Back from Istanbul (and back to blogging)


After Istanbul, like after all of my travelling, I’ve come back with a better perpective on life and on London. As much as I love this city, it is even more obvious that, in London, there is a coldness and a distance between people.

I am writing this as I am sitting on the Bakerloo line to meet a friend in Little Venice. People do not look at each other, but not just on the tube…everywhere. On the street, at work, in the pub… The main question that comes to mind is ‘why’? …Do people feel that looking at someone else might be perceived as rude or invasive (the most common explanation my London friends have given to me when I expressed my thoughts on this issue)? That would be strange, though, considering it’s such a multi cultural city. Could it be that people feel scared of what they might see if they look up? Or do they simply not feel the need to do so?

If that is so, then how is it possible? Curiosity is intrinsec to human nature, just like interaction with fellow human beings. Some cultures, as it seemed to be the case in Turkey and in Italy (my home country), take it at times to the opposite extreme, and people are often showing their ‘curiosity’ so much to become invasive and irritating.

Surely a balanced compromise must be possible. Interest in other people is not only legitimate but necessary and healthy! It keeps us connected to the world around us and it makes us a part of it. A friend was recently commenting on how she’d never notice a good looking man whilst on her way to work, as her focus is entirely on the day and tasks ahead. She said that to explain why she thinks people in London appear ‘distant’ to me.

There are surely times when I’m oblivious to others if I’m lost in my own thoughts. But I don’t think I am generally capable of involuntarily blanking out people around me. In fact, when I’m thinking about something, I project my thoughts on the people around me and imagine what they would do, what they might think. It sort of helps me to get a perspective on things. I like feeling aware of my surroundings and this includes wondering where the lady sitting next to me, who’s wearing a thick black fur coat, might be going to ..or what the slim blond girl sitting opposite to me might be reading whilst tapping her new Converse shoes.

Yet when I look up at her purposefully, we never meet eyes. Wait! Something funny has just happened: just as I was writing this last comment, I looked up quickly and – yes! – the blond girl was looking at me and smiling! Maybe she thought I was weird, or maybe she thought that it was nice for another person on the tube to notice her existance and show interest in what she was doing.

My purpose was to challenge her sense of curiosity. Surely, when two strangers meet eyes, it means that some healthy curiosity for other people must still be there!

Below is a small selection of photos from Istanbul (a beautiful city). Enjoy & I promise my next blog post won’t be in six months!

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Sultanahmet Parki

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Sultanahmet Parki, view over the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)

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Monkeys in a cage on a pavement in Gedikpasa Caddesi (Sultanahmet District)

ImageSunset from Topkapi Palace

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Topkapi Palace, inside the Hammam

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The Koran, Book Bazaar (Bazaar District)

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A wall in Yerebatan Kaddesi

Happy Old Year and Happy New Year


Tonight will not only only be the end of a hard year, but the end of a great year where I feel I have achieved a lot of goals.

 

You can listen to this beautiful new song by the Green Children (Can You Find Your Way) while reading this post: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL1E3129B7BAA70A09&feature=plcp

Overall, 2011 has been extremely positive for me, and I hope it has been the same for you. I will not go on and on about individual goals achieved, because the main one is that I have realised how lucky I am to be who I am, to have the life I have and to be in the position I am right now. I think I can say that my goal for next year is to continue feeling like this: satisfied with myself. While setting future goals definitely helps get through hard times and is a strong encouragement to progress and improve one-self, I think that the most important thing is to be happy now. Don’t postpone the enjoyment of your life until you reach a further goal or until you have completed something. Enjoy every minute of it.

Even while home for the past two weeks, while dreading the following weeks of tough exams at Law School, I decided I would enjoy my time back home to go skiing in the sun, to spend quality time with my family. No matter how much work I had, I set it aside to do what I really wanted to do each day. It was important for me, because, afterall, I am not going to see my family again for a few months and I am not going to ski again this year (probably).

Obviously this applies to people who, like me, have a tendency to over-work or be over-critical about themselves and aim to reach constantly higher and higher goals. While this can be good from a professional or academic point of view, in the long-run, it harms one’s own balance and happiness. So I have learnt to enjoy every minute of my life now. I don’t always succeed and I often forget to do this, but I aim to try harder because what’s the point in not enjoying life as it happens??

So, right now, I am looking back at the pictures from the past weeks of skiing and mountains and thinking about how special this Winter has been for me, no matter how well I will do in my next exams and job applications.

Here are some of my favourite pictures of this magical 2011 winter:

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I wish you a very happy new year.

I wish you to feel satisfied and positive about the year that’s coming to an end.

I hope you can start this new year, 2012, with a positive attitude to make yourself and people around you happy.

Finally, as a Jewish saying I was recently told recites: If the new year will not be great, do not worry, because the following one will surely be!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Special thoughts to people who are sick and I wish them to get well very soon.

The Unspoken Consequences of the Crisis


Here we are, in the festive season, rushing to buy presents and to organise family gatherings. It appears that we have been longing for this time of the year, when we finally take a break from work and enjoy the warmth of our fireplaces with our dearest. Most blogs are posting about lovely snowfalls and romantic white landscape.

Yet, in today’s online edition of the European Observer, one of the main headlines reports on an unspoken issue: the mental health consequences of the financial crisis in Europe.  In a short video, we are told how suicide rates are on the rise and the human rights expert Gabor Petri, from Mental Health Europe, describes how citizens are being affected.

I do not intend to spoil the festive mood, however I want to spare a moment to look at the reality of things around us.

Are we all really that happy?

Let’s face it: there are many families who can’t reach the end of the month, let alone buy Christmas presents and spend money on luxiurious family dinners. No one might want to think about it or admit it, but the tension in the financial markets has entered our homes. Clearly, there are different levels of ‘crisis’. I am no expert in the field, but economic hardship has historically been associated with deep changes in society, such as rise in crime rates, family break-ups or mental health issues. This crisis is not exempt from such unfortunate and undesired consequences.

Young people often don’t see the point in carrying on with their studies, since obtaining a degree no longer guarantees or increases chances of employment. In Italy, young generations are supported by the old, retired generation. The cycle of life seems to have turned around and it is upsetting the balance of society, by harming our mental health and stability. The old are helping the young, and the young feel they are not ‘useful’ to society or themselves. However, also the old are affected: we know that higher and higher numbers of old people who have no longer the means to sustain themselves and see their pension benefits cut on a daily basis. They find themselves old, alone and poor with younger generations unable to help them.

According to the European Observer statistics in today’s article “Mental health problems on the rise during financial crisis”, almost 1 in 10 Europeans is affected by mental health issues. These issues are not blatant and tend to be an ‘unspoken’ problem. People are scared of mental health issues yet many are affected by them, unknowingly. When presenting for the first time a European Commission paper on Mental Health issues in Europe (17 October 2011), the European Health Commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, stated:

“I can think of no other disease that would remain so low profile if such a high percentage of the population were struck by it. Mental health has been swept under the carpet for too long.”
 
Whether we like it, or not, perhaps this is a good time of the year to think about some of these serious unspoken consequences of the financial crisis and stop sweeping them under the carpet as some merely old-fashioned taboo.

I Found a Key


Autumn in London always carries a magical, theatrical atmosphere with it. The unusually warm months of September and October are now sliding away and Guy Fawkes’ fireworks and a mild fog are announcing the first days of cold.

The anti-capitalists’ tents are still outside of St Paul’s, although there are rumours that many are empty at night. The theatrical feel that I get of London is a constant theme from the smallest streets to Buckingham Palace. It goes from fascinating to creepy.

Covent Garden, with its street artists and spectacular displays of lights and themed art installations, is an open-air stage. Yet it is not rare to see homeless people grotesquely sleeping under a pile of dirty blankets right on the side of glittery high street shop displaying piles of fancy clothes and shoes. Their shivering bodies illuminated and defined by white neon lights from the shop windows; make the cold penetrate even more deeply inside me.

My favourite theatre seats in London are the front seats on the top floor of double-decker bus. Not the London Eye or the Oxo Tower. They only give you a limited perception of London’s grandeur. But from the bus seats, you see everything, including what you wish you could not see. The young businessmen are happily enjoying their pints at the pub while an old beggar is sipping his beer can just around the corner. You see a beautiful woman covered in pearls and diamonds walking besides a pale guy kneeling down, while looking for some food or drugs in the waste bags along the pavement.

And London is all that, breathtaking beauty and unbearable dismay. Modernity and decadence. Ostentation and poverty. The fireworks are crackling and illuminating the sky with various tones of pink, green and red as people are getting on their tip toes in Theobald’s Road to see Gray’s Inn spectacular display. They only last for a few minutes, but those minutes are the theatre play for the night.

Tonight, as I got home after the fireworks, I was tidying up my room. Suddenly, my eye caught a glimpse of something shining on my carpet. I moved my desk chair, and there it was: a key. A tiny key, just about the size of a bean. I have no idea of how it got there and why, but I know it looks like the magic of London has unexpectedly entered my room on this cold night of Guy Fawkes.

Tips and Tricks for Effective Advocacy


Now, I am not really a qualified person (yet!) to suggest tips and tricks for effective advocacy. But Iain Morley QC, barrister in a leading set of London criminal chambers, certainly is. His book “The Devil’s Advocate” is fun and provides a light read useful to anyone interested in practical tips for advocacy or, ignoring the strictly law-related references, for general public speaking.

While reading a book on advocacy may seem contradictory (isn’t advocacy the art of speaking?), there are nonetheless tips and tricks that can prove really helpful. Here are some that I particularly liked:

  1. The advocate must assist – not instruct – the court in its decision-making process. In other words, the tribunal has the power to decide. You don’t. No one likes being told what to do, so ensure that you are seen as someone helping out the court and not trynig to win a competition against it. Understand the tribunal’s psychology.
  2. Dress well and appropriately. Well, this one might seem obvious: you must appear formal and like you’re a winner.  However, understanding why is really useful: this goes back to understanding the tribunal’s psychology. if you wear too much colour or too much make up the tribunal will not appreciate it as it will give the impression you fancy yourself. Your clothes and appearance should not distract the court from its core purpose.
  3. Do not be afraid to occupy space in the courtroom. Don’t let your head sink into your chest, make sure your head is up to show you are attentive and in control. This is one of the hardest tips to follow, since it requires a great deal of self-confidence and good knowledge of your submission to avoid looking down to read your notes too frequently.
  4. Keep those hands still! This is my favourite tip: instead of moving your hands uncontrollably (annoying and counter-productive), furiously wiggle your toes. This will keep  you so busy that all the other parts of the body will stop fidgeting. I have personally tried this tip and I have found that it really helps (but make sure you don’t wiggle your toes so much as to lose balance on your feet!).
  5. Write the closing speech when you receive the brief. This will ensure that you know exactly what you want from each witness, although the draft speech should be flexible. According to Iain Morely QC, if you follow this tip, you will find witness handling much easier. I have yet to try this.
  6. Do not assume your judge knows all the law. It is fine to remind the judge of the law. Afterall, judges are humans not machines- they cannot know or remember everything in the law. This tip sounds very reasonable, but I cannot quite imagine myself remind a judge about the law. Somehow, I think I would always feel that the judge knows best. But it is something I will keep in mind while training.
  7. Do not be afraid of silence. This is a really good advice: silence creates tension, it allows to pause between one sentence and another, between one question to a witness and another. It shows you are in control. Most of us, while training, feel the need to fill every silence with sound – obtaining the awful result of saying a lot of unnecessary and annoying things such as “Urmm”, “Ehm”, “Right”, “Mmm”. We must learn not to do it! (note to self)
  8. Ask others what they think. This is difficult. Or rather, asking what others think may be easy, but actually listening and learning from their answers is hard. It’s not about bad intention, but about being human and finding it hard to really see the same problems others see. This week, when I watched the video of my advocacy submission, I was really surprised when noticing good and bad aspects of my submission which I had perceived entirely differently while performing. For example, the pauses I took between one sentence and another felt to me – at the time – like extremely long, and I feared they would look really bad on me. In the video, these pauses were actually hardly noticeable! On the other hand, during the submission I did not realise I appeared ‘too serious’ and this made me appear terribly insecure and nervous. Something to improve on!

This article does not intend to provide advice for advocacy or to provide an exhaustive review of the book written by Iain Morely QC, but only to highlight some aspects which – in the way I understood them – were useful and interesting to me.

If you’ve read the book, which tips did you find relevant to improve your advocacy?

Feel the London Vibe


You know your plane is landing in London when outside the tiny window you see pouring rain and a marvellously green landscape. Just about the time to wait for your suitcase, change into something warmer that you notice a few shy rays of sunshine peeping through the clouds.

 

You take a seat on the tube and no one appears to notice the girl with green hair who’s forgotten to wear a skirt. Nor is anyone bothered by the man taking up two seats due to his extra-huge size.  The newspaper read by the lady next to me reports in details the remarkably wrongful behaviour of two policemen who parked on a double yellow line to shop in Tesco’s. In Italy, this news wouldn’t even feature in a minor last-page column.

 

As you step outside, the wind makes any efforts to comb your hair entirely useless but gives you wings to walk. You soon smell food from the local Thai restaurant which blends in with the smell of McDonalds’. If you don’t like it, don’t worry because just round the corner you’re in Italy or, if you prefer, in France. But make sure not to hesitate while walking or you’ll literally get run over by crowds of people.

 

As you make your way through the crowds, you get a first glimpse of the vast green areas. Just a few steps, and you’ve stepped into the countryside – now you can just relax lying down on the greenest, cleanest and softest grass.