Sunday, December 31, 2006
Yesterday I was walking to a bar with a friend of mine when he asked:"So what are the good things in Finland compared to Holland? I mean what is special for you here?"
Good question. Yesterday afternoon built a case for a good answer. I went to the cinema with a friend of mine to see Volver. It became evident at the foyer of the cinema that we were not very original with our plan. The cinema (showing arty films) was packed with mostly middle-aged couples and groups of women. While standing in line to the ticket counter, I heard at least three times someone saying:"This was such a nice idea. I cannot remember the last time I was in the cinema."
There was a odd fuss in the line. People kept whispering to their company. The reason became clear when I glanced to the direction of the candy counter. President Tarja Halonen (picture, on the left) was at the cinema with her husband. She had also decided to see Volver. Was funny and superb seeing the president standing in line and munching liquorice. Like the rest of us.
I was highly critical towards Halonen during her campaign for the second term. I felt that she had abandoned her "primus inter pares" attitude and was going for a statesman strategy, i.e. de-politicising the election. I felt that her campaign team was trying to turn the elections into a measurement of her popularity rather than a selection of a political leader for Finland.
It has been a tremendous relief to see that she is back to her old strategy. She is one of the Finns. And that's where this story comes together. Finland is still tremendously flat. This is still strongly a country of sincere people. President goes to the same cinema with her electorate, she still has bad hair days, ministers do their Christmas shopping without security guards and the mayor of Helsinki does his groceries in the same supermarket as my parents.
And then the glance to the future. My New Year's resolution is to fight against cynicism, continue being a trooper for love and do things that matter. Abstract, a bit vague but very difficult. Happy New Year!
Friday, December 29, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
I went today with my parents to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma here in Helsinki. Their big exhibition on Landscapes was as boring as it's title (Landscape) but the smaller exhibition showing the four candidates for the Ars Fennica prize made me smile. Good things are happening at the moment in Finnish contemporary art. Two of those wonderful things are called Elina Brotherus and Anna Tuori.
Brotherus is an already rather well-known for her photography where she mostly works with herself as the model. This time in the exhibition she uses video and photography for tackling nudity. Especially the video work (some in pic) struck me. Somehow it reminds me of my discussions on Finnish nudity concept with my Macedonian flatmate who visited Finland this summer. Brotherus' art (most of it - some makes you feel awkward) addresses nudity as something normal, pure and innocent.
At Kiasma they had a voting for the People's Prize for Ars Fennica. In the end I ended up voting for the painter Anna Tuori. She - as Brotherus - addresses Finland and Finnishness but challenges it with brighter colours and by using heavy brushes of paint. She goes a pit on the footsteps of van Gogh leaving her paintings full of spots and brushstrokes. The result is pure beauty, both in landscapes and when painting people.
I knew Brotherus already but must confess that I had never hear of Tuori before. That is why she got my vote in the end. She managed to surprise me with her superbness.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Today we - my father, aunt and brother - did the traditional trip to the graveyard. We have been doing this for as long as I remember. We used to go to Karkkila on Christmas Eve but after my parents moved to Helsinki, we have started to make the visit on the day before.
I remember from my childhood that it was always very cold when we visited all the family graves, lit a candle and shared some memories on the people who have passed away. In the beginning it was mostly visiting graves of people who I have never had the chance to meet. These trips were done with my grandparents. Now we visit their graves which in a sad but beautiful ways reminds us that some things are evident. Just looking at the dates on the stone the memories come back very clearly.
As I have grown older, I have had the courage to ask my father who each person was and why some of them died so young. It makes the visit less ceremonial and much more personal. One of the siblings of my grandfather died just after her 1st birthday. As my aunt wisely said:"Times have changed in that way. In those times often a bad flue was too much for a child."
I have always valued this trip. It is a beautiful way of stopping all the fuss about presents, taking a silent moment and remembering the people who used to sit in the Christmas table. The right way to start a family celebration.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
I love British newspapers nearly as much as Blair. And when these two come together, I feel like it is Christmas Eve already. Yesterday on my flight towards Helsinki I managed to take an hour for The Guardian. Won-der-ful. Although being openly liberal and left, the best thing in newspapers of this size and quality is that they allow a plurality of opinions. Two examples of yesterday's The Guardian proves this.
On page 23 historian Anthony Seldon (author of Blair's biography - which I own, have read and which friend of mine mentioned as the reason for me being single) wrote an article saying that history will judge Blair as a political colossus. Seldon does not deny that Blair has made mistakes but the most essential is in the following statements: "Mrs Thatcher, alone in the 20th century, achieved three successive election victories, but she did not remodel her party as excessively as Blair has done.(...) Northern Ireland remains his greatest single personal success. Look for a departure announcement soon after March 7 next year, when he hopes fresh elections to the Northern Irelans assembly could lead to a breakthrough in the province."
When one turns the page, criticism on Blair is far more direct. Staff writer Joseph Harker writes a piece called "The problem is that he just doesn't understand race." In a superb way he writes a fictional follow-up speech to Blair's recent speech on multiculturalism. Harker is wonderfully witty in his critique writing in Blair's persona:
"I'm virtually clueless about what it's like to come to a new country where you are a marginalised minority, resented by the local population, picked on because of your skin colour and denied opportunities.(...) When I claim to be supportive of you, for example, by saying most Muslims are thoroughly decent law-abiding citizens, I should ask myself how an average white person would feel to be patronised by such a statement.(...) There are hundreds of thousands of Brits abroad who, for all sorts of reasons, don't learn a new language. And school results show that many white Britons have problems speaking English. So maybe I should try to understand a little more why some people, many relatively poor, may find it difficult to rush into language lessons the minute they arrive here."
This is what I would want from my newspaper. A variety of voices, both to the point, from highly different perspectives and both represented equally. And I think both of them are correct.
1. Blair has made mistakes (show me a politician who hasn't) but he is one of the great politicians of our time.
2. Blair falls all too often into this "hard measures needed" language to please certain groups although I am quite sure that he knows more about the subtleties of this subject than other EU heads of states combined.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
It is difficult to say what this means for the future of the Netherlands. On the other hand CDA and Christen Unie come together on concern for the deterioration of spirituality, longing for traditional family values etc. Basically parties for decent and proper living. Then again PVdA come together on issues of social welfare, solidarity etc. I was slightly worried when I saw the first headlines but it is not maybe the worst possible combination. I would have been more worried about SP in the coalition both in the light of economic and foreign policy.
We shall see.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Rita Verdonk. Minister for Immigration and Integration of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. Managed to make one cabinet fall down by deciding that a Member of the Parliament is not and never has been Dutch. Now running a country near to a constitutional crisis by refusing to act on a Parliament decision to stop throwing out 26.000 asylum seekers. Lady with a mission, one could say. Stubborness of this fantastic song somehow reminds me of her "History Will Prove Me Right" attitude. Think of a minister singing to the parliament when watching the video.
Monday, December 11, 2006
I got further confirmation to the notion that old music is once again popular as I went to listen to a Swedish singer called Frida Hyvönen. Both my friend and I were quite exhausted when entering Paradiso but when Ms Hyvönen struck the first chords, we were sure that this evening would be just fabulous.
She was advertised as someone continuing on the foundations laid by Joni Mitchell and Carole King. Her solo performance and broken voice is very close to Mitchell. But when it comes to lyrics, I find her much less romanticising than my all-time favourite Carole King. Hyvönen sings of relationships and sexuality in a way that I think everyone can associate to. She does not paint illusionary fantasies but shows the beauty and absurdity of relationships and sexuality in clear and honest light. Somehow she reminds my angst-day companion A Girl Called Eddy but is more simple in her setup.
"You said you were a poet, man
your poetry wasn't obvious to me
when you said I had the Stuff that drove you Wild
but the feeling of power was intoxicating, magic
the feeling of power was intoxicating "
Something I need to point out even with a risk that it might sound shallow. The picture does not do her justice. Somehow in all the pictures on Flickr she manages to seem like a typical jolly outdoor-sports Swedish blond but I thought she was much cooler and much more distant. A simple black dress, blond messy hair and an extremely bright red lipstick on the stage of Paradiso made her look much sexier than in the picture, more like Debbie Harry than this Ralph Lauren ad chick.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
The crown jewel of my purchases this time was the second CD of the rock band PMMP. During the last months they have developed into favourites of the Finnish press. It is difficult to find a music, lifestyle or women's magazine without an interview with the two women.
Why has this happened? The reason is for once actually one that calls for celebration: they have something to say. The band consists of two women with firm opinions and courage to express them. I have listening to the CD on repeat now for a week.
As someone who occasionally has a strong longing for Finnish language, PMMP is just the right medication. They play with words and handle real problems such as domestic violence. As they said in one of the dozen interviews, they have been amazed how few artists in Finland have tackled this issue which touches a great number of families and women in the country. Could not agree more.
Just a few examples of their tone (translated from Finnish):
Chorus of Some Limit:
"If you hit once more, I will kill you. And I will hit with something that you have used to beat me. I will step aside from the way to heaven to somewhere dark. I will be taken somewhere where one does not even need one's name."
Chorus of Personally:
"Personally, you are Christ to yourself. Others need to wait for your salvation. And personally you are the only dictator, in the leading role to lives of others."
Unfortunately, in the case of PMMP one still sees how music journalism works differently for women. They have been described as a girl band and been compared to all sorts of bimbo duos. It is true that they are two women, they have a feminist tone but then again, their music is very much rock.
It still seems that the media has difficulties handling new paradigms, i.e. women making their own lyrics and compositions and handling issues that really matter. One sees that a lot of journalists still wish to search for the (male) mastermind behind the pretty girls.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Some things do not change. I am still scared of funerals and I turn over-emotional. The moment the music started in the chapel I searched for the front door and had to stand outside in the cold by myself for a bit. My eyes were filled with tears. And like every time before this, I found myself falling into a hysterical cry which sends shivers up and down my spine when it is time to walk up to the coffin.
But even with the angst I do find funerals to be a beautiful way to depart. It is a very concrete goodbye and makes us face the notion of mortality in all its essence. I will miss him but the memories are something that no one can take away from me.
There are two things that need public recognition. I have a great family – even with all its obscurities. And I am so privileged and proud of having friends who know just the right things to say – or when not to say a thing at all, just be there. Thanks. A lot.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I don't know whether it was due to exhaustion or bad picks but nothing struck my really during the first few days. Yesterday it started getting better and this morning will probably be the highlight of the festival.
En el hoyo is a Mexican documentary of men building a motorway bridge around Mexico City. I have seldom seen such an insider-view into the lives of middle-aged real men. They sing, they insult each other and most of all, work hard. The director Juan Carlos Rulfo leaves room for the men and avoids unnecessary explanations of their behaviour. With beautiful speeded-up scenes he gradually reveals the scale and size of the project.
Night changes into day and back into night but the men keep working in a world of shaky ladders, mud, rain, terrible noise, incredible heights and accidents. Building from the soundscape of the construction site Rulfo's documentary goes further on the road tested by Lars von Trier and Björk tried in Dancer in the Dark. Bangs and clongs mix with traditional Mexican rhythms.
Rulfo's work is a compassionate and view into the the friendships of men.
Monday, November 27, 2006
My approach on hip hop landed previously somewhere inside the triangle of homophobic and chauvinistic macho gangsta guys, black civil rights movement and baggy trousers. As a result of this we focused strongly in our planning on the problematic sides of the culture. However, discussions during the weekend and witnessing the programme of Blacksoil taught me that there is much more. I am for instance quite fascinated how hip hop has played and more and more plays a role in giving a voice for youngsters of European suburbs and how rapping in local language provides the artists with better possibilities to position themselves and their message into the local and national context.
I am fascinated especially by two elements of hip hop culture: spoken word and breakdancing. Reasons for the excitement are the verbal mastery, empowerment of women and positive street credibility and aggression. In a way I feel very fortunate that my work allows me to dive deeper into this subculture. As the main character of yesterday's cinema experience, Borat, puts it:"VERY NICE!"
Thursday, November 23, 2006
The governing party CDA (Christian Democrats) still keeps the number one position but the big winner of the elections is the Socialist Party (SP) which gained 17 new seats and made its way to be the 3rd biggest party of the Netherlands. The success of the Socialists hit hardest the Social Democrats (PvdA).
The other big winner is the far-right and anti-Europe Freedom Party (leader Geert Wilders in the picture) which fights against the "islamisation" of the Netherlands. Wilders and his colleagues rose from zero to nine seats. Most of the support shifted from List Pim Fortuyn, the radical politician killed just before the last elections.
Also the Christian Union came out as a winner. All the big parties (excl. SP) lost seats.
It is difficult to say what one should make of this. The far left, the far right and the christians win and all the moderates and liberals lose. The talk of the day has been the difficulties in forming a cabinet as neither the right, the left nor the grand coalition reaches a majority. The pessimist view is that the country is completely stuck.
An optimistic interpretation of the situation is that there were radical shifts in power. This could be seen as proof for the voters that in the end they still are the ones who make the call. Voting matters. The voters decided not to buy the setting laid out by CDA and PvdA of the elections as a battle of the giants.
An obscure detail is the new party entering the Parliament, The Party for the Animals. Left-leaning group did their campaign mostly on animal rights and organic food. Part of their success is due to the support from the best-selling Dutch author, Harry Mulisch.
After living two years in this country this does not surprise me that much. The Netherlands and its people seem to believe in experimenting, saying things in the open even if someone is offended and harsh debate. The good thing is that the concensus tradition of the last centuries often smooths things a bit in the end. But we just have to wait and see.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
One of the good examples from eurotopics was a capture from Neue Zürcher Zeitung where Dutch journalist Hans Maarten van der Brink writes about the fuss around the book of Ian Buruma, The Murder In Amsterdam. The topic is once again on the agenda due to the Dutch elections today.
"Journalist and author Hans Maarten van den Brink expresses his views on the Dutch debate about tolerance with reference to the theses put forward by Ian Buruma in his book "Murder in Amsterdam". He notes that these theses have met with approval everywhere but in the Netherlands. "This raises the question of whether the Dutch brand of tolerance wasn't always based on negating all that is different instead of trying to understand it, and therefore has more in common with Apartheid – a term which is universally understood without the need for translation. The much quoted openness of Dutch society is in fact of a rather superficial nature... The lack of formal codes of behaviour appears at first to facilitate access, but it conceals a web of informal codes which inevitably form a barrier after a while. Irony is a conspicuously frequent feature in both private and public discourse. This is no coincidence: the ironist is superior by definition, and those who take offence do nothing more than reveal their inaptitude at the game." (22/11/2006)"
Monday, November 20, 2006
It was a lot of work but great fun. Many of the youngsters were for the first time out of their country. We had participants from Slovakia, Austria, Serbia, China, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Macedonia, Germany, The Netherlands, Lithuania and Romania. We had dinners, watched a lot of videos and went around the city. The best part of this work is being allowed to share some of their excitement.
Have a look at the winner videos:
Francis John Luke Wasser (category self-portrait) from Ireland: 24/7
Canshu Su (best of the world) from China: Chinese stamp
Mira Skolova (inside-out) from Slovakia: Girls
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Saturday, November 11, 2006
I went to the door and was met with a group of children with Halloween lamps and they started singing. As they stopped I told them that I will have to go and see what I might have.
In a panicky manner I went through the cupboards. I have a policy not to keep candy or cookies at the house due to my addiction to them. Due to this I ended up being the boring uncle sort of guy. The only thing I was able to provide them with were oranges. The ultimate sign of failure was that the mothers looked happy. I guess I live in a good area because even the children pretended thankful and a small group of them sang another song.
Currently I am hiding away from the windows. Out of oranges.
I wrote a while ago an article to the Dutch daily Volkskrant on the trade-off between freedom and security. I felt awful when a moment ago my alarm bells went off on the moment I heard the knock.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
12.00 We meet by the statue at Taksim Square. My friend is smoking a cigarette. It is far chillier than in Amsterdam. When we hop into the taxi, he smirks:"Have you been to a Turkish wedding before?"
12.10. We realise that we are 50 minutes too early at the wedding hall. New couples are married every 20-30 minutes. A ceremony is just about to end and I hear the cheesy song Bryan Adams did for some movie. The couple is sitting on stage in a press conference sort of setting. We head to the nearby cafe for a cup of tea. The name of the mayor is on all the windows and his brochures have been carefully divided to all tables. In the brochure he shakes hands with elderly people and lists his achievements.
13.00 The ceremony starts. The couple and their witnesses enter the stage and sit down. Count Dracula sort-of-guy comes in and shakes hands. The couple state their names to the microphones, both answer "Evet" (Yes) to a question. After signing the agreement it is over. 4 minutes.
13.10. We stand in line to shake hands and hug the couple. Most people give gold coins. My friends break a tradition by not letting the guests pin the gold on the bride. A gigantic photomachine prints pictures for the guests two metres from the couple. The bride and groom look happy but the bride confesses that she is a bit cold.
14.30 We stand in front of a military base gate. The dinner is about to start inside but some men are not let in due to their long hair. One wedding guest has a major cut in his face because he learned only few moments before that he has to shave in order to get into the military area. The guard suggests to escort the long-haired guests to the barber shop. The wind from Bosphorus is too much for the Californian musician and his skimpy thin coat.
15.00 We start eating. The waiters address all male guests as commandants. We laugh a lot. The food is fabulous. Bride and groom mingle among the guests. No speeches are held. A house band plays around the corner evergreens with a Turkish twist.
21.30 I meet the married couple at a nearby mosque and we head to the evening party. One of Turkey's most popular bands is playing one floor up from our party. We stick to our folk and Efes beer.
00.00 American-Spanish Brazzaville assisted by Turkish bass player start playing. The singer David dedicates songs to the couple.
01.30 The groom - couraged by a big group of friends and few Efes - gets on stage with his musician friends and sings two-three songs to the bride. A girl next to me turns to me and says:"I hope they know how they lucky they are to have each other."
Sunday 13.30: I meet the couple in a cafe in Tunel. I look at them. They had a long evening. But I am convinced that they know how lucky they are. It makes me smile.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
During the years I have developed a toolbox filled with witty remarks for occasions where I am branded as the voice of the young people. The most powerful ones seem to be the ones referring to approaching thirty and what my parents had already in my age. Good counterpunch is also to start talking about the middle-aged - this usually irritates the same people who only a split second later have made critical and cynical remarks on today's youth.
The most irritating thing for me is when my views are dissed with the following remark:"Tommi, you will understand in twenty years." Another that makes me go up the wall is the following:"That's how the world seemed like also to me when I was your age but when you get a little more experience, you will also understand that things are not that simple."
For a long time I just grunted and kept on going. Nowadays I usually show genuine irritation. This does not need to be tolerated.
"I don't care if there are years between us but I am usually able to understand positions of others. Please explain to me what is the difference between mine and your perception", was my comment lately in a work situation.
Friday, October 27, 2006
The most shocking news of today came in a meeting with the BBC. I asked my contact person what other projects she is working on. She told me that there is a big literacy project that she is responsible for. "Oh, is that a big problem then", I innocently asked. "Well, i would say so. In the age group 25-55 we have 12 million people who are illiterate."
I still cannot understand that. In Finland we do not have top of the class universities but everyone can read. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world you have TWELVE MILLION people who cannot read properly. I find it shocking, just shocking. Have to digest this a bit. How on earth is that possible? What and when went so wrong? And what does it do to your democracy?
Sunday, October 22, 2006
"I mean I cannot believe the difference between this discussion about multiculturalism and the British discussion. During the last week people have been asking me where do I come from. When I answer London, they ask where do I really come from. When I say that I was born in London, they start talking about my blood. I mean in the UK if you would start talking about blood, you would face the risk of being smacked!
I told one of the people executing this inquiry that my parents come from India. He said to me that I don't look Indian. What am I supposed to say to that!"
- A British TV professional
"In Finland the discussion goes like this.
Question number 1: Where do you come from?
Question number 2: What are you doing here?
Question number 3: Why do you speak so good Finnish?
I must say that I could live with the first two but the third one makes me really angry!"
- A TV professional living in Finland
Thursday, October 19, 2006
I did my Master’s thesis on the information society policy of the current Finnish cabinet. In my thesis I analysed the reasoning for the investments and the position of the citizen in the implementation process. It feels somehow disappointing to see exactly the same problems in the creativity strategy as I pointed out in the conclusions of my thesis. I am starting to be quite convinced that Finland has a big issue to solve in the relationship between the state and the citizens. The policy documents of the Finnish government put the citizen over and over again into a passive role. The belief in the power of the state is enormous. Even though the report talks about the responsibility of parents and individuals, the approach follows the lines of the information society policy: the government strengthens certain qualities in individuals.
If the citizen approach would be the only problem in the creativity strategy, I could avoid falling into despair. However, the bigger issue is the traditional Finnish view on the world. The national identity still starts from the notion that Finland lives in its own universe – a world with fixed borders and national structures. A world where we interact with the rest of the world but are not part of it.
A look into the composition of the working group gives us more tools for understanding the tone and approach. It consists mostly of people who have worked their entire life in Finnish national stuctures. The working group was led by Mr Esko Aho, the Prime Minister during the severe economic recession of the 1990s. Only two members of the working group come from the cultural sector. Twelve out of the twenty-one members are civil servants – most from ministries. Most of them have sat in half a dozen of these committees during the last ten years. Only eight of the twenty-one members are women. Nokia is of course represented.
This may not come as a surprise but not a single member is under the age of fourty. And this shows. I don’t think most of my generation would start a document with the following sentence:”The Finnish society is economically and socially stronger than ever.” This makes most of the document useless. I remember Aho himself saying in a seminar in 2004 that only the atmosphere of a crisis made it possible to make the difficult decisions in the 1990s. The working group does not seem to follow the strategy once outlined once by its Chair. By painting a rosy picture, they dissolve all the ground for brave actions. Most of the eleven recommendations are about increasing, widening or strengthening.
A relaxed translation of what is proposed:
1. Fostering children’s creativity – stressing the responsibility of parents
2. Complete school day – innovative combinations of leisure and educational activities, more skills and arts in schools
3. Cultural policy integrated more to other policy areas, widened funding basis (corporate) and new funding methods for culture
4. Increased efforts into debating and discussion skills, bigger commitment in international cooperation and intercultural dialogue
5. Creativity playing a bigger role in urban planning
6. Experiments and research on the links between working conditions and creativity
7. Management of creativity a priority, new ways for cycling jobs
8. Creativity a component in regional and business funding structures and support actions
9. Entrepeneurship more integrated in education, closer links between educational institutions and companies
10. More flexible public administrations, new ways of working with NGOs
11. Policy programme on creativity for the next cabinet led by the Ministry of Education
All and all the working group favours polishing and adjusting to suggesting something actually different. And as the document outlines, the creativity in Finland should benefit the individuals, their communities and the Finnish society. Global solidarity is not in.
I saw on Monday the hilarious film Devil Wears Prada, where Meryl Streep does a magnificently vicious role as the bitchy Editor in Chief Miranda Priestly. The creativity committee’s approach is very much in line with how Ms Priestly justifies her actions:”Don’t be silly. Everyone would want to live this life.” Even after Aho’s committee, Finland still has work to do in shaking off the image of being the wonderboy of the class.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Well, it seems clear that a lot of French politicians did not attend the same lessons. Today's decision to introduce a law banning the rejection of the Armenian massacre is a scary and irresponsible example of how another country in a delicate position is used as a tool for domestic politics. Without victimising Turkey, it also shows how difficult the so-called European project is especially when national politicians escape responsibility for difficult European decisions. I have a terrible feeling that once again someone innocent gets killed for something someone said and the bullshitty notion of a clash of civilisations gets more supporters.
We organised a few weeks back a journalistic conference in Istanbul and a lot of people commented afterwards that even if they only saw the Golden Horn and the European side of Istanbul, their view on Turkey is now far more multi-dimensional. At the same time my parents were for the first time in Turkey and told me that they loved it and their view on the country changed tremendously. I recognise that there are problems and a substantial need for progress but I fear that these kind of incidents are once again used for strengthening the idea that the entire country lives in a parallel universe to ours.
I am disappointed in the lack of responsibility and leadership. I feel bad for my friends in Turkey. It makes me angry how spineless opportunists succeed and how little most leaders trust the judgement of their people. What should one do? I am quite sure that legislating opinions is not the right way. It definitely does not encourage change for the better. Especially if it is on something in another country.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
One of the best things in being ill as a child was that especially my grandmother (from my father's side) had all these recommendations of what one should do. The most important thing that I can remember was to drink a lot of Jaffa (orange limonade). I also recall that I was allowed to eat everything nice. A few years ago after a throat surgery I had a grandmother-linked dejavu when the doctor told me that the only thing I could eat during that day was ice cream. Now how cool is that (pun intended)?
So yesterday's programme was set from the start. I started the day watching trailers of new films from iTunes, went through the films of my flatmate (so saw "masterpieces" like In Her Shoes and Sliding Doors) and slept in the middle of the day. Between all this I cycled to the supermarket, put on my "I am ill so I am allowed to buy this stuff" face and bought all these fancy juices and croissants and what have you, came home and chunked them down my throat. Lek-kerr.
Sometimes I wonder whether an adult needs to get ill to do this.
To finalise, a small remark on bakeries: I really see now the difference between this and the previous neighbourhood. At the Zeedijk the bars started filling up as I cycled home. In De Baarsjes, the Balkan bakery, the cornershop or the Turkish restaurant are the places to be.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
1. Revealing the truth is still dangerous as the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaja reminds us. Very often people tend to have the impression that journalists are people who pass the line to parties and receive free CDs and T-shirt on a daily basis. Politkovskaja wanted to show the other side of Putin's Russia and lived constantly under death threats. One can only admire her courage and relentless pursuit for the truth.
2. People want to be involved. I was this weekend in Brussels for the launch of European Citizens' Consultations, an initiative of the Commission and several foundations to hear what Europeans think Europe should do. For the launch the organisers had invited randomly selected eight people per member state to set the agenda. With the help of simultaneous interpretation people were given the chance to express themselves in their own language. It was motivating to see that people have something to say although I was somewhat concerned for the amount of protectionism and xenophobia.
3. The level of civilisation is measured by the way the state takes care of the very weakest. I could not help crying today when I read an article of the mental problems of asylum seeker children in the Netherlands. Most children who wait with their families for an asylum, suffer from apathy, depression, hyperactivity and suicidal tendencies. An investigation is carried out whether the Netherlands is violating the International Declaration for Children's Rights. The teenagers interviewed in the article do not see a change for the better in their future. The Minister of Integration says that the asylum seekers are strongly personally responsible for their situation as they refuse to go back.
I worked earlier this year with asylum seeker teenagers in a video project. These youngsters were the nicest, the most clever and the smartest young people I have come across in the last few years. And at the same time the thing called the welfare state is showing clearly to them and their families that they have no right for dignity or for a better future. Let me remind you that only a year ago 11 asylum seekers died in a fire at the Schiphol airport detention centre due to lack of proper safety equipment. This all happens in a country that has still the reputation of a tolerant and caring welfare state.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
"The French integration is based on the notion that the principles of the French constitution are universal."
"Interculturalism means funding for projects where different cultures contaminate each other."
"Peace and tolerance are issues that are difficult to make into something edgy and interesting. Like who would say that they are against peace?"
"There is a common perception that arts for and by immigrants means folklore or amateur."
"Depression is America's greatest export product."
"This is a time of fast food but slow digestion. A time of tall men but short characters."
"Some bloody guys crushed our dreams of Europe in Sarajevo with a few shots."
"Most rock musicians in Carelia are sons and daughters of Finnish communists."
"Let's talk about children. Children are a bit like farts. Everyone kind of likes their own."
"In integration we have ended up into a situation where priests and racial relations specialists are running the show."
"If a country would be a company and I would really like to develop our systems and products and one department would object completely, I would know what to do."
"You Europeans are funny in one way. We Americans dare to ask the stupid questions and to be ignorant and ask the things everyone wants to know. You are so bloody scared of making a mistake."
Monday, October 02, 2006
I don't know how I got there. This was supposed to be a joyful memorabilia of experiences this weekend. I have made once again big leaps in getting settled in Amsterdam.
I made friends with the owner of the nearby second-hand furniture shop who delivered my table and chairs last Saturday. He knows my name and I know his. I loved the moment when he declared his love to these 60s things and promised to give me a call when they get more. I felt like I had just passed an initiation ritual of an exclusive club.
That together with a dinner with lovely people during a thunderstom at my friend's apartment, getting to know my local Turkish shopkeeper, doing business with the guy who runs the bakery on the other side of the bridge and speaking Dutch with the nice woman who is going to fix my jeans - yes - Amsterdam is just a village. And I am loving it. Or I am just turning 30.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Today was one of those big days. Or to be precise, yesterday. Blair gave his speech - the last one - for his party´s conference. I have never hidden my admiration for his rhetorics and talent as a performer and he did not fail me yesterday. For those who do not want to go through all the 13 pages of the speech, here are my favourite quotes:
"I know I look older. That´s what being leader of the Labour party does to you. Actually, looking round some of you look a lot older."
"But above all else, I want to thank the British people. Not just for the honour of being prime minister but for the journey of progress we have travelled together. Leaders lead but in the end it´s the people who deliver."
"We proved that economic efficiency and social justice are not opposites but partners in progress. We defied conventional political wisdom and so changed it. Around that we built a new political coalition."
"We won not because we surrendered our values but because we finally had the courage to be true to them. Our courage in changing gave the British people the courage to change. That´s how we won."
"It´s not a clash of civilisations. It´s about civilisation, about the ideas that shape it."
"The danger for us today is not reversion to the politics of the 1980s. It is retreat to the sidelines. To the comfort zone. It is unconsciously to lose the psychology of a governing party. As I said in 1994, courage is our friend. Caution, our enemy."
"The British people will, sometimes, forgive a wrong decision. They won´t forgive not deciding. They know the choices are hard. They know there isn´t some fantasy government where nothing difficult ever happens. They´ve got the LibDems for that."
"They say I hate the party, and its traditions. I don't. I love this party. There's only one tradition I hated: losing."
Tony, Tony, Tony. You still have it. The subtle balance between ´I´ and ´we´. The mastery of repetition. The call for action without pointing at anyone. The playful harshness. The courage to speak in clear and short sentences and not trying to hide yourself in bureaucratic phrases. The ability to be a world leader and a family man at the same time. The skill of being home on your island and remembering Africa.
I must say. Although all the others have left your boat by now, I am still here printing those speeches. Politics will be so dull without you.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
1- The European Commission proposes that Romania and Bulgaria would join the European Union from the beginning of next year (although from heavy reservations from Commission´s side on development in certain policy areas)
2- The City Council of Espoo has decided to support the continuation of the Helsinki metro to Espoo.
Romania and Bulgaria: members number 26 and 27, 30 million new EU citizens
Metro: 500 million euros, 8-10 years, 6 new stations (one next to the Nokia headquarters)
Reasons for happiness:
Romania and Bulgaria: overall idea of enlarging union, shopska salad, the grannies of Veliko Tarnovo, improved human rights situation (for instance for Romas)
Metro: the "swoof" sound of the metro, metro going to poshy and rich Espoo, maybe less car traffic on the border of Espoo and Helsinki, Espoo taking more financial responsibility for the capital region
p.s. An issue completely different: I was watching the Dutch übercommercial TV station BNN yesterday. They have a programme called Try Before You Die where their presenters for instance take part in an S/M session, eat the testicles of a bull, eat the penis of a reindeer, try to get into an American cheerleader team, run naked on the court of Wimbledon and - this was yesterday - pee in their pants when the others are pouring water from a glass to another. Oh the joy of Dutch television. This is the country that gave us Big Brother.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
The first thing I remember of Den Haag is the reminder on geography class that the Dutch government is not in Amsterdam but somewhere else. So in a sense Den Haag was like Washington or Canberra. During my studies Den Haag popped up every now and then when we spoke about war crimes. These things combined do not really work as instruments for attacting mass tourism (apart from my Balkan friends who went to see the Milosevic case with their parents).
But after yesterday I must say that more cities could be like Den Haag.
We walked around the city centre yesterday with an English friend of mine. The old centre looks like a polished version of Amsterdam. And during the Todaysart festival I was quite impressed how the local municipality allowed the festival organisers to use the City Hall (pic) for a performance. I mean how often have you seen light and sound installations, young and trendy people drinking wine and beer and party smoke spreading around the lobby of the city hall? The music was loud, we were sipping wine and lying on the floor watching students from the Royal Conservatory perform when suddenly we realised that we were surrounded by smoke. It was a funny feeling. Like airplanes in the clouds, we saw heads popping out of the fluffy mist. Cool.
Todaysart proved something else as well. When you treat people as responsible adults, they also behave so. I have seldom seen as casual and relaxed festival crowd.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Or maybe I have to be a bit more honest than that. Not like everything everything. I am one of those people who would have watched Woodstock only on TV. I am not a big fan of mud, tents, rain, warm white wine and drunken crowds.
In that respect yesterday's Todaysart in The Hague was ideal. I really got excited about the concept of taking public buildings (such as a museum, the city hall or a library) and turning them into clubby environments. Urban festivals such as Todaysart justify clearly their substantial public funding: by twisting things a bit they show that the city can be an exciting and hip public sphere. Although I understand in certain circumstances the Art for Art's sake argument, I still feel that more often one could come up with a way how art could help the citizens to observe, analyse or broaden their mindsets (see John Holden's essay on the subject).
In my work on theoneminutesjr programme I am constantly amazed by the way artists are able to interact with people and cross boundaries in language or culture. In theoneminutesjr the video artists prove again and again how they are able to meet the underprivileged youngsters on an equal standing and in that way create a safe and intimate atmosphere for intimate sharing.
Yesterday's Todaysart offered a similar example but in the field of dance. The youth dance group (sixteen 18-23-year-olds) Nederlands Dans Theater II opened the festival with a fresh, sharp, positively aggressive and physical performance. The highlight of the performance was when the dancers dragged people from the crowd to come and let go on the stage. Even though personally I would have hated being on stage, I was astonished by the reactions of the audience. NDT II won the hearts of the audience in a minute. And why? For the same reasons as why theoneminutesjr works so well: it is authentic, warm and sincere.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Today two ministers resigned - this time due to the results of the investigation on the fire in the Schiphol airport asylum seeker prison. The independent commission stated clearly that the Ministry of Justice had not filled its obligations in securing the safety of the cells. The commission wrote in their report that many of the deaths could have been avoided with proper fire safety systems. Today the ministers responsible resigned.
Well, most of them. Rita Verdonk, the minister of immigration, seems to stick like glue. Her department was also criticised for how the people were treated afterwards but no one expected Iron Rita to draw any conclusions.
The elections are going to be tough. The current prime minister Balkenende is not the most charismatic leader there is (Happy Potter but without the charisma was the description of a Belgian politician) but the alternative - Social Democrat leader Wouter Bos - was described after one of his speeches last week by a friend of mine with phrases you don't want to have attached to the man supposed to lead transformation: grey, boring, bureaucratic, mediocre, lack of vision and uninspiring.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I gained more amsterdamisation points today. I cycled from Hema (which is like miniature-IKEA but in the centre) to my new apartment with two boxes of duvets (blankets) and one box with two pillows. Yes, cycled. I discovered that the easiest way to make Dutch people smile is to do funny stuff with your bike. The expression on people's faces was clearly:"Yes, that's how it is. And you should have seen when I cycled with a washing machine."
This added to yesterday's points from cycling with a stool and a lamp takes me to the next Mario Bros level.
And to finalise with a shallow comment: everyone should download the new iTunes version. It has the coolest feature like ever: you can download the album covers from their database and glance through your playlist using them. Just like in a jukebox.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
To be honest, I was not too eager to join, also as a result of binging on the evening before. But I am willing to admit my ill judgement. Amsterdams Historich Museum is the best museum of Amsterdam. During the tour I got all excited for living on one of the oldest streets of Amsterdam and I actually now understand how Amsterdam grew to be what it is today.
But this is all history - also personally. I have now moved. I live in the up-and-coming De Baarsjes, one of the most multicultural neighbourhoods. 52 % of the population are of foreign descent with Moroccans and Turks as the biggest groups. A very good example of the area was in the news this weekend: the Wester Mosque and the district of De Baarsjes have finally signed a cooperative agreement.
Living on Zeedijk was a wonderful start for my amsterdamisation but in De Baarsjes I feel that I more part of the city, not a particle in a tourist attraction called Amsterdam. The personal development plan for the next months is to get to know my neighbours (families) and get acquainted with the owners of the near-by kiosk and Turkish restaurant.
Interesting remark on the neighbourhood: my neighbourhood is called Admiralenbuurt (Admiral Quarter) and most of the streets are named after Dutch and foreign admirals (we have Marco Polo, Columbus and Admiraal de Ruijter). This reminder of the colonial past is nicely spiced up by the Turkish restaurants, halal butcheries and kiosks run by people with a Moroccan origin.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Big thing is not really the moving. It's not I would not have done that before. But today was the first time in my life that I actually picked up a brush and painted my walls (no, the ones in the picture are not mine). So I went to the paint store, gathered courage for 15 minutes to talk to the woman, had my colour twisted in the cool machine, walked out with brushes and things, bought ladders and somehow managed to get to the apartment in the end with all this. On the way I had the classic male thing: when you get lost, whatever you do, do not ask someone. Well, that meant that I walked a kilometre extra. Yes, with the ladders.
I have never been very good with practicalities. My brother's amazement was quite something when I yesterday revealed my "home improvement" plans. "Well, that sounds really weird. You repairing things."
So you can understand that I was ready to give up with all this shit when the ladder was not high enough for me to reach the ceiling. A bit like in the picture. Only with my new flatmate's persuasion and problem-solving skills I realised that I can put the ladder on a table and then it is all OK.
Two walls done and I feel like I would have spent the last week at the gym. But it looks nice and the major thing is that I did it myself.
Funny in a way that just two weeks ago I was speaking in a higher education event about the necessity to bridge the gap between thinkers and doers. I called it artificial then. As if.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
street artist with a idealistic and intelligent conscience: Caleb Neelon
Rojo magazine (Catalan but international art magazine, no text)
Bant (ambitious Turkish pop culture magazine done by brilliant people)
Odd (blog of the people behind the Odd At Large magazine, they post with their mobile phones directly to Blogger)
photographer Volga Yildiz (talented Turkish photographer)
music magazines Sex from Sweden (well prepared and straigh-forward interviews) and Plan B from the UK (magazine where the love for music is shared with the reader)
Colors magazine (still one of the best magazines I know when it comes to mission)
Lodown magazine (excellent German pop culture magazine)
Code (Dutch magazine on street culture and fashion)
Boulevard festival in Morocco (on a mission for the freedom of expression)
Kurdish singer with a voice out of this world: Aynur Dogan
psychedelic Turkish band Baba Zula
musician and a person I admire: Alexander Hacke
performance artist with wit and guts: Khan
one of the the most hilarious bands I have heard for a while: I'm from Barcelona
Saturday, September 09, 2006
One of my biggest projects for this year - a journalistic conference on popular culture - is now over. Most of the people already sit on the plane on their way to one of the 20 home countries. I decided stay behind, to take a few days in Istanbul after the event.
Although I have produced several events, I never get used to this empty feeling once the event is over. Especially as an organiser I have had maximum 2-minute discussions with more than 80 people for five days and suddenly everyone is gone. As Michael Stipe puts it in Leaving New York:
"It's easier to leave than to be left behind
Leaving was never my proud"
Today I walked by myself for a few hours around the Golden Horn of Istanbul. I noticed already on my last visit how the urban landscape is dominated by men. This seems to be the case especially on the European side - in Beyoglu, around Taksim square and in Tünel. But going to the bazaar today showed the other side - women and children. I really do not know what to make of this division. I wonder if it is an issue than will change also for the locals with issues such as mass tourism (Ryanair just opened London-Istanbul) and European integration.
With all its messiness, loudness and smells, I am in love in Istanbul. I can very much relate to the fascination expressed in Fatih Akin's documentary Crossing the Bridge. The combination of a glorious past and an extremely young population is something that you do not come across anywhere else in Europe. The youthfulness generates a passion and eagerness that I truly envy. During the last week I have a great group of highly talented and relentless young Turks with the willingess to put their words into action and take a personal stand. As I said to a friend of mine earlier today, every visit to Istanbul makes me want to see more but at the same time the trips make me very cautious on making any statements about this city.
I think it was a good move to bring a group of hip and intelligent journalists to Istanbul. As one of them said, the mystified exotism has been replaced in the minds of many by phrases such as underground, ass-kicking and trendy. And as my dear Turkish friend said yesterday:"It is funny how it has been so surprising to so many that we are young, fun, drink beer and still are Muslim."
Monday, September 04, 2006
My biggest event of this year (professionally I mean) starts tomorrow. I have been in Istanbul for the weekend to prepare it. Already I have done the following:
- sent text messages in Swedish
- eaten greasy börek
- made new friends
- found another cool magazine
- consumed several cups of tea
- sat on way too low stools
- been posted to a blog directly with a mobile phone
- sweated in a taxi
- soaked myself in a bathtub hoping that it would take the heat away
- eaten odd, sweet, cold rice porrage
- eaten excellent yoghurt mint soup for lunch
- insisted to pay less for the taxi
- talked about Atatürk, gayish Turkish pop icons, he-shes, relationship between punk and drinking behaviour, the eye make-up of Placebo's singer, timezones. minareths, praying and the essence of food
And we still have the event to do. Excited!
Thursday, August 31, 2006
I was yesterday in a public whipping. It felt like home. A lot of people in high positions listing what is wrong with Holland. This time the keywords were the lack of innovation, risk avoidance and the lack of public-private partnership. And if you add the words "multiculturele drama" to that, you more or less get the tone of the discussion.
As I said, we love these things in Finland. We wet our pants every time a foreigner is flown into the country, put into a speaker´s booth and asked to tell us that we are not doing that badly. Did I hear someone mention ´PISA learning results´? When you are small and only recently wealthy, you still desperately need the big boys (for instance Richard Florida, Manuel Castells, the Dutch and the British) to recognise you.
Only today I noticed that one of the Finland-boosters - and I would dare to say a friend of mine - has a weblog. And here I show my incredible talent to round up this post: his name is Nauta, which means ´beef´ in Finnish.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Only based on trailer the film seems amazing. Just starting from the fact that Helen Mirren looks so much like the Queen and that it is actually a critical and straightforward film on a current Head of State and Prime Minister.
And if Ms Mirren and the Queen would not be enough: Mr Blair is also around. I have never tried to hide my fascination on Tony Blair. I still remember my friend's reaction when he saw the 750-page Blair biography in my bookshelf:"Tommi, now I understand why you are single."
Dear Mr Frears, I would reserve one ticket. Front row, please.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
I have seldom enjoyed my work this much. The biggest motivation boost comes from the fact that the people in the field of popular culture media are responding enthusiastically to the projects we are carrying out. We did take a risk in jumping into a field where our organisation does not have that much expertise but now it seems that the jump was into the right pond. I do not have to twist anyone's arm. Brilliant feeling.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Just a short disclaimer first: I realised that my answers are books published mostly during the last few years. It has a lot to do with my habit of buying books from airports and on Saturdays from Amsterdam's Waterstone's. I just walk in with the purpose of buying a book and I end up buying something else than I expected.
1. One book that changed your life?
A rough start. I think it would be non-fiction. The books that have changed my life are not literary masterpieces but they offer new approaches on common subjects. I think during the last years the biggest switches in my thinking have been results of two books:
-Charles Leadbeater's Up The Down Escalator, which stresses individual responsibility and the need to take initiative to change things.
- Steven Johnston's Everething Bad is Good For You which made me into an even more passionate advocate for popular culture.
2. One book you’ve read more than once?
During every single holiday I reach a moment when I just cannot handle the presence of other people. I usually deal with it by taking a few hours for myself. My friend Maria knows well what I am talking about. In that sense I often relate to Tove Jansson's Moominpappa and the sea which I have read several times.
3. One book you’d want on a desert island?
I have a bad conscience from not having read many of the books considered as classics. In Finland I have The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde, I think I would take that one.
4. One book that made you giddy?
One book that kept me bursting into laughter awkwardly in cafés and buses was Mikko Rimminen's Pussikaljaromaani. It follows the day of three 30-ish men in the Helsinki district called Kallio. They spend the whole day drinking beer and planning to start doing things.
5. One book that wracked you with sobs?
There are two books that made me cry all through the last pages: John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated is far better as a book but E.L.A.I.C has a stunningly emotional and beautiful ending.
6. One book that you wish had been written?
This is superdifficult. What I would actually like to read would be a book - maybe an essay collection - breaking the myth of Finnishness into digestable pieces. This would help a lot of people in that country to understand what their country is about and why people act the way they do. I would like it to be a high-profile intergenerational collaboration with the goal to make it understandable for the general public. So no pretentious intellectual masturbation.
7. One book you wish had never been written?
Mein Kampf is too easy. I'll say Samuel P. Huntington's The Clash of Civilisations which has enforced the notion of a great and clear divide between us and them.
8. One book you’re currently reading?
I wrote in this blog a few weeks back about my fascination for London. Following that I went yesterday to Waterstone's and bought Monica Ali's Brick Lane, a book about a young Bangladeshi woman who moves to London as a result of an arranged marriage.
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read?
This is actually linked to number six. I maybe should read The Great Finnish Epic Täällä Pohjantähden alla by Väinö Linna and then see if more needs to be done. For instance Elina's praise for Täällä Pohjantähden alla motivates me once again to open the series.
10. Now tag five bloggers
Hmm...I would say Pinja, PG, Jurjen, Bettina and Ruben. They are not all bloggers but people who follow blogs regularly.