Monday, April 20, 2009

Books : East by Anzenberger (Part 2)

I am posting the second part of posts dedicated to the book "East" by the Anzenberger Agency. Here the presentation of other four essays printed in the book.

Longing for Maramures by Davin Ellicson
Is this what it is, the better life? Just because the people here still wear traditional dress and lie down in pastures among the woolly sheep ? Or are we only the victims of a romantic image? That should be for each of us to decide, but things are not that easy. Because it is difficult to talk about a region like Maramures and about a kind of everyday life that remains familiar to us only from old stories. Of course: the bread here tastes like bread, and the instruments have not lost their wild musical soul – that’s clear enough. As is the fact that the old women linger after the village festival is over, and that the traditional lifestyle always has its light and dark sides. But all we can usually do is surmise. Because you have to have lived in Maramures to gain a better understanding of Rumania’s most traditional region. And that is exactly what Davin Ellicson did. Here he lived and worked on the northern edge of the country. With a pitchfork and plough, but also, and especially, with a camera in his hand. He probably didn’t have a lot of time to stage idyllic scenes. The hay-sleds and horse-drawn carts, the lambskin boots and party guests, after all, represent themselves. But what one cannot yet see is the fatal erosion of a new economic reality: the influx of money, foreign investors, and an EU style of agriculture will radically change centuries of traditions within a very short time. The rich heritage of Maramures will then be reduced to note on the margins, added as an afterthought to the pitiless annals of the globalised world.

Ark of Albania by Bevis Fusha

A lek is a hundred qindarks; a fox flees through the snow; a path is a thousand steps. A horse can finally run free, perhaps anywhere it wants. There is something puzzling about the pictures of the young Albanian photographer Bevis Fusha. Something is distantly reminiscent of the flickering and poetic shaking that are part of the silent-film era, and the puzzle and its solution always seem to hang in an undecided balance. Fusha maintains this balance when he views his country from the inside, like the suggestion of a trace disappearing in the contre-jour as it heads into the distance. This lack of definition, which perhaps leads to nameless mountains but never to familiar places, may be there for a variety of reasons. Perhaps because the government kept its people in step during decades of Stalinist isolation. Probably also because the traces that Fusha follows with his camera are frequently older and more archaic than much that is found elsewhere in the Balkans. Blurred images also simply fit this corner of Europe. For Albania is a strange land. Countless karstified mountains. A people whose origin is lost in myth. A language that is a distant cousin of Europe’s established linguistic families. And a country name, Shqipëria, that means northing more or less than “eagle”. Gazing through Fusha’s peepholes into Albania’s present, one would hardly suspect that eight European capitals are hardly an hour away from Tirana by air.

Volga World by Christine De Grancy

A single word is enough to bring even the most hardhearted Russian to tears: that word is Volga, and the “Mother Volga” of Russian folklore brings everyone to their knees. More than a river, it is a legend. The Volga is Russia, homeland, fate – and the Russian soul. And as everyone knows, that soul is as deep as the Volga’s waters and sometimes equally impenetrable. Mother Volga unites all her children; the good and the bad, the straight-laced daughters of Yaroslavl, who gaze into eternity from their reopened convents; the Tatar women of Kazan, who know that beauty is a gift that should be packaged as ornately as a birthday cake. Lean back in your chair and put your Gogol away: the stories they tell about the Volga and that are reflected here and now in the waves can be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt. Apparently immune from the changes of a tumultuous time – almost like actors in the slow splashing of an aquatic opera – these inexhaustible characters appear on the banks of the river, and all of them are authentic Volga children. That is evident in the atmosphere that Christine de Grancy has captured in her pictures. The river’s waves are always part of the picture, and despite their apparent gentleness there is always a touch of something unpredictable and potentially violent. Because beneath the surface of these pictures there is always a glimpse of surprising change, a harsh word, a deep emotion.

Belarus Portfolio by Andrei Liankevich

Is the story over or are we still in the middle of it somewhere? Is it the country itself? Is it Belarus that makes reality and fiction seem to be layered like transparencies? The pictures of Andrei Liankevich seem to suggest that at least. For example, when a lonely Communist marches across a foggy square. Or when a soldier poses in a comfortable armchair among his trophies: the naked antlers on the wall and the no-less trophy-like twin sons held tenderly and creepily on his lap – Nestor and Pollux? Remus and Romulus? Cain and Abel? If they are supposed to stand for a dually new beginning, this might take place once again within that historical cliché that has helped give Belarus its sense of unreality. History has certainly provided plenty of signs. No other region in Europe suffered as much during the Second World War as Belarus: the bourgeois intelligentsia were practically wiped out, the number of war victims was the highest relative to the total population, and the infrastructure was destroyed. Later the country was the remotely controlled ally of the old Communist powers, and the same clique is still in power today. And yet the very fact that Liankevich can depict the somnambulistic conditions of his country the way he does is proof that there is a young generation of Belarusians whose creativity is in the service of change. Fantastic elements of an unattainable dreamland and a caricatural focus on pseudo-Soviet deco-propaganda à la Lukashenko provide a backdrop against which innovation has been going on for a long time.