Thursday, January 31, 2008

All you need is love

When you struggle days with Excel and Windows Vista, write emails about prospects of collaboration and seek synergies between action lines, it is sometimes easy to get tangled into the whole mess and forget what actually counts in the end: love. As corny as it sounds, this was my realisation this evening. My friend Jim Lucassen had directed Gluck's dramatic opera Orfeo ed Euridice into a church in Utrecht so I headed there after work with my flatmate. And what a delight it was.

During Christmas holidays I read the latest public diary of Professor emeritus Matti Klinge, one of the true living intellectuals in Finland. In his diaries - which I do admire for their clarity of thought - he wrote several times how appalled he was when the Finnish National Opera had modernised classics such as Jevgeni Onegin. Mr Klinge would not have liked today's performance where the ancient myths were blended with references to sexual minorities and the Church. Today's adaptation of Orfeo ed Euridice was somehow closer to one of my favourite plays, Kushner's Angels in America, which tackles the Reagan years of the US. And here I need to disagree with the honourable professor.

Orfeo ed Euridice story goes something like this: Euridice dies in the beginning, Orfeo, her lover, is given a chance by Cupid to retrieve Euridice from Hades if he promises not to look at her before they get back. In Hades the Furies try to stop him. When they finally meet after all this hassle, Euridice flips, loses it, as she thinks Orfeo does not love her anymore as he does not look at her. And ta-dah, Orfeo turns, Euridice dies. In desperation Orfeo wants to kill himself but Cupid stops him and everyone lives happy together.

Well, in today's adaptation Cupid was Virgin Mary, Furies were monks or something like that and Euridice and Orfeo were both women. So there's your Kushner reference. Gays and religion in the same cocktail.

I loved the opera. It was dramatic with Euridice beating Orfeo with the wedding buoquet and all that. It ended happily with the choir singing L' Amour triumphe. Glorious, glorious.

The best part of the production - even with the cleverness of the adaptation - was however the choir. I concentrated on their faces and the excitement of the amateur opera singers was evident. The audience was diverse as I assume it consisted strongly from family members and friends. Coffee and drinks were sold by volunteers. The atmosphere was far from snobby - it was warm and excited.

I think the director had done a good deed by also thinking of the audience when building up the modernised references. The story was easy to follow and the performance had drama and entertainment without jeopardising the artistic value. Wunderbar.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Can't touch this

Ass grab
Originally uploaded by le Andreas
The news of the day in Finland are quite depressing: in the Parliament of the country that promotes itself as a paradise of equality, a survey amongst the employees showed that sexual harrassment is extremely widespread within the premises of the Parliament. And the worst thing being: the people charged are by default Members of the Parliament.

The situation is a sad picture: middle-aged men selected to the Parliament feel like they are on top of the world and they exercise their powers towards the assistants and office staff - mostly younger women. The men are more or less untouchable, the women are on temporary contracts, often in their first real job. The unfortunate side of things is that MPs cannot be charged for sexual harrassment as they do not have employers and the legislation on the matter falls under labour law.

How the Parliament and more importantly the political parties react to this issue is a good test for Finland: do we take sexual harrassment seriously or do we laugh it away? Unfortunately still way too often the women are characterised as uptight, too serious and with no sense of humour. Just a simple test on Flickr shows how sexual harrassment is too often addressed: search with the words "sexual harrassment" results to numerous pages of "funny" grabbing of friends, both parties laughing.

Sexual harrassment is not fun, not playing. Sexual harrassment means exercising power over another person. In this case the Parliament is unfortunately a representative picture of reality: a man in a higher position intruding the private sphere of a woman in a lower position in the organisation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

StrangerFestival is starting

I just stumbled to a fantastic theoneminutesjr video by our Polish partners Kultura Miejska on YouTube. I love the serendipity of this encounter. Coming back from a coordination meeting in Brussels, it is nice to have this reminder of what the project is really about.

Monday, January 21, 2008

This is what they call journalism

Sometimes in this snippet world one ends up forgetting what quality journalism really is. Journalism is not making it catchy but about digging deep, taking a new perspective, putting it all together and squeezing out the truth. It is about people like Sir David Frost, Jeremy Paxman and Christiane Amanpour. They also remind you that journalism is bloody difficult.

I have reminded of quality journalism on my recent bicycle rides. One of my Christmas presents was a pair of fancy WESC headphones which make the audio experience both more pleasant and way more trendier.

My reason of joy has been the serious of New York Times' TimesTalks podcast sessions where they broadcast an hour-long interview with a fascinating figure. Today I heard Susan Sarandon analysing the role of older women in the film industry, yesterday the stunning Madeleine Albright talking about the role of the UN, religion and military intervention in politics.

I often think that I have an addiction to images but when one comes across quality journalism such as these interviews, you really know what it means diving into language head first.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

What Do We See?

When you are fully occupied with a production of an event, it is sometimes extremely useful to take a moment or two to reflect things. On Friday and Saturday I attended an academic conference by the Amsterdam-based Institute of Network Cultures on artistic responses to YouTube called Video Vortex. Here's a short summary on the main ideas I came out with:

1. It is not all art: Many of the speakers started by defining YouTube. However I felt at times that there was a tendency to try to interpret the entire YouTube archive within the context of arts and creativity which to me seemed a bit like trying to explain a railway station within the context of galleries. In my own project I want to address this complexity by providing multiple explanations for the videos shown - I mean not only "fruit of one's creativity" but also results of boredom, school assignments and pure fun.

2. It is not all bad: Tilman Baumgärtel spoke well about the impact of piracy in South-East Asia. He explained how the pirate DVDs are in many ways a tool for film fans in the region to get hold of indie productions from other continents and that the pirate distribution is more and more a conscious distribution channel for local independent film makers. The most interesting thing was his research on how the DVDs get to the Philippines. As he pointed out, we are not talking of illegal downloads or professional mafia distribution chains, we are talking of women from mainland China carrying the master copy in their bag or fishermen hiding the mastercopies into the stomachs of tunafish on their boat trips from Malaysia.

Piracy as a distribution chain is something I also saw in Turkey a while back. I was taken to a store with collections of Hal Hartley, Antonioni,von Trier, Bergman and what have you. And as the local people told in Turkey and also according to Baumgärtel in Philippines, they don't really download their films but they trust their local dealer who has good taste.

3. Size does matter: Andreas Treske spoke well about the changes of the viewing experience when we go from not only seeing films in cinemas but also watching TV shows and even films on our iPhones. It was fascinating how he demonstrated how in the cinema the film has our undivided attention but on the iPhone screen the film in a way fights with the background and all the things around us.

His presentation made me think a lot about how online video should be curated. Is it actually good to stay close to the screen size that the films were made for and what do we lose if you blow a YouTube video on a gigantic screen?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Article on diversity

Tiernapoikakilpailu 2
Originally uploaded by Ereine
The Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA (Elinkeinoelämän valtuuskunta) just published my column on diversity. In the article I basically state that diversity needs an economic justification in order for big things to start happening. A bit like what the Stern report did for the climate change debate. My articles headline is Jääkarhuista ja murjaaneista, which is a bit difficult to translate. Jääkarhu means polar bear and murjaani is the character in the Finnish Christmas play whose face is painted black with shoe polish (see pic).


One of the things - and one of the most worrying ones - that I have realised in the course of the last year is that I am starting to have difficulties with the Finnish language. I don't mean in a chit chat sort of situation but when I need to do writing. It is a bit bizarre really - mastering Finnish language was my prime skill until 2005 and now I see it deteriorating.

This is why last Sunday did not feel at all like work although I had three deadlines to live up to. I had promised to deliver in the beginning of this week three short articles in Finnish so I was really up to a test.

I realised at one point that I had been writing without a break for three hours. I was playing with words, checking every sentence whether I could say thing differently, reading my text out loud and so forth. I closed the doors to my working space as the smell of bacon from our joint kitchen was finding its way into the living room. At some point - like in a trance - I walked into the kitchen, took a bag of crisps, walked back to my room and continued working on the texts one hand in the chips. At six o'clock I found myself sitting in a dark living room, dressed in a beanie, Moroccan baggy trousers, wrinkled shirt and grandpa slippers surrounded by a teacup, a coffee cup, a tea pot, an empty crisps bag, a plate with bread crumbs, piles of paper and a variety of pens. I felt like a true writer.

Today I printed the texts out at work, finalised them in the evening and sent them forward. I realised again what I love so much - taking a point and molding it into a statement. Finnish is a wunderbar language.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I want my MTV

Today I started my day with a meeting at the headquarters of MTV Networks here in the Netherlands.

MTV for me means Ray Cokes and Maria G, it means the thing from London that I and my friends all used to watch after school. The thing that somehow made you feel that even if you live in a small town in Finland, you are part of it. Somehow the localisation has been painful but I am adjusting.

Currently I am totally hooked on MTV's programme called Made where young people are helped by a coach to achieve their goals. Maybe I am getting old or I am still having goals to achieve, you tell me.

But MTV stands for MUSIC television. Watching it today at the gym and seeing this video made me remember once again how much I love music videos.

Monday, January 07, 2008

American Dream

Originally uploaded by Saint Anselm College
There are moments when I would just love to be American. Like right now. I know it is a bit nerdy social scientist sort of thing but I just love elections and the buzz around them. I still remember the heated atmosphere at Columbia University's campus in 2004 when I joined a screening of an Edwards-Cheney debate. US elections are of that scale that even if you do not have the right to vote, you still need to have an opinion.

If the elections would be now, I would vote for Clinton. She is a realist and knows what she is talking about. I watched parts of the ABC-Facebook debate on Sunday and felt that she was right on the mark: actions are what counts in change and she has a god track record. And I would love the US to be led by a woman.

However, I find myself having warmer and warmer feelings towards Obama. He is a magnificent speaker (just check his speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004), he wrote a compelling piece on the future to Newsweek and he talks of unity as Americans. The last thing that pushed me closer to him was that the widow of my political idol, Ethel Kennedy, endorsed him. And don't get me started again on Oprah.

Edward Luce wrote well on Obama in Sunday's Financial Times:
"But Mr Obama has succeeded in converting his mixed ethnic background into a novel persona in which he can remain black while appealing to the whites without - in the words of one commentator - reminding them the whole time that they are white."

In general, I have been excited about the US lately. Last week's Newsweek was entirely dedicated to giving advice to the US. If you can still find it, I would purchase it. Here are some of the best parts:

"Europeans tend to criticize the United States. They are much less good at offering alternatives." - Timothy Garton Ash

"Finally, don't hesitate to stand up for our values: democracy, the rule of law and human rights. But remember that the best way to get others to share them is by example, not coercion. Close Guantánamo. Join the International Criminal Court." - James Steinberg

"My father crossed an ocean to seek the dream of America. As a boy, I played barefoot with children in Indonesia. As a young man, I worked in the forgotten corners of America, where people struggled with violence and hopelessness. Whether I am at a G8 summit or in Africa, I will speak not just as someone who mastered my brief, but also as someone whose grandmother lives in a hut without indoor plumbing in a Kenyan village devastated by HIV/AIDS." - Barack Obama

"Overall, there is a widespread failure to manage people and their careers by strategically moving top performers to where they can learn the most and have the greatest impact." - J. Frank Brown

"Americans tend to understand who they are in terms of what they believe and who they believe it with. (...) Those who dismiss America as "behind" Europe on social issues often fail to appreciate where America is coming from, and how far it has travelled. Where gay equality is concerned, you can call the United States the most laggard of major secular societies, or you can call it the most progressive of the great traditionalist cultures." - Jonathan Rauch

"Like many young immigrants I never really understood what America meant beyond the oft-sung phrase I heard from my parents: we are lucky to be here. But in the last few years I've become less certain. I find myself loving America the way one does a sick parent. I pore over pictures of how she once was: never perfect, never without her conceits and cruelties, but still vital and pretty, a real smile at the corners of her lips." - Gary Shteyngart

I think the future of the US - and linked to that our future - seems brighter. Democrats are in better speed and we are doing rather well either with Obama or Clinton. The sick parent just needs some rehabilitation, soon. This 8-year stay in this hospital is not meant for people who come in to die.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


turkish breakfast
Originally uploaded by amsterboy
"Thank you so much. But where are the bridges exactly?"

A discussion with an Italian tourist in the cafe of Topkapi Palace earlier this week was a wake-up call. My holiday in Istanbul consisted of breakfasts, dinners and drinks with local friends. I stayed in the guest room of my friends far away from Sultanahmet's touristic buzz. The discussion with the tourist - smart woman approximately my age - reminded me of the great wonder of having friends all over Europe.

The girl had not left the Golden Horn during the four days she had already spent in Istanbul. I visited the Golden Horn every day but in the evenings returned to the Asian side. Her experience of the Turks was that they all wanted to sell her something, mine was from the amazing hospitality and kindness which seems to characterise people outside the tourist attractions.The locals we asked for help went out of their way to make sure that we make the right bus or find the right address. The mosque experience of the Italian tourist were the men selling souvenirs by the door, mine was an older gentleman proud to show us around his local mosque. Her most intimate discussion with a local was the receptionist of her hotel or a friendly waiter, mine were hour-long discussions over Turkish pop music or funeral traditions in my friends' living room in the middle of the night.

I am a people person. People define my mood and create the highs and lows. My Europe and European cities consist mostly from superb dinners, long breakfasts or cocktails with a view.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Shake your bon-bon

Last day of holidays in İstanbul. Before going ınto details on discoveries of a more intellectual nature, here is what Turkey is listenıng now - superstar Tarkan is out with a new album. Not my cup of tea to be honest, but hey, people like it.