Thursday, March 31, 2005

Giving the salute

Rather busy, hence I thought I would refrain from posting, but there was this remarkable thing that happened today (people here are still full of surprises, although we should know better by now).

Today the school's principal, who is of course the Leader's daughter with a PhD in Economics, summoned Jod to her office because she made a comment in the staff room that displeased some. She told Jod that she does not know the history of the Outpost (that's the old argument / invective: "you are not familiar with Outpost realities", see also this) and that she should say nothing and express no opinions whatsoever on such matters (yes, Jod's comment was political: boooo, scary). She added that Jod has been here for just a year (well, she has worked in the school for two, but surely the principal has many things on her mind) but has a job -- something she should be grateful for, instead of making comments.

Mugabe will be re-elected today, won't he?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

From 44 to 2046

I read this powerful post, once more by Francis Strand. It has everything: missed connections to loved ones, "stretches of open water held impossibly still by the ice so that the reflection is nearly flawless of the sky", a refutation of naively optimistic takes on life (always enjoyable), transport-induced impatience, elementary Finnish for foreigners, moments of odium towards the hospitable but foreign land (also considering that, unlike some other characters, he has ''a high opinion of Swedes"), birthday blues. Regarding the last one, yes, 44 is a great age: happy birthday (belatedly), anyway.

After a long wait I finally saw Wong Kar Wai's 2046 last night. I initially loved it (it is visually enticing) but, overall, I don't think I have anything coherent to say about it.

Charity begins in the street

People are rather charity-conscious in the Outpost (unlike Compatrido pachyderms, who have only recently discovered similar notions). On rainless days (i.e. usually), when traffic lights turn red, people in caps and T-shirts, raffle tickets in hand, leave the pavement corners and balance their way between the rows of waiting cars asking for contributions. The old-fashioned pedestrian-oriented version is simply not found here: only immigrants walk.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Spring in a vase

Some wildflowers from an empty yard in Enclave, off Co-operation Street.

yellow spring

I like Enclave, with its beautiful stone houses, narrow streets, untouched gardens and lots of space. No 'contemporary' housing there, as nobody wants to live in an enclave. Co-operation Street is one of the many in the area that leads to a dead-end.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Melaina Chole

The weather is pleasant: first sunny and breezy, now overcast and slightly windy. Finishing Ishiguro (read it! read it!), I chose to play Bach's Cello suites and stood behind the study window watching the birds flying low and sitting on aerials and water tanks, while the leaves negotiated the wind. I silently gazed at the sheer dreamlike quality of the afternoon outside, the light oblique and discrete. The dreamlike sense was maybe enhanced by the switch last night to daylight saving time: we are all jet lagged, we travelled one hour ahead without moving, without going anywhere.

Music started. Jod asked what it was. "It feels like Brugge.", she said. Spot on, as ever. Last night we saw Columbia University on TV, some straight-to-video film playing silently while we were studying. "We must get out of here", we almost simultaneously said. And we haven't even been to New York, yet. Similar reactions were elicited by reading the papers today, some lucky illustrious 24-year old Compatrido working in Amsterdam, enjoying it immensely.

Jorge so seriously thinks we are in a nasty mood, he even rang us long distance today -- and he would not hang up, either. The comfort of friends.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The last word on lemons

Steph got it right: we went to Amir-am-M's place for lunch and to see their pictures from a recent trip to Jordan. Although there are only three lemon trees in their garden, they have already made lemonade to last them until next winter, they treated us to a bagful of lemons, and the impertinent trees are still half full.

Otherwise, today was a day of parading to the sound of drums. Not just the army, but school children, too. Nicely regimented militaristic customs, traditions imported from Compatridia (themselves dating from its own fascist dictatorship of the 30s, I think), as the Evil Empire was interested in subtler forms of control.

So, enough about lemons.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Absent-mindedness

Ouch! I forgot to water the plant at work. Which wouldn't be grave if it weren't pretty thirsty; or if it weren't a gift from NewYorker. With whom I share the office.

And tomorrow is a holiday.

"when the streets are cold and lonely"

Jorge said "Sure" when I asked him if I should post more photos.

So, here, from my last visit to the Home City (Yuletide testimonials are visible), with sober nostalgia.

direction unique

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Few words

The photo below is not great (but you can enlarge it by clicking on it): it's me who shot it, after all. Still, I highly prize any element of urbanity found here. Even more than this, the photo exudes something ambiguous about its atmosphere and feel that appeals to me.

urban

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Muffled

Ishiguro's astounding 'Artist of the floating world', the only respite in a day full of trivial nastiness which I won't immortalise by describing in detail, irrational violence and majorities without hope or, for that matter, water.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Raw compatridos

We went to a conveyor sushi bar last night.

sushi1

The inevitable compatridos showed up. They occupied two stools and called the waitress. They held long negotiations at the top of their voices with each other and the waitress on the kind of fish they wanted. "Salomon!" they cried out. "Salmon should be ready later" replied the waitress. They did not like that. "Tuna!" they proposed. "We have no tuna today, sir" the waitress apologised. They called for the maitre d'. They made their point (quite audible). They finally chose some dishes from the conveyor.

sushi2

Then they called the waitress again, for soup this time. Then they spent time making idiotic puns and weak jokes, so characteristic of the pitiful substitute that passes as 'wit' where I come from. Urgh. They were talking loudly enough for everyone to hear. Then they called the waitress again (Note: there is a table service sushi bar next door. Why on earth did they not go there?) Then one of them said "Hey man, we are the only ones to occupy the personnel here." Good. Then they left. Even better.

sushi3

More drum banging

More drum banging here. The Principality must seriously consider cutting down on the four national holidays they currently celebrate. After we leave here, of course: nobody ever got hurt by long weekends.

Sex and God

I invite you to look at this and this essay on Christians and sex, detected via Attu's über-popular blog.

The sheer comical value of these writings is undeniable. I still have my suspicions that they were produced by the team who bring us The Onion. So, it was inevitable for me to laugh quite a bit having read them. Then I sobered up.

Maybe what I will say is utterly commonplace, but I think that ideas like those sampled above represent something far more sinister than just instructions for a bigoted public that is unable to make decisions for themselves. They are underpinned by the idea that all forms of permissible behaviour, and those only, can be found in the Bible, including details of the most intimate nature (e.g. what the outcome of particular practices must be, to put it coyly). It doesn't take a non-Protestant to see how warped and dangerous this is: it corroborates the fateful conviction that anything that cannot be traced within the biblical canon is out, even if supported by common sense, morality or what other faculties humans have to guide and sustain us. In other words, group A, supporting oral sex because it is (dubiously) literally founded on the Bible, is worse than group B, who reject the said practice on the grounds of what have you, crucially exercising some free will.

Of course, I personally think that group C, not believing Godhead to be concerned about regulating minutiae of survival and human fulfillment, to be even more soundly oriented -- either because no God exists or because God is taken transcendentally and, generally, seriously.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Translator? What translator?

As witnessed here, a translator does not really need to speak the language (dedicated to pH, knowing he will laugh).

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Lemons are just lemons and coffee is different, too

Cheers ( ='thanks') to Allotrios' haiku for this post's title.

I am treating myself to a hot mock choco cappuccino, one of those impossible to froth mixtures they sell in big tins, ready to mix with hot water. I know that, as a dedicated coffee lover, I should refrain from such abominations. Still, I treat myself to and enjoy them as an adult person's caffeine-enhanced Ovomaltine, not real coffee. Not to mention that soon the weather will be too hot for these, and many other, little pleasures.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Lemons? What lemons?

One thing noticed last winter and repeating this winter, as well.

Homes in the Capital's more recently developed suburbs as well as its outskirts generally come without any trees and with tiled patios instead. We have been told this is so because 'trees shed leaves and require soil, thus making a mess'. Naturally, trees provide shade in the hot summer, but this is not something too many are prepared to consider. Nevertheless, when it comes to the older quarters of the city, it is a different story: there are many older houses surviving, complete with gardens full of trees. But oddity is still to be found.

Most of these trees are citrus, basically lemon trees. Lemons ripen roughly between November and January. In our case, they ripen and they stay on the trees and then they wither, rot and drop. Nobody actually picks the lemons. At this time of the year, someone strolling around my neighbourhood (and those still featuring gardens) will see loads of lemon trees with tons of lemons going bad on them. We have picked some of them: they were good. Actually, if there is anything that thrives in the Outpost lowlands, this is oranges and lemons.

Maybe, you would think, people do not use lemons here. But yes, they do. They buy them in styrofoam trays (waxed and imported from Israel), or locally produced by weight (the poorer ones among them). They buy them because lemons are versatile, you can even make lemonade with them.

So, why don't people pick the lemons from their own trees? I don't know, I haven't asked and I won't because I would once more be stared at for being such an obnoxious wiseguy. If anyone knows the local just-so story for not picking the lemons, please advise (I suspect nouveau-richism, but that might be just impertinent me).

Monday, March 14, 2005

Outpost delights

The long weekend is drifting to an end. We -- in the good company of W Boson and E-Reader -- spent some time in a hotel perched at the edge of a cliff, with a view over a considerable expanse of the Outpost, especially on Saturday, which was a bright and clear day. On Sunday we went to the nearby beach, where we flew a kite, which we thoroughly and vividly enjoyed. Highlights included (apart from the kite going reaaaally high): W Boson climbing on a tree to untangle it as well as collecting it from within the water and getting it to fly immediately afterwards (synthetic fabrics rule).

beach

And on Sunday night, I finally discovered the city of Aerosol.

But let's take things from the beginning. The city of Aerosol is the second largest in the Outpost, roughly 80 km from the Capital. I had been there twice before last weekend and I intensely hated it outright: a tremendously ugly sprawl of brutalistic architecture disgustingly splattered across 17 km of beach and engulfing a once cute and now crumbling old city, it made the Capital look in comparison like, I don't know, Milan or something. In fact, Aerosol was the only place that triggered in me lucid fantasies of nuclear annihilation. Nevertheless, everybody would insist that Aerosolians are cool and that Aerosol nightlife is incomparable. They were right.

We arrived at Aerosol on Sunday night, tipped off to try a number of places. We were told that on days like these 'the whole of Aerosol is a big party'. The streets were nevertheless empty and silent, there was nobody in sight and I said to Jod, "yeah, De Chirico's party". We went to one of the bars recommended, it was hyperposh and booked out. So we turned back and decided to have a look around. That is when we discovered the Graffiti bar. That was the very moment when
a) Tot rang us to say she was on her way to Aerosol and
b) we bumped into yet another friend from the Capital, One of the Seven.
(This is one good thing about small places, by the way.)

This instantly and spontaneously assembled crowd went into the Graffiti, which simply is the best bar in the Outpost so far; the Outpost having quite a lot of them, as a tourist trap (sorry, 'destination'), this is no small accolade. The atmosphere was tremendous but laid back, the spirits were sky-high, the crowds were informal, fun and having fun, the place was decorated with just the right twist, the DJ was successful in balancing between what people want and a good show. We were dancing near the door, so we could see everyone coming in: even wankers (you can easily tell who they are) looked exceptionally cool.

Incidentally, while we were dancing, two charming women came in and occupied the reserved table next to us. They somehow looked like prototypical seekers of a guy for a threesome, I thought, but then I blamed my lubricious mind and returned to dancing. After a while, another five women and a guy dressed in a pimp-grade suit out of Miami Vice came in and joined the duo. I suddenly realised: these were artistes (and their shepherd) on a night out during their night off. They proceeded to offer everyone a (fully clothed) free show, although, thanks to the guy in the beige suit, its value was mainly comical, rather than anything else. This ostensibly disappointed a bunch of staring guys...

At 2:30 am we drove back to the Capital, the motorway was empty and the drive enjoyable. So, yes, viva Aerosol.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Out of touch

On a TV show they staged a fancy dress party. One of the participants was dressed up as Hitler, complete with the swastika armband. It appears that Prince Harry taught us nothing; in our case not much could be expected in terms of good taste, either.

A drunk man's words are a sober man's thoughts

We had dinner at a new Chinese place tonight, 4 minutes up the hill from our flat. The view of the city was panoramic and from a different angle and far more flattering than both the one I have shown you and the one enjoyed during Valentine's dinner. Jod agreed with the owner that there are fewer lights in the city at night than one would expect: only towers, tower blocks, spires, minarets and the like were lit up, surrounded by a thousand points of light (...) and emerging from the general darkness, reaching for the barely starlit sky.

The food was simply exquisite: the wonton soup (with handmade wontons), the Canton-style beef and the fried coconut milk dessert are highly recommended (Outpost residents, ask me for directions). The staff were pleasant, humorous and helpful. Only the fortune cookie was against me, see this post's title for the actual divination. Maybe I should have followed helion's example and should have requested a different one. Hm.

What else? A lot of work was finished today (a breakthrough) and towards the close of the day, this wonderful post made my nocturnal blog surfing more than worthwhile. It awakened in me the light of the North, crisp, gentle, in all its different colours and sensual cosiness or coldness -- depending on the time of the day and the season. A surge of nostalgia, arose in me and unexpectedly stirred all these dormant but potent spirits of passion and memory and 'will to life' within me -- even hope, too. But such things are so hard to encode in language.

Mr. Strand triggered all the above by pointing us to Hammershøi, the child of Augustus Strindberg and Jan Vermeer, a marriage that proves a surprisingly fitting match. Thanks, Francis.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Here comes the rain again

I was supposed to do some work at home today, as I finished early. Impossible to concentrate, like the best part of last week. Nevertheless, I sleep well and despite a long day from 6:30 am to 12:30 am, I do not deterministically collapse in drowsiness between the dreaded 3 pm and 5 pm, like I used to. It is an exceptional day on which I will have more than two coffees. I eat healthily. I exercise. I am in a state of physical well-being unlike anything experienced before.

Still, I feel mentally inert, creatively drained and generally passionless. In other words, I am tired. I am sick and tired, more accurately. I hardly want to engage into anything more demanding than clicking the left mouse button. All that fatigue shows, too. Even, Amir-am-M, generally patronising and loftily dismissive towards the various manifestations of my Angst, acknowledges this. (She will actually eventually read this, so no gossip behind people's backs here.)

What else? pH is back from Belgium. W Boson is back from Italy. We agreed that Rome is magnificent but hardly a livable city on a day-to-day basis. Consolation.

Otherwise, it rained a lot today. What a relief. Guess what, I walked to the gym without an umbrella. Hence the upbeat title of this post.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Two notes on self-constraint

Note one, cinematic: Maybe you should not bother about the white elephant called the Aviator. In the second half, after (magnificent) Kate Blanchet is seen no more, the film becomes increasingly convoluted and symbolic. Jod thinks Scorsese should lose the big budgets and try to constrain his angst within a smaller scale, smaller themes and spaces -- like in 'Raging Bull', the 'Taxi Driver', and the like.

Note two, to self: Complaining about the Outpost in the presence of Jod only makes things more difficult for both of us. I should constrain myself to only whine here.

Entry criteria

Some Bible bashing for you, in case anyone's interested:

Then the King will say to those at His right, "Come, my Father's blessed ones, receive your inheritance of the Kingdom which has been divinely intended for you ever since the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me."

Friday, March 04, 2005

Supermarket kids

Back from a supermarket trip. The mud we were breathing for days (a combination of humidity and dust in the atmosphere) finally went away yesterday. While Europe is covered with snow or glazed with black ice, the dusk here was definitely vernal, all mellow colours and at a fine balance between chill and warmth, the first in the form of a slight breeze, the latter fuelled by the afterglow of a sunny day. Once more, I remembered strawberry eating on the grass in the English garrison town's mid-July.

I bought some oyster sauce and it would not go through at the check out. So I had a little more time to observe the supermarket kids. These are invariably immigrant underage boys (once eighteen they can work in construction, or elsewhere) from the ex-Soviet Union. They help customers with filling our many bags and follow us to the car, sometimes helping out with the trolley. If you cannot bother returning the trolley, they earn the 20c piece by docking it for you. Otherwise they never ask for anything from customers and most of them get excited when thanked for their help.

Hence, one of them was summoned by the checkout person to look for the shelf I got the sauce from in order to check the price. In the meantime, the checkout person stared wearily in the distance. I felt, not really thought, two things: I am privileged to have done similar jobs for only a total of 18 months in my life; moreover, these people are beyond the reach of lofty political vision (practical but not very effective and slow-moving) or the soothingness of art (dramatic and life-changing, but less practical, it also requires dedication and, ultimately, money), so they rely exclusively on human relations to keep human after 8 hours of this...

On my way out two of the supermarket kids were debating which is the second best Outpost football team.

Der Bettschatz

Lots of films lately: 'Million Dollar Baby' (which was followed by 'Unforgiven' on DVD) and 'Motorcycle Diaries'. I enjoyed the subtlety and lighting of Eastwood's boxing opus and, naturally, the scenery in the Latin American road movie. Nevertheless, I am tired of hagiographies disguised as 'Bildungsroman', or whatever you call the film equivalent. Certainly, it is interesting to learn, read or see about Che's sentimental, political and spiritual development and education, but not in the form of "San Ernesto's early years". 'Motorcycle Diaries' reminded me of 'Europa Europa', which was more challenging and balanced, but then the Jewish boy whose life it narrates is not a pop icon to put on T-shirts. Finally, I am not sure I understood 'Unforgiven'.

Now, from Kundera's Immortality (which hovers between a very bad novel and an interesting essay), a charming passage on Goethe, his wife Christine Vulpius and sex (from Chapter 9 of the 4th part):

[Christine Vulpius] était fidèlement devouée à son mari (elle le protégea de son corps, dit-on, face aux soudards de Napoléon) et certainement excellente amante, comme en témoigne l'enjouement de Goethe qui l'appelait "mein Bettschatz", expression que l'on pourrait traduire par "trésor de mon lit".

Pourtant, dans l'hagiographie de Goethe, Christine se trouve au-delà de l'amour. Le XIXe siècle (mais aussi le nôtre, dont l'âme reste toujours captive du siècle précédent) a refusé de faire entrer Christiane dans la galerie des amours de Goethe [...] C'est parce qu'elle était son épouse, direz-vous, et nous avons pris l'habitude de considerer le mariage comme quelque chose d'antipoétique. Mais je crois que la vraie raison est plus profonde: le public a refusé de voir en Christiane un amour de Goethe tout simplement parce que Goethe couchait avec elle. Car le trésor de l'amour et le trésor du lit apparaissait comme deux choses incompatibles.[...]

Les grands histoires d'amour européennes se déroulent dans un espace extra-coïtal. [...] La notion européenne de l'amour s'enracine dans le sol extra-coïtal. Le XXe siècle, qui se vante d'avoir libéré la sexualité et aime se moquer des sentiments romantiques, n'a su donner à la notion d'amour aucun sens nouveau (c'est un des naufrages de ce siècle) [...]

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Monotheism

Ach, I cannot resist posting this, although I am up to here with work. Remember that series of public lectures I wrote about before?

Next week's offering:

"Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Marx."
Now, a bit overambitious, but reasonably educational (remember, these talks are part of a sort of 'people's university' thing). Nevertheless, and as ever, the devil is in the detail. One of the headings below the talk title goes like this:

Precursors of Christ's coming or the peak of human spirituality?
'Precursors'? All six of them? Wow, trippy, man. Finally, two ex-(government) ministers are in the panel: one from Compatridia (Compatridos, you know who), the other is the Principality's previous minister of Education.