Friday, November 16, 2012

Belgium - the red tape paradise

Belgium is a funny country. What was it running on all that time without the government? Paper. If red tape wasn't invented in Belgium, it was for sure perfected here- an ultimate depiction of Kafka's Process.

Level 1: Language. You should consider yourself being very lucky if you find an official who knows and wants to speak English. You might live in the capital of Europe, but expect to be treated like a Belgian.

Level 2: Simple registration procedures for EU citizens which takes up to 30 minutes in Germany  takes up to 6 months in Belgium. In this time the Ministry is involved to decide upon a matter that is in fact already decided upon by international and national legislation. If you dare to call them a week before to kindly remind them that 6 months expires soon, you will hear it for disturbing them without reason. If you cal them a week after the deadline has passed, they will explain they sent you a letter and it isn't their problem if you didn't get it. Granting citizenship is of course a task for the parliament that is to decide upon each individual application. Priorities first.

Level 3: Papers. Belgium wants to keep its' citizens healthy and the paper industry happy. This is why you need to fill in or bring papers almost everywhere you go. Be sure though that after you've collected and brought the papers you were asked to, they won't be needed and you will get new papers to fill in and bring instead. To make things more fun: no one will know what is it you really need.

After a year here, I've completed the first 3 levels but I'm sure there's more to be discovered.

To be continued....

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Brussels - ugly in a cute way

It's been almost a year since I've moved to Brussels. I still find it hard to believe I'm here for so long already and even harder how easy it was for me to get used to the Brussels kind of life. After getting over the initial schock of total bureaucratic chaos  and lousy public transport services I could focus on nicer things the city has to offer. I mean why bother with small details when you've got fries, chocolade, beer and waffles, right?

For quite some time, I really disliked Brussels and its Eurocrat structures, pricy shopping facilities and endless numbers of people in suits, that seem like faceless clones. It was nothing like Berlin at all, it felt cold and alien. Not knowing any French doesn't help either.

But then one day I was walking past the Palace of Justice, having a nice overview of the city center, with all of the 100 architectural styles squashed in a tiny area. Traditional buildings, gothic style buildings, ugly buildings, glass building, socialist style buildings, everything seems just thrown in as if photshoped in some kind of tetris game.

All of those buildings didn't really fit together, but there they were, proudly shining in all their ugliness. And then it struck me that this is exactly as my life: chaos of bits and pieces, puzzles connected together by some invisible string even I don't always understand. They don't look like they fit together, still here they are. It was then when I decided to give Brussels another chance. Sure, it's ugly and chaotic, but at least it's honest.

Since then I've discovered many hidden treasures of the city: great parks, amazing cultural happening, libraries and archives that I've always wished they existed, cool cinema that plays silent movies with live piano, cool traditional pubs with most obscure non industrial beers you can drink while nibbling on cheese dipped in mustard and celery salt (the Belgian way) Besides this Brussels has really strong multi-cultural vibe and cousine that never seizes to surprise.

After a while I discovered I actually like Brussels. Sure it's different from what I was used to, but at the same time it has a lot to offer. And for the time living here, I'll sure try to discover as much as possible.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

CSI: Brussels

It was a just a bit after lunch when Luke, the guardian of law and order, was checking upon the streets of Brussels. Little did he know he was about to discover a crime that would keep him busy much longer than expected.

Around 2 p.m. when he was making his standard check his footsteps suddenly stopped. Just outside the building there were about 10 garbage bags that had no business being there. Although it was the right day and they were going to collect them next morning, Luke immediately knew something was wrong. It was not 6 p.m. yet and those bags had no business laying on the street at this time of the day. It looked bad and it smelled like breaking the law.

Luke was puzzled by many questions. Who put those bags there? Did they all belong to the same person? Will he have to go through tones of trash to find out the owner? Even though the building at the corner wasn't big, bags could have been put there by more or less anyone. 

With this amount of bags the crime could have been easily committed by someone's enemy. And clever crime that would be indeed, making your enemy pay the fine. He knew he's going to have to do the dirty job while the evidence was still fresh. He took out the gloves and dug into one of the slightly open bags filled with papers. "At least they recycle" he thought. This made his job much easier. 

Success was almost immediate and he was very happy he won't need to call the lab on their afternoon off. Amongst papers there were several ones with names on them and seems and one of the names matched the name on a doorbell. This was still not complete proof, but later on Luke would also check fingerprints on the papers.

It would take a bit more effort to figure out if the hideous crime of the early bag disposal was committed by the same person, but he already identified some similarities between the bags. Not only were they all equally heavy, they were all also closed in the same nonchalant manner - using duck tape. These days people really have got no manners anymore.

Luke made sure he marked each and every bag with a big red note. Sure, some might say it's only garbage and all there was to crime is making streets look uglier couple of hours earlier. Besides, there might have been heavier crime happening around the block. But Luke knew better how things go: it starts with wrongly disposed garbage and ends with murders and he wouldn't have any of it. It needs to be stopped at the very beginning.

About a week later, when fingerprints confirmed Luke's theory, the perpetrators would got official report that made it clear their crime didn't go unnoticed. Copies of incriminated papers would be included as indisputable evidence. This time it was only a warning, but next time they wouldn't get away with it.

Another day was saved by Luke and streets of Brussels were safe and clean again - well, at least the next morning when they collected the garbage. But the most important thing is that people of Brussels could go to sleep knowing that there was always someone out there making sure everything in order.
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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Family code fiasco in Slovenia

Even though polls before the referendum were leaning more in favor of the Family code*, thus falsely raising my hopes high, I knew I shouldn't hold my breath. After all, some things should never be underestimated in Slovenia: conservativism, envy and urge to stick your nose in someone else's business.

I admit that towards the end I was already a bit tired of all the arguments. Nevertheless it was extremely important to have them. Only public discussions of such topics can slowly change people's perception and challenge their embedded stereotypes.

I am not surprised by people's fear of challenging their own beliefs and opening up their minds to thinking that maybe they are not the ones to tell others how to live. I am also not surprised of people being homophobic and thinking that gays will start buying off children or massively adopting children of others. Or that majority closed their ears with both hands not to hear the arguments that same sex families already exist and this affects legal rights of their actual children, not some imaginary "future to be"children. Nor that this law doesn't take anything away from existing families, but gives rights to families that exist but don't have them yet.

Peoples screams of "endangering" the institution of nuclear family (which is anyway invention of capitalism), homosexuality being unnatural and similar were being heard loudly everywhere. People's mouths were all of the certain full of arguments what is best for children and how to protect them. Silly? Yes. Sad? Definitely. Surprising? No.

But what really pissed me off is the high moral attitude of people voting against it, saying they mind the "aggressive campaign" of those, arguing for the family code. Come again? You think pro human rights is more aggressive than spreading homophobic nationalist beliefs?

So maybe if gay people and their supporters would behave the way others wanted and expected them to, like quiet little mouses, slaving away their lives, trying hard not to bother anyone while pleasing everyone, then it would all be OK?

Well fuck you too! If some managed to get out of their closets, then maybe some can think about getting their minds out of the boxes. Enough is enough!

* Family code was progressive law cluster accepted in Slovenian Parliament on 16th June 2011 and was introducing serious improvement of children's rights protection and amongst other things also giving right to same sex families to form legal communion (not marriage) and adopt children. Group of right wingers, nationalist and some religious people called ironically Civili initiative forced a referendum on abolishing the law.  On 27th December 2011 Constitutional Court of Slovenia gave Ok to the referendum, which happened on 25th March 2012. Even though only 30% of all voters voted, a bit over 54% was for abolishing the Family Code.
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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Life in a suitcase

My belongings are stored in three different European cities while I'm travelling back and forth, it's not unusual to loose a sense of home. Is it in the country where you are born and your parents live, in a city which feels like home or where your love is? In the last year my home was mostly where my suitcase was. And again it's time for change.

After a bit over 2 wonderful years in Berlin I am packing up my stuff again and finding myself in Brussels. Because I would rather miss the city of my dreams than be away from the person I love.

Life is an adventure and this one has only started. So bring it on!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Yearly upgrade

It's hard to avoid birthdays. They became less important but at the same time definitely more fun.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Berlinale 2012

Man for a day is an excellent documentary on performing gender and opens many interesting questions. If follows the work of gender performer and artist Diane Torr and her workshops "Man for a day". It is amazing how many different reasons women had to join this workshop, what effect it had on them and how subtly the topic of violence against women is touched. It is for sure one of the best documentaries  I've seen on the topic. Besides making you realise how we construct ourselves it also makes you laugh. Witty, smart, subversive. A definite yes.

Indignados tries to tell a story of cruel reality of illegal imigrants in Europe and put it in the context of Europe's protests and uprising but unfortunately does neither. I found the film dissapointing as story is shown to the audience rather than being felt by it.

I give the film credits for featuring female character as a main character and having beautiful photography with some quite arty scenes that work well, especially the one with loose oranges. However it also gives the feeling that the author wasn't really sure whether he wanted to show his artistic skills in photography, tell the story or make an exhibition of cool slogans and St├ęphane Hessel's thoughts.

The main character is kept at the distance from the audience thus not really inviting us to enter the story. She is mostly passively observing the uprising while coping with being homeless and having no rights. Even though she is allowed to speak and express her thoughts few times during the film, she doesn't add anything new to the story.

The movie might have raised my interest in learning flamenco and reading Hessel's books, it did however not captivate me in a way that I would loose myself in it. Juding by its appealing title I really expected much more.

Brand X is a parody that is ridiculing 60's TV commercials. Critics praised it for being funny and subversive and in the 70's it probably was. It is full of naked and half naked scenes, making fun of products, consumerism, ideas, shows and people. It is however also deeply mysoginistic film that celebrates rape culture.

Only very rarely I walk out of the cinema before the movie ends and brand X made me do exactly that. While the film might subvert ridiculousness of the system that glorifies cheap entertainment and headless consumerism, it pays lip service to that same system by glorifying sexism and there's really hardly anything subversive about that.

Words of witness is an excellent documentary answering the question: What happens after revolution? through the eyes of astonishing, smart and determinant young woman Heba Afify, a journalist working for independent newspaper in Egypt. She is looking for new stories with the same passion as she is  engaging into post-dictatorship era search for democracy in her country, sharing with us some of her concerns on politics, government, trust in authorities and people. Her political struggle goes hand in hand with her personal one, to be taken seriously as a journalist and as a young woman.

In the shadow of a man is an amazing documentation on women's life in Egypt. Even though it is Hanan Abdalla's first film and you can notice some out of focus shots, you forgive all of it when you hear the astonishing personal stories of women presented. She manages to capture intimate and political thoughts of Egyptian women on life, love and politics and break down the stereotypes we  might hold about women wearing burqa's. She manages to deliver personal reality of women in political way, giving the voice to those usually left invisible. In any case a great documentary that is worth seeing.

So all in all, my Berlinale this year was short but a good one.
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Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Glorious

To break a  too long break of no indie concerts I went to what sounded like promising night with Viennese indie rock band My Glorious. I bough the ticket on a hunch, apparently a good one. The night started with Brandenburg group The Pauls, which played solid commercial kind of indie, a bit leaning into pop, with a much too cheesy lyrics for my taste.

Then finally came My Glorious and were the glorious indeed. Properly dark melodies with equally dark lyrics, to which the singer referred as results of little explosions in his head. If we are to believe the title of their latest album "Inside my head is a scary place" we can be sure we won't be bored but will instead be fed some of the deepest intimate thoughts and fears that make us human. They proved repeatedly they own rock and roll as well as their audience. Communicative, witty, engaging and very good in improvisation. Needles to say I bought the albums.

Have a bit of the gloriously tasty indie yourself. And if you like it, drop me a line and I will share their latest album with you via Dropbox. After all, good things are there to share.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Contemporary slavery

Two girls protesting child labour (by calling ...Image via Wikipedia
One of the biggest dillusions or our time is the one about abolishing slavery. Recently I came across Internship offer that actually requires payment in order to work there. For free that is. More conretely, one of distinguished EU institutions that is very far from bakrupting is inviting young people to gain working experience in their office, for a bit more than 100 EUR "award" monthly, on top of which they get also 3.7 EUR daily for lunch.

Now in Brussels, this translates into more or less at least minus 800 euros monthly for being able to bring someone coffee and admire their ability to glow importance. It is not much different in Germany, where highly educated people need to take on full responsibility and work full time in so called Practice jobs for half a salary that covers only rent and maybe food for a week.  Slovenia if equally sad and lots of personal stories of precarious young people and their experience with labour market are beautifully described on this blog (in Slovenian).

We never abolished slavery, we just call it differently now. Internships, part time jobs, you name it, there's plenty more where this came from. But times have not been particularly bright for the youth employment long before the crisis. Now our society has vividly illustrated what "The world and future depend on the young" really means. It doesn't mean we should invest in youth because it will be creating our tomorrow. It means we should make sure the youth pays for tomorrow.
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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Money withdrawal in only 9 steps

Cash/ATM machines usually don't have highly sophisticated procedures and are generally quite easy to grasp. Three steps include entering your pin, choosing the amount and getting a receipt for it, when needed. This might be true for the big majority machines which differ merely in whether you enter PIN first or choose the amount first and then enter the PIN.

But not DEXIA machines. They are special. In fact they are so special that they manage to confuse you with completely arbitrary order, weird questions and additional request for even weirder confirmation. Kinda makes you wonder if this might be one of the reasons why DEXIA bank is now in so much trouble. The procedure to withdraw money from their machines is already quite long but I took extra few minutes to take photos of  what happens after you insert your card.

Screen #1 is of asking for your patience the one that appears at the beginning and after each time you confirm or type something.

Screen #2 is kindly informing you that you shouldn't leave your card after you took the money. You of course need to confirm you understood this by either pressing STOP on the left or OK on the right.

Screen #3 first shows machine's appreciation of your understanding and will to continue and brings you to the actually possibility of choosing the amount of money, you would like to withdraw.

Screen #4 Confirms the amount of money you want to withdraw

Screen #5 again informs you in big red letter what you should do if you happen to forget your card after the whole process is over. You might think this is all but you would of course be wrong. It is actually asking you for your PIN in a significantly less noticeable sign above the ugly one. Since the stars below appear to be there for merely decorative reasons and there are no PIN number longer than 6 digits, it is quite possible the whole procedure will be interrupted before you manage to do it.

Screen #7 is just letting you know the machine registered you entering PIN. It gives however no indication whether it has/will also accept it.

Screen #8 is again reminding you not to forget your card and at this point crossing the line from being thoughtful to implying DEXIA thinks their customers are complete idiots.

Screen #9 is the last one that gives you an opportunity to get your card back and avoid further messages. Unlike other machines this one doesn't simply spit out the card but makes you press very logical STOP button, to get it back. Otherwise you might, you know, forget it :)

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