Palinka Time! 
Tuesday, February 10, 2009, 12:49 - Travel, Shooting
Štúrovo, Slovakia

So last weekend was not just about dancing, let me tell you! I also got to do some relaxing, which in this part of the world invariably involves drinking, and lots of it. Well, when in Hungary, do as the Hungarians do, I always say!

Opening the taps! © Damaso Reyes

My friend Almos invited me to his hometown where his father makes his own wine, as well as Palinka, a local liquor which is very smooth even if it has an alcohol content “above 50%” as I was informed.

This ain’t just water! © Damaso Reyes

It seems like having a wine cellar is as much of a Hungarian tradition as having a backyard is in America. From what I was told making alcohol is the local pastime, one I can enthusiastically support.

Almos pours out a taste. © Damaso Reyes

I have to say that the wine was excellent, as it should be since it has won several local awards. And the Palinka was even better. Of course I can only sip a little at a time, after all, I would like to keep my insides intact, but it was exceedingly smooth and had a lovely subtle fruit flavor.

All in good fun. © Damaso Reyes

What I like about drinking in Europe, and in Hungary in particular, is that it is a family affair. That is to say that it isn’t stigmatized the way it is in America and children grow up understanding it is a part of life, rather than having adults try to hide it from them. This is a much healthier attitude.

Mmmmmm? © Damaso Reyes

Of course when you drink you must eat, another good thing about the European perspective. Of course when you are a stranger in a strange land you will sometimes encounter new things, as I did…

Mmmmmm! © Damaso Reyes

But fun was certainly had by all!

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Photo of the Day # 104 
Tuesday, February 10, 2009, 08:47 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Štúrovo, Slovakia

What’s truly ironic is that if America had treated the huge wave of 19th century Italian immigrants they way Rome is, and has proposed treating the African migrants who come to its shores every day I doubt there would be a pizza shop in Brooklyn. Italians, along with the other immigrants who came to America seeking opportunity have contributed far more than they have taken. What is to say that African immigrants won’t do the same? As we learn from Der Spiegel, yet another controversy has erupted around the Italian policy towards immigrants.

If only they could read German. Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

“Under Rome's proposed new policy, refugees will no longer be transported directly to the mainland, but will be held in camps on the island instead. Lampedusa is ideal for this purpose. No one can leave without a boat, and a stranger would have trouble hiding for more than a few minutes in the single town on the island. The Africans shall be deported to some other country, eventually -- but it will be difficult, and it will take time.

“The 6,000 Italians living on Lampedusa have spent the last two weeks rioting and striking to protest the government's plans for their island. They are worried that the detention center could harm tourism, one of the mainstays of the local economy. After all, who books a vacation in Guantanamo? Some fear that thousands of refugees will converge on Lampedusa, and that the entire operation will be bigger than the Americans' notorious detainee camp.”

Clearly any policy that can be readily compared to the Guantanamo is not well thought out. Of course one could say that bringing back the current prime minister might not have been the best move either (a better argument for term limits cannot be found). It seems that even Italians are becoming tired of the xenophobic and reactionary policy their government is taking. Whether that will be enough remains to be seen…

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Dancing in Budapest 
Monday, February 9, 2009, 12:40 - Travel, Shooting

I don’t know about you but I had a pretty busy weekend! There’s so many photos to share that I will have to break it up into two posts. On Friday I went with some friends to Budapest to take in some traditional Hungarian folk dancing.

One moment. © Damaso Reyes

The music may have been traditional, but the crowd was mostly young people in jeans and dresses.

All together now. © Damaso Reyes

From what I was told traditional music and dancing was discouraged under Communism. Today there has been something of a renaissance of all things Hungarian.

Trio. © Damaso Reyes

I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear. Whenever I go into a supermarket, or any public space that has music, I am assaulted by American pop music. If I wanted to listen to Britney Spears I would have stayed in the United States. But here it was nothing but the sweet melodies of the violin that filled the room.

Slowly. © Damaso Reyes

For sure American and Western European influences abound, especially among the youth. But there is an intense pride in the Hungarian identity that is not chauvinistic but proud.

Watching and waiting. © Damaso Reyes

I recorded some music and will hopefully put together some kind of slideshow later in the week. It’s hard to get across the feeling without hearing the music which inspires the dancing.

Smile. © Damaso Reyes

Embrace. © Damaso Reyes

Circle. © Damaso Reyes

Pair. © Damaso Reyes

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Photo of the Day #103 
Monday, February 9, 2009, 10:33 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Štúrovo, Slovakia

“Davide Boni, a councillor in Milan for the Northern League, which also opposes the building of mosques in Italian cities, said that kebab shop owners were prepared to work long hours, which was unfair competition.”

This is just one paragraph from a great article in the Telegraph. It seems that some right wing politicians have decided that the “invasion” of foreign food in Italy must be stopped at all costs.

First food then people. Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

“The tomato comes from Peru and spaghetti was probably a gift from China.
It is, though, the “foreign” kebab that is being kicked out of Italian cities as it becomes the target of a campaign against ethnic food, backed by the centre-right Government of Silvio Berlusconi.

“The drive to make Italians eat Italian, which was described by the Left and leading chefs as gastronomic racism, began in the town of Lucca this week, where the council banned any new ethnic food outlets from opening within the ancient city walls.

“Yesterday it spread to Lombardy and its regional capital, Milan, which is also run by the centre Right. The anti-immigrant Northern League party brought in the restrictions “to protect local specialties from the growing popularity of ethnic cuisines.”

Not only is this nonsense, it is offensive. If the only way your culture can survive is to diminish others then what you seek to protect is not long for this world. First, kebabs are yummy, as anyone who has had one can attest. Second, it is doubtful that Italians will ever stop eating pasts. This move is simply an attempt to stoke divisiveness, one that most Italians will see through.

But of course it is still a worrying phenomenon. I can only hope that Italian politicians will stop focusing on these petty issues and begin to address themselves to the economic issues which are crippling the nation. The quote at the top of this entry is a perfect example of the backwardness that some, even elected officials, still cling to. In America the “hardworking immigrant” is an ideal that we hold in esteem. Clearly some Italians seem to think working hard and long hours is a bad thing, which is probably why the country is in the shape that it is in. If Italian politicians keep this up people will no longer refrain from laughing behind their back but do it to their faces!

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Photo of the Day #102 
Friday, February 6, 2009, 08:23 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Štúrovo, Slovakia

It looks like the economic downturn will give the protectionists in the U.K. we spoke about earlier in the week exactly what they want, as we read in The Guardian.

Guess he won’t be coming to London after all. Cologne 2007 © Damaso Reyes

“The use of migrant labour in Britain will decline abruptly as companies face a sharp fall in demand for their goods and services, the Confederation of British Industry told MPs yesterday. John Cridland, the CBI's deputy director general, told the Commons home affairs committee that the first response of many firms to the downturn was to reduce their dependency on agency staff, many of whom are migrant workers.

“He said that there was evidence that many nationals of new EU states were going home as unemployment rose in Britain and suggested that the flow of skilled migrants from outside Europe would also decline. He added: "I expect that, when we have the next report from the [Home Office's] migration advisory committee on the needs for skilled labour, we will not see the same need for non-EU labour in the same numbers because of the need to provide as many employment opportunities as possible for the unemployed. All I'm suggesting is that the market will correct itself, but what we cannot avoid is a significant increase in unemployment, which is a sad but inevitable consequence of recession."

And where will that leave British workers and consumers? It’s doubtful that they will be much better off than they were before, after all, if Pawel from Lodz won’t come and work will Tom from Coventry all of a sudden be gainfully employed? Doubtful I think. More importantly the money these migrant workers were adding to the economy and the taxes they were paying will likely be lost. Many of these workers are being laid off and fired, meaning those jobs just don’t exist. More importantly will Brits be willing to work for the wages that even immigrants won’t? Also doubtful I think…

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100 Kids + Sugar = Lots of Fun! 
Thursday, February 5, 2009, 09:08 - Shooting, Commentary
Sturovo, Slovakia

So the other day I got invited to visit a carnival party that a local elementary school was having. Take 100+ kids under ten, add sugar and music and stir vigorously!

Truth in advertising. © Damaso Reyes

In truth it was actually a lot of fun, for the two hours I lasted. I surely don’t remember ever having that kind of energy but if scientists ever figure out a way of bottling this stuff, they would be rich.

Remains of the day. © Damaso Reyes

One of the things that has surprised me while I have been in Štúrovo is how diverse a place it actually is, given how small it is. Though it is in Slovakia it is actually about 70% Hungarian, which simply speaks to how malleable borders are compared with the nedless reach of history.

Representing the future. © Damaso Reyes

No, what’s far more interesting is the people of color I have found in this town, like the young girl in the middle whose father is from Gambia. From what I have learned there is a Congolese man (the local pharmacist who has lived here for years) as well as a Chinese family and some Vietnamese as well.

Bridging the gap. © Damaso Reyes

Apparently this trend goes back to state socialist times when fraternal communist nations sent people to Eastern Europe to study. Some decided to stay. I was surprised that even in a town of just 11,000 immigration is a fact of everyday life.

Dancing. © Damaso Reyes

I didn’t think I would have that much of an opportunity to explore immigration while I was here but this is exactly why I try not to have too many assumptions before I go to a place. You learn far too much when you actually have an opportunity to live in a place than simply reading about it…

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Photo of the Day #101 
Wednesday, February 4, 2009, 08:42 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Sturovo, Slovakia

If anyone thinks that immigration is a problem which will go away with enough enforcement is living in a fantasy world. Just take a look at Italy, which for years has used some of the harshest methods when dealing with illegal immigration. That doesn’t seem to be working as we learn from an article in the International Herald Tribune.

The writing is on the wall. Paris 2007 © Damaso Reyes

“Hundreds of migrants and refugees have broken out of an overcrowded immigration center on an Italian island to protest their treatment, the authorities said.

“About 600 people forced open the gates Saturday and marched toward the center of the island, Lampedusa, before making their way back, according to officials at the immigration center and news reports.

“About 2,000 people have been crammed into a structure built for 850.

“Last week, the United Nations refugee agency criticized Italy for the conditions there, saying many people slept outdoors under plastic sheeting and urging the authorities to address the "difficult humanitarian situation."

Even with these conditions imposed upon them if they are caught, still they come. It certainly says something about the determination that those who seek a better life in Europe has. I think it says even more about just how ineffective these measures are…

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Photo of the Day #100 
Tuesday, February 3, 2009, 07:40 - Project News, Commentary, Photo of the Day
Sturovo, Slovakia

This is the 100th Photo of the Day! Exciting, isn’t it?

Let the good times roll. Cologne 2007 © Damaso Reyes

I started this series for a few different reasons. I wanted to be able to post every day but the day in and day out of shooting is far less exciting and glamorous than Hollywood leads you to believe. I thought by posting interesting news items it would give us all a chance to both observe what is happening here in Europe and discuss it. I hope you have found these posts of interest to you.

In the meantime, scandal and controversy are shaking the small nation of Wallachia as we learn from the New York Times.

“A political coup has shaken the Czech Republic since Boleslav the Kind Hearted Forever was ousted as king of Wallachia, a sleepy kingdom where locals drink 110-proof plum brandy for breakfast and use a wheat-backed currency pegged to the dollar.

“The faux Kingdom of Wallachia is nestled in the northeast corner of the Czech Republic, 230 miles from Prague. It was founded in 1997 by the itinerant photographer Tomas Harabis, its current foreign minister, as an elaborate practical joke.

“The ruse quickly captured the imagination of Czechs, long drawn to black humor and parody, and Wallachia, which also happens to be a real place, became one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions. Its success has led to a real-life battle over who owns the kingdom, which generates hundreds of thousands of euros in revenue each year.”

Hopefully the conflict there will not escalate into full blown war but if it does know that I will rush there to cover the fighting!

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Photo of the Day #99 
Monday, February 2, 2009, 08:30 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Sturovo, Slovakia

The Brits have always been an island unto themselves if you will forgive a bad pun. The idea of Europe, and especially the E.U. has always been seen with a wary eye, although in fairness it was Winston Churchill who coined the phrase “United States of Europe.” Of course when times are tough the wariness rears its head once more as we learn from the Washington Post.

“Hundreds of British energy workers walked off the job Friday to protest the use of foreign labor on British job sites, the latest sign of an increasing backlash against foreign workers amid the global recession.

“Workers carrying placards that said "British jobs for British workers" staged demonstrations at more than a dozen refineries and power stations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“The workers are protesting a decision by Total, the French oil company, to award a $280 million contract to an Italian firm, IREM, for work at a plant in Lincolnshire, England. The project will involve about 400 foreign workers.

“Nearly 2 million Britons are jobless, the highest unemployment level since 1997. As job losses mount, officials are reporting increasing antagonism toward foreign workers.”

Who is thinking about me? London 2005 © Damaso Reyes

The mistake that nearly all European leaders have made is to point out the benefits of integration without honestly speaking of the hardships and difficulty involved as well. It’s easy for people to say British jobs for British workers but what about the hundreds of thousands of Brits living in Paris and Berlin? Should they be sent packing as well? More importantly if you are building an addition to your home are you willing to pay more to hire British? Do you look for Made in the U.K. labels on your jeans? The answer is mostly no. The use of foreign laborers comes from economic demand, the demand that British consumers make. Blaming foreign workers for taking “our” jobs is a cliché so old one wonders why it still works. But the lack of an open and honest discussion about the pros and cons of a greater Europe have left the door wide open for these types of arguments…

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Photo of the Day #98 
Friday, January 30, 2009, 10:40 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Sturovo, Slovakia

Many feel that further integration means a loss of identity and culture. Personally I disagree but what do I know, I’m an American! An interesting article from The Local in Germany talks about the decline of scholarly German in academic publications, an interesting topic.

“The German language is “on its deathbed” in the field of science, the Council of German Culture (Deutscher Kulturrat) said this week. Their figures indicate that just one percent of the world’s published scientific works currently appear in German.

“Retaining use of the German language in science is not about promoting excessive Germaness, and it is definitely not about nationalism. On the contrary, it’s about ensuring cultural diversity and maintaining cultural independence,” council Managing Director Olaf Zimmerman said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that there should be no doubt that German is the lingua franca within the country.”

The writing is on the wall… Heidelberg 2008 © Damaso Reyes

On the one hand I understand the concern; on the other hand Europe and Germany are becoming increasingly international. For better or for worse English has become the linga franca of Europe. If you want your paper read by the other 96% of humanity that doesn’t speak German, you had best publish in English. Other than Austria and Switzerland the German speaking world is very, very small. In one hundred years scholarly written German may very well be something very few people write in. But if your objective is to reach as many people as you can then writing in English is the clear choice. Of course let’s not forget that German has, and will continue to have a huge impact on the English language. But there are some who see the demise of German in academia as another ill effect of integration.

Such is life…

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Photo of the Day #97 
Thursday, January 29, 2009, 10:18 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Sturovo, Slovakia

We’ve talked about the topic of hate speech and censorship before but it never seems to get old does it? The Netherlands is our next stop where a right wing politician will soon be on trial for airing his repugnant views on Islam, as we learn from Der Spiegel.

“Last year, a Dutch public prosecutor decided not to take legal action against politician Geert Wilders for his anti-Islamic statements, which included calling the Koran a "fascist" book and comparing it to Hilter's "Mein Kampf." Wilders, a member of parliament with the populist Freedom Party (PVV), made headlines around the world in March 2008 with his film "Fitna," which juxtaposed verses from the Koran against a background of violent film clips and images of terrorism by Islamic radicals.

“Dozens of organizations and individuals in the Netherlands wanted to bring charges against the politician, but the prosecutor decided that while painful to Muslims, his remarks were not criminal.

“On Wednesday, Amsterdam's Court of Appeal disagreed and found that there was a case of inciting hatred to answer for, both because of the content of Wilders' remarks and the way in which it was presented. The judges said they had weighed Wilders' anti-Islam rhetoric against his right to free speech and ruled he had gone beyond even the normal leeway granted to politicians.”

Why on earth would you want to ban me? The Hague 2005 © Damaso Reyes

Personally I couldn’t disagree more with Wilders’ point of view. But there is an old saying in American, where freedom of speech is guaranteed by the first amendment to the constitution: all speech, especially that which we dislike, must be protected. Of course in America we have struggled with the concept form the start but the principal is there. Banning hate speech or foul ideas does nothing but drive them underground. Only active, open and honest discussion will allow these ideas to be exposed to the harsh light of reason. It is far easier, and far less effective to simply ban something you don’t like than to do the hard work of convincing, yes convincing people that these ideas are wrong.

No matter what the outcome it is likely that the right in Holland will have a new martyr and it is highly unlikely that his trial will do anything but provide and international forum for his platform.

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Photo of the Day #96 
Wednesday, January 28, 2009, 09:17 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Sturovo, Slovakia

As you know immigration is one of my favorite topics. Perhaps it is because I am the son of immigrants. My story would be far, far different if I had been born in Germany or France and I am sensitive to the way immigrants are viewed and treated. From France we see another move towards making immigration as difficult as possible, as we learn from the Daily Mail.

“France's hard-line new immigration minister is set to implement legislation that would allow DNA testing of new arrivals.

“Eric Besson, who was appointed this month, has said the tests would establish which foreigners were claiming visas by making up fictious family ties with those already settled in the country.

“Civil liberties groups have reacted furiously to the controversial scheme, which was approved by the French parliament 15 months ago but does not come into effect until the appropriate minister has signed the legislation.”

I just want to be free… © Damaso Reyes

Instead of working hard to better incorporate immigrants France and many other European nations seem to be doing all they can to make them feel unwelcome and this is just another sign of that mentality…

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Photo of the Day #95 
Tuesday, January 27, 2009, 11:00 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Sturovo, Slovakia

It seems like things just go from bad to worse in Iceland, as we learn from the International Herald Tribune.

“Iceland's coalition collapsed Monday, the latest fallout from a global financial crisis that has sparked angry demonstrations across Europe.

“Prime Minister Geir Haarde said he was unwilling to meet the demands of his coalition partners, the Social Democratic Alliance Party, which insisted on getting the post of prime minister to keep the coalition intact, The Associated Press reported from Reykjavik, the capital.”

Time to face the music. © Damaso Reyes

The small country was very hard hit by the banking crisis which crippled the nation’s currency. But it’s not just Iceland’s government which is having problems. Latvians are demonstrating in the streets as well and have clashed repeatedly with police. Even the laid back Spaniards are coming out in force to demand that government do something about the crisis which threatens more and more workers.

The next few days and weeks will be a true test of European cohesion. We remember that France’s president was a leader in trying to bring together world leaders to solve the growing problem but the question is will European governments continue to deal with the current financial crisis independently or confront the problem in a more coherent way?

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Saturday Night Fever 
Monday, January 26, 2009, 09:38 - Events, Commentary, Photo of the Day
Sturovo, Slovakia

And how was your weekend? Mine was great, thanks for asking! I got to experience some local culture on Saturday night when I was invited to attend an annual dinner/dance here in Štúrovo. It wasn’t exactly the traditional balls I went to this time last year in Vienna but it was an interesting mix of local tradition and the kind of rotary club event that we have back in America. One of my running jokes at the table every time another cover of an American pop song was played: “Wow, who knew Hungarian folk music was so interesting?”

Send in the clowns… © Damaso Reyes

Now that I’ve been here for a little over a week I am starting to get a sense for some things I would like to shoot, both here in town and in Budapest. I am still figuring things out so if you’ve been this way feel free to throw some suggestions my way.

Happy shiny people everywhere… © Damaso Reyes

Part of the reason why I like to spend several weeks in a place is that I can absorb things through osmosis, rather than trying to understand a place or its people in a rush. Walking down the street, sitting in the local pub (hooray for $2 glasses of Leffe) and interacting with people gives me a chance of learning something outside of what I would as a tourist.

Can’t you just hear the music? © Damaso Reyes

Sometimes the process is slower than I might like. But as engrossing as the shooting process can be the down time I get, to read or just socialize outside my normal sphere is really energizing. When I am out in the field I can relax in a way that I can’t when I am back in New York, if for no other reason than I know am I where I need to be, doing what I need to do.

Feel the love… © Damaso Reyes

What will come over the next nine weeks? I can’t say that I know but I am pretty sure it will be interesting!

I like the nightlife… © Damaso Reyes

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Photo of the Day #94 
Thursday, January 22, 2009, 09:08 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
But what about the white man you ask? Of course the story of European integration has a lot to do with ethnic white populations as well. in the few days that I’ve been here I have talked with a few people who are living abroad and the challenges they face are no less difficult. Today I came across an interesting article in The Guardian about a newly released report called Who Cares about the White Working Class?

"Britain remains blighted by class division, and economic background is still the best predictor of life chances. Class is central to how people see their place in Britain today. Returning to the issue of class inequality and social mobility is therefore long overdue," the report says. Socially, Britain remains dominated by the same class divisions that have been in place for 40 years with scorn for poor white people and their "perceived" culture not only socially acceptable but also rampant.

“But it also warns that there is a danger the "muted and repressed" debate on class that is re-emerging could prove harmful. It argues alarmist predictions that Labour's neglect of the white working class will boost the British National party are little more than veiled attempts to curb race equality.”

And what about us then? Surbiton, England 2005 © Damaso Reyes

The article goes on to say:

“The study says the affliction and resentment of many sections of the white working class is a real cause for concern but it is vital to address its actual cause: "The white working classes are discriminated against on a range of different fronts, including their accent, their style, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the social spaces they frequent, the postcode of their homes, possibly even their names. But they are not discriminated against because they are white," it concludes.”

Class and race go hand in hand in America but when it comes to immigration and integration class is a huge factor, sometimes even more important than race. Often I am tolerated simply because of my class and background. If I were an African asylum seeker my treatment would be wholly different. The U.K. is one of the most class conscious places in Europe; indeed I found it so distasteful it is one of the things that led me not to consider the U.K. as a base. While I have found that the U.K. has dealt with its racial minorities better than perhaps anywhere else in Europe, it still has a long road to how when it comes to class relations…

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