It’s a question of… men peeing outside

I live on a boulevard in Paris: a wide, multi-lane road with trees on each side, on which my office window has a direct view.

For a reason I have yet to elucidate the tree just in front of my window is the one men always choose to pee behind. And ‘behind’ is of course the wrong word. A tree on a boulevard is as round as anywhere else, so no matter where the peeing person stands, I get a full view of something I’d rather not.

In a week, I’ll see an average of 6,3 men peeing on that tree (yes, I count…). And I’m not just talking about the man who lives two benches down. I’m talking about office guys, delivery guys, simple going-for-a-walk guys; I’ve even seen a neighbour taking a leak there!

It goes without saying that I’ve never seen a woman doing the same. This tree is not a discreet place. There are cars passing constantly at less than one meters distance on one side and a busy sidewalk plus 12 floors of people living on the other side. Why do men pee here as often as the dogs that pass? I ask myself that every day…

Oh, I know all about the wonderful sensation of “freedom” men feel when peeing outside, I know that it’s much easier to do it without wetting yourself when you don’t have to squat, but still, why should I have to watch strangers pee outside my window? Why can’t they wait, use the public toilet or go into the café (both less than 50 meters down the street)?

Each month, 56 000 m2 of Paris are soiled by urine. One can only guess how many men pee in the streets every day to cover such a surface. My answer is: too many.

A few months ago, Susana Ferreira, a journalist from the  Wall Street Journal did a story about the “Anti-pipi Brigade”  in Paris. A lot of (non French) bloggers followed up on it. It  was after all a great story: 88 “agents de la Brigade des incivilités” roaming the French capital in the search of  street “urinaters” and handing out tickets. (I do wish they’d  visit my street, but I’ve never seen them for real).

In 2009, about 2000 tickets (with fines up to 450 €) have  been given in Paris to men relieving themselves illegally.  That’s not much compared to New York where the police have handed out over 18 500 summonses for public urination this year.

My point: I think men who pee outside are pigs. If it’s so important for their “manliness” to do it, they can let the little one out in their own garden or in some remote field. And whilst they’re at it, they might want to practice how to pee straight…

You can watch the video about the Parisian “Anti-pipi Brigade” here.

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It’s a question of… Sankta Lucia and candles

Last years not-so-fantastic Lucia buns

Today, the 13th December, I’ll be making yellow buns, twisting them into strange forms and sticking raisins in them. It’s part of a Scandinavian tradition that also involves young girls dressed in white, walking around with candles and singing.

These joyous celebrations are made in honour of Lucia, patron saint of the city of Syracuse in Italy – which in itself can seem a little strange as the nominal religion in Scandinavia is protestant, and protestants don’t “believe” in catholic saints.

It’s said that Lucia was condemned to be burnt for not wanting to marry a pagan. But she resisted the fire. Another story says she secretly took food to the poor at night and carried a crown of candles on her head so she could see where she was going. A third story has her taking out her eyes to convert a Prince to Christianity. All stories somehow make it possible to connect her with light – and that’s important. Because the 13th December is not only the day Lucia died (a sword finally got her), it was also known as the shortest day of the year (before the Gregorian calendar was adopted), the winter solstice, which of course has pagan roots. In other words, saint or no saint, Lucia is the bearer of light and Lucia Day a celebration of the days getting longer again.

Sofia Hogmark, Lucia of Sweden 2009

Lucia Day is celebrated in all of the Nordic countries, but is probably taken most seriously in Sweden. Every year there’s a national competition to chose the Lucia of the year (think Miss Sweden without the bathing suits) and most towns have their own local Lucia competition.

When I was a small girl in Denmark, our school (like most others) organized a Lucia procession each year. We all wanted to be the Lucia bride – that’s the girl who leads and who gets to carry a crown of candles on her head (the others just follow holding a single candle). But, at the time, the “politically correct” had not yet been installed and only blond longhaired girls had a chance of getting elected – which excluded me.

A danish version, as I remember it…

The shorthaired and/or dark haired girls got their vengeance later, when the Lucia bride cried as teachers combed candle wax out of her hair or, in some cases, because her hair was burnt… (I’m told that nowadays, battery driven candles are used instead of real ones).

However odd the Sankta Lucia celebration may seem, I love it. So, as my neighbours light their third Hanukkah candle today, we’ll be lighting our third advent candle (another protestant ritual – also done on a crown…) and a whole lot other candles for Lucia, whatever her real story might be. Maybe it all comes down to what the Chinese say: “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”…

A more “professional” swedish version of the Lucia song…

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It’s a question of… Tiger Woods and other men

Big news: men have affairs. This happens even when their wife is beautiful, even when they have young children, and yes, even when they’re presidents. And yet, every time, the infidelity seems to come as a surprise.

Take Tiger Woods. True, he’s been “outed” by no less the ten mistresses in a few days and that’s a lot. But what is it that makes this so big a scandal? That he cheated on his wife? That the women are making money on selling the details? That some of them are porn stars? That they’re all white? That he had unprotected sex? Or is it that he actually thought he would get away with it? (Did Magic Johnson? Did Michael Jordan?)

Nah, the real scandal is “How stupid is he?”. By now, men should know that when they think with the wrong head they end up getting caught some day, some way. (Especially when they have the paparazzi hanging around day and night.) Be it for a blowjob (Hugh Grant, Bill Clinton), because your lovechild shows up at your funeral (François Mitterand), because you bang your children’s nanny (Jude Law) or because you get your “acquaintance” pregnant (again, most recently, Jude Law).

What never ceases to amaze me is that not only do these men cheat on their partners, they do it without protection. Again, how stupid are they? Boris Becker, Mick Jagger, Prince Albert of Monaco, John Edwards… all have at least one “love child” (which, in some cases seems a rather inappropriate word). And across the world, there are millions of non-celebrities in the same situation (with mothers who don’t sell the story and fathers who don’t finance their child’s upbringing).

Cheating on your “second half” is most certainly a lack  of respect in the first place, but not wearing a condom  when doing so is the last straw. Not to mention the  texting, taking pictures of or filming the lurid details, or  talking about it explicitly on the phone (remember  Prince Charles’ phone conversations with Camilla?).

The question is, and will probably always be, why do  men do it? I don’t think you need to be a couple’s  counsellor or a psychologist to answer the question. My personal theory is simple: men are like children, they need continuous attention and always lured by a new toy. That’s why they also often “pass the line” when their partner is pregnant or busy looking after their young offspring. They sense the new kid in the house is going to take the attention away from them, so they seek it elsewhere. Or maybe it’s even simpler, maybe my friend Natasha is right: “It’s because they’re men”. Not that any of these “excuses” are valid of course.

Lots of films deal with infidelity, but none, in my eyes, as well at “Heartburn” with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.  If you watch the full movie (do!), look out for the last scene – it’s the one to remember.

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It’s a question of… friends on Facebook and Twitter who aren’t

From fairy friends on Facebook…

After several years of “being on Facebook”, I’m still drawn to it the same way I am to chocolate. I know too much of it is bad for me, but without my daily dose I get twitchy. I’ve never really been able to explain “why” convincingly to those who aren’t or “never will be” on Facebook. (Probably because it sounds strangely deranged to say: Facebook brings me moments of happiness every day). The thing is, it’s nice to share thoughts and moments of life with close friends, long lost friends, friends I barely remember and even… friends who technically aren’t.

I don’t have a lot of these “fake”  friends. I normally don’t send friend  requests or accept them from people  to whom I’ve never spoken or that  I’ve never seen in real life. That is,  until I got a garden in Fairyland.

Fairyland is one of the many games on Facebook and the only one I participate in. Put succinctly: you plant (fake) seeds, others come and (fake) water them, and some leave (real) messages (if only the same could apply to my real plants at home, they would last much longer).

I’ve made quiet a few fairy friends over the last one and a half year  (that would be the ones who come to water my garden regularly – and vice versa). Two of them, Megan and Maureen, have gone from being fairy friends to “just” friends on Facebook. I felt a “connection” with them early on (maybe because of their frequent allusions to alcohol) and really enjoy “knowing them” more closely because they’re interesting and fun-loving people.

My garden in Fairyland, where I've met many magical people

And then there’s Gill. She’s not on my Facebook friend list (yet), but she reads my blog. I know this, because she often leaves me messages in my garden with allusions to it. It really makes my day – and goes to show that fairy friends can be just as good friends as “real” ones.

… to follower friends on Twitter

Unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t offer you friends, but followers – while making you a followee at the same time. It’s not a give and take situation: the people you follow and whose lives you read about don’t necessary follow you. For example, I follow Stephen Fry (like over one million other people), I sometimes even comment on his tweets – but he doesn’t follow me, doesn’t read anything I write and never will. Stephen Fry is not my friend, nor is a certain John Chow (even though he sends me e-mails) or Guy Kawasaki. But I don’t bear a grudge. They’re still nice people.

There are however a few people on Twitter  that I now consider as friends  (well at  least in Twitterworld). We’ve  had a few  DM’s (DM = direct message – like a “private” tweet), I try not to miss too many of their tweets and I truly care about what’s going on in their lives.

My first twitter friend was Barry. I came upon him one night because I was watching Golden Girls and so was he. I have since followed him from his job at a UK call centre back to his natal Scotland where he’s started studying (though I’m not sure what…) and also works in a pub. The way he’s turned his life around and his tenacity are a real inspiration to me, and even though we don’t share the same love of Starbucks and men’s underwear, he’s the follower I’d be the most sad to lose.

I will probably never get to meet my Facebook or Twitter friends-who-aren’t-really-friends in real life. But I cherish their presence online (and let’s be honest: I spend a LOT of time online). Not because I don’t have enough “real” friends, but because these new friends know me in another way and we have things in common I don’t share with others.

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to understand that.

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It’s a question of… Copenhagen (and media coverage)

The famous tourist poster created by Viggo Vagnby in the 1950's

Today the capital of Denmark will become the centre of the world. But as the Copenhagen climate summit 2009 begins, so does the media coverage – with all its merits and flaws.

It will come as no surprise that however important this summit is for the planet (and I believe it is), only half of the news reports from Copenhagen will be about climate change, global warming and greenhouse gas emissions.

Why? Because when you’re a journalist and you’ve been sent to an event that goes on for ten days, there will be times where finding new topics to report about will lead you down deceiving paths. Mostly, the roads already taken.

While you wait for the world leaders to find some kind of consensus, your newsroom is waiting for… news. And you can only give percentages, talk about who’s there and who’s not and interview scientists so many times.

Of course, there will have to be reports about the security, the activists roaming outside and the planned demonstrations. But once you’ve covered this – and unless of course there’s any unfortunate event in this area – well, you’ll have to find something else to report about (other than the food and accommodation being offered to journalists and delegates – which, frankly, who cares?).

Now let’s see… When Denmark was recently, and once again, elected the happiest place in the world to live, journalists from all over were sent there to find out why. I watched a few of these programs and was stunned by the naïve use of stereotypes.

Ok, so Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize pornography  – but that was 50 years ago! Still, journalists find it necessary to state that Danes are all naked on the beaches (women aren’t even topless anymore), that going to swinger clubs is a common thing (certainly no more common than in the UK or France) – oh, and that no one locks their bikes (yeah, right…). Of course, there is also always a mention about same-sex unions (legalized 20 years ago… so, again, old news) and the prams left “unattended” on the sidewalks.

When watching reports from the Copenhagen climate summit these next ten days, you should therefore expect reports about: anything related to sex and nakedness, deprived over-tolerant, over-liberal Danes who drink beer and allow their children to do anything, and probably also bikes (a topic that can be adapted to the summit: massive Danish bike-riding = fight against the worlds global warming). Take all this with a pinch of salt. The “there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark” was a concept Shakespeare invented some 400 years ago, without ever visiting the country.

I hear now on the radio that the Copenhagen climate summit has officially opened. And media coverage has begun: today, you can read and hear about prostitutes offering free sex to UN-delegates in Copenhagen. So much for global warming.

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It’s a question of… escalator accidents

There are things in life you never think about – until they happen to you. Like escalator accidents. And surprisingly, once they do happen and you tell others about it, you suddenly find out that everyone else has an escalator story to tell too.

Considering the awful things I’ve heard from others, my own experience – even though it left me walking through a crowded station in my underpants – wasn’t that bad. Unlike some who have had clothing or shoes stuck in escalators, I didn’t lose any fingers or toes, just my dignity.

For reasons I’m unable to explain, my skirt got sucked into the gap between the side of the escalator and the moving steps one morning in the underground (or subway if you prefer). I tried to pull it out, but it just kept disappearing farther into the gap. Alerted by my (really frantic) screaming, someone pushed the emergency button just in time. By then, I was at the end of the escalator, on my knees, and unable to move.

I stayed in that not so flattering (nor comfortable) position for half an hour while the staff tried to reverse the sense of the escalator and get the skirt free. It couldn’t be done. I was therefore asked to take off my skirt and cross the station (rush hour…) in my that-day-not-so-sexy panties to reach the railway offices. Here, a train operator (who was smiling a little too much) lent me a pair of his spare trousers (and may I add, they were not my size or colours).

I later found out that escalator accidents happen quite often. Apparently, in the States, 10 000 people end up in the emergency room every year because of them (I don’t know the numbers in France). The victims are often children standing too close to the sides or sitting down, or teenagers who don’t do their shoelaces, or silly people like myself who wear too long skirts… Apparently, Crocs shoe wearers are also very escalator accident-prone. And so are dogs. A friend of mine told me of a terrible accident she saw where the dog’s paw got ripped off. Escalators are more powerful than you can imagine.

Before my embarrassing, and yes, a little scary, skirt experience, I never thought about the dangers of escalators. When hearing about accidents, I had the classic “that would never happen to me / my child / anyone I know” reaction. I mean, how difficult can it be to get on and off an escalator? Now, I know better. I take the stairs whenever possible and have become quite hysterical about how and where my son stands on the steps when we do take the escalator. I now also wear pretty underwear every day. You never know…

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It’s a question of…. bad sex scenes

The “Bad sex in fiction” award 2009 has just been announced. The winner this year is American-turned-French writer Jonathan Littell for his book The Kindly ones (originally published in French as Les Bienveillantes). Now this is not just any writer or any book. It’s the one that won the Prix Goncourt and the Grand Prix de l’Académie française in 2006. Supposedly a good piece of literature (I haven’t read it), but the sex scenes in it are really bad (I have read some of those – well I had to, didn’t I?).

I’m not pouring water on a drowning man. Littell has sold thousands of books and will probably sell even more after this. And writing good sex scenes is very difficult, even for the best of authors. Be honest, how many times have you sat in the middle of page-turner to find yourself suddenly cringing over some over-explicit and often totally unrealistic sex scene?

Danielle Steele provided me with my first literary sex. It was OK – except men were always “exploding” in the heroines. I remember being extremely disappointed when I started having sex because I never felt the “explosion” (all I felt was the body on top suddenly going heavy and crushing me). But I suppose what’s bad (or impracticable or downright laughable) literary sex for some, is good for others.

I can safely say that my “awakening” came with The Godfather and the scene at the wedding where Sonny’s having stand-up sex with his mistress and she walks away from there with the aftermaths still between her thighs. I haven’t re-read it for many, many years, but it really had a great  effect on me in my early teens. (In the film it doesn’t come  across nearly as arousing). I “stole” the book time and time  again from my parent’s shelves as some forbidden fruit.

Why exactly? I have no idea. Maybe if I had already had  sex at the time and had known how difficult perfect stand-  up sex really is, it wouldn’t have captivated me so much…

It’s hard to say what makes a sex scene good in writing. Recently, I came across an author who pens down sex massively and explicitly but gets away with it fine: Adele Parks. But there are many more. For some strange reason (and despite The Godfather), most are women. I’m not making this up; it’s a fact. Women writers are better at it, maybe because they are more truthful. You need proof? Amongst the short-listed authors for the “Bad sex in fiction” award there was only one woman for nine men…

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