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Archive for February, 2009

Kate Winslet Caught in the Act

Kate Winslet giving advice on how to phone sex in Extras.

This seems like a fitting post, especially now that she’s finally won an Academy Award for best leading actress in ‘The Reader’.

For most of us however, Kate Winslet’s greatest contribution to mankind must be that single most iconic scene from the film: ‘The Titanic’. For since then, any man or woman, setting foot on a boat or ship, will always be plagued by the irresistible urge to stand at its bow, with arms stretched wide and open.

Phone Sex

But it is her appearance in the comedy sit-com called ‘Extras’, that’s pure comic genius and just as memorable. ‘Extras’ revolves around Andy, a struggling actor with aspirations of one day making it big. But in the mean time, he has to make do with the actor’s equivalent of breadcrumbs: playing as an extra in the shadow of stars.

In this particular episode, he’s been given a small role as a German foot soldier in a movie about the Holocaust. The films lead role of a devout nun is played and portrayed beautifully by Kate Winslet. But in between takes – and still dressed as a nun – she freely exalts her advice on how to talk dirty on the phone to one of her colleagues in need. But then, she takes it a bit too far and gets caught.

The Year 2000 as Predicted in 1910

Illustration: French flying firemen trying to put out a building fire.

It must be quite a feat, trying to imagine what the world will look like in 90 years from now. A French illustrator did just that in 1910 when he drew up these illustrations. They depict the world as he believed it would look like in the year 2000. Keeping in mind that fashions have changed, he did get some things right. As for other predictions… well, we’re still waiting for our personal flying devices. But there are also other notable things to be seen in these illustrations. Or to be more precise, what is not seen. It’s a testiment to Apples tight secrecy prior to new product launches that even in 1910, no one could possibly predict the coming of the iPod.

En Tus Brazos (In Your Arms)

A scene from the animation film: En Tus Brazos

I came across this touching animation of a couple reliving their glory days as tango performers. A time before the ‘accidente tragico’. En Tus Brazos is a French production, but with Spannish spoken.

Though I never did enjoye any glory days as a tango dansers myself (let alone that I can actually dance the tango), it did bring back some memories of my trip to Argentina two years ago.

A Tango Show in Buenos Aires

It was never my intention to spend more than two nights in Buenos Aires. But somehow, the weather gods seemed to favor me, letting me complete my travels through southern Patagonia in just two weeks instead of three. With days to spare, I decided to return to Buenos Aires early. At first, I regretted my choice. I felt alienated by the beautiful facades of this old city, but also by the cold welcome I had received from the others back at the hostel. It was as if the life had been sucked out of them and as a result preferred to keep to themselves. Traveling on your own, can sometimes be lonely.

The next day, I learnt that most of them had left, traveling to numerous other destinations far far away. They were replaced by a new crop of backpackers; a much more livelier bunch this time around. Things were starting to look up. By the end of the second day, I had made a lot of new friends. And with them, I started to discover Buenos Aires beyond its facades. A city that had a lot more to offer than met the eye. The stories I could tell…

But lets not get carried away. This post is about tango.

Another scene from: En Tu BrazosBA is known for its long tango tradition. It’s where it was born. During my visit, there were plenty of opportunities to see the locals dancing it. Even in the main shopping street, one could regularly run into street artists tangoing away. I just had the unlucky misfortune of bumping into them every time as they were about to commence with their last dance act: a guy doing the tango with a doll. While funny to watch, it wasn’t exactly what I had imagined the dance to be. I could not leave this city without having seen the most passionate dance invented by man in its propper form. And judging from all the lovers I witnessed openly kissing in the streets and parks of BA, I could only conclude that the Argentineans are very passionate people. They’ve made it into an art form.

On my fourth day there, I decided to go to a tango show with Annabelle, a wonderful and remarkable person I had met at our hostel. She was an Irish/German girl studying in London and living in Ibiza with aspirations of becoming a fashion designer. One couldn’t dream of better company.

We had made some last minute reservations earlier that day after hearing it would be the last show of the season. And after taking a short taxi ride, we arrived at the venue just in the nick of time. As a hostess escorted us to our place, we quickly realized that this was no ordinary theatre. Instead of just rows and rows of chairs like everywhere else, we found ourselves seated in front of a table for two with a small lamp shade on it. Placed there just to give us that extra touch of atmosphere in an otherwise darkened venue. All very cozy. Moments later, our exotic cocktails were served. It was like being invited to an exclusive ballroom party. You felt special, just by sitting here. Soon afterwards, our lampshades dimmed. All eyes turned towards the stage. The show was about to begin.

It was a dance musical, an Argentinean West Side Story as it were. In fact, there was a time when Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world, with emigrants arriving from all over. They came with their hopes and dreams for a better future. Some would make it big. Most probably didn’t. It was amongst the poor of lower class Buenos Aires that tango would see the light of day. It was a dance that somehow unified the emigrants of different nationalities; a dance  that took on many styles and variations, but also took years and dedication to learn and master. For men at the time, it was a way of meeting women. And with women in the minority in this new found world, they danced only with those whom they felt mastered it well enough.

In the musical, we were introduced to an immigrant family arriving in BA: Girl meets boy. Boy falls in love. Is poor, but tries to win her heart. Meanwhile, rich underworld figure falls for the same girl. Jealousy ensues. Knives are drawn. Things get out of hand. People die. All in the name of love. But the dancing was superb. I always had this cliché image of Tango being danced between two lovers, slow and passionate one moment, swift and almost cold the next. What I saw here was something completely different. The leg work alone was amazing to watch. Two dancers: their legs locking, clicking, kicking and unlocking again, all at the blink of an eye. As they danced, we were treated to extremely fast, yet graceful movements. These were pros and tango was much more then what I had imagined it to be. I was impressed.

But it wouldn’t be the last time I’d see tango in Buenos Aires…

Tango in La Boca

La Boca, while charming with its colorful buildings, is not the sort of place you want to visit alone. Located in one of the poorer parts of Buenos Aires, it is best described as an oasis surrounded by criminality. Any tourist attempting to leave its confines is surely asking to be robbed. It literary is a tourist trap. But despite the warnings, it’s still a must see destination and so I went together with Ben and Catherine, two Americans students on a short leave in Argentina. Even though it only was a walking distance away from San Telmo, where our hostel was located, we were advised to take the taxi instead. And so we did.

Me in La Boca posing with the Tango Dancers that entertained us during lunchIt was a hot and sunny day with the pace of life slow. We strolled around the streets for a while, admiring the colorful architecture and peeping into the little tourist shops. But with La Boca being so small, It didn’t take long before we had seen everything there was to see. At least without venturing off into dangerous territory. So we decided to have lunch instead. La Boca has quite a lot of restaurants to choose from, and each one offers a tango dance display while you enjoy your meal.

We ate outside on the pavement. Between the tables, a couple in full dress played their part and danced the Tango. One could easily believe that this was all part of the ‘couleur locale’, if it were not for the woman dancer who looked strikingly Japanese.

And just like the life around us, the pace of their movements were much slower, but more casual then what I had seen at the theatre a few days earlier. Here were just two people dancing the afternoon away, and not so much to impress, but simply because it was something they just loved to do.

Looking back, I wish I had brought my camera along with me. But by the time I had arrived in Buenos Aires, I was already suffering from photo-fatique. I just wanted to experience things without having to photograph it all. Catherine did bring hers along and we were even given the honour of posing with the dancers that had entertained us thru lunch. (If you’re tourist in a tourist trap, you might aswell act the part). We then returned to San Telmo.

My week soon came to an end, and I left with mostly fond memories. But if I ever return, it might well be worth learning a step or two of tango. How hard could it possibly be?

The Bloody Olive: A Short Film Noir

Veerle Van Overloop in the short film noir: The Bloody Olive

Shot in black and white, Werner and Mylene are both preparing for a cozy Christmas evening at home. All of a sudden, the festive mood is disturbed by the ringing of the doorbell. An unexpected guest has arrived. Or is he so unexpected?

The Bloody Olive takes the genre of the old film noirs to an absurd new level. In just ten short minutes, we are introduced to a love triangle, betrayal, double crosses, murder, and so many plot twists and turns, it’ll make your head spin. The result is hilarious as you struggle to figure out what could possibly happen next.

It’s a short that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also not so much a parody in the classical sense, but more of a playful wink to the genre. A well shot film with some great camera angles, wonderful light & shadow play, the story pacing is right and the acting is subliminally brilliant.

My favorite moment: Warner’s expression when he first discovers his wife is still alive.

A Belgian production. Dutch spoken. English subtitles.

The First Zero Emission Polar Station Opened in Antarctica

The Princess Elisabeth Antarctic Station

Belgium has just opened the Princess Elisabeth Station in Antarctica. It’s the first ever zero-emission base on the continent. Not only is it powered by wind and solar energy, but it also recycles its waste products.
But how did the Belgians end up in Antarctica in the first place? Apparently, I don’t have to look much further then my own hometown, Hasselt.

It’s quite possible that there are more statues present in the inner city of Hasselt then people actually living here. The most famous statue known here is that of Hendrik and Katrien. They spend most of their time sitting together in the main square. Though there are many more worth mentioning, it’s something for a later post. But I mention this, because many years ago, I was asked to create a design for the website for the city of Hasselt. At one point, the tourist cell gave me photo’s of some of these statues I could use in my designs. I knew all of them except for one. At first I thought it was an homage to some prominent military figure. But when I dared to ask who he was, I got surprised looks. How could I not know who he was? It was Adrien De Gerlache of course! He was one of the most famous inhabitants of our town. I was still clueless.

A statue of Adrien de Gerlache looking south from the Green Boulevard in Hasselt.

It turned out that he organized the first purely scientific expedition to Antarctica in 1898 while commanding the ship the Belgica. What was known of Antarctica up until then, had only been explored by mostly whale and seal hunters who were only interested in the region for economic gain. De Gerlache on the other hand managed to gather together a remarkable team of international experts and scientists; the most notable crewmember being the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. He would eventually become the most famous polar explorer of all time. After his adventures in the Belgica and the experience he gained there, he would later return to Antarctica to become the first man to ever reach the actual South Pole.

The Belgica at Mt. Williams The Belgica spending a winter in AntarcticaThe Belgica stuck in ice

Although it’s not known if it was De Gerlaches intention all along (some suspect it was), but the Belgica did manage to get itself stranded in the Antarctic ice. As a result, it would become the first expedition ever to spend a whole winter in the Antarctic south. And despite the pressures and harsh conditions they were subjected too, they meticulously continued doing scientific studies during all these dark months. Isolated from the rest of the world and cramped in closed quarters, it was thanks to the efforts of Frederick Cook, the onboard doctor, that many of the crew survived and kept their sanity.

The last time the MS Explorer sailed along the coasts of Antarctica

The area of Antarctica that they surveyed back in the day is the same area where much of the growing Antarctic tourism industry is concentrated today. These mostly consist of cruises along the islands and coasts of the Antarctic peninsula. Trips usually last about ten days. The passangers sleep onboard the ships, but they do get to make landings up to twice a day on the islands, and where possible, on the continent itself. Of course, it is not without danger. Turns out we would be the last to ever sail to Antarctica with the expedition ship: the MS Explorer. On it’s return journey to Antarctica a few months later, it hit an iceberg and sank. Everyone was resqued but cruise ships do regularly get in trouble in this area.

Anyway. Belgium would later return to Antarctica in 1957 with their own polar station: The King Boudewijn Base. The mission was led by one of De Gerlache’s sons: Gaston De Gerlache. Unfortunately, the station had to be abandoned just after a few years of use. Because it was built on ice, that not only was slowly drifting out to sea, the heat produced by the base made the ice underneath it melt. As a result, it sank deeper and deeper away. Add to that the layers of new snow that was piling up on top of the base, and it was in real danger of eventually being crushed. It was however thanks to this mission that Belgium became one of the twelve founding members of the Antarctic Treaty. In simple terms, the treaty states that Antarctica belongs to no nation and must be used for peaceful purposes and for the good of mankind. And that any scientific knowledge gained here must freely be exchanged with its member states.

How did the Antarctic Treaty come to be? The members at the time couldn’t come to a settlement as to how to divide the southernmost continent amongst themselves. But because no nation actually had the technology to mine any of the possible resources under the immensely thick layers of ice, they decided to resolve this prickly problem at a later date. And so a fifty year moratorium was initiated and the Antarctic Treaty was born. The moratorium however ends in 2011 at which point the treaty may be changed. With the recent race to clame underwater regions in the North Pole area, it remains to be seen how this will all unfold. But with a bit of luck, Antarctica will remain a protected region.

Belgian polar stationIn the mean time and with the lessons learnt from their previous adventure, the Belgians have returned half a century later with a new base: The Princess Elisabeth polar station. This time, it was built on solid rock much deeper inland in Uststeinen. Because Antarctica is plagued by regular snowstorms, the new station has been aerodynamically designed to prevent snow from heaping up against or over it. In other words, it shouldn’t drift out to sea, sink in the ice or get covered by snow like did the last one. In doing so, it should last at least 25 years after which it will be broken down to be brought back to Belgium.

But they have also gone a step further then just protecting the base from its environment. One of the main goals was to keep the impact on its surroundings as low as possible. It’s basically a passive house that is so well insulated, it remains at a constant temperature of 18 to 20 degrees Celsius. And although there is a backup diesel generator, the station relies on solar panels and wind turbines for energy. This has the added advantage that transporting fuel like anything else to Antarctica is massively expensive. Waste is recycled as much as possible. While this wasn’t always the case, nowdays, its frowned upon to use Antarctica as a waste dump.

The station itself will of course be used for scientific studies and most likely to further measure the effects of global warming on our planet.

If I had the chance, I would return to Antarctica in heart beat. So just in case they should have a spare bed left open, I’m more than willing to fill it. Maybe even as a concierge keeping an eye on the place during the Antarctic winter months perhaps?

Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds Trailer

film_tarantino_inglorious_basterds

While I still have to see the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Brad Pitt hasn’t been sitting still. He’ll soon be starring in the next Quentin Tarantino installment: “Inglorious Basterds”. This one takes place during WWII. It’s about a secret handpicked American army unit dropped in German held France. Their mission? Strike fear, terror and do some really, really bad things to the occupying Nazi’s. Having seen the trailer, it looks like a typical Tarantino with lots of his signature dialogue scenes mixed with plenty of gore to go.

I only hope it’s a lot better than his last film: “Death Proof” from the Grind House experiment. There was so much dialogue in it about nothing, I almost fell asleep. The other half of Grind House, Planet Terror, was, on the other hand, so over the top, it was actually quite fun to watch.

But if Tarantino’s latest film is anything on par with Kill Bill, it will be worth the wait.

EU Citizens Soon Won’t Need a Visa to Travel to Exotic Islands

Scene of a blue sky, turquoise ocean, white beach and a distant sail boat.

If you have been dreaming about clear blue skies, turquoise oceans, white beaches and nothing to do all day, hope may be on its way. Traveling to exotic islands as an EU citizen will soon become a little bit easier. By the end of March, the EU commision plans on removing the visa requirements for European citizens and the residents of the following islands: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, Mauritius and the SeyChelles

And if you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, but can’t afford traveling to paradise, there is always the Groove Armada alternative.

Exotic Train Travel: a list of the nine best rail journeys

The Tangula luxury train traveling through the Uninhabitable yet beautiful landscape of Tibet.

Having finally taken the Eurostar from Brussels to London and back, it not only struck me how small Europe has actually become; compared to the state of air travel to today, trains have become a lot more enjoyable and comfortable way to travel. While it’s hard to claim the Eurostar trip as being exotic, other rail lines do speak to the imagination. For example the Orient Express, that in its heyday followed the famous silk road. Or the Trans Siberian, which probably is not only the longest rail line in the world, but is also a destination in itself. “The nine best train journeys in the world” has put together a list of the more interesting rail lines, some of which I had never even heard of up until now. Never the less, they all look quite interesting.

One line missing though is the Tangula, which connects Beijing with Lhasa in Tibet. Maybe out of political correctness? The railroad itself is a remarkable feat in engineering that traverses through some of the most harshest environments on this planet. Because of the extreme heights it runs at, the cabins are pressurized. There is already a regular line running on this route, but apparently, the Chinese have also added a luxury train.

Great for Beijing, but for Tibet however, the railroad is a threat. For it has long been Beijing’s policy to actively relocate and subsidize the majority Han Chinese to the poorer areas of the country. From their point of view, they are simply spreading prosperity and trying to increase the standards of living for all Chinese. But with this new rail line, traveling and moving to Tibet has become a lot more easier. The danger for Tibet however is the further loss of their culture, identity, but most important of all, their autonomy. If they had any left. The Tangula is probably one of those rides you have to take with a lot of mixed feelings.

The Ephemeral Nature of Design

Last Friday, Bert asked me to name a few cool projects we had created recently. My mind drew a blank. Not that we hadn’t made anything cool, far from it. It’s just very rare to ever look back. Once a project is delivered, we’re usually already too busy working on the next one to sit down and contemplate on our achievements. As they say over here: Out of sight, out of heart.

For the past fifteen years, I have, as a graphic designer, worked on all kinds of internet projects. And if there is one thing I understand, it’s that a lot of what I create is ephemeral. Some of the designers I know never wanted to make the switch to digital, because when you design for print, you at least have something substantial that you can touch and feel at the end of the day. With digital, everything remains virtual. Add to that, I work in a fast paced sector and much of what I create will soon quickly become outdated or obsolete.

Continue reading…

Sex, Porn and Authenticity

A blond woman experiencing an orgasm in a Durex commercial

It looks like Durex has been very busy of late. First, we were introduced to a trio of latex bunnies taking tips from the Kamasutra. Now we are being treated to an orgasmic opera. Though this may not be one of their best creations, and certainly not as funny as the bunnies, some of the scenes in the opera ad, as seen in the image above, reminded me of one of the more peculiar sites I’ve stumbled upon on in one of my many adventures on the internet.

But before we continue, I must warn you. We are about to venture in to the shadier parts of the internet. A place where sex is no taboo and pornification runs free. A place where for every fetish imaginable, someone, somewhere, has taken the time to dedicate a complete site around it. So that no matter how picky you may be, even your wildest dreams or most exocentric desires can be fulfilled if only you know where to look. Some of you may know these parts of the internet quite well. And for those of you who don’t, now is either the time to stop reading, or maybe not.

Unfortunately, much of what we will find on the net these days is quite explicit. You could even say tasteless or downright disgusting. There are those who claim that sex has to be dirty to be good, but some of it is so extreme that I really question how it could fuel anyone’s sexual appetite. Much of it is primarily based on lust and has little to do with eroticism. But like it or not, in the last decade, even the mainstream perception of how we view and experience sex in the real world has for a large part been influenced by the porn universe. It’s as if our sexuality is determined not so much by what we feel ourselves to be right, but by what we see and read in the media. It is as if we would prefer to conform to our peers in the hopes of meeting their expectation rather then discovering what we enjoy most for ourselves. I just hope we don’t ever reach the point that in order to become a good lover, you have to sing a sonnet while you come.

So it’s always a joy to stumble across something that goes against the grain. I was left mesmerized when I first discovered Beautiful Agony. It’s one of the most erotic things I’ve come across which for a site is quite a feat. Especially if you consider that you won’t find any nudity on their site. Beautiful Agony apparently doesn’t advertise any free examples anymore that would do it justice, but you can find a few of their videos out in the wild here and there on the net.

The setup is simple. A woman, or a man, films themselves from the shoulders up while they are masturbating. All we get to see are their facial expressions as they go through the different stages of warm up, build up, orgasm and relief. It comes across as authentic and is probably one of the most intimate and vulnerable things we could ever reveal about ourselves. And it’s probably what makes these movies so appealing.

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