Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stalking my favorite writers - in this edition: zehnseiten.de / ten pages

It is almost Christmas and so I have a little something for you - just like a small online gift.

Some people may blame social media for being useless and boring, but I love it because I discover new great things all the time and this is the perfect example:

The online literature portal ZEHNSEITEN.DE

Here you find video streams of some of the finest (mostly) German writers, who read 10 pages from one of their books (usually the most recent one).

There is the wonderful Marica Bodrožić reading her latest novel "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen" (to start the video click here or the image above).

But there are much more fantastic video. I personally enjoyed Zoran Drvenkar reading from "DU" and award winning writer Melinda Nadj Abonji presenting her novel "Tauben fliegen auf".

There are also a couple of very popular writers like Benjamin Stuckrad-Barre (funny enough he reads about politician Guido Westerwelle, who is much in the news these days), Benjamin Lebert and Jan Weiler.

ZEHNSEITEN.DE is definitely a great joy for everybody who loves books - check it out!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Great Escape - Barcelona, November 2010

Because my yard looks now for weeks like this:


I feel an intense desire to blog about this:




But let's start with the beginning.

Every couple of months we do an awesome thing in my company which is called international all-hands-meeting. That means that the whole team for Europe (and sometimes even the folks from Asia-Pacific, too) comes together to update each other, have a look at the numbers, the past months, the planning for the next ones and the most important projects. And for just being together and getting drunk *grin*. I have a fantastic team and working as well as getting drunk together is BIG FUN.

And talking about the advantage of working for a company which is present in 22 countries: sometimes we do our meetings at really cool locations - just like this time, when we went to BARCELONA!


I never was in Barcelona before and although the meeting was just in the middle of the time of the year, when it is almost impossible to take time off, I decided to add one more day to the trip and do some sightseeing. Just seeing the airport and the meeting hotel would have been a shame.

And sometimes even a 3-days-trip with only 1 day without meetings and time to get around can become a great escape from the cold, grey, work overloaded daily life and be such a joy.

Before I go into details and show off my pictures some words about Barcelona:

It is an absolutely beautiful and vibrant city. It is practically overloaded with pieces of art, design and outstanding architecture and I did only see a TINY bit of it. So I'll definitely will go back and look around more.

BUT I did not lose my heart. You maybe know this feeling - sometimes you come to a new place and immediatly love it and kind of feel at home. And only after a few days you kick off playing the "if I'd move here game" and start thinking of which neighborhood you'd like to live and how you could find a job and how it would be to fall in love here with somebody and restart your life. It is mostly not much more than a phantasy game, but the place is inviting you to play it.
And sometimes you come to a new place and you find yourself in the position of a normal tourist. You just look around, you enjoy it, you go home - happy that home is home and it's done.
That's what Barcelona is to me - a great city, but no personal love affair. I am just a tourist. One who really appreciates the beauty of the place, but that's it.

Oh - and I was really stupid tourist, because I left the battery of my camera in the charger at home. What a bummer, if ... I would not be such a fan of techie stuff and own a Sony Ericsson Aino cell phone with an 8.1 mega pixels camera - YAY! So all the pic you gonna see now are done with my cell phone camera - and you would never guess. LOVE IT!


Ramblas / Gothic Quarter

The 2nd meeting day ended quite early and so I took the chance to go for a first walk in the city with some colleagues.
We went down the famous Ramblas and on a walk in the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter.









Park Güell

When I got up the next morning after sleeping 10 hours (well the night before was ... let's just say SHORT) I felt ready to explore the city and I was so lucky. While it was starting to snow at home in Munich I could enjoy a crystal clear blue sky, bright sunshine with comfortable 15°C.


After breakfast in the hotel I started off to Antonio Gaudi's "Park Güell". I decided to not enter it through the main entrance but through one of the upper once. It is hard to go there because the park is placed on the top of a serious hill, but here I can only shout out: "Gavin Newsom - look at this! This city has OPEN AIR ESCALATORS, where the hills get too bad. AWESOME!"
Anyway ... with the help of the escalators it is doable and definitely worth doing, because then the first thing you see inside the park is a STUNNING view over the city. It's ideal to catch your breath, enjoy and then go down to the wonderland of "Park Güell".
What Gaudi created here looks like the set for "Alice in Wonderland", but I LOVED it. Like every piece of work of Gaudi it is a question of personal taste, but I truely enjoyed here and later at the Sagrada Familia the fact that Gaudi did not allow his phantasy to accept any limitation. We need more places like this.











Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família

 Sagrada Familia - the Unesco World Heritage cathedral in the center of Barcelona and Antonio Gaudi's yet unfinished masterpiece - polarizes. Some people are blown away, some people think the thing is simply gross like Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, who started an initiative in the 1950ies to stop the work on the cathedral, because in their point of view and idea of aesthetic the place was not worth a single penny of investement and should just vanish and stop hurting their eyes.

I like Bauhaus and usually I absolutely prefer a clear line before a million of squiggles, but in this special case I cannot agree. I LOVED Sagrada Famila.

But let's look in detail:

Sagrada Familia at night

At the end of our first meeting day we did an evening bus tour through Barcelona and of course we passed by Sagrada Familia. And I think the impression in the dark is really different than in the sun and I just love the pictures my friend Katharina managed to snap with my phone.





Sagrada Familia - The Facades

Seriously - although I am a huge fan of Sagrada Familia I can totally understand when people do not like the facades. It's simply too much. Too many details, too many stories told. The impression you get is very special, very unique, but I am not sure if "pretty" would be the right word for it.

And when you try to focus it just EATS YOUR BRAIN ... there is so much going on that you could go there for years day by day and just explore the facades centimeter by centimeter.
But like I said before I love Gaudi for not accepting any limitations. And when you concentrade really hard, the flood of impression surprisingly departs into clearly structured pictures.
As a tribute to the actual time of the year find below a part from the Christmas facade with Maria, Josef and the newborn Jesus as nice example of the gorgeous artwork at the facades.








Sagrada Familia - The Internal Space

I might be still busy to figure out if I find the facades ugly and facinating or beautiful and fascinating, but there is no discussion about the internal space.
From the inside the Sagrada Familia is one of and maybe even THE ONE most beautiful church(es) I have ever been to.


When I went in and had finished my first walk through it, I wished I had the power to send the few hundered (thousand?) other tourists away to leave me alone and allow me to pray, medidate and enjoy in silence. The room, the vaults, the light, the colors - it's breathtaking.
And I especially love the altar and the golden dome above it who is open to the sun. It's simply MAGIC and I never saw the idea of the power and love of god so perfectly visualized before.


I said down, raised my eyes to the golden light and understood that this is not only a totally crazy architectonic experiment, but a church. A very powerful, energetic house of god. Wonderful.










The Beach

More than once I mentioned here before that I am an ocean person and so I had of course to go to the beach. And oh boy - I loved it a lot.
The combination of big city and beach is always great and so it's here. And there is no money to pay for the joy to sit just in your sweater in the sun and enjoy your lunch at a beachside restaurant, while it is snowing at home.

But when I arrived at Barceloneta Beach something different from just water and sand catched my eye:
Frank Ghery's fish sculpture
Hmmm - I like modern art a lot. But that thingy? I liked the material (bronze) because it had a warm shine in the sun. But the fish itself made me feel like Jona;  like it would eat me any minute. I find it kind of creepy and not very appealing.
If I had to highlight one of the many sculptures and pieces of art in Barcelona I would definitely prefer Roy Lichtenstein's "El Cap de Barcelona" much before the Ghery fish. Sad enough it was too dark to make a picture, when I went by the Lichtenstein sculpture the day before. But if you want to have a look, you can click here.








These were the highlights of my short trip to Barcelona. If you would like to see the full collection of pictures you can do it here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Status Quo - THUD



© Goscinny / Uderzo - www.asterix.com

You may have thought already stuff like "That lazy lady is not updating her blog - FAIL!"

And you are right :(. There was no update for a while, but above you see the reason. Just put me in the position of Troubadix and paint the word "WORKLOAD" on the menhir and you have pretty much a clear picture of how I feel at the moment.

It's not a suprise ... there is Christmas every December. And there is Christmas business from the mid of November to Christmas eve every year. It's just that knowing it in advance doesn't make it any better. But the good thing is: Christmas is close and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

And there is not only light in the tunnel but also blog posts in the pipeline:

I shot some nice pics in Barcelona, which I will post and tell you about my power sightseeing day.

I have also finished my books of November, which are "The Humbling" by Philip Roth and "Nowhere Man" by Aleksandar Hemon - two very good and very inspiring books I am looking forward to write about as soon as I have a second to breath.

So have an eye on my Facebook and / or Twitter for blog update announcements in the (hopefully) near future.

Happy 3rd Advent Sunday everybody!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Stalking my favorite writers - in this edition: Marica Bodrožić

"Das Gedächtnis der Libellen" and "Rio Bar"
Most of the time I like the job I do for a living but the hot six weeks before Christmas are always like a Mount Everest of work and this year is no exception.  That means sad enough that I do not have time to visit any of the events at the Munich Literature Festival although a couple of really interesting writers are in town. But with all necessary energy I did defend successfully one night against the work tsunami - the night of the reading session with Marica Bodrožić and Ivana Sajko.

Both ladies are almost the same age (born 1973 and 1975) like me (born 1973) and represent two types of young Croatian writes. Marica spent parts of her childhood in Croatia, but moved to Germany in the age of 10, developed her identity as a writer here in the so called dijaspora and writes in German. Ivana Sajko on the other hand was born and raised in Croatia and lives in Zagreb. The language she uses to express herself as a writer, dramatic advisor, director and actress is Croatian.

Marica presented her new book "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen"  (which translates to English as "The memory of the Dragonflies"), which was already topic of my latest blog post, and Ivana Sajko introduced her popular novel "Rio Bar".
This night was definitely nothing for people who like easy-to-read, straight forward stories with a clear start and end and an average level of suspense, but perfect for open minded (concerning form and content) literature lovers. Both writers stretch the text format “novel” to its borders while creating their very own way to tell their stories. And both face bravely the challenge of writing about love – real love and not the pinky Hollywood style romance-, which is properly the most complex topic to choose.
Ivana Sajko’s  "Rio Bar" breezes from every page the scent of theater. This is no miracle since the emphasis of her work is writing and directing plays for the stage.
"Rio Bar" reflects the personal drama of a woman put into a series of monologues. The background of her story is the war with all his cruelty and absurdity mirrored by the sweetness of a peaceful Istrian village (Rovinj) as the stage. The theme is love. The costume of the leading character and returning metaphor is the wedding dress which appears again and again in several different forms and functionalities.
It was very interesting to listen and watch both writers. And although both have different backgrounds and a very different way of working I thought that both ladies had a kind of similar energy and the two very complex works of and about love fit very well together although they are substantially different.
Marica Bodrožić by Jens Oellermann
for Luchterhand Publishing
Since I am reading Marica Bodrožić's books for quite a while now – from short stories to essays to novels to poetry collection - and I just worked (in the best meaning of the word in the sense of intensive and concentrated reading) myself through "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen" I was of course very curious about what Marica herself had to tell about her latest novel.
The first really interesting aspect she mentioned was the lack of linear storytelling, which is quite obvious, but it made me smile and think of Edo Popović’s recent statement, that reality is not linear, again. And one more time similar to Edo Marica was pointing out that instead of the standard structure of a novel she was more following the concept of music. The rhythm and the structure of verse and chorus was most important to create the right flow for the book and the result was best to be described as a spiral – something which after some rethinking it I can only agree to. This describes the reading experience quite precisely.
I also had to smile, when Alida Bremer, as Ivana Sajko's  translator, interpreter for the night and moderator, said that Marica’s book is about a woman who’s relationship is over but she refuses to accept and Marica insisted the moment I felt like shouting “No – that’s not it” into the round, which would have been obviously totally inappropriate.  The book tells in fact the full story about the end of this love and of course there are scenes and states of mind, when the main character Nadeshda is not yet ready to accept that she is losing Ilja (her lover) but for big parts of the books she already deals with it with full consciousness, which does not mean that she is already "done" completely with this experience.
We reached another important point in the discussion, when both writers were asked about which role the war in the 90'ies plays in their body of work. Inside I sighed, because I am personally tired of this topic. Don’t get me wrong – of course this is important. It is just recent history which influences the present heavily, which changed the maps and the biographies of everybody involved - and even saying this is an understatement. But I am kind of tired that all the time people just seem to think of war, when they hear about Croatian culture. The country and its culture are much richer and just cannot and should not be reduced to the events and effects of this latest war.
Broken down to the work of the two writers there is a huge difference. Of course the war is present in the texts of both, but it is much more dominant for Ivana Sajko, but she had lived in Croatia during this difficult time and so of course her involvement with this topic is very intense.
Marica Bodrožić, who experienced the war mostly from a distance, describes it as the permanent background noise to her stories.  It is always there since it is an important part of the biography of her characters – like here especially for Arjeta and Ilja who are both from Sarajevo and had to leave their hometown because of the war – but it is usually not her main focus.
In this context Marica could also clarify one aspect which I found sometimes critically mentioned in the reviews for "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen" - the storyline with Nadeshda's parents and especially her father's crime. The critics mentioned that it seems to be not really connected to the rest of the story and would be a bit over the top. But in the discussion with Marica it we came to a point when it made totally sence: When you think of war, then the burning question is – and especially in a war neighbor against neighbor, family against family, friends against friends like in the former Yugoslavia -always how human beings can do such horribile thing to each other. One possible answer is in this story line:  Nadeshda's father and his horrible acts of crime and her mother who kept silent about it and even abandons her daugther, symbolize the fact that we have it just in us. The war brings out the worst, but it is not creating it – it is already there under the surface of the so called normal.
On a lighter note we had a nice laugh, when Marica told the audience that a sweet ancedote in the book featuring the great czech writer Milan Kundera, which seemed totally made up for make the reader smile, was a true story, which happened to herself in the streets of Paris.
Like so often, Marica pointed out, the things, which were real seemed to be so unrealistic and the things everybody would easily take for real were made up.  So true ... life is usually much crazier than the things we create in our mind.
That was just scratching the surface I am afraid, but I'll stop here with the recommendation, that just in case Marica Bodrožić and / or Ivana Sajko ever come to read near your place it is definitely worth going, listening and discussing with these two talented writers.

PS:
In the picture here you see the original ticket for this evening featuring next to Marica Bodrožić the name of Aleksandar Hemon. Although I totally enjoyed this night you can imagine maybe the big sadness I had in my heart, when I had to learn a while ago about the cancellation of Aleksandar Hemon's trip to Europe due to very important personal reasons.
My american copy of "The Lazarus Project" was already waiting for months on the shelf to get signed and I would have enjoyed so much to listen to and to talk to and discuss with my favorite writer – especially in combination with Marica Bodrožić, who is the one who is responsible for me discovering the fantastic writing of Aleksandar Hemon. I hope that he will have soon the chance to jump over the Atlantic and visit us here. For now I just wish him and his family all the very best.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My books: October 2010

It’s only the 2nd issue of my new monthly series featuring the books I read the month before and I am already hiding from my computer. Of course I WANT to write about these books, because they are great. But on the other hand I don’t want to because it is too personal, too close and too many quite abstract thoughts and emotions are attached to both of them.
It will be very hard to stick to my short and clear I like / I don’t like system I decided to use as a concept for this series and at the same time to do justice to the quality of the books and what they are meaning to me, but I’ll give it a try.

Marica Bodrožić – "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen"
I LOVE
So let’s start with my left heart chamber. The Croatian or - to be exact – the Dalmatian one represented perfectly by the wonderful Marica Bodrožić and her new book.

“Das Gedächtnis der Libellen” tells the story of Nadeshda (a self given name of the character – we never get her birth name) and how she said good bye to her lover. This is the golden thread of the story, but we also hear about her childhood in Dalmatia, her parents and the cruel secret they kept, about different places she travelled to and lived at and her best friend Arjeta. So it is much more than just a story about the end of a love.
When we of DVORI e.V. invited Marica Bodrožić to a reading session here in Munich last year, she already mentioned that she was working on a novel, which would be less abstract and more stringent in story telling than her latest release – a collection of poems called "Lichtorgeln".
She kept her promise, but if you know Marica then you know that she would find a way to leave the regular format of a novel behind – and so she did:
“Das Gedächtnis der Libellen” never changes the perspective. There is never a story teller, never the invisible third person, who describes the scenario from the bird’s eye perspective. The whole novel is a never interrupted flow of Nadeshda’s memories, feelings, emotions, reflections and observations – strictly and uncompromisingly subjective. It feels very much like one huge piece, when you read it – like it was created in one monstrous writing session, although I know that it was not that way.
To avoid that this here is becoming an essay nearly as long as the book, I will give you my main thoughts about “Das Gedächtnis der Libellen” condensed to some key statements:
  • I love the scenes when Nadeshda describes her lover with for example telling all details about his hands. It is the way you look on somebody you love, when you focus on all the tiny things which define the distinctiveness of this special person.
  • Silently this book destroys the romantic myth that the love between two people is all what counts. Of course love is essential and indispensable, but love alone is not enough. It’s true. I’ve been there.
  • If you do not read carefully you think this story is tragic because the two lovers don’t make it together. But it is not. The happy end is hidden in a tiny sentence, when Nadeshda mentions that she lives now with a man, who has everything her lover didn’t have. The one who has more to offer than just love. Don’t miss this sentence – it changes the whole perspective.
  • I LOVE the way how Marica Bodrožić talks about Dalmatia. She finds a way to express in GERMAN words (which makes it even more extraordinary since it is so hard to explain or describe Dalmatia in German) the feelings, sights, scents, the atmosphere of Dalmatia in a way that I find myself in it. Things I barely have own words for.
  • To avoid spoiling Marica's elegant writing I quote one of my favorite paragraphs:
    “Vielleicht würde er auch sagen, dass der Zufall nur etwas für Leute ist, die sich sehenden Auges ihrer Blindheit schon in der Vergangenheit anheimgeben.“
    I love it, when I find evidence of other people, who share my total disbelieve in the existence of coincidences.
  • I told you already when I wrote about Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll" that it is helpful if you would have read some Milan Kundera. Same here :) 
There’s much more, but I’ll stop here and instead of writing I'll enjoy now the extremely pleasant anticipation of the upcoming reading of “Das Gedächtnis der Libellen” with Marica Bodrožić Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 8.30 pm / Buchhandlung Lehmkuhl, Leopoldstrasse 45 in Munich.
If you live in Munich or close by, I hope to see you there!


Michael Chabon – The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
I LOVE
Okay – we are done with the left heart chamber. So let’s do the right one. Let’s do America – the country the girl loves, too. If you look at the map it seems to be far away, but the book of Marica Bodrožić has many US links (New York and Chicago mostly) and we do not even start talking about Aleksandar Hemon’s fascinating balancing act of placing a Sarajevan soul into an American context and US English words (at least we do not now and here). With this in mind “far away” became already a relative term.

But let's talk about Pulitzer Price winner Michael Chabon, who is in Germany best known for his novel "The Wonderboys" and the related movie with Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire and the wonderful Francis McDermond.

“The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” was his debut novel and the story is located in his Pennsylvanian hometown (like you can easily guess from the title), but funny enough Michael Chabon wrote most of the book in Oakland – but the one across the Oakland Bay Bridge from San Francisco not Oakland like the neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Writing was the remedy for his homesickness. It is not that Michael Chabon didn’t like the bay, but he missed Pittsburgh like he notes in his own comments to the book.
This is a well known phenomenon – misplaced Burghers often feel homesick a lot and make the away matches of the Steelers to a strange black & yellow experience for the home team ;)
So when he sat down and decided to write a novel he decided to go home – at least on paper.


The novel follows the 20something Art Bechstein, the son of classic oldschool gangster. Art himself has nothing to do with his father’s mafia world until the events of a long hot summer change almost everything in his life.
The story is about friendship, fun, love in more than one variation (attention: nothing for tweedy souls – some explicit scenes included), crime and the long and winding road of growing up. It is a funny, tough, emotional and suspenseful story with very special and vivid characters.
I had a lot of fun reading it.


And here are is short list of things I liked in particular about the book:
  • The Cloud Factory: It is a quite important location in the book and I just love the expression. I find the idea of an industrial structure producing clouds poetic.
    In real life the cloud factory is a boiler plant and the main heat supply for Oakland – the Pittsburgh one.
    Funny enough following the related Wikipedia entry it seems to be not 100% clear if Chabon adopted an already existing Pittsburghese (yes – this is actually a language ... kind of ;) nick name of the place or if he invented it and then the Burghers adopted it.
  • The Gangsters: Bechstein senior and his mates are old school gangsters and I love it.
    Although Bechstein junior has to get his head out of the sand and learn the hard way what his father is really doing - something he knew but kind of ignored – there is a romantic flair around this old fashioned band of brothers with their suits, hats, epic restaurant dinners and conspirative hotel room meetings.
  • The Summer: I am totally a summer person and so I really love the fact that the summer is the basic framework of the story telling in this novel. The excitement and energy of June. The strange mixture of lethargy, heat, humidity of July, which stretches the limits of reality and makes room for some certain craziness. The melancholy of already cool nights spoiling the summer fun in August and making you want to hold the moment before everything will change for sure. That’s really it.
    Chabon’s btw admits in his notes it was Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby”, which unfolds the whole drama in the lifecycle of one summer as well.
So far for today – watch out for more Pittsburgh stories to come before I will very likely move myself over the Atlantic to New York City and … Pittsburgh in February 2011.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stalking my favorite writers - in this edition: Edo Popović

Even before the big literature festival kicks off later in November we had the first reading session highlight in this season's event calendar:
One of the most famous, most popular and internationally most recognized Croatian writers, Edo Popović, came to Munich to present his old new book "Mitternachtsboogie" (Midnightboogie).


Edo Popović
Wait. Old new? What does that mean?
In fact "Ponoćni boogie" (Midnightboogie) was Edo's first book ever released in 1987 - some years before he became Croatia's most important war correspondent (1991-1995), and 16 years before his international breakthrough novel "Izlaz Zagreb Jug"  (Exit Zagreb South) was released.

The new part is, that it was now released as "Mitternachtsboogie" in German language.

"Midnightboogie" is a rough and kind of abstract piece of literature. It's like a candid shot of a youth in the Yugoslavia of the 80ies. And it is exciting to see the early state of the very direct sometimes hard, but still very emotional language, which became so typical for Edo Popović's writing.

"Midnightboogie" is a bit hard to follow sometimes because there is no classical linear story telling. But when the audience asked about that Edo made with his answer the (for me) most remarkable statement of the night:

"The reality is not linear."

I could not agree more.

Clemens Meyer
What I thought was a bit of a pity - like so often at bilingual readings - was that only a very short part of the text was read by Edo Popović in Croatian.
I know I am in a privileged position since I could understand the Croatian and the German parts, but most people in the audience spoke both languages - so that would have not been a big problem.

And even if I would not understand a word, I still think it is fascinating, important and an essential experience to hear the original text - especially if it is a piece like "Midnightboogie" which is based so much on the sound and rhythym of the words.

But I have to admit that in this case it was not so bad since the German text - the bigger part of the reading - was presented in a very competent and committed way by the German writer Clemens Meyer, who really brought the "Mitternachtsboogie" to life.

Clemens Meyer and Edo Popović are a team and you could really feel it that night. Not only that Munich was the last stop of a bigger reading tour of the two. They already worked together for a while and present each other's books to the audiences in the respective countries. A German / Croatian friendship and cultural co-operation at it's best.

The next project they have on their roadmap is a trip to Croatia to explore the filming locations of the famous "Winnetou" movies, which were in many cases later in the 90ies some of the worst battlegrounds of the war. A kind of ironical contrast, which is of course fertile ground for the creative mind of an artist - in this case the one of Clemens Meyer.

I am already looking forward to whatever will be the outcome of this trip!


Alida Bremer
One person, who should for sure not left out here is Alida Bremer - the host of the reading and Croatian / German interpreter in one person.

Alida was of course the best possible choice for this event, because she is the one who translated Edo Popović's texts into German and works closely with him for many years.

Alida Bremer also translated the books of a lot more contemporary Croatian writers, travelled with them for reading sessions and presented them together with their publishers on German book fairs. She is definitely the most important door opener for Croatian literature in Germany.

On a sidenote:  She lives in Muenster like my family and was Croatian teacher of my sister years ago. Small planet, isn't it?

Alida will be back in Munich soon for the reading of the wonderful Marica Bodrožić and Ivana Sajko at November 18, 2010. Stay tuned for my "Stalking my favorite writers" issue about this new event.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Random thoughts

Sorry guys - this might a bit of a dark posting. It's just that I am a summer kid and suffer from fall / winter depressions every year and this one is no exception. I promise, that the nex postings will be more postive and inspiring again. So here are my random thoughts from the last couple of days:

Geneva Aiport
Business travelling is NOT exciting
I know for people who have to stay at home and go to their offices from 9 am to 5 pm every day it sounds always very impressive when I say that I am going to spend the next few days for example in London or - like last week - in Geneva.
If this is the case I have a message for you: It is neither impressive nor exciting. In the pic you see all I saw from Geneva. Don't get me wrong - it's okay. This is work not vacation. Just don't be jealous - exhausting travel hours and smelly hotel rooms are bugs not features ;).
And this is why I added an extra day on my own expense to our internantional meeting in Barcelona later this month. Going there and flying home again without seeing the cathedral, walking the Ramblas and having my eyes resting on the open horizon at the beach? That would be too much of a pitty, wouldn't it?! So watch out for my Barca pics soon (end of November).


Pumpkin & pic by Katharina Custer
Germany is not ready for Halloween
Thanks to my lovely hosts Katharina and Maja I was invited to two Halloween parties this year. Both nights have been big fun with cool people, cold drinks and awesome decoration.
Just - going there was a pain in the a... I was all dressed up in black with gothic make up and with an epic big black hat. People stared at me like I was a freak they would call the police on every minute. Tsss - never seen somebody in a COSTUME folks?


And even if this dress would have been real - so what?
A bit more tolerance, please!



Pic from www.muenchnerubahn.de
Underground tunnels are creepy places
Going back from Saturday's Halloween party was a very unpleasant experience.
I was in the last underground at 2 am in the morning, when the train suddenly stopped dead in the tunnel between Odeonsplatz and Universität.
The light went out and then came back only as a low emergency light.
After a couple of minutes dozens of police men and women, firefighters and paramedics ran down the tunnel along the train. I still do not know what exactly happened but most likely somebody through himself / herself under the train although nobody I talked to had seen or heard anything. But since they had to evacuate the train and could not move it, it must have been something very serious like this.
So I ended up jumping off the train at 3 am between two underground stations and had to walk the down the tunnel in dim light on a small trail. SCARY. Nothing I want to do again - that is for sure. Definitely too much Halloween for me and a very tragic end for the person, who very likely died.



I HATE CANCER
Did I tell you before how much I HATE cancer? Yes? Anyway - I need to say it again a couple of times.
I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer. I hate cancer.

Sorry. I know this is not helping anybody, but under the impression of the things I had to learn lately (not about myself - just in case you were on the way asking) I had to express my rage, my anger, my sadness, my fear, my desparation.


We need to find cure - NOW. 


Sunday, October 24, 2010

New series: My books - First issue: May to September 2010

Inspired by the upcoming Munich Literature Festival I decided to launch a new monthly series, where I will introduce to you the books I read the past month. I will mostly (sometimes I might not be able to keep my mouth shut ;) not give full reviews, but quick Facebook style "I like" / "I don't like" statements with short description of the reasons for my thumb up or down. 

As for the potential interactive part of this I would LOVE to hear your opinion if you maybe already read one ore more of the books mentioned in my postings or / and get recommendations from you what should be next on my reading list.

This kick off will be massive because I'll cover all summer, but don't be shocked: Once I am on my planned monthly schedule it won't be that much stuff anymore - especially in the next couple of months when Christmas business will force me to a sleep-work-work-work-sleep rhythm of life.

All right - so let's get started with the books of the summer 2010:

John Updike "The Maples Stories"

I LIKE

but I had a rough time learning to like it. This book is a collection of short stories, which follow all a couple - The Maples - from being newlywed to family with kids to divorce and finally the birth of a grandchild.

John Updike is famous for his sharp and (self-)critical view on the American middle class people and their relationships. So the content of this book is no suprise, but I am from another generation, from Europe and I grew up as the kid of a happily married, not cheating couple. So it was not easy for me to enter the world of "The Maples", but the longer I tried the better it worked and in the end I really enjoyed reading.


And it is not really necessary to mention that Updike was a fantastic storyteller and a must read for everybody interested in the (American) English language, isn't it? And that is why more of his books are on my "will read" mountain of paper stored in my apartment.


Elif Batuman - "The Possessed - adventures with russian books and the people who read them"


I DON'T LIKE

so much. I really thought that I read enough Russian books and had enough insight in Eastern European culture and history (including a degree in Eastern European History as minor subject in my master program) to enjoy this book, which got mostly good reviews, but in the end it seems I was not enough of a specialist to have really fun reading it.
I really enjoyed the parts of the book when Elif Batuman described with a nice dry sense of humor her travels, but the literature related part was mostly too deep into topics I am not familiar enough with.

I am sorry to say, but the best part for me was at the very end her short love story with a Croatian student who ended up being a priest on a tiny Dalmatian island. She definitely struggled to understand the Croatian mentality. Maybe she can teach me more about Russian books one day and I'll explain her some certain things about Croatian men ;) - deal?



Steven Galloway - The Cellist of Sarajevo

I DON'T LIKE


although this is for sure not 100% fair. The writing is really not bad and the (Canadian) author put a LOT of effort into research to tell things right, describe places and events right and to create believable characters. This is not a bad piece of work, but sorry - it is not feeling right.

This book practically fell down to my feet in a San Francisco book shop and I bought it because I knew the story of the real
Vedran Smajlović and also loved the small tribute given to him at the end of one of my favorite movies - "Welcome to Sarajevo". And that movie is also leading me to the reason of the "I don't like":

The movie by Michael Winterbottom is telling the story from a foreigner's point of view. A very involved foreigner indeed, but he never pretends to tell from the perspective of the besieged Bosnian people. Other than that Galloway tries to tell his story from even this perspective and - in my opinion - fails. Non-Bosnians should not tell Bosnian stories, sorry - but that is how I see it. For the same reason I do not believe in Angelina Jolie's recent movie work, but we'll see.



From:
Aleksandar Hemon - "The Question of Bruno"
To:
Aleksandar Hemon -  "Love and Obstacles"

I LOOOOOOOVE
so so so so so much! I bless the day the wonderful Marica Bodrožić posted a short quote from Aleksandar Hemon's "The Lazarus Project" on her blog and recommended the whole book to me, which I bought, inhaled and enjoyed like I've not enjoyed a book for a looong time. Since then I am SO IN LOVE with Aleksandar Hemon's writing. It is poetic, metaphoric, intense, sad, funny, heart breaking, heart healing and much more. All carried by the very special and wonderful use of the English language by the Sarajevo born and Chicago based author.

I very much read the stuff in the wrong order. I started with the novel "The Lazarus Project", continued with the latest short story collection "Love and Obstacles", went back to the very beginning to the short story collection "The Question of Bruno" and now have only the Bruno-follow-up-novel "Nowhere Man" left, which I will read soon with tears in my eyes, because I read so much faster than Aleksandar Hemon can write.
But although I mixed up with the order of the books it doesn't hurt. You can do that and I found it amazing to see clearly how he developed his story telling and how he more and more made the English language his own without loosing his special style. A style you can probably only create when you write in a language which is not your first one.

And by the way: All that "right" feeling in the gut I was missing reading "The Cellist of Sarajevo" is right there in "The Question of Bruno" reflecting in some cases very similiars scenarios in the besieged city of Sarajevo.


Tom Stoppard - Rock 'N' Roll

I LIKE

But before I recommend this to you, you need work on the following check list:

- You like reading plays.

- You like reading Stoppard plays (this is not the perfect choice for your first Stoppard read so you better already know some of his work).

- You have basic knowledge and interest in the history of the Czech Republic.

- You have a basic idea who Václav Havel and Milan Kundera are.

- You read at least one novel of Milan Kundera ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being" is of course the "must read" and I would also strongly recommend the wonderful "Immortality").

- Names like Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, U2 mean something to you and you understand that music is so much more than just entertainment.

- You like the ancient Greek (love) poetry of Sappho.

- You can handle it when a book with only 118 pages (already including a lot of additional material and comments) tells a story which has more layers than a giant onion.

If you can agree to at least 4 to 5 points there is a good chance that you'll like "Rock 'N' Roll". If it is less than 4 it could be critical, I guess.

Since I could answer almost all questions above with yes, I enjoyed "Rock'N'Roll" a lot although it will never win over my all time Stoppard favorite "Arcadia" (LOVE IT!).

Asking myself why it did not touch me as much as "Arcadia" I would say it is mostly because it has - just my humble opinion though - a couple of layers too much. I think a little less would have been more and would have made it a bit easier to go emotionally after the big hits like for example the betrayal of the main character on his father like friend. But that is just a small complaint about a great book and play.

 

Nick Hornby - Juliet, Naked

I LOVE

it soooo much that I already wrote a huge blog post about the book and my "stolen diaries", which you can check out
here. 

That's it for summer 2010 - more to come in the first week of November with the books of October.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Croatian inventions you never would guess to be Croatian like ... Doodle Jump

Are you an iPhone user? If yes you for sure know or heard about this cute little character you can see on the left who is called Doodle.

The iPhone game Doodle Jump is one of if not THE ONE most popular and often downloaded iPhone app.

Just in case you never seen that before:
Your job is to make Doodle go up and Up and UP - of course by handling some difficulties. There are several special editions of Doodle Jump available featuring different backgrounds and adventures like under water, outer space or soccer edition and many more. It's highly addictive - in the fun Tetris style kind of addiction ;).


Igor Pusenjak / Lima Sky
Image and Interview @
EDGE
And what does cutie Doodle has to do with Croatia?

I'll tell you: His two daddies are the Croatian brothers Igor and Marko Pusenjak from Zagreb.


Igor was the one who first sketched Doodle on a pad in his living room - already living in the USA, where he studied.

His brother Marko - the engineer - was then the one, who brought Doodle to life.


Together - now both living in New York, but still having family and friends in Croatia - they started their company Lima Sky and keep working on updates and new Doodle Jump scenarios all the time. The latest big deal was of course the successful launch of Doodle Jump for the new iPad and and lots more will come for sure - as always focussed on the goal to create a non-violent, easy to afford (Doddle Jump for iPhone costs $ 0.99) and totally fun to play game.

If you want to read more you can do that for example here:

A look at the developers of Doodle Jump, Igor and Marko Pusenjak

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Concert Klapa Cambi, Munich - October 2nd 2010


Klapa Croatia, Munich
Ugh – I am late with my update, guys. I know. Not that I sound like an alcoholic, but blame it to intensive Croatian beer tasting on Friday and delicious Croatian wine tasting on Saturday at the wonderful wine fair KROATINA in Munich.



But now to my latest topic:

Today I would like to introduce you to another part of the Dalmatian culture I really love – the music in general and especially traditional KLAPA singing.

The Croatian readers and fellow Dalmatia fans can skip the next paragraph but for the rest of you, I add here the short description Wikipedia has to offer for basic information:

"The klapa music is a form of traditional Croatian a cappella singing. The word klapa translates as "a group of people" and traces its roots to littoral church singing. The motifs in general celebrate love, wine (grapes), country (homeland) and sea. Main elements of the music are harmony and melody, with rhythm very rarely being very important.

A klapa group consists of a first tenor, a second tenor, a baritone, and a bass. It is possible to double all the voices apart from the first tenor. Although klapa is a cappella music, on occasion it is possible to add a gentle guitar and a mandolin (instrument similar in appearance and sound to tamburitzas).

Klapa tradition is still very much alive, with new songs composed and festivals are held. Many young people from Dalmatia treasure klapa and sing it regularly when going out eating or drinking. It is not unusual to hear amateur klapa singing on the streets in the evenings over some food and wine.

It is usually composed of up to a dozen male singers singing very harmonic tunes. In recent times, female vocal groups have been quite popular, but in general male and female groups do not mix. Festival of the Dalmatian Klapas in Omis is the most well know festival and has a long tradition in klapa music."

This text is correct so far, but in some parts it sounds a bit too much like “just having fun” than considering it as the serious form of music / art it really is.
If it is well done it needs people with really good and well trained voices. It is much closer to high level classical or liturgical music than to fun folk song singing.

O
f course there is a reason, why I post this now although I love klapa music for years:


On October 2nd I had the chance to enjoy one of the best Klapa ensembles of Dalmatia right here in MunichKlapa Cambi from Split.


Klapa Cambi, Split




















When I heard that our - very good - local group Klapa Croatia invited Klapa Cambi, I was really excited about it, because Klapa Cambi is one of my absolute favorites. They are famous for interpreting classic Dalmatian songs in a very fresh way and having lots of popular new songs in their repertoire including some of the best tunes of my favorite Croatian singer and songwriter Gibonni.

And what can I say? They did not disappoint!
The concert was absolutely wonderful. It was such a joy to listen to these amazing singers performing in a perfect balance of technical perfection and passion. LOVED IT!

My personal highlights were the Gibonni songs "Tempera", "Projdi Vilo" and "Cesarica" (performed mostly by Oliver but written by Gibonni) in the main section of the show and "Croatia iz duše te volim" and "Ruža Crvena" (one of our Trogir trip favorites) in the encore.

It was a wonderful and very Dalmatian night in the heart of Munichthank you Klapa Cambi and Klapa Croatia! 



Klapa Cambi and Klapa Croatia




And here is a video of Klapa Cambi for you to enjoy a bit of their art of singing:


And if you like that, I would like to present you as the final treat in this blog post the klapa performance I love MOST. Seriously - I need to cry almost every time I listen to this song and that's often!

Klapa Crikvenica live at Poljud, Split, with "Vilo Moja":