Saturday, December 29, 2007

Expo Da Vinci

Back in Brussels, and with the town empty, what to do of a Saturday? The Expo Da Vinci, that's what, at the infamously ugly sixth largest building in Christendom, the carbuncular Koekelique de Basilberg with its throbbing neon cross on top. (You can visit it interactively, if you must.) A cross between the Battersea Power Station and a London Underground urinal, it lowers on the northern Brussels skyline like a boil. It is a testament to the architectural horrors of the industrial age, Art Deco en masse as its tiled fluted concrete pillars between brick vaulting mimic the fluted columns of its medieval forebears. It's worth a visit in itself. Every Gotham should have one.

However, at the year ends the Basilberg generally hosts an exhibition of quality. On the Millenium, my mother and I went to see a prospective exhibition on what life might be like in a thousand years' time. It tackled biology, society, religion and lots of other aspects that didn't only involve trying to predict what gadgetry might be invented in the next thousand years. But the highlight of this year's exhibition, for me, was gadgetry itself. Several of Leonardo's machines had been built in scale models. We saw an excavator, a multiple cannon array, two or three of the flying machines including the 'aerial screw' or ornithoper, the balista, a bicycle, and two types of tank. Somehow seeing them built was much clearer than reading Leonardo's sketches. An initial biographical timeline, was followed by thematic sections on several of his foci, including anatomy which forcibly recalled the Bodyworlds poses Gunter von Hagen took from illustrations of the time, and a further dissection of the cartoons and studies for some of his best-known paintings.

If you get a chance to see this exhibition, do.

Below; turn it upside down and it won't be able to right itself. You'd think da Vinci would have spotted that flaw, wouldn't you?

Benazir Bhutto

Certainly not an angel, and probably not a saviour. But a very courageous, intelligent, passionate woman, who knew exactly what she was doing and why she was doing it.


Benazir Bhutto

Certainly not an angel, and probably not a saviour. But a very courageous, passionate woman, who knew exactly what she was doing and why she was doing it.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas

In every office, firm and service, finance officers are currently spitting about how much they hate the end of year.

I recovered Arthur (yes, she has survived) from the garage late yesterday. It was touch and go there, as the Italian transport strike kept her new bonnet on the roads for three or four days longer than it should have been. She's lost her black rubber front bumper as the whole of her front end was resprayed, and she's developed a throaty rumble when idling in neutral, but she seems ready for tomorrow's run. I've bought the presents, scored two kilos of Leonidas chocolates, assorted Continental yummies, and a large sausage for my mother. Bridport dresses up at New Year's Eve and apparently she wants to hide the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies in it. Make of that what you will. Me, I'm steeling myself to perhaps take part in the West Bay Wallow, a charity Boxing Day dip off East Beach that I've never yet quite managed to steel myself to undertake. Last one in's .... quite sensible really....

Have a good one. I'll check in again before New Year.

Monday, December 17, 2007


On Friday afternoon, we motored to Heidelberg, where we stayed at the Goldener Hecht just opposite the old bridge. I've wanted to go to Heidelberg since I was 10, when my history teacher, Mrs Langmaid, told me it was the most beautiful town in Germany. It certainly is gorgeous, made of a red stone with a partly ruined schloss lowering above the city like a Moghul fort. It contains the largest barrel I have ever seen of which they seem inordinately proud, but much more interesting was the German Apothecary Museum, housed in one of the habitable sections. It was an excellent exhibition and had a good section for children where they could smell and look at simples and mixes of herbs and spices with medicinal properties. Another feature of a visit to the schloss is that you take the Heidelberger Bergbahn, and if you follow it up to the top of the Königstuhl you will discover that there is actually a Heidelberger Bergbahn Staff Song, the lyrics of which can be seen in a small museum at the top, but which unfortunately we did not hear performed.

What we DID hear performed was a production of La Bohème at the theatre. It seems that Heidelberg is a bit of a permanent Fringe venue, and a young company had put on a technically faultless production of this much-loved opera. What threw me a bit was the staging. In the first act, Colline entered dressed as a giant chicken, and Schaunard stripped to his boxers and began sticking 5€ notes to his chest with his own spit. At this point we knew we were in for something different.

In the second act, the street market was transformed to the madness of Christmas shopping, with extras rushing about the scene dropping Gucci and Prada shopping bags. Parpignol the toy seller, bearing a great resemblance to the child catcher of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, handed out Kalashnikovs and Berettas, and the children pulled on balaclavas and pretended to be terrorists. At the end of the act, instead of approaching soldiers, the shoppers returned, but as zombies. Act three. Mimi looks for Rodolfo at a nightclub filled with giant orange balls. Everyone is in fancy dress and badly hungover. Act four. Schaunard and Colline turn up in the worst outfits I have ever seen, and this is Germany we are talking about. All I can say is that I'll certainly remember this production of La Boheme. And from what we could tell from the pamphlets readily available around the city, fringe arts are available all year round. Go and see, do.


As you know I've been doing a bit of travelling. On Thursday last we drove to Baden-Baden. It's awfully chic, isn't it! We stayed in the utterly luxurious Hotel Belle Epoque, but what I really want to point out to you is the restaurant at which we had dinner, the Stahlbad. Like many German hostelries it is proud of its family-run nature, and Mama, who from what I understand is about 130, is still in the kitchen every day ensuring that guests will have the very best. It was a fabulous dinner but it was outshined by the welcome and character of the Schwank/Monch family who run the restaurant. Go and visit them, they're delightful.

Baden-Baden is of course a spa town, and on Friday morning we wandered around the old town, eyeing the excellent shopping and the picturesque streets. The waters were taken at the Trinkhaus, and found to be pleasantly warm, heavily mineral and somewhat salty. I certainly felt it go through me.

I failed to find a piece of Black Forest gateau. It doesn't seem to be available anywhere near the Black Forest. I'm beginning to wonder whether British marketing people haven't made it all up.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Strasbourg taxis

Strasbourg taxis are, in general, excellent. There is always an exception that proves the rule.

I had my hair done yesterday for a party, and ordered a taxi back to the hotel to keep the spiky fluffy effect from falling. No, sadly no photos.

The taxi driver pulled over at the hotel, and said, "Six euros please". The meter read 4.50€.
I said "But the meter reads 4.50€".
"In Strasbourg there is a minimum taxi fee of six euros, and if you don't like it you can walk".
"Where is it written in your cab that there is a minimum fee of six euros?"
"It's there in the back, but never mind that because you owe me six euros and I'd like you to pay and let me get on with the next client". He seemed to be having a very strong reaction to a reasonable request for confirmation, and I couldn't work out why.
I said, "I've no objection to paying the fee if it is indeed the fee. I would just like to know where I stand contractually, so that we can both see that we are having a fair transaction"
I looked around the back of the cab and found a transparent tariff sticker on the window. I started to read it. The cabbie became increasingly agitated. And it wasn't surprising. The minimum fee as per the sticker was stated at five euros and sixty cents.

He had tried to scam me for the paltry sum of forty cents.

I was so amused at this I paid him the six euros, waited while he grumpily and reluctantly made change, gritting his teeth and counting out every coin in as small a denomination as he could possibly find to get back at me. And then, when he'd gathered them all together, I tipped him his own forty cents change back and bade him good day.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Christmas shopping

I'm off to Strasbourg for a spot of Chrimbo shopping. In the replacement car with no radio. In the meantime, Daphne organised a Blogger's Christmas Dinner.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Get this

So Arfur, as we know, is in the garage, and I've had the good news that she WILL be repaired. This means that the Europcar SEAT Ibiza my insurers have so kindly supplied me with as a replacement car can stay with me until the 17th, when I can pick Arfur back up.

As I'd replaced Arfur's back window three weeks ago following a dose of pure vandalism, and I deliberately haven't replaced Arfur's radio since it was nicked outside Zed's house in January, I was thinking that there was nothing that could possibly go wrong again on the automotive front.

This morning, when I climbed into the SEAT Ibiza, I noted that there was no longer a radio.

That's right.

The police confirmed that the front driver lock has been forced.

Cars. Who'd have 'em?

Beneath; a photo of what my replacement car radio could now be up to.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The McChe

New artist of note.


You may be wondering where I am. I'm all three ways of megabusy right now, but what I'd particularly like to proffer is my excuse for not making it to Zed's MBIAT Reading To Wallstrom Exercise.

I was on my way, honest, but then I had a car crash.

Arthur ('cos she's Arf a car) and I were idling at a traffic light on a one-way street, minding our own bloody business, and a large yellow van containing three construction workmen, who proved to be delightfully polite and apologetic, came off the traffic lights opposite and drove straight into us.

I have a slightly sprained thumb.

Arthur has a bust radiator, has lost her windscreen wash tank, and, I suspect, has serious electrical damage which may include her power-assisted steering.

I'm waiting to hear more from the expert, but it's quite possible she may be a write-off.

The photo below is what my car used to look like, except lavender.