29 julho 2006

It hasn't gotten to this, but you never know... :)


Olive Oil

Here are some facts about olives you might not know. It takes approximately five kilos of olives to make a litre of olive oil. Spain is the biggest producer in the world - it has around 370 million olive trees. France has five million. Italy exports 10 times the amount of oil it produces by importing, blending and then selling it on under labels such as 'Tuscan produced'. Its oil tastes stronger in the south and mellows as you go north. Jordan has started to export its oil and its robust and peppery Terra Rossa extra virgin is now available here (£4.28 for 250ml, www.terra-rossa.com).Polyphenols in olive oil have an anti-oxidant effect and are a heart-healthy food. However, heating olive oil for cooking destroys them, so the full benefit is really only derived from oils used as dressings and drizzled over finally prepared dishes. Oil's major enemies are light and air, so keep those fancy bottles out of the sunlight. Oil does not improve with age either, hence the huge plus of buying small refillable bottles by somebody like Vom Fass (...)

The rest of the article appears to ignore what does «Spain is the biggest producer in the world - it has around 370 million olive trees» means. The usual recommendations for Italian stuff, as if their labels mentioned the origin, 9 times out of 10.
Jeez... Do they think the Italians flick a magic wand and the green gold becomes theirs?

Trip down memory lane: Zubrowka with Grzegorz in Germany

Bison Grass Vodka - a potato vodka from Poland that is infused with an herb known as bison grass. Bison grass vodka is also called "zubrowka."

Since the 13th century, the vodka has been heralded for its supposed aphrodisiac and virility-inducing qualities. Until the 1970s, bison grass vodka was banned from the US because of its reputation as a medicinal drink. Hey, I didn't say it, but I know you're thinking it - hallucinatory? mind-altering?

I tried zubrowka for the first time at a Polish restaurant in Santa Monica, Warszawa. The server poured the clear, though slightly ivory-tinted lquid into a shot glass and said I should try it straight to really taste the difference from regular vodka. It had a very distinctive taste - something like a slightly sweet vanilla mixed with herb - though the flavor wasn't overpowering. It was pretty tasty, and certainly much nicer to drink straight vodka that had a little bit of flavor to it than say, straight Belvedere.

More recently, I tried zubrowka in a cocktail at a vodka lounge. The bartender mixed the bison grass vodka with apple juice, which seems to be a fairly common mixer for the stuff. I didn't like it at all - it tasted like alcoholic herbal apple juice. I'd rather have bison grass vodka straight.

Both occcasions, I did not notice either the aphrodisiac or virility properties of the vodka. Oh well.

From Slashfood

28 julho 2006

Megadeath in Mexico

When Hernando Cortés and his Spanish army of fewer than a thousand men stormed into Mexico in 1519, the native population numbered about 22 million. By the end of the century, following a series of devastating epidemics, only 2 million people remained. Even compared with the casualties of the Black Death, the mortality rate was extraordinarily high. Mexican epidemiologist Rodolfo Acuña-Soto refers to it as the time of "megadeath." The toll forever altered the culture of Mesoamerica and branded the Spanish as the worst kind of conquerors, those from foreign lands who kill with their microbes as well as their swords.

The notion that European colonialists brought sickness when they came to the New World was well established by the 16th century. Native populations in the Americas lacked immunities to common European diseases like smallpox, measles, and mumps. Within 20 years of Columbus's arrival, smallpox had wiped out at least half the people of the West Indies and had begun to spread to the South American mainland.

In 1565 a Spanish royal judge who had investigated his country's colony in Mexico wrote:

It is certain that from the day that D. Hernando Cortés, the Marquis del Valle, entered this land, in the seven years, more or less, that he conquered and governed it, the natives suffered many deaths, and many terrible dealings, robberies and oppressions were inflicted on them, taking advantage of their persons and their lands, without order, weight nor measure; . . . the people diminished in great number, as much due to excessive taxes and mistreatment, as to illness and smallpox, such that now a very great and notable fraction of the people are gone. . . .

There seemed little reason to debate the nature of the plague: Even the Spanish admitted that European smallpox was the disease that devastated the conquered Aztec empire. Case closed.

Then, four centuries later, Acuña-Soto improbably decided to reopen the investigation. Some key pieces of information—details that had been sitting, ignored, in the archives—just didn't add up. His studies of ancient documents revealed that the Aztecs were familiar with smallpox, perhaps even before Cortés arrived. They called it zahuatl. Spanish colonists wrote at the time that outbreaks of zahuatl occurred in 1520 and 1531 and, typical of smallpox, lasted about a year. As many as 8 million people died from those outbreaks. But the epidemic that appeared in 1545, followed by another in 1576, seemed to be another disease altogether. The Aztecs called those outbreaks by a separate name, cocolitzli. "For them, cocolitzli was something completely different and far more virulent," Acuña-Soto says. "Cocolitzli brought incomparable devastation that passed readily from one region to the next and killed quickly."


Books for Children

Magia nas Ruas de Lisboa

Must See: Strings / O Fio da Vida

“I was 30.000 feet above ground, when the idea for Strings began to take shape. The aircraft was moving along high above the clouds and on the small screen in front of me, a commercial taking place in Prague was playing. It had marionette puppets as actors and I was amazed of how much expression they could display. I began to wonder how the world would appear, if I was a marionette, and I drew up a sketch of a marionette fleeing his enemy. The puppet was sitting in a treetop while tens of thousands of strings, was closing in on him. I immediately felt the idea was very strong. An idea of a universe inhabited by marionettes with strings reaching all the way up to the sky, to a place where we are all connected -and controlled.

I promised myself that if I won the European Fantasy Film Award for “Possessed”, my next project would be Strings. The plane touched down and a few days later I was accepting the award.

Now it is 4 years later, 4 mill spent, and 200 dedicated film workers from all over Europe have worked for months and invested their hearts and souls in the project. Therefore it is with extreme pride that I present to you, the first fully integrated Marionette feature film “STRINGS”.

Anders Rønnow Klarlund, January 2004.

The translator as chef

Here's a true story. A famous chef is persuaded to write a cookbook, but he isn't a native English speaker, so a specialist translator/editor is hired to help him polish up his work. When translator gets manuscript, he sees that the recipes, such as they are, are completely unusable - mere notes, often scribbled on scraps of paper. The translator spends the next seven or eight months clarifying, rewriting and repeatedly testing the recipes, in addition to writing introductory texts from material supplied by the author.

Result: the book is a bestseller and prize-winner. But the translator/writer/recipe tester does not have his name on the cover, even though he wrote the book. The chef, meanwhile, is hailed as a genius - which he happens to be, in his own kitchen, but he can no more convey that genius in print than my cat can explain how to catch flies. Welcome to the murky world of culinary ghosting. Or rewriting or co-authorship, as it should sometimes be called.

When you buy the memoir of a sporting or showbiz personality, chances are it will have the words "with XXX" on the cover. The name after "with" belongs to the person who did the writing, from taped conversations with the subject. And no one objects. It's taken for granted that someone who can serve four aces in a row may not possess the ability to write 75,000 words of graceful, analytical, well-organised prose.

The same principle often applies in recipe writing. Many cookery writers write every single word and test every single recipe that gets published under their name. This was certainly taken for granted in the old days, when writers such as Elizabeth David and Richard Olney were not just excellent cooks but writers of exceptional talent. Others need help, which may range from heavy editing to full authorship: the writer writes every single word on the "author's" behalf. But publicity machines usually try to hide these vital workers from view. And the workers themselves are rarely willing to talk on the record.

One example of a completely transparent co-authoring relationship is that between Gordon Ramsay, London's only three-Michelin-starred chef, and cookery writer Roz Denny. They worked together for about eight years, on five books, and Ramsay insisted from the start that Denny's name be on the cover. "When a chef does a first book," says Denny, "he's often writing for his peers. My job is to translate that kind of cooking into home cooking. A lot of my work was done with digital scales and a calculator, so I could divide their restaurant-size recipes to a domestic scale." All the recipes came originally from the Ramsay kitchens. Ramsay no longer works with Roz Denny, however, and publishes all his work under his own name.

While there are other examples of such open collaborative relationships, it is far more common to draw a discreet veil of silence over the subject. Some of the most famous cookery writers in the US and the UK couldn't publish a usable book without extensive help. Of those who do write the first draft, about a third need substantial rewriting. This figure comes from a highly experienced source who has worked with many of the most famous namesin UK food publishing -and who stoutly defendsthe practice. "These people have something importantto contribute: their own unique way of cooking. Their recipes are original. The words are not; that's what we contribute."

Not everyone in the field agrees. Jill Norman, long-time cookery editor at Penguin (she was Elizabeth David's editor) and now a distinguished author herself, would never have taken on an author who needed such substantial rewriting. "People who need this help should stick to cooking," she believes. If it's argued that their cooking is unique, she would want to see "how good they are". And there's no law that says chefs can't be good writers. Normanhas recently edited a book (The Cook's Book, Dorling Kindersley) with chapters contributed by more than 20 distinguished chefs, of whom the great majority did all their own writing.

It's hard to understand the reticence about owning up to ghostwriting. If tennis players aren't assumed to be good writers, why should we expect that skill of cooks? The problem is that in our celebrity-obsessed age, readers of cookbooks don't just want recipes that work. They also buy into a dubious notion of personality. They're not just looking for minestrone, they're looking for X's minestrone. Eager to have their kitchen touched by his magic, they probably don't realise that authorship of the recipe is sometimes debatable. This question wouldn't make a bit of difference if the personal imprimatur of the celebrated author weren't the unique selling point of the recipe.

Who's to blame for this deception? The blame may lie with you, if you've bought into the absurd notion of personality as a central component in recipe writing. A recipe is rarely a personal statement, like a poem or a painting. True originality in recipe writing is exceptionally rare. Nearly every cook relies on other people's recipes as a starting point for experimentation, and the best recipes often come from collaborative effort. We readers should stop demanding the stamp of spurious authenticity from every single recipe writer.

One step towards shedding the illusion is accepting the existence - and often the necessity - of co-authorship. If every co-author were fully credited, perhaps the rest of us would stop expecting famous chefs to be the all-powerful heroes of the food revolution. We would still appreciate what they do for us in sharing the skills and ideas they've gained through years of gruelling work. But we'd shed the misconception that their dishes are the expressions of solitary, unaided genius. And in the process, we'd also learn something essential about cooking: it's a matter of skill and experience, not of personality.

Was the destruction of German cities justified?

I am sure I can count on readers of this magazine to have sat up late with Victor Klemperer's diary of survival under the Third Reich:

I Will Bear Witness. This is the single most important document from the era of National Socialism. It gives an account of every day of Hitler's 13-year dictatorship, written by a German-Jewish convert to Protestantism who had married a heroic Protestant woman, and who briefly imagined that his dual loyalty (to employ an otherwise suspect phrase) might win him some immunity. Swiftly disabused on that score, Klemperer resolved to depict his beloved Germany's collapse into barbarism.

The diary possesses three dimensions that are of great interest to us. By its portrayal of innumerable acts of decency and solidarity on the part of ordinary Germans, it seems to rebut the Daniel Jonah Goldhagen diatribe about "willing executioners." By its agonizing description of the steady and pitiless erosion of German Jewry, it puts to shame all those who doubt--whatever the argument may be over numbers or details--that Hitler's state had a coldly evolved plan of extirpation. And it forces one to reconsider the Allied policy of "area bombing."


27 julho 2006

What the world's poorest people eat

Over 840 million people, according to the United Nations, are chronically undernourished. A quarter of them are in sub-Saharan Africa, but 204 million are in one country alone - India. Worldwide, approximately 200 million children under the age of five suffer from acute or chronic symptoms of malnutrition. Typical meals for people in some of those countries are:

Malawi rice, greens, grasshoppers.

Haiti bean sauce over rice or cornbread.

Ecuador soup of potato, cheese and corn with half an avocado tossed in.

Laos rice complemented with small portions of vegetables (mainly green leafy vegetables) and fish.

Bangladesh, India and much of south Asia plain rice with dal made from lentils or other pulses. Protein as available - fish is the most common. In northern areas bread rather than rice may be the staple.

United States (soup kitchen) watery barley vegetable soup and a slice of Wonder Bread.

Kenya ugali na sukuma wiki, a stiff porridge made from maize meal, with collard-like greens boiled with tomatoes and onions. Tea with sugar.

Sudan (in a famine region) manioc (cassava) leaves, sometimes without even salt or oil. Manioc flour may be used to make a watery porridge which is served as a drink.

Mauritania rice or wheat paste, eaten with mackerel or milk. Inhabitants of squatter settlements in Nouadhibou (Voum Base and Mvejirat) claim that they are eating only one of these typical meals a day.

Burkina Faso a thick porridge, made from pearl millet or red sorghum, and a sauce of leaves and groundnuts. Chilli and dried fish are sometimes added. Vegetables and pulses are occasionally eaten, but meat and milk rarely so.

Peru (among the Quechua people of the highlands) high mountain potatoes, onions and wild herbs.

Papua New Guinea Sago, fresh greens, corn, yams, sweet potatoes, cooking bananas, and coconut.

Tajikistan maize bread with vegetable soup and tea.

Irvine Welsh at The French Laundry, California

The phrase 'there's no such thing as a free lunch' is one that is habitually spouted by the sort of politician or businessperson who has evidently enjoyed many of them. What this normative statement really means is that 'nothing should be free for the lower orders'.

As a child of the 1970s, and despite Margaret Thatcher's best milk-snatching efforts as Minister of Education, I grew up believing that a something-for-nothing attitude should not be the sole preserve of the rich. I therefore jumped at the chance to have lunch at the world-renowned French Laundry restaurant in California's Napa Valley.

It was never going to be a tough call. My next-door neighbour here in San Francisco is the executive chef at a highly rated French bistro in the city. His enthusiastic reaction to my assignment suggested that there was much more than mere hype to master chef Thomas Keller's established eaterie up in Yountville, in the heart of Northern California's wine country.

My editor's last comment, 'Go easy on the wine', resonated in my ears as my girlfriend and I climbed into our waiting limo. Our driver, Brian, was new to the job but skilled at negotiating the city traffic, and we were soon heading over the Oakland Bridge towards the Napa Valley.

I had assured the editor that such a decadent means of transport was absolutely essential. The restaurant is situated some 60 miles from our downtown apartment and we don't have a car. It's California, and over here they don't really do public transport outside the city.

Anyone who knows me will be able to testify that 'going easy on the wine' is not something I'm particularly good at. I had, however, been dry for over a month, and running again to get back into something like shape after a pretty boozy year which saw me move from London to Chicago and then on to San Francisco. I briefly considered keeping up the good work, but this was The French Laundry, so rather than agonise over the drinking question, I opted to just go for it. As the waiting list for a table here is around three months and I don't really have a planning-ahead mentality, this was likely to be my one and only shot.

Despite traffic congestion, Brian's knowledge of the back roads ensures that we arrive in time for lunch. The restaurant is situated in a pleasant, yet unremarkable two-storey wooden building, which we enter via a rear garden. Engagingly decked out in quality made-to measure cloth, the maître d' and assorted waiting staff greet us heartily. Cosying into our seats, we are impressed by the atmosphere of restrained elegance: cream walls, and a wood-panelled ceiling with sombre, dusky lighting dominate a small, intimate dining room. We are told that the chef has prepared us a special menu, and asked if we have any allergies they should know about.

'Only paying restaurant bills,' I quip, anxious to avoid any embarrassing mix-up. 'I shouldn't worry too much about that on this occasion sir,' our host replies as strains of the old football mantra 'Here we go, here we go, here we go...' strike up inside my skull.

I soon realise that calling this 'lunch' is like referring to the European Cup Final as 'a kick-about in the park'. In fact, we receive 19 courses and 15 different types of accompanying wine.

Granted, as nouvelle cuisine, the dishes might not be copious in terms of quantity and many of the wines are half bottles, but this still constitutes a considerable physical effort. I come from the 'clear your plate' (and empty the bottle) school, so picking at a dish or just cursorily tasting a wine is not an option. Moreover, when one of the greatest chefs in the world prepares a special menu just for you, the only decent thing to do is wade through it with eternal gratitude.

From the opening glasses of Krug Grand Cuvée Champagne and our crisp and tasty cornets of marinated Atlantic Salmon with Red Onion Crème Fraîche to the 'Mignardises' washed down with Barbeito Sercial Madeira 1910 Vintage Port, some four hours later, this was a gastronomic assault course.

I have neither the time nor the space to go into what we received in between all this, so I'll just highlight some personal favourites. The Cauliflower 'Panna Cotta' with Point Reyes Oyster Glaze and Iranian Osetra Caviar was a magnificent canapé. I've never been a big caviar fan, but this finally showed me what all the fuss is about.

The little touches were excellent; our oyster dish was eaten using a mother-of-pearl spoon. I salivate now as I think of the Truffle-pickled Hen Eggs with 'its creamy yellow' and Chopped Black Truffles. God, that was amazing, and my girlfriend evidently thought so too. Our eyes met across the table in one of those glances which evoke making love on a bearskin rug in front of a roaring fire in an elevator rising up the Eiffel Tower while a (blindfolded) string quartet plays 'Sunshine on Leith'.

My taste buds went into overdrive with the Salad of Marinated Jacobsen's Farm Figs with Caramelised Fennel Bulb, Roasted Garden Peppers, Shaved Fennel and Fennel Bulb Vinaigrette, and gastronomic orgasm was achieved with the Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster with first-of-season Chestnuts, Granny Smith's Apples and a Hydromel Sauce.

The chef's personal version of 'bacon and eggs' was a revelation, composed of a 'rouelle' of slow-baked 'Tête de Cochon', Frisée Salad, poached Quail's Egg and sauce 'Gribiche'. It was followed by Snake River Ranch 'Calotte De Boeuf Grillé' with pan-roasted fennel bulb, caramelised Bartlett Pears and 'Sauce au Poivre'

This set us up nicely for the transition into a myriad of desserts, the standout being the 'Declinaison au Chocolat' which comprised 'Mousse Au Chocolat TiÀde', Chocolate Sorbet, Chocolate Brownie and Milk Chocolate 'Ganache'.

As with the grub, the wines were all excellent but I must mention a buttery local Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County and a particularly gorgeous white Burgundy. Unfortunately, I was way past the stage of reading any labels by then. The wine, typically, did not just include the safe choices of France, California, Australia, Germany and Italy. Our canapÀs, for example, were partly washed down with a delicious Basque wine called Exumin Etxaniz Txakolina.

Halfway through all this, you become aware that you are in a trade-off between the joys of the palate and the pressure on the gut. I think of Steven Berkoff's magnificent film Decadence in which he and Joan Collins play two toffs ploughing their way through course after course. And, as in that movie, the waiters just keep coming with more dishes, unfailingly polite and informative as ever. Three-quarters of the way down the list and it starts to add up to physical and sensory overload. You think you can't take any more, but the last dish tasted so good and this one looks even more interesting. And as for the wine...

It becomes like the foodie equivalent of running the London Marathon. A marvellous event in which to participate, but as with the deep-fried Mars Bars served up by the fine lads at Edinburgh's Piccante chippy, you certainly couldn't do it every day. Your bloated belly is relieved when it's over and you immediately tell yourself: never again. Yet, after you've got home, lain around groaning and sweating for a bit, digested the lot and got back to the everyday run-of-the-mill stuff, The French Laundry menu starts to dance through your head and onto your salivating palate.

Obviously, the title of 'best restaurant in the world' is subjective to the point of lunacy. Having said that, I doubt it would be possible for The French Laundry to be equalled, let alone surpassed, as a lifetime dining experience of its kind. From the journey up the beautiful Napa Valley with its sun-kissed vineyards into this tranquil, sophisticated gastronomic Mecca, to the wonderfully engaged and knowledgeable waiting staff, The French Laundry is a sparkling jewel in America's culinary crown.

All this is a perfect environment in which to enjoy the finest and most inspired cooking of which I'm probably ever likely to partake. Thomas Keller is a true giant among chefs, coming over as a genuinely inspirational figure, and to see him in action in his kitchen is pure joy. The French Laundry will shut down for a few months early next year when the master chef heads for New York to open his new restaurant. And a good thing, too: it certainly wouldn't be the same without him.

Sitting back in the limousine stuffed like battery hens, we swing over the Golden Gate Bridge, Brian having changed the route to avoid the rush-hour traffic. Downtown, from behind the tinted glass, I watch scores of people pushing shopping carts, scavenging in trash bins and begging for change in this, the city with the highest number of homeless people in America. I felt sad and angry, but not guilty. I was privileged. I'd got my free lunch, even if plenty of others weren't so fortunate.

26 julho 2006

Sir Cliff Richard, Wine and the Algarve

The interest in wine is passionately held, although Sir Cliff says his tastes are 'commercial rather than elitist'. So much so, that he has recently gone into the wine business himself, emulating Sam Neill, Gérard Depardieu, Greg Norman and Francis Ford Coppola in the celebrity wine stakes by launching a Portuguese wine called Vida Nova. Sir Cliff concedes that, for the time being at least, the project is a 'ridiculously expensive hobby', but says that making money out of Vida Nova doesn't really matter to him. 'I love the Algarve and I want to give something back to the area. People are surprised that I've set up a vineyard, but I'm surprised that they're surprised, frankly. Actors and singers have always branched out.'

What is genuinely surprising is the location of the 16-acre vineyard. Even to Portuguese wine lovers, viticulture in the Algarve is a bit of a joke. 'Some of the guidebooks say that the Algarve bottles headaches for tourists, but I'm delighted with the first vintage of Vida Nova and the reaction from critics has been hugely encouraging.' Even at £7.99 a bottle, the wine is doing extremely well, thank you. When Tesco's website released a small parcel of Vida Nova last month, the wine sold out within 24 hours, providing a vinous example of the famous, if intangible, 'Cliff factor'. 'I'm overwhelmed by the reaction, because, just like music, wine is so subjective. It's a thrill that people like my wine.'

Vida Nova was the result of a chance meeting. The Quinta do Moinho, near Albufeira, already had a three-acre vineyard when Sir Cliff bought it eight years ago, but the grapes were so bad that the previous owners gave them away to the local co-operative. Sir Cliff planted 10 acres of fig trees when he moved in, but had no intention of making wine until he was introduced to David Baverstock, a Portugal-based Australian, who makes some of the country's best reds at Esporão in the Alentejo. 'David tested the soils and said, "There's no reason why you couldn't grow grapes here." We dug a few bore-holes and it was all systems go.'

At the start, Baverstock asked Sir Cliff what sort of wine he liked. His answer was 'soft, velvety and full-bodied, not something where the tannins crash into my mouth'. More middle of the road than heavy metal, as it were. Sir Cliff's wish-list more or less describes the texture of the 2001 Vida Nova, an impressive blend of Trincadeira, Aragonez and Shiraz and easily the best wine in the Algarve. He made 27,000 bottles of the 2001, but plans to increase production to meet the substantial demand. Using grapes from a friend's vineyard as well as his own new plantings, Sir Cliff hopes to be releasing 100,000 bottles a year within five years.

How does making wine compare with singing or selling more than 250 million records? 'I love the euphoria of being a vintner. I can put my head round the door of the kitchen and see the vineyards. It's a bit like Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, except that this is Twenty Years in the Algarve.' Sir Cliff adds that wine might play an even more important part in his life in the future. 'I want to slow down,' he says. 'I'm thinking of retiring and this is a project I can do for the next 20 years. Maybe this has come at the right time.'

For now, Sir Cliff is happiest as a 'rock and roll singer' out on the road. That's where he first got interested in wine, at the age of 21. 'We were filming Summer Holiday in Greece and we used to go down to the harbour in Athens at the end of the day and order a plate of grilled fish and a bottle of wine. It might have been retsina, which wasn't the best way to start, but it got me into drinking wine.' Back in England in the 1960s, Sir Cliff alternated between German wine and Mateus Rosé, a wine he still likes to drink on the terrace in Albufeira. 'It's light and sweet, but it tastes great on a scorching afternoon.'

What's in your basket?

'Hang on, sorry can you say that again... Chloe Whiskey? Okay. I don't drink to get drunk I drink to stay calm and relaxed and able to deal with people that annoy me. Frascati is one of my favourite wines because it is the easiest to get in Ireland. I like good dry white wine therefore I like Italian or Spanish or... er... two or three French ones and a couple of German ones. I go for what I can get - wine is wine.

Nenagh milk comes fresh from the local dairy. Everyday I walk past the cow that I get my milk from. I drink a lot of milk but it's mainly for White Russians, a cocktail that's made with Kahlua, vodka and milk. I just have one handy, then I get sick of them after a while and I switch back to something like gin and tonic. If I'm hungry and I'm in a hurry I'll eat macaroni cheese. They've got ring pull tabs so you can rip the top of the tin, grab a spoon, jump in the car and fuck off somewhere and eat it on the way.

I get brown breadbecause it's better for you. I have the occasional egg, there's always eggs around. Occasionally I need an egg or someone else needs an egg...er... so I make eggs. I fry them and have them with the bread.

I only occasionally cook for myself but I've never cooked anything I've liked for myself. My eating and drinking patterns are extremely varied, whether I'm on the road, at home, recording. I'd love to sit down for a meal but I generally do that in a restaurant. I've cooked for myself when I couldn't afford to go to restaurants and when I didn't have a missus, who I'm not with all the time anyway. When we are together she's a very good cook. As the last resort I'd cook for myself. I like good Irish food, good steak, like you know, good... good boiled bacon, good bit of spuds, good Italian food, good Japanese food... What's your name again? Chloe.... Whiskey... Chloe Diski. Okay, thanks Chloe

McCambridge Irish stoneground wholewheat bread
People with yeast sensitivities frequently react better to soda bread than to most types of commercially manufactured bread made from yeast cultures. I'm pleased that Shane has chosen it because it will provide his body with some much-needed fibre to cushion the negative effects of the other products in his shopping basket. If you accompany wholemeal bread with plenty of water, the fibre will swell in the stomach, enabling the body to limit its absorption of fat, sugar, alcohol and other foods that are only healthy in moderation.

Cork dry gin
There are many downsides to drinking gin. Firstly, most people delude themselves into thinking that a home-poured gin and tonic equals its bar equivalent, when, in fact, it equals two or three bar singles. Secondly, because spirits are often drunk on an empty stomach and therefore enter the bloodstream immediately, the alcohol's effect can be virtually instantaneous, hard-hitting and long-lasting, making you less inclined to cook a healthy meal afterwards and indirectly leading to bad eating habits. Alternatively, alcohol can exaggerate the hunger mechanism, causing you either to eat more than usual for supper or to wake up feeling ravenous during the night. And before you know it, you'll have consumed a lot of calories.

A barrel of Guinness
Why stop at a bottle when you can have a barrel? Many people misguidedly think that Guinness is a healthy drink, believing it to be a tonic. I don't want to enter into a libellous relationship with the manufacturers of Guinness, but must point out that although it does contain a small amount of iron, it is not enough to endow it with miraculous, health-giving properties. (Incidentally, champagne and red wine contain more iron than stouts like Guinness, while despite stouts' vitamin B and antioxidant content, they are higher in calories.) If you're feeling under the weather and don't feel like eating, a glass of Guinness can, of course, stimulate your appetite and give you calories, but then so can any other alcoholic drink.

Fresh farm eggs
Lucky Shane, being able to get hold of eggs shortly after they've been laid. They'll taste their best and will also provide his body with protein, which helps to build and maintain strong muscles, which is particularly important if you exercise regularly because exercise breaks down muscle fibre. Although eggs contain cholesterol, they don't have a significant effect on the blood's cholesterol level, unlike foods that are high in saturated fat, such as cream, butter, cheese and fatty meats. For this reason, I'm afraid, fried eggs receive the thumbs down!

Untreated milk
Delicious as it is, untreated milk is a potential health hazard for most people because, unlike pasteurised milk, it may contain pathogenic bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, which can cause food poisoning, especially in children, pregnant women and older people. It's therefore advisable to boil untreated milk before drinking it. Shane's milk will also be full cream, which means that it will be high in saturated animal fats and triglycerides, which can increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis. To lessen this risk, dilute the milk with water.

Tinned macaroni cheese
Basing my assumptions on both his shopping basket and Irish people's high genetic susceptibility to heart disease, Shane's penchant for macaroni cheese worries me. High intakes of saturated fat dramatically increase the risk of heart disease, particularly if exacerbated by a low-fibre, high-alcohol diet, along with a sedentary lifestyle and smoking. And not only does macaroni cheese contain a lot of fat, but its high calorie content can lead to weight gain. One way of mitigating these negative effects is to team it with some fresh, fibre-containing vegetables, although I somehow doubt that this advice will appeal to Shane. Fatty foods increase the risk of suffering from heartburn and reflux, too, so if you're feeling stressed and your stomach's producing a lot of acid, eating macaroni cheese may result in an uncomfortable few hours.

Who? The Pogues' Shane MacGowan :))

24 julho 2006


Que angústia!

– O senhor fala português, sim ou não??

– O que é que esteve a fazer tanto tempo na Ucrânia?

– Profissão?

– Piloto de aviões.

– No banco disseram-me que como estrangeira não posso ter livro de cheques. A verdade é que gostam do nosso dinheiro, mas de nós, não!

– A escola?... Bem, aqui em Portugal há muita coisa boa... Eu estou na praia, faz sol, o mar é óptimo. Tenho trabalho… Mas a escola aqui é mesmo um problema. Muito fraca.

Isto agora interessa-me... muito

A Rússia política e literária em Fernando Pessoa

À parte algumas referências de passagem, os ecos da literatura russa em Fernando Pessoa só se podem encontrar na sua biblioteca: Turgueniev, Tchekhov, Dostoievski

Muito pouco se tem feito neste campo no que toca a Fernando Pessoa, o que é surpreendente se tivermos em conta o facto de que a sua biblioteca pessoal se encontra intacta em Lisboa, quase como a deixou quando morreu em 1935. É uma biblioteca relativamente pequena mas que merece a maior atenção pela existência de inúmeros sublinhados, notas e comentários devidos a Pessoa durante a sua leitura sempre criteriosa dessa fascinante variedade de livros, a maior parte dos quais em inglês e francês.

Os sonetos são assinados por Alexander Search e, ainda que menores, têm a importância de fazerem a demonstração poética do descontentamento de Pessoa em relação ao tratamento dado pelos Ingleses aos Russos.

To England

(When English journalists joked on Russia's disasters.)


How long, oh Lord, shall war and strife be rolled
On the God-breathing breast of slumbering man,
Horrible nightmares in the doubtful span
Of his sleep blind to heaven? As of old,

Shall we, more wise, in frantic joy behold
The bloody fall of nation and of clan,
And ever others' woes with rough glee scan,
And war's dark names in Glory's charts inscrolled? (??)

We now that in vile joy our egoist fears
Behold dispelled, one day shall mourn the more
That blood of men erased them bitter tears
Of desolated woe, as wept of yore
(Yet not for the short space of ten long years)
The grecian archer on the Lemnian shore.

19th June, 1905


Our enemies are fallen; other hands
That ours have struck them, and our joy is great
To know that now at length our fears abate
From hint(?) and menace on great Eastern lands.

Bardling, scribbler and artist, servile bands,
From covert sneer outsigh their trembling hate
Laughing at misery, and woe, and fallen state,
Armies of men whole-crushed on desolate strands.

The fallen lion every ass can kick,
That in his life, shamed to unmotioned fright,
His every move with eyes askance did trace.

Ill scorn beseems us, men of war and trick,
Whose groaning nation poured her fullest might
To take the freedom of a former (farmer?) race.

19th June, 1905


Preferia Turgueniev

Ainda que a biblioteca de Pessoa nada nos indique sobre eventuais leituras das obras de Tolstoi, ela parece sugerir que as suas preferências vão para Ivan Turgueniev e que o seu interesse pela literatura russa foi mais do que casual, possivelmente suscitado pela leitura de Turgueniev. Os três romances de Turgueniev existentes na biblioteca de Fernando Pessoa são traduções francesas:

1) Scènes de la vie russe. Paris: Hachette, 1910.

2) Mémoires d'un seigneur russe. 2 vols. Trad. Ernest Charrière. Paris: Hachette, 1912.

3) Nouvelles Scènes de la vie rase. Paris: Hachette, 1913.

Turgueniev é geralmente considerado como o mais europeu dos romancistas russos, e não é surpreendente que Pessoa. preferisse a prosa equilibrada, quase poética, deste autor ao evangelismo de Tolstoi (Tolstoi como romancista era praticamente desconhecido em Portugal na altura) ou ao estilo inconstante e carregado de emoção de Dostoievski.

Todo o ensaio numa página do Instituto Camões na memória cache do Google.
É o que se pode arranjar :|

Now there's a Book...

I wasn't there as I wished and said on a previous post, at the 9th International Conference on the Short-Story in English, Views from the Edge: the Short-Story Revisited, but now there's a book with the output :) da 101 Noites.

Nomes de escritores consagrados como Hélia Correia, Luísa Costa Gomes, Gonçalo M. Tavares ou Rui Zink, e de estreantes como Diana Almeida, Rute Beirante ou Jorge Vaz de Carvalho, juntam-se a outros autores numa antologia de 15 contos em português e inglês, lançada no dia 27 de Junho, no Instituto Camões (IC) e intitulada Onde a Terra Acaba, Contos Portugueses.

«Trata-se de uma edição que veio prolongar e alargar a vida de pequenas narrativas de escritores portugueses que participaram no 9.º Congresso Internacional da Sociedade para o Estudo do Conto, realizado recentemente na Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa», disse Simonetta Luz Afonso, presidente do IC, a entidade que patrocinou a tradução da obra. «Será certamente um excelente instrumento de trabalho para os nossos Leitores espalhados por 200 universidades de todo o mundo e estará disponível em formato digital no Centro Virtual Camões, que tem 15 mil visitantes por dia», concluiu, passando a palavra às organizadoras do congresso e da antologia.

Teresa Alves e Teresa Cid, por seu lado, agradeceram: «o entusiasmo fora do normal com que o IC acolhe os projecto, o apoio constante do Centro de Estudos Anglísticos da Universidade de Lisboa (CEAUL), a disponibilidade dos tradutores, que trabalharam 48 em 24 horas, da editora 101 Noites, que produziu o livro num tempo recorde, e finalmente, dos autores que aceitaram o repto de participar graciosamente nestes projectos de divulgação do conto».

A apresentação do livro ficou por conta de João Almeida Flor, Director do CEAUL, que o considerou «um conjunto de textos de temáticas e estilos de várias gerações que documentam aspectos centrais da crise do país na transição do milénio». Portugal aparece aqui, acrescentou Almeida Flor, «como um lugar dilacerado, em que a identidade linguística e o espaço geográfico desaparecem como capital simbólico». A multissecular viagem é agora de «conhecimento identitário», também por outras cidades e patrimónios. As personagens que aqui convergem são «seres minoritários que fogem dos padrões» e vêem na aventura a forma de «ultrapassagem dos acanhados horizontes que o país parece oferecer».

Nestas narrativas de «elevadíssimo mérito artístico», que são também um «laboratório de escrita» procura-se, na opinião deste anglicista, «um sentido abrangente para as contradições e limitações da vida quotidiana e a denúncia do formalismo convencional da classe média cumpridora de ritos caducos.»

Optimista relativamente ao potencial de distribuição da antologia no estrangeiro, que a 101 Noites negociará com congéneres internacionais, Teresa Cid lembrou a importância da obra em território nacional. «Apesar da falta de tempo para ler, os portugueses continuam a comprar mais romances, talvez por sentirem que uma obra maior é um investimento mais seguro».

Rui Zink concorda. «Os portugueses têm um problema com o tamanho», assegura o escritor que orientou vários workshops de escrita de contos e que, entre 1984 e 2006, publicou cinco livros em torno deste género «ainda bastante invisível em Portugal» e que, na presente colectânea, assina a narrativa intitulada Amanhã Chegam as Águas – «um retrato da Comunidade Europeia como algo de asfixiante, que anda em torno de duas memórias traumáticas (o Tsunami de 1755 e Auschwitz em 1939).»

23 julho 2006


Une trouvaille: a blog called Tabacaria, in hommage to Pessoa, in Portuguese and French.
J'adore :)

A postcard from Texas

Thanx, Mary :)

A postcard from Chicago, USA

Thanx, Maria :)

A postcard from Saint Petersburg

Spassiba, Kseniya :)

Impagável :D, I tell you

'Just who is this Magna Carta fellow?'

Statement of purpose

I had heard about the British all my life. As a child, I had crushes on a series of Britons, including Hayley Mills, Julie Andrews and, somewhat problematically, Davy Jones. But for various reasons, including working for a living and not having enough money, I had never been to Britain.

It is my belief that we Americans, geographically isolated as we are, tend to be perhaps not as knowledgeable about other cultures as we might be. This is regrettable. Since we are the sole remaining superpower, it is desirable that we know something about the rest of the world, because otherwise, when we take over different parts of the world, how will we know how good we did?

Accordingly, I decided to undertake a visit to Britain and study the land and its peoples.

A word about nomenclature

Britain is often said to be part of "the United Kingdom", along with several other countries, including England. Ireland is also nearby, and is considered part of Scotland, which, in turn, is adjacent to, and included in, a small country called Wales. To first-time visitors this can be confusing, especially when one learns that - paradoxically - France is considered by the British to be its very own nation! One finds oneself longing for the simplicity of America, where, for example, everyone understands that New York City is a city, that Cleveland is a state in either Ohio or Indiana, and that the Mississippi River, I'm pretty sure, does not run in any state other than Mississippi. Or city. I can't remember if Mississippi is a city or a ... Anyway, the point is, the American visitor to Britain can avoid all confusion by simply referring to his hosts and hostesses as "you guys".

Up, up and away!

To get to Britain, you fly over several oceans, including the Atlantic. I think also Missouri? I did not see very much of the Atlantic or Missouri or whatever because, as we passed over, I was watching a movie on our aeroplane, called Dumb And Dumber. It was funny. It is about these two guys who are dumb. Then we were served dinner. I was next to a guy from Spain! All he did was sleep. The Spanish, I concluded, are a lazy people, prone to sleep, who do not enjoy movies. When he finally woke up, I gave him a cookie I had saved for him, because I did not like it. He enjoyed that cookie, that's for sure! That's one thing one can conclude about the Spanish: they certainly love to feed their faces. Then it turned out he wasn't Spanish at all, but a fellow American, from Montana! I guess I learned a valuable lesson about generalising: people from Montana are lazy and love to feed their faces.

Hay, town of books

The first thing I did in England was travel to a town called Hay, the site of a big literary festival. Hay is known as The Town Of Books, because it has approximately 14,000 used book shops. The cars are all shaped like books and all of their food is book-shaped and the women wear a special perfume that smells like old musty books and all of the dogs are named "Baudelaire".

One of the principles of science is that one can, by the careful study of a small data set, form generalised conclusions about a larger population. Based on my observation of the British at Hay, I concluded that the British: 1) are all from London, 2) are extremely literate, and 3) are almost always drunk. It was hard to find a Briton at Hay who was not from London and was not either reading or drunk, or both - ie, reading while drunk. Also, the British in Hay are extremely smart. Based on the quality of my conversations with the British at the Hay Festival, I was forced to conclude that the British are even more intelligent, literary and articulate than us Americans! I know my American readers will find this hard to believe, if they have even made it this far, due to all my big words I have been using. However, my fellow Americans, do not feel bad about our relative stupidity; I have concluded that the British are more intelligent, literary and articulate than us simply because they spend more time reading and studying and reflecting on the world than we do. No doubt if we Americans spent as much time reading, studying and thoughtfully reflecting as the British, we would be every bit as intelligent, literary and articulate as them. But we have better things to do, such as getting more money, and calling in our votes for American's Sexiest Food-Obsessed Midgets, and keeping the world safe from democracy. Or, should I say, safe for democracy. Whatever. What am I, some kind of language scientist or wordologist or whatnot?

In which, hungover, am rescued

After Hay, it was off to Salisbury, for the Salisbury Book Festival. As part of my study, I decided to embark on this trip after staying up drinking until 4am for two consecutive nights. I wanted to see how the famous "English countryside" would appear to an American author endeavouring not to be sick in front of one of his idols, the famous Canadian author Margaret Atwood and her charming, brilliant husband Graeme Gibson. Turns out I was unable to observe much of the countryside, because instead of gazing out of the window, I was gazing down at my feet muttering, "Why, you idiot, why, how old are you anyway, you freaking moron?" This portion of the study was further complicated by the fact that our driver was a sadistic former race car driver who, upon learning of my condition, attempted to come to my aid by telling me lengthy anecdotes about all the places he had historically thrown up in while drunk, and enumerating all the exotic, grotesque foods he had eaten just prior to throwing up, and taking corners faster than necessary, sometimes even going up on two wheels while glancing playfully over to see if I'd thrown up yet.

Later that night, feeling somewhat better

That night I read with Margaret Atwood, to a crowd of Salisburians, who seemed as intelligent and apt to read and/or discuss literature as the Hayites, albeit considerably less constantly drunk.

Our crowd consisted of approximately 300 Margaret Atwood fans, with the remainder of the crowd being my fan. After the reading, Margaret and I were overrun by our fans, crowding around her to get her to sign our books. It was at this point that my fan (Larry) changed his mind and became Margaret's fan and, in a fury of conversion, erased my autograph and thrust my book at Margaret, while unfavourably comparing my work to Margaret's, leaving me with zero (0) fans! (Thanks, Larry! To hell with you, Larry! I may not be as talented as Margaret Atwood, but I am less funny, and it has taken me a lot longer to write a lot fewer books! So there! Do I come to your work and disavow you, Larry?)

After the reading, we ate dinner at a restaurant built in the 1320s. I was amazed by this. In America, anything even circa-1980s is considered Historical and, in fact, several of my fortysomething friends have recently had National Historical Landmark plaques surgically mounted, against their will, into their foreheads. The ceiling in that ancient restaurant was literally sagging with age, and I found it strangely moving to imagine Sir Winston Churchill under that saggy ceiling, having dinner with some other British old-timer, such as, say, Shakespeare, or Humphrey Bogart, or even the ancient English band The Scorpions. Upon entering the bathroom, which the British do not call "the bathroom" or "the washroom" or "the crapper", but, quaintly, "the loo" (short, I believe, for "Waterloo", the famous place where the British defeated the Russians during something called "The Reformation"), I was astonished to find that the "loos" in those ancient times were very much like ours, and even had urinals! I just stood awhile in that "loo", imagining Abraham Lincoln standing at that very same urinal, relieving himself while mentally writing the Declaration of Independence. What a moment! Then "Larry" came in, and tossed my book into an adjacent ancient urinal, after first, of course, tearing out the valuable title page, which had Margaret Atwood's autograph on it.

Dead but not forgotten

After dinner we walked over to the Salisbury cathedral, also built long ago. I began to wonder if anything in Britain is new and, if not, do the British feel badly about this? It was very beautiful in the cathedral, although also a little creepy, as the British apparently bury people right in their churches. In America we do not bury anyone in our churches, no matter how holy they are. Even a famous religious figure like Oprah cannot be buried in an American church. A friend of mine tried to be buried in his church, but when the priest found out about it, my friend was dug up and put in a distant suburban graveyard, as is our tradition. My friend's case was complicated by the fact that he wasn't actually dead. I have sent him a letter, advising him that if he is still alive and still wants to be buried in a church when dead, he should move to England.

When they bury you in the church in England, they sometimes put you in this kind of mummy case, with your face and body carved in wood! That would be good for my friend, who is very handsome; however, he also has a huge pot belly, and his sarcophagus would literally extend upward about five feet, which might make it difficult for people in certain parts of the church to see the altar.

But I digress.

In summary, things in England are very old and people seem to know a lot about history. A Briton, for no apparent reason, will start cursing somebody named Cromwell or mumbling about a bunch of Whigs, which are, as I understand it, a soccer team, or, as they call soccer teams over here, "a pitch". I left with many questions, such as: just who is this Magna Carta fellow? And: how is it that such intelligent people think King Arthur was an actual guy? At least in my country everyone knows that King Arthur was invented by Monty Python. I did not have the heart to break this news, and just played along. OK, OK, I would find myself saying, Sir Lancelot, right, sure, you bet.

When a Briton goes off on one of these historical tangents, it is sometimes best to simply change the subject. For example, one Briton at Hay began talking about some Irish writer, Henry James, or Henry Johns, or Jaspar James, or Roald Joyce, or something like that, and I, starting to doze off, quickly dropped a reference to the popular American television show Spike Through The Head, in which five childhood friends compete to see which of them will get the Spike Through The Head at the end of the show. The way they do this is, they all have sex with each other and rate the sex on a scale from 10 ("Super!") to zero ("Very Bad, Why Did I Even Do That?, Ugh!"). My British friend fell silent, perhaps depressed by his lack of knowledge of American pop culture. He wouldn't have felt so bad had he known I totally invented that show! Thomas, if you are reading this - sorry! But I had to get you off that James guy, you were boring me to tears.

(A musical note: the British listen to many American bands here, including The Beatles. In that way, they are very much like us.)

London, the 'city of light'

London is the largest city in Britain and is, consequently, full of British. The Londoners are an admirable race, ruddy and friendly. Several differences were immediately observed between the Londoners and the Hayites. First, the Londoners did not appear to be so constantly drunk. Although isolated instances of being totally sloshed were observed, most Londoners appeared to be sober and, for example, walking to work (although this observation may have been biased by the fact that I arrived in London very early in the morning). Several Londoners appeared to be in love. At least two Hare Krishnas were observed. Hare Krishna Londoners, it was observed, also speak with accents. Overweight Britons tend to walk with the upper thighs rubbing slightly together. British children tend to be smaller than fully realised Britons, with redder cheeks and smaller hands.

British trees, like American trees, grow upward, toward the sun. Interestingly, British dogs do not appear to bark with discernible accents.

The Londonites are a polite people. In fact, being around Londoners all day made me feel like a rude slob. All my life I have talked like I talk, and now suddenly I sounded to myself like I was the one with the accent, and was dumber and cruder than everyone around me! Even the cab drivers are polite. In America, it is not unusual for your cab driver, after dropping you at your destination, to kill and eat you. That is, if you can even find a cab. In many of the smaller American cities, if you want to be driven somewhere, then killed and eaten, you have to hire a limo service. But in London, not only are there plenty of cabs, and the drivers do not kill and eat you, but the drivers are given a special test in which they are quizzed on all sorts of difficult things, such as London streets and world history and even calculus. So it is really something - you jump in a cab, say, "Briefly explain the theory of the calculus", and next thing you know you are in Soho, and the driver is wrapping up his explanation of calculus on a small chalkboard supplied in every single cab.

British women

A word about British women. They are extremely beautiful. If you have ever heard the expression "pale lilies" or "wild English roses" or "pale wild English lilies of the field", that about sums it up. Being in England, I began to understand why so many Americans married British girls during the second world war. What became less clear, however, was why the British girls married the Americans. Maybe American guys back then were less loud and fat than we are now? Or maybe the British women were less attractive? Or had poorer eyesight? Perhaps they were shell-shocked? It is hard to say. In any event, British women, or at least the women in the British publishing industry, are extremely beautiful and bright and kind, and in fact I would have to say that in the rankings of World's Most Beautiful Women, British Literary Women should be moved up the list, past the Swedish and right up there with the Russians. And, since the British Literary Women speak the same language as us Americans, and with a variety of entrancing accents, I would have to put them even above the Russians, no offence to the Russians, who, speaking Russian, can't read this anyway, so no big deal.

Politics of the British

The traveller must, of course, always be cautious of the overly broad generalisation. But I am an American, and a paucity of data does not stop me from making sweeping, vague, conceptual statements and, if necessary, following these statements up with troops.

In the case of England, however, I am happy to report that troops will not be necessary. The British are, it would appear, allied with us Americans in the War On Terror. I found something rousing about this sense of shared purpose - this sense that they, too, were fooled by spurious intelligence; they, too, were, while in a state of fear, too quick to believe what they were told by their leaders; they, too, are willing to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of an endless war against what is essentially an imprecise noun, a war that is, semantically speaking, analogous to a War On Patriarchy, or the Very Energetic Siege Of Narcissism. It all reminded me of the second world war, or, to be more exact, movies about the second world war, in which, typically, the American and the British soldiers are not only the most handsome in the bunch, but speak English the best, and co-operate in the subtle teasing of the French guy, who is wearing a beret.

We Americans can learn much from the British. One thing they do here, which is a very good idea, is they have millions of tiny cameras hidden everywhere around their country. Say a terrorist is in his little terrorist house, playing his terrorist music too loudly. What happens is, the little camera in his house detects him and his friends dancing, and the police descend on the house and put a stop to the terrorist dancing. And they do not even need a warrant and there is not even a trial! Or, say, a terrorist dog poops in a park and the terrorist does not clean it up. The cameras see both the pooping and the non-cleaning-up, and soon dozens of policemen (which here are called "bobbies" or "Tories" or "pitches") descend on the terrorist and his dog (which here are called "favours"). We Americans are years behind in this technology. No doubt thousands of terrorists are smugly dancing to loud music in their homes all over our nation, while scores of smirking terrorist dogs poop blithely in our parks, and we do not even know it.

We seem to be ahead of the British in other anti-terrorist areas, however; for example, secret Cuban prisons.


In conclusion, I love Britain. In fact, I would like to suggest the reconciliation of Britain and the United States into one nation, to be called the United Anti-Terror States Of Britain. The combination of British clarity, smartness, kindness, hospitality, humour, education and literacy, and American loudness/arrogance, is sure to establish the United Anti-Terror States Of Britain as a great and enduring superpower.

Furthermore, I feel confident that the discovery, by my countrymen, of the unique British delicacy called "fish and chips" would put an end to American obesity for ever.

I would also like to extend a sincere thanks to everyone in the entire country of ... of the UK. Or, you know, of, ah, England. That is to say, I guess -Britain? You know what I mean. I would like to extend a sincere thanks to ... all of "you guys".

Except Larry. Larry, I do not thank. As far as Larry goes, I suspect that Larry - rude, possibly terroristic, Larry - was not even truly British, but was from some foreign country, such as, say, Northumberland.

22 julho 2006

Let the reader decide, let the reader beware.

Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.

The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it's their lives that pursue them.

Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they're doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck.


Jason and Kimberley Graham-Nye could have named their product the Eco-Diaper. After all, one of their chief motivations for selling a “flushable diaper system” is to offer an alternative to disposable diapers, which contribute to landfills and take years to biodegrade. But instead they went with the name gDiapers, which doesn’t mean anything.

Well, they would put it differently: they say that the “g” could stand for “green,” but it could also mean “groovy.” The point is to leave things vague enough that a consumer might be drawn in by gDiapers’ fashionably bright colors, comfort or perhaps just the novelty factor, and then learn that, “P.S., they save the planet,” Jason suggests. While saving the planet seems like sort of too big a deal to reduce to a postscript, the Graham-Nyes figure too much emphasis on the ecofactor would restrict their product’s appeal to what they call “dark green” consumers. GDiapers were introduced in the U.S. just six months ago in a handful of green-friendly stores like the New Seasons Market in Portland, Ore., but after a successful test run at Whole Foods outlets on the West Coast, that chain will soon distribute the product nationally.

GDiapers are positioned as a third option for parents facing the familiar cloth-or-disposable choice. A $25 starter set comes with two pairs of washable “pants” (in “groovy” red, orange, blue or green) and 10 removable liners; when a liner is soiled, it’s flushed down the toilet. A refill pack of 32 flushable liners costs $14, roughly the same as 40 Huggies. The Graham-Nyes did not invent the product: they found it at a baby-products expo in Australia, where it has been on the market since 1991 under the name Baby Weenees Eco Nappy Products. They loved the product and felt strongly that it could be successful in other parts of the world — provided it was given a different image, with more broad appeal. So they bought the rights to market and sell it outside of Australia and New Zealand.

Although greenness seems trendier than ever, its limitations as a selling point are the subject of a recent article in the journal Environment, titled “Avoiding Green Marketing Myopia.” The authors (Jacquelyn Ottman, Edwin Stafford and Cathy Hartman) argue that many ecofriendly products fail precisely because the companies that make them put too much emphasis on the whole save-the-planet thing. To reach the mainstream, they say, such products need the attributes any product needs: cost effectiveness, convenience, status and so on. The article’s marquee example is a light bulb that flopped when it was positioned as Earth-friendly but took off when it was reintroduced as a money-saver. In an interview, Stafford and Hartman pointed to the Prius, which enjoys a whopping price premium for reasons that probably have as much to do with status as with saving the planet.

Status is now the most familiar selling tactic for many greenish products, and it is clearly the factor that the Graham-Nyes hope to introduce into the convenience-versus-ethics predicament of the diaper buyer; in fact, they specifically say they want to be “the Toyota Prius of diapers.” GDiapers are more work than disposables, and while the company says the product complies with various official guidelines that make them safely flushable, there’s also a bit on their site about how to handle the “icky” toilet-clog possibility. Still, for parents who find cloth diapers an unacceptable hassle, they provide a new way to obtain the status (or smugness) of avoiding disposables.

The Graham-Nyes have encouraged gDiapers zealots to spread the word about the product through a “Pioneers” program. And from these core, early consumers they have picked up a fresh perspective. Dads, it turns out, have a “different response” to gDiapers, Jason says. “What they love is that there’s no garbage.” Soiled disposable diapers are often stuffed into a device that crushes them down by the score, where they sit until they’re eventually hauled out with the trash. Stafford, a marketing professor and a father himself, says he can imagine bragging to other parents about finding a way to avoid disposables on garbage night. “The nonsmell factor” doesn’t sound sexy, he says, but it’s definitely a concept that even the most eco-indifferent parent can understand. And those, of course, are the parents the Graham-Nyes want most of all.

* this one kills me, but here in Portugal there's nothing, so... green with envy

What Kind of Genius Are You?


Many geniuses peak early, creating their masterwork at a tender age ...

LITERATURE: The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Age 29

PAINTING: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Pablo Picasso
Age 26

FILMMAKING: Citizen Kane
Orson Welles
Age 26

ARCHITECTURE: The Vietnam War Memorial
Maya Lin
Age 23

MUSIC: The Marriage of Figaro
Wolfgang Mozart
Age 30


... while others bloom late, doing their best work after lifelong tinkering.

LITERATURE: Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain
Age 50

PAINTING: Château Noir
Paul Cézanne
Age 64

Alfred Hitchcock
Age 59

ARCHITECTURE: Fallingwater
Frank Lloyd Wright
Age 70

MUSIC: Symphony No. 9
Ludwig van Beethoven
Age 54

13 julho 2006

The Top 10 Emerging Environmental Technologies

10- Make Paper Obsolete

Imagine curling up on the couch with the morning paper and then using the same sheet of paper to read the latest novel by your favorite author. That's one possibility of electronic paper, a flexible display that looks very much like real paper but can be reused over and over. The display contains many tiny microcapsules filled with particles that carry electric charges bonded to a steel foil. Each microcapsule has white and black particles that are associated with either a positive or negative charge. Depending on which charge is applied; the black or white particles surface displaying different patterns. In the United States alone, more than 55 million newspapers are sold each weekday.

9 - Bury the Bad Stuff
Carbon dioxide is the most prominent greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. According to the Energy Information Administration, by the year 2030 we will be emitting close to 8,000 million metric tons of CO2. Some experts say it's impossible to curb the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere and that we just have to find ways to dispose of the gas. One suggested method is to inject it into the ground before it gets a chance to reach the atmosphere. After the CO2 is separated from other emission gases, it can be buried in abandoned oil wells, saline reservoirs, and rocks. While this sounds great, scientists are not sure whether the injected gas will stay underground and what the long-term effects are, and the costs of separation and burying are still far too high to consider this technology as a practical short-term solution.

8 - Let Plants and Microbes Clean Up After Us

Bioremediation uses microbes and plants to clean up contamination. Examples include the cleanup of nitrates in contaminated water with the help of microbes, and using plants to uptake arsenic from contaminated soil, in a process known as phytoremediation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has used it to clean up several sites. Often, native plant species can be used for site cleanup, which are advantageous because in most cases they don't require pesticides or watering. In other cases scientists are trying to genetically modify the plants to take up contaminants in their roots and transport it all the way to the leaves for easy harvesting.

7 - Plant Your Roof

It's a wonder that this concept attributed to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of Seven Wonders of the World, didn't catch on sooner in the modern world. Legend has it that the roofs, balconies, and terraces of the royal palace of Babylon were turned into gardens by the king's order to cheer up one of his wives. Roof gardens help absorb heat, reduce the carbon dioxide impact by taking up Co2 and giving off oxygen, absorb storm water, and reduce summer air conditioning usage. Ultimately, the technique could lessen the "heat island" effect that occurs in urban centers. Butterflies and songbirds could also start frequenting urban garden roofs, and like the king's wife, could even cheer up the inhabitants of the building. Here, a green roof is tested at Penn State.

6 - Harness Waves and Tides

The oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface. Waves contain an abundance of energy that could be directed to turbines, which can then turn this mechanical power into electrical. The obstacle to using this energy source has been the difficulty in harnessing it. Sometimes the waves are too small to generate sufficient power. The trick is to be able to store the energy when enough mechanical power is generated. New York City's East River is now in the process of becoming the test bed for six tide-powered turbines, and Portugal's reliance on waves in a new project is expected to produce enough power for more than 1,500 homes. Here, a buoy system capable of capturing the ocean’s power in the form of offshore swells is illustrated by researchers at Oregon State University.

5 - Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

The biggest solar collector on Earth is our ocean mass. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the oceans absorb enough heat from the sun to equal the thermal energy contained in 250 billion barrels of oil each day. The U.S. consumes about 7.5 billion barrels a year. OTEC technologies convert the thermal energy contained in the oceans and turn it into electricity by using the temperature difference between the water's surface, which is heated, and the cold of the ocean's bottom. This difference in temperature can operate turbines that can drive generators. The major shortcoming of this technology is that it's still not efficient enough to be used as a major mechanism for generating power.

4 - Sunny New Ideas

The sun's energy, which hits Earth in the form of photons, can be converted into electricity or heat. Solar collectorscome in many different forms and are already used successfully by energy companies and individual homeowners. The two widely known types of solar collectors are solar cells and solar thermal collectors. But researchers are pushing the limits to more efficiently convert this energy by concentrating solar power by using mirrors and parabolic dishes. Part of the challenge for employing solar power involves motivation and incentives from governments. In January, the state of California approved a comprehensive program that provides incentives toward solar development. Arizona, on the other hand, has ample sunshine but has not made solar energy a priority. In fact in some planned communities it is downright discouraged by strict rules of aesthetics.

3 - The 'H' Power

Hydrogen fuel cell usage has been touted as a pollution-free alternative to using fossil fuels. They make water by combining hydrogen and oxygen. In the process, they generate electricity. The problem with fuel cells is obtaining the hydrogen. Molecules such as water and alcohol have to be processed to extract hydrogen to feed into a fuel cell. Some of these processes require the using other energy sources, which then defeat the advantages of this "clean" fuel. Most recently, scientists have come up with ways to power laptops and small devices with fuel cells, and some car companies are promising that soon we'll be seeing cars that emit nothing but clean water. The promise of a "hydrogen economy," however, is not one that all experts agree will ever be realized.

2 - Remove the Salt

According to the United Nations, water supply shortages will affect billions of people by the middle of this century. Desalination, basically removing the salt and minerals out of seawater, is one way to provide potable water in parts of the world where supplies are limited. The problem with this technology is that it is expensive and uses a lot of energy. Scientists are working toward better processes where inexpensive fuels can heat and evaporate the water before running it through membranes with microscopic pores to increase efficiency.

1 - Make Oil from Just about Anything

Any carbon-based waste, from turkey guts to used tires, can, by adding sufficient heat and pressure, be turned into oil through a process called thermo-depolymerization, This is very similar to how nature produces oil, but with this technology, the process is expedited by millions of years to achieve the same byproduct. Proponents of this technology claim that a ton of turkey waste can cough up about 600 pounds of petroleum.

'Tis never too much to remember, and acknowledge

The psychedelic legacy of Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett, who died several days ago (no one is sure exactly when) at age 60, was, to say the least, a mess. The wire services are remembering the co-founder and first lead singer of Pink Floyd as a "troubled genius"—obit-speak for lunatic—and indeed his life was a lurid tragedy that seemed scripted for a VH-1 Behind the Music special: Gifted psychedelic-rock pioneer streaks like a comet across the Swinging London music scene, sears his mind on drugs, descends into madness, and disappears. He became something more horrifying than a rock martyr like Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix; he became a kind of living dead man. The most famous episode in the Barrett legend was his 1975 reunion with Pink Floyd, when he turned up unannounced at Abbey Road Studios just as the band was recording their Barrett elegy, "Shine On, You Crazy Diamond." He was a gruesome apparition—bloated, with a shaved head and shaved eyebrows—and none of his ex-bandmates recognized him.

And yet this epic mess of a man made art that was anything but. Listening to Barrett's songs—to the first Pink Floyd singles, to the band's 1967 debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and to Barrett's early '70s solo records—one is struck by the formal rigor, the wit, the satisfying symmetries of his music and words. Barrett was a terrific craftsman, and neither the dissonance and clatter of his soundscapes nor the cheery freakiness of his lyrics could hide the songs' essential classicism. Had Barrett been born 30 years earlier, and done several thousand fewer hits of LSD, he could have made a fine living on Tin Pan Alley. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is probably the great '60s psychedelic rock album, and it reminds us that psychedelic rock wasn't an atonal maelstrom, but pop gone a little fuzzy and acid-fried around the edges: catchy songs tricked out with weird noises. Barrett's lyrics similarly mixed old-fashioned rigor with drug-fueled surreality, nonsense with wry, funny, haunting sense. "Arnold Layne," Pink Floyd's first single, sounds like doggerel, but listen closer and you hear the tale of a transvestite who steals his wardrobe from clotheslines: "Arnold Layne/ Had a strange hobby/ Collecting clothes/ Moonshine, washing line/ They suit him fine."

Barrett delivers those lines in a nasal southern English whine, which was something of an innovation for the time. Most British bands, including the Stones and early Beatles, sang in ersatz-American accents, but Barrett proclaimed his Englishness and not just by refusing to Yankee-up his singing voice. His songs are steeped in a pastoral fairy-tale Englishness—enchanted forests and gnomes in tunics and mice romping through barley fields—which is what you get, I guess, when you mix hard drugs with Victorian children's literature. (Barrett took the phrase "piper at the gates of dawn" from Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows.) It's a deeply quaint and provincial worldview, perfect for Barrett's twisty little pop songs but miles from the space-rock grandeur that Pink Floyd would achieve on post-Barrett classics like Dark Side of the Moon. Rock snobs like to say that Pink Floyd lost it when Barrett freaked out and left the band, but the truth is Floyd would probably have gone down in history as a curio had Barrett stuck around—and what's more, there wouldn't be any such thing as Radiohead.

For decades, Barrett was rock's great romantic-tragic recluse, and now that there will definitely be no second act to his sad story, the Byronic myth surrounding him is bound to inflate. (I'm sure we'll be hearing lots of his 1970 ballad "Dark Globe," a terrifying farewell from a man slipping into madness: "Please, please, please lift the hand/ I'm only a person with Eskimo chain/ I tattooed my brain all the way/ Won't you miss me?/ Wouldn't you miss me at all?"*) But it would be nice if Barrett was recalled not just as an acid casualty or as a legendary "rock madman" but as an English eccentric in the surreal-comic tradition that extends from Lewis Carroll to Monty Python and, via Barrett, onto the weirdo-pop specialist Robyn Hitchcock. Barrett spent his final years in his mother's house in Cambridge, England, living comfortably off the royalties that his former bandmates made sure he collected. Reportedly, his pastimes were painting and gardening, and he was often seen by neighbors on his bicycle. It sounds like a pretty nice life, actually, and it's pleasant to think of Barrett ending his days as a vaguely Victorian figure—an odd old Englishman who'd made quite a splash in his youth, tottering through town on two wheels.