Thursday, 28 May 2015

Read in 2015 - 17: Paradise Island

When I came across "Paradise Island" in 2012 as one of many free ebooks in Amazon's kindle store, I didn't know what it was about. Also, I'd never heard the name of the author, Brandon Royal, before. Was this going to be an adventure story of the "Treasure Island" type, or a travel log such as the voyages of Captain Cook which I have read last year?





The subtitle reads "An Armchair Philosopher's Guide to Human Nature (or "Life Lessons You Learn While Surviving Paradise")".

Admittedly, the lessons and alleged philosophical guidance of the book were quite lost on me; I read it as a story, and was in vain trying to make real hand and foot of it.



Still, it was a pleasurable read during my train trips to and from work and in the doctor's waiting room, because the writing style is elegant and sometimes witty. Also, it is short enough (approx. 82 pages, according to Amazon) not to feel like a waste of time or to become so boring as to be put aside.



The book starts with the narrator making the acquaintance of The Map Maker, an old man who draws and occasionally sells maps. Some of the maps are accurately representing the real geography of places, while others are fantasy maps, adorned with vignettes and shown only to select customers*.

When the Map Maker dies, he leaves his journal to the narrator, and the rest of the book consists of excerpts from that journal, with additional philosophical comments by the narrator.

When the Map Maker was a young man, he travelled extensively, and somehow found his way to Paradise Island, where he drank, talked, listened, loved and lived long enough to co-own a bar and build a house.

So far, so good.



However, I do not feel like recommending this book as I maybe could have done, for one reason: In my opinion, it idealises and romanticises (does such a word exist in English?) prostitution and drinking.

Those who know me personally know that I am far from being a prude; I don't mind explicit scenes (there aren't any here, really) in a book when they fit the story and are well written, and you all know that I do love my cocktails. But...

...I don't think it is all that "romantic" for young island women to work at bars where their job is to make rich travellers fall for their exotic beauty and spend a lot of money on drinks for them and themselves, and perform enticing dances and take the bar-goers as lovers who then are obliged to finance not only their girlfriends but also their entire, numerous families. It's prostitution, plain and simple, not love or romance.



So, in spite of those aspects that made the book pleasurable enough, I'd only give it 2 out of 5 stars. Maybe I was just being too stubborn to pick up on the philosophical lessons, and viewed the whole book too much from a female perspective (hardly surprising, none of the rich travelling bar-goers are women).

From the author's website I gather he has written several educational books (non-fiction) which sound far better than what I happened to come across here.

*This has high potential for a really great story, but the book does not actually follow up on the fantastic idea. I have seen, though, that there is a book "The Map Maker" by the same author... it is tempting, but I fear I'll be in for disappointment if I download and read that one.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Guest Post For My Ill Daughter

Most mothers are great when it comes to taking care of a sick child, and my Mum is no exception. But she certainly is special in that, on top of bringing me a huge piece of her home-made green asparagus quiche and generally making sure I have everything I need, she wrote today's guest post for me.
I have left it largely unaltered, and I think it is something to be proud of if you speak and write another language as well as this - especially considering that my Mum is 70 years old and never had any formal education in English beyond what she learnt at school more than 5 decades ago.
[Square brackets are mine.]

Guest Post for My Ill Daughter
Today [Sunday] we had in our hometown a very traditional event: Pferdemarkt, that means horse market. It goes back to May 1731, when Duke Eberhard Ludwig [the founder of Ludwigsburg] reigned in Württemberg. If you are interested, you can learn more here [in English].
The whole town and a lot of tourists come to Ludwigsburg to watch the parade, which takes about 2 hours. So many people, the town was really crowded - but, what a pity, without Meike. The reason: She is ill and has to stay at home. My husband and I went to the parade, and Meike asked me to take photos for her. So I did, but sometimes the groups passed rather fast, and when it clicked in my camera, they were already further on...


The parade was set up chronologically: They began with the Romans [who have indeed settled in our area], then the Middle Ages, then Baroque, then "Biedermaier", I think a Germany-specific era in the  the 19th century, exactly from 1815 - 1848, and then the present time, when horses were replaced by tractors.


And of course, there were also groups of inhabitants of Ludwigsburg, not Germans, but Greeks, Portuguese, Spaniards, French and others.


One club does American Square Dance, the call themselves "The Happy Sliders", very colourful and all in best mood.

After standing more than 2 hours in the crowd, we were thirsty and a bit tired, so we went to a restaurant-garden, had a drink, and then went further to the "Krämer-Markt". That is a great market, with many stalls, all under old blooming chestnut trees, but very, very crowded. It doesn't matter too much to me, but my husband can't stand those situations. But he wanted to go there, so he had to deal with it. And we found everything we looked for, things you cannot buy in a shop.
And then, as a reward, I invited him to a super Italian icecream parlour and we could sit again, enjoying a delicious tasting icecream.
So, my Dear [that's me!], that was our Sunday afternoon, I wish you to get well soon!
Mum and Dad.

- - - End of Guest Post - - -

I really, really, really wanted to go and see the parade yesterday, but there was no way I could have done it. Even if I had felt better, it would have been very inconsiderate towards everyone around, me being still infectious.
This is not the first time something about the Horse Market has appeared on my blog. In fact, the very first picture I ever showed you of my parents together was from that event. If you like, you can re-read that post here.

Anyway, I am officially on sick leave until Wednesday, and hope to be back at work on Thursday. In the meantime, thank you, Mum, for the lovely quiche, the guest post and pictures and everything else!

Friday, 15 May 2015

Lovely Lilac And Other May Things

The scent of lilac can be owerpowering when there is too much of it in a room, but out in people's gardens, it is wonderful. One of the most beautiful lilac trees around here is the one I can see from my kitchen window:



Last year, I talked to the elderly lady whose garden it is, and she said that she never planned it that way - the three colours all came out of the same stem without her doing.

The pictures were actually taken at the end of April, but it still looked like that for the first week of May. By now, nearly everywhere around the lilac has gone "rusty", except for a few cooler and shadier places where it is still glorious.


A typical spring/early summer meal for me is Kartoffeln mit Kräuterquark - spuds (potatoes) with curd cheese. The curd is spiced with salt, pepper and whatever else you may like (such as garlic or spring onions). Fresh herbs are the best addition, but if you - like me - haven't got any handy at the time, dried ones will do. For more smoothness, I stirred in a little bit of olive oil.
The spuds don't need any special treatment; simply boil and peel them (or peel them first and boil them in a pan to make it quicker, like I did).
A very filling and healthy meal is the result.


By the way, I happened to come across those spuds quite by chance: My hairdresser gave them to me! How many times have you gone to have your roots done and come home with a bag of spuds?
A farmer from our area comes into town regularly. He offers his produce directly from his van; spuds, eggs, carrots, lettuce, strawberries etc., according to season. I never see him because I usually am at work when he is here, but my hairdresser nearly always buys something from him. The other day, she bought too much - she and her boyfriend are on a diet, and so they did not cook and eat as much as usual. Because she did not want to throw away anything, she distributed the spuds between me and two other customers that morning at her salon.


One of the best and most useful presents I ever got is this coffee machine. My Mum got it years ago through a bonus point system at an online cooking forum where she moderates, and gave it to me as she already had one. I've loved this machine ever since, for its easy use and because it does not take up much room. Something else I like about it is that I don't have to buy the original coffee pads that are of the same brand, but can go for the much cheaper (but equally tasty) ones from Aldi, without having to go to two different shops. Also, the amount of waste it creates is minimal - the pads are compostable, as opposed to the shiny aluminium tablets and cups that are needed for such fancy coffee machines as the Nespresso ones and others.


A few weeks ago, my Mum was offered the successor of the first model, this time in red, as part of a product testing program (= for free). She took it and gave it to me. I have a red toaster with white polka dots (as can be seen here), so a red coffee machine seemed like a good idea. It is just as easy to use as the first one, which I handed down to RJ, who has been saying for years that he likes my coffee better than the one he has at home. So, everyone is happy now - the product tester program got a good review, and RJ and I can both have tasty coffee effortlessly even when he is not here.




 
This was a bit of a disjunct post, I know; but writing about the coffee machine gave me the idea for another post: the best and most useful presents I ever got.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Read in 2015 - 16: You Want Breakfast Now?





What do you get when you take three young men, one car and over 13.000 km (9.000 miles) of driving through 15 different countries, where none of the three speak the language or seem to know much about?
That's right - you get the adventure of a lifetime, and this is exactly what the Mongol Rally turned out to be for three lads from Tresco (Scilly Islands).

The report of their trip of 30 days fills not only a website, but also a free ebook I happened to come across at Amazon's kindle store a year or so ago. The book's title, "You Want Breakfast Now?", does not offer any hint of its content, making reading it a small adventure for the reader as well.
(In the second half of the book the origin of the title is revealed.)

I'd not heard about the Mongol Rally before, but apparently it is a well established annual charity event (it has its own website, of course, and a wikipedia entry). The three young men from Tresco didn't know everything before they started, either, but they certainly learned loads along the way, and let their readers participate.

Apart from being an enjoyable read, I learnt a few things which may come in useful (at a future pub quiz, for instance), such as, why potholes are called potholes, and the name of Mongolia's currency. Would you know?

A bit of proofreading would have greatly benefitted the book, but it's not so bad as being unreadable. To know when to write "its" or "it's" seems to have been a greater challenge than the Rally itself, and the author (or whoever edited/proofread the text) gets it right only a handful of times in the whole book.

But as I said, I enjoyed it a lot, and was often very glad to be where I am: in a country comfortably well off, where (usually) we can rely on a working basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges (not something to be taken for granted in many other countries). I sleep in a comfy bed every night and can have a nice hot shower every day, there are more or less regular trains taking me to and from work, and I have no trouble booking a hotel room or shopping for food because it can all be done in my native tongue. 


That's much more than many people can claim to have, and more those three young men (and all the other Mongol Rallye participants, some of whom the reader meets in the book) had for a month. They did all that of their own choice, while countless people have not much choice; for them, leaving their home towards an unknown destination is a question of life or death, and in all likelihood many of them will never see their original homes again.

Such thoughts crossed my mind every now and then when reading of the Mongol Rally adventures. I know it is not my cup of tea, but I appreciate the valuable lessons learned by those who have done it, and enjoyed reading about it.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Almost a Mini-Holiday

That's what my evening out with three of my girlfriends felt like on Friday. (If you click on the link in the first sentence, you'll land on my first post about our regular nights out.)

We like to try a different restaurant every month, and on Friday, we took a short drive (13 km) to Besigheim, a small town north of Ludwigsburg. Like nearly all places around my home town, it is much, much older, finding its first written mention in 1153. Famous for its well-preserved medieval town centre and surrounded by vineyards and wineries, Besigheim calls itself proudly "Germany's most beautiful wine town". Beautiful it certainly is:


The pictures above were taken from across the river, where we parked and then walked into town. The two below show the typical medieval street layout, so different from the symmetrical way Ludwigsburg was planned five centuries later.

Well preserved and cared for medieval houses. They are really nice to look at, but I doubt I'd want to live in one. Small windows and thick walls mean they are not as light and airy as I like to live.



The building with the clock is Besigheim's town hall. The restaurant is just next door on the ground floor of another well-kept timber framed building.
The "Olive" offers Eastern-Mediterranean food (I believe this style is called "levantine"), and the owner Ahmad Tanha and his team are doing a great job. The decor is nice, modern but not "artsy"; the place is clean, the food excellent and reasonably priced, and the staff friendly, witty and charming without being silly or slimy (as does happen every now and then when ladies dine out without male company).

Starters shared by the four of us - of course there is hummus, tabouleh, and several other delights. The carrots are glazed and spiced with cinnamom, cardamom and others (not sweet, just lovely and unusual).


One of my friends had this oven dish of aubergines and other vegetables. The size would have fed all of us!


My choice was this salad of avocado and tomato with cheese.

 Another of my friends had beefsteak with roast spuds...

 ...and the fourth had duck which looked delicious and very tender; also with spuds. (Sorry about the bad quality of these pictures. I did not use flash and took them very quickly, because a) I did not want the hot food to get cold for my friends, and b) did not want to disturb the other guests.)



We were all happy with what we had ordered - and so full up afterwards that nobody felt like dessert! By the time we left the restaurant, it was of course dark, but still warm like an early summer's night. All this combined - the short trip to this beautiful place, the great food, good company and warm evening - made it feel like a mini holiday for me. This was our first time there, but certainly won't be the last.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Post # 700

Well, here it is: Post # 700 on this blog. Who would have thought I'd stick to blogging for so long when I first started? Not me, that's for sure! Also, I had no idea what direction this blog was going to take, how it would change over the years along with the changes in my life (some voluntary, some completely beyond my control or what I would have expected), or of the contacts and friends all over the world I was going to make through it.

The self-set task of finding a good topic for this milestone post proved to be impossible. Therefore, I've done what I think is also suitable because it matches the range of topics my blog usually covers: Mixing and matching.

If you have your own blog, you are probably familiar with this situation: You take pictures while you're out, or at home, with the intention of using them on a post. But days and weeks and months pass, and you never write that post because somehow you are not as inspired as you thought you were when you took the picture. Or you suddenly think the original idea behind the post won't be of any interest, or it's not "enough" to warrant a post on its own. But for some reason, you do not delete the picture. Instead, you keep it in a folder on your computer, and other such folders begin to accumulate, or (if you are neat and tidy) other such pictures find their way into the same folder. Every now and then, you may even look at the pictures and think of the original idea behind them. Does this sound a bit like you? It certainly sounds a lot like me, because it is exactly what has been happening here over the past 3 years.

But today, I am opening that folder and showing you what I've found - in no particular order:
Cats in my neighbourhood. The one in the first picture looks a bit like my Pukky, but it wasn't her.

A trip down Memory Lane to the Black Forest town where I went to Librarian School, meeting two of my former class mates and walking along the river with them. This was in May 2013.

 Another cat I met while out running.

Disused rail tracks not too far from where I live. I love looking along those tracks and imagine them leading to all kinds of mysterious and exciting places. Of course in reality I know exactly where they lead to, but it's the idea that counts.

The buffet RJ and I prepared for his birthday party at my place last year in July.

View from my kitchen window on the morning of October 14, 2014.

Helping my Mum to sell her hand-made socks at the 2014 version of the event I blogged about here in 2013.

June 2014 in a much loved part of Ludwigsburg's palace grounds.

October 2014, taken during a walk with RJ.

Many of these pictures were taken with my mobile phone, which explains their quality (or, rather, the lack of it). Still, they show a mix of several of those topics that have featured (and will continue to do so) on here. I don't know if there will be another 700 posts, but right now I can't see myself stopping blogging any time soon - and I hope I will keep you as my precious readers!

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Post No. 699

Nearly 700 posts now! And it does not feel that long ago that I wrote No. 500; nor would I have thought I'd stick to this for so long when I took my first tentative steps into the blogosphere. But then again, I usually am someone who sticks to people, things and places for a long time; I am not a "butterfly" in that I am not volatile when it comes to friendships, work, hobbies or habits.

Can you believe this is already the last day of the first quarter of 2015? Whenever I look at dates on a calender, I find time is passing with incredible swiftness. And it gets even more poignant when I observe the day-to-day changes happening outside. Take the cherry tree in front of my kitchen window, for instance.



A few days ago, it was all covered in beautiful white blossoms. By yesterday, they were almost all gone, and now the tree is clad in tender green leaves.

Clad in green I was, too, when I went walking with my Mum Sunday a week ago (see previous two posts).

To work, I have been wearing a blouse I bought already last year in winter but could not wear until now because of the cold weather. You can't see it properly in the pictures, but the pattern on it is keys and locks - very fitting for my line of work (data protection and IT security). It's adding such little touches of humour to otherwise boring business outfits that I like.

A very banal post, this one, I know; but I had to write something, didn't I? And not much else suitable for my blog is happening in my life these days. (It is all good things, let me assure you - just nothing I feel comfortable blogging about.)