« September 2010 | Main | November 2010 »

6 entries from October 2010

Pimp My Rad.

Where is he gay today?  Adelaide, South AustraliaP1140695
Is it just me, or is Halloween catching on outside of the USA

Take last year.  I was enjoying a glass or three of Wolfie's highly quaffable Eaglehawk Semi, alfresco, outside the Arab Steed pub in Adelaide.  A splendid bicycle club called The Boneshakers pulled up for a cleanser on their way to a Halloween picnic.  In spite of the fact that there's no real tradition of  dressing up for the holiday, they did seem to get rather into the spirit.

After the lads and ladies had left, we noticed the group's lone unicyclist riding past.  Never thought about it, but I guess a unicycle is a lot slower than a two wheeler.  Notice the jockey's helmet and horsewhip.
If you're celebrating Halloween, may you be afraid.  May you be very afraid. And pedal very fast.

An Accurate Oktoberfest

It was our fourth Oktoberfest in Munich, and I have to confess that I felt a little jaded.

This year's party rocked more than ever, since the festival was celebrating its 200th birthday.  The ever-intrepid Zurika reports that the new Historisches Wies'n (Heritage Meadow) was so popular that it may be included in future years. Many seasoned Wies'ners judged Oktoberfest 2010 to be the best in living memory.

But for me, it felt a bit BTDT.   I mean, if you've seen one giant outrageous enormous flirty over-the-top binge-drinking extravaganza, you've seen them all.  Furthermore, the party takes place just across the street from my office; my colleagues and I get to see the less glamourous side.

So imagine my delight when one of our houseguests discovered a little Oktoberfest surprise, virtually on our doorstep.

On the first Sunday morning of Oktoberfest, brass bands and other folky sorts gather from all over Bavaria, and parade through the streets into the meadow where the festival is held.  This is known as the Trachten- & Schützenzug Procession, or the Costume and Riflemen's Parade. 

Lo and behold, the marshalling area lies just a couple of blocks from home, in front of the Maximilianeum. 

Now, I don't know about you, but I prefer to see a parade all scrunched up at the beginning, rather than wait for the whole lot to march by.  It was a treat.

As far as possible, authorities keep the spectacle authentic to 1810, the date when the first Oktoberfest was held.  That means all travel is by foot, or by horse.  

All those horses waiting around in one spot raises an obvious logistical problem.  Brass bands need to march very carefully.

Costume rules are strict, too—read an English translation here.  You can't just show up in rags and call yourself a camp-follower or serving wench (that's what the word sutler means in the guidelines.)  Your historical character must rank yeoman or above. Munich is so bourgeois.

If you overlook the eyeglasses, zippers, rubber-soled shoes and musical instruments labelled Yamaha, the effect can be quite convincing.

If you're thinking of visiting Munich for Oktoberfest next year, you'll find this spectacle spread out on Maximilianstraße, Widenmayerstraße and Steindorfstraße, just to the west of point A on the map.  It starts punktlich at breakfast-time on Sunday, September 18. 

View Larger Map

When one gets to the festival proper, the costumes stray a little from the period.  Here is a member of the band at the Weinzelt, during a ZZ Top medley.  Kinda sums it all up.


A New York Moment

If you're a European in a partying mood, go east.  Jet lag will keep you up 'til all hours, and help you sleep through that tedious bit of the day known as work.  On the other hand, if you find yourself travelling west, then you'll be punching zeds before the cocktail hour kicks in. 

Early to bed, the saying goes, means early to rise.  Which is how I found myself wandering Soho at 5 am on a Sunday morning.

Frank Loesser wrote about the small hours in Manhattan.

My time of day
is the dark time
A couple of deals before dawn
When the street belongs to the cop
And the janitor with the mop
And the grocery clerks are all gone.
When the smell of the rain-washed pavement
Comes up clean, and fresh, and cold
And the street-lamp's light
Fills the gutters with gold.

Yes, there is something beautiful about this time of day in the city.  There's a peace that lets you see things.   One begins to notice the built environment. 

You can see how much of this town was built in the first decades of the twentieth century, just when America (and this part of New York, in particular) began to understand its own energy and importance.

When I lived in New York, it wasn't around here.  I took an apartment in Turtle Bay.  The name suggests, accurately, a slow backwater—not interesting enough to be Murray Hill, and not posh enough to be Sutton Place.  "If you must live in midtown, Husband," scoffed one expat-Brit hipster, "you could at least go to Hells bloody Kitchen."   Nope, my neighbourhood was NYC in vanilla.

In Soho, you can glimpse the Damon Runyon side of the city; a Gotham of small-time gamblers and hopeful starlets; of bootleggers and greengrocers; of Luckies smoked on fire escapes; of families who rolled up their rugs in the summer.  This neighbourhood was once the thick of it.

Now, the gentry has conquered Soho.  Condos.  Microbrews.  The Apple Store.

The kind of place where your Vespa matches your house.  The kind of place where designer moms with expensive prams need to be warned against bumps.

Cracks in the sidewalk?  Who knew?

That's why this sign caught my attention.  A last hold-out against middle-class order.  A playground for defacers, each wanting his three-square inches of fame. 

The photo doesn't reveal a certain gentleman standing beneath.  He sucked a Camel, fast and desperate.   Curse those those new-fangled smoke-free bars!

"You a photographer?" he asked, testily.  (Ah, the new camera seems to have made a good impression.)

"No, I'm just an amateur," I replied.

He barked a string of paranoid demands. "You're not gonna publish that picture, are you?  What's your name?  Show me some ID.  If you publish that picture, I'll sue the  shit out of you.  I'm an attoyney."

This made me smile. Not because a half-drunk stranger was threatening to take away my house.  But rather because he actually said "attoyney".

Usually, the first time one hears a New York accent, someone plays it for laughs—especially if you're my age.  Bugs Bunny makes a lasting impression.

When I lived in New York, I had trouble taking anyone seriously.  The whole city sounded like a Stooge.  I expected people on the street to poke my eyes out.  I feel sure they wanted to, sometimes.

"Here's my detail,." I said, cheerfully, as I reached in my pocket and handed him a Drinking Card.  For those of you who don't hang out in bars, a Drinking Card is kind of like a business card, except without information that makes you stalkable—in my case, an anodyne gmail address and a mobile number.  Gay gentlemen of my acquaintance sometimes call this a Trick Card, for reasons irrelevant to this discussion.

My suitor (is that not what you call someone threatening you with a lawsuit?) took out his Blackberry Curve (Coyve?) and angrily tapped a message.  It arrived on my phone a moment later.


"I will desist, with pleasure.  Since you asked so nicely."   With a tap of a button, his image disappeared from the camera display.  Of course, I hadn't actually deleted it, but he didn't know that.  I didn't know that either, since I hadn't read the camera instructions.  Real men are above such things.

My hand reached out for his.   "You know my name, but I don't believe I caught yours   May I have the pleasure?"  This was a lie, since he had just sent me an email, but hey.

Niceness caught him off guard.  "Look, y'know.  Sorry.  Caught me at a bad time."

Apology accepted.  If one leans against a signpost at dawn, half-drunk, in depserate need of a cigarette, one can't expect to sparkle.

But just in case New York's collective mood hasn't improved, please enjoy these entirely people-free photos of the Bowery and its environs on that summer morning, not long ago.

By happy co-incidence, photos of buildings suit this week's PhotoFriday theme rather well: Architecture.


The Bad Workman Can No Longer Blame His Tools

The photos on this blog are a little too crappy.  Like most blokes, I would prefer to acquire a gadget than acquire a skill.  So I caved and bought a digital SLR.

A recent conversation with Snooker sold me on a Nikon D90, the choice of serious amateurs and the workaday camera for many professionals.  In the end, though, I got the D5000, the Einsteiger version of the lauded D90, which has the same sensor and I could blow the €200 difference on beer.

These photos came from the first day's experimenting, on a walk through our favourite bit of the Altstadt.  I am disappointed that the purchase of a new camera has not made every photo I take brilliant, but I think there's an improvement.


If any of you real photographers have some SLR tips for a gumby amateur, I'm all ears.  Otherwise I shall be forced to read the instruction manual.  And you know how blokes hate to do that.


Weights Watchers

Where is he gay today? Sophia, Bulgaria

Victor Castro, of Spain, shows off his snatch.

You don't lift weights with your arms.  You lift weights with your butt.  The neck helps, too, apparently.  But a weightlifter's real talent lies where he sits.

As we entered the stadium for the second day of the 2010 World Junior Weighltlifting Championships at Sofia University*, one thing became clear about the buttocks in front of us: You can pack a lot of power into a small pair.

We saw no stereotyped meatheads, with arms like a prosciutto di Parma, pecs like basketballs, and glutes you need to carry around in a trailer. At the front end of a week-long competition, we walked among the light and mighty.

We could expect it, given our mission. You may recall that we travelled to Bulgaria to cheer for Master Right's niece.  As a member of the Japanese national team, she was hoisting metal for country and Emperor.

Wataru Takeichi, one of Miss Right's team-mates,

displays a highly disciplined technique in the Clean and Jerk

If you've Met Master Right, you'd guess that beefcake doesn't run in the gene pool.  Miss Right had moved up a weight class since her last competition, but she and her fellow competitors were, by the standards of muscle sports, quite petite.

It seems that brute strength is less important than controlled movement in weightlifting.  If one masters the physical technique, even quite modest muscles can lift a lot.   Many of the competitors took up weightlifting when they were forced to abandon other physical pursuits after injury: often gymnastics, dancesports, or even ballet.

World Weightlifting Championships--Sofia day 3 198
A lithe Shu-Ching Hsu, of Taipei, on her way to a medal.

She shows that you don't need a bearish physique to win.

Having watched the Olympics on TV, we expected armies of vocal fans.  We even tucked a Hinomaru flag in the backpack, thinking we could do a Japanese version of  Norman May and get all hysterical and patriotic and stuff. 

Not so. The weightlifters looked light, but the atmosphere was heavy.  The actual event felt a little like watching golf, or stumbling onto a re-run of Pot Black.

World Weightlifting Championships--Sofia day 3 014
The cheering section was extremely well-behaved, since as far as I could tell, we were it.  Team management, fellow competitors, and press corps made up most of the audience.  


World Weightlifting Championships--Sofia day 3 239
By far, the biggest contingent came from China, and it attracted the most media attention. The Chinese press interviewed team officials after every big win, since, one assumes, the lifters themselves might be insufficently versed in protocol.

World Weightlifting Championships--Sofia day 3 396
The Chinese women's coach kept herself busy with the press.  Her team took home a brace of medals, including the weight class we watched.  She impresses you as the kind of coach a player doesn't like to disappoint.

DSC_0252  DSC_0233
Gold medallist Xiaoting Chen from China,

shows the secret of her team's success: magnetic levitation.

 Like all sport at elite levels, the mind-game becomes more important than prowess.  The concentration on the lifters' faces fascinated us. 

Victor Castro, again, taking a deep breath.

This applied especially when jerking.  For those of you who don't know the difference amongst the standard trio of  weightlifting moves, the jerk is the second half of a maneouvre called the clean and jerk.  

It allows much greater weights to be lifted than a basic snatch, where the contestant tosses the weights above his head in a single move.  In fact, the snatch merely qualifies the contestant to get to the jerk.  The jerk is the money shot, so to speak.

In the clean, the bar reaches the shoulders in preparation to lift above the head.  Lifting, though, doesn't quite seem the right word for the move which follows; the contestant sort of ducks underneath the half-airborne bar, straightening his arms, and then uses the legs to draw himself to a standing position.

World Weightlifting Championships--Sofia day 3 055
US weightlifter Mack Brunson demonstrates a texbook clean
as he prepares for his next step.
  He also demonstrates that one should adjust one's wedding tackle before one dips one's hands in the talcum powder.

In the end, no matter how much the lifter struggles, the weights may still triumph.  Boyanka Kostova of Bulgaria simply couldn't raise the bar above her head.  It proved a disappointment to her team-mates and hometown media. 

  • World Weightlifting Championships--Sofia day 3 416
  • World Weightlifting Championships--Sofia day 3 417
  • World Weightlifting Championships--Sofia day 3 420
  • World Weightlifting Championships--Sofia day 3 421
  • World Weightlifting Championships--Sofia day 3 422
World Weightlifting Championships--Sofia day 3 422

I must confess to admiring Kostova's womanly curves, which her considerable musculature didn't diminish.  She was a contrast in body type from many of the other competitors, and certainly from the modelly hostesses who were employed to smile and schlep the medals.
Speaking of medals, you may well ask how Miss Right performed. Since this is an anonymous blog, I shan't point at her results.  Suffice to say that she performed respectably since moving up a weight class, but took home no medal.  We considered it a job well done.

World Weightlifting Championships--Sofia day 3 636
And as sole team supporters, our job was done, too. That left a day or two to explore Bulgaria.  But more about that, later.

*     *     *     *     *     *

*That's right. Sofia, Bulgaria. Nobody guessed from the clue in the previous post.