The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'romania'
The Financial Times' blog section, of all places, has an interesting travelogue of the southeastern Danube, the ancient dividing line between central Europe and the Balkans/the West and the East/Catholicism and Orthodoxy/Christendom and the Ottoman Empire:
A Roman bridge linking what is now Romania with Bulgaria collapsed in the fourth century and from then until another was built 1954, there was no crossing. This summer saw the opening of only the second link between the countries across the Danube, a 2km, €245m bridge between Vidin in Bulgaria and the Romanian city of Calafat. Engineers working on the project, now grandly christened the New Europe Bridge, resorted to a third language, English, to communicate with the precision required for the millimetrical convergence of rails and highway.
Our trip had begun in Bucharest, unexpectedly appealing in a melancholy way with its crumbling neoclassical buildings. The Gallic inspiration for what was once celebrated as “Little Paris” is evident in broad boulevards radiating from Place Charles de Gaulle – which our guide described as “named after the great French revolutionary” – an attribution that might have surprised the conservative general. The square was originally named Piata (meaning “marketplace”) Jianu, after local folk hero Iancu Jianu. It was renamed Piata Adolf Hitler in 1940; followed, in 1948, by Piata Generalissim IV Stalin, in honour of the country’s “liberation” by the Red Army.
Just off it is the outdoor Village Museum, where traditional houses from Transylvania (complete with anti-vampire features) and other regions have been reassembled beside a lake. Chickens scratch the dirt, the property of the peasants periodically imported to lend authenticity.Meanwhile, to commemorate the upcoming German elections, the Guardian's user-contributed photo section has a gallery titled Alternative Germany, most of which is not art-squats in Berlin.
A few random odds and ends which, for one reason or another, didn't make it into blog posts in 2011:
- Artificial intelligence pioneer John McCarthy died this year; though before he did, he wrote up a piece on the sustainability of progress. The gist of it is that he contended that progress is both sustainable and desirable, for at least the next billion years, with resource limitations being largely illusory.
- As China's economy grows, dishonest entrepreneurs are coming up with increasingly novel and bizarre ways of adulterating food:
In May, a Shanghai woman who had left uncooked pork on her kitchen table woke up in the middle of the night and noticed that the meat was emitting a blue light, like something out of a science fiction movie. Experts pointed to phosphorescent bacteria, blamed for another case of glow-in-the-dark pork last year. Farmers in eastern Jiangsu province complained to state media last month that their watermelons had exploded "like landmines" after they mistakenly applied too much growth hormone in hopes of increasing their size.
Until recently, directions were circulating on the Internet about how to make fake eggs out of a gelatinous compound comprised mostly of sodium alginate, which is then poured into a shell made out of calcium carbonate. Companies marketing the kits promised that you could make a fake egg for one-quarter the price of a real one.
- The street finds its own uses for things, and places develop local specialisations and industries: the Romanian town of Râmnicu Vâlcea has become a global centre of expertise in online scams, with industries arising to bilk the world's endless supply of marks, and to keep the successful scammers in luxury goods:
The streets are lined with gleaming storefronts—leather accessories, Italian fashions—serving a demand fueled by illegal income. Near the mall is a nightclub, now closed by police because its backers were shady. New construction grinds ahead on nearly every block. But what really stands out in Râmnicu Vâlcea are the money transfer offices. At least two dozen Western Union locations lie within a four-block area downtown, the company’s black-and-yellow signs proliferating like the Starbucks mermaid circa 2003.
It’s not so different from the forces that turn a neighborhood into, say, New York’s fashion district or the aerospace hub in southern California. “To the extent that some expertise is required, friends and family members of the original entrepreneurs are more likely to have access to those resources than would-be criminals in an isolated location,” says Michael Macy, a Cornell University sociologist who studies social networks. “There may also be local political resources that provide a degree of protection.”
- Monty Python's Terry Jones says that The Life Of Brian could not be made now, as it would be too risky in today's climate of an increasingly strident religiosity exercising its right to take offense:
The 69-year-old said: "I took the view it wasn't blasphemous. It was heretical because it criticised the structure of the church and the way it interpreted the Gospels. At the time religion seemed to be on the back burner and it felt like kicking a dead donkey. It has come back with a vengeance and we'd think twice about making it now."
- The Torygraph's Charles Moore: I'm starting to think that the Left might actually be right:
And when the banks that look after our money take it away, lose it and then, because of government guarantee, are not punished themselves, something much worse happens. It turns out – as the Left always claims – that a system purporting to advance the many has been perverted in order to enrich the few. The global banking system is an adventure playground for the participants, complete with spongy, health-and-safety approved flooring so that they bounce when they fall off. The role of the rest of us is simply to pay.
- The sketchbooks of Susan Kare, the artist who designed the icons, bitmaps and fonts for the original Macintosh, and went on to an illustrious career as a pixel artist (Microsoft hired her to do the Windows 3.x icons, and some years ago, Facebook hired her to design the virtual "gifts" you could buy for friends.) The sketchbooks show her original Macintosh icons, which were drawn by hand on graph paper (because, of course, they didn't have GUI tools for making icons back then).
- How To Steal Like An Artist: advice for those who wish to do creative work.
- The street finds its own uses for things (2): with the rise of the Arduino board (a low-cost, hackable microcontroller usable for basically anything electronic you might want to program), anyone can now make their own self-piloting drone aircraft out of a radio-controlled plane. And it isn't actually illegal in itself (at least in the US; YMMV).
- An answer to the question of why U2 are so popular.
So that was Eurovision 2007. A bit of a surprise; the Serbian entry which won it seemed rather lacklustre compared to some of the others, but romped home in the voting, presumably due to Serbia being located in a geographical/demographical sweet spot. Interestingly enough, Eastern Europe dominated the voting, with the highest-scoring western-European nation being well in the bottom half of the rankings.
There were a few highlights: Georgia's entry started off as a traditional torch song by a woman in a red dress, but then morphed into eurodance, and then the dancers whipped out swords and started dancing about, Cossack-fashion, with a wild glint in their eyes. France eschewed the usual white-gowned piano balladeer in favour of a troupe of Dadaist mimes in Jean-Paul Gaultier costumes, highlighting the ridiculous side of Gallic culture. (Fat lot of good it did them, they ended up something like third-last. I guess it's back to the chanteuse and pianist next year.) Romania's entry was a bit like France's on a budget; five blokes dressed like the habitués of a slightly unsavoury tavern, singing "I love you" in every language on earth. The music was vaguely gypsyish, and sped up dramatically towards the end. Neighbouring Bulgaria's started off like Dead Can Dance with extra percussion, and then went electro. And, of course, there was Ukraine's entry, with its sequined, uniformed drag queen, looking like Elton John crossed with Austin Powers. It had camp and kitsch in spades, and raised a few questions. What, for example, was the significance of them counting in German, and did they really sing "I want to see Russia goodbye", and if so, how did that make it past the vetting process?
The lowlight was probably Ireland's entry, which was pure, unadulterated Celtic kitsch of the most obvious variety, and quite deserving of its final position at the bottom of the board. This year, though, nobody got a nul points, and they limped home with 3 points or somesuch. Britain did a bit better, largely thanks to Malta giving them 12, though their song was stuck firmly in the mid-1990s. And the teeth on that stewardess were frightening; granted, Scooch, as uninspired as they may be, were a lot less cringeworthy than last year's entrant (a middle-aged bloke pretending to be a teenage hip-hop street thug, surrounded by dancing "schoolgirls" who, apparently, were borrowed by Turkey this year). And I'd have to give a dishonourable mention to Russia, whose entry was a piece of soullessly machine-extruded commercial pop, trading on sex appeal (sample lyric from the three immaculately coifed girls doing the singing: "put a cherry on my cake and taste my cherry pie"; ooh-err!) lacking any of the madness or wrongness that makes for an interesting Eurovision entry.
The other competitors: Belarus (incidentally, the last remaining state with a KGB) had black-clad female dancers scaling walls like assassins and John Barry-esque strings over its power ballad. The full might of the Swedish culture industry was unleashed in the form of 1970s glam rock attired in monochromatic retro cool. Latvia's entry was in Italian, and like a low-rent version of The Divs. Germany had a bloke named Roger Cicero (son of Herr und Frau Cicero, I presume) doing a Sinatra-lite swing number, in German. Armenia's entrant seemed to follow, stylistically, in the footsteps of that other great Armenian singer, Charles Aznavour, only with an overwroughtly woeful and somewhat strained ballad. And Turkey's entrant was a short, hirsute man wearing a red jacket and a broad grin, surrounded by belly dancers Terry Wogan persisted in pointing out were British. Presumably giving the United Kingdom something to be proud of even should they have ended up with nul points.
While some speculated that Lordi's astounding triumph last year (reprised in the Lord-of-the-Rings-esque opening video) would have opened the door for a flood of hard-rock/heavy-metal bands, this did not entirely come to pass. Finland followed up their win with a new genre, which could be dubbed, Tolkienesquely, MOR-Goth, consisting of torch songs with emo-esque lyrics and plenty of black clothing and gothic makeup. The other main Lordi-influenced act was Moldova, whose song sounded like the sort of alternative-rock song that ended up on Hollywood action-film soundtracks in the late 1990s; all minor-key strings, crunchy metal power chords and drum loops.
The promotional videos played before the musical numbers were done quite well, executed as whimsical stories featuring elements of Finnish culture. Some of the odder ones featured a goth riding a rollercoaster, hackers coding computer demos at the Assembly festival, a heavy-metal festival full of corpsepainted teenagers, a troupe of clowns giving an athlete an instant makeover so he could enter a restaurant, a twattish-looking bloke in DJ headphones playing the pipes at the Sibelius monument, and Santa Claus playing chess with one of the Moomins. Oh, and lots of mobile phones (Nokia, of course); the Finns, it seems, use them at the dinner table, and even propose marriage with the help of their cameraphones. Other than mobile phones, heavy metal appears to be a big part of the Finnish national identity; other than the promos, there was the entertainment during the vote-counting break, which featured the heavy-metal string quartet Apocalyptica, as well as acrobats.
Last but not least, one has to mention the astonishing phenomenon that is Krisse, the somewhat frightening-looking young woman with the pink puffer jacket and big ponytails plucked from the audience to interview competitors, stumbling through questions and going on about herself (sample question: "on a scale of 9 to 10, how beautiful am I?"). For some reason, she reminded me of Leoncie.
Italy's usually efficient railways have been experiencing increased delays due to soaring copper prices, which have inspired thieves to steal signalling cables for sale as scrap:
Police say they have arrested 22 people in the past month alone on charges of stealing copper wire. Many of the accused have been identified as Romanian immigrants.
In Naples, police recently seized dozens of sea containers filled with stolen copper coils parked in the port area ready for shipment to China.Similar thefts have hit the Channel Tunnel Rail Link project in London, and theft of copper cables was responsible for at least one fatal crash in China. Which makes one wonder whether the plague of "signal failures" on the Tube (such as the one that crippled the Victoria Line this morning) has anything to do with this.
Finland's metal monsters ran away with Eurovision, winning it with 292 points; a lead of 44. The runners-up were: Russia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania and Sweden.
The bottom 3 were: France, Israel and Malta, with Malta
being the only ones to get nul getting one mercy point from Albania. I guess eyebrows just don't do it.
Lordi are taking to the stage, kissing the Greco-American woman, holding up the prize and giving a mighty roar, and getting back on stage with a reprise of their winning song as the credits roll.
Russia had a mulleted, wifebeater-clad Glenn Medeiros impersonator named Dima Bilan doing a ballad, and a human statue emerging from a white piano.
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is jumping on the hip-hop-dancing bandwagon, with a Balkan melody and the power of cut-off denim shorts. As Terry Wogan said, "the legs have it"/
The Romanian number is a piece of high-energy eurodisco with the usual house beat, hoover presets/mid-90s dance-music sounds, ballet-style choreography and a few hamster squeals. It's technically not bad, and slightly less dated than the Russians' entry.
Oh, and the Latvian acapella act before was rather impressive. If this was a meritocracy, they'd be likely to win; Wogan said that they'll probably come last.
It looks like Romania's bid to join the EU may be derailed by old ways still holding sway over remote rural regions; ways such as throwbacks to feudalism, Communism, the selling of children, and the ritual exhumation and staking of corpses to ward off undead:
Haunted by "strigoi" - the undead - villagers on the slopes of the Carpathian mountains exhume a corpse from the graveyard and drive a stake through its heart to banish the evil spirit. They burn the remains of the heart, mix the ashes with water from the local well and drink it, to complete the macabre ritual.
The regions of Transylvania and Wallachia were "haunted by ancestral ghosts, evil spirits, and vampires"; medieval beliefs that were "at odds with sophisticated EU rules on measuring fruit and the size of bananas".
Europe's preoccupations and debates, the paper said, were "totally out of tune with Romanian realities, where local barons make the law, enjoy privileges and export children to get favours from important people" in a "medieval fashion".
Judging by accounts from many sources, Romania sounds like a pretty bizarre place.
Last night, I went to the Melbourne International Film Festival screening of a rather strange film titled Every Day God Kisses Us On The Mouth. It's from Romania, shot in black and white and rather bleak. It's about a man coming home after many years in prison; then bad things happen, he travels around rootlessly, and ends up killing more people. I get the feeling that, had Nick Cave come from the Balkans, he could well have come up with stories like this.