And The Mountains Echoed

Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk. ~Susan Scarf Merrell

And The Mountains Echoed, much like Khalid Hosseini’s earlier novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Sun begins, and draws its roots from Afghanistan and its tumultuous history, following on from the upheaval of the country in the 70s to emigration to America. Unlike his other two novels, however,  there is also a layering of characters from other cultures – Markos, a Greek surgeon, photographer and philanthropist, Nila, a part-French, part-Afghan artist who embodies the glamorous, detached Parisienne lifestyle, and Iqbal and his family, who have come home from emigration to Pakistan to find his family are unable to claim their home, or even Amra, a Bosnian nurse caring for the wounded in war-torn Kabul.

Although there is plenty of diversity in this story, at the heart of it all is the focus on the two primary characters, Abdullah and Pari, siblings whose close bond is ripped apart when they are separated at childhood, sold by a desperate father. So begins a ripple which resounds over the next 60 years, in which each sibling feeling incomplete without the other, affecting their families and friends around them.

There are several themes throughout the novel, which reverberate through each generation of siblings, lovers and friends – each of them having their own forms of abandonment and reconciliation, and each of them finding the true meaning of love and relationships over the years.

Normally a large number characters in a novel may overwhelm the story, but in this case, each character contributes, reinforcing a theme which subtly leads back to Abdullah and Pari. Each sibling carrying their own sense of incompleteness and abandonment; Abdullah growing up in Afghanistan and having his own family, emigrating to America in an attempt to find stability, and Pari, taken to France by her adoptive Mother, learning French culture and never understanding her identity and what is missing.

While this story is a little depressing in it’s telling, it’s beautifully written – there are parts of it which read like an old story being told, and indeed each character does tell his tale in order to contribute to this strange myth-like story.

If you’re looking for something full of culture, history and beauty, this has plenty of all three, and gives more besides. While it does show the characters and their yearning – to be elsewhere, to be with family or to be simply accepted – the characters are beautifully rendered, invoking a feeling of amity and the idea that you can step forward, and be a part of their lives.

Bow Road’s Black and White Pearly Royalty

I saw this today along Bow Road, a black and white sketch of working life on the street, including Pearly Kings and Queens. I love that this part of East London is still celebrated for it roots, no matter how trendy it is becoming (and it really is becoming more popular, there were two art galleries, a good few fashionable cafes and several restaurants within a stone’s throw from this wall).

It’s always good to see some street art while wandering about in random parts of London, this one was a huge mural that covered a whole wall, by an artist called Pang (I think that was the signature!), so I’ll be looking out for more in this area.

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A Histomap: 4000 Years Of Human History Captured In One Chart

This “Histomap” was created by John B. Sparks, and was first printed by Rand McNally in 1931, and basically aimed to show a coherent, charted history of World History on a map through four thousand years. It’s pretty impressive, and splits up countries and races by colours and time eras.

You can see a bigger version that you can zoom in on here, and there’s a a few more histomaps by Sparks which came later such as this Histomap of Evolution. Seriously though, this is pretty amazing – while it’s not entirely accurate and feels outdated by today’s standards, it’s a pretty good interpretation of history as we know it put together alongside pretty much every other dynasty, era, world events and history that we know.

I love that the Indians and the Chinese section are pretty much the only ones which remain consistent and follow through the whole map without being broken – showing what a rich, long history these areas have. It’s also interesting to see that by the end of the map, there are several branches which are all thinner, showing a wide variety of ‘races’ or countries and their histories, perhaps suggesting that the world is becoming more diverse and people are beginning to gain an equal footing with each other. Or maybe that’s just my view of it.

For the time that it was created in, it’s still very impressive, and pretty well made.

“HERE IS THE ACTUAL PICTURE OF THE MARCH OF CIVILIZATION from the mud huts of the ancients to the monarchistic of the middle ages to the living panorama of life in everyday America”


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Honeymoon Travels: The Grand Bazaar

I have always loved going to markets of all types, and I always seek them out when I’m in new places – so naturally I wanted to visit the famous (and biggest) market in Istanbul, which was the Grand Bazaar.

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It was certainly nothing like I expected, which was something like an open bazaar with people flogging their wares on stalls. The Grand Bazaar is just that, grand and diverse. Most of the market is inside an old building with several winding hallways and corridors, each one packed on both sides with sellers and shops. Below are just a few of the things which caught my eye, lanterns, carpets, scarves, lamps, spices and sweets, but there’s so much more. I caught sight of fake Louboutins, gold jewellery, ice creams, jewellery, paintings and hundreds more things which are available on display.

We ended up spending a few hours here looking for souvenirs, haggling and comparing, and came away a little dazed and overwhelmed, not to mention the fact that we had entered from one of the Market and exited half a mile in another direction!

 

Honeymoon Travels: The Basilica Cistern

Once of the landmarks we visited while in Turkey was the Basicila Cistern, which is one of the biggest ancient storage units underground the city of Istanbul which was designed to hold water. It was surprisingly busy going in, but once we got in, we could see a huge underground cavern which would have plenty of space to hold visitors.

It was quite dim in the cistern, so I wasn’t able to take clear pictures with my camera and had to use my mobile camera, but the view was pretty spectacular and there was a very eerie, mysterious atmosphere to the place.

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The most striking part of the cistern and its pillars were two Medusa heads which were carved into the bottom of two pillars – one was upside down, and one was placed on its side, apparently, deliberately so. There’s a lot of ideas why this was done, but no one really knows for certain. I noticed a lot of Medusa motifs around this city; restaurants, shops, artwork and symbols in a lot of discreet places, which I thought was an interesting link to Greek mythology, and probably points to the diverse history of traders and inhabitants of Istanbul over the  last few centuries.

It was fun to see another side to Istanbul, the quiet, atmospheric and mysterious caverns which gave tourists a chance to wander around and enjoy some peace. There was also an opportunity to dress up in traditional Turkish costumes and take photographs in a photo booth on the side, which looked fun, although we didn’t do this because it was busy and I was a little embarassed!

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Honeymoon Travels: The Blue Mosque & the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul

The most iconic places in Istanbul are the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. Surprisingly, we found that when we asked the locals where the Blue Mosque was, they didn’t know what we meant until we called it the Sultan Ahmet (similarly, I’d been pronouncing Hagia Sofia wrong, which is pronounced Aya Sof-ya).

Both of these places are beautiful relics of history, each rich with art and stories which span over a long period of time, and iconic landmarks of the Ottoman era. Naturally these were at the top of my list of places to visit in Istanbul, and not just mine, both places were very busy!

Below is the Sultan Ahmet mosque, which is called the Blue Mosque because of the beautiful blue tiles and patterns in the interior – it is still an active mosque and open for prayers, so it is also a beautifully peaceful place because of how serene it is inside and how well looked after it is. I’ll let the pictures do the talking, it was quite dim inside though so the colours are less vivid in my photos.

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The Hagia Sofia is directly opposite the Sultan Ahmet mosque, and is different in that it is now a museum – it used to be a church, then was turned into a mosque by invading Ottomans, before it was restored to its current state. I love that it looks pink from the outside, and that the interior strives to maintain the older, Christian art alongside the Islamic art pieces. Because it is a museum there are plenty of tours which take visitors around, and we managed to go up to the second floor which was a lot more cobbley and slopey, but also very atmospheric.

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It’s amazing to see just how close these two iconic landmarks are to each other – I tried to take a panoramic shot to show how short a walk they are from each other. I like that they face each other and that citizens openly visit both places – it really symbolises the contentment of this place. Istanbul is made up of Old City and New, and European Istanbul and Asian, which really reflects in the way these two are positions, they face Qibla (the direction of Mecca) and yet allow visitors of all religions, nationalities and origins to come and see their beauty.

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This was a very memorable visit for me, particularly because of how grand the two places are. There are certainly bigger, more beautiful and more luxurious places in Istanbul than these two places, but it is clear that these two are icons which appeal to everyone for their beauty and what they represent.

Harlequin Oddities Found About Town: Music Cassettes and VHS Video Tapes

Isn’t it amazing how much of a relic these things are these days? Twenty years ago, VHS and music cassettes were a normal craze; where winding up cassette tapes with pencils and the magic of recording TV shows on black video tapes were our versions of the iPads and mobiles of today. Oh, except we had funkier, bigger hair and questionable bumbags.

I saw these in a local shop a few days ago, and had to take a sneaky shot (the shop-owner didn’t realise I’m just trying to be “ironic” and also probably doesn’t read my blog, so I had to be sneaky about it). It made me smile because we used to stalk this shop every weekend when I was a child to rent out the latest video to watch, and which was a big event in our house because it meant we got to pick something WE wanted to watch. Even though there wasn’t much to pick from, the films weren’t very new and we usually had to pick from Rambo, E.T. or Hellraiser (or something of the same calibre), it was still a thrilling evening for us to pay £1 (or £2 for the weekend!) to borrow a video tape.

These days the shop seems to just display them for fun (plus the layers of dust kind of shows that it’s been a while since anyone knew what to do with them), and they’re all Bollywood and Tollywood tapes, which are kind of redundant now that the big world of The Internet has shown us how to watch these.

Still, they’re a nice reminder of the simpler things in our childhood, and the terrible films we used to watch.

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Maya Angelou: An Icon, A Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Today I heard the sad news that author, poet, icon, artist, civil rights leader, woman, Maya Angelou passed away at the age of 86. She was famous for many things, being a writer, singer, dancers, actress and acitivist, but at the core of it all, she remained a sunny, beautiful woman who had many lessons to give and moved many of us while we were growing up.

When you  learn, teach. When you get, give.

I remember reading Maya Angelou’s famous classic I Know why the Caged Bird Sings at the age of  eleven after it was handed to me by a teacher who knew of my love for books and was always trying giving me new genres to explore. I was a huge reader then (I still am, but these days I find that I make less time for reading unless it’s on my daily commute) and was hungry for literature which went beyond the usual Goosebumps and teenage-angst stories. I found my fill in Alice Walker, Adele Geras, Margaret Atwood, and as I grew older, in post-colonial authors, post-modern authors and feminist writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi, Toni Morrison, Meera Syal, Doris Lessing and Arundhati Roy, but to name a few. This is just a tip of the iceberg for the amazing range of authors out there whose works I’ve swam through, floated through, devoured and then looked for more of.

Until blacks and whites see each other as brother and sister, we will not have parity. It’s very clear.

Maya Angelou is all of these. She was someone who wanted to push boundaries, making us re-think the norm, and above all, celebrated life, being a woman, being a person and seeing the human in us rather than the stereotypes and the labels. Is it any wonder that she is remembered for so many things? The one thing about her which spoke to me through all of her writing, which really resonated was the fact that she had lived such a hard life, and yet remained a positive person. I’ve met so many negative people, and indeed it’s in our culture to not be happy with what we have, to want more and to criticise, and yet Maya Angelou empathised the importance of being assertive and being proud of who we are and what we have. Growing up, I’m sure we all have stories to tell in which we felt alone, different or pushed down – Maya taught us that we can either let it define us, or use it to buil character, be happy with ourselves, learn from our experiences rather than being just content

You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.

I love how this blogger put it. Maya Angelou’s words mean that we are not marginalised, pushed aside and made ‘just’. I, like my peers, am not ‘just’ a coloured girl, we ARE coloured girls – and this matters.

Maya Angelou may be gone from this world, but her words and her philosophy live on; as sad as it is that the world has suffered a loss today, it is also beautiful that she has left a beautiful legacy which continues to inspire so many generations.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.

There’s several obituaries from prominent newspapers of the wonderful woman, here’s the one I liked most (and this one too) – the tributes, stories and accolades keep pouring in for this wonderful woman. I think they all sing the same thing – Maya Angelou was an inspirational woman to so many people because of many different reasons. For me, it’s because she introduced me to a whole new world at the age of 11 when I stepped into I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and kept going.

A great soul never dies. It brings us together, again and again

Maya Angelou, as her poem suggests, really was a Phenomenal Woman.
Rest in peace Maya Angelou, may you reach Jannah (heaven) and know the blessings and peace you showed to others. Thank you for your legacy – sharing your love, your knowledge and your wisdom and for generally being such a beautiful person. The world was, is and will be a better place just because you have lived. You will be missed.

Weekly Challenge: Letters

I love the Arabic language, the beauty of its curving letters and the detailed strokes of each letter which joins together to make beautiful passages as well as beautiful art. This is an old text from the 16th Century, depicting an ayat (verses from the Holy Quran) which was painstakingly written out by scribes during this time. I love the beautiful neatness of this piece of writing, the sloping, long letters highlighted with gold paint and the beautiful calligraphy – it’s not often you get to see some old texts like these.

I wanted to take a close-up of this picture but wasn’t able to because this piece exhibited behind glass, but perhaps I’ll get to see something similar to this again, and try to get a better picture!

Part of this week’s Weekly Challenge: Letters.

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