Friday, March 31, 2006

Parque Fundidora

My hotel in Monterrey is adjacent to the Parque Fundidora. This park used to be an iron foundry before it went bankrupt due, according to Esteban, the idleness of the workers. Something about clocking in, going home, and then coming back to clock out.

Much of the foundry has been turned into trees and grass, but scattered in amongst the trees are preserved machine tools and pipe work. In the middle of the park is a large piece of the original foundry that is being repaired. It is not being repaired to be functional, rather as a monument/sculpture. In addition there is a chimney from the factory that Esteban proudly claims to have been involved in the restoration of.

Near the large piece of the factory are two large buildings that originally were used to cast iron. The huge machines are still there (and have also been restored) but in place of ironworking is artwork. It all combines to make for a rather striking juxtaposition and an utterly rewarding place to spend time.

On the subject of heavy industry, I have learnt today that one of the huge industrial complexes that I can see out my window is the largest cement works in Latin America. The other is a very large brewery. I sampled their produce this evening after the local dish that is cabrito. I am dubious that it was worth the decrease in air quality. The cabrito, on the other hand.... Bueno.

It Hurts

Apparently Apple are introducing volume control on iPods. There is a fear that they might be irreversibly damaging hearing.

Some guy called John Kiel Patterson, of Louisiana, "is suing Apple in the US District Court in San Jose, California. He says his iPod is capable of generating more than 115 decibels, a dangerous noise level, and is not safe for prolonged use."

Is it just me or is it very hard to have sympathy for him? He did this to himself, and now he wants to have someone take the blame for it. I'm sitting here, in the Holiday Inn in Monterrey listening to my iPod, and if it's too loud, I turn it down. It's not exactly rocket science...

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Language of Paradse

Ok, so Rhys was right. The language that is spoken in Mexico is Spanish and not Mexican. I have a colleague who was sure they were subtly different, but I have been corrected. For the three days I was in Cuernavaca I had a translator, David. David, who is a wonderful man, insists that the language of Mexico is Spanish and not Mexican.

I was wrong

I was also wrong when I stated that more often than not the western way of doing things is garbage. Ok, well not so much wrong so much as it being the case that I got carried away. Sometimes the western way of doing things is a garbage, but the garbage in the water here made me sick. Thank the good lord (or proctor and gambol) for Pepto-Bismol.

Rhys, again I was wrong.

I was also wrong about the height of Cuernavaca. It is 1540m above sea level. The pass between Mexico City and Cuernavaca is 3100m, or 10140 feet. This, I am sure, is the highest I have ever been without the aid of cabin pressure and Boeing Industries. Not so far from Mexico City is El Popo, the second highest mountain in Mexico at 5610m and an active volcano. Climbing this would allow me to achieve one the four things I stupidly said I wanted to do before I die.

Today, and till Tuesday, I am in Monterrey. The day dawned smoggy. Outside my window appear to be two very large industries. The air is grey and the mountains impossible to see.

Yes, Rhys, I was wrong.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Paradise Regained

For the second time this month I am in a place where I don't speak the language. This time I am in Cuernavaca, Mexico. It is about an hour and a half from Mexico City (or about the time it takes to see the new Herbie movie that stars Lindsay Lohan because, in Mexico, the intercity buses show movies and serve you food. In fact, a Mexican bus is a far more comfortable journey than, say, an Scandanavian Airways flight from London to Oslo. Who would have thought that? And... I wasn't even in first class. The movie was slightly longer than the journey, which I am sure is a shame for some people, but for me, this was less of an issue. The movie was dubbed into Mexican but I am sure I could tell what was going on).

Being in Mexico is much like it was for me when I visited Banjar, Indonesia. I find it very humbling to be here. I love the busyness of the people here and the suave and confident nature of those I see.

So, Cuernavaca. It is higher in Altitude than Snowdon, and about a kilometer lower than Mexico City. This is a mind warp. It is a lovely wee town, from what I have seen of it. I am teaching and staying at IMTA, the local hydraulic authority. The grass is greener here. The only place I have worked that is more pretty was the summer spent calibrating piezometers in the Hunua Ranges. Photos to come later, suffice to say that there are lots of green trees, lots of birds, (both varieties) and a surprising tranquility. It is hot in the day, cool in the evening. The people I am staying with, Esteban from my company, and David who is my translator, are lovely and give me constant grief about how much I like the Mexican women and how Salma Hayek is ordinary in the context of other Mexican women. I cannot disagree.

Last night was spent playing tennis with Esteban against some locals. We won the first set, they won the second, through myn fatigue, my desire to belt every ball and their cunning use of their rackuets to deflect the ball to where I wasn't. It was flood lit and all was peaceful.

Tonight some indian kids have been invited to play basketball on the IMTA court.

Tonight I also went down the IMTA offices where one of the admin girls had a machine that generates authentic air tickets. I wonder where I can get one of those.

It makes me think that more often than not, the western way of doing things is, as Esteban would say, garbage.

Mexico has been a wonderful place to visit. I guess the company helps. And I haven't touched a single drop of tequila.


It distresses me that in this country I am scared to drink the water. It distresses me a great deal more that for the vast majority of the people they don't have that choice. I think I have learnt somewhat from my experiences in Banjar last December in that I am doing as the locals do and the consequences be damned. But it makes me very angry that we let the status quo here exist. Give more money to wateraid, please. And give your governments hell about preventing people from reliable access to drinkable water. Grrrr.

To cap the environmental thing off, I am reading the book 'The Weather Makers' by some guy I think is called Tim Flannery. I haven't finished the book, but as a counterpart to Michael Crichtons 'State of Fear' it makes for an interesting balance. Where MC sees Global Warming as scare mongering, TF pretty much regards the earth as close to being cream crackered. It has made for pretty miserable reading and probably not the best thing to study while sitting on an aeroplane. I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out. Or perhaps I'm not.

A final random observation about the US. I spent two days there with Grant Rebecca, enjoying their wonderful hospitality in Dallas. I enjoyed being back in the US, things were pretty much as I remembered. G and R talked about transplants. This confused me till it came clear that they were talking about people forced from their homes by Hurricane Katrina. It seemed all rather like Judge Dread. Very sterile and impersonal. Or is that simply because to call them refugees be too much of a blow to US pride?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

This little blogger went to...


Off to the land of Tequila in the morning. Work requires me to go there.

I know, it's rough.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

World Water Day

Today is World Water Day. My favourite charity, WaterAid, is proposing that people donate an hour of todays wages to them.

You can read (and do) more about it here.

More from WaterAid:
"22 March 2006 will mark the 14th United Nations World Water Day. On this day WaterAid will be commiserating the fact that in 2006, one sixth of the world's population still do not have access to clean, safe water. This World Water Day, WaterAid is encouraging the public to take a minute to consider the 1.1 billion people who do not have access to clean, safe water. During the course of that minute, four children will have died of water-related-diseases. This is not inevitable and it certainly isn't acceptable"

Go on go on go on.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Grace and Favour

In Cesky Krumlov is the church of Sv Vit. Along with the castle it is one of two dominant buildings in th town. I wandered into the church on Thursday morning. Inside the entrance is the obligatory donation box. There is a sign attached that reads: 'May God bless you for your donation towards renovating our church'. I have two thoughts about this. Firstly, I'd like to think that my blessings weren't tied to my donations, and vice versa. Secondly, I think I'd rather they just charged me an entry fee. I'd be happy to pay, as I am seeking shelter from the storm, and it is a pretty place to stand for a few minutes.

Favour shouldn't be on sale from the Church.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The B Line to Zlicin

The B Line to Zlicin is kind of like the Piccadilly line to Heathrow, but on a better underground system.

Photo's from Prague and Cesky Krumlov, but without the cool alphabet.

Hood ornament for a Skoda

Cesky Krumlov in the snow...

A pack, a hrad and a cow.

A blank canvas...

That I had to fill.

What it says on the tin.

Many hands...

The bear moat at Cesky Krumlov. The only bears I saw here, came in the kegs you can see in the middle of the picture. Maybe the bears threw a keg party and were hungover.

The bus to Rozmberk. A superstitious man would have spotted something amiss here.

The Castle/hrad at Rozmberk. I came to see this. I ended up standing in the cold.

I tried to seek sanctuary at the local church, but gaining entry to it presented somewhat of a problem.

I resent that I live in a culture where these sorts of instructions for being in a park are required.

The art gallery in Cesky Krumlov. Fantastic building with utterly unaccessible and probably communist art. Had I known the art was so bad I probably would... have still gone, 'cos it did use up some time, and was warm. Miserable git.

The view from my bedroom in Cesky Krumlov. The Vltava is in front.

Dinner tables in Prague.

The patience of a saint. Imagine being in this weather in only a robe.

Charles Bridge. Note the dedicated beggar.

The Prague hrad in the snow. Pretty...

Solo kiwi on the Charles Bridge.

More on the Charles Bridge

The Karlstejn hrad

The Karlstejn Railway Station.

The only non-pornographic picture by Saudek that I could post...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cutting mz losses

This post, for mz amusement onlz, is tzped using the uk kezboard, rather than using the cyech buttons.

I§ve decided to cut mz losses and go back to Prague. The Harrz Potter film was in Cyech, but one of the lovelz lovelz ladies at the TIC came and found me before it started, gave me mz monez back and apologiyed profuselz. Ahhh... falling in love again. So no smugness available last night. Instead I walked up to the castle again, plazed in the snow and went to bed. It could§ve been worse.

Mz bus leaves at +ě"+épm todaz and takes about š hours to get to Prague. Tonight I am going back to the expat bar and talking English. Happz dazs.

Don§t get me wrong, českz krumlov is a beautiful beautiful place, with great people at the TIC, and I would definitelz come back to it again, but NOT bz mzself1. I§d recommend it to a friend... Bz the waz, that last but one sentence was dedicated to Tazlor Mali, because I used definitelz and beautiful in the same sentence.

Achtung! Statistics!

David Slack at Public Address has linked to a 'Would you be a Nazi' Test. It's a small test with, I suspect, loaded questions and limited psychology or science, but it's worth doing. And... It is also completely worth reading his post. For further discussion, go and see the movie Crash.

Here's how I turned out:
The Everyday German
You are 69% brainwashworthy, 36% antitolerant, and 38% blindly patriotic
Had you lived in Germany in the 1930s, you'd have probably just gone along with the flow. Men with guns are surrounding the house next door? The bagel place on the corner's gone? Hmm...whatever. The data show you're a decent person who's willing to listen to what people of authority tell you. That's what most people are, and in most times and most places, that's ok. But not then; not there. The sad conclusion: you would've missed your Jewish friends, but you would've done nothing about it. Seriously. But rest assured, you would've forgiven yourself eventually.

Oh dear...

And back to his post, I agree with him about John Clarke. Legend. I completely relate to this:

but the man still talks in interviews about the momentary excitement of finding a capital Z as you scan a page - and the anticipation that the letters "ealand" may accompany it.

Maybe I am more patriotic than I think I am.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Hell will be not be open

WTF was I thinking when I decided to take a holiday in the Czech Republic in winter. Don't get me wrong, it is very beautiful here, and the snow on everything is beautiful, and well, cold, but if I don't get to speak English to someone soon other than to the wonderful people at the Tourist Information Centre (these people are really good) then I am going to go mad. There is almost nobody here who has more than a few sentences of English. The only tourists I see here are large groups of Japanese tourists who descend for a few hours and then leave. Every day brings a couple more busloads. I am very jealous of them. The Czech Republic is a lovely place, filled with lovely people, but, damnit, right now I need some companionship.

Today, to make a change from trudging around in the snow in Český Krumlov, I decided to trudge around in the snow in Rožmbeck, a small village about 24km up the Vltava. The bus ride up there was very beautiful, past the snow covered banks of the river, where pine forests come down to the water's edge, and where some of the trees (and surprisingly big ones at that) have buckled and broken under the weight of the snow. Eventually the bus pulled into Rožmbeck and I alighted, only to discover that Rožmbeck had apparently closed for the winter. I stood on the bridge and stared at the river for a bit, before wandering up the path to see what I could of the famed castle here. The answer? Bugger all. So I wandered back to the bridge and threw snow into the water. This excited some ducks as they thought I was throwing in bread. Fat chance, if I had bread I would have eaten it to keep warm. The snow that I threw into the river didn't melt, the water was that cold. I stood some more, before tramping up and down by the bus stop, that helpfully didn't have a timetable and waited. An hour and a half passed. Occassionally I would walk back to the bridge to tease the ducks. Then I cleared all the snow and ice off the seat at the bus stop. Hell, it was something to do. An old Czech crone came up and waited with me. This was very reassuring. Some more time passed.

A bus came.

Back in the village I bought a day old Guardian for the equivalent of two quid. I read it all and did both crosswords while drinking tea and eating food.

Tonight I am having a beer or two and then I am going to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. One of the lovely ladies at the TIC here assures me it will be in English. I hope so. And if and when it is I am going to feel bloody superior at being able to understand it all.

I am sure that Hell is not all fire and brimstone. Oh no, it is cold and it is damp. And it is closed, for all eternity.

My next holiday will be spent somewhere hot. Cricket season be damned (to a cold closed village), I'm sick of taking my holidays in winter.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


OK, now I'm in Česky Krumlov. It's a beautiful wee town on a very sharp bend of the Vltava. If I were to step in to the frigid waters and let myself go I'd end up in Prague. It is still snowing.

The town is very quiet, which is a large change from the summer when, apparently, the whole of Prague comes to stay. The hostel I have found myself is empty, which suits me to a tee, although I suspect that after a couple of days, some conversation wouldn't go awry.

Last night I found myself in a pub called na louži, which is just off the square, or stare město, to use the Czech, albeit without the cool Czech letters (I correct myself, just worked out how to use this crazy Czech keyboard). There were some Australian girls, who left soon afterwards (I chose not to take that personally) and for a few minutes I had some quiet, while I drank the locally brewed Eggenberg beer and read Joseph Heller's Catch 22. Shortly afterwards, three people entered. OK, so they were American. It appeared that they were parents and son, and the son looked about 45+. They noted what I was reading and one of them remarked 'classic book'. I smiled back. Their conversation was loud and it was hard/impossible not to listen in. After a few minutes I picked up that the son was from Utah. He made some remark about how gambling is illegal in Utah, but just across the 'stateline' is some town I missed (or forgot) the name of, where the folk from Utah go to 'drink, gamble, and whore.' Only Americans use the word 'whore' as an adjective, right? This made me smile. And then followed a rant that made me as mad as I have ever been.

Remember that the son is from Utah. But, he don't like Mormons. No sirree, he don't like them one bit. Apparently in the ninenteeth century the US army was sent to wipe them out, but due to a freak storm, the operation was stopped. This made the son very angry. He seemed to regret the curtailment of the mission. Once his anger at this faded, father and son launched into a tirade about Jehovah's Witnesses. Finished with them? How about black people? And Jews? They didn't spend to much time on those two groups, as the mother/wife appeared to pass out on the table. I'm guessing she has heard much of this before.

There was a short lull, before the ranting moved to Islam. By this stage I was glaring at them with open hostility, but they didn't seem to notice. They decried the funding of terrorists by the Saudi government (pot calling the kettle black, anybody? Or should that be cistern calling the urinal white?), and openly and vehemently advocated the invasion of Iran. They then spat venom at the inaction of the Europeans at dealing with terrorism, while waiting for the God-fearing good ol' US of A to come and do something. Seriously, how can three grown people be so damn stupid? And so fucking naive? Not to mention rude? Would I come to their house and piss in the fireplace? No, so show some damn respect. Being a very non-confrontational sort of person, (damn those pacifists) I don't like to cause a scene, but if I'd heard one more thing...

The mother was now looking at the ceiling with glazed eyes.

Finally they paid up and left.

I don't want to descend to their level of intolerance, but suspect I'm failed when I wanted shout 'Fuck off, just fucking fuck off you ignorant ignorant bastards. Actually, I wanted (and did, in an email last night to Justice) use a much stronger word.


OK, so now that is off my chest, I have to decide what I am going to do with myself today. I've just missed the brewery tour, which is no loss, so I think I am going to wander up to the castle and see if I can see the bears that patrol the moat.

It is still snowing. Man, this place is very very beautiful.

Oh, and I bet that when the son remarked 'classic book' about Catch 22, I bet he has either never read it, or read it and not got it. A bit like the marines in Jarhead singing along to the Ride of the Valkyries as they watch Apocalypse Now.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Prague Winter

There is nine inches of snow in Prague today. So I've gone and done the touristy thing and slid and slithered along the Charles Bridge. There's a reason it is touristy, and that is because it is bloody fantastic. Photo's later when I'm home. There were a number of beggars who had prostrated themselves in the snow. Heaven knows how they survive. I didn't give money. Not sure how I feel about that. Should they receive something for their dedication? Should I encourage their stupidity? Do I sound callous? Probably.

Tonight, my last in Prague, I am off to an open mic session in Inognito Cafe in Vinohrady. Before then I'm planning on finding a shop that sold me attractive but imbalanced coffee cups last time I was in Prague. I am also hoping to find a music shop to find a gift for Patrick and Jitka. I'm thinking of imposing some of the Back to Mine series on them. Be a bugger if they are reading this before they get it. No surprises here then!

Tomorrow, Cesky Krumlov. I'm assuming that I can find accommodation when I get there...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Prague Spring

It's winter in Prague. I'm here for a few days before heading south to Cesky Krumlov in Moravia for much of next week. The plan there is to do very little, just soak in a Mideval town and rest. I've been staying with Patrick and Jitka, who habe been nothing short of stellar in their generosity to me. Truly kind people. They also have a black cat called Mishka who stare at me. This is a little disconcerting, especially as he can stare longer than I can.

Currently I'm entrenched at the Globe Cafe, a place that Anita and I came to last year and where the brownies are exceptional, and where the choice of music isn't. Right now I am listening to Roxette. Somehow I am not convinced that she is 'just a little bit dangerous' and nor am I convinced that she has 'the look'.

This morning I wandered around an exhibit of the photographs of Jan Saudek. Very intense photography, and a little bit disturbing... But very good too. Last night I spent time at an expat bar called U Zpevacku where Mike, a Bostonian, kept feeding me beer and extolling the vitues of Cesky Krumlov. Beside him were some Americans revelling in college basketball, declaring it to be the best game in the world. Hmmm. Later, I watched an advert full of athletic baseball catches, and I couldn't help think, sure, but try it without the glove.

On the way home I came close to falling in love with the girl opposite me on the Metro B line.

By the time I got back to Cerny Most, I was feeling worse for wear. I'd only had four beers but they seemed to have hit me hard. I clearly have lost tolerance for alcohol. The question is, is it worth the effort to regain that tolerance. I think not.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

And relax...

After a mad week at work, I am off on holiday for the next seven days. It's a return trip to Prague (I was last there in January last year) and Patrick has kindly offered to put me up for a wee bit. Having been in Prague before, I'm thinking that I'd also like to get away into the countryside. I think I'll be picking Patricks brains about that.

But I am really looking forward to a breather.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

It's all Pants

This morning I came in to my lounge to this sight:

This is a fairly common occurence for me. One of my flatmates leaves lines of y-fronts for the world to see. Sometimes they are on the radiator just inside the front door.

On Saturday, while at a friends place, one of their flatmates inexplicably displayed her new underwear, although not while she was wearing it.

I have two observations to make. Firstly, given the choice between the two sets of underwear, I know which one I'd rather see. Secondly, I'd rather not make that choice in the first place. Drying underwear belongs on the washing line, in the drier, or in the owners bedroom.

I sent the above photo to Justice this morning, mainly because I knew it make him laugh. his response:

I'm not sure how to respond...
Possibilities include:
1) Very funny,
2) Don't do that to anybody else... It's cruel...
3) I think that contravenes the UN declaration on human rights in several ways.
4) Nobody needs to see that on a Monday morning... Or any morning...
5) How can men's underwear be SO MUCH less pleasing than women's?
6) you are sick in the head?
7) yuck!
8) Leave - it isn't normal there.
9) why does he do that?
10) could you buy a tumble dryer?
11) If you can't beat em join em?
12) No

Yours disturbed,

Monday, March 06, 2006

Second night Go-ing

Last night I warily set off to see The Go! Team. I've seen them once before and was always up for a second dig at them. I was/am still recovering from the night at Ministry of Sound (damn, I'm old) and a couple of late nights this past weekend, so felt somewhat uninspired to go out last night. Chris and Kate joined me and it appeared we were all rather flat going into it. The warm up acts failed to get me over the lack of fervour, and the first track (Panther Dash) seemed badly mixed. I got to thinking this was not going to be enjoyed. But....

...the mixing picked up and Ninja's religious-like fervour for rousing the audience conspired to suck me in. I simply closed my eyes and enjoyed the ride. They don't play for long, but they cram a lot into those short minutes.

The ten minute encore of Ladyflash was bliss.

It appears I wasn't the only elderly kiwi to enjoy the night out (scroll to the bottom after his rant about the European Commission and the Louvre).

Friday, March 03, 2006

Buddy Holly and the...

It's the first cricket practice of the year on Sunday.


Sea Change

In the past I've not been a big fan of Beck, but someone has lent me a copy of Sea Change. It is superb!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Good days

In the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Christopher Boone describes a good day as one where there are red cars. For me, a good day can be defined by one where you laugh so hard your head hurts.

Yesterday that happened three times.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Neither smug nor gormless

This is what John Cairns managed for me. I rather like it.
You should contact him if you need a portrait done