South Sudan, A Luxury Trip

sudan2Juba, February 2009 – Scarlatti is filling this ‘room’ with his genius. I’ve managed to attach my iPod to the huge television set and the combination of the two makes for a reasonable sound quality. Although at the moment, I must say, they’re not making it very easy for poor Domenico. I’m sitting in the middle of a construction site. Above my head more ‘rooms’ are being built, outside between the barracks a pavement is being laid. All this is accompanied by a lot of hammering, the high pitched screams of metal grinders, deafening sounds of heavy drills and the loud chatter of the cleaning girls doing the windows and doors of these ‘rooms’. But since I know his music so well, Domenico only needs to get a couple of notes through in between the noises to let me know what he’s trying to tell me. He speaks my language, I know his story, we’re friends. Read more »

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The Pumpkin Championship

img_34485Teuge, September 2008 – Once a year it is ‘Braderie’ in our village. It is a sort of a mardi gras where all the local shop owners install little stalls in the streets. In these you find fun little games for the kids and lots of watery beer in plastic cups for the parents. And the ‘pièce de resistance’ of the whole event is the annual Pumpkin Championship. Pumpkins are entered into the championship from all around the small community and on the last day these are measured by a team of wholly unbiased judges. The one who has managed to grow the biggest pumpkin in the months preceding the event will become the winner of the Pumpkin Championship. He or she shall be gracefully awarded a nifty price sponsored by the local shop owners. A box of paperclips from the bookshop, two pounds of the highest quality minced meat from the butchers, a fine loaf of white bread and a bag of tasty cookies from the baker and so forth. But more important than all, more precious than any of the other prizes is of course acquiring “The Honour” and to be awarded the little bronze medal in front of the cheering audience.  Read more »

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Drooling in Kaunas

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(C) Flickr / stevendepolo

Kaunas, July 2006 – “Man look at those legs !  And each and every one of them you know. Jesus Christ. There must be something in the water here…” 
Thus sighs an unnamed pilot on a cafe terrace in Kaunas, Lithuania, the hot summer sun an accomplice to the suffering that takes place under its rays. Like  diabetics in a Belgian chocolate shop, five Dutch guys are having a cup of coffee on the promenade in Kaunas. You can look but you can’t touch. A few meters away a steady stream of bonbons parade the main street,  almost without exception wrapped in tight miniskirt and matching top. High stiletto heels, long blonde hair waving in the warm summer wind. In the beginning the dress code here seemed a bit slutty but we got over that pretty quick. In the Female Beauty department Lithuania is more than richly endowed, that fact has been proven without a doubt. Women and girls that possess a kind of striking beauty only sporadically seen in the Netherlands crowd the streets of Kaunas. And this boulevard is clearly the hotspot. So we look. No amount of Insulin could ever cure our disease. With jaws sinking ever deeper into our laps, on occasion dabbing the drool with the paper napkin that came with the coffee we conclude that we really do have a very tough job, but not today. According to Lex who did some preliminary ethnological fieldwork there is quite a female surplus here in Lithuania. We have no problem with that. Competition is good. Especially if this war is being fought on the public street using an arsenal of infinite legs and tightly wrapped breasts enjoying the exuberant freedom granted to them. Read more »

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Epic Journey On The Stortemelk

STORTEMELK2Epe, May 2008  – And there he is again. Back in his little plastic house on a holiday park somewhere in Epe. The wannabe sailor. Captain of a little boat that at present has more (rain)water above the keel than under it, unless you count the groundwater. I have my iPod connected to the stereo and maestro Ivo Pogorelich, well known to all of you of course, plays some beautiful sonatas by Scarlatti. Deliciously easy music with a strong rhythm and an enchanting simplicity. And yet … unfathomably deep. The Italians sure knew what music was about, some three hundred years ago. I am still wearing my Stortemelk sweater. It was presented to me by Marly the Mighty , in person, accompanied by a nod of approval. An honor one does not shed very easily even if it does start to smell a bit.  And so it is time to commit this salty adventure to the electronic paper. It all started last Tuesday. Read more »

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Environmental Activist Avant La Lettre

(c) Steffen Langhammer

(c) Steffen Langhammer

Bucharest, May 2003 – A beautiful sunny Sunday morning in Bucharest, Romania. Casper calls to tell me that today we will not fly. We agree this is a nice opportunity go out and explore the city. We are to meet in the city center near his apartment.

Taking my time I organize some things in my very shabby hotel room before I defy death once more and step into the rickety elevator to go downstairs. I could have taken the stairs, but sometimes doing these daredevil things just gives me a kick. Once outside I spot a taxi at the far end of the hotel parking lot. From a distance it looks a bit beat up but I haven’t been able to spot any new taxies in this country so I’m not worried yet. Almost without exception the taxies in this city are Dacia 1300’s, a Romanian copy of a Renault design dating from the 60’s. In this city there are thousands. Also among the population the Dacia is a widely used car. This must be a heritage from the age of communism. Everybody is equal, except the party leaders.
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The Cadillac

caddyGuatemala City, March 2008 – Parked in front of our hotel in Guatemala city were usually three or four taxies awaiting their clients. All of them white, all of them boring and all of them Japanese. Except one. The Cadillac. As a rule we never used taxies since we had our own car and driver. But on some days we would find ourselves with a car, but without a driver. These were the days that Rodolfo had mistaken the time, suffered a broken alarm clock, was stuck in traffic, had to help a lady give birth in the street, had misplaced his car keys or for some other reason couldn’t possibly reach our hotel in time. On those days we would take a taxi to go to our little flight planning office. And always I was hoping The Cadillac would be first in line. But every time we went outside on those days, The Cadillac would not be there or would be behind another taxi. I feared I would have to leave Guatemala City without ever having experienced a ride in The Cadillac.

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Taxi Driver On A Mission

SHPresidenttiUlkoHelsinki, June 2008 – Sometimes you really don’t have a clue what to write about. And sometimes it just gets thrown in your lap. Like today. I had originally planned to write something about the duck pond at my new home, with all the strange inhabitants in and around it. As always, with my tongue planted firmly in cheek. But you’ll have to wait for that one, because what happened today just needs to be written down. It’s funny how an essentially small event can make an impression, such that it warrants all the effort of sitting down and writing a story about it, in a small hotel room in Helsinki. But all things needed for the task are present. Albinoni is filling my room with nice and easy listening music. We just had a very small and ridiculously expensive dinner. The sun is almost below the horizon and there’s a laptop beneath my fingers in this Ikea style hotel room. Read more »

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May God Help Us All

athens-taxiAthens, October 2013 – When I pick up the house phone the recording of a Greek lady monotonously tells me that the taxi has arrived.  With our little family we have just enjoyed the traditional Saturday morning breakfast. It’s not very often that I’m free on Saturdays, so it’s always an event when it happens. From the bakery around the corner I buy fresh croissants, raisin bread that is sometimes still warm inside and freshly baked sesame bread. Meanwhile Elina makes scrambled eggs with bacon and puts four glasses on the table. Fruit drinks for us and milk for the girls. Penny, the youngest, often wakes up early and is always quite relieved when the rest of us also wake up. Pavlina usually could not be dragged from her bed with five thoroughbred horses but always makes an exception for Saturday morning breakfasts. It’s nice to see that they also find it a great start of the weekend. Our girls. Fresh out of bed, their long hair still a bit scruffy, chatting about what they are going to do this weekend. Read more »

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The Smell Of Sleeping Girl

(c) Flickr.com / Betsssssy

(c) Flickr.com / Betsssssy

Riga, June 2008 – A beautiful morning in Riga. A morning in which everything seems to fall into place. Instead of being brutally awakened by the high pitched noise of my mobile phone I wake up just 5 minutes before the set time, fully rested and at ease. Outside there is not a cloud in the sky so we might even do some flying today. But that will happen later. Right now I am looking at the beautiful face of a sleeping girl, about a meter in front of me. She is about 25 years old. And she is pretty. Her head is resting on her arm, she is fast asleep. Around her right wrist she wears a bracelet made of colourful satin. The pinkish colour fits well with her blonde hair, which looks a bit scruffy at the moment. A thin strand of her hair is hanging diagonally over her face and moves to the rhythm of her breath. There is something magical to this, a girl sleeping. Unknowing about the world around her, free from everything that would occupy her mind during the day, worry her, surprise her, pleasure her , sadden her. Read more »

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The Airplane Mechanic

i-fix-airplanesIt’s all about this ‘aircraft mechanic’ that could best be described as a walking disaster in his trade. Let’s call him Jim. Jim was not too clever. On top of that his hands would never quite do what his limited mind wanted them to. But he talked the talk and so managed to always get a new job after being fired from the previous one.

If I remember correctly, we first met when he was hired as chief mechanic in the company I worked for. Within months he proved himself incapable of the job and after some fuck-ups was put to work as normal mechanic. I think they finally fired him after he was seen using a boxcutter to cut away paper tape that had been caught under a layer of hardened sealant. On a $30,000 gold film coated heated windshield on a Beech King Air .

Years later I met him again at the same airfield, this time working for a small startup company that apparently was quite desperate to get a mechanic. I worked as a free-lancer for this company from time to time. It was set up in a relatively new hangar by an old should-have-been-retired-years-ago aviation veteran mechanic to do the maintenance for one of the biggest companies on the airfield. Let’s call him Grandpa. Mind you, the work only involved small aircraft. Cessna 172 and the like. But enough of them so enough work to do. The relatively small hangar was equipped with all things needed for the job, including at least 60 fluorescent tubes on the ceiling for good and even lighting. Read more »

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