For those who don’t know: I’m recently working as a writer, and am spending more time on videos. I think this video poem suits this blog. Enjoy!
The organic campaign #metoo has taken many shapes and spheres as it moved from Weinsteins cases of rape to denouncing and confessing to sexual harassment and intimidation in general. The movement has become so multifaceted that it has become hard to fathom and even harder to criticize. But there’s one thing it seems to agree on: society should no longer tolerate men’s behaviours. We men have to change. In the past week, I have felt threatened by the tone of some of the exclamations that have passed my screens. I’ve been confused about whether and how I should look at female people on the street. I’m concerned about the polarizing effect this discussion seems to have. And especially about the slippery slope of equalizing lust-inspired acts to rape.
First a step back
Okay let’s go back to the positive side of #metoo. Many women have resisted the urge to declare their experience of rape to the police. The ruling power structures, as well as their own beliefs and other individual reasons have withheld them from claiming their rights. Society has discouraged them to do so. This week, through a somewhat anonymous outlet, they can air some of the remnant frustration and, more importantly, display the omnipresence of the problem to those man enough to look into the gaping wound. It’s indeed important that people feel the confidence to act against such violence. And that people don’t perform it, or let it happen around them.
Let’s not forget the elephant in the room
Looking at our actions, we are collectively largely ignoring climate change and associated manmade ecological collapse. If society breaks into chaos because of these, women as well as men will experience a state of existence that offers less space for safety. And more for rape. These impacts cannot be stressed enough, and have to be mentioned also in this context. We are trying to move to a better world, so we all have to deal with climate change. And keep building society together.
At some point, men started answering #metoo with #Ihave and #Iwill. Confessions. Online promises. Sometimes quite mundane in my view, sometimes clear disclosures of criminal acts. Audacious, but not a proper substitute for turning yourself in. Then, people saying ‘men’ should not make this discussion about themselves. This was about women who were raped. Here’s where I went: “What? Why are we not allowed to be part of the conversation?”
A point followed, I guess, where we have to do our best and look through social media and their slaves from journalism to see what is really happening. But what is really happening? Is this a new wave of feminism? Where does it want to head to? Not being raped? Good, but how? Is this a new kind of anti-terrorist movement that wants to accuse a large group of innocent people for the acts of some very guilty ones?
The status quo
For me personally, there’s nothing I think I should admit. Sure, I’ve played the game. I’ve looked, I’ve touched, I’ve joked around. But I haven’t threatened, raped or harassed anyone in a way that clearly bothered them. I also check, sometimes, if everyone is still comfortable with the group dynamics. And yes, I have noticed ambiguity among women and wished they would be more expressive about it.
Yet let’s not forget that sexual or semi-sexual acts occur in the context of personal relationships. They should always be seen that way. I don’t think it serves a purpose to reframe acts of the past and deny this relationship. And if I may speak for other men as well: to us, the status quo here in the Netherlands is quite allright. Not the street harrasments, those are wrong, but the general atmosphere at work, on the street and at parties. If you look at history, we have reached quite a good spot. Not perfect, but quite good.
It creeps in on you
One of the best stories I read these days was in Dutch by Bregje Hofstede of De Correspondent. She explained how being grabbed under her skirt has made her live more reluctantly. It reminded me of the time I was blindfolded in the back of a taxi in Peru. Not that time itself. I think I managed to keep myself toghether quite well there. No. Afterwards. Looking behind my shoulder all the time. Not going through parks on my own by night. Heigtened vigilance. A reduction of the extent of your world, Bregje called it. I tell myself that it’s wisdom. Knowledge by experience. Knowing the danger. She sees it as men taking her freedom from her. She feels afraid, now, when men look at her intensely.
Even if I fully understand the feeling she descibes, and I acknowledge such events occur more often to her than to me, something inside me turns bitter when I hear these views. We are now in an era that is safer then ever. More luxurious than ever. There are disagreements on how to approach the other gender, but aren’t those what makes life interesting? What makes love interesting? The act of exploring each others boundaries.
Women are now teaching men that we cannot know what it’s like to be a women. True. And women cannot know what it’s like to be a man either. It is us who generally have to play the leading role when breaking the physical barrier. Not always, but most of the time. And, yes, we make mistakes with that, but if we don’t try, we don’t get laid. Or married. Not all people have the same level of perception when it comes to body language, nor are all people equally expressive when it comes to things they do or do not want. Not everyone is equally sensitive. So yes, mistakes occur, but that does not make the intent bad. I think framing or perceiving it that way is harmful.
But we men have an excellent grasp of what fear can be. All of us, men and women, are contributing, daily, to the accumulation of dark acts that is happening all over the place. Being forced to do things we do not necessarily agree with is a society-wide phenomenon. Whether it is out of insecurities, strategic career choices, or because we are being pushed pysically or emotionally, this concerns us all. Where #metoo becomes more vicious, is where it denies our common ground. And it shouldn’t. Men don’t need to take these wild accusations.
Can we move forward?
The way this hashtag unfolds does not help the conversation; I think we’re rather arriving in a deadlock. Not the idea of the hashtag, that’s good, but the way people are treating it. As if there needs to be retaliation. As if we should move towards a world where men and women avoid touching each other altogether. No. Let’s move towards a place where we see the sexual tension for what it really is. A role we play. Just like everything else. A role we need not get too caught up in. And yes, respect each other, like most women and most men have always done. Something that can be joyful. Let’s see this as a call, yes, to better education for everyone where that failed. But let’s also cherish the freedoms we have acquired. We are in this together. And we are not in a time and a place where we can use more division.
So let’s all keep talking.
For about two years, Friday night was the night where I’d write a post for this blog. I didn’t care too much about the quality at the time, – a little of course – what mattered was the process. Building. Moving forward. Adding words to my repertoire. In time, writers realise that it works in a similar way as fossilisation. You add layer upon layer, and somewhere in the depths, let’s call it subconscious, a pressure starts growing. A forgotten shape, a feeling, does not decompose down there. It gets solid. And one day some part of us will have the courage to break through it all, knowing that there is something waiting. Something demonstrable. Perhaps that wasn’t exactly how I saw it at the time, but I do now. Time gradually moved me forward.
What better moment to honour this freedom I apparently experienced, than on a Friday night? I’m listening to Stromae on KEXP at the same time. And what better subject to add to this meaningless pile of information than our dear friend and buddy, President Donald Trump? May I start this with the question: ‘for how long will people keep reciting the list of American presidents?’ And, you know what? Let me end it there as well. Or, instead, at a recommendation to listen to the New York Times’ Daily of today. If you’re into the media discussion, that is. They’re far better at wording all that than I am. And I’ll spare you Larsen C as well.
Which leaves me in a void. A similar freedom I used to envision myself to have. A blank canvas. The unthreaded snow I’ve seen recently, here in Amsterdam and in Vienna.
It’s scary in the void. It reminds me of a time when I was a kid. Several times. When I was ill, I’d see this infinite space of living links. In black and white. The worst was that I was one of them. And so was everybody else, regardless of their pretending. Their beliefs. It was terrifyingly real. So real that whatever my parents told me, I was six the first time, has never been as convincing. So real that I still believe in it.
Why is it that whenever we have the sense of being free, we are faced with our worst fears? Why do we keep carving our blank canvasses with vileness? For lack of a better word. Is the reason what they say it is? What who says? So many have spoken, so many have carved us as they have themselves. So few have been free, who taught the rules.
Someone once taught me that Friday night is no better than any other night. I don’t know if I can believe that.
Photo by Peter Gric
February 3rd, 2017
The story goes Palais Palffy is the place where Mozart played for the first time. It is now also the location where my dear friend and sentient artist Sabina Nore is opening her exhibition. Called Equilibrium. I travelled to Vienna for the weekend, as one of the three whom the family conceived to be musketeers. Coming from different parts of Europe. We like her art and we like her personally.
How come things fit? The paintings remind me of a book I’m reading. The secret life of trees. They have similar rhizomes, the same connectedness as living beings in forests. Flows running through.
The works are colourful, energetic. Dancing lines, exploding lines. Powerful symbols. Hidden ones, explicit ones. They’re stories in a frame. Nature is in here, and so are the big bad boys. And real people, too.
I’ve seen sevens. I’m asked for my number. Six. Sacred meetings do this. Invoking synchronicity. Or did the paintings? Hmmm… They’re cool. Sometimes I don’t believe in mysticism. Now I do.
We jump. Have hoversations, so it seems. Or who knows? There are many beautiful people here, such as the family. The young got older, the old got younger but the encounters have kept their same, timeless age. Then there are the important, artsy people. From Vienna and beyond. Those who make art or curate it. Those whose reputations precede them. Doing cool things, offering opportunities. New starts, we hope. They come to experience the artworks. Are impressed. Write in the guest book, as we all do.
Peter Gric takes pictures this time. Beautiful ones, we’ll learn. Jupiter plays its song. Things are happening outside. Things we don’t really feel like thinking about. It’s good in here.
Time passes by too quickly. Luckily it doesn’t.
If you fragment society far enough, then everyone is on his own. I’m not suggesting that this will happen. Indeed, I’m pointing out that politics has never been – and will never be – a one way street. We will unite again. We’re just searching for the way.
The amount of social divisions these days is enormous. Old versus young, higly educated versus poorly educated, rich versus poor, super-rich versus the others, muslim versus the others, blacks versus whites, pro-EU’s versus anti-EU’s, pro-Trumps versus anti-Trumps, those who have an instagram account versus those who don’t, those who trust science versus those who don’t, those who are tolerant of refugees versus those who aren’t… Even male versus female seems to be back on the table.
In the Netherlands, now about eight weeks from the elections, this is leading to the constant emergence of new one-man parties. I’m guessing that 5 have dissociated from bigger parties in the past few months. Some fight for Erdogan, some for black rights, some for ‘the people’, some for ‘the Netherlands’ and some for ‘local social economies without refugees’. But they all have one thing in common: they’re against the elites. I think it would be clearer if they’d call them ‘the aristocrats’, but then again: hey. Let’s figure out who they mean.
My first question would be: am I part of the elites? Am I the evildoer here? After all, I’ve had a good education, have quite some knowledge of and insight in science and politics, live in the capital of one of the wealthiest countries in the world and currently even have a job. I worry about climate change. Am I the evil elite? Are you?
Question two: hey! But those guys and gals who talk about the elites, aren’t they also the elite? Aren’t we drowning in the fact that all those people who show their rostrum in a video that’s watched over a million times is automatically part of the elite him or herself as well? All those writers who are read by thousands of others? Isn’t there some kind of elite there too?
Question three: hey! But if it’s always the elite talking about the elite, then aren’t we just witnessing elites accusing elites of being elites? What’s the point of that?
Here’s where I’m glad I once brought in the term smurf-intensity a bit over a year ago. A term that nobody really understands, yet everyone is talking about as if they do, has a high smurf-intensity. Elites is becoming one of them.
The word is reaching hipsterish proportions in the sence that it is becoming uncool to be part of it even if we all secretly want to. But who belongs and who does not is unclear, even if we all have a sense of ‘rich and exclusive’ when we hear the word.
I’m getting the feeling, recently that the elite is becoming a tool for division. If you don’t trust someone, you just declare that person some kind of elite, and by that suggest that you have ‘the people’ behind you. It is happening all over the place in the Netherlands. Trump does it. Zizek does it as well. Accusing an amorphous little group for the trouble we’re all causing every day.
Can we blame the elite? Maybe. Should we? Perhaps. Do we know who they are? No. Do we know how to talk to them? Even less. Can we trust people who think they do? Probably not. So how is this whole ‘elite’-discourse useful? Little.
Unless, of course, you, reader are willing to step forward and declare yourself the elite, declare yourself responsible for the course we are heading in. Unless you declare that the entire 21st century West is the elite, gnawing on the final remaining bits of our livelihoods, knowing that our clock is ticking. But perhaps you’d say we’re not to blame. That we should look for the true devils . Give them a name and a face we can behead. An account we can expropriate. The elite of the elite.
It is a curious word, this word elite. A true political trend. Probably not a one way street. It never is. But I’m afraid we’ll be hearing it for a while.
Do you think it is possible to remember your own conception? I do. In fact it might not be remembering as much as the embodied realisation of the fact that we’re being conceived every moment of our lives.
Ha. That’s a nice idea. Imagine you’re a huge egg. And every idea is a seed. Then what would be more fun: letting the idea in and starting to multiply, or residing inside your isolated shell and remaining one for life?
Are ideas battling for our attention, like sperm seeds, trying to break through or pollen in the air, finding their way to a gamete? Is there choice involved in the ones that get through? And once we’re fertilized, will it happen again?
If you, say, zoom in an out at once, and look at your inner and outer world together, you see that they are constantly interacting. By breathing in, we bring life in, by breathing out we bring it out. We eat, we shit, we read, we write, we drink, we pee, we listen and talk, all of it in constant flow. We change all the time, inside as well as out. Whatever we ingest has been travelling through the universe for years, millenia, aeons. All of it carries a kind of experience inside. And once we let it go, all of it will go into a new, endless journey back into it all.
Life didn’t start, it does not end, but there are endless opportunities for meeting, sharing, and conceiving in between. And all of that creates an whirl of new life in all directions, sometimes so hard that things explode! Then things get calmer again, the dust flutters down, and light comes through. To those who perceive it.
Enjoy the end, enjoy the start. All of the time. And in 2017. Waaa-hooo!
In his book The Euro, Stiglitz is silently quite accusing towards the Troika, the trinity of the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank, particularly in the way they behaved – and are behaving – towards Greece. There are a few points that need far more public attention. The basics are that the current policies carrying the Euro do not only reveal lack of insight in the cutting edge theories of economy and the way to save European countries in crisis, but also that there have been instants where the group deliberately chose for the benefit of the wealthy few at the cost of an entire country because of, quote, ‘hidden agendas’.
Fixed exchange rate
Stiglitz starts by showing how, probably not with bad intentions, the arrival of the Euro has caused a large part of the current problems in Europe, notably of those Greece. The moment the dollar dropped and houses lost their value in 2008, Greece, as well as the rest of the world, could not keep up and started losing jobs. To sustain the level of prosperity, it had to import more in compensation for the loss inside the country. Had the drachma still been in place, it would have lost much of its value at that moment. This would have attracted more tourists (they could have come cheaper) and made all export easier, since it would be cheaper for the surrounding countries to buy Greek products. That would have been a boost for the economy, causing the country to climb back up at its own pace. But since the currency of Greece was the Euro, its value did not drop, and Greece could not cope.
Narrow focus on inflation
Meanwhile, the European Central Bank was doing what it was ordered to do: whatever it could to keep the inflation at or nearing 2%. One of the measures it used was to keep interests on loans high. This would generate money for the banks of Europe. But for Greece, high interests meant that it became even harder to lend money, money the country desperately needed to fix some of its problems, particularly solving unemployment and strengthening the safety nets for those people who were hit by the crisis.
The power of the banks
Since Greece still needed money and the ECB was the only one who wanted to borrow it to them, the Troika could basically ask whatever it wished in return. In such a case, one would expect the Troika to create plans that would help the country climb back up. What it did, however, was quite the opposite: create plans that would help it pay its debt at the cost of its people, and, Stiglitz is unambiguous on this, in the favour of Germany. By forcing the country to decrease its governments’ spending on schools, hospitals and pensions, for example. That, too, meant fewer jobs. But it also meant less power for the local authorities, versus more power for the private companies that still existed.
The situation aggravated
What followed was a downward spiral. Young, talented people were forced to leave the country and thus were no longer able to sustain its remaining capital. Investors started to worry that their money may never be paid back, and started to withdraw. Less and less money was available and more and more taxes had to be paid. Meanwhile, the German owned airport of Athens was exempted from tax payment, as are many other companies in Greece and the rest of Europe.
Several destructive decisions
Stiglitz points to a few events in the negotiations between what was left of the Greek government and the Troika that are, to say the least, very strange. At some point, Papandreou proposed structural reforms that would take a large part of the power from the Greek oligarchs away – thus much of the corruption – and make them pay more tax. The Troika rejected these reforms and instead enforced a set of programs that compromised the power of the people even further. He raises the question which groups were served here showing it were the rich all the time. Something the IMF admitted to later, by the way.
The current program allows easier targets for 2015-2017, but if Greece complies with the agreement’s primary surplus target for 2018, no matter how faithfully it fulfills the structural reforms, no matter how succesful it is in raising revenues or cutting back on pensions, no matter how many are left to die in underfinanced hospitals, the depression will continue (p. 188).
Stiglitz points out that while the Euro and the Troika threw Greece deeper into recession, it was not impossible to provide adequate measures that would bring the country back on track with only some minor losses. The Troika failed to do so: its actions have been counterproductive. Stiglitz argues that reforms are necessary as quickly as possible, either by moving to further integration by regulations that are more tailored to countries and focussed on employment, or by stepping back and splitting up the Eurozone.
Stiglitz shows it cannot go on like this. The severe impacts on Greece have been exemplary for what’s in store for Europe, if the institutions do not change. By decreasing the power of all governments, the Troika, knowingly or not, is performing a slow coup, abolishing the very essence of the union. The current institutions let the markets roam free, almost to become new sources of natural disaster. He thinks going on in this way will backfire on Europe economically, if not just politically through movements such as the Brexit.
While I still have much confidence in the future of the European continent, Stiglitz has opened my eyes to the severity of what is going on. This is not what the EU was meant for, and it needs to change. Stiglitz proposes a few good ideas for serious reform, what we need is momentum to make those reality. Perhaps the populists will help with that.
I’m reading a book on the Euro by Joseph Stiglitz, I’ll get back to that when I’m done. One of the big premises concerns the question on the influence of inequality on the functioning of the economy. His point: the smaller the difference between the top and the bottom, the better things work. If I read it well, that’s mainly because of two reasons. The first reason is that the people will feel more motivated to work if they don’t just make the rich richer, and the second is that the productivity of countries will be higher if unemployment is low.
As an ecologist, I’d immediately stretch this point beyond humans, down to all microbes and other little fellahs that are usually forgotten. Prosperity will only work if there’s attention for all of them as well. Because people will also be more motivated to work if they feel that they’re doing something good.
Sidenote: I’m of the opinion, not entirely unlike Stiglitz, that when it comes to knowing anything about the economy, and particularly the global economy, there is very little substance. Essentially, there is not even a global economy yet, even though economy in itself is not new. What we have of scientific evidence on the economy of today is largely based on case studies on a few hundred countries for the past hundred years, all of which have measured things in their own way. Besides, things have recently sped up, and these studies have largely ignored culture, politics and massminds as well as most basic ecological insights and practice. They looked at numbers that are still under construction.
Now, I must say reading this book is inspiring me to take the issue of economy up again, as had the great recession, so this is not the last word I’ll speak about it. But a main critique I have on Stiglitz’ premise: deal mainly with unemployment, is the question: at what cost?
Throughout history we have seen that Western employment has gone hand in hand with destruction of nature. It’s the case with agriculture, with oil production and with all services if you consider the impact of consumption after receiving salaries. As all economists do, Stiglitz emphasises the need for growth. An ecologist would immediately point to limits of growth in any system. When a forest is old, for example, its mass doesn’t grow. What does happen, is that more and more interconnections arise. Something that has been happening to the global economy in recent years. But even that has a limit. I have been saying this before the crash in 2008 and am saying it again now. There will be a day the global economy stops growing. If we’re lucky the population will be voluntarily shrinking at that time, and prosperity keeps growing, but if we’re unlucky, it won’t.
I think that Stiglitz is incredibly right when he says the top shouldn’t own it all. And I believe it’s possible to get wealth to the people in ways that support the ecology rather than undermining it. We, and with that I mean economists, should not forget to keep the ecology in focus. Shifting the attention to unemployment – which I think economic policy makers will do out of pure necessity – backfires on the long run, just like all other economic paradigms have (I’ll also get back to those, thanks to Stiglitz). What I basically want to say is: inequality is not purely a human thing. Because, speaking of the 1%, let’s not forget that we’re an even tinier percentage of the beings alive.
Since I like films and went to the cinema over 40 times in the past year, I thought it’d be nice to make the list of my top 5 best movies that came out this year (or at the end of 2015, depending on the country), plus some honourable mentions. I’ll support my choices with nicely subjective arguments. For the record, I judge films by the atmosphere they set, the intensity in which I think about them after seeing them, and also the way in which they contribute something unique to cinematography.
#5 The Big Short
I went to see this film after seeing the poster – I like all actors and it seemed arthouse like – so I had no idea what I was up for. It turned out to be a very entertaining mixture of some exciting stories and an explanation on how the Great Recession of 2008 started. Contrarily to earlier, boring documentaries about the crash, this film had a clever set up. Most of the time characters explain the issues to each other in a way that naturally blends in the story, alternated with random but funny scenes where famous people explain the basics of complicated matter in a comprehensible way. The movie is based on true events, has a nice dynamic, has tension, explains one of the most important issues of our time (providing a warning for the future as well) and, ladies, has Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and Brad Pitt in it. A final upside: Steve Carells role wasn’t his usual ridiculous one. It’s in fact very good.
#4 The Forbidden Room
Now this was an adventure. A friend took me to see The Forbidden Room. I thought it has created its own genre, much in the same way as Pink Floyd has. It’s a tribute to the silent film of the 1920’s, diving into the abyss of someone’s mind. Mine, perhaps. It is a fluid film, discussing the human psyche in unprecedented ways. Red, green, blue, yellow. Black. Mesmerizing and intriguing and also great to take a nap with. I mean that in a positive way. It’ll come back in your dreams.
#3 El Abrazo de la Serpiente
This film tells the tragic story of a fallen shaman in the Amazon. I don’t want to reveal too much, but it’s a confronting tale on human greed and our hunger for power. The gentle floating of the canoe as well as the black-and-whiteness of the film and the beautiful tribal music create a serene atmosphere that left my friend and I in a perfect state for a deep conversation about ourselves afterwards.
#2 Nocturnal Animals
A very elegant film, subtly working through the process of mourning from the perspective of a writer (Jake Gyllenhaal, aka Donnie Darko). Three storylines intertwine: a story of the past, the story of a gallery holder (Amy Adams) and that of the book she is reading. This film, too, has tension, but not at all in the way you’d expect. The blazing blue eyes of most of the characters are a threatening detail. This film eloquently assembles love with hate and by it, leaves an imprint somewhere in your soul. I didn’t know revenge could be so sensual. Wow.
#1 The Hateful 8 (70 mm)
Despite the disappointment people around me have expressed about this film, it’s still my undisputed number 1 of 2016. I have watched this film 4 times (3 times of which on 70 mm) and have not been bored a single second. You could say that I almost studied this one. The way Tarantino combines great dialogue with great images and great music never ceases to amaze me. The enormous amount of references within the movie is easy to overlook, but much fun to discover.
Critics say the story of this film is boring and too resemblant of Reservoir Dogs. They’re right about the ‘visual story’, but seem to ignore that most of it happens in the dialogue. The film constantly, and I mean constantly, hints at the fundamental questions of our existence such as ‘what is real?, ‘who is the good guy, and who is the bad?’ and ‘where can I buy Red Apple cigarettes?’. Meanwhile, it wittily delivers societal critique and experiments with image in space.
On this last thing: Tarantino continuously plays with the fore- and the background. The relatively little room of Minny’s Haberdashery seems quite large through a 70mm lens. There is always something going on on both planes, always a detail to spot, which gives the film a great amount of visual depth. It makes me wonder if Tarantino will pick up 360˚-movie making soon. But by letting his characters tell numerous stories, Tarantino brings this fore- and background game into the narrative as well. Every character brings his history into the Haberdashery. An own personal background. Together, these result in the explosive tension inside. I see this fore- and background play as a tribute to the nature of life and the universe itself. We are here now, but there is a huge background in outer space, in social media, in all the rest of the world, which also has an influence on us. I therefore gladly ignore the critics and call this the best film of the year.
There have been many other great movies in 2016, so I’d like to name a few more that are worth watching. The Assassin is a romantic, zen-like story, using beautiful colours to speak about mercenary politics in 18th century China. The Red Turtle, an animated film, is an entirely wordless journey of a guy who ends up alone on a small island in the ocean. Mystical film. Then there was Hell or High Water, an eclectic modern western with Jeff Bridges. Well acted and always with a little twist. Arrivals, finally, also with Amy Adams gives a peek into what could happen if nonviolent aliens visit our planet. There’s an intriguing bit about language in there too.
But let’s not forget that good movies can’t exist without a whole lot of failed ones. I’d therefore like to end this post with a special thanks to Independence Day: Resurgence. That was an absolute piece of crap which made all the other ones look a whole lot better. Worth watching when your body temperature is 39˚C or higher. No idea what the producer did there, but I fully understand why Will Smith didn’t join it.
Disagree with this list? You’re invited to give your own 2016 film top 5 below.
While people in the Netherlands celebrate the 2nd day of Christmas with the other part of their families and listen to the Top 2000 on the radio (ending on the 31st), the party here in Slovakia is mostly over. People go to bars, eat the last cookies they baked and slowly prepare for the working life again. It’s white outside. My girlfriend’s grandma sat down next to me at the diner table to eat a slice of bread with liverwurst, which appears to me like a Dutch thing to do. Apparently they (we?) are not alone in that.
I was perhaps a bit cynical about this party yesterday. Not that I don’t mean what I said, I think that people who disagree with our customs have a point, but Christmas is about more than just consumption. Though I’ve always had a double feeling about the presents and the overfeeding, there is something cozy to it all.
Some go to church. They believe Jesus was born on the 25th. Possible. Is the big Christ the most important point of it? Perhaps. But the power of collective singing in a place with such great acoustics is certainly not to be underestimated either.
Some say it is the party of light. That they had to fuse that with Jesus to be able to sell it to the crowd. A transformation of the pagan midwinter celebration into something more institutionalizable. Ad a story to the custom of the tree with the lights and all layers of society are under your control. That this is what we celebrate every year.
Some say it’s a party of peace and charity. The dark days inspire them to think about people who are having a hard time outside in the cold. They toss them a coin, or even bring them into their house for a night. Cozy and warm. A Christmas Carol dates back to 1843.
But I think all agree it is a time for the family to be together, often in a space that is a little too small for all of them. A time to reconnect, fight over something insignificant, blame it on the past, preferably some deceased parent or grandparent and then hug it out. We’re humans after all, what could they have done better?
In where I’m from, wherever that is, I often hear people say that they’re glad it’s over. The responsibility was a burden upon them. But all of them secretly enjoyed it. Long for it again in the even darker days of January and February. All are a little melancholic when they sweep up the needles. Even if few admit it.