james debate
james debate

Tuesday 21 August 2007

So once again the premierleague campaign is upon us, and indeed it has been an interesting one. Man City making an early bid for europe, man united making an early bid for relegation... not something that would have been predicted, but obviously it is still early days yet and it remains to be seen which teams have it in them to last the full haul of the season.

It comes as no shock, and yet i find it highly bemusing, that Steve mclaren, england manager who decided to mark his entry to the international scene with some major and shocking changes to his squad, has now retreated on all of them, giving us a squad nearly identical to sven's old one. Yes, david james is back, sol is back, becks is back... so glad we went with a fresh and different approach to england management this time... basically hiring a less talented version of sven.

Equally interesting is this fracas thats been in the media all week about styles's blunder in awarding a penalty against liverpool that has seen him receive so much stick. Frankly what's strange about this one is that graham poll never had similar repercussions last year despite being an even worse referee and making even more ridiculous decisions. "the refs cracked" says steve gerrard, whining about the admittedly ridiculous penalty. This is especially ironic when you consider in just the previous match when Liverpool equalised against villa from a dubious free kick, gerrard chastised the villa players for complaining and declared that "these things usually even out over the course of a season". Something tells me he wasn't expecting it to happen so soon! the punchline: rob styles was ref at that game too!

This is an old one i wrote a few years ago now, but have remastered:

i have written a world of letters
surrounding stars of endless light
assembles into galaxies of words
so the stars may sing in rhyme tonight.

these words are spun into a web
that comprises much of this universe
and among my field of galaxies
fragments of history intersperse.

with philosophy and afterthoughts,
the voices of young soldiers lost,
the stories of sailors forever at sea
and human insecurity.

my mind explores the young and old
and enters their lives secretly
witnesses a day in the life
of everybody equally.

for my name is anonymous
and i was born before the pen
i have told a thousand tales
with more to tell again and again.

but you cannot ever research my life
my vices and accomplishments
all you have to remember me
is my written firmament.

of words - i have escaped
the clutches of immortality
know that i am one and the same
my self is in my poetry.

song of the day: "You're Not Alone" by "the Enemy"
icon of the day:

Rob Styles

Graham Poll
Half Life

Sunday 19 August 2007

Well at last the time has come. What follows is the ultimate gospel on all things Tuscany. Want to learn what to do and where to go in the region? Want to learn a thing or two about fine wines? Just curious to see what I've been up to this summer? Read on...

First a word about wines: All the local chianti wines tend to be mostly sangiovese grape, for more exotic blends one should try the super tuscans, of which i will detail the highlights. Further more, when purchasing wines, bear in mind that the 2001, 2004, and 2006 bottles can be kept for longer than the 2002, 2003 and 2005 bottles, drink them now.

The trip started with a 2 hour flight on Alitalia. This is an airline i've never been too fond of... its cheap... but it feels it too, seats are crumbling (and seem to have cardboard in them oddly) and food is not great... if british airways feels like a chauffered limo (and costs as much) then this feels more like a new york cab. Other than this though it certainly gets you in the mood for italy, it already feels like youre within a small italian village and gives you your first taste of the culture.

After landing, the villa at which i was to stay was a 2 hour drive down from milan in the Chianti region, near Florence. First thing's first though, a quick trip to the co-op in Poggibonsi for all the necessities, food, big bad bug killing contraptions (vital), and lots of alcohol, especially when friends are visiting. Don't have to get everything though, best to get the fresh foods, cheeses, breads, meats, at the small shops in the villages of Castellina and Rada, where you can get wonderful homemade stuff.
Then at last it is time to go see the casa itself, sitting pretty amongst the vinyards, with a private pool, secluded and peaceful from surrounding towns. During the day one can lounge in the sun with a glass of proseco, go for a drive to visit nearby villages, or head into the big cities of siena and Florence (my personal favorite).

Dinner that first night was at Il Fondaccio, a pizza place located amongst the meandering pedestrian roads of Castellina. Always a favorite night destination, they will prepare for you some of the best thin crust pizza you will find anywhere, and for those who are so inclined you can take a small antipasto as well. The wine for this evening was the Querciabella 2003, a chianti classico, probably the most basic wine we had on this sojourn to tuscany, but a very adequate one, fruity but with the definite strong aftertaste of a cheaper bottle of chianti. A post supper stroll through the town takes us to the main square, a locale where one can often find concerts, movies or other events on show, providing an opportunity to take in some culture and mix with the locals.
Upon returning to the villa (and the roads have recently been paved, making the journey much less of a hassle than before) one is struck by the stars in the sky. With no nearby light source the sky is simply a milky white blanket, the likes of which you will never have seen living anywhere near a city, a few minutes to sit in the garden and take it in is a minimum, especially with the perseids taking place at this time of year. For those wanting to take in such a sight, youll find the shooting stars first being to increase frequency from about 11pm, and increase steadily throughout the night until sunrise, emerging from either the constellation perseus or cassiopoeia.

A late rise the next morning allows a trip into town to buy fruits and fresh foods for a nice buffet style breakfast. A first day to start tanning is a welcome change from the grey misery of London, so i had no problem filling this first day with that.
Dinner that night was at an old favorite, le vigne, a gorgeous restaurant located with a fantastic view over the vinyards. The menu is small but of a high quality, offering juicy fruits and fresh meats, a heavenly cheese cake for dessert, and the pinnacle of the menu, pici melanzane, pici being a thick tuscan variant of spaghetti, this dish works so perfectly, texture and taste-wise. The wine tonight was a castello di cacchiano 2003, a riserva with a very light, easy drinking taste, and a warm aroma.

Osteria de la piazza is a restaurant of a similar ilk, full of interesting quirks, such as the ability to pick out your own porcini mushroom for a side dish, much like one would pick out a lobster at a seafood restaurant. Several dishes here contained truffles, at surprisingly reasonable prices, definitely worth a flutter. This was very nicely complemented by the woody aftertaste of the volpaia riserva 2004 which accompanied the meal.

On tuesday we visited our favorite wine shop in Castellina, Bottega del Vino, with the intention of choosing a crate of 24 bottles to ship over to london at the end of the vacation. This is our favorite shop due in large part to the proprietor, an eccentric man who's two main loves are his wine, and the locals in the town of castellina. A wedding is taking place in the square, and he interrupts our transaction to bring bottles of proseco to share with all present. Similarly he greets us with a glass of proseco each, and throughout our time in the shop he periodically lights up and reaches for his glasses as he declares he has one or two bottles of wine that we simply must have a taste of, and thus proceeds his ritual of rinsing the glases with the wine before tasting, professionally done like a man who has been doing it for decades. There have been a number of fantastic bottles we've tried, castello di ama, l'aura, but the standout bottle of this year's tastings is the Brancaia blue 2004, a very mellow, easy drinking super tuscan with a sweet aftertaste. A blend of 50% sangiovese grape, 45% merlot and 5% cabernet, this one is really fantastic.
Dinner that night was equally pleasing, a new place, Trattoria Torioni di san fabiano. This had only been open for two months when we went there, and provided such a superb mix of beautiful setting (right on top of the highest hills in tuscany), amazing food and a good wine (we happened to be staying in the san fabiano vinyards so this was a veyr local wine for us). This restaurant pushes a number of buttons for me, from bringing out small and delicious home made breads and complimentary pre-dessert treats. The wine tonight was a san fabiano Cellole riserva 2004, not one of the more expensive wines of the vacation but certainly a great one, fantastic value.

That weekend was a highlight of the trip. Friday night there was the local wine festival of the stars in Castellina to celebrate the peak of the perseids. Everyone was given a glass and a card with 14 boxes, you got one box ticked for each glass of chianti classico you drink, and two boxes ticked for a riserva. As such i thought i'd stick mainly to riservas, only to find most people were only ticking me once anyway... maybe they like keeping the young uns drinking. In the end i filled my card, with 12 glasses of wine. I fell asleep in the car journey home.
For this festival the streets were filled with people, and stands serving various wines and food items. The brancaia blue was on show, as was the castellare riserva, another fine bottle, but the two big finds of this festival were the collelungo riserva, an oaky and intensely fruity wine, and the soft and velvetty rocca de macie riserva.
The main draw of such an event is the opportunity to socialise with the locals, mainly people you see around the town at shops and restaurants, but quite a number of kids these days too due to the advent of tourism to the area. I happen to think talking to girls is quite fun when they don't speak the same language as you!

On saturday we made the journey into Florence, one of my favorite towns. This is a place full of markets and shops (and cheap football shirts), a place brimming with culture and music and art, both on the streets and in the many fine museums, churches, and of course, the duomo, the centrepiece of architecture in Florence. Otherwise head over to Piazza della Signoria, the historic focal point of the Florentine Republic, and take in the sculptures by donatello, and a recreation of michaelangelo's david (The original by Michelangelo is being kept at the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts) And of course no trip to Florence is complete without taking a look at the Pont de Vecchio, the 'living bridge' bristling with shops.
The restaurant was another favorite of mine, the savoy hotel in the square de la republica, notable for the fantastic cream of pumpkin soup with chicken tempura i started with, which brought me to the point of being so full that I was almost unable to eat the main course, one of the classic dishes, a fantastic tagliolini with tomatoes. The wine was a vino nobile poliziano 2003, which was something a little bit different than what we had been drinking most nights, but very tasty.

As good as any of these restaurants were though nothing here really compares to Gallopapa, located hidden away in the moodlit tunnels under the town walls of Castellina. A beautiful restaurant, with a mad genius in the kitchens. This is a place that really pulls out all the stops and bring you tiny and peculiar treats (like strange mixes of cheese and melon) and breads of all different kinds (onion, tomato, cellery, etc) and theyre all wonderful, no matter what they sound like, they look and taste heavenly. The menu follows in a similar fashion, full of unusual combinations of ingredients that sound crazy but taste amazing. Case and point, on the menu tonight was a dish of pigeon cooked in cocoa beans, which i was very unsure about, but turned out to be one of the most sublime things I have ever tasted. The wine was another riserva, the castello di fonterutoli, and it was certainly a fine complement to the meal. Another great thing about this restaurant: its one of the only places I have ever seen that has a water menu.

The second week saw a number of new places come into the mix, including Canteena de Ragnama where the highlight was a dish of fresh pecorino cheese with honey... a combination which doesnt sound like it should work, but does, beautifully. The highlight of the week has to be Ristorro Lamolle, which certainly wins the prize for the most beautiful view of the sunset, and the food was very fine too, with a delicious tagliolini with truffles and a small gratis appetiser of pecorino cheese with a truffle flavored honey, very delicious. The wine was also one of the better ones we had: lam'oro 2001, a super tuscan and definitely lives up to its name of 'golden'.

The week signed off with a quick snack at Café Italia in castellina, a place we tend to frequent very often, though not so much anymore as they have stopped selling their homemade ice cream. Still, it is a lovely place to go and have a coffee and read the gazetto dello sport, and pretend I understand most of it.

Two weeks of fun and sun, a welcome respite from life in London, marred only by certain crazy ex gfs, but not enough to ruin a wonderful vacation, fortunately.
I hope you enjoyed this review and learned a little something about the good life. Feel free to leave comments.


song of the day: "Slowly" by "Grace"
icon of the day:

<----a message for a certain someone

Super Tuscan


Friday 17 August 2007

Two fantastic restaurants this week. Last night I was in a town called Lamole, located high atop the hills, with a view that is simply unparalleled. Meanwhile on sunday I had the pleasure of dining at an old favorite; Gallopappa, the 'mad scientist' of restaurants, including dishes concocted from a variety of ingredients which don't sound like they should work, but do. For example a dish of pigeon in cocoa beans turned out to be one of the best things I have ever eaten.
Full review in my next post. Love you all.

Saturday 11 August 2007

Let me begin by raving about the new place I went to on Tuesday after my last update, it was one of the finest restaurants I have ever been to. The food was delectable, with small apertifs and minitreats from the kitchen before and after the meal, on top of which the entire restaurant was situated high on the italian riviera overlooking a majestic view matched by a perfect sunset on this particular evening. The chef even came out to say hello to everyone at the end of the evening, simply magical.

Wednesday however was not as special as it rained, bizarrely and so I did not get out to Florence, though I am going out today instead. In fact I am on the way now as I write this.

Also especially worthy of note is the wine festival last night in Castellina, which is some of the most fun I have had here. Was able to charm my way to free drinks with the various stands that were open and even managed to mingle with the locals, when I managed to escape my family for a few moments, and impressed them with my complete lack of Italian. In the end I managed 12 glasses of wine, more than anyone else I conversed with, and more than any man should ever drink. More details to be in my big review.


Tuesday 7 August 2007

Just set this thing up so I could post here whilst in italy. So here I am. As you can see the format is a bit different, no roundup or post genres, no pictures etc, but I'll make a few brief posts like this just to let you know how Italy is, and then I'll make a nice big review when I'm home, and I have some other good stuff for then too, like a new poem when I haven't done much writing recently.

Meanwhile I am enjoying Italy this year, seem to be more at the age where I can go out and enjoy the nightlife than the old days when I was just a kid. On top of which it's as beautiful as ever and as delicious, even the air has a great aroma to it, more details to be in my big review.

However the perfect weather and long, warm stargazing nights leaves us vulnerable to the mosquitos and man have they been out in force so far! Fortunately I have just gone and purchased for myself the biggest, baddest, mosquito-killingest contraption I could find so let's hope they learn not to mess with me.

Tonight I am trying a new restaurant at the San Fabiano vinyard. Have high hopes. Then tomorrow I am off to florence which is a wonderful town, the museums, the markets, the girls... Great place.

So away I go for now.

Friday 3 August 2007

Now operating close to peak it would seem. Loose ends tied up, got ideas about where im going to lvie next year, repaired broken relationships, most of which were smashed under pure misunderstanding, and im really mastering the medicine now. By the time term begins i'll probably be one of the freshest minds there thanks to this hard work. On top of all this i should also have a license and a car by the start of term... not that i'll ever really use it, unless i can find an apartment building with a parking lot, but unless im willing to go offsite to somewhere like imperial wharf that seems pretty unlikely.

All this goes to show that the best solution for handling life when everything seems to be going downhill is a little gumption, some spirit and determination. identify the problem, make a plan, and stick to it. This has been a big summer for me, whereas the previous year has basically been about going out and having fun and general hedonism (and then in the latter half messing it all up by committing far too much far too soon to the wrong person) this summer is when maturity and work ethic has joined the mix, not at the expense of the other qualities. This summer has been outstandingly productive in many ways, and yet ive still spent as much time socialising and having fun as could have been reasonably possible with those who have remained in London. It honestly feels like ive added a few more hours onto my day, its liberating to be able to accomodate all the different things i want to do.

It seems that every year there are more and more tv shows coming out, and with them, sadly, more and more reality shows. So in order to help you sort the wheat from the chaff, and in order to properly recognise the good work of those shows that have really stood out, I will now rank the top 10 tv shows from this past year. Feel free to leave feedback or disagreements.

10.Grey's Anatomy- Obvious inspiration from scrubs aside, 'A show written by women for women', would be my main complaint with this medical show. It can be fun to watch, and it's certainly better than most shows out there but really half the time the medical setting is redundant, you might as well call it 'desperate medical practitioners'. Nevertheless a good tv show which happens to be blessed with the finest soundtrack since the golden days of scrubs.

9. Robot Chicken- What would happen if Seth Green and his friends (with guest appearances from other comedians such as seth mcfarlane) smoked a lot of weed and then hammered out the most random thing that came to mind? this show is the answer, and even though there is a lot of mediocrity between the 'shock' sketches and the genuinely brilliant comedy ones, even that is somehow addicting to watch.

8. Law and Order- Still the best crime series on tv after 17 years, we all miss Brisco but he has been ably replaced. So long as the writing stays this brilliant there is no reason to stop. long live law and order!

7. House- 'written by men for women who like abusive men' this is a very good show, if a little silly. What really makes this such a superb series is the top notch performance of star hugh laurie, who has come a long way from his blackadder days and shown how versatile he truly is. I had the pleasure of acting with his son at Eton and i can tell you there's a natural ease which runs through the family. How many americans even know hes british?

6. Scrubs- the glory days may be a thing of the past but that doesnt mean you can stop watching, particularly in the latter half of this season where the drama picked up again. The highlight this year was undoubtedly the musical episode. Next year is the final season ever so lets all tune in and give our old friends the send off they deserve.

5. Family Guy- the heir to the simpsons throne of cartoon kings, mostly because its so similar to the simpsons except with added edginess that audiences these days lap up. It should come as the highest honor that after years of copying bits from the simpsons, the simpsons have started to take ideas from family guy now.

4. Heroes- Without a doubt the best new show this year, and an unexpected hit. Many reckon this is the best there is right now, even exceeding Lost for the prize of best drama on tv, i'll come back to that.

3. Lost- still the daddy. people who prefer heroes tend to do so by criticising lost's tendency to involve long unresolving twisted storylines rather than short episodic dilemmas that only takes heroes a few episodes to complete as opposed to seasons like lost. However this is one of the very reasons we love lost so much, and is why its still the best, for those with a long enough attention span to enjoy it.

2. Life on Mars- The only bad thing about this show is that it is british, and therefore doomed to end after only 16 episodes. However for the same reason the upcoming AMerican version will never ever be as good. Top acting, top writing, amazing soundtrack and direction, this is the best british show since fawlty towers and truly mesmerising as both a cop show and a sci fi show.

1. Arrested Development- Technically not a show from this past year, but since theyre only showing it in england now, where it first came to my attention, I will allow it. This is one of the greatest shows ever written for a variety of reasons, and probably even surpasses the glory days of old scrubs. Sadly it is equally underappreciated as scrubs was, mostly due to two reasons, the inability of americans to stick with a tv show that requires time and attention to fully appreciate, and the tendency of british people (mostly the networks) to just follow america and watch whatever they like to watch. This show is now cancelled but at least we can always look back at 3 seasons where every episode is perfect.

Lets get one thing straight, I do watch a hell of a lot of movies. SO now in order to put this to good use here is my roundup of the state of cinema this summer, what's hot, what's not, what classics shall live on in the memory and what will quickly fall into the oblivion of forgotten films.

The first thing worth noticing is that quality seems to be fairly genre-skewed this summer. To begin with we have a relative dearth of true horror films, especially when most seem to be more concerned with shock value than genuine terror by going the route of saw-inspired gore excess, a trick which, as many are finding out, doesn't really work unless you have a core of substance underneath the red rum, as saw did. As such it's hard to recommend hostel II or captivity. Then there's "i know who killed me", which if the title doesn't ward you off, maybe the fact that it stars lindsay lohan will. Could this finally be the movie where miss lohan lives up to her promise? unlikely, as one reviewer noted, "Much like the career of its star, I Know Who Killed Me opens promisingly, starts to stumble in the middle and has gotten so laughably ridiculous by the final act that you can't take it seriously at all." The obvious highlight of this genre is 28 weeks later, which is well worth a viewing, if not as masterful as its predecessor 28 days later. Much promise ahead in the form of future dark materials duo Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig together in 'Invasion', however for a film containing such a team to be so underhyped suggests it is not going to be anything to live long in the memory. Wait instead for Rob Zombie's remake of 'Halloween'. Slightly ill advised? perhaps, but if reimagined well it could still end up being one of the horror highlights of this summer.

Action is one genre inundated with entries this summer. Spiderman 3, pirates of the caribbean 3, oceans 13, (the surprisingly good) die hard 4.0. the list goes on. They all achieve what they set out to accomplish with aplomb, if not a slight case of tongue in cheek. Even the followers in the pack, fantastic four 2, transformers, are all worth a watch. Fans of the genre will no doubt be sallivating at the soon to be released Bourne Ultimatum.

Comedy is another area not lacking in effort, sadly there are few films here that will live long in the memory. Many efforts range from the brief cheap laugh (knocked up, bean's holiday) to the downright lame (hot rod, i now pronounce you chuck and larry). There is no breakaway classic a la men in black or austin powers or even a bruce almighty. despite steve carell's best efforts. Shrek 3 was a massive dip in standard following the first two attempts, though certainly adequate in it's own right. Evan Almighty, you'll be glad to hear, is not as tacky and depressing as the trailer would make you think, and does manage to maintain the atmosphere and feel of the original, though fails to replicate as many laughs. Instead the highlight this summer is the Simpsons, which is a lovely movie, capitalises on what makes the simpsons great and does much to repair the reputation of a series which has seen a fall from grace in recent years. That's not to say it recaptures the genius of the early seasons of the show but it certainly makes an improvment on what we've seen recently. It's not perfect and it's far too short but it is certainly the bright spot of this summer's comedy scene. Keep your eyes peeled for rush hour 3, which is sure to disappoint and drown under the expectation of the first two films, and probably repeat a lot of the same jokes (to cringeworthy effect) if the trailer is anything to go by.

As far as romance goes, there really isn't anything to mention. In fact teh only hints of romance you get this summer is in films like pirates, spiderman and, i suppose, knocked up. its hard to recommend anything for the romantic thsi summer, but pirates probably has the most involving love story.


For the action fan: Die Hard 4.0 - for your last chance to see john mcclane do what he does best
For the comedy fan: The Simpsons- welcome to the silver screen
For the horror fans: 28 weeks later
For romance fans: no comment...
For the kids: ratatouille
For those who want something a little different: Paprika - simply beautiful, more like a work of art than an example of story telling, in both good ways and bad ways.

song of the day: "The World is Outside" by "Ghosts"
icon of the day:

"cloverfield" theories
Robot Chicken

Lost theories
rubber chicken

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