July 31, 2005

French Dis

One of my favourite Simpsons quotes is from the episode where Homer goes to work for a Bond villain:

Scorpio: By the way, Homer— what’s your least favourite country? Italy or France?
Homer: France.
Scorpio: Ha-ha! Nobody ever says Italy.

Here’s why.

On Monday morning, we took a ferry across the very narrow strait separating Sardinia from Corisca and visited the French town of Bonifacio for the day. Admittedly, it’s a very picturesque spot— it used to be a military outpost, so as you navigate the narrow channel between towering cliffs of cornstalk yellow, you can see the look-out posts, little pieces of architecture carved into the rock. A doorway here, a wall there, oddly hobbled together as if somebody was planning to turn the whole cliff into a building and got bored after the first few days. And then when you finally reach the port, Bonifacio sits high above you, a bundle of slender, winding streets, painted in pastel colours that flake like chapped lips. It’s impeccably European.

So that was all very nice. But then we decided to have lunch, which turned into the most tremendous debacle I can ever recall having at a restaurant.

After being ushered to our table and given menus, the waiter retreated so we could decide what to order . . . For about thirty seconds. When he returned, it was like that improv game where somebody acts out an occupation that is somehow tinted by their previous occupation— and our waiter was clearly an auctioneer at some point in his life, because he stood at the table constantly badgering us until we got flustered and ordered something.

The food came quickly, suspiciously quickly, considering the waiter’s enthusiasm for certain menu choices. The appetizers were a little bland, but not too bad, and certainly not bad enough to prepare me for my main course of stuffed calamari— which I rather suspect was, in fact, rancid fish guts wrapped in a used condom. It was utterly inedible, and I say that not for dramatic effect, but because I literally could not eat more than one bite without wanting to wretch. I actually spit my second bite out into my napkin. Nobody else liked theirs, either, though they were at least able to choke it down. The waiter looked slightly offended when he took my plate: “You don’t like?” he said in his comically broken English. “Not really, no,” I said. He nodded solemnly. “It’s fish,” he said, as if this explained everything.

Then came the cheese course, which I figured couldn’t go too wrong, because I mean, come on, it was France. But the ‘cheese course’ turned out to be two slices of cheddar arranged on a lettuce leaf, and topped with some indeterminate brown goo. I couldn’t stop myself laughing at the absurdity of it.

Now, by this point, everybody was pretty fed up, especially my stepmother, who had already told my dad to make sure he left no tip. When the bill came, she took out her credit card to pay, and...

“Sorry, I can no take cards today.”

This was when my stepmother started furiously shouting across the restaurant that the waiter wasn’t getting a tip, that the place was a disgrace, that they were all a couple of imbrogliones, and otherwise expressing her distaste in three different languages and at ever-increasing volumes.

But I think my favourite part, the part that capped off the experience as both quintessentially French and utterly appalling, was when the waiter shouted at us: “Madame, please take your money and go.” Ouch.

And that, in summary, is why nobody likes the French

July 30, 2005

This Is Where I Bore You With Holiday Snaps

My parents’ house is in a little town in the north of Sardinia, and looks like this:



As you can see, it is a house that could only look more Mediterranean if there was an old Italian man watching football on the porch. And as if that wasn't cool enough already, it's also about ten minutes walk from this beach:




Sadly, it doesn't always look this dramatic; these were taken late in the evening, on a day when the sea was too choppy to really swim in anyway. Most of the time, it's a sprawling field of beach umbrellas for as far as they eye can see. And underneath those umbrellas: Italians, the men all predictably dressed in very small Speedos, the women all predictably dressed in... very small Speedos. Topless sunbathing is about twice as common as you'd think, and at least five times as disturbing; disturbing in a way that is far more profound than European men in Speedos could ever be. This is what goes through my head on an Italian beach:

Good Lord, is that a breast? I— dear me, there's another. Well, it's okay, I'll just look the other way. Oh no. More. Boobs, everywhere! Help! What do I do, where do I look, what do I do? Look at the ground? Look at the sky? Look at the men? Put on sunglasses! Then it doesn't matter where you look. No! Don't put on sunglasses! Then they'll think you're trying to stare without being noticed! Boobs! BOOBS! AIIIEEEE!!

At this point I typically jump in the water and swim as far away as possible. Or read The Da Vinci Code, because as I understand it that's just what one does at the beach these days.




But apart from trying to avoid looking at boobs and bulging crotches, the beaches there were great. Warm, calm, and nothing but that clear, turquoise water that you see on postcards. Like this:



Sigh. Did I mention that in Edinburgh right now it's 14C and constantly drizzling?

July 29, 2005

Conversations With Greatness XL



By the way, my friend Andy would like it stated for the record that he had never heard this joke before in his life, and furthermore didn't find it very funny. So apparently I've taken to hallucinating pun-toting friends. Oh well.

July 28, 2005

Leave .it

So, here I am, back from Sardinia. It was a blissful vacation; espresso in the mornings, gelato in the evenings, and a variety of sun-drenched beaches, great meals, and thoroughly Italian activities in between. I've got a couple of stories I want to tell, but didn't arrive home until 4:30am and am, uh, a little too tired to write anything very coherent-- so there'll be a series of posts over the next few days, instead.

By the way, this scene in a Starbucks illustrates Edinburgh during the Festival pretty well:

Man: Hay-lo, aye woood laike tu espraissos and wun capooocino, pleease.
Barista: Okay, tuw exprassoes and wewn cappewchinno. Five pawnds twaenty, pliz.
Man: Whaire aye can gait soogar?

Meanwhile, at the next till, a Swiss barista patiently spent five minutes (literally, I looked at my watch) explaining to a group of five Americans the differences between various flavours of Frappucino.

Where are all the Scottish people?!

July 19, 2005

Hi At Us!

Hello. My recent lack of prolificacy is bound to continue for another week, because I'm going here tomorrow. Aren't you jealous? I'll be back a week on Wednesday, at which point I'll post many pictures and tales of my Mediterranean escapades.

In the meantime, please enjoy this joke, at which Alison will now laugh loudly:

Q. Why did Bono fall of the stage at U2's last concert?
A. He was standing too close to The Edge.

Also, speaking of U2, I enjoyed this story about a group of waggish scamps who threw a fake rooftop concert, dressed as U2, across the street from Madison Square Gardens-- where the real U2 were having a concert. It takes prankery to a whole new level.

July 17, 2005

It's Not Called Harry Potter and the Drunken Knife Attack

From BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Arts: Rowling 'dreading' end of Potter

"…Rowling, who reportedly wrote the first Harry Potter in a Glasgow cafe…"

Are you shitting me? Reported by whom? A moron?

Fine, Fine!

Okay, since everybody has been complaining about bright colours since I changed my template ('cept you, Bryan, you big loveable teddy bear, you), I've tweaked it again. Hopefully your eyes will stop bleeding now.

That is all.

July 16, 2005

[Insert Overused Harry Potter Pun Here]

Work went pretty quickly today, because I left the house early this morning and picked myself up a copy of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Formerly Known As Prince on the way. I'm happy to report that it's much, much better than the last, sodden instalment was. Its opening is wonderfully playful, it moves quickly, and it deals with all the awkward, angst-ridden teenage relationship nonsense in a way that is both subtle and convincing. So, um, yay!

I won't spoil the ending's mystery-shrouded plot twist by giving away that Harry likes boys now.

Go buy it!

July 15, 2005

Pun-tastic!

Andy told me this joke recently, and I thought it was awfully good:

David Hasselhoff calls his agent one day and says "From now on, I want to be known simply as 'The Hoff'. I want that printed on all my cards, press releases, everything. Please start calling me 'The Hoff' straight away."

"Okay," says his agent. "No hassle."

Conversations With Greatness XXXIX



I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner.

July 14, 2005

Bah!

Grrr!! After my iBook collapsed and was subsequently repaired back in January, I was sort of hoping that I wouldn't have to deal with computer troubleshooting for a while. My computer, it seems, had different plans— my battery is on the blink.

Well, that's not entirely accurate. I know for a fact that there is nothing physically wrong my battery, because it was holding a full charge of several hours on Monday. Instead, what I rather suspect is wrong is that something has gone screwy with the part of iBook that keeps track of the battery's charge. So I have subjected it to a battery of tests (ho-ho!), including (this is for you, Dustin) zapping the PRAM, zapping the NVRAM, resetting the Power Management Unit, and doing an Open Firmware boot and resetting the NVRAM from there. All of these things are supposed to fix battery issues, but not a single one has worked. Which means I'm going to need to take the thing into the shop and see if they have any bright ideas, and if they don't (as I'm more than certain will be the case, because computer salespeople can never restrain their glee when there's a possibility of flogging a new battery to someone) I'll have to shell out £89 (!!!!!!!) for a new one.

Boo. At least I was planning a trip to the Apple Store tomorrow, anyway.

July 13, 2005

Backlash

(Unsolicited) reactions I've had to my last post (about Alison's mascara) so far...

Sean: "Poignant"
Alison: "Cute"
Cristina (indirectly): "Lame"

Anyone else?

Wubby-Dubby-Lubby-Bubby

I put on a shirt today that I haven't worn in a while, and noticed a stain on the shoulder: mascara from hugging Alison before I left Montreal. It made me miss her a lot more than you would think mascara could make anybody miss anybody. Sigh.

Some Things Never Change...

...Seen on Netscape:



If the remaining cats leave Chicago travelling at 70mph, how many hours will the woman need to work in order to buy 100 new cats?

I have also been tittering at these headlines:

Bomb hunt focuses on masterminds— move follows lacklustre success of 'Operation Capture Out-of-the-Loop Underlings'.

Universe 'too queer' to grasp, complain painfully hetero scientists.

Monaco's Albert assumes throne; makes ass of you, me.

My new template doesn't display properly in IE5 for Mac (surprise, surprise). I dunno about IE5 for Windows. But according to my tracker, about 5% of my visitors are still using IE5, so I'm sorry to them for not being able to appreciate the new prettiness in its entirety. I'd try and fix it, but from experience I know that trying to make CSS display properly in IE is a thankless task, and I already spent so much time tweaking the damn thing last night that I dreamt about HTML tags— so screw that.

July 12, 2005

Whoa!

Overheard on a very serious radio program:

Host: So, Michael, in your opinion, is Harry Potter cool?
Michael: Yes. In one word, simply, yes.

--

Sorry for the lack of posting the last few days. As you can see, I've been busy cooking up a new template and entering the delicate political arena that is blogrolling. I assure you, the lack or presence of your blog is in no way an editorial comment on its quality, and if you would like your blog removed/added then please let me know.

Mostly, though, I've been busy writing actual fiction! This is very exciting for me, though I suspect less so for you. Sorry. I'll try and post something outrageously hilarious soon.

July 08, 2005

Conversations With Greatness XXXVIII



With apologies to the makers of Pleasantville.

July 07, 2005

...And Then Kevin Bacon Walked In

I guess I can no longer complain that my job at Greywalls is dull.

There I was, this afternoon, just minding my own business, when all of a sudden I hear the loud clackety-clack of a helicopter. I look up, and the thing is swooping over the tree line and coming around to land just outside the garden wall. Needless to say this is not the sort of thing that happens very often in the middle of East Lothian.

About a minute (not even) after the chopper touched down, a man entered the garden wearing sunglasses and carrying a clipboard. I thought maybe there was a lull in the G8 proceedings and Bush et al. had decided to zip down for a round of golf on the adjacent Muirfield golf course, which has in the past catered to such dignitaries as the Sultan of Brunei.

The man in the sunglasses walked over to me. "Are you..." he said, scanning the clipboard in his hand, "Andrew Ladd?"

Gulp.

A second helicopter was now circling and preparing to set down.

"This isn't about trying to take my coffee on the bus the other day, is it?" I wanted to ask. Instead I timidly answered 'yes' and waited for the pistol-whip.

Well, as it turned out, the man actually had nothing to do with the helicopters and had just happened to drive in as they were setting down. In fact, he was a TV producer coming to scout out the exhibition ahead of a film crew coming tomorrow. He had told the Gallery he was coming, they had told him I would be there, but nobody had bothered to tell me anything.

So I took him on an impromptu tour of the show, and as we strolled he asked me the question that I've become resigned to hearing for pretty much the rest of my life:

"Where's your accent from?"

"Certain areas of my brain that control minute contractions of my vocal tract," I thought, but decided this was too much of a technical answer.

Instead, I gave him the stock précis of my life, he told me that he'd learned his craft at Concordia, and we spent the rest of his visit discussing the relative merits of St-Viateur bagels as opposed to Fairmount bagels. It was quite surreal. And I never did find out what the deal was with the helicopters.

--

PS. Dear World Leaders,

Thanks for the thought, but I've actually had quite enough of all the fringe benefits that your presence in my country brings with it. So, you know, you can really go home any time now. Honestly. That would be just fine.

Pretzel Porter

On my way to work, so won't write much... But I really love the dry, British dig at President Bush in the last couple of paragraphs of this article. Will he ever live that down?

July 06, 2005

What Is The Matter With You People?!

So, the G8 starts today. Already, protestors have trashed Stirling, crowds are swelling in Gleneagles, and apparently there's yet another gathering of anarchists in Edinburgh's West End.

Now, being as I am, um, about ten or fifteen minutes walk from Edinburgh's West End, I have something of a vested interest in whether or not anarchists are gathering there. So I turn on the TV to try and find out for sure.

And out of the three 24-hour cable news channels I get, not one of them is covering the G8. The eight most powerful men in the world are meeting in Scotland, violent protests are breaking out across the country, and what is everybody reporting with rapt attention?

The International Olympic Committee's meeting in Singapore, which will in an hour decide where the 2012 Olympics are going to be held.

Note, they haven't decided yet. They are an hour and a half away from deciding on the location of an event that is seven years away. But instead of cutting to ACTUAL F**KING NEWS for that hour and a half, they are showing a constant live feed of the IOC's voting chamber. Which might be understandable if, um, I don't know, the IOC were doing something interesting. But this is what has been happening for the last half an hour:

Commentator: ...And now, the President of the IOC is going over by-law 83C#15F, which governs which delegates are in charge of brewing the coffee today.
President: Would the delegates from France please confirm that they are insufferably smug?

[murmurs from the crowd]

Assistant to the President: The voting handsets must now be tested. Would all delegates please pay attention?
Commentator: Now, the voting handsets will be tested.
Assistant: Would ALL delegates please pay attention? I'm looking at you, Turkey.
Commentator: ...And Turkey providing some much-needed levity to the proceedings. It appears that their delegates are engaged in an argument with Finland over who gets the chair with wheels.
President: Ladies and gentlemen, please. I have a roast in the oven.
Delegate from Germany: [shouts from back of room] What kind of roast?
Assistant: Delegates will refrain from discussing the President's roast.
Delegate from Germany: Fascist!
Commentator: Of course, it is considered improper to discuss the President's roast, in case it unfairly biases any of the delegates' decisions.
Assistant: Will delegates kindly pay attention? It is imperative that we test the voting handsets.
Delegate from Italy: I don't have a voting handset.
Assistant: I-- what? Where is your voting handset?
Delegate from Italy: I don't know. [nudges neighbour] Do you have it, Vito?
President: May I remind delegates that the nudging of their colleagues is forbidden.
Assistant: Have you located your voting handset?
Delegate from Italy: Yes, sorry. It was in my lunchbox.
Assistant: Well then, let's continue.
Delegate from Italy: Does it matter that my voting handset has salami stuck to it?
Assistant: I don't know. This is why we have to test them.
Delegate from Italy: Oh. That makes sense.
Commentator: This is reminiscent of the draw for the 1992 Olympics, when the delegate from the United States mistook his voting handset for a cruller.
Assistant: In order to test the voting handsets, we ask that you all cast a vote for your favourite character from Saved By The Bell.
Delegate from the United Kingdom: The original series or 'The New Class'?
President: The original series.

[murmurs from the crowd]

Commentator: Now, the test vote has opened. And it looks as if A.C. Slater is taking an early lead. [chuckle] Obviously they never saw Kelly in a two-piece!
Assistant: The test vote is complete. You have selected Mr Belding. Dennis Haskins will now be set on fire and used as the Olympic torch in 2020.
President: Are there any problems with voting system?
Assistant: The delegates from Japan are holding their voting handsets upside down.
President: Will the delegates from Japan please turn their voting handsets the right way up?
Commentator: A good decision, there, by the President.
Assistant: The official voting will now begin.
Commentator: Of course, even after the voting is completed, the committee will not announce the results for a further two hours...

--

In the meantime, the G8 protest march has been cancelled due to safety concerns, and violence and arrests continue through out Perthshire. But who cares? London might get to host the Olympics!

July 03, 2005

PS.

Also, from BBC NEWS | UK:

"Meanwhile, Live 8 organisers Geldof, Richard Curtis and Bono have written an open letter to G8 delegates urging them to 'be great'.

'For God's sake, take this seriously - don't behave normally,' they write.

'Don't look for compromises'."


Don't worry, guys! If there's one person who is in no danger of making any compromises, it's George W. Bush!

Blog Poverty History



As I understand it, it's sort of my duty or something, as a blogger, to provide an independent source of information about world events, so that the evil corporate media filter can't continue to poison our minds with its doublespeak. So, uh, yeah.

Yesterday was the Make Poverty History demonstration in Edinburgh, at which an estimated 225,000 people went on a big march around town to send a message to world leaders: "We Like Walking". Also, "Make Poverty History". On BBC News 24, they had a reporter out in the crowds interviewing people, and the poor journalist happened upon the most uncommunicative young man in town:

Journalist: So, are you enjoying yourself?
Youth: Aye.
Journalist: And why are you marching here today?

[Uncomfortable silence]

Journalist: ...I mean, uh, what is the message you're hoping to send?

[Uncomfortable silence]

Journalist: ... "Make Poverty History", I suppose?
Youth: Aye.
Journalist: And do you think that this march will make a difference?
Youth: Aye.
Journalist: So, you think that the world leaders are going to take note of what you're doing here?
Youth: Aye.
Journalist: O-kay... My producer is telling me not to talk to you anymore...

Oh, alright: that last line is actually from the Simpsons.

For me, the idea of spending eight hours crushed up among 200,000 people didn't hold much appeal, so I decided instead to circumvent the crowd on the Meadows and go up Arthur's Seat for an aerial view of the action (highlighted is the Meadows, filled with white-clad demonstrators in what looks dangerously similar to a Klan rally). At the summit of Arthur's Seat, you could hear pretty clearly much of what was being said over the loudspeakers, as well as occasional cheers from the crowd, most notably when Bono appeared on the video screens.

Even at the top of the hill there were some (Christian, presumably) anti-poverty demonstrators, who had pretty impressively schlepped up three giant wooden Crosses and were spending their day saying prayers while holding up the Crosses for all to see:



The novelties of Arthur's Seat having worn off, I decided to make my way home by cutting through the university-- where, rather, uh, serendipitously, I happened upon the only mildly violent protest that happened in Edinburgh yesterday. I was just walking along, minding my own business, when I ran into a wall (literally) of police:



They were calmly trying to contain a group of seventy or so anarchists (complete with black hoods and bandanas drawn over their faces) who were making a lot of noise and pitching wildly from side to side as they tried to rush past the police and towards the main event on the Meadows. Every time the black mass lurched, a stream of neon-yellow jackets with bobbing heads would quickly pour in to clog up any gaps through which the anarchists might have squeezed. As I walked around, trying simultaneously to get a better look and find a safe route out, more and more police continued to arrive, including, eventually, fourteen minivans full of riot cops.

Initially, the aim seemed to be merely keeping the anarchists away from the the Meadows, and several times I very nearly found myself right in the midst of the swarm as they ran to and fro, trying desperately to get around the neon perimeter. But like a game of Reversi, the police would gracefully fall back and form new lines, blocking the group at every attempt. It went on like this for about fifteen minutes; advance, counter-advance, push forward, fall back. Finally, out of what I can only assume was frustration at finding themselves continually fenced in, the anarchists started overturning tables at an outdoor cafe, and at this point the police made their final offensive, boxing the protesters into an area about twenty feet square for the remaining few hours of the official march.

Tomorrow is the official, organized anarchist march-- which if nothing else will prove to be an interesting exercise in contradiction.

July 01, 2005

Conversations With Greatness XXXVII



Bleargh, this seemed funnier when I wrote it.