Saturday, January 31

Another Goal And A Goldfish

Sports absorb our Saturday morning as usual. Sonnet takes Madeleine to swim-practice then football while I break our routine to swing Eitan by the Kew Park Rangers. The Rangers are a football local club with >500 kids ranging from under-6's to 16's. It is part of the England Football Association (FA) and competitive but games against other teams not until age-nine and up; as the coach tells me "no need for the parents scream'n at the lads to do things they can't do." He then yells at two boys climbing a fence in their cleats: "get the hell offa that thing!" I am convinced and now it is up to Eitan, who is looking into the next-level now that he has nearly outgrown Palewell Park. I don't care where he plays - my only stipulation is that he visit at least three teams before making up his mind. All are enticing, you see. So here we are on a freezing cold morning in North Sheen with the District Line rumbling by and Eitan twitchy and nervous. Coach hollers at him to join the crowd and the boy goes loping onto the pitch a bit embarrassed by his scarf and hat, which I have made him ware. He tosses both on the ground without looking back. It is a new set of dads to break into so I just watch this morning - no need to make an effort if we are not coming back. The coach splits Eitan's squad into reds and blues and it is game on. Within 30 seconds Eitan scores the first goal and his side pump their arms jubilantly into the air. It is a screamer too - he rips down the sideline and connects his outside foot to the ball sending it the opposite spot anticipated by the goal-keeper. Eitan's blues wins 4-2 and Eitan accounts for two strikes. From North Sheen we dart to Palewell Park so he can catch his friends for the rest of the morning. He would play no-stop all-day if he could. We are both excited for tomorrow's Liverpool v. Chelsea. What Super Bowl?

Madeleine, it is agreed, to have a gold-fish. She has been begging a pet for, like, ever and Sonnet, I nor our nanny have any desire to walk a dog. So the fish are agreed and we look into a multi-gallon container. Did you know a gold-fish can live to four or even five years? In college I had a fish tank and my guys rarely made it through a semester.

Friday, January 30


Here is a local butcher (though not ours) on the high-street whose strangely creepy figure captures my eye. The chicken rotisserie takes me back to Park 'N Shop on Salano Avenue in Berkeley - its delicious smells bring good memories of shopping with mom and sometimes sugar cereal which broke the household rule. As Berkeley upscaled from its hippy roots, the grocery taken over by wonderful Andronicos in the 1980s; Andronicos offers yuppie fruit and veg on par with anything in France. Maybe better in fact - during season, there must be >25 varieties of tomato. Andronicos also absorbed The Berkeley Co-Op whose '60s ambition to return profits to the customer - kinda like communism maybe? - but that business model failed, oh boy. Nobody complained though I did miss the sugar-baked cookies. Sometime later Starbucks took over Ortmans Ice Cream, Eddy's became Peet's Coffee; Hinks a Ross and now closed... this be progress in the East Bay.

Mary is in town and we dine with her, Dana and Nathan at Racines - a favorite French bistro in South Kensington that actually is... French! The waiters from Paris or wherever with attitude and all that and most of the diners French-speaking. I get to stumble through a few words impressing really only myself but hey, I enjoy it. I learn Devon a top notch skiier and now competing at high-levels; I am sure he and Eitan will absorb themselves in sports when we are with them in May.

Self Portrait IV

And it is Friday. This week end special as it returns the Super Bowl, our multi-billion-dollar game. I admit to having lost some interest without the once-feared Oakland Raiders or those 80s glamour pusses the San Francisco 49ers. The Bay Area's last best effort was '02 when the Raiders got blown out by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in XXXVII 48-21; Tampa Bay coach Gruden fired the prior year by Raiders' owner Al Davis. Think they were motivated? Since '02 neither club has made it to the playoffs which consistent, really, with our other local sports: the A's and Giants remember their far-past glory while the Warriors have not been contenders since the the 1970s and Rick Barry's golden years. And don't even mention the Cal Bears. But back to the SB, which really owes itself to Joe Namath in III. Broadway Joe was the son of Hungarian immigrants and Pennsylvania steelworkers; he would have been in Viet Nam if not his throwing arm. In college he won a National Title with Alabama and Bear Bryant. He was famous for booze and broads and often enjoyed both together game-night but it was not until '69 that he achieved icon status becoming the rare sports-athlete to influence American culture. Of course he famously predicted a win for his under-dog Jets would defeat Johny Unitis and the Baltimore Colts. This the season before the merger of the National Football League and the AFL, creating the NFL, and the game's outcome increased the market-value of the combined franchise. Even more so, it paved the way for black sheep Oakland and hard-knock NY and Green Bay which captured America's attention. The country saw its values in their local clubs, which often enjoyed mythic stature - consider the Pittsburgh Steelers in the '70s, the 49ers in the 80s or the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos of the early-mid and late 1990s, respectively - perfect representations of those cities in each era. I was flush with Ken Stabler, Dave Casper and Ray Guy. Those were the times. Oh, and the cost for a 30 second TV ad during the SB this year $3,000,000.

Wednesday, January 28


While on to childhood photos, here is Sonnet with her brother Marcus in Rome. I don't have the circumstances behind the photo - maybe Silver or Stan can fill me in - but I do know the fountain from a number of visits: Trevi the largest baroque in the city+26 meters high and 20 meters wide; tourists toss coins and prey for the better. And here is what I cheats from the Internets: "the fountain at the juncture of three roads marks the terminal point of the "modern" Acqua Vergine, the revivified Aqua Virgo, one of the ancient aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome. In 19 BC, supposedly with the help of a virgin, Roman technicians located a source of pure water some eight-miles from the city. However, the eventual indirect route of the aqueduct made its length some 14-miles. This Aqua Virgo led the water into the Baths of Agrippa, which served Rome for more than four hundred years. The coup de grace for the urban life of late classical Rome came when the Goth besiegers of 537 broke the aqueducts. Medieval Romans were reduced to drawing water from polluted wells and the Tiber River, which was also used as a sewer. The Roman custom of building a handsome fountain at the endpoint of an aqueduct that brought water to Rome was revived in the 15th century, with the Renaissance. In 1453, Pope Nicholas V finished mending the Acqua Vergine aqueduct and built a simple basin, pictured.

Rome, as I am often to say, is my second favorite city in Europe after Paris. At some point pre-kids and post-European passports we considered living in Rome - a half-baked plan, no doubt, because nobody actually works there (and I would most definately have to work, dear reader). I say this with some prejudice as the fellow I started Trailhead Capital from Rome- and while he did make a vast fortune in the hege fund business I don't think he has worked a day in life. Also pulling us towards this exquisite city is opera, Bru and Sonnet, who is fluent in Italian from her year in Florence while at Smith. And of course the lifestyle. Pardieu the Italians now how to live la dolce vita.

When the moon hits your eye
Like a big-a pizza pie
That's amore
When the world seems to shine
Like you've had too much wine
That's amore

When the stars make you drool
Joost-a like pasta fazool
That's amore
When you dance down the street
With a cloud at your feet, you're in love
When you walk in a dream
But you know you're not dreamin', signore
'Scusami, but you see
Back in old Napoli, that's amore.
- Dean Martin

Tuesday, January 27

San Ramon

Katie lends me this photograph from 1860 San Ramon which I scan and blog. The picture probably taken by Moe or Grace in 1970 or '71? This is the house I grew up in, at least until age-ten. Todd is to the left then me, Katie, Eric and Stephen and Todd's sister Hillary. Wow. Todd was the fabulous next-door neighbor+four years older so there was considerable hero-worship on my part believe-you-me. He taught me many of the things I today hold dear and pass along to Madeleine and Eitan like: how to make a perfect paper airplane or draw the Starship Enterprise doing battle with the Klingons. Eventually our enthusiasms turned to model rockets and we built hobby kits complete with launch pad and blast off. We made ships from basement wood sailed at nearby Tildon Park and wound slot cars in the downstairs playroom. Without hesitation, though, the most thrilling, most absorbing thing we did was go-carts. Collecting old strollers or steeling trollies from Safeway we got wheels. We found rods for the central axis and old-timber for the frame; strings were used to steer and the ever-present emergency brake to-hand though sneakers worked better. Added touches: saran wrap windows and rubber-band guns. Every kid on the block had one. San Ramon enjoyed two reasonably steep hills sloping towards Stone Face park and El Cerito Canyon; since we were below the busy Arlington Avenue the traffic fairly lite not that we kids gave a hoot about the cars (is it inevitable that we remember childhood freedoms not to be granted our kids?) On one particularly memorable day - I was in the fourth grade at Washington Elementary - it snowed which, I believe, not repeated since. Out early for the day, Todd, Johny, Donovan, Shannon, Eric and I dared each other to pop our carts down the snow-covered streets. Man those were great times without a parent in sight.

Who Me Overpaid?

Here's a graph, published in December 2008, which kinda says a lot. Like I should have stayed in banking longer. Source: Wages and Human Capital in the U.S. Financial Industry: 1909-2006

My return flight uneventful and I arrive home just in time to catch the Shakespeares on their way to school with Sonnet. They squeal and we all hug it up - is there anything that can put one in a better mood? I have the added pleasure of joining Eitan's classroom which snaps me out of my travel fog and surrounds me with 25 squeekers. Year-three demands attention and Eitan is happy to have mine, though bashful too ("Dad, just don't act silly" he says beforehand). Today the children constructing a story with an Egyptian theme following their trip to the British Museum last week Thursday. They patiently draw out a "skeleton plan" then fill in the beginning, middle and end. I add support but otherwise it is all self-motivated - snakes, quick-sand, pyramids, trap-doors, mummies and so on and so forth. We only have time to set the story structure so I may have to return Thursday to see how things end. I am on pins and needles.

Is anybody as sick of the Accenture-Tiger Woods campaign as I? They are plastered all over Heathrow and given today's clime we are told: "In these difficult times it is tough to be a Tiger." Puke.

Madeleine: "Did you bring me a present?" and "What did you bring Eitan?"

Monday, January 26


I watch Barack Obama give a brief announcement declaring America's suffering, naming the lay-offs by company+his green agenda. Detroit and the lobbyist are bitching, no doubt, about how new standards will ultimately be paid for by the government and you and me but to them I say: fuck you. If we don't get our country off this carbon addiction somehow the long-term consequences dire ranging from the Arabs to global melting. I have no problem buying a Japanese hybrid BTW and frankly the nips should take over Detroit and run our companies properly - it sure couldn't be any worse. Obama's green agenda include the states who will (finally) have greater authority to establish car milage and polluting standards. California has been at the fore-front of this movement aiming to raise MPG >20 but was sued by GM, Chrysler and Ford. No surprise. To high-finance: a WSJ covering story suggests that global bank UBS may have helped a further 17,000 Americans avoid paying taxes. Fuckers. Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America, may be on the chopping block for failing to disclose the disasterous Merrill Lynch acquisition - ML, of course, made loses >$15 billion the quarter immediately following the deal so presumably Lewis new what was in store. He did sack Merrill's Chief Exec John Thain for spending >$1 million of office-design work and lobbying his new
BoA friends for a $30 million bonus AND front-ending $4 billion of bonuses to ML staff before the take-over complete while ML taking tax-payer support. Fuck faces, all. I look at Obama who really is the only ray of public hope - he is surrounded by scoundrels and rats who have harmed our country on par with any terrorist. The next four years are make-or-break.

Do recall as recently as last year those buying a mid-size to larger (loaded weights of 6000 lbs to 14,000 lbs) Truck or SUV for "business" were paid by our government. In 2008 Congress finally eliminated the accelerated expensing of the first $25,000 in the purchase-year of such a new behemoth (diesel or gas) and only those >14,000 lb now apply. Larger "soccer mom" SUVs are only allowed to expense $2,960. Hardship, man. Not to worry if you are a serious business person though - you can still take advantage of the full deduction if you choose wisely. Pick-ups with separate cargo areas of at least five-feet, "farm vehicles" and cargo-trucks and vans still offer the full accelerated amount. Bingo. Still, the suburban SUV loop-hole finally closed. Baby steps, dear reader. Baby steps.

Macho Hummer photo from Fuckers.


There ain't much to do but look up when on this side of Park Avenue - in this case 345 at 52nd Street. The Seagram's building, designed by Philip Johnson, was completed in 1958. It is 515 feet tall with 38 stories and stands as one of the finest examples of the functionalist aesthetic and a masterpiece of corporate modernism. It was designed as the headquarters for the Canadian distillers Joseph E. Seagram's & Sons, thanks to the foresight of Phyllis Lambert, the daughter of Samuel Bronfman, Seagram's CEO (Junior, we may recall, bet the ship on the Medias: with $9 billion from the sale of the family business, Bronfman, Jr., bought music Polygram, and film entertainment MCA and Universal Pictures. Jr's new entertainment conglomerate had a brief life before needing a strategic partner, who actually knew what he was doing, which led Seagram into a controversial all-stock acquisition by French conglomerate Vivendi in 2000. Can you feel the market peaking, Dear Reader?). 345 Park also hosts The Four Seasons for the ultimate Power Lunch. Surrounded by Rothko's it is a lovely affair. As the sun sets Katie and I move onward Northward stopping momentarily at the Sony centre to entertain a new Viao then a ride home. Happily it is Saturday night and no plans - just recovery from Friday which lingers on in my fatigue. We flop in front of the flat screen and watch mindless television; Katie falls asleep on the couch and I give her a kick before going to bed myself and amazingly it is before Midnight.


I met Tim, pictured, in '99 on the roof-deck of our first London flat in Maida Vale. Tim grew up with Sonnet's cousin Bru visiting us at that time from Italy. Tim's father a law-partner of Sonnet's Aunt Missy's husband and Bru's father; subsequently all of us visited Bru in Rome when he was working at the Vatican. Got that? What is important our friendship. Tim left London five years or so ago and now lives in Brooklyn with his wife Kitty; here we walk Lower Manhattan and catch up on stuff including professional as he is CFO of a security technology company employing >700. Before that he was Finance Director for NTL Networks, a multi-billion dollar division of NTL Cable now owned by Virgin. We share a common love of Bru who is possibly crazy and certainly lived an interesting life. In London that day, Bru arrived in a yellow crepe sports coat, patterned shirt and pink pants with a rhinestone heart sewed in the hip; his hair swept back and eyes somewhat menacing. Of course his Italian girl-friend Manuela stunning. As for his story: after following the Grateful Dead for years Bru decided he should go to college and was accepted by his only application - Cornell, age-25. From his room-mate, he found a job in the Vatican bursar's office where Tim, Kate, Sonnet and I lunched with at least one Cardinal who fortunately failed to notice Bru's black tie with a graphic image of a couple in flagrante delicto. Oh dear (I learned yesterday that his two studio apartments off the Piazza Farnese supported by, ahem, "adult productions"). The thing about Bru is that his heart of gold. He also knows Rome like the back of his hand including the best retail where we collected some shopping that I wore with great pleasure during my reversion to high-school around those Internet years. Another high-light watching Roma football and eating pork sandwiches at a shack-house some Sunday afternoon next to the Residenza Papale or the Pope's summer palace. Today Bru remains in Rome with his daughter though he and Manuela no longer together.

Sunday, January 25

Casbah Club

The past several months I have listened to The Clash's Live-At-Shea-Stadium concert in '82 when they opened for The Who. Two weeks later the band broke up. The opening salvo amazing: Welcome to the Casbah Club are Joe Strummer’s first gravelly words into the microphone then straight into the Armageddon "London Calling" influenced by the '79 meltdown of Three Mile Island and problems of rising unemployment, racial conflict and drug use in Britain. It is also Summer's call to arms and demand for (the city's) relevancy. Here Katie and I pose by Tomkins Park. Strummer died in 2002, age 50.

Tomkins Park even on a freezing cold day is filled with youngsters wearing different variants of jeans and colours. I'm not entirely sure but from this sample it appears bell bottoms are back and grunge remains stylish. Puffy down jackets also Big but it is -5 so this may effect the style, though I doubt it. Ray Ban wayfarers seem to trump over-sized aviators.

"London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared, and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls
London calling, now don't look to us
Phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

[Chorus 1:]
The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river"
The Clash

Somewhere Who Knows?

A corner I like, pictured, though I have no idea about the building. A reason walking Manhattan fun is the change by neighborhood and sometimes city-block. The closer to Midtown, the more modern. A buffer occurs north of Union Square and the 1980s sky-scrapers where the 20+ story buildings are brick-by-brick; I always wonder who lives in such things today or maybe it is business space?

Reviewing my notes I appreciate that much of my commentary sniping on the U.K. economy or the British this-or-that. Such snootiness allowed any ex-pat however I hope my love for London clear. When we first arrived and my spirit in California, Sonnet asked what I liked about the place and my only reply the weight of the pound (it is rather substantial one must admit). Today happily my affection goes deeper: the free and world-class museums, pop-venues and Brit pop, Van Gough's "Sunflower," non-stop football, PM questions, Fleet Street's 18 daily rags from The Economist to The Sun and Page Three which outsells the former >10X, our worldly friends, Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander and Greenwich, Sonnet's job, the Meridian line, Kate Winslet, Richmond Park, Roman history, Ze Queen and above all - a sense of humour just beneath the overly polite and simply mortified middle-classes. And of course my English kids who remind me this country has taken care of us through it all and so far. Now let's hope the banks don't collapse.

Alphabet City to Midtown

Katie and I start our day on Riverton in the lower East Side where we meet up with Christian, Adam, Tim and Kitty (pictured with Anabel) and an assembly of cool New Yorkers. We eventually break into smaller teams and Tim, Katie and I walk the East Village visiting clothes, a gallery and my favorite - a candy shop with the yuful stuff: Now-'n-Laters, pop rocks, Sugar Daddys and the most shocking: gum sticks packaged as cigarettes right down to the camel or red-box. I am tempted to buy several as a joke for my pals with kids but for once think twice. Our ramble passes Tomkins Park, Union Square, Irving Place and Gramercy Park. It is a sunny, freezing day and as ever the hustle and bustle non-stop wherever we are. I buy a pair of three-stripe kicks which puts me in a good way then we sit around a coffee shop and chew on the economy. Tim is CFO of a security business which has raised >$120 million and he was responsible for the last financing which introduced some of the largest investors anywhere. From here Katie and I stroll northward to Midtown where we are surrounded by height including my favorite horror on Park Avenue. How can I not be impressed? Up and up and up and up. By now the sun sets, it is dark, I am cold; we head back to Katie's Upper West Side. Another great day in the Big Apple.

Saturday, January 24

Down Town

Madeleine, our artist, taken at the time of the holiday-photo (note the faux bandage). Katie and I meet Christian and Sarah in Alphabet City for a Big Night on the town beginning at Freeman Alley and a restaurant of similar name. Since Christian chooses the spot it is undeniably cool with the gorgeous people drinking at a cramped gin bar surrounded by taxidermy. Aiding the off-kilter is the building's age (it warps like Ms Pigley Wigley) and hidden location. From martinis and pinot noir we walk to Noblu with barely an indication of itself other than a gathering crowd at midnight and a bouncer who whisks us inside. Entering I pass through heavy velvet drapes which is the norm - I consider Delia's, a favorite during my banking years, on A or B Street (Sarah's friend bought the lounge ten years ago and kept the design but removed the name- so it is now nameless). Noblu is cool for its edge, inside graffiti and house-band who come on around 1AM as the place gets thumping. Berkeley High pal Adam joins us for the late shift - Adam is an MD in critical care medicine, infectious disease and internal medicine in the Bronx so yes, he is a bad ass. I now pay for my evening as I write, in under shorts dear reader, headache front and center and consider the punishment well worth the crime. Maybe.

I call Sonnet BTW from a taxi home, catching her as she prepares the kids for football. Not smart.

"In the town where I was born
Lived a man who sailed to sea
And he told us of his life
In the land of submarines

So we sailed up to the sun
Till we found the sea of green
And we lived beneath the waves
In our yellow submarine

John Lennon

Friday, January 23

Work and Diner

Katie bangs away at some work

This morning we power-walk through Central Park where the remnants of snow make for slippery treding. I complete a full loop passing the Larken skate rink on the far North side of the park which is pretty cool - it reminds me of the 1950s which is on my mind thanks to Yates' "Revolutionary Road." Was there ever a simple time? 

From the park we head for the Metro Diner for some greasy eggs which takes me back to the Three Brothers Diner on 85th and Columbus, which was 24 hours and my "local" way back when and now sadly gone. This was the last stop, with Katie, before I split NYC for the fist time in '93 anticipating an autumn return to business school. Then I met Sonnet and good-bye to all that. 

Diners play a special part of city life (in London, it is the humble 'caf') from rye toast to steak and eggs. Who can forget Tony Manero's date with Stephanie where Tony stuffed his mouth with White Castle hamburgers (plane, not even ketchup+bits showing as he spoke) and drank black coffee? But back to '93: I packed all my crap into Manhattan Storage, met Katie for breakfast and a walk in Central Park then caught a train to Boston to spend ten eventful days with Eric supposedly painting his house but instead carrying on an affair with his house tenant. Yes, those were simpler times indeed.

Falling Down

Well, as if we did not know, it is now official: the UK recedes. New figures show that Britain is in recession for the first time since 1991 after its economy shrank during the final two quarters of last year. The Office for National Statistics said that British GDP declined 1.5% in the fourth quarter of 2008 from the previous three-month period, when it also contracted (the technical definition of a recession BTW is two quarters of negative economic growth). Q4 was the worst performance in more than 28 years. On the positive side, retailers registered (ar-ar) a 1.6% rise during the holiday season. Must be the foreigners taking advantage of the Pound's crash against the dollar to 1.39 - 1.39! -only last year it was over 2. Departing Terminal 5 the only people shopping the mall are from oil owning countries. Seriously. And not paying VAT, God D--- them. Not surprisingly this has demoralised the country and even brings comparisons to those nit-wits in Iceland who for a brief moment in time thought they were better then sliced bread and borrowed to own the loaf. Their currency, now worth nothing, may never recover meaning there are a whole lot of people... going no where. They can't afford the plane ticket. Ireland is also tits up (I have come to like this expression) as their banks nationalised last week and we, dear reader, are the next island before Europe. Britain, unlike Germany or France, discarded its manufacturing base for finance and finds itself greatly exposed. While the pound has made British goods cheap again we simply don't make them like we used to. No more cars. No more machines or furniture. As a consolation, I now own my bank - 70% of Royal Bank of Scotland, for instance. I feel so good about this I'm going over to the high street to make a deposit.

The Slip Horse Falling Off A Cliff by Sidney Nolan, pictured.

Thursday, January 22

Katie's Roof Deck

Katie and I go running on Riverside Drive. Since I am aiming to be injury free and recovering from a calf, my trainer gives me specific tasks - this morning it is 10X three-minutes easy running+1 minute walk. We shuffle along the snow-cleared path and it is tits cold (as the Brits would say). This a favorite area of Manhattan especially in autumn when the trees turn yellow and shadowed by late 19th and early twentieth century brownstones this is what New York must have been like over 100 years ago minus the West Side Highway.

Afterwards we stroll by the Blue Moon cafe and I pig out on their pastries and scones and cappucino's which are made properly, excuse me Starbucks. I chat up a French speaking fellow and learn he is from Jamaica then eight years in Paris followed by London and now New York where he owns several restaurants.

I normally would not approach somebody in such a way but then why not? From the morning I catch the tube to Times Square and then shuttle to Grand Central where I have a momentary weepy seeing the enormous American flag and thinking about Barack Obama. Must be the jet lag.

Then lunch with Kim at Yasuda on 43rd street which I think the best sushi in town. The bill would support this. I was at Nobu last week and hands down this place better and I love the receptionist for his afro-style hair - he is Japanese - and I tell him so, which catches him out before we laugh about it. He knows he is all that. I then practice my few words learned from childhood nanny Taka.

Kim runs investments for a foundation and we have a fun conversation about Obama and other things and I enjoy her tune and our shared political and world view. Last I saw her was in London where Sonnet and I joiner her and colleague Niles at the Ivy for an uproarious affair; amongst other things we discuss Elliot Spitzer (Kim on cheating: "three words: 'you're outta here'"). Now Katie and I sit and she types away a correspondence to the Ford Foundation. Sun sets.

Meanwhile back at the ranch: Eitan has a field trip to the British Museum visiting the Egyptians including the Rosetta stone while Madeleine finds a bird's skull which she takes to school. Usual stuff.

NY Minute

I arrive on the Upper West Side yesterday afternoon following a plane trip without incident. I really don't like the departures but those are the breaks in the ex-pat community. As Dale used to say: "the cost of doing business." Katie and I kick around some ideas for her Op-Ed and work through her plenty long to-do list. We then have dinner at 2230h which is something I have not done in ages so late but here normal, God Bless the Big Apple. There really is no other place that compares and crossing the Tri-Borough bridge into Manhattan thrilling: planes, trains and automobiles racing at break-neck speed. Given the lights and everything, everybody seems awake and alive despite the cold and recession. My taxi driver honks and curses while his radio sports intrudes on my thoughts; I watch the concrete zip by and wonder: who makes sure it's safe? Everything afterall old - it could crumble in an instance, this unnatural thing. It also details the work that went into building New York - you can see it in every crack, every brick. Not surprisingly I am up at dawn, drag, and snap this sunrise facing East towards the park. I have a purposely lite schedule to hang out with Katie but will see a friend for lunch then mostly kick around Midtown and maybe Moma. I am sure a manicure and Central Park jog will get snuck in somehow. Life is good.

Sonnet and I have not been to Yorkshire since we hiked the Pennines (also known as a "ramble") way back when but here is a good definition from an uncredited friend:
"I'm from Yorkshire, and the definition of a Yorkshireman is a Scotsman with all the generosity squeezed out,"

Wednesday, January 21

Brave New World

And just like that we have a new President. And a brother in the White House. I admit I was nervous watching yesterday's procession as the Obamas so exposed. But I suppose their custom made, missile retarding Chrysler ain't no Le Baron (such protections BTW first used for LBJ in '65 following Dallas). The BBC provides full-on coverage from pre-dawn to the White House and then the gala balls - ten of them attended by the President but thankfully for him all in the same complex. Sounds like Bronxville during the Christmas season - one year I recall Marcia's 27 invitations and one evening joining ten; Marcia had exactly seven minutes per cocktail while Larry waited in the idling car. I found the glamour thrilling. So back to The Mall: Obama's speech criticised for not being transcendent but I found it a call to arms: America must pull together vs the "raging storms" of two wars and an economic crisis. This the sober vibe I catch which seems about right. Of equal comfort I awake to an executive order halting Guantanamo military trials for 120 days and a freeze on new or proposed Bush regulations until each reviewed by the Agency or Department Head appointed by the President. Which, of course, would be Obama. How nice to remind myself. I read Aldous Huxley's tomb four or five years ago and the title a spin on the early 20th century utopias presented by H.G. Wells' "Men Like Gods" and others. Huxley feared the loss of individual identity in the fast-paced world of the future with its imposing technologies and sciences. Visiting America for the first time in 1920, Huxley was outraged by the culture of yuf, commercial cheeriness, sexual promiscuity, and the inward-looking nature of many Americans BUT equally afraid of a government created "negative utopia" creeping onto a civilisation unawares. We may have dodged a bullet yet but there is work to be done. Considerable.

Eitan: "Dad, do you know that Barack Obama is 47?"
Me: "Yes."
Eitan: "That is so old! He is older than you, Dad!"

Madeleine finds a picture of Sonnet and Marcus before the Trevi Fountain in Rome: "Were you stealing coins?"

Photo from ABC News

Tuesday, January 20

Self Portrait III

Sonnet and I meet for a date at ... yoga. And then drinks and dinner. Yes, this is what middle-aged parents do I suppose. We have been going to Bikram Yoga since '93 when it opened only its second studio in San Francisco's North Beach. Sonnet and I had been dating a short time and she was experimenting with yoga, meditation and spiritualism. Me, I was hooked on Sonnet and would do about anything to be with her so I did: sitting in a miserable 105-degree room contorting my body in all sorts of unnatural ways. Sweating buckets. Or worse than Bikram - being crossed-legged and silent for 90 minutes doing... nothing. That is about the worst kind of hell. Today Bikram is all over London and if I had been half-way switched on in '97 I would have considered franchising the operation - afterall, ex-pats rack their brain for some US concept like premium coffee or bagels to bring to these unsuspecting Brits. Our yoga in Richmond is run by Johny who is super-intense, bald, slight and skinny though maybe this not the right description. His muscles look baby supple and his skin dove white. If not for his dark, sinister eyes I would think him a physical lite-weight but his stare says it all: "I will fuck you up." Johny looks like he sleeps in half-eagle or camel, which on a good day almost kills me. He will compete in a regional competition this week-end with finals in SoCal - I mean, what are they going to do? See how long they can hold a torture? I have no doubt he will make it to California. Me, studio time punishing enough.

I take the kiddos to school this morning and Eitan lets me know that all the kids in his class think I am silly and "a bit mean" which raises an eye-brow. He asks me not to high-five his chums or give them the Obama "rock." I am not too concerned with this BTW. I appreciate that I am serious yet have Grace's silliness which is the best aspect of my parenting I think. In Eitan's class I talk to his teacher Ms. Y who tells me she went around the class-room each kid describing a goal. Eitan apparently tells Ms. Y that "my dad wants me to be on a better football team with older kids" and further: "I am a bit scared." This catches me out and no doubt I am pushing him towards the next level of his game BUT my only rule that he check out two or three teams before he leaves Palewell where he has been these last five years. Kids pick up their parents aspirations and Sonnet and I agree that our son worries.

"Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential. "
Barack Obama

Monday, January 19

Maida Vale and the Suburbs

Here we are in Maida Vale, W9, during the autumn of 2002 before the move to Richmond. I remember our excitement over the leaves. Madeleine then already a terror on her feet. Unlike Eitan, she had no patience for crawling and so off she went by nine-months, bruises, knocks and all. Eitan took his time to the point where I had a mild concern that he was not, well, toddling. Then as now - he was just making sure of his footing before taking the jump.

We and everybody are gearing up for tomorrow's inaugural celebration which I choose not to attend in the end due to late planning. Probably stupid but I enjoy my family. And appreciate Sonnet who we thank for making it another perfect week-end by A) ensuring Madeleine at swim-practice and both kids football; B) making cheese sandwiches for lunch, Sunday pancakes and afternoon roast+ice cream sandwiches with home-made chocolate chip cookies; C) taking Madeleine to Richmond Park so Madeleine can paint her pastels; D) organising the house and letting me do yoga and read. On the couch. Watching football. Hmmm I am feeling kinda guilty as I write but always I ask myself: how on earth did I get so lucky? It is a good question for a husband to ask and, one hopes, repeatedly. By contrast, I am reading Richard Yates unsung classic "Revolutionary Road" which is now in theatres with Kate Winslet, who I love. Yates died a poor, unrecognised man and an alcoholic; the initial mixed reviews of Revolutionary, Yates first published book, crushed his spirit and while he wrote other notable novels and stories, Yates' life blanketed by depression. Easy to see in Revolutionary too, which is semi-autobiographical as most his work: the story follows the claustrophobic entrapment of the Connecticut suburbs in Eisenhower's 50s. Whomever has seen Golden Globe-winning series "Mad Men" will wonder if Matthew Weiner simply ripped off Yates (answer: he did). There is the Midtown office-affair, the boozed up lunches, commuter misery and the grey flannel suits. Mostly there is the struggle to define what being a "man" or a "women" about - here the ideal seems to macho bread-earning, martini swigging decision making, emotionless silent brute and stay-at-home, emotional, home-making, martini swigging spouse. Respectively. But of course the book goes deeper, oh boy. I am two-thirds through so don't know the ending but it is all about to go tits up.

We awake to more bail-outs - this time, Super Gee to give British banks another cool £200 billion to get the credit free-up since his guarenteed last-time did not work. We, the tax paer, are now £one trillion in the hole to our financial institutions as government nationalises the industry. Who would have ever thought? Nobody really feels the impact of all this yet but believe you me, we will for generations.

Also: Katie's pelican in Santa Cruz, not Florida. This bird way too cool for the everglades, no doubt.

Sunday, January 18

B Ball

Cal loses its first game in the Pac 10 to Stanford, dropping the squad to 4-1 in the conference and 15-3 overall - the loss probably knocks us from the Top 25 where we have perched at #22 (I love this picture taken by Kurt Rogers for the Chronicle though not from last night). Who would have thought the Bears off to one of their best starts in years given that the squad lost its top two players to the NBA draft? Just goes to show what a coach can do: Mike Montgomery took over this season following a below-average run with the Golden State Warriors (68-96) and eighteen years with The Cardinal, making Stanturd a national power-house: 393-167 record with 12 NCAA appearances, including the Final Four in '98. Now he is with us. As most will know, I am a football fan first followed by... well, other sports. Basketball is more difficult to follow from London as the games go on way-late Pacific and they are frequent - it is one thing to stay up until 4AM Saturday and nuts to consider doing so several times a week for basketball, which anyways the pace too fast for the radio internets. I will consider sleep deprivation should the Bears reach March Madness as it looks possible they might (Moe: note that I am trying not to jinx the thing). Cal's last basketball championship was in '58 BTW and the following year the Bears went to the Rose Bowl losing to Iowa 38-12. Many of my friends fathers who attended the UC during those golden years wait... and wait... and wait.. . . . .

Cal will get its revenge 14 February when the bball team plays Stanford in Berzerkeley.

Saturday, January 17

A Goal and Good Bye El Presidente

Eitan has a good day in football and scores one spectacular penalty kick from about 25 yards out: the ball goes sailing over the line finding the top-right corner of the net. All the boys throw up their arms and Eitan exults across the pitch. We dads nod our heads: "heck 'uv a shot, guv" we agree. Eitan now sits in front of the Premiere League highlights playing an imaginary game with his football cards pairing dream-teams against each other. 

Madeleine meanwhile with Sonnet in Richmond Park drawing landscapes with pastels, which I can't wait to see. She too has had a busy morning with swim-team then soccer practice.

I receive an invitation to the Obama inaugeration party Tuesday, which I am half-contemplating - I would have to fly out tomorrow which is a lot of rush but then it is a once-in-a-lifetime thing up there with the Berlin Wall coming down. Bush has really cocked it up and I wonder why 25% think he has done a good-job, as the New York Times reports. As Bush himself said once: "you can fool some of the people all of the time." Bush gives a 12-minute exit speech the other night which is trumpted by a plane crash in the Hudson. How simple the alternative vision: a competent pilot in control of his craft. Along with Bush, I only wish ill on Cheney, that disgrace Wolfowitz and worse Rumsfeld; Paul Bremer, Tom Delay, Carl Rove, Harriet Miers and my personal favorite: Alberto Gonzales. What a moron. Let's also raise a glass to David Addington, Jeff Yoo and Scooter Libby who at least was convicted. George Tenet, Richard Perle, Chalebi, Michael Chernoff, Sam Bodman, Stephan Johnson, John Ashcroft and John Snow - how on earth was he Secretary of Treasury? Iraq. WMD. Halliberton. Bear Sterns, Wash Mutual, Lehman Brothers and Citicorp. Unemployment and >3 million new under half the US poverty line. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Mission Accomplished. Richard Fuld and AIG. Standard & Poors. Your 401K. Afganistan. Torture. Gitmo. Warrentless wire-taps. Florida. Oh, and $1T deficit not counting accruals like social security. Heck of a job. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Shocked & Appalled

We've all heard the stories about the fuck-face Bernie Madoff and his $50 billion ponzi scheme. What is less covered are the vehicles that provided Madoff with his money - fund-of-hedge-funds that catastrophically failed to protect their investor's money with a modicum of due-diligence. They, too, are fuckers. In London the most visible feeder is Fairfield Greenwich who, as of November 1, 2008, had approximately $14.1 billion of client money, of which approximately $7.5 billion was invested by Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities often unbeknownst to their clients. My brief run in with Fairfield occurred in '05 when I was introduced, via my business partner, to Andres Piedrahita who oversees Europe and Latin America; Piedrahita is the husband (of course) of Fairfield's founder Walter Noel's daughter Corina. From a large glass office overloooking the Royal Academy on Cork Street in Mayfair, Piedrahita kept me waiting for an hour then smoked a cigar whilst doing his best to make me feel unwelcome. Strange behavior for a guy selling something - in this case Madoff and other hedge funds - Piedrahita had little to say nor barely bothered to explain himself, his business and Fairfield's track-record despite performance that out-performed many good private equity funds yet without a ten-year lock-up. Here is a December 12, 2008, letter still on Fairfield's website:

“We are shocked and appalled by this news,” said Jeffrey Tucker, founding partner of
Fairfield Greenwich Group. “We have worked with Madoff for nearly 20 years, investing alongside our clients. We had no indication that we and many other firms and private investors were the victims of such a highly sophisticated, massive fraudulent scheme.”

The funny thing is: it now appears that Madoff never made a trade. It is a sad, despicable story all around and I am glad for myself and my friends that I wanted nothing to do with them then and now.

I look over to see half-a-plate of pasta dangling from Eitan's mouth. Sonnet: "what... house... am... I... in?!"

Eitan hands me his scarf and gloves: "take these, dad."
Me: "What's the magic word?"
Eitan: "Now."

Eitan's Boulders

Katie sends me this fab bird from Florida noting her picture before New Year's. Yesterday I take Eitan to the orthodontist Neal to see about the boy's English teeth - yes, braces are in the works but not for another two or three years, Neal tells us. I pick Eitan up from school early - yanking him, in fact, from class-assembly much to his embarrassment I am sure though he has been warned. Eitan unusually quiet in the car and only later do I learn that he anticipates mouth work, Dear Reader, and so sits afraid. In past he asks whether braces hurt and I tell him so from my own experience: yes. Anyways now he sits with his mouth wide open being poked and prodded whilst blinded from the surgical's bright lights. An alien experience and of course he awaits the pain... things loosen up a bit when he learns he is home free until at least age-10 or 11 (I slyly tell him the timing perfect as this when all the girls will be in love with him and braces will serve as a "nice repellent." He does not smile). Also our orthodontist's clients include Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter fame) and Chelsea FC, though he is not allowed to say which players. He really earns Eitan's respect, however, when he discloses Steven Gerard - who has perfect teeth. Eitan's eye's go wide at the thought of Liverpool's star player sitting in this very chair though actually, Neal goes to Liverpool. Even I impressed and we learn further that John Terry's auto-biography credits his healthy mind, body and teeth as part of his success for England (Neal has also done some work on the Chelsea and England captain). We are told that to play for England "you must brush twice a day" and presumably have fancy cosmetics too. But I am not challenging such sage advice - nor is Eitan.

A rare old bird is the pelican.
His bill holds more than his belly can.
He can take in his beak
enough food for a week.
I'm damned if I know how the hell he can.
Columbo (I heard first-time in '78 I think)

Friday, January 16

St Martin; Sisley

And yes, now it is Friday again. I have a breakfast date at the SoHo Hotel which means I have to get up early - early for me at least because Sonnet gets going well before dawn preparing for whatever or jogging with her psycho female friends. SoHo Hotel is tres gay and I admire the dudes and their cool outfits - I too can aspire to be metrosexual. After, I find myself with three hours to kill before lunch and after some initial concerns about, ahem, boredom I pay a respectful visit to St Martin-in-the-field and then the National Gallery for some arts. St Martin has been around since at least 1222 when the Abbot of Westminster and the Bishop of London fought over its control, leaving an historical paper-trail which was not email (Westminster won BTW and it was used by their monks). The church rebuilt by Henry VIII (Madeleine: "the fat one") in 1542 to avoid plague victims passing through the King's Palace of Whitehall. At the time, it was "in the fields" in an isolated spot between the cities of Westminster and London. The church later survived the London fire but replaced eventually with a new building in 1721 designed by James Gibbs (influenced, I am sure, by Wren). It was panned then became famous and finally copied - all across America. Given all that, St Martin is pretty darn simple if you ask me: rectangular box, one pointy steeple and some massive columns to greet worshipers and tourists who walk up the chalky steps to pray or gawk. Sonnet and I, during our first year in London, joined a Saturday morning tour of "Portland stone" (yes, those desperate times). Surrounded by old-aged pensioners and wacko enthusiasts we learned all about.... Portland stone, the church being a fine example, you see. With everything else, St Martin offers extraordinary acoustics and a wonderful organ; performances occur daily and my favorite being the lunch-time series show-casing young, musical genius (there is plenty here in an eccentric way), strange instruments, choirs and ensembles. This, I know, a favorite of Stan and I must agree: heaven, and the cost a donation.

From God I go to the the gallery across the street to see an expo on impressionist Sisley, who I learn had British parents yet born and raised in France. Sisley studied at the atelier of of Swiss artist Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre where he befriended Frederic Bazille, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The rest, as they say, is history. The efficient collection gives us Sisley's sea-front paintings, in their entirety, which he completed whilst visiting Wales late in his life - strange considering Sisley loved water and rivers (most famously the Seine outside of Paris+Hampton Court on the Thames, pictured- the flow of water, ah). I happily compare these paintings to the permanent collection which unfailingly puts me in a good mood. From there to Nobu and a catch-up with Scott who, with his partner Daniel, surrogate birth twins in September. Life and life-style have changed for him, for sure. Bravo!

I ask Eitan how is dinner? He replies with an enormous burp! and we giggle. Sonnet walks in noting: "It is so nice to see your table manners" and we both crack up.

Image from the National Galleries.

Thursday, January 15

On Beer and Bright Lights

Caption: What goes through your mind when someone says "Let's go for a drink"?

OK, it is sexist - I appreciate this - but pretty damn funny or as these Brits would say: "cheeky" (thank you Paul). Another ad offers: man -> beer -> Blackberry. How happy I am not to be chasing skirt. Not that this ever my style, mind you - I have always been fortunate to have good women in my life+self-awareness that I am not raffish. Nor Rhett Butler. Still, post-college, I did find myself single for a time and often enough in some bar on the Upper West Side or downtown in SoHo or below. What a younger man in New York does not appreciate at all is that he has no chance. Women, mostly, look to step over the awkwardness of one's 20s - why team up with a guy struggling through the same transition? Who is also figuring out his own life? Who has no money? Any young fellow who thinks his banking or consulting or professional whatever competes with a 30 or 40 year old is nuts: the latter more secure and way more interesting with life experiences and all that. I see plenty of my single male friends dating outside their league, which is not necessarily a ranking based on the opposite sex's youth BTW though this is often a plenty simple barometer: "she's totally hot, dude, and 25." In honesty, I cannot imagine a conversation with somebody this young - the intrigues of the PTA? My exercising schedule or picking up the kids? "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?" Brother. So back in those early '90s I would be at The Tunnel or Odeon competing with Texas in cowboy boots or some divorced managing director paying for the round. Not an even playing field, I'll say for sure. Probably best that way, for me, anyways.

One of the few books I re-read every ten years or so is Jay McInerney's "Bright Lights, Big City" and the first time in '88 when my ambitions were New York and, well, the title of the book. The story follows the young, stressed-out main character in the 1980s fast-lane. Unusually it is written in the second-person which adds to the hero's disorientation - he is an outsider to his own narrative which he must find his voice the hard-way via experience and disappointment. It still resonates with me as a period piece that I lived through. Bravo.

"You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning and, though the details are fuzzy, you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar."
Jamie Conway, Bright Lights, Big City