I’m no scientist but I do share this trait of character that makes you expect respect for the conventions and consistency across languages, rules, and systems… I’d really find very difficult to build knowledge on without it.
I’m no scientist but I do share this trait of character that makes you expect respect for the conventions and consistency across languages, rules, and systems… I’d really find very difficult to build knowledge on without it.
I admit I’m quite bad at small talk. Weather is considered the universal topic to avoid awkwardness but if you meet me you are at risk to make it even more uncomfortable for you. In Ireland, where I live, weather is quite bad: rainy, often windy, and unstable. When people learn I come from Spain they either ask me whether I miss the Spanish weather or just directly assume so. Many people from the British Isles go to Spain on holiday every year, in most cases to the Mediterranean coast or the islands. Most of them completely ignore the northern half of the country, and after Madrid and Barcelona their inner Spanish geography handbook just includes important hotspots such as Ibiza, Mojácar, Benalmádena, Fuengirola and the like (with funny placename pronunciations which make it slightly difficult for me to guess). I’ve come across some folks who enjoy being and looking classy and let me know they’ve been to the real heartland of Spain, which seems to be between the centre and the North of the country. They do know indeed that the North is cooler.
I’ve been watching the Spanish weather forecast since last week and it seems that for most of the time my hometown of San Sebastian has been only a couple of Celsius degrees warmer than Dublin. For example last Monday (28th July) they were enjoying 22 Cº there for the 20 Cº we saw in Dublin. On the same date Madrid was boiling at 36ºC and some Spanish regions were around 40ºC. However my people in the northern corner near France were enjoying our oceanic climate, which is basically the same as in Britain and Ireland (with a few nuances). Regarding the 2 degree difference, it actually works like this around the year. Weather in San Sebastian is seldom more than 5 degrees hotter than in Dublin. It also rains quite a lot down there, so I’m not in the least annoyed by the rain here. In fact I only dare to call rain, like “real rain”, to what we experience in the Basque Country whereas Irish precipitation is mostly made up by thin drops of drizzle.
Wind is the really annoying part of the Irish weather in Dublin. It offers an awful chill factor and is responsible for the climatological lack of stability. It also makes umbrellas almost unusable. Very rarely you get soaked by the Irish drizzle so you could walking down the streets happy and umbrellaless most of the time. The main practical difference is that you can more or less predict how the day will turn out when you are in Spain whereas in Ireland you don’t know what the sky is going to bring you in the next half hour. Splendid sunny Spanish days that nothing can waste or days in which it won’t stop raining versus the lottery of Irish weather in which most of the tickets aren’t carrying great chances precisely.
Apart from that, the other element that annoys us Mediterraneans in the periphery of the continent is the lack of sunlight hours in winter. This effect of latitude conditions weather, but its effect in the human body (vitamin D) and joy for life is larger than the havoc a few wet days can cause. Anyway, there is some compensation for it in the longer summer days, especially in May-June-July where sunlight lasts until 23h.
So, no, I come from Northern Spain and the weather there is quite similar. I don’t miss the weather.
In April 2009 I stepped in Cologne. I arrived by train from Hanover in a night in which I hardly could see the monstrosity of its cathedral, just in front of the station. I used the following day to stroll around the most typical places of the city. I was a hot humid day which persuaded me not to follow upstairs to the spire of the cathedral. Luckily, the next day, in which I should follow my trip to a Duesseldorf, started clear and shiny, ideal for the scheduled ascent.
April 13 2009, Köln, armed with my camera. That day I could see a number of curious things that I list in chronological order:
One of the best-known German words among those who don’t speak German. We came across it in a sign to advise about the danger posed by the tramways. Certainly they are more difficult to be seen, and therefore more dangerous, when you walk looking to the ground, so the placement seems about right.
A pub named after a chess defence which includes a chess knight graffiti on its wall. Nothing special, but otherwise I wouldn’t reach the magical number fourteen.
3. Fist and ear statue.
My imagination does not reach the meaning of this statue. It must be the fight against deafness as much as the concept that listening to others makes us stronger. None of the ideas that came to my mind seem to be specially full of sense. Inside the ear there was litter and some cigs butts, but I’m quite sure it is not an ashtray.
4. Ice-cream on the top
Best location for tourist photos. I have one myself, ice-cream crashed on my head in tower-of-pisa fashion, which I don’t include here out of sheer shame.
5. Small piece in front of cathedral
The cathedral of Cologne is a spectacular mass. Certainly it is in the first place on the list of things worth seeing in town, but it has not place on this list. What does fit on my list of funny things is the piece in front of the cathedral of which it is said it is identical to the one on top of each of the towers, 140 metres above. One can imagine the efforts to put it up there. Awesome in every sense.
6. Pixelated glass.
There is an interesting example of stained glass inside the cathedral. It looks like a tribute to the geek world. The colours of stained glass have always fascinated me and this is no exception in spite of its low definition.
7. Goldfish lamp
In the old town, die Altstadt (actually not so old as not much of the city survived WW2) there’s an area of narrow streets and restaurants. In one of those this lamp held by a whale could be seen.
8. Football urinal
In an Italian restaurant’s gents there was a football-themed latrine with its goal and all that. There’s a pink football and even if I’m saying too much I’ll let you know that you can move the ball but it is impossible to score.
9. Street ground, orchestra ceiling.
The auditorium in which the Philharmonic rehearses is under the street, more specifically under a square beside the railway tracks. near the cathedral. Apparently, people stepping may disturb the acoustics, so whenever there’s a concert or rehearsal some men prevent pedestrian from stepping over the musicians.
10. Space invaders.
A friendly alien on a post beside the tracks. It must be one of those guerrilla art actions.
11. Love locks
This is a meme which has been spreading recently. I think I’ve heard the city of Florence is going to fine the assholes which may uglify it with this kind of junk. The happy couple places its lock with names or initial in a public place and then get rid of the key, or eat it, or keep it until their love is rust. In Cologne the chosen venue is such a city icon as the railway bridge.
12. Buildings in inverted L shape
Futuristic architecture is everywhere but it is still interesting to watch buildings of this type and size. As I saw them from the distance I’m not sure whether the shape is designed in order to keep the room at the base or to provide with shadow and shelter from the rain.
Germans love antiques in street markets. In this Flohmarkt (flea market, as it is in French or English) and other similar one can trade coins, stamps, old postcards. Also some more unusual stuff such as this elephant. I cannot imagine its price or the use it can serve.
14. Books as steps
A bookshop chain example of advertising in an underground crossing stairs. The concept is that each step represents the spine of a book. A metaphor full of beauty and wonder, as every book is a new step in life.
This post appeared originally in Spanish as Hamburgo
After several months 14 funny things I saw in Cologne about the city of Cologne (Köln), is one of the most successful posts in this blog, so I started working in an attempt to show some of the interesting things I could see in the Hanseatic city of Hamburg some days before. I’ll get the pictures out of its folder and will comment them more or less in chronological order.
The first day in town we were strolling around the city centre where we could see the German Theatre (Deutsches Schauspielhaus), which reminded me the Opera of Prague. Funnily, once we got closer we saw a plaque in which they mentioned the architect was actually the same man.
Hans Hummel. This water carrier is a typical character in Hamburg. He can be found in different places around the city, especially on postcards. Apparently he was one of Hamburg’s water carriers before the times of the running water, but he was also a poor man the children laughed at. The German Wikipedia says he lived between 1787 and 1854.
Some of the buildings in Hamburg made me remember the houses of Amsterdam. I’m not sure if the architectonic style when from city to city on the ships that sailed the northern seas. Art and commerce together.
From one of the wonderful bookshops of Hamburg (an urban feature from which Spain should learn) we can see the area of Jungfernstieg, a street in front of river Alster at Binnenalster, which seems a lake but it is not one. Hamburg is placed where two rivers meet. River Alster is a tributary of the Elbe. Interestingly, the port of Hamburg on the banks of the Elbe is 88 km away from the river mouth into the Baltic Sea. Hamburg, which boasts one of the most important ports of the world is a port city but not a seaside city.
Hamburg’s City Hall is a building of peculiar beauty. It is at the very centre of the city, a few metres away from Binnenalster. Even if we arrived at dusk and could not see its interior, it is not difficult to realise that this is an impressive building. I spent some time looking at statues, as the one of victorious archangel Michael. I still ignore what the function of the post in from of the city hall is, but it includes a nice ship on its top.
Beside the city hall there is a 3D map of the city centre. It is certainly some help for the blind and a pleasure for cartographers and map aficionados. Binnenalster and the city hall square in which the map sits can be seen perfectly. The farther side of the map represents the flow of the Elbe.
We came across the geographical coordinates of Hamburg 53°33′18″N 9°59′24″E in a shopping centre. For Spaniards, it is Important not to mix the O for Ost (East, in German) with the O for Oeste (Spanish for West, which in German is W, West, the same as in English). Meridian 10° E runs trough the city. In fact, Google Maps provides 53°33′55″N 10°00′05″E as coordinates.
In the underground station “Rathaus” (City Hall) the tiles in the wall showed the city’s coat of arms, which I’ve seen so many times on a coffee cup at home.
One thing which drew my attention was a lever to stop trains, if needed, sitting on the platform. I had seen this kind of device on trains, but never outside them.
The easter egg thing is not specifically from Hamburg, but a tradition in the whole Germany. The next morning we found several shrubs decorated with plastic eggs, but the real ones are edible. Typically, children paint them in gaudy colours.
Interesting architecture. Chilehaus, with its geometrical design, is one of the outstanding buildings in Hamburg. Seen from one of its angles it shows a ship shape. It is said that the project was commissioned by a man who became wealthy in Chile. Among other things, it houses Instituto Cervantes.
Hamburg is the capital for Germany’s newspapers, publishers and media. In your walk you’ll recognize the famous names.
The storehouse area is a whole journey to the 19th century. I loved coming a cross an old small Volkswagen Beetle beside the old depots.
Speicherstadt. When I arrived in this place I experienced some kind of déjà-vu, as I knew it thanks to old photographs, even if I didn’t know that it was in Hamburg. The ship could be unloaded directly into the warehouses. Today the whole area is being renovated.
A dream for the future. This infographic shows the project for the new building of the Philarmonic, on the banks of the Elbe. The base of the future building is on the left of the image. It will be very recognizable, beside the river. I’d love coming some time and listen to a Wagner opera.
We took a boat tour around the port on that same day. It is a very pleasant experience which I recommend to everyone visiting Hamburg, but there are some many views that the tour deserves its one post. I hope you enjoyed this photos to the point that they are some encouragement to visit this city.
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is an animal to be found all around Europe, Ireland included. It is not so usual that they show up in urban areas in daytime. A couple of weeks ago we were in a café, looking through the window. This place is at The Point, an area of Dublin relatively close to the city centre (5 minutes by car or 25 on foot to O’Connell Bridge in the main street). Suddenly three foxes enter a depot.
At first time they could have been taken by dogs, but they had that gait so peculiar in foxses. My photographs are not so good, as the distance was a considerable one and there was a dusted pane of glass in the middle.
Then I investigated and read a little about this animal. Apparently they don’t go out to see the sunlight or populated areas but in their reproductive period, from December to February, the dog follows the vixen wherever she goes without caring about safety or survival. In fact, the couple of foxes that appears in the photograph was sniffing around the railway facilities and from time to time they stopped to mate.
The third fox arrived some fifteen minutes later and enter the warehouse that can be seen beside the van on the first photograph. The couple ended up crossing the tracks en mounting the coal load in the background. I think the rail tracks, combined with the Royal Canal, may be the corridor by which these animals access the city.
In any case this was a little uncommon experience and an opportunity to learn something about Irish wildlife.
* A blog about foxes in Ireland, in which they say they even get into houses in the noblest neighbourhoods of this capital.
I threw a fiver at this book on my last extravagant spree. I wouldn’t have paid it by its nominal price but then again, what are discount bookshops for? I was intrigued and looking forward to finding out whether it actually contained some user-friendly software with which you’d be drawing nice lines on top-quality or at least funny maps. Not at all. Actually, the CD includes several country layered maps in psd format for which you will need Adobe Photoshop or similar. The book is made out of a series of screenshots which actually may come in handy, as I’ve always hated to jump from on tab to the next, back and forward, which ends up happening whenever you are checking an online tutorial. Good for a fiver, but nothing special.
En mi último arrebato consumista he tirado cinco leuros en la compra de este bonito libro con cedél. No hubiera pagado los veinte papeles que se supone que cuesta ni harto de grifa, pero para eso tenemos librerías de descatalogados. Creía que en el cedé vendría algún programa fácil de usar con el que trazar rayitas en mapas curiosos pero nainas. Vienen unos cuantos mapas en formato psd con sus capas y tal, pero para los que hace falta Adobe Photoshop a algún programa parecido. El libro está hecho a base de pantallazos que en un momento dado pueden venir bien, por el rollazo que es andar saltando como poseido de una pestaña a otra, que es lo que uno acaba haciendo cuando uno consulta un manual en el propio ordenador. Que por cinco euros no está mal, pero tampoco es nada del otro jueves.
In order to spend a weekend and visit some friends I travelled with some other friends to Milan five years ago. I believed the trip pictures were in the hard drive of that old laptop from which I still need to rescue stuff, but luckily I had save them in one of the DVDs that I seldome made in my rare attacks of lucidity. I’ve spent a nice time watching them and I may publish some at any moment. The first thing I’ll drop is an advertising billboard (or may be not, as I never quite knew what it was advertising) that we came across at Linate airport. It was a very beautiful world map and I couldn’t resist the temptation to take it with me, in my camera.
It was quite large due to the hurry to get out of the airport, the lugagge , the passport control and stuff I didn’t manage to take a whole picture of it. I first thought I would just drop these two with maximum definition, but it is maybe more interesting to go into details:
In Europe we have a nice collection of clichés. Sure I don’t know all of them but, for instance, I can see a bull saying hola! in Spain (and Portugal?). Also a guitar and some wine; a shoe probably for the zapateado and a cathedral that looks like Barcelona’s Holy Family, but placed rather in Santiago. Italy, ciao bella, is inescapably a boot. We also have the English bobby and the Irish shamrock, a Balkanic ballerina, a cook which is maybe from Croatia and a Turkish or Greek waiter. Most of my dear Estern Europe is woodlands in Germany there are sausages, beer and a horse! Scandinavia is a place of wood, skates, deer, sleighs, viking helmets and liquors and in the Russian motherland we can see the Kremlin, matrioshkas, icons and space shuttles from Baikonur. And the decorated eggs called pisanky. Last but not least, the Caucasus is a place of tractors and mountains.
I don’t know so much about Asia and I expect to be missing even more, but I can see that Russia says до свидания to say farewell to Europe and then a quite empty Siberia is filled with pictures from which the Russians extract petrol barrels and gas. Then the Chinese Great Wall, an important defence element whose main mission is to have hundreds of restaurants named after itself. China is reduced to a water buffalo and the spiky Himalayan mountains; a rice bowl and a the multi-colour terracotta army. The Indian subcontinent is represented with images of The Book of the Jungle: elephants and snakes, frankincense and a holy man. In Indochina, a big-bellied Buddha and a Balinese dancer, mountains that could be Krabi islands. Korea is a dragon and Japan is a geisha ¿is it possible that a football player, a memento of that World Cup, sits between them?
Africa is the craddle of mankind. If we start in the Maghreb we find some mountaints that must be the Atlas, palm trees, camels, heaps of sand and the pyramids of Egypt. A little farther away in Palestine is where God lives and that’s why his eye is showing up. In the Gulf of Guinea, masks and djembes and also a football, probably because the best teems in the continent (Ghana, Ivory Coast) belong to the area. Southwards the wildlife including giraffes, zebras, elephants, lions… and the Madagascan lemur.
America is the most mixed continent. Canada shows up a a huge nature reserve. The United States are the largest arrival country and the iconic one par excellence. The skyscrapers in its Big Apple, its Route 66, baseball, Californian paradise. Mexico looks just like holidays and sombreros and farther South we’ve got pre-Columbian pyramids, many palm-trees, some Amazonian Indian, the Corcovado Christ, o futebol, and the imposing Andes.
In Oceanía everything is commonplace: kangaroos, boomerangs, crocodiles, koalas, dreamlines, rugby and the typical hat. I can see a bit of green Kiwi sheep. I never understood whether the continent is Australia or Oceania. I will have to study better both continents and what they contain.
If anybody detects an object that I may have omitted (I simply couldn’t write about them all) with an interesting name or story, I thank you in advance for the comment.
This is the approximate translation of a previous post: Catorce cosas curiosas que vi en Colonia, originally written in Spanish.
I passed by Cologne in April 2009. I came from Hannover, arriving in town one night in which I just could admire the enormity of its cathedral, which can be found next to the train station. I devoted the next day to go around the most typical places of the city. It was a hot, humid day that made me give up the idea of ascending up to the belfry of the cathedral tower. Luckily the following day (in which I had to go to Duesseldorf) showed up shiny and clear: clearly favourable to the expected ascension.
Köln, 13 April 2009. Armed with my camera I saw a series of funny things that I list in strictly chronological order:
One of the better-known words among those who don’t speak the German language. We can find it here, in a sign advising of the danger implicit to tramways. Certainly, tramways are more difficult to be seen -and therefore more dangerous- when one walks looking down. Thus its placement seems appropriate.
A bar named after a chess opening. It also has a grafitto representing a chess knight on its wall. Nothing special, but I need help to reach the magical number fourteen.
3. Fists-and-ear statue.
I simply cannot imagine what this statue is representing. It may be struggle as much as deafness or the idea that listening to others makes us stronger. None of the things that came to my mind seems to make total sense. There was litter inside the ear, butts mainly, but I do not thing it was an ashtray at all.
4. Ice-cream on the attic
A favourite of the tourist photos. I have one myself, I just don’t show it out of embarrasment. It is in Pisa-tower style, the ice-cream seems to have landed on my head.
5. The littel piece in front of the cathedral
The cathedral of Cologne is a spectacular monstrosity. Certainly it goes first on the list of things worth seeing in the city. It just does not fit in this list. We can make some room among the funny things for the piece in front of the Dom. It is said that the piece is identical to the one on top of each of the towers, 140 metres over the ground level. One can hardly imagine the effort to put it up there. Formidable, in every sense.
6. Pixelled stained-glass window.
Inside the cathedral this curious stained-glass window can be found. It looks like a tribute to the geek world. I’ve always been fascinated by the colours of stained-glass windows and this one is no exception in spite of its low definition.
7. The fish lantern
In the old town, die Altstadt (actually not so old as not much of the city survivied WWII) there is an area of narrow streets and restaurants. In one of them I found this lantern, with a whale as ornament.
8. Soccer latrine
This urinary was in an Italian restaurant’s gents’, goal included. There’s a pinkish football and even if I’m telling too much I muss confess that you can move the ball, but it is impossible to score.
9. Urban ground, Philarmonic ceiling.
The auditorium in which the Philarmonic plays is under ground, specifically under a square next to the railways and close to the cathedral. Apparently, people’s steps disturb the acustics, so whenever there is a concert or an audition, some gentlemen prevent pedestrians from stepping over the musicians.
10. Space invaders.
A friendly alien on a post beside the railways. It must be one of those guerrilla art stunts.
11. Love locks
This one is a meme which has been expanding lately. I think I read that the city of Florence is going to fine the dummies which make it look ugly with this junk. The happy couple places a lock with their names or initials in a public bridge and then they throw the key away or eat it or keep it until the point of oxidation. The iconic train bridge is the selected place in Cologne.
12. Building in inverted-L shape
Futuristic architecture has arrived everywhere, but buildings this size and kind are still curious to see. As I just watched them in the distance, I’m not sure whether their reason is to preserve the space on the ground or to provide it with shade and shelter against the rain.
Germans love antiques markets. Coins, stamps and old postcards can be traded in this Flohmarkt (literally “flea market”) and similar ones. Also some funnier items, such as this elephant. I can’t imagine its price or what it is good for.
14. Books as stairs
In an underground pass, advertising for a bookshop chain. The idea is that the stairs represent the book spines. A beautiful and funny metaphor, as each book is a new step in life.
This is the approximate translation of a previous post: “Breslavia, 20 de febrero de 2010“, originally written in Spanish.
Some weeks ago, the tragedy of the Polish presidential plane crashing in Smolensk made me think about Katyn again, and also about that war and the idea of Poland and Polish identity. Some time ago the similarity between Poland and Korea occurred to me and how strange it is that both countries have survived sandwiched by such large empires or cultures. To be honest the simil is nothing but the typical nationalist deformation of history but it is not exempt of interest. Poland between Germany (Austria-Prussia) and Russia; Korea between China and Japan.
Actually, there are ways to imagine Poland inside the Russian Empire as Catalonia is inside Spain today. They would have been Catholic Slavs, one more nationality withing the Great Russian Motherland. Even more in a 19th century in which Eastern Europe was all about cultural and ethnic diversity. However, the story is what it was and if 19th century was the century of nationalisms, the wars of the 20th century and the population movements in its aftermath would consolidate them. The stones of our Breslau-Wrocław know well.
When I first read about Katyn I denied the facts. The Nazis had to be the perpetrators. I even believed , for a long time, that the pact Molotov-von Ribbentrop was a necessary wrong for the expansion of socialism. The story of the Polish-Russian relations is a complex one. It’s true that Stalinism assessinated more that twenty thousand Poles at Katyn, but the Soviet Union also won a country for Poland, or for a certain Poland, or to grab what today is Western Ukraine. Anyway, without the participation of the USSR Wrocław would still be a German city.
The exiled Polish Government in London (whose last president also died in Kaczynsky’s plane) was prepared to return to the 1939 borders. However, the new Polish communist government wanted and should annexionate Silesia and Pomerania. They needed that space to fit the “repatriated” from the Kresy. They called the conquered territories “recovered”, based on the borders of the territories of the Piast dinasty in the 12th century. Hardly a word in a Slavic language had been heard West of in the last two centuries. The population of the whole of the Lower Silesia and Oppeln (Polish: Opole) was German and mixed in Upper Silesia. That fact contributed to the expulsion of almost all of the Lower Silesians whereas in Oppeln and Upper Silesia some Polonizable were left. That’s the origin of the German minority that still exists in Poland, that sometimes defines itslef as “Silesian” and had to go through a process of Degermanization during the four decades of Communist regime.
The denazaification policies were also policies of degermanization. Wrocław’s last German school closed in 1963. Nowadays advertising for bilingual schools can be seen around. It is complicated to find vestiges of German culture. Old signs, memorials. In most places cemeteries graves were destroyed. Some old plaques can be found at St Elizabeth. Searching this legacy is as much of an interesting passtime as the photographic safari of dwarfs and gnomes.
The Rynek is a good place to start the passtime. For example, the statue of the writer Alexander Fedro is in the same pace as the previous occupiers’ Kaiser Wilhelm. Under the City Hall, which nowadys is a Ratusz and it was a Rathaus in the past, there is a famous restaurant, one of the oldest in Europe, as we were told. It is Świdnica’s cellar (Piwnica Świdnica), called in German Sweidnitz Keller, named after the city which rivalled Breslau in days of yore.
Not everything is about nacionalization. That’s maybe a process which is exhausted by its own success. Other processes are at work today: multiculturalism, globalization. A walk around the Rynek gives us the chance to see fast-food and sushi restaurants, and a salsa den named -in Spanish- La Casa de la Música. This is globalization working at its best. It first arrives to capital cities and then to cities with airports. Border areas are the first ones to receive the influx of funds and cultural influences.
That’s how pizzerias, hotel chains, rent-a-car companies and dealers of cars and foreign brands which fight for a niche in the market fill the landscape and the vocabulary with strangely spelled words. All of it mixed with the local roots and the history of the place. In the North side of the Rynek there is a bar called pod Zlotym Jeleniem (the golden deer) and the Schubert jeweller’s, some antiques shops, the aforementioned Casa de la Música and a Taverna Española (with a v, but in Spanish the word must be written with a b: Taberna).
Then we left the Rynek towards the Northwest and passed by one of the most damaged areas of the city during the war. That’s why the houses have been substituted by Soviet-style concrete blocks. It is easy to criticize their ugliness, but it is likely that they saved the lives of many in years in which life allowed for very few embellishments. Wita Stwosza, close to the church of St Mary Magdalene.
Following that street you can reach a Gallery Dominikanska, where one can see a Germanic invasion through commercial brands and shop chains. A functional building, converted into a capitalist temple. Twenty years back, one of these would have seemed impossible. We head to another temple, this one about the identity of the country and the city, which is also very intersesting in order to understand how it has been built: the Panorama Racławice.
The Panorama Racławice is a masterpiece worth seeing. Actually is a picture. Several canvasses in circular sucession giving form to the landscape in which the Battle of Racławice was fought. This battle saw Russian and Polish troops facing each other in 1794. The space between the platform from which the observers admire the work of art and the picture itself is covered by earth, vegetation, war spoils and other atrezzo elements that highlight the feeling of authenticity.
So far, nothing special except artistic greatness. The point is that the picture used to be exhibited in de city of Lvov (Polish: Lwów), now in the Ukraine, but pertaining to Poland before WWII. Apparently, most of those who repopulated Wrocław during and after the expulsion of the Germans came from Lwóv and around and they brought along their masterpiece. The problem was that the piece represented the victory of the 18th-century Poles against the Russians, then their enemies, but allied in the communist block one and a half centuries later. The panorama could not be exhibited for more than forty years. In the socialist Republic of Poland, Polish nationalism was a key element of political direction as far as it was anti-German, but it could never appear as anti-Russian. For the sake of the relations with the Soviet Union, proletarian internationalism and panslavic brotherhood could be taken out of the Marxist resources library. Hence the big lie of Katyn and others which live to this day.
I have the impression that Poles look at their history with a certain victimism and from outside it. Today it is very easy to criticize the Soviet Union and boast about anticommunism. It is hard to find a communist Pole or an openly francoist Spaniard, but it would be very difficult to explain how those regimes could last forty years which such a meagre social base. I admit that the sample of the people I talk to must be quite biased, as I have never ever found and Italian who admitted having voted for Berlusconi. In general, Poles have spoken to me about Communists using the past tense and the third person in plural, as if they were aliens. Regarding Russia, in spite of the slight improvement after the joint commemoration of Katyn y and the tragedy of Smolesk, the love-hate relationship between both Slavic brothers is a thorny one. I’d guess the Lower Silesians know the USSR won the war and this Silesian country for them.
From outside the building of Panorama the Cathedral can be seen, across the Oder (Polish: Odra). Before being there I had seen some short footage filmed in the city in en 1938 which starts with the same take. The fact that it was filmed in colour, infrequent in the 1930s, called my attention. Some sights of the city can be seen. A German military officer and his son go to the Polish border, that back then was quite far away.
Citing Goethe, Singer or Zymborska may be more appropriate but when I think in this city, the extermination of its Jews and the Jews of all of Central and Eastern Europe, or when I think in that German Breslau which does not exist anymore and other exteinct universes I understood Machado’s “yo amo los mundos sutiles, ingrávidos y gentiles como pompas de jabón” (I love the subtle worlds / weightless and charming / worlds like soap-bubbles).
Then we went to see the cathedral. A walk among the bridges. This is the oldest area of the city in which the first pre-historic settlements happened. I stopped to observe the cross in whose base the image of Saint John Nepomucene being thrown to the Moldau in Prague was sculpted. Then I had the occasion to see a similar image in Świdnica. Saint John’s cult was very popular in Bohemia and Silesia. Saint Hedwig (Polish: Jadwiga) is the local female saint.
A brief stopover in Hala Targowa market, which is a market as any other. More attractive outside than inside, where its looks can’t escape the concrete ugliness. In front of it, quite old, ramshackle tramways still pass by.
Then we head to the university, where the Aula Leopoldina can be visited. We didn’t like it as we found it to baroque and overelaborate, even if its style causes a certain impression. There is an interesting exhibition on the Nobel prizes who were part of the institution. It is said that Wrocław is the Easternmost city of Poland, as its post-war population comes from the Ukrainian border. The Universitas Wroclawiensis has been called University of Lwów in Wrocław, as its after-the-war organizers came from there. There are several other exhibitions. The meridian 17 goes through the building and it is marked on the floor. The best ending for the visit is the city views from the attic.
The morning flew away after all this. We went for lunch to the Świdnica cellar, inside the City Hall. Some special pierogys helped us to get warm. Then we had time for some gnome photographs and to go down the Świdnica street (before equally called Schweidnitzstrasse) to do the walk around the wall, close to the Hotel Metropol, and then return to the city centre and Rynek through the Salt Square.
February in Wrocław and me being unfair, thinking of cold and war and the past of the city that was.
“Politics is show business for ugly people”
I would have preferred to start this essay with a quotation by William Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely Players; / They have their Exits and their Entrances, / And one man in his time playes many parts…” (Shakespeare, ‘As you like it’). This is one of my favourites but Shakespeare is, perhaps, too deep. And the world seems not to be deep; or at least this post-modern world, which is a world of surfaces, in which everything seems ephemeral and shallow.
The works of Shakespeare are eternal, but the world in which we live is rather similar to Jay Leno or his programme. Something we use and forget, so quoting him it seems more appropriate. Comparing the world with a stage is a great idea. In fact, Leno is using it adding a classification for the kind of audience that fits the political drama. Leno is funny, brief and sharp and this is appreciated nowadays. Shakespeare is wit, formal and slow, definitely does not belong to our era.
Shakespeare worked in the sixteenth-century show business and Leno is doing it now. Both introduce a lot of political features in their shows. There are differences of course, as Shakespeare catered for a few hundreds and the NBC reaches millions. And Leno is more conscious of his power than Shakespeare was. Still they are show business people. The most important difference can be found in the means they use to reach their audience.
The media had a very important role in shaping the world of the twenty-first century as we see it today: as a huge theatre. Media have being building our image of the world, which is so much as building the world itself in our minds. For many things, if does not matter if what we think is real or not, but which our beliefs and attitudes are.
The importance of the media is such that the have made our world to be one only stage in which everybody can be audience; many want to be players, but there is no time for everybody to act, so you have to be cunning and fast and smart if you want to be seen. If you are not seen, you do not exist. Everything happens under the light of the media.
Of course everybody is audience, but everybody is a player as well. (Or at least at some occasions) Even the owners of this special theatre are players. So everything is confusing and blurred and a mess. We still think under old paradigms that were created to explain what it use to happen, but a lot of technological change and new needs have arose and the world is not the same any more. And our old ideas are not useful to understand it.
Media are not media any more. They are not in the middle between politicians and society or between citizens and reality. They take part. They have interests or they are owned by people that have interests.
But we cannot identify show business with media. Perhaps media are not media, but business is always business (as usual) and that means money. Something dirty, something we would not like to interfere with our values. But it does. Show business is an ugly face of media, because is not guided by noble ideals, but directed to sell. Then, if politics mix with show business we do not like it, because it should be something higher. At least, news programs are supposed to be objective (are not they?) but also their border with entertainment is blurred. But, show business? We know we do not want politics to become it.
Why for ugly people? The sentence is very political in a sense. It seems to be advising people not to care about politics. Why should we? If we already have him to tell us what the world is about. To campaign in favour of the war in Iraq, for example. Otherwise, we would turn into the natural target group of politics and politicians, the ugly people. Beautiful people watch funny programs. But it seems to me that beauty fades, and politics remain; and that Leno and others intervene from a political position. Politicians use programmes as Leno´s as a platform to help their interest. Everything quite mixed, blurred, confused. We are going to analyze it now, but the kind of wit Shakespeare and Leno had shown in building their concepts is a good metaphor to show the difference between the old politics and the new politics.
There is an old debate about what politics is. We can go back toGreeceto find a venerable answer to the question by Plato or Aristotle. Or we can stay closer and see in Machiavelli or Marx, if politics is about strategy to remain in power or about social classes. I would have liked to ask Schmitt if politics is about who rules or ask the sweet Hannah Arendt whether she still believes politics is a space of freedom in which we can grow together enjoying human diversity.
Even we chose the best theoretical frame, and then we would still have the problem that the frontiers of the discipline are moving continuously. So things that were not part of the political scope fifty years ago have become part of it now and vice versa. But for the objective of this essay any of their definitions should suit. Actually, some sort of sentence like “everything is politics” could do.
We could discuss what people understand as politics. Probably, nothing very specific, something blurred. Perhaps, if we ask people what politics is they would identify it with a section on the newspaper, or with the first part of the TV news. In this sense, media play an important role in determining what politics is (something which is not sports or economy or society).
If we blurred it completely, then there would be no possible solution for our research. So at least we need something which is specifically political: some actors, as people holding public positions and candidates on their way to obtain them, some institutions as the Parliament or political parties and some decisions of special importance to the society. From this neo-institutionalist point of view we can start to sort things out.
We also must say that we are going to check the kind of process in which politics becomes a form of show business in the Western-style democracies. Those political systems in which the flow of information goes from elite to mass and vice versa. This may not be so typical from authoritarian regimes, in which the information works only from above downwards. (Fagen 1966)
This cultural relativism can be criticized, but politics is about management of the social conflict, and the preservation of human life all around the world. This phenomena of banality in politics seems to belong to countries in which levels of well-being and individual freedom are so well assured that people are not very sharply affected by the kind of policies applied.
3. Show business.
I am ugly enough so that I can study Political Science, but for “show business” I had to look up in the dictionary. It said “those involved in providing entertainment: radio and television and films and theater”. According to some other dictionaries the term is a little old-fashioned and derogatory, so the politically correct thing to say is “the entertainment industry”, also “showbiz” is a synonym, but does not make the concept look deserving of respect.
Sincerely I am not surprised of the negative connotation of the term, as in Spanish, my mother tongue, the English term is frequently used in a derogatory sense which implies frivolity, banality and so on. Then, associating politics to it implies some deficit politics has in relation to what it should be. I think there is some moral judgement implicit in the question. I will not try to answer to the question if this is bad or good. I would be happy enough if I can discover clues that demonstrate whether it happens or not.
4. Is show business politics?
Why if we swap the elements in the question? I think everybody would agree that show business has a lot of political consequences. We do not need to think of Reagan or the Philippines president Estrada (an actor and a singer that were elected Presidents of their countries) to realize that radio, television, and films and theatre can convey political messages. The American army is the most powerful Army in the world, they have bases in different countries.Hollywoodis something similar, it does not deploy troops and weapons, but it deploys stereotypes and values.
In a sense, everything is related to politics. But show business is so in a very special way as it owns and uses the same channels to transmit is product to us as the political actors do. Something that does not happen with, say, sport. Even if we try to make a political rally out of a football match, because “the means is the message” as Marshall Mc Luhan already said in the sixties, so whenever we are connected to it, we are getting something additional
For instance, Jay Leno is a political star. People watch him and people like him, so they are open to listen to his message. When Leno endorsed Schwarzenegger when he was running to become Governor of California. Surely, it affected the decision of some people for that election. When we have seen George W Bush entering Leno´s programme on a motorbike to have a chat with his pal Jay: that’s politics. Then, at least, presenters that have a lot of personal charm and can decide on the contents of their programmes have a lot of political power.
In Spain, Javier Sardá tried to follow the line of Leno´s programme in “Cronicas Marcianas” broadcast by Telecinco. During 2003 he was very hard against the Government of José María Aznar. A former collaborator, Manel Fuentes, started a show “La noche de Fuentes”, also on Telecinco and he invited politicians to talk about everything but politics. Some jokes about politics and a lot of what-is-your-favourite-dish questions.
We have seen Martin Sheen campaigning against war onIraq. We know the political activities of Glenda Jackson. The people of the stage enter the political arena. Joan Baez and other sang against Vietnam War; Bruce Springsteen and REM on tour, campaigning for John Kerry in this month of October 2004.
All those showbiz stars bring their charisma to the political stage. They know they have an influence on people and they use it. Sometimes, this use is conscious and planned. Sometimes it goes together with their work. Sometimes they are part of some larger process occurring in the long term.
5. Is politics show business?
This is the important question. If we say: nay, it is not, then politics will remain something serious and solid. Something reliable in which we can trust to solve the problems of our societies. If we say: yes, it is, then politics will be, or has become (or perhaps it always was) a product of our market economy. Something to use and dispose, something not to trust much, something that money and greed make work as most of the things. Nothing of it will be spiritual or high or noble.
According to what we have seen in the definition by the dictionary, politicians can provide with entertainment (and they do so), but this seems something accessory. We do not pay them for it. In some sense they belong to the show business, in some sense they do not.
I am not able to choose between one of those options. I would rather say that politics nowadays has acquired a lot of the elements of the show business. This is due to the fact that the capacity to transmit information has increased exponentially, but our time to process it has reduced in a rate that we prefer others to do the job for us.
Everything can be watched, so politicians are in the same position as the contestant of reality-shows as “Big Brother”. Even if they do what they would do in natural contexts, they are acting for the show business. They act, because people are watching. It does not matter if they want it or not.
Some politicians, as Kennedy, realized from an early time the power of the television. Now as the information is becoming multimedia, politicians have run to be the first online politician. Five years after the boom of the Internet is hard to imagine a significant politician without his own webpage.
Now, not only what they say is important. Also how they say it, or the suit they are wearing while they say it. And a lot of people demand very different things from them so they have to use different disguises to play different parts, as Shakespeare said. So, the patriotic suit (dark blue, with red tie that reminds the strips and stars) has become a uniform for the American politicians in patriotic moments. Or just jeans and baseball cap, so that American people can see they are normal Americans when they are at home with their families.
Sense of humour is another of those things that in the old times you just cared for when it came to friends and partner. Now we demand it from politicians too. Reagan was a good example, very good jokes. Felipe González had good sense of humour and a charming accent that helped him to remain in office for 14 years (1982-96). Now we can see them. Churchill was a moving voice in the radio with moving things to say. Now you can see the whole of the person. Sometimes voice and speech do not fit, or do not fit with appearance. In the EU summit is not nice if your President is not as tall as the others and so on.
6. Becoming a minor form
Has it become or has it not become? That is the question. Maybe, politics has not changed so much. Perhaps it was always this way. Something about concealing your real intentions behind noble ideals, this idea brings us back to Machiavelli. Or some way to show what you wanted to show. Rumours, complots and campaigns have always been there, we know them from Roman times.
Of course, the development of the technology we use to transmit information and the extension of the political field to virtually everybody suppose a significant change, as in days of old, politics was the activity of a few and there was not much chance for an outsider to know what was happening. But were not they playing a show business for it? Perhaps politics has not changed, it is only played by more actors. The actors know more about the game and its rules. Same in football for children and for professionals, let´s say.
What I would not agree on is that politics is a minor form of show business. If it is at all, then it is the major of the show business forms. Because the most important plays are played on that stage. It can be minor in the sense that the core of politics is, maybe, not affected by the elements imported from the showbiz. In this sense, there is a hard core which is about beliefs, and plans and ideals, one that marketing and advertising cannot reach.
Perhaps Jay Leno is funny. Perhaps George Bush is also funny. But there is still a significant difference. Because the latter can freeze your salary, or send you son toIraq, or raise your tax level or decide on many important things of your life. So we can say there are non-political actors that hold political power, which is a power not exactly of the same kind the tradition political actors have. Actually, this power is very similar to the one the political parties in the opposition have: the power to denounce, to claim to influence the public opinion.
It is true that we can compare politics to show business, in the sense that they share a lot of elements. People from the show business enter the political arena. Politicians try to be handsome and attractive as if they were sex-symbols. They can even intend to play the saxophone so that we think it is nice to be ruled by them.
It has something to do with the classification of the types of domination designed by Weber. Even if in the Western world rationality prevails over tradition and charisma, charisma is still an important feature in politics. So outsiders from the show business can provide with plenty of it.
Also political parties are something very similar to corporations. They have a brand and a logo, and invest money and sell us hope. And the kind of advertising they use for their ideas and their candidates is very similar to what we should expect from any other company advertising a product. There are efficient designs and creative people that understands fashion and good-taste behind of that.
Everything has to be well cooked, but it has to appear in front of a camera. If the audience (if the citizens) do not know about it. It virtually does not exist, as a programmed we retire from broadcasting and put on a shelf.
But still, behind politics we find people fighting for what they think is fair. Or people trying to get a better world, or people that would not sell their ideas for a few more votes. There are people voting their whole-life party, because they are faithful to some ideals. For those politics is not something temporary or ephemeral or appealing. They think is a serious business even if it adapts to a changing world.
Basically politics is larger than show business, so the latter is more likely to enter the political field than vice versa. Even if Clinton played the saxophone occasionally to satisfy either his ego or his electors, even if Berlusconi has recorded a CD, I can see more examples of show business becoming politics than the other way round.
So my answer to the question has to be: No, politics has not become a form of minor show business (yet); even if sometimes it seems so. It has not because it is a major area of human life. We have seen several examples. We want to decide. We do not care if we are ugly.
CICERO, Q. T, Breviario de campaña electoral (Commentariolum petitionis) , Acantilado 2003.
COLOMÉ, G. Política y medios de comunicación: una aproximación teórica, 1994 available in www.diba.es/flordemaig/documents/cil/activitats/seminaris_conferencies/comunicacio_govern_local/doc4.pdf
FAGEN, R.R.: Politics and communication.Boston, Little Brown, 1966.
MCLUHAN, M.H.: Understanding Media.New York, McGraw-Hill, 1965.
Jay Leno´s program webpage:
 As Andy Warhol said it “in the future everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes”
 Media is the plural of the Latin word “medium”: something in the middle.
 Leno said on his programme: “I don’t know why people are surprised that France won’t help us get Saddam out ofIraq. After all,France wouldn’t help us get the Germans out of France!”, he made several comments supporting the war on Iraq.
 As an example of the former we have the environmental issues; as an example of the latter, the State does not interfere anymore with citizens’ sexual options.
 How come economy or society are not politics?
 WordNet ® 2.0, 2003PrincetonUniversity
 The breviary of campaign by Quintus Tullius Cicero “Comentariolum petitionis” is a good example of it.