Friday, December 30, 2005
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Later: well, I felt good enough to go to Harlem and drink Cola and eat some rather good corn fritters with garlic mayo. Despite the bad reviews, the service was speedy and good, the music mellow and not invasive, and the food was comfort-eating great. This may have been because it was rather empty for a Sunday lunchtime.
But I did duly return home afterwards for the rest of the day and night to do nothing other than read magazines in bed and surf the net.
Scroll down to the Thailand entries as photos are slowly appearing.
Friday, August 26, 2005
We're back in Bangkok, winding down before our flight back to London tomorrow. We're staying at the Bangkok Marriot where we've been indulging in some wonderful treatments at the Mandara Spa: yesterday an invigorating facial with green tea and grape seed; a vigorous foot massage with reflexology; a mud bath; and a Thai herbal steam. Later this afternoon we're having a relaxing aromatherapy massage (me) and a more energetic traditional Thai massage (him). The treatments in Thailand are much cheaper than in London so we're taking full advantage. See you when I get back!
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Thirteen of us attended Chiang Mai's The Wok restaurant and listened and watched as instructors demonstrated various dishes for us and explained all the different spices, herbs and sauces used in Thai cookery such as holy or purple basil, tiny red chillis, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and palm sugar.
Then it was our turn to cook: at thirteen separate work stations we cooked Thai hot and sour prawn soup (tom yam goong), green curry with chicken (gaeng kheo wan gai), Thai fish cakes (tord man plaa), Thai fried noodles (phad Thai), minced pork Northern style (nam prik ong) and water chesnuts with sugar syrup and coconut milk (tab tim grob). And ate it all ourselves.
The day was great but was slightly marred by some of the other tourist students (from Canada, Scotland, England and Australia) who kept complaining at every opportunity: the food had too many chillis, or they wouldn't eat anything "with a face", or they were allergic to fish and shrimp, or they didn't like coriander. These same whiners chatted amongst themselves throughout the entire demonstration too. It made me wonder why they attended the course -- or indeed how they survive eating in Thailand.
Oh well, I'm now off to cool down at the Oasis Spa again where my partner will have a head, shoulder and back massage and I will have an intensive protein hair conditioning treatment with head massage.
Tomorrow we're back to Bangkok.
Monday, August 22, 2005
At first I was surprised by monks engaged in such ordinary and consumerist behaviour, but then I learned that in Thailand training to become a monk is considered a rite of passage for most teenage boys, usually after military service. It is not unusual for them to train for several months -- earning spiritual "merit" for themselves and their families -- before returning to "civilian" life.
In some notorious cases, senior-ranking monks in this country have been accused of murder, rape, gun-running, drug-dealing, carousing in bars and flaunting Mercedes and Rolexes.
Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai is a spectacular chedi that once stood at 90 metres but was toppled to 60 metres by an earthquake in 1545. It's here that we first encountered the phenomenon of Monk Chat (Monday to Saturday, noon to 6:30pm), giving lay people the chance to chat with monks about Buddhism. Thai culture, and any other topic, in English.
Monk Chat was free, but carried a large enough warning on a signpost, giving rise to the realisation that there could be "bad" monks:
"Notice: The Monk Chat Club wants to inform our foreign guests for your own benefit that you are advised to chat with the monk who carries his ID card only because he has passed proper training in Buddhist knowledge and manners. If you encounter any monk who has been impolite or has caused you any trouble, please write his ID card number on a piece of paper and put it in the comment box [below]. The Monk Chat Club will not be responsible for any trouble that may arise if you talk to any monk who carries no ID card outside of the specified area."
We also visited Wat Umong -- a gorgeous temple set in a tunnel complex amid the tranquil mountainous forests surrounding Chiang Mai.
The temple was built in the late 1300s by a king who wanted to keep his brilliant but deranged monk Jan accessible at all times. Jan tended to wander off into the forests to meditate, so the king built a wat and decorated its tunnels with murals of trees, flowers and birds to simulate Jan's beloved forest.
Monks had attached Buddhist maxims in English and in Thai to all the trees around the wat:
"With each day passing, what have you been doing?"
"Merit making calculate to impress is not real."
"It's easy to know a man's face, but it is difficult to know his thought."
"A fool thinks of survival of his body at the expense of his spiritual death."
And my favourite:
"Indulging our senses and drinking salt water are alike: the more we partake, the more our thirst grow."
I'm afraid to say we have been doing nothing but indulging our senses in Thailand: there is so much to see and do and eat. This afternoon, for example, we indulged in a luxurious 2-hour spa treatment involving Thai massage, hot herbal compresses and aromatherapy massage at the Oasis Spa, owned by an American ex-pat who has settled in Thailand. And we plan on having several more treatments again at the Oasis and also when we return to Bangkok and stay at the Marriot Spa Hotel. But more on these later.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
We hired a taxi driver and spent the morning wandering around a few of Chiang Mai's numerous Buddhist temples or wats and then the city's culture and arts museum for a history of Chiang Mai and the region since prehistoric times. Chiang Mai is a large city but seems much leafier and sleepier than Bangkok and is surrounded by mountains. I miss Bangkok's buzz as I'm a city girl at heart, but Chiang Mai feels very much like a much-needed respite.
Right now, it's a sunny and sultry 4:30 in the afternoon. It seems amazing that only a few days ago much of downtown Chiang Mai was so submerged underwater due to an abundance of monsoon rain that people were wading through the city with the water up to their waists or crossing it in boats and we thought we would have to postpone our trip north.
My other half is having a siesta in our quiet little hotel, the exquisite Rachamankha, that looks and feels like a former nunnery -- all white-washed walls, dark wood and terracotta courtyards -- and I'm in the hotel's colonial-style library -- complete with full-colour, hardback books on Japan, New York, Paris and London, Hip Hotels, a Miller's Antiques Price Guide 1992, and, of course, Thai cooking and history -- surfing the internet under a whirring wooden ceiling fan.We'll be visiting the bustling Night Bazaar tonight to look around and perhaps do a little shopping, but as we're here for five days we're not feeling any rush to see things and are enjoying taking things leisurely. They're English football crazy here in Thailand so we've caught a few premiership games on TV over the past couple of weeks. So tomorrow night may find us in a Chiang Mai pub watching the Arsenal game!
I'm taking so many photos. I wish I had the facilities to upload some of them here. Until next time...
Friday, August 19, 2005
Lampang is not a tourist destination but an ordinary northern Thai town where my partner's brother teaches maths, music and English at a private school. So we strayed off the tourist path to spend a few days with him in this sleepy town. Surrounded by mountains, with wide, clean boulevards lined with advertising hoardings and shops, and big 4-by-4s and pickup trucks rumbling by -- this looks and feels much like a town of strip malls in the middle of the Colorado Rockies.
We've spent our time hanging out: eating by the river that cuts through the town in noisy resturant bars with names like Santa Fe, Relax, Soul Fly and The Sand Bar, watching young Thai rock bands belt out covers of The Eagles, The Beatles, Dire Straights, Robbie Williams, Dido and other bland MOR songs. The alternative entertainment in the town is karaoke, including hostess karaoke.
The northern Thai cuisine is much hotter than we've eaten so far: lots more fiery chillis that are, luckily, easily washed down with glugs of Sang Som, a sweet Thai rum. We've eaten: mushroom tom yam spiced with coriander, lemongrass and chillies; deep-fried shrimp and lemongrass cakes skewered on lemongrass stalks; marinated and deep-fried beef strips with deep-fried bitter herbs; soft-shell crab tempura; fresh mango with sticky rice sweetened with coconut; savoury candy floss on top of pineapple rice; herb-stuffed pork sausages that are famous to the region; and the best chocolate ice cream I've tasted in a long time. In fact, the chocolate ice cream I've eaten everywhere in Thailand is rich, creamy and more than 70% cocoa solids.
We took a songthaew -- a converted pickup truck with two facing rows in the back -- to Lampang's peaceful and deserted Buddhist temple Wat Phra Kaeo Don Tao, where my partner claims to have achieved Englightenment helping two saffron-robed monks carry a petrol-driven lawnmower up the temple steps. He didn't want me to help, saying it would hurt my back, but I'm sure it was really because he didn't want to share the good karma.
Offerings in front of broken stone Buddha statues included fruit and food, but my favourites were a plastic bottle of mineral water and a pair of gardening shears. We also caught a glimpse of a golden Buddha through a locked but ajar wooden door. I took a photo but will have to wait until I return to London to upload them and hundreds more to this Flickr.
But what affected me most was the overwhelming quiet and serenity, strolling around the temple grounds and sitting under a tree in an empty courtyard until we noticed huge yellow ants crawling around our feet.
Another serene temple was Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, containing Thailand's oldest standing wooden structure, faded 16th century murals, a stunning green and blue chedi with gold-embossed oxidised copper panels, elegant golden Buddhas reverentially clad in saffron robes, intricately carved wooden panels, and a gaudy shrine to the Hindu elephant God Ganesh.
Yesterday we took a hot herbal sauna at the formal sounding Lampang Medicinal Plants Conservation Assembly. We sat in separate tiny, tiled saunas much like shower cubicles as wafts of herb-infused steam were sprayed over us for an hour. Thoroughly spaced out, we sauntered barefoot along a path of different-sized pebbles designed to massage the soles of the feet. I could have made many meditative rounds of this path, but I was driven away into our songthaew by clouds of big black mosquitoes draining the blood from my arms and legs as I walked. It was my own fault for forgetting to spray myself with Deet after the sauna.
We returned to chill in our luxurious hotel -- the excellent Wienglakor, Lampang's very own Overlook Hotel -- before heading out to the Night Bazaar with food stalls crammed with everything from deep-fried maggots and fluorescent, gelatinous, cubed desserts to small plastic bags of curries-to-go and pork scratchings.
Today we're on our way north to Chiang Mai.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
We were intrigued by one bar, whose entrance was filled with 8 or 9 (fully-dressed) girls dancing energetically to a fantastic soundtrack of the Buzzcocks, Fine Young Cannibals, David Bowie (yeah!), Blondie, The Rolling Stones and, um, The Cheeky Girls, and cat-calling "Hey handscome! Come inside!" or to their regulars "Hey Simon!"
They invited us to sit inside. We sat at the bar, ordered Thai whiskies and vodkas, and watched the girls entice in a variety of English men, a number of whom appeared to be regulars. The female bar keeper was very friendly and told us that she and most of the girls were from Isaan -- a poor northeastern region of Thailand that had been renowned for its prostitution services to American service men on R 'n' R leave during the Vietnam War. Most of them had been previously married to Thai men and had children now being looked after by their grandparents in Isaan.
She told us that a girl for the night costs 1000 Baht or around 25 US dollars, plus a 200 Baht or 5 dollar bar fine. As she chatted to us, we watched as the girls -- all around 18 to 24 years -- and their Western clients disappeared down a sidestreet across from the bar and into a private room.
The bar keeper and the other girls had no problem with us just hanging out and chatting with them, and even urged us to dance with them. Later on a couple of Western girls dropped by for a drink and a chat with the girls who were delighted to see them. In fact, the girls danced and chatted amongst themselves during quiet moments as if they were just hanging out on a girls night out. At one point street seller entered the bar with some clothes for sale. The girls took great delight in trying them on before buying. When a blind woman came begging, singing into her amplified mic, the girls rushed to give her their small change. At the beginning of her shift, a girl arrived and bowed quietly and joined her two hands together in respect before a small Buddha shrine on the wall by the bar.
The bar keeper showed us some photos of the girls dressed in traditional costume from last year and pointed out all those who had gone abroad -- to Sweden, Norway and Switzerland -- with their farang boyfriends. She herself had a boyfriend from London who visited her 3 or 4 times a year, but she had never been abroad.
The guys who came in ranged from friendly, white-haired English and Scottish men who were very popular with the girls and spent their time drinking and flirting, to other elderly men who dropped in for a drink with their much younger Thai girlfriends who were former bar employees, to single young men intent on business, who didn't even stop for a drink but quickly disappeared with a girl, and to gangs of burly intimidating tattooed men in their thirties on a rowdy and drunken lad's night out who the girls seemed keen to avoid, passing them off to two of the newest girls so that they could continue chatting and dancing and wait for better clients.
The bar is owned by a Thai woman and her English husband. They came by halfway through the evening: the woman to supervise the girls and the man to chat away in his strong Cockney accent with the customers (though interestingly we didn't get more than a "Hi", though we probably didn't look like their typical customer!).
I have to admit, several hours of being surrounded by such tiny, pretty, young and flirtacious girls put enough of a dent in my own sense of femininity, self-esteem and self-confidence that I had to leave.
There has been lots of analysis of this type of prostitution and sex tourism, but what was interesting for me as a woman was to be able to chat with the girls involved and to see it in action (more or less) with my own eyes. A powerful experience I will not forget.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Since we got to the seaside resort of Hua Hin, we have been eating the best seafood I have ever eaten: buttersoft squid cooked in a variety of ways from marinated and steamed, through barbequed, to stir-fried; sweet barbequed whole lobster dressed in a spring onion and chilli sauce; grilled king prawns; green-lipped mussels; and steamed crab. And we have been eating in some great places too -- the kinds of places we see in Wong Kar-Wai movies (even though his movies are set in Hong Kong!): roadside plastic-tabled cafes; sitting on the white sandy beach at beachside restaurants with the crystal clear tide rolling in and watching Thai families bathe in the sea fully-clothed like Indian families in India; and in the heart of a bustling night market where deep-fried soft-shelled crabs, packs of sliced pineapple and watermelon, whole barbequed white fish, pirated Hollywood DVDs, fake designer tishirts and cheap trinkets are sold both to Western (farang) and Thai tourists.
Hua Hin is on the Western seaboard of the Gulf of Thailand, 190km or 118 miles south of Bangkok. It is one of the oldest beach resorts in Thailand, dating back to the 1920s, but still retains an under-developed, old-fashioned ambience. There are some Western tourists here, especially from Holland and England, but it is mainly a resort for weekending Thai. As a result, during the week it is largely empty, and during the weekend it is full of Thai. Which is perfect!
Friday, August 12, 2005
We also spent an afternoon riding the SkyTrain and metro, visiting the various shopping malls that young Bangkok residents love to hang out in -- eating bowls of fish ball noodles and drinking Coca Colas, paid for with pre-bought redeemable coupons, in the food courts. We shopped too: Asian movies are very cheap for Westerners to buy here, and as most have English subtitles, it was easy to buy many of them at 2 GBP a pop. We bought: Kim Ki Duk's Samaritan Girl (Korea), Kazuaki Kiriya's Casshern (Japan), Pisuth Praesaengaim, Oxide and Pang-Shun's Bangkok Haunted (Thailand), Apichatpong Weerasethakul's The Adventure of Iron Pussy and Tropical Malady (Thailand), and Park Gi-Hyeong's Whispering Corridor (Korea). We were struck, however, at how all the electrical and leather goods are at Western prices and therefore beyond the reach of most Thais.
More food was eaten -- dishes such as green papaya salad, chicken green curry, chicken skewers with satay sauce, lime ice juices with sugar and salt (like in India) were particularly memorable.
And on our last night, we were able to catch a Thai boxing match at the Lumphini Stadium, sitting on rickety wooden benches and completely surrounded by Chinese men taking and putting on bets on which boxer would knock the other out per round as well as who would be the overall winner. It was like being on a trading floor on the Stock Exchange with men shouting over each other's head, hands flying, deals being made over three or four fingers, men yelling into Bluetooth headsets. The situation was surreal and rather more exciting than the boxing matches themselves.
And we spent much time simply strolling the streets tucked beneath the Expressways and SkyTrain bridges that swoop across the sky like a scene in a science fiction movie: narrow pavement streets crammed with stalls selling pirated CDs, VCDs, DVDs, music cassettes, Diesel jeans, Tag Heuer watches (select your fake watch from a thick illustrated catalogue!), Louis Vuitton or Gucci handbags, plus the usual tourist trinkets sold by deaf mutes signing to each other; makeshift noodle stalls, plush Indian-owned fabric stores and tailors, Tesco Lotus and 7-11 mini-marts, Starbucks, smoothie bars, Baskin Robbins, and inumerable massage parlours complete with "private room and bath"; elderly blind men and women walking slowly up and down with amps on their backs singing into microphones; men playing droughts on biro-marked cardboard and using bottle tops for counters, sitting on crates; streetside cobblers and seamstresses, snack sellers (dried fish or chicken on a skewer, bags of freshly cut pineapples) and marigold garlanders (for temple offerngs) fighting for space in every nook and cranny; and on the roads, tuk-tuk drivers -- "Where you going? You want tuk-tuk? Where you going?" -- driving their rusting and noisy auto-rickshaws alongside sleek silver and black BMWs, Hondas, Toyotas, 4-by-4s and big hulking pickups.
I will miss this colourful, dynamic city. But now we're in the beach resort of Hua Hun for a few days, eating lots of seafood, strolling along the white sandy beaches, lolling around by the pool reading, and chatting to the girls at the local hostess bar. Blissful R 'n' R, but more later!
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
It is easy to see how Bangkok was once a floating city. In the 1840s, 90 percent of its population of 40,000 lived in houses built on rafts, even before stilt houses lining the river and canal banks became popular. At the end of the of the 19th century, Bangkok was known as the Venice of the East.
Bangkok is also a city of temples. 95 percent of Thais are Buddhist and The Grand Palace and its Wat Phra Kaeo is the most ornate -- temple buildings, altars and figurines encrusted in gold, lavishly painted murals of mythological scenes and a tiny Emerald Buddha. We also visted Bangkok's oldest temple originating in the 16th century -- Wat Pho -- featuring a magnificent 150 foot long gold gilded reclining Buddha with mother-of-pearl inlaid feet.
We almost didn't get inside The Grand Palace. This city of angels is also a city of deceivers. At the palace, a suited man claimed the Palace was closed and urged us to go to another fee-paying temple and some shops. "Trust me, I'm the palace manager!" he exclaimed. He had told the people in front of us that they couldn't go in the Palace because they were wearing the wrong shoe -- they weren't.
We take the high tech SkyTrain and newly-built and underdeveloped metro system everywhere here and feel like we're on the set of the movie Bladerunner. The SkyTrain is particularly convenient for us as it starts at the Shangri-La -- our fabulously luxurious 5-star hotel in the Old Farang quarter.
But we also find taking the passenger boats along the river to different parts of town very easy. We went by boat to Chinatown which was predictably and marvellously a maze of narrow, bustling and noisy alleyways crammed with stalls selling fabrics, fake watches and "designer" clothing, plastic trinkets, green and black tea, gold jewellery, glossy pink and white dumplings, an array of nuts and pork scratchings, candy floss, CDs, DVDs and electrical goods, flowers from lotus to marigolds, wicker baskets filled with red, green and orange chillis or pak choi or cucumbers. It was colourful, fun and exhausting.
We've just visited two old, traditional Thai teak house -- Jim Thompson's House and The Siam Society -- and now we are recuperating from the humidity and heat in the air-conditioned Black Canyon Coffee house off Sukhumvit Road drinking frothy, frosty coffees and surfing the internet.
We're off shopping now and then hope to visit a Thai boxing match tonight. Tomorrow we're leaving Bangkok for four days of chilling in the sun on the beach of Hua Hin.
Monday, August 08, 2005
Of course, I have to start with the food. This is Planethalder, afterall!
Over the last few days, we've eaten glossy, dark green, stir-fried morning glory, bright orange red crab curry -- the meat oozing out of the shell, and a white-fleshed, meaty snakehead fish cooked whole and brought to our table sizzling on a bed of coals at Sombook -- a seafood restaurant that enticed us inside with aquariums full of live crab and fish awaiting their gastronomic fate. We've eaten noodle dishes in roadside, family-run cafes, most satisfyingly near the Grand Palace amid wafts of dried shrimp and other dried fish. We were diverted through backstreets by our tuk-tuk (auto-rickshaw) driver who took us to a place filled with other mislead tourists to eat overcooked grilled king prawns and sea bass.
I also had my second best Japanese meal ever, after my exquisite birthday meal at Matsuri a few days ago. We took the Bladerunneresque SkyTrain to Silom -- one of the main shopping roads in the city -- and found Aoi -- a tiny Japanese restaurant tucked anonymously in a sidestreet or soi that looked like a small and traditional ryokan or inn, with sliding doors, dark wood and tatami mats, and filled with visiting Japanese tourists and ex-pats. There we feasted on deep-fried lotus root with minced pork tempura, deep-fried smelt whiting fish wrapped with mint, tuna belly sashimi, eel with teriyaki sauce, soup and pickled vegetables. All followed by fresh fruits and green tea ice cream.
After this meal, we drank Cosmopolitans and vodka tonics at a bar on the predominantly gay road of Silom 4, and watched the world go by, including a Western man, who we presumed was his female partner and a Thai lady boy at the table next to us. The man was all over the lady boy, much to the annoyance of his partner who eventually began to cry. We never found out the outcome of this curious menage-a-trois. They were still there when we left.
In adjacent roads (Patpong 1 and 2), we've also been offered -- by men and the occasional woman -- the various delights of pussy ping pong, pussy water, pussy candle, pussy tire, and if these failed to delight then: "You want darts? You want balloons?" The women inside gyrate impassively and go through the motions of their various tricks. And we've seen girls lined up for all sorts of pleasure outside bars on roads where police patrol but often turn a blind eye because, we've read in the local newspaper, many of them are involved in the industry such as demanding protection money even though both practices -- prostitution and protectionism -- are illegal here. We've also seen ubiquitous old, bloated, tattooed Western men with their much younger and prettier Thai girlfriends.
We've also taken boat trips along the Chao Phraya and gorged on wats or temples which stud this dazzling city at every turn. But more of this another day.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
We're packed and ready to go! Holiday reading? Many of you can see my reading list on the right, but for those who read this blog in a feed reader we're taking, between the two of us, two guidebooks, Orhan Pamuk's Snow, the first volume of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, Ryu Murakami's In the Miso Soup and John Burdett's thriller Bangkok 8.
It'll be easy to continue posting to Planethalder while I'm away, but I may or may not have the inclination, so...
See you in three weeks, if not before.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
The Japanese restaurant was stylish, sleek and contemporary, with high windows, high ceiling, lots of wood and clean lines. We were warmly welcomed -- Irasshaimase! -- and waited on attentively by waitresses in rustic grey and black attire complete with pinafores, headscarves and Bluetooth headsets. Every member of staff bade us goodnight as we left.
The menu had a dizzying array of choices -- most of which we wanted to try -- so we plumped for the Kamakura set dinner of five courses, from which we chose: Appetiser -- soft shell crab and salmon tataki (sashimi-style, lightly roasted salmon); second course -- assorted prawn and vegetable tempura, and assorted sashimi (salmon, tuna and a white fish); main course -- grilled sea bream and a rare fillet steak with various sauces, plus plain white and garlic fried rice and pickles; miso soup; and dessert -- green tea tiramisu and an assorted fresh fruit salad (including strawberries, papaya and pineapple). We also drank Kirin beer, green tea and Sakitini (complete with green olive).
Every item was beautifully presented and melted in the mouth like butter. I have never eaten so well in my life. Thank you, honey.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
What I can also hear: a cacophony of police sirens, the electric grating of a lawnmower, the pounding bass from a car's amplified stereo system, a querulous argument between a man and a woman and the confused crying of the two small children with them.
Sometimes this city gives me pounding headaches, but there are some beautiful sounds to be heard if I care to listen.
Sunday, July 31, 2005
- Been cooked for at home: one night, chicken with apricots and pumpkin seeds, accompanied with parsley and coriander tabbouleh, plus baklava for dessert; another night, chicken in a Moroccan sauce of tomatoes, chillies, black olives, lemon juice and parsley, mopped up with flat bread, and chocolate espresso beans and chilli fudge from Borough Market for dessert. Been feeling smug for the lucky girl that I am for having someone in my life who cooks me such delicious food.
- Eaten out: the best vegetable katsu curry -- with aubergines, sweet potatoes and rice -- I've ever had, prawn dumplings, and mixed fried rice at the dependable Wagamama in Holborn; melt-in-the-mouth wild berry danish pastry plus parmesan and spinach muffins with pumpkin seeds by bakers extraordinaire Konditor & Cook at the Curzon Soho cafe; meatballs in tomato sauce and healthy Leonslaw with beetroot, carrots and red cabbage at Leon off Carnaby Street; chicken burger and lamb burger at the very nice, very busy and very new Giraffe at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank.
- Drunk: freshly-squeezed orange juices at Leon and in a corridor of a plywood house installation at the Tate Modern (more below); freshly-squeezed orange, apple, passionfruit and mint juice at Pure Juice in Soho; freshly-squeezed orange, mango, mint and lime juice at Giraffe; and Elderflower Sparkler at Curzon Soho. Yep, not a beer or cocktail in sight (smug me, reprise).
- Watched at home on DVD: Videodrome (my first viewing of this movie about snuff movies and videos coming alive; how ageless this film by Cronenberg is) and Bangkok Dangerous (Asia Extreme that's not extreme at all, but the glossily-shot frames of Bangkok put me in an even more excited mood for our trip to Thailand this week).
- Baby-sat: two friends' baby and toddler. They are on business in London -- clubbing and networking with DJs with a view to setting up a series of house and trance clubs in Dubai, where they live. The baby is cute as most babies are. I could tell he was awake in the morning as he didn't cry but instead gently called, "Baba, come back. Baba, come back. Baba, come back." After several minutes of babbling to himself, trying out words ("Helelcoptor, airplane, truck"), he repeated, "Baba, come back, happy birthday." (His father is his primary stay-at-home caregiver as his mother goes out to work.) The baby arrived at the beach party (below) in a deep sleep that even the pounding bass from the amplifier didn't rouse him from. So we laid him down on a towel on the sand in a corner. After an hour or so he stirred and we thought he would start to cry as he looked around at his new surroundings with disorientation. But he didn't. Instead, he pointed at the sand and blurted out, "Beach!"
- Raved on a beach: invited by same friends to rave at a house and trance party on the tiny patch of sandy beach by the Thames, 400 yards from the Millennium Eye, with DJs Northwind and Pathfinder. I don't usually like this kind of music -- the first wave of which passed me by in the early 90s -- and I'm not a clubber, but I enjoyed dancing with my friends and their children, and amused myself observing how old most of the other ravers were (they had obviously caught the first wave of house and trance, are now in their thirties, forties and even fifties, and most had brought their own children and grandchildren to the party).
- Seen: Colour After Klein at the Barbican (Yves Klein's powdered sculptures were so sensual and intensely coloured that the space around them hummed and I wanted to plunge into them [above]; Dan Flavin's red, green and yellow fluorescent light installation enveloped me so completely, I felt I was being embalmed in neon; and Sophie Calle's collection of statements from blind people about their concepts of beauty seemed out of place yet I marvelled at how her interviewees defined beauty purely in terms of visual examples -- colours, faces, landscapes -- and not in terms of smells, sounds or touch -- I wondered if it was because they had been told, time and again, by sighted people what concepts of beauty should be rather than voicing their own non-visual experiences of it, and it made me reflect how the scent of freshly-cut grass, the taste of freshly-squeezed oranges, the sound of the cello and the feel of hair against my flesh are as beautiful to me as the view of the Dakota Badlands or the face of Johnny Depp);
Open Systems: Rethinking Art c. 1970 at the Tate Modern (a not wholly-successful mish mash of mixed media installations from the 70s, my favourite of which was Brazilian artists Helio Oiticica and Lygia Clark's plywood architectural space in which we moved through narrow corridors, through multi-textured curtains and a variety of radio and CD recordings as if moving through an apartment building with all its various sounds filtering through the walls and closed doors; we were even able to help ourselves to a paper cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice in the corner of one corridor; I found this interactive experience far more satisfying than Rirkrit Tiravanija's apartment at the Serpentine, which was so colonised by Serpentiners and their friends that there I felt a mere observer);
and The Triumph Of Painting Part 2 at the Saatchi Gallery (this series of exhibitions have been so enlightening for me -- a means to discover contemporary artists working in traditional paint but influenced by a wide variety of artistic mediums, especially photography and broadcast news footage; my favourite from Part 2 was Dirk Skreber's paintings -- hyper-realistic but still overwhelmingly painterly -- of car crashes, flooded homes, shopping malls and trains [example below]).
Right, now I really need to get on with my packing.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Our week began with dinner at Belgo in Covent Garden, where the bowl of moules were delicious but everything else -- chicken drenched in what tasted like a chilli and ginger sauce poured straight from a bottle; over-cooked, dry frites; and a platter of supermarket-like charcuterie on watery lettuce leaves -- was bland and nondescript. In fact, it reminded me of a Berni Inn meal from back in the day. The dungeon-style decor was also uninspiring, being a mish-mash of styles and colours that felt cheap and plastic.
On Tuesday, we stayed in and cooked a beefy chilli con carne wrapped in soft tortillas with cheese and salad, and baked in the oven; surfed the internet and read.
Last night, we were delayed after work by a Tube evacuation (at Kings Cross) and road blockade (at Stockwell) due to a bomb scare and the arrest of three people suspected of being associated with the recent explosions. But we eventually made it to a friend's house in Pimlico for a delicious dinner of spicy, homemade beef and coriander kebabs with a mixed green salad (including peppery Mizuna and red mustard leaves), tomatoes, grilled halloumi cheese, green olives dusted with dried herbs, homemade garlicky houmous, and pitta bread. We chatted away about work and relationships until the small hours.
It's been business as usual for most Londoners -- and having lived through the IRA bombings, many older residents are simply philosophical and pragmatic -- and the basic routines of our lives are unchanged.
However, I'm now a little anxious travelling around on public transport on Thursdays -- day of the failed 21 July attacks and of the 7 July fatal bombings. When I travel on a bus, I try to sit on the bottom deck; if this is not possible, I try and sit as near as I can to the front of the top deck. I'm more likely to miss a Tube train if I'm uncomfortable for any reason. I scrutinise my fellow passengers more closely, just as they scrutinise me, I'm sure, with my brown skin and bulging office rucksack. And where once I took the high-pitched wails of police sirens forgranted in our crime-ridden capital city, my first instinct when I hear them now is to think "bombs". If I'm near internet access when I hear a particularly noisy flurry of sirens, the first thing I do is check BBC news online.
It's business as usual for me, but not quite.
+ R We D8ting? Dating in the age of SMS. "I'd sped through all the stages of an actual relationship almost solely via text message. I'd gone from butterflies to doubt to anger at his name on the screen, before we even knew each other."
+ Bengali literature online. For my mum and dad.
+ The art of failure. Can failure be good for us? Of course it can.
+ Konfabulator. The original desktop dashboard, for Windows as well as for Mac, is now free courtesy of Yahoo.
+ Craigslist London. The best online classifieds in London.
+ The Economist's Style Guide is now online. Examples: "In Britain, though cattle and pigs may be raised, children are (or should be) brought up" or "Grow a beard or a tomato but not a company" or "Do not put apostrophes into decades: the 1990s".
+ CNet's Top 10 web fads. Remember the dancing hamsters, the kid enjoying his day as a Jedi Knight, Mahir Cagri's "WELCOME TO MY HOME PAGE !!!!!!!!!I KISS YOU !!!!!"?
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Robert Johnson - King Of The Delta Blues; R.E.M. - Monster; Cesaria Evora - Cabo Verde; ABBA - Voulez-Vous; Radio Tarifa - Temporal; Jewel - Spirit; George Michael - Faith; Khaled - Sahra; Joni Mitchell - Hits; Alison Krauss - Collection; Van Morrison - Tupelo Honey; Jimi Hendrix - Ultimate Experience; U2 - War; Fiesta Mora - Hispanor; Sheryl Crow - Sheryl Crow; John Lee Hooker - More Real Folk Blues.
Some of these are embarrassing but fun (ABBA, Jewel, George Michael, Sheryl Crow), others are good old-fashioned "grandad rock" (Hendrix, Morrison), some are "great-grandfather blues" (Johnson, Hooker) and others are a little bit hippy (Krauss, Joni). But at different points in my life I loved each and every one of them. As I've mentioned before, my Walkman is enabling me to listen to music other than my usual suspects (I still haven't downloaded a single David Bowie track to my player yet), to revisit the old and forgotten, as well as acquaint myself with the new.
And I've found other traces of former lives at my parents' home: books on yoga and meditation, which I used to do regularly, rising at 6 in the morning during my late teens; an old Olympus SLR camera with an array of lenses and books on developing techniques that guided me through many a darkroom sojourn at undergraduate college; writing and painting notebooks, manuscripts and sketchpads from my school and university days (I had a literary agent and an editor at one point); shelves and folders bulging with smudged cooking books annotated with my handwritten notes, torn-out recipes and scribbled recipe inventions from as recently as my postgrad days; I even created a garden from scratch in a house I lived in in Oxford (I'll gloss over the fact that I filled it with dull pink dahlias and orange California poppies side by side -- it's the attempt that counts, isn't it?).
Visiting my parents is often a time for regrouping and reflecting. Away from the frenetic whirr of life in London, I can afford myself some luxurious thinking and dreaming space.
When did I stop being a producer of my own and become a consumer of other peoples' creativity? When I moved to London and got lost in a "proper" career. Time to rekindle some of my old pursuits. And at the very least, to slow down and carve out more dreaming time.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
A visit to my parents' home in the suburbs also means lazy days reading in their full-bloom garden (I've just started a volume of Maupin's hilarious Tales Of The City), trips to DIY stores (this weekend it's assembling their new lawnmower), and movies on Sky or on the video (tonight it's romantic drama 84 Charing Cross Road with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins; though I've really got the urge to watch The Lost Boys, which I've found in a cupboard of my old VHS videos in my parents' study).
A different type and pace of life for me.
A few seats ahead of me on the train to Norwich yesterday evening, three generations of a family (from grandparents to grandson) were discussing the plot developments of the latest Harry Potter saga. I thought how weirded-out I would have felt if, as a child, my parents or any other "old" and "very old" person had wanted to discuss The Secret Seven or The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe with me. I would have been mortified (for them as well as for me).
Across the gangway, a man in his twenties was also immersed in Harry Potter. An older man, a stranger I presume, tapping away on his laptop next to him, noticed the book and asked what he thought of it. The younger man told him and then asked, "Have you read it?", which received the reply, "No, but my 8-year-old daughter read it in two days flat. We couldn't get her to go outside and play." The young man seemed embarrassed, not -- as he should have been -- by the fact that he was reading the same book as an 8-year-old, but by the fact that he had not been able to complete the book in two days because he had been busy with work.
And I was reminded of our walk through Hyde Park last weekend: a teenage boy and girl were sitting on a park bench. The girl was trying to kiss him. The boy, who should have been pumped full to bursting with raging testosterone, was fending her off as he tried to read... yes, you've guessed it.
A strange, mixed up, topsy-turvy world.
Speaking of which...
In the aftermath of the London bombings, the media is lauding the courageous, pull-together, plucky "Blitz spirit" of Londoners and yet many people who lived through the London Blitz remember riots outside private shelters that excluded the working classes; homes and shops getting burgled and looted as they lay vacant; people getting killed because they were cowering inside inadequate, makeshift shelters that did not protect them from the bombs. Londoners pulling together in their time of need, indeed.
The police have released CCTV footage of four men wanted in connection with the most recent bombing attempts. They are four different shades of heavily-pixelated brown. In London. Well, they should be easy to find then.
+ Tipping Point - the net version. Paraphrasing the main ideas in Malcolm Gladwell's book.
+ First chapters. Complete first chapters of many of the books reviewed in the New York Times.
+ Underground typography. Typography used on the Paris, London and NYC subways.
+ My blog, my outboard brain. "Being deprived of my blog right now would be akin to suffering extensive brain-damage. Huge swaths of acquired knowledge would simply vanish. Just as my TiVo frees me from having to watch boring television by watching it for me, my blog frees me up from having to remember the minutae of my life, storing it for me in handy and contextual form."
+ Who saved Birhan Woldu's life? The exploitation of Birhan Woldu -- Live Aid and Live8 famine poster child.
+ Fleshbot's sexy podcasts. A directory. Mmm, lube wrestling and lesbian soup anyone?
+ Blogjam eats at Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck. Amongst other things, he eats sardine on toast sorbet, snail porridge, salmon poached with liquorice, white chocolate with caviar, leather chocolate, and mango and Douglas Fir puree. His bill comes to £467.16p.
+ The Nanny Diaries. "Our former nanny, a 26-year-old former teacher with excellent references, liked to touch her breasts while reading The New Yorker and often woke her lovers in the night by biting them. She took sleeping pills, joked about offbeat erotic fantasies involving Tucker Carlson and determined she'd had more female sexual partners than her boyfriend. How do I know these things? I read her blog." Whoops. And here is the blog itself.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Mistakenly thinking one grand house is vacant, he meets a silent young wife cowering in a corner, battered and bruised at the hands of her husband. The two of them escape and she joins him on his nightly drifts across the sterile apartments, crumbling tenements and grand cottage houses of the city. A mute and tender love gently unfurls between them on their unlikely adventure that also sees a death, the violent return of the husband, imprisonment and an overly-fantastical dose of magic realism. But it's the gently flowering love between the two bruised protagonists that I lost myself in at the Curzon Soho last night.
The waking dream continued with a heavenly meal at the Japanese restaurant Abeno Too opposite the Photographers Gallery in Covent Garden. We sat at a wooden bar in the centre and watched as the waitress prepared our okonomi-yaki -- a sort of bubble and squeak mixture of cabbage, tempura batter, eggs, spring onions, ginger, pork, squid and prawns fried on the grill in front of us and served with Japanese brown sauce, mayonnaise and chilli sauce. We also had a side of Korean kimchi plus a dish of seaweed and cucumber slivers marinated in a sweet rice vinegar sauce. We washed it all down with beer (him) and chilled roasted Japanese tea (me).
Tonight, after work, we're meeting at the NFT to see the beautiful, quirky and romantic movie Last Life In The Universe, again, to get us even more in the mood for Thailand (flights and hotels booked, hurrah: Bangkok, Chang Mai and various points in between, here we come!)
And so the dreaming continues.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Hypatia's reaction to these recipes was to gag; mine was, "Hmmm, that sounds interesting, I might have to try it". But then, I'm the girl who still craves hot, white buttered toast liberally sprinkled over with white granulated sugar -- the kind my childminder used to make for me. She also used to serve me beef drippings on toast if I was especially good (ie quiet). I still love synthetic vanilla icecream (the yellower the better), fluorescent sugar candy (the brighter the better), cider barrel ice lollies, Rowntree jellies (particularly orange flavour), Coco Pops and Frosties, and jam and white bread sandwiches. And remember when fish fingers used to be bright orange and were served with iridescent green peas? I'm salivating as I write.
My parents always cooked healthy, homecooked meals when I was growing up (with vegetables from our own garden and fertilised not with chemicals but with manure they had delivered from a local farm -- our cauliflowers and pumpkins were huge!), despite both of them working fulltime. My school and childminder meals, on the other hand, were another world entirely!
Monday, July 18, 2005
Stuffed and satisfied, we went into town and viewed Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija's installation of his New York apartment -- a fourth-floor walk-up in the East Village -- at the Serpentine, complete with DVD and couch in the lounge and fridge filled with food in the kitchen.
Tiravanija is known for reconstructing existing spaces, such as architect Rudolf Schindler's house in Los Angeles and Philip Johnson's Glass House. This full-scale, fully-functioning, plywood-constructed re-creation of his New York home is Tiravanija's first solo exhibition in the UK.
Visitors are encouraged to inhabit (but only during the gallery's opening hours) any part of the apartment as if it was their own -- from using the toilet and crashing out on Tiravanija's replica couch to fast-forwarding through the movie Last Life In The Universe on the DVD and making a cup of tea in the kitchen.
I was disheartened, however, that the gallery's staff had monopolised most of the space -- sitting at the table chatting to their friends in the kitchen, for example, or lying under the covers of the bed. I was tempted to flick through a discarded copy of gossip magazine Closer in the kitchen, but feeling the beady eyes of a Serpentiner scrutinising me from behind the book she was reading there, I felt intimidated and fled!
Tiravanija's intention is to blur the established boundaries between artists and institutions, art and its public (he's been known to cook curries in galleries and throw parties instead of exhibitions) in the now-cliched concept of the "democratisation of art". But my experience on Saturday was perhaps not the open-house, free-for-all, public usage of gallery space the artist had intended.
A little disappointed, we strolled out into Hyde Park with mint choc ice creams dripping down our arms, flopped down on the grass and spent the rest of the day reading and planning our upcoming three-week trip to Thailand.
As the sun sunk lower into the horizon I was a little reluctant to leave my chilled little oasis, but we had booked theatre tickets and arranged to meet a friend, so off we went to Dalston in East London. We grabbed a yummy dinner of chicken shish kebabs and salad at Mangal Ocakbasi on Arcola Street then crossed the road to the Arcola Theatre and their five staged stories of Carver.
I've never read a Raymond Carver story but the Arcola's production has really made me want to read his unpretentious and minimalist tales of small-town banalities and mundane lives: In Put Yourself in My Shoes, set during the season of goodwill, a writer and his wife visit an elderly couple who turn out to be harbouring a petty grudge against them; in Cathedral, a couch potato husband grows to like the stimulating blind man his wife has, against his wishes, invited over to dinner; in Fat, a waitress warms to the obese man she is serving; in What's in Alaska? two couples smoke pot together as sexual and marital tensions mount almost imperceptibly; during Intimacy, a woman verbally lashes out at her ex-husband when he pops in on her during his business trip.
The only thing that marred my enjoyment was the stuffy heat in the theatre that was, at one point, so unbearable for me that it took all my concentration to will myself not to walk out in the middle of a scene.
It's on until August 06 and I urge you to see it, but take a fan.
Afterwards, we enjoyed a quick drink in the theatre's cafe-bar -- still bearing traces of its carpet factory origins -- before heading home.
Sunday was a lazy day. We spent most of it reading the Sunday papers at home, drinking coffee and eating cream cheese and fig jam bagels. Suffering from cabin fever by the end of the afternoon, we walked through Crouch End, dreaming of the houses there we would love to live in, and ended up in Banners -- a cafe and bar covered with old punk posters and motor racing handbills that is owned by radio DJ and world music aficionado Andy Kershaw and which has been visited by Bob Dylan. There, I drank a strawberry icecream and lemonade float, or, as Banners affectionately calls it, a Pink Pig. Hadn't had an icecream float since childhood, so this was a real treat.
At the Khoai Café by the Clocktower, we ate a wonderful Vietnamese dinner of white fish in tamarind sauce, beef stir-fried in chilli and lemongrass sauce, and mixed vegetables, followed by pistachio icecream and glasses of freshly-squeezed orange juice at my favourite Antepilier back on Green Lanes.
Saturday, July 16, 2005
Kiefer is a German artist whose work does not flinch at dealing with (illustrating or mythologising) recent German history. But his most recent work at the White Cube tackles larger, more preposterous, themes.
At the end of one wall of the corrugated bunker -- much like a squared-off aircraft hangar -- in the middle of Hoxton Square, Kiefer's handwriting has scrawled "Time, Measure of the world - Fate of the people. The New Doctrine of War: Naval Battles Recur Every 317 Years or in Multiples Thereof, for Velimir Chlebnikov."
Velimir Khlebnikov was an obscure Russian futurist who, amongst other things, wrote poetry in his own invented language -- a "purified" version of Russian, stripped of all its western linguistic elements. When this eccentric man died, in 1922, he was buried in a coffin embellished with the words The President of Planet Earth, Velimir 1.
Kiefer's 33 grandiose sculptures and paintings are inspired by Khlebnikov's equally grandiose insistence that seas battles cyclically recur every 317 years. Kiefer apparently recognises this theory as pure bunkum, yet is nonetheless fascinated by it. The paintings are heavily notated with the names of ships from various, disparate battles -- Aurora (the ship that triggered the Bolshevik revolution by firing at the Winter Palace in 1917), Leviathan, Behemoth, the Falkland War's Belgrano -- and barely decipherable sums are etched into the densely coagulated, rusting and charred globules of oils, acrylics, resin and plaster. The potent aroma of materials is heady with decay.
The entire installation, complete with corrugated outdoor bunker, was snapped up as it opened at the White Cube by an American private collector who had a cool 6 million US dollars to spare. This person must have a very large backyard.
As an aside, we saw Bez from Happy Mondays, Black Grape and Celebrity Big Brother, who whizzed through the entire exhibition (with a very skinny woman in tow) at lightning speed!
We sat people-watching in the scrappy, cigarette-strewn Hoxton Square: a young, bare-chested boy with old man tattoos (naked boobs and arses), reading Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hubert Selby Jr. and drinking wine from a bottle; women wearing home-made 50s and 60s-style brightly-patterned clothes; a very brown woman getting browner by the minute under the strong sun; the usual flotsam of Hoxton indie-media kids.
We travelled south of the river to the NFT bar, where we perused our Thailand guidebook over beers in the sun. Then we caught the movie Motel Cactus, a feature debut by South Korean, Park Ki-Yong. The film was essentially a tedious, inscrutable, and overly-stylised mood piece with a weak narrative focussed on four different couples -- at four different stages of romantic relationships -- having their love trysts, at various times, in a single room in a love hotel in Seoul.
Superstar Christopher Doyle's cinematography is Motel Cactus' strongest point and the reason why we watched it. It is, as usual, superb: strong on night lighting, the subtle differences of colour, the juxtaposition of shadows and shapes, and hand-held camera work. It's incredible that he was such a late-starter to film, not holding his first 8mm camera until the age of 30. His early itinerant life saw him as a merchant marine in Norway, a well-digger in India, and a doctor of Chinese medicine in Thailand. Visiting Taiwan to learn Chinese, he joined a theatre troupe and picked up his first camera. He has now settled in Hong Kong and considers himself an honorary Asian, or more precisely "Chinese with a skin disease", complete with the Chinese name Du Ke Feng.
Friday, July 15, 2005
The narrative circled around a trip Khan took from Bangladesh to India: his harassment at the hands of a corrupt border guard who seized his British passport, an encounter with a dead man in his train carriage on the way to Calcutta, and the detachment of his fellow passengers at the body.
During an after-show talk between Cherkaoui, Gormley and Khan, several audience members tried to share or seek explanations of the concept behind "zero degrees", but for me -- like with most dance and art -- the pleasure I derived wasn't dependent on applied meanings but on experiential feelings induced during the syncretic performance:
The music -- cello, violin, percussion and classical Indian vocals -- filtered hauntingly through a sheer gauze backdrop.
The onstage bond between Khan and Cherkaoui was bewitching and sensual: Khan's dancing is rooted in the classical Indian Kathak tradition whereas Cherkaoui's is entrenched in the contemporary modern. Khan's charismatic, burnished presence and his fluid, controlled, quickfire movements perfectly complemented Cherkaoui's languid, yielding, nervous movements of a contortionist.
Their differences initially attracted them and yet their similarities drew them closer still. Both are Muslim and grew up with a sense of cultural duality -- Khan a British Bangladeshi and Cherkaoui a Flemish Moroccan. As Khan put it after the show: "Larbi and I both live between two worlds. When I'm in Britain I feel Bangladeshi, when I'm in Bangladesh I feel British. It's the same for him."
I am always transfixed by Khan, but last night I was doubly so.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
I've seen Orishas before, at the Royal Festival Hall a few months back, and tonight their electrifying Cuban hip hop exhilerated once again. I never get bored of their mix of traditional Latin and urban street sounds.
Los Lobos were a complete surprise. Not having heard from them since the La Bamba days in the 1980s, I had few expectations until yesterday morning when I heard their new album, The Ride, for the first time.
A laid-back rootsy affair, The Ride features wonderfully soulful collaborations with Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Bobby Womack and Richard Thompson. Surprise number one was that the album was a rather sombre affair, full of yearning and heartbreak -- not the jolly sounds of the 80s that I remember shunning. Surprise number two was that last night's performance was all flaming guitars, pounding drums and fiery lights -- an altogether grittier and heavier atmosphere than I was led to expect from The Ride. With their long electric guitar solos, they sounded like a 70s heavy metal band straining to escape their Tex-Mex, blues, rock 'n' roll and lumberjack-shirted bulk.
We danced all night long. In short, I really enjoyed myself!
Photos on Flickr soon.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
I saw War Of The Worlds last night and, despite my initial trepidation due to the high irritation factor of Tom Cruise, I enjoyed myself considerably and was gripped for the entire duration of the film. Though surely I can't be the only one who thought the little girl -- Dakota Fanning -- was as freaky as the aliens?
Sunday, July 10, 2005
The next day, Friday, I was in central London, having taken a bus that was busy, but not packed. The streets were quieter, devoid of suited people but not of tourists. Many offices -- mine included -- had sensibly told their staff to take the day off or work from home. People were shopping, people were eating, people were taking photos, people were riding on the top decks of double-decker buses. I did some banking then went into Borders to read.
Early in the evening, we popped into Chinatown and filled our basket with pak choy, soy sauce, prawn and pork dumplings, noodles, broth, jasmine tea, papaya, cherries, green tea cake and chocolate cake. When we returned home, we prepared a delicious Chinese meal and ate it whilst pouring over the newspapers. After, we laughed at Woody Allen's Hannah And Her Sisters on DVD.
Yesterday, a group of us checked the Transport For London website and worked our various ways on buses and overground trains to St Albans -- a pretty suburban commuter town on London's outskirts. There, we spent the day relaxing outdoors in the sunshine and playing with assorted babies at the house of two friends. We all had stories to tell of being caught up in the events of Thursday, so we shared them early on. Then we spent the rest of the day discussing babies (trying for them, giving birth to them, living with them), relationships (ditto), the G8 Summit, the politics of the Live8 concert (and the UK Government's co-option of it and the entire Make Poverty History campaign), climate change, and the lives of various celebrities as featured in a copy of Heat magazine that was floating around. Much food was scoffed, much wine was quaffed. We didn't return to London until after midnight.
Today, the two of us had a long and leisurely Full English breakfast at Brixton's The Lounge, perused the papers, reading the post-bombing analyses but lingering over other stories from around the world, the cultural reviews and, of course, the Food Monthly magazine (I had always thought people blew the dangers of MSG up out of all proportion!).
After, we sat, as usual, on the top deck of a double-decker and travelled to the Hayward Gallery and the interesting and mixed Rebecca Horn exhibition, then walked across the river in the blazing heat and sunshine to glance across some very bland photos of bored American teenagers at the Photographers Gallery. We juiced ourselves up, at Leon on Carnaby Street, with freshly-squeezed ginger and lemonade, read the papers some more, then took the Tube and bus home.
Many of the people I know were upset and angry, but not puzzled at the events of Thursday morning. We felt there had been a sense of inevitability about it all, after 9/11, after Madrid, after the Iraq war... We knew we would be a target eventually, the question remained when. Some of us recognise that as Londoners, we are angry... and as bombers, so are they. We're also aware that the atrocities of Thursday morning occur on a daily basis across the world, and on far grander, more devastating scales. We are hurt and angry, but... The awareness of the various political and historical complexities around and contexts of the bombings does not nullify, but does moderate our anger somewhat.
"Every time these dreaded events occur, you find yourself disintegrating, one part deep human compassion for the victims and their families, another calling you to the truth that our governments too shed blood for no good reason and create conditions for hate to infect life." Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in The Independent, 08 July 2005.
After Thursday morning, life carries on.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
In between work, cooking, eating junk and reading fluff, I've also been enjoying my new (well, a few weeks old) 20GB digital Sony Walkman.
Before I bought it, I thought I would immediately load it with my favourite music -- the music I've never gotten bored of listening to for most of my adult (and in some cases most of my teenage) life: David Bowie (first and foremost), Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Richard Wagner -- the classics according to Planethalder.
And yet, when I actually got it home from the store and juiced its battery up, I found myself loading it with some unexpected choices. My new player gave me the opportunity to revisit the old and forgotten, and acquaint myself with the new.
Things I loaded onto my Walkman:
- Old music (music I haven't listened to in a long while): John Fogerty, Blondie, Elmore James, Patti Smith, Grandmaster Flash, Alison Krauss, Robbie Robertson, John Cale, Donna Summer.
- New (to me) music: Ill Mariarchi, M.I.A., Orishas, Yat-Kha, Rachid Taha, Loretta Lynn.
- Cheesy music: Thompson Twins, ABC, Hall & Oates, Adam and the Ants.
One of my friends, who usually listens to a lot of contemporary global dance music, has loaded her iPod with Joni Mitchell, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Gordon Lightfoot. Another has loaded hers with Geri Halliwell and Dolly Parton!
But it's not just about music. When I think about what I've listened to during the day, it's more likely to be a non-musical podcast than music. For me, the joy of a digital player is being able to listen to a variety of broadcasts that I would never usually be able (either because the broadcast is on or streamed at an inconvenient time, or because I can't find it easily).
I use a beta version of Odeo that is so easy to use (subscribe to podcasts then every time you boot your computer it automatically downloads the most recent shows, ready for you to load on to your player) that I sometimes get overwhelmed by how frequently my favourite podcasts are updated and how little time I have to listen to them all.
Here are the podcasts I listen to most frequently:
- Word Nerds: a weekly podcast about language. Recent episodes have explored the language of war ("duck and cover", "iron curtain", "brinkmanship"), and food metaphors we use in the language of love ("sweetie", "honey", "cookie"). Each episode also features a "rude word of the week", such as the origins and uses of "prick" and "balls".
- IT Conversations: interviews or lectures on all things IT, including, recently, talks by theorist and Creative Commons creator Lawrence Lessig and The Sims creator Will Wright.
- In Our Time: a BBC Radio 4 documentary series that explores the history of ideas in the fields of philosophy, science, literature, culture and religion. Recent episodes have included paganism in the Renaissance, the philosophy of beauty, and the origins of all life.
- From Our Own Correspondent: features personal reflections by BBC correspondents around the world. Recent reports have included child sex rings in Cambodia, an Israeli football team in the Gaza Strip, the Slow Food movement, and Rome's disappearing shops and cafes.
- Science Friday: a weekly science, technology, and environment programme on NPR. Episodes still on my player include discussions on earthquakes, Einstein's relativity theory, sunscreen, and popular mathematics.
- Suicide Girls Radio: For a little light, ahem, relief (perhaps NSFW, but then most of you probably know this).
Sunday, July 03, 2005
Hmmm, actually, what I feel like for dinner are some Batchelors super chicken noodles, a Cadbury's creme egg, some Rowntrees fruit pastilles...
Update at 11:45pm: I ate the noodles, the candy and also, for my sins, the cold baked beans with frankfurters, bacon bits and kidney (Heinz London Grill) straight out of the can as I watched Woody Allen's Annie Hall. I haven't seen this movie in a while and it cracked me up over and over. Some great lines. Now I want to see Hannah And Her Sisters again -- one of my all-time favourite films -- but don't own a copy of it. Might have to nip out to the shops tomorrow.
Annie Hall: Oh, you see an analyst?
Alvy Singer: Yeah, just for fifteen years.
Annie Hall: Fifteen years?
Alvy Singer: Yeah, I'm gonna give him one more year, and then I'm goin' to Lourdes.
Annie Hall: Sometimes I ask myself how I'd stand up under torture.
Alvy Singer: You? You kiddin'? If the Gestapo would take away your Bloomingdale's charge card, you'd tell 'em everything.
Alvy Singer: Those who can't do, teach. And those who can't teach, teach gym. And of course, those who couldn't do anything, I think, were assigned to our school.
Alvy Singer on sex: It was the most fun I ever had without laughing.
Alvy Singer and Annie Hall in California:
Annie: It's so clean out here!
Alvy: That's because they don't throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows.
Alvy Singer: There's an old joke. Uh, two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know, and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life. Full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly.
Alvy Singer to Annie Hall who has asked him if he loves her: Love is too weak a word for what I feel - I luuurve you, you know, I loave you, I luff you, two F's, yes I have to invent, of course I - I do, don't you think I do?
Alvy Singer: I was thrown out of NYU my freshman year for cheating on my metaphysics final, you know. I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me. When I was thrown out, my mother, who was an emotionally high-strung woman, locked herself in the bathroom and took an overdose of Mah-Jong tiles. I was depressed at that time. I was in analysis. I was suicidal as a matter of fact and would have killed myself, but I was in analysis with a strict Freudian, and, if you kill yourself, they make you pay for the sessions you miss.
Annie Hall in frustration at not seeming sophisticated and smart around Alvy when they first meet: La-di-da, la-di-da, la la [just how I feel around guys I like!]
I could go on and on, the lines in this movie are so razor-sharp.
I'm off to bed, now, a happy girl.
Saturday, July 02, 2005
For dinner, I met up with a group of people for a friend's birthday at Clapham Junction's charming, cosy and pretty Fish in a Tie restaurant. I had a starter of asparagus wrapped in smoked salmon, a main dish of hot seafood salad -- hot baby squid, king prawns, mussels, salmon and monkfish on a bed of raw spinach -- and a dessert of refreshing watermelon.
Conversation meandered from speed-dating (would we, wouldn't we) and travel plans (hiking in Provence, cycling in the Cotswolds, luxuriating in Thailand) to New Labour versus Old Labour (our generation versus our parents'), Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes ("What are they doing together?" "He freaks me out." "She's good for him." "His teeth are too big." "Mid-life crisis and sugar daddy syndrome.") and The Economist's online presence (a good number of techies among us).
My friend may have just turned 28, feeling rather old, and noticing wrinkles around her eyes that are not there, but she looked truly amazing under the gilt-edged mirrors, candlelight and glowing chandeliers.
Then, at the end of the evening, my honey, who is in Madrid for a week, texted me to say he had just eaten a huge plate of king prawns, langoustines and crab for dinner. I think I would have been rather jealous were it not for the remarkably fishy day I'd had myself.
Right, it's nearly 7pm on a Saturday and I'm just leaving the office after an intense but productive day of work. Gonna crawl into my bed with some fluffy literature, Heat magazine, and a big bag of Peking Spare Rib & Five Spice-flavoured crackers. I really feel like being a slob tonight.
PS: The layout of the lefthand column -- with my listening, reading and watching lists -- has skewed. I have no idea what Typepad have done. Something fishy perhaps. Hopefully it will be sorted out by tomorrow's end.
Friday, July 01, 2005
Virtually all the blogs I read are set outside London; in many cases they are set outside a city. I read them to learn about lives unlike my own: to live and love in rural environments, to engage in passions -- such as music playing and sailing -- that I've never tried, to cook up a storm where I always end up eating out, to grow vegetables where I buy mine from a store. These are individuals who write unlike me: thoughtful, detailed, lengthy expositions on whatever take their fancy. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Petite Anglaise: This English ex-pat in Paris has just left the father of her child and is embarking on a new love adventure. Life as a mother and girl-about-Paris.
The Cassandra Pages: Thoughtful meditations on life in Montreal from a former naturalist; her writings exhibit a strong and beautiful sense of place.
Knäckebröd: This ex-New Jerseyan writes about her daily life with her beau in Sweden with intimate detail. Another blog with a strong sense of place; oh, and she's as obsessed with food as I am.
Meanwhile, Here in France: Another English ex-pat and classical musician writes with beauty on life in Provence with her painter husband and on her life on the musical road.
Old Grey Poet: This gay British poet and painter in his 60s writes about the minutiae of his daily life in suburbia -- from struggling with his internet connection to visiting Tesco -- with dry humour and sarcasm.
Stay of Execution: Musings on sailing, life with her dog, nature, relationships, the legal profession and technology, from a sailor and lawyer from Portland, Maine.
Eclectic: Delightfully wordy reflections on life in Inuvik, in the Canadian Arctic, and on politics.
Orangette: Orange nutmeg muffins, triple chocolate scones, the delights of fish sauce, zucchini and pecorino frittata, and all things food. I salivate every time I read this blog from a Seattle-based foodie.
Hypatia Avenue: Life in London for newly-engaged 20-something Hypatia. This is one of the first blogs I ever read and although she rarely posts anymore, when she does it's always a treat.
Please check out the rest of my blogroll, to the right.
Wondering where my daily links went? Wonder no more.
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Tuesday was another fun and lively evening with old (but not that old, in case any of them are reading this) Oxford friends -- one, who is lecturing in Cork, Ireland, I've not seen in years. We had drinks in my favourite Alphabet Bar in Soho, then a gluttonous dinner at Masala Zone off Carnaby Street. We gorged on saag aloo, lamb rogan josh, lamb korma, Goan prawns with coconut, spicy masala prawns, chapatis and rice. Over beer and wine, we chatted about work and children and, of course, caught up on all the gossip of mutual friends not there to defend themselves: who was going out with who, who had split up with who, who was pregnant, who, who who... We also compared gadgets: my lone digital Sony Walkman with their various iPods, for example. Lots of talk of politics, lobbying and passing bills through Parliament, as some of us work, in various guises, in this area.
On Wednesday, after drinks with work colleagues, sitting outside enjoying the warm weather, I headed into town to watch the rather good Batman Begins in perhaps the noisiest cinema I've ever been to (lots of crisp packets being rustled, whispering, people getting up to go to the loo, popcorn munching) -- the Marble Arch Odeon. I had never seen a Batman film, but much like my experience seeing my first ever Star Wars -- Star Wars 3 -- recently, I really enjoyed "discovering" how Bruce Wayne became Batman.
Tonight, I'm going to enjoy a rare night in. I think I'll spend it reading again. This week I bought lots of chick- and lad-lit from my local, very excellent charity shop: Jane Green, Tony Parsons -- lots of wonderful fluff to immerse myself in over the coming weekend when I will be busy working in the office on both Saturday and Sunday and so won't have much time or energy to both read anything complicated or go out.
I'm sorry -- to myself most of all -- that my posts always seem to be lists of things I've done. I wish I would make time to reflect more on what I've done and who I've done it with, but I'm always in a rush to get the posts out before I have to get on with my day (or get to sleep). When I used to keep a paper journal (since I was 11 all the way through to 2000), I always made time to think through the things I did and thought. I gave up journaling when a major illness made me realise that I spent far more time than was healthy for me self-analysing my life and not getting on with living life to its fullest. But now I've scuttled too far in the opposite direction.