Tuesday, August 31

Great Smog - 1952

I have an engaging sunny afternoon conversation with neigbhor Martin, who has lived in his house all his life or (by my estimate) >75 years (Martin's mother won Wimbledon twice in the 1920s and Martin plays there every Sunday morning like clockwork). Today he tells me all sorts of interesting things like our neighbor, Clive, having emergency open-heart, by-pass surgery while we were away ("But doing all right." Apparently). I also learn that our council will replace the 1960s cement lamp-posts (which I kinda like as a period set-piece) with new, modern, poles. Martin recalls those days when a council-man, dressed in official council-gear, would light the gas lamp-lights on our block every night using a rod. He made haste on his bicycle, usually not needing to dismount for the chore. Our conversation turns to London's terrible fog which, today, is a rarity and maybe a few times a year. In the 1950s, however, the coal-ash particles condensed air moisture and fog (smog) was normal. Martin would bike home from school arriving covered in black.

The Great Smog darkened the streets of London and killed approximately 4,000 people in the short time of four days (a further 10,000 died from its effects in the following weeks and months). Initially a flu epidemic was blamed for the loss of life. A period of cold weather, combined with ananticyclone and windless conditions, collected airborne pollutants mostly from the use of coal to form a thick layer of smog over the city. It lasted from Friday 5 to Tuesday, 9 December, 1952, and then quickly dispersed after a change in the weather. Although it caused major disruption due to the effect on visibility, and even penetrated indoor areas, it was not thought to be a significant event at the time, with London having experienced many smog events in the past, so called "pea soupers". Public transport ground to a halt, apart from the London Underground; and the ambulance service stopped running, forcing the sick to make their own way to hospital.

More recent research suggests that the number of fatalities was considerably higher at around 12,000 with another 100,000 effected. Most of the victims were very young, elderly, or had pre-existing respiratory problems. The deaths were caused by respiratory tract infections from hypoxia and as a result of mechanical obstruction of the air passages by pus arising from lung infections caused by the smog. It is considered the worst air pollution event in the history of the United Kingdom, and the most significant in terms of its impact on environmental research, government regulation, and public awareness of the relationship between air quality and health. It led to several changes in practices and regulations, including the Clean Air Act 1956.

(Source: Stegeman, John J. & Solow, Andrew R. A Look Back at the London Smog of 1952 and the Half Century Since; A Half Century Later: Recollections of the London Fog, 2002).
Photo from the WWW.

Madeleine: "Guess what the best part of my day was?"
Me: "What?"
Madeleine: "Guess."
Me: "What?"
Madeleine: "Guess."
Me: "Buying some yarn?"
Madeleine: "That was going to be the best thing but the store was closed."

Bouncing Back

Madeleine and Eitan burn some energy on the neighbor's trampoline.

We are slowly back in action, me having slept until 1PM yesterday and 11AM today. I feel punch drunk. Eitan insists he he is unaffected by jet-lag: "I am one of those kids who doesn't get it I guess" he informs me yet there he is, 2AM, wandering around our bedroom (and again at 9AM when he puts ear-plugs into his radio to wait patiently at the foot of the bed for Sonnet or I to feed him). Madeleine is over-joyed to see Tommy who has been with Natasha this month - I am over-joyed that Tommy did not get eaten by Alphie. Otherwise it is the usual post-holiday glum: bills, sorting mail, going into the office .. my head is still somewhere in the Sierras .. or the Rockies.

I watch the US Open.
Eitan: "Dad, did you know that Roger Federer is back to his old tricks?"
Me: "Hmm?"
Eitan: "When someone hit it to him, he ran backwards - so watch (Eitan demonstrates) - he ran backwards and hit it through his legs. And that is how he won the match."
Me: "Cool."
Eitan: "He has done that before. It is famous."
Me: "Good to know."

Monday, August 30


We arrive at Heathrow following a month's journey to the USA which has taken us from Giant Burgers to tacos with a number of Dairy Queens in between. Berkeley to Bear Valley then Denver, La Veta, Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico. We are blessed to have family and friends in these parts of the country. As this chapter concludes we consider autumn's schedule: new school terms; Division 1 football (Eitan); swim team (both kids) performance class (Madeleine); 10-plus exam (Eitan); V&A, following a five-month work-leave (Sonnet); unfinished assignments (me). Wherever it may go, we have great memories from our endless summer. Stay tuned.


Martine, Sonnet's Aunt, in front of her horse-trailer in La Veta. The road to the Minnis ranch unpaved, heading straight for the Spanish Mountains - I cannot imagine a more stunning vista to return to every day. At some point it must become who you are, which certainly seems the case with Martine. Her love is her animals and around the house are several cats (dog Guinnes passed a year ago) and, of course, the horses which she cares for single handedly when Bill in Denver where they have their second home (the ranch is closed during the winter and the horses "boarded" at nearby stables). This means moving 100lb barrels of hey and removing equally heavy manure, exercising the animals and putting them to pasture every day. They are healthy beasts as, Martine points out, "they fart all the time." This being a good sign. Martine used to teach at Boston then Denver public schools up to the second grade; she did a sabbatical year in Oxford where she taught and took some classes (there are photos of the Royal Family throughout the house). Martine a grandmother of one and soon to be two as Maire announces her pregnancy over the phone during dinner (Martine and Bill knew before of course). She went to Vassar (see: T-shirt) while her stories as interesting as her life. We enjoy her. She sure looks after Eitan and Madeleine.

Madeleine: "Tell the story about Auntie Katie eating liver."
Me: "Which one is that?"
Madeleine: "The one where she refused to eat it. During the Jewish holiday."
Me: "I think you mean cow's tongue following Passover. Grace cooked it in a milk cream."
Madeleine: "And it looked like a tongue!"
Me: "Yep."


I catch this photograph around 10AM on the way into town. No need to get out of the car - sometimes it just works like that. La Veta's High Street offers several jewels: local bakery operated by lesbians (open four days a week); a bona-fide gym for $5 a go, and the "Book Nook," a used bookshop whose proceeds go to the local library. Of course Charlie's for ice cream. Sonnet and I look at the real estate offerings and day-dream about property. There has been limited development and, as Martine aptly notes: "there's nothing to do here." A couple hundred grand could get you a pretty nice place in the outback. I see sadly that the La Veta Inn is for sale at just under $600k - down from a million earlier this year. Recession blues, no doubt.

As for the locals - cheerful and chatty as ever. Sitting on a bench more often than not results in a discussion about something. The La Veta Redskins HS football team, for instance, has a large front line which fills the town with hope ("Hell those boys can't do any worse than last year" the gas station mechanic tells me). The local 18-hole golf course is looking to expand with condos and more green land despite drought; his efforts rejected so .. he closes the golf course. Classy move, dude (Wallsenberg has a 9-hole course but 18 miles by car). Tomorrow's battle is wind farms: three projects, particularly one near scenic La Veta Pass, have galvanized grassroots opposition and posed a challenge for county planning officials. Let us hope for progress, indeed, but not too much of it.

Friday, August 27

Route 159 #8

Vista Rockies


We were last here, at the Chamayo shrine, in 2008 - nothing has changed including Leona's shack serving tamales and tacos. We are otherwise surrounded by dry mountains, tall leafy trees and a brook which cuts in front of the shrine. The plaza does, indeed, feel peaceful and even spiritual -I wonder if the spot unique because of the Santuario de Chimayo or if the church built here because of the wonderful vibe. Madeleine discovers the 'gift shop' which remains, consistently, her main favorite focus of any place we visit - from Big Trees to the Denver; the Tate to Tate or wherever. Here, at Chamoyo, she wants to buy the Cross of Jesus but I refuse to lend her the money on principal ("neither a borrower or a lender be," I chime). As to the religious symbolism, well, that is more than I wish to explain.

What are we to make of the Times cover story t
hat over 1,000 UK girls, aged 11 or 12, are on the pill? Well, firstly, the suggestion that these girls are sexually active is tosh: many pre-adolescents are prescribed hormonal contraceptives for heavy periods, acne and endometriosis which is a lot less eye-catching interesting than "11 year-olds on the pill." Secondly, the report relies heavily on the Christian Medical Association (enough said). Here are the facts, according to The Lancet, 2001, study: "We recruited 11161 men and women to the survey (4762 men, 6399 women). The proportion of those aged 16—19 years at interview reporting first heterosexual intercourse at younger than 16 years was 30% for men and 26% for women; median age was 16 years. The proportion of women reporting first intercourse before 16 years increased up to, but not after, the mid-1990s. There has been a sustained increase in condom use and a decline in the proportion of men and women reporting no contraceptive use at first intercourse with decreasing age at interview. Among 16—24 year olds, non-use of contraception increased with declining age at first intercourse; reported by 18% of men and 22% of women aged 13—14 years at occurrence. Early age at first intercourse was significantly associated with pregnancy under 18 years, but not with occurrence of STIs. Low educational attainment was associated with motherhood before 18 years, but not abortion."

The kids get their first sex education in Year 3 - around age-8 - where they learn the differences in the sexes. It accelerates from there. Back then, I attended a teacher-parent meeting to understand what to expect since sexual education is compulsory in the UK (England and Wales have 65 conceptions per thousand women aged 15-19, the highest in Western Europe according to The Office of National Statistics). Labour's 2000 pledge to halve teen pregnancy by 2010 has failed completely. The main reasons for our high rate: We don't give children enough information; we give them mixed messages about sex and relationships; social deprivation means girls more likely to get pregnant; and girls of teen mothers likely to do the same.

Sonnet and I have been discussing sex with the Shakespeares well before Year 3. I think they have the general idea but Eitan is so pained by such things that I sometimes wonder what actually sinks in. It seems the world is stacked against these youngsters from drug addiction to environmental calamity, war, cost and access to education, unemployment and recession and rising cost of education (and this, the Western World) that I put teen-pregnancy pretty low on my list of concerns. Talk to me in four or five years.

Chimayo Shrine

We visit the Potrero plaza of Chimayo which is known for its Catholic chapel: the Santuario de Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas or o for short (pictured). The church, built by one fervant believer (and probably a bunch of Mexicans), was completed in 1816 so locals could worship Jesus as depicted as Esquipulas; preservationists later bought it and handed it over to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1929. Today, the chapel managed by the Archdiocese as a Chatholic church. For its reputation as a healing site (believers claim that dirt from a back room of the church can heal physical and spiritual ailments), it has become known as the "Lourdes of America," and attracts 300,000 visitors a year, including over 30,000 during Holy Week (the week before Easter). The most moving experience, I find, are artifacts of remembrance for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan including dog tags and bullets or badges. According to William Wroth, New Mexico Office of the State Historian), "No doubt (Chimayo is) the most important Catholic pilgrimage center in the United States." The sanctuary designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

Chimayo is located in a valley within the Sangre de Cristo Mountains 24 miles north of Santa Fe; it is approximately 6,074 feet above sea level.


Shidoni, a bronze art foundry, sculpture garden and gallery, is found along the Rio Tesuque on a former apple orchard. To the kids grief: We visit. Punters can watch 2000-degree molten bronze poured into ceramic shell molds, see glass blowers perfecting their craft and stroll around the sculpture garden (pictured) or visit the gallery which shows >100 different sculptors from around the US. We are tackled by Jan, a 50-ish woman wearing white cowboy boots and turquoise - she smells a sale when I note we are visiting from London and trying to replace a open space following the sad collapse of our 200 year-old tree. Jan suggests something Big. I like many of the objets but they do not come cheap: from $8,000 for smaller pieces to over 50-grand; most are between $12-18K excluding shipping which adds another $5,000 or so (Jan ads helpfully: "we will design your own shipping unit."). Madeleine will only consider something practical: "can I play on it?" I get a dangerous bolt of adrenaline which whispers ... why not? but it is best to see the backyard damage first and, more importantly, see how my year-end cashflows pan out.

Shidoni” is a Navajo word used as a greeting to a friend.

Thursday, August 26

Family Trail

Galisteo Basin Preserve

Following the success of our 10-mile day hike to Nambe Lake off the Winsor Trail and two-miles from the Pecos Wilderness boundary (we are rewarded with spectacular lunch spot and water too cold to swim in) we take a different trail across desert terrain - pictured. The Galisteo Basin Preserve is a land conservation and community development project located in Santa Fe County’s Galisteo Basin—a high-desert area of fragile land and water resources "celebrated for its scenic, cultural, and wildlife values." The preserve designed to conserve and restore 13,000 acres of open space and promote "thoughtful, stewardship-oriented community development." Our flat walk interrupted by the occasional adobe house with visible development for more -- still, the lots are minimum 26-acres and houses separated by a band of no less than three-acres. There are plots of 600 acres or more. If managed properly I think it could work though I would not recommend the trail for unspoiled beauty.

Wednesday, August 25

Santa Fe Square - Chill

It is a lazy afternoon and these gals barely move. I think felines. Behind me several natty, tatoo'd dudes with piercings sit Indian-style observing the "no-skateboarding" sign. Bummer. They mooch cigarettes from each other. This scene quite different from the week-end when the Santa Fe Indian Market in full swing. The market an annual two-day occurrence since 1922 and draws 100,000 people. Vendors must verify their native-American origin while their work has to meet strict quality and authentic materials standards or they do not get a stall. For sale: jewelery, turquoise, belts, paintings, drums, bleached bones, rugs, trinkets and so on and so forth. Many revellers, including Sonnet, arrive very early in the morning and it is not unusual to find artists selling out within a few hours. Me, I find these things work best if there is a focus of some sort like buying a necklace or a tamale. Having no such needs this year I find a bench, sit with my strong coffee and read the NY Sunday Times. Bliss, baby.

New Mexico Museum Of Art

I photograph this beautiful sculpture, "Ford Orange, 2007" by Jeremy Thomas in the O'Shaugnessey Sculpture Garden of the Museum Of Art. It is forged mild steel with a 'powder coat' and measures 52 x 36 x 26 inches; the museum purchased the item in 2007 with funds from the Boeckman Acquisition Fund. The courtyard is otherwise pretty small as is the museum. What it lacks in size, the building makes up for in design: the 'Pueblo Revival' design inaugurated "Santa Fe Style" or tanned adobe with supporting, oiled, timber. In truth, there is not too much to see here - the mandatory Georgia O'Keefes, some local Indian paintings... the main exhibition is Sole Mates:Cowboy Boot and Art which "celebrates images of the West and views cowboy boots as important symbols of western life." The exhibition presents more than 130 examples of contemporary and historic art, including paintings, drawings, postcards, advertisements, sculptures, video imagery, and .. cowboy boots. "These images investigate changing aspects of the West by addressing freedom, loneliness, gender, fashion, allure and youth culture. " The kids are bored (Madeleine buys some post cards at the gift shop).

I like the idea of cowboy boots but have always thought they don't match up for dudes who wear glasses. In any case, I could never get away with them in London. Katie, during a college visit, convinced me to buy a pair of brown, soft-leather boots which I still think of today: they went perfectly with ripped blue jeans and cost me a fortune - $150. I could afford them thanks to my summer job demonstrating, even then, metro .. sexu.. al. Too bad the Providence winters killed them.

"There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the fault of his feet."
--Samuel Beckett

Madeleine El Ray

Monday, August 23

Silver In Silver

El Ray Hotel

Santa Fe, NM

God Bless The USA

I snap this photograph off the parking lot of Dairy Queen, which has been on Eitan's mind the last 100 miles, if not the past several weeks. DQ is in the small town of Espanola on the NM-68, the quickest route (vs. scenic) to Santa Fe running mostly next to the Rio Grande river. Inside there is a table of seven or eight Hispanic boys located at a corner-booth offering a view of the restaurant otherwise filled with families and elderly people; this changes when the girls softball team comes 'a marching in - even I experience the frisson. The gals in uniform, legs showing, are loud and attention-seeking though not really flirty - they are probably too young to be aware of their effect on the boys. Or am I just clueless? Eitan stuffs his face into a mint-Oreo Blizzard ignoring the commotion. Madeleine a bit more interested in these things: "Are they teenagers?" she asks. Outside, in the parking lot, I chat with the coach who lives in the mountains about 50 miles outside of Espanola where, with coaching, he is the history teacher and PE instructor. He marvels at the kids' accents. We each secretly envy the other.

We drive by St Francisco di Assisi.
Me: "Do you want to see a church?"
Eitan: "No, I want to see a Dairy Queen."

Eitan, from back of the car: "We haven't been to DQ yet."
Me: "Well, that's your problem. DQ is everywhere you just haven't seen one."
Eitan: "You haven't seen one either."
Me: "Not true. I've seen plenty."
Eitan: "Why haven't you told me?"
Me: "Why should I do that? After all your teasing about my belly. I'm on a new diet. A no-Dairy Queen diet."
Eitan: "that's so unfair- your belly is not my problem."
Me: "Seems like it is now."

Roadside sign: "Stop Dreaming, Start Eating. Dairy Queen 12 Miles Ahead."
E: "Oh! Oh! Oh!"

Sonnet, shocked: "Four hot dogs for five bucks. That's dinner for a family."

Eitan is unable to finish his extra-large Blizzard.
Sonnet: "Just don't get sick in the car."
Eitan: "Ohhh, suicide mission."
Sonnet: "Cut that out. Seriously."

Yellow Truck, Taos Plaza

San Francisco di Assisi #18

This morning we visit the Taos Pueblo, which is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. The multi-storied adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years. My photograph of the church San Francisco.

Madeleine: "Did those Indians paint the windows?"

Me: "Where is Spain?"
The kids have no idea.
Me: "How can you not know where Spain is?"
Eitan: "We don't know everything, Dad."
Me: "Well you are going to know this. What country is across the channel from Britain?"
Madeleine: "Russia?"
Eitan: "France."
Me: "And what is next to France?"
Eitan: "Germany."
Me: "And the other side?"
Eitan: "I don't know. We haven't gotten that far yet."

Madeleine: "Is he a proper Indian?"
Me: "Why don't you kids ask him where we can find a good Mexican?"

On Being A Teenager; Taos

Me: "What kind of teenagers do you kids wish to be?"
Eitan: "Really sporty, no drugs. I want to have a few close friends like Joe and Cyrus. I don't want to be in an 'all powerful gang.'"
Me: "Why not?"
Eitan: "Um, because I just don't like being the all powerful person."
Me: "Seems reasonable. How about you?"
Madeleine: "I want to be someone who does not have pimples and isn't fat. I don't want to take drugs. I want to be sporty."
Eitan: "That's what I said!"
Madeleine: "Well you just said it first! "
Eitan: "Think of your own!"
Madeleine: "YOU think of your own!"
Me: "Enough! You guys are acting like teenagers."
Madeleine: "Why would you say something like that, Dad?"

Taos is barely a city - more like a town, really - with 4,700 people according to the 2000 census. It is located near the Rio Pueblo de Taos, a tributary of the Rio Grande and, just to the west, is the Rio Grande Gorge, cutting through the basalt flows of the Taos Plateau volcanic field crossed by the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, US Route 64. The elevation is 6.950 feet which Sonnet and I feel during our runs (Me: out . . of. . shape . . .). Taos has its own pueblo, sacred and ancient site where Native Americans meet for ceremonial purposes. Only eight families live here year-round as there is no water nor electricity.

Me: "Taos is a 'Taco' without the 'c.'
Eitan, Madeleine:


Pity the lad, pictured, who has been away from football for three weeks. He begs to be on my notebook to watch games or memorise fixtures, update himself of the Premiere League which (he pleads) "is starting now !" Is there no break? Apparently not and Eitan rattles off the various trophies: Champions League, FA Cup, Carling Cup, Premiere League and the UEFA Cup - I can't keep them apart. Which is the most important, you wonder? Eitan: "Champions League, definitely, because it is the top-four teams from all the best leagues in Europe - from the Big Countries like Russia and France and Italy. You know, the one's that are famous." Hmm. Pictured, he rattles off every player from Manchester United and lesser teams in thePremiereship. I quiz him about the best player in each position. And the best player in the world? Messi. Not Rooney? "It depends if he gets his form back. If he doesn't, it is Rinaldo. Actually, they are tied."

And there you have it.

Eitan: "Dad, do you want to see how Rooney does his run-ups?" (He charges the ball, kicking it into the living room wall)
Me: "Knock it off!"
Madeleine: "If you get it in (ie, hit the wall) you get a buddy. Two buddies!"
Eitan: "Ok, but I only need one." (he gets down on his hands and knees to eye his shot)
Eitan: "Dad. Dad! I had to get the ball right between Madeleine's hands and guess what I just did?"
Eitan: "I got it in!"
Me: "Did I just say something before?"
Madeleine: "You are always boasting, Eitan."
Eitan: "Not!"
Madeleine: "Too!"

Stan Silver

Stan and Silver arrive in Taos, driving over the mountains from Grand Junction. They stay at the Taos Inn (No children allowed) which they show us this morning, pictured. The Inn made of of several adobe houses dating to the 1800's which, then, surrounded a small plaza (now the entrance lobby). In the 1890s, Dr Thomas Paul Martin arrived as the county's first - and only - physician and bought the largest of the houses. Martin's wife, Helen, a gifted batik artist and the sister-in-law of artist Bert Phillips, one of the "Taos Founders" - it was in the Martin's dining room in 1912 that Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein founded the Taos Society of Artists.

The Martins went on to purchase additional buildings surrounding the plaza, renting to writers and artists including Pawnee Bill and, famously, D. H. Lawrence who lived here for a year working on "The Boy in the Bush" which he completed in '24 ("Chatterley" was '28). When the hotel burned in '36, the same year Martin died, Helen bought the sole remaining property, Tarleton house, and founded the Hotel Martin which was social, intellectual and artistic hub. Greta Garbo came here. Later owners renamed it the Taos Inn; in '82, the Inn was placed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

Stan tells me that most recently the Inn owned for 20 years by Dennis Hopper, who bought the place shortly after Easy Rider. He and Jack and Peter and their crew must have partied their asses off - the perfect place for debauchery - away from prying eyes.

Hee Haw!

Bill and ranch means one thing for the kids: horses. Misty (the youngest and Praline's daughter), Nugget (oldest "and sort of the boss" (Eitan)); Honey (yellow-golden) and Praline (she, just like Misty, has a white stripe going down her snout - pictured). Missing is Buckwheat, who was a cross between Nugget and Honey, with the same colour fur as Honey and a black main like Nugget (Eitan informs me). Nugget and Praline are ridable while Misty and Honey are too young with Bill "working them in." Martine takes each little cowboy for 45 minute rides up to and along the wall (she saw a mountain lion several months ago, and this morning - bear tracks!) in the evening and again, before breakfast. It is a lot of work, too, with saddling the horses. They are strong, beautiful animals whose line bread for the quarter-mile; they are excellent ranch horses as well, with sure footing and even temperament. Gentle souls. Bill is a real cow-hand who is able to break in the new animals, which requires patience and know-how. Every autumn he goes on a 100-mile ride into the Rockies, though this year may be more difficult after injuring, or even breaking, several ribs in a fall (Martine, with black toe-nails: "and that is why you wear cowboy boots"). The horses weight about 1,000 pounds. Fortunaly Bill tossed onto a soft, dirt ground - if the outback, "it would have been serious" Martine says.

Friday, August 20

Charlie's At La Veta

Madeleine finds herself in a familiar spot as we arrive in La Veta. We are here for one night before pushing on to Taos where we will see Stan and Silver. Martine takes the kids out for horse rides in the evening and morning, God bless. They are different little dudes away from the concrete and high-expectations of London.

Sonnet has been following an intense training routine, gifted her by our uber-athlete Edwin. One day easy, the next repeats or a timed run. All done in the early morning hours to avoid the heat, which has been around 90-degrees since arriving in CO. Unfortunately the altitude has played havoc - I join her and we shuffle five miles outside La Veta or 6,187 feet. My parent's cabin- house around 5,000 feet while I write from Taos or 6,969 feet. Sonnet's half-marathon in late September and she hopes the suffering will pay off at sea-level. Here is the science any way: at altitude, the body adapts to the relative lack of oxygen hypoxia in one or more ways like increasing the mass of red blood cells and hemoglobin, or altering muscle metabolism. Proponents clamim that when the athletes travel to competitions at lower altitudes they will still have a higher concentration of red blood cells for 10-14 days, and this gives them a competitive advantage. some athletes liver permanently at high altitude, only returning to to sea level to compete, but their training may suffer due to less available oxygen for workouts (sources: Formenti, Federico, et al, (June 2010); Wehrlin, Zuest and Marti (June 2006); and Gore, Clark and Suanders (September 2007))

Sonnet: “How about a 12-mile hike when we are in Santa Fe?”
Madeleine: “No way!”
Me: “Sounds excellent.”
Madeleine: “I could barely do six miles!”
Me: “Well now you will do twelve.”
Madeleine: “This is some vacation.”

Spanish Peak West With Moon, #4

This beautiful mountain is one of the Spanish Peaks, which we have seen before and I think one of the most beautiful spots I have known. The peaks are a pair of volcanic mountains located in southwestern Huerfano County and behind Bill and Martine's ranch. The two peaks, West Spanish Peak and East Spanish Peak, are easternmost outliers of the otherwise non-volcanic Culebra Range of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Formed by a massive igneous intrusion during the tertiary period, the mountains designated a National Natural Landmark in 1976 as one of the best known examples of igneous dikes. Geologists come from around the world study the unique wall-formations which frame the mountain; photographers set up on Martine's property to take photographs "every three minutes at sunrise and sunset" she tells me and it is easy to understand why: the mountain's personality changes with the light and cloud movement.

The peaks were an important landmark on the Santa Fe Trail, and can be seen as far north as Colorado Springs 133 miles away, and as far west a Alamosa (85 miles) points south to Raton New Mexico (66 miles) and points east of Trinidad (up to 15). I first spy my friends on the highway an hour outside of La Veta driving 75 mph (CO speed limit, dude) and, at first, dismiss them for being misplaced in my memory. We track them all the way in.

Self Portrait XVIII

I pack up the SUV and we are off to La Veta. As with the majority of families across this great country of ours, I drive. The car may be the last bastion of the 1950s male. Here we are, the American Dad, behind the wheel with our aviator sunglasses, in complete control of the family and by extension - everything else. No doubt the children fight in the back and I swing away; we get lost which causes the only serious arguments in my relationship with my wife; we stop at family restaurants and sit in booths and eat hamburgers and french fries. A vacationing family with two attractive teen-agers sit next to us at the car rental and I note to the father that we are a few years behind them; he eyes me up and sagely replies: “Expect the unexpected.” The teens stair at me blankly. Can't wait for the next five years.

Denver to La Veta is due south and a pleasant drive through open space. We pass through Pueblo, Fort Garland (Air Force academy there) and Colorado Springs where we pull off the highway for lunch at Chilli's (ghastly) and I run across the street to a 7-11 to use the pay-phone to call Astorg Partners. I learn that there are very few public telephones left while mobile to Europe stupidly expensive. 7-11 is a vision of hell. A woman waits for a call and smokes away - two-feet from me. Another, not unattractive, pulls in to buy fags and fill her brown Dodge with gas. There is a video rental machine next to me. Scruffy children buy candy that would make mine cry if they were here. Nasty. The other thing about CS, and I think most sprawling cities, is how difficult it is to walk. Crossing the town's main street, which is more like a highway, takes patience and care – these driving bastards will hit you. There is a narrow, unused, crosswalk and, to somebody's credit, I find a pedestrian light. I wait five minutes for 20 seconds which is barely enough time to cross five lanes. After Chilli's we complete this American moment at Baskin Robbin's 31-wonderful flavors. Gotta roll with it.

Eitan examines a box of Russell Stover chocolates: “Oh, I need to eat this.”

First Day, First Grade

Tess has her first day of school and there are some emotional moments around the table. Tess is mostly oblivious to the excitement while Thia makes sure she remains firmly in the picture. A pattern to be followed forever, no doubt. Later on we discuss Eitan and Madeleine's reception year – both ready thanks to day-care, where Eitan spent the majority of his day .. from ten-months (I still recall his carer, Ingrid, an large Jamaican who scooped the boy up in her enormous loving arms.. he knew a good thing while Sonnet and I felt mildly guilty about the whole thing). Madeleine the risk-taker back then and first day butterflies? No problemo. She could hardly get away.

Many US public schools now begin the fall term in mid-August. What's up with that? School hours also seem to be longer with the day ending at 4PM. The American summer a cultural occurrence, unifying generations of families and a God Given Right for any youngster lucky enough to grow up in the US of A. Who wasn't bored out of his mind by Labor Day? From my generation, it was not unusual for both parents to work so kids were left with .. a lot of freedom. Combine that with the suburbs and pot, well, a lot of good memories there, for sure. For me, this meant walks across the UC campus to Telegraph Avenue to buy comic books or vinyl records followed by Blondie's pizza or frozen yogurt (the first fro-yo in America, my sister tells me). Eventually swimming soaked up the free time while MTV took the rest.
My pals and I in Walnut Creek did nothing between morning and afternoon practice - it was fab-u-lous. Sonnet and Marcus's solution was summer camp: Trojan Ranch and Prairie Mansfield in Colorado. These long breaks a far cry from England where the annual holiday time might be about the same – 12 weeks or so – but spread across the year. Each good in its own way.

“Are you guys missing anything from school?”
Madeleine: “Art?”
Me: “Anything else.”
Madeleine: “Not really.”
Me: “How about you Eitan?”
Eitan: “Friends, literacy and maths.”
Me: “Are you nervous about your new teacher?”
Madeleine: “Yes.”
Me: “Why?”
Madeleine: “Because sometimes she is a bit strict.”
Me: “Like what does she do?”
Madeleine: “I don't know. They just said that.”

Thursday, August 19


Denver Museum - Libeskind

Thia and Tess, King Tut

We are with
Beecher, Whitney and Frank from yesterday and here the kids take a break for this photo. Tess starts first-grade tomorrow. These kids grow up, I will sure say.

Today we are at the Denver Museum to see the Tutankhamun exhibition, which is the largest collection of its kind assembled outside of Egypt (I have a hard time removing the Steve Martin song "King Tut" from my mind BTW -classic). Since its discovery by Brit Howard Cotter in 1922, the cause of Tut's death has been debated: was the Boy King assassinated at 19? A CT scan taken in 2005 proves otherwise (and robs us of our mystery): Tut had badly broke his leg and it became infected. DNA analysis, conducted in 2010, showed he had malaria - these two conditions, combined, led to his death.

SFO To CO - Fallen Tree

The kids have been good travel companions excluding those moments when, Sonnet points out, "they about to kill each other." This is a far cry better than their earlier life when an air plane meant only one thing: screaming. Loudly. Non-stop. We reminiscence about the time Eitan nine-months and we flew to Florida for my Grandmother's 90th - the boy good from London to Washington but inconsolable from Dulles to Sarasota. We received a number of dirty looks on that one, oh boy. Now they quietly sit in their seats drawing with crayons or, more likely, plugged into the entertainment unit watching whatever catches their fancy and Sonnet allows - from London to SFO, ten hours, uninterrupted. No wonder long-haul means something different to them.

Meanwhile in London we learn the shocking news that water and wind have tumbled our beloved ancient pine tree. Fortunately it occurred around 6AM so nobody about and it missed the house. Aggie, who is house-sitting, is helping us sort the mess - she reports that we "will now get more sunshine in the backyard." I am feeling sad about this - that old, dignified, tree was one of my favorite things about our home.

Tuesday, August 17

Le Cat

Madeleine loves "Sweetie Pie" who is a curious and friendly soul and puts up with a lot. Madeleine, as we all know, has been on a two year campaign for a dog and when we return to London, she will be rewarded with .. a cat (two working parents and a dog don't quite foot, we have decided). From this morning we are saying good-bye to Grace and Moe and the Bay Area until the next time. Everybody feeling glum but soon we will be in Colorado for the second part of our touring road show.

Monday, August 16

Altamount Pass

The future is here. I hang my ass out the window to take this photo of the wind turbines at Altamount Pass just beyond Livermore on HW580. We are about one hour from San Francisco having just come through the valley. No wonder the turbines here, too - the wind gusty (wind speeds are up to 8 meters per second) and sounds like a growling animal. The turbines form scattered lines on the ridgeway across an area of about 15 kilometers in diameter. Hundreds are visible from the road. A quick Internet troll notes that there are over four-thousand of these babies, making this the world's largest wind farm by number of turbines. There are at least seven varieties visible, including one type that is vertical like an egg-beater. There are no paved roads leading to them either and the wind, anyway, is too strong for a leisurely walk. A small parking area is located at the top of the pass (about 1,000 feet altitude) for trucks and us to check our breaks before the steep decent. We have been here before -emergency poddy stop.

The turbines in my photo are the larger type with blades - and I am guessing here - five-meters in length. The towers must be 25 meters in height or higher. 100% of the windmills in action as we pass while usually only a batch in play depending on the wind direction, force and etc. I have watched these things go up since the mid-1980s. Pretty cool.

We have a discussion at the French Hotel about whether smoking should be a choice.
Me: "What if I told you that you could not have that piece of cake you are eating?"
Madeleine: "That would not be fair!"
Me: "What if I told you that piece of cake was going to cause you to die a slow and awful death?"
Madeleine: "Well, I guess that would be fair."
Me: "Would you still eat it?"
Madeleine: "Probably not."
Eitan: "I would not."
Me: "Why do you think people smoke?"
Eitan: "Well, mostly because they become addicted. When they are a teen-ager."
Madeleine: "They smoke even though their parents say no."
Me: "Good going. Have we learned anything?"
Madeleine: "We can eat cake?"