All 171 entries tagged English

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May 27, 2007


Joseph Brodsky
Eighteen years I’ve spent in Manhattan.
The landlord was good,but he turned bad.
A scumbag, actually. Man, I hate him.
Money is green, but it flows like blood.

I guess I’ve got to move across the river.
New Jersey beckons with its sulphur glow.
Say, numbered years are a lesser evil.
Money is green, but it doesn’t grow.

I’ll take away my furniture, my old sofa.
But what should I do with my window’s view?
I feel like I’ve been married to it, or something.
Money is green, but it makes you blue.

A body on the whole knows where it’s going.
I guess it’s one’s soul that makes one pray,
even though above it’s just a Boeing.
Money is green, and I am gray.

Joseph Brodsky, “Blues”. In: Word of Mouth. Poems featured on NPR’s All Thing Considered Catherine Bowman (ed.)

May 23, 2007

Add Your Voice to Oxfam´s Message to the G8

Writing about web page

We have something to tell you...This year´s annual G8 meeting, starting on the 6th, is to take place in Germany.

Throughout the first few years of this millenium, it can finally be said that the poverty issue has gathered some momentum in international politics. Once again, it is at least being discussed.

Now it´s important that the rich and privileged part of the world with a heart and conscience does not lose that momentum. The G8 countries have an enormous potential impact on improving lives and even simply chances of survival for billions around the world living in grave destitution.

So please go to the petition page and let Blair and Merkel know that you haven´t forgotten about it. If you, like me, find it worrying that almost half of this world lives on $2 or less a day.

Join the G8 Wait
(And go to this page to add the banner above to your web site.)

May 16, 2007


VagoThis photo quite effectively captures me over the last few weeks.

I have become hopelessly lazy.

Since the beginning of this year I have developed strange sleeping patterns. I might sleep an average of 10 hours a day by now. I quite often don´t get up for classes anymore – especially if they are on Monday at 9, and are taught in Catalan.

I have started to develop a split personality, the two most extreme representations of which you might describe as Nighttime Maarten and Morning Maarten. Nighttime Maarten insists on staying until the party is over. And then to look for another party. He believes classes the next day will be just fine. Morning Maarten is also quite relaxed. He shuts the alarm clock and tells me classes aren´t that important anyway. I probably won´t miss too much. And anyway, I need my rest, it´s no good to miss sleep. Morning Maarten dominates me the entire morning, until around 12 am.

And I don´t seem to be the only one. The Other Other Natalie writes that she sleeps about 10-12 hours a night in the Netherlands. A friend of mine writes me that he hasn´t gotten up for classes for months in Italy, except for a one-time tree-hugging class (?). And well, more evidence is right under my nose. Many of my friends here are not unaccustomed to sleeping past midday on a normal weekday.

What are the reasons? I figured them out I think.

a) Total lack of motivation. At Monday 9 am classes I am not likely to pick up much of the Catalan lecture anyway. Discussion of materials is sometimes school-styledly simple. I work for a week on an essay full of references and get a 55%. I do one in 24 hours and get 90%.

b) Nighttime Maarten is more popular here in Barcelona. More fun and important stuff happens at night. I would not be fully integrated if I did not recognise that fact.

c) Warwick anticipation. I fear my last year at Warwick like hell. So I try to do as little as I can as long as it lasts.

The Spanish word for lazy is “vago”. I think the linguistic development is no coincidence. Not doing anything makes me feel a bit less like myself, vague, undefined. Being lazy means being only the potential of Maarten. But for the moment, I kind of like it that way.

May 15, 2007


Mercury & Caballe: Barceloooonaaaa!Forever in search of noteworthy and odd things related to my current city Barcelona, I recently heard Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe with their memorable song “Barcelona” for the first time since years (I dare say: decades!). This song was performed during the ceremonies for the Olympic Games when they came to the city in 1992.

By the way, how many of you knew that Freddie Mercury was actually an Indian parcy originally named Farrokh Bulsara, who spent much of his childhood in Panchgani, India?

May 14, 2007

Watching the Eurovision Song Contest

Man or woman?Over the last few years, the Eurovision Song Contest has become every time more something I don’t want to miss. Although I already used to watch with mom and dad on the sofa when I was five, I have now made myself believe it has something of a great significance, perhaps even of political importance. So do my friends, although some for reasons of genuine musical interest, something I find kind of hard to grasp, but no matter.

We decided to watch it together – a mixed audience of Spanish, French, Swiss, Belgian and Taiwanese students in a friend’s appartment. Although I arrived late due to some metro issues (the gates refused to recognise my somewhat wrinkled metro card), I managed to see a few of the songs, one of even more appaling quality than the other, and what’s more, with very few songs that stood out for anything.

There are some facts about the Eurovision you might not know, but that I think, if you managed to read thus far, might interest you. Here’s one: the four countries that contribute most to the European Broadcasting Corporation – the UK, France, Germany and Spain – enter automatically in the finals, even if their song is of such poor quality that it didn’t manage to get through the semifinals. I didn’t think the UK’s contribution was too bad though, the others I didn’t see. That brings us to the next fact. France and the UK, most notably the latter, traditionally receive very little to no points; I believe some PhD studies have been done about it.

Fact three. Russia on the contrary generally scores all the top points from its neighbouring countries. Most curious were Estonia’s 12 points for Russia, even though the two countries have a less than amicable relationship lately. Or am I mistaken in seeing politics in innocent pop? One other explanation may be the high percentage of Russian minorities in former Soviet states. In any case, Poland defyingly granted its 12 points to Georgia, new in Eurovisionland, and with an English-lyriced tune. Turkey by now traditionally scores the Netherlands’ and Germany’s 12 points. Only just not enough to make it to the top three.

And to finish this anyway overpoliticed piece in a further political tone: how come Israel participates in the Eurovision Song Contest? It’s not like they haven’t done so for the last x number of years, but geographically they really aren’t part of the European continent. If Israel is in it, shouldn’t Lebanon too, really? I’m sure there’s some politics behind that.

To go short, not much new under the sun. Another edition, another tiny country on the perifery added, another host of strangely glamorous artist taken from an inexhaustable stock – a really wonder what these types do throughout the year – another bombastic song wins the games in a year that won’t be remembered for its extravaganza. Serbia, take it away!

May 11, 2007

The Lift

Our patio, in better times.Some months ago, an invisible investor decreed that there shall be a lift in our building. A six-story building in the middle of the Old City, it has marble stairs but lacks the facilities to get old ladies up without exhausting them. Only, a lift would not exactly serve our interests, as we live just on the first floor. Anxiously, we anticipated the commencement of the construction works, instinctively knowing it would be something nasty and inconvenient.

Some three weeks ago they started. I knew, because it was difficult not to know immediately. I was woken up by drills and hammers which appeared to be drill at the legs of my bed. When I walked into the living room, I stood face to face with a worker, outside our window overlooking the patio. They were removing the patio.

A day later, there was no longer any patio. Before, we were able to cross it to get to the neighbours. Now there was deep staring gap between our two appartments. More workers seemed to come in every day. Another floor was taken down. Clouds of cement powder filled the staircase. One day, I noticed that, even though we had by now closed the shutters of the windows for privacy’s sake, I could still peak outside. There was a hole in our wall, the lift builders had rammed a hole in our wall!

Things are getting weirder every day. One morning when I woke up, we had forgotten to close the interior windows. The entire living room was covered by fine layer of cement dust. I decided to have breakfast in my own room. The entrance to our building was nearly blocked by tons of cement bags, and workers are going in and out. Where there was a door to a lower apartment, there’s now a cemented wall.

They have by now fixed the hole in our wall, without ever notifying us of anything. Incidentally, they managed to spill wet cement around the floor of our living room, including on a sofa which was on the other side of the room. But a lift? I haven’t seen anything yet.

Inconvenience has turned into a nightmare. After weeks of mess, there’s not a sign of a lift construction. And they have to work it six stories up. I fear there will be no rest until I leave this apartment.

May 09, 2007

Dismantling a Myth: Turks in Berlin

KurfurstendammBerlin is known to be a multicultural city that attracts mostly (South) Eastern European groups. Especially the area called Kreuzberg has renown as a multicultural – read: Turkish – part of the city. For many years now, the story is going around that “even within Turkey, only Istanbul has a larger population of Turks”, that is to say: Berlin would be the largest “Turkish city” outside of Turkey, and the second largest in the world.

This rumour, however, must be sent to the land of fables. And this for the simple reason that within Turkey there are at least two cities that are larger than Berlin. The Berlin Bureau of Statistics website states a figure of 3,4 million Berliners; this compares to populations of around 9 million in Istanbul and anything between 3,5 and 4,5 million in Ankara. Moreover, Wikipedia estimates that there are only 116.000 Turks in Berlin, making it at the best a provincial Turkish town outside of Turkey.

That brings up some other fabulous stories. 1) Is Paris really the second Portuguese city in the world, only after Lisbon? I have only been able to find evidence that it has the biggest population outside Portugal. 2) Poles in London. Figures of around 100.000 have been dropped; I have not been able to find anything more than something around 676.000, divided between all “other white” groups. Thus, in fact an even considerably larger number of Poles might be possible.

Who knows of other major population groups in foreign countries? Russians in Warsaw? Chinese in Singapore? Fins in Stockholm? Britons in the Algarve?

May 07, 2007

A Parable on Free Speech

When Mr. T., twenty-three years
of age, a university student
was asked, his answer was
concise and well-aimed.
Freedom of speech, such a
non-question. Indispensable

like air. He, you, and I had,
after all, heard it all before.

When professor P., a Russian
scientist, a man of no illusions,
conducted investigations by
simply pushing buttons (pulling
strings, really), faithful and
loyal dogs always knew: food!

So why does T. act so much a dog
alike? Why are we so often like T.?

Eemnes, January 2007.

I wrote this poem for a student magazine under the theme: “freedom of speech”. It wasn´t taken in and did not get published; admittedly it has a somewhat harsh and moralising tone. However, I also wonder whether my friend, whom I sent it to, finally understood it. It would be a pity if he didn´t. I hope, at least, some reader does. The intention is, after all, that the message arrives.

May 03, 2007

This Summer: Balaton Sound

Writing about web page

Zamardi on lake BalatonQuite a few like music festivals, and travelling in Eastern Europe has also become hip these days. Thus I thought the following might be of interest to some of you.

I received the press release from Sziget Cultural Management, a culture enterprise more widely known for the organisation of Sziget Festival in Budapest, each year in August on an island in the middle of the Danube.

They write: “First the market of ‘normal’ festivals is almost full in the region, but the interest in higher quality events is growing year by year. People are looking for events with better quality services and higher comfort standards. The location of BALATON SOUND is the perfect base for such standards: a beautiful green coast at Zamárdi with a sensational panorama of the Tihany peninsula.”

The festival, to be held between 12 and 15 July, boasts a nice list of international top acts, some less known than others but mostly good for a pleasant surprise. Among them are Basement Jaxx, Kruder&Dorfmeister, Saian Supa Crew, Nouvelle Vague, Junky XL. To name but a few. Also expected may be a number of high-quality, original and innovative Hungarian bands, among them Yonderboi’s former house band Zagar.

The festivals price is also a pleasant surprise. A four-day ticket for 58 euros can be mentioned among the festival’s advantages. As well the location, on lake Balaton’s tranquil shores (see photo). I am thinking: poor locals.

In any case, maybe this is something for you, if you were looking into going to Hungary anyway?

April 26, 2007

How Globalised Are You?

...these must be from outer space...How globalised are you? Some time ago I thought of a practical indicator to check that.

I had been wanting to carry out the test before but kept on forgetting. It’s easier to check when you just got up, right before you’re getting dressed.

The question is: how many clothing items from foreign countries are you wearing today (my guess is many), and from which foreign countries, and where did you buy them?

Here’s my score for the day:
1. longsleeve short: bought in the Netherlands, made in China.

2. t-shirt: bought in the UK, made in Mauritius.

3. trousers, bought in the UK, made in Bangladesh.

4. socks: bought in the Netherlands, production country unknown.

5. underwear: like (4).

6. shoes: bought in Spain, made in Spain.

Hence a mixed picture. In my buying paterns I’m rather Anglo-Dutch today. And those branded clothes mostly come, as expected, from cheaply producing countries.

Now it’s your turn – that is, if you’re not too ashamed to talk about your underwear in public!

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