Category Archives: grand tour of europe

Notes and images of my travel from Moscow, Odessa, Istanbul, Troy, Pergamon, Ephese, Santorini, Heraklio, Knossos, Patra, Venice, Milan, Turin, Genova, Portofino, Limburg, to London over the summer of 2006.

Keith Devlin, The Man of Numbers (2011)

themanofnumbers_keithdevlin_2011 Keith Devlin, The Man of Numbers (2011) is a largely historical biography about Leonardo Bigollo (~1170 – ~1250 CE), better known in his own time as Leonardo Pisano or in our time as Leonardo Fibonacci.

Fibonacci is best known for the sequence of Fibonacci numbers (1,2,3,5,8,13,21… etc), whose limit of ratios we know as the Divino Proportion coined by Luca Pacioli (1445-1517), the Golden Ratio coined by Martin Ohm (1792-1811), or as it is called in Euclid’s Elements, the extreme and mean ratio. Fibonacci numbers are only one of several mathematical puzzles posed in his Liber Abaci (1202), the Book of Calculation, a teaching book for mercantile administration, in which Leonardo describes the basics of the Hindu-Arab counting system, at the time largely unknown in Europe, where the Roman and medieval systems were still dominant. Devlin argues that the Liber Abaci caused a mathematical revolution that facilitated the mercantile boom of the Renaissance.

The book by Devlin is a little light on facts and mathematics, though none are absent, maybe because there are only few historic facts known about Leonardo, and because most of the math in our time sounds like very basic modern mathematics described in very cryptically described textual puzzles. If you really want to know everything about Fibonacci’s influence, you should read the translation of the Liber Abacci. If you really want to know everything about the mercantile revolution, you should read perhaps about Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464), or about the scientific revolution, you should read perhaps about Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).


The House of Mary

House of Virgin MaryJohn sighed. Mary sat as always during this hour of the day at the top of the hill between the cypresses on the rock she always used to sit on, pondering it seemed, judging by the stale stares at the descending distant sun. John did not speak to her while she glared at the horizon, afraid he was of a mother’s tears. The sun beat down on his face, a drop of sweat ran over his forehead. After weeks on foot, one morning Mary had refused to travel further without apparent reason. She had laid her hand on John’s face and said: ‘No further, dear child, no further. Here is where we will find peace.’
John had protested: the swamp, the city inhabited with hostile enemies, eager to throw another stone at them. But Mary insisted: ‘Fear not, John, we are home at last.’

The first two nights they slept under the tarpaulin that John had tightened between the trunks of two small cypresses. They were sheltered by a heavy rock on the backside. He was convinced that Mary would change her mind again once she had rested enough, then they would pick up their belongings and catch a boat to one of the small Islands before the coast. They would be isolated from the mainland spread of uproar of the local population and the suspicious scrutiny of soldiers trying to root out any hostilities of the indiginous population. But on the third day, Mary again had called upon John, and solemnly spoke: ‘John, my son has come home.” At those words John felt as if he actually had arrived at these settings, not as by miracle, but simply by foot. There and then he would pop up from around a bush and smile at them with the same tranquil expression on his face as always. But of course, that was impossible. “It is time for us to prepare ourselves for our own reckoning. Here we will prepare our home,’ she continued and he understood she was of course speaking metaphorically.

It had been months now, almost a year, since they had left Palestine. They had been chased out of Jerusalem practically: ‘False prophets! Blasphemous dogs!’ And no one had paid a higher price than Mary’s son, whom they had tortured, humiliated and nailed to the cross among common criminals, betrayed by his own people, these Philistine goldseekers. They had split up, each to go their own path, this was safer they had decided, John would look after Mary. They had headed up North, to the great city of Ephesos, and from there they would head out for the Aegean isles, of which there were too many for people to search for them in pursuit of a few gold coins. But the road was far and brought not much more than hardship for forlorn immigrants, refugees that is they were! Without land, without a people, without his brothers! Continue reading

Park Kultury – Teatralnya

Apollon felt entrapped, enclosed, yes caged here in the street where he could walk freely, where everybody passed him by, disregarding him, and yet, this multiplied indifference, like the carelessness of the hunter for its prey, that stared at him from every angle he turned, not just stared, but negated him, denied him what made him free, his thoughts, this very same freedom had him trapped. It was cold and drizzling, it was already June however. Hundreds of free people, that is free of autocratic rule, because looked at each individual closely, none of them were actually free, free, freedom, this word, this abstraction, did it ever really exist? Who invented this word anyway, what was it suppose to represent, free, being unbound, without obligations, attachments, expectations, that is absolutely lonely, deserted? Yes, he was free in a sense, in the absence of meaning of the word, if you didn’t think about what you actually meant it was easy enough for him to say: I am a free person, I could go wherever whenever I want to go. But the reality of the fact was, he didn’t, he just stood there, thinking, but his thoughts had no real purpose. No purpose, that is, his thoughts were free, without meaning, without thought, barely perceiving the entrance of the Park Kultury station, behind those odd lost souls standing without purpose as if waiting for someone before the rounded facade. Soap bubbles appeared and splashed apart. A densely clothed woman, throwing her arms back and forth, busying herself demonstrating colorful soap bubbles toys in the form of pistols, pistols, as if to threaten him, but before they could wound him, they splashed in thousand parts and dissolved into the air, soap bubble particles must be everywhere. Continue reading

Priviet Mir!

So finally, we are connected to the world wide web: Priviet Mir! During in my stay in Berlin I already discovered that apparently simple matters always have odd hooks and bolts attached to them. These oddities are so evident at home that there’s not a second lost in worrying about them. In Berlin, you need a bank account in order to get an Internet connection, but for a bank account you need to register at the local municipality, both requiring an advanced level of German in order to wrestle yourself through the bureaucracy. And in the US you will be able to do practically anything with a line of credit, id est a credit card, thanks (?) to the highly developed banking system. Well, given that in Russia there was no such thing for a long time and the current system has its limitations, I was amused to find however that cash does the talking here, and gets you everything.

A car, satellite television, Internet and … what else. Consumer loans are becoming a hot commodity very fast. 2006 Is the year of car loans, credit lines that are available within thirty minutes, and shopping loans are the driving force behind the growth of Russian private banks. But private banks are highly monolithic with small branch networks, and most foreign corporations depend on foreign banks complying with international banking standards. And because risk is high and consumer banking underdeveloped, cash is the bullet that allows you pay without risk, meaning you buy services prepaid. The system is actually pretty user friendly and it will be interesting to see if there prepaid services will hold once the consumer banking system establishes itself more firmly. Continue reading

A blank sheet is best for writing

“The Tolstoys rented their first accommodation in Moscow on the corner of Prechistenka and Denezhny Lane in Prince Volkonsky’s house (now it is No. 3 on Maliy Levshinsky Lane).”

Perfect it is not, as we will move into building 1, flat 76 on Malyi Levshinksky Pereulok, but enough to evoke a sensitive and imaginative mind. It’s not necessary to be aware that the Tolstoys were called the ‘Wild Tolstoys’ in the high society of Moscow.

More interesting is a parallel with Andrei Bely’s famous novel-poem Petersburg. Bely was a member of the Symbolism movement, that started with a poem by Baudelaire entitled Le Spleen de Paris. At the time Petersburg was the capital of the imperial Russia and it experienced a turbulent year in 1905, Russia was in flames, the revolutionary spark (Iskra) was lightened, and the Russian fleet suffered a traumatic blow by the Japanese. It were the shadows in the aftermath of le fin du siècle playing against the flames of a redly lightened future. Continue reading

Grand Tour of Europe

From May 22, 2006 to August 16, 2006 I will reside in Moscow, Russia. In my series abroad, I published in 2004 the series Notices from Berlin. Apart from some professional projects, some travels to Europe, and starting to work on The Shield of Achilles, I will post my impressions of Russia under the working title Le spleen de Moscow, after the poem by Baudelaire ‘Le spleen de Paris’. This poem signals the beginning of Symbolism. The Russian symbolist Andrei Bely wrote a prose-poem about the then capital of Russia Saint Petersburg and my notes will reflect the spirit and intention of Bely’s classic novel.

From Dostoewski, Trotsky, Bulgakov and Lenin, Brodsky, Nabokov to Solzhenitsyn, many Russian intellectuals were banned from their motherland. Although my exile is voluntary, the effect on my soul will not be less disturbing, because the causes may not be confused by its effects. In addition, being denied a homeland, a home, is not always purely a matter of physical removal, for what if the soul has been uprooted from the earth it was seeded in? Travelling to Russia, like Kazantzakis before me, will be in many ways the report of a continueing quest for that holy grail in which a soul comes home to a lost golden state.