Label Cloud

donderdag 25 oktober 2007

Now Presents Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings performed at the Ancienne Belgique (Brussels) yesterday evening. Man, can that lady rock. Pure unadulterated funk! I never heard of her until about a year ago. My man Reck asked me if I wanted to go to a live show in Louvain. So, we went, she rocked the house and we got ludicrously drunk (well, Reck was wasted, I could hardly remember my name, but that’s a different story). My mom told me a while back that I always tell her about great live shows that I’ve been to, but I never invite her to come with me. So, since we’re talking about seventies revival bands, it became a family event: Dad, Mom, Hammy and my foster brother off to see some live goodness.

Sharon Jones is as classic as they get. She started singing in her local church choir as a child. She entered several talent shows in the early seventies and later on she did studio work as a backing singer. Unfortunately she never got a solo record, until she did a backing on a Lee Fields track in 1996. Subsequently she had two hits with Switchblade and the Landlord. She gained a small following through the release of several 45” singles and by building a good live reputation. In 2002 her first solo album was released on the newly formed Daptone Records, called Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, followed by Naturally (2005) and 100 Days, 100 Nights (2007).

First up was The Dynamites feat. Charles Walker, who have just released their first album (Kaboom!). Again, here is some hardcore revival of late sixties funk. Walker has an excellent voice and the arrangements get your feet moving. Unfortunately, the soundman sabotaged their sound (as they are wont to do for the opening act, anyone remember Akro when playing before LL Cool J?). Although they were giving it all they got, it didn’t really come across.

Next up was the lady of the hour. It’s refreshing to see a sturdy woman with more personality in her small toe than all the Rihannas of the world combined sing some genuinely good music. All of a sudden the sound was how it should be and for the next hour or so she and the band got the crowd moving. She goes into a dialogue with her audience, and invites people up on the stage when singing tracks that necessitate an interlocutor. But mostly, they just rocked. Anyway, enough talk, here’s some music (torrent link):

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings:

SeeqPod Music beta - Playable Search

The Dynamites feat. Charles Walker:

woensdag 24 oktober 2007

Sign of the times

In the post Tempting!! on the Digital Archivist blog, Christian Van de Ven talks about the new flyer of the Archiefschool, the institute for archival education and research in the Netherlands, with its new enticing promo talk. It asks you if "you want to find out how things were in the past? How did your city used to look? What was the first movie on YouTube? The archivist preserves all information that is worth of it, so that everyone may view and use it." You will learn to "adjust your services to the customer. For the municipal government you'll write a research report, for school kids you'll make an exciting game." They are even offering classes on Web 2.0.

How ... well, modern. The days of the stuffy old nerd in a flashers' coat covered in dust are gone. In today's society managing "old paper" is only part of the job. An archivist isn't just a Keeper of Ancient Written Knowledge anymore, but also a knowledge and information manager. In the Belgian Master after Master in Archival Studies the profile of the archivist is described as a guardian of historical and cultural heritage, as well as a key figure in any modern administration as a document manager and consultant in the field of document and records management, taxonomies, work- and documentflow, automisation, etc.

The archival profession has entered the digital age for some time now. In the field of digital archiving a lot of research has already been done (e.g. Monash university's Records Continuum Research Group, the European Union's DLM-Forum, the InterPARES Project, the Dutch Digital Longevity project, the published ISO archiving standards like the OAIS-model, PDF/A and ISO 15489, the Archives of Antwerp's eDAVID project, and many more). Several technical solutions for the problem of the volatile digital record have been researched. Archives are now in the process of working out the feasibility of these solutions. However, until recently I got the feeling that people in general, and a lot of archivists outside of the academic world in particular, weren't ready to enter the digital era yet.[*] Slowly this is changing, but a lot of work still needs to be done to convince everybody that archivists need to move with the times. Not only in the field of preservation and dissemination of records, but also in the way archives (and libraries as well) present themselves to the public. A few librarians (and some archivists) are experimenting with different methods. Early september I went to Informatie 2007, a congress on ICT for information professionals, organized every two years by the VVBAD (the Flemish Organisation of Librarians, Archivists and Documentalists). There were several presentations about (ongoing) research and projects regarding digital repositories, digitalization, social software and the like. This is just an example at the level of a small European country, but the point that I'm making is that there are enough ideas and pioneers in the field willing to make a difference. The main thing now is to convince the rest of the world of what we're doing.

[*] I'm not saying that "traditional" record-keeping should be forgotten. The "old papers" still need to be taken care of. What's more, for the time being, the paperless office doesn't exist yet, so hybrid systems will remain in place.

dinsdag 23 oktober 2007

It's our history!

"On the 26th of October 2007, the Museum of Europe", in collaboration with the Scientastic museum, "will be opening its doors to welcome you to an exhibition staged to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, marking half a century of European unification." It's our history! 50 years of the European adventure will take place in Brussels at the site of Tour & Taxis until the 23rd of March 2008.

The Museum of Europe is a project with the intent to illustrate and strengthen the European identity. The idea came from a group of historians and cultural promoters from civil society, about nine years ago. Their aim was to take Europeans back to the roots of their shared civilisation. They have already organised two ‘exploratory exhibitions’, La Belle Europe (fall 2001-spring 2002) and Dieu(x), modes d’emploi (27 October 2006 – 6 May 2007), in Brussels. Following the success of Dieu(x), which portrayed the resemblances between different religions, the exhibit went to Paris and Madrid.

The essential idea behind It's our history! is that "we are all protagonists in this incredible adventure, this ongoing quest to unify Europe." "From the devastated Europe of 1945 to the challenges that are today facing our continent, visitors will come face to face with History with a capital H but also with their own more personal history. ... The exhibition boasts the state-of-the art resources of contemporary museography: backdrops, films, multimedia and interactive tools guide you through exhibits that have been chosen above all for their authenticity." To get a feeling of how the exhibit will look, you can check out some videos here.

The description above is comprised of impressive words. I only hope that the exhibit can live up to the evoked expectations. At the least it is an effort to promote Europe to its' citizens. To most people it's merely an abstract idea used only to give more power to men and women in suits. The fact is that the European Union has a real impact on our daily lives, even if we don't notice it anymore. If I can find the time to go, I'll keep you updated.

Practical Info: From October 26, 2007 until March 23, 2008
At Tour & Taxis, 86 avenue du Port/Havenlaan – 1000 Brussels
Languages: French, Dutch, English, German.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday: 9 am to 5 pm, Saturday, Sunday, public holidays: 10 am to 6 am, School holidays: 10 am to 6 am
Duration of the visit: 1h30 – 2h00
Price: 10 €

Update: Our visit.

maandag 22 oktober 2007

Panties for Peace

The Panties for Peace campaign, which started at October 16, is aimed at the leaders of Myanmar (the English-speaking world still calls it Burma although the name changed in 1989). Women throughout the world are sending packages containing their panties to Burmese embassies. Burma’s superstitious generals, particularly junta chief Than Shwe, believe that contact with any item of women’s wear deprives them of their power.

To widespread international condemnation, the military in Myanmar crushed mass anti-regime demonstrations recently and continues to hunt down and imprison those who took part. Women in Thailand, Australia, Singapore, England and other European countries have started sending or delivering their underwear to Myanmar missions following informal coordination among activist organizations and individuals. "You can post, deliver or fling your panties at the closest Burmese Embassy any day from today. Send early, send often! This is your chance to use your Panty Power to take away the power from the SPDC and support the people of Burma" the Lanna Action for Burma Web site urges.

So, girls, if you want to chip in, here is a list with the adresses of Burmese embassies. Or in the words of the blogger who compiled the list: "Ladies, the least you could do to help Burma is to just .. Take 'em off, Pack 'em up and send 'em in. Them undies. ... Ladies and grannies, take 'em off and send 'em in ... [ don't bother washing 'em ] !!!"

vrijdag 19 oktober 2007

Viva Cuba!

From 18th till the 21st of October the Cultural Centre of Evere (Brussels) is hosting Viva Cuba! Festival of the Cuban Culture. In their words: "On the 20th October 1868 revolutionary Cubans, lead by Manuel de Céspedes, liberated the city of Bayamo. In hommage of this historic event, the 20th of October has been dubbed the 'Day of Cuban Culture'." During this week-end the Cultural Centre and the Friends of Cuba offer a series of films, two expositions, debates and musical evenings with a Caribbean touch.

On 27th of October the Iniciativa Cuba Socialista (ICS) is hosting Che Presente 2007 at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). The event celebrates the National Day of Solidarity with Cuba and commemorates the 40th birthday of the murder on Che. They will be providing several conferences, workshops and movies, as well as Cuban food, cigars and music.

donderdag 18 oktober 2007

God Hates the World

As you all know, most of the different factions within the abrahamistic religions claim that their god is a peace-loving and forgiving type of dude. Well apparently those who have made this claim are wrong.

Before I get into this, let me tell you about the most hilarious fundies that can be found on the web: Westboro Baptist Church. They have a subtly titled website ( were they say the most outrageous things. Cracks me up every time. The reason for all this mirth is that they’re very serious about their retarded beliefs, and the only thing we can do is laugh.

Actually the things they do is no laughing matter and shows a great deal of disrespect for anyone who doesn’t agree with them. They believe that the last days are coming because the world is filled with sinners. More specifically, America is doomed because it allows homosexuality, ensuring the hatred of god. Before entering their site you are “warned” that there will be “Gospel Preaching Ahead”, together with a summary of their beliefs. In the FAQ of their site Pastor Phelps (the Westboro Big Kahuna) explains it as follows: "The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas, is an Old School (or, Primitive) Baptist Church. In short, we adhere to the teachings of the Bible, preach against all form of sin (e.g., fornication, adultery, sodomy), and insist that the doctrines of grace be taught publicly to all men. These doctrines of grace were well summed up by John Calvin in his 5 points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. ... WBC engages in daily peaceful sidewalk demonstrations opposing the homosexual lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth. We display large, colorful signs containing Bible words and sentiments, including: GOD HATES FAGS, FAGS HATE GOD, AIDS CURES FAGS, THANK GOD FOR AIDS, FAGS BURN IN HELL, NO NOT MOCKED, FAGS ARE NATURE FREAKS, GOD GAVE FAGS UP, NO SPECIAL LAWS FOR FAGS, etc. Perceiving the modern militant homosexual movement to pose a clear and present danger to the survival of America, exposing our nation to the wrath of God as in 1898 B.C. at Sodom and Gomorrah, WBC has conducted some 20,000 such demonstrations during the last nine years at homosexual parades and other events (including funerals of impenitent sodomites, like Matthew Shepard). WBC teams have picketed major fag parades in San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C., Miami, San Diego, Dallas, Orlando, Kansas City, etc. The unique picketing ministry of Westboro Baptist Church has received national attention, and WBC believes this gospel message to be America's last hope. ... [Homosexuality] is the sin that is at the forefront of the moral crisis in this nation. WE did not start the homosexual movement. WE did not put this movement on the front page of every major newspaper, in every phase of the entertainment industry, and in the schools. WE are not the ones insisting that this awful behavior serve as the basis for special legal rights. WE are not the ones marching up and down the streets demanding that people accept and respect us for our sins. This is the only sin to which America is seriously contemplating giving civil rights. Imagine if embezzlers, murderers or rapists demanded that they be given protection - not punishment - by law because of their wrongful deeds? You would gasp in amazement. Yet you embrace the notion that because someone engages in sex with a person of the same gender - and then chooses to broadcast that fact - they should be protected? Amazing! This sin is so insidious by its nature, and those who commit such things so abominable by their nature, that it serves as the litmus test for a society. When God has turned his back on a people, sodomites rule the land. America is on the cusp of that condition, and only by an abundance of mercy will God forebear the utter destruction of this country. That is why we focus on this issue in our ministry at this time in our journey on this Earth." As a result of not persecuting the “sodomites” the States is losing the war in Iraq (as opposed to giving false information, underestimating the enemy and safeguarding oil reserves). To make their point absolutely clear they picket funerals of soldiers, carrying banners with messages like “a soldier dies, god laughs”, “too late to pray” and “god hates your tears”; and reciting negative bible verses through a megaphone. It amazes me that none of them have gotten killed by the boy or girl’s parents. Needless to say nobody likes these people. From time to time though there are some Hell’s Angels who make sure they’re there as well. The Angels encircle the "Most Hated Family In America" with their bikes and try to drown out the disrespectful slogans.

Now, these guys are telling us that the supposition that god loves us all is wrong. They prove this in a dissertation, titled “God Loves Everyone” The Greatest Lie Ever Told – 701 Passages Proving God’s Hate & Wrath For Most of Mankind. It goes on for 94 pages that it is not once mentioned in the Bible that god loves everyone, and moreover that he killed and condemned to hell billions of people (which is listed in extenso), with an added list of 701 passages that tell us otherwise. It is in fact satan who has devised this creed. By believing this no one needs to heed the word of the lord, since we will be forgiven anyway.

I’m not really sure what the point of all this is. To me, it sounds more as propaganda against their beliefs. Who wants to live in fear and hate all his life? Well, apparently the Phelps Family does. Although they call themselves a church, they’re more or less only one big happy family (they even take their kids along in the madness). Poisoning your own clan isn’t enough though. That’s why they are on the internet, … abundantly. The God Hates Fags site couldn’t just be all by itself now could it? They do not only hate homosexuals, they also have a strong dislike for any country harbouring these “abominations against Christ”, and any other non-protestant religion. Here are some sister sites: God Hates America, America Is Doomed, God Hates Canada, God Hates Sweden (2 countries that are pretty hard to hate), The Sign Of The Times and Priests Rape Boys.

Maybe it's best to let them explain it themselves:

Here is Michael Moore’s take on the issue. Personally, I think Pastor Phelps has a problem of his own (something to do with repressed feelings). My suggestion to him is to seek help.

Some more fun with WBC:

Fred Phelps on "God's rage on America:

woensdag 17 oktober 2007

Discover your C-spot

Prof. Novak, a respected doctor, has discovered after years of research that every person has a C-Spot. This is a particular part on your body that, when stimulated, let's you enjoy culture in a more intense manner. Here is the explanation by the man himself:

You can find your C-Spot as well, by taking the test on Cultuurweb. Underneath you can find my result. What is yours?

dinsdag 16 oktober 2007

Henry Rollins

What can I say? Henry is the man. I've never been a fan of his music especially. Not that he's made bad records as a member of Black Flag, and later with his Rollins Band, I'm just not that much into the whole rock, search and destroy thing. His spoken word releases on the other hand are the shit. I've seen him three times now and he never ceases to amaze and entertain me. Every time, he just gets on stage and speaks for two hours without interruption, dropping science and making me laugh. It's not stand-up comedy. He just tells stories of things that happen in his life or about stuff that bothers him. Sometimes he talks about serious stuff, but most of the time he's extremely funny. And the good news is, he's coming to town on the 24th of January 2008! Here are some samples of previous shows, just to wet your appetite:

On telemarketers:

William Shatner, Pt. 1

William Shatner, Pt. 2

Surreal Conversation, Pt. 1

Surreal Conversation, Pt. 2

Henry vs. Iggy Pop

vrijdag 12 oktober 2007


Some time back, my dad and I were in Maastricht (a Dutch town near the Belgian border) on our way to the Bar Rock to see a local rock band play. Before we arrived at the bar we passed by a sex shop. In the display window there was the usual assortment of dildos, edible clothing and tacky lingerie. And then I saw a sex doll. You might say that was to be expected. Only … it was a plastic sheep. An inflatable sheep. And not even realistic at that (unlike the human real dolls) It had this play ball for a pool type of look to it. More triangular in shape than animal like. I could get that these things are used at universities or for bachelor parties, but let’s imagine that someone actually uses it for what it is intended. I’m of a curious nature, so I wonder. Who would buy this? If you’re into the whole bestiality/zoophilia thing wouldn’t you prefer the real deal to a plastic hole? Probably, we’re talking about someone who lives in a city. Country boys (and girls) who live nearby livestock have a greater opportunity to show their curly friends some lurv (I’ve been told that about half of the American country boys lose their virginity with Bella or Dolly). When you live in a city, you don’t always have the possibility to drive off to the countryside and whop out your best pick up lines. Besides fence hopping (effectively trespassing on property), apparently, is frowned upon within the zoophile community. Which raises another question: where do you meet nice, eligible sheep that don’t lie to you or spend all your money?

So, for the quick fix you acquire a plastic buddy. The thing is, doesn’t it take out the fun of the entire act? Is it just for the sex, or do you do it for the whole package so to say. Imagine this: before you leave your home, you put on green overalls and rubber boots. You walk out the door and smell the sweet scent of grass and manure. You approach the sheep of your choice, gently take her hind legs and shove ‘em down the boots. Before entering you run your hands through those nice curls. You get down to business and she bleats ni-i-i-i-ice. Perhaps you like to dress up as a wolf with a wool rug attached to your back, just to keep your relationship hot and spicy. Or, maybe you don’t care about all that, and you just want to get your rocks on with this woolly bitch. The guy who stays at home with his doll, does he put on his boots as well, to sort of get into the thing? I mean, doesn’t a doll kinda ruin the whole experience? But most importantly, and I ask myself this question for a number of other things as well, when he’s standing in his bedroom, wearing rubber boots, with his overall on his ankles, thrusting deep inside the lubed up gloryhole; isn’t there some point where he thinks: what the fuck am I doing?

P.S.: Steve Montana pointed out to me that for the real sick fucks out there a dashing site has been put up. After IslamTube, GodTube and YouPorn, the internet has been graced with the appearance of Beasttube. I do NOT recommend checking it out (unless you're into this sort of thing of course). I was able to watch a grand total of 30 seconds before I had enough. It's a bit like watching a car crash: you don't want to look, but you do anyway. I couldn't bring myself to watch the entire 4 minute video though. I can safely say that I do not need to see something like that ever again. The only thing I can say about this is an iteration of the above mentioned question: don't you guys ever wonder what the fuck you're doing?

Funny thing, the internet. Here we have a medium that has changed our way of sharing information, of doing business, of creating communities, that provides us with the opportunity to advance the knowledge of the human race as a whole. And what do we do most? Watch and upload porn, download movies and music, get entangled in pre-pubescent arguments on forums. Information at the fingertip, but in order to get there we have to wade through the nonsense, filth and propaganda in the dark recesses of the deep web. We could consider this a good thing as well maybe. It's all about the journey this way. Anyway, I'm getting a bit off topic here. What was I talking about? Don't do dr... No, that wasn't it. Oh, right: don't break into peoples pastures for non-consensual intimacy of the fluffy kind. Or something like that.

dinsdag 9 oktober 2007

40th anniversary of Che Guevara's death

On October 8 Ernesto "Che" Guevara was celebrated worldwide. On that day in 1967 he was taken prisoner by the Bolivian army and executed the next day. In a morbid way, dying was the best thing he could have done for Fidel Castro's Cuba. He has become the symbol for the Revolution. Whereas you do not see as many pictures of Castro in the streets of Cuba, Che (together with the 'father' of the nation, José Martí) is everywhere. He died fighting for the cause, and being dead he cannot do anything wrong anymore. He represents the person that every good communist should aspire to be. Every day, school children start their classes by pledging "pioneers for communism, we will be like Che!"

This anniversary was celebrated with lots of gusto in Santa Clara, the city he and Cienfuegos liberated from the Batista's troops, at the plaza in front of his mausoleum. Although Castro himself couldn't make it because of his present state, he issued the following statement: "I make a halt in my daily struggle to bow my head in respect and gratitude to the exceptional combatant who fell on October 8th, forty years ago; for the example he passed on to us as leader of his Rebel Army Column, which crossed the swampy grounds of the former provinces of Oriente and Camagüey while being chased by enemy troops. ... I thank him for what he tried but was not able to do in his home country, because he was like a flower prematurely severed from its stem. He left us his unmistakable style of writing — with elegance, brevity and veracity — every detail of whatever happened to cross his mind. He was a predestinate, but he didn’t know it. He still fights with us and for us." In his stead, Raúl presided over the festivities. Some 10 000 people attended the rally, together with his family members and family of old comrades-in-arms that have fallen with him. The second important meeting took place in Bolivia. A march to La Higuera, where he was shot, was undertaken by about 7000 people.

Hammy and I are not really Che aficionados, so we didn't know about all the planned activities. If we did, we probably would have taken our holidays two weeks later. Now we just missed out on the 47th anniverary of the CDR (Comités de Defensa de la Revolución) and the whole Che thing. The primary function of the CDR is the defense of the revolutionary values. Initially, they were founded to make sure that the American backed counterrevolution would be nipped in the bud. With the slogan "revolution in every block" CDR officials were installed in, indeed, every block. Their main function nowadays is to keep an eye out on the Cuban population, to check if everybody is still thinking in the right direction. The vigilance of the different branches differ from block to block. If the local officer is a hardcore communist everybody has to watch their step, if he's just a regular guy he'll look in the other direction in most cases. Be as it may, a large party was thrown in the evening on the 28th of September (when we were flying back home). F. and Rikkel left the day after. They told me everybody in Habana was having a blast in the street. People were cooking chicken on wood fires in these large blackened pots, the Malecon was full with people and everyone was letting it hang loose. Aah well, you can't have it all ...

More info on Cuba, Che and the CDR :
Wikipedia entry on CDR
De Cubaanse CDR
The CDR: repression in Cuba

And of course the excellent books Chasing Che and The Boys From Dolores by Patrick Symmes.

donderdag 4 oktober 2007


The other day, Hammy and me were contemplating the possible effects of long-term traveling. We have this feeling that if you keep on the move during a lenghty period of time, you get detached from the world around you in a way. Especially from your home country. The longer you stay away, the harder it gets to come back. Society changes, sometimes only a little, sometimes a lot. And then, after being out of the country a mere two weeks, we turned on the TV to watch the news.

Belgium is an odd country. We're the size of a handkerchief, yet we house two (almost) different cultures. Our country is divided, roughly, into two parts: a Flemish (Dutch) speaking part (Flanders), and a French speaking part (Wallonia). There is also a small bit in the south that speaks German (a 'gift' from Germany after the war), but they keep mostly to themselves. Because our politicians couldn't get along, they decided to federalize. The Flemish wanted to protect their language and culture through the creation of communities. The Walloons demanded more economic autonomy in the form of regions. The famous Belgian Compromise ensured that everyone got what they wanted. The result is six different governments: the Federal government, the combined Flemish Community and Region, the Walloon Region, the French-speaking Community, the German-speaking community and the Region of Brussels. The existence of Belgium is a bit of a freak of history. Initially we were added to the Dutch Kingdom to act as a buffer between the Netherlands and France after the Napoleonic Wars. During the 16th century the Low Countries (the Netherlands and what would later become Belgium) were united under Hapsburg rule. After the Eighty Years War (1568-1648), the Northern Netherlands become independant from Spain, the Southern Netherlands chose to remain loyal to the crown. This lasted until the French Revolution annexed our parts in 1795. After Napoleon's defeat the fate of Europe was decided during the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815). The men of power thought it wise to combine the Low Countries again (since the Spanish Empire wasn't near as powerful as it had been). They preferred giving our regions to the Dutch, than leaving them under possible French influence. Thus, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815-1830) was born. The problem, though, was unity. The North was comprised mostly of Dutch-speaking Calvinist merchants, while the Southern elite consisted mostly of French-speaking Catholic industrialsts. Not happy with language and school laws, and with the underrepresentation in the national governement, some sort of a rebellion was brewing. Not necessarily an independance movement, but something was up. Anyway, legend tells us that after a rendition of the aria Amour sacré de la patrie ( Sacred love of the motherland) from Auber's opera La Muette de Portici a riot broke loose. King William I of Orange tried to suppress these riots by force. This resulted in a full-scale rebellion. And thus, after some fighting, the independant nation of Belgium was born.

Given the fact that the French-speaking part of the country was forced to use Dutch in official correspondance, and was discriminated against because of their language, you would think they'd try to create an honest form of governement. No such luck. The uprising was, when it comes down to it, an attempt of an elite to gain more power. Although in theory we had the most liberal consitution of that era, the Dutch language was ousted from the public domain and a long period of discrimination against the Flemish had begun. (I'm taking a bit of an historical shortcut here for brevity. For more information see, amongst others, Blom's History of the Low Countries, Witte, Craeybeckx and Meynen's Political history of Belgium from 1830 onwards and the national academic effort Nieuwe geschiedenis van België). Which brings us to our current predicament. Being considered second rate citizens, the Flemish slowly started to create feelings of a Flemish nationalist nature (the archives of the Flemish Nationalist Movement, ADVN, can be found here). Where the initial objective was egality for all, over time separatist notions became predominant. The present nationalist-separatist discourse on the Flemish side is being voiced by the extreme-right, xenophobic Vlaams Belang (rough translation = Flemish Interests) and the more democratic Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (New Flemish Alliance). In Wallonia the main protagonist is the FDF (French Democratic Front). There is also the Rassemblement Wallonie-France, who want Wallonia to become a department of France, but they don't really matter politically. The outcome of the federal elections, held in June, showed that the Belgians voted against the ruling liberal-socialist government. Flanders voted mostly for the Catholic conservatives (CD&V), who are in a cartel with NVA; Wallonia, where the socialists have been in power for ages, voted mostly for the liberal party (MR), which is in a cartel with FDF. You can imagine that the opposing views make it very difficult to form a government. More to the point, after more than 120 days there is still no solution in sight.

One of the breaking points is the constituency Brussel/Halle/ Vilvoorde (BHV). The rights of the French-speaking 'minority' there are being protected. To give the resident Walloons of Vilvoorde and Halle the opportunity to vote for someone who speaks French, these two municipalities have been added to the Region of Brussels (officially bilingual). This is unconstituonal and has given rise to a lot of resentment. The demand to seperate BHV into distinct entities is being discussed now as a part of the formation of a government. Although most of the country doesn't give a rat's ass about this problem, it has become highly symbolic, especially since it has been around since the seventies when we first started to federalize the country. Both NVA and FDF have made it a key issue.

The seperation of BHV is moreover, legally speaking, a Flemish problem. The Flemish government can act on their own if it wanted to. And now, while the talks for a federal government are still under way, the Flemish Parliament has put sessions in motion in order to resolve the matter. But, the Flemish are being complete pussies (besides Vlaams Belang). Apparently they only want to put pressure on the Walloons. Not too much though. CD&V told the Walloons that 'they' won't put the brakes on the talks. The message was clearly understood. The French-speaking politicians have had their say, resulting in a delay. Eventually though, a solution will have to come now that the machinery has been put in motion. I don't think they've thought this kind of political blackmail through. It feels a bit like the Cuban missile crisis (well maybe not that dramatic). If there ever was a time when the split-up of Belgium was close at hand, it's now. Maybe someone will back down. Maybe nobody will. Whatever happens, it's the regular Joe that will pay the price. If somebody backs down, some sort of political price will have to be paid, funded by the taxpayer of course. If we split up, the taxpayer will have to cough up the cash to pay for the transition. It had to happen someday I guess. The last thirty years more and more of the essential responsabilities have been transferred to the regional governments. The unity that we might have had as a country has almost dissolved. Even our television and other media has been split in two. We hardly hear or know anything about the other part of the nation. To me, Wallonia sometimes feels as much as another country as Germany or the Netherlands. I'm not really sure what would be best though. I'm not specifically for or against separation. I live in Brussels, but I come from Limburg (Northeast Flanders). To the people I know there, coming to Brussels feels a bit like going abroad too. And the same goes for going to West Flanders. People only know what they see in their direct proximity and what they want to know. Some sort of patriotism for the Flemish region is cultivated. Less so for Belgium.

At any rate there is still some feeling of unity left. The last two weeks I have noticed that a lot of people have hung the Belgian flag out their windows and this weekend there was a manifestation for the country, against separation. In a recent poll, it was shown that only about 15% in all parts of the country thinks that the country will break over this nonsense (best to be careful, since polls can be tricksy). More than 6000 signatures have been collected for the petition Red de Solidariteit (Save Solidarity, the economy in the South of Belgium isn't exactly booming, so they receive funds from the North). This shows that despite the propaganda of the separatists, people do care for our nation.

To the policians in power I have just one thing to say: choose motherfuckers! If we stay together, try to unite us instead of talking so much shit. The USA has a lot of hyphenations (African-American, Italian-American, etc.), but in the end they all feel American. If a country that big can create a feeling of unity, why can't we? Perhaps our national motto (Eendracht maakt Macht, transl.: Strength in Unity or In Unity lies Strength) is only a jumble of words to you. If you want to split up, then do so. Just don't be a bitch about it. Right now we're in a marriage where the couple is sleeping seperately. Either make the marriage work again, or get a divorce, but don't sleep on the couch and get grumpy at breakfast, because the kids have had enough of all the bickering.

dinsdag 2 oktober 2007

"Cubans treat man who killed Che" ...

... is the headline of a BBC article. The Bolivian soldier that drew the short straw when deciding who had to shoot Che Guevara has been treated by Cuban doctors, who removed his cataracts, under a Cuban programme to offer free eye treatment across Latin America.

Never shy to use gratuitous propaganda when they can, the Communist Party's official newspaper Granma (after the boat used for Castro's first 'invasion' - more on that later) wrote that "four decades after Mario Teran attempted to destroy a dream and an idea, Che returns to win yet another battle." "Now an old man, he [Teran] can once again appreciate the colours of the sky and the forest, enjoy the smiles of his grandchildren and watch football games."

Buena Vista Social Club

Yesterday evening, after my first day of work, Hammy and I watched the Buena Vista Social Club documentary. The DVD has been in my possession for more than a year now, but we never got around to seeing it. I'm glad we didn't before now. When you've just been to a place, it's always fun to see footage of it. So, in a sense, we're trying to prolong our holiday, I guess. I'm sure everyone knows about Buena Vista. It tells the story of how Ry Cooder and his son Joachim united some of the most famous son artists of Cuba to record known classics in the genre. The name stems from a members club in Habana where the featured artists had performed during the 1940s. The film dates from 1997, and the funny thing is that Habana has hardly changed in ten years time. There is a bit more light, more people and slightly more variety in cars.

The latest incarnation of BVSC is coming to Belgium next month. They will be performing at the Audi Jazz Festival on the 1st (Bruges) and the 6th (Brussels) of November. Other notable names are Cinematic Orchestra (October 9, Brussels), Maceo Parker (October 21, Antwerp), Jef Neve Trio (October 14, Bxl), Philip Catherine (October 31, Bxl), Ron Carter (November 6, Antwerp), and others.

Staying a bit on the Cuba trip, we'll be renting Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights tonight. This movie will undoubtably be complete and utter crap ... but the action takes place in Habana, which is good enough for me.

maandag 1 oktober 2007

Cuba Update 3

The holidays are over. Back in ce plat pays qui est le mien. Before we get back to the harsh reality of the real (cold) life, a last quick update about our trip. In later posts I'll give a more detailed account with pictures.

Tuesday Hammy, Santa Lucia, and me went on a Seafari. This meant a trip with a catamaran for some snorkling and lunch on the beach of one of the small islands around Cuba. Only 12 people were on board: the three of us, Raciel (Mexico) and his girlfriend Yu (Japan, they met studying in Vancouver), and the crew. Why 7 crew members when you only need 3? Who knows. The Cuban government is good at creating useless jobs to avoid unemployment. After an hour or so, the catamaran stopped to give us the opportunity to snorkle. Unfortunately the sea was a bit rough. It was quite difficult to stay in one place and under water the visibility wasn't very high. Still, I got to see a few fishies and touch the reef. The fun was over though the moment I swam through a bunch of jelly-fish. My entire body was tingling, and not in a good way. Luckily, a dash of vinegar solved that problem. This was only a minor annoyance. When everyone was done swimming we continued our trip to the island. There we ate excellent paella with sea food. More interesting were the iguanas and the enormous amount of creepy-crawlies (hermite crabs). Iguanas are funny creatures. They seem slow at first, but they can be really fast when there food to be had. Yu and Lucia weren't too thrilled about them. Especially Lucia was a bit creeped out. They come really close since they know that the humans that visit their turf have snacks. Although they're not agressive by nature, they have sharp teeth, and they follow you around when you feed them. The big cabin where we had our food wasn't on ground level. I assured Lucia that they can't climb the wood board we were sitting on. How wrong I was. Just before finishing our lunch there was one next to her. They won't let you touch them, but they like what you've got to offer. Anyway, after the expected amount of screaming and jumping on tables, the iguana took off and Lucia and Hammy went for some more snorkling. This time they stayed close by. Since the water was a lot calmer next to the beach they got to see a lot more. On the way back the crew started blasting Reggaeton on the soundsystem. By the time we were halfway back, Raciel and some of the Cubans were getting quite drunk. Eventually, one of them urged the rest of us to dance on the bough. I'm guessing they make their own fun since they don't have much to do all day. Be as it may, it was a fun and disconcerting experience to be shakin' our ass on a boat next to a fat Cuban who's giving it all he's got.

Wednesday, a friend of our casa owner drove us to Varadero, via Santa Clara. The road to Santa Clara goes through the mountains, so we got some beautiful views, before we reached the mausoleum of Che Guevara. This is located on top of a hill, next to a big road. You can see a big statue of the most famous image of the Revolution, accompanied with reliefs and parts of his speeches and sayings. On the background you can hear revolutionary music playing. The statue itself is ugly though. At the back, there is a small museum and the actual mausoleum. Both have been done with more style and respect. The museum houses memorabilia placed within context, giving you a quick overview of the man. The mausoleum is comprised of his image, and of the images of guerrillas that have fought with him, and an everlasting flame (more an everlasting blowtorch, but who am I to judge) lit by Fidel Castro himself (naturally). I'm glad we stopped there on the way north, but I wouldn't recommend going there only for the mausoleum.

Varadero is, according to our driver, not Cuba. Here you find the all-inclusive resorts, postcard beaches and ... well that's about it. The only Cubans that are allowed in are those that live or work there. Officially there are no casas particulares, just hotels. Although we did have the address of an illegal casa, we opted for a budget hotel: the Turkino (Mount Turkino is where Castro's base camp was located during the uprising). That night we hooked up with a Slovakian and 2 English girls we had already met in Trinidad to hang out in one of the rooms and get drunk. The next day, the girls got into some serious tanning. Since I got burned the first time we went to the beach, I remained in the shade. In the evening we had sea food by the sea and went for a midnight swim.

By then our time was almost up. Lucia had to catch her plane back to Holland Friday morning. So, Hammy and I traveled to Habana, where we hung out for two more days. This time around Habana wasn't as stressy as in the beginning. We didn't have a hectic schedule and we had gotten used to the jinitero's by now. About two hours before we had to go, we got to see some good live music and we saw our two Flemish friends from the busride again (we saw them earlier as well but that's a different story). At this last moment we decided to smuggle some extra rum (you can only take 1 bottle per person). Luckily we got it all in Belgium.

In conclusion: we have gotten a glimpse of Cuban life and culture, drank rum and smoked cigars every day, and met nice people.