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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

“When Pawel looks into the mirror, he can still sometimes see a neo-Nazi skinhead staring back, the man he was before he covered his shaved head with a skullcap, traded his fascist ideology for the Torah and renounced violence and hatred in favor of God.

“‘I still struggle every day to discard my past ideas,’ said Pawel, a 33-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew and former truck driver, noting with little irony that he had to stop hating Jews in order to become one. ‘When I look at an old picture of myself as a skinhead, I feel ashamed. Every day I try and do teshuvah,’ he said, using the Hebrew word for repentance. ‘Every minute of every day. There is a lot to make up for.’

“Pawel, who also uses his Hebrew name Pinchas, asked that his last name not be used for fear that his old neo-Nazi friends could harm him or his family.

“Twenty years after the fall of Communism, Pawel is perhaps the most unlikely example of the Jewish revival under way in Poland, of a moment in which Jewish leaders here say the country is finally showing solid signs of shedding the rabid anti-Semitism of the past.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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Eric Rohmer, the French critic and filmmaker who was one of the founding figures of the internationally influential movement that became known as the French New Wave, and the director of more than 50 films for theaters and television, including the Oscar-nominated ‘My Night at Maud’s‘ (1969), died on Monday. He was 89. . . .

“Aesthetically, Mr. Rohmer was perhaps the most conservative member of the group of aggressive young critics who purveyed their writings for publications like Arts and Les Cahiers du Cinéma into careers as filmmakers beginning in the late 1950s. A former novelist and teacher of French and German literature, Mr. Rohmer emphasized the spoken and written word in his films at a time when tastes — thanks in no small part to his own pioneering writing on Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks — had begun to shift from literary adaptations to genre films grounded in strong visual styles.

“His most famous film in America remains ‘My Night at Maud’s,’ a 1969 black-and-white feature set in the grim industrial city of Clermont-Ferrand. It tells the story of a shy, young engineer . . . who passes a snow-bound evening in the home of an attractive, free-thinking divorcée.” (more @ NY Times)

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“The Polish police said Friday that the iron sign over the gate to the Auschwitz memorial with the infamous phrase ‘arbeit macht frei’ — ‘work sets you free’ — has been stolen.

“Katarzyna Padlo, a police spokeswoman, said the police believe it was taken between 3:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. Friday.

“Ms. Padlo, who was quoted by The Associated Press, said the sign over the main entrance to Auschwitz, the former Nazi death camp in southern Poland, near Krakow, was removed by being unscrewed on one side and pulled off on the other. She said the authorities immediately launched an intensive search.

“The sign was erected soon after Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp, was built in May 1940, and more than a million people died during the four-and-a-half years of Auschwitz’s existence. The victims were mainly Jewish men, women and children but included Polish political prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma families, gay men and lesbians, people with disabilities and prisoners of conscience.

“The camp was liberated by the Red Army on Jan. 27, 1945.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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“A woman who was given an anti-social behaviour order banning her from making loud noises during sex has admitted breaching the order.

“Caroline and Steve Cartwright’s love-making was described as ‘murder’ and ‘unnatural’ at Newcastle Crown Court.

“Neighbours, the local postman and a woman taking her child to school complained about the noise.

“Cartwright, 48, from Washington on Wearside, pleaded guilty to three counts of breaching the Asbo. . . .

“At an earlier hearing, next door neighbour Rachel O’Connor told the court she was frequently late for work because she overslept having been awake most of the night because of the noise.” (cont’d @ BBC News)

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“It was a revolution that began with a lie.

Vaclav Havel, the dissident leader who spearheaded the Velvet Revolution that overthrew communism in Czechoslovakia and kicked off twenty years ago on November 17, 1989, once declared that ‘truth and love must triumph over lies and hatred.’ Yet the revolution — its name a reference to the clenched fist in the velvet glove — was sparked by a false rumor that to this day remains a mystery.

“On Tuesday, thousands of Czechs are expected to march through the streets here, to the sound of wailing sirens and the growls of police dogs, eerily replicating a non-violent student march, 20 years ago, in which police rounded on demonstrators and rumors spread that a 19 year-old mathematics students named Martin Smid had been brutally killed. Scores had indeed been violently beaten. But no one, in fact, had died.

“Jan Urban, a dissident leader and journalist who helped to disseminate the lie, recalled in an interview that news of the alleged death had spread quickly, helping to wake a nation out of its collective apathy and lighting the spark — eight days after the fall of the Berlin Wall — for the peaceful rebellion that culminated in the regime’s demise.” (cont’d @ NY  Times)

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old-books-300x205“Old books smell like grass, with a tang of acidity and a hint of vanilla, according to scientists who have discovered a way to tell the condition of an [sic] works by their odour.

“The system can measure the degradation of old books and historical documents on the basis of their aroma.

“Now the scientists say their non-destructive ‘sniff’ test could help libraries and museums preserve a range of prized objects, some of which are degrading rapidly due to advancing age.

“Matija Strlic, a chemist at University College London, and lead author of the study, and her team note that the well-known musty smell of an old book, as readers leaf through the pages, is the result of hundreds of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air from the paper. . . .

“Conventional methods for analysing library and archival materials involve removing samples of the document and then testing them with traditional laboratory equipment. But the new approach involves no damage to the document.

“The new technique analyses the gases emitted by old books and documents without altering the documents themselves.” (more @ The Telegraph UK, via Melville House)

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WhoIsAJew“The questions before the judges in Courtroom No. 1 of Britain’s Supreme Court were as ancient and as complex as Judaism itself.

“Who is a Jew? And who gets to decide?

“On the surface, the court was considering a straightforward challenge to the admissions policy of a Jewish high school in London. But the case, in which arguments concluded Oct. 30, has potential repercussions for thousands of other parochial schools across Britain. And in addressing issues at the heart of Jewish identity, it has exposed bitter divisions in Britain’s community of 300,000 or so Jews, pitting members of various Jewish denominations against one another. . . .

“The case began when a 12-year-old boy, an observant Jew whose father is Jewish and whose mother is a Jewish convert, applied to the school, JFS. Founded in 1732 as the Jews’ Free School, it is a centerpiece of North London’s Jewish community. It has around 1,900 students, but it gets far more applicants than it accepts. . . .

“By many standards, the JFS applicant, identified in court papers as ‘M,’ is Jewish. But not in the eyes of the school, which defines Judaism under the Orthodox definition set out by Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Because M’s mother converted in a progressive, not an Orthodox, synagogue, the school said, she was not a Jew — nor was her son. It turned down his application.

“That would have been the end of it. But M’s family sued, saying that the school had discriminated against him. They lost, but the ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal this summer.” (more @ NY Times)

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Two examples from the extraordinary selection of twenty-five Weimer-era book covers and posters from the sadly out-of-print book Blickfang: Bucheinbände und Schutzumschläge Berliner Verlage 1919 – 1933 (Holstein, 2005), posted by Will on his blog, A Journey Round My Skull. (via thebookslut)

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pg-32-brothel-AFP-g_251491s“A Berlin brothel is claiming the title of Germany’s first ‘green’ sex establishment after offering clients eco-discounts if they can prove they arrived by bicycle or public transport.

“The concept has been dreamed up by the Maison d’Envie (House of Desire) brothel in the city’s fashionable Prenzlauer Berg district where Germany’s Green party won 46 per cent of the vote in last month’s general election.

“Regina Goetz, the former prostitute who runs the establishment, explained yesterday: ‘The environment is on everyone’s lips around here and it’s pretty hard to find a parking space, so we came up with the idea of an eco-discount of €5 (£4.60) for anyone who leaves the car at home.’

“Ms Goetz, 56, said that the recession had cut the brothel’s turnover by almost half, but the introduction of eco-discounts has proved so successful that business was virtually back to normal again.” (cont’d @ The Independent UK)

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Stencilled graffiti on wall in Tarnow, Poland “celebrating” anniversary of destruction of World Trade Center towers on 9/11 (May, 2008). [Click image to enlarge]

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Venice Gondola“With the splash of her oar, nine centuries of taboos in this romantic canal city shattered as [Giorgia] Boscolo passed a rigorous exam of brains and brawn to become Venice’s first official female gondolier — or gondoliera in Italian, a term that didn’t even exist until her achievement made it necessary. . . .

“Boscolo’s breakthrough propelled her into the ranks of what can no longer be described with complete accuracy as an elite fraternity, made up of bluff and hearty boatmen whose presence along Venice’s winding waterways seems as timeless as the city itself.

“Fewer than 500 gondoliers are licensed to navigate Venice’s network of 150 canals. They’re a fairly macho bunch, instantly recognizable in their jaunty black-and-white-striped shirts, lounging lazily against the bank-side walls waiting for tourists to hire them or letting loose the occasional low whistle at women who walk by.

“They are heirs to a tradition stretching back nearly a millennium, when the signature banana-shaped boats first began plying the waters as a quick and easy means of transport. The men who captained them became indispensable fixtures around the Venetian lagoon, proud of their skill and bonded by shared experience.

“As is inevitable when such a testosterone-laden citadel is breached, not all of Boscolo’s new colleagues have been thrilled about her entry into their midst. Some grumble sotto voce that she’s become too big for her britches, upending the old order and hogging all the attention.” (more @ LA Times)

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Au Revoir“On Bastille Day, as chefs from the Flatiron District were holding a benefit in Madison Square Park inspired by food from around the world, a couple of blocks away Michael Steinberger was sounding the death knell for the most legendary cuisine of all. The occasion was the launch, at Idlewild Books, of his book ‘Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France.’ . . .

“Steinberger, an ardent Francophile, sat on a stool on a low dais in the front window, next to a giant illuminated globe of the world. ‘For the first time in the annals of modern cuisine, the most influential chefs in the world are not French,’ he declared. ‘If you wanted to come up with the top three, you would say Thomas Keller, American; Heston Blumenthal, British; and Ferran Adrià, Spanish.’ He spoke of France’s thirty years of economic stagnation and crippling regulation and high taxes, which have translated every year into the loss of thousands of bistros, cafés, and brasseries, along with thirty thousand farms, all of which, together with a certain gastronomic indifference, he feels has led to the decline of French cuisine. Only ten per cent of cheeses in France are now made from raw milk (there’s just a single artisanal producer of traditional lait cru Camembert left in Normandy), and the consumption of wine—wine!—has dropped fifty per cent, to the point where thousands of small producers are effectively destitute.” (more @ The New Yorker)

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venice water“In this hot and noble city, discarded water bottles float by gondolas on the edges of the canals and spill out of trash cans on the majestic Piazza San Marco. Because Venice has no roads, trash must be collected on foot at enormous expense. And while plastic bottles can in principle be recycled, the process still unleashes greenhouse gases.

“Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world, drinking more than 40 gallons per person annually. But as their environmental consciousness deepens, officials here are avidly promoting what was previously unthinkable: that Italians should drink tap water.

“For decades bottled water has been the norm on European tables, although tap water in many, if not most, cities is suitable for drinking. Since the 1980s, the bottled water habit has also taken hold in the United States, prompting cities from New York to San Francisco to wage public education campaigns to encourage the use of tap water to reduce plastic waste.

“But here in Venice, officials took a leaf from the advertising playbook that has helped make bottled water a multibillion-dollar global industry. They invented a lofty brand name for Venice’s tap water — Acqua Veritas — created a sleek logo and emblazoned it on stylish carafes that were distributed free to households.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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Anti-Nazi and Anti-Papal graffiti, Rome, Italy (May, 2009) [Click images to enlarge]

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Hitler Badge“The items were sometimes delicate, often minimalist and always haunting: a monogrammed silver matchbox; a gold locket with a butterfly design; a letter-opener, its sturdy handle embellished with an eagle and a swastika. Up for auction here on Thursday, the relics fetched record prices and even spurred bidding wars, purely because of their history: They are believed to be among items owned by Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun.

“While the recession may mean that many Americans have been wrestling their overworked credit cards back into their wallets and cutting back on expenses large and small, some collectors have been paying record prices for historic artifacts. At Alexander Autographs, a small auctioneer that expected to generate about $800,000 in sales at its two-day auction, sales reached nearly $600,000 on Wednesday. By Thursday, they were edging toward $1 million. . . .

“The most interest — and higher prices — went to the Nazi-related items once owned by the collector John Lattimer: $4,000 for Braun’s compact; $4,250 for Hitler’s teacup and saucer, with a rose and chestnut print; and $3,000 for his dessert plate.” (more @ NY Times)

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cadaver-book“Visual explorations of how the human body works have had us riveted since before Leonardo da Vinci sketched the famous Vitruvian man sometime around 1487. That fascination is the focus of what may be one of the most gruesome coffee table books ever.

Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930 contains hundreds of pictures of medical students posing with the cadavers they were learning to dissect.

“These photos were something of an underground genre, says author John Warner, a professor of medical history at Yale. You wouldn’t see one in a doctor’s waiting room, but they were taken and treasured, and sometimes even passed around as Christmas cards.” (more @ NPR) [Click image to enlarge]

Meanwhile, in Berlin:

A controversial German anatomy artist is facing protests over his latest plastination exhibition after unveiling a work showing two corpses having sexual intercourse.

Gunther von Hagens, whose latest exhibition, Cycle of Life, opens in Berlin tomorrow, has defended the exhibit saying that it combines the two greatest taboos of sex and death and is a lesson in biology, but is ‘not meant to be sexually stimulating’.

“The exhibition has drawn angry protests from a cross-party group of politicians as well as church representatives. They have called for the work to be withdrawn, saying it is pornographic and an insult to the dead. . . .

“Von Hagens developed the plastination method several years ago after discovering a method for preserving bodies by replacing their fat and water deposits with injections of silicon, which then harden.

“His popular exhibitions, which have travelled the world, have included corpses playing chess, high jumping, and horse riding. Others have shown a dead pregnant woman and foetuses at various stages of development.” (more @ Guardian.UK)

Related: Prof In Corpse Sex Plan

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Posting will be spotty between now and the first week in June. I’ll be in DUMBO next week to see my son in “Sine Wave Goodbye” at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater and to attend my daughter’s commencement at Fordham University where she’s receiving her M.S. in TESOL Education. On the 17th my wife and I are off to Italy for two-plus weeks: Venice, Naples (Pompeii, Herculaneum), Sorrento & the Amalfi Coast, Rome. While in Italy I’ll post my impressions — especially of the food — on Twitter (you can follow my feedings either through the Twitter widget on the NSRG home page or directly on my Twitter page). Arrivederci!

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dejeuner-herbe-manet“Queen Elizabeth II was at home at Windsor Castle, the sentries who guard her were on duty, and the large park surrounding the magnificent building was full of tourists on a Sunday afternoon.

“So it didn’t take long for people to realize that something was out of order when a couple enjoying a picnic on the lawn had too much to drink, stripped naked and began having sex on their blanket. . . .

“Thames Valley Police said the man and woman were arrested and cautioned for outraging public decency.

“The queen was in the castle at the time, but her office declined Friday to comment on what had happened.” (more @ NY Times)

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duffy“Few positions in public life, apart, perhaps, from Pope or manager of the England football team, have proved quite so unattainable to women over the years as that of Britain’s Poet Laureate. For centuries, from Ben Jonson onwards, the prestigious honour with its peppercorn salary and liquid remuneration of a ‘butt of sack’ has been a masculine stronghold, handed down from man to man.

“But that dominance could well be set to come to an end this week after it was let slip that the name of Carol Ann Duffy has been put forward for the Queen’s approval to assume the role from the outgoing Laureate Andrew Motion. If all goes as planned, the Glasgow-born poet will become not only the first woman to hold the post but the first openly gay one.” (more @ The Independent)

Update: (5/1/09) After 341 Years, a Woman Is British Poet Laureate

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shakespeare-on-bookBaptized on April 26, 1564, William Shakespeare‘s actual birthday is unknown but is traditionally observed on April 23rd, St. George’s Day. But how likely is it that today is the Bard of Avon’s real birthday?

“There is no evidence, alas, to support the popular belief that William Shakespeare was born — as fifty-two years later he was to die — on 23 April, the date celebrated in England since 1222 as the feast day of dragon-slaying St George. As the poet’s posthumous fame grew, securing a unique niche for his country in the cultural history of the world, it was a natural enough temptation for posterity to unite the birthday of England’s national poet with that of its patron saint. But the tradition is based on a false assumption, that Elizabethan baptisms invariably took place three days after the birth.” (more @ English History)

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