Of all the superb things of El Terreno in Palma de Mallorca, where I have been living for more than eight months now after 30 years in China, Bellver Castle is possibly the most superb. I mean, imagine living a few minutes' walk (16) away from a real castle, one of only two circular-shaped castles in Europe and the only one in Spain, and look at and touch the same stones that were laid in 1310! That's the kind of thing that impresses me. I want to see and touch history, not just read about it or, as in Hong Kong, be frankly a bit insulted when a street with nothing but shiny 120 floor high rises, suddenly has a plaque with a photo of what it used to look like, calling it "Heritage Trail".
As castles go it's not particularly big, and you can see everything, including a view of all of Palma from the top, in about an hour.
But on the ground floor the City of Palma has set up a truly excellent permanent exhibition of the history of the castle and of Palma, in well-made, easy to read posters and pictures. That's really worth spending another hour on! If you get tired, you can alway repair to the charming café outside, where you can enjoy cakes and what not.
The castle was originally built to be the summer cabin thing for kings visiting from the mainland, but was never used for that. Instead, it immediately turned into a prison where many an illustrious geezer languished, mainly for saying and writing things. Sigh.
Ah, Bellver! So beautiful. I look at it every day, and touch it as often as I can, which is also most days, on dog walks.
It's 4 euros to get in; WELL worth it, I say! Of course, as a resident (hem hem) I get a big discount.
I have found my perfect Chinese restaurant in Palma. Admittedly, it's not within the requested 8 minute walk radius from my gaff, but still close; 25 minutes. And anyway, who cares when it's so, so worth it?
I road tested it the other day on possibly the most connoisseury food connoisseur I know, Ellen. She has been with me through thick and thin in China, travelling on all conceivable types of transport and, like the Chinese themselves, eating everything with legs except the table.
Here she is smiling at food in the Kung Fu Restaurant in Santa Catalina. And there is much at which to smile: We're eating Chinese food together again for the first time in six years, the food is superb, up to normal Chinese standard in fact, and they even have (some) dim sum!
And real tea! And best of all, as I discovered yesterday on my 4th visit:
THE WAITRESS SPEAKS CANTONESE!!!! In fact she IS Cantonese, from Guangdong province itself, the cradle of Cantonese from which the tirelessly working Chinese Government has now managed more or less to eradicate Cantonese among the younger generation. Well done, chaps. It was a long hard slog but you succeeded.
Without a doubt, more about Kung Fu soon. Very soon.
Kung Fu Chinese Restaurant
C/Av. Argentina 23B
Tel: 971 45 20 60
Further to yesterday's post about the excellent talk by Jane Choy-Thurlow about the wonderful painter Vermeer, as a former Hong Kong dweller I was naturally interested in her surname, Choy. I had the chance to talk to her and her husband afterwards, and it turned out she had taken her husband's surname. His father had been born in Shenzhen, nowadays paradise of tailors and foot massage but probably not when the family got the hell out of there and settled in The Netherlands where the father married a local woman.
Unfortunately mr. Choy couldn't speak Cantonese and couldn't read Chinese characters, but he showed me his name in Chinese. Of a sort. For somehow, although the family escaped before Communism had had a chance to ruin the Chinese written language, his name is now recorded in simplified characters.
I can't tell you how much I hate simplified characters, or 'crippled characters' as some Hong Kong people sensibly call them.
Here is mister Choy's real name: 蔡雲燦 but in simplified characters it's (oh, how it hurts to even let a machine write this) 蔡云灿
The communists' excuse for murdering the language was that there were so many illiterates in China and they wanted to make it easier for them to read. An admirable gesture, to be sure. But seeing how their main plan was to destroy Chinese history and society, I think simplified characters were rather invented to break the link with the past - the written word - and to enable peasants to read the 'Big Character' propaganda posters the Maoists put up everywhere and which are still a blight on the Chinese landscape today. Write it big enough and often enough and the people will comply, was the idea.
Here is what I think about simplified characters:
Normal characters are like a painting by Vermeer and simplified characters are like a badly drawn cartoon on a packet of over-sweetened cereals.
By the way, I'm sure you're interested to know what the characters mean and to take Cantonese lessons from me, live or on Skype? Here's a free lesson!
蔡 Choi. Chinese surname, name of a dukedom in the Zhou dynasty, also tortoise shell used for divination.
雲 Wan. Cloud. Yes, I know mister Choy's family called him Wang - perhaps they thought it easier for a Western audience? We have seen in Hong Kong that the Romanisation of characters is not a thing they take very seriously, resulting in many a hilarious taxi ride. I mean, how did 九龍 (Gau Long) suddenly become "Kow Loon"?
燦 Chaan. Brilliant, splendid, dazzling.
Last night was yet another wonderful experience brought to one by the incessantly working Arts Society of Mallorca. This time it was the mysterious Johannes Vermeer who was on the menu, and what a riveting talk it was. The speaker, Jane Choy-Thurlow, made me feel I knew Vermeer despite little or nothing being known about him. He left no letters or other proof of his existence - if you don't count 15 children (!) and the in my view most exquisite paintings ever created. Only 42 are known to have survived, but how long it must have taken to paint each one. Small wonder he had no time for writing, however, letters are a recurring theme is his work. It's 'Girl reading letter by an open window' this and 'Irritated Lute Player being delivered Letter by sniggering Servant' that - correspondence must really have been all the rage in the Delft of the 1650s.
Everybody wants all these letters to be love letters (okay, so sometimes the title is The Love Letter) but I wonder. Some of these women don't seem very happy about receiving them. Perhaps it's the Dutch stoicism? Or perhaps Vermeer didn't pay his models enough? Also there are few if any eyebrows to be seen in his paintings. Did they shave them off or were they just naturally hairless? And the girl in the red hat, isn't it a boy? One of the many wonderful things about Vermeer is that he allows you to get absorbed in the paintings and guess and guess what's going on, creating your own story.
The very knowledgable Jane Choy-Thurlow
I have loved Vermeer ever since I went to the Rjikjiksjkisjmuseum in Amsterdam in the 1990s, or it could even have been when I lived in London in the 1980s that I first saw the light, the light, the wonderful light of a Dutch window shining on a jug of milk hald by a maid. So when my friend Eddie, secretary of the Arts Society of Mallorca, first mentioned that he was working day and night to get the best authorities on art to come to little Mallorca to speak, I decided to go to ONE talk, namely that of Vermeer.
But what do you know? Suddenly I had joined the Arts Society as a fully paid-up member. Yes! I'm a member of something! With a membership card! That is SO not me. But I have to say, joining the Society has been worth every penny. I'm all fired up now and ready to read my book about Vermeer that I bought in the Rijkjsksjsksjkmuseum in 1994...
Perhaps it's partly my love of Vermeer that also made me love China so much? There's something about the light, creating beauty out of the most prosaic scenes:
My niece Tyra won't mind that I publish this:
Join the Arts Society, people of Mallorca! You won't regret it.
Oh and the wine and tapas afterwards aren't bad. And you get to meet interesting people and hear interesting stories. And you can give me a lift home.
Shooting a WindsurferTesting, testing... Facebook is a great invention and a superb tool to reach people. But recently they have made it damned difficult to post blog entries - with the photos showing up automatically, that is. I'm now following my web dude's instructions of making the images at least 1200 pixels with one a little bigger than the others. So here goes! Thanks to Mariette Faber who visited last week, I now know what I look like from behind while shooting a windsurfer (on FILM, hello!) in very... hair unfriendly conditions.
Later we saw a donkey under an olive tree in charming Deiá, home of illustrious poet Robert Graves. So this is just a test, but also the launch of my new Facebook page Cecilie's Pen & Wok. What is Cecilie's Pen & Wok? It's everything you need in writing and images, in many languages. And with a bunch of Sichuan (Chinese) food thrown in. Watch this space!