Bucharest Half Marathon 2021

Being in Bucharest, with some administrative issues since August I had the chance to participate in Bucharest Half Marathon 2021 on September 5th. This was the tenth edition of this competition and my fourth participation.

Since it was an event during It was an event during the pandemic. The organizers required participants to be vaccinated or taking a Covid test that should have a negative result. I don’t know how many people were at the start. Only that about 1100 finished the 21.1 km race, including those participating in relays.

II was also registered at Poland Business Run. This was a virtual and remote team race of 4 km, taking place on the same day, September 5th. I do not have enough energy to run 4 km fast after a half marathon. The only option was to run both races at the same time. My choice was to run fast the first 4 km stop the watch and record the result. Then continue for the next 17 km to finish the half marathon. Obviously, I did not care about the finishing time of the half marathon.

At the start of the half marathon. I am at the bottom of the image with a blue cap

The weather was good for running at 8:30 AM when the race started. The organizers asked us to run with masks for the first 100m of the race. As you can see, many runners ignored that ask. I ran the first 4 km in 23 minutes. The time was not good. I made another try. I ran the next 4 km 40 seconds faster and used this time for the Poland Business Run race.

During the race, after 8 km

The picture above is taken at 8 km into the half marathon race. I had only one race to focus on at that time. The remaining 13 km of the half marathon. After 14 km I was tired, but that was not a surprise. The 8 km of faster speed at the beginning were taken their toll. I did not force myself at all. I was just having fun for the rest of the race.

At the finish line, in the center of the image

At 10 AM, it was already sunny and not that easy to run. I crossed the finish line after two hours and ten minutes. It was not a good time. Usually, I should finish in under two hours. But given the circumstances, I was happy with finishing both races. A fun fact is that at this competition, they had the heaviest medal I have ever seen. After running 21 km, they put the medal around my neck. My head went in front, carried by the heavy metal. The joke was that the medal was twice as heavy this time. Because last year there was no competition and they doubled the metal quantity this time.

After the race with some of my colleagues and our coach Stefan Oprina. In this picture, next to Stefan is Valeria Racila van Groningen, the organizer of this competition and of the most important running event in Romania (Bucharest International Marathon)

Despite the pandemic, the event was very well organized. Many thanks to the organizers for the opportunity to run again with such a great community. Everything was well prepared. There were hydration points, many bands singing on the way, and an army of volunteers checking that everything was ok.

During my stay in Bucharest, I trained with my colleagues at “Trupa Lui Fane”. It was great seeing them again after more than one year. I was happy that I could run with them. Many thanks to Stefan for giving me the chance to continue training with the rest of the team!

Another thing worth mentioning is that, among others, I am allergic to ragweed (in Romanian “ambrosia”). I did not know because the previous year, I was not in Bucharest during this time. Two years ago, it wasn’t that bad. It is estimated that around 10% of people in Romania are affected by this allergy. The recommendation is to stay at home during the morning when ragweed is more active. Not only that I did not stay at home that day. But I also ran for more than 2 hours. The result was that during that night, I could not breathe and therefore sleep. If people allergic to ragweed are taking Claritine, xyzal, or both, the symptoms will disappear.

If you are allergic to ragweed and plan to travel to Bucharest between mid-August and the end of September, please take care of this.

Ending on a positive note running a half marathon is always an experience to remember. As Emil Zatopek, the greatest runner once said:” If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life run a marathon”…or at least a half marathon, if I may add.

INFJ explained

As mentioned in a previous post, my Myers-Briggs type is INFJ. The initials come from Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging. Everyone agrees that this is the rarest psychological profile in the world (around 1-2% of the population) with women twice more than men. There is also an agreement on the fact that humans with this profile are misunderstood. In this post I will try to explain this misunderstood profile from my point of view.

INFJ people have an intense internal life. That can’t be observed from the outside. They look calm, and therefore people assume they are very cool inside. This difference makes INFJ people sometimes behave in a different way than other people would expect them. It is not that INFJ will surprise you in a bad or in a good way. They will be just different than what you think about them.

Because of their long-term thinking, INFJ can make predictions of how things will look in the future. It is not about guessing lottery numbers but rather making assumptions based on a system current state and the internal forces. Whether we talk about a political, economic, or social system.

INFJ’s most important value in life is love. This is why you can see this feeling mentioned in this blog. Love is something that resonates with such an individual and makes him go further in life. Casual relations are not possible for this type of people.

To give a personal example, more than twenty years ago when I had a problem one friend advised me to learn a poem. As you can imagine, learning a poem would not make any difference. It would not help my situation at all. Yet this was a turning point in my life as that recommendation was in line with my personality. I learned “Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde. Of course, it was of no help in the short term, and I knew it. But in the long-term, it made a big difference for me.

Banksy – Escaping prisoner in Reading – March 2021. Probably a drawing of Oscar Wilde imprisoned in Reading. He wrote the “Ballad of Reading Gaol”. In my opinion, the symbol is that through literature Oscar Wilde was able to escape prison. Oscar Wilde himself said, “We are all in the gutterbut some of us are looking at the stars”

Let me give another example. Pablo Neruda once said, “If nothing saves us from death, at least love should save us from life”. For an INFJ this sounds like an absolute truth, you just feel like that is powerful. For other humans, it is not. They can replace the word love in the above sentence with whatever motivates them: money, power, glory, etc.

Banksy – Girl with a pierced eardrum, Bristol 2014. A parody of one of my favorite paintings “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Vermeer

INFJs genuinely care about other people and want to help them. They are glad of the success of other people. Envy is not part of their life.

INFJs avoid corrupt people or people who lie to them, for example. Often this avoidance is seen as a conflict by the other part. It is not a conflict, no hate or negative feelings are involved.

Because of their rich inner life, INFJs don’t drink coffee. In software companies, most people begin their day by drinking coffee. Instead, every morning I start by solving chess puzzles for a few minutes to get my brain up and running.

INFJ people do not talk about their personal life and what problems they might have. They never complain and give everything they have in relationships. They ask for nothing in return.

Banksy -Girl with ballon, London 2002. The most famous Banksy artwork

Music is an important component of INFJ life. You can see that most of my posts end with a musical moment. The music videos were not randomly chosen.

Every human being is different. A lot of the things that happen in our life are related to our previous experiences. Everyone is free to live their life as they want. However, some behavioral patterns do exist.

Why did I choose Banksy’s artworks for this post? We do not know who Banksy is, but I feel he is an INFJ. I found out that I am not even original in this opinion. Someone else already said that.

Banksy illustrates very well INFJ behaviors. He does unexpected things, he is misunderstood, he is very discreet about his life, has artworks about feelings, has a sense of humor. He is an idealist who does things and does not just talk about ideas.

Hoping that things are more clear now in case you’ll meet an INFJ somewhere in this world.

Spring in Krakow

Pablo Neruda once said that “you can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming”. Today, March 5th, beginning of spring, my intention is not to cut flowers but to write about something nice. One thing that came to my mind was to mention the beautiful and interesting things I see in Krakow when running on the shores of Vistula. The order of images listed here was chosen to make the narrative easier.

Let’s start with the symbol of the city, the Wawel Dragon. These days many kids take pictures in front of the legendary mighty dragon. To make it look more real, the dragon spits fire every few minutes. A dragon guarding a castle is a fairytale image.

The Wawel Dragon

Guarded by the dragon is the famous Wawel Castle. The former residence of Polish Kings before 1596 when the capital moved to Warsaw. The big castle and cathedral form an architectural complex similar to the one in Prague. In fact, Prague is the city with the most similarities compared to Krakow. Probably it is because both cities were for many years under Habsburg Monarchy domination.

A wing of the Wawel Castle

From the castle, the running path follows the Vistula river until the foot of the hill that can be seen far away in this picture. There are a large park and a big forest. It is impressive to see a forest on a hill in a city. The highest peak that can be seen in the picture below is the Kościuszko Mound. That is a human-made mound to honor the memory of Polish national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko. As a fun fact, I remember in school learning at Geography that the highest peak in Australia is Mount Kosciuszko. At the time, I did not understand why. The internet was not available to search for the answer. I had to come to Krakow to find the answer. For the explorer who first climbed that mountain, it looked like the mound with the same name in Krakow.

The other way of the running path leads to the Kazimierz neighborhood. Far on the right side, you can see a wheel and a balloon.

The balloon and the Krakow’s Ferris Wheel. Unfortunately, the ballon was not flying when I took the picture. For me flying the ballon is not an option as I am afraid of heights.

Another nice bridge is Father Bernatek Footbridge adorned with sculptures. This bridge makes the connection with the Jewish neighborhood. Kazimierz is the bohemian part of the city, with a different atmosphere than in the city center. Under the bridge, a few ships were transformed into restaurants. Some ships make cruises on the Vistula river.

Bernatek Footbridge

As mentioned above, Krakow reminds me mostly of Prague. I couldn’t resist adding a picture of this modern art symbol from Krakow similar to the ones from Prague. It is always funny to admire such examples of modern art. A theory is that the pig, set in a position to be lit ablaze, signifies renewal. 

Running in a fairytale environment makes the experience more pleasant. Hoping that you enjoyed the pictures above, I wish you a great year ahead! Despite all the difficulties, life goes on!

Since all the pictures were near a river, I thought it appropriate to end with a song on a river

6700 km – Running in Krakow

Last summer, I decided to resume my professional career in Krakow. Living alone in a city where I knew no one was not easy but not that hard as anticipated. The fact that the office is open, respecting anti-Covid norms, was very helpful. I could meet face to face many colleagues. The company assisted me with all the formalities needed to work from Poland.

My improvised office while working from home in Krakow

Running helped me a lot. I continued my training under indications from my coach, Stefan Oprina. In Krakow, I ran 540 km, three times per week, before I had to stop in December. The reason was that it was too cold outside. I had a sour throat after running while the outside temperature was under 0 Celsius. The gyms were closed due to Covid. My only option was to run at home with two dumbbells. I did that three times every week. I hope that I will be able to resume running outside starting from March. At the end of 2020, I still ran 1500 km in total.

Generally, I was running at a slower speed because the area for my training was where other people use to walk. In most cases, my runs were on the shores of Vistula. For example, in October, I ran a half marathon in two hours and thirteen minutes. Almost thirty minutes slower than the previous year. Still, running helps a lot both physical and mental health.

Last October. View from my window in Krakow center.

Krakow is the most popular tourist destination in Poland, with 14 million visitors in 2019. The city looks great, full of medieval buildings and the biggest old center in Europe. Most of the people speak English as they are used to interact with tourists. That is important for someone who doesn’t speak Polish. Coming here last July was a good thing. All the museums and restaurants were open. For example, visiting Shindler’s factory, I understood the plot from “Schindler’s List” movie. Laying on the hills the city has many spectacular landscapes. A must-see is the Wawel cathedral and castle, the residence of Polish kings before 1596. Then Warsaw became the capital of Poland.

View from Wieliczka Salt Mine

Close to the city, there are many other attractions, the Carpathian mountains with the famous resort Zakopane situated about 110 km to the south. There are hills, small towns, lakes, and nice sightseeings. Other cities in proximity are Katowice with wide-open spaces reminding of US cities, Częstochowa and Ostrava in Czechia.

View of Zakopane from surrounding mountains

Other positive things? The food tastes better and is cheaper than in Romania. Big malls and better roads.

What are the shortcomings? The winter is colder here than in Bucharest. Also, for me, the Polish language is hard to understand, but my colleagues are friendly.

Coming to Krakow was a great decision. A great life experience so far. Maybe I will post later some tourist experiences around Krakow.

Krakow International Chess Festival 2020

Traditionally, at the end of the year, there are many chess tournaments around the world. At that time, most chess players are on vacation. The most famous example is Hastings International Chess Congress, which had its first edition in 1895. This year, because of the Covid pandemic, tournaments decades older moved online or got canceled. There was one exception. The XXXI edition of the Krakow International Chess Festival took place from December 27th to January 4th in a traditional format. Players were meeting face to face. They were grouped by rating in six different tournaments. Almost 500 players participated.

To play chess during a world pandemic… That sounds like Antoninus Block in Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”. “A man seeks answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague”. If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend it. It’s one of the most important movies ever made.

The most famous chess scene in a movie

These days, in chess, Grim Reaper was replaced by computers that can defeat any human being. Computers are trying to kill the soul of chess by exploring all the possible variations of the game.

Returning to real life, there were, of course, special safety measures for the Krakow tournament. All players had to have their nose and mouth covered with a mask. Each player’s temperature was checked at the beginning of the game. The hands were disinfected. Also, no visitors were allowed inside the playing venue. The pictures for this post were taken from the tournament site.

Before entering the playing hall. Arbiters making sure that I respect the tournament rules. On the table, you can see the device for checking the temperature.

Due to the current world situation, I expect to pass a long time until the next chance to play chess at the table. The alternative is not too good. There are many online chess tournaments. The problem with online chess is that some players are cheating with software. They are identified after the games with the help of software that detects computer moves. Unfortunately, the rankings can’t be corrected at the end of the tournaments. The damage remains.

My hope for this tournament was not to get infected with Covid. Now, I can say that I achieved this goal. I was playing in the B section of the tournament. Together with 95 other players and 3 arbiters. We were in the same room for 3 to 4 hours for 9 days. Although we were wearing masks, the risk was present. The context was that at that time, Poland had a high rate of infections.

This is how the tournament B playing hall looked like

The tournament venue was the Galaxy Hotel on the shores of the Vistula river. It is not far from the city center. The playing conditions were great. Many boards were transmitted live on popular chess sites. The organizers had to cancel some other touristic activities planned for the chess players because of Covid.

The only image from the tournament hall where I could identify myself

As for myself, I played in the intermediate level tournament. It was open for players rated between 1700 and 2100. The nine players that I encountered were rated higher than me. I lost 5 games, won 3, and draw one. Not a great result. However, because of the differences in rating, I ended up winning 15 ELO points. More important, I was able to enjoy some chess games. Normally, I would share some chess positions as highlights. Unfortunately, I had no chance to make combinations. The only combination that was played against me was incorrect. I played correctly and my opponent gained nothing out of it. All the games were interesting. It was tough fighting even if there were no fireworks.

Children section of the tournament. The future of chess is in their minds.

I would like to end on a positive note. It makes me really happy that chess is so popular among children. This happens not only in Poland or in Romania but in many other countries around the world. Children can learn a lot of things from chess. Maybe I will write later a post about the benefits of chess.

Across the world, based on the average ratings of the top 10 players, the leading countries are Russia, the United States, China, and India. This can give you insight into how popular chess became worldwide.

I had a dream in Washington D.C.

Two years ago, on a trip to East Coast, I visited Washington D.C. The US capital has many museums and plenty of tourist attractions. It is really an interesting city. It was the place in the US in which I learned most things.

Like all the visitors, I took a picture in front of the White House.

At that time, Donald Trump was the US President. The victory sign was my hope that one day this period of hate will end. That day has come. Donald Trump was not voted for a second term. Hence the timing for this post.

I did not resonate with the values promoted by Donald Trump. In my opinion, a country governed by fake news and lies goes in the wrong direction. Lying is a norm in day to day life in a dictatorship, but not in a democracy. I know that because I lived in Romania before 1989.

A day after the picture in front of the White House, still in Washington, I witnessed a scene that impressed me.

In Washington D.C. there are many memorial monuments. Including the famous Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam War Memorial. One of these memorial monuments is Martin Luther King jr. Memorial.

Next to Martin Luther King’s memorial, I saw an old man together with his family, children, and nephews. The old man was in a state of deep emotion. He was trying to convey his feelings to his family. I saw gratitude in that man’s looks towards Martin Luther King’s statue. His family moved on from the memorial. He remained for a while next to the monument. It was then I took the picture below.

The monument, inaugurated in 2011, is inspired by the line  “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”. From the memorable discourse, “I have a dream”.

“I have a dream” is maybe the most famous speech in US History. Martin Luther King had that speech during the March to Washington in August 1963.

At the time the man in the picture above was grieving next to the monument, Martin Luther King was gone from this world for fifty years. Yet, people are still honoring his memory.

Seneca once said that gratitude ages very fast. We rarely see this feeling expressed in the modern world.

The United States owe to Martin Luther King the fact that they are not a segregated nation. He paid that price with his life.

That scene in Washington D.C. made me think about the fact that for politicians, the test of time is the most important. If people will honor a politician’s memory years after they depart from this world, it means the politician fulfilled his or her mission. For those aiming for a political career, this should be the ultimate goal.

My political dream is for responsible leaders. Leaders who will think beyond themselves, their relatives, and friends in the first place. I hope that the human race will finally move over this form of tribal leadership.

The speech “I have a dream” was not prepared. It was improvised by Martin Luther King when Mahalia Jackson shouted to him “Tell them about the dream”.

The Pianist and Mihail Sebastian

When playing Chopin’s Nocturne 20 on September 23rd, 1939 at Warsaw Radio, Wladyslaw Szpilman did not know that it will be his last performance for a long time. Hours later, a German bombardment destroyed the power supply. The radio was shut down for almost six years.

Chopin Nocturne 20 played by Wladyslaw Szpilman

Last year, while reading The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman, I had no idea that Covid will come. That everyone will be isolated inside, living like the hero of this book during World War II. The book reminded me of a famous journal in Romanian literature, Mihail Sebastian’s Journal. As a consequence, this year, during isolation, I read, again, Sebastian’s journal. This happened after more than twenty years from my first lecture.

These days, when the Covid pandemic affects the whole world, I found these two books inspiring and powerful. Despite the tragedies happening at every step in the books, I found them very human. These are real-life stories. They describe how the authors kept going in difficult circumstances. I hope people reading these testimonies will find help in overcoming the current situation.

These books depict the stories of two men, a pianist, and a writer. Both were highly esteemed before the war for their talents. During World War II they lost everything they had. In both cases, the only reason behind this was their Jewish origin. One lived during the war in Warsaw. The other one in Bucharest. They went on living and fighting for their lives during hard times. They overcome the difficulties in the end.

If you don’t have the time to read the book, you can watch Szpilman’s story in the video below. Or you can watch the famous movie directed by Roman Polanski.

Szpilman recounting his life in Warsaw during the German occupation.

I don’t have a video for Sebastian’s story. But his journal is very well written. He was a talented writer. His family kept his journal private for more than fifty years after his death. It was published in 1996. By then, most of the people mentioned in the book were no longer alive.

Below is a short video of his biography. He was honored with a Doodle on the occasion of his birthday in October 2020.

Mihail Sebastian was honored with a Doodle on October 18th, 2020 on his 113th birthday anniversary

Both books offer great insight into historical events. And how ordinary people lived them. We can read in history books about what happened during World War II. However, reading about day to day life is like zooming in on a historical moment.

When reading Sebastian’s journal, I realized that possibly before the war, Sebastian listened to Szpilman playing live on Polish Radio. He mentions in the journal a few times listening to classical music at the Warsaw Radio. Once, it was a three piano concerto. Szpilman worked with Polish Radio since 1935.

That happened in a normal world, before the war. A writer passionate about music could listen to a talented musician from another European country. Then the war came. Szpilman was no longer playing the piano. Sebastian was not allowed to write plays or novels. Because he was a jew. However, during the war, in 1942, he wrote his best play. He named it “A star without a name”. Somebody else had to assume writing that play to bypass the law. Sebastian saw the great success of the play. Yet, he took no credit for it until the end of 1944.

Szpilman lived with his parents, his brother, and sisters at the beginning of the war. By 1945 all his family members died in the Treblinka concentration camp. Sebastian lived alone before the war. He had to move back with his parents and his brother during the war. He lacked money. At the end of the war, Szpilman was the only one alive from his family. Sebastian the only one who died.

There were many stories in both books that impressed me. In most cases, it’s about human nature. The books contain mostly sad and sometimes tragic scenes. But in the end, after going through all these difficult experiences, the message is optimistic.

In 1945, when the Polish Radio station broadcasted again, Szpilman played the same Nocturne by Chopin as in 1939. It was a superb way to resume life and overcome the pains suffered during the war.

One day, like him, we’ll have the chance to resume our usual lives.

Vera Lynn -We’ll meet again. A message that remains actual.

Goethe’s lessons for life

According to the Myers-Briggs personality test, Goethe was an INFJ, the same type as me. I recommend this personality test. You’ll learn many things about yourself. You can take this test online for free from many sites, including the one linked above.

Goethe liked to travel, and he traveled a lot for his time. This would be his first life lesson. Once, I realized that I have visited over twenty towns and cities in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, where Goethe walked over 200 years before me. I do agree that the places you’ve seen do not influence you as much as the people you interact with during a lifetime or the books you read. But still, they have a small impact on you.

For these “elective affinities” I resonate with Goethe’s vision on life and the world. When I was in high school, I liked some of his quotes. “Chess is the touchstone of intellect“. Being a chess player, I shared that opinion. “One look into the book and two into life“. The ideal proportion of reading and living. My favorite quote at that age was “Life is the childhood of our immortality“.

Years have passed and I see things differently now. I do no longer rate these sayings as high as I did then.

Later, when I was a student, I read “The Sorrows of Young Werther” and “Faust“. That was all I have ever read from Goethe. But I’ve also found out many interesting things about his life. Probably I liked those books as they were inspired by real-life happenings.

In “The Sorrows of Young Werther“, Goethe writes about a sad love story ending with the suicide of Werther. In fact, the novel recounts a biographic love of the author for Charlotte Buff (Lotte) while he worked as a lawyer in Wetzlar. Goethe redirects his sufferance for the lost love in writing about it. Instead of killing himself, he writes about the suicide of Werther. Psychologically this is explained by the fact that by focusing his energy on writing, Goethe was able to pass over this painful episode. This way he offered us another life lesson. In 1939 Thomas Mann wrote “Lotte in Weimar” on the ending of this famous story.

“Verweile doch! Du bist so schön!” – Goethe, Faust

Faust” was Goethe’s most important creation and he worked on it for many years. It is also inspired by a sad story from Goethe’s biography. I don’t want to discuss it here. I knew about Faust’s story from a movie I saw in my childhood. He sold his soul to the devil and the devil made him look younger. The devil gave him anything he wanted. Only to make him say that life is so beautiful and wish that moment stay forever. If he will say “Verweile doch! Du bist so schön!” that moment he will die. This is the most famous line in German literature.

Perhaps, one life lesson behind this story is that anything is possible in life, even getting younger if you are willing to pay a price.

The first time I’ve heard about Faust’s story was during my childhood. I was impressed by the movie “La beaute du diable” with Gerard Philipe and Michel Simon. Faust signing the pact with the devil.

Over twenty years passed by and now I appreciate more some other words of wisdom from him.

If you don’t feel it, you’ll never get it” – Goethe

It did happen to me to hear people talking about their lives, their problems, and the losses they suffered. It was a lot easy for me to understand those who talked about issues I was confronted with and felt the pain myself. Even if someone was talking about greater pains, for me it was easier to understand the pains I experienced before.

Too many parents make life hard for their children by trying, too zealously, to make it easy for them.” – Goethe

Such a modern saying, we all know cases like this where having the best intentions the parents harm the lives of their children by “helping” them.

Actually, Goethe had many quotes that would categorize him as having a modern growth mindset.

I love those who yearn for the impossible.” – Goethe

We live only once, so why not try to get out of the beaten path? This is a recommendation for people at any age to move out of their comfort zone. For trying to achieve what they feel would give meaning to their life. Even if we won’t succeed at least we’ve tried and did whatever we could.

Dear reader, hopefully, by going over these lines, you’ve found something to think about.

Egmont was a play by Goethe. Beethoven composed the music for this play. Celibidache conducted it in a destroyed post-war Berlin in 1950.

My favorite paintings

During times like this, when most of the museums around the world are closed I thought to post something about my art-related experiences. I will mention here only paintings that I admired from close distance in museums or expositions around the world. Of course, there are many others I wish to see. Hopefully, I will have that chance someday. I was lucky to see many of the most important galleries in Europe and the United States and I have a collection of memories from those visits.

I will start with a disclaimer. There is a big difference between admiring a painting at a close distance in a museum and looking at its picture on the internet. The pictures listed below do not impress me and I do not expect to inspire my readers. Seeing them in a museum it’s a different experience. But this is all we can do these days.

This is a subjective selection and it is for sure influenced by my life experiences. Here are the paintings listed in chronological order:

Leonardo – Annunciation (1472) Uffizi, Florence

While visiting Uffizi in Florence I’ve seen many annunciation paintings, as religion was the main theme for painters until the 17th century. Yet, when I saw this painting I was intrigued. It seems to have so many senses and symbols hidden. The characters are surrounded by mystery, it was just different from all I’ve seen before. Maybe I was impressed because it was the first time in my life when I was seeing a major artwork.

Leonardo – Annunciation 1472 Uffizi, Florence

Raphael – Portrait of Pope Julius II (1511) National Gallery, London

This painting impressed me most of all I’ve seen at the National Gallery in London. I didn’t know about this artwork before seeing it. I watched it amazed for several minutes.

I did not have the sensation that it was made to look better than in reality. Yet, it was a different reality which I can’t express in words. The artist captures so well the feelings of the character in the painting.

After watching this painting I understood the sense of words written on Raphael’s epitaph:
“Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die.”

For reference, Pope Julius II is the one who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. The Pope died in 1513 after he was able to see the Sistine Chapel painted. Interestingly is that before that he was also leading his armies on the battlefield as their commander. He believed in imposing religion by the sword, which was common during his time. If you want to find out more about him you can read “Agony and Ecstasy” by Irving Stone or simply watch the movie.

Raphael – Portrait of Pope Julius II, 1511 National Gallery, London

El Greco -View of Toledo (1596) MET, New York

The contrast of colors in this painting is fascinating. Another example of a painting I did not know and discovered in a gallery. El Greco paints here Toledo, the city where he spent most of his life and where he also died. This is not the only El Greco painting that I like, he was an artist well ahead of his time. The way he uses the colors and his characters (in other paintings) are very modern. Because of his modernism, people in the 17th and 18th centuries did not appreciate his works. He was misunderstood, as it was the case with other artists that had a vision beyond the horizon of his times.

El Greco -View of Toledo (1596) MET, New York

Rubens – Old Woman and Boy with Candles (1616) Mauritshuis – Hague

I’ve discovered this painting in the Hague gallery. I am not a big fan of Rubens. I’ve seen many of his paintings around the world. Rubens created the biggest paintings in terms of size in museums. And the characters in his paintings were also big.

However, this is a small painting where he paints using the “chiaroscuro” technique he learned from Caravaggio.

I was attracted by how this painting looks but mainly because it is an allegory that can be interpreted in many ways. This way it’s like life itself.

One possible interpretation is a quote from Rubens: “Light can be taken a thousand times from another light without diminishing it”. In the museum it was written the local interpretation: “The renewal of life with the transfer of light from the candle, soon to die, held by the old woman to the freshly lit one held by the youth.” Then there was the religious interpretation of three hands with a light in the center. Each reader could have his/her own vision of this painting and that’s the beauty of it.

Probably, Rubens himself liked this picture as he kept it with him until the end of his life.

Rubens – Old Woman and Boy with Candles (1616) Mauritshuis – Hague

Vermeer – Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) Mauritshuis -Hague

This was the main attraction in Hague. At the time I’ve seen this painting it was accepted the theory that the girl with a pearl earring did not exist in reality. It was believed that she was created by the imagination of Vermeer.

I did not believe that theory but that was just my intuition.

Later, in 2018, a new study of the painting was done with X-Rays and other methods. This year, in April, they published the conclusions. The examination had revealed the presence of tiny eyelashes around the girl’s eyes, invisible to the naked eye. Research also established the existence of a green curtain in the seemingly empty background of the painting that has faded to black over the centuries. 

These are indications that the girl was real.

“Speculating on who the girl was, with her enigmatic expression, wide eyes, unusual blue turban, and huge pearl earring remains part of the fun. The fact that she is still a mystery keeps people coming back and keeps her exciting and fresh.” -The Guardian

In my opinion, this is the last classical masterpiece. It took another 200 years for the art of painting to reinvent and by the creation of impressionism to add new amazing artworks.

Vermeer himself was considered a second class artist during his life and was forgotten after his time. He was rediscovered almost 200 years later.

Vermeer – Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) Mauritshuis -Hague

Van Gogh – Starry Night (1889) MoMA -New York

The most beautiful association between blue and yellow. This painting is one of the most famous in the world. The painting is often associated with the words of Vincent van Gogh: “Why, I wonder, wouldn’t the shining dots in the sky be as easy to reach as the black dots on the map of France? Just like we were on the train to Tarascon or Rouen, we use death to travel to the stars. “

The painting depicts the city of Saint-Remy-de-Provence where Van Gogh was interred in a hospital after his breakdown in 1888 when he cut his ear.

Van Gogh – Starry Night (1889) MoMA -New York

Van Gogh – Wheatfield with Crows (1890) Van Gogh Museum – Amsterdam

Some consider this as Van Gogh’s last painting. I remember it was nicely presented in the museum. Since it was a museum dedicated to Van Gogh it was a perfect way to finish the exposition. The wheat field is located in Auvers-sur-Oise and it was painted in July 1890.

“Wheat Field with Crows remains as Vincent van Gogh’s most contentious painting. The many interpretations of the work are probably more varied than any other in Van Gogh’s oeuvre. Some see it as Van Gogh’s “suicide note” put to canvas, while others delve beyond a superficial overview of the subject matter and favor a more positive approach. And some more extreme critics cast their vision even further – beyond the canvas and the brushstrokes – in order to translate the images into an entirely new language of the subliminal.”- http://www.vincentvangogh.org

“Van Gogh used powerful color combinations in this painting: the blue sky contrasts with the yellow-orange wheat, while the red of the path is intensified by the green bands of grass.” – Van Gogh Museum

The artist shot himself in this wheat field and died the next day in a hospital. His paintings remained to inspire the world for the future.

Van Gogh – Wheatfield with Crows (1890) Van Gogh Museum – Amsterdam

Magritte – The Lovers II (1928) MoMA -New York

I’ve seen many Magritte paintings in Brussels. In that city exists even an entire museum dedicated to Magritte’s works. There I discovered an interesting artist and found out more about him. Yet, the painting I like most from his creations was in New York.

“Frustrated desires are a common theme in René Magritte’s work. Here, a barrier of fabric prevents the intimate embrace between two lovers, transforming an act of passion into one of isolation and frustration. Some have interpreted this work as a depiction of the inability to fully unveil the true nature of even our most intimate companions.” – MoMA

“René Magritte lovers are unable to communicate or touch, they are forever apart.” – http://www.dailyartmagazine.com

The painting is intriguing and has many hidden symbols and possible interpretations.

Magritte – The Lovers II (1928) MoMA -New York

Dali – The Persistence of Memory (1931) MoMA -New York

Surrealism at its peak by Dali. This painting is at MoMA since 1934.

The general interpretation of the work is that the soft watches are a rejection of the assumption that time is rigid. This idea is supported by other images in the work, such as the wide expanding landscape, and other limp watches shown being devoured by ants.

“Three of the clocks in the painting may symbolize the past, present and future, which are all subjective and open to interpretation, while the fourth clock, which lies face-down and undistorted, may symbolize objective time.” – http://www.dalipaintings.com

“Those limp watches are as soft as overripe cheese—indeed, they picture “the camembert of time,” in Dalí’s phrase. Here time must lose all meaning. Permanence goes with it: ants, a common theme in Dalí’s work, represent decay, particularly when they attack a gold watch, and they seem grotesquely organic. The monstrous fleshy creature draped across the painting’s center is at once alien and familiar: an approximation of Dalí’s own face in profile, its long eyelashes seem disturbingly insect-like or even sexual, as does what may or may not be a tongue oozing from its nose like a fat snail.” -MoMA

Dali – The Persistence of Memory (1931) MoMA -New York

6000 km milestone and small health issues

For someone who doesn’t run at all, running 6000 km may seem a difficult task. On the other hand, we have the world’s best runner, Eliud Kipchoge, who runs around 10000 km every year. He is not alone, many of the world’s top long run athletes are running similar distances every year. It took me more than 5 years to run a total of 6000 km. Therefore at this moment, I am not a great runner but not a beginner anymore. Hopefully, before the end of 2022, I will reach the 10000 km milestone.

Recently, I came across an article about a Chinese woman, Zheng Churan, who runs 10000 km to save her husband from political jail. She shares her status on Twitter. By this day, the end of June 2020, she is close to 900 kilometers mark.

But, besides huge performance differences, Eliud Kipchoge and Zheng Churan have something in common. They both run for a cause. In the case of Kipchoge, he runs to prove that no human is limited. To demonstrate that, last year, in Vienna, he did finish the marathon distance in less than two hours for the first time in history, thus breaking a record that was considered impossible for humans.

In my opinion, running for a cause makes this activity less painful and gives you more motivation. Somebody may follow your example and the quality of their life will improve. Happy people will make a better world.

Since my previous blog post, and until mid-May, in Romania, like many other countries, we had a lockdown. The good part was that you were allowed to run around your home if you carried with you a declaration about where you live and where you run. This helped me keep running although there was no normal training.

I would like to share here two personal stories from the time of lockdown about health and running, maybe they will help others in the same situation.

I have an allergy for pollen for many years, each spring I start sneezing and I have difficulties in breathing. The treatment is to take for 10 nights XYZAL or Claritine and I feel very well. Unfortunately this year the treatment did not work although I tried both Claritine and XYZAL. I am not sure why yet, I have a few possible reasons to test next year. As a consequence mouth breathing was my only available option. Because of that, I was not able to sleep at all during the nights. However, I noticed that after a 10km or an hour of running I was breathing normally for two days. Then, I had to mouth breathe again. The change after every run was really impressive. It did happen all the times and it had the same effect. I’ve tried to find something similar over the internet. Similar problems or about running helping in case of allergies but I failed to find relevant information. I shared my experience with various runners but they did not hear about that either. Except for a friend who said that he experienced the same behavior in a similar situation. If someone knows about the problem I mentioned here or wants to find more information about this you can send me a message. After a few weeks, the problem totally disappeared. I took no other medicines than the ones mentioned above.

The second problem was that I got a painful callus on my left sole. I’ve never experienced that before. It seemed that I had a small grit in my flesh in that area. Every step I made hurt me. It was more painful when I walked barefoot at home than when I ran with shoes on. The running shoes were Adidas Energy Boost and were looking really well although I have used them for more than 600 km. It was hard to suspect that they caused the problem since I had no issues by using them for so long. It did not hurt me much when I ran with those shoes on.

I’ve tried changing the running shoes with a new pair of Energy Boost which I bought for some time because I was very happy running with the current ones. Nothing changed, the pain was there and kept staying with me. In the end, I chose to use two pairs of shoes: Adidas Adizero 3 for running less than 10km and Adidas Boston 7 for long runs. In time, the pain went away and I feel well now.

My advice for junior runners is to change the running shoes whenever they see a small problem with their feet that might be caused by the shoes. If you run more than 600 km with that pair of shoes consider replacing them even if they still look good.

I would like to end this post in a positive manner and mention that in June I ran 195 km which would translate to an average of 6.5 km/day or 4 miles per day during a month. This is my best distance in a month ever. I have no pictures for this article but I added pictures from my runs on Strava.

The best thing is that my health problems were left behind and I can continue all my activities.