Saturday, July 08, 2006

the fireworks

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Foire St Jean

Went to this fair ground with two friends one night...mostly attracted by the fireworks display on offer, and wanted to know what a French fair looked like. Pretty much the same games, rides and extortionary prices.

What was surprising were the number of young children and babies at the fair, even well after 'bedtime'!!

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Did you just...

…smile at me, Baby Sunny?

I was feeding your what has now become almost insatiable apetite. I held the bottle up to your sucking lips with one hand, and held your head up with the other hand. You drank and drank your way again into a world of dreams and pleasure as the show of satisfaction appeared on your face. Then you shook your head as if to say you’ve had enough. I removed the bottle from your lips, and you suckled a few last drops around your mouth. Then with one eye open, one eye closed you stared at me, and smiled.

They said the first time a baby smiles at you would be a special event. Never did I expect this strange sense of joy arise inside. Never did I realise that a little being as little as you could again touch me so.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Affair: Final Act

To follow up on the last chapter of the Ayaan Hirsi Ali affair: she finally got her Dutch citizenship back, but not without a foul stench in the air.

Reminder: The whole case erupted because a (sensationalist) investigative journalist programme ‘exposed’ the fact that the prominent Somali-born Member of Parliament had ‘lied’ about her name and date of birth when she first came to the Netherlands. Minister Verdonk for Integration first says there’s no need to worry, then promptly starts an investigation and within 48 hours it was decided that Ayaan is to be considered never having received Dutch citizenship. Ayaan then forfeits her right to be MP, because to be an MP you must be Dutch.

Now Minister Verdonk decided that Ayaan DID obtain her citizenship after all, and this is despite the fact that she argues her decision previously to revoke Ayaan’s status was correct.

In a letter by Minister Verdonk, Ayaan could use the name Hirsi Ali because according to Islamic tradition, Ayaan’s father’s father received the name at birth, and only acquired the (real) name Magan later on. Verdonk goes to great lengths about why this is acceptable, and backs this up with evidence that leaves a “reliable impression”. With regards to the incorrect details about Ayaan’s year of birth (1969, instead of 1967 as was given), Verdonk makes a sweeping conclusion in this respect: once the name is identified, then the exact date of birth is of no relevance. The date of birth is on its own not enough reason to doubt the identity of the person concerned. Thus Ayaan did get her citizenship in 1997.

So what was all the fuss about? Why did Verdonk say in May that Ayaan should be considered not having ever received Dutch citizenship—as a result of which Verdonk effectively forced a standing MP out of office? Perhaps, as many pundits have suggested, Verdonk saw the ‘Ayaan Hirsi Ali card’ as an opportunity to bolster her own ‘tough’ image in the candidacy for her party leader election (which she lost).

At the end of the letter she adds staunchly, in her own defence:

“I conclude that without the procedures I followed through, the facts that
were decisive for the conclusion that I have just reached would not have

In an ‘Overview of Facts’ [Feitenrelaas] released by the Ministry of Justice, it was perfectly clear that the Immigration Service as well as the Security Service (AIVD) were both well aware of the fact that AHA’s name was different—this as far back as 2002. In September of that year, AHA revealed in a TV (Barend en Van Dorp) interview that she gave incorrect information on her asylum application. When this was brought to the attention of the VVD party, the party top did not consider it an issue. And further no other investigation was conducted into the matter.

A reserved Ayaan writes in a statement taking all the blame that had been pointed toward Minister Verdonk. She should not have said she ‘lied’—for that was the spark that unleashed the political wildfire— but instead she should have gone into great lengths and unearthed documentary evidence of her clang history, and that she should dusted off ancient Somali tradition and codes of conduct on names to clarify that under Somali tradition Ali, the name of her grandfather, can also be used, and she chose to do that when applying for naturalisation:

“My announcement that I lied about my identity does not reflect reality.
Here it is more about facts that the minister [Verdonk] could not know about and
I have complete understanding for [the way] she behaved as she did. I regret
that with my announcement had put her on in the wrong. I shall continue through
life as Ayaan Hirsi Ali.”

All of a sudden the wrong doer becomes the righteous judge simply performing her task, while the victim becomes the scapegoat for her ‘slip of the tongue’. Let’s not forget who was the one who reversed her decision and remarks again, and again, and again. Sounds like someone forced Ayaan to write, or at least make, the statement!

An opinion in the NRC Handelsblad about this shady Hagueian deal:

“[…] It is the worst possible example of Hagueian comprise: all
involved parties are of the opinion that everyone’s position has been justified.
But outside the circle of consensus it is clear that the solution is

Attached to the chosen solution lies above all a
dubious [concession]. Hirsi Ali is only able to keep her passport on the
condition that she sign a declaration in which she takes the all blame for the
situation that existed upon herself. She signed thus a [vent] for Minister
Verdonk [that was] compiled by Den Haag. […] No value can be attached to a
declaration that is laid down under such pressure. The declaration proves only
that Verdonk does not know where the exercise of power becomes abuse of

As I understand it vaguely (since I’m still away from the country) heated debates took place in Parliament after Verdonk’s decision was announced. A motion of non-confidence against the Minsiter was served in Parliament, but subsequently rejected. The coalition party D66 was one of the parties that served the motion. And to my surprise, two days after the end of the Ayaan Affair, the coalition government collapsed as three ministers from the fringe D66 party tendered their resignation. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

No coincidence, as Alexander Pechtold, leader of D66 explains:

“[our confidence] in the Minster for Integration was gone after it
became clear, through the ‘openness’ of the Prime-Minister, how the declaration
of Ms Hirsi Ali came to be. ”

So more evidence that Ayaan was forced to release the statement under pressure! What severe consequences this has for Dutch politics: dump the weak and save the indignant.

“There was something wrong in the relationship between government and
citizen, in this case Ms Hirsi Ali, because in a vulnerable situation she had no
choice. In such a situation a government may never make abuse of it. This does
not fit in a state governed by the rule of law.”

More like ‘rule of woman’, in this case Verdonk, to me.

“[Verdonk’s letter] does nothing other than affirm a fact.”

And yet this affirmation seems enough to satisfy the majority of Parliament. Does nobody smell anything fishy at all? And it appears Prime-Minister Balkenende was satisfied with the ‘self-blame statement’ of Ayaan too.

An equally indignated Femke Halsema, leader of the GroenLinks (GreenLeft), said this in the Parliamentary debates:

“I am ashamed that we were forced to defend
one of us […] due to the arbitraryand political egomania of one minister. I am
ashamed towards Ayaan Hirsi Ali,who for six weeks already was the object of
suffering. I am also ashamed, andespecially towards all people in similar
situations who have vested their hopein us. And I am ashamed ultimately also
towards the Dutch citizens, because theprevention of loosing face of one
minister weighs heavier than right

Update 8 July 2006

Picture-diary of the fall of cabinet Balkenede II

Chronology of debate in Parliament on 29 June, a night De Volkrant has labelled "Night of Ayaan"

FIFA la France

(Wrote this the night of France vs Brazil 1:0)

I think you could get away with murder today.

Just came home after ‘watching’ the match, and had to avoid getting hit by speeding cars with people hanging out of the car windows. It’s extra dangerous when you’re walking around in the night with a pram and baby. What people would do for the sake of football…

France just beat probably the greatest football nation in the world. Not sure where that puts France, and frankly couldn’t care. I actually slept through most of the match, only to be awakened now and then by the occasional gasps in the air, jumping up and down, and the roars and screams and applauses and honking at the final whistle. The two girls I ‘watched’ the match with were more exactly than I was…screaming, almost euphoric and tearing.

Then the craziness started. People started dancing in the streets, some with the French flag draped on their shoulders like Superman (or in their case, Frenchman/-woman). Fireworks were left off, and the sound of foghorns blared as people cheered and lost themselves. And then there was (still is) the incessant honking of speeding cars, screeching of tires, roar of motorcycle engines as all of the sudden people poured onto the streets and out their emotions at France’s triumph. Even the city’s rubbish trucks and fire engines joined in the celebration by switching on their sirens and flashing lights. Police stood by and didn’t seem bothered that people sat on top of their car roofs or tore and swerved through the streets like drunks behind wheels at 120. Baby Sunny again slept through the chaos.

There probably wouldn’t be poverty in the world if people expressed the same enthusiasm…

UPDATE: 5 Julliet 2006
Again, honks sounding and fireworks blasting in the background as France triumphs against Portugal and enters the Finals to face Italy.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Orange skies

magnificent rays


purple clouds Posted by Picasa


Read an excellent book on “travels of the heart”, by Michael Riddell. It’s about this place in the world (more specifically, the heart) where everyone can reach, if only they are willing to. It's been a long, long time since I last read something that really captured me. Thought it must be shared with fellow readers seeking spiritual enlightenment.

On being a traveller
Most people spend their lives stuck in the same routine, same place, same sameness, and wonder why it is so boring, mundane and repetitive. But there are those who are travellers:

“[…] who feel the constant tug of the road; […] people who love life, but love it too much to commit themselves to only one part of it; […] who stay long enough to learn the truth of a place, but who eventually shoulder their pack and say goodbye. They are on a journey and that is enough. They follow an inner urge, a voice that calls from the depths.”

It is a journey that all of us have within us to take, and one that all of us long for:

“The half-conscious murmurings, the half-remembered dreams, the half-forgotten insights are all signposts on the way.”

And of course like all travellers, there are those who get lost. What does it exactly mean to be lost?

“ […] the feeling of not quiet belonging in the world, like somehow you got born in the wrong time or place. […] Being lost is a wound of humanity which everyone carries but nobody shows. Like death, it’s kept behind closed doors for fears it should spread.

There’s no denying everyone suffers from it, but it seems that everyone denies it:

“It is an ache in the deepest part of you, a longing which nothing in the world ever quiet touches, a pain which is sometimes haunting and beautiful. From this wound springs all that is great in human art and music, and most piercing artists and musicians are broken people. The feeling thrives in silence and loneliness, but is easily deadened by the hissing static of ‘modern’ life. People suppress the pain by carefully filling the gaps in their lives, building sandcastles against the sea. When the tide comes in, it sometimes carries them away.”

Who can you trust on the road?

“Trust only travelers who have known the reality themselves”

What is home?

“Finding the way is all about coming home […] Home is the place where you can be yourself, where you are loved and accepted even though your faults are seen”

About the Road, the path to happier living and life.

“The one constant is the road. It keeps stretching out in front of you. Sometimes it fades so you can barely trace it. When shadows fall across it, the journey gets cold and scary. Further on it passes by a river on a sunny day, and you shiver with delight as you do a bit of skinny dipping. The road holds all these experiences together and makes them one journey. Even when the road is hard, it is still leading somewhere.”

On Happiness and Joy

“Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness depends on what happens. […] Happiness is the preserve of the lucky, wealthy and successful. Joy belongs to any who find it, and the poor seem to find more of it than most. […]
But joy can be elusive. The more you seek it, the more it flees away. Joy cannot be bought or sold, and will not be preserved. Those who chase it for the buz of it find themselves with sore face muscles from trying to fake it.

On letting go

“Relinquishment leads to the heights where the air is pure. […] The only way to regain your senses, to see and hear again, is to become empty. This is not a matter of taking yourself off to a hermit’s cave. It simply means to open the hands, to have but not to hold, to enjoy, but not to possess.”

On celebration

"There are two approaches. One is an escape from life. When loneliness becomes too painful to bear, when the wounds of life are fresh and deep, when love is a distant and hollow memory, people like to retreat into happy oblivion. They blot out life in its rawness and become fuzzy-headed with whatever drug takes their fancy. They throw themselves into loveless meetings of bodies, hoping that a tide of pleasure may fill the echoing caverns within. […] You wake with a hairy tongue, aware that you have spent a little more of your dwindling self-esteem, and still having to face the pain you began with.
[The other kind is ] the celebration of life itself. It grows from a recognition of God present in every nook of experience. Birth, death, friendship, failure, ripening, love, redundancy and arrival all become fuel to brighten the fire of celebration. […]
To celebrate is to transform; it is to make the ordinary special—or perhaps it is to recognize the specialness of the ordinary. […] Celebration opens our eyes so that we begin to see.

On the depths in life

“Free spirits who long for the open spaces can feel trapped in a valley. It is possible to become depressed, to lose faith that the road will ever lead out onto the plains again. The dankness seeps into the soul. It seems that one always travels through valleys alone, even if there are other people with you. Valleys are part of the journey, and have their own stark beauty.”

On loss

“To be human is to experience loss, but that doesn’t help you bear it. […]
You will retreat into a cocoon of sorrow and breathe in slow motion. The colour will drain from the sky, the meaning from life. As a plough tears through hard earth, your heart will be broken up. You will make friends with pain, nursing it as the child of your grief. […] Surely God has left you. The road which seemed to be heading somewhere has become a dead end. A mocking maze with no exit.

Then one morning in the distant future, you wake and hear a bird singing. […] For a few moments, the tide of pain rolls back and you are aware of nothing bu the song of the bird. […] Hardly daring to believe it, you are beginning to come out of the darkness. […] The shadow is now a part of you, a part of the journey, except that it is subsumed in life.”

On language

“Language and culture unlock the mysteries of strange and wonderful countries. Those who don’t attempt to learn them might as well have stayed home and watched a travelogue on television. Without a working knowledge of local customs, the explorer is as welcome as an auditor to a tainted tele-evangelist. True travelers come to learn, unlike colonists who come to conquer. To understand, there is no substitute for time with the people.”

On money

“Money is only a tool. You can use it to help you and others along the road, or it can use you and keep you so busy never travel anywhere. Money makes a good servant but a good lover.”

On lying and speaking the truth

“Lying is so common we call it politeness. It pollutes the stream of conversation. Often it’s hard to tell what is true from what is false. We begin to believe our own lies. When somebody speaks the plain truth it stands out like a hitchhiker at a charity ball. The truth is painful to speak, and brings conflict in a world which lives by deception. […] Nobody wants their precious illusions torn, their nakedness exposed. It is easier to continue pretending and execute those who won’t play.
[…] We speak either the language of deceit or hatred, or that of truth and love. The one cripples and destroys; the other redeems and creates.
Words are like arrows; once they have been sent on their way they can no more be recalled than a rabbit can be celibate. Vindictive words pierce and wound, and apology will not remove the scars they cause. Much children are fatally wounded by their parents. Words such as ‘stupid’ or ‘ugly’ take root in the heart, and grow quietly until they have choked the life out of any healthy plants which may have existed. By the same token, words like ‘beautiful’ or ‘precious’ make the heart’s soil rich and fertile, capable of producing much fruit.”

On simplicity in life

“Godzoners live simple lives, lives uncluttered with knick-knacks or philosophies. As a rule, they do not collect, hoard, consume or preserve. Their needs are few and simple, their words honest and considered, their friendship genuine and warm.[…]All of life is an advernture playground to them, and they have kept their child-like sense of awe in an age of lost innocence. […]
Because they are not distracted by the cacophony of demands which fills the earth, the explorers […] develop the ability to focus. In the hype and hysteria of modern life, they clear a channel through verbal diarrhea. Godzoners are not fooled by Politicospeak or swayed by the Mindbenders.”

On gratitude

“[…] like a profound thankfulness in the way they live, the way they laugh, the way they share. Because they know the Giver, they recognize the giftedness of all that comes, both good and bad. All of life is an opportunity for enjoyment or learning […]

On acceptance

“Acceptance grows from the deliberate short-sightedness of love. It recognizes that one word of encouragement to a fragile person is worth more than a thousand lectures on their faults. Acceptance provides the air which makes it possible for a strangled life to breath and grow again.”

On hope

“Death comes early to those who slam the door of the future, and resign themselves to living comfortably in the cell of their own making. Drifters find it hard to understand the surrender of suburbanites to mediocrity. Surely they still have roads untravelled, dreams as yet not pursued. Hope is the tug of the unknown, the lure to move out of the familiar present, the snatch of music that creates a hunger to hear more. […]
The idea of fate is bad karma. Those who subscribe to it become passive and powerless. […] Life requires risk; it requires adventure, experiment, possibility. In short, life requires hope. It is hope that fuels the engine of creativity. It transforms the closed circle of conformity into an open spiral of potential.”

Life cannot be all ups without downs. There are of course dangers.

On evil

“Evil is more than simply the absence of good, just as darkness is more than simply the absence of light. Doing wrong things and even bad things takes no great effort, and we have all clocked up our share. But there comes a point when the bad deed is repeated without remorse, when the lie is retold until it is orthodoxy. It is then that a mysterious transition takes place, and wrong becomes evil, the lie takes life to itself. Evil is ‘live’ spelt backwards, and it is the perversion of life. It exists only by sucking the marrow from its host body.
[…] The signs of its presence are envy, domination, hatred, addiction, deception, seduction, and fear. Creavity becomes technology, imaginiation becomes fantasizing, faith becomes ritual.
[…] A favourite ploy of evil is temptation. Unsummoned thoughts come hovering into consciousness. They tease and tantalize, whispering empty promises and plausible deceptions. They play on the weakness of the person they attack.
[…] The best way to defeat evil is to pursue good, or as those in the know prefer, to pursue God. […] To attack evil is to give it life, to walk towards it with trust and confidence is to overcome it.”

On Religion

“Religion is a sidetrack for those who like to pretend they are exploring the Zone while staying put. The problem is that it takes over words and signposts of Godzone without their reality. […]
[Believers] may be misled by the words used and funneled off the road into the huge holding pens of the pious. They may mistake the words and rules for reality. The halls of holiness are very comfortable, with their cushioned seating and shagpile carpet. […] Soothing sounds of piety and devotion can be seductive to one who began eager to follow and learn. But they do not satisfy.”

On Fear

“There is nothing wrong with being scared while climbing a rock face; it does wonders to assist concentration on the task at hand. But fear, like evil, often takes on a life of its own. Then it floods the mind and paralyses the will, oblivious to any cause for its existence. Shadows become monsters, questions threats, silence terror. Fear forces people indoors, where they bolt and double-bolt the doors.
[…] Fear is an effective way of controlling people. It is used for fencing bad religion. By flooding the imagination, it drives out the capacity for love and so for God. Who can love when they cannot trust? But those who are afraid come running to priests and wizards, looking for shelter of a rigid authority. The price they pay for it is their freedom. They condemn themselves to the prison of security, all the time having their fears fed by the keepers.
[…] The antidote to fear is a healthy bulking of the love of God. […] As trust and faith grows, the timid traveller can find their feet and head back to the road.”

On guilt

“The average punter makes enough mistakes in each day to suffice; there is no ned to be crushed by the short-comings of a whole life. The ongoing joy of life in Godzone is a continuing fresh start, looking to the road ahead and forgetting what has gone before. You may cling to your faults if you wish; wallow in the quagmire of guilt like a pig in a poo-pond. It is your choice.”

On Enemies

“If enemies pose a danger to Godzoners, it is the danger that they may draw the pilgrim into their own web of hatred. To return hate is to multiply it; to meet it with love is to make it as powerless as an alligator with lockjaw. Whoever refuses to retaliate against violence to themselves exposes the aggressor for what they are. It is difficult to keep kicking a person who offers no resistance. Unfortunately, this does not stop violent people from overcoming the difficultly, but it does bring their hatred into the open.”

On self-deceit

“Self-deception is the most common and most damaging form of lying. We build our images and then try to live up to them, watching ourselves in shop windows to see how we’re going. We pretend to be sensitive while looking for an inside chance to manipulate others. We rename things to make ourselves innocent. ‘wrong’ becomes ‘inappropiate’; ‘exploitation’ becomes ‘revenue earning’; ‘selfishness’ becomes ‘assertive self-reinforcement’ But crap by any other name still has a distinctive smell.”

We need not go down the path of good life alone.

On traveling companions
“intimacy tends to be reserved for people sharing your addiction to the road; either fellow pilgrims or those you meet around a winter’s fire on overnight stops. […] Travellers learn to receive it gladly; to take what is offered and refrain from grasping. They live in the knowledge that come morning the road leads on. Maybe there will be another meeting further down the road, maybe not. For the moment there are jokes and stories, freedom to be yourself with someone who understands, the fun of sharing humanity, if not sleeping bags.
[…] But when the time comes to part, you realise that this chance meeting was the right person at the right time, and that your life is all the fuller and richer for the meeting.”

On friends along the way

“A few [friends] will become as familiar as the sound of your own breathing. Friends you meet with at irregular intervals and in unlikely places, discovering again and again that your wanderings, while separate, have kept pace with each other. […] Mates you can abuse and be your silly self with, knowing that they will still be there in the morning. And then in the quiet times, strolling down an empty road in the twilight peace, you trade words which are so precious and fragile you fear they will shatter on the air.
[…] Companions often change your direction. Never by manipulation or moralising, but by the sincerity of their friendship and the wisdom of their words. It is only some distance along the way, after you have taken the risk of trusting, that your friend will speak the magic sentence which opens your eyes to a new signpost […] It is grace; it never loses its ability to astonish. Your friend may leave shortly after offering their gift, not to be seen again this side of the river. But the gift remains, and the sign of thanksgiving is to use it.”

“In the world relationships are built on common interest. In Godzone the only basis is belonging, and so the traveller has to accept all who God accepts. […] The claim to love has to be tested against the reality of people with body odour and strange habits, if it is to be any more than a warm gooey feeling. The road we follow is a journey into community. […] We must discover that differences are enriching rather than threatening. This only comes after the hard nut of self has been cracked.”

On worship

“Worship is greatly misunderstood. God is not some egomaniac who needs constant affirmation, some sort of neurotic narcissist. Those who set out to buy God off the sacrifice of the odd Sunday morning sleep-in could not be further from the truth. […] For these whose hearts have been shafted with love, worship is as natural and as unavoidable as a tree coming into blossom with the warmth of spring. It is love language, no more accessible to non-participants than the words which pass across the pillow between two lovers.”

Gourmet cuisine

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Revolutionary France

Marks from the CPE revolution!

Ah....brings back sweet memories of my SOASian days... I was a 'rebel' then.
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Monday, July 03, 2006

Strasbourg at night

beautiful monastery


Place Kleber

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

More Petite France at night

corset and canal

reflections in canal

Alsatian houses

canal mirror Posted by Picasa

Petite France at night

Pont in Petite France

Watchtowers that used to be prisons

Former female prison in Petite France

Restaurant terrace on canal Posted by Picasa