Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, The Twitter Storm


As I write the street where I once lived in Lower Manhattan is under several feet of water. I'm looking at pictures of it right now, cars floating by, on Twitter. Hurricane Sandy has arrived after a day or two's build up, and wreaked havoc along the eastern seaboard , New Jersey, New York, and God knows where else.
I'm in London, Twitter is aflame with pictures, reports and tales of death, stretching from the Caribbean all the way up to Queens.

And rather oddly, I'd rather be there than here. My daughter has recently moved to New York and is caught in the middle of it. She's in Brooklyn, outside the evacuation zones A,B & C. She's unlikely to be in trouble, is with family, but we lost Skype 90 minutes ago and I don't think it's coming back. I've already warned her about using her cell/mobile, to preserve the battery, so she may not call.
Our Skype call had only just started when it went black, coincidentally as one of the power stations blew up, possibly the one that supplied the juice to her internet provider, I'll never know, but since then the tidal surge has arrived and  Manhattan is flooding.

Not all of it, mostly the southern part, parts of which lie under sea level so it was kind of expected. The lights are out too beneath 39th Street - The Empire State is a towering beacon right now - and the subway stations are flooding, which was kind of expected too. A building had it's facade ripped off in Chelsea, a guy died under a tree in Queens, power's out to God knows how many homes and I'm watching all of this on a veritable tsunami of twitter, a surfeit of photos, information, warnings, apologies from CNN for saying the Stock Exchange was flooded when it wasn't and, most oddly of all, tweets from Piers Morgan while he's actually on air.

Mayor Mikey has just made a statement saying the waters might start to recede in a couple of hours but the storm is far from over.

This may not be my last word on the subject.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Capturing The Moment.

You may have heard that the Olympics are in London in 2012 (they actually start in a few hours of me writing this so we're not going to talk about them) and in the buildup beforehand The Olympic Torch has been snaking its way around the UK in procession with sponsor floats and exciteable small children. I've seen it three times. Get me.

Now, in events like this, press photographers are there to do one thing, capture the moment. But since most of the press photographers I know are personal friends, I find it difficult to praise them in an open way. They tend towards the slightly overweight, bearded, heavy drinking type whose idea of a joke is some unrepeatable scatalogical insult that couldn't even be aired on a anonymous blog, never mind  in front of the family. Unfair, I know. But stuff 'em. 
Their job is to get the picture. That's all. Turn up, click. Job done. Pub. 

In our local high street, we stood in the sunshine for an hour awaiting the arrival of The Torch. The pavements were crowded, our neighbours were there, the police were out in force, there were men selling flags, it was all jolly good fun. When the procession arrived - floats, buses, bikes, coppers - the crowd had surged forward into the road so I lost my position at the edge of the kerb. Small children had pushed their way in, little bas....
........but at the precise moment the torch ran past I snapped on my mobile phone.
Unfortunately, as you can see, my neighbour raised his mobile phone at exactly that moment and there, hidden from view, is the Olympic Torch. Ha Ha. very funny.
It's the kind of snap that would get a snapper fired.
Instantly.


Never mind.  Yesterday I'm in a Soho pub minding my own business, chatting as you do, when someone says that The Torch is about to be run past and sure enough I can hear the Caravan of Commercialism hooting and tooting its way up Shaftesbury Avenue.I go outside and take a snap as the torch bearer passes by. Can you see it?
Possibly not. There is a zoom mechanism on my phone camera but it's clearly not in use here. Ooops.


So this morning The Torch is coming down the river and we're on a friend's boat, with champagne and everything, right on the water. The Torch, in the form of a bloody great flaming cauldron, is being carried by the royal barge, The Gloriana, and there's a big flotilla of little row boats accompanying it.
Look, here it comes now, that's it in the distance. Behind the big boat in front.
The Gloriana majestically glides towards us, being slowly rowed, and languidly passes by. I am stood on the foredeck of our boat. It's so close we can talk to the rowers. It is the perfect photo opportunity. 


I lift my phone camera and press the button. I had been nervously toying with it for some minutes before. And........
....it doesn't work. I press the button again. Still doesn't work. I press and press and press and the seconds are ticking away. Not only that but so's The Bloody Torch, on board The Bloody Boat which has gracefully floated onwards and is now disappearing down river, just as, ahem, The Bloody Camera works.

That's it, just disappearing from sight. You can't actually see the flame, but, er....
....well, I did manage to get this one....



Press Photographers - pah!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Pizza Pie Please


OK, OK, let's just get it over with. Pizza for God's sake, big piece-a flat bread with topping, what's the big deal? You wanna talk about pizza, you got sumthin to say? EVERYBODY's got sumthin to say about Pizza. It's Rays, it's not ray's, it's Ray's CORNER pizza, it's the best pizza in town, it's the best PIZZA IN THE WORLD!!

OKAY foodies, here's the beef. There are three places to go for your fancy schmancy pizza. Naples. The whole goddam city. Brixton Market in London. And Chiswick in London. That's it. End of.

Now, for the rest of us ornery joes, there's a choice that will make your eyes bleed. There's so much pizza in the world you just wonder who's eating it all. And more importantly why. It's an open sandwich, it's not quite dinner, it's takeaway, it's transmogrified into versions which have pineapple and chicken tikka and thick and thin crusts. How? Well, hold the phone phatboy (particularly if you were about to call Domino - yuck!)
Pizza makes money. Lots of it. It costs about 5p (that's 5 cents) for the actual stuff, the flour and the tomato topping and then the other 4p goes on salami and cheese, whatever. But you can't buy it at that price because the mafia controls the lot. Y'see, according to this guy I met on the bus, the mafia controls the entire mozzarella industy which is why those little rubber pucks in supermarkets cost 99p because while they want you to buy it they don't want you turning it into a whole goddam industry, do they? You know what it's like to have a horse's head on your pillow?
So they make these pizzas and then cook em up and sell them to you so they can keep their yachts off Sardinia or New Jersey and you just munch away in front of the Kardashians not thinking about the link to crime and the suffering of little children exetera exetera.
Even worse, you go to Pizza Express and pay a WHOLE LOT MORE for their pizza (my lawyer, Bernice, tells to tell you that have no link with the mafia) unless you go on Orange Wednesday before or after the movie and get the stuff at half price. Not the whole deal, not the booze and the doughballs, just the pizza, the Veneziana or the Gardineiera or whatever. Personally I wouldn't pay more than half price for one of them pizzas but at 50% off they're OK. Because I'll tell you what, have you ever tried MAKING a pizza?

WHOA!! First off all the stuff, the 00 flour and the buffalo mozzarella (see above) and the pomodoro tomatoes and so forth costs an absolute fortune. You have to buy it from specialist shops like Waitrose and so forth. Then you have to mix it all up and cook it. A friend of mine has one of those barbecues with the lid, the ones that are like a blast furnace inside. So we make enough pizza for twenty people, there are five of us, and we eat this total mess of burnt and raw, soft and squidgy and rock hard, cold and nuclear hot toppings which have got everything on them. I'm sweatin buckets, runnin back and forth out to his little balcony where the furnace is scorching the walls and the dinner table where everyone's drinking more and more, which is a good thing because they wolf down the pizza as if it's OK.
And while we were polite to our hosts, it was actually schmuck. Like landfill on a plate.

So I'm thinking that this pizza thing is a good business to be in. It's just that if you look at it from the consumers point of view, it's not. It mostly tastes of nothing, which is good if you're really concentrating on something else, but bad if you're on you're own and looking for something to distract you from mind games.
God, Pizza. It's like, really serious.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Milk Bar Blues : Momofuku Trouble


I don't generally write here about food so much, that's for elsewhere. I should be writing about being stuck on the train out of London this week for two hours after a lightning strike (ie thunderbolt from the sky type lightning, not industrial action) because I actually wrote a letter of complaint about some of the stuff that happened (not a letter to God about the lightning, just stupid rail staff)

But let's get to food. After I left New York City I missed it for a long while. It's why I go back all the time, and spend time with friends who are either clinging on to Manhattan or have moved to Brooklyn. There's a lot to like about New York once you know it and have lived there for a while. Even in Brooklyn (ha!)

The last trip was fantastic fun and of all the places I wanted to check out Momofuko's new(ish)  restaurants and noodle bars were high on the list. There are several different types but before we headed to the east Village I quite by accident I found myself right beside one of the Milk Bars, the one that's opened in midtown and therefore I changed our plans and persuaded my partner that we were going to have lunch in Manhattan from a takeaway booth squeezed into a hotel lobby. She looked at me as if I was nuts, but I patiently explained that if she was even dimly aware of the general noise Momofuko's places have been making she'd get it. By coincidence The Observer newspaper in the UK has run a big piece today about it all, eulogising, raving and giving recipes for cereal milk and so on.

We went twice, the second time was kind of boring. Here's what happened the first time.

It was my idea so I agreed to stand in line, read the menu, and buy the lunch. There seemed to be some kind of delay in the system, people in line were grumbling but the staff behind the counter seemed to be having such a good time I didn't really care. Dumb office types want fed NOW! my inner beast was sneering. Eventually I got to the tiny counter and ordered. It was a small operation and seemed to be pretty chaotic, nobody really seemed to get the hang of very much so when I ordered two Upside Down Pineapple Cake Shakes they got made separately. I have no idea why.
It was a bit like going to Starbucks the first time all those years ago and the staff expecting you to know what you wanted when life before that had been divided in to "black" "white" and "with sugar".  Anyway, presumeably I was the only person who didn't know what was on offer. The graphics are neat, but they don't actually tell you very much except the names. Ditto the blackboard.

So I ordered the Crack Pie (It's addictive, geddit?, and the name has now spawned imitators all over the city) and some savoury food: different cookies, a bagel bomb, and a Volcano. I was asked if I wanted the Volcano toasted - "Uh, yeah, I guess so" I said, not knowing if I was toasting something that should be toasted or not, but on the assumption that I was being asked guessed that this was the way to go. And I had just read a little card which explained that Milk Bar breads are best served warm.
After a lot of waiting, where people on one side of the counter were just generally bumping into each other, and on the other side the grumbling factor was being raised, I scurried off with our lunch. Seconds later we were comparing notes on the Shake. "mmm. good!" It sure tasted like pineapple upside down cake.
The cookies were, um, cookies, they were kind of dry and not very interesting and didn't really taste of very much. I couldn't remember which one I'd ordered. Could have been cornflake-marshmallow, I don't know. We couldn't tell.
My partner started on her bagel bomb. She gave me a taste. It was not very nice. Since no-one had told us why this wasn't just a bagel (an 'everything bagel', my favourite) we had to guess what was in it. It was difficult. Apparently it was scallions and bacon flavoured cream cheese. Except we couldn't really tell. It was a mess and it was cold. It was a bad bagel too - bone dry.

I started on my volcano, about which I had no idea whatsoever. It wasn't very nice either. In fact it was disgusting. Hot on the top (where it had been toasted) it was cold inside and freezing cold (ie chiller cabinet temperature) at the bottom. It seemed to consist of cold potato. It was inedible.

We stared at the crack pie which was kind of broken and misshapen because the girl had thrown it into the bag. It tasted OK, but we didn't finish it.

Apart from the Shakes, which we liked, this was baad food. So I took the volcano back.

The little counter was clear. The staff were still chatting and laughing. I stood.
And stood.
Then one of them turned to me. I explained as politely as I could that I was bring the volcano back because it was no good.
"No problem" she said brightly, took it from me and threw it into the trash can, then turned back to her friend to continue chatting.
I stood, slightly aghast.
"Is that it?" I asked.
"Yup. No problem" she said.
"It's inedible" I explained, thinking something was being lost here. "It's no good".
"It's OK" she shot back, then looked at me as if to say, "so?"

Suddenly I was angsty and backed off. Most New Yorkers I know would have flipped. I just thought it was the worst service for the worst food ever. And since I was in town to write about restaurants and meet big hitters I wasn't going to let a stupid takeaway counter annoy me.
I walked away and stood in the hotel lobby to find out if my 2pm had turned up.
As I was standing the girl appeared and stood in front of me.
"Do you want another one?" she asked.
"Er, is this some kind of joke?" I asked her, "Did you think that was funny"
"Er, yeah" she said.
"It wasn't. I brought that thing back because it was inedible. It was no good. Baad"
"Do you want another one?" she asked again.
"Look, it was freezing cold and seemed to have nothing in it except a large piece of potato"
"Uh, gross" she agreed.
At which point we were interrupted and I had to go.

Bad food. Bad service. This ain't Tripadviser, but make that disgusting food and worst service ever.

Addendum.
And because I'm a professional of sorts I went back a day or two later. Different service. OK milk and cookies.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oscar Time!

It's competition time again and - leaping over the BAFTAS for a moment - the Oscar list is out today so Nationwide is going to predict who will get what and not change it between now and tears-on-stage day. Here we go....

Best actress in a supporting role

Bérénice Bejo, The Artist.

Jessica Chastain, The Help

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Octavia Spencer, The Help : she stole the film Correct!


Best actor in a supporting role

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Christopher Plummer, Beginners: Support? He is the movie! Correct!

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


Best actress in a leading role

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

Viola Davis, The Help

Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady. If you haven't seen it yet, then you must know by now what you're missing. A masterclass by an actress at the very peak of her powers. Sensational. The others need only show up to applaud politely.Correct!

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn


Best actor in a leading role

Demián Bichir, A Better Life

George Clooney, The Descendants. Surprise!! In the hands of Alexander Payne we find yet another Clooney to love. Brilliant performance. WRONG!

Jean Dujardin, The Artist a

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Brad Pitt, Moneyball


Best director

All five should win a competition somewhere, but......

Michel Hazavanicius, The Artist He's done a brilliant job with a novelty film that loves Hollywood.Correct!

Alexander Payne, The Descendants (sensational)

Martin Scorsese, Hugo (terrific but I'm not impressed with Sacha Baron Cohen's "comedy" performance)

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris Return to form, brilliantly executed.

Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life. Stunning but too obscure for the Academy.


Best original Screenplay

The Artist

Bridesmaids

Margin Call

Midnight in Paris. Moments of wit, charm and a clever idea.Correct!

A Separation


Best adapted screenplay

The Descendantsa

Hugo

Ides of March. Shows you what you can do with a great screenplay. Fingers crossed.Wrong!

Moneyball

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy


Best foreign language film

Don't know......

Bullhead

Footnote

In Darkness

Monsieur Lazhar

A Separation


Best animated film

Where's TinTin?

A Cat in Paris

Chico And Rita

Kung Fu Panda 2

Rango

Puss in Boots


Best picture

Haven't sen War Horse yet. I'd go for The Artist if I gambled, but I would prefer it to be The Descendants or Midnight in Paris (it won't be)

War Horse Wrong!
The Artist a
Moneyball
The Descendants
The Tree of Life
Midnight in Paris
The Help
Hugo
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Art direction

The Artist

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo Sen-sational. Correct!

Midnight in Paris

War Horse


Cinematography

The Artist

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo INCREDIBLY CLEVER. Correct!

The Tree of Life

War Horse


Costume design

Anonymous

The Artist PERFECT. Correct!

Hugo

Jane Eyre

W.E.


Documentary feature

Hell and Back Again
If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Pina
Undefeated

Documentary short subject

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
God is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
Saving Face
The Tsumani and the Cherry Blossom

Film editing

The Artist

The Descendants A superb edit. (good direction helps!) Wrong!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattooa

Hugo

Moneyball


Sound editing

Drive Yes! clever nomination. Wrong!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugoa

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (why is this not best film??)

War Horse


Sound mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugoa

Moneyball

Transformers: Dark of the Moon Duh - I bet it goes to Spielberg. Wrong!

War Horse


Visual effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugoa

Real Steel

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Transformers: Dark of the Moon This just HAS to win! Wrong! (robbed)


Make up

Albert Nobbs

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

The Iron Lady YES! Correct!


Music (original score)

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

The Artist YES! Correct!

Hugo

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

War Horse


Music (original song)

Is this sponsored by orange?

The Muppets

Rio