Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Poetry Corner...

Poetry, I hear you ask?

Haiku, to be precise - I got a thing called 'Haikubes' for Christmas, where you get 63 cubes with words on, and have to make a haiku out of the top faces when they're thrown.

There are two cubes that can offer a theme for your verse, but I haven't got to that level yet.

Here are my first two efforts:

Haiku #1:

"No friendly shape;
Happy tiger;
Life journey over."

Don't ask me...

Haiku #2:

"Eyes following me -
Moonlight whispers;
I quickly mature."

There was nothing to suggest cherry blossom or snow softly falling - I'm told these are essentials in ay good haiku, if only to use up syllables.

Further research is indicated...

Monday, 29 December 2014

From the Vault: Breakfast In Dublin, Lunch In Monaco...


(Note: This was supposed to have been posted sometime in 2007/08, with photos, but I forgot. So let's wind the clock back 7 years - to the Twilight Zone...)

That was my weekend, anyway.

It's something we do where I work; we figured out it was less expensive to go abroad for a Christmas party than it was to have one at home, so midway through the year the 'committee' sits and picks options.

The first year, we went to Madrid, which cost us about €50 a head less for flights and two nights' board than one night in Kilkenny City (transport not included).

The following year, Munich.

Last year, Amsterdam.

This year, Nice.

This year there were ten of us, and we flew out on Friday morning in high winds and rain, arriving two and a half hours later in bright, cloudless sunshine and temperatures of about 18C (any Fahrenheit heads out there, you know what to do).

The plane flew down along the coast, as if announcing our arrival, then banked sharply before turning back to land at Nice airport. Luggage was on the carousel as we walked into the baggage area; passport control barely gave us a second glance, let alone a first.

Three taxis and ten minutes later, we arrived at the Westminster Hotel, Promenade Des Anglais.

After checking in, we arranged to meet up in the bar before heading out later for dinner. Generally speaking, we look for a restaurant specializing in local cuisine one night, with our second night being more casual. Friday night we had a reservation at Le Tire Bouchon, a short distance away by foot, at 8pm.

Anyhow, we met up and sat outside on the terrace, drinking Heineken beer and watching the jetliners come in along the coast. The sun gradually sank into the sea, a ball of molten gold in a cobalt ocean, and we headed out for dinner about 7 o'clock.

It was just as well we left early - although I had nothing to do with it (see my adventures in Berlin and Rome), we got lost. We asked for directions from some local people, but misunderstood 'keep to the left' as 'turn to the left' on one occasion, which just made things worse.

We were about to give up and take our chances with another establishment when we decided to explore fifty meters farther down a street we'd already been halfway along, and found what we were looking for.

The food and service couldn't be faulted; I had quail as a starter, followed by salmon baked in cabbage leaves on a bed of avocado and onion. With an apple-and-red berries crumble as dessert, followed of course by coffee, I have to say I haven't eaten so well in weeks. My friends and colleagues enjoyed their meals equally well, and we spent a good three hours and €500 doing so, including a healthy tip for our hostess (who bore an uncanny resemblance to actress Greta Scacchi). 


(Note: One of the lads returned with a friend a couple of weeks ago and went back to the same restaurant - sadly, he didn't enconter 'Greta').

Afterwards, we went in search of a bar and found an Irish joint called 'Ma Nolan's' in the Market district of Vieille Nice.

Here's the thing - in Ireland, there's a total ban on smoking in enclosed public places. You want to smoke, you go outside. It's been in force a couple of years now, and people have gotten pretty much used to being able to breathe in bars again.

In France, there's no such ban, so when we walked into Ma Nolan's we walked into a cloud that even the smokers among us had trouble with. We stayed for one drink and moved on, some to another venue, some back to the hotel.

Saturday, and Monaco.

The tiny principality, home to millionaires, their money and their yachts, is twenty minutes down the coast by train. Deciding it would be rude not to visit, we did so.

Monaco is an amazing place. It's built on (and possibly in) a mountain, and everything in it reeks of style and money.





We walked down from the train station towards the harbour, then up to the Royal Palace. A steep climb, but worth it. The place was so picturesque and almost clinically clean, it put me in mind of Lord Farquad's castle in Shrek.

The palace guard challenged a British tourist who wandered too close to the gates, proving he wasn't just there for show and the idiot, who either failed to understand or chose to ignore the challenge, was ushered away quietly by a gendarme before he could be shot.

After the palace we wandered down to the harbour, where there was a Christmas market.

 
Being Monaco, the local council did it in style, turning an Olympic-sized swimming pool into an ice rink, and building snow runs for the kids to ski or ride snowmobiles. The snow brought the temperature to near freezing, so we stayed long enough for a quick lunch before going on our way.

Traveler's hint: If you are planning a visit to Monaco (and I do recommend it) be aware that there are public escalators to save you having to walk too far uphill. Classy or what? Fortunately we found them as we were heading back to the station - if we hadn't, I doubt anyone would have had the energy to go out for dinner that evening.

Back in Nice, we went out for pizza. Our waitress took orders for ten starters, ten pizzas and drinks, all without a notepad. If the order came out perfect, she'd deserve a decent tip.

She got the drinks right, and eighteen of the other twenty items - there was one mistake with a starter, and a pizza that didn't arrive (and when it did was undercooked because they rushed it), but nobody's perfect. After a brief renegotiation of the bill, we found a little French bar with an outdoor tent and heaters, and settled in with a few beers.

There was a Celine Dion song playing on the stereo, but we toughed it out, even when one of a party of French people began to sing along with it. Her lack of talent was matched only by her unbridled enthusiasm, and we almost applauded when she had finished.

The bar closed at 2a.m., and we wandered back to the hotel, where someone opened some vodka. I got to bed at about 4 and don't remember falling asleep (Just tiredness - honest).

And that was more or less it - except for getting stuck on the Ferris wheel with Therese and Jennifer, an unexpected visit from President Sarkozy and 'near-death by running club' (narrow escape there), all in all it was a 'Nice'* weekend...


*I know - sorry...

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Longmire...


I learned today, with no small amount of relief, that Netflix has picked up Longmire for a fourth, 10-episode season.

Originally aired by A&E (apparently it doesn't mean 'Accident & Emergency), the network inexplicably cancelled it following the third-season finale, despite consistently-high ratings. Season Three (it hasn't aired here yet) apparently ended on a cliffhanger, so it'd be a shame not to see how things play out for Walt and Absaroka County.

I first became aware of the Longmire character about a year ago, while visiting Canada and short of something to read. In a Toronto bookstore I happened upon a copy of Craig Johnson's 'The Cold Dish', and was hooked.

For the uninitiated, the stories follow the exploits of Walt Longmire, sheriff of (fictional) Absaroka County, Wyoming; a man recovering from the untimely death of his wife and having to deal with re-election and the day-to-day management of law and order in his territory.

The setup is not unlike Ace Atkins' character of Quinn Colson, a returning US Army Ranger who becomes sheriff of his own home county following the suicide of his uncle, the previous sheriff, although neither can be said to be taking from, or even confused with, the other.

It was upon reading the Longmire novels that I discovered that it was being developed for TV, with Australian actor Robert Taylor taking the lead, and backed up by Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) as Deputy Victoria "Vic" Moretti, a former Philadelphia PD homicide detective; Cassidy Freeman (Smallville) as Cady, Walt's daughter, Lou Diamond Phillips (Stargate:Universe) as Henry Standing Bear, owner of the Red Pony Bar and Walt's oldest friend; and Peter Weller (Robocop hisself!), as retired Sheriff, Lucian Connally.

And although some characters were at odds with their description in the narrative, or created simply for the TV version, the casting was, for me, spot-on, with Taylor especially seeming to have stepped out of the pages and onto the screen. I will, of course, watch Katee Sackhoff in anything.

A character created for the show is that of Deputy Branch Connally (Bailey Chase), nephew of the former sheriff, Walt's friend and mentor, Lucian (Peter Weller). Branch is young and eager, and wants to bring policing in Absaroka into the digital age; this places him at odds with Walt, who believes in the more traditional approach. The pair are frequently seen at loggerheads, but Walt sees something in Branch that tells him he'll make a good Sheriff - someday.

An overarching storyline within the series is the investigation into the murder of the man suspected of the murder of Walt's wife in Denver, with evidence leading ambiguously to both Walt and Henry, and a seemingly-relentless detective on the case, unwilling to let go.

I haven't seen Season Three yet, but I'd hate for a series as good as this one to simply drop off the radar - so thank you Netflix!

And on we go...