28 December 2006

In Hell's Kitchen

Three crazy-minded girls, two recipes and a kitchen together is a bit like baking cookies successfully without a food processor: You combine, improvise, put the mix in an oven not knowing what will come out of this - and the result turns out to be entirely weird but in a good sort of way.

The whole adventure started when Stacia and I decided to engage in a transnational christmassy cookie baking night and although initially a bridging of the Austrian and US-American traditions, the underlying spirit of a competition was clearly in the air. It was the Vanillekipferl against the Chocolate Chip Cookie. Who would emerge as the winner?

Well, turned out that the champions showed some sportsmanship by joining their powers to improvise for the obstacles they encountered:

_ Lack of a food processor for the choc chips, as required by the recipe (in the US, the food processor is indispensable, since it had been invented even before the wheel)

_ Conversion from American measures to European ones:

Stacia: Shall I look up pounds or ml?
Heidi: I can work with ml. (five minutes later upon reading the reprinted recipe) 118 ml (!) of sugar???

_ The unpromising condition of the vanilla dough (Felt too fluffy, did not taste even remotely like vanillekipferl and looked like puke. The consistency was resolved by leaving it in the fridge for two nights but it still looked like puke).

The real fun came up when we were joined by Nancy in "Hell's Kitchen". Although she is finally in London, she feels like replying in French whenever someone adresses her in English.

Nancy: I talked to a conductor about hooping*, how do you say?, klaxonning**? Conductor, is that the right word? Conducteur...?
Heidi: You mean la personne qui conduit la voiture?
Nancy: Äh... nein!

(She was actually referring to so. conducting an orchestra)
*hupen = german for "to hoot"
**klaxonner = french for "to hoot"

All in all, the three of us had an enlightning night: We discovered that:

_ the Austrian equivalent of "Let's take it out!" is "Lass uns aussegehn auf die Bluatwiasn!" (provincial dialect for "Let us go outside onto the bloody meadows!")

_ the one for "rack" is "Gestell"

Stacia and I watching the choc chips in the oven.
Heidi: Look at this rack they have! I don't know why racks in Britain look like that! MY rack is much better!!!
Stacia: (erupts in laughter) "Rack" is slang for breast in English!
Heidi: Oops! But it is interesting that it is like our "Gestell" (which is slang for a woman's legs)!

_ and last but not least that German-speaking and English-Speaking people do not have the same sense of humour, thanks to a Monty Python sketch. (Can ANYONE find this funny???)

Also, we established what the Austrian national sport was:

Stacia: (explaining a joke about baseball)
Heidi & Nancy: (blank faces)
Heidi: We don't have baseball in Austria, do we?
Nancy: No, we don't.
Stacia: So what is your national sport?

Heidi: (thinks hard for 10 seconds and then says) Sackhüpfen!
Nancy: (almost falls off the chair laughing)
(For all those of you who are not Austrians: That was a misunderstanding, it is actually skiing)

At some point (to be more precise, at some point at 6am), Stacia suggested we should finish the Vanillekipferl which turned out very special because of the bang of salt in the aftertaste and the funny shapes:

The next afternoon when Nancy and I got up, Nancy reaches for a vanilla cookie and starts grinning.

Heidi: What?!
Nancy: I am having vanilla cock and boobs for breakfast!!!

Vanilla cookies rule, hehe! But Americans can do good cookies too!

26 December 2006

A long way down - a different Christmas!

The reason why I decided to stay in London over Christmas instead of spending it with my family was partly due to the fact that I wanted to experience a different Christmas for a change. Turns out, that's exactly what I got! But let me tell you my story from the beginning:

It all started when I wanted to see the annual Christmas Swimming Race in the Hyde Park Serpentine, where every year at 9am, the bravest of the bravest dive into the freezing depths (more like, shallows) for charity! Leaving a bit later than I intended at 8am (because, ironically, I was immersed in Nick Hornby's "A long way down"), I ventured for a ~ 3,5 km x 2 walk on a fresh winter morning (on Dec 25th, there is no public transport whatsoever).

So on my 1h 10 min "stroll", I didn't see more than 20 or 30 people! It was as if London was dead! Imagine! There are usually THOUSANDS of people that account for the cosmopolitan buzz of this city. I can tell you, it was creepy! It was like a ghost town! Obviously an Indian pedestrian I met on the street thought so to because he wished me a Merry Christmas, just so!

So when I arrived at the race place, it was 9.10h and the event was actually over! But I got my eyes on two amazing individuals that took the challenge (or "the Kneipp", you could maybe call it). I was admiring the swimmers in awe, the more so because one of them was probably in his 60s or 70s. I appreciate the metaphorical reference to living with handicap and I find this a very noble way of showing solidarity. Btw, is there anyone who is interested in trekking the Wall of China or one of these charity adventures in SEA?

A few impressions of the swimming race:

(The copyright to these pictures belong to the Serpentine Swimming Club)
Anyway, so when I sat down on a bench to rest while watching the participants, a trio of Frenchs passed by who were commenting on the goings-on in a cliché-like fashion, "C'est une façon de vivre!".
When I wanted to head home and got up again, I grimaced in agony: I had gotten myself several blisters and had rubbed off the skin on the sole so that it was very sensitive. I sat down again and thought: There is no public transport, I have only 25 £ for a cab (that will never get me home) and I could hardly ask any of the strangers to give me a lift (well, maybe I could have but I am not that type of person). So I decided that I should at least try to walk for a while to reduce the cab costs. It didn't hurt so much as long as I kept walking. But then I had another problem: It was so cold that I couldn't really move my jaw or feel my limbs anymore. Usually, the best remedy (and only way back) is walking, so that's what I did.

On Oxford Street, I saw not more than 50 people between Marble Arch and Tottenham Court Road (for which there was a police patrol that kept driving up and down). I receive a call from my family which kept me distracted and until I noticed it, I had walked more than half of the way already. But when I stopped for a second to figure out how to get to the other side of a street, an acute pain eruption set every mm² of my feet on fire and it was not without some hunching that I made it to a bus stop to sit down. I assessed my situation: I was maybe only ten minutes' walk away from Dinwiddy, had not enough tissue papers to relieve the pressure and friction on my feet and didn't have the number of the cab service. Half of my brain was already mapping out an emergency plan if I was to faint of hypothermia while I was on my own. My jaw didn't really open that much anymore without some conscious effort, my butt was a block of ice (typically me, I was wondering if you can get frostbite on your buttocks) and I found it very very difficult and awkward to stretch the muscles on my arms and I honestly barely managed to move my fingers to write Stacia an SMS, asking her to look up the cab service for me. The University College Hospital was maybe a 100 metres away but 1) walking was not an option 2) I found it silly to call an ambulance to pick me up from around the corner.
By that time, eight occupied cabs had passed me, as well as two groups of people that looked at me as if I was the only person in all of London not to have noticed that the doubledeckers have vanished from the streets (but only one of them pointing it out to me). Two empty cabs didn't want a job, the number wasn't working (it was a tape) and I had been waiting for half an hour already. And then, like Santa Claus with his sleigh and presents, a cab driver that pulled to the side!

He was a nice and chatty man in his 50s or 60s and revealed to me that I was like a christmas angel appearing out of nowhere with a white jacket and hood stretching out her hand, when he had been driving around for two hours without a job! I wanted to tip him (because I remembered from Orientation that cab drivers expect that and sometimes can even get quite aggressive if you "just" pay the fare and also because I was in a grateful mood) but he wanted to give me back my due cash and said that he was happy to have had someone in his cab and since I really wanted to be charitable on Christmas Day, I settled on half the tip (which was 50 p but it's the idea that counts!).

At home, I only managed to change dress, turn on the heater on max and collapse into my bed and probably would have fallen asleep the moment my head hit the pillow (I had been awake for around 20 hours), if I hadn't been concerned about the fact that I was not warming up and feeling very cold under one blanket, one shirt, two pullovers, thick socks and leg warmers. I put my hand on the heater for a while and went back to bed but the cold that was spreading through my body from my behind was really worrying me. It might have been dead or sth, so I leaned/sat on the heater for around 15 minutes until circulation and body heat came back again. Relieved that I had successfully reanimated my buttocks, I peacefully fell into a deep sleep.

Certainly a Christmas to remember!

Since the Christmas Cookies deserve their own post, more about them to follow next time!

21 December 2006

The Fun About Safety

While trying to be faster than the other 99 people in Covent Garden Station that were waiting for the lifts (the Tube runs 50-60 metres below the surface, in Vienna the underground tunnels are usually 20 metres down), I tried the stairs. - I should maybe leave this standing there because it is a joke for itself, you will find out why in a second. When I reached the top 15 minutes later, panting and having the feeling that I achieved my fitness deed for the last week, there was a sign that said, "This stair has 192 steps, please use only in an emergency situation".

This event inspired me devote a blog post on the curiosities of safety precautions that I have encountered so far and that are documented below:

This is your way out from the Tube in an emergency. I assume that a rush of adrenaline will get you up in no time:

While people are getting on and off the train there are repeated announcements to "Mind the Gap!" Sometimes, especially when the platform is bended, you have to take care not to fall into the abyss between itself and the train:

The picture above was taken a SOAS toilet cubicle (during the holidays when the building was deserted, of course). When I was new, I wondered what the hell is this strip for?? What kind of emergency are they speaking about??? The sticker reads, "Security will attend immediately on activation of this alarm. Do not activate this alarm unless you are in a emergency situation." I later found out that this is actually a rape alarm, at least for the female toilets. I wonder if they these alarms on the men's toilets too (perhaps more in case of a mugging):
Some of you might have already seen this picture, taken in a women's WC. Quite ironical, don't you think?
Last but not least (I hope you can enlarge this photo, if not tell me), Dinwiddy's restrictions on Christmas decorations. Most gravely, we are not allowed real trees! Speaking of which, I haven't seen any places where you can buy them (1) and I don't know if you can take them into the Tube (2).

18 December 2006

Follow me... to Covent Garden!

After many (too many) weeks of reading, essay writing and seclusion in my room, I took the day "off" and declared my personal OC-Day (Oyster Card Day), means that I will try to use my Oyster as a day ticket (after a certain limit, it will stop charging you more on that day) and therefore have the freedom to travel around where I like.

First Stop: Covent Garden - bustling with people as ever! No punch but lots of interesting stalls where I bought someone a present, hehe ;) Part of the reason I went there is because it is one of the most vibrant areas in London (the area - "Viertel" around the market proper is named after it) and has its own very relaxing and at the same time elating atmosphere that I tried to capture for you with my camera!

There are a lot of cool shops around, for example, Stanford's, THE place to go when you are looking for a map - any kind of map - on any region. They even have a whole shelf just for Austria and sell maps for the respective regions in the Alps (I was impressed by the selection). I bought a SEA wall map and it is a very good one, too!

Also, I saw a shop that made me think of Taschi, as it sells a cool variety of stockings and thighs in funky designs! Right opposite the Tea House where Stacia and I once picked from a selection of over 100 flavours is a tiny fair trade "café" (it is a vitrine with two chairs on the street) where I'd love to drag Taschi to (who will cross the Channel in about a week!)!

Next stop was Shaftesbury Avenue, where I popped into a vinotheque and asked, out of interest, if they sell any Austrian wines. Turns out that from the 400 or so varieties, there was ONE Grüner Veltliner from Loif-sth! I have already noticed that supermarkets fly their wines all the way from Australia, South-Africa and California instead of what grows right in front of their door. I know I am not a connoisseuse but still!

Katha and Kati will probably remember my business idea to open a book shop that specialises on fantasy, sci-fi and mangas where everyone of us specialises on one area? Guess what?! I found a shop like that, a *big* shop like that, they sell everything from collectibles over printed material to DVDs, I absolutely recomment peeping in there! It is called the Forbidden Planet.

Finally, since I haven't been in there yet and it is claimed to have one of the most extensive and valuable collections in the world, I went into the British Museum and straight for the SEA section, only, it wasn't where it was labelled to be. I asked three employees, two sent me to the current "Power and Taboo" exhibit (which is absolutely rubbish because Oceania doesn't even belong to the region) which I found quite interesting, considering that I have done a course on that at univie (it is a good feeling if you actually know about the stuff that is on display - or not - I wondered why they didn't have a kava bowl) but unfortunately, the ethnological museum in Vienna (that houses a permanent collection on the region) was closed for renovation. The third member of staff just repeated what was on the map and I kept saying, "I've just been in that room. There is nothing in there from SEA." - "What do you mean when you say SEA?" GUYS!!! I finally told him that, "I am disappointed! This is the British Museum, after all!" *sigh*

So, to reward you for reading through this long post, I will simply cover the rest with the video from the stalls within Covent Garden and some pictures in the following order: 1) antique (working!) telephones sold in the stalls 2) the underground station 3) the main court in the BM 4) the Rosetta Stone everyone pilgrimages to (I bumped into it on my search but still good to remember from physics class that the reflection angle for glass is around 42,7° => no flash light coming back!). Enjoy!!!

Living in London - Expenses

Since a lot of people have asked me over and over again what living in London actually costs, I thought about putting up some figures for you, now that I have been living here for three months and can therefore present you with the experiences I have made so far.

Student halls of residence are the cheapest thing there is, according to what I have heard, also the least complicated. Most of them are located within Central London, that is, Zone 1, ergo you can save a lot of money that you'd otherwise spend on transport. Dinwiddy costs around 100 £ per week, utilities included (I remember from SOAS's orientation meetings that people who have to pay utilities themselves were advised to use the shower in the gym if they join a sports club, not a bad idea). Needless to say, there are a zillion people out there who are competing for accomodation!

Getting around:
As I have repeatedly said, students pay 650 £ per year for transport within Zone 1 (or maybe also Zone 2). If you are unlucky enough to live in Zone 5, well... This and the dense traffic are the reasons why a lot of people just walk or risk cycling. An adult tube ticket costs 3 £ without concessions. If you have an Oyster Card (a pre-pay electronic card), travel off rush hours or complete your errands all in one day, it gets cheaper.
Buses are the cheapest options of getting around, also nation-wide. A return ticket for a bus to Edinburgh (several hundred kilometres away) for example costs around 30 £ whereas you would have to pay 22,20 £ for a return ticket for a train to Luton (not more than 50 km away)!

I have never been a shop-'til-you-drop or drink-until-you-drown person, so I will focus on shopping for necessities such as food, toiletries etc.
Well... I am a quite modest person and spend 10-20 £ per week on food. I don't feel malnourished in any way. If you compare UK to Austrian prices, you will find that the amount is usually the same, only that instead of € you pay in £. For instance, if you buy a mango for 80 pence, it costs you 80 cents in Austria or if you spend 1,30 € on onions in Austria, they will cost you 1,30 £ over here. => If you add 50 % to the Austrian price, you can roughly judge your expenses. Of course there are some places where you can go shopping for less, depending on which product you are looking for, for example the 1-Pound-Shop or China Town (for Asian food). And if you know where to look, there are a couple of cheap offers or freebies (for example, free condoms from your doctor). Loads of services are offered by your university as well and since you pay them that much, you should really take advantage of all you can get!

If you have any further questions, please post them here so everyone can profit!

14 December 2006

The Sushi Incident

Heidi says: nth to eat :( i want sushi
Stacia says: I bet there is a place that delivers?
Heidi says: mmmmhhh looking at some sites
Heidi says: 5 pounds delivery if below 25 pounds!
Stacia says: just order 25 pounds of sushi :)

Heidi says: hehe i will now order this: [link to Salmon Sushi containing Chili on the menu]
Stacia says: haha, now is that level 3 or what? [A/N: explanation given below]
Heidi says: *lol* i don't know what that chili sushi is either.
Heidi says: u want anything?
Stacia says: omg that is the one from picadilly!!! that has radiation!!
Heidi says: -( are you sure
Heidi says: (besides, that was polonium) [A/N: turns out it was Thallium]
Stacia says: uh well it's from picadilly
Stacia says: maybe they can take that and market it - now with extra raditation
Stacia says: like level 1 2 3 just like domninos :) [A/N: the level of hotness at Domino's Pizza; before you order level 3, they advise you to check your health insurance first]
Heidi says: :D
Stacia says: Ok one sec let me see if I want something

Heidi says: they don't HAVE a branch at picadilly: [link to Yellow Pages with search results]
Stacia says: [link to company press link where it says:]

"[Company name], through no fault of its own, was caught up in an international incident that achieved massive coverage in the press. As expected, all of our staff have been given the 100% all clear. As far as we know, the same applies to our customers. [Company name] is now closed and we hope to open it again in early 2007. "

Stacia says: HAHA it is that restraunt!!!
Stacia says: I was kidding but I was right
Heidi says: shit!
Stacia says: omg do you still want to order from there? I guess if it's from another branch it'll be ok
Heidi says: they didn't even mention the radiation [A/N: On the press link] ;)
Heidi says: the one for islington is another one.

So much for our Skype conversation tonight. And to comment on the food, that was the weirdest sushi I have ever ordered. Chili flakes on the salmon and chive instead of sesame or nori on the makis...

Read closely:

13 December 2006

Essays, SOAS Libe, Mor Karbasi

After weeks of procastrination, psychosomatic stress symptoms and depression, I have finally finished and handed in my essay for SEA GP. Thanks to Silvia who organised my chaos of amassed information and ideas about the "Impact of Colonialism on philippine nation-building"!!!

After the first obstacle, I am now working merrily on my two anthro essays. While I was searching in the library for relevant literature I stumbled upon such interesting titles as, "The curse - a cultural history of menstruation" (a chapter was called "Sorry hon, not today!"), "Border Fetishisms", "The body's perilious pleasures", "The red lamp of incest", "Colonialism and homosexuality" and "Conceptualising heterosexuality", right opposite Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan" and Alexis de Tocqueville. *sigh* I wish had more time to get out more of the privilege to use this library! There are so many diverse topics! As Kostas said, explaining why he never gives out study packs for Ethno SEA, "You never know what can happen if you go to the library yourself!". How right he is!

Last, but really not least, Silvia, Eva and I went to a free concert by Mor Karbasi at SOAS. The announcement on the SOAS website read:

"Mor Karbasi is a Ladino singer and song writer, mixing a variety of cultures, colours, sounds and languages into her music. Her songs are like a journey through her Moroccan-Jewish roots, with influences of Arabic, Hebrew, Jewish an Andalucian music. Both traditional and modern at the same time, her songs are sincere, heartfelt and touching."

This woman's voice is A WAHNSINN (absolutely breath-taking)!!! Great music. I haven't heard anything so enchanting in a very long time! She was accompanied by a percussionist and a guitarist. Mor herself has an enviable mastery of her voice, also I have never heard anyone singing a tremolo before! Unfortunately, she doesn't have a proper webpage but if you want to learn more about her, have a look at her myspace site (videos clips!).

08 December 2006

Essays, Exam Entries and Course Evaluation

If it is not a language course, you usually have to turn in one essay per term, around 2000-3000 words about an agreed topic. The essays count 20 % towards your final grade and if you turn it in late, you will be penalised 2 % for each working day. Means, after some time it will be useless to turn it in. Compared to Austria, things here are more formal. You have to bring two copies of your essay (in case one gets lost) to the Faculty Office (not the teacher), fill out a form and get a receipt that you have submitted it. If you have reasonable grounds that prevent you from turning in the essay in time, you can attach medical evidence etc.
In Austria, there are very few classes for which you have to write essays, at least in my course, and these were mainly descriptive essays and there are also no workshops, tutorials etc. offered on how to do these properly. Over here, you usually have to come up with a thesis and find evidence to support it, quite a challenge, believe me!

Exam Entries:
A few days ago I received an e-mail saying, "URGENT NOTICE!!! Can you imagine going to an exam and finding out that you haven't been entered for it? Please go to your Faculty Office and make sure you are registered for the right exams until [date]!" Now, being from Austria, this is actually rather funny, considering that in Vienna, you can decide up to the last minute whether you want to participate in the exam or not, as it is an event that takes place at a certain time and place and for which there is no formal registration. This of course fosters some students who never go to the lectures but pick their exams by the level of difficulty, just to collect the credits.

Course Evaluation:
In classes, you are handed out a four-page course evaluation sheet, basically, a questionnaire that is processed by computer but where you can also add a personal comment. This is something that is unnecessary in Austria where there 90 % of the universities don't require application, after the motto "Die Wissenschaft und ihre Lehre ist frei" (engraved in a wall at my college building in Austria, the quote means science and its teaching is free and has given continual questions whether the sentence is grammatically correct). But I find it a good means to give feedback to the teachers, tutors and the school that will be read seriously (well, we also pay them).

07 December 2006

Links and Uni Update

Just wanted to inform you that I have made a couple of changes to the permanent links. The features stay the same, I just subsituted the following sites:

- Leo instead of Pons as an online dictionary
- The Times instead of The Independent for the british press because their website is more clearly laid out
- The governmental site of London has been exchanged for the more touristy website that features loads of cool events and fun places!

Quick uni update while I am at it:
My first EVER argumentative academic essay (the English doesn't matter to me as much as the content) is giving me nightmares, literally. I haven't gone out in two weeks save for uni and the necessary shopping! I consider attending the procastrination workshop by the LTU, although I don't expect to hear anything that I haven't figured out myself by now. More details about the essay and essays in general are to come when it is - hopefully - finished on Friday, D-Day. *back to work*

05 December 2006

London "Coffee House Culture"

For anyone who is not familiar with Viennese Cafés, it is an intrinsic and very essential part of Viennese culture. So if you haven't heard of it now, it is high time that you read up on this!
As I was sitting today in Caffè Nero (a pseudo-italian café chain with classical music doodling in the background) near Russell Square where I usually have breakfast on Monday mornings between classes, I was struck by the very imprint the british queuing phenomena has on the way they design cafés. You have to go to the counter, order, pay and then carry your coffee to the table yourself. It certainly has elements of fast food gastronomy. Even if you find yourself in one of the hidden small cafés, you always have to queue up at the counter. *shaking head*
In Vienna, we don't just "quickly drown a cup of coffee". Going to a Viennese Cafe is like a ritual, drinking coffee is like drinking vine, there is an air of nobility and grandness, a whole set of rules how a proper "Mélange" is made and served, a list of different coffees for the connoisseur/se and what is necessary to convey to the flair of a bygone age (OK, I might have gotten carried away but it is true!).
The pictures show the difference!
Another thing that I realised is that I haven't seen many bakeries so far, where you can buy fresh bread and sweet pastries or whatever they are called over here. Maybe because white toast needs to be manufactured? Probably, it's just not part of the british diet. This problem gives me a head ache every time I try to buy a snack that is not 1) sandwich, 2) wrap or 3) panini. At least I have found black bread, not the one with the grains but the "normal" one, in a big american-style supermarket. Yay! Just this one variety, lying lonely in a basket near to shelves upon shelves of different styles of toast. *sigh*

02 December 2006

William Rodriguez, Aids Day and SEA party

William Rodriguez:
20 years' janitor of the North Tower of the WTC and who was "the last person that left the building before it collapsed" was invited by the SOAS Open Mind Society for a talk. A short excerpt of the announcement e-mail will clarify who he is.
"On 9/11, Rodriguez single-handedly rescued fifteen persons from the WTC, and as Rodriguez was the only person at the site with the master key to the North Tower stairwells, he bravely led firefighters up the stairwell, unlocking doors as they ascended, thereby aiding in the successful evacuation of unknown hundreds of those who survived. Rodriguez, is believed to be the last person to exit the North Tower alive, surviving the building's collapse by diving beneath a fire truck."

He was made a national hero, his testimony was heard in the 9/11 Commission but not included in the final report. Rodriguez now tours the world to voice his (conspiration) theory about "what really happened". He says he lives off donations for the DVD he sells (he signs them by default and lets people take pictures with him). I've got one where he holds practically the same speech at another event. If anyone's interested, let me know. You can also have a look at his website. His talk was very interesting, however, I don't think it appropriate to make a show out of it.

World Aids Day:
People were asked to wear red and/or to donate by purchasing the red ribbon. I wish I hadn't erased that e-mail, then I could tell you for sure that the Charity Society was organising this. I found the idea to wear sth read ingenious and there were actually quite some people who showed their solidarity!

SEA Party:
After the Rodriguez event I went to the party by the SEA department. Burmese food and music (with traditional instruments) and a lot of wine (some packed in bags which I find quite "uncivilised" as an Austrian *g*) - that's the setting. After a heatful debate about how glad the Germans and I actually are NOT to be of the same country (and of the Germans not to be from the same states within their country), we were joined by a rich guy from Kuwait (whose father is negotiating energy in Frankfurt at the moment and who told us that his peers are so spoilt that they go to uni six years after they graduate) who embarassed Silvia to no end and a Russian-but-grown-up-elsewhere-around-Europe who I was left alone with and who was having problems understanding my repeated (subtle at first, later rather clear) messages that I did NOT want to go somewhere else with him after that evening! I even had to call upon help from Mischa (a GERMAN, of all people! *lol*) to "rescue" me by engaging me in conversation! I just hope that Alexej will have had more Vodka than memory...