Thursday, June 28, 2007

Is It Weird?

No, not really.

That has to be the most-asked question on our trip to DC this past weekend, our first time back since we left in February, just 4 months ago. And that's probably why it wasn't weird. Connecticut Avenue is still under construction, they're just on a different lane. J managed to drive on the right side of the road for all but 5 seconds of the trip. Our condo looks absolutely fabulous and is being well cared for. Vace pizza is still delicious and greasy and still gives you a bellyache when you eat one (or three) too many slices. Nanny's has reopened and resurrected the Nannyburger, but I divorced them in my mind several months ago, so I don't even mind that what's on their menu is a FAKE.

Now ask if it was hard.

We attended the wedding of a dear friend, who was so beautiful that all I could muster in the few precious minutes one gets with a bride at her wedding was, "You're so pretty!" We laughed, we cried, we danced, and we saw the happy couple off as they dashed into their car through a cloud of bubbles. We decided they should quit their high-level jobs and go into vow-writing because they sure do know beautiful ways to say forever and ever, amen.

We spent time with grieving friends, hoping that offering our condolences in person and giving hugs could convey our sympathy, only to realize that there is little on this earth that can help them just now. We talked about the stupid things people say, then said some of them ourselves. We tried to offer an ear where we could and tissues as needed, and to at least be a distraction for a few hours. We gave quick hugs to avoid collapsing in tears together, and left feeling almost as helpless in person as we do from 3500 miles away.

We had dinner with our cooking club, which largely overlaps with our regular beach vacation crowd. We ate delicious food, caught up on gossip, and told silly stories. We dreamed of planning the next beach trip in Croatia. We played with the toddler, who's noticeably more chatty and adorable than she was just 4 months ago.

We've had a remarkably smooth go of it here in England. Deciding to come was hard, but the second we said it out loud it was Real and it was Right. Packing and moving was hard, but so's moving across the street. The plane flight in February was hard, but there was so much anticipation about what was to come that looking back wasn't an option.

It was at that dinner that I looked around the table at our friends sitting there, and thought of all the others that we visited with throughout the weekend. As I swallowed back tears, I fought the thought that I didn't want to get on that plane on Monday, that I want to stay stateside with the people we've grown to know over the last several years, with whom conversation is easy and natural. I thought about my good friends all over the U.S., and whether I'd see them in the next few years or whether I'll avoid it because seeing them for a few hours might be harder than not seeing them at all. All this and we didn't even see our families, save one niece (see previous reference to fabulous condo). We were remarkably not homesick before the trip, and I worried that our first trip back would only bring it on.

For once, I hate being right.

We think of each and every one of you often, the fun we've had, the storms we've weathered, the peace we have just knowing you're out there and we'll see you again soon. Heck, we'll even see some of you on our turf. We're having the adventures of our lives in England and know in our heads that it's an awesome opportunity and the right thing to do. I know that every time I walk out my door or think about the fact that 50 bucks and 2 or 3 hours gets me almost anywhere in Europe. It's just that sometimes our hearts disagree with that.

Sometimes, like now, it's hard.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Longest Day of the Year, Literally and Figuratively

Sunrise, Cambridge, U.K.: 4:38 a.m.
Sunset: 9:20 p.m.

Sixteen hours and 42 minutes of daylight -- not too shabby. The longest day of the year still has 24 hours in it. Our June 21, however, is going to last 29. We're returning to DC for the weekend, so our westward flight will extend our day by 5 hours.

On the figurative side of things is the fact that, ONCE AGAIN, Maxjet has cancelled our flight. We're rescheduled on a different flight on a different airline out of a different airport. As I type, we're on the bus to Heathrow. We'd wanted to check out the bus sooner or later, but maybe not before an 8-hour flight. It picks up just 3 blocks from our house and, with stops, takes two an a half hours. (It would take an hour and a half driving directly door-to-door.) And, since what Maxjet told us, "Just turn up at Heathrow and give Virgin Atlantic your name and they'll put you on their flight in first class," has, oh, I don't know, abut 742 ways to go awry, we're getting to the airport nice and early. So that will mean a few hours in Heathrow even before we get on the flight, which have I mentioned is 8 hours long? We arrived in England in February on Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class Cabin, which of course is amazing and lovely and space-agey, BUT STILL AN AIRPLANE. (Have I mentioned how much I love flying? Or have you picked up on that already?)

Alas, that is all the whining I'm going to do. Because at the end of that flight are 5 days that I'm really looking forward to, and a crapload of friends who we miss dearly. And also Chipotle burritos. And hopefully no leggings. But if leggings have come to DC, well, then, I've got a flight back on Monday. That is, if it doesn't get cancelled.

update, 4:30 p.m.: John just ordered a margarita. I just finished a beer and a lovely plate of cheese, smoked mackerel, green bean salad, and beets. We're sitting in the Virgin Atlantic lounge between the pool table and the wall-sized TV. The hair salon is on the other side of the lounge, just past the bar and deli. Extra hours? Bring it on.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dancing sheep

Well, after our disappointment at the not so wholesome Strawberry Fair, we were delighted about 2 weekends ago to go to the Cambridge Town and Country Show, which was a new fair held in the middle of the city on Parker's Piece, a huge grassy lawn a short walk from our place. Now that was a true fair. It had fresh strawberries, the ubiquitous beer tent, inflatable slides, clowns, a puppet show, fudge, incredibly good cheese from Wales, a medieval village with swordplay lessons, train and tractor rides AND sheep! Yes, the star attraction was an Australian (pic above) describing the various strains of sheep used around the world, including one that looks like it is wearing wool dreadlocks that hang over its eyes. The host could have been a stand-up comic--he actually shaved a sheep on stage. I was impressed that the wool coal ended up as one large piece. The finale of the show was having the sheep "dance". Each one had a signature move when the music came on. The dreadlocks sheep, for example, shook its woolly hair from side to side. Good stuff! --jt

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stickey Wickets

Rain delayed it 24 hours but I finally had my first cricket practice. And I wasn't half-bad!

In a few weeks, the folks from our rival publication Nature will train up to Cambridge for the annual match with Science. My office head wanted me to get in some hitting, fielding and pitching (known as bowling) practice before we lost yet again (Nature has a much bigger staff to draw on in the UK than Science does). So he, his son, another father-son, and about 3 more kids taught me how to play. It's a bit like baseball but the rules and terminology take some time to master--after about an hour or so, I largely had the basics down. My colleague's teeange son got me out on my first pitch (I swung and missed and the ball knocked over the wickets behind me). But they took pity and gave me another chance--I then scored about 30 runs before they declared me out so others could bat. I still don't have the hang up bowling. One whips the ball overhand but can't bend the arm to throw--plus one usually bounces the ball into the batting box, because a ball that doesn't bounce is easy to hit.

Stay tuned for futher exciting cricket updates--jt

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Proud to be a Merkin?

[[This post should probably be rated PG-13 if there were such ratings for blogs, so be warned this topic may not be for dinner time reading with the kids--or grandparents! And yes, I've deliberately not posted pictures, though some simple Googling will find what you want.--jt]]

Given the unpredictableness of my schedule working with folks back in Washington DC on Friday nights, we usually don't plan much for those evenings--it's often movie night or channel surfing on the TV. One show we're amused by, and that I doubt would make primetime in the U.S., is BBC Two's Balderdash & Piffle, in which a host and her "wordhunters" try to determine the earliest usages of words and then submit their results to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, who judge whether to revise the OED's entries for the words. For example, one night we watched the show tackled the origins of "loo" and when "domestic" first became a police term for a fight among a couple at home (Show's website is here)

Now last night's show was rather...hmm,x-rated. In fact, that was the title of the episode. (Easily offended blog readers might want to stop now! This is your second warning) The theme was sex-related phrases and the first one was "marital aids". If you don't know what that refers to, I'm not telling you here! The word hunters initially traced its use to advertisements in the first Playboy-like mens magazines in the 1960s and then back a bit further.

They also tried to chase down when "kinky" began to mean sexually perverted and not simply curly. But the star word of the show was "merkin", whose story was told by the appropriately named burlesque star Immodesty Blaise. Neither Katie or I had ever heard it, so here's the short OED entry, via wikipedia:

merkin (first use, according to the OED, 1617) is reported to be a pubic wig, worn by prostitutes after shaving their genitalia to eliminate lice or to disguise the marks of syphilis. A similar, though anachronistic, claim not made in OED is that merkins were worn for nude stage appearances. ...

The story cites various origins for the word, including an old term, "malkin", for prostitutes. There's not a big market for merkins today. The OED, however, claims merkins are essential gear for drag queens, although the Guardian newspaper quotes a celebrity fashion designer challenging that in a 2003 article.
"I know a bit about merkins, but I don't know anyone who wears one and won't be designing one myself," says Red or Dead founder Wayne Hemingway. "I can't see them making a comeback, but it is a bloody good word."
Among other details on merkin's lurid history, the show noted that Cole Porter had rhymed the word with Sarah Perkin in a tune. Blaise also amusingly claimed that the word has now become slang for folks from the United States. Putting on a bad Texas accent, she slyly cited George Bush as saying "I'm proud to be a merkin". Ha! Who says reading the dictionary can't be fun.


P.S. In one of the odder Google search finds I've made, Texas Longhorn fans have accused ESPN college football commentator Lee Corso of wearing a merkin. See this link where I found the picture below. KT says the insult stems from a feud a Dallas radio station has with Corso.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Will's new house--just like the old house

Minstrels playing before the show starts

Reading that DC's Shakespeare Theater is about to open its new home downtown reminded me we haven't blogged about our trip a few weekends ago to see Othello at the Globe theatre in London (A belated public thanks to KT for such a cool birthday present!). The Globe is a recreation of the one where Shakespeare acted and his plays were first performed--the original one burned down in 1613.

It was a chilly day of near-constant rain so I was very happy that KT had splurged on great center-stage, third level, front row tickets (and that we rented cushions for the wooden benches). The Globe has an open roof so the folks standing in front of the stage--the groundlings, as they were known in the Bard's day--got soaked, while we were safely protected by the thatched roof. The groundlings have to stand the entire play in the elements but they do get the best seat (so to speak) in the house for a mere $10. The actors frequently came through the audience to reach the stage.

As for the play itself, I would give it a solid B. For those who don't recall, it tells the tale of a famous black warrior in a white society who dares to marry a white woman--and of how he is tricked into killing her (Desdemona) in a jealous rage by his evil "friend" Iago. I've seen the play a few times-- once with Star Trek's Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) playing Othello as a white man in a black society!--and it usually hinges on whether Iago is believably villainous. In this production, Desdemona and Iago were well-acted, but Othello needed more volume--I don't think the actor was used to working without a microphone and he needed to project to make his words better heard. Still, the tragic ending was very powerful.

(On an amusing aside, I came home from the play recalling the song "Desdemona" from the "Fame" TV series and spent far too much time the next day watching video clips of that show on YouTube. I even watched the anniversary show where they gathered Debbie Allen and rest of the cast after 10 years. I used to love "Fame" and it was apparently an even bigger hit in Europe than in the U.S. Odd fact: The hour-long Fame episodes were stripped of all the musical numbers and also shown in syndication as a half-hour school drama. What was the point of that?!)

Outside the Globe

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Sunday Roast

In the U.K., the big Sunday meal isn't brunch, it's Sunday Roast. Most of the pubs serve it, and a couple of the cooking magazines offer recipes and ideas for your Sunday Roast at home. What's served? Well, roast. Roast beef, pork, lamb, or chicken. Add some roasted potatoes, a Yorkshire pudding, and some boiled vegetables, and you have yourself a Sunday Roast. According to the Wikipedia entry on it, Sunday Roast came about because it was a meal you could put in the oven before you headed off to church, and it'd be ready when you got home around lunchtime.

For various and assorted reasons, we hadn't yet had a proper Sunday Roast. So, this past Sunday, we decided to steal an idea mentioned by our neighbor -- ride our bikes out to a village for Sunday Roast. The village we picked was Grantchester, just three miles south of us. The ride took us along the river and through Grantchester Meadows (Pink Floyd fans know the song based on this place?). It was a pretty ride on a gorgeous day -- which means a lot of people had the same idea. No worries, though -- nothing wrong with a slow pace on a Sunday afternoon.

We should have ridden around Grantchester a bit more. Near as I can tell, it consists of three pubs and a post office. We chose a pub called Rupert Brooke, which we had heard good things about. There was plenty of outdoor seating, which was great since I'm allergic to the indoors on 70-degree, sunny days. We got one beef and one pork roast dinner. Here's what we got:

Oh, I forgot to mention that it's smothered in gravy. The burnt looking thing in the upper left is Yorkshire pudding, a savory pastry sort of thing meant for soaking up roast drippings and gravy. I'm not yet sold on it, but that one was particularly overcooked so I shouldn't judge based on that one.

This was also served with boiled broccoli, carrots, and leeks. Add a pint of beer, some coffee, and three Sunday newspapers, and you too will fall in love with Sunday roast. No chasing people out to turn over the tables here -- you can stay as long as you like. Like to try this at home? Here's some Sunday roast ideas here, here, here, here, here, and here.

What topped off the afternoon was that we meandered back home clockwise, as opposed to the more direct anti-clockwise, as they say here. This took us up around Jesus Green, where we happened upon a little jazz in the park.

We had our picnic blanket packed on the bike, so we rode over, spread the blanket out, and spent another hour or so soaking in the beautiful weather and joyous mood that can only come from being surrounded by happy, relaxed, content people.

Now this is a recipe for a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

A Strawberry Fair

I was really excited. A Strawberry Fair! It's been on our events calendar for months, and has been hyped locally. It *is* strawberry season, after all. It's been promoted as Music! Crafts! Games! Fun for the whole family! And, I thought, surely there must be tons of strawberries!

Well, there was tons of something.

It was quite a site, and definitely good people-watching. It was much more like Woodstock than your average weekend fair in the park. It was made more rowdy by the fact that the kids (all kids -- primary, secondary, college, university) were all off for midterm break this past week and have to go back on Monday, so this was the last hurrah for the older ones before they go back to school. I haven't seen so much Smirnoff Ice since ... well, for a while.

The main attraction is the music -- there are several music tents that have different themes. We stopped and listened in the acoustic tent, then in another tent that had a good band -- until they started singing. Our favorite was probably an almost-ska band that rapped. They had a sense of humor despite it being 100 million degrees in their tent. However, since we don't know any small bands, we didn't bother getting a program (had to pay for it). We probably should have just picked a tent and sat in it for a while.

Here are a few girls dressed as strawberries. Them and one vendor selling little plastic cups of strawberries represented the extent of the strawberry presence at the fair.

But one whole corner of the common was devoted to alternative healing. Didgeridoo massage, anyone?

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Random Sightings II

As if flaming batons amidst cows and daredevil cheese-rolling wasn't enough, we have death-defying musicians (ok, so he's only a few feet above the ground) here in Cambridge. We snapped this a while ago while walking through Cambridge but I forgot to post it. As someone who has no musical talent and precious little athletic grace, I think this is impressive AND hilarious. What came first for this guy--playing the violin or walking the rope? --JT