Friday, November 30, 2012
Yesterday I visited one of the most touching war memorials I've ever seen -- the "Animals in War" memorial on Park Lane in Mayfair. Sculpted by David Backhouse and unveiled by Princess Anne in 2004, the memorial has its own web site here.
"Many and various animals were employed to support British and allied forces in wars and campaigns over the centuries, and as a result millions died," it reads. "From the pigeon to the elephant, they all played a vital role in every region of the world in the cause of human freedom. Their contribution must never be forgotten."
The animals are shown laden with wartime equipment, entering a stone gateway...
...and emerging on the other side, freed of their burdens.
It brings tears to my eyes, it really does! I mean, any war memorial is touching -- but at least when humans are involved, they (or their leaders) are responsible for the conflict. The animals are responsible for nothing, and yet suffered as much as any other veteran.
It's great to see all the wreaths and other items left at the memorial, reminders that people take the contributions of the animals seriously.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Here are a few of my shots from my walk along Charing Cross Road on Tuesday afternoon.
I'm betting this guy wasn't singing.
Yesterday I pretty much stayed inside, getting caught up on work (now that my school computer is back after some repairs) and polishing off one of my New Yorker magazines. I also worked my way through about half of the novel I'm reading, David Mitchell's "Black Swan Green." And I practiced with my camera's manual settings, which I'm trying to use more confidently. A low-key day!
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
This is what London looked like yesterday. Quintessentially British, right? Cold, rainy and gray, with temperatures in the 40s. I went to Trafalgar Square to attend an exhibit at the National Gallery -- a photography show, in fact -- and I took this photo from the front portico.
The exhibit was mildly interesting -- it explored the connections between modern and early photography and painting. For example, it paired still-life paintings of fruit by Dutch masters with still-life photos from the 1800s, and a modern day video of a pile of fruit decomposing on a plate. I guess it's not news to me that art is connected, that newer pieces often grow from ground plowed and sown by earlier artists. But I was unfamiliar with many of the artists and all the individual pieces, so it was intriguing to see new and different works.
I went partly because I'm fascinated by Richard Learoyd's photo "Man With Octopus Tattoo II," which is used in the promotional materials for the show. Isn't that an incredible tattoo? I wouldn't have the courage or endurance to decorate my body with such a thing -- and I'd be worried about how it would look in 50 years. But maybe that's the point. Maybe it's just about being beautiful now.
I bought the photo in postcard form, which doesn't do it justice but fits my finances. The exhibit paired it with illustrations of Laocoön wrestling with sea serpents, which lends a somewhat threatening tone to the octopus tattoo. Is it a sinister presence, indicating a struggle within the model?
Afterwards I wandered down Charing Cross Road and took some photos of my own on the way to the tube, despite weather that discouraged even the pigeons.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Is this not the most disturbing thing you've ever seen?
For me, it certainly ranks right up there. I found it standing outside a cafe and ice cream parlor on Edgware Road just before Dave and I went to Belgium. In addition to having a big scary mouth, this boy is missing the index finger from his right hand, and his left hand seems to be gone entirely. And the cone has apparently been colonized by a woodpecker.
It's even more alarming when viewed from the back.
This is trash, people. It needs to go out in the next dumpster-load straight to the landfill. And I believe in recycling and reuse in every way possible, so I do not say that lightly.
In other news:
-- I have made a major decision. I have decided to give up running. There comes a time when you realize that what used to be fun just isn't fun anymore. It's painful and unpleasant and fatiguing. Running no longer brings me the surge of energy I used to feel. It depletes me. So from now on it's walking for me.
-- My cold is much better, thanks!
-- I had the Glen Campbell song "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife" stuck in my head all day yesterday. Have you ever listened to that song? Lyrically it's completely insipid and unforgivably sexist, describing as it does a woman who is so unhappy with her life that she dances around pretending to be at her high school prom. Unfortunately it also has a catchy melody. (For some reason I am particularly prone to Glen Campbell earworms. "Wichita Lineman" is another common culprit.)
-- I've submitted a photo book proposal to a real, commercial publisher. The law of averages suggests it will be rejected, since most people have to go through dozens of proposals before they get a nibble. But it feels good to have taken that step.
-- I saw Christmas trees for sale on Portobello Road yesterday, so the season is indeed upon us. It looks like Dave and I won't be decorating this year, though. There's really no point, since we're flying back to the states on Dec. 22 to visit family. Those trees will have to find homes with someone else!
Monday, November 26, 2012
Before we resume our regularly scheduled broadcasts from London, here are a few last favorite photos from Belgium...
Above, Cafe Fatima in Ghent. The big red circle reads "No Air" and shows a cigarette -- whether that means smoking is prohibited or required, I'm not sure!
Colorful jeans for sale in the market in Leuven.
Baby Monkey, Baby Monkey
Riding on Gojira
A bar in Ghent. Dig those flowered curtains!
"The cat did it."
Garage door in Leuven -- hey, let's park here!
Big white bra graffiti in Ghent.
A mysterious window full of glass (or plastic?) eggs (or balloons?) in Leuven.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
When I first went for a walk in Ghent yesterday morning, the fog was thick and the city peaceful. There was hardly anyone about, even though it was after 8 a.m. I snuck out of our hotel room while Dave was still in bed, and spent an hour admiring the views and taking photos.
Our room was right on the main square near the St. Bavo Cathedral, named for a local saint. (Just how many saints are there, anyway? We saw another church earlier in the week named for a St. Remacle.) It was a strange room, shaped like a jigsaw puzzle piece, and we heard the bells of the tram and every loud post-football conversation passing by. But we liked it anyway. Kind of lent to the atmosphere, you know?
As you can see, Ghent is an ornate city, with lots of spires and gothic churches and centuries-old houses with peaked facades adorned with statuary and stained glass. It's not Disneyland, though -- there's also funny graffiti and some interesting-looking shops and other signs of life. Maybe I'll post some of those photos tomorrow.
After wandering a bit, I went back and got Dave, and we went to breakfast at, of all things, Le Pain Quotidien. I felt a little guilty about going to a chain restaurant, but the hotel recommended it and we couldn't quickly find anything else. I ate what felt like six pounds of bread in various forms.
We went wandering some more, through a makeshift flea market full of "junque" and lots of local streets, until we reached a suitable cafe, where we parked ourselves and watched the world go by over coffee and, eventually, red wine.
We went to see St. Bavo's, where unfortunately you can't take photos. A multi-panelled painting by Jan van Eyck and his brother, Hubert, is the main attraction -- in fact, the cathedral is free, but a view of the painting costs €4! It's called "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" (in French Agneau Mystique, and in Dutch Lam Gods, both of which crack me up), and it's accompanied by an exhausting audio guide that I eventually fast-forwarded my way through.
Finally we had steak frites for lunch at a crowded restaurant on the square with an exceptionally harried but nice enough waiter. We saw St. Nicholas, or Father Christmas, descend on the square in costume, in what a woman at the next table told us is an annual event. He was accompanied by scouts who seemed to be selling small parcels of something (cake?).
By this time it was pouring rain, so we made our way to the train station and our journey back to London. It's good to be home! I'm so glad to be drinking a big mug of coffee instead of one of those dainty little cups the Europeans use. (Their coffee is better, though, I admit.)
Saturday, November 24, 2012
We took a walking tour of Leuven yesterday morning, checking out more of the local sights. They were beautiful -- but by this time I had my heart set on seeing something entirely new.
The Atomium, in Brussels, is a remnant of the Universal Exhibition of 1958, one of those World's Fair-type events that don't seem to happen anymore now that the world is smaller and we all fly everywhere with such ease. The brainchild of architect Andre Waterkeyn, it's supposed to represent an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It wasn't intended to outlive the Exhibition, but the locals apparently loved it so much that it was never torn down.
By the '90s it had deteriorated quite a bit, so the government decided to fund a full restoration. The new Atomium opened in 2008, and now it has a swanky restaurant at the top and exhibition spaces in each of the "atoms."
Yesterday, after leaving Leuven, we drove to Brussels and made a point of visiting the Atomium. We even had lunch in the swanky restaurant, gazing down at the grounds of the Universal Exhibition, which have since been put to many other uses. There's an amusement park called "Mini-Europe," with tiny versions of the Arc de Triomphe and Westminster Palace, among many other landmarks, as well as a substantial swath of parkland.
This is just the kind of cheeseball sightseeing I really like. Cathedrals are fine, but give me some silly mid-century optimism.
After spending more time than we had intended on a leisurely lunch inside the uppermost iron atom, we drove into Brussels, returned the car and hopped onto our respective trains. Dave and I came to Ghent, where we'll spend the day before heading back to London tonight. All I've seen here so far in Ghent is a big bowl of mussels, but that was a good start!
Friday, November 23, 2012
When Dave and I prepared for this trip, we expected to stay pretty much in Leuven, a University town in eastern Belgium. The school is bringing its music students here next spring, so our trip is partly to scout out performance locations, hotels and restaurants for the students. Another music teacher and the music tour organizer are both here as well.
It turns out that while Leuven is our base of operations, the school also plans to perform in several smaller nearby towns. So yesterday we took to the highways to visit two of those locations: Wavre and Verviers, both in French-speaking Wallonia.
In Wavre, we visited a large church likely to be one of the performance spaces (middle photo above). And in Verviers we visited another church -- that's the ceiling over the altar in the top photo.
Some of these Belgian towns have cultural agencies that seek to find performers for events in their vast, ornate churches, which are often used these days as cultural and historical venues. I suppose they're still used for worship, too -- in Wavre I saw one gray-haired lady praying in a pew, and in Verviers I saw a poster featuring children baptized this year. But by all accounts, the churches aren't as full as they once were.
In Verviers, we had to wait a while for a key to get into the church. So we popped across the street to a nameless bar, and it was awesome. Redolent of nicotine, with an orangey ceiling, a green algae-coated aquarium populated by unremarkable gray minnows burbling in the corner, and four guys sitting around a table playing cards. Between the four of them, they may have had one complete set of teeth. I loved that place.
The churches were both beautiful, and they'll work well for performance spaces. And I'm glad we were able to get out of Leuven -- nice as it is -- and see more of Belgium.
Thanksgiving wasn't on my radar at all -- but I hope everyone back in the states had a good one. As it turned out, I stayed in last night and got a soup and salad from room service. I'm still suffering from my cold and I wanted to take it easy. I watched bad Belgian soap operas on TV!
Thursday, November 22, 2012
We rolled into Belgium on an overheated Eurostar train yesterday evening, and by that time it was already dark. It's dark now. Consequently I haven't yet seen Belgium in daylight.
So far so good, except that I'm sick. I'm battling some kind of throat/nose thing that makes me feel like I inhaled sandpaper. It's pretty mild so far, but I hope it doesn't get much worse.
After we arrived on the train we rented a car in Brussels and drove to Leuven, which is where we are now. (I did not drive!) The traffic in Brussels was insane, which I hear is fairly typical. Leuven seems a little more manageable, but I haven't seen much of it yet -- just the Novotel and a quick walk through the city center last night to find dinner. (Beef stew, frites and Domus beer. Doesn't that sound Belgian?)
Not only is Leuven home to Stella Artois, but our hotel is literally right across the street. Our window faces the big, corrugated metal wall of the brewery, or the shipping warehouse, or something Stella-related. Not particularly scenic, but somehow appropriate!
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
-- Some famous people get roads named after them, some bridges, some imposing public buildings. Joe Strummer, the late guitarist for The Clash, gets a grotty pedestrian tunnel under Edgware Road. Seems like a backhanded compliment.
-- I've finally made my latest photo book public, and you can preview it (and/or buy, if you're so inclined) by clicking on the cover in the widget at right. (Expand the preview to full screen for maximum effect.) You'll only see the first 15 pages, but it's enough to give you a sense of what it looks like. I'm really happy with it.
-- Do you remember a 1980 TV movie adaptation of "Condominium," John D. MacDonald's terrific Florida potboiler? It starred Dan Haggerty and Barbara Eden, among others. I loved this movie as a kid. It is, after all, representative of my favorite genre of films -- the '70s disaster movie! Anyway, I hadn't seen it since the early '80s, but I recently found someone who provided me with a copy on DVD, and I had a great time watching it yesterday.
-- Our friend David left for Paris yesterday morning on the Eurostar. He'll be back again for one night at the beginning of December on his way back home to New Jersey.
-- And finally, Dave and I are off to Belgium today for a long weekend. To Londoners, going to Belgium is a bit anticlimactic, kind of like going to Indiana from Chicago (to use Dave's analogy). But we're looking forward to it. I've been through Belgium but I haven't spent any time there. We're going to Leuven, the hometown of Stella Artois. I imagine beer will be consumed.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
So I never told you about this whole Getty Images thing.
Getty, a major photo agency, has a deal with Flickr whereby it can approach Flickr users to make photos available for public licensing, which means they could be sold for use in editorial products or advertising. Getty approached me last week to ask about licensing this photo.
I think it's funny that out of all my pictures, that's the one they want. It's just a snapshot I took on Long Island a couple of years ago. I was riding along in a friend's car near Sag Harbor and I had him pull over so I could get a shot of that bizarre house. It's hardly my most photographically interesting picture.
I know why Getty wants it, though. It appeared in this book, and for that reason I suppose Getty thinks it has some commercial potential.
So a few days ago, I filled out all the forms to sign up as a Getty contributor. Unfortunately, though, Getty wants a signed property release before they'll license the photo -- basically permission from the owners of the house. Not only do I not know them, I don't even remember where that house was! I could find it again using Google Maps, I'm sure, but even then -- are complete strangers going to want to sign a document giving me permission to make money from an image of their home? I doubt it. I wouldn't!
Apparently using it in the book wasn't a problem, because that's an editorial use. But making it commercially available for, say, an advertisement requires a release.
So I think I'm just going to let the Getty thing drop for now. Maybe they'll want something else somewhere along the line, in which case I am signed up as a contributor.
(Photo: Do Not Enter, in Notting Hill.)
Monday, November 19, 2012
I took David -- our visitor David, not my Dave -- to the British Museum yesterday. He's a history buff so I knew he'd appreciate the medieval chess set, the Rosetta Stone and the statuary of bygone kings and emperors, not to mention those terrific Tring Tiles that depict a childhood Jesus killing his playmates (and restoring them to life after a scolding by the Virgin Mary).
We saw a fascinating exhibit of Spanish drawings and prints from the time of Goya, one of my favorite artists. All the artworks were interesting, but the ones by Goya himself reach a whole different level of nightmarish darkness and animation. For many years, until it got too faded, I owned a poster of the Goya painting "El Perro Semihundido" that I bought at the Prado in Madrid.
At one point, while strolling through the galleries, we heard the ominous sound of a large chanting crowd. We emerged into the central court in time to witness a protest against BP, which is sponsoring a show at the museum. People were chanting and marching with a banner that read "BP Out of the Tar Sands," or something like that -- I assume it had to do with the Alberta Tar Sands.
And we had a chat in the cafe with a guy wearing an Obama 2012 sweatshirt. I expected him to be American, but he turned out to be a young Brit who had traveled to Virginia to campaign for Obama. Boy, did that make me feel politically inadequate! We expressed our gratitude.
Last night, Dave made a terrific dinner -- a leg of lamb with Yorkshire pudding. And yesterday morning, before the museum, I was buried in work, doing my weekly substitute reports. Whew!
(Photos: I photographed this ridiculously huge Lenin-esque ad for Michael Bublé near the mall in Shepherd's Bush. I want to like the second photo, with the guy feeding the birds, but in fact I prefer the cleaner look of the one at the top. I don't know anything about Michael Bublé. I couldn't begin to tell you what he sings.)
Sunday, November 18, 2012
David and I stayed close to home yesterday, taking a quick walk around the Portobello Road market. I spent the time photographing a few interesting people.
"Well, that turned out alright, even with these stupid hats."
This guy was selling soap bubble wands.
And I loved the light on this woman's face.
While I took these photos I was also lugging a pair of photography books that I bought at the market -- so I was shooting with one hand! That and the low, late-afternoon light are my excuses for any slight blurriness.
Yesterday evening we had Linda and Chris, our neighbors, over for drinks, and then we made our way to dinner at an Italian place nearby that we've wanted to try. The food was good but the staff were a bit surly. We had 6:30 reservations and we had the temerity to show up at 6:25. The nerve!
Saturday, November 17, 2012
I just spent half an hour signing up to license my photos through Getty Images on Flickr -- at Getty's invitation -- and for some reason I can't complete the process. Their system won't accept my forms. Some technical snafu somewhere, I suppose, but not an auspicious way to start the day at 6:30 a.m.
David and I went to Borough Market yesterday to meet with his friend Trish, a Scottish lass who moved back here from the states several years ago. We were supposed to meet "at the entrance to Borough Market across from the tube station," but as anyone who's been to Borough Market knows, there are about 12 entrances, all plausibly across from the tube station. Somehow we connected after some confusion. We grabbed lunch -- a halloumi veggie burger for me -- and then walked along the river to the Tate Modern. We stopped in for coffee and a quick wander through the permanent collection, just long enough to check in with Brancusi's sleek fish.
We then walked through the misty, chilly afternoon across the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul's, in order to catch the tube and join Dave at school in St. John's Wood. We grabbed dinner at a pub and then went to see a student production of "Up the Down Staircase," a somewhat retro play about the difficulties and pleasures of teaching in a New York City school in the 1960s. (I read the book years and years ago -- something I picked up at a thrift sale somewhere.) Kind of a funny play to produce with a student group, involving as it does a bunch of rebellious students, but of course order and perseverance triumph in the end.
Now I'm going to go try that Getty form on another computer and see if I can make it work this time. Ah, technology...
Friday, November 16, 2012
My friend David did arrive from New Jersey as planned on Wednesday night. I retrieved him at Heathrow and brought him back to our flat via tube. It was funny to walk with him through Notting Hill, because he and I visited the Portobello Road market together back in 2003 when we visited London. I never imagined at the time I'd be living in that very neighborhood ten years later!
Yesterday we went to Westminster Abbey, which David, a history buff, has long wanted to visit. I actually went inside this time, since otherwise David would have been on his own, and I must admit it was fascinating. I hadn't been in several years and we spent about five hours there, slowly making our way around the Abbey and having lunch in the adjacent cafe.
Of course amidst all the history and grandeur I couldn't resist this photo of an incongruous, rusty rubbish skip sitting on the grounds.
Photography is prohibited in most of the Abbey, so I couldn't take photos of the interior -- I assume because it's still a functioning church. In fact we saw a service in progress and heard the organ, and as I sat in the cloisters (above) in the evening I heard the boys' choir practicing in one of the adjacent rooms.
There's so much to see inside, like the tombs of Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, various Plantagenet kings, and dozens of other noblemen and women with incredibly elaborate vaults and monuments. There's the famous Poets' Corner, with memorials to the likes of Shakespeare, Browning, Coleridge, Dryden, T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden, and even the grave of Geoffrey Chaucer. (Some of the writers, although memorialized in the Abbey, are actually buried elsewhere. Shakespeare is in Stratford-upon-Avon, for example.)
There's also the Coronation Chair, a very uncomfortable-looking medieval piece of furniture still used in coronation ceremonies for British monarchs.
We emerged from the Abbey in the twilight, and headed back home...
...in time to meet up with Dave and go to a nearby pub for Quiz Night! Yes, we finally went. So here's how Quiz Night works, at least at The Porchester: A quiz master distributes a paper answer sheet to all the participants, who each pay £1 to enter. She then reads each question aloud with a microphone, and participants, working in self-defined teams, write down their answers. The teams then trade papers and score each other as she reads out the correct responses.
It's not entirely equitable, because for example our team had three people, while some had seven or eight. And we didn't do that well, partly because some particularly English things we just didn't know.
For example: "Which board game takes its name from the Latin for 'I Play'?" (I hadn't the foggiest idea, but it's Ludo -- which Americans call Parcheesi.) How about, "Author Richmal Crompton was born on this date in 1890. Which series of books did she write?" (Who the hell is Richmal Crompton? Well, it turns out she wrote a series called "Just William," and I've never heard of them!)
It was a fun night, but I kept getting calls for substitute teachers through the entire evening, so I had to keep ducking outside with my phone. The other teams would probably have accused us of cheating if we weren't losing!
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Our pupating caterpillar suddenly emerged from his cocoon yesterday morning -- a greenish, fluffy-bodied butterfly.
I would be lying if I claimed to be awed by its beauty. But still, when you think about how it looked just a few weeks ago -- and how quickly it transformed -- well, it's pretty incredible.
It sat on its amaryllis leaf for several hours, probably just drying out. As you can see, it left a strange little puddle of liquid on the windowsill -- "butterfly afterbirth," as Dave called it. Then, in mid-afternoon, I found that it had moved over farther along the window ledge. Taking that as my cue, I opened the window, grabbed it gently by the wings, and set it loose outside.
It fluttered away over the rooftops of the buildings across Westbourne Grove, and I watched it as long as I could, tiny and white and looking something like a blowing leaf in the sunshine.
It's not terribly cold right now -- in the 50s during the day and 40s at night. Maybe Mr. Cabbage White will survive a short time out there in the wild. And maybe not. At any rate, I'm glad nature is taking its course without any involvement from me, and I'm glad he got to fly, even for a brief time.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
My friend David arrives today for a weeklong visit from the states. Woo hoo! I'm schlepping out to Heathrow this evening to collect him and bring him back to our humble flat. I'm sure he has a full roster of things he wants to do. Probably lots of museums, which will be great -- my Dave isn't a museum guy so I usually have to go by myself.
Now may be the time to catch up with some intriguing exhibits, like the Tate Modern's newest, which looks really interesting. When I was in my 20s I had a big framed poster of the David Hockney painting, "A Bigger Splash," that lends its name to the show. I think I've already seen the painting in person -- maybe at the Tate, which apparently owns it -- but I'd love to see it again.
Of course, David isn't a fan of modern art, so maybe we won't see that particular show. It's just at the top of my own personal wish list. David is a fan of Leonardo da Vinci and other Italian Renaissance painters of his ilk. I guess I could manage that too.
Yesterday I figured I better get in one last photo wander (although I'll certainly take my camera when I'm out and about with David), so I took a long walk through Kensington and Chelsea all the way to the Thames, and then back up to Sloane Square, where I caught to the tube home. Got good shots, like the one above -- although I really need to learn how to use the manual settings on my camera so I can freeze people without blurring them. I like the blurry effect, the display of motion. But I do it all the time and I suppose it might seem a little amateurish, an obvious indication that I don't entirely know how to control my camera.
Have you seen these people who want to secede from the union because Obama won the presidency? It cracks me up. Go! Please!
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Yesterday I walked past The North Pole pub on the wonderfully named North Pole Road, and -- it's not a pub anymore. It's closed.
Apparently this happened a couple of months ago. I'd never been to The North Pole -- it's not very close to our flat, and since I only occasionally walk through that neighborhood in North Kensington, I didn't know it had closed. Yesterday the spray-painted protests against Tesco caught my eye, though, so I took some photos and did some research on what it all means.
Turns out grocery giant Tesco intends to open a Tesco Express store in the space. This has prompted protests by local residents who are afraid other neighborhood shops will be driven under by the presence of the behemoth.
Meanwhile, the building's owners have sealed it up with sheet metal to keep out squatters, who have taken to occupying dead pubs in other parts of London.
People always associate pubs with England, and vice versa, but the sad fact is that many, many pubs are closing. The reasons are myriad -- escalating real estate values and corresponding rents, demographic and social changes, and a sharp reduction in alcohol purchases for consumption outside the home (a 44 percent drop since 2001, according to this report). This "pubageddon" has been going on for years.
In just the year and a half that I've lived in England, I've seen several pubs close. The Stinging Nettle, I noticed the other day, has become a Costa coffee shop. Crockers Folly in Maida Vale was boarded up the first time I saw it, as was The Prince of Wales, between Notting Hill and Holland Park. The Cowshed was already closed when we moved here; it has since been torn down.
I hate to see it happen, but I understand why it's happening. Even Dave and I, who like a pint now and then, only go to pubs once every few weeks. I'm more likely to go to Costa, I confess! People just don't drink as much or as often, and when they do, they're likely to do it at home in front of the television. (I have been trying to get Dave to go to Quiz Night on Thursdays at one of our locals, but getting Dave out of the house on a school night is always, understandably, a challenge. We haven't made it to Quiz Night yet.)
Even reportedly prosperous pubs are threatened because their often historic buildings are so much more valuable as residential real estate.
The world changes, you know? But still -- it's too bad. I hate to see everything become blank and bland and fluorescent. If only I could strike the right balance between patronizing my local pubs and protecting my liver!