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!

Image

Sultanahmet Parki

Image

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

Image

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

ImageSunset from Topkapi Palace

Image

Topkapi Palace, inside the Hammam

Image

The Koran, Book Bazaar (Bazaar District)

Image

A wall in Yerebatan Kaddesi

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.

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.

What Next?


It’s been a seriously long time since I posted on my blog. I’ve been missing it, but as other bloggers will know, once you lose the ‘rhythm’ with blogging, it falls out of your routine and it gets harder and harder to get back to it. Of course, the real reason why I didn’t post was that I was finishing my Master in Laws. Finally, after many sleepless nights writing my thesis, last friday I have graduated and now I have another qualification to add to my CV and – hopefully – a better chance to achieve my career goals.

Unfortunately, I am really not the kind of person capable to sitting back and enjoying my latest achievements. I am already busy and anxious – as well as excited, of course – about my next move. Getting ready to move back to the UK is a pretty daunting task as I need to find a flat and reconnect with my friends in London. It’s hard to leave home after having recreated a cicle of friends, being used to being close to my family and getting reaccustomed to the Italian lifestyle. This time, going to London, will be different as I am surely less idealistic about what I can find over there, but at the same time I feel prepared about what to expect. I suppose I am becoming more realistic. Does this mean I am getting old?! 😉

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to settle anywhere. I think I am made to be constantly on the move. I am too curious (impatient?!) about things around me to settle anywhere and every time I move it is a new  – scary – challenge. Is it so hard to find a place where you find all you wish? I believe that travelling is rather a process of self-discovery. We move to find new answers, only to discover we come back with more questions and doubts. So, right now my question is: what next?

No Need To Be Serious


Even on a short work / study trip to Den Haag (The Hague) – generally associated with serious people, serious places and serious thoughts – you can find abundant occasions to smile.

While I was there, I found many things around the streets especially sculptures, which put a big smile on my face and made me laugh. Just perfect to get into the best positive mood while on my way towards a library or a tribunal!

In a street near Scheveningen, I saw a small house which had red gates oddly decorated with what looked like a ‘Winter Theme’ (yes, in June!): white owls, snowmen and other strange (fake) stuffed animals.

Now…what is t-h-a-t?? If you think this is odd, wait for the next picture. I was walking in the same area and, as I stopped checking my map, I felt eyes staring at me from a close-by window. As I turned to check who it was…this is what I saw:


Creepy, but funny! I think the shop-owner had a very good sense of humour, although I am not sure how well he was able to sell his products through this sales technique. But the best conclusion to my trip was this wise sign hanging in a chocolate shop in Brussels:

Have fun – wherever you are – and keep on smiling! 🙂

What I’ve Learnt from the Moot Court / Mock Trial


Ten days after the Moot Court, I can now sit back and think of what I’ve learnt from this experience.

1. I really enjoy legal advocacy.

I guess I knew it before, but the Moot Court has really made it clear to me that I love the thrill of legal speaking in public despite the amount of stress involved beforehand. The minutes before I had to stand before the judges, my heartbeat was truly amazing me. I felt like there was a horse race going on inside me! I guess this should lead me to conclude that I should not stress so much, however this is not really something I can entirely control. I am sure that with experience, this amount of stress will decrease. Yet, I strongly believe that the stress is partially what enhances the ability to put a lot of effort into legal advocacy and increases the chances of showing the court that you are really into the part.

2. Something unforeseen will always occur.

Despite being only a mock trial, it is nonetheless impossible to foresee exactly everything that will occur. This reflects well what happens in real trials, although surely they involve a way greater amount of unpredictable circumstances. Unforseen circumstances may play in favour or against you, you never know, but the trick is theoretically to always try your best to turn them into something positive for your case.

3. Competition rules.

At the end, legal advocacy whether it is for a real or a mock trial, cannot be simply described as a ‘game’. People turn extremely competitive and they will do just about anything necessary to prove they are better than you. In other words, the trial can turn on personal competition and establishing good relations between various parties would be extremely helpful (when possible). Everyone is – at different degrees – ruled by a desire to compete.

4. You experience the Moot Court through the lenses of your role.

Depending on what role you’re covering in the Moot Court / Mock Trial, you will experience it in a totally different way to your colleagues in different roles. In my case, I was Legal Representative of Victims and this meant being something in between the Prosecution and the Defence. In a way, I was supporting the Prosecution, however my role had a completely different focus. On another day, I acted as witness for another Moot Court and this gave me an entirely different perspective yet again. As a witness (even if not a real one), you feel like you’re under the spotlight while being examined by all parties and by the judges. Moreover, it is hard to realise if your answers to questions are helpful to one side or another (unless, of course, you know the legal case). I would recommend anyone pursuing the career of lawyer to attempt taking on the role of witness during mock trials, because you will really benefit from a useful and insightful experience.

4. The end of the Moot Court is a big relief.

No matter how much I enjoyed the Moot Court experience, I can’t deny that the end of it meant coming back to life! Yet I can’t wait to do it all over again and I am sure there is still a great deal to learn in the profession, which is a never-ending learning process.

Pre-Moot Court Thoughts


So, tomorrow is the Big Day: for those of you who have trained as lawyers or are lawyers, you know perfectly well what a Moot Court is. Two simple words that mean a whole lot to lawyers and lawyers-to-be.

It is that moment that exciting moment upon which you’ve gradually built on your expectations, whether reasonable or unreasonable. It is that day when you will finally put into practice your oral skills and ability to convey your knowledge of the law and your ability to argue before a Court. Pardon me, before “this Honourable Court”!

It is the day when you’re confronted with competitive yet often aggressive or intimidating teams, who each want to shine and prove their abilities. I feel so tense yet I am also so excited. Overall, I am sure it’s going to be really fun. Sometimes I feel like I need a reality check and step back into the world to put into perspective the tensions accumulated from the preparation for the Moot Court. Afterall, it is a competion, meaning it’s only a game.

During tomorrow’s Moot Court, I’ll be a Legal Representative of Victims in an International Criminal Court Trial on war crimes (allegedly) committed in Afghanistan. I’m really excited about my role because it allows to present to the Judges a different perspective on the case to that offered by the Prosecution and Defence. It focuses on people and on their importance. It serves as a reminder to everyone that, ultimately, no matter how much the law is discussed in the Courtroom, the case still relates to real life: real people, real injuries and real suffering. On Friday, instead, I will be acting as a witness for the Defence during a different trial on similar facts (for another Moot Court team).

Looking forward to writing about this week’s experience after it’s all over and I will be able to breathe a sigh of relief ! 🙂

Reactions to Bin Laden’s death on Yom Ha Shoah


Today is Yom HaShoah (יום השואה) the Holocaust Remembrance Day, or, as many prefer to call it, the Shoah Remembrance Day (to see why you should call it Shoah and not Holocaust, read here). In Israel, sirens sound for two minutes all over the country and everyone ceases their activities no matter what they are doing, where and why in order to pay tribute to the memory of the 6 million Jews and 5 million other victims killed during the Shoah.

Here are some pictures of Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, which I took in August 2010. The pictures are all in black and white, because photographs cannot convey the emotions experienced during the visit to Yad Vashem: the total absence of colours is an attempt to crystallize this moment of mourning and recollection.

The triangle is the shape of the building hosting Yad Vashem. This picture shows the part visible externally, while the rest of the building continues below ground level. The triangle represents half of the Star of David (Maghen David) as a sign of mourning for the death of millions of Jews. While 6 million of Jews died during the Shoah, the names of only 3 millions of them have been identified to date and are listed inside Yad Vashem.

Below, some pictures of people’s reactions after visiting Yad Vashem. A feeling that, from my own experience, I can describe as a painful feeling of suffocation both caused by the thoughts about the number of victims and the atrocities they suffered, and, at the same time, the terribly dry heat that seems to be like a physical way to remind us about the weight and importance of that place.

On this year’s Yom Ha Shoah, the killing of Osama Bin Laden has been announced by the U.S. President Obama. Some part of the world (the U.S. in particular) is rejoicing, while others (to mention one example, Hamas) are mourning his death.

I believe both reactions to be wrong and non-sensical. No one should ever celebrate anyone’s death, even when it is the enemy’s death (whatever “enemy” might mean, I will not discuss this issue here): it would mean putting oneself on the same play-field as the “enemy” one is claiming to have fought.

At the same time, rejoicing of Bin Laden’s death seems to be both naive and counter-provocative: does anyone seriously believe this to be the end of the international threat of terrorism? I wish it were, but I very strongly doubt so. Rejoicing of his death could even bear serious consequences to security which should be carefully weighed out by people standing in the streets…and here I come to comment the second and opposite reaction to Bin Laden’s death: mourning.

Isn’t it ironic that, on Yom Ha Shoah, Hamas and Iran are mourning Bin Laden’s death declaring he was the only “Arab holy warrior” and condemning “Zionist terror”? This is only to prove that we must continue being aware of the dangers to international security and we mustn’t put our guards down now believing “everything is over”.

Perhaps, one should consider more seriously some of the more moderate views coming from Egypt, where Issam al-Aryan of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood responded to Bin Laden’s death by stating that “it’s time the world understood that there is no connection between violence and Islam” and now calling on the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq.

As for myself, I am still slightly bewildered by the news of Bin Laden’s death and I don’t really feel like this event equips me with any additional information allowing me to comment on the world’s future of war or peace. Maybe this is because, in fact, absolutely nothing will change after Bin Laden’s death.

How do you feel about the news of Bin Laden’s death?

Do you think this news has overshadowed the importance of Yom Ha Shoah?

A Bug’s Life: Lessons Learnt


My grandma used to always find orginal ways to analyse the world surrounding her. Her so unsual and detailed observations each time opened my eyes before a new world. It was a new world, not because it had not been there previously, but because I had never seen it, noticed it.

In summer time, in the mountains, we would spend hours looking at ants. My grandma used to call them “miniature motorways”, because ants had chosen the flat waterpipe to water the garden as their privileged path. The ants would share the surface of the waterpipe dividing it into lanes and even in the two directions. None would ever use the wrong lane. There were ants, the fastest, who would run to collect their food supplies, and, in the opposite direction, there were ants that were going more slowly due to the weight of their load. Some ants would not make it and they were climbed over and crushed by the crowd of stronger and tireless ants.

My grandma and I would notice how ants would replicate social dynamics in a way very similar to ours, that of human beings. Those who couldn’t make it, would literally be climbed over. Those who were strong and fast, would reach first the anthill’s tunnels, where they could proudly lay down the fruits of their labour. The ants’ motorways are a suprisingly organised march. Surprising, perhaps, because we, humans, are always astonished when we discover other creatures seek order within chaos.  The social order turns into a means to overpower the others.

My grandma used to always notice the red ant, the smallest rather than the one walking with a limp. She would observe and comment on them without a hint of prejudice, rather, with admiration and suprise for them. These were my grandma’s ways of teaching me how to relate myself with the world by taking an open-minded approach and by showing always an amazing curiosity for the surrounding world.

Other times, she would tell me how she, petite in height and body structure, had decided to change her point of view.  She told me how she had climbed on a chair and had looked around imagining to be naturally that tall. She had then recounted to me how effectively the different perspective over the world was very different from up there and, how, after that experience, she could finally realise better what she, from a lower point of view, could  not see.All photos in this post were taken with my brother Enrico during my holiday in August 2010 in Denmark, in the woods near Silkeborg.

A Letter to the Egyptian People (Source: Shalom Hartman Institute)


A Letter to the Egyptian People   (13/02/2011)

By DONNIEL HARTMAN

Dear Neighbor:

We, your neighbors, have been speaking a lot about you these last few weeks. As the status quo in your country to which we have become accustomed has changed, some of us expressed concern, others hope, and still others, admiration. Each view has its pundits, whose reading of the “facts” (your reality) seemed somehow to always fit into their pre-existing worldview.

The truth is that we don’t know. We don’t know, first and foremost, who you are. You see, for the last 30 years it seems, we never got a chance to talk. We spoke with your leaders, but as you so aptly proved, they don’t speak for you anymore, if they ever did.

We got used to and comfortable with the existing state of affairs and learned how to adapt and work with it in ways that would fit our own national interests and aspirations. We all must now come to terms with the fact that it is not only about us, but about you. We must begin a new conversation with you, a partner that has declared loud and clear that your voice – the voice of the people – must and will be heard.

First, let me start then with a hello. As neighbors, we have had a long relationship, filled with many different memories. I remember as a young teenager the feelings of fear that you aroused when in 1973 your armies crossed the Suez Canal and my country’s very existence was in doubt. I remember the awesome beauty of the Sinai desert as a soldier in the tank corps when it was still under Israel’s control and the strategic comfort it provided. I remember falling head over heels in love with your President Anwar Sadat, when he came to Israel. I remember the hope that he brought to our country, a hope which inspired us to recognize that our future security could not and should not be based solely on the strength of our army and the impenetrability of our borders, but on the stability of our peaceful relations with our neighbors.

For nearly 35 years now, we have lived in peace with each other. Our children have not died at each other’s hands. It hasn’t been the warmest peace, but as we say in the Jewish tradition, “dayenu.” It was enough. We Israelis, while always aspiring for more, deeply valued it nonetheless. Where do we go from here?

One of the old adages posits that democracies rarely go to war with each other. This is so, it is argued, because when the people who actually have to pay the price of war get to choose, they will invariably choose resolution over conflict. They will choose their children’s lives over national pride and ideology.

It is here that the Middle East has often proven this wrong. It seems that in our neighborhood at times, our children are our least valued commodity. The two of us, however, who have enjoyed the fruits that peace has given to our children are also a Middle Eastern phenomenon, and must become the rule instead of the exception.

Democracies rarely go to war, however, for yet another reason. A democracy is not simply the rule of the majority, but rather the rule of the majority that preserves the inalienable rights of its minorities. It is a system of government which believes that all humans are endowed with certain basic rights and freedoms which both empower them to govern themselves and which frees them from the potential tyranny of that same government. Democracies rarely go to war not simply because they want to preserve the lives of their citizens but because they respect the inherent freedoms of all humans, citizen and non-citizen alike. When one respects one’s own rights to be free, it often leads one to respect one’s neighbor’s rights to the same freedoms as well.

I pray that this will be one of the outcomes of your democratic revolution. I hope that our two peoples living in vibrant democracies will find new ways to reach out to each other and respect each other. That does not mean that we always have to agree. It is possible and even likely that there are policies which each one of us is pursuing, either externally or internally, that may differ from the other’s national interest or even moral sensibilities.

We have a critical choice ahead of us. The change in the status quo can cause us to revert to the old and mutually destructive patterns. I hope we do not need to relive the experiences of our grandparents and parents in order to learn yet again that war is not a solution. I pray that we will use the change in the status quo as a catalyst to move us forward. Status quos are comfortable, but they can also lead to stagnation. Our neighborhood is one in which there is still much pain and hatred. We, the two of us, have a unique opportunity to change the rules of the game, to speak, engage, challenge, and even push each other to find a new and vibrant status quo.

I know you are going to be busy over the next number of months and we are not your primary concern. I am nevertheless writing to you to again say, hello, and that we look forward to speaking with you soon. Until then, we wish that your transition to freedom be a peaceful and beneficial one to all your citizens and that your freedom be a blessing to you, and to the whole world. Amen.

Note: This article has struck a nerve both in Egypt and in Israel. [At the link] below you can find dozens of comments from Egyptians, a first for the Institute. Also, an Israeli newspaper [Haaretz] has featured this virtual dialogue in a special feature article.

Source: http://hartman.org.il/Opinion_C_View_Eng.asp?Article_Id=629