Category Archives: Blog

TRUMP’S AMERICA

The recent US election was an earthquake that totally re-shaped American politics. A billionaire outsider without any government experience has beaten the whole American establishment, not only of both parties but also of the press, academia and business. How was this possible?

How could a man who offended, during the campaign, women, latinos, blacks, muslims and many others win in the end? Political pundits will try to explain this huge surprise for many years to come, but some reasons all well known to us, and also present in Europe.

Firstly, fear. Fear of unchecked globalisation destroying jobs and undermining living standards. Fear of the other, whether he is Chinese, Mexican or Muslim. Fear of the future, of your children living worse than you and even than your parents.

Secondly, hate. Hate of the establishment, the 1%, who has profited while the rest was left behind and ignored. Hate of Wall Street brokers that created the terrible 2008 meltdown and are even richer today. Hate of Washington that let them get away with it unpunished.

Thirdly, decline. The rapidly disappearing American middle class. Stagnant wages for decades pushing people to pile up debt. Former industrial powerhouses that became ghost towns. The end of the American dream of social upward mobility. The end of US world supremacy.

Like in the Brexit vote, the people have said ENOUGH! We no longer trust our self-serving elites. America for the Americans, whatever that means…

This political revolution will change the face of America, make it more inward-looking, more nationalistic, less tolerant with the others, less open and generous.

The rest of world waits in fear, hoping that electoral promises will NOT become US government policy.

And the American people are deeply divided in two camps, the haves and the haves not. The liberal and the “deplorable”. New York and California against the rest. Let us hope things don’t turn up even uglier.

Istanbul After the Attempted Coup

We went to Turkey immediately after the attempted coup of last July. She felt different, eerie, even strange.

Something very serious has happened, people seemed in a state of shock, and yet, the deep trends in society continue to play underneath flags and demonstrations.

Is there a new Turkey where the flag and the mosque now embrace each other?

 

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Or is it the same old Turkey with all her usual contradictions, with her mixture of traditional and modern, East and West, religious and secular, and so on…

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Social inequalities, even larger between city and countryside, now exacerbated by three million Syrian refugees many of whom barely survive in the streets.

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Sharp generational gaps, where secular Ataturk, western pop and Islamism co-exist and collide.

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Huge demonstrations post-coup brought millions of people in the streets for several weeks. They can be seen in different ways.

What were they supporting?

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Were they supporting President Erdogan, who undeniably emerges stronger after the events and embarks upon a massive purge of opponents?

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Was it a more Islamic society, that finally gives recognition and dignity to more traditional Muslims after decades of imposed secularism and western values since Ataturk?

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Or was it simply an explosion of nationalism against growing foreign criticism of the government?

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More optimistically, was it just a massive and healthy popular support for democracy?

Maybe they represented the genuine desire of all parents for a better future for their children, peaceful and prosperous, leaving finally behind military interventions and control of the society?

Probably, all of them together, although in different doses for different groups of society.

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In any event, and well before the end of judicial investigations, some have already decided who is to blame and they accuse US-based cleric Fetullh Gullen and his Hizmet movement as the villains of this sad story that left so many innocent dead.

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There are as usual many alternative complot theories to explain these bizarre events, including even one that blames the government itself for being behind them, as it clearly emerges as the main beneficiary of this failed coup.

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Irrespective of this tragedy and its unpredictable aftermath, the good old Turkish struggle between modernity and tradition will continue, and maybe even become starker, in the mosques and in the streets…. life goes on.

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This should be a time for reflection and introspection.

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What happened is only the last avatar of the never ending struggle between old and new that permeates and divides Turkish society since the founding of the republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk almost one century ago.

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We got back to Brussels with many questions.

Wondering if Turkey will look back to her past and towards the East and her Islamic sources.

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Or will she continue to look towards a modern Western future?

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The answer to that question is very much open. The attempted coup has been a tragic episode in this long saga, with yet unknown consequences for this struggle that shapes Turkish life.

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INCREDIBLE INDIA

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India is a continent pretending to be a country.

With 1.3 billion people, dozens of languages and several thousand castes, many States with population larger than most countries, and the source of major world religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism.

The only place where you could find, recently, a 80% Hindu population whereas the President was a Muslim, the Prime Minister a Sikh and the most important politician an Italian-born Christian.

A real human kaleidoscope where all eras of human history co-exist in the same street. Where traditions belonging to different centuries are enacted every day by the same person.

And yet, the largest word democracy, a world leader in information technology, a nuclear power with growing space capabilities, with thriving business houses and the best engineering colleges in the world.

A land of gross inequalities, many caste-related but also gender-related, with as many poor people as the whole of Africa put together.

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One of the largest Muslim populations in the world, around 200 million, and yet with a Hindu nationalistic party in power at present.

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Not an easy place to be a woman, especially of the lower castes, as feminicides and rape as still shockingly common.

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Children have often to grow quickly, take care of their younger siblings and work to help their families.

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A very young population, needing jobs and with growing ambitions, and totally different expectations from their elders.

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A land where nature is always present and respected, even amidst the chaos of the capital city.

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India is the land of contradictions and of extremes, of beauty and squalor, of richness and misery. But always fascinating.

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LET´S CHANGE ARGENTINA… YES, WE CAN!

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Nobel laureate Simon Kuznets once said “there are four categories of countries: developed, underdeveloped, Japan (that should be poor but it is rich) and Argentina (that should be rich but it is poor).

Recently The Economist magazine wrote at length on “A century of decline ” and « The Tragedy of Argentina” warning other developing countries about the risks of falling in the same populist trap.

For decades, the Argentine periodic economic crises (including the 2001 almost total implosion and collapse) have puzzled foreign observers and frustrated Argentinians, which simply cannot reconcile the sophistication of its society with the appalling governance that prevents them from ever materializing their (by now much diminished) potential.

It is difficult to find another country that has been so badly governed for a century; and impossible to find another example of a country moving from the richest elite to a mediocre present where almost 30% of its people linger in structural poverty.

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There are many internal and external reasons for this decline but, like in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, populism is certainly at the top of the list.

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Since Peron was elected as president in 1946, after having initially arrived in government as part of a military coup, power have been divided in Argentina between various versions of Peronists, the Military and the centrist Radical Party.

Of course all share some responsibilities, but it is interesting to note that, over the last 70 years, Peron´s party has been in power most of the time, for 37 years, more than the Military (17 years) and the Radicals (16 years) put together…we let you decide who is mainly to blame.

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At a time of change, of elections and the beginning of an era when Argentina will be governed, for the first time in a century, by an engineer and former businessman who is neither from the traditional parties (populist Peronists or ineffective Radicals) nor from the undemocratic elites together with the military, it is an interesting moment to explore the streets of Buenos Aires trying to capture a troubled but dynamic society.

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Buenos Aires is loved by visitors for its architecture, creativity, cultural life and very warm people. Many come here just to dance or simply enjoy Tango, a sensual dance that epitomizes “porteños” contradictions, sensual and tragic, machist and poetic…but always irresistible.

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Such contradictions can only lead to deep introspection…and to psychoanalysis to flourish to an extent that it even influences the way people think and talk.

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A city were rules are openly and happily ignored…

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and where national dramas, even war heroes, are quickly forgotten.

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While Argentinians enjoy an “asado” made with the best meat in the world.

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And yet, and extraordinarily lively and friendly city, with an amazing cultural life, a vibrant nightlife, and a sophisticated society that reflects the melting pot that Argentina was a century ago.

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Will these elections signal a turning point? Have Argentinians learned the harsh lessons of their history? Or will they be just another cycle in their never ending downward journey? One can only hope…

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Will Argentina look towards the future, finally overcoming her troubled Peronist/anti-Peronist self destructive dichotomy?

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Is there light at the end of a long tunnel?

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The solution is to embrace real democracy, accept pluralism, discard once and for all populist solutions and economic shortcuts and stop blaming the rest of the world for domestic shortcomings and follies.

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After so many decades of “magical realism” in politics and economics the solution will not come from God or miracles, but rather from all Argentinians working together towards recreating a “normal” country. It is possible.

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YES, WE CAN!…

NOW LET´S CHANGE!

BANDERA ARGENTINA


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THE FUTURE (S)HE (and WE) WANT

THE FUTURE (S)HE (and WE) WANT

The whole world seemed to have converged in New York at the end of September 2015, from Pope Francis to Barak Obama, from Xi Jimping of China to Narendra Modi of India. Over 150 world leaders gathered at the United Nations building on 1st Avenue to bless the new Sustainable Development Goals, and agenda to transform the world for the better by 2030. Amid much fanfare and in front of thousands of TV cameras, they delivered speech after lofty speech about the new brave world they have agreed to create.

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The objective is simply to make her/his life better in 17 different and very important ways. If these promises are fulfilled, when (s)he is 15 years old, (s)he will live in a totally transformed world. Even partially achieving the following 17 SDGs would change her/his life and the planet (s)he will live in.

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Will her life be really transformed, from fear and deprivation to happiness and abundance? It is easy to be skeptical after so many unfulfilled promises over the last seven decades of UN summitry.

However, this was the first time in human history that all the countries in the world thoroughly discussed and happily agreed how they would like their societies, economies and environment to be 15 years ahead. This was no imposition from richer or stronger countries on the poorer or weaker ones, no technocratic blueprint from some UN agency, but rather the result of three years of discussions, involving millions of people, from all walks of life, government, academia and civil society.

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Extreme poverty has been reduced sharply over the last 30 years, mostly in Asia, and unbelievable as it may seem, it is possible for the first time in human history to eradicate it within a generation. We have the resources and the technology, we only need the political will and the right policies and governance.

1- end poverty

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With nobody going to bed hungry or having to face chronic malnutrition. Ensuring food security and avoiding food waste.

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Living healthy lives, enjoying health care and healthy environments. Swimming in beaches instead of using them as toilets.

3-ensure healthy lives

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Allowing her to study as her brother, from kindergarten to university, receiving quality education.

4-EDUCATION

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Avoiding age old divergences between men and women, in access to education opportunities, jobs equally paid and legal protection.

5- GENDER EQUALITY

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With access to clean water a right and not a luxury, and proper sanitation available to all.

6-water & sanitation

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Using renewable energies instead of burning fossil fuels, providing sustainable energy for consumers and producers.

7- ENERGY FOR ALL

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Providing decent jobs and opportunities for all, making economic growth sustainable and inclusive.

8- Economy, employement

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And the necessary public and private infrastructure to promote industrial growth and jobs.

9- INF & INDUSTRIALIZATION

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Reducing the currently enormous and growing income and opportunity gaps, that are not only morally unacceptable but also economically detrimental and politically explosive.

10- inequality

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Making cities more livable, reversing the mushrooming of slums and providing the hard and soft infrastructure to ensure quality of life.

11- settlements safe

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Producing and consuming respecting planetary boundaries, recycling and avoiding waste towards a circular economy.

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Reversing global warning to avoid climate catastrophe before it is too late, limiting temperature rises with its impacts on sea levels, failing crops and catastrophic weather phenomena.

13- climate change
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Protecting the ocean and seas from growing pollution, reversing the depletion of marine biodiversity and fisheries resources.

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Ensuring our nature is respected and not treated as a garbage dump, reversing deforestation and the destruction of biodiversity.

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Reducing and preventing conflict, developing transparent, effective and responsive institutions, providing everyone with access to justice.

16- PEACEFUL SOC.
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Working all together to implement this agenda, internationally and in each country. Public institutions, civil society and private sector collaborating and creating partnership for our interconnected world.

17-Global partnership

Is the world ready to walk the talk?

Are we willing to march together towards a better future?

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We now know what needs to be done, we have all committed to it, now we need to move from plan to implementation…
let’s do it!

Otherwise, S(he), and all of us on the planet, will pay the price

It may well be our last opportunity.

the world we want

Thanks to GMP and Kaigara


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Turkey at a crossroads

Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, has always been a bridge straddling Europe and Asia, mixing Western modernity and Asian traditions.

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At the same time Muslim, the overwhelming majority of the population, and yet intensively secular since Ataturk days.

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Aiming to integrate Europe, and yet very much part of the Middle East. This permanent tension has always been there but it is now becoming more acute.

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The coming years will be crucial to decide whether the new generations will still live in the same country their grandparents built after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

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The streets of Istanbul continue to reflect this enchanting cocktail of tradition and modernity. Amid urban growth and dynamism, the mosque continues to attract the pious.

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While modern Istanbul, from Pera and Galata to Nisantasi and Moda, look like any western capital, with globalisation and foreign brands shaping the urban landscape.

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Globalised Turks are deeply connected to the world, both physically and mentally.

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At the cutting edge of fashion and technology, with hipsters in Galata undistinguishable from the pairs in the Soho.

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However, new trends are becoming more visible, as a result of government policies reinforced by internal and external migrations.
Firstly, the growing presence of Islamic religious symbols in the streets since the current administration, a conservative and authoritarian party of Islamic leanings, took power more than a decade ago and started to reverse strictly secular Kemalists principles against such symbols, including in female attire.

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Scarves and even burkas have become an ever growing presence.

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This is not only linked to conservative Anatolian new migrants but also to a growing number of richer Arabs tourists and businesspeople that find Turkey a convenient playground.

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Secondly, growing internal and external migrations.
For decades, traditional Anatolians have occupied the space left by Greeks, Armenians and Jews in cities like Istanbul, bringing more traditional mores to the cosmopolitan city. And supporting the new government Islamic sympathies.

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Sometimes these economic migrants are reduced to scavenging and begging in dilapidated neighbourhoods like Tarlabasi, worlds apart from the lights of nearby Istiklal Cadessi.

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Moreover, new flows of poorer Arab immigrants, around two million refugees escaping from wars in Syria and Irak, are reshaping the ethnic and social landscape, adding to the Middle Eastern feels in some areas.
Leaving many children lost in the urban jungle, where often they don’t even understand the language and risk exploitation.

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Sometimes playing dangerous games, with little prospect to improve their lot in life.

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Breeding anger and lack of hope.
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These trends, reinforced by the EU reluctance to accept Turkey integration and the new Turkish foreign policy dubbed “new ottomans” by many observers, will determine the future worldview of young Turks.

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Would they keep moving East, towards the Middle East and Islamic values?

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Would they jump back into European waters?
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Or, maybe, they will simply remain stranded, growingly isolated, neither here nor there.

Syrian immigrant, Istanbul. August 2015

The answer of this question is not only fundamental for Turkey, but will also deeply affect Europe and the rest of the world.


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Bruxelles, ma belle …

 

 

How can the city that has chosen a small boy urinating as its symbol, the Manneken Pis, be the headquarters of the most important world military alliance, NATO? Well, Belgians enjoy these contradictions…

The city of Tintin, world capital of comics…where domestic political discussions between French speaking Walloons and Dutch speaking Flemish clearly belong in that world…in a country that was without a government for 589 days, a world record, but continued functioning and nobody really noticed…

The city of Horta and glorious Art Noveau, but also the city used in architecture books as an example of senseless destruction, the “Bruxelisation” to be avoided by all cities…

Brussels, the capital of Europe…where decisions are taken by the EU that governs the life of 500 million Europeans and influence global affairs…but also the world capital of Comics and Surrealism, where Tintin and Magritte are enacted in daily life.

Brussels happily combines both, it is thus a city of power and comics, that although is often put in the same sentence together with Washington and Beijing, it can never take herself really seriously…

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Brussels has always been at the vanguard of economic development, the country where the industrial revolution started in mainland Europe. And yet, Brussels was the city from where its king ruled despotically a territory in central Africa, Congo, a colony several times bigger than the metropolis itself, as his personal state.

It has since continued to be one of the richest European cities that therefore attracts poorer immigrants from all over the world.

Brussels, the extreme north of the Latin world and the extreme south of the Germanic world. The unofficial border between two very different cultures. The traditional place of refuge of French and German exiles, including Karl Marx and Victor Hugo, continues to be a safe haven for people looking for a better life.

It also attracts many thousands eurocrats and other immigrants, where around 40% of its population are foreigners, creating a unique cultural melting pot.

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A city of chic old ladies out of an Ostend postcard of a century ago, when it was the favorite beach resort of the European elite… and of dynamic young Europeans striving to move up in life. All of them co-existing accepting their eccentricity.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What makes Brussels unique, and so charming, is to be always exposed to the drama and the fun of life in every corner, helping you to accept apparent contradictions as banal, putting them into perspective, and in the process enjoy life as it is.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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Cool Britannia

How can the capital of the former British Empire be considered the coolest city on earth? Shouldn’t it rather be Shanghai or San Francisco or Berlin? Why is London the city that receives more foreign visitors of the whole world? Shouldn’t it rather be New York or Paris or Rome?

Is it the history?…. well, after such intense bombardments during the second world war not so much is left…Or Is it the quality of life?…well, not easy to find such an expensive place on earth…

My answer: this unique blend of old and new, of classy and eccentric, of all colors, religions and races makes London today the paradigm of a global city. In other words, it is the Londoners that make it so unique!

Ages, old and new

From the Houses of Parliament to Buckingham palace, from Whitehall to Covent Garden, many people come to London in search of old imperial glory. The British Empire was the largest the world has ever seen, straddling the five continents, from America to Australia, from Africa and the Middle East to India. And London was its epicenter, its political, economic and social heart, deciding the fate of hundreds of millions of people; the pound sterling was the first global currency; and English remains the only global language to this day. This glorious (and also infamous) past reverberates all over the city.

And yet, most visitors today have other things in mind, more recent and sometimes surprising. From the music of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Freddy Mercury, Adele or Arctic Monkeys to the ideas (often without even realizing it) of Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes or even Margaret Thatcher.

From Pop, Punk and Hipster movements, to Scotland Yard, MI6, James Bond and the war in Iraq.

From Chelsea, Wembley and Wimbledon to the Tate, British Museum, Shakespeare, Austen, Hitchcock, Martin Parr, Turner, David Hockney and so on…

London was once the capital of the greatest Empire, it is still the city where music and new social styles appear and grow, where old and new political and economic ideas flourish, where art and sports still attract crowds.

So British

Stereotypes abound about the Brits, eccentric, understated, distant, tight upper lip …all surely, and partially, true, as Kate Fox wrote in her book “Watching the English, The Hidden Rules of English Behavior”. But the real excitement of being in London is about its people, young and old, open, tolerant and very mixed.

Indians respect no rules, the Swiss and Germans respect all rules, and Londoners are, well…very selective. Most people follow fashion, Londoners creates it.

Is this Europe? Yes, but most Britons have serious doubts about it, seeing themselves more as global citizens than just part of an European Union run by faceless bureaucrats sitting in Brussels.

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Races, the united colors of the world

Who are the real Londoners? The Russian oligarch in Belgravia or the Indian grocer in South Hall? , The EastEnders or the cool Soho lot, the Shoreditch neighbor, or the Camden show off?

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All of them and many more, create the unique mix that gives London its rare appeal for visitors from all over the world, a place where hip hop mixes freely with international banking, where anyone can feel at home.

A city that is never dull, always inspiring and where there is always something new to interest, motivate and excite. Always on the edge.

Conclusion

This unique blend of people, old and young, of all origins, colors and faiths, give the London experience its unique character, its frantic dynamism, making it irresistible and so cool …

As Samuel Johnson said “tired of London, tired of life”

I greatly appreciate the help and testimony of Bob Owen and Gustavo, as always!


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The Chinese Dream

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To get rich is glorious…

China has changed more over the last 30 years than any other country in human history. This change has affected directly the life of 1300 million people (one human being out of 5) and transformed the whole world economic map, with many regions now depending more and more on Chinese trade and investment. When compared with the British led industrial revolution that redefined the world at the time, the Chinese revolution concerns 40 times more people and its happening far more rapidly

The reforms launched by Deng Xiao Ping were not only an economic but also a social revolution. They have lifted more than 500 million Chinese (the entire population of Europe) out of poverty and into the consumer age and have produced the largest ever migration, with over 250 million Chinese from the poorer western provinces moving to the richer and freer coastal cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangdong.

Therefore, old Chinese can remember, over the last century, the end of the traditional empire, decades of warlords and civil war, the tragic Japanese invasion, the communist takeover, the upheavals under of Mao with its leaps forward and cultural revolutions, and finally this momentous modernization. Enough change for several lives in any other country! And more than enough reasons to feel at a loss in this brave new world.

Socialism with Chinese characteristics…

This explosive transformation in just over a generation has created the largest economy in the world (recently overcoming the USA), starting from a backward, very poor and agricultural society after the death of Chairman Mao, to become a consumer society.

From a vast majority of Chinese living in the countryside and earning a living as subsistence farmers, mostly for many generations in the same place, to a dynamic high tech society living mostly in cities, some of them real global mega polis, like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, deeply connected to the world and immersed in a consumer paradise. IPhones, fashion and dancing, all unknown a few years back, now at their disposal.

While their parents were consumed by political mobilizations and propaganda, young people have more freedom and access than ever before in Chinese history, in spite of the one-party state.

Crossing the river by feeling the stones…

However, not all Chinese have profited from this boom. Many have been left behind and continue to live very much like their parents but surrounded by another world.

Traditional architecture, like hutongs in Beijing, survives in spite of massive demolition and rebuilding. Street cuisine flourishes in spite of the proliferation of gourmet restaurants. Many people still spend most of their time in the streets.

Old people struggle to adjust, adapting tentatively and progressively to the reforms, feeling more and more disconnected from their grandchildren, unable sometimes to fully understand where they are, but also adapting to new fashions with gusto!

Even the longest journey starts with the first step…

All revolutions have their unsung heroes, those that make it possible but often remain unknown, even despised.

In China, the 250 million migrant workers, moving from west to east, are the pillars of this new revolution. Seeking employment and higher salaries, attracted by the lights and promise of the coastal cities.

Leaving behind part of their family, saving to finance their children education, without a resident permit (hukou) and therefore with difficult access to social services, including education and health. Illegal in many ways, but tolerated as essential workforce.

The future is now

Welcome to the new China, where old and new coexist with difficulty, but where the future of the world is being decided today. You may like it or dislike it, but certainly not ignore it if you want to understand where the world is going.


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Istanbul: city of hüzün

Hüzün, melancholy or nostalgia in Turkish, is a feeling to be found in many cities, but nowhere to the extent you can find in the streets of Istanbul.

Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul, the former capital of two worlds empires (Roman and Ottoman) during fifteen centuries.
It has been called “The Queen of Cities” and “City of the World’s Desire” by travelers and writers.

Straddling Europe and Asia, ruling over vast territories in the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa, it was always destined, by geography and history, to be an important global hub.

Her people live surrounded by remains of imperial glory whereas they live now in a provincial city since Ankara became the capital of the new Republic.

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This feeling of being neither here nor there, somewhat always in transition, with the past still very much there and the future still to materialize fully, exacerbates this melancholy, this atmosphere of lack of fulfillment and uncertainty about who they are and where they are heading to.

Or is it the centuries´ old fate of a people, the Turks, that starting moving from Central Asia, slowly but steadily moving west, to arrive at the doors of Europe, but are not yet part of it?

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Or maybe simply the nostalgia of the times when Istanbul was the center of an empire straddling three continents, when people from Ottoman provinces (now many independent countries), could be heard chatting in so many languages while crossing the Galata Bridge or walking around the Rue de Pera?

They, or they families, remember the prominence of substantial Greek and other communities in the city life, whereas now their hitherto elegant houses are inhabited by more recent and poorer Anatolian migrants.

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It is so easy in Istanbul, while wandering around former Greek or Armenian quarters to imagine how this city felt central, cosmopolitan, where speaking several of the languages of the empire came naturally to their residents, side by side with their mother tongue.

When they could speak Turk with a neighbor, Greek or Hebrew in a shop, Persian at the imperial court and Arabic at the mosque.

When being an Ottoman from Constantinople was not at all synonymous with being Turk, and in some ways many Turks from the Anatolian provinces felt like foreigners in their capital.

Whereas now, most of these cosmopolitan citizens are gone, due to war, the new republic and later conflicts, and their place has been occupied by other immigrants, mostly Turks from Anatolia and other poorer provinces, but also economic refugees from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The place of the merchant from Aleppo, the official from Cairo, the Janissary from the Balkans, the moneylender from a Jewish family expelled from Spain and the sailor from a Greek island, now replaced by a Syrian refugee, a Gipsy, a street vendor from Colombo or Lagos and a Ukrainian young lady.

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However, many old families continue to keep traditional customs while, over the last century, the city has experienced rapid westernization and modernization, a population explosion that make it the biggest city in Europe with over 15 million inhabitants, and spectacular economic development. This has created sharp contrast between modern and traditional ways of life.

They live in a country that aspires to European modernity ever since Ataturk, while the Asian and Middle East influences become ever more present and EU accession recedes in the horizon.

Some of them pious Muslims, others utterly westernized. Some striving to make ends meet, others very affluent and flashy. Some firmly looking West to Europe and the USA, others looking East to Anatolia and Asia.

But all of them sharing the same rapidly growing city, the same fast developing country, the same drive to live better lives, the same nostalgia for the time when, and the place where, things were better, more familiar, more authentic.

Very different backgrounds and expectations, but similar desire to improve their lot in life.

These sharp contradictions of old imperial splendor and modern squalor, of traditional Muslim values and western modernity, of poor immigrants and new rich Anatolians, shape life in Istanbul, giving their citizens this unsettling sense of loss and disorientation, this melancholy, this “hüzün”.


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