Poetry day


It’s Montana poetry day.

What’s your favourite poem and why?

That question is too hard for me to answer – I have a long list of favourites starting with the one I learned at kindy:

Miss Polly had a dolly who was sick, sick, sick/ She called for the doctor to come quci/quick/ He picked up his bag and he picked up his hat/ and knocked on the door with a rat a tat a tat.

He looked at the dolly and he shook his head/ and said Miss Polly put her straight to bed/ I’ll write a prescription for a pill, pill, pill and be back in the mornign with my bill/ bill/ bill.

The list does develop from doggeral like this and show a little more maturity but picking a favourite from those favourites depends on lots of variables including  mood, occasion and purpose.

July 24 in history


On July 24:

1567 Mary Queen of Scots was deposed and repalced by her one-year old son, James VI.

1725 John Newton, English cleric and hymnist was born.


1895 Robert Graves, English poet and novelist, was born.

1924 The World Chess Federation was founded in Paris.

1982 Anna Paquin, Candian born New Zealand actress was born.

It pays to look down


In Milan, as in many older cities it pays not just to look up, but also to look down.

The floor of the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele is decorated by intricate mosaics.

Among them is this one.


Legend suggests rubbing your heel on the bull’s testicles will bring luck.

So many people have done so they’ve hollowed out a hole in the mosaic.

A piece of cake


There was a piece of cake in the fridge.

It was large piece of chocolate cake, left over from a birthday party we’d celebrated with the sort of feast from which family legends grow.

As a token gesture towards nutrition and balance we’d started with sandwiches – tomato, and ham with kiwi fruit. Then there was a spicy pear cake; apple and mincemeat short cakes; Grandma’s Blow Away sponge, from the Edmund’s Recipe Book; an enormous jelly sponge; and the chocolate cake.

It was a lot of food; but three generations of extended family and several close friends had done their best to see justice was done to it. We’d all eaten so much there was absolutely no need to eat anything more.

But you know what it’s like when you’ve had too much fat and sugar:  your digestive system signals that you’ve had more than enough and your head tells you a gentle walk would be good. But your eyes are bigger than your stomach and your mouth is still watering. Besides, one of the rewards of cleaning up is to pick a little at the leftovers and there was such a large piece of cake left over that a tiny, wee slice wouldn’t be missed.

There was a piece of cake in the fridge.

It was a medium-sized piece of chocolate cake. But not any old ordinary chocolate cake. This was the one, which extensive reconnoitering in homes and cafés around the world, enabled me to confidently declare was the very best chocolate cake I’d ever tasted.

The recipe came from a book given to me by a friend who shares my belief that chocolate is one of the major food groups essential for physical health and mental well being. It is not, however, the sort of recipe book likely to win any ticks from the heart foundation. Not when people can gain a couple of kilos from just looking at the pictures; reading the recipes may have a detrimental effect on blood pressure and even thinking about them could harden the arteries.

The book has 128 pages, each and every one of which is dedicated to delightful and decadent ways to employ the delicious product of the cocoa bean; and in this book which pays such devoted homage to the joys of chocolate, the cake in question was the richest and most chocolaty of all.

It started with two chocolate sponges, moistened with liqueur then sandwiched together with layers of white and brown chocolate cream. Not content with the fat and sugar content of this delectable confection, the recipe insisted on icing it with yet more chocolate, diluted to spreading consistency with melted butter.

It looked sensational and tasted even better. The only problem with it was that it tended to get a tad messy once it was cut and that chunk that was left in the fridge really was begging for a bit of tidying up: nothing major, just a spoonful or two scooped from the crumbly bit on one side and then a sliver from the other to even it up.

There was a piece of cake in the fridge.

It was a smallish piece of chocolate cake, the equivalent of that last half glass in the wine bottle. Not of course that the cake could be compared to alcohol. Goodness, people use that as a prop, they drink to forget, or to compensate for their inadequacies, and they become addicted.

But of course I wasn’t like that with this cake. You couldn’t call wanting just one more, very little piece, a compulsion or compare it with an addiction. I could have stopped right then, shut the door and left it if I’d wanted to. But I didn’t want to. And I was a bit tired and hungry. Well, not hungry as in not having had enough to eat, but hungry for comfort. So we’re not talking mere want here, what I felt was need. I was tired, looking for comfort and I needed a sugar fix. That means it wasn’t so much food as medicine and having just a little bit wasn’t an indulgence, it was a dose.

There was a piece of cake in the fridge.

It was a tiny, wee piece of chocolate cake. So tiny and wee that it wasn’t so much a piece as the crumbs of the leftover remains of a piece. So tiny and wee that you’d wonder why anyone bothered putting it there, especially in view of the exhortation on the fridge door that: “a little waste is better than a lot of waist”.

Apropos of that it seemed silly to waste space keeping it; so, really and truly, getting rid of it was good housekeeping. It wasn’t that I really wanted to eat it, I certainly didn’t need to eat it, and there was so little left it really wouldn’t have mattered if I’d just scraped it into the compost bucket. But then if there was so little left, it wouldn’t do any harm to eat it either…

There was a piece of cake in the fridge but it seems to have disappeared.

© E.J. Ludemann 1990

It pays to look up


Several weeks ago I read a post at Stellar Cafe about the importance of looking up.

I remembered that in Cremona yesterday and was rewarded with this:


Local knowledge helps


Our walking tour starts tomorrow but we met our guide tonight and he shared his local knowledge with us.

That included an introduction to the Milanese happy hour. This allows you to pay 8 euro for your first drink and then you are able to help yourself to a delicious array of food from the bar – the Milanese equivalent of Spanish tapas.

Seven of us shared a couple of bottles of wine, there were a few beers and a couple of cocktails plus coffee and fresh, tasty food for less than it cost my farmer and me to dine by ourselves last night.

The most expensive vegetables in the world


The Galleria Vittoria Emanuele which goes off Milan’s Duomo Plaza has a lot to recommend it including its architecture and cafes.

But if you’re dining at one of the latter, do be careful about the prices.

We eat a lot of vegetables at home and when we travel often feel a vitamin deprived so when I saw grilled vegetables on the menu I ordered them to accompany my pasta.

They arrived, artfully arranged: two slivers of zucchini, two strips of pepper, one slice of aubergine and a wee bit of fennel.

More just a very expensive garnish than a plate of vegetables –  the dish cost 10 euro which is about $NZ23.


July 23 in history


On July 23:

1840 the Province of Canada was created by the Act of Union.

1952 Yvette Williams won a gold medal at the Helsinki Olympics, becoming New Zealand’s first female medalist.

1986 Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson married.

Mid-week music


Still in Spain, today’s mid-week music is from Joaquin Sabina and Juan Manuel Serat: Sin Embargo – which means never the less.

Train thoughts


It’s always better to start with the worst and move up to the best.

We did it the other way round with European trains.

The first was one of Spain’s fast trains which was clean, comfortable and on time. We changed in Madrid to another fast train which was of a similar standard (though I wouldn’t recommend the food).

In Barcelona we swapped to a slower train. The seats were still comfortable but not as good as those in the fast trains. It was about half an hour late but as we were in holiday mode that didn’t worry us.

Yesterday we left Montpellier on a French fast train which was better than the previous day’s slow one but not as comfortable as the Spainish one. We swapped in Avignon to a slower one, got in late to Nice where we only just had time to catch our connection to Ventimiglia and then found it had been cancelled.

The train we were supposed to catch had been leaving from platform E. When it was cancelled we were told to go to G – down the stairs we’d just lugged our cases up and up another set of stairs. We milled there with other confused travellers for about 10 minutes until someone who could understand French translated an annoucnement which told us we had to go to platform D – back down the stairs and  up the ones we’d descended from platform E.

The train eventually turned up and left 20 minutes late. We had originally had 15 minutes to spare to get the connecting train and weren’t hopeful of making it but there were so many of us they’d held it back.

That was a good start and the seats were comfortable but the train was slow, it started off 20 mintues behind schedule and ended up 50 minutes late in Milan.

The only food on offer was very expensive junk (2.70 euros for a very small packet of dried fruit).

But the worst was the loo – clean enough but all it was just a seat with a pipe straight on to the track. Pity the poor people who live close to the railway.

July 22 in history


On July 22:

1844 William Archibold Spooner, the Oxford Don after whom spoonerisms were names, was born.

1932 fashion designer Oscar de la Renta was born.

1987 Lotto first went on sale  in New Zealand.

Tuesday’s answers


Monday’s questions were:

1. Who said, “Curiosity is freewheeling intelligence.”?

2. Who wrote The Sundowners?

3. Where in New Zealand is Sebastopol Hill and who is commemorated by the cairn on top of it?

4. Which country has the lowest high point?

5. What is an epistrophe?

Tuesday’s answers follow the break.

Read the rest of this entry »

July 21 in history


On July 21:

1865 Governor George Grey oversaw the capture of Pai Marire Pa at Weraroa.

1920 Violinist Isaac Stern was born.

1969: Neil Armstong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon.

1972 The Bloody Friday bombings by the IRA took place in Belfast.

Monday’s quiz


1. Who said, “Curiosity is freewheeling intelligence.”?

2. Who wrote The Sundowners?

3. Where in New Zealand is Sebastopol Hill and who is commemorated by the cairn on top of it?

4. Which country has the lowest high point?

5. What is an epistrophe?

Why not make everyone a beneficiary Phil?


Labour leader Phil Goff’s latest bright idea is to pay the unemployment benefit to people who lose their jobs even if their partners are working.

His party introduced taxpayer funded maternity leave which wasn’t means tested. It turned middle and income families into beneficiaries with Working for Families. It’s a logical next step to make the unemployment benefit available for those who don’t necessarily need it.

How long will it be before he calls for everyone to get a benefit?

How long after that will it take him to work out that taking too much money from the taxpayer, churning it through a bureaucracy and giving some of it back to people who can afford necessities themselves is inefficient and costly in both economic and social terms?

Using taxes to help people in genuine need can be justified. Using taxes to turn people who don’t need help into beneficiaries can’t.

On the street where we lived


Calle La Fuente (Fountain Street) runs from the Plaza de Espana in the heart of the old part of Vejer de la Frontera.

la fuente

The house we rented is about 2/3 the way down the street. Its footprint isn’t much bigger than our living room at home, but it’s on three levels.

The door opens off the street to an entrance way and internal patio which is a typical feature of Andalucian houses.


 A bathroom and living room open on to that and there are a couple of bedrooms off the living room.

Up a flight of stairs is a kitchen and dining room, a landing, an office/living room another bedroom and bathroom.

Up another flight of stairs is the roof top terrace.

Rental details and photos of the house are here.

Google Map is here.

They’re listening to our PM here


New Zealanders often complain about the lack of news from home in overseas media.

I am sure that people from most countries could make the same complaint about the coverage of news from their homes in our media.

However, we did see the first mention of New Zealand in Spanish media on Saturday. It an item about the terrorist bombing in Jakarta in a paper and John Key was interviewed on Sky TV broadcast in Spain.

We noticed a very visible presence of the Guarda Civil while in Spain.

One of their roles is anti-terrorism. That’s a major concern because they have home-grown terrorists  – ETA, although they tend to be more active in the Basque country in the north than the south where we were.

Dunedin to get free central city WiFi?


The Dunedin City Council is considering funding free wireless internet zones  in the Octagon.

I mentioned in a post yesterday, Spain and France seem to be well ahead of New Zealand with the provision of WiFi but it’s businesses doing it, not councils.

In 2005 there were three internet cafes in Vejer de la Frontera and all were busy most of the time. Now there’s just one and it also sells and services computers and accessories and also does printing.

That’s because WiFi in hotels and cafes has lessened the demand for internet cafes. Not everyone travels with a laptop so there is still a need for cafes, but it’s not as great as it was.

July 20 in history


On July 20:

1919 Sir Edmund Hillary was born.

1921 Alice Mary Robertson became the first woman to preside over the USA House of Representatives.

Alice Mary Robertson

1926 The Methodist Church  allowed women to become ministers.

1938 Dame Diana Rigg was born.


1968 The Special Olympics were founded.

Size matters . . .


But big isn’t better when it comes to a modern car you have to drive through an historic village.

Especially when you find yourself in a hill top plaza with only one, very narrow exit:


The town is Arcos de la Frontera, we followed signs to the information centre which took us to the hill top plaza and lookout.

On subsequent visits we used the car park at the bottom of the hill and walked up.

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