Eurovision 2013: All Of Europe Under One Roof

eurovision
Alex Robertson Textor

Launched in 1956, Eurovision is a Europe-wide music competition held every May under the auspices of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Participating countries select their representative songs over the course of the preceding winter and spring. Some countries – like Sweden – make their selections via televised heats held over several consecutive weeks. Others – like the U.K. (this year, at least) – make their selections by internal committee.

Eurovision is a major event in Europe, with a remarkable 125 million viewers.

Nowadays, Eurovision lasts for almost an entire week. With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there are now so many participating countries – 39 this year; even more in recent years – that two semi-finals are required to winnow down contestants to a manageable tally for the grand final. After semifinals on Tuesday and Thursday, this year’s final will be held later today in Malmö, Sweden. (Sweden won Eurovision last year, and with its win came the right to host this year’s contest.)Eurovision is not generally considered to be a showcase for serious music, and few global stars emerge from it. One very notable exception is ABBA, who turned their 1974 win with “Waterloo” into enormous international success. In lieu of musical seriousness, the event unleashes a kind low-impact skirmish of muted patriotisms and a massive gay following.

For many countries, participation in Eurovision is a rite of passage, a sign of progress. An Israeli friend once told me that in the late 1970s her family would dress up to watch Eurovision in their living room. This symbolic appeal of Eurovision remains especially strong in some Eastern European countries and the Caucasus today.

All members of the European Broadcasting Union can participate in Eurovision. This fact explains Israel‘s participation. Other EBU members beyond the borders of Europe include Morocco (who participated just once, in 1980) and several countries that have never participated: Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia. True Eurovision nerds will tell you that Kazakhstan, Kosovo and Liechtenstein have all submitted applications for EBU membership.

So right, tonight. The odds have Denmark‘s Emmelie de Forest, Norway‘s Margaret Berger (with likely the strongest straight-up pop song, a little piece of driven magic titled “I Feed You My Love”), Ukraine‘s Zlata Ognevich, Azerbaijan‘s Farid Mammadov and Russia‘s Dina Garipova at the top of the pile.

In addition to these, Hungary, Romania and Greece have emerged as fan favorites. ByeAlex, the Hungarian entrant, sings a lush, quietly earnest song called “Kedvesem.” The singer looks like a quiet, earnest Mission District hipster; he distinguished himself in the press conference for the second semi-final winners on Thursday night by quoting Friedrich Nietzsche. Romania’s entry, sung by a countertenor opera singer named Cezar, is an instant Eurovision dance classic with a particularly over-the-top choreography. The Greek entry, by Koza Mostra featuring rebetiko singer Agathonas Iakovidis, combines folk, punk and rebetiko themes.

For those who follow Eurovision obsessively, the event itself is a kind of quasi-religious experience. The line between fandom and evangelism is imprecise for this tribe, many of whom attend Eurovision regularly. This week in Malmö, the Eurovision tribe is everywhere, sharing the gospel of playful but somehow meaningful pop music. The photo above, taken yesterday, gets at some of the gospel’s magic. It’s simple and interpersonal. Koza Mostra’s lead singer, Elias Kozas, has swapped flags with a German Eurovision fan. No negotiations. No conflict. No international frustrations. Just a snapshot of a moment within which flags don’t matter much.

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: Coping With Loss Overseas

homer labrador retrieverCoping with a personal loss overseas in an alien culture without your normal support network can be one of the most challenging things about life in the Foreign Service or indeed any peripatetic international career. I’ve been blessed to reach age 40 without ever losing a close friend or relative.

But six years ago this spring, while living in Budapest, my wife and I lost a beloved pet, Homer, a Labrador retriever who died unexpectedly when he was just a year old (see photo). Those who have never had a dog they really loved won’t be able to grasp what a deep loss this was for us but it was by far the hardest thing I ever had to deal with in my six years in the Foreign Service.

We got Homer while I was going through a difficult time coping with an illness and we quickly became inseparable. We didn’t have kids at the time, so Homer was our baby. We traveled with him, let him sleep at the foot of our bed, and spoiled him rotten with presents and treats. Every time I came home from work, he would be so deliriously happy that I often couldn’t wait to walk in the door.He was popular in our neighborhood in Washington, D.C., but when we moved to Budapest, he was like a rock star in our neighborhood, where everyone knew him by name and would linger at our gate for the chance to pet and hug him. We were the accredited diplomats, but he was the real cultural envoy.

We took him everywhere and one weekend while we were sitting in an outdoor restaurant at Lake Balaton, a few hours from our home, he started to have some sort of seizure at the table and within a minute or two, before we could get help, he was dead. He was just 14 months old and he died on the one-year anniversary of when we got him.

In the days to come, we consulted local vets to try to find out what happened. They concluded that his thymus ruptured, he went into shock and died. Just before he died, he was running around in the back yard of the restaurant, and we had thought that he swallowed something poisonous. If we had been in the U.S., we would have felt more confident that a restaurant wouldn’t have something toxic in the yard but in Hungary, we really had no clue.

I’m sure the vets in Hungary are just as good as the ones in the U.S., but at the time, we couldn’t help but wonder if their diagnosis was correct. We were at a loss to understand why our dog had died and having to try to make sense of it in an alien place was bewildering to say the least.

On my first day back at work, I was still grieving, and having to tell my co-workers what happened brought back all the emotions. I struggled to relay the news, which everyone had already heard through the grapevine, without crying. People were sympathetic but I couldn’t help but feel like no one had a clue what I was going through. I had been at post for only a few months and felt like no one knew me well enough to understand what a deep loss this was for me.

The worst part of going back to work was talking to my boss, who wasn’t an animal lover and clearly had no idea that I was grieving.

“Other than the canine misadventure,” he said, with a smile and a chuckle, “How was your weekend?”

lab retriever in waterCanine misadventure? I just looked at him puzzled, shocked really, at how he could consider our dog dying unexpectedly at a restaurant a “misadventure.” For us, it was a tragedy. Others have faced much bigger tragedies, but for us, it was a big loss nonetheless. I was speechless and had a sick feeling in my stomach. I had no idea if I wanted to cry or punch him and, to be honest, I was so shocked by his insensitivity, I don’t remember how or even if I responded.

My wife and I had each other to lean on and that’s more than single people have when they face a loss overseas. But my boss’s reaction drove home a point for me. I was in a place where no one, save my wife, really knew me or gave a damn about me. I needed a support network – my parents, my good friends and people who knew how much I loved Homer.

Many in the Foreign Service have suffered much more devastating losses than we did. And many are forced to decide if they can afford to fly home for funerals of friends or more distant relatives if they are in out of the way posts. Karen O’Neill DeThomas, for example, wrote a very moving story about the loss of her teenage daughter to meningitis, and after reading it, I felt like the pain we experienced was nothing compared to her loss. She said that her Foreign Service experience helped her cope with the tragedy and I think there’s something to that.

When you live overseas, whether in the Foreign Service or not, I think you are forced to become self sufficient in many ways and, if you spend time in developing countries, where there is poverty and suffering everywhere you look (Budapest certainly doesn’t qualify on that score), it can put your loss in perspective.

No matter where you live, the only thing that eases the pain of losing a loved one is time. When I think about Homer these days, I feel sad that my sons never got to meet him and that his life was cut so short. But I don’t focus on the tragic ending. I remember the joy he brought to us and others during his brief, but memorable life.

Read More From “A Traveler In The Foreign Service

[Photo credit: Dave Seminara]

Have A Heart: How This Organ Meat Is Eaten Around The World

heartAmericans are frequently credited with having a lot of heart, but when it comes to eating them, we’re not so hip on the idea. Even though offal, or “nose-to-tail” eating has been on-trend for some years now, a lot of people still flinch at the idea of dining on animal heart.

The reality is, heart is a delicious, healthy, versatile meat, devoid of the strong flavor possessed by most (improperly prepared) organ meats. My chef friend Ryan Hardy says, “The heart is a muscle, just like loin or shoulder.” A former farmer who makes his own charcuterie, Ryan’s made a name for himself with dishes like veal heart scallopine, and other rustic, meaty treats.

The rest of the world uses the hearts of all sorts of critters, from frog to horse, in a variety of ways. In honor of our own heart-centric holiday (that’s Valentine’s, y’all), I’ve provided a list of the most well known dishes, along with some modern interpretations of classic recipes, by some of the nation’s most acclaimed chefs.

Anticuchos
One of the tastiest/least frightening of heart dishes are these skewered and grilled chunks of beef heart from Peru. Although anticuchos can be made with the hearts of other species, corazon de vaca is the most popular, and sold by street food vendors across the country, and in other parts of South America.

Cobra heart
We’ve all seen it on the Travel Channel, whether it’s “No Reservations,” “Bizarre Foods,” or some other show. Or perhaps you’ve experienced it for yourself: the old, snake-heart-in-a-shot-of-firewater, or swallowing the still-beating-cobra or frog heart. It’s what men in parts of Asia use in place of Viagra, and frankly, I’d take impotence, any day. For anyone who’s ever stared into a bottle of rice whisky, cloudy with flecks of tissue, and observed a bobbing gray blob of reptile or amphibian heart, you know what I’m talking about.haggis
Haggis
The beloved national dish of Scotland consists of a sheep’s stomach stuffed with a highly-seasoned mixture of the animal’s lungs, heart and liver, mixed with oatmeal. If that doesn’t tempt you, perhaps the cooking technique will. Boiling is nothing if not sexy.

Giblets
Originally, this term referred to a stew of game birds, and dates back to the 16th century. Today, it refers to the edible organs – usually heart, liver, and gizzard – of poultry, which are used for making gravy. Tip: Caramelize these suckers before attempting to make stock and/or ragù from them; it makes all the difference in depth of flavor in the final dish. Serve atop fresh pappardelle pasta, and you have a dish that says, “I love you.”

Coer de Veau Farci
This classic French dish from centuries past consists of veal heart stuffed with forcemeat (often mushrooms) and wrapped in caul fat, before being cooked in the oven. It’s served with a reduction of the pan juices and white wine enriched with butter. According to “Larousse Gastronomique,” the French bible on all things culinary, “Pig or sheep hearts are used to make a ragout or a civet [a game stew thickened with blood].”

In the contemporary world, heart is growing more mainstream thanks to the work of chefs and food personalities. For example, last June, I attended a cooking demo by Andrew Zimmern at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen. The theme was “Game On!” and Zimmern prepared a handful of dishes utilizing oft-unloved animal parts. He converted the dubious, especially with his grilled venison hearts with arugula, sauce Gribiche and shallot rings

Another acquaintance of mine, Jonathon Sawyer, chef/owner of Cleveland’s acclaimed The Greenhouse Tavern, is serving up confit beef heart paprikash (with bacon, onion, smoked paprika, steamed potatoes and spaetzel) as part of this year’s Valentine’s Day Menu. I asked Jonathon what had inspired this untraditional take on paprikash, which usually calls for chicken meat (heart-free).

He told me, “It was partly inspired by my travels in Europe. When cooking things like offal at the restaurant, we like to use familiar flavors that encourage our guests to give it a try. To me, nothing is more comforting than a big bowl of Hungarian paprikash just like Grandma Szegedi used to make.”

That, my friends, is love.

[Photo credits: heart, Flickr user Baie.; haggis, Flickr user CasadeQueso]

Traveling Couple Hits 20 Countries In 312 Days On 3 Minutes Of Video




In a quest to tackle 30 must-have travel experiences before they turn 30, career breakers Gerard & Kieu of GQ trippin traveled 108,371 kilometers (67,338 miles) in 312 days through 20 countries for one adventure of a lifetime.

Shooting 1,266 videos along the way, the traveling couple ended up with 11 hours of video but has reduced it and their entire year of travel to just three minutes as we see in this video.

While traveling, the couple simply gathered video, saving countless hours of editing and production for later.

“We never claim to be vloggers, which is probably why you hardly saw any videos from our travels last year,” says Gerard & Kieu on their GQ trippin website, charged with a simple mantra: See Eat Trip. “Most are short clips of random things that don’t really make sense on their own, so we didn’t bother sharing.”

A year of travel also means a lot of meals, some not so good, prompting the couple to post their Worst In Food this week.

Bizarre Carnival Celebrations You Haven’t Heard Of

It’s that time of year again, when thousands of dancers prepare to don feathers, beads, and sequins and parade down the streets to mark Carnival. And while big Carnival (or Mardi Gras, as it’s also known) celebrations such as the one in Rio de Janiero get plenty of press, there are lots of other festivals that are just as colorful and creative … and perhaps a little weird.

Wanna see men dressed up as frightening goats, watch devils prance through the streets, or have hundreds of mysteriously masked men throw fruit at you? Read on to learn about some of the world’s most interesting and bizarre Carnival celebrations – where you won’t find a sequined bikini to speak of.

The Carnival of Binche, Belgium

The Carnival of Binche, which takes place in a small town in Belgium, dates back to the 14th century. The festival is one of the oldest street carnivals in Europe and has been recognized by UNESCO for its cultural significance.

The main figures in Binche’s Carnival are known the Gilles (see photo above). These are a group of up to 1000 men who wear costumes featuring the colors of the Belgium flag, which are covered in mysterious crests, bells and tassels. The outfits are also stuffed with straw giving the men a linebacker-esque appearance. On their feet, the Gilles wear clunky wooden clogs, and on their faces, they sport peculiar wax masks, which boast curled moustaches and bulging green glasses. These masks get switched out later in the day for giant feathery hats made up of more than 350 ostrich feathers.

If you plan to be in the audience for the Carnival of Binche, watch out, because the Gilles carry baskets full of blood oranges that they throw at onlookers as they dance down the streets.

No one is entirely sure about the origins of the Gilles, but it’s believed the concept dates back to pagan times, when the Gilles would dance and stomp their wooden shoes to chase away winter. The masks are supposed to represent the equality of all people … but there’s no word on what’s behind the orange throwing!

Busójárás, Hungary

Busójárás is a Carnival celebration held in Mohacs, Hungary, 124 miles south of the country’s capital. Like most Carnivals, this six-day festival features parades and dancing, but unlike its counterparts, the Busójárás includes folk music and men dressed as shaggy, horned animals. Known as Busos, the mask-and-fur costumes resemble large, devilish goats – locals wear them as they carry a coffin through the streets.

The origins behind the masked revelry is mixed – some say the Busos are scaring away winter (hence the coffin), but others claim they were intended to frighten away the Turks, who occupied Hungary during the 16th century.

Carnival of Oruro, Bolivia

This 2000-year-old festival takes place in a Bolivian mining town and has also been recognized by UNESCO. The festival is a mix of indigenous and Catholic rituals that include pilgrimages, dances and story telling.

Since Oruro was once an important mining town, locals made sure to honor the Virgin of the Mineshaft in their Carnival celebrations, kicking off the festivities with a religious ceremony.

The other main element of this Carnival is the Diablada – or dance of the devils – where hundreds of locals dress as demons and prance in the streets. Together with some costumed angels, they tell the story of good conquering evil, as well as the seven deadly sins.

Other characters you’ll see in this Carnival are dancers dressed as Incas, and performers representing the black slaves who were forced to work in the silver mines by Spanish conquerors.

[Photo Credits: Flickr users PIXELPLUS Photography, olaszmelo, and CassandraW1]