Sunday, July 31

One More From Painted Wall

The canyon wall is twice the height of the Empire State Building.

Me: "Do your nuts go into your stomach?" [Dad's note: We stand over a guarded ledge]
Eitan: "No."
Me: "How about you Madeleine?"
Madeleine: "Dad!"
Me: "Doesn't the drop scare you?"
Madeleine: "I don't have nuts."
Me: "Fair enough. So what do you feel anyway?"
Madeleine: "I don't know. Scary I guess."
Eitan: "What would happen if you fell?"
Me: "Long way down. Wouldn't be pretty."
Madeleine: "Pretty dead."
Me: "Yep."

Wonderful Willa

This kid has it all
Allow me to introduce the blog to Willa, the child of Marcus and Adrienne, and the reason why we all care about the future. She is a jewel : chubby cheeked, well tempered and curious. Marcus is a wonderful father, singing while changing diapers, holding Willa in the pool and granting her enough space to drown (same as I did with Madeleine), always listening and caring. He is teaching Willa sign language to communicate her basic needs : pinching fingers means 'more', for instance.

We drive over the mountains to spend our last night in Denver, joining Whitney and Frank for dinner. Beecher and Bill no longer with us and their shadow cast long. Tess  is now a teenager and Thea on her coat tails.

Black Canyon Again

Thunderstorms are coming
Madeleine and I hike the Black Canyon and Painted Wall which I have had the joy of photographing on a few occasions most famously in 2011 at dawn. In the pitch dark. Scrambling on rocks next to the 2,000 foot drop to the Colorado River (almost twice the Empire State Building in height). Madeleine shudders and refuses to get within 10 feet of the ledge; and further - I won't let her.

Our lazy days go by in a blink. Highlights include family, the movies - Star Trek, who has the time these days? - the RNC clown show (The Giuliani scream. The Melania Trump plagiarism. The Mike Pence botched VP announcement. The Ted Cruz non-endorsement), Stan's blueberry grumble, seeing Marcus and Willa. Sleeping and napping. Feeling normal, letting my anxiety melt away (but returning full force for the airport home).

OK, we didn't make the Red Barn which is under new management anyway and Ted Nelson, the manager, has moved across the road to 'Nelson's' taking his steak eating, martini draining crowd with him. Reminds me of Sonoma. Good times and doing good.

Monument Park

Monument Canyon
We hike inside Monument Park. The temps are over 90 degrees. Madeleine and I join Chris, an endurance runner preparing for the Leadville 100, a 100 mile race from 10k to 14k feet (Chris: I used to be obsessed with drinking beer and my wife said I should find another obsession). He is 13 miles into a 22 mile run and asks : do you have any water ? (We don't) Chris and his wife moved from St Louis to Grand Junction in 2009 to start a new life and lifestyle. Says he, "Pretty obvious move." Indeed.

We are blessed to know this part of the world.

Madeleine: "Can we go to Walmart to get American candy for my friends?"
Me: "Sure."
In Walmart. Me: "You definitely want some 'Now and Laters', which you eat now and are still eating later. And a Charleston Chew. Oh, and Skittles. But skip the Three Muskateers which is, like, a Milky Way without the caramel or a Snickers without the caramel and peanuts. Bunk"
Madeleine: "I love Skittles."
Me: "I'd also get a bunch of those Hot Tamales. Nobody eats Milk Duds or Raisinettes unless you're at the movies so I'd stay away from them. Butterfingers are awesome and a nice balance for your chocolate and caramels. Score Bars def my favourite."
Madeleine: "Yep."
Me: "Any kid hates Almond Joys since its coconut. Seriously. M&Ms and Reeses are sooo dated. Mr Goodbar, Boston Baked Beans or Mike & Ikes and Crunch Bar are old school and set you apart. Bit 'O Honey is great when you are coming down for a sugar high."
Madeleine: "Gee, Dad, I didn't know we had so much to talk about."

The Mesa

Grand Mesa
The Grand Mesa is the largest flat-topped mountain in the world. It has an area of about 500 square miles and stretches ca. 40 miles east of Grand Junction between the Colorado River and the Gunnison River, its tributary to the south. The mesa rises 6,000 feet above the surrounding river valleys, reaching an elevation of 11k feet with a maximum elevation of 11.3 k at Crater Peak.

Me, at a Shell gas station in South Park, Colorado: "I think you charged me twice." [Dad's note: Dad prepays for gas then charged for the final amount].
Cashier: "You have not been charged twice Sir."
Me: "There are two signed slips. Shouldn't we rip one up or I receive a credit?"
Cashier: "I have told you, you have not been charged twice. You can't have the receipt back."
Me: "It is not clear to me."
Cashier: "I don't know how you do things in England, but this is how we do things here, in America."
Me: "What does that have to do with anything? I just want to make sure I'm not charged twice."
Cashier: "Sir please change your tone with me." [Dad's note: three police officers walk over."
Me: "I just want an explanation."
The store manager arrives, outside: "Sir I must apologies profusely. My father bought this gas station in 1974. I assure you I will take care of this problem."
Later, Sonnet: "Well that was interesting."
Madeleine: "Were you going to jail Dad?"
Me: "Know your rights kid."

BBC News: "A man has jumped 25 thousand feet into a safety net in the state of Southern California. It has been televised on live television in America. Of course."


Daughter, father
We drive a familiar route, HW 50, from Monarch Pass to the Western Slope and Stan.  It is beautiful country. We stay in a suite at the Red Arrow, family style. 

Montrose's giant Walmart is a bloated tick on the edge of Montrose that has robbed the town of its old Main Street and killed many of the local shops whose proprietors will vote for Trump alongside Walmart employees being paid minimum wage. A number of state-legal weed shops are spotted on the edge of town with advertisements for "grow" by the highway. Guns are found next to coffee and grocery stores. Sadly we've just missed the Olathe corn festival which begins after we leave.

Stan is healthy and in fine spirits, keeping busy with the house and various related projects. He has a harem of women looking over him including Diane, who shares the house. Diane is a wonderful liberal who wears jeans and cowboy boots - she is off to the Montrose fair hoe-down for some serious country dancing. We also see Katie who is Stan's special friend; she is a classical pianist who started a concert series with her late husband. She invites us into her home for a pool swim and BBQ.

Sonnet and Marcus spend a day sorting through Silver's papers and personal effects, and discover letters dating from camp and as a school girl, photos from her college days, and teaching materials from Silver's favourite courses like 'Women's Autobiography", which I have discussed with former students including, once, a woman met on the Eurostar.

Salida Sunset

View from Moire and Turk's home
We rejoin Sonnet and Madeleine in Denver following a day with the Claydons, who are doing their own journey across America.

SUV loaded up with luggage and stories, we drive the Monarch pass crossing the Continental Divide with a stop in Salida to see Molly and Tim (otherwise in Paraguay teaching but moving to La Veta next year), Robin and Martine, Marcus and Willa, and Turk and Moire who recently bought a house in Salida to be close to the skiing. Smart move. Salida one of those up-and-coming communities with a bit of local history, surrounded by mountains and good clean living : it is also getting the spill-over from Boulder and similar towns where houses sell for a mil or more.

Turk, we may recall, is a paramedic with an unwavering eye that exudes confidence. He has founded an ambulance company in Denver. At the reception of Turk and Moire's wedding, one of the guests went into cardiac arrest. In a flash, Turk and five guys on him, saving his life. A pretty good story to be retold with family. Pretty good place to have a heart attack.

Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak overlook
Eitan and I top Pikes Peak, the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The ultra-prominent 14,115-foot 'fourteener' is located in Pike National Forest, 12 miles west by south of downtown Colorado Springs. The mountain is named after American explorer Zebulon Pike who was unable to reach the summit. The peak is higher than any point in the US east of its longitude.

I love this photo, which is how I see myself in my mind's eye. Were it always so.

Me: "You guys come a long way?" [15 or so bikers on Harley Davidsons, leathers, bald heads and American flag bandannas]
Biker 1: "From Iowa. Outside Des Moines."
Me: "Is it your crew? Do you guys always travel together?"
Biker 2: "Yeah, you could say we've known each other for a while."
Biker 1: "Just need to hit the road every now and again. Get out and see things, y'know ?"
Me: "I heard that."
Biker 1: "They killed another cop. Today, in Baton Rouge."
Me: "What is going on in this country ? Every day there is a shooting somewhere."
Biker 2: "It's no small thing when they're shooting police. Somebody's got to go away for that."
Me: "Why do you think it's happening?"
Biker 3: "Not my business. But if I had my way, no police would get shot."
Biker 2: "You got those problems in England?"
Me: "No. No guns either."
Biker 2: "That's your opinion."
Biker 3: "The guns aren't doing the shoot'n."

Crags Trail Hike

Crags Trail
Eitan and I hike the Crags Trail (#664A) which completes at Pikes Peak (14.1k alt), ascending from the Crags campsite at c. 9k. The dirt path is up and up, shocking us from the git-go. 

Along the first half, granite erodes horizontally into monumental slabs resembling stacks of gigantic red pancakes. The same rock forms vertically into collections of cusps. A few miles south of Divide CO, the formations are called “The Crags.” 

The hike passes a granite dome (another kind of erosive pattern in this neck of the woods), formed by glaciers millions of years ago. We pass through forests of enormous quaking aspen, and trace the track of the beginnings of Four Mile Creek. At the end we surmount a wind swept dome from which we gaze at the Rampart Range, Ute Pass, and the whole of the Catamount Creeks drainage. The friendly mountain flowers dot the trail and large clouds pass overhead.

From here, it is onwards to Devil's Playground (named for lighting jumping between boulders) followed by the final assent along boulders and skree, which is challenging and exhausting, forcing stops and patience. It compares easily to the final push of a marathon.  Eitan and I are relieved to reach the top. More so given the concessionary stand that accommodates the end of the Pikes Peak highway. The boy has a cheeseburger while I am content t gulp Gatorade.  

From the peak, it is downhill but not easy, taxing a different set of muscles entirely; we jog some of the way to speed up the time.

Total time: 7 hours.

Me, Sunday 8AM, gas station Route 25, El Paso County: "Does the girl come with the add?" [a counter advertisement presents an attractive women encouraging us to try Skoal chewing tobacco]
Cashier,: "Would cost a bit more, I imagine."
Me: "You from around here?" 
Cashier: "Yep. Grew up just outside town." 
Me: "Trump or Hillary?"
Cashier: "Neither."
Me: "You not going to vote?"
Cashier: "I served in the military 22 years. I served two tours in Iraq. Can't stand neither of them. All they do is lie. And haven't done noth'n for me."
Cashier: "But I have a plan."
Cashier: "Put a bullet in both their heads."
Me: "Check."


Green Mountain Falls (c. 9.5k altitude)
Eitan and I split from Sonnet and Madeleine, who head for Buffalo to see Marcus and Adrienne. The boy and I fly to Denver to hike the Eastern Rockies (he's plugged into his phone and music; little talking during the trip). Our first two nights spent in Colorado Springs driving to trailheads for medium walks of 3-5 hours at altitudes from 6k to 9,000 feet. We do what dudes do: eat a lot of food, sleep and chillax. I mean 'hang out.' Eitan is a private person, has always been, and it is good to check in with this fine young man. His height may be 6 foot and his body strong, but he still grows inside and out.

The Orensteins

Our reunions once or twice a year joining California, New York and London. And to think, Gracie from Upper Arlington, Ohio (pop. 34k) and Moe from St Louis, Missouri - as Midwest as one gets. Our story written in the stars when my parents met in the Peace Corps and delivered to Malawi, Africa. No way were Katie and I staying at home and missing out on all that.

To New York

Bronxville commute
Katie enjoys success from the organisation she founded from an idea, her determination and an ever expanding community who fight for equal representation in mainstream editorial opinion. Since the Op-ed, women's editorial voice now exceeds 25%. Katie profiled in this month's Forbes magazine as one of the movers and shakers of her generation. Damn Straight.

We catch the train to Grand Central Station which is always a pleasure when doing so as a tourist.  I have a couple work meetings to attend to, as does Sonnet at The Met.

New York may have cleaned up from the 1970s and the peak of the murder market (1992) but it still is a hot mess which, to me, seems like bits and pieces flying about freestyle, fastened to Manhattan by magic. Unlike Tokyo, which is clean, organised and modern, New York feels like it could crumble tomorrow with those old brick buildings standing tall against the skyscrapers. But who cares about the ancient infrastructure ? It is about the food, sex, theatre, arts and film and the work. Always the work. A grind, for sure, but what else is there ?

Me: "How come I never surprise you reading a book? It's always the iPhone."
Eitan: "I read books."
Me: "Do you really think your college application will be stronger from the hundreds of hours you put into your mobile phone?"
Eitan: "What's your point?"
Me: "Why don't you apply yourself to something Big instead of wasting time?"
Eitan: "I do. Like running. And the play." [Dad's note: Eitan is 'Chino' in Hampton's West Side Story]
Gracie to me: "Give him a break. He's a teenager and he is doing a marvellous job. He will find his way."


Moe chillaxes
Moe and Gracie join the family in Bronxville, something my mom would not miss following a recent operation (double mastectomy). It is a wonderful reunion where we see Katie, Marcia and Larry and Carla who joins from Akron, Ohio, with gossips on the upcoming RNC.  She says everyone in Ohio will vote Trump. Larry also supports Trump while Marcia is all for Hillary, are are the rest of us. We do not discuss politics.

I remark on the wrought iron railings which the crew repainted in 2009. It has held up well. 

Eitan and Madeleine go to the high school track to keep their running conditioned. Both are UK top 150 for their age group : Eitan in the 1500 and 800; Madeleine in the 800m. There are still a number of races to go before the season's August-end including the British champs. Plus it gets them out of the house.

Me: "Are you chillaxing?"
Me: "So are you ?"
Madeleine: "Never use that word again."

New England

Tony and Susan

The dust has settled on our trip and time to catch up the blog. 

Whilst Eitan at soccer camp, we visit Tony and Susan in Boston's back-bay and Scott and Cindy in Tiverton, a charming Rhode Island town by the Narragansett Bay which their charming New England home looks over. Scott recently acquired a school house (also on the water) and is renovating 10,000 square feet into a live-work space where he anticipates poetry readings and topical lectures drawing from the Tiverton community of artists, writers and retired and summer businessmen and women. Today it is a work in progress but one can see the end result and it is gonna be great.

We return to Brown, pick up the boy, who informs his camp was a great success, and drive the I-95 South to Bronxville. I am flooded me memories of yesteryear when I frequented this route and the world yet a blank page. 

Wednesday, July 13


We pull into Cambridge to visit Eric and Simona and Tony and Susan.

Eric says, rubbing his morning red blood shot eyes, "Jeff's blog is a literary masterpiece casting a shadow across the centuries." What he really means, is get off my back, you prick. Same as it always was.

Eric's house, since last time here, has been remodelled opening up the kitchen to light and the backyard, which is filled by an apple and cherry tree that border the garden, water fed by 50 gallon drums placed strategically around the property.  There are chairs and a table for drinking coffee or eating dinner outside, under the stars.

Eric's genius kids are driving cross-country contemplating first job and life (Ben); anticipating freshman year and improv theatre at Emerson College (Jonah); and being a teenager (Isabelle).

Sunday, July 10

Brown Soccer Camp

Sonnet, Eitan, Madeleine and I pull into Providence to drop the boy off at Brown soccer camp.

We park near the new aquatics complex and Eitan and I go for a run along Blackstone Boulevard. Haven't done that in 25 years. Along the route, we pass maybe 10 houses I painted in 1987-88, each bringing back some weird memory of a different era. That's where the 40 ft ladder went through a front window; over there is where a gallon of paint spilled on the manicured lawn.

We tour campus which is beautiful and new.  Our guide, a 'rising' Senior, studies computer science and the classics and digitally mapped ancient Rome for a class project; he is also the reigning campus drag queen.  We pass Sayles and Faunce Halls, The Rockefeller Library, Sci Li, Keeney Quad and Wayland Arch. All as familiar as yesterday.

Eitan nervous about the camp but his blank stair gives little away.  His quarter inch haircut makes him look English. And kinda mean.

Wednesday, July 6

Buzz Cut

Summer look
Eitan cuts his hair. It is unclear Why, but I admit it is different. Nothing is uncool if you are a 15 year old. I did it for swimming around the same age.

We prepare for our evening departure to the USA. Sonnet in full execution mode. I and the kids have our marching orders and we will be out the door at 15h40.00 sharp.


Court 1
Sonnet and I attend Wimbledon, one of the great true pleasures of living in London. The All England Club's 19 tournament grass courts are enclosed on private grounds surrounded by trees, council blocks and mansion houses. Enthusiasts sleep over-night in tents then queue for hours for a chance at tickets. A banked hill, sometimes called Henmen Hill, offers a gathering place to watch the Centre Court action on an enormous jumbotron. It is a festive celebration of tennis and wealth; everybody happy and healthy. The world's problems a million miles away.

The Chilcot Report on the Iraq invasion and war released after long delay. 

Sunday, July 3

Dog's Breakfast

Rusty don't care
As the political farce escalates from "House Of Cards" to "Game Of Thrones", I and Britain are left to ponder: Who is running this show ? We have entered George W territory : action without plan. And the UK has none : the Brexiteers are already back-peddling on the promises and mis-representations they sold the country. NHS windfall of £350m a month ? No. Reduced immigration ? Nope. Better or at leaset equal trade with the EU ? Dream on. 

70 years of post-War integration to be renegotiated piecemeal - consider the wasted time that could be spent on something else. Anything else.

David Cameron will be remembered for his fantastic own goal, possibly ending the UK, certainly negating all the positives he has delivered covering gay marriage to the country's return to economic prosperity and even the Scottish referendum.

And Labour ? How on earth did the shadow government who supported the EU get Jeremy Corbyn, a disgrace to the working classes Labour meant to represent ? This jackass did Zero to promote his party line and his constituents, who instead voted Brexit, will likely suffer the most.  Certainly more than the hedge fund capitalists and Mayfair jet set. Corbyn has to go, but he doesn't so it will happen for him. Good riddance.

If anything, these Brits are pragmatic but these are testing times.

Every nation gets the government it deserves.
--Alexis de Tocqueville

Madeleine Is DDG

The kid is fabulous, what more can I say ? Teachers love her enthusiasm in class and her dedication to her work (top marks on year-end exams); scholar athlete ranked in the UK top 130 in the 800 meters. Excellent friends who are the eccentrics and unusuals, kids I rate.  14 years old.  I could not be more proud of this young woman.

Michael Gove

You dick!
--Jeff Spicoli

Saturday, July 2

Yo G

Wimbledon has started and that can only mean one thing: Rain. In fact this has been one of the worst summers I can remember, wet dreary weather day in, day out. As I tell my friends: "We choose to live here."

Sonnet and I find ourselves without kids. Madeleine with boyfriend Ben (nice kid, firm handshake) and Eitan to a party. We go to yoga, followed by dinner in front of the TV, dog at our feet. Red wine rolls me into bed. Pretty much perfect Friday evening.

Eitan is now 6 foot even and Madeleine 5-6.  The boy never really stops eating, or relaxing, when he is in the house. Growing is hard work.

Madeleine returns from a track meet running a 2:25 for the 800, same time last three outings at this distance. She craves improvement.

We text:
Madeleine: Yo g can you send me the 24 you owe me from the weekend g?
Me: Done g
Madeleine: Thanks g
Me: You bet g

Anchorage Reunion

Laura and Heather doing a tour of Europe as Curtis (Heather's husband) concludes a sanskrit conference in Oslo. Curtis, who received a free-ride Harvard PhD on the subject, is a professor at Univ of Virginia and at the very top of his niche field of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism study. He tells me the conference was a real geek fest. I bet. Curtis made his name discovering a 12h Century Hindu poet who had been lost across the ages and languages.

Curtis and I discuss the Buddhist caves of Beziklik, which Sonnet and I visited in '97, in Central Asia on the northern edge of the Taklakan Desert.

Laura and Heather, meanwhile, grew up with Sonnet in Alaska as teenagers. Their father an IBM salesmen who was stationed in Anchorage for six years before returning to the Lower 48. They attended the alternative secondary school, Steller High, which attracted the eccentrically smart or oddly misplaced (school tagline: "based on the philosophy of responsible freedom, personal initiative, and individualized education").

Today Laura is a primary grade teacher at Manhattan County School on 85th and Columbus, across the street from my 2nd NYC apartment. The school founded in 1966 during the Civil Rights era as an independent progressive school with equality, social justice, and diverse community and from the inspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr. It all fits together.