The crossing by Samar Yazbek

The war in Syria is in its fifth year and it is estimated that 230,000 people have died in the conflict. I would like to read The Crossing by Samar Yazbek, which has been described as an eloquent, gripping and harrowing account of Syria’s decline into barbarism by an incredibly brave Syrian exile living in Paris, named Samar Yazbek. During the summer of 2012 Yazbek crossed into Syria through a gap in the fence from Turkey three times over 12 months and found herself back in her homeland. This was the first of a number of dangerous clandestine trips to the North of the country, where she set about documenting the struggle of men, women and children simply trying to stay alive.

On her first crossing in August 2012 into rebel-held parts of Syria, “the number of Islamist battalions was still low” and the rebels spoke in terms of a civil secular state rather than an Islamic one. But they struggled to obtain effective weapons and couldn’t defend their towns, often resorting to criminality and corruption. On her second trip into rebel strongholds in February 2013 Islamic extremists were edging their way in and starting to control people’s lives and interfere in their businesses

On her final crossing an audience was secured with Abu Ahmed, an emir of Ahrar al-Sham, a rebel jihadist group based in the northern part of the country. Samar asked Abu Ahmed what he expected after the revolution. There will be laws to protect the non-Muslims, the Nasara – the Christians. It will be unlawful for women to go out without a hijab. Appearing unveiled will be prohibited; that’s the most important thing. The Alawites can’t stay in Syria…. If the Druze and Ismailites return to Islam then they are welcome, and if they don’t, they’ll be judged as infidels, but the Alawites are apostates and must be killed. She also met the local Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabat al-Nusra.

What made these exchanges remarkable is that Samar is both female and, although a supporter of the revolution, an Alawite like Assad. It was brave of her to enter Syria in the first place but, as an Alawite woman, to seek to meet and directly challenge jihadist leaders is almost suicidal. It also underlines the dangers of the sudden collapse of Assad’s regime rather than a negotiated transition. Shia and Alawite minorities have every reason to fear. Like many Syrians, she despairs at the paradox of the liberation of great parts of Syria from from one authoritarian regime -Assad only to be replaced with another -Jihadists.

This book weaves together stories of hardship and brutality with touches of humanity
Such reporting on the war in Syria is all too rare – it has taken two years for this “dispatch” to emerge and it is testimony to the appalling reality that is Syria today.

Piet Mondrian

Mondrian_CompRYBDutch Painter Pieter Cornelis “Piet” Mondriaan, was born March 7, 1872. in Amersfoort, Netherlands. He moved to Winterswijk when his father, Pieter Cornelius Mondriaan, was appointed Head Teacher at a local primary school. Mondrian was introduced to art from a very early age: his father was a qualified drawing teacher; and, with his uncle, Fritz Mondriaan.  Piet often painted and drew along the river Gein. In 1892, Mondrian entered the Academy for Fine Art in Amsterdam. He already was qualified as a teacher. He began his career as a teacher in Primary Education, but he also practiced painting. Most of his work from this period is Naturalistic or Impressionistic, consisting largely of landscapes, depicting windmills, fields, and rivers, initially in the Dutch Impressionist manner of the Hague School and then in a variety of styles and techniques. These paintings illustrate  the influence various artistic movements had on Mondrian, including Pointillism and the vivid colors of Fauvism. On display in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague are a number of paintings from this period, including The Red Mill and Trees in Moonrise. Another painting, Evening (Avond) (1908), a scene of haystacks in a field at dusk, uses a palette consisting almost entirely of red, yellow, and blue And is the earliest of Mondrian’s works to emphasize the primary colors. The earliest paintings that show an inkling of the abstraction to come are a series of canvases from 1905 to 1908, which depict dim scenes of indistinct trees and houses with reflections in still water. In 1908, he became interested in the theosophical movement launched by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

Mondrian’s later work were influenced by the 1911 Moderne Kunstkring exhibition of Cubism in Amsterdam. His search for simplification is shown in two versions of Still Life with Ginger Pot (Stilleven met Gemberpot). The 1911 version is Cubist; in, the 1912 version, it is reduced to a round shape with triangles and rectangles. In 1911, Mondrian moved to Paris and changed his name (dropping an ‘a’ from Mondriaan., in 1913, Mondrian began combining his art and his theosophical studies into a theory that signaled his final break from representational painting. While Mondrian was visiting home in 1914, World War I began, forcing him to remain in The Netherlands for the duration of the conflict. During this period, he stayed at the Laren artist’s colony, there meeting Bart van der Leck and Theo van Doesburg. Van der Leck’s use of only primary colors in his art greatly influenced Mondrian. Mondrian published “De Nieuwe Beelding in de schilderkunst” (“The New Plastic in Painting”) in twelve installments during 1917 and 1918. This was his first major attempt to express his artistic theory in writing.

In 1918, Mondrian returned to France and he flourished in the atmosphere of intellectual freedom and artistic innovation. In 1919 Mondrian began producing grid-based paintings and in 1920, the style for which he came to be renowned began to appear. In the early paintings of this style the lines delineating the rectangular forms are relatively thin, and they are gray, not black. The forms themselves, are smaller and more numerous than in later paintings, are filled with primary colors, black, or gray, and nearly all of them are colored; only a few are left white. Around 1920 Mondrian’s started painting thick black lines separating larger forms, which Were  fewer in number, with more Spaces being left white.  the rectangular forms remain mostly colored. such as in the “lozenge” works that Mondrian began producing with regularity in the mid-1920s. The “lozenge” paintings are square canvases tilted 45 degrees, so that they hang in a diamond shape. Typical of these is Schilderij No. 1: Lozenge With Two Lines and Blue (1926), also known as Composition With Blue and Composition in White and Blue, which is currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. One of the most minimal of Mondrian’s canvases, this painting consists only of two black, perpendicular lines and a small triangular form, colored blue. As the years progressed, lines began to take precedence over forms in his painting. In the 1930s, he began to use thinner lines and double lines more frequently, punctuated with a few small colored forms, if any at all.

In September 1938, Mondrian left Paris in the face of advancing fascism and moved to London. After the Netherlands were invaded and Paris fell in 1940, he left London for Manhattan, where he would remain until his death. works from this later period demonstrate an unprecedented business, however, with more lines than any of his work since the 1920s, placed in an overlapping arrangement that is almost cartographical in appearance. Mondrian produced Lozenge Composition With Four Yellow Lines (1933), a simple painting that included thick, coloured  lines instead of black ones, as well as Composition (1938) and Place de la Concorde (1943). The new canvases that Mondrian began in Manhattan are even more startling. New York City (1942) is a complex lattice of red, blue, and yellow lines, occasionally interlacing to create a greater sense of depth than his previous works. His painting Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1942–43) was highly influential in the school of abstract geometric painting. The piece is made up of a number of shimmering squares of bright color that leap from the canvas, then appear to shimmer, drawing the viewer into those neon lights. Mondrian replaced former solid lines with lines created from small adjoining rectangles of color, created in part by using small pieces of paper tape in various colors. Larger unbounded rectangles of color punctuate the design, some with smaller concentric rectangles inside them. While Mondrian’s works of the 1920s and 1930s have an almost scientific austerity about them, these are bright, lively paintings, reflecting the upbeat music that inspired them and the city in which they were made.

Piet Mondrian returned to Paris in 1919, and set about making his studio a nurturing environment for paintings which expressed Neo-Plasticism. In 1943, Mondrian moved into his second and final Manhattan studio. Tragically, he was there for only a few months, as he died of pneumonia in February 1944. He is interred in the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.On February 2, 1944, a memorial, attended by nearly 200, was held for Mondrian, at the Universal Chapel on Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street in Manhattan.