Augure is an amazing movie that does not look like any other movie. Augure shows a life full of rituals, magical realism, love and violence in the collectivist society of Congo. And it succeeds to bring in the individual perspective and choices.

I read several reviews after seeing the movie Augure, directed by former rapper Baloji. Reviewers clearly struggle to comment on a movie that does not play by their – western – rules.
* ‘the beautiful-looking vignettes sometimes don’t quite merge into one coherent story with one clear message’ (Filmtotaal)
* ‘a ragged, open, unfinished character’ (Filmkrant)
* ‘Baloji’s full-length debut floats gently around in a wonderful bath of magical realism, but we were not really overwhelmed by emotions’. (De Morgen)

I disagree with the reviewers and found Augure really something else. An innovative movie with a strong message: a major contribution to the world of movies. The suspense was quite heavy for me from the first minutes. I really did wonder what would follow and if I could hold it to the end of the movie. Augure starts with scenes that other movies end with. Luckily, I stayed.

The scenery and images are spectacular. As the reviewers did remark, colours, costumes, music, landscape, fairy tale, art and tradition, all of that is part of the story. A Belgian Congolese returns to his homeland to see if he can connect with his family and introduce his Belgian wife. ‘He told me it would be different’, she said, ‘but I did not understand how different’. Her strong point is that she looses grip from the very beginning of her arrival in Congo and lives with it. Her openness gives her connections.

Scenery in Congo is not just beautiful. There are many cruel aspects, violence, murder, rape and different kinds of exclusion: a more than average terrible phenomenon in a collectivist society. What the reviewers see as ‘ragged’ and not ‘coherent’, are the different perspectives of protagonists. They have to relate to the positive and negative aspects of that vibrant society and they do make their choices. Following their steps is very interesting. Sometimes these steps have many observers (the list of figurants in this movie is long). They are silently watching and give way to the individual path. It accentuates the meaning of individual expression within collectivism. The reviewer above who was not ‘really overwhelmed with emotions’ must have missed the possibility to relate to the protagonists’s soul.

After an intrusive and alienating start of the movie, seeing through the daily jungle of events becomes more and more clear. The viewer is left with the question how he himself lives now, and how he himself would live in the magical and hard reality of Congo. Go watch Augure if you dare to and if you feel ready to let go.

You may also like:
The movie ‘Un divan à Tunis
The movie ‘Shoplifters

The Gravediggers of the Republic by Mohamed Sifaoui

The Gravediggers of the Republic (islamo-leftism: the unpublished survey) is a rich and knowledgeable book. It offers a dive into history, explains theories and practice and gives sharp observations of the changing secular society: France in the first place but applicable to many countries. Sifaoui considers islamo-leftism as a threat to free societies. Step by step he accompanies the reader through the arguments why.

In the introduction, Sifaoui writes that he was educated and formed with the values of the left. Those values are the reason why he resists political islam because of its totalitarian character. Therefor he is shocked to see the liaison of the left with political islam:
‘(...) ceux qui sont suppose être de mon camp idéologique, de ma famille politique, les défenseurs réputés de l’humanisme, de l’antiracisme universaliste, des grandes valeurs, en somme de la Déclaration des droits de l’homme et enfin de la laïcité, deviennent les meilleurs alliés des islamistes. Une anomalie que je ne finis pas d’explorer.’ p. 24

The Gravediggers of the Republic has 3 chapters: the genesis of islamo-gauchisme, its foundations and its activists. Overall it is very interesting what Sifaoui has to tell but not always easy. Sifaoui uses very long sentences, so at the end of them you often have to go back to the beginning for interpretation. Cutting sentences in half would largely contribute to good readability. It is also a very French book. Context and most players are French. Often I thought, who is that then? Or I missed assumed knowledge about situations described. But I had to keep on reading as the book is so interesting.

Islam versus political islam
Sifaoui differentiates islam from political islam.
‘Je dis bien l’islam politique et non pas l’islam – ni les musulmans – puisqu’une religion réduite à sa stricte vocation, confinée dans la sphère privé, respectueuse des lois et des règles communes ne peut représenter un problème.’ p. 276
See also this video-fragment. Sifaoui states that the left is only interested in political, extreme islam, not in islam. For example the left supports less muslim women who do not wear veils than muslim women fighting to wear the veil in education and public offices.
‘Les << défenseurs des musulmans >> ou les << défenseurs des Maghrébins >> ne les défendent pas lorsqu’ils sont policiers, journalistes, chômeurs, ingénieurs, femmes émancipées, laïques, mais principalement quand ils sont islamistes. (...) Parfois ils se transformant même en menaces à leurs yeux’. p.364

the gravediggers of the republic

Historical perspective
The Gravediggers of the Republic shows how intellectual discussions about islam were well possible in the 19th century when great Arab thinkers contributed to debates. Then Wahhabism (origins in Saudi-Arabia) introduced intolerance and dictatorship of political islam. Sifaoui describes the historical process als it evolved in the Arab world: reforms in the 19th century, opening up to modernism, then overruled by nationalism since 1920 until the ‘70’s, when political islam starts to grow. I ascertain this was similar in the Turkish world: the 19th century reform movement Tanzimat, the nationalist period that started with Atatürk from 1920, and upcoming political islam after the 3rd Military Coup in 1980.

Conquering the main discourse
Sifaoui sees how political islam infiltrates democratic countries. Education is a very important sector for them because islamism is a long-term project and education an effective weapon. Also organisations fighting racism and other social or political associations are seen and used as partners.
Three steps are central in the islamic-leftist discours: first victimisation of muslims, then diabolisation of France and the values of the secular French Republic, finally reversal of the values. Thus many terror attacks have been justified already by islamo-leftists. The left abandons its traditionally essential principles. such as secularism and the fight against anti-semitism and even considers them as bad now. So the left approaches the political islamist discours, but the reverse movement (islamists defending leftist themes like feminism) does not exist.
Sifaoui explains the connection of the left with political islam from the fight against capitalism. For the left, a man who works hard to give a good life to his family, who enjoys liberties like emancipation that capitalism brings, who is no longer forced to go to church, synagogue or mosque, that free man is serving the wrong system. He is an individualist and an ally of capitalism, thus an enemy.

How resilient are France and the West?
The Gravediggers of the Republic gives many examples for its assertions. The fight to have women wear a veil and antisemitism are main themes for political islam. The left joins the political islam here. They plead for the veil as a woman’s right. They turn the wish for liberation of the Palestinian People into a fight against Israel that also brings antisemitism. That is not new or recent. In France in 1982 the newspaper Libération published openly a readers’ letter appealing to ‘Arab brothers’ to make sure ‘no Jew would feel safe’.
Also in Libération, the French socialist politician Jospin does not condemn terrorism in Algeria as he thinks the government has to be more democratic. Jospin indicates he cannot choose sides, a stand that shocks Sifaoui. Born and raised in Algeria, Sifaoui grew up with the extremist terror of GIA (see also this blog). He thinks the West and certainly the left is underestimating the power, deepness and violence of political islam. The West is not really equipped to fight it, but France is doing better than most countries on the institutional level. Is it really? I’m not convinced yet. I’d love to read a book from Sifaoui’s hand that is not merely focussing on France but studying different Western-European countries.

(Assumed) imperialism and colonialism as drivers
As the left sees Arab countries through the glasses of imperialism, they refer actual developments like political islam to colonial history. They could not be more mistaken, Sifaoui says. Political islam goes back ages and is not an actual development. Its inspiration does not come from the outside (by imperialism and the like) but from the inside of muslim-majority societies. Sifaoui sees two streams of political islam: one is ideological (Muslim Brotherhood) and one is revolutionary and violent (Wahhabism/Salafism). Both have strong connections to the left. The left finds excuses for acts that they would not accept from other citizens. But they see muslims as victims of society, not as free humans who choose to kill the staff of Charlie and visitors in the Bataclan or decapitate Paty. So in the name of (left) egalitarism, unequal treatment is allowed and even a must.

Read it!
There are so many historical facts in this book that it is difficult to summarize and present them here. With over 400 pages of knowledge and insights, the book is rich. Particularly original is chapter 16 about the ‘islamic left’(‘la gauche islamique’). Sifaoui has a fabulous knowledge of the Arab and islamic world, apart from his French insights. I recommend you read The Gravediggers of the Republic if you’re interested in islamo-leftism.

Finally, 2 fragments that were new and insightful to me:

1. Fragment explaining that political islam is less about faith or theology and more about fighting the system:
‘Pour comprendre l’adhésion d’un certain nombre de musulmans à l’islamisme, il faut garder présent à l’esprit un fait important (...). Ce ne sont ni la piété des prêcheurs islamistes, ni leurs envolées théologico-lyriques qui séduisent les musulmans, mais plutôt l‘expression de la contestaton après l’échec des expériences réformistes et nationalistes. En d’autres termes, l‘islamisme, et peut-être a fortiori depuis la mort du communisme, apparaît comme une alternative idéologique de remise en question de regimes autoritaires. En Occident, il y a une autre raison, car la repartition des richesses est plus équitable et les droits mieux garantis: on va vers l’islam politique car il offre une identité, il propose une aventure héroissante si le candidat entre dans des logiques djihadistes, et permet, ou donne, l’impression, de recouvrer une dignité, d’appartenir à un groupe qui – à tout le moins en apparence, c’est souvent une posture – ne fait pas du consumérisme et du matérialisme ses seules préoccupations.’ p. 202-203

2, About the difference of secularism (‘laïcité) in the US and France:
‘C’est méconnaître que la << separation >> outre-Atlantique visait, dès le départ, à protéger les Églises de l’emprise de l’État. En France, c’est l’inverse. En verité, deux modèles de laïcité s’opposent: une première laïcité, celle des Américains, considère, en effet, qu’elle protège les croyances contre l’État, la seconde, la << laïcité à la francaise >>, comme on l’appelle, empêche les religions d’interférer dans le fonctionnement de l’État.’ p. 326-327

You may also like these French-Algerian authors:
Yasmina Khadra: wonderful Algerian author
Hôtel Saint George: I understood…

Yasmina Khadra – wonderful Algerian author

Yasmina Khadra is the most famous Algerian author. He has a long list of books translated in 22 languages. In a very rich French language, he offers to his readers original insights about love, life, identity, colonialism, terrorism and fate. In my blog here, I present 2 books; especially Khalil was a book I could not lay down until finished. All the themes Yasmina Khadra offers are actual in the Netherlands as well as in Algeria and France. But the Netherlands have no authors who could or dared to touch these matters with the depth of experience and empathy of Yasmina Khadra. I highly recommend this author!

Note that the name Yasmina Khadra is the pseudonym of Mohammed Moulessehoul, who worked in the Algerian army for 36 years. The pseudonym served him to avoid military censorship. Nevertheless he can talk about terrorism and colonialism as an expert who lived there where it happened. That makes his books so much more interesting than average.

Khalil (2018)

Khalil is an intriguing, exciting and oppressive book about a terrorist of Paris 2015. The book starts immediately in the action, with Belgian-Moroccan Khalil on his way to a suicide mission to blow himself up in a full metro close to Stade de France. The book is written in ‘I’ so that the reader feels an immediate connection with Khalil’s ideas and feelings. His mission in the Paris 2015 terrorist attacks is unsuccessful as his bomb belt does not explode. From there starts a crazy journey, out of Paris, out of France where everything is on the alert, back to Belgium and finally Molenbeek where Khalil lives.

In Molenbeek, all security forces are active at the highest level too. Khalil first has to survive, then finally connects again with his terrorist group to plan new attacks. Meanwhile his family and his best friend are step by step finding out that he got involved in terrorist activities. Apart from Khalil’s central story, many social issues pass in review, like the terrible treatment of Khalil’s sister in Morocco by a marabout and then an imam when her mother thinks someone gave the bad eye to her daughter.

There’s also a lot to enjoy for language lovers, like these sentences:

  • Son souffle résonnait contre mes tempes comme le chuintement d’une canalisation fissurée. (His breath echoed against my temples like the hiss of a cracked pipe. p. 73)
  • Je connaissais suffisamment Driss pour l’enterrer sans sépulture. (I knew Driss well enough to bury him unburied. p. 90)
  • Aucune étoile dans le ciel n’égalait le sourire de Zahra. Lorsqu’elle étirait les lèvres sur les côtés, des fossettes ornaient les pétales qui lui tenaient lieu de joues, et elle devenait tout un jardin à elle seule. (No star in the sky matched Zahra’s smile. When she stretched her lips to the sides, dimples adorned the petals that served as her cheeks, and sje became a garden unto herself. p.96)

Khalil was translated in English, not in Dutch. I did not tell the whole exciting story here, for the suspense to stay when you start reading this book yourself. Here Yasmina Khadra in a video about this book.

Ce que le jour doit à la nuit (What the day owes the night 2008)

One of the best books about life in colonial, contested colonial and post-colonial times. Younes, presented as the I-person, comes from a very poor rural background. His parents lived misery in a region where violence, hardness and oppression formed the norm. Eventually Younes is educated by his uncle, a pharmacist in a city who gives him a very good and also medical education. His uncle’s wife is French and calls him Jonas. The contacts with his family that keeps living in poor and miserable conditions, are difficult, even painful.

In colonial Algerian cities, different groups coexist: French, Arabs, Jews. At school though, the ‘enfants étranges’ (foreign children) can form blocs that exclude Younes and other ‘Arabs’. But Younes ends up having different friends who all fall in love with the same woman, Emilie and it brings many complicated stories. While they live their daily life and problems, the colonial war starts to break out. As a pharmacist, Younes is forced to help the terrorists (or freedom fighters). During all of the book it stays unclear on what side Younes sees himself – he does not really choose or adhere to a side, it seems. He is just surviving in changing and confusing times where others put him in a group:
> Tu es des nôtres mais tu mènes leur vie (you are ours but you live their life p.200)

I like to round off this blog with a valuable advice from the book! Often Younes is unhappy. He once heard a story of a mad man in the street, telling: ‘Le malheur est un cul-de-sac.Il mène droite dans le mur. Si tu veux t’en sortir, rebrousse chemin à reculons. De cette facon, tu croiras que c’est lui qui s’éloigne pendant que tu lui fais face.'(Misfortune is a dead end. He leads straight into the wall. If you want to get out of it, turn back backwards. That way, you’ll believe it’s him walking away while you are facing him’ p. 300-301).

Ce que le jour doit à la nuit was translated in English and Dutch (What the day owes the night / Wat de dag verschuldigd is aan de nacht). Here Yasmina Khadra in a video about this book

More French-Arab authors? You may also like Boualem Sansal, 3 of his books in my blog Why are people like this?

National Museum Serbia

National Museum Serbia in Belgrad has a great archaeological collection and very beautiful presentation. Visitors get good insight in (pre)historic life in this region where rivers dominate the landscape and many different tribes shaped the local customs.

Do not go to the National Museum Serbia, people told me. Apparently, it is a prominent project of the actual president that many citizens of Belgrad hate. However, archaeological findings house in this ‘Narodni Muzej Srbije’ so I went there anyway and I did not regret. The enormous hall on the ground floor has a nice atmosphere and good overview over the ages, starting in the 9-7th millenium BCE with the extensive findings of Lepenski Vir – like the figurines on the photograph above. Mesolithic artists shaped sandstone boulders from the river into sculptures and altars.

The National Museum Serbia contains many other precious objects and they know how to show them as you can see here. It is a joy to walk and look around.

Fortunately, always great to see, they have ancient jewelry! I was particularly intrigues by the ‘wristband’, an ornament that people wore 1500-1000 years BCE. I’d loved to try it for myself. More in general, why are jewelry makers not more often inspired by ancient times and the often spectacular ideas of our ancestors? The silver jewelry shown here date from 500-400 BCE.

These are just a few impressions. I really recomment that you go and see for yourself as there is so much more than what I show. The National Museum Serbia houses in a former bank and they use that as an advantage by housing a numismatic collection in two former bank vaults. Here you see pictures of a coin of Emperor Valentinian 1 (364 BCE) – of the oldest Serbian coin (1230 AD) with Christ blessing King Radoslav – and of a beautiful Yugoslavian banknote (1931). If you like ancient coins, the numismatic collection alone is rich enough to pay a visit to.

The first floor has lots of medieval objects, many of them religious. The top floors have paintings – I spotted quite some Dutch ones among many international famous names. For this blog, I think the Serbian painter Uros Predic (1857 – 1953) is interesting to show with some very fine Realistic paintings: ‘An orphan at his mother’s grave'(1888) and ‘Fugitives from Herzegovina'(1889). I was deeply moved while watching them.

Interested in archaeology and museums? You may also like:
Musée National Luxembourg
Musée d’Angoulême
Archaeological Museum Amman
Archaeological Museum Gaziantep

De Hedelse Afpersingszaak

De Hedelse Afpersingszaak is een heftig boek. Het laat zien hoe gewone mensen terecht komen in een strijd van nietsontziende criminelen – mede door een zeer ernstige fout van het Openbaar Ministerie overigens. Aangezien ik in Hedel geboren en getogen ben, had ik er via familie al het nodige over gehoord. Daarom heb ik het boek meteen gekocht en gelezen toen het uitkwam. Ik beveel het graag aan: het is goed geschreven en geeft veel inkijk in het hele verloop van de zaak.

Auteur Yelle Tieleman schetst een indringend beeld van alle onderzoeken en besluiten die op de achtergrond van afpersing en geweld plaatsvonden. Bij mij blijft de indruk achter dat de rechtstaat gewone burgers nog maar nauwelijks kan beschermen. ‘Kantje boord’, dat is wat de gebeurtenissen glashelder tonen, ondanks dat er door politie en justitie keihard aan werd gewerkt. Wat dat betreft is dit boek, net als het boek De Mocro Maffia, eerder een alarmsignaal dan een eindverslag. Waar in De Mocro Maffia het accent lag op Amsterdam West, zwerft in De Hedelse Afpersingszaak de criminaliteit een hele regio door, langs de voordeuren van tal van gewone burgers. Het boek heeft mij bepaald niet gerustgesteld maar dat is mijn gevoel: lees het vooral zelf.

Hoe het begon
In 2019 is bij het Hedelse fruit & transportbedrijf De Groot 400 kilo cocaine gevonden en overgedragen aan de politie. Een van de eigenaren van het bedrijf wordt vervolgens afgeperst om dit ‘verlies’ te compenseren en dat zet van 2019 tot 2021 golven van geweld in gang. Er is (nog) geen antwoord hoe die cocaine daar terecht kwam. De afperser is uiteindelijk voor 20 jaar cel veroordeeld maar was niet zelf de handelaar.

De adressenlijst
Voor het onderzoek beschikte de recherche over een adressenlijst van een paar honderd (oud)medewerkers. Het Openbaar Ministerie maakte de kapitale fout om die lijst in het dossier te voegen dat naar de verdachten ging. Er is (nog) geen antwoord wie daarvoor verantwoordelijk is. Bij een werkbezoek aan het bedrijf De Groot wil minister Grapperhaus er niet op ingaan, hij wil zelfs niets zeggen naar de slachtoffers toe (p. 164). Ook de leidende officier van justitie geeft geen krimp: ‘Het Openbaar Ministerie kan hier niets aan doen’ (p. 164), mogelijk uit angst voor aansprakelijkheid maar het komt wel harteloos over. Het deed me denken aan 2007 toen een Apache-helikopter van Defensie een hoogspanningsmast raakte waardoor de hele Bommelerwaard dagen zonder stroom zat. ‘Er is geen fout gemaakt want de piloot handelde geheel volgens protocol’, heette het toen. Er zijn betere manieren om te laten zien dat je er als overheid voor je mensen bent. Hoe hard het Openbaar Ministerie ook echt heeft gewerkt aan deze zaak, dit soort reacties schaadt het vertrouwen – een uiterst actueel thema. Tieleman becommentarieert het gedrag niet maar maakt het zichtbaar door het gewoon te beschrijven, waarvoor hulde.

De werkwijze van de afperser
De afperser zet de bedrijfsleiding onder druk om te betalen door aanslagen te plegen op huizen van (oud)medewerkers. Soms loopt het met een sisser af, maar bij twee broers in Hedel brandt het hele huis af. Zelf redden ze ternauwernood het vege lijf. Uiteindelijk is, terecht natuurlijk, besloten dat slachtoffers compensatie van het Openbaar Ministerie zullen krijgen. Want het is niet alleen de afpersingszaak zelf die grote impact heeft in de regio van Vlijmen en de Bommelerwaard tot Tiel en Hilversum. Het is ook de onzorgvuldigheid met privacygegevens van de burgers die het Openbaar Ministerie juist dient te beschermen, die de gevoelens van onveiligheid enorm heeft vergroot. Dat geeft aan dit boek een bizarre kleur.
Toevoeging 16 oktober: genoemde compensatie is voor een groep van honderd medewerkers van De Groot. De twee broers wier huis afbrandde, hebben nog steeds geen duidelijkheid of en zo ja in hoeverre ze gecompenseerd gaan worden.

Sterk in dit boek
Het hoofdstuk over de twee broers wier huis afbrandt, is adembenemend goed. Ook beschrijvingen van allerlei jonge daders die betrokken worden bij de aanslagen, geven veel stof tot nadenken. Jonge mannen die hun omgeving beschrijft als aardig, behulpzaam en zorgzaam, tonen totale onverschilligheid voor hun slachtoffers.
‘En die mensen dan?’, vraagt een van zijn vrienden. ‘Hoe is het daarmee afgelopen?’
‘Die leven. Maar het boeit mij niet. Als ik mijn geld maar krijg.’ (p. 126)
Tieleman oordeelt niet zodat je zelf met de puzzel blijft zitten.
Een andere tegenstrijdigheid is de regelmatig geuite mening dat het om laagbegaafde jonge mannen zou gaan. Echter, het boek toont duidelijk een slim kat-en-muis spel tussen daders en opsporing, en bij allerlei gesprekken komen de daders goed gebekt en vaardig over. Hoe zit dat dan? Mijn bewondering voor het geduld van rechercheurs bij alle excuusverhalen en verdraaiingen is groot. Stapje voor stapje zie je hen de zaak toch rond krijgen.

Minder sterk in dit boek
Ik had nog wel wat meer ervaringen zoals die van de twee broers willen lezen. Het gaat veelal over de daders en de opsporing, en minder over de burgers en hun persoonlijke bevindingen. Er zijn trouwens zoveel daders, dat je soms de weg een beetje kwijt raakt wie wie is. Achterin blijkt een register te staan met alle namen en toelichting, helaas kwam ik daar pas achter toen ik het boek uit had. Dat register is dus handig. Maar op een gegeven moment had ik het wel gehad met al die verhoren van daders.

Bijna aan het einde van het boek schrijft Tieleman: ‘Het is een zaak die (…) zijn weerga in de Nederlandse geschiedenis niet kent. Niet eerder zijn zoveel onschuldige mensen betrokken geraakt in een criminele afpersing waarmee zij niets te maken hebben en waarvan ze volledig losstaan. Het laat zien dat de grenzen tussen onder- en bovenwereld steeds verder vervagen. Je hoeft geen crimineel te zijn om te maken te krijgen met extreem geweld’ (p.266). Ik moet zeggen, Tieleman toont dit punt overtuigend aan in De Hedelse Afpersingszaak. Het is als het ware het hogere doel dat om dit boek heen hangt. Daarvoor verdient deze journalist grote hulde. Dankzij zijn boek weten we wat er precies is gebeurd en hoe dat werkt – en kunnen we samen strijden tegen die vervagende grenzen.

Villa del Casale – a must-see

Villa del Casale in Sicily is a wonderful heritage from Roman times. It has a unique mosaic that proves women were exercising for different sports as well as men. What makes Villa del Casale a must-see in Sicily are the many mosaics still in place. The villa with numerous rooms, courts and halls contains more authentic mosaics on their original spots than museums can offer. My visit was amazing and breathtaking as there are not just many mosaics. They are also storytelling mosaics, full of action.

Historians have searched: who would have been rich enough in ancient times to build a place like this? So many rooms (see the villa-plan below) and litterally every floor had mosaics (remaining), wall paintings and marble (mostly lost). In his excellent book about the history of Sicily, Fik Meijer suggests that it could have been Maximinianus, co-emperor of Diocletianus in the 3rd century AD but there are also other theories.

Villa del Casale was well in use for at least 7 centuries and probably disappeared underground in the time of the Normans (12th century. Farmers re-discovered it in the 18th century. Restauration followed in the 20th century. And it is very much worth your visit.

Mosaic of Circus Maximus
Not only the mosaic with the sportgirls is unique. In a spectacular corridor, you can see the Roman Circus Maximus projected, with horses running around the track, and other scenes that belong to this horse racing event. It is an incredible and very vivid mosaic, although a little bit difficult to see for the visitor. But even with some distance, it impresses well enough. At a certain point in your visit, you can look into this room also from the other side.

Mosaic Colosseum animals
Very impressive is also the 100 (!) meter long corridor. This corridor is like a film that shows how Romans catch wild animals that must fight in the Colosseum, and how they transport them. This is storytelling mosaic in its best form, not to be found anywhere else in the world. A great variety of animals is put into ships towards Rome: from springbok, buffalo and ostrich to lion, tiger, rhino, elephant. The places depicted are Carthago, Alexandria, the Nile delta, India and the harbour of Ostia. Apparently animals had to be taken from far away to feed the hunger of the Colosseum public in Rome.

Where should I start to describe the rest of Villa del Casale? There are many more storytelling mosaics. A last one that I like both for the scene and for the way the mosaic was placed in a ‘semi-circular portico’ around a small courtyard that connects various rooms.

Mosaic about the art of fishing
This mosaic shows are many boats, all of them with two fishermen using different methods to fish. It reveals in detail the secrets of fishing with a net, a creel, a trident and a fishing line with a hook.
The sea is full with an immense variety of fish. Alongside of the sea you see beautiful maritime villas with different forms but all with long arcades that open out onto the sea.
Most probably this is one of the ‘North-African’ mosaics present in Villa del Casale as it looks a lot like mosaics found in the Bardo Museum in Tunis.

Mosaic floors for servants
Were you only a servant in the Villa del Casale? Well, even for you the floors would be covered with mosaics and the walls with frescos and marble. It might not be a storytelling mosaic but I would not mind to have that kind of floor in my room!

How to get there?
Villa del Casale lies in the country-side, a few kilometers from Piazza Armerina about one hour drive from Catania. There is a public bus (Interbus) going from Taormina – Catania – Piazza Armerina. The total ride is about 3 hours (a lot shorter if you start from Catania of course). Tickets are rather cheap (return ticket 18 euros in 2023). Next to the busstop in Piazza Armerina is also the stop of the shuttle to Villa del Catale (2,50 return ticket in 2023, only 10 minutes drive). If you have time left between bus and shuttle, Piazza Armerina has a nice historic centre. Although a bit in neglect, it is worth some of your time.

Do you like mosaics?
Find more places to visit mosaics in these blogs:
House of Dionysos in Paphos (Southern Cyprus)
Zeugma Museum Gaziantep (Turkey)
Mosaic Museum Sanliurfa (Turkey)
Musée National Luxembourg
Bardo Museum (Tunisia)
Salamis (Northern Cyprus)

Waarheen moet ik gaan? Where shall I go?

Waarheen moet ik gaan is an outstanding book about the recent history of a Jewish family, written by John Dunkelgrün. It starts in the 2nd half of the 19th century and leads us through 2 World Wars, lots of joy of life and loads of antisemitism. It is an exciting book, showing the power of optimism and entrepreneurship, but also a story of loss and the reality of evil. Many familymembers described in this book did not survive the holocaust. Waarheen moet ik gaan makes very clear what happened; it can not answer the question why… Nevertheless, because of the special skills of the writer, Waarheen moet ik gaan grabs your attention in every chapter.

John Dunkelgrün follows his family lines from father’s and mother’s side. He is a master storyteller with a good sense of humor. Personally, I found especially the international aspect of this book very intriguing – it left me as a reader full of admiration about the way his family members were open to new cultures and experiences. Also it gives lots of indepth information about Jewish life in different countries. Three characteristics are always there: trade and entrepreneurship – being Jewish and a minority that is constantly met with prejudices – openness to others, whoever they are in background, wealth, etnicity and the like.

In the line of his father the adventure goes through Poland, Germany, Palestine, Belgium, the Netherlands. In the line of his mother, the story starts in Roumania, Russia, Hungaria and Austria passes via Hamburg to the United States, continues in the Netherlands, Persia and London. All these travellings are described in detail in the first two parts of the book; the author makes you look around and really see all those places.

Waarheen moet ik gaan is a very special chronicle of a family history in a turbulent century. Sometimes, the writer intervenes, explaining what he knows or what he could not find in his research. Rather then disturb the reader, it gives this book an extra dimension – the reader is aware that Waarheen moet ik gaan is not ‘just a book’ but that there is an author behind who wants to show some things and is willing to be accountable for what one reads.

Waarheen moet ik gaan is also the story of starting over and over again. The writers’ grandfather is unsafe in Poland and leaves a good business behind, to start another one in Germany. Some years later, he is unsafe again and moves with his family to the Netherlands, where he starts a new business again. But then, in WW2, he is unsafe again and this time he and his family have to run without a sure place to go. His other grandfather grows up in extreme poverty and runs away from home at the age of 13 or 14. What follows, looks like a story of a fairy tale. You will not be bored for a minute when reading this adventure, as an amazing, almost incredible story is told by a master storyteller.

In the 3rd part of the book, it is war time WW2. Slowly by slowly the situation deteriorates and both families have to run, almost too late. Borders have closed, administrations disencourage refugees especially the Jewish ones, many try to profit financially from the situation of refugees. This part of Waarheen moet ik gaan is deeply oppressive and dramatic. The loneliness in the continuous threat, the need to survive in an environment that is probably hostile… the family makes it into France but they do not know who can be trusted. Betrayal is everywhere, as well as greed. Eventually part of the family arrives in Switzerland where the writer is born.

waarheen moet ik gaan
I love this picture of the baby author!

Life is described in detail including life in camps full of hardship in France and Switzerland. The end of WW2 does not just mean to ‘start again’, it means also dealing with what happened during the holocaust in a context that is not welcoming or facilitating, on the contrary. The scars of the survivors are enormous and lasting. However, immediately there is life again, full of business and humorous anecdotes. So much energy and resilience.

Is there nothing that could be done better in this book? Well yeah, there are so many names that a register to explain who is who would help the reader. There is an existing register explaining many words, Jiddisch, Hebrew, German, Hungarian that I found very helpful. Waarheen moet ik gaan is in Dutch but deserves a much larger, international public.

If you like this blog, you may also like:
Idiss – by Robert Badinter
Simone Veil – Une Vie

Musée National Luxembourg

Reconstruction of Gallic house (1st century BD – based on Oppidum Titelberg)

Musée National Luxembourg offers 5 floors of archaeology, presented in a beautiful way. The collection is rich and a visit feels like a discovery of old times. Also children can have a great time in this museum; there is plenty of space, interaction and objects presentations that can attract their full attention.

skull rhinoceros musée national luxembourg
Skull of prehistoric rhinoceros

Musée National Luxembourg was built in the rocks: when you enter in the ground floor, there is a nationalistic presentation about Luxembourg: since when is it a country and how does it develop it’s own identity. Then you walk to floor -1 to find yourself in the first ages of our era. You can go down by stairs or slope (wheelchair accessible). and each floor you go back in time, to end on floor -5 with the oldest known history of Luxembourg. Here and there I lost my way through the logic of the route but that didn’t matter, it just added to the joy of the discovery.

mosaic floor from villa Vichten, Musée National Luxembourg
Mosaic floor with the Muses, found in Gallo-Roman villa in Vichten

The mosaic floor that was found in Vichten is a striking beauty – in reality better than in the picture above (difficult to photograph because of the specific lights above the floor). It depicts the 9 Muses in an impressive way. The complete floor is ca. 6 x 10 meters! You can read in this (French) article how it was found and unearthed, an interesting story. Other pieces from that period that drew my attention are the altars with indigenous fertility godesses; they have fruit baskets on their lap and small animals or children on their side. They made me think of the altar findings at the coast in the Netherlands (see the blog: Meet Nehalennia!).

Indigenous fertility goddess, most probably a home altar

Apparently there was an exposition in the Henan Museum in Zhengzhou, China, under the title ‘Luxembourg: small country, rich history’. Indeed Luxembourg is small compared to China. In lots of vitrines, like here in the midst of special glasswork (left photo) and wonderful accessories from the 1st-4rd century AD (right photo), there were signs of objects gone to China. Very nice to see this special cultural exchange!

There is a lot more to tell about Musée National Luxembourg, I will limit it here to 2 more items – just go there yourself to see and live it all! 1, I did like this piece of glasswork from 40-50AD, found in graves ‘Hellange – Belsaker’:

glasswork musée national luxembourg

2. Finally, real amazing, the facial reconstruction of ‘the man of Loschbour’ based on a skeleton that dates from about 6000 BC, called the Mesolithic Period – these are the oldest finding of humans on Luxembourg’s soil – Loschbour is a small stream in Heffingen – Müllerthal, in the east of Luxembourg. These kind of video’s next to the representation of original findings make the neutral past so much more alive and close to our own lives. Well done, Musée National Luxembourg!

Celtic graveyard at Bourdange

celtic graveyard at bourdange

A Celtic graveyard can be found at Bourdange, Nospelt, at walking distance from a gallo-roman villa complex. To be fair, there is not a lot to see at the former Celtic graveyard itself: all pieces that were found there in archaeological research – and there were many – are exhibited in the National Museum of History and Art in Luxembourg City. However, the 0,5 kilometer walk towards this Celtic graveyard is nice. Moreover, arriving on the spot after a small path through the woods gives a good look and feel of the place. The Celts were amazing in finding spots for mystic purposes. Please follow 2 minutes of my path to the Celtic graveyard in this happy video-recording July 2022.

The Celtic graveyard was used during a few centuries, from the 1st century BD till problably the 3rd century AD. Archaeologists suppose that this graveyard belonged to the inhabitants of the nearby gallo-roman villa complex. All the objects were dug up by volunteers who were able to reconstruct especially the 5 large tumulus: the last resting place of 4 men and 1 woman, all of them probably in powerful positions. Both the men and the woman received the same kind of attributes in their tumulus: lots of pottery, weaponry and horse equipment. Apart from that, there was a mirror for the woman and 2 special statues of mother figures. On the photograph of the information board at Bourdange, you can see these statues lying in spot 1 and spot 2, somehow in the middle of a number of objects.

celtic graveyard at bourdange - statues of mother figures

On the other picture, you can see the statues in the permanent exposition of the National Museum of History and Art in Luxembourg.

2 statues found in celtic graveyard at bourdange

Around the grave of the Celtic woman, many coins were found and also specific bones. Apparently people worshipped her after her death. From the date of the coins, we know that the worship lasted over 150 years! She must have been very important and maybe one day we will know more about her. In the picture below you can see the presentation of the grave gifts in the Museum: it was a rich treasure that was donated to her in her tumulus in the Celtic graveyard. The Museum also shows the gifts given to the men.

woman's grave in celtic graveyard at bourdange

One thing puzzled me, apparently there is a museum in Nospelt where findings of the Celtic graveyard and the gallo-roman villa are exposed. I went to Nospelt and indeed there is a house-like building with a sign that it is a museum, but nothing shows when it is opened or how it can be visited. That is a pity because all on the site indicates that such a museum would have a story. Fortunately there is the Museum in Luxembourg.  Maybe the future will also bring volunteers for the Nospelt Museum (or the marketing of it).

Anyway, the Celtic graveyard in combination with the gallo-roman villa will give you a very nice experience; worth the trip!

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Gallo-roman villa at Bourdange

gallo-roman villa at bourdange

The site of the gallo-roman villa at Bourdange (Nospelt, Luxembourg) is very interesting. Clearly there is a lot of care both for the findings of the gallo-roman (celtic-roman) villa and the information given to visitors. It is a pleasure to go and see around.

In the woods at the verge of Bourdange, Nospelt, lies a most interesting Celtic site. The road signs call it a ‘Roman villa’, locals call it ‘Miecher’. Anyway it dates from the period where Celts were adapting more and more to Roman laws and lifestyle (‘gallo-roman period’). What you see is a group of foundations, scattered around in field and forest, remnants from a large villa with many side-buildings. The foundations were dug up and made accessible so that you easily have an overview and a good impression of the extent of the wealth here in the first centuries AD. Also you can see the traces of wooden fences, made in the 3rd and 4rd century when German tribes attacked Roman sites.

gallo-roman villa at bourdange

Volunteers have run this project that the local pastor Kayser started in 1964. Pastor Kayser followed up on the local rumors that there was a lot to find in the forest. There were talks about a hidden treasure. Together with the locals, he started the first serious archaeological search, with success. What happened before when following up on local memories, happened here again: a real hidden treasure was found! Imagine to find a pot filled with 2772 ‘antonian’ coins! Alas it is not on the site of the gallo-roman villa in Bourdange but in the National Museum of History and Art in Luxembourg city. The treasure stood within a wall in one of the side building – maybe the administrator of the property? There is no side note on the owner or the meaning of this treasure so that is one of the secrets of history.

gallo-roman villa at bourdange - treasure

His initiative was the basis of a large archaeological movement in the region that is remarkable and that obtained government recognition and permission as per 1991. What an achievement! Every year, more than 10.000 volunteer hours are spent in ancient sites. They also do projects with young people to increase interest and love for archaeology. You can feel that when you visit. Not only were several people working there to clean the site and make it more perfect, also the proof of regular research activity is visible on several spots. The information boards are excellent – I could follow every step of the project and it is exciting. There is way to much information to mention here so go there yourself and take your time.

gallo-roman villa at bourdange - information boards

Most of the foundations at the gallo-roman villa of Bourdange were former houses or buildings, except for 2 structures: 1 is a small temple, I loved that: to have your own temple next to the house! This, of course, was only for the very rich. 2 is a former monument for the death, a small round tower. The fact that the monument was situated at the doorstep of the house, means that ancestors and death have been very present for the living.

gallo-roman villa at bourdange - temple

When you visit the gallo-roman villa at Bourdange, it is just a short walk to go to the Celtic graves further into the woods. I went there and will tell more about them in the next blog.

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Rijksmuseum van Oudheden – Meet Nehalennia!

nehalennia rijksmuseum van oudheden

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden is the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in the city of Leiden. I always thought that our country, the Netherlands, only had antiquities from foreign countries like Greece or Egypt, and that Dutch findings were rather recent. So I visited many archaeological museums especially in the Middle East (see below). How could I be so ignorant? Rijksmuseum van Oudheden has spectacular, really ancient findings from Dutch soil. Also I learned about local gods that I never heard about before. So nice!

The altars shown above are dedicated to the goddess Nehalennia. Many merchants who crossed the sea from the Netherlands to London from 150 – 250 AD erected an altar to thank her for a safe journey. People completely forgot about her until a temple and many altars were discovered in the dunes of Domburg in 1647 AD. Nehalennia is a goddess of fertility, often pictured with fruits and/or a dog, but also with (elements of) a ship. Her origin should be Germanic or Celtic. If you also never heard about her, that in itself makes it worth a visit to Rijksmuseum van Oudheden!

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden has a large collection with antiquities from many countries. It’s easy to spend many hours there! In this blog, I concentrate on the Dutch ones. Things I particularly liked:

bandkeramiek uit Elsloo - rijksmuseum van oudheden

Pottery from a settlement at the river Meuse in the south, dating from 5000BC.

ommerschans zwaard en jutphaas zwaard

The Ommerschans Sword and the Jutphaas Sword, unique pieces of bronze casting from 1500BC. The museum calls them ‘exceptional artefacts’. They were used as gifts in sacrifices. Center and northeast of the Netherlands (that didn’t exist as a country in that time yet).

bronzen nekringen - rijksmuseum van oudheden

Both men and women wore bronze neck rings. These date from the early iron age, 800-500BC. Found in the center of the country but most probably imported. Also used as offers. I particularly liked the twisted one.

This woodcarved figure was probably a ritual object. It was found in a well in Oss in the south and dates from 400BC. It is rare to find wooden antiquities. This one is in oak.

rijksmuseum van oudheden - speer

Spearhead, put in wooden shaft and then thrown to the enemy, apparently a real killer. Dating from
1-300BC, found in Alblasserdam, middle-west of the country. A masterpiece!

gouden helm de peel

The golden helmet found by turf-cutters in the Peel (southeast), dating from 320AD. More precious objects were found but there is no info about context (owner, offering?). An absolute wow-piece!

viking schat - rijksmuseum van oudheden

The Viking Hoard of Wieringen, north-west of the country, 850AD. 1,6 kilo of silver, most probably from a Danish owner. It was buried in spring. So maybe the owner was hiding it when he left and he never came back…

Interested in archaeological museums? You may also like:
Archaeological museum Sanliurfa
Archaeological museum Haarlem
Huis van Hilde – Hilde’s House
Archaeological museum Gaziantep
Archaeological museum Amman
Musée d’Art et d’Archaeologie d’Orléans
Muséum of Art and Archaeology Périgord
Saint Barnabas Icon and Archaeological Museum


BEgrip is een prachtig boek met een grote rijkdom aan instrumenten, methoden en tips om te werken met complexiteit in de publieke sector. Wat je vooral merkt als je dit boek leest, is de enorme ervaring van de schrijvers Angela Riddering en Herrie Geuzendam.


Vaak zijn dit type boeken gebaseerd op een of twee benaderingswijzen, dan wel een aha-erlebnis van de schrijvers zelf. BEgrip doet veel meer. Het loodst je door de vele fasen die horen bij een complexe opgave en geeft je voor de verschillende momenten in dat proces een keur aan wijsheden en praktische oplossingen mee. Een hoofdstuk verdeelt alle mee te geven instrumenten en tips zelfs naar beroepsgroep: de adviseur en manager, de bedrijfsvoeringsexpert of de businesscontroller. Dit is niet een boek dat je leest en dan weglegt omdat je het gelezen hebt, het is eerder een metgezel die je bij de hand houdt in de verschillende stappen en fasen van het werken aan een complexe opgave. Ik ben erg onder de indruk van wat dit boek te bieden heeft.

Wat ik interessant vond om te ontdekken, is hoeveel raakvlakken de vereisten in het werken met complexiteit hebben met het werken aan diversiteit en inclusie, mijn eigen vakgebied. Een belangrijk kenmerk is bijvoorbeeld de onzekerheid en de paradoxen waar je mee te maken krijgt – alleen wie de onzekerheid en paradoxen goed kan hanteren, zal zich prettig voelen bij dit type werk en daar effectief in kunnen zijn. Ook allerlei houdingsaspecten komen overeen: de openheid en nieuwsgierigheid, de relatief waardevrije benadering die van je gevraagd wordt, de onvermijdelijke fouten die je gaat maken omdat je je op onbekend terrein begeeft – waarbij de hamvraag niet is hoe je fouten voorkomt maar hoe je ze oplost en in hernieuwd vertrouwen met partners verder op weg kunt.

Er zijn ook tal van pareltjes te ontdekken in BEgrip. Ik noem er een uit hoofdstuk 3 over bestuurlijke advisering, 3.3 over democratische waarden. ‘Ook per vraagstuk en per individu kunnen verschillende waarden de boventoon voeren. Het rapport Verschil in Nederland van het Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau (2014) geeft die verschillen goed weer. Zo noemen laagopgeleiden vooral de vrijheid van meningsuiting als belangrijkste onderdeel van democratie (lees: inclusie en deliberatie), terwijl hoogopgeleiden vooral inspraak- en beroepsprocedures in de politieke besluitvorming noemen (transparantie en zeggenschap). Het is de kunst om een zodanige balans te vinden dat dat uitmondt in een zo hoog mogelijke democratische kwaliteit, gegeven de situatie, eisen en mogelijkheden’. Een alinea waar ik nog lang over heb nagedacht. Voor mij was het nieuw en ook een verrassend perspectief. Het boek zit er vol mee.

De verleiding bestaat nog meer te citeren maar daarmee zou ik BEgrip tekort doen, want wat kies ik dan uit de vele rijke pagina’s? Ik zou zeggen, koop het zelf en werk ermee: het inspireert op vele fronten. Nou vooruit dan, ter afsluiting de laatste zin uit het voorwoord, die je het best begrijpt als je het boek als geheel gelezen hebt, want dan heb je er echt zin in gekregen: ‘Want één ding is zeker: complexe opgaven vervelen nooit en ze worden alleen maar interessanter als je BEgrip ontwikkelt!