Monthly Archive for December, 2004

In Utero

33 weeks

A Nativity Scene….for me to Poop on!?

CaganerApologies for borrowing the phrase that Triumph the Insult Comic Dog made famous, but it’s appropriate here. I came across this whacky custom that the Catalonian culture of Spain has during Christmas. Evidently, wherever there’s a Nativity scene on display, if you look hard enough, there’s a gnome-like figure called a Caganer somewhere in there, probably tucked away in the corner, that’s laying down a hot, steaming, spiralling poo. Mondo bizarro. The Catalans are a Christian culture and the figure in no way defames the scene, but supposedly is symbolic of fertility or fertilizing the earth during the Winter (for Spring harvest, I presume) and is therefor considered good luck. No one seems to know how this originated. There are even spinoffs of the traditional, red-hatted little guy like the one pictured here, including Salvadore Dali, soccer star Ronaldinho, and a sumo wrestler dude….all crouching and pooing. I was disappointed to not find an Elvis or alien-figure Caganer. I wonder if they sell these by the side of the road, like they do gnomes in Germany?

Cool new feature: CLICK HERE to Poop on this web page!

Oh Christmas Tree….

Christmas treeThe obligatory Christmas tree shot.

We bought this Norwegian Pine just over a week ago. It seems that space is limited at most gardening centers that sell trees here in the UK, so they’re already wrapped in plastic mesh. I suppose so they don’t take up as much room. You thus have to employ a little guesswork in choosing a good tree. The nursery guy told us all his trees were “low-needle drop”, so at least we had that going for us.

We brought it home, set it up and were very pleased at how it looked. Fairly symmetrical, good height, and full bodied, albeit a little thin on top. Most unfortunate though – it’s dropping needles like there’s no tomorrow and should be naked by New Years eve.

Life of Pi

Life of PiThis may become a modern classic. Life of Pi is a beautifully written story about a young Indian boy who is a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim. He finds himself floating on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, and a 450 pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. No, it’s not a nicey-nice Disney adventure where the animals all talk and love the humans. It gets bloody, gruesome, and harrowing along the way and a bit dark in the end. Life of Pi, when you sit back and reflect on it, holds much more meaning than it may first appear to. It’s a tragic story of survival and faith, wrapped around an adventure. A fable really. It’s very deserving of the Booker Prize that it won in 2002 (or is it? see later note on alleged plagiarism), void of the pretentiousness of some of the previous (and later) winners. The reader even learns some interesting concepts of zoology, zookeeping and animal training along the way.

Well-meaning but misinformed people think animals in the wild are “happy” because they are “free”….The life of the wild animal is simple, noble and meaningful they imagine. Then it is captured by wicked men and thrown into tiny jails. Its “happiness” is dashed. It yearns mightily for “freedom” and does all it can to escape. Being denied its “freedom” for too long, the animal becomes a shadow of itself, its spirit broken. So some people imagine.

This is not the way it is.

Animals in the wild lead lives of compulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in an environment where the supply of fear is high and the supply of food low and where territory must constantly be defended and parasites forever endured. What is the meaning of freedom in such a context?

I could read this book again, especially since there was an unexpected twist near the end that makes you rethink the entire novel. And the book may be even darker than I first realized as I came across some intruiging takes on some of the symbolism in it from online reviews.

I do agree with one point that a reviewer who panned it made. The author and marketers of the book (and a character in the book) claims it will “make you believe in God”. It’s a great novel and story, but I don’t think it will alter anyone’s belief system. They should have done without the hyperbole. The story doesn’t need it. And I must note that I loved it despite it being written by a Canadian (kidding). There was also some controversy surrounding whether the author, Yann Martel, may have “borrowed” some ideas for the story, from reading a review of another novel.

Look out for a film version, to be directed by the excellent M. Night Shyamalan. I would think it would be a difficult adaptation, but if anyone can make it work, Shyamalan can.

I’ve travelled the vast Pacific with Pi. Next, I’ll be travelling through Australia with Bill Bryson.

Food, Glorious Food

Wegmans. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Maybe I’m spoiled, but one of the things I miss by living abroad is the great variety of goods to select from in America. I’m visiting DC (actually in the Northern Virginia area) for a conference and someone recommended that we go to this Wegmans Food Market place for lunch. I’d describe it as a Whole Foods or a Sutton Place Gourmet on steroids. It’s massive – as big as a super Wal-Mart and is 85% grocery store, 15% prepared foods section. There’s a deli, pizza bar, wok buffet, awesome bakery, pasta bar, and even a sushi bar. The fresh fruit and veggie layouts are beautiful and they say the grocery prices are better than the area’s chains. A friend told me that on the day of its grand opening, there was gridlock on every road leading to it. And here’s the clincher: they’re open until midnight. Why everything in the UK closes at 5 or 6 still puzzles me. I’ve been back to Wegmans three times since that initial trip. Look for them to expand to your neighborhood soon. They’re just too good to stay regional.

Going Cornish

St Ives at High Tide
St Ives at Low Tide

AussieGirl and I spent a nice, long weekend travelling down to the southwest tip of England in the new wheels. I had never been to that part of the country and often heard how beautiful it was. We drove south from Cambridge, circled London to the west and then drove through the arm that points at the Atlantic Ocean. Final destination: the county of Cornwall, town of St Ives – a popular Summer vacation spot since it’s one of the few places in the UK with nice beaches. They actually surf there.

St Ives is intolerably crowded in Summer, so we thought we’d check it out in low season. It was nice, with unexpectedly clean and beautiful beaches. The tides fluctuate so much that you can walk across the harbor twice a day, but be twelve feet under water other parts of the day. That was a little strange.

As it was too cold and wet to don the swimming trunks, the highlight was just roaming the narrow streets and chowing down on Cornish pasties and local seafood. Once, while eating and admiring the ocean, a sea gull swooped down and almost stole my Beef and Stilton pasty right out of my hands. The thing came from behind me and I felt its claws brush the top of my head but I pulled the pasty down before the bastard bird could snatch it. Evidently not so rare an occurrence. Oh, and it being an artist community, there’s a branch of the Tate that we checked out. Cool gallery building, so-so contemporary art on exhibit.

While there, we stayed at a hotel with an interesting history. It was built not long after Columbus “discovered” America, was a prison, a brothel, and most significantly “the first Inn in Great Britain to sell Guinness”. Unfortunately, they didn’t sell it any more, but we visited the popular Sloop Inn pub on the wharf (circa 13th ceentury) and had a nice real ale.