Open day at the EU Commission

An open day at the European Commission? How exciting! No? Oh come on, try at least to show a little enthusiasm!

After more than a year as a Brussels resident, it was high time to visit one of the centres of EU power in this, Europe’s capital (three weeks a month). High time not least because, judging by the noises coming out of Britain, it may be my last year as a British and an EU citizen.

Every year in May, Europe celebrates. There’s something for (more or less) everyone this month: the Second World War came to an end on 8th May 1945 (9th May if you are east of Berlin); the Council of Europe was founded in 1949 by the Treaty of London and celebrates that event every May 5th; and the EU celebrates on May 9th because that was the date of the Schuman Declaration in 1950, regarded as the seed of the European Union.

Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany.

Robert Schuman, then French Foreign Minister

The celebrations spread through the month. This year the Headquarters of the European Commission in the Berlaymont building at the Schumann roundabout here in Brussels held a family fun open day last Saturday. (It wasn’t in fact billed as “family fun”, just as an “open day”, but there were definitely families there, and many seemed to be having fun.)

Personally I found it a curious mix of the genuinely interesting, quite entertaining and deadly boring. Many of the Directorates-General and Service sections of the Commission were represented, but it was clear which had put thought and effort into what they were doing there. The stalls run by everyone connected to science and languages had crowds of visitors and eager participants. Some of the other stalls were staffed by people whose enthusiasm and ability to connect with the general public was lukewarm at best.

There should be more of these events (with engaged organisers), and they should be taking place in schools and public forums across the EU on a weekly basis. Perhaps if that had been happening in the UK the last 40 years we wouldn’t be where we now are. Or at least the British public would be better able to make an informed decision. As it is, most of the propaganda I hear from both sides of the Brexit debate at present seems bloated, ignorant and designed to prey on fear.

But let us not dwell on the negative. Here are some photos from Saturday’s open day.

EU Open Day: Computer coding for visitors
Computer coding for visitors
EU Open Day: Our environmental future Europe
Our environmental future Europe
EU Open Day: In the Schumann Conference Room
In the Schuman Conference Room simultaneous translators show off their stuff
The author - a serious selfie in the Schuman Conference Room
The author – a serious selfie
EU Open Day: Families together in the Schumann Conference Room
Families together in the Schuman Conference Room
EU open day: Panorama in the atrium
Open day panorama in the atrium of the Berlaymont building
What would make you leave your home country?
What would make you leave your home country? The stickers say: Job, Study, War, Love, Curiosity, Putin, Chavez…
EU Open Day: Camera bank
This camera bank was presented by EU Research and Innovation
In front of the cameras
You got a white coat and some green fluid in a test tube and then stood in front of the cameras…
…and they took a photo and turned it into a 180 degree animation.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Florentine graffiti

Florentine graffiti: some people like it, some hate it.

Florence is known as one of the homes of the Italian Renaissance, and there is a wealth of art to see there. It’s also the home of Europe’s oldest, dedicated school of art, Accademia e Compagnia delle Arti del Disegno, or the “Academy and Company of the Arts of Drawing”, which was founded in 1563 by Cosimo I de’Medici, at the recommendation of Giorgio Vasari. Not surprisingly, the city also shelters a flourishing tradition of unofficial art – graffiti to you and me.

If you do an Internet search for “graffiti Florence”, you’ll turn up a surprising volume of references (over 700,000 when I googled it just now). To be sure a number of these – for reasons that escape me – seem to refer to the film American Graffiti, but most are about real Florentine graffiti. As with most graffiti, some people like it, some hate it, and some might appreciate it more, perhaps, if it wasn’t “disfiguring” Florence.

I’m not wild about tagging, and not generally impressed by written graffiti, on the other hand I think the people who live in Florence have as much right to decorate or pass illustrative comments on Florence as anyone in their own home. Especially when it is done with skill, wit and panache. Here are some I photographed last November.

Florentine Graffiti 9

I suspect the one above and the one below are by the same hand.

Florentine Graffiti 12

Florentine Graffiti 11

Many pieces make use of architectural features as a frame.

Florentine Graffiti 3

Florentine Graffiti 14

Others adapt what the city gives them. The one below was just outside a shop advertising alcohol for sale.

Florentine Graffiti 15

Florentine Graffiti 5

And there are no rules about materials either. The one above uses gaffer tape.

Florentine Graffiti 10

I don’t really count the below as graffiti, but I’m not at all sure it is official art. It was ocupying a niche high up on the corner of an alley in the Oltrarno (“the other side of the Arno”) and certainly seemed to be making a comment on something.

Sculpted woman holding her nose

If graffiti is defined as illegal art on walls, then I suppose a fresco, which is legal art on walls, is graffiti’s legitimate cousin. Frescoes are painted in wet plaster directly on to the wall – art fused with the material of the wall itself. Below is the Judas kiss from a fresco of Fra Angelico in the San Marco Friary Museum in Florence.

The Judas Kiss (detail)

And here below is evidence that art students are still hard at work learning from the masters. (That’s the Annunciation she’s copying, too concentrated to notice the fat Englishman with a camera behind her, even though I’m reflected in the glass).

Art student sketching Fra Angelico's Annunciation at San Marco

Finally, a couple more balloons – the first with an ancient artistic reference (on the back wall of the San Marco museum if I remember right).

Florentine Graffiti 13

Florentine Graffiti 7

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Tip of the hat to fellow Blogg52er Ulla Marie Johanson who blogs a new painting (and accompanying poem in Swedish) daily at Kreativ varje dag (Creative every day). Last Wedesday was a picture of balloons which reminded me I’ve been wanting to share these graffiti images since Mrs SC and I visited Florence last year.


Regardless of what I had thought to write this week, recent events prompt me to publish some photos instead. My wife and I visited Paris in May and though I’ve posted a few of these pictures earlier on Facebook and Ello, I hadn’t got Stops and Stories up to speed then, so they are new here.

From Place de la Concord to the Eiffel Tower

Paris is an iconic city, with iconic buildings. It’s hardly surprising it should be a target for people who have demonstrated a hatred of icons other than their own black flag and the book they interpret at will.

Blue light in Paris 2

Paris is a city of light and colour, of freedom and dreams. Those who attacked Paris last Friday hate the light. For them, colour is an enemy. Their flag is black. For them, freedom is enfeeblement. They cannot allow any dream but their own, and they dream of death.

Outside La Dauphine - a Paris bistro

Paris is a city filled with the vibrancy of people from different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs meeting in both love and debate (and the love of debate). Those who attacked Paris last Friday hate these things. They hate difference, discussion, debate.

Facade of the Arab World Institute

They probably hate the portrait of early Islam painted in the Arab World Institute. At least six of the people murdered on Friday were from the Moslem community of France (and by far the majority of all victims of this terrorism world-wide are Moslems).

Old and new at the Louvre

It’s only 70 years since another group of people threatened Paris. People who also worshipped the dark, who dressed in black, who dreamed of death. They planned to destroy the city, all its buildings, all its icons, all its art and, if necessary, all its people. They failed.

Notre Dame in evening light

Why are we afraid that a handful of fanatics might succeed where the German army of occupation, with all its resources, with all the will of Nazi ideology, yet failed? These recent events, terrible though they are to all caught up in them directly or indirectly, heartrending though we may find them, are insignificant in the stream of history. They make a little splash in the flowing waters of time, and then the waters close over them and flow on.

Pont Marie from Pont Louise-Phillipe in the dark

This morning on the radio I listened to an interview with Phillipe Sands and Niklas Frank. The one is not only a Professor of International law, he is also the grandchild of a Jewish family murdered in the holocaust in Poland. The other is the son of Hans Frank, the Nazi Governor-General of occupied Poland during World War II. The two have recently collaborated on a documentary What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy. Phillipe Sands made the point, how, 70 years down the line, who can say whether a child of Friday’s victims and a child of Friday’s murderers may not also sit with one another in friendship?

Pont Marie from Pont Louise-Phillipe in daylight

Now is a time to mourn, but not a time to despair. And, if you can, save some pity for the miserable men and women who committed this atrocity. What tortured, distorted, dull and infected minds they must have lived with to bring them to a situation where murdering their brothers and sisters seemed like a good idea.

Cain - How can I undo the damage I've done

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Photography – overcoming photo-block

In the park - leaves against the skyNo matter how accustomed I am to photography, I find there are days when I can’t see anything to take pictures of. In a way that’s understandable if I’m in a new place where new impressions are forcing themselves upon me from all sides and it’s difficult to filter out the things I want to focus on, but I don’t understand why it happens sometimes when I’m familiar with a place. Unless this is an example of familiarity breeding indifference.

In the park - the joggerI’m not sure which of these two perspectives was influencing me the other day, but I decided I didn’t have any intention of indulging my reluctance. I took the camera and I went on a walk and I forced myself to do one of those basic photography school exercises. You know the one: set yourself to take a photograph every 100 paces. Walk, count your steps, and when you get to 200 (because two steps make one pace) stop and take a picture. It doesn’t matter what – just take it and then walk on.

In the park - conversation over a bicycleAfter a while – after three or five or seven photographs – you begin to see things that may be worth photographing and after 10 or 20 or 40, you find you’ve had a walk and you’ve got a collection of images, some of which may not be so bad. Of course, you don’t know until you get home and look at them but, even if when you do, you don’t choose to share even half, perhaps there are few with something interesting about them. Perhaps there’s one or two that are really not bad.

In the park - up to the roadSo it was, again, for me. I walked through the two parks that are nearest to where I now live in Brussels: Duden Park – which used to be an enclosed Royal Park but was given over to the people of Uccle sometime in the late 1800s – and then on through Vorst Park which I think is all that remains of a forest since that’s what “vorst” means. (And yes, the French name is Parc de Forest so my linguistic achievement here is even more underwhelming than it may seem at first.)

In the park - not a bench you can sit onThere were people out jogging in the morning air, walking their dogs, companionably talking with one another or consulting their mobile telephones. There was one homeless man just waking up from the bed he’d made for himself on one of the benches, and another bench without any planks to sit on.

In the park - off to workThere were park workers setting out for work.

In the park - LeopoldThere was the bust of bad King Leopold II gazing arrogantly at the dome of the Palace of Justice he ordered built, and the working class district of the city he had depopulated in order to make space for it.

In the park - what Leopold seesThere was the sun on the trees, on leaves green against the blue sky, on the facades of the houses over beyond the edge of the park.

And at the end of it all there was a certain peace and a feeling of accomplishment. And a few photos to illustrate this post.
In the park - sun on facades

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

A walk in Hisingspark

On Easter Sunday while Mrs SC was still home we went for a walk in Hisingspark – on e of our old haunts. With us was Aliz, a border collie, with her human. A sunny day, though cold in the wind.

Originally I used these photos to test out a number of different photo gallery/slide-show plug-ins. Having settled on one that works on PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets (Responsive Lightbox by dFactory), I choose to update this entry and present the photos with the new gallery plug-in.

Aliz with Lena and Agneta

Above: Aliz and her humans.
Below: A felled tree trunk wearing a fetching pair of sunglasses

Glasses on the felled tree

Do you suppose children who learn to climb on this climbing frame will grow up to have a more concrete grasp of abstraction?

Orange abstract climbing frame

Although the above was actually taken in a children’s playground in Hisingspark, it turns out to be a sculpture: “Knutpunkten” (“knot point”/”junction”) by Lill Lindblom and Jens Erlandsson.