An Artist never Creates in Isolation 

Chantilly, France

I visited the exhibit "Picasso et les Maitres" today at the Grand Palais in the center of Paris. The exhibit is explained as "210 works from the world's leading collections illustrate the inspiration Picasso drew from the great masters." The reserved tickets are sold out months in advance and if you don't have a reservation, you can stand in line for hours to get in. It can therefore be described as a real "event".

The exhibit juxtaposes a selection of Picasso's works with works from other painters which served as the inspiration for Picasso's art. I did find it very interesting. It provides a perspective on an artist and his inspiration which one rarely finds in a museum.

It's very easy when one visits a museum to look at each work in isolation. The visitor rarely has any insight into the context in which the work was created. This you have to find in the art history books, but I think it's fair to say that few people take the time to do any research before visiting a museum.

I came away from this exhibit with the impression that the development of an artist is very complicated. An artist is very much a product of his environment, his associations with other artists, and the past.

Take Van Gogh for example. In the television series on art history developed by Simon Schama, it is clear that Van Gogh was also very much influenced by the history of art and by other contemporary artists - although he started to paint very late in life and his style was quite distinct from anything that had been done before.

What does this say about originality? Can any art be said to be truly original, if it is in part derived from the past and borrowed from the present?

Is it then just not possible to become an artist from one day to the next? I wonder if there are any cases of a successful artist developing in relative isolation, creating works completely without influence from art and artists of the past and present?
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Why Living in the Occident? 

Chantilly, France

So why did I call my blog "Living in the Occident"?

By Occident I mean living in the Western Culture. I guess I could have called my blog "Living in France" which is where I live now but I wanted the scope of my blog to be larger than that. The name of my blog reflects my approach to living in Europe.

Although some may find it difficult to live outside the country they were born and raised in, I feel as comfortable living abroad as I would in my home country, and sometimes even more comfortable. And I think it is because I focus on the similarities and not the differences. My home country and my resident country are both a part of Western Culture. And so I find enough similarity between them that the behaviors and events I experience day to day outside of my home country no longer seem foreign. It is easy for me to see the connection between what I see and experience in France, and what I would see and experience in my native country.

The Western countries are linked by a common set of values. Although there are differences between them, I would argue that those differences are very much insignificant in comparison to their similarities. To be sure, language is a devisive element within the West and much cause for misunderstanding. So is history, with the long legacy of war between the Western nations. But once the language barrier is overcome, stereotypes begin to melt away and the memory of war and conflict begins to fade and what is essential in all of us is what remains. The challenges that each Western country faces, are similar in nature.

Take, for example, immigration. The U.S. faces a challenge of immigration from the poor southern countries of the Western hemisphere, (even if they themselves can be counted among the Western block of nations.) Europe is faced with a challenge of immigration from Islamic countries (Turkey, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco) and Sub-Saharan countries.

I think that in the future, it will become more and more important for the Western countries to work together to promote their values in the context of a world becomming increasingly influenced by powers outside of the Western sphere. And in the future, as cultures from outside of the West mix with the western cultures due to immigration, it is necessary for the Western countries to define what it really means to be a citizen. Is it a matter of origins, or commonly held values? All western countries struggle today with this issue. Do we as a whole spend more money trying to keep immigrants out, then we do trying to promote Western values to those who have made it in?

Let's face it, the demographics of our republics and democracies are changing. In a few decades the White/Christian makeup will probably become a minority. In North American, the Anglo-Saxon legacy may cease to dominate. But there is no reason why Western values need be under threat, if an effort is made to educate all in the importance of those values. The most important values are those that are enshrined in our constitutions and in our bills of rights.

One of the objectives of this blog is to identify what those values are and how are they manifested in our everyday world. And how did these values develop over centuries of Western history?
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Dahab Retrospective 

Chantilly, France

While I was on vacation, the world wide economic slowdown continued to deepen. Returning from vacation was not easy. I don't know what had the most impact - the muscle pains from all of that physical activity that I was able to stave off in Egypt but upon returning came back with a vengeance, the continuing bad economic news, the noticeably shortened daylight period, or continuing to feel not completly satisfied with how things are going at work.

On the last full day of my vacation in Dahab, I woke up tired - not feeling strong. I guess it's to be expected, windsurfing is a physically demanding sport, especially when learning. I didn't end up mastering the water start but I did succeed in proving that I could still get on the board and control the sail, even after seven years.

On the day of my return I was scheduled to leave the hotel at noon. I spent the morning hours enjoying the last hours of warm sunshine and thinking about the trip.

I like the fact that I spent my vacation time working on a goal. The concept of productivity is important to me, even while on vacation (which I know is quite different from other people). Without some kind of goal, or structure, I do get bored easily and I start to feel uneasy.

It was a vacation that revolved, for the most part, around the wind. It's a concept not unfamiliar to me as my vacations to Safaga, Corsica, and Malta were also wind influenced to some extent. Wind, even in this day and age when much of nature is dominated by man, is still something beyond his control. At times it's not there when you want it, at others there's too much of it, and at still other times the situation changes rapidly and brutally between the two extremes. It requires a certain mindset to deal with it. And having an alternative activity to fall back on when the wind is not cooperating is always in order.

I find the combination of snorkeling and windsurfing to be ideal. When the conditions are bad for one, they are generally good for the other. I use one to "hedge" against the other.

In the complete absence of wind, one needs to remain philosophical. When the wind comes in gusts, the ability to anticipate and adjust the sail so one doesn't fly over with it is key. Working with wind is a good lesson in adaptability. A windsurfer needs to adapt to the wind and work with the prevailing conditions.

I still need to work on my water start. I didn't really make it onto the board yet. The water start is difficult because there are so many variables that need to be aligned in order to pull it off and such limited means to control them. There's the direction the board is pointing in, there's the angle you hold the sail at, where you put your first (back) foot on the board, where you position yourself after placing your feet, how you lift the sail, and how strong the wind is. All of the variables need to be in equilibrium for the manoeuver to work!

I'm searching for a way that I can break up the manoeuver into smaller, more manageable parts. For example, as a start, could one just practice laying low in the water and using the sail to keep the nose of the board in the right direction? What did I do right? In shallow water I was able to get the starting position correct which is in itself, not that easy.

My problem seems to come where I position myself after putting my back feet on the board, and how I lift the sail afterwards. I don't pivot my front arm up enough. And I'm not far enough forward when I try lifting the sail. I also get excited and impatient when I begin windsurfing. But often, patience and level headedness are needed to practice and understand the lessons as well as time and endurance. Having crowds of windsurfers around doesn't help either because one is always tempted to compare oneself with them.

Windsurfing is a sport with so many aspects that it's open to many different teaching approaches. I sometimes don't get the feeling that all the people involved in teaching the sport (authors and instructors) agree on which skill or skills need to be mastered in order to move on to the next level. Is there a clear progression defined? Is there a clear method? A really excellent instructor, in my opinion, would be able to cut through some of the anticipation and insecurities I mentioned above and keep the students on the right track, focused and free from distractions.

I think it's also not so easy to learn in such a course. In this case you are mostly learning by observing and trying to imitate what the instructor is showing you. The approach can sometimes lose its structure. Maybe there was a problem with language. Maybe larger, heavier people need more practice and coaching to get the water start to work.

Windsurfing lessons are good when you are on a solo vacation because it provides structure to the vacation. The problem sometimes lies in the fact that it is not scheduled at the same time every day and you only know at which time it's scheduled at 09:00 a.m. the day of the lesson. This makes it difficult to plan other activities. (The divers usually depart at 09:00 for the day). The other activities need to be very flexible time wise to fit the variability in the lesson scheduling which may be due to anticipated wind conditions.

All in all, five days in the water on the board out of seven is enough. Any more and I would be too tired to continue. The weight lifting I did before coming did seem to help. I think I would have been even more tired and less able to recover after each day if I hadn't lifted weights. Mastering the water start will have to wait for another time, but I was able to recall the harnass skills, and get the tack in order on a bigger board. The last day I was recalling how to do the flare gybe. What I noticed at Dahab is that the old are surfing next to the young, the fat next to the thin, the tall next to the short. So there is no excuse to to continue windsurfing as far as age, stature, and weight are concerned.

What I might do differently next time would be to call the surf center in advance to know more about how their course offerings are organized, for example what's included in a beginner / advanced beginner or intermediate course. I also need to focus more on some of the basics like always holding the rig by the mast and recalling the tack and the gybe. At first I was trying to balance the sail on my head in preparation for the beach start which was completely wrong.

(Dahab Coast Line)

My vacation was also a success simply by the fact that I was able to change my routine, if only for a week. Even if I didn't experience any particular epiphany about my work in France there, perhaps still there are comparisons to be made between approaching the wind, and approaching this ever worsening economic slowdown. Like the wind, it's beyond my power to change and the best solution may be just to try to adapt to it. Look out for the gusts and the lulls and try to adjust the sail accordingly.
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Dahab - Day 5 

Dahab, Egypt

My windsurfing lesson was at 11:30 today. There was a stiff breeze blowing. I used a size 180 board and a size 5.4 sail. I was continuing working on the water start with some progress to be made before having some success. Dahab is a very popular place for windsurfing and today there were many people out taking advantage of the good wind. The large numbers lead to some congestion at the location used for lessons and where sailors start off. There were many people walking their boards upwind. The more advanced sailors use boards without a dagger board in order to get the most speed out of the wind. However, it means they also have difficulty sailing upwind and find themselves having to adjust their position by walking their boards. The congestion is a little unnerving for learners trying to avoid a collision.

In the afternoon I was planning to snorkel at a location called Napoleon reef but as it faces the open sea and the wind was still blowing hard, I decided not to risk being blown out to sea. I stayed in a more sheltered area but which had more mediocre coral. But I did see some new and even impressive new animal life.

1) Giant Moray (Gymnothorax javanicus) - a real monster, I was surprised to find it in this mediocre section of reef.
2) Redtooth triggerfish (Odonus niger)
3) Another scorpionfish - a bit bigger than the one I saw two days ago.
4) Blackside hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri)
5) Either a Striped Blanquillo (Malacanthus latovittatus) or a Cigar Wrasse (Cheilio inermis)
6) Either a Black Damselfish (Stegastes nigricans) or possibly a Royal Damselfish (Paraglyphidodon melas) - remarkable blue edge on fins.
7) Jewel Damselfish (Plectroglyphidodon lacrymatus) remarkable blue dots.
8) Bluethroat Triggerfish (Sufflamen albicaudatus)
9) Sand dollar (Clypeaster humilis)
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Dahab - Day 4 

Dahab, Egypt

As is commonly the case in mass market resort hotels, breakfast is a buffet and is also oftenly the case, what starts out at the beginning of the week as a delight starts to become old after a few days. The restaurant at the Iberhotel is pleasant, however with seating inside and outside. It serves a few Egyptian dishes such as Foul. One can also find the typical Mediterranean breakfast ensemble of cucumbers, tomatoes and olives.

After breakfast I head down to the windsurfing hut on the beach in front of the hotel to find out when my windsurfing lesson will take place for the day. Today the lesson was at 10:00 a.m. Today's lesson was about the "water start". This is the holy grail of windsurfing skills and I set the mastery of this as a goal for my trip to Dahab.

Today there's a different teacher, a polish guy, I think his name is something like Thomas or some Polish equivalent. Rob has been the instructor up until now and we have been practicing mostly beach starts. Rob is from the U.K. but is multilingual. He speaks to me in English. Thomas doesn't speak English so we communicate in German. The number of other people in the class can very from day to day as new people come, others leave to return home, and some decide to do some other activity for the day. The attendees are for the most part German or Eastern European.

The lessons last for about 2 hours. At the end of today's lesson, the water start remains elusive. I'm too tired to continue windsurfing and there is too much wind to go snorkelling, so I decide to do something different.

(Mountains west of the hotel)

I have another hobby which is called Geocaching. It's something like a treasure hunt in which you use coordinates posted on the internet along with a GPS device to find a hidden container called the cache. Weeks before starting my vacation, I have found a cache using the internet which I reckon is within a reasonable walking distance from the hotel. The cache is located in the mountains west of Dahab. Today I decide to go hunt for it. It takes about 35 minutes to reach the cache by foot from my hotel. The last stretch requires scrambling over loose rock and rubble but the cache is easily found. The location provides a good view over Dahab and across the gulf of Aqaba to Saudia Arabia. It's a very peaceful pause in the rugged desert. Lucky for me civilization is not far away because the vegetation is almost non-existant and without a good supply of water on hand, one would rapidly die of thirst. At the end of the day I'm happy to have been able to accomplish this little secondary mission which I had set for myself.
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