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Beyond Borders

Dutch version below

Hi There,

Beyond Borders  is the title of our new project. The opening was last week Tuesday in the Town Hall of my hometown.

So what does this new project is about?
Well, it won’t be a surprise. It combines two of my passions, photography and working with people. And these people are, of course, the inhabitants of the refugee center here. We – me and two very good photographers, Manu and Marie – made a portrait of seventeen people, focusing on their job, hobby or dream job.

Why?
Well, often people ask me if it is tough working at the center. And honestly, I usually feel happy when I am there. The people are all very kind, polite and grateful. I feel surrounded by warmth and appreciation. But when I am in the outside world, it becomes different.  I hear criticism, judgments, lies… It is easy to talk about a group of people, not knowing them. The criticism really shocks me by times, certainly because so many people from the center have shown their vulnerability by telling me what they had been through. Believe me, it is not something people here often encounter, not even in a lifetime. Most refugees who come here are still very young and have been through a lot.

Melany, Venezuela, Baker

Sanaz, Iran, mother

Our goal?
Taking off the label of  “refugee” and  showing these seventeen people as real people, with dreams, professions, children, hopes, diplomas, talents, ambitions.
A few people also wrote about having to flee from their own country.  Their words are heartbreaking.

I’m still stuck…

I’m still stuck between the past and the present… Between love and hate…

I’m still stuck between sadness and joy… Between my old and new country…

I’m still stuck in the hearts of dead and alive people… Am I dead or alive?

I’m still stuck… And I still have that idea that when I open my eyes every morning…

I’m starting to get used to this new country…

I tried hard to figure out the causes of these wars and revolutions and the wrong policies that have taken over the country. I’ve looked at the legends of history and between the geography papers. All I found were a few words about the greatness and authenticity of my country…

And now I have only found a wounded child screaming. And a mother looking for her children between destruction and blood. A daughter follows her, runs away from the enemy…

We didn’t know what homelessness meant until we became refugees. We go east, west, north, and south. We’re crossing seas and oceans with bags on our shoulders, but our eyes are looking behind us. We’re looking at a country where we’ve left all our dreams and memories.

Every day and with every sunshine, refugees pray to God in the language of hope. Wishing that he finishes wars worldwide. So that they can go back home.

By Mohamad, Syria, actor

How?
We tried to bring diversity in land of origin, profession, age and sex. Most of the people I asked to join the project I already knew from teaching. Everyone was very happy to work together. On one hot summer day in August, we built a photo studio in our house. It was a beautiful day, working and laughing and eating together. Our models behaved as professional models! And we are all very proud of the result.
Mourad, Palestine, Fisherman

Alexandra, Venezuela, make-up artist
Merhawit, Eritrea, baker

Where?
You can admire our photos on banners in Lommel, until the end of December. And please follow us on Instagram @portraits.beyondborders

Next?
This team of people is great, and we want to go on. In November the photo banners will be placed on the playground of the high schools. We would like to combine this with a talk with the students. We can talk about why certain countries are so dangerous and why people need to go away and how it feels to come to a new country, where you have to start all over.

Help?
For the photos we were supported by the local Rotary (Neerpelt) and the restaurant Nomad. But if we continue, we need more support. You can send me a personal message if you can help our team of wonderful people.

At the opening, these are the words I spoke:

Dear Alexander, Alexandra, Ana, Diego, Elvis, Gabriella, Ginger, Jakub, Luisa, Mahmoud, Mario, Mariam, Matta, Melany, Merhawit, Mohamad, Murad, Ninette, Patricia, Ricardo and Sanaz,

You are all amazing people and we feel very grateful for working together on this photo-project.

We have learned to know you
Little by little

You have showed us your openness
By telling us the stories
Of wars in your home countries
Of your struggle for human rights
Of your journey by plane, by boat, by foot,
during days, during months, during years
crossing many borders

All in your search for a better life,
far away from your home and your family

You showed us your strength,
By telling us the stories
Of your fight against hunger, cold and rejection
Of your desire to forget
Of your battle against dehumanization
Of your hope of being accepted for who you are

You taught us
To stay positive
To believe in the goodness of other human beings
To have faith
To fight for the future of your children
And to continue to live
No matter what

You were confronted with the limits
Of a new country, a new language and a new culture

You crossed borders
Between your past and your future
Between your homeland and our homeland

We only hope the best for you

May you know peace
May you find happiness
May you know love
May you find faith in a better future

We wish you well

All of you

Ninette, Burundi, model

 

Dag lieve lezers,

Nog even in mijn mooie moedertaal!

Ons nieuwe project ‘Beyond Borders’ staat nu aan het Huis van de Stad in Lommel. Wij – Manu, Marie en ik, hebben samengewerkt met zeventien modellen van het Parelstrand, het vluchtelingenopvangcentrum hier in Lommel.

Op het Hertog Janplein kan je vanaf 1 oktober de reizende foto-expo ‘Beyond Borders’ bewonderen. Initiatiefnemers zijn Sophie Tournier, Marie Bouly en Manu Bloemen. Zij kenden elkaar al langer en beslisten om een nieuw project op poten te zetten rond het tijdelijke opvangcentrum op het domein Parelstrand. Hun drijfveer? Een mengeling van engagement, naastenliefde en passie voor fotografie. Maar vooral de drang om mensen in beeld te brengen. Geen asielzoekers, geen vluchtelingen, geen transmigranten, geen labels, maar gewoon… mensen. Het resultaat is een boeiende fotoreeks van 17 portretten van bewoners met als thema ‘Beroepen’.

Al sinds de opening van het Parelstrand begin dit jaar, ben ik aan de slag gegaan als vrijwilliger: Nederlandse les, het project 945 in Beeld, wandelingen en bezoekjes organiseren. Ik kom er vaak.  Een aantal bewoners staat erg dicht bij me. Je kan niet met mensen werken, zonder betrokken te raken (ondanks de steeds goed bedoelde raad: waak over je grenzen!). Niemand vertelt zijn levensverhaal bij een eerste ontmoeting. Nadat het vertrouwen gewonnen is, gebeurt dat wel. Luisteren is meestal  voldoende, heb ik gemerkt. Soms kan je ook concreet helpen, maar vaak niet.
Patricia, El Salvador, Engineer

Mariam, Palestine-Ukraine, student-singer, 15

Hoe pijnlijk en hartverscheurend de verhalen van de bewoners ook zijn, het moeilijkste vind ik de commentaren van mensen van buitenaf. De kritiek, de oordelen zonder grond. Daarom ben ik heel blij met dit project, en om met fantastische mensen te kunnen werken, uit alle hoeken van de wereld.
Jakub, Ghana, carpenter

We hebben hier thuis de fotoshoot gedaan. Een hartverwarmende dag. Iedereen was blij en gemotiveerd, we hebben samen gegeten, gebabbeld, gelachen…

In november staan de fotobanners in de secundaire scholen. De mensen van ons team willen graag komen praten met de studenten, om zo rechtstreeks te kunnen praten over wat er in hun geboorteland en de wereld gebeurt. Directer en actueler kan je de jongeren niet aanspreken. Zo hopen we om bij de jeugd meer begrip en empathie te creëren.

Voor de foto’s zelf hebben we reeds sponsors, maar voor dit educatief project zijn we nog op zoek naar steun. Een persoonlijk berichtje graag indien jullie willen helpen.

Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected.
Kofi Annan

Ik wens jullie allen een mooie dag, met weinig zorgen. Lieve groet, Sophie

From left: Merhawit & Abraham, Melany, me, Ninette et bébé Shanah, Mohamad, Matta, Ricardo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interior happiness, Puglia

Interior happiness at Casa Vita

Dear readers,

One of the things I love to do is decorating, redecorating, making a place cozy and pretty.

At Casa Vita we started with a fully furnished house, mostly by Ikea. The former owners were great in reshaping and rebuilding the two old trullis and in making a beautiful yard. But I guess for the interior of the house, they preferred the simplicity of Ikea. Could be a practical side to it too, renting out a house brings along a big risk of damage.

We rent the house out as well. But if we stay at Casa Vita, we don’t want to live in an Ikea showroom 🙂 And so far, our guests have appreciated a more personal approach too.

 

We didn’t want to throw anything away, nor did we want to buy expensive things, so this is what we mainly did:

  • we had two big grayish Ikea armchairs which were comfortable, so we had them upholstered with dark green velvet
  • a few dark wood racks and side tables I painted white
  • we added some old antique furniture from my parents’ home (a coincidence, when we bought Casa Vita, we had to empty my parental home at around the same period), that otherwise would have had to be given away
  • we bought a few things: a new carpet (Sanderson) and Fermob furniture that we use indoors as well as outdoors
  • I regularly check Zara Home for sales, and buy sheets and covers to bring in colors
  • I made a lot of outdoor and indoor cushions myself
  • I adapted some pictures (of Sofia Loren and Claudia Cardinale) in photoshop and had them printed.
  • recently we added the two pink tabourets and golden side table
  • we chose dark green and pink as main colors for the living room and kitchen
  • all the outdoor cushions were also redone in dark green
  • with some help, I used leftover wallpaper (remember my wallpaper addiction?) and designed a new screen

We did do a big renovation. The kitchen is totally redone, in Puglian style. I searched through a lot of books with old Puglian kitchens, and we had the kitchen made by a local carpenter. We are very pleased with the result! For the custom made tiles we also stuck to green and raspberry pink. The countertop is from pietra di Trani, a local stone. The floor was also made from the same stone. By the way, Trani is a beautiful town a little further north in Puglia.

 

But let me show you in several pictures:
the armchair with old fabric:

Upholstered with good quality velvet fabric. The screen you see here is from Maison du Monde, I found it attracted a bit too much attention

So I designed a new screen, with leftover wallpaper from home

And we put the other screen in one of the trulli


Here you see the pictures I redesigned.  And the old dark side tables I repainted white.

Cushions I made and the new carpet – tropical style 😉

The old Ikea kitchen and the new one in Puglian style

The dark green comes back in the cushions in the outdoor areas

 

Can you give me advice?

In each room I have a Fermob chair to put some clothing on. I want to use these chairs for the outdoor table now. What do you think of these rattan ones instead? Other suggestions? Let me know!

On the left, you also see an old closet and a little mirror from my parents home. And you can see that this trullo room is made on the rocks of Puglian ground.

Some white rotan chairs
Image result for rattan chair maison du monde

Thanks for your help!

Ciao, ciao, Sophia

Most of the photos are by Marie Bouly Photography and Mable Photography

 

Puglia

Dining out in Puglia

Hi Everyone,

How are you? How important is food to you?

I admit that it is pretty important to me. When we bought Casa Vita, I envisioned a big table with all our kids and their partners, and lots of delicious Italian food.

Honestly, I cannot name one Italian dish I do not like – a disaster for my weight yes, but not for my mood!

The photo on top is my own homemade food: a salad with arugula, fresh figs from the yard, lettuce, small tomatoes, ricotta cubes and a dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and crushed figs. The other plate has grilled veggies: zucchini, zucchini flowers, eggplant and fresh mozzarella. Photo by Mable Photography.

Guests traveling to Casa Vita often ask me for recommendations for good restaurants. So I will make up a list below, but you should not refrain from discovering new restaurants … There is so much good food in Puglia. If you are visiting a town, try to wander of the main paths and piazzas and find your way into the smaller alleys. Who knows what you will discover.

Here are some delicious ideas

Carovigno:
Image result for Carovigno centro puglia

Carovigno is a small but lovely town near Ostuni, with a beautiful piazza.

  • Osteria gia sotto l’arco: this is a restaurant we can certainly recommend, a magical ‘gastronomia’ mingled with tradition and creativity!

Martina Franca:

Martina Franca is a fair-sized town in the heart of Puglia. It has some ugly modern areas, but the town’s jewel is its lovely historic center, a memorable maze of winding alleys, where whitewashed simplicity sits side by side with baroque extravagance. The town is built on a hill in the green Valle d’Itria, the trulli area of Puglia. It is about a twenty minute drive from Casa Vita. Martina Franca is an incredibly photogenic town, and it has some beautiful clothing stores too.

  • Garibaldi bistrot: beautiful location, near the Cathedral, pure and good Puglian food, delicious wines, friendly owners.
  • I templari: delicious food, not in the center, but it has a really nice terrace, and also the inside is beautiful.
  • Mehta: I haven’t been there myself. But my friend Susan recommended it.  It is high-end cooking, and the desserts are fabulous. I will surely visit next time and will keep you posted!
  • Terra Terra: This is a smaller and cheaper restaurant located in one of the small alleys. The food is also very good, and they serve vegan dishes too.
  • Nausicaa: Also a top restaurant, with a big collection of wines.

Ostuni:

Casa Vita is officially located in Ostuni, but in fact, in distance it is between the two beautiful towns, Ostuni ànd Ceglie. Ostuni is called la città bianca, it is a white town on a hill. I cannot visit Ostuni enough, it has so many beautiful alleys, piazzas, stairways… Each time you discover something new. If you find your way (it took me some time to figure out how to get to a certain restaurant) to the top, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view on the sea.

  • Bella Vista: a nice view, if you are sitting outside at the right spot, you can see the sea. They have great pizzas and antipasti!
  • Taverna della gelosia: it is located between different street levels, beautiful to sit outdoors on the patio, under the trees. The food is delicious and a good choice of wines too. The staff can be a bit stiff though.
  • Il Cielo: this is located in a hotel and has a Michelin Star. Also on our list, must be worth a visit!

Ceglie Messapica:

Casa Vita is situated between Ceglie and Ostuni. Ostuni is beautiful and magical, but also touristic. While Ceglie is more of a hidden treasure. It’s not as big as Ostuni, but here you find more local people. I love the piazza with the bell tower.  You can sit here all evening, watching the men hang around in groups, the elderly men with three on a bench, families gathering, kids playing on the square till midnight. This is still the real Puglia. And you can eat very well for less money than in Ostuni.

  • Cibus: a great restaurant, but more meat-orientated. The antipasti we got there were sublime, really delicious.
  • Osteria Pugliese: very typical food. You’ll have enough if you order the antipasti della casa. It is very cozy inside.
  • Pizzeria Grex Ludi: it is the only pizzeria on the main piazza – the piazza with the bell tower. You can eat great pizzas for three or four euros!
  • Trattoria Piaceri e Tradizione: just behind the corner of the square. The cook Giuseppe will prepare you a delicious typical meal. And if you can, sit outside on the balcony, and you’ll have a beautiful view.
  • Antimo: this restaurant is not in the town, but in the countryside on your way to Ceglie, when you come from Casa Vita. It is an organic farm. They use a lot of ingredients from their own land. The stuffed (with ricotta) zucchini flowers are delicious. You can also follow cooking courses here.

Locorotondo

Locorotondo doesn’t really have any specific tourist attractions; the town itself is the main sight. It is also a small town on the top of a hill. It’s just a pleasant place to spend an hour or two wandering, taking photographs and sitting at cafe tables.

  • U’Curdunn: Great restaurant and very cozy and beautiful inside too. Good service and excellent wines.
  • La taverna del Duca: Delicious food, and you can also follow courses ‘how to make your own pasta’!

Alberobello
Image result for alberobello
Alberobello is thé trulli-town and Unesco world heritage site. It is also terribly touristic, a visit during the summertime is a challenge. But I can recommend a very good restaurant just outside the center.

  • Fidelio: A beautiful garden, magical to sit outside, but very attractive interior too, and exquisite food!

Polignano a Mare

This magical town at the rocky cliffs sure is worth a visit. It has many touristic restaurants (not all with a good price-quality balance), but I want to quote these two.

  • Mint: I have been here with a friend, and Daughter has visited with her boyfriend. Excellent kitchen, vegetarian too. It is such a small but beautiful restaurant!
  • Grotta Palazzese: This is more an experience than a good restaurant. You pay for the view and the experience, because you dine in a cave.  Check the site, it is worth going there. But you need to know it is not cheap.

Brindisi

Lecce

Lecce is one hour drive from Ostuni, and it is often called the Florence of the South. Lecce has a lovely historic center (centro storico), and travelers can easily spend a day or two exploring picturesque little lanes and finding the more far-flung Baroque churches. The town’s great artistic treasure is its architecture.

  • Bros’: You wouldn’t think if you see it from outdoors, but this is a superior restaurant. I have had the pleasure to devour their menu, together with my American friends, last year in May. And look who’s been here too! For readers not from Belgium or Holland, this is Sergio, a famous chef de cuisine, who has received three Michelin stars in one of his restaurants.

 

Buon appetito! Sophia

Stories

Anton Corbijn in Antwerp

Hi there,

No need to tell you I am interested in photography.

There is an exhibition on Anton Corbijn, Dutch photographer, in Antwerp now.
Image result for foto's anton corbijn

Although it is staying till September 30th, I certainly didn’t want to miss it and hopped on the train to Antwerp, took bus 17 at the Central Station, and hopped off at the “Eilandje,” an upcoming neighborhood in Antwerp.


The exhibition took place in the “Loodswezen” an old neo-renaissance palace at the banks of the river Scheldt. It was used as a departure point for Antwerp’s harbor pilots, who guided ships smoothly and safely in and out of the port. This protected monument, which dates from 1890, is open to the public for the first time. I really felt as if I were in Havana again, walking through this old and a bit neglected but magnificent building.

I started on the first floor with a collection of photojournalists. I always find it amazing how these photographers risk their lives to show us the disasters taking place thousands of miles from our homes.

On floor two you can visit Iconobelge, not a retrospective of Belgian photography but a result of a personal search by 34 carefully selected top photographers in their own archives. Some are already world famous, others bound to become world-famous. To name a few: Dirk Baeckman, Carl De Keyzer, Harry Gruyaert, Sanne De Wilde.

Shame on me. I simply missed the third floor! Apparently there was a small staircase in a dark corner on the second floor… Oh dear. There you could admire Michael Wolf’s work, with his focus on megacities.

I ended with the most important, the main floor, which seemed more like a basement. Here, over four hundred iconic photos of Anton Corbijn can be viewed. Corbijn, born in the Netherlands in 1955, moved to London in 1979, following the footsteps of the musicians and bands he admired and wanted to photograph. It looks like he has had them all in front of his lens: R.E.M, the Stones, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, Debbie Harry, Kim Wilde and many, many others.

Go and see for yourself!

I enjoyed Antwerp, as I always do, the rest of the day. I had a delicious cappuccino with vegan cheese cake at Plant B, did some shopping – sales in the City of Fashion! – and ended with a delicious dinner with Hubbie, my godchild Louise and her boyfriend at Resto Jaro/Bar Stout.

Ciao, Sophia

 

 

 

Interior happiness

Tropical Vibes

Hi there,

Also enjoying summer in your country?

We are blessed with wonderful temperatures. This week I – finally, before I had too much work for my photography and creative writing courses 😉 – made some time to invite my tennis friends for my birthday.

Staying in the spirit of my last holidays, I decided to make Mojitos (the Cuban way) combined with Italian antipasti.

For the table decoration I made a pine-apple vase and filled it with fresh flowers from the yard. Carve out the center of the pineapple, place an appropriate sized glass with water in there, and fill it up with the flowers.

And then the cocktails: Sugar, ice cubes, a lot of fresh mint, lemon, sparkling water and Cuban rum. I mixed the ice cubes together with the mint in the Thermomix.


As antipasti I made: grilled veggies combined with Puglian burrata and topped with good olive oil, some bruschetta with oil, garlic, tomatoes, and Italian ham. And as a late night snack, I served some small homemade pizzas.

We sat outside till midnight. Food, friends, summer ànd cocktails. What else?

Have a great weekend!