Sunday, September 19, 2010

Random observations

Where one may smoke is restricted in Germany and England: but people smoke everywhere else, way too much. 
  • But their liquor laws -- seemingly drink anywhere you like -- facilitate that, it seems. I was having dinner in Berlin, in a reasonably nice Italian restaurant. The table opposite me ordered a carafe of wine. After sitting for just a few minutes, one of them poured her glass of wine to the brim, stood up with her friend and they went outside for a smoke, glass in hand. Not so strange, I suppose, but there was something incongruent about it: it's not as if there was a specific area to stand outside. The need to smoke just appeared so overwhelming.
British people are getting fat. Ironically, although not unique to here, that's because so many things are so expensive. London really is expensive these days. Four pounds for a one-way tube ticket in a single zone. Use of a front loading washing machine, four pounds. Movies run up to twelve pounds-fifty. (The exchange rate is around $1.60 to the pound). Beer, on the other hand, is a relative bargain: three and a half pounds for a pint at a decent place in the middle of London (and that's not for Carlsberg either).
  • Of course, it's not just the beer that is making people fat here and elsewhere: it's the entire system of farm subsidies and the world-wide agricultural economic system that makes crops which are the core of high calorie but low nutritional value (soy, corn and the like) cheap -- and that keeps junk food a bargain. (There are several books about this as discussed in the context of the local food movement which, while it is put forth as a remedy for the obesity crisis, is also pointed out to be an upper/middle class privilege since such are the only people who can afford to eat it).
Soy (and wheat) products, of course, can be healthy. A new type of restaurant has appeared in London since my last visit (only a year ago): all-you-can-eat Chinese-Thai vegan buffets. Six pounds-fifty at night, five pounds-fifty for lunch. Gluten and tofu in numerous forms and combination. Incredible! Some things looked uncertain -- like the imitation crab (I think it was): it reminded me of the dish listed as vegetarian on the menu of another restaurant I went to in Berlin that had scampi with it (they were able to not include the flesh and reduced the price too!). I couldn't bring myself to eat that white and red, fishy-looking object, but I did enjoy lots of seaweed.
  • Walking back from my gorging on the buffet I passed another all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. In a sign of the times, that one advertised itself loudly as having "REAL MEAT". I must go back there and get a picture of that.
England is not really European. My colleague Claire has a purse she wears as a small backpack. I always figured it was something from France. I noticed a group of about 15 (German-speaking) women out for dinner in Berlin, all of them carrying them, so it has obviously spread to there. I've yet to see anyone with such an accessory here in London. 

Strawberry Belgian wheat beer (Früli I think it was called) is very sweet -- but delicious.

"Sunday Trading laws" still exist in London: (all) shops can open on Sundays but only certain kinds can actually sell you anything before noon. Bookshops are in the category of "can't sell" as the woman on the PA system in Foyles announced in an officious voice.

Monday, September 13, 2010

On the road again

I’m thinking I should change the name of my blog to "Rippin’ Rambles" since I only ever seem to update it when I am traveling. Be that as it may, I’m on the road again, so to speak, so here I am: London terminal 1 Star Alliance lounge after an “executive class” flight over from Vancouver. I used my upgrade coupon this time to gain my reclining seat and fancy meals – definitely a great reward for airline loyalty. The thrill of the lounges is wearing off, though. Vancouver’s international departure lounge was small, busy and nothing special at all. This one is better – and some good food is to be had (vegetable pakora, onion bhaji, vegetable samosa – all fresh and hot) and a different range of magazines may be secured for reading later in my hotel, but still, basically, it’s just about as uncomfortable as anywhere else to have to spend 4 hours waiting for my connecting flight to Berlin.

Flights are an opportunity to see films that I wouldn’t normally get to watch: I usually try to pick a quirky Canadian or foreign one. This time’s was a gem again: Bruce McDonald (directing) and Don McKellar (writing) "This Movie is Broken" Called a “rock show romance” it’s really just an amazing concert flick with a thin (and captivating) narrative spun around it. I also listened to the record of the band that appears in the film – Broken Social Scene – which was on the plane entertainment system as well, but it was nowhere near as good as the live show that had such an amazing range (and energy) of performers on stage.

More later...