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: