Advice to sink in slowly*

*The name of this post and the inspiration behind the image is borrowed from the “advice to sink in slowly” project – an ongoing series of posters, designed by graduates for the purpose of passing on advice and inspiration to first year students. [Note: The advice I am offering above is credited to Theodore Roosevelt, and – although it is slightly too lofty and motivational for my taste, I like the idea and literal image behind it.]

But, to come back to the “advice to sink in slowly” project: Most – if not all, of the quirky, wise, practical, theoretical, humorous, serious, unexpected or common-sense, sometimes conflicting but never patronizing advice that the project offers can – and does – apply to life way beyond one’s first year in university and is worth always keeping in mind. Some of my favorite words to the wise from the project include:

| “Look lively” | “Find your own way” | “Trust your gut instincts” | “Try everything” | “Take time” | “Do what you love” | “Be free” | “Eat breakfast” | “Take more chances” | “Finish what you start” | “Get carried away” | “Take a camera everywhere” | “Collaborate” | “Travel & Network” | “Let go” | “Use your library… you’ll miss it when you leave” | “Don’t be afraid” | “Face your fears, smile and live dangerously” | “Words are not enough” | “Avoid thinking in straight lines” | “Don’t forget to call your mum” |

Besides the sound advice and the inspiring design of the posters, the other great thing about the project is that the posters are normally available for free to all first year students across the UK (although it seems that they have run out of printed posters temporarily). In the meantime, though, you can keep it in mind and let it sink in slowly.

Wishful thinking: Colored streets and pavements | Prague, Czech Republic

I just came across the work of Prague-based graffiti artist Jan Kalab (also known as Point or Cakes) and I particularly like two of his projects, through which he transforms ordinary streets and pavements in the Žižkov district of Prague, which he says is “is a sort of ghetto”.

In the first one – Cobbles, he painted loose cobblestones lying on the street in bright colors, to the delight of local children, making them “spontaneously happy.”

It’s such a simple, yet bright idea that takes a mundane, grey aspect of the city and makes it into an unusual sight.

The second project – Colored Pavements, is similar: in it, Kalab painted enormous patches of tarmac that stretched along Prague’s steepest street, named (perhaps aptly?) the Garden of Eden. The “cut up tarmac,” he writes, “has transformed into abstract paintings throughout the years of subterranean repairs. It’s so ugly that it’s almost nice. I just helped a bit.” He did indeed, by painting the patches bright turquoise and pink (for the full story, read here.)

The two projects are unfortunately from a few years ago – Cobbles was made in 2007 and Colored Pavements in 2005, so I imagine little, if anything at all, is left of them now. Like the dressed-up potholes in Paris, which I wrote about here, both of these projects would be ideal (and simple and easy to do) for Sofia’s grey, broken and patched-up streets and pavements. I’m just saying.

In the meantime, though, some of Jan Kalab’s paintings are exhibited at the Czech Cultural Center in Sofia. Go see it! (The exhibition opens today and will be up until March 3. More info about it [in Bulgarian]: here and here.)

All photographs: © Jan Kalab |

Here’s to (at least) 100 more!

I wasn’t sure what to do for the 100th post (which this is!) on this blog, but just stumbled upon this* and LOVED it:

So, here’s to moving, discovering new places and at least a hundred more posts and many more grounds beneath my feet! Woo hoo!

Thanks to all (the dozens) of you out there who read me.

*For those of you who have been stranded in a cave over the last 10 days (or, more likely and happily, lying around on a beach with no Internet access) and are seeing this video for the first time, it is one of three. The other two are pretty amazing too.

When the Zeitgeist falls out of step with the times | Sofia, Bulgaria

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the inspiring intervention with the Soviet Red Army monument in the center of Sofia. Overnight, an anonymous graffiti artist transformed a part of the monument, which until then had featured a group of heavily armed Russian soldiers and partisans going into battle, into a colorful posse of comic book characters, superheroes and popular culture icons. Spray-painted underneath the unlikely congregation, a caption read: “In step with the times.”

The short-lived intervention was not just masterfully carried out, but also managed, with a single sweep, to raise issues that have been brewing for years on so many different levels: from pure aesthetics to discussions about contemporary art, national symbols, history and politics.

I thought it was brilliant.

Just four days later, the superheroes disappeared as quickly and as mysteriously as they appeared. In a move that must have put the guerrilla graffiti artist to shame with its swiftness and secrecy, the Sofia Municipality had the monument scrubbed clean in the middle of the night.

A couple of weeks after the superheroes’ short-lived appearance, I went to see the monument again – now mostly back to its usual black. Although only traces of colorful paint now testify for its brief transformation, they still stand as a reminder that this momentous (and momentary) transformation ever happened. Although public debate on the intervention has mostly died down by now, the passing of time seems to be doing nothing to diminish my fascination with it.

Not entirely by chance, my visit to the monument was preceded by a trip to the new Museum of Contemporary Art in Sofia, which – in what is surely not a mere coincidence either, opened on the exact day on which the soldiers and partisans woke up as Superheroes. But even without this contrast, Sofia’s new museum of contemporary art is a confusing and sad place.

Visitors are first met by a stone plaque that reads “Museum of Contemporary Art,” which looks more like a tombstone on a grave than anything else. A path among decidedly un-contemporary sculptures then leads to the museum’s entrance. The turn-of-the-century, former arsenal building has been brought up to date in the most superficial and unengaged way I could imagine – by renovating its original façade and smacking some iron and glass appendixes onto it. Inside, the opening exhibition isn’t any less perplexing: in one corner of the space, a couple of Christo and Jeanne-Claude lithographs uncomfortably rub shoulders with a few silver-framed Chagalls and Picassos. The main exhibition consists of decorative ceramics from Norway.

I was dumbfounded, the earnest assurances from the ladies working in the museum that contemporary sculptures will be put in the park behind the museum and the current exhibition will be replaced by a permanent, presumably contemporary one, doing little to ease my uneasy state.

To add insult to injury, as a final stroke, the abbreviated name commonly used to refer to the museum in Bulgarian is SAMSI (Sofia Arsenal – Museum for Contemporary Art). In Bulgarian, ‘sam si’ means ‘you are alone’.

À bout de souffle | Shishman Street, Sofia, Bulgaria

The Sofia Breathes initiative, which closed down the city’s most atmospheric street to cars and opened it to art, design and pedestrians for the day was a really good way to end Sofia Design Week, whose motto this year was “Design is All Around.” A good way to end any week, for that matter.

Besides the bars, restaurants and cafés spilling over onto the sidewalks, the children’s chalk drawings on the pavement, the tchotchke stalls and the intentional and spontaneous art installations, my most favorite part of the day was running into all kinds of friends.

In the span of the six-odd hours, I think I bumped into friends from all the distinct and seemingly unconnected periods of my conscious life – from my recently rediscovered first best friend from elementary school who was wearing the exact same outfit as me (Hi, Maia!), my partner in crime starting in middle school (Hi, Maria!), two lovely high school friends I studied with in the Middle East (Hi, Lika! Hi, Annie!), to my wingwoman ever since grad school in London (Hi, Krissy!) and many, many other cool, fun and exciting people I have met since. I think that at some point, I ended up standing together with most of them in one spot, which was a little uncanny.

Speaking of improbable gatherings of unlikely allies, I went to get a look at the nearby Monument to the Soviet Red Army. It usually looks like this, but – thanks to the brilliant recent work of an anonymous graffiti artist, now commemorates the unlikely get-together of Superman (gun in hand, rocking red boots and a cape), Santa Claus (toting binoculars and a Kalashnikov), Ronald McDonald (waving the American flag), the Joker (sporting a purple trench coat) and several other cartoon characters and superheroes I couldn’t exactly identify. If Sofia Design Week had anything to do with this, which I don’t think it did, then what a coup! Design is all around, indeed. The final touch to the monument’s transformation, which I especially appreciated, is the phrase scribbled underneath, roughly translating to “In step with the times.” No kidding.

*Update (Monday): In spite of reports that claimed the graffiti was washed off on Sunday, a friend of mine told me today that the superheroes were still around when she passed by the Soviet Monument in the afternoon – just in time to see a lone, apparently self-motivated older guy show up with some rags and a bucket and start scrubbing away the paint. The organized cleaning, reportedly initiated by the Sofia Municipality but financed by non-governmental organizations, is scheduled to take place early tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, over 1,700 people – in several groups on facebook, have said they are against the washing up of the monument, some of them making plans to create a human shield around it when the cleaners come.

**Update (Tuesday): In efforts to avoid the above-mentioned protests and human chains, “emergency” measures were taken and the monument was washed off in the wee hours of the morning, with only faint traces of colorful paint left as a reminder of what, briefly, was.

This is starting to be alarmingly reminiscent of this… talk about being out of step with the times.

Wishful thinking: Dressed up potholes | Paris, France

I just came across (via my friends at Trendland) this set of pictures* from the Nid de Poule (Pothole) project, although it looks like it took place in 2009 and must be long gone by now. In it, Juliana Santacruz Herrera filled potholes along Paris’s sidewalks with vibrantly dyed and braided long pieces of fabric that she coiled into the breaks. These street interventions, as she calls them, not only provide an entertaining and colorful contrast to the city’s gray pavements, but also make for a humorous and eye-catching method of dealing – albeit temporarily, with a problem that many big cities face.

Sofia may lack the sparkle of large cosmopolitan cities, but it suffers no shortage of potholes (more on that here). I’m thinking they could use some colorful decoration while the municipality takes its time getting them fixed. Wishful thinking, indeed….

*All photographs: © juliana santacruz herrera

The ground beneath his feet | Lisbon, Portugal

Remember Tiago – my Brazilian friend, the contagious enthusiast, the tireless dancer and musician, the modern nomad and the ceaseless charmer? He also turns out to be quite the perceptive photographer. Just as I was starting to really miss him (and trying to hold him up to his promise to come back to Sofia in April – in print for those of you who speak Bulgarian), he sent me several beautiful pictures of the ground (and in one case, the sea) beneath his feet taken in Lisbon. (Hi, Tiago!)

This post also goes in the “wishful thinking” category, as Lisbon is in the top of my wish list of places I’d like to visit (another one being Stockholm). The complete, ever-changing list is here.

Wishful thinking*: The dreaded stairs | Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm is one of the few places where I imagine something like this could, and would, actually be carried out. As someone who breaks out in hives at the thought of taking the stairs instead of the escalator, I now have an excuse for my laziness. It is just not fun to take the stairs. If all stairs were as fun as these, I would totally chose them over the escalator or the elevator… maybe.

This post is a special shout-out to my favorite Swede and wonderful friend Rikard, who can make anything fun and with whom and there’s never a dull moment. I miss you!

*Also, with this post, I’m starting a new “Wishful thinking” category of cool places/grounds, which I think would be great to include here but, alas, haven’t had the chance to visit and stand on.