Friday, 26 December 2008

Die durchleuchtete Gesellschaft der Gegenwart

"Wir sind in diesen drei Jahrzehnten allmählich zu einer durchleuchteten und durch den kostspieligen gigantischen Sicherheitsapparat zu einer kontrollierten Gesellschaft geworden. Die Freiheit hat dadurch einen unermesslichen Verlust erlitten."
Corinna Ponto, Tochter des 1977 von der Roten Armee Fraktion ermordeten Jürgen Ponto
Interview in Welt Online

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Se dejlige Obama


Ekstra Bladets netavis har i dag denne interessante tekst-billed-kombination i sin højre menu. For en ordens skyld skal det siges, at der nedenunder er henvisning til en artikel om USAs snarlige præsident — men som bekendt læser vi fra venstre mod højre og oppefra og ned på dansk...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Ik heb getwijfeld over België...

'Het idee van een teambuildingsactiviteit wordt enthousiast ontvangen.
Kleiduiven schieten, paintball, een weekend naar België...'

Elvin Post
'Teambuilding moet het zijn' — Algemeen Dagblad 22/10-5

Monday, 15 December 2008

Bear-watching in Katmai, Alaska


We flew for 2 hours in a very small (and very expensive) floatplane ― you know, those that land on water ― across fjords and mountains to a peninsula called Katmai. Plenty of fishermen go there, as loads of salmon come here to breed (interesting fact: salmon swim all the way back to the very creek in which they themselves were hatched!) — and as there are salmon, there are of course bears who have to feed to get fat enough for winter hibernation.

And the bears have the right of way here. They ARE dangerous animals and you are not allowed to come close ― so if they decide to be on the only bridge, well, you just have to wait on the shore, in safety on an observation platform, sometimes for hours.

About twenty minutes into the forest are a couple of other platforms, just next to a tiny waterfall ― the one you see on the pix. Here, you can stay for an hour, watching these amazing creatures from just 20 metres as they catch salmon. Some grab them out of the water, some wait till the fish jump and then catch them in their mouths ...and some wait till a smaller bear has caught one, and then steals it. Whatever the tactics, it demands patience! Especially for the mother bears; their cubs just wait impatiently at the shore while she has to not only catch for herself and maybe two cubs but also take care not to get too far into the water, as male bears might attack and even eat the cubs if she can't defend them.

At one point, we counted 18 bears at the same time! It was far better live than on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel. Wonderful.....

© Bjørn Clasen (photos and text)

Sunday, 14 December 2008

So follow you heart...

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'

John Greenleaf Whittier
from his poem 'Maud Muller'

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Act!

'Doubt, of whatever kind, can be ended by Action alone.'

»Tvivl af enhver art kan kun bringes til ophør gennem handling.«


Thomas Carlyle

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Det' bar' et helt almind'ligt liv

»Når alt kommer til alt, er det, vi laver, kun terapi for et kompliceret liv. Og noget, jeg synes, vi går alt for let hen over i vores kultur, er det naive og det simple. Dem, der lever et simpelt liv, er vel også dem, der lever mest lykkeligt. I stedet for os, der fortænker det hele og gør det konstrueret og kompliceret for hinanden.«
Poul Krebs, 1990
ifølge Gaffas 25-års jubilæumsnummer (#9/2008)

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

International Buying Nothing Day

International Buying Nothing Day, held annually [...], exists to try to remind people that those seemingly innocent purchases add up to poverty in the developing world and environmental problems for the planet.
[...]
"People like to think when we buy something, we're helping the economy, but the idea we're also killing the planet is not something they've thought about."
Kalle Lasn, author of Culture Jam and co-founder of Adbusters magazine
[...]
Researchers often liken the different shopping behaviours of men and women to hunters and gatherers: men go out to "kill" an item they need right now, while women "gather" items for future needs, whether tomorrow's dinner or next year's Christmas gifts.
[...]
The European Environmental Agency [sic] concluded in 2003 that European environmental progress is at risk from the "unsustainable economic development" of consumerism.

from holland herald

Stopping Overshopping

Mission statement and Vision
— it's as simple as this

It's from Ecoturismo Comunitario Capulalpan in Capulalpan de Méndez, state of Oaxaca, Mexico. A tiny company run by an Indigenous community. Who knows what it wants — clear and simple. And therefore fulfillable and doable. A lot of companies and public services can learn from that.

Simple as that.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Vildledende overskrift

Så har ritzaus journalister igen ikke gjort det, de får penge for, tilfredsstillende. I denne artikel får de det til at lyde, som om Hoffenheim med ti mand slog Köln. Sandheden er, at Köln faktisk fik en mand udvist inden Hoffenheim gjorde.

Jeg forstår ikke, at ritzau kan have danmarksmonopol som nyhedsbureau.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Wherever I Lay My Hat ― That's My Home

Puebla, 11 November

The above chorus, from a wonderfully atmospheric Paul Young hit, is actually about being a 'man of the World' in terms of women; but I will use it in terms of, well, the World.

Yesterday evening felt like an anticlimax. After fifteen exciting, tightly packed, intense, and very inspiring days in Oaxaca ― I have not spent that long time in one place since my childhood when My expat Family went to the, er, pat during almost every school holiday to see further family and friends and acquaintances ― I had an enjoyable ride in a comfortable leaned-back seat of a surprisingly quiet coach (they played DVD after DVD but are smart enough to offer headphones for people to hear the sound) through semi-highlands to Puebla. A 4½-hour ride, meaning it got dark by halfway, so I turned to my DVD too, watching it on my laptop. All of it very pleasant, and I felt I said goodbye in a good manner, and with a sensation of completion.


Then came the anticlimax. My hotel in Puebla. I don't know what it was. They gave me a suite, i.e. a very big room on the corner. Probably because I arrived late and they only had that room left. There was just something about this place, know that feeling? I(t) felt uncomfortable, uninviting, not right.

And this to an extent that I felt like getting out of this town as soon as possible. Just do my 29 assignments for V!VA, estimated as three days' work, and go somewhere else, though I had not planned to.

But morning comes. With it, the Sun. (Actually, it's more like the other way round, but you get the picture). And with that, a light and bright and new-day look at things. So much that I got nothing done, nothing. Except from finding a hotel that does have WiFi ― I used to write that 'wi-fi' but V!VA wants it this way so I might as well practice ― in the rooms themselves. That was another thing that's wrong with the first hotel, only WiFi in the reception area, and not for free despite what it says on booking.com, and it actually didn't even work! So I have booked a room at that other one, Hotel Santiago it's called, from tomorrow night. Too polite to cancel the second night of my 2-night booking at the first place. It's called Hotel Aristos by the way, might as well mention it. As the last typing space I'll waste on that place.

Appropriate name, Santiago. 'Cause it reminds me of the first place I ever set foot outside Europe in my adult life. Santiago de Chile, something like 7 years and 11 months ago. My very first photo was one of Chile's flag blowing in the wind just outside the airport.

And Latin America became a drug. Only in two of the last eight years have I not gone there. And in both years, something was missing. Again, that thing you just cannot explain, only in this case it's positive.

Tonight, I had another encounter with Chile. I still have to find out what the relation is, but the café just on the other side of the street from the (first) hotel, Teorema it's called, I could see it from my window, serves Chilean empanadas, and inside, Chile's and Mexico's flags hang on the wall together as in friendship.

It's a very cosy little place (sorry, V!VA, USAmerican spelling: cozy), guests are surrounded by book and CD shelves, and there is live music every night. I went there for dinner with the book I'm reading, to relax after my relaxing day and before preparing my busy (not buzy, oddly enough) day tomorrow. As a matter of fact I'm just on page fiftysomething of my first of four books I intended to read on this trip. That's how buzy it has been.


So the day ended the opposite of yesterday. After enjoying my meal, my book, the place, the music, I strolled out in the streets instead of just crossing over to my hotel. Walked slowly, just enjoyed the warm air, the certain calm that even a noisy/noizy Latin American 1.5-million city can have in evening backstreets, and life.

What I mean to say with all this, for those who have managed to actually read this far (drum roll and applause, respect!), is that things are what you make them, and not always what they seem. I could live here. Maybe not Puebla, but Latin America. Somewhere. Feel at home in most places. Somehow.

Wherever. Home.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The travel writing boot camp so far ― and
These little things that make your day

Oaxaca, (Monday 3 through) Thursday 6 November

'Intensive' is the first word that comes to mind. It is interesting, inspiring, sometimes slightly frightening but in any case motivating and exciting. One thing is what we learn, not many surprises there, apart from my English not being quite as good as even I thought. Another thing is getting out there in the afternoons and actually do the research, visit places, jot down notes and then write. And re-write, cut down on words, re-read, and finally submit. And then receiving critique, or useful feedback for improvement as I experience it.

Apart from what I submitted in yesterday's blogpost, here's what I've written so far:
Two blocks south of Zocalo, Hotel Casa Cue is close to everything and yet on a spot not overrun by tourists. There is free and reliable wifi in the lobby but do bring a sweater if you get carried away surfing, as the main door is always open. If only rooms facing the street are available, try to get one facing Aldama rather than noisier Miguel Cabrera. And superstitious souls need not worry - instead of a room 13, there is a room Y2K. Good value, especially as prices are not higher during peak season.

If you like art, Parador Monte Carmelo might be your choice. The restored mansion has spacious rooms with rustic wooden doors and furniture, including the king-size beds. Ornamented iron chairs and tables furbish both the large patio with its stone fountains, and the even larger terrace with a view on the Santo Domingo temple, just two blocks away. There is even a gallery shop presenting local art. Service is smiling and very friendly. Only hatches: Unstable wifi and blown-up prices during peak season.

These are the texts as I submitted them. I http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifwill link to the improved ones once I publish them on V!VA Travel Guides' website. The concept is actually better than for any other travel guide I know: As each book is printed on demand, meaning it does not physically exist when you order it on Amazon.com but is printed specially for you, guides are updated every 6 months!! Plus it's based on the experiences of many contributors, and only companies actually recommended by V!VA are offered to advertise. In other words, those who get good reviews can advertise ― not the other way round… A good way to run and finance a product on a market with fierce competition.

Competition must be fierce among travel writers as well. A lot of people dream of that: see the World, and earn money by doing so. Therefore, it is a buyer's market, and especially two or three of my fellow boot camp students are really good. I mean, they're all good, but some really should earn their living this way. What's funny is that two of the other students are half Danish (without speaking it though), and another one is from former Danish colony Saint Croix in what is now the U.S. Virgin Islands.

And there's another European as well, from the Isle of Man! When I heard, my reflex was to say: 'You know Rick Wakeman then!?'. And she does, almost, she knows his daughter! To add to the coincidence, I was wearing my Yes T-shirt (the one I'm gonna get rid of, as it is too used, like all the clothes I brought) today, of all days, when I meet someone who knows my favourite band's keyboard player's daughter.

That's the little big thing that made my day.

Life as a travel writer-to-be

Oaxaca, Tuesday 4 November

Yes I know, there are a few days of my trip I have not yet blogged about ― I will catch up very soon. It has just been so intense that time barely allows me to relax, let alone blog.

Today, I learned how important doing pre-visit research can sometimes be. On day 2 of the guidebook writing boot camp, the afternoon's assignment was to review two activities, activities being defined as something visitors can spend their time doing (excluding eating and sleeping).
I already had two ideas in mind: the Coffee Growers Association of Oaxaca (Coordinadora Estatal de Productores de Café de Oaxaca ― CEPCO), whose address the Reality Tour's interpreter Jason had given me as a visit there was not included in the tour, and the petrified waterfalls that I had seen on a poster in a tour operators window.

So as soon as we were released from class, I ventured out in the Sun into the not-at-all touristy streets North of the centre to find CEPCO. Turned out to be further away than expected, and when I finally got there, all I could find at the address was a building site. Luckily, a car with the Ita-Teku logo (a model farm; the name means 'Flower Of Life') showed up, and I asked its driver whether I was at the right place and could visit. I could, and I did have a talk with one of his colleagues in the office inside what had looked like a building site ...only, there was actually nothing to see. It would be possible to visit some of the plantations but not for tourists. So nothing for the guidebook assignment here. Still, I did not leave totally empty-handed (or rather -headed) as I got some information about the whole organic coffee growing and fair trade business, which can turn out useful for my professional future.

Heading back towards the centre, I popped into this really plain and good and friendly and ridiculously cheap restaurant. I later used it for a review ― here's the draft:

For cheap and excellent local fare, try La Casona de la Abuela in Colonia Reforma, a little out of the centre. In return you get friendly and fast service and a lunch menu of the (week)day with three starters and three mains to choose from, as well as a small dessert and fruit water ― all of it for $3. The modest size of the place along with its red-brick floors, dark-wood furniture and a couple of black-and-white photos of Oaxaca buildings create a cosy atmosphere. It is all very clean, including the toilets, which even have seats. The oversized television is always on, competing with the occasional busker.

It must have been about then, while sitting at the table reading the copies I had made from a German and a French guidebook, both borrowed from colleagues, that I discovered that I could not review the other activity I had intended to, either. We had been given five or six that were already reviewed. On this list was something called Hierve el Agua, and it turned out this is the name of those petrified waterfalls. Damn. At least I got a 'free' restaurant review. What's more, when l left the place, I saw a house on the other side of the street decorated with a nice drawing of a toucan. The green party! Wow! Interesting that they do have one here. Cross street, enter house, improvise Spanish, ask for brochure (some story that I'm a member of Los Verdes de mi país, Luxemburgo), got brochure, and smiles, out of house, continue downtown.

The great thing about those chessboard city designs they have in the Americas is that you can just zigzag in the general direction you want to go in, and you'll usually end up in the right place. And if not, you just zigzag back a few blocks. This also allows you to venture down unknown streets without the risk of getting lost like you would almost inadvertently in Copenhagen or Amsterdam or Brussels. Heading downtown brought me to a big crossroads where there was a big stadium on one corner. I asked some teenage boys whether it was fútbol. No, it was béisbol. ¿Hay un, eh, match hoy? I jumped on the opportunity to use it for my activity review. But damn, they're between seasons. Continue venturing.

OK, what else is in those guidebooks, lemme see. Oh, a museum for graphic art. Sounds interesting, and it's in the centre. Looking for it, I passed the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca, and saw that the last tour of the day was in ten minutes. Cool, and the museum only closes in three hours, I have my two activities!

So I thought, 'cause I used the ten minutes to just go'n'see what this Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca looked like from the outside, and guess which single day of the week it's closed! Right, Tuesdays!! Actually, it didn't even annoy me that I don't know any swearwords in Zapoteco. I just took things as they came, and were. As a travel writer, like I guess with most other roles and situations in life, you gotta cope and take things as they come.

The Jardín Etnobotánico was actually quite interesting, and good for my Spanish too. I did the tour with a fellow student who had suddenly shown up, also in need of a last way out ― the next day it turned out we were four out of ten who had written about that garden. Here's what I submitted:

Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca
Moving a massive 1000 year old cactus includes putting a newsprint ball on every single spike. This Biznaga as it is called is a highlight of the garden's impressive collection of 9500 cactii and other plants, covering 450 different species. Located in the Santo Domingo temple's backyard, the garden is a pleasant place for a relaxing walk away from the city streets. Visits are only possible as guided tours. For those with a decent level of Spanish, tours are more frequent, half the price but also half as long (one hour) as the English tours which are only three times a week.

As we have to keep reviews down to 80 words as a guideline, there will always be interesting facts that you have to leave out. It's called 'kill your babies' (some say 'darlings'). One of several things I don't even mention is the next-door Hemeroteca Pública de Oaxaca "Néstor Sánchez H." where people can read local and national newspapers and magazines for free, they just have to register. I somehow found that pretty cool, and a Galería de periodistas ilustres de Oaxaca decorate the walls in the two small reading rooms, which are open every day from 9 to 20. Amazing. In fact, the french guidebook mentions the place!

So what about my second review? No Fair Trade coffee plantation to visit, the petrified waterfalls have already been reviewed, the baseball season is over slash hasn't begun, and the graphic arts museum is closed today. Good that I was here last week. So I wrote about the organic mezcal producer, cutting down the below blogpost to:

Mezcal Real Minero
Chicken breast liquor anyone? Mexico's only producer of organic mezcal markets this and six other varieties, and offers guided tours. They are in Spanish and led by Graciela Ángeles Carreño who runs the family business. On appointment, she will take groups of at least five through all phases of cultivation and production. The very interesting tour includes visiting the agave fields and the palenque where distillation takes place, as well as tasting three types of mezcal, a hearty lunch and a small gift. Decide in advance who will drive the 40 km back to Oaxaca.

It's an intensive course, an intensive life as a student…

Monday, 3 November 2008

The secrets of the agave and the ambiguity of cemetery tourism

Oaxaca ― Ocotlán de Morelos ― Santa Catarina Minas ― Oaxaca ― Xoxocotlán ― Oaxaca, Friday 31 October

It is difficult to find an appropriate title for today's ― short ― article. The two main events were a visit to an organic mezcal producer and to a cemetery on Day Of The Dead.

Dating back to Prehispanic times, mezcal is a distilled liquor made on agave, or maguey as the plant is also called. Yes, tequila is a type of mezcal, but Oaxaca's indigenous will tell you that this highly commercialised drink is no way near the quality of the mezcal produced in Santa Catarina Minas by Productores de Mezcal Real Minero.

The Global Exchange group went there after breakfast in Ocotlán and had a very interesting guided tour by highly knowledgeable Graciela Ángeles Carreño through all phases of cultivation and production of the family's organic mezcal production. There are 14 different sorts of agave. They only blossom once, and for some sorts it takes 30 years. This also means that you can only harvest their fruits once, and you actually can make use of the entire plant.

What is also interesting is that Mezcal Real Minero cooperates with other local producers from all over Mexico, in order to have a common quality label, Real Minero being the only organic producer though. One of the customers is the governor of Oaxaca… which is kind of tragicomic, as he is not exactly supporting the indigenous people.

Mezcal Real Minero comes in many varieties, the most surprising probably being the 'chicken breast' variety. Yes, apart from different fruits that are actually in the mezcal while it is heated for 24 hours, a chicken breast also delivers to the taste, without being in the mezcal itself though.

After an excellent lunch at the family Ángeles Carreño's, and tasting of a few of the varieties, I finally got to buy postcards and stamps back in the city of Oaxaca. As it had become rather urgent to send some of the cards, for example one was a birthday card for yesterday, I stayed in the post office writing the cards, so I could send them immediately, mailboxes not being exactly a common sight in the streets of Oaxaca.

While I was writing, more and more young people came in, preparing and putting on their costumes for the Day Of The Dead Celebrations. Again, a bit like carnival, which is not really my thing ― but the costumes here seemed genuinely homemade, and this very well. As always with one predominant theme: death.

In the evening, after another simply delicious dinner at a local home, we got to finally see this unusual and impressive celebration in Xoxocotlán, a Mixtec community. There was an exhibition of big sand paintings. Theme: death. They were very colourful and imaginative. The most impressive experience though was visiting the cemetery. Imagine a cemetery at night, every grave decorated with bright orange flowers, candles and skulls. Some of them with relatives sitting at the side. Add a multitude of tourists with flashing lenses, and big boots of which only the few tried to step between the graves instead of walking over or even on them.

Imagine.


Glossary: spices = especias

Beetle count: 314 (thereof just 5 'New Beetles')

Today I will not explicitly ask you to vote.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Helping a radio station, eating grasshoppers, and dealing with death (no relation)

Oaxaca ― Zaachila ― Xoxocotlán and back, Thursday 30 October

A day full of Sun and great experiences. But first a few thoughts on our dependence on electronics. Sometimes I try to be too organised, and therefore I forgot my camera on this beautiful day, of all days. Plus I have almost no battery left on my cell phone, that is to say my clock and alarm clock as I cannot connect over here anyway. The good thing to all this is that I could just walk around with an even more free mind as I did not have to think of taking photos. The only time it annoyed me, and this only slightly, was when I saw election posters for a guy called …Lenin! And this was from the minibus, so I couldn't've caught it anyway. So again: never mind. Just enjoy the Sun. And the below picture, taken in the evening as I did carry my camera again. It's a Day Of The Dead altar, taken from a slightly experimental angle. So you only see a bit of it and thus get a bit of an idea of this almost surreal celebration that is upcoming but has actually already started, with the altars, and performances on the central square by dancers with one half of their face masked as a skull.


Today's first highlight was the visit to the indigenous Zaachila Radio, an initiative started in July 2006 during the conflict in Oaxaca in order to provide people with information rather than the official stations' propaganda-like approach. Financed entirely by the Zaachila community and working without commercials, its broadcasts and numerous events are very popular. Maybe too popular, as authorities blocked the station's frequency in the end of July this year. Zaachila Radio changed to another frequency, and after pressure from several organisations, a.o. Amnesty International, the old frequency was opened again three weeks later.

The community radio as it calls itself ― as opposed to a pirate radio, which is a commercial station that take a frequency ― has applied for a permission to broadcast officially and hopes to get one by December this year. For this, the station has to pay for even applying, again to receive an answer, and then again for the permission itself. All in all 10 000 pesos, or some 600 € or 800 $. The permission is valid for 7 years but can be withdrawn at any time for whatever reason. Should this happen, the whole procedure starts all over. And as an indigenous media, money and bureaucracy will not be the only obstacles for Zaachila Radio.

With a permission, the station will switch to a more powerful antenna with a 100-kilometre reach. As it is now, it reaches 15 kilometres and therefore remains very local. Of the community's 28 000 inhabitants, just 1% speak Zapoteco, so the station's programmes ― from 12 noon to 8 pm every day ― are in Spanish. However, in an attempt to revive the Zapotec language in the community, the station is beginning to broadcast the introduction to and ending of programmes, as well as to make announcements, in both languages. This is a way of promoting Zapoteco little by little.

Another effort to raise awareness in the community is to broadcast 'radionovelas', i.e. soap-like radio drama series, on women's rights and other social issues. The chosen series come from the Cañada municipality in the Northern part of the state of Oaxaca as well as from Argentina and Costa Rica, and Zaachila Radio has high hopes for this initiative.

Given my 'weakness' for communication and, I guess, also my experience with bureaucracy and long procedures, I think this brave little radio station deserves some support. And not only moral support, also financial, so I contributed with 500 pesos as at least a little help to get that official broadcasting permission. I think the committed people behind Zaachila Radio, and the whole indigenous community, deserve it, and I look forward to hear news about the permission.

Listen to Zaachila Radio

Another personal gain from the visit was that I forced myself to write down my questions to the radio's representatives in Spanish, with the inverted question marks and everything, even though only I would read them. Being here in a Spanish-speaking country for three weeks teaches me more than the lessons of grammar I miss while I'm away. Plus I think it is more fun to learn it by immersing myself in it. That's the way we all learned our mother tongues, and I do believe there is no better way.

It also came in handy on the market. To prepare for Day Of The Dead, each member of the Reality Tours group had to buy something for the altar we were going to build in the hotel. Now, I am sure there is plenty about this special celebration on The Net, and much better than I can describe it, so I won't go into details other than those that come with my descriptions anyway. Each group member drew a little piece of paper, and I got an easy one: nuts. The market bursts with nuts. As well as fruits and vegetables and plastic toys and meat and bread and alive turkeys and two-metre high sugarcanes and candy and candy skulls and chocolate and chocolate skulls, not to mention the flowers which are also very important on any Day Of The Dead altar. Actually, of all the mentioned things, only plastic toys, meat and turkeys don't belong on the altars. But in addition to the edible skulls, you see little figures and sceneries in which skeletons act in everyday situations. A skeleton at his desk working on the computer (I thought about buying that one for work…); a skeleton with a fancy haircut and wearing a dress walking, er, her dog (who, oddly enough, is not a skeleton); a skeleton couple dancing, you name it.

So nuts was an easy one. So easy that I bought three different kinds. And had time to stroll around in the narrow paths between the booths and the locals, the tallest of which barely reach my chest. The tent-like things covering the market are understandably set up by and for them, so now I have an idea what it must be like to be 2 metres or above in Europe, having to bend your head and sometimes your back and knees just to be able to move forward. It was a relief to spend a few minutes in the real market halls selling meat and bread. It was nicely cool, there were few people, and I could walk upright. And breathe my impressions, enjoying Latin America. 'tis good to be back here.

Unfortunately I'm not the only one who thinks so. I had to help three fat (sorry but yes) and arrogant lady tourists who hadn't even bothered to learn a few numbers in Spanish ― I basically had to translate prices for them for ten minutes before I could finally see what the poor man was selling myself ― before I found myself buying two colourful little flutes. No idea what I'm gonna do with them 'cause you certainly can't play anything hearworthy on them, but I also bought two just as colourful rattles made of dried squash shell for the twin nieces I'm looking forward to welcome in January.

Today's second highlight was lunch in the forest. Now that's the short version. The slightly longer one is that we went to the eco-tourism park El Chapulin run by the indigenous community of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán (Xoxo for short, prounced something like 'hrohro'), a wonderful little oasis not far from the Monte Albán ruins, and had a fabulous eco-lunch: chinchilo made of chili, flour and chicken. But not before having tried a tiny glass of mezcal (a distilled liquor made on agaves, for example tequila is a type of mezcal) and more than just tried the snack, a delicious mix of toasted and spiced grasshoppers, pumpkin seeds and nuts. I have wanted to try to eat insects if I got the offer, and this was actually truly delicious!

During lunch, Noemi Gómez Bravo told os briefly about her work as a representative for indigenous women at the United Nations. An impressive woman, having learned Spanish by herself from the age of 14, but unfortunately time was too scarce to go into much detail. It would have interested me a lot to hear about how an indigenous woman is perceived among the suit-clad lads and what results her work had given, and as it is the main idea of this trip to learn and discuss such issues, I will suggest to Global Exchange to time and prepare this better on future trips.

Afterwards, we took a short walk to see the park (which is not a park in that sense, more of a nature area) and did a short canoe trip on the lake. One of the indigenous had to save the most enormous toad that I discovered and which was apparently not where it should be. None of the ladies of our group wanted to kiss it though, despite the chance of winning a kingdom. Oh, that's with frogs, innit? It must have been some prince, given the size of the toad or frog or whatever impressive natural creation it was, now back and safe in its lake and kingdom-to-be.

Back in Oaxaca, caught in a traffic jam ― the city has grown immensely over the last decades ― some of us decided to walk the last blocks to get to the hotel faster. Didn't though, as we were let off the van close to one of the many chocolate shops. And we are not talking Leonidas or Namur here, but a chain of shops called Mayordomo where you get your cocoa beans (or coffee, or rice, or chilis, or any other thing you want) grinded. They can then make you a thick hot chocolate, adding milk or water as you want. Trying to cut down on chocolate, but driven by my untamable curiosity, I just tried a bean directly from its shell. Pure cocoa is bitter indeed but I kinda liked it, it was like crunching a very over-sized coffee bean. Tasty. What lacks taste are some of the chocolate objects on display such as a picture frame, ready to put on your living room table, and what is right out tasteless is the pack with a chocolate gun and chocolate bullets.

But it might just be another sign of how Oaxacans, or maybe Mexicans in general, deal with atrocity or sadness. A way to survive maybe, through a peculiar sense of sarcastic humour, in this subtle yet obvious manner as if it is part of their whole mentality. The Day Of The Dead is the culmination of this, as the altars like the one we built in the hotel and the dances in death costumes on the Zocalo show. And that's where this eventful day ended: on the Zocalo, the central square of the city of Oaxaca, with late dinner and a quick stroll on the market. I had to try those grasshoppers again, so I ordered a plate with guacamole. Turns out they are better as a snack though, rather than shoveling them in in larger quantities. Flushed them down with a mug of beer… I finally found some dark draft beer instead of this girlie stuff that Corona is. Except this didn't taste of much more ― maybe the friendly waitress forgot that I had asked for 'obscura' as she managed to sell me the special offer: Oktoberfest beer and you get to keep the mug. Imagine that, an Oktoberfest mug from Oaxaca! I have never been to the original thing in Munich and I guess now I don't need to…

Due to the intensity of the days on this tour and the 7-hour time difference to the heart of Europe, I have not been able to send a single postcard or make a call. What I did do, for fun, was to change my Facebook profile photo yesterday to the one where I hold the little indigenous boy from the temazcal (indigenous 'spa' place) ― now that can get people up of their chairs or at least their fingers to the keyboard; I had six reactions already.

I will be able to blog more regularly from next week on, when the second part of my trip, the travel writers' boot camp, starts and I have the afternoon to write assignments. And to blog.

New word: mofle = exhaust (on a car)

Beetle count: 183 (thereof just 4 'New Beetles')

Meanwhile, do vote for me ― 5 logos (it's easy, takes just two clicks but they gotta be in the right place). Every day. Thank you.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Full days, full head, full stomach
but only as long as we can afford it, that last one

Oaxaca ― Santa María del Tule ― Ixtlán ― Capulalpan de Méndez and back,
Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29 October


Days 2 and 3 of the reality tour were charged, long, tiring and inspiring. Tuesday's first highlight truly was one: A visit to the church in Santa María del Tule. The church itself was already pretty nice but its front yard, apart from bushes sculpted into animal figures, is the place where the World's largest tree stands! The 2000-year old fellow you can see on the tiny video is an ahuehuete (Taxodium mucronatum) measuring 14 m through the trunk, and 55 m around it.

video

It is wonderful that a natural wonder like this is left be. 'Cause others, that are extremely important to millions if not billions of people's everyday life, are not. I have never seen what the big threat of genetically modified organisms could be, and even after the discussion with Master of sociology Fernando Ramos at the smallest and cutest (apart from the armed guards at the gate) university I have ever seen, I was not convinced.

But maybe that was due to this whole group thing. The day's programme looked packed as it was, and already its first item, breakfast, started late, lasted much longer than planned, and the other planned presentation ― Professor Felipe Ramírez was going to talk about the Ecoturismo Comunitario Capulalpan he is presiding ― was cancelled. Also, the morning presentation was to be given by antropologist Aldo González. So having Mr Ramos was the second change on three presentations (and the evening's cancellation the third on four). But we of course listened to him in the charmingly simple classroom of the 2-year old university. Or rather, some did. I sensed an atmosphere of somewhat lost concentration from the beginning. Not because the subject was not interesting ― 'Presence of transgenetic seed corn in the Sierra Norte' ― I think some of us were simply tired and not fully up to it because of the changes and the waiting.

Fortunately, others were even very awake. And their input and me letting the subject rest in one of my mind's corners afterwards made me understand what the deal is. An important one. To cut a long story short, the varieties of corn grown by the indigenous people in Sierra Norte have been infiltrated by transgenetic corn. More resistant to insects, this corn gains territory but its taste, consistency and nutritional quality are way below the natural corn varieties. Plus its invasion prevents the Sierra Norte communities to sell their corn as a biological product to the European Union as originally intended. Now, there is barely enough for the communities themselves. In the long run, the world supply is threatened as the multinationals who developed (now that's a big word) the resistant but apparently tasteless corn can control the market.

For lunch we had a delicious fish ― that, you can still get, clean and fresh ― at the Ecoturismo Comunitario Capulalpan, a covered terrace with a view over a tiny valley with a river running through, and surrounded by trees.

The evening offered another genuine experience: At a clinic of traditional indigenous medicine, a curandera (healeress) reads what is holding you down (if anything) and then you get it cleaned out, meaning treatment of the causes instead of just the symptoms. While you stand up with your eyes closed, the curandera slightly whips you with some plants before rolling an egg firmly all over your body. It ends up in your hands where you have to hold it, and then she crashes it into a glass of water and watches how it reacts, the yolk, the white, the water, and tells you for example how much air is in your head. The air here means what blocks you.

Next step is a massage before you are sent to whip yourself in the temazcal, the traditional indigenous sauna. This was all very nice except for the long waiting time. It was raining all evening and had gotten pretty cold ― here, houses have an open inner yard, and the border between inside and outside is, how shall I say, not as definable as in at least the Northern half of Europe. But it's great, I would love to live a place like that. And I got to hold one of the clinic workers' little baby boy. Well, he was basically sent around between us, the indigenous are so natural and trustful. Their children so beautiful. The boy was very calm with the situation, just looking with his wide-open dark brown eyes, baby-drooling from between his toned bubbly cheeks, and his tiny hand keeping a very firm grip on my European finger (and sometimes in my North European hair).

Home late to a cold cabin. Room mate and I no luck with the fireplace, although it turned out we were the ones who had kept it going for the longest time, some 20 minutes I guess. Saw it was 1 am, so no (cold) shower to wash off the leaves from the whipping that were sticking to the massage wax and the temazcal sweat. Just to bed with almost all the clothes on, and quite a few blankets of varying thicknesses.

Up 5 hours later to go bird-watching. Only one other group member joined, so we had twice as many guides as gringos, but only saw half as many birds, and that one was very tiny and flew away quickly. Didn't see much of a cave either, as the rain had caused a minor landslide making it risky to explore too deeply. But never mind, really not, 'cause there is always stuff to learn, things to discover. Colourful mushrooms, one so big it looked like an oversized pool billard ball. Hairy caterpillars. Wonderful flowers. And not least: clovers. Nothing special you might think, but they were enormous, and four-leafed ones are so common here that you look for those carrying five. Which are not difficult to collect either, so you might wanna go for six. If you are greedy. And that's what it's all about, innit? I say: Let yourself be amazed by what you do get and reach, as it is often already a wonder. You might miss out on more precious things if you choose greed rather than real desire.

At this morning's presentation too, it took me a lot of time and thinking before really understanding the problem: A polluting gold mine on the indigenous' community land was run by foreign companies and had never given any part of its revenue back to the community, who also had never been asked if they wanted the mine in the first place. Once I did understand, I also came up with what I think could actually turn into a good solution. The mine is closed now but in its surroundings a small village has developed during the years it was operating. As most people, it can without being too prejudiced be assumed that the village's inhabitants would like to earn some money. The indigenous do not want the mine to re-open and are at the same time trying to develop sustainable eco tourism in the greater area. Now, how can we try to make everybody happy?

By creating eco tourism in the abandoned mine buildings. It will mean an income and respect for the environment. The villagers want the first, the indigenous community the second ― and with this solution, they will both get both, plus they will get to work together on a common project, gaining mutual respect. A win-win situation. Like that. What's more, they will control or at least influence what is happening in the area, before someone else does. I myself would be happy to contribute with more than just the idea. I believe it can be done. The ball is on their side now, and they do have everything to win.

New words:
gubixa = Sun (in Zapoteco)
tope = 'sleeping policeman' (on some signs it's called a 'reductor')

Beetle count: 129 (thereof just 3 'New Beetles')

Quote: 'Groups… This is the last time I travel with a group.'
(another fellow traveller, on the morning of Day 2…)

Interesting: Stalagmites grow faster when it has rained, stalactites when it has not. The explanation is that the chalk does not have time to settle on the stalactites when there is too much water. Wonder how they measure it, as they grow by just a millimetre a year anyway…

That's it for today. And please, do vote for me ― 5 logos (it's easy, takes just two clicks but they gotta be in the right place). Every day. Thank you.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Back in Latin America

As announced, I will try to blog from my 3-week educational trip to Oaxaca in Southern Mexico. Even though Internet connections are readily available and inexpensive ― here at Hotel Casa Cue, there is even free wi-fi in the lobby ― I will not find the time to blog every day. The programme is simply too charged. Which is basically a good thing. Gives more to experience and thus more to share.

Enjoy.


Lëtzebuerg to Oaxaca, Sunday 26 and Monday 27 October

Some 26 hours after getting up in Rollengergronn, I went to sleep in Oaxaca. Or rather, to bed. 'Cause my head kinda had to realise and process the fact that I am back in Latin America. It's my first time in Mexico but my sixth trip in eight years to Latin America. And, incidentally my second to North America this year, completing the continent's map if you simply count countries as a whole: Greenland, US, Canada, now Mexico.

Latin America is a drug. The years I have not visited here, it's like something has been missing. And yet I have gotten so used to it that the excitement only starts (to start) once I've reached my first destination. Let's not get into details about the three flights or the long waiting times in airports. Today, I will simply share my report with you, as I volunteered to write it. Then it's done, leaving my travel companions on the Global Exchange part of my trip ― 7 USAmerican ladies of all ages as well as my roommate, a young guy from New Jersey who has Leon Trotsky's 'History Of The Russian Revolution' on our shared bedside table ― no excuse not to do the writing on the other days.

So, I will share the report and just add a few intersting and/or funny little facts at the end. Such as counting the number of Volkswagen Beetles I notice ― Mexico is Beetle Country. Here we go:

Monday 27 October

The Oaxaca reality tour's first full day started with breakfast at Trébol. Trébol means 'shamrock', and though decorated with shamrocks in all sizes and materials, there was nothing Irish about the place, nor about the breakfast. Situated in one of the city's oldest buildings, the courtyard invitingly painted in mainly blue and burnt orange tones, set the scene for an exotic mix of fresh fruits and spicy guacamole, but also more well-known things like scrambled eggs or yoghurt.

At 10 am, Dr Jorge Hernández Díaz, author of the book 'Reclamos de la identidad: Los organizaciones indégenas en Oaxaca' (ISBN 970-701-185-8; the title translates as 'Identity Claims: Indigenous Organisations in Oaxaca'), was supposed to give a presentation but unfortunately could not make it because of work. Instead, our tour leader, Juan de Dios, gave an introduction about the history, the culture, the geography and the nature of the state of Oaxaca. Quite a few interesting facts showed up on the timeline. The first signs of human presence in the area date from 12 000 BC. Interestingly for the upcoming Day Of The Dead celebrations, pottery found by archaeologists show that funeral ceremonies were held 4000 years ago, suggesting that already then, the inhabitants believed that the dead would go to 'another place'.

Monte Alban was built around 500 BC, being the first known town in Mesoamerica. The inhabitants operated with no less than three different calendars: apart from a commonly used 365-day calendar, a 260-day calendar (corresponding to the gestation period of humans) was used by oracles, and a 564-day calendar following Venus' synodic period (i.e. the time that it takes for the planet to reappear at the same point in the sky seen from Earth) was used to calculate astronomic phenomena. For unknown reasons, Monte Alban was abandoned around 900 AD, and a new capital, Zaachila, was founded.

In the name Zaachila we also find the original name for what is now referred to as the Zapotecs. 'Zapoteca' was a pejorative name given by the Aztecs ― it probably means 'traders of Zaa', Zaa being the 'Land Of The Clouds' as the inhabitants themselves called it. They referred to themselves as Binizaa, meaning the people of the clouds.

Why clouds? Well, because of the cloudforest dominating the land. But the state of Oaxaca as a whole covers almost every climate. The capital Oaxaca is situated in the semi-arid Valles Centrales (Central Valleys) municipality, between the Sierra Norte (Northern Range) and Sierra Sur (Southern Range). The great variation in climate gives the state of Oaxaca an enormous diversity in flora and fauna. Only Thailand and Costa Rica host more different species than Oaxaca!

But also culturally, Oaxaca is very complex. The state hosts 16 different indigenous languages, a few even being of so-far untraceable origin, and each with variations sometimes so different that they are not mutually intelligible. Zapoteco alone has 37 variations, and all in all some 130 variations are spoken in the state. Most of them belong to the Otomangue branch. Other branches in Mexico are Mayan and Nahua, whereas Yopi, Aguacateco and Ixtlateco are now extinct. In total, 56 indigenous languages are spoken in the country.

As many indigenous people speak limited or no Spanish, they often feel discriminated by national or state authorities. During three actions in August and September 1996, both police and army troops came to the 30 000-inhabitant community of San Agustín Loxicha in the Sierra Sur municiplaity. The troops gathered indigenous inhabitants on the main square and picked out some 500 men whom they said were members of the guerrilla group Ejército Popular Revolucionario (Popular Revolutionary Army, often referred to as 'EPR') that had attacked a police station and a police convoy, killing several officers. In addition to the 500 detained during the police and army operation, 90 inhabitants of San Agustín were killed and another 15 disappeared.

Probably all of the detained were taken to prison and tortured. One of them was Estanislao Martínez Santiago, father of two and married to Laura Hernández who kindly joined our group to share her experience with us. Estanislao was jailed for a month in Oaxaca. Beatings by police officers were part of everyday life. Accused of being one of the main EPR members behind the attacks on police, he was then taken to a high-security prison in Mexico City. During his 11-month stay, Laura could only visit him three times. The first time, prison officers told her that Estanislao was not there, and she had to go back, not knowing what had happened to her husband. The second time, she did get to see him, but the visit was interrupted after half an hour although one hour's visit is allowed officially.

When Estanislao was brought back to the prison in Oaxaca, it became easier for Laura to see him. In principle, every Friday and Saturday are visiting days. However, she cannot always afford to go the 200 km from San Agustín. What's more, the children ― aged 3 months and 6 years by the time of Estanislao's detention ― had grown afraid of meeting a father they could barely remember.

Estanislao Martínez serves a sentence of 13 ½ years and is among 11 alleged EPR members of San Agustín who are still in prison. According to his wife, the authorities have no evidence of the crimes against the United Mexican States for which he was sentenced. Before the verdict, he was asked to sign a blank document. This, like the daily beatings, is common practice according to the indigenous ― many of which speak poor or no Spanish and therefore would not be able to plead their cause.

After the detentions 12 years ago, villagers went to Oaxaca to protest against the injustice to their peers. For almost five years, they basically lived, cooked and slept on Zocalo, the main square of the state capital, visited by many tourists. The villagers also protested in front of the local congress building but no result has been obtained. On contrary, despite promises month after month, the prisoners have not even been released for good behaviour as they could according to official practice.

Apart from spreading the word, members of the Global Exchange group initiate donations for juridical help to Laura and Estanislao, and encourage writing to Estanislao in prison.


Among the 15 disappeared indigenous following the operation in San Agustín was today's last speaker, Juan Sosa. He told how we was taken to an unofficial prison in the mountains and tortured for 25 days, and added that according to him, authorities wanted to present him as one of the EPR commanders, based on his physical appearance alone. He thinks the attacks on police in 1996 were used just as a pretext for the police and army to go into San Agustín and take prisoners, as the government was worried that the community was going to change to the 'usos y costumbres' system. Usos y costumbres is a way of organising the community, respecting indigenous traditions, as an alternative to for example city councils. Such system would jeopardise the government's control, like it happened in the state of Chiapas two years before.

In other words, the government tried, and still tries, to split the Zapotec communities to prevent them from gaining autonomy. Their interest is, as so often in our society, money. A land holding a lot of iron and rare minerals, the state of Oaxaca is one of the areas planned for economic development under the Puebla-Panama Plan, which is linked to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Another example is the promotion of eco tourism without as much as consulting the people who actually live there as to how they suggest this could be done, let alone whether they think it is a good idea.

Out of prison, Juan Sosa now studies law in Oaxaca. His story and statements about the authorities' actions and reasons behind gave rise to a number of interesting questions from group members. Like Laura Hernández, Juan Sosa encourages to spread the word about the injustices towards indigenous people. They both kindly joined the group for lunch before the rest of the afternoon was left free for each to further discover the city of Oaxaca, presenting itself from a sunny but also windy side on this inspiring and educating day.

New word: trébol (shamrock)

Beetle count: 30 (thereof only 2 'New Beetles')

Quote: 'They privatise the profit and socialise the loss.'
(a fellow traveller, with years of experience in the US financial sector, about the US government's reaction to the financial crisis)

Tip: Huautli is a highly nutritional grain, cleansing and with many proteins, recommended not least for elderly people. It is also known as amaranth.

Fun: Instead of a room 13, my hotel has a room Y2K (remember?) between the rooms 12 and 14...

That's it for today. And please, do vote for me ― 5 logos (it's easy, takes just two clicks but they gotta be in the right place). Every day. Thank you.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

I really wanna win this — Just click and help me do so!


The prize would mean something even in my career — just click on the image above, and then and click on the (empty!) ring furthest to the RIGHT, so that 5 logos appear. VERY simple, just two clicks for you!! :)

You can also click on the picture below or go to the FC-Superfan website, click on 'Aktuelle Tabelle' in the top right corner and then on the TOP (empty!) ring of the five rings next to MY picture (i.e. the one that's called 'Wikinger mit'! ― it's not necessarily on the same position as marked below). You need not register or anything, it's simple.

Thank you SO SO much in advance — I really do appreciate your 5-logo vote!!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Los på tråden?

Hej EU

Hvad er det for et grænse-los, man får, hvis man rejser til flere lande? Der er en fejl i den orange knap på siden »EU og dig i 2007 — Et øjebliksbillede af EU's resultater«.







I øvrigt er det træls, at man ved at klikke på 'Kontakt' øverst til højre får åbnet sit e-program automatisk. I dag bruger mange e-post udelukkende over et netsted, altså uden om et decideret e-program. [Jeg har gjort det samme her i blogudgaven af brevet for at vise, hvordan det fungerer.]

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Dobbeltkonfekt fra ritzau

»Johan Elmander havde flere muligheder for at sikre sejren over Portugal, men han brændte op til flere gange.«

Ja, det siger jo lissom sig selv. Og ligefrem godt dansk er det ikke, men det er vi jo vant til fra ritzau.

Lidt længere nede i samme artikel hedder det, at »Sverige [havde] reddet en 2-1-sejr hjem over Ungarn«. Faktisk førte Sverige 2-0, og Ungarn reducerede først i det 90. minut. Om man kan kalde dét at »redde en sejr hjem«, vil jeg også tillade mig at sætte spørgsmålstegn ved.

At ritzau er så anvendt en kilde for de største danske medier ― eller at ritzau overhovedet er anvendt som kilde noget sted, og ofte i form af ukritisk "copy-paste" ― er mig en gåde.

Dette er blot endnu et eksempel på bureauets mildt sagt ringe kvalitet.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Zwei Anmerkungen zum Kanada-Heft

(25. September)
Liebe GEO-Redaktion!

Im Kanada-Heft bzw. auf der Website haben sich ein Paar Merkwürdigkeiten eingeschleicht:

Auf der Seite 84 wird "ein Sturm aus Ostwest" erwähnt... Zwar besitze ich kein Kompass, bin mir aber fast sicher, dass es diese Richtung nicht gibt...

Dazu heisst es in der Erklärung zur Antwort Nr. 3 in Ihrem "Wissenstest: Wie viel Kanada steckt in mir?": "Das Nationaltier der Kanadier ist [nicht] der arktische Pinguin [...]". Klar, ein solchen gibt's ja nicht.

Grüsse


(30. September)
Sehr geehrter Herr
[...]
Titelbilder haben die Funktion plakativ zu sein und beim Betrachter Aufmerksamkeit zu wecken. Bei der Produktion des Heftes bin ich auf den Kanadischen Fotografen aufmerksam geworden, da dieses Motiv hervorragend zur Kanada-Ausgabe passt.

Wir achten sehr darauf, dass wir keine inhaltlich veränderten Bilder verwenden, deshalb durchläuft jedes Bild, was in GEO gedruckt werden soll, eine Art “Pixelkontrolle”, d. h. ein Kollege prüft sehr genau ob beispielsweise ungewöhnliche oder verräterische Kanten auf Veränderungen im Motiv hinweisen könnten. Dieses Bild würde für OK bewertet - ich kann aber Ihren Einwand in Gewisserweise verstehen, da Farben und Kontraste, besonders vor dem spiegelglatten See, sehr kräftig fast schon künstlich wirken.

Ich werde dem Fotografen trotzdem schreiben und ihn konkret Fragen, ob er an dem Bild etwas verändert hat und es Sie wissen lassen.
[...]
gerade eben habe ich die Antwort vom Fotografen Mark Degner aus Kanada erhalten, der mir bestätigt, dass das Bild nicht inhaltlich verändert worden ist. lediglich ein Neutral-Dichte-Filter (Neutral Density Grad filter) kam zum Einsatz, um die starken Kontraste, die auf dem Diafilm nicht wiederzugeben wären, etwas auszugleichen.

Ich hoffe, Ihnen damit Ihre Frage beantwortet zu haben und sende viele Grüße aus Hamburg.

Markus Seewald
Fotoredakteur/photo editor

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Bønner

novelle ©Bjørn Clasen

En hovedstad i Sydamerika

Jeg lagde knap mærke til kafeen på min højre side, fordi jeg fokuserede på pizzeriaet på hjørnet nogle meter længere fremme. Jeg var brødflov ― og havde faktisk lyst til noget halvdyrt halvjunket food. Tre måneders disciplin med at begrænse fedt (undtagen koldpresset jomfruolivenolie naturligvis) spillede lidt kispus med min viljestyrke nu jeg var på ferie. Selvom jeg kendte risikoen. Risikoen for fristelse, madmæssigt og kvindemæssigt, selvom det sidste var mere en chance end en risiko.

Det var et grønt, flagrende klæde, der fik mine øjenkroge til at tage opmærksomheden væk fra pizzeriaet. I løbet af nogle millisekunder indløb følgende oplysninger på min nethinde: grønt klæde ― faktisk grøn- og hvidternet, faktisk en grøn nederdel med et grøn- og hvidternet forklæde over, kun med begrænset succes neutraliserede det brysternes form, og ― dét, der endegyldigt viskede ideer om food og fedt væk fra min umiddelbare bevidsthed ― denne uniform tilhørte et sødt latinsk ansigt.

Jeg fandt mig selv installeret i en kafeterassestol i næste nu, og først da pigen måske et minut efter kom ud og rakte mig kortet med sit karakteristiske smil, blev jeg bevidst om, at jeg havde smilet uafbrudt siden jeg havde detekteret bulernes utækkelighed. Straks vendte jeg mundvigende til en mere neutral position, hvorefter jeg ved tanken om, hvor tydeligt det måtte være, at jeg havde bænket mig selv der og glemt min sult blot fordi jeg syntes om pigen, kom til at smile igen. Jeg valgte at smile videre, men en anelse mere behersket.

Og prøvede at koncentrere mig om kortet. Kaffe og espresso og dobbeltespresso og cappuccino og mochaccino og latte og lait russe og sikkert også koffeinlet og koffeinfri. Te i sytten afskygninger. Chokolade med og uden chantilly. Cola ― desværre Coca- ― Fanta, Sprite, ananaslimonade, juice, sikkert fra dåse, appelsin-, æble-, mango- og blandet. Iste. Kahlua, vodka, rom og hvad ved jeg. Vin, hvid-, rosé- og rød-. Øl, tre slags, heraf én fra fad, sikkert en kedelig almindelg lokal Heineken-agtig. Vand, med og uden. Brus altså ― med citrussmag havde de ikke. Hvad havde jeg egentlig lyst til? En vand som sædvanlig, men skulle man alligevel snuppe en kold måske alligevel ikke så kedelig fad? Juicen var nok ikke friskpresset. Kaffe?

Kaffe… Kaffe. Det var jo seks år siden, måske syv, at jeg var holdt op med at drikke dét. Fra nytår, tror det var 2001. Altid sort. Hvorfor overvejede jeg det pludselig? Hvorfor netop nu, af alle dage, steder, lande, kafeer? Vejr? 23 i skyggen, en ny by at gå på opdagelse i, blot en eftermiddag og måske en halv morgen inden jeg skulle videre, ud i naturen, det egentlige mål for min ferie? Hm. Cappuccinoen med chantilly og kunstigt chokoladestøv kunne friste… Sært, min gamle yndlingskafedrik var ellers rigtig cappuccino, med pisket mælk.

Pigen i det grønternede forklæde kom ud, og jeg bestilte lidt henkastet-spontant en appelsinjuice. Den var fra flaske, smagte af vand, og jeg lagde næsten det dobbelte i drikkepenge, da jeg minutter efter forlod et halvfuldt glas uden at kigge mig tilbage.


En storby i Europa


Det var en god ide at mødes her. Hotellet var o.k. ― uden stjerner, men måske netop derfor dejlig jævnt, rent, med hvad der skulle være, flink betjening, rigtig god morgenmad, femten slags te, blandt andet en dejlig forfriskende én af vilde jordbær og lime og vistnok kardemomme, intet badekar, men en lille terasse, som var forfriskende at opholde sig nogle minutter på efter vi havde bollet, eller om morgenen inden hun var vågnet. Og inden jeg endda havde besluttet mig for, om jeg ville vække hende med kærtegn fra min dampende krop eller passivt, køligt, påtaget ligeglad ved at sidde ved bordpladen, med sædvanlig hotelsmagløshed overtrukket med imiteret træ, og læse artikler, jeg engang havde revet ud af blade, fordi jeg syntes de var relevante.

Hun kom ud af brusebadet, med det lysegule håndklæde smart sat om livet. Jeg kunne lige netop ikke se hendes navle, og af en eller anden grund rettede jeg ikke på frottekanten for at mærke den. Tog hende blot om lænden, flettede mine fingre lige under hendes ryg. Snusede lidt til hendes eau de toilette, diskret og virkningsfuldt forstærket af fugtigheden, der stadig beklædte hendes vinterhvide hud. Blev ophidset, men kun lidt. Tænkte mere på at komme ned til morgenmaden inden klokken ti.

Købecroissanter, små, en slags cremeboller, fire, nej fem slags brød, en af dem lidt som rugbrød, hårdkogte æg, der var blevet kolde og sikkert havde grågrønlig blomme, salat af udelukkende frisk frugt ― netmelon, vandmelon, æble med rød skræl, appelsin, vindruer, grønne og mørke, banan, 0%'s yoghurt naturel, fire slags syltetøj, men ingen overraskende, ost, pølse, syltede drueagurker, solsikkefrø, en anden slags frø. Og min te fra i går.

Vi sad lidt og kiggede ud i hotelhaven med daggamle sneflager hist og her og glemte at snakke til hinanden. Jeg blev opmærksom på det og kiggede indtagende på hendes lysblonde hår, fangede hendes øjne, sagde noget sødt og spillede så lidt genert eller også var det omvendt. Trak i hvert fald mit blik tilbage og kiggede halvt ned i bordet. Fra dugen, som jeg naturligvis havde tabt en lille plet jordbærsyltetøj på, over den typiske hotelsukkerskål til det lille fad på midten af bordet med… med Nescafé-breve i.

Nescafé. Light og almindelig. Mange hævder, måske af snobberi, at de ikke kan drikke det. Jeg syntes, det smagte o.k. Da jeg altså senest havde drukket det, for vel nok syv år siden. Sikkert på et hotel, ved et morgenbord. Eller derhjemme, hvis jeg havde nuppet et brev hotelmorgenbords-Nescafé med hjem. Ikke light, sort. Sikkert sammen med en speculoos.

Hun tog min hånd, jeg smilte, først halvt, så lidt mere. Men aldrig helt.


Danmark

»Kurt? Det her er til i morgen ― kan du klare det?« Efter en kort udveksling og enighed uden modstand gjorde jeg mit e-brev færdigt ― sådan kaldte jeg dem stadig, selvom jeg indimellem kom til at sige e-mail også ― og kiggede så på, hvad chefen havde givet mig. Læste det men uden at opfatte det. Jeg klikkede på et af de tolv åbne Internet-vinduer, læste en Ekstra Bladsartikel om en mand, der havde spist sin hund, fordi kremeringsafgiften var for høj for hans smag. Om man så må sige ― høhø. Trykkede Alt-F4 for at lukke vinduet og derfefter Alt-Tab for at skifte mellem vinduerne og stoppe ved et tilfældigt. Fodbold. Chelseas sejr i weekenden. Gad jeg ikke, lukkede vinduet, tab'ede videre til det næste tilfældige. Om Frems tilværelse i den næstbedste række. Interesserede mig mere af en eller anden grund. Læste det og lukkede.

Tog chefens udskrift frem igen. Holdt det bare i hånden, kiggede ud af vinduet, kraner, et fly, bygninger med skilte med firmanavne, jeg ikke tidligere havde bidt mærke i. Skandaflex, GHPS Invest A/S, Johnsen. Med et mat lys i, i tågen. Kiggede på telefonens ligegyldige display, ingen opringninger. Ingen at ringe til. Eller rettere intet at sige til dem, jeg kunne komme i tanke om at ringe til.

Tog mig sammen, fattede om papirerne, tre-fire sammenhæftede ark, naturligvis kun trykt på den ene side og ikke på genbrugspapir, fiskede min eneste kuglepen, naturligvis godt gennembidt, og en grøn neontusch op af metalbægeret og forlod så mit enekontor, gik op ad gangen, stødte næsten ind i en kollega, der kom ud af sit kontor, hilste hurtigt, mødte også en af de to nye sekretærer, smilte automatisk men reelt til hende og kom først i tanke om for sent, at jeg havde kigget på hendes nylonlår ― det stykke, der var synligt mellem knæet og nederdelen ― og havde nået at tænke på, hvordan de så ud uden hverken nylon eller nederdel. Smilte videre ved tanken alligevel. Og fortsatte op ad gangen med papir og penne.

Jeg stillede mig ved et af de høje kafeagtige borde, med ryggen skråt mod vinduet, for ikke at henfalde i dagdrømme. Om landskaber, frihed og ferier. Bed proppen af neontuschen uden jeg egentlig skulle bruge den nu. Begyndte at læse, faktisk rimelig koncentreret. Igen en af disse opgaver, der først havde set sværere ud, end den egentlig var. Sikkert fordi jeg var irriteret over at blive afbrudt af chefen, da han kom ind med den.

Gad jeg lave det? Det kunne ikke tage mere end en halv times improvisation. Men ville lige have et eller andet først, som påskud for at kunne motivere mig selv. En chokobar af en art. Eller en pose vingummibamser, selvom jeg ikke burde. Jeg tog elevatoren ned til fjerde, hvor den nærmeste automat var. Mødte Sidsel dernede, hilsener blev overtaget af småsnak, mens hun puttede mønter i og ventede på, at hendes pulverurtesuppe løb færdig. Og var blevet til decideret snak, før jeg havde valgt, hvad jeg egentlig ville have. Mælk, sød-, let-, mini- eller skummet. Varm og kold chokolade, med eller uden skum. Urtesuppe, tomatsuppe. Te, én slags, sikkert Earl Grey.

Og kaffe. Sort.


En plantage i Mellemamerika


Utroligt så beskidt man kan føle sig, når man arbejder i støv og samtidig sveder. Selvom støvet er lysebrunt, lidt rødligt, bliver det nærmest kulsort, når det blandes med europæisk sved og klæber til en sart hvid pande. Danner striber, nærmest som en slags jordlag fra forskellige geologiske tider, hen over min tinding og pande. Og håndryg, når jeg tørrer det væk og tværer det ud. Støv. Sved. Varme. Frivilligt arbejde i plantagen. Har plukket siden klokken seks i morges, nu er den ni.

Skyggen på min stråhat afskærmer rent fysisk ikke så meget som den stofhat i landstypiske vævemønstre, som jeg købte på et marked og siden byttede med bonden, jeg arbejder for. Men stråhatten, som jeg fik i bytte, køler bedre. Jeg forestiller mig i min overdrevne fantasi, at jeg ligner ham, når jeg har den på. At min hud er halvtreds, men sidder på en fyrreårig. Furet og gylden. Med sjæl. Fra plantagen, fra plukningen. Fra bonden, fra husbonden, fra faderen. Slid og kæmpen og hullerne efter rådne og udtrukkede tænder. Og duften af støv og tørhed og sol og smagen af sved. Og af kaktussprit.

Får en enkelt pauseøl i skyggen. Han drikker kun øl, når de turister, der betaler påstået humanitære organisationer for at for lov til at hjælpe ham med at plukke, sortere og male, byder. Ellers er han til kaktussprit, uden på nogen måde at være alkoholiker. Vi udveksler lidt almindeligheder, men hyggelige, på spansk. Har stadig svært ved at se, om han smiler, når hullerne efter de manglende tænder blottes i hans brede mund. Jeg ser, at konen står et stykke borte og hænger tøj op. Blandt andet mine mørke Wrangler. Kommer til at kigge på hendes frodige bagdel, frodig efter fire fødsler, klædt i en falmet kjole, der i hvert fald i det brændende sollys ser ud til at have været grøn engang.

Sammen valser vi det plukkede i det store trækar. Finder indimellem lidt dårligt og lidt sten, som vi tager op og smider til side. Og så sker det. Pludselig spørger han ― for første gang i de fem dage, jeg har været her, om jeg kunne tænke mig at smage. Tanken har ikke engang strejfet mig, måske fordi der er langt fra det vi plukker til det færdige produkt, både hvad udseende og bearbejdning angår.

Tilbage i træhytten tager han en lys, faktisk meget ren, stofsæk frem. Udvælger overomhyggeligt og nærmest kærligt en passende mængde. Rister dem, kvaser dem, koger dem, serverer.

Jeg siger nogle ikke bare venlige, men endda lystige ting på spansk til både min vært og hans kone, som er kommet ind for at ordne noget i køkkenet, joker med min egen accent og den lokale dialekt, mens jeg har munden til kruset uden at drikke endnu. Lytter, mens jeg holder om kruset med begge hænder, nærmest foldet omkring det i andægtighed, for at forstå hans svar. Kigger så ærefrygtigt ned i den dampende væske og sætter igen munden til kanten. Og drikker.

Allerede da den første lille slurk rammer det bageste af min tunge, forsøger det forreste af den at stoppe resten. Kaffen er grøn.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Seende haner har ikke brug for at finde Hvedekorn

»Tak for teksten til Hvedekorn, som jeg desværre må takke nej til. De fire episoder er for traurigt og trivielt og anstrengt uspændende til, at det vel egentlig ret irrelevante kaffe-spor kan sætte dem i nogen form for spil med hinanden; og poetisk prosa, som er den eneste slags prosa, der får adgang til Hvedekorn, kvalificerer teksten sig i hvert fald ikke som, dertil kræves genuin sproglig egensindighed og energi, og det er det* 10 gange mere af bare i dit gadenavn**, ikke for at være grov, bare for at være klar.

Mange hilsneer*
Lars Bukdahl
Redaktør af Hvedekorn«

* fejlen er korrekt citeret
** gadenavnet er ét ord på 23 bogstaver, heraf fire dobbeltbogstaver

Friday, 12 September 2008

Bildung gegenüber Verstand

"Natürlicher Verstand kann fast jeden Grad von Bildung ersetzen,
aber keine Bildung den natürlichen Verstand."

Arthur Schopenhauer

Thursday, 11 September 2008

A perfect day

Yesterday was one of these days where things just turned out as you'd wish for.

Denmark's national football team, unfairly and increasingly critisised by the press and a high number of so-called 'supporters', and theoretically weakened because of injuries, beat one of the World's supposedly best-playing teams, Portugal. In Portugal.

I watched the match in a Portuguese pub — I live in a Portuguese quarter so it was just up the road. Watched Portugal leading until six minutes from the end. Then Denmark equalised. Out of nowhere, some said, for Portugal had 'possessed the ball' as they say for two thirds of the time. I say it was their own fault as they did not make much of that seeming dominance. And Denmark's players believed in their chance. And were rewarded.

For a minute. Then the hosts got a penalty, and a doubtful one too. And took the lead again. Now this would demoralise most teams but not Denmark. They fought, they believed.

And were rewarded, doubly so. In the last minute equalising again. And then even, taking the chance that the press and all those 'supporters' had never granted them, rather than just being content with defending one point, the Danes scored again to win the match by 3:2.

They deserved it, fully. I was born in Denmark, and I believed in the team.

Shortly before on that same evening, Luxembourg sensationally beat Switzerland — away — by 2:1. Former Bayern manager Ottmar Hitzfeld coached Switzerland for the second time only. It was the Grand Duchy's first World Cup qualifier victory for 36 years! So since before I was born! In Denmark, before moving to Luxembourg where I live. In the Portuguese quarter.

AND Slovenia had beaten Slovakia by 2:1. Not only do I have good connections with Slovenia(ns) but even better, both goals were scored by my team's — 1. FC Köln's — goalgetter Milivoje Novakovic.

So yesterday was a good day. Had a bad headache most of it but felt it was going to be good.

Miracles exist. You just gotta believe in them. Only if you seek the luck, it will come. I just felt it. I believed. I believe.

A perfect day.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Find bedre kilder end Ritzau!

...eller rediger i det mindste i bureauets artikler, inden I blindt offentliggør dem. Jeg er træt af, at hver gang, jeg læser en netavisartikel, som stammer fra Ritzau, er der fejl i. Og oftest latterlige sjuskefejl. Det er foruroligende, at Danmarks dominerende nyheds"grossist" leverer stof af så ringe kvalitet.

Derfor vil jeg nu samle eksempler.

»OPEC-landenes overraskende beslutning om at sænke produktionen af olie har allerede fået prisen til at stige.«
»[...] prisen på en tønde olie faldt allerede med en dollar umiddelbart efter meldingen fra OPEC.«
Underrubrik hhv. afslutningsbemærkning i artiklen »Verdens olieproduktion begrænses«, Politiken 10/9-8

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The spirit of daring

'I have no idea what I am doing,
but incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm.'

Woody Allen
according to Los Angeles Times 31/8-8

Monday, 1 September 2008

Anregung zur gestrigen Nena-Konzert in Bonn

Dies habe ich an alle auf dem (Vorderseite der) Ticket genannten Firmen geschickt ― außer an der eigentlichen Veranstalter ELH Promotion GmbH, deren E-Mailanschrift natürlich nicht auffindbar war…

Sehr geehrte Frauen, sehr geehrte Herren,

Zunächst möchte ich mich bei Nena und der Band für ein tolles Konzert bedanken. Seit nunmehr vier Jahren treffen mein Bruder aus Dänemark mit Familie und ich aus Luxemburg uns jedes Jahr irgendwo in Deutschland um Nena zu erleben. Das ist jetzt eine Tradition geworden, und auch gestern hat sich der Wert und die Freude dieser Tradition sich noch einmal bestätigt.

Auf einem Punkt allerdings ist die Freude behindert. Am Eingang wird der Konzertgast gefragt, ob sie/er ein Handy hat. Falls ja, bitte ausschalten. Und Digitalkamera? In der Garderobe abgeben (die übrigens erfreulicherweise, und unüblich bei Konzerten, kostenlos war). Ich verstehe es schon, wenn die Künstler oder deren Management keine "unautorisierten" Fotos mag. Nur ist das heutzutage sehr schwierig, wenn nicht unmöglich, nachvollziehbar.

Was dabei unheimlich unfair ist, dass wir ehrlichen, die zugeben, eine Kamera dabei zu haben, bestraft werden. Wir geben diese an der Garderobe ab und begeben uns Richtung Bühne, nur um festzustellen, dass wir von knipsende, blitzende, weniger ehrliche Fans umgeben sind. Und selbst wenn alle Digitalkameras abgegeben wurden, sind Kameras heute fast Standardausstattung jeder Handy.

Also was soll's? Ich fühle mich fast schon doof, meine Kamera abgegeben zu haben. Jedenfalls diskriminiert. Entweder man ist konsequent und kontrolliert die Zuschauer am Eingang und während des Konzerts und konfiskiert dann auch jede Kamera, die man entdeckt ― oder man gibt das nicht-nachvollziehbare Verbot auf. Aber dieser stotternder Mittelweg, wo die, die die Regeln folgen auch die Verlierer sind, ist kein Weg vorwärts.

Übrigens könnte man mit einfachen Mitteln die Zuschauer davon informieren, WARUM Handys und Kameras tabu sind.

Im Voraus besten Dank!

Mit freundlichen Grüssen
Bjørn Clasen
Luxemburg
http://clasen.blogspot.com

Monday, 14 July 2008

Montypedia: Essay

'Essay: a collection of other people's thoughts disguised to look like one's own, in the judging of which originality is heavily penalized.'
Graham Chapman
in A Liar's Autobiography, Volume VI

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Skørtistik — Shirtistics

»Statistik er som miniskørter. De giver dig gode idéer, men skjuler det vigtigste.«
Ebbe Skovdahl, dansk fodboldtræner

'Statistics are like mini skirts. They give you certain ideas but hide the essential.'
Ebbe Skovdahl, Danish football manager

Saturday, 14 June 2008

EM-Quiz

Wie hiess der Vorgänger zur Europameisterschaft, der fünfmal von 1960 bis 1976 ausgetragen wurde?
a) Messepokal
b) Nations Cup
c) Jules Rimet Cup
d) Continental Cup

Wer trainierte Dänemarks Nationalmannschaft, die 1992 Europameister wurde?
a) Richard Møller-Nielsen
b) Sepp Piontek
c) Søren Lerby
d) Morten Olsen und Michael Laudrup

Was sorgte nach dem Eröffnungsspiel bei der EM 1984 für Polemik?
a) Dass Michel Platini ein später schwarzgelisteter Hustensaft vor dem Spiel genommen hatte.
b) Dass TV-Bilder zeigten, dass Dänemark in den drei letzten Minuten 12 Mann auf den Platz waren.
c) Dass mehrere Zeitungen sich wehrten, über der sportliche Inhalt des Spiels zu berichten.
d) Dass die Tore nachträglich gemesst wurden und es sich herausstellte, dass sie nicht gleich gross waren.

Me gustaría

La profesora de mi curso de castellano pidió a cada alumno que contara de un sueño que tiene. El fin fue practicar el pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo, pero como ves, la gramática no está mi fuerza, a entonces yo escribió mi primera poemíta en castellano…

Me gustaría tener un trabajo pasionante
Me gustaría dar una diferencia cada día
Me gustaría ser un poco importante
Me gustaría

Me gustaría que Dinamarca jugara en Euro 2008
Me gustaría que el día durara más tiempo
Me gustaría que los aves no decoraran mi coche
Me gustaría

Me gustaría viajar en todo el mundo
Me gustaría escribir de mis vivenciales
Me gustaría compartirlos, y estar junto
Me gustaría

Me gustaría que la profesora hablara más lento
Me gustaría que los otros fueran tontos como yo
Me gustaría que dijeran lo que yo entiendo
Me gustaría

Me gustaría ser un digno amigo
Me gustaría ser un novio real
Me gustaría sacar a mil paseos contigo
Me gustaría

Me gustaría que los gentes cuidaran de los unos los otros
Me gustaría que cuidáramos de nuestra planeta
Me gustaría que no sólo pensáramos a nosotros
Me gustaría

Me gustaría tener hijos, algunos
Me gustaría construir una vida familiar
Me gustaría ser padre como unos
Tambien les gustaría

Me gustaría que el castellano fuera mucho más fácil
Me gustaría que la gramática fueso como en danés
Me gustaría que el subjuntivo terminara en “-ácil”
Y todo este está todo lo que me gustaría

The importance of silence

'Silence is an essential part of the actor's equipment. He is the man who can make the silence vibrate, who can convey the impression of several dimensions by his sensitive use of one.'
Donald McWhinnie
in his book 'The Art Of Radio' (Faber and Faber, London, 1959)
according to Alan Beck's Radio Drama site, on 'silence'

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Luxembourg Ville
— Une administration qui vous ignore

Comme, à plusieurs reprises, j'ai constaté que l'administration de la Ville de Luxembourg ne répond pas aux courriels, j'ai décidé de mettre mes messages à l'administration sur le Net. Si je n'ai toujours pas de réponse, j'enverrai le tout au Bourgmestre, Monsieur Helminger. Nous sommes quand même en 2008 dans une ville très riche et soi-disant moderne. La communication avec les habitants doit simplement fonctionner.

Premier cas: Carte « vélOH! » (vélos publics) non-reçue

(Formulaire en ligne envoyé le 21 mai 2008)

Friday, 2 May 2008

Schilder aus Bremen und aus Koblenz

Zunächst Mal eins über die neuere Geschichte Deutschlands. Das erste Mal, dass ich gesehen habe ausserhalb von Berlin.























Dann einige Variationen über ein interessant-zu-interpretierendes Thema.




Und letzendlich eine etwas komische (und hoffentlich unfreiwillige) Kombination vom Hauptbahnhof in Koblenz.