Le Quattro Volte is a piece of slow cinema, a poem rather than a play. It is set in a remote village in southern Italy. The four times, or four turns, is a reference to the Pythagorean idea of metempsychosis and the cycle of four phases of life at different levels: human, animal, plant and earth.

The human segment follows an old goat-herd as he tends his flock in the mountains by day and then follows them back to their enclosure at night. He is old and sick. An accident breaks the goat’s enclosure, and as we follow them through the town we find the goat-herd dead in his bed.

The transitions between segments are marked by fades to black. We hear before we see the animal segment beginning with the birth of a goat. This is larger scale goat farming and the goats are led out into the hills rather than followed, so that strays are not noticed. The kid, its legs tied together, cannot jump out of a ditch, and becomes separated and lost. It lies down to die under a tree.



Here is the itinerary for one day in Delhi. First drop is the Jantar Mantar. Completed in 1724, this is one of the five parks built by Jai Singh II of Jaipur. The park contains 13 instruments designed to take observations of the positions of the sun, moon and planets. It is not at all clear as we stroll round the park how the instruments were used, but the park is well maintained and the instruments themselves, reddish plastered and white edged, make interesting patterns. It is still early in the morning and there are few other tourists about.

Our next stop is the Old Fort, Purana Qila, a sprawling walled enclave on the banks of the Yamuna River. It dates from the middle of the 16th century and the beginning of the Mughal period. The empire was founded by Babur in 1526 with the defeat of the Lodhi regime. Babur was a descendent of Genghis Khan (1167-1227) on his mother’s and Timur (1337-1405) on his father’s side. He was succeeded by Hamuyun (1531-40, 1555-56), Akbar (1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-27), Shah Jahan (1628-58) and Aurangzeb (1658-1707). At the time of Aurangzeb the empire extended across most of the Indian subcontinent. There then followed a period of decline and loss of territory to local rulers and foreigners, until the last nominal emperor was exiled for supporting the 1857 rebellion and the empire was replaced by the British Raj. The most interesting features of the site are the three gates, each topped by stone pavilions, and the old mosque. The mosque is a single aisle with five doors to the side opening onto the courtyard. It was completed in 1541.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of foresight, we were in Delhi only a few days before the Independence Day celebrations on August 15th, and some of the main sites such as India Gate, the Rajghat Gandhi memorial and the Red Fort were closed. Our next stop then was Humayun’s tomb. This is the earliest example of the royal mausoleum in India. It is based on the tomb of Timur in Samarkand and is surrounded by a formal garden representing the gardens of paradise. It is a fine building but I found the visit somewhat flattening.


Classical Architecture is a set of lectures by Demitri Porphyrios, originally delivered as the University of Virginia and Yale University in 1987 and 1989. The book is beautifully illustrated. To the lectures are appended extracts from Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Hegel, Vitruvius, Alberti and Viollet-le-Duc among others. The argument is polemical. Porphyrios is writing against modernism and deconstruction and in favour of classicism, particularly in the context of urban reconstruction.

Porphyrios follows Aristotelian ideas in defining the difference between building and architecture.

‘Significance lies not in the utility or beauty that may accompany the artefact but in the recognition of ourselves as makers of that artefact. This recognition is essentially a contemplative experience and when viewed like this the building – though it may be useful – refuses to be used in any way. Architecture begins precisely here; it speaks of the usefulness which produced it in the first place, from which it detaches itself as art and to which it always alludes’.


The reading circuit for 2012 has concluded, and in my case, it’s back to Afghanistan where it started with the story of Enaiatollah Akbari, taken by his mother to Pakistan to escape the persecution of the Taliban.

I have been reading ‘Letters to my Daughters’, written by Fawzia Koofi in collaboration with Nadene Ghouri. It is subtitled ‘between terror and hope, the struggles of the first Afghan women in politics’. Fawzia Koofi was elected to be the vice-president of the lower chamber of the Afghan parliament when it was reformed in 2005 and intends to be a candidate in the 2014 presidential elections.

The book tells the story of her life, with letters to her two daughters and also to her dead mother and father seeded between the chapters. She was born in 1975 in Koofi in Badakhstan, the most northerly and impoverished region of Afghanistan. Her family was important in local politics and her father was a deputy to the first Afghan parliament which was called under the monarchy of Zaher Shah in 1965. Her grandfather had been an important local leader.


I began writing this blog just over a year ago so this is perhaps a good moment to review how it has developed.

I started keeping a journal just over 5 years ago, with a requirement that there must be an entry every day even when the entry is that there is nothing to record. The idea was to keep track of events. Our memories are unreliable, particularly with regard to time. But I also knew that I was likely to give up working and move abroad during the following year and therefore that it would be an interesting time to keep a record. One of the consequences of keeping a journal is that, knowing that I had to write something, I started to pay more attention to events as potential material.

I didn’t have this as a plan in mind when I started writing the blog, but what has happened is that many of the pieces that I was putting into the journal, such as notes about films and novels, I now post to the blog. The consequence is that the journal started to become a somewhat dry record of events: workout in the gym this morning then coffee on the plaza, meeting of the condo management committee in the afternoon, that sort of thing. I have therefore stopped keeping a journal on a daily basis, using it now only to keep track of specific events, such as when we are travelling.


We should have been in Cuxhaven that morning, but we had missed the overnight ferry sailing from Harwich. So we had bought tickets on a boat going to Holland, the only other ferry leaving that day. Disembarking late at night at Hoek van Holland, we had found a room for the night at an Ibis hotel just off the highway. Cuxhaven to Rostock would have been a leisurely day driving along the coast, but it’s 530 kilometres from Hoek van Holland to Hamburg and a further 300 kilometres from Hamburg to Rostock, around 8 hours driving in all.

We drove east across the Netherlands, skirting Rotterdam and Utrecht and crossed the German border north of Enschede from where we picked up the autobahn to Bremen and Hamburg. We stopped briefly in Hamburg and then continued on, taking first the Berlin road and then heading north from Wittstock. Although a longer drive, at the time I don’t think there was an autobahn directly between Hamburg and Rostock. It’s often the case that you can travel faster on the restricted autoroutes in France than on the unrestricted autobahns in Germany because traffic is lighter and average speeds higher, but here the traffic quickly thinned out and we could make rapid progress, at least until it became apparent that there were few service stations on this section and we had to nurse the fuel.


The weather is fine when we leave Santiago, but the pilot warns that it is going to be a bumpy ride when we land in Buenos Aires. And it is. But we arrive ahead of schedule; presumably there is some slack in a flight time which can be cashed in when the pilot is heading into bad weather. In the terminal, we are fortunate that most of the arriving passengers are from South American countries and have to queue in the Mercosur line while we join the much shorter queue for locals and others. But customs is slow. Every bag is x-rayed and most are searched. On the customs declaration form you are supposed to detail every item purchased abroad and even specify the make and model of your own personal mobile phone. Presumably all the others you are carrying will be confiscated as contraband. It is apparent that, given Argentina’s economic situation, smuggling from neighbouring countries is common. But nobody is interested in our luggage or our declaration form and there hadn’t been the same procedure when we arrived in Buenos Aires from the Middle East a week earlier.

The taxi whisks us in to town. We are staying at the Lola House Boutique Hotel (*) on Avenida Castro Barros in the barrio of Boedo. It is a rainy night and we are off the tourist grid here. A street walker approaches the car at the lights. At the hotel, the driver waits until we are safely inside. But things quickly pick up. After unpacking, a quick dash across the street to the grocery store opposite secures a bottle of wine and some snacks. The shutters are coming down but Arturo, the hotel’s overnight desk, holas across the road and they wait for me. Arturo supplies the glasses and a corkscrew and we find a channel on the television showing a couple of episodes of a US medical drama. The story is about the aftermath of a plane crash.


The fasten seat belts sign comes on as the plane crosses the Andes, apparently a routine precaution against the turbulence created by air flowing over the high mountains. But we don’t see the summits through the thick layer of cloud until we have banked left and started the descent into Santiago. The airport looks new and immigration is efficient. We have a slight delay while customs inspect a flask in our luggage. The Chileans, protected behind their high walls, are very concerned about importing agricultural pests and diseases.

We are staying in Santiago as house guests with my brother and his family. They live in the suburb of Los Trapenses on the mountain side of Santiago. This is all new development. Building is allowed up to the 1000 metre mark and their place is at around 990 metres. Looking back down the valley, Santiago sprawls into the distance. There is a noticeable layer of pollution in the air. Warm air carrying pollution from traffic and factories gets trapped beneath a layer of cold air creating, particularly in winter, poor air quality. Already in the foothills, from here the heights rise quickly. The highest peak visible from Santiago is El Plomo at 5,434 metres. Now in October, there is still some snow on the summits. Looking towards the peaks from the back garden we can see the condors circling on the air currents, mobbed occasionally by smaller birds, and then, riding a draft, rapidly disappearing into the mountains.


We have seen a number of interesting films at International Film Night this year. Atanarjuat is a Canadian film. It is filmed entirely in Inuktitat, the language of the Eastern Canadian Inuit, was made in 2001, and is directed by Zacharias Kunuk. It was the first indigenous Inuit film to be produced.

It retells an Inuit legend about two brothers, Amaqjuaq, the strong one, and Atanarjuat, the fast one. At the beginning of the film they are infants. In the opening scenes, at a gathering of the clan, in the presence of a baleful shaman, Kumaglak the clan leader dies and Sauri his son is appointed the new leader. The clear implication is that Sauri has plotted his father’s murder and Tulimaq, the infant’s father, is now under threat, as is Qulitalik, the brother of Kumaglik’s wife Panikpak, who flees the clan

The film then picks them up as young men. Atarnajuat is now a rival of Oki, the son of Sauri, in a duel for Atuat, who was betrothed to Oki as a child. Atarnajuat wins the fight, a formalised contest where they alternately punch each other on the head. Though now married to Atuat, on a hunting trip Atarnajuat stops by Sauri’s camp, where he is persuaded to allow Puja, Oki’s sister, to join him on the trip. Atarnajuat is seduced by Puja thereby acquiring a second wife.


The Norfolkline ferry from Dover to Dunkerque is primarily for trucks, but the fares are good and it is more relaxing than the regular passenger ferries. The truck drivers have their own lounge and the canteen serves canteen food. Our boat sailed at 8:15 in the morning and we were on the road south an hour or so later. Even with the time difference, this should have been enough time for us to reach our overnight stop at Zug in Switzerland at a leisurely pace. However, road works pushed us off our expected route across northern France onto another course through Belgium, Luxembourg and the Saarland region of Germany. We then got lost at Saarbrucken trying to find our way back onto the Strasbourg road, with the result that the sun was setting when we reached the Rhine with still some 3 hours driving to go until we reached our hotel. Despite having to pay for the no-show, we stopped at a hotel in Strasbourg. There was a pleasant family restaurant next door.

The second days drive was therefore that much longer. First the sprint down the autobahn to Basel, then across Switzerland and through the San Gotthard Tunnel into Ticino, then follow the valley southward to Italy. From Milan we drove east on the autostrada across the Po valley, past Bologna to Rimini and then it’s a run down the coast to Ancona and Pescara. There are fine views of the Adriatic from the road. At Pescara we turned inland on the road that runs back across the Apennines to Rome. Up in the mountains, we turned south to follow the winding mountain road to Pescassaroli.


« Previous PageNext Page »