Monday, 25 August 2008

Transmissions momentarily interrupted.

Just a line to inform the reader that this blog is not dying or anything only because over the next week I won't be posting a damn thing - it's just that I've got two job interviews in London and I've got to get my butt in that big city. Now it is well known that anyone who is in London cannot contribute to a blog. So I will not.

Just gonna be busy. I'd probably write more even in this temporary goodbye note, but my flatmate just called me telling me that he unexpectedly found a bag of weed in his room while we thought we'd both finished it all for good in last night's pre-London celebrations (which were a continuation of the previous night's, which in turn were a continuation of the previous night's... this blog's words are coming to me from a country as far away as sobriety). So I've got to go right now.

Take care you people. I'll be updating in just over a week's time, hopefully.

Friday, 22 August 2008

John Silver tries Sushi

A group of friends organised a trip to a Japanese restaurant to have some Sushi, and I was invited. I had never tried Sushi before; I'm not a huge fan of fish, and till then the idea of eating it raw had always made the blood run to my head. But this time I thought, why not? After all, if I could be converted to liking the Indian vegan dishes that my flatmate prepared, surely it was only a matter of prejudice on my side to believe that I wouldn't like Sushi. Well, I told myself, it was time to get rid of this prejudice, and have a new experience.

We decide to meet at 6.30 outside our college, but due to a tropical rainstorm which got lost on its way to the Amazon and mistakenly stumbled upon York instead, only to start running in circles around my flat throwing buckets of torrential downpour, we opt for a taxi. The group is, as usual, highly cosmopolitan: an Italian (me), a Swedish guy, an English girl, and a Japanese fellow who seems intent on perpetuating national stereotypes by lugging around a camera the size of a water storage tank and taking pictures of just about every motherfucking atom which passes under our eyes. Together, we all take the taxi.

We enter the restaurant and make our choices from the menu. Immediately I make a fool of myself because, you know, I snap my fingers at the waiter to get him to come over, and the English girl sitting next to me blushes like I'd thrown a spoon at him and screamed 'Oi!' Then, when I inquire as to the causes of her embarrassment, she looks down and says, 'you're supposed to clear your throat, not flick your fingers.' Oh, ah. Do you know that feeling when you really need a punching sack and a couple of baseball bats and a good half-hour? Yeah.

So the time comes to order. We all ask for Sushi, except for the Swede who goes for some kind of bowl of meat and noodles, because if he isn’t different he isn’t happy (he has a hairstyle like a jellyfish just died on his head, so you’d expect him to feel distinct enough already). The food is damn expensive too, thirteen pounds for the course. Some starters are brought along (raw meat, apparently the hobs aren't working in this restaurant's kitchen), then there's a void where nothing happens and we grow hungry.

After what seems like a very long wait, the Sushi is finally brought along and placed on our tables. I look at it: a cardboard rectangle containing an array of raw fish-chunks lobbed over blocky squares of rice, and some salad in the corner. I hadn't thought about it before coming here, but the sight of raw fish was really starting to get to my psyche now that I had it under my eyes. I was beginning to feel faintly ill. I took a whiff of the stuff and I was reminded of a fish-stall I used to see in sunny Agropoli when I was seven or eight, the odour of which was so potent that fifteen years later I still encounter it occasionally in my dreams.

'How exactly am I supposed to eat this?', I wondered, looking at the hunks before me. I mean, for one thing I've been at war with Japanese sticks almost since I was born (you wouldn't believe just how blitzed it drives me when one of them breaks; I could probably go skiing down a mountain with one foot while simultaneously shaving my nipples and eating a cup of cereal with a fork and I'd find the experience less infuriating). But aside from that, the blocks in front of me are friggin' huge. I'm gonna need a knife or something to cut them down.

I turn around to the English girl to see how she eats them and before I can even say a word she grabs this salmon-slab with the sticks and flings it into her mouth. Whole. Jesus Christ, I think to myself. 'Is that how you're supposed to eat it?', I ask her. 'Absolutely,' she promptly replies, and the Japanese guy confirms this for me. Oh, ah.

I look at the wedges on my plate. I take the sticks and, trying not to think too much, I lift up the first portion I find: a brick of raw octopus. I feel it immediately tremendous in my mouth. I chew the rice up and eat that, then I try swallowing the octopus. It goes to the back of my throat, and for some reason it must have found it the most comfortable place it had ever been lodged in, because it settles there like a snail in its shell and refuses to go anywhere else, either back or forth. For something like twenty seconds it does not move anywhere away from that single clogging spot where all the air or food or saliva is meant to pass. I start bobbing my tongue up and down in an effort to get the octopus into my stomach. The little rings that they have under their legs are rubbing coldly against the roof of my mouth. I'm borderline choking. It's like trying to swallow a bar of soap wrapped up in a cold condom. Eventually the octopus limb goes beyond the line of the tongue, and, with the slowness of an amber drop descending the bark of a tree, it rolls down my throat and into my stomach.

Deep breath.

I'm just about to wipe my sweaty forehead with a tissue when the English girl goes, 'try the flatfish Andrea' and she grabs it with her own sticks and catapults it into my mouth. A storm of cold shivers runs down my spine as the nefarious substance invades my tongue. I could swear for a second that I can feel it moving, it is still alive as I am eating it. Then it breaks against the teeth and follows the way of the octopus.

Re-read the above about twelve times, and you'll have an idea of what the rest of the meal was like. In an attempt to get done with it as fast as I can, I go through the subsequent portions in such a rush that I forget to cut the tails off the prawns, and thus discover that prawn-tails are the single most irritating thing it is humanly possible to have in one's mouth: they dance around your teeth and scrape your tongue, they drive you crazy, they forbid you from swallowing anything else while simultaneously refusing to find their way out of your mouth and in general they tend to do everything that is conceivable in the world of physics to get your head off your neck.

No dessert. The place was already expensive enough as it was.

I got home and went to sleep, and I had nightmares of giant fish eating me alive. The next day, when I had my cereal, I could swear the Coco Pops tasted of squid.

'Did you like the Sushi?', the English girl asked me the next day.
'Oh yes, I thought it was gorgeous.' Like drowning.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

John Silver follows the 2008 Olympics

I had been waiting with great excitement for these Olympics. The great female swimmers that Italy could boast, the raw spectacle that is Michael Phelps, the football tourny which for once appeared to be more than sixteen teams of illiterate adolescents arguing among each other when they're not arguing with their own coach... it was all shaping up to be an event for the ages.

I invite a friend to have a chess game with me and we go sit in the bar of our college so we can see the opening ceremony as well. We open the door to the bar: the Mongol invasion! Virtually all Chinese people living in a radius of 200 miles have reunited themselves in this bar, bringing along with them the Vietnamese, Thai, Koreans and so forth (not the Japanese, of course, because from what I know they get along like bitch-slaps with priests). Here's a chronicle by count of beer:

Beer 1: We take a seat and start playing our game.
Beer 2: I get my ass kicked so hard by my friend that I suggest he should join the Olympic long-jump team. And, also, go get fucked.
Beer 3: All the Chinese people stand up in unison so me and my friend stand up as well. Then the Chinese start singing their national anthem and me and my friend sit down in embarrassment as it becomes painfully clear that we do not know the words. (Nor are capable of simulating them - with no offence to the mandarins, but I'd sooner learn by heart the national anthem of the screamer monkeys than something in a language so complicated that they invented printing and never bothered to use it).
Beer 4: Spectacular opening ceremony. Just spectacular.

I'll interrupt the count now because the next event of some significance occurred around beer 217: posterior to the theatrical bit of the ceremony, I decided to wait for the entrance of the Italian team so I could publicly cheer for them. I crossed my fingers and hoped Italy would appear within the first half-hour.

Now, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the more time you've wasted on something, the least likely you are to just leave. On this occasion, I went through the first half-hour, then through the second just in case, then killed a third as an ultimatum, a fourth for the sake of God knows what reason, I can't even remember, my friend in the meantime had died or something, anyway he wasn't there anymore, I had to find someone else, but at all events somewhere half-way through the fifth half-hour the Italian flag suddenly made its appearance on the screen. Because every team had only about five seconds of screen-time and because I had been waiting so long, all the emotion in me burst out in one single go, and I stood up and started yelling for my team. In a case of remarkable national distinction (in the sense that we're more likely to get transatlantic liners in a Northumbrian catacomb than for the following to happen in Europe), the Chinese didn't stare at me with perplexity, but joined in the clapping and started cheering. I in turn got so involved with it that I spun towards them and started shouting encouragement, which got them really riled up and for a few seconds I had the entire room yapping. That's the closest I've ever experienced (and, I suspect, ever will experience) to what a successful demagogue gets when making a really good speech.

Following that ceremony came the disheartening experience of trying to follow the races. Underworld times! I walked outside for the first swimming final at four in the morning. In an attempt to keep myself up, I had gotten so high that I almost got lost within my own college. Night rabbits and the occasional patrolling super-heroes passed about. Except for them, it was complete silence.

I get to the college. I notice from outside that the lights to the common room are still on. I walk in, half-expecting to meet some Chinese Olympic maniac who is staying up like the idiot typing these lines to watch the swimming races, instead I find these two Kerouac-without-a-car figures sitting on the sofa with a ridiculous cube connected to the TV, playing a football videogame. 'I say,' I exclaimed, 'have you guys run away from the countryside farm that was your destiny?' They look at me with perlaceous eyes. They say, 'Just playing some games, man.'

Great. Just great. Now I can't watch the Olympics because these two rabbit-fucking swabs have pawned the TV to play electric monopoly on it. Why don't they take their heads and go plant them with their onions. I'm thinking desperately of what to offer them as a way of getting them out of there. A motorcycle would probably be the best thing considering they'd kill themselves at the second turn and I could get it back, but there's the little detail that I don't have one and only will on the day that Prince Charles declares his homosexuality - that is to say, never.

In the end I buy them off with a couple of spliffs. 'Can I have a flint?,' I ask one of them. He produces a box of matches called 'England's Glory.' I read the caption below it: 'Made in Sweden.' Sort of like these guys themselves, products of the city, but made in a penhouse and by the animals and probably by accident (if only for the reason that if their parents resemble them in half their looks then they probably couldn't get sex in a brothel in Yugoslavia).

Finally I see the women's swimming final - and we get our asses whipped!

I am in tears - my Indian flatmate is in tears too, though in his case it's because he tripped while holding a Whisky bottle and it slipped from his hands like a lubricated sardine to smash tragically on the floor. We can't even drown our sorrows. And they say that there's no pain in sports.

Other three nights staying up until four a.m. (three nights in a row, just to be clear about it) and finally I get the satisfaction in the 200 freestyle women's swimming final: GOLD MEDAL TO FEDERICA PELLEGRINI!!!!! SUCCESS!!!!!!

Worth every minute of it. For real.

Monday, 11 August 2008

The Vodka Prank

They're witty, these Indians. I suppose that giving you a free dessert after a meal which would last a consummate man two months is just a phenomenal method they've found for giving you the perfect bitch-slap - as in, even if you manage to win the chef's challenge, all you'll get will be a serving that you couldn't possibly eat. It's like they're laughing at you.

However we Europeans also have our great share of wit (except for the French, of course - no, sorry, that's not true, I was just being witty). Let me prove it. Lacing back to the time I had that great dinner with the Indians, the actual party for the birthday, held on a different day from the dinner on account of the fact that getting through the meal plus the party right after it would have been like taking part in D-Day, saw me devising a plan of great deviousness.

You see, I'm in love with practical jokes. They are practical forms of stories, and stories are so much more spicy and savoury than the truth (which is why I almost never speak the truth, and people think I lie, when I'm really such a romantic poet), and illusory drama has all the good things about true drama without all the bad aspects (like, the consequences). Hell, I love jokes even when they're impractical (and there goes the bomb pun of the day, check me out, irony is folding up on me now like a cannibalistic duvet).

So, to resume, on that night I was offered a challenge. I was invited to a drinking competition. This in itself may sound like ordinary administration, if it weren't that the guy who was throwing the glove in my face was this one fat Indian guy whom I had met something like the previous October and who within thirty-two seconds of my meeting him had already challenged me to a drinking competition, a fact which initially made me crease my eyebrows but which I eventually took on full-storm like Henry at Agincourt, seeing how it was that the guy just wouldn't shut the fuck up and kept calling me a 'sissy' and other terms of not extraordinary subtlety. So we had this damn challenge, and by the end of it he looked like he had tripped in the middle of Oxford Street while a parade of steamrollers was passing on it for an exhibition tour. I have never seen a person so difficult to detach from the concrete. Eventually it took three of us to walk him up to his room and throw him on the bed.

After an experience like that, you'd expect a guy to become not necessarily subdued, but at the very least a little more humble. Instead the day that I next met him it was like mistakenly walking into Achilles' tent while he was taking a shit (and after the death of Patroclus). He raged and fretted and propelled spittle and outright asserted that he had 'won' the drinking competition because he had had more to drink overall than I had. I'll admit I sometimes get incensed too easily, but this dink motherfucker was starting to catapult my balls to Pluto with all his banter. "Look here, you blathering nincompoop," I told him, red with rage and pointing a finger, "I have quite had my full with your prodigious drivel, your pompous smack and your unbearable conceit, you self-important, steatopygous rasp. I challenge you, do you hear me, I challenge you." For a long time we spoke about a rematch, but we didn't see much of each other and nothing ever happened. Then, this one time, we meet on one of the lanes of the college and it turns out that he's coming to this party for my flatmate's birthday. Obviously he starts taunting me about a rematch. So I accept.

Now this is where the cunning bit comes in. (This is also, incidentally, one of those moments when I'm glad that this blog is anonymous, because I seriously think some people could give my name to the police for what I'm about to recount). Together with my flatmate, we purchase two identical bottles of vodka; subsequently, we empty one of them into a separate container, and fill it up with water. Then I keep the water bottle for myself, and hand over the one still filled with vodka to him. 'Let us sport,' I tell him, with a challenging eye. And take a shot of water. The guy follows me in, and we have a full drinking competition, me dunking from a bottle of water, he trying to keep up with the vodka.

Looking back on it, I can see it wasn't such a great idea. Even if he hadn't been vomiting like the fountain of Trevi by the time we were doing five shots in a row and swigging straight from the bottle like cormorans, there would still have been something unethical about encouraging him to physical self-destruction the way I did. And to be fair, that vodka was heavy. I didn't want to skin myself for something so stupid, so I had purchased something which could have been produced at the back of an oil pump station for all I knew and which came at, like, five quid for a bottle. A few days later I found myself wandering back to my room with a couple of Americans because we'd come back from a barbecue and were neither tired nor drunk enough to sleep, and I found the vodka I had originally put away to be preserved inside a jar for tomato passata. We started drinking from that, and let me tell you, within two shots of the stuff my stomach was getting so contorted and rebellious you'd think it had been reading War and Peace. We had to dilute it with Coke and Fanta to go anywhere beyond that. The thought of that Indian guy dunking a whole bottle of it suddenly became tinged with much more heroic linings. I started feeling guilty. Then again, after the vodka we had some brandy and after that we went back to the beer and after that I wasn't guilty anymore. And even if I had been, what I felt the next morning must surely count for expiation. "Crikey," as they say over here (which still doesn't come close to describing it.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

John Silver amid the Indians

I have been invited to celebrate my Indian flatmate’s birthday. I already knew that it corresponded with those of three other Indian people, so it was going to be a pretty lengthy business. I was not, however, aware that Indian birthday parties are basically what you’d get if you had a European Christmas and an American Thanksgiving put together and then threw an amount of rice into the mix to last twelve daughters their weddings. Fourteen hours after the meal, I am still metabolising it at the rate of a ninety-year old elk marching towards his own cemetery against a snow-storm.

In part I blame it on myself. I mean, there were two-hundred things I could choose from that menu, but when I saw that the ‘Chef’s Challenge’ included a free dessert if you could finish the whole thing on your own, my retard slots went jackpot and I ordered that immediately. Something like five minutes later I am presented with a Nan bread the size of a parachute and two gargantuan bowls containing chicken and lamb and rice in a mixture of spicy sauce. All eyes suddenly turn towards me, and a soft ‘oh my God…’ rises from the waiter behind me. For my own part I can’t really tell what’s going on – all communication with other people at the table has been cut off by the curtain of Nan that has been spread around me. I produce a window onto my left by ripping off a piece, and I throw a portion of the lamb and chicken into the rice. I dunk the bread into that, and take off.

The sentiment that span through me at that moment was a peculiar mix between that of Zeus flying towards Leda in the form of a swan and Jesus looking at the mount that he’s supposed to scale with a cross on his back – in other words, drooling with anticipation while simultaneously somewhat daunted by the proportions of the task before me. It also turns out that, like practically all Indian dishes of my knowledge, it is so spicy that if you threw a bowl of the condiment into the red sea all the crabs would come out of it in a gallop. It’s not that I dislike that, just that I can’t seem to eat it without my mind turning to images of a space shuttle taking off from my throat and shooting fire into my stomach.

That being said, the beginning of the meal bode very well, if only because it was really damn good. Abundance means half the quality for me: if there’s one thing I cannot stand it’s those Oriental restaurants where they roast up a piglet, bring it to you in a platter, skin it in front of you, put the skin elsewhere, then just as you’re getting your bowels warmed up for the marathon they remove the plate with the roast piglet and tell you that the delicatessen meal you’re meant to have is the roasted skin. Fuck that three times over. Instead the meal I was having came in quantities to dismantle a diplodocus – and it tasted fantastic.

So at quarter past eight in the night, I was ecstatic.

At quarter to ten, I was officially defeated. I was supposed to finish the thing on my own, but frankly, I don’t want to spend the rest of my days on a wheelchair and when faced with the impossible I tend to shrink into my non-epic proportions (sorry Adidas but that’s bullshit: impossible IS impossible, and if one of you motherfuckers ever try the chef’s challenge then you can testify that for yourself). In order to try and win the dessert anyway (not that I was going to eat it, but I’ll be swingshot if I let them keep it anyway) I was forced to pass some beef by contraband to my fellow Portuguese on my right. Even the Nan I broke in pieces and freesbed it surreptitiously to the other side of the table whenever I was sure that the waiters were turning elsewhere their sharkine eyes. Yet even so, and notwithstanding frequent pauses in the meal, I still found I couldn’t get the whole thing done. The meat all went away, the rice likewise, but there was a small fraction of Nan which I couldn’t for the life of me have approximated to my mouth. I felt like I’d just swallowed a rock the size of a giant rugby ball, and the idea of adding more food to it was as attractive as the voice ‘kamikaze’ would be if it were featured on a Times' employment list. And just when I thought it was over, the Indian guy comes along and brings a chocolate cake!

‘No dude, seriously,’ I tell him. ‘I couldn’t for the life of me eat anything else.’

‘Dude, it’s my birthday! Aren’t you going to have just a small slice of cake?’ The thing about my housemate, it’s he offers food all the time. When he does it at home it’s normally a nut-shot, because the guy’s a vegan as well as a terrible cook and in the best of cases his dishes seem to have been prepared in the canteens of Guantanamo bay, but the problem is that he gets really offended if you refuse. So I normally end up swallowing whatever it is he’s offering, and since I can’t say no, and since it was his birthday, and since the cake was actually really darn good, I ended up having an humongous slice of that too.

The feeling that I had as the cake entered my bowels was probably what the boats at Tsushima must have perceived as a thunderstorm of torpedoes broke into their cargo decks. I sunk as miserably as a paper-boat in Niagara. Currently I’m still digesting. No seriously, I’m just sick. The rest of the celebration will have to wait until the next blog post to be recounted.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Essay on the Aesthetic Beauty of People

There is a semantic difficulty in distinguishing between people who are aesthetically beautiful and those who are simply physically beautiful. Prevalently the aesthetic is associated with visual qualities; hence, the association is made that to be aesthetically beautiful is to be pleasing to the eye. In its most common accentuation, this is simply the characteristic of physical beauty: a body possessing certain features of external appearance. While we are biologically predisposed to recognize some of these features as desirable on account of their evolutionary purpose (for instance, wider hips mean being more suitable for natality), this is in most cases subjective, and determined by Oedipal and Elektraen inclinations. Either way, the tenets of our taste must be attributed to the arbitrariness of fate.

The quality of aesthetical beauty is significantly different. The aesthetic is historically understood as the study of the beautiful; to be aesthetically beautiful therefore is not to conform to the arbitrary canons of evolution or origin, but to have those canons conform to oneself. A person who is physically beautiful may reveal something about his / her race, or about the people admiring him / her; in both cases there is a material referent for the beauty in question. People who are aesthetically beautiful do not do this. They are the referent in question: it is they who define our concept of beauty, allowing us to bring together its different manifestations (physical, graphical, phonetical, historical) under a common register. In this sense, it is perhaps incorrect even to say that they 'are' beautiful; rather, they seem to give access to beauty, as if there were an undercurrent of life's own beauty flowing in the world and their eyes were the moons determining its tides, or windows through which its airs flow in on wind.

For my own part, I recognise as aesthetically beautiful those people who seem to love life without having been trained for it, as naturally as if they were drinking from a spring or breathing. This is not to say that they are always happy. Mandatory to aesthetic beauty is not being aware of it, for it is manifest primarily in behaviour, not in appearance. Hence these people may often give the impression of being troubled, and indeed often are; yet even in the way they confront such trouble, they already seem to actuate such a love for life as many can only dream of in their best moments.

They are also, almost always, social magnets. Activity spins around them like winds around the peak of a mountain, and pathos passes on their rails, through them, before being released into a group. They may be loathed or worshipped (even by each other); but they never elicit indifference. When someone is aesthetically attractive and simultaneously a solitary individual, that combination produces a beauty of often extraordinary potency, and potentially of great cruelty, too. Yet people like this are very rare; to be human is to be social, and it is uncommon for someone with such beauty not to reap its fruits (as is the case when one is blessed with beauty of any other kind).

No doubt the dispensation of aesthetical beauty is as arbitrary as it is for the physical. Whether it may be considered a gift, I do not know; as with physical beauty, this is most likely to depend on personal circumstances, and on the way our beauty interacts with the milestones of our fate. Nonetheless, it is most often seen as something to be desired, as can be seen in the semantics chosen to describe their aesthetic characteristics. A similar dialectic was described by Primo Levi in If This is a Man, in terms of the drowned and the saved (so central was it to the author's conception of the book, that it was meant to be its title). Levi was talking about those who are historically drowned or saved; in his case, it is a much more specific, concrete and of course poignant discussion, on account of their consequences also being so concrete. Yet the wisdom of this division is that it applies to other registers too, aside from the historical. And for the social register there is no figure which to me better represents the saved, than that of an aesthetically beautiful person; though they are saved only socially, not historically or morally.

Where does that leave the rest of us? As the drowned? Perhaps, but once again the implications are much less dramatic than they are for the historically drowned. Many of the things that characterize aesthetic beauty can be learnt. Social behaviour has codes which can be learnt to the benefit of ourselves and those around us. Similarly, love for life is not exclusive to the saved, but can be apprehended - through discipline, humility and probably fortune. It may well result in a greater degree of peace than what's experienced by these other people.

Nonetheless the potency of their beauty remains, and it is impossible not to be affected by it. These people give you the impression that it is for them that the world gets up in the morning; that they should have been born not as persons, but as songs. “Among what rushes will they build, by what lake’s edge or pool delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day to find they have flown away?”