Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas time, mistletoe and wine...

With the inevitable new year celebrations looming ahead, there's just time perhaps for a few christmassy thoughts and videos...

First off, a song to get into the right mood... Just a few weeks before his death in October 1977, American popular singer Bing Crosby recorded a song with David Bowie, whom he knew through his children. Because Bowie wasn't very taken with the lyrics of Little Drummer Boy, the song Crosby wanted them to sing, they settled on a medley, with Bowie singing Peace on Earth.



Still over at YouTube, the British monarchy has recently opened up an official channel, unsurprisingly called The Royal Channel. Apart from several historical as well as contemporary short films, it includes not only this year's Christmas broadcast from the Queen, but also the very first such broadcast recorded for TV exactly fifty years ago, to which the Queen in this year's speech also referred.

In a different category altogether (but very funny I find) is the new year video made by Leuven-based advertising agency Edison, which sees French president Sarkozy following in the musical footsteps of Yves Leterme...



If you don't find Edison's video remotely amusing, chances are you are a woman. No, this isn't just me being sexist; it's what Professor Sam Shuster, of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, has recently claimed. His research methodology, it must be said, was somewhat unorthodox: he cycled round on his unicycle and recorded people's reactions. BBC News has the full story on the link between testosterone and humour.

Finally, if you're interested in a thought-provoking essay reflecting on today's massive memory storage capacity, feel free to read The advantages of amnesia: "What society needs now are new ways to forget" (a message not to be misconstrued as a word of advice for the upcoming exams, naturally).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ceci n'est pas une fiction

The Belgian political crisis according to Vive la fête: QUATSCH



P.S. A couple of months ago Peter Van de Veire, who presents a hugely popular early morning radio show on StuBru, wrote a rather amusing song about Yves Leterme with the help of his listeners and sang it, together with co-host Sofie Lemaire, to the tune of Hey There Delilah (by the Plain White T's). On StuBru's website you can read the text and listen to the song; alternatively you can turn to YouTube, where you can also find a French adaptation of it. In this short interview (given during StuBru's recent benefit 6-day marathon broadcast from a glass house in Leuven, 'Music for Life') Leterme said he thought the song was great.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My experience in Cologne

Hello everybody,

First of all, I will give you some information about Cologne. The town’s landmark is the cathedral. Two important museums are situated nearby this monument. “Museum Ludwig” is the first one I have visited. It is well-known because of the paintings of famous artists it exposes. “Römisch-Germanisches Museum” keeps findings that were discovered when the Romans founded Cologne in 38 before Christ. At Central Station all the important lines of public transport (railway and underground) come together, which means that it is easy to move from one place to the other in the city. Public transport is available on average every ten minutes. At the week-end, railways and underground come every hour. When you are living in a foreign country, you have to accommodate to the country’s culture. So I tasted “Kölsch” which is the famous beer of Cologne. It is actually one of the various symbols of the city.

Secondly, I will tell you about the University of Cologne. The first school semester in Belgium began on the 18th of September, however, in Germany, it only started on the 15th of October. That is to say, I had four weeks left to prepare my arrival at the University of Cologne. I completely took advantage of the free weeks I had because I knew that an Erasmus program would require anticipation and organization. Indeed, lots of documents have to be completed before, during and after your language-learning trip. Before leaving Belgium, I wanted to make sure that my registration had been received by the host university. Actually, the University of Cologne didn’t know anything about my request and that is why I went there to resolve the problem. In Cologne, students have to register by themselves online for the different courses they would like to attend. For two weeks, I had been in touch with my Erasmus coordinator of Cologne to come up with a good timetable. The first week I spent at the host university was very exhausting. I had to introduce myself to all the different professors and fill out lots of documents stating that I was a regular Erasmus student of the University of Cologne. I also had to tell the professors that I would need to receive a fixed amount of credits for attending to their lectures. Vincent and I knew that Marine and Vanessa had some problems concerning these credit points because the University of Cologne didn't work with this system. The university is still not accustomed to it but, there is some improvement that has been made. Despite the fact that the majority of the professors still don't have an idea about this system of credits, there is however an Erasmus coordinator, who is available for all the Erasmus students. He helps us to establish a learning agreement and to transcript the credit points.

Thirdly, I will give you some information about the classes I attend. The different courses I have chosen are interesting. I particularly enjoy taking part in a class called “American Poetry”. Before the beginning of the semester, the professor advised us to buy “The Oxford book of American Poetry” for his course. We are reading poems from Emily Dickenson, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, etc. We analyse these poems in great detail. I also have the opportunity to attend a conversation course in English every Monday. My classmates are mostly Erasmus students; two students come from Poland, two from Spain, one from Ukraine. During this class, we are discussing lots of topics, such as popular culture, current events, the history of the United States and the education and society roles. The teacher insists on our contribution to the class schedule. Actually, since the beginning of the semester, she has been expecting from us to write two reports about anything we wish to talk about. My first report was about television series and the second one was about some traditions in Belgium. After the first session of this conversation course, I sympathized with two Polish people. I can still remember that the first talk we had together was about politics. It surprised me a lot because I am not an expert in politics. I met them exactly on the 22nd of October and this was approximately the time when the general elections took place in their country. They hoped that the polish population would not vote for the twins. Luckily for them, it did not happen. I decided to briefly explain to them what the current political situation in Belgium was and they immediately understood my disappointment about the government. I am sure that I will miss this kind of international relationship that links me to the other Erasmus students in Cologne when I will be back in Belgium.

Fourthly, I will give you some information about my leisure time. According to me, an “Erasmus program” does not only mean studying. It is also important to take advantage of your leisure time. Because I am keen on discovering new cities, I did sightseeing in Aachen and Düsseldorf with the girls who are living in the same residence as me some weeks ago. In the residence where I am staying at, I am surrounded by many foreign students. They come from Spain, Mexico, the United States, Greece, Salvador, Italy, Poland and Germany, too. I speak German most of the time. However, I sometimes have to switch back into English because some of my friends cannot express themselves easily in German. We regularly go and have a drink on Thursdays in a Spanish pub or in the famous ‘Hard Rock CAFE’. I always have lots of fun when I spend time with them.


Fifthly, I will tell you why I am a bit afraid of having to prepare my departure from the University of Cologne. The end of the semester is approaching and Vincent and I know that we will have to deal with another problem, which lies in the fact that we will have to leave on the 28th January. In fact, the second semester begins on the 28th January in Belgium and the first semester ends on 8th February in Germany. In other words, we will have to make arrangements with all the professors to collect all our ‘Schein’ and marks in time. This document does not exist in Belgium but, a Schein has lots of importance in Germany because it proves your regular attendance as a student of Cologne and it enables you to take the different exams. A German student, who does not receive it because he skipped the classes too often, will not be allowed to take his exams.

Lastly, even if my Erasmus exchange is not finished, yet, I would like to say that I am convinced that it is a very positive experience. I am convinced that the Erasmus program offers a broad spectrum of advantages. Humanly speaking, it is a wonderful experience because you are surrounded by students coming from all over the world. You learn a lot about other countries. That is to say that I am not only close to the German culture every day but also to the other Erasmus students’ culture. As far as I am concerned, I don’t have any problems to get accustomed to the German lifestyle because it does not excessively differ from the Belgian one. I really enjoy living in Cologne. Finally, if you have the opportunity to go and study in Cologne, don’t hesitate because it is worth it!

I would like to wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year.
Ich wünsche euch frohe Weihnachten und ein gutes neues Jahr 2008.

See you soon,
Bis bald,
Justine

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Tonight is Christmas night, and I couldn't help but share some of my favourite Christmas films with all of you. Here's my top three:

# 3: Home Alone


In this movie starring Macaulay Culkin (whom we haven't seen in a while, have we?), Kevin is left alone in his home in the rich suburbs of Chicago. He vainly tries to contact his parents, and the other way round; while his mother does everything to get back from Paris, he actually enjoys being home alone, busying himself with scaring the pizza man away for instance. He also manages to prevent Harry and Marvin (two burglars) from breaking into his house. Here's a brilliant summary of the atmosphere of the movie:




# 2: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation


This comedy, starring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, is quite difficult to summarize (especially when you don't have much time due to the exams). Basically, the plot revolves around the Griswold family, which have to organise a Christmas supper with the whole family. Finding a proper tree seems to be a kerfuffle, but that's nothing compared to what happens next… For instance, Clark installed 250 strands of lights (i.e. rows of lightning bulbs) on the roof, but when he tried to light them, it didn't work… But look at this:



I also recommend the sledge scene, the dinner scene and the fried cat scene.


# 1: The Muppet Christmas Carol


This is unddoubtedly my favourite Christmas film… but don't ask me why. For a more detailed summary, can I ask you to turn to the Wikipedia entry or to the article I posted today on my blog. But my point in writing this entry was sharing with you a video from the film: the one I chose is (obviously) linked to Statler and Waldorf, respectively my own and Martin's new nicknames. In this film, like other Muppets, they play characters appearing in Dickens's Christmas Carol (the book on which the movie is based – it is self-explanatory). That's the reason why they play the late Jacob and Robert Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge's old employers. In the night preceding Christmas, they appear to him as ghosts, warning him of his terrible fate if he keeps being mean and grim. Listen to their song:



In fact, the book only features Jacob Marley, but the writers added the character of Robert Marley ("Robert" being an obvious reference to Bob Marley) in order not to separate Statler and Waldorf.

I would also like to add that my favourite quote in this movie is uttered by Scrooge:
If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips'd be boiled with his own turkey [originally: "pudding"], and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.
Dickens was a genius!


PS. On 17 December, the first-year students had to watch four episodes of Shakespeare: The Animated Tales: Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Hamlet. In fact, I had been expecting an opportunity to talk about this great play, which has been adapted and referred to in many ways, not only to in other plays, but also in books and films, e.g. The Lion King (as an allegory). The greatest actors, such as Sir Laurence Olivier, starred as Hamlet. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger. Check this out:



All right: it was just a fake trailer for a fictional action movie based on Hamlet, a sort of filmic "mise en abyme" in the middle of what is — in my opinion — the most brilliant action (and comedy) film of all times: Last Action Hero. It would have been great, though, to see the full-length version of such a movie… I warmly recommend Last Action Hero (even the French version) to you all, if you don't know how to spend your "free time" before the exams.

Merry Christmas to everyone!


[PS. This blog entry was edited on 6 February 2008 on the basis of the corrections suggested by Professor Vandelanotte.]

Greetings from Nijmegen


Hi everyone!

Here are some news from Nijmegen, the oldest city of The Netherlands. It is a peaceful town with pedestrianized streets. On Mondays and Saturdays there is a market in the city centre. It is also the city of Mariken van Nieumeghen and the devil Moenen, whom I saw the statues ( see Mrs Leijnse's course in BAC 1...). Also, I visited Sint Stevenskerk, the most famous building of Nijmegen. In 1944 the city was bombed. Consequently, the church got badly damaged and, unfortunately, the paintings on the stained-glass windows could not be restored. Actually, I had a room in Lent, which is separated from Nijmegen by De Waal. Getting a room was easy, since it was the university which saw to it for us. It took me about half an hour by bike to go to the university ( maybe more when the wind was blowing...). Fortunately, everything is designed for riding bikes: traffic lights, roads, roundabouts and, crossing De Waal, there is a 'car bridge' and a ' bike bridge'! I shared my flat with three other Erasmus students: a Spanish boy, a Spanish girl and an American boy. There were very nice people and I wish we had spent more time together. The problem was we had very different schedules and different subjects (respectively, computer science, psychology, law and Germanic languages).
Concerning food, I tried some Dutch specialities: pancakes ( with cheese, bacon or ananas...), vlaai and the delicious boerenappeltaart. From October until the 6th of December there were also lots of sweets in relation with Sinterklaas, which is really a big deal in The Netherlands.
With respect to my classes, I took the following ones: American Popular Culture, Psycholinguistiek ( my only class in Dutch; the others were in English), English as a World Language ( which can be described as the sequel of the book we read in BAC 2: The English Language. An Historical Introduction. by Charles Barber), Feminist Classics ( a literature course on feminist writers like Virginia Woolf or Luce Irigaray) and Visual Culture ( a course in which we discussed ads, movies and fashion shows). My Feminist Classics class ended on the first of November and my Visual Culture course started on the sixth of November. All my classes ended in December and my exams were in January, except for Feminist Classics and the first part of Psycholinguistiek. All my exams were take-home ones except for English as a World Language, which was a short group presentation ( mine was on the language issue in Quebec) and Psycholinguistiek, for which it was a written exam, but without any help from course notes...
At the end of August I took part in the "Introduction week'', which was fun and useful to get around in Nijmegen and meet the other Erasmus students. It was organised by ISN (International Student Network Nijmegen). We had lots of parties and some excursions: I went to Texel Island, where we cycled all day across the isle; and to Amsterdam.
The only thing I regret about my stay is the fact I did not have much opportunity to practice my Dutch a great deal. But I had TV and free newspapers to keep in touch with the language... Anyway, I practiced my English and used my French ;-) and I was very happy to meet students from different countries ( mainly from Spain, Germany, France and Poland). I definitely enjoyed every moment of my stay and I will remember it as one of the best time of my life.

I wish you all a very happy New Year. ( Sorry for the delay)


See you soon!


Nathalie

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Harry potter and the deathly hallows


At the beginning of this school year I read the book which has certainly been the most read since July: Harry potter and the deathly hallows. I really found it great and I almost read the second half of the book in one shot (I began to read at 9 a.m. and was unable to stop before 5 p.m., which is when I finished the book). I won’t tell the storyline of this fantastic book in this blog entry, since I do not see the point in spoiling the suspense to those who haven’t read it yet. That is the reason why I will mainly focus on two things: my impression on the novel and my relation with the Harry potter’s stories.
Firstly, I found this novel amazing: it really was the climax of its six predecessors. Some elements of the fifth book disappointed me, but this final opus made everything clear and I was delighted to notice that every single detail in each novel was important. The fifth one contains less surprise, we learn less about Harry and about Voldemort than in the other ones, but in fact she introduces a lot of key characters and she places the setting for the climax to take place. They “adventure” was quite gloomy and really dark. You feel desperate and you think there is no hope through the whole book. The very end made a strange impression on me: the atmosphere was too different and I must admit that I am a bit disappointed. But I won’t say more about this here, since I would be obliged to tell the story in order to do so.

Secondly, I will say some words about why I’m so emotionally involved to the Harry potter stories. I received Harry potter and the philosopher’s stone when I was thirteen, and I immediately became fond of it. I quickly finished the three books that followed, and I began to wait with great impatience for the fifth one. At that time I was thinking: “that is great, Harry and his friends will always be one year older than I am”. I was moreover secretly hoping to receive a letter from Hogwarts. I was also the webmaster of a quite popular Harry potter’s website. I reread these first four books many times while I was waiting. However, the fifth book was so delayed that, when it came out, I had given up waiting for it (I read many books in the meantime; it was the big advantage of secondary school: we had such a low amount of work that we had plenty of time to read!). A few years later the sixth one came out and I found it excellent. And finally I bought the last one a few months ago and I really found it brilliant (I reread the fifth and sixth one in English this summer). Nevertheless, reading it was quite a shock: I realised that I was three years older than Harry and that I was too old to go to Hogwarts. I became aware that this great adventure was over, and that I had finished the last Harry potter, which was to be situated so far in the future when I was thirteen that it would, in my mind, almost never happen.
As a conclusion, reading Harry potter and the deathly hallows brought about special emotions to me since I almost grew up with Harry potter. It did not only mean the end of a cycle of books, but it also meant the end of a story with which I grew up.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bridget Jones’s Diary


Last week, I read Bridget Jones’s Diary, a novel by Helen Fielding that was published in 1996. As the title indicates, this book is written in the form of a diary, which begins on January 1st with a list of “I will” and “I will not” resolutions and ends on December 26th of the same year. The keeper of the diary is Bridget Jones, a 31-year-old singelton who is desperate about her life: she drinks too much, is too fat, can not keep a boyfriend and above all, she finds out that her mother is having an affair with Julio, a Portuguese man who looks a bit shady. However, this book is not as dramatic as it sounds. On the contrary, it is extremely funny since Bridget makes herself look ridiculous throughout the story: she tries to diet, which never lasts long, she falls in love with her boss who is only interested in sleeping with her and can not help falling for his tactics (even though she is aware of his “feelings” for her). Moreover, she makes a fool of herself in front of thousands of people during an interview, does not manage to cook a correct meal for her friends, and so on. Her successive blunders make the book very funny, but at the same time, the reader can not help feeling sorry for her. This book is a satire of the modern singleton tendency. Personally, I found it really amusing and I recommend it for those who want to take their mind off things! And for those who enjoyed it, there is a sequel called Bridget Jones, The Edge of Reason. There is also a well-known filmic version of the book but, as often, I prefered the book and even found the movie a bit “silly”.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Routemaster



The Routemaster is a red double-decker bus first built in 1954 and first introduced in London on 8 February 1956. It was developed by Douglas Scott, Colin Curtis and their team. Its manufacturer was AEC, the Associated Equipment Company, based in the United Kingdom. This company built buses and trucks from 1912 to 1979.

The Routemaster was meant to replace the RT model of 1939, which was itself meant to replace electric trolleybuses and trams. The Routemaster’s design was in advance for the time: the body was made of light aluminium, which allowed to increase the number of seats from 56 (for the RT model) to 64 and to have more comfort. Because of its strengthened body, it didn’t require a chassis like the other buses. Its specificities was the open-air platform and the presence of a conductor (not to be confused with the driver!). Thanks to him there was less delay as he collected the money for the tickets during the ride.

Later in 1961, a lengthened version was made, the RML. It had 72 seats and weighed about seven and three quarters tonnes. This model became the most common in London. In the following years, the Routemaster has underwent many design variations, such as the radiator grille or the upper deck front windows. Another version was made in 1968, the RMC (for Routemaster Coach), which contained 57 seats, ‘fully enclosed platforms, electrically-operated doors, air suspensions, fluorescents lightings, different interior trims, luggage racks and twin headlamps’ (http://www.icons.org.uk/theicons/collection/routemaster-bus). Some other changes have been made through the years, till the Routemaster gradually went out of the service.

Why such a withdrawal? Firstly, because in 1967 the buses became nationalised, and secondly, because of its shortcomings: it had very restricted place for the legs, was not designed for wheelchairs and pushchairs, was not well protected from the cold, and was more expensive because of the need of two employees (the conductor and the driver). Finally, it could be dangerous to sit on the open platform: indeed, an average of 3 people a year died while sitting there. From 2003 to 2005 the Routemaster gradually disappeared from the roads. Their regular service was officially withdrawn on 9 December 2005, to be replaced by the articulated buses, which can carry more or less twice the number of passengers and which are two joint single-deckers. Nowadays, there are two Heritage Routes in London where the Routemasters can still officially drive: Heritage Route 9 and Heritage Route 15.

The Routemaster is truly a british icon. Indeed, one glance at this red double-decker bus with its open-air platform will make you immediately think about England and more precisely about London. Its figure is deeply rooted in the british culture as it appears in many movies, books, postcards and guide books and as many of them have been turned into restaurants, bars or homes. Some revivals are now taking place: designers are trying to modernize it and the London Bus Campaign, which stands for the come back of the Routemaster, is underway. And for the Routemaster’s fans, you can even buy one for about £2,000!

FX and Mary

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Arcade Fire


Have you ever heard of the Arcade Fire?

This band comes from Montreal (Canada) and produces alternative rock. It was formed in 2000 by the couple Win Butler and Regine Chassagne. These love birds (they got married in 2003) composed some songs together and afterwards met the other members of the group which eventually gave birth to The Arcade Fire. This includes the married couple, Richard Parry, Tim Kingsbury, William Butler (Win’s brother), Sarah Neufeld and Jeremy Gara. The band was complete in 2003. Most of the artists can play several musical instruments (guitar, violin, drums, piano, cello, xylophone, accordion and harp) which makes the specificity of the group as they can switch instrument during the concerts allowing a great part of improvisation.
The result of this collaboration is their first album “Funeral” (it was so called because the group suffered from the loss of several relatives). The album came out in the USA in September 2004. It was a real success on the internet and some famous rock stars such as David Bowie , Beck, David Byrne and Bono didn’t hesitate to call it “a stroke of genius”. The leader of U2 even chose them for the first parts of his concerts.
Here's a video on which the band and David Bowie are playing together...




In February 2005, The Arcade fire came to Europe to promote their album, which was welcomed successfully.
What’s more, the group also won several prizes and was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize 2007.

You can see in this picture that the group also went to France at the Olympia


To conclude, we can say that the modesty of the group, their talents on scene and the closeness with the audience all contribute to the pride of the Canadians.

As far as we are concerned, we hardly knew anything about this band but we both agree to tell you that this is really good music… Of course, it’s up to you to discover a little bit more about them, why not check out our favourite song called “Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels)”! Enjoy…



Marie & Nolan

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Feel like eating English?

Child: “What are we having for breakfast today, Mummy?”
Mother: “Baked beans of course Sweety!”

Indeed, for breakfast or at tea-time, the so-called baked beans are a very popular dish in England or even in the USA. It simply consists of beans baked in tomato sauce. Knowing the good cooking talents of the English people, it is not surprising that those beans can be served with sausages, bacon or as a pizza topping. The tea-time variant is even more tempting: this time it is served on toast with scrambled eggs.
To illustrate this, enjoy this wonderful You Tube excerpt “Baked beans on toast”, where cute little beans are performing Rock and Roll!





Or something more silly...

Why is this so popular? Very simply because they are sold in tin cans at an extremely low price (only a few cents), making them a product of first necessity.
Moreover, beans are not prepared in the same way everywhere: regions have their own specialities. For example: the beans that contain brown sugar and the barbecue beans from the US or again those with maple syrup from Quebec.



As to their origin, it is said that some French sailors brought “cassoulet” with them to England during colonial days. As time went by, it gave rise to the current baked beans.

According to some research, this product contributes to the five daily portions of vegetables per person. But, because of the high level of sugar and salt, this has been criticised. (So, be more tempted by the English, sugar free version!) We hope we have awoken your appetite!
By any chance, if you are interested in cooking beans, here are some links to find good recipes.

Bon appétit!

Louise and Ludivine

(The English unit's very merry) Christmas party!

A JPG image is worth a thousand words... so here goes! (Click the image to see a bigger version.)

The golden compass, or how is it possible to make a bad movie from an excellent book


This morning I decided to kill two birds with one stone: I went to the cinema to see a movie in English for my own pleasure and completed my portfolio at the same time. One year ago I wrote my first blog contribution, which was about one of my favourite books: his Dark Materials (Philip Pullman). I told you it was fantastic and how it made me dream. I also mentioned a film adaptation (of the first book) to come and my impatience mingled with fear towards it. Well, this time has come: the movie came out this Wednesday: the Golden Compass.
I went to the cinema this morning and was bitterly disappointed. The screenplay writer Chris weitz really killed the soul of the books. He managed to produce a really bad movie while he had an excellent basis. The storyline has nothing to do with the book: everything is told from the beginning, instead of letting the spectator discover the many mysteries which are at the centre of the story. There is consequently no suspense anymore and the movie looks more like a Christmas film than to the political, philosophical and enchanting book it was at first. The producer gave me the last stroke when I realized that a happy ending was to come. I was really shocked since the book normally ends in an unpredicted and sad way. I was also very disappointed by the way this movie distinguishes the bad ones, the Magisterium and Mrs Coulter, from the good ones, Lord Astriel and his collaborators. The political side of the story is much more complicated in the books. There is moreover no blood at all and death is totally absent (this is quite shocking since death is one of the central themes of the book). These books were not meant to be read by children, but they apparently wanted to make a suitable movie for a very broad audience. The storyline is full of nonsense and makes me think they do not plan to produce the second and third movies, since the key elements for these opuses are not introduced at all. The only positive aspect is the cast; the actors really match the characters and were very good (Dakota Blue Richards was an excellent Lyra).

I could tell you all the incoherencies of the storyline, but I will avoid doing so in order to let some suspense to the ones who are planning to read the books. Hopefully I did not come to Brussels for nothing, since I found some interesting books at the fnac.

As a conclusion, I strongly do not advise you to see this movie. Follow my advice: READ THE BOOKS AND DON’T GO TO THE CINEMA.

Once Were Warriors

Once were warriors is a film based on the novel of the same name written by Alan Duff. It was directed by Lee Tamahori in 1994. The movie depicts the everyday life of the Hekes, a poor Maori family. While Jack “the muss” gets drunk with his friends and often ends up fighting in several pubs, his wife Beth tries to feed their five children with what Jack leaves her. When she dares to complain, she is beaten by her husband. The two oldest sons are delinquents: Nig, who dislikes his father, is a member of the Toa gang and Boogy has been sent to a borstal by the judge. When their daughter Grace hangs herself after having been raped by one of her father’s friends, Beth realizes that she must change her way of living and decides to leave Jack.

Once were warriors also portrays several aspects of the Maori culture, a native population who came to New Zealand from the 8th century onwards. Nowadays they represent 10% of the population in New Zealand, which had been colonized by the British mostly. In the movie we can see that the Maori culture was influenced by this period of colonization. A first aspect is that they became Christian without abandoning their rites. This is illustrated by Grace’s funeral which is a mix of Maori and Christian tradition, performing the Haka dance during the Christian ceremony for instance.



A second aspect is that many people left their village to adopt the European way of life in the cities which lead them to poverty and alcoholism among other things. In the film the Heke family live poorly in the suburbs of a town. Their misery drove them to alcoholism, a third aspect which is very present in the movie when Jack and Beth get drunk at home with friends.



We can also see the violent aspect of the Maori culture. In fact they were already fierce and proud warriors and became even more violent by learning new war techniques from the Europeans. With regards to the film, there are a lot of fights, violent scenes and performances of the Haka.



Once were warriors is one of the only movies showing the real social status of the Maori that achieved such success. It won several prizes such as best film at the New Zealand Film & Television Awards, the Durban International Film Festival, the Montreal Film Festival and the Rotterdam Film Festival. Thanks to this worldwide success, people got interested in the Maori culture. The movie therefore became an icon of this antipodean culture.
We strongly recommend you this great movie, but don’t expect a good laugh but rather a good cry!

Hélène Vancompernolle and Martin Cugnon

My Blueberry Nights


My Blueberry Nights is a film by Wong Kar Wai. It is the first film in English of this Hong-Kong film director. I read on the Internet that My Blueberry Nights was the opening film for the last Cannes Film Festival in May. It is screened in the Cameo in Namur at the moment.
The beginning of the story takes place in New York. The central character of My Blueberry Nights is Elizabeth (played by Norah Jones). She discovers that her boyfriend has a relationship with another girl. It’s really difficult for her to accept that he replaced her and she really wants to find a reason to the split. At the same time she meets Jeremy (Jude Law), a barman who also experienced a painful break. This touching character becomes his friend and tries to help her. In order to resolve her questions about love Elizabeth decides to leave. During her journey through the United States she works in bars, restaurants and casinos en meets several people: Arnie (David Strathairn) who is an alcoholic, his wife Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz) and Leslie (Nathalie Portman) who is a player. Thanks to these persons she will learn to know herself better. After her 300 days’ journey she comes back in New York. I won’t tell you what happens at the end in case you would like to see it.
I really enjoyed the film because it is shot in an original manner: the whole film looks like the poster. I also think that the first performance of Norah Jones in a film is very convincing. This romantic film is well made and pleasant even if we know from the beginning how it will end.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Walt Disney: Emperor of Dreams


Who has never heard of Walt Disney? This world-famous cartoon director and businessman was born on 5 December 1901 in Chicago, IL. He is an icon in American culture, as will be shown in this blog entry.

Walt Elias Disney started his career as an advertising illustrator, but failing to meet the success he desired, he left his hometown to go to Hollywood. He founded a cartoon production company (known today as the Walt Disney Company), and a couple of years later, his Steamboat Willie made him famous, with its introduction of the character of Mickey Mouse. This film was the first in an endless series of worldwide-successful cartoons such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Bambi, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland – among many others.

But Disney’s interest lay not only in cartoons, but also in live-action movies: he most notably produced Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews. Disney also invested his money and his time in the creation of an amusement park in California, Disleyland. This theme park was designed in such a way that all American families could walk in a fantasy world that would remind everybody of his cartoons, for instance by getting lost in Alice in Wonderland’s labyrinth. As a philanthropist, he decided to create a new university, CalArts (short for California Institute of Arts), in order to promote the creativity of talented people who would probably become prominent in the arts.

Walt Disney died of lung cancer on 15 December 1966 — he was a heavy smoker. An urban legend says that Walt Disney was cryonically frozen, but he was actually cremated. Despite his death, his work was carried on by others, through the Walt Disney Company, which is now owned by his offspring. For example, several other theme parks were built in Florida, Tokyo and Paris. Even a Disney Cruise Line was opened in the Caribbean.

As far as the movie legacy is concerned, the Walt Disney Company went on to make not only many other successful cartoons such as The Beauty and the Beast, but also live-action films among which Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and hybrid forms mixing traditional animation with live action, e.g. Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The latter is the only film featuring characters from Disney and from Warner Bros. in the same frame.



For almost a dozen years, the Walt Disney Company has invested more and more money in computer-animated films, which notably resulted in the two Toy Story films. These were made by the Pixar Animation Studios, which are now owned by Disney. Their most recent released film is Ratatouille.

In conclusion, Walt Disney is considered as an important character in the American, but also world culture, which makes him a legend. His future-oriented empire is one of the most powerful, and it still has many wonderful stories to tell, making us wander in the utmost fantastic universe.



Simon Labate and Quentin Poncelet

Haggis!

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Scotland, you may be tempted to try a traditional Scottish dish: the (in)famous Haggis! But before you eat it, let's find out what it is...because you may change your mind!
The name « Haggis » seems to be related to the Scandinavian word « hag » meaning « to hew » or the French « hachis »-« to chop » or even with the German « Hackwurst » meaning « sausage ».
This being said, the historical origin of this dish is also much debated. On the one hand, some say it comes from the days of the old Scottish cattle drovers, during which women would prepare rations for their husband's journeys to Edinburgh. They would put the food in a sheep's stomach, so that the transportation would be more easy. On the other hand, some claim that Haggis originated at a time when people ate whatever they could find to avoid starvation.
Nowadays, Haggis is traditionally served during the commemoration of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns, on 25th January. Burns identified Haggis as a national symbol of Scotland when he wrote one of his famous poems « Adress to a Haggis », which achieved literary fame in the 18th century. The recitation of this poem plays an important part in Burns supper.
Furthermore, eating Haggis is one thing but seeing how it is made is quite another, hence the curiosity of many tourists who still don't know what it is made of.

One of the most common recipes involves sheep liver, lungs and heart (known as the « pluck ») mixed with oatmeal and a few spices. All this is then boiled in the animal's stomach for approximately an hour, resembling stuffed intestines. Today, however, Haggis is usually prepared in a casing rather than in an actual stomach and to make this supper more enjoyable, Haggis is usually served with Scotch Whisky.
Beside being a well-loved dish, Haggis is also used in sport entertainment. For example, there are many competitions involving Haggis such as Haggis juggling or hurling (throwing of Haggis). At present, the world record for Haggis hurling is held by Alan Pettigrew.
Let us give you a piece of advice: if you ever do visit Scotland, don't listen to the traditional Scottish joke telling tourists that Haggis is a strange creature...they might take you for a wild Haggis hunt!


Aerts Joyce, Boueyrie Marie.

Michael Moore


America : land of dreams, freedom and justice for all… Or so they say ! Many people have come to question this idealized view of the USA, and the daring critics have found their leader: a 53-year-old author and film maker from Flint, Michigan: Michael Moore.
Don’t pay attention to Moore’s regular-guy attitude, you might be surprised. He is indeed one of the sharpest US satirists and his works depict the nation without any compromise. Moreover, his particular sense of humour and his controversial behaviour have turned him into one of the most influential men in the World, a position that enables him to try and make young people aware of politics as well as of the importance of taking part in it.
He is best-known for his documentaries in which he points out "inconvenient truths". In Bowling for Columbine, Moore reminds us of the 1999 massacre of Columbine high school and denounces the American cult of weapons and violence. Fahrenheit 9/11 was filmed after the September 11th attacks and exposes Bush’s political failures (especially the war he is leading against Iraq) as well as his links with Bin Laden’s family. To finish, Moore has had a brand new movie coming out this year, namely Sicko, in which he criticizes the disfunctional US health care system.
You can love him or hate him, but no one can deny his capacity to bring his opinions forward with an impressive sense of integrity and frankness. This makes him one of the most influential directors of all times. And there’s no doubt that we can expect a lot more from the fearless Michael Moore in the coming years.
Bettina Battisti & Marie Fosséprez

Friday, December 07, 2007

Stephen Fry interviews


Any excuse is good enough for me to indulge in my Stephen Fry obsession, but my present excuse is rather good actually: last Wednesday at the British Comedy Awards he was presented with a so-called 'lifetime achievement award' for his manifold contributions to British comedy. (Unfortunately the British Comedy Awards website hasn't been updated to include the list of winners, but luckily the BBC news website has published the list as well as reports in writing and in pictures.)

This occasion is as good as any to list some rather long but really worthwhile YouTube interviews with the man who to so many epitomizes not only wit and eloquence but also Englishness itself. All three of these interviews come in different parts; I've linked through to the first part only.

  • Mark Lawson talks to Stephen Fry [This was part of BBC Four's recent Stephen Fry weekend; Mark Lawson is best known for the many years in which he presented Newsnight Review. This interview comes with subtitles in English!]
  • Clive James talking in the library: Stephen Fry [Clive James is a well-known expatriate Australian writer, broadcaster and critic; in this interview Stephen Fry has some interesting things to say on British university life and on the difference between British and American culture]
  • Shrink rap: Dr Pamela Connolly chats with Stephen Fry [Pamela Connolly is originally known for her comedy acting, most notably in Not the Nine O'Clock News; in a surprising career change she took up psychology and obtained a PhD and an academic position in the field; to my taste she tends to ask somewhat annoyingly insistent or even patronizing questions in this interview, but Fry somehow manages to take this in his stride and remain patiently polite and pleasant throughout, candidly discussing for instance his discovery of love and of mental illness]

P.S. Stephen Fry has recently also taken up blogging, mainly exploring his passion for nerdy gadgets (Apple computers, smart phones, etc.), but also discussing in one very interesting "blessay" (as he calls his particular brand of blog essays) the problem of fame.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1920. He was known as Yardbird, which would later be shortened to Bird, and was one of the greatest saxophonists and jazz players of the 1940’s. He first came in contact with music in school where he played baritone horn. From 1935 to 1939, he developed his art with local bands in Kansas City, Missouri.

However, it was in 1939 that he would really start his musical career. In New York, he began to play a new kind of jazz named bebop together with other musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Christian. This new style was badly considered by many older jazz musicians, the moldy figs, as they were called by the young beboppers. At the same time, Parker was part of the McShann’s band with which he recorded several songs such as Hootie Blues or Confessing the Blues.

The year 1945 was a turning point in his career. Indeed, he led his own group in New York and later moved to Hollywood. He played there until 1946 when he had to spend six months in a psychiatric hospital due to a nervous breakdown. His mental health was weak as a result of his life-long drug addiction.

He left the hospital in better shape and started playing again in nightclubs. He also recorded several of his most popular songs which would help him become far more famous at the beginning of the 50’s. However, his self-destructive behaviour would soon catch up with him and lead to an untimely death in 1955.

Still considered today as one of the most important jazz musicians in history, people have often paid tribute to him. For example, he received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1984 and a movie, Bird, was released in 1988. Although sadly notorious for his addictions, he left his imprint on jazz and continues to be an incredible source of inspiration in the world of art more than fifty years later.



In the following video you can see Parker and Dizzy Gillespie performing Hot House :




Elodie & Bruno

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Morrissey, an English myth



Steven Patrick Morrissey was born in Manchester (England) on 22 May 1959. Even though his parents were Irish immigrants, he has always been English in his heart. During his childhood, he already had a passion for music and films. Being a teenager, he was lonely and depressed and took prescriptive drugs in order to fight it. In 1982, he and Johnny Marr founded The Smiths, a band, which split up in 1987. Then Morrissey began his solo career. This has been successful and the release of his next album is planned for 2008.




One of the most important events of his life was his presence as a vocalist and songwriter in the alternative rock band The Smiths. It was made up of Johnny Marr (Guitar, Music), Mike Joyce (Drums) and Andy Rourke (Bass). It is characterized by Morrissey’s lyrics which are ironic, controversial and ambiguous, and by Marr’s dense and complex music. That is one of the reasons why the band emerged in the indie scene in Britain in the early 1980’s. Just like The Beatles and Oasis, they are said to influence a lot of other groups.
Here is "The Queen is Dead" by The Smiths.




His career as singer and songwriter didn’t end with the split up of the band, nor did his controversial ideas. His lyrics are often about themes like child murder, gang and domestic violence, racism (even though he was accused of racism), drug abuse, terrorism and politics. Talking about his political views, he attacked not only the Royal Family and Margaret Thatcher but also former Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush. A good illustration of this is the song "Margaret on the Guillotine". Apparently, he has no problem in murdering great political figures (figuratively, of course!), but as far as animals are concerned, he sings another song: "Meat is Murder" (don't watch this video if you are too sensitive!)
Here is "Irish Blood, English Heart" by Morrissey.



He is still very popular today, partly due to his singular identity.

Sophie & Anne-Sophie

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

British Vision

If there is something you should know about this beautiful exhibition of British plastic arts it is that it is all about observation and imagination. these two concepts are central in British art and to make sure that every visitor is aware of it, the organizers had the first room covered with British artists' definitions of observation and imagination.
On the left of the first room there is a small room dedicated to James Ensor, which of course was a Belgian but who had English origins and whose art shows many parallels with his British counterparts.
Next to this you have the "real" exhibition which is subdivided into several rooms, each according to main themes like 'changing society', 'British humor', 'perspectives', 'landscape', 'atmosphere and detail', 'the visionary' and 'modernity'.
The rooms I liked the most were 'British humor' and 'modernity'. The first showed representations of roughly 18th Century society, but the drawings, sketches and paintings were full of bitter irony and sarcasm. To my judgement, the sequence of a young man's life by William Hogarth was the most striking piece of art in the whole room; it describes the (short) raise and the (long and slow) downfall of a young rich man. In the second, I was really impressed by Paul Nash's paintings, which I just stared at for something like 20 minutes.
Other great artists represented in British Vision were John Constable, Joseph Mallord William Turner, and many many others. If you want to have a British Vision at home, it is possible if you can afford 40 euros to buy the catalogue, which is printed in at least three different languages.
The entrance costs 6 euros for students and somewhat more for others ;-)
If you want to be at ease while going through this exhibition I encourage you to go for it in the morning because after lunch time there are loads of groups of old people who don't care to push you out of the way... enjoy!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Germaine Greer




"The house wife is an unpaid employee in her husband's house in return for the security of being a permanent employee."


Germaine Greer was born in 1939 in Melbourne (Australia) and has been living in England since 1962. She comes from a middle-class family. She went to several universities and got a degree in English and French languages and literatures. In Sydney she joined the Push group of intellectuals whose anarchist-libertarian ideas and philosophy influenced her. After her studies, she moved to England and worked there as an English literature professor. She has also worked as a journalist and a writer in different genres.

Her first great book was The Female Eunuch published in 1970, where Greer denounced the oppression of women. It attracted as much criticism as praise. The fact that the author spoke freely about sexuality was very controversial. On the other hand, after a few months, the book was read all around the world. It also promoted many feminist ideas.



Fourteen years later, Greer pursued these topics in Sex and Destiny, adding criticism about the nuclear family and the Western attitude towards women’s concerns.

An other important book is the sequel to The female Eunuch: The Whole Woman (1999). She began the book with the words: “The time has come to get angry again”. In another book written the same year, she criticized the lack of progress in the feminist movement.

Despite the fact that she has often been criticized and that she has been shocking many people, Germaine Greer has opened the minds of modern society and has become a model for many feminists.


Céline & Mélissa

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ayers Rock, sturdy symbol of Australia

Australia is famous for its kangaroos and koalas, but they are nothing compared to Uluru Mount, the aboriginal name for the well-known Ayers Rock. Sleeping in the centre of the last continent, this sandy monolith is full of springs, waterholes, rock caves, ancient paintings and is especially born of a rich cultural past.

Sacred to the Anangu (Aborigines of central Australia), Uluru is surrounded by the myth of being formed by ancestral beings during the Dreamtime. The latter stands for the creation of the world and also for the link between past and present.Thus evidence can be found in the rock itself, its fissures, cliffs and caves. Moreover, various outcrops represent ancient spirits, and by touching the rock, an Aborigine can invoke this spirits and communicate with the Dreamtime.


According to an Aboriginal legend, this sandstone arose from the bloodshed of a particularly fierce battle between two tribes, namely the Kuniya (the rock pythons) and the Liru (the poisonous snakes) which put an end to the Dreamtime and marked the beginning of the Human Era.

The first human settlements dated back 10,000 years ago, when Australia was only inhabited by the Aborigines. It was first discovered by Dutch navigators in 1606 and conquered by Captain James Cook as a tribute to King George III in 1770. Colonisation ensued and native people were mistreated.

However, it was only in 1872 that the first non-indigenious person, the explorer Ernest Giles, saw the rock formation. One year after, William Gosse visited Ayers Rock and named it after the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers.

In 1985, Uluru was given back to its traditional owners, the Yankuntjatjara and the Pitjantjatjara who transformed it into a park. Nowadays they still use it for rituals and ceremonies. Furthermore, it is the first officially dual-named site in Australia and so renamed : 'Uluru/Ayers Rock'









Ana-Alicia and Benjamin.

PS : If you want to, we offer you a little trip round Ayers Rock...



Fearadh na fáilte in Éirinn - Hearty welcome in Ireland.



Almost three months ago, I arrived in Cork airport, after two journeys by planes. I was lost, with lots of big luggage… I took the bus and arrived at Parnell bus Station, right in Cork city centre. Then, I took the map the bus conductor gave me and tried to find my accommodation. Fortunately it was only five minutes from the station. I finally arrived at Copley Court , in Copley Street. The landlady showed me my flat, n° 32, on the fifth floor. I have my private bathroom and bedroom and I share the kitchen with two other girls: an American (Gab) and a French (Gwenaëlle) girls. As I live on the fifth floor, I benefit from a beautiful view of Cork.

I live in the city centre, near a beautiful church called St Matthew, and near St Patrick Street: THE street to do shopping… After that I went to the International Education Office where Miss Clare Murphy invited me to the Welcome meeting. There I met lots of Erasmus (mainly from America, Germany, Spain and France) and the woman gave us lots of information about what is interesting to do in Cork and at UCC. The first week I attended to an Irish party, an evening quiz, cinema,… I also met Erasmus students there and the week after, as we had no lectures yet, we went to the pub, to parties organized in several apartments,…

Then, the first week of October, the lectures really began at UCC. University College Cork is a really beautiful university which hosts 2000 Erasmus students out of its 12000 “usual” students. I do not have many lectures, but quite a lot of work to do afterwards. I've chosen 4 courses: Introduction to Irish History, Introduction to Anglo-Irish Literature, Advanced Spanish and Translation French/English and English/French. In Ireland, lectures last 50 minutes instead of an hour. I got lectures on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; so the rest of the time I can enjoy the student life in Cork.

Something also really nice at UCC is the organization of clubs and societies such as badminton, tennis, surf, soccer, hurling or drama, film, comedy societies… You got a lot of choices and all those things are free!! I also go the Mardyke Arena where my friends and I practice sports or gym.

During my four-day weekend, I like to go and visit Ireland (when I do not have to write essays). My friend Mary (from Louvain-la-Neuve) has got a car, so we use to go on a trip together. We visited Kinsale with the Erasmus group and Blarney Castle with others. Our first big trip was in mid-October. The first day we visited Killarney , Tralee, the Ring of Kerry with Ross Castle, Kerry Lakes which are well-known for their beauty, Portmagee which is a small village near the Skelig Islands, Valentia Island and its cliffs, the Dingle Peninsula (also famous for its dingle way), Ventry and its beautiful white-strand beach.

Our second big trip was in mid-November around Galway. The first day, we visited Limerick and its castle, Bunratty Castle and its beautiful medieval village, Cliffs of Moher and the castle and The Burren, which is the rockiest region of Ireland . We slept in Galway, and the next day we took our way to Connemara where we visited the Castle near Oughterard (where Mary and I took beautiful pictures) , we also saw the beautiful landscapes of the region Connemara, famous for its many lakes and the Kyllemore Abbey which is still a boarding school . On Sunday, we visited Galway by foot of course. We saw the National University of Ireland, Galway (UCC is better :D) and St Nicolas’ Cathedral. It was a wonderful trip :)


I think I will have to leave you because December is almost there and the essays and tests are coming! I hoped you enjoyed my experience in Cork, as I’m still enjoying it now. But I do not worry, because I will soon be back to Cork to say hello to my friends staying here for a whole year.


PS: Do not hesitate to click on words to see beautiful pictures!!!

PPS: I already wish u a Merry X-Mas