Sunday, November 30, 2008

Our last day in Paris

I just can't stop taking pictures of European shops. The food is beautifully displayed and so raw and unsanitized compared to
American supermarkets in particular. I'm not sure I could actually eat the sausages pulled out of this window, but I now confidently grab my eggs from the room temperature shelves in England. It's all cultural.

Our last night in Paris, I am convinced that traveling with vampires is actually a more rewarding visual experience in the winter. It's so cold and gray during the day, but at night, the city lights up and it's almost possible to forget the cold fingertips especially as the Christmas shoppers pack the Champs Elysees. The crowd is festive and our family is instantly put in a fabulous mood. We take pictures of the Arch and are whistled at by the gendarme for blocking traffic. Not the first tourists with that story to tell.

As the tourists want to avoid future troubles with the law, they cross to the middle neutral ground of the Champs Elysees and stand there and take photos. These adorable Vespites were enjoying interjecting themselves into the tourists' photos.

It may be a chain restaurant but if you want a big pot of mussels and a beer, then the place to go is Leon's. We enjoyed the waiter, a gliding, trilling French young man with the flat English accent of a New Zealander, where he learned his English. Our favorite quotes, after being ignored for the first fifteen minutes and fearing the worst:
"I am late, but I am heeeeere nowwwww...."
"You must be hungry. All of these people eating... and you are not."
He turned out to be a funny and fine waiter, who made a big deal of pouring the chocolate sauce on everyone's desserts to make sure every square of the Belgian waffle was full of chocolate. Nothing like finishing up your meal of mussels with a big waffle. Since everything he did was with such flare and drama, there was much laughing during this meal.

A great trip, and an early start back to Oxford today. Allison briefly awoke to transfer from bed in hotel to seat on Eurostar.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Louvre and Montmartre

We approached the entrance to the Louvre from the back door, I think. We did the quick and dirty tour seeing the three famous women of the museum, the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory and Miss Mona. Enigmatic smile? We think not. Family opinion says too much analysis and she's just smiling.

Montmartre is a bit of a trek north but still fun even in the gray and the cold. Mandate issued by the mother was crepes for lunch, followed by shopping and walking all afternoon, including staged can-canning at the Moulin Rouge. Too tired to face a restaurant, we dined in the room. Not enough can be said about the french baguette and its magical properties.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Paris by night

A wonderful dinner at Le Procope last night, recommended by our friend. Thanks, Nina.

Traveling with teens is like traveling with vampires. They utterly refuse to get out of their coffins before 11am. Tomorrow, Chip and I might go see the city by daylight while they sleep....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sweet Sixteen

Sixteen years ago today on Thanksgiving Day, we had a baby girl. She had rosebud lips (still does), smelled of butter vanilla (still does), slept peacefully through the night almost immediately (still does) and against Dr. Spock’s recommendation, (I showed her the book and she spit up on it) dove face first into table food as soon as she could hold her head steady. She’s still an enthusiastic eater, despite her petite stature.

I think Louisa May Alcott may have needed to create four girls to fully embody the complexity of one. Olivia can be any March sister on any given day… worldly, homey, dreamy, curious, rigid, daring, afraid, happy, melancholic. But she’s Beth right now. She longs for the good old days when life was not so full of choices and responsibility and Mom and Dad could make magic with something as small as an unexpected toy from the supermarket. This is not to say that she doesn’t take care of business, just that she mostly does it with jaw set, heels dragging and eyes round and misty. It doesn’t help that I’m no Marmy—I’m lazy and complainy, I overfunction for everyone and then scream at them for not helping, I yell a lot and drink lots of wine outside of my husband’s return from the war or a nip at Christmas to help myself cope. Maybe Marmy had a flask hidden in her darning basket…I like to think so.

I always hear about the frustration of parenting the Jos and Amys—limit pushing, righteous impulsivity, raging against the constraints of family life. Sixteen year olds are supposed to be hatin’ on every aspect of family life, aren’t they? They’re supposed to be breaking curfew and sneaking around with boys and cigarettes. Yikes. Maybe Beth March is not so bad…

Olivia’s clever and capable and without a rheumatic heart, so as with everything else, (potty training and using her student planner as more than a coaster) she’ll grow up just fine, in her own time and at her own pace. I fiercely love this girl although the ferocity may be the only thing she feels these days. Mama Bear needs to “chill”, she would say.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Old friends on a rainy day

Another day with old friends. Our kids are all teens in stairstep, with Olivia being the oldest. They're all the same delightful, smart, happy, fun, gregarious kids from alarmingly long ago when they dressed in Disneywear, sang, danced and created a mosh pit in our living room. No mosh pit today, but a walk through Christ Church, a pub lunch at the Kings Arms and a slide show of South Africa with panettone for dessert. And the old folks getting younger every day.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

An Early Thanksgiving

Pumpkin pie making the night before....

Then today, an early Thanksgiving

Quiet moment in the kitchen between cooks

A long day, maybe dreaming of pie

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shaggy Dog Post

This is how I start most daily conversations with Chip.
“Ok, so you know how I am, right?”
He wearily draws out a long, “yeaaahhh” because he knows.
I break the news this time. I have a new collectable.

I collect things that strike a fancy. When I troll for collectables, I never share with shop owners what I’m looking for. “Just looking….” I trill brightly like a bored housewife shoplifter. But for me, I’m on safari and I don’t want to be led directly to the game to shoot it. I’m not Dick Cheney. It’s the hunt I enjoy. I wish they had catch and release antiquing. Stand next to it and take a picture, then go home and brag about it.

On safari last week, my eye was caught by a collection of celluloid brooches. I’ve never collected jewelry. And surely there can be no collecting on sabbatical. There’s the tiny house, the suitcase restrictions, the budgetary concerns, the vacant looks from immediate family when I share details of poking around antique shops---no, no, not practical at this time. Best to forget this brief doomed love affair, leave it to die alone “English Patient” style, legs broken in a cave in the desert. Yes, still talking about antiquing. It can be that tragic.

No harm just having a look on the Internet. The jewelry designer, Lea Stein… born in Paris in the 30s…art deco styling…vintage 1960s to the present…. affordable, portable, plentiful…hmm…maybe I could ask for one for Christmas….no no no, it's silly, let it go.

Then yesterday, as I walked into town, a well-dressed older woman in a tweed suit walked toward me. As she passed, I noticed a brooch on her lapel…a little celluloid cat….and not just any cat…a rare-ish Lea Stein Art Deco/Egyptian cat that not half an hour earlier I had seen on the Internet. I felt like one of those people who see the Virgin Mary in the eggy swirls on their french toast. I saw angels…I heard trumpets…I tackled her from behind.

“Excuse me, maam, maam…can I ask you is that a Lea Stein pin?”
“Uh, I don’t think so, it’s just a pin I bought at a store in London a few years ago, but you know, everywhere I go people always comment on this pin.”

I shook my head impatiently. Nothing worse than rookies walking around wearing collectables and not knowing it.

“No, no it’s a Lea Stein pin, I’m sure.” I explained I had just been looking at her pin on the Internet. I leaned in and pawed at it like Vincent D’Onofrio on Law and Order:CI. “Turn it over and let’s look for the marking.”

She took a moment to scan me for the “craz-uh” (it was questionable at that point) then put down her bags and turned the brooch over to check. Sure enough, the Lea Stein insignia was there. I told her the pin was worth about 90 pounds, which shocked her. “I didn’t pay nearly that! But you know, my six year old grandson asked me a few years ago if he could have it and I told him no. Then he asked if he could have it when he died”. With that, she burst out laughing but all I could think of now was her grandson in his casket wearing her brooch. Ok, two dotty women meet on a bridge…the start of a very bad joke. Time to go.

I made a beeline for the antique shop and plunked down 42 pounds for the little fox above. Never mind that it looks like a giant cicada on my sweater. It’s mine. I love it. I want more.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Drivers Education circa 1980

Coach Reginelli, Isidore Newman School, New Orleans

Learning to drive, one of the last childhood milestones. It's looming for my own family even now as Olivia turns 16 next week. I learned to drive later than most American kids because my dad, the only family driver, took a new job in New Orleans just as I turned 16. He left me high and dry as he drove south that summer with both the car and my only chance of learning. My mom had never learned to drive and we lived in a town and an era where that was actually not weird. I can't imagine a suburban mom not knowing how to drive today.

As planned, we followed my dad to New Orleans a year later and I enrolled in the drivers ed program offered at my school, an ancient seventeen year old senior in a class full of spastic sophomores who could barely reach their accelerator pedals and ran around the class pulling each other's hair and flicking pencils at one another. Even I appreciated at the time how NOT ready they were to operate heavy machinery. I felt a bit of a loser because I was a full two years older than these ridiculous characters. But as fate would have it, there was one other loser that year. We are friends to this day, bonded forever by the rules of the road as taught by Coach Reginelli

Coach Reginelli, the school football coach and PE teacher, was a unique orator and had the difficult job of conveying the importance of safety to reckless 15 year olds. I quickly lured Susan, a.k.a. the other loser, into my negative world of wisecrackin' spiral notebook margin notes. She and I forged a quick alliance, partially to keep the sophomore idiots from approaching our air space but also because Coach Reginelli's malaprops and sports metaphors were legend. Memory of specifics has unfortunately faded for me, but his teachings kept us engaged and interested throughout. I believe that because of all the little pictures we drew in our notebook margins, we probably retained more information from that course than most high school classes. Coach Reg was perfectly suited temperamentally to the job of driving instructor. A coach's personality...strategic, unflappable, serious and most importantly, born of quick reflexes. For example, I never had been clear on the whole "merge vs. yield thing" (is there really a difference to some drivers?) until driving the twin span between the West Bank and downtown New Orleans. Luckily, Coach Reg slammed on the brake just in time as I swung onto the bridge on two wheels, truly vague to the fact that I was out of road. I appreciate that an athlete's reaction time is essential in driving instruction.

Susan had her own moments at the wheel and, at the minimum, did some paint damage to the drivers ed car in a brush with a metal trash can along the Mississippi River during her practice hours (pretty sure that was her and not me). We both passed our driving tests first time around and she and I can both throw down with a manual transmission. As Coach Reginelli was the high school football coach for young Eli and Peyton Manning, what I'm really trying to say is that, yes, Susan and I drive like Super Bowl champions. It's her birthday today and 28 years later, she is still a Super Bowl champ of a friend.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Carpe Diem

Could it be? Is it? Yes, blue sky!

As I was riding my bike this morning, the phrase "Carpe Diem" crossed my mind as a mantra for living in English weather. If the sun is out, you would do well to pull your finger out and get outside. Because in the wink of an eye, a huge fluffy bank of grayish cloud can stealthily drift out of nowhere and steal the sunshine for the rest of the day. I am a little weather fixated because of a more overarching, bordering-on-obsessive theme--laundry. So today, the forecast was sunny spots early and increasing clouds and that is a recipe for getting up and out early. A market set up for the day billed itself as a Continental market. It looked more like a Disney version of French food. Lots of baked goods, giant artichokes, crazy sausages and candy--surface pretty, but overall, uninspiring.

I hopped back on my bike for a ride out the Cowley Road. Now this is the real deal. A truly diverse road lined with businesses that represent many people and cultures. It's home to ethnic restaurants ranging from Jamaican to Asian to Polish, halal butchers, church and charity shops, brasseries, fair trade shops, artist galleries, local grocers, bookies, Western Union, newsies, churches, bike shops, theaters and the list goes on and on. The sun, as predicted, was gobbled by the daily swirling gray cloud, so into the shops I went, in search of inexpensive Christmas gifts and decorations. It will be a recycled Christmas for us in Oxford, with cobbled together secondhand items that are either flat, small or easy to pack gifts as well as consumables. There's plenty to choose from in the multitude of charity shops, so one of these days it will be time to find a little aluminum Christmas tree that fits in my bike basket.

Pudsey and friends

Speaking of charity shops, today is a national fundraising day for the Children in Need charity here in England. Troops of volunteers, including all students, are out on the streets or in their schools soliciting funds for this charity--big day on the BBC as well. It hearkens a little of an out of fashion approach to children with special needs and medical fragility... like the Jerry Lewis Telethon in its hey-ist of days, which strikes the cynical me as old fashioned and insulting to the children and families in the name of fundraising. But it's been a tough week for children in England, with several deeply disturbing deaths of children who died at the hands of their parents. The sentimental me can appreciate the simple desire to make children's lives better however old fashioned it may manifest in its effort. Tonight, a seven hour variety show on BBC 1 replete with soap stars, sports figures, popstars and newsreaders singing and dancing. I keep telling myself I must limit myself to one hour and no more. We'll see...I am always a sucker for a good telethon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fun with the Internet

The Eighties

The Sixties


Olivia and I having fun on the computer tonight. I quite fancy my looks. Sometimes teenagers are especially clever on the computer. Facebook does have its merits. Thanks to L. S. for the link.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rain Rain Rain

The weather has turned decidedly English. Gusty winds and rain most of today. Cycled to the grocery store for dinner stuff at 8am before the big rains came. Then as I ate my lunch, right there on ITV's This Morning was my first ever Zac Efron! Do you recognize him? He'll be on TV again in America very soon, he says. He and his brothers are developing a show. That's the hint. He's still dreamy.