Monday, November 29, 2004

More coffee matters

So, back to the topic of coffee (this blog is becoming increasingly self-referential): they take their coffee thin here. Moreover they drink canned coffee; actually there are at least three brands of this concoction here. It is consumed chilled. It comes in many varieties: black, white, no sugar, sugar, diabetes and so on; there is even a Blue Mountain variety which I dare not try. I did try some of the other flavours, though. The cans look like abnormally small machine oil ones. The thing tastes like coffee, but less so even than instant coffee; thus the resemblance is remote and reveals something about the brain's perception of taste, rather than the actual coffee quality (or content) of such brews. Curiously, all of them seem to be imported from Singapore and Japan. Need I continue with an elaborate, smart-arse / witty review? No, you get the picture, you are probably already bored. Just a word of advice: coming to the Outpost either try the local variety or make the best of an espresso machine, if you see one. Starbucks is a good solution too.

Post-weekend illness

I am ill today and I have slept like a baby for hours on end. Apart from some really boring dreams (thankfully there have been no hallucinations yet), there was not time or stamina for introspection, monologues or dialogues of any sort. I also missed gym today...

Now, the weekend was quite interesting, here maybe lie the roots of my current unwellness. We were in a conference in a hotel in a popular Outpost summer resort, not the one I have shown you pictures of, a different one. It was a very high-level conference, generously organised, with great people and lots of partying.

This being winter, the resort was eerily empty, but for a lone ice cream van (music playing and all) which was cruising the empty streets, irrationally laid out between hotels, hotel apartments, bars, pubs and restaurants -- almost all closed.

You can see the hotel's poolside shower right below:



As I said, I saw colleagues and friends I had not seen for some time, which was wonderful. One of them, gpY, scolded me for criticising the Outpost too much, she probably takes me to be one of those compatridos I have told you about before. gpY intoned that I should stop criticising and that I should consider that Jod and me used to live in a worse place and to be less affluent (like Judas before that famous deal he struck) before we came here. We should instead embrace the place and its people rather than look for something else, hoping that something else actually exists . gpY does not consider that suffocating feeling that takes us over almost twice daily. But how can you talk about such things when among friends and colleagues enjoying dinner, 'of much superior quality than where you used to be, uh-huh Loxias?' So, my job here (which I cherish), money and good food should silence my heart screaming for the openness (and anonymity), for the acceptance that lives (and people) are unique and, yes, idiosyncratic, for the variety, sophistication, multiplicity, surprises and frustrations of the big city and the Open Society?

Bugger, I talk like a real compatrido now.

(Stop it now. Write the next post.)

Thursday, November 25, 2004

"look on my works... and despair"

Look at this and despair.

Goodnight.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A Brief Essay on Human Geography

In the nominally affluent Outpost there are people in the mountains (where the highest temperature in the winter can be between 5 to 9 degrees for two months) who are too poor to afford heating their homes. Most of them are pensioners, though, so it's all right.

The Outpost also serves as a transit centre (and 'testing ground') for women being trafficked to (the rest of) Europe. So claimed a report published by the Principality's Ombudsman a few months ago, complete with case studies. Nevertheless, this was dismissed as 'exaggerated' by the police and the executive authorities. Obviously, they know better than overly rely on a woman (the Ombudsman) researching into the rights of foreigners who also happen to be women.

Recall that in the Outpost there is a ready answer for any question, which flies in the face of the abstruse idealisation that there exists an infinite number of sentences (consequently an infinite number of questions, as well). Consider the following question to a local few days after I first set foot here: "Why is there no public transport?" The answer unraveled in the following logical progression: public transport is for poor people, Outposters all own cars -- in fact most families have two; therefore public transport is unnecessary. Compare this to what the relevant minister stated three weeks ago: this is a small place, therefore we do not need public transport (had you had to experience the perennial traffic jam and generalised mayhem in the streets of the capital, you might form a different opinion). Yes, some questions actually have two ready answers available...

In general, Outposters indeed possess a remarkable talent for quick and to the point answers. A week ago, Jod's mother was visiting us. She went to buy cigarettes and she asked for brand X. The woman in the cornershop said: "Aw, we are out of X. This idiot of my partner never looks after stocking this place properly." Jod and me grew suspicious, because 'the idiot of a partner' is a pleasant and diligent guy, despite his being a compatrido, and also happens to be the sole owner of the cornershop, hence a partner only with himself. Guess what: Brand X is not imported in the Outpost, either.

Before closing, today's anecdote: Jod works as a school teacher. There, I gave this one away, as you are such a nice and accommodating readership. A parent phoned in today to tell the head teacher that her son would not be coming to school today. "Why, is he unwell?" "Oh, no: it's just that, because his class will go on an outing tomorrow, we thought it would be better for him to rest today."

(Pity the Dutch have lately become stingy with asylum applications.)

Monday, November 22, 2004

Cold and blood

What happened today? Not much. I gave blood in the morning, lying down in a bed in the middle of an atrium, three floors below a glass pyramid covering it, looking upwards at it and through it, at the snowclouds being simmered by the bitterly chilly winds. Yes, it was a very cold day today, 'with temperatures much lower than the average for this time of the year', as the shabby-looking weatherman said on TV, unprepared for this, caught by surprise on a bad hair, corny tie day. That's why few turned up to donate blood, although the building, where it is also where I work, is frequented by hundreds of people. Maybe the primordial fear against the penetrative chill of the needle. Maybe the 'abnormal cold'. Who knows.

I enjoyed the weather intensely today, but you might have guessed that by now.

What else? Oh yes, a message from my friend E. He is in Canada now. I told you: we will all end up there, eventually.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

War

If you have watched Michael Moore's Fahrenheit, you might have been left with the impression that unjust wars, like the one in Iraq, are cruel, violent and ugly (mainly because the soldiers' psyche gets mauled, also because innocent non-English-speaking 'simple' people are massacred and have their livelihoods devastated) and that just wars are somehow less bloody, more kindly and gentle (amply exemplified by Dresden and Hiroshima). This is blatantly wrong: war is evil, period -- unless, of course, you can wage war by just destroying buildings constituting headquarters of oppression and corruption, as Abu-Jonathan recently suggested, while your enemy knows you are not really killing anyone: surely not a straightforward task.

Having said that, there is still a gaping chasm between war and the war crimes perpetrated in Iraq: torturing prisoners, killing hostages, shooting the wounded. It is so nauseating, complaining about Outpost life suddenly becomes ludicrously insignificant. Even more so considering that the armed forces of the archetypical western democracy are responsible for most of them.

Have a nice day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Art and bread

It is a cool rainy morning when I am writing this, although I am pretty confident I will be posting it much later today.

Last night we went to a brand new gallery-theatre-exhibitions space, it is a thoroughly renovated old bakery in one of the more charming neighbourhoods of the capital. Our friend the painter CWB, was opening his first exhibition in the Outpost. Interestingly, the exhibition theme is the Home City, as a sort of living landscape seen from above, and its people. I actually think one of the portraits (surreptitiously made in coffee houses) is of my grandfather's, I recognised his Spanish Civil War beret, and some of his features. Anyway. There was a lot of people there, some posh people too, including diplomats. By the way, has anyone noticed that diplomats are intensely visible (only) in various outposts and post-colonial cities? (Probably Graham Greene...) In any case, you would not expect there to be so many of them in an exhibition opening in, say, Paris, would you? or, maybe, they would not make up for such a large proportion of the guests. Anyway.

Most of the people in the opening were interested in the wine, the other guests and the treats (cheese and flour based, Outpost-style). Some actually took the pains to look at the paintings and drawings. Hm, this is what usually happens in such cases, though. Sure, but it was the first time I went to someone I know's exhibition opening, so this time I noticed (and took pictures of) the general loneliness of the artist in such occasions. Not that CWB was not spoken to, oh no. But I would think I would like the crowd to look at the works and talk to CWB about them, too. I am maybe an essentialist (what is this exactly? is it a good thing to be? is it illegal in Tennessee, Kansas and Mississippi?), but I am naive enough to feel that exhibition openings are about the exhibition and exhibitions are about the art exhibited.

At this point, you -- more mondain than me -- would probably suggest that I need to socialise more with those in the higher echelons of society (I did make a good start with the Caretaker's party, remember?). Or, maybe, that I need some sleep right now.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Party the Outpost way

Last night we went to Jod's boss's party. In a wine lodge that had an unnaturally low ceiling made of elaborate wickerwork (this is for the 'rustic' touch). Everybody working for the boss (plus spouses) were invited, a total of 500-something people. Buffet dinner (quite good, too) and unlimited drinks. I can see eyes flashing and reflecting on computer screens but this is not the north of Europe where people would en masse drink themselves to extinction. Here in the Outpost people drink sensibly, which is good, unless of course they are about to drive.

I was profoundly bored, the kind of tedium that reminds me of descriptions of hell when I was a kid (nothing to do with the temperature, rather 'total alienation and loneliness', 'eternal boredom', 'absence of human rapport' -- this sort of stuff, as I was not born in North America). Hundreds of people, most of them young, packed up in suits and frocks and the like, staring and not staring at each other, smiling and not smiling at each other, deprived of even the comfort of small talk. Not to mention the pomp and face-saving austere grimness of some of the guests. "What would happen elsewhere?", I eventually asked myself. People would not be so self-conscious, maybe. In times like this, I wish I smoked: it would be a lovely sort of excuse, pretending to myself I was actually 'doing' something.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Come to Molvanîa!

I bought the travel guide to Molvanîa last July in Amsterdam and read it on my way to Lisbon and back to the Outpost (via Amsterdam again: no direct flights between Outpost and Lisbon). I strongly recommend it -- well, the guide, not the country; you can find out for yourselves why.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Unbelievable, yes; ungrateful, too?

I talked to my friend Mistral on the phone on Friday. She reads this blog (poor thing!). She politely asked me whether all those bizarre events I recount in my 'Lessons in SOL' post actually happened. So, as I suspected, most of what I write here sounds either exaggerated or surreally fictionalised. But it is all true.

Now, most of my compatridos posted in the Outpost -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- are into the obnoxious habit of only finding faults with the place and the people, while aggressively and insultingly criticising them in public. One of them, an extreme case, approached me during a street party last May and lashed out in an abominably self-righteous way (in a discourse overtly fascist, sexist, homophobic and anti-semitic at the same time: a unique achievement, surely). I wish to point out I am not like them.

I do appreciate the Outposters' (conditional) trust: today Jod made photocopies in a copy shop without paying, obviously this can be done next time and it is no big deal since the wallet was left home; I appreciate the Outposters' hospitality: during my first three months here I was not allowed to pay once for dinner and I was taken out for that purpose at least three times a week; I marvel at a society where cars are left with the keys on the engine and wallets, mobiles and briefcases lying around inside them. A crucial thing is that the place is improving, painfully slowly, but improving. Contrast that with the great Kingdom of the Netherlands, where people first flirted with the late Fortuyn and now burn down mosques and schools in the name of free speech. Perhaps there are other, more and more wonderful things about the Outpost I cannot appreciate or I have not found out about yet. Surely, there must be quite a few of them -- it's just that I am after things in life other than a quiet and safe haven, ideologically uniform and politically suburban, to raise kids in.

So, don't take me for just another of these ungrateful compatrido bastards. Before I continue recounting my internal life, I want to show you this picture by Jiro-san, for you to see how pleasant this place can be, especially in the areas not planted with mega-hotels.





Thursday, November 11, 2004

Shopping in the Outpost capital...

... one can come across these two shop windows. Both shops are in the city centre and easily accessible. Addresses available upon request.


One:




and Two



Good night.


On the necessity of caffeine

How was the Geistliche (roughly: 'intellectual') civilisation capable of advancing before the general availability and consumption of coffee? With just wine, beer and whisky, maybe. But is it the same? How, for example, can someone do serious mathematics if they are drowsy with alcohol fumes bubbling out of their stomach into their nasal cavity tissue? Alcohol is ok for creative endeavours, but caffeine has proven indispensable for the exact sciences and artistic pursuits. Nicht wahr?

Speaking of the necessity of using (ok, not abusing) substances reminds me of this: go out now and buy Marianne Faithful's Before the Poison. Now. After this album (and, previously, Bowie's Reality), Jod has been wondering what new bands are good for. I agree.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Car sounds

I found a stash (I love this word) of old tapes to play in the car. I used to listen to Radio DJ while driving, with its perpetually recurring inane pop playlists, because it spared me listening to the distorted news and fabricated mass hysterias that other stations have on offer. I eventually got terminally bored of Avril Lavigne thrice in a morning and listening at 7:45 am about the Man who is 'a driller' and 'not a Wham-bam man', as the rap in 'What a Man' goes. Then I tried, like I had in the past, the Communist Party (almost the largest party in this Outpost of petty capitalists and landowners, it owns land and small companies itself), their radio station more specifically, but I got sick of the alternative propaganda. Yes, alternative, but (yes again) propaganda, as well. So I sought refuge to tapes. After I wore REM's New Adventures in HiFi out, I turned to the stash. Until I get bored of it, as well.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Looking for coffee

Last night we saw a magnificent production of Woolf's Orlando. It was wonderful, not just because it was impossible to tell between the text itself and Stella F. delivering it. In fact it was the kind of theatre the critics in London would rave about. Here it was received as just 'more really good theatre': the Outpost has a long and solid tradition in theatre. Jod told me last week that, until ten years ago, it was actually the only means of entertainment (besides eating, drinking and cabarets -- on which in a later post). It certainly shows. A demanding text (well, for me, at least: I never went past page 1 of 'To the Lighthouse' or page 3 of 'Mrs Dalloway') was turned into a one-woman enchantment of a play. I wish I knew more about theatre, so that I could convey my Delight in a more elaborate fashion.

Then we drove around aimlessly. It was around 11 pm, so unless we wanted to drink heavily or eat heavily (and given we have no relatives here to visit, as that's what people also do on a Saturday night in the Outpost), there was naught to do on a Saturday night, so we kept on driving. We went through the beautiful neighbourhood of Enclave, a former village with beautiful olden sandstone houses and even more beautiful small gardens. We eventually found a 24-hour cornershop (misleadingly known as 'kiosks' here), browsed magazines (a man making funny grunting noises while selecting his readings scared me away from the well-stocked porn section) and bought a cookbook (come over for a pie!) and a bar of chocolate. We had a cup of tea with the latter item, at home.

The last two days were cool: the temperature 'dropped' to 18 C today. Hence around lunch time we set off to walk. It is usually hard to walk, because of the stifling humid heat among other things, so we grabbed the opportunity. We strolled to the Central Square (which is not a square, but a stretch of street and pavements) and browsed the compatrido newspapers. They were all boring today. One of them gave away the Piano Teacher on DVD, of Eloise Jelinek fame. Huppert: urgh; labia mutilation: argh. Another one had an analysis of why compatridos (not just bad bad Americans) may sometimes be wrong and do wrong. How odd. Or stimulating (haha). We decided to skip the Sunday papers then and look for a place to have a coffee. After we sauntered through narrow and broader streets (eerily De Chirico-esque in their lighting and emptiness), we despaired. Everything we had in mind was very closed. We finally realised that our choices were limited to four trendy cafes and two touristy ones. Or Starbucks, too far away without a car. So we returned home. To more work to do. Really heavy. Really knowing it is us, not the Outpost. We ask for too much. People keep telling us. We just do not understand.

But it's not like we do not try.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Shopping for socks

Distance is probably always detrimental to a relationship, or, at least it puts it to tests 'ordinary' relationships never go through. Of course, distance entails that you meet the Other for short and emotionally, sexually and, sometimes, socially condensed periods of time. Thus, long-distance relationships are constantly jet-lagged, rushing to catch up. (Too) many people around me are currently in a long-distance relationship, hence the initial trigger of this note.

Ok, but what happens to long-distance friendships? This was what I was wondering about today, buying socks during an endless (for the shop employees) -20% day. This year (Lord, what a year! From its Spring of Discontent to the 2nd of November, a glorious summer embedded within the nastiness and suspiciousness of confused, fearful, disoriented electorates -- but I will write on this some other time and somewhere else), I had the chance to sample some evidence, all my (and Jod's) friendships being long-distance. For this we have to blame not just the relative remoteness of the Outpost (no no-frills companies fly here, there are no equivalents of the Charleroi or the Knock airports, after all), but the general mobility of people "nowadays".

So, friends have to visit (or you have to visit them). As has happened this year, there are cases when they visit. And compare. And covet you. And they become irrational and they become ungrateful. This is frustrating. These are the friendships that would otherwise (let's say 'normally') dissolve via people discreetly and steadily drifting away from each other, no hard feelings, either. But distance mummifies them and keeps them in suspension, preserved by occasional phonecalls and messages -- where almost nothing can be said. Which is awkward, because people just grow, adults too. So, once they meet you again, long-distance friends might think you have grown too fast (or not fast enough): instead of fading away, some long-distance friendships dissolve upon reunion. The debris can be toxic.

Thankfully, visiting friends can be wonderful. Despite the different place and time since you last met, they go on to relink with you, leaving practicalities (e.g. 'new job', 'small / big / new place') and technicalities (e.g. 'I haven't had a quiet moment since time t') behind. Just like continuing precisely where you left off. You catch up with the old questions, topics, partners and habits, or joke at having given (some of) them up. So, yes, it was wonderful going out to see Theta the Cuttlefish, Henry's Stepmum and the Expat Anarchists again; and it was wonderful having the Hyperborean Hunter and Jorge around. And so on. And I am eager to see the rest of them, soon.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Lessons in SOL

Today I went to the first class of my language courses' Year 2. Which language? Well, the Second Official Language ('SOL' henceforth) of course: the Outpost government offers us them for free.

We went there (a primary school), sat down (tiny chairs, knees against desks) and were introduced to our new teacher. Then some of my fellow students announced that the whole enterprise of learning SOL was becoming an uphill struggle for them and that they felt they would have to repeat Year 1, during which we learned: the alphabet, the months, the numbers (in all their infinity), the plural, the equivalents of the verbs 'to be' and 'to have' and nominal cases. WhaDever.

Subsequently, our teacher asked us if we have anything to ask her, as she had already been interrogated on a number of topics by the previous group. I expected polite silence here, primarily because of the subtle but quite telling mentioning of the word 'interrogate' on the teacher's behalf. I am still not aware of Outpost realities, apparently. After a brisk salvo of well-aimed questions we knew the teacher's age, how she learned SOL, how many years she's been speaking SOL, her publications on TSOLSOL ('Teaching SOL to Speakers of Other Languages') and that she does not hold a university degree on SOL. After that, without any ado, a lady in her sixties announced that now she will repeat Year 1, after all. And she left. Nice? Veeeery nice.

Some thirty minutes later, the teacher asked us if we know the numbers in SOL. Suddenly, some students, middle-aged and senior citizens alike, burst out into loudly reciting the mantra of (small) natural numbers to themselves, in a fit of quasi-autistic frenzy comparable to the Rainman reciting phone books. Hence, the teacher decided to get each one of us to recite just five numbers in order to contain the crisis. My turn came, I recited fifty-one to fifty-five. At this moment, a woman in perm suddenly exclaims: "I know you! You are the Turk, er, the X-ologist. I did not recognise you before, but now I heard your voice, I do." She initially thought I was a 'turcologist', although she did eventually get my professional specialisation ('X-ologist') right. And, yes, she knows me: we were in the same group during Year 1.

More drills followed. The teacher asks if we know a noun ending in a consonant in SOL, so that we try our hands on the 'to be' equivalent. I proposed 'butcher', she found it 'macabre' (a vegan, maybe, surely the only one in the Outpost). Smart Man in Early Forties proposes 'man'. She writes 'I am a man' in FOL (First Official Language of the Outpost) on the whiteboard for us to translate into SOL and then turns to us saying 'I hope nobody here mistakes me for one'. Immediately, Smart Man in Early Forties exclaims "Noooo, no way, my mother!" (in Outpost, 'my mother' = 'baby') and proceeds to intently stare at her buttocks (she had in the meanwhile turned back towards the whiteboard). What will have happened by the third class is anyone's guess.

Celts, Canada and the Bostonian

Yes, I told you, Kerry voters would fall heroically, but in vain. My colleague Arwen Venetian has always insisted this is the Celtic way: to march into battle knowing both that you will fall and that you will fall in vain. Another colleague, Poet Abu-Jonathan (who is not of Arab origin), claims this is all Ossian rubbish. Still, Kerry being a Bostonian lawyer, the (pseudo-)Celtic theme becomes him and his lost cause. I just pray (because, you know, faith can be a source of strength) that the aggressive moron's advisors (the people who just got four more years, wars or other) decide he needs to go down in history as a magnanimous leader, say Bush the Great, to distinguish him from his dad, say Bushy -- no wait, W is Bushy. Anyway. To end the electionology with an upbeat note, I have a modest proposal: the North-East states, the West Coast, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and glorious Illinois should consider joining Canada now. Think about it: geographical contingency! Moreover, everybody who's actually been there says Canada is cool. Even Michael Moore would be happy. The whole world would, too: both New York and LA (not to mention San Francisco) would be part of a big country (yes, already bigger than the US), not bent on ruling over us.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Polls

My warmest wishes to all my American friends who will today stand up to defend the bad against the (much) worse. Here is a poem for you.

Love,

Loxias

Disclaimer: this poem may or may not refer to Greeks or Americans or any other sufficiently (self-)defined group or a combination thereof. The views of Loxias the Blogger do not reflect the (long dead) poet's views. Members of the public suffering from mental inertia and sloth (a side-effect of an aggressive moron in administration), may wish to substitute Americans for Greeks where applicable in order to ease comprehension.