Monday, May 31, 2010

10 Days with Europe's Top 10 Pop Music Scenes. #7.

A bit late in the day with this post; I had an old-fashioned epic night out in Atlanta with a friend last night (made possible in part because it's an American holiday today). I have spent much of the day in bed. Only now am I beginning to feel human again.

Number 7: Lithuania. 8.72% GREEN (8.72% of that country's charting songs earned top marks on my spreadsheet)

For those flummoxed by geography, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania conveniently lie in alphabetical order as they run from north to south down the Baltic Sea coast. Lithuania is in the odd position of bordering Kalingrad, a Russian exclave (Kalingrad is part of Russia but is physically isolated from the rest of that country). Belarus, that odd duck of a county ruled by the "last dictator in Europe," lies to Lithuania's south-east, but the comforts of the EU lie just across a stretch of Lithuania's south-western border with Poland.

The result is a music scene of some complexity, reflecting both the trashy glitz of Russian pop (especially when it comes to leggy girl groups) and the more laid-back live rock band sound that dominates much of Central Europe. Oh, and WTF?

Some tracks from the last couple of years:

Alanas Chošnau - Išlaisvink mane
Diamond - Dangiški migdolai
SEL - Parašyk Man Laišką Iš Paryžiaus (Remix)
Stano - Šypsnis
Viktorija Perminaitė - Maža maža
Vilija ir Merūnas - Mano meilei

Sunday, May 30, 2010

10 Days with Europe's Top 10 Pop Music Scenes. #8.

Germany won Eurovision yesterday, thus breaking the "No Big Four Country Will Ever Win Eurovision Curse." But how will Germany do on my own countdown of the top 10 pop music scenes in Europe?

Number 8: Ukraine. 8.11% GREEN (8.11% of that country's charting songs earned top marks on my spreadsheet)

In 2004 Ruslana's "Wild Dances" won the Eurovision song contest. Only a few months later the singer was addressing cheering Orange Revolution supporters in Kiev. The Orange Revolution reversed the results of a good old-fashioned Soviet-style rigged election and turned control of the government over to a more Western-focused group of politicans.

Unfortunately, due to massive and embarrassing infighting amongst its leaders, the Orange Revolution has now petered out. While Ukraine as a whole doesn't look like it's going to become the Russia lackey some pessimists imagine (it's in any country's best-interest to pursue a relatively independent track), the Russian influence will certainly grow under the current government's tenure, as has been signaled by a string of recent positions taken on Sevastopol, the Holodomor, and NATO membership.

In the USSR, the Ukrainian music scene was run from Moscow. Thus, when Ukraine declared independence the country had to build its own music distribution network from scratch.

I can't see how the Orange Revolution would have helped most Ukrainian musicians very much. Looking to the affluent west may sound great in concept, and Ruslana may have enjoyed moderate Western success after her Eurovision showing, but for most Ukrainian music groups business always lay to the east, and breaking from Russia probably left many artists feeling relatively stranded in a market not advanced or big enough to support those musicians--especially after the Orange Revolution.

The result of Ukraine's independence has been a music scene that is in disarray. But I think Ukraine's pop music is much stronger than Russia's, and in general it has large potential. Ukraine's music strengths may be a byproduct of the country's geographic position, where it soaks up interesting ideas from its many neighbors (it's worth noting how much easier it is, logistics-wise, for a westerner to visit Ukraine than to visit Russia). Ukraine is not massive, and so ideas can circulate more efficiently. Oddly enough, Ukraine may also benefit from a long history of invasion that has resulted in every single citizen being naturally a bit multi-cultural.

Over the years, I have seen Ukraine offer drum and bass DJs who utilize live instruments in their sets, a female rapper who also sat on a cake in Playboy (or so I was told), a rock/rap band that utilizes traditional Ukrainian folk singing, and an ostentatious drag queen who, in a telling hint of the general Ukrainian attitude towards homosexuality, has never explicitly said he is gay (his Wikipedia entry is worth a look).

Perhaps the most stirring Ukrainian music comes from the old ladies from the country's rural villages. This is some haunting and lovely stuff.

Some tracks from the last couple of years:

Dazzle Dreams - Disco Killers
Gorchitza - Final Cut
Tina Karol / Тина Кароль - Ne boysya
Zebra / Зебра - Vesna / Весна

Saturday, May 29, 2010

10 Days with Europe's Top 10 Pop Music Scenes. #9.

Eurovision pits just one song from each country against the others; but what if you had a spreadsheet of 9000 song reviews from all over Europe? It's time for the decisive country vs. country pop music showdown!!! I am counting down the top 10 pop music scenes in Europe.

Number 9: Slovenia. 7.82% GREEN (7.82% of that country's charting songs earned top marks on my spreadsheet)

Slovenia is home to only 2 million people, but they qualified for the World Cup this year, and they have a music scene that is stronger than that of countries over 10 (or even 40) times their size. Their most famous export was industrial satirists/weirdos Laibach. An even more enjoyable band from the 80s, in my opinion, was Videosex, whose singer Anja Rupel warbled on a few of Laibach's "Germania" tracks.

Slovenians love their jazz and big band stuff, as evidenced by the extremely talented RTV Slovenia Big Band. However, over the years they have proven capable of producing majestic rock, funky rap tunes, epic pop songs with hot flutists, and pumping house tracks.

Slovenians also find turbo polka to be a more or less acceptable form of entertainment.

When your potential national audience consists of only 2 million people, it makes sense to reach beyond your country's borders. Turbo-polka-ers Atomik Harmonik, for example, have re-recorded their songs in German in order to take advantage of the market in neighboring Austria.

You would imagine that Slovenian music would be embraced by countries throughout the former Yugoslavia, but a barrier to Slovenians is the language; many Slovenians tell me they can understand Serbo-Croatian, but it doesn't work the other way around. German, Italian, and (of course) English look like the most profitable way to go. But it would be a shame if the Slovenian language died off of their music charts the way Romanian has on Romania's. Stick with the Slovenian for as long as you can!

A few tracks from the last couple of years:

Alenka Godec - Vsak Je Sam
Jadranka Juras - Drugace Ne Znam
Justine Juliette Feat Zlatko - Hip Hop
Tabu - Supersong

Friday, May 28, 2010

10 Days with Europe's Top 10 Pop Music Scenes. #10.

Every week, I listen to the new pop music arrivals on about 40 European music charts. I maintain a spreadsheet (9000 songs and counting) of my impressions. Every song is reviewed in "stoplight" fashion (green = great, yellow = so-so, red = not at all interested).

It occurred to me that I might be able to use this as a basis for ranking the countries by the quality of their top 40 charts.

That, of course, makes for a terribly subjective exercise complicated by many variables. There are some countries for which I have never been able to find a good pop chart, so they are out of the race. There are other countries whose pop charts are so consistently dull that I just don't check them at all, preferring instead to catch their hits when they rise up on the hot 100 European chart.

My records only show when a song made its first appearance somewhere. If a pop hit is to my liking, and winds up on 20 different charts, only the country whose chart I found it on first gets the credit. (In this sense, one could say that my ranking system rewards the most farsighted countries.)

So, at the end of the day, this is just a list of countries whose top 40 charts make one guy who has listened to 9000 songs over the last couple of years the happiest. We will look at one country each day (a good Euro-nationalistic exercise to correspond with Eurovision). We begin with:

Number 10: The Netherlands. 7.63% GREEN (7.63% of that country's charting songs earned top marks on my spreadsheet)

What impresses me about the Netherlands coming in at number 10 is that they do so despite having an enormous amount of levenslied (Dutch schlager) on their charts. Anyone for a Dutch-language version of "Daydream Believer"? Who thinks Patrick! has really earned the exclamation mark following his name? And WTF?

The levenslied stuff, you will note, is almost always in Dutch, whereas the country's pop and dance music output is usually delivered in English. Accordingly, levenslied is associated (fairly or not) with a less-cosmopolitan, working-class audience. (Dutch rap is usually in the Dutch language as well. Rap, which relies on verbal dexterity, always benefits from being delivered in the MC's native tongue.)

A music chart with one-third levenslied consistency is a lot for the rest of the music scene to overcome. But fortunately the Dutch also love dum-dum dance songs, and so do I. Consider that the country delighted in happy hardcore during the mid-1990s, then transitioned into dance pop like Alice DeeJay in Y2K. Today, the Netherlands are home to internationally acclaimed trance DJs like Armin van Buuren, Tiësto, and Ferry Corsten; the first two regularly top DJ Magazine's top 100 DJ polls each year, and Corsten (my personal preference) is never far behind.

The Netherlands also have a talented crop of MCs who sample from far funkier sources than their U.S. counterparts. One thing I remember about Amsterdam were the many vinyl record stores, which I imagine are filled with good hooks just waiting to be sampled.

Ah, old records. That reminds me of the Dutch pop music of the 70s, like Mouth & MacNeal's "How Do You Do?" Earth and Fire's "Weekend," and Patricia Paay's "Livin' Without You."

Hell, I even enjoy the occasional levenslied tune. ;-)

A few tracks from the last couple of years:

CJ - Rapfanaat
DIO feat Sef - Aye
Elize – Hot Stuff
Esmée Denters - Admit It
Ferry Corsten feat Maria Nayler - We Belong
Jeff van Vliet - Uit de weg
Rigby - Parade

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Prison Break: Directionless

When I started this blog back in November 2009, it was better focused than the current incarnation. There were two types of journal entries, one sub-titled "Planning Stage," where I detailed the findings of specific research I was conducting about Europe as I planned an extended trip to that continent, and another sub-titled "Prison Break," which focused on my mental state as I sought escape from the manacles of my reality. This formula was sensible organizationally; it captured the overall picture of my world quite well.

In good dramatic fashion, it also led up to something exciting: the trip itself. When I departed for Kiev in mid-January the blog accordingly transformed into a record of my travels as I visited seven different countries.

It has been over a month since I returned to Atlanta. Without my actually being in Europe anymore, the blog has lost most of its focus. It has become a place for commentary on European issues, a news page, and a dumping ground for the occasional piece of creative whimsy. It is as directionless as my own life. This blog has jumped the shark.

So I thought I'd return to the original formula and provide a personal update.

I am living in an "extended stay" (they used to call them "motels") on the edge of Midtown Atlanta. I have been here for over a month. My room resembles what one might find in a typical budget hotel, save the rattier rug and the addition of a tiny kitchen area. I find myself asking, like the Talking Heads' baffled narrator in "Once in a Lifetime," "Well, how did I get here?"

How I got here

I returned to the United States for several reasons. These reasons were:

1) I was not in any sort of financial position to quit my job. That's because my dream of finding even nominal employment fell through.*

2) I had a girlfriend at the time based in the United States; staying in Europe would have ended that relationship. I needed to come back for her.

3) I figured with all that hanging on me, I might as well also get my taxes done and filed on time. :-D

Well, the girlfriend and I broke up after two weeks together in Atlanta. We had broken up before, but this time it's permanent. I know I speak for both of us when I say that that was a bitter pill. "I wish her all the best" has become an insincere-sounding cliché, but I really do wish her that.

What is "here," exactly?

"Here" is my original job. "Here" is alone in a motel room. "Here" is a cheerful reunion with friends, followed by a realization that, due to diverging life paths, we will never again be as close as we were before. "Here" is a peculiar combination of being someplace with less than you started with while also overflowing with new experiences and new knowledge.

What hurts the most?

Before my trip, my mom talked condescendingly about the notion of travel for "personal enrichment." I informed her of my serious intent to find real work while overseas. She said I'd fail. I did. It now feels like the label "personal enrichment" needs to be hung around the neck of the whole adventure after all.

Since returning, I have often told people that my body is here in Atlanta whereas my mind remains in Europe. Unfortunately, I am beginning to feel the heavy weight of Atlanta life taking over my mind again. Bad habits are returning as well: the regular solitary drinking, conversations with myself about narrow and pedantic subjects, and a shrinking away from meaningful social engagement.

I remain in a motel room because if I sign another lease I sign my conditions of surrender.

* There were two things I felt cut-out to do. One was journalism, and the other was DJing.

With journalism, the turnaround time for responses from publications was too slow for me to get traction. One of my pieces was published, but only after I had "lost" a week or two submitting elsewhere. The paper running my article didn't even notify me that the piece had run, nor was an offer for payment ever made. I am grateful for the publicity and for being able to add a publishing credit to my resume, but publicity doesn't equal money in my pocket. Long turnaround times meant that a second article was shopped around unsuccessfully for several weeks. It finally found a taker, but the taker, inexplicably, has yet to run the piece. Other pieces are still in the works and I hope for a brighter future for those.

As for making money from the blog, there are two ways: 1) add a forlorn "donate" button on the upper right of this page that no one will click, or 2) run ads which will generate a revenue of pennies each month.

I failed to land DJ work in part due to not having enough time to network and arrange anything in advance. Three days in a city means you're not likely to talk yourself into a Friday night gig upon arrival on a Wednesday.

My time was divided between pursuing those goals, travel and sight-seeing itself, plus attending to a relationship. I was divided and, ambitions-wise, drawn and quartered.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

David Guetta - Arena, Zagreb, Saturday 22 May 2010

In mid-2009, David Guetta's "When Love Takes Over" (featuring Kelly Rowland) began to climb the European pop music charts. Several smash hit singles later, 2010 has turned into the year of David Guetta.

In 2009 Guetta moved up two spots in DJ Magazine's annual readers poll of the top 100 DJs to number three, just underneath perenniel Dutch favorites Armin van Buuren and Tiësto (those two guys have been in the top three every year since 2003, and van Buuren and Tiësto have been roosting at numbers one and two respectively for the last three years). I will be shocked if Guetta doesn't take the crown this year; he's got a ton of recent hit songs under his belt and he's been touring like mad. Vive la France!

I saw posters for Guetta's Zagreb appearance throughout the Balkans in March, and I felt quite sad that I would not be able to see the show myself.

Urška Renier (pictured on right), who lives in Maribor, Slovenia was luckier. When she bought her tickets the agency also arranged bus transportation from Maribor to Zagreb. After two hours on the road she arrived at the Arena. After the show ended she hopped right back on a bus to Maribor and was home by 8 AM.

Guetta returns to the Balkans on 10 July, when he plays Serbia's Exit Festival at the picturesque Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad.

All photos below by Urška Renier.

His name in lights

Urška writes: "There were about 16.000 people all dancing and screaming lyrics of Guetta's songs. At one moment I felt like a sardine in a can—especially when I was in the front row surrounded by dancing people. For a better understanding, you can watch my movie on YouTube."

The exterior of the Arena

Urška writes: "The concert was in Arena Zagreb, a new multifunctional hall. It was built in 2008 to host big sports, cultural, business and entertainment events, but thanks to its beauty and grandeur it has become the architectural landmark of the City of Zagreb.

"This building has two halls, a large and a small one. The large hall has a seating capacity of 15.200, with 150 seats reserved for disabled persons. Depending on the event, it can accommodate more than 20.000 people."

Inside Arena Zagreb

Urška writes: "There was big floor in the middle and seats on the side. The floor was full (and also the seats, but everybody was standing)."

Cool lights

Urška writes: "The concert (party) officially started at 10.00 pm, but Guetta started playing at 12.30 am. This concert was David Guetta 'and friends,' so first there was a DJ from Slovenia, DJ UMEK. Guetta played for about 3 hours, until 4.30 am. At 5.00 am we left Zagreb. I came home to Maribor at 8.00 am."

Keeping an eye on things :-|

Urška writes: "He played mostly stuff from his album, but also some other songs. I was really disappointed because he didn't play 'One Love.' He generally played songs from his album One Love."

Here is a tracklist:

1. Intro / 2. Gettin' Over / 3. Rhythm is a Dancer / 4. Shots / 5. Love is gone / 6. Memories / 7. Guetta Blaster / 8. Be / 9. When Love Takes Over / 10. End

"Thank you. Thank you very much."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Banning the Veil in 1950

Everything old is new again. The French government has adopted a bill to ban Muslims from wearing veils; the bill could become law this fall. Belgium introduced its own such bill for consideration only a few weeks ago.

Sixty years ago, Yugoslavia banned the veil. The communist regime at the time pursued the ban "with the goal of ending the centuries old symbol of inferiority and cultural backwardness of Muslim women" (historian Robert Donia, as quoted on page 15 of this European Stability Initiative Power Point). Those words are not a far cry from French President Nicolas Sarkozy's defense of the ban as quoted in Reuters: "Sarkozy said France was 'an old nation united around a certain idea of personal dignity, particularly women's dignity, and of life together. It's the fruit of centuries of efforts.'"

In another quote that resonates today, Donia also said of the 1950 ban: "the campaign encountered staunch resistance, especially among women outside of Sarajevo and among Muslim men."

In the fall of 1950 the ban was enacted. Around the same time, other curbs were imposed on various segments of Muslim society.

...the suppression of the shariat courts in 1946, the ban on the wearing of the veil in 1950, closure of the mektebs (elementary schools where children learned about the Koran), the closure of all the tekkes (dervish lodges) in 1952, and the ban on the dervish orders...the Muslim cultural and educational societies were shut down by the communists, as was the Islamic printing house in Sarajevo.
--Thinking About Yugoslavia, by Sabrina P. Ramet, describing observations made by historian Noel Malcolm

In light of this, one could understand why historically-astute members of today's European Muslim community might live in fear that a ban on veils and burqas may hint at further restrictions down the line. It's a "slippery slope" argument, but it does have recent historical precedent.

Was Yugoslavia's veil ban a success? I don't know; I suppose that depends on who you ask. But my entertaining Culture Smart Guide to Bosnia & Herzegovina suggests that a more progressive and better-integrated Muslim society emerged afterward in Yugoslavia.

The great question, I suppose, is whether or not such change qualifies as real societal improvement if that change is dependent upon the forced suppression of certain cultural values.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Photos from Various Protests in Chania, Greece (Island of Crete)

Daniela Bulgaru, who is currently studying in Chania on the Erasmus program, sent these photos she took of various strikes and rallies going on in the area around Chania. Most of these were taken in the last week or so, although some go back to March.

All photos taken by Bulgaru Daniela Maria.

"I was at school," she says. "They closed the school and had a meeting, and some were like, 'Hey, how are you? We are having a strike--would you like to join us?'" Students are protesting because of funding cuts.

Hellenic Post office employees.

The KKE is (as if you couldn't tell) the Communist Party of Greece.

The KNE is the youth wing of the KKE.

Strikes in Crete are advertised a day or two in advance with posters and flyers (e.g., "come to strike tomorrow, agora, 15:00"). Live music is often featured. Ms. Bulgaru says that some folks show up not knowing precisely which strike they are participating in!

Poster for the All-Workers Militant Front.

Ms. Bulgaru says that the reason students enjoy relatively little intervention from police in their protests stems from World War II; a number of student broadcasters at university were killed back then (the banner below is in observation of that). Thus, today's Greek universities are effectively freedom zones for political expression.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lonely Planet Design

What if the font sizes on the covers of Lonely Planet European guides were proportional to the populations of the countries covered within? Sure, we've all asked this at some point, but I have endeavored to illustrate some of the results.

The Netherlands has a slightly above average-sized population for a European nation (hence the lettering doesn't quite fit).

The title of the guide to the largest European country doesn't fit at all, but hopefully the image I have used will convey the subject.

You may be surprised to know that Slovenia is not the smallest European country, population-wise, to have its own Lonely Planet guide.

For example, there is this country:

A Serbian friend pointed out that he did not know the population of his country because it seemed each day it was getting smaller. I have designed a Lonely Planet cover to acknowledge the changing situation.

If you have a favorite European country you want me to design a cover for, let me know.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The New Pre-Raphaelites

2010's answer to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is in Bucharest. It may change the nature of modeling.

In the brick-cellar basement of Bucharest's heavy-metal Club Fire, patrons stare transfixed at a slideshow of photographs projected onto a white curtain. Most of the images are of beautiful young women in ethereal settings. Some of the models pose in sunny Herăstrău Park; strum electric guitars on the rooftops of bleak, Ceauşescu-era concrete apartment buildings; or sit in charming Bucharest restaurants.

The images are the works of photographers and models that are among the most popular on the deviantART website. deviantART serves as a place for artists of all stripes to share their work for critique or comment. Online, the site claims 11 million members from all over the world. (deviantART did not reply to requests for comment on this article.)

"We are all friends now," says photographer Iulian Dumitrescu, 24. He and seven other photograhers and models are seated at a table in Curtea Berarilor, a Bucharest bar in the city's picturesque (and seemingly perpetually renovated) old town district of bars and cafes.

They met through Romania-centric discussion groups on the deviantART website. Using a variety of aliases (among them such poetic nom-de-plumes as "WildRainOfIceAndFire" and "ScorpionEntity"), they have forged a network of artists and models that dominate the deviantART photo forums. While Pre-Raphaelite-style imagery is generally popular on the site (which features many wannabe Ophelias and pensive Medieval maidens), the Romanian clique seems to embody the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood spirit itself in that they are a tightly-knit collective of young artistic visionaries intent on sharing a particular vision of human beauty. However, artistic idealism sometimes clashes with the real world.

"I had some problems with my boyfriend," admits model and student Alice Oprescu ("GoceAlice"), 19. "He was extremely jealous about what I'm doing. I was modeling for another photographer from deviantART, and he was like, 'Oh, you go on a date with him! You are cheating on me!' Oh no! I didn't do that!"

Feeling the pressure, Oprescu posted a message to her followers letting them know that she was taking a break from deviantART.

"To show him how much I loved him, I told him, 'I am going to quit deviantART,' " she says. "He accepted that for a while, but then I said, 'OK you're not quitting the things that you like, so why should I quit on something that I like?' " Oprescu and her boyfriend broke up, and new photos of "GoceAlice" have appeared on the site since then.

Oprescu and photographer Alin Ion ("~Alyn3D"), 19, periodically leave the table in order to smoke cigarettes, because photographer Andreea Retinschi ("=WildRainOfIceAndFire"), 25, recently had 1.5 liters of liquid drained from her left lung due to complications from pneumonia ("Nothing big," Retinschi insists), and cannot linger in smoky environments. Retinschi is a photographer who sometimes models--but do not call her a model first. "I'm not a model. I'm a photographer," she said when this reporter committed the error. "So, change the question!"

Her popularity on the site took time to cultivate. "You have one picture that you notice is getting very popular," she explains. "Then you might have a few others from the same series that become popular. Then your popularity goes low again. So you have to make something else that people like."

On deviantART she is a superstar whose images are routinely highly ranked by visitors. She has had a few exhibitions of her works in Bucharest. But her popularity on the site has not translated into an income.

"I'm trying to make money," admits Retinschi. "Aren't we all?"

When photographer Dumitrescu ("=ScorpionEntity") reveals that he, too, is looking to make a living at his craft, Retinschi exclaims, "Oh, I didn't know that! So we're competition! Were you keeping that a secret from me?"

"I'm not competition," Dumitrescu says.

"Of course you are," Retinschi replies sharply. "Every photographer is competition to another."

Horror stories of naive young women seeking legitimate modeling jobs only to fall into the clutches of photographers with seedier intent are as old as photography itself. In her book American Eve, author Paula Uruburu describes how a teenaged Evelyn Nesbit was carefully guided through the world of painters and photographers in 1900 New York in order to avoid a lurid fate as a pornographer's model. The close-knit, family atmosphere of the Romanian deviantART network helps to protect models from unscrupulous photographers.

"We are like a great family," says Oprescu warmly as she surveys the faces at the table.

"Working with friends as models trains you for when you work with real models," says photographer Razvan Seitan ("~Sykeye"), 23. "You must always reflect the model's personality, because otherwise it will show in the photos that she's struggling, and it's not right."

"When you know the model, the model is more relaxed and she is in her world with you," says Oprescu. She turns to photographer Dumitrescu and notes, "When he takes a shot of me, he takes a part of myself."

Their camaraderie becomes clear when one listens to them swap stories about outdoor photo shoots marred by an unexpected downpour of rain, photographs taken by mistake that trumped their posed counterparts, and batteries dying at inopportune moments.

None of the photographers in the group began by photographing models. Most began with animals, landscapes, and architecture before moving on to family and friends. This past experience of working primarily with natural light, coupled with the expensiveness of indoor lighting, is why many of the models are photographed outdoors.

"Usually we shoot in nature," Dumitrescu says.

"Parks, gardens, anything outdoors," Ion adds.

"Recently, I found an abandoned factory where I did some photoshoots."

"And you will tell me where that is!"

"Yes. In the very distant future I will tell you," Dumitrescu says dryly.

To the average person, the fashion industry's definition of beauty is governed by a mysterious elite of magazine publishers and fashion houses. To become a popular model on deviantART requires only that somebody with a camera recognizes and desires to share a person's beauty with the rest of the world (sometimes that photographer and the would-be model are the same person). The rest is determined by the number of views and downloads of that image from visitors to the deviantART website. Unhindered by the filtering process of the fashion houses, deviantART models may stray from the rigorous Vogue template of beauty, which opens up interesting possibilities regarding the future of marketing human beauty.

"My mother is quite excited about my modeling, but when she is pissed-off she always tells me, 'Oh you're never going to be a model. You're too small!" says the diminutive Oprescu. "But I don't care; I'm still beautiful."

"You have to be 185 centimeters tall to be a professional model," model and illustrator Raluca Porumbacu ("*Roxaralu"), 20, says.

"It's quite disturbing because there are so many beautiful women who are small," says Oprescu. "Shakira, is small, and so is Nicole Kidman. But they are great! When you see a real model in real model photos, you say 'She looks like a real model.' But she's just like a mannequin--a plastic one, a beautiful object and nothing more."

The group is downbeat about the future of Romania, a country where political corruption remains a persistent problem. Some go so far as to suggest that those who gave their lives in the December 1989 Romanian Revolution "died for nothing."

"The government is like a club," says Oprescu. "They eat reindeer and they give us all the bones. We're like dogs."

Oprescu's father died from lung cancer in 1998. Her mother, now under extra pressure as the family's sole breadwinner, lives in fear that she might lose her government job, Oprescu says. Most in the deviantART clique want to leave the country behind.

Ion shares a gallows-humor joke: "You're afraid of 2012? Come to Romania, because we're a hundred years behind."

But through photography and modeling, the Bucharest gang has found a means of escaping a world that is too much with them. And despite their concerns about the country's political and economic future, they remain optimistic about Romanians in general.

"I think Romanian women are the most beautiful in the world," says Raluca's identical twin sister Roxana ("*JustMeOnyX"), 20. "And then Russia," she adds democratically.

"Romanian people are really talented," her sister adds.

"They have great ideas and they really want to pop out from the crowd," says Oprescu.

They say their parents support their deviantART modeling. "They like our pictures," insists Raluca. But in addition to wearing long, flowing dresses and evening gowns, the women sometimes wear, well, less. How do their parents feel about the lingerie poses?

"The sexy pictures are not for parents!" Raluca says.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A List of Obstacles a Romanian Bus Driver Had to Avoid in February 2010

Playing children
Horse-drawn carts
Gypsy pedestrians
A very old man on a bicycle
A very fat man on a bicycle