27 September 2007

Bsharp at the sauna

That title sounds like some twisted Nordic kids book. Alternative post title would be "My first brush with public nudity".

Readers may or may not be aware that the regions north of say, France, have this whole cultural sauna fetish going on. As it's now getting chilly in the afternoon, and raining every five minutes, I can actually start to see why. So, dear friends I'm going to let you in on a little secret from the frozen north about all those cliches of red-faced men and large-hipped women running from sauna to the snow, and the birch branches and all. IT'S ALL TRUE.

I haven't seen any birch-whipping yet but I bet they do it after the winter solstice. So on Tuesday night, after the last evening belly dance session before Miss K, Aussie dancing diva went home, I took her up on an invite to the sauna. I'd actually heard of the one she'd chosen - it is in a former squat and known for its mosaics and veggie cafe.

As we pulled our bikes up to one of those arty-farty courtyards (you know them, fruit trees and hand-made furniture) , I felt inclined to stage whisper "This is one of those places where you go nude isn't it?" and she answers "I don't really know, but I've brought my towel." Now I've been to the Korean baths in Sydney, and was feeling fairly confident about the whole thing - yeh, I'm cool, no problem. Of course nudism is never actually that sexy - it's just a bunch of regular bumpy lumpy people walking around without their togs.

But my lord its' funny. From the moment we walked in it was a delightful montage of saggy bums, greasy dreadlocks and droopy willies galore! Of course there was only one change room, and of course the guy running the place would give us a guided tour, when we were ready and in our towels - including the screened outdoor bit with the giant cold water shower for after you've been sauna-ing for a while. Oh yeah, did I mention it was about 12 degrees and raining on Tuesday night and it's not even winter yet?

And then in that Dutchy way I'm coming to know and love, there was the middle aged gentleman who pointed out to us that we didn't actually take the towels to sit on in the steam room, but wiped the seat with the squeegee, otherwise the towels would just get soaked. They are so practical! So we of course hung the towels outside and did the right thing, in the very close proximity of 3 naked guys and another chick - all very disconcerting.

And a couple of people commented on how healthy it was for your skin, and the guy with dreds well past his nipples said I had cool tattoos (I do), but true to form this stuff just isn't erotic, and they do talk to your face, and you get the feeling any kind of chat up would be the height of rudeness. But to top it all off, was the cafe area where people gravitated to after their sauna/plunge pool/ foot soak for a nudie latte! I'm not kidding. There were really people starkers having tea and veggie treats and helping themselves to famous dutch licorice from the bar. There was even a chess game going on. Oh yeah, and on Tuesday and Wednesday it's okay to skin up a joint. But not other days. Amsterdam. Bless.

And the best bit? This is not some one-off naturist cult. These things are all over the city. Well maybe not the cafe and the grass. But the rest, for sure. Even most of the regular public pools have designated nude swim times. For anyone visiting from Oz from now on the sauna is going to be a compulsory visit.

22 September 2007

Big ups to Madman Entertainment

Alternative title - last week I actually received my John Safran vs God dvd! Yay!

I ordered this in Sydney as surprise for Mr B, hoping it would arrive before the big move. It didn't but that was ok as I had an AusPost forwarding service in place. But after 8 weeks in the Dam it still hadn't arrive, so I emailed them politely asking if perhaps I should follow up with our mighty government postal service, thinking I'd probably never see it again and Madman had my money so why would they care.

But instead they sent a very speedy reply saying that they had actually delayed sending it, because it wasn't in stock missed the end of my forwarding by about a couple of days, and that the marketing manager had just promptly dispatched a second copy to my Amsterdam address. Without me having to ask! I nearly fell off my chair at the lack of hassle and red tape. So for all your cult dvds and hard-to-find SBS TV series, I highly recommend them. Do yourself a favour.

19 September 2007

more on the 'stan

I really dig it when my women friends discuss issues in the blog environment. We are a group of brainy chicks (and that includes and anonymous non-commenters out there too I'm sure... ). However, sometimes here I would so much prefer to be having a glass of red with my homies, in their lounge room, and discussing the world's ills, with the many flaws in the way countries interact with each other. This is one of those occasions, But sadly, being on the other side of the globe kind of precludes that.. (sigh).

So just for the public record (because I know heaps of UN negotiators read my blog) and not not wanting to be combative, here's some background to the comment referring to "aid workers without guns", in the below post. I was going to put it in comments but it got too long. Disclaimer: I am no expert on the conflict in Afghanistan. I first met Mr B after he spent 10 months there in 2003 (yep, after the first troop invasion). He is very passionate and talks about it a lot to anyone who will listen, or who is captive and can't run away, and it rubs off.

Firstly there has been humanitarian aid based in that country for some 30 years, during the whole reign of the Taliban, flying under the radar to try to get emergency aid to people who needed it. Sure, you get good guys in aid and not-so-good-scary-fundamentalist-missionary-types as well. However, the basic principle of going to do education or development or medical work is the universal declaration of human rights, not national security, or political advantage. (In theory, of course. In practice there are all sorts of weird things going on with aid monies).

The Taliban had a terrible grip on the whole place, but its not as if the US or Australia was doing anything about getting rid of them just for the good of the country or the women for that matter. So for starters the whole reason they are there now is to do with security and the War on Terror, not to reclaim the autonomy of the Afghan nationals.

These days, it is just too dangerous for many of the international agencies to be there. Partly, this is because the local warlords (and Taliban, I think) associate non-affiliated groups with the US government. They have committed acts of aggression against them to make a very clear point to the public not to challenge their rule. In 2004, dearly beloved was a couple of days away from being sent back to assess the security situation, shortly after a targeted attack on the his colleagues who build hospitals and clinics. He didn't go, thankfully.

And about the poppy burning thing. Well the NY times says this year is going to be the biggest opium crop ever. "Although common farmers make comparatively little from the trade, opium is a major source of financing for the Taliban, who gain public support by protecting farmers’ fields from eradication, according to American officials. They also receive a cut of the trade from traffickers they protect." This article talks about people paying off the eradicators too - "If the government destroys our poppy, I will join the Taliban," said the farmer from Nadali" . Although that may just be a dodgy lefty propaganda rag.

The NY times also talks about needing to find alternatives, like high-paying legal crops, to actually be effective in controlling poppy cultivation. People grow to make money, not because they want to keep the Taliban in power.

About the Aus army's role - I watched a 4 corners special with one of the reporters embedded in a unit that goes into towns to do building, spending a day or so replacing a bombed school. It all actually looked really cool, and they came across really well as open honest Aussie soldiers just doing a day's work. But when you've been involved in warfare, part of the standard deal is to work on reconstruction isn't it?

But they did go in in full battle fatigues, with a tank in the lead and with soldiers in the hills all around to "secure the area". Mr B just tells me from personal anecdote that the downside for village leaders who collaborate with the army is that they can then get killed later by their rivals for collusion with enemy, which stops anyone else from bringing in services. In my opinion this is a warped and fucked up thing for the locals to be doing to themselves, and not something an Aussie soldier has much control over.

I've heard the relief agencies who know what they're doing make sure they stay separate from governments and militaries so people can accept their help, or do work for them in their own communities, without risking their lives. Also, I just wonder about how much the Aus military can spend on public relations, and get themselves on TV, and spread the word about their good works. I'd say it's a lot. So they've been very successful in communicating their aid activities, while playing down their primary role as a military force that supports the US in local security and helps them with their "war on terror".

And sure the Red Cross and MSF and Oxfam do a lot of publicity and fundraising too, but they also have to spend their funds on the ground, and they might actually build more for less in these remote areas? Also - there's water and sanitation, medicine and education to think about too. This is where my actual knowledge gets hazy and I start to rely on assumptions.... always a shaky position. I know for a fact that some readers have done higher studies in international relations so I'm a tad worried about sounding like an airy-fairy wide-eyed dunderhead on this issue.

I guess in the end the army is there, it has a situation to deal with, and I hope they're dealing with it in the most humanitarian way possible, not blowing civilians up, or killing many more animals, and trying to minimise the wider impacts to people that their presence causes. I just can't help think that Army is Army. They are trained in combat, first and foremost.

So I'll wrap it up there, and do some actual work rather than ranting off into the void. I think we are all in total agreement that Iraq is a total dogs breakfast, despite the desperate spin on it being important to keep the troops there. If you're still with me after all that, hi - thanks for reading. Comments welcome, keep em polite.

12 September 2007

bsharp in vunderland

There's a quote from Through the Looking Glass where the White Queen says "The rule is jam tomorrow, and jam yesterday, but never jam today".

I am finding the rain forecasts a little like that here. On Monday it was filthy drizzling on and off all day and the forecast was sun on Wednesday. Today it's overcast and threatening but the forecast is for sun tomorrow.

Sigh. More thrilling meterological updates coming soon.

Hey Sydney people - how's the city now that the barriers have come down? Are you watching The Chaser tonight and laughing your ass off? I've been reading the smh religiously, and couldn't help notice there was a long list of articles about barriers, planned protests, prevented protests, car towaways, traffic disruptions, bums against Bush and drizabone colour schemes that were very prominent. But you had to scroll aalll the way down to find scant information on what they were actually talking about. Seemed to be pandas mating, cheap imports from Indonesia, a chinese security pact (huh?) and a promise to do fuck all about rising greenhouse emissions. Did I miss something?

5 September 2007

Troops make another cock-up

Not content with the overarching experience of fear and violence of war, our Aussie troops in Afghanistan had to go and run over their own dog. That makes one "skylarking" death and one animal fatality on the Australian side. And what makes us think they are qualified for this 'reconstruction' effort?

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is mourning the death of an explosive detection dog that was accidentally killed by a light armoured vehicle (ASLAV) in Afghanistan.

The four-year-old blue heeler cross, named Merlin, was resting under an ASLAV serving with the reconstruction task force in Tarin Kowt when he was run over by his own troops.

4 September 2007

Notes from living the dream

1. Everything stays shut on Sunday here. I like this, it means people are keeping themselves a bit more balanced. But it does mean you've got to remember to go out and buy things like clothes airers on Saturday.

2. Homewares stores like "Blokker" and my local hardware place don't open till 1.00 pm on Monday. Now surely that's going a bit too far. Still don't have a clothes airer.

3. Tourist flats occasionally house drunk, arsehole, noisy tourists. At about 1am last night when all you Aussies would have been hard at work, possible downing a nice mug of latte, I was wide awake listening to drunken rants, arguments, and possibly songs, doors slamming that sounded like someone had dropped a bass drum down the stair well, and thumping on the glass doors, most likely from the flat below mine which is a short term rental. It was intensely annoying, and most definitely not dutch. Although if i covered my ears to create the swoosh of the ocean, then it was just about possible to pretend it was Bondi.

4. The dutch are by their genetic nature, helpful. A couple of weeks ago I bought some stamps from a heavily touristed area, and didn't realise till I got them home that some were "guilders" (the currency that went out with the Euro). Today I slapped a couple on a letter to the tax man, and then realised it might not get through. So I popped into the local newsagency to see if they thought it was enough currency. The older guy laughed and said - oh I just had to look to see if this was Eugenie or Beatrix on here. (Dutch queens) , I collect stamps you see, this could actually be worth a fews Euros, where did you get it?. But no I don't think it's enough for Australia. So I bought a new stamp, and added it next to poor old 1 guilder Queenie who was already attached, after offering the old stamp to the news agent. It can't have been worth that much as he declined. He also pointed out that I hadn't written Australia, only NSW, so would it get through? Nice.

3 September 2007

Follow-ups, corrections

Just clicked on the side bar to check out if there were any new songs on the erstwhile Tim Minchin's website.* And lo! discovered it has been linked to the personal page of Tim Min this whole time. So sorry for all those frustrated fans out there rattling round the internet keening "where is Tim? ... where is Tim?".

And Meririsa - sorry for going quiet after such a tantalising hint of eco-news. Actually it was just that I realised I had pretty much summed up my point in that one sentence. In particular the Waitrose supermarket chain has made a very mainstream campaign of promoting food and meat that is produced locally. I think it's called "British Food". The deli section had a whole series of unmissable signs promoting salmon, beef etc. Not exactly earth shattering, but it's nice to see things swinging back to a more sustainable idea of what's good to eat, etc. Also I saw a big ad for Scottish beef in the tube station featuring a strapping young man in a kilt.

It just seemed the awareness about food and the environment and also labelling about additives had taken a step forward since my last visit. All the wine we drank clearly said "contains sulphites" on the bottle - I guess lots of people round the world get that stuffy nose thing from a a nice red.

*and check in on his news blog - another one of my imaginary husbands**.
** The corral is growing with recent additions of David Tennant. I hope they get along.