Nicolas Bouvier, the Master Traveler

This is my blog’s fourth Anniversary issue and what better subject than the amazing Nicolas Bouvier! He traveled from Geneva to the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan in 1953-1954 with his painter friend, Thierry Vernet.

I read his great book, The way of the world, last year; it started a bit slow but once that he got to Iran, I was hooked. This map traces their journey from Europe to Asia where Bouvier starts in Geneva and ends in Afghanistan:

His friend, Vernet,  has kept a visual jounal by drawing what they see together and what Bouvier writes:

These images are my interpretation of their work and an homage to this delightful journal. “Ten years in the writing, The Way of the World is a masterpiece which elevates the mundane to the memorable and captures the thrill of two passionate and curious young men discovering both the world and themselves.”

They traveled with a small Fiat Topolino (above and below) that took them through hell and paradise!

What was striking about this little book was the fact that I didn’t have to lower my expectation of excellence: Bouvier writes with the ease of the poet that he is and the attention of an enthusiastic humanist…

He talks about “women buried in their floret tchador”: femmes ensevelies dans leur tchador à fleurettes.

He talks about how “Iran, the old aristocrat, who has experienced everything in life … and forgotten a lot, is allergic to ordinary remedies and needs special treatment. The gifts are not always easy to give when children are five thousand years older than Santa Claus.”

After finishing the book, I got curious about the writer and started the “research”! I compiled many images about this master Iconographer, I watched many of his interviews—from his youth until the last years of his life— and he sounds as fresh at the end as he did in the beginning.

The Swiss television has a great archive on the subject.

I have to admit that the year they spent in Iran was the most interesting to me— even though Serbia, Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan had their own exhilarating charm. He even talks about my old school, Jeanne D’Arc of Tehran, in the years before my birth. The next couple of pictures of Bouvier are from their time in Tehran; this one from a modest hotel’s balcony:

He’s typing in the nude in the heat of the Iranian summer:

Most of all I loved the winter they spend in North west of Iran, in Tabriz:

The way he describes the long quiet winter in that city transports the reader to the depth of our common humanity; I laughed when he talks about the smell of hot Persian breads, Sangak and Lavaash in the snow or when he describes the frozen mustaches and beards of men in the freezing cold, the boiling water of samovars and the fact that everybody thinks only about three words: tea, coal and vodka!

Speaking of Persian breads, Bouvier suggests that only a very old country can make luxuries out of most banal routines;  this bread has been thirty generations and a few dynasties in the making…

I was overwhelmed with nostalgia reading his beautiful poem about the onset of winter (Zemestan in Persian) in Tabriz:

I couldn’t find it in English so I translated it myself; first the original in French:

Les grenades ouvertes qui saignent
sous une mince et pure couche de neige
le bleu des mosquées sous la neige
les camions rouillés sous la neige
les pintades blanches plus blanches encore
les longs murs roux les voix perdues
qui cheminent sous la neige
et toute la ville jusqu’à l’énorme citadelle
s’envole dans le ciel moucheté
C’est Zemestan, l’hiver
Tabriz, 1953

Bleeding open pomegranates
under a thin layer of pure snow
the blue of the mosques in the snow
rusty trucks in the snow
white guinea fowl whiter still
long red walls lost voices
who walk in the snow
and the whole town to the huge citadel
flies in the mottled sky
It’s Zemestan, winter
Tabriz, 1953

These images are based on the following books:

Bleu Immortel and The way of the world.

I read the “The way of the world” in french (L’Usage du Monde) but it has been lovingly translated by Robyn Marsack; I recommend it to all of you.

Que votre ombre grandisse or May your shadow grow!


What Graphic Designers do for fun

I like playing with colors and each photo I take has a unique palette; I was in Vitra some time ago and I liked the Japanese architect, Tadao Ando‘s, conference pavillion:

It’s a visual play for me to make the range of colors that create the image. The photo bellow is from my shoe trees that spell (erroneously): “Qui va piano” or “Chi va piano, va sano; chi va sano, va lonta” which means: He who goes softly, goes safely; he who goes safely, goes far.

I love different shades of gray like these teapots:

and different whites of snow:

but I go nuts for flowers and their bursting energy like these gorgeous crimson peonies:

or their softer versions here:

I like freesias’ scent and this particular palette has always been one of my favorites; I even used it in my senior year thesis, using a CAD machine to do a chemical plant’s process flow diagram! That was a first for my dear Professor Lockhart

I like these shawls of mine even if I seldom wear them:

Indian miniatures are usually an orgy of colors!

So is the Parisian dusk,

or the window of a fast moving train,

which mimics the palette of these summer vegetables.

This was a hodgepodge of my favorite palettes.

If I work enough,

I may earn enough to deserve my coffee later!

My favorite “Reds” go here

Don’t forget my favorite “Whites” here

Muguet of the Valley

Yesterday was the universal Labor Day, May first, and the day that France celebrate with “Muguet”, tons of it!

This is a flower I love and it’s hard to find in the U.S.

Not only all the flower shops are offering them but there are literally one Lily of the Valley stand at every corner of every street!

“Je porte Bonheur” means “I bring happiness” and this is what this flower is supposed to do for the recipient.

I have a preference for fragrant flowers and Lily of the valley is a tiny flower that perfumes the whole room! The flower is also known as Our Lady’s tears, since, according to Christian legend, the lily of the valley came into being from Eve’s tears after she was driven with Adam from the Garden of Eden,although this seems unlikely, since in Catholic parlance, “Our Lady” refers to the Virgin Mary. Another Christian legend states that Mary’s tears turned to lily of the valley when she cried at the crucifixion of Jesus, and because of this it is also known as Mary’s tears.

Some of the florists are mixing them with roses (above and below):

but I love them by themselves, pure, white, fragrant and unassuming…

Other names include May lily, May bells, lily constancy, ladder-to-heaven, male lily, and muguet (French).

“Sweetest of the flowers a-blooming
In the fragrant vernal days
Is the Lily of the Valley
With its soft, retiring ways.”

“Like the Lily of the Valley
In her honesty and worth,
Ah, she blooms in truth and virtue
In the quiet nooks of earth.”   Paul Laurence Dunbar

I love this picture, the talented Marie Ancolie Romanet, sent me yesterday…exquisite!

Art paris 2011: a short walk from sublime to sordid

Art Paris, a major event in the international Art scene took place last month in Paris and was everything from sublime…

…to sordid:

The following are the works that caught and kept my attention so let’s just start from the beginning; if you are lucky you get in the Grand Palais from the VIP entrance and not the main one (below) where you have to wait with the unwashed masses:

The huge glass dome is stunning on its own so imagine how spectacular it was over these amazing galleries.

The first booth had these curious works by Devorah Sperber:

Spools of tread stand for dabs of paint and the images that were hung upside down are only recognized when you see them through an optical device.

The colored thread spools make an abstract pattern that comes to focus when viewed through—in this case— a crystal ball; Cezanne’s still life (below) is recognizable when viewed through this clear acrylic sphere (above).

Without the optical device, you are just looking at thousands of colored tread spools—1470 of them in this case!

The most surprising to me was Van Eyck’s masterpiece, The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin:

The whole image below is recognizable in the little ball above. Magic made of 5272 spools of thread.

On the lighter side of the spectrum, Mister Spock was patiently waiting for me in this work called “Mirror Universe”; like the artist herself, I too remember the 1967 Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” in which a transporter mishap switches the crew of the Enterprise with their evil counterparts, trapping them in a “savage parallel universe.”

That image could be seen through a hemispherical mirror:

I loved the work of the super talented Dutch Artist, Pieke Bergmans:

Liquid light bulbs or “Light Blubs” as she calls them are hand blown bulbs presented attached to pendant and desk lamps or resting on old office furniture.

I met the artist, Aurore Vermue, posing with the spectacular pin and button artwork of Ran Hwang,

in front of the fabulous Kashya Hildebrand gallery:

A nice discovery for me was the work of Katayoun Rouhi; she uses Persian calligraphy in her perspectives; I particularly liked this painting with the little girl in a forest of poetry:

I was the only one bending to be able to read the writings that were all upside down:

Nick Gentry’s portraits made of floppy disks were interesting in their own way:

I had forgotten these disks, superseded by other storage media in only a few years…

These beautiful objects by Winus Lee Yee Mei were called “a group of boobs”:

it was hard not to touch!

The show took a turn for the whimsical with Mauro Perucchetti: from the three little pigs to giant pills and all in Swarovski crystal, resin and arylic,

I liked his “gay” superheroes:

These little child-figures covered with brightly dyed hanji-made scales in yellow and silver are the work of Sun Rae Kim who created these bodiless suits after her daughter, Tscho-Young; they were so cute:

The mind blowing opposite was Jan Fabre’s insect covered sculptures; the Belgian Fabre is a multidisciplinary artist, designer, sculptor, playwright and stage designer. I Just found out that he likes these jewel scarabs because of his great grandfather who’s been a famous entomologist. Yeap, these are beetles people!

The other Belgian great was Wim Delvoye and his persian carpet clad real stuffed pig. This sold for 180,000 euros and I am sure the buyer wasn’t an Iranian!

On a more serene note, Gonkar Gyatso, the Tibetan artist, had “Buddha in modern Times”. You could spend an hour exploring little stories embedded in the image:

I liked the straightforward “Paris Block” by Ralph Fleck; I discovered his site and loved his “figures”.

Persian artists being a hot commodity, Kambiz Sabri was the other Iranian artist showing his sculptures like this funny “pillow”:

So to recap, I went from Philippe Pasqua‘s gory skulls (which by the way I love),

to the sublime Kim Kyung Soo’s “the full moon story”:

Her photos were truly arresting; pure poetry…

And in all this, Albert Watson’s David Bowie was sleeping:

I am very happy I got to know some of these artists’ works; take the time to discover them for yourself. The post has all their links.

Another Spring, Another Nowruz, Nature can be kind…

Nature can be kind even though it has not been so in the last few days in Japan…I went out to park Montsouris, close to my apartment in Paris to take some pictures from the gentler side of Nature.

Everything was so beautiful I almost forgot the Japanese meltdown (nuclear and else…) for a few minutes; the purple crocus made me nostalgic:

I was born in Khorasan, the world’s most important saffron producing region, and the yellow pistils of this modest bulb flower is what becomes the most expensive spice in the world: zaferan or saffron.

Now back to the park where the most flamboyant were the primaveras (primulas):

I ask the eternal question: is anything more effortlessly beautiful than a flower?

I have to wait for the tulips to come out one of these days:

nature weaves beautiful rugs:

The pink blossoms over a stream were so pretty:

This one was earlier today at Saint Germain:

but right outside my place, the pansies were going crazy:

I took the picture with a big smile on my face—I love pansies—and later today I made this dress out of these gorgeous flowers:

To see my previous posts about the persian New Year and to see some beautiful poetry:

Last year’s Green Nowruz go here

Nowruz 1388 go here

Haft seen, haft sheen and everything in between go here

“Pourquoi les hommes ne savent-ils pas
Que la capucine n’est pas un hasard…” Sepehri


The International Woman’s Day is March 8th

On the eve of he international women’s day, I would like to go back to the superb Parvin Etessami’s poem about the Persian women ‘s emancipation from Hejab in 1936. She died 70 years ago at the age of 34.

زن در ایران، پیش از این گویی که ایرانی نبود
پیشه‌اش، جز تیره‌روزی و پریشانی نبود
زندگی و مرگش اندر کنج عزلت می‌گذشت
زن چه بود آن روزها، گر زآن که زندانی نبود
کس چو زن اندر سیاهی قرنها منزل نکرد
کس چو زن در معبد سالوس، قربانی نبود
در عدالتخانه انصاف زن شاهد نداشت
در دبستان فضیلت زن دبستانی نبود
دادخواهیهای زن می‌ماند عمری بی‌جواب
آشکارا بود این بیداد؛ پنهانی نبود
بس کسان را جامه و چوب شبانی بود، لیک
در نهاد جمله گرگی بود؛ چوپانی نبود
از برای زن به میدان فراخ زندگی
سرنوشت و قسمتی جز تنگ‌میدانی نبود
نور دانش را ز چشم زن نهان می‌داشتند
این ندانستن، ز پستی و گرانجانی نبود
زن کجا بافنده میشد، بی نخ و دوک هنر
خرمن و حاصل نبود، آنجا که دهقانی نبود
میوه‌های دکهٔ دانش فراوان بود، لیک
بهر زن هرگز نصیبی زین فراوانی نبود
در قفس می‌آرمید و در قفس می‌داد جان
در گلستان نام ازین مرغ گلستانی نبود
بهر زن تقلید تیه فتنه و چاه بلاست
زیرک آن زن، کو رهش این راه ظلمانی نبود
آب و رنگ از علم می‌بایست، شرط برتری
با زمرد یاره و لعل بدخشانی نبود
جلوهٔ صد پرنیان، چون یک قبای ساده نیست
عزت از شایستگی بود از هوسرانی نبود
ارزش پوشانده کفش و جامه را ارزنده کرد
قدر و پستی، با گرانی و به ارزانی نبود
سادگی و پاکی و پرهیز یک یک گوهرند
گوهر تابنده تنها گوهر کانی نبود
از زر و زیور چه سود آنجا که نادان است زن
زیور و زر، پرده‌پوش عیب نادانی نبود
عیبها را جامهٔ پرهیز پوشانده‌ست و بس
جامهٔ عجب و هوی بهتر ز عریانی نبود
زن، سبکساری نبیند تا گرانسنگ است و بس
پاک را آسیبی از آلوده دامانی نبود
زن چون گنجور است و عفت گنج و حرص و آز دزد
وای اگر آگه ز آیین نگهبانی نبود
اهرمن بر سفرهٔ تقوی نمیشد میهمان
زآن که می‌دانست کآنجا جای مهمانی نبود
پا به راه راست باید داشت، کاندر راه کج
توشه‌ای و رهنوردی، جز پشیمانی نبود
چشم و دل را پرده میبایست اما از عفاف
چادر پوسیده، بنیاد مسلمانی نبود


It is hard for me to translate this beautiful poem to you but I read it with deep respect for this great poet who died so young. The image is the Persian woman’s face shaped like the map of Iran and in a chador…

To see the most beautiful Persian women go here.

The dawn of the new Middle East?

“The age of US dominance in the Middle East has ended and a new era in the modern history of the region has begun. It will be shaped by new actors and new forces competing for influence, and to master it, Washington will have to rely more on diplomacy than on military might.” Richard N. Haass

Bourguiba Square in Tunis, Tahrir Square in Cairo, Azadi Square in Tehran , Pearl Square in Manama are witnessing a collective awakening of the Middle Eastern world and this means a major American policy shift in the region.  Now that the Arab world is being remade from within, European policy must change too.

I am both thrilled and scared by the middle eastern earthquake…

Alireza Darvish, the amazing bibliophile

I was blown away a couple of years ago by the work of the super talented Alireza Darvish, and I would like to share it with you; he is in love with books and the way he illustrates with them, makes every bibliophile swoon…

This is his Egyptian version:

I fell in love with Darvish’s “fish-book” below:

I am reading the new translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote (my first time) so the following image rings closer:

Darvish becomes playful with his “interbooks”,

The problem of too many books and not enough time:

He’s having fun with the reverse situation too:

the one man book:

He uses books as bridges (I love the methaphor…),

Bu I still love Alireza Darvish’s illustrations when he becomes whimsical like in this one where the woman is reading to the mermaids:

I like his animals,

he gets poetic…

Don’t be fooled by the phantasmagorique side of Alireza Darvish, he has a darker side:

and a way darker side:

but he remains delightful and great to discover!

Visit his site here.

Take a look at his fantastic animations here.

In BBC here.

Are Muslims coming back from a vacation in History?

Is the Arab world waking up after taking a vacation from History during the past few centuries (as Daryush Shayegan puts it in his book, Cultural Schizophrenia: Islamic Societies Confronting the West)?

I made this image with the hope of freedom (and finally some democracy – even half baked) in the Middle East.

Recipe for volatile social cocktail: “a youth bulge, vast unemployment, inadequate education, and gross economic inequality. but are the richer Arab states immune? There is anger about entrenched authoritarianism and subservience to America’s strategic agenda for the Middle East – especially its  support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians”. Middle East’s reaching a tipping point…

To see some of the brave women of Egypt go here.

Sahyegan’s book in English is Cultural Schizophrenia: Islamic Societies Confronting the West

I have read it in French: Le regard mutilé