Eagle and serpent

explorations and philosophy: in the world, of the world

Tag: London

Pseudo-scientific comparative analysis

I think it’s time for one. Some ten days here in the land of sunshine, culinary excellence and friendly people give the needed backrest for some reflections of my time on the island.

Food: London is simply wonderful, even traditional British treats are excellent; one just has to know where to go. No need to elaborate here further, the interested ones should just research TimeOut or book a flight. Compared to London Helsinki is generally miserable, sometimes positively surprising in its exoticism, the peak being narrow, boring and very pricey.

Prices: Nominal prices are what they are, currency rates fluctuating, added to cultural and geographical differences of availability. If ‘expensive’ is perceived as “the cost of what you get”, London wins 6-0. By the river the scope varies from good and cheap to exquisite in both ways, by the sea one can choose between expensive mediocrities and very expensive haute stuff.

Alcohol: Both are pathologically infested with alcoholics and a culture of excessive consumption. The North leans more towards binging and glorification of non-controlled drunken idiocy, whereas the Brits sip all the time. After work, the streets in front of pubs are crowded at least four evenings a week, full of shouting and smoking office labour. Splendid. On the other hand, Helsinki is drunkard-littered ‘only’ two times a week (summertime is another matter), and has more brawling and aggressive behaviour (in London one has to seek a bit).

Housing: In this sense, Helsinki is a clear winner (except for the geo-location). At the price of a nice studio in Helsinki city centre, in London the same money buys you a garage with dust, mould and free street entertainment. Crumbling infra is a big turn-off, added to the almost inescapable need to commute (in similarly crumbling) mass transit establishment.

People: One thing I’ll definitely miss is the politeness and considerateness of the people around. Everyone is simply used to taking other people’s space and person into account, physically and verbally, which is definitely not the case in Ultima Thule. Maybe it’s due to the long history of people living together, don’t know. Nevertheless the archetypical, rude Finnish redneck with two modes of talking—complete silence and verbal abuse—is not appealing.

Hubris levels (ungrounded self-satisfaction added to ignorance about the exterior world) are pretty much the same in both countries. In the UK, however, they have far better reasons for that; hence it’s slightly less ridiculous.


Back on the island

After a month of wandering in the belt of good life (south of the Alps, north of the Atlas), it was time to return to the fog. It took some time and pain to re-adjust to the rain and cold.

+13 degrees, wind and rain just don’t do it for me anymore. Yes, many things are better here than in the south (infra etc. you know it). Sadly, the benefits hardly outweigh good food, nice people and excellent weather… Cold fingers no good.

There must be something in the notion that bad outdoors makes people concentrate on the indoors (and vice versa). No surprise that doing a PhD right next to a beach takes a very curious mind…

Charm of the infra

One of the common topics around the campus is the physical condition of the premises. Simply put, there is great variance among different buildings—some seem never to have recovered from the Second World War, some being brand new.

Also the populace is divided. There is a sect that values the shabby attractiveness of the ‘city’ campus with its tight corridors, gloomy rooms and peeling paint. Then there are those who’d rather have an Oxbridge-style countryside campus. And of course, there are those freaks who would like to have a modern and well-functioning one.

However, today something happened that was too much even for the Brits themselves. In the middle of training, we realised something smelling. When we looked to the door, we saw an expanding pond dripping down from the ceiling. A pond—as we would soon realise—of urine.

Charming, indeed.

Brussels, open air toilet

Trying to overcome one’s prejudices can be disappointing. A gave Brussels a second chance, as some eight years since my last visit already passed. At the moment of departure, St. Pancras International was beautiful, modern and well-functioning. Capital to capital high speed train is something worth trying… Au revoir!

The smell of urine welcomed me already at Brussels Midi. Still something was missing… Oh yes, cigarette smoke! There it was again, genuine Belgium experience. Getting out of the metro to the chilling, damp air, I tried to find my way to the hostel. No nameplates of the streets, every fifth (or so) stone missing from the pavement, every other corner filled with stinking heaps of rubbish, every other with stinking, aggressive idlers… Ah, beautiful.

And the funniest part was yet to come. I was going to see Mental Finland, Kristian Smeds’ new production. Walking past ‘hey, handsomes’ and ‘pss pss, smoke misters’ to the theatre, I was already prepared for the coming super-relativist dose of culture. Or so I thought.

Well, you can read the reviews if you’re interested in the play itself. It takes a tough stomach to digest boundaries crossing art. Beauty and ugliness is hard to combine and still keep it credible. But, it’s really about stomach, since some cowards couldn’t take it and went out before full time!

Anyway, Brussels is the place to see this kind of theatre. The contrast between sh*t+blood and sh*t+blood isn’t too great. In the evening, when consuming one out of two good Belgian things (beer), it suddenly appeared to me! The place is a combination of French untidiness and German kitsch! Music is Schlager and chanson together, interiors are plastic, neon lights and cigarette smoke combined and drink is beer as strong as wine… You name it! Lacking the good sides of either, French elégance and German Organisation, Brussels is the worst of both worlds!

The most developed developing country

Cheers Henri for this definition. Last night it finally started to unfold to me as well. Until now, I’ve been mostly positively surprised of the level of infra etc. – at least here in London.

Last night, after a false fire alarm (and having spent a good half an hour in the fresh snow) I started to think of this morning. And, oh yes.

By now you all probably know that the place has ceased to function. As in Germany, where ‘Stau’ means not a ‘traffic jam’, but the ‘total stoppage of everything’, 20 centimetres of snow here means: ‘complete chaos’. Millions are literally isolated in their oh-so-aesthetically-appealing sub-urban homes, unable to commute anywhere.

I even took my camera along to the office, as I thought there might be something worth shooting. No. Slushy, almost empty Kingsway is nothing appealing.

Rugger manliness

A dialogue just took place after a minor mark in my face:

– Here in the UK, is it ok to have bruises in the face? That is, if you’re doing business or something…

– Yea, it’s fine – just say you play rugby! Ruggers are always ok…

– But, at least in Continental Europe, Germany or Italy, it’s a no no to have cuts. Why not here?

– Well, that’s just because they’re gay

He’s our mate!

This was the answer of a drunken lad to my kind request to sit down. His team member was fighting in the cage, so it was simply impossible for him and his ‘mates’ to sit down, so the rest of the audience stood as well. At least until his ‘mate’ was ko’d…

All this took place in a mixed martial arts event I was watching on Saturday in the east of London. At the outset, I had some worries about the combination of fighting, violent crowds of lads and the serving of alcohol for the audience. To my surprise, everything went exceptionally well. That is, outside the general management of the event.

After the warm-up matches, we had already been there for hours, in total the event lasted for over five hours! So people organising events in Ultima Thule can be proud of their logistics. Of course there are television rights and stuff, but still. Drinking beer and watching the chicks is not that exiting…

All in all, two of our guys fought, first one losing to a Brazilian black belt (heel hook) after a great fight. The second won with a beautiful rear naked choke, after dominating throughout the match, including some always-arousing knee-on-bellying. No wonder they don’t want Tim to fight too often in the event because of his excellent ground game! Well, UFC comes to London in February; perhaps I have to be there as well…

Coffee and elitism

After too long a while it’s nice to be back. And what would be more rewarding than to write about one’s passions, one of them being coffee!

Most of the legends and rumours about English food culture are simply not true; the restaurant scene is definitely among the most impressive ones that I have ever had the honour to witness. One thing keeps depressing me, however. It is the state of coffee drinking in this country.

As James Hoffmann eloquently discusses this in his blog, one of the main forms of ingesting coffee-like substances is instant (or put nicely, ‘soluble’) coffee. All this in a country that boasts of being the birthplace and inventor of tea-drinking, at least in the Old Continent!

Personally, I do not mind walking for ten minutes after lunch to get my hands on a decent espresso. Regrettably, I have not been able to find the same willingness in many of my peers. And to be honest, I have to admit that I was lucky enough to stumble upon one of the high quality outlets in town, Monmouth, already during the first days of my stay here. This, if anything, has contributed to my disposition of the status of drinking quality coffee in London.

The conclusive point Jim makes, however, is cultural, rather than a solely coffee-bound one. After all, England is not the only place in the world that has a cultural allergy towards snobbery. In the land of Father Christmas, bad pizzas and boorish manners nothing is judged worse than a person who is not willing to give in to the common ‘standards’. This being the case, the following quote from Jim goes to all of them in Ultima Thule that have been whining about my selective tastes:

I am a snob. I don’t want to drink something that tastes bad. I don’t want to eat something that tastes bad and will probably hasten my demise (I am looking at you Ronald McD.)

Bacon’s baboon

After a Sunday breakfast in Soho, it was time for get the culture portion of the week. Visiting Tate Britain to see the works of a famous Soho-dweller, Francis Bacon, can be something to remember. Not only the stunning carnality of his works, but the meta-style itself – combining ghostly and carnal, spiritual and essential – stays before one’s eyes even after leaving the exhibition.

Going beyond impressions, metaphysical agony can be sometimes found even in our everyday organisations. Or what do you think of his post-cc-taxpayer?

A subtlety that caught my eye was that Bacon named many of his works as ‘studies’. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the most ruthless of Bacon’s critics was Francis himself?

Holy sh*t!

I was originally thinking of going to see one of the oxbridges and play with my new toy, but the weather foiled my plans. It was time to come up with something else. Right after the exposure to once again excellent film (in the excellent Barbican), it’s time to draw some lines between thoughts.

‘Battle for Haditha’ is a fine film also for the reason that it makes a nice comparison to our much-debated financial crisis. ‘Good’ intentions, a lot of corpses and someone profiting in the meanwhile. Ingenious!

It also raised interesting questions of institutions and their position. What if your institution is full of poorly educated young men heads full of testosterone, heavy metal and pr of ‘justice’, ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’? Sorry forgot, armed young men.

Hey man, just fly over and drop the candy! Or, if you’re a banker, package the derivatives and sell the blow-up onwards!

As even Alan has said he’s sorry, sort of, I remember many children behaving this way:

  1. Be reckless
  2. Apologise
  3. Everything’s ok