Friday, December 31, 2004

Last day of the year

Just back from one of the great bars of the Home City, so good to be here again.

The crowds! The diversity! The wryness! The atmosphere! (All uncapturable on photos or videos.)

Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Xmas notes

(with 'X' in 'Xmas' standing for the first letter of 'Christ' -- this blog is verily a source of information.)

Speaking of information, and its abundance: I last week had a discussion with my friend B, who also lives in Canada, about the curse of knowing about things and not things themselves. For instance, we know about Homer, James Joyce, Derek Walcott (and what links these three people), but how many of us have read something by them. Beethoven's deafness is commonplace, but how many have actually listened to the stuff he composed during it. And so on.

I have had this in the back of my mind (a very crowded and shadowy place, scary and largely pornographic in character), when I was watching the Little Women adaptation on TV last night, over Xmas Eve dinner. I have never read the book, I don't even know the author's name, not only because it was 'girl stuff', but also because I also belong to the generation who know 'about it' and not 'it'. Now, what really impressed me is that scene where slavery and voting rights are debated, in the context of the 'usefulness' and 'natural kindness' of women, themes that even today (as Jod noticed) are scarily topical because, yes sirs, women are the largest minority on this planet, when they are not assets made of soft non-edible tissue. It then dawned on me that our culture is one where dialogue and conversation are more or less extinct, replaced by successive monologues or debates ("passionate" ones, if possible). It was a somber thought.

And now, for some anti-Outpost snobbery (if you think that is what this is about): I decided to go to church for Xmas, as something out of the ordinary. There are three churches near where we live, a new one and a more historic one, with the Cathedral being only slightly further away. On the 23rd I checked the December schedule on the door of the historic place. "Matin (Lox.: the sing-song service before Mass) starts at 6:45." "Cool", I said, "I can sleep", although I was surprised that the Xmas service would not start much earlier, as is common practice.

I got up at 8:15 this morning and I calculated that the Mass would finish around 9:45, but I had better head for the new church, nearer our place. I reached there at 8:55 and it was locked. "OK, they did the early thing and left", I thought and made my way to the historic church, where I knew the do started at 6:45. Why lock up a church on Xmas Day? No idea, that's what they do in the Outpost. I was once told that it is because you can always ring the verger and ask him or her to come over and open the church for you. So, I reach the historic place at 9:10. Empty. I was puzzled. The verger emerged, tidying up something. We exchanged 'Merry Christmas' wishes and I looked at the December schedule once more. Someone had added '5:00' in ballpoint pen next to "Christmas Day". Aha. They probably announced the right time on Xmas Eve to their congregation, put the time down on the spot and that was it: why make such things public? That's what bells are for, after all.

I realised then that, unlike (other) European churches, the Outpost Apostolic Church is not really into attracting people, nothing like (elsewhere) in Europe, where churches offer hot drinks, freebie pens, cheap rides home, beta courses, notepads, laminated icons, tough debates, leaflets, pamphlets, brochures, eloquent sermons, cakes, pastries, and cheap excursions in order to attract more people. The Outpost Apostolic Church is happy to make money (they own lots of land, a bit of the place where I work, a bit of a TV network, a radio station and several companies -- including, until recently, the largest Outpost brewery; rivaled only by the Communist Party), reactionary political propaganda and publicity stunts. In fact the only bishop I know to have tried to attract (young) people to the Church, for better or worse, was slandered as gay, in a place where 'homosexual practices' where legalised in 1997.

The Cathedral? By the time I went there, around 9:20, they had even locked the courtyard gate.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Salmon sandwich

I was eating a (very good) salmon sandwich, gazing sometimes out of the window into the unusually brightly lit capital (Yuletide) and sometimes at the interior of the cafeteria. Towards finishing the sandwich, I hear noisy exchanges from behind a pillar and then a False Blonde, black plucked eyebrows, cigarette in hand, short and savage looking emerges into my ken. After a request from a fellow customer, and with her refusing to put the cig out, she and her company were politely asked to move table by a waiter, to one within the smokers' area.

"What is the big difference about this part of the shop?", she asked.
"This is the smoking area and, well, it is better ventilated.", replied the waiter somehow taken aback.
"Aha, yeah, I can feel the breeze here.", she added sniggering.

I had not been angry for days. Without wanting it, I ended up staring at her with all the cold contempt my loxian eye can afford. The False Blond misinterpreted this and thought I was eyeing her. She made a point at continually staring back in an intendedly mysterious but objectively ludicrous manner (the eyebrows! the eyebrows!), while raising her voice in conversation even higher. Jod thankfully arrived in time and salvaged me from all this sexual tension. Ugh.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Things to post on a wall

I was about to write about the contrast between the private and the public sphere and whether blogs are accursed attempts to blur the distinction between the two, prompted by a message by my friend Marcus Aurelius (who, unlike what his name would suggest, abstains from writing private thoughts down). Then I realised that there are no valid generalisations on the matter: the blog is a medium and, as such, it can be used variously. For instance, Noam Chomsky's blog is as public as it gets; others -- firmly placed in the other end of the continuum -- use blogging to almost daily recount in detail everything about their sex life, hangovers, shopping, discussions, rows... I think the secret, even if presenting your internal life, like Loxias does, is to be selective, as always. As an exercise, read this blog and make notes of matters and topics not touched upon and also of some sizeable gaps in the narrative (supposing there is a narrative here)...

Now, as a break, here is a picture taken in the poorer half of the Outpost:

By the way, if you are curious about my opinions on Turkey and its ('her'?) starting negotiations with EU, I will reveal none. However, having mentioned Chomsky, I will give you a sign to this post, which normal people should find straightforward and which should make intellectuals think (if possible).

Monday, December 20, 2004

The sound of rain...

... is soothingly heard in the silence, through closed shutters, windows and curtains.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

From Prague to the woods

I have managed to slowly restart serious work at home: in my job it is the work at home that really matters. Anyway. Otherwise, I finished Woody Allen's Collected Prose -- apart from two excellent pieces the rest is unremarkable and you should really stick to his films. I have now retaken up Kundera's Immortality, which I started last May and I abandoned because of DeLillo. I don't really know why I still read this guy. Maybe because he is Czech and Prague is the only place I have been where I constantly and genuinely felt like an uneducated, ignorant and unworldly peasant (mind you, I have never travelled outside Europe, politically speaking). I have ever since loved the city and, yes, I envy you KaaJ for going there for a year or half a year to work.

Today we had a large brunch gathering and our guests eagerly consumed what we prepared for them. Me and Jod descending from generations of mothers and grandmothers who only wished to have guests around so that they can feed them to nirvana, we were very happy. Their company made us even happier. It was also my kind of day: low heavy cloud, wind and rain (ok, you know by now I am obsessed, so pass). At some point I was orally relating to one of my friends roughly what I write in this blog on Outpost life and she asked the inevitable question: "So where would you like to live?" She did that in a polite and thoughtful manner, not in order to confront me as a never satisfied and whining compatrido bastard, for this I am grateful to her.

I am also thankful to her because I had to think how to best answer her question. So, where? In Compatridia? I would be jobless and Jod underemployed. In Britain? Well, only for all the money in the world (or slightly less), as this country is soooooo bad value. In France? Working as what? And where, in some tiny town? We are fine in the Outpost, thank you. In the great Kingdom of the Netherlands? Isn't this as well maybe just a 'sexy idea' (as NewYorker would put it)? Besides, what do I know of everyday life there? Except that it looks idyllically urban when sitting in a cafe in Spui watching ordinary people cycling and walking back from work? So I answered the most decent answer I could give: "I don't know."

Before finishing, my single New Year Resolution (in two parts), because New Year resolutions were invented to moralise people and infest them with guilt, which I resent.

I must listen to more Bach and at last buy Cosí fan tutte in one of the versions my landlady has recommended.

Finishing: read something really interesting, read Kumquatology.


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Look Northwards

Long hours at work today. I darted to the kitchen to make some coffee and looked at the northern mountain range, for some of the Outposters a place of nostalgia forever. Barren as it was, it was nevertheless bathed in the warm light of a winter afternoon, filtered through the crispness of a dustless atmosphere. The range looked enchantingly real, near and ethereal at the same time. I stood there gazing through the window, past the building site, past the trees, past the ugly skyline behind them. The mountain was visible both in all its detail of rocks, grass and lonely trees and as a complete abstract, albeit complex, shape. I then thought that sights like this can inspire the numinous to virtually anyone happening to look northwards at that moment.

More shop windows

After the first taste, here is another installement of a shop window in the Ourpost capital:

Any feedback on the picture above is more than welcome. This picture is Jorge's favourite.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Ordinary activities

My friend Jorge was visiting for the weekend. It was fulfilling catching up with him. What catching up translates into. Well, we had long discussions, like we have been doing for the last 18 years or so. Some of them were about self-improvement and dealing with others, in fact I learned as much about me in 90 minutes last night as I have the last 8 years. Other discussions were about everyday life and work or about relationships and, of course, sex; some of them were about science and ideas (e.g. he believes clergy is perfunctory and detrimental to people's lives, hence should be abolished, I am more mindful of historical realities). We also ate a lot (we are very much into eating and the Outpost offers wonderful opportunities towards this), we drank a tiny bit, we listened to music (he also told us about Brian Wilson finally releasing 'Smile', something that had completely escaped us here), we walked a lot and took some pics (like the one below, of outdoor Xmas decorations, Outpost-style).

Aren't friends great?

Friday, December 10, 2004

Christmas cards

Today was Christmas card day (yes, you guessed right: lately I try to work as little as possible). I was not at all looking forward to this when I woke up at 6:30 am to the sight of cats acting out Steve Miller Band's 'Joker' as covered by Fat Boy Slim.

Some 18 hours later, Jod and me have completed around 50 Christmas cards, all hand-written, most by yours truly. It was a genuine pleasure and one of those rare delights: I got to think of each friend or member of family individually and fondly (we did not bother with 'I have to write although I could not care less' cards), I followed the lines my own handwriting left behind in wonder, I pondered on distance and the special ties between the addressees and us, I was perplexed at how few addresses I know by heart, I made a point of writing to people I had forgotten to in previous years, I took pride in new names of new friends, I thought of an individual, albeit simple, message for each of them. It was a valuable experience, one of those that Americans call 'enriching' ones. And yes, the ease and carefreeness of e-cards does not compare to this.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Travelling without moving

Last night a cyclist was killed in the Outpost streets. Today, shopkeepers in a remote, but touristic, part of the Outpost took to the streets to protest against construction of a new cycle track. "Why do we need a track for half a dozen bikes?", one of them protested. The thing goes further. Most bikes are junk as well as invisible from dusk to dawn: no lights, no reflectors, no other reflecting surfaces on them, nothing. Cyclists have to cope with them, aggressive drivers and their own carefree attitude -- for instance, during the last three years I have been here, I have seen only one cyclist wearing a helmet, who I immediately recognised: a Swiss colleague. Jod also thrice attempted to cycle wearing a helmet.

You can't walk, either. In the summer it is because of the stifling heat. In the winter because of the mud: yes, there are not many pavements in the capital. Of them, some are too narrow or too occupied with cowboyishly parked cars: Outposters must park right in front of the main entrance of their destination or temporary stop.

What is the effect of the lack of walking, cycling and the like on our mental lives here? Massive, I would think. We are encased in one-passenger chassis, we never mingle, either as walkers or inside public transport. Actually, only on Saturdays do we walk, shopping. This is why locals are virtually unable to experience an urban space, for them spots in the city are atomistically defined destinations without an itinerary from them and to them, it is a bit like flying from home to school, work, restaurant, cafe, hairdresser's, cabaret -- and back. Unsurprisingly, most Outposters are amazed by my knowledge of their city, naively adding that 'us foreigners walk a lot', in the tone reserved to distance themselves from us foreigners' poverty, lax sexual mores and generally antisocial behaviours. But can there be introspection, or even reflection, without walking? I have been a walker for n years and a driver for 1. My own reply is 'no'.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Distractions II

Below is a picture I shot on the 14th of October in the courtyard of the British Library.

Don't you just love the English sometimes?


Here is some hilarious sexist humour at the expense of men.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Come out and play

My dearest readers,

isn't it time you started posting comments?



Completely out of context

One of my favourite Greek proverbs:

The wheel shall turn, the poor shall fuck.

Apologies for the loan from Old Norse, the populace can be rather uncouth, wouldn't you agree, my lords?

Rock in the Outpost

Just came back from a school band gig, we officially went there to listen to Insomnia, one of the bands in the school where Jod works. The event was hosted in a biggish club but the door person asked us the usual Outpost-style questions "What are you doing here at your age?" No, they were not oversensitive about adults mixing with underage kids: like homosexuality and incest, these are non-notions here. They were just intrusively curious.

Never mind. Behind the door was playing one of the best bands I have ever seen live, a school band called Safe Mode with a 16-year old babyface drummer, who played like a teenage rock dream. He was, quite plainly, amazing. (Besides, have you seen Loxias amassing so much stuff in italics in his blog before? there you are.) Suddenly we were happy to be here, one of those rare, extremely prized moments, inducing a euphorically intense sense of well-being.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Cartwright Gardens

I am feeling slightly nostalgic this evening.

Textual exhumation

The title summarises the grim feeling I felt reading this.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Still ill

(after the song by the Smiths)

I did go to work today, supported by anti-histamines, hyper-vitamins and relatedly useful substances and in the afternoon I ran back home: nose running, throat stinging, head swimming, eyes watering. I can read nothing, the monitor's glare is more bearable, though.

Funny how some minor things (like the present physical exhaustion triggered by this bloody sub-form of life cloning itself inside me; thankfully viruses are asexual, it would be too yucky to bear) can occupy a large proportion of consciousness. And then I see AIDS victims, today being the Day (just 24 days before the Feast of Satiety), staying upbeat and keeping on fighting and I feel like the most worthless human being in existence.

No, I do not count myself among those who believe suffering is an essential ingredient of human life, because it allegedly uncovers and forges what is best in us. It is a long debate but no: only in happiness does our true nature reveal itself; especially happiness in the midst of adversity. But we should never confuse this adversity-defying happiness, and greatness in adversity, with the day-to-day corrosive grist of grinding suffering: this is too cavalier a point of view to take.

So, having preached thus, I return to my warm home (featuring a brand new rug as of yesterday) and my comfortably warm mug of chamomile. Moi, hypocrite auteur, ton semblable (?), ton frère.