Monday, April 28, 2008

Sugar rush

My friend E brought me back a little green box of Laduree macarons from Paris. The ones shown above are the best: it's a crisp shell filled with an extraordinary burnt caramel flavoured ganache, and the sensation of biting in to a melting toffee morsel is indescribable ... I don't have much of a sweet tooth (give me a cheese and onion pasty any day of the week), but the macarons are a little piece of heaven. I like Laduree's aesthetic too; even the website is decked out in tasteful shades of green (the green of the walls of shuttered apartments) and pink (the delicate pink of satin ballet shoes). I usually like the idea of cakes more than the reality, but this time I was completely won over. Perfectly matched with a cup of tea and feet up on the sofa watching true crime.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

But then

there are shoes like these, by Celine.

A word in your ear

There's a John Updike poem called "Furniture" which begins:

To things we are ghosts
Soft shapes in their blindness which push and pull
A warm touch tugging on a stuck drawer...

I can't remember the rest (except the last two lines, which are "his life a blur/A dark smear on the unchanging stone" - about Victorian daguerreotypes, which captured the still better than the moving because of the length of the exposure time), and I can't find it anywhere (I think Mr Updike or his publishers must pursue breach of copyright with alacrity). But it came into my mind when I was thinking about impermanence. And "life's too short", or something like it.

A clean sweep

I was intrigued by the story of a Japanese girl who committed suicide using household cleaner - a phenomenon known, apparently, as "detergent suicide". I hate to be cavalier about something as serious as this, but although suicide has never even crossed my mind as an option, I am quite fascinated by it: for instance, did you know that the number one method of committing suicide in Hong Kong is by, er, throwing yourself from a tall building? The second one is by burning charcoal - a modish method which is very Asian in style and which led to calls for bans on the sale of barbecue charcoal in garages, and which Hong Kongers seem to have copied (like Bathing Ape, and Hello Kitty, and other infantile trends) from Japan, after a spate of similar suicides there.

This raises one of the central issues about new reporting of such events - it often seems to serve pour encourager les autres, and no doubt even now desperate teenagers of every nationality are frantically searching the Internet to find out how this 14 year old managed to pull it off in such spectacular style using ingredients found in the bathroom cupboard. So: report the details, perpetuate the problem.

I was led in the end to a most peculiar Wikipedia page on suicide methods - which seemed to be to be nothing more than a "how-to" guide for those looking for an easy way out. The strange nature of this entire entry, which lists different methods in alphabetical order starting with "Beheading", is illustrated by the following entry under the distinctly American-sounding "vehicular impact":

"Jumping in front of a fast-moving vehicle, especially a large one, such as a truck or train, can prove fatal. A classic example of suicide involves one tying oneself to railroad tracks in order to be run over by an oncoming train. The self control required to stay on the tracks as the train approaches can be quite immense, and the result quite traumatizing to the driver of the vehicle."

Thanks for that! I had no idea!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Forbidden collars

After all this talk about fabulous dresses, here's the antithesis: in the window of Jil Sander, on the corner of Queen's Road Central and Lan Kwai Fong, a garment non pareil, which can surely only be described as a salmon pink house coat.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dressed to kill

I admit, I am looking at dresses at the moment with the idea in my head that the perfect one is out there for me - think Lauren Bacall, think the 1940s, Hollywood glamour, whatever silly idea might come into my head (why do I put myself through this?). I'm going to be 40 this year and in my shallow fantasy, I am wearing a perfect dress, which makes me look fabulous.

So, I am looking at the dresses on Net-a-porter. And I don't think I can possibly be mis-stating this: none of the dresses there are less than GBP1,000/US$2000/HK$15,000. How can that possibly be just or meaningful in any way?

This is a world where hedge fund managers like John Paulson are making US$3.7bn profit for themselves in a year. So it makes money seem meaningless, right? But it's not meaningless. If you make US$3.7bn on gambling on the sub-prime crisis, that means you're making money on people losing their homes. If you buy a dress that costs more than GBP1000, then you are spitting in the face of people who don't know how they are going to afford to eat because inflation has forced up the price of rice.

Am I wrong about this?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Revenge is a dish best served cold

My favourite story from the South China Morning Post last week:

"A woman escaped onto the balcony of her flat after her 70kg St Bernard turned on her and bit her arm and back. Chan Yuk-fung, 43, was playing with the 4-1/2-year-old male dog in the first-floor flat in Hung Shui Kiu Main Street, Yuen Long, when it turned nasty. Firemen used a ladder to rescue the woman. She was lowered to the ground on a stretcher and taken to hospital. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is investigating."

The lot of a dog in Hong Kong - particularly a big dog like a St Bernard - is not a happy one. Cooped up in a tiny flat, often dressed up in risible outfits for the amusement of its owners, feeling the heat, and taken for "walks" by the helpers who walk desultorily to the corner, sit down and get on the phone/smoke a fag/chat with their friends while the poor dog looks longingly at the expanses of road and hillsides and places to run.

I would say I'm sorry she was bitten, but in actual fact I have no sympathy whatosoever for her. What the hell is a 70kg dog doing in a tiny flat anyway? I think the poor St Bernard had finally had enough - he drank the keg of brandy, lay in wait for his silly owner, ran amok round the flat when she came home, and then laughed as only dogs laugh as she frantically signalled for help from the balcony.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Still holding a torch

The recent fiasco over the Olympic torch was probably all too avoidable: had China not exacerbated the recent protests in Tibet by, er, kicking protesters' heads in with extreme prejudice, then no one would even be thinking about Tibet. Who remembers now that Steven Spielberg resigned as artisitic adviser to the 2008 Beijing Olympics over Darfur?

But clearly the Chinese authorities feel they have no choice: if they let secessionist movements go unchecked, word spreads and trouble breaks out everywhere. What with rising food prices, and corrupt local cadres seizing villagers' land to build prestige apartments for, in the words of one advert, "cozy nobles", and amazing wealth alongside extraordinary poverty, and apocalyptic weather, it's amazing they have managed to keep a lid on it thus far.

It's enough to make anyone quail at the thought of the Olympics. Happily, today's South China reports that domestic flights in mainland China have just banned people from carrying cigarette lighters on board. Only now they thought of this?

Friday, April 04, 2008

The past is another country

When I was 14, my class at school went to Chur, Switzerland, on an exchange trip. We were all parcelled out to what we rather facetiously called our "Swiss mothers" in different houses around the town, and attended the local Steiner school.

I was quite new to the class, having only joined the year before, and already rather unpopular for having been given (how dare I be) the role of Miranda, the only female appearing in The Tempest. In Chur, however, I was cast into outer darkness by the entire class for saying that the two popular girls, Laura and Tara, only bought clothes at a trendy shop in town, Globus, because it was trendy, and not because they really liked them. (This was the early 1980s so we are talking fluorescent batwing t-shirts here.)

This throwaway, bitchy remark, of course, may have been true, albeit rather cruel, and was given in a moment of madness to Olwen, a nasty little washed-out sneak fond of wearing lipstick the colour of bubblegum. Of course in an instant it became a classroom sensation (I can even remember the news passing like a Mexican wave through the classroom as one person whispered it to another); the fatwa was issued; and I was a wretch, to whom it was forbidden to speak, from then on.

Laura and Tara had been invited for lunch at my house, but the news broke the day before and they didn't turn up. My Swiss mother had cooked a splendid meal and I was unable to explain what had happened ("sie kommen nicht... sie kommen nicht") and cried copiously into my pasta. They were forced by our teacher to come round and apologise with flowers, a humiliating act which made them hate me even more.

My problem was compounded by the fact that my own mother had volunteered to come along to help the class. So I was not only a cast-iron bitch, but a teacher's pet as well. I avoided school as much as I could, and stayed in my attic room watching poorly dubbed Lee Majors series ("Ein Colt fur alle Falle") and reading an American magazine about how to get your "fanny" into shape and why Karen Carpenter's death resonated with us all. The view from the little window is burned into my memory forever.

Years later I shared a flat with Tara at university and she apologised to me for the way they had behaved. I wasn't ready to be magnanimous then: it was the biggest, most devastating event of my life so far. The rest of the trip I've pretty much blocked out. By the green shores of impassive Lake Lucerne, I redeemed myself slightly by losing at spin the bottle, in a late night game in our youth hostel, and having to run across the room naked. So I thought, but when we got home and the photos from the trip came down from the wall of the classroom, having been displayed there fora few weeks, I discovered that someone scratched my face with the point of a compass in every picture I appeared in.