giovedì, luglio 15, 2010

None of my business, really.

Not even to the point of effecting my consumer behaviour in a sort of one-woman boycott of Mel Gibson's work based on the desire to disassociate myself with misogyny or racism, since I was already a one-woman boycott of Mel Gibson's work based on its suckage. But I admit, the one about the blow jobs - that's one for the ages. The history books. People centuries into the future will listen to it in school to try to wrap their heads around how our entertainment firmament allowed insane, socially retarded throwback bogans to be given control of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Anyways, South Park called it years ago:

mercoledì, luglio 14, 2010

Confusing canicule

Belgians, man, they're fucking helpless. At least when it comes to the weather. A few weeks of freeze and snow this past summer and the world comes to a fucking end, and now another canicule, and not a fucking horrible one at that, and suddenly it's all heat rashes and sunstroke. For fuck's sake. Just fucking equip yourself - like so:

1. For fuck's sake, if you don't want your fucking apartment to be all hot at the end of the day, draw your curtains on an windows that receive direct sunlight

2. And think about the fucking air you're letting in, man, at the most fucking elementary level just think about it: the air is super hot in the middle of the day. Is that the air you want to come into your apartment? Or do you want the cooler nighttime or dawn air? Probably the second, right? Well, look, there's a fucking relationship between when you open your windows and what sort of air you let into your flat.

3. Following on heat at different times of the day: if you're lucky enough to have air conditioning at work, when do you think it would be best to use it? The morning, when it's cooler? Or right after lunch, when it is both hottest and most nap-timey? For fuck's sake. You'd think that one would be fucking built into the matrix but I work in one of the prime office buildings in the city, and it's fucking not.

4. Baby powder on the heat rash. Or corn starch. For fuck's sake.

5. Carry water and drink it. I know you don't want to look like a tourist, especially a tourist with the poor taste to come to Brussels, but suck it up.

6. Wear a fucking hat, you people look like lobsters who fucking escaped from the pot at the last minute.

7. And now you've got fucking water shortages? This is like the wettest place in the fucking developed world. How fucking incompetent do your processes have to be for three weeks of dry and hot to give you fucking water shortages? Well, that's not really advice, more abuse, but seriously, you've got it coming.

martedì, luglio 13, 2010

Oo-er, pu-erh!

Had always been violently pro-coffee, anti-tea, most of my caffeinated life, to the point of choosing bad coffee over good tea, but at a certain point things changed. I think when I was working in Paris all those years ago, at a Korean house, and one of the mothers brought me a cup of something special, and I realized it was like I was drinking flowers. Still it didn't cause any sort of revolution in my behaviour. I don't think I actually bought tea, unless I was expecting limey visitors, for a few years thereafter.

Maybe in practical terms the real turning point was the F-word moving in and bringing his minor obsession with tisanes with him. Or maybe it was me drinking a bunch of mint tea in magrebhin places. Maybe the last time I visited both my grandparents, when I consented to have a cup as I had got snotty enough, coffee-wise, to refuse instant, and I realized the reason I'd always hated tea was because they'd been the ones to introduce it to me - as the fruit of a thrice-brewed, lovingly preserved PG Tips bag - revolting, obviously, and not representative of the institution.

But still, I have remained vastly more pro-coffee than pro-tea. It was the mornings what done it. Unless the day was stinking hot, I needed to start it with a strong, strong latte, either iced or hot; on the very hottest days I could manage green tea, but only on the very hottest. If not, I would get headachey, cranky, and flirty with excessive violence. Nonetheless, we got to the point of drinking a few pots of either green tea or tisane a week. And then it felt like a reasonable investment to drop 50 euros on a tetsubin. Painfully trendy and heavy as fuck, but I had managed to break two china teapots in as many years so it seemed like the only thing to do.

I have found what could be a turning point now, though. In Shanghai we found a tea shop, where we sat for some time after having a long walk in the heat, and where we must have drank twelve different kinds of tea in samples . . . some were lovely and some were gross but my favourite was a six-year-old pu-erh tea which I bought and took home. It is ace. Not only can I drink it in the morning instead of coffee without getting a headache or punching anybody in the fucking face on the way to work, but it also tastes so rich. The sort of same deep, biting richness as coffee, though without coffee's salutary bitterness. Indeed without any bitterness, which despite my being a coffee-head is charming in itself.

In a bizarre, opposite-side-of-the-world echo of my grandparents, the young man working at the shop told me we could brew each bit of tea ten times before it wasn't good any more, which has turned out to be truer than it was for the PG Tips bag. And aside from these ten times, the tea needs to be washed twice before the first brew since it's all covered in weird bacterial shit and dirt from being fermented.

Anyways, this shit is magic. I paid about 20 euros for a great big brick, which I don't think was a round-eye upmark since the prices were posted, and it was twice that in the aeroport, so I imagine it would be ridiculous after being exported. But really, if you ever pass through China treat yourself to some. Will it replace coffee in my heart? Certainly not, especially as we're moving to a chunk of Australia where coffee is cultivated and I bet that it is going to rock like I've never tasted before. But as we prepare our move to a sub-tropical climate I'm damn happy to have found something caffeinated I can drink on hot mornings that will allow me to preserve the life and well-being of the people around me.

lunedì, luglio 12, 2010

The invisible line between incompetence and fraud

In a reasonably foul mood this morning. Have been subject to a bout of incompetence or petty fraud (always hard to tell the difference in Belgium) from a local ASBL, the Partenariat Marconi, over our organic drop-offs. There is something unutterably repellent about grown-ups lying like naughty children who've been caught in the act, and something infuriating about them then using the fact that they're non-profit as some sort of excuse. Anyways, I've been having a hard time walking it off, probably because it was combined, yesterday, with a few other pieces of egregious Belgiousity, notably from my old bugabear Belgacom, the very first full day I'm back from vacation . . .

Goddamn it, am I ever sick of this place. My consolation up until now has been "at least you're not still in Paris," but ever since I lost my horror of Bluebird, and left the starving student class behind to take my place in the financially comfortable bourgeoisie (the class for which Paris was quite literally made), and started going back on visits and appreciating afresh its startling beauty, and realized that they have fruit and vegetables there that aren't grown in a hot-house and thus actually taste like what they're meant to be, and that constant low-level Parisian hostility is in many ways preferable to constant elevated levels of Walloon childish incompetence, no matter how many smiles the bollocks is couched in here versus there - well, that trick has lost its charm. I have reached the end of my tether. Have I said that before? Well, this time, I mean it more.

Luckily, the Mounties have shocked my pants off by, about a week after writing to tell me they hadn't yet received the criminal background check application I'd sent them in April so it was likely to take another four months, sending me my criminal background check. That means all the requisite papers for the Australian visa are together, and hopefully it will not be long before it clears. Thank god. We already have a pretty defined shelf-life in terms of Brussels - we already knew when we were going to leave. But now it is sorted for us to dash straight into the arms of another summer, not long after this one finishes. European Winter, you can shove yourself up your own ass.

Time and forgetting

Oh argh. Had a lovely fortnight of vacation with a niece and nephew, who had never seen Europe before and needed to while I was still here, and now I'm back - missing them, working, facing the mountains of tasks involved in leaving Brussels, and apparently coming down with a cold despite the two-week heatwave. Oh well. I still feel better for it. And have discovered something I didn't know or understand at all in the past: time works differently for children. I should have known that because I can actually remember time working differently for me back in the day. But it was not something I understood on a practical level until now. Two weeks would have been a ridiculously short time for them to do all the stuff we'd done even if they'd been adults . . . at their age I'm shocked we survived. Luckily they're good kids.

Whilst whizzing around the continents on trains, managed to read two books: Middlemarch and King Leopold's Ghost, both awfully good in their very different ways. Middlemarch was a hell of a tasty treat. I don't think I could have read it when I was any younger though . . . back to conceptions of time. It would have defeated me at the first chapter. George Eliot takes a special kind of patience, or a special kind of conception of time, which is basically the same thing as patience - not one that is encouraged by modern patterns of entertainment. It invites you in, and then she talks to you - George Eliot's narrative voice discusses the state of her characters, which could seem long-winded to the impatient, but to the patient, it's the smartest and most understanding person ever having an awesome conversation with you. And this is the case in Middlemarch like in no other book of hers that I've read, though I still consider Adam Bede as the finest piece of ass in literature.

King Leopold's Ghost was wonderfully well-written and interesting, though shocking how the blurb on the back had so little to do with the contents, somebody should tell the author. I recommend it absolutely, even if you know or care nothing about the Congo; it's a good way to start, and it's a fine piece of journalistic writing. What is staying with me the most about it this morning, though, is how it seems - while discussing a hideous episode and worldwide humanitarian movement that rolled out just over a century ago - like it's already a work of semi-archaeological history. I can't remember when I first heard about Leopold II and the Congo, but I think it was well after I should have - probably when I was at school for my masters in IR. And I can't remember when I realized the Congo was having a brutal, never-ending war - I think a couple of years before that, or maybe even around the same time.

How could someone like me - a reasonably informed person who read the papers and who minored in history in the undergrad, etc., have no fucking idea for so long? How is it possible that in cultural terms, Europeans and North Americans are better informed about the abuses of the Chinese government in Tibet than of past colonial abuses, present post-colonial economic dealings, and the jaw-droppingly brutal wars they feed and finance in Africa, where so much of our population has came from by hook or by crook? Why has Africa made our collective eyes glaze over? I really don't know the answer to these questions.