A Man Named Michelle…Or Michel That Is…

Of all the major directors in Hollywood – Scorcese, Eastwood, Gus Van Sant, etc. – Michel Gondry wouldn’t necessarily be at  the top of the list; but hold tight, because it won’t be too long before the Versailles born director with the child-like imagination takes over. He’s already made a huge mark with such critical darlings as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Be Kind, Rewind” and “Tokyo,” and is creating buzz with his upcoming production of “The Green Horne.”:

In my love of all things Michel Gondry (I have like three of his films in my video library), I actually found a site that would be of great interest to his fans and those that need to know the genius of the director.

Picture courtesy of Michelgondry.com

Picture courtesy of Michelgondry.com

In the spirit of the economy being terrible, http://www.michelgondry.com/ has all kinds of memorabilia relating to the director on sale, and boasts some of the most innovative illustrations online. If you are a director in the making, he has a book on sale for about $12.95 called “You’ll Like This Film Because You’re In It: The Be Kind Rewind Protocol.” The book gives the reader tips on how to involve any and everybody around you in the process of filmaking. There are even t-shirts with crazy graphics, and for the die-hard fan: Michel Gondry toilet paper! The paper is covered in Gondry’s notes, sketches and feelings. And it’s 2-ply!

Even if you are not a fan, the site is definitely

Photo courtesy of Michelgondry.com

Photo courtesy of Michelgondry.com

a must-see if you want to see one of the most creative websites on the internet about one of the most innovative directors of our generation.

Nazi Party

nazis

The far-right National Democratic Party NPD is currently attempting to expand itself and gain more followers, but Bavaria is determined to put a stop to this. Most German political parties would love to see the NPD disappear from the political stage. Some parties, however, want to avoid another failure to ban this group and are just quietly watching the events as they unfold and will only do something against the NPD once success is ensured.

In 2003 the federal government made an attempt to remove the NPD accusing them of Nazi ideology. The attempt failed because some of the evidence proved to be inadmissible, so the case was discarded.

Last month the NPD made headlines when they told a black member of Merkel’s CDU to leave the country. Politicians of all parties are united in the desire to stop the NPD, unfortunately they are not sure how to go about it since they want to avoid an embarrassing failure like the one in 2003 at all costs.

More details about the NPD here.

A Chancellor’s Sin

angelaGermany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is being criticized for her boring ways of campaigning for reelection. On a superficial glance at her odd campaign it is almost as if she is refusing to fight the election campaign and simply stopped putting an effort into the whole thing.

The reality is very different, she is purposely making the campaign look unattractive. She is hoping to keep more of her opponent’s voters at home than her own, that way she can take the lead and maybe even win the election.

For more information about this odd strategy click here

 

The Monday Night Movie courtesy of Joseph Goebbels

‘Simplicity in Diversity’ is the title of a recent post on Politplatschquatsch. Comparing Prime Minister Merkel’s recent television performance to the grayness & monotony of the television produced by the ‘corrupt elite’ GDR, this poster is not only bored and disappointed but claims Merkel seemed less than thrilled herself.

Not all that special

Not all that special

Perhaps they too were traumatized as children when the first moon landing took precedent over the Batman after school programming.

Russian Superstitions

I grew up in a highly superstitious family; my grandma used to tell me that itchy ears meant that someone was talking about you, and on multiple occasions, my mother was known to change her driving route if a black cat crossed her path. This made me wonder if people in Russia uphold the same superstitions, or if they are different. Upon researching, I found that there are a few that reach across cultural boundaries, but there are also those that remain unique to each country’s culture.

Similar Superstitions:

  • In my experience, having a black cat cross your path means bad luck. Russians believe that seeing a black cat is a bad omen as well, some older Russians will discontinue a journey if they see one cross the street.
  • In America, if someone spills salt, they are to throw some salt over their left shoulder to avoid bad luck. In Russia, spilling salt is also bad luck, but they don’t throw it over their shoulder.
  • Both cultures “knock on wood” to ensure that something will/won’t happen after being mentioned.

Russian Superstitions:

  • Unmarried people should not sit at the corner of a table together, if they do they will not marry.
  • If you forget something after leaving someplace, it is bad luck to go back to get it. If you absolutely must, though, make sure to look in a mirror before you leave.
  • Don’t whistle indoors, you will whistle away all of your money.
  • Rain is usually a sign of good luck; rain at a wedding means the newlyweds will become rich, and it’s good luck if it is raining at the start of a long trip.
  • It’s good luck if a bird poops on your head (who knew!)
  • One article from Passport Magazine says “if you put your shirt on inside out, take it off, throw it on the floor and step on it before putting it on again.”

Those were just a few of the many superstitions that stood out to me among the different articles that I read. Although many of them made me chuckle at their odd reasoning, I soon realized that I have grown up with equally absurd beliefs (step on a crack, break your mother’s back, don’t walk under a ladder, etc.) Whatever you choose to believe, superstitions provide a fun and amusing window into another culture and help you to reexamine your own. Feel free to respond with thoughts and any other superstitions (American, Russian, or any other culture) that you know of!

Also, here’s a video of some American students acting out Russian superstitions. I’m assuming it was for a class project, because I found a few other videos like it online. They model it after the American show “The Twilight Zone” and have multiple references to American pop culture throughout the video (my favorite is the reference to the Cubs’ curse, but that’s probably because I’m a Cardinals fan!)

The Russian Zone

sanglier: French wild boar

One of the great French pieces of media that never really took off in America is Astérix; a series of comics, cartoons and live action movies that even spawned its own theme park. Based on the resistance of an ancient village of Gauls as the last to resist Roman occupation; the townsfolk drink magic potions that grant them super strength. One of the things that always fascinated me about the series was their primary source of food: French wild boar known as Sanglier.

Sanglier live in dense forests mainly in the south of France. They are very shy and rarely seen, though if cornered or protecting young they can be quite dangerous. Tens of Thousands of Sanglier are hunted for their meat in France every year.

If you consult the Astérix comics, the traditional method for hunting Sanglier appears to consist of walking up to the beast, punching it in the face and carrying it home on your shoulder.


I had the fortune of trying Sanglier while in France, it is an extremely dark meat with a very gamey taste.

* Note: EuroKulture does not recommend punching wild boar in the face. It is neither safe nor very nice. *

The Private Life

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A high school student from a well-off family attending an excellent Parisian school jumps from the sixth floor window.

He was declared dead later that day. People who heard the noise of the impact in the surrounding areas described it as such a loud sound that they originally thought it was a car wreck. The school didn’t want to comment on the subject.

Though the article mentions  tthe the school’s reputation, quoted many times as one of the best (upper class) Parisian institutes, boasting of high success rates for the students who attend, The focus of the story seems to be on the tragic death of a young student.

A major question that arises from reading the article is what are the possible cultural undertones about the students who attend such schools. How much of an impact ,socially or psychologically, does growing up in a private school have on children who are already under the lights of the media because of their family’s stature or rank in society? How has popular culture molded your idea of private school students through media and entertainment shows?

They are seen all over popular culture here in America in such sitcoms as Gossip Girl (thought the cast is now experiencing college life)and the new 90210 and the now off-the-air favorite: The O.C. , but how much of it is based on the real thing? Who is the example and who is the pupil: popular culture of the students?

Medvedev was a rock n’ roll bootlegger

After posting about media censorship and political punk rock, it was interesting to find out that President Dmitry Medvedev used to secretly make cassette copies of state blacklisted Western rock bands such as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

Which really makes people wonder about the state of the media nowadays in Russia. The majority of TV and radio stations are controlled by owners loyal to the government and politically outspoken bands like PTVP are practically censored.

While much of the censorship has happened under Putin, Medvedev did promise to “develop civil and economic freedom and to create the broadest new opportunities for our people to realize their full potential” in his inauguration speech. Will he, or can he summon the rebel from his youth and allow some musical and creative freedom?

French Finance: Islamic Intrusion?

France has the largest Muslim population in all of Europe, so it’s no wonder why the country has plans to become a hub for Islamic finance.

One problem though: Laïcité France’s strict policy on the separation of church and state.

euros

According to one website, the French hold this division to an even higher standard than that of the United States and most other European countries.

“Given this outlook, some French fear the Muslim community here is seeking to nurture its own identity in a way that sets them apart from ordinary French citizens and undermines the unity of the nation. The way in which Muslims openly speak about religion, rather than keeping their faith to themselves, looks to these French as a challenge to the principle of laïcité,” writes one Reuters blogger.

But other commentators on the Reuters blog say there Islamic finance has nothing to do with propagating Islam itself. Some disagree, however.

One blogger harshly states, “This sucking up to Islamic money makes one want to puke. It was bad enough giving it to them in the first place; now let’s have some dignity and tell them to use the sandbank.”

Is this fair? Is this really more of a branding issue (i.e. including the word “Islam” in a bank title)? Or is this an intentional move for Muslims to make a bigger mark on French culture than the followers of other religions?

PILLOW FIGHT!!!!

So apparently April 4th if the official pillow fight day. A bunch of people get together in the streets and do just that, beat each other with pillows. Feathers are seen flying everywhere and everyone looks to be having a great time. There is an actual site where people can go and organize a pillow fight in there own city.

I had no idea there was an international pillow fight day. Its not what most people would picture though. Its not a bunch of giddy 10 year old girls at a sleep over, nor is it a bunch of 10 year old boys trying to establish their cool male dominance. Surprisingly it is adults who get together and engage in child like behavior. Personally I think it sounds like a blast and reminds me of childhood. I would for sure participate.

Some places, like Ann Arbor, seem to have pillow fight clubs or groups.  They give a location and time where people can come and swing pillows at each other, while laughing, and meeting new friends. Wouldn’t that be a great story about how you met your future husband or wife?

This Youtube video pictures competitions people actually have to knock each other off of balance beams in Russia on Pillow Fight Day. Talk about game-show action. I wonder how many views a show like this would actually have.

A Film With “Class”

Do you remember your years in high school? If someone put a camera in the halls of your school, what would they find? In the case of the French film The Class (Entre Les Murs), the results were worthy of the top prize in the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.

Written by an actual teacher, Francois Begaudeau, who would go on to portray the life-changing main character in the film, The Class follows the struggles of inner-city Parisian students, and the teachers fighting to make a difference in their lives. For those that don’t know, the Palm d’Or at Cannes means that a film has been designated as a masterpiece. So if you have never seen The Class, it’s a must.

The students are like most that I personally went to school with: stubborn, angry and devoid of ambition. But the same can be said about some of the teachers, including Begaudeau who goes through the same rollercoaster of emotions that the students go through. He tries to instill order and hope into the students, but in most cases, to no avail. But in the end, after all the stress and an eventual expulsion of one his most promising students, he finally finds fulfillment in his work and finds a way to bring his students up to their potential.

The film was an eye-opener for me because it proved that teachers do more work than people give them credit for. Parents nurture children, but around the age of 5, the responsibility of providing the educational nourishment they need falls on the shoulders of teachers. Plus, there are many people who dump their children off at school lacking the manners and respect they need to show for others, and the teachers are forced to pick up their slack. So kudos…kudos to the grammar teacher I used to give hell to thinking she was over-emotional at times. Kudos to the English teacher that made me read five books in the summertime even when I didn’t want to. Kudos to Mrs. Vagina whose name we used to make fun of because she wouldn’t let us pass without knowing our multiplications. But most of all, kudos to The Class for being a heart-warming and heart-wrenching tale that proves that no matter where you are, school sucks… but you would be nothing without it.

For a review of the film and more information, see: http://www.cinematical.com/2008/05/25/cannes-review-the-class-entre-le-murs/

Photo credits to:

blagora.wordpress.com

 

Challenges for cycling commuters everywhere

When I was a kid, riding a bike meant circling the block or riding a couple miles to my grandmother’s house. No one in my small Midwestern community traveled by bike. Despite a lack of cycling commuter models, there are days when the idea of biking to and from the MU campus seems like it would be a delight.

A bike in Paris.

A commuter's bike in Paris.

I see many Columbians make the trek to campus on bike each day — some on the MKT trail and others on the roadways. For some it’s an effort to be more environmentally conscious; others like the exercise. In France and much of Europe, cycling has been a part of the culture for years.

Part of the reason for my unease with cycling is that there aren’t ideal routes for cyclists in this Midwestern city. Granted, Columbia has done plenty right when it comes to helping cyclists negotiate the roadways with their peers in motor vehicles. Thanks to the folks at GetAbout Columbia, there are 125 miles of bikeways, pedways and new sidewalks in the city. Twenty-three miles of city streets are marked with bike lanes; and there are 900 new bicycle parking spots downtown.

Another city that loves its bicycles is Paris, at least that’s what Parisian Olivier Magny writes on his blog. Not only does riding a bike provide a faster means of transportation than driving, it’s also green.

And green is good. Good for the environment and good for you.

Paris has more than 230 miles or 371 kilometers of cycling lanes. But, apparently there are some tensions between the cyclists and motorists. The same is true in Columbia since the City Council passed a bike harassment ordinance earlier this summer.

There is a clear hierarchy in Parisian bicycle riders. Riding a mountain bike is pitiful (do you think this is a sport?). Riding a Velib is ok (yet uncomfortable). Riding a ˜vélo hollandais’ takes you to the pantheon of Parisian bicycle riding.

The public-bike rental system, called Velib, has gained popularity among Parisians. The self-service system debuted in 2007, with the idea that residents could pick up or drop off a bike from the locations that best suit their needs. There were more than 750 locations in the city – and each Velib station offers a meter for purchasing the passes, which are sold by the hour, day or week.

A Velib bike rental station in Paris.

A Velib bike rental station in Paris.

However, there have been problems with the Velib system. Vandals are stealing the bikes, or returning them damaged. NPR reporter Eleanor Beardsley reported on the problem in early August.

Other European cities from Germany to Spain also have public bike rental systems. And so does Montreal. Some American cities are thinking about giving the bike rental system a try.

I think a public bike rental system could be an interesting concept to adopt here. Cyclists: Would it work in Columbia? Could we initiate a public bike rental system for our community? What would make it a success?

Since I don’t even own a bike, I can’t say what riding the streets of Columbia is like. Frankly, the motorists scare me when I’m in my car, so I’m likely to be even more afraid on a bike.
And, since I’ve never been to France, I can’t say how well the Velib program is working there. But here’s how Velib works from people who use it.

I like the rental system idea for a couple of reasons:

1. It’s supposed to reduce congestion in public transit and follow the city’s traffic cycles.

2. It encourages people to get outdoors and to get exercise, even if they don’t think that’s what they’re doing.

3. It’s simple and not really bureaucratic.

I don’t have the answers for whether this might work in America — the nation where we seem fairly dependent on our automobiles — but I’d certainly give it a try. Maybe it would take a younger generation of cyclists to make it popular here. What do you think?

Schwarzfahrer aka The Black Rider

German Director, Pepe Danquart, made a short film in 1993 about racism in Germany. The film went on to win an academy award in 1994 for best short film.

The short movie, Schwarzfahrer, is a play on the German word meaning fare dodger and that the man on the train is a black rider. In the film a black man boards a train and sits next to an old lady who verbally badgers him while people on the train sit and say nothing. The end of the film has a humorous twist, and allows the viewer to reflect on what the message of the film is. The film is highlighting the racism problem in Germany.

After WWII Germany brought over workers from other countries (mainly Turkey) as Gastarbeiter, literally meaning guest workers. Many of the workers remained in Germany, even though they were only supposed to stay there temporarily. Some Germans felt these immigrants were taking jobs away from German citizens. This parallels a to what some perceive as a similar problem in the United States, with Mexicans taking away jobs from American workers.

I have seen the film a few times, and each time I can relate it to the racism I have seen in the United States. However, I was unfamiliar with racism in Germany and never witnessed it myself.

That changed this past spring when I was in Munich for Easter, and stayed with a man who was half Algerian and half German. He said he has his public transportation ticket and his bag checked at least once a week because he doesn’t look German. That same day he told me this, both of our metro tickets were checked by an undercover police officer. No one else in our compartment was checked and I was in disbelief at what just took place.

Is racism a problem in the United States, Germany or another country? What will it take to stop racism? Can it be stopped?

Take a look at Danquart’s film and see if the film still is true today, 16 years later.

Coming soon: Greener bier

Photo from The Guardian

For those of us who are familiar with green beer drunk on St Patrick’s Day – booze that’s literally green in color – it might be worth getting acquainted with another sort of  “green” beer – the environmentally friendly beer that is.

German engineers at the Technische Universitaet in Munich – home of the Oktoberfest beer festival –  are working on a new brewing technique that could cut down on the amount of energy needed to produce beer, according to UK’s Wired.com.

The Bavarian team created a ‘zeolite storage system’ which is a more efficient of storing heat and then using it to heat brewing kettles to the required temperatures.

“These porous pellets are made of silicate minerals and have excellent heat storage properties,” the team was quoted on the website. “One gram of zeolite has an internal surface of about 500 square meters.”

The findings are based on virtual simulation and real-world tests are being conducted at this moment.

But the Germans aren’t the only ones that are looking to brewing eco-friendly beers. As people become more conscious of the environment, it seems the race to cater to ec0-friendly drinkers may well be underway.

In Europe, the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland said a study it conducted using genetically modified brewer’s yeast can yield a lager with higher alchol percentage with the same amount of ingredients. “They [the transformed yeasts] fermented VHG wort faster and more completely, producing beers containing more ethanol and less residual maltose and maltotriose,” the researchers told ScienceDaily.com.

Several other breweries here in the US also claim to be brewing such booze. New Belgium Brewing, a Colorado-based brewery, for example uses renewable energy to power its facilities as just one of its ways to, in the words of environmentalists , “drink with a clear conscience”. The Alaskan Brewing Company, the Full Sail Brewing Co. located on the Hood River, in Oregon, and Brooklyn Brewery, located on Brewer’s Row in Brooklyn, New York, are some other green brewers in the US.

For the rest of us, a first step to eco-drinking is the remember to recycle your cans at Tailgate events or at home.

For those who insist green beer has be literally be green in color, here’s a video that shows how to make one without using food dye. Prost!