1st exchange

Dear Jan, 
Last week I saw the film, The Artist, by French director Hazanavicius (already a name that could fill a novella). The story is deliciously simple. A silent movie star refuses to crossover to the talkies and thereby loses his position through stubbornness. He even rejects the helping hand of an up-and-coming starlet doing well in the new medium and who also happens to worship him. But he ends up down and out and almost dying in a pyre of burning film rolls. A tragedy is barely averted until our fallen hero finally accepts the love of his successful admirer, and together they become a dance duo and make film furore. Ginger and Fred, Redux. The film is black-and-white and without a line of spoken dialogue. For 90 minutes, we the viewers watch breathlessly to a modern silent film. What I found the most special was how even though the star completely rejected the new innovations, he retained my sympathy. Here, a cliché was broken through: the idea that humans should embrace all new technology as quickly as possible. That the world is there to be improved. Adjusted. The hero said no and it was a no that came out of an existential emergency.

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Dear Abdelkader,
You took the words right out of my mouth. The Artist is a beautiful film. After it finished, I kept sitting and mused about the importance of the Word.

  

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2nd exchange

Dear Abdelkader,
I haven’t seen you in a while. Not literally – I have seen you on TV with those beautiful documentaries about books. Good tone: not know-it-all but driven by curiosity. Try to also cover some lesser known titles on occasion.  Or half-forgotten books. No one reads the stories of Hotz anymore. A shame.

... 

Dear Jan,
You took the words right out of my mouth, or as the Dutch say, heart. I printed it out so I could read it again by the window overlooking the street I live in, Churchilllaan. My street is named after the man who helped stop absolute evil.

 

 

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3rd exchange

Dear Abdelkader,
Please understand me. I very much support differences, and I detest the idea of a uniform Europe – which is anyway just a concept produced by bureaucrats without imagination. The idea behind the formation of a European Union is both genius and dubious.
 
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4th exchange

Dear Abdelkader,
Here we are worrying about Europe and the clashes and misunderstandings between its northern and southern mentalities, with The Hague, Berlin and Helsinki on one hand, and Athens, Rome, Madrid and Lisbon on the other. But meanwhile this world is slipping, like an eel from our hands, into irrelevance.

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Dear Jan,
I recognise that cousin. It’s me. I share the eagerness of those Chinese who want to eat their

 

way through European culture. I’m also guilty of washing down foie gras with some Cola Light, and of the desire to sit down in a real restaurant with real wine glasses and real cutlery.
Some people have a criminal record. I have a culinary past.
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5th exchange

Dear Jan,
To speak with one voice. How does this work?
Last week I think I had a glimpse of how it’s possible. Perhaps it was afata morgana or a simple illusion, but it did happen – and without any outside pressure.
While opinion-makers, Euro-sceptics and nationalists talk about the dissolution of the shared Euro, the Imagining Europe festival at the Balie in Amsterdam consciously chose for the opposite direction. The ideas that were shared there became so intimately intertwined that by the end of the night, I no longer knew which idea came from where.

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Dear Abdelkader,
You assumed well, Abdel. Indeed, I could not suppress a smile when I heard that Europe got the Noble Prize. At almost the same time, the euro-scepticism of the Netherlands seemed to evaporate. And less than a month later, we got a new minister for foreign affairs. I once attended a talk by Frans Timmermans that jolted me out of two of my preconceptions: a) that Dutch politicians are unable to give quality speeches, and b) that Dutch politicians have no clue about European culture. Meanwhile, Obama was re-elected and the world looks much better now than when we began our letter exchange.

 

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