Monday, May 31, 2010

Movida and Cumulus Inc.

After my last post, I have to start with a disclaimer: the majority of this post was written in an airport lounge. The Melbourne Airport Virgin Blue Lounge, to be specific. My meeting finished early and for all my ranting last week, four hours hanging out in an airport bar and/or lugging my laptop around the shops really didn’t appeal, so I paid for access to the clubhouse. That time was business hours in Perth, and everyone forgot when my flight was, so I spent most of it working. I know, shocking! So much for weightless space – perhaps it only works on international flights, or holidays.  I am happy to report that it was a quiet haven with free soup, pasta and champagne, and a red which looked quite promising, but I unfortunately did not get to sample. More importantly, it had power and internet access which allowed me to further develop this masterpiece from the slightly tipsy notes of the night before.

Now that’s out of the way: Melbourne! The weather really is awful (apparently some of the locals like it: crazy) but as most people know, the food and the shopping is great. This post is going to be food-focussed, thanks to a couple of solo restaurant outings, but there may be a shopping post at some point.

On my last night I ate at Cumulus Inc in Flinders Lane, which to start with gets points for the name. The night before I had eaten at Movida, which I have been hanging out to get to. (Made it just before a Masterchef feature, thank goodness!) Movida was as tremendous as I expected; I think it suffered a little from my high expectations, since I was impressed and satisfied, but not amazed. Cumulus Inc was amazing, though if you have the opportunity and the budget (believe me, you need the budget) you should go to both of them. It’s just that I while I really, really liked Movida, I loved Cumulus Inc. (“That’s because you don’t have a Prada backpack;” sorry, reflex 10 Things quote.)

Since I was travelling alone, I was eating alone. Both restaurants put me up at the bar – at Movida, they were thoughtful enough to seat two more solitary diners alongside me, and since they were both in sales (i.e. incapable of not talking to another human being for more than, oh, a minute) we ended up having a very social evening. We even tasted each other’s food – it is designed to be shared, after all.

Cumulus Inc also put me next to another solitary diner, but he gave off incredibly strong ‘don’t talk to me’ signals, so I didn’t. He was a few courses ahead of me, anyway. The gay couple on the other side were having intense low-voiced conversation and were also obviously not up for a chat. However, I did not need new friends, as I had incredible food and semi-psychic Cumulus Inc staff for company. It may be the staff that tipped Cumulus Inc into love territory, which is a little unfair on Movida, since I had world-travelling sales types to keep me company there. The barman at Movida did make the excellent suggestion of starting with a pear cider, which I agreed to on the basis that trying new things is a good idea, and ended up really enjoying. I have been resisting the cider trend, mostly just because it’s a trend, but I may have to bend a little.

I suspect a meal at Cumulus could be a number of different (but I’m sure equally amazing) experiences. For starters, I was sitting at the bar, but across the room you could sit at a bar facing into the kitchen, which I’d love to do sometime. This particular evening, I went for something like a French carpet picnic experience, or an incredibly expensive French ploughman’s lunch. Starting with a glass of capital-c Champagne (Why oh why do I ever drink anything else?? Oh, right, budget…) oysters were clearly called for, and conveniently enough the menu recommended a particular oyster as being an excellent accompaniment to Champagne; the Petit Clair, I think. Needless to say, the menu was right; fine bubbles, dry, slightly toasty Champagne flavour followed by the fresh, salty oyster flesh, still with its hint of sea-tang - I wonder if it is possible to live on these things.

After browsing the menu and some idle chit-chat with my waiter, the next option was the kitchen selection charcuterie plate. This was to die for, (probably of heart disease) not least the chutney, which, although not the star item, was my favourite. Other rustic-but-currently-gourmet delicacies included waygu bresaola, jamon, a Sicilian salami (I think) and a terrine. I ordered a green bean salad so that I got some greens, but since it was covered in a creamy mustard dressing it didn’t reduce the calorie count any. This was also delicious; the cold crunch of the beans with the creamy tang of the dressing and a faint assault from the anchovies draped over the pile. I began eating my carnivore’s selection with the appropriate cutlery, but eventually abandoned this (there have to be some perks to being in a strange city!) and combined bread, meat and chutney into mini-sandwiches which I then ate with my hands. I did use a knife and fork for my beans, mum, so you weren’t completely disgraced. To be fair, Movida also drove me to more primal means of consumption, when an unusually plump, perfectly cooked, pate-stuffed (but not overwhelmingly so) lamb cutlet demanded that I pick it up and suck every last vestige off the bone. Fortunately my sales companions recognised this for the compliment it was, and as a consequence one of them subsequently ordered it and did the same.

Back at Cumulus, all this cholesterol was served with a nicely matched rosé, thanks to the semi-psychic bar staff. My one mark against them for the evening was this was really, really cold. If you know me, you know one of my pet hates is that in Australia we serve most white and pink wine (in my opinion) much, much too cold. The rosé in question did open up and round out very nicely with some warmth, and they won some points back because rosé, also trendy at the moment, generally doesn’t do it for me. Once that ran out, one of the staff wandered up and mused aloud, “Hmm, are we ready for a red? Shall we continue the French theme?” Unsurprisingly, I nodded and received a smooth, full-bodied-but-not-too-heavy Languedoc red which went down very nicely as I mopped up the last of my chutney and endeavoured to finish my beans. Getting just the right wine at just the right time without even saying a word – they’re either telepathic or really good at their job, or a bit of both.

Helpfully, they gave me some space here to sit and muse with the rest of my red, in the almost-trance good food and wine brings about: sated, a slight buzz from the wine, a little high from the combinations of flavours and feeling a general good will towards all humanity. I think it no coincidence that Tiny Tim’s cry of ‘God bless us – every one!’ came at a good Christmas dinner.

Meanwhile, one of the bar staff was inventing cocktails in between making coffee and other, less interesting drinks, and managed to sneak a dessert menu in front of me in the process. Using their special powers, they realised that even though I was, technically, full, I was not quite ready to go yet, and cunningly took advantage of this. I was convinced to have the special Camembert for dessert. I swear it was smuggled into the country because there is no way anything that good and that smelly is legal in Australia. Especially Camembert! I was still working on the Languedoc red, and the combination of the restrained, refined red wine with the smoky creaminess of the Camembert, the odd sharp edge of mould biting through... well, I am distracted just by the memory.

I finally finished the red, mellowing out even further, and was languidly chasing remnants of Camembert about the plate while I had a slightly incoherent discussion about digestifs with the cocktail-inventing-barman. I have had some digestifs in my time, it's just by the time I get to them I’m generally not in a state to remember their names. There is an obscure apple digestif I’ve had at Movida-Next-Door which I am forever chasing (not an eau de vie, and not a calvados, although those are good too) but in the interim he suggested Montenegro. The first taste always makes me wonder why I agreed to it, with the bitterness overwhelming everything, but gradually the warmth and the spices emerge and I recall what a pleasant way it is to finish off and round out all the flavours of a good dinner. I can never quite determine the balance between the psycho-somatic and the physical in the effect of a digestif, but I am sure it helps my stomach cope with all the protein and fat and alcohol I have subjected it to. With, you know, more alcohol.

I seem to have sadly neglected the food at Movida: it was great, but with entertaining company I did not have quite the same time to ponder it at length, and since I chose my own wine there were no unexpected surprises, although I did pick a good calvados to finish off with. The Movida dinner included a delicious croquette, (nearly as good as the Duende ones, which have spoilt me for life) a funky scallop dish, and ooh, now I think about, an incredible prawn mini-terrine, (there is a fancier name, which escapes me) the lamb cutlet which got a mention above, and no dessert. Sales people can’t get too fat, and were on vastly different time zones which meant an early night for them.

In terms of budget, dinner at Cumulus Inc set some personal records in terms of price. I have been out with groups and had more expensive dinners, (just, and generally due to wine) but I think this is the first time I’ve managed such levels on my own. Obviously the French wines contributed, as did the Camembert – definitely black market, at that price! Mind you, I had great meals in London which I very carefully did not translate back into $A.

Absolutely worth it though, and *cough* compared to the Italian boots I’d bought that day, quite reasonable, or to the suit I’d ordered, practically cheap. Since I’d spent the equivalent of a tropical holiday on clothes and shoes, I figured a meal in Spain and then one in France was worth the effort. While there was a certain selfish satisfaction in being able to set the agenda, budget and timing of the evenings at will, I think both Movida and Cumulus would be better enjoyed in a group, or at least with one other person! They lacked a little in the ‘someone to share it with’ stakes. Fortunately, my faithful few, I have you to do so now.

Friday, May 21, 2010

And here I thought my next post would be about cricket...

Nope. Airports.

I like them.

I live in the most isolated capital city in the world, so airports mean I’m going somewhere bigger, or somewhere other. Big airports are all the same, as all hotels are the same: not in the detail or the design, but in the underlying form and, obviously, in function. (I admit, my sample size of airports and hotels is a little limited for these sweeping statements, but others have said it, so we'll go with it for now).  Outside airport doors, though, the smells, the light, the colours, the people – they are different. The anonymous, white, synthetic, air-conditioned airport sameness is the lobby to the warm, wet wall of air that hits you in the tropics; the constant dull grey of English skies that highlight that one blue-sky day; the high, fine-boned buildings and stained glass of Europe; and the food, the coffee, the wine, the languages of everywhere! The contrast to home would be enough, but it is exaggerated by this journey through the queues and tunnels and security and elevators and finally, finally out those glass doors to taxis and trains and terrible parking and that amazing otherness.

Airports mean I’m coming home, and I mostly like that too.

Jaded jet-setters and business travellers will roll their eyes at such exuberance, complain of the coffee, compare notes on Heathrow and Singapore and LAX, ask if you’ve ever been through Helsinki Airport, either because it really is the best, or the most boring – Helsinki here representing some obscure airport which they know perfectly well you’ve never heard of, let alone had any chance of flying through.* Or they’ll talk casually of the business or first-class lounges: the bars, the particularly good lasagne / hamburger / salad bar / free champagne in those comfy enclaves reserved for this inner circle of apparently-reluctant airport junkies, knowing full well that most of us might jag a random invite or fluke a visit when forced to book an expensive flight, but that we’ll never qualify for entry. They will moan about travel and about hotels, (I also like hotels) but all the while swan about getting free upgrades to first class and hoarding frequent flyer points. Which, despite all their muttering, they redeem for more travel and hotel accommodation. (Disclaimer: if I ever get a job and / or enough money to be like this, I will be. Just so you know.)

I especially like airports when I’m in transit. To get from Australia to, well, pretty much anywhere, you have to fly via another anywhere. This means you get varying amounts of time in big (usually Asian) airports, your luggage being mysteriously transported from one plane to another (not always succesfully) while you look at shops and bars and cafes. These shops and bars and cafes are either plastic and expensive, or luxurious and horrendously expensive, or plastic and horrendously expensive, but when else do you have nothing to do but shop, eat and drink? Admittedly, by then I mostly just want to have a shower and a sleep, or possibly a massage, but in the bigger airports, with enough money and time, you can usually get those too. Unless of course you’re a jaded airport junkie, in which case you get it all for free in your secret club’s cubbyhouse.

Whether in the clubhouse or a window shopping pleb, that time in transit, unencumbered by luggage, your only responsibility to get to your gate by a particular time, is somehow weightless, expectation-less. Because you’re flying – often into a new timezone, that small time-travel miracle – people don’t expect to be able to contact you, or you to contact them, they don’t expect you to do anything or be anywhere, (again, except at your boarding gate on time) and whatever awaits you at the other end of your next flight, right now that’s all it can do: wait. This weightless space might be the calm before the storm, or the hush before the applause, or the eye of the hurricane, or the still small voice… whatever it is, in it, you are, for these precious minutes or hours, free.

Personally, I usually use my freedom to drink Champagne and read.

*Apparently Barcelona has the most beautiful airport in the world.  This post is, in the nicest possible way, dedicated to Matt, Dave, Mark and all my other friends and associates who fly a lot.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Very Long Review: Lord of the Rings - Fellowship of the Ring.

2010 intro:
This was originally written when it first came out - the very night I saw it. So any issues with this post are because I was young(er), and I accept no responsibility. I realise there could be context problems if you haven't read the books or watched the movies eighteen times, in which case I suggest you go do that, and then come back and read it.

Mostly original review:
Warning #1: Long. Really long. For an email (2010 edit: blog post) anyway. But it was 11pm, and I had no one at home awake to debrief me, so I just had to write it all down. Also I have a BA (Hons) English, so this is my instinctive reaction. Discuss. Compare and contrast.

Warning #2: Contains spoilers – some film spoilers, so if you have read the books but haven’t yet seen the film and would like to find your own things to pick on, don’t read this. Yet. Not so many story spoilers … well, some. So perhaps you should also wait if you haven’t read the book and haven’t seen the film yet. Also, go read the book already!!

Right. Well, I loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it. (where is that line from, anyway?) I felt extremely deprived at the end of the movie knowing that I have to wait twelve months for The Two Towers and then ANOTHER twelve months for Return of the King. Who decided that anyway? Still, I did see a Star Wars: Episode II trailer and that comes out in May… *sigh* that will have to do. Silly title or no silly title. Anyway, FOTR.

This great love I have for FOTR is not an unqualified love. (ahhh… sighs the audience. I knew it was too good to last.) So this is less a review (technically speaking) as some of the little things I liked, and some I didn’t but that I can live with. At least until my ego boundaries snap back into place.

I was interested by the different possibilities available in using a different medium. Some points which Tolkien had to state were able to be hinted at, and vice versa. Mind you, I think a lot of the things which Tolkien foreshadowed could also have been foreshadowed in the film rather than stated outright. Dumbing down, I think. Still, there was some mystery left.

I was quite happy with the casting. I know Liv and Cate were somewhat controversial but elven beauty is supposed to be otherworldly, and I’m not a guy, so the fact that I can’t really see either of them as being the Spring and Autumn of female beauty doesn’t bother me so much. I thought Cate acted well, particularly in the scene where Frodo offers her the Ring. (Niggle #1: you could hear her footsteps. It is a basic law of fantasy that you can’t hear elves, especially not when they’re walking in their own wood, for goodness sake. I’m not even going to go into how noisy the hobbits were).

Liv… well, my concerns are not so much with Liv as with Arwen, and her rampant cannibalism of several minor characters. Not to mention stealing scenes from other main characters. We all know it should have been Frodo who called on the river at the Ford. What was with her incantations anyway? This isn’t Harry Potter, kids. And then there is the arcing up of the whole romance thing with Aragorn. Dude, I think we might have understood the romance without the gratuitous kissing-and-swearing-to-one-another scene. And she should have given him an emerald. In Lothlorien. Indirectly, too, not just handing it over. Its one of Aragorn’s symbols for goodness sake, not some wussy brooch with pearls or whatever in it. I always, always liked Tolkien’s sublety with these two. I thought it suited both the characters and the story, and emphasised how much both had sacrificed for duty and honour. But in the film… pffft. “Quick, there’s not enough romance and there’s no kissing…” well, we can’t have that now can we?

I do wonder whether Arwen’s increased presence is a form of affirmative action. When I re-read FOTR recently (so I could be picky enough to notice the lack of emeralds and so forth) I did notice the dearth of female characters. Without Arwen, we would only have had a brief glimpse of Rosie (she wouldn’t have had any lines, either) and Galadriel. I suppose it keeps things a little simpler, too. Why have random elves coming in and out when you only need one or two? Very Shakespearean – minimise the number of actors necessary as much as possible. I don’t really have a problem with that - this is just a movie; one version of a story that probably won’t ever be adequately captured by a film. Or nine films for that matter.

Going back to Aragorn and the emerald, I also missed The Sword that was Broken, and the mystery concerning Strider / Aragorn’s identity and his royalty. The Sword should have been reforged in Rivendell, and I’m sure we don’t find out that Aragorn is royal for a while yet. I did think Aragorn was well played. Nice casting. Verrrrry nice casting… (ahh, says the audience… so that’s why you didn’t like Arwen! No, that’s not it. At all. Completely different.)

While we’re on casting and so forth … Elijah Wood. I feel a little sad for him, because he is going to have to do some really impressive work for me to not see him as Frodo from now on. He was so good – the change in Frodo from the opening scene to the closing scene – wow. His love for the Shire, the burden of the Ring, the burden of loneliness… nicely done. Some people (girls) I’ve spoken to are elf groupies (Legolas) but I have to say I was pretty impressed with Elijah. Elves are just alien, man. Nice hair though.

Frodo did seem to lose a few of his more active scenes. But then he also lost some of his ‘doing stupid things’ (i.e. wandering into barrows) scenes as well. I thought this balanced out to convey how unlikely a hero he was. Quick poll: in the scene in Rivendell just before Frodo volunteers, the Ring? or Sauron? whispers to him and I’m wondering if this is a suggestion that part of his motive for volunteering is to hang on to the Ring? Anyone?

Boromir was a very impressive match to my own mental images. The other main characters were well done too. Gandalf, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gimli … tick. Good job boys. I thought Elrond was a little too grumpy… he was supposed to be distant, not grouchy. On the other hand, the Lothlorien elves weren’t grumpy enough, and I’m sure the Rivendell elves sang more.

Some of the Saruman storyline irked me also: Saruman taking direct orders from Sauron… don’t remember that bit, I must say. And the palantirs turn up in The Two Towers, not Fellowship. Sheesh. Let alone Saruman bringing down the mountain… it was just a nasty mountain OK? Not everything in the book is caused by the bad guys.

While I’m being picky, why stop? Not that this is in any way a definitive list – although I’m sure someone has written one. What happened to the hobbits already living in Bree? The assorted minor characters in the Shire who helped them escape? The barrows? (While we’re on the barrows, my brother pointed out that without the barrow scene the hobbits didn’t have swords. Director: OK, they’re about to face the Riders. Hang on, they don’t have swords. Quick, new scene: ‘Aragorn gives the hobbits swords.’ Phew, that was close. NOT.) Tom Bombadil? I wanted to see Tom. I know, I know, it went for three hours as it was, and like I already said, compressing some characters made it flow more smoothly as a film.

Finally, Aragorn’s last line - ‘Let’s hunt some orc!’ I laughed out loud. Why not just get Gandalf to say ‘I’ll be back!’ And the Uruk’hai ‘All your base are belong to us.’ Please. Aragorn (when he spoke) was very articulate in the books.

Hmm, actually, was that line ‘let’s hunt some orc?’ Perhaps it was just ‘let’s hunt orc.’ Or ‘let’s go hunt orc.’ Perhaps I’d better go see it again... just to make sure, you understand.


For Princess Bride fans: several times when Frodo was asked for the Ring I had a mental image of an elderly bishop; “Have you … the Wing?”

For Robert Jordan / Wheel of Time fans: The WoT books all begin “The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.” Galadriel finished the intro with a similar line about history fading to legend, and forgetting things that should not be forgotten. Chicken or the egg? But let’s not look too closely at the WoT / LOTR similarities, hey? That’s a whole other topic.

To my dear readers. All three of you.

Yes, I'm attempting to post again, and to make it more general writing and whatnot. Believe it or not, this was a New Year's resolution and all, so May isn't bad! April, if you count the previous post. This may take a while for me to get the hang of, so please bear with me. Disclaimer: Posts will always be intermittent, and probably long too.

Since all three of you (possibly four, if there's an aunt out there somewhere) have asked about and / or commented on my writing, I thought that amidst some of my musings, I'd post some old stuff. No, it's not cheating - it also helps me put it out there, and despite not writing much in the time since some of it was first written, somehow my style has evolved. Or I have, or both.

Anyway, coming up - very long review of Lord of the Rings from when it first came out. I think it still has funny bits, it made me want to watch the movie again, and I have, in the main, resisted editing it. In the main.

Oh, and there's a new title and all - German; pretty cool, hey?