Monday, 11 May 2009

Music from a country where I used to live

FSB is virtually unknown outside of Bulgaria, but they are a rock/blues band in the best of traditions. And how they work it: the jangly chords, the embarassing sunglasses, the makeshift videos. This is a big, over-the-top rock ballad - and it is heartbreakingly beautiful. It is a pity I haven't found a decent translation of the lyrics, or I would have posted them here. The song is about love, of course. Over-the-top rock ballads always are. Enjoy!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Imagining Marie de France

This would have been a "Beauty of the Day" post, if, of course, anyone knew what Marie de France looked like. Almost nothing about her is known for sure, except the fact that she lived between the twelfth and the thirteen century; and that she wrote. Her most famous work is "The lays of Marie de France", twelve poems based on Celtic romances. A line in her work tells us her name: Marie ai num, si sui de France. My name is Marie, and I come from France. That is about all she chose to tell us.

I imagine she was a poised, observant woman, dreamy but with an ironic mind. Her Lays are preoccupied with what happens with people's hearts when they are on their own and far away: in a foreign land; alone in a forest. Marie knew that a traveller hardly returns the same from any journey. Her tales speak of an old world that kept all its secrets.

I learned about her from another writer: in his 1974 story collection "The Ebony Tower" John Fowles retells "Eliduc", a Breton romance included in the Lays. He suggests that European novel began when a young woman of good birth started looking at people and writing about what she saw, through the whimsical patterns of Celtic storytelling. Marie ai num, si sui de France: those may very well be the words that mark the birth of literature as we know it.

Some thoughts on self-preservation

I've struggled a bit with the idea of this blog lately. It sounds abstract as it is; but I cringe at the thought of making it too personal.

There is generally too much personality going around, and not enough food for thought, not enough problem. Right now, I would rather think than feel; right now, I would rather be angered than entertained.

The season might soon change, of course. Maybe the whole idea of someone basically private blogging is ridiculous. However, I have always cherished the vision that I will be able to write interestingly about art and madness, politics and strategy, elections and obscure movies without having to throw my personality at total strangers in the hope that they will like me.

So... I will try to make this a blog about what I fancy, and not about me. If such a feat can be accomplished at all.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Beauty of the Day

Chulpan Khamatova

Last seen:
Goodbye Lenin, Luna Papa

Why I love her: If any girl can make you believe she carries the son of Moon, this one is it. Bloody shame Tadjik cinema never really took up.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Europeans, go vote!

Europeans usually either love or hate the European Union. In my opinion, it is a great idea and a worthy project, besides being intelectually rewarding for me as a professional - where would I be without the tons of interesting case law it produces, the stuff of so many hour-long arguments?
But there is more worth to the EU than its being intriguing from an academic point of view. The EU adds a furhter dimension to the personal freedom of its citizens. Free movement, free enterprise - those are not just legal terms, but give a person more options in his or her daily life. You want to travel, do business, buy property, study, work - Spain to Finland, UK to Greece no authority has the right to hinder you in the slightest. North to South. East to West.

It is, thus, paradoxical that so many Europeans continue to see the EU as an undemocratic, distant, prohibiting bureaucracy. Paradoxical it may be, but it is also understandable. The average citizen has very little insight or influence over how the EU functions.

This is partly the case because most of the legislative and regulative work is done by the Commission. It is staffed by the governments and bureaucracies of the Member States, not directly elected.

The one entity, however, that IS directly elected, is the European Parliament. It used to be an institution of very little consequence until some years ago. All it had a right to do was advice the Commission, in other words: produce loads of paper no one read.

The new European constitution foresaw a dramatic strengthening of the rights of the Parliament, giving the institution legislative power. This would have enabled the citizen to have direct influence on EU politics through his elected representative. The legislative process would have become considerably more transparent and would have ceased to look like constant haggling between heads of state.

But guess what? We didn't want it! We! The bloody citizens of Europe! We let it pass! The proposed consitution was rejected by referendum in Member States of paramount importance, France and the Netherlands. Few of the others even dared to expose the constitution to people's vote.

What is worse, we continually weaken our own chance of being heard at EU-level by not voting at elections for the European Parliament. It is such a neglectable institution because we neglect it. We do not vote. We do not take the chance to influence EU-politics when we have it, and then we complain about the EU being distant, bureaucratic and generally a pain in the arse.

The solution is not - and never has been - to scrap the EU and return to protectionistic politics. The solution is to reclaim what is ours. We have to use every democratic tool to gain representation at EU-level - we have to do the obvious. Go vote.

The next elections for the European Parlament are on June 4th 2009. Find out who your MEP is here. Find out how to vote here. And most importantly: GO VOTE! Be a citizen.

A "successful" hunger strike?

Hollywood actress Mia Farrow has been on a hunger strike for ten days. She is fasting in protest against the expellment of aid organsiations from the region of Darfur.

A Sudanese official called her "ignorant" for hoping to achieve something through that course of action. Indeed, how likely is Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to be impressed of the self-inflicted death of an actress? Death of hunger is mundane in Darfur; dying of hunger in a rich and peaceful country might even seem obscene to some survivors.

It strikes me as a very sad thing to do, understandable as a form of resignation, strange as means to an end. Success in the context of a hunger strike often has a weird tinge to it.

One example would be successful five-day hunger strike of Bolivian President Evo Morales. What he starved for was an ammendment to the constitution that would allow him to run for second term.

Cuban prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia went on a hunger strike for more than week in 2008, hoping for - at least - a mattress that was not infested with germs.

And, as it seems, some Harvard students go on hunger strikes for the most curious things, like security guard pay.

Oh, people. Hunger strikes are for the ones who don't have a voice. Those of you who have... talk.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Divorce, Italian Style

Veronica Lario seems to be a formidable woman. She has to be. Almost twenty years of marriage to Silvio Berlusconi and almost thirty of living with him are no easy feat.

It is not possible to ennumerate all that the Italian Prime Minister is notorious for in a simple blog post. Suffice to say he is a notorious politician and a notorious womanizer, and most notorious for not keeping the two apart. The anti-discrimination officer in his cabinet is a TV-starlet. His promoted candidates for the European parliament included former Big Brother and Miss Italy contestants.

Veronica Lario has fumed at these occurences - justifiably so. After several angry but intelligent letters to the press, she has now filed for divorce.

Divorce from Berlusconi is likely to be even more difficult than marriage to him. In every other country, Ms Lario would have been sure of public sympathy. In Italy - a country where porn star Cicciolina was elected to parlament - a prime minister is not likely to be blamed for helping beautiful women along in their political career.

Ms Lario herself ticks more clichè boxes than is good for her case: an aged topless beauty who has married a powerful man, now obsessing over his flirts with younger women. Italian culture has not been kind to inconvenient older women: in the ubiquitious movie"Divorce, Italian Style" Marcello Mastroiani commanded sympathy and understanding for killing his wife in order to marry his 16-year old cousin.

Berlusconi has yet to rise to these heights. Nonetheless, Veronica Lario might find herself facing more than lengthy and messy divorce proceedings: implicitly, she has taken issue with the whole way the culture of her country envisions women. I, for one, hope she emerges victorious. Because Italian society has to accept that a woman does not forfeit her right to dignity, and loyalty, and respect, simply on the count of not being eighteen any more.