Tuesday, September 27, 2011


The windows of an old caravan are covered in steam, from a little pipe on the roof, small puffs of smoke are blown into the crisp air. Two large buttocks are pressed against the window and slide down, a broad back leans against it. In the next shot, two naked men sit together in the caravan. They remain silent, gazing into space.

No, this is not the beginning of a raunchy porn, it's a scene from The Steam of Life, a documentary about Finnish men in saunas. Why Finnish men? Because there are enough films about women in saunas, and because the makers wanted to show that Finnish men have feelings too and are not just rough and closed.

An ex-soldier talks about his broken marriage, a divorced father cries because he doesn't get to see his daughter grow up, an ex-criminal recounts how he almost went down, but eventually managed to turn his life around. In the next shot he washes one of his three sons, who sit beside him in the sauna. An old man lives with his bear, a wood worker talks about how his stepfather abused him. It's a succession of sad life stories, told by tough men, who don't look at each other, but who put a clumsy arm around a shoulder, when the other person is silently weeping. And in the meantime, they throw water on the hot coals. With buckets, bowls and soup spoons.

The heavy conversations in small spaces are joined by breathtakingly beautiful Finnish scenery: huge forests, deep blue lakes, meadows. The seasons change, but the silence of nature is always present. The saunas are the structures in these landscapes, they are built in caravans, tents, and even an old phone booth, on the side of the road.

Two homeless men, carrying all their possessions, walk down the streets of Reykjavik. They enter a building, peel the layers of clothes of their bodies and wash each others backs before they go into the public sauna. Even if you have nothing, you can get steam in Finland.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fifteen Minutes

The concept is simple, the idea inspiring, but then you have to execute it. Put a number of people, who may or may not know each other, together for a weekend and give each one fifteen minutes to say something.

Once, I had a conversation with a friend about how little we actually knew about the work of each other and and our friends. After our time at university, when we talked a lot about classes and research, we became increasingly removed from substantive conversations about our daily activities. When we were studying, we spend more time in the pub and had less to do during the days, so logically, after ten beers we eventually started talking about our thesis subjects. After graduating, we all disappeared in different directions and hid behind doors and walls to work at computers, doing work that we liked but that we wouldn't talk about a lot. Most of my friends know I do 'something' at CREA that also involves organizing summer courses, for which I have to make long hours. What this organization exactly involves and what I do in those hours, they don't know. Just as I know little of other friends. What does M do as an assistent to a professor? And why is J traveling through Europe for the mediainstitute that he works at? I know V. works online a lot, but why exactly? And S. conducts research, and coaches people, but in what? The idea was born to gather together and talk about it. But even though we're still interested, apparently there was no energy to actually organize it. And who would we invite? Do I want to know about L.'s brothers work at his high school?

In the end, the idea evolved with another friend into Fifteen Minutes of Fame. A weekend where you get fifteen minutes to talk about anything you like. It can be about your job, but also about the book you recently read, or your favorite computer game. The only restriction is that it should be done in fifteen minutes.

Last weekend was the third edition, with twelve people, of whom not one knew everyone. With strangers, acquaintances and friends, we drank, we danced and we ate. We swam in the sea, we walked through the dunes. But mostly we listened, and we anticipated. We brainstormed on projects, we learned about associative thinking. We judged different products on their taste instead of brand, we improvised, we discussed.

What is special about these weekends is that everyone talks about their passion or about what's on their mind. Even though the presentations can be incredibly different, they always lead to further talks in the remaining time. Even though we didn't know each other in the beginning, we parted as friends. Because when someone shares something personal and show his or her vulnerability, you can no longer be strangers.

I love bringing people together and share things with my friends. But I am very grateful that friend A. decided to actually start organizing these weekends. Now we have parted and thanks to the social media, we can stay in touch with eachother. And guess what? We all write about our experience and keep sharing.