Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Proposed Link Between Female Birth Weight and Likelihood of Breast Cancer

I was watching the BBC News this morning, when I heard about a recent piece of research which claims to provide the strongest link yet between the birth weight and length of a female child and her likelihood of developing breast cancer later in life. It is estimated that 5% of all breast cancers could be explained by birth weight. Just a 0.5 kg (or 1 lb) increase in birth weight was deemed to correspond to a 7% increase in the risk of cancer.

The weird thing about this estimated increase in the risk is that it is of a similar magnitude to the estimate for other more well-known risk factors, such as alcohol consumption.

We can all do a lot while pregnant to give our child the best possible start in life (ie limited alcohol consumption, good diet, no smoking etc), but the dimensions of our child are possibly a little outside the realm of our control. Then combine this with the general upward trend in birth weights and sizes in the first world. Where are we going?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Weekend Eating in Brussels

For us, eating is a big part of life. In fact, given my tightening waistband, it probably ranks too high. But it's undeniably one of life's greatest pleasures, and damn if I'm going to stop enjoying my food. This weekend in Brussels, we got through some fine meals. On Friday night, we visited the K-Touch Thai restaurant on the Rue Jules Van Praet. We sat in a lovely corner seat, looking out through open windows onto the Place Saint Gery. The food was nice, and service pleasant.

The area around the Place Saint Gery is a lovely way to spend an evening. It's probably one of the trendiest areas in Brussels and you can choose from numerous restaurants with plenty of Asian food on offer. There are numerous bars, both traditional and cool, to choose from and the square is filled with people sitting at tables and watching the world go by.

On Saturday, we walked along the Avenue Louise where Sushishop caught our eye. We opted for one lunch menu (a plate of sushi, salad, and rice or soup for €12.50) and two special orders from the kitchen. The pre-packed plate of sushi and sashimi was delicious and excellent quality and the accompanying coleslaw salad had a real kick to it. However, the stars of the show were the specials from the kitchen. One featured lovely flavours of coriander and mint, while the other was nicely spicy. A great lunch.

That night, we met a friend for a drink at L'Ultime Atome on Rue Saint Boniface. I really like this pub, which is a great choice for drinks, or some food. It's always busy and is in a lovely setting. It's probably the Belgian version of a gastropub.

We went from L'Ultime Atome to Belgo Belge just around the corner, where we had a table booked for a late dinner. Again, this is another gastropub / brasserie which offers great food at good prices. This area around Saint Boniface is packed full of good restaurants, and you won't be stuck for choice. The Belgo Belge offers traditional Belgian cuisine, and I opted for the magret de canard served with a Kriek sauce, which turned out to be delicious. The duck breast was cooked to pink, and served sliced with the delicious sweet sauce.

On Sunday, we headed back to
Rue Jules Van Praet as we had a craving for more Thai food. This time we went to the Restaurant Davi, where we settled for main courses only as we were on a deadline for the cinema. Unintentionally, we ended up with similar dishes, but they were nice and generously sized. I've got a feeling that all the Thai restaurants on this street are of similar quality (nice but not great) and that there must be a better Thai restaurant to be found in the city

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Charlotte Olympia at Net-A-Porter

Finally, net-a-porter have started to stock the fabulous range of Charlotte Olympia shoes, as designed by Charlotte Delial. See here for a previous post of mine about these gorgeous shoes. It's a pity that they've only stocking two shoes (so far) but I already love this leopard print pair.
The prices aren't cheap either, but hey, I'm happy to wait for the Christmas sales in the hope of snagging one of these beauties then. I haven't bought a pair of shoes in about a week now, so I'm feeling a bit lustful.

Swan Mutilated in Dublin

Today I read a story in the Irish Times about a young swan which had to be humanely put down due to irreparable damage caused to his beak by a firework. Apparently someone had fed him a piece of bread containing a firework, which then exploded causing the bottom portion to be blown away, the top bill to be separated and the tongue shredded.

This just makes me sick to my stomach. Imagine the horrific pain and confusion that the poor animal was in before he was put down. I actually feel nauseated at the thought.

One of the glorious things that make us human is our sense of compassion and empathy. So how can someone be so lacking in these abilities as to do this to a harmless bird? Apparently members of the public at the scene of the incident, the Stardust Memorial Park in Coolock, Dublin, were too fearful to reveal the responsible individual. It just goes to show what kind of society and amoral class we are creating.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gods Behaving Badly - Marie Phillips

Author: Marie Philips

Remember the Greek gods? Zeus, Hera, Athena, Artmis, Persephone, Apollo and Hermes, to name but a few. Their legendary acts are just that, the stuff of legend. But imagine how this rather unique, incestuous family would manage in modern times. Dsyfunctional doesn't quite fit the bill.

These gods are the real deal but the unfortunate lack of a believer base means that their powers are in decline. That's gotta be tough for once-omnipotent beings to deal with.

Things get interesting when they hire a mortal cleaner, Alice. As in tales of old, the mortals play with human emotions and lives. However, this time their games take a deadly turn of events.

This is a funny tale, which gives nice nods to the greek legends and myths of yore. The characters are endearing, and at times downright funny. (Think about Aphrodite working as a telephone sex line operator). The book is short, snappy and lively.

A Moment's Silence Please

I recently lost a family member to suicide. He was not who you'd typically expect to commit such an act, and his departure is very keenly felt. I'm not going to go into details here as I wish to respect the privacy of the family.

I don't think that I've ever lost a family member in this way before and a lot of thoughts have been swirling through my head as a result - like the sense of pain, loss and confusion his immediate family must be feeling, and the awkward position that all the mourners will be placed in. What words of comfort can you offer to the family? The remainder of their lives will be spent trying to reconconcile and understand his actions.

Ireland has a high suicide rate (9.7 per 100,000 as of 2005 according to the World Health Organisation) and it's predominantly concentrated in the male population and is spread pretty evenly amongst men of 15 - 54 years old.

Up to now, I've considered suicide to be an act of the mentally weak, and even in the face of this, I still believe in that. However, being weak isn't a failing, it means that people need assistance and understanding in dealing with this overwhelming world.

Take the time to visit Mental Health Ireland. Support charities that work to fight depression and suicide such as Aware. I don't know how all this is going to affect my attitude to suicide, but there are people out there who need help.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Vellum: The Book of All Hours - Hal Duncan

Author: Hal Duncan

Vellum is a book that I'd been meaning to read for quite a while. It was always on prominent display in my nearby bookshops and the rough textured cover of the paperback version hinted at a great read. From reading collected reviews on LibraryThing and, it appears that public opinion is pretty divided on the merits of this novel. And I'm afraid that I'm coming down on the side of the confused and bewildered.

On one hand this book is rich with cultural references, old legends and a grand scale. On the other hand, it moves back and forth through time and rambles from character to character. After an initially intriguing opening section (which lured me in) the book deteriorated. I gave it the 100 page test (read 100 pages and see how you feel then) and because I don't like giving up on books, it got the 200 page test. Then due to having to wait in a hospital for 2 hours it got to over 300 pages. It was then I realised how many of the seemingly disparate threads in the story were being woven together, but at that point I didn't really care anymore. The non-linear narrative was just too disjointed for me.

The lack of distinct characters in this book, their replacement with overarching characters that transcend time and location is confusing and for me, offputting. It's clear that this is a book into which the author invested a lot of time and research. It's just not for everyone and it's not for me. I definitely won't be picking up the sequel.

Balzac Restaurant

The dining room at Balzac has to simply be one of the most elegant and graceful rooms in Dublin. Tall ceilings, wooden floors and mirrored wall, faux marble pillars and large flowerpots make fcr a formidable dining room. For all that, the dining room is often noisy, the wooden floor is perilously close to slippery and chairs are placed too close together.

We ate at Balzac recently as part of a party of 5. Due to an error with our booking, we were seated on our own in the curtained-off private area to the rear of the restaurant. We welcomed this as it provided some isolation of the main dining room.

In the 3 times I've eaten at Balzac, I've found the service to be slow. It can be hard to get a waiter's attention, and given that there is a 12.5% service charge added to the bill, I think that I'd expect more attentive service. However, the waiters are unerringly polite and are clearly kept busy throughout the whole night.

Food was generally good with some odd exceptions. My crab creme brulee was divine and the tanginess of the accompanying pickled cucumbers set off the creaminess of the eggy custard to perfection. My main of rump of lamb with caponata and rosemary was excellent, cooked just the right side of rare and a nice sized-portion. Two of my party ordered the "Crispy Fried Monkfish, Chips, Sauce Gribiche" and received a very disappointing plate of fish and chips. Three small squares of batttered monkfish, a bowl of sauce and a bowl of chips constituted a very empty and desolate looking plate. The lack of presentation or skill with this dish left an empty feeling in our mouths.

Deserts were good (strawberry and vanilla panna cotta for me) with an excellent glass of Mount Horrocks desert wine to wash it down. Two bottles of french red, several bottle of water bought the bill for 5 to €430 approx (incl. service charge).

I'm not as enamoured of Balzac following this trip as I would have been on previous visits. I still think that it offers good food at good prices, but the combination of the service charge and the overpriced fish and chips just takes the edge off.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Advance 6016 - Christmas Party Dress

Our Christmas party venue, date, time and theme has already been announced. "Fire and Ice" that's the theme. Hmmm... do I have to dress according to this theme?

Anyway, I've been starting to think about the Christmas party dress. I just downright refuse to do floor-length evening gowns, and I don't subscribe to the theory that you need to buy a sophisticated dress which has the effect of adding 20 years to your age. It's amazing how many girls or young women do this, thus losing their personal style.

So I've been looking for vintage patterns on eBay and I recently bought this one. It's Advance 6016 and looks like it's from the 1950's. I love the dress, though I'm not too mad about the knot-tied bolero. It came from the eBay seller Oak Creek Dolls and Collectibles and arrived so well-packaged that it took me several minutes to open it. It's nice to know that sellers care so much about the items that they sell.

I'm going to make a trial run of the dress (sans bolero) and I'm thinking of using this fabric that I've just purchased (also from eBay - warning, eBay is dangerous stuff). I have a little bit of a thing for bears. I imagine that behind all that cuteness and fluffiness, they're plotting something.

I don't know when I'll have time over the next few weeks to knock together a trial run of the dress, but I'll post up some pictures when I get it together. Then will come the tough problem of deciding the fabric to make the party dress.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Restaurant L'Ogenblik, Brussels

De L'Ogenblik is located in the Galerie des Princes, just off the elegant and beautiful Galeries Royales St-Hubert. It has a split-level dining room, with brass and wooden fittings and floors scattered with sand. Lights with green lampshades hang over each table and their height can be adjusted via a counterweight system to each diner's satisfaction.

The food tends to seafood and game, with few vegetarian options. One of our dining party can only eat chicken or vegetarian, and he found his options quite limited. I opted for the turbot en papillote with garlic butter and vegetables. The price was higher than I would normally pay for lunch (by a factor of 2 or 3) but given that this was a business lunch, price wasn't a concern. When my turbot arrived, the waiter cut open the tinfoil packet for me, releasing the most wonderful garlic aroma. The turbot fillet was resting on some tomatoes and courgettes along with some baby potatoes which had cooked in the juices and the garlic butter.

You're obviously paying for the atmosphere and tradition of L'Ogenblik when you eat there. While the food is good, it's not great, but the convivial air of the restaurant undoubtedly makes it a favourite of the regular customers.

Tokyo Year Zero - David Peace

Author: David Peace

Sometimes you read a book that rather viciously forces you to adapt to it's style of writing. Irvine Welsh's "Trainspotting" was such a book for me, as was Tolkien's "The Simarillion" and Hal Duncan's "Vellum". Books like this aren't always bad, in fact they can be truly great, but they push you into an uncomfortable zone. Once in that zone, you will either acclimatise or give up.. My recent reading of "Vellum" was a sense of bewilderment and borderline refusal, whereas "Trainspotting" is a hilarious, and gripping read.

I felt mildly uncomfortable reading "Tokyo Year Zero". It's definitely an ambitious novel, based on a true crime committed in post-surrender Japan, in a country where lives have been destroyed and a proud people are surviving hand to mouth. Given the struggling state of the country, it's odd to think that murders are being investigated but Inspector Minami is assigned to the case and quickly uncovers that the murder is not a once-off but part of the handiwork of a serial rapist and killer.

It's clear that Minami is a man struggling with the world around him, and Peace uses inner monologues to bring the character to the reader. Repetitive sequences of words are designed to evoke the sounds of the world but fail to engage. Instead they feel intrusive and distracting. Although it's clear that the book is well-researched and the despair of post-war Japan is quite evocative, the unexciting plot, combined with the repetitive writing, means that the book falls short.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Candyfreak - Steve Almond

Author: Steve Almond

Steve Almond is a guy who loves candy. And he also happens to be a writer. So why not put the two together and write a book that explores his obsession with candy as well as visiting small local candy factories throughout the USA.

Being Irish, I didn't recognise a lot of the candy bars mentioned in this book (with the exception of dark Kit Kats), but what I did understand was this author's passion and humour when it came to the subject of candy. Parts of this book will have you laughing out loud. He is never afraid to be open and honest, and you will finish this book with a sense of connection to the author.

As part of his research, Almond arranged to visit several small regional manufacturers throughout the states, including Philadelphia (Peanut Chews), Sioux City (Twin Bing), Nashville (Goo Goo Cluster), and Boise (Idaho Spud). The character portraits drawn of the factory owners and employees are endearing, but the author's fascination with the machinery used to create candy and his obsessional thieving fresh bars from the production line when not being watched are hilarious. Also amusing are his efforts to avoid candies containing coconut.

This is one sweet treat of a book.

Tippenyaki, Rathmines

Castlewood Avenue, just near the Swan shopping centre in Rathmines is an odd home for restaurants. The much loved (but varied) Mash didn't survive there, and you'd wonder what chance a new restaurant has in this location, especially given the general downwards trend in eating out.

To survive these days, you need good food, served with a smile, offered at good prices, and preferably with some kind of unique selling point. Well, Tippenyaki offers all the above. The focal point of the dining room is the large teppan grill (a huge hot plate) on which two chefs cook food to order. A counter runs around the teppan with seats available and the chefs perform for the diners as they cook. This performing tends to involve lots of flipping and spearing food on forks in midair. Other tables are spread around the restaurant for those who don't want the heat of the grill.

This was my second time eating in Tippenyaki - and while I didn't think it was as good as the first time, I still think that it's good. Sushi is available in addition to the teppan-grilled food, and is prepared to order. It was of excellent quality and a sushi platter featured a nice mix of raw and cooked sushi, beautifully presented.

If you order a plate of teppan-grilled food, then you also receive a small green salad or a bowl of miso soup as a starter. The miso soup was excellent with just the right hint of smokiness and featured nice lumps of tofu and crabstick at the bottom of the bowl. The grilled meats are served with grilled vegetables, a bowl of fried rice and sliced of fried potatoes (this is the genius touch, I think). There's plenty to eat on a single plate and it tastes great.

I hope that Tippenyaki won't fall foul of vagary consumers (as a resident of Cork for many years I watched good restaurants open and fail because customers just didn't get it) and the worsening economy. A reviewer for the Irish Independent said that this place had opened 5 years too late. Well, the boom times may be over for bad restaurants, but good restaurants never open too late.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Harlot Aura Shoes

I first set eyes on Harlot shoes in Schuh several years ago. The unique, modern styles caught my attention first, but close examination revealed that these shoes are really well made from high quality leather. A bit of research on the net revealed that the shoes are made in Spain as part of a collaboration between Portugese shoe factory Meigo S.A. and the English designers Perry and Carol King (further information here).

At this stage, I have three pairs of Harlot shoes (it doesn't quite yet compare to my 17 pairs of Irregular Choice) but this shoe brand has potential. My latest pair are the Aura - in blue suede with fantastic patent detail.

Additionally, they are quite comfortable shoes, so I can definitely see myself wearing these to the office as well as out at night. Gotta love shoes!

Nandos in Dundrum

Dundrum Town Centre is expanding (even in this current economic climate, it appears that people still want to shop) and this expansion includes the first outlet of Nando's in the Republic. For those of you unfamiliar with Nando's, it's a South African chain of restaurants who use the Peri-Peri as a chief ingredient in their dishes.

I've heard that South Africans living in Ireland actually shed tears of delight at the thought of Nando's finally being within easy reach, although apparently the hottest level of spice available in Ireland merely corresponds to average in South Africa. Prior to this, the local South Africans were known to take trips to Belfast in order to enjoy Nando's.

We shared a full chicken, at the spiciest option available, with sides of peri-peri chips and mashed sweet potato. While waiting for our food, we raided the sauce rack and sampled the different sauces at our table. All the sauces (garlic peri-peri, wild herb peri-peri and Extra Hot) had a similar base taste but still featured plenty of variety.

The food arrived quickly and the chicken turned out to be delicious and moist, with the juices gathering underneath. The sweet potato mash was a great accompaniment to the spiciness of the chicken and peri-peri chips. Total cost, including unlimited soft drinks, was €35 approx with excellent quick service.

I'm now a convert of Nando's. How could you not like a place that can roast a chicken in such a manner? There's a lot more to sample from their menu, and I'll definitely be back.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My Holy Grail - Boots That Fit

I don't have thin legs. My calves have always been wider than normal and as a result I've only ever bought two pairs of boots from the high street that fitted me. (I'm not including those horrible cloth stretch boots in this category).

I've known about Duo Boots for quite a while, but never took the plunge by purchasing a pair of boots from them. But then I saw the Jesolo boot on their website and I had to have it. Red metallic patent leather boots with a little platform to make them comfortable. I ordered them last weekend and they were waiting for me when I arrived home this weekend. When I put them on, I was so pleased. They fit snugly, but with no struggling with the zip. They're very comfortable and made from real leather (well they'd want to be, given that they cost 195 sterling). I just adore them.

So I want to say a big THANK YOU to Duo for making boots that fit. For thinking about women who'd love to wear boots but can't find them in the high street. 


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fabulous Vintage Party Dress

Isn't this a lovely party dress? I just love the big floral print. Seeing dresses made with big prints makes me want to experiment and try something a little different the next time I go fabric shopping. When you see a bolt of cloth with a big print, you tend to think that will never work, but then you see a finished item, and it turns out that you were wrong.

This dress is currently for sale at Isabella's Vintage. The price is a bit steep for my liking but it's definitely giving me lots of ideas for my next fabric shopping trip.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Royal Palace Brussels

My apartment in Brussels lies at the back of the Belgian Royal Palace, and I walk past it every morning and evening on my way to work. It's quite an elegant building and sits next to the restful Royal Park.

The palace isn't normally open to the public, except for one month of the year. I came back from my surgery just in time to make the last week of public opening, so one lunchtime I went to visit the Royal Palace. The tour was free-entry and turned out to be relatively short, but impressive. A cordoned-off path took you up the main stairs, through a series of rooms on the first floor and back down the stairs to the exit.

One highlight of the trip was the Throne Room, which has beautiful parquet flooring and impressive chandeliers which cast a lovely golden glow over the entire room. You could easily imagine attending a ball in such a room.

The other highlight was the Mirror Room. In recent years, 3 pieces of modern art have been installed at the Royal Palace and the Mirror Room holds the "Heaven of Delight" by Jan Fabre. Panels in the ceiling of the room as well as the chandelier have been covered in the carapaces of more than 1.4 million Thai jewel beetles. The effect is nothing short of stunning. The carapaces are a fantastic shimmering green, and any photo that I have found simply does not do the work justice. You have to stand underneath it to experience it properly.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Simplicity 1794

While browsing eBay for vintage patterns, I came across this one. It's nice with a lovely full skirt, but what really caught my eye was the main model in the illustration. Just look at the face on her! That is one determined lady. Arms akimbo, kohl-rimmed eyes giving you the determined stare. This girl is dressed for success and you're not getting in her way.

East of the Sun - Julia Gregson

Author: Julia Gregson

I received East of the Sun by accident when sent me the wrong book by accident. I was annoyed when I opened the envelope, as I had been expecting The Pirate's Daughter (reviewed here earlier), but after I read a few pages of East of the Sun, I decided to keep it.

This of course led to confusion on the part of Play when I offered to pay for the book. They kept offering me money so that I could return it to them. Suffice to say, I still haven't managed to pay them for this book, despite my best efforts.

The only annoying thing about this book was the firmly attached Richard and Judy Bookclub sticker. I hate stickers on books and the first thing I will do after a purchase in the book is remove all price tags, promotional stickers and labels. Given that any book sold in Waterstones these days can have a "3 for 2" offer, a Richard and Juby label and a price tag means that removing all stickers can take a fair amout of time. I also hate those shops that don't use easy to peel stickers. Shame on you. It seems that I'm not the only person in world who obsesses over this though - read here.

Back to the book in question. It's set in the late 1920s and features a young English lady, Rose, who is taking the boat to India to marry a young calvary officer who she barely knows. Accompanying her is her friend Tor, who failed to find a young man at the last debs season and is now hoping to find a partner in India, where women are in short supply. They are chaperoned by Viva, who is returing to the India she left as a child in order to make sense of her family history.

The novel follows the tales of the three women, each with a distinct personality as they struggle in the face of tough relationships and the increasing political turmoil in India. It's a wonderful tale of friendship, and while romance and relationships are part of this story, they never really dominate the central theme of friendship. The scenery and settings in the book are fabulously described and capture an era that is now gone, that of British colonial India.

This is a great read - not too strenuous or tough, but still with meaning.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Britney at the VMA 2008

After watching the trainwreck that has been Britney Spears for the past year, it's a real pleasure to see the girl working her way back up to the top.

I think that it's clear to any casual observer that the girl has mental issues that finally blew out of all proportion this year. It would have been all too easy for her to disappear forever. But she's made a fantastic appearance at his year's VMA awards, looking absolutely gorgeous in a one-shoulderd silver fitted dress. When Britney's got it, she's got it better than everyone.

Bangkok Dangerous

The Pang Brothers are the people behind such Asian films as "The Eye" and the 1999 movie "Bangkok Dangerous". For reasons best known to themselves, they decided to remake this latter film, this time with Nicolas Cage in the main role.

Cage plays a hitman, who surprisingly, lives an isolated and regimented life. He moves to Bangkok to undertake a serious of 4 hits for a local crime family. However, things change for him in Bangkok as he hires a young man who he begins to train (with scenes reminiscent of The Karate Kid) and he meets a mute pharmacist with whom he begins a relationship. Suffice to say that Cage's character is at a new crossroads in his life.

The problem with all this is that the film is grey, dull and cliched. Cage doesn't spark with any of the other characters in the film. The only bright part to the film is the young apprentice played by Shahkrit Yamnarm.

Cage has the remarkable ability to look permanently constipated, which works in his favour in some films, but definitely not here. And what the hell is up with his hair?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Exam Success - Lunch at L'Ecrivain

My company is currently sponsoring a group from the department to study for the CIMA Certificate in Management Accounting. It's only a basic certificate, but I'm pleased to have the opportunity to fill in a gap in my knowledge. We sat the C1 and C2 papers back in May (Management and Financial Accounting) and I recently found out that I had achieved first place in F.A. Additionally one of my colleagues had taken first place in M.A., so good news all around.

Our school, BPP, invited us to lunch at L'Ecrivain to celebrate this good news. L'Ecrivain is one of Dublin's Michelin starred restaurants, so there was no way that I was turning down this opportunity. Plenty of photos were taken on the day, and then we sat down for lunch. We had a choice of seabream or quail for starters, cod or beef for mains, and then creme brulee or chocolate pave for dessert. The seabream was a nice small fillet, simply fried and served with a few small squid rings. The beef consisted of a small steak, cooked medium rare served with a chunk of slow-cooked beef and onion rings. The slow-cooked beef was divine. Vanilla creme brulee with sorbet and fruit completed the meal along with coffee and petits fours. The service throughout the meal was beyond excellent, being extremely attentive and efficient without being obtrusive.

The dining room is nice, but doesn't feel like anything special. However, I did notice several alcoves and private dining spaces, which must offer a fantastic sense of privacy when dining. Our lunch was very good, not great but good. However, I would love the chance to return and eat at an evening sitting.

In addition to taking us to a fantastic lunch to celebrate our success, BPP presented us with a bottle of champagne, and a fountain pen. I was overwhelmed by their generousity. I've now got the next two exams coming up in October and I'm so inspired to perform well.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Horus Rising - Dan Abnett

Up to now, my only exposure to the Warhammer 40,000 series has been via science fiction bookstores and games shops where you can purchase the miniatures. I know it's hugely popular but I've never dipped in before. I also have a feeling that the local factory, Prince August, where I worked as a teenager also was involved in the manufacture of miniatures. But until now, I had dismissed novels like this as pulp fiction. I'm glad to say that I was wrong.

This book, the first in the Horus Heresy series, is set prior to the universe portrayed in the Warhammer 40k universe and the series promises fans the chance to learn the history behind the game. The book tells us how the Emperor of Man has retired from everyday life for a chance to persue his studies, and appoints Horus to act as Warmaster in his stead. The Imperium of Man is on a crusade throughout the universe, destroying cultures, alien and human alike, that refuse to accept their teachings. The Imperium have removed religion and superstition from their existence.

Horus acts in the Emperor's stead, assisted by his Astartes warriors, genetically enhanced superhumans. The Astaertes warrior Loken, one of the inner circle who advises Horus, fights a strange battle where a fellow soldier changes form. This begins to point the way towards the story for the remainder of the series.

The battles scenes are graphic, there is not doubting that, but the book is surprisingly rich in content. The leading Astartes warriors, especially Loken, are used to add human feelings and touches to the story and the scene is cleverly laid for the next in the series. All in all it's a surprising good read.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


If you're Irish, then you've probably seen the film "In Bruges" starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Liam Neeson. Farrell and Gleeson play criminals sent by their boss (Neeson) to hide under the radar in the quaint Belgian town of Bruges. Farrell's character is frustrated by the dullness of Bruges and sums it up rather funnily in the line "Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t, so it doesn’t." Rude comments about Bruges aside, the film does a great job of using the spendid setpieces of scenery available in the town, featuring the Belfry, the Main Square and the canals. The film actually turns out to be rather pro-Bruges and I suspect a lot more Irish tourists have visited the town in the last year than in previous years.

Bruges is only an hour by train from Brussels, making it quite accessibe and the train station is about a 15 minute walk from the Main Square. From the minute you leave the station and enter the clean, paved streets, it's clear that you're being taken back in time. That feeling never leaves you as you wander the town. It's clear that the locals fight to preserve the town just the way it is, with a minimum of the modern world allowed to intrude. (Barring a QuickBurger on the Main Square). Sometimes the tweeness of Bruges is too much and you wonder what modern hi-fis and home cinemas lurk behind those perfect curtains, because surely, the modern world has intruded.

We stayed at the Pand Hotel on Pandreitje. It's a small, family owned hotel with superbly welcoming staff and a champagne breakfast in the morning. The rooms were decorated with Ralph Lauren fabrics, possibly to the point of overkill. We were initially shown to a room with a terrible faded floral pattern and I was resigned to the fact that I had made a bad hotel choice. However, after a few minutes in the room, it became clear that there was a weird odour, and when we complained, we were moved to a nearby room, decorated with a red and white pattern. This was a much better choice, and we slept like logs that night. While the bedrooms may be traditionally decorated, the bathrooms are sleek and modern. Breakfast, while good, was not great, but was alleviated by the charming waiter and the glass of champagne. I enjoyed the Pand Hotel, but if I'm ever back in Bruges, I think there might be better hotels.

The following day, we climbed the Belfry, all 366 steps of it (shown at night in the photo above). As you climb higher, the wide stone steps are replaced with narrower and narrower wooden steps, turning the ascent and descent into a fun experience. You'd bettter pray that you don't meet an overweight or breathless person here. It's well worth the climb though for two reasons. Firstly, the sense of achievement and secondly the view from the top.

I was thrilled to also give my new SLR camera its first proper road trip in Bruges. I've a long way to go in learning how to use the camera but some of my nighttime photos turned out quite nice indeed.


Monday, September 1, 2008

My Father's Paradise - Ariel Sabar

I recently received an ARC copy of My Father's Paradise, courtesy of Algonquin Books (Thanks Lindsey). The author, Ariel Sabah, is the son of a Kurdish Jewish immigrant to the United States, and this is the story of family and his heritage.

The story opens with the author's grandparents and their life in Kurdistan. A Jewish community had existed in Iraq for many centuries, speaking a form of Aramaic (the language spoken by Jesus). This Jewish community existed harmoniously with their Iraqi neighbours, as they had done for centuries, but remained largely illiterate and isolated from the outside world. We meet the author's grandparents and learn the story of their marriage and the tale of their lost daughter Rifka. However, as the the tensions of the 20th century eventually filter through to the remote town of Zahko, where Yona (the author's father) and his parents live. In the face of rising racism and intolerance, the Jews being to leave Iraq, fleeing to the fledgling state of Israel. More than 120,000 Jews left Iraq, making it one of the largest, and least known, diasporas in history.

The tale follows the family to Israel, where they encounter more prejudice, this time from their Jewish brethren. The Kurdish Jews are considered backwards, rural and superstitious by the recent European immigrants to Israel. Yona, however, is determined to better himself and works hard to obtain a university education. It is here that his interest in his native tongue, Aramaic is sparked, and he begins his lifelong career, working to document the language. Eventually, he moves to America to study for a Ph.D. where he marries and raises a family.

Yona never really returns to Israel, despite the wishes of his parents. He becomes an internationally acclaimed professor at UCLA, but his son, the author, is embarassed as a teenager by what he sees as his immigrant ways. As the author begins to raise his own family, he becomes interested in his own family's past and begins to research their history. The result is this fascinating and captivating tale.

Father and son return to Iraq and Zahko and tensions between them are eased. But the author becomes obsessed with the tale of his father's lost sister and this obsession, which his father refuses to shares, begins to drive a wedge between the newly enhanced relationship between father and son.

This was one book I found so hard to put down. The tale of the Kurdish Jews is largely unknown in history and this book serves to highlight a largely hitherto untold part of history. It is told with a personal touch, and it is heart touching to read about the author's story of discovery, both of his heritage and of himself. This is a powerful story and is bound to resonate with every reader.
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