Learning from Novak Djokovic

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Most of of you know who Novak Djokovic is, and for those of you who don’t, he is a phenomenal tennis player, number 1 in the world at the time of writing and current Wimbledon champion, having beaten Roger Federer in the final. Also, he is the guy in the picture. I have watched Djokovic play many times. This post is not about learning to do anything specifically related to tennis, from the way Djokovic plays. I am sure advanced tennis players have a lot to learn from him, as he does most tennis “things” exceptionally well, and quite a lot of things better than anyone else. But it is not about that.

This post is about something that he does during play, more than any other player I have ever seen do. Djokovic applauds all the outstanding shots of his opponents and sometimes an exceptional rally. He taps his racket, effectively saying “well done”.

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This happens obviously when he has lost a point, and it happens even if the point in question has cost him a game, a set or a match. Why does he do that? Here is why: By applauding, he creates a better world for himself to be in. He has just lost a point by, say, an outstanding cross-court backhand that the opponent did exceptionally well to even get to in the first place, while Djokovic was almost sure to win the point. He could turn to himself and start swearing in Serbian or any other language. That would get him angry, nervous and negative, even for a little bit. His mindset would go into a negative spiral, even for a little bit. Everything about him would go on ‘minus’ mode. Instead, he raises the whole thing. He becomes part of a great point, won by a great player, his opponent. He wins thousands of these himself, there is no need for jealousy, no need for impatience, no need for expression of frustration. He may even be getting a great idea for a similar future shot, assuming he’s never done that himself (…unlikely). This way, he puts himself in the center of a positive sphere. He is buzzing when he is playing, and he remains buzzing. This is keeping his frequency higher, and therefore he is capable of more. (For more info, enquire within :) ) He is more likely to win the next point, game, set and match. At the same time, he has honoured his opponent in public, and added value to the tournament he is participating in. Crowds love him, the world over. TV loves him. Sponsors love him. Everybody wins. He then returns a happier man to his wife and son.

The moral of the story is that there are a lot of ways to make things positive. You don’t need to win Wimbledon or the US Open, and let’s face it, your chances were slim to begin with. (Having said that, I strongly recommend you do, if you can!!!). It doesn’t need to be tennis. It can very easily be any other sport, competition, a professional interaction, a discussion or even an argument.

This is your life. Make it better.

This post is brought to you by http://www.reikiinvictoria.com

Go to bed with your vibration

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This is something I’ve learnt from reiki. And from going to bed with girls I shouldn’t have. Here is the gist of it. We are vibration. Each of our cells, every bit of our existence is a form of vibration, and it goes up and down. The healthier and more spiritually aware we are, the higher the vibration. The more negative and less healthy, the lower the vibration. This is why children are so genuinely happy and why negative people become ill. Coming back to my original point: our vibrating bodies resonate, like all frequencies, to some vibrations, and do not resonate to others. The right vibration stimulates further vibration, and we get a buzz, the wrong vibration is like a wrong note in a music piece. It is not harmonious, does not resonate, and while in music it metaphorically brings the whole thing down, in vibration it quite literally does.

Now, here is what happens when you go to bed with someone: your mind has told you that they are the right person to go to bed with. Because they are good-looking, because they are smart, because they treat you well, because, because, because. All of the above may have done some work towards bringing your two frequencies closer (and up), but it may also have not. Because they were too different to start with, because it wasn’t the right time, because, because, because. This is something that you shouldn’t try to fix. If you really like the person and they like you back, the frequencies are either already near, or will find each other. It will happen by spending some more time together. When that happens, going to bed with them will be great. You will be making each other not only happy in bed but (…as if that isn’t enough) you’ll be making each other healthier. Because your vibrations will be increasing, your body will be executing its functions – including renewing its own cells – faster. On the other hand, if the two people shouldn’t be together, their frequencies will let them know, regardless of what society will tell them, which may be to get married, be in the same bed, and have children. All of that may happen, but it doesn’t mean it was right to happen. It probably wouldn’t have happened to dolphins, panthers, eagles or any other creatures with a much higher spiritual awareness than us. It only happens to us because we have put our mind in charge, and our mind watches tv, listens to friends, has aspirations and, unavoidably, desperations. And we go to bed with them, instead of that person with the right vibration. All of these aspirations, desperations, shortcomings, fights, anger, hatred, hidden, unspoken feelings, night after night, become our mattress. In terms of energy, this last sentence is exactly literal. And scary. And the wrong person’s energy in the same bed, combined with yours, doesn’t help either. Rings a bell?

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What bell? I hear nothing!

http://www.reikiinvictoria.com

An invisible world in crisis


This week the world news was dominated by the Nepal earthquake, with the thousands of victims and the millions of people affected, a tragedy of incredible magnitude. This comes at the back of the ongoing anguish of the immigrants losing their lives in the Mediterranean trying to escape horrible conditions of life in war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East. For most people, these tragic events are happening in places that appear distant both geographically and culturally, as most of us do not live near Lampedusa or Mount Everest. I think that for a lot of people this perceived distance either brings a sense of unjustifiable indifference or a slightly more understandable powerlessness, possibly with the exception of donating money to organisations that take action to alleviate or help with the pain where it happens. By all means, do that if you can. I did. You really can’t hop on a search and rescue boat and go save the immigrants in the Mediterranean. Nepal, the same.

However, while all of this is happening, there are endless situations, life stories much nearer to all of us that often fall through the cracks of a life of the powerlessness that I mentioned above. A life combined with a daily diet saturated with social and other media consumption, from which little energy escapes. The result is a social environment where everybody only cares about their own physical, social and financial ‘self’ as if it exists separate from the people, life and energy around them. We have neighbours who are elderly, alone, have mobility problems, have health issues that are often physically and socially marginalising, and we don’t see them. This, in my view, is a tragedy of equal significance. It may not become visible in the format of a news program that counts dead bodies to terrorise, confuse and subordinate an increasingly powerless electorate, but it is there. Invisible, as we look elsewhere. After all,  everything is invisible if you look elsewhere. Immigrants are invisible when they are drowning but not invisible when they survive and wander in the towns of the northern Mediterranean. This is the story of immigrants in most countries, I suspect, since the first ever war or natural disaster. They then become a convenient villain, a hated enemy or a humanitarian failure of our developed society, depending on your interests and level of understanding. But the elderly man who lives alone for years on the ground floor flat is always invisible. The unemployed single mum of the child in the wheelchair is always invisible. Unless you look. Unless you talk to them, even if it is to smile and say hello to them. Then they become visible. They may even smile back. The millions of these people, facing their own struggles, may smile back. You can even ask them if you can help them with something, maybe help them carry their shopping, which may be really heavy for them as they are, for example, 87 years old and really really weak. What is it to you? 5 minutes less on facebook? 5 fewer minutes wasted on Instagram? 5 minutes of bad TV less? The worldwide suffering will not end. But one personal tragedy, for one little moment, or maybe for more, will be slightly more sufferable. And this is the world you will live in, which you will have improved, and there will be a little bit more smiling around you. Go on, be selfish. Smile.

Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, 2013      (I knew I would get to use this picture at some point!)

Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, 2013 (I knew I would get to use this picture at some point!)

Brought to you by www.reikiinvictoria.com

The Gift Horse of London

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For those of you who are not familiar with it, Trafalgar square is home to four plinths, one in each corner, approximately. Three of them have statues of George IV, Sir Charles Napier and Sir Henry Havelock on them. The fourth is, in my opinion, much more interesting. It hosts a rotation of works of art, and those of you who visited in the last year may have spotted an impressive blue cockerel standing proud on it. As of March 5, 2015, the resident artwork is the Gift Horse by Hans Haacke. It is a bronze sculpture of a horse skeleton, with a gift bow wrapped around one knee. The bow is also a rolling electronic display, with a live feed of share prices from the London Stock Exchange. I’ve read a few reviews of it, some raving about it, some more sceptical.

...et dona ferentes

…et dona ferentes

I personally think it is brilliant. The sculpture invites all sorts of interpretations, as art should. But the name says it all. The reference to the Trojan horse is deafening. The Gift Horse, is the one to “beware of”, for those of you with any trace of knowledge that has escaped the Juggernaut of modern education. The reference to modern economy, banking, the stock exchange and the ‘profits’ it brings is there. It is the bow, that makes it look like a gift. Never mind that all that is left of the gift horse is a skeleton everyone can see through now. It is dead. We take it for a horse because we recognise the skeleton’s shape. It was once a horse and horses are useful. This particular one is useful only if everyone decides to treat it like a horse. In order for that to happen, the first step is all important. A system is required to make people call it a horse. 

My favourite part of this is that the artwork really comments on itself. This Gift Horse really needs to be on a pedestal in order to be seen as a horse and it does it. It needs to be there, hiding in plain sight, and it does it. It only needs to be one metaphorical inch away from real horses, so that people will take this as a real horse, and with the real horses an actual stone’s throw away at Horseguards Parade, it does that too. A wordplay within a metaphor. Magnificent.

P.S.  This blogpost is brought to you by www.reikiinvictoria.com , my other lovechild which I thought I should shamelessly promote, using the blogpost as a gift horse :) Feel free to visit and comment as always!

The mistake

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Now that the negotiations between the greek government and the lenders (Troika) are ongoing and nobody knows what is going to happen, I propose that it is worth considering this; any step back that the lenders and especially Angela Merkel take, includes, for them, the following problem: If they do step back and agree to a new deal effectively admitting that the austerity measures failed (and I am not discussing here whether they did or not, numbers paint a very clear picture if you know what to ask them!) they will lose face in their ability to negotiate from here onwards. If they admit that half the Greek young people are unemployed and the other half is either paid peanuts or have left the country (these are widely available numbers, not ‘Greek statistics’) because of the austerity measures being a mistake, then

a) the lenders are responsible for a national disaster, crucially not of their own nation and

b) they have de facto been proven inadequate to deal with such important issues and therefore inadequate to govern, hence “especially Merkel” as I said above.

In other words, those who are politicians will be politically finished, and those who are financial institutions will also be proven inadequate in dealing with issues of such magnitude and their only relevance will appear to be that they can lend (and not make or influence political decisions). The lenders will, after such a development, be negotiating having effectively admitted that they messed the whole thing up, both towards the Greeks and towards the other nations that were in one way or other, involved in supporting the bailout and the austerity measures through the memorandum. For the lenders, it would have been a potential get-out-of-jail card if they could claim that the memorandum took effect because it was forced by Papandreou, Samaras or Venizelos. These Greek politicians are politically dead and would have been easily expendable. The lenders could have said “ok, let’s have another look at the whole thing. Your leaders messed it up, let’s see what we, the rational and knowledgeable lenders, can do to salvage the situation”. This was the spirit of the memorandum anyway. The lenders had the moral high ground, in addition to writing off a huge part of Greece’s unserviceable sovereign debt. This is why troika (the lenders’ representatives) used to come to Greece and and talk to Greek ministers and PMs as if they were Headmasters talking to unruly schoolchildren.

Now, Tsipras and Varoufakis (P.S. Varoufakis resigned on July 6!) even though they are also leading a party that represents a huge basis of people who were previously PASOK and therefore well within the sphere of responsibility for what has happened, can and do say to the lenders:

a) the memorandum was a disastrous mistake and

b) we didn’t draft it or agree to it, YOU DID

c) everybody in Europe is against austerity, look at the demonstrations

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Russell Brand, lending his support to the anti-austerity movement, talking to me in Trafalgar sq. during an anti-austerity demonstration on February 15, 2015.

The lenders can not refute b). They can only argue that a) is not correct. But how can this happen when Greece’s numbers (unemployment, debt, GDP, etc) make Somalia look like a Swiss canton? They need to find a narrative, to which the Greek side has to agree, according to which the lenders did NOT make a mistake. This is why the only narrative from the lenders is, without any exception that “the Greek side needs to come up with new proposals” (btw, they also mean “the proposals need to be exactly what WE have suggested all along, and you need to appear to be asking for it”.) Because the lenders themselves can not come up with anything new. In my view, the most viable forward narrative would be for both sides to say that things have now changed and a new way of dealing with the situation is required, which, by the way, is actually true. That the memorandum was, according to some logic, the right decision when it was taken but now circumstances dictate a new scheme. This would save face for the lenders, whom, lest we forget, after having written off many billions of euros, the Greeks need to continue borrowing from. It is tragic that this debate is over money when people are losing their lives and livelihoods over this but we are where we are. (Note, in Greece on Sunday July 5 a referendum on agreeing with the measures got a NO vote, banks are closed for a week, no obvious reopening point)

The Greek government on the other hand can not appear to compromise much either. Tsipras promised he’ll end the memorandum, is asking for a new loan deal and can’t come of the negotiations and say “well, we tried but they wouldn’t hear a word. We’ll go on and see what happens”. SYRIZA needs to appear to come out of the negotiations as ‘winners’ at least in a way that the lenders will agree to co-sign. Difficult but not impossible.

I consider it possible that at some point during the negotiations, the Greek side suggested what I am saying above, pushed for it and brought the argument “don’t you want to come up with something that will sound like a victory for both sides?”, and may not have got the desired answer. As above, such a development would imply mistakes in previous actions from the lenders.

My guess is that the only place an acceptable narrative will be found is somewhere along the lines of focusing on the contribution of the memorandum towards the leaning of an ‘obese’ and corrupt Greek public sector but a reworking is now necessary.

Watch this space.

This post brought to you by www.reikiinvictoria.com

Why not indeed…

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Among my pet hates is the rhetorical question “why not?”. I have thought about this long and hard before I decided to write about it, mainly because it is so widespread that, I think, it doesn’t even register anymore in the minds of most of the people who use it and quite a few of those who get exposed to the phraseological vomit that it really is. “Why not?” often arrives as a half-hearted reply to questions of social nature, like “let’s go for coffee on Tuesday”. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware of the potential implications of Tuesday coffees. I have, much like I suspect most of you have, over the last 3 decades, had thousands of them and, without the shadow of a doubt, nothing good has ever came out of them. However, this is not a reason for me to give a half-assed “why not?” reply to anyone who would suggest we meet for one. I would either express my concerns for such a fool-hearted suggestion or, if I expected to beat the odds and enjoy it or have an otherwise productive session, would say “yes, I’d love to have coffee with you on a Tuesday. We can meet at this new cafe at Seemypoint street, I hear it is really cool and they have comfy sofas. Let’s do it”. Or, if indeed you feel strongly about the Tuesday issue, you can say “Well, Archibald, I would love to have a coffee with you, but, dear oh dear, Tuesday? Really? Let’s be gentlemanly and do Thursday like people of our social standing ought to” This kind of response makes you the enthusiastic friend or acquaintance who knows places, takes initiatives to suggest things and has a positive attitude even towards the venomous monster that is the Tuesday coffee.

Anyone who would rather say “no” can very politely say “I am going through some personal stuff this period and would rather not, if you don’t mind”. I can imagine some people would take this badly but this is a very civilised way of saying “no” and, in my view, everybody should understand and accept it.

Now, let’s look at the “why not?” option. Said friend, acquaintance, flirtatious cutie, relative, or weirdo you’ve just met at a conference suggests said social meeting. You say “why not?”. Possible interpretations:

“I can’t really be bothered but since you are asking and I need to – because of my oppressed upbringing and my passive aggressive personality- appear polite, I will wonder “why not?”.  When you text to arrange it I’m very likely to cancel of course, if I find the right wordage for it”

“I don’t really want to do it, thought quickly for a reason why not, nothing really came to mind, so, instead of saying no, I instinctively vocalise the thought process.”

“I am the kind of wo/man who does immediately find possible problems and minor negative issues with such things. I have now concluded my preliminary search and came up with nothing. If we do go out for coffee, prepare for a lot of this negative attitude”

“I see my role as the one who is offered things, services, and events’ participation and I contribute either my majestic presence or potential negativity. This also defines your role. Take the “why not?” answer to be a very positive outcome considering our difference in standing.”

“I really want to go for coffee with you but I can’t appear enthusiastic about it because I need to protect this image that I keep”

“Yeap, I’d like to go out for coffee with you but do not expect me to say anything out of the sphere of the bleeding obvious, trivial, communication degrading banalities like “why not?”. If you expect to hear anything remotely interesting, original, amusing or thought provoking, you’ll need to say it yourself. I am the one who says “why not?”

To be fair, I am sure many people get away with it. Many people have friends who keep asking them out for their dodgy Tuesday coffee and even after repeated “why not?” experiences, these friends keep asking. But really, this is not about them. They may be exceptionally patient people. The Old and New Testaments are full of them so I am sure some still survive.  This is about you, who think “why not?” is an acceptable answer to an offer for a social meeting in the era that everybody craves human interaction and yet we conduct 90% of our interacting online. Here is my message: The people who have the social skills and enthusiasm to suggest a coffee will, sooner or later, narrow down their choices of people who they go out with to those who reciprocate the enthusiasm. They love their life and that is the best thing that they can do for this life. There is no question about it. Personally, being one of the people who asks people out for coffee and only go out with enthusiastic responses, have often come close to saying “oh, sorry, you didn’t look like a “why not?” from where I was looking, apologies for the interruption”. This has probably already happened to you and you may not have noticed, or are wondering why. Expect to find yourself surrounded by other “why not?” people. After all, why not? Why not indeed…

-When I first asked you out and you said “why not?” I didn’t realise you meant “why not have six children?”!!!

The Greek voter

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fijitimes

The Greek Voter (2015) Oil on Canvas, National Portrait Gallery, London (is where it should be)

From the artist’s expressionist period, The Greek Voter is an allegory of the state of mind of the Greek people due to vote for a new national government in January 2015. The self-portrait operates on multiple levels of signification. The low angle is traditionally used to depict the subject in a position of authority but here the voter voluntarily waives this advantage, bowing in order to read the newspaper. He is not in a powerful position anymore, because of his media use. The front page is a reference to the sea storm of old, new and social media info-nonsense that the reader has to navigate to vote responsibly but the artist goes further. The Fiji Times, apart from being ‘the first newspaper published in the world everyday’ because of the day-time line (while at the same only reproducing old news), simultaneously sustains a semblance to countries with infrastructures (The London Times, The New York Times) and asks an important question: Is the subject’s Fiji a utopia or a dystopia? Is it a seaside paradise or a dysfunctional country, a dictatorship run by higher powers and  facing an uncertain future?

Dans Le Noir?

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A little while ago I went to what, I think, is the most interesting restaurant I have been. It is in London and it is called Dans Le Noir ? The name gives away a bit but here is my experience of it. This is a restaurant that is, as the name indicates, completely in the dark. When I say in the dark, I don’t mean like your room with the lights off and the curtains drawn on a winter night. I mean pitch black, so black that you’ve never …seen anything like this before. Whatever you imagine total darkness to be, add some and this might be it. This is how it works: you book in advance – the place is very busy – one of the slots which, the night I went, were 6.45, 7.00 and 7.15. I thought this was strange, but made sense later. There are four set menus, meat, fish, vegetarian and the chef’s special and they change the ingredients all the time. You don’t get to know anything more about the food at this stage, you just order to a waitress before you enter the darkness. They’d tell us on the way out. My first thought was “well, if there is one place where they can get away with serving yesterday’s leftovers repackaged as the “chef’s special” without anyone noticing, this is it”. Then again, this is central London and the place has a good reputation so, I thought, “the chances of re-served leftovers is low”. Then the darkness factor kicked in. I thought, “…at least not higher than the other menus”. However, as they are very aware of the danger of someone having an allergic reaction in complete darkness, they do tell you about ingredients. I asked if there is fish in the special, the waitress said yes there is “some” in the starter, I thought “fish bones in the dark, hhmmmm” and went for the meat menu. I went there with a lady who was also interested and had never been before, she approached it in a similar way. Then they gave us keys to two lockers, to put our stuff in. Jackets, bags, rucksacks and especially phones and anything that could produce light stay out.  So, we were taken to a relatively dark corridor, where Trevor, our blind waiter received us. Trevor was very polite and had a great radio voice. So did all the other waiters who were also blind. The chef isn’t. Yes, I did ask. Yes, Trevor. He said “no he is not blind, even though sometimes I wonder”. Trevor asked my date to stand behind me and put her right hand on my shoulder and I put mine on Trevor’s. He said, “when we are in, walk slowly and listen for directions”. After a few “take a left here, keep going straight, right here” etc, he then took my hand, put it on the back of a chair, took her round the table, did the same, we sat down. Complete darkness. He said “I’ll be back with your drinks” (we had ordered the “surprise cocktail”).

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You look fabulous tonight darling!

Trevor left us to go and bring in the other clients, hence the bookings at 6.45, 7.00, 7.15. All the clients come in at roughly the same time, the waiters get them to their seats in about half an hour while everybody is getting used to the circumstances and once everybody is seated, the food and drinks get to be circulated around the place. For the first quarter of an hour I kept …looking around. Habit is a strange thing. I kept turning my head around, eyes wide open, to get used to the idea that I could not see a thing. Nothing. And yet, I kept looking, and, according to consequent conversations with people around me, so does everybody else. After about 5 minutes, I focused more on hearing and tried to work out the shape and size of the restaurant and where exactly in it we were. I know we were in a corner and most of the restaurant was behind me, sound can tell you that much. I also know that from the entry point to where we were it was about 6-7 meters, which I knew because we walked it and I was now putting two and two together with the sounds I was processing. The place was not full but there was an equal number of speaking men and women and they all sounded kind of young-ish. It is very interesting the things you pick up when you can’t see. Trevor came back a bit later and brought a couple who sat next to us, very close, we were rubbing shoulders. The lady was seating next to me. She started talking to us, and we introduced ourselves. Then, after listening into our conversation for a few minutes, she proceeded to guess that I and my date were together for 3 years. As a matter of fact it was the third time we ever met. I found that funny, we didn’t say anything on the matter but we proceeded to play a guessing game with two people who we have never seen. We took turns guessing the other two people’s characteristics, age, occupation, education, height and so on. The only thing we disclosed was our nationalities which were Greek, German, Hungarian and Lithuanian. The two of us did considerably better at guessing the two other people’s “things”. The lady of the other couple said that I sound like I am in my early thirties and that I have a degree. This is also an exercise in diplomacy because it is a rather complicated matter to tell someone you have never met that they sound a bit too argumentative. FYI, the way to say this is “mmmm, you sound …about 25”. As it turned out, she was exactly 25 and amazed by my magical abilities. However, there was something quite interesting. All of us guessed the hair colour of the two unknown people exactly right. Let you who hath understanding reckon the number of this particular beast.

A little later, the food (and drinks) arrived. The drink is a rather simple matter. You put your lips together on the glass and drink. The food is another matter. Apart from the obvious issue of “what is it?” which was to be guessed, there was also the considerable matter of “where is it?” and “how much of it is there?” We knew there is a plate in front of us but where is the food in it? In the beginning I navigated the plate with the fork and knife and where I found resistance there was food. Did it need cutting? If I “forked” something how big was it going to be? Would it be peanut-sized or tennis-ball sized? Was it all one thing or two things together? Meat and potatoes? Vegetables and gravy? Is it dripping? Where? Is the whole plate one thing or many? How do I prepare my taste-buds? What colour is it? Is it blue? Would I eat it if I could see it? Trevor came to check everything is ok and gave us a hint. “You do remember nobody can see you, right? You can use your fingers”. Yeap. Then you remember. If you touch and hold something, you may not know whether it is pork, zebra, elephant or another human, but at least you get a rough idea how big it is and whether it is meat or sauce or cabbage. Your tongue and nose may tell a different story later but this is not the point. You can also put it in your palm to eat it and avoid any dripping. At that point I also realised that if I was to do that, afterwards I could wipe my hands on whatever the lady that was sitting next to me was wearing and say “oh, your shirt/jumper/dress feels nice” but I stopped because she could be wearing a sleeveless top  I am not that kind of man, thank you. A few minutes later Trevor came again. He asked if we had finished with the starter, and the two ladies said “they didn’t know”. Of course they didn’t. How could they have known unless they wiped the whole plate with their hands to make sure there is nothing left on it? So Trevor brought the mains. Same story, bigger plates, more food, which, by the way, was very good but there is something that changes when you don’t see what you are eating. I don’t want to go into any depth here but the Italians are onto something when they say “anche gli occhi vogliono la loro parte”. By that time I think I had stopped looking around in vain. I had already correctly guessed -but didn’t know that yet- even the hair length of the lady next to me (…no hands, ok?) and having overheard the conversations of several people near us, I didn’t want to be a part of any of them. By the end we were all trying to guess what our foods were and were looking forward to check how well we did with our guesses about the other couple. Cut a long story short, we got out and saw the other people, they were amazed by how far off they were in their guesses (I didn’t want to say “yeap, wait until you see what happens for the rest of your life…”), we were not so amazed but still “nice to meet them”, and then we talked to the waitress in the light, who told us what we had. We, the meat eaters, had carpaccio to start (correct guess), and some steamed vegetables, including cauliflower (wrong guess) carrot (correct) swede (wrong) and parsnip (wrong). For main we had pork (correct), duck (wrong), veal (I went for beef) in a sauce with ingredients that we got half right, and some other stuff. Needless to say, the two ladies got the ingredients of the dessert exactly right, to the last detail. The other couple who had the exotic “chef surprise” menu were told that among other things, they had zebra. “Oh”, I said. “Zebra! What was that like?” I asked the Hungarian guy. “Well” he said, “it was a bit like horse”.

True Stories IV

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In May 2013 I was in New York for a few days. The first morning I was there, I had breakfast at Gemma’s, the restaurant of the Bowery Hotel, in the very fashionable East Village. Next to me, and I mean next, as in 1 meter away, was Julie Delpy having breakfast with someone. I know it was her because a) I recognised her and b) outside the restaurant and in my vision range was a limo with her name on an A4 inside the windscreen. A short while later, she kissed the guy, winked at me, went out, got into the limo and disappeared. I thought “things are picking up a bit”.

Now, rewind a few hours. My first night in New York, I arrived from Los Angeles, got in a cab and gave the address to the cab driver to take me there. When we arrived, a porter of the very posh Bowery hotel, in a top hat, opened the door of the taxi for me to get out. I thought to myself: “this can’t be right”. I knew that because the hotel I had booked cost 32$ a night and I’ll be damned if anyone here can find a Manhattan hotel that costs less than $200 where a porter opens the door for you. I knew also that the other options I had anywhere in Manhattan were upwards of 200$ a night, so that was why I booked this excellent bargain. So, I asked the man “Is this the Bowery Whitehouse Hotel?” which, by the way, is at 340 Bowery, New York, NY 10012. Of course it wasn’t. This was the Bowery Hotel, 335 Bowery, New York, NY 10012. The porter smiled and pointed across the street, to a building with scaffoldings all over it. He said nothing. I got the hint. Got my suitcase, crossed the street, got in what would have been a hotel lobby if it wasn’t 100 sq.m. of almost empty space with 8 plastic chairs scattered around 2 metallic tables, a coffee vending machine and a cold drinks vending machine. There was also an enclosure which doubled as the reception, in which a generously sized 20-y-o was playing a game on the computer.

Full dialogue between me and him:

“Good evening. I have a reservation for 3 nights”

“It is 32$ a night, non refundable. Cash only”

“Don’t you want a name?”

“No. Passport”

I produced 100$ and passport – he gave me change and a key.

“Third floor. No guests”

“Thank you”

End of conversation, during which he did not raise his eyes to look at me even for a second.

I assumed that most things will be self explanatory, and to be honest, I feel a little like an idiot when at hotel receptions they explain to me that the towels are there and the tv remote is by the bed so I almost appreciated the ‘word economy’. Maybe I flatter myself but I always feel I am odds-on favourite to find what I need in a hotel room!

I went towards the only door in the room to what I assumed would be the lifts and turned out to be the stairs to all floors. The door doesn’t open. I try again. Nothing. I look around in case there is a button to press for the door to open. Nothing. I try again. After the 4th time, the silent receptionist, who can see me all this time, says:  “I need to buzz you in”. I look at him. He does nothing. I look at the door. Nothing. I look at him again, then the door, then suitcase. He says: “SO, do you want to go up?”. I thought he was pulling my leg but I thought, let’s not start a fight. “Yes, thank you”. He buzzes me in. I go up the stairs with the suitcase, no lifts, and look for the room. As I wonder around the rather chilled corridors of the 3rd floor, I realise that nowhere in the whole procedure of reading, booking, or talking about it was the word “room” used by the hotel or the receptionist. This was the reason:

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The hotel has what I can only describe as cubicles which do not have walls. They have painted wood and cardboard sides, a wooden frame for the wooden door and some metal bars on top so that you can’t get out of your cubicle and into the one next to yours. In addition to that, the cardboard ‘walls’, don’t go all the way down, there is a gap of about 10cm at floor level. That was more or less the case for the shared toilets too. Now. For those of you who don’t get it yet, this means that if the 3rd floor is cold, your cubicle is also cold. As it happened, the 3rd floor also had the windows open for better ventilation! (I asked!). Downtown Manhattan on that night was 11 degrees. Great. If the floor has the lights on, your room has lights on. The floor HAS the lights on, as people come and go all night, it is a bloody hotel, right? Right. Well, I was jetlagged, it was about midnight, I was tired, I thought “I’ll sleep tonight and see what I do tomorrow”. Yeap. At about 1.00 in the morning, I hear footsteps for the umpteenth time that night, but this time they came to the cubicle next to mine. This was not like all the other footsteps, as there was also talking. They both got in the cubicle next to mine, which I thought was a bit cheeky considering the “no guests” policy of the hotel. Then I thought, “maybe they have a double room”. They didn’t. It was a gay couple who were out in the town drinking before coming up. They were both drunk, but one of them was sober enough to keep telling the other to be more quiet, which, of course, wasn’t gonna happen. The plot unfolded rather quickly. The more sober one was the ‘legal occupant’ of the cubicle. The other, the eager one, was asking him to stay the night with him promising that he would make it worth the while (Keep in mind I am cardboard width away, and there is no ceiling, right?). I coughed discreetly to raise awareness of another human being very near them, but the eager one didn’t seem to mind. The other one gradually did, but this went on for a bit. They kissed and talked and were often stretching the resistance of the cardboard wall, much to my annoyance and my (ignored) deep coughing. The dialogue went into a spiral of the eager one arguing that they are having such a great time together and they are such a great match that they are really made for each other and the other guy saying “yes but you need to go” in one way or other. This went on for an hour at least. No sleep for me, and I also started to say “hey” every time they got too loud, but still, no resolution. More kissing, more talk, no departure. At some point, the eager one proceeded to give the other one oral pleasure. This, excluding the minor issue that a man was sucking another man’s dick about 30 cm away from my ears, I thought was brilliant. First, because it was silent. The one who was doing the loud talking, wasn’t talking anymore. The other one, who was objecting to the overnight stay, wasn’t talking either. Great. Second, I thought, this will lead to a resolution one way or another. Either the guy who has the room will sweeten up and let the other stay and we’ll all sleep happily ever after, or he’ll insist the guy goes, and I can’t see what other more persuasive argument the other guy is going to bring to this debate. It was also 3.30 by then. At some point, the honourable endeavour came to what I assume was the mutually desired ending and I thought, “it is now a question of minutes”. Indeed, after the successful physical performance-based presentation of his view, the eager one also articulated his view with an argument along the lines “…see what a great match we are? We belong with each other. Let me stay”. The other one however, stood his ground. He insisted the guy left, no matter what. The eager one got aggressive. “How dare you treat me like this?”. “What kind of man are you?” and so on, questions to which I, personally, wide awake, jetlagged, and all of 30 cm away, had really good answers, but I thought, I’ll keep them to myself. At about 3.45, the guy left the room. By that time, I didn’t care that my brightly lit cubicle was even colder, I was going to get some sleep.

About 5 minutes later, footsteps again. All the way to the door next to mine, knocking. “What the fuck do you want?” said the guy from inside. “I forgot to ask you” said the eager guy from outside “what’s your name?”

“That’s it” I thought to myself. “Tomorrow morning, whenever I get up, I am treating myself to breakfast in the very posh hotel across the street.”

Darren. His name was Darren.

Brain drain? Think again!


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Greek PM Antonis Samaras often talks about his aim to reverse the trend of what he calls “brain drain”. He means he wants to create the conditions for well-educated and intelligent Greeks (who have left the country and do well abroad) to come back and settle down in Greece. This can not happen and most people know it. What most people don’t notice is that there are two major issues with this narrative. First: Samaras has said that these high-achieving, hard-working, intelligent and evidently able to succeed Greeks left because of the crisis. This is not true. The “brains” had gone already usually never to return from their studies abroad, or after a disappointing spell back in Greece. These Greeks left before the crisis. They may not have been happy with the clientelistic governments, the perpetual corruption, the endless contempt of all legality, etc. People who do well want a very strong and stable state, because it pays them well, taxes them fairly, protects them from all sorts of rubbish, and offers opportunity for their children, friends and others who give it an honest try. Greece, led by Samaras and his equals, was clientelistic, corrupt and anarchic for a long time, it did not start in 2008-9. Those who left after 2009-10 were NOT the brains. Those, who obviously included some “brains” too, as well as some very young people, were desperate. I think a study in the qualifications and work experience statistics of the two “waves” which any decent state will have available will show this clearly, won’t it? Yeap. Still, that is not the major issue. Some of these desperate people will return to Greece because they didn’t get what they expected in England, Germany, Australia and other places. The second (and major) issue is Samaras’ claim that he is trying to bring these high-achieving people back to Greece. He isn’t. These intelligent, well-paid people have expensive houses in developed countries. Maybe they have invested in more than one property. These properties are assets that are worth more every year and are not taxed, because they are not income. They may be taxed if they become or bring income, which is fair, but will never be taxed otherwise. These people will never come back to a country that taxes property ownership. They won’t come back to be voluntarily robbed every year at random rates. Is this clear?

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