Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Axum, old propaganda poster

Axum, old propaganda poster, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here we are still in Axum... with a photo from the time of the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, much of which was fought in the country just to the north of Axum.

Interestingly enough, the town to the east of Axum is Adwa where the Ethiopians beat the Italian invaders in 1896, in a famous military battle. The British were so happy about this that Queen Victoria ended up signing away almost half of Somaliland, namely the Ogaden, to the Ethiopian Emperor to show our gratitude.

And now, the Ethiopian Dictator, who incidentally is from the very same town of Adwa, is showing his appreciation to Queen Victoria by oppressing the Somalis living in the Ogaden, denying them food supplies, killing their leaders and banning their organisations.

As I said before, if he doesn't want those people in his country, he can give that land back to the people who belong there, namely the Somalis and for that matter, he can move his troops back out of what is officially Somalia as well.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Aloe veras of Axum

Aloe veras of Axum, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

After visiting the obelisks, including the one returned recebtly by Italy (still in its packing cases when we were there two years ago), one can take a walk out into the countryside and pay a visit to a monastery containing many old hand written books and paintings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Whether you need any help to find your way around or not, you will be offered it and rather than fighting it you might as well avail yourself of a guide as we did in the case of Gatocho, a young man/boy who had lost his father and was getting money to look after his mother.

Anyway, this charming young man who rrrolled his rrr's as well as any Scotsman, took us along coutry tracks bordered by these beautiful aloe veras and cacti, next to pastures of grazing cattle, whilst every now and then a family would be seen passing along the track with a camel or a cow or a few goats on their way back to their village after a day at the market in town.

Children minding small numbers of cows or goats could be seen herding them, stciks at the ready for hitting them or stones for throwing at them if they strayed from the path. All thoroughly charming and it all resembled one great big rock garden.

Eventually, we came to our monastery, having first entered some bat infested catacombs and visited a hole in the ground containing a large stone, beutifully encrypted in three different languages. The monastery was on a hill with fine views of the rocky outcrops all around. There were a few robed priests and a larger number of novices, all very keen to show us thier trasures, which apart from the illuminated books and paintings also included many various beautifully worked metal crosses. This whilst the novices had great fun surveying the surrounding countryside through my binoculars.

It was all-in-all an enchanted afternoon, made extra special by the wonderful stories told by our host Gatocho who very kindly turned up the next day when we left the hotel for our next destination, the holy place of Lalibela.

Marc Almond in Paradiso

Marc Almond at Union Chapel, London

This is where we were two years ago, wandering around the countryside just outside the charming town of Axum in northern Ethiopia, with views across the battlefields towards Eritrea in the distance.

Quite a difference to a grey and wet late October day in the office here in Holland. It was a bit lighter this morning when I left the housse to catch the train but now, with a few minutes to go stuill in the office, it is already starting to get dark. Cars pass by outside with their lights on and it will be pitch black by the time I get home.

We normally will not have the central heating switched on before November, but we are a few days early this year.

But that aside, we had a great weekend last weekend, the highlight being the Marc Almond concert in Paradiso, his first since he was here with Soft Cell, about five years ago.... and it is three years since his near-fatal motorbike accident. We went to the concert with a number of friends and met a number of other friends there at the concert, all bound by a liking for and respect for Marc Almond. Just like in London, it was funny to see people one had almost forgotten about, faces from concerts of many years back.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Monastery boys

Monastery boys, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here we were two years ago - 26th October 2005, in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar, having arrived up from Bahir Dar on Lake Tana in the morning. A bit of a sad drive it was, as we passed three funerals along the way, the dead being wrapped in a blanket and carried alongside the road.

Anyway, on a happier note, we came across these happy chappies outside the monastery just down from the hotel we were staying at.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Back in Belgium for the day

Appearing at the Zomershow
Geel en wit, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Four countries in five days this week, so after Spain on Monday and Tuesday and England yesterday, I find myself in Belgium today, visiting my colleagues in the Antwerp office for the first time. We had a very pleasant meeting, a club sandwich and a couple of cups of very nice tasty coffee, served very politely before it was time to go and I was brought to Borchem Station, ready to go home. There is a train to Amsterdam every hour at 26 past the hour, except the 14.00 hour... meaning I have an hour a a half to kill... how typical. It took over 3 hours to travel the 160 kms (100 miles) here this morning, I wonder how long it will take to get back... Going back to the Michael Palin discussion, travelling by train can be great, but sometimes it can be unbelievably slow.

Not much to do in Borchem so I took the first train back to Antwerpen Centraal, which has just been renovated... a very beautiful Victorian station building, with tracks coming in now on four levels. Local train at ground level, the international trains four levels below.

Having taken my camera with me to Spain and England and not having taken a single photo, I left it behind today when I had teh chance to take some nice photos of this historical city, although being cold and grey, it cannot really be seen at its best today.

Being in Belgium today reminds me of my last trip here with my friend G when we went to see Marc Almond together in Blankenberge on the coast, on this beautiful summer's day. A lot has happened since then and I am looking forward to seeing G and C again this weekend when we go to see our hero Marc Almond again, this time in Paradiso in Amsterdam.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Popping over to the Andes this weekend, darling, hope you enjoy your shopping trip to Moscow

Argentina - facing the Andes, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I know I was praising the man the other day but today I am a little disappointed by Michael Palin. I am traveling on a British Airways from flight Madrid to London. It is delayed. There was a flight earlier (to Heathrow) which was not full but they refused to let me on it because it was a cheap flight and was not supposed to be changed. The fact that the flight that I was booked on was delayed didn’t seem to matter. Rules is rules these days and as a result I will no longer be able to see my nephew Thomas, who was so looking forward to seeing me, after I cancelled a visit two weeks ago when fleeing France. I used to like BA a lot and would tell everyone they were my favourite airline, but after a lousy flight in business class back from Atlanta and now this, I am not so keen.

Well, what has this to do with Michael Palin? Well, he has edited the current version of High Life, the BA in-flight magazine, probably because he got paid a lot of money to do it and probably partly to do with promoting his new book, New Europe, based on his BBC TV series of the same name.

Nothing so much wrong with that either. It is just what he has allowed into the magazine which I find disappointing. He tells us interestingly that travel is a very basic urge, embedded in our genes ever since we walked the plains of Africa and tells us that Europe, itself was settled by nomads, which is an interesting observation. He also tells us that he himself loves flying but likes trains better and would take the train everywhere if he could but due to tight deadlines, TV schedules and all that, he often has to fly. (He IS writing for an airline company!). He ends up by telling us in bold print that Travel is a privilege that comes with responsibilities and if it is done properly it is the best thing (in the world). All fine.

But then we look at the articles which he has commissioned. Six pages on a new Trans-Siberian Express train, which costs five-and-a-half thousand pounds (€ 8,000) for 15 days. Yes, we all have money like that. Then we have five minute guides (on one page) to Vienna, Istanbul, Barcelona and Amsterdam, where we are encouraged to stay at hotels costing between 250 and 300 pounds (€ 300-400) a night and then drink lots of expensive alcohol. This is if we have any loose change after our alcohol-infused trip across Siberia.

This is all bad enough but to top it all, we are asked to look at some short breaks in our ‘Weekend getaway planner’. We are not looking here at a dirty weekend in Blackpool, a cultural trip up to Edinburgh, a walk in the Lake District or even a trip across the channel to Gent or Bruges. This is all so 1980’s. No, the thing to do in the 2000’s while we are all becoming more aware of and concerned about global warming and increasing poverty in , society, is not to go for a cycle ride or a walk in the nearest woods but to go hiking in the Pyrenees, shopping in Moscow, ski-ing in Canada, sleeping with the Bedouins in Oman, spotting the Big Five at a nature reserve near Johannesburg (malaria-free!), checking into a celebrity hide-out in Toubkal, in Morocco (been there, done that!) and, to top it all, crossing the Andes in Chile!

Michael, how can you travel with a sense of responsibility, by taking a three day break to cross the Andes in Chile? How can you, as a self-confessed ‘responsible, anxious, guilt-ridden 20th century throwback’(?) allow this sort of nonsense to be published in your guest-edited magazine. I am sorry, Michael, but you get this week’s prize for hypocrisy. But I still love you.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Kurds in Turkey

THis photo of mine on flickr was used to illusrate an artcile about the political situation in Diyarbakir (link: http://www.isn.ethz.ch/news/sw/details.cfm?id=18157). Funnily enough, there was a similar article published in the NRC Handelsblad at the weekend, albeit using someone else´s photo.

The internet article stresses more the Islamisation of teh area whikle the newspaper mentions the point is that although Diyarbakir is primarily a Kurdish city, it has seen a rise in popularity of the mainstream Turkish politcial parties, especially the governing AK Party in recent years. I prefer the altter explanation.

Anyway, in the light of the latest dreadful atrocities of the terrorist communist PKK party in recent days, it is worth remembering that like in Northern Ireland and in Basque country, most people are not in favour of violent extremism and this applies definitely to the Kurds living in Turkey.

The patience being shown by the Turkish government in Ankara is a marked contrast to the reaction of the US when it suffers terrorist acts I am hoping that they can use political pressure on the Americans and Iraqis to solve the terrorist threat they are harbouring (and maybe arming) in northern Iraq.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

It´s the taking part which matters...

Yes, South Africa are Rugby World Cup Champions, England not.

Russia looks like they will qualify for next year´s European Football Championships, England not.

Lewis Hamilton was poised all season to win the Formual One Championship in his first season. He started off today in the lead and ended it in third place.

These things were not meant to happen, it seems.

England scored a try yesterday at the start of the second half which would have taken them into the lead, but it was disallowed. A very close decision which whether it was right or wrong, possibly turned the game. England could have won but they didn´t and, apart from that try, they didn´t really deserve to win. Well done to South Africa. Next time they turn up at the World Cup, let´s hope there are more non-whites.

Today there was the Amsterdam Marathon and Half Marathon. For many years I would have been running in the Half Marathon and although the last few kilometers were very difficult, I always got such a thrill, particularly if I could run a good time. I would usually start off somewhere towards the back, run safely and ecoinomically for about 5-8 kilometers before I would start exerting myself, all teh time running past other people slower than myself. And then there was always Fred, Henk and Piet to look forward to at around the 10 km mark, near vour house cheering me on... and also at the finish where Fred would be there cheering me on over the last few hundred meters, before a sprimnt coming into the old Olympic Stadium. Great times.

Today, I spent the whole day sneezing - I am sure I have an allergy to alcohol. I am not fit and haven´t run for over two years, my knees being now too weak to carry the excess kilos which I now carry around. My knees having suffered from too much pounding during Half Marathons, 16 k´s and 10 k´s.

It is not so much that I ever wanted to win.. although I did enhjoy running a good time... it was the taking part and the sense of achievement.... so while it is a pity (for us English) that England did nto win in Paris yesterday, there was a great sense of satisfaction and achievement at havbing made the final and done their best. So well done England, we are proud of you.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Well done Argentina!

Argentina - Formosa!
Argentina - Formosa!, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Thank you, Argentina, so much, for beating France! I had another bad day at work with two silly e-mails from the French office, so it was great to see you slaughter them on the rugby pitch!

To be honest, we did not watch the whole match as we first watched the latest (rubbish) episode of Eastenders (our soap) and then later had to go out and join our friends at 'club avond'. Still, w e joined teh match at 3-3, then saw Argentina score two brilliant tries to take ot to 17-3, after which Argentina defended their line for over five minutes, during which the Gallic aggression took hold and tempers were being lost, with teh French captain even being sent off teh field into the 'sin bin'. Great stuff.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Excessive hypocrisy

It is Friday afternoon and the end of the working week. An unusual week for me in that I have been in the country the whole time, working Monday from home and the rest of the week in the office, near Rotterdam.

The mornings are getting noticeably darker (and colder - in fact we might even get some frost this weekend), especially the last two when it has been cloudy and people have been cycling around with lights on their bikes. In two weeks time the clocks will be put back and it will be lighter again. It is a nice time of the day to be hurtling through the countryside, with the sun lighting up the still green grass in the meadows, catching the bright colours of the cows and sheep which have still been left out to graze in the fields (soon they will be put away into their stalls for the winter). The countryside is mostly poldered and there are regular ditches, full of water, running in parallel at a diagonal to the rail track and it is nice to catch the rays on the sun as they reflect off the still water and off the feathers of the swans, ducks and geese which live on the water.

It is a lot better than a metro ride in Paris or an underground ride in London, where the journey, although much shorter takes as much time and then in crowded sweaty carriages. There is always space to sit and time to lean against the window and close one’s eyes and have a nap. A pity that I have not yet got into the habit of reading a good book, being happy and lazy enough to read the free newspapers, starting off always with Dagblad De Pers, which I have already mentioned is a very good paper, to be compared very favourably with some of the regular newspapers you have to pay for. Instead of printing news releases from the main agencies they have their own journalists reporting interesting stories from around the world, often on very different themes to what is being reported in all the other newspapers. In particular there is a lot of emphasis on positive stories from Africa and the Middle East and Eastern Europe as well as covering green issues, which is always welcome. Just they have a silly columnist, an old right-wing politician who is allowed to spout off about things, but never mind.

One very silly thing about these papers, and The Independent newspaper in the UK in particular is that whatever their green credentials may be on the front pages and opinion columns they cannot resist promoting excessive and unnecessary consumption by having articles and whole supplements devoted to the newest trends, fashions, gadgets, cars, holiday destinations, expensive hotels, second homes in Eastern Europe, the latest choice in tropical hardwood garden furniture or the latest designs for garden heaters, winter barbecues and the like. Complete and utterly wasteful consumption, the kind of which is killing the planet and its various animal and vegetable inhabitants.

Today in De Pers, we had to read about the plight of the pygmies in Central Africa whose fate is going to be similar ot the Indians of the Amazon Basin, as the World Bank sponsored projects are building roads into the forest to allow the timber companies in (mostly Malaysian and Singaporean owned) to cut down their trees, kill the animals for food and bring diseases - just so that we Europeans can have our nice maintenance free wooden garden furniture for their winter barbecues, which were featured in last week's 'Trends' section of the paper.

Shameful hypocrisy.. I just wonder if anyone else notices all this nonsense?

Time for some hats from Paris

We wanted more hats, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What to feel guilty about next?

Sardegna - le pecore, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.


Far greater than the growth in human population, it seems that the world is experiencing an explosive growth in the number of animals. Farm animals, to be sure, not the wild animals which are becoming extinct at an ever increasing rate.

As humans get richer they like to eat more and more meat. We have the technology to create factories of meat producing animals to be served up as chicken breasts and beef steak and pork chops, sausages and salami in our butchers and supermarkets, as well as milk, cream and cheese in the delicatessens. Not to forget that we have almost fished out the world’s seas and oceans, such that fish is mostly off the menu as well nowadays.

These animals give out shockingly large quantities of carbon dioxide and methane gas, both of which are dangerous greenhouse gases, as well as all their liquid and solid waste. The Dutch Government has been trying for years to limit the amount of waste that pigs produce in Holland, by handing out quotas, whilst the issue of greenhouse gas emissions has hardly been addressed at all.

It also has to be said that animals are a poor source of protein and energy compared to fruit, vegetable, seeds and beans and the like. So they are wasteful too.

Where is it all going?

Well, I see one good solution in the area of bio-fuels, whereby maize and sugar beet and the like are grown to produce bio-fuels to replace petrol. The conversion of farmland to bio-fuel plantations is having the advantageous effect of increasing agricultural prices around the world, for both vegetative and animal products, such that for the first time in a long time, the world’s farmers can make a sensible profit. This also means the poor farmers in Africa, Asia and South America, whereby their countries might at last start performing better economically, with a resultant drop in the birth-rate.

The greatest rise in prices should be with animal products, given that they are so wasteful, such that people will switch more to vegetable products for food, as these will become relatively cheap and, in this way, we will be able to curtail the growth in the animal population. Better economic security for agricultural communities will lead to a fall in the birth-rates which then solves the other part of the problem.

All this was going on through my mind when I was deciding whether or not to take a cheese sandwich or a salami roll, until I realized that the cheese was also an animal product! There was not a tomato or a lettuce leaf to be seen.

And what did I have for dinner? Mashed potato, frozen peas, tomato ketchup and - ooops! - fish fingers.... Fred was out at a school dinner this evening.

Tomorrow: The British Government tells us we are drinking at dangerous levels for our health - thank you, Gordon, for that.... a good thing I just drank lemonade this evening!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Eid Al Fitr in Amsterdam

Eid Al Fitr in Amsterdam, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This is the sort of weather we have been having in Amsterdam recently, carrying on from the weather we had last weekend in Paris. This weekend, there was a fairground set up in Dam Square to celebrate the Eid Al Fitr holiday which follows on from Ramadan. This high roundabout was one of the highlights.

We had a very good weekend, starting off with a wedding reception in Ede, following the wedding of one of Fred's nephews. The service, which I missed, was very very religious, Fred tells me and it highlighted the fact that it was a woman's duty to serve her husband. we had to get there with public transport, not such a problems as there is a reasonably direct connection from here to Ede-Wageningen. The only problem was getting a taxi to and from the party centre. There is such thing as a Train Taxi which you can use to get from a station to soemwhere else and it is sponsored by teh government in an effort to encourage peopole to use public transport. All good and well when they do their job properly. Only trouble is is that they failed both to pick Fred up from the station and, more worryingly, to give us a lift back. After waiting for half an hour for a lift back, one of Fred's other nephews offered to give us a lift to the station, which was very kind. However, Ede is no longer a village and there are virtually no road signs directing one to the station. Eventually we got there with a minute to spare, giving us a journey time home of an hour rather the the two-an-a-half hours it would have taken had we missed that last train!

The sun shone all day Saturday and I spent a good part of the day in the centre taking photos, mostly in and around this fun fair on the Dam. In the evening, we were invited out to dinner by some dear friends who cooked us a most wonderful dinner.... Thanks! They also let me slink off to follow the Rugby where England were playing in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals against the hosts France, and it was really quite wonderful to see England win again, kicked home by the brilliant Johnnie Wilkinson. I had to be a little careful as our hostess was half-French and it was obvious that her cooking was more than half-French (even though she admitted to using Jamie Oliver as inspiration for the starter - a fresh fig, mozarella, prosciutto and basil salad - as seen here)! A main course of tender beef with rosemary and thynme sauce, haricots-verts and potatoes was followed by, of all things..... raspberry (and strawberry) pavlova - really one of my most favourite desserts (along with lemon meringue pie). Mmmmm... we were very spoilt!

However, not only were we treated to an excellent dinner but it was a great evening - thanks again, R and G!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Fred takes the Rugby World Cup very seriously...

... as can be seen in the photo above.

England 14 - France 9

Autumn sun, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Well done, England, we are proud of you.

Good luck (against Argentina?) in the Final!

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Diyarbakir - unruly, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

And, in the meantime, Turkey looks over its borders to see what the US is doing and has done in Iraq in an unprovoked war and can ask quite rightly what is more important, the present or the past.

And, further, while they are there, the US has done nothing to counter the terrorist PKK organisation, which killed 13Turkish soldiers at the weekend.

Let's decide ourselves what is history, not corrupted politicians

Sister, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I have said it before and I will say it again, but I am very much against politicians in vrious countries legislating over definitions of what happened in history. Last year we had the French (with their large Christian Armenian population and pressure groups) legislating over the 'genocide' of Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire and now we have a US House Commitee doing the same (also at the behest of well moneyed pressure groups).

Whether or not these country's legislatures have defined that what happened was genocide or not, makes no difference to what actually happened. Bad things happened on both sides. Better to encourage research and openness than force, say, Turkey into a corner of denial on this issue. Let the research and history books tell us what happened and let's not have it forced upon us by politicians and their pressure groups.

Apparently, the President of the US is not too happy about the vote, not because he has any particular qualms about politicians defining history for the rest of us, nor is he too sympathetic to modern day Turkey and Turks, he seems to be more worried about losing an important military base in the region.

Anyway, in a separate piece of news, it is good to hear that Gordon Brown is a strong supporter of Turkey's eventual membership of the European Union and appears to be willing to go to heads on this issue with Mr No-No Sarkozy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Paris on the cheap

Paris - Sapeurs Pompiers 1, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It can be done!

A few tips:

Book a train to Paris in good time and you can get a return ticket (from Amsterdam for € 69, we paid € 110, which is still not bad). Just be prepared for a long journey until you get to Brussels. The high speed rail link should have been finished about ten years ago, but is still not with us and yesterday we had to hear about yet another delay. Maybe by 2009, we will be able to get a train to take us at 300 km/hour to Brussels and then onto Paris in less than three hours. The journey from Paris to London will take just 2 hours 15 minutes from next month. It is more expensive though.

When in Paris, find a one star hotel and you can stay there for € 38 a night for a clean and spacious double room with own shower and toilet. We stayed at the Palace Hotel in Rue Bouchardon (+33 1 40 40 09 45), near the Strasbourg-St Denys station, about a twenty minute walk from Gare du Nord. They will serve breakfast for € 3.50, which is a lot cheaper than the € 8 or 9 which they like to charge in the bars, albeit with a seat on a terrace.

Lunch can be had for € 3 in the form of a thickly filled baguette, followed by dinner at any number of cheapish restaurants, my favourite being Pizza Grill Istanbul on Rue Fbg St-Denis, where a generous helping of delicious Adana Kebab with rice and salad can be had for € 9. A take away shoarma or a falafel (try the ones at Chez Marianne in Le Marais for € 4.50) will cost less and may also be delicious, but it is nice to have a sit-down meal with service, in a restaurant full of local Turkish people. An alternative is any one of a number of Indian restaurants in the alleyways in the area, many of which have formula meals for about € 10.

Drinking in the wrong lace in Paris can be very expensive nut a half litre of beer at the Cox Bar on Rue Des Archives will cost only € 3.50 during Happy Hour (18.00-21.00) and € 4.80 afterwards, free if one of the barmen likes you.

Further, I have mentioned yesterday how cheap it is to go racing. A tip for travelling around the town is to buy a carnet of ten bus/metro tickets for € 11. Another is to take one of the bicycles on offer. It costs € 1 a day membership and the first half an hour of any bike ride is free, and you can have as many half hours as you like. Not that cycling arund Paris can be much fun with all the traffic lights and bad cycle paths, but still its a good alternative for tired legs and feet.

But like I said yesterday, what Paris needs the most is sunshine and that is always free, as is watching firemen perform their drills!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Paris in the sunshine

Authorized coming back, having not won the Arc

I am now speeding through the misty plains of northern France in a Thalys train taking me to Brussels where I will change onto the suburban train through to Rotterdam and then to my office just outside that city. This is a change of plan as I was due to catch one of the last Eurostars to Waterloo and work in London today, erady for a meeting there on Wednesday, the one which was postponed from last week. However, we have managed to postpone that meeting as well, which means I can go home after a week away, which is a nice thought.

Fred and I had a wonderful time in Paris under warm blue skies. I think the sun is essential to really enjoy that city as its white-ish grey buildings look drab and dirty under an overcast sky, whilst they seem to shine under the rays of the sun. On Sunday afternoon we took a walk along one of the east-west boulevards from Sebastopol to the Opera, a walk we had not done before. All the cafes looked very inviting with their rows of rattan chairs facing the sun, the burgundy-red drapings glowing in the sun, as it shed its rays through the still green leaves of the tress lining the boulevards. The pavements were not too busy, mostly Parisians going about their Sunday morning business of walking the dogs, having an expensive brunch or just sitting with friends having a coffee.

Looking up towards the architecture, one felt almost as if one was back in the Bourbon area of Madrid, with all the ornamentations on the facades and the rounded towers on the corners of the streets. In fact, it is probably the other way round, Madrid being influenced by French styles, it is just that I had noticed this before when visiting Paris.

Our walk took us along the Rue des Italiens to the Opera building with the golden statues looking stunning in the sunshine, just a pity that there was still some restoration work being performed. We then walked down to a Napoleon obelisk in a square we had never visited before, home of the now infamous Ritz Hotel where Princess Diana ate her last meal. The paparazzi were still there though and we cursed them as Diana murderers under our breaths (in Dutch) as we passed them.

From here it was a short walk to the very busy Tuilleries and then the Place de Concord and the Champs Elysee before it was time to catch the metro Porte de Maillot, from where we could take a free bus to Longchamp for the races. Once there, we were asked only € 8 entrance money, which is the price they would have charged in England just for the bus ride, let alone the 50 or 60 pounds (€ 70 -85) entrance money they would have asked each of us.
Once again, Longchamp put on a wonderful show, although with no Japanese horse running it was not quite as busy as last year. This year, the masses had come to see the Derby winner, Authorized, confirm his status as horse of the year and it helped, of course, that Frankie Dettori was riding him. I hoped, against hope, that Dragon Dancer would run the race of his life to take a place in what was quite a small field. Otherwise, I looked forward to seeing the Oaks winner, Light Shift, in the Prix de l’Opera and to see Rio de la Plata in the Grand Criterium, a race for two year olds, also to be ridden by ‘Frankie’.

But first we had to attend to the hats, many many hats and as many of them as possible were to be photographed in what was perfect light for photography, as long as one could photograph into the sun, but without the sun shining into the lens. A position under a tree (and there are many trees at Longchamp) was the best position to be in. This was a different sort of Longchamp experience to what Fred is used to as I would normally be spending most of my time standing around the paddock trying to see as much as I could of the horses before they set off to race, which we would watch from the tarmac ‘lawn’ in front of the stands, facing the big screens. But this time, we were more involved in people watching than horse watching, although we did see all the races live in front of the stands.
We first watched Frankie lose on a false favourite in the fillies 2-y-o race before seeing him win easily on Rio de la Plata in the colts 2-y-o race. Light Shift came storming up from the back to only just fail to win her race, beaten by a fast diminishing head and the scene was set for the Arc. Here I took my place around the paddock to see the cream of European racehorses, including Dylan Thomas, who had only come third in last year’s Derby (behind Dragon Dancer) before winning a string of Group One races, Zambezi Sun, the most favoured French horse, Saddex, the champion German horse, Soldier of Fortune, the Irish Derby winner and, of course, Authorized. The (free) programme (in England they would cost over € 5) gives details of the breeding of all the horses and I noticed that Youmzain has Troy as his maternal great-grandsire, through Cocotte who was the mother of the great Pilsudski who came second in the Arc twice in 1996 and 1997. We would see Pilsudski win the Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Thomas’ second birthday (when it was also a boiling hot day – 25 degrees!). So… worth a financial interest, I thought, especially at the odds of 80-1 in a field of 12 horses. So I made a small bet, to go with the slightly bigger bet I had on Dragon Dancer.
The race eventually started an with Dragon Danecr up towards the lead, I was at least getting a run for my money, enough to be shouting him on for glory as they entered the straight for as long as it took to notice that he was actually going backwards in the field. My eyes switched to the other blue colours in the race, those of Youmzain, and sure enough, these were making up ground, again on the outside. One horse had taken a couple of lengths lead, but my horse was eating up the ground as the field passed in front of the stands, with the finishing post still 100 metres to go… would he get up in time? Alas, just like Light Shift in the previous race, he had left his run slightly too late and he passed the post still a head behind the winner, which turned out to be Dylan Thomas. A 35 minute stewards enquiry gave me hope that I might collect some nice winnings, as Dylan Thomas had cut in in front of a couple of other horses, notably Zambezi Sun and there was talk of him losing the race. It was not to be, and it was Kieran Fallon who emerged from the stewards room with a big smile on his face.
Oh well, I still picked up my winnings (12-1) for my place bet and I had the satisfaction of seeing an exciting race, but as so often with these big priced outsiders, I have to see them make do with second place, rather than winning. One day, one day…
Fred had gone early, to give himself (more than) enough time to catch his train back to Amsterdam (the 18.55). At least they had moved the Arc to an earlier time this year and I would like to think that this is partly to allow foreign visitors more time to get home. And so ended a wonderful weekend, one in which our enthusiasm for Paris was re-kindled. England and France had both won their Rugby World Cup quarter-finals against Australia and New Zealand, neither Frankie nor Youmzain had won the Arc, but with the sun shining all day on both Saturday and Sunday, we had seen Paris at its best.

Friday, October 05, 2007

On the way to Paris

I am on the Eurostar on my way to join Fred in Paris. He is on the Thalys train on the way from school. We were supposed to travel together from Holland but, inevitably I have been delayed here in London on business.
We had to cut short a planned seven hour video conference on Tuesday and re-plan it for today, due to our lack of preparation. Tut tut.
And, just as inevitably the meeting today dragged on and on and on until I had to change my train to a later one and then run through the streets of The City and then through the never-ending tunnels connecting Monument Station to the Waterloo and City line in order to catch this train. Needless to say the train was delayed and I needn't have run and needn't be sitting here sweating away in what is now a damp shirt.
A shirt which I have now worn three days in a row as I was never meant to stay in London. Very kindly, Fiona washed my shirt last night and fortunately the shirt was dry in the morning.
I am hoping that Fred is travelling with a bag full of clean clothes, together with my camera, batteries, leads and all.
We will be in Paris for our annual rendez-vous with the racing set at Longchamp for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, photos of which should soon be seen here on flickr! The weather promises to be warm and sunny as it inevitably is during the first weekend of October, which means that we will probably, yet again, not make it to Le Louvre. Oh well!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Can see your pass please, sir?

It seems that I am becoming lazier and lazier with regards to this blog. Not surprising really, when one’s work takes up so much of one’s time and attention and things related to work are not exactly what I should be writing on this blog, at least not if I want to keep this job. Funnily enough there is a chap who was recently dismissed from the company. He chose to document, in what is quite an emotional way, the whole process of his dismissal, bringing in names and talking badly about certain people in the company. He was not, from what I can tell, dismissed because he made negative comments about his managers at work, but I don’t suppose he really helped.

I had a bit of a surprise when I arrived at work today as all the clocks were an hour ahead of what they should have been, at least in my view. I had woken up and risen from my bed when the alarm clock went off at 07.17 this morning, and I went on have my shower, a wet shave and some muesli and so on and set off on my bike to the station, as normal. Yet there I was an hour later, in the office and it was already past 10 o’clock. How could that happen? I had lost an hour. I am not one for spending too long under the shower (I never like wasting water) so where had that hour gone?

I am not home yet but I think the explanation lies in the fact that I must have pressed one of the wrong buttons on my alarm clock and put the clock back an hour, which meant that instead of it being 7.17 when I got up, it was already 8.17.

In fact it is probably bebacuse I had this extra hour’s sleep that I have the energy to sit here in the train and write this blog!

I can come and go as I please at my office, as I work alone in my own room and report to somebody the other side of the channel, so I do not have to worry too much about good time keeping. However, we do have electronic keys at the office nowadays, first just to enter and leave the building, but now to enter the corridors, a necessary security measure, I am assured, especially as we share our building with people from another company. Still, I don’t like it. First because it is yet another thing one has to remember to take to work, secondly because t makes one feel a bit as if one is working in a high security prison and thirdly because they can almost control the number of times one goes to the loo or go upstairs for coffee of a day. As usual, I have nothing to hide, I just resent the inappropriate use of modern technology.

At Fred’s school, the teachers and students all need passes. I saw Fred carrying around a red piece of paper. It had the photo of a pupil on it, and it was a ‘te laat briefje’, an absence note. The boy was late for a lesson so had to bring his pass to an administrator where it was read by the machine, which then printed a note of how many times and on what dates this boy had previously been late. Very efficient, just too bloody efficient in my eyes. There has to be a bit of a game in life and the rules have to be fair. Technology gives the people in charge too much of an advantage… and still the crime rate doesn’t decrease… and the number of teachers and pupils who arrive at school too late remains the same whichever way they are registered. Interesting that there is no red card for all the teachers who run into the classroom, all puffed out a minute or three after the bell has rung…

And what do we do with financial controllers who turn up an hour too late?

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