September 26-30, 2000
NEWNES, obviously pleased that he has been freed from his suitcase, makes an offering of 'lives':
Completing the obligatory thanks toward heaven, he rolls up his sleeves and looks at facts:
(Looking over his pince-nez): "Fourteen-ten? Are you sure?"
(Alf, looking at his room key): "Sorry! I mean four-fifty."
Five months ago ALIMAK's first siege engine was wheeled into position. It came in the middle of the night. Though we were warned, none of us really expected to see that day come. Lulled by endless pampering ... made complacent by seamless mollycoddling ... the notion that we would have to abandon our homes, to become refugees, seemed so remote that none of us believed it possible. Like Polish aristocrats, refusing to accept that the Rommel's 3rd Armored was in the courtyard, we childishly clung to our old teddy bear.
Eventually forced onto the 4th floor of Garden Wing ... shuttled to the 3rd ... pushed back onto the 4th ... the spring and summer was a torture for us. Though living out of steamer trunks and constantly having to learn new room numbers, the long Bangkok months were mercifully punctuated by sojourns to Europe.
But, now it is over! In a dozen hours we'll be back in the River Wing. And, everything will be new. Stripped down to the rawest of raw concrete, the upper floors of The Oriental's prime quarters gave the builders a fresh canvas.
From the ground it was hard to tell what was happening behind the tarps. Noise and rubble-dust were the only evidences that things were happening.
A great mystery surrounded the extra window: the little one. Yes, the little one in the wall ... the very same wall in which at no time in the past there ever was one. Previously there was only concrete. And behind the concrete lay (in pre-ALIMAK days) a little shower room containing a little sink and a standard size toilet. In both 1010 (John LeCarre) and 1410 (Gore Vidal) it was a niche room ... as it was in 1012 (Barbara Cartland).
As usual, I am rushing ahead of my cart. Though we are still in Stockholm, my mind is already in seat 2B ... .with Watcharee in 2A. Thai's non-stop 747 service from Stockholm to Bangkok will run with the wind, so the flying time on the inward journey to Thailand should be shorter than it was when we flew to Munich earlier this month.
TG961 took the traditional trans Asian route: passing well north of Tehran after dinner ... halfway through the Mel Gibson movie we looked down on Tashkent and the Aral Sea ... three scenes later when Mel had survived death by fire and lung cancer we were above Kabul ... as Mel blew away the villain, our Asian Sleeper made its sole big water crossings at the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea ... finally, as the credits rolled, TG hopped over Burma before landing at Bangkok International.
With breakfast (musili for me, noodle soup for Watcharee) I refreshed myself with yesterday's Bangkok Post:
The Islamic custom of joining a passing funeral procession saved a man from being buried alive in Pakistan, a press report said yesterday.
People in Mingora town in the north of the country saw a small group carrying a body on a cot for burial and joined the procession.
However, these extra numbers made the pallbearers uneasy, said the DAWN newspaper, and as the funeral procession swelled, the pallbearers put down the cot and fled.
Participants discovered they were carrying not a corpse but a heavily drugged man to the graveyard.
A search of the "body" yielded the identity of the man and nearly $20,000 in his pocket.
Tilman will be fisting yeses to the sky for this saintly pair:
Twin brothers of Arabian origin, doctors, who never refused a patient and never took pay. One of their operations - the amputation of a diseased leg and the grafting of a dead negro's healthy leg in its place - no longer seems as miraculous as it did, because of the multiplication of such miracles. The Emperor Diocletian's officers are said to have had great difficulty in putting them to death.
NEWNES reminds us that, ever so humble our lives, commercial fame for given names is not out of the question:
Four years (less a day) younger than Mary:
The Oriental spoils you. Not just for hotels ... but, for life as well. It is the yardstick by which all things must be measured. It is the "ten of inns" ... that holy and most divine zenith to which 'base metal' places feel honored to genuflect. It is that purest essence of ... ... ...
(Watcharee, bumping the room-door closed with her hip): "Get real, Alf, it's only a place to sleep!"
(Alf, recoiling in umbrage that his new 'home' might be seen as less than 'heaven' elsewhere): "Darling, that is just so NOT true! Show me any hotel in this whole world that takes toilet paper 'proofing' beyond the 'point' ... beyond the reassuring triangular fold that the toilet-using guest has so come to expect. Where else would the first sheet be embossed with the name of the hotel? Yes, I ask you that. And, in the guest 'powder room,' as well."
(Watcharee, eyes exploring closet space): "Oh, go take your pictures. But, just a few ... and, not of any weird crannies. And, PLEASE spare us the close-up of the toilet paper. All I want to see is: One inside. One up river and one the other way. And, one straight down through your toes, aimed at the pool and the breakfast buffet. No more. Got it?"
(Alf, shrugging): "OK."
Wescott wants to 'cluck' over this man's credentials:
The King or Duke of Bohemia whose grandmother, St. Ludmilla, had been murdered for making a Christian of him. Thanks to guardian angels, he was never hurt in battle; evidently their influence did not extend to private life; his mother took advantage of his filial affection and, when he came to see her, helped his brothers to kill him.
On cold winter nights Wenceslaus used to carry food and fuel to his poor subjects. One night, when his old servant, going ahead of him with a lantern, felt that he could endure the terrible snow-drifts no longer, the king suggested that he follow, stepping in his footprints; and the old man found it less cold walking that way - which was thought to be miraculous.
Each year at this time little Beloit College must remind its faculty that the incoming class is different from them. That the Class of 2004 lives in a frame of reference that is parsecs away from that of their teachers. White Out and carbon paper and typewriters all pretty much marched into history at about the same time ... but, so did a lot of other things:
(Looking through her lorgnette): "Fourteen-ten? I thought you were moving into John LeCarre. Fourteen-ten is Gore Vidal. Besides, fourteen is really thirteen and I thought you foreigners were very superstitious about the number thirteen."
(Alf, signing the tab with a flourish): "Those extra two floors really enhance the view. Besides, it's a sneaky way to get the photos in."
The Korean peninsula, even in the best of times, has little in common with the lands of the Bible. And angels certainly are not part of the trimmings in Pyongyang's palaces. Given those differences, it still seems likely that the Dear Departed Leader Kim Il Song would have felt warm in the company of Saint Michael. Titles! Yes, titles! Entitlements to power! They surely shared that.
For starters, the name 'Michael' (in Hebrew) means that he resembles God. That alone allowed his name to top the list of the seven archangels. Once there, other 'powers' just flowed in his direction:
Wescott picks a modest event in St. Michael's life:
Once upon a time a Calabrian named Gargano lost one of his bulls, which was found standing in the mouth of a cavern, spell-bound. Unable to get it to move, Gargano shot at it; and the arrow turned in the air and killed him. A few days later St. Michael appeared to a Bishop in the neighborhood and explained that the cave which had attracted the bull had been used for evil heathen performances, and he wanted it turned into a church. It is still a church, and bits of the rocky walls are taken against cholera.
NEWNES' "A" list includes Tintoretto the painter (1518), Lord Nelson (1758) and novelist Emile Zola (1902). The first two were born today ... but, not Zola.
His "B" list:
In 1613 the New River water supply for London opened. The BBC Third Programme began in 1946.
Since their debut at Chateau d'Oex in January the Screwmaids have been careful about their exposure. Not wanting to offend anyone, all of their public appearances have been tastefully orchestrated. How could they have known that our Stockholm launch pad would be right in the heart of a Muslim community? That an aghast Muslim mother would be compelled to shield her entire torso from this evil envelope? That Denise and Christen would that night haunt the mind of her Muslim son?
An aside to Jeff: here is how your Screwmaids look from the bottom up. Granted, the focal length and the angle give the girls a thalidomide look.
BELGRADE - Moslem women in the Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia-Herzegoovina will be jailed if they do not remove their veils, according to a new law of Marshal Tito's regime. About 450,000 Moslem women in the republic will face prison sentences or fines as high as 20,000 dinars (seven months' wages) if they cover their faces. Moslem men who insist that their wives or daughters cling to the veil "will be punished with prison at hard labor for up to two years or fined up to 50,000 dinars."
And now for something entirely different ...
Beijing - A Chinese airline passenger who was killed while trying to hijack a domestic jet was a midget wielding a dagger and a replica gun, state media reported yesterday.
The would-be hijacker of Xinhua Airlines flight LW126 from Baotou city in Inner Mongolia to Beijing was a slightly built, weak-looking "midget" measuring just 144cm, the Beijing Youth Daily said yesterday, citing passengers.
The paper showed a colour photo of the dead hijacker, face and hands covered in blood, and his clothes, also soaked in blood, in a pile next to the body.
The hijacking attempt took place 20 minutes before the scheduled arrival of the Boeing 737-300 in Beijing, when the unnamed hijacker reported to be in his 30s, threatened the crew with a dagger and what appeared to be a handgun, demanding to be taken "south." - AFP
If I only had my copy of NEWNES with me when we were in Germany:
So close, but yet so far away! We were in Berlin. We had just exited the antique shop of Manfred Heckmann, Fasanenstrasse 13. 'Heady with corkscrews' ... that best describes us. We were waiting for our bus ... the one that would take us back to the Ritz-Carlton Schlosshotel. My gaze idled ... my mind drifted ... and THEN!! Attached to the wall, there it was: a bronze plaque stating that Rudolf Diesel had lived in that building for a couple of years at the beginning of the 20th century. The coincidence does not end there. Right at the curb ... parked ... was a diesel-engined automobile. The make is not important ... that it was a diesel was enough.
This German connection will just NOT die:
And, dear reader, this university is very close to the building where Rudolf Diesel lived for a couple of years. Truly amazing!
(Watcharee, buffing her nails, but thinking): "He's spending too much time in front of that ThinkPad ... he needs to get out of the room more often."
(Watcharee, interrupting the click of keys): "Look, the Bang & Olufsen tour is in town."
(Alf, looking up from a cracked NEWNES): "What?"
(Watcharee, reading from the Bangkok Post): "Minimalist hi-fi producer Bang and Olufsen will take Thai admirers on a visual journey of its style and story this weekend. '75 Years of Excellence' featuring B&O creations will be staged at the Grand Hall Siam Discovery Centre, before it moves to other countries on its whirlwind journey around the globe."
(Alf, turning back to NEWNES): "Oh, really?"
(Watcharee, gently continuing): "This sounds interesting. Listen: 'B&O is well known for it's sleek, sublimely elegant stereo and television sets which combine simplicity and practicality. Founded 75 years ago in a small town in Denmark, B&O has adhered to a design concept that makes it unique while deftly manipulating the artistic trends of different periods to maintain its look of modernity.'"
(Alf, balancing "1399 - The Coronation of Henry IV" against "1939 - Identity cards were first issued in Britain"): "That's interesting."
(Watcharee, sensing Alf's drift back to the ThinkPad): "Wait, there's more: "This exhibition is said to be the chronicle of B&O visions and ideas. Viewers will get to see the company's first radio, conceived and made in 1925 by company founders Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen themselves, as well as other historical products that marked milestones in industrial design.'"
(Alf, not at all sensing Watcharee's direction): "Gee ... that ties in nicely with our Swedish adventure!"
(Watcharee, soldiering on to the finish): "This'll interest you: 'But the show is not just the past; the exhibition also makes a statement about the future by presenting the latest B&O products in many areas.'"
(Alf): "Hey, Watcharee, listen to this: 'The Munich Agreement' ... signed in 1938. Isn't that the paper that Neville Chamberlain waved around the airport?"
Next: Part II