Archive for the ‘The World’ Category

Nelson Mandela’s bronze

May 8, 2011

Should be gold, but bronze will have to do for now.

The gigantic bronze statue, is a monument, very impressive, located in one end of Nelson Mandela Square in the Sandton City Mall in Johannesburg.  The great statesman is honored during his lifetime with a ton of bronze, and represents the best in politics, if politics is supposed to generate a high sense of honor, justice and human dignity.

Adults and children can’t miss the oversize statue, and many get close and stand in between the legs and the feet of the statesman, and being small in comparison look up to see his smile.

Standing there you can’t help but get a glimpse of things to come.

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Chartres

September 5, 2010

It is an impossible task to compare French cathedrals.  It is even harder to describe a cathedral.   These days it is a rather simple click that will bring Chartres alive on any screen. Since all I have are words I’ll speak my peace so that my readers/commentators can drop their keyboards and run to spend a couple of nights in the town of Chartres.

These are not religious times, so upon entering this gigantic House of Worship, one is struck by the great number of visitors/tourists with cameras trying to capture every square inch of God’s House.  Difficult to comprehend the beauty of the structure and the colorful compositions of the hundred or so stained glass windows.

On that day, after the six o’clock mass, the public was invited to stay for a musical program presented by a visiting German church choir. The voices were not Chartres caliber and it was a surprise to me that two choir members rushed to the entrance hoping to receive donations.  We gave indeed, but that very second I had to deal with the sad contradictions and juxtapositions of faith and unbelief, the past and the present, Chartres of centuries ago, and Chartres as it is perceived and visited today.  The money thing.

The beauty of that Cathedral!  If you go take the cute and tiny tourist train that takes visitors for half an hour around the lower part of the town by the river, you will want to move and live there.  This summer most monuments were bathed in “son et lumière”  (sound and light) shows to bring back history.  All over this gorgeously clean and holy city (I felt I was in a different country) at every street corner, a light show on gigantic monuments acting as screens for the evening.

The majestic cathedral sits there and everything, river, streets, shops and houses seem to be protected by its sheltering beauty. I shouldn’t say this, but it is more impressive than Notre Dame de Paris, which is of course a beauty of a similar nature.

“Je vous en prie”

July 21, 2010

Fear not, this is not the beginning of a French 101 dialog.  This morning on our hotel’s sidewalk, to the right, we went for coffee and a croissant.  I skipped the croissant and the coffee and chose tea and a tartine.  The tartine is of course bread and butter, and since I try to avoid sugar like the plague, I told that to the waitress (no jam svp), the only employee working in that not so French-looking café.

The late breakfast started on the wrong foot.  The waitress/server was all alone, preparing the food, serving and selling the pastries and breads to visiting customers.  And we are speaking of a chic neighborhood!  My wife received her coffee, but it was so little in a large cup, we asked for some hot water.  The croissant didn’t show for a long while.  My sliced baguette came with butter and jam.  Sorry I said, I don’t need the jam, as I had mentioned when ordering.  The butter was melted in the golden wrapping.  “Miss” I said in French, the butter is melted, may I have cold and firm butter.  She said in French: “If it is melted it is easier to spread!”.

Finally the tea arrived! Barely enough water for a cup of tea.  I said nothing, as the server managed to find firm butter from the kitchen underground.  All of a sudden the server comes with hot water and says something to the effect that she remembered giving me insufficient hot water, so she was making up for that inadvertence.   I had asked for nothing and was surprised that she thought of me.

As I was processing this last move from the server I hear a loud “Je vous en prie!” addressed to me (she was looking at me, as she was leaving the table and going for some reason towards the front door).  The “Je vous en prie!” would have made sense if I had thanked her for the water with a “merci”.  But I was chewing and processing the event so I had not said the expected “merci”.  So I took her “Je vous en prie” as a sarcastic way of telling me, “guy, you could have thanked me for thinking of the extra water!”. 

I was surprised and felt insulted to be “corrected”, for not having said “merci” in the first place.  On her way back I mentioned that I was offended by the way she spoke to me.  I could barely speak.  She was surprised and asked for an explanation.  “Expliquez-vous” she said (she added “what did I say that was desobligeant?”, desobligeant meaning impolite if you will, ungracious or cutting), and I figured if she doesn’t remember what went on, I am not about to describe the incident from scratch.

And I left it at that.

Soccer emotions and gestures

July 4, 2010

As we near the end of the month-long world soccer cup held in 2010 in South Africa, here are one man’s observations on soccer emotions, gestures and lessons learned.

1/ National teams are very artificial constructions linked to flags, politics and national pride.

2/ FIFA the ruling  body is tough in its dictates, not flexible in the least, wrong on Ghana’s goal, and financially powerful.

3/  Officials, fans and spectators behave funny and look childish when happy, jumping up and down when a score is announced, and doing dances and rolls and every gymnastic trick in the book to express the joy felt.

4/ Tens of millions of us are glued to TV screens, large and small, in individual homes or in public spaces to follow 22 players running after a ball for ninety minutes, even when nothing much happens, except a lot of running and a great deal of kicking.

5/ Victories are meaningless because to judge a victory by a ball entering into a goal is not very convincing, and does not reflect the strength of a team, even those artificially constructed with “star” players.

6/ The only satisfying proof of a team’s superiority is a clear and present score, such as 4-0 or 7-0 or such impressive numbers.  Anything like 2-1, 1-0 means so little that one wonders about wasted time looking at adults running after a soccer ball.

G & G

July 4, 2010

Ghana and Germany, two teams that have shown style and beauty in the soccer kingdom. When Germany  wins they really win.   Both should have been in the final in South Africa.

G & G  an ideal final, that will not happen. Germany has not yet gotten past the semi finals stage and Ghana was eliminated for reasons I will never grasp.

Koro-koro?

June 22, 2010

On the day of a major train accident near Yanga station, sixty kilometers from Pointe-Noire, (imagine the horrendous sight of four overturned cars -four out of six-with casualties and injured on the one hand, and on the other hand panicked families all over the city running from hospital to hospital from 10 pm last night until this afternoon, franticly checking names, it is nearly impossible to describe the horror, so I will write, for now, on what appears irrelevant to the sadness lived by many, just to get my mind off the tragedy: the imaginative and practical transportation solution used within the city, and within the marketplace, to move goods. 

Pili-pili and saka-saka abound in any local market, and you could move tons of them on koro-koros or pousse-pousses.  And thousands of articles sold on tables and other surfaces need to be constantly moved, back and forth, between the market and their depots day in and day out.  Whereas extremely heavy bags, wood, iron bars, cement bags and furniture get to use pousse-pousse (“push push”) vehicles, koro-koros serve small loads.  Planes, trains and cars are scaring more than one passenger these days, so we shall dwell on the koro-koros instead.

Koro koros are sturdy one-wheel carts or elongated wheelbarrows, whereas pousse- pousses are two-wheelers, with recycled car wheels.  The pousse-pousse has a rectangular metal container (imagine a large metal box with no lid) with front and back raised bars so it can carry heavy and extra long items like extra long poles.  The koro-koro on the contrary is a simple contraption that carries heavy bags from point A to point B within the market, for small change.  The advantage for their owners is that they can sit and sleep on their koro-koros, because they act as a comfortable and sturdy metallic chair.  And for clients the clear advantage is that they are quick, practical and inexpensive. 

I have never noticed these things till the other day.  And now their funny name keeps ringing in my ear.

3 pneus

June 21, 2010

Three gigantic tires (“pneus”) were seen a week ago by the narrator, stacked like 3 fat bagels in the middle of a road intersection in Paka 120, a large popular and sandy neighborhood of Pointe-Noire.   Those three stacked truck tires have been in the same spot for the past fifteen years, as a marker or a monument that didn’t cost a dime to taxpayers.  It is a convenient reminder to cars and pedestrians that around here you can create symbols with next to nothing.

Last week friends were meeting in that part of town, and to describe the house, we were told to find it at the “rond-point 3 pneus” (round about or traffic circle).  And during the dry season (our winter) since no rain wets the sandy roads, driving in that area is a bit rough and slow.

The perception of those tires, a black monument in the middle of the road, depends on the identity of the beholder.  To the neighbors they are just there, untouched over the years.  For tourists, visitors or those of us who live here and tend to travel from time to time to Europe, we look at the stack with a smile.  Those “bagels” bring to mind other well-known monuments sitting in famous traffic circles in other corners of the earth, imposing structures with a similar function, but not as down to earth.

Urban landscaping, which is in full sing in the capital, will one day surely find an appropriate replacement for those tired tires.

They shall be missed.

Big Upsets

June 20, 2010

For soccer aficionados and for the the not so aficionados the big news is that the World Cup in South Africa is not just a noisy affair with the much celebrated plastic vuvuzelas but an exciting series of games between nations in which some of the major countries have lost in a surprising way.  Lost games not the real thing.

Spain lost to Switzerland, and France to Mexico.  Just two examples.  The Serbia-Germany confrontation being played as these words are written shows Germany loosing to Serbia.  The outcome of this match will be noted in the last paragraph.  I write as they play.

Last night I started writing into the France Mexico game at the 74 minutes 13 seconds mark.  At that point Mexico was leading one to nil.  I was following this game trying to cheer for France, but France looked doomed.  Mexico’s team looked full of motivation. The English-speaking commentator reminded his audience that France qualified for this World Cup ingloriously because a French player scored with his hand!

There must be some sort of justice through chastisement.  Something to do with the arrogance of some, or their lack of humility.  There is always something psychological that pops up when dealing with sports.  The commentator added that whereas Mexico played like a team, France was just a bunch of very talented individuals playing.

The French coach looked impassive and a bit lost in one corner,  analyzing the action with the eye of an eagle.  He sent Valbuena to replace Govu.  Nothing changed. The Mexican fans looked happy and excited by the minute, understandably.

Frustration mounted.  At 77 minutes a penalty was given to Mexico, because a defender tripped an attacker!  A 37-year Mexican attacker, the second highest scorer of all time in Mexico who had just come in to inject experience and strength, kicked the penalty and the score became to 2 nil.

And everyone was waiting for a miracle to save France.  Last night no miracles were forthcoming. The Mexicans were opening champagne bottles before the end of the game.

And back to the German Serbia game: the Germans received a red card, so they had to play with only 10 players.  That also happened to Nigeria and caused their downfall.  As we move from game to game, nationalisms are confronting each other, as if the soccer field mirrored the political and economic arena, and the Big Upsets in green fields stood as a symbol of what could occur in the real world…

Germany did loose! And now…as I write these notes while watching the Slovenia USA game at the 42 min 12 sec Slovenia leads against the USA 2 to nil!!  That was not supposed to happen.  Within the hour we will know if another Big Upset was in the making!

Well, the news is that the game is over and the USA came from nil to 2 and there was no Big Upset this time.  The two million inhabitants of Slovenia settled for a 2-2 score.

The “Feet Ball” festival

June 12, 2010

These are the days when South Africa becomes center stage for one full month.  The FIFA soccer world cup offers 64 games.  For those who don’t care for soccer I offer facts and opinions.  Soccer made simple.

There is one white ball, tattoed if you will, so that it does not always look like the same white or black and white boring ball.  That ball is kicked around for ninety minutes by twenty two players.  Only two can use their hands, one in each camp, to stop the ball from entering a very open rectangular “veranda” with a net in the back.  Two goal keepers and two teams.  There are times when after a full ninety minutes no team scores.  Nil nil is the result, which means nothing.  Everyone goes home frustrated.

Any recent convert to the game can’t figure out why there is so much excitement in the playing field.   He will be astounded to see grown ups jumping up and down and do very strange gestures to show their joy when a ball goes pas the goal keeper.  Even coaches and technical staff, with coats and ties will show no restraint in their emotions.

The world cup as exciting as it is, is an anomaly.  Once every four years nations bring back famous and rich players from foreign lands to play under their respective flag for a month or so.   During the four years players are married to clubs but for a month they show national loyalties and create temporary bonds with unfamiliar players.

Nations and their flags vs. the realities of a new world.  Go figure.

Plant Power (I)

June 12, 2010

Plant Power (PP) is mankind’s future, plants for food and for cure.  That is just a gut feeling, with ample evidence here and there.

TV5 Monde, a cable TV network we receive in Central Africa has excellent documentaries.  The other day, early in the morning, I saw a documentary entitled “La Nuit de Bwiti”, and there were several Africans from these parts speaking on legends and cures.

One of those interviewed from central Africa made a reference to two books that were given to mankind ages ago, one book given to  “le grand noir” (the big black man) and the other to “le petit blanc” (the small white man), both given by their father.  As I recollect his narration the “grand” went into the forest and through neglect left the book somewhere while he went on to hunt.  As he returned he found pages of his book washed out.  So he returned to his little brother to ask for his copy.  The little brother refused, saying that their parents had given them each a copy, and he felt his copy would not be safe in his brother’s hands.

As I was watching the film I didn’t know where all this was going.  In his search for truth and for the wisdom of his copy the “grand” discovered Ibogaine and its power to cure.  The interviewer asked what did the other book contain, and with a smile he said the power of the kabbalah.

As I listened I realized there is so much going on in people’s minds that never crosses mine.  I knew very little of kabbalah and zero knowledge on Ibogaine.  So I had to turn to Wikipedia to lift off words about kabbalah “a discipline and school of thought concerned with the mystical aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an eternal/mysterious Creator and the mortal/finite universe (His creation)” “Kabbalah seeks to define the nature of the universe and the human being, the nature and purpose of existence”. “It also presents methods to aid understanding of these concepts and to thereby attain spiritual realization”.

And when I asked the same encyclopedia for information on Ibogaine I learned that “Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychoactive substance found in a number of plants, principally in a member of the Apocynaceae  family known as iboga… Ibogaine-containing preparations are used in medicinal and ritual purposes within African spiritual traditions of the Bwiti, who claim to have learned it from the Pygmy. In recent times, it has been identified as having anti-addictive properties.” “Ibogaine is now used by treatment clinics in 12 countries on six continents to facilitate detoxification and chemical dependence to substances such as methadone, heroin, alcohol, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine, as well as to facilitate psychological introspection and spiritual exploration”

I found myself in awe before mystical powers given to “whites” according to this gentleman from central Africa, and in awe and surprised to learn that Africans had been given Ibogaine as a cure for addictions and troubles of all sorts.

The surprise and the awe were replaced by the humility of the ignorant one in the face of ancient knowledge and living plants.  It is as if everything we need to know is within reach. Everything we need to know to become one of the following: fulfilled, truly human, spiritual beings, healthy people, and or happy souls. The question is where to look.