Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Cuban Medics in Haiti

On 26 December 2010, the Independent published 'Cuban medics in Haiti put the world to shame' by Nina Lakhani. It is because of such articles - infos that most media do not offer - that I still read (online) newspapers. Here's an excerpt:

They are the real heroes of the Haitian earthquake disaster, the human catastrophe on America's doorstep which Barack Obama pledged a monumental US humanitarian mission to alleviate. Except these heroes are from America's arch-enemy Cuba, whose doctors and nurses have put US efforts to shame.

A medical brigade of 1,200 Cubans is operating all over earthquake-torn and cholera-infected Haiti, as part of Fidel Castro's international medical mission which has won the socialist state many friends, but little international recognition.

Observers of the Haiti earthquake could be forgiven for thinking international aid agencies were alone in tackling the devastation that killed 250,000 people and left nearly 1.5 million homeless. In fact, Cuban healthcare workers have been in Haiti since 1998, so when the earthquake struck the 350-strong team jumped into action. And amid the fanfare and publicity surrounding the arrival of help from the US and the UK, hundreds more Cuban doctors, nurses and therapists arrived with barely a mention. Most countries were gone within two months, again leaving the Cubans and Médecins Sans Frontières as the principal healthcare providers for the impoverished Caribbean island.

For the full text go here

Sunday, 26 December 2010

In India (3)


Copyright @ Hans Durrer

The pics above were taken in the City Palace in Jaipur.

What do you work? a guy in my Jaipur hotel asks. I'm an addiction therapist, I say. A counsellor? Yes. Oh, I'm a drug addict, he says and adds: NA. I know what NA is all about, I'm a twelve-step therapist, I smile. I went to therapy to a treatment nearby, he continues. I still go there from time to time. To remind me that I do not want to spend time there again. Would you mind showing me the center? I inquire. Not at all, he says. And so I get to see my first Indian treatment center and have a talk with the people there, all of them former addicts and volunteers. I learn that only a small minority come into treatment out of free will, that most are brought here by their families. And what is the success rate? 20 percent, I'm told. If that is true - and I have no reason to not believe them - that is not only impressive but higher than the rate of treatment centers that insist their clients must be undergoing treatment voluntarily.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

In India (2)

Copyright @ Hans Durrer

When I take pictures of people, I usually ask their permission and afterwards show them the pic. The girl to the left, after seeing her first pic, posed again and again and was very concerned that the little boy received a favourable recording.

Copyright @ Hans Durrer

Ban Ki-Moon Korean says the Indian security officer at the baggage control in Terminal 3 of Delhi Airport to an Asian couple. Japan, they reply. No, the Indian says, Ban Ki-Moon Korean. Japan, the couple insists. I jump in and second the Indian. Japan, the couple is adamant. Finally it dawns on me: They are Japanese not Korean.

In my hotel, they let me use the hotel computer to check my mails. And so I sit behind the reception and write while the receptionist peers over my shoulder and openly reads what I'm penning, a hotel guest even ventures behind the reception to check on my writing.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

In India

Taking a photograph at the Taj Mahal
Copyright @ Hans Durrer

Are you full tonight? I ask the receptionist of my hotel in Jaipur. Yes, he says. How many rooms do you have? 22 of which 17 are occupied by orthopaedists who attend a conference nearby. The next morning at breakfast, two of the orthopaedists (they had already inquired at the reception where the only non-Indian in the hotel was from) approach me and want to know where in Switzerland I am from for they would soon attend a conference in Zurich.

Sanjay deals in garments. He will soon be going to Mexico on business. Do you speak Spanish? I inquire. That is not a problem, they speak English, he says. His English isn't too good but that is not a problem either because the garmet business is mainly about the quality of the garment (and this can be felt) and figures.

His brother asks whether I've been to Italy. Florence is very nice, Naples not at all, he says and adds: Italians also speak English and are very much like Indians. I automatically think of chaos ...

Guard inside the City Palace in Jaipur
Copyright @ Hans Durrer

India is a feast for the eye - a photographer's paradise.

You ask somebody for directions and in seconds you will find yourself surrounded by ten to twenty onlookers.

No rules, comments my driver on the traffic. Do cars in other countries go all in one direction? he wants to know. Generally speaking yes, they usually do not come from from left or right or towards you.

I walk into a beauty parlour. Do you also do nails? I ask. The hairdresser (I assume he is a hairdresser because he had been sleeping in a hairdresser's chair) nods. Manicure and pedicure? He continues to nod, I however have that clear feeling that he will nod to whatever I will suggest.

Indians prefer politeness to honesty, I had heard the other day. And business over no business, I guess.

Ever had Manchurian Cauliflower? One of the most exotic dishes I've ever had. You can get it in Delhi, at Connaught Circus h 27.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Die Socken-Serie

Als sich der weithin unbekannte Schweizer Fotograf Freddie „Trigger“ Berchtold letzthin nach San Francisco aufmachte, konnte er nicht ahnen, dass er dort auf ein Projekt stossen würde, dass schon bald zu seiner fotografischen Bestimmung werden sollte: die Socken-Serie.

Trigger besuchte in San Francisco seine Freundin, die Foto-Künstlerin Edna O’Look. Eines regnerischen Morgens wanderten die Beiden durch das Richmond Quartier in Richtung Geary Street als Edna unvermutet auf einen Gegenstand deutete, der auf dem Trottoir an der Ecke 25th Ave und Geary lag, und, wie es ihre Gewohnheit war, ausrief: „Da schau mal!“ Trigger schaute nicht, denn Edna O’Look machte ihn ständig, wo auch immer sie gingen, auf vollkommen unbemerkenswerte Dinge aufmerksam. Doch dieses Mal war es nicht so einfach, sie zu ignorieren, denn sie war stehen geblieben und blockierte Triggers Weg. Forschend beäugte sie ein Stück nasser Wolle, das für Trigger wie ein liegen gelassener Socken aussah, der, wie er fand, seiner Aufmerksamkeit auch deswegen nicht würdig war, weil es regnete und er dringend pinkeln musste. Doch Edna liessen solch gewöhnliche Umstände vollkommen kalt (ihr letztes Projekt hatte ausschliesslich mit Wasser zu tun und seither liess sie sich von allem, das in flüssiger Form daher kam, nicht mehr aus der Ruhe bringen). Zudem war sie voll auf dem Bewusstseins-Trip: sich irgendetwas bewusst zu sein, schien ihr an sich total positiv. Ein offensichtliches Kompensieren, wie Trigger es sah, denn Edna schlief zehn bis zwölf Stunden pro Nacht, kein Wunder also, dass sie ausserordentliche Anstrengungen unternahm, um in der verbliebenen Tageszeit extra-wach (oder, in ihren Worten, „bewusst) zu sein.

Es ist ein Socken, sagte Trigger. Interessant nicht? antwortete Edna. Es ist nur ein Socken! sagte Trigger mit deutlich erhobener Stimme. Was soll an einem nassen Socken auf der Strasse denn interessant sein? Nun ja, ich hab ihn bemerkt, sagte Edna. Natürlich würde ich nicht so weit gehen und dem eine spezielle Bedeutung zumessen wollen, doch die Geschichte hinter dem Socken könnte wirklich ganz faszinierend sein. Trigger musst immer noch dringend pinkeln und so sagte er: Können wir das bei einem Kaffee besprechen. Sowieso, sagte Edna.

Nachdem Trigger seine Blase erfolgreich geleert hatte, sagte er: Ich kann einfach nicht glauben, dass ein nasser Socken auf der Strasse Dein Interesse findet. Siehst Du einen Socken, der nicht an seinem üblichen Platz ist, denn nicht anders als wenn er an seinem üblichen Platz ist? antwortete Edna. Was hältst Du denn für den üblichen Platz für einen Socken? An einem Fuss oder im Schrank. Das seh ich auch so, gab Trigger zurück, aber was ist der übliche Platz für einen nassen Socken? An einer Leine zum Trocknen aufgehängt. Genau, antwortete Trigger, aber ich versteh es immer noch nicht, weil, na ja, also weil mir ist ein nasser Socken auf der Strasse ganz einfach vollkommen schnuppe. Nun ja, sagte Edna, es erlaubt Dir, den Socken und den Platz, wo er sich befindet, mit anderen Augen zu sehen. Wäre dieser Socken nicht gelegen, wo er lag, hättest du ihn wahrscheinlich nicht einmal bemerkt. Nun, sagte Trigger, ich habe ihn ja gar nicht bemerkt, obwohl er lag, wo er lag. Siehst Du, erwiderte Edna, das ist der Unterschied: Ich gehe bewusst durchs Leben und Du nicht. Und weil ich bewusst durchs Leben gehe, entwickle ich alternative Sichtweisen. Und das wiederum erlaubt mir, neue Zusammenhänge zu sehen. Und genau das fasziniert mich.

Das ganze Bewusstseins- und Aufmerksamkeits-Ding machte für Trigger nicht viel Sinn, denn ihm wäre lieber gewesen, er wäre sich der Leute, Orte und Dinge um ihn herum weniger bewusst gewesen. Im schien dieses ganze Bewusstseins- und Aufmerksamkeits-Getue völlig überbewertet. Was sollte, zum Beispiel, daran toll sein, wenn man sich seines Zahnwehs bewusst war? Oder seines Tinnitus?

Andrerseits faszinierte ihn Ednas Socken-Bewusstsein aber auch. Während der nächsten Tage erwischte er sich dabei, wie er ständig nach nassen Socken ausschaute, wo immer er auch ging. Er sah nie einen. Edna jedoch sah ständig welche. Nasse Socken? fragte Trigger. Ja, nasse Socken.

Trigger verstärkte seine Anstrengungen. Aber da, wo er ging, gab es keine nassen Socken. Doch dann, eines Morgens, sah er einen. Einen roten nassen Socken. An der Ecke Fulton und 32nd Avenue. Er war ganz aufgeregt, nahm seine Kamera zur Hand und begann zu schiessen. Aus allen Winkeln. Er strahlte vor Freude als er Edna davon erzählte. Als Kalifornierin teilte sie seine Begeisterung und freute sich für ihn.

Zwei Tage später entdeckte er einen weiteren Socken. Dieses Mal war es ein trockener schwarzer. Auf der Cabrillo. Er konnte sein Glück kaum fassen. Gleichzeitig war er leicht skeptisch, denn Cabrillo war etwas sehr nahe von Ednas und seinem Wohnort auf der 32nd Avenue. Und auch Fulton war verdächtig nahe. Hatte Edna vielleicht die Socken da hingelegt? Möglich, dachte er. Doch dann sagte er sich: Also jetzt, wo ich endlich meine Bestimmung gefunden habe, werde ich doch nicht so blöd sein und sie einfach wieder fahren lassen, nur wegen einer solchen doch recht unwahrscheinlichen Möglichkeit.

Ich vermisse zwei Socken, sagte Edna zwei Tage später. Einen roten und einen schwarzen. Hast Du sie gesehen?

Aus: Hans Durrer 
Inszenierte Wahrheiten
Rüegger Verlag, Chur/Zürich 2011

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Delhi Impressions (2)

What brings you to Delhi? asks the middle-aged guy in T-shirt, shorts, socks and house shoes, whose accent I cannot place, during breakfast at my Nehru Place hotel. Where are you from? I ask. Jordan, he says and adds: You should not have come here. The traffic, the filth, the noise. they don't stop at red lights, they live hundreds of years back in time ... all of a sudden he lightens up: But the women, so beautiful! he smiles.
I'm visiting a former classmate, I say and ask back: And what brings you here? Outsourcing IT, he says but I have cut my stay short, I will be leaving tonight. I'm paying a hundred Dollars for this place here; for this money I would get a really nice place in Dubai, he continues. But not in Switzerland, I feel like adding but decide that this is probably not the right moment.

The internet place near my hotel demands that I show my ID (they copy it), put down my name, address and phone number. Every time I show up. This is the law, the guy in charge says. And this is quite obviously the only place that enforces it ...

I decide to buy a sim card. That however proves to be not as easy as I had thought: I need a passport size photo. Once I have that I'm told that I also need a copy of my passport and my visa. Then I have to fill in a form that wants to know the name of my father, my birth date as well as my age, the address of a contact person in India and and and ...

I have my shoes shined. I should also have my laces replaced, suggests the shoe shiner. I agree, he throws them away. Only now he realises that he has no replacement. He goes to see a colleague but returns empty-handed. He eventually seetles for a far too short pair from his stock.

The most difficult to bear are the begging children ...

The towns and villages on my way to Agra never seem to have been properly built or must have been, some centuries ago, subjected to bomb raids. How come? People simply don't care, I'm told.

Blow Horn is written on the rear of Indian trucks. As if such encouragement were needed ...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Delhi Impressions

At the entrance of my hotel is a metal detector. Every time I pass through it, it peeps. Then I climb the stairs where a doorman opens the door for me, he does not check my bag, he's only there to open the door ...

In front of the Tibetan village I was approached by a man with a colossal cotton bud who offered me an on-the-street-ear-cleaning. Since he and his tool didn't seem to conform to Swiss hygiene standards, I politely declined ...

Saw the Red Fort from various angles, India Gate through a veil of haze, Parliament House through exhaust fumes ...

Got stuck in a sort of parking lot at Chandni Chowk, the cars were parked in such a way that there was simply no way of getting out ...

And then there's the constant honking. When I once felt to comment on it to my taxi driver, I only at the very last moment realised that he himself was a very active contributor to this deafening noise ...

Moreover, two things regularly come to mind:
A student of mine in Istanbul, who, when I commented on the many Turks on the Galata Bridge, asked whether I had ever been to Delhi.
And this quote from Spalding Gray's Impossible Vacations:
"Like the trip from the airport into Amsterdam, the ride into Delhi was confusing; but there was no time to reflect on it. We both held on for dear life as the cab careened through streets of chaos. I only had time for two thoughts: one, how Gandhi had ever imagined he could bring peace and order to such a place, and two, that I did not want to die here and that was what I felt was about to happen."

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Mario Quintana

After a while you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul. And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning and that company doesn't mean security. And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts and presents aren't promises. And you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes open and with the grace of an adult not the grief of a child. And you learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow`s ground is too uncertain for your plans. After a while you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So plant your own garden and decorate your own soul. Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers. And you will learn that you can endure that you really are special and that you really do have worth. So live to learn and know yourself. In doing so, you will learn to live.

Mario Quintana, 30 July 1906 — 5 May 1994, Brazilian Writer.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Simplexity

The architect Fernando Romero, born 1971 in Mexico City, worked from 1997 to 2000 in the offices of Rem Koolhaas in Rotterdam. In 2000, he founded his Laboratory of Architecture (LAR).

"Simplexity" presents a selection of his projects and provides an overview of his visions, drafts, and buildings, and thus documents the progress of LAR in the first ten years of its existence.

My impression? I thought the projects and buildings in this tome extraordinary and fascinating, all of them, and would be hard-pressed had I to name a favourite.

Architecture, according to Fernando Romero, "is produced through a continuous translation process. What we do in our daily practice is the translation of restrictions, ambitions, challenges, conditions, political and economic moments into structures that contain usable spaces with unique identities."

Take the Seoul Performing Arts Center for instance: its design was inspired by the Ying-Yang concept (the idea of keeping opposites in balance), the defining principle of Korea's identity. So how does one translate that into architecture? Romero and his partners opted for a sponge-like structure in which the main forums are suspended.

Or take the Torre Bicentenario OMA/LAR that was meant to commemorate Mexico's bicentennial of its independence and the centennial of its Revolution. What did Rem Koolhaas and his team (OMA) and his local partners (LAR) come up with? "... the building is formed by stacking two pyramidal forms resembling those typical of Mexican prehispanic temples, forms familiar and unexpected, historic but also visonary."

Many architects, Romero has observed, are not keen on working in China and with the Chinese respectively but for him this collaboration is interesting because there are many similarities between China and Mexico. "In our case, our bridge in Jinhua was produced with immense similarity to the way projects are done here in Mexico." Unfortunately, the interviewer did not ask him to elaborate.

After leafing yet another time through this tome, I realise that I come back again and again to the Bicentennial Moebius Ring which has a single continous face that is two-dimensional at every point. As Raymund Ryan penned: "It embodies the notion of simplexity - it is geometric yet not static, with a single contiguous surface linked here to key dates in Mexican history."

But then again, I also come back again and again to the Mexico Pavilion in Shanghai and the Mercedes Benz Business Center in Yerevan, Armenia, and and and ... Simplexity is a tome worth spending time with.

Mercedes Benz Business Center in Yerevan, Armenia

Simplexity
LAR / Fernando Romero
Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2010