Saturday, January 30, 2010

They Made Me Do It!

There’s a meme going round – e.g. Scarlet, Kevin – which asks one "to share three classic movie moments that have, in some shape or form, made me buy things/do things/think things that perhaps I shouldn't have." This is going to sound horribly pretentious, but my parents didn’t like ITV, so I think I never caught the buying-things-I’ve-seen-on-the-screen bug – we had Scrabble instead of KerPlunk.... I know, deprived – so I’ve chosen scenes that influenced or encouraged my thinking, whether for good or for bad I shall not judge.

Here’s the final scene from The Third Man, a film I’ve gone on about before. I think it was the last moments of this, the love-fascination, the fatalism - the monotony, even – the music of course, and Mittel Europa shot in black-and-white that started a particular romantic journey for me. And it may have started me smoking Balkan Sobranie (I’ve stopped now).

Here’s Karl Marx and Irene Handl (might communism have been an altogether more personable experience if only they’d stayed together??), and Morgan demonstrating that being a nutter and beating one’s chest like a gorilla are perfectly acceptible actions in the face of a complicated world. It was all the justification I needed at the time.

I did end up complicating my life a little, but I’ve tried to keep a sense of humour. Here’s Heaven from Powell and Pressburger’s 1946 film A Matter Of Life and Death. Amusingly, it’s black-and-white - compared to Earth which is full, garish Technicolor - and the set design apparantly is based on a Midlands bus station, but it’s a human, egalitarian, all-inclusive, Clement Atlee-ish sort of heaven, and, though I know we’re not supposed to take it seriously, I rather like it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Classical Music is for Ponces #1

WARNING: This post is a foretaste and warning of several to come that will deal with classical music and will be of no interest whatsoever to anybody at all except Gyppo, and maybe not even him.

I'm required to write a post with this title after having unfairly maligned the good folk of the Heavy Metal Community and then poured scorn upon our Jazz Brethren. Now, I listen to a fair amount of classical music when I get the chance, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's not for ponces, as I shall now demonstrate:

I'm a big fan of Bartok, and living in Transylvania - the great Hungarian, composer, ethnomusicolgist and piano student botherer was born nearby and did much folk music collecting here - means I can hear a lot of his stuff either on Romania's excellent TV Cultural channel or at this town's Hungarian Opera House. The other day his 6th String Quartet came on the TV, and Mrs Dilo was with me. She doesn't enjoy this stuff too much but always knows when to keep her council. Rather than let her flip over to MGM Movies I decided to sit it out. For me it's a splendid piece, the last he wrote in Hungary before fleeing to America from the encroaching Nazis, whom he despised, and it seems to me a return to the folk music elements present in his 1st string quartet but which were then increasing abstracted in later ones. Now, to try to justify my choice of viewing I said this to Mrs D:

"Heh, listen, you can hear the noises and rhythms of the Transylvanian countryside here!"
"Is that a chicken? It sounds quite agitated."
"No, it's a 'Bartók pizzicato', where the string is pulled so high that it slaps back onto the finger board. Errr, maybe it represents a turkey."
"We didn't have turkeys until recently. It's a duck."
"Can't be a duck, duck's coming later in the 4th movement (gulp)."
"And that is Uncle Tavi's dog, the one with no teeth?"
"Well, that was a leitmotif depicting an architypal Transylvanian dog, of which Uncle Tavi's dog is indeed an example. I thought the viola player did it rather well."
"She missed a lot of notes in the last section."
"No, that was supposed to sound jangly; in fact, ha ha, sometimes it's amusingly referred to as the Ode to the Dacia 1300!! (double gulp) It was quite ahead of it's time."
"As was the Dacia 1300 Lux Super with its twin wing mirrors and heated rear windscreen when it first appeared in 1970?"
"Exactly! Oh, I'm so glad you're enjoying this as much as I am."

I was winging it - how much longer could I last? Luckily it's a fairly short piece. But the fact I could say such nonsense without ever having farmed a piece of land in Transylvania clearly marks me out. Ponce.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Armchair Critics #1

Anybody out there like ice skating? No? Well that's a pity 'cos this post is about ice skating. Like many couples Mrs Dilo and I like to relax in front of the telly watching something we both enjoy, and for us that's ice skating. It appeals to her appreciation of athleticism and to my love of dance and it's all so nice and bright and spangley. The European Championships are on the moment. But, and perhaps because of our deep feeling for it, it tends to bring up some emotions that otherwise remain hidden and repressed:

Ah, what a great contest this is going to be, and thanks to Romanian TV we're first going to see the Romanian contestant, who's currently lieing in 37th place. "Zoltan", though? He sounds like a Hungarian.
It says Romanian. He's probably from Hargita, it's full of Hungarians, and it's the coldest place in Romania, they all do skating there, there's nothing else to do.
Ah, I can lip-read what he's saying to his coach - he's speaking Romanian!
Great! That's all right then. Next up it's a Swede.
Hmm, he looks like a woman - he moves like a woman. He's like one of those, you know, "funny boys".
No, he's an artist, you have to give artists free range to express whatever's in them. But I see what you mean. Oops, just fallen over three times - you don't have to worry about the effeminisation of Western society for the time being.
Ok. Ah, now it's the Italian. We like him don't we.
Indeed we do. Remember when he skated dressed as a cowboy in Helsinki last year? You fancy him.
A little bit.
Well, he's not going to win 'cos now it's a German.
Do we want the German to win?
Forgive and forget.
He looks like a dwarf. He's got a funny face.
That doesn't necesarily mean he's a dwarf. We'll have to wait until he's standing next to some real people to see whether he's a dwarf or not. Ha, he's just fallen over - go home Herr Nibelung, no gold for you today!
It's the Frenchman. Why don't you go outside and....
Oh no, not this guy. The "jumping machine" they can him, as he always takes off and lands perfectly, and then usually wins, despite the fact that he has absolutely no artistry whatsoever, no soul...
Why don't you make some tea, you know how this man upsets you.'s like watching a clockwork rabbit - I mean, I've got nothing against the French, some of my best friends have been French, but this guy....
Take the cats into the kitchen and give them something to eat.
Yes, good idea, there's no reason why our little darlings should be subjected to this travesty.
Is he in first place?
Yes. And his music wasn't proper music, he didn't really acknowledge the audience and he didn't smile once.
I knew it.
Now it's the Russian.
Yes? That weird, blond, Roman-Polanski-lookalike stick-insect??
Ha, he can do a job for us! He's technically excellent and relentlessly competitive. I'm going out again, I can't stand the tension.
Did he? He did? Smashed him. Nothing else matters now, I can go to bed.
There's still to come a Czech and a Swiss who's very good - don't you want to see them?
Nope. I like the Czechs and the Swiss have never personally done me any harm, but they can just get out there and enjoy themselves as far as I'm concerned, my evening's enjoyment is now complete. Goodnight.

To end, something from the Golden Age of British Skating; no, not John Curry in his sailor suite or that Robin Cousins who sewed on all his own sequins, but of course our very own Perfect 10s Pearl and Dean (or was Torvill and Keith Harris? I can never remember):

Monday, January 18, 2010

Kitten Update

Little Elvis is still with us you'll be overjoyed to hear. Elvis is as ridiculous as his father used to be before the latter became a fat slob, not to mince words, who now just lies slumped against the radiator waiting for the next lot of food to be served up to him - it's pathetic... (honestly, he used to be The Funny One, and you'd think he'd be even funnier now as being large naturally makes you funny, but no). Elvis particularly likes walnuts, kicking them around the floor like some demented Paul Gascoigne. We thought he'd be the clever, gifted type. We expose him to all the right influences: we've read him all the classics, Jane Austin, Danielle Steele; we play Mozart to him when he's falling asleep; we've even taken him to the ballet and The Horse of the Year Show, what a mistake that was - he's now jumping about over all the furniture trying to beat his "personal best". Nothing helps. He's more like the cheeky, muddy shirted football kid of those washing powder commercials. We're thrown away the brochures we got from Kitten Acedemy and St. Mogs and have inquired at the local college about courses in plumbing. Really, I don't know where he gets it from.

No such problem with Mitzi. She's gone. She was a lovely kitten, honestly, she had her own little personality, but well, she was just so quiet - we never knew what she was thinking. Mrs Dilo was talking with the lady in the cat food shop and happened to let it drop that we had a kitten that we'd really to give a better start in life to. A man then telephoned us. He came round. He was a young and very tall Moroccan medical student. We asked if he had a basket with him; he said he hadn't but grinned and said he could carry her home in his rucksack. We weren't worried, no, certainly not because he was Moroccan: legend has it that tabby cats (like Mitzi) have the distinctive M on their foreheads because of a blessing from the prophet Mohammed, whose name begins with "M", errr, in the Latin alphabet. The student bit worried me slightly, and scenes from that ghastly The Young Ones programme filled my fretful dreams that night; then there's the medical student bit..... but sometimes one simply just has to say "out of sight out of mind". I'm sure she's in a better place.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Veg Talk

WARNING: The following is a foretaste and warning of many future posts that will focus on gardening (and possibly cooking) and that will contain no discernable humour content and nothing of any interest whatsoever to anybody except Kevin, and maybe not even him.

I've said before this is a meat and potatoes country and no more so than in regard to the diet. I got over my early digestive problems, but not with any help from the food. Now, my mother's pretty handy in the kitchen and she passed on to me the values of variety and of cooking things only just enough to make them not raw yet neither shoe leather nor pig slop. I crave vegatables, steamed, with a little salt, still with a hint of crispness, possible then glazed in the pan with a little butter and honey, perhaps with some mint, sesame seeds, pine kernels.... No. I would have to kill several people to make anything like this happen. But in the interests of positiveness here are the Top 6 Vegatables I might have an outside chance of getting my hands on. (NB: Some of the photographs you may have already seen before - our digital camera has broken, so bad luck.)

My Brocolli: They said I couldn't do it. They said it wouldn't survive the Transylvanian winter. They said these seeds I'd got from England were not adapted to local conditions. They said purple was not an acceptable colour for a vegetable (assuming any vegetable might be deemed "acceptable"). They said Mrs Dilo's mother's withering glances had already predetermined its destiny from the off. They were wrong (so far).

My Tomatos: I've already bored people to death about these. I'm growing heirloom varieties: Pink Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and Black Russian. Jamie Oliver raves about them. But it's the names mainly, isn't it.

Mrs Dilo's Mother's Carrots: This otherwise fine lady takes vegetable-hating to it's ultimate and grim conclusion and will barely allow them in the house. She does however sometimes make clear soups, and I once observed that part of this process involves a carrot which is then thrown away after the soup has finished boiling. "Errrr, could I perhaps have that carrot?" I asked timidly. Bless her, I now get a large soggy carrot with every bowl of clear soup she serves me.

Wild Mushrooms: (These are Boletus edulis, to be precise). You've got to take a granny with you, obviously, one who knows what's what. This granny knows what's what and then dries them and uses them in stews.

Rosehips: Not really a vegatable, but then neither, technically, is a tomato, and you let that one through. We gather these, and clover and nettles and mint and something called "mouse's tail", and make tea. Ahh, so that's where Romanians get the Vitimin C they otherwise shun. Mrs Dilo's father swears by them, but then he also swears by pickled cabbage water as a cure for every illness including swine fever.

Banana: Not a vegetable or a fruit but an insect. So there. Bananas have huge cultural significance in Romania. One can judge a person's age when you hear them say (and they will at some time, you can be sure): "You know, I was 13 before I ate my first banana!!" She's 33 years old. Yes we had no bananas under communism. First banana's always eaten in 1990 or '91, and, interestingly, monkey fashion, always started from the end without the tail - it's an anthropology thesis waiting to be written.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Gadjo's Christmas Heaven / Christmas Hell

Crimbo was pretty good this year, a chance to catch up with family and friends. However, even with the most meticulous planning it was not possible to ensure that everything ran smoothly....

Heaven: We had loads of snow at Cluj The Cheeky Girls International Airport: and yet planes were taking off without any bother. There was fog too - borderline flying conditions, I thought, very 50/50 - but that wasn't an obstacle either for Captain Attila "Binky" Horsewhipper and his team of sloe-eyed stewardesses.

Hell: Take-off was delayed for 6 hours and then the flight was redirected to Birmingham Ozzie Osbourne International Airport as there were the wrong shaped snowflakes at Luton Mick Abrahams Out Of Jethro Tull Interna.... you get the idea.
Heaven: As usual I hired a car for a few days so we could see many people in a short time, and as usual I was given a Peugeot 207. Now, I'm no Jeremy Clarkson, you can thank me for that, but this has always seemed to me a most agreeable little automobile, and sure enough when other, larger, more expensive cars were skidding around on the ice and crashing into each other like Torvill and Dean on acid, we forged ahead like Sherpa Tensing on Kendall mint cake.

Hell: The ice actually did stop us going out on the Tuesday though. By then the streets of Hemel Hempstead had begun to look like the north face of The Matterhorn.... on a Tuesday.... and we had to stay home.
Heaven: Imagine my delight when I looked inside a box of Terry's All Gold for the first time in many years and discovered that The Odes of John Keats had been enrolled in describing the comestibles contained therein. One was enobled with hazelnuts, another was enshrined in a fantasy of fondant, while a third was mesmerisingly encrusted with golden shards of peanut brittle. Something like that.

Hell: Then imagine my disgust when I discovered that not only were they milk chocolates - is nothing sacred? - but they were also utter rubbish. Not even with the cheaply fragranced, tarts-knickers gaudiness of, say, Cadbury's Roses, but simply rubbish. I then of course looked at the bottom of box and discovered - yes, it had to be - they were no longer lovingly hand-crafted by Terry himself but were now manufactured by some ghastly Teutonic corporation. Urrhg.
Heaven: The Victoria Wood evening on the BBC. I was a slightly disappointed by her new Christmas special, and the talking heads on the celebration of her career-so-far got a bit boring, but the repeat of the 2000 special was a total delight as was the episode of Dinner Ladies which followed it (does liking this sort of stuff mean I'm gay??) : "There's a potato here which looks like Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses". "Which one?" "The one that David Jason plays". "No, which potato?"

Hell: During the hours we spend travelling 2 miles in our Peugeot 207 we had the radio on. Had I but known it I could've listened to I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue on Radio 4, but instead the dial stayed on Radio 2 and after witty Mr Ken Bruce we started absorbing - imperceptibly and without our acknowledgement or consent - the brainlessness that is Chris Evans, so instead of arriving reeling with laughter I arrived fervently wanting to punch the nearest Mancunian.
Heaven: Other people's kids - aren't they great?? And my how they grow! Here's Matthew, who, simply because he's 7 years old and therefore simply because he can, has insisted that his father and I accompany him in a recreation of the bottle dance from Fiddler on the Roof. Now, that's Christmas.

Hell: No really hellish aspect here, though we did feel a bit traumatised afterwards: