The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde – My rating 7/10

cover-eyre-affairTake a pinch of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy, add a tea spoon of Terry Prachett’ Discworld novels and stir it until firm with a full cup of Stephanie Plum (THE Bond Agent) from Janet Evanovich to discover a brand new type of fiction: the Eyre Affair. It all happens in a world where dominant values are not defined by ephemeral fashion or where heroes and stars are not built and destroyed by flashy TV channels or gossipy magazines. It is a world where the biggest stars are Brontë Sisters, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and other Bacon. A world where most valuable items are not diamonds but original books (and the control over them and time).

A fresh, humorous and very original fiction with as many glorious as (unfortunately) lengthy moments. Overall a good laugh-out-loud page turner. A perfect reading for vacation.

Short Description (Amazon):

Fforde’s heroine, Thursday Next, lives in a world where time and reality are endlessly mutable–someone has ensured that the Crimean War never ended for example–a world policed by men like her disgraced father, whose name has been edited out of existence. She herself polices text–against men like the Moriarty-like Acheron Styx, whose current scam is to hold the minor characters of Dickens’ novels to ransom, entering the manuscript and abducting them for execution and extinction one by one. When that caper goes sour, Styx moves on to the nation’s most beloved novel–an oddly truncated version of Jane Eyre–and kidnaps its heroine. The phlegmatic and resourceful Thursday pursues Acheron across the border into a Leninist Wales and further to Mr Rochester’s Thornfield Hall, where both books find their climax on the roof amid flames.

Gerhard Richter – from Private Collections – Albertina / Vienna

Albertina Posters

I mentioned in a previous post that Gerhard Richter is my all time favorite artist. Art critics can define him and his work a lot better than I can. I just say that Richter is one of the only artists that should be officially classified as unclassifiable. It blows my mind that someone with such incredible painting skills able to create hyper-realistic skies, landscapes & portraits does at the same time raw, colorful abstract acquarels and other geometric paintings or installations. I personally like most his portraits regardless of the style, the hyper realistic paintings & the paint-brushed photographs. From all periods I like most the sixties. Although quite distanced from Pop-Art, he often used like Andy Warhol iconic objects of this period, leaving from me a “truthful” view of this period without giving his personal interpretation.

Exhibition poster in front of the Vienna Opera HouseYou can imagine how excited I got, when I saw beginning 2009 posters across Vienna that Gerhard Richter’s works from mostly private collectors were on display at the Albertina. When I read “from Private Collections” I always have mixed feelings. On one hand, I am looking forward to seeing works that are so rarely displayed to the public, on the other hand, I know that the most famous pieces won’t be there. Anyway, I went to the exhibition and was not disappointed. Next to many abstract aquarels (which usually do not get my full attention but this time it did) there were a dozen of hyper-realistic paintings and a few works from the sixties which I so much enjoyed. What a privilege to have a look at them. Here are a few pictures of what I liked best today.



The Pain-Free Days


I am cursed. Some damaged muscle tissues around my left knee cap reminded me of that on Wednesday (…and it happened during a stretching session; go figure). I don’t think that in the last 20 years I have had a full week without a little pain somewhere. I doesn’t make a difference, if I work out or if I don’t, if I am active or passive, if I am awake or sleeping, if I am cooking or eating.

There is simply always something I will bumped into or that will hit me square somewhere.

Yes, I am clumsy…but still.  Truly, everything goes: bites in the cheek or tongue,  sore IT-bands, paper, knife or glass cuts, wounds from most diverses origins, big to small toes hit, lifted or broken, twisted ankles, broken ribs, stings from bees, wasps, hornets, jellyfishes and other pins and needles, etc..

A pain-free day is terrific. It usually takes me some time to realise that I am 100% pain-free. But when I do, I enjoy it thoroughly. I am not asking myself how long I will stay in the kingdom of  bliss, because I know it is a state of grace and grace never lasts.

Through the years I came to speculate why this is happening to me. Next to the maladroitness, my first theory is, my Guardian Angel gives me frequently those little pains to protect me from the bigger ones. I indeed get usually spared from serious stuff that really hurts. My second theory is, the curse will go away if I write it down. I have never done it before and today may be a day to remember. My third theory is the genetic inheritance. My father tends to be like me and it looks like my first daughter is developing these particular skills to ram inadvertently into tables, doors, chairs and other sharp, edgy and ill-designed objects as well. She tops these skills with a remarkable ability to drop-kick things. This is not part of my core skills. Forgetting things…yes…but it is an entire different story.

Long Week-End in Ferrara (I) – Part Two

ferrara-marathon-arrival1An early wake-up call on a Sunday is usually something I loath. But today is Marathon day! Eyes wide open,  I jump out of the bed, morning stretch, warm shower, down to the breakfast hall. 1 banana, 1 Supradyn tablet diluted in 1 liter of water, lots of Wasa bread and butter.

It is a perfect day. Sunny, 8 degrees at 09:00 AM, wind not exceeding 15km/h. Together with Isa we go out of the hotel 30 min before the start and run to warm-up to the starting line. I expect pushing and shoving (as you would when you see traffic jams in Italy). But no, the atmosphere is very relaxed. Nobody is too excited to be under the starting arch, people chat loudly, laugh, give enough space for the other competitors. In total  1’000 relaxed participants to the 12.3km, the 30km and the 42.195km races are lining-up for a common start at 09:30 in front of the main castle of the city.

The first 5km: A loud cheering and everybody starts running. And here again; no shoving, no hectic, no swear words. It is simply fantastic and I already enjoy the race. Well, I enjoy until I see my heart beat going 161 and my pace 5:20! What’s wrong with me? I feel great, what’s wrong? I keep asking myself for the first 22:30 minutes until I see the 5km mark. I relax, my foot sensor is not working. I feel like ditching my watch for good and forever. I decide to only look at the heart rate. What else can I do anyway?

Until half-way: The first 15km are in and around the old city centre of Ferrara. Few spactators. The ones talking are anyway the Italian runners around me, as if they were on a short easy stroll. Amazing. I love it. Listening to the conversations and keeping with one group. The half-marathon mark is quickly passed in 1:40.Ferrara by day

The last 21km:At km 26, it is time to take my second Gel. I don’t feel the magic for the next 4 km. They are hard. My legs are suddenly heavy, I feel my pace going down. Goodbye dear negative splits! From km30 to km32, I pass a dozen runners and this cheers me up, I even motivate them to tag along. But the joy is of short duration. Km 34 is hell, carbs are out – fat is on. It takes me until km37 to adapt and suddenly: boooom. Afterburners are turned-on, I can smell the finishing line and I start running at a good pace again. Heart rate goes up to 172. A last small frustration at km39. A Sixty year old marathoner passes me with ease. But I keep to his heels.

The last 500m:We run the last km together, 300m before the arrival, I see Isabel waving at me.  I feel very happy, so close to the finishing line.  I let my running companion pass me on the last 100m. I feel a huge respect for this man. The organisers have put a real red carpet. I see from behind this elder marthoner running on the red carpet and crossing the finish line. I have a big smile on my face and decide to jump as high as I can crossing the finish line. The landing is better left without comment.


Isabel finishes her 12.3km in 72 min! And this without any training (I you consider Kung-Fu as only marginally helpful for running). I am very proud of her and hope that we will do some other training and races together.

The remaining of the week-end includes, eating pasta, drinking beer, struggling to climb the stairs into the airplane and even more getting out and down the plane after landing in Vienna. It is late, Manon & Zoe are sleeping. Only Barbara our nanny is still awake. Great to have her with us. Without her, a lot would be different.

Long Week-End in Ferrara (I) – Part One

ferrara-by-nightWe kiss Manon & Zoe goodbye in the Kindergarten and go for breakfast on SonnbergPlatz before driving to Vienna Airport. This was the beginning of what ended up a 10 hour trip to Ferrara. In Short: Car to Vienna Airport – 1st Leg to Munich – 2nd Leg to Bologna – Airbus to Bologna Central Station – Train to Ferrara – Taxi from the station to the Hotel Ripagrande. We arrived at 19:00. A nice hotel in a renovated XV century palace. ripagrandeThe rooms where OK, but like most hotels in Italy, one does  sleep under bed sheets and blankets… At 19:10 we were in front of the restaurant recommended by the reception: Il Bagattino Del Setaccio. Too early to Italian standards but Isa and I were starving. We sat alone in the restaurant (from taking the order ’til paying the bill…) We really were early, but the food was great especially fresh made Gnocchi with wallnuts and stipes of bacon in a creamy tomato sauce.

A beautiful day, clear blue sky, 15 degrees. Bliss. We rented bikes and started touring the old city centre declared World Heritage by UNESCO in 1995. Ferrara has the highest bike density in Italy. isa-in-ferrara2The quasi total absence of VESPA as well as seeing everybody on the bike from 9 to 99 year old gives a fantastic atmosphere to the city.

First task of the day: take the race packs. Easy process. The surprise are the goodies in the race pack. We are indeed in Italy. 1kg of sugar, 500gr of pasta and 300gr of Italian ground coffee.brio_ferrara-027

We meet my working colleague and friend Giorgio and his wife Laura in the afternoon. both know the city very well and they take us after a short stroll to a traditional coffee house. We meet again later in a lovely artsy cosy restaurant “Guido” . Laura tells us all about local specialities and explains the typical Ferrarese Food is a combination of sweet and salty flavors. And indeed 90% of everything we order has this delicate mix of flavors. The pastry filled with Ricotta, Roquette and Shrimps or the Pumpkin Tortellini wih Butter, Sage and Parmesan were delicious. We leave around 23ho0. Time to go to bed and get some sleep before the Ferrara Marathon.guidos-porch

Race Schedule 2009

Cycling with tongue out A big objective this year is of course the Ironman Switzerland. But the main target  is to have fun and go through the season injury free.

Finally parting from 20 year old cycling shoes

Old Sidi - New Specialized S-Works

Today is a special day. It is new shoe day. I finally decided to buy a new pair a cycling shoes. A pair of S-Works from Specialized. They will replace my old faithful SIDI given by my good friend Marc-Alexandre eight years ago. I believe he bought those SIDI shoes in the lates eighties!… Anyway the new shoes are incredible comfortable. I have a very high arch and most shoes are not adapted, but Specialized has this great special footbeds that compensate for those high arches.

Ronny Jordan – After 8 – My rating 7/10

ronny-jordan-after-8I received the CD per post from Amazon a few days ago. I could not remember having ordered it. When I looked at the order date,  I saw 8Th of March 2008. This recording was unavailable at Amazon for a year but I obviously never cancelled my order. And here I am, with another wonderful recording of one of my favorite Acid Jazz componist. Some my say Ronny Jordan sounds more like elevator music than Acid Jazz. For me, he is one of the greatest and most talented modern Jazz guitarist of the last 20 years. I like almost everything he does from beautiful Balades like “Vanston Place” or “Off The Record” to Jazz-Raps like “Ronny You Talk Too Much” or “Mackin'”. His remake in 1992 of Miles Davis’ “So What” is a great moment of music and I still have vivid memories connected to this song (A new year party in Vercorin). The classic sound of the accoustic guitar of Ronny Jordan is unmistakable and there is no exception to this in After 8. Next to 3-4 loungy tunes, Ronny Jordan pulls out a great remix of Usher’s “Caught Up”. Overall I am rating this CD 7/10. You can find his discography, by following the Ronny Jordan link.

Steppin’ Out

Zucchini and Caper Penne Rigate

Zucchini & Caper Penne

This is one of my all-time favorite pasta recipe. The original recipe, from Michele Cranston in Marie Claire’s cook-book “Fresh”, foresees spaghetti but I prefer it with penne. It really is fresh, “mid-summery” and I love the mix of parsley & capers.

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 6 zucchini (courgettes), grated
  • 500gr. penne rigate
  • 1/2 cup (15gr) roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons capers (big or small)
  • 110gr Parmesan cheese

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil for the pasta. Heat a deep frying pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil and garlic. Move the garlic around the pan with a spatula until it is lightly golden and then add the grated zucchini.

Shopping Parsley

Grating the zucchinicooking the zucchini & pastaFinal Zucchini and Caper PenneSlowly braise the grated zucchini, stirring it as it cooks, for about 15 minutes or until it begins to dry out and catch on the bottom of the pan.

Cook the pasta until al dente then drain and return it to the saucepan. Add the parsley, capers, most of the Parmesan and the zucchini. Toss everything together and divide the pasta between four pasta bowls. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan

Taper Time Before Ferrara Marathon

ferrara marathon 2009

Sunday, will be my first marathon since New-York ING in 2004. The Ferrara Marathon is scheduled very early in the year and fits perfectly my preparation schedule for the Switzerland Ironman on July 12th in Zurich.  It is not only scheduled early it is also perfectly flat and has only around a 1’000 participants. I am looking forward to a hassle free run, even if this means very few spectators on the side of the road.

I do not feel particularly well prepared. I got the flue a week ago and have only done a few long runs. Bottom line, I will go there and see what I can do. I am sure to take a lot of learning from the race.

My last long run was on Sunday. 26 km or 60% of the actual distance. I still feel the training in the legs but I am sure to recover until then.