Saturday, 19 January 2013

Diary entry - 4th November, 1989: The March to Freedom

The crowds marched and marched through the streets, exhilaration in their copious eyes, desire at the front of the pack, pounding his heavy feet on the wet roads of East Berlin (or the ‘GDR’ if I am obliged to utter those letters). Buildings were captured from your view by banners wielded by East Berliners, as we marched onwards towards Alex.
Alexanderplatz was euphoric as the difficult darkness was shrouded over the evening sun. Placards waved in the moonlight, demanding what the people wanted. East Berlin was in a state of protest tonight as people flooded the streets. The lights of Alex shone through the night, keeping our eager eyes alert. The youth of East Berlin kept on in the wintry streets, long after the elderly lay down in their beds. So in a Wolfgang Kapp style we stood with the Fernsehturm looming over us. A roof of umbrellas rested over our heads as the night grew colder. “Reformen! Aber unbegrenzt!” Here is a personal message to you, Egon Krenz: 30 days is not enough. We want the right to be able to travel for as long as we want. We want to leave East Germany. We want to emigrate. We want to go home. We want freedom... Our eyes focused diligently on the screen overhead, and in my mind I repeated Reagan’s words: “Mr Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” American cameras captured our bitter faces as we trembled in the cold of the night, indeed growing colder minute by minute. As the temperature plummeted, the platz was filtered by the masses until a few remained, still with their brandished banners.
I write this sitting in the warmth of my apartment, bashing out each letter on my wearied type-writer. The fire softly flickers heat to my left side. Hatred inhabits my heart in abundance. The Stasi continue to dominate our society as we live in a perverted state of ‘justice’. Must Berliners be oppressed by a foreign government for any longer? “Ich bin ein Berliner” are the words that bring pity to my ears. Pity for the people living under the Communists and the brutal Stasi. Pity for myself. Communism will be the down-fall of all of Eastern Europe, and one by one in bountiful numbers countries will collapse under the suppressing regime.
Within a week, the Berlin wall was torn down my members of East and West Germany. In 1990, Germany was unified once more.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

'What Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?'

hen I go for a meal, I go for two main reasons: the food, and the experience. And when I say experience I mean principally the ambience of the restaurant and the light-hearted chat with my dining companions. What I do not go for is the way that the food is presented on my plate. Obviously, nobody wants to be served a plate of food that looks just like a lump of recently-massacred flesh (unless they are an absolute carnivore), but I would not be willing to sacrifice the taste of my food for the way it looks. That’s like spraying yourself with deodorant when you are covered in mud. I mean, where’s the logic in that? We eat food for two very simple reasons. These are 1.) To abate hunger pangs and survive. And 2.) We enjoy the taste. What I’m getting at here is that we have taste buds for a reason, and although it is fair to say that a decent looking plate of food can stimulate our taste buds and make the eating experience more enjoyable, it is quite unnecessary for a plate of food to be presented to us as an art form, particularly when that art is about to be destroyed by our knives and forks, and especially if it means that the pleasures of taste and hunger satisfaction are compromised.

So if, like me, you eat for normal reasons, then I would advise you not to go to Quique DaCosta. There are many restaurants that take trouble to make their food visually attractive, but they don’t claim to elevate it into an art form. In spite of, and perhaps because of, this lack of pretension you are more likely to walk out with your hunger abated, and your taste buds completely satisfied. Unlike at Quique DaCosta, where, after having eaten half-a-dozen or so courses, and possibly driving your bank manager berserk, you feel slightly as if your reason for going out has not been justified, and you continue to have the monotonous taste in your mouth that many of Quique’s ‘magnificent’ dishes sport (which by the way, I can only describe as the overly-rich and sweet concoction of caramelised chemicals - a sickly taste experience which seems to pervade even the savoury dishes).
As I mentioned above, an issue with Quique’s restaurant, in Denia, Spain, is that every dish has the same taste-bud-molesting flavour that me and my mother find nauseating, and whether it is a chemical the cook uses in order to make the dishes look as they do, or whether it is purposefully added (which I highly doubt, as it tastes worse than a luke-warm KFC Bargain Bucket), it greatly puts me off the restaurant for the sole reason that it ruins the dishes.
So when we walked out of the restaurant, after my father appeared to have spent both mine and my brother’s trust funds to take us there, I found myself thinking “Now... Where is the nearest McDonald’s?” During the meal I even found it necessary to ask the waiter for some bread. This is because, although we were having a nine course meal, I was hungry. I was HUNGRY! Halfway through a nine course meal, my stomach was complaining! Surely that says something.
Okay so I admit that the dishes can be awe inspiring – to look at. And I admit that occasionally the dishes taste good, but believe me that is not enough to justify the exorbitant prices. My father calls me a brute for not appreciating the “art that has been prepared for us with skilful hands.” If I really must judge the food as art, I would prefer to do so while munching on a plate of spaghetti for a tenner across the road. That’s good financial advice – who cares about Michelin stars?
To top it all off the ambience of the place is nothing to get excited about. The tables are made of Formica and the air-conditioning is overly fierce.  It's rather like sitting in the waiting room of a clinic.
The waiters are pleasant but spend far too much time explaining the meaning behind every dish and how it is constructed. This means that the whole dining experience drags on interminably. By the time we were presented with Quique's signature dish ‘What came first, the chicken or the egg?’  I was rapidly losing interest in all this hype. "I don't care. Get me a pizza!" I wanted to reply. So, sorry Quique, I admire your skill, but try and be a bit less pretentious. Ohh, and maybe try to make some real food.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Dream)

Shukhov found himself standing beside his bed, his rags draped over his body, his pockets empty. His knees were bent with exhaustion – from work the day before – and his hands trembled in the cold wind that filtered through the gaps in the door. He strained his ears, but he was unable to hear the beat of the reveille. Glancing down at his valenki, they were the same old worn felt that he knew too well. He knew not how he found himself by his bed, but sensed that this was his own time. He must make use of it – he trudged his aching feet towards the door and caught sight of a frost settling on the window. His whole body was screaming with fatigue. Why was the camp so quiet? Perhaps they had all made their way to the mess-hall already.

As Shukhov placed an uneasy step into the cold morning, he knew he must be quiet. He tightened his jacket around his body – it had ripped the week before, exposing his back to the elements. The cold hit Shukhov like a wall as he exited the barrack-room. His face was shrouded with confusion as he searched the camp with attentive eyes, but he could not see a soul. The stars still shone brightly in the early morning twilight. The snow creaked under his boots as he took a few tentative steps forward – he did not know what was going on. Where was everybody?

The camp was empty. He had been abandoned. Normally, zeks would be rushing round, each on their own business. The camp looked like a different world when it had no prisoners. Funny that, Shukhov thought. A prison is nothing without its inmates. Nonetheless, food was still the agenda in Shukhov’s mind. He realised he should search the camp. He walked past the barrack-room, past the high wooden fence round the lock up; past the kitchen and on into the mess-hall. Empty. Not a soul was to be seen. His stomach reminded him again that he was in need of food; he began to inspect the kitchen, and to his pleasure there were steaming pots of skilly waiting to be served up: but nobody was there to eat it.

Except for Shukhov.

There was one rule in the camp: eat as much as you can. And since there were no other zeks around, Shukhov decided the vegetable skilly was his. And there was so much of it! He scoured the room for bowls – they were in the corner. He scurried over and – without knowing whether they’d been washed – took one from the stack, and commenced to fill his bowl with the soup. He leaned over his spoil and began to eat with contentment. After scraping the bottom and rim of his bowl, he prepared another bowl. He had never had so much food. Imagine, Shukhov thought, a starved zek acquiring food for thousands. Again, with pure delight in his eyes, he scraped the bottom of his bowl with a crust of black bread, and savoured the moment; it seemed to him that this was what life was about.

His hunger at last abated, he stepped outside into the cold for the second time that morning, and once again began to ponder why the camp was vacant. Where had everybody gone? Surely they couldn’t have left him? But Shukhov didn’t panic – it wasn’t a zek’s concern. He diverted his gaze across the snowy courtyard. The door to the doctor’s-room had been left ajar, and to Shukhov’s amazement a wisp of smoke was struggling out of the chimney. He made his way across the icy concrete, and as he placed a foot through the door he was hit by a wall of heat. His eyes stung from the smoke. The fireplace in the corner had been left alight, seemingly only a few minutes before. Shukhov, confused, searched the room for any sign of what had happened, but his attempt was in vain. He strode out of the doctor’s-room with a new strength in his limbs, and as he turned his gaze to the left, he saw it – the camp gate was open! Not just ajar, but wide open! And for the first time that day, Shukhov felt the blood stream through his body as he purposefully set off on a sprint to the front gate. Freedom was in his mind. His family at home.

He placed one foot in front of the next in the snowy courtyard, tripping over his own heavy limbs. Breathless from his fall, he crept along the floor to grasp the iron of the front gate. Having hauled himself back onto his feet, he stumbled through the column, and as he reached the second gate, a wave of relief flew through his body; he was free.

“Shukhov!” Someone shouted his name.

“Shukhov!” He opened his eyes, and as usual, at five o’clock that morning reveille was sounded by the blows of a hammer...