad picture that, however, can be recognized by many who worked and traveled in decolonized regions.
In 2004, the Portrait du décolonisé was not well received in France. It was criticized because Memmi wonders why the 100.000’s of deaths in several African conflicts get a lot less attention than the 3000 deaths in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was accused of ‘Zionistic’ views, which would de-qualify the other 96% of his book – it must have shocked a free-thinking intellectual like Memmi who is pleading so warmly for universal values for all to live in freedom and prosperity. And the book was criticized because his portrait of the 2nd generation emigrants is one-sidedly unfavourable. He describes the migrants children that feel lost and end up in (self)destructive ideas and behaviours. It is true that the successful youth, committed to a prosperous society for all, is absent in his book – though very much existent in reality. Nevertheless what he describes has predicted many of the problems we face today in extreme forms.
His book was not translated into other languages – as far as I know – although his earlier book Portrait du colonisé was recognized by many and translated in 20 languages. Portrait du décolonisé could have supported many who wonder what happened, in the 2005 riots in the Paris banlieus, in the 2011 Arab spring, in this decade of (self)destructive terrorism.
I was speechless and breathless when I read his book, and sorry not to have discovered it earlier. Not only is it written in the beautifull, rich and touching French that Memmi masters more than hardly any other writer. He also answers many questions that arose after 2011, but he wrote this already in 2004. His language is never politically correct; he talks in clear words on every single page about the facts as he sees them. However he is never rude, never insulting people like others do who want to breach the politically correct discourse. He proves himself (again) an intellectual who dares to stand up for values and ideas, regardless the consequences.
It is difficult to understand why the world overlooked this precious contribution in a era where the need for insight in the ex-colonial world is predominant. Does this world only read the works that are either extreme or un-controversial? Does this world reject views that are confrontational just by their factional description? If you read in French, read this book. The language is superbe and it will both inform and surprise you – even if you are already knowledgeable in this matter.

Some valuable links about Portrait du décolonisé:

http://arrow.dit.ie/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=jofis

http://regardscroises.blog.tdg.ch/archive/2011/02/13/portrait-du-decolonise-albert-memmi-a-lire-de-toute-urgence.html

http://journal.alternatives.ca/spip.php?article1945

 

Anne Frank House Amsterdam: remembrance and reflection

Anne Frank House bookcase
2000 inhabitants of Amsterdam got free tickets to visit the Anne Frank House during evening hours without queues. I was lucky to be one of them: a great initiative, thanks! It was wonderful to wander through the ‘Achterhuis’ in a quiet and respectful atmosphere.
The Anne Frank House is not far from my home and I pass the long rows of tourists a few times a week or I better say: try to pass….It is always busy, noisy, not a place where you’d like to go as an inhabitant.
I think I went there once, as a child – I remember it quite well, especially the book case (on the picture) that served as protection from the entrance to the hide-out of 8 Jewish people. These people spent 2+ years there but were betrayed at the end and only one of them, the father of Anne Frank, survived the holocaust.
anne frank house quoteCompared to my childhood visit many elements were added in the ‘museum’; quotes on walls or on blinded windows – short video’s from witnesses, classmates of Anne and the like. They are very impressive.
What I remember most are the words of Otto Frank on his daughter’s diary. He always felt close to his daughter but when he read her diary after the war, he realized that she never showed the deep thoughts and feelings that she wrote down. Since that moment he thinks that parents rarely know their children to the full. I guess that could be true. The way he expresses is very refined and respectful towards his daughter. I cannot write it down, you have to go visit the Anne Frank House and see that movie to understand the impression it made. And then imagine that he read that diary when she had already died (when she had already been killed). He would never have the opportunity to ask her any question any more…
Anne Frank House opening hoursI really thank the Anne Frank House for this opportunity. I wonder why this does not become more usual in Amsterdam. As for me, it is not about the free ticket, but the fact that I could go at 21.00h (I came home from work only at 19.30 and had to have dinner first) and that I did not need to wait in a queue or go in with plenty of loud speaking tourists. Would it be financially difficult for musea to have similar evening offers or are they just not used to opening hours in the evening?
As for the Anne Frank House tonight, it left me with quite some emotions as we live in difficult times and the idea that ‘it could happen again’ is in the hearts and minds of many. A place for remembrance and reflection, most valuable.

 

Amsterdam Tower: a must-visit!

Amsterdam tower

It is new and it is brilliant, the Amsterdam Tower – a remake of the former Shell research labs in Amsterdam. I had a great time this week while giving a presentation about dealing with international business and culture in front of spectacular views over Amsterdam. Nevertheless my public was highly attentive, for a moment I doubted whether they would be with me at all but they did 🙂
If you look at the photo above and you see the 9 meter high windows in top of the building, that is where I stood – and here are some pictures of the views:

amsterdam tower  amsterdam toweramsterdam tower  amsterdam tower
The making of the Amsterdam Tower is a story out of a wizard book: three Dutch guys who were succesfull in the international music scene decided to cooperate in this and won the battle for the tower in competition with 34 other interested parties. They turned it into a combination of music company offices, a hotel, different bars, restaurants and clubs with a 360° turning restaurant in top: a music tower!
On top they offer a platform for all inhabitants of Amsterdam and our tourists to watch the spectacular panorama and to take a seat in Europe’s highest swing: the Amsterdam lookout. Alas I had serious business to do when I was there so I definitely have to come back to experience that swing!
Our city is blessed with these creative entrepreneurs who make such major contributions to the quality of life in Amsterdam: well done, thank you guys!
Last but not least an photo-impression (made with my phone, lack of quality, in reality much better) of the elevator going up: the music experience starts already from there…
amsterdam tower elevator  amsterdam tower elevator
Amsterdam Tower, a new experience not to be missed!

Bardo Museum – Musée de Bardo Tunis: wowowow!

baptism mosaic

If you think many mosaics, think more. If you imagine an endless view of mosaics, double or triple what you imagine and that is what the Bardo Museum in Tunis offers you. I knew the collection of mosaics this museum contains is thrilling but I could not have guessed the amount and the size of the beauty: wow, just wowowow.
‘Are you really going to the Bardo Museum?’, people asked me in surprise. A terrible terrorist attack took place on this museum just two years ago. But of course that means that it is now the best protected monument of the country, Tunisia. Do not hesitate, just go. Nowhere else in the world you will find this abundance of mosaic beauty and such an oversight of mosaic art in different periods and denominations: Roman, Christian, Jewish, Byzantine or just ‘Carthago’.
mosaic bardo museum  mosaic lake bizerte - lac de bizerte
However, that is not all. They have fantastisch Punic pieces (statues, masks, steles), nice jewelry of the Vandals – proving vandalism has beautiful sides! There is some Roman and pottery stuff that I found less interesting; at least it is less unique. But the great Ottoman hall of the Bardo Museum leaves you in surprise, wondering why you find that more beautiful and refined than the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
ottoman period bardo museum  ottoman ceiling bardo museum
The rest of the museum is more or less non-existent: the coffee sign leeds to a completely deserted part of the museum where coffee nor any other consumption could be found. The museum shop that could imo be thriving, is a disappointment. The toilets are clean however, kept so by a most gentle attendant. Overall, the museum personnel is really helpful: they want you to enjoy your stay and do everything to make sure you will see what you came for. Only because of their kindness I found the Punic room that I was desperate to see after the mosaics. The logic of the museum plan is not clear for all but the personnel compensates largely for that: a big thanks to their involvement and enthusiasm!
More info at the site of the Bardo Museum in English or the Musée de Bardo in French.

 

Unique coins in Money Museum Tunis

money museum tunis‘Well, they have coins’, Tunesians told me when I asked them what the Money Museum (Musée de la Monnaie) is like. Their tune was not very respectful, in their eyes it did not seem worth a visit. I wanted to see the museum anyway, especially as it is not mentioned in tourist guides and these can be the most interesting visits like the Museum of the History of Cypriot coinage, another hidden pearl. I was certainly not disappointed.
This museum is found within the Tunesian Central Bank and depicts the history of coinage in the area: that means it starts already in the time of Carthago, 4th century BC. Most interesting for me were the coins from the era of the califates like the Ommayyads, Fatimides, Aghlabides and Abbasides: it was like a new world opening for me. musee monnaie tunisAlready in the first century of islamic era, coins were made with Qu’ran inscriptions and this museum shows a good quantity of them (a lot in gold, part of the attractiveness of course).
Another thing I learned is that coins can be shiite or sunni. First I thought I misunderstood but the proof was in front of my eyes.

shiite coins

shiite coins

sunni coins

sunni coins

I seriously studied these coins but I am afraid my expertise is too limited to understand the subtile differences.
There is, overall, a very good explanation that goes with these coins but not in English: in Arabic and in French. For the coins of the early centuries I must say it was difficult to relate the information given to the coins as exposed. This suddenly improved when the period of antiquities was left behind. From then on, all is clear, although sometimes quite detailed. For experts, this is the absolute place to be.
The museum also shows some interesting notes that tell us which heroes of the past are valuated enough to be on the national banknotes. I saw f.ex. Ibn Rachik, Hannibal, Ibn Khaldoun.
It has many square coins: square coins musee monnaie tunisAnd it presents plenty of memorial coins, and coins of special sites where I found Amsterdam among them.
coins about sites musee monnaie tunislibrary musee de la monnaie tunisLast but not least: the library they have offers books in 5 or 6 languages, not just about coinage but also about history and art of the region. It is an excellent collection for those who want to study and it seems to be an undiscovered place: you can sit there in complete tranquillity, surrounded by friendly workers who are happy to welcome anyone interested in their cultural heritage.
The Money Museum (Musée de la Monnaie) of Tunis: worth a visit!

Amsterdam Maker Festival – to be developed

amsterdam makers festival
‘Vague’ is the best word for the impression the Amsterdam Maker Festival made on me. I must have missed something but to me it was more a fair than a festival. I think most people did not spend more than 1-1,5 hours there. Somehow the announcement of this ‘festival’ created big expectations but I guess the floor was too innovative for simple visitors to get any idea of sense and nature of what was going on – especially on the first floor where Makerversity resides. It is clear that the 1st floor is an inspiring working area for new businesses but what on earth were we as visitors doing there? I liked the Javascript-Dress though (< on the left) but it was just hanging there, no one around, no explanation or anything. Why, what, how??
amsterdam maker cafeOn the groundfloor the program was accessible for all: drinks, food, all Amsterdam made. Think of Kesbeke, Frites uit Zuyd, and the best peanut butter I ever ate – but strange enough the website of the festival doesn’t even mention them, nor some other very good products that show the best of Amsterdam.
amsterdam maker festival 3 On the 3rd floor, there was a mixture of concrete stuff like lamps, jewelry and a spectacular artist in velvet (Velvet Matters), her work is really worth a visit! However a big part of the floor was empty and there were also objects like this one on the left – again no one around, no explanation or anything. Why, what, how??
The idea of an Amsterdam Maker Festival is great, I heard many positive reactions on that. For a next version, there is some work to do. For example, what is Amsterdam Made > does it really include Leiden, Nijmegen and the like? The festival seems to expand Amsterdam not just with a small circle but by conquering all of our country. And who exactly is the public for this festival: kids, grownups, nerds, general public, people who come to buy something, or people interested in some kind of experience (and then: what experience)? And last but not least: the website of the Amsterdam Maker Festival that is not very accessible for general public and does not mention half of the things general public would be interested in (like finding back the special peanut butter whose name I did not write down when I was on the spot). Amsterdam is a great brand that inspires many people. I really hope this will be continued!

Archaeological Museum Amman: caring for 6500 year old child…

chalcolithic childToday I was very moved when I saw the estimated 6500 year old remains of a buried child in the archaeological museum of Amman, at the Citadel. The museum shows many artefacts, neutrally placed on glass or wooden shelves. However, this child got special care: it was placed on a soft, warm cushion. Is there a better way for a museum to show that they care? is there a finer way for Jordanians to express their culture of respect? Culture is not a matter of big flags and statues, although I admit they can be part of it. Culture is often recognized from little, tiny details in daily life, such as the care for a child that has died not just centuries but thousands and thousands of years ago. This museum shows that even after so much time, it is possible to surround a child with love. Wow Jordan… It really touched my heart!
archaeological museum ammanThe museum has some spectacular pieces that in Western museums would be presented with lots of pooha. However here in Amman they are shown in a very modest way. This is a pity because if you do not know, you might overlook the uniqueness of the findings. I spoke very enthusiasticly to a Jordanian woman about the museum and the artefacts I saw there and she thought deeply and said in surprise: ‘I was there but I must have missed that, I do not remember at all’. So if you go pay a visit to the archaeological museum at the Citadel of Amman, do your homework beforehand and you will enjoy your visit tremendously because nowhere in the world you can find older statues than here: really! And while you’re there, don’t forget to pay your respects to the chalcolithic child that most probably had loving parents and is now taken care of by loving Jordanians.

The sign in front of the child says: ‘The burial of infants in jars was a common custom in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Palestine. The jar was generally placed under the living room floor, possibly to keep the child within the family circle‘. (Ghassul, Chalcolithic).
Chalcolithic means: 5500-3500 BC.