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.
The longest project I’ve been working on lately is a tiny book of poetry that I want to announce here. It’s called 24 Poems. I worked on it for some years, without really feeling as if I had been working. It would probably be fairer to say that I enjoyed my time with this project.
Well, the moment to end it arrived. And to present it to my readers’ reactions. I honestly didn’t expect some of those reactions to be so warm and close, empathetic and so moving. Certainly, many have been polite and indifferent. As life usually is!
You can catch a glimpse of what is between the covers here, by looking inside the PDF below.
I discovered Ursula K. Le Guin first through leadership and later on as a fascinating writer. She started her blog at 81 and wrote on it for eight years. Her last post was on 25 September 2017. She died peacefully in her home in January, 2018.
Approaching 70 myself, I’m amazed at the lack of interest for real, meaningful discussions about old age around me. So, when I discover Le Guin’s post from May 2013 I feel I know what she’s writing about. Her post is now part of her book No Time to Spare, published in December 2017, from which I reproduce the fragment below.
She wisely points out that the insistence of a lot of people that we are not old is somehow insulting, even if it is meant as a sign of respect or encouragement.
Becoming invisible is something that happens today not only with the old, man or women almost equally. It also happens to a lot of other people as we become socially more and more distanced, masked and interacting mostly virtually. Some categories fade slowly, but surely away.
We go (again and again) through a period of demolishing statues. In Romania, but not only, we’ve been somehow used to tearing down and wiping out parts of our history. It’s a primitive mechanism of both revenge on what had been unfair and oppressive to those who are now in the position to be able to order the offensive pieces away and of “if I don’t see it, it never existed”.
It’s just that this happens today in places which we used to admire for their balanced, objective and generally democratic capacity to discuss, analyse and preserve public records so that history does not repeat itself. Well, not anymore it seems. And I do hope I’m wrong. This article, on “What the Removal of a K.G.B. Statue Can Teach America”, raises some thought-provoking questions.
However, what happens to the statues that are no longer desirable? According to Joshua Yaffa, a Moscow correspondent for The New Yorker, they are dumped or, if you prefer, preserved in the Muzeon, the Fallen Monument Park. Is this because they are nostalgic, or just want to revive the old times or … you can imagine as many scenarios as you are capable of imagining.
However, in another article, another journalist is quoted as having said thatwaging war on bronze men doesn’t make your life any more moral or just. “It does nothing really.” An interesting point coming from an anti-communist expert.
But the most interesting point is made by the granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, Nina. “Denouncing Stalin was Khrushchev’s greatest achievement, but removing him from all public spaces, trying to delete that history, was a big mistake,” Nina Khrushcheva said. “Once you demolish somebody’s hero you only incite hatred and force feelings underground.”
And the article goes on giving the example of the Ukraine who tore down the statues reminding them of the Soviets, but the effects has not been beneficial. On the contrary it seems.
We have our own stories of dealing with our past. The three pictures above are emblematic. The sources for them are below.
This is a magic and, therefore, relatively weird story. It was created and developed by my grandsons, Vlad and Radu, while the three of us were playing a cards story-telling game. This is the result. They read and approved of what I wrote. I hope for the time when they themselves will be actually writing the story.
Once upon a time there was a
bad witch who was greenish and very mean. Her name was Greedy, don’t ask why.
She had a cat, as most witches do, and lived in a place protected by a blue
door. Greedy had put a curse on a beautiful and rich kingdom called Altar. She would
have loved to have the kingdom of Altar all for herself, but even her evil
spells could not make the good people of Altar accept her as their ruler. So,
she placed one of her aficionados as the ruler of Altar. This puppet ruler was
a frog which had a beautiful ring with a precious stone. The precious stone had
in it a tiny fairy which could escape from the stone during the night when she
did her best to undo the many evil things Greedy had been doing during the day.
The tiny fairy, called Nemesis, because she loved justice and would not find
her peace until she brought it to the people in need, had a magic wand and she
was an ardent defender of Altar and its inhabitants. Through Nemesis’s
good spells Altar was a wonderful place, full of sunshine during the day, a
clear, starry sky during the night and many, many riches on the ground,
underground and in its beautiful crystal-clear waters.
Actually, the beauty and richness of the kingdom of Altar was one of the main reasons Greedy had laid her eyes on it and placed her evil spells on all those who would fight against her, including placing Nemesis into the stone during the day. And so, the kingdom of Altar turned during the days in which Greedy was powerful into a gloomy place with lots of bad weather, damaging storms and bad rain and hail. Not really a place you wanted to live in. However, the inhabitants could not go away because they were kept prisoners by king frog who had grown many poisonous mushrooms in the area. Those were very special poisonous mushrooms: you needn’t really eat them to be made sick. No. These mushrooms would develop some invisible spores who when inhaled by the people of Altar made them submissive and hard working for their frog king and his mistress Greedy.
Somewhere in a forgotten and well-hidden corner of Altar there lived a good princess who was hidden and protected by fairy Nemesis. The princess was very wise because she had been reading the great book of wisdom and was learning all the good and useful things from it. Her only friend was a little mouse, who helped in many wonderful ways to make her lonely life bearable. The princess discovered that there was a key which could have saved the world, and therefore the kingdom of Altar as well, from Greedy and her frog king. But it was essential that Greedy wasn’t the first to find the key. So, the princess sent her little mouse to hide the tiny key into the dinner of her father, the old king Silly the third, who was kept by both Greedy and the frog king as a façade for their evil manoeuvrings.
The tiny mouse hid the key in the fish with the hope that Silly the third would find it and use it. As it happened Silly the third preferred to eat something else than fish which was really difficult to eat properly, with the right cutlery, in front of a respectful court. He obviously couldn’t find the tiny key which was thrown away with the left overs from the king’s dinner including the fish.
Larry the leprechaun, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, had just arrived in Altar brought over in one of the bags of a mule bringing supplies to Altar. As all illegal immigrants Larry was poor and starving, but lucky to find the leftovers. He started to eat and was almost ready to start on the fish when a hungry looking dog or maybe wolf suddenly jumped from a bush and swallowed the fish with the tiny key in it. All poor Larry had been left with were the fruit leftovers. He was happy to eat them all remembering how healthy it was to eat as many fruit and vegetables as one can get.
During this time Silly the
third was talking to his good and loyal wife, queen Fiona, who actually was
Greedy who had managed to take Fiona’s appearance in order to find out what
happened with the tiny key. Little did Greedy know that she was watched all the
time by an invisible dragon who was living deep down in a cave that Greedy
thought was only hers. This dragon could spit fire on all those who would harm Silly
and Fiona, but he could not undo the powerful spell that enslaved them and
their kingdom Altar to Greedy.
disguised as Fiona could not find anything useful about the tiny key. So she
went back to her place beyond the blue door to start making another plan to
discover where the key had been hidden and to finally get rid of all the good
characters in this story such as Nemesis the tiny fairy, the wise princess looking
for a way to free Altar, the kingdom of her parents, king Silly the third and
queen Fiona, the mouse helping her and the invisible dragon protecting the good
As this is a story and strange things happen all the time you may want to know that the dog/wolf that had swallowed the fish and the key had an enchanted stomach in which the fish rematerialized together with key. The dog/wolf was so upset by this weird phenomenon which gave him some pretty strong discomfort that it started to cough strongly. So strongly that he vomited the fish and the key into the tiny stream on whose bank it was trying to rest. The fish found its way into the sea where it discovered a bottle with a strange message in it.
During this time Patrick, the
Irish man, who was actually the reincarnation of Larry the leprechaun, appeared
and wanted to go into the cave where the invisible dragon was living in order
to make an alliance with the dragon and fight Greedy. He discovered Greedy’s cat
and started to study how he could make the cat leave its comfortable place and
help him discover the key which was to unlock all the mysteries, solve all the
problems of Altar and defeat Greedy. Patrick whispered the word “fish” into the
cat’s ear and, miraculously, or maybe not so miraculously if we remember how
much cats love fish, Greedy’s cat jumped out of her comfy basket and ran all
the way to the cave where, among many hanging and flying bats, well hidden in a
dark corner, it found a bag and in the bag the tiny key.
“If you turn the key three
times clock-wise and five times counter clockwise pointing towards the moon” –
the message in the bottle had said – the spell would break and Greedy would
become a prisoner in a small bottle from which she could no longer escape.
And this is what the cat and
And this is how the story ends – evil has been once again defeated and the kingdom of Altar with all its good people is thriving again.
This is a long, but rewarding story. It can be also listened to. While you do your walking around your flat, or do something else than watch some kind of … screen.
Every story of an epidemic is a story of illiteracy, language made powerless, man made brute. A plague, says Jill Lepore, the author, is like a lobotomy. It cuts away the higher realms, the loftiest capacities of humanity, and leaves only the animal.
Every plague novel is a parable of the human condition. Albert Camus defined the novel as the place where humans are abandoned to other humans. Lepore goes on saying that in plague novels all human beings abandon all other human beings. She quotes some wise words from Camus, particularly doctor Rieux’ thoughts at the end: “He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good . . . and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”
The conclusion is that men will always become, again, rats. If you think that is bleak, think again. I just cut out the parts I wanted from this story so I might be wrong. Plus, there’s always hope in the wisdom of books. And we do change the world as we do our best to survive. Even though Riux “knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory. It could be only the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers.”
Listen or read – there’s no better time as now. And even read “The Plague” by Camus.
I just love Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings. I always browse through her newsletter with the curious anticipation of the amazingly interesting connections she offers her readers. For her a constant labour of love, for me an amazingly serendipitous discovery.
As in this announcement of “a charitable celebration of science and nature through poetry”. How does she announce it? Intriguingly:
<“The Universe in Verse” is going
West! (April 18, California)
UC Santa Cruz
1156 High St, Santa Cruz, CA
Show: 7:30–10ish PM
Rain or shine, news-hyped virus
panic or sanity. Dress warmly for outdoor springtime, wash your hands with
soap, hot water, and critical thinking.>
For someone coming from a culture which does not necessarily appreciate time, except one’s own obviously, giving a time for “Doors” and then another for the actual show hints at profound social differences. The best part, however, is the last – a strong, unapologetic promise that this is a serious event which requires not only passionate love of science and poetry, but also a clear sense of humour and in-depth critical thinking. Lovely indeed.
A tragedy, a drama or a comedy – depending on our point of view. Too much has been written on the subject of Brexit. And yet, somehow, this article moved me more than I thought it was going to.
What I find most relevant for myself is what Cohen says
about Brexit as
being “an act of the imagination, inspired by an imaginary past, carried along
by misdirected grievances, borne aloft by an imaginary future. The age of
impunity is also the age of illusion turbocharged by social media.” And as if
echoing what is happening in many other parts of this world, he continues
explaining how the real British problems have been transferred by the Brexiters
on the country’s membership to the EU. And if “inequality, poor infrastructure,
low investment and inadequate schools” are real problems for the British society
what can we say over here, in Romania, about the same issues? The pattern is,
however, the same: the blame is somewhere else, not on us, not on our
verses of W.H. Auden written In Memory of W. B. Yeats are so haunting.
In the nightmare of the dark All the dogs of Europe bark, And the living nations wait, Each sequestered in its hate; Intellectual disgrace Stares from every human face, And the seas of pity lie Locked and frozen in each eye.
do read the Comments. Not all the 402, just the NYT picks.
Sweden is, according to our guide, a very creative society. For instance, the safety belt was invented by a Volvo guy (Nils Bohlin): every 6 seconds a life is saved on planet Earth due to this Swedish guy. And Volvo, though holder of the patent, allowed all car manufacturers to use it in their own designs. Why? Because the company decided that the invention was so important that it had more value for life saving than for profit. Food for thought!?!
Our guide is a lively woman called Åsa which is pronounced “osa” and means goddess. Åsa has travelled a lot around the world, has a lot of multicultural experience, is very proud of her country and unhappy with the Romanian and Bulgarian gypsies which should be dealt with by Romania and Bulgaria, not Sweden. She has a Ph.D. in medieval history and loves teaching as a volunteer in high schools, lecture on cruises, guide tourists around Stockholm, take care of her handicapped child and all this, besides teaching political science at university. “Swedish women are strong. We can do anything we want! That’s because we have Pippi Longstocking as our role model since childhood.”
The Nobel prizes are strongly connected to creativity and to the power of ideas to change the world. That is another story however for another post.
Sweden has only about 10 million people compared to UK’s over 66 million. It is a small Britain – again according to our guide – and I guess she meant in terms of creativity.
Guided tour of the city hall – one of the landmarks of Stockholm.
‘Please look at the 3 golden crowns on the top of the 106-meter tall tower!’ says Åsa. ‘They are the national coat of arms of Sweden, very famous. Do you know what they symbolize?’
Silence in the group.
‘Neither do I.’ Laughter. ‘Well, what I mean is that there are so many stories, often conflicting, that I prefer to say I don’t know.’
We walk in order, being told not to touch things, as the city hall has the offices and session halls of the politicians and their staff. The mayor is a woman – remember Pippi Longstocking?!
The Nobel prizes banquet is held here. After dinner in the Blue Hall, the Nobel Prize laureates, royalty and guests walk up to dance in the Golden Hall which has about 18 million gold mosaic tiles. 45 kg of gold were used to cover the room in very thin leaves. If you want to rent it – no problem. It’s only 6,500 per night to rent. ‘When I was a student I was lucky and won an opportunity to volunteer for the organization of the Nobel banquet. I was so impressed – I could peep into the banquet hall from behind those curtains!’
Lunch at the city hall restaurant. Very fancy. Good food. Loved their bread.
‘We have only healthy food here. Chickens in Sweden are not hormone fed which means they grow very slowly. No GMOs.’