25 December 2017

My book on the Maldives is available in English! "Journeys through the Maldives" by Marco Carnovale

Typical Maldivan boat
Tales from the many trips to the Maldives of the author. Avoiding the tourist resorts, he visited remote villages, where tradition is combined with innovation and technology, meeting local people and trying to understand their culture. Always island hopping by boat, he went from postcard perfect uninhabited islands and through the streets of the bustling capital Malé, in its hidden corners often overlooked by tourism. In dozens of dives, he witnessed the richness of wildlife and the sparkling colors of these seas.

But the islands are facing rapid changes and serious problems, and they are not always the paradise they seem. The Maldives are at a turning point, with political, economic and environmental changes that pose difficult challenges to the government and to the nation.

The book is completed by an analytical index, a chronology of the Maldivian history, a bibliography and some black and white photographs.

Available on all Amazon websites.


In the UK buy it here



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In Canada but it here


18 December 2017

Book review: The Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy (2015) by J. J. Robinson, ****

Islamic Center in Malé
Synopsis

The Maldives is a small and beautiful archipelago south of India, more renowned for luxury resorts than experiments in democracy. It is a country of contradictions, where tourists sip cocktails on the beach while on nearby islands local women are flogged for extramarital sex and blackmarket vodka costs $140 a bottle. Until 2008 the Maldives also hosted Asia's longest-serving dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. A former political prisoner, Mohamed Nasheed, an environmental activist, journalist, and politician, brought Gayoom's thirty-year autocracy to a sudden end, in the Maldives' first democratic elections.

Young, progressive and charismatic, President Nasheed thrust the Maldives into the spotlight as a symbol of the fight against climate change and the struggle for democracy and human rights in one of the world's strictest Islamic societies. But dictatorships are hard to defeat, enduring in a country's institutions and the minds of people conditioned to autocracy over three decades. Democracy brought turmoil, protests, violence and intense political polarisation.The ousted dictatorship overthrew Nasheed's government in February 2012, supported by Islamic radicals and mutinying security forces. Amid Byzantine intrigue, the fight for democracy was just beginning. (Amazon)


Review

It is unusual for a book entirely dedicated to the Maldives to come out, and here it is from an English journalist who lived and worked there for four years. The book is a compendium of his time there. It touches upon many aspects of Maldivian life, with special attention to the political dimension. Loads of facts and footnotes but also some opinions and evaluations. The book is written loosely in chronological manner, and it ends with the author's departure in 2013.

The general approach is typically English, ie detached. John J gets to know a lot about the Maldives but one does not get the impression he ever fell in love with the country, or was emotionally involved with it at all. But that is not a criticism, in fact perhaps it is a good thing in a journalist!

What the book lacks is a more critical organization of the issues, but perhaps as a journalistic chronicle it was never intended to delve in political analysis. Still, you will find more raw material for political analysis her than in any other book I know of that has been written on this country in the last decades.

I recommend reading this book to understand more about a country known mostly for its resorts.


23 September 2017

Film review: Farewell my concubine (1993) by Chen Kaige, *****

 Synopsis

The film gives a most interesting overview of China's history in the XX century through the eyes of Peking opera actors. We see the country moving from the fall of the Qing Empire (the last eunuch is still around for a long time after the advent of the Republic), through the Japanese invasion, the civil war and the various phases of the Communist rule.

Two boys are educated to play two classical roles in the Peking Opera, one masculine and the other effeminate. They are so good at it that they play the opera together for their entire career: during the chaos of China after the fall of the Qing Empire, during the Japanese occupation, the brief Nationalist takeover, the Communist take over, the Cultural Revolution.

Gong Li becomes the wife of the masculine actor, and as such created serious, and ultimately unsolvable, dilemmas in the mind of her husband, with tragic consequences.






Review

In this film the character Douzi represents in many ways the real life of the actor Leslie Cheung. Douzi was gay and struggled to be accepted in the society of his time, and so was Cheung in real life. He is however successful professionally and admired for that, and so is Cheung, the first Hong Kong actor who acted in a mainland China film. And the real life of Cheung represents Douzi's role in the film: he can't take the pressure any more and ends up committing suicide. Beautiful costumes!

A courageous masterpiece by Chen Kaige, a pillar of Chinese film in the XX century. He addressed the controversial issues of homosexuality and the Cultural Revolution in a film before anyone else dared to do so in the People's Republic of China. For this "farewell my Concubine" was banned shortly after its release in 1993, only to be cleared by the censors a while later in an abridged form.

This was the very first film from the People's Republic of China to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

See my other reviews of films about China here on this blog.

















Buy this film by clicking on one of these links



29 August 2017

Film review: A United Kingdom (2016) by Amma Asante, *****

Synopsis

From director Amma Asante, starring David Oyelowo (Selma) and Rosamund Pike and set against the breath-taking backdrops of the African savannah and period London, A United Kingdom celebrates the inspiring real-life romance of Seretse Khama, King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), and Ruth Williams, the London office worker he married in 1948 in the face of fierce opposition from their families and the British and South African governments.


Review

A historical narrative of one sad page of the decline and fall of the British Empire after WW II. There are two levels to the story: a personal tale of love and a non-fiction account of the birth of a new African country.

Churchill is depicted for what he was: an anti-democratic imperialist, who would go back on his promises to try and salvage the decomposing British empire. But the prejudice of blacks against whites is displayed as well at length.

In the face of all these difficulties, it was a remarkable feat for the young leader to pull off a national reconciliation that would make Botswana a unique success story in post-colonial Africa. One of very few examples where the leaders who took over power from the colonial rulers actually improved their nation's lot and did not squander national resources for personal gain.

Highly recommended movie to understand a very special part of Africa.










06 June 2017

Recensione libro: Tramonto alle Maldive (1993) by Anne Weale, ***

Sinossi

Le Maldive: spiagge bianche profumate d'Oriente... Pur conoscendo per motivi professionali tutti i possibili inconvenienti tecnici di una crociera alle Maldive, l'accompagnatrice turistica Charlotte non può certo accettare di condividere la stessa cabina con un uomo, anche se l'affascinante Dean sarebbe un ottimo compagno di stanza per le sue vacanze. E infatti, qualche giorno dopo...


Recensione

Il romanzo è ambientato alle Maldive, ma potrebbe essere anche altrove. Mare tropicale, caldo, sensualità e un triangolo amoroso sono gli elementi principali della storia che si snoda piacevolmente tra spiagge, barche e noci di cocco. Il lettore che non sia mai stato alle Maldive viene portato per mano per le isole e può assaporare qualche assaggio dell'atmosfera locale. La storia in se stessa è un po' prevedibile, ed il finale quasi scontato, ma ciononostante mi ha fatto piacere leggerla. Alcuni dei personaggi sono dipinti a colori vividi e realistici.


25 May 2017

Book review: Living in Italy: The Real Deal - How to Survive the Good Life - an expat guide (2017) by Stef Smulders, ***

Synopsis

Stef is a Dutch expat who moved to Italy in 2008, accompanied by his husband and dog, to start their bed and breakfast Villa I Due Padroni in the Oltrepò Pavese wine region, just 50 km (30 miles) south of Milan. In 2014 Stef published his first book (in Dutch) about their life in Italy. This is the English translation that is available since November 2016.


Review

The author sent me the book asking to review it, and I am grateful for that. It is at times interesting reading, though so many foreigners have come to Italy to renovate a quaint property that one hardly finds anything new: bureaucratic complications, delays, Italians who have funny habits and don't know what they are doing but are so charming.

Though I do not doubt they sincerely love Italy I feel the authors do not really think highly of Italians. Once Barzini, the great journalist, said "Italians respect Germans but don't like them. Germans like Italians but don't respect them". I feel the Dutch couple in the oltrepò pavese feels the same.

Also I don't understand why the text is interspersed with Italian words. Yes, sometimes there is no obvious translation, but why write "architetta" instead of the English "architect"? It does not add much at all.

More broadly, the book's title is a bit misleading. It is not a book about life in Italy, but about the couple's renovation project, which takes virtually all of the book.

"How to survive the good life" kind of gives it away: it seems to suggest Italy has a lot to offer except they make so difficult for you... if only it could be run by Dutchmen...






10 April 2017

Film review: You and Me (2013) by Zhang Yimou, ****

Synopsis

Golden-globe winning Chinese film director Zhang Yimou has staged his first Peking opera at the NCPA, spectacularly fusing the traditional and modern together for his production of You and Me. This production is an overwhelming feast for the senses. Lavish and colorful costumes, unique music composed and conducted by Zhu Shaoyu, and a world class ensemble that features the greatest stars of the Peking opera, including Meng Guanglu, Shi Yihong, and Li Mingyan, turn You and Me into an unforgettable experience. You and Me is based on the age-old tale from the Zuo legend, Lord Zheng defeats Duan in Yan, which is a story about deceit and the power of filial love. Zhang Yimou recounts the story using the stylistic elements of the Peking opera, which in turn he makes accessible for an entirely new audience. This release also includes Tradition versus Modernity, a documentary about Peking opera and the making of You and Me.

It can be a bit difficult to follow for a Western audience, even with the help of subtitles. We are not used to Chinese music's tonalities and rhythm, but I would encourage the listener to try and be patient and they.

"You and Me" is based on the age-old tale from the Zuo legend “Lord Zheng defeats Duan in Yan” – a story about deceit and the power of filial love. Zhang Yimou recounts the story using the stylistic elements of the Peking Opera, which in turn he makes accessible for an entirely new audience.

The production of "You and Me" attaches great importance to tradition. It follows the aesthetic principle of paying tribute to the Peking opera tradition while adding a new approach to its traditional props of “one desk and two chairs”. Says Zhang Yimou: “My concern was to produce a unique Peking opera, not a unique genre, but a unique way of putting it across.” (from IMZ)


Buy your DVD here


16 February 2017

Leave Hong Kong to Bohol, Philippines

Sorry to leave our nice hotel. It's early in the morning we got to catch a 07:50 flight and the fabulous Airport Express is not running early enough. So we need a taxi and get a brand new electric Tesla. Beautiful, quiet and of course not polluting the Hong Kong air, which is often on the brink of health limits. In part this is because of factories on the Chinese side, but traffic, air-conditioning and so much more energy consumption in Hong Kong itself play a part.

As we drive past the Kowloon station I notice a lot of roadwork, and I ask our driver. He says they are building a new high speed train station that will connect with the Shenzhen station just on the other side of the border and offer seamless superfast connection with Beijing. One more way that Hong Kong is becoming more and more integrated with the mainland.

To fly to the Philippines you need to check-in at terminal 2, but there are no gates there. After check-in, you can walk to terminal 1, about ten minutes, or take a shuttle which takes virtually no time.

The Hong Kong airport is my favorite in the world. Bright, spacious, beautiful, full of great shopping and food, efficient. Of course, free and fast wifi everywhere.

After an uneventful flight to Manila we have to wait a few hours for our connection to Bohol. Manila airport is a bit chaotic but we find a nice bench outside, it's a sunny day and wifi is free. Time goes by relatively fast before we are called in to board a Philippines Air flight. It's OK, nothing to write home about.

When we arrive in Bohol it's raining, not a good start. But it's warm and our driver has a comfy car with cool water and A/C, so the two-hour ride to our resort is bearable. Before setting off we stop at a large shopping mall near the airport to get some cash from an ATM, it would be our last chance here.

Seafood soup
By about 7:00pm we reach our resort, Amun Ini, in Anda, on the eastern side of Bohol. We are tired and hungry. After leaving our stuff in the room we head to the restaurant, a beautiful terrace overlooking the resort's garden and pool. Food is plentiful land varied, and
it will be for the rest of our stay.

12 February 2017

Massage and electric treatment

Today Ouyang takes us to his favorite Spa for a session of massage and hot tub bath. To get there, I ride on his motorbike while my wife rents a moto-taxi. None of us has any helmet, in keeping with local practice. I am not sure if I am more scared of hurting my head or making my cold worse. In the end everything goes smoothly.

It is a great couple of hours. He knows this town very well, he says he does not like to travel and spends some time every day taking care of his body at various salons. He is in his mid-forties and looks a good ten years younger. He has a membership card with many and the staff clearly know him very well as a regular.

Two minute Chinese ladies perform a powerful and very professional massage in a dimly lit room. Massage sessions alternate with dips in a very hot tub filled with water and herbs. A thin sheet of plastic is laid on the tub's surface before it is filled up with steaming water, ensuring proper hygiene. We get nice slippers and disposable undies, as well as soft towels. Quite a break compared to the chilly weather outside. At the end, we are served herbal tea in the waiting room, and Ouyang joins us for a chat with the owner, a lady she knows well for being a regular. Our two masseuses stand by. I can only speak to them with the help of translation, but I want to make sure they know I really enjoyed their treatment and look forward to coming back soon.

Electric practitioner diplomas and Chairman Mao

Traditional Chinese herbs
We then go to a practitioner who Ouyang says can treat my cold. Upon arrival I am offered a potion of tea and herbs to drink. He then performs a kind of electric treatment by gently rubbing my back with his hands while electricity flows through his body. He can adjust power with a pedal. It is a bit uncomfortable at first but then I get used to it.

My muscles contract when he revs up the current. All of this lasts about 45 minutes. More herbal tea is served at the end.



As we leave the practice, I feel a bit shaken up by the electricity, but overall I do feel better. My cold is still there, we'll see the results later.

Street vendor of fruits and veggies
Just outside a lady with balancing baskets on her shoulders approaches. We buy some from her, she is quite friendly and the prices are good, so says my wife. It is a pleasure to find these sellers in a day and age where supermarkets (which I think do have a role to play, so convenient!) seem about to take over even in smaller Chinese towns like this.

04 February 2017

Arrival in Hong Kong

Every time I arrive at the Hong Kong international airport I am amazed. By the beauty the spacious check-in area wrapped the high concave ceiling, by the brightness of it all by the free superfast internet connection that does not require complicated login procedures.

And by the MTR train. The Mass Transit Rail that takes you to Hong Kong in a little over 20 minutes. At each station, luggage carts are ready for travelers, perfectly lined up in sets of three in front of each door of the train: solid, clean, smart-looking and free. I think back to Rome Fiumicino, where it costs 2 Euro to rent one and they are usually rickety and dirty. Never mind...

Meet and greet from our hotel. A very thin man, in his early sixties, come to help with our carts full of cases and diving equipment. he said he has been working for our hotel for 24 years. He leps us buy a ticket for the Airport Express, takes our trolleys to the platform, puts them in the luggage racks of the train car for us, tells us on which side of the train the door will open at our stop, and leaves after refusing a tip which I was handing him in gratitude.