2011: Q2, Q3, Q4

Check out the previous post for what I was up to during the first quarter of 2011.In late May I travelled to Ottawa for my friend Sumee’s wedding. Non-wedding highlight was the Canadian Museum of Civilization that in a few hours fed me a volume’s worth of Canadian history, including the fascinating story of Chinese immigration to Canada. In the National Gallery of Canada I was surprised by the paintings of the Group of Seven, and their similarity in style to the Scandinavian painters of the time. There really is something to that northern light.

Ottawa itself was delightfully unpretentious, and the scenery a bit more dramatic than I would have guessed — here are the locks of the Rideau Canal:

Rideau Canal locks at Ottawa

Then onwards to DC and NYC for the now-annual catch-up with friends. In NYC I also attended the Personal Democracy Forum, to soak up ideas on how Internet and society are increasingly intertwined, with repercussions for the balance of power between state, citizen and corporation. That interest would later bloom into a new blog, Dliberation.org.

For a change, people visited me this past summer in Stockholm: Deborah, Felix and Michelle from NYC, Francesca, Nazz and Amélie from London. Later on, in October, the parents would come for a visit as well.

In August, another (great) conference: Sweden Social Web Camp, on an island nature reserve off the coast of Southern Sweden, with plenty of geeks in tents, some serious bandwidth and lots of unconference sessions. I ended up doing one on open data, open source and open systems with Thomas from Akvo.

Then for some face time with my godson, and of course his parents, on an island in Greece. The islands seem as timeless as ever, but Athens, where I was able to spend a few days, was reeling from the crisis. In addition to the economic and political meltdown they were experiencing, Athenians were undergoing a collective mental depression: A good number of people in the streets had a barely disguised look of desperation, though they were keeping up appearances. I made a pilgrimage to the brave branch of McDonald’s on Syntagma square that protesters keep on bashing in every time a scapegoat is required. It was a great vantage point for people-watching through brand new windows. I admit I did go to Greece blaming the Greeks collectively for their troubles, but came away feeling sorry for everybody involved in this mess. Democracy is a necessary but not sufficient prerequisite for good governance.

Antikythera mechanismAntikythera mechanismIn the National Archaeological Museum the impressive collection became sublime when I found the display housing the Antikythera mechanism, a Greek astronomical clock 15 centuries before its time that I had read much about but had no inkling was on display.

I also visited the recently inaugurated Acropolis Museum. It was impressive — perhaps a bit too impressive in terms of the architecture, whose monumentalism is a bit superfluous at the foot of the real Acropolis, while the art runs the risk of being dwarfed by it.

See the whole Flickr set from Greece.And then there was the Acropolis itself, once more, this time at sunset and armed with only an iPhone 4. It turned out to be an interesting exercise in letting an artistic constraint guide creativity:

Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis

During Autumn I ended up visiting Berlin twice. Once to visit old friends Ilona, Marc and Michael B., and once to make new friends at a conference hosted by the Google-funded Humboldt University’s Institute for Internet and Society. I wrote up the conference here.

In October I was lured to Rome for a conference with Google Earth’s developers and community managers. Afterwards, I was able to experience some more of Rome’s limitless trove of cultural treasures. This time the focus was on the Baths of Caracalla, the Castle of St. Angelo, the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, and the Capitoline museum, which houses the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aureliusunique bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. On the Spanish Steps, I was treated to a spectacular sunset:

View of Rome from the Santa Trinitá dei Monti

See all my photos from Rome and Naples as a Flickr set.I then traveled to Naples, a place I had long wanted to visit. The surprise was Naples itself — so full of civic spirit, the people living Neapolitan life unselfconsciously as they bustle from Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli a Pizzofalconemass to la passeggiata to restaurants in the popular neighborhoods. The exuberant strength of their monocultural tradition reminded me more of Cairo than northern Italy.

Guglia dell'Immacolata, Piazza Gesù Nuovo

In the narrow lanes of the old town I chanced upon a print shop with a 100-year old Linotype machine. The father and son team running the shop, Giuseppe and Carmine Cervone, were happy to have me make a panorama, but in the meantime I realized I needed some new calling cards, so the panorama below is of my card being typeset and printed. Their place is a true national treasure:

Linotype machine, Naples, Italy in Naples

At the Naples National Archaeological Museum I discovered the ancient Romans’ genius for interior decorating, with spectacular wall frescoes from Pompeii and Herculaneum showing a wholly new-to-me esthetic of bright colors and idyllic scenery. Pompeii mosaicThe mosaics too were stunning in their sophistication.

Pompeii and Herculaneum were a huge disappointment, however. Not because of anything the ancient Romans failed to do — rather, I was shocked by the disgraceful lack of care being taken to preserve the sites today. In Herculaneum, I saw the runt end of a tour group prying tiles from a mosaic floor. In Pompeii, I ran into a pack of teenaged British school kids left to rampage around the site, their unsupervised grubby hands touching every remaining stucco wall they could find. Any corner not constantly monitored showed scratchy graffiti from this century, while in the Villa of Diomedes I saw a stray dog relieve itself in one of the most beautiful rooms. The best solution would be to bury it all again until we know how to build giant protective domes and humanity matures. Failing that, the sites should be open only to scholars and very expensive, jealously chaperoned visits. To destroy such a unique ancient patrimony in a generation or two for quick financial gain (which, considering Italy’s finances, was surely squandered) is unforgivable. Shame on Italy.

In November, just as things were turning ugly again on Tahrir Square, I headed to Cairo for a weekend to give a presentation at the Swedish embassy about a network analysis of the Young Leaders Visitors Programme, a program by the Swedish government to connect young opinion makers in the Middle East and Sweden. Around this time, another project I had been involved with went live — the official site of Sweden in Arabic.

A sore throat that turned out to be strep cut short my stay, no doubt the first time my parents were happy to have me ill instead of venturing out to Tahrir to check on an unraveling revolution that had begun so promisingly earlier in the year.

Finally, in December, I visited Belgium for the traditional family Christmas reunion. And now for 2012…

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