Squirrel's Secret Spot 13: Sagrada Familia

on Wednesday, January 28, 2009

This post was meant to be my second post about Barcelona, Spain but I reconsidered because the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família deserves to be part of the Squirrel's Secret Spot series (for the others, look for "Secret Spots" in my topics panel on the right column). I have been fortunate to visit this place twice and would love to visit again in another 5 years or so as it gets closer to completion. Yes, this cathedral which began construction in 1882 is still an on-going work.

More commonly called the Sagrada Familia, it was designed to be the Temple of the Holy Family. The main architect which has been responsible for the vision and design which is Sagrada Familia was the eccentric genius, Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). He worked on the project for 40 years and most of the design which is being carried out even today is based on his drawing and plans. The current director for the project, Jordi Bonet i Armengol, has introduced computers to help with the design and construction work since 1980. While this has sped up the work, it has made for cleaner modernistic lines which while are beautiful in their own way, cannot compare with the original work of art which was Gaudi's work. This can be clearly seen by comparing the wonderfully complex and creative Nativity facade by Gaudi and the more modern interpretation as represented by the Passion facade.

In my opinion, this should be on the list of modern Wonders of the World. This was obviously the ultimate work of a passionate and visionary artist. When I look at it I am awestruck and find it difficult to take in all the creativity, craftsmanship and symbolism. Parts of the building seem almost organic in nature; like a living growing organism. Some parts resemble giant works of sculpture rather than a functioning building. This monument in worship of God is truly awesome.

The only way to really enjoy this building is to visit it yourself. I hope you will have that opportunity to do so. For now, please enjoy my humble video.

video

Have An Ox-picious Year

on Sunday, January 25, 2009

HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR!!!!!!



The Lone Grey Squirrel is upset that the Chinese Zodiac does not include, well, squirrels. However, he will not dwell on this glaring oversight because that is just the graciousness you would come to expect from the Squirrel. Instead, he will make predictions for the coming years at the expense of all the other animals. Without further ado, here are Squirrel Sifu's predictions.

2009 (Ox) - Normally, one would be tempted to say that during the Year of the Ox, we might expect that there will be a Bull Run on the stock Exchange. However, given the global economic depression, it would not be wise to predict such a thing. So instead, perhaps it is sufficient to say that this will be an Ox-picious year, if for nothing else but as the start of President Obama's period in Ox-fice.

2010 (Tiger) - This will be a great year cause it is my year and I have waited a long 12 years for it to come round again. Obviously, it will be a TIGER-rific year. It will be a good year to organise parties and large social events as everyone will have a roaring good time.

2011 (Rabbit) - The wild socialising of the previous year will lead to a huge baby boom this year which is most appropriate for the Year of the Rabbit. On the economic front, some Hare-Brained investment schemes will leave many people hopping mad.

2012 (Dragon) - Further economic problems lead to draconian belt-tightening measures. On the romance front, ladies frequenting nightclubs and bars must be especially careful of lounge lizards who tend to be particularly active this year.

2013 (Snake) - Obviously, this is a year to be careful of snake-oil salesmen with forked tongues. The best way to survive this year is to keep low to the ground.

2014 (Horse) - The economy will have finally turned the corner and the stock market will gallop to new highs. However in the rush and euphoria, try to make sure you are not trampled in the stampede. Ladies, this is a good year for Mare-trimony; so start lasso-ing and corralling your stallions.

2015 (Sheep) - Another good year with the economy charging ahead but the Government will raise taxes to fleece the new found wealth of the nouveau rich. Beware of a greater chance of locking horns with family members and its ram-ifications. A good year for insomniacs (think about it or rather, count on it).

2016 (Monkey) - After two terms under President Obama, the political mood swings and unfortunately a monkey is returned as President. In world news, U.N. observers will declare that there was wide-spread monkey business during elections in a South American banana republic.

2017 (Rooster) - A good year to increase your brood. For many, this year will be a wake-up call to the hardships caused by global Warming. Erratic weather make it difficult for farmers to scratch a living. If you work hard though, you'll have something to crow about before the end of the year.

2018 (Dog) - It will be a tough bitch of a year as businesses fight over a smaller pie. A prominent politician will be dogged by allegations of corruption and the FBI will eventually collar him.

2019 (Pig) - Good times come rolling in but once again the political porkers will dip into the national trough. Health issues arise from excessive pigging out by the masses.

2020 (Rat) - We come full cycle to my cousin the Rat and so does the economy. How bad will it be? Let's just say that you can see the rats as they abandon the sinking corporate ships. Do not share secrets with colleagues this year. Unfortunately, they will rat on you.

All these predictions are given free and so there is no guarantee given that they will come true. For more detailed and accurate personal predictions, contact the Squirrel at squirrelseesall.com. The more you pay, the more accurate the predictions. This is called the Gross Prophet Margin.

Operating on a Jackfruit

on Saturday, January 17, 2009



If there is one thing that squirrels are experts in, it is fruits and nuts. On that pretext, I would like to introduce you readers to the Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus). This is the largest tree borne fruit in the world which is why this squirrel is all excited about it. It can grow up to a meter in length and can weigh as much as 36 kg (80lbs).

The fruit contains within it scores of fleshy pulp covered seeds. It is this fleshy pulp that is eaten. It has a firm texture, has a strong fruity aldehyde smell, mild flavour and is sugary sweet. This fruit is probably native to the Indian sub-continent but is also found in Malaysia. The young fruit is also used in making curries.

Obtaining the edible pulp requires some know-how however. The problem is that the fruit exudes a latex that is both sticky and an irritant. Therefore certain precautions and procedures need to be followed, for example, wearing gloves. The knife used to cut the fruit should also be wiped with vegetable oil before use. This stops the latex from gumming up the knife.

There is still no way to send taste and flavour over the internet so for the time being, you will have to take my word for it that it is great or you can go look for the fruit and try it yourself. (calling all nerds, there's money to be made if tastes and flavours could be sent my internet. Get cracking on it!)

However, through the magic of video, I will share with you the trauma and drama of operating on a Jackfruit to harvest the delicious pulp. Be warned this original Lone Grey Squirrel Video is not for the squeamish!


video

Barcelona Uno

on Sunday, January 11, 2009

Barcelona is an amazing place. I had the good fortune of staying there for about two weeks last year while on work assignment and I used what free time I had (which was not that much) to explore and experience this vibrant city.

It may not be a particularly financially rich city when compared to other European economic powerhouses but it is rich in many other ways. It is blessed with a location on the Mediterranean Sea on Spain's north-eastern coast. It has a rich history, both as the heart of the people of Catalonia as well as its importance to modern Spain. The Catalonians are proud of their own history and they remain distinct from the rest of Spain even today with their own language and significant autonomy.

From this city, many artistic geniuses emerged. Pablo Picasso spent his early life here and his art was influenced by fellow Catalan artists. The Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso)is currently housed in several converted medieval palaces in old town Barcelona. Other modern art greats include the artists Joan Miro and Antoni Tapies.

The city is also rich in architectural heritage. It has its ancient wonders and its modern wonders co-existing side by side. The old town that became rich at the time of the Spanish discovery of the New World remains largely intact with wonderfully romantic, narrow cobbled streets with fascinating buildings from that era appearing at regular intervals like jewels on a crown. The new buildings are innovative, daring and striking. However, the highlight must be the work of one man whom experts consider as being on the knife edge between inspired genius and insanity but whose buildings are awe-inspiring works of art; Antoni Gaudi.

Food is another good reason to spend some time here. It has a great selection of the food from all regions of Spain. The seafood is of course particularly fresh and spectacular. Tapas of all descriptions are waiting to be discovered in quaint little bars within historical buildings. Of course, there is paella, the quintessential Spanish rice dish flavored with saffron. This is the place to try it.

The city also has a sporting history and legacy. It hosted the 1992 Olympic Games and the Olympic facilities remain impressive. I am not a soccer fan but if you were, then the home base of the Barcelona Football Club would be a pilgrimage site.

I found it a great place to wander about and just about everywhere you can go, you will be within a few steps of art, culture, great architecture, history and good food. The beer wasn't too bad either. Over the next few weeks, I shall be posting more specifically on some sights and sounds of Barcelona. Suffice to say that Barcelona is now the latest addition of a very short list of cities that I have for cities that I would not mind visiting again......and possibly again.

ARCHITECTURE


All Pictures by LGS. Clockwise from upper left: a) Decorated Building,
b) Old Bull Ring, c) Sagrada Familia (Cathedral), d) Artwork on building on La Rambla
e) Monument to Columbus and f) the modern office building, Torre Agbar.


HISTORY & CULTURE

All Pictures by LGS. Clockwise from upper left: a) relaxing at Park Guell,
b) replica of the Catalan flagship Galley at the pivotal Battle of Lepanto in 1571, c) food on sale at the Mercat La Boqueria, d) Spontaneous dancing of the Sardana,
e) Decorated shop along La Rambla and f) the cobbled streets of the old town.


NIGHTLIFE

All Pictures by LGS. Clockwise from upper left: a) Seafood Paella,
b) Monument to Columbus, c) The Meditteranean coast, near the Forum,
d) fresh grilled seafood, e) a Flamenco Tablao and f) the waterfront.

Wasn't Me

on Thursday, January 08, 2009


WASN'T ME!!!!!


Incomprehensible Gaza

on Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A few days ago, my wife and I was enjoying our year end holidays. We woke up to a beautiful morning, totally relaxed. As we lazed about and had breakfast, we watched some TV news. The big news was the Israeli ground incursion into Gaza.

As we watched, we saw videos of the nervous Israeli troops as they wait impatiently at the border before they crossed into Gaza. We listened to the Israeli spokesperson explain so logically why Israel had to go in to stop the Hamas from firing rockets at her citizens. In between mouthfuls of cold cereal, we were next shown some early photos of the human casualties in Gaza.

What a contrast! Even as we were enjoying our Sunday morning in safety and peace, we felt for the people of Gaza. I could imagine how different that Sunday was for them. Instead of lazing around, I imagine so many families were cowering in fear. I could imagine parents virtually crushed under the weight of worry and fear as they wonder what they could do to protect their children. I tried to understand what it would feel like to face the threat of an invading army with no place to run.

I can understand why the Palestinians are so desperate and why they might support an extremist group like Hamas. What is there left to resort to if all you have known is injustice, humiliation and hopelessness for your family?

I don't agree with Hamas' terrorism, extremism and hatred. Yet, I can understand why many do.

I can understand why Israel feels righteous in taking action against Hamas to protect her citizens.

But children are dying. Good, innocent people are dying. Is this what Hamas wants for its people? What are they fighting for if not for their people? Then, how can they maintain their futile arrogant stance when it costs their people so much? Do Israelis really believe their children have more rights to live compared to Palestinian children?

Children are being killed, being allowed to be killed and the world is not taking any steps to stop the slaughter. This I cannot ccomprehend.

Let not the sins of the fathers be suffered upon the children.

Not a Good Start

on Sunday, January 04, 2009



IS TO STOP PROCRASTINATING!


Oh, and may I take this opportunity to wish you all a belated "Happy New Year's" greeting.

Last Raid on RAAF Georgetown (Part 2)

on Friday, January 02, 2009


Forty unsupervised thirteen year olds on a road trip to a tropical island may sound like a license to unlimited fun (or a passport to disaster,depending on your point of view) but even in those circumstances, there were chores.

To save money, we cooked some of our meals at the old mansion where we were staying. Now we actually handled that very well without much problem. However, we were unsure of the quality of the tap water at the old building for drinking. As a precaution, we followed the standard practice of boiling the water and allowing it to cool before drinking.

Here lies the problem; it was a lot of work to provide drinking water for forty, active,sports-playing kids. Our daily drinking water requirement was at least 80 liters. We had two large kettles that could boil about 4 liters each. That allowed us to boil 8 liters of water at a time. The problem was that it took about 20 minutes to boil the water each time. That meant that we had to had someone on duty boiling water continuously for almost four hours each day. Also the water would be too hot to drink immediately and we had to wait at least two hours for it to cool down to room temperature. We tried this for the first two days but found it difficult since none of us wanted to waste so much time on water duty when there were places to go to and games to play.

We had a crisis meeting on the morning of the third day. The meeting was short but boisterous. However, we all agreed that we could not go on with our current water boiling schedules. We also agreed that there was a simple solution to this water crisis. We were aware that there was an abundant of water coolers within the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Centre and there never seemed to be anyone around most of the time. We also knew there was a no trespassing sign at their entrance at the base of the hill. However, we concluded that the simple solution would be to obtain water from the base and that the "no trespassing" order did not apply to thirteen year olds.

And so, we collected all the available water containers we had (fortunately most of us had water bottles that could hold at least 1.5 liters) and a raiding party of twenty of us boldly set off down the hill along the front road. We entered the base unchallenged and soon found that there was a water cooler providing sweet, cold water almost every 100m within the complex of buildings. It took less than 10 minutes for us to fill our containers and we retreated up the hill without any incident. We celebrated with a drink of icy cold water back at the old mansion.

We did this twice a day for the next few days. Not every expedition was without incident. On some occasions, we had encounters with some of the Australian soldiers. Mostly, we pretended not to understand English and boldly walked away but at least one pair was collared by a couple of military police and warned not to come back.

On the second last day of our stay, we found a notice had been delivered to us at the old mansion. It was a letter from the RAAF authorities informing us that the base was out of bounds and that stern action would be taken against us if we were caught in it again. This really shook us up and that night we made no raid.

However, on the last day, after we spent a whole day out, we came back in the early evening and were too tired and lazy to go through the water boiling process and so we ignored the danger and plotted our last raid on RAAF Georgetown.

The Plan
We decided on some changes in our raiding plan. We split ourselves into the HQ Team, the Recon Team and the Raiding Party.

At 1900 hours, Recon Team consisting of four of our guys would walk down the road towards the main RAAF base entrance. On the way down, they would look for sign of activity in the building complexes as they past them on the right. If they see no threatening activity like secuirty patrols, they were to flash their torchlight three times. If they subsequently saw any activity that may jeapordise the operation, they were to flash the torchlight continuously and run back up the hill.

The HQ team would sit at the top of the hill and watch for the signal from the Recon Team. Upon seeing the signal, they would signal the message to the Raiding Party who were waiting at the other end of the hill top to begin the mission. Should the Recon Team signal danger, the HQ team was to alert the Raiding Party by means of ringing a bell we found at the old mansion and by dispatching two runners.

The Raid

The signal was given to start and we proceeded down the dark covered staircase which would bring us to the back of the RAAF base. There were twenty of us in the Raiding Party and we each had at least two water containers and we were also equipped with about 8 torchlights. The covered staircase was very dark but we decided not to use the torchlights because that would make us more visible. Instead we went down using the side of the stairs to guide us and keeping a hand on the sholder of the one in front of us.

We suffered a few falls, missteps and also a few wounds from the thorns of the weeds growing at the side of the stairs but we made it to the
highest level of the RAAF complex buildings. On the way down, we could hear what sounded like about 50 Australian soldiers practicing Tae Kwan Do. Even though we could not tell where they were exactly, it was clear that there were personnel active within the base and we had to be careful.

The next stage was for us to move out in teams of two and seek out 10 water coolers which are located every 100 meters along these rows of buildings. While the buildings were in darkness, the corridors were brightly lit with no cover whatsoever.

We fanned out to our objectives like a well trained commando troop with the exception of one team that dropped their metal pot with a loud clang! We all immediately retreated to the darkness of the staircase and waited there with pounding hearts. But there was no response from the enemy and after another 5 minutes, the operation resumed.

Four of us went for a pair of water coolers located about 200 meters from the staircase and began to fill up our containers. We were about 10 minutes into the operation when suddenly, the lights came on in the room behind the water coolers. We were startled, a quick look showed shadowy movement throught the louvered windows. We quickly collected our water containers and we scuttled away and just in time. Almost immediately after we left, we could see the louvered windows open as if someone was trying to see if anything was going on.

We fell back to another group further down the corridor to warn them but before we reached them, the lights in the room near them also came on. When we looked down to the next row of buildings, we saw lights coming on all over the place. Our boys began to scuttle back to the staircase. As we rushed silently along, we suddenly heard the bell ring from the top of the hill. With that all attempt at stealth was abandoned. All twenty of us ran as fast as we could back to the staircase, our feets pounding on the cement corridors.

We heard some shouting but did not look back. When we reached the staircase, we did a quick head count and when we were satisfied all were present, we started up the lightless staircase. Initially, we kept our torchlights off as according to plan and proceeded up the same way as we came down. I was quite proud at how cool all of us were.

That did not last, however. Suddenly we hear movement in front of us and that was scary in the pitch darkness. Our leader shone his torchlight ahead and to our collective horror, we saw the pack of wild dogs snarling at us and blocking our way. What followed next was pure pandemonium. Our leader bravely yelled, "Run! Everyone for himself!" and that is exactly what we did. There was a lot of noise. Dogs barking. Dogs growling. Boys yelling. The sound of running. Sound of falling. Some tripping over the dogs. Dogs yelping. Torchlight beams were swaying violently all over. Possibly if you had really good hearing, you could hear a few curses and a few prayers.

It seemed like an eternity but we were clear of the gauntlet of dogs within a franctic minute. We made it to the top of the stairs and back into the light. The HQ party was there with sticks to keep the dogs at bay. We quickly retreated to the downstairs kitchen where we finally were able to laugh away the adrenaline in our systems. Mission accomplished. We had forty water containers of cool water. Casualties were few; some with thorn injuries, others with bruises and one who had a bad scrape on his knee.

As a precaution against a counterstrike, we had an all-lights blackout for an hour to try to fool the Aussies into thinking we were not in or that we asleep. When the Aussies did not appear, we returned to our merry making with a great deal of boasting and teasing of our individual roles in the great last raid on RAAF Georgetown.


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