Futuristic Sunday

Once upon a time – in the future


Borislava Miteva │borislava.miteva@gmail.com

I had been waiting for years for the day when I would wake up naturally at dawn like most elderly people, but on that particular Sunday morning my deep sleep was once again interrupted by my annoying alarm clock. Still sleepy, I extended my arm over the chip-reader on the nightstand and the intelligent device informed me, by means of my new ceiling-integrated screen, that it was a meat day: the people on Earth born before the year 2015 were allowed to have one portion of meat every 250 days. What a celebration it would be for my husband, who was still grieving over the prohibition of the unsustainable factory farming following the Earth’s catharsis! Love is such a marvellous phenomenon, I thought. Not the fiery passion that blurs our sight, but the genuine affection which leads to a conscious overcoming of differences and disregarding of certain principles. And thus, rather shamelessly, I hurried to make a wire transfer for two portions of veal ham, contented by the fact that the lie detector was not yet integrated in the chip-readers in our region, as otherwise my 50 year-long veganism would have certainly deprived my beloved Ivan from his additional meat serving.

Having left my morning toilette to the care of the hygieneazator (how unreal its existence seemed to me in my long-gone childhood when I used to watch with excitement the “The Jetsons” on Cartoon Network) I went over the cosmic news: another intake of a Saturn probe by a black hole; unproductive negotiations at the Intra-Martian Council with regards to the location of the second Earth-passage station; and finally, the level of the Atlantic Ocean had risen by another 10cm over the last month. Once again I asked myself whether I’d rather die in a flood, earthquake or another natural disaster, close to Ivan or far away from him – from old age on Mars. Instead of reaching a decisive conclusion, however, my awareness was suddenly directed to the neighbouring planet, which for decades had been the home of my children. My relationship with them weakened after the birth of my youngest grandchild when I refused to move to Mars so as not to leave behind Ivan on Earth. Yet, the interaction with my family on Mars significantly diminished over the past year due to my various excuses for not going for a visit, coupled with a full examination by means of the newest Martian technologies. It hurt me profoundly that my sons blamed Ivan for his stubbornness and Earth-rootedness but the pain could never kill neither my motherly affection, nor the strong bond I had with my soul mate.

I text messaged all the children and while eagerly waiting for at least one reaction, I handled some of the housework: I turned on the dust-manager (one of the few machines that I secretly worshiped, given my aversion to hand cleaning and even the old vacuum cleaner); I ordered the refrigerator to supply itself with the missing products from my “favourites” list after washing up and arranging itself; I prepared my much loved seaweed-agave-walnuts breakfast (how much I still missed the bees and their honey!); and I finally decided on the meat dish with which to surprise Ivan. As for him, like every morning since the shutting down of all tobacco-production companies, he had woken up before sunrise in order to gather his daily dose of tobacco, which he would then gently dry up. And just when his routine was over and he joined me at the kitchen table with a cigarette in mouth and a cup of coffee in hand, the screen above our heads lit up, prompted by a call on the M-Essenger.

It was our eldest grandson, Bright-743, who was in the final stage of his system re-programming required for obtaining the title of Interplanetary Substance Investigator. His eyes were completely mechanized by now, and he looked more confident and mature. I wished I could be at his graduation from the laboratory. I wished I could hug him whenever I wanted. In a way to distract such thoughts, I started with a brief update about the latest events around us, but eventually returned to the issue at heart, asking him when he would come to Earth, as his last visit was back on my 70th anniversary. I hurried to promise that I would welcome him with his favourite dried fruits-cocoa cake, but he replied even faster declaring that he had finally adopted an entirely energy-source diet, which he highly recommended to me (knowing that Ivan would never give up on food). While condescendingly observing his grandfather who was finishing his cigarette and flipping through a paper book, Bright-743 rebuffed any possibilities for a near-future visit to Earth. Upon graduation he was off to Saturn to investigate the close-by black hole (I could finally understand why my parents used to worry whenever I presented them with an adventure I had in mind), and later he would be involved in an expedition to another galaxy, plus there was an opportunity for an additional project together with a colleague of his called Stela-13. How incredible his lifestyle appeared to me (I wonder whether my grandmother felt in a similar way when she listened to my scuba-diving and sky-diving stories?!), and although I could not comprehend the details around the execution of those complicated operations, I was very proud of my grandson.

Our conversation was interrupted by the meat delivery. Ivan got excited like a child in a pastry shop, in a stark contrast to my grandson who punished me with a disapproving stare. The burden of silence fell upon us.

Good luck with Stela-13, I said. –You’ll understand one day…I hope…

Borislava Miteva, Copy Editorborislava

Borislava is Bulgarian-Canadian and has a BA in Social Sciences (UBC) and in Italian Studies (UniBo). As part of MA Euroculture (2009-2011), which she undertook at the University of Groningen, Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and the University of Pune, she relied on her previous academic studies by focusing on sociological issues, often related to migration and discrimination practices. Since graduating from her MA, she has continued her commitment to these fields by becoming involved in a relevant trans-European NGO, thus exploring the respective legal and human rights approaches. When she’s not in work (and sometimes when she is), she laughs a lot, pretends to be a cook, and fights for her right to write.

Director Norbert ter Hall: “That word ‘should’ makes me nervous”

“I never think: ‘I still have to put a gay character in.’” – Director Norbert ter Hall on his new European film &ME.

Albert Meijer │ albert_meijer@hotmail.com

On March 14th, &ME, an unconventional love story set in Brussels, premiered in the Netherlands and Belgium. The Euroculturer talked to director Nortbert ter Hall about love, homosexuality, Europe and the ‘Easyjet-generation’.

“We all travel between Brussels and Strasbourg, because we can’t make any decisions.”

“The secret of being together for 22 years? He’s the one!”


A'DAM - E.V.A. tv-drama Amsterdam presentatie

“It’s very exciting to be making this movie, as it is the first time that I wrote a script myself”.

Sitting in front of me in a café in Amsterdam is a director with big, black glasses but without the artsy-fartsy attitude you would expect from directors with such glasses. Norbert ter Hall is intelligent and friendly when he talks to me about his new movie, &ME. Meanwhile, he orders coffee after coffee.

In the Netherlands, Ter Hall is mostly known for directing the series A’dam – E.V.A. which is about love, relationships and friendships in Amsterdam, and ‘t Schaep met de Vijf Pooten (The Sheep With Five Legs), a comedy series about a small pub in the Dutch capital. He started as a set-designer, but quickly developed into a director, mostly of television series.

“I never planned on becoming a director, but I’ve been directing for 25 years now. As a director, you shouldn’t wait for lightning to strike, for inspiration to come. You have to make a solid plan next to having a good idea. The technical aspects of film-making are quite simple to learn; an average person can learn those within a week.”

&ME, based on the book Fremdkörper by Oscar van den Boogaard, tells the story of the German Eduard Schiller (Mark Waschke), who moves to Brussels to work in the European Parliament. He has had enough of his life in Berlin, with fleeting one-night-stands with men. What he wants now, more than anything, is happiness.

He literally bumps into the Spanish intern Edurne (Veronica Echegui), who came to Brussels to escape her overprotective mother (Rossy de Palma). She falls in love with Eduard, he wants to give the romance a try, even if it’s with a woman. The Dutch mover Richard (Teun Luijkx) finds in them the ideal couple. In his wish to believe in true love, he tries to bring the two together, but eventually gets entangled in the relationship.

“The essence of the movie is that it is about people that try to love each other. The question is: can you make your own happiness, or does it happen to you by accident? I’m very optimistic on human relations: we need to stick it out with each other, don’t we? I try my best, but I’m not always successful. Life is like skating on an icy river. You try to skate, but you end up limping around on your skates on the ground, because the ice’s too thin. It’s not as graceful, but at least it looks funny.”


EU brussels

The successful series A’dam – E.V.A. was intensely connected to the place where the stories came together: Amsterdam. I wonder if Brussels is equally inspiring.

“A’dam – E.V.A. was a declaration of love to Amsterdam, yes, but at the core it was a declaration of love to how people are connected to each other. It could have played in a different city. In that aspect, &ME is not so different from A’dam – E.V.A. It’s about connections, about living together, but on a European scale.”

The symbolism in &ME is clear. The main characters leave their countries to connect to each other in Brussels, just like the European countries themselves. A second parallel between the movie and the European Union is the difficulty of making decisions. “The main characters want to start a new life by moving away, but they’re stuck to who they are. You can’t escape your choices. The same is true for the EU: the monthly migration between Brussels and Strasbourg is good for nothing. Everybody knows it’s not a smart move, but it’s easier not to make any final decisions. I find that very human. We all travel between Brussels and Strasbourg, so to speak, because we can’t make any decisions.”

The movie will be shown in the Netherlands and Belgium first, but Ter Hall is talking to distributors in Germany, Spain and France. Money for film projects often comes from several countries, but movies rarely picture the internationalism of modern life.

“There are not many pan-European movies, with notable exceptions such as L’Auberge Español. I think that’s peculiar in the day and age of the ‘Easyjet-generation’. Many people now have friends abroad, work abroad, study abroad. Many Dutch movies are geared towards the Netherlands only, but I think it’s much more interesting when a movie travels. I love seeing beautiful movies from Greece or Italy. It really broadens your horizon.”


&Me love

In the &ME press-kit Ter Hall gave me, it says that he often works with screenwriter Robert Alberdingk Thijm. That’s no coincidence: they have been married for 12 and a half years. “I was looking for a screen writer for a children show I was directing. A common friend told me to talk to Robert. He came by, stayed the night, and never really left after that. We’ve been together for 22 years now. We work together a lot. He wrote the script for A’dam – E.V.A. for instance. We don’t clash on set, he’s not always there. Mostly, he just comes by to eat lunch with me.

A lot of what Robert wrote in A’dam – E.V.A. is based on someone we know. The main characters, Adam and Eva, get a tattoo of a wedding ring on their fingers, but eventually don’t get married. That’s based on my brother and sister-in-law. They never married, but their tattooed rings are just as meaningful as real wedding rings would have been.”

Robert and I have never changed our registered partnership into an actual marriage” (which was only possible in the Netherlands in 2001, red.), “but I think it’s the same thing anyway. We find each other in the love of telling stories, in the enjoyment of other people’s stories. We’re not that romantic ourselves, although I find it very romantic when Robert brings me a cup of coffee in bed sometimes. The secret of being together for 22 years? He’s the one!”


& ME

With series like Six Feet Under, Glee and Modern Family, the amount of gay characters on television has increased enormously. In the works of Ter Hall, there are a lot of queer characters to be found as well.

“It’s not something I do consciously; I never think ‘I still have to put a gay person in’. My work is a reflection of the world around me, and there are gay people in there, just like there are children, elderly people, Spanish people …

Homosexuality is more in the open than before, but it’s still seen as something exceptional. In a children’s series I recently made, there’s one character, a boy, who dresses up like a girl. I received some angry reactions to that, people said: “Do you always have to do that?” I thought: always? People can be so negative. I’m not an activist. Robert and I do discuss it: we have a stage, so we feel we have to critically assess what we do with that stage, but in the first place it’s about the story, not the political motives we might have.”

It took a long time for me to conclude that I was gay; I think I was in my twenties when I was sure. I grew up in a relatively small town, with very open parents who I could easily talk to. When I went to art school, I still wasn’t afraid of negative reactions. The only thing that I thought sucked was the fact that you always have to tell everybody. Still, coming out is a learning experience. You make it very clear who you are and what you stand for. It makes it easier to be clear in other fields of your life as well.

Robert and I have a summer-house in a village in France. We never get any negative reactions there, but there is a lot of gossip about us being a gay couple. But – we are a gay couple, so I don’t see it as gossip. A farmer from the area once came to us to tell that he was gay too, but that nobody could know. He was very happy to be able to tell someone. I think that maybe the town wouldn’t change that much if he would come out a lot of resistance is only imagined. Still: it’s not to me to judge that situation.

“I received some criticism on the story of &ME, because a gay man chooses to be with a woman. As if he goes back into the closet! Some people became aggressive, told me that gays should be proud. That word, ‘should’, makes me nervous. Why do people accept that people turn gay at a later age, but not the other way around? My primary goal is to tell a story, and stories are not always socially beneficial. That’s how I see it.”

Albert 3

&ME is showing in Dutch and Belgian cinemas from March 14th. A Dutch version of this article appears in the April 2013 edition of Expreszo Magazine.

(Source of pictures used for the article:  www.cineart.nl/)

Albert pfAlbert Meijer, People’s Editor 

Hailing from Groningen, Albert writes about the student body of the Euroculture programme. His academic interests lie in the fields of (sub)cultural studies, music science, sociology, and gender and queer studies. In his spare time, Albert likes writing and singing mediocre songs, walking through typhoons, making video blogs and getting stuck in difficult yoga positions.

In a Relationship with…Stefan Zweig

ATKA ATUN | atka_brozek@yahoo.com

In the old park, in ice and snow caught fast
Two spectres walk, still searching for the past.

Journey into the Past
is a book about love, anger and shame.

The protagonist, Ludwig, a twenty-three year old man from a poor background, becomes a Councillor’s private secretary, moves into his mansion and falls in love with his wife. One day, the Councillor asks him to leave and run his business in Mexico. At this time, the Great War of 1914-1918 breaks out and events force Ludwig to stay longer in exile. Nine years later, Ludwig comes back to find a Europe that is no longer his and to meet the woman from his past. Will it be possible to go back? Does time make any difference to people who loved each other so passionately? Is it possible to bring back the past?

Nevertheless, this novella is not only about love; it also shows how the events of the Great War broke into people’s lives and forced them to live in a Europe they never signed up for and no longer cared for. A cultural cosmopolitism so much present in the past seemed to have vanished after the Great War. The author, Stefan Zweig, was himself a pacifist and, therefore, we often find references to the atrocity of war in his novels. As with many other Jews, the Austrian had to emigrate to avoid possible death. The writer, so highly acclaimed during the 1920s and 30s, was now forever condemned to live outside Europe. The cultural cosmopolitism, the old and civilized world of pan-European culture he cherished so deeply, became the memory of the past along with the development of the Fascist regimes.

During the 1920s and 30s, Zweig’s fame spread around the world and he was classified as one of the greatest writers, next to Thomas Mann. With time his fame faded, although he was never forgotten in Austria and France. Nowadays, in France, we can buy everything from Zweig’s biography and biographies written by him of figures such as Marie Antoinette, Tolstoy, Casanova, Romain Rolland and Sigmund Freud (the last two were friends of his), to analyses of his novels and novellas.

Moreover, Zweig is also a highly acclaimed master in describing women’s psyche. This subtle language with which he moves from one emotion to another, along with short but indirect phrases, make his prose extremely distinguishable from others. Amongst the most famous and loved masterpieces of his that so accurately describe women, we can definitely distinguish: The Post Office Girl – a Cinderella-like story about a girl who, after seeing the glamorous and fascinating life of the rich, cannot come back to the reality of poverty, an administrative job and shame over her poor existence; and Letter from an Unknown Woman (later made into a movie by Max Ophüls) – a nostalgic novella about a woman writing a letter to a man to inform him that they have a son together and that she has had to resort to prostitution to pay for their son’s education. In this, Zweig does not moralize, and something that could have been only a sappy romance turns into an exquisite fin-de-siècle Vienna drama. A third to distinguish is Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman – a hypnotic madame-Bovary-like story.

I discovered Stefan Zweig in Paris, on a forgotten shelf in a second-hand shop, and it was bliss. It seems like the French never forgot that there is so much power in a simple prose always on the border between kitsch and a masterpiece.

Stefan Zweig took his own life in 1942, in exile in Brazil.

If you liked ATKA’s article, also read In a Relationship with…Patti Smith

ATKA ATUN, Literature Editor

Atka is from Poland and completed her studies in linguistics with a specialization in intercultural communication. She has studied in Krakow,
Paris, and Strasbourg, and is currently doing a research track in Japan. Atka has been researching Japanese literature and the influence of minority cuisines on those of ‘host’ countries. She carries her dog around wherever she goes, and eats way too much weird food.