Friday, April 30, 2010

Episode 585: Finally, Some Work Got Done

Joel Stein has contributed a snarky list to TIME: Least Influential People of 2010. Some of it is genuinely funny, although there's a lot of empty snark in there as well. I am pleased to note that both Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag made the list though. The Hills is one of those 'reality' shows that's dragged on far too long. Come on people, give Tinsley Mortimer a chance to squander her media standing too! Although why The CW felt the need to create the pointless 'reality' mess that is High Society when fake stuff like Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries, and goodness, even Melrose Place obviously has more entertainment value, I will never understand. Can American viewers really be that thick (and pathetic)? You know what? Don't even answer that. Work went rather well today. I finished off the French comprehension in pretty much record time, and I also stayed up till 4 am last night to finish the portfolio for EN232, which I've now e-mailed to a couple of people for feedback. Now I just need to finish off a short French composition, and then it's time to tackle that monstrosity of a commentary. I'm still a bit bowled over by the fact that my commentary is going to be at least 1000 words longer than the combined word count of my poems.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Episode 584: Abortive Attempt At Work

Have been trying to do work the entire day, but have wound up listening to the duet version of 'Amarrado A Ti' by Álex Ubago and Sharon Corr. She apparently has a pop album coming out this year, and the snippets on her website sound promising. (Yes, there is still room in my iTunes library for music that hasn't been polished to a glossy sheen.) 'Amarrado A Ti', by the way, is really quite catchy. It starts off with a minor chord progression but is nonetheless ridiculously upbeat, and I think that's why I really love the song. Anyway, on the work front, I've decided which two pieces of writing I'm going to discuss for the 500-word pieces. It's going to be Calvin Trillin's 'The Magic Bagel' and David A. Price's The Pixar Touch: The Making Of A Company. I've even had vague thoughts about what I admire in each, which is phenomenal progress by my standards. Am despairing over the commentary for my poetry though. I had a look at the average length that I managed per poem for last year's poetry unit in EN124, and it was about 150 words. It means I need to waffle along for two sentences longer on average, which doesn't sound like a lot, until you realise that really, I was waffling all the way to begin with. Argh.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Episode 583: The Box

Went onto campus to attend an options market briefing that I didn't actually need because I've already picked my modules for next year. I do want to try auditing one or two, since the workload from the French language module at the Language Centre is definitely not going to be as taxing for me as a module from the English department. Spent some time chilling in Curiositea, and then in the Library reading Joey Comeau's Overqualified. It was hilarious, although on the whole, it was the bits about the brother, Adrian, that struck me most and made me sad. That said, I am now also firmly convinced that Comeau is crazy, but a good kind of crazy that I would totally hang out with. (If he tweets me back after I mentioned him and his book on Twitter, I will be beyond happy.) Also saw The Box with Dan, which I would go so far as to say is one of the rare films that defy summarising. Let's just say it raises interesting ethical and philosophical questions, for which the mainstream audience has unsurprisingly hated on it. For me, the most interesting thing to consider is how much free will did the Lewises actually have. It seems to me that from the moment Norma (impulsively?) pushed the button, they were locked into a chain of events beyond their control, although the film does seem to go out of its way to muddy the order of cause and effect. In the end, the film never fully explains all of its events, but yet its two hours made for a richer viewing experience than most Hollywood blockbusters. We need more films like these that make people think, rather than the mindlessness of the likes of Twilight. (I apologise to Twilight fans for constantly cutting it down, but seriously, even if you want fluff of the vampiric variety, there's so much stuff out there that's better. Heck, read Anne Rice if you have to. I know I would.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Episode 582: Getting Back To Work

So after learning today that my French examinations have been brought forward, I'm pretty psyched. That's one entire module that'll be ought of the way in less than a month! Have actually spent some time this afternoon after getting back from class doing French coursework. Isn't that amazing? I've also decided it's time to actually start writing the commentaries for my poems, so I'm going to do a couple tonight, if I can be bothered to exert myself that much. It's probably also a good chance to do some editing, if I feel so inclined. 200 words per poem seems rather a lot though, and it's a bit daunting to have to keep finding things to say when it feels like my approach for the entire portfolio was basically wanting to chronicle the paradoxical feelings evoked by holidaying. Admittedly, a lot of thought went into some of the poems, and on the whole, I think I made more revisions than average for me, but I'm still a bit embarrassed by the quality, seeing as how I'm going to be citing Elizabeth Bishop, Thom Gunn and Philip Larkin as the major influences on the portfolio as a whole. Maybe it is time to edit brutally, as someone suggested?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Episode 581: Clubbing On A Monday!

So what was originally meant to be a celebration of our deadline turned into a celebration of, I guess, the extension we'd been granted. (It also means we get to celebrate the deadline again in two weeks' time. Yay!) On the way from Sophie Mac's place to Kasbah, I finally knew what it felt like to be one of the annoying, tipsy kids on the top deck of the bus. Except there weren't a lot of people around to be annoyed with us anyway, so I guess that was okay then. (Plus we were quite well-behaved. Really.) Kasbah actually isn't that crowded on a Monday night, and it was pretty nice to know that I was having fun while lots of people I know had just had their first day of the new term. I believe the term for this is schadenfreude! Then again, it's not like I've gone out a lot this year, so why deny myself a bit of fun? Walking back in the early hours of the morning was a bit creepy though, even though I wasn't in any danger of getting lost. I did post a tweet saying that if I didn't tweet again in 20 minutes, the police should be informed since it meant I'd probably been mugged or something. The funny thing? After 20 minutes, I nearly forgot to tweet again, despite being almost home.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Episode 580: Countdown To...Nothing!

'Styles change. / The democracy of it: / eventually everyone / can hope for a turn / at being wanted.' Thanks, Thom Gunn, for that reassurance. I might just have to buy your books now for those lines, even though I'm still hoping Faber & Faber will update the Collected Poems. (If it doesn't happen by the time I'm due to graduate next year, I'll just buy the Collected Poems and Boss Cupid separately because that's just how much I like Gunn's poetry.) Anyway, I'm not usually a big YouTube person, but I couldn't help checking out a video of Paul Muldoon analysing Ke$ha's 'Tik Tok' for The Princeton Tiger. For a gag, it really wasn't as funny as I thought it would be, so slight disappointment there. Especially awkward was the joke about 'junk' being a reference to China. Logical? Yes. Funny? Well, not really? Even Cyanide & Happiness got more laughs out of me. Admittedly, that brand of humour is only tolerable in moderate doses. Too much of it, and I start to wonder why the heck I'm reading this webcomic. I only picked Cyanide & Happiness because Dinosaur Comics is too wordy to get through 200 comics at one go. It is, however, much, much better. Fact! One day, I'm going to mention Ryan North in a tweet and see if I get a reply. (Yeah, my life is that boring. Hey, it's actually worked before.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Episode 579: The Angels Are Back!

You know what sucks? Finally deciding to go to bed at a decent hour, and then not being able to fall asleep because your feet are constantly aching. That was me last night, so I ended up sleeping till 1 pm again. Anyway, I've finally read the last of the plays that I bought in London, Paul Sellar's 2 Graves. It's a one-man play and the lines display some virtuosic rhyming, but the ending's pretty disappointing in that it's too conventionally moralising and happens far too quickly, compared to the rest of the play's action. It's like Sellar decided, right, that's enough now, so I'm just going to finish this off as quickly as possible. (I should probably point out in all fairness that I don't have an idea as to how the play could have been finished off. I'm just saying the ending as it is didn't quite work for me.) Am heading to the pub in a bit to meet Dan, but hopefully, by the time I get back I'll be able to find the latest episode of Doctor Who. I really do love the Weeping Angels. They creep me out more than the Daleks ever will. Otherwise, I'll just get around to reading either Kazuo Ishiguro's Nocturnes or Paulo Coelho's The Winner Stands Alone, both of which recently arrived in the post. (This whole not-buying-books thing really hasn't been working out too well, as you can tell.) There are worse ways to spend a Saturday night!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Episode 578: Writing About Enfance...

I really like how the sun seems to have decided to make a permanent acquaintance with us. It's about bloody time too. The title for the mini-essay I'm writing in French right now on Nathalie Sarraute's Enfance is 'Les mots qui blessent.' It's going pretty well, and I should be able to finish it by tonight, just to get it out of the way. I've been putting it off for too long, and now I feel a bit rusty, partly because I'm not used to carrying out literary analysis in a foreign language. Still need to think about the topic for my oral presentation, and actually prepare something to say that lasts five minutes. Anyway, I've decided that next year, I'm going to spend more money on acquiring poetry. It's a decision that's arisen out of the realisation that for someone who mainly writes poetry, I don't actually have a very wide exposure to it. Oh, I read enough to get by, I suppose, but not nearly as much as I think I should. (This probably applies to my reading in general really!) So yeah, less spending on frivolous things like clothes next year, I think. Well, unless there's a really good Diesel or G-Star RAW online sale.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Episode 577: An Unasked-for Extension

Woke up this morning to learn through Twitter that we now have an extension on our EN232 portfolio. So that makes two portfolios due in for Week 3, both of which I've brought so close to completion that if I stayed up all night, I could have them printed off by tomorrow morning. Instead, I've taken a day off. Again. Watched the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, which was awful because not a lot seemed to happen and Keanu Reeves may have done some good work, but watching him being expressionless isn't very entertaining. Am now reading the latest entry in The Dresden Files series and it's like coming back to an old friend. You can spot the jokes before they come, but you still like them anyway. I'm planning to stay up as long as necessary to finish it in one sitting, and then I'll try to finish off whatever's left of the Thom Gunn volumes I've been reading on and off, if it's not too late. Am going to get a long-overdue haircut tomorrow, so I might as well drop stuff off at the Library while I'm at it.

To be honest, I don't know whether to feel pleased or annoyed about the extension. I'm sure there are people for whom it's literally a godsend so bully for them, but for me, the problem now is that I can't pretend that I haven't time to revise my work to make it better. Oh, it's been well-received so far by people who've bothered to let me know they've read it, the most random being Vishna dropping me a message on Facebook telling me she loved it, even though we hardly see each other despite being on the same course. So the work is resonating with people. Some people, anyway. Am I prepared to spend the effort tinkering? To be brutally honest with myself, no. If it was good enough for half a dozen people so far, it's good enough for me to want to just print it off and hand it in. In all likelihood, this is also the sort of attitude that will hamper any of my attempts to become a 'serious writer', whatever that even means. Does that bother me? Some days, yes. Most of the time though, I just want people to like my writing, even if it doesn't measure up to my own perfectionism.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Episode 576: Back Up North (Relatively Speaking)

So I'm back home in Coventry, trying to do work but feeling too lazy to actually make a serious effort. I even procrastinated by watching the 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror. The things I subject myself to in the name of avoiding work! I've pretty much figured out the rest of the piece at least, but it feels pretty flat to me somehow, and I'm not sure how to fix it. Probably requires something like a complete change of topic, but it's a bit late for that, I think. Was reading Thom Gunn again on the ride back and feeling humbled by what I like to think of as the uninhibited restraint of his poetry. (Yes, I know it's a contradiction in terms, but I don't think anyone reading this really cares about my feelings on Gunn's poetry that much to warrant a detailed explanation.) Have also been reading a couple of the plays that I bought at Oxfam. (Only realised today that my copy of Kingfisher Blue by Lin Coghlan is autographed by the cast that premiered it!) Nothing particularly amazing so far, although Gregory Motton's God's Island had its moments, but got too caught up in its attempts at philosophising, in my opinion.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Episode 575: The 39 Steps

Just got back from Troy's birthday dinner at Pizza East. That place is pretty cool, really industrial feel to it. I'm beginning to realise just how much money London makes me spend. Today, I had lunch at itsu, which was healthy, but also pricey. Also dropped into an Oxfam charity shop, where I nearly bought seven plays published by Oberon Books, but walked off with four instead. Had been hoping to find some poetry that I'd want to buy, but no, it didn't happen. I did see a copy of Zoë Brigley's The Secret from Bloodaxe, but even when shopping at charity shops, I don't buy books if they're too badly damaged. Was pretty much just killing time before going to see The 39 Steps anyway. Had picked this production completely on a whim, purely because I could get a stall ticket for £12. One of my best impulse decisions ever! I loved the humour, which at times derived from breaking of the fourth wall, which is something I really like seeing in theatre. The way the cast juggled the swift role changes was also impressive. Can't describe it properly here because it's got to be seen to be appreciated. I'm pretty pleased that I managed to catch the Hitchcock references in the dialogue as well. (Hitchcock directed the first film adaptation of John Buchan's novel of the same name. Patrick Barlow's theatrical adaptation of the Hitchcock film retains the plot, but gives it a much more comic treatment.) So yeah, it's definitely something worth checking out if you're in London! I've been keeping up with my writing as well, which I think is pretty impressive. Am definitely on track to finishing 5000 words before the weekend. It's not fantastic, but at least it'll be done.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Episode 574: Shall I Buy The Complete New Yorker?

Did a walking tour in London, although my feet lately have been killing me. It's like some huge delayed reaction to all the walking I did while on tour, but otherwise, makes no sense. All I did was walk to church from the bus stop on Sunday, and then to Cannon Park Shopping Centre after service to buy groceries! Oh well. The walking tour was okay, but not really particularly exciting, even though it was about Jack the Ripper. The guide, who's a student at UCL, was really using 'uh' too much. It's like when people pray and use 'God/Lord' as punctuation, just drives me crazy. Was originally going to see a musical before deciding to accompany Troy on the walking tour, but I am going to see The 39 Steps tomorrow afternoon. May go to Harrod's with him and Briony before that, if I can wake up early enough. (They're meeting at 9.30 am, which is an hour that pretty much hasn't existed for me since I came back from my holiday.) I've also made phenomenal progress (for me) on my second non-fiction piece. I'm not sure if I know enough random facts about Singapore to hit 2000 words, but I'll worry about that in a couple of days. Right now, I'm just really tempted to order The Complete New Yorker (technically only until February 2005, but that's still 80 years' worth of issues) on DVD for US$17.95...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Episode 573: Our Mediated Gaze

Have managed to finish my first non-fiction piece before leaving for London! It weighs in at 2168 words, cutting it real close. Like most of my longer pieces of work, I think it gets weaker towards the end. I'm definitely one of those writers which need a good editor. I think I was getting too hung up on laying out facts and figures, so the tone of the piece flags in parts. Oh well. It's time to move on! Hopefully, this piece about Singapore will take a lot less effort to write, seeing as I'm supposedly telling the reader about something that I'm the expert on. I've already got an idea for the opening, so I'll try to get that down tonight before going to bed. Still have no plans for what I'm going to do in London other than Troy's birthday dinner, but I'll bring my laptop along so that I can do a bit of work at some point. (Really need to get started on French stuff!) First though, I'm going to finish watching yet another religious-themed film. This time, it's The Reaping, which I remember wanting to see when it came out, but I'm thinking it's a good idea that I didn't. Yeah, the story's a bit of a letdown again. Maybe I'm just demanding too much? Hollywood films just don't seem to able to provide the kind of sustained development that I'm used to in novels.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Episode 572: Daleks Versus Work?

I'm now around 1200 words for the piece on the media and natural disasters, and it feels like it's going to run over the 2000-word limit. Definitely can finish it by tomorrow night if I'm really focused, but even if I don't I'll get it done over my brief London getaway. Am watching the latest Doctor Who episode, featuring the return of the Daleks. I'm a bit upset that there isn't a green Dalek in the newly reconstructed race. I always think a colour palette lacks balance if it doesn't have green in it. (I might be biased on this because it happens to be my favourite colour.) Procrastinated earlier in the evening by watching Gabriel, starring Andy Whitfield who currently appears in Spartacus: Blood And Sand on Starz. (I haven't actually watched that series yet. Just one more on the long list that my external hard drives store.) Aside from science fiction, I'm also a bit of a sucker for anything that borrows elements from the Judaeo-Christian tradition (although I abhor Dan Brown), and well, a film about good and evil battling for control of purgatory seems like a fairly novel concept. From what I've read online though, the film has pretty much been universally panned. It's a shame, I guess, since if bigger names had been attached to it, you know it would have generated at least some publicity. As it is, this Australian film has been relegated to direct-to-DVD in the USA. It's an okay film, but like most stuff that I watch these days, I feel like the story could have been more developed. That's probably more a function of film length, which with the short attention spans social media promotes today, makes even two hours seem self-indulgent.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Episode 571: Go It Is...

Have booked my brief sojourn in London. Will be there from Monday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon. Would like to see Stomp on Monday night, so might just end up going by myself. Will probably spend Tuesday hanging out with the Contiki bunch, and then I'm off on Wednesday. Sounds like a really short trip, but it was really all about catching them for one last hurrah and Troy's birthday, since they were all stuck in London anyway. Will be crashing on Petrina's floor because Wilson hasn't replied to my Facebook message, and she's near enough to Russell Square anyway. Have yet to produce sufficient words to justify this semi-impulsive trip, but I've had a mental breakthrough regarding how to organise the ideas I have about the piece, so it looks like I'll be able to finish writing it over the weekend. Will try to get it past 1000 words before turning in for the night. Randomly, I'm still living off junk food and Coke, although I will make a proper meal tomorrow, having bought some frozen fries yesterday. I love living opposite a grocer's, even though it's really tiny and the selection is correspondingly limited. One day, I'll walk in there like a little kid and buy some candy from the pick 'n' mix.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Episode 570: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Seeing as some of the Contiki people are stuck in London because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland that has caused air traffic to grind to a halt, I'm seriously contemplating hopping down to London for a couple of days to join them. Now it's just a matter of finding accommodation! The easy solution is really just to book a room at the Tavistock or County hotels, both in the vicinity of where my friends are staying and operated by the same hotel group anyway, just cheaper. (The Tavistock has en-suite rooms that tempt me more, as I figure if I'm going to splash out by staying in a hotel, why would I pick one that has shared bathrooms like the County?) Petrina has offered to let me crash at her place, which is pretty near to where I need to be, and I'm also asking Wilson if I can stay at his. I'll probably end up just picking whoever's nearer to Russell Square itself. To justify this trip though, I'm going to have to step up my productivity. I did some really good research today (i.e. I used Google) for the piece on the media and natural disasters, so I've pretty much got all the material I need to write that part of the portfolio. Am writing now in fact, and realising that the snappiness of the first two paragraphs really isn't sustainable throughout, not if I want to actually make a serious point along the way. Bummer...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Episode 569: An Uncharacteristically Early Start To The Day

Oddly enough, I woke up this morning around 9 am, and despite refusing to get out of bed, never managed to quite fall back asleep again. So I got up. What a difference starting the day early makes! It's like all these hours I've never discovered before, suddenly there at my disposal. So I did useless things like catch up on V and the season finale of Melrose Place, which was kind of abrupt, especially if the series doesn't get renewed. No closure! To be honest though, at this point I don't really care about anyone on the show other than Ella, whose scheming ways would surely be a match for Blair's. It's too bad it's just not the done thing to add new people to ensemble casts, otherwise Katie Cassidy could just ditch Melrose Place and be added to Gossip Girl to mix things up there. I've promised myself to start some form of work tomorrow, so the question is whether it'll be working on the French mini-essay about Enfance, which I'm quite excited to write because I've never done literary criticism in French, or soldiering on with my piece about the media and natural disasters. I don't feel as strongly for the piece as I did when I first penned the opening paragraphs, but it should be easy enough to slip back into the tone of the piece, if I can just decide what the next paragraph should be talking about. I have things to say, certainly, but the order in which they should appear in the piece is something I have yet to establish.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Episode 568: Reality Strikes Back

'Until now, your biggest concern is whose hair is shinier.' So went Chuck's assessment of Nate and Serena's relationship on Gossip Girl. Is it too much to credit the show with a moment of self-awareness here? (At least Serena had the spine to kick Carter out of the car.) Anyway, having seen the latest episode, I think Gossip Girl needs to get its humour back. The snarky levity of the earlier seasons is missing, and all the intrigues are weighing things down. The relationship between Blair and Dorota was probably the only redeeming thing of the episode really. Season 4 had better start with a clean slate! (By the way, the plugging of The Vampire Diaries in this episode? Not cool, network executives, not cool at all. As for Jenny, what a bitch.) Anyway, I slept till about 2 pm today, but that's only because I went to bed around 4 am, having done my unpacking and started on laundry. Am not going to start on work again until Thursday, although technically, I've already got the opening paragraphs on at least one piece done. Know what I miss most about my Contiki trip? Warm hotel rooms.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Episode 567: Home Sweet Home

We began saying goodbye even before we'd left the hotel, as some people stayed behind to continue travelling elsewhere from Amsterdam. Then there were the people who left us at the airport. So really, the coach ride back to London was one protracted farewell. I managed to spend most of it either dozing or reading the book I picked up at the Heineken museum. Was genuinely surprised to learn that Singapore and Tiger beer are part of the Heineken story! I also managed to spend all my remaining euros by buying a meal deal on the ferry. Was actually short by a couple of cents, but the cashier was a good man and just let it slide. Am now reading a book I bought on the ferry, Sarah Turnbull's Almost French, while waiting for the coach. Could have got on the 6.30 pm one if I'd paid £5, but as my ticket only cost me £2.70 in the first place, it seemed rather pointless to waste the money on three hours I didn't need to be in Coventry anyway. I mean, £5 is practically a paperback off Amazon UK! Randomly, I ran into a couple of Singaporeans (Jason and a bunch of juniors) who'd been travelling as well, so they're on that coach back to Coventry right now. It'll be good to be back, I think, to get back to a routine that doesn't involve long drives every alternate day. I think this is the longest holiday I've ever taken, bar that trip to New Zealand when I was a kid of which I only have the vaguest memories anyway. It's been a good one, although towards the end, a bit of politicking was creeping in that was so high school and completely silly, given that the majority of people on the trip are on average more than five years out of it. I was fortunate enough to find a group of people I could hang out with though, and most of them live in Australia so visiting isn't entirely out of the question.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Episode 566: Today, I Found Out I Like Heineken

Stayed up last night to finish my poem about the red-light district and watch the new episode of Doctor Who, which was fantastic! If this is the kind of writing we're going to get throughout the fifth series, it wouldn't even matter if the cast were all ugly as sin (which they're not). Visited the building in which Anne Frank hid, which I found interesting but not quite as moving as Mauthausen. There was a truly random shop down the road, selling all sorts of wacky stuff, like absinthe dental floss and instant Irish accent mouthspray. Crazy, crazy place. Next up was the Heineken museum! I've discovered I find the taste quite pleasant, so I've got an alternative to cocktails the next time I'm on a night out. My dad has generously written off all the cash I borrowed during this trip, so I just need to settle credit card bills, which should hopefully be covered by what MOE pays me while I'm on attachment in August. I had a giant cone of chips while waiting for the coach, which was actually a major mistake. Almost ruined my dinner, where I was served one of the best fish courses I've ever had. The night ended with a farewell cruise through the canals of Amsterdam, where the goal was basically for people to get as hammered as possible within about an hour. (It was an open bar.) Having already had three Heinekens in the afternoon, I was pretty much done for the day, so I just spent the hour or so sipping a glass of rosé.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Episode 565: Window-shopping In Amsterdam

Today, we left Berlin for Amsterdam. One final comment on Berlin though: The public transport system there is so trusting. There are no ticket gantries at the metro stations. Instead, you have ticket validators, which people are supposed to insert their tickets into. Of course, the whole system is predicated on the belief that Germans would never try to cheat it, and for that matter, said belief is probably true. I just wonder how much revenue is lost to dishonesty. We stopped just outside Amsterdam to see Edam and clogs being made. In one of those bizarre intercultural things, the young lady talking about the cheese told us her name was Jamie, which is hardly a Dutch name by any stretch of the imagination. The reason? Her parents love the name. She, on the other hand, doesn't like it so much because she sometimes gets mistaken for a guy when people see her name on a list. The cheeses we tried afterward were nice, although I generally prefer cheeses with a softer texture, like Camembert. We took a short walk around the (in)famous red-light district, which made me reconsider how liberal I think myself to be. (I shouldn't need to clarify, but I do mean I'm more straitlaced than I thought.) Managed to get an idea for a poem out of it at least!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Episode 564: I Bought A (Presumably) Real Piece Of The Berlin Wall

We did a walking tour of Berlin in the morning, which made World War Two history come alive for me in a way that my lessons in school never could. I saw bits of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, and it's just so strange to think that about two decades ago, part of the city was entirely cut off from the area surrounding it. Powerfully symbolic stuff. I mean, the Communists went so far as to sever metro connections by preventing access to the stations. The Wall went up practically overnight as well. Just think of the psychological impact of that. We also saw a really cool memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. That literally is the name: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, or the Field of Stelae. It's a vast field of concrete blocks, all different sizes, and as you walk among them, the ground rises and dips, and by the time you reach the heart of the memorial, all these blocks are towering over you. The effect is alienatingly labyrinthine and yet not, as the placement of the blocks basically marks out a regular grid of paths. Fascinatingly abstract, but there's not a lot to tell you the significance of the memorial. Ironically, within sight of it is the carpark under which lies Hitler's bunker. Only a recently erected signboard gives any indication of the location's connection to the Nazi regime. The underground Information Centre of the memorial is well worth a visit. One room is particularly haunting. It's dimly lit, large screens on all four walls with the names of Holocaust victims projected on them, as their stories are recounted. We did a sort of pub crawl after dinner, but I didn't go to the club at the end of it. Headed off with a couple of people back to the hotel instead. (My golden rule when it comes to clubbing is to only go out with people I can trust to take care of themselves.)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Episode 563: Terzanelle Success!

I wrote today's poem in under an hour, right after getting on the bus. It's an extended terzanelle (one additional tercet), which gives 14 unique lines, so I've written it such that these form a sonnet. Probably will have to indent the repeated lines on the page, just to make the sonnet obvious. (Or I could just make it a throwaway remark in my commentary?) The poem came quite easily, and it scans almost perfectly as iambic tetrameter. I've treated it more as a technical experiment than anything else, so in that respect, it's pretty damn good, I personally think. We stopped for lunch in Dresden, but didn't see much else. Not too bothered really. The hotel in Berlin supposedly has free Internet access, but possibly due to the electrical outage an hour before we got here, it's completely on the fritz. Oh, and an update regarding the tooth, it's definitely sensitive (ate ice-cream today and it ached), but I can't work out why. Crack? Am I going to need a filling? Oh no! We were going to head to the Reichstag tonight for the view, but the queue was so long, we were told that there'd be no point in our waiting tonight. Might go back tomorrow, I guess. So I'm back in the hotel room, catching up on The Vampire Diaries. I think it's definitely my favourite show from The CW right now, as the writing actually seems to be pushing the plot somewhere purposefully, rather than in Gossip Girl, where the plot is too tangled while still trying to ground itself in a semblance of reality, or in Melrose Place, where it's never meant to be taken realistically in the first place, but the stories have been pretty dull until now.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Episode 562: Mojitos And Me

Although I'm not much of a breakfast person in general, I've decided that if I could eat scrambled eggs for it everyday, I'd be cool with that. Late start to the day again, so I had a bit of a lie-in. We did a river cruise on the Vltava at lunchtime, which was pretty nice, although I've been on so many over the years that the views don't really surprise me anymore. The Nationale-Nederlanden building, nicknamed the Dancing House because the shapes of the two towers look like a man and a woman, designed by Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry, was impressive though. We've had the rest of the day free, so I wandered around for some time, visiting the Museum of Torture with some people. It wasn't very big, but we got in on a discounted price anyway, so it was okay. Came back to the hotel and decided to try doing some submissions, but only sent one out in the end, as I think it's too early (i.e. only a month) to try again for some places that've rejected me. Went out tonight, but a bunch of us got separated from the main group right at the start. It was still cool though, as we decided to head to the terrace of the Hotel U Prince, where we had a gorgeous view of the city by night. Having had three Mojitos tonight, I feel that I can safely declare them my favourite cocktail. Real men, of course, are not afraid to drink cocktails and enjoy them.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Episode 561: Revisiting Prague

Stayed up last night to watch the Series 5 premiere of Doctor Who and catch up on Gossip Girl. I actually enjoyed the new Doctor's performance far more than I thought I would, and I'm really appreciating the Doctor-companion dynamic that's been set up. Ending scene of the episode? Brilliant. Incidentally, to my ears, Matt Smith's vocal intonations sometimes resemble David Tennant's. Not identical, but I'm pretty sure the resemblance isn't just my imagination. Whether it's deliberate or not is the question, I suppose. So overall, I think this is going to be a smashing series for the Doctor. Feel free to disagree, but hey, no one's forcing you to tune in, right? Gossip Girl, on the other hand, continues to disappoint. The plotlines are getting out of control, and hasty resolutions seem to have turned into a bad habit. That and as Vaish has pointed out, the dialogue has completely gone downhill. It feels like the writers can't figure out how to develop stories that work with an ensemble cast, so all the couples have their little intrigues going on at the same time but with no interaction among them. At this rate, I give it the one more season it's already been renewed for, tops. (Although if Blair transfers to Columbia, perhaps the snark will return? Am not amused by the prospect of revisiting the Nate-Jenny pairing, which the writers apparently think is a great idea to just throw in. Ah, all the couples on this show are borderline incestuous anyway!) We're in Prague today, and I had a moment of déjà vu when standing in front of the Prague Orloj because I recognised my surroundings from years ago when Raffles Voices toured Prague and Germany. We did a walking tour, led by Petr Berka, one of the guys who co-wrote Xenophobe's Guide To The Czech. He's also a guy with a sense of humour, big enough to laugh at his own country and people. If more people were able to do that, the world would definitely be a more peaceful place!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Episode 560: Concentration Camp & Beer

We began the day with a visit to Mauthausen, the last concentration camp to be liberated by the Allies at the end of World War Two. Not an extermination camp like Auschwitz, but still pretty harrowing nonetheless. Maybe it's my overactive imagination, but I think you can still sense the evil that has taken place there. It's an experience that everyone should have at least once in their life, visiting a concentration camp, just to witness how brutal we as a species can be. How anyone can come away from it and not be moved is beyond me, and Holocaust deniers are just appalling. Even in our postmodern era when we like to think everyone's truth is equally valid, there are some things which are just false, plain and simple. Did a short walking tour around the city centre of Munich, ending up in the famous Hofbräuhaus. Ended up at a table with people including Brek and his friends, so banter for the win! Had a shot that was vile, so I totally had the Asian glow going, but I was nowhere near being tipsy. I admit that I was also drinking Radler, a 50-50 mix of beer and lemonade, so that would hardly have been incapacitating either! (Creative writers seem to be planning a messy one for first night of term, after the EN232 deadline, so might get hammered then for the first time since Zouk last year.) Not really a fan of beer anyway, so drinking tonight was more about the atmosphere than anything else!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Episode 559: Austrian Craziness

We had breakfast under the glass pyramid of the hotel, which was pretty cool, if a bit far to walk to. I think I've chipped a tooth because I get a slight twinge when I chew on my right side. Caught the ending of Mass, so I did make it into a church on Easter despite being on holiday. Later went back to do a tour of the catacombs beneath, which was creepily fantastic. All those bones piled up in there, bodies of the bishops, really amazing stuff. Also went into a museum housing the imperial treasures, so lots of gold and jewels all about the place. Am still ill though, so walking about the whole afternoon was quite exhausting. We also visited the famous Fischer schnapps museum. The man who showed us around was really humorous! We also got to try all sorts of stuff, including an absinthe cocktail that actually tasted pretty delicious. Would've bought a bottle, but I didn't have enough cash on me, and having to carry it back would've been a bit of a pain anyway. Also got to try a liqueur with gold in it, which I could actually feel on the tip of my tongue. It's supposed to be good for your health! Dinner was at this restaurant with wacky decor, where they rolled out the red carpet for us, even with a ribbon to cut. I've turned into a big fan of schnitzel in just two days. Never thought I'd actually find tender turkey, but hey, there's a first for everything. The restaurant has played host to loads of famous people, so being there was great. Ended the night with a party on the bus, which was quite funny because it was mostly people bumping into each other in the aisle, trying to dance without falling over.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Episode 558: Three Cheers For The Germanic Countries!

Finally, a hotel with free WiFi! Guess Germanic countries are better after all. This hotel is apparently a converted Club Med, so its facilities are fantastic. I'm talking an indoor swimming pool and saunas here, way better than anything we've encountered so far actually. The Internet access, however, is the best part. Only trouble is that we're staying on a floor that doesn't have WiFi access, so to use it, I'll have to go downstairs. Not a big deal, when you consider that it's free. Also, finally a hotel with adapters! It's item one on their information list. They charge a deposit of €50 though, which seems irrationally exorbitant. Surely people who can afford to stay in a place like this don't need to be deterred so strongly from making off with an adapter? We attended a Mozart and Strauss concert given by the Vienna Residence Orchestra in Palais Auersperg, which was incredible! During the intermission, instead of just going out to the foyer, we were led to another part of the palace, where we could take pictures of (and with) the musicians, as well as the palace rooms. Pretty damn cool. Listening to the music sent me back to adolescence because after my dad's CDs, classical music was the next thing I spent a lot of time listening to, before I sold out to pop music. I think it trained my ears for life though, as I reckon I have a pretty good ear for music given my comparatively limited formal training (that began later in life as well than for most Singaporean kids these days).

Friday, April 02, 2010

Episode 557: Ciao, Venice!

So in Venice, it shouldn't be too surprising to find a pinup calendar of gondoliers. Since this is Italy, it's also not surprising to find one of Catholic priests, right? My question is simply this: How do those fresh-faced priests reconcile being the objects of just with their vow of chastity? If I were being facetious, I'd say this contradiction about sums up the slightly bizarre nature of Catholicism. (I suppose the rationale is that as long as they're fully clothed, since the priest on the cover was definitely in a cassock, it's okay.) Anyway, Venice is a really pretty place, with no vehicular traffic to mar it. We had a look at frightfully expensive Venetian lace, as well as a really cool glassblowing demonstration. We also took a tranquil gondola ride through the canals, sipping Prosecco and Bellini, and taking lots of photographs, of course. A lot of stuff in Venice seems to undergoing restoration at the moment though, including the famous Ponte dei Sospiri, or the Bridge of Sighs if you don't speak Italian. Sort of spoils the pictures, just a little. I also think I'm on the verge of falling ill, although my condition hasn't worsened after one day, so I'm hoping that lots of water will help to stave off whatever I'm coming down with.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Episode 556: Insane Drive

Late, relaxed start to the day, which we spent practically the whole of driving, partly because we were mired in a traffic jam, which made the CTE during peak hour back home look like smooth sailing. Truly, it takes a continental state of mind to be able to cope with driving in Europe! It was okay though, as I got to spend time reading Elizabeth Bishop. I think 'Arrival At Santos' definitely merits a mention somewhere in my commentary on the portfolio, just because it's the poem in which Bishop comes closest to the scepticism that most of my poems seem to be displaying so far. I'm hoping that I won't write something cynical about Venice though, as this is the one city in the world that I really wanted to visit when I decided on this trip. I know it's supposed to be really commercialised and touristy now, but I can't help it. It's freaking Venice! We shall see. If something evocative strikes me, like this picture of the Sistine Chapel that was focusing on the hands of Adam and God reaching towards each other, conveniently drawing attention to the fact that their fingers don't actually touch, and it just happens to lead to something critical, then so be it. (I have subsequently discovered that this is a depiction of the creation of Adam, which just makes that tiny gap even more telling, in my opinion.) Otherwise though, just writing about Venice itself is interesting enough, this city in which there are no vehicles and water takes the place of concrete. The hotel we're staying in is probably the lowest in standard so far, but it's decent enough and it would probably cost a fortune to stay somewhere better anyway. The quality should go up once we get back into Germanic countries like Austria and Germany anyway. Hopefully, somewhere will have free WiFi!