Wednesday, April 24

Mount Diablo

 

Most visible land anywhere ?
Mount Diablo has always in my vision, literally, yet despite growing up nearby the highest mountain in the Diablo range (1,084 meters) I have never been to the top until now.  The  360-degree 'viewshed' offers expansive views of the SF Bay estuary and, on a clear day, the Sierras are visible over 300km away including Sentinel Dome in Yosemite.  Today, despite the sunshine, fog is visible on the western horizon. A small ranger station greets Grace and me at the top, where we bide our time talking about whatever. 

We pass multiple cyclists and three Ferraris on the way to the top. The panorama stimulates a discussion w my NorCal friends as to whether Mt Diablo presents the most visible geography vs, say, Kilimanjaro or Mt Fuji. The California poppy's are in full bloom.



Monday, April 22

SF Bay

 

I swim in the SF Bay whenever here, April being one of the coldest months for water temp as the bay estuary captures the Sierra's snow-melt resulting in temps at around 48-52f. After the initial shock of the jump, I pay the cold no mind and swim for about an hour or so.  One turn around the inside of the "cove", below, is 1500m or c one mile to the regulars but my watch and arm-count suggest more like 1200m.

Joe

This is what homelessness looks like in San Francisco - 100% Patagonia clothing and gear (Joe lives in Pacific Heights). I met him at my first job in NYC at First Boston while he went on to run the firm's North American Asset Management Business then settled in Hong Kong to head investment banking in Asia. High flier for sure. Once Credit Suisse consumed by UBS last year, Joe and his wife relocated to the Bay Area. 

Jon Grussing, who I have recently re-connected with, was also in the FBC Financial Institutions Group and same vintage year as Joe, remains at Credit Suisse and will likely transition to UBS - I joke, he is the last man standing. Joe and Jon each worked at their first post-uni job for 40 years.

Big Mac Revisited

Grace, Lupe and I go to the Stanford Medical Center in Berkeley so Grace can have a small skin cancer removed from her arm. A simple procedure requiring about 45 minutes and some stitches. Afterwards she wants McDonald's and so there we go. Neither of has had a Big Mac since I can remember (though we hit a Taco Bell on San Pablo last year after reading about Taco Bell's product r&d department in the New Yorker). She informs that the Big Mac is just not the same anymore (for me, it is always the same). 

What is different is that there are no counter-staff and a busy restaurant has a crew of like four people. What's a teenager to do for a summer job ?

Monday, April 15

Another One Bites The Dust

Though the picture does not do it justice, Dave, from Columbia MBA, was on his way to becoming the Financial Controller and eventually, perhaps, the CFO of Pepsico - I always thought the latter since he was the No. 1 accountant from my year at CBS. Instead, Dave has taken his marbles from the circle, leaving Pepsi as SVP & Deputy Financial Controller to be retired and spiritual, something unexpected, and that I applaud wholly.  

Brooklyn NY

I spend several days in Brooklyn visiting Katie and Daniel at their lovely home on a grade-listed and charming block in Brooklyn Heights near to the metro connections and fabulous restaurants including Clark's, a diner where we have a late lunch in the photo. Afterwards Katie and I walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset (magical), check out the WTC memorial and catch a ferry back to Brooklyn. The next day is the Highline.

Daniel has three teenage boys and I am happy to meet two of the three in motion.

I have figured out how to swim every day in NYC - the appropriately named Asphalt Green on 91st & York (Manhattan; top class 50 meter indoor pool, $25) and the Brooklyn YMCA (clean, functional 25 yards). My kilometres per week remain at c 30km.

Sunday, April 14

A First Apartment

Riverside Drive at 125 Street where Sonnet and I lived together first-time on the 5th floor facing me now with a view of the park and the river. I was at Columbia MBA and she arrived with her friendly black cat Dominique, having left her job at William-Sonoma, trusting that the apartment would be acceptable. Or me not a fraud. We were engaged to be married with everything ahead of us to come. 

Saturday, April 13

Manhattan

 

PAZ
I am in Midtown, on a wet and unpleasant day, at Park Avenue Plaza (middle left) which once housed the mighty First Boston (then CS First Boston then Credit Suisse First Boston then CSFB then Credit Suisse and now UBS). Yes, the top floors - mine 39 - housed the bankers who worked on Important Deals and Global Mergers and Acquisitions. PAZ, as it was called, was a sure power building with its novel green mirrored windows and simple detailing - a vertical cleft on one side that went from street level to rooftop. Given how seriously everybody took each other it is not surprising that my most absurd stories - and many of my best friends - are from this time.


From Midtown to downtown, still on Park Avenue but now on 21st Street, where I see painters painting a wall white for no apparent reason. 

Valle dei Templi

A Sicilian local catches me taking his photo as he takes a break from the morning shopping in Taomina nearby the San Domenico Palace. I am drawn to his style.

Temple of Concordia
The Valley of the Temples, in Agrigento, on the top of a mountain that provides panormanic views - and therefore protection - of the Ionian Sea, includes the remains of seven temples, all in Doric style, and dating from 25 centuries ago, give or take. The Concordia and its 6x13 columns, was built in the 5th century BC and turned into a church in the 6th century AD and thus survived the destruction of pagan places of worship. 

Sicily

Sonnet and I visit Sicily staying in Catania at the base of Etna, the world's most active volcano and, from 2013, a Unesco World Heritage site -  the ancient Greeks believed that the deadly monster Typhon was trapped under the mountain by Zeus. Etna does lend a certain feeling of unrest, the last major eruption sending 20 feet high lava flows in the 1990s, reflected by the surrounding chaos - roads and circles that make no sense, drivers who don't obey the traffic rules (if they exist), houses, churches and piazzas jammed together like crazy -- wonderful, all. Catania itself has been part of so many empires it is hard to follow the city's history - it belonged to the Romans, the Greeks, the Arabs and even the Normans. Every street corner offers something.

The Ionian Sea

The Greek ruins reason enough to visit Sicily as they are the most preserved in the world before the Romans arrived and put up their own ruins. We are in Taormina (where The White Lotus S2 was filmed), Agrigento (The Valley of the Temples) and Syracuse where I swim a few kilometres in the turquoise water launching from metal steps that descend to the rocky shore.

Easter Sunday

 

Sonnet prepares lamb for Easter, celebrated with Madeleine while Eitan in Washington D.C. interning at Crossroads Campaigns supporting progressive non-profits and electoral campaigns. He has transitioned into a central brownstone with five other young people who are enjoying more-or-less the same life and lifestyle. 

Normally the first major holiday of the year, ushering in the British springtime, met stoically with rain, gale force winds and even a hurricane but this time it is mild with only two-days of the four-day bank-holiday weekend washed out.

Dissertation At Work

 

Madeleine at the coffee shop office

Madeleine is working on her final-year dissertation at Manchester, which means, over the two-week Easter break while at home, she is out the door by 9AM with backpack on and computer fully charged. Her subject, suicide and self-harm in UK prisons, a serious one that demands examination. She is crunching data over the last 20 years tho not meeting any of the in-mates. The hypothesis is that inmate anxiety has become worse in confinement as investment in incarceration facilities and mental services has declined during the survey period.

Friday, March 22

On Nutrition

Post swim daily
I am experimenting with sports nutrition as I train for swimming.  Accordingly I have pre-swim nutrition (Gu gel), during-swim nutrition (Gu; SIS Go Electrolyte; High 5 Electrolyte; Coke drained of its fizz and sugar added; ISO Isotonic drink; Ovaltine with water; ginger cordial) and post-swim nutrition (High 5). Each is measured to the teaspoon and mixed into a one litre bottle of water for rapid consumption.

Admittedly the sports drinks are for exertions of 90 minutes or more and , since my workouts are about an hour, they don't really do much. The aim is to find the ones that don't make me sick for longer efforts. To judge, c half-way through a training session I guzzle the full litre and see what happens. So far, I like the Coke best.

The Fixx

Anthony and I meet up to see 1980s new wave rock band The Fixx. Beforehand we have dinner at a suitably trendy North London spot where Ant knows the owner then I get a lift in his electric bike which makes me a bit uncomfortable as cars wizz by. 

The Fixx opened for The Police's "Synchronicity" tour in 1983 and at the peak of their powers. Their album, Reach The Beach, is one of the few I listen to from soup to nuts every few years or so. The others ? Pink Floyd's Animals and The Wall; Beatles Let It Be and Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; Koyaanisqatsi; Prince's 1999 and Sign O The Times. Green Day "American Idiot". Not that many.

In other news, Eitan has settled in to his life in Washington DC, living in a brownstone with four other young people and working 9-5 at the Progressive Campaign. Having scant news I consider to be a good thing.

Monday, March 11

DJ

Lutrell
Sonnet and I, joined by Stephanie and Andy, see Lutrell in Brixton which keeps us out until 4AM. The club has two floors and we grab a booth from 10pm and watch the scene get started, then do some dancing. Sunday is a wreck and I sleep it off for most of the day.

Friday, March 8

My Mother and the Movies

30 minutes early eg right on time
Grace and I go to the movies a couple weeks ago - American Fiction - which has been, and remains, one of my mother's favourite things, and she is always up on the cinema. Since my father's passing, Grace has been mentally sharp and, while mostly indoors due to parkinson's, which both my parents have/ had, she keeps in touch with her dear friends, which are like gold dust, including Katrina (Montessori sister), Sue Barton (movie dates), Jeanine Saperstein (lifelong discussions), Laurie Berman (shared worldviews), Alan (Moe's law partner and Harley rider) and Ellen (Jewish mother) and her two sisters, Marcia and Carla, who were in Berkeley last week.  I am certainly missing other friends who bless my mom in this universe. 

Leaving Astorg has allowed me a lot of time in Northern California, a place I love. 

56 year friendship

Thursday, March 7

And Some Updates

Tomatoes seeded, spring around the corner
I am banging out the swimming, this morning 3km with neighbour Gareth who, very conveniently, has a beautiful 25m swimming pool in his backyard complete with a Lane 4 diving block and old-school analogue clock with big red and black hands indicating the seconds. We crank out sets of 200s, 100s and 50s.

Eitan has relocated to Washington DC to intern at Crossroads Campaigns, a non-profit organisation advising on progressive elections across the US. I believe he would wish to join a congressional or senate race following the internship - this is the year to fight fascism in America.

Madeleine, in her final semester at Manchester, is working on her dissertation which reports on anxiety and depression in UK prisons.

Friday, March 1

River Swim

Hampton canoe club
Kim has introduced me to swimming in the Thames, which opens up a completely new way to view the river. About ten years ago, when I started swimming in the SF Bay, the natural open-water venue in London is .. the Thames and Sonnet and I spent some time walking up and down the muddy riverbank to find an acceptable jump-in point, none found (we did explore Eel Island, famous for Rolling Stones and Jim Hendrix jam sessions but it, too, was slick and uninviting). 

Kim, however, is a veteran and there are stretches of the river which are fantastical and make me think of Huckleberry and Jim going down the Mississippi River, pulled by the water flow. We always swim West of Teddington Lock, where the river is fresh-water from a source near Oxford vs. East of the lock which is salt-water tidal (and passes through the center of London). On cleanliness, the Thames was declared a dead river in 1981. Today, there are otters and a dolphin sited only yesterday; there is talk of the ancient salmon-runs coming back.

In winter, the Thames can go as low as 1C requiring wetsuits, gloves, booties and a thermal hat ("skins", the Brits call it). We always swim in two's otherwise dangerous from cold or boats (rowers, propeller, sometimes barges). Spring and summertime the temps will reach 16-18C. Whenever it rains we have to be extra careful about the current which can run 2-3 knots and impossible to swim against. 

In short, the river has a personality that is worth getting to know.

Thursday, February 29

Boston

How is Eric more stylish than me?
I am in Boston last week for some business and do two things I enjoy most : swimming with a masters team, this time at MIT (beautiful fast clean 50m x 25yd pool) and visiting Eric and Simona in Cambridge, which I do for one night allowing me and Eric to go on a ramble through Cambridge, Somerville and Boston. All around us there is development for, mostly, we conclude, commercial and university bio labs which is THE thing here right now here, resulting in all sorts of regeneration and property value jumps, God bless. One can feel it in the air along with the smell of freshly brewed luxury coffee.

Eric is busy at his non-profit software company that neither me nor Roger understand but he is the lead engineer in an organisation that started in the maths department of Arizona and now employs >70 people and backed by the Milken Family Foundation. He is making a lot of money and works from home and can do whatever he wants, which is about right for his temperament.

View of Boston from Somerville's Prospect Hill Tower

Monday, February 5

And So It Goes

From California (photo AP)
My father did his voluntary military service in the early 1960s and therefore was not a candidate to be drawn up for the Viet Nam war (he had graduated law school in 1961). Both my parents marched against the war, arriving in San Francisco after the Peace Corps, however I do not recall Viet Nam with its inglorious conclusion and the fall of Saigon in 1975. I would have been old enough -- but it was not in my field of awareness at age 8 and second grade had more important things to occupy my imagination. Like kickball. 

Of course now a professional military dissolves personal responsibility - what, me worry? - while young people today are aghast at what is happening in Gaza (though no opinion, it seems, about Ukraine or Kashgar).  I recall the middle-age father of a college girlfriend (Republican) informing me: "I' am God damn proud to see bombs dropping on Iraq and using the US military force correctly, for once." And so it goes.

A Warm and Inviting Place

Anacapri
Every now and again I enter a restaurant and know it is well past its sell-by date like this Italian restaurant that has existed off Baker Street for 31 years, run by the proprietor chef and his son. The decor is garish and there is an over riding smell os something old. Windows and air ventilation non-existent, little room between the cramped tables and a bar counter that has long seen its days. The menu unchanged for 30 years including the daily specials (undated). Yet the clientele special - average age over 80, filling the venue, and talking animatedly or reading the newspaper at lunch hour. An ITV News broadcaster walks in and takes his normal place (I assume) while another old fellow sits with his dogs in the back. I don't see anyone kissing the hand but could be.

The food ? Fabulous. The son orders for me.

 

Sunday, February 4

The Future Is Upon Us. Again

Jim checks out the newest new thing
Roger's older brother Jim, otherwise a tech guy and ultra athlete when in training, checks out the Apple Vision Pro and is first to be "welcome[d] to the era of spatial computing, " as the Apple slogan informs. If anyone was going to pull us into virtual sordidness, it was going to be Apple (and maybe Jimmy) with its remarkable design (Steve Jobs: "Design is not the look or feel of a product, but rather what it does.")

Sonnet spends the weekend in Manchester with Madeleine, leaving me and Eitan and the dog to fend for ourselves. Pizza it is and non-alcoholic beer for me (I am informed that my snoring presently comprimises Sonnet's sleep during an intense work period on the Naomi Cambell exhibition so I have cut out alcohol and deserts before bed and now wear a nose strip at night to smooth out the breathing. Oh, and sleeping on my side, no moving.)

Eitan has accepted an internship with Crossroads Campaigns, a political consultancy providing "essential services" to progressive political campaigns, civic engagement enterprises and nonprofits. Eitan would like to join one of the actual campaigns, in The Year To Fight Fascism in the United States, and this could be a nice launching pad. He moves to Washington DC in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, January 30

Dog Days

Who can resist this dog?

Madeleine returns to Manchester today for the final term and her dissertation which focuses on mental anxiety in UK prisons (our gal is a psychology major). It has been a difficult time with Aiden's death.

Sonnet is in the crunch for Naomi, her next exhibition, opening in June. The book, published by the V&A press with her name on it, finalised at the type-setters last week with all hands on deck for a final review including Eitan (who was sly enough to charge £15/ hour but could have had more). 

For me, it is swim, swim, swim. Up at 6am and sometimes 2x a day.

Monday, January 29

John and 180 Studios

John and me, Trafalgar Square
John joins us Friday night and we head into central on Saturday to see the "UVA : Synchronicity" exhibition at 180 Studios at 180 Strand, which are built into the defunct Anderson Consulting car garage in a brutalist and deserted cement building not far from the Courtauld Art Institute. I interviewed at Anderson in '97 which is another life ago. The exhibition is a disorienting, immersive and multi-sensory experience (as the program states) and the kind of thing one can only find in London, I think. My favourite ? "Chaos" presents a sentient-seeming light at the end of a rotating multi-beam, circling in and out, without pattern - fascinating and menacing.

John is a stylish kid in a 1950s way - it's a sharp look that he carries exceedingly well. He is a culture vulture with a mind for detail and we discuss film, theatre, art and modern writers he finds interesting. It is super insightful to dial into a 20 years old's mind. Biden? for instance (John has British and American passports). John is not a big fan as Biden promised to serve one term to set the ship right and not run for a second term. This, he feels, betrays the commitment made to his generation.

United Visual Arts, 180 Studios

Wednesday, January 24

Dave's family

Berkeley reunited
Dave is in town for daughter Bella's graduation ceremony from London University with a Masters degree in theatre, only the ceremony is cancelled last minute, no explanation. Who knows - following the teacher's strike across UK universities Eitan's final marks were delayed months after his graduation (top honours, with distinction).

Joining in are Dave's partner Laura and son Dexter, who has photographic memory and interested in video games and the San Francisco 49ers following after Dad's obsession. Bella has a two-year automatic post uni visa and is looking for work in the West End, supporting herself with a non-theatre job in the meantime.

Dave, for his part, is teaching jazz at a privileged school in the East Bay where not one kid has heard of Duke Ellington and the moms ensuring their children receive a bit of cultural diversity for the college application - God help the educator who grants anything less than an 'A.'    

Sunday, January 21

Waterloo Bridge

I am most familiar with Waterloo Bridge, pictured, as I frequently walk across the Charing Cross pedestrian bridgeway from Waterloo Station to go to "town" (or "central", as the kids now say). Evenings are best as there is a single strip of lights that traverse the bridge adding colour and connecting North and South London.

Man, how the skyline has changed since 1997 and it continues to do so: at night, red warning lights dot the cityscape as new buildings go up and up, the St Paul's rule be damned (until maybe 2008 no building in central London could obstruct the view, or be taller than, St Paul's dome).

Thursday, January 18

Rathfinny Estate

Sonnet and I spend the weekend at the Rathfinny Wine Estate in the South Downs of Sussex which offers some of the world's very best sparkling white wines due, in part, to a warming climate.  The grounds are lovely and isolated, surrounded by the vineyards, of course, which spread across a number of valleys not far from the seaside.

Action shot

Our weekend comes to an abrupt shocking end upon learning the terrible news that Madeleine's friend Aiden has passed in his sleep likely from an epileptic seizure. We are heartbroken.

Richmond Hill

Eitan and I , and a roomful of old age pensioners, have coffee at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park, protected by the Crown Estate and once home to Bertrand Russell. The southwest views of the Thames Valley are lovely on any day and especially when clear and cold, like today. 

While difficult to see the grade, the below photo presents a steep hill from river level to the highest point in the park where Eitan once did Sunday hill-runs when in training ("brutal", he now says). 

Thames valley to Windsor, the Chilterns and hills in the Borough of Runnymede
King Henry VII's Mound offering a protected view of St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London and 10 miles away

Tuesday, January 2

Rusty On

Rusty has maintained his composure in the advancing years now at 13+. A Welsh springer spaniel has a 13-15 year lifespan while our dog is as poorly trained and energetic as ever, especially when guests stop by. Still, he is irresistible to young and old alike, who stop by to scratch him behind his ears or ogle his fine coat when at the coffee bar or on a walk. The goofy big nose completes the picture. He laps up the attention while giving cheer to those who seek it.

2024 Upon Us

 

Pre-party
We head out a touch earlier than the kids for New Year's Eve and happily make it home in time to celebrate midnight from bed. Eitan and Madeleine both see the sunrise. 
And, like that, we are in 2024. Good to be alive.
This is what Jan 2 feels like

Monday, December 4

Dublin

Sonnet has never been to Dublin so we go for a long weekend. Along with the Dublin Symphony, conducted by the wonderful Marin Alsop, a re-working of the 1950s play "The Quare Fellow" at the national theatre, I swim The Forty Foot which is about 30 minutes outside of Dublin 2 (central). The spot has been around over 200 years - women allowed from 1989 after protest - satisfying the Irish love for cold-water swimming. It is located on the Dublin Bay off the Irish Sea itself from the Atlantic Ocean. 

The water temperature is 11C (about 52f), well within my comfort zone without a wetsuit, yet the air temperature is a  near freezing 1C which has me concerned about the the getting-out. I'm in for 35 minutes and, upon exiting, the after-drop a serious thing requiring quick-dress hindered by claw-hand. It takes about two hours to fully warm up.

We have the unexpected joy of connecting with Aisling and Orla at Forty Foot since Aisling jumps most days; later we are joined by David though Eitan's grade-school friend Joe is in Spain on a study-year.



Monday, November 27

Thanksgiving 2023

Sonnet and I are joined by Halley and comprise the senior adults at two tables of 11 otherwise filled be 20 year-olds. We have calculated this to be the 20th year of Thanksgiving with Halley and her girls. 

Meanwhile Madeleine departs no 45 early to return to Manchester for a club party opening at Midnight, going until 10am the following morning. My offer to pay her cash to remain the night is rejected as are my counter higher offers. 

Of the young people, Aiden has never carved a turkey while four have not tried a martini which I prepare using the recipe of my grandfather only less dry vermouth (the original 1950s drink was 50:50 vodka or gin plus dry vermouth). I explain that while simple, the martini is rarely made well and only three venues in London qualify, in my opinion : Dukes in St James's (the king), The American Bar at the Savoy (of course) and Claridges for its lovely art deco bar.  Along with the drink, the maker must have a practiced story to tell during the preparation to ease his/her guests into the evening.






Friday, October 13

Tekfur Palace and End 61

From from Tekfur Palace on the highest point of Constantinople
Saint Sauveur in Chora is closed for renovation upon our arrival so we walk 15 minutes to the Tekfur Palace, a late 13th century Byzantine castle in northwest Constantinople on the highest point of the city, therefore controlling the Golden Horn, Pera (today's Galata), and the city itself. It suffered following the taking of Istanbul by the Ottomans in 1453, after which it became housing for the Sultan's animals, a brothel and, from 1719, a pottery workshop making Iznik-styled tiles that can be seen in mosques (and museums) around the world. The kilns went silent by the 19th century and the building converted to a poorhouse for Istanbul Jews before the structure's importance rediscovered in the late 20th century.

We also stop by the Yenj Cami "new mosque" (1665) on the Golden Horn but for another time.

And so, like that, our trip comes to an end, as I sip Turkish coffee at a street-side cafe awaiting the airport transfer. 

Thank you all for sharing the last four weeks with Eitan and me. Thank you for your emails, and being with us. 

Journey's end

Küçük Ayasofya Camii 60

The flat ceiling is unique
Our guide at the archeology museum (impressively he is 91 y/o with degrees in architecture from England and law from Paris) shows us the greatest hits including marbles of Hadrian, Apollo and Alexander the great, and the first currency (gold) discovered in Lydia, Turkey. He recommends the Küçük Ayasofya Camii or the "little" Hagia Sophia which he describes as the "most beautiful mosque in the world."

Really? So we go. Firstly, the mosque's dome is flat ("easy to make a curved dome, hard to make a flat one") and, from the inside, the lines break dramatically upward, even awkwardly, towards the ceiling peak (pictured). The detailing is exquisite. It is peaceful with no tourists and feels like our own discovery.

For its history, the Greek Orthodox dedicated the church to Saints Sergius and Bacchu from when it was built in 536 AD. The structure converted to a mosque during the Ottoman Empire from 1452 and remains a place of Muslim prayer today.

There are sunlit rooms inside and Eitan reads the Koran.

"It is they who follow the guidance from their Lord, and it is they alone who are successful in attaining the object in this life and the Hereafter."
--The Koran

"As for those who are bent upon denying (the truth), they would not believe, because it is all the same to them whether you warn them or do not warn them."
--The Koran
A restful place