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Archive for the ‘History’ topic

Short film: Tanghi Argentini

Scene from Tanghi Argentini

Once in a while, something worthwhile can be seen on television. Yesterday, Canvas not only aired the quirky love story “Steve + Sky“, but  also several pretty good short films. In my opinion, it’s something they should do more often.  Even though shorts are perfect for the internet, they are not always easy to track down.


One short I did manage to find on the net was actually the Oscar nominated “Tanghi Argentini” (subtitles). It is not the first tango short film I’ve mentioned here, but I guess it’s a subject that lends itself well to telling short passionate stories.

In Tanghi Argentini, an office clerk, after having landed himself a date with a woman he met on the internet,  finds he has only two weeks to learn the tango if he want to make an impression on her. Having never danced before, he enlists the help of one of his colleagues to help him learn the dance of passion. The big question is: will he be able to convince his date he has been a Tango dancer all his life? As with all good shorts, it ends with a twist. So watch it here.

Learning the Tango

While two weeks is indeed very short to master this dance, this is in many ways how it was taught 19th century.  Only, it usually took a bit longer than just two fortnights. Before a young boy could actually step on the dance floor and impress the ladies, he would first have to find a more experienced male dancer to teach him. First he would have to watch and observe the more skilled dancers, than learn how to follow (the woman’s part), and only when he got that down could he be taught to lead. Once he got all that down, a process that could take up to three years, would he now be able to dance with an actual real woman.

screenshot from the altruists

You can choose your friends.

Of one of the other shorts shown yesterday, “De Onbaatzuchtigen” (The Altruists / no subtitles), I was only able to find a fragment. You might have heard of the phrase: “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”. Well, in this short film, you can. As a matter of fact, every member of the family can be sold or bought as long as the rest of the family agrees. Though never explicitly mentioned, in this society, prestige and wealth is exhibited by the size of a family unit and the qualities of each member. Showing off to the other families is done by the daily walks on the street with the entire family together.

A member of one family, who like the rest, constantly lives in fear that the others will tire of him and sell him off, decides to play his cards in such a way, that only he is left. After realizing he is now alone, he gets himself a dog for companionship. Someone he can trust won’t sell him off if they ever disagree.

Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times: The Ultimate Reality Game

Play the Modern Times Game! The idea for this game came to me in a dream. It is based on a scene from Modern Times, a Charlie Chaplin film. It’s the one where Chaplin is working on an assembly line, mind numbingly screwing in bolts with a spanner until he finally goes mad. Continue reading…

TEDx and the European Parliament

The European Parliament building complex in Brussels

As one Belgian – the first European to do so – handed over the command of the ISS back to the Americans, and will be returning to earth shortly after a six month stint in space; another Belgian was handing in his government back to the king, so he can prepare to become the first president of Europe in January.

And I would, for the first time, be visiting the European Parliament in Brussels. As this event pales in comparison to what my fellow countrymen have lately achieved, don’t expect to find my little excursion mentioned in any history book; not even as a small obscure footnote on page 527 or other. But I was there for a reason though. The TEDx Brussels event, also a first, was being held there, an independent spin-off the TED events that have brought world inspiration since… well, since its inception. While the official TED event is by invitation only, they do post videos online of some of their most inspirational speakers and their ideas about the world. Definitely worth a visit if you haven’t heard of it yet.

Continue reading…

Mapping Belgium’s Absurd Borders


It’s finally out: The Strange Maps book by Frank Jacobs, the man behind the wonderful Strange Maps blog. The book itself has become a hefty anti-atlas bringing together some of the strangest, weirdest and interesting maps ever created or found.

I’m also glad to say that it contains two maps of my own.

Continue reading…

Powerful Photographs of Extraordinary Moments

This is a non conclusive list of photographs which were taken during extraordinary times. Be warned though. You might find some of the following photographs quite disturbing. First flight at Kitty Hawk

First Powered Flight at Kitty Hawk
Date: December 17th, 1903
Place: Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Photographer: John T. Daniels

Continue reading…

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 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?

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…


Halina Reijn in Valkyrie, the film

It can’t be easy creating a film based on a well known historic event. Especially if the audience already knows how it will all play out. For it to succeed therefore, it has to in a way focus less on the historical facts. Instead, it should offer us the story behind the events, even if that story may not be historically accurate. It may even be pure fiction. Case in point is the ‘Last King of Scotland’ were the rule of Idi Amin is seen through the eyes of Dr.Garrigan, a fictional character. The people we meet in this film are engaging. And even though some liberties have been taken to what actually happened, the story does give us a clear picture of how a popular and charismatic boxer turned into one of the world’s most feared dictators. Valkyrie in this sense takes a different approach and unfortunately doesn’t deliver.

As a matter of fact, I found the documentary ‘Stauffenberg, the true story’, which recalls the most famous assassination attempt on Hitler, to be a lot more interesting then the film itself. The film felt more like a remake of the documentary where the details have been replaced by cinematographically rich scenes. While the documentary did a good job of explaining the back story and the character behind Stauffenberg, Tom Cruises portrayal of him felt very cardboard like.  

Other than a few hollow words said here and there, the film doesn’t really bother explaining us why Stauffenburg would risk his life and that of his wife and three children to commit a potentially treasonous act. It tells us nothing of the respect he commanded amongst his men or the suffering he had to endure after he was crippled. It simply conveys the events as they happened and we just have to accept that. The film lacks depth.

This is in total contrast to for example ‘Der Untergang‘. Despite us already knowing what happened in the last days of Hitler’s rule, it succeeded by focuses on the characters and conveying the sense of claustrophobic despair the soldiers and staff underwent in the final days of the Third Reich.

If I had to name one positive thing about this film, then it was the secretary, a role played by the Dutch actress Halina Reijn. Even though her role was small and hardly had any lines in the film, her screen presence said more about their dire situation then all the  dialogs put together. It was one of the few characters one could actually care about.

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