Category Archives: Interesting People

QI : If you are curious you are interesting

National Television Awards 2013 - Show - London

QI, which stands for ‘Quite Interesting’, is a BBC panel knowledge game show like no other. I cannot begin to describe how much I enjoy finishing off the day with any past episode of the 10 seasons that this abnormal quiz has completed so far. Last week the new season started, so get ready for some more fun while learning opportunities from this ‘oh so British’ idea of a game.

QI is presented by the wonderful Stephen Fry and 4 panelists play each time, with Alan Davies being a permanent one. It is a general knowledge (and ignorance) quiz game with an amazing twist: The panellists gain points by providing, yes, the right answer but also by coming up with an Interesting one, whilst they lose points if they give an obvious or boring reply and they do not lose (or gain) any points at all if they give flat out wrong answers.

As QI says on their website:

“We live,  they say, in The Information Age, yet almost none of the information we think we possess is true. Eskimos do not rub noses. The rickshaw was invented by an American. Joan of Arc was not French. Lenin was not Russian. The world is not solid, it is made of empty space and energy, and neither haggis, whisky, porridge, clan tartans or kilts are Scottish. So we stand, silent, on a peak in Darien a vast, rolling, teeming, untrodden territory before us. QI country. Whatever is interesting we are interested in. Whatever is not interesting, we are even more interested in. Everything is interesting if looked at in the right way. At one extreme, QI is serious, intensely scientific, deeply mystical; at the other it is hilarious, silly and frothy enough to please the most indolent couch-potato.”

Curiosity is the driving force of QI, which has now grown to be more than just a comedy panel quiz show. Now it is a podcast channel, a series of books, etc. Check all these out on their website, where you can also find their Manifesto. But don’t miss the actual QI show! Here is an episode from series C (all series are available on youtube):

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Night Impressions of Corfu

 

“The sea was smooth, warm and dark as black velvet, not a ripple disturbing the surface. The distant coastline of Albania was dimly outlined by a faint reddish glow in the sky. Gradually, minute by minute, this glow deepened and grew brighter, spreading across the sky. Then suddenly the moon, enormous,  wine-red, edged herself over the fretted battlement of mountains, and threw a  straight blood-red path across the dark sea. ”

Gerald Durrell in “My Family and Other Animals

 

 

Vassilis (Bill) Metallinos made the above video. He has made some beautiful videos of the night sky over Corfu, made of thousands of stills,  that can be viewed on his youtube channel. You can read an interview of his here explaining his equipment and method. 

Gerald Durrell lived with his family (and other animals) as a child in Corfu. He has written a trilogy on Corfu and his brother Lawrence Durrell also wrote a book on Corfu, the “Prospero’s Cell“.

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Wonder(full) Rodriguez

This blog became two years old the other day. If it could take a voice, I imagine it would take the voice of Sixto Rodriguez and say, “Thank you for keeping me alive!”, in the same simple, clear and vibrato way as Rodriguez welcomed his fans at his ‘resurrection’ concert in S. Africa in 1998. 

So two years in, Thank you Escape for making some sense out of me. Thank you all. 

And yes, I Wonder. And I thank you for Wondering:

The first song I ever heard of Rodriguez was this very “I Wonder”. It was summer, I was in a bar above the sea, on a starry night. Its style and his voice amplified the evening breeze. Shazam, beautiful shazam app, helped me ‘tag’ the song and led me to Sixto Rodriguez’ limited discography. 

searching-for-sugar-man_no__11608

Then, recently, I watched the documentary film “Searching for Sugarman” (2012) about the weird story of Sixto Rodriguez. Rodriguez, living in Detroit, made a couple of albums as a young musician at the end of the ’60’s beginning of ’70’s that didn’t do well. With his music career not going anywhere, he spent his life working as a builder in constructions.

Parallel to his low expectations life, from the ’80’s onwards his records became popular and loved in South Africa. There, for the anti-apartheid white youth of South Africa, he became a symbol; he was actually considered bigger than Elvis. And although we are talking about the final years of the 20th century, Rodriguez was living in Detroit poor and unaware of his success in some other part of the world, while in South Africa he was believed to be long dead. The rumour had it that he had heroically committed suicide on stage. That was the case until he was ‘discovered’ alive in the 90’s, thanks to the internet, to an equally big surprise to his South African fans and to him and to his family and friends. As a S. African article put it during his first ‘resurrection’ tour there in 1998 that attracted more than 50.000 people: “The US zero – the S.A. hero”. How can you not ‘Wonder’?

Here is the ‘Searching for Sugarman’ documentary film (duration: 1hr 26mins):

 

And I wonder,

I want to keep wondering

and I want to keep on sharing my wonders and my wanderings with you on ‘Escape’

How wonder-full ..!

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Weather Forecasting Far Beyond and Close to home

Berndnaut-Smilde

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus D’Aspremont, 2012

There is  a lot of talk on  a special kind of weather forecasting these last days fueled by Stephen Hawking and his recent paper published online about Black Holes titled “Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes“, which as they say claims that Black Holes and their surrounding Event Horizon are not what we used to think they were. I hardly understand anything  in this field but I am always intrigued. So I wait for scientists who are good at popularizing scientific thought to translate to people like me what this is all about. Here is a comprehensive article from the New Scientist. But there is another point that makes me interested in this development and it has to do with the will and frankness quality needed in the ability to change your mind. If I am not mistaken it is the 3rd time Stephen Hawking is changing his mind about the nature of Black Holes. At first he said that there is no information escaping a Black Hole. Then, he admitted there was (and paid off a bet), and now he strikes with another proposal saying that there is no event horizon at all or singularity in a black hole. I may be sooo mistaken in what I say here I have understood so I will stop at this point. But still the main point is that he feels his understanding of the world, of his field of research is always in process, is always evolving, therefore defending his theory contrary to his results is absurd. I hope I can be open enough in my life to be able to change my mind so profoundly if that is what I should do for the sake of honesty.

960px-Black_Hole_Milkyway

Sticking on the weather issue though, earth weather, on a rainy day like today in Corfu, I share here links to the Nimbus series, by Berndnaut Smilde. Smilde is a Danish artist working around the idea of weather, among other things. He created this beautiful series of clouds in indoor spaces, temporary creations that result in lasting photographs.

Nimbus-by-Berndnaut-Smilde-yatzer-6

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus Green Room, 2013

Here is a short BBC video interview on how Berndnaut Smilde makes his clouds.

Watching this video and works reminded me of visiting Olafur Eliasson‘s ‘The Weather Project‘ some ten years ago at the Tate Modern.

Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project, Tate Modern, 2003

Olafur Eliasson, photo from The Weather Project, Tate Modern, 2003

This was a massive work made of so little and it had an effect equivalent I guess to a common hallucination. In the grim London weather some lights, mirrors and misty smoke in the Turbine Hall created a warm and safe environment for us visitors, for us sun missing people, to agree that the sun was real and warm, and that the sunset hour was soothing and cosy.

The work was commissioned for the Unilever Series and presented in Tate Modern in 2003.  Ten years later they made a Remember The Weather Project project and here is a video about the idea and impact of this work.

The term Weather Forecasting for Black Holes sounds to me as literal and as metaphorical as the creation of mini clouds and sunset atmospheres on earthly indoor spaces. Hence the post. One is chosen for the qualities attributed to its scientific relevance while the others for their aesthetic resonance. All three though grow in the prosperous lands of Wonder.

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Where are your dots? Jun Pierre’s invaluable Sketchbook points

jun's post

Jun Pierre Shiozawa is a beautiful artist, man and friend. There is no hierarchical order in that sentence. Jun is also a studio arts teacher at the Aegean Center and I am sure his students would add that he is a beautiful teacher as well. Combining all these qualities, Jun recently listed on his blog some key reasons why we should always carry a sketchbook with us. He offers his work and personal travels to help explain the benefits of insight, randomness and observation to help make sense of ourselves and to move on. At first this post might seem relevant only to visual artists, then to the creative people. But in truth it is helpful to all thinking beings. To all playful souls. Click here or on the image above to access the blogpost.

Sometimes the obvious is hidden in a ‘syntax’, in the dormant state of the ordinary. That’s why traveling, or in other words exploring while reviewing, can be very revealing. Or why reorganizing available information has proved time and again a way to generate new knowledge. For example, info-graphics have apparently helped make a lot of sense out of our world and trends; Ken Robinson‘s latest book “Finding your Element” is full of sketchbook-like exercises on jotting down personal tastes and information in order to reveal what makes one click; or again, just this morning, I was watching a doc about the meaning of Time that argued that Einstein’s idea of time relativity came to him during his Patent office days where he was reviewing time keeping inventions. All these diverse examples suggest that a new point of view could result in a novel viewpoint. And to bring this back to the scale of one person and to the importance of the personal meaning-making process, I paraphrase here Steve Jobs who said that one can only connect the dots retrospectively. Also meaning that it is helpful to somehow keep recording those dots in order to connect them down the road.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.”

Steve Jobs

Jun of course  also deals with the benefits of travel in his post. Being outside your comfort zone highlights a lot about your take in life. Travel is always a zone I enjoy finding myself in and for exactly this reason. But travel can happen everywhere. I am in my home place for a month now and it is proving to be a revealing time travel experience. Many dots are being connected. Many dots fly around to be pinned down. After I read Jun’s post I make sure that my sketch/notebook is always with me. Thank you Jun for helping me bring my dots home.

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The Wand Masters: Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan

Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan; two very different maestros, two very unique styles; two contemporaries expressing their common ‘call’ in very distinct ways.

The two maestros appreciated each other and there is a rumour that they were planning to collaborate, late in their lives. This plan sadly didn’t materialise. Still, by these men living in the 20th century we are given the opportunity to listen to their interpretations and get glimpses of their ways of conducting life and music freely online.

I got hooked the other day listening to Bernstein after I started watching his Norton Lectures at Harvard on Music (via openculture). I was impressed by the interdisciplinary take of this modern man. So I started listening to him and was fascinated by his  (American) style of referring to his mentors throughout his career and giving a lot of importance on mentoring and education.

It was at that point that I felt the need to check out Karajan’s style, which seemed to me a lot more controlled, a more traditional approach, appropriate for an Austrian man.

The first cd I listened to in my life was the Deutsche Grammophon’s recording of Bethoven’s 9th Symphony conducted by Herbert von Karajan. It was a memorable introduction to the then new quality of sound. The surprise has stayed with me. So it was absolutely great when so many years later, that is few months ago, I found on the the itunes store an app for ipads for the 9th symphony (by Touchpress). This absolutely beautiful, easy to use app is made to help us explore and appreciate Beethoven’s music on two versions, a free one and a paid one. There you can listen to Karajan’s, Bernstein’s and others interpretation of this music, the development and use of the orchestra, the dynamics and the choices they made. It is a great app for all of us lay people to explore and understand the beauty of Beethoven’s music.

But it seems that there is always a visionary behind a masterpiece. So here are two interviews shedding some light into the personalities of Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan respectively. Two people that passed on some great old music down the to us to enjoy.

Leonard Bernstein

“The key to the mystery of a great artist is that for reasons unknown, he will give away his energies and his life just to make sure that one note follows another… and leaves us with the feeling that something is right in the world.”

“Teachers and Teaching” is an autobiographical documentary by Bernstein about his mentors and his ethics as a maestro teacher (duration: 1hr)

Herbert von Karajan

“If I still have so many things left to say and my body lets me down then it’s up to nature to give me another body. The greatest goal is to see one’s profession as a calling.”

“Karajan Or Beauty As I See it” is a documentary about the life and work of Herbert von Karajan by Robert Dornhelm. (duration: 1hr32mins)

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Femmes Algériennes, Stories of history in photos

algerian woman by m garanger

I bumped into these photos of Algerian Women in the 1960’s by Marc Garanger about a year ago and I visit them  regularly online, because frankly I find them striking. The women are just beautiful and the shots are so encapsulating. But there is a story behind them that has given this “Femmes Algériennes 1960” portfolio an even more revealing history.

Marc Garanger served in the French army in the Algerian War, the infamous end of the French colonisation epoch in the 60’s. Garanger opposed the French occupation but he was serving there as a soldier photographer. While there he was asked to take photos of the regional population for their ID’s. Within ten days he took some 2.000 pictures, some of them of women who had never before taken off their veils in front of a stranger. There is much talk about the captured looks of these women, their resistance, their strength and their reservation. That is all interpretation as far as I am concerned.

Garanger soon after fled the army and went to Switzerland to publish these images in the hope that he would tell a striking story about the force and demoralisation exercised by the French occupying army towards the peoples of Algeria. And he was right. His images told a story and the discussion on these images hasn’t seized since, while Marc Garanger has made a celebrated career as a culture documentary photographer.

Femmes Algeriennes by Marc Garanger

I tried to find more information online about these women and their conditions of life, their traditions, their ways in the various cultures that make up Algeria. Most of the articles I have found bound these images with oppression, Islam, the French occupation and feminism. The only things I have found so far simply on their ways of life just mention that they come from either Islamic or Berber Algerian communities. The Berber ones wear face tattoos. These could not be seen in public because they were hidden by their veils. They were certainly beauty signs but they were also meaning carrying symbols. The tradition of face tattoo has died away in today’s Algeria, but there are still old ladies alive who carry them. Most of them do not remember the symbolism and I find that astonishing, because it is in their face. Apparently, the profession of the tattoo artist that used to travel between the tribes to give them these tattoos has died away along with this tradition. The most concrete information and a sort of background I found for this desert tattoo rite was on  Yasmin Bendaas‘s research project (funded by the Pulitzer Center), which she updates regularly.

Traditions die away and memory fades. History is made continually, gets piled and gets done and undone. In this Femmes Algériennes photos I find beauty in women, in photography, in history, in locality, in awkwardness, in the richness of a moment in time.

Marc Garanger is still working on his photography and he has travelled in many locations to record history. Here is a 4min video where he shares his take on his projects.

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Anicca Anicca Goenka Ji

s.n. goenka

“Work diligently. Diligently. Work patiently and persistently. Patiently and persistently. And you’re bound to be successful. Bound to be successful.”

S.N. Goenka’s continuous advice during the Vipassana meditation course

I read today that S.N. Goenka died yesterday at the age of 90, due to old age.  Bye bye Goenka Ji, and thank you…

Goenka was the equivalent to a Guru for Vipassana meditation. He  spent most of his adult life ‘exporting’ to the world this almost lost meditation technique, practiced by Buddha.

The idea of doing this blog, its title, its content, everything came to me during my second 10day Vipassana course. Although this means that while I was sitting trying to meditate my mind was floating around, dreaming up blogs, I guess it also comes to show that good creative ideas can come out at breaks from deep concentration of the mind.

I first heard of Vipassana by Mika on a wonderful summer swim at Farangas beach on Paros. It sounded interesting but I had nothing to do with meditation, so it got stored in the ‘interesting stuff‘ file in my mind. Then, a couple of years later I was travelling in India, and meditation was so normal in the daily practice and lifestyle over there that, when Omar answered to me that he probably got that beautifully serene look on him from his Vipassana practice, I was convinced I had to try it too.

A few days later I went to do to my first 10day Vipassana course. The information on the application form said that through Vipassana you get peace of mind and that was enough for me to hand in to the management upon my arrival my passport, money, bank cards, cellphone, etc and admit myself to a 10 day silence with a 10 hour meditation practice per day regime.

As tough and crazy as it may sound in the above description it is exactly that in its actual practice and in its results! Because it is absolutely tough to sit for so many hours day after day concentrating on yourself, on your silence, on your bodily sensations in order to gain access to yourself and to the way your mind forms and works on your thoughts, memories, fears and desires; and it is absolutely crazy how balanced and calm and strong, enriched, confident, even happy, you feel at the end of it.

Every time I am asked how this works, I try to explain it and I always feel I fail to do so. So this being a post about S.N. Goenka I should let him do the talking.

Here is a pretty recent interview of Goenka on Indian tv about him and Vipassana:

And here is another older video where Goenka gives and introduction to Vipassana meditation:

“We operate on the unthinking assumption that the person who existed ten years ago is essentially the same person who exists today, who will exist ten years from now, perhaps who will still exist in a future life after death. No matter what philosophies or theories or beliefs we hold as true, we actually each live our lives with the deep-rooted conviction, ‘I was, I am, I shall be.”

S.N. Goenka

* Anicca means impermanence in Pali (old Indian). It is one of the essential doctrines or three marks of existence in Buddhism. The term expresses the Buddhist notion that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is in a constant state of flux. The Pali word anicca literally means “inconstant”. According to the impermanence doctrine, human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara), and in any experience of loss. This is applicable to all beings and their environs including devas (mortal gods). The Buddha taught that because conditioned phenomena are impermanent, attachment to them becomes the cause for future suffering (dukkha). [Quoting from Wikipedia]

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Sartre and Beauvoir in Love

Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir

Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir

I bumped today into the www.brainpickings.org website which seems very interesting. Having said that, let me just clarify that I haven’t really explored it yet, I have just glanced over some articles, but they were all interesting. Good start for a new fav website!

Anyway, it had two articles about Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Sartre and Beauvoir had an open life long relationship that was intimate yet at times had space for other lovers to home in….

Here are links to reviews by Maria Popova on two books that give insight into these literary lovers’ way of love; one being a collection of his love letters to her and the other a collection of women’s breakup letters, including some of Beauvoir’s to her various lovers.

I had to share two of their quotes, one from his letters to her and the other from a breakup letter written by her to one of her other lovers, found on the above mentioned books (via links)….

“I am mastering my love for you and turning it inwards as a constituent element of myself.”

Jean Paul Sartre (in a letter to Simone de Beauvoir)

“I can still feel warm and happy and harshly grateful when I look at you inside me”.

Simone de Beauvoir (in a breakup letter to Nelson Algren)

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Henri Cartier-Bresson: Yes, Yes, Yes

Henri Cartier-Bresso, photo by John Loengard

Henri Cartier-Bresson, photo by John Loengard

“Freedom for me is a strict frame, and inside that frame are all the variations possible.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson

In a 1971 taped interview, rediscovered in 1991 at the International Center of Photography (New York) archives, Henri Cartier-Bresson talks a bit about his take on his photography. Simple and real. “Yes, yes, yes”, as he says echoing someone else…

cartier-bresson

“Poetry is the essence of everything, and it’s through deep contact with reality and living fully that you reach poetry. Very often I see photographers cultivating the strangeness or awkwardness of a scene, thinking it is poetry. No. Poetry is two elements which are suddenly conflict — a spark between two elements. But it’s given very seldom, and you can’t look for it. It’s like if you look for inspiration. No, it just comes by enriching yourself and living.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson

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