Friday, November 30


Today I'm a glutton and attend my second museum, this time with Scott to see van Gogh's magical painting and a favorite (image from A real pleasure for me is revisiting a lovely for an instant or two while avoiding the less interesting stuff. This is easy in London where museums are plentiful and free. Beforehand Scott and I have lunch at the Portrait Restaurant overlooking Lord Nelson who faces White Hall and Big Ben (the restaurant on the 4th floor with sweeping views). Scott has been practicing law first as General Council for Fleet Bank in Rhode Island and the last 17 years with Brown Rudnick where he opened the London office. He is also on the Board of Trustees of Brown University and on the Acquisition Committee of RISD. His wife Cindy has been involved with Brown affairs, and they have known each other since Scott was 14. This summer, Scott and I celebrated 100 years with a magnum of champagne and big dinner party when I hit 40 and he 60.

Eitan gives a full moon to Natasha, who yelps her surprise. He strips naked and bounces around the living room while my requests for underwear, please, ignored.

Coka Cola

Here's one I like from October 2003 - The Coke That Devoured Madeleine. It is worth pointing out Madeleine's haircut from the barbers, who I think thought she was a he. I was in Sonnet's dog house for six months on that one. Today I have a meeting in Charterhouse Square next to Spittlefields market and the Barbican Centre, which is ghastly and surely foretold by J. G. Ballard's "Highrise". I have a couple of hours to spare, so I visit the London Museum to revel in, well, London - founded in 43 A.D. by the Romans after Julius Caesar invaded Britain (Claudius handled the details). Of particular interest is the 1666 fire, which destroyed most of the city, and the Black Death. In 1346, a rumor spread across London that strange death was spreading from Persia and Northern Africa heading for Europe. By 1347, the bubonic plague had killed 40,000 Londoners - half the population. The descriptions of death are ghastly - blood from orifices, pustules, black tongue and boils ("Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posy. Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down!"). Emergency cemeteries were created but so swift the disease that the dead were left to in the street. The plague eventually took 30 to 40 million European lives and to this day its spread a mystery, though most believe it was an air-born virus or a rat's flea bite.

Wednesday, November 28


Leon is an old Berkeley true-hand turned fashion photographer with genuine success. To become, he relocated to Paris to establish his studio and build a portfolio, which now includes Japanese and Hong Kong Marie Claire and Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Chinese Elle, as well as nine other French, Swiss, and Japanese magazines. I was present for the lovely pictured, when we spent the afternoon shooting before London icons. Beforehand, the team assembled at the Lanesborough so our model, a 19 year old whose parents are Spanish Norwegian, could be styled: hair, make-up and clothing. I must suggest that the gal was a head-turner, especially in her shiny outfits, which stopped the crowds dead in their tracks. I felt like a million bucks to be a part of the crew, I tell you. For Leon, it was routine but me? What a great story to retell the lads at the pub.

I return home this evening, greeted by Madeleine's usual: "Where's mum?" Otherwise, they tell me about their day, tennis and various items of importance - like the value of pepperoni on a pizza, which is the best vegetable and so on. I tell them it is important to wash hands, and prompt Madeleine for when: she replies "After number two! Touching worms! Stroking a cat! Touching chemicals!" Anyway, I think my point well made. From there, I quiz the kids on reality: how do we know our experience is not a dream? Eitan jumps up, smacks his forehead then pounds his head against the carpeted floor: "See dad, I could never sleep through that!" he exclaims, to my and Natasha's bemusement. Finally when I ask if we are living life forwards or backwards, he surmises: "well forwards because fires must be lit" to which I say: bravo!

Tuesday, November 27


In the Design Museum, I take a few photos and get a growl and elbow from Sonnet, who reminds me of the "Photos Not Allowed" sign post. Well, I can see no harm in a few digitals, which won't otherwise become post cards or used commercially. The cool spider is by Bertal Gardberg, a Finnish artist who combines an industrial element to a table set: this is a napkin holder, I think. Other style icons originating from here are the modern orange-press, scissors with back-stop (found in every grade school in the world) and, of course, chairs - lots of chairs. For some strange reason the Finns were at the forefront of the simple stool, bean-bag and practical plastic office chair, which can be stacked a mile high. After taking in the coolness of it all, Sonnet says good-bye and I meet a pension fund.


Sonnet sits in front of our hotel, The Kamp. It's a nice getaway while the kids are with Aggie for the night. The last time we snuck away was Berlin which was equally fun. As you may know, Helsinki is the capital and largest city of Finland. It is in the southern part of Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, by the Baltic Sea, where Sonnet and I went last night on a car ferry. The population is 568,146 from October, making it the most populous municipality in Finland by a wide margin. The metropolitan area generates approximately one third of the Finnish GDP and is roughly 1.5 times the national average, making Helsinki one of the wealthiest capitals in Europe.


Sonnet and I visit two in one morning: Helsinki's Architectural Museum and the National Museum of Design (fish, pictured). At the first, we see buildings in the Eastern Bloc where investors demand a new asthetic and certain areas are prone to Euro chic - notably Poland and Lithuania, the home of many new, young and good looking architects... or are they artists? or cigarette smoking models dressed in black turtle necks with matching spectacles? Well, in any way, they make nice structures which are curvy and stylish, often shaped to their surroundings and always with glass exposures for us to see in, and them to see out. Afterwards, we stroll the high streets and marvel at the cool shops, which sell a bit of home ware, some kitchen fixtures and a sample of clothing all-in-one. Most have a burning candle on their entrance door step - a nice touch, especially on a cold day like now, with a dusting of white snow to make it cozy.

Monday, November 26

Front Tooth

Eitan has a wobbly - pictured. The boy will not be outdone by his little sister, who lost her second front tooth this weekend. Sonnet and I catch a morning flight to Helsinki, where we stay at The Kamp, a fancy hotel in the center of the city and not far from the Gulf of Finland. In fact, we take a late-evening ferry to one of the many islands and sit outside to watch snow-fall before returning to the hotel for dinner. Despite the dark (sunset around 3PM), the city is alight with candles and Christmas celebrating their good cheer. Our proximity to Russia and its history manifests itself in the dialects and the orthodox church, which towers over us from the tallest point in town. Sonnet and I plan to rise early for museums and etc. before she returns to London and I get to work. The kids are dee-lighted to have Aggie for the night in one big, happy sleep-over. Are we missed by them? Nah.

Sunday, November 25

British Riviera

Here I am being silly, to the kid's disgust but to my bonhomie. After an early morning run to work off the Big Dinner, we head for the British seaside, in this case Torquay which has lovely fine sand and long wide beaches. Even better and since tidal, there are rocks where the kids scramble for crabs and sea-shells (Eitan wales when he cannot bring his crab home - I tell him OK but on the condition we ferment the thing in rubbing alcohol. I figure it is a good science project). Everybody is pretty darn tired when we arrive home this evening, so the kids in PJ's fast and I prepare for tomorrow's trip to Finland. Sonnet will join me, which will be fun and a fun adventure.

Madeleine tells me she hates the following chewing gum, all of which I have purchased for the car-rid: spearmint, peppermint, cherry and Tutti Fruitti. "No way, dad" she exclaims close to tears. Eitan pipes in: "she only likes Hubba Bubba." (and God only knows what that is).

Saturday, November 24


Fozzy here belongs to Halley and Willem, and was bred to chase foxes down holes, Willem tells me. These dogs travel with the hunt and when the fox makes a break for it down a tunnel, in goes Fozzy. Not surprisingly, he is irrepressible and chases everything from rabbit to dog, sometimes resulting in a a nasty growling or worse - a pit bull, for instance, recently got a clamp on Fozzy, who almost lost his front leg in the exchange. Eitan and Madeleine argue over the leash and it is questionable whether dog or child has the lead.

Meanwhile, in the afternoon,
Halley prepares a 20 lb bird for our belated Thanksgiving - the meal is fabulous, with all the stuffing. I'm impressed as Halley and I have joked about cold turkey sandwiches on Wonder bread with mayonnaise so my expectations were, ahem, low. Any case with us are two of Willem's colleagues at Exeter University, who have joined Willem this fall from Duke and Michigan. In total, we are four PhDs, and seven MA's. Since it is Thanksgiving, I ask for a count on the Star Spangled Banner. There is some shuffling, but I think most of us can mumble our way through it. On the U.S. Constitution, it is dire: nobody is able to list the first ten amendments. If not this crowd, I wonder, then who? Bush and the Republic fight for our so-called freedoms, but how do we know when they have gone? In England, we will surely have identity cards and I am photographed 300 times a day in Central London - soon, no doubt, this data will be linked to the police, my medicals and etc. England has a parliamentary democracy and the Magna Charta instead of a Constitution - the politics therefore work, but our civil rights are greying. In America, perhaps it is the the reverse - for now, until your phone is generally tapped and habeas corpus gone, thank you Gitmo. But hey, man, if nobody knows what they are missing - what the worry?

Madeleine loses her second front tooth in the car-ride to Devon, and promptly loses it. It is somehow retrieved in the seat-crack otherwise, I tell her, "no Tooth Ferry." Those are the breaks, kid. Sonnet awakes at 5AM in a panic, remembering to put two pounds under Madeleine's pillow.


Madeleine at Hotel Barcelona in Exeter. We drive to Devon yesterday afternoon, just nipping the weekend traffic. The journey is about three hours and we amuse ourselves with Willie Nelson and Twenty Questions, which I enhance with a £1 promise to the winner. Both kids go for it with varying degrees of interest and success. Our weekend will be spent with Willem and Halley, Sonnet's dear friend from Smith and their two lovely girls (Sonnet is the God Mother to the youngest). We have been here many times including this hotel which is funky, has a cool art-deco bar and kids friendly - what more could one wish for? In 2000, months before Eitan was born, we rambled through the countryside visiting small villages each with a 500 year old church and a few gravestones, a red mail box and phone booth and of course a cozy pub. Sonnet huffed and puffed. This morning following breakfast (Buffet! the kids shriek) I arrange several "time trials" so they may burn off energy before we start the day - pictured.

During 20 Questions, Madeleine: "It is a person."
Me: "Is it somebody I know?"
Madeleine: "No."
Me: "How can I guess if I don't know the person?!"
Madeleine, after a thoughtful pause: "Well, I know her."

Friday, November 23

Oh Sweet Blood

Madeleine, feeling a bit jealous about other's attention, upgrades the scratch on her nose to a medical situation. She begs for a cotton bandage, which Aggie lovingly provides just prior to bed time: "I'm going to take it to show-and-tell!" she exclaims. And she does.

Sonnet and I see the fabulous Joshua Redman at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night with Emily - who runs the BBC's religious desk and recently earned two prestigious awards on her program's coverage of Israeli-Palestinian organ donations. Any case, Josh was graduated from Berkeley High School in '86 and with Katie, went to Harvard U. His father, Dewie Redman, is a jazz legend and Josh's road forked when he got a perfect score on his LSATs and admission to Yale Law. Rather than pursue fortune, he went for fame - and has achieved both with numerous acclaimed albums including his most recent "Back East." His main instrument is the tenor saxophone, but he also plays other wind instruments during the two hour performance which raises the house at its conclusion. Josh is anything but still and jumps and jives around his trio who themselves are world class on the strings and drums. Sonnet and I saw both Redmans at different times in Camden our first years in London - each time bringing Berkeley props in da house. Oh yeah.

Turkey Hangover

Steve McClaren and fitting for the photo, resigns as Coach of Team England following the disaster that was Wednesday's game. Adding to the misery, Croatia captain Niko Kovak rubs it in: "it was easy to beat England" he says, describing our lads as "predictable and one-dimensional" only playing the long-ball to Crouch "making it very easy to stop." Kovak's nail in the coffin: "Croatia are a team while England are not. We have players who love to take the opponent in a one-to-one situation but England don't seem to have players like this." Ouch.

Such comments are shaming given England invented the Beautiful Game, for Pete's sake, and has the most competitive and expensive league in the world. Sadly, the net net is a bunch of over-paid prima donas who cannot come together for their country, who is desperate for a bit of respect on the global stage. Instead, our guys whine, whenge and moan when things turn against them and they are pilloried in the press - which Wednesday they clearly deserved along with the coach. And who will take the helm next? And who would want to, that is the question, dear fan.

Thursday, November 22

Croatia 3, England 2

Well, we lose another heart-breaker this time failing to get the crucial result at Wembly. England had to earn a draw last night to advance to the European Cup Finals but it was all dashed in the first 14 minutes when Croatia punished our new goal keeper Carson, who let through two dreadful strikes (Eitan: "I could have stopped that one, dad"). Despite the first half, England made some adjustments and came out swinging - tying the match on a Lampard penalty and then a lovely Beckham to Crouchy pass-header (Crouch pictured, thank you Getty Images). It was all looking rosy until the hammer dropped with Croatia's third strike, a stunner that sailed past our day dreaming, butter fingered Carson. 25 minutes plus 3 more in overage netted zilch and England Coach McClaren was sacked today in an emergency FA counsel meeting, 0800 (bru-tal). The country now settles into its post adrenaline, way hung-over and all-collective b-u-m-m-e-r. It is raining in London and no championships to look forward to.

Spy vs. Spy

Ah, Spy vs. Spy. I'm not sure why I'm on this trip but I recently sourced the cartoon on the Internet. For those on the outside, Spy vs. Spy is a wordless black and white comic published by Mad Magazine since 1961. It was created by Cuban Antonio Prohías, who fled to the U.S. in 1960, just days before Fidel Castro took over the Cuban free press. Needless to say, The "Spy vs. Spy" cartoon was symbolic of the Cold War, and was Prohías's comment on the futility of armed escalation and detente. Under the Spy vs. Spy title panel, the words "BY PROHIAS" are spelled out in Morse code, which would be: -••• -•-- •--• •-• --- •••• •• •- •••.

I remember perusing the magazines rack as a kid while Grace shopped in Safeway or the Berkeley Co-op on Shatuck Ave. (now Andronico's). Mad was the so obvious choice - a cartoon first of all, but also edgy and an unintentional secret view into the adult's world. There were violent and sexual themes (Spy vs. Spy was hugely gory and a precursor to The Simpson's "Itchy and Scratchy Show" which amuses Bart with its decapitations and blood-lettings). Most of all, Mad was a secret pleasure, a comic that could be read in the privacy of one's closet or in the basement. It wasn't Playboy or Penthouse - that would come later - but for a ten year old, man, it was
all that.

Wednesday, November 21


Picture of Eitan with his "tactic" Whomper. Recall that the boys trade these action figures like crazy and Whomper is at the top of the value-chain given his mass and over-sized swinging arm which, presumably, can crush other tactics. I dash across town from Mayfair to see the kid's singing assembly, though when I ask just now what they sang both reply with blank faces and silence. Each has more important thing on the mind : tonight's do-or-die Euro Cup qualifier against Croatia, for instance. Russia coughed up a hair-ball Saturday losing to Israel and giving us a window of hope: a tie puts us into the summer '08 finals while a win would be, well, ecstasy. The game kicks off at 8PM, well past Eitan and Madeleine's bedtime, but I tell Natasha that if they do a solid hour of reading and other homework, the first half of the game is theirs. Come on, England!


What is going on with our Chancellor?! Alistair Darling was forced to defend his handling of the Northern Rock collapse, making his second statement to the Commons in as many days as the Rock's shares went into a free-fall following a failed sale to private equity (note, dear reader, that an unseemly depositor run on Northern Rock occurred last month due to its exposure to the sub-prime fiasco. Northern Rock is (or was?) the UK's fifth largest mortgage lender. We, the friendly British tax payer, have been stung by at least a £20B exposure). As if that were not bad enough, Britain's most senior tax man, Paul Gray, quit his £170,000-a-year job today as head of HM Customs and Revenue after he lost two discs containing confidential bank details on 7.5 million British families including, perhaps, US. This data includes bank account details, birth dates, addresses and tax-payer IDs (the equivalent of a U.S. Social Security number). The names of 15 million children are there too. Such a mess to occur in England, home of the world's financial center, is just plain shocking. Gordon Brown has rolled from one crises to the next since taking over from Tony. To his credit, until the autumn elections cock-up, Gordon has handled himself admirably. Oh how the perception of him has changed. And fast. Good bye, lame duck.

Tuesday, November 20

G I Jane

Sonnet puts her British on before a Mach VIII Cromwell. She must deliver an item from the Imperial War Museum to the V&A so I pick her up for lunch and accompany her to the pick-up. I'm pretty interested in the V-2 rocket in the main gallery and a staple of Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow" which I famously quit with 40 pages to go. What the hell is Pynchon about? I still wonder. Any case, I wandered the Imperial for the first time during the Orenstein family's European Hot Rocks trip in 1980. I distinctly recall the toy soldiers and etc. Moe was pretty keen on the battle stuff too- and why not? Guns and steel is cool at any age. In the museum shop I purchase Shoah, which tells the Holocaust through first-person witness.

The Cromwell, BTW, was the fastest British tank to serve in WW2, with a top speed of about 40 mph. - fast for its time. Thanks to its Christie parentage the Cromwell was also agile on the battlefield, blasting away without a care in the world. The dual purpose 75 mm main gun fired the same ammunition as the US 75 mm gun and therefore it had around the same HE and armour-piercing capabilities as the 75 mm equipped Sherman tank. The Cromwell's armour ranged from 8 mm to 76 mm thick overall but the maximum thickness was later increased to 102 mm with appliqué armour plates which were welded on. This armour compared well with that of the Sherman although the Cromwell did not share the Sherman’s sloped glacis plate. The Cromwell crews in North-West Europe succeeded in the Cromwell with superior speed, manoeuvrability and reliability outflanking the heavier and more sluggish German tanks; however, the Cromwell was still not a match for the best German armour and British tank design would go through another stage, the Comet tank, before going ahead in the tank development race with the Centurio tank. Ah, such blissful times and times of bliss.

Sonnet gives a late evening tour of Haute Couture at the V&A with our friends Tony and Susan; afterwards we have a fun dinner and to bed at mid-night. Both of us feeling a bit flattened today following a boozy night (me) and five hours rest (us).

Sunday, November 18


Despite best efforts to miss the '08 European Cup, England is given a big assist from Israel who defeats heavily favored Russia in a crucial qualifier yesterday (photo from England will play Croatia Wednesday and we must win or draw for a ticket to the finals (if Russia had won, it was all over). I tell groggy Eitan first thing this morning about the Ruskies loss and he jumps for joy. It is not all good news, though, as Michael Owen is lost for Croatia having re-injured himself against Austria in a lack-lustre 1-0 victory (Crouchy scored the decider on a ripping header). We will be glued to the T.V. come Wednesday, no doubt.

The average top fooballer earns £21,154 per week, up from £100 in 1966. This compares to a teacher (£661 per week now, versus £27 then) and a GP (£2,115, up from £71) and the national average( £452 now, £18 then). Footballers have enjoyed a %1,459 salary gain, after inflation which is one reason the hard-hats, such as the tube, go on strike. Yet even they, oh fabled consumers of The Sun's page three titties and the heart-stopping chip buttie, would agree that football is far more important than keeping the country running. And by a large margin, BTW.

Saturday, November 17


Yes, it is way past fall and Eitan and I discuss why leaves change in autumn and winter: "photosynthesis!" he shouts, and I note that it is the lack of sunshine which triggers their loss.

Me to Madeleine:
"What is five plus one?" Madeleine: "Six!"
"What is twenty-five plus one?"
"Dad! that is too hard!"

Rather than drive to the toy store for Eitan's Tamagatchi, we walk which raises howls of protests then a discussion about ways we can reduce pollution. Some good ideas:
Take the bus!
Don't use plastic bags!
Turn off the lights!
Hug a fish!
Don't flush the toilet! (Eitan)
Be friendly to people (Eitan)
Walk on your hands! (Madeleine)

Eitan goes to a Lucas and Emma joint birthday production at Syon Park, so I am solo with Madeleine for two hours. We visit Snakes and Ladders, then load up on a bag of self-selecting candy and look at all the Christmas crapolla which is now on sale nearby. A simple holiday wreath goes for £25 while a faux tree billed as "urban chic": £500. Nuts to that, I say.

Madeleine tells me several kids in her class are better in maths. I tell her the only difference between her and them is "studying, which is hard work." She ponders this then: "well, I'm good at sports."

Tamagotchi In The House

Eitan wakes me early: "I am going to buy a Tamagotchi today" he informs me, matter-of-factly. The toy's cost: £13 Stirling, which is within his savings of 25 quid safely tucked away beneath his bed collected from weeks of allowance and minor chores. Madeleine, on the other hand, has been less frugal and she breaks into tears when she learns the Tomagotchi's cost. Her savings is 45 pence, five one dollar bills from a trade with Eitan for pounds, and a few Euro coins. She sobs: "It will take me years and years to save that much!"

Eitan tries to make her feel better: "Madeleine you can watch me get a Tamagotchi at the toy store."
And: "I'll let you play with my Tamagotchi for two hours, if you are nice.."

And what is a Tamagatchi, you may ask? It is, you see, a hand-held digital pet created in 1996 by Aki Maita and sold by Bandai. The Tamagotchi is housed in a small and simple egg-shaped computer (the name comes from "tamago," the Japanese word for "egg," and the English word "watch"). Three buttons allow the user to select and perform an activity, including feeding the Tamagotchi a piece of food or a snack, playing games with the Tamagotchi, cleaning up a Tamagotchi's waste and checking its age, job, hunger, weight, happiness and other useful equally things. Think of it as a sinister device that preys on the mind of the young. Think of it as a child's toke on a Grade A drug. Think of it as a warm up for the Game Boy.

Wednesday, November 14

St Pancras

I catch the first commercial train from rebuilt St Pancras station, the London terminus for the Eurostar high-speed train connecting us to Paris and Brussels (as if we care about Brussels). The station is termed the "Cathedral of the railways" and includes two of the most celebrated structures built in Britain from the Victoria era. The main train shed, pictured, was completed in 1868 by the engineer William Barlow and was the largest single-span structure built up to the time. In front of it is St Pancras Chambers, formerly the Midland Grand Hotel (1868–1877), one of the most impressive examples of Victorian gothic (architect: George Gilbert Scott). The station also services East Midlands Trains which take us to Cambridge or north and places otherwise not worth seeing excluding Hadrian's Wall, which is worth seeing. The French Connection now takes two hours flat versus two hours and twenty minutes from Waterloo station (which, I might note, is way more convenient to Richmond). The train house was opened by HRH, The Queen, on 7 November following ten years of build and £8.5 billion or costs - the largest project in Britain, which will be surpassed by our 2012 Olympics (Her Majesty doesn't get out of bed for anything less than £5 billion). And the ride? Smooth, baby -- smooth. That is, until Paris where a strike forces me to wait an hour for a taxi. Leave it to the French to ruin England's special train day.

"Competence is a narrow ideal. Competence makes the trains run on time but doesn't know where they're going."
George Bush, El Presidente

I am late taking Eitan and Madeleine to school:
Madeleine: "Dad, we can be either early, late or on time."
Me: "I think we've covered all the options, no?"
A pause, then Eitan: "Well, we could be super late."

Last night's discussion at grocery store Waitrose regarding Ben & Jerry's Caramel Chew Chew or Fish Food:
Eitan: "Fish Food is my favorite, Madeleine, it has everything in it."
Madeleine: "Have we ever had it, Eitan?"
Eitan: "No. But I just know."
Madeleine: "Well, I want Caramel Chew Chew."
Eitan: "Madeleine! You're just saying that because I want Fish Food!"

Eitan informs me matter-of-factly that I had told him he could have a large bowl Caramel Chew Chew, which is not true. When he starts to whinge, I tell him: "You can have what I give you or nothing. You decide." He ponders this a moment before going for the Chew Chew.

Tuesday, November 13

Giant Peach

Madeleine's "James and the Giant Peach" from last year when Sonnet read Eitan and Madeleine Raold Dahl's1967 classic (did you know that because of the book's content it has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 at fifty six?!). Madeleine's "Portrait Of Peach" has hung on my office wall until this weekend when, out of the blue, she asks for it back. Madeleine draws me a replacement and tells me earnestly: "this one's for you dad - but I want the other one" which I scan for you now, dear reader. It is intriguing what sticks in the kid's minds - for instance Spider Man, who has been out of favor for two years, returned during story time just recently. When asked who Spidey should "do battle with" Madeleine instantly asks for "The Giant Green Cricket" or the "Blind Black Mole"- both characters I made up on the fly. Eitan wants "The Spider Killers" which are three Spider Man destroying robots he imprinted from the television cartoon. Violence is always fun-and-games when a Super Hero (or now a "tactic") is involved.

The kid's morning squabble escalates:
Madeleine: "Well, that is mine, Mister."
Eitan: "Smelly Pants!"
Madeleine: "Poo poo head!"
Eitan: "Ugly bottom!" (which gets a perplexed look from all of us before we crack up)

Meetings all day yesterday in Paris go well, but we shall see by Thursday, fingers crossed. I return again tomorrow and will be the first passenger from Eurostar's new St Pancreas station (build cost: £8B).

Saturday, November 10

Norman Mailer

1923- 2007

"There are two kinds of brave men: those who are brave by the grace of nature, and those who are brave by an act of will."

(photo from the Mailer Family Archive)


Though the picture is Eitan, Madeleine steals the morning with two goals in her side's 2-1 victory. They were legitimate too - one a powerful strike from the penalty line following a tackle and the other a surprising break-away where she crosses the pitch with her mind determined. She has a vision of the thing before it goes off - boom! - passing freely into the lower right corner of the goal box. Madeleine is chosen "Player Of the Match" and bubbles about how she loves football in the car-ride home. Bravo!

Following football, Eitan and I work in the garden and he is now actually useful instead of a distraction. I tell the boy he should expect to get paid for his work - and we agree to £5, which is equal to one "tactic" action figure. It goes straight into the piggy bank, though Sonnet will take him to the local toy store this afternoon. Speaking of toy stores, Berkeley has Mr. Mops, founded in 1972 and still on Martin Luther King Blvd (formerly Grove Street) near King Junior High - where of course Katie and I went way back when. Somehow Mops has survived the shop-lifting from the after-school teenagers. I recall the place exactly and buying all sorts of cool junk - like the "Space 1999" Eagle 1. Gracie and Moe go there now for their grand-kids. Ah, the Circle Of Life.

I listen to Katie Melua's soulful interpretation of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" which so perfectly captured college's lost first love. A sample:

"Daylight licked me into shape
I must have been asleep for days
And moving lips to breathe her name
I opened up my eyes
And found myself alone alone
Alone above a raging sea
That stole the only girl I loved
And drowned her deep inside of me."
- From The Cure's "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me"


Here's Paul at the Arctic Monkeys (this week we saw the Fray at the Hammersmith Apollo with Tilly and Eric for a Big Tuesday night out). Eitan asks for an Arsenal, Liverpool or a ManU kit for football practice (but not England as "I have two of them" plus, I might add, England will most likely miss the '08 European Cup. It's a wing and a prayer 21 November against Croatia and other stars must align). It's Saturday morning so Sonnet runs and the kids write letters to Auntie Katie, who has laryngitis. Eitan bangs out the NYC address with pride and Madeleine scribbles some letters which make sense to her. Madeleine tells me: "poor Katie- I never knew anybody who got laryngitis." Natasha gives Madeleine a stuffed dog who looks like Disney's "The Shaggy DA" - she names him 'Stella.

Friday, November 9

The Horror

Well, here's a story. Photo taken at Marcia and Larry's red house in Vermont this summer and found by me as Sonnet and I search for a suitable holiday print. Not so easy a task BTW despite my volume of photos. Unfortunately most of my suitables have an irritating something like a scrap of paper or mis-placed doo-dad. Less than two months and I am feeling under the gun.

I buy a special Hermes "closing tie" for a final-final meeting in Paris Monday with my fund. Sonnet and the kids each touch the cloth to ensure that it is activated. I will catch the Eurostar Sunday afternoon returning in time for dinner Monday. Otherwise, the weekend is filled with the usual sports and run around. Erik, who is back in London, will visit Saturday afternoon for family style.

Big Trees

Here is Wawona, one of the most famous in the Northern California grove not far from the Orenstein family cabin, which Katie is doing a wonderful job managing. This photo is from 1953.

As for the Mighty Tree: sierras are the largest in the world and many redwoods grow to 250 feet or more - the tallest being about 325 feet high. While their height is impressive, the real wonder of a sierra redwood lies in its bulk. Many of these giants have diameters in excess of 30 feet near the ground, with a corresponding circumference of over 94 feet. The largest redwood in our Calaveras Big Trees State Park is the Louis Agassiz tree located in the South Grove. The tree is "only" 250 feet tall, but it is over 25 feet in diameter six feet above the ground. The largest tree in the world BTW is the General Grant tree, located in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park It stands 271 feet tall and is 28 feet in diameter at six feet above the ground.

Most trees have their diameter measured at breast height, which is considered to be four and a half feet above the ground on the uphill side of the tree. Sierra redwoods however, are measured at six feet above the ground. This is because of the major increase in circumference at the lower end of the tree. This "butt swell" helps the redwood in a couple ways. It adds stability to the tree, just as a wide stance adds stability to a football player. Also, it helps deflect falling vegetation away from the base of the tree. This decreases the chances of the redwood being injured by fire when that debris eventually burns. It is difficult to imagine the size of a sierra redwood. You often read or hear stories like the fact that a sierra redwood may contain enough wood to build 40 five-room homes; a tree may weigh 4,000 tons; they are as tall as the Statue of Liberty.

Wednesday, November 7

Caramel Chew Chew

I awake this morning with Eitan six inches from my face: "You ate the Caramel Chew Chew," he accuses. A bit taken aback, I go into defensive mode. The boy gives me a hard pinch before walking out in a huff. I stumble downstairs to find a freezer note: "No Dads Allowed To Eat The Caramel Chew Chew." For those outside the know, Caramel Chew Chew is a Ben & Jerry's "international flavor" meaning it cannot be bought in the states (I'm not sure if it is being tested, pre-launch, or doesn't match the Walmart palet - whatever). The ingredients, from B&J's website: "swirls of caramel and chocolate-covered caramel chunks swimming in a sea of caramel ice cream." One can see why Eitan is pissed off that I'm eating the stuff after hours. So we compromise: I promise not to pig out in return for morning peace. We stair at each other across a great divide....

Tuesday, November 6


It is another unusually warm start to the British winter evidenced by the kid's school attire which lacks coats, caps and gloves - sometimes only polo's are seen on the playground. I recall last year's strangeness when the cold temps arrived in January. As a positive consequence, we enjoy a rather lovely autumn as the wet summer and dry late season allow the trees to retain their foliage, which are in colorful repose since the loss of the Northern sunlight. Without the chill air, however, the chlorophyll which gives leaves their green (and vital for photosynthesis) does not break down dramatically resulting in bright reds and hues found in New England - though warmer temps also there are threatening Vermont's tourist season, as reported recently in the NYT. Mostly oblivious to climate change, Madeleine clutches a pumpkin which, in my book, is the friendliest of the gourds. Their color, shape and simple goofiness demands attention - while more practically Sonnet makes pumpkin soup and roasts the seeds in chili oil and sea salt.

Madeleine: "If I were a bird I would fly away to California."

Eitan, very seriously, to Madeleine: "You just don't know how to play with a tactic." (recall, dear reader, that a tactic is a mini action figure anchored to a stand with special powers like moving arms or shooting darts).

Eitan yesterday receives a Participation Certificate for his inter-school football tournament (five boys are picked for play from a larger traveling team). Eitan's side wins 3-nil and 2-nil. While he does not score a goal, he proudly describes several passes and a tackle.

Monday, November 5

Multi-Tasking Mum

British sport's hero Paula Radcliffe wins the NY Marathon this weekend after two years and a baby in January (photo: Radcliffe set the women's standard in the 2003 London Marathon with 2:15:25 - a feat some say will remain on the books for a quarter century and a miracle to watch, as I did. Unfortunately, Radcliffe has under-performed at her Olympics, where she has yet to meddle despite being one of the world's most consistent distance runners and the only credible Western threat to the African nations. Most recently, she failed to complete the Athen's marathon, a race she was heavily favored to win, due to stomach ailments. Consequently, Radcliffe does not get the kudos she deserves in England. The British punter roots passionately for its sports teams, who are perennially the Bad News Bears of world athletics. No sport is more disappointing than our star-studded football squad, who have yet to deliver a World or European Cup since 1964 when we won it all. The Brits, you see, will accept nothing less than a full championship from their athletes - perhaps this is a layover from the Empire, who knows? Rather than celebrate its world-class athletes in running, rowing, ruby, football and etc., the water cooler condemns the same for finishing second (rugby, World Cup this year); fourth (Radcliffe's 10K, '00 Olympics) and the finals (football and cricket, many, many, times). England understands the sympathies of the under-dog, but also wants the glory of victory. She is conflicted, no doubt, but I am used to the sentiment thanks to the Cal Bears which somehow have the same bull-dog determination but just cannot pull out the Big Win when it counts (our loss to Oregon this year, ensuring Cal's first #1 ranking in six decades, was heartbreaking). A collective Heavy Sigh accompanies the anthem: "Just wait 'til next year, Goddamnit!"

Madeleine does a trade with Eitan - her UK pounds for his U.S. dollars. When I ask if she got a good deal, she happily says: "Now I can buy more ice cream!" (Eitan remains perfectly still at the other end of the table)

Madeleine complains of a head-ache, telling Sonnet matter-of-factly that she will stay home from school. I give her a choice: school or home-work with me all day. Her indignant, teary-eyed reply: "Dad, that is so not what I want to do!"

Sunday, November 4


Here is Katy Janda who I have known since August 28, 1985 - the day I moved into Poland House in the West Quad at Brown University my Freshman year. Katy was a Resident Counselor, a year older and presumably many times wiser - which indeed, has turned out to be the case. Katy majored in English Literature and Engineering - one of five women (if I recall correctly) in an otherwise large program. After Brown, Katy headed for the East Bay where she earned her MS and PhD in Berkeley's Energy Resources Group also serving as an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies. From there, Oberlin College offered a tenure track but Katy left Ohio for Oxfordshire and Oxford University this summer - happily enough for us. Katy and I compare notes on life in our 40s (egad), family dynamics and, of course, gossip about long lost (and disassociated) Brown alumni. Katy has maintained her integrity pursuing environmental concerns and teaching energy policy to some of America's - and now England's - brightest. Academia may be frustrating and under-paying - but frankly, baby, it is where it all starts if we have any chance of addressing global warming or the energy demands of our future.

Eitan rattles 13 pound coins in his zipped front pocket walking to the toy store to buy "tactics" - plastic action figures each with special "skills" like an arm punch or shooting rocket. The kids trade them on the play ground. I tell Eitan that "money finally has some meaning" as he skips home smiling.


We celebrate the burning of Guy Fawkes last night on the school grounds - bonfire and fireworks, comprehensive. As last year, I'm responsible for the BBQ and Eitan and Madeleine lend a hand setting up the pit. I've pre-ordered 350 sausages and 450 beef burgers, buns, onions and etc. We have two spanking new cookers and I have lassoed five volunteers to help me service our 1500 guests. The evening nets the school around 20 grand and I'm left with a wad of twenties in my back pocket. Afterwards, me and the crew drink Guinness at the local and toast England and the Queen. Cheers!

Friday, November 2


Joe-Y-H is one of Eitan's fast pals - the boys share a classroom and yoga, among other things. There are three "Joes" in the class each beginning with the same late name initial (go figure) - hence Joe-Y-H. Any case, he is fabulously expressive and this photo is not a one-off. 

Unfortunately I pull an amateur move and let the batteries on my Canon run down so I don't capture the full chaos of the sugar-fueled evening. I apologies to you, my faithful readers (ok- Moe !).

Eitan wakes up today and counts his candy score. We've been through this number before - last year, the boy nailed me red-handed for flagrant candy pinching. 

When I ask Madeleine why Eitan doesn't otherwise enjoy the candy, Madeleine tells me conspiratorially: "He eats it with his friends- when they are not allowed" and more: "he only shares it with the boys!"  She is fascinated by her older brother and clearly.


Sonnet organises a Trick-O-Treat at our house and we pick up the kids and their guests for the afternoon. With Martha Stewart as her guide, Sonnet takes the kids through their steps: bobbing for apples, story-telling (me - frightening - ignored), dinner and finally dress up. Parents arrive at 5:30PM and off we go. I learn from Ashling that Hallowe'en was born in Ireland, where the early Celts believed that it is one of the liminal times of the year when spirits can make contact with the physical world, and when magic is most potent (according to, for example, Catalan mythology about witches and Scottish and Irish tales of the Sidhe). The kids could care less about the history of course: it is all about C-A-N-D-Y and who has the MO-OST. The neighborhood is clued into the festivities with lighted pumpkins, cob-web decorations, witches and the like. Some go as far as speaker systems which blast haunting noises (think cackles and so forth). Finally, it is a joy to see the hundreds of kids dragging their parents around including us. It's all over by 8:30PM and Eitan and Madeleine busily count their loot: Eitan scores 52 pieces while Madeleine, mouth full, reports 47.