Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I have a group of friends that are desperate to go down to Spain and have this years NYEP in Madrid with buddies from our grad school and their international non stop party gang. As I know Madrid the promise of wild party stands true. As I know the person inviting us I am actually getting afraid that wild party may be a euphemism. I am not yet convinced though since have also made arrangements with my sis and her boyfriend and I have only a few hours to decide. In the meanwhile I was browsing through my old Madrid photos and this capture of the famous Puerta del Sol Tio Pepe ad caught my attention. I like it more in B&W. Once on D200 I will try to see if the pleasure to shoot B&W depends on the equipment or the mid. I hate to shift picture to monochrome with software. Well I have to think about Madrid ...
This is possibly the most important Brussels landmark. This time in December is still busy and people wait long enough to get their fries fix.
The only issue is that the fries here are terrible, the oil is probably the original one used a quarter of century ago when this famous fries place opened. If you want to believe it there are busloads of Asian tourists that have this as a must see/taste on the list. And let me be clear European or North American ones do not shy away either. I only ate there once and never repeated the mistake. If I leave the car parked in the square for a few hours the stink stays for days! And do not get me wrong I love fries and Belgium IS the world capital for those. Just that this place is beyond any doubt not worthy of its reputation. The best I had were at Brasserie George on Chaussee de Waterloo just outside Bois de la Cambre. You may choose between at least five different types that can be served fried in as many different oils or fats. They are great as is the place in general. The oyster bar and the sea food are not bad there either and the duck is fantastic. On weekends and on holidays you HAVE to reserve a table well in advance.
As I get to know Brussels better I discovered that the cliché regarding the good dinning in the city actually stands true. Just in the last few weeks I have discovered a number of excellent places at both ends of the price/sophistication spectrum. One day I have to come up with my own preferred spots list.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
I took this picture in official capacity. So normally I would have avoided adding it here but I like the atmosphere, its structure and tones, the play of light. We live with these guys, they influence our opinions and our lives in so many ways. They may not start wars but certainly play their fair share in fuelling them. They play all sides and none. They are witnesses and judges. I believe there is a serious ethical and professional crisis in the world of journalism today. I am aware that even without the systematic attack on the freedom of speech making all journalist look like saints my opinions may cross a dangerous line. I am the first to admit that it is probably better to have an unchecked irresponsible media then a checked responsible one. Beyond that all encompassing statement is a whole world of uncertainty. I have no one size fits all opinion here. At best I am puzzled by what the answer should be. I see, and I strongly believe I am not alone in this opinion, a constant degrading of both the informative and formative value of the western media. While its importance remains critical its freedom, authenticity and impact are under threat. The same may not be true about the media in developing world or in countries struggling for freedom but I do not know. Reports on the topic tend to be inconsistent, marred by mistakes, political bias and lack of subtlety. What is certain is that the last few years have abounded in situations in which the media were treated like a docile instrument of politics (and the truth of the matter was that more often then not the media are content with this role - and not only under totalitarian regimes) . The last few month offered us both cases of superb resistance to pressure and also sad and dangerous cases of irresponsible coverage not to mention straight out lying or inventing stories sometimes at highly reputed and well regarded media outlets. Then so often the media picks up and sometimes inflates seemingly incredible, impossible and dangerous stories on TV stations about to be attacked for their coverage of Iraq, of journalist targeted, imprisoned and killed. Stories so wacky that may be true in a Robert Ludlum novel though reality tends to belie those daily.
I have no idea whether the crisis belongs to western journalism or western society or both. The thing is that I hope to see a change. The down of the electronic virtual and global media is probably a good thing. I find serious blogs and internet based papers often highly responsible, positive and structured despite being often a pool of data and information from myriads of sources. Maybe the sheer statistic impact of millions of contributors will even out the negative effects of manipulation and bias. The debate in Tunis just a few days ago was in this respect relevant and important. Keeping the internet free is probably as important as keeping the black press published in the XVIII century USA or the underground Liberation in Nazi Germany occupied France.
I have no TV, or at least no cable and I feel better informed. I am indeed lucky to have several different layers of information channels available all the time but I relish in the "freedom" from the daily quota of TV digested "information".
So when I so this picture and its classical "journalist pounce", "media heat" or "in front of the cameras" feel I stopped and pondered a bit more on the relevance of Chomsky. Yeah, I know I am not sure I want to go there ....
I know I am not the only person trying hard to get the photo I want. This is good evidence to the length tourists go. The number of cameras in Grand Place in Brussels often equals the number of people. On some occasions, if a particularly numerous Asian tourist group is there, it can easily exceed that parity. Some of those guys and girls carry two still cameras and a video camera. Poeple and this frantic desire to hold on to image. Camera phones, digital and film cameras, old almost vintage gems, brand new DSLRs on Auto mode and with pop up flash in the middle of the night for a "scenic" picture. And then this guy here struggling with the diminutive tripod and the tiny camera. I do not have it here but his rendition of the Brussels landmark Hotel de Ville was impressive for a PS. There you go: people make photographs not cameras. As I just ordered the new Nikon D200 I should know!
Late night in Brussels. These lovely ladies are flower sellers. I cannot be certain since I had not talked with them but something is telling me they are the same that do this for dosens of years in Bucharest. I like the connection. What best buy but a rose in the middle of the night. I used to do that often in B. My favourite spot was the non-stop flower market in Piata Amzei. I remember the feeling. Half past eleven, taxi stops and waits, I step out and then peruse row after row of beautiful flowers. Roses from Peru and tulips and chrysanthemum from Holland. You had to listen to all the sellers trying very hard to grab your attention - the only real equivalent of a souk I found in Romania where, despite the oriental influence in food and else, the markets tend to be a reserved and uninteresting experience. Then I always had to convince the sellers that indeed I want no "fashionable" sparkly wrapping and paper will do. Usually it was a bunch of roses - red most often, or white, sometimes yellow if the mood or the person was right - once in a while margaritas or lilies. That was late night in Bucharest.
Oriental attitude. Late night, never ending debates in Brussels. But then again this city is developing today around institutions of never ending debate. So why would we humble civil servants in the European machine be different. We like our wine and we never stop talking. Add an interesting scene, a smoke filed hookah bar's basement and oriental music and you have an excellent Brussels soirée. I always wanted to be a bit of a pasha.
In fact the place is a bit of a cheep dive but their falafel, hummus and labneh are all excellent. And the basement room provides a bit of a protection from the ordinary mix of Grand Place tourists, Lebanese crowd and Brussels connoisseurs that have long discovered this exception to the crappy food normally on offer at each corner middle eastern pita restaurant.
Every two month, Brussels based Young Gallery is giving us pure photographic pleasures. Now in brand new location in the courtyard at the fancy shmancy Conrad Hotel the gallery is a constant returning point in my exploration of Brussels. Whether medium format urban or landscape photography, portrait or nude, it matters little the place is dedicated to living classics so there is little room for error. What I appreciate is the choice of images. As most are reputed photographers with hundreds of published works this is no easy job to keep the balance between the known and expected works and surprising new looks over coveted subjects or artists. This particularly applies to the older Bruno Bissang exhibition or the just closing Demarchelier one. The next exhibition opening this December is dedicated to Marilyn Monroe.
Now this is an image I particularly enjoy. The wacky Jazz player form NY and the American girl in the background mach. And as this is taken in place Boniface in Brussels it gains a bit of profunditas as we seam to drift further apart by the day. If only it would be as simple and uncomplicated as listening to good jazz and enjoying a good Italian coffee.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
It took a couple of young musicians from Timisoara, Romania, just a few minutes of playing and they got the attention of the crowd. And this I am sorry to say is not an easy crowd to please. A self absorbed and important public used to skims events superficially was equally captured by the beauty of the voice and the girl and even asked for more once the duo stopped playing.
Anyhow I for one was totally enthralled to hear them play as they were good and consistent. They played a bit of bebop, a bit of Latin and Brazilian jazz, and even some Romanian pieces. The guitar player, an engineer turned to music was technically very good and also had a good mood control. He never overdid anything, constantly delivering a subtle and powerful stream of music managing without effort to avoid being overwhelmed by the glorious voice of its partner. A good match and excellent cooperation they were a revelation. The girl, what can I say, a bit of a bombshell in the Mediterranean way and a voice from the gods. Mellow and warm totally enveloping, perfect for jazz and surprisingly good control.
This was a two set jazz event on consecutive days in the European Parliament and provided for everybody involved organisers and participants alike a rather nice surprise. I wish there were more of this kind.
As for the two musicians let me just say that they will be back to Brussels.
The color of Jazz always starts black and white. It needs just a little time and then it gets to you. The colors start flying and the smiles flashing. Well good champagne always helps. Even the stagiaires in the Parliament are not immune. To either champagne or music I might add.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
What a weekend! For personal and other reasons it was a hectic rollercoaster of kinds. Good and bad things mixed as they do. Article to finish, trouble in paradise, trip to Amsterdam. I needed that like I needed a kick in the had. But my little sis was in Amsterdam and I promised her to join her and her boyfriend of the year. That was fun. It is always good to be with her. For a change her boyfriend is a decent and truly intelligent person and not a pompous prick. I liked him the very first moment she introduced us but I still keep an eye. They also seam to go along just fine and that is also unheard of.
I worked hard on the train putting order into a stack of ideas and going through a caseload of articles and publications of various progressive persuasions. It was a good distraction from personal dramas and worries and concentration felt good. It also let me finish - today early, very early in the morning - a piece on European reform.
Amsterdam was as fun as it gets. Great weather, sun shining, little wind, sparkling sky. We had a good walk checking out bookstores, windows and galleries. Visited the ladies, as a courtesy and as discovery trip for my little sis. As expected she was terribly disappointed. I believe she was expecting something straight out of Dante. Munching the must have Hummus Falafels at Moaz (I never leave Amsterdam without having had a few) we passed a lovely afternoon between the falling leafs over the channels and a local beauty browsing through photography books with Afghan dog in tow !!? How good is that.
One of the brief, totally relaxed moments came late Sunday night at a smoke filled, crammed little place called Alto. It is a jazz bar and a classical one with friends of the house, Sunday night crowd, and a bit of an international audience more expats then tourists. Hanging to my wine I listened to the young bands tribulations taking in the view of and then the conversation with what I thought is the piano man's girl and proved to be his sister. I enjoyed the parallel and so did she. We left early since my own sister was beat. The whole night had such a different dynamic then the previous Jazzy night in Brussels with the excellent Funky jazz concert of Maceo Parker. I have to do this more often. What? Jazz. conversation, trips, reading. The works.