Adventures in Traveling: Party of Two

Jess and Tim grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand. They first met while studying at Otago University where they became good friends. After graduating, Tim combined his love of the outdoors and his career as a Land Surveyor by working in remote parts of Western Australia. Jess fulfilled her dream of living and working in London, England. It wasn’t until a few years later when Tim was travelling to Europe that he stayed with Jess in London and they became a couple. Since then Jess and Tim have travelled to many places, gotten married and moved to Australia. 

How does travelling as a couple compare to solo travel?

They are very different. There are the same differences as being single or married when not travelling. Travelling together has both advantages and disadvantages. The main disadvantage is the need to compromise on the many aspects of travel including where you go and what you do there. 

Tim travelled for an extended period of years ago while he was single. He was free to do whatever he wanted, whether it be hike all day, every day for weeks in Nepal or bicycling around Wales free camping on the side of the road as he went.

Now that we are travelling together we need to compromise on how we travel, where we stay and the activities that we do. On our current trip we have both had to make compromises on the type of restaurants we eat at, the places we sleep and even the countries we’ve chosen to visit. Where we cannot compromise. For example, when Tim hiked for months through the Himalayas. Jess spent time in other places in Nepal that suited her more.

We think that while we compromise where we can, sometimes when one of us really wants to do something that the other doesn't, the other person either has to just tolerate doing something that they don’t like or do something else instead. There are always going to be times when we don’t want to do the same thing so we think it’s fine and sometimes even nice to spend some time doing our own thing. 
Apart from the usual support and companionship of a partner the main benefit of travelling together is that we are able to share the tasks involved in organizing our travels. Throughout our trip Jess has researched all the VISAs and train bookings that we have required and Tim has booked our accommodation and planned our trip route. There can often seem like an overwhelming amount of planning and organizing when traveling around multiple countries so having two people to ‘divide and conquer’ can be very nice.

How important is cooperation from the family when you undertake such a trip? Was there any skepticism or fear or was it full-on support?

We are 32 and 33 years old so we had moved out of our family homes and became self reliant long ago. Because of this, our families are used to us being away and making our own decisions and therefore they were not worried and were supportive of our plan to go travelling overseas. 

Despite our independence it is very nice to have this support and the knowledge that if we somehow got into troubles overseas, our family would be there to help us out.
If you were much younger than us and less financially independent, it would be much more important to have the support and cooperation of your family. Having someone more mature to talk to and someone able to get you home in the case of an emergency would be very important. 

Tell us about the best moment so far. When have you stood in awe and through, “this is my moment forever”?

One of Jess’s most memorable moments was walking through Dhakmar in Nepal’s Mustang District. Dhakmar is a beautiful traditional village set amongst tall and strikingly red cliffs, dotted with the ruins of ancient cave dwellings and far away from western civilisation. After recovering from a period of sickness and feeling good about her fitness, Jess felt how special it was to visit a place so remote and see something so beautiful. The fact that you can’t easily take a plane or a vehicle to this place means you are one of a ‘small number’ of people to hear the silence and see the untouched beauty. It made Jess feel happy to have been hiking for so many days and lucky to be there.

Tims most memorable moment was when he was walking the Great Himalaya Trail through the Himalayas of Nepal. At this time, he and his father were completing a section of remote trail, crossing the tops of a forested ridge line. Their day had dragged on and they were looking for a place to camp next to a source of water. In their search, they found a small shelter where a girl was standing nearby so they asked for some water and in turn were offered to stay with the family on the floor of their small home. During their stay they were fed and entertained and given a valuable insight into the lives of these Nepalese people. 

Beyond seeing tourist sights and National Parks we always try to meet the local people from the places we visit and to get as good an understanding of how these people live. You usually can’t book and pay to have these genuine experiences, so Tim was very happy and honoured to have been given this experience by such generous and kind people. 

Was there any unique experience you’ve ‘accidentally’ stumbled upon while travelling?

When we travelled to Mongolia we booked the cheapest hostel at the last minute and ended up staying at a place called ‘The Garage’ run by a young entrepreneur called Bagi. This was our first stroke of luck as Bagi was a really nice guy and was very helpful in helping us organise a horse trek on a budget. We loved staying at his hostel with likeminded guests, travelling in a similar way to us. 

On returning from our horse trek, Bagi offered us the opportunity to stay with his nomadic uncle out in the middle of the Steppes of Mongolia. We couldn’t say yes to this offer fast enough and a few days later we were off on a bus to the middle of nowhere with a huge bag filled with vegetables as a thank you gift. 
Over the course of the next week, we helped the nomadic family heard sheep, milk horses and collect dried cow poo and immersed ourselves in their day to day lives. The nomadic life is as far from our usual life as is possible and we loved learning about how the family work, entertain and survive in this inhospitable place. After our week on the 
Steppe we were very sad to leave our host family and would love to stay in contact or see them again if possible in the future. This lucky and impromptu experience is something that we often talk about and which we will remember for the rest of our lives.

If you could become a local in one of the places you’ve traveled, which place would it be?

We have loved travelling through France in the past and love the people, culture, food, landscape and weather. Also, in a practical sense, France would allow us to continue our careers, providing we spoke French, and therefore maintain our current standard of living that we are used to.

If you ignored careers and income, then we would love to live the simple life in a place like on the coast of Greece where there is a slower pace of life, a lot of emphasis on family and socialising, enjoying good food and enjoying yourself. It would be nice to live in a country where the cost of living isn’t so high that your day revolves around making money, keeping your job, rushing around and stressing about our chaotic lives. We can easily imagine growing our own food, trading produce at the local market, socialising with friends at a small restaurant and swimming everyday in the tranquil sea. Its sounds pretty good and we would be less stressed and healthier than we are back in our normal lives.

Do you believe that travel teaches lessons about the world, about mankind that we wouldn’t have learned otherwise? Can you tell us what your most valuable lesson has been.

Yes. Every time we visit a new place, we are positively surprised by the people that we meet. We are constantly rediscovering that almost all people are inherently good. We have even found that the people from poorer places are often genuinely nicer and more generous than those who have more to give. We travelled to Turkey a few years ago and were overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the people. In one rural town we found it impossible to pay for anything we tried to purchase. It was clear that with our nice clothes and modern van, we could afford to pay our way but the locals all insisted on showing us what their town had to offer, free of charge. Since then we have been lucky enough to travel to many other countries and over and over again people have been so good to us and really proved that almost everyone is good. 

This is such an important thing to learn and remember in a world that often seems a little out of control and where the media only presents the bad and shocking. A lot of people who can’t or don’t travel overseas, only get to see the world through the lens of the media and therefore, for example, don’t like Muslims and are weary of Africans. Anyone who has traveled and actually met a Muslim or an African will quickly learn that none of the negative stereotypes are true. Despite having travelled a lot before reaching India, we still have learnt that so much of what the media has told us about this country, is simply not true because every person that we have met during our trip here so far has been nice, helpful and friendly. We shouldn’t have been surprised! 

What advice can you offer to couples who may be thinking of embarking on their own long-term journey?

If you aren't married yet, wait until after you have travelled together for a significant period of time. You will find out so much about each other in the process, as travel can be difficult and stressful so your true self will be exposed and both you and your partner will see who each other really are. 

While you are travelling, you will have to deal with many challenges and make hard decisions out of your comfort zone and away from your usual support network. You will also have to spend a lot of time together, often just the two of you and without the usual life distractions of work, sport and chores to allow you to hide any tension in your relationship. You will fight and blame each other when you get stuck in the middle of nowhere, in a country where you don’t speak the language and you don’t have a mobile phone. You will have to sort out your issues very quickly and you will soon work out if the person you are travelling with is good for you. 
If you have’t yet travelled with your partner then you may already know if this is a good idea or not. For some couples, they may know that despite loving each other, travelling together for a long period of time is just not a good idea. We have met couples who are happy to travel by themselves for the greater good of their relationship.

REALISM on canvas

Yasunori Sakakibara studied at the Tama University of Arts five years of visual arts (oil painting) and has received numerous awards. Since 1994 he has done regular solo and group exhibitions, participated at art fairs participation and works in public and private collections at Japan and Guam.

What is the major thing you look for when selecting a subject for your artwork?   

I am basically a realism painter. I try to describe the details of our world by traditional oil and egg tempera painting technique which is very important for me.Yes,"details of the world "! I am Japanese. I am not sure that is reason, but I feel myself I have a sense of view of the world with a kind of "Animism"

So I tend to make choice my motif from real fieldwork by traveling foreign countries. Of course I think that for art, imagination and philosophy, stable view of the world, universality is important. And we have to find them on everywhere, in everything.

Why do I look for motifs in traveling? Traveling means "escaping" from ordinary world, ordinary habits to think, act and communicate. I think that we can become free and fight against our problems in our life by escaping sometime from our community or regular habits. I release every objects of the world from their own location, system of meanimgs.This is "simplify”. This process is important for myself.

On the other hand, I do not forget to experience and enjoy every local characteristics, and historical culture.

What do you consider your greatest artistic challenge? 

All earthly things pass away. But artworks can preserve and hand down to the next generation that "emotion" "sense" "thinking" "impression”. Creating artworks goes against the current of the time. But great act of human. Secondly, we can know many different cultures and communicate worldwide. Creating artworks has great power for discovery; each other .We can expand our view of the world and find our own friends beyond the age and location.

You have been to India nearly eight times. How does this feels like to be in India?

My first trip to India started from Kolkata in the month of March in the year 2005.The most important purpose of repetitive traveling to India is getting rid of a difference of experience between Japan and India. In Japan, death and other deep human activity are hidden from ordinary space. Major Japanese tend to demand to act, think, be member of his community each other indirectly. Showing one’s personality is not welcomed. Old town and buildings are easily demolished. We Japanese lost direct reality of life instead of clean city space, convenient life.

In India everything is vivid, massive, strong texture, visible many different religion and philosophies and of course artworks and architectures. Through my India experience, I want to discover myself.

One memorable experience you could never forget about?

I was looking for good location for sketching all day. The place was a seaside on the edge of "Izu" peninsula, a big cliff. When it was almost sunset time and thought I wouldn’t find a good motif. But I did not give up. I went down to the cliff; finally I found brilliant big view of cliff. Beyond religions I felt "The Creator".

What is your take on contemporary art scene?

Maybe I do not concern deeply after WW American contemporary art history. But of course we artists living this age should refer those adventure of Western Modern art history. Consistently "How can I complete painting work based on realism update"  I do not want to limit my artwork in Japanese art market.

In the world there are various types of concept, style. To say "what is the most major  art style now?" does not have strong effect now, I think. With thinking university, I think every artist should pursue their own critical mind.

What advice would you give to the new generation artists?

I hope new generation artists are not too obedient to critics and customers and public decency. People say too much "It is impossible. You can't do it(like us)". But you have to know that our critical ability is usually above than real creative ability. So we should be modest and confident in about our ability in a true meaning.


The Kolkata Experience

With its intriguing cultures, diversity and history, India has been a captivating land for many. It's not just a destination but an experience! Aida Melo from Philippines who works as a caretaker in a power company has been reading a lot and watching videos about Kolkata. Finally, she decided to explore the unique and fascinating city of Kolkata. It was Aida’s first travel outside The Philippines. First things are always memorable in life as they are thrilling and interesting.  When asked -You have been dreaming to come to Kolkata for over a year. When you first landed in Kolkata how was your initial feelings? Aida replies "It was a mixed feeling. I was excited and happy. Though I was a little afraid since it was unknown city, but I knew God was with me. I knew He would guide me."

Kolkata - the city of joy has a fascinating history that highlights its rich culture and literary flavor. When Aida visited the Victoria memorial she was literally in tears. She couldn’t believe she was present there. She was moved by this white marbled beauty, which can rightly be called the epitome of grace and elegance. Aida says "It was a wonderful experience. Everyone was so nice and friendly. Most people are very kind and nice and very welcoming and helpful. I was fortunate to have my friend Koustav Chatterjee whom I met on Facebook to show me around the city. What I liked most about the city was that the people respected the tourists and welcomed them wholeheartedly"

Talking about her favorite culinary experience in the city, Aida says, " It had to be the mutton Biryani! When a plate of Kolkata Biryani appears on a table, it evokes myriad sensations. People visiting the city should try the Kolkata Biryani. I also cherish the ginger tea made by Koustav’s mother. It was very special for me!"

The biggest concern for travelling solo as a female is safety. How did she get over that fear? Aida feels," I knew from the beginning of this trip, it was a gift from God. I knew God will guide me through the journey. The fear has been there since its an unknown place. But my pastor and his wife told me that it's normal to get afraid when you are travelling to an unknown destination. Fear makes you stronger!"

Aida volunteers for Jesus Our Abundant Life Church, Batangas City, Philippines. Talking about her volunteering experiences she says, "My church is my life! I love volunteering. I want to thank God for every blessing he has given us. He died on the cross to save us from our sins."

It is said Kolkata takes documentary street photography to another level; as a photographer, you can become overwhelmed by the intensity of the daily life that you see as you walk around. Aida being a passionate photographer says, "Whether you casually walk down the busy streets of Kolkata or hop into the car to travel around the city, there is an undeniable charm that the city emits. You will find a lot of action! The MAA flyover is so beautiful in the evenings! I took a selfie with the chai seller. I have taken two earthen cups to carry it to Philippines as a souvenir."

They say if you have ever stayed in Kolkata, a part of it always stays with you. Here's what makes this city special, and what you can never forget, no matter how far away you are!


A magician's moments

Zacharie Miri is a 22 years old, living in Paris is a nurse by profession. He is also a professional magician. He does private and public close up shows, and even contested in France's got talent.

When did your love of magic first start?

I started pretty late compared to most magicians! I started when I was around 17 years old.

My family and I were going down to the south of France, but since we live In Paris (which is around the north),we had to stop midway, in Lyon.There, we went to a restaurant in a little place. Our table was outside, and my little brother (who was 12 years old), saw a magician busking in the other end of the place. Enthusiastically, he asked my mother to see him after eating. My mother said yes, and he just ate his food as fast as possible to see him.

While me being a teenager, acted like I didn't care. But there is something entertaining about magic which makes people glued to it, so I thought to visit and bring my brother back. When I reached the magician's stand, Noé (my brother) asked: "Sir, can you do your best magic trick to my brother before we leave?”

So he performed to me one trick( a trick when the spectator has a spongeball in his hands, and the magician makes another ball to teleport in my hand, so now I have two), and I was amazed and fooled so badly at the same time, that I kept on watching one trick after the other  until my father finally came to bring the both of us back !  While returning back, I was thinking that it would have been so great to learn how to perform magic. It was just a only a thought then.

Then we arrived at our destination. There was 1 room for each other, and my room was a furnitured attic. And among the various stuffs in the room, I found an old magic kit! I told to myself "Well I have no excuses to not start!”. I started to learn some tricks, including the spongeball trick! And when I performed tricks to my family (and friends who were joining us later) tiny miracles, they enjoyed so much that it made me feel so good, like I never was !

Later, back home, I ordered my own magic kit, less "chilidish" and started to learn as much as possible. Among all the kind of magic in the kit (ropes, coin,etc.), I oriented myself with cards, which became my specialization (like a lot of beginners), because of his unlimited possibilities of tricks, and it is ease to carry out various tricks.

Meanwhile, I was studying to be a nurse, but the more I learned and performed, the more people wanted to hire me for some events. And even if I love to be a nurse, I feel so happy when, for a moment, I make someone forget everything and make them enjoy the moment and see a world where everything is possible.

It is because I want to share the feeling that that magician gave me, just like your first firework, or when everyone sings for your birthday.. It is when I realized that that I saw my hobby turning into a real passion!

Do you think magic is something that anyone can learn or do you have to have a certain aptitude or mindset?

Everyone thinks that being able to "fool" people is a gift; some may even think that it requires real powers. But in fact, everybody can learn the conjuring art. I didn't even know how to properly shuffle a deck of cards before starting to learn! Depending on the category of magic you want to learn, there might be some difficulties, but there is 3 inherent things that you will need to be better at this art:

Time: because you'll spend hours and hours to understand a technique, timing, the presentation some tricks requires weeks, months, or even a lifetime to master!

Money: because time is money haha!  No really, the business of secret is well kept, and the more you'll get specialized, the more hidden secret will be expensive. Of course, you can pay also a mentor to teach you, but I learned by myself, because having a mentor is also expensive. Plus, sometimes, you have to buy some material to build/refill tricks. Doesn’t mean that you can't do good magic for cheap though, a good deck of cards and you can entertain people for hours if you know your tricks!

Motivation: the most important thing to have, because it is your motivation that will make you willing to spend time and money to be better. Your motivation is often having a hard time, whether you met bad spectators or you struggle to learn something,etc . But as long as you know your true motivation, and it is strong enough, you can be one of the best!This is how I managed to reach the "professional level" while starting way later: I worked hard to succeed, thanks to my true motivation!

What’s your favorites magic trick?

Well first of all, as a close-up magician, I like to involve the spectators as much as possible. As I said earlier, I want them to imagine a world of unlimited possibilities, not to show me and my "magic powers". It creates a win/lose situation, which I don't like.

So the less I do things, the better it is, and it is even better if THEY do it. I have a lot of tricks like that, but if I had to choose one, it would be the trick where a spectators choose any card he/she likes, place it back in the deck wherever he/she wants, and keeps the deck the whole time. Then he/she would imagine burning his own card (which I don't know). A few seconds later, the spectators feel a bit of heat. He/she spreads the deck, to find one card with a big burnt hole: it is their card!This trick is so strong, and simple to follow, that you can even do it without speaking, I love the reactions I get from people with this trick so much that I do it all the time !

What has been the most memorable moment for you?

When you do magic, you meet a lot of different people, from different cultures, countries. So you have a lot of memorable moments created by the meeting of people you wouldn't even talk to without this special event. It is very hard to pick just one. Let me share couple of these special moments. Firstly, it was last year, the day after Christmas. There was an activity center who was keeping kids for parents who had to work on that day. Sad for the kids when you can't play with your presents! But the director hired me to do a 2 hr long show. When you do magic, you enjoy creating amazement and laughs to people, and see it on their face. But from all reactions I could have  in my "career", those from these 40 children were so pure and strong, that even now I can't talk about it without having a big smile and telling myself that is the best job ever!

Another experience was in India. My friend and I planned our trip two months ago, so we can be sure to have every guesthouse, every train ticket on the right time and we wouldn't have to worry about it. Our last night train was from Varanasi to Kolkata. But even two months before, we were the 4th and 5th on the waiting list. On the departure day, we took the night train. The first 45min of the trip was on sleeper class, with the tickets granted. But for the next 12 hours on AC2... still on waiting list! We had to sit on the floor, between to wagons, next to the toilets in the cold with people who wakes you up to cross or to go off the train. It was going to be the worst night of my life. But around 23pm, the Ticket Checker told us to go to the sleeper class. So we went, and there we met another two Indians in the same trouble as us.We talked a bit waiting for him, and when I told them what my job was, they naturally asked to show some tricks. So, I did around 30min of magic tricks, and they enjoyed it so much! That is one of the reasons I love Indian people, they love magic as much as I do! But still, we were without seat, the four of us. The ticket checker came again. So my “new friend” negotiated with the Ticket Checker and got us a seat by paying bribe. The whole negotiation process took 4 hrs!.When I wanted to give my new friend the money, he told me "Don't worry my friend, it is my way to thank you for all the good magic you showed us "On that day I've learnt how people can be generous and kind, and that without magic I would have spent the night on the floor!

Advances in technology have created even more possibilities in the art of illusion. What are your views?

A couple of centuries ago, people tend to call "magic" anything people would do that was beyond the understanding. Nowadays we know that magic is not real (as far as we know, but the feeling of living something magical is real, it is what we try to create !). People are getting smarter and smarter, and that is when technology has a role in it.

Today you can order a taxi, know the weather for 2 weeks in advance quite precisely, and talk to someone at the other end of the world! So we can use sometimes some subtle devices to do some parts of the trick that we wouldn't be able to with our bare hands, but I think some technologies are too obvious. That is the case with magic applications on Smartphone. If you think about it, if a magician brings out his own phone to do some miracles, people will think that it is just an app. And they are right most of the time!

People are not stupid, they are getting clever as fast as the technology evolves, and one day everyone will know about almost everything about it. So, I think we are in a technological era of magic, with a lot of magicians performing with tablets, Smartphone. But slowly, we are entering in a new era of magic, which involves the biggest computer ever: the brain. There is a psychological subtlety that absolutely no one knows, and there is no magic app for that. What if I told you that for a moment, I could take back your ability to read? Well, it is possible... and with nothing more than words on a cardboard.

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“It’s the human encounters that provide the biggest rewards”

In 2015, David Wu walked for 600 km from Kuala Lumpur to Kelantan to raise funds to help repair homes affected by the big flood in Kelantan, Malaysia. The following year, he cycled from his home town of Alor Setar, Malaysia to his ancestral home town in Taishan, China, raising funds to repair more damaged homes and also to search for his grandfather's birthplace. Now, David Wu wants to raise funds for children with cancer, and he wants to ‘take’ these kids to the Seven Modern Wonders of the World. As he cycles worldwide, funds raised will go to The National Cancer Society of Malaysia’s Children’s Home of Hope. This time he flags off with Ving Lee on Merdeka Day to travel to the 7 Modern Wonders of the World, again by bicycle .All they ask is that the public follow their journey and donate ONE Ringgit to help the children.

What is the message that you want to convey through this journey of yours-“One Ringgit, One Malaysian?

I think the message speaks for itself.  The rally call of “A Ringgit A Malaysian” simply means that as a collective, we can do so much by giving the absolute minimum. Every individual can only do so much but coming together as a society, we can certainly do a lot more provided we participate. Participation is key in the realization of any dream or ambition. 

In terms of logistics what is going to be the most challenging leg of your journey?

Well, I did think that India was going to be a tough challenge, but on a more serious note, I think the leg from New Delhi to Jordan will probably be the most challenging logistically. There will be barren land and deserts to cross. The geopolitical scenario in the Middle East is also looking rather prohibitive as far as easy passage is concerned. Jordan is surrounded by countries that are either at conflict or just unsafe to go through. We haven’t quite pinned down the exact route as yet since situations can change by the day in that region. We have an idea, but I think it will only reveal itself further as we get closer. 

You did a 4,000km cycling expedition from Kedah to China. Have you had any major setbacks in that trip, or sketchy situations you had to get yourself out of?

The ride to China was pretty much smooth sailing throughout. It was my first attempt at solo long distance cycling so I guess the challenge was very much a mental one. The fear of the unknown, so to speak. However, my security was never at any risk, looking back, although it didn’t feel like it at the time when I was stranded up in the mountains of Laos till very late at night. That episode was quite hairy, being all alone in pitch darkness in the middle of nowhere familiar. 

Did you ever feel like giving up, if so why? And what kept you going?

No, there hasn’t been a day that I felt like giving up. It will be a long journey nevertheless and I think coming to terms with that fact is key to keep moving forward. Of course there will be times when one will feel homesick or food sick, but in undertaking such a journey, you’ll just need to keep reminding yourself that you weren’t going to start something you don’t intend to finish. If you say it, do it. Getting to the finish line is in itself a huge motivation. 

What has been the most rewarding moment?

I guess it’s the human encounters that provide the biggest rewards. The kindness and generosity shown by total strangers is quite a treat and goes a long way to provide the optimism that deep down, the human nature is still good. We have had some amazing encounters with the people in India, especially in the more rural areas. The sights along our journey are also great feasts to the eyes and make it all worth the while. 

What did this journey teach you about yourself and adventure?

I think we’ll really only know the answer to that when the journey concludes, but at this point in time, I think the journey thus far has made us realize the depth of our own strengths. It is not an easy expedition by any means but I’m glad to say we have shown some incredible resolve up till now. 

Of late we have seen many such journeys associated with a cause. What are your thoughts about this trend?

I didn’t realise this was trending? I think it’s a good thing to associate an effort with a cause or charity. I mean, wouldn’t it be such a great waste of all that energy, focus and effort if none of it went towards helping those who could use a leg up? 

Follow his journey-


"Our vision is to bring the amazing beauties of classical music everywhere around the world"

Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

Recently, the Victoria Memorial Hall,Italian Embassy Cultural Centre, New Delhi and Consulate General of Italy in Kolkata presented a western classical concert by Quartetto di Cremona featuring works by A. Webern, F. J. Haydn and F. Schubert. Since its formation in 2000, the Quartetto di Cremona has established a reputation as one of the most exciting chamber ensembles on the international stage. Regularly invited to perform at the most important festivals and concert seasons across Europe, South America, the United States and the Far East, the quartet has garnered universal acclaim from critics and audiences alike for its high level of interpretive artistry. They are a regular feature on radio and television broadcasts around the world (RAI, WDR, BBC, VRT, SDR, ABC) performing their extensive repertoire which ranges from early Haydn to contemporary music. 2017 will mark the release of the final volume in their complete recording of the Beethoven quartets, on the German label Audite. Simone Gramaglia who is considered one of the best Italian violist and also the manager of the group shares his thoughts.

Would you share a bit about Quartetto di Cremona’s vision and mission?

To have a vision is very important if you have a project. If you have a project without a vision it like to have a flower without water. It won’t grow. Our vision is to bring the amazing beauties of classical music everywhere around the world. Our mission is to realize it!

The quartet has collaborated with numerous artists of international renown. What are some of the most rewarding experiences?

I can for sure mention the amazing collaboration with our friend Lawrence Dutton, violist of the Emerson String Quartet. We played many concerts with him and it was always fantastic. Or with my great friend the cellist Jamie Walton. He is just fantastic. 

The quartet frequently conducts master classes. Could you describe the master class experience and the value of working with young musicians?

Teaching at a certain point of life becomes essential. You physically need to pass your experience to others and working with young musicians it’s always very stimulating. And it help to learn many things too!

The effect of a piece doesn't merely depend on the performance of the musicians, but also on the place it is performed at. How do you see the relationship between location and sound?

This is a very clever question. I think if many artistic directors around the world would think a bit more to this matter we would have a much easier life...The location and its acoustic are fundamental for the sound. Specially talking about strings. If it’s too dry or too resonant or too big audience will loose most of the quality of the interpretation and many details of the piece. 

Quartetto di Cremona is an Ambassador for the International ‘Friends of Stradivari’. How important is to promote and develop stringed instrument making from a cultural standpoint?

It is extremely important. We are very proud to bring around the world the great value of what Italy and Italian artists where able to produce and it means the best fine string instruments in the world.  

Increasingly, performers, orchestras and record labels are thinking beyond the traditional concert in an attempt to get classical music heard by new audiences. Can classical music reach a new audience through unlikely venues?

I don’t think it’s a matter of venues. It’s more a matter of education. If you don’t bring music to young children you can’t pretend they will attend a classical concert even if you propose it in a cave on Mars. It always and just a matter of education. If you know something you can decide what to do. You can accept it or not. But if you don’t know something

                                                   -  Simone Gramaglia

What are some of your goals and aspirations as a quartet as you look towards the future? Are there any recordings on the horizon for you?

As artists we have many goals, the main one is to play all the most beautiful music written for string quartet. We already played a lot but still we have a lot to do. 

Recording? Yes! Our beloved Franz Schubert with his quartet op. 161 and String quintet op. 163 with two cellos. 

Since you manage the group, how challenging is your role? What would you say your top priorities?

It’s not easy being a musician nowadays. Specially a classical musician. 

Lot of my colleagues and students still spend the all time of their time practicing in their room and waiting for a “phone call” that will change their life. Maybe this was possible years ago. Not anymore. A musician today of course has to be gifted, super well prepared but then he needs a clear vision and a very focused strategy. I started the quartet when I was 25 yrs. After 5 years of pure studying and competitions I took our career in my hands. And since then I had two works. Violist and manager. I’m almost 43 now. I brought the quartet everywhere around the world. I built a super-network of contacts. I planned and realized all our recording projects. It has been a super hard work. Lot of nights spent to create projects, ideas, possibilities. Challenging. But essential for our career.  At the end I can say my top priorities are beauty, a clear vision and enthusiasm. 


To be in love with God

Semida David is a trained economist, after working for some years as a financial inspector, she quit her job and chose a humanist path.Together with her husband, she owns and manages a guesthouse in the mountains. There, she has created a spiritual center, Shanti Spiritual Centre. She is a Bowen, Reiki, Bach and Yoga therapist. She conducts ‘Yoga for Health’ class at her hometown’s Culture House, in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. There, she has hosted conferences on Indian culture. She also hosts different spiritual courses such as: Happiness Course, Guiding Souls beyond Death Course and Youth Elixir – Immortality Elixir.She is currently writing spirituality books, both for kids (a series of tales with Angels) and for adults. She has taught Romanian Language at an Indian University.

She coordinates a theatre group, putting on stage mainly spiritual plays written and directed by her. She has been on tour in India several times. Loving spiritual travels, she has visited special places in Europe, Israel, Egypt and India, and written about them.Her greatest joy is to be of help to others, in every possible way. Her latest book- “Always Be Happy” traces the spiritual journey of the author. A deeply moving book, it is written straight from the heart. From being an atheist brought up in Communist Romania, the author gradually turns to God.

What’s the main message you hope readers take from your book? 

God is accessible to everyone and loves us equally.

Who or what inspires you the most?

The Infinite love of God.

It seems like more people are searching for inner peace and meaning in their life. This is especially true in the western world. Many westerners are drawn to India.  Why do you think this is happening?

This is because in India there are many saints. They have touched the inner peace, they have touched God.

What motivated you to found the Shanti Spiritual Center?

Our aim is to bring Indian spirituality to Romania. To open a gateway to spirituality for the Romanian people.

In your opinion, why is yoga so important for the times we’re living in?

YOGA brings balance to mind, body and soul.

What would you advise if someone wants to be happy and have peace of mind in his/her life?

To be in love with God.


Investigations about pictures and their perceptions

Thora Kraft was born in Hoya in 1967. She lives and works in Calberlah, between Hannover and Berlin. From 1987 to 1996 she studied Fine Arts at Universities of Arts in Braunschweig / Germany and in Barcelona /Spain with Prof. John Armleder and others. From 1996 to 1997 she had masterclasses. In 2014 she won the  art prize of the Kunstverein Wolfsburg and in the same year received a residence scholarship for the Künstlerhaus Salzwedel. In 2015 and 2017 she was nominated for the art prize of the artfederation "Lüneburgische Landschaft". Her artwork is a show of investigations about pictures and their perceptions. Therefore she puts light upon the public and verbatim/ literally the backgrounds of presentations.

Thora Kraft's short  film "covering myself"
Can you share a bit about how you got started in photography?

Originally I am a painter. In the course of this I consider significant the sphere around the actual picture. Because I refuse producing a detached something just thrown undirected into the crowd. Hence I studied from the beginning the conditions for paintings,, subsequent artworks in general. For this purpose I use the photo camera. These explorations with the camera set up / built up some ongoing series:

- light on pictures “spot on the unexposed”

- The meaning and surroundings of studios "Refuge for the unexposed/ studios / Home-Stories "

- The setting about an exhibition "Looking at the exhibition / Looking at the public…/"

Thora Kraft's short  film "covering myself"
Describe what you are trying to communicate with your photos to your viewers?

I make use of photography in order to explore what is between pictures and people and people. About discoveries, disguises and camouflages in general. All findings are essential and they flow in my next piece. If you see into a picture like on a stage, my photos show you the space behind, above, beyond, in front of. I like to tell about the hidden space behind the curtain, the unseen area backstage without spotting them on stage. To let under-cover sometimes means to show respect. There are some worlds; they have to be preserved invisible. I want to tell about these worlds like the astronomers tell about planet nine.

Where do you find inspiration for your photography?

The inspiration for my photos I find among people. The fathomless and at the same time vanishingly small worlds in between. 
Thora Kraft's short  film "covering myself"

You have done some interesting photographic series. Which one would you say have been the most significant for you in your career so far?

My pieces of art are like pieces of puzzle about the seen and the unseen, the seeking and the hiding. My work is about sharing my way of researches to the public.

Do you have any advice for a new photographer starting out?

My advice for a new photographer: Be surprised. Do not take anything for granted. The most is invisible. The invisible deserves your attentiveness and your respect.

What would be your dream creative project?

My dream creative project would be having a studio inside the huge space of a jungle. Maybe I would explore the space between two leaves. Maybe I would paint doorways to the greens.


Positive spirit and conscious songs

Pic courtesy - PASCH Goethe-Institut Südasien

Germany’s Raggabund (aka Caramelo Criminal) consists of artists who came together to lift the local reggae and dancehall music onto the next level.  The group’s most striking personalities are the South-American brothers Paco Mendoza & Don Caramelo. The band is multilingual and sings in German, Spanish and English. Whether critical of society or entertaining, Raggabund is always absolutely authentic: a successful mixture of punchline, poetry and positive message.Upon invitation of the initiative "Schools: Partners for the Future" (PASCH), the band is on a tour of South Asia together with Hermanos Mikey Board and De Luca of the Swiss band The Dubby Conquerors.  They recently performed at the at Vidya Mandir, Kolkata.

How would you describe Raggabund as a band?

We are a German based band who is specialized in Caribbean beats like dancehall, reggae, cumbia or reggaeton. We provide danceable music with lots of good vibes and try to reflect our views of a conscious and helpful society within this world.

How does the band’s association with “The Dubby Conquerors” have influenced your music?

Our actual album “Buena Medicina” was very inspired by our partners and backing band “the dubby conquerors”. They are protagonists of the Swiss reggae movement which is well known for roots reggae with a classic / analog spirit of the 70ies reggae. It was the first album we worked on with one producer and one band and we love the sound. It got groovy classic reggae beats with a conscious and spiritual essence like our idols used to have back in the days.

What kind of message you want to tell with your songs?

We don't have specific topics in our songs; we talk about everything that inspires us. This might be love, misunderstandings or the incredibly good Indian food. But we keep an eye on a positive spirit in our music and sometimes we love to write conscious songs which might encourage the people to think about habits or things that happen in this world.

What’s it been like traveling and being able to play in international venues and not just a band that just plays within the in a specific region?

Our entire career we have played in several countries and on several continents, so we don't know how it is to be a local band. We are very grateful of the big gift to get in touch with so many cultures through our music. It is incredible seeing how music can cross boundaries such as language, borders and cultures. We think Caribbean rhythms can work all over the world, cause anywhere we go the people love to dance to our music. Playing international venues really is a big chance for us, because people who haven’t known our band yet might get interested if they hear our name and come to our concerts and that is the best way to get your music well known.

Pic courtesy - PASCH Goethe-Institut Südasien

Do you have any favorite moments that stand out during your SOUTH ASIAN TOUR 2017 that were just special to you?

Well, every city, every venue and every concert have their own energy. Generally, it is very hard to pick your favorite moment, if a tour is full of incredible moments like the tour we did. We got to know so many people who inspired us with their hospitality, their kindness and their beauty. India offered us so many great experiences we will never forget. But if we have to choose, surely Kolkata with all her beauty and flavors was special. We have known this city for so many years because of its history and stories, and it was very special walking through these historic streets.

What ways are your live acts different from your albums?

The good thing about concerts is that you get in touch with your fans instantly. You interact with them or figure out how new songs work on a big stage. We love to alternate songs and their sound on stage. Some songs we play faster than on our album, some we play slower. We even change the chords and enrich a song with different feelings than the original one. But our main target is to offer a perfect show to our audience, so when they love a song only in its original mood, we will play it like that.

What are your thoughts on where reggae is heading as a genre?

As we don't consider ourselves a reggae band only, I can't answer your question in a proper way. But I know that reggae, like a lot of genres, got mixed up with a lot of different styles just like electronic, hip hop, global bass or dubstep. We love this fusion, which helps us to get new ideas and is a great inspiration.


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