.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

$BlogTitle$

"A weblog is a frequently updated web site where the content is often in reverse chronological order." (Mena Trott)
It contains a perfectly random assortment of thoughts, ideas, references and complaints, and they are all mine! (CD)

My Photo
Name: Christian Dreyer
Location: Switzerland

March 06, 2010

Bossing Monteverdi

Just back from an experiment that failed in an interesting way. Nox illuminata had a concert programme at Sudhaus with pieces of Monteverdi's Orfeo and Bossa Nova, which they called Orfeu Negro after a famous movie by Vinicius de Moraes. Now the musical styles are obviously very different - 3 centuries a difference make. And yet, the themes are the same, so you would think that the music can be made to match. To make it short, it didn't work out, unfortunately.

I think it may have to do with the musicians being firmly (too firmly?) grounded in Bossa Nova, and trying to perform Monteverdi in the same way. This might really only work if you have musicians who are equally well versed in the free flowing, small form Bossa Nova as in Monteverdi's formal, complex court music of centuries past. The artistic director probably realised that herself, as the programme had a lot more Bossa Nova than Monteverdi. That way, I got a very fine Bossa Nova concert out of a musical experiment.

Also, J asked the other day what was happening to my blog, as there obviously wasn't really happening that much at all. I promise to work on getting my motivation back!

Labels: ,

January 19, 2010

Beyond text

Do you know Robin Sloan? Probably not. He's a Californian writer and media-inventor whose story Mr. Penumbra and the Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store I stumbled across a while ago, and I was hooked. His stories are smart, fast and full of surprises in a way that I've never seen before. The latest story (The Truth about the East Wind) is based on classical Greek mythology whereas the sci-fi crime novel Annabel Scheme is set in the future San Francisco dominated by quantum computers and Grail, the second best name for a search engine that I can think of. Very smart indeed, and just a little nerdy.

The creative way in which Sloan plays with formats gave me pause to think about how un-creatively today's media work with their formats on the web. For incumbent producers of print, the acme of production is text, while TV people produce video. To the man with the hammer, everything looks like a nail, I guess.

But in this day and age of cross-media, things have to change. Content needs to be optimised for effect and for convenience. Convenience means that content should always be available in all possible formats so that I can hear a text when I'm on the move, for instance. Effect is the best possible way in which content can be presented. A picture may say more than a thousand words, but often times, complexity is not open to imagery, but only to text. But - text is difficult to digest and demands a concentrated effort. So there's a number of dimensions across which to choose the most effective mode of communicating something.

Labels: , ,

August 27, 2009

Mad hatters!

Since I'm beginning to approach the advanced old age and degree of baldness where wearing a hat seems increasingly commendable, if not medicinally required in hot weather, I've been beginning to shop around. Obviously, the common cap hardly suits my sense of style, but conventional hattery somehow does not cut it either.

That's how I came across LeTom in a podcast programme. Have a look at their collection - it's about as smart and unconventional as their advertisement lets on. There's an interesting story behind that, too ... anyway, I'm looking forward to wearing my LeTom soon!

Labels: ,

July 11, 2009

A favourite of mine

This is a piece I can never get enough of - clever, smart, complex ... you can just see the composer having fun in writing it! Glenn Gould rules.

Labels: , ,

March 01, 2009

Another trip, another gadget

Coming home from my latest London trip on Thursday night, I found a nice surprise: Following my rather favourable comments and suggestions about their mobile charger, Lifetrons sent me their Xmini capsule speaker�- thank you very much! Now, although you're apparently not supposed to look a gift horse in the mouth, that's exactly what I'm going to do:

The Xmini is a tiny technical miracle the size of a golf ball that's been chewed on by Laika - when closed. When opened, it folds out like an accordion to provide the resonating cavity required for a mighty big audio effect. Hearing is believing! It comes with a double mini-USB cable that plugs into the device and a powered USB port (for charging only) or a 3.5 mm audio out port suitable for most devices. An amazing little thing!

But again, under-marketed. Those Lifetrons guys need to do something, and quick, the competition isn't sleeping. Compare the Powerstick - it doesn't even pack a sixth of the performance of the Lifetrons product (which is still not available on their own web store!)�with a similar form factor, but it is much more visible and will therefore sell a lot better. Wake up, guys!

Labels: , , , ,

February 14, 2009

Hidden gem for iPhone

If you think, like I do, that iPhone's only real hardware shortcoming (software ones such as missing video recording will hopefully be dealt with soon) is that there is actually too little of it, i.e. that its battery doesn't survive a day of heavy usage, then I have found a must-have little gadget for you: the portable charger LT025 from tiny Swiss firm Lifetrons. The charger takes a charge of 4800 mAh (probably about 3 iPhone charges), which it delivers actively to iPhone, i.e. it is not an external battery pack that needs to remain connected to be effective, it actually charges iPhone, and it does it very quickly. The gadget's power input is USB and it charges lots of other mobile devices via a plethora of adapters for its USB cable. The device's footprint is smaller than iPhone's, but it is about 2 2.5 times thicker. The device is well designed and nicely executed.

But as the title of this post holds, it is a hidden gem. So much so, in fact, that I only stumbled across it in a duty free catalogue. Strangely, Lifetrons only distributes via airlines and duty free shops, and they don't market their wares actively - it is not even available in their own online store. At least not for the moment, I'm told by their CEO. Another instance of under-marketed Swiss engineering ingenuity? You bet! I hope they get their marketing act together really soon, because they deserve it!

Here's the anecdote of the purchase: I saw the description on my way to Brussels and decided to hold off on buying until I could do a little online research, which I did in Brussels. But it yielded very little, there's virtually no online reviews available nor, as mentioned, alternative distribution. So, I decided to buy on the way back, even though Swiss has all three colours as long as it's white/silver. But I created a bit of a stumbling block for the friendly flight attendants - the catalogue advertises that you can pay with M&M Miles rather than cash, which I wanted to. But their payment appliance didn't work, so we had to use a regular credit card slip. Now, I'm a little nervous that I am going to be charged CHF 22'000 for the device rather than 22'000 miles ... keep your fingers crossed!�

Labels: , , , , ,

February 11, 2009

Sore eyes


Last week, I went to see the Venice exhibition at Fondation Beyeler before its close this Sunday. I wanted to see it not so much because of its subject matter (which I hate to admit that I haven't visited, yet), but because of the Turners. I'm a big fan of J. M. W. Turner, you see. And it was very worth while, there are plenty of my objects of admiration.�

But the funniest thing happened when I "progressed" from the Turners to Monet's renditions. My eyes started to hurt! When you're used to trying to understand what Turner puts on display through his atmospheric fog, it really comes as a shock to the system to see Monet's bright colours and heavy shapes. Quite the experience!

Labels:

December 13, 2008

Renewing MobileMe

On my last trip to London, I picked up a boxed MobileMe activation key at the Regent Street Apple store. On account of Sterling dropping like a stone, this works out substanially cheaper than renewing online in the local currency, and it actually works! Although I'll say that Apple doesn't exactly go out of its way to make it easy - the option is absent from inside your MM account. You have to use this link - which I obtained from MM support via a pleasant online chat. It was the first time I actually used that support feature, and it worked really well, so thanks for that!

Labels: ,

December 01, 2008

Sternstunden

This is quite a magic moment in Swiss TV, indeed - it's an interview with Harro von Senger, Swiss sinologist who popularised the Chinese 36 Stratagems in western thinking. In this programme, he discusses both the concept of stratagems as well as his most recent book�Moul�e�which reveals an ultra-long term, targeted thinking that is beyond what we consider to be strategic. The discussion, or rather, the somewhat clumsily scripted monologue is a useful first introduction into von Senger's subject. It is interesting to observe how very outlandish that subject appears to be to his interviewers, even though they have evidently done their homework.�

I've read Moul�e a while back, and I've been fascinated by the book. Von Senger's writing is chattier than his TV presence, meaning that it has its lengths. But these lengths are filled with a lot of erudite detail about Chinese literature and practice, so they are easily suffered. The concept itself of thinking "strategically" (for lack of a better word) over multiple generations with a view to a defined objective is quite an eye-opener, especially in conjunction with dialectical materialism as practised by the Communist Party. Many think that China has gone native with capitalism, but I have my doubts ...

Labels: , ,

November 19, 2008

Orange trickery

Kassensturz�revealed that my mobile phone service provider Orange has just hiked their talk rates illicitly (via small print) by moving from precise (per second) charging to charging in ten second intervals. This amounts to a hidden rate hike that will increase their revenue by about 15 to 30 Mio CHF per annum, according to Kassensturz. The programme is fair enough to mention that both major competitors (sunrise and swisscom) already charge in ten second intervals, so Orange obviously came to the conclusion that their more favourable terms are not paying off in terms of ARPU and/or retention. Alas, I'll have to have a closer look at what's on offer when my contract comes up for renewal ... meanwhile, tish & pish to Orange!

P.S. Most strangely of all, Orange has managed to charge my iPhone only yesterday, a full four months after delivery. Thank you for that unexpected generosity, Orange!

Labels: ,

November 01, 2008

J to L

The seventh of fourteen volumes of the Historic Encyclopedia of Switzerland�(HLS) has just appeared - yes, they keep printing encyclopedias on dead trees. But it's all good - the full text of all articles is available simultaneously in German, French and Italian (and partially in�Romansh, too!) and can be referenced directly. No pictures, though; strangely, they are reserved to the print edition.�

As an example, here's the article about eminent historian Jacob Burckhardt (1000 words), and here it is in the Wikipedia edition�(1438 words, 2 pictures plus a number of links, among others to the HLS article). For good measure, Britannica invests 1791 words. True, the number of words is not relevant: I prefer an efficient (terse?) text over a verbose one any day, but why they would use quite so many abbreviations in the HLS is beyond me. I prefer the Wikipedia article for its more comprehensive overview of Burckhardt, whereas the HLS shines on the substance of Burckhardt's work. It's a pity, though, that the editors haven't recognised that printed encyclopedias are definitely a thing of the past. Yet, their key remit is to produce a printed encyclopedia. But then again, they are historians for a reason ...

Labels: , ,

September 21, 2008

Exhibiting literature

In between meetings on Tuesday, I went to see an exhibition about the Ramayana in Indian painting at the excellent�Museum Rietberg in Z�rich. Until now, I was only passingly aware of the Ramayana as an important part of non-European world literature, but thanks to that exhibition, I've gained a glimpse into an epic world I hardly knew existed. The glimpse was made that much more impressive by a live performance of Sanskrit actress Kapila Venu. The highly stylised and codified art form of Nangiarkoothu left me feel like an utter boor for not even having heard of it. But fortunately the exhibition helps to understand at least the Ramayana by displaying a sequence of Indian paintings from different periods and sources that is almost like a storyboard.

This reminds me of another exhibition about an important piece of world literature I saw, but never actually blogged. Earlier this year, Antikenmuseum had an exhibition about Homer, which has moved on unfortunately. As a once student of Latin and thus the antiquities, I felt much more comfortable with the object of that exhibition, i.e. there was much less to learn, but a lot of forgotten stuff to resurface. Nevertheless, I was most captivated by a one man show of H.-Dieter Jendreyko, reciting two books from the Iliad in a way that was probably very authentic. One man's unassisted (Homer didn't need Powerpoint) monologue in classical language for about an hour is well beyond today's regular attention span, but Jendreyko's rhapsodic was so lively and passionate that he never lost his audience for even a second. Great art, indeed.

P.S. Two things I've been wondering about: Why is Rama's skin blue? And why would Bharata refuse to become king?

Labels:

New "pet"

Obviously, it's not, it's just a robotic vacuum cleaner. Yet it's weird to find oneself giving it a nickname and, worse, talk to it! Cold rationality is apparently only skin deep when faced with something small that moves about on its own, makes little noises and eats dust. It does that exceptionally well, btw. But the design and user interface could do with a shot of Apple ...

Labels: ,

August 27, 2008

The Dark Knight

On Sunday night, I went to see The Dark Knight, the latest movie theatre incarnation of Batman. I've spent entirely too much of my scarce teenage pocket money on Batman comics, so I still never miss the movie editions, especially since I really like Tim Burton's work as a director. Burton's Batman is an extraordinary rendition of the dark comic strip character executed with the means of motion picture, but doing justice to its origin as a comic hero.

The Dark Knight is very different. I think that Christopher Nolan, its new director recognised that Burton's version cannot be topped, so he changed tack completely. Where Burton's Batman does not claim to be anything else but an entirely�fictitious�comic hero, Nolan has transformed Batman to a contemporary political metaphor - the Batman of the 21st century, so to speak. Any similarities with real events and persons are fully intentional, I am sure. And let me say that it is all very well done, with one exception: the transformation of the state prosecutor from Gotham's white knight to a madman is less than authentic. The night is darkest just before dawn - which is scheduled for November 4th.�

Incidentally, this movie reminded me of a quote by Max Frisch that I've stumbled on the other day. It's from his New York lectures on journalism, I think, and I cannot recall it verbatim, plus it was in German: You can never describe truth, you can only reinvent it. I think this is quite true, as however much you try to be objective, your description is always a function of your perception and your values. Hence, the most honest (but maybe not the most efficient) way to go about describing the truth is to invent a story that transports clearly what you want to say. In that way, The Dark Knight has quite an unexpected lot of truth.

Labels: ,

August 20, 2008

Snap, the fish got you!

I've always been interested in concepts like mosquito marketing, so when I was offered the opportunity to participate, I took it. The guys over at dot-friends offered a free snapfish collage poster if I would blog (fairly & honestly) about it, and so, here goes ...

It's about photocollage posters, a new snapfish offering. Naturally, I've tried it out, and it worked fine for me. The resulting poster is printed beautifully on high quality photo paper. Snapfish did, however, underperform in terms of delivery times: The promise was for the poster to be produced within 1-2 days; effectively it took them three. Mail was delivered in time.

As for the creation process online, I'll say that my enthusiasm is limited. Like I said, it all worked, but it worked in a PC (as opposed to Mac) kind of way: the process allows for very little in design creativity (photos can only be arranged in 90 degree angles, there is a fairly limited set of frame colours and frame strengths - that's it!). On top of that, the website design was not rendered well on Safari, as some of the buttons (important ones like OK) were missing - I had to guess!�

So, in conclusion, I don't think this is a product I will use again, as it isn't much fun to create, and you don't have many degrees of freedom in creating it. Nor is it a steal at CHF 25. Yet, I will keep snapfish bookmarked because they offer a range of less complex, but nice & useful products, such as picture cups, jugs and caps.�

Hmm, this is probably not the kind of review that my dot-friends were hoping for, but since I'm expected to give a review, the free poster I got is not a gift horse that you're not supposed to look in the mouth ...

Labels: , ,

August 10, 2008

Hamburg


IMG_0070.JPG
Originally uploaded by chdreyer
On Friday, I was in Hamburg for a meeting. It was the first time I was there, but unfortunately, I only had time for a sightseeing tour and a cup of coffee sitting at the Aussenalster. It was nice, and Hamburg made a favourable enough impression, with the one notable exception that I haven't found a free wireless access anywhere, not even in my hotel! What kind of a business hotel is it that hasn't understood, yet, that free wireless access is an indispensable amenity just like running water?

Labels: ,

July 20, 2008

Subscribe to keep

About a week ago, I subscribed to the download membership that is newly on offer at Magnatune. Magnatune is an extremely fair online music label with a selection & quality of classical music, jazz and world that is very much my cup of tea. With the download membership, it got that much better: for $54, you get three months of free download access to all of their program. Did I mention quality? You can choose between a number of different formats, including AAC and full quality WAV. Unlike with other subscription models, you don't loose your music when your membership expires. Very good value indeed!

Labels: , ,

May 09, 2008

The End of an Era

That image says more about the end of 68 than all the brilliant analyses taken together. Good job, LV! Their apparent concept of displaying iconic characters in their very own, private fin de si�cle really plays out nicely.

Labels: ,

February 24, 2008

The Two of Us

My niece's new album is out: The Two of Us on her very own label Polly Maggoo Records. I think her style might be classified as punk rock, but I could be wrong, of course (I most probably am, anyway). I admit, I am struggling to get my auditory canals around it, which is not surprising as our tastes in music were always quite different. But this album is different somehow. Whereas I hitherto used to dismiss Lili's music as art of noise with barely any discernible structure (to me!), here she goes and produces something that is almost close to melodic! She ends the album in a rather chamber music inspired mood With a picture - genius! A pity it's not on her MySpace ...

Labels: , ,

January 05, 2008

Wallpaper* Basel

A while back, I got the Wallpaper City Guide Basel, among others. The fact alone that this guide exists had me surprised, as Basel is not exactly a hotspot of urban culture, with the occasional exception confirming the rule, of course. So, insofar as a city guide is a review of a city, this is a meta-review.

First, let's drop some names from the Urban Life section (this is the useful part): Stucki Bruderholz, Le Lertzbach�(just across the burn, btw), �NT/Areal, Acqua, Fumare Non Fumare, Chez Donati, Grenzwert, Campari Bar, Coumou (already closed), Das Schiff, Bar Rouge, Johann, Nuovo Bar, Eo ipso, Noohn. I'll admit straight away that about a third of the names I have yet to try, so coming from a native, that is already a compliment. The other places are definitely top rated in town.

The Wallpaper City Guide is quite a useful small (very!) companion catering to the urban chic city traveller who doesn't care much for the jetsam that traditional guides provide. In that, it is also handy for the native who might discover a new gem or two in the place she calls home.

Labels: ,

December 28, 2007

Exit Music

So then, this is it, allegedly - the last in the Inspector Rebus series. I am presently struggling with myself whether or not I should reveal any spoilers, since it doesn't really matter anymore. But then again, it does, so I won't. Suffice it to say that I am sad to see him go as he kept my relationship to Edinburgh alive - not that I'd had any to its underworld, mind you. I wonder whether Rankin will do a Reichenbach twist some time, or whether we will treated to a different angle maybe? But until then, let's give Rebus some space.

Labels:

December 18, 2007

London action

My recent short trip to London is already history, but I haven't recorded its proceedings for posterity, yet. So, here goes nothing ...

Seeing how the tickets for The First Emperor are sold out weeks in advance, I didn't expect to get one on the day, especially as I didn't exactly show up at 0900. But surprisingly, there were still some left! Thus I made sure to succumb to the current craze about everything Chinese. The exhibition is rather small, but very packed. What's most fascinating about it is what you don't get, i.e. the first emperor himself, who probably still rests undisturbed in his�colossal�monument to vanity. �

The other exhibition I saw deals with far more contemporary issues: Breaking the Rules in the British Library has for subject the highly creative period in European art before WWII. Unfortunately, this extraordinarily interesting period has been overwhelmed almost entirely by subsequent events and is hardly accessible to us anymore. It's a pity! The exhibition demonstrates in great detail how the movements of that period were not only relevant in places like Paris, Berlin and London, but also in more remote corners such as Belgrade or Wro�lav. Talk about globalisation.�

The night before that exhibition expedition, I indulged myself in some truly seasonal Musicke, i.e. H�ndel's Messiah with The Sixteen at the Barbican. While the execution was certainly flawless, and the Sixteen actually numbered eighteen, the evening somehow wasn't as exciting for me as it usually is. Sure, the hall rose to their feet during the Hallelujah (an endearingly insular habit), and there was much clapping at the end. Still - maybe it was just insufficient accoustic pressure due to the somewhat remote seating I got.�

Labels:

December 12, 2007

Seeing Red

It is an exceptionally slim book, and a beautifully made one, too. But despite of its tiny format, its ambition is quite monumental:�Seeing Red�proposes a non-technical operational model of consciousness. Humphrey answers Joe King's emailed question: "Hello, my name is Joe King. I am severly disabled, 20 years old. I am 33 inches tall, 40 lbs, 47 broken bones and 6 surgeries. I have been concerned lately that when I die this crippled body might be all I have. My question is. Do u believe consciousness can survive the death of the brain? Is there good scientific evidence for this?" I am not going to be a spoilsport, but suffice it to say that Humphrey's answer is sufficiently clear.

Labels: ,

December 01, 2007

Fear, engagement, transcendence

On a US trip a few years back, I read a text about Abraham Lincoln's clinical depression. This text occasionally still resonates today with me because of its empathetic description of a complex man who paradoxically depended on his clinical condition for superhuman strength. The article was published in The Atlantic, and it is now available online.

Labels: , ,

November 17, 2007

The best funeral in London

Weird! One is tempted to say, Only in England will you find an article about funeral directors in a leisure magazine like Time Out ...

Labels: ,

November 11, 2007

WMC

On my recent London trip, I also went to see the Weapons of Mass Communication exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. This is a chronological display of propaganda posters from different countries for WW I & II, interwar Europe as well as for the cold war and the new world order. It is fascinating to compare the different countries' different approaches to the same thing, using an eerily appealing visual language. In fact, it's so fascinating that I got the�book, too!

Speaking of books: walking past Waterstone's, I noticed that Ian Rankin's latest book, Exit Music, is already on half price sale there. So I bought it also.�

Labels: , ,

November 07, 2007

Enlightened romantics

That was fun! I am just coming back from The Night Shift, a concert of classical music with a difference, performed at the Royal Festival Hall. One of the key differences was that I felt distinctly old, seeing how the average age of the audience was probably below 30, and that with a programme of Schubert and Brahms! I am usually not that much into romantic music, but I was curious to hear the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment play. It was quite the experience. Nothing of the usual Germanic heavy-handedness and pathos, but transparent, precise and dynamic action that still transports the melancholy of Schubert's unfinished 8th symphony flawlessly. This is how I could find my way back to grand orchestral works, especially in such an informal setting as tonight. That'd be worth trying at home!

Labels: ,

November 05, 2007

Intelligent Life no more

I am known to have advocated for Intelligent Life to become a regular periodical. That's why I have taken out a subscription when it did without double checking. Now that the first regular issue has been sitting around for some weeks (it's a quarterly magazine), I'm afraid I'll have to give it a serious thumbs down, especially in comparison with what it is deemed to be its direct competition, i.e. Monocle.

Whence the bad marks, you wonder? First, the layout is not particularly user-friendly. The following is probably not objectively true if you run the numbers, but the editorial content is somehow subjugated by advertisements. Then the typeface is overly artistic, with some of the titles written in a compressed font that is plain ugly. I think that even I could do better than that, and that's saying a lot! But what's worst is that the imaginative, novel content that I've been so fond of in the first two issues is simply no more. What happened to that, Mr Editor in Chief?? Admittedly, there's some good stuff, too. I was rather surprised at not having heard before of the great classical paino swindle�perpetrated by the late Joyce Hatto in complicity with her husband William Barrington-Coupe. I could easily imagine this material to be turned into an entertaining feature film from the well written article alone. Also well done is the article about experimental cuisine I referred to earlier, even though you only realise what it's really about when you're already well into it - which is quite unfortunate when you're used to browsing.�

So, what to do? I'll give it a second chance, if only for the motto hedonism with its head on.

Labels:

November 03, 2007

Panthera pardus

This is the first post written on my new iMac, running on Mac OS X 10.5, a.k.a. Leopard! I can happily report that it's a great experience - the new machine is extremely racy, and I certainly won't go back to the previous cat, either. Although the fact that I am already using Leopard is not exactly Apple's merit, as the Mac came with Tiger preinstalled. Ordering Leopard via the Up to date programme resulted in an ETA of 3 (three!) weeks! But luckily I have extremely understanding and helpful alternative sources to bridge over the transitory gap between felines ...

Labels: , ,

October 24, 2007

Experimental cuisine

I'm just back from watching Ratatouille, the latest Pixar chef-d'oeuvre with S & M, and we enjoyed it no end! I know I've been gushing about The Incredibles when it was hitting the screens, and I still am. But what's so amazing is how perfectly Pixar adapts its productions' style and general demeanour to the respective story line. Looking at the end titles, this does not come without an immense effort, of course. Yet, it's worth every minute of it - go see yourself! I particularly liked the creepily anemic food critic Anton Ego, who really comes to life thanks to Peter O'Toole's voice. Or the rather clever way in which synaesthesia is used to approximate flavour, and how it is replicated in demonstrating flavour to the little chef's dimwit rat brother. Probably too clever by half for those hacks who condescendingly deem this movie a rather touching children's film ...

So, while a Parisian high-end restaurant operated by a bunch of rats will certainly outdo every competition in terms of its experimental nature, I've been coming across experimental cuisine (a.k.a. molecular cuisine) time and again lately, not least in an excellent article in Intelligent Life. I haven't tried that way of preparing food, yet, but I certainly will. Often times, people argue against it because the highly sophisticated ways in which the culinary experiences are prepared arguably destroy the "natural form of the food". The best counter-argument to date comes from the article I linked to above: "What is cooking if not the craft of �destroying the natural form� of foods, and turning them into something better, tastier and safer?" Next time I hear someone argue against "molecular" food, I'll ask how they like their raw meat etc ...

Labels:

October 19, 2007

Tales from the Emerald Isle

It's true, my blogging is getting lazy: It's over ten days that we've returned from the family trip to Ireland, the 1600+ pics have been distilled down to half that, about 250 of which have ended up in an iPhoto photo book (highly commendable!) which is already here, but I still haven't blogged about the trip in any detail. Given that I don't approve of the no time excuse as a matter of principle (it's always a question of priorities), I have nothing to hide behind other than that. Yet, here's Ireland redux in pictures.

Anyways, onwards to greener pastures, literally: Ireland is a fabulous destination for a family round trip. Here's the approximate route we took during our eight days. A word of caution is in order at this point: Don't be ambitious about the mileage you can do, many of the cross country roads are still charmingly scenic, which is a euphemism for narrow and somewhat bumpy, and don't rely to heavily on any one map. I brought my trusty TomTom, and yet we had to rely not only on C's navigational skills, but also on the occasionally rather epic directions of extremely helpful and friendly publicans. So, give yourself time - travelling Ireland is not a rushing matter. Also, make sure that you're fit: one of our drivers currently suffers from a herniation apparently contracted on the drive.

Our night quarters were, in order of sequence: Cabra Castle for one night, Dromoland Castle and Park Hotel Kenmare for two nights each, Waterford Castle and finally, Kilkea Castle. So, plenty of old stones, and yet, the experience was quite fresh everywhere. We were particularly surprised about the consistently high quality of the food everywhere - not to speak of the quantities. Obviously, the chefs cater mostly to Americans rather than French guests, even though the latter would hardly find anything to complain about, except for the over-priced wine list maybe. But then again, we were travelling with a wine expert, and Ireland is certainly not grape country. The altogether most outstanding experiences were to be had at Dromoland and Kenmare. Waterford shone with its Victorian infrastructure (sic!) and its high potential (meaning it has a bit of catching up to do), whereas Kilkea appeared a bit, erm, rustic?

Thus, we had a great impression of the spectacular beauty of the Irish countryside and its heritage. We did not get much exposure to modern Ireland and its contemporary culture, but that was not the purpose of the trip anyway. So there's something for next time, right?

Labels: , ,

October 03, 2007

Hello from Ireland!

Did I mention that I am currently staying in Ireland for a few days with a bunch of family? I can already recommend to stay here and here! At Cabra, do not forget to meet Oscar, the Irish Wolfhound castle dog - an impressive appearance!

Labels: ,

September 06, 2007

A rising star?

Definitely! Having just touched down at Bangkok after a very pleasant flight from Seoul, I must say that Asiana is going to give the Singapore Airlines etc a run for their (much more) money! The A330-300 is very well laid out, the staff extremely polite & friendly (expect the experience to begin with a coordinated "all hands" reception bow while taxiing) and the food is good. So it's a thumbs up all around, followed by the pleasant surprise of being expected by two ground staff who whisked yours truly to the Thai Orchid Lounge on one of those obnoxious scooters to wait for the connecting flight.

Labels: ,

August 31, 2007

Cheers from Seoul

So, my short trip to Singapore is history. The first impression of the place is one of a more formal version of California - which I like a lot! The formality certainly has to do with the echoes reverberating from British rule. I actually stayed in one of them - very recommendable! Being able to do your laps before breakfast in an olympic size outdoors pool in the heart of downtown Singapore is just great. Funny how the locals think you're crazy if you're swimming when it rains because they think it's "chilly": at about 30 degrees!

People seem to be extremely ambitious and business-minded. And when they're working in service, they're incredibly efficient and friendly. Smiles left, right and centre, which is a great change from Europe. Singapore, I'll be back. With less rain next time, hopefully! And maybe a bit better comprehension of Singlish, which I was occasionally struggling with.

My first trip on hallowed SIA turned out to be a little bit of a disappointment. Sure, the staff were just perfect, fully in line with what I said before, even in the eye candy department. But taken altogether, I think SIA Business doesn't deserve the premium it commands. Admittedly, my expectations were set by the trip down to Singapore on Swiss First, which may be considered as unfair. But somehow I got the impression that many people feel that SIA's business class is better than many firsts. That's far from true for Swiss' - I slept like a log!

Labels: ,

August 20, 2007

The best things in life ...

are free, they say. And they are probably right, as I am glad to confirm while listening to the second compilation of the Colonious Monk Collective. This is German rap at its best - full of funk, jazz and soul, just the way we like it.

Labels: , ,

August 14, 2007

Complete satisfaction at Stucki's

It's been almost three years that I've been there last, but apparently I need to go again very soon! Especially now that the best chef that I've ever encountered has received a glowing review in the Financial Times ("faultless"), which alludes to the rumour that the restaurant will soon obtain its second Michelin star. This will invariably hike the price tag, so ...

Labels: ,

July 19, 2007

Drumming as martial art

Been to Basel Tattoo with C. yesterday night. What a splendid night it was! Especially the incredible performance of Basel natives Top Secret blew me away. Those guys truly redefine drumming as a martial art - see the video of their Edinburgh performance last year (mine wouldn't do it justice).

The only odd thing about the event was its closing, what with people standing up to sing the national anthem &c. To me, somehow that just doesn't feel right - our patriotism (or mine?) as a non-nation is not of the pathetic sort, it's more of the constitutional type, sans constitution for some ...

Labels: ,

July 15, 2007

Quatorze juillet

What better way to while away a sweltering Sunday afternoon than going to the nicely air conditioned Fondation Beyeler to see the special exhibition about Edvard Munch which is on display for just another week? The exhibition assembles a great selection of works spanning all his life. And what an angst-ridden life that must have been - speak about inner demons. I was not aware that love, angst, death can be seen as a unity, but Edvard Munch clearly achieved that.

The previous evening was spent more unequivocally pleasantly. I've had C&R over for a nice barbecue that was started with a beautiful 1990 mill�sime and concluded with a much older Scotch to go with the fireworks to celebrate the French national holiday from the neighbouring French communities. A great evening that we vowed to repeat in following years.

Labels: , ,

July 13, 2007

Local news

Go check out local.ch! It's a very useful site if you're in Switzerland for it gives you a map based access to yellow and white pages as well as to events and classifieds. It's really useful and it works. Yesterday I was looking for a dental technician that I could visit on the way to the train station, and today I was looking for an unlisted hairdresser in Rheinfelden on behalf of my sister. Both worked perfectly smoothly. Oh, and it also displays blog posts from geotagged blogs from the map area. This is the Web 2.0 stuff that's really useful!

In other local news: My mom is currently in hospital to have both her knees replaced. She's had her second operation yesterday, and I am glad to report that everything went well. She's well on the path to recovery, which includes a few more weeks of hospital and rehab stays away from home. In order to make that easier on her, I gave her a digital picture frame today. It's a little TFT monitor that displays a slide show of all pics, movies & sound files that are on the memory card you plug into it. She's enjoying it a lot, especially since it contains literally hundreds of conversation starters. I tested a cheaper one before, but that was a bad experience: apparently buggy software, bad physical quality &c. I spent quite some time trying to get it running, whereas the Kodak one was just plug & play.

Labels: , , ,

July 09, 2007

Urbi & orbi

One of the smaller things I took home from London was the July / August issue of Monocle, which is dedicated to an evaluation of the world's most liveable cities. The ranking of the 20 most liveable cities not published on the public site is as follows: Munich, Copenhagen, Z�rich, Tokyo, Vienna, Helsinki, Sydney, Stockholm, Honolulu, Madrid, Melbourne, Montreal, Barcelona, Kyoto, Vancouver, Auckland, Singapore, Hamburg, Paris, Geneva.

While I am certainly glad to note that 2 Swiss cities made the cut, I am surprised at the bile expressed against Berne, the nation's capital. I am not exactly saying that Berne is a global metropolis - quite on the contrary. But if easy access to a long haul hub is such an important criterion as it is made out to be, then the metropolitan area of all of Switzerland should actually enter the competition, thanks to the country's small size. After all, Singapore is there, too, and some people are beginning to think of Switzerland as one big metropolitan area with a really huge natural park (the alps) in the middle. At any rate, I think I am not going to buy another issue of Monocle, because I am going to take out a subscription.

Speaking of cities & the world at large, I also stocked up on those new Wallpaper* Guides of the cities that I currently have an active interest in: Bangkok, Basel, London, Singapore. Great concept!

Labels: ,

June 25, 2007

Rebus and his Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh Journal has a great article about Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series of novels by Rod Johnson. Neither the Journal nor the article appear to be available online, which is a pity. But if you are into Rebus or Edinburgh, then you should have a look at this three pages piece since it offers a knowledgeable insight into the linkage between the novels and the city. Also, it made me think that it might be fun to bring Rebus into an episode of House M.D. ...

Labels: ,

June 24, 2007

The final word

With the arrival of my lost luggage tonight, I can close the book on my 48 hours power trip to Washington on Lufthansa. The verdict is not favourable.

As I mentioned previously, the service is ok, but it lacks the certain panache that is required in a truely first class service. Just a few examples: They fill up wine glasses, of which there is only one size btw. Also, you may get champagne in a wine glass, even though the proper glassware is clearly available. Announcements are annoyingly loud, but the occasional background music is inappropriately muted so that you only get the faint din of the percussion. Not even the nice Van Laack gift polo and track suit will make up for that.

But all that is still bearable. Where it gets quite bad is where it really counts. My final connection on the way home was booked rather daringly, so when we run into the inevitable departure delay at Dulles, things became critical. From my earlier experience with Swiss, I expected at least the same level of service when it became apparent that it might just work in the final approach. However - nothing! Not only did I have to ask what was happening (there were only 3 FC passengers) rather than the crew would inform us pro�ctively. They virtually didn't know anything.

Eventually I was told that I was re-booked to a later machine, and that they didn't wait for connections. But nevertheless, I was told to ask the ground personnel, so obviously they weren't sure what was happening. Upon landing, there was no ground personnel at hand, and the transfer desk was helplessly clogged. So I decided to try and make it to the rather distant departure gate on my own devices in order to avoid an unplanned five hours interlude at Frankfurt airport. 'Lo and behold, I was lucky! The gate staff asked jokingly whether I had flown in, so evidently they knew about the delayed connection, and that's how I made it to Basle in time, without much help from Lufthansa - quite on the contrary, in fact. Naturally, my checked luggage only arrived tonight, but that's another story.

So, my experience travelling with the crane was well below expectations. I am looking forward to my forthcoming trip to Singapore on Swiss in late August. The trip to London on Tuesday (for three days) will be more of a commuting experience, compared to that.

Update (25.6.): I thought the book was closed on this, but it wasn't really. This morning, 24 hours after the fact, I received an SMS notification that my booking had been changed to flight LH 3812, departing from gate NULL. I might just have to review my German stereotypes ...

Labels: ,

June 22, 2007

Across the pond

Thanks to a weekend meeting in Washington D.C., I had the opportunity of testing Lufthansa's First Class service today - on a miles upgrade, mind you. As you can see from the picture, the Frankfurt lounge is really great: stylish, spacious, quiet - everything the discerning traveller looks for.

But the key part is the flight, of course. This was the first time I flew on the upper deck of a 747-400. With its 16 seats and the secluded cabin impression, it creates a very clubby atmosphere. There's also a big difference in noise to the usual front seats in single deck planes. So, the travelling experience is very comfortable indeed. The staff was very attentive and friendly, but they weren't quite as smooth as the only other FC experience I've had to date - Swiss. Definitely not up to Swiss standards was the very Haute Cuisine (36000 feet). The fish was slightly overdone, the rest quite uninspired. I've had better. But let's see how they'll perform on the overnight flight back - I'll have the same crew apparently. Oh, and someone send the copilot to an English course! He's obviously able to handle an aircraft, but I am not so sure about polite English.

Labels:

June 10, 2007

Arabs

Arabs by Mark Allen is a concise (just 142 pages!), yet comprehensive & respectful portrait of the Arab people. Ostensibly, it is a very difficult task to paint a portrait of a group of people, let alone of an entire nation without falling prey to the temptation satisfying stereotypes. In this case, the deep personal involvement of the author during decades prevented that.

The book is structured in ten short chapters: In Search of Arabs - Blood - Religion - Community - Women - The Problem of Power - Politics - Modernity - Language and Signals - Outlook. Most interesting & enlightening are the chapters on Blood, Power, Politics and Language. The latter has been outright intriguing for me - or do you know the optative aorist? Thought so ... well, I am afraid that's about all I can say about the book, because to further summarise it is a futile attempt. The book appears to be quite irreducible. However, I wonder what people more knowledgeable than me about the subject matter think of it.

Labels:

May 20, 2007

Scientology & me

Well, not me personally, as I do not have any business with the devious & dangerous cult of Scientology myself, other than having lost a member of my extended family to its following. But you'll have to see the BBC's excellent eponymous documentary which tracks the unpleasant experience of the Beeb's John Sweeney when approaching Scientology critically. Up until now, I thought that, surely, urban lore about the cult's nature is overdone, but now I think it's even worse! Have a look at the list of celebrities associated with Scientology - I'll avoid their work going forward.

You can also watch the documentary in three installments on Youtube.

Labels: , ,

May 08, 2007

The Naming of the Dead

[no spoilers] I just finished Ian Rankin's latest Inspector Rebus story. I think this is probably Rankin's best Rebus, yet: Set during the 2005 G8 summit in Edinburgh, it feels entirely authentic and credible. We get to meet plenty of old acquaintances who have advanced in their respective lives in interesting and sometimes surprising ways. Even DI Rebus is not far from retirement, but he still has what it takes - to keep us captured. Exceptionally, and aptly keeping in tone with the title, this story has a certain depth to it without ever lacking in humour. There is even a literary side to it, what with the central r�le that my dearly beloved Ozymandias plays in the whole setup, incidentally without ever being fully quoted:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Perhaps you can imagine what Rebus' paraphrasing looks like - better still, read it up yourself. I am not sure Rebus did: he thought Ozymandias hailed from Australia.

Labels:

April 24, 2007

Genius in smalltown

Tonight's concert of the Charles Lloyd Quartett was a great preparation to get in the mood for my trip to New York tomorrow. Charles Lloyd almost paled in the presence of his incredible band, though. So, I need to check whether there are some more gigs after I come back - just glancing at the site, I see E.S.T. on 1 May!! Thanks to DRS 2 Kulturclub for the free ticket, anyway.

Labels:

April 21, 2007

Fix this!

Check out this week's installment of the BBC's StoryFix, a weekly videocast. The bit about Imagine, a world where there is no news is fabulous!

Labels: , , ,

April 20, 2007

A Parisian in America?

Here's a rare thing: a useful review of one of French presidential candidate Sarkozy's (who would get my vote, for lack of a more reformist candidate) books in an American online magazine. American.com is quite good, btw!

Labels: , ,

March 31, 2007

From egghood to personhood

Somewhere on that journey, consciousness happens, according to Paul Broks' excellent review of Seeing Red. This is the best book review (in the format of a standalone essay) that I've read in a long time, and it's even got a cliffhanger! Have a go at it, and then I am sure you'll be in for its object, too (via virtual philosopher).

Btw, when did you order your first book online? My first traceable Amazon order happened on 11 August 1998: Paul Krugman's Accidental Theorist and Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma.

Labels: , ,

March 25, 2007

Monocle

I am quite the sucker for new journals & magazines. That's why on my last London trip, I made sure to get a copy of the first issue of Monocle, Mr Br�l�'s latest addition to the refined forrests market. At Waterstone's I was told that everybody was looking for it, but nobody had it since it was already sold out. Then I struck gold at Borders' ...

Monocle has a smart structure and caters to a like audience. Its contents is divided up under headings A B C D E. The design is surprisingly, yet sophisticatedly low key to the extent of appearing boring at first blush, and it comes in a handy, soft-cover bookish format. But it'll work its magic over time, I think. For the contents is definitely out of the ordinary with a wealth of unusual material spanning the globe. Let me just quote the instances where Switzerland is referred to, since that's what I know best. It starts with a small article about Porta Alpina, a project for a rather exotic type of train station in the alps. Then I just have to mention the article about the Ahmadinejacket, the first in a "series decoding power dressing [by looking] at the semiotics of Iranian President Ahmadinejad's man of the people look". When's the last time you saw semiotics used (without explanation) in a street journal?

Ok, next. Next is a portrait of the relevant components of the Coop chain of retail stores in Z�rich. The Monoclists also did some shopping: they actually talk about underwear and Calanda aqua. But it gets weirder: There is a 12 page photo report about La Chaux-de-Fonds, a tiny Swiss town best known for its watch industry, Le Corbusier and Lenin's stay during the Russian revolution. Finally, the website also contains a small guide to Geneva. All in all, the selection of topics, items and locations is always a bit quirky, but interesting, and everything is well researched. I'll take out a subscription, I think.

P.S. Don't forget to check out the video section. Priceless.

Labels:

February 18, 2007

Peter Doig

I came across this striking picture by Peter Doig in a newspaper article, and it seems to be stuck behind my retina ... in German, we have the expression Ohrwurm (earwig) which refers to a catchy tune, but includes an annoying quality. I wonder whether there is a similar term for the comparable visual effect - I know now that it exists! You get the impression of an almost naturalistic quality of the picture (with a bit of Monet's clarity thrown in), but it is not, of course, because of what almost seems like a chromatic shift - which again, it's not. Very annoying, and fascinating!

Labels: ,

February 09, 2007

The right attitude to rain

What's a crime story where the only crimes committed are theft (a sausage & cheese stolen by the fox in residence), suspected arson and - almost, but not quite - murder by failure to render assistance? Why, the latest masterpiece in the Isabel Dalhousie series, of course!

Labels:

February 01, 2007

Collective autism

Just back from watching Babel with A. If you're not familiar with the biblical background of the tower of Babel (near Baghdad, as it happens), then you need to familiarise yourself with it before seeing the movie. It's an allegorical piece about the current state of the world with its globalised acts of collective autism and unnecessary hysteria. While an irrelevant news item randomly spreads around the world like wildfire, those who suffer from it lastingly are the innocent small people.

Babel is an annoyingly well crafted, politically correct conversation piece for your next penthouse dinner party. 'nuf said.

Labels:

January 28, 2007

His last journey

Reading obituaries for the late Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski reminded me of the one book of his that I've read: Meine Reisen mit Herodot (Travels with Herodotus, which is not yet available in English, it seems).

Kapu?ci?ski tells stories of his many trips to Asia and Africa as a foreign correspondent, starting in the 1950s. In a wonderful illustration for the synchrony of the asynchronous (Ernst Bloch), he juxtaposes those stories with his reading of the reports of the first known "modern" historian, namely Herodotus. His colleague's method of 24 centuries back was to collect stories and memories of past times on his long journeys all over the known world, and to record them faithfully - just the way Kapu?ci?ski does. In both streams of narrative, there is at least one common denominator: humanity.

Writing this, I note that I seem to have taken to travel literature of sorts lately. While Pamuk's Istanbul admittedly stays in one place, it recalls that place's journey through time. The Art of Travel on the other hand may be categorised quite unequivocally. But there is even more in the To Read pile of books ... so I guess that commits my travelling firmly to the armchair variety. Which is of course much more environmentally friendly than any other kind of trip.

Labels: ,

January 24, 2007

Imperial melancholy

Ironically, it was on the way home from Athens that I finished reading Orhan Pamuk's (*1952) celebrated book Istanbul - Memories of a City. I can tell you without exaggerating that this is the most absorbing book I've read in some time. It is an autobiographical record of the author's youth & coming of age in a city torn between the memories of past imperial grandeur and its somewhat dingy & peripheral present. The pervasive mood is that of h�z�n, or melancholy, that is a consequence of this contrasting experience, combined with modern Turkey's thrust towards westernisation.

If the English translation (Maureen Freely) comes even close to the original, then the language alone truly deserves of the Nobel Prize. Pamuk's prose is rich, dense & precise, yet descriptive to the point of being voluble. Unfortunately, careless editing disturbs that favourable picture too often.

For me, this book offers important insights into modern Turkey's Befindlichkeit, at least so far as that of its urban, westernised elite is concerned. Anatolia is virtually absent from Pamuk's book, whereas predominantly French authors & artists appear to have had a downright formative influence. It is a revelation to observe the apparent impact of the decline of the Ottoman empire on everyday life, even half a century after the fact. My theory is that this may be due to the relatively early & painful loss of an old empire following WWI, which evidently was an extraordinarily traumatic experience compared to that of other European "competitors".

Highly recommended reading! I am looking forward to seeing Istanbul again with new eyes in March.

Labels:

December 31, 2006

Best of 2006

I don't like year-end reviews, but for this one, I'll make an exception. First, because it's made by my preferred German language daily newspaper, and second because it's in a 7x12 matrix format. I like tables! The rows are German literature, foreign literature, history, contemporary analysis / philosophy, art, architecture & design, art music, on stage, movies, pop & jazz, institutions, people and the columns contain evaluations exceptional, classical, surprising, rediscovered, avant-garde, funny, annoying.

I am not sure whether I should be pleased or disconcerted about the fact that several of the tabled items have been discussed on this blog during the year ... at any rate, Happy New Year to you & your family, dear Reader, and thanks for all your comments and contributions during the past year!

Labels:

December 03, 2006

The brain queen

I like intelligent crime fiction. Unfortunately, there isn't much of that genre available in German. So when I came across an interview with Thea Dorn, I decided to read one of her stories. I went for Die Hirnk�nigin, and I do not regret it. The story is just a little bit splatter, as it's about a classically educated female serial killer who is driven to free good men's brains from their bodily confines (literally). It feels a bit like CSI. The most amazing parts, however, are where she goes for the kill, regularly quoting directly & by heart from the Greek, preferably from the battle scenes in Homer's bloodthirsty Iliad. The pulse of the language and the build up of tension are almost classical, and they compensate for some thinness in the overall structure. It's recommendable, but just. I enjoyed it, but I do not feel compelled to read any other of Dorn's books.

Labels:

November 27, 2006

Shaken or stirred - I don't give a damn

While the quote may not be verbatim, it is certainly in keeping with the style of Casino Royale, the new Bond. This is IMHO the most authentic Bond ever. Seriously.

Authenticity starts at the opening credits. No psychedelic floating soft porn, but new, theme based, old school visual language. The story is based closely on the first Bond novel with added leverage (literally). Bond's character has been very appropriately adapted to the new actor, and, incidentally, to Ian Fleming's original design: In M's words, Bond is a "blunt instrument", he doesn't care much about subtle and finesse, effectivity will do. But despite of his dry business sense, he is passionate and smart. I should add though that the passion gets beaten out of him very painfully in the course of action, but his smartness remains. In that sense, Bond is much like Jack Bauer in 24.

There's some really good extensive dialogue even - probably the longest ever, without intermittent casualties. The high tech gadgetry is there, but lacking resourceful Q, it is kept in the background, as is the unusually discreet product placement. Amazingly, the hallmark Bond tune is entirely absent, which is only logical, seeing how Casino Royale is about the making of James Bond as a Double-0 agent.

Switzerland features fairly prominently, as it often does in Bond movies. Some of the great scenery is probably shot in southern Switzerland, and there's Mr Mendel, a somewhat featherbrained Swiss banker with his suitcased account remote control. But I shouldn't forget Mr Mendel's employer, Basle Bank! I say, may home town makes the new Bond! Too bad there is no such bank.

Casino Royale is worth seeing. Sean Connery is definitely last century.

P.S. Watch this interview with former CIA director James Woolsey. Its takeaway: The better you are at what you do, the less people know about it.

Labels:

October 22, 2006

Tante H�nsi

Tonight I went to see Tante H�nsi, a contemporary musical theatre (not to be mistaken for a musical) about Swiss death rituals. This is an amazing piece of tension between past & present, rural & urban as well as life & death, no less. The music oscillates between contemporary music performed by two fine voices, a countertenor and a mezzo soprano, and yodeling, which creates a very unusual atmosphere indeed. The texts are mostly in Swiss German, but there is a booklet with a German "translation". Hurry if you want to see it - there's only two more performances here, then they will go to Mexico & Berlin.

Labels:

May 29, 2005

Sanity quants

"However far you may travel in this world,
you will still occupy the same volume of space.

Traditional Ur-Bororo saying."

It's been in the making for quite a long time, but I finally finished The Quantity Theory of Insanity by Will Self. It is a bizarre book with an underpinning of radically absurd wit. Imagine a combination of The Sixth Sense, Six feet under and The Flying Circus and you get the beginning of it - literally (I am talking about the first story)! The book's format is a collection of six apparently unrelated short stories: The North London Book of the Dead, Ward 9, Understanding the Ur-Bororo, The Quantity Theory of Insanity, Mono-Cellular and finally Waiting. But on closer inspection, you'll notice that each story is cleverly linked with others by means of some peripheral character. For a good review & summary, check this - I personally just loved the Ur-Bororo story. Oh, and Waiting with the permanent suspension between immanence & imminence!

Which leads me to a quick parenthetical note: I do not want to boast my vocabulary, but it doesn't happen often in non-technical literature that I have to use the�dictionary. Not so in this case! Maybe that has something to do with the fact that Self occasionally uses technical jargon, particularly when the subject matter is anthropology, or psychiatry, as in the namesake story where he actually develops said quantity theory, complete with footnotes and bibliography ("Hurst, P., 'Nailbiting in Bournemouth versus Bed-Wetting in Poole: Action and Amelioration', Journal of Psychology, March, 1976") And it comes across incredibly ... credibly! It's just too bad that the frequently quoted British Journal of Ephemera (BJE) does not appear to exist in this world - I'd be an avid reader!

The quantity theory itself is obviously true (please abstain from applying Popper to this one): There is only a limited amount of sanity in any given social grouping. Hence a decay in the mental health of one member actually increases other members' sanity. Read it to believe it - and have a swell time in the process!!

P.S. The uncharacteristically high density of exclamation marks in this post correlates closely with how much I like the book.

Labels: ,

January 29, 2005

The Art of Travel on TV

I just watched The Art of Travel in a BBC Channel 4 program by Seneca Productions, which looks a bit like a de Botton family enterprise. Thank you, Joel for recording & sending me the DVD!

The one hour TV documentary is a witty, carefully observing executive summary of the book, but with a twist. Of course, the book is much deeper and even more interesting - but given that you certainly spend a couple of hours more on reading than watching the program, that's not really surprising. Maybe there's a bit of an objective explanation for the often perceived better quality of books vs. their film version?

But that's a tangent again. The TV version of The Art captures the key tenet of the book very well, namely that happiness is not a condition we can find in distant places, but inside of ourselves. This is demonstrated nicely by way of examples such as the elderly lady who decided to spend the rest of her days on board of QE2, the couple that spends their vacations hunting down WWII bunkers, the German swinger hotel (yes, really!), or by relieving Japanese tourists of their cameras and asking them to draw a church spire instead (incidentally, they performed splendidly!). Throughout all this, you hear the author's calm narrative, combined with an astute camera eye catching many small details, which often times are embarrassing or self-ironic, but always full of civility. Highly recommended.

Labels:

December 15, 2004

Incredible!

Just back from watching The Incredibles with T. This is really incredibly good entertainment - you don't want to miss it! I am still having trouble wiping the big smile off of my face that the movie has put there, but that may have something to do with riding the bicycle home through a freezing night ...

Anyways, it's like a cartoon James Bond, but with super heroes and a not so super villain. Great soundtrack, very Bond like. The characters are just perfectly drawn, and no, I am not talking about technical issues. If you've enjoyed Ice Age, you will like this one even better. Go see it!

And don't miss the neat programme picture with the bouncing lamb, although you might initially think you're in the wrong theater (it's Disney after all). Thank you, Pixar!

Also, I am kinda looking forward to this film: The Ring Thing. Spot on! It is a persiflage on the Trinity of The Lord of the Rings - and it's coming from Switzerland. That's not much of a recommendation for comedy, I know, but we'll see. Stay tuned.

Labels:

December 08, 2004

Well off blogging objects

Remember my review of Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel? I was quite surprised to read in the current edition of BILANZ that the de Botton family is part of the 300 richest people in Switzerland, worth some CHF 500 to 600 million. Here's the article excerpt:

Familie Alain de Botton
Grossbritannien
Finanzgesch�fte, Literatur
500?600 Millionen

Der 35-j�hrige Schweizer Erfolgsautor Alain de Botton scheint auf Literaturpreise abonniert zu sein; j�ngst wurde er f�r sein siebtes Buch, �Die Kunst des Reisens�, mit dem Prix europ�en de l?essai Charles Veillon ausgezeichnet. Die Verkaufszahlen seiner Bestseller h�tten l�ngst f�r ein Leben in aller Annehmlichkeit gereicht, doch verglichen mit dem Familienverm�gen, sind die Eink�nfte aus dem Buchverkauf ein Taschengeld. Sein Vater Gilbert de Botton, der f�r die Bankierfamilie Rothschild arbeitete, hat 1983 die Finanzgesellschaft Global Asset Management (GAM) gegr�ndet. Vier Jahre sp�ter heiratete er in zweiter Ehe Janet Wolfson, die zw�lftreichste Engl�nderin. Wolfson ist Erbin der Great Universal Stores und erfolgreiche Kunsth�ndlerin. Zusammen mit ihrem Mann trug sie massgeblich zur Gr�ndung der Tate Modern Gallery in London bei. 2000 verkaufte Gilbert de Botton die GAM f�r 600 Millionen Dollar an die UBS, ein Jahr sp�ter starb er. Alain und seine �ltere Schwester Miel verf�gen also �ber ein komfortables Finanzpolster. Der Autor kann sich in seinem Zuhause in Chelsea voll auf seine B�cher konzentrieren.


But topping off everybody is somebody else who may be of interest to some readers of my blog: Ingvar Kamprad with 15 to 16 billion Swissies. Who is Ingvar Kamprad? He is of course the founder of IKEA. Again, here's the article about him:

Ingvar Kamprad
M�belhandel, Finanzgesch�fte
15?16 Milliarden

Patriotische Gef�hle m�ssen schwedischen Wirtschaftsjournalisten der Wochenzeitung �Vekans Affarer� den Blick getr�bt haben, als sie unl�ngst am Imperium des Ikea-M�belmagnaten Ingvar Kamprad Mass nahmen. Die Redaktoren kamen zu einem unglaublichen Ergebnis: Auf 400 Milliarden schwedische Kronen oder umgerechnet 53 Milliarden Dollar taxierten die Rechenk�nstler das Kamprad-Verm�gen und damit h�her als den Besitz des gemeinhin als reichster Erdenb�rger geltenden Microsoft-Gr�nders Bill Gates. Der 78-j�hrige Wahlwaadtl�nder selbst stellt sich hingegen gern als verm�genslos dar ? oder zumindest fast. Seiner Stichting Ingka Foundation in den Niederlanden will er all seine Habe geschenkt haben.

Die Wahrheit liegt in der Mitte. Wie die Kapitalstr�me innerhalb des Ikea-Konzerns fliessen, wo zum Beispiel die Lizenzgeb�hren aus dem Verkaufsgesch�ft mit mehr als 19 Milliarden Franken Umsatz eingelagert werden und was das stetig aufgestockte Immobilienverm�gen abwirft, wissen neben dem Konzernarchitekten Kamprad nur wenige Geheimnistr�ger. Die milliardenschwere Ikano Group der Familie mit ihren Banken und Versicherungen in Skandinavien und mehr als 250 000 Quadratmetern Verkaufs- und B�rofl�chen taucht nicht im Schaubild auf, das Kamprads kultivierte Armut beweisen soll.

Das Ikea-Kerngesch�ft dreht gleichfalls unver�ndert hochtourig. Bei der Er�ffnung neuer M�rkte l�sst sich der Patriarch jetzt auch von Ehefrau Margareta Kamprad vertreten, der Mutter seiner drei S�hne Peter (40), Jonas (37) und Mathias (35). An der Nachfolgeregelung, wer ihm aus dem Erbentrio als Primus inter Pares folgen wird, bastelt der Senior noch immer. War es zun�chst der Erstgeborene, dr�ngt nun Nesth�kchen Mathias ins Rampenlicht. Kamprads J�ngster r�ckte gerade zum Ikea-Landeschef in D�nemark auf.

Labels:

December 02, 2004

Thunderbolt

I forgot to mention in my previous post: I am home again, having returned safely from a short trip to NYC, where they keep overdoing it with their star spangled banners, cf:

As usually, it was fun, even though the second day's walking through the city got to me. But there's a story to it!

I was booked on Swiss flight 19 from Newark to Z�rich, leaving on 2205h on Tuesday night to arrive at 1130h on Wednesday. I was expected to speak at a conference in Zurich at 1600h on Wednesday, so I took an upgrade from business to 1st class. Fortunately, I can say now. Because the flight was delayed substantially! It already started in the afternoon when I first received a text message and afterwards a phone call notifying the bad news. Fair enough, so there was a bit more time to kill in NY - not a bad thing, although it still was too early for the shows. It only dawned on me later that it was bad because the arrival lounge in Z�rich where I intended to freshen up for the presentation closed at noon - too early for a late arrival! So I created a bit of a ruckus at Newark check in, letting it be known in no uncertain terms that I expected 1st class service. And surprisingly, I got it! Upon arrival in Z�rich, I was welcomed by a VIP staffer who whisked me past everybody in one of those shuttle things and escorted me to the 1st class lounge where I could leisurely prepare for the presentation, which went by in a breeze. Good times - thank you, Swiss! The only letdown was the lounge at Newark (a Delta Crown Room), which is distinctly dingy if you compare it to Swiss' 1st class lounge at JFK.

Later that night, the distinct lack of sleep became overpowering and I was soon dead to the world. And if you wonder what the heck the title is about: We're just having a heavy winter thunderstorm with lightning and the full Monty!

Labels: ,

October 23, 2004

Gentlemen's Night Out

Tonight, two friends and I realised an age old project, which was to go to Stucki for a really extensive Dinner. Like last time, it was delicious and as we know, true mastership lies in continuity.

Here's a couple of pictures, made with the new rasor. The first one btw is one of Patrick Zimmermann's incredible dessert creations - almost too decorative to destroy (i.e. eat), but then it would be a sin to let it go to waste. What to do?!?

Labels:

September 07, 2004

The Art of Travel

You will be wondering why I haven't spared Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel for the imminent trip, since this appears to be the quintessential travelling companion. Having finished it now, I assure you it is not! As a matter of fact, it is the ideal book to read before taking off to distant places. Here is the final paragraph which sums up rather nicely:

"We meet people who have crossed deserts, floated on icecaps and cut their way through jungles - and yet in whose souls we would search in vain for evidence of what they have witnessed. Dressed in pink and blue pyjamas, satisfied within the confines of his own bedroom, Xavier de Maistre was gently nudging us to try, before taking off for distant hemispheres, to notice what we have already seen."

De Botton's book is a wonderfully unhurried eye opener towards today's high speed, long distance frenzy. Its classical style and execution in five sections (Departure, Motives, Landscape, Art, Return) together with its lavish accoutrement (I have the first edition) makes it splendid reading for the discerning armchair traveller with an occasional spike in his airmailairmiles account. About which he may feel uncomfortable when reading about John Ruskin's travelling habit of never making more than fifty miles a day ...

Labels: ,

June 24, 2004

Tutanchamun

Yesterday, I finally managed to see the Tutanchamun exhibition I mentioned earlier. It is impressive all right, although the circumstances didn't quite live up to my (very high) expectations. One particularly annoying point of criticism concerns the exhibition's website, of all things. Being a Mac user on Safari, the webshop doesn't work at all and only returns some unintelligible error messages. Using Internet Explorer you will get to a very cluttered webshop the sole purpose of which supposedly is to sell tickets. Simple, you think? Not there. One should think that UBS, the event sponsor, can do better than that.

Anyway, the EXHIBITION.

There were two impressions that hit me quite strongly.

First was the realisation how beautiful those objects are. Even though they have been made some five thousand years ago, they still stroke me as almost contemporary in their classical (that's definitely the wrong term, but I don't have a better one) design. Just amazing.

The second impression was a bit more subtle and might easily get lost in the multilingual clutter of guides and visitors. It is the distant whisper of power absolute, which those objects must have represented to their contemporaries. And now, disinterested high school kids are making merry around the Great Pharaoh's sarcophagus ... very much reminds me of Shelley's Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Labels: