Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Curiouser and curiouser

Passing by one of those open air booksellers' carts on the street (yes, I am not in the Outpost), this title caught my eye:
Leoneardo da Vinci: The Prophecies.
The wealth of treasures these notebooks of his are still yielding!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Who matters


Thursday, April 21, 2005

Terza Rima

Due to the papal election and the selection of Benoît Seize, I am inevitably going through a very catholic phase, in the most traditional way. So, when I saw the link in 42 (soon to get gazillions of hits due to the release of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy film), to the Dante's Inferno Test, I seized the opportunity to take it.

My copy of Dante's 'Commedia' is not mine. I borrowed it years ago in England from a Greek friend (who also lent me Rachmaninov's 2nd Piano Concerto and Dostoyevsky's 'The Poor'). Then she disappeared and I later learned she had become a novice in the Saint John the Baptist's Orthodox monastery in Essex. I managed to see her once more and told her about the things -- she was no longer interested in them. My favourite pieces are Canto II ("O voi chi siete in piccioletta barca...", set to music by Preisner) and the end of Paradiso (the beatific vision of God).

Dante's criteria for joining the 'confutati maledicti' (quite different from those presented here before) are largely followed in the test. They are moral (in the narrow sense) criteria and nothing much else, criteria befitting a version of medieval (and midwestern) morality. Dante himself (and the test) are more interested in singling out "traitors" than slaughterers of the innocent, keener to condemn Paolo and Francesca than pedophiles and rapists... So why do I bother giving you my results? Oh, I am yielding to pressure by those following this blog who want to learn more about me. Here you are, then:

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Fifth Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Low
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Very High
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Low
Level 7 (Violent)Moderate
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Moderate
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

A note on local fashion

The majority of local women seem to only wear tight jeans and boots.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Mit Andacht

Through some very difficult times too recent to completely forget about, my only consolation was Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. This is exactly what I am listening to right now, the unsurpassable Karajan & Berliner Philarmoniker 1966 version, more precisely.

I know that those of you who feel agoraphobic towards large scale music will probably consider I am too conceited: consolation is to be sought in small things, after all. Still, this particular work (just like Bach's Mass in B Minor) is not a triumphalistic piece of theatre, a boisterous counter-Reformist opera for the pious, but a work of genuine spirituality, full of awe against the numinous (as a Personal God in this case). That's why I feel Missa Solemnis is both large scale and personal; at times low key and, essentially, a lonely non-linear pilgrimage.

Next time you are as fortunate to listen to it, as I am being now, listen to it alone and back to back, focusing on Christe, Benedictus and dona nobis pacem. If there is exaltation of the mind and ecstasy of the spirit, free from soupy mysticisms and abject passiveness, it can also be found in this piece of music.


Jod had asked Theta the Cuttlefish to bring me to Thessalonica the latest Saturday Guardian from England, he did not fail to deliver. The reason is that only the abridged European edition reaches here, lacking the Weekend and the Review... Of course, this was the 9th of April copy, so there was a lot about the late Pope's funeral. Still, perusing the Review over my afternoon coffee, this is what I found of interest: an article on Saul Bellow (whose 'Herzog' I have been reading for a month or so), on Black Death, on three new books on anarchism, on a biography of Virginia Woolf, on Chernobyl Strawberries (plus an ad of Orhan Pamuk's latest: 'Snow'), aliens, François Truffaut, the Jungle Book, Patrick Leigh Fermor, "Buttocks with everything", book reviews, Biff and Doonesbury -- and much much more.

I prefer the Saturday Guardian to behemoths like Harper's, or even the grumpy intellectual insomnia of New Yorker: it is wittier, more succinct and more to the point, with fewer descriptions. For instance, I was reading on New Yorker online an endless and meandering piece on some Ukrainian mathematician brothers and their doing some photoshopping on a bunch of unicorn tapestries (not those in Paris) -- I almost fainted one third of the way down and gave up.

Abnormally chunky specks of dust floating in the air outside. Are we actually breathing this?

Monday, April 18, 2005

In praise of Thessalonica

Back from Thessalonica. After four long days of working from 9 to 8 and lots of great food (as I wrote from there). Thessalonian cuisine is an unlikely but exquisite merger of Italianate finesse, tang and subtlety, Turkish flavour, abundance and a focus on ingredients as well as Balkan simplicity and understatement. The above hold for any odd place we cared to sit down (or stand in) to eat, and -- definitely -- places for pastry and sweets. So, Michael (Manske): drive there as soon as possible for the most mindnumbingly delicious varieties of baklava.

The city itself is a Barcelona of the poor: esplanades, avenues, quirky architecture, bars, restaurants, cafés, a waterfront, old and new unexpectedly mixed. 'Old' as in ubiquitous Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman antiquities:

galerius palace

The city is cut in two by the university campus and the annual world expo grounds. I was driven into it from the airport in a GPS equipped cab, its driver having a sense of humour. I think Thessalonians are the main asset of the city. They are informal and fun: after all these years in the Outpost, it was good to see couples kissing in public again, second hand bookshops, cafés and bars full of people actually enjoying themselves (unlike that).

Yes, affectedness: at 8:30 on the second day, having skipped breakfast, I stopped at a kiosk and bought a chocolate milk and a swiss roll.

"I am on this diet." I told the kiosk keeper.
"Good, you are in the right place. We only sell health food here.", she said.
"Organic, too?"
"Sure thing."

A delicious break from Outposter shopkeepers' silent staring at anything but asking for a product. Speaking of which: waitresses! They would actually engage in casual witty conversation; they would be invariably sweet and pretty; they would serve a smashing cappuccino freddo (a Greek invention, apparently) and Belgian beers (aaaahhh!!!!). During our in-venue coffee breaks I struck up conversations with the caterer (good coffee). She turned out to be someone trained in Kiev, in the ex-Soviet school for diplomats, on a scholarship from the Greek state.

Variety, then. In many senses.

Like London last October, Thessalonica made me feel alive and happy, imbuing me with that precious sense of well being.

Friday, April 15, 2005


Having a good time in Thessalonica, Greece on a business trip.

The food is elaborate, delicious and in large portions (how will I eat out elsewhere ever again?). The rest is business as usual.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Springtime in the Outpost...

... is the time between turning the heating off and turning the air conditioners on.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A propos de l'eau

The Outpost has a chronic water shortage problem. It is generally dry and during the 'events' (don't you just love euphemisms?) of the totemic year, control of essential water resources was lost by the Principality. As a result, water was rationed (until 2001, I think) and water tanks on buildings were used to ensure storage and continuous supply of water. That is why they are ubiquitous (usually on roofs, to provide enough pressure, but to the effect of creating eyesores). So far, nothing particularly impressive. It can happen to the best of families, and may soon happen to many of them.

At the same time, the Outpost experienced a surge or resurgence in tourism. Even today, tourism (and, until very recently, alleged money laundering: it used to be a tax haven with lots of offshore companies) is the main source of income for the Principality. The kind of tourism developed and operating here is of the high maintenance, build-and-build sort (very much akin to slash-and-burn agriculture). Hence, more eyesores and mega-hotels pop up all the time, as I have told you before, all of them excessively pool-thirsty, needing more, bigger and deeper pools. This of course entails less water for everyone else. Now, lately it has been announced the authorities want to develop more golf courses... As pauvre Marie-Antoinette put it: "Why don't they drink Evian"? As for personal hygiene, Evian comes in atomisers, too.

I thought of all these things because of a walk by the sea today. A lot of the houses there had pools almost on the shoreline, separated from it by 6 metres of sandy beach. Here is one of them, not without its essential Grecian folly / gazebo (pool not visible, but huge).


At least, its garden is nice.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Cancelled without prejudice

This neighbour of ours ("thank you Mr Andreas!") gave us wonderful lilies from his garden.


I went to the American Embassy today. I queued at 7:30 am and was accepted at 8 am. Before continuing: the Outpost is in the wrong time zone. It is a political decision, like elsewhere. Geographically, it should be in GMT+3, but it is not, in order to have the same time as the 'motherlands'. This of course adds considerably to the overall everyday surrealism effect and contributes the side effect of everything starting so early in the morning.

They searched me and got me to remove the battery from my mobile (although it is so old, not even in its wildest dreams could it take pictures). They searched my wallet and found an old scratch card that wins $2.20 (by today's exchange rate), which serves as a memento. They let me keep it on me, with the wallet. Nevertheless, when they found my reserve condom in a hidden wallet pocket, they put it away in storage along with my keys and the disassembled mobile. Why the condom is anyone's guess.

I paid $100 and after more doors and guards and searches I was ushered in a room full of chairs. CNN was playing. Posters of Nebraska as a place with coffee places serving latte and from North Carolina as Monet's landscape on the walls, also: lots of issues of Time and Newsweek to read (did you expect the New Yorker? or the other left-wing one?). Interview time: my job, what I am doing in the Outpost. The visa officer then asked me if I enjoy it here. "Not particularly", I answered meekly. "No Compatridia nationals do.", he said. To which I answered nothing. I am one of them, then? Ugh. Keys, mobile and condom were returned to me upon exiting.

I received my 10-year US non-immigrant visa hours later. See, I belong to an élite of sorts. America wants our élites, despite what Emma Lazarus made her brazen Colossus preach to the "ancient lands".

The visa itself is a disappointment. It does not look like those shiny Schengen visas with their flashy holograms. It's cheap and papery and my (?) photo on it looks like a cross between an al Qaeda leader (said NewYorker) and a Jewish intellectual, with a dash of inexplicable Old World obesity. By mistake, they issued me with two visa stickers, one of which was cancelled with this post title's words: Cancelled without prejudice.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Unreal city

I went for my usual Sunday coffee and newspaper with pH. Old age habits. Already. I walked; the city around me felt unreal, dream-like, once more. Because of the clouds and the light. Also:

A taxi stopped next to me while on my way to the café. The door opened and a Chinese woman got off it. She did not close the door behind her, but quickly walked away. I helped the driver leaning over the gear stick shut the door by pushing it gently. Further down the street someone honked at the woman. Men drivers here hardly ever tease or harrass women pedestrians: they either belong to someone, husband or father, or are (the wrong kind of) foreign.

I was therefore perplexed. Was she a trotteuse? And how can passing drivers tell while I cannot? There was nothing at all exceptional about her appearance (you know: quirky clothes, excessive makeup and the like). I will possibly never find out as my attention was immediately afterwards caught by a roofless building crumbling apart, complete with a stair leading nowhere:


For houses, a fate even worse than war is to end up unloved. Most Outposters don't love the old quarter of the Capital. Some of them once told me it's full of criminals and foreigners, others that it looks like a foreign country. Who knows who it is exactly who lives in a foreign country.

Next to the ruin, three Subcontinentals were discussing about 'jumaa', with a long wavy 'a'. Two more, a couple, walked past me, the man in suit and flip-flops. Further down the street a busy call centre, which until recently was a shop. An Eastern European and a Subcontinental were speaking on the phone in cubicles whose external wall was the shop window.

Almost there, I glanced at some underwear at Wolford's. I found a pair of stockings (with a handwriting pattern at the back of each leg) particularly sexy. Old age tastes, from someone who used to find Ann Summers stuff both pedestrian and tame. Let's say I got classier with time.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Accidental tourists

Yesterday, a national holiday in the Principality, the fourth one, we went for a trip to an archaeological site.

We set off late, picked up A+ and spent 45 minutes waiting at the checkpoint. Then we hit traffic in the Capital. We finally cruised along the great empty plain, heading east. The weather was, hm, not sunny.


We took a wrong turn, which meant more traffic, plus hitting a protest of a crowd waving red flags (but not your average red flags). Then we finally reached the site, a once mighty city of the Hellenistic and Roman times, the then capital of the Outpost.

There we saw the beautiful gym with its atrium


this very cute fresco


as well as the theatre


and many other things. Springtime was all around


so, after a 90 minute tour of the site, we got hungry. Nevertheless, we decided to go back to the (contemporary) Capital for lunch / dinner. After some more traffic, we hit the motorway, through a really heavy downpour. Eventually, it stopped.


We reached the capital and parked near a celebrated restaurant. They would not open for dinner for another hour. So, we left only to get stuck in some serious traffic. On our way to the checkpoint, we reached the tail of a 3 kilometre queue. By then we were ravenous, so we rang another restaurant to book a table. Lots of gastric fluid flowing and an hour later we crossed the checkpoint and headed for the restaurant. The police stopped us because of a torch-lit procession of pupils and scouts marching to the sound of drums on their way to the centre. We were famished:

"What is this all about?"
"The Outpost youth from all the corners of the Outpost are gathering at the centre of the Capital to light the altar of the homeland."
"Nuremberg!", I cursed.
I immediately afterwards foolishly drove past a red light (this almost cost us an accident) and eventually reached the restaurant.