The plight of Beaujolais

In France, there are certain things that must be on every dinner table.  Bread and wine are two of the first things that come to mind when considering staples of the French meal.  A few decades ago, the wines of the Beaujolais region of France were at the peak of their popularity, being the “unofficial” wine of Lyon, France and becoming the staple on every Lyonnais table.  However, things have changed.  The Lyonnais abandoned their neighbors to the north and began drinking the wines produced by their southern neighbors of the Côte-du-Rhône region.  Ever since, the reputation of Beaujolais has been on a steady decline and now seems to be the metaphorical “ugly duckling” of French wines that no one really wants to acknowledge, unless of course one needs to write a bad review of a French wine.

Beaujolais vinyards by JaHoVil

According to Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times, Beaujolais has the reputation of being “a simple, light-hearted, fun, good-doggy kind of wine.” While it is true that some of the wines coming from these regions don’t tend to be overly complicated (or particularly good), this is perhaps too much of a generalization as some of Beaujolais wines are quite complex and layered while maintaining the joyous and fun qualities associated with the region.  Most people are quick to blame the downfall of Beaujolais on Beaujolais Nouveau, a once successful wine celebrating the harvest that is now the most notable, but certainly not the highest quality wine coming out of the region. Winemakers in the region attempted to capitalize on the success of the harvest wine which in turn led to over-production, poor viticultural practices and bad wine making.  Beaujolais is now almost universally thought of as une piquette de mass market which may be in the process of dying a slow death.

But it seems that some French aren’t prepared to let that happen just yet, and the Beaujolais region has perhaps stumbled upon one last, decisive chance at survival.  The mission is simple: reconquer the tables of Lyon.  2011 looks to be a decisive year as a few Beaujolais enthusiasts as well as winemakers have organized events throughout the city of Lyon in an attempt to recapture the interest of its citizens.  Each Beaujolais cru (Régnié, Brouilly, Morgon, Saint-Amour, etc) will be assigned to its own arrondissement (similar to boroughs in New York) and events will be held throughout the year at the city hall of its given arrondissement.  Gilles Paris, president of the Organization for the Defense and Management (ODG) of Beaujolais crus, states “C’est aux Lyonnais de nous aider.  Quand il rentre dans un restaurant, c’est à eux de demander une bouteille de Beaujolais.” (It’s up to the citizens of Lyon to help us. When he enters a restaurant, it’s up to him to order a bottle of Beaujolais.)

Saving Beaujolais has been declared un acte citoyen, the responsible and right thing for the Lyon inhabitant to do.  But one must wonder if this attempt to revamp the Beaujolais reputation is too late.  Only time will tell, but it is clear that some aren’t quite ready to let that happen as it would be very un-French to let a product steeped in history and tradition just fade away and be forgotten.  Maybe you can preform your acte citoyen and pick up a bottle of Beaujolais the next time you’re at the grocery store (I can’t promise that it will be good though).  Perhaps Beaujolais will fulfill its destiny as the “ugly duckling” of French wines and emerge from this campaign in Lyon as the “beautiful swan” instead.

In Berlin, Wall Stares At You

Is there anything more satisfying than doing something you’re not supposed to: taking a cookie from the cookie jar, listening to music that your parents forbid you to hear, or sprawling colors on the side of a building?  The latter satisfaction, graffiti, or urban art, is not a new phenomenon.  Artists have been covering buildings around the world with creative designs for decades.  However, it is only recently that many of the most artistic practitioners of urban art, such as Bristol based artist Banksy, have become internationally recognized for their talent.

“Urban art is being shown in galleries and museums, handled by auction houses, and is part of a new global art movement taking place outside of the establishment. It is probably the first art movement whose history, relevance and potential is continuously changing, existing in direct correlation with worldwide distribution via the media and the creators themselves. It is also arguably the first art movement where national borders or cultural differences have no role to play.”
(press release)

From October 7th-11th, the Stroke Artfair was held in Berlin.  Now in its third year, the Stroke Artfair is a celebration of the works of urban artists around the world.  Coming off the heels of one of the biggest celebrations of urban art in the world, you may wonder why Germany is host to spectacular exhibitions of an art form that many still consider a low brow form of cheap vandalism?


Berlin has been called a mecca for graffiti artists.  Every year, Germany is host to countless art exhibitions, many of them held in Berlin.  Post-WWII and the division of Berlin into East and West Berlin by the Berlin Wall, there was a flourishing of artistic expression in West Berlin.

The Berlin Wall on the Western side was literally covered with stencils and images expressing the feelings of the youth living in West Berlin, while the Eastern facade of the Berlin Wall punished East Berlin with its clean slate of oppression.  It should be mentioned that East Berliners could not even get close to the wall because of the so-called Death Strip between the city and the wall.  You can see the 100-meter wide Death Strip in the photo with the clean Eastern facade of the Berlin Wall behind it.  Once the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, hundreds of artists flooded into East Berlin aiming to tag the once forbidden dividing line of Berlin.

So, now that you have a bit of the history of urban art in Berlin to use as a resource, that still leaves the question of why now?  What has caused this hot-blooded rush of interest in urban art (besides Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie buying some of Banksy’s art?)

Graffiti artists have used their artwork to express unpopular ideas or opinions critical of social conditions.  Maybe the popular mainstream interest in urban art and artists is a harbinger of a change in social perceptions?  Or maybe people are buying pieces of artwork for that almighty resale price down the road.  Either way, graffiti artists are finally enjoying at least some of the spotlight that they are usually trying so hard to avoid.  As one New York based artist who goes by the name of Inkie and now works for the computer-games corporation SEGA  says:

The urban-art ethos has always been about “reclaiming” public space, or “taking what’s ours”, as Inkie puts it – and you could argue that that’s exactly what these artists are doing now.

Graffiti artists are becoming more accepted and welcomed for their artistic brilliance and creativity (even Barack Obama lent his image to urban artist Shepard Fairey for the cover of Time Magazine.)  Let us hope that urban artists won’t dull the rebellious edge they have today, or the politically charged attitude of the Western Bloc artists in Berlin from years past.

If you’re still not aware of how urban art has infiltrated, or maybe been invited, into the mainstream, enjoy this video of a Banksy directed intro for The Simpsons.

I was in Berlin in March of 2008 and snapped a number of photos chronicling my excursion through the city.  In Berlin, they offer a tour called the Alternative City Tour that traces the history and expansion of the gritty underside of Berlin with significant attention paid to urban art and its place in Berlin life.  The area in these photos is in a back alleyway off of Rosenthaler Straße, near the Hackescher Markt in Berlin.  It is a safe zone where graffiti is encouraged.  Some of it is commissioned artwork, but the majority of it is created by freelance artists. (*The last photo showing the graffiti on the Berlin Wall was not taken by me.  But, maybe it is for the better that I cannot figure out how to remove it!  Lang lebe die Kunst!)

Authored and Co-Authored by: Tim Carrillo, Krysta Brown, and Greg Hoffman

C’est le wild wild West, Y’all!

You’re walking through the streets of France, and you see something that stops you in your tracks.  A cowboy hat, a red, white and blue denim vest, a denim, floor-length skirt, and cowboy boots. It gets worse. This American stereotype and her group of cohorts begin dancing.  Not just dancing, but line dancing. You are officially embarrassed to be an American. But then something strikes you as odd. The dancers aren’t speaking English. They’re speaking French. You must be dreaming, but you’re not. Line dancing and American country-western culture has grown extremely popular among the French population, especially among the older generations.

When I was in Saint Raphaël, a town about an hour away from luxurious Saint Tropez on the French Riviera, I was lucky (?) enough to stumble upon a line dancing performance that took place on the boardwalk. I immediately experienced the same embarrassment previously mentioned, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the dancers. Admittedly, I became fascinated with the whole situation.  I was perplexed by the fact that something that even most Americans consider to be a part of low-culture was almost being celebrated and taken seriously in France where such an emphasis is placed on high-culture. What was happening?

Line dancers in St. Raphaël by Julia Spiers

France now plays host to upwards of 50 country western themed festivals with some of the more popular ones including Country Rendez-Vous in Craponne-sur-Arzon, France and Festival de country musique Mirande in Mirande, France. Country Rendez-Vous prides itself in showcasing authentic country music, featuring mainly American performers and vendors hawking “authentic” western and Native American garb to the attendees.  The festival in Mirande is quite arguably one of the largest in France, attracting over 150,000 visitors annually.  The festival here offers similar experiences as the one in Craponne including musical acts, line dancing competitions, vendors, and even a pétanque cup.  One of the festival goers, Françoise Seube , describes how her love affair with country music began, saying, “At first, I was an Elvis Presley fan who dreamed about driving across route 66, then I discovered line dancing and I never stopped.”  Some natives of Mirande aren’t necessarily welcoming to the Festival, saying they would prefer the legend of their local hero, d’Artagnan (of Three Musketeers fame) to be revived. However they are still able to recognize that the festival has benefited their sleepy town.

Indeed, after French musicians began reproducing American country music in their native language, the French obsession with everything country began to take off.  The festivals began popping up along with line dancing clubs and a club de lasso.  This obsession can even be found in popular French destinations like Disneyland Paris where a popular attraction called Frontier Land mimics the style of an old American frontier town.  Some French are even taking this obsession on vacation with them as dude-ranches have become popular vacation spots allowing a hands-on experience of the American frontier lifestyle.

It’s hard to say what spurred the French interest in country western culture.  But what spurred American interest in French culture? Think about it. What comes to mind when Americans think of France?  Wine, cheese (gastronomy in general), châteaux, high fashion, etc.  The list is probably endless. The point is that Americans don’t have a history of these things that we so strongly associate with France and it seems that France becomes romanticized because of these things that aren’t a part of American history.  This is why most French people will tell you that Americans don’t really have a culture or a cuisine.  Our history is so new that we haven’t had time to develop these things, leaving the French without any romantic notions of our culture.  But the American frontier and the “Wild Wild West” is something that is uniquely American and exotic and unknown to French history and culture.  It seems that the French therefore romanticize this notion of the American West and everything associated (music, dancing, fashion) with it, much in the same way that Americans romanticize their culture.

Click here for more French line dancing.

Written by: Danny Wuerdeman
Research/ editing: Jaclyn; Thimotheus Hoffman

Americans are Fat

BY ASTRID WAGNER AND MARKUS SPIER When you think of Germany, what comes to your mind first? Let me guess? Beer? Even though I am most likely right you might also have thought of Lederhosen, beards, German Shepherds, the German’s love for David Hasselhoff, the Autobahn and many more.

But that’s okay – stereotypes are not necessarily wrong and statistics show that Germans indeed drink more beer than other nationalities, some Germans wear Lederhosen, some Germans have fancy moustaches, some Germans have German shepherd dogs, and some Germans do even love “the Hoff.”

Some stereotypes are insulting, such as the one that Germans are fat, some stereotypes are respectful and show admiration of the Autobahn. But as you can tell by the frequent usage of the word some, stereotypes are not very accurate. But that should be common sense.

Just as Americans have their stereotypes about Germany, there are many clichés about Americans, as well.

The stereotypical American seems to be fat and lazy, he watches TV all day and the only exercise he gets is the walk to his oversized car when he drives to the nearest fast food restaurant and orders a supersize meal. Americans are stupid and slow, and their geographical knowledge, nay awareness is restricted to the state they live in. These are just a handful of the many stereotypes that exist but all we want to do is to raise awareness to the insufficiency of stereotypes when it comes to describing a people as diverse as that of the United States.

Again, you will find confirmation of the stereotypes or exceptions when depending on where you look and what you look for. For example, when I spent a year as an exchange student in Roscommon, MI, I was asked if Germans really live in caves without electricity and running water and if Hitler really still is in office. But questions like these are the exception to the rule. As a matter of fact, most Americans we meet display a genuine interest in foreign cultures and many Americans know at least about the countries of their ancestors. While it is true that many Americans are rather oblivious of anything that happens in the world if it doesn’t concern their lives directly, one has to keep in mind two things: First of all, the U.S. are a huge country and there’s enough going on in North America to keep track of. Second, you will also find many Germans who don’t know much about things that go on outside of Europe.

Probably the most persistent stereotype of Americans is that they are fat. While there are many obese Americans, there also is a huge counter-movement advertising a healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of exercise. If you compare this to Germany again, you will be able to observe the same. As a matter of fact, in any Western country, people live in abundance – they can eat whatever they want whenever they want – and their lives have become extremely convenient. Maybe this development has started in the United States or Americans have bragged about their achievement of creating abundance the most and that’s why they are now portrayed the way they are. However, these stereotypes are slowly changing as the Western world moves closer together and American historian Peter Bladwin claims that the Atlantic is getting smaller.

There is one stereotype however, that so far, we have only found one exception to. Americans never are on time, which is especially hard for the stereotypically punctual German. The only exception is Eric – but he has spent several years in Germany.

Putin’s politically charged pin-ups

by Ben Frentzel, Travis Cornejo, and Sebastian Martinez

Calendars for Putin

In early October, news organizations and blogs picked up a very interesting story about Russian journalism students. A brewing battle between supporters and protesters of Vladimir Putin had erupted in a very visual way.

The students, all from Moscow State University, have released calendars for Putin. The first to appear was filled with 12 months of lingerie-clad women praising and flattering Putin for his birthday.

Then, a rebuttal surfaced – from the same school. A new calendar of more journalism

students spoke out in protest this time. The women were covered in black and their mouths were taped shut. Captions like, “Кто убил Анну Политковскую?” were written on the pages asking, “Who killed Anna Politkovskaya?”

The captions referred to recent killings of journalists all over Russia and to Putin’s suspected influence in those actions.

Blogs erupted because of this battle. Some made fun of the calendars by posting some funny versions. Others gave full photo spreads to the pictures.


What do you get the Russian Prime Minister who has everything?

I mean, how can you top murdering a journalist (birthday No. 54) or a rare tiger (birthday No. 56)?

(The gift came just a few weeks after Putin shot an escaped Siberian tiger with a tranquilizer gun – saving a Russian television crew.)

Students at Moscow State University felt a racy calendar would be fitting. And it is. Putin, or at least his PR team, have worked hard throughout the past few years to promote his image as a badass, to say the least.

His most recent display came in August, when he shot a whale with a harmless dart from a small motorboat. OK – a tiger, a whale… what other stories are out there about Putin and wildlife?

  1. 1. Tiger
  2. 2. Whale

So let’s put the tiger at No. 1 (Go Tigers?) and the whale at No. 2. What else makes the list?

  1. 3. Polar Bear
  2. 4. Leopard
  3. 5. Seals

To rip off a joke from Joshua Keating – Putin’s turning himself into the Steve Irwin of world leaders. What’s next, “Vladimir Putin’s Russia”?

When the media just reports on these antics of his, it’s hard to think of him as a threat to the freedom of speech.

Freedom of Speech in Russia

Oksana Teslo, Vyacheslav Plotnikov, Gadji Abashilov, Shafig Amrakhov, Vyacheslav Yaroshenko, Natalia Estemirova, Konstantin Popov, Bella Ksalova.

These are a few of the more than 200 journalists who have been killed in Russia since the early ’90s. Of these 200 murders, about a fourth have gone to trial. Of these, even fewer have resulted in a conviction.

On the 7th of October, 2006 Anna Politkovskaya was found dead on the floor of the elevator in her apartment, having suffered gunshot wounds to the chest, shoulder, and head. Politkovskaya was a journalist, an advocate for the ending of the Chechen conflict and an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin. Her murder gained international prominence, and brought attention to similar murders of Russian journalists, especially those who spoke out against the government, that had gone unsolved and often uninvestigated.

This begs the question, to what extent does free speech truly exist in Russia?

Obviously, compared with countries like North Korea or China, Russians are relatively free to speak their minds. However, if they are public figures, or journalists, or in any position of prominence, and they have negative things to say about the government, or are running a story on human rights abuses, this freedom is apparently forfeit.

Much like in Brazil or Turkey these abuses are swept under the rug. Very few people, outside those countries, have an idea of the oppression that goes on behind the scenes. Thus it’s nice when something, other than murders, like a calendar brings international attention to this issue.

Russian Ghost Towns

Russia is a pretty big place. Even with their population of about 140 million, they still can’t fill the 17,0175,400 km2 of land they have.

The Ghost City of Stepnogorsk

And after looking at some recent posts on English Russia, it looks like they can’t even keep previously constructed buildings and cities occupied.

It’s odd to see subway stations, college campuses and even entire towns where the population just picked up and left. It kind of says something about the stark differences between American and Russian cultures.

An abandoned Russian institute

In the U.S., there seems to be the ideology of tearing down and rebuilding. We won’t be hearing news of plans to tear down iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building anytime soon, but as for those generic buildings from the ’60s or ’70s? No such luck for them.

Of course, in some cases, it’s a smart idea to leave. Who would want to stick around Chernobyl? Now, it’s only purpose is as the setting for video games.

And in terms of abandoning cities due to man-made disasters, it’s not exactly a uniquely Russian phenomenon. Back in the ‘60s, residents of the Pennsylvanian town of Centralia picked up and left after a fire was ignited in the mine underneath the town.

A few years back, the Web Urbanist posted a blog listing the seven abandoned wonders of the former Soviet Union. Their list was pretty diverse — they covered abandoned buildings, submarine bases, prison complexes, missile silos and military bunkers.

It’s one thing to see random abandoned buildings and such, but fairly surprising to see so many government related buildings on the list.

I guess we should cut the Russian people some slack, though. I’m sure they had more important things to deal with in the early ’90s, other than tearing down unused buildings and complexes from the Soviet era.. You know, like forming a government.

Abandoned Moscow metro line

A whole new Strassenfest-ival

From October 1-3, many streets of St. Louis, Missouri are taken over by children of the Fatherland.

Strassenfest is a festival of ever-growing popularity where people of German heritage and those interested by German culture come together and enjoy old German pastimes. The festival is held behind Chesterfield Mall in a suburb of St. Louis, which made me think that the Strassenfest I so anticipated would be very small. Once I arrived, I was amazed at how large the festival was.

It seems as if German pop culture in America has somehow come together to form the St. Louis Strassenfest. While Strassenfest certainly cannot compare with Oktoberfest, I was still pleasantly surprised by how many people attended the event and were eager to participate in the festival.

As I walked around the streets of Strassenfest, I was bombarded with people in Lederhosen carrying massive steins of heavy German beer. At the festival, there were two stages where performers sang songs while drinking beer.

But two stages isn’t the end of it, there’s more! There were also multiple tents committed to satisfying the crowd’s never-ending thirst for beer.

The thing that struck me as odd as I walked around was how many stands had absolutely nothing to do with Germany… at all. It seemed that each little “German” shop was in the middle of a Dippin’ Dots stand and a face painting stand. The entertainment was entirely German, but the shops were entirely not.

After I overcame the dissapointment of these “filler shops”, I made my way to stage number two. Here, I saw the hit of the festival. The men in their traditional lederhosen were dancing with members of the audience, unwillingly pulled from the crowd. Everyone seemed to be loving the antics of the older German performers.

I really enjoyed the festival and hope it keeps growing as it has in previous years.

Lost Your Wallet?

As a working photojournalist who travels more than most college students, one of my biggest fears while in a new place is having my valuables lost or stolen.

ThinkTank Photo Airport International Security

The ThinkTank Photo Airport International security roller - one of many tools I've employed to keep my gear safe while traveling. Hidden pockets and built in TSA locks standard. ©

This fear has resulted in some pretty elaborate steps I take to make sure I’m not followed back to the car/hotel after a photoshoot, gear is locked, etc… but all it can do is deter a thief. If someone really wants your stuff, they will get it.

So while having your gear stolen is a terrible feeling – I’ve always hated myself more when I lose stuff without a thief’s help. Too many distractions, too little sleep, or some bad Pad Thai – there is often a reason why you left your belongings behind – but you still beat yourself up over it.

During my last visit to England in 2002, I lost a pair of glasses on the bus from the Airport to the hotel. I tried to get back in touch with the driver, but he claimed he saw nothing. After my friend told me a story about a research project that “lost” wallets throughout cities in Europe, depending on what part of the continent, some were actually returned with varying success and contents.

Recently an identity theft protection company in the UK, CPP, conducted another survey, with not very encouraging results. As featured on The Guardian:  “Life assistance company CPP finds that Britons have lost 9m wallets in last five years – and over 75% will not see them again.”

Worse than just losing your Hello Kitty pink wallet – the lost time to replace everything you typically carry can be pretty substantial:

“The research, commissioned by life assistance company CPP, found that Britons – who carry an average of £85 in cash and £7,000 in credit in their wallets – have lost more than 9m wallets and £765m in the past five years. More than three quarters of those who lose their wallets will never see them again, and most will spend over 110 hours replacing their credit and debit cards.”

On the flipside, Reader’s Digest magazine conducted their “Global Honesty” test in 2007, with cell phones – with a much better rate of return across all of Europe and parts of the world.

So it seems certain countries will be more “honest,” like Sweden – whereas you can kiss your cash goodbye in Italy.

The Longer, Quieter Way Around

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons' Sapphireblue

Imagine traveling the world on a motorbike, Ewan McGregor-style.

For ten years, you make your way through more than 69 countries and over 300,000 kilometers, meet hundreds of interesting people and take photos throughout your journey. You visit every state in the U.S., catch a ferry from Venezuela to the Dominican Republican, get thrown in jail for three months in Cuba and have innumerable adventures.

Now imagine that you are doing this without the ability to hear or speak.

That is the story of one amazing man, 69-year old Belarusian Vladimir A. Yarets. Maybe you’ve heard of him?

He recently returned to Europe from the U.S. and is now passing through Rennes, France, where my sister and her friends recently got to meet him. My sister, who is studying abroad in Rennes this semester, describes him as a “very, very animated and friendly” man. She said communicating with him was a lot like playing charades, with plenty of pointing and “grand gestures.” Like this:

As a friend pointed out, the trip is strangely similar to Ewan McGregor’s three-month motorbike tour in 2004, documented in the Bravo channel’s The Long Way Around series.

Just for the record, though, Yarets had the idea first (he started his tour in 2000). Sorry, Ewie.

But as amazing as his journey is, it seems that not every place he visits is entirely welcoming. London writer Peter Marshall laments the city police’s response to Yaret’s arrival in Parliament Square in April.

Despite the evidence of Big Ben behind him, Yarets wasn’t in London, but had landed on Planet Security, a make-believe world where a remarkable man travelling the world on a BMW despite his disability is seen not as someone to be welcomed and applauded (and I’m pleased to have shaken his hand) but simply as a security risk.

Still, according to an article from The Week, Yarets says through an interpreter that although many people are indifferent to his journey, there are always those who are friendly and happy to help.

One of these helpful people Yarets met in Singapore started blogging about it.

Interesting tidbit: the blogger says Yarets never asked for money, but when the blogger noticed that Yarets’ glasses were broken, he and his friends chipped in to buy him new frames. When they noticed his fog lights weren’t working, they found him a sponsor to pay for new lights. He even took this photo that explains why Yarets is making this long, dangerous, undoubtedly tiring journey.

Now doesn’t that just make you all warm and fuzzy?

On a sidenote:
Just one more reason to Study Abroad (yes, with capital letters) — the chance to meet insanely interesting characters like this Yarets fellow. But don’t take my word for it …

Can we joke about Hitler?

For better or for worse, there is a fairly popular blog site called Hipster Hitler. This site posts cartoons that depict Adolf Hitler as a goofy fashion freak. The cartoon brings up familiar events and phrases from Nazi Germany in World War 2 in a lighthearted way, as if there were no deep negative emotions attached to them.

Instead of describing the cartoon, as to draw attention to it, I want to consider the viewers’ opinions. Do people think it is funny? morbid? totally inappropriate?

Personally, I find the site disgusting. This is because the main subject of the cartoon is the person who is responsible for a genocide. I am unable to laugh about the content, which so ignorantly makes jokes about ideas that are deeply rooted in hate and prejudice.

This blog from Austria gives us a chance to look at the opinions of some German speakers through comments. One blogger from Vienna seems to play along with the joke:

“Save the Panzer” 🙂
Billiger wenn man sich selber macht.

Referring to a T-shirt available from the site, this blogger just says ‘it would be cheaper to make the shirt yourself’.

This next blogger comments:

Alles was mit Hilter in Verbindung steht ist viel ZU TRAGISCH als dass man sich ueber ihn LUSTIG machen koennte. Ich wuerde ihm keine Aufmerksamkeit mehr schenken – weder positiv noch humorvoll und nicht einmal kritisch. “Ned amoil ignoriern” waer’ meine Devise. Sich der Geschichte bewusst zu bleiben? JA. Jedwede andere Aufmersamkeit? NEIN!

>>Anything that is connected to Hitler is way to tragic for one to make fun of it. I would not pay any more attention to him – Neither positive nor humorous and never critical. ‘Just ignore it’ would be my motto. To keep ones self aware? YES. Any other attention? NO!

The main point of this comment is that this topic is too tragic to joke about. This person thinks that people shouldn’t pay any more attention to Hitler than knowing the facts.

There was an opinion poll on the Austrian blog site that is unfortunately now closed. I do not have the exact data anymore, but the vast majority of more than 100 people found that the cartoon is very funny and well accepted.

Please try to overcome the taboo nature of this post and provide your feedback. Does this cartoon make you smile? laugh? cry? blog about it?


In brief, far from all of these uncertain certainties, Slam is before all the mouth that gives and the ears that take. It is the way that is easiest to share a text, to share emotions and the desire to play with words. Slam is perhaps an art, Slam is perhaps a movement, Slam is surely a Moment… A moment of listening, a moment of tolerance, a moment of meeting, a moment of sharing. Finally, good, I said it…” – Grand Corps Malade

Slam. You’ve probably already heard of it.

Slam originated in the United States during the 1980s with Marc Smith as a way to redefine poetry and encourage the search for personal identity, and it still remains a popular form of poetry today. Type “slam poetry” into the YouTube search bar – you’ll likely come across American slam artist, Taylor Mali, and my personal favorite video:

by Jaclyn

But what does Slam have to do with France?  Would a country home to such legendary poets as Baudelaire, Hugo, Verlaine (to name a few) accept this new phenomenon of poetry? The answer: an overwhelming yes – the slam movement seems to have taken France by storm.

It is necessary to emphasize that Slam, considered a positive and educational movement, is especially influential on the French youth. According to 129H Productions, Slam is a means to face the civic disempowerment of French youth – notably within the banlieues,which have reputations for violence, poverty, and poor education. With the use of Slam, participants learn to reflect on themselves, on the society they live in, and on their sens de vie (sense of life or role) in society through artistic and literary practice. It also gives participants the opportunity to voice their opinions, and to address conflicts that the community is currently facing. This encourages the search for personal cultural identity as well as strengthens the community as a whole.

While Slam poetry itself has enough power to spread the slam movement throughout France, it helps to have an ambassador. Grand Corps Malade, currently known as the the “Le Maître” or “master” of Slam, is the stage name of successful poetry artist, Fabien Marsaud. His contributions have escalated the slam movement’s popularity not only in France, but throughout Europe as well.

Check out Grand Corps Malade’s new single, “Roméo kiffe Juliette,” which gives a fresh take on the classic Shakespeare tragedy by conveying some of France’s current racial and religious conflicts. In this version, Roméo is Muslim, and Juliet, Jewish:

*NOTE: The word “kiffe” is French urban slang for “like” or “love”

Like it? Grand Corps Malade’s next album, 3ème temps, will be released in France on October 18, 2010.

Do you pétanque?

Ask almost any French person about pétanque and they’re likely to tell you that it’s a sport played by les vieillards in the south of France as they enjoy their Ricard (sans eau, of course). But, walk by a pétanque court today and that may not be what you find. According to the AP, the game is making a resurgence in popularity, becoming the “it” thing for many young people. These days you’re more likely to find the old-school pétanque players sharing the court (perhaps somewhat skeptically) and their Ricard with the newfound generation of fashionable pétanque players.

Pétanque is said to be the less athletic version of French boules (because when I think boules, the first thing that comes to mind is athleticism). It originated in 1907 in a small village called La Ciotat near Marseilles after a former boules champion was crippled with rheumatism and could no longer compete with his friends in the game. The rules were adapted to shorten the length of the court and to eliminate running prior to the throw. Pèd tanco, meaning static feet in the Provençal dialect, was thus invented. The object of the game is fairly simple; two opposing players (or teams) attempt to land their boules closest to a smaller ball called a cochonnet, literally meaning piglet.

Want to have a go at pétanque for yourself and fait comme les français? All you need is a set of boules, ranging from $30 for a non-competitive set to $2,100 for this Louis Vuitton designed set, and a flat graveled surface. Can’t find a spot conducive to playing the game or just too lazy to get off the couch and play the less athletic version of boules? No worries! With the release of Pétanque Master for the Wii, now you can play from the comfort of your own home. But don’t forget the Ricard!

Hopefully you’ll have more luck than Anthony Bourdain did when he visited Provence.

And just because they’re awesome…

Liverpool FC terrorist fans

Koptalk, a Liverpool FC fan blog, has come up with an interesting way to get rid of owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

A Liverpool FC fan shows his dissatisfaction with the club's American owners at one of the team's matches.

The article titled “Get the baseball bats and ski-caps ready,” in which author Duncam Oldham encourages angry Liverpool fans to use vigilante justice on the pair of American owners, has been quite controversial among the club’s fans, especially at a time when Europe is being threatened by major terrorist organizations that an attack is imminent in the near future:

If George Gillett and/or Tom Hicks remain in control of Liverpool Football Club come the end of the season, I will be calling for such action to take place. I will be urging every passionate Red out there who has a ‘set’ and who is capable of donning a ski mask and waving a baseball bat in a menacing manner, to step up to put the frighteners on these two and everyone they associate with including any companies that support them. While the efforts must be applauded and acknowledged, the only action that I believe will work is militant.”

This is the photo that appears on Oldham's blog site in which he encourages fans to "get out the baseball bats and ski masks" to attack Liverpool FC's owners.

Oldham later inserts a brief disclaimer, stating that he won’t condone inflicting actual bodily harm, before calling for ‘militant action’ designed to “scare the shit” out of Hicks and Gillett.

While I believe in and will call for militant action against the present owners if they are still in charge come the summer, what I do not believe in is anyone getting physically hurt. Tempting, yes, acceptable, no. Now while it could prove difficult to board a 747 to Dallas with ski masks and baseball bats, it’s not difficult picking up a phone. Seriously, it’s time to scare the shit out of them.”

Since the article was published, a police investigation has been launched after a local paper ran with the story that the editorial may have been in breach of “any number of public order offences.” Oldham also posted a follow up on the website, in which he says that the fans that were worried about his editorial “must be a bunch of wusses.” In that article, Oldham justifies his post by saying:

Would I condone stoving Hicks’ head in with a baseball bat? Of course not. Would I condone dousing him in flour every time he turns up at Anfield, yeh, why not? A couple of eggs, some milk and we could bake him alive and make one huge Yorkshire Pudding. Waving a baseball bat around is actually peaceful. It only makes a noise when it makes contact so I would say my suggestion was a peaceful one.”

Oldham isn’t the only Liverpool fan that is frustrated with the ownership. In this YouTube video, Hollywood director Mike Jefferies repeats the message over and over again: that his, as well as other fan’s, patience with the club’s owners has run out.

Regardless of a more civil approach such as that of Jefferies, SoccerLens, a blog that covers multiple types of soccer stories, said in their commentary about Oldham’s posting that they are worried about what a posting like this might cause other fans to do, especially when fans have been known to attack soccer players in the past. Check out this video where a fan comes onto the field with a knife and attacks a player after he scores a goal around 45 seconds into the video.

Press PLAY


Studying a foreign language can sometimes make you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle.  Sifting through endless lists of vocabulary, reading lengthy paragraphs out loud, and, if you’re learning German, trying to pronounce a succession of words that all read like “onomatopoeia-expialidocious.”  An integral part of learning a new language is to immerse yourself in hearing the language. For instance, listening to how someone annunciates their words helps you understand the difference between please step aside and move!

If you’re not so keen on listening to either Podcasts or news broadcasts in a foreign language, there is a solution: watching foreign films.  Films with dialogue recorded in your language of study are a great resource for hearing how that language is spoken.  Warning: DO NOT flaunt the fact that you’re only watching foreign films or listening to foreign broadcasts.  This quote, taken from the website Stuff White People Like I think pretty much sums up how “obnoxious” that kind of elitist posturing can be:

In order to reach this level of fluency and obnoxiousness, white people believe they must put themselves into a local immersion.  This means a promise to watch only Spanish language TV, listen only to Spanish language radio, read Marquez in his native tongue, and watch foreign films with the subtitles turned off.  There are some instances of white people doing this for almost a week!

Recently, I had the opportunity to revisit a German film titled Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) with my German language class. Das Leben der Anderen was released to critical acclaim in 2007, winning the Academy Award that year for Best Foreign Language Film and snagging quite a few Deutscher Filmpreis Adwards.  Personally, this is one of the best movies I have ever seen.  If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor; rent the DVD, make some tea, read up on the GDR and the Stasi, and press PLAY.  Here is the official trailer for the film to whet your appetite.

As I thought about the state of German films, I began to wonder what type of movies Germans are seeing when they go to the cinema.  It came as a slight surprise to me that a majority of the films listed for a handful of cinemas in Berlin were Hollywood blockbuster films.  I guess no matter what country you travel to, you can be sure that Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich will be there blowing things to pieces.

There is an organization named German Films Marketing + GmbH that promotes German films for worldwide viewing and distribution.  German Films, as it is known on its website, together with the Goethe-Institut, bring German films to the rest of the world.  The Goethe-Institut is an institution whose goal is to promote the learning of German around the world and to facilitate communication between Germany and other nations.  They have institutions in many countries such as Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Serbia, Spain, Italy, and the list goes on.  German Films recently selected the film that would compete for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards on Feb. 27, 2011.  The independently appointed expert jury selected a film titled Die Fremde (When We Leave).  Trailer and short explanation below.

The jury on its decision: “WHEN WE LEAVE is an extraordinarily well written, atmospherically precise and moving film with outstanding acting performances. The film deals in a highly dramatic and subtle way with the struggle of a young German-Turkish mother for her self-determination in two value systems.”

On a local note of interest, the Ragtag Cinema in Columbia, Missouri hosts an annual screening of foreign films for two months out of the year called the Passport Series.  I recently went to the screening of the Maren Ade directed German film Alle Anderen (Everyone Else)Alle Anderen follows Gitti and Chris as they vacation in the Sardinia region of Italy.  Birgit Minichmayr, the Austrian actress who plays Gitti in Alle Anderen, won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival 2009.  Since I don’t want to give away too much, I’ll just say this: if you enjoy movies about the ups and downs of being in a relationship with someone, think  Closer or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, you should queue up Alle Anderen in your Netflix.  Check out the trailer below (I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles.)

And finally, maybe because I am, in fact, a “white person”, the goal of my foreign film watching experience is to be able to watch a German film without needing subtitles.  Until then, I’ll take my foreign films crisp, well-produced, and with a side of English.