Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Urban existence

Yes. Roman satirist Marcus Valerius Martialis (who is, for some inexplicable reason, called "Martial" in English) was from provincial Hispania, and moved to live in the sprawling imperial capital in AD 64. From then on, he wrote much on the urban lifestyle.

Here is one:

Why does Vacerra spend his hours
in all the prives, and day-long sit?
He wants supper, not a s**t.

Apparently, large public lavatories (maybe 100 seats on long slabs of marble, flushing by running water below) were popular places to discuss politics, theatre, literature, etc. Somehow one thinks that the public toilet-arrangements in Rome were better a couple of thousand years ago than they are today. Go and figure.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Day 12 - day of the slacker

Lagging. Behind. Argh.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Day 6


30 pocket book pages done, 150 to go..

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

An experiment - a novel in 30 days

For the next 30 weekdays I will be writing a novel. The objective is to get a draft version of 180 pages together within this time. It will be interesting to see if I can manage this task, considering my limited experience concerning writing.

I am writing this down so it will be more difficult more me to weasel out or give up.

Semi-historical fiction it is. Starting tomorrow.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Why Vesper is not Vesper anymore

Ian Fleming made this classic drink famous via his novel "Casino Royale" (the year was 1953). The thirsty protagonist is a British agent James Bond, who always checks into hotels using his own name. Talk about travelling incognito, when all the bartenders, hotel managers and massage therapists from the top hotels from Hong Kong to New York know the man by name!

In any case, I did my homework on this recipe a long time ago. It is nice to notice that the Wikipedia article has caught up with reality as well. The problem with trying to create the experience Ian Fleming would have been enjoying is twofold:

1) Kina Lillet is not made anymore.

2) Most modern vodka is not 100-proof, and also the gin needs to be 94-proof. However, these can be found (Wikipedia mentions 100-proof Stoli and Tanqueray gin).

The closest product to Kina Lillet is Lillet Blanc by the same producer. Check them out here.

So what is the difference between Kina Lillet and Lillet Blanc? Kina refers to quinine, which gives the drink a twang of bitterness, and that is precisely the ingredient that has been toned down. So why is that? Quinine comes cinchona tree in South America, and it was the first effective treatment for malaria. It also has fever-reducing, anti-inflammatory and painkilling effects. However, overdose can lead to death or complications.

The Quechua Indians in Peru used to mix ground bark of Cinchona tree to sweet water, thus creating tonic water. It was used to stop shivering in low temperatures. Thanks to this, not only Bond got to sip his Vespers, but also mankind got a taste for gin tonics, which were introduced by the army of the British East India Company. The tonic water with its quinine would keep malaria at bay in the tropics.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Hollywood version to be made from "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" etc.

Now this is interesting news. Apparently Columbia Pictures has bought cinematic rights to all the books in Stieg Larsson's excellent Millenium-trilogy. The books are:

1) Män som hatar kvinnor (literally "Men who hate women") = The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

2) Flickan som lekte med elden = The Girl who Played with Fire (here the name in English is a direct translation)

3) Luftslottet som sprängdes ("The air castle that was blown away/exloded") = The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The story is very peculiar, unfolding bit by bit throughout the trilogy. Very well worth reading, and the Swedish film versions were highly successful. Noomi Rapace did a perfect job portraying Lisbeth Salander to expentant retinas. I do suspect that critical to success is the cast. The director is David Leo Fincher, who gave us such movies as Seven and Fight Club, so that side of the affair should be a-ok. Now, supposedly Daniel Craig (the James Bond guy) has been attached to play the other starring role (the journalist Mikael Blomkvist who uncovers Lisbeth Salander's past in the books, and apparently is modelled by Stieg Larsson after his own personality), so the big question is that from where will they find someone to replicate Noomi Rapace's stellar performance?

A little googling reveals that industry rumors swirl around Ellen Page, Mia Wasikowska, Emily Browning, Sara Snook, Rooney Mara, Sophie Snook, Natalie Portman and Carey Mulligan.

As for Daniel Craig, the role entails a less physical job if one compares to the action packed Bonds. He is the man who made a testosterone-oozing action hero out of James Bond, who in late Sean Connery interpretations had a middle-aged mans belly and dealt with an opponent by throwing his own urine sample to the assailant's eyes. Well, unless the guys at the Columbia do not want changes to the script making Mikael Blomkvist a tougher guy.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Maybe logic, but slowly

What good is an EU?

Well, just read a delightful story on Wired. EU is moving to standard, one-for-all mobile phone charger starting in 2011. Irrationally all mobile phones have come with a charger, and the old one has been chucked to the bin, every time, once a year for many people.

It is about time that action is taken regarding the ridiculous amount of unnecessary waste produced by our unsustainable economy. EU has other measures of rationalization ongoing as well, such as aiming for maximum recycling of metals as a part of its raw materials strategy.

Its really not so hard to make big improvements with technology that has existed for a long long time. How about a magnet powered bike light instead of a batterypowered?

It is very strange, that even though T-model Ford that was introduced 1908 had a 'flexifuel' engine (it can use either gasoline, ethanol or any mixture of the two), only now 2nd generation biofuels are coming to market - such as the advanced ethanol produced from waste by ST1 in Finland. Additionally, Mr. Porsche introduced the first hybrid car in 1900 (Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid), which had a friction free drivetrain. It took some time before Toyota Prius hit the market after that. Now why is that?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Travel and the middle-man

Despite of knowing better, for reasons unknown (or was it so that an offer was very good - or seemingly so, of course) I made the mistake of using an internet-based travel middle-man (these low margin businesses seem to be all over nowadays) to make some reservations earlier this summer. And problems I got. Guess if you can get hold of this Swedish middle-man when the excrement hits the fan in scorched place far from home. And guess if they want you to be able to in the first place. This is a very common phenomenon in internet-based business.

The customer service is basically designed to be difficult to reach. When standing at the lobby desk of a 5 star hotel and realizing that you have to pay for an extra night (that you thought you had already paid for), there's nobody to help you to sort things out. And when you get back, it takes over 20 days to get an answer to your complaint. And the attitude is very poor indeed, and one becomes suspicious that maybe they do not answer many complaints at all. The business is low margin and any compensation will turn the transaction to red immediately. Nevertheless, these people like to pour money into advertising, but their marketing has not reached the level on which they would do the very professional thing of starting to calculate and compare the cost of getting a new customer versus retaining an old one..

Always deal with carriers and hotels etc. directly. Lesson learned. And a good reminder it is of the fact that I can be a fool in so many ways.

Monday, 2 August 2010

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra conjures up memories

Once upon a time I lived relatively close to the Irish Film Institute in Dublin. In a way, that was one of my favourite spots in the town, and it supplied many rainy late nights' worth of entertainment during those years, ranging from serious documentaries to B-scifi and horror. Their output was heaven sent when Cineworld etc. have succumbed to the same depressively repetitive format which also covers much of the mainstream radio, music channels and other media.

IFI is located at the edge of the Temple Bar disctrict, so analytical post-film pints were also close at hand, not to mention IFI's own restaurant and bar. It resembled me of the old Cinema du Parc in Montreal (which now apparently has reopened, good news for the locals..). I dont think that IFI would never go as risqué as CdP when it comes to lineup (mostly a good thing, I do remember a couple of incidents with half of the audience leaving in the middle of the show etc during some controversial horror, nauseous customers and so forth), but it did a wonderful job at getting much of the cool indie and documentary material on the silver screen. Its so much more fun to combine things, have dinner, good movie, and analytical pints afterwards. Very rewarding - mostly. Not everything was a success - I do remember suffering through some very bad ones, the The Night of the Lepus from the seventies maybe takes the first prize. Add a noisy audience 80% alternative nerds (there is some sort of crappy horrorthron festival ongoing that week) who have decided that every extremely bad movie is actually funny by default. Argh. Dont take you date to see this one..

This phenomenon may well be the reason for the existence of another terrifically bad movie that I saw a couple of years back. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is an American parody of the 50's cheap horror/scifi films with notoriously crappy special effects. In effect, the ingredients are: 1) very low budget, 2) turning colour footage to black/white in post production, 3) director demands as woody performances from the cast as they can humanly manage, 4) everything is explained to the audience by teh characters (like the scientist working, wearing a white coat surrounded by lab equipment "As I am doing my scientific work.." etc, 5) there is a supernatural skeleton and a space mutant involved. No need to describe the plot more than that.

The taglines tell it all:

From the company that brought you "Zombies of Mora Tau" and "Lawrence of Arabia."

This was the day the Earth was disemboweled in terror!

Supreme shock sensation of our time!

None Can Stand Its Mental Power!

It is very bad indeed, but for some reason I want to see the sequel "The Lost Skeleton Return Again". I dont know why. However, I seriously doubt that the Swedish Film Institute would be showing it anytime soon. Art house is serious business :)

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Mini Me

The Swedish summer is slowly turning towards autumn, and its time to do a little bit of reflection. A traditional Swedish "semester" is a time spent free of worries, stress and generally seriousness, usually in a summer house on the coast or by a lake. For 3-4 weeks. I have certainly indulged in it all after all the travel and hassle during June.

I cannot think of anything more healthier for the body and soul. The Nordic summer holiday is pure quality of life: The crisp morning swims in the lake, barbecues, sailing, crackle of open fire, dramatic thunderstorms, good company and a ton of fika. And a lot of time to think and to realize all the things I have been missing all the years living outside the Nordic. Except gadflies and mosquitoes however :)

The semester is now over and I am back in the city. I almost thought that the tropical night temperatures of this peculiar summer of 2010 would be over, but it looks like there are many hot days in store yet. Warm as my thoughts.

The weekend is also turning towards the end and life is gearing up for another period of increased complexity and pace. Here is a small piece of minimalist elegance and clarity for those darkening autumn nights:

"Mini Me"

Russkij Standart platinum vodka

How to:
Load a shaker with ice, cool the vodka in the shaker with vigorous motions in a general pace of a waltz, pour to a coctail glass, add a few drops/splash of Angostura

The result:
A crisp silver sky with an orange glow of the first or last rays of the sun. Enjoy.