Monday, March 04, 2013

Opera and other aspirational hobbies

I have been reminded of the existence of this blog and of how I shamefully neglected it for two years. I was just waiting to have something vaguely interesting to say, but it didn't happen. So I'll blog regardless.
For lack of deep thoughts, wise insights and any ability to do self-analysis I'll just talk about stuff I like.
Starting with opera.
I love opera but never went to see it until last year because I thought that you'd have to a) spend a fortune b) be dressed to the nines c) own a monocle or a diamond necklace and know how to air kiss people. Since I generally dress with my mother's hand-me-downs and jeans bought at the supermarket, I thought that opera was never going to be for me. After reading an excellent book with magic happenings and hauntings at the Royal Opera House (there's always a nerd catch to anything I do) I couldn't wait any longer and made some inquiries. I found out to my delight that it's perfectly possible to go to the ROH without spending a fortune or being a fashionista, even though you might end sitting (or standing) in places that carry dire warnings about vertigo in the online ticket reservation page - although not quite plastered to the ceiling on large strips of fly paper, as I initially feared.

The awesome curtain at L'Elisir d'Amore

I've since seen almost every production from almost every cheap place, but I really earned my strips with Wagner's Ring Cycle last October. You couldn't pick and choose to go and see only one of the four parts of it, you had to buy tickets for a whole cycle of four nights (performed within 10 days). It had sold out the year before on the first day it was put on sale. Anyway, I asked at the box office if they had any returned tickets and yes, they had one! A cheap one too, because it was a standing place on the balcony. The cashier seemed a bit hesitant though, and asked me twice if I was really SURE about having to stand. Why not? I asked, and bought the tickets. It wasn't until the beginning of October that I realised that the whole thing was over 16 hours long, with a couple of nights going on for 6 hours. That's a LOT of Wagner and standing. Besides I wasn't even sure how much I'd like it, being more of a Mozart person.
I ended up ordering a foldable fisherman stool on Amazon and practising how to hide it up the sleeve of my coat (it gave me a nice hunchback look). At the end though, I didn't use it much. There were enough intervals to crawl out, sit on the stairs and consume the wine and food I'd hidden up the other sleeve.
I was a bit anxious about these standing places, because they were right at the back of people who have probably remortgaged their houses to buy their tickets, you see liveried waiters going up and down with trolleys of food, so I was a bit concerned about breathing down the neck of the kind of people with 5 surnames who practice fox hunting with human prey and drink champagne from skulls of dead butlers.
Instead it wasn't like that at all. Since standing through 16 hours of Wagner is hardcore even by the standards of the most passionate music lovers, I ended up next to a bunch of people who seemed to be a TV casting of opera buffs. The most notable were a fat woman in tears, a German gay couple, a guy who directed the orchestra for the whole time (how I hated him) and a weirdo with a fisherman stool. Oh wait, that was me.
What I love about the ROH is you see the most amazing people. Well, it's what I love about London, but the ROH in particular. The other day I went to see Eugene Onegin in one of the cheapest sits in the whole place (it does actually provide an experience similar to being plastered to fly paper to the ceiling, although the audio is great). It cost £7, the cost of two pints of beer. Regardless, there were two guys who showed up in full regalia, wearing Dracula coats (I checked them for top hats but didn't see them, I'd like to think they'd left them at the wardrobe; I should have checked for fangs). How cool is that!?
Last Saturday I went to see the Tosca and behind me there was a crazy lady who first directed the orchestra (is it a fucking habit?) then harangued the woman with her about having been brought to a standing place, since she was the owner of the place. She made a huge scene and in appreciation I left her my seat for the 3rd act (it only lasts 20 minutes, the time for Tosca to jump off the castle, as once performed by Tacobell at Bacon of Hope).
I'm all blogged out, so I go back to camping reddit/r/Simcity and dreaming of the release day. And yes, also drawing another panel. Stay tuned for some more nonsense about things I like, sometime in the next two years.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jogging for nerds

A friend mentioned the other day that I haven't blogged for more than two years, and that made me think that I might as well start again - especially now that I am so slow with the comic updates. I vaguely remember it as a pleasurable activity, the few times that I did it.

I have started working out a lot more than I used to around June last year, after someone I gamed with mentioned in IRC that they were doing Insanity and P90X from Beach Body (there is always a nerd link to everything I do). I had always steered clear of exercise videos, thinking that they mostly showed ex-fat Z-list celebs yelling and jumping around in pink spandex, but this is not the case with the BB videos. Lots of yelling actually, but no pink spandex or Z-celebs in sight (or maybe American ones that I ignore) - and it kicks your ass like - or more than - a tough gym class.

At the same time, I've used the coach-to-5k plan to start jogging. It goes more or less like this:

week 1
Walk 2 minutes - Jog 1 minute - Think that you are having a heart attack 5 minutes - Jog 1 minute - Hyperventilate 3 minutes - Jog 1 minute - A tunnel, with a light! And angels! And is that you grandpa? Is this heaven? 5 minutes - Jog 1 minute etc. etc.

until you are ready to survive a glorious:

week 9 - jog 30 minutes

The only problem about the 30 minutes is that it makes "coach-to-5k" a total misnomer, since it takes me almost twice that long to cover 5k. I am so slow that you could track my progress with a calendar.

The other day it was a bit embarrassing, because I ended up jogging next to a fast-walking woman with a baby in a pushchair and going at EXACTLY the same speed, right next to her. After two minutes or so she started looking increasingly nervous (add to it that I don't have smart runner gear, and the stuff I wear looks like I just robbed a homeless person). She must have thought that I wanted to steal her baby, possibly to eat it. I wanted to overtake her but I had run for almost an hour and I was already considering crawling for the rest of the distance, let alone sprint. Eventually I moved to the opposite side of the road before she called police.

At some point when you take up jogging - assuming that you don't hurt yourself and have to stop - something magic happens. It's no longer unpleasant and painful, it turns into an awesome feeling. Well, most of the time, and with aches and pains. But it's absolutely great. Your thoughts are no longer "fuuuuuuuuuuck.... fuuuuuuuuuuuck.... aaaaahhhhh... ohmgod Imgonna dieeee...." so you have your brain at your disposal for an hour to do what you want with it.

I think a bit about the script for the comic, but the only way for me to do something constructive with it is to actually write - not compatible with running - and at most when I run I could get an idea to elaborate later, so that leaves a lot of mind room for trivial thinking, like "If Berlusconi had orgies with prostitutes dressed as nuns, instead of just topless police and nurse costumes like he does now, would the Vatican be more upset about this scandal? And why are police unions upset about it but not nurse unions? hmmm... What if I cooked fish again but with pancetta instead of chorizo OOOH that's a seagull! A small seagull! Ugh, what if this guy with the mean looking dog attacks me? Is that a pit bull terrier? I'll yell OH SHIT LOOK BEHIND YOU! and throw him in the river when he turns around! But maybe I should throw the dog in the river first. Yes. Would the dog turn around though? If I use pancetta and white wine it will be delicious, I am sure. Not very healthy, though. Another seagull!" etc.

I thought that I should listen to audiobooks to put my brain to better use, but then I remembered the time that by mistake I added Mozart's Requiem to my jogging mp3 tracks and couldn't be bothered to take the phone out of its holder to change playlist.I ran even slower than normal that day, with an impending sense of doom. As beautiful as it was, I need something with a different tempo to keep me upright and mobile - I've tried different genres and these days I listen to loud trance and techno even if I am not a huge fan, it's great for running even if I end up with tinnitus. An audiobook might be too quiet and slow.

So it happened that yesterday, with particularly bad tinnitus after an hour of NTZZ NTZZ NTZZ NTZZ trance beat though my earphones, I browsed the Kindle store page and saw a book called Zen and the Art of Running and thought, YES! This is what I should do! so I downloaded it to see how you can run and meditate at the same time without getting run over by a truck. I have tried meditating before, but always end up falling asleep, or making shopping lists in my head, or just not even trying because I have very important things to do before bed, like the daily fishing quest in WOW and such.

I read about half of the book last night. It appears to have been written with the potential serial killer in mind as its target audience. It spends a whole chapter with advice on how not to get mad at pedestrians in your way, or even at red lights, because you shouldn't take it personally. They are not there specifically to hinder your progress. If someone suspects that the Illuminati or some other sinister group are controlling traffic lights specifically to annoy them, this book is the solution.

After making sure that you won't go on a killing spree the next time you go jogging, the book suggests some beginner exercises to increase your mindfulness. Listen to your body, it says, and notice its sensations, and as you observe them make them external and impersonal, and let their importance dissipate. Notice how, for example, your knee aches? Ok, label that sensation, and let it go... So I started paying attention to my body's sensations, and sure enough my left Achilles tendon felt a bit sore. I didn't manage to ignore it though. Oh no. Instead, I also noticed that my right arm felt a bit itchy, right above the elbow.Two horrible sensations and I couldn’t even decide what was worse! It was enough to drive anyone mad! Aaaah! Let's try to ignore it, no way, it's too bad... Wait, I have hair in front of my eyes and that's the most annoying feeling ever, Oh God! If I don't do something I'll howl! Two minutes later I was a total wreck, with enough aches and itches as if I'd been attacked by angry ants and rolled into a ditch to save myself. I guess that I'm much closer to enlightenment when I DON'T pay attention to my body, but I’ll try to keep practicing.

Tonight I'll read the rest of the book and apply its teachings in the morning when I jog in Greenwich Park, but I have a lingering doubt. Buddha was a fatty. Not much jogging, there.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Positive thinking

I've read in an article that the best way to beat negative thoughts is to:
a) Stop the thought in its tracks by telling yourself "Stop!";
b) think something positive, and
c) take a deep relaxing breath.

I have decided to give it a shot but I can already add two caveats:

- don't do it at work meetings or people will think that you're hyperventilating;
- never, ever do it when you are cleaning the cat's litter box.

Warhammer happened and I am sleep-deprived and wondering when I'll be able to finish the next episode. I'll have to work on it all weekend, dammit! STOP! Hey, it's great to stay indoors on a sunny weekend, you know you love it - DEEP BREATH.

I took a political compass test and it looks like I share the same views as Gandhi! I better check out what they were because I'm not too sure.


Monday, May 19, 2008

A Dell?!?

Yesterday I went to see Ironman with a friend and really enjoyed it - it's a very entertaining movie. However I was very suprised to see that their bitchin' computers were labeled Dell (you can see it when Pepper leaves Jeff Bridges' office). I understand product placement and all that, but WTF? I can just figure Stark on the phone with their helpdesk, "yes, yes, a superhero iron suit... I pay with Visa, yeah... oh, I get a free printer with it? Aaah, your Supersaver Summer Deal, of course... Great! Thanks!"
As for books, I've finished reading The Dreaming Void a few days ago and I didn't like it very much. It only has two decent characters (Aaron and Troblum), aside from the old characters from Pandora's Box and Judas Unchained that make cameo appearances. Besides, Hamilton should do everyone a favour and stop writing about sex, he's really crap at it. The dream chapters were bog standard boring fantasy - I wanted to read science fiction, not all that crap. I like the guy, he's written good books in the past (like the Neutronium Alchemist) but this is not it - and the rest of the trilogy isn't even out yet.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

One with nature

Sometimes I have the feeling that life mocks me in subtle ways.

A while ago I noticed the first signs of spring, tees in bud, etc. while I was walking to the train station. It made me think of Disney movies, with little couples of birds in love flying from branch to branch, and I felt uplifted (I know that mental images don't get much gayer than that, but it's not my fault if I watched so many Disney cartoons when I was a child). I reached the station, sat on a bench, and two of the dirtiest, mangiest pigeons that I've ever seen landed right in front of me and had a vicious fight over a crumb.

Last night as I went to bed I had a New Age moment and I put on loop a CD that I downloaded - a relaxation track with sounds of thunderstorm and pan pipes - thinking that it'd be nice to fall asleep and wake up to the sounds of nature. Sure enough, I woke up a few minutes ago to the loud sound of the cat vomiting a hairball. Well, at least it doesn't get much more natural than that.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Sims2 - It's that time again!

How exciting, today the new expansion of the sims2 is coming out in the UK! I can finally put aside LOTRO pvp for something else - for the full three hours that generally it takes for a Sims2 expansion pack to bore me thoroughly.

In anticipation, I've been checking the official forums and there seem to be several complains about bugs and glitches. The Sims2 have the BEST BUGS EVER:

Sad: "I had a pregnant dog go to work with a bladder that needed emptied. She never came home."

Irritated: "
I am trying to work and all these sims are coming up to me wanting to talk to me through the teddy bear. Please maxis do you really think that in real life someone you don't even know is going to bring a teddy bear up to you and start talking through it to you?" Actually, that'd be awesome.

Irritated 2:
"I also noticed that my guests now use the computer to browse the web and blog about their hobbies. This bothers me a lot although it was probably meant as a feature." Sounds quite realistic to me.

Confused: "
The same sim, I called a taxi for her to go downtown. 'The taxi came, she got in, nothing happened, next thing I know, she is returned by the taxi and I am informed she had a good time and purchased a game." That's EXACTLY what happens to me when I go out and drink too much.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Simian Mobile Disco

Last week I went with a friend to a gig by Simian Mobile Disco, one of the few bands that she likes that I don't object to. I remember seeing their video Believe on YouTube last year and being really impressed because I thought it was actually done and sung by the Romanian destitute peasants that figure in it.
I enjoyed most of the show, but was really puzzled by the fact that I have no idea what the two guys on stage were doing. They seemed very busy turning knobs and stuff in what looked like an island counter in an alien spaceship's kitchen, but if they were just mixing prerecorded stuff, why did they even need to be there? Well, aside from looking cool in the dry ice and lighting effects while they cranked it to 11.
Another effect of ageing is that every time I go to a gig (not very often) I feel less and less part of the crowd. They look younger and more strangely dressed every time - I know I was a teenage rebel back in the day and dressed the part, but what's up with a flanel pijama with a strawberry motif accessorised with glow-in-the dark necklace? What the fuck, kids? Maybe it's a super hip Grampa-on-Acid look and I just don't have a clue.
A few more years and I'll be chewing a denture and complaining that back in my day we had real music, Sex Pistols, Ramones... TUNES, dammit! TUNES! Oh well, at least I still like Simian Mobile Disco, even if it's played by two strange guys on a futuristic kitchen unit instead of a village of poor peasants. Also, on the upside, I can now be mathematically sure that I do not suffer from photosensitive epylepsia, or I wouldn't be here to write this after that gig.