Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Pirate Wars Vs. The Prize of all the Oceans

Several years ago I had an argument with some people about Pirates of the Caribbean: Something Or Other About a Pearl, I Think and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, two films about the Great Age of Sail. I didn't like the pirate film as much as the one about the British navy. At the time I put this down to many things. One, I wanted to annoy the people I was arguing with.
Two, the pirate film was a fairly hacky summer blockbuster that was crying out to have been made by Rob Reiner but instead was made by Gore Verbinksi, so instead of being The Princess Bride it was more like Cutthroat Island.
Three, I hate fun. I don't really hate fun, but everyone thinks I do, so I may as well go along with it.
Four (and really, this is the main one), I'm just not that interested in pirates. I don't know why. They sail around in ships and have adventures. They board other ships, launch broadsides against their enemies, live in caves and drink rum. They have a special pirate code (no, they really do) and they live in groovy little colonial outposts in the Caribbean. But I don't care.

Sadly, Peter Earle's book didn't do anything to make me care any more. For a start, it's a bit too much of an overview, and if I like anything, it's a detailed history of one bit-player who turns out to be pivotal in the whole history of everything ever (see Nathaniel's Nutmeg for the best example of this) and provides you with a great test case. But Earle doesn't do this. He sets out his store in good scholarly fashion, tells you what he's going to tell you, then tells you it, citing examples along the way. It ends up being a bit routine. There were pirates here. So the British government sent out ships and passed laws and gradually arrested or killed all the pirates so then there were no pirates. The end. Not packed with dashing incident and anecdote, as one would hope.

Ne'er mind, Vicar. But you did a lot better with The Prize of all the Oceans. In 1741, Commodore George Anson set sail from England with five ships and a total crew of approximately 1400 men. He had orders to sail to South America, map some territories and harass Spanish shipping. He had a diasastrous voyage and returned with one ship and about 500 men. But along the way he captured prizes worth about £400,000. Glyn Williams details everything about the expedition and it's all really exciting, including the adventures of the Wager, one of the smaller ships, which ended up wrecked on a remote island in South America, leaving the crew stranded and forced to find their way back to England in a bewlidering variety of ways. A fantastic book, well worth reading. Not least because the Chinese couldn't tell the difference between His Majesty's ship of war towing a prize and, well, pirates.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

POTUS has left the building

Following on from the emotional (for me, anyway) demise of The West Wing, I am greatly looking forward to this. Although I am a little suspicious of the pre-season shuffling. Originally slated to appear in the coveted must-see-TV Thursday night at 10pm slot on NBC, they're moving it to Mondays already. So maybe it won't be as strong as all that.

Fingers crossed though.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Allow me to recommend to you...

...Lescure, a wonderful restaurant in a quiet corner of a quiet street, where the waiter makes gentle fun of you and then kisses you goodbye (if you're me, anyway) and very nicely does not speak to you in English but allows you to get through your ordering in your halting French. Good food too - I had a melty boeuf bourgignon and Monsieur Le Singe had magret de canard. Moderately priced as well. The terrace was a little squashed and all the reports said that the interior was very smoky and could get crowded, so I think we did alright. Lovely.

Also, for your consideration, the cafe in the Musee D'Orsay. Okay, the food's only alright, and it's not cheap, but you are sitting inside a GIANT CLOCK. How good is that? Also, if the giant clock thing doesn't thrill you, punters on their way outside to get a panoramic view of the city pass by you at almost head height, so you get to look at a parade of shoes throughout your meal.

I mean, come on! Parade of shoes!!! Sadly they are mostly the kind of sensible shoes that tourists wear to tramp around galleries taking flash photos of Van Gogh pictures, but still...

I would also recommend Le Royal Madeleine, the decor of which has not changed in sixty years. The staff, again, could not have been friendlier or more welcoming. We had no reservation, which was not a problem. After a memorable amuse-bouche of a kind of spicy melon soup, I had a buttery, light, delicate but filling sole meuniere, while my dining companions had shoulder of lamb and jumbo prawns respectively. Considerably more expensive than Lescure, and therefore more of an occasional restaurant, this would be a great place for a romantic meal as the dining area is divided into booths and they play lovely French vocal jazz. Well, I liked it anyway. Crisp white linen on the tables. Cutlery polished to a high shine. Thunderstorm outside. Super.

Both Lescure and Le Royal Madeleine were within a five-minute walk of our apartment, which was a little disappointing, as a nice stroll through the streets is always called for after some hearty French scran, but never mind.

Phrases you don't like to hear, part two

"You can mourn him when London is safe."

Now that's never going to be a good situation, is it?

Talk to the Hand

When I complain about how rude people are, I am "going on" about it. "Here's Accentmonkey, going on about manners again", people think. "How dull and unoriginal".

When Lynne Truss does it, she throws in some speculation and quotes from sociology texts and it's called a book.


Le good news, le bad news

Or is it la? Monsieur Le Singe and I have decided that we need to get a bit of French polishing in before we go back again, because, for all that we both claim to be able to speak and understand French, neither of us can actually do so when the concierge lady in our apartment building is accusing us of illegal parking.

Good news: I didn't kill his mother in Paris. Sorely tempted though I may have been at several points in the holiday, I hardly betrayed my impatience at all (no, really. I'm as surprised as you are). I suspect this is partly due to the impatience being shared equally between Monsieur Le Singe and myself. A trouble shared, and all that. It's also partly due to a nice little routine which saw us dashing off for some alone time for an hour every morning*, and a handy break one evening which allowed us to go and watch The Da Vinci Code.

More good news: Going to the cinema in Paris is as lovely as ever. People do not talk during the film. When the guy behind me kicked the back of my seat and I looked round, he apologised and then didn't do it again. Nobody's phone rang.

Bad news: The movie was a bit rubbish. Also much of the dialogue is in French, which was not subtitled, and Latin, which was subtitled into French. Luckily my reading comprehension is better than my aural comprehension so I was able to figure out most of the Latin bits. Unluckily it didn't make the film any better. Also you cannot stand on the inverted pyramid at the Louvre, so re-enacting key scenes from the film was out of the question. Bah.

Bad news: The Champions' League final was on while we were there, which meant that the city was covered for two days in shouty Barca supporters. They were kind of annoying, although they did lend a certain something to the Musee D'Orsay.

Bad news: It costs a lot of money to go around Paris on tour buses - the only way the mother-in-law could realistically get anywhere, given the inability to walk or go on escalators or be in confined spaces - and it can be frustrating when it takes you an hour and a half to get somewhere you could have got in twenty minutes by walking.

Good news: Fete du pain! Lovely restaurants, pleasant service, oh, it goes on.

Good news: We're going again in the winter. On our own.

*To a cafe! For a croissant and creme! Honestly, some people.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Phrases you don't like to hear, part one

"The giant insect gains the upper hand"

From The Life of Mammals. What are we going to do when David Attenborough eventually dies? Who will tell us what bears are thinking?

A Land of Two Halves

Joe Bennett is an award-winning New Zealand columnist and this is his book about travelling around New Zealand. Things I like about him include his empathy with people and his willingness to sleep in shitty motels in order to save a bit of cash. I like the fact that he's happy to stand around by the side of the road for hours on end while hitching. And the fact that he's written a book about the bits of New Zealand that a lot of tourists don't get to see or spend time in, because they don't hitch around, so they tend to avoid the towns for the most part.

I also like the fact that he loves dogs so much and talks about his commitment to his dog as a serious thing. He would not dream of leaving New Zealand for home (Britain) until his dog died, and he looks forward to the end of his trip and getting back to his dog.

What I don't like about him is that he either is (or pretends to be for the sake of novelty, which is worse) fairly indifferent to the natural wonders of NZ. It's fair enough to be more interested in the people, but to say that you are bored with looking at the views around Queenstown after five minutes is either untrue or it shows you up as, well, a little suspect, frankly.

He also seems to think it's okay for him to litter; he mentions more than once dropping multiple cigarette butts on the ground or throwing things away by the side of the road, of which I sniffily disapprove.

And finally, I just don't think he's that funny. I get where he's supposed to be funny, but I just don't think he is. Not really the book for me, but I thank Columbo for it anyway.