How To Frenchify Your Life

July 5, 2019



I'm drinking a coffee with a chocolatine at Bar à Pain. Two elderly ladies are sitting next to me accompanied by two poodles. A man walks by with a dog unleashed. It's a big dog, gently sniffing around, so it seems, but the poodles think differently. They go in a frenzy and start yapping. The lady agrees with her poodles. "Vous avez vu ce monstre!" she hisses.

A man rings the doorbell of a house. A woman answers through the speaker: "Tu as pris les courses?" [Did you bring the shopping?] The man makes a sound: "Ufff..." The woman : "Réponds à la question!" [Answer the question!]

A woman crosses the street during red light. I'm considering to do the same but then she meets my eyes and says: "Ne fais pas comme moi!"[Don't do like me!]

In Marseille they don't eat pommes frites, they eat "panisse". Panisse are fries made of chick pea flower and they are in the form of half moons. I'm at a bar in Endoume and am giving the panisse an inquiring look. "C'est pas gras," the bartender says, "c'est bon pour le régime!" [It's not greasy, it's good for diet!]

A bit before arriving at the bar, I already tackled La Tarte Tropézienne, which consists of a brioche with a nice layer of orange blossomed flavored cream in between. It's amazing and I ate it in one go. Wikipedia says it was created in 1955 by Alexandre Micka, who was making the meals for the film crew of Et Dieu créa la femme. It was Brigitte Bardot herself who named the pastry. The conversation is said to have gone as followed:
“You should give a name to your dessert” recommended Brigitte Bardot one day.
“Why not calling it the Saint-Tropez Pie?”

I'm eating at La boîte a Sardines for lunch. There's a heatwave going on: "La Canicule" they call it in French. On TV there're special adds warning elderly people to stay indoors and drink a lot of water and no alcohol. But it's full of elderly people at La Boîte and they are drinking wine. I look at them, wondering silently: "Shouldn't you be inside?" But I guess when you're old there are always other people who you consider to be older.

My sister is watching the soap series Plus Belle La Vie about people in Marseille. It's kind of like The Bold and the Beautiful but then with really beautiful people. I tell my sister it looks very unreal but then after some time in Marseille I realise people do look like that. It might also be the strong contrast, after German life, to meet people who have aesthetics. 

Meringue, this huge sugary thing, is everywhere in Marseille. I wonder who eats it, because the French all look so thin. It's also a mystery to me how at noon they can eat a menu including desert, drink a bottle of wine, and finish it off with an amaretto. Do they take a nap at work? 




I'm drinking a coffee with a chocolatine at Bar à Pain. Two elderly ladies are sitting next to me accompanied by two poodles. A man walks by with a dog unleashed. It's a big dog, gently sniffing around, so it seems, but the poodles think differently. They go in a frenzy and start yapping. The lady agrees with her poodles. "Vous avez vu ce monstre!" she hisses. A man rings the doorbell of a house. A woman answers through the spea…


I'm drinking a coffee with a chocolatine at Bar à Pain. Two elderly ladies are sitting next to me accompanied by two poodles. A man walks by with a dog unleashed. It's a big dog, gently sniffing around, so it seems, but the poodles think differently. They go in a frenzy and start yapping. The lady agrees with her poodles. "Vous avez vu ce monstre!" she hisses.

A man rings the doorbell of a house. A woman answers through the speaker: "Tu as pris les courses?" [Did you bring the shopping?] The man makes a sound: "Ufff..." The woman : "Réponds à la question!" [Answer the question!]

A woman crosses the street during red light. I'm considering to do the same but then she meets my eyes and says: "Ne fais pas comme moi!"[Don't do like me!]

In Marseille they don't eat pommes frites, they eat "panisse". Panisse are fries made of chick pea flower and they are in the form of half moons. I'm at a bar in Endoume and am giving the panisse an inquiring look. "C'est pas gras," the bartender says, "c'est bon pour le régime!" [It's not greasy, it's good for diet!]

A bit before arriving at the bar, I already tackled La Tarte Tropézienne, which consists of a brioche with a nice layer of orange blossomed flavored cream in between. It's amazing and I ate it in one go. Wikipedia says it was created in 1955 by Alexandre Micka, who was making the meals for the film crew of Et Dieu créa la femme. It was Brigitte Bardot herself who named the pastry. The conversation is said to have gone as followed:
“You should give a name to your dessert” recommended Brigitte Bardot one day.
“Why not calling it the Saint-Tropez Pie?”

I'm eating at La boîte a Sardines for lunch. There's a heatwave going on: "La Canicule" they call it in French. On TV there're special adds warning elderly people to stay indoors and drink a lot of water and no alcohol. But it's full of elderly people at La Boîte and they are drinking wine. I look at them, wondering silently: "Shouldn't you be inside?" But I guess when you're old there are always other people who you consider to be older.

My sister is watching the soap series Plus Belle La Vie about people in Marseille. It's kind of like The Bold and the Beautiful but then with really beautiful people. I tell my sister it looks very unreal but then after some time in Marseille I realise people do look like that. It might also be the strong contrast, after German life, to meet people who have aesthetics. 

Meringue, this huge sugary thing, is everywhere in Marseille. I wonder who eats it, because the French all look so thin. It's also a mystery to me how at noon they can eat a menu including desert, drink a bottle of wine, and finish it off with an amaretto. Do they take a nap at work? 




Venezia: La Belleza

June 24, 2019



An owner with a poodle walks by the bar. The dog stops and doesn't want to move further. "No andiamo en bar", the owner says to the dog. 

Venice is a very cheerful city. Everything seems to be cheering: the gondolas, the water, the houses, the people. Even the seagulls are cawing with laughter. 

"Das Italienisch ist ganz schon schlapp hier", I hear a German tourists complain. (the Italian is quite limp here.)


Venice is the city of pigeons. "Don't feed the pigeons" a sign says on San Marco. It threatens with a big fine if you do. Have you ever asked yourself why you never see baby pigeons? The ornithologist Frank Steinheimer explained this to me: the parents feed their chicks with a rich milk that they keep somewhere in pockets around their mouth and the baby pigeons grow so fast that you never see them small. 

Next to me a woman talks on the phone. Her Italian is like a babbling brook, speaking very fast and continuously. The poodle is immaculately coiffured with beautiful fluffy ears. Behind us the gondolas pass by on the canal. The woman calls her poodle "Café". 



Next to me on a terrace on Campo S.S. Filippo E. Giacomo an Australian elderly couple is drinking wine. They look suspiciously at my Spritz and ask if it's any good. The woman decides to order one but finds it tastes like medicine. They tell me about their one-month trip. They had to get up every day at 6am in Turkey because of their tour guide. Then their cruise ship, which was supposed to give them some rest, got cancelled in Greece because of an accident. He lost his phone and they both got the flu in Milan. They find Venice horribly touristy compared to fifteen years ago and have decided that in general, travelling is terribly exhausting. It's the last time they are going to travel outside Australia. The husband ends up drinking the Spritz.

On my way out of the hotel I tell the receptionist that the internet is not working. He's sweating and says the internet is the least of his worries at the moment. 

An owner with a poodle walks by the bar. The dog stops and doesn't want to move further. "No andiamo en bar", the owner says to the dog.  Venice is a very cheerful city. Everything seems to be cheering: the gondolas, the water, the houses, the people. Even the seagulls are cawing with laughter.  "Das Italienisch ist ganz schon schlapp hier", I hear a German tourists complain. (the Italian is quite limp here.) Venice is the c…


An owner with a poodle walks by the bar. The dog stops and doesn't want to move further. "No andiamo en bar", the owner says to the dog. 

Venice is a very cheerful city. Everything seems to be cheering: the gondolas, the water, the houses, the people. Even the seagulls are cawing with laughter. 

"Das Italienisch ist ganz schon schlapp hier", I hear a German tourists complain. (the Italian is quite limp here.)


Venice is the city of pigeons. "Don't feed the pigeons" a sign says on San Marco. It threatens with a big fine if you do. Have you ever asked yourself why you never see baby pigeons? The ornithologist Frank Steinheimer explained this to me: the parents feed their chicks with a rich milk that they keep somewhere in pockets around their mouth and the baby pigeons grow so fast that you never see them small. 

Next to me a woman talks on the phone. Her Italian is like a babbling brook, speaking very fast and continuously. The poodle is immaculately coiffured with beautiful fluffy ears. Behind us the gondolas pass by on the canal. The woman calls her poodle "Café". 



Next to me on a terrace on Campo S.S. Filippo E. Giacomo an Australian elderly couple is drinking wine. They look suspiciously at my Spritz and ask if it's any good. The woman decides to order one but finds it tastes like medicine. They tell me about their one-month trip. They had to get up every day at 6am in Turkey because of their tour guide. Then their cruise ship, which was supposed to give them some rest, got cancelled in Greece because of an accident. He lost his phone and they both got the flu in Milan. They find Venice horribly touristy compared to fifteen years ago and have decided that in general, travelling is terribly exhausting. It's the last time they are going to travel outside Australia. The husband ends up drinking the Spritz.

On my way out of the hotel I tell the receptionist that the internet is not working. He's sweating and says the internet is the least of his worries at the moment. 

Venice Bienniale: the Eurovision Song Contest of Art

June 23, 2019

Installation by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu

The Venice Bienniale reminded me of a shopping mall experience I recently had. Artist Anna Björklund of the VICCA Production Seminar at Aalto University led us through the maze of the huge mall Redi in Kalasatama, Helsinki, stretching over three floors. There were endless new shops with one or two sales persons but rarely a customer. I was told this new shopping mall had promised great revenue but was a failure: the customers didn’t come and if they came they got lost and couldn’t find the shop they were looking for. It was a sad capitalist experience. On the roof a Japanese garden had been created for some zen with too many fake buddha sculptures and plastic grass. 

Walking through the main venue of the Venice Bienniale felt equally depressing and fake. When arriving, two pavilions were spreading fog in the Giardini: the central pavilion and the French one of Laure Provost. One of them should have cancelled their fog. To see it twice made it even more into a gimmick. Fog might make you think of Baudelaire: “Les rêves et les féeries sont enfants de la brume.” ("Dreams and fairy tales are children of the mist."). But  this fog didn’t: it’s just fake and it shows. Best thing you can do with it, is to photograph it for Instagram and get likes. Even the title of the Bienniale is based on a fake: May You Live in Interesting Times.

The central pavilion curated by Ralph Rugoff, the director of the Hayward Gallery in London, has other gimmicky art that is supposed to tickle your senses. After the fog, first thing you see are the panels of Antoine Catala that have air pumped in and out of them so that messages are revealed. Very cheesy. And Ryoji Ikeda then leads you through a corridor of bright fluorescent light that is supposed, so the wall text, to “open the door to an experience of the sublime.” I thought it was super annoying and didn't feel anything close to the sublime. I rather prefer what artist Matteo Cremonesi told me about the sublime in the 21st century: “It’s on leave.” 

Talking about text, the curatorial text of Ralph Rugoff is bland: “Among their many outstanding qualities, the contributors to this exhibition are seriously adventurous; they each produce diverse bodies of work that articulate distinct modes of thinking and engage far-ranging concerns.” Nice empty art speak that could be talking about any art work. To highlight the “multi-dimensional approach to making art”, Rogoff shows his artists twice - both in the central pavilion and in the Arsenale. Again a gimmick that leads to nothing much. Two examples: the beautiful photography of Zanele Muholi, shown in small size in the pavilion turn into advertisement size, plastered on the walls, in the Arsenale. Or Nicole Eisenman shows (ugly) paintings in the pavilion and sculptures in the Arsenale. Yuh yuh, multidimensional, ooookay

Talking about multidimensional, I saw a lot of art that was 1/1: Teresa Margolles shows Muro Ciuda Juárez, a concrete wall with bullet holes and barbed wire that was standing in front of school in Juárez, Mexico. And you probably heard already enough about the refugee boat of Christoph Büchel. In the middle of the central pavilion there is the horrible installation by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, with a huge industrial robot causing havoc in a glass cage. Watching it feels like disaster tourism. Standing next to it is Margolles’ wall and behind the wall peeks out the collaged photography sculptures of Frida Orupabo. I’ve seen the work by Orupabo before and thought it to have beauty, poetry and strength. But the curating made sure that it lost all these qualities. Ralph Rogoff seems to know how to slick everything down so that hardly  a spark of energy survives, sensuality comes about, and let's not even talk about poetry. Only some art works survive: the paintings of Henry Taylor or the video The White Album of Arthur Jafa, for instance, are hard to destroy even by the worst curator.

Of course, as to be expected, there is a lot of digital art, a lot of immersive art, and a lot of art on ecology and identity. And I guess that’s fine because that’s what is at the forefront in our society. But often it goes along with borrowed importance and the importance of Being Important. As it is, the wall texts accompanying the art works try hard to put as much (literal) importance into the exhibited art works as possible. In a Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf suggested not to try to influence people but to "think of things in themselves". But in art, influencing often seems all it's about. It’s interesting to know that this Bienniale apparently didn’t even bother to work together with existing local environmental initiatives in Venice. “It’s just acting,” a curatorial student at the Venice University of Design told me.

Now we could of course talk in detail about all the national pavilions but for me, after seeing the main exhibitions, it all looked like a bad Eurovision Song Contest for contemporary art. About my own home country: I saw that the Belgian pavilion got a special mention for  Jos de Gruyter's and Harald Thys' animatronic figures, which I thought were awful. My conclusion: the nationstate concept is not working anymore in the 21st century and the Venice Bienniale is losing more and more of its relevance by holding on to it. 

The Venice Bienniale reminded me of a shopping mall experience I recently had. Artist Anna Björklund of the VICCA Production Seminar at Aalto University led us through the maze of the huge mall Redi in Kalasatama, Helsinki, stretching over three floors. There were endless new shops with one or two sales persons but rarely a customer. I was told this new shopping mall had promised great revenue but was a failure: the customers didn’t come and if …
Installation by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu

The Venice Bienniale reminded me of a shopping mall experience I recently had. Artist Anna Björklund of the VICCA Production Seminar at Aalto University led us through the maze of the huge mall Redi in Kalasatama, Helsinki, stretching over three floors. There were endless new shops with one or two sales persons but rarely a customer. I was told this new shopping mall had promised great revenue but was a failure: the customers didn’t come and if they came they got lost and couldn’t find the shop they were looking for. It was a sad capitalist experience. On the roof a Japanese garden had been created for some zen with too many fake buddha sculptures and plastic grass. 

Walking through the main venue of the Venice Bienniale felt equally depressing and fake. When arriving, two pavilions were spreading fog in the Giardini: the central pavilion and the French one of Laure Provost. One of them should have cancelled their fog. To see it twice made it even more into a gimmick. Fog might make you think of Baudelaire: “Les rêves et les féeries sont enfants de la brume.” ("Dreams and fairy tales are children of the mist."). But  this fog didn’t: it’s just fake and it shows. Best thing you can do with it, is to photograph it for Instagram and get likes. Even the title of the Bienniale is based on a fake: May You Live in Interesting Times.

The central pavilion curated by Ralph Rugoff, the director of the Hayward Gallery in London, has other gimmicky art that is supposed to tickle your senses. After the fog, first thing you see are the panels of Antoine Catala that have air pumped in and out of them so that messages are revealed. Very cheesy. And Ryoji Ikeda then leads you through a corridor of bright fluorescent light that is supposed, so the wall text, to “open the door to an experience of the sublime.” I thought it was super annoying and didn't feel anything close to the sublime. I rather prefer what artist Matteo Cremonesi told me about the sublime in the 21st century: “It’s on leave.” 

Talking about text, the curatorial text of Ralph Rugoff is bland: “Among their many outstanding qualities, the contributors to this exhibition are seriously adventurous; they each produce diverse bodies of work that articulate distinct modes of thinking and engage far-ranging concerns.” Nice empty art speak that could be talking about any art work. To highlight the “multi-dimensional approach to making art”, Rogoff shows his artists twice - both in the central pavilion and in the Arsenale. Again a gimmick that leads to nothing much. Two examples: the beautiful photography of Zanele Muholi, shown in small size in the pavilion turn into advertisement size, plastered on the walls, in the Arsenale. Or Nicole Eisenman shows (ugly) paintings in the pavilion and sculptures in the Arsenale. Yuh yuh, multidimensional, ooookay

Talking about multidimensional, I saw a lot of art that was 1/1: Teresa Margolles shows Muro Ciuda Juárez, a concrete wall with bullet holes and barbed wire that was standing in front of school in Juárez, Mexico. And you probably heard already enough about the refugee boat of Christoph Büchel. In the middle of the central pavilion there is the horrible installation by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, with a huge industrial robot causing havoc in a glass cage. Watching it feels like disaster tourism. Standing next to it is Margolles’ wall and behind the wall peeks out the collaged photography sculptures of Frida Orupabo. I’ve seen the work by Orupabo before and thought it to have beauty, poetry and strength. But the curating made sure that it lost all these qualities. Ralph Rogoff seems to know how to slick everything down so that hardly  a spark of energy survives, sensuality comes about, and let's not even talk about poetry. Only some art works survive: the paintings of Henry Taylor or the video The White Album of Arthur Jafa, for instance, are hard to destroy even by the worst curator.

Of course, as to be expected, there is a lot of digital art, a lot of immersive art, and a lot of art on ecology and identity. And I guess that’s fine because that’s what is at the forefront in our society. But often it goes along with borrowed importance and the importance of Being Important. As it is, the wall texts accompanying the art works try hard to put as much (literal) importance into the exhibited art works as possible. In a Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf suggested not to try to influence people but to "think of things in themselves". But in art, influencing often seems all it's about. It’s interesting to know that this Bienniale apparently didn’t even bother to work together with existing local environmental initiatives in Venice. “It’s just acting,” a curatorial student at the Venice University of Design told me.

Now we could of course talk in detail about all the national pavilions but for me, after seeing the main exhibitions, it all looked like a bad Eurovision Song Contest for contemporary art. About my own home country: I saw that the Belgian pavilion got a special mention for  Jos de Gruyter's and Harald Thys' animatronic figures, which I thought were awful. My conclusion: the nationstate concept is not working anymore in the 21st century and the Venice Bienniale is losing more and more of its relevance by holding on to it. 

Local History: Thoben Friendship

June 10, 2019



Sometimes I go to the Thoben Bakery near my house. Thoben Bakery is a mystery to me: it sells only flat rectangle cakes like “Streuselkuchen” and “Käsesahneschnitte.” The furniture and the walls are in the color red, which doesn’t succeed in making it a cosy place. But there is no radio playing at Thoben, which I like, and dogs are allowed to enter, which is nice for the dachshund Otto. 

I mostly only drink coffee at Thoben. And I'm doing so when a fashionable woman enters the bakery. Fashionable people are rare in my neighbourhood Alt-Tempelhof. The woman talks in a familiar tone with the sales woman and calls her Lisa. Then she sits down next to me and starts writing on her laptop. “Do you have internet?” I ask. I find out her name is Lina Berlina and she's a fashion designer who moved from Indonesia to Berlin about 20 years ago. She lives around the corner of Thoben, just like me. Another woman with baby carriage joins us. They know each other. “We’re Thoben friends,” the woman with the baby says. I'm excited to be part of this new Thoben friendship. 

Rarely people appreciate the charm of Alt-Tempelhof when visiting but W. does. Before, we used to meet at the café of the Ufa-Fabrik near the Tempelhofer Hafen but now we meet at Thoben. We both have Erdbeerschnitte. The strawberries are swimming in their red gelatine which makes it look quite arty. 

Lina and I are sitting outside on the terrace of Thoben. At our table are sitting two elderly ladies. The population in Alt-Tempelhof is predominantly on the elderly side. They start quarrelling with a neighbouring table of elderly people about the wobbly table. I end the quarrel by taking a napkin and fixing it under the table's leg. Satisfied, the ladies start at their Bienenstich with whipped cream. 

Lisa, the sales person at Thoben, is a woman of a few to no words. When I enter, she already starts making the coffee and skips asking me what I want. Since I know the price of a cup of coffee (it's 1.20), we could do the whole thing without exchanging a single word but I can't help to say thank you. 

Instead of Thoben, I sometimes sit on a bench at the pond in the nearby park. My neighbour on the bench points out: "Der Tag hat sich viel schöner entwickelt als angenommen. [The day developed much nicer as expected.]










Sometimes I go to the Thoben Bakery near my house. Thoben Bakery is a mystery to me: it sells only flat rectangle cakes like “Streuselkuchen” and “Käsesahneschnitte.” The furniture and the walls are in the color red, which doesn’t succeed in making it a cosy place. But there is no radio playing at Thoben, which I like, and dogs are allowed to enter, which is nice for the dachshund Otto.  I mostly only drink coffee at Thoben. And I'm doing so …


Sometimes I go to the Thoben Bakery near my house. Thoben Bakery is a mystery to me: it sells only flat rectangle cakes like “Streuselkuchen” and “Käsesahneschnitte.” The furniture and the walls are in the color red, which doesn’t succeed in making it a cosy place. But there is no radio playing at Thoben, which I like, and dogs are allowed to enter, which is nice for the dachshund Otto. 

I mostly only drink coffee at Thoben. And I'm doing so when a fashionable woman enters the bakery. Fashionable people are rare in my neighbourhood Alt-Tempelhof. The woman talks in a familiar tone with the sales woman and calls her Lisa. Then she sits down next to me and starts writing on her laptop. “Do you have internet?” I ask. I find out her name is Lina Berlina and she's a fashion designer who moved from Indonesia to Berlin about 20 years ago. She lives around the corner of Thoben, just like me. Another woman with baby carriage joins us. They know each other. “We’re Thoben friends,” the woman with the baby says. I'm excited to be part of this new Thoben friendship. 

Rarely people appreciate the charm of Alt-Tempelhof when visiting but W. does. Before, we used to meet at the café of the Ufa-Fabrik near the Tempelhofer Hafen but now we meet at Thoben. We both have Erdbeerschnitte. The strawberries are swimming in their red gelatine which makes it look quite arty. 

Lina and I are sitting outside on the terrace of Thoben. At our table are sitting two elderly ladies. The population in Alt-Tempelhof is predominantly on the elderly side. They start quarrelling with a neighbouring table of elderly people about the wobbly table. I end the quarrel by taking a napkin and fixing it under the table's leg. Satisfied, the ladies start at their Bienenstich with whipped cream. 

Lisa, the sales person at Thoben, is a woman of a few to no words. When I enter, she already starts making the coffee and skips asking me what I want. Since I know the price of a cup of coffee (it's 1.20), we could do the whole thing without exchanging a single word but I can't help to say thank you. 

Instead of Thoben, I sometimes sit on a bench at the pond in the nearby park. My neighbour on the bench points out: "Der Tag hat sich viel schöner entwickelt als angenommen. [The day developed much nicer as expected.]