Monday, February 28, 2005

Boxcat

Gizmo is back by popular request.

Sphinx

Not much to report. Early Spring is here (as if there was serious winter), a drive to the mountains (photos coming here soon -- maybe), eating and drinking with friends.

The low must be contagious, now Jod's got the blues, too.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

A text message

Here is a text message I received from A+ on 19 October. I am transferring it here to free up space on my mobile:
I am outside the Athena building. Next to me, a truck full of live sheep. What kind of place do we live in?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A peculiar kind of nostalgia

I went to the 'alumni, applicants & friends' reception of my Alma Mater tonight (well, alma mater, not quite: I only spent one amazing year there, during a Master's, and I there learned all I ever needed to learn). The familiar politeness and good-natured spirit of the English, soothing and refreshing.

Primarily: young kids, 18, starting their first degree at Alma Mater next September. My name tag was colour coded for 'alumnus', so they came to me asking for advice and guidance. Yes, it was amazing, yes, it will be the greatest time of your life, yes, this is an exciting topic, yes, yes. Yes. Yes: the answer to every eternal question. I partly envied them; I partly wished I was like them all over again, starting in the quadrants, halls and cloisters of Alma Mater; I partly felt proud to have been there and to have studied there.

Walking home, I felt lighter and stronger: a good thing in this bout of depressive low I am going through.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

In the absence of feedback...

Given that you make no comments (come ooooon, don't be so shy!), I decided to use the following impersonal, undemanding and anonymous toy. Every vote counts!

What kind of pirate am I? You decide!
You can also view a breakdown of results or put one of these on your own page!
Brought to you by Rum and Monkey

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Am I such an ass?

I'll be brief in my whining over a boring matter:

This morning I received a mass email from someone I don't know replying to a job-related mass email by a colleague. I sympathised with the reply's content (a naughty comparison between the Principality's politicians and donkeys), but I thought that mass mailing can be annoying to others. So I wrote to him that I agree with what he wrote (although, I noticed, we should not demonise donkeys), but that he should not have clicked on 'Reply All' unless he meant all 50 of us to read his comment. I did so politely. He sourly replied he did not mean to hurt anyone's sensitivities (but I hadn't said anything like that), he just thought my colleague's "friends would appreciate the joke".

Outposters are trained since their school years to look for conspiracies and sinister projects directed against them. That is why they first read between the lines and then they read the lines themselves. Which means they get it all wrong.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Weekend

Still musing over the pictures and the nature of war.

Otherwise, I today took a long trek in the one local park with W Boson. Interesting and refreshing discussion. Then coffee and cakes in our balcony (the day was sunny and warm).

I am itching to discuss Outpost politics (NewYorker calls it 'The Way of the Ostrich'*) here, but I have a talent in getting myself misunderstood when discussing this topic. Actually, I anonymously commented on it in someone else's blog, and an Outposter appeared from nowhere, chiding me passive-aggressively to the effect that I am not familiar with Outpost realities. Haha! If only he knew. The comforts of anonymity.

Beauty: I discovered Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 30, with Pollini. Lord, it is enchanting.

What else? Ah, someone got Jod on the phone, wrong number. He actually apologised. Twice. The first wrong number in three years not to immediately slam the receiver down on us. Jod texted him to acknowledge his courtesy and he kindly rang back to express his appreciation. Stupendous.

* Ostriches are occasionally violent, cumbersome, flightless birds. When in distress or needing to hide, they bury their head in a hole in the ground, believing nobody can see them (or what they have to hide).

Friday, February 18, 2005

Evil

While I am wittily discussing detergent samples and the godlessness of Buddhism, pure evil is taking over. Histologion pointed us to some pictures American soldiers shot in Iraq. The pictures themselves are frightful and horrendous, and please do not open the links below unless you are prepared to see something that transcends even the daily TV horror show from Iraq. What is (maybe) even more horrifying, is the callous smartarse comments the soldiers who shot the pictures accompany them with.

A selection of these photos is found here; whereas this is the full collection (how much longer will it be online for?) -- do read the intro page disclaimer, too.

A last point: before you rush to curse, castigate and cast anathema to American murderers and before slipping into the cosiness and soothing distance of antiamericanism, consider that this is war: the atrocity you have just witnessed, including variously defiling enemy corpses, is part of 'annihilating the enemy' and 'keeping morale high' -- albeit slightly unelegantly (ah, 'those Americans: no manners'; right?). Also consider how many times similar scenes have been played out throughout human history, before digital cameras, before the Internet, by your own favourite armed forces: the only place where angels fought a war was in heaven, or so they say.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Godliness

The 'number one lifestyle magazine' in the Outpost is giving out detergent samples with its latest issue.

At the same time, the listings magazine that wanted me so bad gave out a condom for February.

Pantheism

I saw an announcement for a talk next Monday titled:
"The great monotheistic religions of the world: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Islam."

It is part of a series of educational talks aimed at the general public.



Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Invitation?

Sissoula earlier implied that Gizmo the Cat needs be invited to use blankets, such as our our penguins-and-polar-bears one.

The photo below shows no invitation is necessary:

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Stiff over the city

So, we went to a fancy restaurant overlooking the city last night. For once, we wanted to try a posh, 'romantic' restaurant for the day (ah, the poor Romantics, by now identified with teddy bears, sugary ballads and heart-shaped balloons and voids). The food was mediocre, the view Jod had was majestic. The live music was too loud, but unexpectedly decent, given the circumstances.

What really left an impression on me was the campness of the whole enterprise, but this is something we had to experience at least once and something so commonplace, it is trivial to comment on.

As Jod got the view, I got the view to the interior of the restaurant. A very peculiar thing I noticed was people's expressions and behaviour: of course, all tables were for two, everybody in there were in couples. Still, there was no passion or intensity in any couple's interaction, but that's probably ok: you do not dress up and spend lots of money to play Tristan and Iseuld, even if you feel exactly like it, in the midst of heart-shaped confetti, beef roulades and smart waiters brandishing implausibly expensive potion bottles labelled as 'wine'.

Nevertheless, there was no cosy familiarity or everyday tenderness, either. The couples seated around us looked like they were going through some obligation, embalmed like on a visit to some boring aunt on Sunday lunchtime. They exchanged pseudo-bourgeois blank stares and had that deferential and slightly tedium-ridden look on their faces. It was an existentialist's Purgatory, everyone looking together and everyone being alone, staring at tablecloths and absent-mindedly patting the significant other's hand. I remembered the other party; 'No fun', as Iggy Pop would put it. But if there is no fun to be had, why not stay in?

Jod recalled me back to sobriety, as ever. How can I know? How can I tell? How do I think we look like to others? People did dress up and did spend lots of money to come here (as evidenced by the uncomfortable attires, the out-of-tune makeup and mismatched necklaces), they cannot even hear each other talking (for the music): it is natural to look slightly stiff.

The debate remains unresolved, save for one thing: next year we are hitting our prized Danish sofa, our penguins-and-polar-bears blanket on us, with all the wine, cheese and pastry yesterday's bill can buy, or slightly less. Still, I am very happy with the tulips I got yesterday, seeing them in bloom when I woke up at 6:15 this morning.

Quiz answer

The gentleman is a historian talking about the history and everyday life of medieval Outpost. He probably wanted to get into the mood.

Both patricipants win my appreciation :-)

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Drinking around

Another party yesterday. The compatrido ambassador, in his residence. A relatively small do for compatridos working in the Outpost in my line of business. Those parties make everyone act superficial, a taxing affair. Thankfully, I found someone to hang out with (no, I am not good at mingling). Still, it was the first time I had nibbles out of a plate bearing the arms of the Compatrido Republic in gold.

Then I went to the bar where we have been hanging out in lately. Jod was waiting for me there with Tot, an Outposter colleague, the only one who has time for non family-related engagements, and some people Tot hangs out with, including her boyfriend. After some time with them and a vodka and tonic, I came to the following conclusions:

a. It is ok to be absorbed into frantically texting, while sitting at a table with others.

b. Women should talk among them; men should talk among them, or not at all; under no circumstances can there be discussions between men and women.

c. If you are bored, show it and resort to a. above.

Blogs

What have I been thinking about lately? Except sex, right? And outside the lots of work I have? How exciting browsing blogs is; I have done a lot of that lately, actually. Sometimes browsing is more exciting than the actual blogs themselves. It is also a quite stimulating thing that some of them contain some really good writing. Others, let's say somehow unwittingly, reveal the jumble people humans have in their minds: from politics to restaurants, from sex (again) to history, from books to the toilet, from fears to memories, from pets to disabilities, from Jesus Christ to Frazier.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Market

First of all greetings to KaaJ the Lucky: not only stereotypically so, by virtue of his descent, but also for strolling the streets of Prague while I have to negotiate loonies changing lanes erratically, with buildings looking dusty even after downpours as a backdrop. I also salute my dear friend the Viennese Rhino and his Harvard Nun.

We dropped by the open air market today, after we parked opposite a halal butchery called Aladdin. The chill, the oblique light, the sounds and the colours, the smell of produce, the mix of races. Mainly poor foreigners buy fruit and veg there, whereas Outposters and rich expats prefer to shop their oranges plastic-wrapped in upmarket supermarkets.

Then coffee in a tastefully decorated bar-cafe-reading room with excellent Lavazza capuccino, good apple pie, two customers: us. It will not last long. While there, we browsed a glossy mag. An interview with a young up-and-coming newscaster. Excerpts:

'Who are your best friends?'
'My parents and my wife.'

[...]

'What is the one thing about you you would change?'
'Nothing'

[...]

'What is the thing that do you detest most?'
'Irony -- especially when coming from friends.'

So very Outpost. Especially this irony thing. For instance, when I first came here, I decided to use some self-sarcasm as an ice-breaker at work. Thus, one day I said something like '... this is what leading X-ologists, like me, think.' Everybody froze instantly. They actually thought in horror I believed that. The rest is history.

(I wrote the above with Gizmo the Cat on my lap chasing the mouse pointer...)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

(Un)familiar places

Look at this and go to places you have been and wish to return to, or just escape.

Thanks go to Steph, for the suggestion.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Folklore

Today's topic: folk songs, inspired by accounts of a recent risible brouhaha in Greece about 'obscene' folk songs (well, remember, the populace has no manners). As far as I know, Outposters have three folk songs:

a. The first one is about (embezzled? -- I can't tell, I don't speak the lingo) money, naturally;

b. the second is in the local variety of Pig Latin, so even if I spoke the lingo... (there is also a version thereof in SOL: no luck here, either);

c. the third is sung by a woman with a woman's name as her surname and a surname as her name, which roughly goes like this: 'people tell you to comb your hair, but I like you all the same'.

(There is actually a rather sweet fourth one, on waiting for the spring to hang swings on trees...)

Aluminum mug

When I was a kid, one of the magical items in my granpa's home, which I was allowed to use whenever I would visit, was an aluminum mug which used to belong to my father. The year 1947 was calligraphically carved on it with his Swiss Army knife. When I came here, I found one in a haberdashery and bought in immediately. My father's was made in Czechoslovakia, mine in Egypt. They are completely unglamorous, funny things but pouring cold water in them in the summer immediately cools them, as well as the air in them, which makes drinking even more refreshing, albeit for a much shorter time. I like the idea I am continuing some sort of low-key, insignificant and obscure tradition.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Good times

Last night we danced ourselves to extinction until 3 am. The crowds were young (ah, teenagers: the only Outpost group I have faith in), the tunes fun, and it was generally exciting and exhilarating.

Also, yes, anyone can post comments here, not just registered users.

Another matter (also raised by some emails): this neither is a piece of journalism, nor aims to chastise anyone. Hence, factual details and (even more) information about me are of no consequence.

As for the location of the Outpost, first of all, I can squarely deny that it is either Laputa or Iceland. Moreover, those who recognise it from what they read here, they know better, those who don't, they need not know.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Quiz

Quiz

Submit your answers by clicking on 'comments' below.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Today

Today's internal life? All quiet: coffee, internet, coffee, work, rain, cooking, coffee, rain, work, coffee, rain, tv, phone, little reading, here.

Amir-am-M told me today she enjoyed me as G. Focker. Nevertheless, we still haven't reached an agreed solution on how to open the jar of mandarin jam she gave us. Sacrebleu!

Here is some recommended reading by Marcus Aurelius. He is the one wh0 introduced me to DeLillo, so I will abide:

Philip K. Dick - The Man in the High Castle
Walter Miller Jr - A canticle for Leibowitz
Roger Zelazny - Lord of Light

Guy Kay - Sailing to Sarantium & Lord of Emperors

Gore Vidal - 1876 & Julian

Bonne nuit.

Snapshots

Jod and me went to a restaurant tonight. We walked there (the joys of living in the city centre) and on our way we passed outside an old people's home. I am not sure which is the politically correct term for places like this, although I am only interested in political correctness as an expression of genuinely good manners -- see Neil Smith's piece called 'PC' in his 'Language, Bananas and Bonobos' book. Anyway. It is a gardenless place with curtainless windows, naked lightbulbs and warped colour schemes on the walls. It is called Renaissance. I peered through the glass pane (why has a place like that got picture windows?) at a ground floor room where a gentleman was watching TV sitting in his bed. On top of his wardrobe was a huge tweed patterned suitcase. Is he going anywhere?

After dinner, I told Jod about Sissoula's testimony of defiled chickens, my reaction and her rejoinder.
"Chickens? How is this possible?", I asked (I am slightly naive when it comes to contrived sexual practices).
"If an egg can come out..."
You can imagine what happened next.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

They should have provided

I have almost been reduced to a homeless pauper.
This fatal city, Antioch,
has consumed all my money;
this fatal city with its expensive life.

But I am young and in excellent health.
My command of Greek is superb
(I know all there is about Aristotle, Plato;
orators, poets, you name it.)
I have an idea of military affairs,
and have friends among the mercenary chiefs.
I am on the inside of administration as well.
Last year I spent six months in Alexandria;
I have some knowledge (and this is useful) of affairs there:
intentions of the Malefactor, and villainies, et cetera.

Therefore I believe that I am fully
qualified to serve this country,
my beloved homeland Syria.

In whatever capacity they place me I shall strive
to be useful to the country. This is my intent.
Then again, if they thwart me with their methods --
we know those able people: need we talk about it now?
if they thwart me, I am not to blame.

First, I shall apply to Zabinas,
and if this moron does not appreciate me,
I shall go to his rival Grypos.
And if this idiot does not hire me,
I shall go straight to Hyrcanos.

One of the three will want me however.

And my conscience is not troubled
about not worrying about my choice.
All three harm Syria equally.

But, a ruined man, why is it my fault.
Wretched man, I am trying to make ends meet.
The almighty gods should have provided
and created a fourth, good man.
Gladly would I have joined him.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1930)


(The above is courtesy of this site, in grateful acknowledgement.)

Three distractions

First, you may take the coffee quiz.
My results:

You a cappuccino, sipped in the afternoon, after sex.
You are a cappuccino, sipped in the afternoon,after sex.

Then, you could take a look at this baffling optical illusion.

Finally, here is a picture of Gizmo the Cat:

Gizmo