Everyone who has met me knows that when it comes to cooking, I'm doctor Jekyll and Mister Gordon Ramsey; fine with the operating table but whatever you do, don't come into the kitchen and put your arms around me when I'm handling burning saucepans (woks) and sharpened knives. And my new kitchen here in Mallorca, beautiful as it is, has a huge and crucial shortcoming: It has no door. Cooking is therefore something of an ordeal for me, scared shitless as I am every second that someone will come in and say "it's only me" and proceed to touch me or try to start a casual conversation about rocket science.
How could I solve this problem?
I was just standing in my bedroom admiring the beautiful obi (Japanese kimono belt) that my friend Etsuko had given me eight years earlier and which I now could finally display in its full glory, when it came to me: I would get a Japanese kitchen curtain! A noren! That way I wouldn't have to get a whole door with all the whittling and hammering that would entail.
It was easy: I just bought it on Amazon. First I found a navy one that I liked, but just as I was ready to press BUY, I saw one in a lighter, fresher blue that looked better. It would arrive on the 10th of October. At night. I waited in all night, but no noren. Around 9pm I checked my postbox; maybe the delivery guy had tried to deliver it and left a note? He had indeed left something in my postbox: The Japanese kitchen door curtain!
I love Japanese stuff, don't you? It's so well made. As I unpacked the noren, I thought how the Japanese craftsman in his white headband had probably spent seven years just holding the needle before he was allowed to start sewing. The material would have been carefully selected from the nostrils and eyelashes of wagyu beef. Woo-hoo! Quality all the way. Long live Japan!
I put up the curtain but... wasn't it a bit see-through? And the material. It didn't feel right at all. It felt like ... really bad nylon.
There was a label on the curtain. "Hangzhou Bingo E-commerce co ltd. MADE IN CHINA", it said.
Still! It LOOKS good.
Oh, and there's no longer any danger of choking on the cement that's been coming off my work surfaces in big chunks every time I have cleaned them or chopped stuff on them. Yes, a 130-year-old-house has many excellent properties, but things do give in to material fatigue. No matter, the kitchen has now been thoroughly fixed by the excellent Michael Mike, who has in fact done all the necessary work on this house. Including finding a solution for my obi problem! Thanks, Mike.
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One shouldn't joke, ever, it seems. As we drove towards Calvia last night to see the first of the newly established Arts Society of Mallorca's talks on art, it was raining lightly. The people who kindly gave me a lift wanted to get an early start because "the rain had made everything slow down" and there appeared to have been some chaos in Llucmajor where they had come from. "Oh, these people don't know what rain is," I remarked. In much the same way as I had often told Hong Kong people that they didn't know what cold is. (They don't.)
Yes. That night, at least eight people died on the island; washed away inside their cars, drowning in their basements or just crushed or pummelled to death by water and objects after a river burst its banks in the torrential downpour. Roads are cut off, people have no power and many have had to flee their homes. It is a terrible tragedy which unfortunately takes away the joy of the Arts Society's meeting. I suppose it's in bad taste to even write about it now. But the Arts Society deserves huge praise for pulling off this thing to a packed room last night after only 10 months in existence.
They had managed to snag famous Antiques Roadshow host Eric Knowles to talk about The Genius of René Lalique, and what an evening it was. The man was so ridiculously knowledgable and the topic so interesting, nay, riveting - well, I had of course expected that. But I hadn't expected to laugh and laugh! It was Art Nouveau slash extreme beauty and skill meets stand-up comedy, old-school style. With voices! He did Yorkshire, American south and mid-west, Scotland and France.
We were roaring with laughter and he played us like so many mouth organs, in his unpretentious way that seemed so natural it must have taken thousands of hours of work to perfect it.
Meanwhile, that natural disaster was going on just a few kilometres away but we didn't have a clue. Oh! I wish that evening could have lasted and lasted.
Still, I'm glad i got a full year's membership of the Arts Society so I'm sure to get a seat at next month's event.
The legendary Izzy Newman singing in El Terreno Country Club!
We celebrated my friend's birthday and I thought I would make it extra memorable. And then I thought, hey! This party was pretty damned good. Perhaps other people would like to use my table and cooking for their own celebration?
Last time I was at Mallorca's airport whose name I can't remember now, I saw this, what my late aunt Bette would have called "unfathomable tragedy": Someone had dropped a bottle of red wine. (Or had an open brain haemorrhage while carrying a box of wine.) Some people thought it was me who had done it, but of course not! 1. I would never drop wine and 2. I only like white wine.
I was thinking about that the other day when about 10 Norwegian friends came to Palma. One of them is something of a musical genius, and he became very interested in my two banjos rotting away in the corner with no one to teach me. He kindly offered to change the strings for me (not as easy as it looks, hello!) and I accepted with joy! This could be the push I needed to start playing again.
I finally managed to locate the packets of strings, some of which I had been given by former banjo tutor Adam Petrashune,
some bought on the website Elderly Instruments and some thrown in with my purchase of a light, easy-to-handle banjo in Sydney in 2014. I had so many strings, I could have opened a string quartet boutique!
Except, by an unfathomable tragedy the strings, so carefully stored and lovingly shipped from Hong Kong to Palma, had lived through three Hong Kong summers. They had all rusted right through.
Today is China's National Day, and also 30 years to the day plus one, since I arrived in China for the first time. It was a beautiful sunny morning when I hopped off the Trans-Siberian Train in Beijing 12 days after leaving Oslo. And just like that, China became my life.
That day, Tiananmen Square was festooned with pictures of Lenin, Mao, Marx and Stalin. Now only the teachers' rooms at state schools sport the visages of these luminaries, plus Deng Xiaoping of course. But Mao is on all the nominations of the Renminbi (The People's Currency) and his photo is used to ward off bad luck in taxis.
That year, very few people had even a landline in their house. Then they jumped straight to iPhones without even going via pagers.
That year, owning a bicycle was still something of a status symbol. Now everyone has a car.
I'm sure the average person in China is much better off now than on October 1st, 1988; economically at least. But me, I miss the days without cars, without high-rises and without constant coughing. It's selfish, I know. Maybe I just miss my youth with constant excitement and adventure. Anyway, I'll just celebrate this quite momentous day with some of my photos from China.
Ah-On contemplating the intense cold of Guiyang, Christmas Day 2013. That was the week after which I never smoked again.
Jiayuguan Fort, Gansu provimce, at sunset, August 2008.
Geezers playing traditional Chinese music on saxophone and electric guitar - and erhu. With artwork above them featuring drunk scribbles by an avant-garde art group. Yeung Gong, Guangdong province
Coal workers taking a rest.
Phoenix Town in Hunan.
Uncle enjoying his daily visit to the main park in Seun Dak, Guangdong Province
Aunties getting ready for yam cha, Sei Wui, Guangdong province
Abandoned house, Guangdong province
Monastery and Tibetan town, Xiahe, Gansu province
Ellen in Guangdong province
Curious but a little worried ("why is your hair yellow?") Xinjiang province
Grapevines near Urumqi, Xinjiang province
Sigh. I miss China. But only the China of YORE. Not the China of Social Credit (google it. Unless you live in China of course - they can't access Google. or Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp...).