Monday, May 31, 2010

Double Whammy

This was the moment that Cherry discovered a brand new impediment to her full enjoyment of Belén park. Hermano Pedro came from an island and as of yesterday he was back on one.

It's been a tumultuous few days in Guatemala and I have been getting regular reports from V as the country reels from the double impact of Pacaya opening itself three new craters and the highest levels of rainfall over a short period since 1949. At least 73 lives have already been claimed by these coinciding calamities.

On Saturday the power failed mid-afternoon and wasn't restored until late at night. This moment was advertised by a sudden flare of very bright light — "like a new sun," V related — followed closely by a thuddering bang which had Jin seeking immediate sanctuary inside the bedroom.

When she went upstairs to the studio to see what had happened, she was knocked back by a further blast. Soon it was clear that all the electricity cables strung from poles along our street had caught fire and that the junction box at the corner nearest to our house had just exploded.

I guess it helps living so close to the main police station and Ex-Presidente though, because the bomberos were on scene pretty quickly, along with numerous vans from the electricity company, and the problem was addressed remarkably quickly.

Our area had been comparatively unaffected by the volcanic discharge, but poor V ended up with conjunctivitis for the first time in her life, apparently due to all the fine dust in the air.

Meanwhile, across the capital, mini-volcancitos were appearing outside homes and businesses as people worked to clear the dense volcanic sand from the streets and from their rooftops and terraces. (With the rain these began to take on the appearance of little mounds of melted chocolate, V told me. )

A friend duly sent me a load of images from his part of Guate (such as that one below) which, I thought, portended a long and complicated clear up operation.

...but then he told me that he'd quickly sold his own little pile for 70 quetzales.

It seems that the Muni had been interrupting programmes on local TV to instruct people to place all their volcanic sand in bags outside their homes — being super careful not to mix it with other waste — and very soon a lorry would be round to collect it. This tipped people off that the re-astuto de Arzú must have detected a value in the stuff, and indeed it soon emerged that this unexpected manna from heaven was exactly what the authorities needed for reinforcing bridges and repairing highways.

When Pacaya stepped up its activity at the end of last week I'd commented to V that it wouldn't be long before strange new sinkholes started appearing in Guatemala City. Sure enough it was soon being reported how one family had been woken to the sound of the neighbouring (and thankfully empty) house descending rapidly into an 80m chasm.

The storm finally let up a bit yesterday afternoon and V was able to take the dogs out for almost the first time in three days. The cats have all been piled on top of each other (actually on top of Osli) in the box for the same period, showing little tendency to gad around the vecindad.

It's at times like these that the greatest Guatemalan architectural folly of all manifests itself most potently: the failure of even the better endowed builders to raise the ground floor of their homes even 30cm above street level. Indeed, I would say that around half of the properties in Panorama feature a ramp going down from the cobbles into the space behind the main gate, and V has observed many owners of such homes enthusiastically bailing them out with buckets over the course of the weekend just ended.

Sometimes houses are constructed before the roads outside have been properly paved. In this instance the folly is vaguely forgiveable. But did these people really think that it would never be seen to? (Or indeed that the wet season in Guatemala would never explore its own extremes?) Even my favourite newly-constructed casa close to Panorama, which goes by the name of Aventura Loca, is perhaps 10cm short of what I'd deem the sensible base floor level, but you only have to look at all three of the homes on the other side of the road to get a sense of which members of that particular community were most likely to have had new water features inside their properties on Saturday.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The 0.9m limit

In Singapore (and Hong Kong too) height not age determines when children need to start paying their way on the subway system. My father has opined that this makes sense as tall kids take up more room.

It's a measure that one might diss not only as heightist, but also potentially sexist and racist once the statistical averages are applied. For in such ethnically-diverse societies there's surely an implied advantage to growing up in a community whose members are on average a little on the short side. And across the board, mothers might even be tempted not to feed their kids so well!

Other more formalised expressions of prejudice in Singapore include the promotion scale that Malays have to stand up against in the civil service and police force. Once they reach a certain level, further advancement is forbidden. The official rationale would seem to be that these people (the original inhabitants of the island) might not be trustworthy if trouble ever broke out with neighbouring Malaysia.

The Malaysians do have a very significant card up their own sleeve: they supply all the water in Singapore, which flows in via pipes strung beneath one of the two big causeways linking the countries, Joel informed me. Singapore does have better facilities for processing this water and so much of it ends up being flogged back to the Malaysians in purified form.

Speaking of children and mass transportation, when it comes to long haul flights, I am now firmly of the belief that children beneath a certain age (or indeed stature) should travel in little cages in the hold along with all the cats and dogs and rare posionous snakes.

Write the Future

I couldn't help but plug this slightly dotty pre-Mundial Nike ad concocted by Alejandro González Iñárritu, director of Babel and Amores Perros.

Amongst other delights it features Wayne Rooney coping with alternative timelines, facial hair and Roger Federer's prowess at the ping pong table.

Shame that Mueludinho has been left out by Dunga and that Ribery isn't exactly a marketers dream at the moment.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bangkok Dangerous

Is not only the name of a perfectly respectable action flick from Thailand, it's also what the parting remark made to me by the Japanese immigration official at Narita as he inspected my passport and boarding card.

Postponing my trip here by two days also involved taking a later flight, one that would not land in Bangkok before everyone in the city was supposed to be confined to quarters. I've come up against curfews before in Central America, but arriving by air in the middle of one seemed like a more challenging proposition.

Bangkok's new main airport is 23kms east of the city, and getting into the centre (or indeed around the centre) after midnight was always going to present some of the sort of hazards I'd promised my loved ones I would be endeavouring to avoid.

The flight was predictably quiet and I was upgraded to premium economy, the upsides of which included an excellent seafood curry and a power outlet for my netbook, but the partition between the seats is fixed, so stretching out possibilities were limited.

The loo on the plane was bigger than most of those that came with the hotels in Tokyo. Since New York it's been Asian airlines all the way, and my what an improvement, especially in their 777 incarnations, though I much enjoyed travelling on the top deck of a jumbo for the first time on my inbound flight into Japan. The engine noise is minimal and you seem to be up in the air so much sooner than one is used to on a 747.

As well as beautiful, bowing stewardesses, JAL flights feature a nose-cone camera offering somewhat disconcerting live footage of take-off and landing. I've noticed however that they don't tend to dim the lights for take-off and landing, but they do after serving the meal and the aforementioned dreamy cabin staff take great care to instruct passengers about to take a nap to fasten their seat-belts.

At the gate there was a Thai Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged in a seat awaiting the boarding announcement. I of course wondered whether he'd duly assumed the same position in the cabin.

At baggage reclaim I noted that he didn't have to pick up his own suitcase. For some time I've had the Jain brethren down as a bunch of self-righteous parasites, but I'm reserving judgment on this lot for now. In Japan the monks looked more like functionaries (and the functionaries like extras in some cheap 80s sci-fi series.) One of the first interesting signs I spotted in Bangkok this morning asked me to 'Beware of Fake Monks!'

I'll have plenty more to tell about Nikko, the town I woke up in this morning: it was quite the most memorable place I've visited on this long trek thus far. And it was wonderful to finally have a cat-swingable bedroom, my first since Miami really. In fact I splashed out on a mini-apartment with fridge, cooker, TV and sofa, all for about 2/3 what I'd been paying in Tokyo.

I spotted some cookies on sale in Nikko which professed to have been nurtured "in the greenery setting". It was certainly a relief to spend my last day and a half in Japan 'in a greenery setting' away from the only partially-fathomable sprawl of Tokyo.

One highlight was the bus driver who took me up to Lake Chuzenji yesterday morning. He dispatched each departing local passenger with a 'Hai arigato gozaimas-eeeugh' delivered in tones reminiscent of Marvin the Paranoid Android.

For me one part of the appeal of Japan is that it has a little bit of both my homes. It's an island where it rains a lot...especially in the movies. It's also a land of volcanoes and not infrequent seismic shudders. It's most definitely one of those places of which nothing can be said of which the opposite is not in some way also true. Ultra-modern, ultra-traditonal, familiar while unfamiliar*, so chic in places and yet so carelessly ugly in others, ultra-friendly yet ultra-exclusive, generally yummy but sometimes a bit yukky, soulful, soulless — and very much after your soul.

It was still nearly 90F when we landed in Thailand around 11pm. I began to fear for my *Green Tea Kit Kats.

There was still around five hours to run on the toque de queda, so given that the only hotel close to the airport is a Novotel, and that I had no guarantee that the little place I want to stay at would actually be open at this hour, the sensible decision seemed to me to be to wait it out here in the airport, specifically the restaurant zone. Let the feast commence...

I slept well on the six hour flight from Tokyo and my little Asus Eee PC has 14 hours of battery life plus six unwatched episodes of FlashForward on it. I'll just have to go easy on the Singhas.

I suppose I'm destined for an state-enforced early night on Friday anyway.

Plenty of tourists floating around and no obvious armed presence beyond the kind of police presence one would normally expect. One sees more machine guns at Heathrow.

In fact the only real intimation of 'volatility' was the 30% discount being offered by the luxury limo services.

You only have to live in Central America for a while to appreciate how international news media corporations love to sensationalise everything, even if it means sending off their own employees to die rather pointlessly in order to do so.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Raj warned me before I left Hong Kong: Tokyo is opaque, even to the Japanese. He used to be the Asia Pacific practice head at my former firm and knows his way around Asia's big towns.

After a week here in Japan I can see what he was getting at. Certainly in the first few days there were plenty of those moments when the clues suddenly dried up and I found myself standing inert within the mobile multitude, wondering how to proceed. I know some Japanese, that helps, but not enough really.

Whatever the frustrations I haven't yet been able to hold them against the Japanese themselves...cyclists on the pavement notwithstanding. Back in Hong Kong on the other hand I ended up directing my own inner John Woo movie in which the locals, salesmen on Nathan Road in particular, were all dancing a samba in the hail of bullets as doves floated imponderably in the foreground.

I was relieved when I first took the subway with Satoshi and he immediately chose a line that didn't actually connect with the one we needed to connect with, and anyway chose the train going in the wrong direction. He's lived in Tokyo ten years and still finds it a bit of a struggle at times.

Don't ask a local for directions seems to be the general rule. The other day I needed to get to a western suburb called Ogikubo and had already planned out a route on public transport. When I asked the hotel manager for some assistance with locating an address, he proceeded to outline to me his preferred trajectory across the public-private morass that is the Tokyo railway system, and it turned out that his alternative route required at least three more changes than mine.

"Just look at our airport, and the MTR system," said Raj of his home town by way of comparison with Tokyo. No expense spared, all simple straight-line pathways. HK airport certainly is impressive. I spotted large groups of people moving around its vast inner spaces in trail of guides holding up a coloured sign.

At times Hong Kong felt a bit like one enormous tumescent airport, or at least its departure lounge, with all those luxury-brand stores wherever you turn. The people are friendly, but often I imagined I had detected a wry smile embedded in this amiability.

Raj suggested that we meet on day two outside Louis Vuitton, in the kind of wholly non-ironic manner I could never have got away with back in London without sending out tosspot signals.

And when I got there I had a little wander around the streets surrounding Lee Gardens just to make sure I'd got the right Louis Vuitton store. In London the big luxury brands are confined to little enclaves like Bond Street, and Sloane Street, but in HK they're kind of everywhere, like Starbucks in Vancouver*.

Easy to get around it certainly was, but I found HK a bit oppressive, though perhaps the 94% humidity had a lot to do with that. It's no place for dog lovers either. I'd been there almost two whole days before I spotted a pooch on a lead, and that one was being yanked along by an ex-pat. This felt odd after Lincoln Road in Miami and Chelsea in NYC. Here in Japan you do see quite a few dogs, of the Hachiko variety in particular.

Japan was at its most opaque to me this morning, when I got a little lost in the fog up by the Kegon Falls searching for monkeys. In fact I ended up searching for the falls themselves, an ever present roar, but completely shrouded in the murk.

The concept of free wi-fi Internet would appear to be anathema to the Japanese, which is one reason I've been blogging so infrequently since I arrived here a week ago. In Kyoto I found one place which offered a free drink with paid-for Internet access. If you only stay for 30 minutes it could just as easily have been free Internet with a paid-for coffee, but here in Japan time is all important, and often it's what you pay for here. On Sunday Satoshi pointed out a new chain of barber shops that are popping up all over Tokyo which offer a 'haircut in 5 minutes'. In fact, he said, the haircut usually takes less time, so they use up the remaining seconds by vacuuming your head, "which makes you feel like rubbish".

*180 outlets in the downtown area alone, I was informed.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Forced myself up at 4am today to register on timItalice to be one of the 140 people permitted each morning to witness the blue-fin tuna auction at Tokyo's famed Tsukiji market.

The vast majority of those with similar propósitos were either Japanese or Spanish, those great despoilers of the sea. We were all given rather loud yellow waistcoats to wear to distinguish us as the day's licensed gawpers.

The guy standing beside me was wearing flip flops, not in truth my preferred choice for wandering around the world's largest fish market. He could have stopped at the souvenir store on the way in and kitted himself out with some nifty Kanji-covered wellies.

For the first half an hour the prospective purchasers stalked the rows of expensive fish ($100,000+ for the largest) prodding them with their sharp hooked implements and inspecting samples at a side table using torches and occasionally a judiciously applied finger.

Then at 5:30am a bell rang and the auction proper commenced.. The auctioneer appeared to enter a trance, chanted loudly and rocked back and forth on his little platform, waving his arms around as the punters around him made barely visible hand signals. It was all over fairly quickly, and almost before it was over the gates behind the auction were being lifted and the tuna prepared for their exit to the world of fine dining (and indeed their exit from the world's oceans.)

Sushi was apparently invented by a Tokyo chef during the 1820s, a time of hardship. It caught on fast. But most Japanese don't eat it as regularly as we westerners might imagine.

We were repeatedly told not to use flash, but of course there was an American in the group who was either hard of understanding or deemed himself exempt from such instructions. He didn't think much of the prohibition relating to wandering around the wholesale market before 9am and led the entire group inside almost as soon as the auction was over. I followed. I can be hard of understanding too sometimes.

Afterwards I breakfasted on tuna and scallops in one of the cramped little eateries attached to the Tsukiji market. Satoshi told me last night that the oma maguro would melt in my mouth...and it did.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Speaking of continua...

Quite the most thrillingly alien and frankly rather crazy place I have ever visited was Moscow in 1984. But in Hong Kong it has a new rival, albeit one that takes its place at the opposite end of whatever continuum of bonkers urban environments has that part of late-Soviet Russia on it.

In some ways HK is a bit like a Blade Runner version of Dubai, though as Raj pointed out to me yesterday, Dubai was always smoke and mirrors, and Hong Kong is nothing less than the real deal. It's a global megalopolis in a way that other cities like London and New York can only dream of being.

It all begins with the airport. JFK and Heathrow appear to have been purpose-built to confound and constrain. Not so HK's vast gleaming terminal, from which the process of exiting and shifting oneself to the centre of the action is a straight line in all senses.

In North America the underclass tend to shuffle around the streets after dusk pushing supermarket trollies as if auditioning for the next big post-apocalypse blockbuster...while their more successful counterparts (Conservatives and Liberals, though the latter are more likely to have a dog) stroll by, seemingly secure in the knowledge that their comparative comfort is underpinned by the kind of hard graft no bum would ever contemplate.

Contrast Dubai and HK, where the disenfranchised are actually doing more than their fair share of the work (though this person I snapped yesterday close to Times Square in Causeway Bay had clearly decided to make a clean break with capitalist enterprise and consumerism.)

In HK the underclass is dominated by hard working women from Indonesia and the Philippines, and yesterday (Sunday) was their day off. The Indonesians tend to gather on the NE section of Hong Kong island, specifically in and around Victoria Park. As dusk approached most of the local pavements were still clogged with tight little clusters of headscarved young ladies chatting and noshing.

Humidity has risen to 94% this weekend, which makes strolling around HK rather like partaking of a lukewarm steam bath (and how many times was I gobbed on yesterday by the aircon units covering almost every high facade?). Into this already rather dense and cloying atmosphere wafted the stinky aromas of spicy Indonesian food and uncovered Indonesian foot.

On my first night here I got the MTR to Central Station and had a wander uphill into Soho and Lan Kwai Fong where I encountered scenes reminiscent of provincial English towns on Saturday night, with demonstrative public drinking and with the obvious markers of excess, such as screeching ladies of the unrefined sort wandering around with inflateable penises. I suppose I had calibrated my expectations of Asia in terms of Tokyo and Singapore and was quite taken aback by how full-on a party town this is. I guess I had forgotten that us Brits used to run this place. (They still use our plugs and drive on our side of the road...though I have to say that their understanding of the etiquette of boarding and disembarking from jet aeroplanes is positively Chapin-esque.)

The next morning I was picking my jaw up off the floor again whilst waiting to meet my old buddy Raj in The Lee Gardens mall and in the basement discovered a premium nibbler's paradise in the form of Gourmet. I was practically hyperventilating when I spotted the shelf with luxury Japanese mochi and delicate little Taiwanese green tea cakes.

Anyway, aware that a liquid lunch almost certainly beckoned (if indeed there was to be any lunch with the liquid) I tactical-snacked on a red bean and pineapple bun which did indeed turn out to be the best thing I'd eat all day.


Being 'conservative' used to be all about stopping other people having fun. Nowadays there's something of a continuum, with plenty of self-professed conservatives espousing a philosophy that's more about having as much fun as one can oneself — within the limitations of natural ability and privilege — even if that also leads to an increase in misery elsewhere, albeit more indirectly. (So when Don Marco recently quipped that he had been considered "too conservative" for the likes of those Navarrense nutters Opus Dei, we need not suspect him of being some sort of modern-day Savonarola.)

In British politics it's the current PM Gordon Brown who has the most solid killjoy credentials. So for a long time all David Cameron really had to do was to not be Gordon Brown, and a large chunk of the British people would vote for him with some sense of relief. But this week we also saw that a newly re-engaged electorate is still largely unsure where Cameron's crop of Conservatives stand on this all-important axis of fun.

Before the economic crisis and Labour's bankrupting of the country, Cameron had quite effectively repositioned the Tory form of conservatism towards environmental concerns: a slightly more clued-up variant of the hedge-hugging royal conservatism most closely associated with Prince Charles, which in middle-England form is perhaps the one type of self-restraint (i.e. feel-bad) which comes with a feel-good emotional pay-off.

Voters are now seeing however, that when all else fails, the thing the Conservatives most want to conserve is the political status quo, and in this situation that means the electoral system which will only present those pesky Lib-Dems with an opportunity such as they now possess, roughly once every generation or so.

This will have been the sixth General Election I would have been eligible to vote in and has in fact been the second in succession in which I failed to do so. In the other four I've voted for the Tories twice and once apiece for Labour and the far as I can remember.

The voting system that has become so moot this month in the UK encourages tactical democracy. So if I had been in the UK and willing to take part this time, my voting intentions would surely have been influenced by the constituency I was registered to vote in.

I grew up in Chelsea, a safe seat for the Tories and then moved out east to Tower Hamlets, equally un-loseable for Labour. If we still had our home out there in the Docklands, I'd probably have voted for the Lib-Dems...knowing that this was a decision which would ultimately have no impact whatsoever on the make-up of Parliament.

But if I'd registered in Newbury, the constituency within which sits my current UK registered address, I'd have plugged for the sitting Conservative MP Richard Benyon, who barely scraped past the Lib-Dems last time. His family have been wielding power in the area since before the franchise was extended to people living in small houses, but he's proved an excellent local representative and indeed increased his majority considerably last week.

Rather late in the day V has come round to seeing the appeal of Nick Clegg. He might not be left-handed like Cameron, but he's seizing his moment now with great self-assurance, she informs me. (But he went to Westminster the voices say....)

The Tories have got to be hoping that they can string him along for a while before shaking him off their leg after yet another election, possibly as early as the Autumn.

As for Brown, he's done a lot better than most of us suspected he would. Frankly we thought the sniffer dogs would still be out hunting for him after a landslide swing against New Labour. But it didn't happen that way, and now his party (should the Conservatives and Lib-Dems cosy up) has an interesting opportunity to regenerate itself in opposition before the next polling day, for which we are unlikely to have to wait another four years.

This means that Gordon Brown will be able to leave the UK's highest office in much the same way that he was appointed to it, in a process almost wholly disconnected from the ballot box, more akin to the way that large companies handle the discreet exit of their less successful CEOs.

It will be interesting to see what happens if and when Cameron and Clegg get their hands on the books and can report back to us on just how upfront Brown has been about the parlous state of public finances in Britain.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Cinco de Mayo

Plenty of cheap Margaritas on offer last night along the lower reaches of 8th Avenue, yet resorting to Mexican food at this stage of the trip seemed a bit of a cop out. But just give me anything without chips...

I'd been tempted to tuck into the Thai food ahead of schedule, but then I discovered this Puerto Rican eatery called La Taza de Oro close to the corner of 15th street, which has an ambience part diner, part barber shop, and a clientele which, last night at least, was decidedly gritty.

I was soon tucking into a fried fillet of tilapia with rice and beans. And guess what, they even have wi-fi. But no booze. So I very nearly ended up having my second dry evening on the trot. Anyway, their Nectar de Papaya was just what I needed after trying their home-made habanero sauce.

On returning to my little hotel the previous night around 1am, I found myself struggling to keep my balance. Unusual, at least for sober me. However, when the swaying reoccurred in the afternoon yesterday I discovered that the staircase shared a quality with the establishment's proprietor: it is not straight. (He'd given me such an intense gaydar scanning when I checked in that I felt the need to remove my shoes and place my laptop in the nearest plastic tray.)

By the time Armida had finished around midnight the audience at the Met had thinned considerably. It's one of Rossini's lesser known works and features an unusual yet highly enjoyable second act which is largely balletic. My seating location was labelled as the 'Family Circle' but rather than kids with hot dogs, I was mainly surrounded by ancient-looking couples, the usual combination being aggressive little old ladies*(every one of them some poor Jewish kid's mother) attached to husbands who wittered on like Woody Allen.

* one behind me observed at the intermission that Renée Fleming had been weak at the start but seemed 'to be getting into it now'. I felt like turning round and saying 'Lady, you try singing it...'

Monday, May 03, 2010

No dog no snog

Storms are battering the south east coastline of the USA and today at least, American-suckfest-Airlines weren't flying north to La Guardia.

Normally a cancelled flight would be seriously bothersome. But with this ticket the rescheduling is automatic, and if you don't like the flight they assign you to (' are kidding right?') you just ring them up and pick another.

And there must be worse places to be stuck than South Beach. Even the people in the launderettes are gorgeous here; and the pigeons are all doves.

The obvious exception to all this loveliness was the naked man in the corridor this morning. But generally this is a city where you have to wipe the sweat off your brow and the drool off your chin.

Trouble is that most of the 11/10s are brandishing menus. Which also means that Miami is the kind of the place where one periodically experiences the bittersweet awkwardness of being quite seriously harassed by beautiful people. There's only a certain number of times you can take a direct hit from one of these hostesses' smiles before you end up feeling a bit like Pete and Dud in the famous old 'Bloody Greta Garbo' sketch.

Had a great afternoon yesterday getting the full tour of Miami and the beaches, including Key Biscayne, Coral Gables and Coconut Grove. Kroutie is in real estate and knows where Dexter's old apartment is, but it was a bit out of our way, so the pilgrimage was postponed for another occasion.

Lunch was at Scotty's Landing, a Florida institution on the water in the Grove, which features valet parking for boats (see pic). Now that's something you don't see in Beaulieux-sur-Mer.

In the morning I'd taken myself on a little tour of Little Havana, oddly familiar thanks to time spent watching V thrashing her ambulance of death around this neighbourhood in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Not much to see at all really, besides the old men playing dominoes. When I told the people at the Greenview that I planned a jaunt over there, they looked bemused. Still, I did manage to get a few interesting pics, and will publish these shortly as a photo essay. Not many Che Guevara t-shirts around, oddly enough.

I don't mind shallow. In fact I need a little fix of it occasionally, and Miami is just the boleto. I've cashed out of what the chain-smoking postmodernists refer to as 'the spectacle,' and Latin America's unofficial capital tends to remind me of just why it was so very important to do so...and yet leaves me with a wry smile on my face.

One bunch I didn't think I'd have to contend with this early in the trip (at least not before Thailand), are those marauding parties of northern England's tattooed lower orders. They drift through the beachside action like snorkelers over a shallow reef, obviously thrilled to be there, yet somehow separated from this colourful medium by a transparent barrier.

The menfolk act as if they're on an extended stag weekend, but this is one foraging expedition that's almost certain to end in disappointment. To score on Ocean Drive, an outrageously heady mix of glamour and skank, you need to look as if you make your living irreproachably illegally. More legitimised forms of brigandage, such as banking and lawyering don't cut it on this dapper Deco parade, but simply looking scruffy won't do either.

On the Lincoln Road open air mall on the other hand, those wanting to mingle to good effect have to accessorise themselves with a pooch. Can there be a more chucho-permissive bar culture in the world?

During the daytime on this boulevard, you have to claw your way through a miasma of recently perspired perfumes. There's plenty of mutton dressed as lamb on show, but it's mutton that can still carry off a pair of tightly-tailored lamb-sized shorts. Meanwhile, the dudes who work in the Quicksilver branch here have to be the most hilarious at any in the network.

I had an oversized lager at the local branch of the Hofbräuhaus last night. Rather worryingly the Germans at the next table mentioned Auschwitz at least three times. Miami Beach isn't quite the God's Waiting Room it was back in the 80s, but that particular place remains more than a topic of idle conversation here.


Local CNN here in the States is so much more moronic than the International version.

A particularly brain-dead reporter this morning explained why the fertisliser in the Times Square Pathfinder didn't explode. (It's non-weapons grade, but...)

She went on to outline, in surprising detail (first you do this, then you add this chemical etc.) exactly what the terrorists would need to do next time in order to achieve a really devastating Oaklahoma-style bang.

And they have the audacity to suggest that the bombers would have to be foreigners because they are so amateurish. Like Americans could never be that thick!