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Happy birthday Ovi Magazine! Happy birthday Ovi Magazine!
by Joseph Gatt
2020-12-20 11:49:47
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There are two questions I get asked every now and then: what is Ovi Magazine, and how did you come to write for Ovi Magazine.

Ovi Magazine was “born” on December 20, 2004, the work of three expats based in Finland, all three of them holders of British passports and residing in Finland under the Schengen agreement before Brexit.

Ovi, I believe (Thanos might have a more accurate story) had two goals in mind: provide the expat community of Helsinki and Finland something to read in English, and, provide “amateur” (and professional) writers a space where the can “experiment” with their writing, gain experience or gain exposure.

ovi16_01_400I “discovered” Ovi Magazine around the summer of 2006. I was based in Seoul, South Korea. All I did was read the magazine for a year, and it was very intriguing, and gave me lots of writing ideas to experiment.

I remember specifically a column called “coffee and cigarettes in Helsinki” which I loved reading back then. I even considered starting “coffee and cigarettes in Seoul” but I did not want to offend the writer of that fantastic column, so I refrained from emulating other authors.

Of course I remember the “big” names back then: Asa Butcher, Thanos Kalamidas of course, but also names like Lino Paparella, Alex Mikhailov, Jan Sand, Alexandra Perreira, and I remember there were lots of cartoons and comic strips back then.

I loved (and still love) the mix. Poetry, political ramblings or commentary, experimental writing, scientific commentary, art, photography (I remember the days when Asa Butcher would post a picture and we, the readers, had to offer a “caption”) or simply some more “blog” format articles (I remember Asa Butcher watching every single Woody Allen movie and documenting his progress with that). Lots of fun!

My story with Ovi started back in 2005. I had a huge problem. You see, back then I was based in Paris, France, and I speak French with a “pied-noir” (French-Algerian) accent. I have that passionate tone, those long, uninterrupted sentences, those exclamation points, that warm but sometimes dangerous passion when I speak French that people from Paris don't have.

I was looking for work in Paris and claimed that I spoke English with a New York City accent and Spanish with a South American accent, so writing in English and Spanish was a way for my to provide evidence for my claims. “Alors tu parles français comme ça et tu vas me dire que tu parles anglais avec l'accent de là bas et espagnol aussi. Mais pour qui il se prend celui-là, Manu Chao?” (So you Speak French with a foreign accent and you're gonna tell me that you speak English with a proper accent and Spanish with a proper accent. Who do you think you are? (polyglot singer) Manu Chao?)

So I was looking the the kind of media based in Paris, but for which I could write in English. There were only really two choices back then: Café Babel Magazine and Newropeans Magazine.

Both Café Babel and Newropeans were volunteer based and did not pay writers. But Café Babel was very rigid, the editors were very harsh and very rude with the volunteers. I wrote for Café Babel nontheless, until I got respect somewhere down the road. Getting respect over there was no easy feat.  

Newropeans were sweethearts. Mariane Ranke-Cormier was the sweetest person in the world, she'd take my papers, thank me for them, and if I did not send papers for a while, she would kindly ask me for papers, if I had time that is.

Then Newropeans Magazine created a media award and Ovi Magazine received one of the awards. And that's how I discovered Ovi.

I read the contents for about a year to get an idea how my ideas would fit in. In May 2007, I sent my first paper. My first few papers were mostly about the racist climate in France, before I got tired of writing about that stuff after a few articles, and wrote about other stuff.

I took a hiatus from Ovi in December 2009. Nothing against Ovi. I had huge personal problems I had to deal with. I thought I would leave Ovi for good, never to come back.

I worked with several publications between December 2009 and September 2014 (the Diplomat Magazine, the Korea Times, the Joongang daily, and a few other publications) before I was tired of the rigidities of those papers. I started missing Ovi Magazine, came back, was welcome back, and it was a homecoming.

And, since April 2016, I have been writing almost daily for Ovi Magazine. I almost quit writing altogether in November 2015, and I remember a long chat with Thanos Kalamidas where he calmly and wisely reasoned me to keep writing, and to shut those voices, real or imaginary, that want to censor me or get me to stop writing.

And that's the Ovi Story. Happy birthday Ovi! Cheers to many more years of fun stuff to read!

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