Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Singapore Blogger's Blog Fiddling Sends Internet Into Tailspin

Silly moi. If you kept getting a redirect notice when you tried to get here, as I just did, it was because I was fiddling the other day - not knowing WTF I was doing of course. Nothing new there.

It put up what I thought was an internal, i.e. Blogger, redirect command to double up on the instructions I had made elsewhere, that was supposed to send you FROM "", should you try to get a website of that name, to here, viz: "".

However it looks I sent you the other way.

Because "" (for which I pay $20/year) already had a redirect command to send you to "", the entire internet went into a closed loop and nothing never went nowhere... I presume this is what caused the blackout in India, yesterday.

Oops. Wondered why my hits went down.

OK, I think it's sorted now, so get back to enjoying the magic and mystery, the wonder and the witticisms, the whinging and tales of whoredom that is (are?) this blog.


And to my friend acquaintance J******n who admitted, in his cups on Sunday afternoon(!) - in vino veritas - that he doesn't read my blog anymore because the writing is crap, I'd just like to politely point out that your lack of appreciation of my prodigious talents makes you a:

I hope there will be lots of questions about America in the pub quiz tonight so you can demonstrate to us all once again your profound ignorance of your own country.

"Which Thursday in November is Thanksgiving?"

"Der, I dunno... The fourth?"

«Crowd slaps forehead.»

-- Joking mate, I still love you, and I mean that most sincerely.* Seriously, I have nothing but respect for you. Nothing but. And not much of it either.


*And I mean that most sincerely.**

** And I mean THAT most sincerely.***

*** infinitum... or until you believe me, whichever comes first.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Butcher of Panzano, Dario Cecchini

Tuscan morning sun, we're under its power. Danijel is feeling burnt before breakfast. We've walked to the table on the lawn and set down the dishes - cheeses, fresh Roma tomatoes - my god they taste of tomatoes! - and green peppers, and scrambled eggs with caramelised onions and a lot more of those tomatoes, chopped into the mix.

Then we rest...


No, hang on, that was yesterday. For today's breakfast Izzy (so domesticated these days) has set the table and is bringing some brewed coffee (Bosnian style - boil water, put in coffee, boil again. Sludge.) Vicoo has a plate of those tarts we purchased at the market yesterday The tarts are vanilla with almonds, wild forrest berries, lemon and powdered sugar. They are delicious.


E@L had never heard of this place, Panzano-in-Chianti. Why would you? Look at it. It's tiny.

But Izzy and Danijel had seen something on an episode of an Anthony Bourdain show about an amazing butcher in this tiny town just past Greve-in-Chianti. Butcher? We're going to a see a butcher? (E@L checks online and makes a booking at the Solociccia [trans: only meat] restaurant for a pig-fat Tuscan degustation.)

We drive along the country roads of course, view after view, this is not on the A1. The Tuscan countryside is not spectacular, it is older, gentle, comforting, calming* - reminds me of Colac. Greve is perhaps the biggest town we drive through, and that takes two minutes to negotiate in and out of - turn left here. The smaller towns are not much more than a haphazard collection of towers, castles, churches, and houses that narrow the road down drastically. The houses encroach on, sometimes replace, the footpath; bottle-necking the traffic with blind corners, and then there are the dozing animals, on-coming traffic, rickety bicycles, grandmothers (not wearing scarves, thankfully it's not that clichéd) walking oblivious, men in singlets (OK, little bit cliché) and children playing unconcerned. E@L has to slow down to 20km to get around these safely - he is a cautious driver. Terrible, but cautious.

As we start to wind around another hill, vineyards, cypress trees, stone houses, roofs the color of flower pots below us on the right, the gentle uphill rise on our left, there are parked cars by the roadside. Lots of parked cars, cramped together under trees for shade, a dozen cars here, around the next bend two dozen more. We still haven't seen anything like a town yet. "Should we park," asks Izzy. "Why?" But then the first few houses appear and the cars are parked thick along the road shoulder. Suddenly we are in the centre of town. An intersection and a market up a lane way - "that's it," calls Iz. "Up there!" But place is jammed, we have to drive on, we can't stop here, and we've passed. And immediately we are out of town.

We have to keep going a bit further, there is nowhere to turn. Around the bend there is a new housing estate up the hill on our left. We turn up, get lost, turn back once, turn uphill once more into more narrow streets, and hey, we find the last vacant parking spot in town, no shade of course, and sit for a moment. "This is it, I think," says E@L. This way? That way? Fuck it's hot. The sun, so bright and E@L has no hat. Luckily, the ozone hole is over Sydney and not Panazano. We walk up over a crest, and it slopes down again, directly into the market that we had seen. Perfecto.

The market is small, really, it's not a fresh produce market, but there are jars of sauces and condiments, cakes and cheeky tarts, lots of wines, schlongs of salami, rounds of cheese, perfect. But there are lots of people milling, as people do when they get the chance, by the stalls. Look at them: mill, mill, mill.

(beware - LOUD music)

The market stalls concentrate in front of his shop and restaurants, where else would you place them. His shop is rocking, seriously rocking, It is crowded, dense-packed with people holding up small glasses of chianti or or of grappa, pinching bread with lard between thumb and fingers, holding greasy chunks of pig fat from fresh roasted rolled pork stuffed with rosemary.

And Dario is an amazing person, a celebrity butcher who stands tall amongst celebrity chefs.

E@L can hardly get in to the shop, but they have a reservation at the restaurant in 5 minutes. Is it in this shop, at the back maybe? He squeezes through, shouting to Danijel over the blaring music and the heads of the young and old people taking all that bounty on offer, free and gratis. Incredibly loud A/DC is pumping, Angus's guitar ripping, so inappropriate, but it isn't it always and is there any other way to play it but as loud as possible? He calls again to Danijel to wait, but the others have already picked up a Chianti, bread, pig fat, and are bopping, lost down somewhere in the crowd (OK, E@L can see Danijel, he's 6'7" and has a pony-tail.) Up high in the corner in a shelf over above the butchers' display, there is a large valve-powered amplifier.

Dario is bopping behind the meat counter, and his associates are cutting more pork, scooping out more lardo. Dario has a huge grin, he is sharpening his knives to the beat of the music. There is a large statue of the Minotaur standing at one end and looming over one of the feast-loaded tables…

E@L manage to find a lady in a white (blood smeared) apron who seems to know what she is doing right at the back of the store. She understands English well enough (Dario, doesn't speak English) and tells me that we are booked at the "other" restaurant. A wave of worry rises up (E@L panics easily) - OMG are we in the wrong place? But no, she says, it's just across the street, past the wine stall. E@L, claustrophobic (pig-fat-phobic? NEVER!), squeezes back out to check if ha can find it.

Outside, blazing sun still. Is this perfect weather ever going to stop? Another of those ladies who seems to belong there is being interviewed on the ramp by a sweaty chubby guy whose hair is a suspiciously deep shade of black, holding an iPhone up betweeen their faces. Vicoo is sitting on the edge of the ramp with a glass of chianti, listening in, grinning at E@L, who stands with her to grab some of the sound bites... She is perhaps Dario's wife, and he is praising the hell out of the place, she is agreeing, what more can she do? Did someone say that Wolfgang Puck was here last week?

There is a door. Unmarked. E@L asks the women there, "Is this…?"

"Yes," she answers, before he has finished his question. "Do you have a booking?" She is checking her watch, like a school ma'am.

It's time, we just made it, 1pm on the dinger. E@L has to drag Danijel and Izzy away from all that free Chianti, grappa and pig-fat in the butcher shop as we have seats over here where we have paid for Chinanti, grappa and pig-fat. A cheery waiter, experienced judging by his age, very experienced, takes us down two flights of steps
into a stone cellar where several others are already seated around a large table and the meal has already begun. We squeeze past - it is a tight package. A mature (maybe a little older than E@L) English couple from Gigglesoworth (IKYN), an hungry English man and his Irish wife with two kids, two young (hipster?) Italians, blend with an Australian, a Bosnian and two Singaporeans. Don't mention the war. Which war,? Any war.

At first we are all shy, but as the dishes keep coming down, carried by our ever cheerful, overly generous waiter and we pass them around, we gradually open up. Theres plenty of wine and chilled water as well as the food. Simple peasant fare, fresh ingredients, simply handled and presented, nothing flashy, lots of it. Just meat and more meat, lots of meat. But first just some crudités and (stale, oh well) foccacia with olive oil, balsamic and the most amazing spiced salt (Danijel bought some jars of that, but E@L didn't get to take any home - see another blog post).

Then thick slices of roast beef, grilled, fried meat balls with frittered vegetables, rosemary up your bum (lightly seared tartare nuggets with a sprig of rosemary insterted in a red and juicy hole. The table has way too many plates of food on it, we can't eat all this, but it keeps coming. Slow stewed beef shanks, with the meat on one plate and the fatty skins and tendon on another. It's floating in the jus with soft potatoes slices (it took a few bites to recognize them!) and onions. This last one sounds terrible (it also looked dubious), but for those who braved it (on bursting stomachs) it was an wonderfully rich and satisfying dish that would have been devoured completely and exclusively by E@L if it had been brought out first. The chianti kept flowing, but as E@L was the designated driver for th week he could only take a sip or several - he watered it down, the Italian way.

The feast continued for two hours and then we were, reluctantly (there was still wine), kicked out so they could prepare for the next sitting in the evening, We rolled up the stairs with bloating bellies and greasy, satisfied smiles.

Back across the street now, Dario's butcher shop was much less crowded even though the music was still on full rocking mode. Dario was out mixing it with us, a bottle of grappa in his hands and that radiant smile on his face. We saw now that he was wearing a trousers in the Italian colours (Italy lost the EC later that night) he was rocking his sholder in a happy dance. He poured E@L a shot of grappa even though E@L indicated he was driving. We all took photos with him, he loved to pose with Izzy and Vicoo in particular, funny that, and for everything was fun and games.

Giving away wine and food, just giving it away, heaps of it. The man is genius, we all love him, he loves to love us all back and this is just a ball. Get moderately pissed, put on AC/DC blast your walls into powder and dance with a bootle a grappa in your hand - maybe then you'll get an idea of this place.

Danijel was wondering if anyone could be as happy in his work as Dario obviously is. He doesn't (seem to) give a fuck about micromanaging and monitoring the margins, money is coming in, everyone ends up buying something, small or large, lots or a little and he gets back what he gives away tenfold. Brilliant. "He doesn't use SAP I'll bet," says E@L.

What he gets back is more than money, he thrives on the fun that he is bringing to all his customers. I can't describe this, it's mind-blowing. We love this guy, he is best person E@L has ever met. He can't speak English, we can't speak Italian, but we know what we all mean, and so much more than the general symbiosis of proprietor and patron: There's instant camaraderie thanks to the obvious honesty in his enormous generosity. Either that or he's faking it pretty fucking well.

We head back to the car, our arms full of meats and cheeses and those tarts for breakfast tomorrow, and a few bottles of Chianti to make up for the drinks E@L had to forego. The thermometer in the car reads 46degrees. Yes, it is hot. It takes 5 minutes for the air-con to fight against the stifling air in oven/car. We stand around, raving about this afternoon.

Then, sated and thrilled in equal portions, we wind back through the Tuscan hills back to our villa (also overlooking rolling hills and vineyards) and jump into the infinity pool (so Tuscan), laughing and splashing.

Brilliant day, one of the best, thanks to the big smiles of Dario Cecchini.


* Where there is Nature, there is meaning. Robert Walser.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Beautiful Ice-Cream - Ugly Baby Jesus - Unwell E@L

In the town of San Gimignano there are a lot of towers. It's famous for its towers. There are a few museums (like the Torture Museum, that I missed) and there are the some bloody good ice-cream shops.

This one sells the World Champion Gelato.

And just a few metres away, this one sells The Best Ice-cream in the World. Spoiled for choice.

The pistachio ice-cream here in the second place was truly beautiful and a joy to the palate. Miraculous.


In the next square is the Museo Civico in which there is quite a collection of frescoes of the Madonna with particularly unattractive baby Jesus's*, so E@L wandered around snapping pic after pic...

And E@L's personal favorite (this one is from the Duomo in Siena...)

When he left the museum - the three story part in the middle here, with the crenelated rooftop - he decided, after all those earlier misgivings and the others refusing to climb it, that it would not much of a problem after all for him to climb the Torre Grossa, (as seen in Assassin's Creed II apparently) on the right, and go way up there, 57m (177ft)... No problem...



Problem. So here's E@L on the top of the tower having some pretty fucking severe angina.

Famous last words? "Great view from up here!"

Cue: Ambulance to Siena, angiogram, stents, hospital for a week... And associated drama of logistics, etc... for Izzy and Danijel and Vicky... and then for myself to get home as I was not supposed to fly for a week after discharge.


Sigh. Why did E@L climb that fucking tower? What was he thinking? Maybe he was thinking that the PET stress test he'd had done two weeks earlier showed normal cardiac perfusion is maybe what he was thinking.

Cardiologist in Singapore yesterday says, "Mmm, that normal test, very high predictive value, this shouldn't have happened."

E@L says, "No it shouldn't have."


Expect E@L to be going on about this incident a lot in the near future...

* Not to be confused with uglyrenaissancebabies.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Hamburg Street Conversation

I'm well rugged up and walking, my daily mild exercise, around the tree-lined streets of the Blankenese suburb in Hamburg close to the Elba (across which is the A380 factory). I stroll past some magnificent Hansel and Gretel mansions in large, lost in the woods gardens - this is millionaires row, billionaires, whatever.

A well-dressed man, a bit older than myself, is crossing an intersection coming towards me. He slows down as he approaches me and it seems he wants to talk.

He stops, so I stop. Germans are so polite when they are not trying to take over the world. So, thinks: I'd better do the same (it's a tit-for-tat utilitarianism thing). I wonder what I am up for here. Have you heard the word of the Lord? Some pfennig for the old guy?

He starts talking as I take my left earphone out. In German of course.

"Nick sprecker Doych", I say. "Ick hab kynner Doych." In my impeccable accent.

"Ach, vot language? You speak, what do you..."


"Ach, good."

I take out my right earphone and raise my sunglasses to look him politely in the eye.

He is wearing a classy red windbreaker (I can't make out the brand) over a warm jumper as the summer in Hamburg is not all that impressive this week; cloudy, blustery, cool (14deg), a spit of rain today, pouring yesterday. He has what look like expensive-frames on his thick-lensed square glasses, and he swipes the air with a thick cigar stub that trails noxious fumes that dissipate quickly in the breeze as he speaks to me. He might live in one of those billionaire houses.

He says: "You know, I have stopped you to talk because, one, you have your sunglasses on; two, you have those... he waves his cigar around... those things in your ears; and three, because I wish to ask you a question."

The man is, I am confident now, not a complete nutter, but pushing it. Eccentric billionaire.

"Der built zeitung, you know?" I must have looked blank because he asks again. "Der built, it is the, vat you say, newspaper?"

Ah yes, Bild. I recall some German scandal rag like that.

"The very first word in der Bild today, do you know what it was? The very first word?"

Naturally I did not know. I shrug.

"The first word on the page. It is bordell."


He doesn't seem to have heard me because he repeats, "Bordell. You know where women sell themselves. A bordell!"

"Brothel." Yes, I know them.

"Yes, yes, a brothel. The very first word! What do you make of that? What is your opinion?" He holds his cigar up at his face, takes a puff, as he waits for my answer.

I smile as I consider what his opinion no doubt is.

"Well," I say, "Germany is a very open minded country, a very broad minded country."

He tilts his head back a little, looking in my eye with a bit of sparkle as he contemplates my answer briefly. He then points his cigar at me with slight gesture and gently smiles.

"Thank you", he says emphatically. And walks on.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream

I was in this ostentatiously unpretentious Osteria in Sienna tonight, Bongo Della Fuckit, got the sense of it being somewhat hipsterish, but then everything Italian looks hipsterish to me. I was going vegetarian tonight as approved by my cardiologist* - not sure if the almond bisuits dipped into a glass of vin santo (sticky wihte) is vegetarian or not - when there was some slight commotion on the table behind. It seems there was nothing "kid friendly" on the dessert menu for their young son - maybe 5 or 6 years old.

The waiter had to sort this out! So he went to the front door, called the kid over, took his hand and led him outside. A few minutes later the kid almost ran inside again, smiling right from tragus to tragus, bearing in front of him a large cup of multiple flavours of gelatti, wafer triangle poking out the top, from the gelatteria across the small lane.

The waiter had paid for it. All part of the hipster service - they were being nice way before it was cool to be nice.


* Not only did none of the Doctors give me any rehab exercise suggestions or any diet suggestions on my checkout, not one of the staff introduced themselves before they stabbed me or stripped me naked in front of the open doors to the busy corridor, bathed my balls or wiped the shit from my arse (when I could get them to.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

It Was The Salmon Mousse!

There was a small area at the bottom of the window, exactly at eye level, where I could see out, watch the not particularly interesting side of the road panoramas fly past. I was bemused, somewhat, as they say. Look at that high grass, those telephone poles, the square blocks of untended trees (perhaps olive trees), a nondescript building here and there. Not much of a view of Tuscany to take with you, wherever you are going.

It was cramped, my legs too long for the trolley, had to bend my knees a bit for the doors to be shut. The paramedic was chubby and was sweating, but she was nice. She told me her name. I can't remember it. She was fighting my adipose insulation to find a vein somewhere in my arm. Left, right, it didn't matter. I had them veins well hid! Something went in painfully and eventually some fluids started dripping in. (I am 30% bruised by area on both arms now). One of the fluids going in was morphine. Nice. It didn't even touch the sides, as they say, but nice.

I was calm. Unnaturally calm, you might say. Those were tough minutes, or should have been, but I was almost smiling. Maybe part of the sense of relief I had was due to the unassailable position I held, that this was not the end. Just a bit of chest pain. No collapse. No clammy sweating. No shortness of breath. Just a tightness, an interior tightness that is hard to describe. There was no elephant sitting on my chest, it didn't feel like that, it just felt like a bad back, but in the middle of my thorax. It was instantly worrying, but not threatening. Know what I mean? No? Neither do I.

There was also a touch of the SEP feeling. Whatever happened to me, it would be someone else's problem from here on in. I would be completely out of it. Something of the feeling I had when I left school and vowed that I would never attend church ever again and finally convinced my sceptical friends that I was unequivocably and inveterately atheist. All those pin-headed angel problems are not mine anymore. And so now. Porn on the hard drive? Meh. Weird porn on the hard drive? Meh. Three thousand books that nobody would want? Shrug. (Hey those Patrick Whites are all 1st Editions!) Burial arrangements: where, how? Surprise me.

However as I watch the concerned faces on Isabella, Danijel and Vicky disappear as the door to the ambulance closes, I sigh and I shrug. Guys, I didn't want to do this to you. To leave you in the Tuscan holiday idyll lurch like this. Shit, I feel my pockets, I have the car keys. These are problems I don't want to leave behnd. They are 60km from home. Danijel has not got a licence. The rental car is in the carpark, but I have the keys... My stuff is in our place (near Incisa Dell Arno - or something like that) and nothing is packed and we were to move to Volterra next day and OMFG...

But I am calm. There's nothing I can do, why fret overly?

I was calm, too, at the top of the tower, the tower we had all agreed not to climb. But I passed the gate to it as I left the chapel and museum (at least a dozen ugly renaissance baby Jesus's) and I just thought, hey, it can't be all that bad. And besides the cardiac stress PET scan I had last week was normal. It can't be that high. But it was, and higher. I made it: legs fine, breathing fine. I took a few photos and then the tightness began. It didn't go away. I sat down and waited. It didn't go away. It didn't get any worse. I thought, well, fuck them carrying me down 54 metres inside a 14th century, tight fit stone tower, I'm going down mysef as far as I can. If I feel faint, I'll sit down. I didn't feel faint at all. I started sweating heavily, but it was 36degrees and I had just climbed up the top of a mother-fuckin'g big tower. When I arrived at the reception, I told them to call a doctor. And my friends, call them please - the tall Bosnian hippy-looking dude, the small Chinese girl sketching the piazza, another one fast asleep on a stone alcove in the shade. They were found. Amazing.

Soon enough the ambulance ripped into the gelatteria (the best in the world, two of the shops proclaim) crowds, pistachio ice-cream fying, and took me away.

*insert Solzenhitzen's Cancer Ward*

So here I am, looking from the patio of my Sienna hotel, feeling fine, apart from the back cramps I'm gettting whilst typing on this awful chair, and looking at the Tuscan twilight panoramas with a shot of grappa.

And I do care. Mostly.


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