26 January 2011

It’s the principality of the thing.

From Nice airport we boarded a bus with ‘Versace’ emblazoned in massive lettering along the side. Bringing to mind the world of haute couture, it just happened to be the name of the family who had  a bus company.  Actually I saw a lot of businesses with Italian names while in that area.
Driving from Nice to Monaco, we seemed to be very high up in the mountains. The landscape was steep and arid, with the houses and tufts of vegetation jutting out at improbable angles. The trees didn’t so much grow upwards as lean forwards. The houses seemed to be constructed vertically against patches of bare rock.
We came to a town, and I noticed a lot of the signposts were relating to Monaco and Monte Carlo. There had been no border check that I was aware of but, here we were – already.  Maybe there had been a sign and I’d missed it.  The rusty landscape changed shade to a more cultivated terracotta. Every wall and every building was a shade of yellow, brown or orange. As I looked around at all the peaches, browns and lemons, I felt as if somebody had turned down the blue.
And that was Monaco. Local businesses displayed photographs of the royal family, the marina was full of impossibly luxurious yachts and the cars were all new and shiny. Oh - and one of the shops in the town had a diamond-studded Kalashnikov in the window.  Apart from that, though, the whole state consists, more or less, of a seaside town. And like all seaside towns, it’s a bit over-priced.

14 January 2011

Love-Hate Relationship (LHR)

I’ve been through Heathrow quite a bit recently, and I’m reminded of my mixed feelings towards it.

On one hand, it fills me with excitement and anticipation. If I were merely going to the UK or Europe I’d probably arrive in a different airport. LHR, for me, means transatlantic journeys like Hong Kong, Canada or Dubai. And each time I arrive I never fail to be impressed by the Indian (or are they Pakistani?) people there, especially the men in their turbans. It’s as if the very employees are teasing me with a hint of the exotic destinations on offer. As an Irish person I wonder how they feel about the British Empire. It doesn't seem that any of the former colonies are quite as disgruntled as the Irish, and some of them even managed to drift away without any bloody revolutions.

On the other hand, the airport itself is bleak and, frankly, unpleasant. The process of changing terminals inevitably involves a bus-tour of a construction site. Out the window, the grounds of the airport are like a vast wasteland, sprawling out for miles. The fences enclosing the works even have circles of barbed wire across the top of them to keep us on our route. At one point I remember thinking this was a temporary situation but now the building has been going on as long as I remember, so aside from all the dust and concrete, there’s a sense of hopelessness about the place. Nothing will be finished. Ever.

Even once you get indoors this sense of timelessness persists as the lighting is identical twenty-four hours a day. Or night. It’s like a limbo unaffected by weather or time-zones. The slate and steel surfaces are slightly worn from regular brushing and polishing but nothing ever closes, the queues just get longer or shorter. When travelling alone it can be especially eerie, walking along remote corridors, following signs that lead you up and down deserted escalators, into the depths of the building (or have I traversed some walkway into an adjoining building?) only to find a bored looking individual asking you to stand on a worn ‘x’ taped to the floor and look into a camera. At that moment the bleary-eyed, bewildered passenger is immortalized on film for the purposes of a security check at the other end of some queue or other.

If I were one of the staff I would amuse myself in the quiet hours by browsing these portraits of human misery. I would love to see a compilation of the expressions on the people who find themselves standing before the cameras, having trudged around lugging carry-on baggage and duty-free around the maze with them. I remember seeing a piece in an exhibition once where the artist had compiled some stills from pornographic films that showed women’s faces in the moment of orgasm. I imagined instead using the gormless, slightly irritated faces of my fellow passengers. As I was called to approach the camera this contrast was still in my mind. I suspect my photo has a little smile in it.

07 January 2011

Dies Irae

There’s something about ‘Women’s Little Christmas’ that gives me the creeps. Maybe it’s the fact that by acknowledging such a thing exists, you are admitting that ‘Christmas’ is not for women. Perhaps it’s the ridiculous and out-dated notion that a woman’s role is to spend the holiday season working so that it can be enjoyed by their husbands and families. It could be the sneaking suspicion that for many people this is still a reality no matter how we might pretend that it’s a quaint throwback to a different era. Or it just might be the fact that I am a stranger to kitchens - the idea that I should get a second (albeit lesser) holiday to make up for all the apron-wearing I did during the real one, seems a little bit bizarre.

So I was not too impressed when the boss in our company sent out an email saying that in honour of this, breakfast in the canteen would be free ‘for the ladies’. Those lazy layabout men-folk sure paid for their slobbish behaviour that day. Literally, while their female colleagues piled their plates high. I got on my moral high horse and made some more inroads into my trusty box of Special K. Did I do it out of solidarity with my male colleagues? Was it part of my ongoing grudge with the caterers? Nah, I was just getting in touch with my inner bra-burner.

New Culinary Me is still going strong though. I made pasta the night before with just enough left over for lunch. Glad that the whole breakfast incident was behind me, I cheerfully popped it in the microwave. Being quite hungry at this stage, I watched and waited while my lovely penne with roasted vegetable sauce warmed up. I even predicted when it would go ‘ding!’ and with a swift and graceful flick of my wrist I popped the microwave door open at that exact moment. The idea was for the door to be flung open with a flourish, allowing the herby tomatoey goodness to waft out.

No door opened. Instead there was a clicking sound that accompanied the joyful ‘ding’. It was that tight little clack of a mechanism saying ‘Nope.’. I had thought the opening of the door could be a collaborative effort between me and the microwave. Instead I had entered into a competitive situation from which there could be no winners.

Hoping vainly that there might be some knack, I asked the canteen staff for help. Once I received my shrug and and “I don’t know” response, I swooped over to the cutlery drawer in a gleeful rage and snatched a knife in my fist. Before long the microwave was unplugged and I was going at the edges of the door as if it were a tin of paint. Weak with hunger, I lacked the strength to force it but I enlisted the help of some colleagues and we found a swarthy hero to prise the door open by brute strength. The lock shattered and a little piece of it fell to the floor. My lunch was rescued! I delightedly seized my prize and ran off to devour it. For some reason it was more delicious than ever. Maybe it was the delayed gratification of eating it, or it could have been the satisfaction of having cooked it myself – or was it the excitement of smashing something open and destroying it? Yeah, I was just getting in touch with my inner bunny-boiler.

05 January 2011

Oh it’s on!

In the canteen at work the other day I noticed the choice was a bit meagre so I asked what the vegetarian option was.

“There’s no vegetarian option today because I’ve had to throw it out for the last two days since nobody bought it. There are vegetables there.”

So rather than apologising for the inconvenience, she actually blamed me for not buying all the food and sustaining her crappy meal options. The last chef seemed to manage it and I’m pretty sure he didn’t end up throwing all the food into the bin.

I looked at the vegetables. The sliced carrots were pale and dried out from the heat-lamp. They had started to curl up round the edges. And she wonders why nobody has been buying her food. So in the end I had some potatoes with a side order of ‘Henceforth I Shall Bring My Own Lunch!’

This coincindes nicely with the new year and the New Culinary Me. So far I have been showing off my great cooking skills and telling everyone about my new year’s resolution, which now has the added incentive of REVENGE. (Which is nice.)

However, this evening, while preparing tomorrow’s meal, I got confused between mililitres and centilitres, with disasterous consequences. New Culinary Me had to admit defeat and throw the whole soggy mess in the bin.

You might think that I’ll come crawling back now. You might think that in the morning I’ll be queuing up, Oliver-Twist-style, tray in hand at the hot food counter. “Please, sir! Can I have some more?”

Oh no I’m not beaten yet! There’s a box of special K at my desk and it’s got lunch-time written all over it. I’ll take mine with a liberal sprinkling of victory!

02 January 2011

Retail Therapy

I decided to start the new year by investing in some fabulous underwear. That way the year would get off to a fabulous start and no matter what the day may throw at me I would know that I had a little bit of fabulous on my person. (As you can see I have not resolved to increase my already-fabulous vocabulary.)

Off I prance in to town. Once in the shop I quickly select a few fancy pieces that would usually be too expensive but now gleam at me with their “50% off” tags. Strutting off into the changing rooms with my magnificent haul, I prepare to preen and admire myself in the full-length mirror. Happy New Year to moi! The sales assistant closes the heavy velvet curtain, saying she’ll call back in a few minutes.

I squeeze into a fabulously frilly lacy contraption. It ‘s definitely not the most comfortable. The sales assistant comes by and agrees. ‘Hmm not quite the right size, let me get you another one.’ Off she goes. She drops the other size in to me and will be back in a moment. ‘No problem’ I say thinking I’d just slip out of one and into another. I undo the clasp to slide the garment over my head. All of a sudden these enormous shoulders are sticking out, locking the thing in place. I can’t seem to get it past them without ripping it. There is no way I can hand this back with a tear in it and have her not notice. In fact she could come along at any moment and hear the rip crack through the air as I pull at it. The material is so delicate don’t know how I’m going to get it off.

The lace is scratchy and chafing. I start to panic but resist the temptation to yank at it, knowing it’ll get torn assunder if I do. I exhale and try to ease it over my chest and one shoulder. It gets wedged. I carefully edge it down again and try putting both arms up as straight as I can while trying to pull it up. I can feel the material tighten and the little stitches straining. Then I hear her voice outside asking how the new size is. “I’m just about to try it now” I call out, in a nice calm voice to assure her that I am about to burst incredible-hulk style out of the previous one first.

I pause for thought. Should I just give up and ask for help? How could a second pair of hands tugging at the thing make it less likely to rip? Would I still be liable if it did? There must be another way.

I consider all angles, and then I settle on my hips. Hmm, I’m not exactly an ‘hourglass’. There is no time to waste so I quickly start working it past them, milimetre by milimetre, until I finally manage to step triumphantly out of it. I heave a massive sigh of pride and relief and resume normal breathing.