Monday, July 31, 2006


Hi all!!!
I'm hooooome!!!


(Skip this bit if you're not techie!)

I've just spent half the afternoon on the phone with Microsoft and Orange because in setting up my brand new Livebox that arrived this morning, I had a problem I couldn't figure out myself. Orange sent me to Microsoft.

Turned out to be quite simple in the end, nothing to do with Firewall after all (the software said firewall was on when I know it was off. Microsoft even took me into services.mgs!)

She finally set up a conference call with Orange and it turned out that, having used a modem and ADSL for so long, I had disabled my LAN and 1394 connections. :P

[End Techie Crap]

So I am now skimming through the internet with my very fast 400 Mbps Orange Livebox, and eventually I hope to go wireless. At the moment I'm connected with an Ethernet cable. It's like being at university again.


Who wants to know about Verona?
I also want to tell you about the nice shoes I bought on sale there, not to mention the clothes. *ahem*

I did not take as many photos as I would have liked had I been alone and at leisure. When you are with someone who has been there a thousand times, it just doesn't work. I will be including some photos from 2004, specially of the hotel room (my friend always gets the same one) and a few things I saw then that I did not this time.

VERONA - Day One (Thursday)

I arrived at Gatwick an hour before departure (the first time I didn't make it two hours ahead for an international flight! Still had to wait half an hour for them to put up the gate. Boarding was only held for 15 I consider it perfect timing.) When trying to catch an 8.30AM flight, there is no way one can feel other than hungry. Once we got into the air, I was hollow inside - my 5AM mug of milk was long gone.

Imagine my delight when I smelled food. They served us (in Club Class) a miniature English breakfast: bacon, scrambled egg, sausage, tomato, mushrooms. Perfect. Plus fruit salad and orange juice...then they came round with baskets of hot croissants, followed by tea/coffee and baskets of hot pastries. I had an apple Danish.
So I've never had such a happy tummy on such an early flight.

We flew over the Swiss Alps. Not much snow up here anymore, even if it is summer, and the glaciers are melting rapidly. This ugly grey stretch of ice is one such.

I had a really aesthetically pleasing welcome to Verona when I had my passport checked by a yummy Italian with dark olive skin and blue eyes. I thought: "Typical" and had the yearning to take one of them home with me.

Taxi phone lines were all busy so I hopped on the bus into town and got a taxi from the train station. The hotel put me into the orangerie while the room was readied, and I had a welcome bottle of sparkling water while I did some crosswords. It is the only 5 star hotel in Verona, so...

Some impressions from the hotel Orangerie/Courtyard/Conservatory:

Less than an hour later, Miss S came in from Rome and we went off in search of lunch (bruschetta for me, the tomatoes were so shockingly red and so sugary sweet - she had a coffee affogato). It was as hot as London has been at its hottest point, but more humid. Fortunately, the heatwave acclimatised us to such weather, whereas last time we were very lazy. We sat at a caffe that sprayed a fine mist on the customers under the awnings at 5 minute intervals. Like cheap A/C and very effective. Steli, just like the one you saw last week?

We did a quick walk around of the shopping streets, looking at bag and sandals (for me), then went back to the hotel to rest, watch some Fashion TV, and prepare for dinner. We went to a simple place behind the hotel reserved for us by reception.

Antipasto: finely shredded smoked horse meat on a bed of rocket with parmesan and lemon, to which I added olive oil and black pepper.

Primi piatti: Tagliolini (?) with prawns, zucchini flowers and saffron. What an aroma!

Dolci: house style tiramisu in a crispy crepe cup. Basically the custom bit was their use of a bucketload of yellow panna cotta rather than lighter cream. Nearly went off tiramisu.

Back to the hotel to change. I wore this dress:

And then off to the arena for Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci.

From 2004, some of the ongoing conservation of the stone- and brick-work, plus the usual display of props from the night before (in this instance, Aida):

A ruined outer section of the Roman arena:

The stars at the end of Cavalleria Rusticana. The intermezzo is still my favourite part.

It was a very sticky, humid, hot night. I sat there fidgeting on my two 3 Euro cushions and falling asleep thanks to my two hours of sleep the night before. I was only too glad to get back to the hotel and wash the day's travel off my skin. It is discomfiting to stand up in the bath and find yourself eye to eye with this artefact:

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Verona subito!

Well, tomorrow I have an interview at an art gallery, but something doesn't feel right. Still, I will do my best and see what happens.

Can you believe the consultant told me to wear a suit? It will be 90F (32C) tomorrow. I said, warningly, that it would be hot. She said I could wear a skirt and carry the jacket. Even carrying a jacket is punishment in this weather.

Thursday I jet off to Verona for 4 days at the opera. I will blog when I come back of course, and I'll take lots of piccies for you!


Two impressions of today:

1) A big black Jaguar limo. Stuffed full with giant Dior shopping bags, and two heavily robed Arabic women in the back. Where are they from when they wear those gold chevrons over their noses?

2) A student driver in a driving school car with her instructor beside her. She is driving AND SHE IS ON HER MOBILE PHONE. That is so against the law here.


While I am away, if you haven't yet seen it, don't forget to watch my video - it was a pain in the bum to post!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Liv says hello [EDITED]

I think I fixed it. Made it public, even though on private I could still link to it.

Bobbing about at home I thought I'd say hello for the first time. 20sixers outside of London have been asking for months now.

VOILA (but why did it have to choose the frowny bit?)

There are a million ways to post a video to a blog these days...

[EDIT 1] If it still doesn't work, go to the page.

It doesn't work for me every time either, just now I hit Refresh/Reload and it came back fine.

[EDIT 2] Or try it on Quicktime.

Star Trek rant

Oh, I am so critical when I watch some things, I annoy myself! Don't even get me started on TV commercials. There are SO many stupid ones on this year, and yet there are others which have the most amazing soundtracks.

Anyway...I have been enjoying Star Trek today. Three episodes: One Original, and two Next Generation.

Stuff I've noticed:

1) The make up in the 60s was SO obvious. And why oh why did Capt. Kirk have to wear grey eyeshadow?
a) He walked around sucking his stomach in, must have been tiring to the extreme when he was showing someone martial arts moves in this episode and he had no top on.
b) He always, always did the smouldering eyes without variation.
c) Then there were the extras who stalked about stiffly as though very conscious of their figure-hugging costumes. By the 90s they'd gotten used to the idea...

2) Why were frontal face views of women always shot with a nylon over the lens? If Capt Kirk was talking to a woman, he got the nylon on lens too.

3) When two people were in intense discussion in a battle of wills, their faces were cast in shadow with a shaft of light across their eyes.
It's like how in Indian movies, the betrayed woman is always standing by a window with a stricken expression on her face, tears in her eyes, with lightning behind her, and there's a giant fan somewhere to make her hair and robes fly about, as if an extra dramatic touch were needed.

4) Why are the beings from alien planets always (8 times out of ten) so angry and short tempered and shouty, and the humans have to go in and back them down while teaching them patience and compassion?
And they live in such dark spaceships or such wild planets...

5) In the rare instance that the aliens are more compassionate and gentler than us, they have slender figures, or no substance at all like clouds or points of light.

Look, even now, a second ago the crew were being sentenced to death on a stormy planet by some Judge in a hooded robe, next second (something happened while I was typing), Commander Reiker is strolling about discussing Sun Tzu with his erstwhile Judge. The Farengi are running about like monkeys.
Judge: Should I kill them?
Reiker: Then they would learn nothing.

I do like how Capt. Picard says, "Make it so."

OK, enough now. I just felt like fretting a bit. Don't get me wrong, when I was little I used to come home from school and put on Star Trek. I love sci-fi, just need to balance it out with a little reality check.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


I haven't blogged in 4 days.

I have 30 comments.

Finally Lunaliar asked me to post something.

I've been meaning to for a couple of days, but nothing stays in my head. I haven't broken another plate, but I have taken up regular spoon-dropping.
My landlord came into the kitchen the other day after I dropped a teaspoon and said, "Oh, so it's you making all that noise!"


Clogs has been asked to move out by the end of the month. I learned this from landlord and landlady when they came into the kitchen where I was washing my dishes, shut the door and said, "We need to talk to you............Not about you, but to let you know what's going on!"

They would not say what he had done, but the complaint was coming from the other female tenant. They assured me it was nothing against her, no harrassment at all, and nothing for me to worry about, but various things he had done "that don't bear repeating" (really, this phrase makes it worse for a listener).

Not two minutes after they left and returned to the back garden, Clogs clattered through the front door and into the kitchen. I got a searching look, to find out if I knew anything. Then he asked if I knew why he'd been asked to move out. He said he'd returned from Barcelona to find the notice letter at his door. I truthfully said I did not know the reason why.

And then I adjusted, and resumed our normal friendly neighbour chat.
I'm very diplomatic that way.


Yesterday somewhere in Surrey, it reached the highest temperature on record. Today I did nothing but sweat. It trickles in rivulets in the most uncomfortable places.

Got my hair cut yesterday and had THE best shampoo and head massage ever. There was air conditioning at the salon!

This was followed by a scientific chat there with a new rep who is testing the carotenoid levels in the tissues with this newfangled laser light probe which was pioneered in the 30s, and selling (of course) one of those Superfoods. Vietnamese Gac is supposed to be thousands of times more potent than the Hawaiian Noni that came out a few years ago.


I watched the tail end of a documentary called Tutankhamun's Sun (?) which attempted to explain the occurrence of glass in the Egyptian desert.
Well, I didn't find out how long ago the event took place, but what happened was an asteroid impact.

They are theorising that asteroids are not giant rocks but rather loose rock piles held together by gravity, which break apart before or during entry into earth's atmosphere.

This particular asteroid entered the atmosphere whole, formed a blazing trail of fire, broke up and exploded in small fire balls close to the surface. When it hit the sand, the temperature reached 1000 degrees C.

There was a wall of fire and then a plume of superheated gas shot right back up into space! Hellish!

Picture an atomic bomb without a mushroom cloud per se but a fire vcloud. Indeed they said it was much more powerful than the test bomb at...(I forget where)

And then of course, a giant sheet of yellow-green glass was formed. It is from this that archaeologists are finding puzzling chunks of glass in the middle of nowhere.


After that, I learned that Frans Hals' Laughing Cavalier is on cannabis.

Haha, gotcha.

The word "canvas" is derived from the Greek word for hemp which is cannabis. Ta-da!


Um, and Liv has something to confess. Got a new phone, finally, after weeks of meaning to do it, and I happened to choose a day when the Orange computer sytem was down, so it took ages but came through in the end. Bloody hell, the info they take from you for a phone contract, it's as much as employers ask, even my landline phone contract didn't need all that...

Anyhoo, for when family come over and need contact, I kept my 3 year old Sony Ericsson T610, with its stiff worn out keys:

And I got the new W810i Walkman phone, which is the same size as the old one, but with so many more features:

Gosh the things it does. Off the top of my head, it has a 512MB memory stick (that's bigger than my old 128MB USB storage device!), 2.0 megapixel autofocus camera (better than my T610s fuzzy pixels!), great speakers and earbuds, FM radio with all the settings of a normal radio, an equalizer with bass, mega bass, and get this - a Music Mate.

Music Mate is a swish application that allows you to "play" an octave of piano keys from middle C, the guitar chords, and an adjustable metronome, which is a very nice old fashioned wooden one, by the way. Steli, I thought of you when I was exploring this app.

That camera flash can be turned on like a searchlight, and it can even signal SOS!

I was only able to afford this phone because I signed up for the 30 pound monthly contract, free wireless broadband which gives you free weekend and off peak calls to landlines, even free protection insurance. So it is a saving with bonuses from my current 17.99 broadband + 10-15 per month pay as you go.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Alrighty then...

So I've been asked to share. As I type this post, I am watching The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou for the second time and discovering all these excellent one-liners! Be prepared, I dish out spoilers so if you don't want to read on, skip to Part II.

I think it is the type of movie that needs a second chance if your first reaction is: "I do not like this!".
Last night, it was difficult to adjust to its awkward documentary style. Not to mention the film within film elements, including a crew member who videos everything!

So this morning, I settled in to watch the "making of..." documentary, cast home videos, interviews and the like. And then I put the film on again. Now I like it!

1) I also like the stilted little late 70s-early 80s Casio synthesizer ditties. They are supposed to be composed by the physicist-cum-cook crewmember Woladowsky.
2) Not to mention the pleasing sound of a Royal Tennenbaums track played backwards as the background to the also-very-pleasing cross-section tour of the boat The Belafonte.
3) And the quirkiness of the Zissou island facility which feels a cross between a research institute and a summer camp.
4) Plus, all the marine life are fictitious animated things, like a rhinestone bluefin, paisley octupus or rainbow seahorse, and of course the famed jaguar shark which has the same markings as the big cat!
5) I felt sorry for Cody, the three-legged dog that the pirates left on board the Belafonte, when he got left behind during the rescue mission.
Steve: Oh no, we forgot Cody! We gotta go back!...Goodbye, Cody...
6) A haunting track by Icelandic group Sigur Ros during the last shark scenes.

Overall, I see it as a part-homage to the documentaries of Jacques Cousteau, down to the retro feel, the red caps and even the yellow titles used on the Zissou documentaries. There is a little sad tinge to the film, owing to Zissou's awareness that his career is washed-up, his marriage is over, and no one appreciates his research anymore.

The film is shot in Italy and the Mediterranean sea. Still, it is shot a little out of time and place. If you watch it, you will understand.

So, on to the fantastic dialogue, but first the main cast members:

Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) - aging marine documentary maker.

Ned Plimpton aka Kingsley Zissou (Owen Wilson) - Steve's long lost/abandoned illegitimate son, a pilot for Kentucky Air with a courtly southern manner. (Still very Owen!)

Jane Winslett-Richardson
(Cate Blanchett) - safari khaki clad reporter, pregnant by her married editor.

Eleanor Zissou
(Angelica Huston) - Steve's wealthy estranged wife, the brains of Team Zissou.

(Willem Dafoe) - German crewmember who is always in shorts. Even his wet-suit is short. And his red cap has a pom-pom on the top.

Captain Alistair Hennessey
(Jeff Goldblum) - Eleanor's ex-husband and Steve's pretentious, rich nemesis, who heads a shiny modern competing project.

Shooting footage of "electric jellyfish" on the beach at night:
Ned: Steve, what causes this effect of illumination, is it a chemical inside the organism?
Steve: No, Ned. Actually, it's the reflection of the moonlight on their outer membranes.
Steve to Ned: That's a very good ad lib.
A few minutes later:
Ned: I've never seen so many electric jellyfish in all my life!
Jane (arriving from down the beach): Those are Viet Cong Man-of-Wars
[Steve touches one with his toe]
Steve: Oh, shit, she's right. I guess we'll have to loop that line. [To reporter] Where'd you come from? You look pregnant.
Jane: I am pregnant. I'm not even going to ask what you men are doing out here in your matching pyjamas, by the way.

As they are showing Jane to her room:
Jane: How long have you been working with Zissou?
Ned: Uh, approximately...Only ten minutes, actually. I was hired during the scene at the beach.
Klaus: He's Steve's son, supposedly.
Jane: You are? No you're not. He doesn't have one.
Steve: Well, we're not 100% sure about that yet. We just met yesterday.

As Eleanor walks out on Steve, he says, "Who's gonna tell us all the Latin names of the all the fishes and everything? You know I can't remember all that shit."

Steve and Ned chatting on deck:
Steve: Quiet out there tonight. Can you hear the jack whales singing?
[horn sounds]
Ned: Beautiful...Wonder what they're saying...
Steve: Well that was the sludge tanker over there...

After breaking in to Hennessy's state of the art lab, Steve and intern look at a map for a shortcut through to their destination:
Steve: We go your way, that's about...4 inches. We go my way, it's an inch and a half. You wanna pay for the extra gas?

Pirate attack. Hostage Steve knocks on Jane's door:
Steve: Jane, is, uh, Ned in there?
Ned: Stevesie? Stevesie, what's happening? Are those hijackers?
Steve: Well, we call them pirates out here, Ned.

Pirates are gone, and there is a mutiny on the Belafonte:
Steve: Look, if you're not against me, don't cross this line. If yes, do. I love you all.
[Franz crosses line]
Steve: Are you sure?
Franz: Yes, I am.
Steve: I don't understand. Why?
Franz: What do you mean? Wait a second. What are we doing? You said cross the line if...
Steve: Cross the line if you're going to quit.
Franz: Oh...! Do it again, I misunderstood!

Steve and Ned argue over Jane:
Ned: that's it. I'm gonna fight you, Steve.
[Steve punches Ned]
Steve: You never say, "I'm gonna fight you, Steve". You smile and act natural, and then you sucker-punch him.
Ned: You fight your way, and I'll fight mine.
Steve: Oh, listen, Ned Don't you try...
[Ned punches Steve]
Steve: I think your Team Zissou ring might've caught me on the lip.



Yesterday I went to the Walk-In Back Rub at Selfridges and bought a half hour massage. They put you in those ergonomic chairs that place you in a kneeling position with your face resting in a cushion ring. My masseur for the day was a tall Russian guy with really padded hands. He looked like a young Vladimir Putin, actually. He worked out all the hard knots in my right shoulder. Not just the back, they do your hips, arms, neck and head too. He worked so hard my muscles hurt today. But...NO HEADACHE!

However, I have been a bit clumsy lately, and as I was putting away my dishes, one literally flew out of my hands bounced off the bin and into the back porch where it lost a big chip. Tough plate, that. Had it merely fallen on the kitchen floor, it would have bounced, but such is my luck.

I shouted, "Oooh noooo!"
From the back garden my landlady shouted, "Are you alright?"
I replied, "I'm fine, but I've broken one of your plates!"

She wasn't upset and admitted that she's long wanted to replace the "luncheon service". Later on, she and landlord teased me about going to Greece to smash plates. I said, "Welcome to the new clumsy Olivia." I've never broken a plate before.

So much for event 1. Now for event 2:

I opened the washing machine to put in my laundry and as I opened the door there was a flood of water all over the floor and my washing. I shut the door as quickly as possible, but must have lost a gallon. The tub was still half full. I set it to drain, told my landlady, but she herself was in a bit of a present crisis with neighbour's children climbing trees and peeping over the fence, and their young cats coming into the garden and not being able to get out.

What's more, I believe there is a problem with Clogs. The other tenant had a complaint against him, and when I came in the other day, she and landlady were whispering furiously in the kitchen. I was asked if I'd had any problems. No I have not, thankfully. I don't know what's going on, I haven't asked, and probably haven't been told in case I start worrying, I guess.

Well, time for me to head down and prepare some dinner. I will not be touching anything breakable.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Oh dear...

Just as well I didn't tell you about the interview last night. I got a rejection letter this morning, plus another in an envelope addressed to me, for someone else (I will tell them on Monday so they can properly inform her). Apparently they have already chosen someone.

I'd had over a week to think about this job and my life in it, so I am relieved to be less disappointed than I had expected I would be. But I am still fed up with my situation.

And I am on my 4th headache of the week. I have decided it is definitely tension. My shoulders are STIFF and I keep forgetting to breathe. I think I really do deserve my upcoming holiday.


Yesterday afternoon, in my positive mood after the interview, I stopped at the Swiss Cottage market and bought a small and dainty freshwater pearl necklace from India (or Nepal) - it was either that for 10 pounds ($20) or a moonstone one for 16 ($32). I like moonstone, but my mother took my old pearl necklace and I have been looking for an affordable one ever since. I never thought I could get one for as little as a tenner!

I also stopped off at Karnac Books, the main source for psychology and psychoanalysis (just up the road from Freud's house, you see, and his bust sits in the window).

There was a deal going on, 3 books for the price of 2:
I bought his book The Analysis of Dreams - look out Steli!
Myths from Mesopotamia - includes the epic of Gilgamesh, which I had left in the US.
The Golden Bough by James George Frazer, "the classic study of the beliefs and institutions of mankind, and the progress through magic and religion to scientific thought".

I seem to be in a bit of an anthropological mood.


I also rented 3 DVDs at the library (on weekends they do 3 for 2):

Stealth - the AI fighter jet. VERY COOL movie, how could people say it was crap? I felt sorry for EDI at the end.

I haven't yet seen:
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - haven't seen it yet but I expect it will be fun.

Elektra - the superhero action film with Jennifer Garner, some mindless WOW escapism, which of course I need.

I had actually gone in looking for Belleville Rendezvous - I highly recommend this French film. Interesting animation, little dialogue, great music. I saw it a couple of years ago and am ready for it again. But it is checked out until Monday, so wait until then...


Yeah, I know, I rented rubbish movies and blogged on the weekend.

I will go out into the sunshine soon, maybe feel better...

Anyway, do you have any opinions on the books or the movies?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mittwoch blog

I am now one post away from 350!

I made a couple of changes to my blog last night.

1) The dreaded security code is now in effect. I hate it as much as you do, but the spamming has become particularly intense.

2) After inserting this custom template, it was not easy to find the Permalink to each post, except by clicking on the "previously blogged" titles.
Thanks to Blogger's template walk through I was able to fix that and now if you click on the Time Stamp under each blog, that is your permalink.


Mundane daily notes over, check out what I did yesterday.

I walked to the site of the interview - out of St John's Wood via Avenue Road (over-arched by amazingly huge trees), got muddled at the big junction...up Finchley Road to Eton Avenue behind the Central School of Speech and Drama.

Thought I was halfway by then, having no idea how LONG Eton Avenue is. It went on and on and on, but was lined with some gorgeous red brick houses, mansions, and my favourites - the early 20th century Arts and Crafts creations. William Morris would have been proud, in fact the Fire Station was a fantastic example.

At the end of the avenue, it opened onto England's Lane which felt fantastically villagey and I could feel I was near Hampstead. The top of the lane met Haverstock Hill. I looked to my right, and guess what I could see between the trees! The Gherkin! (For you non-Londoners, that is the Norman Foster-designed cucumber-shaped skyscraper owned by Swiss Re in Canary Wharf.)

I went left towards Primrose Hill/Belsize Park, saw lots of trees and villagey shops. At one point, if I could have taken a photo with my eyes, I would have: a red vintage sports car (probably a newish Morgan) passed right by a timber-framed village pub by the green!

Doubled back and went right, towards Camden but was too tired by then and didn't go all the way. I walked aaaaaallllll the way back to Finchley Road and collapsed into a Thai restaurant where I had a yummy noodle salad.

Hey, I like this place. I WANT this job, and I would consider moving up here - I'd spend more time in Camden, maybe even hang out in Hampstead or go celeb spotting in Primrose Hill (cooler ones than in SJW), and spend less time in Central London...

(What? Leave behind Mayfair and Bond Street? Not walk into town through Regents Park? I guess so...Hey, this part of North London is just as desirable, but greener and even quieter than SJW.)

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Castrati

This has been a difficult blog to start formally, like an essay. I tried three times.

Farinelli - the greatest castrato of all time. The voice of an angel in the body of a man:

But realities first: what is a castrato?

In Byzantium (c. 6th century), it was discovered that eunuchs retained the beautiful singing voices of their boyhood. By the 16th century in Italy, it was a common (but clandestine) practice to castrate boys before they reached puberty, for service in the church. This was not a mere chopping off of the testes, though it was often done with special scissors. Some more sophisticated, and surprisingly modern, procedures snipped the tubes through a tiny incision which was cauterised with a special rod.

Why? Because the soprano voice was necessary, but women were prohibited from singing in the church - a literal interpretation of St Paul's admonishment to keep women silent. (He actually meant they shouldn't hang around gossiping during the service!) As it was forbidden, parents usually plead "hunting accidents" and the like, as excuses for castration.

Lacking the rush of hormones, the castrati skipped puberty. They had softer skin and little body hair, but the bones were prone to osteoporosis. On the other hand, they had longer life spans than most men of the age. (Less testosterone equals less physiological stress, and their high salaries ensured the best medical care.)

Castrati had overdeveloped lung capacities and large chests. They could sustain long notes, and these notes were produced through boy-sized larynges. As the body grew, the voicebox remained the same.

The age of the castrato reached its zenith in the 18th century, when many famous Baroque composers wrote especially for the castrato voice. There are many operas from which certain parts, have since been excised or adopted by sopranos...poor substitutes.

We cannot truly know what the castrato sounded like. Today we have male sopranos, or sopranists, but these are often men who can reach falsetto scales, but at the same time the listener can hear the deeper male timbre on their lower notes.

This is not the case with the true male soprano. My best example would have been Michael Maniaci, a young American who I think has the voice of an absolute angel, and who may be reviving the role of the male soprano. (Unfortunately, his video has been removed from YouTube within the last week, probably because the theatre found someone had videoed a rehearsal, and castrati are popular this summer thanks to the Exhibition at the Handel House Museum and the run of related documentaries on BBC4.)

Michael Maniaci is a natural, or endocrinological, soprano because his larynx did not grow with his body. (I did a bit of research and found that this could be thanks to the broken X chromosome syndrome, in which his voicebox has completely different genetic material to the rest of his body - in other words, it's female.)

Michael was on this documentary which sought to recreate the voice of the castrato. How to combine the purity of a boy's voice in the head and sinuses of a man...They recorded a male tenor and boy sopranos. Digitally superimpose the tenor on the soprano scale, or the soprano on the tenor scale?
Soprano on tenor sounded too boyish, and they settled with the tenor on the soprano. "The voice" performed Ombra mai fu (written by Handel for the castrato) with a chamber orchestra.

I watched the film Farinelli: il castrato tonight. (A bit confusing, a French film about Italians in England. The brothers switched freely between French and Italian in the same conversation, but everyone else spoke French. When they first arrived in London, I thought they were staying with a French family living in exile! But it was hilarious to hear some of the English nobles speaking French with posh English accents.) I will not base my facts on the film. Although it was exceptionally beautiful, it was impressionistic and used a great deal of creative license. Interestingly, to create Farinelli's voice, the sound technicians combined the voice of a soprano with that of a tenor. (In my opinion, still sounds too womanly.)

Despite the depiction here and their Casanova-esque reputations (there was plenty of lovin' in the film), low testosterone levels would have resulted in a low libido.

Anyway, Farinelli, or Carlo Broschi, and his elder brother Riccardo, were born into a family of minor nobles near Naples. In about 1713-14 at the age of 7 or 8, Carlo was castrated to preserve his special voice, and his brother composed a great deal of music for him over the years.

He sang at royal courts all over Italy, and his reputation was such that he performed for France's Louis XV to great acclaim. It is a rare honour to receive a portrait of le roi in a diamond-studded frame!

The brothers then went on to conquer England - it was at this point that he stopped singing in the fussy continental style. Before, he was celebrated for singing 1,000 notes a minute, and sustaining one note for more than a minute. With Handel's music, he became sublime. Less became more. Instead of showing off technicality, he conveyed passion.

Ladies swooned during virtuoso performances, and as the castrati were the rock stars of their day, they were often throwing themselves at his feet. (Castrati were great objects of desire for wealthy ladies, as there was no danger of "unwanted results", ie. pregnancy.)

At the height of his popularity in England, Farinelli retired from the public eye and took an appointment to sing for King Philip of Spain who was prone to bouts of deep depression. Like David did for Solomon, only Farinelli could lift the king out of his dolor, and his 3 year contract stretched to 25!

At the end, laden with riches and the title of Cavaliere, he turned down a royal Spanish pension and returned to Italy, living his last years in peace and prosperity in a castle near Bologna. Even Mozart and the Emperor Leopold II went to visit him.

Always a kind and generous donor and patron, at his death in 1782 (nearly a decade before Mozart), Farinelli distributed his wealth where it was most needed.

His tomb was later destroyed by Napoleonic troops in an age that no longer revered the castrato. By then, they were considered freaks. In the mid-19th century, the Catholic Church banned the use of castrati for singing church music, though the practice hung on.

The last surviving castrato, Alessandro Moreschi, a chorister at the Sistine Chapel, recorded the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria for the gramophone in the early 1900s. He was a mediocre singer, but the novelty is that this grainy recording is our only remaining link to a lost art, if I may call it such.

As we can no longer hear Michael Maniaci online, there is another sopranist called Joerg Waschinski who has sound on his website. Click here to hear him sing a composition by none other than Riccardo Broschi. He is rather a hottie, so click here if you want to hear AND see!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Saturday diddles

I did not go near my computer today, and I got SO much done. Steli and JL, this is why people don't blog on the weekends.

On top of the usual laundry, I tidied my room, changed the bed, and vacuumed the carpet.


I must admit that I usually put off vacuuming for ages because it is so awkward to get the machine up the stairs that I'm pooped before I plug it in.
And then, today the bag was full. As I took it out of the closet I whined, "It gets heavier every time I need it!" and indeed, it barely sucked up enough...As soon as I got it back down the stairs, my landlord appeared and I told him about it, so he emptied it...I wasn't bothered to take it up and use it again!


I dreamt partly in German last night, even though I don't consciously know it. Subconsciously, yes, because my au pair was German and brought me over lots of children's tapes. So in the dream I was stringing together sentences and feeling proud of myself :P


Also, lately I've been dreaming I have been kissed by men I DO NOT like. What does this mean???
Last week, by a guy I talk to because I am obliged to, like how you have to talk to your housemates.
Then last night, I was kissed by ... *cringe* ... Jon Bon Jovi ... I thought I'd forgotten he even existed! But man, doesn't he have rather full lips. Bleugh.


To get your minds off that, I must also say that the night before the shuttle launch last week, I dreamt about the re-entry. I was concerned that NASA had given the all-clear, even though there was a 3 inch gap in the booster foam. Anyway, I hope the repairs they're working on are successful. Re-entry is soooo dangerous.

Once, when I was in my early 20s, back when I nearly worked at NASA, I had a dream: I remember the cabin shuddering under the weight and pressure and speed of take-off, and the "fire" caused by the friction of the shuttle through the atmosphere was visible through the windows.


That was a lot of dreams!

Want to see my pretty dinner? Go to my 20six blog.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I'm still here! [EDITED: Brandy]

Coming Soon:

a blog on the Castrati.

No it's not! Not today, anyway.
It has been weeks since I chatted with Jia Li, and I can't chat and do serious blogs at the same time. As our conversation has tended towards animals, and specific dog breeds, let me tell you about Brandy.

He was our English Springer Spaniel, of a line of Crufts winners - I went into the country one day to choose him with my Daddy. I was chosen by a pretty little female, but Dad chose the one who was to become our Brandy-boy.

We never cared for his Champion name. As the years passed it faded from memory, and he became the Boy. Brandy. Byansy-wols. Byan-Byan. Yes, he got the baby talk and he gave the eyes with it.

He was taller than any English Springer I've ever seen and required surgery on his shoulder when he was an adolescent, but he has become my standard. He was handsome and gosh didn't he know it! We have a photo of him staring in the mirror. If you check the sites of other E-S owners there will be many other instances of vanity!

This could SO be Brandy, but B was black and white, this one's liver:

I say, old chap...I seem to have misplaced my monocle...

English Springers love to pose. They are such gentlemen, they do the Royal look naturally. They are described as having a "proud bearing". That is, when they're not yanking your arm off during walkies. Natural trackers, they follow their noses like crazy and don't care if you follow or not, even if you are attached by a leash.

Hell-ew, and who ahh you?

But Brandy's eyes were more human (something for which Springers are renowned), less droopy, and his ears longer, like this:

Wouldn't you pour out your woes to this face???

"I look like King James in his periwig...look regal, look regal."

And look! This is why they are called Springers:

Like any English gentleman, Springers love to go hunting, which is when they drop the regal pose and play with the big boys.

Brandy would turn inside out with glee when Dad took him shooting, which was not often, thank goodness. We have (had?) a nice photo of them, the English countryside in the background lying in a cold haze, a patchwork of duns and beiges; Dad in green wellies, cords and cap ready to take his shot; Brandy "pointing" slightly in anticipation of a retrieval. They're actually supposed to raise the birds by springing but I'm not sure Brandy had put two and two together, he just used to "point" a bit.


On the home front, his place was on the hearthrug at night, Dad's feet buried in his fur.

Never mind Dad, though. My mother was his object of worship. He guarded her with his life. She was his Master, and Springers are very much the sort of dog who need to know who's boss.

Mum used to put his food down and he would eat on command, sit there straining in every muscle but not eating until he was told, at which he was quick as a bullet. The effect was very much diminished by the clothes peg holding his ears out of the gruel (he never ate meat, but mum would jazz up his grain diet by stirring in the drippings or the bit of water in which she'd boiled the trimmings she normally threw away).

She could take his food or treats away at any time, but he never complained because he knew she was "the leader of the pack".

To Brandy, I was the little thing he kept an eye on in case I got lost in the cracks. And he patiently put up with me tugging his ears and sitting on his back. He would ride me round the garden till I fell off.

Those were the days of unlocked front doors. If Mum fell asleep while sitting contemplating or reading, Brandy would sit at attention facing the front door, always making sure he could feel her, even her foot, against his back.

He did the same when she was gardening. If she crouched they were the same height, and he'd face the front gate, even though he couldn't see it through the side garden. He would attach his back to her shoulder and I must say, she did get rather annoyed.

One time, a fugitive was reported in the neighbourhood and our neighbour called to say a strange man was asking around the houses for a glass of water. When he got to our gate, Brandy went sailing, ears at full mast, over the gate, at the man, who certainly didn't stick around to find out what happened next.

Another time, we were 6 pence short some bill or tax, and the bailiff came round to take something worth...6 pence. He had a horrible acid burn up the side of his face, and there was another thug with him. He would not take 6 pennies.
Mum opened the door, but Brandy refused to let them in. He actually stood up, planted his paws on Mum's shoulders, and turned to bark at them.

If she wanted, Mum could set him on someone by saying, "Hup brandy, hup!" She didn't train him on that, they just had a sort of understanding. She called him her son...

He wasn't all brawn and bluster. He was also a baby. She could tell him off, and he would lie down, take his paws and cover his eyes with his curly ears. We even caught him peeping through them!

Unfortunately, after she got sick and nearly died, we had to give him away. Some friends in Buckinghamshire knew a farmer, so he went to Bucks. He and the farmer got along famously, he'd jump in the Land Rover and they'd go off counting the sheep and fenceposts.

I like to think that, as his muzzle greyed, and he lay in the farmhouse at night with his aching old bones, he still waited for his Mummy to come and take him home.

I miss you, Brandy...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

First blog of July

It's HOT.
88F/32C in London with relentless sunshine...and not enough breeze.

The brightness hurts my eyes. I ought to go out...somewhere. I'm doing laundry because it's been so hot for the past few days, I've run out of serious summer clothing, and this heatwave will stick around for the rest of this week.

Meantime I'm watching Alan Titchmarsh presenting A Natural History of the British Isles.

Thing I have learned:

1) Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the British Isles are already 10 degrees warmer on average than any country at this latitude ought to be. Some believe that, rather than giving us a Mediterranean climate, global warming will plunge us into an Ice Age: the cold water filling the surrounding seas from the melting icecaps will cause glaciers to form, and we will have heavy snows and long winters. (This could take 500 or 5,000 years, who knows?)

Rising water levels will engulf London - it could be another Atlantis.
Britain could look like one thin strip of land surrounded by islets, or a chain of small islands.

2) The Britons called Roman roads "streets" - even Oxford Street started as a Roman road!
The Romans introduced the scythe and haymaking to England.

3) The Normans started us on the way to land conservation. When they arrived a thousand years ago, 80% of England's dense woodland forests had been cut down to make way for the farmland we all think of as "the English countryside". (This is when boar became rare, bears went extinct, etc.).

The Normans loved hunting. They discovered that there were no deer here, so they introduced the fallow deer and allowed them to settle. They set aside hundreds of square miles of protected forest for this purpose, much of which survive today as our national forests.

There were no rabbits in the British Isles either, so they brought those over from France too. At the time, they were a delicacy, and rather delicate creatures too. So to prevent poaching by ignorant peasants, the rabbits were "farmed" on an island off the Welsh coast.


Miss S and I went into Richmond yesterday for the best fish n chips, and a stroll along the River Thames. With ice cream. And a look into the farmers' market, where we sampled chilli sauces and she bought a jalapeno tree.

My feet are finally tanned, with a line across the arch where my shoe strap sat.
But despite drinking from a giant bottle of water, I still came home with a throbbing headache.


Friday, I met Randis, who has occasionally commented here. He's just graduated high school in Colorado and has come over to see a friend who has family over here.
We went for a long walk around town and ate dim sum in Chinatown. It was fun.

He is just like my Canadian cousins! He and Alyssa share the same sort of humour, and he looks like Paul will in a few years.


Went into Tesco the other day, and now I'm afraid to go back. I don't know what happened - whether a memo went round the office to remind all employees to nod and greet Olivia and ask her how she's doing, or whether someone had written something on my forehead.
But there was definitely something going felt like an official state visit...


Leilouta's Section:

A linen outfit for a very hot day. This is what I wore in Richmond.

It really is one of my prettiest tank tops and I am happy that I am finally brave enough to wear these things. In fact, I want MORE! (Ahem...50% off sales this week...)

I think it's rather historical. A bit Edwardian in its lace workmanship, Georgian in its eggshell blue colour. And Vanessa gave me that sweet little necklace!