Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

October, 2011

October, 2011
Chess in Lausanne, Switzerland

Friday, October 22, 2010


September 18…this marked Claire and my lottery day. That is, we’d been given admittance to see the pope at the Papal Vigil in Hyde Park.

Thus she and I packed up a picnic and our folding chairs and joined our group at St. Thomas More for a pilgrimage to Hyde Park.

It was a slow process – any large group activity is, I guess. Plus it was a pilgrimage, so a cheerful, long drawn out journey there. We broke into smaller groups for purposes of bus travel and made our way gradually down to the park area. Had our group all been capable of walking the few miles to the park, it would have been a truer pilgrimage, I think. Plus it would have been just as fast or faster, given the waits for buses and for our groups to re-group.

We had a lovely day for it, though, and got to Hyde Park just before 2:00. The place was already crowded with hundreds more pressing in. The ambience was
fabulous, very light-hearted and energetic. Even the security guards were cheery, asking people if they’d traveled far.

We had a fabulous afternoon waiting for the Pope, who was to wheel in on the Pope mobile around 6:30.

Our group marched up to where we could find a good viewing spot and spread out a bit, sporting our huge banner, which, as Father stated, was the best one there. It was the biggest and ended up on the front page of the Telegraph. Can’t beat that.
Around us groups gathered eating, chatting , sleeping, reading, praying, saying the Rosary. Confessions took place here and there, people stood in line for ice cream and just enjoyed being out enjoying the community of fellow Catholics on a warm, sunny autumn day. (Or I’m projecting how I felt about the event. What’s life without a little emotional projection.)

It really was fun just to look around and absorb the happy anticipation in the crowd and to watch everyone mingling. Lots of laughter and happy faces, even in the long lines for the porta-potties. I also saw more mingling among strangers, generally less common in the big city.

Claire and I read a lot, she did some puzzles and games in between being entertained by dancers and musicians from Poland, Wales, Spain, Aftrica and many other parts of the world. The program, broadcast on huge screens throughout the park, included speakers who shared stories about their Catholic faith and/or how Catholic charities or Catholicism had affected them or their loved ones.

The most poignant story was told by a couple, parents with a large family who lost their 16-year-old to a violent act by a drugged out stranger at a convenience store. They talked about how faith had helped them not turn their grief into bitterness and anger but instead to work against drug-realted problems by sharing their story and through community volunteerism.

The mom called to young people in particular in the crowd to be proud of their faith, as her Jimmy had been.

It was wonderful to see Catholicism celebrated or brought to life in so many ways as we waited – through dance, song, prayer, even a bit of “fire and brimstone” preaching. Eventually, as the sun dipped for a great sunset, the screens gave us views from above of the Pope mobile making its way to Hyde Park. With cheers and energy building, we were all on our feet to welcome the pope!

He graciously waved and smiled a gentle, happy smile. He looked tired but pleased with the welcome he received.

The service was lovely in the dusk, the stage beautifully lit. The pope gave a well-spoken, succinct homily that addressed his sadness with the problems in the church’s past and hope for the church’s future.

In particular he reached out to the youth in the crowd, many of them gathered up front. A group from Spain, where the next World Youth Day will be held, were particularly enthusiastic in cheering for the pope when he referenced the event. Their cheers brought a huge smile to his face.

I left a bit in awe; it was the largest group of Catholics I’ve ever gathered with in prayer. It was a very powerful, peaceful experience, and I’m very glad we went.
I think Claire enjoyed it, too; it was particularly well timed given her recent First Holy Communion.

The week following the Papal experience was a busy one, Joe left for business in Charlotte and my friend Beth and I traipsed off for complimentary training sessions with some personal trainers who are new to St. Johns Wood. This of course was followed by coffee because one can’t exercise without coffee. Before and after!

While each of us felt like we got something out of our freebie sessions (for me, focus on flexibility and subtleties to improve my running), we won’t be signing up for the 60 pound/hour sessions.

Ava sharted her drama club, a one-hour afterschool program, this week, after telling me for a year she had no interest in any of the after school clubs. Now she’s all over drama and is dying to take cooking too (they made cupcakes the first week, which I must say looked awfully appealing).

The awards for best dramatic acting each session are balloons; Ava so far has made off with two, one for best flamingo, the other for simply being the best in class, she tells me.

My art outing for the week was to see the Raphael tapestries at the V&A (museum). As part of the Papal visit, these tapestries were on loan from the Vatican, appearing for the first time next to their matching cartoons (which reside at the V&A). A lovely exhibit and an easy one to fit in given it’s succinct.

About it…

This is a display of four of the ten tapestries designed by Raphael for the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. These are the original tapestries from the only series designed by Raphael of which examples survive, and are comparable with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel Ceiling as masterpieces of High Renaissance art.

The tapestries are displayed alongside the full-size designs for them – the famous Raphael Cartoons. This is the first time that the designs and tapestries have been displayed together – something Raphael himself never witnessed. The tapestries have not been shown before in the UK.

That’s it for today. I must get ready for Thai food at the Blue Elephant!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

3rd Grade Kicks into Gear

Claire’s first week of school was good, and short. Love it when you can ease into the schedule w/ a weekend close at hand.

We started with third grade oerintation – really just a brief stop at the school for a rundown on logistics, tours of the 3rd grade pod for the kids and a download on expectations for parents.

From there we met friends in the park for a couple hours of fun on a nice, sunny September day.

Claire likes her teacher, who she gets to call Suzanne; her classmates seem like a nice mix. And the third grade agenda includes a couple of rapidly advancing field trips, one to Buckingham Palace. Not bad for the 8 year old crowd. Spanish has been swapped for Italian, which is a bummer as Claire was really enjoying it.

While she jumped into things at ASL, Ava and I had a few days together to catch up with friends at parks. We also met up with friends for a picnic in Kensington, and of course we retraced our steps to the Duck tour bus stop.

We scored on the weather for our amphibious vehicle adventure, and our guide was good – witty and fun, great with kids. She had lots of smart little insights to share.

The part on land, I think, is actually better as it’s longer than the water portion, hits the highlights well but without being laborious and then the pop into the water is a fun end with great, if shortlived, views.

That same week I went on a walk with a group to Islington, walking along the canal from Regent’s park until we reached the town. It’s a great way to enjoy the changing neighborhoods, plus helps me sort out my (lacking) skills as a navigator. We had another great, sunny day for our Islington adventure (so far September has been much nicer than August!).

That evening Joe and I had a final good-bye dinner with our friend Price, the last in his family to head home for work in New York City. We met for drinks at a local pub, then had a great meal at l’Aventura in St. Johns Wood – it’s a lovely little French restaurant just around the corner from us. Our food at l’Aventura was fabulous, from the olives to dessert. I had the lamb, which was beautifully done. Lovely atmosphere, too – quiet, warm and quaint, very nice service.

On Sept. 6 our first St. Johns Wood Women’s Club board meeting kicked off – great group of ladies with lots of fun plans for the year.

With a poorly timed tube strike (is there ever a good time) Ava and I spent half the day on Sept. 7 navigating to get to Toy Story III. Let’s just say we were determined. With our travel plans awry, we switched gears to the bus and many moons later wheeled into the mall, where we met another Ava and her mom for our movie.
It was a good one, I must say. Worth the time it took to weave our way there!

That evening I took a VERY long cab ride to join a friend and a few other ladies for an evening of burlesque at Volupte. We all dressed up and had some lovely cocktails in the bar before being shepherded downstairs for dinner and the show.

Here’s a descriptor of the venue:

This tantalising burlesque supper club will entertain you with its mesmerising dance, circus and cabaret acts.

Discreetly tucked away and yet within easy rich, Volupte is a wonderful treasure box of retro extravagance. To titillate your mouth and mind, there is a bar on the ground floor.

Past a velvet curtain, you will find yourself in a surprisingly small space: the kitchen and stage area are at the very back, while the rest of the room is occupied by small tables. The decor is slightly rough around the edges, a detail which adds to the atmosphere rather than detracting from it, and it includes contemporary elements like the elaborate wall murals and vintage tributes like images of Bettie Page and other starlets, grandma lampshades or a display of old bottles, shoes and other pre-1950s paraphernalia. Additionally, a kitsch semi-private booth is like something out of the Little Mermaid and this adds to what is a vivid vision.

The Atmosphere
Effervescent as champagne and yet smooth as velvet, Volupte has the smoky atmosphere of a decadent Moulin Rouge-esque venue but none of the seediness. Here you should definitely expect the unexpected: it is a burlesque supper club (try to actually eat before the show starts or you may end up dropping food everywhere) but burlesque is definitely not the only act on the bill. Vaudeville comedy, fire eaters, snake enchanters, circus performers, hula hoopers and even aerialists are all at home here.

The atmosphere is remarkably similar to the Au Lapin Agile, a small, ancient cabaret venue in Parisian Montmartre, which can be considered the forefather of venues like Volupte.

Dinner was good, particularly as it was accompanied by good champagne. And the show was bawdy, fun, suggestive without being lewd, if that makes sense. Plenty of skin, bare boobs with nipples decorated with sparkly things or things dangling from them and propelled in circles.

A few numbers were done solo, most in groups of 3 or 5. One woman did a fan dance, which was probably my favorite – dramatic and lovely (the fan). The women were young, a mix of shapes. One wonders if they aspire to different types of dance or theatre work? The emcee, also a woman, played the crowd well, particularly the rowdy reunion group, a mix of men and women near our table. There was one couple that looked to be on an awkward date; if that was the case, I’m thinking it was an odd venue for a first date…

September 9 marked Ava’s first day of year 1, the equivalent of Kindergarten. Drop off was happy this time as several of her friends were gathered, all smiles, in the John O’Connor room. She was beaming at pick up, so I gather it was a good first day with Miss Cox and Miss Laffy.

Meanwhile I too went to class – the first session of Thomas Hardy with Alice Leader. Frankly I was less than excited to get into his books, having been preoccupied with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. But Alice's classes are always good; she’s great fun and draws a good group of interesting, intellectually stimulating women. And her field trips are spectacular.

Hardy, I’ve found, is really an enjoyable author. My favorite so far has been Tess of the D’Ubervilles.

On Sept. 10 I went to Knole w/ the St. Johns Wood Women’s Club for a tour. It was a great day out.

About the place…

Set at the heart of a timeless deer park, Knole has fascinating links with kings, queens and nobility, as well as literary connections with the novelists Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Knole was the birthplace and childhood home of Vita Sackville-West, who went on to create the gardens at Sissinghurst. Thirteen magnificent state rooms are laid out much as they were in the 18th century to impress visitors with the wealth of the Sackville family, who still live at Knole today. The house includes world-renowned rare furniture, important paintings and the prototype of the famous Knole settee.

Knole has always excited a range of different reactions. Henry VIII liked it so much that he forced Thomas Cranmer, his Archbishop of Canterbury, to hand it to him in 1538. Yet, the following century, the diarist John Evelyn was so depressed by the greyness of this 'greate old fashion'd house' that he hurried out into the sunshine. In the 18th century, Horace Walpole was impressed by Knole's 'beautiful decent simplicity which charms one' but on a later visit decided that it 'has neither beauty nor prospects'.

These mixed emotions can partly be explained by the many faces Knole presents on different days and at different times of the year. On a dull winter's day, as you ride the crest of the knoll in front of the house and the north front looms in sight, Knole's sprawling mass of sodden Kentish ragstone strikes a sombre note. But on a sunny summer's day, the south front, with its colonnade of seven lightly coloured marble arches, dances to a very different tune.

The Sackvilles and Knole
Knole was rebuilt and then furnished in three main bursts of activity, each separated by around a hundred years. In the early 17th century, Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, transformed the late medieval archbishop's palace into a Renaissance mansion. Towards the end of the 17th century, his great-great-grandson, the 6th Earl, acquired Knole's unique collection of Stuart furniture and textiles through his office as Lord Chamberlain. And then, towards the end of the 18th century the 6th Earl's great-grandson, the 3rd Duke, added Old Masters bought on the Grand Tour to Italy and portraits commissioned from contemporary English artists such as Reynolds and Gainsborough.

Visitors today see a house and collection little changed since the 3rd Duke's day. By the end of the 17th century, the Sackvilles had withdrawn to private apartments on the ground floor and tended to live there rather than in the more formal, public rooms on the first floor - today's showrooms. The very fact that large areas of Knole were inhabited only intermittently from the end of the 17th century and that the furniture therefore remained under dust sheets for long periods, accounts for its miraculous survival.

On display in the Great Hall is a facsimile of the bound manuscript of Virginia Woolf's novel 'Orlando'. The novel is dedicated to Vita Sackville-West and, in the words of Vita's son, Nigel Nicolson, it is 'the longest and most charming love letter in literature'. Vita is the eponymous hero/heroine (Orlando changes gender over the four centuries in which the novel is set) and Orlando's ancestral home is a house, like Knole, with a legendary 365 rooms. The pages are threaded through with similarly specific references to Knole and to its past and present incumbents. It ends with Orlando taking possession of the house whereas, in fact, Vita had been denied ownership of her beloved Knole because the house was passed through the male line.

In 1930 Vita fell in love with Sissinghurst Castle and bought it, along with 4,000 acres of farmland. Together Vita and her husband, Harold Nicolson, made a garden which reflected their different personalities - Harold being a classicist and Vita a romantic. Today, Sissinghurst Castle Garden is also owned by the National Trust.

After coffee we had a guided tour with a very sharp little old man leading the way. Lunch was crusty bread and tomato soup, then back to London. It was a great, relaxing day out; I did manage to get Ava’s ballet slippers ready for class (why they don’t come with elastics attached is beyond me). Alas, that evening I learned I’d done them incorrectly. So much for efficiency.

The next day Joe and I headed off to the Proms, a big, very British summer event.
The Proms, more formally known as The BBC Proms, is an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts and other events held annually, predominantly in the Royal Albert Hall in London. Founded in 1895, each season currently consists of over 70 concerts in the Albert Hall, a series of chamber concerts at Cadogan Hall, additional Proms in the Park events (like ours) across the United Kingdom on the last night, and associated educational and children's events. In the context of classical music festivals, Jiří Bělohlávek has described The Proms as "the world's largest and most democratic musical festival".[1]

Prom is short for promenade concert, a term which arose from the original practice of audience members promenading, or strolling, in some areas of the concert hall during the concert. Promming now refers to the use of the standing areas inside the hall (the arena and gallery) for which ticket prices are much lower than for the reserved seating.

The gates opened at 5 for our Prom experience, and our group made its was into Hyde Park with the masses, landed a good picnic spot and spread out our feasts. A very civilized event and a lovely day for it, we danced, chatted and listened to a wide range of music, watching the acts on big screens around the field. Great lawn party!

Mid Sept found activites kicking in, Claire resuming Monday afternoon ballet, which is now 1 ¼ hours. Good thing it’s close to Pizza Express; Ava loves their doughballs and the occasional Monday glass of wine isn’t a bad thing.

About ballet…Miss Susan was a ballerina, now runs several ballet/dance programs around London. She oversees things and frankly isn’t the most organized person I’ve dealt with. She doesn’t do anything electronically, doesn’t write things down (i.e. shoe sizes – I’m not sure how many times we discussed Claire’s size, which is critical as she needs four different pairs for the class). It’s a mix of ballet, jazz and tap, and now that Susan’s decided the girls will stand for their exam, character dancing has been added in. Therein in addition to the 4th pair of shoes, a long black skirt with ribbons is required.

Naturally all of these costs just keep mounting up so no, the ballerina won’t be giving up dance class anytime soon.

Ava’s continuing with ballet too, a different class, different approach, not so many shoes.

On the 15th of Sept. I went to the Sargent and the Sea exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts.

American expatriate artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) is best known for his glamorous society portraits. Now, for the first time in Britain, 'Sargent and the Sea' presents more than 80 paintings, drawings and watercolours that reveal a less familiar side of the artist: the seascapes and coastal scenes subjects produced in his early career during summer journeys from Paris to Brittany, Normandy and Capri, as well as two transatlantic voyages.

Great, concise exhibit with some lovely seascapes. I then wandered through Mayfair/Piccadilly on my way home as it was a great day to be out.

In the evening I gathered with my reading group at the Clifton Pub to select our upcoming reads over pub grub and wine. First up: Paulo Cuelho’s Witches of Portabello.

That same week I found my way out to the Olympia Centre, one of those big special events venues, for a Boden warehouse sale. It was a cheerful, bustling madhouse of clearance and great fun – especially as I’d arrived early in the day. No doubt not much later it became a jumble sale. I got a few great bargains after pulling all kinds of potential pieces into a big free for all “changing room,” wherein 25+ other women were donning bits and pieces and crowding around the few and far between mirrors.

Phew! I'm now mid way through September...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Summer Ends

More on Weber summer adventures

As we wrapped up August back in London, we managed to keep ourselves memorable outing: the production “Railway Children.”

With three other families, we first lunched at Giraffe (family restaurant that is well liked by Claire and Ava, particularly for their free plastic giraffes and balloons).

The play was set at Waterloo Station on the former Eurostar platform.
Having read the book earlier in summer, we were ready! The staging was obviously unique, with flat cars moving back and forth as backdrop for various scenes. We audience members perched on folding chairs along the track.

The actors moved themselves around the platform as the stage moved, and the train rolled in dramatically a few times – majestic, loud, shiny and billowing steam.
The cast members were adults who began by remembering being The Railway Children, then slipping into their roles as kids. Very well done, poignant ending.

Since there was a “kids go free to theatre” week in August, we hit two other productions before school started. One was “Burn the Floor,” a West End dance production featuring dancers from around the world. We had superb seats to take in fabulous moves, costume and synergy. The lead-in was lovely: a talented dancer who played the crowd selected a couple different men from the audience for a comedic start.

Throughout the show various dance styles were represented: flapper, 50’s, flamenco, sad songs, love songs, patriotic songs, etc. The program flew by, with Gabbi, kids and I mesmerized by all the talent we saw.

Later that week Joe and I ate at Yauatcha, a wonderful Chinese restaurant in Soho. Martin spent 20 minutes reading the wine mineu start to finish. He just handed his menu over to us as apparently he couldn’t be bothered with the food. Eventually he set his turquoise cheaters aside and ordered sherries for the table to start. Naturally we got two different types of sherries so we could pass glasses around.
Then he moved onto wine; we had an English vintage, which was quite good, and a bottle of red from France.

The food was fabulous…we sampled a little of so many flavors and differently done shrimp, pork, chicken, beef. The duck was amazing. Martin made friends with the waiter, who brought us saki to try with our food, which really does taste better with the food. I would still go with the French, the Italian, the Californian, the Chilean, the Australian, the New Zealand, the South American…wine.

And the waiter has Martin’s business card so the next time she goes to Germany she can imbide at Weingut Schweikart.

Yautcha is a bustling, cheery place that does a great business; we were, in fact, told our time was nearly up! Full of Chinese food, we made our way back to St. Johns Wood and Carluccio’s for dessert and after dinner drinks.

The next day I somehow managed to run for 1 ¾ hours…who knew.(This upcoming half-marathon does require a bit of prep.)

On the weekend the kids, Joe and I went to “Stomp,” our 2nd kids free theatre adventure. I liked my first stomp experience better, still enjoyed it but found this one really loud. May that have had anything to do with the sherry, wine, saki…
I think the kids and Joe enjoyed “Stomp” but once was enough for them.

That evening Martin and Gabbi made dinner (after also shopping for the ingredients). They (I should say Gabbi) created some wonderful crepes, which were served with a fabulous tomato/corn filling. And of course we had crepes with nutella for dessert.

On Monday the kids and I tripped out to Richmond via the tube/overground. Richmond is a lovely little town on the Thames. There the puppet barge (which I associate with its docking spot in Little Venice, a 10 minute walk away). So when I called for tickets I’m not sure why but I did ask about their location near Maida Vale when low and behold the lady told me the boat had relocated. I nearly cancelled. But she convinced me that Richmond is an easy trip so voila! We found ourselves wandering along the water, a lovely walk, on a gray, windy day to enjoy “The Hare and the Tortoise and other tales.”

Set on the barge, the theatre is small and quaint, and the stage is fabulous. Our production featured some of the most intricate marionette activity we’ve ever seen!
The kids very much enjoyed it, despite a loud, obnoxious kid in row two with some kids in row one telling her to be quiet. I’m not sure who was louder, the offender or the offended.

On our return trip we stopped at McDonald’s, much to the joy of my children. Somehow we’d missed McD’s when we were in the U.S., though I was told I promised we’d go. Clearly not my highest priority, I guess.

The next day marked the first piano lessons with Kym, who turned out to be delightful; the kids are signed up for in-home lessons! I'm not sure what I'm more excited about -- budding pianists or not having to take the kids to a piano studio in the dark, cold November and December evenings...

Wednesday we headed back to the Waterloo station area for the infamous Duck tour, which was high on Martin’s list of to-do’s. London Ducks is a squad of bright yellow, duck shaped and duck-decorated amphibious vehicles first used during WWII on the Normandy beaches.

Our duck was Mistress Quickly, who unfortunately was overloaded. Apparently there was a snafu with the number of people on the tour – one too many, even though we’d booked in. With Ava in tears and me beyond annoyed, we saw Claire, Martin and Gabbi off on their duck while we tromped off to the duck office.

I got a refund and complimentary tickets for a tour the following week, while Claire was in school and Ava still footloose and fancy-free. We assuaged our irritation with hot chocolate while we waited for our party of ducks.

From there we headed off, in the rain, to Notting Hill for pizza at a great little Italian restaurant. There we relaxed in a covered veranda and ate copious amounts of food – sardines (not the little ones in the can that Jeff Hale used to subject us to on the Reichle School bus), pizzas, pasta, bread…

We left Martin and Gabbi to look for traces of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts while we relaxed at home.

Our last weekend of August was busy; Joe and I went to “The Merry Wives of Windsor” at the Globe Theatre on Friday night. We had a bite at the The Swan (the Globe Theatre's restaurant). The pub area has great big wooden tables that you share, and its windows overlook the Thames. A wonderful pre-Shakespeare food spot, I had a warm cheesy dish that was quite tasty.

Then we wandered over to our seats in the theatre, wood in the round as in Shakespeare’s time.

We'd opted for seats (traditionally most stood, but three hours standing, potentially in rain, didn’t appeal). Our 2nd tier seats were covered and, recommended by colleagues of Joe, who are Globe members, offered a great view. The performance was very entertaining, humorous, fun to watch. The perfect Shakespeare play for the likes of me (light!).

About “Merry Wives:”

Imagining that Mistress Ford and Mistress Page have each fallen for him, the fat knight Sir John Falstaff decides to seduce them both, as much for their husbands’ money as for their personal charms. Wise to the old rogue’s tricks, the women turn the tables on him with a series of humiliating assignations and a very damp, extremely smelly laundry basket.

On Saturday we headed to Cambridge for the weekend. There we ditched our things at the Crowne Plaza (gotta love a Crowne) and headed downtown. What a lovely little city, easily walkable. First: lunch at a little deli for good sandwiches and a local feel. Then off to King’s College Chapel, one of the most iconic buildings in the world and a splendid example of late Gothic (Perpendicular) architecture. It was started in 1446 by Henry VI (1421-71) and took over a century to build. It has the largest fan vault ceiling in the world and some of the finest medieval stained glass.

It’s spectacular. We also got to enjoy lovely views of the grounds and other parts of the King’s College campus as we made our way in and out of the Chapel.
Since the weather was sunny, we headed off to punt the river.

About punting in Cambridge:

A punt is a flat-bottomed boat which does not have a keel, and is propelled by means of a long pole. Punts were introduced as pleasure craft in Edwardian times, since then punting has become one of the most popular ways to see the famous bridges and colleges along the River Cam.

The Cam rises in Ashwell in Hertfordshire, progressing northwards to Cambridge. It then flows into the flat area of the Fens and onwards to Ely and King's Lynn. There it joins the sea at the Wash in Norfolk. Cambridge's humble beginnings relied strongly on this river connection when King's Lynn used to be one of busiest sea ports in England. Goods would travel inland to Cambridge which slowly grew as an inland port.

Some of the first colleges to be founded were built right on the banks of the river. On the riverside the colleges would benefit from this major trade route into the town of Cambridge. The result today is the "Backs", a one mile stretch of river that supports some of finest examples of architecture in England. Altogether there are 8 colleges and 9 bridges. These include Queens' College with the Mathematical Bridge, King's College with its famous chapel, and the Bridge Of Sighs at St. John's college.

Our punter was a male college student (most punters we saw were young men and women). He perched on back of the boat in bare feet, steering and pushing with a long pole. We learned some Cambridge trivia (which I’ve since forgotten) and relaxed as we watched the experience punters navigate their way through the congested waterway, with numerous less experienced boaters nearly losing their seats or hitting their heads on the bridges above.

After punting we hit the Fitzwilliam Museum and were steered toward the Egyptian exhibit. We were also provided with some activity sheets, so the kids had fun looking for various jewels, markings, etc. in the cases. Then Claire and I headed up to the art section (the place has a great collection) and Joe and Ava visited the military displays.

Afterward we window shopped a bit before heading back to the hotel to relax before dinner. En route we passed Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, which wasn’t terribly busy but smelled fabulous, and the menu looked good. We asked about reservations, were told to come early and wait. So we dissed our other res to hit Jamie’s at 6:30. But by then there was a line out the door. We were encouraged, however, when we were soon sent to the bar.

After a long wait, just as Ava was at the end of her no-food rope, they shepherded us to our table. Good food, not out of this world memorable, but very good. Great bustling ambience with a good view of the kitchen at work. I had a very tasty pasta seafood dish, the kids naturally gravitated toward pasta, and I can’t remember Joe’s meal of choice.

I recall a unique, orange-flavored tiramisu. It was tasty, though not my favorite style of tiramisu.

I’d give Jamie a B, the service was a little flat and machinated, the food good but quite doable at home.

Sunday Joe and I took turns walking to the highest spot in Cambridge (it’s a great biking city since it’s pancake flat). Castle Hill is a small, grassy hill a few minutes from downtown. Apparently in Anglo-Saxon times there was a settlement on the hill, and in 1068 the Normans built a castle on it.

After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we enjoyed some more of the city sites, sat out the deluge of rain that hit mid-day, had some appetizers and beers before making our way to the train station and back to London. Lovely weekend out.

And then…school days!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blog not dead, hanging by a thread...

Ken, this belated update is for you.

I must confess I'm over-scheduled (I know, aren't we all). Thus blogging has been on my mind, just not on my agenda, I guess.

So over the next few days I'll make an attempt at catching up, starting w/ this summer entry. Cheers and enjoy autumn; we are!

Summer with Webers...

Wee!!! It’s been a fast paced summer! After returning from Berlin we did some laundry and packed…with a little Henry Moore, Shakespeare and dentistry inbetween.

The Henry Moore exhibit, which was at the Tate Britain, was a must-see after Ava studied old Henry at Abercorn. Her class made statues in his style (woman lying down was what she came home with, a couple parts having fallen off in the two-block walk from school home. One wonders if Henry had the same trouble keeping his art together.).

To get a better sense not only of the artist’s mastery of sculpture, in particular, but also the greatness in size of his works, we three schlepped off to the Tate on a Friday afternoon. Great time to go, too – while everyone else is having cocktails or getting ready for dinner.

Claire’s decided we’ll go again and catch pizza at the Pizza Express next door. Not sure what she’s more motivated about: the art or PE’s dough balls and pasta.

But I digress.

Henry Moore’s exhibit was fabulous:

Radical, experimental and avant-garde, Henry Moore (1898–1986) was one of Britain's greatest artists. This exhibition took a fresh look at his work and legacy, presenting over 150 stone sculptures, wood carvings, bronzes and drawings.

Moore rebelled against his teachers' traditional views of sculpture, instead taking inspiration from non-Western works he saw in museums. He pioneered carving directly from materials, evolving his signature abstract forms derived from the human body. This exhibition presents examples of the defining subjects of his work, such as the reclining figure, mother and child, abstract compositions and drawings of wartime London.

The works are situated in the turbulent ebb and flow of twentieth-century history, sometimes uncovering a dark and erotically charged dimension that makes us look at them in a new light. The trauma of war, the advent of psychoanalysis, new ideas of sexuality, primitive art and surrealism all had an influence on Moore's work.

Highlights of the show included a group of key reclining figures carved in Elm, which illustrated the development of this key image over his career. Moore was an Official War Artist and his drawings of huddled Londoners sheltering from the onslaught of the Blitz captured the popular imagination, winning him a place in the hearts of the public.

We followed Henry with another arty event over the weekend: MacBeth (for families) at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. It was a lovely summer day – we scored! Actually late spring/summer through July were most excellent here in London. Mostly sunshiny, warm days wherein I actually contemplated wearing shorts…

MacBeth was delightfully fun and in a great venue – the theatre is in the middle of Regent’s park, with trees and greenery around fitting into the staging. Here’s a description of the production:

A spellbinding concoction of witches, battles, ghosts and murder, Macbeth continues our programme of Shakespeare plays re-imagined for family audiences.

Three witches foretell that Macbeth will be crowned King. Driven by ambition and encouraged by his ruthless wife, he secretly assassinates the current monarch to realise the prophecy. However, as Macbeth claims the throne, he is haunted by the demons of his past and his fate is set.

Condensed, yet still using original language and text, Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays with young people.

And it did indeed keep the interest of the four of us. Again and again I am astounded at the level of talent in this city. I also love observing how productions are staged; in this case with a big board with balcony in the back ground, steps leading up/down. Pictures were construed by actors on the board throughout the production to help audience members follow the story. Great music and effects.
From there we wandered back to Baker Street and had lunch at Nando’s, which specializes in chicken. Fast food meets service restaurant. Not bad, not a must hit. BUT good w/ the young crowd.

Before leaving for our annual MT/WI adventure we did manage to make it to the dentist to get the routine list of tooth-related must do’s. (Who I am kidding, most of them are “should nots,” as in should not use Listerine, should not drink juice but if one must, use a straw; should not drink too much sparkling water, should not have chocolate milk…Frankly we break all the rules. May as well add chewing tobacco to the routine.)

It seems we’ve found, in the country where teeth aren’t looked upon as a priority, a VERY particular dentist. Who I actually very much like and respect and seems to be on the same page as our NC dentist. Yes, one can find incredible talent in all professions in all parts of the world, just some more in abundance than others...

Then we were off to the US! This time the kids and I made off to Salt Lake City via Denver, one long flight, one short one. We walked onto the 2nd one as boarding was wrapping up after passing through immigration and retrieving and re-checking our baggage. Oh the processes.

Denver was a friendly and I’d say folksy welcome. Maybe because we were greeted at passport control by a smiley volunteer in a 10-gallon hat.

Salt Lake’s airport, as always, clean and bright with more families (but is that because I just expect there to be more kids in Utah…). And of course it always feels like the air is healthy when you hit the west.

Soon we were at Jim and Donna’s, where we helped wrapped up a small birthday celebration with their close friends. After a snack we tunneled into Donna’s down comforters and slept some.

I got up early (no point to trying to convince myself to sleep) and hit the hills (translation: mountain) behind Jim and Donna’s house. Great way to start the day and take my breath away. Quite literally. The altitude is WAY up there. (4,327 feet in the valley; at least 1,000 more where the trails are…).

After hiking amidst other hikers, runners (uber runners), bikers and dog walkers, I found the kids up and eating oatmeal with Donna. An aside: Donna’s kitchen is full of the healthiest food imaginable. No wonder she and Jim look they’re 40.

Question: if I continue with the coffee, red wine/white wine, copious amounts of cheese and chocolate, the sour cream and chive dip I've discovered at tesco and the French food at our two favorite restaurants, might I look ageless?

As for edibility of Donna's cupboard, Claire’s decided she doesn’t do soya milk. We did find, amid the vitamins, some peanut butter (organic, all natural probably made from babied peanuts, of course...which I must say is also my preference). And some coffee.

From Donna’s we headed off in our fine rental car to SLC’s Discovery Museum. (oh to be behind the wheel on a wide road with everyone driving on the right side...and in a city laid out on a grid with Mormon Church in center. Makes sense, doesn’t it)

Great stuff, the museum: 3 floors of interactive kid displays. Perfect for the jet-lagged adult and children. At lunchtime we wandered over to a food court, then through the pedestrian shopping area, found Ben & Jerry’s and a perch over a very popular fountain.

Back to Discovery for a bit, then to find the car. Which we lost. Amazing how many silver cars there are in a carpark when you’ve lost yours, isn’t it. Eventually it did re-surface. Not to worry, I wasn’t panicked. Too tired to really care, I suppose.
Back at Donna’s, we collapsed on the patio, revived for Tex Mex at a fun local spot with Jim, Donna and Aunt Claire (who of course looks fabulous. Un-ageable and hip in her 70’s).

The next day I again hiked high in the hills; Salt Lake is set in such a great spot (weather wise and scenically). After breakfast we re-grouped a bit, then headed off to Donna’s museum – The Utah Museum of Art, where she is a curator for the American exhibits. It’s a great space at the university. She gave us a short tour, showed us where she works, we met some of her colleagues, did some art kid activities, then met up w/ George, my dear friend from college.

We had a long lunch catching up at the museum café, then ran some errands and crashed at Donna’s before a wonderful dinner, again with Jim, Donna and Aunt Claire.
It was the perfect night to be out and the kids convinced Jim to turn on the sprinklers. I don’t think it took too much convincing. They seemed to connect beautifully with him.

And on our final morning in SLC I once again hit the hills – would love to be able to hike like this regularly. I guess Primrose Hill in London, while offering great views and a good pop to the step, just isn’t the same.

We had a leisurely morning, the kids hiked around the neighborhood with Jim as he went into work late, and then we set off for Idaho and our next visit: Jeanette’s.

I must say it’s fabulous to drive those interstates out west when the summer sun is glorious, the clouds high and lofty and the dominant feature is blue, blue sky. It also helps that the roads aren’t crowded, so one can fairly sail through the valleys and enjoy the mountain scenes as they gain in majesty and alternatively recess into the background.

Eventually we stopped for fast food someplace, much to the kids’ joy. And we sailed into Jeanette’s driveway sometime in the afternoon for some serious playtime with her boys. She and her family have a lovely little spot in Idaho, sharing a great view and the lovely peace of a flowing creek out back with few and far between neighbors.

The trampoline was the toy of choice for all, and the little Eva dog got plenty of attention throughout our visit. We stayed overnight, so I got to run up the road behind Jeanette’s house, which quickly turns to a dirt, little used route. So it was a fabulously quiet run, with only a duck crashing out of the willows as I turned the bend. Upon return a storm was lighting up the sky. Later we enjoyed great views of rainbows from Jeanette’s second floor kitchen.

After homemade pancakes, sausage and eggs, we lazed a bit, then headed off to Montana. And that drive is delightful: valleys, more imposing mountains, Clark Canyon dam. And probably one of the greenest Julies I’ve ever seen. A cool, damp spring lent itself beautifully to the lush greenery in fields and meadows surrounding Dillon.

Our Subway lunch found us running into my sister and niece (small town). And our next stop, Safeway, found us running into Romeo and a friend. Really small town. Or we just have Marchesseault radar.

After slamming some groceries into the car (nice just to pull into a parking lot and load up once in a while…my mind is now programmed to think: how am I going to get this home and “ooh – better put that back, I can’t carry it all…”

Off to the ranch we went to catch up with my family. We had a busy, enjoyable week…


- visit with Aunt Estelle, who unfortunately was a bit housebound while we were there. So I swept up some of Mom’s leftovers, a few steaks and no-salt steak seasoning (she’s also temporarily – I hope – on a no salt diet. Though I must say the Mrs. Dash grilling seasoning isn’t bad!). I took over her kitchen, made us a steak lunch and we had a nice chat. She was thrilled to savor the pie for later. Never mind what salt/fat etc. it contains.

- A hospital visit with Ron Benson, who unfortunately has some rare disease that requires periodic IV treatments. We were able to help pass the time for him and Marilyn; hopefully he’ll have a swift recovery or at least get some relief from the symptoms.

- A great chat with long-time family friend Marilyn Begin, who seems to be doing well. It’s already been nearly two years since her husband, Howard, passed away. Definitely a void without his humor and friendship.

- A superb picnic at Aspen Creek Campground, one of my favorite spots. We were joined by Uncle Tex, cousin Sharon and her husband Jay, Romeo, David, Jenifer and Grace, Mom and Dad. We had a lovely day for it and an amazing spread, as always. There is no better cook than my mother. Really. Have her potato salad and you’ll be won over. Or the pie. There is no better pie.

- The Meine cabin, where we’ve stayed the last couple of visits. It’s a great little 2-roomer, built in the 40’s or 50’s, I suppose. So quiet at night you can hear a pin drop, other than coyotes our first night. The cabin is set in a draw with sagebrush around, no doubt a rattle snake or two not far away. Great place to relax and read in the rocker on the front porch, have pancakes for breakfast (which of course we did) and hike the hills and trails around.

- A stop at the infamous book store. Dillon has a great independent little book shop, right next to the Pategonia outlet, which can be a good stop, too.

- Dinner at the Wagon Wheel Café in Twin Bridges. Great tomato soup, the wagon wheels with Xmas tree lights do let you know you are in Twin Bridges.

- GREAT weather. Not too hot but no need for a jacket. Sun sun and more sun. Love Montana in the summer.

Our week in Wisconsin was very nice, too. This time we had two families in our cabin, a recent addition to the rental fold. So we had a bit more space, and of course spent most of our time outside, catching up with family members (nearly 40 of us this time around!) and enjoying Wisconsin activities:

- Kayaking (I do love the kayaks on the lake)

- Sitting by the lake (I’m not convinced I need to get in, unless someone is in peril). It’s critical that I take up my position in deck chair and have my yearly chat with Dave.

- Biking. Though the resort’s mountain bikes are in less than great condition (at the same time, one doesn’t have to shift gears – the bikes have minds of their own), they do have wheels and it’s great fun to check out trails and roads that all seem to intersect at numerous points here there and everywhere.

- The bonfire. There’s something special about fire next to water and s’mores.

- The welcome dinner, where the beer flows from a keg and brats and we can all sink into a week of R&R.

- A morning date with my husband. This time we walked into town for pancakes at the Wolfpack Café (they’re fabulous). We did get drenched on the return – the only rainy day in WI during our week-long vacation.

- Ice cream at Cathy’s. By car or by boat, it’s a favorite destination.
As for the kids, they love catching up with their cousins, playing in the lake and sand pit, fishing and water skiing successes and attempts.

Another great week of memories made, and plans in place to enjoy in 2011!

Our departure from Wisconsin was uneventful until we got through security, when our flight was cancelled. So back to the check-in desk we went and were handed new tickets for later flights out.

Thus we commandeered a cab and headed for downtown Wassau to peruse a bit. After some ice cream and shopping we made our way back to the humble Wisconsin airport for a second attempt at departure. This time, success. And frankly the arrival back into London – later in the day – worked out better for all of us.

On a side note, we had plenty of ice cream in Wisconsin. Appropriate to the dairy state, I suppose – boy when you ask for a small, even a kiddie scoop, you get more than you bargained for. They must dole out the carton when you ask for a 2 scooper.

I must say I was rather devastated with the weather upon return. I was still in white Capris/tank top mode, given even at its coldest Wisconsin was a balmy 75+.

London had tanked to the 50’s/60’s, gray, not rainy really but breezy and not warm. Still, I defied all forecasts and donned my flip flops and sun dresses for gadding about town. Clearly I was in the minority as I looked at boots, jeans and (gulp) scarves. Could it be? Already? Thankfully God must have heard me; September was a lot nicer – some warm, sunny days that at least seemed to prolong that summer feeling.

But I digress on weather on this non-tropical island.

Our 2nd half of August was really fun. We took the time adjustment business slowly, slept in (kids rose at noon once, and only after prodding from me), stayed up late, had some mornings of pancakes and nighties. Our dear friends Martin and Gabbi flew in from Germany and stayed 10 days. While that sounds like a long time for guests, they’re lovely people to have around…they come bearing gifts (including wine), they play with the kids, they made dinner one night, they took us out for a tremendous dinner (more on that later), they brought me flowers…frankly they can come as often as they like!

In the early part of their visit we showed them around St. Johns Wood and Maida Vale, our local stomping grounds, stopping off for an afternoon beer at the Warrington, one of those very London-esque pubs. The weather smiled upon us, so we enjoyed the outdoors while sipping and catching up.

One evening we headed out to the Dickens Inn, a huge complex housing I think three different restaurants to accommodate a wide array of tastes/budgets, I guess. We went for the grill, since it was supposed to have the best view of the Tower of London/Thames area.

And I must say, it definitely had lovely character, a stone building along the water, gorgeous lighting and balconies, big wooden floor and tables inside. The food was good, too; the kids shared a steak that they absolutely devoured. Could it be because they are steak-deprived in London or hooked on steak from their recent Montana experience???

From Dickens we headed off to the Tower for the Ceremony of the Keys…

The Ceremony of the Keys is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London and has taken place on each and every night, without fail, for at least 700 years. The importance of securing this fortress for the night is still very relevant because, although the Monarch no longer resides at this royal palace, the Crown Jewels and many other valuables still do!

We had a great night for it – warm and clear, and the ambience of the Tower at night is spectacular. The light reflecting off the water, the Thames in the moonlight, the silhouettes of the buildings against the river, all of it was beautiful, and it was so quiet, in contrast to its typically tourist-filled bustle.

We hovered with a number of others waiting for the Beefeater guard to let us in. Eventually we were shepherded in, led into the tower and given a bit of history on the buildings and ceremony.

Several minutes later a very regimented ritual took place, with guards barking orders loudly, soldiers in their tall black bearskin hats marching loudly to and fro, snapping their rifles in and out of various positions. A big set of keys was escorted in, more loud barking, marching, snapping taking place.

And not long after we were escorted back out. A very good little London outing.

Also that week the kids and I headed off with friends to Great Missenden and the Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre. He (Dahl) wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and so many more great books, several of which we’d recently read, we had arranged to spend the better part of the day, training it from Marylebone station.

Our first priority was of course lunch, which we had at the centre, then made our way through the interactive exhibits. (Kids could create various types of artwork, record their voices telling stories, sit in Roald Dahl’s writing hut, put words together with magnets to create different stories, etc.

In the afternoon we trooped up to one of the special activity rooms for a workshop with illustrator Chris Tichborne, who worked on Fantastic Mr. Fox, Cora and all kinds of other well known animated films.

Unfortunately, the fire alarm went off as soon as Chris started talking so we all (ALL people in the place, and there were many) trooped out, down through main street Great Missenden, past all kinds of little shops and cafes, to end up near the fire station. No action there, though. Apparently fire calls are answered by a different station a few miles away. Eventually we heard sirens. But then of course the firemen had to walk through the premises to ensure no sparks.

So we were hastily arranged into a walking group to go back through town and up to Dahl’s gravesite. Lovely walk and his grave has giant’s footsteps (BFG) leading down to it. Visitors to his gravesite had left coins and small tokens on the stone slab, so we added a few and then were shepherded back to the museum for the continuation of our workshop.

Which was very good, I might add. Who knew there was so much laborious detail involved in moving puppets – which are specially made and very valuable (i.e. one puppet worth 9,000 pounds…) – ever so slightly and so frequently as to create a realm of action and emotion.

Chris does what is called stop-motion animation (essentially moving a puppet ever so slightly, then having the shot done, then moving it again ever so slightly, having the shot done, etc. for countless frames, which then create a short piece of animation – he said several animators work together to create films, and because each of them have different styles/personalities, sometimes they can identify one another’s work through the motions of the puppets).

He demonstrated how stop-animation works with a couple different puppets, and kids got to come up and help him – Claire moved an arm slightly, for example, as he made a short “film” of one of the puppets doing a wave.

Great demonstration, then we went back and perused the museum some more, stopped in the gift shop on the way out and wound our way back to the train station and back to London.

Phew! Must update this more frequently.

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
Largest mosque in India