Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Granita and Graffiti

Illegal chiringuito, the last night

Ridiculous car hire queues


Been back from Sicily a few days now, and I think the post-holiday blues are starting to lift a bit (though really, I can't complain as I'm not back at work for over a week). These month-long southern European holidays are really great but they can make getting back to the grindstone that much harder - a month off gives you enough time to get a taste for 'mini retirements' a la Tim Ferris in The 4 hour work week - whereas when you take a week off you never quite forget the office. Anyway, here I am, coming to terms with the fact that most of us have to work in order to survive and telling myself that the guys in the office are quite nice really, my boss doesn't throw rotton tomatoes at me and I can work from home occasionally, so hey things aren't that bad :-) And what did I make of Sicily? Well Palermo welcomed you a bit like a big dirty slap in the face (no, really), sweltering in August and piled high with stacks of refuse, anyone who could get away from the city in August clearly had. There were some beautiful monuments, but the impact of these was somehow lost when seen through the filter of extreme humidity, crazy queue jumping (yes, more than in Spain, and there it's not just the grannies) and bus fumes. But after a day or so in Palermo, something strange begins to happen, you start to warm to the place; you take a walk along the shoddy but delightfully multiracial promenade (delightfully multiracias sounds so cheesy I know, but it's true!), you discover once-charming little squares, illegal chiringuitos (street bars) in the previously Arab La Kalsa neighbourhood and somehow the general dirtiness instead of obscuring the more beautiful aspects of the city, actually enhances them somehow (a bit like putting Joan Rivers next to Jocelyn Wildestine... Joan Rivers starts to look beautiful... sorry, that was a punch below the belt). There's also no denying that the people are incredibly warm, friendly and eager to help you which always makes life a bit nicer. The food is very good, and the fruit and vegetables, taste, well, like fruit and vegetables - fresh and unmeddled with. A couple of weeks back I did a 'most refreshing summer drink' poll on the blog (just for curiosity's sake) and homemade lemonade came out tops - Sicily have their own version of this, granita de limone (a kind of lemony crushed ice, or slush puppy if you grew up in the UK) which we basically lived on for the whole 10 days. However, do not make the mistake of asking for a granita de menta because it tastes and looks like Listerine mouthwash. If however, there are any italians out there who know of a granita de menta that does not taste like medicine, please let me know! Another foodie delight of Sicily are the fruit stands, serving fresh, cold peeled and cut fruit (with granita poured over if you wish) which is perfect for lazy people such as myself who claim to like fruit but are too idle to actually prepare the stuff. Those of you who read the blog more or less regularly will know that I like to harp on about customer service, I don't know why I'm so obsessed with it (perhaps from working as an account exec in advertising for a few years where we practically had to tie clients shoe laces for them). Don't worry, I didn't ask anyone to tie my shoelaces in Sicily, but it was interesting to contrast the service with Spain. Ok, I admit I have occasionally bemoaned the sometimes moody service in Spanish restaurants and bars, but I can't deny that waiters here are pretty efficient and very speedy. Well, in contrast, Sicilian waiters were incredibly friendly and warm, but unfortunately kindness doesn't quell my ravenous hunger after a day's sightseeing, and it sometimes took what felt like centuries for a meal to be served. In one particular place in Sicily, we were the only customers and we were tended to by no less than six waiters (so we had three people each in theory), who nevertheless were unexplicaby unable to provide us with ice, water, cutlery or any of the other items that are key to a basic meal without being politely asked about 10 times. At first, I didn't understand why they were taking so long, but then I realised that each person had an assigned job, e.g. one was the napkin folder, another the antipasti plater etc, and there was no way you could get them to do anything (no matter how urgent) that would interrupt the all-important the napkin-folding, antipasti-plating etc until they had finished said job. The lady operating the open air barbequeue was also delaying proceedings as she grilled on a 'one for me, one for you' basis, openly gobbling up every other morsel of meat she cooked in front of our very eyes, before cooking the next item. In any case, none of this really pissed us off, as the staff were so good humoured and were probably paid absolute peanuts and had no lunchbreaks and are as such forced to eat on the job, it just made me smile. The best of Palermo? Perhaps the last night there was the nicest, in the La Kalsa neighbourhood, in a street bar we had previously discovered in the middle of a deserted piazza. listening to live cuban music, eating fresh fruit. The funniest? In the 2-hour queue for the hire car which was not remotely funny, especially when you had grown men constantly tyring to push in front of you using the 'I won't look at you, so you can't see me pushing' method - things got funny when our queue was dramatically fragmented by the spillage of a little juice (or some other liquid) on the floor)... All sounds quite normal so far, until someone calls the cleaning man to wipe up the albeit small but hazardous puddle on the marble floor... My Italian's not so good, but he basically edged his way up to the mess with a look of disgust on his face and a broom in hand and proceeded to say that it wasn't his job to clear up this kind of mess. It would seem that he was only in charge of paper mess, and after much moaning, he scuttled off and returned with a huge bag of used paper refuse, poured it all over the tiny drop of liquid on the floor and mashed the paper into it with the mop in attempt to dry it up, speading the originally small dirty zone all over the floor. He must have also added a bit of Fairy Liquid to the mix as it started to froth up and smear the floor, the paper breaking into little pieces. Finally he cleared up all the paper, putting back in the rubbish bag it came from, leaving the floor even dirtier than before. Talk about making mountains from molehills :-)

Saturday, 22 August 2009


I have neglected the blog a little of late as we've been away in Sicily for the past 10 days. I'm still in the process of unpacking, going through emails and in general avoiding getting back to reality, but I'll be updating the blog asap with anecdotes and pictures from the Sicilan trip :-)

Friday, 7 August 2009

The 4 hour work week

If you live in the US or UK (or read more press than me :-)) you probably heard about this book long before I did. But for me, picking up The 4 hour workweek by Timothy Ferriss was just a chance purchase in an airport book shop. All I can say is that it blew me away; over the years I'd dipped into various personal development books, which I've found to contain some good advice but for my liking they all talked too much about repeating affirmations to yourself, finding out God's purpose for you in life, and aspiring to be a rich perma-tanned older gentleman who plays a lot of golf (nothing wrong with all of that of course, but just not me). Timothy Ferris's book on the other hand is not remotely preachy and is not about making millions and retiring in luxury one day when you're old. His idea is having a life full of mini-retirements (what most of us would call sabbaticals), as life's just too short to be saving all the good times for some unkonwn date in the future. It focusses more on gaining freedom and mobility than simply cash (i.e. the ability to live and work wherever you want around the world) and at the same time earning enough money to do what you want in life (be that live on a Carribean island or becoming a best-selling author). And the idea is that you have the time and money do all this because you are working a mere 4 hours a week, as the title of the book suggests, running a luctrative business). He talks about a 'new rich', whose riches in essence are the fact that they're not tied down to a job (i.e. not being a wage-slave - like me - nor a wealthy entreprenuer who puts in 14-hour days and has little time to enjoy their money). All this sounds a bit far-fetched, but the fact is that after reading a few chapters you actually begin to see how, with the right type of business (in terms of product, marketing and loads of automated systems - so that you don't have to be tied to the office in person) it actually is possible. Project for 2010?

A bit of art

The photo above is part of Erin Tyner's Half Awake series and I found it via my ever-favourite blog, apartment therapy.It features minature figurines in 'real' settings, as they say over on AT, eerie.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

The past few days, the next few days

I got back to Madrid yesterday evening after spending a few days (including my 32nd birthday) with my boyfriend in Barcelona to find a lovely bunch of birthday flowers from my friends here in Madrid.. the photo above doesn't do them justice. It really is lovely to receive flowers, and for us mini apartment dwellers they're great as they don't clutter up the flat, they just give you a few days of joy then they're gone forever - in fact, I've found I can get them to last up to 3 weeks if I regularly change the water, trim the stalks and feed them a little sugar :-) I've also been told a little lemonade or bleach in the water does wonders, but that might be taking it too far. In any case, this time the flowers will not need to last too long, as we're off to Sicily next week for a much-needed break. Originally we looked at more far off and exotic locations, but that was before we were facing a summer with builders and budget constraints - so we're going to have 10 days in Sicily instead which I am so looking forward to. 3 days in Palermo, followed by a stay in an agriturismo in the countryside which looks quite idyllic and most importantly has a pool for cooling off. One of the things I'm most looking forward to in Sicily is the food, I'm a bit of a foodie and I can't wait to try some of the gastronomical goodies I've read about - couscous (arab influence), jazmin granita, sardine pasta... mmm. What else is going on? We'll I put my house on the market and took it off again, all in the space of 3 days. Really I had no intention of selling it, but as it has given me more than a few problems over the past 2 years I though I'd test the waters... I expected no-one to contact me in these times of recessions, but surprisingly over 30 people contacted me over 3 days, perhaps because it is so central? (anyway, the idea of selling the flat is shelved until more economically friendly times, simply because I'd have to sell it for considerably less than I bought it 2 years ago). As for the next few days, they'll be occupied with tying up loose ends before going away: doctors appointments, arranging apointments with plumbers for my kitchen overhaul in late August, seeing friends, sorting out hire cars in Sicily, finishing off my day job work and freelancing in order to finance all of the above.
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