Tuesday, February 28, 2006


For reasons that have to do mainly with appearance and ease of use, I have decided to move this blog to Wordpress.

Although this site will not be deleted, it is now closed.

Please update all your links to the new home.

In longhand, the new address is


So, see you there.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


First thing yesterday morning, NL greeted me at work like this: "I never knew you had so much patience!". Later, a couple of people told me what a good listener I am. Then a different colleague, hearing me on the phone to a human lizard, exclaimed 'Ooh, how tactful you are'.

Is that me? Are you folks sure?

Fear overcame me yesterday morning when Jod told me a friend confessed to her that there is nothing more to sustain her in life but antidepressants and us. Relying on antidepressants is already bad enough, but relying on us... ?

In the evening I went to a beautiful talk (trying to expand my horizons here). That stupid git of a (probably) student saw fit to make three people stand up passing through on her way out during the question session, in her high heels negotiating the floor tiles. Four fucking minutes before the talk finished. I so much wanted to stick out my leg and make her trip, landing on her face of a blasé imbecile. Still angry.

Traffic jam. A woman jumps the queue and sneakily tries to wedge in front of me, but ends up to my left. I decide to give her neither the finger (Jod's road rage trademark), nor the Compatrido gesture (mine). I just stare at her in reprimand mouthing 'where do you think you are going?' to her.

No expression change, not a single muscle twitching. No expression, either. The queue moves about 20 cm forward. She tries again to wedge between mine and the car in front. I would not let her. I turn to her again and once more mouth: 'where do you think you are going?' The same death mask of a non-expression. I have seen that on Outposter drivers doing something antisocial too many times. Non-confrontation, passive aggression, levantine cunning.

The hopeless cow was still trying to join the queue when I last saw her in my rear view mirror.

I managed to find E Reader on the phone yesterday. She almost shouted in joy when she heard me. Ok, she is giving birth today (will they really go for 'Victor'? I still prefer 'Stephan') but that was not it. It was that moments before my phonecall W Boson was told he had got the job, the real one. "Friends who really love you just sense these things!" she exclaimed to W Boson, who was standing next to her. I was truly moved: that was a lot on her behalf in exchange for nothing.

The baloons are still lightly tapping against the ceiling, bonbon-coloured jellyfish floating inside the room, their swaying strings always tantalising Gizmo who is bent on chewing them to extinction.

Monday, February 20, 2006

All along the city walls


I went for my usual Sunday coffee and newspaper with pH. I had the camera with me, just in case I saw anything shootworthy. Walking towards the city walls, so that I take a shortcut to the café, from a distance I saw an Asian woman in second-hand jeans sort of just standing there. A passing car honked momentarily, she faced it. I thought she was waiting for a friend with a ride to pick her up, as she looked like a Philippina on her way to a Sunday prayer meeting, a party, or both. The car drove on, a fat elderly guy on the wheel.

The penny finally dropped. Yes, these women sauntering along part of the city walls on Sundays are indeed trotteuses. In broad daylight. In the crumbling heart of the city. A bit like in old Paris, although they are (too) modestly dressed here. While walking towards her I looked at the drivers checking her out. They were all elderly, none of them looking particularly (East) Asian. I was right. As I was a pedestrian, she didn't even look at me -- maybe I don't look like a punter, either. Just when I was passing by her, I caught her rehearsing the following line in English under her breath:

"It is forty pounds."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Are we all Danish?

No, especially if you ask the Danes themselves.

I like the Danish, especially their sometimes (very) warped sense of humour. Still, it is quite telling that both my good Danish friends are expats: one, the Hyporborean Hunter, has fled the country for the vast frozen expanses of (dependent) Greenland; the other is Henry's Stepmum, permanently living in England. They had both told me a lot about the Danish brand of xenophobia. Actually, Hyporborean Hunter, when I was after a job in Aarhus, warned: "Never attempt to speak Danish; they will appreciate more a foreigner speaking better English than them than one speaking non-fluent Danish."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Mexico City

Aerial photos of Mexico City, including some architectural and city planning oddities as well as extreme contrasts between opulence and desolation, via Attu's blog. I suggest you go straight to the slideshow.

Monday, February 13, 2006

On insult

I don't really like fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims. I feel that the(ir) One God should smite them by throwing them, even temporarily, to the Hell they have prepared here on Earth for women, children, sexually active people of all orientations -- and many others. Still, I am in full understanding both of the right of free speech and of respect for others, their views and sensitivities (including theirs).

As I am not competent to comment on the recent events regarding the above tension between free speech and respect for others, I will quote Paul Postal, a very influential theoretical linguist. In a recent book of his, of a technical nature, he nevertheless dedicates the last chapter to discuss some guidelines by the Linguistic Society of America about avoiding sexist usage in Linguistics examples. I am not in position to comment on this topic, either, but I noticed a very interesting excerpt therein
Let me expand on the second point first. The guideline only addresses sexist usage. But it can hardly be doubted that many people are offended by some or all of the following:

a. obscenities
b. demeaning of certain racial, ethnic/religious/social/age, etc., groups or figures
c. criticisms of certain political/entertainment/sports figures
d. characterizations of people, real or not, in drastically unkind ways
e. demeaning of physical characteristics
f. articulation of certain political/social/moral views
g. denials of deity status to various claimed deities
h. denials of greatness in various endeavors
i. assertions/denials of quality of various products
j. assertions/denials of the sacredness of various texts
k. invocation of various national, ethnic, etc., stereotypes
l. calls for violence
m. linguistic depictions of sexual activity
n. calls for increased consumption of tobacco, cocaine, heroin, or high-cholesterol snacks
o. laws and proposals seeking to limit the rights of Americans with respect to firearms

There are countries where engaging in some of these activities not only pretty widely offends, it can get one killed. The list could be expanded essentially without limit. And that is the problem. If linguistic organizations and powers are to police examples so as to effectively reduce the possibility of offense, the scope of the necessary guidelines will be enormous. In fact, it could well prove impossible. The result of banning every sort of statement which could offend someone or even ‘many’ people would necessarily yield at best examples of enormous banality. What then if some people are offended by banal examples? More seriously, is the fact that no doubt many people are offended by obscenities to lead to a situation where it becomes impossible to publish linguistic studies of such forms?

What to do? [...]
That is the question.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Hobson's choice

In small places all over the world, when a new bar or club opens, everybody praises it and then they all proceed to go crowd it. For weeks people had been telling me to try the new Scarabbeo bar and the local listings magazine agreed. After theatre (Mc Donagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which was ok) and dinner at a newly-opened American diner (very good burgers but a tiny menu and, eventually, more of a glorified overpriced fast food place than a diner) we eventually headed straight there last Saturday.

The place had a veneer of swankiness and taste. The music was unnecessarily noisy from a jumbled up playlist, whereas the place was irrationally organised, with overcrowed rooms next to empty unfurnished ones (no, the latter are not dancefloors). pH and me went to the bar. I asked for an "extra dry martini" (verbatim). "You'll regret it", said pH. I should have heeded his wise words. The bartender indeed asked me: "Ice?". Perplexed, I answered "er, no". I should have known right at that point, but then I looked up and at the other end of the bar was someone I know waving at me with her boyfriend. I waved back. Looking down at the bar I found my drink in a whisky glass and full of ice. I should have known right at that point. pH was in the process of paying, so I told the bartender she got it wrong. She gave me a 'be damned, you creep' look, shouted that she had never heard my answer, proceeded to take a new whisky glass and pour from a bottle of Martini Bianco, you know, the vermouth, passed it to me and sneeringly informed me it was on the house. I stood there agape, dumbstruck. Not wanting to make a fuss, I decided to once more bear it with a smile, grabbed the glassful of ice and Martini Bianco, leaving the complimentary one at the bar with the rude bartender, and joined the others at out prized table.

The poor thing did not know what a martini is. Sure, where I come from bartenders sometimes do not know (exactly) how to mix a drink, either because you are a weird customer or because they just don't. So, they ask you. Not here. I sat down. I took a sip of the aperitif, for the first time in 15 years. I recalled immediately, in this cliched by now Proustian fashion, how vile Martini Bianco tastes straight. Only then did I erupt in fury. I severely and patronisingly scolded the hapless waiter who came over to furnish us with carrots and nuts and crisps and asked him to tell the bartender to come over to our table so that she can be told how to make an extra dry martini -- I was out of control. Of course nobody ever came over, so I spent the next half hour sulking and in furious silence. Then Jod got angry at my behaviour and we had one of our quiet rows which involves exchanging stares and making carefully nasty comments to others in a contrived mock-carefree way.

Why does a drink matter that much? I am not an alcohol connoisseur, I am not bar savvy. I had no business ruining the good time of others and making a working person's life hard (I mean the waiter). But I am so tired of having to choose among, say, the same six bars to have a drink in and two clubs to go dance to -- none of which I would really hang out in, if I had a real choice. Especially given that we spend most of our weekend time working at home, so going out is precious. Especially given that it's all a bloody lottery: if you are lucky, it might just happen the right crowd gathers in one of the few places you have a limited choice among -- and you are there, too. So, given we already have to settle for less, rudely being given the wrong drink can make me feel really miserable and retrospectively angry. (Plato's Bar in the Old City make very good martinis, exactly as ordered. I may give Scarabbeo a second chance but next time I will order a Carlsberg. Bottled.)

Today it was Jod's turn. We were driven to the mountains through a downpour by NewYorker (she is one of our three Outposter friends) to this "wonderful rustic taverna". Now, this is a national sport here: going to fairly inaccessible places to eat on Sunday lunchtime. The food was mediocre (well, worse than that, by Outpost standards) and there was no real service: people would just go to the kitchen and pick up what they were tired of waiting to get at their table. A woman going in and out of the kitchen carrying dishes all the time told us she did not work there. A large group next to us cleared their own table, as they made the mistake of asking for doggy bags. This is not some kind of 'special' traditional self-service place or an arcane local practice: it was just untypical and very very frustrating, not to mention that the prices were like those you get in restaurants in the Capital. This, in combination with the place being overcrowded and packed with screaming kids nudging us all while passing through... well.