Monthly Archives: June 2008

And I’m back…

Back in Old Blighty, that is, although I leave for a week in Germany on Sunday and will be back in the US in less than a month.  I had a really great trip to the US, although as usual, it was mostly work and only a tiny bit of play.  But there were several particularly fun things that I did do while “home” and I think on balance it’s these that made me feel so happy, and so reluctant to get back on the plane across the pond again.

1. Drive.  I had a rental car for a full week of my trip and I drove a lot.  The car was a Toyota Camry, which has grown amazingly large since I last remember seeing them.  It had cruise control, which made my highway excursions all the more fun.  My first car had cruise control and I have been a devotee ever since.  At the end of the day, I am forced to admit that no matter how politically incorrect, no matter how bad for the environment not to mention foreign policy, tooling along by myself in that little gas guzzler (not actually, I found I was getting 40+ miles per gallon) just made me flat out happy.

2. Exercise.  I actually got some exercise on this trip, something which has been totally missing from my life lately, aside from my 10-15 minute walk to work.  Let me note now that that walk has been insufficient at providing adequate exercise.  So on this trip, not only did I haul my butt up onto a treadmill about 4 or 5 times, but I also managed to borrow a bicycle and do a few 10 mile loops.  Now the trick is going to be figuring out how not to lose that progress and momentum, now that I am back in the UK.

3. Work.  I know, this is not supposed to be the “fun” part, but I do actually like what I do, and having quiet days not in my office to actually get some stuff done–it was really great.  Now that I’m back in England I have meetings each and every day for much of the time, so I will have to figure out ways to carve out quiet time again.

4. Eat.  Ah yes, American food.  What does that actually even mean?  I think the “you know you’re in America when you taste…” items that truly distinguished it from Britain are:

  • fajitas
  • Papa John’s pizza (thin crust, yum) and parmesan breadsticks
  • vegetables, especially green ones
  • super yummy fresh salads
  • bagels

I ate well, in fact, at times even ravenously after all the physical exertion. 

So that’s the wrap-up.   Germany coming up is a sort of odd trip, not my usual work thing but instead a CD recording and some concerts with my music group.  And the upcoming US trip in late July/early August will be NO fun and all work and pretty high pressure at that.  So this was it for a little respite before the late August trip to Minnesota for the State Fair, Jonny Lang concert, and family and friends catch-up.  It’s always good to be back “home” (when home is where your belongings are) but it’s also good to have been back “home” (when home is where your heart is).   

Brit news round-up

Or, the anti-feminist digest, as I like to call it.

Leaders in England are finally calling for “positive discrimination” or what the Americans tend to call “affirmative action” in hiring practices. I can completely go for that, but apparently this is shocking to some avenues of British society, given this reaction: “White men to face jobs ban” Let me just say that the white male workforce in Britain could do with a shake-up although sadly the headline is not true and I can guess that white males of British origin will continue to dominate the hires. And those of us who are not white males of British origin will continue to feel as conspicuous as if we were green hermaphrodites of Martian origin.

In hilarious news, the Economist features a story on chavs at the Royal Ascot race, apparently demonstrating that civility has been lost in British society and no one knows how to dress properly anymore:

“KNICKERS,” read the stern advice to racegoers at Royal Ascot, one of the swankiest society events of the summer: “a definite yes, but not on show please ladies.” Reminders were in order owing to a “lack of understanding of what formal daywear actually means in this day and age”, according to the organisers of the royal meeting, which began on June 17th. Miniskirts and spaghetti straps were banned in the poshest part of the course, and girls were asked to avoid streaky fake tans.

Notice how there is no mention of men here? This is purely about keeping the ladies “lady-like”. And, to go back to the first point, not represented in the work-force. The white men need their jobs and don’t need to be told how to dress because they do it just fine, the women are the problem in all cases. Apparently. Can I come home now?

The State Dept. and Boy George

Further to my comment about Boy George being denied a visa to tour the US, we find this hilarious exchange on the State Dept.’s website:

QUESTION: And what does the U.S. Government have against Boy George – (laughter) – You denied him a visa.

MR. CASEY: Sorry, I should have swallowed before you said that. (Laughter.) Let’s see if I spit the water over any place else. (Laughter.)

I’ve seen the report that’s out there. Obviously, visa records are confidential. But I’d simply note that there often are difficulties for individuals who either are currently subject to criminal charges or otherwise may have criminal records. So I think you might want to look toward some of those reasons as why he might be having some difficulties here.

QUESTION: It’s tragic really.

MR. CASEY: Do you really want to hurt him? (Laughter.)

Yeah, Libby.

QUESTION: Switch topics from Boy George?

MR. CASEY: Yes, please.

There’s even video here, which makes more sense of the laughing and water spitting lines. It’s the second item in the video so be patient through about a minute’s worth of Iran–the serious question that was asked by the same reporter.

Bogie and Bacall and Bette, oh my!

Today the Minneapolis-based blogger James Lileks has a few clips from “The Big Sleep” and I highly recommend them, if you’re into that sort of thing (like I am). (The clips are about half-way down the page.) The Bogie-Bacall obsession is a relatively recent one for me. My primary 1940s film star romance loyalties go to Katharine HepburnSpencer Tracy movies, and I stand behind them no matter what the modern biographers are saying. It was the Kate connection that turned me on to the Bogie-Bacall romance, I picked up a copy of Bacall’s autobiography “By Myself” (now updated to “By myself and then some“) right after Kate died and I was immersing myself in 1940s cinema history. Reading “By myself” then caused me to binge on the full set of Bogie-Bacall movies (although I only got them from Netflix, do not have the box set) and to land on one of my favorite all time movie clips:

I never get tired of these two together, and it’s hard not to worry that we all only get one great romance after you read about Bacall in the post-Bogie years.

This year’s 1940s movie addiction is Bette Davis, whose new biography I am reading right now. And I did manage to score the box-set. Although much to my disappointment, it’s missing my very favorite (okay, the only one I’ve ever seen, and many times at that) “Now, Voyager”:

That is my favorite line of the week, “Don’t let’s ask for the moon, we have the stars.”

Three things

And these three things are not related and I’m not going to pretend that they are!

Thing 1: This book, “Rules, Brittania” looks like fun.  I’ll have to grab a copy and see what I’ve been doing wrong these last (almost) two years.  When you search for it on Amazon you get a bunch of other guides for expats living abroad, including recent editions of both London and England specific books.  Now why on earth did it not occur to me to look for something like this BEFORE I actually moved?  Oh the heartache I could have saved.  It makes me feel remarkably naive.

Thing 2: In amusing UK-US visa news, Boy George was denied a US visa for concerts this summer.

Thing 3: I apparently was reasonably lucky that my transatlantic flight on 14th June was NOT one of those much affected by the controversial presidential visit that went through Heathrow that weekend.  My flight was slightly delayed but we actually landed on time due to a huge bird (first time I’ve been on a 747 on the transatlantic route!) and a wicked tailwind.  But how stupid, just because the prez was going to dinner at Windsor Castle the British Airports Authority did not  mind disrupting the travel plans of 40,000 paying consumers?  Priorities, people.  But oh how very British, bending over backwards for the rich and famous at the expense of everyman.


Yesterday I got to do the small-town summertime festival thing. Lots and lots of volunteer hours and efforts go into these festivals; even suburban towns like the one where I grew up in Minnesota have a summer weekend devoted to celebrating their town-ness.  Lots and lots of people with white hair are involved, which makes this sort of thing pull me in like a magnetic attraction.  Parades, marching bands, fireworks, apple pie, the whole thing. The season is just starting here in the US; the upcoming 4th of July weekend will have many more of these than are going on right now.

I have to say, I did not really appreciate these things when I was younger. I guess I can add this to the long list of “don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone” items that I never cared about until I left the country and discovered that I do actually miss them. It was the little band concert with the sing-along medley of songs about America that really got me yesterday. I actually did not make it through the line “God bless America, my home sweet home” without tearing up. That’s right, I have never considered myself particularly patriotic or otherwise particularly America-proud, but a medley of “I’m a yankee doodle dandy” with “Over there” and “This land is your land” actually had me in tears. I guess perhaps it really does take absence to make the heart grow fonder. And frankly for all of my frustrations with American politics and foreign policy, there is absolutely nothing like the small town American community/arts festival.

I found the beach

I was actually conference-skipping today, too much real work to do and the conference was only a half-day plus a half-day outing.  So I worked hard until my room service breakfast had worn off completely (ca. 4:40 pm) and headed on a walk in search of food.  I also managed to find a beach:

Greetings from Cape Cod

It’s all very New England here.  Like you see why it’s called that after you’ve been living in old England.  The towns are all named the same thing but in a different order; for example, it makes no sense that Warwick is right next to Greenwich.  And of course, here in New England we have the added bonus of all of the Native American place names thrown in with the Old England ones.  It makes for great, tongue-twisting fun.

What am I loving about being in Cape Cod?  It’s totally small town.  I don’t know what I thought it would be like, I’m not sure I had a chance to really think about it.  But I don’t think I realized it would be so small town.  Last night a colleague and I asked at the hotel desk about a restaurant recommendation.  They wondered if we were seeking casual or formal, and we said casual.  So much to our chagrin their recommendation turned out to be one of those classic New England fried seafood joints with a counter to pay at and a “seat yourself and nibble at your basket of fried stuff” menu and dining style.  We scrapped that plan and found a nice Zagat-rated Asian fusion restaurant (The Roo Bar with inexplicable dots over the oo) a few blocks further down the road.  Whew, the relief.  We laughed over what city girls we clearly were.  I have to admit, though, after all the months in England without easy access to vegetables proper (do the English really get nutritional completeness from cauliflower cheese and potatoes and mange tout?) I am loving the food here.  Yes of course I buy broccoli and zucchini and asparagus and other lovely vegetables and cook them at home, but I never see these things on the menu at my frequent catered work dinners or in British restaurants.  I am scarfing down fresh vegetables and fruits as though they were going out of style.  Since in Britain they apparently are out of style, and the alternatives are bleak.  And typically overcooked.  And I can only name one restaurant in my entire neighborhood that has not turned out to be part of a chain.   They are cleverly disguised, with their international flavors and decor, but they are all on every high street on every town I’ve been to in the UK thus far.  Sigh.  Long live California Cuisine!

Disadvantages to small town-ness: restaurants close at 9 pm on week nights.  (Although unlike in England it’s a straight 9 pm each night, 10 pm on the weekends, none of the funny stuff.)  Huge advantage to small town-ness: room service.  I just ordered a feast of a breakfast, pot of coffee, and including delivery and a generous tip it was 11 bucks.   I knew I had already lived in the UK too long when room service prices started looking reasonable to me, but actually in a small town they ARE reasonable.  Yum.  Must go nibble now.

R.I.P. e.s.t.

Esbjorn Svensson, jazz pianist and lead of the Esbjorn Svensson Trio (e.s.t.) died this weekend in a scuba diving accident.  I saw them play once at the Dakota in Minneapolis and was mesmerized; I have a bunch of their CDs and iTunes CDs and a DVD of them playing.  The best is “Seven Days of Falling” and I highly recommend you check it out even if you are not a jazz fan, as this is pretty rock-and-roll for jazz.  They were practically single-handedly responsible for the worldwide recognition of Scandinavian jazz in the last few years.

I am getting really tired of the whole tragic-death-at-a-young-age thing right now; I’m feeling pretty fragile and concerned for the welfare of myself and my friends between the ages of 30 and 60.  Now it’s true that there are some things that are more risky than others; legal drug cocktails a la Heath Ledger, scuba diving, bungee jumping, small private aircraft, one could make a long list of over-the-top risky behavior.  But also the things we do normally can be bad–Tim Russert’s death was apparently due in part to his just having gotten off a long-haul flight.  I have done the trans-Atlantic crossing over 20 times in the last 5 years, should I be concerned?  I never worry about planes crashing any more; I was totally preoccupied with that when I was a child after seeing the movie about the flight that crashed into the bridge across the Potomac.  That movie haunted me well into my 20s.  But now it’s a different sort of fear that starts to creep in.  Mortality.  Or, Death: the High Cost of Living.   What a way to feel on a busy Monday…

American cheese

I rushed to find some Cheez-its on my arrival (I swear, I always liked them but I was never so obsessed until I couldn’t just go to the store and buy them or anything remotely like them!) and got to wondering about American cheese.  First of all, if you buy cheddar here it does not even at all resemble cheddar in the UK.  It’s yellow and the texture is different in the US.  And we have other “yellow” cheeses that I don’t think exist in England, like colby and marbled colby-jack, both favorites of mine.  But even more, we have this thing called “American cheese” that comes in individually-wrapped slices and you put it on a burger or something, and for that I have found no English equivalent.  I tried slices of “Dairylea” once and … um … ew.  I guess it’s a palate thing; the English would probably say the same about “American cheese” (although maybe not since my local McDonald’s is always full…)  But of course, there’s also my childhood favorite, Velveeta.  My loyalty and affection for the stuff is so strong that a friend once told me I would win the Iron Chef Velveeta battle.  It’s an absolutely necessary ingredient for grilled cheese sandwiches, broccoli-cheese soup, queso salsa dip, omelettes,  I could go on and on but I won’t.  For some reason  while thinking about this two other  American cheese products popped into my head.  One was Cheez Whiz, which I don’t think I have ever bought, and the other was Easy Cheese, which I have to confess, is a guilty pleasure.  These three pillars of processing all come from Kraft, as amazingly enough does Dairylea.  Clearly processed cheese is popular the world over, but equally clearly it varies by local environment!