Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Better and more equal dreams

The wonderful thing in Christmas is that is really gives you time to watch, read and talk. And eat, I don’t need to go into that one. I wanted to share a few things:
1. Leea Klemola: Klemola is a Finnish actor and theatre director who has a reputation of a radical and angry young woman. She gave fantastic interview to IMAGE on theatre. She said that you can become a scary woman by only showing violence. ”It originates from the thinking that male creators make observations but things just blurt out from women. (...) I can’t stand educational theatre. In (Reko) Lundán’s plays I was irritated by the way he showed those small people, or politicians who grab those others. Not themselves. (...) Theatre is a place beyond morale and politics. The worst example of how theatre can be politically correct is the Enraged Roses Group. That thinking that when they are all women, it would turn everything they do into meaningful.”

2. Top Chef Final: In the American chef competition a woman called Tiffani lost to a guy mostly because she was perceived to be a difficult person although everyone found her menu more courageous. The winner cooked safe dishes and was a good lad. At the same time Gordon Ramsay makes millions by swearing when doing brilliant food. Women cannot win, can they?

3. Miehen työ: There is Finnish film beyond Kaurismäki. Aleksi Salmenperä’s Man’s Job is one of the best films I have seen showing how a man of the North deals with pride, loss and emotions. In the film a father gets fired from his job and when trying to cover the issue from his family but still provide the income, he ends up working as a male prostitute. Phenomenal acting and subtle humour. Highly recommended.

4. Anu Kantola: Kantola is a researcher in Media Studies and a columnist for the biggest Finnish political weekly Suomen Kuvalehti. She writes in issue 50/2007 about her observations on Finland seen from the inside and outside after reading all 1 600 stories on Finland from Financial Times. According the FT, Finland is doing superbly in education, national debt, innovations, music, cuisine, public expenditure etc. At the same time from the inside it seems that the country has a crisis in parenthood (Jokela shootings) as well as in health care (mass resignation of nurses) and people are leaving working life due to depression. ”Someone said that depression is a result of a situation where one’s external and internal realities don’t meet.(...) Even if I usually don’t like psychologisation, I started wondering whether this would work in the case of Finland. As if we had created a monster that acts out in an exemplary manner but which no one recognises as his or her own and whose ride no one likes. Changing realities could be started for instance from politics. Would it be in any way possible that sometimes in Finnish politics we could afford something? That instead of scaremongering we would create systems on the terms of people and not discipline and control? That instead of despair we would be bold and trusting?

As a result of Expedition Christmas, we could only say the following:
1. We need better and more inclusive dreams.
2. We still have issues regarding gender.
3. Finnish political and cultural discussion needs more contaminations from the outside.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Corn tortillas
Originally uploaded by
Greetings from Finland:

1. Culture: State Secretary writes a bizarre piece to the main newspaper - as a private person apparently - where he refers to the new dramatisation of Unknown Soldier (main Finnish book on Second World War) and builds a bizarre link between Kristian Smeds' direction and the rise of facism. State Secretary Volanen mentions the school shootings of Jokela but leaves the bridges between issues so vague that he can still walk away. Volanen has not seen the play.

2. Media: National broadcaster YLE launches a new channel directed to youth in Spring 2008 with a massive PR campaign. Last month they decided to close it down due to budget cuts. People who had been hired did not even get to start before they were fired.

3. Dreams: Main political weekly invites people to write letters to Finland on its 90th birthday. Subjects: alcoholism, importance of draft army, complaining about the role of artists, blurry stuff about economic dangers, ranting on and on how we have lost our relationship with nature and warning how this all could collapse any day. Happy Birthday.

4. Democracy: Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen is advising Ministers not to talk about undecided issues in public before the Cabinet has decided on them. This guarantees constructive decision-making apparently. At the same time the Ministry of Justice has founded a democracy unit. Well, at least they know where to start.

5. Advertising: Yesterday advertisement in the cinema before the film: promotion for a ring for supporting veterans, promotion by the lotteries on a campaign to help war invalids, advertisement on the dangers of drinking and driving, social awareness campaign on keeping a safe distance on the motorway and the lottery piece again.

With this little amount of light and these low temperatures one could use a bit of inspiration. One could use a few new ideas, some fun and true engagement. It feels amazing how people can seem so bloody unhappy with this prosperity. As there are no hopes for people to grasp on, especially in December it really seems like everything is going down the drain.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Oprah Way

As I am leaving tomorrow to Finland for Christmas holidays and our intern is finishing her time with us, we decided to have a joint dinner with the team tonight. Thai food and intense debate works as a cure against the wind and cold. What did we end up talking about: Oprah Winfrey.

I am a big fan of her next to all those women. I mean Oprah should be running for president, not Barack Obama that she has now endorsed. Who cares about Obama anymore if you have a chance to see Oprah live? She is an amazing figure in the US - she is beyond criticism as one of the strongest symbols of the American Dream - coming from tough background, made her success w
ith hard work and now giving back to the society.

The Oprah factor is a good reminder also of the way we are as people. We can be interested in serious and light subjects at the same time - we can be triggered by an intense discussion on tansgender identities or by a couple interview with Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise. Very few of us are either serious or shallow - we can be both. What I love in Oprah is that she manages to introduce difficult subjects into the living rooms through her media conglomerate. She is in not preaching to the converted, which is why she kicks ass.

My Oprah Day could consist of the two following things:

1. Finetuning a Christmas greeting for the staff from our team.
2. Having an article on youth culture published in Eurozine.

As I said, we can be both.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Glory Days

This my anthem song at the moment.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Reasons to love Berlin

Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg
Originally uploaded by Mishkabear
Usually I enjoy travelling but on Wednesday I really did not look forward to hopping over to Germany for a couple of days. Work is piling up in Amsterdam and days without meetings are really needed. Well, commitments are commitments so I headed to the airport dutifully straight from work. I recognise the feeling all too well already: you get all sweaty as you get to the airport on the last possible minute, you start getting anxious because people are wasting time in the security check, you get irritated by the bad quality of the airplane food and keep dozing off when you try to finish the last work issues of the day. When you finally get to the hotel around eleven, your head is buzzing, you feel simultaneously hyperactive and supertired.

Now, on Saturday afternoon, I am extremely glad I did not cancel the trip. I feel like my batteries have been charged – even a KLM steward said as I boarded the plane:”Sir, you look very happy today.” On Thursday we had an inspiring session for the development of and I really felt like I was able to help them in improving the product. I pushed forward some funding things and in the evening visited a cute small cultural event of our partner organisation Schlesische27 in Kreuzberg.

I just love Berlin. It is definitely up there with Istanbul on my list of fantastic cities,. Let me elaborate why:
1. Cool Germanica: It is very German with the Christmas markets and bratwursts but at the same time extremely trendy with it underground bars and designer shops.
2. Human scale: Starting from its incredible metro system and continuing to its coffee houses, Berlin is made for people and their interaction.
3. Affordable: Studio flat for 400 euros. Beer for one euro. Club entrance two euros. Lunch 5 euros.
4. Creative: I just met yesterday a Finnish friend of mine who had moved to Berlin 1,5 months ago to try and see how life here would work. As he put it:”I have savings for 6 months, then I really need to start seeing what I wish to do.” His story is not original in Berlin.
5. Scruffy: At a popular club the most important thing is not a trendy haircut or T-shirt. But that is also allowed. Punk still exists in Berlin.
6. Turkey: Some parts of Berlin are like you would be in a Turkish city. The vegetable salesmen shout in Turkish and you have this distinct smell where goat milk mixes with pickles and olives.

And ladies and gentlemen, there is hope: I saw yesterday an American film in Berlin WITHOUT dubbing.

There is one minus point: Tegel. Berlin’s airport is shameful for such a fun city. It is too small and so badly organised that you end up walking forever or standing in line for ages.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

From somewhere

015 Finland: A Cottage
Originally uploaded by vanion
It is 7 minutes past midnight, I sit in a hotel room in Berlin and in 53 minutes (local time), my home country starts its celebration for the 90th anniversary of independence. What does this all mean - to me?

Two days ago a Finnish friend of mine was visiting Amsterdam and we sat in a cafe with a group of friends when the discussion shifted to nations and nationalities. One of the people around the table described his feelings a fortnight ago when he received his Dutch nationality and passport. He said that he felt confused being rewarded something like that rather quickly and being surrounded by Turkish and Moroccan old ladies who had been in the Netherlands for 30 years and just now got their full rights. My friend described how tired the women look, nearly like they had already given up hope. Nationaly can be a mixed set of feelings.

I mentioned in that discussion that I nowadays introduce myself as being from Amsterdam. I would not say that I am from the Netherlands but from Amsterdam. At the same I do feel Finnish. One could easily go into the blah-blah on the death of nation states and state that passport is just a document. But at least for me giving up my Finnish passport for instance for a Dutch one would mean losing something that has always been there. The Finnish passport is a sign of my roots, it shows my soil.

Usually the Finnish independence day speeches stress the struggle the nation went through defending its independence 1939-1945 and the high price paid for it. I have this experience even in my immediate family - when Finland lost the Carelia region, my then 17-year-old grandmother was amongst the half a million people who needed a home when the border shifted West.

My Finnish identity has never been contested. I was given it and no one has tried to take it away from me. I have lived my whole life with a safety net provided by my family and my country. It has allowed my to jump because I have always known that there are mechanisms and people to catch me.

What does being Finnish then mean to me? It is not a flag, it is not a winned battle. I and I think most of my generation find it difficult to grasp these concepts that define the nations and the EU for the baby boomers. For me being Finnish means a sincerely loving family, it means being comfortable in nature, it means a language that allows one to invent words that others understand, it means being comfortable with nudity, it means appreciating the simple, it means taking care of the smallest and the weakest, it means being able to leave your bag on the chair when you go to the toilet in a cafe, it means school lunches, it means not cheating nor lying and it means giving space.

My Finnishness does not require living within its borders. The things listed above are not mentioned in my passport or in the constitution. That is why my sense of being Finnish does not contradict with being from Amsterdam.

Happy birthday, homies.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

I know

6020 Stop Aids Now
Originally uploaded by Rienk Mebius
Uncertainty is not only a scary thing, sometimes it also creates a sense of safety. When you do not know for sure, you can live thinking that the status of things is the one you wish. A lot of us go forward in life based on this strategy – not wanting to know and not wanting to check. It keeps some marriages together and some working relationships going. We hope for the best and don’t check for the worst.

Today is World Aids Day. The Dutch Aids Foundation has been running a big campaign in the course of the last weeks with beautiful children looking into the camera in posters saying Stop Aids Now. I found the campaign highly moving and of great excellence – it states that AIDS is not only amongst the gay population and that it does not always show.

I watched just a while ago again the brilliant TV drama Angels in America which focuses on the 1980s in the US – the time when AIDS broke its way into the public sphere and caused fear and panic. We have come far from those times – the awareness of the AIDS situation in Africa is far higher and we as a society realise that AIDS is amongst us. This does not go without negative side effects. The fear and awareness caused for instance by Freddie Mercury’s death is gone and a lot of people act rather self-assured – not wanting to know.

I know. I did the test yesterday. Not out of any other reason but for the fact that every sensible person should get tested regularly. Those who have taken the test, know exactly how scary it is. Those who have not, let me give you a brief.

The clinic here in Amsterdam is quite busy. The test is for free and you hear the results in 30 minutes after the test. I started by waiting for my turn in the crowded hall. Some people come to the clinic with friends but most people are there alone. Joking is quite limited. I found myself looking at people and thinking:”Does he have it? Does he think I have it? Why is she here?”

After 50 minutes or so I was called into the informative session where they take your details and ask you some basic question. The woman yesterday was extremely nice and certainly quite used to nervous people. I found myself mumbling and making mistakes in my mobile phone number. She did not assure me that things will be fine – instead she asked:”What do you think the result will be”. After her interview I was sent back to the hall to wait for the test. It took ages before I was called. The woman was highly calm and kind – I took notice of the empathy in her eyes. She explained again what will be done. She started with rather frank questions about sexual behaviour, then took 3 samples of blood and asked me to get on the examination table. It is not too comfortable when you have different tools and sticks pushed into most holes in your body. I was gagging when she checked my throat with a sample stick. The other things you can imagine yourself.

After the test I was asked to give a urine sample and then wait for 30 minutes for the results of the HIV test. I tried to read a newspaper, but found myself walking back and forth to the coffee machine, going to the toilet, checking my mobile. The only thing occupying my mind was:”What if?”

After 30 minutes I was called into the room again. She told me that my results came through good and the result was negative. I started sweating out of relief. Funnily enough, I was not smiling too much. I must have thanked her four times when leaving the room. Never cycled that lightly to the centre.

Even if my test came through as I wished, AIDS is amongst us. It is not always a result of promiscuous behaviour. Some of us are born with it, some of us just have bad luck. Be safe. Happy World AIDS Day.