Thursday, June 28, 2007

Brown & Harman: Cabinet Makers

NEWSFLASH: David Miliband is appointed Foreign Minister; Jack Straw tipped as new Justice Minister! Full coverage available, as always, on the good old Beeb.

It looks like, finally, after ten years of "centre-left", "New" Labour, the new (with a small 'n') Brown administration is taking a distinct step back to the Left. Miliband, 41, almost stood against Brown in a leadership context, but declined (in my opinion, and with any luck, so that he can stand at a later opportunity). Jack Straw was (in)famously removed from the foreign office, allegedly at the behest of the US administration because of certain comments he made regarding their forein policy. His return to the reshuffled cabinet is most welcome.

Another marked step to the Left is in the appointment of Harriet Harman as deputy leader of the Labour party. I was very pleasantly surprised that she won the party vote (albeit by the narrowest of margins); she was my personal favourite, though I didn't fancy her chances of beating Peter Hain or Hillary Benn, both of whom were eventually eliminated at a relatively early stage of the game. Moreover, I am glad to see the position occupied not only by a woman, but by a woman with distinctly "Old" Labour sensibilities.

The above photograph is not very flattering – Brown looks drunk, and just what is he doing to our Harriet? I googled the net for an image (this is from the BBC) of the two new leaders of the party together, but amusingly, the first link to appear was for antique furniture restorers, Brown & Harman – Cabinet Makers. You couldn't make it up, could you!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Energetic, moi?

I'm indebted to Sean from Alone and Unobserved for introducing me to The Onion, which, after reading only a few articles, really sounds like my kind of newspaper! I trust he also noticed the following article, but thought that my Late Review readers would appreciate it too. Enjoy!
Where Do Homosexuals Get All Their Energy?

The Onion

Where Do Homosexuals Get All Their Energy?

Boy, am I beat. And it's not like I have some crazy life where I'm working three jobs and going to night school. No, I just have one job and a...

After reading all that, I think perhaps I should reassess my view of myself. I never feel full of energy – at any time of day; my idea of being super-organised in the morning is not missing my bus, or at a stretch, getting up in time to have something resembling breakfast and maybe make a pot of coffee, and still not missing the bus. As for going to the gym and running six miles a day, you've got to be kidding. Mind you, I have been known to spend a great deal of time at book launches, hobnobbing with authors, ambassadors and the like. Well, if you can't laugh at yourself...

Blair's Legacy

What a week it’s been in British politics! The removal companies will certainly have their work cut out in Downing Street this week: Tony Blair has finally bowed out (where is he going to go, what is he going to do?), leaving Gordon Brown as the new PM.

The last ten years have been something of a mixed bag for Blair, though sadly the latter half of his tenure has seen far more downs than ups. He never really managed to recapture or capitalise upon the sense of awe that most of us (bar the Tories) experienced when Labour first swept to power in 1997 (the mood was accurately captured in Stephen Frears’ recent film The Queen with Helen Mirren; read my review here).

I’m not sure what to make of Blair’s time in power. Whatever my reservations about some of the decisions he made, I’m certainly happy that he was the one making them, as opposed to, say, William Hague (I shudder to think…) Sadly, Blair will be remembered more for his allegiance with the US administration and for the ensuing calamity in Iraq than for the many positive things he achieved: brokering the peace agreement and implementing a system of power-sharing in Northern Ireland; his focus on eliminating child poverty; improvements to the NHS; the minimum wage; equality for all; civil rights for gays and lesbians; the repeal of homophobic legislation such as Thatcher’s infamous Section 28. The list goes on.

[Having said that, the progress Blair’s government has made in the areas of equality and gay rights was all cast in a rather dubious light yesterday with the announcement that he is to convert to Roman Catholicism. As an atheist, I often find it hard to reconcile faith and issues of sexuality. How can someone who believes in gay rights, or someone who is gay, for that matter, become a member of an organisation that has systematically oppressed us for centuries? Moreover, why would they wish to do this? Of course, you could write a book on this subject.]

Neither am I sure what to make of his resignation speech, a minor PR stunt in itself. But when he said, “Hand on heart […] I did what I thought was right for our country”, I tend to believe him, though I wouldn’t trust those words from the mouths of many other world leaders. And though I vehemently disagree with a number of Labour’s policy decisions over the years (for instance, I still can’t quite believe that it was a Labour government that introduced university tuition fees), and in particular with the whole debacle in Iraq, I feel I can trust the reasoning behind their decisions, and am glad the Tories weren’t making those decisions instead.

Why is it that we trust Blair? I can’t say. Ultimately, this is the reason we elect leaders, in order that they may make agonising decisions which affect us all, so that we don’t have to.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Nature's Call

This afternoon I got back from a very relaxing Midsummer break in a Finnish countryside idyll, where I spent the weekend with my friends E and O at the latter's family cottage. Good food and much beverage was consumed by all; we sat in the porch all day reading detective novels and generally soaking up the lazy Midsummer atmosphere.

O's cottage is wonderful: walls of old logs, low ceilings, mice, the real deal. There are only three drawbacks: no lake, no electricity and no running water (= outdoor loo). For men, having a toilet that flushes perhaps isn't such a big deal – after all, most of the time you don't need to sit down. E, on the other hand, bemoaned the fact that she had to squat ungraciously and uncomfortably every time nature called. À propos this very subject, our translator colleague L last week edified us about women's britches in the 19th century, which had a flap in the middle for easy access and the use of stand-up female urinals. A quick look on Google reveals a few very interesting articles on the subject, notably this one.

Now, however, it looks as though women's days of squatting in the bushes are over. While reading an interview with our favourite author Sarah Waters, we came across the following marvellous link. What I like most about this are the blurbs, the photographs and, above all, the name. Why would a woman running along a sand dune be carrying such a thing – in her handbag? Oh well, going to the summer cottage will never be the same again...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Compelling, Inscrutable, and Relentless

Apart from seeing me into my fourth decade, June 8th saw the English-language première of Laura Ruohonen's Queen C ('Kuningatar K'), a play I translated some five years ago. The play was finally performed in its entirety in English by the Lit Moon Theater Company in Santa Barbara in a production directed by their in-house director, John Blondell.

I was unable to attend to the performance, partly because of my busy schedule, partly because I wasn't invited (grrr...), and have been keen to find any information about the production online. This morning I came across Elizabeth Schwyzer's review in the Santa Barbara Independent. The photograph is great (depicting, I assume, Queen Christina and the Friend) and the review is generally very positive.

Needless to say, the translator doesn't get a mention anywhere. This is a common phenomenon. Do people think texts translate themselves? Initially I was slightly concerned about this project, as the performance was to be in the States, while my translation is very much in British English. After working on the text for over five years, I was keen that the director consult me on any potential alterations. Thankfully, it would appear that none were necessary; perhaps British English suits the monarchical tone and milieu of the play.

Looking on the bright side, not getting a mention in the review means that the translation didn't make its presence felt at the expense of the drama. The British English was acceptable. The audience was 'unaware' of the translation, allowing the 'foreign' original to shine through unhindered. More often than not, when translations are mentioned in reviews it is to comment that "the translation was clumsy" or "the play doesn't translate well" – though quite how reviewers have the linguistic knowledge necessary to make such claims remains a mystery. In this instance, however, Schwyzer rounds off her review with the following comment:
John Blondell’s direction captured the play’s layered, poetic, and metaphorical nature — letting out the script’s humor and absurdity, as well as its deep ambiguities and tragic moments. The playwright took it all in, rapt and beaming.
I may not have got a mention, but I think there is some consolation to be had in these words.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Solitude (Part II): Further Musings

I’ve now thought about the issue of the afore-mentioned article overnight and discussed it with two friends. After much debate, we finally arrived at the following interpretation.

Harakka, who has also written extensively for the left-leaning environmental magazine Vihreä Lanka (‘Green Thread’), has long been a supporter of Halonen’s (re)election and of her policies. Halonen is even to appear on his TV programme ‘Ten Books that Changed the World’ on Monday 18th June. Perhaps what his column is trying to say (if rather unsuccessfully) is that the obsession in Finland with America in general and with Kanerva’s hyped visit in particular is so great that even Halonen herself is beginning to yield to the pervading opinions, as expressed in the final paragraph of the column.

Tuesday’s papers were positively frothing over news of the ‘successful’ meeting between the two foreign ministers. Iltalehti featured an entire two-page spread about it, complete with photographs of the pair shaking hands and beaming at one another, and bearing the cringe-worthy headline, ‘Call me Condi!’ On a new page, Iltalehti continued by claiming that ‘ministers congratulated Kanerva’ on the ‘success’ of the meeting. And who were the ministers interviewed? None other than Ben Zyskowicz and Pertti Salolainen, both from Kanerva’s own party! At least they also interviewed Liisa Jaakonsaari of the Social Democrats, who pointed out that preparations for Halonen’s proposed visit to Washington were already in place well before this meeting, and that we shouldn’t blow things out of proportion. Some common sense at last!

Perhaps what Timo Harakka is ultimately calling for in his Monday column is a show of restraint. For all its obvious faults, the monologue was not so much a parody of Halonen as of the hysteria surrounding Ilkka Kanerva’s visit. Just because Condi deigns to meet the foreign minister of a nice enough though largely irrelevant country (I live here, I’m allowed to say that), and even hints that she might come here on a state visit (bookies are already taking bets on this!), doesn’t mean that we should discard our principles and blindly go along with everything the other administration suggests, let alone seek to emulate their way of life – something Tony Blair might have thought of before entering into the Faustian pact that was to be his downfall.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Marija Šerifović on Finland and Finnish people

Like everyone else in Finland, I read about Marija's disparaging comments on the Finns a couple of days ago when it hit the headlines. I didn't realise the extent of her derision... Neither did I realise that the man asking her the question is my former flatmate's boyfriend! How's that for six degrees of separation? My Serbian is a bit rusty ;-) but never fear: someone has kindly translated the interview on YouTube. Go figure...

And here's the translation courtesy of Belgradeinsideout on YouTube:

Female host: We have here with us Marija Šerifović, the talk of the town these days, Sasha Mirković, her manager and her friends, yadayadayada (not so important for translation)...

Male voice (journalist): Ristić Miloš, magazine "Ana", I've been reporting for "Politika" from Helsinki. Many of my Finnish friends were cheering together with me for Marija and for her victory, they voted for her, and it would be nice if Marija can share with us her impressions of Finns and Finland, and if she wants to send them some message, because I'm heading there again in less than a month so i can bring her message with me for them.

Marija: I don't think I have anything smart to say about the country of Finland, so I have to ask you not to bring my message over to them. I'm joking. Erm, the country didn't particularly suit me, and I don't like those yellowish, "see-through" people, I despise them... but let's not talk about that again... All in all, I respect that they were totally organized, and that was the only thing I liked so far. Actually I think it will stay that way because I don't think I will go back there ever again.

Four Years of Solitude

Whether or not I agree with them, the columns in the free paper Metro are invariably thought-provoking and interesting. Today’s column (12.6) by Timo Harakka, however, has left me bewildered to say the least. Because, as I mentioned some time ago, Metro is only available online as a pdf, I’ll try to give a brief summary of what this column was all about. As you’re about to see, this is no easy task…

The column takes the form of the fictitious musings (written in the first person) of the Finnish president Tarja Halonen. In her monologue, she bemoans the fact that the new foreign minister Ilkka Kanerva has been sent to Washington to meet Condoleezza Rica (the two met on June 11th), while Halonen herself is stuck at her summer residence with her sleeping husband. She dreams of what she would say to Rice upon meeting her (“[…] we’d talk about Iraq, Israel and Cuba. Full points to me. I found all these places. Google Earth is amazing!”) and watches baseball [what?] with a number of other world leaders, showing her great support for the team from Texas [what???]. She concludes with the words:
I’ve made my decision. We’ll join NATO this autumn, once all the lingonberries have been picked. We’ll send our boys to Iraq, we’ll keep women at home, we’ll put Bible lessons back into schools, and we’ll change the rules of pesäpallo” [a Finnish variety of baseball] “Larger cars, lower taxes, defence in space! God Bless Finland.

What perplexes me most about this column is that, after reading it several times, I’m still not sure what point Harakka is trying to make. The title Neljän vuoden yksinäisyys (‘Four years of solitude’) refers to the fact that it was, according to Halonen’s unconvincing internal monologue, 1,515 days, nine hours and forty-three minutes since the last time she was invited to Washington. It also refers to Sauli Niinistö’s book Viiden vuoden yksinäisyys (‘Five years of solitude’), which he published in the run-up to the presidential election in January 2006. Niinistö’s party (Kokoomus, the National Coalition Party) have for many years made it their priority to lessen and undermine the president’s powers of influence regarding matters of foreign policy and have been keen that the foreign minister take part in important international summits instead of the president. I don’t think there is any doubt that they would soon have changed their tune had the honourable Mr Niinistö been elected in 2006 – perish the thought!

So, taken at surface value, this article seems to speak in support of Kokoomus’ sentiments regarding the restriction of presidential power in Finland. But if we assume this to be the case, the final paragraph no longer makes any sense. Halonen was the foreign minister with the Social Democratic government at the end of 1990s, and has never espoused any of the policies mentioned: she is sceptical of NATO, she refused to send Finnish troops to Iraq, she has worked tirelessly for equality between the sexes (in the early 1980s she was also the chair of the Finnish sexual equality organisation SETA), she has defended in no uncertain terms the division of church and state, she doesn’t want to introduce lower taxes for the rich, and so on, and so on. These are all Kokoomus policy issues!

What, then, are we to make of this mish-mash of an article? Who is the butt of the joke? Is Harakka attempting to parody Halonen’s policies / Kokoomus’ policies / suggesting that Halonen would adopt right-wing policies if it would get her an invitation to Washington, where she could be all chummy with Condi (something I find it hard to imagine she would actively wish for)? Those with access to the column in question (I’ll continue looking for a link) can make of it what they will / can. Anyone who can further enlighten me, please feel free to do so!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Where's My Clock?

I just opened up my blogger page and was about to sit down and write a new post, when – to my horror – I discovered that my clock is missing! (It should be in the right hand column under the section 'Tempus fugit'.) What has happened to Clocklink? If anyone knows how to help, do get in touch and let me know what can be done about it... Thanks!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Importance of Being Ken

Did anybody else know that there are in fact two Lord Mayors of London? I didn't either – until last night that is.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email through our orchestra mailing list about a string quartet gig at Helsinki City Hall organised by the British Council. Their guest of honour was to be 'Lontoon kaupungin pormestari'. The opportunity to meet the great Ken Livingstone, I thought to myself in excitement. With this in mind I duly signed up for the gig and started thinking about what to wear.

As the morning of the concert dawned, I was in a bit of a tizz, having selected a lovely red tie in honour of Mr Livingstone's visit, and constantly reminding myself that at no point must I implore him to stand for leadership of the Labour Party... We arrivde at City Hall and set up for our performance, and my eyes immediately started roving across the tables and the seating arrangement to see where Ken would be sitting. To my dismay, I saw a card at Table A which read "The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of the City of London John Stuttard". This can't be right, I thought. There's only one mayor of London, and his name is Ken.

To my great chagrin, it turns out that there really are two lord mayors. Ken is the Lord Mayor of London, while Stuttard is the Lord Mayor of the City of London (all of one square mile). So after all that build-up, my encounter with one of the great names of British socialism was sadly not to be... Perhaps another opportunity will present itself. Who knows?