Archive for September, 2002

Sep 29 2002

Nearly Over

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Well, the trip is pretty much over. Tomorrow I go to a hotel near Heathrow to spend the night, since I have to be at the airport at 6 am on Tuesday morning and to do this from Wimbledon, I’d have to be out the door by 4:30 am and I’m just not man enough for that. I almost certainly never will be.

Time itself has blurred by weirdly these past three weeks. I feel like I’ve been here forever, but I haven’t stayed in one place for more than 3 or 4 days, so I’ve been living out of a suitcase, which is always slightly unsettling. And I always seem to be waiting for or on a plane or train or sitting in traffic. I feel like that line from the Talking Heads song “The Big Country”: “I’m tired of traveling/I want to be somewhere.”

I’m mostly packed. I had to borrow a garment bag and an extra suitcase to bring back all of Dad’s things, including awkward stuff like paintings. Went through an entire roll of bubble wrap and had to buy more to finish insulating everything. About the only thing not in my bags is the 250 year old, 7 foot tall grandfather clock, which will be crated up and shipped to me. Couldn’t find a bag big enough for that one.

There are compensations to having all this baggage. I used to do it with one carry-on bag, but knowing that I have bags to check and room to spare have given me carte blanche with respect to shopping, so I have been as acquisitive as a magpie all over Europe. Today, I spent the sabbath worshipping Suzy style at the shops in Kingston on Thames, where Kings were crowned in ancient days (and when they say ancient around here, they mean it: these were Kings in the year 900). Now it’s the best place for retail therapy near Wimbledon.

So that’s pretty much it. At the tail end of a long and exhausting trip, both emotionally and physically. My bags are in the hall, the essence of my father distilled down to a few beautiful objects, my mind looking forward to getting home and back to the halcyon days when Dad and I would have been making a special dinner and breaking out the really good wines, planning our next visit together. I think he would be pleased with the things I have done on this trip and how I did it. I just wish he was here to tell me himself.

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Sep 27 2002


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OK, here’s what’s been happening in the eon and a half since I have updated you on the Adventures of Suzy in Europe:

1. Got to Amsterdam and back in one piece. We went EasyJet, and although I have heard lots of complaints about them – all after I had already bought the tickets, of course – the flights left on time and arrived early. Finally, something I have no complaints about. Imagine.

Great to see my old friend Alice and to take my niece Cat and her friend Claudia around such a fabulous town. I have been to Amsterdam a few times, so it was fun to see the place through the new eyes of the girls, and I think they very much enjoyed having a local guide. It was shopping boot camp, as Alice took us to all the cool stores, including the fun and useful Condomerie and lots of great street markets. Ego boost: everyone took Cat and me for sisters.

We had dinner at the fashionable and gorgeous Inez, which is owned by Alice’s downstairs neighbor. The food was exquisite, and I don’t know which view was better: the city lights through the huge windows, or the guests coming and going to the private party hosted upstairs by the gay swimming team.

The girls had a blast, and it was great to see Alice again. There’s nothing like your really old friends, ones who have known you and loved you more than half your life. Especially when you consider the horrible fashions of the late seventies to mid-80’s. *shudder*

2. Discovered that Cat is not cartographically challenged, like her aunt Suzy and mother Beth. Beth drove, Cat navigated, and after the requisite 3 hours we arrived at the University of Bournemouth, where Cat is studying television production. Further ego boosting as I was continually taken for a student. Will have to declare ego as excess baggage.

It was hard to leave Cat there, even though she is a smart, strong, independent girl who can – and does – take care of herself. But for Beth, her only daughter won’t be living at home ever again, and is now taking her first steps on her own as an adult. And for her aunt, the daughter she never had is now an adult, out on her own. We all got all choked up in the parking lot. So un-English. Congrats, baby, and have some damn fun, ‘K?

3. Started sorting through and packing up my father’s things to bring home. I really might have to declare excess baggage for this one. I am also running out of time, since I have to spend Monday night at Heathrow before my boring and terrifying flight home on Tuesday. B&T not lessened by the knowledge that my mother will be there when I get home, living in my living room until her things arrive and she can move into her new apartment in Petaluma. Eeek. Also John might just greet me at the door holding nothing but divorce papers, after the hell of dealing with my family and their many crises during my long absence. Note to self: bring English candy and chips for John in an attempt to stave off divorce.

4. Took time off from sorting and fretting to sneak up to Town today and visit Kensington Palace, birthplace of Queen Victoria and London home of Princess Diana. In honor of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, there is a special exhibit of wedding dresses worn by Queens for the past century, including the present Queen’s, her mother’s, and Queen Victoria’s. Really charming. Also displayed are splendid gowns from the early years of the Queen’s reign, and some of Princess Diana’s, too. So it was an enjoyably frivolous day. But now, back to work!

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Sep 27 2002

Love/hate: Inside Coffee vs. Outside Coffee

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Love/hate for Friday, September 27, 2002
Inside Coffee vs. Outside Coffee

I firmly believe that there are two kinds of people: inside coffee drinkers, and outside coffee drinkers. I’m an inside coffee drinker myself, and I just can’t understand those outside coffee drinkers at all.

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is stumble out to the kitchen and put on the kettle. The cats would like me to feed them first, but no. They have to wait until the kettle is on and the coffee is ground, waiting in its little French press. The coffee is always Caffe Trieste mocha java. No exceptions. It’s caffeine perfection. Just pour it in a cup and I’m done. No pollutants like cream or sugar to come between me and the coffee of bliss.

When the coffee is ready, I take it and my toast back to bed and read while consuming them. Then, and only then, am I able to face the horrors of contact lenses, make-up, getting dressed, and other necessary tasks for a civilized girl before unleashing herself on general society. I realize this means that I’m addicted to the caffeine (thanks to that summer in France when I was 17 and first developed a taste for coffee), but I feel it’s OK because I only have one cup a day. And otherwise, I have such a Puritan life: no liquor, no card playing, no dancing. Well, hardly ever, as the immortal Gilbert & Sullivan would say.

But the outside coffee drinkers…now, they are apparently able to do all these things without benefit of caffeine. They can get out of the house and practically all the way to work uncaffeinated. If you can do that, you don’t need the coffee. Or you don’t need it bad enough, my friend. Yet these people go to one of the five Starbuck’s on the block nearest their place of work and spend an outrageous amount of money on a drink they apparently don’t even need. I will never, ever get it.

I’m not saying that I’m completely immune to the considerable charms of having coffee in outdoor caf&eacutes, particularly in Paris or pretty much anywhere in Italy. It’s a wonderful way to people watch or allow one’s feet to recover from the joys of the Uffizi, for example. When in Rome, etc. But at home, I need coffee before I can even think about facing the day. I’m an inside coffee girl.

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Sep 21 2002

Planes, trains & automobiles

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Did I mention that my stepmother and I took the train down to visit our friends in Suffolk? We were both completely fed up with driving, on motorways and country lanes and anything else in between. The train was definitely less annoying than driving – I do think travelling by train is about the most pleasant way to go anywhere. But (I have one for almost every occasion) it took 3 hours. It seems it takes 3 hours to get just about anywhere. In this case, we took the Underground to the end of the line, changed to a different line, got on one train and then, yes, changed and got on another one. However, I wasn’t homicidal at the end or scared during the process.

Today, it’s more planes, trains & automobiles. Hired car to Gatwick, terrifying plane ride to Amsterdam, train into the actual city, where we (me, my niece Cat, and her friend Claudia) will be met by my old friend Alice. Friend from high school days, former model, and current math PhD. What’s not to love? Oh, and the whole thing will take, yeah, about 3 hours.

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Sep 20 2002

Love/hate: Royalty

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Love/hate: Royalty

Though I am an American and glad of it, I am also half-English, thanks to my English father and the several generations before his. Because of this, I have spent a fair amount of time in England, and know the Kings and Queens going back to William the Conqueror. I have views on Richard III (he didn’t smother the Princes in the Tower) and Charles I (how could they have executed such a man?). I taped all BBC coverage of the Queen Mother’s Lying in State and Funeral and cried through the whole thing. Not only did I watch Princess Diana’s wedding and funeral (more weeping), but I visited her family home the year after her untimely and tragic death. Royalty, even by marriage or association, fascinates me.

I think of history, and the English monarchy’s history in particular, as a very entertaining soap opera. I personally believe that history is essentially gossip similar to that found in the National Enquirer. None of those involved are around to comment on events directly, and the version of events we now have has been passed down by generations and has been changed by the prevailing political climates. You have well-known scandals like Henry VIII and his unfortunate wives; Jane Grey, who was Queen for 9 days and executed at the age of 16; Victoria, the longest-reigning monarch so far, whose grief at the loss of her beloved Consort, Prince Albert, was the obsession of her life (she had his clothes laid out and shaving water brought to his room every day after his death until her own, and wore deep mourning for the rest of her life); Edward VIII, who famously gave up his throne after reigning less than a year for “the woman he loved”; and of course, the present Queen’s family. She and her parents have led scandal-free lives, but that has more than been made up for by her sister and children.

But it’s not so much the scandal as the history and tradition that appeal to me. I love the pageantry and the connection to the past, going back thousands of years, that the monarchy represents. It doesn’t matter how little political power the Queen has. What does matter is her dedication to her people as Head of State, a lifetime commitment she took on at the youthful age of 24 and a duty she has performed tirelessly, in the face of personal crises and public criticism. I think she has been greatly touched by the outpouring of emotion accompanying her Golden Jubilee celebrations this year (the first since Victoria’s in 1887) and the public support and affection following the loss of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret in what should have been one of the happiest years of the Queen’s life.

I don’t know what the future holds for the House of Windsor, but I hope that the monarchy is never abolished and the tradition and ceremony continue.

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Sep 19 2002

Mythical Food

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Another thing Americans who have never actually visited England (but think they know all about it anyway) think is that the food is terrible. Well, it’s not. During and immediately after WWII, sure. Now, no. Some of the best and most memorable meals I have ever eaten have been on this island (the Walnut Tree in Wales, the River Caf&eacute and the Tate restaurant spring to mind immediately), including last night.

Seckford Hall is completely gorgeous. It appeared in the twilight absolutely breathtaking on its emerald green grass (non-surprising factoid: grass is grown here as a crop and sent to grass deprived places for golf courses and so on). It has a perfect Elizabethan facade and the interior has been beautifully preserved while converting it to modern and luxurious use.

My cousins, Les and Nadine, who took me to dinner at this lovely place, are also beautifully preserved and look even better than they did last year. They are one of the happiest couples I have ever met, and it’s a joy to be around them. Their warmth, humor, and pleasure in each other and in life itself spill over onto whoever is with them. It was a wonderful evening, and the food was perfect, as was the service.

One of our party decided to have an after-dinner cigarette and the staff tried very hard to dissuade her from going out into the night instead of sitting in a comfortable chair beside the fire, for example. When she had finally convinced them that she truly preferred to go outside, the comfortable chair was placed on the lawn for her convenience and removed when she was finished. Now that’s service. If that’s what having servants is like, I’m all for it. I really have to work harder on being idle rich (since I’m a Gemini, that sentence is completely logical).

The week I have spent here so far has been a sort of food and wine orgy, and very unlike my puritanical existence at home, where I drink spring water, eat only twice a day, and walk miles up and down hill and my greatest indulgence is a cup of black coffee first thing in the morning. The dinners we had at the Nobody Inn were superb. Then there was Seckford Hall, and today we had lunch at a charming place in Aldeburgh, Suffolk called The Lighthouse, where I had fresh local crab dressed with herb mayonnaise and a salad with grilled duck and a vinaigrette made of fresh raspberries and lime juice. And I’m supposed to have dinner? As soon as I get home, I’m going to detox. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy myself.

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Sep 18 2002

Sutton Hoo

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When I told people in vacation-deprived America that I was going to England for three weeks, they all thought it was a long time to spend in such a small place. After they finished marvelling at the extravagance of time spent, they’d say things like, “You’ve been there before – you must have seen it all by now.” I don’t think even the most dedicated person, even one with the assistance of amphetamines and with limited sleep, could “see everything.” Have any of you residents of his sceptred isle seen it all? And you do realize I was kidding about the road thing, right?

Another thing that’s so great about England is that almost everything is older than me, and I love that. Today’s examples of things older than Suzy: Sutton Hoo, where I spent the day, and Seckford Hall, where I’m having dinner with my cousin Les and his wife Nadine.

Sutton Hoo was the burial place of warriors and kings during the 600’s, and is also believed to be a place of execution and burial a few years later. The famous ship buried there, with its wonderful helmet and exquisitely crafted treasure, most likely was the grave of one of the earliest kings of England, Raedwald. It is a fascinating and mystical place, and I like it that we don’t fully understand everything about it. I guess scholars would love to know more about our ancestors and their beliefs, and so would I in some ways, but in others I like it that we haven’t been able to dissect everything and reduce it to scientific facts and figures.

As I walked these burial mounds with dozens of other visitors who were laughing and talking, I thought we should all show more respect in memory of the people killed and summarily dumped in shallow graves; a king who united his people for the first time; the warrior and his faithful horse, now always together; the graves of men, women and children who lived, loved and worked under the same blue Suffolk sky more than 1,000 years ago. How many years have to pass before this reverence is no longer expected and a place of bereavement and suffering can become a tourist attraction?

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Sep 17 2002

English traffic

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OK, so England has a real traffic problem. Although it’s pretty much the size of Pennsylvania, it takes a million years to get anywhere. That’s probably why the Empire, once one quarter of the globe, has shrunk to the size of, well, Pennylvania. It took them too damn long to get to wherever they were supposed to be defending the Empire.

It seems to work one of two ways to a girl used to the wide open spaces of the US of A.

1. The quaint country lanes, winding their way through the beautiful English countryside. These are something in the nature of the gorgeous girl who looks so great at first but then turns out to be a psycho or deeply stupid, thereby completely negating what were formerly irresistible charms. The lanes, too, look great, and you think, “How nice and relaxing to drive on these lanes which have been here for centuries instead of on a soulless freeway.”

But the lanes have these really high hedges on both sides which make it impossible to see what is around the corner. So you have to drive sloooooowly. It’s like driving in football time. You know how the clock in football says 20 minutes left in the game, and two hours later it says 15 minutes left? Same thing. Signpost says 5 miles to the destination, and it takes you an hour to get there, assuming that signpost wasn’t something put up to confuse potential invaders in WWII and left there either out of an evil sense of humor to mess with those tourists who shouldn’t be there in the first place, or because they just forgot about it and never changed it, in the same way that the letter of the law still says you can be hanged, drawn, and quartered Braveheart style for damaging the Great Wall of York, though hardly anyone ever is. And assuming that the signpost doesn’t say Exeter in every possible direction.

I had a revelation on Saturday that Lewis Carroll really wasn’t all that clever in making up that part in “Through the Looking Glass” where the road Alice is following keeps coming back to the same place and not where she was trying to go. He just observed it, he didn’t invent it.

2. The parking lots that are supposed to be freeways, or some form of highway. These would be your motorways or A roads. You get stuck on them as long as the country lanes, though unlike the country lanes, which give you the illusion of getting somewhere, you sit there endlessly and get nowhere. Probably one of the well-known rooms in hell. Really, really surprising that the murder rate isn’t higher, though come to think of it, that may be why they banned guns here in the first place. They wouldn’t be drive by shootings, they’d be canned hunts.

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Sep 16 2002

Wimbledon Waystation

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Back in Wimbledon briefly after a long weekend in Devon. On the way, we passed Stonehenge, which appeared dramatically out of nowhere on Salisbury Plain. It was surrounded by golden fields, where the hay had been harvested into big rolls rather than the typical rectangular American bales, and where sheep were contentedly grazing, careless of the ancient history and mysticism of the spot. I understand that it now has a fence around it and gift shops, etc., so I’d rather remember it in the pre-fence and shop days.

Spent Friday night with our good friend Colin in the charming village of Colyton. It’s everything an English village should be: buildings ranging from the 1300’s to the 1800’s; thatched cottages; rolling hillsides with fields divided by hedges and dotted with sheep; winding, country lanes bordered with high hedges which demand a level of courtesy impossible – or at least highly unlikely in most locations – in the great United States, since you have to be constantly on the alert for oncoming traffic and even – gasp! – back up to accommodate them as necessary. England is so polite.

Went to Dartmoor on Saturday, the location of “Hound of the Bsaskervilles”. It’s wild and beautiful countryside, with yellow gorse and pink heather blooming, punctuated by outgroppings of rough grey granite and the famous tors. Though the mystery summer of warmth and sun continues, I can imagine what a mysterious, frightening, and romantic place it would be in the winter, and why it has inspired so many writers and local legends. They still say wild beasts roam the moor at night, though all I saw in the bright sunshine were cows of every possible color and sheep casually grazing and meandering across the road as fancy took them, making traffic stop until the meander was over.

On Saturday and Sunday, we stayed in the villagette of Doddiscombsleigh, home of the excEt Nobody Inn. We spent two nights there in the adjoining manor house, orginally belonging to Sir Ralph de Doddiscombe in the 1200’s. I had this fabulous room. The Nobody is justly famed for its food, which is superb, and its wine list, which is a tome similar in size and weight to “War and Peace”, though much more amusing as far as I was concerned. They also have a mind-blowing selection of local cheeses and apparently the biggest collection of whiskies in the UK. Our friend Colin knows the owner well, and he told us that the Inn is booked solid every weekend through December. I can understand why.

I discovered yet another talent that I don’t have: map reading. Margaret and I went into Exeter, home of the magnificent Cathedral. Colin left us after lunch to prepare for a trip of his own, so we had to make our way back to the Nobody without a local guide. It was so traumatic that I took half a valium after we got home. We took every possible wrong turn. Every road seemed to lead to Exeter, no matter what direction it was going in. The map was singularly uninformative and made me feel like I was failing an IQ test. Things began to seem both absurd and surreal, as if trip was being orchestrated by Samuel Beckett in a really bad mood. My tiny supply of patience gave out after about an hour – it took us nearly 3 hours for a drive that an informed person could have done in 45. Finally, we got into the endless, formerly charming country lanes leading to the Nobody. At this point, if I never see a charming country lane, or a road leading to Exeter, ever again, it will be too soon.

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Sep 13 2002

Love/hate: Literature

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Love/hate for Friday, September 13, 2002

I feel lucky to have grown up surrounded by books – my father built bookshelves in every house we ever lived in, and they were still stacked on the floor – and with parents who restricted our TV watching. The result was that I could read when I was three, and we played outside in all weathers instead of staring at a TV or computer screen. I think if you grow up with a love of books and reading, and the worlds they contain, it never leaves you.

My father read to us every night, and also used to recite Shakespeare aloud as he cooked dinner. So I grew up with it and thus was unintimidated by the language and understood the in-jokes and subtext before I studied it in school, though I’m sorry to say that few books I studied in school withstood the excruciating tearing apart, with meanings read into them that the authors surely never intended. Personally, I think examining a book on the molecular level deprives it of its intrinsic joy and value. Isn’t it enough to realize that human nature has changed very little since Shakespeare’s day and enjoy that fact and his exploration of the psyche? If you dissect a bird to see how it flies, it never flies again.

Literature is something like pornography, in that it’s difficult to define, but each person is convinced they’ll recognize it when they see it. One person’s classic is another person’s minor writer, but isn’t all art, in all media, completely subjective?

Some of my favorite writers could be considered literature, or at a minimum, classic. Jane Austen, for one. I can’t remember who said it, but someone was once asked if he ever read novels. Without hesitation, he replied, “Yes. All six of them, every year.” This refers, of course, to Jane’s oeuvre, and I couldn’t agree with him more. Human nature has rarely been observed with such wit, humor, and accuracy.

Others include Anthony Trollope – especially his “Barchester” series; GB Shaw; Oscar Wilde; Edith Wharton; and Willa Cather. I return to their works over and over and rediscover the reasons I love them in the first place.

Somehow, “literature” always seems to belong to the past. I would hesitate to class more modern writers, such as Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, J.D. Salinger, and Richard Ford as literature, yet they have produced some of the most eloquent, brilliant, and moving prose I have ever read.

I leave the last word to Jane: “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

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Sep 12 2002

Hello from London

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I did get here in one piece, though with a total hangover from all that champagne on the flight. I never can resist it, especially when it’s free and the good French stuff. The time just blurred by, watching movies on my cute little iBook (though all on battery power, since the plane wasn’t equipped with the plug-in thing) and listening to music on my adorable little minidisc player and not sleeping, unlike almost everyone else. I only read an unprecedented two out of the 5 New Yorkers I brought with me, and managed to spill champagne on both of them, so they look about as bad as I did on arrival, stumbling through Heathrow all sleep deprived, headachy, and nauseous. Maybe that’s why they asked me so many questions at Customs. Much more than usual, anyway.

Although there had been a storm on Monday, it was sunny and 26C when I got here. Am beginning to wonder if what I brought with me is up to the sartorial challenge posed by the English weather, which is, if possible, even more capricious than I am. The sunny weather is supposed to last until Tuesday.

I stayed up until 9:30 last night, slept for 12 hours, and feel just fine. Off to Devon tomorrow, where they have towns with names like Cricket St. Thomas and about a million that end in “minster”.

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Sep 09 2002

Leaving eve

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Well, Zero Hour looms, so I’m getting in a patented Suzy tizzy. This always happens when I’m planning to leave the safety of home for the unfriendly skies. If second marriages are the triumph of optimism over experience, then my fear of disaster befalling me while flying is the triumph of pessimism over experience. Given the fact that our family seems to attract disaster in a nearly Kennedy-esque fahion, I feel that it’s exactly the kind of thing that would happen to me.

Everything seems to be making it harder to leave. My sister, who was supposed to accompany me, had to cancel due to bad luck, of course, and now I have to go all by myself. The Sopranos finally start their new season while I’m away. The weather here is utterly perfect, as it often is in September and October: clear blue sky, forecast high of 75&deg or so. Whereas the London forecast is 63&deg and scattered showers. Everything is saying, “Why go anywhere else when you live here?”

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Sep 08 2002

La plus ca change

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Often in life, one has to choose the lesser of two evils. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell exactly which of the two evils is the lesser one, and to what degree. Case in point: the California governor election. Which is worse, Simon or Davis? I’ll end up voting for Davis, because he’s the Democratic candidate and I have been a Demo my whole voting life, but I disagree with so much of what he has done and many of his views. But voting for Simon is unthinkable. So I guess that makes Davis the lesser of two evils.

The French have a saying (and don’t they always – just ask Colin, everything sounds better in French), which is something like, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Case in point: politics now, and politics a century ago, when George Bernard Shaw wrote the following:

“I am, and always have been, a revolutionary writer, because our laws make law impossible; our liberties destroy all freedom; our property is organized robbery; our morality is an impudent hypocrisy; our wisdom is administered by inexperienced or mal-experienced dupes; our power is wielded by cowards and weaklings, anf our honor false in all its points. I am an enemy of the existing order for good reasons.”

John had a dream the other night that Tony Soprano was President. Wouldn’t that be great? I don’t think he’d hesitate to whack Osama or Saddam or anyone else who pissed him off, especially since Junior was head of Defense in the dream. And wouldn’t Carmela be a fabulous First Lady? In the dream, Chris was Attorney General (Giving a speech on national TV about insider trading by CEO’s and saying things like, “Fuck those guys! They’re going down! They’re doing time, my friends!” Under Tony’s government, nothing was bleeped out, either. All TV was like HBO.) and Paulie was head of Security. I guess it’s a sad state of affairs when the idea of fictional characters running your country seems like a better deal than any of the real life possibilities. I wonder if Shaw is shaking his head or laughing his ass off?

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Sep 07 2002

The friendly skies

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Yesterday was all about love, but today is all about hate. I don’t care what people say about hating things using up too much energy, or how negative feelings come back to you multiplied like DDT. The same people also tell you that karma catches up with people who do bad things, but in my experience, the evil-doers seem to be flourishing nicely, thank you, so karma must move, if it moves at all, at a positively glacier-like speed. I think karma is either a myth or a couch potato of the lowest order.

Faithful readers know that my sister Megan was slated to accompany me to England on Tuesday. She was prepared to hold my hand and/or slap me, as necessary, and also distract me from horror and boredom with conversation. However, the Fates had other ideas.

The Fates seem to hate our family, if you look at the astonishing run of bad luck which is our recent history. Our bad luck streak is as impressive as the A’s winning streak, and in keeping with it, Megan’s husband Rob had a fairly bad accident in his truck on Sunday and broke five ribs. Thankfully, it was no worse than that, though he is in terrible pain and was only released from the hospital a couple of days ago, but it also means that Megan can’t go to England.

So I went to the United ticket office yesterday to cancel her ticket, only to be told that 75% of the ticket was non-refundable. The ticket can’t be transferred to me, either, even though I paid for it. I called Customer Relations and they said I can either take the 25% or Megan can use the ticket within a year, though it would have to be for a trip of equal or more value, in which case she’d have to pay whatever the difference was. Since the ticket was for full coach fare so I could upgrade it with miles, she’d have to go somewhere that costs $1,200 or more, which is highly unlikely. I told them that she doesn’t travel often, which is true, and that the reason we were going to England in the first place was to clear out our late father’s things, since he passed away last year, also the truth, but actual death didn’t impress them any more than a brush with it.

So even though Megan can’t go on the trip because Rob was nearly killed, and not because she just didn’t feel like going, they don’t care. They don’t care that I’m out $900 and that they are going to sell the seat again, effectively getting paid twice for one person’s seat. They won’t transfer the ticket to me, or give me credit for it. I pointed out that they could see I had paid for it with my credit card, and they said, “How do we know your sister didn’t write you a check for the amount later?” That’s how badly they don’t want to help their customers, and is indicative of the sink-like nature of what passes for their minds. I am just livid about this. How can they get away with it?

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Sep 06 2002

Love/hate: Cooking

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Love/hate for Friday, September 6, 2002

As I mentioned earlier, the few talents I have are domestic ones, and perhaps the major one is that I am a good cook. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know how to cook. In my family, Dad was the cook, and I learned from him both the pleasures and practicalities. Dad learned to cook from his mother, who wanted to keep an eye on him while the Germans were merrily bombing them and making life difficult for all Londoners at that time. To that end, she kept him with her in the kitchen, and to keep him busy, taught him to cook.

Both of my grandmothers were very good cooks, though somewhat Victorian or traditional. My father’s mother had a roast beef every Sunday, the remains of which were made into shepherd’s pie the following day. One day a week (I can’t now remember which, but knowing her, it was always the same day each week), she would bake cakes and pies for dessert and high tea. On those occasions, my grandfather would bring his wing chair into the tiny kitchen so he could be with her during the length baking process, though of course he never helped, since he was a Victorian gentlemen. But he also didn’t want to be away from her during baking time, either.

My mother’s parents had a much bigger kitchen and didn’t have afternoon tea, but Nana also baked a great deal. My grandfather provided quality control by eating the less than perfectly shaped cookies that couldn’t be served to company.

From my English grandmother, I acquired an appreciation for daily shopping for fresh fruit and vegetables, and the beginnings of a cookbook collection, including the venerable Mrs. Beeton and a delightful volume called “The One Maid Cookery Book” which starts off, “Many households now-a-days must make do with only one maid.” Quelle horreur! (Yes, the French consider horror to be feminine, Stephen King notwithstanding. I’m sure boys of all ages agree. But I digress.)

From my American grandmother, I learned how to ripen peaches, how to make preserves and jellies and really good piecrust. To this day, I “draw” an apple with my knife on the top crust of an apple pie, just as she did, and I always think of her.

Dad and I cooked together in many countries, and always enjoyed using local produce. He was an excEt and inventive cook, and I treasure the cookbook he made for me, a collection of his recipes. In fact, I planned my trip to England next week the way I did because the fish van comes from Hastings to Wimbledon on Wednesday and Friday, so I always arrive on a Wednesday to take advantage of this, without realizing that I would be arriving there on 9/11.

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Sep 05 2002

Job Two

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Before moving on to Job Two, I will just say that my stay in Nice was probably as memorable for two anonymous Leisure Suit Larrys as it was for me. These two guys were verging on old and bald, wearing pastel blue suits with white belts and shoes, and were commenting on the assets of various, mostly topless, women on the beach in a manner in which the absurd courted the vulgar. They didn’t have a hope in hell of getting any of these girls to look at them once, let alone twice, and in view of their own extreme lack of attractiveness, their temerity in judging the beach girls was both breath-taking and insulting.

Since I was only speaking French to the kids, and was reading a biography of Charlie Chaplin (beloved in France as Charlot) in French, the Larrys thought that no-one understood the depths of their remarks. Finally, one asked the other what time it was. I looked straight at them and said, “About one o’clock.” They fled before they could even finish blushing.

But on to Job Two, where there was no blushing, but there was, on at least one occasion, fleeing.

I moved out on my own when I was 18. My apartment was adorable, the top floor of a Victorian house on a tree-lined street, with pressed-tin ceilings and a (non-working but still charming) fireplace. To support this little pied &agrave terre, I had to get a job, which I did at the local youth hostel. I was still in high school, so I worked late afternoons and evenings, as well as weekends. In retrospect, it was odd that they let a smallish teenage girl lock up alone at night, but nothing untoward ever occurred. From the living, at least.

The hostel used to be a jail, built in 1861. The cells were something like 7 feet deep and 4 feet wide, and had no windows. The light came from high, barred windows lining the room which contained the cells, as it is in Alcatraz. So we used the cells to store the hostellers’ luggage, and there were bunk beds lining the rooms under the windows. One floor for men, one for women.

I did lots of different things: admitting guests, cooking for them (including making pancakes for breakfast for 100 people at a time. Amazingly, I was completely unintimidated by this and had no problems, other than the scale of the kitchen. Though obviously built on an industrial scale, it was built at a time when people were much shorter, so although everything was really big, it was also really short, and you had to stoop over the stove and sink), and giving tours.

School kids, people staying at the hostel, and the curious came for the tours. The jail had the distinction of being the site of the last public hanging in Canada. The school kids in particular were fascinated by the darker side of the jail’s history, and could never wait to see Death Row and the gallows.

We didn’t use Death Row for guests. I never questioned this, whether it was superstition or because the rooms were tiny and isolated at the top of the jail. But one night, we were completely full and I was about to close up for the night when a young couple from Texas turned up, desperate for a room. I told them that all we had left was Death Row, and they said OK. So I showed them up there and returned to my closing up duties. I was just leaving when they came running downstairs. The wife was as white as a sheet and jabbering about seeing a ghost. Her husband apparently had not seen the ghost and was somewhat annoyed, but there was no doubt that Mrs. Texas had seen something, or thought she had. Whatever had happened, she was probably as scared as she had ever been in her life. It was scary just to look at how scared she was.

I found them a room at the Holiday Inn and went home.

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Sep 04 2002

Job One

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All this post-Labor Day job talk has gotten me thinking about jobs in general, and mine in particular. Mostly the past, though, because present job is not of interest to millions or particularly unusual. I have never had a totally fun job, possibly because “fun job” to me is an oxymoron and/or because I think you have to have an actual talent you want to get paid for in order to have a fun job.

The two most amusing jobs I ever had were in my teens, and were my earliest jobs other than parental-imposed chores. How very sad, come to think of it. [Pause for reflection on extreme pathos of that statement.] Anyway, here’s the first one:

Baby sitting, aka au pair Surprising, isn’t it, for the baby-averse? But bear with me. All will be revealed and you will envy me. My father worked at a marine biology lab in Maine in the summer. The year I was 16, a married couple from France came to work there, too. They had two hellion kids named Olivier and Thierry, who in addition to their outstanding hellion qualities, couldn’t speak English, which was an unbeatable combination from their point of view.
O&T: 500 Babysitters: 0.

I had taken French instead of home ec at school, so my Dad volunteered me to baby-sit O&T. I was so successful in whipping them into shape, along with improving my French, particularly vernacular, that they invited me to reprise my popular role at their place outside of Nice the following summer. And they were good for it. So at 17, I went to France for the first time. All by myself.

First stop, Paris for a week, where friends of O&T’s parents – actually, their college age sons – showed me a very good time. Then TGV to Nice, to stay with the family in their big white house overlooking Nice. I had a little tower all to myself, with a sort of bed/sitting room and bathroom and a balcony. This was also the first time I encountered featherbeds and my bed was so high that it had three little wooden steps leading up to it. I acquired a caffeine addiction from meeting espresso which endures to this day, as does my love for France.

So basically, all I did was keep them amused and out of trouble at the beach, in Old Nice, at the markets, at the museums, and I had weekends and evenings off to get into a little trouble myself. You call that work?

Stay tuned for Job Two. Maybe tomorrow if current job doesn’t interfere too much.

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Sep 02 2002

The perfect job?

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I recently took one of those tests that are supposed to explain the complicated many-splendored thing that is one’s personality. The test decided that I am, or should be, a millionaire.

I heartily concur with this diagnosis, though it has no basis in reality. We consistently fail to win the lottery and live in one of the most expensive states in the Union, a place where you can make $100,000 a year and still be barely scraping by, with the result that we are not in fact millionaires, even if our neighbors are.

I have mentioned before that I got in trouble at my very first Career Day ay school for writing down “idle rich” as my career of choice, the powers that be immediately assuming that this was the worst kind of mockery, when in fact, it was the simple truth. Isn’t it touching to think that my 12 year old self not only considered that goal a possibility, but also didn’t realize that such notions should not be brought to the attention of those in authority? I wonder if that’s where I really started disliking school.

Years later, I still have to stand by that original goal. I have no particular talents, or at least none that are particularly well remunerated or useful. The ones I do have are chiefly and surprisingly domestic for a post-modern girl. It used to bother me, since all of my friends had goals and dreams, most of which they have achieved, but not anymore.

If I had to come up with actual jobs I could do, I could only come up with two. One in the realm of possibility:

Personal shopper. One of my few talents is finding the perfect present and card for anyone, for any occasion. Imagine how cool it would be to be paid to go shopping all day. Making money by spending someone else’s!

And the other in the realm of impossibility:

King’s mistress. Not, I hasten to add, the Queen, who is required to produce a string of heirs and attend boring ceremonial functions. Nope. I’d rather be the amusing and charming power behind the throne. Along the lines of Madame de Maintenon, mistress of Louis XIV (the Sun King, who built Versailles), or Madame de Pompadour, ditto but for Louis XV, both of whom had a salon of writers, poets, and artists and were patrons of the arts, style setters, and had lots of impressive jewelry (which was theirs, and not the Nation’s, unlike the Queen’s. Isn’t the Queen job looking less desirable by the second?). Again, spending someone else’s money, but this time you get to keep the stuff. Of course, if you’re unlucky in your choice of King or political climate, you could lose your head (like Madame du Barry), or be replaced by the next cute thing, though that is a problem not restricted to royalty.

Maybe the best job is no job. Happpy Labor Day!

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