Monday, 30 January 2012

House Hunting

House hunting can throw up some interesting situations. As you've probably surmised if you're not entirely new to this blog, we're looking into moving Château Fingers somewhere else. This afternoon we went to see a house which looked pretty promising: excellent location, nice price, the lot. It didn't disappoint, but the reason it was on the market was unusual, to say the least.

The couple selling appear to be breaking up as the husband and father no longer wishes to deny who he is and greeted us in full make-up, skirt and wig. None of this bothers either Mrs. F or me one jot, but you can imagine how difficult it must be for them, living, as they do, in a small town with two teenage children attending the local school. All you can do is salute their courage and wish them well. We love the house, too. Watch this space.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Table for one, please.

Do you ever sit back and take stock of the things you really, truly love doing? The situations you love finding yourself in? The moments of pure celestial harmony where you achieve nirvana without actually seeking it out? I had one yesterday lunchtime, a little slice of heaven born out of adversity but showing itself to be the place where any right-thinking person should be. Stunningly ordinary, it was bliss: sitting on my own for an hour in a good japanese restaurant, eating an enormous bamboo tray of sushi and reading Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Angel Game. OK, it's not getting down and dirty with selected female members of Chile's ruling élite, but for a faithful, forty-something father of two it takes a lot of beating, not least for the fact that neither Mrs. F nor the Fingernails like raw asian fish preparations, so it's always going to be something I enjoy alone. Nothing else blocks out everyday detritus as well as a good read, so yesterday's lunch was a defining moment in solo pleasure. To be honest, if I can't eat with my family, I'd rather eat alone, preferably with something to read. Meals are too important to be dealt out like a cheap hand of cards and I'm extremely fussy about who shares my table, particularly if I'm paying my way. Having said that, I've turned down an awful lot of invitations to dine for the simple reason I'd rather pay and enjoy the food on my terms than get a freeby and have to make inane conversation with someone I don't find interesting. I don't know anyone else who is quite as maniacal about shared dining, but, for me, eating alone is sheer bliss.

I got into this habit way back in the early 1990's when I was conducting The Phantom of the Opera in Hamburg. I had a large flat in the Blankenese neighbourhood which backed on to a fine Italian restaurant called Casa Mastroianni. Every now and then they served up fegato con salvia, liver with sage with succulent dressings and side dishes. Fegato had been my favourite meat since the early 1970's when I discovered it in a tiny Italian restaurant in Brighton; seeing the word again in Northern Germany decades later, written in chalk on a specials' board shot me back to my youth and the dingy little café by the sea we discovered purely by chance one day. The lovely old lady who ran the tiny place had about four mismatched tables, a fabulous , toothless grin and one item on the menu that she announced proudly as THE dish of the day: "Oggi abbiamo fegato!" It was fantastic; served in a thick rich gravy and accompanied by chopped Italian bread, it was the first foreign food I ever tasted, and this in a little café-cum-restaurant which predated any Pizzaland or other monstrosity in the area by years. From that time on, fegato would always hold a place in my heart. Even now, when just about everything else Italian gets on my tits, I still refer to liver as fegato, regardless of where we are or what language we're speaking.

Anyway, back to Hamburg. Whenever that magic word appeared on the blackboard outside the main entrance I'd pluck a good book from my collection and trot off around the corner to Casa Mastroianni just as they were opening. Fegato con salvia was no trivial matter so I'd always set aside at least two hours for the pleasure. I'd start off with a Martini or two, a couple of smokes and a few pages of my book. Then I'd order a wine to go with the fegato. We'd talk about the side dishes, then Franco would leave a little while before my meal appeared, fresh and succulent, the sage mingling beautifully with the fresh lamb's liver. The potatoes were sautéd, the green beans parboiled and lightly fried to perfection. The pepperpot sat on the side of the book that needed keeping open and the story and the contents of my plate communed discreetly and divinely while I consumed both simultaneously. I hardly ever had a pudding but took time over my grappa, cigarette and coffee. By the time I was ready to go home I always felt this was the only way to eat, a feeling that has not changed one iota in nearly twenty years. Since discovering sushi about a year ago I can't get it out of my head. For someone who couldn't stand fish, that's quite an admission. Sushi is made by cherubim in paradise; I could quite easily eat it every day. The point is, something this good requires the fegato treatment, anything less would be disrespectful of the chef's art and the meal's taste. The only food you should eat in a group is cheap pizza or MacDonald's; everything else deserves your full attention.

Writing this, I now realise things I didn't understand before. Firstly, that people or things I consider important need my full presence, and that spreading my attention too thinly would be disrespectful to them. Big dinner parties and the like are a no-no; I prefer a small, intimate group where the chances of having worthwhile conversations are higher. If the food is good, it's either with my family or on my own; I'm not prepared to compromise something that important. We now live in a world where everyone has to listen to everyone else's inane conversations, so it's nice to get intimate and discreet again, even if it is only with a plate of raw fish or the internal organs of a young sheep.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Must it be about France?

I've been thinking long and hard about this French Blog thingy. Writing about one's life in France is a multi-million pound/dollar/euro/drachma industry, but what is it actually based on? Most of the unassailable references are merely chronologically limited slices of someone's life (Peter Mayle's time in Provence etc), so how to maintain readers' interest over a period of time? I'm sure I'm not the only person to have long tired of the 'OMIGOD! Paris is just so gorgeous, but I don't understand what they're saying; thank God my hunky French boyfriend is here!' school of blogging, but for those of us who live in the sticks, don't live in a converted barn and actually work for a living, everyday life is, er, everyday life, just as it probably is in Madison, Wisconsin, Regensburg or Leamington Spa. So why write about it, just because it's located somewhere where good wine is cheap, foie gras is plentiful and where there is an Ecole Supérieure de la Patronisation, reserved exclusively for minimum-wagers?

I, for one, don't know. From where I'm standing, keeping the blog spicy means either a) discovering yet another incredibly unique facet of this country on an everyday basis and describing it in mountingly orgasmic terms until one's undergarments can stand it no longer, or b) griping about yet another aspect of everyday life, such as strikes, taxes, roadworks etc as if it were the first time any of these inconveniences had seen the light of day. For this latter, I'm just no longer angry enough. It's too tiring and leads nowhere. Yes, my spirit is broken. The Party has won.

Well, guess what? Neither scenario is sustainable. Unless you live in Enid Blyton's The Faraway Tree (currently reading it to the Fingernails), everyday life just doesn't stay that exciting, and certainly not year in, year out. What's more, the more our beloved EUSSR gets more uniform and bland, the less there is to surprise us, particularly when you can get everything we buy here in your local supermarket, wherever the hell you are. The only difference is the local quality - I know our vegetables are better than yours; don't ask; they just are - but that's not enough upon which to base an online diary. That's one of the reasons I've diversified into extremely sexy South American government employees, but I digress.

Maybe I should check in a bit more often with Keith Eckstein's excellent blog A Taste of Garlic and see what others are saying. After all, he did give me a glowing review (which he probably now regrets). All of this notwithstanding, until I move Château Fingers a few miles north, south, east or west of our current location, I'm unlikely to be able to provide any Frogblog-watcher with enough interesting information to persuade him or her to click through to a second page. I live in a city centre, my children go to the local school, I cycle to work, and then I cycle home. We buy French food, speak French with any French people we come across, read French newspapers and pay French taxes. On an everyday level, there isn't much more to say, particularly as I tend to speak more German, Italian, Spanish and English at work than French, anyway (Eckstein = Cornerstone). If all my plans for the academic year 2012 - 2013 come through, I'll be spending most of it in Chile, Argentina and Germany anyway. I'll still blog, though, particularly if Christina Kirchner is anything to go by…

So why this fascination for France? OK, I admit it is a stunningly beautiful country with incredible edibles and a host of other things to commend it, but so is Iceland, if you're prepared to cut the nosh a bit of slack. I somehow think it's because France is for Brits rather what Canada is for the Americans: a more wholesome version of their own country, sadly lost to the demands of progress. Back in the late 1990's I was living and working in the USA, touring the country with a couple of Broadway shows. One of these hopped over to Canada for a couple of weeks, to Calgary and Edmonton, to be precise. Once we'd all landed in Seattle, two weeks later, we took stock of what we'd just experienced. The Canadians were still gooey-eyed at having been home for a fortnight, one trumpeter from Atlanta, Georgia was just SO HAPPY TO BE HOME BECAUSE NOW HE COULD GET A CHERRY COKE, and the rest all said that Canada reminded them of the USA of their youth, even of the USA their parents had talked about: the civility, the openness, the unquestioning trust that no-one seemed to want to betray…In short, exactly the same things expat Brits cite when talking about today's France, rural and urban. I can only assume that most expat Brits don't live in the appalling council estates which encircle most major French cities, but then, of course, they don't. There'll always be an England, and this country's version is located in France's upmarket satellite towns, villages and hamlets. Only mugs like Fingers live in the thick of the dispute, even if our neighbourhood is the best in town (despite certain neighbours).

So, gentle, mostly occasional, readers: if I don't always wax lyrical about that amazing truffle market I went to last week, it's because I didn't go. It's because it's located 150 miles from here and I had to go to work that day. Same for the goose-tossing ceremony, singing pig circus or foie-gras exorcism or whatever bit of nonsensical, agricultural hocus-pocus we're supposed to witness every day of the bloody week. Wasn't there, sorry. Did tread in an incredible pile of dogshit, though. Want to hear about that? At any rate, here are two pictures of Toulouse that will paint the thousand words that, due to prior commitments, I wasn't able to write:


Thursday, 26 January 2012


I'm a bit embarrassed that there are still visitors from A Taste of Garlic; I'm sure my current phase of highlighting hot latina public servants is not what they were expecting. Sorry about that, and I'll get back to talking about France pretty soon. In the meantime, just bear with me…

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Chilean MILF Politicians. Here's the proof.

In case any of you were wondering about my initial posts on this subject, here's an article from today's La Segunda of Santiago de Chile:

Molina vs. Goic: «Bellas» del Congreso y el machismo en el Parlamento

Son parte del «gueto» femenino del Congreso y, desde la UDI y la DC, comparten la necesidad de cambiar el binominal y establecer una ley de cuotas para mujeres.

por:  Giselle Crouchett
lunes, 23 de enero de 2012

Son minoría en el Parlamento: mujeres. Por primera vez una de ellas encabezará la jefatura de la bancada DC, y desde partidos opuestos, Carolina Goic y Andrea Molina (UDI), han conectado especialmente en temas medioambientales, donde la ex animadora de TV ha marcado diferencias con el Ejecutivo. Las dos viajaron el fin de semana a Torres del Paine a investigar en terreno los incendios que allí hubo hace un par de semanas, y cada día estas dos mujeres —que aportan belleza femenina al Congreso— han debido legitimarse en este mundo masculino.

Ya que el tema femenino les importa, no pueden evitar referirse a la ruptura entre Belén Hidalgo y Miguel “Negro” Piñera, que contiene relatos de violencia en la denuncia de la modelo. “Lo que haya pasado es lamentable por ellos y por las circunstancias. Lamentablemente, el “Negro” Piñera es hermano del Presidente, pero el Presidente no es responsable de lo que haga su hermano”, afirma Molina.

—Carolina Goic (CG): Las cifras hablan por sí solas. No sólo tiene que ver con machismo en el Congreso; el sistema político no favorece la incorporación de mujeres, estamos más bajos que Bolivia, Perú. Este es el segundo período en que soy la única mujer de mi bancada; cuando Alejandra Sepúlveda se fue al PRI, partió el 50% de la bancada femenina DC.

—Andrea Molina (AM): Hay una mirada machista a nivel nacional, pero ha ido cambiando. Trato de ser positiva, estamos esperando un espacio. La UDI se está jugando por incorporar mujeres. Tenemos que hacer un trabajo más profundo a nivel político y empresarial, vemos muy pocas mujeres.

—¿Han sentido prejuicios o les ha costado legitimarse por ser mujeres “bonitas”?—AM: Toda la vida he tenido que estar legitimándome, demostrando que tengo capacidades, que no me pueden encasillar, y que somos serias. No porque hayas sido más agraciada vas a ser menos inteligente.

—CG: El ser bonita a veces facilita que se te abran puertas, pero también tiene sus “contra”. La imagen de la mujer está más asociada con la figura bonita, más que con su aporte.

—AM: Veo que defiendes posturas con toda el alma y que detrás de eso no sólo hay pasión por lo que haces, sino demostrarle a tu bancada que tienes pantalones… que tienes faldas.

—CG: Y yo te veo varias veces en posturas distintas a la de tu bancada o del Gobierno. Cuando la ministra Schmidt planteó la idea de una ley de cuotas, las mujeres UDI se opusieron. ¿Te sientes cómoda en la bancada? ¿Apoyarías una ley de cuotas?

—AM: Si es bueno para el país, sin duda. Mientras no se genere esa conciencia, lamentablemente hay que generar estas cuotas en forma transitoria, hasta que se haga costumbre.

A veces difiero bastante (de la bancada), pero no quiere decir que me salga de la línea; expreso lo que siento, lo conversamos en la bancada y llegamos a un consenso.

—CG: En el presupuesto nos acompañaste como oposición en una pelea, con una postura distinta a la del Gobierno en energía. ¿Te ha significado un problema?

—AM: No. Me he ganado el respeto de mis pares. Quiero que le vaya bien al Gobierno, por lo mismo si algo no está acorde con lo que uno espera, tengo que decirlo. La gente votó por uno y espera que uno trabaje en consecuencia, está cansada de acuerdos no transparentes. Me siento contenta de dar la pelea hasta las últimas consecuencias en los temas medioambientales, sobre todo desde la derecha, porque ahí ha faltado mucha conciencia.

Futuro político
—AM: Te veo cara de Presidenta de la República...

—CG: Hay pasos previos (ríe).

—AM: ¿Senadora por Magallanes? De todas maneras, ya te veo ahí...

—CG: ¿Me proclamas? ¿Y tú estás pensando en buscar otro distrito? Eso se rumorea.

—AM: Me han hablado de otros distritos, pero me encanta el mío (Quillota, V Región). Uno no puede tomar las cosas y dejarlas en el aire. Me gustaría seguir ahí y contribuir.

Acuerdo DC-RN
—CG: ¿Estás dispuesta a votar a favor de la reforma al binominal? Hoy la pelota está en la cancha UDI.

—AM: Es injusto que se diga que la UDI no quiere cambiar el binominal.

—CG: Lo dicen abiertamente.

—AM: El mismo Pablo Longueira presentó el año pasado un proyecto. Me encantaría que nuestro presidente Coloma mostrara con fecha las conversaciones que ha habido.

El binominal cumplió una etapa y tiene que haber cambios, una mirada más inclusiva. Si es el momento político hoy, fantástico, no hay que quitarle el traste a la jeringa, pero la gente no habla del binominal, sino de que se sienten inseguros, de educación, o salud. Tenemos que ver cuál es la agenda, qué impulsamos primero. Esa ha sido la diferencia, más allá que en la UDI haya personas que no quieran. Y, ¿reemplazarlo por qué? No es una firma en blanco.

—CG: Bien por ti, Andrea, tenemos un voto más. Pero el Presidente ha estado entrampado por la UDI.

—Carlos Larraín apuntó a una alianza con la DC.

—AM: Para mí es un tema de respeto. Somos el partido más grande de este país, guste o no, y cuando no se nos respeta, molesta. RN quebró el fair play.

—CG: No comparto las ficciones de Carlos Larraín. La DC cumple un rol de establecer centros para generar una mayoría de votos si queremos hacer modificaciones de fondo.

—AM: Este gobierno hoy es del Presidente Piñera, mañana quizás de quién y a nadie le gusta este escenario, que se rompan las coaliciones y las confianzas.

—CG: Hablar de ruptura de coaliciones, no sé. En la Concertación nadie no puede no estar contento; hoy contamos con mayoría de votos. Lo que falta es el pronunciamiento del Presidente.

—AM: El tiene la palabra. Tiene que sentarse a conversar y aunar criterios. El escenario que se generó no tiene sentido, porque habríamos llegado a lo mismo si las cosas se hubiesen hecho bien, porque hay quienes estamos dispuestos a jugarnos porque este país sea más inclusivo.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

I Love Chile

This is completely apropos of nothing. I just checked 'Chilean Milf Politicians' on Google and found that Frenchfingers occupies the first four spots, which is as it should be. No other country has such fit female public representatives, and this deserves to be known globally. Here's a gratuitously risqué picture for no-one's apparent pleasure but my own:

Soon to be Mayor of Providencia, I understand.

Global Hypocrisy

I don't know whether it's the same where you are (of course it bloody well is), but there appears to be a global conspiracy of unfairness when it comes to the treatment of certain people. Here's what I mean:

We have an excellent young Argentinian colleague who is keen to learn, talented and open to new ideas. He is surrounded by a bunch of third-rate hacks who would never have had a career had they not been Italian. These latter are, for some inexplicable reason, untouchable. God only knows why. You are Italian, you sing Italian opera, so you are, by definition, an expert. Mon cul, as you would say in French. Everyone in the production department realises this yet cannot, for reasons best known to themselves, 'address' the problem, so they pick on the Argentinian guy, venting all their frustration on him.

I'm not a greenhorn. I've been in this business for 25 years, yet this kind of situation continues to make my blood boil, not least for the effect it hs on the unjustly attacked, who don't yet necessarily understand why they are consistently in the line of fire. My only desire is that everyone knows where they stand, preferably with a minimum of honesty on the part of those judging them. Unnecessary tensions in this business are so often created by incompetents, yet the effects can be devastating on those not yet fully conversant with the childish games of their so-called 'superiors'.

My first step would be to gather up every overrated Italian opera singer (redundant, yes; pleonasm, yes; I know…) and dump the incompetent fuckers in the middle of the Indian Ocean, all the while letting those who have shown respect for their education and training indicate the way forward; hopefully engendering an improvement in the general performance of Italian 19th- and 20th-Century repertoire. Here's a golden quote from our Leonora, today: "Could you make a note of all the conductor's remarks so I don't have to remember them?". To this young lady I would just say 'F*** Off, but I no longer go anywhere near her. She also knows better than to approach me. Happily, we have an American second-cast Leonora who positively gobbles up her coachings and proceeds to grow with every passing day. I have to say that, over the years, I've grown to adore only the Americans and northern Europeans when it comes to opera; the Eyeties really are a waste of space: amateur, opinionated and substandard.

There's a saying in Britain that the only clear view one gets of an Italian is of his backside, and I wish that were true. That would mean, at least, that they were departing.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012


Sometimes we're called on to do seemingly contradictory things. I'm currently working with socially-challenged, ESN* Italian opera singers on one of Verdi's most popular operas, Il Trovatore. You may know the odd tune from it but the work is basically tedious and formulaic with, at least for our contemporary sensibilities, a ridiculous plot. Nonetheless, it's considerably better than what goes on in the heads of its main protagonists, at least in our version, sort-of nice as some of them may be. Notwithstanding, it'll probably be a huge success as these works are often much (MUCH) larger than the sum of their parts. The difficulty is seperating the working process from the end result, and for me, applying that to mid-nineteenth century Italian opera is easier said than done.

The other piece of meat on my plate is proof-reading an English translation of a French book on obesity. It's interesting that such a svelte nation could come up with such a work of literature, but it makes for intriguing reading. The translator has done a stonking job; apart from the odd Oxford Comma (and they really are a matter of taste) I can't find much to gripe about in the realm of Shakespeare's lingo. Looking around me, I would have thought that obesity was the least of this country's worries, but the Frogs are always up for chewing the fat and debating and that's one of the things that makes living here such a joy: sometimes you just want to chat for chatting's sake, preferably on an eighteenth-century terrace in the company of a variety of happy juices, and no either course of action can be deemed acceptable. That's where I am right now and Toulouse, bless its cotton socks, provides all the above. It serves as a wonderful counterweight to listening to those overpaid, overweight crooners struggling through their mother tongue with no regard for tuning, rhythm or characterisation. Anyone who has had the 'privilege' of working with this particular caste will know what I'm talking about. To be fair, though, I'd like to cite a few names I've worked with who not only buck the trend, but would positively stand it on its head if challenged one-on-one in a court of law: Daniela Mazzucato, Marco Armiliato, Daniele Callegari, Marta Moretto, Chiara Angella, Alberto Rinaldi, Marco Vinco and a few others, but it's too late to remember their names. And so endeth a pretty nonsensical stream of consciousness. The picture below is of Deborah Voigt before she lost 564lbs and her marbles:

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Les Derniers Jours du Monde.

The Last Days of the World is a French film, made a few years ago by the Larrieu Brothers. Part of it was filmed in Toulouse, so when I saw the DVD in the library the other day, I felt I had to see it. I remembered how certain props - like burnt-out police cars and black marias - had littered my route to work for a couple of weeks, but then again there's nothing particularly unusual about that in urban France. I read the synopsis and noted the little green oblong on the back bearing the legend Tous publics - the French equivalent of a 'U' certificate - the natural habitat of Disney and Pixar - realised I wouldn't be getting my desired quota of naughtiness but nonetheless checked it out and put it in my bag for a quiet evening in (like every day in Château Fingers, but hey…), tucked up in bed with the missus. Having watched it last night, I suggest you don't let little Timmy stay up to watch it with you…

If the American Board of Film Censors can toy with the idea of giving The Choristers (Les Choristes) an '18' rating because one of the boys in it is filmed smoking, you'd have to be at least 146 years old to watch  Les Derniers Jours du Monde. Practically the first image is a full-frontal nude shot of Mathieu Amalric (after he's attached his prosthetic arm) and back-up shots, so to speak, are not slow in coming. His first encounter - and cunnilingus - with Omahyra Mota appear a mere five minutes later. This actress actually spends most of the film butt-naked, displaying her perfect (and I mean perfect) body to anyone who cares to watch and salivate. Amalric subsequently goes up and down on Catherine Frot and Karin Viard (this one actually spectacularly explicit) while the world continues to disintegrate around him. The idea of wall-to-wall shagging, supping fine wines and visiting the opera (actually my local one, as is happens) a mere 48 hours before armageddon makes a great deal of sense, to me at least. In fact, we shouldn't wait for that particular deadline to enjoy these pastimes. It's a wonderful piece of cinema, improved by the fact that it feels so here and now, especially for those of us who live in the area where it's set. I gather the English title is Happy End, but you'll struggle to find the right one on YouTube. Grab it on DVD if you can, it's a great couple of hours' worth of bunkum, but make sure your kids are in bed, first. Here's a taster, so to speak:

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Wishing you a very happy New Year and thanking you for checking in even though I've been doing nothing but the blogger's equivalent of trading my high-ranking cleric these last two months. We all had nearly three weeks in England over Christmas and the New Year, a holiday period unheard of in my 25-odd years of professional activity. The eczema stayed at bay (just), but has since started to bang on the inside of the door of the cupbaord conventional medicine shoved it into, unceremoniously, last autumn. We even had a day in London just before Christmas, the first time I'd been back to my home town for over fourteen years and the Fingernails got photographed by a bloke from Reuters as they stepped off the new Routemaster show-bus in Trafalgar Square. I've not seen it crop up on the internet, yet, so I can only presume the photographer decided not to use it (having run two hundred yards to catch us up and ask if we'd mind if he did). Also popped into Crawley, the town where I spent most of my childhood. After all these years of flying into Gatwick Airport we bit the bullet and had a little tour of my youth. I was astonished as to how little had changed and how incredibly liveable the town still is: everyone has two gardens, the pavements are broad and there's green everywhere. The opposite of urban France, in other words. England is half the size of Gaul with the same number of inhabitants but gives the impression of being far more spacious (as does Germany, with its inferior surface area and 20m+ population). Yup, urban planning is not what the French do best. And, according to the news this morning, nor is their ability to keep their AAA-rating, whatever that will really mean to any of us. After all, whoever talked about these things even a year ago? Now it's THE statistic to maintain. We're being taken for fools, again…

Got to run off to work. Verdi is OK, but really pales in comparison to Wagner, Strauss, Debussy Ravel and Puccini. Compare O sink hernieder with the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore and weep. I do. Pretty much daily, in fact.