Working the pavement outside the Kremlin in June 2003, this young lady charged tourists several Roubles to take a photo with her reptiles. Capitalism has triumphed!
22 posts categorized "Stumbled onto While Drinking"
This is our fifth Oktoberfest in Munich. It's a light one. Only two lots of visitors from abroad. In the past, our poor spare room scarcely had time to draw breath before getting stuffed to its rafters with the next mob of thirsty Ausländer. Many a foreigner who lives in Munich knows the feeling.
On the other hand, 2011 has thrown up a punishing schedule of work events on the Wies'n. It's impossible to do business in Munich without schmoozing away much of September. Our office lies, literally, across the street from the festival grounds; both clients and colleagues from out-of-town take good advantage of this. As it sits on my desk, my phone buzzes with faceboock check-ins over the road.
I don't want to sound like a wet blanket, but frankly, Oktoberfest is hard work. You need energy and stamina. Beer provides both of these, but takes its toll on brain-cells, waistlines and the social reputation of the drinker.
As I sit here at my desk, I can tell you that I'm well-and-truly over it. But put a beer in my hand, and I might just find some enthusiasm. Beer...it's magic!
About thirty miles from St. Moritz, in the Swiss Alps, we stumbled on a quiet village. It had everything; a picturesque town square, great restaurants, a beautiful church, plenty of ski lifts, and ice-skating on a frozen lake. But even at the height of the ski season, we saw few crowds. Master Right and I felt the town could attract many more visitors. It just has a small marketing problem to solve.
Where is he gay today? Adelaide, South Australia
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.
Where is he gay today? Adelaide, South Australia.
Today, I am the guest of my good friends Lady Sonia McMahon and Lord Denning.
Some very fine news arrived during my stay, and they decided to throw a party in honour of it.
They served some very fine wine. The wine was older than several of the guests.
Penfold's Grange Hermitage (or nowadays, simply Penfold's Grange) ages better, perhaps, than any wine in the world. Few buyers wait for its prime; they'll quaff the stuff after a mere decade. If you want the best vintages, and want to drink them now, you'll need to fork out a pretty penny.
My hosts are smart, rather than extravagant. They know a good deal about wine, and being of a certain vintage themselves, they managed to pick the right years to buy Grange at the cellar door. Further, they had the patience to wait.
Sometimes, conoisseurs such as my hosts will keep an eye on auctions and deceased-estate sales. You can pick up well-aged Grange for a (relative) song, from punters who never quite made it to their last tipple. It pays to be patient with wine, but not too patient.
Unusual among wines of such quality, Grange has no terroir. That is, the vineyards which supply the grapes vary from year to year. Further—quel horreur!—Grange is a blend.
Years of drinking too much, too-cheap wine have given the Honourable Husband a crude palate. But here is how I understand the genius of Grange.
Grange is mostly shiraz. World oenophiles know the variety as the French syrah, or under the appelation hermitage. Disguised with a mildly-phony Arabic nickname, the shiraz grape adopted Australia as its spiritual home.
Generally, the winemakers start with a base of strong, mid-bodied Barossa shiraz. To this foundation, they add a limited amount of cabernet—less than 15%, I understand.
Cabernet is a small, severe grape, which gives your mouth a real wallop: lots of tannin, pepper and mineral. Long, hot Australian summers, though, allow the grape to develop a sweet side, with fruity blackcurrant flavours.
In Grange, the fruited-up cabernet complements the gentler spice of the shiraz grape, making the result rich and berrified. Nonetheless, it still maintains a strong hint of—I love this expression—the cigar-box.
To find these two (arguably) competing flavours in such abundance, in a single mouthful, is rare.
Cabernet, though, can have a difficult, strident personality. It takes a long time for the edge to wear off. The more easy-going shiraz, in this case, calms the cabernet while it chills out. On the other hand, the cabernet keeps the shiraz alert. Like a good marriage, it takes a long, long time for them to learn each other's habits.
I have drunk Grange before—Husband is a man of the world, after all—but seldom of this vintage. It was exquisite.
And seldom had I tasted it, or any other wine, in such good company. Love and congratulations. Many, many thanks.
Where is he gay today? Blackfriars, London
The young Victoria, outside St. Paul's.
Business tends to keep me on the western side of London whenever I visit. So does pleasure, what with the gay bit in Soho, next to the theatre bit in the West End.
This time, though, Master Right and I hopped the Tube to Blackfriars, on the fringe of the City, to London's east. Highly recommended.
First, the Gothic Revival grandeur of St. Paul's. They don't allow you to take pics inside, but trust me, the building is breathtaking. Cool crypt, too. Makes Westminster Abbey look mediaeval.
Modern art is supposed to shock and confront, and the Tate Modern is a shocking, confronting building in which to house one of the world's great collections of it.
The TM has curated its collection of masterpieces (i.e. stuff I've seen in books) so that it actually makes sense. And stuck the explanation on the wall in case you lose track.
Highly cool. Highly recommended.
Highly cool. Highly recommended.
The Blackfriars pub makes a great place for a pint on the way home, as well. The beer's too warm, but hey, what can you do? It's England.
A disquieting scene in the Tate Modern Turbine Room.
Louise Bourgeois named this sculpture Mother. She must have met mine.
The Wonderful Wash Salon. A chain of laundromat-cum-bars; this one is in the Au. From time to time, it is also a venue for performance art. More proof, if any were needed, that Munich is the drunkest city on the planet.
The Australian reality TV series My Restaurant Rules is an incredibly high-stakes game show. The producers give a vacant shopfront to each of six inexperienced couples. Cameras then chronicle the heartbreaking work of turning it into a restaurant. I had a burger at the Greedy Goose, the series two winner, when I last visited Adelaide. At the time, I knew nothing of the history of the place, but they did a damn fine burger.
Some weeks ago, our local watering hole closed. The Bar Rechts der Isar was not just a ludicrously convenient place from which to stagger home, but it was pretty cool, too.
The fact that it closed surprised us. They surprised us even more when someone trashed the inside; we soon learned that was all part of the theatre. Bar Rechts became the Munich location for Mein Restaurant, the German-language My Restaurant Rules. Precisely five doors down the street.
Master Right and I are really rooting for the Munich couple. (That's rooting in the American sense, not the Australian sense) Toby is an IT nerd turned circus performer who applies his juggling skills to tending bar, like Bryan Brown and Tom Cruise in Cocktail, only better. He and his wife Anna clearly have the most energy and best sense of humour.
They almost blew it, though, when they presented their restaurant concept to the panel of judges.
I would have thought the concept of a restaurant was already pretty clear; i.e. provide food in exchange for money. But this is TV, so the judges demanded a theme, too.
Surely the theme should centre upon Toby's amazing theatrics, juggling drinks and flying desserts. But our hapless heroes spouted some cockamamie idea about an Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant, with big things on one side of the plate and little things on the other. Guys, guys, guys...
The judges preferred the boutique-owning, chain-smoking couple who pitched The Copa Room, a Rat Pack-themed Vegas-style cocktail lounge in Cologne. In Cologne.
The dedicated Müncheners have soldiered on with their theme, and Der Grinzekatze (The Grinning Cat) opens on Monday. The chef has won awards--way to go, guys! We'll check it out and get back to you. In the meantime, watch Anna and Toby's recruiting video.
There's a special kind of Hell. A Hell which preys on your mind and messes with your brain. A Hell in which everything is bright, sharp and clear. In Munich, I practically swim in such a Hell.
Of course, hell is exactly that: the German word for bright or clear. The estate agent said my apartment was hell. People who sit through my PowerPoint presentations proclaim them, loudly, to be hell. Over my first few months in Germany, I've had day upon day of pure, sheer, constant hell.
Mostly, though, we apply this all-too-fitting word to beer. Helles Bier is the most popular Bavarian brew, outselling dunkel (dark), and hefe-weiß (yeast-wheat) by a considerable margin. In the most profound way, Munich is a hell of a town.
Given the high Nebenkosten (water rates), beer is actually cheaper than water. If I were on Bavarian food stamps, I'd make Helles my staple source of nourishment.
"We drink always Helles," said Zero, the office fixer, "because you can't get drunk on it."
"The stuff is 5% alcohol. Of course you can get drunk on it..." I noted.
"Impossible!" he countered. "You would need to drink so much of it, you'd exschplode!"
Briefing for a Descent into Helles*
Over the coming weeks, many would come in clear danger of explosion, tortured by their own self-inflicted hell. The drunkest city on the planet would reach a tipsy zenith. Oktoberfest.
Bavarian Beer Purity Laws set the alcohol content of festival beer at 6%, so the forces that fuel hell grow strong.
As Oktoberfest drew close, a total of six adult guests from loomed from abroad, all expecting a berth in my modest apartment. Strangely, none drank beer, but that didn't blunt their resove.
Further, my clients from the Large German Car Maker that Shall Remain Nameless, fell over themselves to schedule meetings in Munich that fortnight, rather than making us travel to Stuttgart as usual.
Even without these freeloaders, hell was inescapable. My office faces Theresienhöhe, which forms the western border of the Wies'n (meadow) on which the festival is held.
Of course, when I say meadow, I refer to a ghastly asphalt lot the size of five football fields, vacant save for these three weeks in autumn. That's when 40% of the annual beer production of Bavaria is consumed, along with half a million BBQ chickens, 88 spit roasted oxen, four million pretzels, and a relatively modest 200,000 pairs of sausages. Seven million visitors would drink, eat, stagger, flirt, snog, puke and/or queue for the lav.
I would visit a total of three times. It was hell. Approximmately eight litres of it, in total.
To be continued...
* With apologies to freshly-minted Nobel laureate Doris Lessing.
The second annual NYC Blarg Hop turned out to be a smashing success. Well, I got smashed, in any case, and did so rather early in the evening. Four beers, and I was a train wreck.
Now, there was a time when four beers were just an appetiser. My working-class bohunk liver metabolised alcohol like a blast furnace eats pig iron.
But with the big five-0 a mere five months away, my liver has stalled. Of course, one could opt for lite beer, but that means the terrorists have won.
You can cram a lot of conversation into those four beers. All of it interesting, witty and smart. Plenty of blogging tips to go around (special thanks to futurejunkie for moo). Warm, wet love to all my fellow bloggers for a great evening, and of course to Joe for being the chief catherd. That is, the guy who tried to herd the cats from one bar to another. Get it? No, I didn't think so.
One thing became abundantly clear last night. Obscure jokes just don't work. About one person in five got the High Maintenance Hags joke. And this, in a room full of gay people. (Several had remembered the cross-section of male genitalia, though. It figures.)
Circle in a square confessed that fag hags didn't play a big role in his gay life. "*They're really just wannabe gay men in women' bodies. And personally, I prefer gay men in men's bodies, don't you?" Can't argue with that.
The charming Curly McDimple played vixen's advocate on a number of subjects. Subject one: she's a lesbian who hates cats. "Dogs, I can understand. You pat them, they love you, you feed them, they love you some more. But cats...you never quite know what they're thinking, except you know it's not nice."
I warmed to the theme. "No matter how well you feed them, cats will hunt just for the sport of it. And bring home the little bird's head to gross out Mommy."
"If a cat comes in the room and starts giving me the ol' stink-eye, I'll ask the owner to remove it," Curly admitted. "And cats...it's all conditional love. Withholding affection is their emotional power trip."
"I think that's why straight women love them so much. They're like boyfriends." Curly's quizzical look led me to believe that point needed further clarification. Perhaps she's a bit hazy onthe whole boyfriend thing. "You know, on one occasion in twenty, he's affectionate. And that only makes the woman more dedicated, and she redoubles ther efforts. The psychological theory of intermittent reinforcement..."
On hearing the words psychological theory spring from my lips, I knew I was drunk. Lucky that the petite dynamo Helen Damnation appeared; splendid to meet the woman behind the flirty message posted earlier.
Curly and Helen billed themselves as co-vaginas for the evening, and both were nicely lubricated at this stage. Helen revealed that Curly's parents were Glaswegian, which unleashed a dam-bust of bastardized Scot-speak. I'll doo yeue, Jemmeh! Which, of course, we thought was funny.
Several embarassing pix were pixellated, which all will disown in years to come, should we decide to run for Congress. It wasn't just the pictures many of us would disown. There was an odd vibe in the room: so many bloggers knew the intimate details of each other's lives, yet guarded their public anonymity with care, lest they be dooced.
One of the bloggers who made the decision to publish under his real name was R.J. Keefe, a splendid, erudite man who describes himself as a purveyor of Civil Pleasures. "I made a policy decision early on. It's so easy to discover the person behind the blog, there's no real point. I'm a retired lawyer, so I know where to be careful."
R.J. and I enjoyed some truly civil chat, in the midst of all the drunken petting and beefy go-go boys. To top off an evening that challenged stereotypes, we spent some time agreeing that the French seemed much less rude lately.
George and I spoke on the phone earler that evening. I told him that I intended to go out on a pub crawl , and he warned me. "Drinking with a bunch of people you've never met? Don't get too drunk. Make a good impression. Remember your dignity."
Thanks to my crash-and-burn liver, I couldn't get too drunk. And in its own way, the 2007 Blarg Hop was a splendidly dignified affair. We were only there to blog about it, anyway. Weren't we?
*All direct quotations are from memory, and therefore, at best, approximate. Plus, I just made shit up. Photo lovingly stolen from Curly McDimple.