Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Still in love

Tony Blair
Originally uploaded by
julian bovis.

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

Go West, Go South-East, Go, Go, Go!

Crossed subway photo
Originally uploaded by
Two news of enlargement on the same day.
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

Den Haag is not such a drag

Den Haag
Originally uploaded by Tommy Bruggink.
I had a firm opinion on it. I was convinced that it is the most boring place in the Netherlands. I made jokes about it. But I must admit that I was at least partly mistaken. I am talking about The Hague, Den Haag in the local language.

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 aft
er 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

Art proves its relevance

Originally uploaded by roel1943.
I love festivals. I love all about them: the wristbands, openings, buzz and weirdness.

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

I'm still standing after all this time

Pride06 065
Originally uploaded by Jayjay P.
When I moved to the Netherlands, I was sure that there was no use of planning to write about national politics to Finnish papers. But fortunately the shaking and breaking has been of great help for my freelance income. Only last week I was called from a Finnish weekly to write an article on the pedophilia party PNVD and due to the cabinet breakup this summer I can again write an article on the upcoming elections. My article on PNVD will be in tomorrow's Suomen Kuvalehti.

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

Ain't no boxes large enough

He's got red boxes
Originally uploaded by Augapfel.
First a remark: no, this weblog is not totally domesticated even though most of the posts lately dealt with homey issues. I promise that politics will strike back.

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

Of admirals and immigrants

Houses in De Baarsjes
Originally uploaded by Planetcam.
My cousin and his girlfriend visited me this spring. My cousin is somewhat a history freak and therefore it was no wonder that he insisted going to the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, i.e. the museum on the history of the city.

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

When was your first time?

Dining Area Green #2
Originally uploaded by Black Glenn.
It is a big day this Friday. I am currently sitting on the floor of my new room in my new apartment. I am sharing it with three other people. I decided that it is time to move from the rush and buzz of the Chinatown to the calm and hip-and-coming De Baarsjes.

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


Flag of Turkey
Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
Whoah. Just got back home after one of the best weeks in my life. I felt that I was doing something sensible, hip and fun. That's the way I want my life to be. As the exhaustion is quite overwhelming, I will limit myself to sharing links with some talented people across Europe with interesting stuff online:

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)

Great music:
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

Something else

View to the Asian side
Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
An empty outdated lobby, man in his nearly-30s, bottle of beer and his laptop. There's desperation for you if you want to see it in that light.

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

One day to go

Originally uploaded by casaclemson.
Sweaty. Smells like cigarettes. Ugly leather sofas. Central location. The lobby of Grand Hotel Halic.

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!