Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Concert, El Concierto, Le Concert.

Having fallen hopelessly in love with El Biografo I decided I had to go back and see something else, there, even if that something else was, to judge by its publicity poster, the kind of twaddle I can't abide. I'd read and heard enough about Le Concert in France to reach the conclusion that I'd rather lick a lavatory seat clean than sit through a factually inaccurate, shallow, manipulative portrayal of miscarriages of justice under communism. However, you don't stumble across a cinema like this one every day so you try to keep your unfounded prejudices under control, pluck the CLP$2000 (about €3) out of your pocket and select the aisle seat of your choice.

You know what? I loved it. The set-piece comedy moments were well done, the dénouement not quite what I was expecting (but then again, I'm an ultra-gullible viewer, never wanting to second-guess what's coming up but choosing to let it unfold in front of my eyes). The cleverest part, to my mind, was the effortless flip to serious at the end after so much slapstick. I didn't care for the ha-ha bits like the director spontaneously kissing his gopher or the tacky 'bravo' shouted by the ultra-demanding critic but the ultimate realisation that the girl was the daughter of two of his friends sent to basically die in Siberia ensured that the old waterworks started up.  I wept more than the odd tear; the last time that happened was when I saw Stuart Little in Paris about eleven years ago.Funny how the kind of films I don't like are the ones that end up making me cry. Hmm...

Monday, 30 May 2011

El Biografo and more...

Here are a few (more) pics from Santiago, in case you're interested:

El Biografo, the cinema:

Lastarria (my street):

Another café on Lastarria:

There's no-one about as it was still early; nothing much happens here before 10am, unless you're in the business district.

OK, now I really am going to bed.

Good, fun film...

...even if it wasn't the one I thought it was. It was actually "You are going to meet a tall, dark stranger" and not Midnight in Paris or whatever the Carla Bruni vehicle is called.

El Biografo has something of the Cinema Paradiso about it: the nice old man who sells you your ticket will then show you to your seat, run upstairs and set the film off then run back downstairs and show the remaining latecomers to their places. It's a little room with about 150 comfortable, deep, red plush seats. A ticket to this little corner of paradise will set you back the equivalent of €3 Monday to Wednesday or €4 Thursday to Sunday. I hope they change the programme soon as I'd love to go back before heading home.

Walking out of the cinema, I'd completely forgotten where I was. The film was in English with Spanish subtitles, but seeing as the last film I saw in Toulouse was in Spanish with French subtitles (El hombre de al lado, if you're interested; 'The Man Next Door', a superb Argentinian film) the notion of the language(s) in front of you is not necessarily an infallible guide to your current location. It was only as I stepped out onto Lastarria and saw the tarot dealers and strange-looking dog coat salesmen (yes) that I remembered I was in Santiago. The fact the film was set in London played a part too, I'm sure.

So that's my first week finished in the southern hemisphere. I'm still amazed by all the British names attached not only to the country's political life but also its history. I still need to look into this, but there was a very important man called Bernardo O'Higgins (you couldn't make it up). He was, apparently, the saviour and liberator of Chile but is now a rather long avenue running east to west through this city of 6.5 million souls. Notable contemporary politicians and writers include an Edwards, a Hargreaves, a Walker, a Golborne  (previously Holborne, I'd imagine). There are others, but they escape me. Needless to say, there's a good smattering of German names including a leading Minister called Ena Von Baer. Look her up on Wikipedia; her case can't be that much different from many others in this country. German names abound in the rest of the city: architects, chemists, leading businessmen etc. I wish I had another six months to really research this place but if all goes well I should be back next year, when I'll be able to combine my love of things Germanic and Hispanic, contradictory as this combination may sound. Maybe this duality unknowingly underpins my love of Argentina, too; a country I know little about but which exercises an immense fascination over me.


Sunday, 29 May 2011

Woody Allen in Spanish. Or maybe not.

We've got a local bohemian-type cinema in Lastarria called El Biografo which shows art house films. Not wishing to not support such an establishment I popped in on my way back from the Cerro Santa Lucia and bought a ticket for Woody Allen's Encontrarás al hombre du tus sueños or 'You will meet a tall, dark stranger' to you and me. I don't know if it's going to be dubbed or in English with subtitles but I don't really mind either way. The charming little old man at the box office reminded me I needed to reserve my seat: they have what is basically a pinboard plan of the seating with a piece of rolled-up paper with the seat number on every nail. I might not have got an aisle seat with Iberia from Madrid to Santiago but I got one, here, at El Biografo. The film also features France's First (Pregnant) Lady as well as a collection of people who can actually act, so it should be pretty enjoyable.

This is the first time I've been away from home when I've actually used Skype, and what a boon it is, too. It's also the first time I've taken my computer and have had Wi-Fi in my abode and, quite frankly, I never want to leave under any other conditions, again. Being able to see and speak to the family has been worth its weight in gold. Montaigne's observation that 'A man on his own is in bad company' will never go out of style and I find that having Mrs. F and the Fingernails just a couple of mouse clicks away is the most valuable addition to my suitcase I could possibly imagine. Long may Skype last and long may it remain free.

Hasta luego...

Take a Deep Breath...

You may or may not be familiar with Santiago's location, but it's pretty stunning. Have a look:

I fancied having a piece of this view first hand, so I decided to hike up to the top of Cerro Santa Lucia, an urban hill park. This is what I saw:

So open those lungs and take a deep breath of that wonderful city air! What's more, today is Sunday and there hasn't been much traffic. Apparently, everything improves once there's been a bit of rain...

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Santiago - What it really means.

You may not know this, but Santiago actually means "The City of a Million Opticians, Very Often More than Seven or Eight Abreast". Seriously. Even in Europe, where urban eye-level is dominated by mobile phone outlets, opticians and banks, the capital of Chile makes our towns all look like pathetic losers. I'm not even sure who all the customers are supposed to be; those Chileans who do actually sport eyewear don't seem to have more than one pair, or maybe the answer is simpler: I've ended up in the Optician District; maybe neighbourhoods like Las Condes etc don't have as many. It's pretty impressive, though, having to be seen to be believed.

There's a huge march this afternoon in the centre against the construction of a hydroelectric power station at Aysén, called, inevitably, Hidroaysén. Having got genned up on the former Colonia Dignidad last night I'm going to turn my attention to this issue and try to find out why ecologists are so up in arms about the construction of one power station in such an enormous country. This place has a fascinating post-war history and gets more interesting by the day.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn as Baron Scarpia?

Just had a thought, one which actually did occur to me during this evening's performance of Tosca: in Act II, an ageing lothario in a position of power attempts to use his status and influence to have his wicked way with Floria Tosca, who eventually responds by stabbing him to death. What price we'll see a production of Tosca before 2011 has breathed its last which casts Baron Scarpia as a Dominique Strauss-Kahn lookalike, Tosca as an African immigrant singer and Cavaradossi as her seemingly non-existent (ex-) husband. Watch German theatre listings for your opportunity to witness this profundity but remember you heard it here, first.

Does YOUR local theatre do this?

One of the lesser-known facts about Turkmenistan is that residents there get free gas and electricity.  I've just discovered something about Santiago that, if it gets out, might result in making it one of the most populous cities in the world.

I've just come in from a performance of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca, dismissed by the noted musicologist Joseph Kerman as 'that shabby little shocker', a wonderful expression and no mistake. Love it or hate it, Tosca has gorgeous music and, if well-sung, will be an unforgettable evening. Elisabete Matos, Alfred Kim and Sergei Leiferkus made sure it was the latter but it was what I discovered in the two intervals that made my jaw drop: I was wandering over to the refreshments table to get a glass of wine when I noticed that turnover was brisk; people were approaching and leaving incredibly quickly. Then I find out why: the glasses of wine lined up on the counter were...free. Yes: Eff, Are, Ee, Ee. Not only does this city provide you with the best opera singers in the southern hemisphere but it plies you with free local wine during its two intervals (one more than any other house, except when they're doing Wagner). That, in any sensible person's book, is reason enough to go home and inform the family that you're upping sticks and moving to Chile.

So now I'm sitting on my bed, tapping out words which will never be read by anyone I know, watching CNN in Spanish and generally enjoying life, as I always do anyway, but that's by the by. Skype means I can speak to and see Mrs. F and the Fingernails and that alone is worth its weight in gold. The inventer of Skype deserves a medal for services to society; the ability to see and speak to your family every day, free of charge, when you're on the other side of the world is beyond valuation and has probably already helped many a travelling businessman to retain a cool head whilst away from his loved ones. It'd be interesting to run a survey on that, actually; any takers?

Joseph Kerman did have a point; Tosca is a bit Tack-Ola, but if he'd care to head over to Santiago any time soon (born in 1924 but yes, he's still alive) I'd happily try to take his mind off the events on stage with a couple of gratis glasses of this august country's finest red...

Thursday, 26 May 2011

In praise of Chilean wine.

Seriously, these people know how to make wine. Stop me if I've already mentioned it, but two bottles of red were waiting for me when I moved in to the apartment building, and they were both superb. If you come across the Santa Rita vineyard, aim for a bottle of Medalla Real; you will not be disappointed...

Working with Chileans is a joy: they're intelligent, keen, open and uncomplicated; at least, those I've had the good fortune to meet so far are. The pretty girls at Starlight Coffee now know my order and have asked me where I'm from. It's strange; the little shop has one of the best locations in the centre, in a leafy pedestrian area next to the beautiful Teatro Municipal, but seems to be no more than a secret tip, a bit like my little lunch counter place over the way from my yoga class in Toulouse. I'm not complaining; there's always a table to sit at, watch the world go by and realise I'm sitting there without a cigarette in my mouth. That still feels strange, too; this is the first time in my adult life that I've ever been on my own as a non-smoker. That might sound pretty bland, but it makes me realise how much the weed determined my life. In some ways it still does, I suppose, otherwise I wouldn't be mentioning it, now. The desire to smoke when I first went out was overwhelming but, curiously, was not difficult to resist.

Tomorrow I'll post a few pictures so you can see what a lucky bastard I am to be here. The only downside is that the TV is shit, not that I'm any great fan of it anyway, but still. Maybe there'll be a football match I can tune into, tonight.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Santiago de Chile

If there's one thing I didn't think I'd be doing at 5.42am my first night in Chile, it was being tucked up in bed, typing a blog post. I got to Santiago yesterday morning after a fourteen-hour flight fropm Madrid during which I only slept for about two to three hours. About five international flights landed within twenty minutes either side of ours and the queue to get through passport control was incredible. Still, my driver was there and we made it to the apartment exactly when my employer predicted we would. Just time to have a shower, head out and get a coffee before starting work at 11 o'clock. The lunch break was taken up with basic shopping and a maiden Skype with Mrs. Fingers back at the ranch, then it was back to work. When I got in last night, I couldn't wait to get to bed. Nonetheless, if I'd gone too early I'd have been awake even earlier but I really did think that turning in at 11pm would keep me comatose until at least seven this morning...how wrong I was, and here I am.

I've only seen a tiny fraction of the city but it looks and feels good. Our neighbourhood, Lastarria, is fantastic: full of trendy new cafés and restaurants, it's a bit like living in Neal's Yard. There'll be time to discover more. Since I now appear to have a good five hours before work starts I'll head off and visit the Mapuche chemist which is only about fifty yards from work and then hunt down some decent coffee. That, gentle readers, is easier said than done, believe it or not. There's still a marked preference for Nescafé and the like, yerba maté is not widely drunk and, as an Englishman, the only decent tea is the cup I make myself. There's a Starbucks here, which I'll avoid as long as I can, and a little Santiago Starbucks clone called Starlight Coffee, run by a trio of rather attractive Chilenas just next to the office. It's good, it's pretty cheap so I'll probably end up going there, again.

The supermarket I went to, Unimarc, was interesting: a reasonable selection of fruit and veg, lots of meat (ribs, in particular), a bit of fish, loads of different types of flour, virtually no jam despite having an 'English' bread selection that could hold its own with anywhere on our still-fair isle, lots of pasta, sweets, flavoured yoghurts and scores of different types of fizzy drinks. It was like shopping in Rotherham, honestly. Maybe I've been spoiled by living in France these last few years but I can assure you there are other countries who eat just as badly as we're supposed to. Chilean recipes look wonderful, just as British ones do in colourful cookery books, but I get the feeling that Señor Pablo Publico's everyday diet is just as dangerous as anything you'll find north of the English Channel. Anyhow, I've been craving Chinese food for the last week, so I'm off this morning to find an Asian supermarket and get my jollies that way.

The Chilean first division has entered its playoff phase, so I'm going to try to get to a match or two. There's also a good production of Tosca to see and that's before I've even started looking for things to do. These next three weeks should be quite enjoyable...

From Madrid Airport.

This is the  first time I’ve blogged from anywhere other than our sitting room. OK, I’m currently typing it into a Word document to copy and paste into FrenchFingers later on as the WiFi fees are so exhorbitant, but you are getting words direct from Madrid Barajas Airport, so there.

Taking off in Toulouse was as it ever is : people from everywhere, few of them able to behave. There was an adolescent Portuguese rugby team waiting to fly back to Lisbon, the boys’ faces as vacant as their language was offensive. Portuguese really is proof that romance languages can be excruciatingly ugly : if your sisters are Monica Belluci, Emmanuelle Béart and Penelope Cruz, how come you turned out like a lusitanian Lyle Lovett? Talk about the black sheep of the family. It takes an awful lot of skill to make a mediterranean tongue sound that bad, but the Portuguese managed it. They also gave us Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho, so you can make of the little country what you will.

A consignment of soldiers was due to fly to Maesbrook. The airport changed their gate and proceeded to announce that the ‘flight to Brussels’ was now leaving from Gate 28, the woman’s voice getting increasingly frantic as she realised that no-one was turning up to board. One of the soldiers got wind of the mistake and started to phone colleagues to inform them of the change. Word gradually got around and the unit got on their plane. How do I know this ? Because our flight to Madrid was due to leave from the same gate at the same time, so we all witnessed the passage of information as it slowly seeped out, no thanks to Blagnac Airport, that is. Our Iberia flight was delayed half an hour because of this ; had the airport said ‘Maesbrook’ instead of ‘Brussels’ we might have taken off on time.

The other, predictable, joy of Blagnac Airport on a Sunday afternoon was the state of the loos. No loo paper, no towel rolls, puddles of urine on the cubicle floors and excrement encrusted in the bowls, yup, you’ve guessed it : la France d’en bas doesn’t work on Sunday. According to the hygiene chart on the wall (pure decoration, you understand) it had been three hours since a cleaner had last been seen in that establishment, which, for an airport, is inexcusable. Still, that’s Frogland for you ; the best you can hope for is a Gallic shrug and more of the same tomorrow. Making peace with this modus vivendi is imperative for a stress-free life, here.

In the meantime, night has fallen over Madrid. I can just make out the leaning towers around Chamartin, the rest of the city has descended into the worldwide generic black with yellow, white and red dots of light. We could be in Sharm-el-Sheikh or Shrewsbury, Dakar or Doncaster, Aberdeen or Adelaide. I could carry on like that for hours, but I’d miss my connection. Plus, you’d get bored, as it wasn’t you making up the alliterations.

There’s no available aisle seat on the flight to Santiago. This might mean nothing to you, but it’s life or death to me, he who hates being hemmed in by anything or anyone. The strategy is clear : three pints of Jack Daniels with dinner then oblivion until we hit the runway in the southern hemisphere, nothing else will do. The only downside to that scenario is that I have to play an entire Richard Strauss opera three hours after landing, so I’ll need to be pretty sober, too. Maybe a few yoga relaxation exercises could do the job ; after all, the novelty of the situation and the adrenalin will probably take care of the rest.

An interesting aspect of what’s happening here is that the South Americans waiting for the late flights to their continent are coming up and asking the café attendant to fill up their thermos flasks with very hot water. This is for their yerba mate, a very popular drink in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and southern Chile. I’ve drunk mate for the last few years and absolutely love it ; it’s fairly easy to find in Toulouse. I was looking for the most popular drink in Santiago and stumbled across an article about a new Santiago tradition, cafe con piernas, which is, basically, espresso, cafe con leche and cortado served in dimly-lit joints by attractive waitresses in their lingerie or in bikinis. The cultural superiority of this concept is clear, even if the bombilla is absent.

There was a Spanish guy in Toulouse Airport who talked incessantly on his mobile from check-in to the moment on the airplane when the flight attendant basically says « Now turn those irritating fucking machines off ». Once we’d landed in Madrid, Senor Chatty-Patty whipped out his BlackBerry as soon as we’d entered the courtesy bus, pushed a couple of buttons, raised the infernal metal block to his ear and said « …Pues.. », as if he’d never been off the phone at all. Unbelievable. At least if his conversation had contained anything worth listening to, but it didn’t. It was just the usual stream of shallow diarrhoea that everyone feels we absolutely have to hear. God ; why can’t we go back to the days when people considered their communication discrete and private ? Everyone has to feel famous and appreciated these days, their every utterance offered up for universal praise and estimation. Don’t believe me ? Then why the hell is Twitter so successful ? I like the fact that I can ‘write’ this at a café table in Madrid Airport, but no-one knows what I’m writing except me.

Madrid Airport is now completely non-smoking. Yup, even the Spaniards have had to swallow what my old Bayreuth dining companion Elena Salgado instigated back in 2005 but had to dilute until recently. Like the French, they also appear to have taken it on the chin but I don’t know how they manage to get around it outside of places like airports. People keep saying that loads of cafés and the like in France flount the law, but I’ve never seen one, probably because I never go out at night. Now, Madrid Airport is just as antiseptic and characterless as any other Eurozone public building. Bravo Brussels ! I’m not saying there should still be clouds of blue carcenegenic mass swirling around our heads and down our throats, but one significant purification measure seems to ensure that any other element of individuality will also be eradicated. This departure hall could be anywhere, just like the passepartout nightscape outside.

I’ve just seen something which makes me want to retch. You know these signs that say things like « Here’s your freshly-made sandwich » when all that surrounds it reeks of industrial standardisation ? Well, there’s a refrigerated booth not ten feet from my seat, bearing the legend « Elige tu sandwich recien hecho ». Firstly, the Spanish for ‘sandwich’ is ‘bocadillo’, but even that is now considered too tacky and provincial in an airport café, so we’ll use the English word which is, apart from anything else, completely superfluous. What’s more, Spain has a wonderful gastronomic tradition, so the idea of foodstuffs being fresh or « recently made » is as normal as having coffee first thing in the morning. Behemoth-like Anglo-Saxon culinary philistinism then tries to patronise customers in a food-conscience society by informing them that their airport « sandwich » is – wait for it – fresh ! As opposed to the shit we’ve been feeding ourselves for decade upon decade and, therefore, ignorantly believe that everyone else has, too.

I’ve prattled on for quite a while, now. It’s been something of a novelty, ‘writing’ on the hoof and I could get quite attached to it, provided my computer plays ball. It’s currently 22.48, my flight leaves in an hour-and-a-half and my battery is 60% charged. Tomorrow, I’ll be in a completely alien culture, playing Ariadne auf Naxos in a country where it’s never been heard before, trying to find the right notes after travelling for 20 hours and a mere 180 minutes after getting off a 14-hour flight. Now it’s time for me to people-watch until take-off…

Friday, 20 May 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn IV and serial misinformation.

I know I whack on about Flat Earth News and how we should be on the alert for misinformation in the press and other media, but one detail of this whole DSK farrago should set our alarm bells ringing, that of the personal status of the cleaning lady. On one day alone I was informed by so-called 'quality' news outlets, that she was variously married, single, seperated, divorced and widowed. It's nothing against her, but if the clarions of our daily information can't even agree on this one simple point, how can they be trusted to reliably convey infinitely more complex facts?

Now the Silver Shagger has got his armed-guard enforced bail, maybe the world's media can concentrate on something else to lie about, at least until September 8th when his case comes up.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn III

So, the ageing lothario has got bail, so he'll enjoy a certain amount of chequebook freedom until his case comes up on September 8th. It's difficult to imagine him sneaking out of the country and setting up in a hacienda in Belize, but stranger things have happened. This one's set to run and run, but the funniest of all is watching the French Socialist Party frantically scrabbling around for another credible presidential candidate. The best they've come up with so far is François Hollande, Ségolène Royale's cuckolded husband and father to her four children who eventually resigned from the party chairmanship after his ex's crushing defeat in 2007. He's not a bad guy, but do they really, after all these years, have no-one else? I, for one, find it hilarious, but if I were a committed leftie and card-carrying froggy socialist, I'd be beside myself with either worry or rage that my political people were apparently incapable of mounting a credible challenge to one of the most unpopular presidents in the recent history of the French Republic (Versions IV and V, at any rate).

Dominique Strauss-Kahn II

Ever since reading Flat Earth News I imagine I see misinformation, lies and manipulation in every news report, be they on the internet, in the printed press or on TV. This evening, France 24 decided to provide us with the following team to cover DSK's second attempt at getting bail: two gentlemen by the names of Perelman and Nathan King being interviewed by a an attractive black female journalist. Is there some kind of suggestion at work, here? I can't believe these are the only two demographic variations available for the diffusion of news, particularly an event focussed on a Jewish businessman-politician and an African cleaning lady. The longer this circus goes on, the less I see the chance of a fair trial, even if the man is a self-confessed serial shagger. The spectacle will ultimately prove more important than the result, and that's very sad, to say the very least.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

This blog's taking on water rapidly at the moment. Truth be told, I've got quite a few other things to concentrate on before leaving for Chile this weekend, so my head's not really where it has been these last few months. It's a shame, as current events are pretty entertaining, particularly the Dominique Strauss-Kahn saga in New York, where the French appear appalled by the fact that DSK is not being shown endless respect in the time-honoured manner of Gaul protecting its institutionalised criminals (Chirac, Tibéri, Dumas, Sirven, Juppé...oh, I could go on and on and on...) yet are so quick to critisicise other countries' deification of celebrities. I'm no fan of socialists, but this story is such a caricature it feels like a set-up. Could a randy old stoat like DSK be THAT stupid? In America, of all places? If he is guilty, he deserves to go down for a while, but I have a sneaking feeling there's a whole lot more to this story than we've been allowed to know so far. I wonder if Sarkozy's right arm is starting to ache after all the air-punching he must have been doing these last few days. More interesting still will be the laughable PS's attempt to find a new candidate for 2012. Search as they might, they seem incapable of discovering anyone outside of the circle of usual suspects: Ségo, François Hollande, er, maybe Manuel Valls. Let's face it: the PS has run its course, it's a spent force with no idealogical credibility or legitimacy. All parties believe in the welfare state and a fair working wage, so how can the Socialist Party show themselves as offering something more, something different? All they seem to fall back on is the old chestnut of making those disgusting capitalists pay higher taxes to bail out the 'less privileged' (sic). And this from a party run by unashamed millionaires (like DSK). What's wrong with this picture? I'd be interested to see how much of their wealth was 'redistributed' in the common good...

OK, back to Strauss and then off to yoga.

Friday, 13 May 2011

What's been happening.

I've not been that silent for a while. We had a week in the Pyrenees which was absolutely superb, except for the ground floor of the barn-conversion gîte, which was as dark and as damp as hell. Upstairs was wonderful, but the sitting-room cum dining area was a mess: the fire was at the opposite end of the room from the sofas and TV, the cutlery and crockery cupboard situated as far from the kitchen range as it was possible to be. Nevertheless, there was a nice little terrace and the sun shone so splendidly from 7am onwards that every day started with a succulent al fresco breakfast and topped off with a ten-mile walk before lunch. We were adopted by one of the strangest dogs you're likely to see anywhere: it had a dalmatian's body, a rottweiler's head, six nipples and a full male meat 'n' two veg on brazen public display, demonstrating to perfection the expression 'Clear as the balls on a dog'. I've no idea what this particular animal had been raised on or whether he was in training for a nightclub job in Bangkok, but he really did look like he'd been designed by a committee. He was good company on our walks, though; he'd tag along whenever we passed his house and show us different routes through the adjoining forest and round the waterfalls.

If you're ever in Lesponne, near Bagnères-de-Bigorre, have lunch, dinner or an overnight stay at Chez Gabrielle. It's delightful and the welcome and cuisine are exceptional. There's also an old grocer's shop attached to the hostel which was frozen in time when its last proprietor retired in the mid-'80's. Even back then it was considered a curiosity from a bygone age and now it's a museum, one where you can see exactly what this lady was still selling when Spandau Ballet were topping the charts, Channel 4 was in its infancy and mullets were THE hairstyle to have (just call up some Chris Waddle videos on YouTube). I'd go on a bit more about the week away but I've just written a press article about it and, quite frankly, can't be bothered to go through the whole thing again. Sorry.

So we're back in Toulouse and I'm getting ready to head off to Chile for three weeks. Still jousting with my atopic eczema, I thought I'd look and see if there was somewhere in Santiago I could buy Chilean Indian herbal remedies or some such. White man's medicine has never done it for this particular complaint so maybe the answer lies nearer to the ground. A quick Google search threw up a bullseye: there's a chain of Mapuche chemists in Chile, staffed by Mapuche tribesmen and women, which sell a range of their own centuries-old herbal remedies, including, it has to be added, male and female herbal viagra. There's also something for eczema, so guess where I'll be headed once I've got off the plane. In fact, no; not that quickly: my employer over there has reshuffled his schedule and needs me in work a mere two hours after I get off the flight. Let's hope there's enough whiskey to knock me out as soon as we fly out of Madrid the previous night or I'll be fit for shit by the time we land in the southern hemisphere.

Yoga continues to be a blast. The more you work on your balance, the more your confidence grows. Honestly, there are days when I feel I could take on the world and win, whatever the issue, whoever the opposition. I tell you all seriously: stop smoking and start yoga; it will change your life for the best instantly, and without any side effects. And this from a twenty-a-day man for thirty years. When I smoked, the best scenario I felt I could hope for was not to be kicked in the teeth. Now there's more balance - in all senses of the word - in my life, the world feels like my oyster. Try it, really. OK, that's enough ranting and preaching. Sorry. Thanks for reading, love and kisses to you all.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Speed Limits

On the day the French government announced plans to shave 10kmh of all its speed limits, I read in the Telegraph online that their British counterparts are toying with the idea of raising the maximum speed on motorways to 80mph. I'm sure there's something to be said about this and commit myself I shall, just as soon as I've written my Haute Pyrénées article and seen the ecxema on my hands heal; I can't tell you how much it hurts, and, if you're a pianist, it's not terribly practical...

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Back from Holiday

I'll post a fulsome account of our delightful week away once I've written up a version for publication. Thanks for reading these pages whilst I've been gone.