Fun with art: the gold age of pee

The best paintings are not the ones that are well-known but the ones that are hidden in dark corners of art galleries. They look very similar to hundreds of other art pieces but if you inspect them very carefully, you will spot that thing that makes them special.

Few years back I found one of them in The Cinquecento Corridor of Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Rather small and shy, the painting looks just as you would expect it – plenty of naked figures in a lovely garden with some swans, flowers and fruits. It just makes you think it is nothing special so you walk by quickly.

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But if you are a bit more patient and you look at the bottom section of the painting, you will see two children, a boy and a girl, happily peeing into a pond.

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The artist, Jacopo Zucchi, used actually golden paint to mark both streams so they are very bright and shiny. And I still wonder if the title, The Age of Gold, has anything to do with it.

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He Who Is Alone / The Egyptian by Mika Waltari

Do we choose to live alone or is it our fate to be lonely? Perhaps it is easier to convince yourself that your loneliness is predetermined and that all your efforts are doomed. If you fail anyway, why would you even try?

This pessimistic approach of Sinuhe, the main character of Mika Waltari’s The Egyptian, is quite annoying. He has wonderful foster parents and a small group of dedicated friends, but he insist to believe that he is different and thus he will always be alone.

And this makes all his relationships like a plant that grows buds but never let them bloom. If he only wanted to overcome that inner obstacle, his life would bring him what he looks for – a meaning and peace of heart. Instead it makes him vulnerable to dubious people and prone to pursue the most idealistic ideas.

Run Sinuhe, run

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The very first trap Sinuhe gets into is Nefernefernefer, a beautiful and sexy woman that uses his sympathy against him. In less then a week she owns everything he and his parents ever had. In return he gets beaten by her servants and left completely broken. And his parents, devastated by the very recent developments, choose the only option that seems to make sense – they commit suicide.

With nothing else to loose, Sinuhe runs away to Syria to start everything from scratch. As an Egyptian physician he can easily find there clients. He is accompanied by his former slave, Kaptha. A businessman by heart, Kaptha makes sure they are both prosperous, wealthy and can live a comfortable life.

But Sinuhe’s obsession with his own loneliness is so strong that he does not appreciate what he has. As soon as a war in Syria breaks out, he sets forth to join Pharaoh’s forces which are lead by his old friend Horemheb. Few weeks later he becomes a Pharaoh’s spy, travelling to Mitanni, Babylon, Minoan Crete and among the Hittites to look into their hearts and, more importantly, military strength.

The promised land

Back from his journeys, Sinuhe is raised to the position of the royal physician of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Egypt he used to know is long gone. The Pharaoh abandoned the traditional Egyptian polytheism and introduced worship of Aten. He dismissed military forces, banned any bloodshed and based his ruling on peaceful coexistence with his neighbours.

Seeing too many pointless deaths in his life, Sinuhe is seduced by Pharaoh’s vision and becomes his devoted follower. Even his feelings for Merit are not enough to distract him from this new obsession. He still uses his old excuse to avoid any serious romantic involvement and leaves Thebes for Akhetaten, the new capital of Egypt.

But the social and political changes instead of promised land, bring poverty and chaos. Akhenaten is forced to drink a death potion and a violent unrest breaks out in Thebes turning the city into ashes.

The death of Merit leaves Sinuhe heartbroken and even more dedicated to  Akhenaten’s dream which is now considered a lunacy. Refusing to give up on his believes, Sinuhe becomes a threat and as such is sent into exile where he spends his last years writing down his memories.

Great historical accuracy

The novel itself was not as entertaining as I expected – I hoped for an exciting storyline full of adventures and picturesque language. Instead I got a factual account of events infused with Sinuhe’s fatalistic approach to life. Not exactly easy or pleasant to follow.

But what kept me reading is the historical accuracy of detailed description of ancient Egyptian life. Mika Waltari carried out considerable research into the subject, making the story a fascinating insight into Egyptian society. You learn about their every day life, troubles and joys as well as how they reacted to Akhenaten’s changes.

And the changes brought a lot of tensions and conflicts, poverty and chaos. Over time even the most dedicated followers started to curse the Pharaohs and wanted the old order to be back. It made me ponder that you can’t simply force changes if people are not ready – we all need to first grow up mentally to welcome them.

Finally, Kaptha is a true gem  and it is really hard not to like him. Very superstitious, not educated but street- and business-smart, he develops from a slave into a wealthy businessman. Pragmatic, clever and more optimistic than Sinuhe, he gives a bit of colour to the story. I would love to read a book about his adventures.

In general the book is a good read and when it was published, it became an international best-seller and an inspiration for a movie. If you have read it, let me know your impression!

My first crochet glove

Last year, feeling a need for creativity, I started learning crochet. I still remembered some basic stuff which my grandma taught me more than 20 years ago but it was so rudimentary that you couldn’t make much out of it. And, unfortunately, the very first project I picked up, discouraged me for quite some time.

So remember my words – if you want to learn crochet, avoid making square table mats which are 25 cm by 25 cm. It is boring, takes a lot of time for a beginner and is frustrating because it is easy to skip stitches (which means undoing some rows and making them again).

Anyway, this year I decided to get back to crafts and make something more challenging but also useful – a pair of woolly gloves! And finally here is the very first one:

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It is not perfect but I am quite proud of it and it was so much interesting to work on it. Even undoing some bits and pieces was digestible because I wasn’t working on a square! And I learned definitely more than the last time. Simply can’t wait to start the other one!

I used a pattern from Crochet Basics by Nicki Trench as my base.

How to confuse wealthy people at an art event

Living in London means an easy access to culture thanks to hundreds of theatres, museums, galleries and concert halls. As a result Londoners are quite relaxed about their outfits when setting off for a cultural experience. It is simply part of everyday life.

So when I got an invite from Maryam to join her for an opening evening of an art exhibition, I didn’t spend much time pondering what to wear. A comfy sweater, black leggings, vintage looking white trainers and wind proof jacket. Obviously, I added some accessories –  a woolish hat from Primark and a small plastic bag to accommodate a book I am reading.

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But this time my extremely casual look was or too casual, or the attendees may have suspect I am an eccentric, Steve Jobs-like visionary and art-lover. Why? Because they all were as formal as the event itself and were quite confused how to categorized us, especially when we started moving our hands in front of each artwork to make interpretation more visual.

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So if you ever want to see wealthy people puzzled, take a note of my outfit that evening and wear to every single formal event. Also don’t forget about being quite expressive with your hand gestures. You will make an impact. Or they will not let you in.

The Lovers of Viorne by Frontier Theatre Production

One of the great things about London are all those small theatres located in places you would not expect. I have already been to venues above and under pubs or in the attics of old warehouses but to see a play in the heart of the City of London was something new.

This time the venue was located in a small room on the first floor of The So & So Arts Club. With the stage taking most of the space and few rows of garden chairs, the theatre room felt a very intimate place. And the seats, despite being regular plastic garden chairs, were not that bad – what you get in the amphitheatre of Royal Opera House is much worse.

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I think the play itself was a perfect fit for such an intimate and private venue. Marguerite Duras’s The Lovers of Viorne takes a form of two interviews in which the interrogator is trying to understand why a middle-aged Claire murdered her deaf and dumb cousin, then chopped here into pieces and put those pieces on trains which head to different parts of France. To make it a bit more intriguing, the whole story is based on a real-life crime.

The interrogation does not bother much about the crime itself. It is focused on Claire’s pain, the indifference that grew over years between her and her husband, and what pushed her to such an awful deed. From one question to another I got more and more involved into the story wanting to learn why she did it and what happened to the head. But Claire couldn’t tell us much as if all her life predestined her to commit a crime.

The play was produced by Frontier Theatre Productions and is on until May 21st.

Hiking gadget: folding sit mat

It is one of my favourite hiking gadgets and so useful here in the UK. When I hiked few weeks back and we had a lunch at a pebble beach, I had the most comfortable seat of all!

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It is soft, thermally insulating, very light and does not take much space in your backpack. And it gives you a bit of luxury when you want to have a rest  during your rambles.

Fun with art: God sometimes is a hen

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to offend anyone. I am just referring to Luke 13:34:

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

This metaphor inspired Antonio Barluzzi, the architect of the Holy Land, when he worked on Dominus Flevit Church on the Mount of Olives. The building itself is very small comparing to churches we are used to but it is also very elegant and lovely thanks to its minimalistic interior.

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The most obvious highlight is a window behind the altar. Instead of religious paintings and sculptures, you can admire a beautiful view of Jerusalem. And that usually means you forget to look around so you never notice the other interesting element of the décor – a mosaic in the bottom section of the altar. Inspired by Luke there she is – God as a hen gathering her chicks under her wings. So different from what we normally see!

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