I must have read that book 30 times between the ages of six and 12, hoping against hope that this time Madame Bonacieux wouldn't fall into the evil Mylady's trap. But every time the book ended in the same way. Then I saw a picture of D'Artagnan in a different edition of The Three Musketeers and realised he had facial hair! It was all over between us.
Moving into early adolescence a real, living human caught my attention: Cat Stevens. Dark, curly hair, divine songs, what was not to love. Although he appeared with a beard in several photos, he kept it well trimmed so it was acceptable. Just. I realised I was drawn to the dark, mysterious looking guys. My best friend at the time liked David Cassidy and Donny Osmond but they were just too clean for me. Cat Stevens turned out to be a worse bad boy than anyone could have imagined; a few, well, many, years later he was suddenly called Yusuf Islam, grew a long, disgusting beard and advocated for Salmon Rushdie to be killed for having written words. It was all over between us.
Now began my real youth and I promptly fell in love with Dave Swarbrick, the fiddle player in Fairport Convention. It was at a concert in my hometown when I was 16 I saw him, so cheeky and a virtuoso on the violin. He is the only one of my distance infatuations I have been in the same room with, (not counting D'Artagnan but he was in a book in the same room.) My first trip abroad happened that year. I went by myself to Shetland to visit a friend I had bumped into... somewhere. We went together to London where I realised I must always live abroad. When I came home, or maybe the next year, Swarbrick had grown a moustache. It was all over between us. (He later became morbidly obese and smoked himself to death. But I still listen to the music.)
Becoming busy with real life boyfriends, I hardly had time to cultivate fantasy ones, not even with fictional characters. But then came 1981 and the film Gallipoli starring Mel Gibson. Holy mother of phwoaaaar, kill me now, etc. This was the ideal man for me. He kept churning out films, Mad Max 2, The Bounty, The Year of Living Dangerously, in which his talents and attractiveness just increased and increased. What a pity he would turn into an action hero. Still, I loved him for many years until I went to China and found
Cui Jian, 崔健， China's rock sensation number 1, who had just burst onto the scene the year before I got there. Oh, the heady days of China 1988 and 1989... until June 4th that year, of course. The haunting 一無所有 (I have nothing)became one of the anthems of the post Tiananmen movement in Hong Kong. Cui Jian! So good looking, great voice and using traditional Chinese instruments and melody lines to play rock! I still listen to his music, but our love couldn't last, because I left Beijing for Hong Kong, where I discovered
Chow Seng Chi 周星馳， slapstick comedian extraordinaire who became quite popular abroad too with his Kung Fu Hustle.. He parodied every cliché in Chinese films, costume dramas and karaoke videos, and coined lots of Cantonese phrases with his "mou lei tau"* style humour. I kept a photo of him on my pager (yes pager, this was right at the beginning of mobile phones the size and weight of a tree trunk and in fact they became something of a favourite murder weapon of triads) but was forced to burn it symbolically in an ashtray on my wedding day to another Hong Kong guy. So it was all over between Chow and me.
Living in exile in Spain, I no longer have any photo or film loves to cultivate. My only love now is - you guessed it - Cantonese!
If you are trying to learn Cantonese, I strongly suggest watching Chow's impressive canon of work, especially the early films. AS WELL AS taking lessons from me, of course! This way we can help keep the Hong Kong culture alive. God knows mighty powers are working day and night to eradicate it.
I had been gagging to go away for months although it's certainly easier to live without travelling when you already live on holiday, and for some reason it was Valldemossa that kept popping up in my head. So last Saturday I got up extra early, took the dog for an extra long walk and legged it to the bus station. But hello! The next bus to Valldemossa would leave an unbearable 53 minutes later! Ahrghhhh.
Suddenly I thought of my former life in China and the excellent habit I developed there; a habit I would recommend to everybody, especially the young people of today so glued to their iPhones and GPS and Alexa and pre-booking and Tripadvisor that they can hardly get around by themselves anymore: Go to the bus station in Shenzhen (just across the border from Hong Kong) and get on the first bus available.
The first bus leaving from the central bus station in Palma went to a place called Estellencs only a few minutes later, and I sprinted onto it, filled with an almost adventure-like joy. After an hour's drive we had reached Banyalbufar, a place much praised in tourist brochures.
Charming! And the starting point of many interesting looking, not too long, hikes. I get bored with walks that take more than a couple of hours.
The first 'throw a dice' bus I got on in southern China took me to Sei Wui.
Unlike Banyalbufar it was lively to the point of hysteria; so bustling in fact, that it was impossible to see the ground for walking, cycling, laughing, chatting, selling and buying persons. And they welcomed me and my various travel companions into their midst with much staring and laughter. It became my go-to for Cantonese 'language seminars' because we were guaranteed to be invited to eat and sing with locals.
I would return to Sei Wui again and again over the years, noting with satisfaction that here was a town whose activity level wildly increased during Chinese New Year instead of shutting down, unlike the bigger cities like Guangzhou.
August 2017 was my first trip to Sei Wui in maybe two years, and by golly the developers had been busy. The formerly throbbing and ubiquitous markets had trickled down to a sedate, nay, sterile few stalls, and several new supermarkets and towering, tiled high-rises had sprung up where before there were beautiful winding old streets with really good hovelage.
The old women selling same-day-harvested vegetables had been driven away, possibly because they didn’t have the licence needed to keep a horde of government officials in clover, and were now doing guerrilla produce-selling on street corners around town. I bumped into a bunch of street sellers that I recognised. They were still laughing at my and my friends’ middle-class abhorrence about hanging live, flapping chickens and other birds upside down.
As we chatted, a little jumped-up government official clipboard Nazi came running and chased them away. Well, naturally we can’t have screamingly fresh, inexpensive produce sold on the pavement! Get thee to a supermarket and buy overpriced, plastic-and-polystyrene-wrapped vegetables from last week like everybody else, Ophelia. That’s what the modern people do.
The outdoor clothes-and-trinkets market outside my hotel was gone too, as was my favourite restaurant on the riverbank.
In the middle of the meat market on the other side of the river, not completely razed yet because the stalls were attached to buildings, a spanking new 20-floor luxury hotel reared up, like a super model gate-crashing a homeless people party at the soup kitchen. It was all marble and shininess, and with a logo looking strangely like that of the Sheraton – but no one can have copyright on the letter S, right?
I went to have a look, but was distracted by some blood-curdling yelps and screams. Right outside the door of the hotel stall owners were slaughtering dogs. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think that is very modern.
Yes, slaughtering dogs, and not in a nice way. I will have to get back to this, perhaps least appealing aspect of the Chinese cuisine, later.
I suppose most of the villages and towns around the Pearl River Delta, cradle of Chinese emigration, are gone now. It was inevitable, because it is the jealous nature of that country's government to raze everything cool and funky to the ground.
But the Cantonese language still exists, despite all aforementioned govt's efforts to eradicate it. I think you owe it to Southern China, whence all the laundries and Chinese restaurants in the western world sprang, to carry on the tradition.
But don't you think January exploded in sunny weather, the kind that would be called a nice summer's day in Norway? The flowers burst out before I had a chance to see them, three weeks early.
Fortunately my excellent editor and Spanish crutch Heather has a car, and she was kind enough to take me to Anthrax (Andratx, place name), we managed to catch the last seconds of almond flowers before they dropped off the twigs. A right bucolic scene it was, complete with sheep etc. What joy! Next year I'll be ready.
Come to think of it, the almond flower season is a bit like Hanami (flower viewing) in Japan, where people flock to park and field to see the famous cherry blossoms and get shitfaced. I always missed that too, mainly because every time I went to Japan, it was in October or November. And also, cherry blossoms flowering lasts only something like a day and a half and happens without warning, so it would be impossible to buy the ticket at the right time. Hnnnnn.
Talking of my editor Heather - she is so good at Spanish! And Mallorquin too. I think you should take lessons from her, or at least buy the book we made together, Plonkers Abroad. In it, you can learn Spanish through the method of 'plonkerism' - learning from other people's mistakes.
And while I'm at it - I can't urge you enough to take Cantonese lessons from me! It will open up a whole new world, stave off Alzheimer's forever and irritate the hell out of the Chinese government. Win win much?
Instead of learning a language from perfect people who never make mistakes, thus throwing you out in an abyss of despair and envy, thinking (probably quite rightly) "I will never sound like them!" you can now feel smug and supercilious, safe in the knowledge that at least you're not as thick as the protagonists of Plonkers Abroad!
I think I have invented a new teaching method: Plonkerism! Learning through other people's mistakes. Yes, believe it or not, that's a thing. Unlike other textbooks, these people don't arrive in the new country speaking the language fluently, no, on the contrary they know not a word. And of course they want the new language to be like their own, which makes for many snigger-worthy situations.
My excellent editor Heather S used the book to teach a group of English and South African people, first in Binissalem and after covid started biting, on Zoom. They quickly jumped from beginners to good conversationalists. Heather still has room for more people.
Me, I can't teach Spanish except through the written word, although my spoken Castellano (Spanish) has received a boost recently with the arrival of ah-Hoi.
Cantonese, on the other hand - oh! I can teach that, and how! My excellent student Snow Dragon 雪龍 in Sydney, stellar in every way, has decided to save up for a flat (smart) instead of learning Cantonese but she's more or less fluent anyway, so I have an opening.
Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! This is the best thing you can do to irritate a certain party in whose country's fake snow olympian skiers are tumbling as we speak. And it's also fun. And who knows, maybe together we can invent a new language: Spantonese?
No, snow normally comes accompanied by leaden skies pressing down on you, sideways sleet with particles of sand (they spread sand on the icy roads to make them less slippery but it's still really dangerous to move around) cold that makes it impossible to be outside, and, not least, dark dark dark.
Imagine seeing daylight only between 11am and 2pm for months, and that is if you're lucky. The northern parts of Norway, for example, don't see the sun at all for at least two months each winter. Shudder! What's the point of living! So I was very impressed when I saw some of the videos made by anti mandates Canadian truckers this week. I knew that scene well from my life in Norway. The awful snow coming down, the grey, wet, bone-chilling cold, standing outside for hours and, when they got back to the truck, having no heating because the Canadian government is stopping their fellow Canadians from giving them petrol.
The government also stopped GoFundMe from handing over to the truckers and others who are peacefully demonstrating against mask mandates, enforced use of experimental drugs on adults and children and all the other stuff we have become so used to, more than 9 million Canadian dollars. That seems kind of not very legal, but GoFundMe said they themselves would decide on another charity more worthy of receiving the money instead. Maybe the charity of Trudeau? I heard he is in hiding.
Here in Mallorca, the most idiotic of all idiotic covid "laws" - that which says you have to show your medical history to a waiter - was scrapped yesterday together with the second most idiotic; the one where you have to wear a covid burka when walking alone in the forest. But we still did another march for freedom, although the weather was so pleasant and comfortable that it wasn't any hardship at all. The exact opposite of that in Ottawa, in fact. It was the second protest in as many weeks, and I did it not only because I'm pissed off, but for other people's children. I have friends whose children and grandchildren aren't allowed to participate in sports at school because their parents so far have kept them from being dragged into the experiment lab. I thought "the science" was "settled" on children not being able to get or spread covid?
Meanwhile two of my friends had the third dose of experimental drug shot into them earlier this week. The husband became unconscious the next day and had to be taken to hospital where the wife is not allowed to see him because she, by an amazing coincidence, tested positive for covid two days later. But, you know, nothing to do with the "vaccines"!
I can see why some people prefer to live in perpetual fear. It's easier to let the government decide everything, to cover one's face forever, to keep taking shot after shot and saying "this proves the vaccines really work" as they get covid, verified by tests made in China. Well, can't those people just live like that instead of trying to control everybody else?
I know where I stand. I stand for freedom of the individual, for free speech no matter what and for taking responsibility for my own health.
Of course, if I hear of any violence on the part of the Canadian truckers, I will call them out. If it is indeed true what the state driven media says, it is certainly not good to be obstructing others from going to their business, but isn't that what governments all over the world have hindered people from doing, for the last two years? So far I believe the truckers and the videos I have seen. And about the way various governments have handled this thing, there have been so many lies, so many voices strangled, so many questions not allowed to be asked that I can't believe anything other than that here is an emperor so naked he is just one big swinging dick.
Worst off of all, with the possible exception of North Korea, is Hong Kong. They are back to not being "allowed" to meet more than one other person at a time; old people are being fined for talking to each other in the park, couples fined for stopping to talk to other couples. If a person in a tower block of 2000 people tests positive, every inhabitant in the block must go to hospital, followed by two weeks in a government "facility".
I don't know how learning Cantonese is connected to being anti mandates and anti enforced experiments but - oh! Yes of course I do. This is all because of China and China wants to get rid of Cantonese. So learning Cantonese is an up yours to the people who started all this.