Monday, February 18, 2013

Short trip to Lisbon

When was the last time you did regret a decision? Just lately maybe? I did - on Friday night when I left Lisbon, the capitol city of Portugal.
It was company offsite time again! We usually work in smaller groups spread out over several countries and communicate mostly over phone, messenger and video meetings, but of course that is nothing like being all together at one place and that is why we enjoy our offsites always a lot. This time we all met in Lisbon from Wednesday to Friday last week. When we were planning I shortly considered to extend the trip on my own expense over the weekend but ended up not doing it because of all the traveling I have already booked and planned for this year. STUPID ME!

Lisabon turned out to be absolutely beautiful. The weather is warm and sunny, the sent of ocean is in the air, people are friendly, almost everybody speaks English and on top of it all it is very affordable. Could there be a better place for a taking a break from the endless Bavarian winter? STUPID ME!
We did not have much time since our schedule was of course packed with presentations and meetings, but the bus tour around the city we did was gorgeous and I so wish I would have had time to go back to all the beautiful places we were just passing by, but there was sadly no time left to do so. I need DEFINITELY go back to Lisbon really soon to fix my mistake and enjoy more of this great city! 

Sadly we had not many stops at our bus tour and I had a crappy seat for taking photos, but here are at least a few:

Park Eduardo VII 

Elevators & Inclines

Lisbon is built on hills and has a couple of inclines and elevators to allow easy access to the higher neighborhoods. 

Jerónimos Monastery

Here I had finally the chance  to play a bit with the camera in the stunningly beautiful evening light

Belém Tower (Tower of St. Vincent)

Very close to the monastary down at the water we came to this absolute magical place - The Tower of  St. Vincent also known as Torre de Belém. Dating back to the 16th century this tower has seen hundred thousands of ships leaving for an uncountable numbers of journeys  ...  I was blown away by the beauty and the mystic energy of the place. 


25 de Abril Bridge

And of course this one cannot be missed - after all we had a couple of people from San Francisco in the group and we had to show the bridge to them to avoid them getting homesick ;)

In fact the 25 de Abril Bridge was built by the same company that built the Oakland Bay Bridge. What I thought was really fascinating is that if you come from the city center the bridge looks indeed a lot like the Bay Bridge.  But if you come closer, recognize the red color and get the view from the Belém side it looks A LOT like the Golden Gate Bridge.  Either way .... it is beautiful!


If you travel to Lisbon and would like to go out for a fantastic dinner then check out the restaurants of the young and popular chef José Avillez. We spent a night at his Cantinho do Avillez and it was amazing. The place is small and relaxed. The service is super nice and the food is outstanding. We had the pleasure to try a huge number of delicious starters as well as the "pregos" - the steak sandwiches. And what looked like a really simple meal turned out to be fantastic. The bread is fresh baked and topped with a wonderful mix of oil, garlic and herbs and the steak was right to the point - medium and delicious. The lemon basil sorbet for dessert was such a killer that we begged the waiters for MORE (successfully). 

One more social network ...

Although I had promised myself that I would not join another social networking platform I finally gave in and just lately joined Instagramm. The slow and relatively uncomfortable image uploads to Facebook and Twitter was just too annoying. 

Here are some of my first Instagramm shots and I have to admit I enjoy playing with the filters ....

Monday, February 11, 2013

My book in December and January

Marica Bodrožić - Kirschholz und alte Gefühle


After trying Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" I paused reading for a while and finally around Christmas picked up the new novel of the wonderful Marica Bodrožić. After the stress of the Christmas business I wanted a book I was sure I would love and knowing that Marica would come to Munich in January motivated me additionally to finish the book before we would meet again.

"Kirschholz und alte Gefühle" (Cherrywood and Old Feelings) is the second part of the triolgy that started with "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen". In the first book we met Nadeshda and followed her process of saying good bye to the man she loved for years and learned already a lot about her close friend Arjeta. Now in the 2nd book the perspectives are switching and we hear from Arjeta as the first-person narrator.

While "Das Gedächtnis der Libellen" is more like a song that goes in waves and spirales instead of an "organized" linear way, the structure of "Kirschholz und alte Gefühle" is clearer but far from linear either.
Arjeta is originally from Sarajevo, but studied and lived in Paris, where she met Nadeshda and when Nadeshda leaves for Berlin Arjeta is following her. 5 years later Arjeta moves into a new apartment in Berlin and starts to unpack. In her first seven days (the seven chapters of the book) she goes through bags full of pictures she got from her mother and starts a journey into her memories. 

Those memories and what they do for and with Arjeta is the center piece of this book. I struggle myself with memories a lot. I sometimes feel the more I try hold them the faster I lose them. Just like Arjeta tries so hard to remember the voices of her little twin brother who were killed in the besieged Sarajevo I have a very hard time remembering voices although I would love to remember them so much.
I can recall a day years ago when my mom found an old tape she and my dad had recorded on Christmas eve. It had my sister's and mine little kid voices talking about our gifts and it had my dad's voice. My mom played it to me on the phone because she thought I would love it. But when I heard my dad's voice the first - and only - time years after his death, I started crying so hard that I almost could not catch my breath. It was so familiar to me and at the same time so totally strange and so far away that it broke my heart. My poor mom was really shocked about my unexpected reaction and apologized for the emotional turmoil she had caused. Now she is gone as well already for six years and I am running into the same problem. I can call up her image, I know what she thought about many things and what she would say about recent developments if she would be here, but I cannot hear her voice anymore. Remembering a voice seems to be the most etherical type of memory.

To not give a too detailed summary I will do what I have done before with my book reviews - I will just list a couple details I especially liked or which made me think most.
  • Although Arjeta's story is also not told in a linear way I had absolutely no problem to follow. Other than with Nadeshda who's poetic and abstract way of thinking was challeging for me, I felt in a flow with Arjeta's way to reflect and remember.
  • I adore Marica for writing not much more than 200 pages, but telling so much with such intensity. 
  • The first-person narrator perspective keeps the reader close to the main character, but the book - at least I felt it that way - gives the reader enough room to partially agree and feel close to Arjeta and on the other hand disagree with her and not totally understand her way to think and feel. She does not reveal everything - not to herself and not to the reader. It adds complexity to the reading experience, but in a very good way. 
  • The war in former Jugoslavia plays a big role in this book as it heavily influences the life of many of its characters and it is amazing to watch how Marica Bodrožić just tells purely the story of people - not of countries, borders, nationalities or religions and that is itself a fantastic piece of art. 
  • There are some absolutely fantastic side characters in the story like Arjeta's fatherly friend Mischa who escaped the Holocaust or her grandmother, who lives in Istria at the coast but is of German descent. I honestly would love to read a whole novel just about the life of this woman. The little detail given here already made me long for more stories about her. 
  • Sarajevo - the in the book unnamed besieged city Arjeta is from: The way Marica Bodrožić talks about Sarajevo matches how my sister and me a little bit with her heard her local friends talking about their city and the besiege. In the center of all these stories was, is and will be always the deadly disbelief that something like this could happen to such a lovely, lively and civilized city in the middle of Europe
  • The love story is tragic and intensive and clearly the story of a young woman. It seems that it needs the wisdom of age to understand that the person you love will not change for you. It takes Arjeta years to seperate the picture, the idea she has of the man she thinks she loves from the person he really is and break the spell. It is a painful process. 
  • There are many links between Nadeshda's and Arjeta's lifes which are ... let's say ... unlikely. It's too much coincidence - theoretically. But I can proof myself that life is much crazier than that and neither Marica nor I belief in coincidences anyway. I know this for sure because she wrote about it before and we talked about it in person. Coincidences, we are both convinced, are only for fools and cowards. 
  • German home fries and Istrian pasta with truffles are indeed two of the world's best dishes. 
  • When I am a grown up ;o) and have a bigger apartment than I have now, I would also love to have small empty room that is just there for looking out of the window into the blue sky. 
  • Nobody else can built a summer at the Adriatic so perfectly with words that you can smell it and feel it on your skin like Marica can do.
There is more to the book that would be worthwhile to mention like the whole political and psychological background of "the language cleaner", or the multiple dimensions of faint and powerlessness Arjeta is experiencing and how she slowly, slowly overcomes them facing her memories in these seven days in her little bird room and at her cherrywood table, but you - at leat the ones of you who can read German - should just pick up  "Kirschholz und alte Gefühle" and go on this journey with Arjeta yourself. 

Side note: I was present for Marica's reading session here in Munich and I listened  to a couple of  radio interviews with her and was pretty annoyed with her interviewers. I am aware that not every German can be so close to Croatian language and culture like I am, but please, dear journalists,
Marica Bodrožić's name is not THAT hard to say and it would be really nice if you could tackle this problem already in the prep work for the interview or reading session. Dealing properly with names is one of the real basics in this job.
Also please step a little back from the very stereotype ideas you have about Croatia and Dalmatia and just not reduce this fabulous writer to her biography and if you do - please at least read it properly. Thank you!

Monday, February 4, 2013

My unfinished book last summer

Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall

I DON'T LIKE that much

I have to admit like mentioned before that the last couple of months were quite stressful and instead of reading along my ever growing book list I spent most mornings in the underground with closed eyes listening to music. It's better now, but before I am ready to go again with new stuff, I need to first catch up on some loose ends. 

I started reading "Wolf Hall" already last summer, put it down, started reading again, put it down, started reading again ... and finally stopped half way through. That's something rarely do. I can give a book time to unfold, I am not scared by a couple of hundred pages and I almost never give up. So why here?

When I started reading I really wanted to like this book. It has won many prices, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive and I am in general really into historical novels like this. "Wolf Hall" to give you some background goes back to the 15th/16th century and tells the tale of Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540), the 1st Earl of Essex and chief minister of King Henri VIII. For those of you who are more into watching TV: The fabulous James Frain played Cromwell's character in "The Tudors".

I studied history as one of my three subjects at university. That does not mean that I know all about for example about Thomas Cromwell and Henri VIII, but it means that if I want to learn more about a certain epoche I know how to get the information. I actually love doing this and find historical sources and decent secondary literature absolutely not boring. I especially love when a couple of specialists argue about something and you try to form an opinion about what might have happened for real and why. History is something very exciting. 

When I read a historical novel on the other hand I want it to fill the holes the historical sources leave with fiction and bring the characters to life, turn them from data into real people, make me like or dislike them, make me time travel in another century, feed my phantasy. And exactly in this point "Wolf Hall" lets me down. It is probably just me, but the timing does not feel right. There are moments - especially with Cromwell and his wife and children - which were very much like what I was looking for, but then there is always a switch in the scenario or a jump forward in time that stops dead the flow again. And this is pretty much why I lost interest - none of the characters spoke to me or better - got a proper chance to speak to me - and after trying for like almost 300 pages I gave up. 

I do not doubt that Hilary Mantel's novel is extremely well researched and may even offer a portrait of Cromwell and his time as close as you can get based on what the sources offer, but for me personally it lacks emotion. I know this is a a bit unfair, because the descriptions of people, places, the circumstances of living and political situation are very vivid, already include a lot of imagination and are well written. It is just that writing has a lot to do with decisions like I just discussed with my best friend, and Hilary Mantel obviously decided to not go too far with speculations and imagination about the soul and feelings of her characters. This is a decision I can respect and even understand, because we of course do not know what Thomas Cromwell or any of the others historical characters really felt. It is just not what I personally want from a novel.

Most other people and reviewers obviously saw that with different eyes and I totally encourage you to read the book to make your own opinion, while I move on to a couple of books which will feed my needs hopefully more than this one.