Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Now I don't want you to get the idea that this was an easy meal - anything but!
In fact, it was well on for midnight at the point it was served and it was so scrumptious that I dipped into the bowl afterwards whenever Welshcakes wan't looking. The salad was also scrummy and I forgot to mention the pasta butterflies which preceded the course you see in the photo.
All of which brings me to this evening's thought for the day:
A tavola si dimenticano i triboli.
While you sort that one out, we're off to dine again ...
(another guest post by Harry Haddock. I am assuming James still wants these?)
Ok, so you've fallen in love with Hugh Farnley-Fartypants, and wish to retreat to a rural idyll to raise your own vegetables, rear your own organic, free range meat and
grow dope in your greenhouse hope for a better environment for your kids. Jolly good. However, may this country boy, who grew up on a small farm, offer a word of advice?
That word is sheep, and the advice is don't.
I'm sure you are all familiar with the concept of the food chain. You know, stuff at the bottom gets eaten, and we sit at the top getting tubby. However, you are probably unaware that there is also natures intellectual ladder as well. Yes, you've guessed it. At the bottom are single cell organisms who don't even have the capacity to react to their surroundings, and at the top is me, handing out superb advice such as this. As you are all discerning readers, you are probably just a couple of rungs down, gazing up admiringly (which is why I could never wear a Beckham style skirt. I'm far too bashful). Somewhere in the middle are the contestants who make fools of themselves on Big Brother (a new series of which, I understand, is starting soon, consigning me to my study to mumble about how I should be world dictator). Just below them are the people who watch the show and vote. So, you get the general picture.
What you need to understand is that all farm animals fit somewhere on this ladder. At the top, undoubtedly, would be pigs. They are a marvel; more intelligent than most cats and dogs. Well, stupid ones, anyway. Goats are fairly amusing; cows are very dim, I'm afraid. And don't get me started on ducks and geese. Chickens are saved from condemnation by their generally amusing nature and ability to be excellent mothers to un-hatched eggs, which is lucky for the ducks, who have all the maternal instincts of some of todays sink estate mothers. All in all, if you get the balance right, you should all be able to rub along together quite nicely, and your freezer will be the culinary treasure trove it should be.
But please, think thee not of sheep.
You see sheep are the earth's most stupid creatures. Some breeds are worse than others, but they are all a fairly intellectually challenged bunch. I had the pleasure of growing up with a pedigree flock of Lincoln Longwool sheep, who are the worlds most stupid sheep, and would like to take this opportunity to clear your mind of any Ovis aries husbandry with a few examples.
Let us begin with moving sheep. When a field of grass has been munched by our woollen friends, they will let you know it is time to be moved to pastures fresh. They will achieve this by all standing at the gate (usually the wrong gate) and bleating constantly. Passing townies spending a day in the countryside will be so alarmed by this pathetic, ear splitting din that they will assume you are guilty of animal cruelty, and will report you to the RSPCA. You will then enter the field, and drive them up to the correct gate, that you will start to open. This will alarm the sheep, and just enough of them to be annoying will break from the flock and run around the field making an even more pathetic sounding din, at which point a second car load of townies (this time militant vegans) will pass by, and upon hearing the racket, will assume you are slaughtering them all with meat cleavers. They won't report you to the RSPCA, but will return later to firebomb your farmhouse instead.
Eventually, you will herd all but one of the sheep into the adjacent field, with its promise of acres of lush, fresh grass. Except the 'lead sheep' will stop, as soon as his tippy tappy feet touch the new grass, to have a bit of a munch, thus holding up the whole shooting match. A bit of shoving from behind will eventually cause the sheep to spill into the new field, but too slowly for the one remaining sheep, who will panic upon seeing his mates at the other side of the fence. Instead of following them through the gate, this sheep will emit a third, panicked bleat, while he follows the flock down the wrong side of the fence until fear really sets in. Despite the calm reassurance of yourself and your helpers, this sheep will throw itself at the fence, in an agonising attempt to do that which it has never achieved before; too pass through solid objects. At this point, you will catch the sheep (putting your back out), and gently guide it to the gate, and its colleagues. It will run away indignantly, as if you were the idiot.
Thinking you ordeal is over, you will return for some well deserved tea. After putting the remaining animals to bed, a process that will involve no repeat of the afternoons fuss, because all of your other animals aren't as stupid as sheep. Did I mention that sheep were stupid? You see, you have a kind of unspoken deal with the other animals ~ 'I'm going to feed you now', 'Oh, good, we'll turn in for the night then', 'Sweet'.
Arising in the morning, you will look at the field where the sheep should be. Except, only about half of them will still be there. The other half, having spent their whole night looking enviously at the field they have just been moved from, will have escaped. Except the lambs will have escaped via a different route to their mothers. The whole farm will now echo to more wailing and bleating. You will repeat yesterdays farce to get them all back together.
You then realise that you have to go into town for something. The sheep will pick up on your general sense of apprehension at this news. They will stand and watch your land rover disappear from the end of the drive. About six of them will drop dead at this point, for no good reason ~ usually because the wind has changed direction,or something. About another six will introduce you to an essential design flaw in many breeds of sheep ~ if they roll onto their backs, with their legs in the air, they can't get back up, and also die unless rescued. This doesn't stop them doing it, again, and again, and again, and always when you have just left for they day. Often, they will wait until they have an audience, usually a third car load of townies, who will report you to DEFRA, or Bill Oddie, or someone.
The remainder of your sheep will then get foot rot. Instantly. Without warning. They will hobble around like they have been forced to play football with Nobby Styles, until you return and have to deal with it by cutting out the infected part of the foot, applying disinfectant spray (which, in your old age, will turn out to be harmless for sheep, but will give you some horrid medical condition or other). All that is before you have to dag them (don't ask), dip them (ditto) and shear them (thank god for unemployed Aussies).
Seriously folks. Rural idyll if you must. Sheep ~ no.
It all started when Ironside contacted me to ask if I knew what had happened to The Three Aguidos forum. I replied that I didn't, because I had not progressed far enough through my daily reads to discover the server not found message yet. I only knew that there had been an internal row with the administrators over whether a particular poster should be banned. I didn't know whether this led to the plug being pulled. Later, a story circulated that there had been a serious fire at the building hosting the server.
In any event, I thought there would be hell of a lot of internet junkies looking for their fix and rattling on cold turkey. Internet Addiction Disorder is serious, don't you know? Therefore, on the spur of the moment, I decided I would set up a forum and provide shelter for all the waifs and strays. I Googled the question 'How do I set up a forum?', and the first result looked promising. However, the stupid thing kept telling me to use a genuine email address. Of course, I effed and blind at the thing shouting that it was genuine, all to no avail. So, I tried another and this one had no problem accepting my email address. I was up and running in minutes, later I realised I should have learnt to walk first, and announced on my two blogs (here and here) what the forum address is. Very shortly, the place was full of refugees from the 3As forum.
For most it was a port in a storm. However, there were a few very vociferous ones screaming axe-murderer this, that, and the other. And trading insults with each other. I had to delete comments, lock a thread down, warn a few, and banned others. Some left because they found the insults too shocking. Luckily, I have a thick skin. But, I just wish those who sling mud got it right in the first place. Axe-killer or axe-manslaugterer, to be precise. As some pointed out, it's no secret and the info is on my blog, at least I was open and honest whereas how many of those who keep their identity secret on-line have skeletons in their closet?
The stats on both my blogs went through the roof for a couple of days, and there were dozens of posts and thousands of views and hundreds of comments on the forum. I needed to split the first category into sections. Er? I didn't know how to do it. I phoned a blogging mate who has ME, and me with my AS, and we stumbled and bumbled around in the admin section for hours trying to sort it. He tired first around midnight, I poured a whisky and made a spliff and carried on trying to figure it all out. I was reading the bold print and knew it was important, it was stating that I had to allow permissions. But, how? Then I read on a bit and there it was. More info in the manual click here. That was the piece of the jigsaw puzzle I was looking for.
Then the anti-climax. This morning the flock had all gone. I checked to see whether the 3As was up and running again. It was. Relief and yet at the same time disappointment. I had not been king for a day, but for about 3 days. We are a community out there in cyber-space. Its supply and demand. As one drug dealer gets busted by the police another starts to deal, and the junkies are happy. How long I could have maintained the supply I don't know. But, I do feel as though for awhile I was providing a public service.
Monday, June 02, 2008
Ragusa, courtesy Italy Visits
1. Cicero described Siracusa as the greatest and most beautiful city of all Ancient Greece - on which island is it situated?
2. After the Expedition of the Thousand led by Giuseppe Garibaldi, which island became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860 as part of the risorgimento?
3. The island which owes its reputation as an isle of lemons to the Arabs is ...?
4. The seven Aeolian islands are near to which large Italian island?
5. The 1959 nobel prizewinner for literature, Salvatore Quasimodo, came from which island?
Sorry but when I read this it was during a nice elevenses on a quiet Day of the Republic in Sicily and nauseated would be a mild adjective. I look at the above pic and two things spring to mind:
1] Was I any better during my drunken youth?2] Could anyone make love to one of those?
Allow me to go further - when the parents and teachers say, 'Oh there's nothing I can do with them anymore,' I am moved to reply, 'Well why don't you just make sure they get home at a reasonable hour, insert the word 'no' in your vocabulary and into their understanding?'
Kids need limits, parameters, generous parameters with a heap of compassion but parameters nonetheless. Parents and teachers need backbones.
Last evening we went down to the local Festa for the Day of the Republic and there were kids everywhere on motorbikes, running around, being cool, making out and so on and that was that. On the hamburger stall were two Catholic icons and everyone was cheerful in a 'mindful' way.
Three nights ago I was coming back home here along an unlit street when a bunch of thuggish youths appeared through the gloom. 'Oh dear,' I thought but not in those words, 'oh well, it was a good life while it lasted.' Thoughts of the BBC news of the two who were shopped by their mother for blinding a man - these thoughts flashed across the mind at that point.
I stepped to one side and as they came at me, one said Grazie and another Buona Sera. They all smiled and continued their argument further along the road. I continued along the road in the other direction, puzzled.
Wonder what would have happened in Britain or Berlin under the same circumstances? Meanwhile, this:
A bizarre six-month standoff came to an end in May, when the last few members of a Russian doomsday cult that had holed themselves up in a cave awaiting the end of the world finally gave themselves up. The cultists had threatened to blow themselves up using gas canisters if the authorities tried to remove them, but during the siege two women had died and the resulting stench eventually drove the remaining holdouts from their lair. The cult leader himself, Pyotr Kuznetsov, had chosen to direct operations from the rather more comfortable environment of a nearby house, before being hospitalised last month after attempting suicide by bashing his head repeatedly against a log. He is currently in a local mental hospital, his condition described as “stable”.
There are plentiful examples of colourful cults from around the world, many of which are harmless (my own favourite hails from the tiny island of Tanna in the South Pacific, whose inhabitants worship our very own Prince Philip as a deity), but in the European media, talks of “cults” normally centres around infamous American examples, from Jonestown through the Branch Davidians to the recent scandal surrounding the Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas. Yet there is little doubt that, when it comes to fringe beliefs, Russia is the market leader.
Depending on who you ask, there are anywhere between 600,000 and a million Russians in the thousands of sects or cults that have sprung up in the country over the last decade in particular. Most of these, like Pyotr Kuznetsov’s True Russian Orthodox Church, have obvious roots in the established state religion. Others are more esoteric, from the Georgian mystic in Lithuania, Lena Lolisvili, who prays to God to energize toilet paper that she then wraps around her patients to “heal” them, to Grigory Grabovoi’s “DRUGG” [“friend”] Party, which claimed to be able to resurrect the children killed in the Beslan massacre – for a fee, naturally.
Grabovoi’s audacious tilt at the Russian presidency had to be shelved, sadly, when he was imprisoned for fraud, which was a shame; his first act upon assuming the reins of power would have been to "immediately issue a law prohibiting to die", which I would have liked to see. But the overlap between charlatanism and politics remains; a small group in Novgorod who style themselves the “Rus’ Resurrecting” sect worship an icon of Vladimir Putin. "We didn't choose Putin," Mother Fontinya told Moskovsky Komsomolets. "It was when Yeltsin was naming him as his successor [during a live New Year's Eve TV broadcast in 1999]. My soul exploded with joy! 'An ubermensch! God himself has chosen him!'" I cried. "Yeltsin was the destroyer, and God replaced him with his creation". Well, I guess he got her vote.
Perhaps the most famous of Russia’s many current Messiahs is Sergei Torop, aka “Vissarion”, a former traffic cop who experienced a spiritual awakening in 1990 and promptly set up a self-sustaining community on a remote mountain in the Siberian wilderness. Now known as – what else? – the “Jesus of Siberia” [for whom, as the photo at the top demonstrates, he is, in fairness, a dead ringer], Vissarion’s network of communes is thousands strong, and the holy one claims up to 100,000 followers worldwide. His “gospel” is at once wildly idiosyncratic yet pretty typical of Russian sects; a fusion of classical Orthodox doctrine and Eastern mysticism, with a hefty sprinkling of environmentalism and New Age nonsense thrown in for good measure. And the man himself is modest but firm when asked whether he is indeed the second coming of, you know, the big guy himself: "It's all very complicated,” he told a Guardian reporter who went to interview him, “but to keep things simple, yes, I am Jesus Christ.”
Vissarion is slightly unusual, in that he does not seem to be fleecing his adherents for every rouble he can get. Salvation, in Russia as elsewhere, rarely comes cheap; many cults demand hefty tithes of their adherents’ incomes, and some are patently nothing more than scams. But that’s not to say there’s nothing in it for the Jesus of Siberia:
"[My wife] was the one woman who would open the whole world of women to me," he says. "Through her, I knew I could understand all women; what women's weaknesses are. There are now lots of women in love with me... For me, all people are equally close and I carry large responsibility for them all. So it is, I need to be free. My wife is now learning how correctly to see and regard me, to understand she's not the only woman in my life. There are a thousand others!"
He may be the Messiah, then, but he’s also a very naughty boy.
Russia’s Vissarions only thrive, though, because there is a burgeoning market for the snake oil he offers. The fall of the Iron Curtain saw Russians assailed by change from all sides; the drab homogeneity of the country’s streets and media quickly became a riot of advertising and information overload, a whirlwind of new products and services competing for the citizens’ attention, and their money. In those chaotic Yeltsin years, kooky sects hardly stuck out as they might do in a more settled society; combined with a general rise in religious observance, it is perhaps unsurprising that not all the spiritual answers on offer in the new Russia are entirely sane. And, predictably, a lot of the blame falls on foreign influences; as the chairman of the Russian Union of Writers puts it, "Russia is cloning the cells of immorality that it grasped from Western culture".
For a long time, Russian authorities have adopted a relaxed attitude towards these groups. Their main response, in typical Russian fashion, has been a bureaucratic one; all religions are required to register with the Ministry of Justice, but sanctions for failing to do so are unevenly enforced. The principal opposition to this explosion in religious diversity, predictably enough, is the Russian Orthodox Church, who fire off angry press releases attacking Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists and help to organise seminars with catchy titles like “Totalitarian Sects as Weapons of Mass Destruction”.
It’s easy to mock the self-interested nature of the Church’s warnings, and charismatic loons like Vissarion always make good copy. But one does not have to be a student of doomsday cults to grasp the problem these sects pose, and the scale on which vulnerable people are – potentially – being abused, not just financially but psychologically and, probably, sexually. As the recently discovered letters of Jim Jones follower Phyllis Alexander to her parents demonstrate with chilling clarity, the complete physical and mental submission that comes with cult membership often bears a heavy price. It will come as no surprise if the next Jonestown takes place in the icy wastes of Siberia.
A version of this post previously appeared in Jewcy magazine.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
It's looking a little neglected over here at Nourishing Obscurity where there are usually at least four or five posts a day. I don't know what happened to ...
Well no, actually - the bus stop for the return bus is cunningly disguised in a shoebox over by another Terminal about 500 metres away and they further disguise its presence by surrounding it with 24 coming and going buses of a similar nature. No matter - I found it by asking the Carabinieri officer, to his surprise and jumped on.
The engine went dead. Yes it did.
Double-decker airconditioned coach with padded seats and it went dead. They tired, the other bus drivers tried, they all tried horn hooting, shouting and gesticulating but the bus was unmoved. For 30 minutes. For 60. For 70.
The mechanic came and tried many clever things before getting into the cabin, looking one moment and kicking the engine cover.
The bus now on the move south into the setting sun, the olive and burnt sienna countryside with the picturesque little stone houses and terracotta roofs perched on craggy outcrops, the romantic Italian crooners through the sound system, the water run-off from the airconditioning dripping in time onto the back seat, we cruised at a leisurely 80 kph back to Modica Bassa, the lower old town where everything happens.
Silly me - knackered from the walk so far on the flat, I called in on Anita's cafe which has one main feature apart from the cuisine - it is situated down an arcade which then turns at the end at right angles and the 'bay' has tables and chairs. Good, I thought, as I shook hands with the proprietors, decent salad in peace.
I asked for a small salad, which doesn't compute in the Sicilian brain and so she brought me a bowl twice the size [30cm across and 15cm deep] ... half full. Then it was up the hill to a Welshcakes' welcome and you really need to be here to fully appreciate these.
Little did I suspect what would happen and since I've run out of room here, this is continued at Welshcakes ...
This is a typical Welshcakes welcome:
Walter de la Mare
When all, and birds, and creeping beasts,
When the dark of night is deep,
From the moving wonder of their lives
Commit themselves to sleep.
Without a thought, or fear, they shut
The narrow gates of sense;
Heedless and quiet, in slumber turn
Their strength to impotence.
The transient strangeness of the earth
Their spirits no more see:
Within a silent gloom withdrawn,
They slumber in secrecy.
Two worlds they have--a globe forgot,
Wheeling from dark to light;
And all the enchanted realm of dream
That burgeons out of night.