Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

Things

Posted: November 29, 2015 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Travels
Tags: ,
1990-RUSSIAN-SOVIET-NESTING-DOLL

Matrioshkas: Vintage set, exactly like mine.

– If it happened that right now you were tele transported to a different reality, in any place in the world where you have no connections, what would you have to take along?

I was asked that question once. Many things came to mind but I could not pinpoint the right answer.

-That´s because you need nothing. You should only need yourself. The rest are tools to be reacquired or just burden.

It is difficult to anticipate how simple and complicated all that could be, or to what extent that would be true or false.

I have spent the last five years of my life going around owning the minimum. Keeping a light luggage means having to decide frequently what to leave behind, and what travels with me. Those decisions gotta be practicality driven.

Some of these things, a few but still, I have kept not out of absolute necessity, but out of some sort of loyalty, memory or nostalgia. Some times I have decided not to give in into getting something new, even if I badly want it, to save space for what I already have.

I have kept a photo album put together to bring along. A collection of DVDs with school works. A Swiss army knife. And gigabytes full of memories, and the fear that some day all that could explode in a cloud of zeros and ones.

I would have been difficult to predict that after a while, the nostalgia for things changes. The nature of the things longed changes. Recently I have remembered my old set of Russian dolls, wondering whether those still exist. Or where did I leave, to whom did I ask to store the other set of Russian dolls that a friend gave me as a present. I have thought that I have no pictures from when I was a child and my parents were young, and I would want to have it.

Humans and things get entangled in complicated relationships. For some reason things are thought to be there to fill voids we can´t.

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In Astoria, walking west in the 31st Avenue, you cross Vernon Boulevard to find yourself in front of the East River. It is a surprising spot in NY, kind of underrated, sort of hidden, with far less audience and visitors than it deserves.

spring NYThe other side is Roosevelt Island, and the skyline behind is Manhattan. If you turn right, you would find eventually in Astoria Park, which is a more visited and acknowledge spot, closer to restaurants and bars and the N,Q line. But if going left, then surprises pile.

spring NY (5)You can plan a BBQ on the Socrates Sculpture Park, a name more sumptuous than reality checks. There are a couple of statues, and cryptic installations, mixed with a welcome green-grass in a corner of Queens, where red brick rules.

spring NY (3)It´s a reserved spot for cyclist, picnic-style families, yoga practitioners and dog walkers.

If you keep walking the path, after a momentary step into the Vernon Blvd at Broadway, you are right again entering through a Costco gate, heading to a waterfront that is the Rainey Park.

spring NY (7)spring NY (8)The exit takes you to the 34 avenue… you can then decide to go back or keep walking a longer distance to Queensbridge Park. Or none of these and just take your walk back to the red brick heading to 21st Avenue, and again to Broadway, and 31st Street, in a green Astoria.

spring NY2

Or the lack of it…

-ASTROFIZICA-2

Gravity is technically a force. Actually the most powerful force in the universe, holding planets and stars on course. The reason why they connect gravity with seriousness, in crimes, it’s because there is also gravity in intention. With purpose a route is set, a path that can be walked step by step, toward a core that draws us, preventing us from hesitating, from taking a turn, from thinking it twice, from floating away. Indecisiveness is like floating away, when the core has lost strength, or when the core is there no more.

tree rootsI have done my backpack, and then undone it again. Feeling that your backpack stares back at you is a good sign of floating. Just floating. Not even away. Then I discover: that´s why plants have roots.

Without purpose, the way to stay on the ground is having roots. Or at least an anchor that ties you to the port, while the moment comes to sail away. Sail to another destiny, to another harbor, or simply to a shipwreck.

woman triggeredThere’s gravity on projects, and a migrant tends to take a path following a project. The project could be survival, or love, or change. But what happens once we are passed survival and we are supposed to be living, or change turned into habit? Then there’s the unbearable lightness of being. Then there are no roots, and without roots, anchor or a strong intention, there’s only floating.

Say, moving to a new country, or a new city, it’s like meeting new people. It’s awesome. It’s being in a mission, if for survival or success doesn’t really matter. All focus is placed on a goal, on a core. It’s aiming at a heart, or running away from the shot. That’s danger: anticipation. then there’s the peace that comes right after the bomb exploded, the shot was taken… When we either hit target or dodged the bullet. When danger is past, time freezes. Or rather, there’s only time. With much time, indecisiveness.

There’s something special to the feeling of meeting an old friend. There’s gravity in old friendship. There’s memory, a recognition of who you are in who you were. Gravity is continuity.

Re-Cognize. Someone remembers you from another time, another place. That’s a proof that you exist, you’re not a figment of your own imagination. It is also evidence that you were able enough to remain in someone’s mind. There must be some worth in that.

Lady-Light-Floating-Bed-Universe

A friend told me once that I had developed a dangerous addiction to changes. Another friend had told me later that lack of gravity is what exile is. I hadn’t connected both till now.

How to spot the “right place”

Posted: November 13, 2014 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Travels
Tags: , , ,

That may sound like an odd question. Especially to those who have remained in the same place for most of their lives. But there’s a particular group among humans who really enjoy moving around. Those may understand the point of this question.

It’s a twisted joy, I admit. Of course we all seek for that sense of belonging, for someone or something or some place that we can relate with, that can recognize us, that we can recognize ourselves there… Still, there’s pleasure in being willing to keep looking where can we be better, of not giving up and settle down for less that we really want or believe we deserve.

Then, after a while living in different places, shifting from location to location, a sense of being “rootless” starts to develop. It grows, keeps gaining space inside us in an inverse correlation to the volume of the things we own The less we have, the more light we become. With this sort of lightness, a sense of freedoms then comes to plant a flag, or maybe spreads its wings… And that’s a wonderful feeling for those who own it… The flip side to that is that not everyone gets it, o a certain solitude comes along with the bargain.

Fascination of the Night by Leonid Afremov

Fascination of the Night by Leonid Afremov

There’s also the feeling of not really have a “place to return”. We were there, we’ve done that. Place after place. Suddenly we realize we don’t fit in our hometown anymore. Homeland becomes a ghost, or rather a unicorn, depending of whether we believe memories were real at some point, or were they always figments of our imaginations.

But no matter how much we really enjoy that sense of freedom, that lightness, the eyes are always vigilant trying to spot that “right place”. A right place for us. A right place for me.

The sad thing is that I don’t have an answer to that question. I have fallen in love with cities before, at first sight. I have thought I had arrived to my right place to later start feeling the same urge to go elsewhere, to leave again.

Maybe there’s no right place. Maybe the new place is always right, and time tames that thrill turning it into something different. There’s placer as well in what is familiar. I guess it depends on what we are willing to give up, give in, or just give.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue

Posted: August 29, 2014 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Photography, Travels

This week’s photo challenge, as posted by The Daily Post, is “Dialogue”. And a great one indeed!

(c)jennroig, Parque del Retiro, Madrid, Spain, 2010

(c)jennroig, Parque del Retiro, Madrid, Spain, 2010

This shot was taken on the spring of 2010 in Madrid, Spain. There’s this big park in the heart of the city -Parque del Retiro- where I found this particular frame. I liked it because it was a harmonic ensemble of nature and human work; because it was an obvious evidence of the human need to control chaos, and still chaos hits us back; and because it was a breeze of color in an otherwise quite gray day.

Today, I believe it fits perfectly in that definition of dialogue: “When it comes to photography, dialogue can be perceived as a consensual interaction between two images.”

Not all the times, and definitely not at first sight, but from certain angles and under a sort of nostalgic mood, Catania did remind me of Havana.

(c) jennroig, Catania, Sicily, June 2010

(c) jennroig, Catania, Sicily, June 2010

The choice of Catania was a matter of time and budget constraints, but it was also about dreams and good luck. I was in Europe at the beginning of the summer of 2010, to kick-start that long vacation of three months, a break between the sprint that was the winter semester in Amsterdam and what it would be my German marathon to complete my master’s research project. Still in Amsterdam, I knew that I wanted to feel some southern European warm before embracing the German weather. When I told about it to a very good friend, we dreamed of a longer journey that would take us from Rome to Sicily and then to the Greek Islands. But then the Euro crisis was starting, and as I can actually communicate in Italian but neither of us knew a word in Greek, we ended up deciding to spend our four days in Sicily.

catania plaza

Catania, Piazza Duomo

Catania is the second largest city in Sicily, after Palermo, the island’s capital. We could have picked Palermo and it would have probably made a great experience as well. But Palermo is over the North Western Coast while Catania is located in the middle of the Eastern coast, so maybe we stuck with it because of the original thought of Greece… maybe that mood stayed with us… or maybe it was because it’s closer to Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe… or maybe it was just cheaper. I can’t really remember now.

We arrived there early in the morning, after a night journey that took us from from Rome to Sicily by train. Note: The Strait of Messina separates Italy from Sicily. As much as I can tell, there is no bridge yet connecting both sides of the country, and for sure there wasn’t any by then. But we didn’t need to leave our seats to board any ship, which makes me think there might be pretty gigantic ferries there. Or they separate the wagons… Any case, the mystery still haunts me today.

We arrived early, still hours away from the time when we could take over our beds on the B&B we had booked. But the owner was nice enough as to receive us, store our luggage and recommend us a great place to have a Sicilian breakfast.

When in Sicily, no matter at what time, make sure you’ll have a granita. And you can’t miss the oranges.

Roman, Arabic and Spanish heritage

catania 2

At different times in History, Catania has been dominated by culturally diverse powers. It was a Greek colony, part of the Roman empire, known as Medinat-Al-Fil during the emirate of Sicily and a member of the Crown of Aragon before the Spanish Empire would unified and claimed it as part of its territories. Only by the early 19th century Sicily -thus Catania- started to push toward the Italian unification, but it had to wait until 1960 when Garibaldi finally came to make it happen. Then Sicily joined the rest of the country.

aldabaDue to its proximity to Mount Etna, the volcanic eruptions have caused wreckage in the area on many occasions, so not every cultural legacy is as visible on the architecture and arts. Though the Spanish, the Arabic and the Roman influences are easy to notice in the streets and buildings of the city.

Maniglie in Italian; Aldabas in Havana

Maniglie in Italian; Aldabas in Havana

Besides the sculpture of the elephant -made of lava- that is part of the monument in Piazza Duomo and was supposed to protect the city against calamities, a visible Arabic influence is the “Aldabas“, as Cubans call it. Italians call it “maniglie” to those handlers for front doors, but if it’s ornamented with some human or animal figure, it is a legacy from the period of Islamic domain over Southern Italy and the Iberian peninsula.

On the other hand, to put it mildly, the Roman remains are in your face, once you are walking around the streets of the city. The biggest testimony is the amphitheater and the ruins of the town that Catania used to be on ancient Roman and maybe Greek times. It is such a pity that the ruins are not taken care of as they should be.

anfiteatro

Obviously Catholicism makes up for another huge part of the cultural influences in Catania. There are many churches representing different periods in time and styles. As in the rest of Italy, just turning around a corner can make you find a building centuries old with a great story inside, and a storyteller eager to tell it.

catolicismo

My favorite, in fact, wasn’t the cathedral at Piazza Duomo. It was a smaller one, that I found so similar to the church that I used to visit back in my hometown.

chiesa

Now that I see it better, and I actually think about it, maybe it’s no similar at all. Maybe there’s little to no relation between this arty church in Catania and that old church in my memory. But that’s the thing with memory, right? It starts losing shapes and tones with years, it gets selective and irrational and it takes the most unexpected paths to bring feelings along.

If ever in Sicily, I recommend paying a visit to Catania. It is so close to wonders – both Human and natural – such as Mount Etna and the beaches of Taormina, and Syracuse, with many choices of public transport to do those short trips. The food is great, the people are endearing, the colors are awesome. And from the harbor there are ferries going to the Greek Islands, so you could make that Greek Dream to come true.

I confess it, I have some unresolved issues with Amsterdam. Although I lived there for a semester in 2010, from January to June, I didn’t manage to figure out my feelings for the city. So let’s try to break this down.

The landscape

(c) Giulio Cesaroni. Dam Square, Amsterdam, 2010

(c) Giulio Cesaroni. Dam Square, Amsterdam, 2010

Yes, Amsterdam is massive. It’s a mix of history, modernity, great architecture and engineering. A great evidence of how much mankind can accomplish. Have you heard the saying that “God created the Earth but the Dutch created the Netherlands”? Well, Amsterdam would be the exact embodiment of that statement. adam (6)

adam (5)As soon as you are there, before you’ll actually get to the Red District, the canals will be the first thing that catches your eyes. The second will be the bridges, especially the older ones that still work and are elevated to grant pass to the boats. I found interesting that, for a society that seemed to be in a hurry almost all the time, no one seemed upset waiting for the bridge to come down again.

Amsterdam is below the sea level, a city stolen from Poseidon. There has to be persistent supervision to all the infrastructure of bridges, canals, dams, harbors and the port. I guess this could be a reason why so many Dutch I met were so organized and good at planning.

In general, the infrastructure is great. From technology to public transport, everything seemed state of the art. Everything except for the architecture. The city is packed with these tall, skinny buildings that clearly show a sort of Lutheran style -beautiful but solemn and sober. The structures are so old that need that metallic reinforcement between stores. Some buildings are leaning over the next one, because the foundations are not strong and have changed with time. A clear evidence that is a city build over the water.

adam (9)

Even if buildings are leaning, and corpses of dead people need to be taken out through the windows because there’s no way to carry them down the stairs, rents in Amsterdam are easily among the most expensive in Europe, which is a lot to say in a continent that also includes Copenhagen, Paris, London and Hamburg…

If you are dreaming with a season living on one of those lovely boat-houses, I’ll recommend you to make sure you’ll dispose of a deep pocket.

adam (2)

What to do

Once in Amsterdam, there are of course some must-go places. The Van Gogh Museum comes to mind and the branch of the Hermitage; the “Bloemenmarkt” or Flower Market; The Anna Frank House if interested on the topic and the suffering; the local Chinatown is over Zeedijk Street, close to the train station, though there is a lot of Thai, Korean and other Asian cultures mixed there, not just Chinese; for shopping I’d recommend Kalvertoren; the Red District is over both Oudezijds Streets.

Oh! For a surrealist experience, don’t miss Paradiso, an ex church building turned into “sanctuary for the creatures of the night”.queen day (1)

Another “healthier” choice is heading to the city parks, in case you are simply a daylight person.

queen dayQueen’s Day used to be on April, celebrating Queen Beatrix birthday. You will have to check whether the Dutch keep the holiday or moved it match the current King’s B-day. Either way, there are no other days like those to party hard in the city.

Amsterdam is actually a really overcrowded city with over 780,000 inhabitants in a very small area. On Queen’s Night and following Day everybody goes out to parade, dance, smoke, drink, and eventually lay around under the sun or drunk in an alley or rather by the side of a canal.

Transportation

The public transportation system includes a metro system that covers a limited area -very narrow space where there are no canals-, buses and trams inside the city and trains that connect to suburbia and neighboring towns such as Hilversum or cities such as Haarlem. Everything runs punctual. But the farther you are from downtown, the less convenient it is to use it.

Imagine Amsterdam as a series of rings sharing the same center: the port that is close to the train station. That’s also the main spot to catch buses and trams. The different routs tend to follow lines that are like radius of the rings: so the wider the arch connecting the radius, the wider the distance between routes and stations. That is why, if you are planning to visit, you should consider renting a bicycle instead of a car or resorting to public transport.

Seasonal amusement park at Dam Square, the heart of the city, to celebrate the spring

Seasonal amusement park at Dam Square, the heart of the city, to celebrate the spring

I loved that it is a city made for boats, bikes and pedestrians. Going around in a car gets to be not only impractical, but a real nightmare. But I hated its very humid weather, the constant rain in the winter.

But I admit, when eventually the sun decides to shine, outside is the place to be.

Amsterdam, March, 2010.

Amsterdam, March, 2010.

I also hated the city’s double standards. Prostitution is legal, but you would probably have a hard time finding any Dutch prostitute. The Red District feeds from human traffic, and those are the bodies in display behind the glasses. If you haven’t yet seen this ad for Stop the Traffik, do it now. A sharp irony is that the Red district is located one block away from the University van Amsterdam’s building where I attended my second semester as visiting MA student. UvA is among the most important centers of knowledge in Europe and probably the world. I can’t decide if this is real open mindedness or simple double standards.

Marihuana is sold legally in coffee shops and “soft drugs” are allowed to be consumed in student dorms, but the authorities aren’t granting any new licenses to open new coffee shops and they are actually using any pretext to shutdown the existing ones. In the surface is beautifully diverse, a cosmopolitan dream, but underground xenophobic feelings are polluting the air, water and soil. The name of Geert Wilders and the Party of Freedom comes to mind.

adam (7)Historically and culturally, The Netherlands are very influenced, and a lot can be explained and understood, by something called “Pillarisation“.

The pillars are four, segmenting people according ideology or religion. Catholics, Protestants, Social-Democratics and then Socialists. Back in time, a catholic would only read a catholic newspaper, purchase from a catholic business and employ catholic services. The same pattern would repeat in the rest of the groups. That explains a lot today’s political system and media in The Netherlands, to mention very visible elements.

According Wikipedia: “The development of pillarisation in the Netherlands was favoured by the emancipation of working and lower-middle classes on the one hand, and the execution of elite control on the other hand. The emancipation of the working class led to the establishment of socialist parties, trade unions, media, cooperative shops and collectively organised leisure activities. This “full care” of the socialist movement for its members existed similarly in other European countries. The emancipation of the conservative and often strongly religious lower-middle class fostered the emergence of the Protestant pillar. While the Dutch bourgeoisie was rather liberal and adhered to “enlightened” Protestantism, a large part of the lower middle class embraced a more orthodox Calvinist theology taught by preacher and politician Abraham Kuyper.”

Don’t get me wrong. I can see the wonders, peculiarities and greatness of Amsterdam. Still, I am not its advocate. Maybe it’s the best choice for a sudden, quick visit, but spending time there leaves a certain sense of otherness. There are so many people there, so many tourists in the way of locals, so many newcomers from so many corners of the world, that somehow the city has become a hostile playground where everyone could fit, but it is difficult to belong. adam (10)