Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Mangiare, bibere
Back in chilly old Edinburgh, after a week's glorious respite from the chill and the work and the mainly bad coffee, in the home of good coffee, Italy.

Coffee seems like a good place to start - it was definitely one of the highlights of our hols. No matter where you ordered it, the coffee was consistently quick (none of these 10 min long Pret waits) and consistently excellent. The best coffee, though, was at Sant' Eustachio -reputedly the best coffee in Rome. Their gran caffe is a real treat - sweet but perfectly balanced (I don't normally like sugar in coffee at all), and with a good centimetre of crema. Bellissima! Coffee is generally less that a euro for an espresso, about 1.20-1.30 for a cappuccino (no chocolate on top, smallish cup, not too much froth, more like a good NZ flat white), but that totally depends where you drink it and whether you stand or sit. Most expensive in Rome was Caffe Greco at 5.20 for a cappuccino (but in good company - once the favoured hangout of Casanova, Goethe, Wagner, Stendhal, Baudelaire, Shelley and Byron) and an interior of faded, comfy opulence.

In Venice we took things up a notch again, with coffee for 7 euros at Caffe Florian - admittedly, even more fabulous, and with an equally illustrious clientele (again Byron, Goethe, Casanova, as well as Proust, Dickens and Stravinsky - but now I'm just surname-dropping!).

In Florence we went more for cioccolato caldo (hot choc) - thick, slightly bitter, and served out of big urns. I bought some to make at home but the instructions are in illegible Italian, so the results might be interesting!

Food was good too - great pizza (thin and woodfired, tasty minimal toppings), pasta, pastries, pancetta, provlone, all the P foods are good. And of course gelato - in every flavour imaginable, handmade, delicious. I'm making myself hungry just writing about this.

Weirdest meal experience was defininitely a wee place in Rome called da Alfredo e Ada - run by 3 old Roman mamas who wanted to be your mama too. When we arrived front of house mama asked if we wanted wine, and if we liked cheese. That was the extent of the ordering system! Wine was white and from a big tap in the kitchen (but actually quite tasty), plenty of bread and pasta, and for our main course, she brought out 3 dishes and we got to choose which 2 we wanted (but could have the third too if we were still hungry!). Dessert was endless home-baked cookies, and some kind of port-y wine to dunk them in. No menu, no coffee, no prices, just food and wine as it comes. A low-stress, homely dining experience.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Do you realise....?

That attending a Flaming Lips gig is an easy route to a grin that you just can't peel off your face. We were lucky enough to attend such a gig last night - the last in their UK tour, and one of those rare, life-affirming experiences that will be with me for a long time. If I could pay my 17 quid again and see exactly the same show again, I would! That good!

It was an all-singing (through megaphone AND microphone, She Don't Use Jelly to Happy Birthday & White Christmas, with plenty of audience participation), all-dancing (in animal suits and as inflatable suns illuminated from the inside by giant torches), all-the-gimmicks (smoke, gigantic rotating mirrorballs, snow, balloons, strobes, video, aerobics....) extravaganza. Andrew even had a moment of fame as the only person who could propel the enormous balloon to the third tier of the Usher Hall - people had been trying all night to pull this off, but didn't have the necessary technique! Great music, great show, a bit of anti-Bush sentiment thrown in for good measure - an awesome night, one I'll remember for a long time.

This was a great high note on which to end an excellent weekend. A win for the AB's made getting up at 6:30 on Saturday morning worthwhile. Watched Roman Holiday to get us in the mood for Rome (as if I needed any help on that one!). Celebrated one year in style at the Stockbridge Restaurant, over a tasty meal and even more tasty bottle of NZ wine (Crab Farm 1997 Cab Sav). Watched Jane Campion's latest , In The Cut, and got to see the location that I couldn't find in NZ (a frozen lake surrounded by trees, for an Oct/Nov shoot - the dream sequences in the film). Learned some more Italian. Slept through Sunday's rugby. Bliss.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Broken boilers

There is no heating at my work this week. The boiler is broken and its manual is missing and the plumber is having no luck finding parts. My office is in a converted Georgian townhouse in the New Town, and sprawls over 5 floors (even though we have only 9 staff). I am lucky enough to work in the attic (lots of stairs, every day, every time I want to go to my office / use the photocopier / send a fax / get some stationery etc. I'd like to say the result is thighs of steel!).

Up in the attic is the coldest corner of the building, so today I was bundled up in a woolly hat, and many, many layers (too hard to type or hold a pen with gloves on). I'm sure there's a health & safety issue here somewhere. I'm tempted to just stay in bed tomorrow...

The wind went crazy today, whipping up a frenzy of leaves and blinded, battered pedestrians wherever it went. You'll be pleased to note that A didn't get blown off the scooter though.

MTV awards this week, and the stars are in town (all except Britney, who has a wee sniffle). They're being held in Leith, a slightly seedy part of town , quickly becoming yuppified, in a BIG tent. Shame about the wind.

I'm watching the match of the year unfolding in the theatre of dreams (never is a cliche more at home than in the mouth of a football commentator - oh and don't dream of calling it soccer). Rangers (supposedly Scotland's top team but not right now) are 2-nil down to Man-U at half time. Ah well.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

What the folk?

Andrew just started yelling at me & the TV simultaneously and with a distinct note of excitement in his voice. I rushed to see what all the fuss was about, and there on our wee telly were The Flight of the Conchords, doing their parody folk thing while advertising Phones4U. Weird! And kinda cool. I'm quite used to playing spot NZ in car ads over here, but kiwi talent is a first.

Hallowe'en passed fairly uneventfully - nothing too spooky happened (although my colleague did give me a big fright in an orange, face-hugging demon mask). There was a bit of dooking for apples at work, and some of those sour sweets that make your face feel like it's shrinking. We spent the eve itself with some pals at an old and cosy pub in Stockbridge, the Antiquary, where they serve Guiness with a thistle etched into the head. Nice. Crisps (not chips) and beer for dinner, I'm turning into a real Scot. Not quite so Scottish that I could face a bad kebab on the way home though - gourmet hotdog was a definite improvement on the stereotype!

Rugby was probably the other theme for the weekend - morning games mean that days get off to a slow start. I was sad the Irish didn't beat the Aussies , and relieved NZ managed to get away with a win today. Don't know if we really deserved to. A says the first thing we have to do when we get to Venice in a couple of weeks is suss out a friendly bar where we can watch the World Cup final.

We locked the keys in the scooter yesterday. You wouldn't have thought that would be possible, but it is ("in the scooter" = under the seat). Fortunately we were within walking distance of home (where the spare was) so no major drama, just serious annoyance and lots of "I can't believe I just did that!". I wonder what would have happened if we had to call the AA (how much they would have laughed).

Italian lessons on the couch are going quite well, although we're getting a bit concerned that we haven't been introduced to any nouns yet! Still, I already know the most important ones (vino, espresso, gelato, pizza). There was quite a weird bit on the CD today when Michel (we're on first name terms) explained to us the difference between "I want to do it" and "I won't do it" (ie. the English phrases). To me, they are not at all confusing (or at least, they weren't). But the way he pronounced them, want and won't sounded exactly the same.

Other than that, a fairly lazy weekend. A couple of afternoons whiled away in cafes (it's the autumnal chill that makes this so appealing, I think) - Saturday at the formidable Italian deli (been an Edinburgh fixture since 1934!), Valvona & Crolla. Anyone who thinks you can't find good food in Scotland would be instantly converted by this foodlovers paradise. This afternoon a short saunter took us to Kaffe Politik in Marchmont, for coffee (of course), cake and a swag of Sunday papers.

Edinburgh's looking quite lovely at the moment - trees are ablaze with autumn colours (and no matter how efficient the leafblowers, you get to crunch through leaves as you walk just about anywhere). The light at this time of year is gorgeous, early morning fog is atmospheric, the cold means you breathe your own fog anyway, it's great. As long as it's not raining. Here's a pic we took at the weekend, from Calton Hill looking out over Waverly Bridge and the Old Town.