Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is a fjord situated in the south of New Zealand. It is very well-known for the spectacular scenery it offers. It is 15 kilometers long and is encircled by huge and beautiful cliffs on either side. The numerous peaks are very high, rising to more than 1200 meters. Two famous peaks are The Elephant which resembles an elephant’s head and Lion Mountain.

Apart from the high cliffs, the underwater world is also fascinating. Beneath the water, the mountains continue to plunge down as deep as 450 meters and lots of animals such as dolphins, whales or seals live there.

The Maori were the first to settle in New Zealand and named this fjord Piopiotahi after a bird, now extinct. The first European to discover the fjord was the sailor James Cook in the eighteenth century. At the end of the eighteenth century sealers visited this place. The current name Milford Sound was given by one of these sealers in honour of a Welsh haven, the Milford Haven.

Milford Sound is now one of the most visited places of New Zealand, it attracts thousands of visitors each day! It is the only fjord accessible by road, the journey to get there is worthwhile: the landscape is so beautiful that visitors stop at numerous viewing points. People can enjoy several activities like canoeing, diving, mountain biking, paintballing, visiting farms, touring by helicopter, visiting the Underwater Observatory and boat excursions. You can even do some shopping in the town centre.

This site is therefore a must when you visit New Zealand, the spectacular scenery is really worth seeing!

Marie & Hélène

Bill Cosby: an all-round personality

Bill Cosby was born in Philadelphia in 1934. He has three brothers but suffered the loss of the youngest during his childhood. The family can be considered as belonging to the middle-class, the father being a cook in the U.S Navy and the mother being a maid. Cosby’s school career was not really brilliant: he even called himself a ‘class clown’. He spent more time making people laugh than working. At that time he was already fond of sports; his membership in sports clubs required a certain discipline and attendance. He also discovered a talent for telling stories and imagining things. His mother always encouraged him to develop this. The first time he had the opportunity of showing his newly-found capacity in public was in front of the class during a lesson in the fourth grade. His story with sound imitations didn’t really go down that well as the teacher never asked him to do it again. After school, Cosby had to do little jobs to help his family financially: he polished shoes and sold products in the street for instance. The last year at high school was very difficult so that Bill decided to join the Navy instead of repeating it. He finally passed the final year via a correspondence course. After having spent some years in the Navy, he enrolled at Temple University to become a sports teacher. He stopped his studies once more to start his career as a comedian. He performed in various nightclubs before appearing in the Gaslight Cafe where he met Carl Reiner. This meeting marked the beginning of his fame. In 1964 he married Camille Hanks, a student and they subsequently had five children together. They are still together and are currently living in New England. Cosby managed to graduate in the 1970s obtaining a Masters degree in Education.

Bill Cosby is a “multifunction man”. People often know him as a comedian and actor, but he also proved to be a television producer, an activist and an author as well.

Thanks to Carl Reiner who believed in him, his career took off. He appeared on the NBC program Tonight Show (and later became one of the regular guest hosts). His humour was inspired from recollections of his own childhood, unlike many other comedians of that time who used more controversial matters to make people laugh.

The 1960s

In 1965, he acted in a series as the first black star of a dramatic television series. The series was called I Spy and was inspired by the James Bond films. This series was a huge success and thanks to this, Cosby was honoured with three Emmy Awards (television production awards). After three seasons though, the series ended and Bill returned to live performances.

He released albums recorded during his stand-up comedy performances and even tried singing. His first hit single was called “Li’l Ole Man”. Even if he tried in music, most of his recordings were of his stand-up comedy work (no fewer than 40 albums).

The 1970s

In the early 1970s, he starred in another series, The Bill Cosby Show, where he played a physical education teacher. After having received his MA, he appeared in The New Bill Cosby Show, which had poor ratings.

From 1970 to 1979, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, an animated series based on his own childhood, was successful. It even knew a “spin-off” from 1979 to 1984: The New Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. This series was even used by schools as teaching material, being also Cosby’s doctorate subject. Each episode dealt with issues and problems commonly faced by young children. Despite the reputation of educational children television series for being unpopular on commercial television, the series enjoyed one of the longest runs in the history of the Saturday morning cartoon timeslot. Here is the opening theme of the series:

He also played in comedy films against the violent “blaxploitation” films of that time.

The 1980s

The Cosby Show was definitely his greatest television success. This began in 1984 and dominated Thursday evenings on NBC until 1992. The sitcom was both humorous and family-oriented. It focused on the everyday adventures of an upper-middle-class black family. Every aspect of the series was under Cosby’s control. The series revived a television genre, namely the situation comedy. The series was so popular that it received several awards such as Emmy awards, Golden Globe Awards and People’s Choice Awards.


The 1990s

During the 1990s, Cosby mostly appeared in films.

The years 2000

In 2001, he published a new book (he has written 11 books so far) and signed a deal with 20th Century Fox to develop a movie centered on the popular Fat Albert character from his 1970s series.

Having his doctorate in education, he now often gives speeches in churches dealing with the fact that it is important for African American families to educate their children on the different aspects of American culture and not only set priorities on sports and fashion.

Céline et Louise


Prep school

Prep school or ‘preppy’, in other words preparatory school, concerns the United Kingdom as well as the North American education system. Yet, ‘prep school’ has a different meaning depending on the student’s nationality. The difference resides in the target group: a prep school in the UK aims at the preparation for a secondary private school, whereas prep schools in North America are attended by students before entering a prestigious high school or university. We will focus on the North American case.

A prep school in North America, namely in the US and in Canada, is a private secondary school whose aim is to prepare students between 14 and 18 years old for higher education at prestigious universities or high schools (e.g. Yale, Harvard, Columbia, etc.). The school can be a boarding school or a day school, it can be religious or atheistic and it can also be co-educational or not. Moreover, some prep schools have more selective admission criteria than others, some are more liberal than others concerning education and some are more specialized in difficult children. Yet, despite all these differences, zero tolerance for alcohol and drug usage is applied in every prep school.

What are the advantages of such schools compared with public schools? The class sizes are smaller (5-10 students) and the teachers are highly qualified (usually Ph.D. holders). There is a whole range of courses; the students have the choice between 300 courses for a 4-year curriculum. Moreover, they also put a greater emphasis on sport, their motto being “mens sana in corpore sano” (a sound mind in a sound body). They also give students the opportunity of taking part in cultural activities such as plays or musicals and studying abroad.

Considering all these positive aspects, it is not surprising that the costs for such schools are rather high. It can vary from more or less 20,000 to 40,000 dollars per year. Therefore, even if prep schools are said to be accessible to any American or international student who has followed at least 8 years schooling, these schools tend to be mainly attended by the elite.

Marie-Eve and Elodie

Jaguar Mark II

The Jaguar Mark II was produced in the late 1950’s and in the 1960’s by Jaguar Cars, Ltd., a luxury car manufacturer founded in 1922 in Coventry, England. The Mark II was a beautiful saloon car, which replaced and improved its predecessor: the Mark I, which was the first so-called small saloon car produced by Jaguar and was introduced in 1956. The Mark II was a fast car: it could accelerate from 0 to 97km/h in 11.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 193km/h. Different motors were available, namely the 2.4 L, 3.4 L or 3.8 L Jaguar XK6 engines. The 3.8 L motor was the most popular when the Mark II reached its peak of popularity, in the 1960’s. This model introduced all-round disk brakes, which were terribly efficient for the time. So efficient that Jaguar added a sign on the back of the car, because they were afraid that other cars could bump into it, being unable to stop as fast as the Mark II. Despite its compact size, the Mark II provided enough room for five adults, including the driver. The 3.4 L version consumed no less than 14.9 L/100 km.

The Jaguar Mark II was cheap enough to be affordable even for lower classes. The design was quite innovative. The model, with its famous “leaping Jaguarmascot on the bonnet, became widely popular. Because of its efficiency (i.e. speed, space, power), it was often used to rob banks, especially by the mafia. The police also used it as a patrol car, especially on UK motorways, which in the 1960’s had no speed limit. By the way, that was the car of inspector Morse in the famous TV crime drama of the same name. In addition, the Mark II had some success in the European Touring Car Championship. In 1967, the Mark II was renamed as 240 and 340 (the 3.8 L motor being dropped) and gradually replaced by its successor: the Jaguar XJ6.

FX & Martin

Route 66

Route 66 also colloquially known as ‘The Main Street of America’ or ‘The Mother Road’ was the most famous highway of the United States of America. It crossed the country from Illinois (Chicago) through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona to California (Los Angeles). It is 3,945 km long (2,451 miles). It was built in 1926 but is no longer in use since 1985. It was championed by the businessman Cyrus Avery who wanted to contribute to the establishment of a Federal Highway System. Even if it was meant to be called Route ‘60’, he himself settled on the number of the road arguing that ‘66’ would be easy to remember as well as pleasant to say and hear.

Route 66 became famous in the 1930’s during the Dust Bowl which was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands. In those years, migrants from east to west used to take this road. Merchants along the road became prosperous as there were more and more people passing through. This is one of the reasons why those same people later struggled to keep the highway in use. However the road declined in the early 1980’s. Indeed as highway engineering became more sophisticated, engineers constantly sought more direct routes between cities and towns. After World War II, The Mother Road was to endure many major and minor realignments due to the increasing traffic.

Even though it has no longer been in use since 1985, it is still possible to drive on certain parts of Route 66. Some stretches are quite well preserved and some sections still retain their historic eight-foot-wide "sidewalk highway" form, never having been resurfaced to make them into full-width highways. In the 1990’s many Route 66 associations were founded in states crossed by the above-mentioned road, whose goal was to declare it as a ‘State Historic Route'. Nowadays, Route 66 is still very famous. It is part of our popular culture, by both a hit song and a television show. It has also been recently used by Pixar in their animated movie ‘Cars’ in 2006.

- Ludivine & Nolan

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson was born on 19 June 1964 in New York City, USA. He attended school in Brussels (European School) and later went to the prestigious Eton College. He then moved on to Balliol College, Oxford, to read classics. At the same time he became the President of the Oxford Union, a debating society.

After graduating Boris Johnson started a career in journalism, but he was not successful at first (for instance he worked briefly for The Times before being fired for falsifying a quotation) but was soon hired by The Daily Telegraph where he was not only reporting on the European Community and was later promoted assistant editor. Simultaneously he wrote articles for The Spectator, a British magazine with a conservative editorial line, and from 1999 to 2005 he worked as its editor. Johnson published three books compiling his articles, as well as a comic novel, Seventy-Two Virgins (2004) and plans to release another called The New British Revolution.

As to his political career, he first ran for the Conservative Party at the 1997 general election but had to wait until 2001 to be elected MP. Johnson was appointed vice-chairman of the Tories in 2003 and Shadow Minister for the Arts in 2004 but had to resign because he had lied about an affair he had to the former Tory Leader, Michael Howard. However, David Cameron brought him back into grace by promoting him to the position of Shadow Minister for Higher Education in 2005. The year after he run for the election of Rector of the University of Edinburgh, which resulted in a massive campaign against him (“Anyone but Boris”) and he eventually did not got the job.

In July 2007 Boris Johnson made public his intention to become Mayor of London and he was soon confirmed as the Conservative candidate. During his campaign he notably promised to reintroduce Routemasters and reduce police presence in public transports, which was criticised as a lack of seriousness. However, Johnson gathered a greater number of votes than his Labour rival, Ken Livingstone, and assumed control at City Hall on 4 May 2008. One of the first measures he announced was a total ban of alcohol on the whole London transport network.

In August 2008 he officially received the Olympic flag in Beijing (with his jacket unbuttoned) and delivered a speech praising the British nation:

Johnson took part several times in such popular TV shows as Have I Got News For You (he was even nominated for a BAFTA Television Award) and Top Gear, and he presented two documentaries (The Dream of Rome and After Rome, about Europe and clashes of civilisations).

Here is a fragment from Top Gear, with Jeremy Clarkson commenting on Johnson's "power lap in a reasonably priced car".

Boris Johnson can definitely be regarded as a British icon, immediately recognised by his hairstyle, gaffes, statements, and just saying ‘Boris’ automatically refers to the man who is also nicknamed “Boris the Menace”. Although he was (or still is) involved in many controversies, he remains very popular not only as Mayor of the capital and Conservative, but also as a showman.

The Sydney Opera House

What do you think of when we say the word Australia?
Is it a kangaroo, a koala, Ayers Rock or perhaps even the actors Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe? There is one image that springs directly to your mind, namely one of the most recognisable and most photographed buildings in the world :
the Sydney Opera House.

The Opera House is situated on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour and is the result of an international competition won in 1957 by the Danish architect Jorn Utzon.
It all started in the 1950's when the director of the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music and the conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Eugene Goossens, began to press the State Government to buil a performing a rts centre in Sydney. The premier of the day, the late Mr Cahill, was enthusiastic about the idea and it was he who set up the committees which got the project under way.

The construction of the building, which started in 1956, proceeded in three stages; The first stage consisted in building the foundations; the second one was the construction of the shell roofs and the last stage was the interior design. Although the construction had been estimated to take about five years, Utzon wanted more time in order to tackle the various technical challenges of his design. But the government refused his request and financial problems soon arose. Due to the pressure, Jorn Utzon resigned from the project in 1966, when the exterior was almost complete, and was succeeded by four Australian architects. The building took about 19 years and $102 million in all to plan, build, equip and furnish.

Because of its name, many people think the Sydney Opera House has just one theatre. It has in fact, four main performing halls and over 900 other areas. The largest is the Concert Hall, which can seat 2,679 people and which is used by the Sydney Symphony. It also contains the Sydney Opera House Grand Organ, one of the largest organs in the world, with over 10,000 pipes. The other three main halls are the Opera Theatre, which is the home of the Australian Ballet, the Drama Theatre and a cinema. The House also has a recording hall, an exhibition hall, two restaurants, six theatre bars, a library and so on.

Performances presented in the House include orchestral and chamber music concerts, opera, ballet, drama, choral works, jazz, pop and folk concerts, films and variety shows. Many areas are also available for private functions. The first performance in the Opera House, presented in the Opera Theatre in 1978 was The Australian Opera’s production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace. The complex was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.

The Opera House, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, put Sydney on the world map, both architecturally and culturally. Its events attract some two million visitors each year, making it one of the world's most popular cultural institutions.

Joyce & Marie B.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Jools Holland

Are any of you music fans or rather some kind of a couch potatoes? In both cases, here is a guy you have to know! Mr. Jools Holland could indeed be described as a multi-talented person: he is a musician, TV presenter, author, actor and most of all a man with a heart. So let us introduce him!

Julian Miles Holland was born on the 24th of January 1958 in Blackheath, South-East London. In his early childhood, he developed a strong interest in music and by the age of eight, he could perfectly play the piano. In his teens, he regularly appeared in London pubs and became a founding member of the band “Squeeze” in which he played the keyboards. In 1987 he founded the Jools Holland big band (later called the “Rhythm & Blues Orchestra”) which was quite successful.

But as already mentioned, Jools has more than one string to his bow. Indeed, his TV shows are musts of British television. He started in the 1980s with a documentary in which he interviewed “the Police”. Between 1981 and 1986, he co-presented “the Tube”, a program which helped discover (then) young musicians such as Sting, David Gilmoure, Tom Jones and Bono. In 1988, he became a co-presenter of “Night music” on NBC, also a musical program. Since 1992, he started to host “Later… with Jools Holland” (a spin-off of “the Late Show”, as well as his exuberant annual New Year’s Eve “Hootenanny”.

Later… with Jools Holland” is an eclectic music program broadcast on BBC2 in which Jools invites brilliant artists (such as, among many others, Metallica, PJ Harvey, Arctic Monkeys, Björk, Oasis, Radiohead,…) to perform live. The 34th series will start on the 7th of April 2009 and we warmly recommend you not to study that night! ;-)

Another striking aspect in Holland’s career is his involvement in charity works. He, for instance, donated all proceeds of some of his concerts to the “Teenage Cancer Trust” and performed against AIDS. He also played at the tsunami Relief concert of 2005.

On top of all that, Jools Holland is also known as an actor and author. What a man! He played in “Spice World” in 1997 (not to be proud of though…) and demonstrated his love of the series by starring a spoof documentary, “The laughing prisoner”, with Fry and Laurie. He wrote his autobiography, “Barefaced Lies and Boogie Woogie Boasts”, in 2007.

His talent was officially recognized by the Queen in 2003 when he received an OBE for services to the British music industry as a television presenter and musician. Indeed, these two sides of his personality run parallel and strongly influence each other in every part of Holland’s career.

Here is a video of a live performance by Radiohead on "Later with Jools Holland" 2008. Enjoy!

Bettina Battisti and Marie Fosséprez

Monday, March 16, 2009

Levi’s 501

How can you make your bottom look great without plastic surgery? According to Levi’s their 501 jeans are the solution. Still being the most famous model of the brand today, Levi’s 501 comes from the reference number which was originally on the cloth the jeans were made of.

The history of Levi’s jeans dates back to 1847, when the Bavarian Levi Strauss arrived in New York. Six years later he moved to San Francisco, where he would later develop a new type of trousers with Jacob Davis. “Jeans”, which were then called “waist overalls”, were born. Yet, it is worth noticing that these two inventors hadn’t created a new cut since the trousers already existed as a working garment for miners in California. Their brainwave was to add rivets to them.

In 1890 the first 501 jeans were produced together with the 201 model, a cheaper version. They would later undergo various changes such as the addition of two back pockets in 1901 and the apparition of belt loops twenty years later. After the Second World War, a new version was released without cinch and the first zippered version was introduced in the 50s.

The word “jeans” replaced “overalls” in 1960, while they were becoming more and more popular during the hippie wave. The brand would also benefit from the rise of television, airing their first TV-commercial in 1966. The 80s were a turning point in its history: the first 501 jeans for women were created and the best known advertising campaign “501 Blues” was launched on the occasion of the summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Evidence of the campaign’s impact was the creation of a musical in France with the same name.

Nearly 120 years after their creation, the 501 jeans have remained quite popular. Their success is due to their constant renewal. Worldwide known and representing 50% of the brand’s sales, the 501 now targets teenagers mainly, which clearly shows its evolution. The pants have lived on through time, just like Shakespeare. Levi’s reminds us of this in their 2005 commercial which was an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Sophie & Bruno

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What's in a name? The Oval Office!

It shelters one of the most beautiful desks ever designed, it was created in 1909 and since then, it has been the office of the most powerful politician in modern human history. You can see it in many films, where it is sometimes destroyed, it is indeed the best known official room around the world: the Oval Office.

Bush's Office during a meeting

Originally, the President's working office was situated in the main part of the White House: the Executive Residence. In 1902, this office was moved to the West Wing in order to allow the President to be involved in the day-to-day administration of his presidency. Thus, his office (still rectangular in 1902) was arranged in the middle of the building and surrounded by the secretaries’ offices (the President’s senior staff). In 1909, President W. H. Taft intended his office to become the center of his presidency by transforming it into an oval office, inspired by the elliptical Blue Room situated in the Executive Residence. Consequently the architect Nathan C. Wyeth was asked to reshape the President's office in order to transform it into the nerve center of his administration where he could work and have official meetings.

Plan of the West Wing's first floor where you can see the Oval Office

The Oval Office hasn't dramatically changed since then; it features three south-oriented large windows behind the President's desk, a fireplace at the north end, the official carpet covering the entire surface and bearing the Seal of the President and finally four doors connecting the Oval Office with important rooms of the West Wing (the President's private study and the office of the president's secretary), but also with its corridor and garden. However, the President's desk didn't please all the presidents. Five different desks have been brought into the Oval Office, one of them being the well-known Resolute Desk, used by presidents Kennedy, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and W. Bush. This desk was a present from Queen Victoria in 1880 and was made from the timbers of the British boat HMS Resolute.

The Resolute Desk
Since the latter part of the twentieth century it has been a tradition to redecorate the office to the newly arrived President’s liking. Each administration usually selects a new drapery, the paintings of the wall and some furniture (mostly paintings and sculptures) are chosen in accordance with the First Lady's taste! Clinton's office was very different from that of Bush, the former using light colours (cream and gold) and the latter more sombre colours (ranging from green to purple).

Clinton's office
The Oval Office has often been associated with the presidency itself (Kennedy's son playing in the Resolute Desk or Nixon speaking with the Apollo 11 astronauts) or used for official television broadcasts (for the Cuban missile crisis and the events of 9/11). Moreover it is also said that Crosby, Stills and Nash fired up a joint in the Office when performing for President Carter in 1977.

The popular television show 'The West Wing', broadcast from 1999 to 2006 on NBC, unveils the mystery and secret around the most famous office in the world: The Oval Office.

- Ana & Ben

Monday, March 09, 2009


Do you really think it is possible to make a a rainy country like Scotland? Why don’t you ask Charles Macintosh! This Scottish chemist and inventor born in 1766 discovered a new material which was waterproof. There had been several attempts in the past to protect people from the rain, notably by Thomas Hancock, but Macintosh was the one who found the perfect solution by combining rubber with garments. He patented his wonderful invention in 1823 and in the following years he started the production of sheets and coats. It is in 1834 that he founded his own waterproofing company in Glasgow but he was not immediately successful because the tailors were not enclined to work with this cloth. It was indeed heavy and uncomfortable to wear. Even if it was rather rare on the rainy British Isles, the cloth had the unfortunate tendency of melting in hot weather. This pushed him to move to Manchester in 1840 where he could further develop the material. After his death in 1843 the company continued to make waterproof clothing throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Dunlop Rubber took over the company in 1925 and carried on Macintosh’s tradition. Nowadays waterproof raincoats are referred to as Mackintoshes, usually written with a ‘k’. It is a firmly established global brand that combines updated technology with traditional techniques to create the modern-day ‘Mac’. The Dunlop Rubber company has also collabarated with famous fashion houses like Gucci, Hermès and Vuitton, which proves the high standing of the coats. They are now sold almost all over the world and are particularly popular in Japan. If you are interested in buying a Mackintosh, they are available for women and men in different colours and patterns and adapted to your size. But the high price-a trifling 500£-might dissuade you from acquiring one! Nevertheless the Mackintosh would certainly be a good investment in our rainy Belgium and even more so in these hard times.

Mélissa Henry & Quentin Poncelet

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Nick Cave

Nicholas Edward Cave, best known under the name of Nick Cave, was born in Victoria (Australia) in 1957. His father was an English teacher and his mother a librarian. They brought him up as an Anglican, which would later have an influence on his works. During his school years he joined several choirs, such as the boys' choir at Wangaratta Cathedral.
At the age of 19 his father died in a car accident. Nick Cave later explained: "the loss of my father created in my life a vacuum, a space in which my words began to float and collect and find their purpose."

His singing career began with a proto-punk group “The Boys Next Door” in the late 1970’s, which coincides with his relationship with Anita Lane. He considered her as his muse exerting a lot of influence on his work. At the beginning of the 1980’s the group had a great success with its provocative and violent concerts in Australia, London and West-Berlin and changed its name to “The Birthday Party”.

Even if their witty and emotional music had a huge influence on the British rock scene, the band dissolved in 1984. At that time Nick Cave was already addicted to drugs and alcohol. Nevertheless that did not prevent him from creating a new band with a simpler and calmer style, “The Bad Seeds”, which is still productive today. Until now they have released 14 albums not counting singles and live albums. Their music presents an eclective hybridity of blues, rock and post-punk and their lyrics often deal with religion, death, love and America. His most famous songs are Where the Wild Roses grow (feat. Kylie Minogue) and Dig, Lazarus, Dig!.

From the 1990’s onwards, Nick Cave has been performing as a solo artist. Moreover he writes movie soundtracks (such as for Shrek 2, Le peuple migrateur, Scream 2 and 3 as well as for Hellboy) and novels. Last but not least he has also made occasional appearences in movies.
In the last 10 years he won several prizes for his music (MTV European Music Awards, ARIA Awards, MOJO Awards) and also got an award for And the Ass Saw the Angel as Book of the Year.

Anne-Sophie and Aurélie

[1] Quoted from; consulted 16 February 2009