30 March 2007

My Office




I usually sit behind that desk and make important decisions.

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29 March 2007

Let's Innovate

I just finished looking over our Annual Report for 2006. It contains 35 instances of the word 'innovation.'It's a 23 page document. That's 1.53 times a page. I wasn't kidding in an earlier post about how organizations want to be innovative, or at least perceived as innovative. To do my part I will continue to find innovative ways to innovate.

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Sarkozy vs. The Youth











France is having a presidential election next month. The front-runner is former interior minister Nicholas Sarkozy. His closest rival was supposed to be the Socialist Segolene Royal, but now opinion polls have her in a dead heat with Francois Bayrou, who is trying to mend France's traditional left-right split by pulling moderates from both sides to his downhome centrism. And of course, there's also France's avuncular far-right racist Jean le Pen, who shocked everyone a few years ago by finishing in the top two of the prelim and therefore going into the run off. Not to be discounted.

In France they run one big heat and the first two candidates 'past the post' go on into a death match style battle for title of 'Ultimate Ruler of France.'

There's plenty of subpolots in the race, but the real battle to watch leading up to the first round of voting is that between law-and-order front runner Sarkozy and restless angry suburban youth.

Remember the days of rioting in French suburbs from fall 2005? It seems that the interior minister didn't endear himself to the rioters when he made speeches denouncing them as 'thugs,' and vowing to get rid of them. That really did 2 things. One of which is 'aboslutely nothing at all, in a practical sense' and the other is 'completely piss off an already pissed off demographic group.'

Now the 'thugs' are looking to get even, by vowing to rid Frence's presidential race of Sarkozy. Sarkozy has been pelted with rocks and bottles when he's visited the suburbs, particularly Argenteuil where he made his comments two years ago. He hasn't been back since. For a guy who claims to have made France safer, and have restored law and order to its lawless corners...well, there's a credibility gap to be sure.

I'd like to see egg-on-face of self-important smug hardliner on election day. And sweeter still if the faceful of come-uppance was served to him by a recently motivated group of outcasts. I love it when the youth make a difference.

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28 March 2007

Time Elevator Continued

I learned last week that I'll be going to The CEN Annual General Meeting taking place in Cyprus at the end of June.

The biggest adventure of all about going to Cyprus will be hitting the Cyprus Time Elevator!!

You may recall that I love the Time Elevator in Rome. It turns out there's a Time Elevator in Limassol, Cyprus, where I'll be.

The only thing about Time Elevators as I know them, is that they tend to not be the hardest-hitting of history lessons. Cyprus is still dealing with some awkward history. I'll see how dirty it gets. My guess is not very...

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Bringing Home The Bacon?

Much has been made at my home, largely by me, about my new job. I have an office, and an L-shaped desk with a phone and computer, plus a door and a window I'm a working man. What does this mean, domestically for you Ryan? You might ask. Well, now that I have a job and Chiara is still waiting to hear about one of her own that puts me in the position of being the sole "breadwinner" of our household. I earn "cheddar." Or as I prefer to think of it, "I bring home the bacon."




This is a picture of our fridge as it is currently. Empty. Zero bacon. Very little evidence of any bread having been won.





I think her face says it all.

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27 March 2007

Fire Drill



Currently listening to a symphony of alarm sounds at work. Unpleasant to be sure, but it also allowed me to go for a brief walk in the sunshine and mingle with my coworkers. Nobody panicked, nobody got hurt.

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26 March 2007

Happy Birthday Europe



Yesterday was Europe's 50th Birthday. That is, the 50th anniversary of the signature of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community and brought the 'Original 6' countries together: Italy, West Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg. It was the precursor of the European Union.

I just want to take the time to say "Happy Birthday, Europe."

Heritage has bequeathed me a UK passport, and on this basis Europe has given me an Italian health card and a 5 yr Belgian work permit, all just for showing up. I can take a RyanAir flight across the continent for the price of a decent lunch, and cross umpteen borders without waiting in a line-up, or having a working dog sniff me up.

Basically, I'm at the party eating extra helpings of the cake, and washing it down with a glass half full of good spirits.

Sante!

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23 March 2007

Remembering Mondays

A letter home
_____________________

Oh, the old 9to5 grind...

Well, I've never actually done the "old 9to5 grind" before, unless I count a stint at the Vancouver Aquarium, but that place with the fish and the sloths and the otters et. al little resembles an office. Now I work in an honest to goodness office complete with lunchroom, coffee machine, colleagues, carpet and all of the other trappings of officedom.

I work, believe it, at the European Committee for Standardization.

Not really my cup of tea, standardization, though I do appreciate how it's important in a big diverse place like Europe to have some way (we call it a 'standard') to ensure that trains can cross borders, credit cards can be swiped anywhere you go and so forth. Plus they create standards for toy safety and other such wonderful things. I could go on.

...In fact I need to go on. My job is Communications Assistant. The person who I've been hired to 'assist' is named Ruth and she's very very pregnant. Her last workday before her 8 month maternity leave (welcome to Europe!) is today. From then on I will take over the external communications functions of this somewhat big organization. That means writing press releases, a newsletter and a whole bunch of other stuff to boot. Here goes nothing.

I like it. I get an office. I don't have to dress too serious, and I get to write stuff. I will bring home some bacon.

That's the big news right now. Other stuff going on here in Brussels:

Still taking French. Although now work is going to pay for it. Nice! Slow and steady is the pace.

I've discovered an abundance of English language theatre. I took a workshop in Commedia dell'Arte last Sunday, and on Tuesday evening I auditioned for a short play that will travel to a theatre festival called FEATS, this year in The Hague. If that doesn't pan out, there's plenty more productions lined up in the coming months. I'm also actively seeking (English speaking) improvisers to work with. I've even got a brand new art gallery space downtown with a gallery owner who's super keen to get some "Stand-up comedy nights" as he calls them, going.

I've had the chance to go to France, to Roubaix, a small derelict town in the northwest and wear a white suit with tails and a green bag on my head for an interactive film/art project. I also went to middle England to hang with my mom while she was over and some relatives. A short but sweet sojourn. Such is the beauty of Brussels.

Most people (me included) often hype up Brussels because it's easy to get from Brussels, to somewhere cool, like Amsterdam, London or Paris. But in fact, Brussels itself is a pretty awesome city that loves to pack its civic calendar full of events. Usually involving lots of art and music, plus this summer there will be drive-in movies at the Parc du Cinquantenaire (!) And, of course, a beer weekend. Belgian Beer is the best. Seriously.

Other than that it's important to point out that the Vancouver Canucks are an incredible hockey team. Recognise. And that AS Roma, while only a respectable distant second in Italian domestic league Serie A, are on their way to play Manchester United in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, the best thing in football since the World Cup. They are, of course underdogs. But they are also, and don't discount the importance of this, super fucking awesome.

I'll cut this mail now so we can all get back to work, but I'll leave you with a couple things:

1.I've attached Ottawa's own Al "Kitchenette" Connors' See Spot Rhyme Peter Piper Remix that was a smash hit a few years ago at improv camp. Heat.

2. You should write. Or failing that, visit.

3. I send hugs and loves.


yours,

Ryan de Millar

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22 March 2007

Free Reporter


A father of one of Chiara’s friends was released from captivity after 15 days being held by the Taliban. Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a reporter for La Repubblica was kidnapped by extremist groups. He was forced to watch his captors decapitate his driver and wipe the sword on the headless body. Italy last week swapped five imprisoned Taliban fighters for the reporter. The International Herald Tribune reported on its website that “One of the prisoners, Ustad Yasir, who was identified as a Taliban spokesman said he would return immediately to war, and was ‘grabbing two rifles to begin jihad again to hunt down invaders and fight nonbelievers’ according to a statement attributed to him on the Internet.”

While the news that his government bargained to free the reporter should be encouraging to some journalists, the news that the going rate for a reporter is 5 jailed Taliban may just be slightly more encouraging to rebel fighters.

It’s a tough call. I support the government protecting the fifth estate, and side with that other formerly kidnapped Italian reporter, Giuliana Sgrena when she deflected criticism of the Italian governments decision to bargain with the terrorists onto the elephant in the room: the wars themselves. Referring to the trading of hostages and prisoners she said, "If there is no war, there will be no hostages."

That’s sound theory. For now in my house we’ll savour the relief of knowing that Daniele is back home in Rome, and keep an eye on the reporter-kidnapping-prisoner-swap index.

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Gaping Void



Gaping Void

Now that I work in the world of Dilbert, standing around the office dressed presentably with my coffee cup in hand I feel the sacrifice. I mostly spend and will be spending my time writing (a dream!) on standardization (b-o-r-i-n-g!). This comic speaks to me. Things coming together yet remaining so far apart.

I need to compromise...

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21 March 2007

Spring!

Awesome!

Today is the first day of spring, though it's balls cold again here in Brussels. A week and half ago we were well on our way to spring fever, i even saw a shirtless dude outside a cafe in an afternoon. You know those days when you sit at a patio and cuz it's so hot and you love the sun you rock it shirtless? Well, the date was March 11, and it was in my neighborhood here in Brussels. I don't begrudge the guy that kind of enthusiasm, I dig it. It's a good benchmark.

Anyway, we're back to freezing cold winter jacket weather, which is slightly more appropriate for the season. However erratic weather patterns are generally bad news on a 'climate change'kinda front, and now that it's really 'spring' I want to take my shirt off.

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19 March 2007

Innovate ...or Else



Innovation is a word that gets bandied about with distressing frequency. Business in trouble? Innovate. Your economy should probably innovate too! And, at the risk of repeating myself, you yourself should innovate! But what the hell does it all mean. Well, nothing really. For the most part it can all be passed off as empty rhetoric. However, when the panel discussion on innovation includes former Finnish PM Esko Aho, and the President of the European Patent Office, you can guess that the innovation talk is going to get serious. And it did. I attended the 'Creating an Innovative Europe: One Year Assessment' seminar as part of the European Business Summit here in Brussels. It was moderated by John Defterios, host of World Business on CNBC. The panel discussion highlighted the need for European businesses to, well, innovate. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I definitely heard the phrase “Innovate or Die!” at least once.

The rationale for the alarmism was clearly laid out. Much research and innovation monies, and patents, are coming from the East; Japan, China, Korea and India are all making big strides, while Europe, as a big picture, seems content to try and maintain its privileged position, without making any big moves to compete against the up-and-comers. What’s standing in the way of some serious euro-power moves?

As far as I could tell, two things really: One, a lack of an enforceable European Community patent. Each country still maintains its own patent office, and though some progress has been made (there is a European Patent Office), and some momentum towards an agreement has been built, it was certainly not enough to stop European Patent Office President Alain Pompidou from spluttering with barely contained rage at the glacial pace and lack of cohesion. This also creates duplication of innovation; two or more parties could be working on the same idea simultaneously creating needless inefficiency.

The second problem is that willing innovation doesn’t necessarily make it happen. “Quick… Create something new!!” are not exactly achievable instructions. But creating an environment conducive to creativity and development of new ideas is something that I can wholeheartedly support; I’m glad that opinion leaders in business and politics agree with me on this one. So let’s carry forth.

For those of you who are unclear on the difference between R & D and Innovation let me paraphrase a relationship I learned at the European Business Summits’ Innovation Seminar:

R & D is turning money into knowledge.
Innovation is transferring knowledge into money.


And that is why I’m all about innovation, because a guy needs to pay rent. And he can’t do so with knowledge.

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Commedia dell'Arte

Yesterday was spent in an environment I haven't been in a while: a theatre workshop. I was studying the classic Italian theatrical form of Commedia dell'Arte with Mitch Mitchelson a heavyset Londoner with a disarming ease about him, and a tendency to reference obscure film and theatre productions as verbal footnotes.

The workshop was supposed to be a full weekend, but after a train fire at Waterloo Station in London Mitch was only able to come out for Sunday. It was a full day of physical theatre trainng with references to the commedia form, and the roots of physical comedy were traced back to their origins, or conversely travelled forward in time to Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Monty Python, and so on.

For me it was an opportuinity to rediscover and share with others my dormant "actor/theatre guy" identity. It also hooked me into the very busy English Language theatre community here. In fact I've got some auditions coming up and what looks like ample opportunity to get involved.

The sour note was my exploratory overtures regarding improvisational theatre fell flat. I had hoped at least to muster some logistical and personnel support for some upcoming improv auditions I'm hoping to hold, and to suss out opportunities for me to teach improv. The 'twain did not meet. However, I expect to be around the Warehouse Studio Theatre somewhat regularly in the weeks and months to come, and we'll see what happens.

But for now, I can practice my lazzis and broad physical comedy as I start a full week of wearing my "Young Communications Professional" mask. For now it seems ill-fitting, but I'm sure will grow more comfortable with time. I can also continue dusting off my "Theatre Afficionado" mask.

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17 March 2007

Bringing Home the Bacon

I worked my first day on Friday. Job seems awesome, though I don't really know what I'm supposed to do. Maybe that's what's awesome about it.

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15 March 2007

French Snoop vs. Dutch Snoop

Zone 02 is a weekly magazine with events listings, reviews, and inteviews. They run 2 editions, a French one, and a Flemish one. One for each of the language groups here.

This week I learned something about the translations in this magazine that I didn't know before: they are not translations.

Case in point: Snoop Dogg is coming with P-Diddy pretty soon, and on the front cover of both editions of this weeks Zone 02 is a picture of Snoop. The quote to accompany Snoop in the French edition is "Je peux etre un gentleman." That means "I can be a gentleman." That's awesome to know about Snoop, whose lyrics, some might argue, can tend towards misogyny. His 2001 adult movie "Doggystyle," featuring hardcore rap and hardcore fucking, would really only embolden the case of those arguers. However, the French-speakers get to understand that he has another side, a 'gentlemanly' side, this I would presume is both interesting and endearing which is why they would put it on the cover.



The Dutch edition carries a different picture and a tagline that reads "Ik wil een ijssalon openen." That means he wants to open an ice-cream parlour. Who gives a shit about gentlemanliness or other such high-falutin' boringness? not the Flemish, that's for sure. Bring on the ice cream!!



I guess I'm more Flemish than French, at heart. Because I still don't care about Snoop's supposed gentlemanness. But I do wonder: "What's up with the ice cream shop, Snoop?"

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Big Lebowski

Ever wonder what it was exactly that made The Big Lebowski such a great movie?
Alot of things really, but this video really pares the flick down to its' fucking essence


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13 March 2007

Job Hunted

I'm never sure how my own self image compares ot the image that others have of me. Try this when I say "standardization," what do you think of?

Is it me?

Well, regardless of your response, or mine, a corner has been turned in the Belgian job hunt department.

Though the ink is not yet dry on the contract I am now employed as a "Communications Assistant" at CEN The European Committee for Standardization. I begin this Friday.
The pros outweigh the cons: The pros are that I'll have an entry level position in a pan-European Organization in the field in which I graduated and hope to work more in the future. PLus it comes with a decent benfits package (I can get paid for going on holidays!?!?; I'm almost 30 and this idea is still foreign).

The cons are beasically that Standardization is not something I've ever listed in the "Hobbies" section of any questionairre ever in my life. At least not so far.
However, if Friday goes well and I get into the swing of Standadization it might become hard to shut me up on the subject. The main thing is that within 72hrs I can transfer my "Job hunting" energies into "Job doing".

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12 March 2007

Belgian Defence


Andrè Flahaut, Belgian Defence Minister, looking extremely drunk.

The Belgian Defence Minister has been busy doing what he does best, defending. The only thing he's been defending though, is himself. Defending himself against heaps of criticism from every quarter. First it was his attempt to award Joseph Kabila, President of the Congo, an honorary doctorate from the Royal Military Academy. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Affairs Minister, and the Military Academy itself all quite strongly disagreed with the idea. I'm not qualified to comment on Congolese politics or relations between Belgium and her former colony, but this was certainly a provocative move. One that was unanimously coldly received, until he had to rescind the offer, thus making him look simulatenously like an idiot and a jerk.

But even more indefensible is the fact that the guy chartered a military helicopter to take him to Hasselt to see Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." As everybody knows The Inconvenient Truth (spoiler alert)is that greenhouse gasses are bad, and we should all do our part to cut down on the emissions that are rapidly bringing a climate change with almost certainly catastrophic results. One thing you can do is switch to energy efficient light bulbs. Another thing you can do is not abuse your power as Defence Minister by chartering helicopters to fly you around the country, especially not to see films about the prevention of climate change. The hypocrisy and stupidity are mind-bending.

In the Defence Ministers defence the flight only produced 12-20 times more CO2 than a car journey over the same distance and only cost 2500 taxpayer euros per hour.

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09 March 2007

Job Hunt

Yesterday I tried to do what I do best...put myself out there, in the faces of prospective employers. It's harder to say no to the face.
I stopped by the offices of Cafe Babel, a Europe wide online magazine. I interrupted a meeting by showing up lost with no appointment. However, one of the meetees directed me to an office where I had a nice, rather long chat with a stagiare. She gave me some insight into the workings, and said she would pass my info along to the big guys. An email I received later that aft confirmed that's what happened.

Flushed by this experience of being on the inside of an office I set my sights on another target: The pretentiously ambivalently named "The Centre." It bills itself as a think-tank that thinks about all kinds of progressive issues. I rolled up on my bike at their office and buzzed.

"Bonjour," came a female voice through the intercom.

"Bonjour," I replied, "Uh hello, I'd like to, uh come in?" I said/asked.

"Do you have an appointment?" she responded.

"No, I don't" I said politely, "I'd like to find out about some of your, uh events." I didn't want to tip my "hire me" cards too soon.

"Where are you from?" She demanded, growing increasingly suspicious.

"Canada!" I declared, declining her invitation to affiliate myself with an organization smaller than a nation.

"Uh, what do you want?" She tried to trip me up in a lie, police interrogation style.

I of course, had long since realized this was going horribly, horribly wrong.

"Look, if you're so deeply suspicous of my intentions, I'll just go" I said firmly, trying to extricate myself from this awkward encounter with a brass speaker.

And go I did. I still managed to salvage a little positivity from the meeting that morning. But I definitely overestimated the ability of my charm to open doors for me.

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Tacco di Dio

Just a quick follow up on Mancini's awesome goal, he was quoted in Italian sports paper as saying " I just got the ball and did the samba." His samba goal, according to said paper, has created a blaze of crazy adoration in mezzo del mondo, especially in Brazil. The excitement is much like the excitement from few years ago when he scored witha ridiculously cheeky and precision heel-flick, that earned him the nickname "tacco di Dio," or heel of God. A reference, of course, to Maradona's Hand of God.
It's also a ridiculously awesome goal.


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07 March 2007

Cover Letter

I am becoming master of the cover letter. I'm collecting a folder of glowing recommendations of myself, written by me, for every position I am remotely interested in. By "Master" I mean I have written alot of them. I do not mean that any one of them has succeeded in getting me into a front door as any kind anywhere.

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Different Strokes 4 Different Folks

Just a couple weeks ago, in Don Cherry's National Hockey League The Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres had a full on brawl. Buffalo was retaliating for a clean, but perhaps overexuberant, hit on one of their star frowards Chris Drury. Everybody fought everybody else on the next shift. Including the goalies. The coaches go bananas and yell at each other, and the fans love it. The NHL dished out a slap on the wrist fine to Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff for putting a bunch of thugs on the ice to start this, but it passed by without much more than some extra time on the highlight reel. Listen to these announcers too: "Is there anything better?" one asks rhetorically.



Compare that to an event four days later, thousands of miles away and a culture far removed from that of hockey.

The Carling Cup Final 2007 pitted two of Englands biggest and best, Chelsea and Arsenal, against one another. Chelsea won 2-1 but the game was marred by a fracas at the very end. 3 players got sent off with red cards, and there was much hand-wringing and bemoaning of the incident in the press.



Now I'm not a violent guy, but a goalie fight in hockey is exciting. And the Carling Cup pushing match maybe really did spoil the event, as many pundits claimed. All I'm saying is that it raises my eyebrows to see the juxtaposition so starkly. Plus footballers fight like girls.

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AS Roma Advances

I was in a packed Irish Bar lasting night enjoying Rome-Lyon Champions League action. Every other person in there was watching Barcalona-Liverpool. But not me. I had a TV to myself, and a stool at the bar. I was joined by my friend Will, and finally, at the end of the first half, by another semi-dedicated viewer. A Frenchman by the name of Benjamin. He was diplomatically pained by my insistence on discussing the World Cup Final, but he fortunately wasn't a Lyon fan.
The game was full of exciting action, included a Roma goal in the first 6 minutes, with a nice flick on'header from a corner by Totti that was hammered home by superstar-in-the-making Daniele de Rossi. It was disallowed, but 15 minutes later Totti's clinical header finish of a Tonnetto cross would be allowed, and stand up as the winner.
Totti is obviously my favorite player, as he's a Roman icon. But my real favorite player is Amantino Manicin, the Brazilian winger. He can go invisible at times, but when he runs and jukes he can beat a defender off the goal-line in the corner and end up in front of the net.
Or like tonight, he can make a Frenchman want to cry of embarassment.
Watch as he takes this pass, perfroms about 7 step-overs in a row, until the defender basically wants off the playground, and then drills the ball into the top corner.


Me and the Frenchman looked at each other with eyebrows raised, and nodded approvingly. So Champions league excitement mounts.

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06 March 2007

SportsO

Tonight is the Champions League game between Rome and Lyons. I will be reporting on this tootsweet. It was also be accompanied by a thought provoking post on violence in sport.
Time at the computer has been spotty, what with my recent trip to the Atomium, and family in town. BUt rest assured, reader, There is More to Come.

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04 March 2007

Eclipse

Last night was a lunar non-event. One theory put forth was that it was just a cloud, which wasn't too hard to fathom, being that we are in graygray Brussels. But I still think there was something extraterrestial happening. At any rate it's always exciting when something new happens in the sky, but the spectatcularity rating of a shady moon is actually quite low.

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