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Sep. 25th, 2016

Captain Fantastic - not sticking it to anyone




I went to see Captain Fantastic last night and while I thoroughly enjoyed most of it - it's definitely entertaining - the film wasted so many of its interesting premises and was so determined to get to a feel-good ending no matter how many of those premises it had to contradict, that I ended up being annoyed by it. In brief, a family of dad plus six kids of varying ages, who have retreated from the iron heel of capitalism and consumerism into a Swiss Family Robinson-style life in the wilderness, which is a cross between a survivalist boot camp and an elite Soviet university, leave their forest home to attend their mother’s funeral in South Carolina, against the wishes of her parents, who hold the father, Ben, responsible for their daughter’s bipolar disorder and eventual suicide. There are some marvellously funny scenes as this family of rugged individualists encounters consumerist America for the first time (“What’s Cola?” “Poisoned water”. “I can’t shoot that sheep, it’s just standing there.”) It’s a set-up that could be used to probe really interesting questions about how far it’s possible to live outside the structures of civilisation, to examine normally unquestioned assumptions about the way we live our lives and the extent to which the values that we hold are the result of a form of brainwashing by a capitalist society, or to consider how far alternatives are possible without resorting to tyranny to impose those alternatives. None of that happens. Grandpa tells Ben he’s endangering the kids; Ben agrees when one of his daughters nearly dies in a fall from a roof he’s told her to climb (you would think a man who has spent years forcing his kids to go on dangerous rock climbs and kill animals with pointy weapons would already have made the calculation that the occasional death is a price worth paying for a meaningful life, but apparently not); the family “sticks it to the man” by digging up their mother’s coffin from its Christian grave and giving her the Buddhist cremation she’s always wanted; and they end up living happily ever after in a pretty wooden house out in the country where they can all go to a normal school but still be close to nature. None of this is remotely credible. Mom, despite having been in her coffin for at least three days, does not smell or look even the slightest bit decomposed, so everyone can say a touching face-to-face farewell without any retching or even holding of noses. A wood fire is sufficient to burn the entire corpse, so no-one has to rake the skeleton out of the ash or dispose of the bits that didn’t burn. The kids, who know advanced quantum physics, have read Middlemarch at the age of 8, are extremely well-versed in political and economic theory, and have a firm grasp of both world history and human sexual function, are perfectly happy to go to the local rural school, with no apparent problems with boredom or fitting in. The happy ending matters much more than adherence to the laws of physics or basic human psychology, and hence is a big fat LIE.

But my biggest beef with the film is Read more...Collapse )
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Sep. 20th, 2016

(no subject)

Today Mahmood had his asylum hearing. Wolfgang is away but the boys and I drove him down to Traiskirchen for the hearing, where the lawyer and I went in with him and the others waited very patiently for five hours (the hearing itself took just under an hour, and most of that was reading back the transcript to him to make sure everything was correct), and to everybody's amazement he was grabnted subsidiary protection on the spot, which I didn't even know was a thing. Admittedly he had a fantastic case, because he barely survived being shot by the Taliban and his father was subsequently abducted and murdered by them, but this happened in 2009 and 2010 and there are plenty of courts willing to say that that doesn't mean you're in danger right now. But we had a nice case worker who was really pleased with how good his German is and how integrated he is into Austrian life, and she was visibly delighted to be able to give him protection.

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Us in the car outside the camp
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Jul. 17th, 2016

(no subject)

This year's trip to Sweden was short for various reasons but one of the highlights was Björkskär in the Outer Archipelago. It's the sort of place you can only go when you're sure there isn't going to be too much wind,as this picture suggests:

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Jul. 14th, 2016

Current circumstances

If England were what England seems
And not the England of our dreams
But only putty, brass and paint
But only lies and greed and hate,
'Ow quick we'd drop 'er -
But she ain't
...

- Kipling

Jun. 14th, 2016

(no subject)

After several months of persistent slogging, the plan to get the boys into the local volunteer fire brigade has finally born fruit - now they can (a) make friends in the community without us as mediators, (b) earn a gold star for their asylum application processes, and (c) (last but by no means least) give Austria something back for all the help it has given them ovet the past year. It is Ramadan and they hadn't had anything to eat or drink since five in the morning, but they set to with gusto and had a whale of a time:

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In the meantime, I slaved away in the kitchen so that they could eat as soon as they had finished their training rather than having to cook first. Somewhat over-ambitiously, I decided to try to cook an Afghan dish. Mistake number one was not allowing myself at least four hours in which to do this (Afghan cooking isn't complicated but everything is supposed to wallow in its own juices at various stages and some of the wallowing was more like a quick dip). Mistake number two was not reading the recipe thoroughly enough before starting, so that only halfway through did I realise that it didn't give the quantities for such minor details as salt and spices. Mistake number three was then hastily googling other recipes for the same dish in the hope of finding out just how much garam masala I was supposed to be using, only to find blog entries explaining that in Afghanistan a woman's ability to cook this particular dish determines her chance of marrying. At that point I almost gave up and served them all bread and butter. Luckily I am already married, and though I don't think Tawab would have propsed on te basis of my cooking, he at least recognised what the dish was supposed to be (Akbar identified it as Osh, a not unreasonable assumption given that it was another rice-carrots-meat combo).

The next training session is next Tuesday and I shall be on a boat in Sweden, so they will have to cook for themselves :-)

Jun. 2nd, 2016

(no subject)

I have finally got my hands on Orphan Black Series 3. Two episodes in and my slowly dawning suspicion from Season 2 that Alison was the Slytherin clone has been confirmed in SPADES.

Mar. 28th, 2016

Easter Monday

Fabulous weather, fabulous brunch, lovely walk on the Bisamberg afterwards, and traditional "Eierpecken" which is a bit like conkers except with hard-boiled eggs and no strings.

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Easter Monday 2016

Eierbecken

Mar. 11th, 2016

New home, new life

We had a meet-and-greet with the neighbours on Saturday - Black Forest gateau for those allowed to consume alcohol (and ridiculous quantities of cream), apple strudel for the less self-indulgent - and it went really well. Everyone was lovely and welcoming, and one lady who couldn't come left the boys a welcome card in their letter box.

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The flat is lovely and welcoming, too. All the furniture was donated, either by individuals or by depots that collect furniture for refugees. My particular thanks go to "Happy.Thankyou.Moreplease" who asked for a list of items we needed and packed it all up for us, then rang up a few days later to say they had also been offered a laptop and did we want it?

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Ahmad the Syrian came along too - he and Elkhom spend a lot of time together (and have to communicate in German), and I rather think he sees a bachelor flat as an ideal to aspire to. He doesn't get on well with either his father or his older brother and is keen to meet Austrians and learn perfect German.

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This is Olivia, the granddaughter of one of the neighbours. She drew the boys a housewarming picture :-)

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Mar. 5th, 2016

(no subject)

Today was a really lovely day. Shamahmood took advantage of his new freedom to go and visit a friend in Vienna, Tawab and Akbar and Bexi went and played football at the Danzer Haus, and Elkhom hung out all afternoon with Ahmad, our inline-skating Syrian neighbour. The two of them got on like a house on fire and the evening ended with a spontaneous dinner at our house when everyone met up there (the boys still only have one key between four of them, so getting into the flat is a bit of a logistical problem). It's such a pleasure to see Ahmad getting on so well with the Afghans and Tajikis - I finally forgave him today for his behaviour at the ice rink because he spontaneously offered to carry a box of kitchen stuff up to the flat for me (I bear grudges, I admit. But not against people who show they're willing to change). Afghans and Syrians don't generally get on well - even the Danzer Haus has had to institute separate homes for the two nationalities - and Ahmad said this evening that he wasn't going to tell his father who he'd been hanging out with, but Ahmad himself has clearly made his choice to leave old emnities and cultural assumptions behind him and to be friends with everybody. He's a good kid and I'm glad we'll be seeing more of him.

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Mar. 4th, 2016

(no subject)

It has been three weeks of catastrophes*, non-stop stress, sleepless nights, endless phone calls**, terrifying mistakes***, strings of appointments and an awful lot of driving around picking up donated furniture and scattered refugees, but tonight we got to enjoy the fruits of our labours:


4.3.2016 firstnight

The boys' first night in their own flat - Elkhom, Akbar, Tawab and Shamahmood, with me, Bexy and Nala.

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*The Danzer Haus has been forced to close its adult programme and all its 18 year olds are being transferred to adult camps. By a huge stroke of luck, the very day we found out, our neighbour (the one with the right-wing mother who has befriended Sayed) put a flat up for rent, and not only let us have it at a favourable rate but also gave us specific permission to sub-let it to refugees. With four of them pooling the €320 a month living allowance they each get from the state, they can almost afford it if they don't eat very much. There have been lots of offers of help. They are going to be fine. Best of all, Marianne got Akbar, Tawab and even Shamahmood into a project with a Swedish artist that lasts for three months and gives them food, travel cards and German classes. Elkhom isn't part of it because he is going to Tashi's school for a term and is really loving it. We have already had an offer to pay for a German course for him and I have signed him up for an assessment on March 16th, which is the prerequisite for a place.

**I have made more begging phone calls to strangers than I would ever have thought possible, but Wolfgang has been absolutely amazing. It turns out he's a fantastic organiser and a great cold caller - I've been married to him for almost quarter of a century, but only nowhave a truly realised what a star he is.

*** One of our central goals was to get Shamahmood out of his awful camp at Klingenbach, but in our eagerness we jumped the gun and de-registered him too soon, so that he has dropped out of the system, and we are now relying on the goodwill of bureaucrats to get him re-registered in our part of Austria. It should all be all right in the end, but it has been very nerve-racking.

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