Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tomatoes in Zürich

English tomatoes, the very best in the world

After a stressful trip to the airport, with me arriving exactly 30 minutes before the flight, and so having to dump three decent bottles of English wine (from Whole Foods) and just catching the plane at the gate, I arrived into Zürich airport and bumped into Mike and Simon from IC, whom I haven't seen for a long time.

From the Hauptbahnhof, I walked out and met Ursula on the bridge. She took me over to Niederdorf area, where we met her lovely friends at Barfüsser, apparently one of Europe's oldest gay bars! Next morning, breakfast at Sprüngli, then in the afternoon, Selina and Henrik's wedding, on the 22nd August.

I know Selina from University, Marc and I meeting her and Supiya on a Mandarin language course. She's lived out in Zürich since moving out there with UBS many years ago, and it is here that she met her beau, Henrik.

The reception started at Acqua, a waterside bar. Once everyone was assembled, and after a fair bit of milling about, the bride came across the water, rowed on a boat with father holding an umbrella over her.

The bride approaches


After the traditional march up the aisle, they took their humanist service vows, in which they addressed each other and explained what the other meant for them. It was very touching, and at one point a wisp of smoke must have caught me in the eye.

Sel regains composure and organises the crowd

Next up the alcohol started flowing, and we were left to circulate.

Peter, Ting and Jennifer

The lovely Max and Louise

Yours truly with Ben

Now one of the delights of this wedding was how English, Chinese, Swedish and Swiss wedding traditions were blended together. Next up, a Swiss idea - a balloon release with a twist. All guests were issued with blank postcard and pen, the reverse side having Sel and Henrik's address pre-printed. We filled out the card, tied it to any one of hundreds of helium-filled balloons, and at the appointed time, released!

Balloon release

Remember that Zürich is not far from the borders of Germany, Italy, Austria, even France. So these balloons can easily reach far away, and hopefully whoever finds the card will post it back, so Sel and Henrik receive a trickle of cards with messages from friends - I think we were supposed to give a promise - something like "if you fly me to the Caribbean, I promise to cook dinner for you" or similar.

Balloons release

Family shots

The balloons released and wedding photos complete, it was time for the wedding tram. A special tram had been hired to take all guests on a tour of Zürich; with a huge bouquet of flowers on the front it drew many stares from locals. We had an official Tourist Board woman onboard giving us a very tedious tour which was ignored by most as we chatted. Of course, the main problem with the thing was lack of bar on board, and I sorely regretted criticising Ben for stealing his beer from Acqua.

Wedding tram

The tram dropped up nearby where the evening's festivities would be, the Zunfthaus zur Meisen. This is one of the many ancient guildhalls of Zurich, this one something to do with pottery, and now part of the Swiss National Museum. It dates from 1757 and has a beautiful interior.

The happy couple again

The interior was also pretty hot, and it was only consuming plenty of liquids that kept things bearable. Certainly it was a relief when we managed to get some windows opened mid-dinner!

The dinner

Dinner continued the mix of cultures theme, with a Asian Salad with Chicken to start, then a Toast Skagen, a tasty Swedish shrimp paste on crunchy toast thing, then the main course was Roast Beef. The Swedish for "bon appetit" sounds remarkably like "Smacky bottom" (Smaklig måltid!), which was wished to all with gusto before each course.

Our table had a fantastic crowd - Max and Louise, an English couple living out in Zurich, Hans and Tove, a lovely Swedish couple, another Swedish couple the names of whom I have awfully managed to forget - either Magnus and Kristina or Maria and Christofer (!), and brother and sister Ting and Jennifer from Kent! I realised that it was important to have some Swedes on the table to explain some of the traditions going on which otherwise might have been fairly confusing.

By each set place was a booklet with the lyrics for a variety of songs, English and Swedish, which we would proceed to sing between courses. The Swedes of course love their singing, which is done without accompaniment, but usually with a loud "skål" (pronounced "schkol")at the end and a dose of alcohol down the hatch, which one begins to suspect is the main purpose of the song in the first place.

The speeches were multi-lingual too and were ably managed by the three toastmasters. It sounds complicated but seemed to work. One interesting Swedish tradition emerged when Selina popped out of the room to go to the bathroom. All of a sudden all of the ladies leapt up and advanced to the groom, demanding one by one a kiss! Henrik looked initially worried with 100 ladies bearing down on him, but before long had got the hang of it, at least until Max appeared mid-queue!

Before long, it was time for the cutting of the cake, and the throwing of the bocquet. Sadly for all those of more mature years, it would seem that a bridesmaid of not more than about 6 or 7 years is the next one getting married!

Cutting of the cake

The dancefloor kicked off.. The move of the evening being the Migraine Skank, which our table group had mastered:

Our funky table group

The DJ music was as cheesy as one would expect for a wedding, belting through all the embarrassing classics that get everyone on the dancefloor.

Andrew and Ritu working the dancefloor

There was a self-service beer tap outside, and midnight snack of hotdogs and cheese! Definitely a good way of keeping things going till the end.


Post party we retired to the Odeon Bar for a nightcap, before heading home, it being almost 5am by now! I considered a swim in the lake, but it would surely not be a sensible thing at this hour, in the dark, in my slightly inebriated state, and with no idea of where to go!

Next day we visited Ursula's friend Sandro's parents for a fantastic proper home-cooked Italian meal, and in the evening a nice dinner at the Terrace. Incidentally the blog post title refers to a discussion over the lunch table about tomatoes. I was making the point that English tomatoes are the best in the world, which was disputed by the largely Italian crowd. Then Sandro's mother made a good point: "Maybe for you they are the best". True, true!

*Disclaimer - apologies, none of the photos on this blogpost are mine - instead I should credit Mike, Sel and others, basically anyone posting on Facebook!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Fun of the English Language

Charles Battell Loomis, quoted in "Our Accursed Spelling":

I'm taught p-l-o-u-g-h
Shall be pronounced "Plow."
"Zat's easy when you know," I say,
"Mon Anglais I'll get through."

My teacher say zat in zat case
O-u-g-h is "oo."
And zen I laugh and say to him
"Zees Anglais make me cough."

He say, "Not coo, but in zat word
O-u-g-h is `off.'"
O sacre bleu! Such varied sound
Of words make me hiccough.

He says, "Again my friend is wrong;
O-u-g-h is `uff.'"
I say, "I try to spik your words,
I can't pronounce them, though."

"In time you'll learn, but now you're wrong;
O-u-g-h is `owe'!"
"I'll try no more, I shall go mad,
I'll drown me in ze lough."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Laura Marling and Friends

Last night I went along to the Royal Festival Hall for an evening of "Laura Marling and Friends". I picked up tickets via the fantastic Scarlet Mist ticket exchange, which is a website for selling tickets to others when you can't attend, without ripping them off through eBay like a scumbag tout.

Here was Laura's note about the evening from her Myspace:

The evening opened with a video of Laura's "friends" speaking about the relationship between the group, all of them modern British folk artists. Laura then came on to some quite high-pitched cheering. She's quite small and cute, and came across quite relaxed in what must be quite a dauntingly large venue to play.

Before kicking off with lesser known, but still beautiful songs, she explained how the evening would work - she would alternate between herself and her friend playing - so after she played, one of her band members, Peter Roe came on and played a fantastic solo of "The Devil's Dancefloor", then she was back on, and so on.

Peggy Sue’s ‘The Sea The Sea’ suffered from the guitar not working. I did wonder, as the girl playing it looked quite uncomfortable during the tune. They played on, and I assumed that it was just quite a harsh song, though still quite good. Laura came on and explained the technical difficulties, then invited them back later to do an encore - though frankly I would have rather heard something different!

The lovely Alessi Laurent-Marke, playing as Alessi's Ark, was the "friend" I was most looking forward to, as I'd seen and enjoyed her at Glasto. Here though, she really came into her element.

Her voice is wonderful, like some sort of Bebel Gilberto / Cat Power crossover.. Frankly I wouldn't have minded if she took over the evening and played the rest of it. Sadly she only did one song.. but I urge you to check her out on Myspace or Spotify, and to catch one of her shows in a couple of months when she seems to be touring round.

Other artists playing included Andrew Bird, Sons Of Noel & Adrian, Johnny Flynn, and Mumford & Sons, who played quite a dark rocky loud number.

Towards the end of proceedings, all the "friends" came on stage for a sing-along of one of Laura's more famous tracks, some taking advantage of the sofas etc littered about the stage. Some of the artists had also commented on the ridiculous number of microphones all over the stage!

Some of thew new songs Laura played included "Made By Maid", "Alpha Shallows" and "Blackberry Stone", with classics such as "Ghosts", "My Manic & I" and "Alas I Cannot Swim". One criticism I read of which I'd agree with is that there was a distinct lack of collaboration between the artists - Laura would gush praise on to each act before and after, which wasn't needed. What might have been more interesting would be her telling us something about their past, or their relationship etc.

So overall a great gig with a number of talented artists, showcasing some great British folk. Laura's voice was both refined and strong, though I think there are so many great lesser-known folk artists, it's not always worth fighting through the teenage girls when the Peter Roes or Alessi's Arks of this world are so much less subscribed and just as good.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Google Mail Rules (mostly)

I'm generally extremely pleased with my current email solution. I run on Gmail, or rather the version of Google Mail that comes with Google Apps, with Outlook 2007 client-side, pulling messages via secure POP3. However I have encountered a few anomalies recently, which I thought I'd share, for the more geeky of my readers to comment on.

With Gmail these days you get 7.5Gb of space, and this is enough for all my amassed emails since the 90s when I took my first naive internet steps. However, most of my mail is stored in backed-up PST files locally. How to upload? There are nasty hacks with IMAP and copying client-side between files, but imagine my happiness when I realised that Google had released a "Bulk Uploader" app, supposedly only for Premium Google Apps accounts, but tip 1: it works with standard Apps accounts too!

So, I set to uploading the 5Gb of email or so that was not sitting in Mail. Much of this had come through my older normal Gmail account, which I have to retain as unfortunately Google Accounts still need a Gmail address for several services, and the long-demanded account merge has not materialised.

As part of the upload, I set all uploaded email to be "Archived" immediately. The Archive in Gmail is a way of keeping your inbox down, though I mistakenly assumed it would also clear the POP3 flag. Wrong! So once the 5Gb of mail was up, Outlook just tried to pull it all down again, groan!

The solution was post-upload to set Gmail to only pull new messages (i.e. from that point on) down, then in Outlook take advantage of Gmails "recent POP pull" feature, whereby if you put "recent:" before your username, it will pull down the last month of emails, regardless of whether they have already been downloaded. This enabled me to pick up any messages I had missed during the bulk upload to my client, which took the best part of a week. All well and good.

Then I notice... My inbox on the web-based GUI has been stripped of messages for the past month. They're not in the archive, they've... gone! Where?? I can only assume there is some sort of weird bug where the recent: command can delete server-side messages. My settings are certainly set to keep the message regardless of what the client instructs, so how did this happen? The ugly fix? To use Bulk Uploader again and reupload the last month. Shouldn't have had to do it though...

Benefits of Gmail:
1. Space - lots of it, more than you'll ever need
2. Free pop3 and IMAP access
3. Secure and fast
4. Simple UI, minimal advertising
5. Fantastic indexing
6. Good spam filtering
7. Easy to set up with your own domain.

1. 16Mb message limit
2. The anomaly above!
3. Very limited address book support.

I'll post the problem I've had online and report back if I make progress.

Update 09/09/09: Solved it thanks to a comment from bkennerly here. Essentially the recent: command over-rides Gmail pop handling, and will let your client decide what to do with pulled email. I.e. if your client normally deletes from server, but Gmail doesn't allow this, beware using recent: - it will be allowed! The solution had I realised this would have been either to change the client setting before using recent:, or pull those messages out of the Trash, where they would have been dumped.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

New York State of Mind

Looking down on a rainy city from the Sony tower

Aside from being pickpocketed, I enjoyed my trip to NY. In addition to working in the huge Sony Plaza building all week, enjoying some impressive thunderstorms over the city, avoiding the heavy rain and incredible heat and humidity outside, I found time to do some of the following:

1. The Perfect Pint. I have to disagree, they certainly don't serve the perfect pint, but did have a large selection, a cute barmaid called Bernadette, a gay speed-dating event going on that we almost joined by accident, Irish air-hostesses, and a bunch of golden girls from Kansas on their first trip to NY who decided I reminded them of Hugh Grant. A random and quite wacky evening.

2. Buddakan. A fantastic new Asian fusian restaurant in the Meat Packing district. Treats such as edamame and truffle dumplings, soft-shell crab, divine charred steak, lobster-fried rice and extremely naughty desserts, all washed down by some very nice Californian wine. Highly recommended.

3. Press 195. A small diner in Brooklyn which stocks a few excellent ales, including their own Outrage Age and Stone's Levitation. Stone Levitation is a tasty amber ale that was hoppy enough to keep me happy, and only 4.4% abv, so I started with this. Next, Outrage IPA, which is brewed by Kenny Landin at Butternuts Brewery, an American India Pale Ale with a bite at 6%. To be honest not as nice as the Stone, but still the second best beer I've had in NY!

4. Cyclists on Penny Farthing bicycles! After observing earlier in the week that there hardly seemed to be anyone cycling in New York, on Sunday morning we were passed by dozens on huge Penny Farthings, of all sizes, from child to adult ones that must have been two metres high or so!

5. The Music Hall of Williamsburg. Following a tip in TimeOut, I went across to Brooklyn for a free gig on Friday evening at this interesting venue. After watching a fantastic sunset over the Manhatten skyline (photos on stolen camera), I enjoyed Holly Miranda then Ben Sollee performing. Miranda played guitar and sang, with just a bass guitar supporting, which I was surprised to find really worked well, her melancholy voice blending in beautifully with the guitars. Sollee played cello as if it were a guitar, creating a "unique mix of folk, bluegrass, jazz and R&B". Interestingly he brought on stage a banjo player that I'd seen busking at the subway station on the way to the gig!

6. My schoolfriend Andy, his beautiful wife Tracy and their friends for a dinner party. This was right out near Coney Island, and an old lady from the Dominican Republic I sat next to on the subway warned me to be careful around there. She was right, as it was on the way back that I was pickpocketed, as I dozed on the train after rather too many cocktails. They took my camera, work Blackberry, and a small plastic bag with postcards (sorry everyone) and my Primark sunglasses! Gits, I paid 2 quid for those!! Andy's wife is a marvellous cook though, and it was great to catch up on the 12 or so years since I last saw him.

7. American Museum of Natural History. A good choice by Meegan, though Sunday afternoon on a rainy day was perhaps not the best time to visit. "Ohh maa gawwwd, Ostriches" screamed at high volumes by kids running and shouting everywhere, dodgy food in the basement, but despite all this, some very impressive dinosaur skeletons, mammals, and a Moai statue amongst the huge collections on display. One of those places you could spend a week and still not see everything. Just like our Natural History Museum back home.

8. Japanese restaurants including Sushiya just near our hotel, and Miyako in Williamsburg. Some healthy food to contrast with the chicken wings, burgers etc that are all too commonplace in what is second only to London for amazing food.

9. Brooklyn Museum. The second largest museum in NY, a huge collection of art which rivals the Met but with a fraction of the crowds. Outside a Caribbean festival, inside Yinka Shonabare, the British Nigerian artist, Light of the Sufis: The Mystical Arts of Islam, American Identities: A New Look, and much more. I'd strongly recommend here rather than the more famous Manhatten galleries if you want a bit of peace and quiet with your art.

10. Benihana. Alcohol-free (!) cocktails at this Japanese chain restaurant were sickly-sweet and horrible. No wonder when we ordered them the barman kept checking that we wanted each one alcohol-free. A veritable virgin disaster! This place is obviously more popular for happy hour, as several times rather inebriated customers spilled on to the pavement, just up from our hotel.

11. Newark Airport. For the first time I left from Newark Airport. Given how awful JFK is, I had high hopes for Newark. I was to be disappointed. Another airport with a underfunded domestic feel to it. Why can't America do decent airports (I'm not saying we're leading the field, but we're still streets ahead of anything I've seen Stateside. The flight back was really quick with a strong tailwind, getting us home in about 5 1/2 hours! Too quick really, not enough time to sleep on the flight!

12. Brunch at Fat Hippo's on the LES (Lower East Si-eeede!). I wanted to go to Clinton Street Baking Company, but by the time Essa had brushed his hair and we got down there they had an hour and half wait. It looked good though, and I'll try to visit again next time. Schiller's looked busy and I can vouch for the food being great, but what's the need in visiting the same place twice in NY? Anyway, the LES seems like the brunch capital of New York, get yourself down there at the weekend for Eggs Benedict and a smoothie.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Watch My Pickpocket Live!

Last night in NY I had my company phone stolen. Interestingly they're still using it, and you can watch its progress on the left (for now), as I have Google Latitude enabled on it, which reports the phone's location. As they're using the device rather than just the SIM, I'm assuming that they aren't making any calls, as it has a password. Watch its progress on the left, it's in Staten Island now! I'm off to see the NYPD!

After visiting the station near my hotel I realised that there was no point in explaining to the police about Google Latitude and how I knew where the phone was within a couple of hundred yards. I'll just have to solve the crime by tracking them down myself next time I'm in New York. Hey! Scumbag who lives on the corner of South Avenue and Richmond Terrace in Mariner's Harbour, Staten Island, New York! I've got your number!

They live just near the red dot in the bottom left