Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A leading question

Took the day off to go shopping for birthday pressies (had two people to buy for: one sorted, one not so much). I quickly abandoned shopping and went to see Blood Diamond. There were 5 other people in the cinema - luckily there was one party of four, so the usual radius of 12 rows free around each individual/group still held. Because a person needs her space. And the ticket guy asked if I had a student card. Bless...

Anyway, my point is that is was fabulous to see Djimon Hounsou in a proper meaty role, rather than getting to play, you know, Lara Croft's little helper. I wonder what the rationale is for nominating him in the category of supporting actor rather than lead: the two roles seemed pretty equally weighed. Are there rules for distinguishing supporting roles from leading; is it like boats and ships?

I wonder...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pictures paint words conjure pictures

I came across this picture series. It relates a woman's fabulous story, or a fabulous woman's story; actually both.

Esther Krinitz was just into her teens when nazis occupied her village. She was resourceful from the outset (Jewish girl goes into the nazi camp to get toothache treated). When the time came, she refused to go the labour camp with her family, and snuck herself and her younger sister off. Her mother's last words to her were 'Maybe you will live'. The family friend who was paid to keep them turned them out almost immediately, and they were left to fend for themselves. And fend they did, pretty miraculously.

Lawrence Kasden made a short film about her, which is chapter four of the piece on Fora TV. In it she talks through some of her embroideries. She's a great storyteller, both in words and pictures.

View Holocaust Survivor Esther Nisenthal Krinitz on
Holocaust Survivor Esther Krinitz on

Monday, January 29, 2007

Hearts and flowers

Weeks ago the Christmas shop displays were replaced by Valentine displays; it was one smooth overnight transition.

I've mostly been ignoring the little bears and hearts, but they seep in to your consciousness like osmosis. Which led me to Chaucer. I like to read The Parliament of Fowls at this time of year - it's the earliest recorded association of Valentine's Day with lurve (probably written 1380s. And while I'm inside parentheses, two other tangents: reading Parliament gears me up for the whole April-Canterbury Tales connection, and it has one of the coolest opening lines ever: "The life so short, the craft so long to learn...").

Anyhoo, this morning I tripped over a Dublin connection. It turns out Saint Valentine lives in Dublin.

Okay when I say 'lives' what I actually mean is that his relics, or some of them, reside there. And there's a little vial tinged with his blood. And they're all in a Carmelite Church which is officially on Whitefriars Street but the entrance is on Aungier Street these days (they swapped ends of the church, moved the altar and all).

A famous guy called Spratt (John not Jack) was preaching in Rome in 1835 and the pope gave him the relics of Saint Valentine because as we all know, nothing says 'thank you' like human remains. They were displayed in the Carmelite church, but after his death they were put into storage because no-one really cared (this is pre-Hallmark). In the 1960s the relics were dusted off and now they have their own little shrine.

So there you go. Medieval poetry, bones of third-century saints, and a little bloody vial - all working to counteract the saccharine of the season.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Onwards and upwards

Well hasn’t everyone been busy this month:

1) No more googlebombs. Their time it seems, is past. If you google ‘failure’ it no longer leads to the US President's website. That made a lot of people smile.

2) A team of scientists in UCLA and Nottingham managed to weave a Solomon’s Knot out of molecules. It’s a symbol that seems to have been around for thousands of years. The molecular version is two nanometers high - pretty incredible, even if no-one’s quite sure of the practical applications yet.

3) And two Brazilian scientists, after two years’ work, have succeeded in making artificial ball lightning. Er, very small artificial ball lightning. Lightning that they let run all over a floor covered in wires.

Now if that isn’t asking for trouble…

Friday, January 26, 2007

What's in a name?

This reads 'Orlaith' according to a little seal stone stamp from Hong Kong. I guess it's in Cantonese, or maybe Mandarin...

My brother explained to Mister Stampmaker how my name was pronounced versus how it was spelled, so who knows what he finally decided on carving. It probably reads "Orla-with-a-t whoever heard of such crazy names golden-haired princess indeed..."

This is the result when the stamp is used with the accompanying dinky pot of semi-solid ink. I also tried it with my Mont Blanc ink but it was, ahem, not entirely successful.

Off to scrub my hands some more...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Camp America

The image of summer camp has really been established by the US. You say 'summer camp' to a non-American and they'd probably think:

  • Fat camp
  • Group of American teenagers being killed in a variety of ways in a schlock horror film

Well there's a third type: Jesus Camp.

Bush even makes an appearance, with his characteristic panache.

At the camp, I wonder if you get to do canoeing and orienteering as well, or is it just, you know, all the kooky stuff...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Lost for words

Via language log, I came across an interesting interview with linguist David Harrison.

It turns out there are 7000 languages on the planet; one one dies off every fortnight.

Apparently it's down to the kids. Children are little barometers of what is cool/valued, and if they sense their community thinks more highly of one language than another, they opt for the 'better' one. (Total tangent: it reminded me of that UK study where children were shown a series of photos of kids and asked who would they like to be friends with. Everyone - irrespective of ethnicity - wanted to be friends with the pasty white kid. Little barometers indeed...)

One point that Harrison made was that most knowledge about the local environments and ecosystems of the planet are held within these very local languages. As the words die so does all of that accumulated wisdom.

Western science often misses out by not talking to the neighbourhood folk, going off on its own to 'discover' a species of plant or animal. I was talking with the Codebreakers recently: they lived in Madagascar in the 1960s, and the Life on Earth crew came to film there. Apparently David Attenborough made a big deal about catching a glimpse of one super rare something-or-other. The locals found it hysterical, as there were thousands of the creatures about a mile away.

No-one disabused him of his notions.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Silver linings

Here is a 'chromed' version of today's seascape.

Yep, I'm getting into Photoshop Elements.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Automatic Writing

There's a snippet of 'Gilt' on my site now. I can't publish the whole etext, but I've put up what I can.

Returning to the subject of dolls, I came across the perfect doll for the book via Jonathan Carroll's site. In brief:
  • it's called The Writer
  • it's from the 1770s
  • it was one of three automatons made by fancy watch/mechanical bird maker Jaquet Droz
  • there's debate over whether it should be considered an android or not
  • it can be programmed to write up to 40 characters
  • apparently the inventor used to get it to write 'Cogito ergo sum' to slag off Descartes
  • its head and eyes follow the text as it writes. Creepy.

    The Jaquet Droz business is now owned by Swatch.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mellow day

It occurred to me that one year ago, my weekends were filled with doing touch-up work to my house, sorting through home and garage, and tidying an 80-foot garden - preparing for sale.

I was pretty exhausted most of the time.

This is more fun :)

Friday, January 19, 2007

There's no site like home

It's Friday already? How on earth did that happen?

On reflection, I have spent an inordinate amount of time this week playing at learning html, cascading style sheets and the intricacies of photoshop elements. I got a domain for myself (courtesy of my brother - thanks Sean!), and have been trying to figure out the programming thereof. Pretty steep learning curve.

Anyhoo, I have got to put it to one side for the weekend and concentrate on the writing - when I write it actually goes very well; I'm just easily distracted - oh look a butterfly...

So, the site is at There isn't really anything there yet, unless you love reading 'lorem ipsum dolor'. Baby steps :)

There'll be a grand announcement when content arrives.

And in other news, I made purple soup today. Yum!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sweet Sixteen

I am actually getting some work done today, so for your viewing pleasure here are a couple of treaty links I was sent:

A Lord of the Rings smorgasbord. Some marketing mogul has got to be designing a kit around this already: an activity that all the family can take part in, and then eat.

This is striking in an entirely different way. A scary-at-times kinda way...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Word play

I got absolutely no writing done yesterday. Unless you count playing with the magnetic words that arrived in the post. Sara you absolutely rule!

I was intending to keep the nativity magnets up until the start of February (in the Middle Ages that's when Christmas officially ended). However, now that they have so many words to play with, they may summer on the appliance also. I imagine it's the next best thing to the Hamptons.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A step up

Aaah the good old CardioMax 708 Stepper Stair Climber. I suspect they don't sell too many of these in Madeira.

On walks I stop regularly to look at the purdy flowers. Not that I'm trying to cover up my wheezing; I just appreciate the treasury of local fauna and flora...

Monday, January 15, 2007

That Monday feeling

Feel fluey today.

Curling up in front of Murder, She Wrote helps a little.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dolly Mixture

Spent too much time this weekend reading about dolls. Just to be clear, I am not now nor have I ever been a doll person. As a child my favourite toy was a farm set, and even then at the start of playtime I killed off the little Mr & Mrs Farmer figures (by squidging ketchup on them) so that the animals could have the run of the place.

Like I said, not a doll person.

But there's a scene in the book I'm working on with lots of dolls, so I've been reading. And reading. One doll really caught my attention: made by the Ojibwa tribe in America. When a child died, they sometimes made a doll to represent the dead. It could have the actual hair of the child. The idea was that by caring for the figure, a mother could assist her child’s passage into the next world.

I found it amazing. Death is so closed-off nowadays - you can imagine how freaked out & clueless an office is when a grieving parent comes back to work. The Ojibwa custom suggests a more humane environment - to accept a parent bearing a symbol of their child and their grief.

So it turns out I'm not totally anti-doll. It's just that given the choice, I'd rather have a bunch of animals to play with.

PS - and it was a stunning day. Hence the photo of the last few minutes of sunshine.
PPS - and I made red soup. Pretty scrummy :)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Movie Madness

As a Dubliner, going to the cinema in Madeira takes getting used to. There's just no-one there. I know that Dublin has the highest cinema-going population in Yurp, but it really is remarkable how empty cinemas are here (I was going to say 'desolate' but that might suggest I didn't enjoy the emptiness).

Went to see Night at the Museum. The opening credits do for Copperplate Gothic what Seven's credits did for crazy scratchy writing - they're just scrummy; all neat and chiselled with little shadows that they cast on the actual film. Excellent job. But I digress - for there were only two other people in the theatre. Which is a busy afternoon, by Madeiran standards.

This evening I saw Perfume, which is well-adapted and filled with much gorgeous french bedlinen and many dilated pupils as the cast inhales deeply. There were about six other people at that screening.

The largest audience I've seen had about thirty members. That was for The Lake House, whose plot was not so much woven as crocheted. Maybe people here just have one dodgy experience and then never go back to the cinema...

Anyhoo, with popcorn for lunch and popcorn for dinner, I think the time has come to switch to vodka and tonics.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Health regime

I've finally got the New Year detox bug:

1) I made soup. A greeny-type soup that looks super healthy.
2) I've come to a decision about alcohol. No more coffee liqueur with my morning coffee. I'm holding firm to that.

Further to point 2): Except on weekends of course. It's allowed then.

Hey I don't make the rules; I just follow them like everybody else.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

FBI call

The Madeiran equivalent of the FBI have just left - wheels still turning from the money laundering scam. They checked through the emails, and then went to

Who knew? So they traced the IP address to Nigeria and then they spoke together for a while. They said 'Interpol' a lot.

We had to wait for Landlady to get the original envelope (posted from Norway, containing a Spanish cheque), and passed the time talking about bits of arty stuff around the place. They liked my laptop wallpaper, which is the view from where I sit and write on a nice day.

It's been lashing rain for a couple of hours and water four-inches-deep is running down the street. I can see the tree outside the terrace, but all else is snowy white - no sea or sky visible. So today's picture is my wallpaper instead. Please note this bears no resemblance to the reality of the day.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Optical Illusions

Getting stuck back into writing now after quite a break. Off on something of a tangent this morning - I was reading up on medieval Islamic mathematicians, about a guy called Alhazen (well, he's actually called Abu 'Ali al-Hasan bin al-Hasan bin al-Haytham but that proved a smidge unwieldy for Westerners).

Anyhoo, he was born in the tenth century, and is thought of as the father of optics and a great mathematician, engineer and astronomer (the first mention of a camera obscura seems to come from him). My favourite part of his life was when Caliph al-Hakim hired him to figure out a method of regulating the waters of the Nile. Apparently Alhazen realised that:

a) it was impossible
b) if the Caliph was told, he might get angry. And you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

So instead he faked madness. For years. Until the Caliph was safely dead and buried. Then he resumed all his clever brainy work.

I think it would have made a good subplot to the original Star Trek. Instead of Scotty proclaiming 'Ye cannae change the laws of physics!', he'd just be found rocking in a corner of the engineering lab.

Indeed, it may be a useful approach for many a modern workplace...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Follow the white wabbit

A day of symmetry! Galileo died on this day in 1642. Apparently there's a note written in one of his books after his big abjuration muttering “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go”. Also on this day - in 1941 - William Randolph Hearst banned ads for Citizen Kane from appearing in his newspapers.

And while we're talking about massive powers trying to control representations of reality, take the red pill...

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Fowl and Fish

Another visitor to the crib today: this time it was Feathers McGraw who came bearing gifts. Because anyone planning to save humankind needs a good pair of slippers.

And for Maggie - here is dove, whose other half is out there nestling in a medieval cottage in Devon.

The big news is that I finally found somewhere I can get anchovies. Oh happy day! Of course they weren't called 'anchovas', which is what my phrase book told me to look for. They were called something beginning with 'b'. As though they were in disguise...

And there are about two hundred dolphins playing outside the terrace; I could see them surfacing quite clearly. I mean, still no synchronised swimming, but my oh my it is heavenly.

Hope everyone's having a good weekend.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Little Christmas

Today not only did all my Christmas cards arrive, but there were little penguins sitting in my post box! The place has a new lease of festive cheer. Obviously the penguins will be staying up year-round, because like puppies, they're not just for Christmas. Thanks Sara!

And the four wise guys showed up. Only three were expected; one is suspected to be an undercover cop. He'll show his true colours soon enough...

I also finally posted the turning on of the Christmas lights in Funchal, which you can see here. I had just started playing with the camera, and hadn't yet learned not to tilt while videoing. Thanks to Sean for squashing the file.

Hot day today; time to do a little writing before the sun hits that beer mark on the terrace...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Turning over an old leaf

Well looooky who appeared on this morning's Murder, She Wrote - Joaquin Phoenix, back in the days when he was called Leaf. He must have been eight or ten years old, all fresh-faced and tanned like something Norman Rockwell would have painted.

He played Jessica Fletcher's grand-nephew, and said things like "Gee Aunt Jess, that's neat!" Now, you hear that the guy never watches himself on screen, but he should take a peek at this; it's adorable.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

It's good for you!

Everybody is talking about Guinness.

Landlady came in to see how New Year's went, and let me know that the fireworks in Funchal were the largest in the world, according to Guinness. Apparently they just beat the fireworks in Sydney harbour. Everyone's very proud. Don Amaro has all the facts here, and great footage taken with a camera not covered in champagne...

Mrs C. also came in to tell me about Guinness, and to return Ian McEwan's The Innocent; I thought she might like the counter-intelligence plot. I forgot to tell her about the, ahem, graphic body-cutting-up scene. Anyhoo, she did like the spy stuff, but said 'If you believe what's in there you'd believe anything' (I did; I would). She went on to wonder if GPM was in fact Hitler with botox. The conversation didn't really have anywhere to go from there, and she left assuring me that I could use it as the plot for my next novel.

But back to Landlady, because the police called while she was in with me. They want her to come in to talk about the South African who sent the 5K money-laundering cheque. Back in October. Wheels turn slowly here, but mark my words, they turn...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Basket of goodies

So, another day we went up to Monte by cable car. We were deciding whether to come down by cable, bus or taxi, when a fourth option occured to us: we could all squeeze into a wicker toboggan and be pushed down the mountain instead. Because crossing main roads in a basket would be fun.

The set-up is that you're in a toboggan (some had holes in the floors, but ours was pretty intact). There's a guy on either side, dressed like they should be punting down the Cam. They have some rope-pulley-système going. Going around corners feels like you're in a lemon box; you can hear every inch of the wood creaking under the pressure.

The best bit was coming to a main intersection: we could see two cars, hear a third, and there was an auld fellah crossing the road at his leisure. No attempt was made to adjust our speed. Bring it on!!

Thanks to Shona for unclutching one hand to film the whole experience. Brilliant!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Back-To-Work Day

Quiet day today, featuring general housey catch-up, writing and a couple of naps.

That's right, a couple. Sorry about that.

We did a levada walk last week. Well in truth, we did a lambada walk along the levada, which was kinda the same but more fun. It was a pretty sheer path along the mountainside in the midst of a fabulous-smelling forest. And it ended with a nice cold beer; all the really good walks do :)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Ringing in the New Year

Over the last two years I’ve heard from Madeirans about the New Year celebration here. They speak with such pride, convinced that this is the best place in the world to be on 31 December. I was a little sceptic, since most of them had never been off the island, so how would they know, right?

I was wrong. I get it now.

Funchal in the evening: eight cruise ships have arrived during the day, with 12,000 people aboard. Every other little boat and yacht is out in the darkness of the harbour, all facing the city. Funchal itself is heaving. The crowd is beyond eclectic: couples in black tie and ballgowns sit beside toothless auld fellahs who have come down from the mountain for the show, plastic bag with fizzy and snacks at their feet. The atmosphere is electric.

We went to a small park overlooking the harbour. The central display would be down at the marina, with a semi-circle of firework points set up across the surrounding hills. We used the term ‘natural amphitheatre’ a lot.

Now, I’ve seen some great firework displays in the past. Last night made Macy’s 4th July event look like a child holding up a sparkler.


Here are some snippets...

Happy New Year guys :)