BLOG

Kaliningrad: A deeper shade of gray

kaliningrad-in-gray

“Even when suppressed, history has a way of bubbling up to the surface. In Kaliningrad, that gray blob of dislocated Russia in the heart of the EU, local creatives have turned this bubbling into an arts scene. For visitors, the city-formerly-known-as-Königsberg provides a surreal, and economical, crash course in Teutonic Knights, WWII, the Cold War and today’s Russia. Plus, with the Baltic Sea, there are long stretches of unspoiled beach…”

Read the PDF of my travel feature published in Code magazine here.

kaliningrad-knights

Posted: March 29, 2016 at 1:21 pm.

Add a comment

Hospitality, Moscow-style

moscowontariocanada2

I’ve had recurring dreams about showing my parents around Moscow. I would be taking them to major sights or exposing them via friends to that majorly psychotic brand of Slavic hospitality. But alas, such a trip never happened. (I did take them to former-Yugoslavia once. It was a mixed success. While my parents did get a taste of Slavic hospitality, they also flashed-back to their WWII childhoods – the taste of war was just still too fresh. But that’s another story.)

Last summer my Moscow dreams came partially true. My parents and I visited Moscow, Ontario, Canada (pop: 65). For a second as we drove across the town line, it even seemed like the real thing. Unfortunately, the rising spires of a Russian Orthodox church turned out to be a cluster of farm silos.

We stopped at the Variety Store and Gas Bar by the crossroads – aka ‘Downtown Moscow’. I hoped to buy local souvenirs to use as payback for hospitality the next time I was in Moscow proper. The proprietor Gord, a large older man who did not seem prone to movement, laughed when I asked if he sold Moscow-branded baseball caps or t-shirts. “I got chips and root beer. That’s pretty much it.” Gord laughed again when I asked if the town was originally founded by homesick Russians.

moscowontariocanadaApparently, Moscow was originally called Springfield until government agents dropped by in the late 19th century to tell the hamlet to change its name because there were already too many goddam Springfields. So in the name of not confusing the postal services any further, Springfield was renamed Moscow since it happened to be the anniversary of Napoleon’s wintery retreat from Moscow proper. “And hell, it gets cold here too!” Gord laughed.

We bought root beers as a small compensation for Gord’s story before making our own retreat. Just as we were about to pull out, Gord ran outside. Huffing, puffing and verging on a heart attack, he was holding a piece of paper. It was a photocopied certificate embossed with ‘Mos’ and a cartoon cow [pictured above]. He said he just found this last copy in his desk drawer and we could have it. Thanks Gord! Consider it laminated!

As we drove off we all agreed: Moscow is one hospitable town.
moscowontariocanada4

Posted: October 16, 2013 at 2:33 pm.

2 comments

How to be a dictator and sell cola at the same time

DUF is a Dutch-language book-magazine for 12- to 18-year-olds. It’s a ‘cluster bomb’ of text and visuals. Edition three is out now and acts as a primer in navigating our world’s media insanity. Buy it. It’ll blow your mind and your kid’s. There’s even dirty pictures. Below is my contribution in its original English.

duf1

COLA & PROPAGANDA

Do you want to lord over your friends, parents and – why not? – the whole freaking world? Learn now how you can become a dictator and sell cola at the same time! In seven easy lessons!

by Steve Korver, for DUF 3 (2012)

What is the difference between advertising and propaganda? Um, good question. Advertising aims to sell a service or product (‘Mmm that’s the best cheeseburger ever!’). Propaganda aims to sell a particular ideology (‘Yippee, we’re the happiest country in the world!’) or goal (‘This war is justified.’) Meanwhile in most Spanish-speaking countries, when people say ‘propaganda’ they mean ‘advertising’.

Both advertising and propaganda tries to influence human behaviour – to get you to open your wallet for a cheeseburger, or to sign along the dotted line at an army recruitment office. They both play on your emotions and not your intelligence. So it’s not ridiculous that both dictators and marketeers use the same box of tricks.

BIG SECRET NUMBER 1:
People are sooooooooo stuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuupid! But…
‘There’s a sucker born every minute,’ the American circus showman PT Barnum allegedly said. And it’s true. So keep it simple. But remember that people NEVER consider themselves as stupid. Half the time they are not even aware they are being brainwashed. Yes, humans suffer from overconfidence.

So it’s very important to not make your target audience feel stupid otherwise they will find someone else to get brainwashed by. The easiest way to do this is by dumbing down. Be folksy. Be a regular person who represents regular wants and needs. Be the Joneses or be Henk & Ingrid. In short: posh it down and sincere it up! Continue Reading…

Posted: November 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm.

2 comments

CODE’s ‘edit and reconstruct’ issue

CODE21LR-379x469The spring/summer 2012 issue of CODE magazine has been out for a while.

Besides managing as managing editor, I wrote a travel feature about grey – but mighty and magical – Kaliningrad. This city-formerly-known-as-Königsberg is now a dislocated blob of Russia in the heart of the EU, and offers crash courses in Teutonic Knights, WWII, the Cold War and how to build arts scenes out of freaking nothing. It’s also got killer beaches and drunken pine trees.

I also had the honour of interviewing Magnum Force of Street Style (and cover boy) Nick Wooster, as well as the Dutch artist/designer Joep van Lieshout. As founder of Atelier van Lieshout, Joep has brought the world fully-realised ‘Free States’, slave camps and rectum bars. Now he’s just come out with a line of unisex handbags. So I asked him if he was undermining his past work, playing with people’s minds or just being hilarious – he definitely proved to be hilarious. He also had interesting things to say about order vs. chaos.

This issue also has features from two of my favourite writers: Sarah Gehrke (on Noses) and Floris Dogterom (on doodle tattoos). And the design is by the inspired lads of Het Echte Werk. So check, check, check it out. It’s now available at the world’s better mag shops – including Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum in Amsterdam.

Read about CODE’s ‘2012 Survival Kit’ issue here.

Posted: June 4, 2012 at 11:54 am.

Add a comment

Heading to Berlin…

485653_396428703721848_100000641654597_1270681_954531821_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted: April 26, 2012 at 11:26 am.

Add a comment

THE FIRST YUGOSLAVIAN COSMONAUT


Road to Gagarin presents the short film ‘The First Yugoslavian Cosmonaut’ on the 51st anniversary of human space flight.

On 12 April 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-68) yelled ‘Off we go!’ as he was blasted off from a dusty steppe in Kazakhstan to become the first human in space.

This historical event made a Belgrade boy start dreaming of becoming Yugoslavian Cosmonaut #1…

Road to Gagarin is a project by photographer/film-maker Rene Nuijens and I. By documenting the major settings of the bizarre and dramatic life of Yuri, we are out to capture the essence of the man who is dead, and his myth which is very much alive – and still inspiring much love, art and conspiracy theories. Yuri has not only been our rocket into Russia, but also Cuba.

Now it’s time to visit Yuri Gagarin Boulevard in Novi Belgrade, Serbia. Let’s all lay flowers.

Posted: April 11, 2012 at 9:56 pm.

Add a comment

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH

I got to preach about the meaning of value to the future business elite of the Netherlands. Nice work when you can get it. Read it on page 6 in the fall/winter issue of Nyenrode Now. Or below…

thethinkerFOR WHAT IT’S WORTH
By Steve Korver

‘Price is what you pay, value is what you get,’ the financier Warren Buffet once observed when asked for the meaning of value. When mere mortals are posed the same question, we tend to come up with repackaged clichés: ‘It’s all relative’, ‘Value is in the eye of the beholder’, ‘Everything is worth nothing without your health’… In short, value appears to be a rather random construct. And recent global financial disasters can largely be explained in terms of people and institutions being much too arbitrary – or plain tricky – in how they establish ‘value’. Now much of the world is left wondering what it actually means.

Happily, philosophers have sweated for millennia about the concept. Plato made the distinction between ‘instrumental value’ (something that can be used to get something else, such as cash, gold and real estate) and ‘intrinsic value’ (something that is worth having in itself, such as friends, family and a sense of home). Currently, many explain the current economic and environmental realities in terms of our nasty habit of overemphasizing the instrumental over the intrinsic. It is certainly impossible to deny that there has been a hidden price to many human activities. There’s some truth in saying: ‘The only time you know the true value of something is when you lose it.’

Many things blur the line between the instrumental and the intrinsic. A common example is a green, wild and dynamic natural ecosystem which has obvious intrinsic value in its beauty, but can also be taken apart into resources of instrumental value. Another example is an education. Studying can expand one’s mind to a world of possibilities but it can also aid you in getting a well-paid leadership position. If you manage to balance the two, voila: you are, or could be, a successful entrepreneur.

Information, partnerships, networks, diversity and sustainability… they’re all things that have added value from the way they can surf the wave between the intrinsic and the instrumental. Perhaps it would be wiser for us to bank more on those things that don’t qualify to be locked up in a bank.

The final word, for human value, is for the writer F Scott Fitzgerald. He advised: ‘What we must decide is how we are valuable, rather than how valuable we are.’ Perhaps there’s even value in clichés.

Posted: January 11, 2012 at 4:15 pm.

Add a comment

‘BLACK PETER’ MAY OR MAY NOT BE RACISM… BUT ST. NICK IS DEFINITELY SATAN

502986-041824589f351cbf1e0a6def37978f16

[Spoiler alert: Not recommended reading for those who believe in Santa Claus.]

Each year in the Netherlands during the Christmas season, the tone around the debate on whether Zwarte Piet (‘Black Peter’) is a form of racism gets darker. This year, the discourse was further inflamed by the rather violent arrest of ten protesters with ‘Black Peter is Racism’ t-shirts and the news that the Dutch-Canadian community in Vancouver decided to no longer allow Black Peters in their annual Sinterklaas (St Nicolas) procession. Meanwhile many of the Dutch-Dutch just get increasingly defensive as they treat such talk as a threat against their culture.

For the outsider, it remains a curious tradition: countless Dutch adults putting on black face, smearing on red, red lipstick, popping on a wig of kinky hair and adorning their ears with large golden hoops – and doing all this without any sense of malice. Then they hit the streets like a pack of highly caffeinated Al Jolsons to help St. Nick distribute sweets to children.  Years ago, a visiting friend and I came across such a posse. I was long used to it, but my friend’s jaw hit the ground in disbelief – and this is a man who has witnessed much weirdness worldwide. ‘What is this minstrel madness?!?’ he asked flabbergasted. (Not long after while in Russia our roles were reversed in a strange and convoluted way when we were waiting at a backwoods train station and some skinheads came to confront my friend about the colour of his skin. He stayed cool and dealt with the situation. I just stood there. Totally flabbergasted.)

Local Dutch cultural history only goes so far in giving my friend a reasonable explanation behind the Black Peter tradition. Continue Reading…

Posted: December 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm.

3 comments

The Hole Report (or at least part of it)

Yesterday I had a night full of holes. And it wasn’t about drinking to excess, but about attending the ‘On Portable Holes and Other Containers’ night at Felix Meritis organised by Paleisje voor Volksvlijt. Artists, philosophers, musicians and writers gathered to present and ponder such questions as ‘Is a hole a container?’, ‘How do we talk about something that does not exist?’ and ‘If you buy a donut, are you also buying the hole?’

It was actually quite enlightening. Lately I’ve been looking for new ways to perceive reality, and holes might just be the ticket. But I must admit I am still a little stuck on: ‘How do you successfully describe a knotted hole without refering to the immaterial?”

The night was partially inspired by the excellent and often hilarious book Gaten & andere dingen die er niet zijn [‘Holes and other things that are not there’] by the Easy Alohas. This DJ duo, comprised of Bas Albers and Gerard Janssen, were on hand for what must have been one of their easiest gigs ever: playing silence – or rather a mash-up of John Cage’s ‘4’33”’ and Mike Batt’s ‘One Minute Silence’. Because there was no turntable, the Alohas were forced at the last minute to download these tracks of nothingness from iTunes. This also meant we could not listen to the album they had brought along called The Best of Marcel Marceau – everyone’s favourite mime.  

Later I confessed to Gerard of the Alohas that my life is filled with huge, gaping holes. He reassured me as only a holy master of holes can: ‘You shouldn’t see that as a problem. These holes are just spaces that you can fill up with new people and ideas.’ I was suddenly filled with a huge sense of belonging. I was now truly part of the silent majority.

[Full disclosure:  You remember when the CERN Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator was first turned on in 2008 and it mysteriously shut down almost immediately, and it was theorised that a particle from the future had travelled back in time to do this in order to ensure that the accelerator would not form a black hole? I am that particle.]

Posted: December 1, 2011 at 4:42 pm.

Add a comment

NYC through the stomach

By Steve Korver, October 2011

The US economy is generally collapsing more quickly than other economies. So it’s really a perfect time, exchange-wise, to visit New York City and indulge in what is the centre of the food universe. However it does help having a food-obsessed host to point the way. And with some luck, you can also squeeze in some more traditional sightseeing.


It’s smoking
54431-rect-220Char No. 4 is a bar-restaurant with a passion for bourbon. Its interior is appropriately amber-hued and woody. The 19th-century row house location in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn might make it potentially pretentious. But it’s not. They serve ‘American fare with a focus on smoked meat’. And anyway, I have long trusted my food-obsessed host to regularly reward me for knowing him. He is the man who earlier introduced me to such global culinary touchstones as the ‘herring in a fur coat’ at Petrovich and the rainbow of innards that they concoct at St John. Continue Reading…

Posted: October 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm.

Add a comment