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    • Nine Months (DVD) / DVD / 84 Readings / 81 Ratings
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      18.02.2014 14:09
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      Hugh Grant in the USA

      (film only rev)

      Samuel and Rebecca, two thirty-somethings, are celebrating the fifth anniversary of their relationship with a picnic on the beach. Rebecca catches sight of a toddler building a sand castle, gets dreamy eyes and asks Samuel if he doesn't think that something is missing. He hasn't got the foggiest what she's talking about. Haven't they got everything? They love each other, have good jobs - he's a child psychiatrist, she a ballet teacher - he's got a beautiful flat overlooking the skyline of San Francisco and an open-top convertible Porsche. What more can a man want?

      Fate is on Rebecca's side and soon afterwards she becomes pregnant although she takes the pill. Samuel freaks out, has nightmares, sees Rebecca transmogrifying into a giant praying mantis about to devour him alive. When he remains unsympathetic and even forgets an appointment at the gynaecologist's, she moves to the house of friends who have a different attitude. They're expecting their fourth child and are happy about it.

      When writing a film or book review, the reviewer should never retell the whole plot up to the end. That's a no-no on opinionating sites. Yet, in the case of Nine Months the ending is clear from the beginning. Something will change Samuel's opinion and there will be a Happy Ever After. In the words of film critic Roger Elbert, "Nine Months is one of those movies where the outcome is abundantly clear to everyone but the hero, who remains in the hapless position of playing dumb because if he didn't, there wouldn't be a plot."

      A question which keeps puzzling me is why I ordered this film from Lovefilm. I'm not in the least bit interested in the topic of male prenatal baby blues. I knew Hugh Grant but didn't feel like watching him in another film, at least not at the moment (I was still recovering from Four Weddings and a Funeral which I had seen not long before). Julianne Moore (Rebecca), Tom Arnold and Joan Cusack (the fertile friends) and Jeff Goldblum (Samuel's equally baby hating buddy) were unknown actors to me. That Robin Williams played the gynaecologist was something I found out only later. I remembered him from the film Dead Poets Society in which he's brilliant.

      I made a mistake. I had wanted to order the film One Fine Day with George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer. Both titles have a number in it and one the word 'day', the other the word 'month'. Maybe that was it? I hope George Clooney will never hear about my choosing Hugh Grant over him. Of course, I could have stopped watching when I realised my mistake. But I was in a masochistic mood and watched it up to the end. Hope dies last. Maybe Hugh Grant would surprise me with something resembling acting skills?

      To choose him for a child hating psychologist was an absurd decision. He's so unfit for this rôle that if this were reality, he wouldn't have many clients. He'd live in a shack and not in a top-notch apartment. The film is a remake of the French film Neuf Mois (which I don't know). According to information I found on the net it was meant to start Grant's US career. Try as I may I can't understand this man's fascination. I don't know what the private Mr Grant is like. As an actor he's a one-trick pony. A stammering, gawking adult acting like an imbecile can be charming once, but in film after film? He could work as a speech therapist for foreigners who have problems pronouncing the English 'r' sound. He can do that very nicely, especially in the word "right" which belongs to his repertoire no matter which film he's in. It's his habitual response, together with a stony face, whenever there's a dramatic situation demanding a reaction. Other actors show temperament in such a case.

      Nine Months didn't bomb in the US of A, however, which can only be seen as another proof that a 'cute' British accent is enough to enthuse an American audience no matter what is said in this accent.

      Juliane Moore is pretty and nice, I can't say anything against her. But to be honest, many other pretty and nice actresses could have played Rebecca. Joan Cusack as the permanently pregnant friend is also OK. Tom Arnold as her husband plays a loud, back-slapping, know-all and invasive American lummox who would make me think either murderous or suicidal thoughts should I meet such a specimen in real life.

      Until labour starts the film is a romantic relationship drama. I'm not using the term romcom on purpose because I can't detect a 'com' part. It may appeal to young couples in the same situation (and with the same financial background). To sell your Porsche and buy a station wagon? The mere idea may scare well-off fathers-to-be stiff. From the moment Rebecca is in labour, the film becomes a farce of the lowest order. I have nothing against farces as such. If they're well made, they amuse me, but if they're badly made and are glued to a story of a completely different genre, they don't.

      Robin Williams must have been in dire need of money when he accepted the rôle of Dr. Kosevich, a vet from Russia turned ob-gyn ("When you've seen one rat, you've seen them all") with a poor grasp of English. ("You don't want natural child birth?" ..."You want Anastasia?"). I was not in stitches or lolling like other reviewers. The chaotic ride to the hospital and the mayhem in the operating theatre were just too silly and unfunny for yours truly. If this is humour, I'd rather have none.

      I'm sure there was music. There always is. I can't remember any tune, though.

      In 2011 Grant said that he regretted making the film in 1995. Oh! Better late than never. No insight into its artistic quality, however. The reason for this statement is that the 20th Century Fox Studio is owned by News of the World boss Rupert Murdoch which Grant had overlooked in his naivety. Aha.

      To come to a conclusion: Director Chris Columbus doesn't win a flower pot for this as the Germans say, at least not from me. If you're not a hard core Hugh Grant fan, don't watch the film. Clean your kitchen instead.

      Two stars because the child psychiatrist's flat and the view of the San Francisco skyline are beautiful.

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      • The Tourist (DVD) / DVD / 133 Readings / 128 Ratings
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        14.01.2014 15:33
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        another film set in Venice

        Paris. Good-looking, elegantly dressed Elise Clifton-Ward, a British woman, (Angelina Jolie) leaves her house and high-heels* to a street café to have breakfast. A passing cyclist puts a letter on her table. She reads it, burns it and goes to the train station to board the next train to Venice. No going home and packing a suitcase like any ordinary woman would do. The letter is signed by a certain Alexander Pierce. He tells her to look for a male passenger who resembles him physically and befriend him during the train ride. She picks a Mr Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), an American maths teacher, as her decoy.

        Venice. Elise invites Frank to stay with her in her expensive hotel room. Standing at the window they kiss. They're photographed by a bunch of men who then set an operation in motion to find out who Frank really is. It turns out that he's an American maths teacher.

        Now, what is all this about? By and by we learn that Alexander Pierce is a criminal who owes the British government 744 million GBP in taxes. Elise is an Interpol agent who was ordered to find Pierce and hand him over. She did find him two years before but fell in love with him and didn't help her employers in any way. They've suspended her and keep her under constant surveillance hoping Pierce will contact her again one day. Interpol is not the only party interested in the man. There's also the gangster Reginald Shaw from whom Pierce stole 2.3 billion $. Yes, this Pierce plays it big.

        The rest of the story is a cat and mouse play. Will Pierce make his appearance and contact Elise? What is going to happen to simple Frank from Dullsville, USA, who's been pulled into a scheme he doesn't understand? Will the British government and the gangster get their money back? Will there be a happy-ever-after for Elise and Alexander? I have to confess that I'm a bit thick when it comes to complex plots. Too many twists and turns and the author or director loses me. With The Tourist I felt okay. I watched the film three weeks ago and still remember the plot. So, construction-wise there's nothing to complain. Yet, I'm not happy. I don't believe the basic claim upon which the whole story is built. I'm no expert in the field which is touched here, but I simply can't believe that what we're meant to believe is realistic. Of course, it's possible, that I'm too pedantic, that I should take things just as they're presented to me by the script-writers (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes) and the director (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck). Unfortunately, I can't do that, if the fundament isn't firm, the whole construction wavers.

        The reason why I ordered the DVD from Lovefilm is that I wanted to see Angelina Jolie in a film at last. I don't live under a stone, I've known about the woman for ages. It's not possible to inform oneself in the print media about what's going on in the world without coming across her. When I go shopping in the supermarket, I always pass the shelves with the Yellow Press to be up to date. I must have seen her on mag covers a zillion times. So what is her acting like? The American writer Dorothy Parker comes to mind who is said to have commented on an actress's** performance, "She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B." Angeline Jolie doesn't act, she is. What is she? Well, she's Angelina Jolie. A hunger hook (the wrists!) with a face sculpted by a plastic surgeon, her lips looking like Dalí's sofa.*** It amused me to look at her and the (twelve) elegant outfits made for her for this film. But I won't rush to see her again for her acting skills. She wasn't the first choice as leading lady. Charleze Theron had been asked first. Jolie admitted in an interview with Vogue Magazine that the only reason she agreed to do this movie was because she knew it would be a "quick shoot" in Venice.

        I knew Johnny Depp only from the film Chocolat. I followed his further career also only in the print media. Knowing full well that his fans will collect stones to help me to a premature demise I nevertheless dare to voice my opinion here: Depp is not good in this film. At the beginning his face is more puffed up than at the end. My interpretation is that the first scenes were shot last and the actor indulged too much in the good Italian cuisine and wine. Admittedly, his rôle in The Tourist asks for a simpleton who's snowed under by events he doesn't understand. (Btw, 'Depp' is a southern German dialect term for a daft man). Yes, but, a different actor may have done this better. He looks a bit mopish to me. Maybe the pay wasn't high enough for him? Maybe he wasn't fascinated by Angelina Jolie? In the extras he waxes lyrical about Venice. So at least he got something out of the job. Which job, though? Of the 21 one stunt players 19 are male. I wonder which of them jumped across the rooftops of the Venetian palazzi in pyjamas, which one fell into the awning of a fruit stall from above. Depp wasn't the first choice, either. He stepped in after Tom Cruise and Sam Worthington opted out. The film was shot at record speed because Depp had to leave for Hawaii where more interesting Caribbean adventures were waiting for him.

        The rest of the cast is ok. The policemen look eager, the gangsters look vicious - what more does one want. Paul Bettany is Inspector Acheson heading the staff out to catch Alexander Pierce. He shows a lot of enthusiasm. He turned down the lead role of King George VI in The King's Speech in lieu of appearing in this film. (He has since stated that move was the biggest mistake he has ever made.) The main gangster, a Brit, (Steven Berkoff) surrounds himself with Russian thugs giving the story a Bondian flair.

        I mustn't forget to mention Venice where the story is set. Why Venice? There's no reason inherent in the story why this town should have been chosen. But one must admit that it's more photogenic than, say, downtown Detroit. It just looks good and a director can rely on a positive reaction by nearly all spectators. It's a feel-good factor which can brighten up an otherwise not so bright story. Should there be spectators who fall for the fascination of the place as shown in this film and go visit, they'll be in for some disappointment, though. Only very early in the morning or at night is it possible to find such empty spaces as shown in the film. For the rest of the day it's tourists, tourists, tourists - with the odd Venetian in between.

        A reason why I order films from Lovefilm is that I can watch them in English. Mainstream films shown in German cinemas are always dubbed. There's so little dialogue in this film that I was rather frustrated. Because of this I also watched the extras which is something I don't usually do. I must say I heard more English in these clips than in the film proper. Some interviews took place on boats running through the canals. Everyone waxed lyrical about shooting the film in Venice. Yeah, well, but it's a film after all, not a feature for National Geographic, isn't it?

        I would like to praise the director, my countryman Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, but I can't do this whole-heartedly. Not surprisingly, he wasn't first choice, either. After Lasse Hallström and Bharat Nalluri he was the third and final director to try his hand on the film.

        I was very surprised to see the name Julian Fellowes as one of the script collaborators. Julian Fellowes! The author of the novel Snobs and the man responsible for Downton Abbey! Whatever was he hired for? He has said in interviews that little of his work on the screenplay ended up on screen. I'm ready to believe this. The highpoint of humour and wittiness is perhaps this dialogue (Naturally, I don't know which of the screenwriters thought of it) :
        Italian policeman: "You wish to report a murder."
        Frank Taylor: "Attempted murder."
        Italian policeman : "That's not so serious."
        Frank Taylor: "Not when you downgrade it from murder. But when you upgrade it from room service, it's quite serious."

        I can't comment on the music in this film. That has nothing to do with its quality. Film music is always lost on me. The moment the film has ended I've forgotten it.

        To come to a conclusion: This is a film only for hard core fans of Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp and/or Venice.
        ----
        P.S.
        *No need to comment.
        **Catherine Hepburn
        ***Google: 'Dalí, sofa, lips' and you'll see what I mean.

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        • Weleda Refining Toner / Weleda / 108 Readings / 107 Ratings
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          04.01.2014 16:56
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          a facial toner from Weleda

          Does the package influence our opinion on a product? Of course, it does. If it didn't, we wouldn't have advertising, would we? "Don't judge a book by its cover" sounds sensible, but only extremely rational people with a lot of self-control can act according to this wise saying.

          What does this have to do with Weleda Refining Toner? Well, I've used it for many years but I've got it in a container from Body Shop. One filling lasts a long time and by and by I always forget that I use a toner from Weleda and not from Body Shop. As my cosmetic products don't all come from the same range, this would be understandable.

          Why do I pour the Weleda toner into an old container from Body Shop at all? The minor reason is that the dark blue glass bottle is unattractive in my opinion. Weleda also produce medicine. If they sold their cough syrup in such bottles, I wouldn't complain. But facial toner! I don't want to see such an ugly item early in the morning. The major reason is that there is no nozzle with which I can spray the liquid on my face. One star off for this. The opening of the bottle is covered with a plastic disk with a small hole in the middle. The instructions tell me to take a cotton pad, pour some facial toner on it and distribute it on the face. I don't like using cotton pads, so I poured some liquid into the palm of my hand and then distributed it. It's difficult to get the right amount in this way and, above all, to distribute it evenly. The idea to use an empty container with a nozzle from Body Shop was a stroke of genius which ended my problems.

          Checking the German Weleda website for some useful information I could use in my review I stumbled over the remark, "For hot summer days you can also fill the facial toner into a fine spray flacon to refresh the skin of your face (Shut your eyes when doing this)." I felt my leg pulled! If the Weleda peepz think it's a good idea to use a 'spray flacon', why don't they sell their facial toner in one? I want to refresh my face not only on hot summer days.

          Everything is 100% natural with Weleda products. You don't only do your skin good but also your whole self if you use these products - if you're into the holistic concept of wellbeing and healing and a believer of anthroposophic ideas. "Weleda has been developing anthroposophic medicines and natural cosmetic products since 1921, with our main focus on quality - from the selection of raw materials to the holistic product. Wherever possible, we use raw materials from bio-dynamic cultivation or certified wild collection. These materials are then checked and processed in compliance with our own high quality requirements." (from the Weleda homepage) If you're not, you should also consider using these products. You could do worse.

          The ingredients of the Refining Toner are plant extracts such as witch hazel to calm and cool, revitalising wild rose leaf, cold-pressed jojoba oil and extract of iris root to soothe and balance the skin. It's mildly astringent and pore-refining. I'm not good at describing fragrances; I can only say that it doesn't smell sweet but dry, slightly medicinal. I like it very much, especially in the morning. I don't clean my face with a Weleda product but with a washcloth and soap, then I spray the Refining Toner on it. When the skin is dry again, I use Weleda Pomegranate Firming Face Serum and when this has been absorbed by my skin, a face cream from a different brand.
          The Refining Toner can be used with all skin types and combined with all other cosmetic ranges from Weleda or - as I do - with products from other cosmetic brands.

          The British Weleda site offers 100ml for 9.95 GBP, the German one doesn't mention a price. The lowest I found on the net is ~6.20 GBP. But you'd have to come over to get it!

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            01.01.2014 20:20
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            a facial serum from WELEDA

            I'm sure no representative of a cosmetics range would be happy if they heard that a customer doesn't use the whole range but has a patchwork assortment of goods on their shelves. Who can one ask if it's good or bad if one combines products from different brands? One can just do it and then ask the mirror, "Do I look better, the same or worse?"

            Some time ago I switched from WALA to WELEDA products, to the Pomegranate Firming Care to be precise. It's aimed at customers in their 40s and 50s. Although the population is getting older and older, there's no range for older wrinklies. Does that mean that if I go on using these products, I'll stay forever young?

            I found the day cream and the night cream very good but too expensive for my liking and after some time switched over to a cream based on olive oil which can be used for day and night and costs a lot less. It can only be bought in German pharmacies and is therefore of no interest to British customers. I kept the Pomegranate Firming Serum, though.

            I wash my face with soap and a flannel. After experimenting with other methods I've decided to stick to this one because I like it best. Then I apply a cleansing liquid which WELEDA recommend for all skin types. After that comes the WELEDA Pomegranate Firming Face Serum and then the olive face cream. I've used this combination for quite some time now and am happy with it. I can't say if I'd look better/younger if I used different products because I don't. What I can say is that compared with coeval friends my skin looks quite good. What WELEDA promises is meant for the whole Pomegranate range, of course, but in the facial serum there must be enough good things which blend well with the ingredients of the olive face cream.

            WELEDA Pomegranate Firming Serum
            - gives mature skin a regenerating boost of nutrients. The skin receives intensive hydration, making it feel soft and smooth all day/night.
            - reduces the appearance of wrinkles.
            - improves elasticity and resilience (from the home-page)

            Ha, says I. If only. I'm not a great believer in the promises of ad speak. When I read that "Dermatological tests have shown that after 28 days of use the depth of wrinkles were reduced by 29% and the skin moisture level by 30%", I think that the tests must have been made with women who've never used any cosmetic products before like Roma women in a camp in Romania. I have no problem believing that the results of a month-long pampering process were striking under such circumstances. I doubt, though, that women using good cosmetic products regularly will have the same results.

            Whatever, nobody can prove that the product is the best and only one for my skin. But it's certainly not detrimental. Pomegranate juice, blackthorn shoot apexes, millet seed, lemons - what can be bad about such a concoction? Especially when all this is boosted by anthroposophical philosophy.

            WELEDA, named after the Celtic goddess of wisdom and healing, is situated in the small town of Schwäbisch-Gmünd, 45 km east of Stuttgart in the south of Germany. It was founded more than 90 years ago and is based on the anthroposophical teachings of Rudolf Steiner which encourage the individual to see their body, mind and spirit "as intrinsically linked to our world; all part of our holistic system. Sounds new agey? It's actually old agey - what cultures around the world have done successfully for generations" (from the homepage).

            WELEDA Pomegranate Firming Serum comes in plastic containers of 30 ml. If the top part is pressed down, the liquid comes out of a small hole. I smear it over my face and feel how the skin tautens. I like this, especially in the morning.

            Amazon sell it for from 26.99 to 42.72 GBP. I don't understand the differing prices, but I don't have to bother. German Amazon sell it for 17.10 GBP. German drugstores sell it for less and no postage. Put the item on the shopping list for your next trip to Germany.

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            • Skios - Michael Frayn / Fiction Book / 87 Readings / 84 Ratings
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              18.12.2013 18:35
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              a mix-up on a Greek island

              If you've ever flown to a travel destination, you'll know the people standing at the exit gate holding up placards with the names of the passengers they're to meet and take to their respective resorts. Have you ever felt the urge to approach one of them and claim to be the person whose name they've got on their placard? Playwright and novelist Michael Frayn confesses in an interview that the idea has struck him. "It had been in my mind for a while," says Frayn. "Every time I arrived at an airport and saw the line of people holding up cards, I thought: what would happen if I went up to one of them? How far would I get?" He hasn't done it, however, but used it as the core of a plot for a novel. "I haven't got the courage to do it myself but the nice thing about writing fiction is you've got a lot of assistants who are braver than I am." One of the characteristics of literature is that it allows us to live imaginary parallel lives different from our actual ones.

              Oliver Fox, a young Brit - thick blond hair falling into his eye, soft brown eyes that make women melt - has come to the Greek island of Skios to spend a week in a cottage with a woman he's chatted up in a bar in England. The cottage belongs to friends of his on-and-off girlfriend. He and his new conquest are to meet at the airport in Skios. While waiting for his luggage he gets a message from her that she's delayed. He realises that he's forgotten the address of the cottage and sees himself camping in the airport for God knows how long. He's suddenly overcome by nausea. Why is he like this? Why does he always behave like an idiot? Will he ever change? More nausea because he knows that he'll never change. He's sick of himself and yearns for a different life.

              Then he sees an attractive young woman holding up a placard with the name of Dr. Norman Wilfred. On the spur of the moment he decides to be this man. He assumes that he's a physician but decides to tread carefully until he's sure of his new identity. By mistake he has grabbed Dr. Wilfred's suitcase at the luggage carousel which has the same kind of name tag as the one he got from his on-and-off girlfriend at home. The waiting woman's behaviour makes it clear that he's someone important.

              The real Dr. Norman Wilfred is a renowned scientist, the world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. He's been invited by the Fred Toppler Foundation on Skios to deliver a lecture to a group of people who've gathered there to be enlightened. The aim of the foundation is the advancement of civilisation. Only the best luminaries are invited to lecture, money is no problem. The guests come from all over the world, for the final lecture some even arrive by helicopter (the Greek Orthodox archbishop) and by yacht (a Russian oligarch). Dr. Norman Wilfred has delivered his lecture on many occasions in many countries to many rich people and is quite fed up with the whole circus. What keeps him going is the fact that he's well paid and pampered by whoever invites him and the occasional female guest who wants to know more about the topic.

              The story is one of misunderstandings on all fronts as you can imagine. Suspense is created by the question what will happen when the real and the fake Dr. Norman Wilfred will meet. Even more by the question what Oliver Fox will talk about when the great lecture is due on the last night of the annual meeting. After all he knows zilch about the topic. No, that's not correct. He doesn't even know what the topic is! Up to now he's always been able to come up with something when it was required. He often starts talking not knowing where it will lead him and surprises himself with what he does talk about in the end. With this adventure, however, he may have bitten off more than he can chew.

              The novel didn't catch my eye in a book shop or on Amazon. It caught my ear when I was listening to Saturday Review on BBC Radio 4 in April 2012. I like listening to this programme and the lively discussions on works of art. Often the opinions are divided. In the case of Skios they were not. There was a lot of giggling and laughing, the participants had obviously all enjoyed the book immensely. I decided at once to read it, and checked it on Amazon. Unfortunately I had forgotten that such groups get hard cover editions for their discussions. I wasn't willing to spend so much money on the book and then also pay overseas postage for it. Although I was convinced of the sincerity of the hilarity of the Saturday Reviewers, a grain of doubt remained if I'd have the same feelings. The idea of spending my hard earned Amazon vouchers on a book I wouldn't enjoy much troubled me. I decided to wait until the paperback edition was out and the price had gone down. When it had reached 87p I struck.

              I was happy to read the book at last and I fully agree with the enthusiastic panel of BBC's Saturday Review. The story is a farce. Michael Frayn, a famous playwright of farcical plays, wanted to see if the genre also worked in written form for individual readers. Laughter in a theatre is infectious. Would they also see the fun and be amused when reading alone at home? Obviously, yes. A farce is a comedy characterized by improbable situations and broad satire. In Skios you've got improbable situations galore due to the mix-up of the two characters. As if this weren't enough, Oliver Fox's chat-up girlfriend and the on-and-off one also arrive soon afterwards. Satire is produced by describing the silly behaviour of the guests of the Fred Toppler Foundation who consider themselves an intellectual elite mainly because of the size of their bank account. A shady criminal transaction is thrown in as an extra.

              I like it that Frayn doesn't use superfluous descriptions and paddings. He's thought up a crazy plot, crazy characters and describes them matter-of-factly. Seemingly positive remarks are repeated several times until they become silly and turn into the opposite. We're led onto a high intellectual level only to realise that there isn't much below it. Oliver Fox carries the story. He's able to do so because he's got the kind of charm that attracts both men and women. They move him along when he himself doesn't know where he's going. He's a blagger, a show-off, a charmer, a smooth operator, a swindler blessed with the gift of the gab. He could sell ice to the Eskimos. He never gets qualms of conscience because he has no conscience. He wouldn't know how to spell the word. What he does for a living, where the money comes from he needs for his escapades is something we never learn, but it doesn't really matter. There'll always be someone willing to pay for him.

              Dr. Norman Wilfred, the elderly, unattractive, cynical scientist, who's lived for years on his one (boring) lecture also understands that something is wrong with him and is also too self-content and lazy to do anything about it. In his outward appearance, education and way of life he's a stark contrast to Oliver Fox. Deep down however, they have something in common.

              The guest and the staff as well as two recurring taxi-drivers are flat characters which isn't a bad thing if their flatness is funny.

              I'd say that I was at the edge of my seat waiting for the denouement but I read the book in bed. I didn't fall off the mattress when it came, but it was certainly surprising and unforeseen for me. It's a grandiose finale worthy of the Greek setting. I'm sure the Gods responsible for the arts have applauded.

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              • More +
                13.11.2013 19:04
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                cooking a la japonaise

                Women! Imagine this: You come home from work and find the place where you've lived with your man for some years empty. Without any advance warning. Cleared of everything. Looking as it did when you first saw it with the estate agent. He hasn't only taken his own things but everything you possess, too, including your savings hidden in a mattress.

                This is what happens to 25-year-old Rinko, a Japanese woman who's lived together with her Indian boyfriend. She works as a cook in a Japanese restaurant, he as a maître d' in a Turkish one. Their plan for the future was to open a restaurant of their own.

                No nervous breakdown for Rinko, no hysterical fits. Matter-of-factly, she takes her only remaining possession, a pot of vegetable pickles her grandmother prepared years ago, which her boyfriend overlooked because she kept it outside the flat, buys a bus ticket with the money she's got in her purse and returns to her mother who she hasn't been in contact with for ten years. The shock has made Rinko mute, she communicates with people in writing.

                Her mother who runs a bar leases her a shed in the garden where she establishes a very original restaurant. She only accepts one booking a day, takes only single guests, couples or families but never several guest who don't know each other. She invites the guests before the meal, gets to know their characters, their problems, their dreams and tastes and then composes a meal especially for them. As she's got a wide experience from the various restaurants she worked for and especially her grandmother and as she throws all her love for cooking into the enterprise, she's soon successful. She even helps an anorexic rabbit overcome its eating disorder. On a daily basis she bakes a special kind of bread for Hermes, her mother's pet sow which seems to have taken her daughter's place in her heart.

                The book is a novella of 193 pages. A novella is a fictional prose narrative, longer and more complex than a short story but shorter than a novel. Sometimes, but not necessarily, it has a moral or satirical point. It's a one-topic tale with only one thread, no nifty twists are to be expected. The text of The Restaurant of Love Regained isn't divided into chapters which in my opinion is no problem. The reading process can be interrupted whenever something new occurs. After Rinko has set up and equipped her restaurant the natural breaks are the episodes with the different clients leading to the climax of her mother's wedding party which Rinko caters for.

                So what is the book about? Firstly, it's a good yarn, an entertaining read. Rinko's mother is a virgin when she marries at the age of 50+. What? How's that possible? Maybe you don't know what a water pistol baby is? You learn it here. I wouldn't call the book humourous, it's more of the quirky kind. I haven't got the foggiest, however, what Japanese humour is like. Maybe it is of the quirky kind.

                Then it's about a woman who has been tripped and has fallen but doesn't despair. Rinko's got a healthy self-confidence, knows what she's good at and builds herself a new and satisfying life from scratch. This can be encouraging for readers in a similar predicament.

                It's also a back-to-nature and the simple things tale. Rinko goes from the city to the village, back to the roots. She uses the natural ingredients she finds in the area for her refined culinary creations. She gets meat and vegetables from farmers she knows, she picks herbs and berries in the forest. In an age when Ecology is written with a capital letter, her story is cutting edge.

                Rinko started working in the city when she was fifteen. That means she's got no formal education, maybe doesn't even know how to spell the word psychology. But she can observe and listen and draw conclusions. These skills combined with her profound knowledge of the power of food make her have better results than many a studied psychologist.

                Furthermore, the strained relationship between mothers and daughters is a well-known and often worked on literary topic. Its Japanese version may appeal to readers who're interested in such things. The same is true for 'healing with food'. This puts the book into a list of novels by authors from Western countries dealing with the same subject. Think Joanne Harris's Chocolat and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. Readers who've liked these books may also like The Restaurant of Love Regained.

                How much the story allows us to deduce about the current state of Japanese society and the rôle of women therein is something I can't answer. It seems that the author's message is a post-feminist one, namely that women should be self-confident and independent but are happiest in their own kitchen preserving traditional values. Maybe it's this message which is responsible for the enormous success the book has had in Japan (800.000 sold copies)? I wouldn't know, Japan is too alien for me. But it sets me thinking, of course, which is always a good thing.

                The Restaurant of Love Regained is not only set in Japan, it was also written in Japanese by a Japanese author. Oh?! So the Japanese produce literary fiction, too? Who'd have thunk it. One doesn't hear much about it, does one? Why don't they write in English so that everybody can read what they have to say? What was the British Empire for if not to spread the English language all over the globe and thusly spare the Brits the effort of learning foreign languages? It didn't include the Japanese? Bad luck for them. Of course, one could read translations. But no, better not. So much is lost in translations. Such remarks sound, oh, so sophisticated but are, ach, so silly and not thought through at all.

                I've read this argument repeatedly, mostly from people who don't know a foreign language at all or not well enough to compare the original text and the translation. The British are widely acknowledged to be substandard speakers of foreign languages. Their mother tongue having become the No 1 world language can be seen as a blessing, but it's also a curse. From the net, "Just 3 per cent of the 200,000 new titles published each year in the UK are translations--and the figure is even lower for fiction, equating to only a few hundred novels a year. In France, around 30 per cent of the books published are translations--and its national literature and literary culture remain as robust as ever. So why the cultural xenophobia on this side of la Manche?"

                There are bad translations, no doubt, but there are also badly written and badly edited original texts. A good translation is a work of art and deserves admiration. It is only logical that a 1:1 translation isn't possible. Different cultures have different terms, images, idiomatic expressions, sayings, proverbs. A people living near the sea will draw its imagery from it. How to translate one of their texts into a language spoken by a people living in desert country? Also, nobody would be able to read a whole book, well, not even one page, in which the grammatical constructions of the original language were transferred into the target language. A translation may have to become a second creation.

                Who says that something is necessarily lost? Why not gained? Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, said that Gregory Rabassa's translation of his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude was better than his own creation.

                So, be grateful that The Restaurant of Love Regained was so successful in Japan that it caught the eye of a scout and was translated into English. An author can't decide to conquer the world market on their own. Either they're discovered or they aren't. There are fairs where translation rights are sold. It's business, that's what it is. Literature as such doesn't play a big part in it. Translator David Karashima did a good job in my opinion. The book reads well. A translation is successful when a reader doesn't notice that it is one and this is the case here. I noticed only one grammatical slip but then such a thing can happen to an author, too. The editor should have seen and eliminated it. Shame on them.

                Shame also on the perpetrator responsible for the English title and the book cover. I found out that the Japanese title is simply 'The Snail Café (or: Restaurant or: Canteen)', the name of Rinko's eatery. The title The Restaurant of Love Regained, the dark red cover with the upper half of a woman's body seen from behind scarcely clad in a corsage suggest some erotic Asian fiction the book is definitely not. The author can't be held responsible for all this. I pity her. The suggestive cover may heighten the sales figures in Great Britain, but I doubt that she's happy with the reason for that.

                I enjoyed reading the book and can recommend it, maybe not as a main dish, but as a tasty dessert.

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                  29.10.2013 14:05
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                  The only vegetarian restaurant in Stuttgart, Germany.

                  If you're a veggie, Germany isn't your dream destination. Germany is roast pork and sausage country. Once we had a visitor from Italy who begged to be fed only sausages. I succeeded in giving him different kinds prepared in different ways for several days.

                  Restaurant menus do have a section 'meals for vegetarians', but it's usually small. After some days of travelling around you'll know what's on offer. It's mostly some egg dish, noodles and salads. Truth be told, however, things are getting better. But a 100% vegetarian restaurant is still an exception. I know only one, the IDEN (pronounced eeden) in Stuttgart. Should you ever visit the home of Mercedes, Porsche and Bosch and feel like eating good veggie food, go there. I can recommend it. It's right in the centre, two minutes on foot from the market square and the city hall, two minutes from Breuninger, the biggest and best department store of Stuttgart.

                  Exiting the S-Bahn (underground) station Rathaus, you find yourself at the entrance. Nine tables with four chairs each and two for two are outside between the windows of the restaurant - the overhanging first floor of the building serves as a kind of roof - and a wall belonging to the exit of the S-Bahn. Some people use it to put their trays on when eating. In contrast to other eateries the furniture is never taken in and no matter what the weather is like, there's always someone sitting outside and eating. Winter temperatures? Bah! A committed veggie is tough (don't include yours truly here).

                  Stepping through the entrance which opens automatically when you approach (you need your hands to carry your tray and wouldn't be able to use a handle) you find yourself standing in front of a staircase with two flights leading up to the first floor where the loos are as well as a board screwed to a wall for putting babies on and changing nappies. Precisely at eye level there's a wooden beam onto which a sign is pinned telling the customers to switch off their mobile phones. An A+ for that! To the left of the foot of the staircase is an opening in the wall with a constantly moving belt. When you've finished eating, you put your tray on it. Kitchen helps take it off to clean it. A room opens to the left where altogether 35 people can sit (I counted the chairs). The tables range from small ones with two chairs to large ones with six chairs. Who needs six chairs? Well, this is an informal restaurant where you sit together with strangers. You see a free chair, go there and ask if you may sit down and if the answer is yes, do so. The Germans in this part of the country aren't very communicative with strangers, but it can happen that you get into a conversation.

                  To the right of the staircase you find the food you've come for. There's a big oval construction in the middle of the room with two tiers on which the bowls containing the food stand. You snatch a tray and a plate, move along the shelf leading round it and take as much as you want from whatever appeals to your gustative nerves. This is what I love about the restaurant: I can choose from a rich offer and can take exactly the amount I like. It's only cold food there: about 40 bowls of raw and boiled vegetables with which you can prepare a salad yourself and ready-made salads as well as boiled eggs and all kinds of condiments. At the end of your 'round' you find the desserts: a choice of six tasty puddings and fruit salads.

                  You then move away from the oval construction and go to the drinks and warm food section running along the outer end of the room. Seven freshly pressed juices, mineral water, wine, beer and lemonade are waiting for the customers. I'm conservative, I only ever drink sea buckthorn juice. It tastes good and is extremely healthy. In fact, I only drink it there and nowhere else. It's a treat I always look forward to.

                  You can also find rolls and slices of bread there and then move on to the warm dishes. A barrel like pot contains the soup of the day. I can't comment on it. I never eat soup. In my opinion it only fills the stomach but isn't substantial. It doesn't leave room for the real things. Every day three different dishes are prepared together with three different sauces. You can combine them the way you want. In order to reach the highest level of freshness all the food in the restaurant is only prepared in small quantities. When they've been nearly consumed, new food is made. Because of this you always see people moving through the restaurant, emptying and filling pots and bowls. They're friendly. When I had broken my arm and had to wear a plaster cast, I could fill my plate with my right hand but not carry my tray. A young woman helped me do this. At the end of the shelf there are different kinds of pancakes and veggie burgers and several kinds of boiled vegetables. They only change according to the season but not daily. The IDEN restaurant doesn't just offer non-meat dishes. The products they use have all been grown according to strict ecological rules. No industrially produced flour or sugar are used. No preservatives or taste enhancers. The eggs come from free run hens, desserts are sweetened with honey or sweet fruit juices.

                  The tray is full, now off to one of the three tills. The prices for the drinks are fixed, the food is weighed. You put your plate(s) onto scales and see how much you have to pay. I like this concept very much indeed. I always have to pay between 10 and 12 Euros for a warm dish, some salad and a dessert. Considering that my sea buckthorn juice costs 2.50 Euros I find this a good price.

                  Behind the tills is a large room with mostly tables for six. I haven't counted how many people can sit here. I guess twice as many as in the smaller room. There's also a coffee, tea, chocolate and cake station. The cakes look delicious, but I'm usually too full after a meal and can't eat any. Pity.

                  You've already realised that this isn't your usual restaurant with waiters and traditional etiquette. Entries on the net show that not everybody likes the concept. Nobody complains about the food but quite a lot of people complain about the atmosphere. I must admit the restaurant does have the shabby charm of the dining-room of a not too new youth hostel. But then, why not? I don't know any other restaurant which does. That means it's a defining criterion. The fact that around noon it's always packed full shows that many people think like me. What kind of people are these? Certainly not only veggies but people from nearly all walks of life. The ones I haven't seen there are city slickers of whom there must be many in the vicinity because of the many businesses and the city hall nearby. But who misses them? I don't. They're welcome to take their money to elegant restaurants where the service may be tops but the food not even half as good or where they have to pay for food on the plate they don't want to eat.

                  I always use the loos but only when I decided to review the IDEN restaurant, did I realise that I had never considered the question how disabled people managed. I asked a woman from the staff how disabled people got up to the loos. She said, "They don't." Hmmm. Not good. I'm not disabled, so I don't suffer in this respect. I must say, however, that I don't like the loos very much even as an able person because they're tiny and the walls are flimsy. All the many obese people one sees nowadays wouldn't get into one of the cubicles or if they did, wouldn't get out again. I, not fat, fill it completely if I've got my rucksack and a shopping bag with me. The room in front of the wash basin is comfortable only for women slim as a 'hunger hook'. The walls of the cubicles are made of flake board and not even painted. Here the cheap charm goes too far in my opinion. Half a star off for this.

                  The day after tomorrow I'll be in Stuttgart again for a lecture and a seminar at uni. Will I eat at the IDEN restaurant? Of course, I will. And I'll drink sea buckthorn juice.

                  Self-Service Restaurant IDEN
                  Eberhardstraße 1
                  70173 Stuttgart
                  Mo to Fr: 11 am - 6 pm
                  Sa: 11 am to 5 pm
                  closed on Sundays and holidays

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                    19.09.2013 20:36
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                    the most famous German transparent adhesive tape

                    You can ask a group of Germans if anyone has got tesa with them and nearly everyone will know what you're talking about and hand you any kind of adhesive tape in case they've got some with them. Tesa, aka tesafilm, has reached the pinnacle in the world of products, higher is not possible. The brand name has become the generic name for the product.

                    Nowadays there are about 6.500 different tesa products which are sold in more than 100 countries - from China to the Vatican - , yet brand awareness seems to be restricted to its homeland. At least in the UK the name tesa doesn't seem to ring any bells although tesa products are sold there as well. Surprising! Maybe I can change that. It often happens, doesn't it, that after hearing or reading about something, you suddenly notice it. About 300 products are on offer for the office, home and garden, for affixing, mounting, packaging, renovating, repairing, insulating, and protection from insects, dust and drafts. That means it's nearly impossible to avoid contact with a tesa product.

                    I'm going to restrict myself to the tesa transparent adhesive tape. Firstly, it was the first tesa product, secondly, it's the most widely known and thirdly the most impressive statistics wise.

                    - It was 'discovered' in 1936 when it transpired that an adhesive bandage wasn't as good as it was supposed to be. It irritated the skin and so the scientist in charge made a virtue of necessity and launched the first technical adhesive tape.
                    - 98% of the German population know it and 76% like it. Count me in.
                    - About 50 billion meters have been sold since its launch in 1936. Try imagining this! Test your imagination with this fact: with the amount sold in 2010 2.800 soccer fields could have been covered completely.

                    When the tesa adhesive tape is rolled up, it looks slightly yellow (as you can see in the pic at the top of the site). When I roll it off the dispenser, it looks transparent. Odd. I guess that it's very slightly coloured and that the colour only shows when many layers of tape are on top of each other. When you look at one single strip of tape, it appears colourless. The normal household and office tesa adhesive tape comes in three widths: 12, 15 and 19 mm. If I'm not mistaken, one roll is 50 m long. Every now and then new dispensers are developed by the tesa designers to make your desk look stylish and cutting edge. There's also an eco friendly variety. They can all be used for all widths. Mine is old, red and blue and slightly broken. I keep it in the drawer. Think of it, I could spoil myself with a new one.

                    I must confess that I haven't always been faithful to tesa and also bought adhesive tape from no name firms. Yet I've returned to tesa remorsefully. It is the best. I don't use it regularly but have it handy for all kinds of paper related adhering stuff. The family living with us in our house know that I've got a roll in my desk and borrow it when in need. The last time I bought one the shop assistant asked me which width I wanted. I didn't know what to say because I hadn't measured my old one and asked for the middle one. Now I think it would have been better to take the widest. I don't much like working with tiny things. But it isn't a problem.

                    You may be interested in the name. What does tesa mean in German? It means nothing. The brand name was created out of the letters of a secretary's name. She was called Elsa Tesmer. The first two letters of her surname 'te' and the last two letters of her name 'sa' make 'tesa'. A stroke of genius which may have helped to make the product saleable worldwide. Would it have had the same success had the secretary been called, say, Ingeborg Strasser. 'strg' doesn't sound too snappy, does it?

                    It doesn't make much sense to mention a price here. British Amazon sell tesa adhesive tape, but you wouldn't order it there, would you, and pay more for the postage than for the product. Look out for it at your stationary's or supermarket.

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                      11.09.2013 14:15
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                      a German parasol, also for British balconies and gardens

                      Our house has a small, rectangular balcony sitting on top of a bay. Its railing is a row of short columns and slabs of sandstone. The house was built in the Art Nouveaux Style about 120 years ago and is rather attractive from the outside (living in such an old building is a different matter). It can only be used by one person because of its size and also because I'm afraid it may fall off together with the bay if there's too much weight on it. It faces west and when the sun is shining in summer it becomes too hot there. I use it only in late afternoon and then with a parasol. The parasol covers the whole balcony and sort of closes it off. If I use it earlier in the day, it's unbearably hot underneath.

                      There's room only for a deckchair, a small table and the stand of a parasol. This thingy is a nuisance, it occupies space which one could use otherwise. The best solution would be to have a blind fixed to the facade. A craftsman told me, however, that if a nail were hammered into the plaster covering it the whole layer of plaster would fall off it.
                      It has to be a rectangular parasol. I've already ruined some over the years. It can happen that they get stuck at one of the iron hooks sticking out of the wall (from the former blind construction). I can't get them off without tearing the cloth which means an untimely end. The last specimen was too light. It had about twenty thin and light stretchers and the gentlest breeze would bend them up. I had to constantly get up and turn them back down. This year I got tired of this sportive exercise and bought a new parasol, the Schneider Monza 606-11 Rectangular Sun Parasol to be precise. Schneider is a German firm which has made parasols for different occasions for over 140 years. I am surprised to find that British Amazon offer German parasols. A parasol is not a Mercedes or a Porsche. I'm sure Brits can also make them. What's even more puzzling is that they're much cheaper overseas than at home.

                      I've chosen the green specimen, it looks precisely like the one in the pic at the top of the site. (You can also get it in off-white, yellow and blue). It measures approximately 180x120 cm. The frame is white powder coated with four U-profile stretchers and a metal tilt mechanism. The pole diameter is 25 mm. It looks really good. The fabric is 100% polyester which is rot-resistant and water-repellent. I don't sit outside when the rain is gushing down, but I've sat on the balcony in a light drizzle and felt fine under my parasol which then served as a parapluie. The English term parasol is the same as in French meaning 'for sun'. Strangely, the English language uses only this term and not also parapluie which means 'for rain'.
                      The four stretchers look sturdy and up to now haven't had the urge to bend upwards in a gentle breeze when I'm sitting underneath. The tilt mechanism is important for me. In late afternoon the sunrays come from a sharp angle and touch my skin. With the parasol tilted towards them I can avoid that.

                      I'm not a one for frying in the sun. Not only because I don't want to look like a wrinkly baked apple when I'm old. I just don't like it. So I'm not so interested in what Schneider parasols have to offer and advertise especially, namely that they come with sun protection factor from 15 to 80 in accordance with Australian/New Zealand standard. The one I've got ranges from 40 to 79. That's rather a wide range, I don't really know what to make of it. There seems to me a big difference between staying in the sun 40 or 70 times longer than without the protection of the parasol. Well, whatever. It's not my beer as the Germans say. Besides, I don't live in Australia or New Zealand. I'm not a sun worshipper and when I've read my newspaper and dozed a bit, I usually go back inside anyway.

                      British Amazon sell this parasol for 25.79 £. I didn't buy a stand for it because I still had the one from the parasols before.
                      Recommended.

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                        05.09.2013 11:56
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                        the story of two hairdressers in Harare

                        Vimbai is the best hairdresser in the hair salon where she works. As it is the best in Harare, it means that she's the best of all Zimbabwe. Her success comes from her conviction that 'Your client should leave the salon feeling like a white woman.'

                        Her status as queen-bee is challenged when a vacancy comes up and a young man applies for the job. Dumisani is good-looking, charming and, as Vimbai has to admit reluctantly, extremely talented. Instead of doing what the clients want he talks them into hairstyles which suit them best. First they're shocked, then pleased because he's always right.

                        Of course, Vimbai is jealous but she can't hold his talent against him, can she? When he tells her that he has no place to stay because of familial trouble, she takes him in as a lodger. She's inherited a house from one of her brothers in which she lives with her daughter. The girl is the result of an affair with a good-for-nothing, rich sugar daddy who cruises the streets of Harare looking for beautiful, naive girls to seduce. When they become pregnant, he leaves them.

                        Vimbai and Dumisani get closer - as is to be expected. He asks her to accompany him to his brother's wedding. She's overwhelmed by the reception of his extremely rich family. Why are they so friendly to her and her daughter? Why do they thank her? She starts dreaming that something good and lasting may develop between her and Dumisani. But she's repeatedly irritated by his friendly yet distant behaviour. I'll leave it here.

                        I know from tons of thrillers I've read that I'm not good at imagining where a plot is going. I've accepted that and wait patiently for the ending. (Only very, very rarely do I peep at the last pages). Yet, in the case of the Hairdresser of Harare it's so obvious what's going on that even I found it out fairly soon!

                        The story is told by Vimbai in the first person perspective and it must be said that she's even dumber than I usually am. She notices nothing. She's not a woman of the world. Although she's gone through trouble having a child out of wedlock and being dumped by the father and by her family because of fights about inheriting the house, she hasn't acquired insight into human nature. She's still the naive girl at heart she was when she was picked up. Sometimes it's a bit too much for the reader. Several times I wanted to shake her and shout, "Don't you see?" When the truth dawns on her at last, her impulse is to seek revenge for the humiliation she feels.

                        Of course, there wouldn't be a story if she saw through Dumisani from the start. Well, let's accept the way Tendai Huchu has constructed it. But obviously he was afraid that Vimbai's naivety would be a bit boring if he kept it up throughout the whole story. So he decided to interrupt the flow every now and then and put in sentences like this: Little did I know then what that meant. Or: Later I learnt the hard way that..., etc. This is a cheap literary device to create tension. The editor should have slapped the author's fingers.

                        Another reason for doing this are the insertions of words in a language I don't understand. It's Shona, one of the 16 official languages of Zimbabwe. I've found that out through google but not what the words mean. To be honest, I don't care. Should I ever feel the urge to learn a fifth foreign language, it won't be Shona, of this I'm sure. But since when do I have to have google running alongside when reading a novel? Admittedly, I, a German, am not a member of the target readership. I have background knowledge of Britain's colonial past, but no feelings for it. It's not my history. The story is targeted at Zimbabweans who can read English and British readers, of course. Considering how many colonies there were with thousands of different languages all told, how many British readers know what the following expressions mean: Makadini henyu / Maswera sei / Taswera maswerawo? If only writers would abstain from sprinkling their books with words of foreign languages. It doesn't create atmosphere and local colour but is a nuisance. I can't accuse Tendai Huchu of showing off because he is from Zimbabwe. What he does is just plain silly and annoying.

                        In an interview Tendai Huchu maintains that storytelling is an end in itself. "I wrote The Hairdresser because I wanted to tell a story." He seems to be amused by foreigners who want to read more into it. "The Zimbabwean reader recognises it purely as a work of fiction, and I doubt attaches any great importance to the book apart from its value as a piece of entertainment." It's true that the current political situation of Zimbabwe isn't a topic even though Mugabe's wife and one of his female ministers are clients at the hairdresser's.

                        But no author writing a realistic novel can avoid real life creeping in. The so-called realia are the flesh which covers the skeleton, the mere plot. A realistic novel is set somewhere, in a city or a landscape. There are changing weather conditions. The protagonists move from A to B. How do they move? Which means of transportation do they use? The feel of a novel is certainly different if they drive expensive German cars or move along in a mule-drawn cart. They communicate. How do they do this? Thrillers written in the last decade have a different feel from older ones. Sherlock Holmes had to send messenger boys to the post office to send telegrammes. Nowadays every detective has got a mobile phone. Know what I mean?

                        What I learn about Zimbabwe without the author wanting to teach me about is what makes the novel worth reading for me. It's mentioned twice that the unemployment rate is 90%. Is that possible? I checked on google where I found that Zimbabwe is at the top of the list of countries with high unemployment rates. Why the country hasn't already had to pack in for good is a mystery for me. Although the political situation can't be compared to the one in the GDR (German Democratic Republic) in the least bit, how people organise their daily lives and cope with permanent emergency reminded me of what I know from my relatives. Besides the (not working) economy of the state there's one of the people. One hand washes the other. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Without connections you're lost. The queues when basic goods are sold. The spirit of the people who despite the bleak reality don't give up and find opportunities to enjoy themselves.
                        The novel isn't outrageously funny, but occasionally humour glimpses through. When Vimbai opens her own salon she says, "The salon really took off in the new year. I figured since the country's average life expectancy was 37, I would concentrate on the young and the beautiful."

                        Why did I order this novel from Amazon for my Kindle for 99 p? The news that Mugabe had just been "elected" as president for the seventh time must have influenced me when I was browsing. I'm glad I did. All in all it's a good and recommendable read.

                        ----
                        P.S. Haare is the German word for hair. I know that this is the British dooyoo site, but when the idea for the title struck me, I couldn't resist.

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                        • Ikea Lack Side Table / Furniture / 126 Readings / 120 Ratings
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                          26.08.2013 20:23
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                          a side table from IKEA

                          I had contemplated for a while to dispose of the small plastic table I had for many years on my balcony. It had served me well day in, day out. I never took it inside, so it had become shabby. When a recent hailstorm with hailstones the size of walnuts smashed several holes in its surface (besides causing damages for 1 billion Euros in the region), its fate was sealed.

                          I didn't want to spend much money and turned to IKEA. Unfortunately, they don't have rain proof plastic tables of the size I needed. The nearest I got to the old one was a side table called Lack (which is Swedish for lacquer). I ordered it online and assembled it. I did this alone because I think this is advisable with regard to marital peace. Obviously I can do it properly, the three other pieces of furniture I assembled in the past have been standing and doing their duty for many years. Besides, in the case of Lack I wouldn't know what a second person should do. The assembly of the table is so simple that even someone with a two digit IQ can do it.

                          The package weighs 4.2 kg. I couldn't find anywhere how much the table proper weighs and don't have big enough scales to weigh it. I guess around 3.8 kg, not much anyway. The package contains the square table top (55 x 55 cm), four legs (40 cm high) and four metal screws. There's no instruction leaflet. The screws lie in a cardboard box on whose bottom are some drawings as to how to assemble the table. I only looked at them cursorily, took a screw and began to screw it by hand into the hole in one corner of the underside of the top board as indicated. There's no screwdriver in the screw box. My fingers started hurting pretty soon and I thought, "Do the IKEA peepz want me to screw in four legs in this way? They must be crazy!" I took a leg, put it on top of the screw (it has points at both ends) and turned it. In this way I screwed the screw into the table and also into the leg in one go. I congratulated myself on this brill idea and planned to write a letter to the IKEA designer in question. When I took the second screw out of the box, I saw to my surprise that what I had done was shown in the second drawing which I hadn't looked at before. This only proves that someone at IKEA's is as intelligent as I am.

                          The top is made of particleboard, fibreboard, ABS plastic, printed and embossed acrylic paint and clear acrylic lacquer. The legs are made of particleboard, fibreboard and foil. I've taken this information from IKEA online. I wouldn't be able to tell you what the terms mean. The table is so light because the inside of the top board and the legs is stuffed with paper! Nevertheless it can carry weight up to 25 kg.

                          I'm especially interested in the instructions on how to clean the table. "Wipe clean with a cloth dampened in a mild cleaner. Wipe dry with a clean cloth." Sounds as if the table could endure rain when standing outside on the balcony. But I won't risk it because the legs aren't closed with foil underneath. When you look at their lower ends, you look at their inner lives. In case of rain humidity would get it and soon the whole thing would rot.

                          The table is offered in ten colours: black, black-brown, pink, turquoise, grey, red, white, high-gloss white, oak effect. I chose the colour 'birch effect'.
                          It costs 8 GBP. This is the first time I say that a price is too low. It's ridiculous. That's two packets of cigarettes! Who couldn't pay 9 or even 10 GBP? IKEA should give their workers in poor countries higher wages. I'm sure we wouldn't want to know how little they actually earn.

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                            21.08.2013 17:05
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                            a recommendable over-the-counter nose spray

                            I have a confession to make: I'm a recovered drug addict. Now you're gawking, aren't you? I know that you're bursting with curiosity as to which drug I was addicted to. It was nose spray! Oh yes, indeed, and I'm not pulling your leg.

                            Many years ago I had my annual cold - a cough and a running nose - which I expected to last for about a week as usual. The cough subsided, the snot became less but instead of returning back to normal my nose became blocked. I couldn't breathe properly any more. I went to a pharmacy and bought a medical nasal spray. I'm not mentioning the name here because it's a German product and you wouldn't know it anyway. It brought me immediate relief but only for some hours. Well, I didn't expect that spraying the stuff into my nose only once would unblock it for good. I sprayed again, I could breathe again until my nose was blocked again. And so on. The periods between spraying and blocking became shorter and shorter. I had the spray always with me wherever I went. This went on for two weeks. I had never had problems with my nose for such a long time, so I decided to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. He told me that I didn't suffer from cold related nose problems but had become addicted to the spray, an affliction *which happens rather often*! He prescribed tablets to get off the spray and gave me a receipt for a liquid the pharmacist had to prepare especially for me - the only time that this happened and that I didn't get a prefabricated medicine - which I had to fill into my nose at regular intervals. By and by I could breathe normally again. Since then I've never touched medicinal nasal spray again.

                            I entertained a colleague who often goes to France with this story. He told me about a specialty he'd got to know there: cleaned sea water in a spray bottle for the detumescence of mucosa. I had never heard about such a thing and went to a pharmacy to ask if something like this was also sold in Germany. I began to describe the stuff but the pharmacist didn't hear me out, she went to a drawer and came back with a bottle of Rhinomer. "This is what you want." Aha.

                            Rhinomer is sterile, isotonic (the salt content is lower than in actual sea water) seawater containing mineral salts and trace elements without any preserving agents. It cares for the mucous membranes in the nose and throat. It's recommended not only for people who've got a cold but also for those who spend much time in air-conditioned rooms and/or are in contact with many people on a daily basis. It can be used by children from the age of 3, by pregnant and breast-feeding women and all consenting adults.

                            The nozzle on the top of the container is inserted into the schnozzle. Small children get one puff, grown-ups two several times a day. While spraying one should inhale slightly. Rhinomer can be used over a longer period of time. It must not be stored in rooms over 30° C warm. For hygienic reasons a container should only be used by one person. The opening should be dried after use and the protection cap put on again.

                            At the moment I've got a container standing on my desk. I have to throw it into the bin, however, because it has been standing there for some time. After the first use Rhinomer should only be used for six months.

                            Now we come to a problem. I don't live or work in air-conditioned rooms and am not in contact with many people. I only use Rhinomer when I've got a cold. This means I don't need much. The bottle I buy in German pharmacies contains 20 ml. When I throw it away, it's still half full. I haven't got the foggiest idea why Amazon sell the Spanish (the text is in Spanish) variety containing 135 ml (6.60 GBP). I can't imagine a cold lasting for so long that you'd use this amount. I know this big bottle because I once bought it on Tenerife when I didn't get rid of the blocked nose I had acquired during the flight. That was an expensive cure because - as stated above - one shouldn't use Rhinomer after six months any more and I didn't have a cold during the following half year. So, if you'd like to use Rhinomer for colds, try to either find small bottles in British pharmacies (I wouldn't know because I don't live in the country) or buy them during your next trip to Germany. If you want to use it regularly, however, because you live and work in surroundings with bad air or want to do something for your general well-being, buy the big one from Amazon. I can recommend it whole-heartedly.

                            In any case: Happy breathing!

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                              13.08.2013 13:45
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                              Crimes in Greece

                              Gabrilis Kaloyeros is a very old man, it's very likely that he doesn't know himself how old he is. He's got a patch of land near the ruins of the Temple of Apollo on the Greek island of Arcadia where he grows melons and keeps bees. All could be well if there weren't a crooked developer who, despite being one of the richest men already, had set his mind on building holiday chalets for foreign tourists at just this spot because of the wonderful view of the Mediterranean Sea. One of his equally crooked sons persuades the old man to sign away the land to them by telling him a tall tale he doesn't understand. A short time later when transporting melons on his tricycle to his stall at the harbour Gabrilis is killed in a hit-and-run accident.

                              The person to find him beside the road is Hermes Diaktoros, an Athenian who's known and liked the old man for many years. He's got a house on the island and visits occasionally. The two policemen, Sergeant Gazis and rookie assistant Petridis suspect him of the deed, not because they've got proof but because they don't know where else to look. Hermes isn't troubled by this, however, he tells them he's going to help them find the culprit. He hints at having 'access to facts the constabulary doesn't have'.

                              So this is a thriller set on a Greek island. The thriller aspect is good. The old man's death leads the reader into a maze of greed and corruption. The solution is satisfying.
                              The Greek island aspect is done as is to be expected. It's summer, the heat is immense. Cicadas 'sing', flowers exude enchanting fragrances. Olive groves speckle the hill sides. The sea is turquoise and blue and warm. Snorkellers see schools of fish when swimming. It's all there, taken straight out of a leaflet for tourists from drab northern European countries. I've been to Greece twice, but not in summer. Yet, I know what the author describes here is true. I know Sardinia very well and have been to some other islands in the Mediterranean Sea. They're more or less all alike landscape-wise. After some years you have problems remembering where you've seen what. "Now, where was the taverna with the good food, the cheap wine and the magnificent sunset?"

                              The book isn't funny throughout, but the scene in which the owner of a restaurant cheats unsuspecting tourists is pure satire. "Goat cheese from my own herd up in the mountains!" Hah! "Wine from my brother-in-law's prize winning vineyard!" Hah again! "Fish only caught this morning!" Triple hah!

                              What Hermes notices after many years of absence is also true for all islands in the Mediterranean Sea no matter to which country they belong. Mass tourism has changed not only the aspect of the islands but also the character of the people who're in contact with it. It's nice to be able to say, "I was there (wherever it is) before mass tourism started." It's silly, however, to show off with this experience. I can't go on hols and deny other people the same pleasure. I dislike being together with hordes of people with all my heart, but what can one do? The problem lies elsewhere, namely, that many tourists behave badly and the inhabitants of the places tourists want to visit, commit horrible crimes in the field of infrastructure and architecture to satisfy their greed.

                              Greed is the catch-word in this book. It's the second in what is to become a series on the seven deadly sins. The first is about lust, this one is about greed and the others, what will they be about? --- Why not brush up your knowledge on Greek mythology? It'll also help you understand the title of this book, 'The Taint of Midas'.

                              The locals are convincingly depicted. Unfortunately, the main character, Hermes Diaktoros, isn't. We get to know minute details. We know the colour of his shorts, the kind of slippers he wears on the way from the bedroom to the bathroom. Several times we read that he carries a holdall with him wherever he goes. In it is a bottle of white shoe finish which he applies when he spots a blemish on his white tennis shoes. Who cares? All these minute details don't bring the man to life. He remains aloof. Does he have family? Does he love women, men, both, neither? What is his job? Where does his money come from? He calls himself an investigator. Who employs him? Is he independent or does he have a boss? How come he's got 'access to facts the constabulary doesn't have'?

                              The deeper I got into the story, the more I was reminded of Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Mr Quin (sometimes written Quinn), not one of her most famous thrillers. I learnt about it in Puerto de la Cruz on Tenerife where there is a beautiful garden once belonging to an English family and now open to the public. Agatha Christie wrote The Mysterious Mr Quinn in this garden. I expected something about the island in the book, but Tenerife doesn't feature. Mr Quinn and Hermes Diaktoros come from somewhere, see what has gone wrong and set things right. The name Hermes - an Olympian god in Greek religion and mythology - hasn't been chosen for nothing. The Hermes of this book dispenses moral guidance wherever he thinks it's needed, helping not only the policemen to clear up the case of Gabrilis' death but also setting the rookie policeman right who's strayed from the path of virtue, helping an orthodox priest to cure his eczema and a neglected wife to see that there's still a bright future for her. It's all a bit much if you ask me. Or, in the words of a critic, "So far there is no walking on water. But there is a definite hint of supernatural agency in his unravelling of crime and the meting out of justice."

                              I don't like reading about the supernatural and the mysterious. Yet, The Taint of Midas keeps within the boundaries. I can just bear it. What gets on my nerves, though, is that Hermes Diaktoros is called 'the fat man' on every other page. Why think of a nice name for him at all? It's not only 'the fat man' all the time, it's also discussed repeatedly that he isn't really so fat but only appears to be. This annoys me so much that I deduct one star. If you can overlook this, are fascinated by Greece and mystery novels, then this may just be the perfect reading matter for you.

                              The book is what reviewers call 'a good summer read', but the Greek summer is described in a way that it can also keep you warm on a cold English winter day.

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                                06.08.2013 15:43
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                                the only jewellery museum of the kind worldwide

                                Pforzheim** is a city of about 118.000 inhabitants in the south west of Germany situated between Stuttgart (37 km away) and Karlsruhe (25 km away). Its sobriquet is 'City of Gold'. 75% of the jewellery made in Germany comes from there. It's the northern gate to the Black Forest and hiking paths start here leading south up to Basel in Switzerland. But the landscape was not what made me visit, I wanted to see the Jewellery Museum, the only museum of its kind worldwide.

                                From the train station it doesn't take more than half an hour on foot to get there. You cross the street in front of it and find the Bahnhofstraße to the right and the Schlossberg to the left. Both lead to the centre. The tourist information is on the Schlossberg. I didn't choose this street, however, because I didn't know that. It had only just moved there and the net still showed the old address. It wasn't a problem for me, however, because I know the language of the natives and could ask them. Later I found enough leaflets in the museum.

                                I was apprehensive what I would see on my way through the centre. The last city I visited which was badly destroyed during the WW2 was Darmstadt. I was shocked by its ugliness. The fate of Pforzheim was even worse, so I was prepared for an even bigger shock. WW2 ended on May 8th, 1945, yet a short time before the end three towns were bombed into near total annihilation: Dresden on February 13th, Pforzheim on February 23 rd and Würzburg on March 16th. After an air raid by 368 RAF bombers lasting 22 minutes the centre of Pforzheim was destroyed by 100%, the surrounding areas by 80%, 17.600 people were dead (out of a population of 79.000). Why Pforzheim? Fuses for bombs used to be made there, but the production had by then been moved outside. It's assumed that the town was chosen because of the flammability of the many wooden structures in the centre. The air raid was part of the so-called moral bombing strategy.

                                From the city's homepage, "The reconstruction during the Fifties and Sixties has developed a unique architectural cityscape which has been characteristic for this city up to the present." I love this sentence. Typical ad speak which sounds good and says nothing. Translated into normal speech it means: "Unimaginative box like concrete structures everywhere". Yet, to my great surprise and pleasure the overall impression isn't one of ugliness. The many shops on the ground floors of the buildings draw the visitors' eyes away from the grey facades above. Besides, the whole centre, which is a pedestrian precinct with shops, restaurants and cafés, is full of big containers with flowers. On one side of a bridge crossing a small river there's a construction in the shape of a U looking like a gate into which lots and lots of flowers have been planted. I can only congratulate the Pforzheimers!

                                The Jewellery Museum which got its present shape in 1961 looks out into the city park. Its architecture is inspired by the Bauhaus style of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. (It must be mentioned somewhere so I'll put it here: the building has a lift, clean loos, also one for the disabled.) On two floors it houses permanent collections as well as special temporary exhibitions. Some 2.000 exhibits covering a period of 5.000 years show breath taking artefacts. Treasures from Greco-Roman antiquity, the Renaissance, Art Nouveau and contemporary jewellery are on display. I can stand a long while in front of a show case trying to imagine a craftsman hammering, chiselling, framing or whatever a goldsmith does with gold, silver and precious stones. The aesthetically pleasing designs, the dexterity, the patience can only be admired. If I could, I'd carry some of the artefacts home with me.

                                One room shows the history of the jewellery industry in Pforzheim together with typical specimens, another shows a private collection of ethnic jewellery. In matters of taste, there can be no disputes. One man's diamonds and rubies are another man's wild boar teeth and cowry shells! The current temporary exhibition is dedicated to the depiction of landscape in jewellery, fascinating stuff here as well.

                                A café offering good cake (not surprising in Germany) and lunch from 12 to 2 pm has tables outside overlooking the park. It was good to sit there and rest for a while before the tour went on. My next stop was the Schmuckwelten=Worlds of Jewellery which I had already passed on my way through the pedestrian precinct. It's a shopping centre, a 'showcase for jewellery, clocks and watches, the only one of its kind in Europe' (from a leaflet). Furthermore, there's a collection of minerals in the basement and an educational show on the top floor on the origin of gold, its processing and manufacture into jewellery, the cultivation of pearls and some information on the clock and watch industry. There's also a real Porsche covered all over with gold foil. I didn't find it, though, maybe it was lent to an exhibition somewhere. I had seen it already in the town where I live as part of an exhibition. It sets one thinking, lively discussions are sure to ensue when people see it.

                                There are no gold seams under Pforzheim, why is it the City of Gold at all? It's due to Margrave Karl Friedrich von Baden who about 240 years ago founded first the watch industry and a bit later laid the foundation for the gold industry. Nowadays there aren't only the two places dedicated to gold and jewellery I've described. There's also the internationally renowned university of design, the training centre for the designers of tomorrow. I had seen some pieces made by students of the fourth term in the Jewellery Museum and was quite impressed by their originality. One could think that after 5.000 years one had already seen it all in the field of necklaces, brooches, pendants, earrings , rings and bracelets, but this is not the case.
                                For visitors with more stamina than I had there's also the Technisches (Technological) Museum where they can learn how clocks (the Black Forest is the home of the coockoo clocks), watches and jewellery were made in the olden times and how they're made today.

                                Included in the ticket for the show and the mineral collection was also a glass of champers. One could get it in one of the jewellery shops on the ground floor of the building. It isn't just any cheap champers, oh no, tiny flakes of gold foil float in it! I got into talking with the shop-assistant and she told me that gold was also used as medicine and was injected intramuscularly for some diseases. I smiled politely and thought that maybe when there were no tourists to serve she was at the champers bottle herself. Yet, what she had said stuck in my mind and when I was back home I googled it. Indeedy! As gold as medicine isn't my topic here, I'm only giving you this short piece of information, "Gold (trade name Myocrisin) is a type of disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug. These drugs dampen down the underlying disease process, rather than simply treating your symptoms." If you want to know more, go google yourself.

                                After having the champers I decided to skip the collection of minerals and call it a day. I had become tired from looking at so much gold and so many riches and also from the alcohol. The weather was fine, the sun was shining when I visited Pforzheim, the perfect day for a touristy day out. With all the gold and glitter I can imagine, however, that the city is also worth while visiting when the weather is drab.

                                ----

                                *pronounced: pfortshaym

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                                  30.07.2013 20:03
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                                  Soap Saver

                                  There comes a day when a bar of soap is too small for use. What do you do with the remains? Throw them away? Have you ever thought, "Pity, if only I could find a way to go on consuming it until the very end?" People who need to save money may think in this way or people who enjoy doing so even if they have enough money or people who discover the sisal soap bag by chance and love the idea per se. I don't have to save the remains of soap bars for monetary reasons. With me there's a nostalgic component involved when I do so. I remember my mother in the post-war GDR (German Democratic Republic) when everything was scant wrapping several small remains of soap which she had conserved into gauze. When wet they became gluey and stuck together thusly forming a 'new' bar of soap which could be used for some more time.

                                  Gauze and sisal bags both keep the pieces of soap together but sisal bags have the extra advantage of removing dead skin cells, exfoliating, massaging the skin and improving blood circulation. I think that this is the main reason why they're bought nowadays. But, of course, you don't have to put in remains at all, you can also put in a brand new bar of soap to get the treatment described above.

                                  The bag is 10cm X 10cm in width and height and looks as if it's knit by hand. Maybe once it was made this way, I doubt very much, however, that it still is, not even in developing countries. Handmade things sell well and things that look as if they were handmade also do. A string runs through the hem at the upper end of the bag. Its two ends come out of a hole, go through a thick wooden bead and then end in a knot. The idea is obviously to put in the soap and then pull the bead to one side so that the upper part closes. This idea is bad and not thought through or not tested in practise. The sisal material is coarse and can't be pulled together so that only a small opening remains. The opening is always so big that small pieces of soap fall out. I took a pair of scissors and cut an opening into the hem opposite the bead. There I pulled the string out and then made a knot with the string ends from both sides. Now it's not perfect, but much better. I'm considering getting a patent for this solution.

                                  I found this piece of information on the net: Sisal is a natural sea grass, and therefore it is bio-degradable. The first part of the sentence is wrong, the second is correct. Sisal is an agave that yields a stiff fibre traditionally used in making twine and rope. It's not clear where the plant originates from. Many people think it comes from Yucatan in Mexico which is understandable as there are enormous sisal plantations. I've been there, I've seen them.

                                  Sisal soap bags are sold on Amazon for 1.22 to 2.55 GBP. They vary in the thickness and coarseness of the fibre (I've got the finest which unfortunately isn't shown here). With such low prices they cry out to be bought not as single items. The postage would be more expensive than the product. I'm sure you can also find them in offline shops, but not living in GB I don't know any. Wherever, buy several, one for yourself and some more as stocking fillers or as gift packs for birthdays, anniversaries or small presents when you're invited. Put a good bar of soap in. I can guarantee you that nobody will bring a more original present!

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