Beijing, 4 August 2013

It was my birthday a few days ago: one year closer to my sixtieth year, that age which impelled me to start this blog; one year closer to my retirement and the end of my professional life. As the years go by, I remember ever more insistently a line from the last chapters of the book The Ocelot, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The book’s melancholy hero Don Corbera, Prince of Salina, has always seen his life as a stream that is flowing, flowing away. Now, old and sick and terribly, terribly tired, he muses that the stream has become a river, flowing ever more swiftly past. A few pages later he is dead.

Yes indeed, I think to myself on every birthday now, life does seem to whizz by ever faster as I grow older.

My wife was having none of these gloomy thoughts and philosophical musings! She arranged for a wonderful lunch in a restaurant located in an old temple buried in the maze of lanes behind Beijing’s Drum and Bell Towers.

Bell Tower

It is one of the city’s fancier restaurants, with a menu to match. To start, my wife had (I quote from the menu) “chilled asparagus soup, salmon tartar, sour cream”, while I opted for “cream soup of mussels, saffron, white wine, vegetable julienne”.  For the main course, we both chose “assorted seafood, bouillabaisse jus, aioli”. We topped it all off with a selection of cheese. The whole accompanied by a glass of French rosé wine for my wife and a glass of Spanish red wine for me. Delicious. But definitely not filling. As is the case with such restaurants, portion size was in inverse proportion to the final bill.

temple restaurant-2

temple restaurant-1

Having then spent the rest of the afternoon in the office pretending to work, I met my wife somewhere close to the Kempinski Hotel and she took me to a fancy bar for a drink. Having scanned the drinks list, we unanimously plumped for a margarita. The waitress anxiously informed us that since it was Happy Hour – buy one, get one free – we would actually get four if we ordered two. She wanted to make sure that we were aware of this. We confirmed that this was indeed the outcome we desired.


Marvelous drink, the margarita! The sweetness of the Cointreau hits the tartness of the lime juice, only discovered after breaking through the salt coating the glass’s rim; the whole covering the powerful kick of the tequila. We discovered the drink some twenty-five years ago when we were in New Mexico for a holiday. As we sat in the bar of the hotel in Santa Fe wondering idly what to drink, the barman suggested a margarita. Why not, we said. We have never looked back. Everywhere we have been, the margarita has followed us like a faithful old friend, turning up on the drinks list of just about every bar we have ever been to since.

As we drank our – four – margaritas on the terrace of the bar, we watched the evening slowly draw in over Beijing. It was a beautifully clear evening, following a beautifully clear day. Feeling a tad hungry, we ordered two bowls of noodles. After which, hand in hand, we walked slowly back home.


Bell tower:
A starter:
A main course:

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I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

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