The Defeated Hero of Time

I have been the Hero of Time for fifteen years. In all the time I’ve been defending Hyrule I’ve been cursed: cursed to never complete a game. My hex began with my first console. For Christmas 2002 I was gifted with a Nintendo64, a copy of Mario Cart and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Mario Kart was easy to play, simply accelerate and dodge the shells. Zelda, on the other hand, proved to be a challenge to great for a nine year old.

The first hours of game play were easy enough. I was awoken by Navi, bought a shield, obtained my sword and delved into the internal dungeon of The Great Deku Tree. After banishing Gohma I mourned the passing of The Great Deku Tree and snaked my way around Hyrule Castle, before Princess Zelda sent me on my Quest up Death Mountain. It went so well I could have recorded the first few hours as a decent walk-through. Next I bombed open the entrance to Dodongo’s Cavern and with my shield raised I soldiered inside. At this point my Mother wanted a turn at being The Hero of Time. Hesitantly, I passed her the yellow controller, only to watch her push the joystick forward and Link straight into lava.

Declaring it was a child’s game she passed the controller back and went along with her day not knowing my Deku Shield was now cinders. I tried to continue along the Dungeon with my Hylian Shield but it was too strong to defeat the Deku Scrubs. Instead of returning their projectiles, the overly effective shield demolished the attacks and prevented further journey into Dodongo’s Cavern. Defeated I trudged back out of the second dungeon and went in search of a new Deku Shield.

Even now I am hindered by my lack of instinctual direction. For the nine year old player this was even worse. Hard as I tried I couldn’t return to Korkiri Village and purchase the essential item. I traveled the map for days, braving the skeletons the plagued the plains at night. In the end I gave up on my dream of retrieving the Goron Ruby and left my the console to gather dust.

Liverpool for Easter

Liverpool was awarded the honour of European Capital of Culture in 2008. After spending 72hours in the city it is easy to observe how it achieved the title. Within the Easter break I managed to entertain myself with four museums, a couple of galleries and too much food. Surprisingly, a full weekend can be enjoyed without enduring a single Beatles song or a tour of Anfield. Wandering around the city there are whispers of an epic nightlife. I couldn’t advise you on wisdom within these rumours because I am old, slightly beige and prefer to spend my evening watching La La Land in the hotel. Instead, I’ll explore some of the day time highlights of Liverpool.

After arriving in central station the easiest area to explore is the Culture Quarter. Here you can find the theatre, World Museum, Walker Art Gallery and Central Library. If you can navigate your way around the parents with prams the World Museum contains five floors of exhibits. The displays range from the depths of the ocean in the Aquarium towards the reaches of the solar system in the Planetarium. In between you can explore a plethora of civilsations stretching across history and geography. By simply turning a corner you’ve strolled across the countries of Africa, into the golden relics of the Mayan Empire, and before lunch time arrived in Tibet.

Occasionally the crowds can make the Museum overwhelming because the attraction is exceptionally popular with families during school holidays. After hauling your luggage through the herd you can be slightly exasperated. To cure this I’d take a trip next door to central library. I’d suggest making your way up all the floors towards the roof terrace. Here you can take a moment to breathe and view the city from above. The calm of walking among the books towards the city-scape view is the ideal way to restore your peace before adventuring forward.

After the vertical walking of the World Museum and Central Library it’s probably time for lunch. As with all cities, Liverpool isn’t short of great places to eat. For lunch I’d advise a trip to Bold Street. Here you can find most of the world’s cuisines and a few unique eateries as well. Deciding on a restaurant will depend on what you’re hungry for but I’d suggest independent tea shop and bar LEAF. This cafe is also an occasional performance space and has always been busy whenever I have visited either for a pot of tea or brunch. Starting at breakfast you can enjoy a traditional Full English or vegetarian, pescatarian and vegan variations. Food continues throughout the day with Mezze style sharing platters and Mediterranean inspired salads and meat dishes. This can all be accompanied with tea (available to purchase for home) or something stronger.

After lunch, when the day is hopefully warmer, would be the best time to visit the Albert Dock. Braving the wind are several antique sailing vessels you can board in between your wander around the water. The dock is home to several attractions which include the famous Beatles Museum and the Liverpool Tate. The Tate’s currently has an exhibit joining the work of Tracy Emin and William Blake. As an ex-literature student and art enthusiast I was in my nerd epoch. Seeing Emin’s My Bed up close is a confidence enhancer about the cleanliness  of your own home. Emin’s work that focuses on grounded human subjects (such as impressionist paintings of the naked female form) provide a satisfying contrast to Blake’s idealised paintings of Christian mythology.

If the galleries aren’t your scene then the Museum of Slavery/Maritime Museum is a peculiar three floor combination museum. They advertise themselves as separate buildings but are more akin to individual exhibits within the same space. As you traverse each floor a feeling of melancholia develops as you delve into the depths of the city’s connection to tragedy. Being heavily involved with the Titanic and her infamous sinking the second floor highlights the devastation the ship’s destruction had on Liverpool’s population. Many workers and relatives of the city embarked on the Titanic’s maiden and became victims of the disaster.

The third floor explores the slave trade and importantly acknowledges Liverpool’s involvement in the atrocity as a port city. Although we all know the abuses of history this exhibit serves as a reminder to revisit the horrors of our history, learn again of the awful acts and how they have shaped as well as still impact modern, industrial societies. You are sobered as you exit the exhibits and truly entrenched in the glory and falls of Liverpool.

As a city of culture Liverpool is encumbered with places to enjoy your evening meal. The choices are numerous and even boast a Michelin star restaurant. If overly fine dining isn’t within your price range or style then I’d opt for something simpler. Lunya is a tapas bar and deli where you can enjoy the catatonia delicacies sold to grocery customers alongside a brimming table of small dishes. There’s something for everyone (even the vegans) served by delightful Spanish waiters. I’d recommend the deep fried goats cheese and everything else on the menu.

After a fill of good food, sea air and intense images in the galleries and museums it’s understandable if you don’t want to chase down a bar. You’re more than welcome to do like me and room service a bottle of wine, watch Hollywood’s latest attempt at a musical and get a good night’s sleep before journeying into the city again tomorrow.

 

 

The Most Moreish Mozzarella

Now that I’m approaching my mid-twenties my perfect Friday nights have become more demure. No longer are my weekends spent drinking away hours in clubs or sipping a cocktail at a bar. Instead, my idea of the ideal evening is a plate of various snacks and a glass or two of red wine. The sundries can vary depending on where I have been shopping but my plate must always have some cheese and olives. I have yet to encounter a cheese I do not enjoy and each lazy evening I sample a new variety. However, there is one cheese that must always be present: The humble Mozzarella.

There is something irresistible about the creamy spheres that I always enjoy. When I pick up a pack and hear the slosh of water around the cheese, I am immediately content and know the evening will be peaceful. Over time I have had the pleasure of slicing many varieties under my cheese knife. It has reached the point that I feel  my understanding of the food has reached beyond the level of novice and I can now advise the newly initiated on the correct purchase.

In order to determine what constitutes a good cheese we must set ourselves some categories. I propose two empirical perimeters that will allow for comparison: Texture/Shape and Flavour. Beginning with Texture/Shape we must understand that supermarket Mozzarella spends most of its life in a bath. Once the packaging has been opened a considerable amount of liquid must be drained. Now the cheese is squeezed free of excess fluids we may now consider how it appears and feels upon the tongue. Has the ball lost its shape and now resembles a creamy puddle or hold its shape? Does it slice and tear away easily in fleshy strips? The sad truth is that some retailers sell overly saturated mozzarella that is an immediate disappointment upon opening.

Our second and perhaps most important category for comparison is flavour. It seems absurd that different brands of such a mild cheese can have distinct differences on the pallet. However, every Mozzarella producer will procure their ingredients from different dairies and have an individual process in the making of their product. As with all cheese, Mozzarella is largely made up of fat and the levels of the unhealthy substance impact on the taste. In an attempt to be more health conscious there are now reduced fat Mozzarella readily available. Broadly speaking these cheeses are an abomination and if you are inclined to ingest these for health reasons, then I would suggest eating less of other foods or exercising more. It is better to relegate Mozzarella to a rare treat than compromising on one of life’s purest delights.

Now we have our guidelines for understanding quality, we can move on to comparing some common varieties. I have picked up three readily available samples from a Northern English town and applied to them the rules of Texture/Structure and Flavour. This brief comparison will hopefully guide you in your purchases and lead you along the road of Mozzarella appreciation.

ASDA Mozzarella Cheese- £0.63

The first cheese on the list proudly proclaims to have been made in Italy. This claim should be a considered mild international offense to the Italians. At the low price of 63p the supermarket’s mid-range, own brand offering could be considered fair value for money. That is by paying so little for the cheese you will receive little in return. Once you’ve opened the packet, poured away the liquid and given the sphere a small squeeze  you’re left with a melted snowball. This Mozzarella is excessively saturated and fails to hold the ball shape. Only the center is an enjoyable texture because the enormous amount of fluids makes the majority of the cheese into a mild milk slush. The water gives the cheese a diluted taste and promotes the impression of eating a new terrible form of Mozzarella flavour protein shake.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend offering this option on a cheese board. Instead, I believe the true destiny of this offering is for cooking. When exposed to heat the liquid will evaporate, concentrating the flavour and allowing the cheese to shine. For the bargain price it’s definitely worth exploring on a pizza and is mild enough to be enjoyed by children and strong cheese abstainers.

Rating: Raw eating- 2/5 Cooking-4/5

Galbani Santa Lucia Mozzarella- £1.30

This is perhaps the most readily available option in most retailers. The reason for this is because it’s a really dependable option. Galbani offer a wide variety of choices from the maxi (large tube), to dainty pearls and a light Mozzarella that is only good as substitute wall filler. The standard Mozzarella ball is solid, soft and tears away in satisfying fleshy strips. It doesn’t ooze liquid on the plate to taint other cheeses. Instead, it stands firm to knife pressure and retains a proud shape. The flavour is mild, creamy and feels indulgent to eat. After eating one sphere I look at the other cheeses I have purchased with minor disappointment- I should have bought two Mozzarella instead. I would recommend this Mozzarella for all general eating and is always my standard choice.

Rating: Raw eating- 4/5 Cooking-Just eat it now

Fattorie Garofalo Mozzarella di Bufalo Campana- £2.39

Now we’ve reached the top end of the Mozzarella scale. This is your Champagne of the cheese world. Just like champagne it can be a little overrated. Sometimes your standard Prosecco will be just as good. However, there are times when only the best will satisfy. I imagine that when I win my Nobel Prize for Literature because of my seminal cheese reviews, the after-party will be flooded with the fancy stuff.

This Mozzarella has a fluffy outside texture that immediately places you onto a cloud of eating. It is intensely creamy which makes you jealous to have not been born a buffalo, able to drink the goodness from source. The price and availability doesn’t make this everyday eating. The good stuff should be a treasure for when you truly deserve the best Mozzarella has to offer.

Rating: Raw eating- 4.5/5 Cooking- HEATHEN!

Marina Abramovic exhibit at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet

Marina Abramovic is often hailed as the grandmother of performance art.  Now seventy years old Abramovic is still creating new works, highlighting her position as perhaps the most prevalent performance artist in the world. Her latest performance (The Cleaner) was centered in Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. Unfortunately,  Abramovic’s new act only ran until March 5th 2017 but the Moderna Museet still features an exhibit of her most prolific work and several re-performances until May 21st this year. Recently I had the uncomfortable pleasure of touring the eight rooms the Modern Art museum has designated to Abramovic’s collective works. The space unveils Abramovic’s extensive contribution to performance art, demonstrating the breadth and development of her art over four decades.

After you’ve paid the entrance fee of 160 krona (approximately £16) you enter the first room of the exhibit. Inside you’re introduced to Abramovic’s juvenalia, a gathering of sketches, paintings and letters that detail her subjects before the move into performance art. There is a fixation upon wagon crashes and disembodied legs. On first impressions the fixation on these macabre subjects is uncomfortable. Once accustomed to the images, it becomes evident (especially through the paintings) that even from an early age Abramovic was capable of finding  beauty in a chaotic subject, capturing devastation and energy in a collision of colour.

Abramovic’s youthful darkness lays the foundation for the second room. The earliest performances, starting from 1973 are displayed here. Through the photographs, videos and slides we are shown the extremes Abramovic stretched her body to in her earliest performances. Overall the art in this section creates an uncomfortable tension. The artist is seen to be whipping and cutting herself; standing in pentagrams of fire; screaming until her voice breaks. The unease in these performances comes from the potential danger the artist is inflicting upon herself. Walking through makes the viewer consistently flinch away from the potential pain. A particularly disturbing feature are the recordings of Abramovic working with knives. In this performance she uses twelve knives to stab between the spaces in her fingers. The first attempt is recorded and listened to by the artist before attempting to replicate the previous stabbings, cuts included. Hearing Abramovic deliberately inflict wounds to demonstrate the difference in re-performance contracts the skin and takes a strong will to listen to. Overall her early performances places the viewer in a state of anticipation that borders on nausea. The pieces take the audience out of the traditional, controlled viewing of art and hangs them on a precipice of uncertainty.

The third room displays Abramovic’s work in collaboration with artistic and romantic partner Ulay. Whilst in partnership, Abramovic dropped the more violent aspects of her work, whilst still focusing on the extremes of the body. Together they are seen to be colliding, shouting, kissing and breathing as if the activities are feats of endurance. They had taken the everyday motions of the body and through effort and time turned them into events of aggression. Something as traditionally beautiful as kissing  became almost combative, in which both artists attached their mouths until they could no longer breath. The pair explored the the utmost points of the body, nudity and endurance before their separation. Their last meeting, on the great wall of China, is displayed on several video screens. Both parties walked across the monument from opposite ends until they met in the middle. From the center they parted and never saw each other again.

After the separation with Ulay the exhibit returns to solo performances. There is a focus of life, death and sex that is explored through the artist’s Baltic roots. Through videos explaining the traditional Baltic rat extermination method and a re-performance of Cleaning the Mirror, Abramovic depicts death in quietly disturbing manner. The life cycle and sexual creation of the world treats the taboo subjects as everyday. Occasionally they are as uncomfortable as the earlier works. However, the tension is not created through danger but by confronting the fundamental aspects of existence that are often ignored.

Finally, the collection focuses on Abramovic’s most recent performances. In these the artist has become almost meta as she journeys past the traditions of her early works and begins to completely incorporate the audience into the art. The Artist is Present depicts over 700 hours of Abramovic making eye contact with hundreds of members of the public. The performance itself seems quiet in comparison to early pieces but maintains her foundation themes of endurance and the extremes of the body. It is evident that despite the less violent motion of her youthful performances Abramovic is still creating art that is physically and emotionally tasking.

In contrast to the performance art the exhibit is dotted with the artist’s sculptures in quartz crystal. These appear to have become a focus of Abarmovic’s work as she has aged and studied in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Everyday objects such as brooms and chairs have been altered to accommodate the semiprecious rocks. The combination of pale wood and purple stone is calm, beautiful and completely impractical. After traversing the main exhibit it is worth peaking through the Moderna Museet’s permanent exhibition. Amongst the Picasso, Matisse and occasional Dali are a large pair of crystal boots. Rooted into the ground visitors can discard their footwear and become statues in Abramovic’s sculpture. After the intense images of the exhibit, the crystal sends cool up into the visitor. You are calmed as you look out into Stockholm, gentled on the stone and the view of the waves.

 

 

 

 

 

Maya Angelou: The Complete Poems

I was fifteen when I read my first poem by Maya Angelou. Angelou’s poetry wasn’t something I stumbled into in the library or online but was studied in an Literature class. Before reading Woman Work we were introduced to the poet. Our teacher cut out facts about the poet and the varied life she had led on slips of paper. The class then had to go around collecting and sharing the snippets of information that compiled a rough biography of the author. Then we read the poem and compared it with an old English text, which I can no longer remember. Woman Work is a beautiful piece that kindled my appreciation for Maya Angelou and strengthened my adoration of poetry. I would have liked to leave a copy of the poem in this post but I’m uncertain of the legality of doing this. Instead, I’ve included a link at the bottom to poemhunter.com.

After my first exposure to Angelou’s work I read a lot of her poems online. Her collective works are vast and due to publishing rights a large proportion of the poetry isn’t available on the internet. I read what was accessible in the early 2000s and moved towards other writers. About three years later I became curious about Angelou again and in order to satisfy my craving for the author’s words I purchased all of her memoirs that had been published until that date. Unfortunately, these books weren’t to my taste. Perhaps the non-fiction nature of the stories deterred me, or the introduction to new writers at university pulled me away. In either case, it shames me Maya’s collect memoirs are gathering dust on my book shelf and to this day remain unread. I’m drawn to the every time I pick new text but for some unknown reason they’ve yet to be chosen.

Despite neglecting Angelou’s prose for several years I have always remained a bit of an admirer. I’ve devoured all interviews that I can find online and have internalised the lesson Angelou repeats from Roman playwright Terence:

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”

“I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.”

Last week I purchased Maya Angelou: The Complete Poems onto my kindle. The book has become part of my morning routine. Every day I have awoken, made my coffee, and before heading for the shower I read several poems in the book. Several mornings I have been a little late for work because I wanted to finish another page. The poetry ranges across several themes, however several topics such as love, poverty and the African American experience uphold the collection. Angelou writers these subjects with passion that is infectious to the reader, making it as electric as the caffeine in my cup. Between the coffee and the poetry collection the day is more inviting to dive into. What surprises me is how effortless her world is to connect to. Despite our generational difference, ethnic experience, gender  and geographical divide Angelou’s poems are refreshingly accessible and important to me. In the shower this morning I asked myself,

“Why should a white working class man be captivated by Harlem Hopscotch?”…

“Because it’s all human.” I replied.

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/woman-work/#content

 

 

Malmö for the Day

Two weeks ago I landed in Copenhagen for the weekend. I enjoyed the city and have briefly briefly about the adventure in my previous post. On the final day in Denmark, after checking out of the hotel, I crossed the border into Sweden. When I planned my journey around Copenhagen I had only intended to look at the bridge that connects Malmö to the Danish capital. Somehow I couldn’t resist being drawn onto the train and across the Scandinavian border. Admittedly, part of my motivation was due to the thriller television series Brön (The Bridge). The series starts with a murder victim being placed in the center of the bridge that connects Copenhagen and Malmö. The victim is so perfectly located on the border that the Swedish and Danish police both have claim to the investigation. Thereafter, the hunt of the serial killer jumps between both countries. A large part of me wanted to stand on the bridge and pretend to be a detective. Unfortunately, it is illegal to walk on the bridge and is only accessible by rail or car. This was disappointing but I took the tourist train across anyway.

Regardless of where you board the Denmark to Malmö train, the journey is shortly interrupted at Copenhagen Airport. Passengers have to disembark the vehicle, evidence their passports or identity documents, and wait for the next train. The pause isn’t long, approximately fifteen minutes in total. A major downside of the wait is the temperature. This is due to the platform beneath the airport acting as a wind-tunnel, which makes the passengers grateful that (due to a lack of Danish border control) the train back into Copenhagen is direct, without passport inspection. After the chilly wait, the journey by the thankfully warm train straight into Sweden is dotted with stunning scenes of waves and the island of Saltholm in-between.

I was only in Malmö for approximately three hours, killing time before the flight back to England. Clearly, three hours isn’t enough to fully explore the city and enjoy all it has to offer. Mostly, time was spent wandering between the “small” and “big” squares. Their name is simple but accurate- two different sized areas, walled by some of Malmö’s best buildings. The architecture in the city center is as beautiful as any other Swedish city. The trademark colourful buildings, ornate features and great height put me in mind of Stockholm, whilst the lack of overbearing commuters and city rushers gives chance to stop and admire without always being in somebody’s way. I imagine the city is at it’s picturesque peak in summer, when the sun can truly highlight the coloured walls and a walk towards the harbour would be paved in rainbow.

As with all travel destinations food was high on my agenda. Malmö lays claim to the best Falafel in Sweden and the city boasts it is their preferred street food. Apparently, falafel became popular among the city dwellers after immigrants from Israel and Lebanon began to reside there and began serving the fried chickpea balls. The low price of the food made it popular even during manufacturing and economic slumps of the 80’s and falafel has been a local staple ever since. In my limited time I only had chance to eat one lunch at a small place called Jalla Jalla. The warm, freshly made falafel, despite being located in a take-away shop, was potentially the best non-hummus  chickpeas I’ve ever had. If I had a few days in the city I would tour the best restaurants and become as round as a chickpea. However I can n now I can attest to Malmö’s claim to be falafel king of Sweden and worth the Danish border check for lunch alone.

Hey there Copenhagen

If you have read any of my previous posts or know me in real life, then you’ll be aware that when I take a weekend break it’s almost always in Sweden. In the last year I have been to Stockholm over a dozen times. I’m found in the Swedish capital for festivities such as new years and Midsummer; events like Eurovision; or when I just really need a sugar, cinnamon Kanelbullar fix.  Of course, I visit other countries and cities too but Stockholm is my favourite and has started to feel comfortably like home.

I broke my mini-break tradition last weekend and went to a country southward: Denmark. Scandinavian Airlines had a ridiculous sale and I managed to score return flights to Copenhagen for less than £70. A bridge connects Malmö (situated in Southern Sweden) to the Danish capital. Originally, it didn’t seem like a brave choice to go to the islands next door to my normal destination but I’d never been so far south in Scandinavia and the cultural differences are striking.

Food is arguably the most important aspect of any trip. Before I arrive at the airport I’ve scoured menus and reviews of the most recommended places to eat. Once I’m off the plane my time is mapped around meals. In Copenhagen this meant one food: The Danish Smørrebrød. Smørrebrød is an open sandwich with a rye bread base used a plate for various toppings. This was particularl a challenge because Danish food relies heavily on fish and I am a vegetarian. Unfortunately, the first restaurant didn’t have any non-meat Smørrebrød but I would recommend it to meat eaters with their wide range of fish dishes and red meats that ranged from beef to fresh liver. The carnivore only dishes was a little disheartening but I drowned the disappointment with deep fried, breaded Camembert.

The second Smørrebrød restaurant I tried was much better. After stepping inside from the sea air that wraps the city, Rabes Have had exactly the welcome we looked for. The lady who ran the lunch restaurant was incredibly friendly and  created the relaxed air against the cold outside. Initially, she believed that we had been before and queried our return to the city, which only enhanced the friendly feel. The food was the best I had all weekend and there was plenty to choose from the chalk board menu. Carnivores could range from Steak Tartare to pork belly and I opted for one of the traditional Danish cheese dishes. The server warned me about the strength of the cheese but feeling brave I determined upon the Smørrebrød. I had be forewarned correctly. The Danish variety was stronger than most English cheddar but had the waxy texture of a dutch cheese. The flavour punched my taste buds and was strengthened by the suggestion that I top the sandwich liberally with rum which the server presented with the dish. Rum on a cold cheese sandwich seemed an absurd suggestion. At first I thought it being offered as a local side aperitif of so some sort. However, I would highly recommend the alcoholic accompaniment as it both breaks up pungency of the cheese whilst simultaneously strengthening the impact on the tongue. It was a shame to leave Rabes Have. I’d have sat the day away, drinking schnapps and eating the cheese menu. I would definitely recommend dining here and when I’m in Copenhagen  again I’ll be having the chocolate cake as well.

Naturally, the whole weekend was spent stuffing my face with cheese sandwiches. The city is an interesting exploration as well. If Copenhagen had two proceeding themes they would be water and  Hygge. Being a coastal city it’s impossible not to spend some time gazing at the water, either as you cross the bridges that connect the capital together or wander around the harbour. Once you have emerged from your hotel room your vision will be filled with ocean and estuary. The prevalence of water on the lives  Copenhagen residents can be epitomized by “The Little Mermaid”. Hans Christian Anderson’s creation is depicted in numerous sculptures and paintings, demonstrating the city’s appreciation for his work and the sea it was born from.

Like the water, the concept of hygge permeates the city. Walk past any cafe and the locals are rolling away Saturday with a small smile on their face. They pass the hours  drinking beer, smoking too many cigarettes and grazing at Smørrebrød.  A walk down Nyhavn is the perfect combination of water and relaxed Danish lifestyle. The canal is reminiscent of Amsterdam with the colour palette of Swedish buildings. As you stroll down the path you’ll see the Danish people unwinding into the weekend as the bright shops and houses pass slowly like the water you walk along. Once you reach the end of Nyhavn and embrace the wide sea again, you’re calmed and ready to embrace the city.