Facebook Groups for Ex-Pats Living in Medellín

Prior to moving to Colombia I spent many hours reading through various online Facebook groups to get a better understanding of what sort of issues people had trouble coping with, a sense of the various communities (locals and ex-pats) perspective on issues, prices of goods and services, places and situations to be wary of, etc. Below are the links to the groups that have been the most useful in orienting myself to life in Medellín

Digital Nomads Medellin

VOLUNTEER Medellin

Medellin Expats

Medellin Gringo Classifieds

Doing Business And Living In Medellin, Colombia

Women Entrepreneurs of Medellin

GringoPaisa (Americans In Medellin)

Food in Medellin | Comida en Medellín

Medellin Living Events & Activities

English Teachers Medellin

Medellin Entrepreneurs Society

Cultura en Medellín

Blogging In Medellín

Medellin ENGLISH – SPANISH Events

Medellín Heroes

Medellin Events

Medellin Rooms, Apartments and Expat Info

Medellin Short Term Apartments

Medellin apart/rooms 4 Rent/Sale

Alquiler de habitaciones en Medellin

Clasificados Medellin Antioquia

 

Groups For All of Colombia

Backpacking Colombia

Teach in Colombia

Colombia Digital Nomads & Entrepreneurs

Music That’s Playing in Medellin

Music That’s Playing in Medellin / Música que Juega en Medellín

This is by no means any sort of scientific attempt to curate the music scene in Medellin. This is just a short playlist of some of the songs that I’ve listened too in various places I’ve voyaged to in Medellin over the past two weeks.

Tu Me Enamoraste by Lary Over, Anuel AA, Bryant Myers, Brytiago, Almighty

Ahora Dice by Chris Jeday featuring J. Balvin, Ozuna, and Arcángel

Un Polvo by Maluma featuring Bad Bunny, Arcángel, Ñengo Flow,and De La Ghetto

Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola by J. Balvin featuring Bad Bunny

Ella y Yo by Pepe Quintana featuring Farruko , Anuel AA, Tempo, Almighty, and Bryant Myers

Cuatro Babys by Maluma featuring Noriel, Bryant Myers, and Juhn

Ornette – “Crazy” (Nôze remix)

Esclava Remix by Bryant Myers featuring Anonimus, Almighty Y Anuel AA

Or Nah by Anuel AA’s Remix of Ty Dolla $ign’s same named song featuring The Weeknd, Wiz Khalifa & DJ Mustard

Tu No Vive Asi by Arcangel x Bad Bunny

Escápate Conmigo by Wisin featuring Ozuna

Si Me Muero by Pepe Quintana featuring Farruko, Ñengo Flow, Lary Over, Darell

Si Tu Lo Dejas by Rvssian featuring Bad Bunny, Farruko, Nicky Jam, King Kosa

Krippy Kush by Farruko, Bad Bunny, Rvssian

New York City Radical History Tour

The content that I made for GPS-My-City is now available for download. It is an 18-stop GPS tour map with a history of each location in text and audio recordings. It’s almost like having me give you a guided tour of the sites!

In order to purchase it, first download the GPS-My-City App from the iTunes AppStore. Then search for the New York City Radical History tour from the in-app catalog.

Barcelona's Civil War History App Now Available!

The content that I made for GPS-My-City is a 18-stop GPS tour map with a history of each location in text and voice recording. It’s almost like having me give you a guided tour of the sites historically relevant to the Spanish Civil War.

In order to purchase it, first download the GPS-My-City App from the iTunes AppStore. Then search for the Barcelona Civil War tour from the in-app catalog.

A Civil Rights History Tour of New York City will be also up in the next three months!

Backpacking Itinerary

For those friends and family that have expressed the desire to meet us on our travels at some point or even to just know where we are going – here is our rough itinerary as well a list of some of the draws for our going to a particular place. Our travel time is from May 18th to July 23rd, and we will be keeping to the below schedule generally, but as we may want to shorten and extend our time at certain places are leaving many of the arrangements open. Even if you can’t make it be sure that no later than a few months after the trip I will upload many picture and include writings on the places as well, something I wish I’d done more diligently the last two times I’ve backpacked in Europe and drove around the USA.

 Genoa (2 days)

“Among the marvels of Italy, it will take some digging to find the beauties of Genova, but it is worth visiting.” – Paolo Coelho

* Palace
* Villa Durazzo-Pallavicini
* Porta Soprana
* Piazza de Ferrari
* The Palazzo Reale
* Via Garibaldi
* Cattedrale di San Lorenzo Campanile
* Palazzi dei Rolli

Train to Florence (with a short stop over in Pisa)

Florence (4 days)

“Everything about Florence seems to be colored with a mild violet, like diluted wine. – Henry James

* Uffizi Gallery
* Fountain of Neptune
* Church of San Lorenzo and the Medici Chapel
* Santa Croce (burial site of Machiavelli, Galileo, Michaelangelo, etc.)
* Academia di Bella Arti (David and other classics)
* Palazzo Vecchio
* Boboli Gardens
* Museo Galileo
* Villa Demidoff
* Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo
* Loggia dei Lanz

Fly to Rome OR take High Speed Rail System

Rome (3-4 days)

“You cheer my heart, who build as if Rome would be Eternal.” – Augustus Caesar

* Vatican
* Sundry Piazzas
* Trevi Fountain
* Old City

Fly to Venice

Venice (4 days)

“A realist, in Venice, would become a romantic by mere faithfulness to what he saw before him.” –Arthur Symons

* Venice

Fly to Ljubljana

(2 weeks of travel)

Ljubljana (4 days)

“Where soldiers once slept, a cultural enclave rises” – New York Times

* Ljubljana Free Tour
* Ljubljana University
* Ljubljana Castle
* National Museum of Contemporary History
* Visiting the artists and musicians in the “Autonomous city” of Metelkova

(A short bus ride to Bled)

Bled (2 days)

* Hiking to waterfalls, caves and mountain views
* Swimming to an island
* Visit to Bled Castle
* Church of the Assumption
* Boat Tours/Emerald River Tour
* International Music Festival
* Horse/bike rentals
* Learn how to perform Sabrange!

Bled to Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik and Split, Croatia (~2 days each)

* Summer festivals
* Roland Column
* Placa Stradun
* Pile Gate
* Church of St. Ignatius and the Jesuit College
* Bukovac House

Bus or flight to Berat

Berat, Albania (3 days)

* Whitewater rafting on the Osumi River
* Numerous Byzantine Churches and Ottoman Mosques
* Hiking Tomorri Mountain

Bus to Tirana

Tirana, Albania (3 days)

* Petrela Castle
* General’s Beach
* National Art Gallery
* Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard
* Piramida (International Centre of Culture)

Fly to Athens

Athens (five days)

* Acropolis
* Temple of Zeus
* Anafiotika
* Plaka
* Monastiraki
* Thissio
* Agora
* New Acropolis Museum
* Walk through Exarchia
* Maybe a cruise to the surrounding islands of Hydra, Poros or Agina or a Corinthian daytrip?

[4 weeks total]

Delphi (daytrip)

* Visiting the site of the Delphic Oracle
* Ruins of the Temple of Apollo, theatre, etc.
* Delphic Museum

Thessalonikia (2-3 days)

* Panagia Chalkeon
* The White Tower
* Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessalonika
* Museum of the Macedonian Struggle
* Archeological Museum
* Taking pictures of riots against the Government

Express Train to Istanbul

Istanbul/Büyükada (5 days)

* Hagia Sophia Museum
* Sultanahmet District (Where the Topkapı Palace and Blue Mosque are)
* Basilica Cistern
* Turkish Baths
* Theodosian Walls Walk
* Bosphorous Cruise (Just like Jason and the Argonauts!)
* Shopping in bazars and the counterfeit goods markets
* Rumeli Citadel
* Riding the Turk Balloon
* Dance of Colors (Sufi Dances)
* Gala Mevlevi’s- Sufi Museum/Order
* Beylerbeyi Palace

Büyükada (Day trip by ferry)

*Greek Monastery of St George
*Leon Trotsky’s first place of exile

(Fly to Gdynia)

Gdynia, Poland (4 days minimum)

* July 4th – 7th Open’er

(6 Weeks)

Talinn, Riga, and Vilnius (~3 days each)

Vilnius, Talinn and Riga as we see fit,  though this may turn into forays through Czech Republic.

Fly back to the United States July 23rd.

Morocco

Josselyn and I just returned from a weeklong trip to Morocco and we are still reeling from many amazing experiences that we had. While I’d been to Africa many years ago, it was my first time in an Arabic country and I had prepared myself for going by reading as much as a could on the customs of the country – such as baksheesh, the need to wear modest clothes that would cover up my tattoos and the fine art of haggling down prices of goods that I would buy while there.

We entered the door of the Riad, placed our bags down in our room and were brought cups of what the locals like to call Moroccan whiskey, which is really just mint tea. I found it refreshing even though it was a little too sweet for my taste and ended up finishing Josselyn’s cup as well. It was already evening at this time so we decided to get the most out of the day by leaving immediately to look around the Medina and specifically the open air-market that we’d passed in the car on the way over. One of the Medina employees walked with us to this market so that we would know how to get there and return.

The first object of my desire there was a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice from the #41 vendor. Whether it was the American dance-pop on the speakers inside his cart or the hand waves to come over and drink that made me choose that particular juice cart I don’t know. But it was delicious. While I was drinking though, a woman came up to Josselyn and began a henna tattoo on her hand without her having asked for it. She was very scared by this, having seen the tube with which the dye is ejected and mistaking it for a needle. I shooed the woman away, she washed her hand behind the stall I had just bought the O.J. from and we continued to explored the medina. We walked not even a hundred feet and saw men with King Cobras and other snakes that were making themselves available for pictures with tourists. I had several such pictures with them and they started to bring the snakes to Josselyn, but she was very frightened by them so they left her alone. I gave them five dirhams, roughly half of a euro, for the pictures and was immediately told to give more. “Paper money” was there precise phrase they used.

The research on cultural mores that I’d don’t informed me that this price was more than sufficient for the pictures and when faced by seemingly upset locals in this situation, as I was, to just laugh away their invocations for more and say that’s all you’re willing to give. I stuck to this and soon enough they left me alone in order to move on to other tourists that were circulating the area and wanting to take pictures with the snakes.

As we were hungry and Josselyn was afraid to eat at the food stalls in the center of the square we ate couscous dishes at a restaurant that wasn’t particularly noteworthy but was filling and cheap. Josselyn than got some pictures with some monkeys and the situation with the snake men repeated itself, though where I felt comfortable having expected this she was put off by it and the actions of the henna tattooist. I comforted her as we walked along the different shop fronts and sidewalk displays placed upon fabric by minor street merchants. There was a wide selection of counterfeit goods available for purchase, from glasses to watches to purses, of varying quality amongst the regular stores. Several times we were approached, asking if we wanted “sheet” or “wakibaki”, which I later found out were terms used for hashish, one of the largest export products in the area around the High Atlas mountains. I was also told that because of the cultural norms dominant in Morocco it is acceptable to offer such wares in the public, meaning in the square around women and children, just so long as the actual purchasing is done in private. Thankfully the people here were more accommodating to our responses of no then they were in Lisbon and we didn’t have any of these people start to follow us around while walking and make us feel uncomfortable.

One of the reassuring aspects of being in public as a traveller in Morocco was the observation of Muslim cultural norms. In most of the major European cities that we’ve been to, Barcelona especially, there are numerous pickpockets that target foreigners. Yet here the legal prohibition is tied to a moral one that is actually followed. What this says something about Christianity versus Islam, metropolises versus small cities and uniform versus personal religious schools is something interesting to consider but regardless of one’s reading of this – I was relieved of having to always be on guard. We walked around, looking at a mosque from outside and eventually stopped to take in all the sensations the square could offer.

There was a feast for the eyes in the sight of smoke rose from the restaurants in the square and wafted out in slow swirls, the sight of a throng of people in traditional dress whose paths were like a needle amongst the dozens of obstructions which prevented straight movement, the sight of people playing fair-style games of getting rings on strings around filled soda bottles to win a prize, horses with carriages lined up. There were also many light sources that made the view even more captivating. The lights of the battery-powered toys flying quickly into the air and slowly descending on florescent wings, the lights of the different sized wrought iron and glass candle-powered lamps flickering on the ground, the lights of the restaurants illuminating their small terraces empty of people as it was too cold and windy to enjoy a meal without some additional protection from the elements, the lights indicating the main street which went out into the residential area and the ones next to it which lit up the souks so that the light night shopper can see the myriad of locally crafted wares and spices, the lights of the motorcycles cutting through the pedestrian walkways. Along with all of this was the sound of Berber drums mixed with other instruments and the faint Arabic words of storytellers surrounded by eager listeners that gave a hypnotic feel to the movement going on in front of us. We stayed here for a while just looking on as our food digested and as we were starting to get tired returned to the Riad for a nightcap of port wine that I’ve bought at the duty free shop in Spain.

Based upon the recommendations found in TripAdvisor we’d signed up to take a combined cooking class and massage package early the next morning. We woke, had the typical breakfast of bland Moroccan bread with butter and honey and went at the Café du France to meet the driver who would take us to the cooking class. We drank café con leche while waiting and looked out at the square which while still busy was a shadow compared to the hustle and bustle of the night before. There were no men with exotic animals anymore, but instead a group of men that seemed to be talking with a foreman in hopes that they could hire themselves out for day labor. I finally spotted the car that was to take the two of us to the school and we entered in the car with a couple from England that was taking the same class.

All in all the cooking class was fun and would recommend it to anyone visiting, though I would suggest bringing a snack as Josselyn and I both wished we’d eaten more before going and that there was food to eat there for lunch rather than just a few pieces of Moroccan bread as both of us eat a lot and frequently. The class started with a smell-test of the typical thirty or so typical Moroccan spices and herbs. Despite the nasal and throat cold I had, I was able to identify most of the spices. Josselyn, who I’d started introducing to eastern spices since we moved in together, was able to surpass my recognition skills. The guide of this class, a former Parisian named Michel, then taught us how to identify good azafran from bad (by rubbing it on white paper and seeing how the only color on the paper is yellow), good argon oil from bad (placing it in a fridge to see if it is adulterated with another type of oil), and explained how Moroccans have an approach to food and spices that I found to be very similar to the Ayurvedic tradition in India.

I won’t go into the details of cooking bread, making salad or tangines – but will share the new friendship that I made with a cat that had been adopted by the cooking school, whose name was Couscous. An old man in cat years, he came over to me and while we waited for the last part of our meal to finish cooking allowed me to baby him in my arms. He was a sweetheart, as are all cats that hope to extract some meat from you in the near-future, which I indeed gave him. Our meal was served with a Moroccan wine that could easily have been watered-down cough syrup or a sweet soon-to-be-red-vinegar, but this didn’t matter so much. The food was good and the company of people there, all English speakers, soon gave way to conversations not about food but of the typical “what do you do when not here?” and “where have you been and where are you going?” themes.

After our meal we went to a hamam for some time in a sauna and relaxing massages. On the drive there we got to talk with Michel for the first time and get his perspective on Morocco. He’d left Paris as he was tired of the hustle of Parisian life and preferred the slower tempo of African life. He’d moved with his wife a few months ago and while critical of some aspects of Moroccan culture, such as the excessive use of sugar in teas that in conjunction with rampant hashish and loose-leaf tobacco smoking leads to the endemic dental problem readily visible, clearly felt more at ease here as there was less demands on his time. This preference for the gemeinschaft over the gesellshaft is a preference many people have voiced since the industrial revolution and here I saw it in a form vastly different from some of the small towns I’ve visited in the States before. In this place with a relatively large population base so many people knew each other and I was constantly amazed by the manner in which the people entering our orbits were constantly greeting and giving cordial remarks to other people.

After dropping off a passenger, who surprisingly enough lived in Williamsburg, New York, my old haunt, Michel parked the car and took us through a series of tightly packed cobble-stone back streets and entered an unmarked door. Inside we discovered a hidden oasis of beauty and luxury behind it.

Feeling rejuvenated we started to walk back to the Jnna el Fna but soon discovered ourselves quite lost. While in these back streets we encountered a few shady characters typical of large, poor cities that are unhappily dependent on tourist money for it’s sustenance. Thankfully, however, while going down a dead end we encountered a Moroccan, Mou Mou, that spoke English and works for UPS and gave us direction to the main road, suggested that we take a taxi and invited us to call him tomorrow and come visit his house.

On his suggestion we took a taxi back to Jnna El Fna and Josselyn went back to our Riad in order to organize a trip for tomorrow into the Sahara desert while I ate in the square. I went to the #1 stand in the market and sat down for a nice soup and chicken tagine.  By the time I’d arrived back everything had been worked out for our trip and Josselyn then left with Ismail, one of the Riads employees to go get food and buy a knockoff Longchamps at the proper price. Not quite yet ready for bed, I picked up a book in the Riads small library.

The works of Honore de Balzac has repeatedly found their way to me through little to no effort on his own. Several years ago someone purchased his book “The Lost Masterpiece” for me on my Amazon wishlist and two and a half years ago I read Pere Goriot after finding it for free in a give-a-way box when people were moving out from the NYU dorms. In the library I found a 1987 Penguin copy of Cousin Bette that looked as if it have never been read and started giving it the attention that it deserves while waiting for Joss to return. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to bring it on the drive out to the desert. While there were many sights that caused me to stop reading during the drive and I found myself unable to read while going up and down the curvy roads of the High Atlas, the book was a lifesaver during the six plus hour drive through heat so strong that it left the back of our clothes slightly sweaty and cold so strong that at one point in the drive it started to snow heavily. Josselyn wasn’t fortunate enough to have a book with her, but with her small size and ability to sleep anywhere experienced only the parts of the drive that she wasn’t tired and those that I work her so that she could see some of the natural beauty of the landscape.

We stopped at Aït Benhaddou, shooting site of some two-dozen Hollywood films such as Prince of Persia and Gladiator, to look around the fortified city. It was very attractive and pictures do more justice than my words can. The only thing that I didn’t like was that one of the tourists with us was an obese British woman with asthma that was having such trouble walking up the steps that I was afraid she might die there or have some sort of attack that would result in death as we were hours from any medical facility. We ate an overpriced restaurant that I assume the guide had an arrangement with and then continued on our journey. Our next stop was to take a camel ride in the “doorway of the Saraha” to a Bedouin camp in the desert. Josselyn was extremely excited to be able to ride a camel for the first time and as the camels came into view she started to cry. The camel ride would have been more enjoyable had I been wearing the proper clothes, but as the sun was setting I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the beauty as my teeth were chattering together from the extreme cold.

Ours was the first group to arrive to the red and black tents arranges in a square and we were so famished that our hosts took pity on us that they served our food earlier than the groups slowly making their way into the dining area. Many of those arriving were Spaniards travelling during Semana Santa and British women in the school system taking advantage of their weeklong holiday. We had an interesting conversation about the current cuts in education respectively plaguing our countries. For desert we were served oranges and shortly after finishing this the Bedouins began playing instruments and inviting others to join in. I, however, didn’t hear or partake in this but only heard about it from Josselyn as after eating I immediately fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the morning. After gathering our belongings in the tent we mounted the camels again and took a different route back to meet up with our car. On the way one of the camels dismounted the Italian woman on it, which caused Josselyn to became so scared that she got off her camel “Blondy” and instead lead us through the desert while wearing wedges.

After getting back to Marrakech Josselyn and I stopped by the Riad to check that our travel plans for tomorrow had been arranged and then went to eat and look in the souks that had been made famous in Sex and The City 2. We ate kebabs and a host of other delicious food tapas style then spent some time with several of the hostel workers, Mohammed, Ismael and their friend in the upstairs seating area. Conversation was a little difficult, as only Mohammed’s English was very good and their friend didn’t speak English at all. We discovered, however, that we both had studied German so then began to converse in this language. This was admittedly poorly as the focus of my studies lately have been Spanish and it’s been several years since I last spoke German with regularity. I found myself searching for words and using Spanish rather than German. While I would immediately recognize my mistake shortly after saying it, pause to think for the correct word, and then say it this situation provoked some hearty laughter on behalf of everyone there. An hour or so passed here before we finally said our goodbyes to our gracious hosts and we grabbed a cab to the bus depot to catch our overnight to Fez.

The bus was, to use the idiomatic phrase that Josselyn had heard from several males “very nice”. She was able to sleep most of the way there, not finding the two seats to be too confining for her, whereas I kept waking up with a sore neck or back. The last hour or so of the trip I read more of Cousin Bette. A short and cheap cab ride to the hotel gave me some time to catch up on sleep before going to Fez’s Medina.

The Medina of Fez is the largest of such markets in the world and visiting there one can easily understand why it is a UNESCO World Heritage sight. Many of the facets of this areas beauty cannot be captured with cameras as unmarked but commonly understood social prohibitions that maintain an iconoclastic environment prevents picture taking. The larger merchants with elaborate displays and expansive shops will not shy away from violating these in the attempt to obtain business, however the people in smaller shops and around the mosques will signify to those about to take pictures that photos are not allowed. In a way it preserves the mystery about the place, as unlike so many other cities so much of it is not captured by photos and readily available for viewing from far away.

Since entering we were followed around by a young man who was pressuring us to go to the tanneries. I’d read enough in various texts speaking to the normality of relations here to not be really worried by this, but it was extremely aggravating at first, as Josselyn and I simply wanted to get lost in the Medina and not have him there. I politely asked several times for the youth following us to leave, but to no avail. I then took a more brusque approach but this didn’t work either. I then asked one of the security guards in Spanish to ask him to leave us alone, but to no avail as he only spoke Arabic and French. I finally asked him if I paid him if he would leave and he said no, he would not and then called me a Jew for, these are not his precise words, monetizing this experience and forbidding him from practicing English. At this point we’d gone to a rather poor section of the medina where the grinding poverty was more evident than in the buildings – besotted people with threadbare clothes lording over a pair of shoes, a few dirty toys or other items that looked like they’d been pulled from refuse bins. While I was scared, this wasn’t the place we wanted to see while here and as we both did want to see the tanneries Josselyn and I finally decided to follow him to the tanneries.

Abdul explained to me the process of treating and dying the leathers and I was amazed at the resourcefulness of their leather production process, informed as it was by an ecological and social concerns. They used only naturally sourced chemicals, such as the nitrates from pigeon droppings for softening and poppies for dye and the entire works was collectively owned and run by 250 families that had been involved in the patrilineal work for over five hundred years at this very spot. As we spoke about the history and relations of the place, a sudden torrent of rain came down and I was very grateful to be under the canvas overhead.

We chose the sandals we wanted and started to bargain down the prices. They’d first asked for 500 Dirhams, which was ridiculous given the production capacity that I’d just witnessed from above and cost of hourly wages typical of labor here – even if it was all done by hand. My first impetus was to offer 100 and end up paying 250-300, but I was so happy from the friendly service in the short time that I’d been there I started at a price I was more willing to pay – 300.

Josselyn taught one of the shop assistants adjuring her to “dance Berber”, meaning to shake her hips very provocatively, some ballet and then did a few moves on her own. Everyone laughed at his ineptitude and of course admired the skill and poetry with which Josselyn danced. At this the female clerk agreed over the objections of Abdul that 350 was a fair price and we went away happily with out purchases. I felt that I could have got the price down to my original offer had I low-balled my original offer, but I figured with the experience and hospitality that I was just shown this was a fair price – especially since a similar purchase in America or Europe would easily have cost double.

As we started to leave the formerly accommodating clerk, stopped me and started asking me about the jacket that I had declined to purchase. When going into it his spiel asking why I didn’t want to purchase it his eyes flared wide, the pupils went to the back of his head and he looked quite monstrous. While this was a very different tack then his previous attempts to obtain a purchase from me, I realized that this was simply the highly emotional means of expression typical to Arabic culture, laughed and reminded him that it was hot in Florida, where I would soon be living, and added the humorous rejoinder that if I did buy the jacket that I liked I would need to buy a motorcycle to go with it and thus the “deal” that I was getting there would turn into a much more expensive purchase later. He smiled at my response, laughed and gave me a pat on the back before walking us out, thanking us for our business and encouraging us to return.

As we left Ali, our guide, offered to show us around to some more shops and rather than fighting it we went with him. We went to a herbaria and a fabric shop and would have gone to a small pottery studio if at this time we weren’t getting hungry. Before we left, Ali invited us up to a café overlooking the Medina that “no one knows about but us”, and had some tea while looking over the city. To say that the café was beautiful is a cliché without giving form to it – but going into details about the wrought iron work adorning the rooftop, the intricate tiling of the floor and walls, the earthy tobacco smoked by natives in the section below us, describing the near-birds-eye view of the rooftops, the refreshing nature of the tea after having been on our feet for several hours also does not do it justice. It was one of those experiences best understood by actually being there and being present for it.

After having this tea we left our guide and decided to eat at McDonalds as the food we’d been eating had been causing upset to both of our stomachs. While my stomach still hurt after eating this, it was preferable to the effects of the tagines and couscous.

We woke up late the next day and decided to walk around the section of the city that had been built since the arrival of French colonialists. While the tri-color was no longer present, the structure of the streets was clearly made via the abstractionist style of French architecture. We walked to the Prince’s palace, around his and some other gardens, Mosque AL Hamra, Kasbah Chrarda, Medersa Bouananiya and several other charming areas. Josselyn was less than attracted to some of the places as they weren’t kept up was a depository for locals trash. I agreed that it could be prettier but shared with her an attitude that I’ve developed since I started travelling at a young age: It’s always important to see the squalor as well as the glamour of a city to understand its origins and contradictions. The attitude can take form in a refusal to turn away from the people smoking crack around the subway of Můstek in Praha and see that part of the beauty one sees in one places incurs a cost in another. It started to rain and as we were both tired we took a taxi back to the hotel for a siesta. After an hour or so nap, we returned to the Medina and ate atop a restaurant in the Kasbah Boujloud section. After a delicious mean we started to walk to the Museum der Batha – only to find that it was closed. We walked to the crafts galleries maintained by the Government, only to find that it too was closed. As we’d seen the spiritual triangle the day before and most of the other sites of the area, we decided to slowly walk back along the Avenue de L’UNESCO and enjoy the views it had.

While walking to our hotel I mentioned to Josselyn that this would be the first time that we’d be going to on a trip and not visiting a museum. Not five minutes after pointing this out we found ourselves in front of an art gallery that was having an opening. The Islamic prohibition against iconic art was evident in most of the works, however several of them were of people and pastoral settings and very attractive in it’s use of technique.

Like so many of the Miami and New York galleries they served refreshments, however these were of mint tea rather than beer or wine. We drank this before some eminent personage gave a short speech. Tired and needing the rest for the bus-plane-bus-subway trip we’d have to take the next day to return home, we decided to call it an early night and go back to the hotel so I could teach Josselyn how to play poker with better mathematical insight.

The next morning we dined at the hotel then took the 16 Bus to the airport. On our way we conversed with a Slovenian girl on the way found it equally amusing that our bus driver stopped at one point so the man selling tickets could run across the street and buy him a bag of oranges.  She said she was staying in Morocco for 27 days and wished us a pleasant stay in Slovenia when we go. Hopefully her benedictions will come true.

Some Paintings I've Loved…

I’ve been to so many art museums the past few months that to write with the same amount of depth about all the pieces that I’ve loved as I have for some of others would require more time than there are hours in the day. Despite this – I wanted to share some of the works that I’d written down on my iPhone whilst perambulating the galleries, in no particular order.

Ramon Casas – Garrote

Jose Gutierez Solana – Procession of Death

Francis Picabia – The Spanish revolution

Tatiana Glebova – Prison

Ben Shahn – French workers

Otto Muller – Two Female nudes in a landscape

Gustave Moreau – Galathea, The Voices

Casper David Freidrich – Easter Morning

John Singer Sargent – Venetian Onion Seller

Aert van der Neer – Moonlight Landscape with a Road Beside a Canal

Juan de Flandes – The Lamentation

Bramantino – The Resurrected Christ

Alvise Vivarini – Saint John the Baptist

Hans Baldung Grien – Adam and Eve

Tiziano – St. Jerome in the Wilderness

Jusepe de Ribera – The Penitent St. Jerome

Claude Joseph Vernet – Night

Ignacio Zuloaga – Portrait of the Countess Mathieu de Noailles, Christ of Blood

Julio Remero de Torres – Venus of Poetry

Hermen Anglada Camarasa – Nude Under the Climbing Vine

Valentin Serov – Portrait of the Artist issak levitan

Alfonso Sanchez Garcia – Repression of the Revolutionary General Strike

Angeles Santos Torroella – A World

Jose Renau – Shedding her Outer Layer of Superstition and Misery, from the Immorial Slave There Emerged THE WOMAN capable of Active Participation in the Making of the Future

Hermenegildo Anglada Camarasa – Portrait of Sonia de Klamery, Countess of Pradere

Vladimir Mako – Sky

Francois Boucher – The Triumph of Venus

Cy Twobly – Thermopyae

El Greco

Anselmo Guinea

Gustave Courbet

Berlin

Border guards in crisp uniforms putting a mirror on wheels under the carriage of a bus while going through Check Point Charlie, speaking on the radio in Poland on the day that Solidarity wins the elections, interrogation on a train in a broken English accented by a thick Russian accent, running from Soviet police in St. Petersburg after trading blue jeans on the black market for Soviet kitsch, exploring the wide streets surrounded by drab apartment blocks and walking around Red Square in awe of the Kremlin, St. Basil’s cathedral and the preserved body of Lenin seems like scenes from a period spy movie. This was, however, all a part of the last extended trip I took to Berlin. Twenty-three years ago, when the Berlin Wall still divided the city and I was six, I went on a trip with my father and sister through East and West Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union. While this time my visit to Berlin was much less dramatic the traces of the conflict were still visible in the city and though it is less tense than the way things were, the continuance of credit down grades and problems within the Eurozone that Merkozy can’t fix does provide an ambiance which though not as tense could be of equal importance for the health and stability of Europe.

After arriving to the apartment that I’d rented in the western section of Berlin, Josselyn and I rested for a few hours as our early flight and initial problems navigating the city public transit had drained our energy. After this and a meal we decided to go to the German History Museum. My initial apprehension following the coldness of the staff when I spoke in what must have sounded like the German spoken by a provincial adolescent quickly dissipated upon entering the main foyer. Large statues of Friedrich the Great, Lenin and other significant historical figures greet the attendee and when going into the chronologically first room artifacts, models and explanations as to their first historical interactions with the Roman immediately transported me back in time. From a young age I’d been interested in European history, culture, thought and development but I can say without reliance upon this taste of mine that there are few museum as wonderful and amazing as the German History Museum. Simply cataloging all of the pieces there that made me grin with geekish glee would make me happy, but doing so would turn this blog into a history book and it is not my intention to do this. Rather, I’ll simply state that the 2nd floor was composed of the first elements of German history and went until 1917. The first floor was filled with the more recent period and didn’t skimp on documentation related to the Nazis. I could have spent the whole day there, but was only there a few hours.

After this Josselyn and I ate some Japanese food and then walked around the city a  bit more before heading back so as to get an early start on the next day.

We started off our day with a guided historical tour of the city. After walking along Unter der Linden past the Reichstag we met in front of Brandenburger Tor, the Berlin equivalent of the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty. The guide began with a brief history of the various wars that were fought and tragedies that happened to the German people in their history prior to unification as one country. The importance of this was especially evident in the banners hanging from street lights saying “Wir Sind Ein Volk” or “We are one people” as a means of advertising for the German National History Museum. I was curious to see whether modern Germans have the same reaction to Cardinal de Richeliu as the Irish do to Oliver Cromwell, but when I asked the guide he had no response to give me for either way.

Stopping at an unmarked spot, our guide informed us that this was that spot where Hitler committed suicide with his wife Eva Braun and then had his body burned with petrol. I remember passing by that place on a bus tour twenty three years ago and feeling the same sense of happiness that though this persons grave site was in living memory it was institutionally erased due to the horrors he assisted in imposing on so many millions of people.

Fittingly enough after this we went to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, an abstract art installation meant to commemorate all of the people of Jewish faith that had been killed in the Second World War. Large and small slabs of poured concrete of varying sizes occupied a city block. Some were of a formidable size and because of the changes in elevation of the terrain made it such that in the center of the installation you feel surrounded and overwhelmed by the proximity and enormity of the blocks. Though abstract, it was quite powerful and Josselyn and I both expressed the sorrows that we each felt.

After this we started walking to Checkpoint Charlie, stopping at a place wherein man workers were killed in an uprising against the East German authorities. Adjacent to this building memorializing them was a dilapidated building which had a sign on it that said “C.I.A. Interrogation Center”. We continued pass this and by a number of building which were scheduled for demolition to turn into a mall. It was currently delayed due to financial setbacks and the ironies of capitalism failing to cover the socialism continued. We walked past the Topography of Terror museum and finally made it to the checkpoint, which had turned from a very serious location to one wherein tourists would get there passport stamped for two Euros by jocular men in East German outfits.

After this we went to Gerndarmenmarkt – site of Franzosische and Deutsche Dom as well as the Schauspielhaus. The square, intended to be one of the most beautiful in Europe, definitely met with the plans of the designers. After this we walked to St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, the first Catholic place of worship built in this historically Protestant city as a way of appeasing the Silesians who were annexed by Prussia from Poland in 1742. We walked along Humbolt-University, once the university of such luminaries as Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Friedrich Engels. I quickly looked through the books on display outside of the university as I wanted to pick up a copy of a book by Hegel or Marx in German to put my old studies to some use but saw nothing in my quick peek.

We ended the tour in Museumsinsel, or museum island. While not actually an island, this is where the Alte Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum, the Pergamonmuseum and the Neuemuseum are located. After our tour we had some food and drinks then went to the Marx-Engels Forum to visit the statues of, wait for it, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It took us a while to find, and we came across a beautiful fountain of Neptune. After this we went down Rosa Luxembourg Alley to the Mitte neighborhood in order to look at several of the smaller art galleries, such as the Sara Aspeger Gallery. We were planning on going through much more but decided to instead go to the East Side Gallery, the 1200-yard long art gallery painted by 118 artists. While I didn’t find but two of the pieces to be particularly good, just being at this world-historical sight made up for its lack of artistic merit and reading some of the graffiti written on the works provided additional amusement. One of these “vandals” had apparently decided to write a small essay in which he called the Dalai Lama a C.I.A. agent and expressed hopes that Chavo del 8 would never end despite all of the main characters of the show being dead.

From here we walked over the on a graffiti tour to see works by Blu, Nomad, Os Gemeos, Ema and London Police. Many thanks go to TravelAdvisor.com for having this free walking tour available for download to mobile devices. We stopped briefly at a squat house, but as Josselyn was feeling anxious we left without spending much time there.

Sunday began by our going to the Mauerpark, located at Prenzlauer. This area, which once made up part of the no man’s land zone between East and West Berlin now host a large weekly flea market. The irony of such a capitalist venture in such a place is of course amusing, but the large impromptu market was also enjoyable. I like such flea markets as in a way they are similar to museums. Andy Warhol makes a statement along similar lines when he compares going to Macy’s with going to a museum. There is something about seeing all of the human made objects that allows one to consider and think about the human condition in a certain way that non-immersion in them lacks. There was delicious foods and drinks here, several musical performers and a whole slew of goods that would be able to fulfill anyone’s desires.

The amount of music related goods for sale was impressive – there were several record vendors, a pocket DJ mixer seller and several people hocking various used musical instruments – as was the number of locally made clothing and accessory designs. I wanted to purchase a particular picture that was Berlin for display once I return home – but discovered that I wouldn’t have to buy it now and take it home but could order it online once I’m back in the States. Proof again that the Internet destroys many of the particularities of place location. After eating a plum pastery, drinking a coffee and having some delicious tomato soup with fresh sage bread from one of the food vendors.

Following this was a trip to Treptower Park, the largest Soviet Military memorial built outside of U.S.S.R. It was created to commemorate the more than 22,000 Soviet soldiers which died taking Berlin from the Nazis. The iconic main statue of the park is of a Soviet soldier with a child being held by his left arm and a sword at his feet atop a crushed swastika. One could hardly imagine a more powerful monument that so clearly refutes slanders which conflates Nazism and Soviet Communism even though they are variants of national socialism – communist internationalism and Volksgemeinshaft are antagonistic to the core, not complimentary.

Treptower is one of the few places where the traces of Josef Stalin have not been removed from institutional memory. I’ve been to many places once occupied by statues of his, but few remain erected. I find memorial parks like these interesting places for reflections on the relationship between the former Soviet Union and the West. In the discussions on the policies of Stalin and his varied crimes one Krondstadt moment or another is inevitably brought up. Whether it is the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the forced collectivization of the countryside, the paranoid fear of the Trotskyist opposition that caused him to dangerously weaken the ranks of party and military through intrigue, imprisonment and murder or the cult of personality that has made it’s way into modern dictators Kim Jong Il. While no Stalinist apologist, I find that when I get into conversations with people my knowledge of the historical context complicates their information received from movies, pundits and demagogues. For instance, relating the political and economic developments in America at the turn of the 19th and 20th century to those in the just formed U.S.S.R. sheds light on issues and complicates them to such a degree that the Cold Warriors mentality of black and white cannot be sustained. As the period of discussion widens so does the conceptual framework and differentiation becomes about competing forms of modernization and the possibilities of domestic policies given specific constraints.

That said, the park itself was quite pleasant. The wide walkways were filled with small children riding bikes whilst there parents kept a watchful eye on them lest they should fall or get close to a passerby by and risk collision. There were several red flowers and small wreaths laid out in front of the statue of a weeping mother by the entrance and groups of three or four people speaking in English, French and Russian at the 14 scenes from the war on the white, tomb-like monuments leading up to the main statue. Amusingly enough, considering the site I’d just visited, I saw on the metro television a memorial for Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebnieckt, two political activists who’d been murdered by fascist forces in Berlin in 1919.

Following Treptower Park was Siegessaule, or the Victory Column. It was originally built in 1873 to celebrate the Prussian victories over Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) and France (1870/1871). The base of the column is surrounded by a cast iron relief of scenes depicting the fighting that went on between France and Prussia. These are badly damaged as following the German defeat the occupying French troops stole them and damaged them. Though it was given back lack, they remain unrepaired as a reminder of the indignity imposed upon the Germans. I walked up the 270 for a view of the city in the middle of the Tiergarten Park and was pleased with the view though it was very cold and windy. While I was here, Josselyn went to the Topography of Terror and ended up staying there for four hours.  I wanted to go to that museum but I was in so much pain from all of the walking that I’d been doing that I needed to rest my ankle which was still been hurting me since before going to Madrid.

We met back up at the apartment and after a short rest we were both ready to go out and finally see Karl-Marx-Allee. While Josselyn was reluctant to go at first, after promising a steak dinner she quickly changed her mind. The street, originally named Stalinallee, was designed to be a large advertising project for the Soviets following their occupation of East Germany. The streets are 89 meters wide and the apartments on either side are created for both beauty and functionality. This style of Soviet deign, sometimes called “wedding-cake” for its ornamentation, meant that the buildings would often be covered with tiles. Such decorations were a way of showing that decorative minimalism based upon economic considerations need not prevent workers from enjoying the benefits of an advanced industrial society. This sort of functionalism combined with aesthetic beauty has its origins in the English garden communities.

We looked at the Haus der Lehrers building, passed by the Kino International, thought momentarily about entering Café Moskau before seeing their price list , laughed at the advertising for now defunct automobile producers on the top of a building placed there so that the ad-free Communist zone would have more of a “developed” feel to it, passed by the Floating Ring Fountain, the Karl Marx Bookshop and the Palaces of the Workers. I looked for the statue of Karl Marx that was supposed to be there, but we couldn’t find it. Eventually we made it to the Block of Houses designed by Richard Paulick and then ate at the unimaginatively named “Block House” steak house. After a delicious meal we went back to the apartment and prepared for out flight back to Barcelona.

Stockholm

“The best images and parables should speak of time and becoming: they should be a eulogy and a justification of all transitoriness.” – Nietzsche “Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Josselyn and I arrived in Stockholm around midnight and upon reaching our hotel went to sleep. To make up for lost time in the city we’d planned on waking up early start visiting some of Stockholm’s many wonderful museums, however our bedroom was like a tomb which let in no light or sound so we ended up sleeping until 1 p.m. When we finally got up we discovered that the snow that had welcomed us at night was still there, thankfully though there was only enough on the ground to give the city streets and walkways color.

We first went to the Royal Palace, the official living quarters of the Swedish royalty and when not being used for functions of state is a museum. The Palace is in the typical modern style, grand, imposing and uniform in structure with many statues adorning it’s outer walls and more on the roofs within the stonework. Less a protected, defensive castle-like structure it was, like those in Madrid and London, more of a symbol for national pride in the royal family that resided therein. Outside of the building, just like at Buckingham Palace, there were armed guards on rotation unwilling to speak with civilians.

By chance we arrived just in time to take a guided English tour of the facilities wherein the finer points of Royal hierarchies, awards, Swedish history and etiological stories in relation to the art and therein. I admittedly know and care little of Sweden’s imperial history and find the minutiae of the lives of Royals to be of no personal significance so this part wasn’t very thrilling for me. What I did find of interest, however, was the arts and sciences regalia. This section illustrated the transformation from awards given during the pre-modern era to those displaying military prowess to those given recognition for scientific and cultural advancement of the Sweden. This was an excellent example of the manner in which the Swedish monarchy was progressive – by encouraging such behavior outside of the rewards given by the marketplace. Other decorations were compelling, such as a beautiful statue of two lovers and paintings on the ceilings, but on the whole I find royal palaces to be grotesque, overbearing and an affront to my sensibilities. While I can appreciate the arts and craftsmanship that goes into creating royal antechambers, thrones and galleries containing the portraiture of various nobles the urge I have to take an axe to it all as an insult to humanity often prevents me from doing so. There are few things that I find as appalling as the notion of hereditary nobility and its continuation in one form or another in some many of the European countries disturbs me greatly especially as history had progressed past the point making regicide a necessity.

One of the aspects of the art contained within the palace that pleasantly surprised me was the amount of allegorical art, both functional in the form of clocks and decorative in the form of tapestries and paintings, related to classical Greek myth. I admit that my own ignorance got the best of me in this regard, but I’d imagined that Norse mythology would play a greater part in their decorative art. In fact I saw not one tale represented in this manner.

After this we walked to the Dance Museum. It was filled with costumes from locations such as China, Japan, Indonesia and India, however the greater focus was on Western European forms of dance. A set of original costumes from popular Russian ballets was on display to showcase the manner in which it was innovative at the time. Apparently after their entrance onto the Swedish scene it set off a new push towards greater use of intricate costuming. Josselyn was particularly attracted to the costumes from Black Swan, not only because of the movie with Natalie Portman which she loved but as she has danced the parts of the White and Black Swan before.

In addition to the costume displays, videos played of some of the most well-known ballet dancers of the past hundred years. While we watched these video of renowned dancers from the early 1900’s Josselyn informed me that today many of those dancers would today not be considered exceptional due to the increased competition to be a professional dancer. She said their kicks would be higher and their form would be more precise. Though it’s only since I’ve become involved with her that I’ve started attending dance performances at places such as Joyce Soho and Miami Dance Theater – and watching videos on YouTube this seems to be the case by my layman’s eyes. Regardless of this growth in the skills and abilities required from the start of the art to the professionalism standards demanded today, similar to other physically demanding occupations such as professional American football, I found that the museum did an excellent job in showing the universal human tendency towards gestural communication through dance though it did not anywhere make such commentary explicit.

My only regret was that no space was given to Modern, Latin or non-performance dance. The first two did not surprise me given the Scandinavian tendency towards conservatism, however the last did somewhat as I was hoping that there would be some sort of recognition of modern forms of non-performance, popular dance. I’ve read some interesting articles talking about social atomism in relation to modern popular dance and thought that a display contrasting Swedish folk dance with the people attending a concert by Swedish House Mafia would have made an interesting addition to the museum.

Following this we went to the National Museum, where I received an unexpected treat – the temporary exhibition of the Peredvizhniki painters. The Peredvizhniki, whose full name would be translated into “The Society for Traveling Art Exhibitions”, were a loose collection of artists that started in the 1870’s who exited the Royal Academy in order to paint scenes and themes that were on the borderline of what was considered acceptable by the Imperial censors of the time. Several of their members works were forbidden from public display due to its critical take on religion and the prevailing social and economic order. While amongst their members Nickolai Yaroshenko is the only one known to have direct ties to the revolutionary movement of the period, there is clearly much sympathy given to those struggling under the yoke of Tsarist absolutism. Revolutionary though such sympathies were, they were not aligned with the various strains of internationalists that would eventually overthrow the regime in 1917. These were Slavophiles that were profoundly influenced by Belinisky and Chernyshevsky and sought to work within the Russian tradition rather then the Western European one to achieve a regeneration of the social and economic decay they witnessed in their daily lives.

The exhibition itself was segmented into several sections – work, religion, politics, landscapes and portraits. While it would clearly be a mistake to make hard and fast separations between these categories as it relates to anything – the curators of this exhibit did a good job in their groupings.

The opening painting was “Barge-Haulers on the Volga” by Ilya Repin, which was of a size equal to the conceptual weight of the painting. Ten men are connected to a rope that they are using to haul a boat near the shore harbor so that its goods may be unloaded and exchanged with others. Alone amongst all of the peasants “freed” from their connection to the land is a youth, wearing a reddish tinged rags who alone looks forward and upward as if to a brighter tomorrow. Whether or not this coloration is meant to allude to republican or a radical is not clear, however what is clear is the suffering on the faces of all those around him. Faces are sunken in and dirty. Bodies are emaciated. I found this particularly interesting as a week prior to my trip here I finished The Prophet Unarmed the second part of Issac Deutcher’s biography of Leon Trotsky that goes into deep detail as to the conditions of the Russian serfs and working class prior to and after the Revolution.

Another painting of note was Illarion Pryanishnikov’s “Jokers – The Gostiny Dor in Moscow” not only because it is thematically linked to Dostoyevsky’s novella A Nasty Story but also as it illustrates one of the dynamics of wealth inequality that is still decried today. The painting is of a group of rich merchants forcing one of their employees to dance in a degrading manner, a scene repeated in a different context in Mysteries by Knut Hamsun. This taking advantage of the total financial dependence on their employees by forcing them to do degrading acts in order to keep their employment is nothing new and is visible in the scandal surrounding Republican presidential candidate Herman Caine.

One of the most amusing works of the exhibition was the “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks”. Despite their conservative role in modern day Russia, ever since reading Nikola Gogol’s novella Taras Bulba I’ve found them to be a fascinating social group. In this painting, which was at its time paid the highest price by the Tsar, a group of warriors that have had treaty terms brought to them are sitting around and laughing while writing an insulting letter. The nationalistic sentiment clearly visible in this painting shows that in addition to the progressive tendencies there is still recourse to use mythic situations to instill nationalistic sentiments via recourse to nationalisms. This clear divergence from the Stalinist aesthetics of internationalism informed by economic categorizations, not then usable as such totalitarian aesthetics had yet to be formed and enforced, explains why it was that such paintings later again became classified as undisplayable.

A work that was dealing with the religious elements that were affecting Russian development at the time was Konstantin Savitsky’s “Meeting the Icon”. Here a crowd of villagers converges excitedly on a carriage, from which a miracle-working icon has appeared. The throng of kneeling peasants are well kempt, the men respectfully attired, the women in colorful clothes that are their “Sunday best”. They show a range of expressive emotions in reaction to the icon – piety, apprehension, confusion and devotion. Understandable as at this time the Western medicines were making their ways into the common knowledge and such notions that an icon could heal people was offensive. An example of this growing shift is evident in Turgenev’s novel, Fathers and Sons. The treatment in this painting contains a strong vein of ridicule as we can see that the priest emerging from the carriage is doing so with great effort as he is quite rotund. It is so difficult that he needs an assistant to do so. By contrasting his large size with that of the much slimmer peasants we can detect a critical note alluding to the parasitism of the clergy in pre-revolutionary Russia.

At this exhibit I also got to see Nickolai Ge’s iconic barefoot painting of Leo Tolstoy, as well as the picture of a student returning from prison that is on the cover of the Oxford World Classics version of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. A portrait of a female student, at the time deemed subversive as it showed a woman outside of the role of household laborer traditionally ascribed to her, and Valentin Serov’s “Portrait of the Artist Issak Levitan” were also particularly arresting for their style. For this to catch my interest I knew to be special as portraiture has never been a style that attracted me.

I write all of these details about these Russian painters as a type of corrective. Due to their association with the sentiments that found shape in the Russian revolution their work has been largely overshadowed by a Cold War mentality that more positive valuated French works dealing with similar themes. These works, the narrative goes, had some sort of barbaric or atavistic elements in them that led to Bolshevism, which was never as intellectually or culturally refined as their French ruling class counterparts. Such logic is of course intellectually and historically void, yet continues in many areas to this day despite the warmed atmosphere that has relaxed international tensions somewhat. Foregoing this holdover from the 90’s, we can come to appreciate the masterpieces produced by individual Russian artists and those collected under the umbrella term Peredvizhniki.

After looking through here and a small collection of French paintings from the 18th and 19th century, Josselyn and I skipped the whole first floor of this museum as neither of us find modern functional to be exceptionally compelling and we wanted to go to the Modern Museum before it closed.

At MMS there was a special exhibit on Turner, Monet and Cy Twobly. The showing was organized thematically and placed together works that were “in conversation” with each other. I place “in conversation” in quotations as I find it hard to attribute explicit references to other paintings outside of the artists avowed intentions considering the enormous body of art which exists in the world and the limited number of subjects possible. Such “conversations” are more of a signifying game. Such games have value by making the works themselves take on additional values that are potentially worth discussing. However when a curator claims that a particular abstract work by an artist has a direct, allusive relationship to an Impressionist painting that was made one hundred years before I’m reluctant to take such claims seriously.

That caveat in place, I must admit that I was impressed by the selections and “conversation” presented at MMS One instance of a particularly well-done themeotype was a selection highlighting melancholy. A Turner painting set in Florence, absent any of the motorboats then just starting to make their appearance on the waterway, was placed next to one of the same setting by Monet which was also lacking modern machines.

With this absence of present technology, Turner seems to see this new invention as intruding upon and ruining the peaceful waterways that were for hundreds of years navigated by hand and wind. He is melancholic for simpler times. Monet completed his painting after several months of not working following the death of his second wife shortly after a long stay in Venice. He appears to be melancholic for the time that he shared with his beloved wife. While the type of melancholy informing these two paintings is clearly not equivalent, the two side by side did indeed inform each other well and was touching.

Some of my favorite paintings here, were Turner’s work dealing with the sublime. Images of immanent shipwrecks with people on the beach ready to make a living by salvaging the debris and a dangerous ocean filled with craggy rocks has a disturbing yet wonderful effect on the viewer – hence its categorization as the sublime. There is little need for me to comment on these two masters as unlike the Peredvizhniki they have universal recognition and as continued comment on other conversational combinations of paintings could lead to a short book so I’ll not go into detail about it. That said I wanted to comment on Cy Twobly’s inclusion and one of his works, specifically his painting entitled Orpheus.

This work I found to be like so much of the post-modern art, aesthetically alienating on the basis of its nihilistic embrace of vitalism. On a huge mostly white canvas on the middle left side was inscribed the name Orpheus, and above it was Greek and Roman words that were covered by a flesh colored paint that allowed some of the shapes to be legible. Put into a sentence, the significance of the painting is that in these modern and supposedly mythless times it is impossible to depict Orpheus. The abandonment of easily recognizable figures and their replacement with traces intended to be explicated by a cultural elite is indicative of Twobly’s work and the general turn towards abstract art. It’s the logical conclusion of reacting to the trends in the art world market following the conceptualization of the type of social realism embraced by the Peredvizhniki with socialism or tendencies sympathetic to it. This position against meta-narratives and replacement with subjectivist epistemology is premature and the valorization of such obscurantianism compounds this error. When reflection on Gods has left our minds, people are confronted with the realization that it is humanity’s history and accomplishment to which is now turned to for inspiration. Yet Twobly would take this away from us as well by deeming it mythological thinking. While I respect the right of artists to create as they see fit, I find the lionization of abstract forms like this as high art to be out of line with the personally and socially emancipatory aspects of human creativity. The abyss is something to be built upon, not embraced as the finality of development.

In addition to the Turner, Monet and Twobly exhibit the museum also had an excellent collection of photography on display. Some of my favorite photographers such as Capa, Koudelka, Witkin, Cartier-Bresson, were displayed on the walls and there was also dozens of books with prints of the photos. After we finished looking at the former we decided to leave.

The next day we took the train a few kilometers north of the city proper is Millesgarden. Millesgarden was the home of sculptor Karl Milles and his wife Olga, who was a photographer. Now that they are deceased, their home and garden is open daily for people to visit the hundred or so statues there. Just like at the Swedish Palace, the repeated allusions to classical Greek mythology in Milles work surprised me and amusingly enough two of statues were of Orpheus and Eurydice. Despite my attraction to public monument and sculptures I didn’t find most of them to be particularly compelling. Visiting as we did in the winter, the fountains that operate in the summer and spring were not operating, removing the functional and aesthetic elements out of several of the statues. It didn’t ruin the experience, but I would have preferred to see them in their proper context.

Inside of the house on was a logia containing classical Roman statues and pieces. One of the rooms containing these pieces was filled with lemon trees, which was a pleasant addition as it evoked the open Roman villas that once displayed such works.

In the Millesgarden temporary exhibit was a large selection of works of glass partially created by artists who don’t typically use glass. I say partially created as these artists were the instructors of the glassblowers, who followed their directions. I wasn’t particularly taken by any of the works, with the exception of a glass crown of thorns.

After this we went to Fotografiska. I was very excited to go as I’d seen advertisements for a special exhibition featuring works selected by Anton Corbijn, however upon walking through ice-cold rain we discovered that they would not be viewable until the next day. After having taken so long to get there, Josselyn and I decided to go in regardless.

Our stay here was rather short as minus the main exhibition hall there were only three other small exhibits consisting of a total of 10 rooms given to three artists. One photographer I disliked so much I won’t even comment or give her name while the others were photos by Ron Haviv and Aitor Ortiz. The thirty or so pictures by Haviv were taken in Haiti following the January 12th, 2010 earthquake. It was moving journalistic photography but would have benefitted from more information related to the rescue effort and the world economic situation that has made Haiti so vulnerable to human and natural disaster.

The Ortiz exhibit was interesting. I particularly liked the way in which the darkness of the room combined with the tight lighting of the pictures to give the exhibition an meditative ambiance. However the Photoshop altered pictures which were illuminated were not as apocalyptic as suggested by the art historian Fransisco Javier San Martin. In fact, I heartily disagree with his interpretation of Ortiz’s works as presented on the information cards adjacent to the pictures. In one card I read: “The decay of the structures in these works is evident and can be interpreted as an allegory of Western economic decline.” Even an intellectually adolescent group like OWS recognizes that it is not the whole of the economy that is suffering from the current economic downturn but only segments of it. This erasure of class, history and humans from the buildings made and the subsequent conceptualization of this as being an art that provides meaningful commentary on the issues currently facing by the developed countries is clearly ridiculous and typical of artists who work are motivated by sentiments rather than social science. This isn’t to say that I didn’t find some of the pieces to be pleasing in appearance – I particularly liked his Amorfosis 004 – however I found that the exhibit would have been preferably if the baroque commentary on the deepness of Ortiz’s use of motion and placement were gone.

After this short trip we walked to the Nobel Museum. Because of the connotations with Alfred Nobel and considering the long history of prestigious people who have received his awards I assumed that The Nobel Museum would be a grand place. This day seemed to be, however, all about my understandings being wrong as first the was no Anton Corbjin exhibit and now I was face with a museum that was not but five very small rooms.

Upon entering I immediately noticed a series of banners moving across he ceiling on what looked like a modified dry cleaning rack. On them were pictures of past winners. On either side of the entrance were computer terminals that allowed the visitor to view the Nobel Prize website – which seemed to me to be a somewhat peculiar aspect of it considering there was nothing site specific about it. After entering there was another row of touch screen computer terminals with information on the decades and winners of the prizes. Once again, that I could simply get this information from the internet in an identical manner I also found upsetting. Josselyn and I sat down in the two rooms playing films though both of them only briefly. The first room that was playing a series of student short films that were connected to the Nobel prize in a manner that escaped me. To be quite honest, though I could see he thematic connection to the material it seemed to me forced and simply a method of occupying space with visuals and seating.

The largest room was a series of panels devoted to Marie Curie and radiation. These focused on the large obstacles she had to overcome as a woman in a field as well as those she had in working in a new field. Most interesting amongst these displays for me was the depictions of the various beauty products that were made from radioactive elements prior to the discovery that they were deadly. The implications that this historical occurrence has for discussions regarding animal testing, state regulation of commercial health and beauty products is of course explicit, as is commentary on the at times dangerous pursuit to achieve beauty. The victims of this included Curie herself as well as thousands of others.

As is evident from my above description I was disappointed that this was the full extent of the museum. I asked the cashier at the gift shop if perhaps there was more on the floor above and he responded that no, above them was the Swedish Academy. He did state that in four years if all went to plan they would finish construction on a large building dedicated solely to a new museum with more exhibit space, however this was of little consolation to me at the moment.

Around this time my foot was also in so much pain from my sprain that we decided to go back to the hotel.  Because of the time of our flight was at 6:30am and we were leaving from Skavsta, we had to wake up very early to get there. Being extremely sensitive to caffeine and having had a coffee at 4 p.m. I didn’t get any sleep before the trip and entered Berlin having been awake for over twenty-four hours straight.

Split, Croatia

November 2005

Falling asleep on a train is like no other sleeping experience. More so than any other form of transport, it matches the bumpy rhythms once felt in the womb and can reward those that give in to their body’s demand for rest a reminder of peace and expectation of a new journey ahead. Or, in a particularly jarring journey, you can wake feeling on edge. From the latter slumber I woke up in my sleeper car to the sounds of gunshots. I quickly sat up and looked outside the window as the first rays of sunlight emerged from the horizon just outside of Split, Croatia. Our route took us past a group of soldiers firing into the air while another plays instruments that couldn’t penetrate the metal sidings of the passenger car. Shortly thereafter, the train conductor came by to check tickets. I asked if he knew the reason for the military processional. He informed me that it was in honor of those that had died in the Balkans War, which ended exactly ten years ago that day. Despite the gravity of the event that ended a decade ago, nothing visible betrayed dolorous sentiments around the station upon our arrival. Based sole on appearances the people present there seemed to already have forgotten past travails and look forward to celebrating that joyful time of the year that brings them a bountiful harvest of fish, fruit, grains and tourist dollars.

Shortly after arriving, I made accommodations for the night an older women that held up a placard saying “Sobe” through a mix of German, English and hand gestures. She took me to her house, gave me a tour of the space I’d be allowed to use and provides me keys and a towel. I took a quick shower, changed and immediately headed to the area around Diocletian’s palace. Once there I slowly ambled my way around marble streets to peruse the various wares that had been set up in a similar fashion around the Cathedral of St. Dominus for hundreds of years. Lined up in stalls that gave the feeling of an outdoor mall there was a mix of counterfeit designer goods and tourist kitsch from China, local crafts, artifacts from historical events and a wide variety of delicious foods. Not looking to weigh down my pack and hungry, I purchased some famed Dalmatian ham and continued to aimlessly wander around as a flâneur throughout Diocletian’s Palace. When I finally made my way up to the Cathedral, I was rewarded by being able to behold a beautiful assortment of religious paintings, sculptures and icons fit for placement in any “proper” museum. In addition to the typical religious arts, there was a large collection of religious relics including the severed fingers, hands, feet and even the heads of saints. While this might seem grotesque, their presentation made it hard not to reflect upon the human condition in a manner wholly different from the church decoration of the Kostnice Ozzuary or the practical use-value evident in the form of the Parisian Catacombs.

Here the decomposed remains of the body was to be seen as proof of divinity. Rather than serving as a reminder to our never-ending proximity to death, the intent of the presentation of these particular bones was to give hope for something sublime and divine now as well as in the hereafter. Thinking upon this caused me to spend more time that usual in such a small gallery and helped me ignore and forgive the bustle of tourists that would inevitable bump into me considering the tight confines. After leaving, I walked to the bell tower adjacent to the church. For a nominal and well-worth it entrance fee I climbed the narrow stairs which terminates with an impressive view of the newer city, the white brick tops of the building nearby, the verdigris domes of several more diminutive churches in the nearby vicinity as well as the azure and golden flecked Mediterranean. From here it appeared as if the color palette of the city was chosen to match the sea. The light blue and whites of the water matched almost all of the roofs and facades of the old city buildings. The wide-open windows of the observation tower that could easily allow the most obese to fall out and the strong wind at that height hinted at danger, but provoked more fear from imagination than actual circumstances.

After I returned to the ground floor, I made my way up Marjan Hill. This is a location able to be appreciated by all due to its beauty. By me it was particularly so due to my interest in history. Specifically, this area was known to be an anti-fascist stronghold from where various attacks against the Nazi’s were planned and staged. Additionally, former Yugoslav president Joseph Tito once used the area as a summer residence. I took in the beauty of the Sustipan cliff and the Marjipan Forrest Park next to it while resting a park bench that overlooked them both and from which the Old City of Split was also visible. After an hour of absorbing the view and writing in my travel journal I left. I took my dinner at a cheap and delicious restaurant just outside of the walls of the old city suggested to me by a barista that had sold me some of the best-tasting börek I’d ever had. After eating inky black squid risotto there, a local specialty, I make my way back down to the area I’d been earlier that day.

The battered but beautiful white marble streets that had earlier reflected the sun in an almost frivolous manner at night took on a whole new set of characteristics. Now the walkway threw off shadows in a variety of directions based upon the shape a particular piece of stone has taken from hundreds of years of people and goods on wheels going across it. While walking I heard coming from the speakers of a bar the music of The Cure.

I entered to discover that they served the locally distilled slivovitz of quality that can’t be found in bottles anywhere else. I soon found myself in a spirited conversation with a group of locals that were planning to take a ferry the next day to Vis. There was a fish and music festival being held there, and would I like to join them? Of course I would! After exchanging our contact information, discussing some places that we wanted to go in the immediate future, sharing some more drinks and many more laughs we left. Rather than take the most immediate way back to a beach-front spot they wanted to share with me, we decided to perambulate the waters edge. We passed through a circular stone building is hundreds of years old: the Temple of Jupiter. From inside the streetlights, which had obscured the night outside, ceased to reign. Our discussion stopped its jovial tenor. As we looked up at the stars and the full moon, we spend several minutes pontificating aloud about sundry deep topics. We dissected mankind and our role within this vast universe of location and meaning, then put everything back in it’s place to continue on our travels. Realizing how far by foot the next place was and wanting to get sleep, I peeled myself from the group and made my way to the sobe.

I slept well, ate a sufficient breakfast, dropped some instant coffee into the hot water my host brought me then said farewell. I encountered the group I’d met and we took a ferry to Vis, where a steady stream of natives had been making there way since the six in the morning. The joyousness of the upcoming festival on the island seemingly infected the ship. People were already drinking from bottles in bags and a single person starting to sing soon had everyone there joined in. I’ve travelled extensively all over the world and have yet to witness anything like it. At least two hundred smiling faces singing together without planning! Amazing! On the ride over I befriended a group of fellow travellers from Ireland, Hungary, Canada.

Upon arrival we took a bus to the other side of the island. As soon as the doors opened I could smell the roasting anchovies being given out for free in dark brown fish paper rolled up into cones as if they were for Belgian fried potatoes. It’s not just in this carvinalesque atmosphere that camaraderie between a group of strangers can be formed, but certainly us being all in a place new to us helped. Much like the European pilgrimages of old described by Chaucer, we shared stories in praise of life late into the night in the square are between the small shops and docks. Later, however, we followed a group of people trekking a few kilometers away to a beach party. I was worried about leaving my backpack unguarded on the beach, but it’s so many others did as well that my worries were diminished. The DJ’s played deep and hard house as we danced atop the rocky beach. Towards the end of the night I got into a discussion with a burly locals who expressed some upset at the fact that I would soon be going to Serbia, the wounds I’d thought healed over did, in fact still exist and told me that as it’d be impossible now to find accommodation that it’d be best to sleep on the beach. This is precisely what we did. After a few hours of rest I woke to a beautiful view that the dark had kept from me. Hiking back into town for food and transportation, I then made my with the international coterie of travellers I’d befriended back to Split and from there took a bus to Dubrovnik.