About Ilya Sterie

I believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I like to sing and dance, to read and write, to draw and paint. I also like kisses and hugs, coffee and chocolate, people and people, peaches and bread. I live in love and truth.

Math Expression

Friday mind stretch!

Apologies for not posting anything in this category for FOUR months (my mind was simply stretched in other directions! šŸ™‚

First, the answer I owe you for the last challenge, the Quickest Descent: the cycloidal path is the quickest descent as the ball reaches a high speed earlier and uses it to race ahead of the other balls on the shorter paths.

Now, the next challenge is to reduce a mathematical expression to its simplest form. I took it from a book filled with such exercises, a book well-known to Romanians growing up in 20th century Romania. The exercises were made by Grigore Gheba, one of the great mathematical minds in a long line of Romanian professors. The book belonged to my grandfather, himself a fantastic math teacher who taught many students, myself included.

This expression is one of the easy ones and it has a neat answer. Check it out next week! Here’s the exercise:

Happy Friday mind stretch!

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Tradition

St Nicholas has come to our house for about 20 years, always on the morning of his feast day, December 6. Before that, he came to my parents house, even in the communist times – then, it was quite a treat to find oranges and bananas in our boots which had been nicely polished and placed by the door the previous evening. Chocolate was rare, candies even more so. My mom baked cakes but not gingerbread.

I learned though, the gingerbread craft, I taught myself. After my first one was born, I came across a magazine which had what looked like a good recipe, along with instructions on how to make a gingerbread house. The first was rather simple and it managed to produce some sort of effect.

The many others which followed were variations on the theme during the years our first batch of kids – as we like to call them affectionately – were small enough to believe the old saint brought the treat. And then I stopped making the house, and only baked gingerbread cookies. The dough though I’ve made every year since December 2000.

When the daughter of the second batch arrived, the older children said: so you’re gonna do a house again, right? Nooo, I groaned, too complicated. What? – they said – there’s no way you’re going to deprive our sis of the experience! So I was forced back into the game somewhat. 

And then I got mad. Well, to put it mildly, it wasn’t the best time of my life – in order to fight depression, I took up watercolour and drawing again, learned relaxation techniques, and generally started to take care of myself, more or less. The afore-mentioned madness was specifically about starting to make gingerbread models of actual architectural buildings. A few years ago I did a small development of three one-and-a-half story houses, as a memento of managing to finish my doctoral thesis on Canadian postwar housing. Another year I chose the Vanna Venturi house – now that was quite ridiculous, it took me ages to make. Last year, I did row housing in Amsterdam, since we had visited the city the previous year and absolutely loved it.

And this year, it is a “Painted Lady” of the San Francisco, CA. The first batch had accompanied me on a West coast tour in August and I had many photos to choose from. But before I load the finished look, allow me to explain the process.

I start with making scaled sketches of the facades. This time when I cut them to assemble into a rough model, I realized the house would possibly be too big for the amount of dough I had, so I scaled the facades down on my photocopier.

I cut the papers and laid them into the baking trays to figure out how they’d fit – efficiency is key, trust me on this. Then I rolled the dough directly onto the parchment paper (outside the tray, duh…), placed the papers on top and cut on the perimeter of each shape.

Not a good idea to cut the openings (windows, doors) as during baking the dough puffs up a bit and, if completely cut, the holes would become smaller. Mark them with the knife before baking, so they show when the pieces are taken out of the oven. Work quickly to cut the openings and remove shortly after baking, while gingerbread is still warm – as soon as it cools down, it becomes very hard and breaks easily.

Now the fun part: decorate pieces! Get out all the hundreds and thousands and stick them with a “glue” made of icing sugar and lemon juice. Not only terrribly sturdy, but also gives gingerbread a very yummy final taste.

Perform a bit of archaeological work and dig the contour of the house in the gingerbread base, so the walls would be stuck into it and will thus have more stability when glued.

And… voila! Finished re-creation of an architectural heritage piece.

That was two days ago. 

This morning: back to square one 17 years later. The baby in the first photo is all grown up and shows that photo to the present “baby” of the family. As for the house… you must know that earthquakes are quite likely in the San Francisco bay area. Well, today was one of those days, damaged heritage. 

Tradition is good. Tradition grounds you. It inspires in the good days, it comforts in the down times. Tradition is the stone upon which kids are raised to believe that miracles do happen, even when you are likely to stop believing because, well, it’s hard in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get world. Tradition is about passing on skills, loving your folks and land, cherish your good memories. Tradition is about the important stuff in life.

Tradition is good. Make yourself at least one if you don’t have it – and start now!

Mechanics

A man said to me once:

“I’d give anything to know what makes you tick.”

I was playing enchantress, but that wasn’t the reason for which I asked back:

“Why?”

“Because I don’t get you” he replied.

“But wouldn’t that kill the passion, knowing me so intimately.”

“I don’t think so. Your spirit seems to be capable of carrying on the entertainment.” He smiled.

I was left with that smile. He was one of the kindest man I’ve met in my life, a true gentleman. Never laid a finger on me. We had very beautiful conversations together.

Every now and then I come back to his question. In my darkest hours, in the melancholic pursuit of memories, even in the (nowadays rather rare) explorations of future possibilities. What makes me tick? What is there that wouldn’t let go when I feel like I’ve exhausted all ideas, all tries? What is hiding under the deepest layer of my breadth, in that inner chamber I’m not even sure I know where it is, never mind not having visited it, ever? Who am I and why was I born for other than carrying pain which isn’t mine. It would be nice to know. 

I miss having beautiful conversations. There’s so much talk and opinions around. I’m sometimes sucked into the whirl of politics and economics and the “fairness” of things, and I just want to scream 

“YOU’RE SO FAKE!”

so inelegant, so silly, so dumb, so selfish… and I get caught up in the game! It’s unforgivable, this waste of time and energy.

I was born to love. I was born to be with like minded people, courageous and real. I was born for conversations and dance and music and the art of life. And I have allowed others to control my being, my dreams, to tell me what I should say and, more importantly, what I shouldn’t, how I should behave, even how I should feel. Did you know that ‘should’ is not real? Did you know it is the root of all evil and doubt?

I have decided. Love makes me tick. Love for people and things and places. Love for me. Love for God. God is love. God makes me tick. I like that.

A Perfect Day

Back to school today, right? Yes, for some. Not for me any more. 

I used to love school when I was a kid, there was something magical in learning about words and numbers, places and histories (hint: school was a solid institution those days). It also made me feel more likeable: in the culture I grew up in, getting an education was the only way you could stand up for yourself against class equality (no, I have not mis-spelled it). And if you were smart enough, parents would be proud(er) of you – so one was pretty much psychologically bullied into getting a degree of sorts. 

Many years and a few degrees later, I started to teach – I quite enjoyed it. It gave me purpose, it felt like I was contributing my knowledge to the betterment of the young. Alas, the young were less and less interested to learn… anything. Last year, I had four students who cheated on technical drawings (!!!) – basically copied them from one another which qualifies as plagiarism, while nearly a whole class of others failed to attend presentations of out-of-town professional guests who I had personally invited. Guess who was guilty in the end for students’ inability to properly perform? That’s right, me!

I fully realized it about two weeks ago. As I was just starting a trip on my own along the Columbia river gorge in Oregon, I hear my phone ding! An email from the coordinator of the program announcing dryly that there are no teaching assignments for me this fall and no winter course in drawing. It was the easiest thing to get mad – yet I looked straight at the Vista House and I forced myself to marvel at its magnificent location on top of a cliff overlooking the entire valley. The automobile enthusiasts in the 1920s had chosen well this spot for a journey halt.

The morning was simply splendid. I went on the top terrace and I slowly glanced from left to right. The picture below doesn’t even begin to describe the landscape, but what can one ask of a cell phone camera? Frankly, I think it did quite admirably at capturing some of the grandeur.

“Lord, help me to enjoy this day and this trip.” I made a mental promise to myself to let nothing spoil the joy. I let my eyes linger on the colours and my lungs get filled with the fresh air. My head was full of negative thoughts, trying to convince me how inept I had always been at making myself pleasing to the bosses, how terrible a teacher I was, what a failure of a mother I am as my children had chosen to spend their day browsing shops in downtown Portland…

“Stop!” I cried aloud. I closed my eyes tight with anger and then I looked up in the faint hope I might be able to release that. It didn’t exactly work instantly. So I looked up in the air at my imaginary (?) enemy and I said with a smile: “you shall not win today.”

With this determination in mind, I drove further into the woods and I stopped at a few of the waterfalls which make the travelers’ delight on the Historic Route 30. Sad as I kinda was, I didn’t expect the magnitude of beauty which gradually engulfed me with every stop I made.

Latourell Falls looked slim and elegant like a lady all dressed up to celebrate:

I found the Bridal Veil hidden behind tall rocks at the end of a descending trail:

Further down the road, Wahkeena Falls does justice to its Native name as the “most beautiful”:

… By now, my negativity had pretty much melted and had been carried away in the waters. From the base of Wahkeena, I decided to take the Perdition trail up to the Fairy Falls. Little did I know it would take me a good hour of rather strenuous climbing. The first half of the climb was on an asphalt trail – how the heck did they pave that and why, it really makes one wonder.

Then the Perdition lived up to its name as it did not seem to end… Not only that, but in due time I entered a strange domain looking much like Tolkien’s Rivendell.

The trail went up and up. There were only a few daring others following me or descending (and those had encouraging words of “just a few more turns and you’ll see it”). Finally, when I had almost lost hope, the Fairy Falls came into full view. Smaller than I had imagined it. But the closer I drew to it, the more fascinating and mysterious it grew to be. It had a symmetry about it which defied laws of merely physical nature. Indeed, later on that evening when I browsed the photos I had taken, I noticed a round face right in the middle of the falls… spooky!

I drank some water from the river.  People looked at me in a strange way. One said: “I wouldn’t do that.” I thought to myself: “too bad, city girl, you don’t know what clear fresh water you’re missing on – but hey, who am I to teach you anything.” I began my descent. My heart was beating fully alive with the overpouring beauty. There are no words to describe the poetry of the moment. ‘Blessed’ is the closest I can find.

The afternoon was leaving way to the evening when I made it to Multnomah. It is the second highest falls in the U.S. and it is truly magnificent.

As I stood on that bridge separating the two parts of the waterfall, I thanked God for my loneliness that day. I thanked Him for walking with me in the conscientious discovery of pure joy. And I was glad beyond all words and worlds that my own will had not let some stupid small-minded folk spoil the magnitude of the discovery which was to come.

I’ll leave you with this for tonight. Do not forget: if you want to find joy, you will. Sometimes it is a mighty fight against your own judgement – but boy, is it worth it!

As for the beginning of school today… well, it feels to me like time for a change.

A city of patches

There are quite a few cities which I’ve visited in my travels and I certainly cannot make definitive statements. But it may be safe to say that Calgary is one post-modernist city par excellence

I’ve been here a week. I went out with friends in various parts of the city and I’ve spent the day walking the streets of its downtown today (remember, today is Tuesday and on Tuesdays we go out, right? Right.) Man, is this a patchwork! You can literally tell that people working at the municipality have friends and family working either in the oil industries or real estate. Apart from the Plus 15 (an extensive network of pedestrian skywalks suspended at 15 feet above street level, which link the main buildings downtown so one doesn’t have to go outside in the harsh winter), there’s nothing which provides urban coherence. Bits and pieces everywhere. Historical references without much substance (I honestly wonder if those who implemented them did so conscientiously, that’s how random most things look). Mismatched colours, opulent materials, decrepit houses next to conserved heritage. This is the epitome of postmodernism, without the slightest doubt.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say – so I’m thinking what better essay than a visual one, see below. Enjoy!

Olympic plaza

Yes, those are colourful plastic squirrels sticking their heads out of the walls. Creepy.

Former headquarters of Alberta businesses on Stephen street.

A mechanic horse – after all, this is the country of ranchers (yeah, sorry, forgot to mention that besides the oil business.  I know, unforgivable.)

The Bow tower: opened windows in curtain wall, only in Alberta. 

The stenographer: a facade detail on Stephen street

Core Shopping Centre – Cultures bowls: all Made in China…

…and the good taste of Britain – an oxymoron at Eau Claire Market

More of Eau Claire’s… love the spatial and cultural associations

The “no minors beyond this point” sign is a real killer in the context, don’t ya think?

We’re talking technology here, you dumb robots!

The Card Cave – yep, still at Eau Claire … And…

… REALLY fancy oils and vinegar. Like really! Who would have thought?

Any respectable market has a psychic reader – at least in Calgary they do.

And an information board which has the aesthetics of the “Do and Don’t” propaganda panels in communist Romania (that’s pour les connoisseurs)

Speaking of communism – best mural in the city, in my humble opinion. At Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre.

Howdy Starbucks!

Howdy Casino! (Street ad)

Howdy cars! (City transit ads)

Howdy opera house! (Heritage Park Museum)

Wire art in a wireless city…

… And happy Giacometti (who the heck was that?)

Kurokawa’s Nagakin Capsule tower meet Goldberg’s Marina City. Modernism at its best, though not in a combination.

What, you thought the oilers and ranchers wouldn’t promote shipping container architecture? Think again:

(Open selectively, for the true hipsters out west)

Po-mo popular housing design – yep, it made it to Calgary!

Last but not least: Chinook centre, the po-mo masterpiece. I guess.

When you can’t get to NYC, pray to the lucky scarabee to bring the MET to you. After all, we’re all Egyptian, more or less… ’cause otherwise, the (multicultural) connotations beat me.

And for those of you familiar with turn-of-the-century Chicago and the story of Marshall having carriages waiting for the new middle-class customers to the train station to bring them to the store… well, Chinook centre has its shuttles! No kidding. From the train station two blocks away. 

….

I’ll say just this in the end: worth a visit, this Calgary. Now is the time and this is a place to first hand experience what a Middle-Age city on the brink of heavy industrialization might have looked like – if there ever were such a thing. No, really.

A note

We have chased one another for too long. It is time to stop running and arguing right or wrong. Life is not a game to be played. Life is a bleeding certainty, too important to be taken lightly. Life is a grand test. I want to pass It. And I want you to pass It. And everything that we built together needs to stand firm because, crippled as It is, it is true. It is time to make peace. It is time to forgive. It is time to love. I want you to hold my hand when I hand it to you. No questions asked, no debate whether we should. Yes. Let this be our word. You are far away, again. I miss you and want you near. Do you?

I do. Always and forever. I do.