I shouldn’t be here, of all the places in the world I shouldn’t be here but I am. I mustered up the courage to get out the bed, the sunlight is blinding, the noise from the cafe downstairs is deafening, the water fountain nearby is putting up a show that it is supposed to in a repetitive manner
Finally last evening I was able to have the euphoric feeling of finishing a book from end to end, the feeling quadruples when it is a classic and the cherry on the top is added for I was moving at a snail’s pace. I picked it up in April while I was on my flight to Seattle and since then I have been reading a few pages here and there but over the long weekend I decided to be done with it and could I be any more successful!
I had purchased it for the first time back in 2011 after finishing Crime and Punishment but tsundoku applies to me. When I was in Paris, I did visit Shakespeare and Company, not for the sake of tourism and getting my photograph clicked and put a tick on my checklist but for some other reasons. At the entrance of the store there is a small paragraph written in chalk which intrigued me a lot and that was the tipping point for me to pick that book again.
Truth be told, many times I did feel a little overwhelmed with inordinate amount of details and endless dialogues but the development of the characters over a period of time kept me going. I guess a book becomes a classic when it transcends time, it doesn’t have to be didactic but should show the human emotions in most raw and authentic formats without any adulteration. Dostoevsky has always successfully dabbled with the concept of human emotions, the flaws and strengths that we carry with us since our birth and that makes us who we are. The Idiot deals with the human struggle of being a human being. Many times when I have read books from previous centuries, I have wondered have we progressed at all, are we on the right trajectory, will we evolve more emotionally or have we attained the apex point? The Idiot lets you peek into the Russian ideology, Russian society, customs and religion. I could understand the difference between the catholicism and Russian orthodox church and may be that’s one of the point from where the difference stems between Russia and the other western nations.
The book starts with a great pace and builds momentum over a period of time but then many characters jump in as it happens in Russian classics; As I took some time to read the book, I used a cheat sheet to refer to various characters in the story. There were metaphors and allegories used, and I don’t claim that I understood everything but I indeed relished the character development and the storyline of the main characters. The last 20 percent of the book moves at a faster pace compared to the middle part in which many other characters are getting focus and are having their spiritual transformations e.g. Hippolyte is one of them. I felt bad for Aglaya, she was just a normal girl who was with wrong people at wrong place at the wrong time. Myshkin is a typical nice guy but he is indecisive and his behavior with Aglaya infuriated me a little. Roghozin is one of those who think they are entitled to something great and they can have it by hook or crook but if one ignores his lunacy he did love Nastasya that turned into an obsession. The final one was Nastasya Phillipovana, her role in the story is passive for a long period of time except at the beginning and the conclusion. She is indecisive, she loves Myshkin but is convinced that he can’t be happy with her. She is the typical hot mess who has self destructive tendencies and it stems from her past. She reminds me of words of Jon Krakauer – “Some people feel like they don’t deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past”. She knows how her story would end but she audaciously accepts it.
I think some characters alive or dead stay with you and Nastasya is one of them and I thank George Whitman for the introduction.
Sitting in a coffee shop’s bar and hitting the keys on my machine incessantly in pursue of higher accuracy of the mathematical model I was running, I ordered a decaf and looked to my right. A woman sitting besides me glanced at me and pointed at my T shirt which said “Kaikki on hyvin” and asked what is it? I tried to produce a fake smile and responded it means “everything is well” and plugged in my earphone and started working again while listening to “All we need” by Odesza. A few moments later I felt a tug on my sleeve and I was facing another question from my curious neighbor. I paused Spotify and raised my eyebrows with a nod in a questioning form, she wanted to know what language is it. I said “Suomi, I mean Finnish”. She asked a few more questions and said “Everything is well” in a manner marked with a familiar indignation followed by a passive expression. I saw that she was leafing through a book that prompted me to use the expression “What’s it going to be then, eh”, to which she chuckled. I smiled back and resumed my work.
A month ago I found myself strutting around in hot Stockholm afternoon; all the Swedes seemed to be embracing the sun while I was running amok seeking refuge from the closest star of the solar system.
I ended up in Nordisk Museet in Djurgården and it turned out to be a great learning experience. Apart from learning about the Sápmi tribe, Eva chair, August Strindberg’s life apart from Miss Julie I had elaborate and thoughtful reflections on the importance of light in human life. The gallery, Nordic lights, focused on the idea how Scandinavians have mastered the concept and art of light as they live in two extremes – in summers they are drenched with sun while in winters they have sun only as a theoretical concept. The idea is not only to see clearly but also create a cozy atmosphere around you in the room and derive pleasure out of it. How to strive for Lagom while lighting your home given too much light can cause light pollution and too less will make you grope for things. The daylight is considered the benchmark in achieving this balance and thus started the human adventure for optical quest.
I was particularly interested in all the optics related ideas given I strive for minimalism and want to modulate the light around me so it doesn’t cause eye pain and provides ample amount for me to read, execute tasks, and have hygge as well.
It is interesting why Scandinavians mastered the art of lighting. Back in 1930s, Sweden and Finland were host to a few most densely populated cities in the western world which gave rise to the concept of Folkhemmet( Swedish welfare state) and small apartments. The obvious corollary was to obviate anything that is too large and awkward. The design of furniture and light has to be functional. Understand what is the need and then shape the object. Soon the artists joined the crusade so everyone can enjoy the designs at much cheaper price; artistic expression focused on functionalism thus giving rise to modernism. The gallery focused on how we evolved from the fireplace to PH lamps. (Paul Henningsen).
One important principle to remember while choosing the light is the temperature that it works on. Warm light – temperature 2700 to 3500 Kelvin (yellow in color) and cold light – 3500 to 5000 Kelvin (Blue white/white in color), candlelight 1850 Kelvin. Most hygge temp e.g. sunset, candle light, and campfires is ~ 1800 Kelvin. (Kelvin is the standard unit to measure temperature and 273.15 Kelvin = 0 Celsius)
The question that we should ask while thinking about the functional lighting is what happens in the space? Is it for reading and writing or to accentuate focus on something. That’s how the functional lighting works.
Too much light and one would start feeling being interrogated in the room thus staying away from ceiling light that creates an industrial ambience is a good idea; unless it comes with a dimmer so you can modulate the brightness. Too much light can kill the hygge of the room.
One interesting concept is the use of several light sources and the localized lighting( concentrate on lighting areas of the room than entire room).
I have experienced that too much light cause discomfort in the room and even a small light source works if the room isn’t used for working. For general lighting we can use large arched lamps, small chandeliers, or overhead lights to create localized and focused lighting. Hanging central lights provide focused and softer light. There are many lamps that diffuse light through origami structure to create multiple focal points and many geometric lamps that help develop patterned light across the room.
For those who read and write, having arched floor lamps with cool white light is apt while to highlight certain spaces one should think of accentuating using low level table lamps.
Apart from focusing on the concept of light one should focus on the color palette of the room as well. Low key color palette with use of white and grey on the walls helps light to bounce.
These are the basic principles that one should start playing around with while thinking of light around them, there isn’t any one stop solution as the light is a subjective concept. Thankfully we live in an industrial world with enough options to cater to our needs.
Estonia, once under the iron curtain of Russia is now the most connected country in the world. Its capital city Tallinn indeed feels like a city straight from a fairy tale. From the cloudy skies, cobbled pathways, canopied passages to the orange rooftops, each has direct connection to a dream woven story.
The ochre and other pastel colors in the old town remind me of Gamla Stan in Stockholm and large hanging drapery of sky is a splitting image of the Prussian blue water of Baltic Sea.
The city has cool neighborhood, Kalamaja, famous for its wooden architecture. The bohemian and hipster hood akin to certain parts of Brooklyn where I like to hang out. If I were a Finn living in Helsinki I would take a ferry most of the weekends to eat at F-Hoone(May be it means F-building) in the Tellskivi center. The market nearby – Depoo, runs from an old locomotive depot. One side of the market reminds one of the Soviet past of the country. Tchotchke from the yesteryear era find home in the market while the other end is as modern as any other city market.
Such medieval city has to have a rich reading culture and I did end up in Raamatukoi opposite the tourist info center in the old town. The Estonian word Raamatukoi means bookcase in English and it indeed is apt given the bookstore is brimming with books – new and old. The reading skill foundation laid by the Children’s book trust and National book trust acquaints one with Russian literature very early; Seeing the familiar Mir publisher logo on various titles made me smile and was surprised to see a few statements written here and there in Hindi.
The bookstore sells chiefly old and used books, postcards, old vinyl records and is a pit stop of the history. It holds in itself a historical account of what the country has gone through and has been an eye witness to various churns of time without getting stuck in a time warp.
Rahva Raamat is another bookstore that was well equipped but when I learned that it is a chain bookstore present in entire Estonia, I kept it in the same bucket as Barnes and Nobel. There is something charming about the old, independent bookstores and coffee shops that is comforting.
I wish I had more time to uncover the other parts of the city but the impromptu ship journey from Helsinki turned out to be fruitful and gratifying indeed.
The silver-lining of Estonia is instead of being held back by its past and playing the blame game as has happened in many post disintegration countries, it chose to start from scratch and build. The strategy has paid really well and Estonians can enjoy the view of their capital city from either Patkuli or Kohtuotsa and breathe the fresh air with pride.
Not very often we find a place where we can gather our thoughts, find solace, have a cup of coffee and browse through an impressive collection of literature – fiction and non fiction. After visiting Auschwitz, I came back to Krakow in the evening and wanted to be at a place that can give me silence for some time. My hostel wasn’t conducive of such ambience so I walked a little south west of my location across the Planty park and reached Massolit books and cafe at Felicjanek 4/2. I entered the quiet bookstore and strolled around, a few people were browsing, a few talking, and a few were working on their computers as in any coffee shop in a big city of USA. I ordered a latte and seated myself in a corner seat besides an old woman who most probably was a teacher and was correcting papers and was nodding her head in disappointment while embellishing the answer sheets in big red circles.
A few days ago I was in Nordisk Museet in Stockholm and learned about the concept of lighting the spaces and how optics and light designers have revolutionized the concept and the device itself. The Scandinavian region doesn’t get a lot of light for a large part of the year, so artificial lighting is the key but the fundamental principle is to have a smooth transition between darkness and light or vice versa and create an environment that is cosy, comfortable, and makes you calm. While I was sitting there, I could feel those principles in application.
The books on the table in front were the ones which I won’t generally find in your around the corner bookstore unless I go to City lights in San Francisco. Apart from that, the old and used tables here have a charm that needs to be enjoyed again whenever I find myself in Kraków.
The movie fight club has a few thought provoking quotes – “We are the middle children of history, no purpose or place, no great wars, no great depression”. I don’t second the thought completely, our generation might also have a purpose may be a latent one, may be the purpose is hidden in layers like a pomegranate hides the berries in layers. Taking the middle path is the norm, the path that is safe, one that might bear the fruits of success – a success that is moderate but not the one that will make you immortal. Fight club comes to rescue one more time by stating “It’s only after we have lost everything that we are free to do anything”.
The cities that have marked themselves in golden letters in pages of history were unforgiving to the people who called them home. There wasn’t a plan B, if you succeed then you will share the glory and your place in pages of history with the greats from all walks of life but if you fail then you might starve to death and you subject your upcoming generations, if any, to similar fate. But that didn’t deter them to take risks. They always shot for something that can be considered the ultimate manifestation of human spirit.
What is it that we will risk everything for? Pope Julius II gave the commission to Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo wasn’t a painter, he was a sculptor. But the philosophy to take risk on the unlikely heroes was not uncommon. Identify a talented person and bestow responsibility of a herculean task; sit back and look at the results.
But what we do nowadays is quite tangential to that approach. We enlist the people for jobs once we determine that they are the perfect fit and then we assign the tasks to those who demonstrated the ability to execute those tasks in the past. Entirely risk averse. No risk or reduced risk is what the aim is. The space and time required for the ideas to flourish are not provided and then we wonder why aren’t we living in another renaissance?
Voice by KHMRS is being played in the background while I write this. When I was a kid and before I had any comprehension of Physics and optics, I always wondered that if light can divide itself into rainbow colors then if I will mix the VIBGYOR then may be I will get white or something made of light but every single time I got some blackish muddled color like my thoughts and also warnings from my mother on wasting colors. After many years, in one of the books I borrowed from Dr. B C Roy’s children’s library in New Delhi I read about the additive and subtractive mixing of colors giving rise to white light and the blackish color of my mix. In short, when you mix RGB lights in 1:1:1 then you get white light. While when we mix the colors the concept that is used is called the subtractive mixing e.g. a shirt appears blue when white light shines on it because it absorbs all colors but reflects only blue back. The same shirt might appear of different color when looked in different light. The color of an object does not reside in the object itself. The color is in the light that shines upon the object and that ultimately is reflected or transmitted to our eyes.
Mixing of colors wasn’t a welcome activity before renaissance, many purists didn’t like the idea of mixing color and their argument that there is nothing a color can add to the black and white world. If a painting is great then it is great, an addition of color can’t have an effect on it’s intrinsic value. White and black were considered the natural colors and rest were just derivations.
The competition, rivalry, tussles were the hallmarks of the renaissance period and one of the fiercest debate or paragone as it was called during that time between colore(color) and designo(design and drawings). Design was with Florence and Color with Venice and Venetian colore has always been characterized as sensual e.g. Titian’s Venus and the Lute player – the painting that hangs in the MET. While the guiding principle of disegno is manifested in lines, contours, and forms. While disegno was considered more intellectual and rational form of art, colore was seemed as vulgar but with the advent of renaissance, both the ideas got an uplift and world became vivid with colors.
Being a flâneur in a city will take you to many places and will unfold the city in front of you like an open book. One stumbles upon conspicuous and inconspicuous places, events, people, sites that a guidebook might not lay down in front of you.
One thing that I appreciate sincerely about Germans is that they don’t try to sweep the history under the carpet. It is out there in the open for everyone in the world to take lessons from so as not to repeat the same mistakes in the future. But where is the world heading! Well, that’s another discussion.
I was in the city center when I found myself on Viscardigasse, where I found a cobblestone path in gold. Curious, I tried to find information on curved golden blocks in one ordinary looking alley of Munich.
The golden path is a tribute to those people who didn’t support the Nazis and to avoid giving a salute to a monument commemorating those who died during the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, these people chose a back alley in their routes. Soon, it was discovered that people are avoiding the main square so as not to salute, so the reich instated a policeman in the middle of the alley and if one didn’t have a reason to use the alley, he/she was either beaten or worse sent to Dachau concentration camp as an enemy of the state. That’s why the golden path is present only in half of the alley, to commemorate those whose fates were sealed midway. Those who dared to choose their own path and didn’t fail to take a risk.
It is such a subtle tribute and so easy to miss but when noticed is so powerful and thought provoking. An excellent example of minimalism, a tribute to all those who suffered and perished, and a symbol to keep them in the back of our minds always.
What better way to write an ode to coffeehouses than being in one and drinking the most popular drug of all the times.
How coffee works?
Our brain has adenosine and adenosine receptors, when both of them come in contact then drowsiness or sleep is induced. Caffeine when taken in binds itself to the adenosine receptors and thus blocking opportunity for adenosine to bind. The nerve cells speed up in this process and pituitary gland thinks of it as an emergency and thus releases loads of adrenaline hormone which is the fight or flight hormone.
Other things about Coffee and coffeehouses!
Cities such as Seattle, Vienna, Reykjavik, London rank consistently higher in number of coffeehouses that call home to these cities. In 2011, UNESCO put cafes in Vienna as part of the intangible heritage of the city and it is true indeed. But the first cafe in the world, Kiva Han, was opened in Constantinople(modern day Istanbul) in the year 1475 and soon they mushroomed all over the world and are thronged by all. There are the famous ones such as café central in Vienna that served as the incubator for the likes of Freud, Trotsky, and Lenin.
I am one of the loyal ones with an allegiance to this dark drink but more than that I prefer to sit, read, and observe in these establishments. I have had moments of flow there that is curated by the moderate level of noise that can send one in the mode of diffused focus, one of the state that helps in creative thinking and launches one in the space where inner and outer imagination meet and create something that can’t have taken flight on terra firma.
Alfred Polgar in 1927 in his essay “Theory of café central“said that the place is for those people whose hatred of their fellow human beings is as fierce as their longing for people, who want to be alone but need companionship for it. This is the exact feeling I get in New York City, you can be alone but can be with millions of people. The coffee houses are like the archipelago of people who are alone yet close, may be that’s the reason I do like the archipelago cities – NYC and Stockholm as examples.
These sanctified places provide refuge to the ideas, the lonely ones and to the gregarious alike. Here you can concoct an ephemeral world within the tangents of humdrum and mundane world.