Dresden, a case of love at first sight

© Photocomunity Von Dennis Siebert

© Photocomunity Von Dennis Siebert

The first time I put my feet in this incredibly beautiful and inspirational old Saxon city (December 2010), I was completely stunned. May I say this is the nicest Baroque city in northern/central Europe? I would say Yes –with all due respect to Prague and Saint Petersburg…

Dresden is well worth a visit at any time of the year. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, over 2.5 million visitors come to the city. They’re drawn by the Striezelmarkt –one of Germany’s oldest and loveliest Christmas markets. It’s named after a pastry called “striezel,” a forerunner of the Christstollen –Dresden’s famous Christmas fruitcake.

The famous Christmas fruit cake is baked here right before visitors’ eyes. Children can knead the dough for their own cookies as well. The Striezelmarkt offers a host of traditional products. Wooden pyramids, incense burning figurines and nutcrackers from the Erzgebirge Mountains are especially popular as souvenirs. Traditional Christmas cookies, baked right at the market, are for sale. Children can also mix their own cookie dough. And the traditional Striezelmarkt wares are also here –the pyramids, incense figurines, and nutcrackers local to the region.

The rest of the city is also replete with cultural delights, with fifteen museums filled with works of art collected by 500 years of Saxon nobility. The refurbished Albertinum Museum contains works by old and modern masters (Raphael, Juan Gris)

It would take weeks to see all of Dresden’s art treasures. The palace alone houses 15 different museums with exhibits collected by the rulers of Saxony over the course of five centuries. In the Albertinum, the diverse collections ranging from antiquity to the modern era can be seen under one roof. Bearing in mind the Yuletide (Christmas) message of peace, a visit to the Bundeswehr’s Military History Museum can also certainly be recommended.

Just for the history, there is a particular relationship with Coventry in UK. Along with its twin city Coventry, Dresden was one of the first two cities to twin with a foreign city after World War II. The cities became twins after World War II in an act of reconciliation, as they had suffered incisive destructions from bombings considered to be both disproportional.

While breathing the Christmas touching atmosphere in the streets, do not (ever!) forget to :

• visit the Frauenkirche, an outstanding bijou of German religious architecture, and one of the Europe’s most exceptional examples of the Baroque period;

• gulp a sip of typical Glühwein, kind of mulled wine –since winter is really really cold in Dresden, -10 to -15°C at the very least !

The garbage orchestra from Paraguay

« The world sends us garbage – we send back music ». That’s the motto of Favio Chavez. He opened a music school in Cateura on the outskirts of the Paraguayan capital Asunción. There’s no money for instruments – but no shortage of refuse in the neighbourhood.

Gomez turns the garbage into violins, guitars, cellos and other musical instruments. The orchestra he started has had invitations to perform around the world. A documentary film about the project called « Landfill Harmonic » has received backing from crowd funding.

Cateura exists virtually on top of a landfill site where residents make their livings recycling and selling other people’s rubbish.

Situated along the banks of the Paraguay River, 1,500 tons of waste is dumped in the area each day.
But despite the critical levels of pollution and the threat to their health residents of Cateura manage to find the most positive of uses for the rubbish.

Inspired to do something to help the inpoverished families, Chávez began using the trash in the landfill to create instruments for the children.

« One day it occurred to me to teach music to the children of the recyclers and use my personal instruments, » explains 36 year-old Chávez, who worked as an ecological technician at the landfill.

« But it got to the point that there were too many students and not enough supply. So that’s when I decided to experiment and try to actually create a few. »

Last Train Home. A hard life metaphor in China

Last Train Home (2009), directed by Lixin Fan, is a Chinese documentary, or possibly a docudrama. According to the film, over 200 million factory workers, who have left their homes to work in the city, attempt to return home for the Chinese New Year holiday. The film shows a couple’s conditions of slavery at work and the family life fragmentation, in the (vain) intent that their children can achieve education to access a better life.

When you ‘undergo’ the film that keeps track of the effort of the Chinese for export, it comes to my mind what Deng Xiaoping evoked: « It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice. » It is true that in 1978, at the beginning of Deng’s reforms, China exported in a year what it now sells abroad in one day. But this success in catching mice – in other words, the transformation of China into a global largest exporter – is being done through an unsustainable human and social cost.

Last Train Home is touching, really inspiring, and documentary film-making at its best. Director Lixin Fan forces no comment, on no occasion partisan, as he tracks the lives of two Chinese migrant workers over a gap of two years. The camera is merely an observer- it’s this kind of focused observational film-making that makes this film so moving and poignant.

Inside Job – White collar mafia

Inside Job (2010), American documentary by Charles Ferguson on the financialization of the economy that led to the crisis of 2008 and that just received the Oscar for best documentary.

Beyond the director’s unrelenting demonstration, and the very accomplished mise en scene, the framework gravitates around film noir where mafia plots — this time white collar — are replacing  one another. Relying on true images, Ferguson’s work shows that deregulation of the economy, which began in 1980 with Reagan, was continued by Clinton, then by George W. Bush and now by Obama — the last avatar of a president who has forgotten his promises to reform Wall Street.

A lukewarm record of greed that caused the collapse of Wall Street.
On the downside, the movie oversimplifies the causes of the crisis. It focuses primarily on deregulation and Wall Street’s incentive structure and culture of reckless risk-taking and lax morals and ethics. It also briefly mentions poor risk assessments by credit rating agencies and predatory lending, without really explaining what it was or getting into any depth on the matter.

Sub-prime lending was mentioned only in a very cursory manner. There was no mention of the Clinton Administration’s push for sub-prime lending to expand mortgage loans to low and moderate income people.

There was no mention of the Federal Reserve’s contribution to the housing bubble as a result of its policy to ease credit conditions in the early 2000s to soften the impact of the collapse of the dot com bubble and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

There was no mention of the shadow banking system; how it contributed to the crisis and how it greatly amplified the losses.

The film has the merit of showing how little has changed the U.S. financial world, despite Obama’s rhetoric. Rather than being held accountable for their role in the collapse, many of its architects remain in key positions of power. Recommended.

Bed sports for Christmas

I cannot resist the temptation to share the video that my adorable Click-Clack-Chuc-Chuc forwarded me a few days ago under the title “Sport en chambre” (which somewhat means “Sports at Room”).

It’s in fact Birth-day, a very funny composition, full of finesse, which the staging is definitely inspired by Mozart.

Performance was ‘committed’ by the Nederlands Dans Theater under the direction of its former (but always associated) art director, the famous Czech dancer and choreographer Jiří Kylián. It is watermarked by his Six Dances, a sort of facetious tribute to Mozart and the nonchalance of the Baroque period. Birth-Day was inspired in part by Sabine Kupferberg, who is one of the performers, as well as Jiří Kylián’s wife. The music is by Mozart, the dancers (who play in real time while the scene is performed in fast motion) wear period costumes and wigs. Here the duo recreates an endearing naughty bed scene.

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Also, a frantic Charlie Chaplin-ish scene, always in line with Six Dances, is where two dancers are preparing a birthday cake competition that ends in smackdown.

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That’s a great fun. Judge for yourself and enjoy it!

Cold Souls by Sophie Barthes, a refreshing proposal of surreal comedy

>> Haga click aquí para la versión en Castellano

Cold Souls is an off-beat intelligent, imaginative story that combines elements of magical realism, drama and mystery. It’s hard to describe this  surreal comedy. It doesn’t really fit in any specific category. It’s funny and sad at the same time.

Paul Giamatti delivers a beautiful and credible performance as, well, Paul Giamatti. Mastering a broad range of emotions and making his character delightfully amusing and sometimes heartbreaking. Exasperated with his general outlook on life, he does some research into the company who removes the soul from those like him. David Strathairn is the doctor at the soul removal clinic and he plays the knowledgeable, caring professional to perfection.

At different times, this one will remind of Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind, and Total Recall, it never really delivers the depth or entertainment value of any of these. It’s almost as if first time feature director Sophie Barthes has so many ideas that it became more important to include them all, rather than refine the best. The tone reminded me of Kafka, Julio Cortazar and at times Woody Allen and Kaufman.

Some might believe it is a science fiction film. I would rather talk of an existentialist film, a delightful chronicle of the absurd in the style of Albert Camus, dressed with Anton Chekhov sauce.

Go and see. Your soul will thank you.

A 3D Exploration of Picasso’s Guernica by Lena Gieseke ©

>> Haga clic aquí para la versión en castellano

The ‘Guernica’ is a powerful masterpiece, an oil canvas, of very impressive proportions (782 x351 cm), that Pablo R. Picasso made in 1937 for the Paris International Exhibition.
The fabric, black and white, represents the bombing of the town of Gernika on 26 April 1937 by the Nazi German Aviation. The canvas is currently exhibited at the National Museum Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

Now, a New York artist Lena Gieseke, who is very conversant with modern digital computer graphics techniques, has decided to propose a 3D version of the famous masterwork and hang it on the Internet, in video form. The result is fascinating and gives out visualizing imaginary details that, otherwise, we would have overlooked.

Even though, I am not fully aware what Pablo Picasso would think …

Thanks to my lovely Geneviève who forwarded me the video.She’s always raring to go for new amazing adventures :)

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