Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Of men

En el hoyo
Originally uploaded by amnesic_kid.
Beginning of my fourth day at the IDFA festival in Amsterdam. As last year, I took a week off work to watch documentaries and do some interviews with makers. It came exactly on the right moment, after an overhectic period of working several weekends in a row.

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


Ursula Rucker (7)
Originally uploaded by HoolyPics.
This weekend opened my eyes for a new form of culture: spoken word. I have always known of its existence but never really experienced it live, on the spot. As part of my work I organised this weekend a journalistic workshop on hip hop which was linked to a hip hop film festival Blacksoil in Rotterdam. My view on this subculture has changed and I am damn happy about it.

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

Take me to the edge

Geert... eet een ijsje
Originally uploaded by jacco de boer.
The people of the Netherlands have spoken yesterday. The results are in the direction of the expectations but the scale is much more radical.

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

What does Europe think?

Elections in The Netherlands
Originally uploaded by FelixvdGein.
I was last week in Berlin. One of the things that come with my job is a membership in the Advisory Board of eurotopics. eurotopics is a daily FREE newsletter covering the main debates in European newspapers. I would highly recommend subscribing. Through it I have for instance noticed that there is really good writing in Estonian newspapers.

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


Originally uploaded by ldjjj.
The winners of the annual theoneminutesjr video competition were announced yesterday at the Paradiso here in Amsterdam. We hosted a group of nearly 30 youngsters for the weekend who all competed for the fame and glory.

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

Diet Coke and Mentos

I know I am slightly behind trends with this but it is still funny. I was going on and on about this at the office when my colleague (mother of two) said:"Oh, my sons have been doing those videos for months already."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Just about the cutest thing ever

Witch waiting
Originally uploaded by cwriter111.
I just returned from the gym. My flatmate was on her way out so I had the house for myself. I was organising my groceries as I heard banging from the door. In Dutch houses it is always a bit tricky to know the source of the clings and clongs so I did not react. Another bang followed. I peaked out of the window and heard voices of children shouting:"Yeah! Iemand is binnen!" (Yes, someone is inside!)

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

Wedding, the Turkish way

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.