Discover more from Culture & curiosity
Thanks for joining, once again, my regular, irregular updates. I know I'm meant to write a book, but the focus isn't there. So instead, it is here. All week, I think about the snippets of ideas I collect and how to merge them into a story. Then I'm reminded there doesn't need to be a story. You, dear reader, are the storyteller.
This weekend we celebrated J's 7.5th birthday party. With the country in lockdown, he missed his opportunity to have friends over at the start of the year. Plus, the weather is better now. My wife and I tend to overproduce these things. It is our profession, after all, to guide groups from one point to another. There were laser guns and homebaked apple pie and a piñata and a match of football.
We rented a bakfiets to bring some of the stuff to the playground. A bakfiets is a super Dutch transport bike. It's a subculture on its own, with the fanciest ones costing as much as a small (second-hand) car. Ours said, "ride like a local" on the sides. I never felt more foreign.
Sunday morning — and forgive the digressions — I had to return the bike, and our youngest, R, wanted to tag along. Joyful, alert, optimistic, he had all the traffic lights turn green when we approached. Cycling happily through a deserted Amsterdam, green, full of birdsong, the leaked IPCC report entered my thoughts. As did the burning Gulf of Mexico. And the burned village of Lytton.
Art, music, heritage, fine foods, fashion, all of it will be increasingly irrelevant against the backdrop of first villages, then towns, then cities on fire. Apple pies, piñatas, laser guns, football, and 5,000-euro bakfietsen will lose their charm when the seas boil. Climate will be the defining issue of the next few generations. Our shared human effort is avoiding Mad Max Fury Road, which I rewatched ominously.
On Tuesday, Leiden 2022 hosted a meeting focused on the New European Bauhaus. I'm not fond of such European PR instruments, but I am of the team at Leiden 2022, and they did not disappoint. At one of Leiden's most beautiful locations, scientists, artists, and other professionals joined to explore the impact such an initiative could have on the city.
They had us make protest signs, which I thought was creative. In the first round, I teamed up with Professor Robert Zwijnenberg. He explores the role of the arts in academic and public debates, a.o, around ethical issues. We debated how the arts — and culture by and large — were too sedate for the challenges ahead. Also, that any slogan to encourage progress risked sounding cliché, bland, like a political statement ("Imagine a new world"). So we decided to write "revolution" on our protest sign, with some modifiers. Wanting to be inclusive, we spent quite some time figuring out how to write 'bourgeoisie.'
Everything I know about the French revolution I know from Hillary Mantel's A place of greater safety. It taught me that a revolution requires meticulous preparation of the masses and the individual. Biographies from Julius Caesar to Che Guevara confirmed the latter. Unfortunately, I do not think that in the Netherlands, our schooling system prepares revolutionaries. All the talk about transformation and change and paradigm shifts notwithstanding, I meet very few people with the basic skills to stand up, in public, for something they believe in, especially in our sector. The few brave exceptions are doing most of the transformative work. (Some of my readers included.)
Apart from reading tons of books and traveling, what is a curriculum that prepares people for the revolution we need to face the climate catastrophe? I'd love to hear about your examples.
Inspired by the chat I had in Leiden, I listened to a band I hadn't listened to in decades: Atari Teenage Riot. At the time, their music confused me. Now, I hear it's mostly overpowered Drum' n Bass with electric guitars and screaming vocals. Their techno (?) still induces an incurable headache.
I listened to ATR in the 90s, the early days of the popular internet, and I remember reading a blog (?) by Alec Empire, their frontman. They participated in a protest somewhere in Germany. High tension. When ATR started playing, it got out of hand. Riot police. Violence. If you skim their song titles, it's easy to see why. Of course, I cannot find the blog now.
Reading the ATR bio on Spotify, Jacques Mallet du Pan's observation that a revolution will devour its children seems apt. Struggling with addiction, attacks of psychosis, and ongoing controversy because of their political views, they never really made it. Later songs like Black Flags received widespread recognition. Still, it all sounds polished compared to Revolution Action or Sick to Death. Empire learned to sign, songs keep their rhythm. Dull. I quickly stopped listening. I've probably become, well, bourgeois.
Thanks! This week, I didn't find the time to write about my team's impressive successes with our festival in September, the various art projects we're doing that are shaping up nicely, and quite a few other things. I hope to find a moment until then, take care!