Saturday, May 05, 2007
Florence became the centre of culture in Italy and some say the world in the 15th and 16th centuries mostly because of it´s long tradition of hosting the Ugly Baby Show.
The Ugly Baby Show had little prominence before this because few people knew of it outside of Florence. This was until the marketing geniuses in the Medici family hit upon the idea of creating portraits of each year´s winners. Before the next year they´d parade the portraits around the local towns, and crowds would flock to see the competition. Soon people were bringing hideous babies from all over Italy to compete, and tourists would journey as far as from Iran, Ethiopia and India.
Here are a few
of the many
, many examples
of the winners.
The prizes varied over the years, but traditional prizes would include gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Roma - City of Moochers
This is Trajan's Column, to celebrate his conquest of the Dacians. And that statue at the top? Trajan of course? No! It's St. Peter. Not only didn't he conquer the Dacians I bet he never even saw a Dacian.
Just around the corner is the Pantheon, a huge dome built by the Romans to house shrines to the seven major gods of their religion, who the planets in our solar system were named after. You'd think there'd be a nice statue of Mercury in there, perhaps one of Jupiter. Nope, more mooochers moved in and the current tenants are Mary and all the Martyr Saints.
I tell you this has become a bad neighbourhood since all these out of towners have shown up.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Naples is a city of ancient tradition. One of the many traditions is the Via Formidilosus, the Path of Terror. The first recorded instance of this is in the 13th century when Naples again became a busy nexus of land and sea trade, filled with careening carts through the cobbled streets. However some sources claim that the tradition goes back to Roman times and particular icons such as the popular Petrified Janus (with both faces frozen in panic) celebrate the same activity, but I digress.
The simple motion of the tradition is to close one´s eyes, scream as loud and as long as possible and attempt to dash across the road. The drivers around you (originally in carts, now in cars) will honk their horns in appreciation of the tradition and speed up to show onlookers how courageous you are. They would never, under any circumstances, slow or even Heaven forbid stop their vehicles to allow a pedestrian to cross. To do so is to call one a coward and Naples´ history is filled with tales of duels to the death which eventuated because of this insult.
In the spirit of liberation which was the Renaissance a slightly modified tradition arose. That of running, of course, screaming, but also of keeping one´s eyes open wide in such a way to show that you see the grim spectre of Death across the other side, scythe in hand, beaconing you to join the restless souls at his side.
This tradition remained unmodified until until after the wars to unify Italy in the 19th century. Returned soldiers adopted the attitude of laughing maniacally as they ran, their unfocused eyes glinting with the horror they had seen as brother slew brother and the hills ran red with gore, showing that they feared no mortal pain or petty punishment that this transitory world could deal them. Though this practice can still be seen today it is by no means the more popular, and will elicit disapproving frowns from the more conservative elements of society.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Athens was a city clearly struggling. For every five inhabited buildings was one abandoned. Interestingly the abandoned ones seem to be the nicest architecturally speaking, perhaps they predate the war. Much of the close-packed, tenement housing is in almost identical buildings, perhaps put up after the war. A Greek guy said that joining the EU had been disasterous for Greece, with the cost of living rising steadily for the last five years. I suggested that joining the EU was a gamble, but he laughed mirthlessly and said it was a chance guaranteed to failure.
The people were nice, the vast majority knew a smattering of English, perhaps because of the Olympics but even the others were patient and friendly. Early one morning we staggered into the Red Indian Cafe and asked for kafe and gestured at the coffee machine. There was some confusion, but 'espresso' did the trick. That was when she dusted off the instrutions and tried to oeprate the machine. Only later did it occur to me that "Cafe" obviously meant bar, open early, sure, but it was strange for anyone to ask for coffee...
Working with the Greek alphabet was quite interesting. Even if I knew what word I needed, such as a street name, it took some work to translate the phoenetic sounds of the text which you were looking at. Simple rules such as 'p's are 'r's and 'l's are upside-down helped. However sigma having three different characters did not.
The food was a surprising delight. Simple was all I'd expected of Greek food, and simple it was, but it all worked very well. Anna has since commented that European food was made for me as they serve bread at every meal. But of couse they do, 'tis the natural order of things.
Monday, April 09, 2007
We hit Hong Kong, and we hit it but good.
It was actually a very comfortable place. It was pretty much a larger version of China Town, with more of everything.
The only thing it was lacking was bars. Anna suggested that we were in the wrong place, but during our 5-10km of walking we didn't see one!
From what we saw of Hong Kong their culture is all about the eating and the shopping.
Friday, February 02, 2007
In 2006 there were three films created specifically for me.A Scanner Darkly
Waking Life is one of my favourite films, I can watch it over and over (and over). So a gripping sci-fi story, also rotoscoped, directed by such a talented director I had every reason to be excited. But there was something wrong with it, and it's somewhat difficult to put my finger on. The setting was great, the plot was interesting, the actors were fine. It was a particularly inspired choice to pick Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson as two guys who were high all the time. I'd love to blame Keanu (who wouldn't?), but I think the problem with this film was the pacing. At least with Waking Life while you had no idea where the film was going it was moving forward at a clip. With Scanner Darkly you could kind of see where the story was going but it was in no rush to get there. Don't get me wrong, I love "paced" films (mmm Dead Man), but this wasn't paced, it was just slow.
I give it three personalities out of five.Pan's Labyrinth
Many of my favourite stories follow the pattern; female protagonist enters surreal dream-world and emerges victorious from the puzzles and obstacles within. Alice in Wonderland, Labyrinth, Mirrormask, all great stories. When you have a problem in the office you can't often lay about with your greatsword as Conan would, but you can often outwit the problem or negotiate a solution as female protagonists are usually depicted doing. Fantasy with brains rather than brawn. It was beautifully shot, and beautifully directed. The story of the girl versus the fascists was great, and the story of the girl who would be princess was also interesting. But. There's always a but. I didn't feel that the fantasy story had a great deal to do with the reality story. In The Wizard of Oz the characters mirror people in Dorothy's life and she works through her problems in the fantasy context. Pan's Labyrinth seemed to lack this dimension, and the tenuous connections I can make don't really hold up well. So, gorgeous film, but not one of the greats.
9 Communists out of ten.The Fountain
It can either be a very bad thing when you can't describe the plot, or, as in this case, a good one. It's a guy, right, and he's a monomaniacal scientist trying to cure cancer, but also a bald future guy zooming through the stars with a tree, which is important, so don't forget the tree, you see he's also a conquistador looking for the tree, which isn't the same tree, but is both more and less important in different senses, in medieval Central America. Astoundingly that just about describes the plot, but yet contains no real spoilers. When the film finished there was two things going through my mind, firstly that I wanted to see it again, but also that I was very angry at reviewers who called this film complicated. The plot is very, very simple. While most modern dramas and films will have us following a dozen characters and that many more relationships this film is about two characters, and one relationship. How hard is it people! Sure, there were a few bits of scenes which were metaphors, but you were given lots of preparation time before the metaphors happened. Grr. Anyway. This film also gorgeously shot, and very paced, but so simple and so elegantly done that it's astounding. My only gripes were that the Spanish story was a little silly, probably intentionally, and Izzi was two-dimensional, but even still... Definitely the best of the three.
Five Trees of Life out of five.Best films of 2006 (in no order)
The Fountain, Pan's Labyrinth, V for Vendetta, Brick, An Inconvenient Truth.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Pack the car. Check the water & oil. Hmm, almost no oil, that's a problem. It drank five litres, must have been very low indeed. Start late, but I guess that's not so bad, we've only got a day of driving ahead.
Stop at Woodbine for camping gear. Everyone very impressed by period style photo of the family when I was twelve. Also impressed by photo of dad as a young revhead. I try to explain that the only varieties of jeans you could buy in the 70's were tight ones. BJ upset to have to skip the trip for exams, we wish him luck.
Naaa na na nana nana na na Katamari Damacy
Next stop is morning tea, which becomes lunch and then a late lunch. Tea and scones in the Jam Room of the Lynwood Cafe
. Very civilised. They have an onion jam, ew. Bec fortunately buys another kind.
Next stop is the Dog on the Tuckerbox. A call from the Baruma (I'm in the Chanmobile), white smoke pouring out the back they say, they've pulled over they say. We agree that they should limp along to Gunning and we'll meet them there, fingers crossed that they'll make it. While we're waiting for the girls to drive in I call Ferris. He says that the oil is probably out, and if it's out then the engine seizes up and you have to replace the whole engine, not cheap. The car does indeed make it to Gunning, no repeat of the incident. We talk to the mechanic at Gunning, there's plenty of oil, so that's not the problem but it would be bad to break down in the country and have to be towed to civilisation. He says go home now, see how far the car will get. Ferris tells me that the web says it may also have been radiator fluid leaking into the engine through a broken head. He says flip a coin as to whether we go on or not. Bec's father says either a broken oil ring or a broken piston ring. We agree to try to get to Canberra, stay the night there and then hire a car for the trip. It seems like a good solution except that I wanted to avoid Canberra like the plague. You understand why, don't pretend you don't.
Fortunately False Dan's dad Paul (soon FalseDad) is hiring a room in Canberra while he's on call at the hospital and it happens to have six spare beds in it. Convenient, suspiciously so. We drop off our stuff, clean up and chat. He's more than a little of a nerd. Thai before The Prestige is surprisingly good for a backwater like Canberra. Bec's opening gambit is to tell
FalseDad what's wrong with the medical profession in Australia today, but the conversation soon turns to fixing all the problems with health care in Australia, preferably by the end of the week. They argue while we snarf. The film is also very good, see it before you hear spoilers (not that there's anything to spoil).
Thursday wasn't supposed to be this complicated.
Free breakfast at Boffins. It's not made clear whether we're eating with Boffins or eating Boffins, seemingly the latter. Drop Baruma off at the garage, hire a car, get on the road. Damn blood wave
! We don't quite make it to Gundagai for lunch and instead eat next to a submarine
. Final stretch to Undera, everyone's pretty stuffed. We get in the queue for the event and watch the sun slowly set. Tickets to check, cars to search, etc. The flies descend. Night falls.
Again we're setting up tents in the dark, must be karma. Check out the marketplace and three floors which are going, grab some pizza. Later we're lying on the carpet, huddling under sleeping bags. FD points out the Shopping Trolley constellation. I spotted the Badger and the Chinese Dragon. There's a long discussion about satellites, stationary orbits and which way is north anyway. Lots of shooting stars, or satellites, or planes. Keeping food in your mouth pouch is a useful way to always have sustenance on hand. You must first train with peanuts and mints before you can move on to the more difficult macadamia nuts and walnuts. It would be useful to have a form apology letter which you could quickly tick boxes and throw at someone as you point and laugh at them as you drive past. "Dear  Sir  Madam  Indeterminate, we would like to sincerely  apologise  congratulate  commiserate  deny all knowledge of  on  for laughing at  your fine  incredible  highly noticeable _______________. It is simply that you  looked like our friend _______ from a distance  were wearing a ridiculous hat which looked like you were a plantation owner from Panama  have the h0tness rly bad.... [INSERT HERE: BLANK HUMAN DIAGRAM TO SKETCH OFFENDING ITEM OR OBJECT OF HILARITY / DESIRE]" Also at www.bobspotting.org.au you'll find all the information you need to know about the daily activities of Bob Brown, much of which is presented in a diary format. "Dear Diary, today the President of the Senate did the most beastly thing. If there were more people hugging
then perhaps we'd be able to put aside our differences and jolly well get on with saving the planet." "Dear Diary, today I saw the loveliest Banksia I've seen in a while. Since the 17th of September last year to be precise. I tried to get Kerry to walk out with me to have a look, but she said she had a lot of reading she had to do for work. Sometimes I think you have to take time out for the little things." Bec decides that if she's ever a fashion designer her signature colour is dirty flesh. In summary, we giggle for eight hours and then crash.
And from the freezing cold to the sweltering heat. It's impossible to sleep. The only up side is that you either get the flies or the hot wind in your face, but not both at the same time. Swimming in the river helps a lot.
Willpower sapping Hare Krishna food for dinner. Tasty. The hard trance floor was surprisingly bad. So most of our time is spent at Hydratrance. There's a guy doing fire dancing in a total fire ban area. This official shows up to tell him off, but doesn't actually touch him or anything. He's just walking around the guy, very close, again and again and again just talking non-stop telling him off. He wraps up his show, but slowly. A walk in the woods discussing the future and matters of import. Changing Minds
Pack up, always easier than you think, and take a leisurely drive to Albury. Hotel room, beds, showers! Let's order Thai, ah, of course we're in Hicksville. Delivered pizza? Ah, no. Well then into town to see what's on at the cinema. Are you serving food? You? Of course Sunday afternoon is an unreasonable time to expect to find food. Finally some sandwiches and Blue Heaven's. They don't taste much of blue. We pick up beers and dessert for dinner and head back. What's on the tele? Excalibur? It can't get much worse than Excalibur, nap time. Aaaand I wake to The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
. Or maybe this is just one of those nightmares where you think you're waking to an awful teen chickflick but in reality you're still asleep. No such luck. Well, we'll get some DVDs from reception and watch something funny tonight. After a vote that is Clueless
. God hates me as much as I hate him.
The car's fine? It just had too much oil? Well, that's a relief, I guess. Final dash to Sydney. Well, that was an adventure.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
House = +1d6 Degrees
Well, that was such a good weekend that it's taken until Thursday to recover from it.
The house is successfully warmed. Highlights? The magic between James and Horns. Horns has little respect for social boundaries and James' reponses are not what you could call mundane.
Dave asked me to be his porn executor in the case of his death, but he was a little offended when I suggested that I would establish the 'Dave Memorial Porn Collection' for posterity. (Hmm, too difficult to make that a pun.) Try to out-gross me will you!
Finally one particular mteach friend braved the party and was slightly stunned by the nerd levels not only of the house but of the crowd. He decided that the Dark Crystal poster
was the nerdiest item in the house. Personally I think it had some stiff competition
Then GUGS the next day. I was wondering if this was a bad idea, but a few kilos of starch, sugar and caffeine later and all was well. Memoir '44
is a great game. I played and I wanted to play again, then again! I'm trying to reconcile myself to the blocks vs minis
problem enough to buy C&C: Ancients. BattleLore
Caylus is still a very good game, I should invent a word to shorten the phrase "I swear that this all sounds very complicated when I first explain it, but once we get playing it'll all make (almost) complete sense". I think I'm getting better at Caylus, but I can't get too good or else people won't come back (just kidding). I found it very interesting that ZoeH was a dark horse, I had no idea she was doing so well until right near the end.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Hmm, jetvan, sprint cars, freestyle motocross, fireworks, monster trucks, demolition derby.
My vote goes to... the motocross guys. One guy hurts himself. While the other guy keeps on doing tricks the announcers are reminding everyone of how dangerous it is, and the horrible injuries they've seen and sustained. You just had to hope that the rider couldn't hear what they were saying.
Belgian beer you say?
Well James is another year older and at least three years less wise.
I'd heard terrible things about the Mussels with Chips and Mayonnaise, rumours linking them to Nazi gold and the Spanish Flu, but the truth was very different.
It was very tasty and surprisingly filling. The only drawback was that it took about 45mins to slowly work my way through the pot.
The beer was okay, I even tried some Lucifer beer. But nothing to write to Belgium about.
I didn't ask about the Nazi Gold.