Guernica, One of the Greatest Works of Modern Art?

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against...

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against Fascism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guernica was a sleepy Basque village in northern Spain that was unknown to much of the wider world… until April 27, 1937 when it was the target of the world’s first saturation-bombing raid.  General Francisco Franco allowed his fascist ally Hitler to test his new air force’s prowess.   At the time, military aviation was in its infancy and the world hadn’t yet seen massive aerial bombings.  The raid destroyed the town, causing destruction that previously had been unimaginable.

Ruins of Guernica (1937). The Spanish civil wa...

Ruins of Guernica (1937). The Spanish civil war claimed the lives of over half-a-million people. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the time, Pablo Picasso was living in Paris.  When he read the news reports of Guernica, he quit working on other projects and set to work.   He worked on it feverishly and within a few weeks, he created a large mural measuring 87.17 meters (286 square feet).  When we were in Paris, we were surprised to walk out our door and see this plaque nearby.  It says “Pablo Picasso lived in this building from 1936 to 1955. It is in this workshop that he painted ‘Guernica’ in 1937.  It is here also that Balzac centered the action of his novel ‘Le Chef-d’œuvre Inconnu‘.”.

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Picasso exhibited it at the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. It turned out to be a masterpiece and is generally regarded as Picasso’s greatest work.   It combines various styles (Cubism, Surrealism and abstraction) to depict and comment on the horrors of war.  It wasn’t an immediate smash.  But over time, people gained an appreciation of its complex symbolism.  People reacted to the humanity depicted and the devastating effects of war on civilians.  It became a rallying-cry-in-paint to the anti-fascist cause.  When we were in Madrid, we made a special trip to the Reina Sofia Museum to see it.  It is incredibly moving and its use of symbolism is astonishing.  For a good analysis/explanation of the painting, click here or here.

Pablo Picasso pintando el Guernica (París, 1937)

Pablo Picasso pintando el Guernica (París, 1937) (Photo credit: Recuerdos de Pandora)

Happy Birthday Picasso!

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Find Out About Stops on the 2013 Tour De France

Route of the 2013 Tour De France from Wikipedia

It’s that time again!  Regular readers of this blog know that I love cycling and I’ve posted about it:

The 2013 Tour de France starts today!!!!  The route and schedule is different each year.  Lately, the tour has ventured into neighboring countries including: Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxenbourg, the United Kingdom and Spain.   This year, it’s all in France.   It is the 100th anniversary of the tour and the route is epic!

For those of you Tour enthusiasts out there who want to see some posts about places along the route, I thought I’d post the route links to posts about places on it.  Stages 1-3 are in Corsica, the only departments (kind of like states the tour hasn’t yet visited.  We haven’t been, but hear its beautiful.  Napoleon, Leticia Casta and Garance Dore all hail from this Mediterranean island.

Stage 1:  June 29, Porto-Vecchio – Bastia (in the  Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse departments, aka Corsica), 213 km (132 mi), Flat stage

Stage 2:  June 30, Bastia – Ajaccio (in the  Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse departments, aka Corsica),  156 km (97 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 3:  July 1, Ajaccio – Calvi (in the  Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse departments, aka Corsica), 145.5 km (90 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 4:  July 2, Nice – Nice (Alpes-Maritimes part  of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur department), 25 km (16 mi), Team time trial

We visited Nice and wrote a couple of posts on it (NiceBreakdancers in Nice).  It’s in the Cote d’Azur, also known as the French Rivera.  It’s sunny and has beautiful water.  Villefranche, the town next door to Nice, is adorable, hilly and calmer.

Stage 5:  July 3, Cagnes-sur-Mer – Marseille (Alpes-Maritimes and Bouches-du-Rhône parts of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur department), 228.5 km (142 mi), Flat stage

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Our favorite part of the south of France was the hill towns just inland from the sea Eze (via the infamous Grande Corniche road that is popular with cyclists), VenceSt. Paul-de-Vence).  The tour goes right by Vence as it cuts through the hills behind the coast on the way to Marseille.  On the way, it passes through Brignoles.  Although I haven’t posted about it, we’ve been.  Here are some pics of the town and the route (the church is Abbaye de La Celle, a 12th-century Benedictine abbey that served as a convent until the 17th century).

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We visited Aix (Our AixperienceKnife Fight in Aix) Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers,.  Not that the riders will have time to enjoy it, but it is a lovely and tres French old town that dates back to Roman times.

Stage 6:  July 4, Aix-en-Provence – Montpellier (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon departments), 176.5 km (110 mi), Flat stage

The tour will pass by the delightfully scruffy town of Arles (Arles Better Than NewWhat’s Latin For Roman? Finding Out All About Ancient Rome In Arles).  It’s known for its amazing Roman ruins, for Van Gogh and Gauguin.  They were roomies there.  In fact, it was in Arles that old Vinnie sliced off his ear.    The famous aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, is also nearby. It’s impressive.

They will also go by one of the most beautiful towns in the south of France, Les Baux de Provence (We Didn’t Know The Valley Of Hell Was So Beautiful, Les Baux).  The helicopters will be out in force there.

Stage 7:  July 5, Montpellier – Albi (Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées departments), 205.5 km (128 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 8:  July 6, Castres – Ax 3 Domaines (Midi-Pyrénées department), 195 km (121 mi), Mountain stage

Stage 9:  July 7, Saint-Girons – Bagnères-de-Bigorre (Hautes-Pyrénées department), 168.5 km (105 mi), Mountain stage

Stage 10:  July 9, Saint-Gildas-des-Bois – Saint-Malo (Brittany region, Ille-et-Vilaine department), 197 km (122 mi), Flat stage

Stage 11:  July 10, Avranches – Mont Saint-Michel (Lower Normandy in the Manche  department), 33 km (21 mi), Flat stage, Individual time trial

Stage 12:  July 11, Fougères – Tours (Centre in the Indre-et-Loire department), 218 km (135 mi), Flat stage

Stage 13:  July 12, Tours – Saint-Amand-Montrond (Centre in the Indre-et-Loire and Cher departments), 173 km (107 mi), Flat stage

Stage 14:  July 13, Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule – Lyon (Auvergne region in the Allier department and the Rhône-Alpes region and the Rhône department), 191 km (119 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 15:  July 14, Givors – Mont Ventoux (Rhône-Alpes region and the Rhône department), 242.5 km (151 mi), Mountain stage

Although I don’t have any great shots of the infamous Mont Ventoux, the stage will be epic. Undoubtedly, they will have at least passing coverage of the nearby town of Orange (Visiting Ancient Rome in Orange, France).  Chateau Neuf-du-Pape is nearby as are the Cotes du Rhone (Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rocked Us…LiterallyWine Museum In Châteauneuf-du-Pape).

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Stage 16:  July 16, Vaison-la-Romaine – Gap, (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Vaucluse department), 168 km (104 mi), Medium-mountain stage

DSC_0930I haven’t posted about this area, but will soon.  I promise.

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Stage 17:  July 17, Embrun – Chorges (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Hautes-Alpes department), 32 km (20 mi), Individual time trial

Stage 18:  July 18, Gap – Alpe d’Huez (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Hautes-Alpes department), 172.5 km (107 mi), Mountain stage

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Stage 19:  July 19, Le Bourg-d’Oisans – Le Grand-Bornand (Rhône-Alpes region and the Haute-Savoie department), 204.5 km (127 mi), Mountain stage

The roads in this area are narrow and windy.  The area is steep.  It could be an interesting stage.

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Stage 20:  July 20, Annecy – Mont Semnoz Annecy – Mont Semnoz  (Rhône-Alpes region and the Haute-Savoie department), 125 km (78 mi), Mountain stage

As is close to Geneva, visits are a favorite of visitors.  It is a beautiful town in a stunning setting ( AnnecyVenetian CarnivalMurder Mystery In Idyllic Annecy).  It was in the news last year for a brutal quadruple murder in the mountains just outside the town.  Just days ago, an arrest was made.

Stage 20:  July 21, Versailles – Paris (Île-de-France region) 133.5 km (83 mi), Flat stage

The last stage is usually ceremonial for everyone but the sprinters, so it leaves plenty of time for coverage of  Paris’ many sights (Break Dancers In Paris Have Mad SkillsNavigating Paris Museums in a Wheelchair, The Paris Subway Iconic Signs, Tourists Mob Paris, Here’s How To Manage, Notre Dame, Street Performers in Paris, I.M. Pei’s Glass Pyramid, Oh La La, La Tour Eiffel!Flying Buttresses).

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If you’re actually enough of a Tour geek to read down this far, you might know Bob Roll.  Tell Bobbke that I’m a huge fan.  I’m a pretty good time, but only wish I could be as fun as he is.

No World Wars In Western European Since 1945 = Nobel Peace Prize

Yesterday, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  In 1993, I was living in Belgium and the Maastricht Treaty  (aka the Treaty on European Union) was taking effect.  It was all over the news…and I didn’t understand any of it.  I asked and a lovely Belgian friend explained it to me.   Before I tell you when they told me, lets detour to quick history lesson.   This is a list of just some of the battles that have the battles that have taken place on Belgian soil:

 

  • World War I The Battles of Flandres – There were five, yes five.  The First Battle of Ypres, the Second Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele, the  Battle of the Lys,  and the creatively named Fifth Battle of Ypres.  Germany and the Western Allies faced off once again in Belgium.  Industrialization increased the scale of wars and they took on a far more devastating nature.  Battles with over 50,000 fatalities became common.  Mustard gas doesn’t seem like a particularly good way to go either.  Belgian farmers still turn up canisters of gas when they plow their fields in the spring!
  • When the Germans wanted to invade France’s Mangiot Line fortifications built after WWI, they just went to Paris via Belgium.  Like many of the occupied countries during WWII, most of them weren’t too happy about their visitors.
  • Battle of the Ardennes (also known as the Battle of the Bulge and the Siege of Bastogne) – After the Allies landed in Normandy, they made their way to Germany.  If you’ve read the last few bullets, you know the easiest way from France to Germany (and vice versa).  Southern Belgium has the Ardennes mountains, which happen to be a good place to entrench (and freezing in the winter).  The Germans mounted an offensive and surrounded almost 20,000 American troops.  It’s famous for General Anthony McAuliffe‘s line, ‘Nuts,’ in response to the German’s request to surrender.  Although I have heard that  ‘Nuts’ was the only printable equivalent of the word that was actually used, it goes without saying that a battle ensued.

You get the idea.  If you got tired reading that list, you can imagine how tired the Belgians were of the wars themselves.

My Belgian friend explained to be that linking their economies and cultures so thoroughly that untangling them was more difficult and costly than waging war was the only way to prevent it from happening again.  At that time, many people were alive who’d lived through the occupation and the war.  I met people whose family members were shot dead in front of their house by the Nazis.  When you think about it, Belgium is a country that only experienced intermittent periods of peace before foreign powers again waged war on their soil.  As a citizen of the tiny country that was continually caught in the cross-fire, they were hopeful that the European Union would help put an end to the seemingly never-ending series of wars waged by European powers like England, Spain, France, and Germany on their soil.

You can’t read the news today without reading about the European Union’s problems.  Some countries, like Switzerland, have good reasons for not joining (which they haven’t in order retain their neutrality and independence).  Nevertheless, as someone who likes a lot of Europeans and likes to travel, there hasn’t been a war on Belgian soil since WWII and I will happily celebrate that.

A Hike With Arcadian Beauty, Cows, And A Whole Lot Of Hay

We wanted to squeeze in a second hike after our big hike near Thun.  Thanks to our book, we found another great one that was on our way home.  We started from Rüeggisberg, in Switzerland’s Gantrisch foothills of the Bernese Alps.

Rüeggisberg is known for its mighty Cluniac priory ruin.  It is a significant stop for pilgrims along the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.  When we pulled up to start our hike, we heard music coming from the service that was being held among the ruins.

I don’t know if downtown Rüeggisberg ever sees a lot of traffic, but the typical Bernese farmhouses were dead silent on a Saturday morning.  Luckily, an old school farm town café with pictures of historic local gatherings and cows on the walls was open so we could feed our coffee addiction before setting off.

Just like we’d seen the day before in Thun, farmers took advantage of the sunny weather to cut hay.  In Europe, it is more common to use a tedder.  In fact, that’s all we’ve seen here in Switzerland.  For you non-farmers out there, a tedder spreads hay out to dry more quickly.  It speeds up the process of haymaking and allegedly allows the hay to dry better, resulting in improved aroma and color.  Can cows even see in color?

All the commotion in the fields stirs up any rodents living in them.  It cuts up any cover and small animals are in the open for the scavengers to eat.  We saw raptors circling the sky above fields and swooping down.  Cats were also out in the fields hunting the newly exposed prey.

We have only seen round bales here.

The trail led through woods.  We were excited to see the slate bottom on this creek bed.  He climbed down to take a look.  Since I still had my arm in a sling, I stayed on the trail.  Sorry there aren’t any close-ups.

We came out into more farmland.  We enjoyed checking out the well-tended farmyard.  Hopefully, you do too.

I think I have slept in places more disgusting than this pig pen.  Who am I kidding?  I know I have.

We continually caught glimpses of the snow-capped trio of the Alps above the fields.  If you look really hard, you can see them in the back of the photo below.  It is the view the cows had.  We now believe that happy cows don’t come from California (or even Wisconsin).  They come from Switzerland.

There were panoramic views and we could even see Lake Thun (the Thunersee), the Eiger Mönch and Jungfrau in the distance!

Our Introduction To The European Football Championship 2012

English: 1964 Euro-Cup. Español: Trofeo de la ...

English: 1964 Euro-Cup. Español: Trofeo de la Eurocopa disputada en el año 1964. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most Americans know football (the American kind and the other known to us as soccer), many are unfamiliar with the European Football Championship (also known as the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, Euro 2012, the European Championship or Euro Cup).  Here, football/futball/soccer is huge.  People here are excited.  We see flags decorating balconies, viewing parties at bars, people wearing jerseys, etc. Even if people aren’t huge fans, they absorb a lot of football knowledge and culture by osmosis.  We’re enthusiastically embracing Euro 2012 as a chance to learn and are watching games.  Although I don’t think we are as enthusiastic as some fans who have been driving through Switzerland’s streets honking their horns for the past hour.

Meilleurs résultats Euro

Meilleurs résultats Euro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s how it works.  The top two teams from each of the 4 groups (referred to as pots) move on for a single elimination tournament.  Group “B” with Germany, Holland, Portugal and Denmark, is the toughest section.  Many argue that it is the hardest group ever assembled in international tournament history.  The top two teams in each group advance to a single-elimination tournament.

According to our friends, the Euro Cup is one of the most important soccer tournaments to Europeans.  Although Americans might not be familiar with it, it is one of the world’s preeminent tournaments.    To Europeans, it is second only to the World Cup and to some, it is bigger than the World Cup.  They argue that the World Cup has some weak teams while the Euro Cup only has strong teams.   It is more important than the Olympics and the European Championships.  The Euro Cup occurs every four years, alternating cycles with the World Cup’s so that a major tournament occurs every two years.

Like the Superbowl or the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, gambling pools abound.  Most offices have several pools.  Friends make informal bets.  It’s crazy.

In Geneva, an area with many immigrants and foreigners.  Euro Cup is a chance to embrace your heritage.   Everyone supports their home country and foreign nationals here get together to watch their home country’s games.  Our friend who lives next door to a Portuguese bar reports that it is packed, loud and, um, very festive on game days.

English: UEFA European Football Championship a...

English: UEFA European Football Championship appearances by country. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neighboring countries seem to rival each other more than non-neighboring countries.  History also may play a role.  We know more about European history than football/soccer history, so there could other explanations for rivalries.   Here are some of the rivalries:

This European  Cup has had a few controversies:

  • They had to post some of the games in Ukraine because some Polish cities (I’m looking at you Krakow) didn’t want to invest in the infrastructure and stadiums.
  • Several government officials are boycotting Euro 2012 to protest former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko‘s mistreatment in a Ukrainian prison.
  • BBC’s Panorama did an exposé on race-related soccer hooliganism in Poland and the Ukraine.  It showed disturbing images of racist taunts, violent attacks of minority students, as well as scenes of fans making Nazi salutes and chanting anti-Semitic epithets.
  • Authorities struggled to contain violence after the Russia – Poland game.

If you want to watch it in the US, a DVR is handy.  Most tournament games air in the morning in America.

If Alsace’s Storks Really Do Deliver Babies, We Could Be In For A Big Surprise

We’d heard storks were the emblem for Alsace, we just didn’t expect to see two giant nests the minute we drove up to Euguisheim, our first Alsatian town.

Two nests

Storks were once plentiful in the area.  For centuries, the storks of Alsace lived among humans, building their nests on Alsace’s buildings.

They migrated every year to Africa ( mostly Mali and Mauritania), a 12,000 kilometer (7456 mile) journey.  Over the years, their  population decreased until the 1980’s, when only two pairs remained in all of Alsace.   There were several causes:

  • 90% died on the migration due to hitting power lines, exhaustion and dehydration.
  • Pesticides
  • Urban growth
  • Draining of the marshes along the Rhine
  • On the annual migration to Africa, large numbers of them smashed into power lines.
  • African droughts in their wintering habitat depleted food supplies.
  • In warring African nations, starving residents ate them.

Alsace under took a program to repopulate the area with storks.   They built stands for the nests in Alsatian trees chimney stacks and bell towers.  They also developed stork parks for breeding and raising storks.

For the first three years, young storks are kept in enormous enclosed aviaries to rid them of the instinct to migrate. Alsace took other steps to encourage their repopulation.

  • They provided addition food, in the form of fluffy, yellow, day-old chicks (they also  eat field mice, snakes, frogs and smaller birds such as sparrows).
  • Electric company developed special screens to keep the birds from nesting on poles to decrease electrocutions.
  • Between breeding seasons, they repaired deteriorating nests.
  • Residents are strictly forbidden to remove nests from their chimneys and rooftops.

Today, many storks do not make the dangerous migration and live in Alsace year round, delighting Alsatians who adore them.  Only about half of the Alsatian white stork population migrates.  Half those migrating storks travel to the traditional wintering grounds in Africa.  Others go to Spain, where open dumpsters provide easy meals.  Now, Alsace’s stork population is over 400 nesting pairs!

We visited one of the aviaries and watched storks feed their babies.  It was pretty cool.   Watching them, we could see why the people of Alsace love these majestic birds.  Not all the nests were enclosed.  It was exciting to watch the parents soar overhead.  Each time, I was so busy staring that I didn’t get my camera ready in time to get a picture.  Sorry.

Storks symbolize of happiness and faithfulness/fertility and luck.  According to legend, storks deliver new babies to their families. According to Alsatian custom, a child wanting a little brother or sister places a piece of sugar on the window ledge to attract the stork.  The hope was that it would leave the precious bundle in exchange for the treat.   In case you were wondering, we didn’t leave anything on the windowsill of our hotel room.

Visitors to Alsace, don’t have to look hard for storks (La Cigogne in French).  From souvenir shops to decorations, they are everywhere.

Eurowhat? Our Introduction To Eurovision

Most Americans don’t know the Eurovision Song Contest exists.  Most Europeans have watched at least a bit of it.

Eurovision song contest

Eurovision song contest (Photo credit: kjelljoran)

Eurovision is a singing contest started in 1956 and is one of the longest-running television programs in the world.   It’s a bit like a schlocky, international American Idol in which each country gets to put forth a contestant and they compete against each other.

Developed by the European Broadcast Union, on the belief that music (along with sports) could unite a multi-lingual continent, Eurovision was content for a new technology of television.  Today, participants are broader than just the European Union countries; 43 countries take part.   Switzerland participates although it is not part of the EU.  Former Soviet republics and even Israel participates.  The contest is broadcast further Europe, Arab countries, Hong Kong, India, Canada, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, and Vietnam all can watch it.  In fact, the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the most watched events in the world with audience between 100 million and 600 million internationally.

Each country chooses a singer or band to represent their country and they compete against each other. Residents of a country cannot vote for their own country.  For example, Swiss cannot vote for the Swiss entrant.

TV Shows We Used To Watch - The Eurovision Son...

TV Shows We Used To Watch – The Eurovision Song Contest (Photo credit: brizzle born and bred)

Before the days of internet and cable, Eurovision was huge.  Today, it faces increased entertainment competition has lost some of its luster.  Nevertheless, it is still popular enough that he has learned all about it at work.

Famous Eurovision contestants include:

  • Sweden’s ABBA, who won with Waterloo in 1974.  Olivia Newton John placed 4th that same year.
  • Julio Iglesias placed 4th for Spain in 1970.
  • Israel’s Dana International was the first transsexual to win in 1998.
  • Celine Dion won for Switzerland in 1988 with  “Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi.
  • In 1997, Katrina and the Waves won with “Love Shine A Light” they are best remembered for their 1985 smash hit “Walking on Sunshine.”
  • Scottish singer Lulu won in 1969, with ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang‘. I can’t explain how France, the Netherlands and Spain also won that year.
  • The English group Bucks Fizz won in with the song “Making Your Mind Up” and their whip-off skirts.
  • Sandie Shaw who sang “Puppet on a String” (we’d never heard of it).
  • Engelbert Humperdink‘s “Love Will Set You Free” is the UK’s entry this year.  I think my dad may have an album of his from the 60’s tucked away somewhere.
Dana International

Dana International (Photo credit: Daniel Kruczynski)

Songs with overtly political messages are banned. Notable songs that premiered at Eurovision include:

  •  “Nel blu dipinto di blu,“ better known as “Volare“ (it didn’t win)
  • Toto Cutugno‘s “Insieme“, is a song that many Germans still know by heart.
  • You might remember Gina G’s 1996 dance-pop entry for the United Kingdom, “Ooh Aah…Just a Little Bit.”
  • Luxembourg’s France Gall‘s 1965 song “Poupée de cire, poupée de son” was a sensation.  Written by famous French singer Serge Gainsbourg, it became in international hit.  It was one of the handful of Eurovision songs that radio stations played and people bought.

Some countries tend to do well:

  • Ireland holds the record for the highest number of wins with seven.  The even won three consecutive times in 1992, 1993 and 1994.
  • FranceLuxembourg and the United Kingdom are joint second with five wins.  Nevertheless, Brits have generally prided themselves on not taking Eurovision seriously and often strike out.  It was still poplar viewing in the UK, due in large part to the Terry Wogan‘s cynical commentary.  He barely suppressed guffaws over the quality of the acts/presenters and the kitsch.  Outraged at the politics behind the scoring system he stopped in 2008 and vowed never to return.

The scoring/winner is likely to change as blocs of countries have started banding together to vote one of their region a winner.  This has lead to frustration about the winner’s worthiness.  Andrew Lloyd Webber even visited Moscow met Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to ask him to call on all East European countries to refrain from block-voting for each other.

Partisan voting doesn’t seem to be a new phenomenon, Cliff Richard‘s second-place finish in 1968, its now attributed to direct intervention by Spain’s then-dictator, General Franco.

A map of Europe showing how many times each co...

Historically, some countries have done poorly:

  • Until Finnish band Lordi won with their rock song “Hard Rock Hallelujah” in 2006, Finland had participated since 1961 but never even made it into the Top 5.
  • Norway has scored no points in four separate contests.
  • Austria, Finland, Spain, Switzerland aren’t far behind with three null’s.

Many self-respecting musical acts stay away to preserve their dignity.   Garish outfits are mandatory and gimmicks used in the contest include:

  • In 2008, Russian entrant Dima Bilan sang “Believe” while Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion Evgeni Plushenko ice skated.
  • Ukraine’s Kseniya Simonova‘s sand-painted  clouds, planets and angels in sand while singer Mika Newton howled into a wind machine.
  • A Moldovan act once included a woman dressed as a fairy on a unicycle and digital gnomes flying across the stage’s LED screen.
  • Sweden’s Eric Saade smashed through a glass door onstage.
Blue, representing United Kingdom, performing ...

Blue, representing United Kingdom, performing at the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 final on 14 May 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Boy band Blue (kind of like the Backstreet Boys) was big in the 90’s.  They staged a comeback in Eurovision, while it brought them some attention, it didn’t result in the desired comeback.
  • Turkey’s Sertab Erener sang  “Every Way That I Can” (a song about a woman in a harem in the 19th century, who wants to win back a Sultan that had expelled her) with a troupe of belly dancers performing enthusiastically.
  • This year, Russia’s song is from Buranovskiye Babushki a girl band whose name translates to the Buranovo Grannies.  These singing grandmothers from the Udmurt Republic have an average age in the 80’s.  Two years ago, they failed to qualify with the hip hop produced track “Dlinnaja-Dlinnaja Beresta I Kak Sdelat Iz Nee Aishon.” This translates into “Very Long Birch Bark And How To Turn It Into A Turban”.
  • Austria’s entry this year is by Trackshittaz.  I’m not kidding.  That’s really their name. They have dancers with their buttocks highlighted with fluorescent paint.  Again, I’m not kidding.  I couldn’t make that up.  They have promised to “learn a little bit of English” before the contest.  Will this lead to a name change?
  • Montenegro’s Rambo Amadeus‘ (no joke) song has a video in which he surprises two topless women with a donkey.

Azerbaijan won the contest last year so they have to host this year.  Countries have been known to put forward a lamentable contestant to avoid the expense of putting on the contest the next year.  Yes, Ireland I’m looking at you.

Les Incompetents Vol. 10: Nothing Beats The Simple Pleasure Of A Bike Ride

Making a Jet d’Eau by pedaling

We finally got our bikes out of the our basement bomb shelter and went for a ride.   The weather had been so nice, how could we not?  Actually, we got them out a while ago, but I didn’t bring my camera along on that ride.  This time, I was a little wiser.

Note the stiff breeze

The good news is that we went for a bike ride, made it back in once piece and successfully investigated beaches for the summer.  The bad news is that (a) Geneva isn’t flat, (b) we didn’t look take the weather into account, and (c) we didn’t bring our passports so we couldn’t go across into France.

A team from Lake Geneva won the America’s Cup a few years ago. Seeing a sailing competition as we were heading out of Geneva should have been our first clue that it would be quite windy.

Traffic wasn’t a problem.   I wish we could say the same for the hills.  Living in Eaux-Vives, there is nowhere to go but up… literally.  Switzerland isn’t flat and we can’t bike more than a kilometer without heading up a big hill (or two).   A couple of years ago, we biked from Lisbon to Sagres and Sagres to Spain (with A2Z Adventures on a fantastic trip).   Portugal isn’t flat either.  Heading uphill on a bike on a sunny day, he had flashbacks.

The morning of our ride, I took our visitors to the airport on the tram and squeezed in a quick 7 miles by running home.  After breakfast, we decided to go for a bike ride.  From our window, we couldn’t tell how windy it was.  Heading up the lakeside to Hermance, we had a tailwind and didn’t really notice the wind’s strength.  Even when we reached Hermance, and saw a kite surfer, we didn’t think about biking back in the wind.

We checked out the Hermance‘s beach, did a tour of the cute town, and rode on to the border.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t go into France because we forgot to bring our passports.  Ooops.

This stream is the border between France and Switzerland

We rode back toward Geneva, straight into a headwind…the entire way.  Even though we wanted to see more aggrestic splendor, I was pooped.  How did I not notice the wind?  There were signs.  Flags, sailing competitions, kite surfing…  How could I have been so blind.   By the time we hit Geneva, my legs were burning and I was hungry enough to eat the back end out of a dead rhino.  After we put our bikes away, we ate an insane amount of chocolate, collapsed on the couch and watched Top Gear.

Despite our unpreparedness, it was a great ride.  We saw here were amazing views of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva), the Alps and Mont Blanc.  Switzerland is very cycle-friendly and we saw tons of other bikers.  Cars were considerate and seemed used to cyclists.  Unlike cycling in North and South Carolina, we weren’t honked at a single time!  Indiscriminate honking is frowned upon here as it may disturb others, definitely a cultural difference.

Prague’s Jewish Quarter

Jews have lived in Prague since 965 In the 13th century, Prague’s Jews were banned from living outside a particular area of the city.  They had to leave their homes and settle in a prescribed area, the Jewish Quarter, also known as Josefov.  During the mid 1500’s, Prague’s Jewish population almost doubled as Jews were expelled from Moravia, Germany, Austria and Spain.
In 1708, Jews were 1/4 of Prague’s population and by the early 18th century, more Jews lived in Prague than anywhere else in the world. In the 19th century, Prague’s Jews gained freedoms and began integrating into society.  All that changed when the Nazis came in 1939.
Initially, the vast majority of Czech Jews were imprisoned in Terezin, a ghetto north of Prague.  Others were sent directly to concentration camps.  More than a quarter of a million Czechoslovak Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.  Today, there are estimated to be 10,000 to 15,000 Jews in the Czech Republic.
The synagogues no longer need to serve large populations.  Rather than let them fall into disrepair, have become different parts of the Jewish Museum in Prague and are best preserved complex of Jewish historical monuments in Europe.  Six synagogues remain and have been restored.  Together, they comprise the Jewish Museum.*  The sites include:

  • Jewish Town Hall (Židovská radnice) – This 18th century rococo town hall Jewish Town Hall has a clock tower whose hands run backwards as Hebrew reads from right to left.   Part of the building dates from 1586.

  • Klaus Synagogue (Klausova synagoga) – It is 16th century baroque synagogue that houses Hebrew prints, manuscripts and has a good exhibition explaining Jewish traditions and customs..
  • Maisel Synagogue (Maiselova synagog) – This 16th century synagogue was once destroyed by fire.  Now, it houses a collection of items brought to Prague by the Nazis with the intention of establishing a museum of vanished people.

  • Pinkas Synagogue (Pinkasova synagog) – This 16th century synagogue was rebuilt many times since it was founded in 1479.   After WWII it became a memorial to the 77,297 Jewish Czechoslovak victims of the Nazi Holocaust.  These numbers do not include Slovakian Jews, only Jews from current Czech territory.  Each of the victim’s names is written in alphabetical order on the walls with their date of birth and the date they were last seen alive.  The building is silent except for prayers and a reading the names of the dead, which alternate over the sound system.

  • Spanish Synagogue (Španělská synagog) – This 19th century synagogue is a stunning building named after its Moorish interior.  It contains an exhibition of the life of Jews in the Czech Republic.   Despite it’s appearance, it was never used by Sephardic Jews, but was an early Reform temple.

  • Old New Synagogue (Staronová synagog) – Dating from 1270, this Gothic synagogue is the oldest working in Prague.  It is legendary and reputed to be the home of the famous Golem of Prague.  It requires an additional ticket that can be purchased at the same time.

  • Old Jewish Cemetery (Starý židovský hřbitov) This 15th-18th century cemetery is  Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery and one of the most unusual sites. Founded in 1478, it is Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery.  As Jews were not permitted to bury their dead outside the Jewish Quarter and space was tight, there was a severe lack of space. 100,000 people are thought to be buried here.  To fit them all, people had to be buried on top of each other. There are about 12 layers and over 12,000 gravestones.   Since Jews do not believe in moving the dead, even when permitted to bury outside the quarter, they did not move the bodies to make more space.

It is customary for Jews to put small stones on a gravesite when visiting it.

Over the years, the bodies accumulated.  Now the cemetery is over a story above street level.

I found the concept of having a museum divided between several important buildings all within close walking distance to each other really interesting and easy to manage.  Each one has a different focus and so they compliment each other, rather than overlap. It was an incredibly interesting and moving morning.






A Giant Spider Traveling The World

When I visited Geneva on my apartment hunting trip, I spent an afternoon in Bern, Switzerland. In front of the parliment building, there was a fantastic statute of a giant spider. When we moved to Geneva a month later, the sculpture had moved here!  It made me curious and I wanted to learn more.
The spider gets around; it is better traveled than us. The statute first appeared as part of an exhibition as part of the Tate Modern in London (below).
Since then, it has vacationed in fantastic spots all over the world. Temporary locations include:

Permanent locations of bronze cast replicas include:

Maman has been well received in each place and has become very popular.* It’s easy to see why.  The sculpture photographs well, children love to play around its legs and it’s a hit with art connoisseurs.

 
It was made by French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois. Before passing away in 2010 at age 98, she was the world’s highest paid living female artist. The sculpture is called “Maman“. The spider’s sac contains 26 marble eggs.  You can see them looking up from underneath the spider.
It’s called “Maman” and is an homage to her mother who worked as a restorer of tapestries in Paris (get it, spiders weave webs, her mom rewove tapestries).
She made a giant spider statue for her mother, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that she had daddy issues. When she was a child, she learned that her tyrannical, sadistic, father was having a long-term affair with her live-in nanny!  Insert Freud jokes here.  She spent her career exorcising these demons.  Much of her work dealt with revenge, feminism, women’s roles and power.
She saw spiders as clever, protective, life-giving and useful.  Others see it/them as both frightening and/or threatening.
*Maman has its own Facebook page with its picture in different locations.