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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


L'Espoir est le deuxième livre d'André Malraux que j'ai lu après La Condition Humaine il y a quelques mois. A l'époque je n'avais pas trop regardé qui était Malraux. Je savais seulement qu'il a été dans le gouvernement de de Gaulle et que Chirac lui a fait entrer au Panthéon. Maintenant je viens de lire sa biographie sur Wikipedia. Quel homme (désolé pour ce preuve de sexisme, mais quel être humain n'a pas le même effet), quelle vie. Il a passé du temps en Indochine, s'est fait arrêter là-bas, a été volontaire en Espagne faisant la guerre pour la République, a été actif dans la résistance, a commandé une compagnie française conquérant Allemagne et est finalement devenu Ministre. Putain (désolé de nouveau, mais vraiment, quelle vie).

L'Espoir suive un groupe de militaires républicains dans la guerre civile espagnole. La plupart entre eux sont des volontaires internationaux et des aviateurs. Malraux peint l'image d'une guerre d'idéalistes, des anarchistes, des communistes, des syndicalistes, des paysans, des ouvriers, des intellectuelles gauchistes. Tous luttent ensemble afin de préserver la république contre les fascistes. Comme Malraux le raconte, c'est l'histoire des idéaux contre les armes. L'armée contre les miliciens, mal équipés, mal nourris. Les fusils contre les avions, contre les tanks. Malraux fait croire au lecteur (et j'aime bien penser qu'il est vrai) que ces troupes ont été inspirés par la solidarité plus que d'autre chose. Même si on sait que la république est censée d'échouer, on est empli de respect pour ces gens, pour cette tentative héroïque si vaine.

Le livre est très difficile à suivre parfois avec beaucoup de personnage qui ne sont rarement introduit. Quand même on arrive à concevoir une compréhension de cette guerre de sa coté républicain en tout cas. Le chaos, la désorganisation, la manque de ressources, la manque de soldats entraînés du camp républicain devient évident. Malraux n'écarte pas les aspects horribles de la guerre. Les blesses, les morts, les obus sur Madrid et leur impact sur la population civile, la fusillade des volontaires par les républicains ('il fallait choisir entre la victoire et la pitié').

Finalement, une citation qui s'applique bien à moi déjà. Peut-être je suis trop vieux déjà, mais j'en suis (un peu) fier au même temps. 'A mon âge, on ne voyage plus sans bibliothèque.'

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Life in Istanbul III (Basketball Edition)

I've been playing some pick-up ball lately over on the Asian side. There is a little park, right next to the water, with 5 fence-enclosed courts. The place always is full of players whenever I show up and thus quite the change from the courts close to the place I live where there barely ever is anyone playing. As people who travel and play ball at any decent level know, basketball styles vary as much as any other cultural expression. Basketball in the US is much more physical for example.

Turkey is an interesting case as there a couple of aspects to it that I have never encountered in any other place that I've played in (basically: Germany, the US, France and Austria). People here play a warm-up game before the actual one starts. The first three points don't count. The game only starts after those first three buckets. During the game the intensity is relatively high, but static. That means that it does not increase when the game nears its end (usually going to 30, with 1s and 2s). There also are virtually no celebratory gestures after the game. Winning doesn't seem to matter as much as in the US for example. Also, there are no fouls. Or barely any. I don't mean that people don't call fouls, they do. There simply are relatively few fouls. People play defense (if not crazily intense), but don't hack.

Finally, I've found it interesting that people here (comparable to Americans) play rather unorthodoxly, but well. There are quite a few people that shoot really well, even while their technique makes you cringe.

And yes, don't worry, I will continue to engage in qualitative field research as much as I can.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I should have posted this a while ago, but things were kind of busy and I just didn't think of it anymore. Here is my master's thesis, betitled: The ESDP and its Impact on Transatlantic Relations.

I still like the topic. I know it could be better. I would write it very differently if I had to do it over again. It still is the longest piece I've ever written and unlike most people I know I didn't cheat in the bibliography. I actually read all of that.

Life in Istanbul II

So, I started branching out a little bit this weekend, exploring neighborhoods that upper middle-class Turkish people told me were dangerous, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found a really nice park, with a relatively nice basketball court (the hoops are decent, the ground is gravel) in a neighborhood (Kasımpaşa I believe) that is a lot more down to earth than the one I live in. There are even more people on the street. Elderly women hanging in windows looking at people, kids playing with bottle caps, lots of women with head scarves and in general a crazy amount of kids. Definitely a bit poorer (probably even drastically so) and (yesterday, Sunday, at least) by a gigantic street market (kind of like the one in Neukölln, only more Turkish people, drastically less non-Turkish ones, and virtually no one that speaks English, French, or German).

In spite of the (exaggerated, I feel) warning I had received I felt really comfortable in the neighborhood. An interesting sub-aspect of this feeling of security is that not everyone recognizes (or acknowledges) that I am a foreigner. There are enough Turks who have a rather light skin (sometimes even red hair) for me not to stick out too much. My clothes sometimes give me away (shorts and sandals are something popular with the westernized crowd mainly), but I can get by without even being (too obviously) looked at most of the time.

Related to this surprising racial diversity (well, a lacking complete racial homogeneity describes it better I believe), which seems to me a remnant of the Ottoman Empire's far reach (or it might not, I have no idea really, but I feel like the explanation does sound good), is the occasional presence of black guys (I have not seen a woman yet) who are quite obviously Turkish and regularly integrated into local culture as far as I can tell (based on them sitting in tea houses with all the other men basically). These guys usually seem to be part of a poorer strata of Turkish society, yet make an impression of not being recent immigrants but accepted individuals and long-established members of that very society - one never sees them in groups for example, which would imply a more recent common immigration background.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Life in Istanbul I

It's been a week that I've been staying here now, and while my grasp of Istanbul as a city, let alone Turkey as a country, is extremely rudimentary, I would like share a few observations.

I live in a neighborhood called Cihangir here, one which has frequently been described to me as being an expat quartier. While this might be very well be true, foreigners are a common sight on the street, the place is still (luckily) very much dominated by Turks. This, in turn, leads me to my first (and primary) complaint of life here. I have a very hard time dealing with my muted existence here due to the fact that I don't speak any Turkish (discounting the three words I've learned since arriving here). Even in more touristy places (and I try to avoid those) people (customers and servers) have only a very rudimentary command of English (or French or German). Surprisingly when talking to elderly people chances are higher to be able to communicate with them in French (and sometimes German) than in English. In any case, this is a sore subject for me as it makes me extremely uncomfortable to be incapable to express even the simplest inquiry or to understand the response.

As a disclaimer, I have to add that I have met a decent amount of Turkish people whose command of English is astounding. The problem is, I feel, that there is a large disconnect between a select few who are absolutely fluent and the large majority who can barely say anything. Whatever the implications of this (high Gini-coefficient? the advantages of private schooling?), I am very undecided what to do about this as I will most likely not stay here long enough to make it worth it for myself to truly try to learn Turkish. I guess I will simply have to deal with the accompanying frustration.

Very charming is the fact that life tends to take place on the street here. Shopowners sit in front of their stores, drinking tea (çay), street vendors roam with carts selling fruits or collecting scrap metal. Men gather by the dozens in tea houses and sit for hours. More modern cafés cater to a younger crowd. Restaurants and bars invariably have virtually all of their customers sitting outside, making certain smaller pedestrian streets hard to walk through (and quite deafening). Kids play outside and every shady corner, step or grass area is occupied by one, two or three men (mostly, the grassy areas in parks are also occupied by whole families, who bring tea-making machines, water containers and stay hours). All in all, this provides a really nice atmosphere and I seriously wonder how this city changes with the weather in the winter.

The glaring negative aspect of this outdoor life is the sexual divide. Young women and men one sees without distinction, but there is a true generational gap when it comes to the presence of women on the street. Secondly, this seemingly charming street activity has at least some basis in very high national unemployment rates (~17% overall, more than 25% for youths). Thus, and as much as I enjoy the atmosphere, at least one underlying (and I assume important) explanation for it is of the more depressing kind.

To be continued....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tender is the Night

Kind of by accident, I started reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night taking place largely on the Riviera and in Paris directly after Hemingway's account of his time in Paris (There is never any End to Paris). Not to confuse, this novel is completely different, it simply evolves around the same time-period and also evokes the life of American expats in France.

Supposedly very autobiographically, Fitzgerald tells of a promising psychiatrist, Dick Diver, who falls in love and marries a psychiatric patient, knowing very well how high the chances are that she will suffer from schizophrenic attacks again later on in life. Diver and his wife Nicole lead a glamorous life on the French Riviera, they have kids and in every way represent a stunningly successful, attractive and noteworthy couple with especially Dick being the center of attention. This is highlighted by a young and famous actress completely falling for him at first sight and for a few years.

Yet, of course, the book shows the emotional downfall of this couple, how one becomes weak and cheats on the other, how the constant attention due to her psychiatric problems Dick has to pay to his wife is getting to him, how he develops an alcoholic problem. It is the story of a relationship growing sour, even while it is not representative for other couples, simply because the schizophrenic nature of Nicole adds a layer not applicable to most people.

I had read the Great Gatsby a long time ago, maybe even in school, and I must say Tender is the Night was a very positive surprise to me. I simply hadn't expected to enjoy it as much. Even if the story holds little surprise (most of the ending is clear to the experienced reader from the beginning on), Fitzgerald captivates his reader and shows him a little piece of a world and a time that has disappeared while at the same time portraying a couple that is very unique.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

There is never any end to Paris

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."

I had recently discovered (very much by accident) that Hemingway had written a collection of sketches of his life as a young husband and emerging writer in Paris. Naturally I decided that I would have to read it and soon after bought it as a present for a friend of mine, racing through most of the book during the afternoon before I gave it to him. While I am not as sentimental, nor as grandiose as Hemingway, it seemed fitting to read something like this as some kind of a closure for my year in Paris.

Hemingway lived in Paris in the 1920s and his twenties. His book, A moveable Feast, consists of charming sketches detailing his impoverished life there. He fasts for lunch, boasts how hunger contributes to the understanding of art, and embellishes his family's finances at the race tracks. The book is less about actual Paris, and much more so about Hemingway's life which happens to take place mostly in Paris. His wife and their happiness in early marriage are focused on, his relation with Gertrude Stein and how they drifted apart as well as his friendship with Ezra Pound is described. Finally, how he came into contact with F. Scott Fitzgerald and how he and Zelda drove each other insane (quite literally) and how Hemingway perceived the glamorous couple.

Quite the fascinating literary gem, without a doubt. I feel some beforehand knowledge of Hemingway (and his literary contemporaries cited above) are needed in order to facilitate one's understanding of parts of the book, but I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

In the last chapter Hemingway scathingly attacks his second wife for stealing him away from his first one with whom he had been oh so happy:

"The oldest trick there is. It is that an unmarried young woman becomes the temporary best friend of another young woman who is married, goes to live with the husband and wife and then unknowingly, innocently and unrelentingly sets out to marry the husband. [...] The husband has two attractive girls around when has finished work. One is new and strange and if he has bad luck he gets to love them both."

Abstracting from Hemingway's obvious glorification of the past (by the time he wrote this he was married a fourth time and shortly before his suicide) and of himself (who is lured away without fault himself from his wife by her rich best friend the poor, helpless chap) and interesting family dispute has emerged regarding this. The originally published version of A moveable Feast was published by Hemingway's fourth wife who arranged, included and excluded the existing sketches. Now, Hemingway's grandson with his second wife has published an alternate version that includes some sketches which paint his grandmother in a more positive light and which had been omitted Hemingway's fourth wife. Quite obviously, I will need to have a look at that version as well.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Romans et contes

Toujours en train d'attraper ma manquante connaissance de la littérature (plus général culture peut-être), je viens de terminer finalement une collection de romans et contes de Voltaire (dont Candide, Zadi, Micromégas, La Princesse de Babylone...). Je ne l'avais pas lu continuellement, pausant entre les divers contes. Cela surtout parce que je dois admettre que ces histoires m'ont semblé d'être trop similaire l'une et l'autre. Voltaire a un humour très ironique (voire satirique parfois) qui me plaît beaucoup évidemment. Il se moque des institutions de son époque, il attaque les superstitions et il est bien français dans le sens qu'il consacre des paragraphes entiers à la description des repas de ses personnages. Ses contes normalement (et très largement et superficiellement) consistent d'une histoire d'amour avec beaucoup d'obstacle, combinant des éléments des fables, de la bible et de l'antique, Voltaire crée un monde fantastique (dans son sens d'origine) qui critique le monde réel beaucoup plus qu'une tentative sérieuse pourrait le faire. Terry Pratchett (sur un niveau beaucoup plus bas et moins sophistiqué) essaie de faire la même chose aujourd'hui. Il faut lire Voltaire je crois, si seulement pour comprendre comment les gens n'ont pas été différent (si hypocrite, si mentant et ayant les mêmes priorités (la bouffe, l'argent et l'amour)). Il faut peut-être pas lire autant que moi je viens de faire.


L'Aldultera ist bereits die dritte Novelle Fontanes, welche ich in den letzten Wochen gelesen habe. Ich war (wieder, siehe hier und hier) sehr überrascht von Fontanes starker Frauenfigur im Mittelpunkt der Geschichte. Wie der Titel ja impliziert, handelt es sich hierbei um eine verheiratete Frau, welche ihren Mann betrügt, ihn letztendlich verlässt, ja sogar ein voreheliches (vor der 2. zumindest) Kind bekommt. Fontane versucht Entschuldigungen für diese Frau zu finden (sie ist jünger als ihr Mann, welcher zwar reicher aber bei allem Gutwillen an Benehmen und Kultur mangeln läßt, sowie einen sehr grobschlächtigen Humor sein eigen nennt), verteidigt aber letzten Endes doch eine Ehebrecherin, welche zusätzlich als eine Art Rabenmutter ihre Kinder für ihren Liebhaber verläßt. Ein unglaublich modern erscheinendes Thema also und eine durchaus antitraditionalistische Behandlung desselben durch Fontane.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

La guerre des femmes

Sans arrogance, je suis persuadé que j'ai lu plus d'Alexandre Dumas que n'importe quel Français que je connais. Après les trois tome du Vicomte de Bragelonne (1, 2, 3) et ses deux prédécesseurs (Les trois mousquetaires, Vingt ans après - plusieurs fois ces deux même si malheureusement qu'en allemand), Georges et Le comte de Monte-Cristo (en allemand aussi) je suis plus au moins familier avec l'auteur et son oeuvre (vu que sur wikipedia il y en a une liste de 130 c'est peut-être plutôt moins). La guerre des femmes, que j'ai découvert à la bibliothèque de l'Assemblée par hasard et que j'ai lu surtout parce que j'avais envie de me donner le plaisir d'un livre un peu plus accessible, s'occupe de la même période que Vingt ans après - le roi (Louis XIV) ne pas encore majeur, Anne d'Autriche est reine, Mazarin gouverne, la guerre civile (la Fronde) éclate.

Peu surprenant Dumas n'arrive pas a gardé l'esprit et l'élan de premiers deux livres sur les mousquetaires, mais son humour ironique est toujours omniprésent et il réussit à approcher le lecteur d'un époque loin-passé, enrichissant la base de son histoire, historiquement plus au moins correct, littérairement. Comme le nom implique la guerre dans ce bouquin est mené par des femmes. D'un côté les têtes des deux camps opposants sont des femmes (Anne d'Autriche et Madame la Princesse Condé), l'autre côté deux femmes venant de ces deux camps se battent (figurativement) pour l'amour d'un gentilhomme. Comme toujours chez Dumas, on y trouve un mélange entre amour, politique, guerre et aventure alors. À critiquer pour moi serait seulement l'amour des deux femmes pour le même homme, qui (l'amour) est autant aveugle que elle n'est plus crédible.
Se plaindre du sexisme chez Dumas c'est un peu trop peut-être vu qu'on doit évidemment lui comprendre comme venant d'un autre époque, mais dans ce bouquin la description des femmes m'a vraiment frappé. Cela est le cas surtout parce que Dumas ne reste pas conséquent dans cette description, ses femmes sont intelligente, malin, toutes comme les hommes. Sauf quand il voit un homme plein d'esprit et beauté, ce que leur faire perdre toute contrôle de suite.

La guerre des femmes n'est peut-être pas la meilleure introduction à Dumas (le bouquin n'est même pas sur la liste de ses oeuvres sur wikipedia), mais bien sympa pour ceux qui cherchent de la lecture divertissante.