rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 24th, 2006 11:56 am)
I am about to take off for the airport. The head of the writer's conference I teach at the day after I arrive in LA helpfully sent me about two hundred pages worth of manuscripts to read and critique on the plane. ...I am going to try not to be overwhelmed with annoyance and ennui as I read them, as it is not the author's fault that my main feeling about them is "God, they're heavy."

I had a lovely dinner at a Morroccan restaurant with [livejournal.com profile] m00nface, who I totally hit it off with and would love to hang out with again. That day and yesterday were dedicated to nonstop interviews, with interludes of being fed by my handler publicist, who kindly swooped in and took me first for tea, raspberry mousse cake, caramel/chocolate shortbread, and crumpets, and then (three hours later) for dinner with her, the editor, and two of the sales team at a gourmet Indian restuarant, where the following exchange occurred:

Waiter: Another gin and tonic, madam?

Me: Gee, I shouldn't, I'm appearing on the Late Show in an hour.

Lucy (sales director): She'll have another.

Me: Cheers!

Actually, I think the late show would probably have been more entertaining if I'd been drunk. As it was, I was just tired, the host hadn't read the book, and I think it all seemed a bit flat, especially as he seemed determined to emphasize how sad and miserable I was, and "You must have spent a lot of time alone..."

Me: "Yes."

Him: "Crying...

Me: "Well, I suppose I must have, but actually I don't think I spent that much time crying while I was alone, because when I was by myself I was mostly doing something I wanted to do, so..."

Five minutes later, him: "And we're back, speaking with a woman who spent her whole childhood alone... crying..."

Twenty minutes later, when I've left the show and am waiting for my cab but can still hear the rest of the show, him: "...as we heard from the story of Rachel Brown, who spent so much time miserable... wretched... and crying."

Me: "What time was my cab supposed to get here?"

The can proceeded to take me to the wrong hotel. "This is the wrong hotel," I said.

"No, it isn't," said the cabbie. "Langham hotel... this is the Langham hotel."

"No, it isn't," I said. "I've been staying here for several days. This is not my hotel."

"Yes, it is," insisted the cabbie. "Langham hotel, off Portland... see, there's the name on the door, there's the street."

He was right. I was confused. I had been reading Diana Wynne Jones' Conrad's Fate, in which sorcerers keep altering reality for profit, and began to wonder if that was going on.

"Perhaps this is a different entrance than the one you usually come in to," he suggested.

"Huh, maybe... Tell you what, I'll get out and see, but please wait here in case it's not my hotel."

I got out and checked. Not my hotel. Then I remembered that there's Portland Place as well as Portland Street, and also that the hotel is a chain. I gave him the exact address, and soon enough he found the hotel, but that was a heck of a surreal moment, especially after the long day, the late night, the weird interview, and two gin and tonics.

However, the earlier interviews went quite well, and dinner with the Hodder team was a blast. A great trip overall. I spent much of it lost, but none of it crying.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 22nd, 2006 06:41 pm)
It is cold and rainy. I seem to be catching a cold. I am dismayed about this, as I have a full day of interviews tomorrow and am flying the day after, and the day after that, and the last time I flew with a cold I felt like I was being skewered through the ears every time the altitude changed.

I did a phone interview with a big paper in Scotland today, and had to restrain myself from saying, "You have such an adorable accent! I am in love with your voice!" Then I had photos taken for the same article. The photographer, Dale Cherry (great name) quickly figured out that I felt more comfortable doing anything but sitting upright in a chair, and photographed me on top of a table and in various scrunched-in-a-chair positions, including one when he was packing his equipment and I absently grabbed hold of my knees and started rocking on my butt, and he immediately unpacked everything and took some shots of that.

Also I did a radio interview with some guy who hadn't read my book. It was OK-- I'd rather they confess that than not confess and try to fake it.

Before that I poked through some bookshops on Charing Cross Road and bought the last two of a trilogy by Annie Dalton (better that than the first two), The Goshawk by T. H. White, Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O'Hara, Urn Burial by Rober Westall, and The Stone Quartet by Alan Garner.

Tomorrow is all day at the BBC. I have bought cold medicine and two rolls of lozenges.
rachelmanija: (Naruto: Super-energized!)
( May. 21st, 2006 05:21 pm)
I fled to a Borders with an attached Starbucks, and decided to browse and read manga until the weather got less cold and wet, as all my other plans involved a great deal of outdoorsiness.

I just spent the entire day in Borders. I have now read through volume 6 of Blade of the Immortal by Hiroaki Samura.Bautiful smudgy-pencil art, somewhat in the tradition of Lone Wolf and Cub (so is the story, come to think of it) but even better, or at least even more to my taste.

Last night I had some lovely flaky fried fish and soggy chips. The waitress asked me if I wanted "mushy peas" to go with it. My God! I thought, they do that on purpose! How horrible!

"Don't like the mushy peas," said the waitress wisely, before I could respond verbally.

I have been watching some of the Naruto anime that [livejournal.com profile] telophase was kind enough to send me before I left, and have some non-spoilery thoughts regarding language.

1. Apparently "Kakashi" is the best name ever to say in slow and gloating tones. It sounds really great when spoken that way, which is why all the villains who confront him tend to have dialogue like this: "So, Kakashi... I have found you at last... Kakashi... Heh heh heh."

2. Does "dattebayo" or "-te bayo," which Naruto uses so much, literally mean anything? Does anyone ever use it in real life, or is it purely a made-up character thing? It reminds me of Chichiri's "no da," which I think does have some sort of meaning but is basically just a speech tic. (Last night while at ish and chips the young Japanese woman at the next table, who was talking on her cell phone, ended half her sentences with "da yo!" It sounded similar enough (and her voice was pitched a bit similarly to Naruto's) that it really startled me for a moment.)

3. I had a 3, but I seem to have forgotten it. Hmm. Perhaps that Orochimaru sounds even creepier and more pedophilic when he has an audible voice than he did in the manga.

4. I think my all-time favorite of Kakasshi's lateness excusesis, "I got lost while walking the road of life."

ETA 5. I remembered 3! That thing Shikamaru says, "mendokusei," that gets variously translated as "how bothersome," "what a pain," etc. Is there a literal meaning?
rachelmanija: (Naked and dripping wet)
( May. 21st, 2006 10:41 am)
I am lurking in a London internet cafe because it's raining and nothing else will open till noon, apparently, not even Starbucks (and I have not yet had my morning caffeine fix.) When I left the hotel this morning the sky was so forbiddingly gray that I asked at the front desk if they knew the weather forecast, and they laughed at me. There is no telling with London, they said. (This computer won't do double quotes.) Could be rain, could be shine, could be both twelve times in half an hour. There is no way to know.

I set off,and it immediately began to rain. It looks like I will be having a nice relaxing day today before the big madness of the next week (two days of interviews, one day in the air, three days teaching at a workshop in Arizona-- Will and Emma, e-mail me so we can get together!) whether I planned one or not.

I forgot to mention that in Venice, at the frog fish tale restaurant, I accidentally set off the fire alarm while attempting to flush the toilet. Like keyboards, toilets do not appear to have standardized flushes. Some are motion activated, some are pull-handles, some are pull-chains, some are white push-things on the wall cunningly painted to blend in with the wall, some are tiny white buttons on the toilet likewise cunningly painted, etc. So when I looked around for the button and didn't see one, I noticed a chain hanging from the water tank, with a paper tag attached with an inscription faded into illegibility, but which I assumed meant, "pull to flush" in Italian. (Just figured out that you can do quotes if you hit the key reading @, and vice versa.)

I pulled the chain.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEE! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

A great commotion began outside as well as inside. I had barely begun to search for the alarm turn-off when someone began pounding on the door. Clutching my pants to myself (there were no laundry facilities in Venice, so I was wearing the drawstring gi-pants I'd brought in case I got a chance to train as a gladiator, and a wild print shirt I bought at the Rome flea market, and looked like a clown), I opened the door, figuring that whoever was there would be more likely than me to be able to turn it off.

The waitress hit some invisible button, and the alarm shut off. She pointed to the tag. Peering closely, i saw that it actually said, "Alarm."

"Er... perdone," I said, wondering if that was even a word.

The waitress kindly shut the door on me and my pants. The flush button proved to be a very small and cleverly camouflaged one on the back of the toilet.

Incidentally, that same day I twice failed to successfully lock the toilet door, and had people open it when I was inside. As I said to Oyce, trying to manage plumbing in Europe makes me feel like a lab rat.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 19th, 2006 12:55 pm)
I can't write too long tonight as I have to pack, then go to bed early to catch an early ferry to the airport in the morning, but there were a few things I wanted to note before I forgot them.

While I was buying postcards from an old man with a little stall, I was charmed by the sparrow that hopped up on to the magazines, coming quite close to the man behind the counter. Seeing my interest, the man winked at me, then reached under the counter and pulled out a peanut or a crouton or something like that. The sparrow hopped closer and took it from his fingers. The man explained, mostly in sign language, that he had been feeding the sparrow since it was a baby (imitation of young gape-mouthed bird.)

Later I ran into a farmer's market next to a canal, under a stone pavilion with pillars and arches like the Doge's Palace. The fish-sellers (who also had buckets of land snails in water) would toss the guts and scraps and shells over to the edge of the pier, and seagulls descended to devour them and get into loud squabbles over who owned the pier.

Yesterday I had assorted fried sea creatures, very nice, and today I had pasta to the veracious clams and an appetizer of delicious steamed artichoke bottoms with a sprinkling of salt and strong thick olive oil. That was not actually at the veracious clams place-- I found it by stopping at the restaurant that was emanating the tastiest smells-- but the menu contained these choice examples of Venetian translation: "coda di rospo" as "frog fish tale," "bacala vicentina" as "code stewed in milk," and "vongole" as "claims."

I did have the fried sea creatures at the veracious clams place. Closer inspection of the menu disclosed "canoce" as "crickets of the sea," and "rombo al forno con patate" as "rhombus to the oven with potatoes." Mmmm, rhombus!
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 18th, 2006 09:16 am)
I am used to having to search out the picturesque parts of even the prettiest cities; Kyoto, Jaipur, and San Francisco all have their share of concrete-block monstrosities.

I stepped off the train in Venice right on to the walkway along the Grand Canal. Green water lapped at the edges of beautiful buildings, and boats were chugging along, and a trio of theoretically Native American buskers were performing a tribal dance in full headdresses... OK, so the last part was a little weird. But Venice is extraordinarily beautiful, and every twist of its maze-like streets turns up some lovely view.

Also, the gelato is excellent. Today's gelato: one cup of half fior di latte and half pear (gritty and subtle), and one cone of half fresh peaches in brandy (flecked with peach flesh, and the flavors of fruit and alcohol balanced and vivid) and half fior di latte. The latter is milk ice cream, no vanilla, and it is wonderful. In the US I hear you can very occasionally get it under the name of "sweet cream."

I booked late for high season, and could only find a room for three nights. It's a big hassle to switch hotels, and I figured Venice would be swarming with tourists, and I wasn't sure how much I would like it anyway, since I do not always like cities that are big tourist attractions. I now really regret not booking a longer stay. Switching hotels would have been worth it. I will have to come back some day and stay longer.

I got completely lost trying to find my bed-and-breakfast (without breakfast-- it's a room in a family's house.) There were a number of factors involved in this, to wit, 1) I always get lost trying to find my hotel, 2) when I printed the directions the right edge got cut off, and I didn't notice till I unfolded it when I stepped off the vaporetto, but the post-vaporetto instructions began, "Turn [blank] at the canal," 3) it is notoriously difficult to avoid getting lost in Venice, 4) another direction was "go down the street with the trees--" this was not as bad as it sounds, though, because although there were three streets with trees, only one was a gorgeous path lined with elegant matching trees on both sides forming a canopy overhead, 5) there was no name on the door to the B&B, 6) (this was the killer) it said, "We are next to the fish shop." It is next to a fish shop. However, the fish shop was closed and shuttered, and had no helpful sign reading "fish shop." If it wasn't for a party of Good Venetians, I would never have found the place.

This was all made up for when I did find it, and the proprietor, Maria, escorted me upstairs. It is a small room overlooking a lovely canal, and every inch of the wall that doesn't have a window is covered in floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Naturally, most of the books are in Italian, but some are in English. But still! I tried to tell Maria that this was so wonderful because I was a writer, but I think I actually said, "I have a lady author as my mistress."

I arrived in the afternoon, and I asked her for a recommendation for a good restaurant that local people went to. This was a little hard to communicate. Finally, vaguely recalling one word from a phrase I had failed to remember that meant, "Please give me a plate of assorted traditional appetizers that costs ten euros," I said, "Classico?"

"Ah, classico!" said Maria. "Yes, here's where you should go."

She gave me a list of three restaurants, and I, wondering if I had actually said, "Appetizer," or "assorted," rather than "traditional" as I had intended, set off. I ran into Maria walking her two friendly little dogs while I was hunting for one of them. She pointed it out to me. It was traditional all right: a seafood place with all the seafood in Italian. One of the few words I recognized was "seppei," or "cuttlefish." With polenta. I knew that was a traditional Venetian dish, so I ordered it. It came, strange tentacled lumps swimming in a black ink sauce smelling of tidepool, bordered by slabs of firm polenta.

I do not think that I like cuttlefish.

However, this was my fault for ordering it, and I will try one of her other restaurants tonight. I am avoiding all places that have bilingual menus, as the guidebooks all warn against dreadful tourist traps. My favorite Venglish menu translates "pasta al pomodoro" as "pasta to the tomato sauce," "spaghetti alle vongole e veri" as "spaghetti to the veracious clams," and "tartufo bianco" as "hipocrate to the vanilla." I can kind of see how they got the first two, but the hipocrate baffles me.

Today I walked all over the San Marco-adjacent parts of Venice. The sky was a blue-gray verging on white, without visible clouds; the entire sky was clouded. The sun kept emerging and vanishing, and the air was perfectly temperate. The light was delicate and misty, like you sometimes see in San Francisco. The streets are sometimes broad, sometimes dark and narrow tunnels, where I can stretch out my hands and touch both walls and the ceiling. Some roads become arched bridges, and others dead-end in canals. Once you get off the main tourist roads, the smaller ones can be empty. Since you can't see where you're going and there's always something worth noting ahead-- a window full of blazing scarlet geraniums, a gelateria selling homemade gelato of peaches in brandy, a stone Madonna silhouetted against black shutters, two men who've pulled up chairs to play speed-chess, or a floating farmer's market-- it seems a place full of secrets and discoveries.

I have to come back.
I am feeling lazy today, and the cobblestones of Rome have not been kind to my feet. I have blisters atop blisters atop raw spots on my right foot, even though I've been applying band-aids, and so slept late, lounged about drinking cappucino and eating a brioche filled with lemony custard, and then wandered to an internet cafe with a better keyboard and keys whose letters have not been worn away from the touch of many fingers belonging to many people from many lands, and am posting what I meant to post yesterday before my time ran out.

The cobblestones are small and black, the size of my hand if I curl my fingers inward at the second joint and make a bear paw or whatever that rather impractical striking surface is called, though often they are too hot to touch. If it's this hot in May, I hate to think what it must be like in July.

The air is full of drifting bits of cotton fluff. They must come from some tree or bush, but so far I haven't figured out which.

When the fountain by the Pantheon got too hot, I sat on a stone cylinder, no doubt of great antiquity, but which attracted me because it was in the shade. Unfortunately, I was not the only one drawn to the are, because I soon found myself behind three peddlers of fake Prada handbags, one peddler of sunglasses, and one incompetent busker playing the first big aria from Carmen, the cigarette-selling one about being free like a bird, on a violin at half-speed. Rome is filled with buskers, and they are mostly quite awful. I particularly hate the guys with accordions who lurk about the touristy restaurants. If I was them, I'd show up with my accordion and offer to not play for pay.

Other gelato flavors not seen in Baskin-Robins: creme caramel, nougat, eggnog, cassata (a scattering of candied fruit on top, yecch), licorice (a scattering of chopped black licorice squres), and cantaloupe.

While walking back from the Pantheon, I came across a very haute restaurant and paused to read its menu. It seemed to have quite the specialty in cheeses. One, which I didn't write down because the description was so long, had a historical note explaining the great antiquity of the cheese, which was buried in tufa pits in ancient times and is now dug up by peasants on St. Catherine's Day; grammatically, it seemed to say that the same cheese buried at the time of the Caesars was ceremoniously uncovered every St. Catherine's Day in modern times, but I think-- well, I hope-- they were referring to the method of preparation.

They also offered Castelmagno, "Cheese speckled with a gren-colored mold of the penicillum type." You know you are in Europe rather than Asia when such a description is not followed by a list of diseases and conditions the cheese might help to cure.

And Toma dla Paja, "A cheese aged in hay by the farmers of Langa (Piemonte Region) at the end of harvest time. After two weeks a delicious crust of delicate mold is formed."
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 15th, 2006 08:17 pm)
Today I ate about half my body weight in gelato and fresh mozzarella. And I would do it again tomorrow!

I am so pleased that gelato can be served in very small cups, and even those can be split between two flavors. Today I had a large cup of half milk/cream, and half hazelnut. And acup of half marron glacee, which was a bit too sweet, and half pine nut, which was delicious. In between I saw a restaurant serving burrata di buffalo, which the LA Times had an article extolling several days before I left as the greatest thing ever, an artisanal variety of mozzarella rare even in Italy. So when I saw it on a menu, I leaped for a chair. Well... it was not bad, but maybe it is better in Los Angeles. The punctuation is not working, by the way, so I cannot use dashes, parentheses, or apostrophes on this computer. Just so you know. Anyway, it has the taste and texture of the worlds best... cottage cheese. Hmm. I think I will try it in Los Angeles, perhaps it is more thrilling there. Meanwhile, I will keep ordering regular mozzarella di bufalo.

I forget if I mentioned this, but a lot of shops display the gelato with halves of the fruit or whatever it-s made of on top of the gelato, like a half pear atop the pear, a sprinkling of pistachios atop that and so forth. Other flavors I have seen are kiwi, amaretto, nutella, green apple, walnut, wild berry, and tiramisu.

Oh, and I also went to the Pantheon. That was what I stared at while sitting on the very hot steps below an obelisk fountain and ate gelato. I feel very shallow as I write these reports, as the Pantheon was incredible but I have spent so much more writing time on gelato.

Out of time, must post! Imagine I wrote something profound on art, culture, history, and architecture, but it got erased.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 14th, 2006 08:13 pm)
Rome is strangely reminding me of the old section of New Delhi, though it's a much prettier city overall-- the incredible and fascinating ruins and cool little shops around every corner, the horrible traffic congestion, the annoying difficulty of doing seemingly simple things like get a load of laundry done or ride a bus or book a train ticket, the heat which led me to dump a handful of water over my head before venturing back hatless into the sun, and the wonderful markets.

Today I took the bus to the Sunday flea market at Porta Portese, which required buying a ticket in advance at the tobacco shop across the street. I have been feeling the stirrings of strange desires since I came to Rome, and today I was able to satisfy them with the purchase of a pair of bronze sandals with two broad straps and platform heels (very uncomfortable if I walk farther than around the seller's table, I discovered, but they'll be fine for parties), two floral print dresses (one very pale lavender with delicate green traceries of buds and bamboo-like leaves, one red roses on black), two abstract-print tops (one brown batik stretch, one button-down abstract pattern vaguely resembling pens and birds and lyres, in about six different colors), and two fake Prada handbags. Are these sold on street corners in New York and I just didn't notice, or is this an Italian thing? Anyway, if anyone wants a fake Prada or Gucci handbag, I can get you one. Please do not guilt-trip me about buying counterfeit merchandise-- well, you can try, but I have heard the arguments, and some I don't believe and some I don't care about.

Returning to character, I also bought an old and silken Echtes Leder black leather jacket with lots of pockets and ornamental zippers and an attached belt with a buckle. I know that one woman does not really need to own four black leather jackets (one short and one long are sufficient) but it cost five euros, and the only thing wrong with it is a missing zipper-tag on the left cuff.

The market was huge-- about ten blocks, I estimate, and with two lanes each lined on both sides with stalls and customers maniacally sorting through piles of cheap used clothing, sellers bellowing out how cheap and good their stuff was, and the sellers of fake handbags adopting a more stealthy approach, in which they waited in silence till they spotted someone giving their handbags a lustful stare, and then buttonholed them and would not let them leave until they bought one or ran away.

Clutching my loot, I went to the only restaurant that was open and nearby, which scared me by being a Chinese pizzeria, but it served pretty good pizza-- hard-boiled egg, while probably not traditional, is delicious, while topping a pizza with whole green olives with the stones in them is probably missing the point-- but the highlight was the appetizer of buffalo mozzarella on some green leafy vegetable. It is served in lumps a bit larger than golf balls, with a resilient exterior and a meltingly soft interior alternating with more springy bits. If you press it with a fork, milk wells up. It's slightly tangy and very creamy and delicate in flavor, and ever so much better than any I've had in the US. I think I will have some every day until I leave.

Then I went to take the bus back, and discovered that you need a ticket before you can board, but there were no ticket machines and the tobacco shops had closed for Sunday afternoon. A "helpful" stranger offered to give me a ride on his motorcycle, but come on. So I began walking back in the general direction from whence I came, figuring eventually I'd find an open shop. Twelve blocks later and so glad I had not bought any books to lug around since they were all in Italian, I did. However, I had walked back by the most direct route on the map, not the route my bus had taken getting there (which I couldn't remember) and could not find a bus stop for a bus going where I was headed. Twelve blocks later, I saw a subway stop and decided to just take the subway... and then a bus pulled up. Saved!
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 13th, 2006 09:58 pm)
I wandered about the Coliseum and the Forums today, and they are amazing-- and amazingly huge. It's an enormous complex of ruins and perfect pillars with no buildings attached, entire buildings, monuments, and all in the middle of the city. You can see billboards advertising new cars from the windows of the Coliseum. If I hadn't traveled in India I would say it was all the most amazing thing I'd ever seen, but this was not my first exposure to ancient buildings from the cradle of civilization, so it was all merely one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen. (The ones in India are mostly better-preserved.)

There were indeed roaming gladiators, who could be seen bumming smokes in between getting their pictures taken with tourists. I didn't want to approach a gladiator lest he make me be photographed with him at gladiolus-point, but I accosted a tour guide to ask her about the gladiator school. "I have heard of it," she said. "But I cannot tell you anything about it. I have no interest in such things."

On the way to the Coliseum, I fell in behind a man with such a nice African accent that I began listening to him, and became so fascinated by what he was saying that I followed him and his companion for several blocks. "Jello fries is a traditional Nigerian dish," he seemed to say. "I am very sorry about last night, but I hold to my feelings about the Jello fries." Eventually he revealed that it is chicken with potatoes. I am sure it was actually something like "Gelofrise," but I will probably never find out.

Speaking of eavesdropping, this is the first time I've heard Italian spoken outside of a movie, and it's a very mellifluous language. I like listening to it. People speak quite loudly, so I have many opportunities to listen.

Tonight I had excellent fresh mozzarella Caprese (with olive oil and basil), and decent veal Saltimbocca. I seem to have a hard time avoiding the touristy joints-- every restaurant I look into is packed with them, and so far I liked the food better in Madrid. (Rome is swarming with tourists, and the streets sound like the translator's booth at the UN.) The best things I had today were the Caprese and two blood oranges I bought at a farmer's market.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 12th, 2006 10:20 pm)
The expensive Roman laundry internet cafe-laundromat which told me to return at 10:00 to pick up my laundry had not even begun drying it when I retuned at that time. Nor have they begun drying it now, as they only have three dryers that are working. They have given me free internet in the meantime, and are insisting that it will be done by 10:30 though that cannot possibly happen, given that the load contains three pairs of jeans. This is reminding me very much of India.

ETA: Especially given that other customers seem unsatisfied as well-- apparently the computers are also failing to perform.

I forgot to mention that one of the reasons it took me so long to reach the Forums, which are mostly closed for restoration, was that I came across a street fair selling cut-rate designer clothing, kitchenware, leather belts, imitation designer handbags, and fruit. My shirt which I splattered suckling pig fat on was destroyed, alas, and also I mostly brought long-sleeved shirts and both Madrid and Rome were quite hot, with a brilliant white light like shines in the desert. So I bought a khaki ruffly thing with elaborate ties in front. I have tied them in a climber's figure-eight knot, which pleases me immensely as it's been so long since I climbed that I thought I'd forgotten how to make one.

Women in Rome seem exceedingly stylish. Perhaps this is why no men have whistled at me yet, as people warned me would happen-- why spare a whistle for a frumpy tourist with pig grease on her shirt when there are beautiful and polished-looking Roman women all around you? Rome makes me want to dress stylishly, although even had I the inclination and the money, I would still not have the fashion sense. I did go into several stores to fondle the leather jackets, none of which I could afford even if I wanted to schlep them around. One pink jacket was the softest suede I have ever lovingly molested (the shop girls were giving me the evil eye.) I think I will search out the flea market-- maybe I will find one used.
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( May. 12th, 2006 09:18 pm)
My, I am in a spammy mood! Perhaps I am wishing for human contact in a language I speak. I was so delighted when I went to a Japanese restaurant in Madrid with Sara and Lawrence, because I had been bummed about my Spanish being so horrible and I hoped for a chance to speak a foreign language I can actually kind of speak. Except the waitress we got was Korean and didn't even know the Japanese word for plum. (So comment away!)

Today I read C. J. Cherryh's Gate of Ivrel, an earlyish work, I suspect, in the drenchingly romatic style of Leigh Brackett or early George R R Martin, but in Cherryh's spare-formal prose style (she has others) and with her usual tendency to never let her heroes get a decent night's sleep or a bite of satisfying food.

Vanye is a... hmm, sort of a ronin, though the culture on his backward planet is not Japanese-ish.. he's an outlaw warrior who must swear himself to some lord for a year of duty. He's still unsworn when a deer he shoots staggers between the shimmering air of a magic cursed gate, and a tall pale woman rides out: Morgaine, last seen a hundred years ago and not aged a day, nor remembered fondly. The gates are the destructive remnants of an ancient dead civilization who used them to travel in space and time, she is on a mission to walk from world to world, closing each gate behind her lest they destroy the universe, until the end of time, or her death, or the last gate closes behind her.

She is cold and harsh and the last survivor of her mission party; he is brave, in the sense that he has fear and does the right thing anyway, and more gentle than is healthy; he can't understand exactly what she's doing and why, and he's going to follow her anyway, no matter what. I think Oyce would especially like this.

Victor Appleton: Tome Swift: The Astral Fortess. Pulp sf I enjoyed as a kid wand was delighted to find used. It's fun. You're all too old to read it. Here's a sample:

Benjamin Franklin Walking Eagle, Tom's co-pilot and best friend, was already checking the stratling information Aristotle had described by running it through the Exedra's main computer. Ben's face bore the same intense look of concentration that his Indian ancestors had worn while stalking buffalo so many generations before.

Lindsey Davis, Silver Pigs. Mystery set in ancient Rome, in the wisecracking private eye style, about an 'informer'-- aka private eye-- Marcus Didius Falco. This works surprisingly well. The voice is great, the details seem authentic, and the relationships between the characters are wonderful.

Donna Leon, Blood from a Stone. Murder mystery set in contemporary Venice, starring a police commissioner. Very well-written and atmospheric, but suffers from an overdose of noir corruption and angst, so that the protagonist does not solve the mystery himself, but has the solution handed to him by a powerful figure in the know, and then can't do anything with the information. Also, the mystery concerns Senegalese immigrants, and everyone keeps bemoaning that they know nothing about them, but no one ever so much as gets online to google some basic info on their country of origin.
But seriously, folks...

While I was on my way to the Forum, I stepped close to an alcove to avoid a passerby on a scooter, and brushed against a statue... in clothes... odd... I glanced up, saw an iron statue of a saint or something in an enveloping iron garment and on a pedestal, and it blinked. That was not the funny part. The funny part,to everyone else in eyeshot, was me leaping backward like a hare, then scuttling away at top speed. I saw another one, this one moving around more, near the Coliseum, along with a very realistic... um... not a mummy with bandages, the gold thing... a sarcophagus? The other iron statue was moving around and gesturing in a creepy manner. I am sure it was intended to be charming, but living statues seem to me like mimes-- not my favorite part of a street scene.

You cannot walk two blocks in Rome without coming across some reamrkable bit f ancient architecture, a crumbling wall or a pyramid or obelisk, encorporated into the rest of the very modern city. I can see why Rome has such a reputation for pickpockets-- all the gobsmacked tourists gawping at, say, the Coliseum must present irresistanle targets. I have not been pickpocketed, by the way and knock on wood, although the taxi driver who took me to the Madrid airport sped off without giving me my change. Luckily I had given him thirty rather than the fifty I almost presented with the thought of getting it changed.

I have not yet had any truluy delicious food in Rome, due to my tendency to suddenly become starved and exhausted and in desperate need of food while near some huge tourist attraction. I did have some excellent plum gelato with flecks of fresh plum, though.
rachelmanija: (Savor)
( May. 10th, 2006 10:22 am)
Lawrence insists that I write about all the food I haven't yet written about.

This will probably be more interesting to read than a report on the Prado and um... the other museum nearby, that has some Impressionists I wanted to see... where I spent the day today, since I don't know too much about art and so cannot discuss it in an enlightening manner. I will say that most museum-goers spend just a few minutes looking at a single painting, even one they particularly like. But everyone who saw Hieronymous "El Bosco" Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delights" stopped in front of it like their shoes had been glued to the floor, and stood there transfixed for about fifteen minutes.

Three-headed dinosaur-newts! A rabbit in a coat! A man crucified on a harpsichord! Two giant ears and a knife! People in bubbles! Crows flying out of someone's ass! These weird pink robotic-beetle-castles! A man being molested by a pig in a nun's habit! That is possibly the strangest painting I have ever seen, the more so because it looks very futuristic and modern, sort of, only it was painted in 1519 or so, and... wow... is it bizarre. And more impressive in full size. Across the room was Breughel's "The Triumph of Death," which is seriously disturbing-- all these hideous zombie skeletons gleefully slaughtering terrified-looking people. The same room contained other Bosch paintings, and two of someone being trepanned, I think-- the captions were all in Spanish. Freeeeaky room...

I have now seen about forty Crucifixions, and those are only the ones I stopped to look at. After a while they all started freaking me out, so I began to hurry past. My favorites were one by Diego Velasquez, with Christ illuminated by his own halo against an almost black background, a light shining in darkness, and one by El Greco which was not technically a crucifixion, but the body of Jesus held by the angels in Heaven-- only it wasn't his spirit, it was corpse, with the skin gray and the joints bent awkwardly as a dead body really would be. So: one very beautiful, one very creepy. There was also a gorgeous Caravaggio of David and the head of Goliath that was amazing to see in person rather than paper.

Back to the food, I have eaten but till now failed to blog on: a pizza with garlic, spinach, and egg cracked in the center and baked till tender. It reminded me of tsukimi (moon-gazing) ramen, with an egg cracked into the broth to cook whole. Similarly, I had sopa de ajo (garlic soup), a very hearty peasant soup with torn-up bread and an egg cracked into the broth. That was at a restaurant I dragged Lawrence to because it specialized in rabbit (conejo) which I had wanted to try because I never had it before. Alas, the conejo was sold out, proving that it was good, I guess. Lawrence had "widowed" lentils, meaning "without ham." That says it all about Spanish food. For my main dish I had chicken with almond sauce (yellow, pleasant but not tasting like almonds) and topped with French fries-- a Madrid specialty.

Sara and I had a lot of fun at two tapas bars. We had beer and squid in a mild tomato sauce in the first. I was surprised to see that the squid were small but whole-- I had expected cut-up rings and tentacles. At the second, which specialized in local (ish) wines, we had a nice dryish red and bacalao (salt cod) made into a kind of fluffy souffle over bread, and also a vegetable pate on bread. And then, alas, we had to stop, as the portions of each were substantial, even shared.

I don't mean to imply that I'm about to immigrate-- if I was going to leave the USA, Tokyo would still be my first choice-- but Madrid is my kind of town.
This time I am sitting facing the Wall of Naked Men on DVD-- a lovely view.

Yesterday I took a bus to Segovia. This came about because I had mentioned to Sara (the artist) that my mother had suggested that I go to Avila, because it's where Saint Teresa of Avila is from. (Um, yeah.) Sara said that she thought Segovia would be of more interest to me, since it has an "aqueducto."

"Ooooh!" I said. I have a thing about aqueducts. (They're cool! You should see the one at Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto!)

"And it's famous for cochinillo." (Suckling pig.)

"Oooooh!" This despite having just read British children's author Nina Bawden's The Peppermint Pig, purchased at a used bookshop in Madrid, in which four children are very, very traumatized because of their idiot mother's decision to raise the pig fated for the butcher as a pet and name it Johnny. That book also features the exact same plot point that appears in Little Women: a girl from a family with upper-class aspirations but currently fallen upon hard times, who loves babies, goes to visit a poor family of the lower class, cuddles a sickly baby, and is stricken with scarlet fever and nearly dies, and the sickly baby does die. I guess the moral is "Don't cuddle poor people's babies, or you'll get scarlet fever."

So yesterday I went to Segovia, which is famous for a cathedral and the Alcazar, a palace which was replicated in Disneyland. The aqueduct is an ancient Roman one, and all the guidebooks claim that you get a great view of it driving into the town, and it is enormous and impossible to miss. I did not see it coming into town, and the bus station was singularly lacking in helpful maps or signposts reading "This way to the famous aqueduct."

So I looked around, saw the spires of a cathedral, and started wandering in that direction. Then I glanced down an alley and saw, in the distance, the unmistakable arches of an enormous Roman aqueduct. I trotted down the alley, walked up a flight of steps, and suddenly was in a big plaze with the aqueduct looming above me, the plaza, and the entire town. It is built of immense gray stones fitted together so precisely that no mortar was used, even in the arches-- which is amazing, when you look at those great rocks suspended overhead by nothing but geometry. The arches framed a blue sky, and clouds, and the specks of birds flying by.

It was about three by then, since I had gotten up late and then had a hard time finding the bus station. In what has become my ritual, I asked for directions and got a long explanation which I only understood in retrospect. (In this case, "There is no 'bus station' per se-- there are a bunch of mini-stations scattered all up and down this road, and you need to know which bus company you're looking for." Since everything is done later in Spain (Lawrence amused me yesterday by referring to 7:00 PM as "mid-afternoon,") I realized that restuarants would now be open for suckling pig.

I wandered around till I found one with customers and appetizing smells, and ordered the lunch set menu. These are posted outside, with a choice of three to six courses for appetizer and main dish, sometimes with bread, a drink, and dessert included. I had cantaloupe and Serrano ham (which I am rapidly getting addicted to) for an appetizer, a mini-bottle of red wine (I had attempted to ask for a glass, but that was what I got) and a plate with three big hunks of unadorned suckling pig in a pool of its golden juices, with crunchy skin atop white meat so succulent and tender that you didn't cut it, but used knife and fork to pull it apart in shreds. (The pig fought back at one point, flipping a piece over and splattering my shirt with oil that I am, even as we speak, attempting to remove with specially purchased stain remover.) Followed by an orange that was presented unpeeled on a little plate.

Between the wine, the suckling pig, and the sunny afternoon, I was more inclined to take a nap then walk to the cathedral and Alcazar when I emerged from the restaurant in a satiated haze. In fact I sat down for a brief rest in the sun beside the aqueduct, and was alarmed to see that fifteen minutes had passed between blinks.

I did make it to the cathedral, which, like Narnia-in-the-wardrobe-, was bigger on the inside than the outside, with all the lines sweeping upward to the intricately carved ceiling, and every inch of it proclaiming, "Behold the glory of God above!"

At the Alcazar, which was indeed oddly familiar because of the Disneyland replica, I was waylaid by one of those elderly men who enjoy hanging out at tourist attractions to educate the tourists. I interrupted his semi-comprehensible spiel about Saint Teresa and the Knights Templar by asking him about a cliff in the distance-- was it a natural formation or a quarry?

"Oh, that. It is... um... it is two thousand... um... what is the word...?"

"Anos?" I suggested. (Years-- pretend my computer has a tilde-- as written, that means "butt.")

The idiocy of that suggestion brought the correct word to his mind. "Kilos," he explained. Either two thousand kilos of rock was mined there to construct some houses, or else there was a landslide and two thousand kilos of rock fell on some houses, I am not sure which.

Then I returned to Madrid for dinner at Sara's house, with Sara, Lawrence, and two friends who are professional translators. It was really fun, and Sara cooked a delicious vegetarian paella, which she served with two types of red wine and a homemade liquor made by steeping the fruits of the madrono (missing tilde) tree in anis. However, it did not taste like anis, which I despise, but like sweet aromatic brandy. She had made green tea truffles for dessert, with white chocolate centers rolled in bitter matcha powder for contrast.

Sara and I are going out for a girls' tapas night tonight, so there will no doubt be more food-centric reports later.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 7th, 2006 10:35 am)
Today I went to a flea market (one of my favorite pastimes-- especially in Japan, where you can buy gorgeous silk kimono jackets) and spent several happy hours browsing the wonderful selection of comic books and old Boy's Own Adventure pulp novels. Unfortunately, all in Spanish. The market was partly in a plaza, and partly on two alleys on a sharp slope, so when I stood on the plaza and looked up, the alleys looked like a river of bobbing heads and hats.

Then I saw a pet shop, and decided to go in and look at the cute puppies. Apparently half the shoppers also thought that would be a relaxing diversion, so the place was just as packed as the alleys. There are some very exotic pets available in Madrid. I wrote down the names to ask Lawrence (whom I am sitting across from now, in the Cafe of the Naked Men (and Women) on the walls. (He is photographing me and the Naked Men Parts on the Walls right now.)

Right, the animals. I got distracted. There were hamsters the size of mice, spherical little puffballs bouncing about the cage with more energy than hansters usually show; bizarre creatures in a heap in one corner of the cage, the size of rats with rabbit-like ears and very long stilt-like legs, which Lawrence confirmed were kangaroo rats (rata canguro); things like mini-guinea pigs with tufted tails, degu; and more mysterious rodents in a cage labeled perrito mejicano; that is not what they are, though, because I am informed that means "chihuahua."

I must sign off now, the Cafe of Naked Men (and Women, but we all know which I'm looking at) is closing down.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 7th, 2006 12:27 am)
The good news: it didn´t rain. The bad news: I took the wrong bus, the local stop bus that takes two hours instead o 50 minutes, and by the time I got there the sword museum had closed. I think. I wish people would stop giving me very long and comprehensive yet, to me, incomprehensible explanations every time i ask a question that could theoretically be answered in one word that I know rather than a hundred that I don´t. Same with the El Grecos. Or maybe I just didn´t find them, which is very possible.

Luckily, on the whole I prefer walking around in interesting neighborhoods and looking at amazing buildings to staying inside and looking at amazing paintings, and the old town of Toledo-- the medieval city enclosed in massive walls-- does not shut down by the afternoon. Once you´re within the walls, the roads are paved with lumpy stones the size of grapes, or the size of two or three grapes, and polished smooth by the soles of people´s shoes. These roads become more and more narrow, and more curved or angular, and the walls rise up higher, until soon it feels as if you´re in an ant farm, where you can´t see where you´re going or where you´ve been for more than fifteen paces behind or in front, and the sky is laid out in jagged strips. The walls are all red brick and gray stone, all now faded to sepia. Every now and then you turn a corner and suddenly, there´s a plaza! Or a restuarant! Or an incredible cathedral with a wedding party in session!

I began to wonder if I would ever find my way out, but since the whole thing is atop a hill, I figured if I kept heading downhill, I would eventually find the walls, and thence the outer city and bus station. This was correct, or else I would still be there. Outside of those massive walls, grass and wildlowers grew: dandelions and tiny daisies, lavender flowers with purple stripes like tiny tiger lilies, and poppies, or at least I think they were poppies, because they looked just like the California kind, but red instead of the orange I´m used to: red shading to orange in the sun, and in the shade such a pure scarlet that they burned against my eyes. Those must have been the poppies that grew in Flanders Field: red as blood.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 6th, 2006 12:59 am)
Today I slept till 1;30 and it is now 1:20 and I am posting from Lawrence's computer. I am on Madrid hours! But I am hoping to get up a little earlier tomorrow, because I would like to go to Toledo if it isn't pouring rain. (Whih is forecasted.) If it is, I will probably go to museums and spend the day cozily indoors.

After a breakfast of coffee and a flat pastry topped with creme brulee, I prowled about the city and got completely lost. I kept going in circles and ending up back at the magnificently decorated Bank of Span and the military headquarters, which has a lovely rose garden and two soldiers guarding the gate. The fourth time I passed the soldiers, one of them gave me a very knowing look. I am sure I could have asked him directions, but I got burned the last time I did that, at the airport, and instead of getting the answer, "Turn left" or "Turn right" which I would have understood, I got a long explanation, which in retrospect I realized was "You have to take the shuttle to get to the subway station."

But I eventually found my way back, and met Lawrence (not typing his VERY LONG lj name every time, but I mean [livejournal.com profile] desayunoencama in case he posts on the same day and you wish to read his for comparison) at this really cool gay bookshop/cafe/DVD sales and has nice paintings and posters of naked men (and women) on the walls. He proceeded to give me a walking tour of Madrid, with a concentration of used bookstores (bookspoils at end of post.) We also visited a snooty comic shop/art galery, and another art gallery with gorgeous pen and ink drawings of plants and flowers, and jellyfish, and also had painted the walls. It was also a bookbindery, and had examples of book bindings. And free giveaway strawberries left over from the art opening the night before where someone had fallen down a trap door.

Lawrence and I and his artist friend/collaborator Sara Rojo (www.sararojo.com) had dinner at this casual but tasty restaurant. So far both restaurants I've been to have white paper tablecloths; you can draw on them or tear off pieces to write book recommendations on. I asked for Madrid specialties other than organ meats, and Sara recommended chicken with almond sauce and squid qith ink sauce. Which they were out of. They were also out of Lawrnce's favorite chickpea stew (he is a vegetarian) so he had to order fried eggs in addition to roasted asparagus and mushrooms sauteed in garlic, both of which I snagged a few bites of, and they were delicious. Sara and I shared morcilla (blood sausage) sauteed with egg and green beans (good, not too strong, tasted a lot like machaca), white-fleshed fish in a tomato sauce with onions and peppers-- the fish had been lightly fried first-- and it was savory and tender and delicious, and oxtail, available because the bullfighting season had started! The oxtail was overly fatty for my taste. And red wine mixed with lemony tonic water, and Santiago cake (dense almond cake--maybe made with almond flour-- for dessert. A lovely meal.

The streets in Madrid off the main roads are very narrow, like alleys, and packed with interesting shops and restaurants advertising fixed-price meals. When I was lost, I walked past one that had translated its menu into English as follows: "Green attacked beans; Loins of bass with attacked shrimps; fricasee of chicken and you eat."

Posting book spoils tomorrow as I'd like to be in bed before 2:00 AM.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 5th, 2006 01:10 am)
I had intended to go straight to bed, but the computer in the lobby was free. so I am posting at 1:00 am. Perhaps this will prevent me rom waking up wide awake two hours after going to sleep as I have done for the last two nights. Last night I finished The Left Hand of Darkness between 3:00 amd 4:00. There are a lot of plot and thematic parallels with The Dispossessed. Also, like everything else I have read lately, there was incest. I expect this with manga, but not so much with LeGuin.

I had a somehwat disastrous trip to Madrid-- the plane was late, I had to change subways three times, each time necessitating lugging my suitcase up about twelve escalaators, elevators, and sstaircases-- and then I arrived and it was pourring rain, in which I had to find the hotel.

But then Lawrence arrived (literally, at my hotel) and took me to dinner and showed me the neighborhood-- shoe stores, cafes, gay bookstores, thrift stores, etc-- and we had a lovely meal and he gave me a list o mystery series recommendtions that will probably get me started reading mysteries again.

Food report: Dinner: caldo verde (potato and leek creamy soup, very comorforting), veal cutlet, very thin with lemon juice and French fries, and berry cheesecake.

By the way, never buy a prawn sandwich from a grocery store. I know, you Americans are thinking, I wouldn´t anyway, but if it was called a prawn po'boy you´d buy one... well, the sauce was repulsive. I had to wipe off each individual shrimp (I was hungry). This was in Gatwick.

Last night in LOndon I had butter chicken and buttered naan at an Indian restaurant-- very nice but I should have taken the menu seriously when it said mild, I had to salt and peper it. The waiter threw out the guy at the table next to mine. He kept demanding King beer and mutton, despite the waiter saying he had kingFISHER beer and lamb. Perhaps a language problem? They both ended up belligerent. The waiter told him to go to Pizza Hut where he could get ood he´d understand, and the customer stomped out, saying he´d go to the Indian restaurant next door that had lots more customers.

Book report: Left Hand of Darkness: Brilliant, atmospheric, sad.

Tennis Shoes, Noel Streateild: Funny and oddball, like my favorites of hers.
The expensive Roman laundry internet cafe-laundromat which told me to return at 10:00 to pick up my laundry had not even begun drying it when I retuned at that time. Nor have they begun drying it now, as they only have three dryers that are working. They have given me free internet in the meantime, and are insisting that it will be done by 10:30 though that cannot possibly happen, given that the load contains three pairs of jeans. This is reminding me very much of India.

ETA: Especially given that other customers seem unsatisfied as well-- apparently the computers are also failing to perform.

I forgot to mention that one of the reasons it took me so long to reach the Forums, which are mostly closed for restoration, was that I came across a street fair selling cut-rate designer clothing, kitchenware, leather belts, imitation designer handbags, and fruit. My shirt which I splattered suckling pig fat on was destroyed, alas, and also I mostly brought long-sleeved shirts and both Madrid and Rome were quite hot, with a brilliant white light like shines in the desert. So I bought a khaki ruffly thing with elaborate ties in front. I have tied them in a climber's figure-eight knot, which pleases me immensely as it's been so long since I climbed that I thought I'd forgotten how to make one.

Women in Rome seem exceedingly stylish. Perhaps this is why no men have whistled at me yet, as people warned me would happen-- why spare a whistle for a frumpy tourist with pig grease on her shirt when there are beautiful and polished-looking Roman women all around you? Rome makes me want to dress stylishly, although even had I the inclination and the money, I would still not have the fashion sense. I did go into several stores to fondle the leather jackets, none of which I could afford even if I wanted to schlep them around. One pink jacket was the softest suede I have ever lovingly molested (the shop girls were giving me the evil eye.) I think I will search out the flea market-- maybe I will find one used.
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