Today a bank holiday and for once the weather nice. We've suffered that before, oh boy. Summer's end upon us. This week end we - or I should say Sonnet and the kids - pack. I finish my last long run - this time 22 miles - and am generally useless for the rest of the day. Most of our junk boxed, marked and ready to go. Movers arrive Friday when the kids conveniently in school and I conveniently in Athens.
So... the marathon. The last time I lined up in a cow suit and crashed out at 25 miles. Moo. Before that, it was '98 when I completed London in 3:11 despite walking the last two miles and barely holding it together on the Bird Cage and Buckingham Palace despite the crowds and spectacular setting. In between there have been jumps and starts where I have put in the training yet missed out due to injury. The worst being the Jubilee Year when I was to run the Lake Vyrnwy in Wales picked specifically for its flat surface and low numbers+tree shade. Three weeks before my lower back ached and that was that. In my mind, cracking three hours not only possible it should be easy if trained up and injury-free. Afterall, I tell myself, I have gone 1:16 on the half and never had difficulty on long runs, sometimes jumping into a 20 with nothing other than a wing and a prayer. And yet the marathon alludes me, having broken my spirit on four occasions. I have yet to complete one without walking.
My training for Berlin next month began a year ago in Colorado. I was dissatisfied with my middle age athletisim and gut line. Since, I have adhered to a training program and established a good base and, while I have not lost any weight, I have redistributed my stomach so it no longer gluts. Sonnet likes that. For the record, ten years ago I weighed around 74KG and now it is 82KG. My blood pressure down and my resting heart-rate 40-42 which is a measurable improvement. Still, and yet, I no longer have the same bounce I once did. My long runs - and I have done six of them the last two months - are labored and not especially enjoyable. Even with massage and rest I recover slowly and, as I write, the aches and pains are there.
The race, then, really boils down to the day. If, over the next three weeks I recover from the training AND the planets aline, maybe I will do something special. But if not, I have still shown myself I can run like a young man, even if not has long and as fast.
Monday, August 31
Friday, August 28
Here is the Royal Festival Hall of the rejuvenated Southbank Centre, which Tony Blair was to destroy by 2002. He didn't. I snap this photograph yesterday as we walk to Waterloo station for a train ride home and Sonnet's hair appointment. The RFH's foundation stone was laid by Prime Minister Clement Attlee in 1949 on the site of the former brewery built in 1837 (no rock uncovered in this city). The thing opened in 1951. Today, RFH is a Grade I listed building - the first post-war building to become so protected (in April 1988). The London Philharmonic Orchestra performs in the hall while the skateboarders skate underneath. Sonnet's Uncle Shelton was invited to consider running the entire complex when he was doing the same in Los Angeles for the L.A. Arts and Cultural Center.
Today the Southbank hosts restaurants, bars and venues along a riverside promenade. The next door Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward Gallery both an example of brutalist architecture meant to separate their appearances from the RFH. Think gnarly concrete but it's cool. This where the London Jazz Festival held and most recently we saw Berkeley friend Josh Redman. The best thing about the Southbank is the young people - who come here on a London evening to be a part of the Big City's sophistication and feel like adults. Looking northward offers the best view bar none - lit up is the embankment with her art-deco buildings, bridges and scene. This the ideal place to be in one's 20s, first job and flat and on a date with somebody you might spend the rest of your life with.
“Serious confrontation has to be against the leaders and key elements, against those who organized and provoked and carried out the enemy’s plan."
-- President Mahmoud Ahmadineja, against his chief political rivals on Friday, calling on judiciary officials to “decisively” and “mercilessly” prosecute them for challenging the legitimacy of his electoral victory and tarnishing the image of the state.
We're by City Hall, affectionately known as "the sail" due to Sir Norman Foster's unusual design. The building in Southwark next to the Tower Bridge. This area used to be unused land which I recall fairly well from my early days working in the City at Botts & Co -- I had a running loop from New Fetter Lane via Fleet Street to Blackfriars then along the embankment, crossing the Tower Bridge then the Thames's southside to Waterloo or Westminster Bridge and back. If you've seen the movie "An American Werewolf in London" there's a scene of hobo city just here - the werewolf spotted by a drunk warming his hands over a garbabe-pale fire. The new City Hall, finished in 2002, changed all that with its glass-and-steel design which pulled in multiple, horrible copy cats which now make the area totally unpleasant, in my opinion. I have no problem regenerating but does every architect have to re-build Midtown Manhattan? Prince Charles might have a point sticking his nose into the council's jurisdiction telling them and the public such crap inconsistent with London's traditional red-brick and Victorian history. Or at least the sky-line, which is preserved somehow despite monstrosities like Centre Point. Still, this progress and maybe in 200 years they, to, will become beautiful.
“My mission is to create a structure that is sensitive to the culture and climate of its place.”
"I'm telling you there's an enemy that would like to attack America, Americans, again. There just is. That's the reality of the world. And I wish him all the very best."
-- George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2009
Sonnet and I catch a train to London Bridge to visit our solicitors and complete the purchase of 45 York Avenue, now officially our new address from 1 September. Afterwards we have lunch on Bermondsey Road famous for its market and a cool-edgy part of town. A flat here in one's 20s would be ideal - surrounded by clubs and bars+art and culture. It feels a shade run down and dodgy yet the old brownstones majestic and aged perfectly. Afterwards we kick around the river and I take photos - here, facing North. I have no idea the buildings nor ever inside, which I find surprising sometimes. My job, after all, to meet people in high places with nice views. Also pictuered on their put-put, HM Coastguard - I recall their recruiting posters on the underground showing some dudes ripping up the water; the caption: "All this before 8AM" and thinking - good, God, imagine doing it all day? I suppose many people trudging along to their office in over-jammed cars would. I am glad I gave up the City and commute some years ago.
Sonnet tired from her trip but puts up with my ongoing commentary about this and that - a couple kissing, why tourists photograph pigeons, that building which is ugly - this sort of thing. At one point I ask her if she thinks I am intersting? since she sure hears enough from me. In return for her patience, I do give her my full and uncompromised attention so I suppose a fair trade, if not surely a better deal for me.
Sonnet returns from Santa Fe following a week with her parents, Uncle Shelton and Bridgette, Uncle Bill and Aunt Robin and Ray. Together they see two operas, several concert recitals, museums, galleries and the Native American (or Indian?) market which is the largest of its kind and offers wonderful jewelry, tapestry, stones, paintings and the like. She also hits Target for the kids winter wardrobe, God bless. Madeleine is all chatter in car ride to the airport and we re-hash Wednesday's kennel interview. She is quite happy of her performance but, "really, dad - it is all about bringing home a dog" and I certainly agree. As for Sonnet, she is in one piece following a long journey and happy to be home, as we are thrilled she is here. Just in time for the Bank Holiday week end which will be spent packing in preparation for the Big Move.
Thursday, August 27
Our yesterday concludes with a well deserved treat. Before and once again, we visit the Dog Kennel so Madeleine can further her research on various breeds. She takes her decision quite seriously. While there, we have an interview in case one day soon we go home with a new family member - Madeleine does well despite her butterflies ("why do you want a dog?" Madeleine: "because I love all dogs and breeds. I want to walk him every day").
An otherwise perfect day interrupted by Ted Kennedy's passing. Kennedy could have gone either way following Chappaquiddick and became one of the liberal's Great Lions. He was the second most senior member of the Senate, and the third longest-servicing senator in U.S. history and one of the most outspoken and effective Senate proponents of progressive causes and bills. Sadly he won't be with us to fight for health-care reform, which was his life-long ambition
So whatever you think of Kennedy, you have to admire the right's audacity. The US is the only major industrialised country that does not provide regular health care to its citizens. Instead, we are required to provide for ourselves - and 50 million people cannot afford the insurance. As a result, 18,000 US citizens die each year because they cannot get treatment. Yet the Republicans accuse the Democrats, who are trying to fix the problem, of being "killers" or Nazis - and have successfully put Democrats on the defensive. Same as it ever was. The Republicans want to defend the existing system for many reasons but also because they receive massive sums of money by the private medical firms who benefit from the status quo. But they cannot do so honestly - 70% of Americans say it is "immoral" to retain a medical system that does not cover all citizens. My dad said so last night. So they have to invent lies - like "death panels."
The real problem is that 80% of Americans receive the best care in the world and are covered so don't feel a need for change urgently if at all. Unless they lose their job. Or want to start a company. We further lose our compassion when scared shitless yet doing nothing should also keep us up at night: consultants McKinsey & Co. state today's health care cost is 17.6% of GDP and set to double inside ten years; US health care already the highest in the Western World. Ever wonder how Rome collapsed? We need you more then ever, Teddy.
"His extraordinary life on this Earth has come to an end. And the extraordinary good that he did lives on."
--President Obama on Ted Kennedy
Trafalgar Square and that is Lord Nelson on top of his column, with St Martin's-in-the-field the pointy cathedral in the back. The English National Opera the smaller column with an orb on top and to the left the National Gallery. Canada House to the left again and the Strand to my right. No doubt a lot going on here, arguably London's pumping heart and most famous square in the world (though New Yorkers might disagree).
Here commemorates the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar when the British navy whipped the French in the Napoleonic Wars (hence Nelson stands tall). Trafalgar a traditional gathering place for the Big Events like New Years or to celebrate Britain's Olympic athletes. Once this was a proper circus and traffic cut across the top of the square before the National Gallery. Thank goodness mayor Ken Livingstone put a stop to that, closing the bridal way allowing visitors to stream out of the museum, down the stairs and to the fountains and open space filled with pigeons which tourist love to photograph, including us when we visited in 1981. God knows why. Eventually following Ken's lead we may see grand promenades, like Paris, connecting here to Regent's Park but I don't see how given London's traffic. We pedestrians should be grateful for every little we get. Behind me but out of the shot is the famous Mall which heads straight to Buckingham Palace.
"Gentlemen, when the enemy is committed to a mistake we must not interrupt him too soon."
-- Lord Nelson
Wednesday, August 26
I promise to show Eitan and Madeleine some of my favorite things in London and both automatically assume, correctly - museum. So here we are at the National Gallery in the impressionist wing looking at the van Goghs, Monet's, Pissaros and Cezannes. I ask them to describe the paintings and the emotions they evoke. Madeleine able to catch a vibe and notes that van Gogh's clouds "sort of sad" which is fair enough given that he had cut off his ear and committed himself to Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, a mental hospital in Provence. It is easy to see his gloom even though his paintings of fluffy clouds floating over fecund wheat might seem otherwise. My favorite today is Degas's "Combing the Hair ('La Coiffure') which Madeleine and I stare at for a few moments - the painting shocking for its colours instead of the simple story. Degas uses bright reds for the two characters and his backdrop, which demands attention and stands out in the gallery. The kids do a good job reciting tidbits of stuff they remember from the classroom. Eitan: "van Goph painted some flowers ('Sunflower') to put into his guest room for his friend Goen (I think Gauguin) so it would cheer him up. He (van Goph) died in 1890". Not bad.
My favorite guilty pleasure of London is the ten minute visit to a museum to see one or two painting. It's a gluttony, I admit, but after years of feeling obligated to trapse through galleries meaning nothing the mid-afternoon quickie something to rejoice.
Since pictures forbidden inside the museum I had to snap this one quickly.
I take the Shakespeares to St. Martin's-the-Field - inside, pictured - hoping there will be a noon recital but no luck (or lucky for them). I learn that 2006 excavations as part of a £36 million "renewal program" uncovered a grave dated about 410. Wow. My history with the place a bit more recent when Sonnet and I attended a tour of the various stones used around Trafalgar Square. This would be September 1997 and we were joined by 30 or so old-age pensioners and youngest by at least 20 years. Not loving that time, no sir. But I did learn, and do recall, that portland stone (technically a limestone) used as a building stone throughout these British Isles, notably in major public buildings in London like St. Paul's Cathedral and Buckingham Palace and most recently the new BBC Broadcasting house at Portland Place. And of course St Martins (the earliest building being Church Ope Cove, Portland, in 1080). It is a beautiful rock too. We were encouraged to spot the various shells and fossils embedded in the chalk which only make it more interesting -- I point this out to Eitan and Madeleine, who roll their eyes - so what? Another attractive feature that the chalk self-cleaning but in reality, the traffic pollution too much and so the make-up two years ago.
"Church of the Ever Open Door"
-- Vicar Dick Sheppard from the early 20th Century when work with homeless people started
I give Natasha the day off so I can be solo with the kids. After a slow start ("I said brush your teeth and put on your shoes!") here we are at Waterloo station on our way into town. I prefer public transportation as it allows us to talk whereas otherwise I drive and they stair. We miss the morning rush hour - horrible way to start one's day though better than the traffic jam - and we secure three seats together. Eitan reminds me that we discussed "all the concrete" but I recall my comment more provocative: everything surrounding us the product of human imagination and ability. Like a board game we pass the Flower Market, the UK Poste then DHL and Deloitte's corporate HQ and Cap Gemini -- each with their neat little space South of the Thames.
London has the 6th largest city economy in the world after Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Paris, according to PwC. As EU's second largest city economy after Paris, London's metropolitan area generates about 30% of the UK's GDP or $669 billion in 2005 (Institute For Urban Planning). The broader Southeast the engine of the British economy and exports aprox. £20 billion to the home counties. Unfortunately, the capital lags in many services including health care (longer than average NHS wait times), school's (some of the country's worst) and transportation (most used rail and public transportation networks). By contrast, Paris absorbs the nation's wealth and not surprisingly most things work. This true for the country, actually - which goes to show that higher taxes without wastage and competent government can create a more egalitarian society. Still, I would never start a company here. Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
Tuesday, August 25
It is late evening and I walk to the duck-pond with the kids; Madeleine busies herself making a Swann's nest and both befriend some Italians who give them bread for the birds. The temp a perfect 72 and autumn somehow feels around the corner. A nice evening.
So in England, the Home Office aims to get rid of the traditional pint glass in order to reduce the 87,000 injuries caused each year by glassware, according to Sebastian Conran who heads the Home Office Design and Technology Alliance Against Crime (Big .... Brother ....). I do agree that anything to reduce injury a good thing and I suppose when facing a shit-faced brawler the glass a natural extension but wouldn't it be better to reduce the drunk somehow first? Oh, I forgot - we tried that by granting pubs 24 hour licences from two years ago. So here is what the Design Council reports: 126 million pints of beer served in Britain each week and the average Joe will finish 11,6000 pints in his very English lifetime. The classic pint jug originally ten-sided but changed to a dimpled design in the last century. The most common shape of a pub glass today the "nonic," derived from its "no nick" design - a bulge below the rim that prevents them from chipping. Genius. Absolute genius. And finally: pint glasses have a number on them from the Weights and Measures Authority used to identify which office inspect them should you ever think Government somehow not looking.
So in case you were considering, a pint of bitter about 170 calories so over a lifetime a Brit consumes 1,976,640 calories of beer. A quick search of the Internets tells us that to shift 1lb of body fat, we need to 'lose' 3,500 calories. Good luck, Mr obesity.
How blessed we are to live next to Richmond Park. And still inside London.
So here's a go-figure for the Republicans: in spite of their sharp criticism of the bank bail-outs, the US Treasury has made serious money from the coupons payable under the troubled asset relief programme funding, most of which has been repaid. For instance, Uncle Sam has earned an annualised return of 23% from its $10B investment in Goldman Sachs under Tarp. It should be more. The US sits on a paper profit of almost $11B on its 34% sharholding in Citigroup, its only direct stake in a large financial institution - US authorities received more that 7 billion shares in Citi at $3.25 apiece, after converting $25B of preferred stock into common last month; since then, Citi's shares have gone to $4.70. This gain more than offsets the paper losses of all other significant state interventions in listed banks. All of this made possible by the FTSE World Banks index up 130% since its lows in March. Do not think for a moment, however, that bail-outs right or without risk: the last thing we need is an instituted bad debt insurance scheme, which could yet leave governments with vast deficits if loan losses end up worse then expected. Still, every little helps.
Monday, August 24
Phone photo from somewhere near Heathrow.
Women, according to a survey of 2,000 women by Tampax, start planning their week-end at 2:47 PM on Monday. Now there is an inflamatory observation if ever there is one. This kind of nonsense unhelpful to the three percent of female Executive Directors at the UK's top 350 companies (source: Co-operative Asset Management) or 34 of the 971 positions. More than 130 of the companies in the FTSE 350 Index do not have one woman on the Board (The Observer) and only four companies have Chairwomen while nine businesses have a female Chief Executive. This disgraceful.
Our family friend Guy brought a law suit against State Farm Insurance in the late 1970s because >99% of State Farm's sales agents male while >60% sales assistants and secretaries female. State Farm argued all the way to the final settlement that women did not want those high-paying jobs, nor qualified for the role. As the case progressed, Guy refused to accept company settlements and insisted on a jury which caused all kinds of internal friction at his law firm, I can imagine. In the end, his class-action the biggest recorded to then or $315 million in penalties against State Farm; Guy enjoys receiving semi-annual updates from State Farm's CEO on gender hiring, as required by the deciding court.
In my brief and humble experience, I worked with a female CEO who I recruited into a business that I started, in part, with Guy's support. She was worse then bad, but let us leave that for there though do feel free to contact me for a reference. Women make up half the world's talent pool and approximately 25% of business school graduates - Columbia, for instance, boasts around 35%, which is at the top of the US MBA schools. Let us assume that our largest corporations global and US business schools training students to run these companies... when I was in grad school in '97, there were over 65,000 MBAs receiving diplomas from accredited schools, up from under 5,000 per year in the 1970s. Taking the elite business schools (Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Columbia, Wharton, Kellogg, Tuck) which graduate 5,000 per year or about the same rate over 30 years and assume 15% of students female, aprox. 30,000 women own diplomas and careers from these world class institutions. This should provide ample pipeline, even discounting for the less experienced recent graduates, to fill our world's best companies with women CEOs, Board Directors and Executive Directors.
While it is difficult to ascertain what we have lost without a fair representation of women in our senior work force, there is no doubt limiting the pool to men harmful. Same as Guy, My sister trying to change this. Who says one or two committed people cannot make the difference?
Sunday, August 23
Our busy Sunday ends at the pool and frankly I am beat. But this the way it is supposed to be. Kids now watch Harry Potter and Madeleine bursts into tears missing Sonnet, who safely arrives in Santa Fe in time for the "Native American" market. Justin asks me if I can say "Indian" and you know - I am not sure if this politically correct in 2009. When we left the US 13 years ago "Indian" still Ok, but things have changed. This in large part due to my generation that refuses to accept blind stereotypes. We have have learned from the Civil Rights movement and Women's Lib; technology and communication bring it together. I think about this watching AMC's wonderful "Mad Men" which is as much about the early 1960s as Madison Avenue. The drama presents an unattractive world for women - no safe haven for they, including the office, gynecologist, or home. The first episode of Series One gives us new secretary Peggy, who is propositioned by three male superiors just three weeks into the job and sleeps with one of them .. her doctor tells her, mid-vaginal examination, that he will take her off the pill should she become the neighborhood "pump." Yes, our society improves and progress slow but forward. Will our children be in a better place?
Here is Justin surrounded by it all. He and his family return from August holidays in Corsica, which sounds amazing - certainly more interesting then staying in London but I am not complaining. This a great city and here we are together in Richmond Park on a beautiful late summer's day. Justin et al are bronzed and fit, re-charged for the fall semester which is one of those amazing things about this country: we go to work from September. The weather chills, clocks set back and days short.. and productivity increases in a huge way. While I cannot find data supporting this observation, I see it around me from school to private equity (up) to year end accounting (up up). This contrasts with the states where there is a general even spread across the year, with dips around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Two weeks vacation on average does that - grind, grind, grind.
This morning's yard sale goes off at 9AM sharp and by 10:30AM, or about when I am returning from my long-run (groan) nothing has been shifted. Madeleine puts a hard sell on me and I purchase glass that snows when you shake it. Inside, a mermaid, which I tell Madeleine reminds me of her; says she: "give me my 50p please." In the end, their sales seven pounds and since they sell household junk, the profit equal to the sales. They no dummies, these kids of mine. Most purchasers are neighbors who are intrigued by, or feel sorry for, our Shakepeares. I am happy to see the interactions which are a reward as good as money.
Me: "In one word, describe life."
Eitan: "Health? Sport. Brains."
Madeleine: "Family. Love. Food."
Me: "That's it? Anything else?
Me: "How about ice cream? But that's two words."
Everybody cracks up.
Saturday, August 22
And here we are in the afternoon, never a change in life. Eitan excited by Manchester United v. Wigan and we plan our day for the action only to be disappointed by Sky, which does not broadcast the game. After near tears, it is the wireless. Madeleine bails to be with Aggie and help with some chores - you know, a girl thing. They hit the Party Palace costume shop where Madeleine blows, er, spends the last of her money on some chattering teeth, a tiny plastic dog and an object that emits a "mooo" when turned up and down (correction from M: "I still have 2o p, but I lost it while we were bike riding."). So otherwise the afternoon spent preparing for tomorrow's yard-sale. The kids collect all their moving-day crap and plop it in the living room to be sold in front of the house tomorrow at .. 9AM. Sunday. I suggest perhaps not the best time? but my Shakespeares have all their life to go to MBA school and learn such things. I don't push. Madeleine applies motivational bonusing: "anybody who spends more than five pounds can have a free Manchester United magazine. No wait -- anybody who buys anything can have the magazine" which, dear reader, from her brother's rejected stash and dates to 2007. Still, it is impossible to question their conviction and I allow them to post hand-written announcements to trees on our block using boxing tap. They will come down before lunch. Items for sale include: "furniture, clothes, toys and movies." Some inside consulting: "And books. And buddies." Eitan: "A lamp. And Match-attacks." It's gonna be a show.
Me, at dinner: "Madeleine, what's your favorite food?"
Madeleine: "Home made pizza."
Me: "Then what?"
Madeleine: "That cold chicken from Waitrose."
(Eitan whispers to her) "Mom's chocolate chip cookie-ice cream sandwiches."
Saturday morning. In the background there is packing in anticipation of our 1 September completion date. Our small home littered with big brown boxes stuffed with books and God knows what as Sonnet organises. Madeleine assists and proves herself a thorough, anal and useful packer - go figure. Eitan kicks his football inside tap, tap, tap. Also going on Sonnet's trip to Santa Fe, New Mex, which begins in an hour as she to be picked up then for the airport. So she busies herself with clothes, hair dryer and other travel indispensables. I listen to the Kooks - "See The Sun" right now - which adds some noise while Eitan reviews Barcelona v. Manchester United whose June UEFA Championship replayed on the tele. Madeleine stumbles down the stairs blinkered, holding Doggie and asks for breakfast after getting a squeeze from us. When I suggest a museum today she jerks awake: "No way, dad!" Madeleine pulls up to the table, back hunched and looking out the window while awaiting her food which arrives on a plate: buns with butter and home made plum jam. Yum. Adding to the mix, Aggie arrives in 20 minutes to watch the Shakespeares as I go to yoga. All this and not 9AM.
I ask Madeleine if she would like to comment for this blog and posterity. She: "I am eating breakfast. And I want a dog."
Friday, August 21
So what are we to make of this posting, taken in Wolverhampton on our way from dinner? Sonnet notes aghast: "that is the British attitude towards dental care." The English, we know for sure, have rotten teeth since the NHS does not provide body-to-mouth coverage (only body -to-body). If your mouth rots - so what? I have been in meetings where the fella's Hermes tie £120 and his academic credentials impeccable yet his teeth, like, falling out. And the same for women - one gal who once worked for me had breath so bad I had to tell her rather than suffer the consequences. Now that was one uncomfortable conversation. So I think British teeth are not bad, but irregular - at least by American standards. American middle class children are normally tormented with cosmetic dentistry, including yours truly, to make them look like Stepford wives or a Top Gun - remember Tom Cruise's gams? Any dental individuality regarded as strange in the US'A. An American grade-school friend whose parents resisted this fashion was bullied in at our school for her "bad" teeth, although she does not have a filling in her head at the age of 42 (at least as far as I know). Politicians spend thousands perfecting their pearly whites and like a good pair of Italian shoes, one's boulders suggest the character of the man. Like your watch - not a Patek Phillipe? You're a loser. I stopped wearing a watch becoming tired of dickheads judging me from it. One's teeth are more personal than a watch and should be cherished - yet brushed - no matter how they angle. Eitan will probably have braces but really - so what? He (and Madeleine) are just perfect the way they are.
"Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth. "
So let me see: this week visits five European cities and today .. Wolverhampton which is where the West Midlands pension reserve plan located. To be honest, I am dragging by this morning following a long week and it takes a strong cup of coffee not to be irritated by anything that moves including the good guys across the table who may commit millions of dollars to my client fund. But I warm up following an unusually early start of 8AM and once in stride, I feel the love. Many of the guys I visit are fellows I have known for five years or more in a professional and social context. A nice thing about my job that I select the people I want to be with, or introduce to my investment opportunities. The assholes - and there are plenty - get weeded out. Good bye to them. Today it is Jas, who I recently saw at the French AGM. Jas a Sikh and a bad ass. He is proud of his heritage and while he does not have long hair nor beard, I believe his association gives him confidence and substance. Sikhs, whose historic home the Punjab region, form a small minority in the UK (336,179 people at the time of the 2001 Census) yet play a disproportionate role in the the country's psyche. They were elite soldiers in World War II and anybody who has read Ondaatje's "The English Patient" will recall the Sihks dis-assembling bombs .. they were the body guards of Ghandi. Snapping back to the now: our meeting fine and who knows if we will get the pension's millions but we give our best and have a fair hearing from the decision makers. This really all one can ask for.
Sihk's core philosphy: "There is one supreme eternal reality; the truth; immanent in all things; creator of all things; immanent in creation. Without fear and without hatred; not subject to time; beyond birth and death; self-revealing. Known by the Guru’s grace."
Eitan: "Is that the Chrysler Building?"
Because no European road trip can be without a majestic cathedral, here is the the gothic town hall which I snap with my phone camera. The edifice constructed between 1402 and 1455 whose top, at 97 meters, stands St. Michael or the patron of Brussels. David, who I am with this week as he raises capital for his Correlation Ventures, and I have dinner underneath and marvel at the Grand Place, which is surrounded by the pictured pyramid, guild houses, and the Bread House where people used to get .. bread. The square attracts tourists and young people, who sit in its middle and french kiss or smoke cigarettes. They suffer no care in the world nor should they - this is their time. It is a perfect evening with temps around 72-degrees and ideal for being outside and drinking beer and David and I make a pretty good job of it. He's an interesting fellow from Houston whose politics are Republican-flexible and a fiscal conservative. This gives us ample room to throw arguements at each other regarding the country's leadership, health care, the Iraq War, Bush and his incompetency, the state of the Union and so on and so forth. It is spirited and never crosses The Line - despite alcohol, which presents a combustible combination oh boy. In the end, David a moderate and while I would like to consider myself same, I lean left. No doubt. But however I lean, dear reader, I am 100% right.
Eitan: "When I grow up I am going to be a footballer, a swimmer and a paleontoligst."
Madeleine: "Go away. I am playing with my legos."
Thursday, August 20
Or does it? The timing of Al-Megrahi occurs the day before Ramadan to begin AND the 40th anniversary of Khadafi, who assumed power on 1 September, 1969. No coincidence here I must assume. Likely there was a horse trade and let us hope that government, some government has saved lives somehow. My guess that Khadafi gave up information on his personal terrorist network in return for Al-Megrahi. Or maybe it is an oil trade - they've got it and we need it+our companies can expoit it. Watching Libyans honk their horns, wave their flags and fire their guns only makes me feel .. hate.
Update: My mobile-phone photo the the top of the 226 stair knoll (I counted) on the site of the battle, and the famous La Butte du Lion. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington said of it "They have spoiled my Battlefield." But it offers a panoramic view and puts one in the mind of past actions.
I am in Waterloo this morning and ask a receptionist for advise on things to see before the airport. She advises the battlefield and I thank her for her good idea, which is kind of like being told to see the Golden Gate Bridge when in San Francisco. Or Big Ben in London. So there we go to the or about eight miles Southeast of Brussels .
Waterloo marks to the defeat of Napoleon to the Seventh Coalition, including an Anglo-Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington and a Prussian Army under Gebhard von Blucher. It was a decisive ass kicking and ended Napoleon's rule as the French emperor, and the end of his Hundred Days post exile. I was reading about this only last week in Patrick O'Brien's 19th book of his Master and Commander series (Captain Jack ecstatic that Napoleon returns giving him his raison d'etre, even if only for a short while).
Upon Napoleon's return to power in 1815, many states that had opposed him formed the Seventh Coalition and began to mobilise armies. Two large forces under Wellington and von Blücher assembled close to the northeastern border of France. Napoleon chose to attack in the hope of destroying them before they could join in a coordinated invasion of France with other members of the Coalition. And so: Waterloo. According to Wellington, the battle was "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life."
Napoleon delayed giving battle until noon to allow the ground to dry. Wellington's army, positioned across the Brussels road on the Mont St Jean escarpment, withstood repeated attacks by the French, until, in the evening, the Prussians arrived in force and broke through Napoleon's right flank. At that moment, Wellington's Anglo-allied army counter-attacked and drove the French army in disorder from the field. Pursuing Coalition forces entered France and restored Louis XVIII to the French throne. Napoleon abdicated, surrendered to the British, and was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.
"All I want to know is where I am going to die so I will never go there."
Wednesday, August 19
Well, here I am, looking at the Brussels skyline and watching the Love Boat. In French. This is the one where Captain Stubing's neice turns 18 and wants to lose her viriginity to Doc. Doc, ever the Gentleman, avoids temptation and tells her "the first time a grave moment" (serious=grave en francais but I think somehow the more correct - and ridiculous - tone the show chases). She tells Doc she is scared and he replies "when you are not scared, you know you are truly in love." She, eyes tearing and looking up to her commander: "You are a true instructor" then they together with the Captain, Julie, Isaac and Gopher who sing her "happy birthday." Wonderful stuff. Viewing Love Boat for the first time in like 20 years, the "props" stand out: there is the mustachiod guy leaning onto a wall talking to a broad while holding something on the rocks. The hairy-chested dude in tight trunks chats up Barbie nestled on the pool ridge. And the bottoms - the beautiful bottoms everywhere - whose wiggle serves the perfect seguay between scenes. Genius. And there is the Captain, pictured - what is up with his shorts and black bow-tie? It's not quite captainly, I might suggest. Still, black Isaac serves up the cockatails with a sprig of jive, Gopher adds the comic relief and Julie .. well, Julie's longing for the shore and her true love makes every voyage a veritable romance. In short, the perfect Saturday night team, who I often joined in the late 1970s pre-car and pre-dating. With Fantasy Island following, the perfect double-header. They just don't make TV like this anymore.
So I am in Brussels and this morning Bad Homborg and before that Amsterdam. Yes, I am on the hot trail of investor dollars. I share the ride with fund manager David who is going for the Big Bucks to invest in his quant driven strategy. David has spent considerable resources and time assembling the largest venture data set I or anybody has seen before - according to Dow Jones, 98% of all venture financings encapsulated. Using multiple regressions, he "scores" investments and increases odds on betting the winners. So far, my friends intrigued and the next step their commitments. Our week BTW off to a traumatic start as we miss our outward flight thanks to Heathrow where I cannot find the pre-paid parking bay. Don't ask. Analysing our late-night options, we drive to Luton Airport for our morning connection, requiring a 4AM wake-up call for a 6AM flight and 9AM arrival in another city in another country. We make it with five minutes to spare, our meeting never the wiser.
"You know how they got the name Merrill Stubing? I said "why did you pick a name like Merrill Stubing?" He said, "I'm a baseball fan, and there was a great ballplayer named Merrill Stubing that nobody's ever heard of from many, many years ago.""
--Gavin Macleod (aka Captain Merrill Stubing)
Sunday, August 16
Usain Bolt - wow. We sit around the television, kids up well past their Sunday bedtime, to watch the show. Following his Olympics, Bolt now the 100-meters World Champion also besting the World Record by .9 seconds. Tyson Grey runs the second fastest race in history in 9.71 yet loses by two meters for silver. 20 years ago, Maurice Greene ran 9.79 and 20 years before that Jim Hines went 9.95 which took 15 years to break. Bolt is a wonderful hero for Jamaica and every young kid in sports. He clowns, he goofs. He has fun. This very different from the mind-games and intimidations racers usually pursue at this level. Not surprisingly, Bolt draws the crowds and tonight's Berline Olympic stadium filled despite tomorrow's work day. I have come off athletics following Marion Jones who duped me into believing her magic which later turned out to be doped. My interest returns now that we have a bona fide hero whose WR may be one for the ages, or at least until he gets serious about breaking it next. Bolt is 22.
Photo from Guardian.
"When I was young, I didn’t really think about anything other than sports"
"I just saw something I thought I would never be able to see. I am in awe, like everybody else out here."
--Maurice Greene, from the track
Sonnet takes the kids to Bournemouth for a British seaside week end and I do some running recovery following months of pounding. We haven't had a holiday in August, this very dead month, as our focus on buying a house. Needless to say, the Shakespeares bored silly as we ever were in our grade school summers. How our parents survived three months back then beyond me. Well done, Moe and Grace. Any ways, Bournemouth located in Dorsett or about 2-3 hours drive Southwest from London. Think Santa Cruz without the Boardwalk. Or Capatola. It is kind of awful, in my opinion, retaining a 1950s flava when the Brits used to vacation in their own country. There is a cheesy peer (pictured), many Chanel-facing hotels with thick carpets and non-cabled television. Yes, four terrestrial stations to choose from - did we once suffer this? Each hotel with a bar where large crowds booze it up and of course the morning buffet with its full English breakfast. For champions. Ah, England in all her glory. Still, on a sunny day the beaches with warm white sand and the Isle of White visible at a distance, and beyond that France. This is cool. The kids could care less about the quality of their surroundings - their ambition water time, TV and sausages which they receive with love and abundance.
And check this out: In a 2007 survey by First Direct Bank, Bournemouth the happiest place in Britain with 82% of people questioned saying they were happy with their life. So who am I to be so snotty?
Photo from the Bournemouth tourist association.
Update: Sonnet home with kids, who are happy with their week-end having won two stuffed "buddies." Eitan confirms that he has the Full English+Coco Sugar Pops, which he sprinkles with sugar "though mom didn't know." I'll bet.
Saturday, August 15
Roger at Spring Woods High School, Houston, probably 1984 (isn't facebook grand)? I met Roger the next year at Brown - I think he was like the second or third face I saw since he was my Residential Counselor in Poland House in the Keeny Quad. His lovely crown already falling away, poor kid, but it certainly did not prevent him from being a popular fellow on Brown's campus. Roger always a serious guy and concentrating in Computer Sciences and Engineering consistent with his nature - because just engineering not enough. He and I slugged it out in the library the first several years of college as I attempted my own silly double: Neural physiology and pre-med. Unlike Roger, I came to my senses and gave up the 13th floor of the Sciences Library (known as "Sci Li") where the serious academic dudes hung out, studying or not. That was not the life for me. After college, we have come together then apart and together: we shared a flat near Central Park on the Upper West Side when he back from the Peace Corp and working for Morgan Stanley while I at First Boston; he then cut tail for San Francisco and when I returned to Berkeley several years later we were the Bay Bridge apart. He was the Best Man at my wedding during that beautiful time. Now Roger is in Seattle and I am here. We connect by phone or Internets but unfortunately WA not an easy visit. One day I promise him we will live by the beach somewhere with Eric and whoever wants to join us, scratching our backs with a long stick and being the good life.
Roger, at "the triangle" in San Francisco and one of the few times I have seen him drunk, running amok trailing a stolen hose: "I'm a rat! I'm a rat!"
Friday, August 14
After seeing Dana et al last Saturday in Primrose Hill, we stop by our old stomping grounds for a drink at the Warrington Hotel, which is a hotel in name only. Built in 1859 and refurbished in 1999, it was once a hotel in the late 1800's and rumoured to be a brothel, which must have worried the Church of England, who were its owners at the time. Pardieu. Gordon Ramsey bought the place several years ago and now has a restaurant on the second floor above the bar area (it used to be a Thai restaurant). The downstairs way cool and adorned with original features like marble pillars, ornately carved and turned in dark wood. Art Nouveau friezes - naked women! - embellish the horseshoe shaped bar, with its stained glass, tulip-shaped lamps and an illuminated alcove. The large marble fireplace remains untouched from another era. A thick oak divider, once separating the main room from side areas when the sexes parted for their tipple, remains in place, if ignored. Superb.
A half block from the Warrington our flat on Lauderdale Mansions (pictured), a tree lined block that makes me think of London from the '40s. Red brownstones, working women with fake hose and German planes flying overhead and the V2 rocket but everybody getting on with it - stiff upper lip, and all that. It's my little fantasy so why not? This Eitan and Madeleine's first home, and it seems like yesterday I was bringing each home thinking: "what next?" The building overlooks the second largest private garden in London and our bedroom faced a grassy field and treeline, blocking out other buildings - and yet ten minutes to Oxford Street on the No. 9 "route-master," an iconic double-decker red bus replaced some five years in Livington's attempt to modernise this great city. Sir Alec Guinness lived in the mansion and Alan Turing around the corner. Two NHS doctors upstairs partied like it was 1999 and neighbor Martin, a taxi driver tough in black leather jacket, bangs on the door to see if I am interested in "putting out the racket." I quietly passed. Those were mixed times from tech boom to bust then recreation but happily life moves forward and from that epoque I have Sonnet and family, some true friends and two healthy Shakespeares. What more could one ask for ever in life?
The synagogue, pictured, in Maida Vale where we lived before moving to Richmond, blends into the neighborhood with similar red brickstone. This particular synagogue a place of worship for the Spanish and Portguguese Jews' Congregation of London, which traces its origins to a famous petition presented to Oliver Cromwell in 1656 by Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel, from Holland, and six of the 'secret Jews' (Marranos) living in London. Cromwell enabled Jews to live and worship openly in England for the firs time since the expulsion in 1290. The first synagogue established in a rented house in Creechurch Lane in the City and leased land in Mile End, Stepney, for a burial ground. The Congregation grew steadily and eventually built a large new synagogue in 1701 - the beautiful Bevis Marks Synagogue also in the City, which remains in regular use today. Increasing migration of members of the Congregation from the East End to the west and north-west of London led to the establishment of a branch congregation, at first in Wigmore Street, Cavendish Square in 1853, from 1861 in a purpose-built synagogue in Lauderdale Road or pictured.
Spanish and Portguese Jews are otherwise a distinctive sub-group of Sephardim who have their main ethnic origins within the crypto-Jewish communities of the Iberian peninsula and who shaped communities mainly in Western Europe and the Americas from the late 16th century on.
Me: "Are you going to get a hair cut?"
Eitan: "Why would I do that?"
Me: "Well, how about if we at least wash it this month?"
Eitan: "Madeleine actually saw a lady bird in my hair yesterday."
Wednesday, August 12
Pictured, my 6th grade room sent to me by classmate Julia via Facebook. I am in yellow and red. Incredible to think of us all together for this brief moment in time. Like being on an airplane - a population never to be re-assembled. Our teacher was the wonderful Mrs. Riles who I went to visit some fifteen years ago but alas she was gone. Probably long gone. Check out the number of black kids. In sixth grade, these were my best friends and it did not matter black, yellow, pink or white. We were all the same little dudes, playing stink-ball or daring each other to hyper-ventilate via strangulation. Yes, we did this. By Junior High for some unexplained reason we went to our separate corners of the school ground and rarely mixed. We also got clickee stratifying by socio-economic background but who and how could judge? Why so suddenly this self-awareness? It remains a mystery.
A main reason my parents, post Peace Corps, chose Berkeley was the public school system - the Berkeley Unified School District crossed neighborhoods and bussed us kids to class creating an inter-racial environment. There was also a vague connection to UC Berkeley and in the later years those competent students could take classes at Cal. Katie, I do believe, did so when she maxed out on all her advanced placement coursework (yours, truly, had no idea what an AP class was). Berkeley was a grand experiment and attracted the East Bay's upper income liberals who wanted more for their children then the class and race generic privates. Ok, rich and white. There, I said it. Most of my peers ended up on the East Coast at private institutions, many in the Ivy League or Amherst and Wesleyan and the like. I was once told by an Admissions Officer that the elite schools liked Berkeley kids, who "are unusual and add diversity" which I think coding for what? Being a hippie? Ethnically diverse?
So today I have many dear friendships from my youth forged from Switzerland, sports or school. Of the later, most gelled in seventh grade and many are from the North Berkeley hills or Claremont area (code: upper income). Many are not. Yet however I cut the deck, my circle now nothing like the Longfellow school photo where my best pals were James "Jabber" Wilson, Eric Robinson, Tanya, Mitchelle, Laural Carter and George Banks (voted "cutest couple"), Awad and Laurence ("class clown"). All black and all gone. I feel this loss, a very big loss indeed.