Wednesday, March 12, 2014
-- Our kitchen-window amaryllis plants are just about ready to burst into bloom. Well, two of them, anyway. A third is still dormant, and a fourth has a small green bud coming up from the base (photo below).
-- Remember the Wayward Biology Textbook from the school library? Well, yesterday that same girl had the nerve to try to check out a textbook again. I said no. We told her to borrow one from a friend. I actually got quite indignant (inwardly) that she even asked, though why I had such an emotional response I can't say. I'm taking that job way too seriously.
-- As I think I've mentioned before, Dave and I are watching "House of Cards" on Netflix. We like it, but I must admit I struggle to figure out some of what's going on. The subplot involving the computer hacker and the newspaper editor was never very clear to me. I feel like my grandmother, who used to say 35 years ago that she didn't understand modern TV shows. At the time my brother and I thought that was hilarious, but now I sympathize!
-- Did you all hear about the Attack Cat of Portland, Oregon? That cat was angry.
-- Finally, I was sorry to hear about the death of one of my former colleagues at a central Florida newspaper where I started my career. I distinctly remember a story he wrote about a street crime near the town of Lake Wales, in eastern Polk County. He quoted a woman who had been standing in her yard "scalding the hair off a possum and preparing the meat for dinner" when gunshots were fired nearby. (Here is the AP version of the story, which ran in a nearby newspaper.) My friends and I laughed about that detail for years.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Dave and I have ironed out our vacation plans for Spring Break, in April. We've decided to go to the Seychelles, a cluster of tiny flyspeck islands in the Indian Ocean. Dave wanted a place where he wouldn't have to do anything -- just lie in a hammock in a warm place and maybe trudge to the beach to go snorkeling. I, on the other hand, wanted some activities, and these islands offer various sightseeing opportunities, such as the tiny capital city of Victoria, a valley of Coco de Mer palms (which grow only in the Seychelles) and lumbering giant tortoises.
I'm a bit conflicted about this trip, because of the ill health of some of my family members back in the states. But I've planned all along to go home to Florida in June, so it's not like I won't be there very soon -- and Dave, especially, needs a relaxing escape (he is in the middle of band hell this month, hosting a gathering of European honor band students and then traveling to France on a performance trip with his own band).
Our other option was the Maldives, southwest of India, but they seem a bit more built-up. (Their capital city, Malé, is a very strange-looking island -- basically a cluster of high-rises sticking up out of the ocean.) The Seychelles seemed more secluded. For the record, though, I have a coworker who went to the Maldives and she said it was fabulous. Apparently the key (as in so many places) is to get out of the capital, and there are spectacular resorts on outlying islands.
I'm not really a resort person, though. I'm more of a motel person. I found accommodation in the Seychelles that reminds me a lot of the modest little cabins my family used to rent on the beach in Florida.
Anyway, in other news, the two-job schedule is continuing to kick my butt. It's manageable but definitely busy. I was feeling a bit run-down myself yesterday (and who do I call when I call in sick -- myself?) -- but I feel much better today. At least, so far!
(Photo: Balconies and windows of the apartment building across the street.)
Monday, March 10, 2014
Well, Colleen's visit didn't go quite as I expected. It started well, with our long walk in the sunny park on Saturday. But that night, just as Dave served dinner, Colleen began feeling unwell. Without going into details and violating confidences, I can say that we abandoned dinner and wound up having to seek medical treatment on Sunday morning -- which meant going to the hospital. Always such an adventure, especially in multicultural London! Fortunately, our visit lasted only a couple of hours and Colleen got some medicine, along with the reassurance of seeing a doctor.
By late Sunday morning she felt well enough to go to lunch with us at The Tabernacle, an outdoor cafe, where we brought Olga and sat in the sun. Then she caught her train to Winchester, where she's doing some work this week before flying back to the U.S. I told her to call us if she has any problems before she leaves, but I expect she'll be fine.
Good grief. You don't see a person for 20 years and then that happens. Life sure can throw some curveballs. I'm just glad everything worked out OK.
In other news, I finally uploaded all my China photos to Flickr. Here is the promised link, if you feel like killing some time and checking out the images that didn't make it to the blog.
The weather has been spectacular the last few days. It was warm enough yesterday to wear a t-shirt, which as always at this time of year -- after months of being buried in layers of clothing -- felt immensely freeing. We opened up the house to let it air out. Dave trimmed the balcony plants and readied them for their growing season. I washed towels and hung them on the balcony railing in the sunshine.
(Photo: Strip is a lingerie and underwear store in Notting Hill, lit very pinkly at night.)
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Some guy has recently started stringing up a sort of flat cable between two trees in our courtyard, and then walking it tightrope-style. No one seems to know who this guy is, or whether he even lives in our apartment complex. I suppose one of us should ask him. I hate to sound like Gladys Kravitz, but I'm worried he'll damage the trees.
Colleen and I went to Hyde Park with Olga yesterday, as planned, and spent four hours walking pretty much all the way around the park. We saw the Albert Memorial and the Italian Garden, and stopped at a cafe on the Serpentine for coffee and a sandwich. We let Olga run wild, chasing her Kong and the few squirrels that surfaced for the relatively warm early-spring weather.
At one point, Olga allowed her Kong to roll into the Serpentine, and because I have learned from experience that Kongs don't float (and they cost £18), I stepped immediately into the water, soaking my right shoe, to retrieve it. Then she did it again, and again. A crowd gathered. People laughed. A woman with the white cap of a Mennonite narrated to her small child: "Oh, look, the dog dropped its toy into the water again. Will the man go in after it?"
Yes, he will.
And then he will walk the toy over to the grass, away from the water, before giving it back to his overexcited dog.
I'm glad I'm every bit as entertaining as a tightrope walker, and probably a lot easier on trees.
I've been reading a lot about this Ukraine situation, and I've resisted weighing in, since I must admit I don't know much about that part of the world. But what I don't get is this -- if the people of the Crimea are mostly Russian, as I understand it, and Russia has military bases there, is it really all that outrageous to allow them to hold a referendum on whether to join Russia or stay with Ukraine? I mean, I hate to side with Vladimir Putin, God knows, but that just doesn't seem too crazy to me. I understand that in principal, one country shouldn't be able to intrude into the governance of another country and engineer a referendum -- and I suppose the danger is that the referendum would be manipulated or that this would just be a first step in Putin's generally expansionist approach to governing Russia. But still. If the Crimeans want to go, why shouldn't they?
(As U.S. officials have pointed out, Putin's support for self-determination in Crimea is inconsistent, given Russian opposition to secession efforts in the breakaway republics of the Caucasus.)
On a lighter note, I did repot our avocado tree yesterday, and it seems much happier. I literally breathe easier just looking at it in a bigger pot.
Also, I finally got around to ordering a copy of my friend Kenneth's new memoir, "Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?" I worked with Kenneth at The New York Times, and I have long enjoyed his stories of being a young, gay kid growing up in Michigan and Arizona and longing for the bright lights of New York City -- a longing nurtured by reruns of campy '60s TV shows like "Family Affair." (I always wanted their apartment, too!) Knowing Kenneth and his funny, sometimes shocking forthrightness, it will make an interesting read. (I'm alarmed that people younger than me are even in a position to write a memoir, but that's another story.)
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Colleen arrived safe and sound yesterday evening. We'd agreed to meet at the Notting Hill Gate tube stop, which has four exits, so I was a bit concerned about where we would connect -- not to mention whether we'd recognize each other. Then I saw a woman leaning on the railing, reading a book and standing next to a suitcase. I thought, "Well, that might be her..." When she looked up I knew for sure, and she recognized me right away. Her first words to me were, "Steve, do you know how long it's been?!" Like she can't believe it either. I brought her back to the apartment to get settled and meet Dave and Olga, and then the three of us (sans poor Olga, obviously) went across the street for a pub dinner. It's been great to trade Peace Corps stories and catch up on our lives.
I'd asked Dave to tidy up the bathroom and vacuum before Colleen and I got home, and last night as I was going to bed I realized he took the opportunity to hide the plaster Pietà in the cabinet under the bathroom sink. I put it back on the windowsill. It's art, dammit!
(On a tangent: We have lived in this apartment for almost three years, and we found this cabinet under the sink just a few weeks ago! From the outside it doesn't quite look like a cabinet -- the doors are tiny and have no handles, and I thought they were just panels concealing plumbing. Then Dave opened them and voila! A basket of cleaning supplies and more storage space! It's like one of those crazy dreams where you suddenly discover a whole new room in your house...)
On the agenda for today: Walk in the park with the dog and check out the Portobello Road market. I also intend to repot our poor root-bound avocado tree -- I finally stopped at the ridiculously overpriced housewares store at Notting Hill Gate and bought a big new pot for it.
Our amaryllis are greeting spring on slightly different schedules -- two of them have sent up buds on long shoots, and a third seems to be launching a tiny bud at the base. The fourth hasn't done a thing yet. Considering how little we do for those amaryllis I'm impressed that they survive at all.
(Photo: King's Road, near Parson's Green, last Saturday.)
Friday, March 7, 2014
An old friend is coming to visit this weekend -- a woman I met in the Peace Corps who I have not seen, I suddenly realized last night, in 20 years. (How is that even possible?!) Many of my Peace Corps friends I've managed to see in the years since, but not Colleen. So this will be a real trip down memory lane!
She's been to London before, thank goodness, so I don't think I'll have to confront the possibility of going to the London Eye or the Tower of London again.
She's going to stay with us for two nights, so I've been washing the guest room sheets -- Olga loves to frolic on the guest bed -- and trying to neaten the place up, on top of my crazy two-job schedule. I must say I kind of like this two-job thing, though. It keeps me busy, but I function well under a bit of pressure.
I've also maintained my habit of walking to work, which has been both a good form of exercise and a money-saver. I wish I'd started it earlier last fall. Every week I'm saving £28 (or $47) on tube transport. I'm wearing out my shoes, I suppose, and possibly my hips, but that's a pretty slow process -- if that's the only downside I think I'm still coming out ahead!
Last night Dave made Aunt Jemima pancakes for dinner -- complete with eggs, bacon and genuine faux maple syrup. We found a grocery store that carries Aunt Jemima products, so we could finally make some American-style pancakes. Woo hoo! (In England, "pancakes" often connote a more crepe-like food, served with jam. To me, that is just not a pancake.)
Really, is there anything better than breakfast-for-dinner?
(Photo: A cat enjoying the spring-like sunshine on my walk to work Wednesday.)
Thursday, March 6, 2014
As I mentioned a few days ago, on Saturday -- with some help from my coworker -- I came across Freddie Mercury's house in Kensington. Freddy has been dead for more than 20 years, but the house is apparently still a place of pilgrimage for Queen fans. Pedro from Brazil, in the photo above, was stopping by to pay his respects when I visited with my camera.
The entrance has been neatened up over the years. A photo from another blogger shows what it looked like more than 10 years ago, the brick wall awash in chaotic graffiti. Now several large sheets of plexiglass have been affixed to the wall, so admirers can slip notes and whatnot behind them without resorting to vandalism.
It's interesting how popular Freddie remains. The notes came from fans all over the world, all of whom apparently made the pilgrimage down this quiet side street.
(Fact: If you type "Fred" into Google, it prompts with Fred Meyer, Fredericks of Hollywood, and Freddie Mercury, in that order.)
Pedro told me that Freddie is still very popular in Brazil, partly because Queen played the huge "Rock in Rio" concert back in 1985. This cracked me up, because in the mid-80s I had several pen pals in Rio de Janeiro, and one of them sent me a "Rock in Rio" t-shirt! I wore it for years. (It was very '80s -- black with yellow sleeves, as I recall.)
There were also a few oddities behind the plexiglass: photos, flowers, trinkets, and one poor guy's UK passport open to the title page. (I'm guessing it's there as the result of some post-pub-outing prank, but who knows.)
The house itself is only barely visible over the top of the wall.
Personally, I've never been a huge Queen fan, though I like "Bohemian Rhapsody" as much as the next person. When I watch Freddie perform the magical "Barcelona" with Montserrat Caballé, I can appreciate his sense of showmanship.