“According to FR3 television, (and every other news outlet that covered the story), 30,000 people in France are 100 or older — and the number is rising, more quickly than expected. There are thirty times more centenarians than in 1970.
We’re ahead of Spain and Italy (in total numbers), partly because we have one of the largest populations in Europe, but also “because life expectancy among women is particularly high.” Remember Jeanne Louise Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122 years and 164 days?
Having a large number of centenarians is not the same as having a longer average life expectancy. But France has both. What can we learn from the French about living longer? (…)
Walking is easy to do in large cities with good public transportation. Our boulangerie is at the end of the block, easily accessible for early morning runs to get fresh bread. Ditto for everything else we need, including a couple of grocery stores, a dry cleaner, and a hair salon.
I walk everywhere or take public transportation. I drive so infrequently in France that it always makes me a little nervous when I do.
According to the statistics, just slightly more than half of people over the age of 100 live in facilities. In the population of those who don’t, 33 percent live alone, 12 percent live with another person (typically, their children), and four percent live as couples.”
If you want more details read the article. It’s really good and … fun. And it probably also explains why the French don’t want to work for more years.
Articol scris de o americancă mutată în Franța pentru a-și urma chemarea inimii.
“Potrivit televiziunii FR3 (sau al a oricărui alt canal care a transmis știrea), 30.000 de oameni din Franța au 100 de ani sau mai mult. Iar numărul lor crește mai repede decât ne așteptam. Sunt de treizeci de ori mai mulți oameni de vârstă centenară decât în 1970.
Suntem înaintea Spaniei și Italiei (ca cifră absolută), parțial pentru că avem una dintre cele mai mari populații din Europa, dar și „pentru că speranța de viață în rândul femeilor este deosebit de mare”. Vă amintiți de Jeanne Louise Calment, care a murit în 1997 la vârsta de 122 de ani și 164 de zile? (…)
Un număr mare de persoane centenare nu este același lucru cu o speranță medie de viață mai mare. Dar Franța le are pe amândouă. Ce putem învăța de la francezi despre cum să trăim mai mult? …
Mersul pe jos este ușor în orașele mari cu transport public bun. Brutăria noastră se află la capătul blocului, ușor accesibilă pentru alergările de dimineață devreme pentru a cumpăra pâine proaspătă. La fel și pentru tot ceea ce avem nevoie, inclusiv câteva magazine alimentare, o curățătorie chimică și un salon de coafură.
Merg pe jos peste tot sau folosesc transportul în comun. Conduc atât de rar în Franța încât întotdeauna sunt puțin nervoasă când o fac.
Potrivit statisticilor, doar puțin mai mult de jumătate dintre persoanele cu vârsta peste 100 de ani locuiesc în cămine pentru vârstnici. Dintre cei care trăiesc neinstituționalizat, 33% trăiesc singuri, 12% trăiesc cu o altă persoană (de obicei, copiii lor) și 4% trăiesc în cuplu.”
Daca vrei mai multe detalii, citeste articolul. Este foarte bun și… distractiv. Și probabil explică de ce francezii nu vor să lucreze mai mulți ani.
As I was saying – the decision to go to Iran was unexpected even for myself. I like to I travel, but since the pandemic has slowed down our travelling impulses, I try to remind myself how today we can travel virtually very well with the help of the internet. And even though I don’t have the technology that allows me to immerse myself in a certain virtual reality, I can still travel comfortably almost anywhere in the world without leaving my favourite place at home where I feel relaxed and comfy. Actually, there are places difficult to reach except virtually. I don’t necessarily mean the bottom of the oceans or the heights of the Himalayas or the outer space. There are places, which for different reasons, are not accessible to us. Opportunity, excessive costs, we’re not all in the same league with Elon Musk, can be some disincentives.
But, lo and behold, the stars aligned and the algorithm tracking me sent me the unrefusable offer and … the decision was made. I’m going to Iran. Why? Probably because, since over one decade ago, I have been looking to the world that exists beyond Europe, whether Central, Eastern or Western, and I wonder how we came to the point of looking at this huge and so diverse world only through our cultural glasses which are so narrow and distorting?! Did I say cultural? Is ideology part of culture? Or is it vice versa? It is a simple question, and yet the answers are multiple and not easy to give. At least not here, in this column where I want to get, I hope, to tell you about 1001 nights of fairy tales chosen and told by a woman to a powerful ruler whose life and death decision she thus influenced. Hey, what am I doing here? Have I put on the glasses of a very fashionable ideology now? Whether we call it feminism or gender studies or gender balance or intersectional feminism doesn’t really matter. We all know the reality I am referring to.
Let me return to fairy tales. Everybody knows that “1001 nights” is a collection of Arabian stories! Why then bring it up in an account of Iran or Persia? Of course, we live in an area of the world where Bucharest is often confused with Budapest, and of course that irritates us in various degrees; and we usually think of the Middle East, with one truly exceptional exception, as inhabited by Arabs. And that leaves us more or less indifferent. Who cares anyway? Maybe most of us don’t, but what about those who live there?
I remember my Persian students who, very politely, were trying to tell us that they are not Arabs. Yeah, but you speak a Semitic language and you write with characters that look very much like the Arab ones. “Not at all”, they would answer patiently. “We speak an Indo-European language, quite different from Arabic. True in Iran we use the Arabic cursive script which is particularly ornamental. And just as true is that we highly appreciate the art of calligraphy.”
True indeed. I was impressed by the patience and discipline with which they work or should I rather say they painstakingly create works of great delicacy and fineness – words I no longer hear nowadays except probably in book titles such as “The Painstaking Chronophage/ Migălosul cronofag” by Adrian Săhlean  the excellent translator of Eminescu into a fresh and intelligible English. The Persians took the art of calligraphy to an extraordinary refinement and their constant respect for and inclination towards literature, especially towards poetry preserved Persian making it intelligible even today.
The truth is that things are never simple: either to explain or to grasp. As a teacher I have known this for a very long time. And I also know how frustrating it is for everyone involved in the learning process to discover that there aren’t always simple, clear and universally applicable rules. “But I want to know the rule” many learners would say, especially those who come from the exact sciences. The rule and possibly some exceptions. But what do we do when there is a rule and multiple exceptions, as in learning English and not only. Let me, however, come back to “1001 nights” one of the charming books of our childhood. I am particularly thinking of the 1001 nights: Arabic fairy tales retold by Eusebiu Camilar, which came out at Tineretului Publishing House in 1956.
Today the stories of 1001 nights are no longer told by Scheherazade, but by Hollywood and Walt Disney, or even by various local film industries that have the power, and the budgets, to look at the stories of Scheherazade and Shahriar from multiple angles, and many of those who watch them most likely don’t even know that those stories started to be told probably in the 8th century and travelled over huge territories, from India through the Middle East to Turkey.
As in other similar situations, there are many voices that claim their primacy over the collection of fairy tales. Ulrich Marzolph, Professor and specialist in Islamic studies and Persian narrative tradition at the Georg-August University of Göttingen, believes that the general public thinks of the book as a collection of Persian, Arabic and Indian folk tales collected and transcribed into Arabic about a thousand years ago . Despite this popular perception, Marzolph believes, based on documents, that the stories were first written in middle Persian known as Pahlavi. Their transcription took place between the 8th and 13th centuries and only later were they translated into Arabic.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica  says about the same thing, underlining the diversity of the contributions to the widely read collection of fairy tales. The person who wrote the article from The Encyclopaedia Britannica considers that although the names of the main characters are Iranian, the frame of the story seems to be Indian and most of the other names are Arabic. And, of course, the style of stories and other elements of internal analysis of the text lead to the same conclusions: multiple, uncertain authorship.
Britannica also tells us that the first known reference to the tales is a fragment from the 9th century. Incidentally, Britannica also agrees that the Persians were the first to mention the legendary collections of stories from Iran, India and Greece called in those times “One thousand nights”. In 987 Abū ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿAbdūs al-Jahshiyārī began to write down a collection of 1,000 Arabic, Iranian, Greek and other folktales, but died leaving only 480 written.
And this is how we realize that “A thousand and one…”, with its various titles, is only a way to indicate a large number. This was an age with no obsessions related to the accuracy of numbers. Subsequently, after the West began to translate the fairy tales into French and later into English, the number was interpreted literally. And more stories and fairy tales were added.
But who cares about these details today? From the wonderful collection, most of those formed in the Western culture (is this use of terms about to become an oxymoron?) remember, at best, the stories about Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sindbad who did not even exist in the original corpus. Is that really how things are today?
To check whether young people know about the 1001 stories and taking advantage of a written exam that I had with my students from Applied Modern Languages in the ASE I made a small experiment. I asked the students to write at the end of their papers what they knew about Scheherazade.
‘Do you want me to write it down?”
‘Yes, please. Yes.’
I did as asked.
‘And if we don’t know anything?’
‘If you really don’t know anything, write: Scheherazade – I don’t know.’
I was really looking forward to the end of the exam to see the results. All I could do on the spot was to verify whether they answered the question or not. The vast majority had. The outcome?
Out of the 43 students present in the exam room, twenty answered they “didn’t know/heard/or even ???”. Twelve gave me various correct options. And I also had a separate category, eleven answers, with some very interesting explanations. I considered these 11 responses as positive, although you will notice below that some prove otherwise, but they have the merit of being extremely hilarious. Therefore, out of 43 respondents, 20 did not know who Scheherazade was, and 23 did give some sort of correct answers from which we can conclude that they probably know.
So what? For me this situation clearly represents the loss of a cultural reference system that deepens the gap of lack of communication not necessarily between generations, but between those who “know” and those who “don’t know”. I forgot to mention that my students did not have access to the Internet, which partially explains the results. Over the years I have sadly discovered that many young people no longer know proverbs or other classical cultural references. Of course, there are those who respond after discreetly consulting their friend Google. But when you don’t have access to a friend?
And here are the “special” answers that I can’t resist sharing with you: Scheherazade is a poem; a wise woman – a doctor; a story – a revolt; a sonorous name, but I don’t remember the context; a Persian sultana/queen; a character/a female character; cinema. And most remarkable for its ingenuity and comic: Scheherazade is an organizational model stylized inorganizations for their better performance. It is probably relevant to mention that the end of semester test during which this mini-quiz took place is called “People and organizations”.
The most elaborate answer was from one of the students with a clear and declared interest in literature in general and poetry in particular. “Scheherazade is a name that seems to represent the quintessence of Orientalism. Being a made (not born) ‘Eurocentrist’, I can almost hear Edward Said criticizing and dismantling my claim. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the name of a soap opera watched by my grandmothers. I know however, in the spirit of René Guénon, that the true essence of Orientalism is another one.”
The results of the ad hoc quiz given to my students can be interpreted in many ways, but I’m not interested in those interpretations here. Especially when some of those who answered “don’t know” are people with advanced soft and professional skills they consider to be their priority at the moment.
I’m thinking however about the importance the Eastern world, and yes, we are right at its gates not having the guts or the will to enter, grants to history, culture, literature and especially poetry as pillars of classical culture. Over here, we are satisfied with adopting culture as a social and mainly organizational binder; culture theorized by Hall, Hofstede et co. often not knowing even them or their works.
I was wondering upon reading an article in The Economist  about what happens when algorithms become so advanced that they cannot be distinguished from human writers? The answers are very exciting, but about them next time.
At the invitation of Professor Mihai Stan, editor-in-chief of the Litere / Letters magazine of the Târgoviște Writers’ Society, I started writing about my April 2022 trip to Iran in a column entitled Algorithms and stars. Once again my thanks here for his invitation.
Here is the link to the first article in Romanian available on page 93:
We live more and more under the sign of algorithms. They rule our lives without our knowing it, without our feeling it, most often without our consent, and all this happens while we continue fighting for the freedom to choose what each of us really wants more and more passionately. We often fuss and debate, with more or less valid arguments, if the influence of algorithms on us is acceptable or not; we think about whether we will be replaced by robots or just ruled by them, but we forget more and more to look at the stars and remember what it was like when they were the ones literally guiding our steps and journeys, not Google maps, or were influencing our destinies for those who believed in the power of some of the “initiated” in reading beyond what can be seen of the visible or less visible universe.
A Facebook algorithm brought me an invitation for a trip to a relatively exotic destination. Sent by a friend from my list with whom I had had awesome adventures before. Therefore, it wasn’t too difficult for me to give in to the temptation, especially since I had to offer myself a birthday present for a beautiful age for which the only real gifts are the immaterial ones: novel experiences and the thoughts they induce. Therefore, giving in to the algorithm and also consulting with my internal advisor replacing the stars, in other words checking my various memories related to that destination, memories from books or constructed from the media or from my international students coming from that area, there I was accepting the invitation.
And why is it a big deal to accept going on a trip? Even if it’s quite long, 18 days is after all a bit of a luxury for those who still work and have various obligations to family and community. Especially while the pandemic is still active in the world, even though our authorities seem to have lifted all bans, and the war is much closer to us than we would have liked it and it affects us in extremely painful ways. Especially those who still have the memory, real or mediated, of the wars fought in Europe before. Not to mention the fact that I had decided to stop traveling, especially over long distances, and obviously by plane, because the planet still needs some timeout from pollution similar to the one during the lockdowns.
This is the value of our promises in the face of the temptations intelligent algorithms constantly send us because they know us too well. The experts in the mysteries of artificial intelligence say that algorithms know us even better than we know ourselves. We have anyway long forgotten, or maybe we didn’t even know the “know thyself” adage. Not even the promised hell of climate change that is already here though we are feeling it probably less than others in the more and more aggressive deserts against the planet that we humans have conquered often not knowing where to stop and how to end the suffering of animals and plants because we don’t really care for the suffering of other people. Not even the hell of climate change scares us any longer. Based on the principle that has become axiomatic though it shouldn’t have that often “homo homini lupus”. And yet, the wolf is a remarkably social animal, highly intelligent, caring and devoted to its family (pack), playful and, above all, attentive to the cubs, whom it “educates” to be efficient in their world, of wolves, but also attentive towards the wounded or elderly whom they do not leave behind when they can no longer actively contribute to the life of the pack . Unfairly demonized by fearful and ignorant humans, the wolf is undoubtedly disadvantaged by the comparison with us.
But doesn’t the same happen with other fields or with other people we do not know or we know less? Aren’t we, more often than not, creatures of habit either through stereotypes and clichés that we pick up without much analysis, out of convenience, or because we simply refuse to complicate our existence with deeper analysis and search?
Didn’t Kahneman receive half of the Nobel Prize for economics in 2002  because for decades, together with Amos Tversky, he studied how people take decisions? And why would a psychologist take the Nobel prize for economics? Because he set out to dismantle a very dear idea to the economists – that of Homo Economicus, i.e., the rational man who only makes well-founded economic decisions. Kahneman and Tversky, both interested in human irrationality, have shown that people often, and of course involuntarily, make irrational decisions. Why? Because, says Kahneman, people use two methods to reason, in other words to make decisions. Kahneman called these two methods Systems 1 and System 2. In Kahneman’s view , system 1 represents the fast, intuitive thinking through which we react to the surrounding world, based on what seems coherent to us at the time, taking short-term decisions: it’s cloudy – I’ll take my umbrella; the economy collapses as a result of the pandemic and of the economic sanctions against Russia, I am more careful with my disposable income, I won’t spend money too easily because a crisis awaits us, etc.
System 2 is more analytical, it starts more slowly, and generally prefers not to be disturbed. If system 1, for example, tells you that your boss just walking past you frowns because lately you haven’t had very good results at work, system 2, if it were to activate, would say your boss is frowning because of the horrible traffic on his way to work and of the recent discussion with his wife. The activity of system 2 requires a lot of energy or put differently intellectual activity, that of reflection and meditation, and tires us more than a medium-intensity physical activity.
Well, the algorithms that select our future “options” know very well that we react based on system 1 and they send us all kinds of information maybe, just maybe we take the bait. On the other hand, even if we can’t change our biology, we can adapt and take it into account. Of course, we know that every click on Facebook will bring us ads and information from that area. A lot fake, some biased, and, of course, much replicating the general line of thinking of those in our bubble. It’s so much easier to give a “like” or whatever else Facebook allows us, than to stop for a while, check the information, usually it is very simple and quick, and make an informed decision.
Like me, for example, when I received the invitation to join a group of tourists who were going to a Middle Eastern country that our own Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended as risky and therefore to be avoided if possible. The temptation, however, had been too big and here I am back safe and sound, having had not only an excellent tourist trip, but an incredibly rich one from a cultural and historical point of view as well. I am now reading one of the novels of the writer of Turkish origin Elif Shafak whom I discovered through the recommendation of one of my former international students from the country I visited and whose action takes place in the country where I spent three weeks of incredible walks into history and culture. Among algorithms and stars. In the future I will tell you here wonderful or just ordinary happenings that deserve to be shared. See you.
I had this incredibly rich experience of teaching at the summer school of the Ostrava University. I taught the module of Creativity from the overall theme „Entrepreneurship and Creativity for All”.
I was a tiny bit apprehensive about how the course will go. I always am at the beginning of a new course. Not only because a group of international students is more difficult to work with than the students of your own university whose general group profile you probably know, even if you don’t know them personally. I was also worried about what to chose, how much to select from the increasing heap of materials and research about creativity in today’s troubled world. And, mainly, what kind of practical activities in which they will easily engage and find meaningful?
Those enrolled were people mostly from arts study programs, rather different from my regular business students. I knew that well in advance because the organizers had been very professional: kept me updated on all issues, sent me the brochure with „Who’s who in the summer school” with pictures and a brief self-presentation of the students. True, not all who have signed up really showed up! But this was actually an asset: we were a group of 14 people who worked better and easier together.
The students were from all over the world and could participate in the summer school thanks to the Erasmus+ programme. Some of them where from Czechia; and also from China, Russia, Koreea, Indonesia and Taiwan. And me, from Romania. Quite an interesting mix of cultures.
I could write a book about all the things we did and discussed about. Maybe in the future. Now I’d like only to look at the students and how incredibly open, dynamic and ready to learn they were. Yeah, I know, I know – they were sometimes late (overslept or other absolutely valid reasons), sometimes drawn into their own worlds. All in all, however, they were aware of the need for mindfulness and ready to share their own concerns and preoccupations with the group.
So, I’ll share in this post the beginning and the end of the course. I’ll do it using pictures and the student’s own words. There will, obviously, be no names. No connections between the pictures and the words. And to put your concerns at ease I have their consent to put pictures on Facebook, which means I can publish them here as well.
At the beginning of the course we did some warming up activities to get to know each other and to test our own creative vein. What can you do with and from a cabbage? And what have we learnt about one another? The participants had to give their feedback the next day in the form they found easier for them. Here are some: a poem, some ppts, a poster, word reports.
And here are some pictures with people actually delivering their feedback.
I was really, really impressed by the final presentations. The thinking and the actual work that has been put into them under such brief time. And mainly the discussions that each presentation raised, irrespective of the medium in which it was created. As if it were a real life project, advice was given, concerns raised, solutions sought. I hated myself every time I had to stop people. Time has no mercy.
We also had some incredible outings. So much fun, getting to know each other from other perspectives as well. We had a pub quiz (and yes the winners got the prizes, but we were all enriched by the evening), we went to visit one of the most creative heritage sites that I have ever seen – Dolni oblast Vitkovice. And we unleashed our creativity at the Gallery of Fine Arts in Ostrava at a great workshop where children didn’t mind mixing with us.
Five days? Really? It seems as if we traveled among various universes. As one of the students said – as in 500 years.
Maybe I’ll have to write a book in the end. Not to lose the richness of the experience we had. Tell others, and myself, how important it is to go out into the world and meet new people, particularly from other cultures, hopefully people against whom you maybe prejudiced and they show you that you have to move on in your assumptions because the world has moved on. And we are all now so different.
Great ideas come and go easily. That’s why we have the impression that we are so creative. But we are not. In fact we are only imaginative, dreamers at best. Only few people have the strength, the discipline and, yes, the education to follow their ideas and turn them into reality. Natalia Irina Roman is one of those people and on her way to strike gold. Or, if not, at least to complete her Ph.D. in an impressive manner.
A great idea presented in 90 seconds under the classic format of the elevator pitch. A wonderful presenter, great idea, amazing content, so connected to our everyday life and commuter worries. As we are most of us commuters – one way or the other. Natalia is a gifted presenter, but she is also very much aware of the need to prepare. Which makes her a hard worker.
Who is Natalia Irina Roman? She is a space-maker and a visual artist, a woman of great imagination and the strength to apply her ideas. More about her here.
And you can find her idea of a great and useful project here. Presented in 90 seconds at the Bauhaus University Weimar.
I told Natalia that her project reminded me of another one called Poems on the Underground. But while talking more with her I realised that they are so different both in scope and in the space they use. And yet, they are both challenging for the comfort of today’s people. Keeping our eyes glued to a screen makes us miss the serendipitous encounters that we can only find through our own experiences and on our own journeys.
Alexandru Budișteanu passed away. He was 93 years old. I had the privilege of being a friend of the Alexandru and Ileana Budișteanu family and of having worked with them during a period of my life.
On his 91st birthday, unfortunately the last one he celebrated with his friends at the Capșa restaurant, I told him that reaching such an age is a wonderful achievement for anyone. However, to live such a long and constantly active life and to have accomplished all the things that Alexandru Budișteanu has accomplished is truly a success story.
He was born on August 11, 1928 in the commune Pârlița-Târg, then in Iași county, Romania, later Bălți county, the Republic of Moldova. He lived as he says in the title of his book published in 2014, Under four regimes on all continents. He had a fulfilled, intense life, with many trials, going through so many historical changes, but also with so many accomplishments, with wonderful moments, with difficult times, with people who have been grateful to him and, of course, with people who hated him openly or, perhaps, only in private.
I wrote here about how and when I met him and I remembered some personal landmarks of our acquaintance. I will not repeat myself now. But I want to talk here about the request that Alexandru Budișteanu made to me in March 2002 when I went to the US. He had asked me to discover and photograph a monument that had been placed under his supervision in the Garden of Nations in Cleveland. It had been a true adventure to discover the Garden. Remember that in 2002 the Internet was in its infancy: in most cases it could be accessed by dial-up while even if the phones were mobile, they were far from smart. Now, in October 2021, in a few seconds I found out the location of the Romanian Garden (founded in 1967) in the Cleveland Federation of Cultural Gardens. Looking at the website I became sad, but that’s another story, which I hope to tell another time. Here I will only say that in 2002 I found the Garden thanks to the help of the eternal nostalgic after Romania Nicu Manolache. It was a snowy March and it took us a whole day to inquire around until we got to where we needed to be. The photos below appeared in the bilingual, anniversary book, dedicated to Alexandru Budișteanu, Changing lives, we change the world.
What can you say in such moments? That departures, no matter how predictable, are still very painful? That I have been very happy that Alexandru Budișteanu existed in my life, in our life, as a model of a man from whom I tried to learn as much as possible? That he was asking me interesting questions, as a “failed linguist” as he liked to joke and push me to reflect on the ways in which languages adapt or draw realities? That we were joking about how we would celebrate his centenary, but, it wasn’t meant to be ?! Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, some things do not depend only on us, no matter how much will and love of life one has.
I stop here knowing that I cannot hope to illuminate even if only partially a life as complex as that of Alexandru Budișteanu in just a few lines. But, for those who may be interested, here are some places where you can find more information about his life. Here and here.
I am convinced, however, that our lives will be poorer without Alexandru Budișteanu. Likewise, I know that the lives of those he has touched with his spiritual and intellectual generosity, and there are many, will certainly be much richer.
Hmmm, not easy to answer. Yet most people would instinctively go for practice. So, here’s what Jeff Bezos said about competition in 1997 “We do work to pay attention to competitors and be inspired by them, but it is a fact that the customer-centric way is at this point a defining element of our culture.”
Wow! “at this point” he says. In other words, “we may change”.
He advocates a Day 1 culture = an entrepreneurial mindset and there’s a lot to it. Google it and you’ll see.
And he also bans PowerPoints in his executive meetings. What? We all know how powerful ppt is – when well done and used!
However, Bezos says that it doesn’t help thinking, and thinking is crucial in decision making! So, narrative memos are what he wants. And the meetings start in silence, everybody reading (and making notes) the memos. Why?
“… the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what’s more important than what, and how things are related.”
“PowerPoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas.”
Conclusion: “a list of bullet points in Word (…) would be just as bad as PowerPoint”.
I’m obviously thinking of how we mostly teach today in universities. We use powerpoints because we learnt from books, not articles, not summaries, not ppts. Yet this is how we encourage our students to learn. Not we as individuals, we as systems.
My daughter bought a map the other day. I thought it was for our grandchildren visiting for Easter. They have difficulties reading a paper map which is still required, for good reason I’d say, in school. No, she said, it’s not for them. It’s for me and Redmund, her partner, to signal the places we visited. Separately or together. It’s fun, mum, don’t you think!?
It absolutely is. Plus, it brings back my old concern about digital maps. I love digital maps, I’m often, though not always, grateful to Waze or Google Maps (in that order) for their existence. But, I can’t “think” without a paper map. I discover, however, that I’m not the only one.
In this article in USA Today you can find lots of reasons why people still prefer paper maps and why the industry is actually thriving. I resonate with a lot of them, but my favourite is “Paper maps for planning and GPS in transit”.
And today, a slow day even if it’s a Monday, the second day of Orthodox Easter, I can indulge in doing “useless” things, such as looking at maps. So, here’s a look at some fascinating maps. They are all amazing. However, I particularly like the following: 9. The Roman Empire vs. the Mongol Empire at their peak (ha, ha); 10. The most popular last names in Europe, and 14. The oldest universities in Europe that are still open.
As it often happens, from this article I was lured to the next one “Maps with Unusual Information”. I’ll leave you to discover what alphabets are used around the world or how welcoming a country is to strangers.
The Spring Festival marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year. The Economist tells us in its daily newsletter that:
The annual return of Chinese to their hometowns and families for the new lunar year is a migration equal to any on Earth. Normally perhaps 3bn journeys are made aboard planes, trains and automobiles. For swathes of the country’s 300m migrant workers, heading to their villages for the week-long Spring Festival is their only chance to see loved ones. This year expect half as many trips. With covid-19 in mind, the Chinese are being urged to stay put. Employees of the government or state-owned enterprises have little choice—they are under orders not to travel. Everyone else faces a range of nudges: carrots including cash to work the holiday, and such sticks as reduced transport options and quarantine-on-arrival. Few could deny that Chinese virus controls are effective, however tough. New cases are rare; daily life feels almost normal. But for those kept asunder from loved ones, seeing in this year of the Ox will feel beastly.
A Happy & Healthy New Year to all those who celebrate it this Spring Festival!
What did I do in 2020? I survived. And if I sound too dramatic then I’ll put it a little differently – we, me and my loved ones, we’ve been healthy and we remembered how good it is to live with the things we had around us, without the usual organizational and social pressures, without the need to have more and travel to further and as exotic places as possible.
Looking around, at the state of the world, and especially of the people, I would say that I personally had a good year. I could even say a wonderful year, but I can’t ignore the tragedies that have constantly unfolded around us.
Probably the most significant thing is that I managed to publish a tiny volume of poetry that constantly focused my energy and concentration in 2020 and, especially, it tested my ability to complete a personal project so indifferent to the rest of the world. Because the physical universe exists in itself, disconnected from and indifferent to us, and the human universe has its own laws, tough and often opaque, which can however be sometimes used to protect ourselves.
A book, especially a book of poetry, is an adventure. To write, to publish and then to make it reach its readers! I am delighted that I had the courage to embark upon this adventure. The adventure continues, obviously, but I came to a firmer ground from where I can have a glimpse of what my readers think about my efforts.
I hope to publish here some thoughts my Romanian or my international readers shared with me. Without revealing their names, of course. Why? This is a pretty intriguing story like most of the stories about our local culture. I use the term culture in its sociological sense. But I hope to develop my idea in the book of essays I am working on. I already published what some of my Romanian readers said. Now I’ll start with my Anglo-Saxon readers. I hope to translate everything into English or Romanian as the case may be.
1. Your book is a marvel! (…) I’ve sunk into the words, the thoughts, the feelings. And I love how you set the book up, the pace, the illustrations, everything. I usually feel bogged down by poetry as if it’s a language I never learned. Your words speak so directly, so honestly – a simplicity that couldn’t be more powerful.
2. (…) I especially love Matrix. What really impresses me about poets is that you can convey so much with so little, in a time when we hear more and more empty talk. And what you write about is very relevant to me! Thank you! To have such talent in two languages really is awesome. (…) Your poems really mean a lot to people of our age, especially people like me who have trouble putting our thoughts and feelings into words. You’ve made something beautiful out of getting older!
3. What a wonderful surprise (…) the poems and drawings which illustrate them so well. Two poems a day. Food for thought. So lovely (…) Finished reading the last poem … Loved all of them and the beautiful illustrations. Thank you. ✒️🖊️🍹
4. … your book of poems (…) is splendid and I just love the illustrations. Many congratulations on producing it at this difficult time.
5. Thank you for the beautiful book with the beautiful poems. (…) I love reading it. It’s a beautiful collection. Great job on doing this huge amount of work as I’m sure it was.