French centenarians / Persoane centenare din Franța

Written by an American woman who moved to France to follow her heart.

“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.


On the footsteps of fairy tales – from Persia to Iran

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.”

Streets  Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash  
Jérémie B. – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46694272

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 [1] 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 [2]. 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 [3] 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 in organizations 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.

Blue Tiles of Jame Mosque in Yazd, Iran, Photo by Mansour Kiaei on Unsplash

I was wondering upon reading an article in The Economist [4] 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.


The Temptation

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:


Photo by Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash

The English version is below:

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 [1]. 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 [2] 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 [3], 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.


[1] https://www.livingwithwolves.org/about-wolves/social-wolf/

[2] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/economic-sciences/2002/kahneman/facts/

[3] Daniel Kahneman, 2013, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Creativity – on the line?

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.

Thank you, Natalia, for a great lesson.



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.

Alexandru Budisteanu’s 91st birthday.

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.


12 – 26 February 2021 – Chinese New Year

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!


On old age … or how we become invisible

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.


Statues – fallen or standing

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 that waging 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.

However, have we learnt our lesson/s?

1. https://www.agerpres.ro/documentare/2020/03/05/romania-post-revolutie-1990-demontarea-statuii-lui-v-i-lenin-din-fosta-piata-a-scanteii–460114?fbclid=IwAR2-886NZXcU1qLteQqAFQEDZ0-DfgSLn40KLkB4FPL-xXN4BBCn9xqPnQ8

2. https://www.forbes.ro/cover-story-100-cool-ioana-ciocan-transgenerationarul_0_5813-13007

3. http://ioanaciocan.com/


On plagues and other … hopes

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.


Creative Stockholm

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.”

Åsa – our great Swedish guide in front of the City Hall.

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.

Nobel Prize Hall

The organ in the Blue Hall. Largest in Scandinavia.

‘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!’

Golden Hall


Lunch at  the city hall restaurant. Very fancy. Good food. Loved their bread.

Ready for lunch at the City Hall?

Ceiling of the City Hall restaurant

‘We have only healthy food here. Chickens in Sweden are not hormone fed which means they grow very slowly. No GMOs.’