The Bridge on the Drina

“Nothing brings men closer together than a common misfortune happily overcome.”

Few writers are capable of tracing and presenting the turbulent and complex history of the Balkans through the centuries (since the Ottoman rule to the First World War) as masterfully as Bosnia’s Ivo Andrić, Winner of the Noble Prize for Literature and author of ‘The Bridge on the Drina’, his absolute masterpiece.

I was very lucky to read this novel before visiting Bosnia; it helped me understand the unique cultural legacy of that part of the world, always stuck between powerful empires (Ottomans and Austro-Hungarians) and warring sides (Serbs and Croats), always an easy and likely victim for religious zealots and political dogs of war.
The novel traces the lives of the people of Višegrad, whose lives have always revolved around the great Ottoman bridge that bears witness to their joys and sorrows, their pain and passion. One generation after another, the human condition is captured to perfection through a myriad stories and anecdotes; the bridge and the city become a microcosm at the mercy of greater powers and radical changes.

The novel is dotted with fantastic tales and heart-breaking moments. I chose two of them to share with you.
First, the horrendous blood tribute by the Ottomans in Eastern Bosnia:
“On that November day a long convoy of laden horses arrived on the left bank of the river and halted there to spend the night. The aga of the janissaries, with armed escort, was returning to Istanbul after collecting from the villages of eastern Bosnia the appointed number of Christian children for the blood tribute.
It was the sixth year since the last collection of this tribute of blood and so this time the choice has been easy and rich; the necessary number of healthy, bright and good-looking lads between ten and fifteen years old had been found without difficulty, even though many parents had hidden their children in the forests, taught them how to appear half-witted, clothed them in rags and let them get filthy, to avoid the aga’s choice. Some went so far as to maim their own children, cutting off one of their fingers with an axe.
(…) A little way behind the last horses in that strange convoy straggled, dishevelled and exhausted, many parents and relatives of those children who were being carried away forever to a foreign world, where they would be circumcized, become Turkish and, forgetting their faith, their country and their origin, would pass their lives in the ranks of the janissaries or in some other, higher service of the Empire.”

Second, an imaginary religious explanation of how and why bridges are divine structures:
“My father told me as a child how bridges first came to this world and how the first bridge was built. When Allah the Merciful and Compassionate first created this world, the earth was smooth and even as a finely engraved plate. That displeased the devil who envied man this gift of God. And while the earth was still just as it had come from God’s hands, damp and soft as unbaked clay, the devil stole up and scratched the face of God’s earth with his nails as much and as deeply as he could. Therefore, the story says, deep rivers and ravines were formed which divided one district from another and kept people apart, preventing them from travelling on that earth that God had given them as a garden for their food and their support.
And God felt pity when he saw what the Accursed One had done, but was not able to return to the task which the devil had spoiled with his nails, so God sent his angels to help people and make things easier for them. When the angels say how unfortunate men could not pass those abysses and ravines to finish the work they had to do, but tormented themselves and looking in vain and shouted from one side to the other, the angels spread their wings above those places and men were able to cross. So people learned from the angels of God how to build bridges, and therefore, after fountains, the greatest blessing is to build a bridge and the greatest sin to interfere with one, for every bridge, from a tree trunk crossing a mountain stream to this great bridge of Mehmed Pasha (Sokolovići), has its guardian angel who cares for it and maintains it as long as God has ordained that it should stand.”

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Howe’s Wind-Powered Sculpture

One of the most captivating elements in the Inauguration Ceremony of the Olympic Games in Rio was the wind-powered kinetic sculpture designed for the Olympic cauldron by the American artist Anthony Howe. It’s a two-ton sculpture designed to symbolize the sun, and it moves swiftly with the wind. Surprisingly, no one in my circle talks about it.

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In his official website, Anthony Howe states that “kinetic sculpture resides at the intersection of artistic inspiration and mechanical complexity. The making of one of my pieces relies on creative expression, metal fabrication, and a slow design process in equal parts. It aims to alter one’s experience of time and space when witnessed. It also needs to weather winds of 90 mph and still move in a one mile per hour breeze and do so for hundreds of years.”

The one thing I like most about this art is that Nature becomes the paintbrush, rather than the subject. At a time when issues like global warming and climate change have become more pressing than ever, Howe’s works come -literally- as a breeze.

For a compilation of Anthony Howe’s works, you can watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4l5rHNSq9s

Variations on a Masterpiece

Those who adore their favorite artists, those culture vultures that would accept nothing less than a recognizable ‘masterpiece’, how do they feel when someone ‘messes around’ with the most iconic masterpieces that they have come to venerate in the name of artistic creativity?

Take the test, contemplate the images that I chose for this post, and decide for yourself.

Venus (after Botticelli) by Xin Yin:

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The Last Supper (after Da Vinci) by José Manuel Ballester:

José Manuel Ballesters

The Anatomy Lesson (after Rembrandt) by Derek Gallon:

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Lecture in Cairo: Mystery Night (14 Jul. 2016)‎

This is to announce my coming lecture in Cairo on the 14th of July 2016:‎

Course Title: Mystery Night (Unsolved Ancient Mysteries)

Course Language: Arabic (slides in English) ‎

Venue: 33 A Meqias al-Roda Street, 4th floor apt. 9.

Date: Thursday, 14 July 2016

Duration: 2 hours (8:00pm – 10:00pm)‎

Course Description: Since the dawn of time, mystery has always fueled our imagination. From the Nazca Lines to the Nebra Sky Disc, there are many mysteries yet to be solved, and this lecture presents some of the most mind-blowing cases. We will not talk about UFOs or paranormal activity; we will only discuss tangible objects and visible landmarks: the flying men of Tassili n’Ajjer, the Diquís Spheres of Costa Rica, the Cart Ruts of Malta, the Ubaid Lizard Men, and many other fascinating mysteries.

Speaker: Mohammed Elrazzaz holds an MA in Arts & Cultural Management from the Universitat ‎Internacional de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain). He is Professor of Tools for Cultural ‎Management (since 2010) and Mediterranean Heritage (since 2015) at the same university. ‎He participated as speaker/lecturer in several international cultural conferences in Spain, Italy, ‎Denmark and Egypt. ‎

Course Fees: EGP 250 / person. ‎ The fee includes access to the PowerPoint ‎presentation (in pdf format). ‎ Voice and video recording not permitted.‎

Deadline for Reservation/Cancellation: ‎1 July 2016 (or as soon as the course is fully booked).‎

Please contact me for any further enquiries and for reservations:‎ vrazzaz@yahoo.com

Mystery night poster

 

Rodin sculpture sets $20 million artist’s record at auction

A Rodin sculpture set a new artist’s auction record at Sotheby’s on Monday when it sold for $20.4 million, but the strong price was likely to provide little reassurance to an art market that many fear is softening after years of spiking prices.

Sotheby’s sale of Impressionist and modern art took in a total of $144.4 million, missing the low pre-sale estimate of about $165 million for 62 lots offered. One-third of the works went unsold.

Despite some high points that drew spirited bidding, the sale was marked by its relatively high unsold rate, and somewhat tepid prices for works that did find buyers.

Rodin’s marble sculpture, “L’Eternal Printemps,” soared far beyond its estimated price of $8 million to $12 million, and broke the Rodin auction record of just under $20 million.

Drawing intense, global competition, Sotheby’s pointed to the work as emblematic of the kind of fresh-to-market, quality works that auction houses must now offer to elicit strong prices and spirited bidding.

Executives employed words such as discerning, measured and selective to characterize both the night’s results and the present market itself.

“It’s emblematic of the marketplace we’re in right now,” said Helena Newman, European chairman of Impressionist and modern art, adding “It’s nuanced market.”

After years of soaring prices, both Sotheby’s and rival Christie’s have assembled markedly smaller spring sales, with no works carrying estimates much beyond $40 million. In recent seasons several works have broken the $100 million mark.

The sale’s expected highlight, Andre Derain’s “Les Voiles rouges” estimated at $15 million to $20 million, failed to sell. Picasso’s “Buste d’homme Laure,” expected to fetch $8 million to $12 million, suffered the same fate.

Among highlights, Maurice de Vlaminck’s “Sous-bois” fetched $16.4 million, in the midst of the estimate range, and Monet’s “Maree basse aux Petites-Dalles” sold for $9.9 million, nearly doubling the high estimate. Three Monets were among the 10 highest-priced lots.

Sotheby’s has suffered a spate of resignations by top-tier executives, many of whom had worked there for decades, as well as the departure of its long-serving CEO.

The auction stood in contrast to Christie’s curated sale on Sunday featuring challenging works by artists typically considered less-than commercial. It took in $78 million, handily beating the pre-sale estimate of about $60 million. But Christie’s curated sale last fall, notably, totaled $495 million.

The auctions continue on Tuesday with Christie’s post-war and contemporary art auction.

(REUTERS)

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Migrant Photography: I am Sorry

Reuters won Pulitzer for photography of migrant crisis. Till here it is just a another piece of news, but then you contemplate the photos and it becomes more than just news: it becomes tragedy. Human failure has a name, it has a face, it has a life of its own that transcends national borders and dwarfs whatever discourse no matter how elegantly put. I am ashamed. I am sorry.

A selection of the winning photos:

REUTERS PULITZER PRIZE BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY ENTRY

An overcrowded inflatable boat with Syrian refugees drifts in the Aegean sea between Turkey and Greece after its motor broke down off the Greek island of Kos, August 11, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

REUTERS PULITZER PRIZE BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY ENTRY

A Syrian refugee holding a baby in a life tube swims towards the shore after their dinghy deflated some 100m away before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, September 13, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

REUTERS PULITZER PRIZE BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY ENTRY

Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, August 27, 2015. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

REUTERS PULITZER PRIZE BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY ENTRY

Migrants and refugees beg Macedonian policemen to allow passage to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia during a rainstorm, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

REUTERS PULITZER PRIZE BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY ENTRY

Hungarian policemen stand over a family of immigrants who threw themselves onto the track before they were detained at a railway station in the town of Bicske, Hungary, September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

REUTERS PULITZER PRIZE BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY ENTRY

Syrian refugees walk through the mud as they cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

 

 

IONIA: THE FIRST PHYSICISTS

“It all started with the mass migration of Greeks early in the first millennium B.C., when they left their homeland in mainland Greece and migrated eastward across the Aegean, settling on the coast of Asia Minor and its offshore islands. Three Greek tribes e involved in this migration –the Aeolians to the north, the Ionians in the center, and the Dorians in the south- and together they produced the first flowering of Greek culture. The Aeolians gave birth to the lyric poet Sappho; the Ionians to Homer and the natural philosophers Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes; and the Dorians to Herodotus, the “Father of History.”

The Ionians ended up with the best location in Asia Minor and the Ionian colonies soon organized themselves into a confederation called the Dodecapolis.

Miletus greatly surpassed all of the other Ionian cities in its maritime ventures and commerce, founding its first colonies in the eighth century B.C. on the shores on the Black Sea. During the next two centuries Miletus was far more active in colonization than any other city-state in the Greek world, founding a total of thirty cities around the Black Sea. Miletus also had a trading station at Naucratis, the Greek emporium on the Nile delta founded circa 650 B.C. Meanwhile other Greek cities had established colonies around the western shores of the Mediterranean, the densest region of settlement being in southern Italy and Sicily, which became known as Magna Graecia, or Great Greece.

The far-ranging maritime activities of the Milesians brought them into contact with older and more advanced civilizations in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, from which the Greeks returned with ideas as well as goods. Herodotus writes that “the Egyptians by their study of astronomy discovered the solar year and were the first to divide it into twelve parts –and in my opinion their method of calculation is better than the Greek.

The trade routes of the Milesians also took them to Mesopotamia where they probably acquired the knowledge of astronomy they needed for celestial navigation and timekeeping. They obtained the gnomon, or shadow maker, in Mesopotamia, according to Herodotus, who says that knowledge of the sundial and the gnomon and the twelve divisions of the day came into Greece from Babylon.

The Ionian Greeks soon progressed far beyond their predecessors intellectually, particularly in Miletus, which in the last quarter of the sixth century B.C. gave birth to the first three philosophers of nature. Aristotle referred to them physikoi, or phyicists, from the Greek physis, meaning “nature” in its widest sense, contrasting them with earlier theologi, or theologians, for they were the first who tried to explain phenomena on natural rather than supernatural grounds.”

Excerpt from Aladdin’s Lamp by John Freely

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