Monday, July 31, 2006

Lemon in Berlin

After my exhausing day yesterday (re-reading the post it doesn't sound all that bad, but believe me at the time it was horrible) I planned to take it relatively easy today, see a few sights and maybe check out a museum. I went and saw Brandenburg Gate (forgetting the camera in the hotel room... so I bought a disposable one), had some lunch and decided I'd go check out the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.

It was an interesting place, at first it seemed like it was going to be quite small. But there are lots of rooms off of rooms and I ended up being in there for over two hours. It is not at all like the museums you might find in North America... it was far more personal and political (in addition to the stuff about the wall itself there is a room devoted to Gandhi and non-violent struggle). It's hard to believe it hasn't yet been given the full scholarly treatment. The exhibit is all translated into a number of languages, but the translations (at least into English) were quite bad (aside from a number of grammatical errors, it resulted in actual errors in fact as when it said someone had been imprisoned for 11 years when in German it said months). While I think that it could perhaps benefit from a curators touch, it was a nice change from the cold retelling of history you often receive at these places.

After that, I thought I was done for the day. I was going to head over to the Reichstag and go up to the glassed dome. But then I noticed that the Jewish Museum was only a few minutes away. Today it was a good job that I was travelling alone. One of the great things about Berlin is that most of the museums are open quite late, which means that you don't have to worry about rushing through them. Which means that I got to spend over 4 hours at the Jewish Museum. It was by far the best museum I have ever been in. You enter from the old museum building, but from inside you pass into a new building that was opened a few years ago, and was designed by Daniel Libeskind specially for the purpose. You enter underground into a series of interconnected hallways that represent exile (which leads to a garden that is on a strange angle, so you feel quite disoriented), the Holocaust (which leads into a very haunting tower) and continuity (which leads to the main exhibit). This part of the museum was very good, and I feared that the rest would not live up to it. But I was happily suprised by the main exhibit, which did a very good job of mixing memory and history and was laid out in such a way that it was easy to pass through the exhibit and get the main story, or go down different pathways and get a more detailed history. Even the special Freud exhibit (which confirmed that I have no patience for Freud) was very interesting and cleverly told with a number of multi-media displays.

Tomorrow I am planning on the Neue Nationalgalerie which seems guaranteed to please, dedicated as it is to early 20th Century German and other European art. I'll let you know how it goes.

At Paddington Station I Sat Down and Cried; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love EasyJet

My flight to Berlin was scheduled for 6:50 p.m. yesterday, so I had time to see a few more things before I left London. In the morning I went to Portobello Rd to the market. When I arrived I discovered that it is closed on Sundays (well planned Lemon), but even "closed" there were a fair number of stalls open.

Getting bored rather rapidly with the market, I decided to go to the British Museum. I looked around for a while, and went to see the Elgin Marbles (excuse me, Parthenon Statues), mostly just to be able to say that I have (having almost no interest in Greek history or civilization). They had free tours, so I went to see the African Exhibit (I will confess it was the only one on offer at that time).

Having done all of this, I now had a little over four hours until my flight. If everything went perfectly, I would have been at the Luton Airport 3 hours before my flight. I did not expect everything to go right, so I gave myself the extra time. Things did not go to plan. Ladies and gentlemen, I will spare you the details but basically: the underground line I needed was closed, the buses weren't where they were supposed to be, traffic was congested, the trains were in the wrong station, the train was delayed, I just missed the shuttle, my cabdriver was slow and there was a traffic jam at the airport. I arrived at Luton about 5 minutes after check-in. The girl at the counter apologised and said that there was nothing she could do, I would need to go to the other desk and arrange for another flight. Needless to say, I was very upset. The guy at the desk explained that there were no other flights out that night. A perfect end to a perfect day. He started to process something, and was explaining what to do next. Then he suddenly looked up at me and paused. He called someone on the phone and said something unintelligible and then "I'll send her over". I was to return to the check in desk immediately and then run upstairs to the gate. I didn't pause to ask questions. They took me to the front of the line, checked my bags and sent me upstairs. I got through security rather quickly and looked (as I had been told to do) for my gate number (Luton is a "silent terminal" without any announcements... or any people around to ask questions of). Beside the flight to Berlin it just said 'wait in lounge'. It seems that my flight had been delayed and that was the reason that they had been able to check me in. Within five minutes we had been assigned a gate, and all was right with the world. It seems lots of people had also been late, as there were all sorts of problems with airport transportation... the bus from London having been held up for hours due to some protest or other. EasyJet may be a discount airline, but their staff are very friendly and the plane ride itself was very smooth.

Sadly, my journey was not yet over. I didn't want anymore transportation problems, so I asked from the airport which train I should take to my hotel (it seemed obvious to me, but I didn't want to be guessing wrong). The woman showed me the way and I boarded the train. When I got out of the station, none of the street names seemed to match the one's on my map. I had the directions and a map to the hotel, but no phone number to call them. I am stood there staring at my map in a not very pleasant looking part of town at about one o'clock in the morning in a city I've never been to before. A woman (I'll say hooker with a heart of gold, but she may just have been a dancer) approached me to ask if she could help. She spoke very little English, I speak no German (danke, bitte or guten tag not really seeming appropriate for the moment), but she managed to get across that my hotel was a little ways away, hailed me a cab and told me how much it should cost. The cab driver was concerned that I was a friend of hers (I have never come closer to hitting someone in my life)... he didn't speak much English either so I was unable to communicate to him that he was an asshole... and I didn't particularly want to be kicked out of a cab in a strange city (I have since learned that I was sent to the wrong station... at least two others being much closer).

I arrived at my hotel, settled myself in, and opened the mini-bar. There in front of me was a bottle of Schweppes Bitter Lemon. I was home.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Election Eve in DR Congo

Tomorrow the Congolese will be voting in parliamentary elections. There has been controversy from the start, from the advantage Joseph Kabila has because of the promise of stability if he remains in power to the claims of ballot fraud. Nevertheless, the elections offer a glimmer of hope for the Congolese people and I can only hope that they are successful, and that any violence is kept to a minimum (it is perhaps to much to hope for none at all).

Lemon's Last Night in London

(The title of this post is technically a lie since I shall be back for the evening on the 12th).

Another fun day in London. The weather has been very good throughout (whoulda thunk I'd get a tan in England). I walked through Hyde Park (giving the Diana Memorial Fountain a miss) to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Unfortunately, the Modernism Exhibit I was hoping to see ended earlier this week. It is a very nice building, so I looked around anyway (one good thing about London is that even though everything else is obscenely expensive, the museums are free... no thanks to Thatcher I'm sure!) -- deciding against the Che Guevera Exhibit. I then walked around a bit and ended up in Harrod's (going in and quickly out again -- I can say I've been, but at the end of the day it's a department store with a creepy wax statue of Mohammed al-Fayed in the middle of it).

I eventually made it over to the Tate Modern, I wanted to see it but didn't have my hopes set too high because contemporary art isn't really my thing (at heart I'm an old-fashioned lass). Luckily, they had just the right amount of German Expressionism to hold my interest (including a Max Beckmann, which always makes my day -- They also had a Kandinsky exhibit which I skipped, because my interest doesn't extend to Russian expressionists it seems). The newer stuff was also quite interesting.

My trip would not have been complete without a visit to the bookstores on Charing Cross. It is (supposedly) not what it used to be (Thatcher!), but I still managed to make a few purchases.

I will credit the Lonely Planet Guide for dinner at a great vegetarian restaurant: Eat and Two Veg. (Veggie) Bangers and Mash, finished off with Bread and Butter Pudding. London is vegetarian heaven, and I suspect I have been spoilt as I head off to Central Europe where I fear even the water will come with a side of pork.

London has been great, and I have no doubt I will be back for a longer visit sometime in the near future.

I Hate My Travelling Companion

Setting off the one thing I knew was that I was giving up some things by travelling alone: shared experience, an active nightlife (I'm not opposed to drinking alone, but there's a difference between wine with dinner and sitting in a pub by yourself getting trashed) and having someone to blame when I get lost. However, the one thing I knew was that there wouldn't be any disagreements. I would spend the day as I liked, without having to worry about whether I was boring someone else to tears. Nonetheless, there has been a constant irritant on this trip: The Lonely Planet Guide. I recognize it is all my fault. I chose to buy the used copy of Lonely Planet at BMV, rather than shelling out full price for the Rough Guide or Time Out or any of the other travel guides available. I have a newsflash for the people at Lonely Planet: Baroness Thatcher has been out of office since 1990 and is now a very feeble old lady. Why do I feel the need to point this out? Because Lonely Planet seems incapable of missing an opportunity to comment on how Mags destroyed (the very vibrant city of) London. It is boring, it is over a decade out of date, and is completely meaningless to most travellers. Most of the people making use of these this guide were likely in diapers when she was Prime Minister.

Want to go to the museum? Fine but be aware that if it were up to Thatcher and her ilk, there wouldn't be any art in England and they would have turned all the cultural centres into concentration camps for the poor. Taking advantage of any of the services that London has to offer? Remember to curse the Thatcherites for almost getting rid of them. Shopping? Well that particular souless activity is only possible because Thatcher's policies ensured that Britain had a vital economy. Damn her!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Lemon in London: Day Two

Back in my local cyber-cafe (which is also a video rental) to check in.

Today was great. I started off at the Tate. I got the opportunity to see one of my favourite paintings of all time, so that set the day off on the right note.

I decided to take one of those hop-on-hop-off bus tours (I know, it pains me just saying it). I don't want to be that girl but seriously, London is a huge city and I don't want to get back and have everyone say so did you see [fill in name of what you are interested in here] and have to admit that I missed it ('cos, let's face it, I'll always be that girl).

Then to the Imperial War Museum where I had one of the more amusing moments of my trip so far. I walk in and the guy inspects my bag. He was very friendly and asked the reason for my visit today. I said I just wanted to look around. Not buying it for a minute, he said "because it takes about 2 1/2 to 3 hours to tour the Holocaust Exhibit, and the museum closes in an hour and a half". Do I have an aura of holocaust? So I showed him and went and saw the Crimes Against Humanity Exhibit instead! (Part of which was narrated by Michael Ignatieff, reinforcing that the man is wasting his life running for leader of the Liberal Party of Canada). The Homefront During the War part of the WW2 Exhibit (the actual reason I went to the war museum) was pretty good too.

More theatre tonight with Sam Shepherd's Fool For Love with Juliette Lewis. I quite enjoyed it (you couldn't even tell she's a Scientologist).

Anyway, I'm off to go read a newspaper now. This cafe is closing and I've heard that the world didn't actually stop revolving just because I'm on vacation!

Lemon in London

Having a great time in London. My hotel is in a lovely neighbourhood, but has perhaps the world's smallest elevator (it claims it accomodates 4 people -- maybe a woman and her 3 very small children), it's the one time in my life that I'm glad I'm not a tall person.

I spent most of my day yesterday just wandering the city and learning how to navigate the underground. It's always great being in a city where you take a wrong turn and there is still lots to see.

Last night I went to the National Theatre for Mike Leigh's play Two Thousand Years (a major part of the plot is a family -- a Mike Leigh family -- coming to terms with the fact that their son wants to become a practicing Jew .... I really do thank whoever it was who decided this play should be commissioned just because I was coming for a visit!).

I have absolutely no idea what is going on in the world, except the English are up in arms because everyone's gas bill is going up... and there was a power failure in the West End yesterday. This must be what it's like to be a regular person.

And now it's off to the Tate...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I'm off to find myself (let's hope I'm in Europe or this will be a massive waste of time)

Only 24 hours until I set off on my trip. I first fly to London, then it's off to Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Krakow and Warsaw. I think I've packed my entire wardrobe (no backpacker I) and yet I'm sure I'll forget something.

I will try to blog while away, to at least keep you posted on my travels, but I guess we'll have to wait and see how that turns out. The thought of being away from the internet for more than a few hours makes me break out in hives, so it seems unlikely that I won't post at least a couple of times.

Mitteleuropa here I come!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It is true that my breasts are bigger than your brains... your mistake is in assuming that this is a comment on MY intelligence

For no reason. I was just in the mood for some Kipling:

The Female of the Species

When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride,
He shouts to scare the monster, who will often turn aside.
But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

When Nag the basking cobra hears the careless foot of man,
He will sometimes wriggle sideways and avoid it if he can.
But his mate makes no such motion where she camps beside the trail.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

When the early Jesuit fathers preached to Hurons and Choctaws,
They prayed to be delivered from the vengeance of the squaws.
'Twas the women, not the warriors, turned those stark enthusiasts pale.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

Man's timid heart is bursting with the things he must not say,
For the Woman that God gave him isn't his to give away;
But when hunter meets with husbands, each confirms the other's tale—
The female of the species is more deadly than the male.

Man, a bear in most relations—worm and savage otherwise,—
Man propounds negotiations, Man accepts the compromise.
Very rarely will he squarely push the logic of a fact
To its ultimate conclusion in unmitigated act.

Fear, or foolishness, impels him, ere he lay the wicked low,
To concede some form of trial even to his fiercest foe.
Mirth obscene diverts his anger—Doubt and Pity oft perplex
Him in dealing with an issue—to the scandal of The Sex!

But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame
Proves her launched for one sole issue, armed and engined for the same;
And to serve that single issue, lest the generations fail,
The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.

She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast
May not deal in doubt or pity—must not swerve for fact or jest.
These be purely male diversions—not in these her honour dwells—
She the Other Law we live by, is that Law and nothing else.

She can bring no more to living than the powers that make her great
As the Mother of the Infant and the Mistress of the Mate.
And when Babe and Man are lacking and she strides unclaimed to claim
Her right as femme (and baron), her equipment is the same.

She is wedded to convictions—in default of grosser ties;
Her contentions are her children, Heaven help him who denies!—
He will meet no suave discussion, but the instant, white-hot, wild,
Wakened female of the species warring as for spouse and child.

Unprovoked and awful charges—even so the she-bear fights,
Speech that drips, corrodes, and poisons—even so the cobra bites,
Scientific vivisection of one nerve till it is raw
And the victim writhes in anguish—like the Jesuit with the squaw!

So it comes that Man, the coward, when he gathers to confer
With his fellow-braves in council, dare not leave a place for her
Where, at war with Life and Conscience, he uplifts his erring hands
To some God of Abstract Justice—which no woman understands.

And Man knows it! Knows, moreover, that the Woman that God gave him
Must command but may not govern—shall enthral but not enslave him.
And She knows, because She warns him, and Her instincts never fail,
That the Female of Her Species is more deadly than the Male.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bill Graham Comes Out of the Closet (as pro-Iran... what other closet would I mean?)

Bill Graham, who didn't even return from vacation when it was discovered during his time as Foreign Affairs Minister that the Iranian government murdered a Canadian citizen, now feels that he somehow has the moral authority to tell Stephen Harper how to behave. Apparently, by supporting the democratic state of Israel over the Iran-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah, Bill feels Harper is damaging Canada's chances of playing peacemaker in the region.

Now, long time readers of this blog will know that Bill isn't my favourite MP, but this was always because I thought he had a sort of incompentence that I find indecent in anyone in a position of power (to the extent the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister can be considered a position of power). Now I realise that he wasn't incompetent in dealing with the Zahra Kazemi situation, he just backs the other side.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Israel and Hezbollah

I've been trying to post for the past couple of days on this topic and have been unable to find the right words to express my thoughts. My mood has been vacillating somewhere between "can't we all just get along?" and "can't we just bomb the whole region to smithereens so there's nothing left to fight over?".

That about sums it up.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Terror in Mumbai

At least 179 people were murdered in a series of train bombings in India today. No group has yet claimed responsbility for the attacks, but it is suspected that it is the work of Islamist militants who claim Kashmir as their cause.

The Times would like to remind you, in a sentence dangling pointlessly at the end of this article: "India is increasingly allied with the United States, but it has resisted invitations to join the United States-led war in Iraq." Which is strange, because, as we all know, the U.S. led war against Iraq is the only reason that terrorism exists. It is the reason for London, the reason for Madrid and the reason for 9/11. What's that? The war hadn't started on 9/11? Oh, well then, that must have been about Palestine. Whatever it is, the terrorists have legitimate grievances and we would all do our best to understand them.

I'm sure that the people of India will try to keep that in mind as they mourn their dead.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Miraculously, I managed to post this without the use of a Mac

If I didn't already hate Mac culture and everything it represents (they're the multinational corporation with the indie cred! Sure Bill Gates has the whole "philanthropy" thing going for him, but Gandhi would have used a Mac!), their newest ads would have done it for me.

Seth Stevenson's Ad Report a few weeks back did a good job of summing up what is wrong with the campaign: they're condescending, the Mac guy is unlikeable, and the claims that PCs are hard to use are far-fetched to say the least.

I was pleased to find this Best Week Ever parody that allows the PC user to give a more realistic response to Mac guy.

(via Stereogum)

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A perfectly normal Sunday

I am not upset. I do not think that Zidane surrendered as the French are wont to do. In the normal course events, I should never have been paying attention to sports in the first place. So I won't. How about that Federer, eh? Four Wimbledons in a row.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Continuing Violence in Darfur

UN Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, says that the situation in Darfur has worsened since the peace deal was signed two months ago. Unbelievable! It seems that you can't end violence with a lot of empty rhetoric and a piece of paper. The parties involved might actually need to be committed to peace rather than being genocidal maniacs.

The fact that people such as Mr. Pronk continue to have any faith whatsoever in the Sudanese regime doesn't help matters. There is no way that the situation in Darfur can be resolved without force. Continuing to send U.N. representatives to the region is nothing more than a waste of time and money.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Library Thing

For many years, I have been meaning to catalogue my books. It seemed like the right thing to do, but it also seemed like a tremendous amount of work. You would think, since I'm in library school, that this would be the sort of thing that might be fun for me, but it's always a matter of finding the time. Then along came LibraryThing. I discovered it last night via Bookslut, who describe it as "MySpace for people who are over 16 and can spell".

In addition to being a really easy way to catalogue your books (it searches the Library of Congress, the various Amazons and a number of libraries), it also offers the possibility to connect to other people's libraries and offers recommendations based on what others are reading. You can format and view your list in multiple ways, tag your books, and it even has a pretty little author cloud so you can see who dominates your collection (Elie Wiesel stands out in mine). None of these things are revolutionary on their own, but brought together it is a wonderful tool.

I haven't yet completed cataloguing my collection, although in about an hour last night I managed to add 400 books to my list. It is fun going through your collection and thinking back to all the different literary phases in your life ("serious reader", "early Jew", "late teen existentialism", "post-9/11 catch up"). Interesting tidbit: I used to actually read fiction. On a regular basis.

From what I've seen so far, I highly recommend it. It is yet another reason to be glad that we live in the age of the information super highway.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Islamist Extremists?!

For the past few weeks, it seemed that the media was willing to give the Islamist militias in Somalia the benefit of the doubt. They were reaching out to convince the world that they weren't extremists, they were supposedly bringing stability to a country that has known only chaos for over a decade and, of course, it is important for the media to maintain impartiality in such matters.

But now the news out of Mogadishu is that the extremist Islamist extremists have wrested power from the moderate Islamist extremists. It seems that Hassan Dahir Aweys, who has been appointed head of the militias in Mogadishu, is considered a terrorist with al-Qaeda connections. That's the sort of thing that is hard to ignore for too long.

I won't pretend that stability isn't important. It is very hard to build a future on the chaos brought on by unending war. That having been said, stability is not the only thing that matters. I would think that we have seen enough of dictatorships in Africa, and their disastrous effects, to not herald their arrival. Furthermore, given all that has happened so far this century, is it asking too much that the world respond with at least a healthy dose of skepticism when Islamists promise moderation?

The World Cup is Over

With Italy's victory over Germany today, I think it is safe to say that my interest in the World Cup is officially gone. Now it is simply a matter of who I want to lose the least. While I can't actually support France (God forbid!), I suppose I would want to see them victorious over Portugal or Italy. For one thing, Martyloo has been so good about supporting England with us, so it would be rude not to support France now that any half-way decent country is out. But more to the point, I just can't face living in downtown Toronto if either Portugal or Italy win. It is just too painful. I am a sore loser, and this is why I should never attempt to follow professional sport of any kind.

Bitter Lemon is Unreliable

I apologise for not posting for the past week, I've been out of town. Since I had my laptop, I had intended to blog while I was away. But the best laid plans and all that...