Sunday, November 30, 2003

The Last Concert of 2003

It's been a busy year for live music, and after keeping my ear to the ground and pre-booking shows for up to 8 months in advance, I've finally come down to my final pair of tickets. And what a show to finish on - Radiohead at the S.E.C.C. in Glasgow. I have a very strange relationship with this band. I know their last few albums (Kid A, Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief) were critically acclaimed and all the rest of it, but seriously - does anybody really listen to them? They may be unique, but they don't exactly make for an enjoyable listen. I've always preferred their classic discs (OK Computer, The Bends) but that being said - Radiohead does rock live. I've seen them live twice now, and they have an amazing ability to reinterpret their material so that it really connects in front of an audience of thousands. I have no doubt the same will happen tonight - should be great.

I also treated myself to a new toy this weekend. Prices on DVD players have come down to the point where I felt I needed to get myself one. But when I saw that I could grab a Playstation 2 for a mere £85, I thought - hey! DVD's and video games! With my newly purchased hardware, I went out and rented a couple of great DVD's that I'd both recommend.

Happiness of the Katakuris - A truly off-the-wall Japanese film best described as Night of the Living Dead meets The Sound of Music. A family running a guesthouse confronts the mystery of dying guests by breaking out into song and dance routines. Fabulous.

Secretary - A nice boy meets girl story, with S&M. Despite the premise, a surprisingly touching story of two lost souls who find each other.

And speaking of toys, I now have access to an old PC that has been setup in my kitchen. It may be years old and crunch away every time you ask it do something, but it gives me access to the Internet. So goodbye Internet cafes, hello typing journal entries in pyjamas!

Friday, November 28, 2003

Scottish Vocabulary 101

Despite having known Fiona for well over three years now, I still find myself scratching my head at some of the vocabulary she comes up with. I think Canadian folk who call me have the same experience. It often comes to pass that when they speak with her first, I am subsequently asked for a translation of at least one thing that she said. So, without further ado, here are definitions of a few key Scottish (or British) words and expressions:

Faff – to procrastinate or dally (“Matthew, stop faffing about, we’re late!”)
Caber – the big log that men in kilts throw during Highland Games
Dead – slang for “very”
Chuffed – especially proud of something (“Och, I tossed the caber 20 feet – I’m dead chuffed!")
Chinwag – to chit-chat with someone (“I had a wee chinwag with Hamish on the phone”)
Blether – see “Chinwag”
Lovely – used to describe everything, from food to weather to mood to people
How? – slang for “why?”. Known to induce mass confusion among non-Scots
Gladrags – your best clothes (“I’m going oot tonight, I’ll wear me gladrags”)
Snog – passionate kiss
On the pull – trying to pick up someone at a nightclub in the hopes of at least a snog. Chances to pull improved by wearing gladrags.
Plonker, Bampot, Bissum, Daftie – terms for a silly person
Bollocks – slang for testicles, also means “not good”
Dog’s Bollocks – confusingly, the complete opposite of bollocks - means “really good”. Explanation: What does a dog strive for most often, and gives him the most happiness if reached? His bollocks.
Monkey Nuts – peanuts. Has nothing to do with testicles.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Sheelin Take A Bow

Right, so what else do I do these days, other than go to concerts?

I recently took a few days off work to jet over to Ireland to attend a wedding. We stayed in a country hotel on the banks of Lough Sheelin (Lough being the Irish spelling of Loch, with both pronounced the same way). Lough Sheelin is situated just outside the small town of Mountnugent, which itself is about a two-hour drive Northwest of Dublin. It was a nice ceremony, and a great party afterwards - complete with Irish and Scottish folk music and a lot of Guinness. And yes, it does taste better over there. Something to do with the lack of pasteurisation, to be sure.

Despite nursing the after-effects of the night before, I also managed to take a few hours to take a walk in the lush, green countryside that I still fondly recall from my last trip to Ireland. It did not disappoint.

For all of those folks who think I speak too quickly, here is further ammunition. One of the ladies at the wedding asked me what my surname was. Being that it is the same as Fiona's, I thought I'd be cheeky and said "Would you like to guess, perhaps?". She apparently heard something different, as she replied "What a strange name, Matt Regasopaps!". Word got around quick, and this was the name I was called all weekend.

I've also seen a few movies of late.

Das Experiment: Finally managed to check this one out after many recommendations from various people. It's a film based on the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, and really captures a mood of paranoia and claustrophobia while portraying the rapid dehumanisation of the guards and prisoners. Gripping stuff.

Kill Bill Vol.1: Visually stunning, great soundtrack, and Uma looking like a goddess. What more do you want?

Matrix Revolutions: Disappointing on so many levels. The best part about this movie was the trailer for Return of the King. Now THAT was good.

The Two Towers: Special Edition is now out (with 42 minutes of extra footage, hooray!) but none of the video stores in my neighbourhood appear to carry it. The hunt is on.

I also still live in a hotel over in the Kingdom of Fife (now THAT'S a name for a county). I was recently offered an extension on my work contract, so it appears as though I will be working in Rosyth for the foreseeable future. In fact, I'm currently looking for a flat in the area (to be paid for by work, woo!) that I'll live out of on weekdays. So yeah, two flats on either end of the country - this little journey of mine keeps getting stranger. But I'm loving the ride!

Also, a warm welcome to Ryan G for his entry to the world of web journals!

Sunday, November 16, 2003

“And it seemed to cause a chain reaction/It had momentum, it was gainin’ traction”

Three concerts from three great bands over one week – it really doesn’t get better than that. But only one show had that special magic that let it transcend into the realm of fantastic…

Up first – Manitoba, a band who is not actually from Manitoba but Ontario. Their recent album “Up in Flames” is a nice little piece of electronic pop, but it is their live show that really impresses. On stage they are a three-piece, with a guitarist and two drummers who alternate with keyboards. The result is a real fleshing out of the album, a full-on wall of sound that is excellent to experience in person.

Next up – Dashboard Confessional, a band from Florida that is really a showcase for songwriter and guitarist Chris Carrabba. DC have been accused by some as being far too melodramatic with their tales of heartbreak and love, but I’ve always thought their albums (especially “The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most”) have been poignant and the songs quite beautiful – “Screaming Infidelities” is a modern classic. But in a live setting, I found they just weren’t able to capture the magic. I don’t think it was the band so much as the crowd that dampened the vibe. I had no idea their prime demographic was angst-ridden, 14-year old art students. I don’t think I have ever felt so old. I think I’ll stick with listening to Dashboard on quiet weekday evenings on my own stereo, thanks!

But it was the final band that took the concert-going experience to a whole new level. In fact, concert does not do the experience justice – we’re talking a night of epiphany and euphoria that was the ultimate (and natural) high. My sincerest thanks to the mighty Flaming Lips for putting on what is undoubtedly the show of the year. You may have heard about the brilliant stage show (dancers in animal costumes, giant balloons, confetti, hand puppets) and you may have heard their equally brilliant music (I’d especially recommend “The Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots”). But it was how it all came together that, at the risk of being known as the guy who overuses his superlatives, made the show truly spectacular. Never have I seen a crowd have so much fun before (and I’ve seen the Polyphonic Spree live) – everybody was singing, dancing, knocking giant balloons about, and genuinely having a great time. Lead singer Wayne Coyne has charisma in spades – he’s compelling viewing, and between songs he’d have prolonged chats with the crowd who lapped up every word he said. When the band finally left the stage (after an impressive two hours, and a finale consisting of a rendition of White Christmas) I actually felt sad that it had come to an end, like the spell had been broken. Truly wonderful stuff.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

"Don't worry me or hurry me/Blow me far away to the Northern Lights"

This story sure has taken some time to spit out; however, without further ado, the gory details of the Iceland trip!

Things certainly didn't begin well, as an Icelandair flight wasn't the only thing I caught that day. I also came down with a nasty case of the 24-hour flu. I was feeling so rotten that essentially my first day in Reykjavik was spent in my bed. But I did stay conscious enough to notice that the small town outside of the airport reminded me a lot of a small town in Northern Ontario. It really isn't until you make your way into Reykjavik itself that you begin to realise that this place is going to be really different than your typical getaway.

I woke up the next day feeling a little weak, and still not ready to eat anything, but the adrenaline was enough to get me up and ready to explore the town. We started by making our way down to Perlan (the Pearl), a modern glass building on top of a large hill that houses exhibitions for the city, but more importantly houses great views across the city and the surrounding countryside. It also contains the fab Saga Museum which depicts Iceland's Viking roots using excellent full scale models. We also took a walk down to Nautholsvik Beach, an artificial beach where a portion of the ocean is actually heated in the summer for swimming. We then made the trip into 101 Reykjavik, the oldest and hippest part of the city. It's absolutely beautiful, with funky shops, cafes and pubs and museums (including the Phallological Museum - unfortunately closed while we were there ensuring that we left half-cocked). Many of the houses are painted wild colours, summoning a picture of a Scottish seaside village. 101 is also next to the harbour, allowing for a lovely walk by fishing boats and rock beaches, and providing an excellent view of the mountains and the ocean. We also took a look inside the amazing Hallgrimskirkja, a huge modern church that was built to look like an erupting volcano.

By Day 3 I was fully good to go, and decided to not bother with the bus tours we were going to try and instead rent a car and do our own exploring. It was a bit of an ordeal finding a car with automatic transmission (should have learned to drive a stick shift before I came over to this part of the world) but we finally managed to get one - a cosy little Skoda. A type of car which has come a long way since last I rode in one (eh, Dad?). We first drove out to Pingvellir National Park, where we saw Logberg - the first Viking assembly site used from 930AD - and the massive rifts in the land where the North American tectonic plate is tearing away from the Eurasian plate. Very dramatic landscape. I really enjoyed the drive on the small Icelandic motorways, marveling at the countryside where you can see steam arising from cracks in the ground, Icelandic horses running across the plains, and the barrenness of the old lava fields. That night we took a night walk around 101, in particular to see the wonderful City Hall which is built so that it appears to be rising out of a lake. As I mentioned previously, I was quite excited to find out that we were in town to be able to catch part of the Iceland Airwaves music festival. That night we caught a show at the Art Museum where we saw three amazing bands - Tenderfoot, Gisli, and the Album Leaf. My only regret was that I wasn't feeling better on my first day as I could have caught Leaves and SKE, the latter in particular a great band from Reykjavik whose music I heard on the plane. Take a look through the website to hear some of the tunes from these bands.

Day 4 we took the car out to Geysir, the home of the famous water spouts that gives its name to similar spouts across the world. Words really don't do justice to the experience as we stood there for hours watching Strokkur (the most active geysir). First the water bubbles, than rises into one large blue blob before bursting forth into the air. Fantastic. We also drove down to Gullfoss, a massive waterfall equally as impressive as Niagara Falls minus the tourist tackiness, and well, the tourists. We shared the view with only a few other people, and were really able to appreciate the ferocity of nature as the water roared over the cliff. That night we went to the Red Rock Cinema where they show a quirky documentary on volcanoes. We were the only folk there that night, and were chatting away to the guy showing the film when we realised that the guy was in fact the volcano filmmaker Villi Knudson, who both shot and starred in the film.

On the last day we took our little Skoda down to Lake Kleifarvatn, a lake that used to be the deepest in Iceland but has since drained substantially after an earthquake. Nobody knows where the water went to. This drive was my absolute favourite as we literally drove for hours without seeing a single person, past bubbling mudpools, hotsprings, lava fields, ocean beaches, and old churches. Surreal. We finished the day by visiting the Blue Lagoon, which is the most famous hotspring in Iceland, situated near a geothermal powerplant. The water was incredibly warm and it was an amazing experience to be swimming outside on a day where the air temperature couldn't have been more than 3 degrees. We watched the sun go down while putting natural clay onto our faces and paddling about in the pool.

And yes, I finally did see the Northern Lights - albeit, faintly in the skies over Reykjavik. We jumped into the car, and drove as fast as we could to the countryside to get a better view. But by then, the skies had become cloudy. But it was still thrilling to see the eerie green clouds fly by overhead, if only for a moment.

Iceland - certainly not a typical getaway, but one that I'll never forget. Truly a magical experience, and I now better understand where the Icelandic reputation comes from for being a home for elves and pixies. Certainly if there is a place where such mythical creatures may still live, it must be here!

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Iceland 101 (or 101 Reykjavik)

Perhaps before I launch into the finer details of this trip of mine, I should give a quick introduction to the country that is Iceland.

Iceland is closer to Scotland than I would have thought, as it is less than a two-hour flight from Glasgow. With a population of only 280,000 (over 50% live within greater Reykjavik), only one real highway outside of Reykjavik that circles the island, and a large portion of the interior of the country completely uninhabited (and uninhabitable), Iceland is certainly not a busy place. But what a place it is. How best to describe it in a nutshell? I felt like I was vacationing on the moon. But this isn't a bad thing.

Icelandic people and their culture also appears to have originated from a different world. I don't think there is an official index on this, but I reckon there are more cool people per capita than anywhere else in the world. Everybody seems to be attractive, have a good wardrobe and haircut, and good music is played at every coffeeshop and pub we went to. Yes, you will hear Sigur Ros at least once a day.

An Icelandic surname consists of your father's first name suffixed with "son" or "dottir" depending on your gender. Therefore, members of the same family will not have the same surname. Best real-life example seen in the newspaper - a lady with the surname of Frododottir.

Iceland is bloody expensive. A modest meal of two pizzas and two pints cost us 5000 kronurs, the equivalent of £40. Alcohol is so expensive that I could not afford more than a pint or two on a given day. A pint could run you about £6-8. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Iceland has only had legal access to beer since 1989? Imagine that...

Despite a small population, there is an Icelandic music festival (on during our time there too - yay!) that took place over 4 days and 10 venues. There is even an Icelandic Idol, complete with the Icelandic equivalent of Simon Cowell. Almost every Icelandic person can speak English and German on top of their own language. Icelandic is a language that is wonderful to listen to, and despite the fact that you can't really understand it, certain words sound English with a Scandinavianan edge. My favourite example was the "Bloodbanken" outside the local hospital.

Iceland also is a geologist's wet dream with more volcanoes, geysers, earthquakes, and continental drift fissures than you could shake a stick at. In 1963, the island of Surtsey was literally born from the ocean after a massive underwater volcanic eruption. There is so much geothermal activity going on that the entire population of Reykjavik gets their hot water from hotsprings, and it isn't uncommon to come across bubbling pools of mud while walking around in the country. Surreal.

And yes it is cold - but not nearly as bad as you might have thought. A simple winter jacket sufficed.