Friday, December 23, 2005

It's Getting Closer...

Posted by Picasa Merry Xmas

Well, we slipped out round the corner just before to one of the hundreds of little Xmas tree markets and got ourselves a tree...a Xmas tree, a pagan Xmas tree!

It looks a lot better in reality than in the picture - I don't know how to take pictures in the dark without flash so it's all too sort of lit up and not romantic but what the hell, you can use your imaginations a bit!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Happy New Gyros

On Sunday the kids were all here, it was snowy outside and we didn't want to cook but we also didn't want to risk driving anywhere either so I suggested getting something to take away...

The first votes were for pizza of course but then Nicky, my older daughter, started brainwashing the rest of the family to want Greek. She has a real talent for brainwashing!

So we all wanted Greek...but what exactly? Well, with Nicky's help, we settled on a poikilia for five persons and gyros for four...we phoned the local Greek and a couple of us trudged out into the whirling snow to get the grub.

Fortunately, we got there a little before they had finished preparing it so there was time for a quick beer - just to while away the moments of waiting - and an ouzo or two on the house and it was in a happy hungry mood that we crunched back through the blizzard.

The others had laid the table so we got started on our starters straight away...tzatziki, tarama, melitzanasalata, saganaki, florines, dolmadhes...mmmmmmm - washed down with the smooth retsina I had got for my birthday...and with the aroma of the gyros warming in the kitchen drifting into the dining room.

The starters were getting well snaffled and plates were being wiped with pitta bread when Tanja Maria went out to get the meat - she brought it all in, steaming in a big Greek oven pan - a tapsi - garnished with onions, fresh parsley and wedges of lemon - caught her sleeve on a chair...and sent the whole panful flying - as we all looked on in shock and disbelief...gyros tumbling gracefully in slow motion through the air and down onto the floor with a clatter as the pan landed alongside it all - demonstrating, in an experiment I am sure Gallileo had never thought of, that Newton's Laws hold true even in the Newton household...

I found myself gabbling, "it will still be ok to eat, it will still be ok to eat..."

But it wasn't. Even though the floor had not long before been vacuumed, the meat was all dusty and fluffy and gritty and basically..bleaaaargghhhh!

So we had to phone the restaurant again and they found our Greek food tragedy all very amusing...we could hear the cackles of laughter from the kitchen down the telephone..."sto patoma, sto patoma, re!!" ("on the floor!").

A different delegation was sent out to bring back the meat and it all went well. The Greeks said they had given us extra large portions this time and that we should call back if anything else went wrong.

If they had had my so-called sense of humour (fortunately they haven't), they would have sent a Xmas card with the second lot of food and written on it...

"Merry Xmas and a Happy New Gyros!"

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Snow is Falling, Snow on Snow...

The first snow which looks as if it means business has fallen. This is insidious snow - not the big fluffy traditional flakes but little innocent micro-snowflakes which you just don't take seriously but when you open the curtain in the I just did...there is a dazzling white layer everywhere - and they continue to fall, a continuous parachute attack of tiny little snow flakes which ends up smothering the whole region.
Already there have been accidents on the motorways resulting in vast traffic jams with people stuck in their cars in the cold for hours...
Normally I would be getting slowly into a panic about the roads and the conditions - it is about the time I would be thinking about setting of for Liverpool - but this year I don't need to worry about it as we are staying here.

The first Xmas without my mother will be hard enough I think without being in her house and having constant reminders that she is not there any more. Xmas was her favourite festival..she always used to say, "I can't be bothered with New Year...all that waiting around for twelve o'clock and by the time it comes we're all either drunk or tired out!"
She much preferred Xmas with its emphasis on family and that's why we went back in the festive season as often as we could - and especially in the last three years when she was ill, we were always there to get her out of the nusing home and try and give her the family Xmas in her own house which she so loved.

Last Xmas we even had snow in Liverpool...a thin dusting which was just enough to make it a white (and only slightly green) Xmas. On Xmas Day we were all together in the living room and my mother was in her wheelchair looking out of the window at the garden which was turning white before our eyes.
Following her stroke she could hardly speak but she managed to enunciate the sentence, "I wish I could just stay here forever..."

There are some presents you can't give...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Political Crackedness

When I was in England in November I read in the newspaper the one of our high street banks had decided to stop using the humble piggy bank as a symbol for saving money. The reason is that they felt it might offend some Islamic customers.

I recall saying, ‘what?’ out loud on the train.

Later that week, talking to my cousins, I mentioned this and they said, ‘oh yeah…you are also not supposed to say A.D. or B.C. any more either…it might offend the Islamic groups…’


I thought it was an English eccentricity but now I have seen quite a few US blogs which have mentioned the fact that it is not politically correct to talk of the Xmas Season. We should rather say ‘Holiday Season’. The reason? Guess what…

I’ve never been a great fan of the kind of political correctness which infects our society at present but I suppose you could argue that it is the lesser evil and perhaps it makes us think a moment before saying or doing something that would be offensive but this kind of idiocy makes us all much more aware of differences and stokes resentments.

I asked the Asian guy who runs our corner shop what he thought of Xmas.

‘Best time of the year,’ he said, ‘great for business!’

I said I meant whether he thought it offended his beliefs. He just gave me a funny look which I guess was the best answer.

It is a wonderful thing that we live in a society which tries to be tolerant. In fact I believe we should be tolerant of everything except intolerance (is this another example of Gödel’s incompleteness theory?) but tolerance is not a one-way street - it needs to be mutual.

When you look in from the outside, some religious practices can seem more than a little weird but if you think hard enough you can often find reasons for them. Take Christmas itself as an example. It is just the old pagan celebration of the winter solstice – the time of the year when the sun seems at its weakest and dark night time is winning its battle against the day. In the old days of superstition and fear I can see lots of reasons for having a big party to try and convince the sun to come back again…and to use the pine tree, which unlike the other bare, black and leafless deciduous trees, has retained its needles and remained green throughout the winter, as a symbol of eternal fertility and maybe decorate it…come to think of it, perhaps we should stop using this pagan symbol of the Xmas tree…it might offend the Christians.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Friday Book...

This week's Friday book is...actually I can't believe it's Friday already. It feels as if I have just stopped writing the post from Monday...and people keep reminding me that in two weeks it will be Xmas...HELP!!

Anyway, the Friday book, yes...this week it is by an author who I think is not at all as well known as he should be. Which of you has heard of Robertson Davies??


Thought so...

Well, you should all just run straight out to yout local bookstore and order something by him because he is brilliant!!

The book which jumped down from the shelf is "Fifth Business". It is ostensibly the life story of Dunstan Ramsey and the characters with whom his life is intertwined but it ranges all over the place from Canada where Ramsey grows up in the dour village of Deptford to the France of the First World War and other parts of Europe; it unites myth and hagiography, magic and psychoanalysis and is just indescribably good.

Here is Dunstan being caught out by his mother for stealing an egg. He has been inspired by a book on magic he finds in the library and now has the perhaps somewhat over-ambitious aim to become a prestidigateur. He takes an egg from the kitchen at home to practise a particularly deft bit of manipulation which ends in him putting his thumb through it in his back pocket:

Ha ha. Every boy has experiences of this kind, and they are usually thought to be funny and childlike. But that egg led to a dreadful row with my mother. She had missed the egg - it never occurred to me that anybody counted eggs - and accused me of taking it. I lied. Then she caught me trying to wash out my pocket... She exposed my lie and demanded to know what I wanted with an egg. Now, how can a boy of thirteen tell a Scotswoman widely admired for her practicality that he intends to become the world's foremost prestidigateur? I took refuge in mute insolence. She stormed. She demanded to know if I thought she was made of eggs.
(Dunstan gives a cheeky reply)
My mother had little sense of humour...and from the kitchen cupboard produced the pony whip.

"Don't you dare touch me," I shouted , and that put her into such a fury as I had never known - she pursued me round the kitchen, slashing me with the whip until she broke me down and I cried. She cried too, hysterically, and beat me harder, storming about my inpudnce, my want of respect for her - until at last her fury was spent, and she ran upstairs in tears and banged the door of her bedroom. I crept off to the woodshed, a criminal and wondered what I should do. Become a tramp perhaps? Hang myself?
(Later Dunstan has to apologise on his knees)
When it came time for me to go to bed my mother beckoned me to her, and kissed me, and whispered, "I know I'll never have another anxious moment with my own dear laddy."
I pondered these words before I went to sleep. How could I reconcile this motherliness with the screeching fury who had pursued me around the kitchen with a whip, flogging me until she was gorged with - what? Vengeance? What was it? Once when I was reading Freud for the first time, I thought I knew. I am not so sure I know now. But what I knew then was that nobody - not even my mother - was to be trusted in a strange world that showed very little of itself on the surface.

The characterisations are stunning, the plot gripping and the background information fascinating. This was the first of his books which I had read and as the end approached I found myself feeling wearily sad because I could not believe that the author would be able to do this again in another book...I feared it would be a one off into which Davies had put his all and which as a result would mean his other works would be thin and disappointing. Well, he had indeed put his all into this book but he did manage it again in the next book I read...and in all the other books I have read of his - each one was quite unique and exasperatingly good but totally different from the others. The only other author I have ever known who kept coming up with top quality was Thomas Hardy and the only writer with such a range of understanding of the human condition was Shakespeare.

After you have read this book you will want to nag your friends until they read it too!

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. Published in Penguin Books 1977

Monday, December 05, 2005

Can't Help Being Clever... what my mother would have said about my youngest, William. He has got one of his pictures hanging in the Einstein exhibition at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. We went to see it yesterday - the exhibition itself is very well done with all those exhibits that you just don't have the time or energy to read or look at or examine or learn from.

William's picture was a portrait of Einstein done in pencil and there is definitely a touch of the thin line between genius and madness in his portrayal. There were a few other pictures done by kids from his school and other grammar schools in Munich...some of them featuring Einstein as a super hero, others concentrating on the atomic bomb which his theories helped to create. It always struck me as ironic that such crowning intellectual achievements as the special and general theories of relativity should be put under a veritable cloud...a mushroom cloud only forty years later and be forever linked to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki...that's humans for you.

Anyway, my mother would also have said, "another artist in the family" - so far we have Katherine who is studying art and Jimmy who is on the way to being a bassist, he's in a band already and will be performing with the school big band at Xmas, and then there's Nicky who is an artist of life...

It's great...I love it...

...but I wouldn't have minded if one of them had been interested in fixing cars!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

It Must Still Be Friday Somewhere... I don't feel too bad about not having got around to doing my weekly Friday book recommendation post even though it is quite definitely Saturday in Munich!

This week the book which was waving from the bookshelf is one of a few titles from an author who will probably figure again one Friday.

It is "Unweaving the Rainbow" by Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins seems to spend half of his time defending Darwinism against the misrepresentations of creationists and lately so-called "Intelligent" Design-ists and the misunderstanding of various established scientists who really should know better and the other half defending himself against those who seem to believe that the fact that he roundly rejects religious beliefs automatically implies that he must be some kind of child-eating monster who blatantly ignores human moral instincts. Many people seem to believe that the merest whiff of atheism implies that the person in question is likely to live their life under no restraints at all and perhaps think he or she can freely commit murder and get away with it; strangely many other people who are believers in some religion or other assert their murderous inclinations by revealing that "god" whispered in their ear or that they had a "conversation" with this self same "god" - and, chillingly, you can go to some very high and important places to find people who profess this kind of thing.

It's a wonder that Dawkins has any time left to write anything let alone books which are stunningly excellent.

In "Unweaving the Rainbow"Dawkins aims to emphasise the wonder which science can spark and refutes those who think it has reduced the beauty of the world to a few formulas on a crumpled piece of paper. He shows us that poetry is very much alive and well in the way that science is slowly unravelling the mysteries of the universe. He looks at light and sound, how DNA is used in the lawcourts, proffers an explanation for our tendencies to create and believe in superstition and generally passes on his great enthusiasm and passion for his subject. And all this written in an English which is breathtakingly good.

The Sunday Times said, "The way Dawkins writes about science is not just a brain-tonic. It is more like an extended stay on a brain health-farm ... You come out feeling lean, tuned and enormously more intelligent".

Unweaving the Rainbow by Richards Dawkins. Penguin Books 1999