Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rib update

Our Courtyard 15 November

You haven’t asked about my ribs for a while so I thought I would give you a status report – because it is nearly a year since I broke five of the little blighters in Lapland – by falling off a dog sled onto my Canon 400D camera. 

Well they are much, much better – but not completely mended. I still get some pain and discomfort and they are uncomfortable at night when I roll over in bed – not that this is easy to do anyway when you have cats perched on top of you.

The reason I was reminded of my ribs was that on my last day in Paris I got a doozey of a cold - the worst part of which is a gasping, rasping, hacking, wheezing cough – which when performed in public makes people move away very quickly indeed.

This still gives my ribs a twinge – but had I had it last January would have finished me off completely. For the benefit of those who have never broken five ribs - I have described some of the ramifications here.

But I am sure it will be better soon. Molly got me some cold tablets in Paris and I am taking these assiduously.  Not that I think cold tables do much, but I do like to avoid – as much as possible – the leakage that attends these types of events – and cold tables tend to mitigate these. 

So there is not much one can do when one is in a complete fug so last night I turned to learning how to use Aperture which is the Apple equivalent of Photoshop.

Now I will never be any good as a photographer – have no pretensions or expectations to be - and in fact take all my photos on the automatic setting so as to avoid the fiddling.  

Such adjustments as I do make I do with the Aperture software and I like playing around with special effects. You will have noticed that I like saturated colours.

But I have barely scratched the surface and have never even opened the book – which I bought a year ago – until recently – when I loaded the software and photo library – which one needs to do the lessons.

It was then that I discovered that part of the library - the ‘San Diego Zoo’ was missing. This is unfortunate because the first few lessons about white balance and exposure need the pandas and Saki monkeys and bears and other critters in the zoo.

Well – they would not give me a book and CD without a critical photo library would they? So it must be there somewhere. I will just have to find it.

Well I examined that CD within an inch of its life and I could not find the San Diego Zoo file. I did find and downloaded a lot of other photos that were not downloaded in the initial foray.

I also – somehow – managed to hide my main Aperture Library. Yes this was the library I just spent weeks building and culling from 35,000 images to 23,000 images and putting into projects, folders and albums.

This caused a temporary (but wild and heart thumping) panic until I discovered that I had moved it to another folder.

So I am never going to be much good at correcting the white balance on pandas – but we are through the zoo stage and I think I have everything else I need.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Perhaps it was supposed to be snow?

La Tour Eiffel from the Pantheon

We covered quite a bit of ground during the recent visit and I saw some things I had never seen before - including the inside of the Pantheon and also the Musée national du Moyen Âge.

I am of course not the world’s most patient visitor to things like this - but I did my best.

It is hard not to notice that inside the Pantheon – which houses hordes of famous French dead people – that there are almost no dead women.

In fact the only one we could find was Madame Curie. Now I am no expert on French history but I am betting that there are a lot of women who should be there in place of some of the arch plonkers who have been entombed as Citizens of the Republic of days gone by. I mean most of them wrote a book or won a battle or became a senator. I am sure they all drank too much and caroused until dawn and fornicated abominably. 

I mean Nicolas will probably end up there. Spare me!

Anyways – I did finally see and at last understand – Foucault’s Pendulum. But I am still not ready for the book. 

Cate noticed – as I did last time – that there are more homeless people and beggars in Paris than in any other city we have visited in Europe. It must also – as I have mentioned previously – be the grubbiest city in Europe and have the most Graffiti artists per square metro. They should spend some tourist dollars on cleaners. 

There is barely a millimeter of Montmartre which is not covered with graffiti and the whole place is a shambles. There is not much you can do about this – Vienna is not much better. It is not as though much of it is artistic. Most of it is just vandalism.

But we were glad to escape from our hotel and I have promised to do better in future. It is not really that difficult and I have promised Cate that next time I will stop taking my stupid pills at least two days before making the booking.

On reflection I think the feathery effect on the wall in the stairwells was supposed to be snow. I still have no explanation for the crazy blood splatters in the elevator.  

Friday, November 25, 2011

Weasels seized my brain

La Tour Eiffel at Sunset

You will not be surprised to learn that Cate does not like the hotel. Anything about it in fact – including the location. She may not – in fact – accept that it is a hotel – in the true sense of the word.

On a scale of 10 this is a 4.5 and - my lowest score since Prague in 2009 – which I really never thought I could beat. That was really special – the one with the door that you could lick while you were sitting on the toilet – if you had a mind to lick toilet doors.

That was also the one that was next to the church with the belfry and you could not only hear the bells you could almost touch them as they were just across a narrow street – and at the same level as us - and we had no sooner asked the question ‘I wonder if they still ring those?’ than our question was answered.

But they stopped at midnight at which time we were able to stop gritting our teeth and our ears and ungrip our fingers from the frayed arms of the lounge chairs that once belonged to communist apparatchiks - and even the rats became more relaxed and stopped crashing around in the walls and bleeding from the ears.

Other than that – and perhaps Stockholm – which was not really my fault – this has not been my finest hour.

But it is entirely due to faulty planning and research and a last minute panic. There were indeed mitigating factors but I will not affect to apportion blame but will take the whole burden upon myself.

But it is indeed a stupid hotel. I mean it has shag pile carpet on the walls in the restaurant and the stair wells and the elevator looks like the movie set for a scene for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre - and it is in a part of Paris where you simply would not go after dark without armed guards or unless you were training for a tour of duty in Afghanistan and even then you would not do it without 12 navy SEALS in tow.

When I got the taxi there from our first hotel my driver had never heard of it and was amazed that it existed. When I said it was 4 stars he laughed out loud and said `why would you put a 4 start hotel here?’

Why indeed?

Well we had dinner here tonight. It was adequate. We saw no beautiful people although the nightclub fired up at about 9:30 and the singer was excellent. She looked liked she was Algerian.

She clearly had the hots for me because I was wearing my Eric Bompard cashmere top – and was looking for a more mature (if not fossilised) man - but Cate kept her at bay with a mild death glance.

The Ice Cube Bar is somewhere you go by booking in advance and paying €38. For this you get to go into a freezing room and have four shots of Grey Goose Vodka.

They have these places all over Moscow. They call them Metro station entrances. The vodka is not Grey Goose but the results are much the same. The greatest hazard in the Moscow metro in winter is circumnavigating the comatose Russians and the empty vodka bottles.

In Vienna the biggest displays are for chocolate. In Moscow they are for vodka. In any given supermarket – 50% will be devoted to vodka.

Given what I have learned over the last few years – and the mistakes I have made – I am astonished that I have fucked this up so badly. With the benefit of hindsight there was almost nothing right with my decision in terms of location, quality, style, presentation, ambience etc.

I mean it is a complete Goat Fuck. It is just stupid. This is the last hotel in the world we should be at. Weasels obviously seized my brain just before I made this decision. There is no other explanation.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It does have some potential

Bedroom with outdoor cupboard on right

Well we did find a few ducks yesterday on the canal near Jaures Metro station. This is near where Molly’s friend Andy lives. They were not the best looking ducks I have ever seen and they did not put on much of a show for us so I have not put a photo on the blog.

Today I moved into the KUBE hotel. This was entirely as expected. I arrived at midday and completed all the formalities including filling in forms and producing passports and credit cards and was told to come back at check-in in time – which was 3.00 PM.

So I wandered around the area which is very cosmopolitan. I am quite familiar with it because I always walk around here when I stay with Molly. It is very African and Arabic and full of strange sights. It is still the 18th Arrondissement  – but the opposite side to where Molly lives.

At 3.00 PM there was no one on reception but after a while a new man appeared who could not believe that I had already checked in – and for a long time could find no evidence of my having done so – so we did the passport – credit card thing again and then he took me to my room where we did the finger recognition reader on the door thing. The fingerprint thing is the only way you can get into your room. You can imagine how much confidence I have in this working properly.

The room is certainly funky – do they still use that word? It is certainly also the most impractical hotel room I have ever been in and seems to have been stripped clean of lights and power points.

I am using my Mac on a tiny desk in a darkened corner. The nearest light is three metres away. There is no power point within three metres but I have taken the glass top off the entertainment console – which contains a sound system and DVD player – and am using the power point in there.

There is no chair for the desk but there is a little wobbly glass topped stool and if I take a wide stance I can balance precariously on that – but need to take regular breaks because it is not built for comfort.

There is no cupboard in the room but there is a coat rack with some glass beaded hangers. The upside of this is that we will be close to our coats and can keep an eye on them during the evening.

Business Centre
The bed – at first glance – seems to be large and comfortable.

And – importantly – we seem to be at the extremity of the hotel and well away from where I think the noise is made in The Ice Kube at night. I have no interest in this unless I am the one making the noise.

Despite its potential shortcomings I like it a lot.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Here we are again

Photograph by Jean Baptiste Peillet

Well here we are again in the City of Light. It never ceases to fill me with wonder as there is nothing quite like it.

I spent some time on the airplane coming from Vienna trying to remember the French word for ‘what’. Just could not think of it. But amazingly – when we got into the taxi – it started coming back – as it always does – and I was chatting away with the taxi driver for an hour on the way in to Paris. He flattered me by telling me that my French was very good.

It is not – it is very bad. But I can get by and that is all I need to do.

I always forget that the French – like the Viennese – are world class smokers and you simply cannot escape the smoke anywhere outside hotels or cafés or the Metro – or indeed – anywhere in the street.

However, unlike the barbarians in Vienna – all bars, restaurants and cafés  are entirely and blissfully free of smoke. I would never have believed the French could do this – it is indeed a miracle – but for which I am most grateful.

Molly and I were to go ducking today but we were a bit short of time because her landlady is selling Molly’s apartment and Molly has to be there when prospective buyers come through – and this happened today.

She needs to do this just to see to the wellbeing of her cat Merlin who is by far her most precious possession. This whole business is a bit traumatic and causing some havoc in Molly’s life but she is doing the best she can.

So today we had lunch at the refurbished Sancerre in Montmartre. This always used to do the best Onion Soup but closed down for renovations. It has reopened – and I am pleased to say that the Soupe à l'oignon is as good as it ever was.

They have kept the same waiters and the same rats – for the sake of continuity – so things are much the same as they always were.

Molly lives in the centre of Montmartre – just off the main street of Rue des Abbesses – and her local bar – or one of them – is the Grand Hotel de Clermont – which is not really a very grand hotel and I think has only four guest rooms - with a shared bathroom.

I once thought I might stay there but Molly did a reconnaissance and suggested that it would not be appropriate for a person of my breeding and with my particular standards of personal hygiene.

It is most famous for once providing long term accommodation for Edith Piaf. It now accommodates as its regular drinking patrons a strange collection of characters – some of whom I have met on my regular visits.

Just down the hill from Montmartre is the Place Pigalle where there is the Moulin Rouge and some of the most unattractive places in Paris. It was always thus and during the war the American servicemen called it ‘Pig Alley’.

It does however have one of the best Japanese restaurants in Paris and it is one of Molly’s favourites. We ate there tonight and I had my usual - and delicious tempura prawns and miso soup.

The worst part about going there is that I always have to brave the attentions of those denizens of the deep who infest the pavements of that area and think that there is nothing that a blissfully happily married man of my age would rather do than go into a dingy rat infested bar - be inveigled by girls with short skirts into buying champagne at €200 per bottle then be slipped a Mickey Finn - have my wallet emptied - my credit cards stolen and then be tossed comatose into an alley 3:00 AM.

Not that I have not done that before – but I was younger then and had more stamina – and Cate was not waiting for me in a hotel on the other side of Paris.

Not that she is indeed waiting. She is conferencing somewhere and as I am writing she is having a dinner – probably in this very hotel.

That has not distracted me. I bought a bottle of French Chablis from room service and am having a quiet glass of fine wine and writing a blog. What could be better that that.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

It's all in my head

I have been very quiet during the last few days because I have been preparing our tax returns.

That is not quite true because I do not actually prepare our tax returns – in fact I could not prepare our tax returns – these are beyond the comprehension of mere mortals and are done by a large accounting firm with branches in almost every country in the world including Australia and Austria.

But each year I am required to provide masses of information about many things - most of which I know nothing about.

This is done online – and each year there is a new and improved form – which for some reason can never carry the information forward from the old and disreputable form – so I have to input stuff I have told them many times before about who we are and where we live and where our house is in Australia and where we live in Austria and how long we have been here and when we arrived.

And then there are things I can tell them like bank interest that we got and bank interest that we paid because I can look these things up. It is a tedious and time consuming process. Copious amounts of looking up and data collection is required.

But then things get difficult because Cate is an Australian resident who lives in Austria and works for a US company and gets paid in various places in various ways including in the USA and they ask a lot of questions that I cannot answer about things of which I know almost nothing.

As you well know – I do not get paid – I survive on what I can steal from the housekeeping – but I have to do a tax return because there are a couple of bits and pieces in my name. Not much mind you but enough that the government needs to know.

Unfortunately there only two definitive boxes ‘yes or no’. So if I am asked

‘Did you receive any dividend income from split equity holdings which you subdivided with pelican derivatives while boxing your non-taxable boodle bonds?’

I am supposed to click one of these two boxes – yes or no?

Well I left the financial world about 100 years ago and have no idea about any of this stuff any more or what happens with Cate’s stuff – and neither does she. She just gets money and spends it.

All I have is a bit of paper from a USA broker which looks a Pakahpu Ticket - and I have no idea what it means.

But fortunately – there is a box on the electronic form that says ‘I will come back to this’ and this allows me to move to the next incomprehensible question.

And – also fortunately – it is not like a computer game that does not allow you to move on until you finish one level.

So at the end of the process I have actually answered about 60% of the questions and half-answered about 20% but – regretfully – about 20% will be ones that I should go back to - but never will. This is good news for me but bad news for the major international accounting firm with branches everywhere.  

What I do then is scan in all the Pakahpu Tickets and attach them to the file and press SEND and about 30 seconds later some poor sod in Sydney gets this pile of half finished steaming trash on his PC.

But – he being an accountant – will look at my scanned in documents and will know exactly what it means in respect of pelican derivatives and boodle bonds and will wonder about the blithering idiot who completed the form who does not understand the simplicity of the whole process.
But accountants are like that. I did accounting for a diploma and actually got a credit for the subject but I found the whole process miserable beyond belief.

Although I did find some of it useful when I was subsequently a director of a bank and had to make decisions about whether or not to lend money to companies - based on their balance sheets. But it never really made sense to me that no matter how bad they were their assets always equaled their liabilities.  

For a later degree I did quantitative analysis. Let me tell you that if you ever have to move bales of cotton down the Mississippi river from Memphis to New Orleans and have a number of different barges with differing capacities and different speeds and need to do it in the smallest number of trips – I’m your man.

I have the formula locked in my brain. I have never been called upon to use it but it is there – waiting to be released.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Time to Speak Out!

November 18th is the day to Speak Out against domestic violence and as a long time follower of the wonderful Wanderlust I agreed a long time ago to link to her blog to support this event.

One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. That is way too many. The aim of this event is to bring awareness to the cause and encourage victims to speak out and seek help.

Kristen has a compelling story to tell about her own experiences and the work she has been doing to help others - so please have a look at her blog and the work she is doing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So where are the ducks in Paris?

Stadtpark 15 November 2011

Well today Cate was supposed to cruise in at about 9.00 AM from Istanbul – have a shower – repack her bag and leave for Delhi at about 11.30 AM.  

But  I woke with the smell of goats in the air and sure enough her plane was delayed from Delhi and she did not get home until after 10:30 AM so it was a mad rush for her to get ready for the 11:30 AM pickup.

And – goat things being what they are – the travel person messed up the seats for the umpteenth time this year and she was sitting in her least favourite seat on the aircraft – in the very front row next to the toilet – but Hallelujah! It was broken and the plane was not full so she was able to move back a couple of rows.

This was after she was told on checking in that her carry on luggage was two kilos overweight. She fixed the man with her death stare and said ‘I am a Senator and I am travelling Business Class’. 

He said ‘Take a book out of your luggage - I am just going to change my underpants’ and she did – and in a jiffy he was back and the problem was solved.

Of course there was also a problem with boarding and then they had to de-ice the wings and all that sort of palaver and I was getting regular progress reports - some of which were of a tense and terse nature - but part of my role is to deal with difficult situations and as my life is basically all beer and skittles I am happy to take on the role of the flak magnet when Cate has some spleen to vent – not that there was much left after she was airborne today.

Anyway – as I have said – this is her last major trip for the year – barring additional goat things which are always possible because there are some people out there just itching to fuck things up beyond all recognition - but let’s hope we can get to Christmas without too many major crises because it does take a toll on us all when things go pear-shaped.

Anyway I am not sure if I mentioned that Cate is going to a conference in Paris next Monday and I am going with her because this gives us the opportunity to spend a long weekend there and also to see my daughter Molly who lives there with her cat Merlin – and also edits my blog.

So for the first few days while Cate is conferencing Molly and I will visit cafés and cemeteries and take photos of cats and wander the streets of Paris – which is my second favorite city after Vienna.

We are staying in the conference hotel – whatever that is – for the first four days and then I have booked the Kube Hotel in Paris which is in the 18th Arrondissement where Molly lives – but not in the high end.

It was apparently once one of the coolest hotels in Paris – and has the Ice KUBE Bar – where really cool people drink.

These days it is more of a night club with a doss house attached but we will do the best we can. Paris is expensive – even in winter – and we are saving our money for Norway.

I will ask Molly where the ducks are in Paris. I may get some photos. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I am going to stick to ducks

Stadtpark today

I think I am just a philistine and will never really appreciate art. I have always had great trouble with modern art and impressionism in particular – and as for pointillists – well I always thought they were impressionists with significant problems with alcohol - probably absinthe.

Mind you – I really appreciate the work that goes into impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. We saw some of Van Gogh’s paintings in Amsterdam recently and they are truly breathtaking.  Some of them do not make a lot of sense to me but that is not the point – they made sense to him - and that is all that matters.

As does the fact that now people line up every day to marvel at his work.

But I do love it. I just love going to the Tate Modern or to MOMA and looking at a half a rabbit stuck on a piece of cardboard and covered in glad wrap and wondering how the artist thought of this piece of wizardry – let alone managing to translate it into a practical display.

I mean it cannot have been all that easy to get half a rabbit and preserve it so that the patrons can get near enough to see its innards and the work that has gone into engraving Beowulf onto its front teeth.

And the best part is that you can never really be sure that the artist is not pulling your chain.

Now me – I prefer something like John Constable. I like paintings you can understand. And photos. Give me Ansel Adams – there is no misunderstanding what you are looking at.

But clearly – based on recent events - the world has passed me by. I am going to stick to ducks. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

I have been doing it all wrong

Duck 1
Cate is now in Istanbul – staying in the ‘Swissôtel The Bosphorus’ which is a pretty snappy hotel – or would be if you were on a holiday and able to enjoy it - but in her case the only time she sees the hotel room is late at night when she gets back from her endless meetings.

Anyway it is my favourite hotel and does just about the best breakfast anywhere we have ever been - and there are a couple of chefs who will do your eggs any which way you like and you can have an omelette and have any damn thing you please in it.

But unfortunately this time she is there and I am here and in a couple of days she will back for a few hours and then will be in Delhi and then Mumbai.

It’s starting to get really cold so I have turned on the floor heating in the guest bathroom and that is where the cats spend most of their time now - even when I light the fire – which we do not really need - but I am one of those people who thinks that you cannot really be in Europe in winter and not have a fire. However – there is not point in having a fire without cats in front of it so I will have to re-think my strategy about the guest bathroom.

Now I have been having some thoughts about my photography and have realized that I am going about it the wrong way if I want to be successful. This was prompted by the sale of the attached photograph for €2.7 million – making it the most expensive photograph in the world.

The story in the Times says (in part)

A drab and largely featureless picture of a river has just become the most expensive photograph in the world, selling for $4.3 million (£2.7 million) at auction in New York, prompting raptures in the art world and a great deal of confusion among the general public.
Rhein II, a photograph of the Rhine taken by the German artist Andreas Gursky in 1999, had been valued by Christies at up to $3.5 million. On Tuesday night one buyer thought it even more valuable.

Rhein II is one of six photographs taken of the Rhine at an unspecified location. The artist described it as a “particular place with a view over the Rhine which has somehow always fascinated me, but it didn’t suffice for a picture as it basically constituted only part of a picture.”

For those outraged at the thought that a snap shot of a river could have such a price tag, it may be some consolation to know that Gursky put considerable thought into the photograph. He pondered the problem for some time, carrying “this idea for a picture around with me for a year and a half”.
The solution, it appears, was to strip it down further, until it almost resembled the work of an abstract painter. “In the end I decided to digitalise the pictures and leave out the elements that bothered me,” he said.

Gursky, 55, who grew up in Dusseldorf, is usually known for dazzling, richly detailed images portraying aspects of globalisation and commercialism.

“Space is very important for me but in a more abstract way,” he said. “Maybe to try to understand not just that we are living in a certain building or in a certain location, but to become aware that we are living on a planet that is going at enormous speed through the universe. I read a picture not for what’s really going on there, I read it more for what is going on in our world generally.”

Some viewers looking at Rhein II might wonder if the answer to this metaphysical question was: “not much”.

Christie’s, however, offered some basic instructions on how to look at the world’s most expensive photograph. Viewers were “not invited to consider a specific place along the river, but rather an almost ‘platonic’ ideal of the body of water as it navigates the landscape”.

So clearly my photos need some work if they are going to become commercially viable. I have decided that the way forward is to strip the ducks out of my duck pictures – making them effectively duckless. 

The first of these is shown today. This will be part of a limited edition of duckless prints which will be available at my first show.