Saturday, September 30, 2006
When I'd stay over with my GrandMa we'd watch the Universal/RKO Lugosi "Dracula" movies. As sterile as they now seem they really frightened me.
I also collected the Hammer Horror Monster Cards as a kid.
Christopher Lee as the Prince of Darkness always freaked me out, especially those bloodshot eyes.
After watching Hammer vampire movies I used to sleep with a crucifix.
I got really freaked once after watching Count Yorga (and the following week, the Return of Count Yorga). I still remember a scene where these hippy californian vampires were breaking into a family's home, to drink their blood. There was a deaf girl who escaped...
I got so worked up that I had to rationalise things by convincing myself that I was less likely to be attacked by a vampire *just* because I'd watched a vampire movie on tv. (Not, you'll notice, that there are no such things as vampires).
And then there was Martin. You could believe...
Now, as an adult, I find it too scary to watch Dracula movies alone. When I do, I make sure that I lock all my windows, and secure lock the front door.
I frequently dream of being pursued by a vampire. There's always a choice-do I run, putting off the inevitable and stretching the horror, knowing that eventually I'll be caught. Or do I just give up, without the effort, albeit futile, of trying to escape? My dream is always about being pursued, having the choice to flee, but knowing that I will eventually be caught..
Maybe it's a gay thing? There's an escapism and sexuality about vampires. They are usually very attractive. Rather seductive too.
Anyway the adventure continues. I'm soon off to Poland to see Dance of the Vampires:
Friday, September 29, 2006
1. Does Texas Penal Code Section 43.34(c)(1), which, among other things prohibits the giving of a dildo to another person, violate the Ninth Amendment and substantive Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution?
2. Is the utlization by an adult in private of a dildo a fundamental right under the Constitution?
If you read the petition (find it here) you'll see that legislators have blessed the US with "Anti-Dildo" statutes.
So while the USA fights more and more for freedom in foreign countries, they still battle to preserve their freedoms at home. Somehow I don't think George W. Bush will give this cause his support.
The Margate Exodus has been commissioned by (amongst others) Channel 4 Television.It will be a Channel 4 film (to be transmitted in two parts in 2007 with a cinema release at the same time) and a day of live events taking place through the town of Margate in Kent tomorrow, Saturday 30 September.
It's a contemporary re-telling of the Old Testament Book of Exodus, the story of Moses and his search for the promised land. Exodus begins with the Egyptians complaining about the immigrant Hebrews – there are too many of them, they’re having too many children. They are ‘the undesirables’ and a problem to get rid of.
The topics of identity, tolerance and social equality still trouble us, thousands of years later.
Margate has been chosen because of it's diverse population and it's geographical proximity to Dover, one of the UK's main entry points for asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.
The town will be visited by a plague of lice, locusts, frogs and flies. Salvation might possibly be in the form of 25 meter high sacrificial sculpture by Antony Gormley (which looks rather Wicker Man, if you ask me).
Ten singer-songwriters have each been commissioned to write and record a song inspired by one of the ten biblical plagues. Following the original biblical order of the plagues:
Klashnekoff : Blood [Plague of Blood]
King Creosote : Relate The Tale [Plague of Frogs]
Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields) : The Meaning of Lice [Plague of Lice]
Brian Eno & Robert Wyatt : Flies [Plague of Flies]
Laurie Anderson : The Fifth Plague [Death of Livestock]
Cody ChesnuTT : Boils [Plague of Boils]
The Tiger Lillies : Hailstones [Plague of Hail]
Imogen Heap : Glittering Cloud [Plague of Locusts]
Scott Walker : Darkness [Plague of Darkness]
Rufus Wainwright : Katonah [Death of The Firstborn]
Local singers, musicians and bands perform their own renditions of the Plague Songs at Margate’s Winter Gardens on Exodus Day.
Last night I went to my old firm's alumni association drinks reception. They have fabulous new offices in the City, looking out onto the river. They have a huge roof terrace, which has stunning views. I have to admit, that was the main draw for going.
I worked for them (unfortunately in their tatty old office) for 3 years. Overall, it was a fairly negative experience for me. It's only now, some 2 years after leaving that I'm inclined to catch up with people from there.
Tonight I'm off to the Arcola Theatre. I've never been there before-even although it's reasonably close to where I live.
I'm off to see a new play by Robin Hooper-"Not the Love I Cry For".
Leyla is close to Craig, an art student. More westernised than her husband Emin, she suddenly returns home to Turkey, supposedly to mourn a family loss.
Without stating his homosexuality, Craig then embarks on a close relationship with Emin, a devout Muslim, which excludes both Bill, whom Craig is seeing largely for sex, and Joe, Craig's widowed father. When Leyla returns, she confides in Craig, telling him the truth about her marriage.
The outcome is fatal, and the final touching moments of what seem violent domestic events, suggests a darker social tragedy.
I'm just going to the theatre on my own. Mon C is in Saudi, and I'm quite happy to do things on my own while he's away.
Originally C was due back on Wednesday next week. But I think there was a lack of communication between the Saudis and his company. It's Ramadan, so most people are not working, and as a result there has been very little for him to do. So he'll finish working this evening and fly back after.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Historically, British theater had long been the subject of censorship. Before the state assumed responsibility, the church took it upon itself to outlaw theatre in England, which it considered too pagan. It was only when the church realised that it could use theatre as a medium to relate biblical stories to an illiterate public that its popularity grew.
Following the Civil War, which in 1649 saw a puritanical Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell replace Charles I, theatre was totally banned throughout England. It was not until the restoration of the monarchy some 12 years later that theatrical performance was once again permitted. However it was still strictly censured through regulation-only specified theatre companies were allowed to play at specified theatres (the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and Theatre Royal Covent Garden respectively, and additionally, during the summer the Theatre Royal Haymarket). All other theatres had to resort to mime or music (the legal requirement being at least five songs in each act).
By enactment, from 1737 no new play could be performed at any venue without the prior consent of the Lord Chamberlain.
Under the Theatres Act of 1843 the Lord Chamberlain's powers of censorship were consolidated. The Act conferred draconian powers of censorship upon the Lord Chamberlain:
One copy of every new stage play, and of every new act, scene, or other part added to an old stage play, and of every new prologue or epilogue, and of every new part added to an old prologue or epilogue, intended to be produced and acted for hire at any theatre in Great Britain, shall be sent to the Lord Chamberlain of Her Majesty's household for the time being, seven days at least before the first acting or presenting thereof, with an account of the theatre where and the time when the same is intended to be first acted or presented, signed by the master or manager, or one of the masters or managers of such theatre; and during the said seven days no person shall for hire act or present the same, or cause the same to be acted or presented; and in case the Lord Chamberlain, either before or after the expiration of the said period of seven days, shall disallow any play, or any act, scene, or part thereof, or any prologue or epilogue, or any part thereof, it shall not be lawful for any person to act or present the same, or cause the same to be acted or presented, contrary to such disallowance.
These powers were entirely at the discretion of the Lord Chamberlain, and his power of prohibition could be applied wherever 'he shall be of opinion that it is fitting for the preservation of good manners, decorum or of the public peace so to do to forbid the acting of any play'.
Additional guidelines suggested that these powers be used to prevent any profanity or lewd or improper language, any indecency of dress or action, offensive representations of living persons, and anything else which in the Chamberlain's opinion might tend to induce riot or a breach of the peace. Anything mocking of royalty or the government of the day was particularly frowned upon.
To assist the Lord Chamberlain in his task to protect the corruptible public, 'Examiners of Plays' were charged with reading the submitted scripts, to produce a synopsis of their plots, and draw the Chamberlain's attention to any scenes or language which might be offensive under the act. Whilst the Examiners would make recommendations as to whether or not the play should be permitted (censored or intact) the final decision was with the Lord Chamberlain. His power was entirely discretional and absolute, with no legal requirement to justify his decisions and no right of appeal.
On 27 September 1968 (38 years ago today, and the very next day after the repeal of the Lord Chamberlain's powers and abolition of theatre censorship) the musical Hair opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London, where it ran for 1,998 performances until closure was forced by the roof collapsing in July 1973.
The show carried a strong anti war message (at the height of the Vietnam conflict). As well as the desecration of the US flag on stage, there were controversial scenes involving nudity and drug taking. Additionally there was blasphemous and sexually explicit language.
Hair-it ain't half hippy!
1 Obscenity in the theatre is still unlawful. The Theatres Act 1968 provides:
For the purposes of this section a performance of a play shall be deemed to be obscene if, taken as a whole, its effect was such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who were likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to
A person shall not be convicted of [that] offence if it is proved that the giving of the performance in question was justified as being for the public good on the ground that it was in the interests of drama, opera, ballet or any other art, or of literature or learning.
2 The same Act also provides for delivery of scripts of new plays to British Museum:
Where after the coming into force of this section there is given in Great Britain a public performance of a new play, being a performance based on a
script, a copy of the actual script on which that performance was based
shall be delivered to the Trustees of the British Museum free of charge
within the period of one month beginning with the date of the performance;
and the Trustees shall give a written receipt for every script delivered to
them pursuant to this section
I received a package from Prague. Some stuff I left behind after my recent trip. It included a fan I was given to keep cool at the Salvation party. How could I forget that some of the BelAmi boys were there giving them out?
It's kind of cool. It folds over into itself, to a circle a quarter of its expanded size.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
I'm sometimes at a loss to decide who, for me, best captures the mood of autumn.
Dylan Thomas looked at the world as if it had just been created, constantly comparing the imagery of autumn with spring. He opens his Collected Poems with a prologue at sunset—at the closing of a day and year and, in the end, his own life: “This day winding down now / At God speeded summer’s end.”
However he never more marked a contrast between the two seasons (perhaps) than in "Fern Hill".
FERN HILLThen we have Keats, and his ode, To Autumn:
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.
All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.
And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Personally it's for you to decide. But I have a favourite. I read it at the service to celebrate my Nana's life. For me she was always spring, even in her autumn (which I hardly ever noticed).
Finland will be hosting next year's competition (the 52nd), following Lordi's famous victory with Hard Rock Hallelujah.
Helsinki has been chosen as the host city, and Helsinki's Areena (sic) is the chosen venue.
Helsinki was not a foregone conclusion. A total of 11 venues representing seven cities applied to hold the contest. LänsiAuto Areena in Espoo, Helsinki Ice Stadium, Helsinki Fair Centre, VR Konepaja in Helsinki, Lahti’s Suurhalli, Kittilän Levi, Rovaniemi’s Lappi Areena, Pirkkahalli and the Ratina stadium in Tampere, and Turkuhalli, all entered applications, in addition to Helsinki’s Areena.
The choice was essentially decided by aspects relating to the practical arrangements. Helsinki has years of experience at organising various major events. The large number of seats at Helsinki’s Areena will give as many people as possible (including me I hope) an opportunity to come to watch the contest. Flight and other transport links in Greater Helsinki are also much better compared to the rest of Finland, as is accommodation capacity.
There is another reason for going. In 2007, the Eurovision family welcomes the Česká Republika into its ranks.
After two failed tries, in 2005 and 2006, due to financial restrictions, the Czech Republic will take part at the Eurovision Song Contest 2007. The national representative will be selected from ten competitors in a national final, on Česká Televize to be held in March 2007.
The Czech Republic will be joining recent Eurovision debutantes Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Bulgaria and Moldova amongst others, in what could be the biggest song contest yet. Some time ago there were hints that the former soviet republic Georgia could be amongst the line-up in Helsinki, and the possible return of Austria could also be on the cards. The participation of the new independent nations Montenegro and Serbia is also possible.
It's at this time of year that events, planned at the beginning of the year when the summer was still a promise, have come and gone, reinforcing the feel that autumn is for me as an empty time. And yet autumn needs to pass, so that Christmas and its festivities can be enjoyed.
As autumn nights draw in I am less inclinde to organise evening events during the week. I'm happy just to slip home after work, in the dark, and relax letting home comforts unwind me. Easy viewing, and a glass or two of mellow, warming red wine.
As a gay man I suspect that I'm slightly more sensitive and in tune with my feelings than some straight men. I can feel overly emotional all too easly. I think it is the same with melancholy.
For sure, it happens upon me all the more easily at this time of year. Of course, the fact that mon C's work schedule has kicked off again and he's out of town doesn't help. That definitely makes me feel more blue. And listening to the 2005 London Stage Premiere Recording of Edward Scissorhands only adds to the atmosphere.
I just cannot describe how moving it is. You really, really should give it a listen. (Don't confuse it with the movie soundtrack; as inspiring as it is, it's without the Terry Davies original music, which adds so much). As the crit on the CD says, it's truly "...mesmerizing and haunting music". (The CD cover looks like this-without Johnny Depp's profile).
Just right for this time of year.
ROYAL SPANISH SWEEPSTAKE LOTTERY
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RE: WINNING FINAL NOTIFICATION
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For due processing and remittance of your prize money to a designated account of your choice.Remember,You are to contact our agents by email and within a week of receiving this notice.After this date, all funds will be returned to the MINISTERIO DE ECONOMIA Y HACIENDA as unclaimed.For further processing and remittance of your winning funds you are fill and forward to our claim agent the completed processing payment form below.
(1)NAME OF BENEFICIARY
(4)DATE OF BIRTH
(9)SCAN COPY OF IDENTITY(International passport or drivers licence or any other identity).
To avoid unnecessary delays and complications,please quote your reference/batch numbers in any correspondences with us as your assigned claim agent.Congratulations once more from all members and staffs of this program.
Imagine my delight. I didn't even buy a ticket! I'm rushing to PDF my passport and drivers licence. Just to be on the safe side (and ensure speed of receipt of my share of the winnings) maybe I should offer them my bank account details.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Growing up, in my formative years, I was very influenced by music. I had quite a collection of music too. Mainly on vinyl-because it was just before CDs. Sadly this meant that most of my very favourite stuff remained on vinyl. It was never commercial enough to merit a subsequent issue on CD. Except for the Smiths of course (I met Morrissey twice when I was a schoolboy "journalist").
I still have all the records at my parents house. But I miss listening to them.
For a while, before the Smiths came along, my very favourite band were the fArmERs bOys. Mark, Baz, Frog and Stan.
Many times in recent years I used to do google searches just to see what I could find, if anything. But I never came up with anything at all. Then, earlier this summer I went to visit my brother. He gave me a CD of early FB recordings, which I was so chuffed with.
When I got home, I did another google search, and this time I found an unofficial website here. I suspect it's been done by one of them.
I listened to some of their stuff this morning, prompting me to visit their site. And, phew wow, they've uploaded some videos, which I'm taking great pleasure in sharing here. God, they're dated, so 80's. But they've made me v, v happy (none of these are on the CD I have, so it's wonderful to hear them again for the first time in over 10 years).
In chronological order:
In the Country
and Phew Wow
Friday, September 22, 2006
Aimless Ramblings of Zefrog: What a night
I was intrigued that it retold my experience from a different angle.
However, when I told my chums about it, some were less than happy, and some of the guys never talked to each other again!
Anyway, this is what John Cameron "Hedwig" Mitchell did next.
Shortbus has a UK certificate.
My last girlfriend never knew why I stopped seeing her. And indeed, I never saw her again, until one day she was on telly.
Introducing Eileen Hunter. Who is really a lovely, lovely girl. (And her brother I seem to remember, was a rather cute vet. Graeme, I think).
Anyway, I thought of her 'cos she reminds me of Lucie Bila.
(Introducing Lucie Bílá).
Lucie is the third of my Czech troika of female divas (along with Hana and Helena). I think she's my favourite, though.
Born Hana Zanáková on 7 April 1966, in Kladno, CZ., she changed her name so as to avoid any confusion with Hana Zagorová. She was working as a dressmaker, when someone sent a recording she had made to a Prague radio station. A couple of movie roles followed, but she remained first and foremost a singer. Latterly she branched out into various musicals. Her first role was as Eponine in Bidnici (Les Miserables) in 1992.
...It's my 250th post. So I figure I should dedicate it to someone. And I guess that should be to mon C, because he is my man.
So for him, here is Lucie Bílá, singing "Jsi můj pán" (He Is My Man):
"Jsi můj pán" is taken from the 1994 production of Dracula.
There's another reason why I tend to put the visit out of my mind. I almost drowned.
I went for a swim in the sea. I was a little out, and when I tried to swim back to the shore, I just couldn't make any progress. Suddenly I realised that I was struggling, and I felt a little panicky. The beach was very quiet. But there was no point shouting-I'd never be heard. And if I were to wave frantically, I'd only see Simon wave back.
I swam harder, but still made little progress. I started to get seriously worried. Then I looked at the lie of the beach. It was quite curved. A memory stirred and something told me to swin parallel to the beach, rather than directly to it. It seemed to work, and because of the shape of the beach it meant I was still swimming to the shore, only I was no longer swimming against the current.
Of course I got back. Got to Simon, and puked. All I could do was lie down and close my eyes, and recover. I've never swam in the sea since.
I remember there was another guy in the sea just after me. He came out of the water without his trunks, went straight over to someone, said something and left promptly. As he had gone in swimming with trunks I figured he'd had problems too with the current, taken his trunks off to waive to try to catch someone's attention. I don't know though.
Anyway, I saw this, and recognised Nice immediately.
Now, that is something worth getting distracted over.
Before then, I'd only ever experienced Nice via The Boyfriend.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Here is what a google search is currently throwing up when you search against him.
And there he is.
You'll see he is a brand consultant. Although at the time he denied the poster incident was self promotion, one can't help but wonder...
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Already available are sound recordings of the UK production on YouTube. Sounds great.
Meantime, here's Idina (in green, with Kristen Chenowith), who you can see in London 'til December. Go see...
(For those who don't know, Wicked is the prequel of sorts to the Wizard of Oz. It tells how Elphaba and Galinda become the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good. This scene is where the two witches and friends make the decision to go their own way, and let destiny take its course...Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth)
And here they are earlier, as roommates, when Galinda takes on Elphaba as her project to make her as popular as she...
Representing the Po. Turin.
On my way I paid attention to some of the other construction happening.
And when I arrived home, I took mon C by surprise, and caught him in the act. He told me he couldn't help it. He's addicted...to "Midsomer Murders". In my book that's almost as tragic as "Murder, She Wrote". He says he likes the English village countryside...
These days it seems to take two nights to watch a movie. I'm not sure if this is because they are rather uninspiring, or if I'm too tired. Last night we started watching "Silent Hill". I love the idea of an isolated dreamscape that's not real, but neither is it completely imaginary. That said, though, I suspect that it's going to be a crap movie.
Before I went off to Prague we watched "C.R.A.Z.Y.". It's a French Canadian comedy drama of sorts. It's well worth seeing. Rather than write my own review, the following from Ian David Curry ("Legal Eagle") on Amazon nails it, so if it ain't broke, why fix it:
C.R.A.Z.Y. is a far more delicate affair [than Brokeback Mountain]. The question of lead character Zac's homosexuality is softly debated from the outset, but is not formerly resolved. Instead the film sees a far more realistic struggle for Zac, as he wrestles with his `condition', growing up in a family were to be gay is unacceptable, in a society only just emerging from severe catholic-led conservatism. The coming of age story is an old, sometimes haggard genre. C.R.A.Z.Y. manages to tell the story in a new way, taking a serious and thoughtful look at how a typical family copes with a son who is obviously different.
The setting is in itself a novelty. The Quebec of the 1970s is unknown territory. Lets face it - Quebec of any time is pretty obscure. But it is a fascinating insight to a society that is changing far more quickly than many of its residents cares to imagine. Catholicism is losing its grip. The children are infused and enthused with the music of these changing times. Ziggy Stardust rules. It is drugs, sex and rock `n' roll, with not even a disparaging reference for Johnny Hallyday.
Zac is the focus of the film, but the performances of his mother and father are just magnificent. His mother is so patiently loving, willing to allow each of her children to be different, and so emotional as the losses and heartaches of family life are revealed. His father is not as sensitive, and can not handle the obvious differences in his son. With five sons to his name he has his own masculinity issues, and refuses to accept the possibility that one of his own children is a fairy.
Perhaps the biggest success of the film is to deal with the subject of homosexuality without making it the absolute central tenant. It is a much more mature, confident handling of a subject as a facet of family life. The whole world does not fall apart upon the revelations. It is a difficult time, with acrimonious words and bitter deeds, but reconciliation is possible. It is a window into the real world of most gay people - accepted just slightly misunderstood
Originally designed as a synagogue, but too expensive to complete, the Mole was given to the City. Today it houses Italy's National Cinema Museum.
At the time of it's construction (1863-1889) it stretched the boundaries of architecture and engineering. It was, at the time, the world's tallest brick structure. The external walls provided the entire load bearing support for the structure. Concerns about the structural integrity of the Mole led to subsequent internal structural strengthening, although the internal "void" was preserved. It is still an amazing building to contemplate.
The Mole also houses a panoramic lift to take you a viewing platform at 85m. This is at the level which resembles a temple building placed on top of the roof. The ride in the lift was rather a surprise.
Not having seen the interior of the building, I stood in the queue for the lift. It was a glass lift in a glass lift shaft. It seemed ordinary enough. Until we went above first floor level. The lift rises above the ground and first floor and out of its shaft into the middle of the void in the building. It is suspended between wires, with no shaft, and for the next 59 seconds you rise up the middle of the dome into and through a hole at its peak.
I have a head for heights, but the experience of bursting out of a lift shaft into nothing, rising up into the middle of a void was rather vertigo inducing. I had to grab onto the frame of the lift just to steady myself, and I just wanted to cry! My viewing experience on the observation deck was spoiled by the worry that I had to go back down in the lift again.
There are spectacular views from the top. But I just felt the whole thing was unstable, so perched on the top of the dome was it. I guess that's why it's called the Heap (Mole=Heap).
Anyway, I did it all again with friends a couple of days later.
It's a must do in Turin. (More pics to appear)
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
This Saturday evening past I ate with some friends in the SUSHiBAR on Zborovská 49, Prague (just over the Loggi Bridge).
As sushi bars go, it's expensive (I think the most expensive in Prague). As Prague goes, it's very expensive. But it was worth it. It's a small restaurant. The food is delicate, carefully prepared and thoughtfully presented. It's extremely fresh (although the fish swimming behind the bar are not for eating).
The service is extremely attentive, but not obtrusive. Having so few tables (about 6 from memory) ensures full attention at all times.
A free starter is offered, and I think the guys also gave us some plum wine on the house.
On leaving, women diners were all given a fresh rose. We teased Aleš (on the right, not smiling) into giving each of us a red rose. That's Radek on the left with the rose between his teeth. The guy in the middle is the chef. (My impression was that the 6 guys who owned/managed the place are all friends who have gone into this business together).
If you're in Praha, looking for some exclusive dining (look out for famous patrons), and like sushi, give the boys a try. It's worth it. But you might need to book to ensure a table.
It turned out to be one of the best eating experiences I've had.
Immediately we were brought a bottle of house red and house white, and some water-still and sparklng. We started on the anti-pasti. Roasted vegetables, sliced salami and other meats, parmigiano, goats cheese, tuna, sardines, mozzarella and some other cheese, and a few other things I didn't really recognise. Oh, and pizza and a huge bread basket. Pretty much a meal in itself. We couldn't even finish everything.
Next up, a huge cheeseboard was taken to our table, with a large selection of local cheeses, and a jar of honey. It was left for us to help ourself. It was taken off our table when the pasta course came. I had some ravioli. It was delicious.
Next up was our main course. There was a wide selection-including steak, swordfish steak, some other fish, grilled tiger prawns, a vegetarian selection. I had the swordfish steak.
This was followed by biscotti, a sweet brandy (bottle left on the table to help ourselves). Then we had desert, followed by coffee and digestif (limoncello-also left on the table to help ourselves to).
About 3 hours and 6 bottles of wine later, the bill came. And there was no rub-it cost each of us 35 euros (about £20). For 6 bottles of wine, 5 courses, stuff in between, liquers...
The only unfortunate thing was there was no time to fit in a return visit.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Saturday, September 09, 2006
All these screaming kids are making the experience even more unpleasant. Could we have a special line for them? Of course the reason why it's so slow is because of all the women with bottles of water and make up asking if they can take it through. Which part of the constant security messages is it that they don't understand?
Friday, September 08, 2006
Following the defeat of Germany at the end of WWII the country was carved up by the victors into four occupied zones. The capital-Berlin, in the Soviet controlled sector- as the seat of control of the Allies was itself subdivided into four.
The intention was to govern Germany as a whole, but the cold war put paid to that. The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG-West Germany) was formed by the French, British and American zones. The Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic. However the (GDR-East Germany) excluded the Allied controlled West Berlin, which although geographically isolated from the FDR.
West Germany thrived as a western capitalist country, East Germany did not. As a result many East Germans were compelled to take flight to the West. This however was not simply for economic reasons, but also to escape the political persecution experienced under the communist Soviet regime.
From it’s formation in 1949 until the erection of the Wall, huge numbers of professional and skilled workers travelled from East to West Berlin. The opportunities were so much better-and jobs were better paid. Conversely many citizens from the West travelled into East Berlin to benefit from cheaper prices in state subsidised stores. Significantly, huge numbers of East Germans were escaping to non-communist countries via West Berlin.
Such pressures meant that East Germany was threatened with economic collapse.
The solution was the Wall.
Construction of a barbed wire barrier began in 1961. Overnight, between 12 and 13 August 1961 the boundary between the Soviet zone and the western zone was sealed and secured by East German troops. Streets running alongside the barrier were torn to make them impassable to most vehicles. As well as dividing the city, the rest of West Berlin was completely surrounded. At the same time the entire border between East and West Germany was closed.
Later the barbed wire was built up into the full scale Wall. The National People’s Army (of the GDR) and the Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse (Combat Groups of the Working Class) patrolled the East German side, with orders to shoot to kill anyone who tried to defect.
In 1962 a parallel barbed wire fence was erected in front of the East side of the wall with a 20m (or even wider) strip between it and the Wall. This became known as the “death strip”. There was no cover. In places it was mined and booby trapped with trip wires (as were parts of the whole East/West border). Where there were none, Alsatian dogs were left to roam wild, and hungry. With buildings in the strip of no-man’s land having been torn down, it offered a clear field of fire to the watching guards.
Overnight, families, friends, lovers were split. East Berliners were cut off, and West Berlin was left isolated (there remained a safe land and air route in and out).
Many lost their lives trying to escape from East to West. In August 1962, 18 year old bricklayer Peter Fechter attempted to flee with is friend Helmut Kulbeik.
Their plan was to hide in a carpenter's workshop, near the wall in Zimmerstrasse and, after observing the border guards from there, to jump out of a window into the death-strip. Then they were to run across it, and climb over the 2 m (six foot) wall topped with barbed wire into the Kreuzberg district of West Berlin near Checkpoint Charlie.
While both reached the wall, guards fired at them. Although Kulbeik succeeded in crossing the wall, Fechter, still on the wall, was shot in the pelvis in plain view of hundreds of witnesses. He fell back into the death-strip on the Eastern side, where he remained in view of Western onlookers, including journalists. Despite his screams, he received no medical assistance. He bled to death after about an hour.
Chris Gueffroy was the last person to die attempting to escape in Ferbuary 1989. His attempt was made with a friend, both of whom believed that the standing order to shoot to kill had been lifted. Climbing the last fence they were discovered and came under fire. He was hit in the chest by 10 shots and died in the border strip.
Only 10 months later, the Wall fell.
Standing in front of the remaining parts of the wall makes it’s history so very real. No more so than reading a graffiti message on it’s eastern side:
“To Astrid. Maybe one day we will be together.”
They also come in briefs:
Sadly, however, the cost of buying aB from their on-line store has gone up by about 50% since I last ordered, and with p&p added, buying on-line's not the bargain it used to be.
ps-Sat morning....I couldn't resist. They're on their way.