The next cat will be in Cornwall

This house sitting is turning into a booming business. Apparently, word on the cat internet has it that I am lovely and caring, for I am receiving one assignment after the other.

As I am going to return from Canada to London on 28 April, I have been looking for a gig in Great Britain. Conveniently, I found one that starts on 29 April: I will be watching a cat in Cornwall until mid-May. (If the cat will still be alive by then and won’t have starved to death because of the expected food shortage after Brexit or, a shocking thought, turned into food itself).

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Thus, as almost always on my travels, it turns out that life in a big city will be followed by a small town. The cold North will be followed by the sunny coast. Winter by spring. A cat by a tomcat.

For two weeks, I will be staying in Newquay. While the rest of Cornwall is a peaceful hiking paradise, that small town is more of a surfing hot-spot. But I hope that the surfers won’t have woken up yet in early May or that they will still be on the southern hemisphere. And I am sure I won’t run into too many stoned wannabe hippies on the South West Coast Path.

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From mid-May, I will then be very occupied by university seminars and term papers, meaning that I will spend most of the summer in Germany. But there should be time for a few hikes in between. And I might return to England in summer for yet another house sit. Keep your fingers crossed!

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Posted in Travel, UK | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Legroom

Many travelers spend hours looking for a flight, comparing different airlines, considering which class they will book and planning what seat they will reserve. As a reason for spending 600 $ more for the same flight, they often cite 2 to 20 additional centimeters of legroom. I can understand that if you are a giant, but most passengers need more bellyroom rather than legroom.

I apply a different strategy in order to stretch out my long legs: I am friendly and nice  (which should be natural, but thanks to the divergent behavior of 90% of customers, it becomes something special) and don’t try to transport bulky luggage in the cabin. Usually, I only carry a book and a notepad. I have never asked for a special seat, but again and again, the ground crew prints out a boarding pass with the coveted seats next to the emergency exits or one of the stewards asks me if I don’t want to move to one of the free seats there. I seem to convey the impression of remaining calm and helpful in case of an emergency. Rightly so.

When I flew from Iquique to Santiago de Chile with LATAM, I got a seat with more than 2 meters of legroom.

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This is better than first class.

That flight should also be beautiful and easy to navigate for the pilot. You simply follow the Pacific coast, going south, looking down on high waves crashing on rocky coasts or tapering off on sandy beaches.

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And when you see Santiago after 1700 km, you turn east, and that’s it, another flight completed. But probably, that’s not how one navigates anymore. For emergency landings, the Panamericana highway is always below, in a helpfully straight line.

The guys sitting next to me, who, in the case of an emergency landing, would also be tasked with the dirty job of pushing fellow passengers through the door, appear far less trustworthy than me, however. A 70-year old man looks as if he is flying to a date with death. The young guy diagonally in front of me is scrolling through photos of attractive girls on his cell phone (now I know the purpose of that Instagraph and that I really don’t need it). As he writes one of them a message, apparently inviting her to a date, he asks if “zoological garden” is spelled with Z or with C. His mate punches him for that, calling him an “idiot”. Nevertheless, the stewardess never pauses to pour them more “cerveza” with C and Z.

Another strategy for getting a good seat is patience. Each time again, I wonder why people are standing in a queue at the gate, often for a long time. There are seats for everyone, really. And if not, you get a huge compensation and a free stay in a hotel in Chicago or in Paris.

Therefore, I always remain seated, cool as a cucumber, ordering another ice cream, reading, observing and writing, while everyone else gets all agitated. Once, on a flight from Tel Aviv to Munich, I did the same, got up as the last person in the waiting hall and presented my boarding pass, friendly and relaxed.

The El Al guy took it and ripped it apart.

“לעזאזל”, as we say in Israel. Did I wait too long this time?

“I am sorry, this boarding pass is no longer valid. I will print you a new one,” the young gentleman then explained and immediately followed up on his promise. Wondering what all this was about, I got on the plane, and only there did I notice that he had awarded me a seat in first class. That way, I got real quality sleep for four hours and missed better food than I usually miss.

But now I am still in Chile. On the right, the sun is sinking into the Pacific. On the left, the summits of the Andes are glistening. These are the same summits that planes regularly crash into, leading to cannibalism among the survivors.

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Thinking of that, I vow to make no more jokes about overweight passengers.

As if LATAM guessed that I would go on to write this article, they gave me a seat in the first row two weeks later.

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Posted in Chile, Israel, Photography, Travel | Tagged | 14 Comments

“Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi

I had long been too snobbish to read graphic novels. Cartoons like Tintin or Calvin & Hobbes are great, but when it comes to serious subjects, I prefer prose. Also, I read a lot on trains or in restaurants and didn’t want to be seen with a comic book in public. Silly, I know. But now I am cat sitting, where I am pinned to the couch for hours, and it’s too cold to read in the park anyway. Thus, when a friend, knowing of my interest in Iran, gave me Persepolis, I was delighted and ready to change my opinion of graphic novels.

81bnp4y9t0lThe style is clear, precise, not overloaded with details. Ligne claire is the expression, I believe, and I like it. It allows you to read quite quickly, and you know that everything that is drawn has some importance. There are no decorative or distracting accessories.

The second thing that I really liked is the perspective of the little girl, Marjane Satrapi herself, growing up in Iran in a liberal, secular, middle-class family, witnessing the 1979 revolution, suffering from oppression and religiosity and of course soon from the 8-year war between Iraq and Iran.

This is of course the story of many Iranians. When I was in Iran in 2008 and 2009, I was surprised how many families still maintained a liberal, secular worldview, holding on to private freedoms, treasuring them at home or with like-minded friends, and passing them on to their children, all the time trying to dodge at least the sharpest repercussions from the regime.

The viewpoint of a child is highly advantageous in that she can be funny about serious issues, without it seeming out of place. Many of her classmates’ parents or relatives are imprisoned because of their opposition to the Shah (this is before 1979) and she is a bit jealous of them. When her uncle becomes imprisoned, he becomes her absolute hero.

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Once the war starts in 1980, the class divisions also become quite obvious. It’s mostly the children from poor, rural families who get drafted to walk through minefields.

The only thing I found a bit difficult to believe is that Ms Satrapi already read Marx and Hegel and was discussing dialectical materialism when she was twelve or thirteen. But maybe there are families like that, and I have just been unlucky in that regard. On the other hand, my childhood home was never bombed by Saddam Hussein, so I don’t want to complain.

When Ms Satrapi is fourteen, her parents worry too much about their daughter’s safety. They send her to Austria in a kind of Kindertransport. Again, this is something that most Iranians could not afford and which shows the class distinction. However, even 30 years later, I know hardly any Iranian family in which the adult children haven’t left or aren’t trying to leave Iran. At the time depicted in Persepolis, nobody thought the Islamic Republic would last that long.

marjane_satrapiThe funny thing in Ms Satrapi’s case is that she had been attending a French lycée in Iran until 1979, when it was forced shut, and was sent to a boarding school in Austria, which was run by Christian nuns and much stricter and more religious than anticipated.

As she moves to Austria and grows up in a foreign country, the book shifts more to her personal development. For my taste, there is too much about relationships, sex and drugs. I am sure some readers, maybe those of a similar age to the protagonist at the time, find that interesting, but I would have been more interested in Marx, Bakunin and the immigrant experience (which is covered a bit).

Even as she returns to Iran after a few years in Austria, the book remains focused on private life. She eventually goes to university in Iran to study graphic design, which is where the book becomes more interesting again. Here again, it’s about the constant battle between citizens and the state. There were some interesting revelations, which I won’t spoil for you.

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There are a few aspects which I liked less, for example the rather harsh treatment of older women, of whose physical appearance Ms Satrapi often makes fun. But then, it’s written from a child’s or a teenager’s perspective, and maybe young people talk about adults like that. (I forgot because it was so long ago.)

At times, the character just isn’t likable at all, quite self-centered, full of pity. In my mind, her parents and her grandmother are the real heroes, and maybe I would have enjoyed a book about them even more. Like hundreds of thousands of Iranian parents, they have sacrificed their whole adult lives for their children, without having them around or even near, while parents in other countries can usually relax and lean back or travel the world once the kids go to university. Ms Satrapi went to France after graduation, and it’s her parents who tell her not to come back to Iran, but to enjoy freedom.

And then, there should be a word of caution. While Persepolis will bring valuable insight into Iranian society, particularly to people who haven’t been to the country themselves, it should not be taken as a scholarly or even journalistic work. Wile the character is thoughtful of her role within family, school, relationships and society, she lacks reflection about the role of Iran in the world and too often assumes the national(istic) narrative of Iran/Persia as a superior civilization whose suffering can possibly only be the result of mischievous machinations by, not very creatively even as conspiracy theories go, the USA, the UK and Israel. If the clever child really read all the works of political philosophy, she shouldn’t be quite so gullible.

But then, nobody who reads a graphic novel should expect serious analysis. To people who mainly read Persepolis because, as a graphic novel, it’s quick to read (an advantage I acknowledge and which makes me more open to other graphic novels), I would recommend Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski. At 170 pages, it is quite a quick read, too, and it may be one of the best books not only about the 1979 revolution, but about revolution in general.

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Posted in Books, Iran | Tagged | 6 Comments

An unexpected find

I am trying to get rid of most stuff and have been quite successful already. I have no car, only one hat, and I am even letting go of books. But one thing is piling up: notebooks, full of memories, stories, ideas and observations.

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And sometimes, when I open one of those notebooks, I discover piles of money, millions of it. It seems that all this time, I have been much richer than I thought.

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Unfortunately, I have kept the money long beyond the existence of the country that once issued it. I always knew that saving was stupid.

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Posted in Georgia, Travel | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Did you notice the Irony? (23) Machismo

Dear Calgary Sun, I don’t think we need a microscope to spot the machismo on this page.

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Nice juxtaposition, really, and all too common, sadly. Whenever I read about traditional gender stereotypes or objectification of women, I just need to flip a few pages to see the problem itself. On TV, it’s worse. Actually, come to think of it, you may even find it on this blog. :-(

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Posted in Canada, Feminism, Media | Tagged | 5 Comments

The Danger of a Beautiful Day

It was supposed to be winter, but the day was unseasonably mild, warm even.

I dressed quickly, confident that I needed neither hat nor gloves, and left the house, lured outside by the sun, the warmth and the joyful day they promised. I walked up the nearby hill, energized by the spirit of spring.

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The clouds were fluffy, white and moving fast, turning nature’s painting into an animation, at least for those with patience enough to stare into the distant sky.

I stood on the bridge over the creek, looking at the melting ice, the families of ducks and the families of humans, the latter adhering to the signs banning them from feeding the former. I was more worried by the dogs, for there were no signs telling them not to feed on me.

The squirrels seemed to have no food shortage at all, judging by their happy faces. With the melting snow, they found the caches of food that they, or their colleagues, had prepared a few short months ago.

Children, oblivious to all of this, were running around, irresponsibly unleashed by their owners.

Trees were waking up from hibernation, freshly brewed maple syrup running through their veins (this was in Canada, after all). The flowers must have gorged on something delicious, too, for they looked deliriously colorful that day.

Whenever I passed a bench, I sat down, soaking in the sun. As I was reading a chapter or two of a novel, the sun became stronger as if she wanted to look over my shoulder and partake in the pleasure.

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When I came home after four, five, maybe six hours, my heart content as only a day in nature can achieve it, I checked my e-mails. Two potential clients complained that I hadn’t replied to their messages, taking their business elsewhere. This would mean another month of struggling financially, of eating nothing but rice and soup, another month of dread.

A sense of beauty, of happiness even, can really be detrimental to so-called success.

Yet, on the next sunny day, I will go out again. There is enough winter in the world, literally and metaphorically.
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Posted in Canada, Fiction, Life, Photography | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Danger of Spring

It was supposed to be winter, but the day was unseasonably – and unreasonably, I might add – mild, even warm. The sun shone, the sky was blue, the clouds were fluffy, the snow was melting, the squirrels were happy, children were running, trees were breathing fresh air, flowers rose their little purple heads, the ice on the lake began to crack, and Lisa, who wanted to go skating one last time, really did so.

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Posted in Fiction | Tagged | 1 Comment