Dimitris Politis, The Stolen Life of a Cheerful Man

I find myself finally crashing today, after weeks of pressure from so many sides that they must have been holding me together until now.

As each problem has been solved, I imagine the pressure came off, leaving me free to crumple today.

Thank goodness for Dimitris Politis and his beautiful photographs from his visit home.

He recently published his first novel and I so very much enjoyed reading it.  You can check it out here - The Stolen Life of a Cheerful Man.  I loved it!

'The story deals with the contentious yet universal issues of intolerance and understanding, discrimination and acceptance, violence, terrorism and forgiveness. Dimitris Politis plunges boldly into the Irish reality but always in equilibrium with his Greek consciousness, creating a unique mirror between Greece and Ireland, where the glittering Aegean waves are crowned by the rainbows of the Atlantic and the west coast of Ireland. The reader is drawn to the story through its exciting twists and turns, interlinked through a fast cinematographic pace: the book is an excellent contemorary example of "black" fiction with a subtle and delicate deepening of sentiments, feelings and beliefs linked to the human nature. It voices a loud protest against social and historical stereotypes and is a stern warning of how intolerance and ignorance can lead to disaster. In today's world where many countries are mired in a financial crisis, where make people tend to forget the importance of tolerance and acceptance of their fellow human begins, the author cleverly reminds us that difference and diversity are universally present: they indeed shape our world, they are the rule rather than the exception. He prompts us to remember that we are all born different and grow up differently, making each of us very special in our own unique way whatever the circumstances.'

I Am A Reader ...

There's not much that gives me more pleasure than finding a really good book.

I have two 'suppliers' here in the Flemish city of Antwerp.  The first is De Slegte aan de Wapper, just a couple of doors away from Rubens House.  The second is more of a secret.  It's the place where I find quietly superb books for .25 cents to 1euro.

We hired a city car for a few hours today.  Jess had an appointment with the dental surgeon and we delivered her to the hospital.  Then the Belgian bloke who is on holiday, and I, slipped away to the secret book supply shop and voila, treasure was found.

We found 4 beautiful hardcover Roald Dahl books for Miss 10, printed in Nederlands.  Then I discovered Dinner with Persephone by Patricia Storage (.50 cents), Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali (.75 cents), and The Colour of the Moon by Alkyoni Papadaki (1euro).

I love the randomness of secondhand bookshops.  I find so much treasure in them.  I just finished Tim Parks novel, Dreams of Rivers and Seas tonight.  I had loved his 'ethnographical' book titled A Season with Verona.  This fiction was something else.  Someone else's treasure, now my secondhand treasure.

But really, the reading is done on the trams mostly.  I was back on that early morning school run this morning.  Jess had her dental surgeon appointment today but turns out she can't have her wisdom teeth out until Thursday as there is an abscess which, combined with the pain of her teeth, is knocking her around something fierce. 

We were quite traumatised by our 5am ER visit and by the time she had been treated we didn't even dare ask which painkiller they'd IVed in to her, much less insist they might be wrong and that there was an abscess involved. 

We actually laughed as we walked out into Saturday morning afterwards ... that stunned ohmygoddidthatreallyhappen kind of laughter.  But today was an experience so opposite as to be surreal.  It was very healing and I confess, we were very very relieved.

So there is work to do and family to work around ... Gert has his appointment with a shoulder specialist on Thursday.  We're hoping he doesn't need surgery but it's not looking good.  He's been in much pain for 2 months now. 

My football team played a brilliant game in Italy last night.  I was glad not to be here.  The tension ... missed chances and the fact that they lost in the final minutes.  All this against one of the top teams. It might be an exciting season this season based on the exciting squad they've put together.

I was wandering out on Flanders Fields one frosty morning, with a small group that included then New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark.  I noticed these trees and stopped for a few moments, wanting to capture something of the light. 

The quote.  Justine Musk ... I enjoy her writing.

 

Colin Monteath, and the Poppies

Over years I have filled my journals with notes, quotes, and photographs too.  Some of those journals traveled from New Zealand with me, and many many new ones have been filled since I flew.

I love quotes and extracts.  They seem like small pieces of intense wisdom or pure beauty but I keep them all locked up in my journals.  So ... I've decided to go through my extensive, sometimes unexplored, photographic archives and merged some of these collected wisdoms, from others, with my images.

I met with Colin Monteath, author of today's quote, a couple of times during those years before leaving New Zealand.  And even then, I still didn't know quite how to describe him here.  Photographer, mountaineer, adventurer, Antartic expert, writer ... and probably so much more that I don't know about.

Anyway I found one of his books here in Antwerp, wrote to him full of laughter because it cost a lot more than he was selling them new but still, I was working at the time.  How could I resist.

I've never regretted buying that book.  I found the quote, the one on the photograph below, and feel it gives a good sense of the man himself.

As for the poppies.  That was me, crawling around on the edge of the church garden in Mesen, out on Flanders Fields, here in Belgium.  I had some time and really wanted a good poppy shot.

Denise Leith, 'What Remains' ...

I flew today, waking at 4am for a 6am flight from Stavanger to Copenhagen, Denmark.  And I have to confess, I love this feeling of the world making itself real as I travel.  Norway and Denmark were places that confused me back in New Zealand during those long-ago geography classes but today I learned where they were, having bravely taken a window seat, no longer fearing there may be dragons at the edge of my known world.

Copenhagen ... on an island so flat, or so it seemed from the air, that it looked like one big wave might roll over the city and cover it. 

But as I flew, I was reading.  Devouring one of the best fictions I've read.  'Best' because it was well-written ... best because it was written by a war journalist too, and their stories are the non-fiction genre I read most.

Denise Leith has a Ph.D. in International Relations, which she teaches part time at Macquarie University in Sydney. Her special interests are the politics of war, human rights and humanitarian action, peace keeping and peace enforcing, Middle East Politics, the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations and US foreign policy.

Denise has two published non fiction books, The Politics of Power: Freeport in Suharto's Indonesia (University of Hawaii Press 2002) and Bearing Witness: The Lives of War Correspondents and Photojournalists (Random House 2004) and the novel What Remains (Allen & Unwin 2012). She is also a contributor to the anthology Fear Factor: Terror Incognito (Pan Macmillan and Picador 2010) and 'A Country Too Far (Penguin 2013).

I was reading her book, What Remains, and I read as the plane climbed up out of Stavanger.  I read, glancing just briefly out as we passed over fiords in Norway.  I read as the pilot flew low over the North Sea, landing at the airport in Copenhagen.  And I read as I snacked there, breakfast, and continued to read after boarding that second plane returning me home.

And while I was curious about the view from those plane windows the book held me fast.  I dove into the story of Kate Price and war zones, of Pete McDermott, and a big love. 

I read the closing chapters on the 45-minute bus ride from Brussels Airport to Antwerp, wiping away the threat of tears while reading it right through to the end.  Then, still not quite home, I spun back to the start, just to be sure of what I had read there ...

I fell into bed here in Belgium, slept for 2 hours and was woken so that I would sleep tonight, only to realise I was missing the story that had carried me across a small part of Europe.

Denise Leith also knew the journalist, Marie Colvin, who was killed while reporting in Syria.  She has included an interview she made with Marie.  It appears in her book Bearing Witness but that particular interview is there on her website.

If things are never spoken of, if people accept all without informing themselves, then incredibly horrific things can happen.  I so very much admire those who go out and bear witness for as long as they can.  The price is huge.  I'm recommending Denise's book ... so very highly.

Meanwhile, I'm still playing with my new photo-editing tool.  I was out on the Stavanger fiord yesterday and took the shot below.  It was stunning out there.  Just stunning.

This And That, and a little bit more perhaps.

I have a new way of post-processing my photographs ... perhaps I should simply write, 'a new toy'.

It's so much fun!

And that's not written lightly.  I woke at 4.30am after an early night.  Well ... 11.30pm is early for me but sleeping before midnight seems to result in a ridiculously early morning wake-up.  My mind was racing so I gave in at 5.30am, slipping downstairs, turning on the radio as the coffee machine creaked into action, as the toast cooked. 

I sat awhile reading the new book about the granddaddy photo-journalist from way back there in the beginning.  I cannot begin to tell you how much I am loving that book, sad that I can't take it to Norway because ... along with my camera equipment and laptop, it would be too heavy to take with me.

I wanted to write a blog post from the quiet of this morning but my mind was noisy and busy.  I had a portrait session at 9am.  Two lovely Canadian girls from Texas ... from Canada.  And their cousins, the two girls from Belgium.  The shot of the day ... the one that made us all laugh most, was the one where Cloe had them all doing the 'fishface' thing.

It was about 2pm when I elegantly face-planted on the couch and napped for a little bit.  Oh those naps, they are getting me through.  I'm thinking, when I get back to Belgium, I might have an iron test.  It feels like it might be an iron thing, this tiredness.  I'm 'that age' these days.  And maybe some allergy tests too, as they're running out of control.

Soon though, I'm off to spend time with one of my most favourite poets in the world.  We hope to create some beautiful posts/art/something unexpected during our days together in Norway.  I'm curious.  I've never been there before.   But that's life, isn't it ... a big adventure.

I processed the photographs of the Air BnB apartment I spent some time in last time I was in Genova.  I loved this little place where my bed seemed to float, up there on the mezzanine floor, with a view up the narrow carruggi somewhere near the ancient Chiesa di San Donato.

So ... a combination of photograph, of new processing tool, and some stories too, written from another humid and hot summer day here in Belgium.

Robert Capa Exhibition, Genova

I didn't have time to visit this Robert Capa exhibition while in Genova but only because I realised that it will be there for a while.  I shall return and make space for it.  He was a fascinating man.

Monday found me in my favourite secondhand bookshop here in the city.  I discovered a huge treasure, justified buying it, then had to talk myself into carrying the huge weight of it home.

It's John Phillips book, Free Spirit in a Troubled World

At just 21 years old, Algerian-born photojournalist Phillips was hired by Life magazine and assigned to cover Edward VIII, just as the story of Wallis Simpson and the king's abdication was about to break. Here, Phillips records his next 23 years as a correspondent, witnessing many of the 20th century's most dramatic events. Before World War II, he filmed the Wehrmacht marching into Austria, the Warsaw Ghetto, and turbulence in central Europe. From the Middle East, there are momentous photographs of King Farouk, King Ibn Saud, and the destruction of Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter. Reproduced from his negatives rather than Life's prints, the over 200 black-and-white images chronicle old worlds collapsing and new regimes seizing power. More so than most photojournalists' memors, Phillips's extensive text combines intelligence with delightful intimacy.

Of course I'm going to want to read his book.  And even better, for me, it was less than 20euro.

But anyway, at some point each morning spent in Genova, we would find our way to Douce Pâtisserie, in Piazza Matteotti, and this was the view from my table ...