Voice of the Fire

I would like to welcome all visitors to Voice of the Fire. It’s a podcast about storytelling. We will share stories, interviews with storytellers, as well as observations and thoughts concerning the written and spoken word.

The first season is mostly interviews with storytellers from around the globe. I am looking forward to all listeners. You can find episodes here, on Soundcloud, iTunes and Youtube.

Taking a Break

A break from Asia or Travel related topics, because I’m back in the world where my fascination with photography came from: cinema.

Very rarely film becomes something more than entertainment – it becomes a carrier of a mental state or an emotional transformation, an apotheosis, for the viewer. It manages to transport you so clearly to a different world, gives you insight into a different soul or make you experience an emotional state so lucidly you think it was your own…this is what a good film means to me and does to me – it’s a little more than entertainment or diversion…or maybe a lot more.

I love films and movies. I have done so since I was a kid, dreaming to direct my own films one day. I suppose one can learn all about structure and technical aspects, but one can also just go ahead and make a film. Like many people I can view films in my head if I focus…stories and images simply appear…learning to make a film can also be about developing a clear focus for this internal cinema.

But what I want to do here is to name and number a few of the films that have touched me, left a lasting impression on me…for one thing I want to remember them…for another thing, it might be interesting to other people who don’t know what sort of gems are waiting “out there”…Enjoy.

There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie has something beyond literary about it…a feeling that no book, no play can quite capture. Daniel Day Lewis’ performance is – as so many people have said – spectacular, primal, fierce and commanding…one man who swallowed all the human demons and lived.

The Assassination of Jesse James

Not so well known, but one of my absolute favorites…a film about the construction and deconstruction of a dream and a legend…this is a book come alive – I can read the characters and their nuances like I would in a novel…the cinematography is beautiful and the soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis has to be one of the best pieces of music in modern film…still gives me goose-bumps.


A Mongolian film about a young man facing his shamanic initiation in a broken world. Stunning, changing, but hard to understand unless you have a good imagination or a bit of background knowledge. Has excellent music by Altan Urag.

Princess Mononoke

I could put almost any Miyazaki film here…but Princess Mononoke is the one I saw first and it created a new world of imagination for me. Nuanced characters with understandable and relatable motives, gorgeous animations and one or two scenes that leave me stunned each time (Ashitaka rescuing San, for example).


It needs time, patience and your imagination, but this quiet film will lead you on a journey that is far better than any opulent CGI overload. Three men, all of them want one thing – to flee their grim, industrial and hopeless city for the Zone…a Stalker can take them there.

Mulholland Dr

David Lynch…well, once more I could choose any of his films (or Twin Peaks), but this one gets the nod because of the Diner scene where a man lays out his nightmare in the clearest possible detail only to have it become real a minute later…scary and surreal as hell.

Twilight Samurai

An introspective samurai period film of the highest order and the second (and best) part of a loose trilogy…in Japanese filmmaking tradition the characters convey so much without words and quiet scenes are filled with tension. The fights, few as they are, are tense, short and impactful, but the mood is strong and the story of an aging samurai who has to leave his family to fight once more out of duty is immensely powerful.

Apocalypse Now

This is a clear and simple descent into hell, both mythic and powerful.

Tree of Life

Terrence Malick is another director whose movies I love…Tree of Life is not a film that grabs you, but it unfolds before you, allowing you to see the moments, enjoy or suffer them and take whatever you wish from them. This is what life feels like…


I hope Mel Gibson manages to make his strange Viking epos one day, because Apocalypto – while having some up-the-ante scenes that I could do without – is powerfully primal and effective, transforming the world in front of you into a bloody, mythic reality.

The Color of Pomegranates

It shows how differently one can make films, far away from any sort of realism, but creating a poetic, vivid spectacle of scenes and symbols that brings to live a legend.


Nicolas Roeg creates a meditative, magic-realist story about just how foreign our own reality is when faced with the journey of a young Aboriginal man on walkabout.

Rescue Dawn

This one just stands for many Werner Herzog films, about insane adventures, the ability to live and to chase ridiculous dreams. Forget the American war rhetoric and the ending – the real movie is Dengler’s struggle with the jungle and the prison camp.
I could go on, but I have probably already taxed people’s patience…more to come another time. Have fun finding new movies.

A Tryst in Baghdad


One day when the Sultan was in his palace of Damascus, a beautiful youth who was his favourite rushed into his presence, crying out in great agitation that he must flee at once to Baghdad and imploring leave to borrow His Majesty’s swiftest horse.

The Sultan asked why he was in such haste to go to Baghdad. “Because,” the youth answered, “as I passed through the garden of the palace just now, Death was standing there, and when he saw me he stretched out his arms as if to threaten me and I must lose no time in escaping from him.”

The young man was given leave to take the Sultan’s horse and and fly, and when he was gone the Sultan went down indignantly into the garden, and found Death still there. “How dare you make threatening gestures at my favourite?” he cried; but Death, astonished, answered: “I assure Your Majesty I did not threaten him. I only threw up my arms in surprise at seeing him here, because I have a tryst with him tonight in Baghdad.”



The image is copyright of mahlukat.deviantart.com – go visit his gallery.

You are advertisement – the West’s Art of the Scam

You are advertisement.

Something that most facebook users have long since accepted becomes routine in most internet ventures. Clicks and views are virtual currency and, above a certain volume, actual currency. The user is the viral carrier of advertisements.

It seems like the drug dream of an advertising executive. Everyone can be stickered with ads now. Everyone can be persistently chased by intelligent advertisement. It is less stylish but just as devious as the scene from Minority Report where everyone entering a store is immediately beset by a holographic hostess. Some ads even speak or blare music at you until you find the (often viciously displaced) X to make it – temporarily – disappear.

But, make no mistake, you are advertisement. And you are entirely complicit in it. You helped create the virus that you carry.

Using social media one no longer transfers information, but becomes, both actively and passively, a transmitter of advertisements. You might passively advertise your life-style or your work or your taste in movies, restaurants or video games. You might actively advertise, sending out interesting links or actually advertise your work. In the language of many bloggers “content” actually “masks” the intent: garnering precious page views.

I was briefly writing for an online article platform that will remain unnamed (no free advertisement here). In order to achieve page views one had to study the market and pick a topic that would generate a high number of clicks, aka something that everyone is interested in. In the long run this led to a slew of articles designed only to generate page views – one began to write not thinking of how to satisfy the audience but how to adhere to the limitations of search engines. One literally became a trained monkey hitting away on the typewriter, hoping but not really caring to churn out something worthwhile. One was asked to write a lot, not to get better as a writer but to create “content”. If one publishes a large number of articles it becomes more likely for the search engines to pick one up – casting those strange mindless algorhythms in the roles of highly undiscerning editors. What the content was didn’t really matter. There were people checking it for errors and typography, but they were badly paid editors who, if one was lucky, were dutiful or, if one was unlucky, internet cholerics. It was up to the user to create something worthwhile or something filled with “content”. One also had to pick one’s field, niche or genre, in a communistic version of a newspaper office. If one picked an “uninteresting” niche there was little to no chance of ever achieving a high number of page views. An interesting niche equaled the front page news of an actual newspaper, but since it was created “democratically” it ended up entirely middle class without exciting or offbeat points of view. The intent was to create something between a newsfeed and Wikipedia, but most of the articles were culled from either various newsfeeds or badly digested Wikipedia articles, offering the depth of a puddle after gentle spring rains.

The most perfidious thing about it, though, was that it was in the best interest of every user to advertise their articles by themselves to create more page views. Of course by doing so they were advertising the site. The site had thereby created a host of people who were both unpaid writers and advertisers, since only those who wrote thirty articles and more a month actually stood any chance of gaining any money from it.

The process, of course, mimics the rise of an intern to a full-time journalist with all the hurdles inherent to it. But it is mimicry, because the message boards were full with messages of people who like exhausted workers kept asking each other if any of them had ever been paid and if yes, if it was more than 10 Euro.

I’ve been in Asia long enough to know a scam when I see it and you, sir, have just been made advertisement. It might be a high class scam and probably one that many people would argue is a legit business venture, but we seem to live in a post-Orwellian world anyway where machines and the moods of numbers determine our own rise and fall. “Content” can be safely ignored in favour of numbers and masks. It’s a high class scam, all the more perfidious because everyone is implicit in it.

As long as I am advertisement, I’ve decided to advertise the things that I do because I love doing them. Who can read something without content?

Rikshaw wallahs and morality

The challenges of living in India are not so much poverty and misery, although much of them can be directly connected with those factors. What is challenging is the constant balance one has to keep, a balance that depends solely on yourself, your own moral standards and the realities and necessities that come between.

If someone wants to do the “right thing” then his moral compass will be spinning wildly. Every new bit of information shifts the right thing to do in a different direction. For example, taxi drivers offering you to take you anywhere for ten rupees. Great offer. Take them up on their offer, though, and you’ll end up in the driver’s uncle’s shop. The uncle pays the driver’s petrol if he brings them customers. You don’t have to pay anything, says the driver. The uncle, one assumes, is of a different opinion and will probably not let you leave until you have spent your money’s worth. So what is the right thing? To save oneself from being exploited? To help the taxi driver who probably can’t afford enough petrol to earn a proper living? Or is it great to be chauffeured to a shop where you can buy a few trinkets that you’ve always been meaning to buy since even when they cheat you the prices are ridiculously low anyway? Take your pick! Spin the wheel!

Don’t pay the rikshaw-wallah more than twenty rupees, says the Indian to the tourist. Well meaning? Or does he just not want to hear the rikshaw drivers complain that the foreigners pay better? Insignificant, since you’ll probably have to pay more anyway. Only if you can afford to wait for forty minutes you might find one who takes you for twenty rupees. The group of stringy, miserable looking men lights up when they see a white man loaded with bags. Easy prey, their smiles say. They begin to wave, Namaste and implore you onto their cracked seats.

But even they are upstaged by an enormously fat riskhaw wallah who swoops in imperiously and says Fifty with an unperturbed and stolid face. Puzzled, perhaps, by the man’s authority I clamber into the rikshaw and we’re off. On the way I’m surprised that the people don’t wave to my new driver or bow to him. His massive frame reminds me of a temple priest and his impassive face shows the same certainty and calm arrogance. He seems above his stature, powerful even. On the streets of India aggression is often the only way ahead and girth is often sculpted around aggression. If someone is fat, you can be sure that he – metaphorically – ate his competition on the way up.

When, at the end of the short ride he pulls a huge bundle of rupee notes out of his pocket and counts them demonstratively to give me change, my heart sinks a little bit and I feel like I’m back at the start. Any of those greedy, hungry faces with their fake smiles would have profited more from me.

Those are harmless day to day examples. Still, they pile up and if one has a tendency to think about their surroundings one is quickly led to dark, fatalistic thoughts. One moment I meet the hustle and aggression with aggression of mine own, but a little thought reveals that the people are simply fiercely competitive. Everything is up for grabs and the hands that reach to grab are so many. On one hand, I don’t want to be a walking briefcase, on the other hand there are my socialist urges to be useful to society, even if it isn’t my own society.

In functioning society, among the affluent, riskhaw-wallahs are considered dregs and pieces of jetsam. Small time workers who have been laid off because their factory went bankrupt, immigrants from rural areas who camp in slums and shantytowns, part-time and small-time criminals – it’s not a profession with a pension (obviously) and not a long-term job. It’s what you do when you’ve reached the level just above the bottom or when you want to finance your kids a better start in life. Not worth anyone’s attention, failures…but this isn’t true, of course…an old question: are only those who produce more than they spend valuable to society or is everyone valuable on their own terms? This is not a scientific or economical question and cannot answered by numbers and studies. You can only answer these questions by relying on your moral standards or philosophical convictions, even if they stand in gross opposition to what reasonable numbers might say.

India brings out those uncomfortable moral questions and makes me wish to examine them more deeply, even though I know that there is no satisfying answer waiting at the core but only more twists and turns.

On fractured attention

Sitting in a cafe with an acquaintance, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom. When I return I inevitably find my acquaintance bowed over her phone, iPhone, iPad or whatever she chooses to use. Meeting people with a laptop that is an almost integral part of their mental processes – lack of information…google…information acquired – is a regular thing. People complain about not having internet access as if it is a human right to have wifi and portable devices wherever one stands.

I am a contemplative person by nature. I can sit and do nothing for hours. I like zazen or silent meditation. I can go for days without feeling I need to talk. I own a phone purely out of necessity.  I am glad when there is no internet access, because I can ignore the nagging voice that says check this, check that. So this endless need of sharing information and pretending it is something vital sometimes seems like a cocaine rush to me. Achieving connectivity has something of the delicious torture of the needle – a person falls into the hive mind.

No doubt we have achieved the ability to assimilate a lot of information in record time. We can discard useless information and pick out everything that needs to be processed. We scan a text for the required stimulus and, having achieved it, discard everything. Concise, on point. Who has patience for a novel anymore?

But don’t we give up an enormous amount of depth just for the advantage of a net that is cast as widely as possible? Do events from the screen register on an emotional level at all? Or are all emotions banished to the subconscious and we only surf the very tip of them?

As our attention is fractured into ever smaller parts and everything becomes utilitarian – something to be used, preferably immediately – does our personality and our character not fracture with it? What happens to imagination when it becomes increasingly incapable of creating a workable whole out of the many tiny bits of information? What happens to the moral universe of people who are no longer capable of creating a whole image of a human being?

We can organize group movements out of nothing, sometimes even movements that help to topple governments, but can we organize a workable society through facebook and twitter and virtual events?

Questions and questions…maybe someone has answers.