Wednesday, August 31


At Luton Airport. Madeleine: "Dad, do you realise you just left Eitan?"
Me: "It will teach that little chocolate muncher a lesson."
Madeleine: "No offense, Dad, but you are not very responsible to your kids."

Me: "What do you think Madeleine will be like as a teenager?"
Eitan: "Party animal."
Me: "Why do you think that?"
Eitan: "I dunno."


Nat and Noa @ 2,500 meters.

After Mont Fort, we bike a winding trail down from the snow capped mountain-peak through alpine terrain to lush grass valley fed by glacial streams; cows wander with large clanging bells. Just like Disney only here it is.

The Alps different, BTW, then the mesa or Sneffels Wilderness : the gradients steeper and the vistas cover multiple spiky ranges. From Verbier, the trails (or gondolas) take the hiker or biker to the top , no hesitation. Of course this is a ski resort : 35 lifts to 33 runs, two snowparks, one "Jardin de Neige" (a relatively flat area that is used for small children learning to ski), four cross-country pistes and two walking areas. But Verbier perhaps best known for its "off piste" trails which open the mountain in an entirely different way. Heli-skiing also an option.

Tuesday, August 30

Mont Fort

We visit Mont Fort at 3,300 meters, accessible by two gondolas, and snow capped despite August. The peak offers a world-class ski drop used for speed and, well, getting one's crazy on. A small hut (white arrows), reached by a third gondola, provides a 20 meter red "chute" where skiers drop in the one-kilometer piste : nearly straight down (NB there are about 30 of these courses world-wide and the distance standard for record-taking; most high altitude, reducing air resistance). Top speeds judged b/t 400-500 meters (the "timing zone") while the last 500m for slowing down. And stopping. One hopes.

The current world record for skiing is 251 km/h, held by Simone Origone. Speed skiers regularly hit 200 km/h , which is faster than the terminal velocity of a free-falling skydiver; about 190 km/h in the belly-to-earth position.

Speed skiers wear dense foam fairings on their lower legs and aerodynamic helmets to increase streamlining. Their ski suits made from air-tight latex or have a polyurethane coating to reduce wind resistance, with only a mandatory back protector to give some protection in the case of a crash. The special skis used must be 2.4 metres long and maximum 10 cm wide with a maximum weight of 15 kg for the pair. Ski boots attached to the skis by bindings. The ski poles bent to shape around the body, and must be a minimum of 1 m long.


Justin and I hang a print (behind the kids) - real man's work, which requires a new drill, leveler and various other power tools. I apply my metro-sexual as we contemplate this, and other hangings, in the apartment sans fee, as I indicate to Natalie.

Me: "This is good cake."
Sonnet: "It's chocolate cake and chocolate icing."
Madeleine: "And coconut."
Me: "Well , it's good. Well done."
Madeleine: "It's called a chocolate mountain cake."
Me: "Oh, yeah?"
Madeleine: "Because it looks like a chocolate mountain."

Sonnet: "If anybody comes into our room tonight I will kill them."
Madeleine: "Really?"
Me: "I wouldn't mess with mom right now."

Eitan: "Can we watch 'Pirates Of The Caribbean' on the computer?"
Madeleine: "Yeah, dad can we, please?"
Me: "Sure, watch the movie."
Sonnet: "What happened to no-movies on the computer because you'll go blind?"
Me: "You can't watch the movie."
Eitan, Madeleine: "What!?"
Eitan: "Mom you are such a tell tale."
Madeleine: "And you never want us to have any fun!"
Sonnet to me: "what's up with that?"
Me: "I can't keep track of this stuff."

Verbier !

We spend the long week-end with Justin and Natalie at their fabulous chalet in Verbier. The village on a south orientated terrace at 1,500 meters facing the Grand Combin massif. We are on the slope, and one feels the altitude esp. when moving. To get here we drive straight up a winding road on the east side of the Val de Bagnes, a valley south of Martigny. Justin guides us in. Sonnet cannot look, Dear Reader. And, since it is dark, I drive slow-lee, mon dieu.

Surrounding Verbier, further up the mountain and above the village, are 400 km of hiking trails, covering the chamois and ibex through the mountains, some of them covered with snow all year round. I see a number of healthy middle-age and elderly people powering along with sticks or ski poles eating fromage or salami and skipping to their joie de vivre. They will live forever. Another 200 km of mountain bike piste , carved into the mountainside, offers sweeping views of everything below. Our luck with us, too, as the weather mostly pristine accept a few puffy clouds on Saturday that break the endless blue.

Photo, from Nat and Justin's deck, of wester Pennine's Grand Combin - at
4,314 meters, one of the largest mountains in the Alps - eternally covered by snow and glaciers (hidden by the cloud bank).

This evening, Madeleine: "I did something bad today."
Me: "Oh?"
Madeleine: "I tried to dig up Monty. To see what his bones look like."
Me: "And?"
Madeleine: "And there wasn't anything left. Only one bone."
Me: "Thank goodness."
Madeleine: "Are you going to put that on your blog?"
Me: "Yeah, so?"
Madeleine: "Don't!"
Me: "It's my blog. Why not?"
Madeleine: "Dad, I don't want everybody to know that I dig up dead hamsters."

Thursday, August 25

15 Short Years

Sonnet and I celebrate our 15th Wedding Anniversary yesterday with a glass of Champagne at Claridges then dinner at Beirut Express, a Lebanese on the Edgware Road. Our tenth was at the "Pub and Grub" in La Veta. Photo next to blacktop exiting Utah.

Eitan spends five hours baking a surprise anniversary berry pie only to find the pie on the kitchen floor with Rusty's head, shaking back and forth furiously, covered in it. The boy cries (he tells us) but also has a sense of humor about the whole thing which, really, is quite funny. The dog looks at us, balefully, as Eitan describes the drama.

So, to Sonnet : It has been the best.

Tolstoy's "War And Peace" arrives in the poste.
Me, at the kitchen table: "Now THAT is a book."
Madeleine, distractedly, playing a video game on the iPad: "We have it already. In my room."
Me: "Really?"
Madeleine: "It's on the shelf. In my room."
Eitan: "Are you going to read it?"
Me: "It's my project for the fall."
Madeleine, matter of factly: "I've already read it."
Eitan: "You have not!"
Camilla: "What's it about?"
Madeleine: "It's about war."
Me: "And peace?"
Madeleine: "Yeah, whatever."
Eitan: "What's the last letter then?"
Madeleine: "A."
Eitan: "No it's not!"
Madeleine: "YOU wouldn't know, Eitan, since YOU'VE never read it."
Eitan reads the first sentence and marvels at the book's size.

Wednesday, August 24

William Bradford

Robert Weir's painting, "Embarkation of the Pilgrims" (1844), located in the Capital Building rotunda n Washington DC , which we see during our recent visit. Of particular keen interest , Katie and I direct descendants of William Bradford (white arrows in photo).

The painting depicts the Pilgrims on the deck of the ship Speedwell on July 22, 1620, before they departed from Delfs Haven, Holland, for North America, where they sought religious freedom. They first sailed to Southampton, England, to join the Mayflower, which was also making the voyage. After leaks forced the Speedwell to make additional stops in Dartmouth and then Plymouth, its passengers boarded the Mayflower. Five months later the Pilgrims settled the Plymouth Colony in present-day Massachusetts. (source: US Gov)

William Bradford , an English leader of the settlers of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts , elected thirty times to be the Governor upon the death of John Carver, who was Governor of the Mayflower and first-Governor of Plymouth. Bradford signed the Mayflower Compact and designated the first Thanksgiving. (Source: Wiki)

Tuesday, August 23

Grace, 1962

My mom , pictured, entering the Peace Corps shortly after JFK announced the program at Univ. of Michigan, where my father was a law student.

From the Peace Corps' first facebook:
"Grace, 22, was a member of the class of 1958 at XYZ High School, Columbus, Ohio. Except for a semester spent at ABC College, Switzerland, her college work has been taken at DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana. She graduated in 1962 with a B.A. in English. During the summers while in College, she worked as a lifeguard instructor at a camp and also in Columbus. In addition to enjoying canoeing, swimming and camping, she finds pleasure in piano, modern dance, and painting."

From the John F. Kenney Library:
"On October 14, 1960, at 2 a.m., Senator John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of 10,000 cheering students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor during a presidential campaign speech. In his improvised speech, Kennedy asked, "How many of you, who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?" His young audience responded to this speech with a petition signed by 1,000 students willing to serve abroad. Senator Kennedy's challenge to these students—to live and work in developing countries around the world; to dedicate themselves to the cause of peace and development—inspired the beginning of the Peace Corps."

John F Kennedy
"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.

"But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."

Thank You's

Sonnet in black pearls @ Stephan's wedding in June.

Eitan: "I'll do three."
Me: "You will do all of them."
Eitan: "Three, Dad, that's what I agreed with mom. Three a day."
Me: "I remember having to write thank you letters. But you know what? One day you'll actually want to send them."
E: "No way."
Me: "You'll enjoy writing them because you have been brought up to be civilised."
Eitab: "No I haven't!"
Madeleine: "Yeah, Dad, he was raised by a pack of wolves."
Eitan: "A pack of wolves."
Me: "Just finish them please."
Eitan: "I have to do this one again because I drew a picture of Rusty [Eitan shows me his letter] and it looks like he's having a pee. "
Me: "It looks like his willy."
Eitan: "It's his tail!"
Me: "Oh, great : Dear grandma and grandpa, thank you for all the presents this summer. Here is rusty peeing."
Eitan: "Ha ha ha!"
Me: "Well I'm glad you think it's funny."
Madeleine: "You're not going to send that, are you Eitan?"
Eitan: "I don't know."
Me: "Ever want to watch TV again?"
Eitan: "Yes."
Me: "Start over and draw the dog . Without his willy."
Eitan: "I hate writing letters."
Madeleine: "Are you going to punish Eitan?"
Me: "Look, you two, just finish your letters."
Eitan: "OK."
Me: "Thank you."
Eitan: "But only three."

Monday, August 22

Mercury Blast Off!

Mercury Redstone blasting off, November 29, 1961. The Redstone used Alcohol as its fuel and liquid oxygen as its oxidizer. At launch the vehicle weighed 60,000-pounds, stood 83.38 feet tall and produced 78,000-pounds of thrust. The Mercury Redstone engine burned for 142 seconds.

My model, the Mercury Redstone V, a direct descendant of the German V-2, designed by the German rocket engineering team led by Wernher von Braun and , from the Army's point of view, was to act as a long range artillery piece. The first Redstone flew successfully on August 20, 1953, from Cap Canaveral. In the years that followed the Redstone was developed into the tactical weapon that the army wanted, but it was never used as such. Instead, the Redstone found a better way to serve its country -- the duty of sending the first two Americans into space.

Boosting the first of the Project Mercury spacecraft into space on a sub-orbital trajectory would be the new role that the Redstone would play. Originally it was planned that all seven original astronauts would each fly atop the Redstone before each would fly an orbital mission. The first Mercury Redstone flight glitched at liftoff, only rising 2 inches - enough to pull two plugs out of the tail that were supposed to come out simultaneously. Instead they came out a micro-second apart and the abort system sensed the difference and shut the engine down - it also sensed its own shutdown and jettisoned the escape tower on the pad.

The next Mercury Redstone flight, MR-1A, was another test and was successful. Following that, MR-2 lofted "Ham" the chimp, but suffered an over-boost problem. MR-3 was scheduled to fly Alan Shepard on March 24, 1961, but when the von Braun team saw that there were ten data points of failure on the previous flight , they demanded another test. This delay in the schedule really ticked many in manned spaceflight operations who refused to give them a real Mercury capsule or let them use the MR-3 designation.

Still the von Braun team went ahead using a boilerplate capsule from the Little Joe 5B flight, an inert escape tower, and the designation MRBD for Mercury Redstone Booster Development. The flight proved out the ten corrections the team had made and effectively set the dominoes in motion that landed Americans on the moon. You see the delay it caused on Shepard's flight allowed the Russionas to place Yuri Gagain into space first. This turned a tepid US space program into a red hot space race and forced JFK to challenge the nation to go to the moon.

Politically, if Shepard had been first the attitude of the public and the politicians would have been "We won so the race is over" and landing on the moon may have remained just a dream to this day. In retrospect MRBD was, historically, the most important of the Mercurty Redstone flights for its delay.

On May 5, 1961, Shepard got his ride into space on MR-3. Only July 21, 1961, Gus Grissom flew aboard MR-4, but then the space race was so heated that the Mercury Redstone flights for the other five astronauts were cancelled as Project Mercury sped toward orbit and the use of the Atlas Booster.
Source: Flier included with Rocket Kit

My Mercury Redstone V Kit Specifications:
Skill Level 5: Extremely Challenging
Length: 13.75” (34.93 cm)
Diameter: .95" (24 mm)
Motor Mount Size: 18mm diameter
Fin Span: 2.00" (5.08 cm)
Weight (without motor): 1.25 oz (35.5 g)
Recovery Method: Plastic Parachute

Sunday, August 21

Mercury V, Baby

Prior to America, I spend a good month building the Mercury V, a model rocket that broke me in my yuf. My 11-year old fingers, and patience, unable to construct the red escape tower, pictured : then, tears. This time I demonstrate , ahem, maturity, and allow, you know, glue to set or paint to dry before moving forward - basic stuff that drives me nuts.

And speaking of immediate rewards : I plan to jam a "D" engine into the thing's ass and watch it rip 1,500 ft into the air at 1,000+ feet per second. God damn I am excited by this.

Leaving Home

Russ Ellis's "Leaving Home - Scenes of Emigration, 2007-2011," on display at Smith Anderson North in San Anselmo, California (unfortunately Sonnet and I cannot attend the opening). Russ's abstract paintings and sculptures beautiful and haunting. I am struck by the inside front cover of the catalogue, pictured , taken of Russ by William Russell Ellis, Sr, in Fontana, California in 1945.

"Russ tells the story about how his daughter, Zoe, at the time about eight years old - reflected to her brother David (during a traumatic few hours of jointly sensed abandonment) that "when daddy gets home, we're going to have to talk in straight lines." Now here we are, some three decades on, and Russell the Artist has demonstrably abandoned the "straight-line" of linear communication in favor of something so different that the medium bursts to generate The Artist, Formerly Known as Russ. In this new incarnation - some would say re-incarnation - linearity is low on the totem pole of aesthetics, priorities, sensates. And the results, with no apologia, to straight-line narration, are sesate-tional. You seem to know what you make of it, and then you don't."
--Introduction to "Leaving Home - Scenes of Emigration, 2007-2011"

Rusty Comes Home

Madeleine and I drive into Surrey and the kennel where Rusty has been these past five weeks. Madeleine can barely contain herself as the handler retrieves the pooch. We hear Rusty first - yap! yap! yap! - and then mother and child reunion is only a moment away.

"now is a ship

that Captain Am
sails out of sleep

steering for dream"
--E. E. Cummings

"No I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away, oh, little darling of mine"
--Paul Simon

Friday, August 19


Radio 4 reports on "safe places to keep valuables" and notes, when traveling, the hotel front-desk may be the least safe place for a simple reason : the traveler might forget one's items. Funny, then, that I check the family passports (American+British) at our hotel and, impatient to hit the road for Utah, engine revving, Sonnet remembers - passports ! No doubt my error otherwise discovered at DIA on the other side of the Rockies. An inconvenient, expensive, family-taxing instance narrowly averted; a marriage saved. Thank you, Sonnet.

Note from Ms. D, Madeleine's Yr 4 teacher re Madeleine's spelling : "Madeleine has made such great progress, she is showing a lot of maturity, taking responsibility for her spellings. Well done Madeleine!"

Eitan: "It would be so easy to rob the neighbors."
Eitan: "All I would have to do is climb over the garage and jump into their backyard. They never lock the doors."
Me: "That's a nice idea."
Madeleine: "Would you do it, Eitan?"
Eitan: "Well, I wouldn't get caught."
Madeleine: "They have gadgets and all kinds of stuff ."
Sonnet: "May we change this conversation, please?"

Thursday, August 18

Denver Airport

Awaiting the over-night long-haul flight. These are words , Dear Reader, I do not like to put together referencing me.

Since most everywhere interesting, even an airport, here is Denver :

By land size, at 53 square miles, DIA is the largest international airport in the United States, and the third largest international airport in the world after King Fahd International Airport and Montréal-Mirabel International Airport. Runway 16R/34L is the longest public use runway in the US. Denver clocks in as the ninth-busiest airport in the world with 12,873,681 passengers. It is the fifth-busiest airport in the world by aircraft movements with 606,006 movements in 2009 (source: Wiki).

Summer Groove

It has been one great , long, month as we pack the SUV for one last trip : DIA. Been here before, I feel. Our flight departs 8PM so we go to Whitney's pool club to burn off energy (kids) and sunbathe (Sonnet) before the long-haul home. Me, I swim some laps and contemplate my office and the future : summer almost over and another year nearly gone by somehow.

Me: "Looking forward to going home?"
Eitan: "I am looking forward to seeing my friends and Elm Grove [new football team]. I can't wait for Elm Grove. Also the Premiere League and seeing Manchester United on the TV.. and baking a cake. And swimming, and school I guess.
Me: "Cool, it's nice to have those things before you. And you, Madeleine?"
Madeleine: "I've got one word to say , Dad."
Madeleine: "Gecko."

Forest Rd

We head to Denver - Beecher and Whitney, pictured - where we enjoy a Sonnet family reunion : Robin, Bill, Bill, Martine, Frank, Maire and Turk and their tots. This has not been a year without cancer and loss but we are together and happy to be so. Bill's cancer has caused cracks in his upper vertebrae which require cement fillings : The good news : His mind sharp as ever and his doctor allows him to ride. Bill a photographer and we compare notes on practices and places to shoot; his backyard not so bad. Beecher makes a huge spread followed by strawberry shortcake and ice cream; the kids chase each other around the backyard despite the heat.

Tuesday, August 16

On Stage

Madeleine and I at a local park inside Moab.

Madeleine gets a hair-cut (feathered, like Sean Cassidy, I tell her) and (continues to be) mistaken for a boy. Waiters, cashiers, strangers overheard calling her "pal," "bud," and "dude" . , which gets a raised eyebrow from Eitan : to laugh or be respectful to an adult? Conundrum. As for Madeleine , she enjoys the recognition: Tom boy. I have been calling her "Milo" this trip, a name, we both agree, boyish. Unclear whether this will stick in London. She ditches her one-piece swimsuit for trunks and a black "Quick Silver" top; she buys black Nike trainers. Yep, that's my girl, and I could not be more proud of her. I drive her nuts with practice times-tables and various commands, teasings, and orders but she still wants my attention which, I note to Sonnet, may not be the case in a few years.

Me: "Do you think I look fat?"
Madeleine: "No, Dad, you don't look fat."
Me: "Thanks, Madeleine, that's very nice of you."
Madeleine: "If you shave off all your hair than you would look even more fit."

@ the pool.
Eitan: "Can I go on your shoulders Dad?"
Me: "No."
Madeleine: "Can you give me an underwater ride?"
Me: "No, not now. Just let me swim."
Eitan: "Let's play chicken. Or shoulder ride!"
Me: "If you don't get off me, I am going to take off my swimming suit."
Madeleine: "Quick, Eitan, let go of Dad."
I drop my swimming trunks.
Eitan, Madeleine: "Aaaaaahh!"

Balanced Rock

4AM, hello!, and I am up for Arches National Park. Eitan, who beforehand agrees-interest in joining me , immobile and snoring , so I leave him be. It is pitch black upon exiting Moab, Sunday morning, and not a car on the 191. Since 70 degrees I am in shorts and a tee-shirt and have the air conditioning "on" as I pass the deserted park-entrance (Arches open to the public 24/7, 365 days a year ) and curve up a windy rd on to the mesa. Adding some drama , my SUV informs me with a loud "beep" : no gas. I figure the fumes can get me to where I wish to be, and back , but my calculation based on nothing other than a hope , and a prayer, with a slight anxiety expressed in my mid-section.

And so here I behold Balanced Rock . The height of this magnificent ancient geo formation about 128 feet, with the balancing rock rising 55 feet above the base. The big rock on top is the size of three school buses and weighs 3,577 tons. Until recently, Balanced Rock had a companion - a similar, but smaller balanced rock named "Chip Off The Old Block", which fell during the winter of 1975/1976. It is a spiritual place and I remain in darkness , awaiting sunrise. To pass the time I do some deep breathing and yoga exercises. Magic, man. Plus I make it to a gas station.

Dead Horse Lookout, Utah

View of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park from Dead Horse Point.

The plateau, where I stand now, surrounded by 2,000 ft cliffs with a narrow neck of land maybe 30 yards wide connecting the mesa to the main plateau. It was easy for cowboys to fence off the neck and round up wild horses. Legend has it that one group of horses left fenced and eventually died of thirst in view of the Colorado River - hence the name. This where final scene of Thelma & Louise filmed.

There is a fabulously designed Ranger Station which offers the American flag, a look out deck, and, of course, all the stuff Madeleine has come to expect from a well stocked gift shop. We spend about an hour here awaiting the sunset , which disappoints thanks to a horizonal cloud layer that lessons the hues anticipated from this hour. I meet a retired couple, from Georgia, who return to this spot after 40 years; now they spend their life in a Winnebago visiting National Parks and filming, with a 16mm, what they see "for posterity".

The strata measure geo-spatial time covering 75 M years at the top to 250 M years at the band rising ten feet from the river bed (visible on the left side of the photo)