Expat@Large

The Butcher of Panzano, Dario Cecchini

Posted in breakfast, chianti, food, holidays, Italy, meat, pig fat, tuscany by expatatlarge on July 29, 2012

Tuscan morning sun, we’re under its power. Danijel is feeling burnt before breakfast. We’ve walked to the table on the lawn and set down the dishes – cheeses, fresh Roma tomatoes – my god they taste of tomatoes! – and green peppers, and scrambled eggs with caramelised onions and a lot more of those tomatoes, chopped into the mix.

Then we rest…

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No, hang on, that was yesterday. For today’s breakfast Izzy (so domesticated these days) has set the table and is bringing some brewed coffee (Bosnian style – boil water, put in coffee, boil again. Sludge.) Vicoo has a plate of those tarts we purchased at the market yesterday The tarts are vanilla with almonds, wild forrest berries, lemon and powdered sugar. They are delicious.

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E@L had never heard of this place, Panzano-in-Chianti. Why would you? Look at it. It’s tiny.

But Izzy and Danijel had seen something on an episode of an Anthony Bourdain show about an amazing butcher in this tiny town just past Greve-in-Chianti. Butcher? We’re going to a see a butcher? (E@L checks online and makes a booking at the Solociccia [trans: only meat] restaurant for a pig-fat Tuscan degustation.)

We drive along the country roads of course, view after view, this is not on the A1. The Tuscan countryside is not spectacular, it is older, gentle, comforting, calming* – reminds me of Colac. Greve is perhaps the biggest town we drive through, and that takes two minutes to negotiate in and out of – turn left here. The smaller towns are not much more than a haphazard collection of towers, castles, churches, and houses that narrow the road down drastically. The houses encroach on, sometimes replace, the footpath; bottle-necking the traffic with blind corners, and then there are the dozing animals, on-coming traffic, rickety bicycles, grandmothers (not wearing scarves, thankfully it’s not that clichéd) walking oblivious, men in singlets (OK, little bit cliché) and children playing unconcerned. E@L has to slow down to 20km to get around these safely – he is a cautious driver. Terrible, but cautious.

As we start to wind around another hill, vineyards, cypress trees, stone houses, roofs the color of flower pots below us on the right, the gentle uphill rise on our left, there are parked cars by the roadside. Lots of parked cars, cramped together under trees for shade, a dozen cars here, around the next bend two dozen more. We still haven’t seen anything like a town yet. “Should we park,” asks Izzy. “Why?” But then the first few houses appear and the cars are parked thick along the road shoulder. Suddenly we are in the centre of town. An intersection and a market up a lane way – “that’s it,” calls Iz. “Up there!” But place is jammed, we have to drive on, we can’t stop here, and we’ve passed. And immediately we are out of town.

We have to keep going a bit further, there is nowhere to turn. Around the bend there is a new housing estate up the hill on our left. We turn up, get lost, turn back once, turn uphill once more into more narrow streets, and hey, we find the last vacant parking spot in town, no shade of course, and sit for a moment. “This is it, I think,” says E@L. This way? That way? Fuck it’s hot. The sun, so bright and E@L has no hat. Luckily, the ozone hole is over Sydney and not Panazano. We walk up over a crest, and it slopes down again, directly into the market that we had seen. Perfecto.

The market is small, really, it’s not a fresh produce market, but there are jars of sauces and condiments, cakes and cheeky tarts, lots of wines, schlongs of salami, rounds of cheese, perfect. But there are lots of people milling, as people do when they get the chance, by the stalls. Look at them: mill, mill, mill.


(beware – LOUD music)

The market stalls concentrate in front of his shop and restaurants, where else would you place them. His shop is rocking, seriously rocking, It is crowded, dense-packed with people holding up small glasses of chianti or or of grappa, pinching bread with lard between thumb and fingers, holding greasy chunks of pig fat from fresh roasted rolled pork stuffed with rosemary.

And Dario is an amazing person, a celebrity butcher who stands tall amongst celebrity chefs.

E@L can hardly get in to the shop, but they have a reservation at the restaurant in 5 minutes. Is it in this shop, at the back maybe? He squeezes through, shouting to Danijel over the blaring music and the heads of the young and old people taking all that bounty on offer, free and gratis. Incredibly loud A/DC is pumping, Angus’s guitar ripping, so inappropriate, but it isn’t it always and is there any other way to play it but as loud as possible? He calls again to Danijel to wait, but the others have already picked up a Chianti, bread, pig fat, and are bopping, lost down somewhere in the crowd (OK, E@L can see Danijel, he’s 6’7″ and has a pony-tail.) Up high in the corner in a shelf over above the butchers’ display, there is a large valve-powered amplifier.

Dario is bopping behind the meat counter, and his associates are cutting more pork, scooping out more lardo. Dario has a huge grin, he is sharpening his knives to the beat of the music. There is a large statue of the Minotaur standing at one end and looming over one of the feast-loaded tables…

E@L manage to find a lady in a white (blood smeared) apron who seems to know what she is doing right at the back of the store. She understands English well enough (Dario, doesn’t speak English) and tells me that we are booked at the “other” restaurant. A wave of worry rises up (E@L panics easily) – OMG are we in the wrong place? But no, she says, it’s just across the street, past the wine stall. E@L, claustrophobic (pig-fat-phobic? NEVER!), squeezes back out to check if ha can find it.

Outside, blazing sun still. Is this perfect weather ever going to stop? Another of those ladies who seems to belong there is being interviewed on the ramp by a sweaty chubby guy whose hair is a suspiciously deep shade of black, holding an iPhone up betweeen their faces. Vicoo is sitting on the edge of the ramp with a glass of chianti, listening in, grinning at E@L, who stands with her to grab some of the sound bites… She is perhaps Dario’s wife, and he is praising the hell out of the place, she is agreeing, what more can she do? Did someone say that Wolfgang Puck was here last week?

There is a door. Unmarked. E@L asks the women there, “Is this…?”

“Yes,” she answers, before he has finished his question. “Do you have a booking?” She is checking her watch, like a school ma’am.

It’s time, we just made it, 1pm on the dinger. E@L has to drag Danijel and Izzy away from all that free Chianti, grappa and pig-fat in the butcher shop as we have seats over here where we have paid for Chinanti, grappa and pig-fat. A cheery waiter, experienced judging by his age, very experienced, takes us down two flights of steps
into a stone cellar where several others are already seated around a large table and the meal has already begun. We squeeze past – it is a tight package. A mature (maybe a little older than E@L) English couple from Gigglesoworth (IKYN), an hungry English man and his Irish wife with two kids, two young (hipster?) Italians, blend with an Australian, a Bosnian and two Singaporeans. Don’t mention the war. Which war,? Any war.

At first we are all shy, but as the dishes keep coming down, carried by our ever cheerful, overly generous waiter and we pass them around, we gradually open up. Theres plenty of wine and chilled water as well as the food. Simple peasant fare, fresh ingredients, simply handled and presented, nothing flashy, lots of it. Just meat and more meat, lots of meat. But first just some crudités and (stale, oh well) foccacia with olive oil, balsamic and the most amazing spiced salt (Danijel bought some jars of that, but E@L didn’t get to take any home – see another blog post).

Then thick slices of roast beef, grilled, fried meat balls with frittered vegetables, rosemary up your bum (lightly seared tartare nuggets with a sprig of rosemary insterted in a red and juicy hole. The table has way too many plates of food on it, we can’t eat all this, but it keeps coming. Slow stewed beef shanks, with the meat on one plate and the fatty skins and tendon on another. It’s floating in the jus with soft potatoes slices (it took a few bites to recognize them!) and onions. This last one sounds terrible (it also looked dubious), but for those who braved it (on bursting stomachs) it was an wonderfully rich and satisfying dish that would have been devoured completely and exclusively by E@L if it had been brought out first. The chianti kept flowing, but as E@L was the designated driver for th week he could only take a sip or several – he watered it down, the Italian way.

The feast continued for two hours and then we were, reluctantly (there was still wine), kicked out so they could prepare for the next sitting in the evening, We rolled up the stairs with bloating bellies and greasy, satisfied smiles.

Back across the street now, Dario’s butcher shop was much less crowded even though the music was still on full rocking mode. Dario was out mixing it with us, a bottle of grappa in his hands and that radiant smile on his face. We saw now that he was wearing a trousers in the Italian colours (Italy lost the EC later that night) he was rocking his sholder in a happy dance. He poured E@L a shot of grappa even though E@L indicated he was driving. We all took photos with him, he loved to pose with Izzy and Vicoo in particular, funny that, and for everything was fun and games.

Giving away wine and food, just giving it away, heaps of it. The man is genius, we all love him, he loves to love us all back and this is just a ball. Get moderately pissed, put on AC/DC blast your walls into powder and dance with a bootle a grappa in your hand – maybe then you’ll get an idea of this place.

Danijel was wondering if anyone could be as happy in his work as Dario obviously is. He doesn’t (seem to) give a fuck about micromanaging and monitoring the margins, money is coming in, everyone ends up buying something, small or large, lots or a little and he gets back what he gives away tenfold. Brilliant. “He doesn’t use SAP I’ll bet,” says E@L.

What he gets back is more than money, he thrives on the fun that he is bringing to all his customers. I can’t describe this, it’s mind-blowing. We love this guy, he is best person E@L has ever met. He can’t speak English, we can’t speak Italian, but we know what we all mean, and so much more than the general symbiosis of proprietor and patron: There’s instant camaraderie thanks to the obvious honesty in his enormous generosity. Either that or he’s faking it pretty fucking well.

We head back to the car, our arms full of meats and cheeses and those tarts for breakfast tomorrow, and a few bottles of Chianti to make up for the drinks E@L had to forego. The thermometer in the car reads 46degrees. Yes, it is hot. It takes 5 minutes for the air-con to fight against the stifling air in oven/car. We stand around, raving about this afternoon.

Then, sated and thrilled in equal portions, we wind back through the Tuscan hills back to our villa (also overlooking rolling hills and vineyards) and jump into the infinity pool (so Tuscan), laughing and splashing.

Brilliant day, one of the best, thanks to the big smiles of Dario Cecchini.

E@L

* Where there is Nature, there is meaning. Robert Walser.

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Poverty Porn III

Posted in holidays, laos, porn, tourists by expatatlarge on March 1, 2012

One of the few snaps we took on the infamous Poverty Porn cruise in Si Phan Don, southern Laos, last month.

Odette grabbed his phone and snapped this one of E@L after he had voiced his disapproval once he realised that they were entering, not just a tourist trap, but the murky treacherous realm of 1st-World perversity. It was sold to us as a sunset boat-ride, however the solar action was behind us all the time. Sunset? Wah? Ah no, there was another agenda. Perhaps we were supposed to get it?

Yep instead we were expected instead to watch and take photos of people who were nearly naked, the children certainly were [you couldn’t help but think ‘pedophile alert’], as they engaged in their daily wash.

It was in the river, yada yada, ooh wow, but it was their daily fucken’ ablutions. After a minute of not being sure what the fuck, E@L refused to look let alone take any Kodak moment memories.

But they looked at us as the boat slowed down, cruised past. Their looks flung back were a mixture of reluctant toleration and seething disdain, as we had been receiving for our whole time in Si Phan Don – not just “Get the fuck out of my bathroom,” but, “Get the fuck off my fucken’ island!

And E@L fucken’ well agrees with them.

As would you, should strangers people came into your shower and started taking pictures of you soaping up your nethers. Even friends!

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E@L is not feigning that decidedly unimpressed mien. He was feeling bad, angry, disgusted with everyone, not excluding himself. You can almost see him writing that post in his head.

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Yada yada, tourist money, gradual improvement, fine but not this cultural pornography. Laos would not be in such a state if we had not dropped millions of tonnes of bombs and incendiaries, intentionally and specifically to set children on fire.

Children like this. “Yay,” they said. “Burn the gooks!”

E@L

[I thought I had a Flickr thingummy at the side, seems to have disappeared. Here is the link to Flickr if you are interested in seeing what a crap photographer I am.]

Happy Circumcision Day!

Posted in christ was a failure, circumcision, holidays, Kerry Packer, NYE, penis, people are stupid, religion by expatatlarge on December 30, 2011

Why today? Why tomorrow? Why is THIS new year for us?

It isn’t for the Chinese, the Sinhalese, the Thai (except for business purposes), nor for dozens of other regions, countries, and religions who have their New Year all over the place (in a temporal sense as well as the physical one).

For example, for both the Tamil in India and many of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, Jan 14 is considered New Year. But for different reasons. The EOC of “Georgia, Jerusalem, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Ukraine still use the Julian Calendar“, (Wiki, above link). Since 2008, the state of Tamil Nadu has adjusted the New Year to an allegedly more secular date. People don’t like governments fiddling with their holidays (unless it is to add more) so, meanwhile, many objecting Tamils continue to celebrate New Year in… mid-April, the time of the advent of Spring!

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I grew accustomed to thinking that the West’s (the so-called christian world) New Year, Jan 1st, was arbitrary; a relatively random date, stolen from the Romans, close enough to the summer equinox and to the saturnalia festival to be like, hey, why not now? As it doesn’t correspond directly to any celestial timing landmark, nothing lunar or solar – no equinox, solstice, full moon, new moon or alignment of the planets exactly on that day – I was a tad confused, but not overly concerned.

But I was brought up Catholic. I went to Church and pretended to listen, giggled uncontrollably when the priest said “virgin”, etc… At school we had Religious Education every day at noon, twenty minutes of unanswerable questions fobbed of with answers that amounted to, essentially, “because!” Some of this must have sunk in for, despite evidence to the contrary such as this blog, I am quite moralistic in many ways. Fortunately for my sanity, most of the contradictory details and ridiculous assertions of the Bible and the attendant accumulation of mythology, the suspect explanations and circular arguments in the explications upon it, washed off my back and flew through my ears. But as I once had a terrific memory (when? I’ve forgotten) certain factoids must have become lodged in an otherwise inconsequential matrix of neural firings. So I knew deep down somewhere in the amygdala (the cerebellum? I’ve forgotten), that momentous knowledge, the significance of the great and holy feast we get pissed at tonight, but I had forgotten-slash(as it were)-suppressed it.

As Christmas allegedly celebrates the birthday of Jesus, and his being Jewish, he had to be circumcised* on the eight day of His precious and not-inconsequential life. Penis? Chop chop mistah.

Presuming the male infant (miraculously delivered from a virgin who obviously lost her hymen from the inside out) survived to that venerable age of course.

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Why wait? Weeeeeeell… You know how it is with closed communities, when cousins marry sort of thing: birth defects like renal agenesis and inborn errors of metabolism like Gaucher’s disease, glycogen storage disease, thalassaemia, etc… Many are fatal in about four to five days, some even sooner. Seen it only a few times thankfully, when I was (really) working. Sad.

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So they waited, and we wait, eight (8, count ’em) days.

Yes, on that day, on THIS day (i.e. tomorrow), the prepuce** of the penis of Our Lord was stretched out, perhaps over an infibulator***, and snipped off. The bris, tossed to the cats. Foreskin for the pussens, mmrrrgniaow.

The 1st of January way back when. Ow.

Hurt? Hurt so much He couldn’t walk on water for nearly a year!

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This is why we (you) celebrate New Year today. I know that you too needed to be reminded of this.

It is the Day Of The Newly Exposed Glans Penis!

Jesus was therefore on target for the Covenant of Abraham. Remember how it goes? I’ll give you a land of milk and honey, life eternal in heaven, etc… if your males remove some redundant skin from their genitalia. Simple as that. Snip your way to Jewish Nirvana.

Notice how religions have this obsession with all things genitalian and reproductive? (See above re: inbreeding.)

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I wonder if, perhaps, the goal of many young men like myself back when, in our post-pubertal teens when the hormones were raging, was to be “in” (as in penis-in-vaginated) on the stroke (as it were) of midnight. I kid you not, it was a big goal in our town. Some instances of this carnal celebration even involved women.

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New Year is Jan 1st and Jan 1st is New Year because of a circumcision.

Yes, you may not have realized it, but New Year is a religious holiday. Please tune your mind to that dubious and concerned (and damn ugly) baby Jesus above, about to lose part of its Godly schlong (a micro-penis, plus microcephaly and a touch of the Benjamin Button about the face, according to this pic – see above re: birth defects) so that the world could later be redeemed (redeemed? I’m not seeing that) from its sins by His cruci-fiction and death, as you pop the cork (not a metaphor) tonight.

E@L

* For those of you uncertain of the technique of this insane religious torture, there are some nice illustrations here. Yada yada, incidence of AIDS is lower, but Jesus was not a fag, allegedly, so why?

** The Holy Umbilical Cord is a first class Catholic relic (that which is composed of a body part) of Christ. Christian teaching generally states that Christ was assumed into heaven corporeally. Therefore the only parts of his body available for veneration are parts he had lost prior—hair, blood, fingernails, milk teeth, his prepuce and the umbilicus remaining from his birth. Wiki. Not his lymph, shit, piss, vomit, snot, tears, sweat, phlegm or ejaculate however.

*** Infibulation and Infibulators

Infubulation may refer to the tying up of the male foreskin to some device, like a cloth belt, to prevent masturbation. IKYN.

It is also a practice by those fucking butchers who perform radical female circumcision to stitch closed the labia to prevent normal intercourse and the enjoyment of sex by women.

Many African Muslims believe that female circumcision is required by Islam. In fact the practice is mentioned nowhere in the Quran, although the Sunnah contains several references to the custom. In particular, Mohammed instructed one infibulator, “Yes, it is allowed. Come closer so I can teach you: if you cut, do not overdo it, because it brings more radiance to the face and it is more pleasant for the husband.”via

An infibulator is person who performs the infibulation.

For the purposes of this blog post however the infibulator is a small metal conic device for protecting the glans penis. The foreskin is draped over it so that religious or medical excision can be performed without danger to the rest of the poor kid’s tiny little dicky-bird.

Never heard of it? Me neither until I heard the following story —

It concerns the late Australian billionaire Kerry Packer. He was having one of his monthly heart attacks at a race track (or was it a cricket match? whatever) and someone called urgently for an infibulator! He lifted his head and hoarsely called out with what might have been his last breath (we should have been so lucky) that he was having a fuckin’ heart attack, not a fuckin’ circumcision! Get me a defibrillator! The emergency helicopter ambulance arrived and did not have either, but Packer survived. He later gave #insert large sum of money# to the ambulance service to place defibrillators in all medical evacuation helicopters. Allegedly true (ish).

Laos Trip – And Cambodia or Not?

Posted in cambodia, holidays, Izzy, laos, work by expatatlarge on November 13, 2011

Early next year The Croatia Backpacking Team (TCBT) (+1) are planning on a reunion tour of Cambodia and Laos. Izzy and The Tall Man will be crashing at E@LGHQ over New Years Eve.

I am concerned about the timing of this however, as it means I will be out town for close to 6 weeks, from the week before Xmas in Australia (at home with the FLOs), OK, NYE in Singapore (yawn), then there is the Indochine trip, and finally I am booked (and paid up) for a ski trip to Sapporo over Chinese New Year.

Yes, I hear you crying for me. Life’s a bitch for Expats.

In order not to upset the people who pay me so outrageously, I have been thinking that I really should be available at least sometime in that period, so I was pushing lips close together, scrunching up my shoulders and 99% decided to be somewhere near the office in the first week of the year. This means that I would be forced (by my own decision) to skip the Cambodia section of the tour and only meet up with the TCBT in Luang Prabang in southern Laos on the 10th. Have never been to Laos, so…

Part of my reasoning for not being too concerned about missing Angkor Wat, etc… is that I had a holiday in Cambodia 11 years ago. We (my friend Homey and I) had a mildly happy pizza, stayed at the Sharaton[sic] hotel and I paid way to much for a worker in the AEI from the ‘Disco Club’ in the basement (immensely gross and amusing story about this), and we had a great time overall. Got a $5 shopping bag of dope, looked for AK-47s in the market but didn’t see any, were stunned into silence by the horror, the horror of the Tuol Sleng museum.

At Siem Reap we were hijacked from the airport by a taxi-driver called No-one (his parents were killed in the Killing Fields, no reason to dispute this, and he was never named), and I say hijacked as I saw, as we drove away, three other cardboard greeting signs with my name on them. This was back in 2000, just as the new tourist hotels were under construction. We did the usual circuit of temples with No-name as a guide, stared the Bayon faces, stood next to the wall swallowing roots of the giant figs. In those days elephants were walking across the bricks of certain temples, you had to clamber up muddy slopes and grasp at exposed tree roots to get up to the Wat across the way from Angkor, the road across the river was only partly restored and Angeline Jolie hadn’t yet raced through the non-existent water-market on a jet-ski (or whatever)…

But I’m having second thoughts about my conscientious inclinations, my loyal employee guilts. This is because I have been re-reading the notes from a friend of mine who did an extensive trip into Cambodia and Vietnam in August. Due to work commitments (new product cross-training, couldn’t avoid it!) I missed his 50th birthday party in Sihanoukville. He had a great time, met his current girlfriend in Vietnam, and did some fascinating travel writing – he loves his food in case you don’t notice – and this has whet my appetite for repeating the trip to Cambodia after all. (As has looking back at the astoundingly poor quality of my old photos – nts: bring the good camera this time!) And then there’s something about the prospect of 50c beers and $1 massages…

So, sigh, thinking seriously of dropping the idea of the lone week at work after all and taking the entire month off for a trip with my dearly beloved TCBT.

E@L

Instant Phuket

Posted in holidays, packing, Thailand, writing by expatatlarge on November 9, 2011

Just quickly (which means he’ll probably write for the next three hours), E@L has decided over a period of not very long, to drop tools and fly to Phuket. Internet, Wotif, Tripadvisor, Singaporeair, all dot com’d and here he is, packing (and what essential item/s will he forget?)

Work is quiet as a Bangkok trip has been postponed (duh) as has the replacement trip to Kuala Lumpur. And the rain here at breakfast time yesterday meant E@L couldn’t get a taxi to frackin’ Tampines, so he spat the dummy and sucked it up, emailed his intent (the boss is in Vietnam, so no-one really cares if he is in the office or not, plus he has 40 days of leave to shed) and did all those bookings.

Over the next few days he will be working on writing (it’s that immensely disheartening period of NaNoWriMo again, and fuck E@L/Fyodor writes like shit when he tries hard and he comes way too close to the true stories of his buddies and himself, and are probably libelous as well) and reading in a comfortable hotel in a quiet part of Enchanted Isle (Surin Beach), as opposed to reading and writing in a comfortable apartment in the Disenchanted Isle (here).

OK, look, E@L has finished this post already! Like an effort for his NaNoWriMo efforts, it’s shorter than expected and leads to nowhere interesting.

Well, moderately interesting…

E@L

A Long Post on Toast

Posted in butter, holidays, I hate dietitians, reminiscence, toast, vegemite by expatatlarge on January 5, 2011

A friend of mine who grew up alongside a samovar has only one way to describe water proper for tea: “A mad boil.” In the same forceful way she never says rolls or toast must be hot, or very hot. They must be “hot-hot-hot!”
M.F.K. Fisher. How To Boil Water, in How To Cook A Wolf, 1942.

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Toast is the national dish of Australia.
David Byrne, line on the Stop Making Sense album cover, 1984.

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When we were children, each year my exhausted widowed mother allowed us to give her some time to recuperate. She drove us to the gardens of Ballarat. There, under the shade of oak trees that tracked the west shore of Lake Wendouree, we waited. Imperious black swans (there were lots of them, predictably) would clamber awkwardly onto the lip of lake and waddle hilariously, so we we thought, towards the wooden green-painted benches om which we sat. They would nip at the (untoasted) bread that we were told to hold to them in our fingers, if not nip at our fingers themselves. Such of the latter incidents were not funny at all. Innocent as young children, somewhat wiser as we aged (eventually my sister refused to come), the elegant slide of the swans in the lake thrilled us. But when they responded to our bread-goading and came close, the fun turned to fright and we squealed loudly. If we got nipped, we cried loudly instead. Those flapping black wings would balloon out as they chased us for a few steps, screaming swan screams, and we’d scream along with them.

My uncle and my aunt drove down to pick us up by the lake, and there we’d enjoy a family picnic lunch well away from the lake-shore. It took two hours for them to drive us back to the former gold-mining town of Tarnagulla. We left a relieved (no pun intended) mum for her/our two week holiday (Lord knows what she did, must ask) and began our summer-stretched treat amongst the wonders of a small town with nothing in it, in the middle of a dry patch of mining-exhausted Australian bush. We’d push each other on the metal-chained swing (squeak, squeak), or we’d play “hidie” amongst the stumps, hunt kangaroos (it was not ‘roo territory) or pretend to bowl and bat on the cricket pitch in the middle of the square town oval. This was approached by treading across a small wooden bridge (I think there is another word for this – anyway, I was not supposed to cross by myself, my sister or someone older had to supervise) which took us across the deep storm drain that ran past the tennis courts. We’d pull sweet pink and red peppercorns from the tree and try to burst them. Hundreds of things that could kids do to amuse themselves while their auntie drank tea and nibbled on orange cake with the neighbours, her cousin and family. We learned to play tennis in those courts with Paul McNamee, who went on to win the Wimbledon Doubles, several times I think. I went on to write this blog. I think I fell in love with the neighbour’s daughter, my 2nd (3rd? 4th?) cousin. When she married and went away, I was one devastated 7 year old.

And we’d have breakfast. Being who I am, even then, I slept in late. After those arduous days of going for walks to the haberdashery to buy some pins, or finding someone else roughly my own age to play with, like the butcher’s rough son one year, or crunching through the bush we were not allowed to into – because of the hidden old mining shafts – we’d be worn out. So I was tired, but still I’d try to stay up as late as possible (hey, it was a frackin’ holiday) trying to start a conversation with my taciturn uncle, looking at my late father’s stamp collection (he was born in this house), at my grandfather’s four-pronged shoe tool/rest (he was a cobbler), anything – and so I’d sleep in late next morning. And when eventually I got to the table for breakfast, I’d begin to sulk.

Why? Damn! I’d mumble. The toast was cold. Sliced from a fresh loaf – fresh two days ago, perfect – it had been sitting between the curved metal prongs of the toast-rack for maybe 20 minutes. One hour? Who knew when my relatives rose?

When I buttered it, the sensation was all wrong. The toast had dried out. It was like buttering sawed timber. And mixed on the cold toast with my Uncle’s own honey (not a gross euphemism, he was an apiarist) the butter went all white and scary, not at all appetizing. Toast should be crunchy, but not this HARD, I thought. The correct amount of butter, applied at the correct time to the correctly hot toast, makes the crunchiness CORRECT! I sulked and complained softly, but I ate it.

As I risked puncturing my delicate palate on the shards – an talthin lith thith or the thime (I practiced for that eventuality) – I was mildly chastised and given to consider the sin of my tendency to snuggle back down into the blankets for just a few minutes, and then falling asleep again, once the call to our breakfast table was made. No doubt it was an unspoken opinion that I was a big-city sook, a a snobby little brat, spoiled by those Catholics (my mum’s family) from the Western District.

What the hell, beloved Presbyterian Auntie and Uncle! Good toast is important to me! Why can’t you just not start toasting the bread UNTIL it becomes apparent that I am getting up. Why can’t you just slice the loaf and toast some MORE? Why can’t…

What do you mean you are not my slaves?

“Eat your toast,” young man!

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Some diet book I had glanced at before deciding to burn it along with several other works of “fiction” in a pyre in my HDB’s void-space, offered the most stupid advice to toast eaters I have ever heard . The authors suggested waiting for the toast to get cold ON PURPOSE before spreading ones preferred fat – mono-saturated dairy product (unpreferred) or polyunsaturated oil blended with water (preferred, until they discovered trans-fats) – upon its finely crusted COLD surface. That way, as less butter/substitute would melt into the toast’s interior, less fat would be required for the purpose of rendering the surface slippery and 0.743 calories would be knocked off the day’s total.

WHAT?

These deluded dietitians must harbour some weird view of the world in which (they believe) people put butter on toast in order to scientifically deliver a regulated dose of fat for their carefully planned daily consumption.

Butter is not “a dose of fat”. It’s a sublime aesthetic experience (until it goes rancid – errrghh), part visual (buttercup yellow, buttercup why don’t you fill me up) part aromatic (smells like teen butter) part textural (goes down like a hot knife through butter).

It is semi-mystical in the way its creamy smoothness fills the mouth with richness and feelings of home, of safety, of… churned milk… and in the way IT MELTS INTO HOT TOAST! And melt it should, somewhat randomly, somewhat predictably. Here just a sheen on the surface, there, at the ends of each butter-knife (not table-knife!) stroke, a small accumulation, one that will soon produce a burst of taste and texture from under its covering of your favorite jam, preserve (jelly? that’s for trifles) or Vegemite. [Mine’s either ginger marmalade or the strawberry jam I received for Christmas from The Ex’s mum. Vegemite goes on the second slice of course.]

One of the unmeasurable joys of life (and joy is generally unmeasurable, except in certain circumstances, unstatable here in mixed company) is to scrape a buttery butter-knife across crunchy freshly toasted toast. Slide, crackle, slide. Ooh, aah.

This experience is what we call buttering something. Watch Peter Russell-Clarke slide a second healthy dollop onto this piece of banana bread…

This was an Australian (duh!) ad in the mid 80’s. Apart from the “Butter, it’s only natural”, tagline here, there was another he used – and truer words were never spoken – Only Butter Butters.

Fuck dietitians, those joy-of-eating ignorati… Epic epicurean FAIL.

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But…

What happens if, when the toaster snaps and ejects your evenly-(you half-toasted it first, then turned it round and upside down for the final run)-browned sourdough into the kitchen stratosphere, you lay those hot hot hot slices down directly on a plate?

Laying newly toasted hot toast down? OMG, you heathen!

“Why, what happens?” she asks innocently.

Condensation, young lady! CON-DEN-SAYSHUN! The radiant heat from the hot toast allows for more water vapour in its immediate vicinity. When it is lain on the plate, in that small area of atmosphere there is nowhere for hot toast’s vapour to go, except to the unheated surface of your Royal Doulton, where it cools and reaches the dew-point. There is a minor tropical rainforest effect, hot air meets cold air, and vapour condenses into mist (clouds) and rain. Like on the outside of a beer glass, on the warm inside of a car-window on a cold, rainy day.

Condensation. 1) Water is on the plate. 2) Toast is on the plate. 3) Toast, perforce, gets wet and soggy. 4) OMG! Did I call you a heathen before? Let’s say I just called you one again.

So what are the lessons we have learned so far?

a: Cold toast = bad. Butter doesn’t BUTTER.

b: Hot toast = bad if treated without due diligence. Goes soggy if laid down on plate.

What to do? Don’t sleep in, get up frackin’ earlier, my Auntie would no doubt advise us, though perhaps with other words.

Or take her excellent example and use a TOAST RACK!

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Izzy has been holidaying in E@LGHQ these last few days. She’s back from Holland for the weeks of Christmas and New Year. (It’s 1am now, she’s just piped up with, “I feel like doing something – let’s go out!” No. I am going to sleep now, this is not Hong Kong and I am not young 40 anymore. She’s put on Kreutzer Sonata loudly instead.)

On Tuesday morning she gave me a Christmas present, which was a nice surprise, seeing as how we’re both atheists. No, it was not what you’re thinking, although it was in a box.

It was a lovely ceramic toast-rack. “You’re always going on about toast,” she explained. No, I’m n…

Ain’t that nice.

Now, instead of letting my toast rest on the top of the stove (on left) for 20 seconds or so, I can let it stand in the toast-rack – it will be still be hot enough, crunchy but not dessicated, even after I pour my filtered coffee into a cup, when I BUTTER it.

This was why the toast-rack was invented. For wankers like

E@L

(and my Auntie Ethel, RIP.)

Phuket Woody Erection

Posted in holidays, Phuket, rampant destruction by expatatlarge on February 17, 2010

What? It’s wood, she’s erecting it…

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Observing the number of new hillside apartments facing each other around the island one can’t help but wonder what the pre-sale copy might say…

Great chunk of hillside cut away and forest cleared for apartment giving view of great chunk of hillside cut away and forest cleared for apartment giving view of great chunk of hillside cut away and forest cleared for apartment giving view of great chunk of hillside cut away and forest cleared for apartment giving view of great chunk of hillside cut away and forest cleared for apartment giving view of what’s left of the hillside and forest.

Shrine

Posted in bali, holidays, little book of calm by expatatlarge on January 3, 2010

The plump woman came sedately down the steep path of steps towards the small stone shrine. Clouds of sweet-smelling incense trailed behind her from a green woven tray of offerings she was bearing on her head. She descended past lichen-covered carved monkeys and the firmly packed stones of the 80 year old resort’s retaining walls, past the swimming pool where we lazed in the sun or floated on life-saver rings in the shade. She paused at the steps to the shrine, then walked up slowly between its narrow gates and took the tray from her head to place it on one of the walls of the shrine. Several smaller trays of woven bamboo strip, each full of brightly colored flowers and strips of leaf were arranged on the larger tray. Calmly, she placed a foot on the base of the square central column of the shrine and pulled herself up with one hand to place one of the small flower trays near the top level. She stepped down again and moved back to her tray. She then took several of the incense sticks from the tray, pulled herself up again and wedged a smoking stick into a chink in the carved stone near the top where the flowers were, one here, two there. On a ledge below, at about the middle layer of the carvings, she placed a square of leaf that supported a portion of rice. Back at the tray, she untied the knot on a plastic bag and pulled the bag down so that the lid of a small jar was exposed. The jar contained a dark liquid. She poured some of the liquid into a Chinese tea-cup sized plastic bowl and placed the bowl of dark liquid on the other side of the middle ledge from the rice. From a pink plastic container shaped like a Maggi sauce bottle, she poured a clear liquid into larger, brass bowl. This must have been water. Holding this larger bowl in front of her, she faced the shrine, first at the front then at either side as she dipped her fingers into the bowl and with a pink flower petal held between her index and middle fingers, ceremoniously sprinkled water to the left and to the right of the shrine with upward flicks of her hand. After each sprinkle she made a slow wave of her hand, palm forward, fingers together, and with closed eyes made a silent supplication to the Balinese gods of the forest and the river. From just below us, the murmur of cascading water rose through the dense and precisely sculpted jungle.

We relaxed.

Nick, relaxing

Going down the pool?

E@L

The Road To Bali (aka Highway To Hell)

Posted in 3rd world, bali, corruption, holidays, hotels, Indonesia, traffic by expatatlarge on January 2, 2010

Checking out in a minute, but just a brief comment (HA!) or two about this god-forsaken ironic quotes paradise end ironic quotes.

It took me two hours to get across Kuta to Legian last night. About 15 minutes normally. Nevermind that the address I was given was wrong and I ate by myself, but to go 200m in 20 mins is just bullshit. With the amount of money that has poured into Bali over the years, primarily from Australians – surfers at first, yobbo tourists and their yobbo little brats of kids later – you’d think that SOME of that balance of trade would go towards doing something with the infrastructure. Despite its fame as a tropical mecca, it is one of the most tourist unfriendly places I have ever visited. It makes Chiang Mai look like Paris. Way too narrow, unmaintained streets; chaos at every jammed intersection; completely ungracious road-manners (no, you CAN’T get in, even though it means I will block the oncoming traffic for another 20 mins); cars parked in the most inconvenient and unlawful places; motorcycles clunking against panels as they weave through; pedestrians hopping like deer suddenly into the headlights because the footpaths are jammed with hawkers, rubbish and ankle-turning broken tiles…

OK, I am staying at Kuta these first few nights before I move up to Ubud for a week, but the fact remains that this is a third world shithole – even the ocean is shit here, chocked with detritus and flotsam, dark and uninviting (wrong season I am told).

Of course we know where the tourist money does go – down the greedy throats of those bloated ultra-corrupt politicians and businessmen (same thing) in Java, minus the 10% that is pulled off at EVERY stage of the logistical transfer of the loot. Christ, even the typists have to take their cut before they will prepare any documents.

What the fuck am I doing in Kuta? I don’t surf any more, so why come here? Ah, that’s right, Mates Rates at the resort and an upgrade to a suite.

For all this ruin, I blame Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour (who was a Mexican lady by the way. Not many people knew that, even in the bigoted film industry at the time).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hope to calm down by the time I get to Ubud.

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[Addendum] Which is not to say that my resort isn’t gorgeous and marvelous btw , and that the rest of Bali isn’t beautiful. Last time I stayed in Seminyak, much more peaceful; and the time before that was just after the 2nd bombing, so it was very quiet, even in Kuta.

Sigh… Bad news. My camera battery has died and as I left BOTH my chargers in Singapore it looks like I’ll be iPhoning the Kodak moments for rest of my trip. I’d upload them, but I am on the new Netbook and it is am not synch’d to the iPhone.

E@L

Lyndal’s Tits

Posted in banking, holidays, tits by expatatlarge on December 30, 2009

The flat at Noosa needs to be paid for sometime in early February…

E@L went to the bank to change his AUD term deposit so that when it was due to rollover, he could get a fair whack of it out to cover the shortfall in the loan valuation.

The personal-service bank-clerk girl E@L had been staring at for 5 minutes as she completed the previous customer’s paperwork pressed her button and E@L’s number came up for HER booth. Yes! E@L had earlier noticed that she was the only one in an non-uniform suit; rather than high collar she had a low-cut top.

As he sat down and leaned forward so that he wouldn’t have talk too loud, E@L tried to avoid looking down into her cleavage at the small goose-pimple imperfections of the skin where the swell of her breasts commenced. E@L passed over his passport and documents, and she too leaned forward. There is a God. She was wearing a red bra, the edge of it was just visible on her right breast where the black top had crept down… He was already looking at her face when she looked up from the documents and into his eyes as she asked about the size of his transfer.

She took the passport to photocopy it (bureaucracy!) and went to search for the right forms. When she came back and sat down her top was still low and her heaving embonpoint rose invitingly with each breath. If she had a push-up bra it was unnecessary, that much was obvious.

This time E@L was caught – she looked at him as he was raising his eyes. Without any sign of recognition or any pause in her explanation of the forms she hitched up her top with a deft hand that made the manoeuver almost imperceptible. As she continued asking him to sign forms and write the details down, she surreptitiously hitched it up again. Lost. They were almost completely gone. E@L leaned back and looked out the window of the bank, and sighed.

“That’s all,” she said, dismissing him with a cheery “Happy New Year.”

He smiled at her, genuinely, thinking “Would you please marry me?”, stood up and made his way out…

A man sitting on the couch waiting his turn for the personal-service bank-clerks heard a soft but distinct murmuring from the big man who passed him by. He wasn’t completely sure because of the Australian accent, but it sounded very much like: “Lyndal, you have great tits.”

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Off to Bali this very minute; bags packed with hat, baggy board-shorts, sun-block, snorkel and holiday reading (don’t ask – OK; Jack Vance, Chabon, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Carver, and Ann Quin) – plus novel-writing accoutrements…

Later, dudes.

E@L