Wednesday, September 30

A Mirrored Room

Yours truly, yesterday afternoon. I will shortly pick up Madeleine from swim team and then we to wish the birthday boy his happy number nine.

 I drive Madeleine, JJ and Oliver home from swimming.  Me to JJ and Oliver: "What are you studying in Year Five?"
Oliver: "The Romans."
Me: "Tell me one thing you have learned about the Romans?"
JJ: "They are boring."

I ask the back seat if they know how to find the area of a circle?
Madeleine: "Excuse me, Dad. They really aren't enjoying this conversation."

Me: "Eitan, say one thing about being nine?"
Eitan (some consideration): "I don't really feel any different."

Claudia + A Birthday

Another display presents a fashion models including Kate Moss, Jane Seymour and Claudia Schiffer (pictured) stationed in repose for two minutes.  Most of them fidget, lose their confidence, regain their composure, pout, look angrily at the filmer, giggle, go blank.  Fascinating that these women are examined with a microscope and yet when left under the camera's eye, they cannot compose themselves.  Profound, I think.

Schiffer, BTW, from Germany and Erik's favorite - he had a poster of her by his desk at the mighty First Boston (this was 1980s after all).  She has appeared on over 500 magazine covers. 

My little boy turns 9 years old - how can this be?  He requests home-made pizza for dinner, knowing this to be Madeleine's favorite+the Manchester United game which will keep him up well-past his bedtime.  Easily done.  Dana and Nathan give him a metal detector, Aggie a lego set and Natasha a £20 gift certificate at Pandomoniam. Hew whoops for joy.  I make him a member of Fulham FC so we can see the Premiere League without flying to Manchester.  They, in fact, will come to us.


Waiting to meet Sonnet at the Courdault at Summerset House, I check out super-cool exhibition "Fashion Revolution" put on by SHOWstudio, an "online fashion broadcasting company operating in live fashion media." SHOWstudio founder, photographer Nick Night (whose first publication in '82, 'Skinheads,' caused some controversy) is about experimental interactive projects, films and live performances and this is what I see - pictured (shot from my  mobile phone).  SHOWstudio, meanwhile, has worked on over 300 projects inside the fashion industry including John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Naomi Cambell and Kate Moss and top designers and models like Aitor Throup, Gareth Pugh, Agyness Deeyn.  Their collaborations extend into music, food, architecture, art, design and performance with Bjork, Brad Pitt, Leigh Bowery, Heston Blumenthal and Tracy Emin.  

Not surprisingly, the space filled with light and glow while costumes and media displayed everywhere.  A lot of set pieces I don't like but several I love - including an invitation to watch a 'live fashion studio' but instead a picture-reel of a famous model at work. There is no sound.  The viewer becomes a voyeur and the black and white images become color and erotic.  Cool. In the next chamber, a powerful movie short of movement while techno-beat blasts and the models fall into step, displaying their accoutrements 

Tuesday, September 29

Happy Birthday!

Katie turns another year - and bravo! Life is hard to find one's place and make a go of it.  And keep it interesting.  Her Op-Ed project effecting thousands of contributors and millions of readers.  

Last week I had dinner with Nick, who is now 64 and my first boss at "the mighty First Boston" as he likes to say. He founded First Boston's financial institutions group (or FIG) which became the firm's profit centre by the time I arrived - each of us producing several millions of fees per year and, from my perspective, all blood, sweat and tears.   Nick and I re-connect around his son (also named Nick) who is a writer for the New Yorker magazine covering mostly financial and business subjects.  I wrote to congratulate him and - bang! - Nick Sr on the phone. Nick one of the few remaining old-style bankers, putting his clients above all else and not driven by fast, easy gains like today's trading floor. Fuckers.  Nick was an unusual fellow even back in those 80s .. he was once told (or so rumour has it) not to roller-skate to work since "this unbecoming of a banker's profession."  He was one of the few guys who seemed to care about us Analysts and we all wanted to be assigned to his projects.  Nick left the clipper in late-1990, calling us into his office and noting "it's time to tell the kiddies" and so he went to JP Morgan to set up the Corsair funds, which today oversees billions.  I recall a discussion in 1990 - on 59th Street and Fifth in a black town car - as commercial banks like JPM granted limited regulatory permissions to be investment banks for the first time since '33.  "It is all over" he said gloomily. "this is the beginning of the end for all of us."

Nick and I swap memories of people, parties, deals and the last twenty years.  How unusual that I first met him when he my age now.  The last time together, I asked for  money for my non-profit Help The World See or '94.  Of all the things I have done, he exclaims, HTWS interesting:  "It is not easy to do things differently, and I am proud of anybody that does."  

Monday, September 28

War Of The Conker

One last shot from Berlin.

The kids have been in an all-out war to collect.. conkers (a "conker," Dear Reader, the seed of a horse-chestnut tree and ubiquitous in London this time of year).  And should we think the competition only with us, I learn that contestants in the Pulton International Conkers Tournement, held annually in the small village of Cirencester, Gloucestershire, were warned Friday that they face new security including searches and police-style checks to combat possible cheating.  Only conkers, you see, collected and checked by the organising committee may be used - each conker marked (of course) with a special flourescent pen similar to a police-marking on stolen goods.  Were that not enough, the winning conkers checked afterwards to ensure that they have not used substitutes which might have been soaked in vinegar or baked in an oven.  Event organiser Phil Heneghan notes: "we may also check contestants' footwear."  He adds further: "It is truly incredible what lengths some contestants will go to in their attempts to win the championship."  Watching the near fist fights in Eitan and Madeleine's simple competition, I can only imagine if the stakes high.

"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office." 
--George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., May 12, 2008

Sunday, September 27


Madeleine, around noontime, Sunday.

We have a busy week end, starting Friday evening at the V and A where Sonnet hosts a panel on "Fashion Education in Britain" which brings together Wendy Dagworthy, Head of Fashion at the RCA; Richard Sorger, Middlesex U; Maria Alverez, founder of Fashion Awareness Direct (or "FAD"); and Cally Blackman, Fashion Theory at Central Saint Martins.  One fellow in the front row, dressed in black with black glasses and black barret covering his pink shaven head, insists London has lost its "fashion swing" and only the Japanese "doing things of any interest" (his companion a Jap). 

He further insists that Britain's schools not giving students confidence nor the bleeding edge and one astute panelist notes that perhaps it is his fashion askew.  Touchee.  Afterwards Sonnet and I have dinner in Barnes, which we haven't done in a way long time and it feels like a date-date.  Kids at home with reliable baby-sitter Lauren (teenager, studying for medicine) and it is after 11PM.  Given the busy ahead, I skip the martinis though, since Berlin, I have been thinking about our reunion.  Instead I keep to red wine.

So the rest of the weekend weather like the Bay Area, which is hot and dry while the sun's lower horizon suggests the season's change.  Indian summer is here and may she last.  And Saturday: Madeleine swimming, Eitan football, Madeleine birthday party, evening family dinner party. And Sunday: Eitan football match (KPR wins 6-1; Eitan scores twice), lunch with Dana and Nathan, Richmond Park then Madeleine and Sonnet to the Barnes Wetland Centre. We are now going to watch Mad Men then in bed by 10PM.

I stay up late Saturday to listen to the #6 Bears magical season end after three games - Oregon crushes Cal 42-3.  What happened?

I give Eitan a box of cupcakes and ask him to put them away.
Eitan: "Where do they go?"
Me: "You know where they go."
Eitan: "What (pronounced 'wot') - in my mouth?"

Saturday, September 26


We listen to Coldplay, which Sonnet went to the other night with Lorena and Puk.  

Prenuptial agreements in Britain are on the way up - about tenfold over the last five years, Radio 4 reports. In the UK, prenups legally binding in Scotland but not in England and Wales though taken into consideration by the divorcing judge. And why, I wonder, should there be any interpretation? Others agree and the Law Commissions examines: is the contract enforcable? Tories say if elected, yes.  Prenups would seem to introduce an awkward start to (presumably) one's happiest years. Perhaps newly weds experience a depressing pragmatism in today's media .. or maybe Britain's inheritors get a lot that they want to keep.  A more likely reason, I think, the highly visible instances like the horrible Heather Mills. A contract, updated frequently, may take an unpleasant event and remove the emotional distress somehow. This cannot be a bad thing.

Despite prenups as an indicator of nastiness, 2007 divorces in England and Wales fell to 12 per 1,000 married or the lowest since 1981 according to government. For the fifth year, men and women in their late twenties had the highest divorce rates or 27 divorces per 1,000.  Since '97 the average age at divorce in England and Wales has risen from 40.2 to 43.7 years for men and from 37.7 to 41.2 years for women, partly reflecting the rise in age at marriage. One in five men and women divorcing in 2007 had a previous marriage ending in divorce. This proportion has doubled in 27 years: in 1980 one in ten men and women divorcing had a previous marriage ending in divorce. Sixty-nine per cent of divorces were to couples where the marriage was the first for both parties. For 68 per cent of divorces in 2007, the wife was granted the divorce.  And there you have it.

Friday, September 25


Here is Katie, pinched from the Echoing Green Foundation where she is a Fellow.  Since a lot of people ask me about her work, here is a piece of the blurb: "Projecting new diverse voices into national conversation by providing channels for women experts to be published in the op-ed pages of top newspapers, online sites, and other key forums of public debate."  The problem she aims to correct: more than 80% of US editorial content male (and mostly white too) (here is the full story+interview I like the photo BTW - we all know Katie is determined and when she focuses her intellect - look out.

" Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world: indeed it's the only thing that ever has."
--Margret Mead

Thursday, September 24

Pond Life And A Walrus

Madeleine especially has taken to the pond in the backyard - pictured. She is fascinated by the skuttling creatures sometimes visible, sometimes not, who wiggle about between the water plants alongside a few goldfish and Frank (black fish found by her and housed privately).  I told her once the pond 24 feet deep with a shark. She asked her brother if true. Fair enough. We have a little net which, until said net disappeared at the pond's bottom, she scooped up the whatever and put them into plastic shelving bins which otherwise are meant for .. shelves.  With pal Nathaniel the other day, the children get down to the bottom of things and Madeleine explains to me breathlessly: "they live down there, dad. In a house."

Me: "What was your challenge in school today?"
Madeleine: "I was drawing a picture of a human killing a walrus."
Me: "That doesn't sound very nice."
Madeleine: "He has to eat, you know."

Wednesday, September 23

Models And Pigeons

Here's another one from the cat-walk, the pretty dears.

So I learn today: to remove the Trafalgar Square pigeons ("flying rats" says former mayor Ken), Government spends £60,000 a year on birds-of-prey, which are flown daily for up to four hours above and around the area.  The scheme has been successful, too, reducing 4,000 pigeons to 120 or so, reports the new Mayor's office.  But in these times of strife, the cost of success questioned: "A hawk that costs the taxpayer more than £50,000 a year is a staggering amount" screeches Lib Dem Mike Tuffrey.  "Alternative ways must be found."  But my favorite resistence from Julia Fletcher of the Pigeon Action Group, which campaigns for the birds' welfare.  Says Julia:  "What it (the scheme) is doing with taxpayers' money is actually performing blood sports in Trafalgar Square."  I had not thought of it like this - but fair point.  Now I actually want to visit the square and maybe other tourists also.  Julia could really be on to something - imagine the extra tourist dollars?

"Animals In War" memorial, across the street from Speaker's Park, Hyde Park
"This monument dedicated to all the animals
That served and died alongside British and Allied forces
In Wars and Campaigns throughout time."

Tuesday, September 22


Sonnet scores me a ticket for the Jonathan Saunders show in an old warehouse somewhere in Westminster.  Sanders an up-and-comer who, Sonnet assures me, is the flava of the moment.  His spring-summer 2010 collection dreamy - all chiffon and loosey hangy things.  There are as many models and wanna-be's in the audience (I am most certainly the latter) and over there is Anna Wintour.  The cat walkers tall and composed with extraordinary bone structure - so this is what we strive for as a society.  Many of them a bit too thin and hard not to consider "malnourished."  They also look dreadfully bored with eyes focused on something anywhere else.  This is the look that exclaims oh so lucidly: "you are nothing."  But we love it.  Saunders takes a brief bow and like that, it is over.  I bump into a number of the girls on their way into London and they are simply so young - I might guess 15 or 16.  Maybe a few years older. They have bad complexion.  They smoke and talk on their mobile phones.  Sonnet says the show soon off  to New York, Milan or Paris.  A weird existance these gals enjoy and what every American teenager dreams of.

"The leading cause of death among fasion models is falling through street grates."
--Dave Berry

Dinosaurs And Sunday Recap


Here is Madeleine's line-up.  How her mind races about on things I may only guess at.

Sonnet sends me the below email regarding the week end missed while I in Berlin.  Here it is:

Aggie helps kids with their homework while I make Sunday dinner. We have pork chops, sweet potatoes, greens and salad, plus Aggie's Polish cheesecake for dessert. We have dinner and recap the weekend. Eitan describes the weekend as 'fantastic' (still high after the Man U win against Man City-there were tears of joy in his eyes after the winning goal) but could have been improved on if he played for KPR today. Madeleine satisfied with her mom time, but would have liked to have had an ice cream. I took some time to talk to Madeleine about friends, about how people treat her in class (fine if you stay away from the barbie girls) and about asking for help to reach her goals. She has nothing specific at the moment she says. I got to run while Eitan was swimming at 7:00 this morning so all is well.

We called the grandparents tonight and had good conversations with your parents and mine. Moe tells us is days away from getting the go-ahead to put weight on his foot if all has healed properly. Silver has one last round of chemicals on Tuesday and then gets a six month break. Stan is experimenting with an apple tart.

Madeleine and Eitan both made a good effort with their home work. No complaining and everything complete by dinner time tonight. Kumon and chores done too (though I can't figure out how to get the hoses back in the casings).

The big news is Madeleine found a tiny black fish in the pond and went to the moon with happiness. She wants to add it to her fishtank but in the interim has  put it in a plastic tub in the back garden and named it Frank.



Since the Bank of England ever present on our minds, especially recently, here she is (I take this photo from  the Royal Exchange).  I visited the BOE in '97 to meet Ian Plenderleith, a senior fellow of the bank and on the Board of Overseers of the Columbia Business School.  My memory of inside a soothing calm and gentle light, which contrasts sharply with outside - dark, crowded and gloomy.  It is easy to imagine harried bankers rushing down back allies with papers crammed into over-filled carry files and armpits; or deal makers eating oysters and drinking dry martinies while deciding the fate of the many. Always a fog or overcast menacing.  In short, London's "City" a serious place with its own history, culture and experience.  I was once told, quite seriously, that one never wears anything other than black shoes in the City.  To do so uncouth.

So... the Bank of England is the central bank for the whole of the UK and the model on which most modern, large central banks have been based. It was established in 1694 to act as the English Government's banker, and still acts as the banker for the Government. From foundation to '46 BOE was privately owned and operated; from 1946 to 1997 it was state-controlled and in '97 it became independent under New Labour. The Bank, you see, has a monopoly on the issue of currency (though not in Scotland or Northern Ireland). While the Bank's Moneteary Policy Committee has devolved responsibility for managing the monetary policy of the country, the Treasury has reserve powers to give orders to the committee "if they are required in the public interest and by extreme economic circumstance." This has been the case since September '08 when Lehman failed and Super Gee came to the rescue of the Western World.  There is some truth to this as we learn that the US Fed under Hank Paulson in a state of fear and panic in those scary three weeks when the world on the edge of it.

Freeing the BOE of politics in '97 may be Gordon Brown's singular best contribution to Britain. He was Chancellor of the Echequer at the time.

Sunday, September 20

A Good Ending

So after throwing up in the hallway of my fancy hotel, crawling into bed with chills and cramp, legs sending warnings like: "I will fuck you up," my good sense returns and I register a sense of .. accomplishment. I did not bail on the race nor catch the subway or a taxi - and boy, a taxi looked pretty good around 18KM, 22KM, 25KM, .. . . I got to see ALL of Berlin. The race course BTW from Brandenburg Gate, then Charlottenburg (slight twinge in achilles), around Tiergarten, along Moabit (achilles angry) and Mitte, and then south to Friedrichshain (legs now hurting). After that, it winds west between Kreuzberg (definite problems) and Neukolln (the misery begins), through Schoeneberg, over to Steglitz (first walk) and Zehlendorf (second walk. Agony), before turning north back toward the city's center (one foot in front of another). Looping above Schoeneberg (neausea), the course comes full circle as it comes out by the gate (over and out).

Thank goodness, then, for warm weather and an afternoon for somber reflection: indeed, I am no longer 30. My ability to break three-hours for the race - if, in fact, ever there - now certainly behind me.  This a punishing realisation, Dear reader.  Watching thousands of (over weight, sloppy, funny looking) people pass by a humbling experience.  So Berlin my twilight marathon.  Although I do understand Rotterdam pretty fast .. .

Post Marathon - Shyst!


Sunday morning I’m up at 6AM (5AM London) following a restless night. My mind and spirit ready to run 26+ miles and my body seems reasonably Ok. Even my achillies being agreeable – perhaps it is the adrenaline that makes their irritation go away. So .. after breakfast I spill onto Potsdam Platz and enjoy the luxury of walking to the start-line – no subway or bus or weird logistics, which is a good way to begin.

The sun coming up but still dark yet 1,000s of runners head in one direction: to the starting gate. Oh, the humanity. I pass beside the famous Brandenburg Gate along with everybody else then sit for an hour on the steps of the Reichstag. A park takes the inflow and bag checks just beyond. Soon later, I make my way to the course. Temperature warm for a marathon – maybe 17 or 18 degrees – and the excitement palpable. As always, the toilet lines forever and I feel sorry for the women, who comprise maybe 80%. Us dudes just piss wherever like the dogs. 

I’m in stall “C” or three from the front where the magnificent Haile Gabreslysee most assuredly lined up with the elite runners. My group anticipates sub-three hours and a fit, healthy lot. Many, I notice, have shaved their legs. Maybe this a German thing. With ten minutes to go, the loudspeakers play Wagner and announce “welcome” from every language on the globe. Then it is all 10-9-8 ... and we are off!

So the first thing I have to say is that A) one knows inside ten miles if the day is The Day; and B) you cannot fool the marathon. Unfortunately for me, a rythem never found hold, which is what the first half of the race about. At this stage, I would expect to enter a painless, gliding state – I could just as easily be reading a book or watching TV let alone doing a long run. And then the challenge to simply tune out all else. Well, by 10K I knew I was in trouble and at 20K, self-loathing. I got through that stage by 30K and then it really became miserable.

Once off my 3-hour target, I decided to walk if need be and boy did it need be. My Achilles returned with a vengeance and then nails into my upper legs and calves. After 20, I was focused on one-foot-in-front-of-the-other and even hummed this to myself for a bit. Then the wheels came off and there I was in an Aid station (same as London) and then a bar when I couldn’t find a water station. I had to lay down and put my feet on a chair – which the Sunday morning drinking-smoking Krauts thought pretty funny. Fuckers. Traumatic. Surreal.

And then finally it is over.

Saturday, September 19


Here she is - the start.  Tomorrow morning, 9AM sharp, me and Haile will be here.

I jog to the Branderburg Gate and the mood festive.  The inline skater competition underway and the athletes pass by with good cheer.  The crowds out and the warm weather rewards our being alive.  Berlin shines.  In the far distance the Fernsehturn, or "television tower," which is visible from everywhere and built from '66-69 to be the symbol of Berlin.  It is memorable for the large bulbus towards its top and then a red-white needles reaching 365 meters.  The Soviet footprint everywhere.

Yes, This Fears Got A Hold On Me

Title from the White Lies song "Death," which I listen to while counting down the hours.  I am mostly in the hotel despite beautiful weather and Berlin around me.  I have forced myself to sleep ten hours the last couple of nights and taken naps.  Eating too much pasta which I am now sick of.  I will go for a short jog this evening to the front-line start-line around sunset to check out the vibe and take a few more photos when the light good.  I am strangely emotional, isolated from everything, having chosen not to bring Sonnet and the kids (Kurz: "I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream. That's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight... razor... and surviving").  I have never run a marathon to my expectation and all of them have ended in tears.  I am not sure about tomorrow either since my achilles are letting me know they are there.  They are none to happy either.  Still.  And yet.  I am in Berlin, having put down the mileage, sacrificing every Sunday for the last six months.  The weather is perfect.  40,000 runners to compete - the greatest marathon ever - and Haile going for a World Record.  I have been thinking about this day for the last ten years since London '98 when I ran 3:11, walking the last two.  I may not break three hours tomorrow but at least now I remember the thrill of it all. Join the race.

"and when I see a new day
Whose driving the same way
I picture my own grave
This fear's got a hold on me

Yes, this fear's got a hold on me
Yes, this fear's got a hold on me
--White Lies

Compensation - Microscopes - A Quote From Geithner And Horton

This housing complex typical and fascinating - it is near the Tempelhof Airport and one can  feel the goose stepping. 

We know Big Government to mess with Wall Street compensation and here is what Treasury Secretary Geithner says: "The simple proposition should be that you don't want people being paid for taking too much risk, and you want to make sure that their compensation is tied tolong-term performance."  This quote everywhere today, including front-and-center in the New York Times.  I think Geithner has the second half right - compensation should be connected to long-term results.  His opening statement, however, wrong: any entrepreneur knows that one's reward intimately connected to a risk (I learned this lesson first hand from 1999-2002 when my millions of equity became worth almost zero pretty quickly).  Wall Street is capitalism and people should be rewarded for taking risk and the more the better, as long as they somehow cannot flip their exposure onto an institution, another entity or a clueless public.

I get Madeleine on the phone who tells me, rather breathelessly I should add, that she has caught a bug from our pond: "I put it in a jar and named him 'Bugsy.'" Madeleine loves all creatures great and small and Sonnet and I muse upon her future, which could be as a vetrinarian.  I do feel she would love such a profession.  So my first stop after finishing this blog to buy a good, solid microscope by Bausch & Lomb, just like the one I had as a youngster. It was heavy and felt scientific.  I remember the week end hours creating slides of blood, saliva, pond or lake water.  While my attention span always short, I managed the lens and - wow! - seeing the micro-flotsam awesome.  A totally different world before me. 

"A person's a person, no matter how small."

Friday, September 18

Brandenburg Gate

Pictured, the symbol of Berlin and indeed, Germany.  It is also where I will start and (I do hope) finish the marathon.  The weather could not be better - today about 17 degrees and sunny yet autumnal.  Most of the streets being shut down as I write though still 37 hours to the event (but who's counting).  This year's buzz about the great Haile Gebreselassie who owns the World Record in 2:03:59 which he set last year on this very course.  He thinks he can go 2:03:30 Sunday and even sub-2:03 "on a perfect day."  Pushing him are Duncan Kibet and Sammy Korir, both from Kenya and both under 2:05.  In fact, this is the fastest men's marathon ever assembled with 11 runners under 2:10. To put this in perspective, the winning time as recently as 1993 was 2:10:57.  I recall as a swimmer seeing age-group dudes achieving miraculous results - like John Mykannan or Jeff Kostoff, both in Southern California, swimming under 4:20s for the 500 yard freestyle which was not far off the American record back in the early 1980s (I got to know John BTW since we trained together when he was at Cal; he went on to win the 400 meters silver in Los Angeles before college; Kostoff joined Stanford and broke every short-course distance record in the books).  This is how I feel about the elite athletes: super human,  inspirational.

The women's race also quick with Askale Tafa Magarsa in pole position with an entry time of 2:21:31 then Atsed Habtamu (2:25:17) and Genet Getaneh (2:26:37).  All from Ethiopia.  Paula Radcliffe contemplated Berlin to better her World Record of 2:15:25 but, alas, it is not to be - she has been injured or under-trained this year and not at her best. 

I collect my race number at the marathon expo inside the former Tempelhof Airport.  And boy, it is a scene.  My guess runners have above-average disposable income and they certainly are mad about their weird, introverted sport.  I am too when not grumbling about injury or some running induced perversion. Given the big Sunday ahead, we do what comes naturally to middle aged athletes - buy shit.  And there is plenty of it - ASICS, Nike, Adidas, Mazino, Power Bar, Lucazade, Puma, track suits, racing kit, water systems, trainers this, gear that .. each vendor has a high-tech stall some with you volunteers in panty hose pushing their whatever. I look. All this crap inside airplane hangers which adds to the immenseness of the experience.  Outside, on the airstrips, inline skaters do their thing while beer gardens and barbecues fill more space.  It is hard not to be swept away by the vibe, which is all excitement and anticipation.

Patsdamer Platz

I arrive in Berlin for my week end of truth.  The maraton Sunday morning.  I stay at the Marriot in Patsdamer Platz which has changed magically even during the short time I have known her.  Patsdamer totally laid to waste during World War II and then desolate during the Cold War when The Wall bisected its former location.  Today it has become yet another Midtown Manhattan (indeed, my hotels restaurant called "Midtown") with steel and glass skyscrapers everywhere including PwC and Deutsche Bank.  I know this makes Germany proud but Is there no imagination left?  I could be in Shanghai. Or London.

During the WW and as with most of Berlin, almost all of the buildings around Potsdamer Platz turned to rubble by air raids and heavy artillery. The three most destructive raids (out of nearly 400) that the city suffered, occurred on 23 November 1943, and 3 February and 26 February 1945. Things were not helped by the very close proximity of Hitler's Reich Chancellery, just one block away in Voßstraße, and many other Nazi buildings nearby so Potsdamer Platz was a major bull's eye.

Once the bombing and shelling stopped, the ground invasion began as Soviet forces stormed the centre of Berlin street by street, building by building, aiming for the Reich Chancellery and other key symbols of the Nazi government. The city was divided into sectors by the occupying Allies at the end of the war, Potsdamer found itself on the boundary between the American, British and Soviet sectors.  Then came the Cold War and the Berlin Wall in 1961.

I thank my lucky stars not to have been born during that horrible time when Europe stuck the knife into its heart. 

Thursday, September 17

Artic Monkeys - Berlin - Teacher Review

Christian sends me this pic from last night at the Fox Oakland - a great venue where we recently saw The Decemberists.  Unfortunately, the band now popular enough to play the big venues so I decline to see them at Wembley Arena in November as they tour the UK. Still, their energy and spirit true and the recent third album "Humbug", while not a classic like "Whatever You Say I Am, I'm Not" and "Favourite Worst Nightmare," is good.  We have several good shows coming up this autumn including St Etienne, Automatic Toxic Event and my most anticipated: The White Lies.  Now they rock (daps to CW for introducing me to them).

I soon depart solo for Berlin and the marathon, which takes place Sunday.  Along with my running sneakers, space-designed socks and sweat-whisking, breathable-fibre tank-top and shorts, I will pack aspirin, sports gel, electrolyte hydration, cereal, sun-tan lotion, Vaurnet sunglasses, vassaline and Peet's coffee, whose caffeine content may trip doping alarms.  My secret weapon.  So more on Berlin from Berlin.

The Shakepeare's review their new teachers following the first week of school. Eitan gives a thumb's up, while Madeleine sideways.  I ask why her dissatisfaction? and she shrugs: "homework."

Wednesday, September 16

London Tech

So here is an interesting find: Boston Consulting suggests that Europe edges out North America as the world's wealthiest region. Since the crisis began in September '08, overall wealth (as measured by the asset management industry) has dropped 11.7% to $92.4 trillion (that would be 11 zero's and a four following the 92). The U.S. has been hit hardest, reporting a 21.8% decline in wealth firms assets to $29.3 trillion, primarily because of U.S. equity investments in 2008, which got pummelled. This in tune with the US the median income, which the 2009 Census reports is $50,303 or down 4.2 since 2000 - my suspicion that most of the decline during this recession. Europe has $32.7 trillion of assets under management with a decline of 5.8%. In fact, the only area to report a gain Latin America, posting a 3% rise in assets under management to $2.5 trillion in 2008. While everybody pounded, millionaires took it on the chin since the majority of their holdings real estate and equities.
While London at the middle of the financial mess thanks, in part, to the City we are also a technology center. My friend Sanford, who is Stanford engineer and tech evangelist (he also dances the salsa and from Florida) met Boris Johnson in NY this week - Boris in the Big Apple to ring the NASDAQ bell and talk about how London is the new place for eCommerce. Sanford thought this pretty rich and he should know having lived in London during the boom-bust and being a Director of my boom-bust start-up Ezoka.
So I will agree with Stanford: London does not have a vibrant high-tech or entrepreneurial community - these guys all went for the Big Bucks at the Big Banks. Why bother with starting or building?

Despite this, we are the leaders in a number of key public services. My Oyster Card, for instance, connects the underground, bus and rail networks seamlessly to my billing. Users pay by top-up or contract. London the first city to have congestion-charging, which has changed traffic patterns in the most congested parts of town. I bitch and moan about the cost (£8 per day or £80 ticket) but it works flawlessly. Our Victorian water and sewage systems allowed London to become the first city of one and then two million citizens and the largest population in the world until surpassed by Tokyo in '52. Full mobile coverage of Britain before anyone else in Europe and London at the center - my friend Author helped build the BT-Police emergency-cell communications network with no fear of redundancy during crisis. A first. The underground the world's oldest. Much of our modern skyline- like the Swiss Re Gherkin or soon, the Shard of Glass - use steel and glass as never before. London is where modern science began when John Snow discovered that cholera spreads via contaminated water in 1854. And so on and so forth.

I think a beauty of the New Age that we are surrounded by this cool stuff which changes our communication, travel, health, ecosystem and lives yet we never know the less.

Monday, September 14

Madeleine Vionnet

Here we are at the Musee de la Mode et du Textile to see Madeleine Vionnet (my photo from mobile phone since camera not permitted). Vionnet once called the "Queen of the bias cut" and "the architect among dressmakers", and best-known for elegant Grecian-style dresses and for introducing the bias cut to the fashion world (a "bias cut" BTW is more than an annoying expression - it is also the direction of a piece of woven fabric, usually referred to simply as "the bias" or "the cross-grain", is at 45 degrees to its warp and weft threads). Vionnet's simple styles involved a lengthy preparation process, including cutting, draping, and pinning fabric designs on to miniature dolls, before recreating them in chiffon, silk, or Moroccan crepe on life-size models. Vionnet used materials such as crêpe de chine, gabardine, and satin to make her clothes; fabrics that were unusual in women's fashion of the 1920s and 30s. Sonnet loves Vionnet and I learn - for the first time - that our Madeleine named from Vionnet. How could I not know this? My wife's inner thoughts still surprise me. And I am glad our Madeleine from a strong woman.

Me to Madeleine (at bedtime): "You are a very intelligent young lady."
Madeleine: "Pigs are smart too."
Madeleine: "And dolphins. But they get caught in fishnets. And die. So they are not as smart as pigs."

Sunday, September 13

New Season

It is not only the NFL that starts today. Eitan plays his first competitive match against Illsworth, which is not far from us on the A4. Age nine when the FA allows league play. The squad takes a two-nil victory in a pinball-esque match thanks in large party to KPR's goalie who, on no fewer than three occasions, saves goal when all odds against him. The final heroic a blocked penalty shot from ten feet away. Us dads still not sure how he got his mitts on that one. Before the start, Eitan selected Team Captain and given the arm-band, which is visible on his right in the photo. He accepts the responsibility with a seriousness the new title deserves. During the action, Eitan sets up up KPR's two scores with well placed crosses. I think this may be his best move .. racing down the sideline, in control, top speed and the instant before out-of-bounds he lays a foot on the ball sending it sailing before goal. Sometimes a team mate there for the decisive header or shot-into-net. Fun to watch, no doubt, and his crew have come together these last six months to play as a team. I would have not thought possible earlier this summer.

Madeleine meanwhile has her pal Jackson for an over-night and up rather late giggling and doing what kids do. Sonnet and I remark at her happiness - you know, we don't hear her laughter often enough.

The Other Football

Football, American style, kicks off today and the cheer leaders back, God bless. Since the Raiders and 49ers suck - the 1970s and 1980s now a long time ago - it is all on my beloved Cal to deliver the promised land. In Cal's case, a Rose Bowl (Dad, my promise stands: if Cal goes, we go). During my courtship of Sonnet in '93 we went to see Cal vs. Washington - she had never seen anything like it - the stadium, the crowds and the sideline's bare flesh. "Perky" she described the pom poms in their little outfits jumping about and rousing the crowd.

Such a thing would never fly in England or anywhere outside America. European football may be seen by the US as a bunch of dive-taking
pansies who wouldn't last a second the NFL. And my goodness, true - professional soccer players have the frames of distance runners trotting back-and-forth for 90 minutes. The fans, though, are die hard - who can forget the 1970s and Liverpool and more recently England fans banned from travel to European Cup games? These hooligans drink and provoke, attack fans in their own city and discredit our nation.

Somehow soccer's anticipation combined with the exultation of a goal (or its opposite) strike a violent nerve in many blue-collar spectators who, perhaps, otherwise repressed somehow (this is England) and given the chance for release cause bedlam. Watching games at the pub a remarkably unpleasant experience if you wish your team to win .. no doubt, exciting too but the build up and pressure mount as the game advances. It's like no other sport - Remarkable.

Photo from the WWW, uncredited.

Tour Montparnasse

Here is Tour Montparnasse, a horrible building in the 15th arrondisement and Paris's answer to Centre Point. It is 210-meters and built from 1969-72 and remains the tallest skyscraper in France, though there is some pressure by the height of Tour Axa (225 meters) being built now and eventually Tour Phare, Tour Signal and Tour Generali at a planned 300-meters. These latter projects on ice thanks to the meltdown. The 59 stories on top of Montparnasse-Bienvenue Paris Metro and across the street from busy Gare Montparnasse train station so easy to understand the rational for having a commercial slab here. Still, its simple architecture, gigantic proportions and monolithic appearance out of place in Paris pardieu and, as a result, two years after its completion the construction of skyscrapers in the city centre banned. And of course - l'asbestos! - and so there is. As of July 2007, Mont-P closed and empty for at least three years and maybe another five .. they should just bring it down. I once had a meeting on the second floor with some pension fund - what floor more demoralising?

My photo BTW taken across the street at Jardin Atlantique above the tracks of the Montparnasse train station, which itself an ugly failure of communal work-live space. I hate this part of Paris. We are here to visit Musee Jean Moulin which has a temporary expo on women's war-time fashion which Sonnet checks out ("professionally instructive; fascinating"). The museum otherwise about being in the French Resistance during WWII and how France saved the free-world. Hmmm.

Madeleine: "Can I watch WWW smack down?"

Saturday, September 12

To Do

We slowly move into our new house and last night marks a week. Sonnet does an excellent job putting stuff in its place but we are still lite on furniture and the kids sleep on mattresses, the poor dears. It does not yet feel our own but this will change over time and after Sonnet engages the interior designers, which is somewhere in the middle of our list of things to do - pictured (first on the list: replace water cylinder - that was a first day doozy). For the most part, however, there is very little that must immediately get done and so we enjoy. For instance, I am watering the outdoor plants even though this now technically Eitan and Madeleine's job.

Me to Madeleine trying to ruffle her: "You are embarressing me in front of (school chum) Jackson"
Madeleine: "Well, you're the one who wore a cow suit to school."


We have the perfect picnic with Kristin in the Jardin Luxembourg, which is largest park in Paris at 22.5 hectares or about the size of the Columbia University campus. It is in the 6th arrondisement and the garden of the French Senate, which itself housed in the Luxembourg Palace. The Medici Fountain - pictured and where we have lunch built in 1630 by Marie de Medici, the widow of King Henry IV. It was designed, I learn, by Tomasso Francini, a Florentine fountain maker and hydraulic engineer who was brought from Florence to France by Henry. It was in the form of a grotto which was popular in Italy during the Renaissance. It fell into ruins during the 18th century, but in 1811, at the command of Napoleon, the fountain restored by Jean Chalring who was the architect of the Arc de Triomphe. Cool. In 1864-66, the fountain was moved to its present location, the long basin of water was built, and the sculptures of the giant Polyphemus surprising the lovers Acis and Galatea. Plus there is a duck family.

Paris has a totally different vibe and Sonnet and I compare - London a sprawling hot mess with theatre, bars and modern design next to Victorian clutter. It rambles onward and outward driven from its vital energy generated in W1 and the Thames. Paris, too, has the river but it is more of a cleansing thing - unlike the tidal Thames, the Seine slow flowing and one-way. Consequently, Paris has a more measured pace. It is by far the more sophisticated city and above all for adults - in fact, I don't know what kids actually do here since they are hidden away from sight. Adults, meanwhile, enjoy the the peaks of civilisation from Haute Couture to Arts and of course cuisine, oh la la (as I say repeatedly to Sonnet's eventual annoyance). It is impossible to have a bad meal in Paris. Yesterday, for instance, we buy cheeses from the fromagerie, meats from the charcouterie; breads and fruits and big, ripe tomatoes. In short, perfect. Why is this impossible anywhere else?

On food for a moment: I recall my business school friend Walt who visited Paris in '97 whilst working for the Lydia Group who own Chanterelle which received the James Beard Award for Best Restaurant in America last year. I think Walt was doing business development or something for Lydia and was visiting Europe's best restaurants for ideas .. at his choice, we stayed in the worst hotel I have ever known (described by the Lonely Planet as "a Turkish delight" complete with communal squatters) and drank a lot of wine and bourbon while barely sleeping. Walt quitting smoking so wearing the nicotine-patch yet puffing away. Despite our general exhaustion and squalor we ate food that was .. sublime. A good memory certainly.

Me: "Madeleine do you want to earn some money by doing chores?"
Madeleine: "I am not really into work, dad."

Friday, September 11


Sonnet and I ditch, er, drop off the kids at "Breakfast Club" and head for King's Cross St Pancras station and the Eurostar. We are going to Paris to see a few museums and visit Kristin, who is a friend from high school. On the train we sit next to two gay dudes who are dressed very cool and wearing their dark shades. They sleep the entire journey after (and now I ease drop) being up all night and before that Barcelona and Madrid. Ah, to be young and in Love, heading for Paris on an autumnal day. There are worse ways to spend one's time. The kids happy too since Aggie babysits allowing us our together.

"This hatred of America by some people is just outrageous. And you need to get over that."
Republican congressman Joe Wilson in 2002 on Washington Journal speaking to congressman Bob Filner, who had stated that the US "gave" Iraq "chemical and biological weapons" in the 1980s.

Wednesday, September 9

Charing Chores

Behind me is is the Thames and then One Embankment; behind that, Charing Cross which denotes the junction of the Strand, Whitehall and Cockspur Street just south of Trafalgar Square. I have often wondered it's name and learn today that it is from the long demolished Eleanor cross (now occupied by a statue of King Charles I mounted on a horse - misogynists, all) located at the former hamlet of Charing. It is the central datum point for measuring distances from London. Go figure.
This morning a plumber and electrician arrive at 8AM, ensemble, while Sonnet scrambles about her lipstick and the kids drag their feet. Same as it ever was. We have implemented a new discipline in the new house including chores. Lots of them. Very sternly Sonnet and I lay out the rules including back-yard and front (split between the Shakespeares), bathroom duty and pre-dinner table and after-meal clean up. In addition to such harshness, we now have a 7:30PM bed and 8PM lights out. Madeleine's mouth drops over this one. I warn that if they complain now or at any time, a demerit will be administered. Five demerits in three-months nets no allowance. If, however, they have none I promise to double their allowance. Madeleine: "What if we have one?" Me: "We'll see." Madeleine: "two?" Me: "Negotiation." Madeleine: "three?" Me: "Same." Madeleine: "four?" Me: "thin ice." It seems to be working too as Eitan bounces into my room to show me how a coin bounces from his bed military style. After a long, boring and tedious summer (for them, dear reader), I think Eitan and Madeleine crave the structure.