Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Paris Bites

Ok, obviously my public comments have attracted some attention, and not just from Barton Gamber, Defender of All Things British.

[Dude, nothing can match a cup of English tea and shortbread. Nothing, dude.]

I know my thoughts have been read at the top levels of Paris government, because a campaign has begun to make me leave. How has this been accomplished? Consider these facts:

1. This morning, no sooner did I jauntily say 'These stairs are slippery!!' than I did fall about ten steps, down down down. On my booty. I have a bruise that would make certain people feel very frisky. You know who you are.

2. At lunch

[Digression: if you really want to see men eat, I suggest lunch near the Bourse in Paris. These are stock brokers, bankers, etc. I think they must do very well, because they seem to have a spirit of celebration. Witness the table of 3 who consumed a 5 course lunch plus beer, a bottle of wine, and a bottle of champagne - Moet, says Mother. Lunch was like television, except sunny, and with pudding.]

So, at lunch, I ordered an appetizer of broiled crawdads on artichoke hearts with a little veg in cream. Yurm. The waiter says to me, 'the plate is hot.' Yeah, ok. Then I reached for my knife and accidentally touched the plate. I now have a one-inch red burn to show for it. And I gasped loudly enough to attract a few stares.

What other conclusion can I draw from this, than that the city itself seeks my destruction? I have said too much, embraced it too liberally. Now, they fear I won't ever leave. The city supply of tarte au citron will never survive, so they resort to drastic measures. Zut Alors!

I have this to say to Paris: I love you anyway. Even if it's the kind of love that makes you call a hotline.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Lies About Paris

1. People are rude: In fact, we've only had one waiter who was less-than-squeezable, and he was only serving us coffee. And he wasn't rude, just terse. Otherwise, people could not be more charming. For example:

a. The woman at the Louvre who personally walked us over to the correct entrance so Mother could use the elevator to get under the Pyramide.

b. The waitress last night, who wiggled over to us, dancing to the Brazilian pop music, to smile and charm and bring us Armagnac. She chatted, and winked, and was generally the cutest thing. And her colleague the bartender, with his tiny devilish mustache, took a break from shaking his booty to wish us well as we departed.

2. There is no handicap accessibility in Paris: In fact, practically everywhere has been just fine. At the Louvre, there's an elevator every 20 feet (partly because they change the elevation of the exhibit constantly), at the Pompidou elevators and escalators take you wherever you wish to go, and people have been charmant about singling Mother out for special accomodation. They see that she limps a bit, and they pull her out of line to take the lift.

3. There's no tipping: Ok, actually the guidebook says that a 5% tip is a good thing if you had a really good time, and since we seem to have a really good time everywhere...we are tipping a little. But it's hardly a problem, especially since the exchange rate on the Euro is better than that on the pound.

4. Salesclerks are rude: In fact, every shop into which we venture greets us with a cheery 'Bonjour!' and then either gives us space or smilingly checks us out depending on what we wish. And the shops are beautiful. Beautiful.

So. Today the theme is "Encore." We will return to the Louvre and the the Centre Pompidou, since with our passes we can go back anytime. Then we will have a huge lunch and buy snackage for dinner (eclair, tarte au limon, tarte au chocolat, baguette, fromage, pate, figs, melon, and wine). It's a terrible life.

Meanwhile, Charles, Devin, Gary and Gary's lovely daughter have finally embarked on their epid mountain climbing journey. Wish them well as they scamper up 3 mountains in 24 hours, then seek out a nice, cold beer.

[At the Louvre, entering the salon devoted to the history of the Louvre: I say to Mother, 'That's Francis I, Catherine d'Medici's father-in-law.' She says, 'How can you tell from over here?' 'The nose.' Big nose.]

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Mother and I are here in Paris, enjoying the cool weather and working on our geography. It's taken us a few days, but we have finally gotten a pretty good sense of where we are in relation to other things, and thus I have finally located an internet cafe.

So far, Paris is as pleasurable as Angers, though more challenging. Mostly the challenge is that there are a gazillion-bazillion-tamillion tourists here, and they tend to get in the way. We don't count, naturally. The other challenge is that Mother's doctor gave her a knee brace to wear. The brace makes walking quite difficult for her, and thus even a short walk takes a lot longer and is a lot more tiring than it ought to be.

So we are staying in our neighborhood (the Marais) and using taxis to get to places more than 10 blocks away, like the Louvre.

Contrary to rumor, we've found no rude Parisians. Of course, I find New Yorkers charming, so perhaps I have a bad radar. But here, everyone smiles, they say 'bonjour!' constantly, they inquire about our needs, speak English when they think we need it (which is about half the time), and offer us nothing but courtesy and assistance. I read an article which made a huge deal out of getting a Parisian waiter to smile a tiny bit.

Piffle, I say. On the first day, a waiter grinned at me, on the second day he winked at me as we left, and on the third day two waiters might have been our best friends.

It's true, that crossing the street is a challenge (crazy drivers!), but not as much of a challenge as in London. At least twice, in London, I thought I might die. Charles was hyperventilating. Here, people don't seem to drive as fast, and we don't get the kind of angry gestures, either.

Yesterday, we visited the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, the Orangerie, the Tuileries Gardens, and the Centre Pompidou (the best of the lot, truly wonderful). Having flexed our tourism muscle, we are taking a bit of a breather today to check email, have a leisurely lunch, and then go see this little place called the Louvre. I figure 20 minutes for that, then shopping.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

And Then the Alarms Went Off

Here's me, fondling the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum. The Museum guards are real nice. We're good friends, now.

[Ok, that's the replica. The real one's in a glass box surrounded by vicious tourists. And I didn't really get up close and personal with the Museum guards. Probably for the best.]

Why Scotland Rocks, Part 3: Reenactors

On Thursday of last week, Charles and I toured Edinburgh Castle. You've already seen photos of the castle, sitting above the city in the mist. Although it attracts tourists, the castle is far, far easier to see than the Tower of London. Honestly, there are too many people in the Tower.

By contrast, the only place at Edinburgh Castle that gets too crowded is the 12th century chapel dedicated to St. Margaret. The reasons for the crowding are two-fold: first, it's got only one door, and second, it's about 20 x 10. Teensy! In there, claustrophobia takes hold. Otherwise, the castle is pleasantly open and easy to navigate.

Lots of historic places suffer from the ills of reconstruction. This is true for Edinburgh like everywhere else. One example is the great hall. It was built quite a long time ago (1511, to be exact), but during the English Civil War (that's mid-17th century to you), Cromwell's fellas used it for stabling their horses. Not very nice.

Then, in the late 19th century, the hall was restored to a Victorian fantasy of 16th century design. Naked nymphs frolic on the corners of the fireplace, if that gives you a sense. Of course, the walls are literally covered in pikes, swords, helmets, and other elements of warfare. So it's a nice balance.

In that room, Historic Scotland (which runs the Castle) provides an outstanding example of historical reenacting. It's not outstandingly intellectual, nor outstandingly 'authentic' (whatever that means this week). But it captures the attention of hundreds of people every hour, because it's true living history.

What I mean is that it uses artifacts and Scots history as if these things belonged to living people (which they did) and as if they were worth knowing about (which they are!). This is not an obsessive attempt to make things perfectly resemble the past; it's an attempt to get people interested in what happened and why.

So, for example, the reenactors (who are hilarious) vividly describe the many uses of the pike, how it could go in through your mouth, into your spinal column, and out your skull. Or, if you prefer, how it could enter your body through the gut, twirl your intestines like spaghetti, then pull them out with a jerk.

They also explain the uses of the scottish broadsword, and demonstrate the catch mechanism on the hilt that allowed them to either take the blade (thus preventing the other man from striking) or disarm the other fighter.

Like everyone else we met in Scotland, these 2 reenactors might have been standup comedians. They managed to capture the attention of two hundred people for 45 minutes while those folks sat on a cold stone floor. The teased, and complimented (notable, 'Ye're too pretty to stab in the throat, darlin' Awww...), and generally held us all in the leather-clad palms of their hands. It was great.

But what I liked best about it was the way that they treated history. None of the false earnestness you so often see. None of the pretense to haughty expertise, intended to make the audience feel reverential not so much toward the story as toward its teller. They loved the past, and they wanted everyone else to love it, too.

Normally, I hate tourist crap. Charles literally had to drag me out of the dungeons (!!) to see these two perform. And he was right, as usual. So if you go to Edinburgh Castle, don't run away when you see the sign for a 'historical performance.' Get a seat in front, but don't answer any questions.

You might end up with a pike in the mouth.

Scotland and Maine, Separated at Birth?

Chew on this:
1. Both are reknowned for dour, silent people. In fact, however, when you go there you can't get them to stop talking.

2. Both have rugged, rocky coastline famous for seafood.

3. Both have coastal cities of moderate size, full of art, history and shopping.

4. Both have historic ties to France (Maine was part of New France, while Scotland had the Auld Alliance).

5. Both remained colonies of larger (not beloved) neighbors for a long, long time (Scotland and England, naturally, and Maine/Massachusetts).

6. Both welcome tourists from nearby, but don't really like them (see above).

7. Both have funny accents.

8. Both are on the far northern edge of their nations.

9. Both are cold, but hardy (and dislike whiners).

10. Both are frugal.

11. Both contributed soldiers to the American Civil War.

12. Both are very 'green'.

Hmmm....no wonder we liked Edinburgh so much.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Happy Buddha and Angry Man

Gotta love the British Museum.

Fancy a Swim?

We have exceptional timing. I mean, really special.

England is a rainy country. Everyone knows this. We prepared for it, bringing rain jackets and telling ourselves we would be sanguine about heavy clouds and moist towels. Once here, we suffered through a first morning of terrific rainfall, blowing wind and cold temperatures (in the 50s in May).

But who knew? That was child's play.

As of today, we're enjoying the wettest summer on record. They've been keeping records since the 18th century, in case you wondered. May and June both broke rain records. But wait, there's more:

Last month, York and other northern areas flooded. This week, it's Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. The rivers Severn and Thames are full and overflowing, leaving towns like Tewkesbury and Abingdon under water. Oxford itself is not yet flooded, though the rivers (Thames, called Isis here, and also the Cherwell) have jumped their banks.

This morning, as I walked to the library, people were gathered at the Magdalen Bridge, watching the river. I saw a motorbike rider prairie dogging it, popping up on his pedals to look out over the water. The path we used to walk through the park is no longer available to us, because the bridges are closed. Punting? Not safe, though on the telly they showed one enterprising man punting along a sidewalk to get back to his home.

[Punting: pushing a flat-bottomed boat with a pole. Generally a pleasure-filled pastime of undergraduates and tourists. Beware the swans. They bite.]

The rivers have not yet reached their peak, because water continues to flow south from northern sources. In addition, the Thames is affected by the tide. So as the tide rises tonight, the river will rise as well.

The weather forecast calls for more rain on Wednesday and Thursday. Lots more rain.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Yo, Chris Bray!

Yeah, dude, that picture below is for you.

Also, anyone who chooses to enlarge the second picture will note, on the left, a barrel with a spigot in it. That picture was taken in the whisky store Fru found. They bottle whisky for you, on demand. So that barrel? Full of scotch. Gallons of the stuff.

I finished Harry Potter. Now what?

Amusing Signs

From time to time, I find that the most amusing things are signs. Here are a few that struck my fancy. The first two are from Edinburgh. The second two are from London.

Dirty, dirty monkey!!

We have priorities. Proper ones. Hence, when we returned to Oxford yesterday, we walked to Blackwell's so I could pick up my Harry Potter. This, in spite of Charles' cold. Such devotion.

At Blackwell's, there were live owls (really!) to examine, and a friendly staff making little jokes. "Got yer book right here, mate, just need a blood sample...Joking, of course." I picked up my book (pre-ordered, naturally), and received a free cookie as a gift.

We toddled home, stopping for throat lozenges for Charles, and I began to read. Now, I obviously can't aspire to finish the book as quickly as Susan Kroeg, but I read fast. I'm currently in the mid-400's, and intend to finish this afternoon.

But the body must be served, so we took a little walk just now to obtain lunch. Mmm...delicious KFC. Don't laugh. Anyway, home again and lunch served and eaten, I began the dishes. Our kitchen is so tiny that you have to do the dishes the moment you finish eating or risk honey mustard sauce in your hair.

There I was, washing up, when I turned to find: Charles sitting at the kitchen table with my book in his hands. He was reading the last page.


Edinburgh Photo Highlights

Now that's a castle properly set upon a cliff.

A view through the trees of Edinburgh.

More Edinburgh.

One of the many buildings within the castle walls.

These Scots know what's important.

Small chapel within the castle.

Inside this building is the most impressive and touching war memorial I've ever seen. It honors the Scottish soldiers who died in WWI.

The castle has a commanding view.

Classic castle view.

Down a tiny little 'close' - we'd call it an alley - we found Hume's digs. Too bad it is so ugly, huh?

Always working, Fiona found this memorial honoring Abe and the Scottish that died in the U.S. Civil War.

Memorial Detail.

Ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel. This chapel dates back to earlier than 1425. It would have been 13 meters tall and 5.5 meters wide. The inside would have had three bays, and the tower would have stood over 12 meters tall, with a spiral staircase inside.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Why Scotland Rocks, part 2 (rocks!)

On our last day in Edinburgh, we had only about five hours to play. We'd already seen the castle, walked the Royal Mile, and enjoyed the shopping around George Street.

But the day before, we looked up from the bottom of the Royal Mile and saw a park with three hills. Fru examined the map and decided that this must be Arthur's Seat, a local landmark set in the park by Holyrood Palace.

Those of you who are familiar with Eaton Canyon remember that it serves as a wilderness in the center of Pasadena/Altadena. Any time you like you can pop into the park and climb the mountain, visit the waterfall, etc. Families picnic there, people work out, and it generally serves the purposes that parks are supposed to offer, but rarely do. Arthur's Seat is like that. You can see the summit below, on the right side of the picture. In the front, the fields of flowers with tracks moving through it. Lovely.

It took us about 35 minutes to hike to the top. [One hour walking through Edinurgh, 35 minutes to the top, 20 minutes down, an hour back up through the city for a coffee] Below, here I am sitting just a few yards from the summit, enjoying the breeze and the view.

The view from the top is excellent. It was a cloudy day (but it cleared only a couple of hours later! Grrrr.), but you can see that the entire city is spread out below. One can see out to the sea, over the palace below and up to the castle in the distance. Paths led down to the other summits, to lakes and villages.

Anytime one likes, in Edinburgh, one can head up this little mountain (251 meters at the top) and enjoy the pleasure of a good walk, good company, and a look out to sea. If this doesn't constitute a good reason to consider Edinburgh wonderful, then I'm a Norwegian Ridgeback.

Why Scotland Rocks, part 1

Unfortunately, Charles has been laid low by a bug. The irony of his getting sick in Scotland is that it's the one place so far that he's been unabashedly, outrageously, vocally, expansively in love with. Charles would move to Scotland tomorrow. And thus, of course, it has made him ill.

As a result, I don't have photographs yet. BUT, I can tell you one reason why Scotland Rocks.

It's the sense of humor. On this trip, we've met one Scot with no humor. She was a border guard in Paris. Obviously, living away from her home was the problem, because every Scot in Edinburgh lives to laugh.

I laughed, too. First, at our shuttle driver. Within an hour of our arrival in Scotland we heard him say, "Och, aye." It's like going to New Jersey to hear someone say "yous guys."

Everyone else is funny, too. Witness the restaurant where we ate dinner Wednesday night. The Sizzling Scot. No, really, that's the name. And it's not (just) because the waiters are sizzling hot. Though they are.

At the Sizzling Scot (which specializes in Scottish beef and carries exclusively Scottish products. In fact, there's a signboard on the sidewalk outside that warns customers that if they don't want to eat Scottish food they ought to go someplace else) there are customer comment cards. Have a taste:

"Please tick the appropriate box:

1. Food
a. Pure dead brilliant
b. Not bad at all
c. Just filled a space nae mair
d. I would hae been better aff Doon the Road.
e. Ah wouldnae' gie it tae ma dug

2. Service
a. Treated like Royalty - The Bees Knees
b. Didnae set the house on fire
c. Discreet is one thing - invisible is another
d. Excuse me, Jimmy! Ah'm no deid yet
e. You mean it's NOT self-service?

3. Atmosphere
a. Sizzling
b. Just cooking
c. Only at MY table
d. Early closing
e. Been in a cheerier Dentist's waiting room.

4. Value for the money
a. Worth every bawbee
b. The fayre is fair
c. Nay enough
d. No - whit else can I say
e. Isn't extortion illegal?

Imagine these witticisms in the same restaurant where the (hot) waiters bring you whisky with a smile and then haggis and venison sausage and a strawberry pavlova for dessert. Ridiculous!

Then there was the cab driver who teased us about the contributions of James Watt to worldwide happiness. "Ye've got a bit o' Scotland in yaer hoos!" Guessing what, we determined it was not my J.K. Rowling books, nor our many bottles of whisky, but in fact the lightbulb! Invented in Scotland by a Mr. Watt.

Then there were the re-enactors, the barmaid at the bar next to the Sizzling Scot, etc. etc. ad infinitum.

Stand by for future entries in this genre: Why Scotland Rocks, part 2 (rocks!); Why Scotland Rocks, part 3 (re-enactors!); Why Scotland Rocks, part 4 (The castle!).

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Scotland - me likey

Suck it whigs, Scotland is, in fact, the shit.

Natural beauty, castles, hot chicks, good food, and, of course, whisky are readily available. Friendly service by nice people has been the norm. The people in the restaurants and bars seem to be having a good time.

Yeah, New Zealand finally has some competition for my foreign travel dollar. I can't wait to hike Ben Nevis.

Charles Halloran
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Chapter 27, in which Edinburgh kicks London's A@@

I'm not saying we hated London. We didn't. But...

Edinburgh is the shizzle. The Absolute, Undisputed, Heavy-weight Champion of the Shizzle world. Seriously.

It's really pretty small, and it's foggy, chilly, windy and grey. So what's so nice about it? Well, for one thing, the food is outstanding. We've eaten local beef, mashed potatoes with grainy mustard, various game sausages, and haggis.

Yes, HAGGIS. It was excellent. They slice it and pan fry it and it's crispy and salty and flavorful. I would eat it again, which is a lot to say about a sheep's bladder full of ground up heart-meat. With oats, because that's tasty. Or something. Anyway, it's really very good.

What else? How about hot tomato and basil soup with fresh soda bread and Irish butter? How about creamy coffee with lovely foam? How about a roasted vegetable and goat cheese panini?

How about bars with 40-100 types of Scotch whisky? Or the little store Fru found, the one that:
1. Bottles 700 ml at a time of a huge variety of rare whiskies, some from distilleries that no longer exist.

2. Had a little white scottie dog named Maggie, who reaped a whirlwind of love from us until she began to seriously gnaw at Charles' shoelaces.

Did I mention that the Scots are HIGH-larious? Our waiters on the first night had us choking on our dinners. The shuttle driver made me snort. Then we visited Edinburgh Castle. More on that in a later post, but for now, let me just say that all historical reenactors should be so funny. And good looking. But that's another paragraph.

Charles said to me, "Scottish women are really pretty." Um, yeah. And Scottish men? Ahem. All I'll say on that front is that I now understand why so many romance novels are set in Scotland. Makes perfect sense.

Friendly? Check. Reasonable prices? Check. Beautiful parks? Check!

Pictures to follow when we return to Oxford (Saturday night, so probably a slew of posts on Sunday). Suffice it to say for now that we would spend a year here in two shakes of a lamb's tail. Possibly one shake. The lamb can take the day off, actually.

Tomorrow, more delightful Edinburgh, until 4pm when we board the train to go back to London.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Delicious Potato Chips


1. Roast Beef

2. Sweet Spare Ribs

3. Pickled Onion

4. Shrimp Scampi

5. Roast Chicken

6. Prawn Cocktail

The grocery is a foreign country.

LOL Cats

Miriam tells us that if you Google 'suck it whigs' Hurst Street comes up as the 5th hit.

This is amusing.

Also amusing is hit 3, 'I'm in ur lueezeeana perchiss, manifestin destiny!'

LOL Cats has much to offer history, as a profession. I think I might add an extra credit to my midterm: Compose an LOL Cats commentary on a historical event we have studied.


I'm in ur courtroom, citin' spectral evidence! (Salem, 1692)

I'm in ur Ft. Necessity, rainin' on ur gunpowder! (Virginia, 1754)


Monday, July 16, 2007

I'm In UR Country, Stealing UR Artifacts

For those of you who are not addicted to the internet, the title of this post is a reference to something called LOL Cats. Look it up. And then see if you can find "Suck It, Whigs!"

Anyhoo, today's adventure involved lots of crumbling marble and a certain amount of bronze. I'm talking, of course, about the British Museum. We visited this morning, which was a wise choice since every single human being on the planet arrived about noon.

The British Museum is free. This is fantastic. More, it welcomes all sorts of people. Upstairs in the Roman Britain section, Charles and I overheard this exchange:

Officious American to Museum Guard: "All these screaming children have no business being allowed in here."

Museum Guard to Complete Jerk: "Sir, this is a national museum, we can't prevent them coming."

UNbelieveble. This same guy, no doubt, will complain about how children today don't learn anything.

You will have gathered, from this outstandingly interesting little story, that we visited the Roman Britain section of the Museum. We also checked out Egypt, Ancient Greece, China, Malaysia, Tibet, Japan, and India. We saw enough Buddhas to sink the Titanic and a goodly amount of classical statues with no arms, heads, legs, etc.

The best part, for me, was the 18th and 19th century jewelry. I found jewelry in every room, however. I think I could find jewelry in the dark, blindfolded, upside down. Some of it was fabulous, while other things were simply odd. For example, ancient Celts apparently wore torcs (necklaces that are basically rings of metal you fit around your neck) weighing up to 1 kilogram. That's heavy, dude.

Downstairs, there is one long room devoted to the collecting obsession of the Enlightenment (the late 18th century, basically). It's like being in your crazy uncle's knick-knack room, only it's about 100 yards long and two stories tall. The walls are lined with bookshelves, and the shelves are full of stuff. Stuff? Yeah, Maori objects, skulls, Egyptian organ-holding vases, intaglio gems, Chinese urns, African baskets, etc., etc., etc. The sheer variety makes the room vaguely spooky.

As wonderful as the Museum is, and it's definitely fantastic, it leaves you with a slight tinge of imperial guilt. All this stuff used to live in a variety of countries. Then the English came. And took away beautiful things, religious things, precious things, pretty much every thing. Part of me thinks it's wonderful that this air-conditioned building, secure and carefully maintained, preserves the treasures of the world. The other part feels like a cad.

Then we took the bus. Back to Oxford, to our favorite pub, the Cape of Good Hope. Tomorrow, the tuck shop. Mmmmm....beloved tuck shop.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

HIghway robbery

Was it the 1/2 of the 1/2 chicken that was missing from our order or the £6 pounds charged for the bread and olives brought unasked! to the table that clued us in to the fact that the restaurant was taking unfair advantage of its patrons? (For the math challenged, we should have received a breast, a wing, a thigh and a leg in a 1/2 chicken; we got only 1/2 of that, namely a leg and a thigh.) I expect that most of the readers will understand the answer to the question to be both.

Luckily, we had the best company we could ask for in our good friends Dan and Natalia, so a good evening was had despite the shady tramposo.

We also watched a disappointing soccer match between Brazil and Argentina. Brazil scored within the first five minutes and it was downhill from there. The crowd of Argentina fans, ourselves included, were not best pleased. Well, as the French say, c'est la vie.

Murder Most Foul

Funny thing happened at the Tower today. They have a little exhibit on the murder of a man in the Jacobean era. He was poisoned while imprisoned, and since his murderers were aristocratic (an Earl and Countess, I think), and the husband was a friend of the King, the case became a sensation.

Anyway, according to the Tower, here's the story. This guy (can't remember his name, sorry) went to prison but he threatened to reveal something bad about the Countess's first marriage. She sent him tasty vittles. She also sent a letter to the Tower's governor, warning him not to let his family eat any of those vittles. This was, obviously, super-subtle.

So the governor tested the food and - lo and behold - it turned out to be poisoned. He didn't give it to the prisoner.

Here's where the Tower gets shifty.

They say something like, 'but then he was poisoned and died and later the Countess and her husband were convicted which was dicey for the King since they were his homies.' I'm paraphrasing.

Yeah, kids. Notice they don't explain how he was poisoned. The governor caught the food, so how did it happen?

Shhhh....he was poisoned in his enema. Yes, in his enema.

So today I learned this: at Royal Heritage sites you can't allude to poo.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Peer Pressure is the Best

Charles doesn't really dig Indian food. He had a bad experience many years ago (a potato that wasn't a potato. It was squash. Take a moment to imagine the thoughts that would flit through your head if you bit into a piece of "potato" and found it soft, with seeds. Yeah.), and since then has only managed to eat Indian a couple of times.

I, on the other hand, could eat Indian food every day. Every.Single.Day. Especially at lunch.

However, Charles is a stand-up guy. So if Indian is on the menu, he'll give it a try. He did it when we first arrived (thank you, Bart and Tony!), and he did it again tonight. Dan promised Natalia that here in Britain they would try Indian food, since the large population of Britons from the sub-continent allows for endless variations and great flavors.

And being such a nice guy, Charles said sure. So I had garlic naan, palak paneer, a taste of lamb vindaloo, a taste of chicken tikka masala, chilli paneer, vegetable samosas....[Excuse me. Must go beat head against wall until this feeling of euphoria passes.] Charles enjoyed his dish, chunks of chicken sauteed with vegetables and coriander.

So Nancy Reagan was totally wrong. When your friends want you to try something: Just Say Yes.

In other news, 3 billion people shopped at Harrod's today. I think I bumped into all of them.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Beth Ditto?

Uh. Ok.

So the Friday Night Project (a fun Friday comedy show) has a different host every week. This week, it's Beth Ditto. She's in a band, but what she's famous for is being kind of...zaftig. And dancing in her underwear, wet. And stuff like that.

Just now, she came out on stage and greeted the regular hosts by pressing their faces into her (ample) bosom. And then she spoke.

OMG she's American. And southern.

The shame.

[Added 3 minutes later: she just said "titty sweat." Swear. To. God.]

Off to London

Tomorrow morning we toddle off to London, where we will meet Dan and Natalia for a week's fun. Now, this being Dan and Natalia, that fun will not be confined to London. Please recall Vegas Wedding Exhibit A: Ceviche at midnight. That's right: this is a blowout 3-stop, 2 country (one nation) vacation extravaganza.

So we spend Saturday, Sunday, and Monday in London. Monday, we return to Oxford. Tuesday and Wednesday Charles will show D&N Oxford while I work at the RAI. Wednesday afternoon, we all jump a train for Edinburgh (that's Scotland to you). Thursday and Friday are spent in Edinburgh, then Friday evening we return to London. Saturday morning we try to recover. Dan and Natalia head for the airport Sunday, while Charles and I (hopefully joined by Bart and Tony) lunch on Saturday with Luke Robinson, who will himself have just gotten off a plane from Boston or Texas or someplace.

It makes me tired just to think about it. But I know that when Dan and Natalia arrive their boundless energy will boost me right up. Plus, I can't wait to show Natalia St. Peter ad Vincula, once called the 'saddest place on earth.'

Why? Because practically everyone in there is headless!!! No, really.

So that'll be fun.

Today's wtf

The brits call it dairy ice cream. Is there non-dairy ice cream? Should I be worried?

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Assigned theater seats are a good thing

So, we enjoyed Harry Potter today. I must say that while the tickets cost the moon, assigned seats were a plus. Show up at your leisure and your seats are still yours. Me likey.

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Oh, Sorry

Did you want to know how it was? Sorry.

It was excellent.

Insert Title Here

For the second time, I've been to a movie in England. Only this time, it was Harry Potter.

That's right. And I get the book from Blackwell's in a week or so. [stuffs fist in mouth with glee]

I have been accused, at times, of being "obsessed" with "talking" in the "movies." I deny this. Categorically.

However, I will say that our theater was admirably calm, considering. With 200 tweens, many girls, in the audience, you don't exactly expect silence. But when the actual movie started (as opposed to the stupid previews and even stupider commercials), there was a chorus of loud "shhh"-ing. Excellent. I love this country.

What's not so lovable is the habit of taking real food into the theater. I always kind of wished for this in the US. At some theaters, such as the Angelica in NY, you can get pastry and sandwiches and beer for the show. People talk about this as a fantastic thing, and it is pleasurable if you're the one eating.

BUT, I learned today, if you're not eating, it can be a trial. Was it the stinky sandwich on my left, or the smell of an egg mcmuffin toward the end that offended me the most? Unsure. The only thing I'm certain of is that taking food into a darkened room where everyone is concentrating....that's not good. It's a stink-fest.

On the walk home, all sweaty from the new temperature spike (up to 72 degrees!!), we saw a very inviting pub. It said:

And plenty of it!

So those are my weekend plans. Oh, that and the Tower of London.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Nickel and dimed to death?

I'm not one to post links, but this article describing the horror the author experienced when he tallied the monthly and yearly subscription costs he faces for staying digitally connected in the multimedia world struck a chord with me.

Surcharge? What Surcharge?


OK, so on the TGV trains the luggage rack above your head has a glass base. On some, it's etched, which is nice, but on others it's reflective.

When it's reflective, you can see the people in front of you as if in a mirror. You can watch them do whatever they do, and examine their bosoms and books and hand gestures and whatever.

Returning from Paris, I noticed a young woman eating lunch with her friend. Like anyone in France (at least like me), they had packed an enormous bag full of goodies. She kept dipping in and dipping in and bringing up various treats.

She ate yoghurt. And by "ate" I mean that she spooned out the obvious bits, then expertly cleaned the inside of the plastic cup with her spoon. Her moves reminded me of a plasterer, who makes it look easy even though you know it's actually nearly impossible. She had the touch. And I thought, "seriously? It's only yoghurt, honey."

But then, this morning, I realized I was doing it,too. Scraping that last tiny bit of pear and butterscotch yoghurt (Marks and Spencer, 59 pence per tub, also in Honey Heather and Ginger flavor) out and greedily consuming it.

It's not our fault. The yoghurt here (in Europe, not just England) is dirty. Absolutely unlike American yoghurt. It's definitely not a health food, in the sense that it tastes good. Also, it's full of fat and ridiculously creamy. The Kjerulf's eat a vanilla version for dessert, and no wonder.

Each and every morning I sit at the table and think, "I could have another one." And you know I'm not taking any on the darn train when I return to Paris.

Because everyone will see.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The vagaries of travel

As Fiona indicated, BritRail is happy to sell a rail pass that stops at the borders of Wales and Scotland. Further investigation revealed that they have another flavor of pass that gets you to Scotland and Wales as well. However, it was not entirely clear one could get it on short notice or after arrival. It is only available to foreigners as well. (For all you Americans reading this, yes, you can get them. In this context - gasp - you are among the foreigners.) in any event, the potential cost savings was real, but we did score first class tickets at the second class price for half the trip without the passes.

As far as I can tell, you can often do very well on train prices if you book far in advance. By very well I mean you can sometimes see an order of magnitude price difference between the cheapest fare - only available in limited quantities, supplies going fast - and the basic, buy it today and ride now fare. The system is maddening to say the least.

To complicate things further, just last week I saved 26 pounds on two tickets by waiting a week to book, after which time the super secret deluxe low advance fare for 8 pounds became available for one leg of my Liverpool to Oxford journey after having once been available, only to disappear overnight before I booked it. This price was down from about 21 pounds, the lowest price available after the mystery disappearance of the good fare. I actually had the temerity to ask the agent why the price disappeared overnight and after much persistence was told that it was because it was raining and that if I checked in a week I'd probably get the lower price.

I was sure he was full of shit until the lower price showed up.

So, it seems like I'll get there, but I'm no travel agent, that's for damn sure.

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More France

Dominique sends two pictures of our trip to France:

This is Brian, Fiona and Charles just before walking across the Maine river toward the cathedral in Angers.

This is us in a bar after our dinner out in Angers. Note the color of our shirts. Note the slight flush caused by wine and (in Charles's case) beer. Note giddy smiles caused by three days of French food, beautiful French towns, and charming French folks.

This is Brian and Dominique, the same evening. If you look at the sign behind them, you'll see that we are in the James Joyce pub, an Irish bar in Angers. Because it's all about the Guinness, folks.


So, hotels and train companies are supposed to be businesses, right? Right. And yet...they seem so unbusinesslike.

First, Charles sought train tickets for the four of us (the Hallorans plus the Frumins) to Edinburgh. After two phone calls, 45 minutes on the website and a moment of panic when it emerged that we cannot pick up the tickets here in Oxford or at either Victoria or Waterloo stations (picking up the tickets began to feel something like finding Platform 9 and 3/4. And if you don't know what that means, shame on you), and about $1000, Charles had four tickets to Edinburgh from Oxford and back to London. Whew!

Then, one intrepid member of our little band mentioned the BritRail pass. Why didn't we get one, since it's a bit less for a 4-day pass than we'd just paid? Well, the answer is: the pass only gets you to the border of England. Not into Scotland or Wales.

Are you getting this? We'd like to travel up England and into a country that's part of the UK. A reluctant and rather grumpy part, but part nonetheless. But no. BritRail says that their pass covers only travel within England, and if you want to go up to Scotland (and God only knows why you would), then that's up to you.

On to the hotel. After 30 minutes online and a variety of sighs, Charles finally said, "I can't figure out how to get to this place!" Turns out that we have reservations in a building of small apartments. The building and the check-in are not in the same place. You can make a reservation, but the confirmation doesn't tell you where the check-in is. What about the website? It shows you where the apartment is, but not the check-in. No use having an apartment without keys, dude. And the directions say "keep going on Queen street. Proceed to central office." Ok, how? Where? No idea.

Google to the rescue. The address is 6 Queen Street, which allowed us to Mapquest it. But honestly, how absurd is it to take a reservation and then provide no phone number, no address, and no directions!!?!

I begin to understand why Scotland is the nation that gave us the deep-fried Snickers bar. More than even the British (who, as you will recall, consider a cup of tea a delightful luxury because the weather is so dreary), the Scots need a little something to get them through the day.

So when they get tired of BritRail dropping tourists at the border, and when they run out of hapless Americans with reservations but no keys to their room, stalking the streets of Edinburgh complaining, they turn to fat. Deep, fried fat on top of buttery caramel and molten chocolate.

That'll fix anything.

ADDED LATER: Charles tells me that there is a BritRail pass, for the same money, that would get us to Scotland. Whatever. Or, as they say here, Wha-evah. The point is: it was hard! And confusing! Wah!!!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Back in Blighty

After a hellish drive (how about 6.5 hours instead of 4? How about repeated construction delays? How about insane NJ drivers going 80mph and changing lanes like Danica Patrick?), We arrived in Newark and began the process of removing our shoulders from our earlobes.

Dinner? Well, we planned on driving over, havinng dinner at the airport, then wandering about in a leisurely manner before convincing the lovely young lady behind the Virgin Atlantic desk to give us a nice pair of first-class seats, gratis.

But no. Thanks to traffic, we arrived late enough to worry about timing. So we went straight into the secured terminal. There, we chose among: a repulsively seedy bar/restaurant, aged sandwiches in a cooler, and candy at the dirtiest magazine shop I've ever seen. Grrr...Newark.

Of course, I see my mistake. I told Mother, on Saturday night, "Newark used to be a dump, but now it's nice!" MIS-Taaaa-aaaaake. Turns out that the arrivals area from the international terminal is nice, but when you're heading out of NJ, it's more like "don't let the door hit you..."

So, one bag of Combos and some Jordan Almonds later, having read enough about Nicole Richie's pregnancy and Stars: They're Just Like Us! to feel American again, we finally boarded our crowded plane, took our tiny economy seats, and settled in.

And now, a word for my new best friend. The woman who has taken my heart and made it her own. Her name? unknown. But she's a princess. How do I know this? She moved across the aisle, in flagrant defiance of the flight attendants, before the flight began. This left Charles and me with an empty seat between us. I gave her my blanket and would have given her much more. Wherever you are, Miss, I hope you win the lottery. Also, your jean jacket is totally cute.

The flight proved uneventful, and catching the bus to Oxford was the easiest thing ever. We rode back to town in a haze, just biding time until we could lay down our heads on the pillow.

So here we are, six hours of jet-lagged sleep later, one trip to Tesco accomplished, with the first cup of British tea with British milk (excellent!) sitting here on the table. Delish, and so, so welcome.



Observed on a church billboard near Sylvan Beach: "Afraid of Burning? Try some Son Screen"

And that's all I have to say about that.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Been There, Done That, Time To Do It In Reverse

So, we arrived in Newark, negotiated customs, found the car rental and car, drove for 4.5 hours to East Syracuse and finally got to bed about something like 6 am GMT, making an almost 24 hour day to get to the wedding here in NY.

Friday: slept late, lunch, necessary shopping for things needed for the wedding like socks and razors, rehearsal (another hour drive, thank you very much), rehearsal dinner, drive back to East Syracuse, and bed. Luckily, we did locate Starbucks. (Only travel in England can make US prices at Starbucks seem cheap.)

Today: breakfast at hotel, pick up the groom, drive to church (another hour in the car - can you say, "Good times?" I thought so), wait for an hour for wedding to start (groom needed to be there an hour early, naturally), 37 minute ceremony (not that I was timing it or anything, but a tuxedo is a bit warm at the best of times), receiving line, photos, drive back to hotel (another hour, with stop for coffee at Starbucks, thank you very much), some more photos, reception, return from reception to hotel via drug store, post to blog.

Along the way, of course, we had nice visits with nice people.

Tomorrow, we can look forward to the reverse trip from Thursday: East Syracuse to Newark (4.5 hours), anxious queueing at the airport (.5 to infinite hours, but we've budgeted at least 3), flight back to London (7.5 hours, give or take), more customs (Yay!), baggage claim, bus to Oxford (2 hours), walk home (10 minutes).

Now, I'm not trying to be funny here, I'm just being honest, I'm not bovvered, I'm not, really, I'm not bovvered.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


So far, so good. Bus to Heathrow worked well and was the nicest bus so far. The line for tickets and giving up our luggage to fate was so short as to be non-existent. Security was a moderately confusing but quick moving set of separate inspections. First bags and metal detector, then a separate shoe x-ray. Quick, though.

Then into a Vegas style mall area with high end vendors and run of the mill, but nice enough, restaurants and many seating areas. We had a pub lunch/breakfast complete with magner's cider.

Then about an hour or an hour and a half of waiting for our gate to be announced. Up until just over an hour before departure they don't even tell you the gate number and the mall area is a 10 minute walk from the gates.

This made sense once we arrived at the gate area because there is yet more security but no facilities.

And now, the flight.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Captions, captions everywhere

I added captions to the photos below. So go back and look again.

And to add another fun bit. In the Metro, the doors have a little sticker. It says something like, "Don't put your hands on the door, or you risk a good hard pinch." Translated into English, this comes out, "Avoid putting your hands on the door." How boring.

Somehow, we find ourselves without a picture of little Sophie, Brian and Dominique's smallest daughter. It's too bad, because she's ridiculously cute. My mother would be particularly fond of her, since I only saw her once wearing any color other than pink or purple.

Things I looked at in France

We had great hosts and saw more cool stuff than we could photograph.

Below, the kitchens at Fontevraud. They date from the 11th century, I think. The chimneys around the edges show where fireplaces sat on the outside of this round room, so you could cook over many fires at once.

Outside of the Abbey of Fontevraud:

Gargoyles at Fontevraud, on the kitchen building:

More recent buildings, mostly 15th and 16th century. The Abbey began as a refuge for abused women, a place of worship, and a retreat for the family of the Counts of Anjou. The Abbey contained both nuns and monks (and people just visiting), but was always governed by an Abbess, which was rare for its time.

Below, the gardens of the Abbey. They are flower gardens, food gardens, and medicinal gardens, all laid out in lovely French precision.

Looking upward into the chimneys of the kitchen building. There are multiple chimneys.

Below, the inside courtyard of the more recent part of the Abbey.

In the room where they ate, the walls have eyes.

Imagine eating here. In silence. Or with someone reading the Bible in Latin.

Fontevraud had an exhibit which tried to link the history of medieval France to the fantastical imagination of the present and the past. So they put up images of unicorns, Robin Hood, etc., alongside descriptions of the reality. A favorite translation? From "C'est bon? C'est mal?" into English: "Was he a goody or a baddy?"

Knight in Armor, Armor...Darth Vader. Umm...ok.

The back of the Abbey church:

Inside the Abbey church:

King Richard of England (Richard the Lionhearted), laying next to Isabella of Angouleme. She was married to John, Richard's loser brother. John stole her from Hugh Lusignan, to whom she was engaged, and whom she married after John died. Meanwhile, the French managed to smack John around (reportedly while he was lazing about in bed with his new wife, enjoying connubial bliss until noon) and take almost all of the land the Plantagenet dynasty held in France. The French remain proud of this. The proof is that throughout the Abbey, whenever John appears (and he comes up often) he is identified as John Lackland. Nice.

At Richard's head lie the bodies of his parents, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England. Henry is the same king who inadvertently ordered the death of Thomas a Becket, now Saint Thomas. And let that be a lesson to all of you. You go around shouting things like, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" and bad stuff happens. You could end up crawling on hands and knees to a shrine while wearing a hair shirt and letting monks whip you. Seriously.

The church.

Claire, skipping along happily in her pretty outfit. Claire is as delightful as her corkscrew curls.

Laura, learning to use a camera, model, and enjoy modern art all at the same time.

Also Laura, in the garden at the tapestry museum in Angers. Laura was about to burn off some energy by running madcap around the garden for 20 minutes or so. Laura is living proof that cold fusion exists. She only weighs about 40 pounds, but I swear she could generate enough electricity for a major city. Think about it.

The castle in Sameur. Very pretty indeed, perched over the Loire in one of the prettiest towns I've ever seen. You can get a good lunch there, too. I'm just saying.

Below, the moat around Sameur castle. It's crazy deep.

Another view of the castle. It's under renovation, so we could not go inside. On the right, that's the Loire.

Here we have the cathedral in Angers as seen from down the hill. It is even more impressive up close and inside.

Trelaze was a mining town, and they have a museum to commemorate the mine. We missed it, but walked around and this beautiful cottage is part of the grounds. The whole thing is made of slate.

Guess what? Angers has a castle, too. And it's a corker. Check out these towers. There are 17 of them. Inside lies a much more recent chateau, and it's lovely. Also inside are a set of tapestries. They're the oldest, best-preserved tapestries in France, and they are very beautiful. They tell the story of the Apocolypse, though, so you have to stiffen your spine before venturing inside.

Below, the entrance:

You wouldn't expect this, would you? And yet, there it is, pretty as a picture.