Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Happy Birthday, Kate

Lucy, Ernie and I just got back from a birthday celebration with Kate: thirty nine years old today! Kate and Ron had celebrated by going out to dinner last Friday, and since Ron was working tonight, we took over strawberry shortcake. The kids had had a busy day and were soon ready for bed. The rest of us played Scrabble and drank a little champagne. Apparently Kate shares her birthday with J.K. Rowling. I hope she had as much fun on her birthday as we did on Kate's.

Monday, July 30, 2007

My Letter from the Queen

Sort of.

In 1966 I was living in Los Angeles at the northern end of the campus of the University of Southern California. Ernie was living in an apartment at the south end of the campus, right by the Los Angeles Coliseum, where I was indoctrinated into American football. I took this photo of the apartment building in 1965. One of Ernie’s neighbors was Robert Bale, a delightful Englishman in his late 90’ s, who lived with his daughter, the formidable, but very generous, Genevieve.

Mr. Bale told us colorful stories of his time in the States (I seem to remember he was at one point a cowboy.) He had never become an American citizen, so as his 100th birthday approached, I set about securing for him one of the telegrams the Queen habitually sends to her subjects when they reach 100. In 1966 you couldn’t go to the Internet and download an application form, so I must have written a letter rather haphazardly to Buckingham Palace. I received a reply. The envelope was hand-addressed, the stationery cream and thick, printed with the Royal insignia. In these days of mail merges and high-speed laser printers, the type looks a little blurred. The grammar is a tad circuitous.

But it did the trick. Mr. Bale got his telegram and was delighted. Thus ended my correspondence with Elizabeth R.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Two years ago today I wrote my first entry in this blog. It was one of those “Here I am, now what do I do entries?” In the subsequent weeks I tried to figure out what to do with this untried form of communication. I knew what I wanted to do: I wanted a substitute for all the letters I was writing to friends and family. I thought a kind of daily account of our activities and our experiences, along with photographs and the occasional observation, would take the place of letters and e-mail photographs and I hoped other family members would give me material to share. Alas, it didn’t quite work out that way. There can be no such thing as a “one size fits all” letter and it was hard to pass along information from other people without stringent editing which took the fun out of it. My second aim was to find a way to preserve some family history and memories and this format seems to work well: the pages are much neater than anything I could come up with, photos can be incorporated with text and I intend to print up some of the entries for the family.

So, after two years, how do I feel?

I am sorry that I didn’t explore more format options. I admire some blogs out there on Wordpress and wish I had tried it, because I don’t have as much control over the Blogger format as I’d like. What I see, in Preview, is not what I get, in published form. And there always was, at the back of my mind, the desire to learn how to code my own journal. I suppose it is not too late . . .

I am proud that I figured out a little html and soldiered on through all those instructions that initially left me glassy eyed. I still get annoyed with “help” pages that get me going and then pull me up short with something like:

Unpack the tar archive and place the resulting g-client directory on your emacs load-path.
Type make to compile the code.
In your .emacs, add (load-library "g") to set it up.
And of course, once I mastered simple html, along came widgets, which made life harder, not easier.

I am ashamed that I do not have a better grasp of punctuation. I am constantly aware that my semi-colons are wrong and I am not sure about capitals after colons. Yes, I could learn, but . . .

I am concerned that I haven’t kept my links up to date. I have discovered a number of Blogs I would like to promote. I’ll get to that soon and share some new discoveries with you.

I am surprised that I am such a sloppy writer. I am an ├╝ber-critical reader and I will always pounce on errors of fact or on unclear or clumsily constructed sentences in other people’s writing. But I do not polish many of my entries. I tend to check facts, but there are many occasions when I go back and read a published post and realize I could have constructed it better, used a better turn of phrase or simply used a more appropriate word. Why does this not upset me? Probably because if I didn’t forge ahead, I would never write anything. I would like to sit here leisurely crafting my essays, but Virginia Woolf had it right and a “Room of one’s Own” isn’t always a physical construct. I grab what time I can and make the most of it.

And, finally, I am (just a tad) peeved that I haven’t had more comments from you, dear reader. Friends tell me that it is hard to leave a comment without a Blogger, or is it Google?, account. But the valiant persevere, so if there is anyone lurking out there who hasn’t left me a comment, please do so. Just once.

Consider it my anniversary present.

And in case you are wondering, I am going for another year. Or two.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I 'm Not Sure of the Facts Here . . .

. . . but it is good for a giggle.

I just read a book with a background of military psychological warfare (or PsyOps as those in the know would say.) I am quoting it, but not attributing the quote, because then I would have to say I don’t think it is a very good book. Is that legal? Ethical?

One of the protagonists is reminiscing about his training and noting that the first thing they taught you in basic PsyOps training was to know the mind of your enemy.

The Iraqis were famous for their ignorance of the American culture: during Desert Storm they once put a woman on the radio we called Baghdad Betty—the Arab equivalent of Tokyo Rose. One day she announced to our troops, “While you men are fighting overseas, your wives and girlfriends back home are being seduced by Tom Cruise, Tom Selleck and Bart Simpson.”
Apparently there WAS a Baghdad Betty but she was unsuccessful and only allowed to broadcast for three months!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Where Were You . . .

. . . when the riots broke out in Detroit?

I know where I wasn’t. I wasn’t anywhere near a television set, or a newspaper or anything or anyone that alerted me to the grim events which were taking place in the city in which we had been living for nearly a year.

We were living in an upper duplex on Detroit’s east side, trying to figure out exactly what was involved with being the parents of a three-week old baby. When he slept, I slept, which explains why we hadn’t been paying attention to our usual news sources. When I got up in the morning and slipped round to the grocery store, I was surprised to find the doors locked. As I turned to leave the store and go home, I had the surreal experience of seeing tanks coming along the street toward me, together with a company of the National Guard. I asked a bystander for information and the answer sent me scurrying back home.

I don’t remember what we did for the rest of the day—I’m sure we had the television on—but I do remember that in the evening I was sitting on the little back porch of the duplex. It wasn’t the smartest place to be: we lived about five houses off Kercheval, one of the main spokes from downtown Detroit. The looting and burning were reaching out towards the suburbs via these main thoroughfares. I don’t remember being afraid. I must have been, because we could hear the gunshots and see the flames from burning buildings. I am pretty sure we didn’t even consider trying to retreat to a safer place. For Ernie it was a repeat performance: he had lived in Los Angeles during the Watts riots the year before.

By the next day things had calmed down a little and the city and its inhabitants began to count the dead and clean up the mess. I leave it to the historians and the politicians and the sociologists to analyze the causes of the riot and the repercussions. This is the fortieth anniversary of the riot. That tank rolling down our neighborhood street is a sight I will never forget.

Friday, July 20, 2007

There Are Places I Remember . . .

Or rather, there are some places I will never forget. It was the end of a blazing hot afternoon. Ernie and I had taken a siesta behind the heavy shutters of the villa in Asciano, and now it was time for sightseeing. Patrizia entrusted us to the care of her father and we went off to Lucca, together with Gody and Emmanuel. Piero drove effortlessly (and dare we say a little recklessly?) through the Tuscan countryside until we arrived at the historic town. The heat shimmered off the red bricks and we tried hard to follow the explanations of Gody (French) and Piero (Italian.) Soon there was a word we all understood. “Birra”, said Piero. “Beer”, we echoed.

I will never forget our delightful afternoon with that colorful man and whenever we get together with Patrizia, we rehash the events of that day. We were saddened to hear of his illness and happy that Gody got to spend some time with him in the last few weeks along with Emmanuel and his baby brother who looks just like Manny does in this photo. Just hours after Gody left, Piero Paoletti died at the age of ninety.

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain (Paul McCartney)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jenny Tiger

Elizabeth was about seven or eight when she came home one day from school to tell us there was a new girl in her class—Jenny Tiger. I was pretty sure that wasn’t her name, but it was close enough. Jenny and Elizabeth became best friends. Jenny’s dad was a lawyer and her mother was in Law School, so a nanny presided over the welfare of Jenny and her sister Anne. Liz accompanied Jenny home every day after school and over the years I discovered why. After-school snacks in our house consisted of sticks of carrots and celery and lovingly cut-up fruit. Maybe juice. The Tiger household was a veritable stash of cookies and Hostess delicacies and chips and coke.

There was a second reason Liz loved her visits to the Tiger home. The house was stunning: a stone building that looked like an English country parsonage. There was an extra lot for the kids to run in and the house was up-dated and comfortable.

Anne and Jenny went off to college, the lawyers Tiger sold their home and moved to smaller digs. I would look affectionately at the house as I passed. The adjoining lot was spruced up by one set of owners and I think the house changed hands a couple of times. Several months ago a “For Sale” sign appeared on the lawn. I checked the real-estate section of the paper. The asking price was $1,000,000. Later I noticed that the price had dropped below a million, but didn’t pay much attention. Houses, once such a precious commodity in Grosse Pointe, are not selling thanks to the terrible economic situation in Michigan and the competition from other, more vibrant, suburbs. The Tiger house, scene of so many happy memories, must have gone into foreclosure. It will be auctioned off this weekend with a starting bid of $100,000. I told Liz about it, but I hope Jenny Tiger doesn’t find out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


True to yesterday’s resolution, I was up early, ready to take on the world. First a cup of coffee. Strong coffee. There are lots of family arguments about the strength and quality of coffee, but no-one so far has demanded kopi luwak. (Link courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily.)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Only in Detroit

The new Detroit Public Schools superintendent gave her first on-the-job interview with the city’s major newspapers last week. Did she talk about her educational philosophy? Did she outline strategies to improve the decaying infrastructure of the school buildings and raise the level of student achievement?

No. Her proclamation? “I will not lie, cheat or steal. Education is my priority.” Duh.

Another brilliant quotation appeared last week when the temperatures were in the mid-90’s. It was hot, humid and totally unpleasant. But not to worry. An article in the Detroit Free Press was the source of great advice:

If you can’t flee north, doctors suggest staying out of the sun and using air-conditioning and fans until a forecast cooling trend at midweek.
Boy, you learn a lot in Med School.

Here We Go Again

Two weeks since I last posted. What a lot of visitors we had, and how great it was to see everyone. I will get photos organized soon.

In a three-week period we had two incidents which can be likened to a French farce—we were literally pulling sheets off the bed and stuffing them into the washing machine while we went to the airport to pick up the next guest.

I miss everyone, especially Alex and Frederick. We’ll have more “yummy water” when you come back, guys.

In spite of all the things we DID do, there were a lot of things I forgot. Gody, we phoned you in Italy on July 6, your birthday, but I didn’t make mention of you here. I forgot to water the indoor plants and several didn’t make it. (Thank you, Lucy, for keeping the outside pots watered.) The laundry crept up to the first floor chute. Most of that is taken care of. Bills were not paid, letters were not written and I didn’t keep up with the few blogs I like to read regularly. And I didn’t see one, single, solitary point of Wimbledon.

I am going to sweep the omissions under the rug and start afresh. Watch this space.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Fourth of July, Then and Now

July 4, 2007 started out with rain and a layer of fish flies on the screen of the front door. When everyone was up (finally) we gathered for the traditional flag raising on the front porch. Pledge of Allegiance included.

How sad to think that the “youthful syncopation charmer” who delighted the crowds back in Iowa on the 4th of July, 1929 is no longer celebrating the holiday.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sunrise, Sunset, Part II

I already told the story of Al’s birth. Now forty years have passed and we celebrated today and will celebrate again tomorrow. Gody, Manny and Nathaniel are in Pisa, and as you can see from my “Photo of the week”, the two middle boys are spending time in Michigan with their dad and their grandparents.

Al is teaching French in Fairfax County, VA, and is active in the lives of his four sons.

“When did he get to be so tall?”

Monday, July 02, 2007

Smoke Won't Get in Your Eyes

John Bailey can always be counted on for common sense and lucid prose. Today he linked to a wonderful film commentary by Alan Sillitoe, the author of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning , that (dare I say it?) seminal film of life in England in the late 50’s.

The subject of Sillitoe’s musings is the nationwide smoking ban which has gone into effect in Britain. There will be people debating both sides of his issue forever, but everyone can agree that the photos which accompany this piece are marvelous and so evocative for my generation.

And the photo of the young Albert Finney in the middle of the photo-stream doesn’t hurt either.