Sunday, 31 October 2010

Walk in the Pyranees

Our adventures today embraced less of the historical and more of the physical (and natural). We are in Luchon, a pretty French town in the Pyranees, and we took a walk up a nearby hill to nearby villages. On a clear day, the view would be spectacular -- it wasn't too shabby on a rainy, misty day either. The snow-capped peaks in the distance drifted behind some cloud, but the villages nestled in the broad valley below were still picturesque.

In any case, as they say, it's all about the journey, rather than the destination, and the walk today was beautiful. We trekked up and around the hill, often through autumnal beech and oak woodland in vivid oranges and yellows, for approx 3 hours, and I was pleased with the remnants of my Trailwalker fitness. I didn't struggle in the least, and thoroughly enjoyed the walk. (It still seems surreal to me to actually enjoy walking up up up.) Unfortunately our planned 'picnic' took place in the pouring rain, huddled beneath a scant shelter in one of the villages, and we didn't linger. The downward journey was along the road, so not as pretty, but we did see a couple of deer in the forrest and a black squirrel.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Manger ou ne manger pas?

Confit de canard (fatty fried duck)
I dare say my French is incorrect, but 'to eat, or not to eat' has hardly been the question... I confess I am eating myself around France at present, and can see no signs of it abating. I remember the amazingness of French cuisine from last time, except now I have more money to indulge my every eating whim.


The pastries here are incredible, and I am travelling with women who enjoy them as much as I. There is the obligatory croissant for breakfast (along with baguettes, boiled eggs, meat, cheese and yoghurt, if we're lucky), plus tarts of all different kinds, pain au chocolat, macarons, chocolate eclaires, custard-filled pastries (I forget what they're called)... Tres delicieux. Sometimes we have two or three pastries a day – but it doesn't stop there!

For lunch we usually have either a filled baguette (like a salad roll), or maybe some quiche bought from a patisserie, or we sit down in a brasserie or cafe and have 'plat du jour' (plate of the day). This is usually very unhealthy as well, but we are trying to savour and experience the different dishes of the region. The other day we had 'confit de canard', which is a duck leg cooked in lashings of duck fat – with fries. I feel a bit ill when I think of it, and indeed it was too fatty for me. But it had to be tried. Yesterday, we had croque monsieur (fried cheese and ham sandwich) with fries. I think I must have put on a kg already.

The other regional delicacy we have tried is foie gras (pate made from the liver of fat geese or ducks). This is HUGELY popular in this part of France, but I was a little uncomfortable trying it, because of how they force-feed the birds to make them fat. So I decided to have it once only (and it tasted fantastic). It also means I am trying to steer clear of duck generally, but it can be hard around here, when they serve so much of it.

For dinner we have mostly been going out as a group to a restaurant selected by our leader, and many of these offer set menus for a very reasonable price (11-15 Euro). Last night (in Cahors) we ate in a local restaurant that didn't even show us a menu. The eccentric waiter/owner kept bringing food to our table – showing us the choice of dishes if there was one – and we ended up having five courses. There was potato soup, a vegetable tarine (or foie gras as an alternative), a delicious main course of duck fillets (or mushed poisson with mashed potato), a cheese plate, followed by a choice of desserts (I had some custard thing with meringue on top). On top of that there was black wine (a speciality of the region) and we rolled back to our hotel.

It goes without saying that we have been drinking our way around France as well. Mostly we just ask for 'vin rouge' (red wine), and mostly it is very drinkable. We've had bottles with dinner on occasion, and these have been extra nice. Our vin rouge consumption begins at about 5pm with a pre-dinner drink (or we have time to kill before meeting up with the group) and then continues with dinner. I should emphasise that we're not having much more than 3-4 small glasses over the course of an evening, so it's not a total booze-fest. Our group is very restrained and merely enjoys an odd vin rouge or two.

Cahors - fresh food market
This morning we visited a renowned fresh produce market in Cahors, and I picked up some nuts and fruit (plus other dainty delicacies for lunch on the train). We were also lured into the clutches of a cheese seller, who thrust samples at us for tasting (yum), so of course we bought some. It cost us 8.7 Euro for a modest wedge of cheese, but apparently it will last 3 months out of the fridge. We intend to commence our enjoyment of said cheese tomorrow, when we have a picnic during our walk in the Pyranees.

Tonight we went to a creperie for dinner – more cheese, and lots of it, but at least we didn't have any dessert. I really am going to have to stop eating like this, or my arteries will clog up. Hopefully tomorrow's hike will help burn up some of the calories!

Live lightly..

I've no time to do more than simply repost this link, but here's an article worth reading...
http://zenhabits.net/light-life/

Many of these philosphies I have tried to adhere to for my current travels, but it would take it a bit more for me to apply to my life in general. Nevertheless, I like the sentiment.

Sarlat: Straight out of a fairytale

The medieval village of Sarlat in the Dordogne region is probably my favourite place so far. It's straight out of a fairytale (or fantasy novel) – narrow and winding cobbled laneways (many sans traffic); buildings built haphazardly, abutting and adjoining each other to fill every available space; turrets and towers denoting houses of note; wrought iron and stone-carved balconies; high-pitched roofs of layered stone; passages underneath archways; cathedral with old cemetery and recessed tombs to the rear; cafes and brasseries with chairs and tables out on the pavement; remnants of the old stone wall...


We took a walking tour around the village as part of our 'Dordogne in a day' tour, and our guide explained much of the local history and pointed out objects of interest. (The village grew around a large Benedictine abbey, and was the first in all France to be completely restored in the 1960s.) The following day we were at liberty to explore the town ourselves, and followed a walking route marked out on the tourist map. It's the most adorable little place, and it's easy to see why Sarlat has the reputation of being one of the most attractive villages in France today.

The region of the Dordogne has many beautiful villages smaller than Sarlat. Also known as 'Perigord', the region was the most hotly contested by the English and French during the 100 Years War, and thus most of the villages are fortified (including the abandoned La Roque St Christophe in my earlier post) and most have a chateau, which enhances their beauty. We visited a couple of these during our 'Dordogne in a day' tour, including Beynac (which has a fully restored and heavily fortified chateau at the top of a hill), and La Roque-Gageac (from which we rook a traditional boat ride down the Gabon River).

With its hills and winding roads, quaint cobbled towns and chateaus, the Dordogne/Perigord must surely be one of the most gorgeous parts of France, if not the world.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

A touch of Troglodyte

The Dordogne region of France (down in the south-west corner) is famous for prehistoric sites, especially prehistoric cave art (including the famous Lascoux cave). There is plenty of evidence that both cro magnon and neanderthal man lived (not together) in the region, and for the visitor interested in such things, there is LOTS to see.

We took a tour that promised 'Dordogne in a day', although in reality one could spend a week here. As it was, we spent a jam-packed day cramming in as many sites and experiences as we could. Two of these took us back back back in time to the troglodyte days when cave men lived in the valley during the time of the last ice age.

La Roque St Christophe is a huge cliff face with natural cavities in which cave men dwelled 55,000 years ago. In the middle ages these cavities were further hollowed out and carved to house a medieval village and fortress during the dark ages and the 100 years war. Much more is known about this later civilisation, and their more advanced culture has left far greater imprint on the site than the neanderthal man's. In medieval times, it existed on five different levels, and included a smithy, church and all the usual village suspects, all suspended high over the river valley - with an outstanding view.

La grotte de Rouffignac - otherwise known as the cave of the mammoths - has cave art dating to 13,000 years ago. It is one of the few caves in the region where mammoths are featured heavily in the art, hence the name. The opening to the cave is massive and leads to a series of galleries on different levels. We were conveyed into the depths via a small tram with a guide. There are two main types of art: engravings and drawings, although they are both from around the same time and depict similar subjects. The engravings were made in softer zone, mainly on vertical walls. The drawings were made with titanium dioxide on both the walls and ceiling -- including one ceiling which has different types of animals (mammoths, horses, ibex, bison, woolly rhinocerous) half overlaid with each other.

Unlike the more famous Lascoux caves (which are older and display the most impressive range of animals in full-colour), the Rouffignac caves that are open to the public are authentic and not a replica, but they are very carefully controlled and the art is only lit for very short periods of time. No-one is certain why the drawings were made. The main chamber was originally very low -- just 1m between the ceiling and floor -- but they have dug out the floor to allow the public inside. It seens probable they were part of some spiritual ritual, probably not designed to ever be viewed.

Also within the Rouffignac caves is evidence of cave bears, which lived there even earlier. The bears used to hibernate deep within the caves (their hollowed out 'nests' are still there) and then scratch at the walls when they woke up. Many of the walls are lined with cave bear scratches, all of which lie beneath the cave art, indicating their earlier presence. A much later addition, however, is graffity from the 18th and 19th centuries, since the entrance to the cave has always been open.

There are many many more caves with prehistoric art in the region, dating back to different times, although not all of them are open to the public. I didn't come to France with any expectation of seeing such wonders, but now find myself wishing I had a little more time to check out some more!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Bordeaux and the birth of the new claret

Before visiting Bordeaux, I would have said it was a wine city/region. And I would have been right, but for all the wrong reasons – at least partly. Yes, they grow grapes here, and make wine – have done for centuries. But the business and history of wine and winemaking in this region are fascinating, and not what I expected.

Today we went to a wine merchants' museum in the Chartrons district of Bordeaux. The museum exists in the semi-subterranean cellars of a former wine merchant, and details the history of the Bordeaux wine business, which is intertwined with the history of winemaking in the region.

One of the reasons Bordeaux became so significant in wine is because it used to be a port town, and major centre of trade – the city has been the major distribution centre for many imported goods, including sugar. Wine has been made in the region for centuries, but it wasn't until the Dutch introduced the practice of sterilising the barrels with burnt sulphur that Bordeaux became one of the great centres of wine in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It turns out that the addition of sulphur is the key to producing an aged wine. Without sulphur (an ingredient not always regarded favourably) wines must be drunk when they are very young. Sulphur stops the fermentation process by killing the yeast, and therefore is an essential component of wines that are to be aged – which, as we all know, leads to vast improvement! Bordeaux wines are great, because of the quality of the grapes and soil etc that allow the wines to be aged for very long periods of time (40 years is not uncommon). But without Sulphur, no-one would ever have known about it.

The other thing I found incredibly fascinating was the role of the wine merchant. The wine chain in the golden age of Bordeaux was as follows: the Chateau, where the wine was made from locally grown grapes; the broker, who sold the young wine in bulk to...; the wine merchant, who took responsibility for aging and blending the wines; the consumer, who purchased the wine from the wine merchant. This meant the wine merchant was actually extremely important, and would ultimately create the final wine. Wines coming from the same chateau would be completely different, depending on the wine merchant.

There were evidently some 400 wine merchants in Bordeaux during the golden age – hailing from the Netherlands, England, Ireland, and even America. They would all have massive cellars where they aged the wine in casks, and bottled it for their customers and export. The Chartrons district was the centre for this activity, and had its own port area on the bank of the river. This is all gone now, and these days the wines are aged and bottled at the wine estates themselves, but today's glimpse into the history of Bordeaux winemaking and business has really been fascinating.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Trainwriting

Today we caught the train from Tours to Bordeaux, a three hour trip, and I took the opportunity to whip out baby computer and do some writing. It was great. It turned out that I spent a couple of hours editing sections of the preceding the chapter, but at least I was getting back into it after several weeks. I now hold high hopes for subsequent train journeys, and look forward to making some progress in the coming days and weeks.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Cycling in the Loire Valley

Today I discovered that 'riding a bike' is a skill one can in fact forget. The setting was perfect: sunny autumnal morning with barely a cloud in the sky, a flat bike path along the Loire River Valley, a destination (Chateau Villandry) of international repute.

Seven of us embarked on this idyllic adventure. (I have now joined my Intrepid 'assisted backpacking' group, which comprises six travellers including myself, plus a leader.) The ride was approximately 20km each-way from Tours, where we are staying, to the chateau and back again, through open fields of corn, along the river, past quaint French villages. As mentioned, it was a gorgeous day, and spirits were high.

Overall, I enjoyed the ride. But it was my first time on a bike for … er … maybe 15-20 years? I was most nervous about the fact we had to ride a short distance through the town of Tours, since my RHS traffic sense is not great. However, I underestimated how uncoordinated I seem to have become. So long as we were all riding forward, things were fine; but every time we stopped, I wobbled and hopped and was generally ridiculous. Towards the end of the day I almost allowed a car to drive over my foot. We rode around 40km in total, which isn't bad for a relative novice, although the return journey seemed interminable. I think I've decided that cycling is just not my thing.

Nevertheless, it was a lovely way (in principle) of spending the day and Chateau Villandry is beautiful. It started out as a medieval keep, but was added to in the 18th C. The 'house' is impressive, and nicely presented, but it's the gardens which stand out. On one side of the building are ornamental 'hedged' gardens, laid out in themes of 'love' – tender love, passionate love, fickle love, and tragic love (supposedly). These are best viewed from above, and can be glimpsed out of many of the house windows, plus an overlooking belvedere.

Adjoining the ornamental garden and extending down another side of the building is the most amazing kitchen garden, also extremely ornamental and designed to be viewed from above (again from the house). But up close it's awesome too, with many different types of vegetables creating patterns out of texture and colour. There are also the water garden, the sun garden, the maze, and the herb garden.

Worth the ride? Definitely! Worth the ride back?... well, yes, but we would have preferred to take a bus!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

More from Paris

I just knew Europe was the place for a fantasy writer to come to get inspired. Yesterday I visited two places that could easily be deployed in a fantasy tale... and I rather suspect there are many more to come!

First I went to the catacombes of Paris, a series of underground tunnels where a whole heap of bones have been arranged in quite (I have to say) spectacular fashion. Behind retaining walls built of femurs and inlaid with skulls in decorative patterns, lie the loose bones of about 6 million Parisians, laid to rest in an abandoned underground quarry after the cemeteries were emptied to prevent disease from spreading. I understand it was quite respectfully done -- if exhuming millions of people and dismembering their skeletons could be called that -- but even so... A sobering experience.

Second I went to Chateau Vincennes, one of the foremost medieval castles in France, former home of King Charles V. It has a well-preserved central keep, surrounded by wall and a moat. Plus all manner of adjacent buildings -- chapel, palaces built later, armoury etc -- surrounded by an additional wall. Because it is so comprehensive and nicely laid out, it's perfect for a medieval fantasy setting, should one choose to write such. Aside from that, the stone walls simply ooze history: the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned here before being transferred to the Bastille, as was Diderot. Apparently, along with the Louvre, it's one of the most significant royal residences in French history (and I had never heard of it before...).

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Café a porté

As we all know, France is the land of coffee; but not as we know it, exactly. For example, although I haven't yet tried, I suspect if I requested skim milk the cafes would shake their head in bemusement.

I've only had two coffees in Paris so far. The first was at the airport after my flight, before I embarked upon the 3-train adventure. I had to ask whether café créma was made with milk rather than cream (yes, thankfully), but I regretted asking for a large, since it just didn't taste the same and I struggled to drink the whole coffee.

The second was at a boulangerie/café near my hotel. I had just grabbed a filled baguette for dinner (too tired to seek other options) and decided a coffee would be necessary if I was to avoid waking with a headache this morning. I asked for a coffee and pointed out the door. "A porté?" said the cafe guy. "Oui, a porté," said I, delighted to learn how to ask for a takeaway coffee in French.

He picked up a tiny espresso take-away cup. I shook my head and said "au lait?" hopefully. He wasn't sure and had to ask someone else... "Cafe au lait a porté?" I said helpfully, feeling proud of my ability to say these things in the local language. It was not to be. They had take-away cups for espresso only. So be it, I thought, so I nodded and pointed.

I was expecting what we would call a short black at this point. Fine, at least it was coffee, and I don't actually mind a short black. But then the guy was frothing milk, and I was really confused. I'm still not actually sure what it was: short black with a little bit of milk? Whatever, it was yum and coffee, and I could take it away. I rather suspect this could be the way I drink coffee for a while...

Strolling through the streets of Paris

Finally it's here and I have 10 whole weeks of holiday in Europe. The last few days and weeks at work were mad, long and a little bit stressful, and so I think it's going to take me a few days (or maybe longer) to unwind properly; but here I am, on what has been a gorgeous Autumn day, in Paris, so where better to relax?

I was far too tired/wired on the way over to write during the journey, but I did put my kindle to good use. I have decided one of the most useful features is the ability to lay the thing flat so you can keep reading, completely hands free (except for tapping the page button), while eating. You just can't do that with paperbacks, and for the solo traveller it's brilliant. I also watched plenty of movies and got around 6h sleep, so all in all, not too bad. The Melbourne to Bangkok leg was particularly cruisy, since the plane was only about a third full, meaning I could switch to a bulkhead seat and have heaps of leg room. Had I wanted to sleep that leg, I could have lain across three seats...

On arrival in Paris ~7:45 this morning, I took my time and caught three trains to my hotel, which is in eastern Paris. Upon emerging from the metro I was greeted by a quaint little village of shops and houses; it's a lovely environment, if not quite in the vicinity of the 'heavy hitting' tourist sites. After settling in, I set off for a walk and decided to catch the train to the Louvre museum, from which I walked through parkland and along the Seine River to the Eiffel tower. Taking a walk through a city is my favourite way to gain impressions and soak up atmosphere. It's a cheap way of the spending the day too, plus I've mastered the metro system. I didn't go into the Louvre or up the tower, since I've done both before and today was really about revelling in the fact I am in Paris. The sun came out mid-afternoon and I spent a delightful 20mins or so sitting in the sun on a grassy sward, watching other tourists take photos of each other 'holding up' the tower... or else trying to push it over.

That's about all I can manage for day 1 in Paris. Time to get my body clock in synch for Western Europe. It's not even 6pm yet, but oh well. Bon Nuit!

Monday, 18 October 2010

e-ticketing gets tricksy

Travelling is such a different experience these days. Everything is e-ticketed and booked online, leaving one with very little tangible evidence of a forthcoming journey. I've been drifting toward Thursday's departure quite happily, the date burned in my brain, secure in the knowledge that all I need to do is rock up to the airport at the required time with a valid passport...

Everything was fine until I decided to log into Thai Airways' system this evening to see if I could choose my seat. Five minutes later, I was mildly panicking, because no matter what number I plugged in, my booking reference number was not recognised. Breathe.... breathe....

It's OK, I can call tomorrow and confirm everything, I'm telling myself. It's probably just the dodgy Thai Airways computer system. So I decided to check my British Airways flight (between Barcelona and London), figuring that if that flight was in the system, my travel agent must have done the other correctly as well.

As one might expect, the BA web site is quite a few cuts above the Thai Airways site, and .... thank god, my booking reference number was recognised and I was in the system. I have a flight to London! But what astounded and relieved me no end was that all my Thai Airways flights are in there as well. I suppose Thai Airways must be partnered with BA somehow. By this stage I didn't care that I couldn't choose a seat, I was/am so relieved that I have a flight on Thursday.

On the BA 'manage my booking' web site I was also able to enter my passport details (which it was demanding), phone and email contact details, and also my Qantas frequent flyer number. I hadn't even realised that Qantas and Thai Airways were affiliated for frequent flyer miles.

So I think I can breathe easy now, fairly certain I actually have a seat on Thursday's flights to Bangkok and then Paris, even if I don't know what seats they are. After that little experience, it's hard to decide whether the e-ticketing trend provides more or less peace of mind. Comme Ci, Comme Ça, I think.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The plan

My writing group brunches, which I value highly, have unfortunately been a little infrequent this year. But we had one today, and as usual we spent some delightful hours around a large table with much coffee and eggs and wine. The topics ranged widely, never too far from some writing theme, and included the impending WriMoFoFo, a proposed novel crit sub-group (with rules), the merit of trilogies versus stand-alone fantasy novels... and what everybody plans to do next.

For me, the answer to the last was easy: finish the re-write. Then what? they asked. After a moment's thought, I had the answer: Ask for volunteers to read and provide feedback, as much or as little as they want. And then, bless them, they all put up their hands and volunteered. When I'm done, hopefully early in the new year, the manuscript gets circulated and we have one mega Ellen crit session. (yikes) So that's the plan.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Gallivanting with gadgets (the trial run)

Today I took my new toys -- kindle and baby computer -- on a trial run to Sydney. I had good opportunity to put baby computer through its paces, since our meeting was delayed and we had to sit around in Sydney airport for an hour and a half.

So I fired up the computer on the plane first, and actually wrote for about half an hour! Although unfortunately it was work stuff I was writing, not novel. I learnt that right-elbow room is a challenge, so might try to get either a right window seat, or seat with aisle to the right for the big flight to Paris... Only problem was that the flight to Sydney is too short to get much done, by the time you wait for cruising altitude to be reached and then have to switch off when the descent commences.

At the airport I fired up once again in a cafe and continued writing my article, while enjoying a coffee and toasted sandwich. I rather assumed that Sydney Airport would offer free WiFi, but they don't officially. I went out to the food court and found an unsecured free network, but it wasn't ideal. Nevertheless, baby computer did its part well.

The return flight was the time to bring out the kindle -- since I was far too exhausted by four hours of back-to-back meetings to do much else. I deliberately didn't switch-off during take-off and landing, since I wanted to see whether they would make me. They didn't! I guess it may vary between airlines, but it looks like e-readers (of the e-ink variety) aren't classified as gadgets that could crash the plane.

So all in all the trial run was very successful and satisfactory! (And now my boss has baby computer envy... I should get a commission from Samsung for the number of people who have expressed intentions to go out and get one!)

Sunday, 10 October 2010

More excuses

My problem with trying to write just at the moment is that my head is crammed full of too many other things. After spending most of the weekend ticking things off my 'to do' list, I decided I had made good progress and thought maybe I could spare an hour or so to open the file that hasn't been opened in about 2 weeks. I am pleasantly surprised by the fact that I actually managed to put some words down, but less than an hour after opening the file I am already distractedly running through the list in my head. It's not helping that my eyes keep wanting to close... Nevertheless, I did put a few words down, which is better than nothing. I was starting to wonder just how many days I was going to go without progressing anything. It's starting to look like I may need to go away travelling in order to write! After all, I'll have all the gadgets with me, and there'll be many train and busy journeys.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Must-read book: In Defence of Food

In Defence of Food, by Michael Pollan, is a book that will probably change your life. Everyone should read it. Many of its insights are horrifying, its recommendations daunting. Sure, it's written by a journalist with a clear agenda, but that agenda is an admirable one, and at the very least it will get you thinking. And eating better.

The main message of the book is this: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Basically the book highlights how those of us who follow 'the western diet' have lost our way; how much of what we eat isn't strictly 'food' (rather 'food-like substances'), courtesy of nutrient-poor industrially farmed foods and corner-cutting due to food processing; how the age of 'nutritionism' (the obsession with food constituents and their purported benefits for our health) is actually making us less healthy.

The first section of the book explores the rise of nutritionism, and presents findings of various studies and experiments that ultimately suggest that 'western eaters' today are significantly less healthy -- ie more prone to heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes -- than our predecessors. So what has gone wrong? Pollan's argument (backed by the opinions of numerous experts) is that our mistake (or, rather, that of the industrial food companies) has been breaking down food into 'nutrients' and treating them in isolation. The finely tuned human body actually needs saturated fats and all the other food consituents you can think of. We don't have nearly enough understanding of how they behave synergistically to meddle successfully.

The second section of the book outlines the key areas in which our diets have changed:
  • From whole foods to refined - we get fewer nutrients, delivered too efficiently (especially glucose and fructose) and consequently absorbed too quickly
  • From complexity to simplicity - a trend towards simplification (of nutrients) at all stages of the food chain, meaning we don't get enough nutrient diversity.
  • From quality to quantity - leading to humans becoming over-fed and under-nourished
  • From leaves to seeds - reflected by the dominance of grains (especially processed corn, soybeans, rice and wheat) which leads to an imbalance of omega 3 vs 6 among other issues
  • From food culture to food science - the role of food and eating has changed from a cultural perspective

The final section of the book outlines some practical recommendations as to how we can change our eating to overcome the curse of the western diet. Basically this involves avoiding processed foods of any kind, eating organic where possible, shunning foods that make health claims on the packaging. He recommends we 'eat mostly plants, especially leaves', think about where our food comes from, and cook form scratch wherever possible. A glass of wine with dinner is considered good (yay). The book also outlines some strategies to help us eat less overall.

All of this has me in a bit of a spin, I confess. In the past few years I've endeavoured to improve my diet, but I have to admit to a reliance on processed foods. Cooking is not really my thing, and so if I can cut corners, I will. As a result, the strategies proposed by In defence of food fly counter to many of my eating habits, so for me to implement will involve a major shift in thinking. Step 1: Get rid of the margerine.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Spectrum of gold

I can't help thinking, as I once again succumb to the lure of the Commonwealth Games on TV, that not all gold medals are equal. Not exactly.

Something like 5 gold medals were decided in the pool tonight, and -- the Delhi 'relaxed' approach aside -- over in a flash. Contrast this with the Aussie Diamonds (our netball team), where a team of 12 plays a total of seven complete matches (five pool games, a semi and a final) in order to win a single medal (or so we hope!). Somehow it doesn't quite seem fair.

I'd say these two sports, along with others such as track&field and hockey, fall at either end of the spectrum, with others still falling somewhere in between. I'm not exactly sure what it's a spectrum of though -- it's not really fair to say 'effort', since I'm sure all these athletes train incredibly hard. Maybe 'human hours' per medal? By my reckoning, the netballers commit more than 80 'human match hours' per medal, counting the bench players, who have to sit there, right?

Saturday, 2 October 2010

In preparatory mode

I have been far too preoccupied with getting organised for travel to write anything in the past couple of weeks. My list of 'things to do' seems endless! On top of getting stuff ready to take away (making sure baby computer has the required content, configuring kindle, finalising all the bits and pieces etc), I am making the house/garden habitable for a house-sitter, and ticking off various appointments (cat to eye specialist, new glasses for me...).

At the moment, my garden is one of the things consuming me the most. Last weekend, this weekend and probably next weekend as well, I am weeding, pruning, repotting etc. All stuff that really can't wait another 3 months. At least the sun has finally come out and I can soak up some vitamin D -- particularly since I'm headed for another winter and won't see proper sun until January!

On top of weekends spent communing/battling with nature, there are a fair few social engagements, a spot of renovation, and evenings recovering in front of the TV, multitasking with a laptop. The list keeps getting longer as I think of things I want to get done. Next is an instruction manual for my house-sitter -- including how to avoid getting killed by the devilcat.