Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Myths of biblical proportions

I had a screensaver of Stonehenge on my laptop for a while. One day Landlady came in and pointed at it, "We have one of those here".
Really? Stonehenge was finished around 1500 BC. Madeira was discovered about ten minutes ago...

I have yet to find the stones she's talking about, but today being Halloween, I was thinking that one year I'd like to be in Loughcrew in County Meath on this day. There's a series of hills called the Mountain of the Witch with a load of underground cairns that catch the sun around the autumn equinox. One of the main cairns is circled above ground by kerbstones, the coolest one being the Hag's Seat, which is a massive ceremonial stone measuring 10ft by 6 ft (pictured). The building work is all megalithic (between 4200 BC and 3500 BC).

In reading about Loughcrew, I noticed these guys, who are convinced that:
  1. Jeremiah is buried in one of the cairns. Seriously, the biblical Jeremiah. In Meath.
  2. The final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant is the hill of Tara. Who knew?

I used to work for a fundamental christian in the States, and one of his pet projects was finding the Ark. Many believe that it's buried on the top of Mount Sinai, so he hired a super-duper military helicopter to take him up there. The local authorities saw what they thought was the US military approaching. It did not go well.

Anyhoo, have a lovely Halloween!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Runny honey

It's a bank holiday in Ireland, and I've adopted an easygoing schedule for the day (that's right: any excuse).

The Dublin marathon is on - more than 10,000 are taking part this year. It makes you think: many people have already run 26 miles today. They started in Kildare Street, headed out to the Phoenix Park, then swung back into the city and south, turning again to finish up in Merrion Square.

Me, I've gone out and bought some honey. Yep, that's my big achievement so far today. And it's almost beer-in-the-sunshine time :)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Treats in the post!

What goodies were waiting in the mailbox!

I got a wodge of sudoku & cryptic crosswords (all hail the great Crosaire) - they've been specially treated to self-destruct if I go near them during writing time. I don't understand all the ins and outs, but it would be like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters, just bad. Thanks Mike!

AND as if that wasn't enough, I also got a way-cool pack for stargazing. It's got a wall chart and a star book but the coolest thing of all is the twirling star finder planisphere! This also has a built-in système to stop me using it during the day. Can't wait for it to get dark. Thank you Shona!

So as a treat, here's some Bill Hicks to bring a smile. Shona - I give you the waffle waitress asking one of life's great questions: 'What you readin' for?'. Mike - Bill didn't do much on financial regulation, but there is a nice piece on marketing.

Have a lovely weekend :)

Friday, October 27, 2006

All in the balance

If I had rented a cabin by the side of a lake (and indeed, I used to live in one in Michigan - photos attached) I could have holed up there for a year and written away in total seclusion. The thing about living here is that if you tried to live like a hermit, people would notice.

Offerings regularly appear on my doormat: the codebreakers leave newspapers (this is when they don’t want to disturb me, 'being a writer and all'); the landlady leaves plants (I almost stood on the last batch). And if I don’t seek people out, they all drop in happily unannounced - neighbours with a tape of an Armenian mass they thought I might like to hear, landlady with freshly baked cake or new fruits to try.

While the lake I used to live at had deer and waterlillies and racoons and squirrels (who ate all my strawberries), this place strikes a balance between providing the space I need to write, and the company to avoid going bat-crazy!

So very lucky :)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The curious case of the reticent renters

My lovely landlady rents other properties, and I gave her a hand setting up (i.e., I set up) a website ad, email account etc. When it came to accepting payment I suggested paypal, only to learn that she didn't actually have any bank cards (it is such a cash culture here).

Someone contacted her from South Africa to book an apartment for a month. Then a cheque appeared (from a Spanish bank) for almost 5000 euros - we had asked them for a 200 euro deposit. Landlady's bank advised her not to lodge the cheque as it wouldn't clear until the renters had been and gone. And so ensued weeks of bizarre wrangling. Their emails were signed with different names, and they ignored my requests for an address so that I could post out confirmation of booking. The latest email suggests that we've reached an agreement (by cleverly ignoring our previous email), and asks Landlady to send the excess money by Western Union - to Norway! I replied to explain the situation (for the umpteenth time) and asked again for an address.

It's been silent now for three days.

In other news, I moved in four months ago today - it feels longer (although I should, ahem, probably do a bit more sorting out of stuff).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The google

The storm lasted all day yesterday: the place is sunny and peaceful this morning, but looks pretty trashed. Here's what it looked like when it finally started to settle - this was still officially daytime.

As a special treat for Anne-Flore (also pictured!) for sterling work yesterday, here’s her favourite Captain Clever talking about 'the google'.

I read the transcript and thought it was a hoax; I should know by now...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Road Trip: Istanbul with Anne-Flore

I love hearing 'day in the life' stories from friends and so the 'blog road trip' came to mind; here is our first one! Anne-flore is French, lives in Devon, and in between LSD trips (that's a type of running - long slow distance) finds time to work on a Ph.D. in things of a mappy nature.

Hello! Most of you probably don't know me, so I'll just say that I'm friend of Orlaith's from Exeter. I was in Istanbul at the weekend with a couple of friends, and Orlaith's asked me to guest blog and share a couple of pictures from the city that was once Byzantium and Constantinople.

Istanbul is a pretty big city full of contrasts. To go for the cliché (that is none the less pretty true), it is where the East meets the West, although I found that it satisfied my idea of the East more than it resembled my experience of the West. This was largely due to the days being rhythmically guided by the crying of the imams who call out five times a day from the city's many mosques. The fact that this was the last few days of the fast of Ramadan exacerbated the awareness of being a visitor to a very foreign culture.

History greeted us at nearly every street corner in Sultanahamet, the most easterly of the western shore of the Bosporus. The Haghia Sophia is by far the most impressive of these constructions, because it has visible traces of having swapped religions over the centuries before settling on being a mosque. Conversely, the nearby Blue Mosque (which is still in use) is a monument to Islam through the ages. The epitomous blues tiles create an eerie atmosphere that remind worshippers and visitors that this is a spiritual place.

The Topkapi Palace a few blocks away was the hub of Ottoman power for more than 3 centuries, and is an edifice that I will shamelessly compare to Versailles. Overlooking the Bosphorous on the Golden Horn, the location is stunning and foregrounds the strategic location of the city. There was an impressive harem (no longer in use, I hasten to add) that once housed up to 400 concubines. There were a lot of blue tiles here, all exquisitely painted and mysteriously entrancing. This where we also got to see a pair of sandals that once belonged to the prophet Mohammed as well as a box that contained a lock of his hair. This was kinda weird.

Not far, still, was the Grand Bazaar where one can purchase all the counterfeit Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton one could possibly want. (For the records, I did not partake.) I found this place unexpectedly pleasant, and the shopkeepers not too overbearing. Of course, there were a lot of "Lady, come look", but a quick shake of the head was enough to move on in peace. There were a lot of comparatively authentic trinkets here, such as lamps, ceramics and backgammon boards, so, while the shoppers were mainly tourists, there was a somewhat real feel to the whole thing. Basically, not your everyday shopping mall!

The night scene is pretty scarce. In the Tünel and Taksim quarters (where Starbucks and Levi's can be found), a couple of bars and kebab restaurants constituted most of what there is to do once it's dark and the fast can be broken. The local liquor is raki which is a very strong aniseed drink that seems to resemble Greek ouzo. A couple of those and it's time to go home in a dolmus (shared taxi) that whizzes through the illuminated city faster than I care to know...

All this was fuelled by many exciting foods, my favourites being the sweet and rich baklavas. I highly recommend! But it's also the place for various meats, such as sheep's small intestine, which I must say I stayed as far as possible from...

Oh, and just quickly, because this is me, I'll have to mention that there are some great maps to be seen in Istanbul. Very pretty indeed, with the Ottoman script and sophisticated gilt cartouches.

What was also really cool was the earthquake on Friday night. Yeah, it was very mild and lasted only about 15 seconds. The building shook, the windows shook, the sofa shook, the piranhas in their aquarium shook (yes, my friend has an aquarium with piranhas -- and I slept with my head no more than a couple of yards from them. Scary!).

Orlaith, back to you!

Bazaars and raki and earthquakes oh my! A fabulous glimpse into another world - thank you so much :)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Stormy weather

Howling winds, lashing rain... the clouds were actually below the level of my apartment when I woke.

However, I only got to see them for a minute, because now the world looks like this:

You're quite right, it does have all the indications of an afternoon to be spent curled up watching Columbo, but I shall postpone that pleasure and get writing instead! Now where is that sparkle-shiny halo of mine...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Bring your own...

As soon as I got stuck into writing last night the codebreakers called - in case I wanted to see the QE2 as it disappeared into the mist on its voyage from Funchal to Port Elizabeth.

Well, one thing leads on to another: you can't cross their threshhold without glasses of port magically appearing. They brought out a photo album of their trip to Romania a couple of years ago (including piccie of the birthplace of Vlad 'Dracula' the Impaler). One of them had broken the code book of the Romanian secret police way back when, so it meant a lot for them to be able to visit the country.

From there the conversation turned to the Romanian guy in town who goes around with a squeezebox playing gypsy tunes for tourists (the codebreakers get on fab with him, to the annoyance of many). Apparently, when he gets enough money he buys a steak from the butcher, then goes into a restaurant with the raw meat and gets them to cook it for him.

Only in Madeira :)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Time's a wasting...

Ahem, just getting down to some proper writing now.

I did set out on this task around noon, but as it turned out, I was distracted. The good news is that I've made enough granola for a Roman legion, juiced the pomegranate (yum! - in one of her throwaway rude judgemental comments Martha Stewart said that the 'undiscriminating' think pomegranate juice tastes like cranberry juice. Er, I also watched Martha Stewart today - and I think I've done very well not to glitter a decorative bird and make lavender sachets for my imaginary cottage in Maine. But I digress -), finally found a sieve fine enough to cope with quinoa, and made chamomile-infused olive oil for nice facials.

Man this place smells good!

Anyway, down to work rightnowthisminute. Promise.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Life on the freezer

The shops have been filled with Christmas decoration displays since September. Today I finally caved and gave in to temptation.

I got a nativity scene fridge magnet set - very classy indeed!

Let's hope the Penguin of Death isn't threatened by the new arrivals...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fruity matter

I'm tapping away on my pomegranate, but it still sounds like fruit rather than metal.

I may well just break it open and give it a go. Let it be known that I shall not be counting the number of seeds; apparently that little project is already keeping someone busy.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Happy Birthday, She Wrote

Today is filled with notable birthdays: apart from Oscar Wilde (1854), Nobel prize winners Eugene O'Neill and Günter Grass (in 1888 and 1927), we also have the iconic Angela Lansbury, born in 1925!

I've got the theme tune stuck in my head now: do do do doo-dooo...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Drama in the sky

The stormy night echoed in this morning's sky...

We had a gorgeous evening in the Old Town. The guys are on a tour today, so we said our goodbyes last night.

It's lovely to see the difference in people after a few days of holidaying: rested and tanned and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Fantastic!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

And so it came to pass...

...several rounds of cocktails were enjoyed at Reids.

The guys realised that their flight is at 7am rather than 7pm on Monday, so there has been some rejigging of weekend plans.

I'm taking them up to Monte this afternoon to ward off hotel cabin fever. But first, a beer in the sunshine I think :)

Friday, October 13, 2006

You can't believe everything you read...

...although Budleigh is very pretty.

Another crispy Fall day here - no just kidding; it's as summery as can be.

The plotting for the novel continues, then I'm meeting Davrille & Howard later on. I think they're starting to suffer from slouching-round-the-hotel-itis, so the idea is to remove them from the controlled environment for a few hours. Perhaps a cocktail at Reid's might do the trick...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Paranoid much?

We spent yesterday in a selection of cafes, but did manage to squeeze in a cable car trip. A day filled with wine and conversation.

Davrille mentioned to her timeshare guy that she was visiting an Irish friend on the island, and he said yes, he knew all about me: I'd visited the island and fallen in love with the place. Odd. I've never even been to her hotel. She's finding out if it's really me they're talking about, and whatever myth is being cultivated...

All going well - am struggling with novel structure at the moment. Baby steps...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Great Indoors

The thing about living an outdoorsy lifestyle is that sometimes the outdoors comes in to see how you're living.

The other week I startled 'something' that was on the floor of my bedroom, and it took refuge in my wardrobe. It moved quickly: a scuttle motion, but with padded feet. I said 'You have got to be kidding' through the hands I'd clamped over my mouth, then left the apartment for a few hours.

Yep, avoidance is often the best tactic. So I reasoned that it was probably only a lizard, and they don't phase me at all when I see them in the outside world. Yesterday's creature was definitely a lizard: I went to feed the goldfish and a startled lizard scrabbled from behind the bowl and darted over to hide amongst the oils & vinegars I keep by the cooker.

I did my best to rationalize: they're more scared of you than you are of them... what harm could they actually do you blah blah blah.

And then I closed the kitchen door behind me, and went out for beer and cake.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Robs & Jem - your parents are safe!

Friends of mine are over for the week - we met up for dinner and holiday-planning last night. Howard wants to see the sun hit the 'beer mark' on my terrace. I hope he's not expecting a Raiders of the Lost Ark dramatic moment...

Today they run the gauntlet of the Timeshare sales folk, so I'm getting some plotting done for the novel. There's nothing like unpicking something entirely - this is why I never achieve much in the knitting department...

Monday, October 09, 2006


Another weekend, another battle with broadband. I thought I'd give it one more chance before phoning the company, as I've not yet mastered the complaints process/customer service ethos here.

One thing I bought was clearly priced, but it came up a few euros higher at the register. So I explained to the cashier, who called someone, who called someone else, with whom I walked to the other end of the store to show them the display filled with the lower price. They checked their database for a few minutes, then walked over and started taking the little plastic price holders down. I asked about my purchase, and they said the register price was right, and thanked me for pointing it out.

In one's own language, phrases like 'you have to charge me the ticketed amount; it's my consumer right under EU law' just trip off the tongue.

What's more, I took money out of a cashpoint yesterday and among the bills was half a bill, the serial number ripped through, not legal tender. So that's a discussion for this afternoon with someone in the banking world...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Free of Fall

I understand that Autumn is arriving elsewhere, but just to explain (and I only say this because someone asked if I had a fire lit) it's still 29 degrees here. My candles melt out on the terrace!

'Winter' is when I get to wear jeans and maybe two layers. It doesn't apply to Madeiran woman, who will be in proper winter clothes during winter. You can spot them easily in the summer because in the most debilitating sweltering heat they can wear skin-tight jeans and four-inch heels (in some bright colour which co-ordinates with their top).

I'll never be one of them...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Psst wanna buy a P? With P you can have...

So I'm getting this exotic fruit thing now. There are pomegranates everywhere at the moment. I've always loved their super-rich symbolism in myth, but now I'm going to try the reality.

Apparently you tell if they're ripe by tapping them: if they make a metallic sound they're good to go. Mine are making normal fruit sounds at the moment, so I will wait patiently.

Haven't decided what to do with them yet. Martha Stewart puts them on everything - salad, game hens, pot pourri - all the while directing you to buy her book/watch her Apprentice/purchase fine chocolates via her website. However, it looks like pomegranates would be pretty treaty on a pavlova, so I'm tempted to try that out...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What a week of learning!

So not only do I now know what a persimmon is (all hail Shona!) and that Monte Negran men are the tallest in Yurp (all hail the VERY reliable authority who may not wish to be named!), my eyes have also been opened to some of the kookiest folk around, who live here.

I'm going to teach the goldfish a key word so when they eventually get flushed to the big bowl in the sky and want to communicate with me, I'll know it's for real. Busy busy...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I can see clearly now

The world looks like itself again today: sky sea and earth have all reappeared.

My landlady appears under the terrace and calls for me on a regular basis. I help her with computery things (in that she doesn't have or use one), and she brings plants, yummy cake & generally treaty things. This afternoon she came bearing fruit: it looks tomato-like but comes from a tree, and you don't eat the skin or seeds. She didn't know its name in English, and we couldn't find it listed in the big botanical book. Anyway, it's supposed to be nice chilled, so I have it in the fridge and I await. I'm sure it'll be fine!!

Famous last words.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Just one more question

My broadband connection's been on the fritz for days. Everything takes so much longer...

Well, I woke (after nearly twelve hours of sleep) to find the day looking like this:

Forget the sea and the sky blurring - I can't see either!

All of which makes it the perfect afternoon to put on a Columbo dvd and curl up. Not the most energetic start to the week, but you don't want to rush headlong into these things...