History outside my doorsteps

Walking across the stone bridge over the Neckar River, I shot this view of the Heidelberg Castle, one of many medieval buildings, fortresses, and ruins that enrich Germany.

Reflecting on my youth I wonder if history, one of my least favorite subjects in school, could have been one of my favorites, had I been born and raised in Heidelberg or in any of the ancient cities of Europe, where history is not relegated to the pages of a thick and boring textbook, but evident everywhere you look. Could this be the reason why most Europeans are knowledgeable about history, politics, and geography while most Americans can barely pinpoint Germany on a map?

History outside my doorsteps

Pointillism in Borneo

Pointillism in Borneo

“Drawing a line”, oft used as an ultimatum between feuding sides, reminded me, instead, of this strange, natural art work I stumbled upon on an island in Borneo. Instead of lines drawn on the sand, these clearly deducible images would make Monsieur Seurat smile with pride. And then one has to wonder, did the creators of these wonders come first or did George-Pierre Seurat really invent pointillism without any other influences from nature?

Is there a sense of order, logic and purposeful intent in these abstract images. I see a bird in flight, a maple leaf, etc. What do you see?

The individual spheres of sand, no more than a few millimeters in diameter, are the artistic equivalent to the dots created by Monsieur Seurat’s small paint brush. However, to the creators of these drawings, the minuscule crabs, their elemental dots are as big as their entire bodies. And with these tiny balls of sand, the crabs create complex compositions that fascinate me with wonder and curiosity.

Pointillism in Borneo

Moebius

Moebius Circle?

Because I am energized by learning new things, I was immediately fascinated when I stumbled upon the Moebius knitting cast on developed by Cat Bordhi. Instead of the traditional cast on, her technique follows the Moebius principle, where you start from one point on a circle that has only one side and return to the same point by running along twice the circumstance of the circle. “What?” you may wonder quizzically, as I did when I first read the instructions from her book.

It’s really quite simple in practice. Take a long strip of paper, twist one end before you tape the ends together, and you will have a twisted circle. This is the Moebius concept. Then, if you take a pair of scissors and cut along the middle length of the ring, you will end up with a ring that is twice the length of the first ring and half the thickness. If you keep repeating this exercise, the circle gets bigger and bigger until you end up with a very very large circle.

I remember knitting this scarf many years ago from the middle out, something I had never done before, and I was fascinated as it developed into a Moebius scarf, without a seam, and with only one edge. Pretty darn cool, I thought. Admittedly I am a science nerd.

When I contemplated the daily prompt focusing on circles, I immediately thought of the moebius as the circle of life. With each experience and encounter, we have the opportunity to enlarge our circle of life and influence, by expanding and growing, with intent and surrender. Although there are days when it isn’t so easy to achieve, the long journey along this circle only requires one step at a time.

Moebius

Broken pots required

Broken pots required

Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, I quickly learned that 10,000 hours of practice is the necessary requirement to achieve excellence and mastery in any endeavor. However, the hours of practice are not relegated to iterations of the same routine over and over again. In fact, to become good at anything, it requires thousands of hours spent making mistakes, learning from the mistakes and then having the ability to change and redirect. I often think of this when I am trying to perfect my hand at pottery, a losing battle thus far. Often the clay wins, but in the mistakes I see the potential for future perfection and excellence.

Broken Pots Required

Rotterdam Gesloten (Monday mornings)

Imagine if more countries would be like the Dutch, who do not dub foreign movies. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to watch movies in their original language but with subtitles instead of dubbing? I am convinced that that is one of the reasons why EVERYBODY in the Netherlands speaks perfect English. And that makes my travels through the Netherlands easy and very enjoy. However, with the good comes the not so good: Mondays in Rotterdam are a rest day for plenty of businesses including museums, restaurants and shops. However, if you do find yourself in Rotterdam on a Monday, as I did, here are a few things you can do:


1. Walk across the Maas Tunnel, the oldest traffic tunnel in Netherlands.
The tunnel was built right before the second world war. As I rode the escalator down into the tunnel, I marveled at the wooden escalators and the fact that cyclists could take their bicycles on them. After you arrive at the bottom of the escalators, about 20 meters below sea level, notice that there are separate tunnels for cyclists and for pedestrians. The tunnel for the pedestrians are below the tunnel for the cyclists.


2. Walk around the Old Harbor and emerge at the curious Cube Houses Rotterdam, by Dutch architect Piet Blom.

3. Stop for a delicious lunch break at Spirit, an organic and vegetarian cafe, not far from the Cube Houses. Spirit is flanked by a whole-foods supermarket on one side and a lovely home/lifestyle shop called Vanbinnen on the other.

4. Sleep in and, after noon, go shopping along Meent.
I made the mistake of getting up early and going out, only to realize that Monday mornings in Rotterdam is like a ghost town. Most shops’ signs announced “maandag gesloten”. And the few that are open on Mondays open around or after 1300. Thus shopping on Mondays is possible only between 1300 and 1700 or 1800, if at all.

If you’re looking for unique, independent designers’ wares, head to object trouve, on Pancake Street. I was thrilled that the shop was open on Monday. It’s exactly the type of shop I seek when in a new city; but I am not always successful finding such treasures in the sea of chains, boring brand names and same-same, that is our current consumer market.

5. Walk along the many waterfronts and eventually end up on Witte De Withstraat, an artist area with museums, art galleries and cafes.
By the late afternoons, some shops and stores will be open. By evening, more restaurants will be open. If you’re craving good Italian, try Oliva, where delicious, seasonal dishes are prepared and presented by a team of attentive staff. Although only in Dutch, the wine list is easy to understand and reasonable. Even if most things are “gesloten” on Mondays, Rotterdam has much to offer, if you know where to look.

Rotterdam Gesloten (Monday mornings)

Guten Tag, Bonjour, and Xin Chao, without practice

When I thought about today’s challenge of a machine that I would create, if I could, two recent obstacles came to mind: 1) My increasing dislike of crossing time zones and dealing with jet lag and 2) my insatiable desire to speak foreign languages fluently when I travel.

I stumbled on this strange concocted ‘machine’ attached to a side of a skyscraper in Tokyo. The odd scene out of metal looked like a well-coordinated parasite attached to the streamlined facade of a high-rise office building. It immediately conjured up thoughts of the films The City of Lost Children, Brazil, Clockwork Orange and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, all films I adored and enjoyed as a youngster.

One of the attractive attributes of these film is the ability to transport me to another place and time, without the ill effects of jet lag. I love to travel, but as I get older, I don’t want to deal with all the tiredness, headache and spaciness that accompanies jet lag. Perhaps I am less tolerate of inconveniences for the novelty of a new experience, and I am now more selective about what inconveniences I am willing to tolerate. Thus, I wish there was a machine that would transport me easily to other parts of the globe without forcing me to suffer the horrible time-zone effects. And to address my second problem, I would want the machine to be a real Babel fish, a la Arthur C. Clarke’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (another favorite), from which I could speak and understand whatever foreign language I needed to speak and understand, without having to practice and spend unimaginable amount of time and effort (and frustration) actually learning it. A machine that could do both would definitely open up new travel opportunities.

Guten Tag, Bonjour, and Xin Chao, without practice

Home, where I unload my armor

Wanting to combine this week’s photo challenge – objects – with today’s daily prompt of home, I settled on this photo of an antique armor that I admired at the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam. Home, for me, is more than a building, a place, or a country; rather, it’s a state of mind where I feel uninhibited, secure and safe to be myself, by removing the mental and physical armor that I carry whenever I am not at “home”.

Armor

Home, where I unload my armor