Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bloody Brilliant

Ten years ago, I wrote an article for the local magazine in Bryan, Texas, on a local musician named Ruthie Foster. She was about to release her first album. The lyrics of her songs told her story; I wove them into my article and used the rest of my words to try to convey what a big voice came out of this teeny woman - a voice that filled a room and your soul, and all at once made you want to know her.

I've seen her maybe a dozen times, in coffee houses (Sweet Eugene's, was it?), big bars (Third Floor Cantina -- remember that one?), Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas, and Iota in Virginia. I had tickets to see her last November -- she was on tour with Bo Diddley. But I got that flu that brought down Washington -- the kind that made you weep when you thought about leaving the house. I was so sad to miss her -- I really wanted to see her bring down the house at Strathmore Hall.

So, imagine my surprise when I saw her in the lineup for the Cambridge Folk Festival. In Cambridge, England. Three miles away from my house.

I was talking her up on Friday night to a woman from Manchester. The woman asked me if Ruthie tours with a band or played with anyone else. "Sometimes," I said. "But I like her best when it's just her and her guitar." Saturday afternoon, she proved she doesn't even need the guitar.

Ruthie Foster, Cambridge Folk Festival from dceditors and Vimeo.

She played twice more at the festival, and the last one, in the smallest tent at the festival, was absolutely packed with people who wanted more. "Every year there's one artist that people just can't stop talking about," the BBC2 guy who introduced her said. "This year, it's Ruthie Foster." I'm so dang proud of her. She's better than ever.


All in all, it was an awesome festival. I (KT) was there all 4 days, and JT joined me on Saturday. We plopped in front of the main stage for, oh, 12 hours or so and heard some darn good music.

Hangin' Out at the Cambridge Folk Festival from dceditors and Vimeo.

We heard a fun 11-piece brass band from Romania called Fanfare Ciocarlia (Fahnfaray Cho-carla), famous for their accompaniment for Borat's Born to be Wild. They were great fun. I have a video of them, too, but it simply doesn't convey how many people were moved to get on their feet and bounce to the Eastern European version of an oompah band on speed. (Seriously -- click on the Born to be Wild link and you'll see what I mean.) "Tankyaoooww," the band leader exclaimed at the end of every song.

Other folks I/we saw that we liked were Four Men and a Dog, Bellowhead ("now we're going to play you a disco sea shanty, from the Oxford Book of Disco Sea Shanties," they quipped at one point), Fiddlers' Bid, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (they do a hysterical rendition of the Theme from Shaft), Ricky Skaggs (although it was a bit weird to be in England listening to Kentucky bluegrass) and Shooglenifty, which closed the festival with a spectacular light show and music that had everyone on their feet dancing a jig.

The big headliner was Joan Baez. She followed Fanfare Ciocarlia. She said early on in her set, "How do you pronounce the name of the band that just played?" [various shouts from the audience.] "Oh, right -- Bloody Brilliant," she repeated, as the audience laughed in agreement.

She was brilliant herself, with a voice that's as great now as it was 40 years ago. As she sang, I thought about how many generations she has sung to, and how many of her songs have been used as (and are meant as) calls for peace. "A lot of the songs that I was singing 40, 50 years ago are relevant again today," she says. "The good news is that a lot of those songs are very beautiful and I love singing them. The bad news is, I have to."

So I have my answer: Folk music is very much the same, no matter time or place. But perhaps sometimes with bagpipes.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cool as Folk

I grew up surrounded by music. Probably not in the way that famous musicians mean when they say they grew up around music, but the radio was always on, a record was playing, one or both of my parents were humming or whistling and idle tune, or someone was mercilessly banging on one instrument or another, whether or not they knew how to play it.

When the radio was on on Saturdays, it was Prairie Home Companion, probably my biggest exposure to folk. But my parents' appreciation for singer-songwriters was also in the mix: Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, James Taylor, etc.

When I saw the ad for the Cambridge Folk Festival, I thought, "why not go?" (Well, that's a bit of a fib; there's a more specific reason that you'll hear about by the end of the weekend.) I coughed up more money than I'd like to admit for a full festival pass and have been working like crazy this week to free up my Thursday night and Friday. (I wasn't entirely successful, but that's another story.)

When I got to the festival on Thursday, I pondered what folk music looks like these days, and what it looks like in the U.K. I mean, Joan Baez is the headliner at this festival after all. In the U.S., it would be an Appalachian jug band, or perhaps a lone guitarist singing a war protest. (Wonder if that's changed since the 1970s. Sigh.)

At least on Thursday, this is what folk music in the U.K. looks like:

Breabach, at Cambridge Folk Festival from dceditors and Vimeo.
Dueling bagpipes. I LOVE it. That's it from me until late Sunday night; I'm off to the fair.

Wellie Watching

Unlike much of the rest of England, We're not flooding here. Or at least, not as dramatically as some of the pictures you've seen. Our drainage must be good, and we're not in the path of runoff from other flooded areas. (Or something.) However, we have been getting quite a lot of the rain. The ground is pretty soaked, and in our most recent storm, which featured strong winds, some trees came down that simply couldn't hold themselves into the saturated ground.

On Tuesday this week, we finally got a day of sunshine. It was like that commercial (oh, wait, it's a British commercial) where everyone walks away from their desk, goes outside, and looks at the sky. "Wow, what's that?" we all pondered. "That orb in the sky! It's so ... warm! and bright!"

Then it thunderstormed Wednesday. And Thursday, just before the Cambridge Folk Festival began, it poured a good couple of inches. All day on the radio they were saying, "Be sure to bring your wellies!" I laughed, thinking that the DJs were saying that in jest. I thought there would be a few people wellies -- knee-high rubber boots -- but almost *everyone* was wearing wellies. Well, OK, maybe just half of everyone. But that's still a lot of folks! Who knew so many people had wellies. And in different colors! And patterns! I think I will have to get me some wellies.

2008 anyone?

First, we missed two cheese-rolling events and now this. In good news for my waistline, but sad news in most other regards, it turns out we will both be out of the country during the Great British Cheese Festival, a celebration of la fromage that includes 100+ cheese-makers. This year's event was also just outside of Oxford, which would have made it a fun trip. Oh well. We will mark next year's festival on the calendar--perhaps 2008 will be the year of cheese!--jt

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday night quiz shows

We're up to the point where we understand maybe half of the jokes and references on the British quiz shows, of which there are a frillion. The joke of the night tonight comes from a show called QI. The host defined demonym -- a word that describes a people, such as French or British.

"What do you call someone from the United States?"

Answer #1: "Obese."

Answer #2: "Burger-eating invasion monkeys."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thanks a Million (Calories)

So KT and I are walking more, watching less TV, and biking again for the first time in a long time. But that merely helps us survive all the food festivals, sausage and mash, beers at the pubs and...British sweets. When in a new country one must try its candy and other desserts, of course. And I have, far too often. Brits seems to love dense chocolate and caramel covered shortbread cookie-cakes called Millionaires (updated recipe link here--scroll down) . They are at all the delis where one gets lunch--perhaps the equivalent of the American classic chocolate chip cookie. There's lot of tasty variations I've discovered (one pictured below).

The New York Times also recently had an interesting article relating that many people prefer British chocolate bars to American ones (The World's Best Candy Bars? English, of Course) . It describes people bringing back suitcases full of candy bars from England. Here's an excerpt:

Mr. Smart, who has lived in the United States for 25 years, learned early on in his life here that British and American chocolate bars are different, even if they share a name and a look.
''One day I was eating a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk and I thought, this has absolutely no flavor,'' he said. ''I looked at the label and saw it was made by Hershey. I was outraged.''
Cadbury Dairy Milk is the iconic British candy bar, the one most likely to be tucked into the suitcase of a Yankee tourist looking for an inexpensive souvenir. Versions are filled with caramel, whipped fondant, whole nuts or pellets of shortbread cookie.

It's a different bar from the Cadbury bar available in the United States. According to the label, a British Cadbury Dairy Milk bar contains milk, sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, vegetable fat and emulsifiers. The version made by the Hershey Company, which holds the license from Cadbury-Schweppes to produce the candy in the United States under the British company's direction, starts its ingredient list with sugar. It lists lactose and the emulsifier soy lecithin, which keeps the cocoa butter from separating from the cocoa. The American product also lists ''natural and artificial flavorings.''

Tony Bilsborough, a spokesman for Cadbury-Schweppes in Britain, said his company ships its specially formulated chocolate crumb -- a mash of dried milk and chocolate to which cocoa butter will be added later -- to Hershey, Pa. What happens next accounts for the differences.
''I imagine it's down to the final processing and the blending,'' he said. After consulting with chocolate manufacturers in each country, Cadbury tries to replicate the taste people grew up with, he said. In the United States, that means a bar that is more akin to a Hershey bar, which to many British palates tastes sour.

Hmm, maybe I'll take the long walk to work today....jt

Sunday, July 15, 2007

How tall is the corn?

In Wisconsin, and in many parts of the Midwest, the progress of the summer is measured by the height of the corn. So, in case you're wondering, as of 15 July, the corn in England ...

is THIS tall.
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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Weekend In Food

Multiple people e-mailed last week to say, "Quit writing all the boring crap; focus on the food." Alright, maybe they weren't that harsh, but the food definitely gets the most comments. (Not that you could tell that from the comments on this blog, mind you.)

So, you asked for it: Here's last weekend, in food.

Friday afternoon: Bought some British strawberries. SO good. Always sweet; never tart.

Friday dinner: A nearly bi-weekly Friday dinner for us -- minty lamb chops from the local butcher, broiled. Served here with mixed vegetables and potatoes tossed in whole-grain mustard. The mustardy potatoes originated from a lack of butter one evening, but has become a staple side dish in our house. SO good. The potatoes, should you care, are a British variety called Maris Piper, often used in chips (that's French fries to you) -- they're very creamy. The beer is Belgian -- Westmalle, I believe.

Late Friday evening: We walked over to Parker's Piece, where a three-day music festival and French market had just gotten started. Didn't take long to realize that we'd be spending much of the rest of the weekend there. We came home with a bag of cookies. Why didn't we buy more? We did. We ate them.

Saturday breakfast: 1 fried egg, 2 lean bacon rashers, 1 toasted mini baguette with strawberry extra jam. British WW Points: 5. (Always good to start the day with good intentions.)

Saturday: A stroll back through the French market. This place was the source of the cookies. It is possible that another rather large bag of cookies was bought. Perhaps. Also, aforementioned good intentions promptly flew far, far away.
Charcuterie at the French market -- including bison and ostrich sausage!
Saturday lunch: A spicy sausage (actually 2) in a baguette (no clue who those people are), and ...

a bowl of tartiflette, which is basically potatoes, cream, bacon, cheese, and wine. Nuthin' wrong with that.

Later: Chocolate crepe. Nuthin' wrong with that, either.

Saturday's haul from the French market: A swank shopping basket; a container of olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and goat-cheese-stuffed peppers; sausage -- pork with bleu d'auvergne cheese and a peppered sausage; and 4 cheeses - a petit bleu, natural muenster, brie au poivre (with peppercorns), and pyrenees cheese.

Saturday evening at the fireworks: JT's pint of Guiness, and my Pimm's and lemonade. Pimm's is a popular gin-based alcohol here. Lemonade, it should be noted, is roughly equivalent to 7-Up. It's a fizzy lemon-lime soda, not a juice derived from lemons. KT drinks diet lemonade by the gallon.

Saturday dinner: a pork and stilton burger, with completely gratuitous mature cheddar cheese. SO good.

Sunday breakfast: see aforementioned cheese, and warm baguettes and ham and cheese fougasse.

Sunday lunch: see aforementioned sausage in baguettes.

Sunday dinner: see aforementioned burger, but switch it to lamb.

So, it was a pleasant weekend. We're still in detox mode. :)

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Yesterday was the anniversary of the London bombings in 2005, in which 56 people were killed and 700 injured. Last weekend, two undetonated car bombs were found in central London just a few days after new UK prime minister Gordon Brown took office. Later that day, a Jeep drove into Glasgow airport and burst into flames. It's all a reminder that there are some irrational people in this world who think that blowing things up solves problems.

We, of course, are fine. Living in Washington, D.C., for many years, and particularly the last six, has given us a heightened awareness of such things. The bombers' ties to Cambridge are bizarre, but that's about it. The last week's events did prompt us to write out an emergency plan -- meeting places in London and in Cambridge, protocols for when one or both of us is in London, assigning a contact in both families and keeping them aprised of our whereabouts, that sort of thing. It's something we never did in Washington -- but should have.

How's England reacting? Business as usual. Last weekend's Diana memorial concert went on, albeit with tighter security; Wimbledon carried on -- thwarted only by the weather; yesterday, the LiveEarth concert was a smashing success; today, stage 1 of the Tour de France sets off from London. Shutting things down would be letting them win, and this is not a nation that backs down.

Here in Cambridge, the weeks and weeks of rain subsided just in time for a weekend full of fairs, festivities, and food. It's Cambridge's Big Weekend, and thousands have turned out for the fun and merriment. Last night ended with an impressive fireworks show that would rival many US shows. We missed the 4th and the fun that comes with it, but we embraced the celebrations in our new home -- and the fact that life presses on.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

July 4: Wet and Weird Wednesday

Blimey, not exactly cricket weather, is it mate.

For the past few weeks, there's been a big buildup to the annual cricket match between MY magazine and Our Hated Rival. Their team planned to train up from London and we had cobbled together our own squad, although only 3 players on it actually work for my magazine and one (me!) has never player a real game of cricket. I have, however, practiced twice with my office's boss, his son, and several other kids and fathers. Still, we used a softball and not a full-size field.

Sadly, however, Britain is drowning--it was the wettest June on record and the UK has a long history!--and the match was rained-out. We've rescheduled for the end of the month, but it's my deadline day so I may miss the match.

The Wednesday wasn't a total loss, however. Coincidentally, my magazine learned that day that we and Our Hated Rival had shared in the communication award given by Spain's Crown Prince Foundation.

The Prince gives out a series of awards each year and we're among some big names this year: Al Gore and Bob Dylan, for example. Past year's winners include Stephen Hawking and Nelson Mandela.

No one knew about this til late Tuesday and the announcement was made July 4th so the DC office was closed. That left us in the UK to field calls from the Spanish media--it's a very major award there, their equivalent to the Nobel prizes. I ended up talking, in English, to about 5 reporters and found myself quoted in several stories (I used Google's translate function to decipher stories I found in the Spanish media). Our office head who actually speaks Spanish handled even more calls and did a phone interview that night for a TV program in Barcelona.

Some in the UK office are hoping in October we can attend the fancy award ceremony, which is in a town in northern Spain. We watched clips of previous years and it's impressive as the recipients get the award from the Prince in a packed concert hall and walk to the front of the stage to bow amid thunderous applause. There are concerts and more. I'll let you know if I get to hang out with Al and Bob.--jt

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Cambridge Visitors

Alright, now that I've got a few people thinking we're desperately lonely, slobbery messes, let me reassure you that we ARE having a fabulous time, and we've met some wonderful people. Not only that, we've had guests! Or, at least, four people we know who were otherwise in the greater Cambridge area and we saw them. That still counts, right?!

In early April, KT's friend and former boss B and her fiance E were in Cambridgeshire (in Ely) for a dance weekend. They drove down for a day, and we all went on a walking tour of Cambridge.

Later on in April, a colleague of JT's from The Magazine stayed with us while attending a conference at the university. (She wrote this article out of the conference. Cool, huh?) AG gets a gold star for being a gracious guest who sent grape jam and a copy of her book as a thank you. Totally unnecessary, yet fun.

In June, we had a pub lunch with accomplished science writer SB who was in town for a Templeton Fellowship. We also had a nice visit with her partner. He stayed with us a for a few days while SB was ... fellowshipping. We'll likely see S again in August when she comes back to present her fellowship project.

And this week, KT got to meet co-worker PS, who had been in London over the weekend and came to Cambridge for a quick stay. We got to see each other for all of an hour, but it was fun to meet in person (we've never met, but we talk every week via conference call).

We snapped this picture to send to our editor, who seems to think we're voice twins. It comes in handy when one of us has a good idea or a dumb idea -- we can either claim credit or point fingers.

We know that most of the deliberate guests won't come until year two or three, but it's fun to have the occasional accidental guest and to show off our town. And we've got plenty of room, including a dedicated guest room, so come any time!!

Errr, but maybe you should give us at least little bit of warning.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Flying in Style, like Beyonce and Bruuuuuce

What do NBA basketball players Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, pop stars Beyonce, Jay-Z, Phil Collins, Bruce Sprinsgteen (BRUUUUUCE!), and Saudi royalty have in common with KT and I? You'll have to read this entry for the answer but there's a hint in the picture above.
So, first, I must echo my lovely wife's beautiful writing about both loving and hating our trip home--but onto the details KT left out. Despite getting in later than planned (thanks Maxjet), I was up bright and early on Friday to play golf with the bride and groom. I think I hit my ball into about half of the sand traps on the course and there were a lot of traps. It was not pretty--well, the weather was, but not my golf. Still, it was hard not to enjoy the day.

Food we made sure to have; Vace's pizza (mmmmm), Chiptole, and sushi (ok, KT had that-twice)

The wedding was great and we should post at least one picture of the happy bride and groom (along with my college buddy and his wife).

After seeing the condo Sunday and the BBQ with the cooking club, I made it into the DC office Monday. And since it was the news deadline, I actually worked until we had to leave for the airport. And that's when the fun began.

KT and I had been laying odds of 50-50 that Maxjet would cancel our flight as they had our trip over. But they didn't--that, however, did not mean we flew on Maxjet itself. Their plane was still out of service so they had leased a private charter plane that is normally used by the Dallas Mavericks basketball team (if you closely at the wing tip in the picture above or click on the image to magnify it, you can see the Mavs logo). I had heard from a person on our earlier flight that they did this so it wasn't a total surprise and the gate attendant said Maxjet would give us $500 vouchers (each) for a future flight because our seats didn't recline fully. There weren't many other options so we decided to make the best of it. We headed off to the Maxjet lounge, which turned out to be Northwest airlines lounge and far from the grandeur of Virgin Atlantic's London lounge. Still, it had free Wifi, snacks and drinks.

Soon it was flight time. As the earlier passenger had warned, the Mavericks plane is divided into 3 classes, as opposed to the all business class seating of Maxjet. The first 7 rows on the Mavs plane are for the players and the seats are huge and there's tons of legs room. The last 10 or so rows were where the media normally sit and the seats are nice big leather chairs but they don't have nearly as much leg room. KT and I were in the middle section, where the coaches and staff sit--KT found out where her favorite Avery Johnson, the Mavs coach and a former San Antonio Spur, sits.

As we got to out seats, we had an uh-oh moment. Directly to my left was the bathroom, so people opening its door occasionally hit the back of my chair. And the seating arrangement was like a train--KT and I sat facing forward but there were 2 seats facing us and there was a table in between! The 2 guys in the seats facing us were not happy, especially when they found out the seats didn't recline at all. So they moved back to seats in the media section and voila, we had tons of room. The table was still a bit odd but one of the flight attendants told us the table lowered to seat level so one could put their legs up or even sleep across it (see picture below)

In reality, the trip was about as good as an 8 hour flight could be. Free wine and champagne flowed. I had a nice beef dish and KT had a delicious lobster tail. She got a few good hours of sleep and I snoozed and watched two movies. We had a long chat with the plane's normal flight attendants about all their travels with the Mavs, and the Spurs occasional, as well as all the celebrities who charted the plane during the off-season. The plane even has a queen bed in the hold that they can set up in the front of the plane. Once we landed, we sped through customs and hopped a bus that let us off a 5 minute walk from home. Surprisingly enough, it did feel like we were home. Odd, how quickly that happened.--JT

Stamping out smoking, one country at a time.

Today is the day. As of July 1, all pubs, restaurants, and workplaces in England are smoke-free. That's in the WHOLE country, people. Whee! Ireland, Wales, and Scotland already are smoke-free.

I've actually overheard a couple of conversations of people saying that they'll quit when the ban takes effect because if you can't smoke at your local pub, then what's the point? Of course, these are the same people who have been paying the equivalent of US $12 per pack of cigarettes.

We'll be dining in a pub today, perhaps even twice, because today we can do so without getting headaches and coming home smelling like bar stank. Huzzah!