Soleil Levant

2017 has been the most (positively) life-altering year for me yet – like a rising sun or ‘Soleil Levant’ (more about this later). The last few months have been a whirlwind of change (hence the lack of blog posts). I’ve changed jobs and cities. I’ve travelled across Europe, Asia and Africa – including trips to Singapore and Denmark for the first time – and learnt new words as part of my ongoing ambitious attempt to teach myself Arabic.

I’ve been taught some unforgettable lessons this year, not least of which is that relocating to a new city is no easy task! However, what makes things much easier is moving to a lovely Scouse city, supportive and inclusive work colleagues and of course bountiful doses of humour and reality checks from good friends (you know who you are). My year – both personal and professional – could be summarised in this eloquent, brief ‘autobiography’ by Portia Nelson:

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image source: http://shanahan1.pbworks.com/f/Hole%20in%20the%20sidewalk.gif (click image to open fullsize in a new tab)

I’m currently in either Chapters IV or V in various aspects of my life – but I’m slowly getting there and learning not to make choices that only lead me into the same ‘hole in the sidewalk’. Those who know me, will agree that I certainly applied the last chapter to a key area of my life that was bringing me nothing but stress and negativity. Also during 2017, I’m happy to report that following my reflections this time last year, I proudly wore my multi-potentialite and multi-localite identity. This is something I will continue to affirm, and hopefully, might lead to some interesting blog posts in 2018, so watch this space!

On a more solemn note, one particular experience from late Summer of 2017 which will be forever etched in my memory is that of standing before Ai Weiwei’s art installation in Copenhagen. The statement about the plight of refugees evoked powerful memories of my time volunteering with the refugees in Budapest, Hungary at the peak of the Syrian crisis in 2015. Weiwei’s Copenhagen installation, named ‘Soleil Levant’ (French for Rising Sun) is inspired by Claude Monet’s 1872 painting Impression, Soleil Levant. Monet’s art depicts the harbour in Le Havre, France, at the end of the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, capturing the political and social reality of its time with its cranes, steamboats and industrialisation. Weiwei’s Soleil Levant draws attention to the political and social reality of today through the arrangement of 3500 used refugee lifejackets stacked on the facade of a building. The installation is particularly notable, for its location within the thriving Nyhavn district, and I found the stark contrast between the vivacious outdoor cafes on one side of the canal, and Weiwei’s sombre Soleil Levant on the other side to be a moving and poignant reminder of the vicissitudes of life. I have inserted a slideshow of some images that reflect this below.

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Weiwei’s commemoration of the refugees’ ordeals reminded me of another of my favourite artists, Nizar Ali Badr, whom I was also thrilled to see receive recognition and coverage by the BBC in 2017.  I recall writing about Badr in 2016; his works moved me then, and continue to do so today. Experiencing Weiwei’s installation first hand, seeing the marks on the life jackets, the dried sand and possible bloody stains, served to remind me of the immensity of my own blessings.

So here’s to 2018 – may it be a year in which, like a Soleil Levant, the sun rises to greet us and remind us each day to be grateful for our blessings. I leave you, dear readers of my blog, as I do each year, with an Irish blessing which is one of my favourite new year wishes:

“May there always be work for your hands to do;
May your purse always hold a coin or two;
May the sun always shine on your windowpane;
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
May the hand of a friend always be near you;
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.”

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

There are no kangaroos in Austria

I’m currently in Austria as a guest of the Johannes Kepler University (JKU) in Linz. JKU is hosting the EERA Summer School 2016 where I am a tutor, facilitating sessions on research methodology for PhD students. The sessions are going well and there is excellent learning taking place for both the students and myself.

Today we had an away day in Salzburg where students attended sessions on quantitative and qualitative data analysis at the Federal Institute for Educational Research, Innovation & Development of the Austrian School System (BIFIE).  After a morning of intellectually challenging sessions, we had the afternoon off to explore Salzburg (and solve a problem like Maria! – worry not though, this won’t be a blog post with cheesy lines from The Sound of Music). However, I cannot resist mentioning one of my favourite things: the ‘No kangaroos in Austria’ souvenir slogan which made me giggle as I pictured hapless tourists perplexedly demanding to view these marsupials. I did ask if any zoo in the country had specially brought a kangaroo in, but was told that the seasonal European climes make it impossible for the roos to thrive.

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image source: personal picture

Anyhow, back to my exploration of Salzburg. My colleagues and I strolled around the city admiring the various historic locations and quaint buildings. At one point we came across the designated UNESCO heritage site, Mirabell Palace and its luscious gardens.

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image source: personal picture

The Palace was commissioned in the early 17th Century by the Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau for his Mistress Salome Alt (an eyebrow-raising story in itself). But  I digress.

Now I attach here the sign that was at the Garden entrance for your convenience. Allow me to explain: you see, I am used to such signs in public parks and gardens usually having one coherent message: either prohibitive or informative.

 

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image source: personal picture (click on image for larger size to open in a new window)

So I quickly scanned the sign. (Please bear in mind that my colleagues and I had vowed not to use our map or translation apps during the course of our exploration of the city). The upper level cautions made sense (although I was saddened to see that juggling is prohibited). The middle level cautions were also easily construed by the diagonal red lines across them. The lower left one seemed to me like a wishbone, goggles and a paper being thrown in the bin. Although on second glance, I surmised that’s probably a banana peel and apple core, not wishbone and goggles. Anyhow, the red arrow made it clear that this particular caution was of an advisory nature. Now the last one on the lower right. No diagonal line and no arrow. Whatever is one supposed to make of it? Run when lightning hitting a tree is accompanied by UFOs in the distance? Or maybe don’t run when lightning hitting a tree is accompanied by UFOs in the distance?

My point is, as someone who has studied Special Educational Needs, I think it’s important  that public signs – whether they are informative, prohibitive, cautionary, or advisory – be clear and unambiguous in their message – even to those with vivid imaginations such as myself. Therefore, in the spirit of public service, I’ve taken the opportunity to make a little amendment to the sign. All that remains now is for the Salzburgian City Council to officially proclaim my genius!

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image source: edited personal picture

Fortunately though, apart from this one instance, I am happy to report that all the other public signage was up to my irrational wacky nonsensical exacting standards; my favourite of course, being that there are no kangaroos in Austria. I am loving every moment of my trip and the warmth and hospitality of my Austrian hosts and the wider community here.

Have you had any experience of confusing public signage?  Please do share your stories below.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

Stories through pebbles

A few months ago I spent some time volunteering with Syrian refugees in Budapest, Hungary. The memory of the experience is forever imprinted in my mind. So much so, that whenever I come across news to do with the refugee crises, I am compelled to read it through the lens of someone who has spent hours talking with these brave souls about their unimaginable journeys from what were once their homes and safe havens.

I recently came across the work of a Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr. Hailing from the historical Syrian port city of Latakia, Nizar’s latest works of art are based on  pebbles and stones found in his town of residence. A recent corpus of his work is based on the theme of the Syrian refugee crisis – a  situation quite literally close to his heart.

Nizar’s work “transmits the pain of the people who have to die, to suffer, to leave the country, but also… a hope for the revival of the country, the return of human values – love, home, family.” I believe his pieces of art speak louder than words; his work is painfully accurate in its portrayals of the emotions and physical tribulations that refugees have to endure.

The incredible power of Nizar’s wordless visualisations of human suffering and migration due to war are made even more poignant by the fact that they are made from Syrian pebbles and stones.  Nizar himself is a man of a few words, saying on his Facebook page, “”I love the dust and stones from Syria. My message is a humanitarian message.”

I leave you to absorb a few of his works.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

The Begijnhof De Wijngaard

I was in Belgium not too long ago, and was lucky to get a few days off from the hustle and bustle in Brussels to explore the sights and sounds of Bruges. One of the most tranquil places that I have possibly ever experienced, in all my travels, was the ‘Begijnhof De Wijngaard, a ten minute walk from the Town Square. The  Begijnhof, known as ‘Beguinage’ in English, is one of those that are on the UNESCO World Heritage list of preserved sites (this link sheds more light on why Beguinages were selected).

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image source: personal pictures (SQ)

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image source: personal pictures (SQ)

The complex that constitutes the Begijnhof  De Wijngaard includes a church and thirty whitewashed houses from the late 16th, 17th and 18th centuries . These houses are built around a central courtyard, which was covered in white and yellow daffodils when I visited. The main access to the Beguinage is via a stone bridge over a placid canal through which flocks of swans glide serenely.

image source: personal pictures (SQ)

image source: personal pictures (SQ)

Walking through the grounds of the Beguinage, I was struck by a sense of peacefulness and calm that descended upon me. I entered the church, and sat there alone, surrounded by an indescribable peacefulness. A while later, one of the Benedictine sisters who still practice their monastic lifestyle within the Beguinage, happened upon me. Even though she only spoke Flemish (a language in which I have yet to master a few basic words), between us, I managed to sign-language my thoughts about the beauty and tranquility of the Beguinage and convey my thanks for the unforgettable little interlude in my walk around the city. Although I also visited three Beguinages as part of my walking tour of Ghent (Our Lady Ter Hoyen, old Saint-Elisabeth (now know as the Holy Corner) and the new Saint Elisabeth), the Begijnhof  De Wijngaard in Bruges still stands out as my favourite.

I would highly recommend a visit to this timeless and well preserved haven off the beaten track of Bruges’ touristy cobblestoned roads.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

Hello world!

I think it suitably fitting for this first post to give a bit of a background to what inspired my blog’s title. Long story short – around the initial period of WWII, the British Government produced a series of posters with the objective of “raising the morale of the British public in the event of an invasion” (my source is Wikipedia – with apologies to my PhD supervisor, as any self-respecting research student knows what a no-no the site is for reliable information!). This particular poster was discovered at the “bottom of a box of old books bought in auction in 2000”, and since then has continued to inspire thousands (millions?) with its hopeful and optimistic nuance. It has certainly struck a chord with me – I openly admit to my penchant for the melodramatic! – and serves to remind me that no matter what frenzy abounds, I should, very simply, keep calm and carry on.

Coincidentally, the information above is derived from the Undergraduate Thesis: ‘The planning, design and reception of British home front propaganda posters of the Second World War’ of Bex Lewis, who believe it or not, later went on to explore the topic further and achieve a PhD in it!

Luckily for me, “since Crown Copyright expires on artistic works created by the UK government after 50 years, the image is now in the public domain.” (Thank you David Newton). The original poster is the one depicted above. However, as with anything popular, numerous parodies have been made and continue to be made of the poster, some of which I hope to share on my blog. As always, I shall endeavour to give source credits where they are due. Nonetheless, if by some oversight I don’t (and you notice that), may I request that you let me know immediately so that I can rectify my omission.

For now, thank you for taking time to read my humble attempt at a blog – I’d love to hear your feedback/comments.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2011