Sunday, March 25, 2007

Michelangelo for a day ...

I really haven't got time to post today, but I'm going to anyway.

The reason I haven't got time to post is that I have a pile of work on my desk, and the reason I have a pile of work on my desk is that I spent this morning pretending to be Michelangelo.

Well, sort of.

I was not painting the ceiling of a chapel adjacent to the Vatican. I was, however, painting a ceiling in a suburban villa belonging to people who clearly have far too much money. Fortunately, perhaps, I was not painting the ceiling lying on my back on the top of some scaffold, as Michelangelo had done. This ceiling has yet to be installed, and was therefore simply leaning against a wall. This was convenient.

On the other hand, unlike in Michelangelo's case, there were nowhere nearly enough naked models wandering around to be painted. In fact, there was not a single one. One can only presume that in order to arrange that, you have to be on really good terms with the Pope. Neither I, nor the homeowners, despite their copious pecuniosity, have that particular claim to fame.

What there was, however, was a statue of the homeowners' daughter (a woman in her 30s, it should be added) rising nymph-like (and nymph-clad) out of the blue waters of a rather large wading pool in the neo-drek style, cast in bronze.

And one is left truly wondering why it is that money so seldom buys taste ...

Monday, March 19, 2007

The unveiling ...

No, haven't made a decision on the name change yet, so keep the suggestions coming!!

Rather, this post is to unveil ...


Yes! The table and chair project is finally finished!!
The seats are made of clear perspex. I'm going to get cushions for them, so that some of the more sensitive tushies won't be too uncomfortable, but I sat on them all this evening and they are not at all uncomfortable. This is exactly the look that I wanted, and I finally found someone who would do it for me. So there you have it - just in time for summer - my outdoor furniture!

Those who wish to compare before and after shots without flicking backwards and forwards, can see this post, and this post.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Name Nominally Challenged!

The unfortunate result of this is that my body has finally caught up with me and is now punishing me for doing too much work in too short a period of time. In my malaise, then (and its colleague, boredom), as I sit here in bed watching Eddie Izzard clips on YouTube and attempting to teach my dog that "fetch" implies "and bring back to me" rather than simply "go to object, bark and look cute", I have decided that a small competition is in order.

The competition is as follows.

Way back in the mists of time, in fact, in around January 2005, a matter of days after commencing this blog, I wrote the following:

And I fully intend to run a serious name competition - entitled (oddly enough)
"Name Nominally Challenged!". But, before I do that, I need to make sure that
you could even give a damn, so I shall keep on typing, and hope that something
that I write strikes a chord somewhere, with someone. Someday. Some - well, you
get the idea.

That was because, then as now, the name "Nominally Challenged" is, well, not a very good name, although I admit that it has sort of stuck. The problematic nature of this name really hit home a few days ago when ze vonderful Lisa, in referring to a post I'd written, called me (and I quote), "Nomchy" (scroll down, you'll come to it). While I was dutifully endeared, I realized that there was something wrong with this.

Now, I will be so bold as to say that apparently, some of the things that I write seem to strike chords in some places, and some persons may care to offer suggestions as to what my Blogging Name should be. Note, I am not proposing to change the actual name of my blog. I think that "A Whiff of the Med" is a good name which says many things, some of which I may even agree with. However, "Nominally Challenged" has done its dash and I think it's time for a makeover.

I think that the name should be pertinent to the blog and its contents and I invite your suggestions accordingly. Please make it creative, people, and not too offensive - remember, my grandmother doesn't read this blog, but yours might. Finally, just in case anyone was considering this - variations on my actual given name are, by definition almost, not creative.

Oh. P.S. - I haven't come up with a prize yet, so suggestions for prizes will be welcome as well. I don't promise to accept any of the proposed names or prizes, but it will be fun to see what you people can come up with.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hamsin Haiku

First day of heat

A winter full of food

Nothing to wear.

Free at last!

Well, sort of ...

The Project From Hell (TM) is OVER! And the fun part - billing it - is yet to come. Yay!

However, there is no real rest for the wicked, as today is a work day yet again ...

Still, it was incredibly refreshing to know that when I woke up this morning ('morning' being a very loose term indeed, I might add), it wasn't simply to more of the same.

Anyway, the salt mines call, so I must away. I just thought I would share my false sense of freedom with you all :)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Procrastination for Experts

Although the Project From Hell (TM) is showing no signs of being over, as I find myself carreening through its third week like a ten-car pile-up waiting to happen, in a situation where I have absolutely no willingness to do the work involved, and the work apparently has absolutely no willingness to do itself (and, frankly, who can blame it?), ze vonderful Noorster has come to the rescue, with this!

Yes, I have founded the Most Serene Republic of Frissonia Bananique. Although it doesn't say so yet, our aspiration is to become a nation of hair stylists who use banana-scented shampoo.

The idea is that you set up your own little nation state and get to play governments. You feed in a few minor details such as the type of government, the name (of course), the name of your currency and the national animal, and the game begins. So far, I have received offers from all sorts of big world powers to join their agglomerations extraordinaires, but we are declining in the interim, since, as you will note, we are a "Most Serene Republic" and we wish to remain serene.

I have also received issues that my government needs to deal with such as - should voting be compulsory (being a former Australian, I, of course, said yes!) and should we keep marijuana legalized despite the fact that the pizza delivery boys (on whose services we partially subsist) have very red eyes by this stage (once again, yes!). I now must wait until tomorrow until I receive a new issue, but the veritable multitude of countries already playing the game makes this a certified timewaster. For expert procrastinators only! :)

I invite you to play also! And do let me know what your countries names are :)

Let the games begin!

Saturday, March 03, 2007


So Purim's arrived and I'm sure you're all wondering what I did with those 4 meters of red glittery cloth and the corset. Well, the truth be told, I didn't really have time to do terribly much with it at all, unfortunately. I was working all week on The Project From Hell (TM) (which has so far removed two weeks of my life and aged me at least as many years - and still has a week's worth of damage to inflict yet ...), and that meant that I was totally unable to sew. I made a valiant start, but was unable to get even close to making any sort of finish. So I have a half-made costume for next year :) As a result, I recycled a costume from six years ago. Luckily for me, I went to a party where absolutely no-one has known me for six years, so I was able to get away with it (what a relief that was)! The back-up costume was that of a court jester, which meant I got to wear chequered tights and a hat with bells on, which is always good for a laugh.

For those of you who weren't wondering, well, you probably should have skipped that first paragraph ...

Now, someone asked me to explain Purim.

Essentially, it's a sort of Jewish Halloween, except, of course, in all the ways that it isn't. Firstly, it's in late winter (the Gregorian date varies because, like all Jewish festivals, it is based on the lunar calendar) and this is patently not like Halloween, which is in late autumn (yeah, ok, fall ...). Secondly, you don't go around bugging people for tricks or treats, but you are supposed to send gifts of food to people, and to give alms to the poor. Thirdly, well, in fact, it's nothing like Halloween at all, except that you get to dress up.

Which is interesting, really, because there's very little in the actual Purim story that has anything to do with dressing up, per se.

The Purim story is based entirely on the Biblical book of Esther. In the Jewish cannon, Esther sits in the third section of the Bible, the section known as the Writings or, in Greek, the Hagiographia. In Hebrew these are known as the ktuvim - כתובים. These include the books of Proverbs and Chronicles, and Ezra and Nehemia, and also what are known as the five scrolls - or megillot - Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Lamentations, Song of Songs and Esther - each of which is read by Jewish communities at particular times of the year. Esther is the book which Martin Luther is apparently reported as having said that he "could have done without". It is perhaps fortunate for Esther that no-one was asking Luther at the time. Esther is also, by coincidence, the name of my aunt (but I think that everyone has an Aunt Esther, don't they? If you don't, you should do something about that).

Esther is not a Hebrew name - not originally anyway. The book itself tells us that Esther's Hebrew name was Hadassah - which is a derivation of the word hadas which means 'myrtle'. Those of you who don't have an Aunt Esther, possibly have an Aunt Myrtle, so you people are covered also.

Esther was Hadassah's Persian name. It was convenient that she had a Persian name, because the entire story took place in Persia. The story might not have worked as well, had her name been, say, Doris. The name Esther is, of course, nothing at all like the name of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Well, maybe a bit. And nothing at all like the name of the Canaanite goddess Ashtoret. Ok, maybe just a little bit. And nothing ... well, I might have to stop laboring that point.

"And it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus" - so the book starts. "Who?" I hear you ask. "Ahasuerus," the book says, and because it doesn't really expect you to know who that was, it goes on, "that same Ahasuerus who ruled over Persia and Media from India to Ethiopia (or, at least, from Hodu unto Kush - wherever they may be), in fact, over 127 provinces (yep, we counted them) ..." and so on.

"Wait!" I hear you ask. "What sort of a name, apart from a horribly unpronounceable one, is 'Ahasuerus'?" Well, it's the English version of the Latin version of the Greek version of the Hebrew name "Achashverosh" which, simply put, doesn't transliterate very well into any of the above languages.

But I see the scholarly amongst you still aren't at ease. I can see you flicking through wikipedia as we speak, looking through the list of Persian kings - the Achaemenids being the appropriate dynasty: Cyrus, Cambyses, Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes, Xerxes (again), Darius (again), three more Artaxerxes (let's face it, if you can pull it off, and if you've got the beard for it, it's a great name, and imagine it on a triple word score!). Not a single Achashverosh in sight!

Ah, but none of these names are actually Persian - they're all, in fact, Greek. Which is the reason for all the X's really. The Greeks loved a good game of scrabble.

The Persian names of these kings are somewhat different (and much harder to transliterate into Greek, Latin, English ...). Let's see. Cyrus: Kurush - not too much trouble there. Cambyses: Kambujiya (like a place in South East Asia - but not). Darius: Darayava'ush - getting tricky ... Xerxes: Khasharyasha - say WHAT? Artaxerxes: Artakhshathra ... Well, you can see why the Greeks just put in all those X's.

In fact, the name that comes closest to the Hebrew Achashverosh is Khasharyasha - or Xerxes. The reasons why are complex, but it is in fact not a bad match. It's certainly closer to the original than all those X's.

But I digress.

So, the big A is king of all the known world (or at least, the good bits of it, as far as he's concerned) and, as king of all the known world, he has a biyuuuuuuuuuuuuutiful wife called Vashti (so says the book. You won't find her name anywhere outside the Bible, but then again, women had a hard time breaking the headlines in those days at the best of times, so I'm not saying she didn't exist ... merely implying it ...). Vashti was so beautiful, that big A thought it would be a great idea if he showed her off to all his mates. So he arranged to hold a party and instructed Vashti that she would dance for his guests, wearing only her crown! (Shock! Horror!). The Queen was less than amused. In the first recorded act of feminism, she refused. But this was a world that wanted no truck with feminism, and she promptly lost her head for her troubles. Beautiful one day, dead the next.

But now the King was without a wife (unlikely, of course, given that he probably had a harem, but we shall not let the facts get in the way of the story, shall we) so he needed a new one! He put ads out everywhere. He sent messengers to all the corners of his realm. He called in Tyra Banks. Persia needed a new Top Model!

Now's the time to mention that this story falls exactly into the middle of the Babylonian exile. You remember? 586 BCE. Nebuchadnezzar comes to Jerusalem. Sacks the Temple. Sacks the Temple's staff. Carries away the king. And the Jews go and hang their harps on the trees by the Euphrates, providing inspiration for Bony M. Some time later, Nebuchadnezzar goes nuts and tries to eat the ground. Cyrus of Susa turns up in Babylon and claims it in the name of Persia. And the Jews who had, until then, been a little carried away, and quite upset for the most part, are suddenly subjects of the Persians with rights and everything.

So, remember Esther? She's the one the book's named after. She has an uncle called Mordechai who thinks his niece is a bit of a looker, and he sends her off to the talent quest in the Capital. The story doesn't specify what he tells her to do if she's asked to dance wearing only a crown in front of the king's friends - since apparently the king's a bit of a randy bastard who's likely to pull the same trick twice - one can only presume that she is encouraged to keep her wits about her, and her clothes on.

She wins, of course. It would be a pointless story if she didn't. And yey, now we have a Jewish Queen over Persia - EXCEPT that the king doesn't know she's Jewish. Her uncle, as well as telling her to keep her clothes on, tells her not to give away the fact that she's Jewish. Why? Well, we don't really know. Narrative imperative most likely. The rest of the story doesn't make sense unless she withholds this small, and probably at the time quite irrelevant, piece of information.

Now, the King had a vizier - as they always do. And as is the way with viziers, this one was EVIL! Not just evil. Not even Evil. This guy was really EVIL. So evil that his name is supposed to be drowned out at its mere mention. However, we can write it - it was Haman. If you feel the need, you may drown it out now by making whatever noises you find to be appropriate.

Now Haman's (boo hiss roar shatter thud) evilitude was not merely due to his having been cast as the campy villain. He in fact had a truly dastardly plan! One day, when he had the king's ear, at a time that it was fortunately attached to the king's head, he said to him something along the lines of "I know what'll cure what ails ya!". The king, who was trying to work out just where Hodu and Kush were, and exactly when Ethiopia had become part of the Persian Empire, was not paying terribly much attention, so his vizier went on: "Kill all the Jews!" the vizier cried. The king apparently looked at his vizier blankly, stared off into the middle distance, scratched himself, and said: "oh, ok then. Have a lottery to find out when we should do it. Now, where did we say that Kush place is again?"

The point of the lottery is sort of important, because that's where the name of the festival Purim comes from. Pur, we are told, is the Persian word for "lot" - as in "casting of". Purim is the plural. Lots. As in a lottery. But not for money this time, but rather, for the fate of an entire people. The lottery was held, the date was chosen - the 14th day of Adar - the twelfth month of the year ...

Haman (can you see why we're booing him?) rubbed his hands together with glee - as is the wont of dastardly fiends everywhere - and skipped off to scheme and plot, in accordance with the requirements of his employment contract. This time, his plot was truly dastardly! (Is he too camp? Should I tone down the camp? But it seems soooo appropriate ...)

Word of the plot reached Mordechai who was, to say the least, rather unhappy about the whole idea. But fortunately, as they say in good cooking shows everywhere, he had prepared in advance by putting his lovely niece Esther onto the throne.

He goes to visit her. "Esther!" he says, "you've gotta stop this verdict or we're all gonna die!!" Esther says - "But how can I? This is a king who chopped of his former wife's head!"
Mordechai says - "You've got to tell him that you're Jewish and that he'll be in effect killing you"
She replies - "But you said ..."
He says - "Never mind what I said!"
She says - "But - he chopped off his last wife's head!!"
He says - "You're our only hope Estherrrrrrrrrrrrrr!"

So, she goes and fasts for three days (though probably not for three nights as well), at the end of which she comes to the king, looking slightly ravenous, one can only assume.

He looks at her and says - "Oh, you're the Persian Idol - cool! Is it your turn tonight? Gosh you're slim!"
She looks sad and says to him - "I have a request"
He says to her - "Tell me your wish and I'll grant it - up to half the kingdom!"
She looks at him - "Half the kingdom?"
He nods - "Half the kingdom!"
She scrutinizes him - "Which half?"
He thinks for a moment - "Well, you can take your choice - if you can find out where Hodu and Kush are, you can have those. Otherwise, take the Medes - if you can deal with all the frankincense and myrrh that is."
She turns to him - "My king, my request is greater than that. Cancel the edict to kill the Jews!"
He looked at her and said - "But, it's already been signed and sealed and - oh my Persian deities, can you imagine the bureaucracy involved in cancelling that? And, well, why??"
She looks at the ground and says - "Because I am Jewish, and your edict will be killing me and my people".
"Damn," said the king. "That puts me in a bit of a bind really, because I kind of like you. Tell you what. We'll reverse the edict, punish Haman for being a particularly EVIL vizier (even though it's in his contract and it's surprising that he didn't try to poison me, or perhaps he did but that part of the story would take way too long to write in what has become too long a blog entry anyway), and make you and your uncle the heroes of the story for posterity, what do you think?"

And that is indeed what the story records as having happened.

The scroll then gets a bit manic. There is, in my view, a little too much gloating over the revenge part, but there you have it.

Of course, there are no records in Persian history of any of this. Not of Vashti. Not of Esther. Not of the plot - although the story itself actually mentions the fact of the plot being written into the king's annals. Not of the overturning of the plot. Not of the revenge against the plotters, nor of a mass conversion to Judaism which is supposed to have followed the whole story. But narrative imperative prevails, and it is, after all, a pretty good story.

And so, we dress up. Why? Because of mistaken identities, perhaps, but most likely, because Purim is a happy holiday, embodied in the age-old Jewish saying "they tried to kill us. They didn't succeed. Let's eat".

And we drink! We are instructed, in fact, to drink until we cannot tell the difference between "cursed is Haman" and "blessed is Mordechai". That's a lot of drink!

That, in the nutshell of what must have been a rather large nut, is the Purim story a la nominally challenged. Anyone who wants to read the full version can read it here (in English) or here (in Hebrew). You can make up your own minds as to whether my version is better or not!

Happy Purim!