As usual, the snow did not come at Christmas. But last night, it came.
As usual, the snow did not come at Christmas. But last night, it came.
Nymphenburg Palace was the summer residence of Bavaria’s rulers, the Wittelsbacher family. The gardens, which are largely woodlands, are enormous and contain, in fact, five palaces, one big one and four teensy ones. Well worth a visit if you happen to be in Munich with an afternoon to spare and a hankering for a dose of nature.
I had a delicious plum crumble, but wolfed it down too fast to take a photo…
Bavarian Lake Time. No words needed.
A couple of pics taken on the way home:
A few weeks ago, I went to the doctor’s. It was a big event for me. I’d never been in need of medical attention before. Not in Spain, anyway. I’m of robust design, you see. I don’t pander to fancy foods that can’t be eaten with a spoon and I don’t get illnesses that can’t be cured by spending an afternoon in bed. However, a rebellious mole on my back was starting to morph into an octopus and it needed to be stopped by a professional.
Health centres are confusing places. I glanced around in a daze for ages until spotting a desk with a person who wasn’t either bellowing into a phone or being harangued by patient-staff scrum. I approached the woman stationed there and told her that I had an appointment at 11:30. Turns out that this was the desk where you make appointments and not the desk where you go when you already have an appointment. Once this was clarified, I asked her where I needed to go next. Up to the third floor, she said.
I followed her directions and arrived in a big central waiting room surrounded by four walls with lots of doors with names on them. Only then did it occur to me that I was missing a vital piece of information.
I returned to the desk lady for help. “Sorry,” I said, “I don’t actually know which doctor I’m supposed to be seeing. Could you tell me their name, please?”
And there it was.
The dreaded Crinkly Forehead.
I repeated my query, only to be met with yet more crinkles towering over a blank stare. I asked again. The crinkles assumed attack formation. I tried once more, in really simple Spanish, words spaced at one second intervals (I’ve had some practice at this, as you can tell). I repeated my question three more times. Still nothing. In an act of desperation, I grabbed a pen and paper from the desk and wrote it down. Finally, the name of my physician was divulged.
The most flabbergasting aspect of Crinkly Forehead is that it can spring into action BEFORE verbal communication even has a chance to commence. This happened to me in my local phone shop. As I handed my phone to the girl and drew breath to ask if she could please top it up with twenty bucks, I found myself confronted with a quizzically cocked head disfigured by crinkle over crinkle over fucking crinkle! They were humping each other, I swear! Then they called for re-inforcements and a bundle of veins as thick as anacondas after a meal of jungle elephants joined the wrestling match and… Christ, I did not know that the rosy baby bottom face of a twentynothing could even do that!
I’m guessing her inner thought process must have gone something like this: She looks like a foreigner, so whatever she is going to say will be incomprehensible. But I will try to help, because I’m a good person. But… what if she tries to make me speak in English?!?! Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God! I’ve only studied it for ten years at school, I can’t say a word!!! What am I going to do, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?!?! At this point, she reaches the conclusion that it’s safest just not to understand anything.
The Crinkly Forehead is the nemesis of every language learner, tourist, or foreigner in general. It is the iron curtain, the NATO missile defence shield and the wall Trump is gonna build all rolled into one.
Once the contortions commence, once you spot the merest ripple, the slightest tell-tale twitch in the face that may have been smiling benevolently at you just a heartbeat ago, dear language learner, you are doomed. It is the manifestation of Blue Screen of Death in a real live person. A re-boot can only be effected once the obstruction has been removed, and the obstruction, my hapless foreign friend, is YOU.
Attempting to engage with Crinkly Forehead is not like flogging a dead horse. It’s like flogging all the sausages, lasagnes, burgers and chicken nuggets that its macerated remains found their way into, expecting the clapped-out old mare to re-assemble and run the Grand National. It ain’t gonna happen. No chance. Go home. Talk to Siri.
I, my dear people, will be talking to my mole. At least it is forthcoming, if only with tentacles.
I think we all need a restorative wedge of cake after this.
[Note for nerds: This post was also published on my new language blog http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com – please pop over for a visit to discover what you’ve been missing!]
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. I’m not in the habit of plagiarising Dickens, but the two of us do have one thing in common: We were both paid by the word. Were being the operative one in this lamentable context. I shall explain…
Tuesday two weeks ago, at 11 am, I received a devastating call. I had lost my writing gig. “A change of corporate focus,” I was told. A decision taken by management in a far-away head office, by people I had never had any direct dealings with. Unlike all the other times, this latest reshuffle within the company, which had supplied me with a steady flow of work for the past twelve years, had not turned out to my advantage. To put it mildly.
There would still be some work for me, I was assured. However, it was going to be of a different nature and – as far as I could tell – there wasn’t going to be enough of it to keep me in fodder.
In short, it was the kind of news which puts the wind of existential panic up a freelancer’s arse. Or make that a hurricane.
The state of red alert lasted for about 24 hours. A fellow freelancer, bless her kindly soul, shuffled me a contact promising me regular work in my field. A couple of days later, another potential client registered an interest.
Maybe, just maybe, I was going to be OK.
But August being August, nothing happens fast, so I’m having to exercise my very puniest of mental muscles: my patience. A bit of distraction was called for, and seeing as I’d been sitting for absolutely ages on the desire to start a fresh blog venture, I decided to go for it, and my brand spanking new dedicated language blog ‘Multilingual By Choice‘ (it’s meant to make me sound like a purposeful and focused individual who doesn’t spend three quarters of her day lounging around in pyjamas ogling cake porn) was finally born.
No need to groan quite so heartily, people – I won’t be attempting to “make grammar fun” or go on about the aspirated phoneticisation of gerundiated nouns. It’s going to be more about life than linguistics. Take a look: http://www.multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com
But before you dash off to coo over my shiny new baby, do have some cake! I’ve a splendid selection prepared for you, all sampled and approved by yours truly:
Oh, and I’ve got a new blog, did I mention that?! http://www.multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com
“I want to go to the museum.” Those were the words I never thought I’d hear. Ever. Not from the mouth of my brother. But he said them. And off to the museum we went. To the Deutsches Museum in Munich, to be exact, whose ample bowels are a splendid repository of science and technology paraphernalia. Germany has come up with quite a lot of this stuff over the years.
I won’t bore you with the fascinating details of the various exhibits (not being sarcastic for once, I love all that stuff!) – my photo hunt was rather aimed at the quirky side of things.
Or these windows reflecting a building site:
Some rooftop views:
I shall leave you with some famous last words (as displayed on a wall behind the knitted coral reef):
Nine hours on public transport. My heart sank when the Deutsche Bahn lady printed out our itinerary replete with bus and train changes. This had been my Mum’s idea, this trip to Burghausen, an end-of-train-line town near the Austrian border, overlooked by “The world’s longest castle”. The world’s longest schlep more like.
In the end, despite all the platform hopping, it turned into a great day out.
Inside the castle complex:
A few pictures of the town of Burghausen:
No cake. There was an ice cream… but the forces of greed got the better of me on this occasion and pulled my fingers faster towards the spoon than to the click button.
Here’s the story: It’s January when Ritchie turns up in the half-frozen pond at the heart of my tiny little Bavarian village, right across from my Mum’s place. Nobody knows where he came from or how he got there.
There’ve been ducks in that pond, water voles, carp, mosquitoes galore, but never ever a swan. Ritchie’s not even a swan, not yet anyway, he’s just a cygnet. It’s still winter and kids hurl snowballs at him, only to be told off by the neighbours who watch over his wellbeing 24/7.
Over the ensuing months, the ugly duckling turns into a beautiful big white bruiser, helped along by processions of people tossing him bread and table scraps.
Ducks keep dropping by, but they don’t hang around. Ritchie owns the pond now. He’s all by himself, a regal and lonesome presence gliding over the pond’s silvery green surface.
He likes it when people visit, he follows them round the water’s edge as they walk by. They talk to him. He enjoys their company. He enjoys it even more when they get the bread bag out. That may be part of his predicament – he’s too heavy to fly. People say they’ve watched him trying to take off, but without success. The pond, apparently, is too small to serve as a launch pad for fowl of his calibre. Other eyewitnesses report that he does take flight on occasions, but fails to gain sufficient height to clear fences, trees and other obstacles.
Once he goes missing for three days. A search party is launched, and he’s found, in a tiny little frog pool at the bottom of somebody’s backgarden. The whole village breathes a sigh of relief.
I met Ritchie for the first time last Thursday. It’s my first family visit since Christmas. I took these pictures:
The above is the last photo taken of Ritchie… since Sunday, he’s disappeared without a trace. It’s been six days! It’s a mystery. Everybody is worried. People still turn up at the pond every day, but now there’s nothing to feed but fat carp.
I did a very bad thing. No, not recently. It must have been seven or eight years ago. It happened at the end of a shopping trip in Brent Cross, North London. After trudging through the aisles like two people who only ever go shopping when they absolutely have to, my friend and I decided to reward ourselves with a nice lunch at Wagamama, which, back then, was still quite a hip chain of Asian fusion cuisine.
I’d eaten there a few times before, but my friend hadn’t, so I recommended a tasty stir fry, which she duly ordered. I can’t remember what I had, but I do remember that I only enjoyed the first two forkfuls of it because of what ensued.
The food arrived, looking all fresh, healthy and delicious. We started to tuck in.
“Oooooh! Yummmmmm!” My friend’s eyes grew wide and then closed slowly as she slipped into a trance of eating pleasure. “This is just the best tofu I have ever tasted in my whole damn life!”
My cardiac activity seized for a few seconds.
This was not tofu.
I had forgotten to tell her to substitute the chicken.
My friend had been a faithful vegetarian for the past quarter of a century. Until 40 seconds ago. How could I have made such a terrible mistake?
She clearly had no inkling that there was anything amiss. And why would she? After all, she was having lunch with no other than moi, a professional nutritionist attuned to people’s special dietary requirements.
I kept smiling as convincingly as I could muster while trying to make all the right food appreciation noises – no easy feat when your airways are constricting.
What was I to do?! My panicked monkey mind went into overdrive. Coming clean about my oversight and apologising profusely would probably be the right thing to do. But what good could possibly come of it? Lunch would be ruined, a good meal wasted. Right now, at least one of us was still enjoying it.
In fact, I’d never seen anyone take such delight in their food. For a fleeting moment, I wondered how someone, who went that gaga over some run-of-the-mill strips of chicken breast would react to a juicy slab of beef teriyaki or a soft-as-butter, slow-roasted lamb shank.
Nobody was being harmed here, I reasoned to myself. This was not a case of food allergy. (If anyone was experiencing all the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, it was me!) And the chicken had already been very dead for quite some time. I was, in fact, not only saving my friend’s stellar lunch experience, but also an animal from having given its life in vain. And it could have been worse – that could have been pork there on that plate. (My friend was not only vegetarian, but also Jewish.)
At this point, she turned to one of the servers who was rushing by, balancing several steaming bowls of ramen on his tray. “Hey, I just loooooove your tofu! So chewy! How do you get it to have a texture like that? Could I talk to the chef? I need that recipe!” (My friend was not only vegetarian and Jewish, but also American).
The bed of coals I was sitting on had just got hotter by another thousand degrees.
The waiter, a pimply young man on the minimum wage, flashed a flattered smile in my friend’s direction, but he did not – to my infinite relief! – relay her request for a personal audience to the chef, who was up to his armpits assembling meals for the lunchtime crowd.
After what seemed like an eternity, during which I remained hell-bent on engaging my friend in spurious conversation to draw her attention away from both the “tofu” and the wait staff, we finally cleared our plates.
“Hey, how about dessert?”, I asked, staring longingly at the door. “But not here, you know what these Asian places are like – crap sweets.” A blatant lie, at least where Wagamama is concerned. But I had no intention of prolonging this torture.
We paid and I leapt into the neon lit mall, which, at that moment, appeared to me as welcoming as a fragrant spring meadow populated by purring kittens. We headed straight for Millie’s Cookies. And never has a box of hydrogenated fat, sugar and food colouring washed down with coffee from a paper cup tasted so good.
Jane, if you’re reading this, I’m really, really sorry!
I realise I’ve only recently bombarded you with pictures from a trip to Lyon and now I’m about to whack you over the head with another rash of snaps, this time of beautiful Barcelona. But before anyone’s staightjacketed inner globetrotter gets their knickers in a funk, I would like to assure you that your travel envy is (sadly!) misplaced: I’ve not left Toledo so far this year. Until those two trips, that is, both of which happened in the very same week. Madness! Lyon was a last-minute jaunt with a good friend who’s about to leave the country, and the reason I went to Barcelona was to meet up with a dear friend from London. This was, in fact, my first ever visit to Catalonia.
And, if it makes you feel any better, I came back with a stonking cold and a severe case of conjunctivitis. My eyes swelled up so bad, I had to turn off Skype for two days – I was just too afraid my mum would see me in this state!
Here are my only two OK-ish pics from inside Sagrada Familia:
A bit more Gaudi, this time from Parque Güell:
We took a ride up to Montjuïc in the cable car, an installation that can only be described as an ill-conceived disaster.
It was not a busy day. The queue of people in front of us was deceptively short. Nevertheless, we had to wait nearly an hour to be herded into the lift. There is only one single little lift that accommodates ten people. The outside waiting area is bereft of shade, and even though it wasn’t a particularly hot day, we got sweaty and uncomfortable, not to mention a tad cranky. How does this work in the summer at 30+ degrees C, 85% humidity, with lines three or four times as long?! People must be collapsing like dominoes. Is there a fleet of ambulances ready and waiting to cart them off?
Once you get to the top of the tower, there is yet more waiting before they let you get onto the cable car. You might think that the wait would be a prime opportunity to take some great pics, since the platform is encased in glass. But no. The window panes are filthy, every inch covered in greasy finger prints, toddler snot and soft drink splatters. I don’t think they’ve been cleaned, ever, on either side!
The carriage itself holds about 20-30 people, but moving around and enjoying a 360-degree bird’s eye view of the city isn’t an option. You’re packed in like pilchards. My friend and I ended up standing on the “bad side”, of course.
The ride is a short one, a mere few minutes, and once you reach the café on top of the hill, you do actually get a breathtaking view of Barcelona. A jug of sangria helps considerably to mellow the experience. Luckily, there’s no need to take the cable car on the return journey – you can walk back down into town very comfortably.
The main problem seems to be this: There are only TWO cable cars. One each way. There should be at least six of the damn things. Who thought this out?! WHO?!? I want that man, I want him tied to his harebrained creation by the balls, and, above all, I want him to re-do his fucking engineering degree in Germany. How can such a great idea turn into an epic fail? End of rant.
Where’s the cake?! Well, there was no cake. Yes, you read that right. No Cake. I and my partner in crime went on a daily chocolate binge instead. We are a diligent pair. Barcelona is full of artisan chocolate shops. There’s no pictorial evidence of our collective sins, though, because my camera does not care for chocolate. No matter how handsome the morsel, it ends up looking like a turd in each and every photo.