Thursday, 31 December 2009

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Have yourself a crappy little Christmas

Today is my last day in Madrid and this evening I'm off to the UK for 6 days, followed by another 6 in Istanbul - it has been the looongest wait for this break. Not that it'll be an acitivity-free fortnight; I've signed myself up to do some freelance writing and will need to put a good couple of hours aside each day to do that, plus an hour of rehab (something I want to get back into in a serious way over the holidays); I'm hoping to motivate myself to do these activities using the tried and tested kitchen-timer method... basically set it for an hour at a time, knowing the relief I will feel when that buzzer goes off is something of a motivator and forces me to concentrate more work into that time span. Just thought I'd mention the results of the survey I put up to ask what people's favourite cold weather activity was. Number one was making bowls of hot soup and cookies (if any of my friend have made either of these foodstuffs without inviting me round you're in trouble ;-))... Now, in my imaginary world of being Nigella Lawson making soup is also my favourite winter activity, but living alone with no-one to say 'thank you Nadya, that pumpkin and bacon soup was delicious, you're such a good cook, perhaps the best' this activity is definitely superceded by activity 2; curling up with a good book - or, as is often the case, curling up with my laptop, which is about the size of the book and has the added advantage of keeping me warm in my central Madrid igloo.

Anyway, I digress... I feel I cannot let this Christmas go by without mentioning the curious Catalan relationship between Christmas and poo. One part of the crapmas-connection is the tradition of having a figurine of a red-hatted pooing peasant, or caganer,  in the a nativity scene that adorns most Spanish living room at Christmas time.  For the linguists amongst you, cagar means to poo. I believe this man is meant to represent fertilising the land (why on Earth he couldn't have just used compost is a mystery to me!). Part two of the shitty shennanigans is that instead of using a shoe as a vessel for Santa to leave children's gifts in as is traditional in the rest if the country, they have a caga tió basically a log with a face on one end often wearing a little red hat (barretina) or blanket to keep warm. This cheerfyl little chap is 'fed' on a daily basis and on Christmas day is beaten with a stick (to the rhythm of the caga tió song) until he 'poops' presents.
Here is a translation of one of the caga tió songs:
caga tió,

tió de Nadal,
no caguis arengades,
que són massa salades
caga torrons
que són més bons!"

poop log,
log of Christmas,
don't poop herrings,
which are too salty,
poop turrón
which is much better!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Cold weather wear roundup

With Madrid under snow (and most of the Europe and world it would seem) all those tacky never-be-seen-dead-in-them 'winter warmth' items found in discount stores and the shopping channel suddenly take on a compelling appeal. Here are some of my favourites...

1. Get Snuggie 'the blanket with sleeves'. It may be tempting to mock this hideous garment, but let me tell you that it sold 5 million units in just the blue version in its first year (plus as a huge sufferer of the cold, or friolera, I think it would actually be quite warm and comfy :-) Check out their website to see a hilarious video featuring a whole family wearing matching Snuggies at a  baseball match.

2. And for toasty toes, why not try CosySoles, microwave-heated slippers. which like the Snuggie, appear to come in garish red fleeded polyester. Again though, I think these would be really warm and cosy. However, is it really hygeinic to put slippers in the microwave? A place where, after all, you make food.

3. Ear muffs, thankfully, are cool again. I wonder if the return of this trend has something to do woth the comeback of big DJ-style head phones as apposed to teeny earphones? Just speculating... Anyway, saw a girl wearing a leapard print pair today (with a high pony and skinny jeans - I think hairdo is crucial to carry these off) and she actually looked pretty good. And even if you don't look stylish, you might at least pass for a sort of latter-day Princess Leia (ahem).

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Covering up – my hazy ramblings on hijab...

My favourite fashion blog is The Sartorialist, who goes around the world snapping stylish folk (both known and unknown) on the streets. He captures all kinds of looks on film, everything from classic to total avant garde – but one thing I’ve never seen on his site is a woman in Hijab. Until now. And for some reason I’m delighted.

You see, despite (and perhaps because of) my cultural background I’m not really into hijab although I respect a woman’s choice to wear it - as long as it is a choice. The main reason for not being in favour of the hijab is quite obvious: oppression. We all know about Saudi Arabia and Afganistan: burkas, bans on women driving, stonings, to name but a few barbarities. But oppression aside, one of the things I like least about the hijab is that I sometimes feel it’s all about ‘uglifying’ women so as not to ‘tempt’ men. And it seems silly, as no amount of swathed cloth is going to keep a man’s eyes off a good looking woman and in any case they should control their own ‘temptation’ if they’re so worried about going to hell for it - not offload it on women! Of course many would say the hijab is just about being a bit modest, and not walking around flashing your muffin top and 5 miles of cleavage to all and sundry, but of course we all know there are other ways you can be modest without wrapping your head tightly in scarf. On the flip side, there are those who manage to look completely immodest despite wearing hijab. Just take a walk round any of the fancy shopping malls in Cairo, and the gangs of hijabed-up girls who are poured into skin tight leggings and spray-on tops will convince you of that!

But if a woman really wants to wear a headscarf I have to admit that it’s completely none of my business and I should (and do) just shut up.

What can be quite hard for some of us in the west to believe though, is that many women actually want to don the hijab. I myself can vouch it – my well-educated cousins in Sudan choose to wear it despite their mothers not doing so and often to the dismay of their fathers. And religious/cultural reasons aside there are those women that admit hijab ironically gives them a sense of freedom. Freedom from sexual harassment (contradicting my point above I realise) - hijab is great for cutting down on hassle from men. You may think this type of bother is much worse in Arab countries – but come to my Madrileño neighbourhood, Lavapies, and you will see it isn’t (and funnily enough, the cat calls where I live do not usually come from the Arab population!). Freedom from hair issues - in Sudan where women’s hair varies from highly-prized long and swishy Arab-type locks to short and afro, some women use hijab to cover up what they, and potential suitors, do not see to be their crowning glory. And it goes without saying that time and again in politics women have turned to the veil as a symbol of their freedom (whether or not we think they are misguided) in backlashes against corrupt shah’s, communists or ‘the imperial west’.

I’m going to digress a little here and ask the question, What about hijab in schools? Well for me a uniform’s a uniform. I’m very traditional in that way. And I think a 'uniform' school uniform in particular provides the kind of freedom that allows you to go about your studies without judgement from others on what you are wearing or not wearing. The danger is that banning hijab in schools will just cause more trouble than it’s worth – creating difficulties where there were none before.

So, what’s my verdict? Well, I don’t like some of the thinking behind the hijab but I totally respect a woman’s right to wear it providing it is a choice. And as for the girl above, she looks lovely, but more importantly she looks happy – and a visit to many Islamic countries will do well to remind us that there are plenty of muslim women with things to smile about whether they’re covered up or not. (The girl above is actually in Melbourne).

p.s. my next post is sooo going to be about hijab fashion :-)

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The long and the short of it

At just under 5’10feet (1.78cm) I’m tall for a woman. I quite like my height as it makes clothes hang right, but it can make me stand out when at times I’d rather blend in (yeah right, I hear family and friends mock, you just looove to blend in ;p). But really, there are times when you want to wear stilletos and not tower above everyone around you - I sometimes think when you're tall and you have a day when you look great you really look great and everyone notices, but by the same token when you have a bad hair day it's that much more noticeable if said mop of hair is sat atop getting on for 2 metres of woman! To be honest I don’t think there’s any ‘right’ height - tall, medium and petites all hold their own advantages - with tallies being able to carry off minis and skinny jeans and smaller ladies getting away with killer heels and full make up without looking like drag queens. Speaking of height, a few years ago I was queuing for the cinema in Madrid when the friend I was with nudged to subtly look behind me but NOT stare. Of course I immediately swung my head round for a look, and who was there? None other than Javier Bardem (who was wide as a wardrobe but not as tall as he looks on screen) and with him was a shaven-headed Natalie Portman (the hairdo was for Vendetta I guess) who was smaller than I could ever have imagined, about 5ft I’d say, like a teeny but perfectly proportioned angel-faced doll - I think even my head was double the size of hers, and as for Javier’s head... ;-)

Anyhow, here’s a nifty little list of some celeb heights which may or may not be what you expect: (for conversion to metres, I'm sorrt but I'm still a feet and inches girl)

Shaquille O’Neal – 7’1
Arnold Swarzenegger – 6’2
Maria Sharapova – 6ft2 (how does she move so gracefully at that height?)
Leonardo DiCaprio – 5’11
Uma Thurman – 5’11
Nicole Kidman – 5’10
Blake Lively – 5’10
Gwyneth Paltrow – 5’9
Tom Cruise - 5’7
Angelina Jolie - 5,7
Jennifer Aniston - 5’6 (funny but I thought Angelina was so much taller than Jen, but apparently not)
Beyonce - 5’6 (another lady who looks Amazonian on screen but is suprisingly mid-sized)
Madonna – 5’5
Al Pacino – 5’5
Penelope Cruz – 5’4
Scarlett Johanssen – 5’3
Audrey Tatou – 5’2
Salma Hayek – 5’1
Holly Hunter – 5’1
Jada Pinkett – 4’10

Sunday, 6 December 2009


I've just read this article by Jonathan Raunch and although it made me chuckle it also rang very true. I'm not an anti-social person. I love having friends round for dinner, I spent a good portion of my 20s throwing parties and I'm confident in job interviews. I like to see the people I love as often as possible and usually hit it off with new people I meet. So I can't be an introvert, right? Buy why then, I ask myself, do I sometimes just need 'to be alone' (or 'alone' but in the company of someone else providing they are peaceful company - as my boyfriend, friends and family thankfully are); or why do I have to go and lie down alone in my hotel room for 2 hours the 3rd day into a work conference when everyone else seems to be happily whipping themselves up into a frenzy of frenetic 24-7 interaction with others? Why, unlike most women, is the phone not my best friend? Well, the essay really struck a chord. This self-confessed intovert explained that introverted people are not necessarily shy and they may in fact be very good at being social. Rather, they find other people (for me namely large groups of strangers or near-strangers) exhausting. And while many of them are happy to go to parties or partake in team-building exercises, this is usually followed by a need for down time. I was also in total agreement with the author on introverted women getting a lot of flack. I was lucky enough to learn years ago that I needed to be social to get on and be popular and I learnt how to 'act' in public. However, it hurts me that in my working environment my introverted male colleagues are known as quirky or 'special' and one particular female colleague who's very introverted (but in fact a great professional and hilarious when you get to know her) is seen as being unfriendly and stuck up. Just because she's a woman she's expected to be 'nurturing', have constant verbal diarrhoea and want to listen to and partake in gossiping about everyone. Even of you don't suspect yourself of being an introvert, it's worth reading this succinct article as it may give you a better understanding of why those around you act the way they do. And if you are an introvert it's just nice to read that your not the only one.

I want to read...

...Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russell Rich. Saw this on Oprah, and I'm going to be a bit cheeky and just copy and paste the book desciption from Amazon below. Seriously though, she sounds like my kind of lady; overcoming pretty hefty problems, going to live in a  new and exciting country and getting to grips with the language with plenty of laughs and misunderstandings along the way. Will order the book and feedback on it here! Also check out her trailer

"Having miraculously survived a serious illness and now at an impasse in her career as a magazine editor, Rich spontaneously accepted a free-lance writing assignment to go to India, where she found herself thunderstruck by the place and the language. Before she knew it she was on her way to Udaipur, a city in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, in order to learn Hindi.

In this inspirational memoir, Rich documents her experiences in India ranging from the bizarre to the frightening to the unexpectedly exhilarating using Hindi as the lens through which she is given a new perspective not only on India, but on the radical way the country and the language itself were changing her. Fascinated by the process, she went on to interview linguistics experts around the world, reporting back from the frontlines of the science wars on what happens in the brain when we learn a new language. Seamlessly combining Rich's courageous (and often hilarious) personal journey with wideranging reporting, Dreaming in Hindi offers an eye-opening account of what learning a new language can teach us about distant worlds and, ultimately, ourselves."

Friday, 4 December 2009

I rate... Weleda Salt Toothpaste

If you ever get mouth ulcers use this toothpaste and you'll probably never get one again (a friend recommended this to me and it totally worked for me after years of grappling with the little blighters) Plus it leaves your mouth feeling soooo fresh and clean!
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