Ooh La La – Part Deux

paris heat wave

Almost two weeks and legions of unwholesome inhalations later, I am still in Paris. My wife is much better at sticking with our originally made plans so she is en route back to tropical, deodorant friendly Miami for an assortment of reasons including, and yes you heard this right, because it is much cooler there. The combination of exactly why the US was foolish to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the native disinterest in good hygiene, almost four weeks of Lilliputian-styled elevators and having to beg the waiters to refill our water finally got the best of her. Rehasing bad Caracas memories do not help either (more on that later)

But the main reason, thankfully unspoken is that she was likely tired of having to keep traveling with me. I’d like to think that I am the traveling equivalent of a comfortable sweatshirt but I am likely more the equivalent of that suitcase on wheels  which is never on track and rarely allows anyone to lift the handle to the desired height.

I do accept that Paris is an acquired taste and while I am not quite ready to make myself an expat, I wouldn’t mind if my sojourn here lasted another two months, or years. These few extra days in “La Belle Cite” has done my intellect a ton of good since traveling with children in a cultural mecca is a blast, but needs to say, a trade off.

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Much like going to NY and just hanging out at Times Square, children have different priorities, mainly spending as much time as possible anywhere which sells cotton candy or offers unlimited rides on bumper cars. This pretty much eliminates any chance of doing something really cultural such as going to the Louvre, Le Sacre Coeur or well being any place that is more than 30 years old. Note to curators of famous museums – have a small bumper car ride and sell cotton candy.

In truth, my museum stamina has waned anyway. During my “adult” days this week, I set aside three hours to see each of the prized ones, and after about an hour of trying to negotiate my way through hordes of “art lovers” taking pictures of pictures, I feel as if I have had my fill. I push myself for another half hour, trying to discern what exactly an art aficionado should do other than simply admire the beauty and intricacy of each work.

But back to Paris. Paris is huge. The fact that there are 20 “arrondisements” and each one at least 3 times the size of the town in which I grew up is enough to show how much time one needs to really see the city. As in about two years.

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Just to describe two of these arrondissements, I’ll start with the 18th where my trio sought safe haven after the bombing of Dresden-like heat wave in Paris last week. From the second we got there, my wife could sense that something was let’s just say her Pavlovian reaction to having grown up in Caracas.

Within two minutes of getting out of the men’s locker room after a football game, I mean Metro,  she told me to keep all my possessions tightly pressed against my body which given the 110 degree heat, threw me off my balance even more.

My wife and I are rather different in this regard. She’s the lawyer-type who sniffs potential trouble from a mile away. I am the poet type who rarely senses potential doom and if I do, I simply prefer to convert it into verse. Thus I told her she was overreacting.

Me: “Baby.  It’s just a carnival atmosphere and likely none of these people own an air conditioner so if they are going to swelter, they figured they might as well be outside.”

Wife: “Baby you are just so naive. I am not sure why you had two Lasik surgeries because you seem blind. Do you see how they travel in packs of three or more. That’s for tag team stealing. ( I added the tag team part)

Me: Love we are not in Venezuela ( I immediately wanted to retract that statement as it can go in several ways)

Wife: Oh how little you know. This is Venezuela. And you are not exactly a good body guard ( Testosterone depletion statement)

Me: Baby, you are being paranoid. And subconsciously a little bit of a snob.  We don’t have anything they want

Wife: Long unpleasant glance in my direction. ” Well if you don’t consider me, Adrian and our baby-to-be something of value then I guess you’re right.

Me: Long pause. More testosterone depletion.

Wife: “No response love?”

Me: Sorry. I was just scanning the premises to see if anyone looks like Osama Bin Laden.

Wife: “Love. Aside from the fact it is 4000 degrees out here, lets get in the museum and when we are done, out of here as fast as humanly possible. I don’t like the feeling I get here.

Me: Baby. It’s just the weather. Particularly since you are pregnant. The AC in there will make us feel great

Three hours later the scenario my wife was describing came to fruition. One of the many “harmless” carnival seekers tried to steal my wife’s diaper bag but I was too busy looking for large slides to see her nearly make off with Adrian’s tablet, our lifesaving water and four changes of baby clothes. My wife who was in full downtown Caracas on weekends mode caught and nabbed the lady in the act. I naively assumed that the klepto just got confused. Despite being at one of the largest kids parks in all of France when the weather finally sank below 100, we were on the metro within ten minutes.

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The following day we returned to the scene of the crime, albeit several hours earlier and with electronic sensors on our possessions. My wife had me in full FBI mode as we made a mad dash from the metro to the museum. For those who visit Paris with kids, I highly recommend the Museum of Science and Industry. European kids museums are more advanced in general but this one takes the cake as it appears to have been conceived by Leonardo Da Vinci and underwritten by a combination of National Geographic and the U.S. Olympic Team with its performance testing for kids. In fact at one point my son said “Mami and Dada, you can just leave me here and go home so I can really have fun”.

giverny

For another slice of greater Paris, on Friday, after much prodding on my part, we went to Giverny. Giverny sounds like a patented French vineyard, the kind of place that evokes images of blazing gold cornfields and bustling vines of burgundy grapes and well it should have.

But the town itself is a dump, as it looks like a miniature Reno, Nevada dump. The only place worth seeing are the Claude Monet House and Gardens about three miles from the town center. And so given that it is the only attraction really worth the trek, one would have thought the train station would have been overflowing with transportation there.

Except…

The road to Emmaus was fraught with obstacles though I will spare you the extent of the details. But let’s say we waited for a cab or similar form of transport to the gardens for so long that we made the executive decision to bag it and grab the next train home. This was one of those painful ” I told you so” moments with my wife so I immediately bought first class tickets even though no one checks the tickets on the train so you can sit anywhere you want. Finding a taxi cab, despite calling ten cab companies and flashing a 20 Euro bill was similar to finding good Ethiopian food in Hialeah.

As we were ten minutes from hopping on the train back to Paris, a Magic Kingdom-like mini train magically appeared. From there magic was the operative word. Everything one needs to know about France and the greater Paris region in general came to life.

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Every prize has its price and the French make good on every pound of flesh they exact. Want to see the Eiffel Tower?  Bear the hour long lines.. Ditto for the Louvre and Arch de Triomphe.

Want to enjoy the convenience and scope of the Metro system? Plug your nose and watch your back. Want to test your French speaking skills? “Please speak in English”.

And to get out to see the reason why Monet defined impressionism and its dazzling array of sensual effects, bring your running shoes or take the West Point like bike ride up the hill. But trust me it is worth every seeming inconvenience. Just revisiting the images of the lush garden is enough to delight the senses.

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Getting home was equally a mission. We thought we could get a taxi from the gardens and a direct train home from Gare St. Lazare but neither was close to the truth. Mais “C’est La France”. Much like having a wife, it is definitely possible to keep them quite happy. It’s just going to take a lot of patience, holding on tightly, and well, likely many other unexpected roadblocks too.

 

 

 

 

Paris – Ooh la la, or maybe just “ooh”

eiffel at night

Bienvenue de Paris.

Having conquered most of the kid friendly places in London and Dublin, not to mention added at least a 0.01% to England and Ireland’s GDP’s, we decided to finish the semi-holy trinity of cities by visiting what to me is the best in all of Europe, if not the world.

Mais le temps passe trop vite.

Already our first full week here is in the books and with it come at least three definitive conclusions. First, if one cannot enjoy their gustatory experiences in Paris, he/she needs to return their taste buds. Even when we had Cassola’s quality pizza for lunch because we were trying to maximize time in a themepark-styled nature preserve, the memories generated a Pavlovian styled experience. When out and about, there are likely five or six in between every street corner, almost all of which have top notch Italian, Asian or French food. Think of it as a never ending Lincoln Road with higher quality and better views. Get a little deeper into the Parisian outskirts and the ethnic food is probably without parallel. 

french cafes

Secondly, the French cannot get enough of their French, but do so in the most coy way. I will start each conversation by speaking in French primarily to try to show off to my wife. The strategy backfires one because she is not particularly impressed by French and two, because she is even more unimpressed by the way I speak it.

I also speak French in the few moments she’s not around but my tongue has become heavier and so I often hear the natives say, “please speak in English”.  This response puts a dent in my self-esteem one because I consider myself fluent in French and two because they usually cut my off in the middle of a sentence I believe I’m speaking quite well. Even worse, at this point, they respond in the most rapidly paced French I have ever heard. But the key to recognizing how much the French love their language is the intonation. It’s as if their voice boxes are hopping as they speak. As for letting me into their secret club, I really need to work on my pitch. 

Americans speaking French

The third conclusion is get used to the body odor because it is not going away. I am more than 30 years and what appears to be several scientific revolutions away from my first visit here and despite quantum leaps in water filtration, shower efficiency and comfort and everything else related to hygiene, a country that prides itself on being one of the most fashionable is also one of the most malodorous.

Now my wife who has an acute sense of smell, intensified several times by virtue of being pregnant, is ready to start dispensing sanitizing wipes  and deodorant to everyone, including her husband since she thinks I get second hand BO from just speaking French with a shower deprived waiter. But the threat is real, and given dog days of a Parisian summer, it’s vital not to get too up close and personal. 

Alow me to elaborate.

As mentioned, Paris is the epicentre of “haute-couture”, especially food, architecture and fashion and yet the deodorizing deficiency is on par with a band of nomads practicing for a fast walk marathon in the heat of summer. At times it’s hard to be blithe about the un-ambient air. Take a restaurant. Our first day here we ate a creperie for dinner and our waiter/fixer whom I believe was Algerian smelled as if we was reenacting the pigsty scenes from the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a 2019 summer in Chennai India type of scent. My BO spidey sense told me he was at 72 hours plus on his last shower. Take Amir and multiply him by six on a metro or by 4 on a Hop On-Hop Off Bus and there is almost any public place.

"It's a French film, so we don't have to shower."

“It’s a French film, so we don’t have to shower.”

But this is not a Rwandan or Bangladeshi sweat shop, this is Pars. Exactly how do you become the most visited city in the world and yet aim to repel tourists from pretty much every public area. Even more strange,  those who opt not to shower at least every other day ritual appear to have the means to do so. Take it from my wife, the “au naturel” style is not service industry friendly.

Speaking of my wife who often finds the smell of Chicken Noodle Soup a little rank, she’s ready to begin a crusade. I saw her searching Amazon for a 500 pack of deodorant though since I perspire a lot in Paris, that could be for me.

 

 

The mass malodor is about our only major peeve. We can live with the waiters who portray taking our order as some type of professional burden, the labyrinth like walks through the metro to connect to a different line, the toilet paper which appears made from pizza boxes, and the Lilliputian-sized elevators which appear designed to only carry our “stuff” rather than the people who bought the “stuff”. Our strategy is now to send up the stroller and diaper bag on their own and take the stairs ourselves.

But let’s face it, this is Paris. The residents could troll around caked in shit and Paris would still be beautiful. As in one could consider just looking at the banks of the Seine, especially the left bank, as Viagra induced foreplay beautiful. This trip, I think my 12th to Paris, has already uncovered a few stones, especially  from the perspective of a parent. As for me, the Jardin de Luxembourg has some first rate public tennis courts and if one asks for forgiveness rather than permission, you can probably play for free. My recommendation, however, is to plan at least four hours for your tennis because once tennis is finished, you will want to spend the rest of the morning taking in the rest of the Louis XIV like gardens which combine the best of a Dr. Seuss novel with French extravagance.

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For the little ones, le Jardin D’Acclimation is worth making the trek to Paris alone. Granted you may have to forsake the water slides longer than you want because your kid insists on doing the bumper cars at least eight times but there is not a wasted site either ecologically or amusement wise. And finally, le Jardin de Tuilleries provides even more high adrenaline fun for the kids although you may now have to pass on your annual dental cleaning in order to fund the entertainment operation.

Ultimately Paris is ultimately like a New England hamlet. It is beautiful all year round but shows particularly well in the summer. Maybe the air is not quite as fragrant nor are the streetwalks as pedestrian friendly, but just imagine how you will feel in the fall when you are looking back on the experience. 

eiffel three

This romanticising doesn’t even include the mornings, which involve strolling along a beautiful boulevard in climate controlled weather, smelling the freshest pastries imaginable and then stopping in said cafes for coffee, a croissant and the chance to write. Paris is the ultimate satisfier of nearly every rung in Mazlow’s pyramid, all of which can almost be achieved by lunch.

Regardless, until my next blog, by which I will still hopefully be able to breathe as the temperature has turned Saudi Arabian, I simply say “ a bientot” and take a moment to appreciate anyone with whom you stand on line who has showered today.

 

They’ll drink to that

We arrived in Dublin a few days ago, or for the locals, twenty pints ere, after a quick 55 minute flight over what I believe was the English Channel. But it could also have been the Atlantic Ocean, or the British Bay or Irish Inlet for all I know. I’m excellent at Geography except for the water part, which is only about 70 percent of the mix.

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It was fun to be on a flight in which as soon as they turned off the fasten seat belt sign and performed the beverage cart service, we began our initial descent.

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I don’t know too much about Irish history despite reading the great Irish works of Dr. O’Seuss, but I do know Ireland has been the proverbial Washington Generals to the English Harlem Globetrotters. It’s a perpetual interplay of David and Goliath, but only on Goliath’s bad days or when the Irish Republican Army bathed in a large river of Guinness and Red Bull for three days and went “loco, loco”, did David really stand a chance?

As for traveling from London to Dublin, it initially felt like moving from Park Avenue to the Central Bronx or asking your major league manager to demote you to Triple-A or get traded to the Marlins, but he who risks not an inferior experience is likely to have an inferior experience.

My initial impression of any new country is formed by the cab drivers. The cabbies have nice cars here too but in a designer beer rather than champagne kind of way. Our cabby, we can call him Leo, was distinctly Irish. He had the chewing on ice cubes accent, tattoos, and kept romanticizing the pubs. He had such a pub brain he would have likely offered my four year old a pint of Guinness if we hadn’t already told him the three of us were on the wagon. Fortunately he did not act as a London-esque Google cabbie but was more than willing to share a thing or two about the land of the Leprechaun especially if we asked.

irish foods

I’ve read a fair amount of Irish literature – Beckett, Joyce, Wilde, Swift and Flannery O’Connor, along with the aforementioned O’Seuss, so I did have some preconceptions about Dublin. I knew it was fertile ground for writers, I knew it had a lapsed Catholic mentality to it and I knew it had experienced a lot of tubulence, political and otherwise. Add to that all the Irish bars I went to in NY, I could pretty much already sniff all the stale beer, potato wedges and Irish Pot Pie in my mind alone.

But the best analogy I could come up with during our 45 minute cab ride was that almost everything we saw reminded me either of those old Irish Spring commercials or the famous but now defunct Tobacco Road on S. Miami Ave. I had naively assumed that every street corner would be a shrine to either U2, Coldplay or Van Morrison but such shrines were nowhere to be found. The Irish don’t like a lot of pretension nor do they seem to big on anything mainstream in general other than beer.

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Ironically one of the first things I did when we settled in our Airbnb was search for A.A. meetings in the area. I suppose I was a little too tired to note the irony.  I realize that drinking is Ireland’s most prized national sports and congregationalists down pints of Guinness as part of the communion rite, but I still figured some menfolk such as myself who abused their drinking card in their college days might have sought to remedy their bad habit.

Unsurprisingly, the Dublin A.A. website was hard to navigate. There were meetings but at tourist unfriendly times such as 2;00 PM or midnight in Cockney which is about 30 minutes from the center of town. The local A.A. homegroup also comes with a disclaimer:

We thank you for visiting our website. Meetings are open to the public. But much like landfills which are also open to the public, we strongly discourage you from staying longer than to briefly smell the malodorous air and to realize there are better places to be. While our meetings can provide spiritual solace and a temporary respite from a mid-morning binge, the idea of swearing off alcohol is anathema to us. Would you equally give up breathing? Think about the consequences. You will be abandoning your closest friends, hurting the national economy and essentially trying to portray yourself as a Brit. 

All three conditions pose a direct threat to our national credo of “Drink Now, Drink Later because as we age, there is less we really want to remember”.

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One of Ireland’s great writers and thus drinkers – Oscar Wilde

We eventually made it our of Airbnb and I opted not to seek out the 2 pm nor midnight meeting. We did, however, have a few moments in which we were unsure if it was okay not to order a beer. When we sat down at Burger Kingdom, or Burger Palace for dinner, the Irish version of California Pizza Kitchen, the first thing the waiter said was “What else will you be having with your Guinness?” To which my son smiled and replied – french fries, french fries”.

I sure hope A.A. is around twenty or so years from now

In the meantime, I look forward to my next Dublin update

 

But Didn’t We Just Get Here?

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to add to your fountain of knowledge

Yesterday the London portion of our European ended. Not that a quick jaunt across the English Channel to Ireland will be that much different other than the ubiquitous smell of Guinness and a few more Hail Mary’s. But London is London and Clark Griswold & Co. will miss it.

chevy chase

London is an acquired taste for sure but once you acquire a taste for it, much like coffee, there is no turning back.

In a way, our London adventure was over before it started. Much like most every vacation. It took several days just to get our bearings. We spent the first two adjusting to the time change. The next two to figure out to look right rather than left when crossing the street and the last part to circumnavigate the city via a Hop On-Hop Off Bus without having the chance to see anything other than the London Eye and a Video Arcade in depth.

Ultimately we maybe were able to check off six of the 20 things on our to do list. 

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So I left London with a bad case of the tourist’s equivalent of blue balls.

Nonetheless, I will give our week in the land of Mary Poppins and Redcoats, seven days which felt like one, a summative feel.

First, London is chaotic. But unlike Cairo, or Tokyo or Jakarta or even International Mall, it’s probably the most organized chaos one will ever see. Take The Tube. It’s a labyrinth worthy of one of Dante’s circles of hell, but once you get a feel for the genome, you can almost ride the tube in your sleep. Well, a catnap.

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Second, if you want to have a Notting Hill type of quaint experience with tea, crumpets, verdant grass, chirpy repartee, and feel as if you were just transported to an episode of Downton Abbey then you must get at least half an hour outside of the center of London but not necessarily to Notting Hill. A quick trip to Wimbledon the town will do the trick.

Third and this is really reflective advice more than anything else, if you go with a four year old, add another two hours in your daily itinerary for your child to take buses, trains and trams without any regard for the destination.

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In spite of that disclaimer, bring a good pair of jogging shoes because London is meant to be traversed by foot. Read five pages of any Charles Dickens novel and you will see just how intriguing London is to the five senses. No matter how inundated the streets are with souvenir shops, clothing stores, more clothing stores, and coffee shops so delectable that you would eat off the floor, the real highlights are the parks, These parks, more like galactic estates, are so sensually intoxicating and kid friendly that you wonder why you never considered moving here in the first place, especially when you compare them to the best landscape Miami has to offer – Fairchild Tropical Gardens.

hyde park

What “could have beens” aside, I will miss London. I will miss the way it just “French” kisses the hell out of you the first day you get there, in this case free tickets to Wimbledon, and then follows it up with that multicultural and yet patently British energy that leaves little doubt as to what the British invasion forever set the landscape of rock n’roll.

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A week in London is like 40 minutes at a good buffet. It’s just enough time to whet the appetite, but then again it’s enough time to whet the appetite.

 So as we now get settled in the land of the Shamrock, the Leprechaun and the “I will have to figure out what else”, I send London a big French kiss back. I will miss not hearing “Mind the Gap” and “next stop Cockfosters” more, I will miss our Dickensian trips around alleyways and though the way outmoded tube, and I will miss all the funny Britishisms. Hopefully Ireland will provide a Kim Kardashian sister-type comparison so we don’t have too much post-Londum depression.

I’ll keep you posted in my next blog..

 

A match I have to afford to win

On Wednesday, I went to Wimbledon for the first time as a father and husband. The last time I went, in 2011, I knew much more about tennis courts than I did about courtship. As such, I had to frame the opportunity a little differently when pitching it to my wife.

Hey love. I realize it’s our first full day in London but how would you like to go see some beautiful greenery in a quaint little hamlet, do a little classic summer shopping, have the city’s best strawberries and cream all the while you can ogle some of the world’s wealthiest and handsome athletes?

male atp studs

My wife’s reply: “”Sure honey. But what will you do during that time?” Actually she was amenable but concerned as to what would preoccupy Adrian there.

Funny how challenging it can be sometimes to see the world through the eyes of a four year old.

(Slight pause and quick eye contact avoidance) “Well baby, I think he will really enjoy just seeing the lush freshly cut grass, walking the hills, the food and the chance to see beautiful young ladies in short summer dresses.”

“Mark. I’m talking about Adrian”.

“Oh yes, sorry love. My bad. Yes I also hear there is a beautiful children’s recreational area with a water park called Wimbledon Park.”

(Wife chuckle’s slightly) – Wimbledon? Just like the tennis tournament?”

At which point one of my signature traits, playing dumb, kicks into high gear. “You know honey that’s a good question. Perhaps they play the tennis in the same little town. I guess we can ask when we get there.

My wife usually has a good ear for tall tales but she was even more jet lagged than I was so she may not have done the math.

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About two hours, two different tubes and a Heartbreak Hill of an ascent later, we were on the hallowed grounds of the All England Lawn Club, commonly known as Wimbledon. As for the kids park, I am sure we passed it on the train. But to get ahead of a 5 alarm firestorm and a possible separation from my wife, I brought four fully loaded credit cards.

Wimbledon, as even layperson tennis enthusiasts know, carries great prestige. It is the Rolls Royce of tennis competitions, with a landscape which resembles a cross between Princeton, Versailles and The Garden of Eden. It is elitism on steroids.

In order to gain entry one must pass a wardrobe, British history and etiquette test. As an example, the ticket taker asked my four year old who was The Noble Duke of York. To which my son replied, “I beg your pardon but if memory serves me right, he had an army of 10,000 men whom he trudged up and down the hill”.

Pre-test passed, the next ticket taker, formally attired in rather uncomfortable looking functionary garb, welcomes us with the Wimbledon regal refrain: “Good afternoon esteemed visitors. Welcome to the All England Lawn Tennis Association Annual Grand Slam Professional Tennis Fortnight featuring 591 tennis professionals representing 101 countries and eleven generations of racket enthusiasts. How may I direct your imminent ambulation?”

wimbledon

At which point my wife interjected, thank you but is there anyone around here who speaks English. If so, could they kindly tell me where the children’s park and Burberry’s are.”

“With pleasure madam. Children under five are not allowed on the grounds of the All England Club unless in possession of a notarized letter from three club members, someone in the royal hierarchy and knickers no greater than 2 mm. Above the ankle. As for Burberry, it’s precisely 84 paces straight, 11 to the east, then 7 half steps forward, and 14 to a 45 degree angle northwest.”

Do you know that comic strip when Charlie Brown realizes that all plans have gone afoul?

charlie brown

“Dadaa,” Adrian said. “I see tennis courts. Let’s play tennis.

“Babyyyy!”

I could continue to embellish the story and act as if my wife didn’t know we were going to tennis. Obviously she did. But I had been offered tickets that morning by a former Airbnb guest who happened to be in the ladies draw so it wasn’t as if it was an extensive operation on my part. But my one deal clincher, aside from the shopping part, was that we would only stay for 90 minutes.

As if a tennis junkie is going to settle for 1 ½ hours of tennis and the most prestigious event the sport knows on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in early July.  That would have been the equivalent of Ryan Reynolds settling for just first base on his honeymoon with Scarlett Johannsen.

scarlett

We got to the tennis around 3:45 and since summers in London are daylight friendly, I knew I could pack in at least five hours of time on the grounds.  Since only three or four of my followers are avid tennis fans, I won’t bore you with the details. 

But I have a couple of worthy observations.

First Wimbledon is to politeness as NY cabdrivers and pedestrians are to rudeness anything close to rush hour.

Second, even if one could care less about tennis, a visit to Wimbledon is almost worth the flight overseas, especially if the tickets are free.

My son really enjoys the venue’s ice cream, flowers and could not stop questioning why none of the players were wearing red.

The shopping is actually reasonably priced, that is if you manage a hedge fund, but only has a “ get out of jail half life” of about 2 hours. From there, you have to hope your wife gets really hungry or has a chance to meet one of the players.

dubs

We ended up staying until about 9:30, although only about forty minutes of which I was actually at a court watching a match.

wimbledonRegardless, if ever in London, make the trek to the quaint hamlet of Wimbledon and take in some of the lawn tennis. Especially if the tickets are free.

Unfortunately I won’t likely be able to join you. My wife has definitely caught on to my sales technique.

 

London Calling

The Elman trio arrived yesterday morning in London after an 8.5 hour flight which felt like 3. Despite the Brexit movement, which has been about as successful in application as the Dolphins are in winning the division, London is still here, and apparently as quirky as ever.

Brexit stuff

The 4D Plasma TV’s fully equipped with every entertainment mode including seeing into the pilot’s frontal lobe activity speed up the process, but aside from that the technology of aviation has progressed to the point that one hardly knows he/she is on an airplane hurtling across the globe at 600 mph. Which begs the question, why does my wife get irked  when I accelerate past 60 on an open highway but not bat an eyelash when the pilot approaches the speed of sound as we travel over what feels like the Bermuda Triangle?

I am going to break with my long-form blogging style over the next few posts, as I provide more abbreviated updates of our last jaunt through Europe for a awhile, so here’s how the first day unfolded on the better side of the big pond.

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Having done many international flights, I am a fully on board with the term jet lag. After all, shifting time zones, in this case five of them, can really throw the body clock for a loop. But the real challenge to our equilibrium is culture lag. Technically traveling to America’s motherland should involve less cognitive dissonance, but the Britain of yore is not the Britain of today.

Except for the cabbies.

You know that property manager, or pseudo real estate developer whose nickname is “Pepe” or “Citron” or “Pepe Citron” who claims to know everyone and everything.  Well Pepe is a complete ignoramus compared to the London cabbies, who essentially portray themselves as a cross between Google and Lewis & Clark.

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The typical “pepe”

Aside from the fact that one needs to liquidate a mutual fund to pay the cab fare (Our trip from Heathrow Airport to our flat was 100 pounds, or $130, the driver invariably must tell you within the first ten minutes of meeting him the amount of time he devoted to earning his advanced degree as a “transportation concierge”.

cabbie tests

In our concierge’s case, it was almost 4 years including a battery of over 25 tests such as Multi Dimensional Vector U-Turns and how to express road range in Elizabethan English. Our driver, lets call him Cliff, was extremely proud of his cabbie credentials along with his apparent thorough knowledge of hotels and hot spots in Naples, Florida, the likelihood that Boris Johnson would become Britain’s next PM, who the winners on both the men’s and ladies side of the Wimbledon draw will be and what our local Airbnb hosts likely did for a living based on where we had arranged to meet them for the key pick up. He also had a bit of advice for my wife’s last five months of labor.

Now likely I am being a little cynical here because I relate to Cliff.

But still the real culture lag results from the fact as to how much the demographic landscape in Europe has changed, especially London. When we finally arrived to meet our host, who was not our host but our host’s friend’s sister’s niece (I am not making this up) we were greeted by a street scene which resembled a combination of Tel Aviv, Mesopotamia and Hialeah, The combination of Reggaeton and Arabic melodies is a tough one as is not hearing one word which sound like anything spoken on the BBC.

Leisure-activities-changing-London-logistics

However this is all a natural part of assimilation. What is not quite so natural, however, is assimilating the local food fare. One would assume the menus were written in English but when I see a main dish which features ” mushroom cake topped with rockets, chaudry shoots, dill herb spores, braised rumproast and cinnamon boar whisks” I really have to wonder why I took a cooking class or two but was never formally schooled in cosmically inedible dishes.

Ultimately, Britain, even more so than Miami, is a cultural mosaic, the least visible part of which is the native culture, so I assume my cultural lag will be quite pronounced.

potted shrimp

 

In the meantime, I will keep my loyal blog followers posted, especially on how my potted shrimp, rockets and prawns salad tastes.

 

 

The Main Event

If you have ever gone to rock concerts, especially those involving a favorite band, you know how little attention we give to the opening act. Unless of course you are a real musician who knows to pay heed to the warm up band because (1) they probably have more musicality and (2) Eventually that opening act will become the feature act.

opening act

That’s how I acted with this weeks political doubleheader. Night 1, Wednesday, was the political equivalent the opening band and at most I heard a few songs. Last night, the main card, where the proverbial political rubber hit the road, I missed the first twenty minutes because I got stuck on a long hot dog and beer line.

Still I stepped up my resolve to make it through at least half of the Heavyweight debate. I’m glad I did. I saw the entire second half, which provided serious bang for the entertainment buck.

However, before I get into my elaboration, I just need to remind the great organizers of the Miami debate a little bit about our the great 305:

First, trying to impose time limits on anyone’s behavior in Miami is not going to fly. Time has about as much importance as let’s say, the hair on our knees. Second, the only thing less likely impose behavioral modifications are red lights.  From personal experience, I can attest to both.

roxanne

As metaphors go, the opening night was like a 3 day Norwegian Cruise Line trip to Coco Cay while last night was a Royal Caribbean super sail to Grand Cayman and some exotic Mexican port of call. Opening night featured an array of the NBA’s better bench players while last night was the East All-Stars with the exception of two candidates who like Wednesday’s night thumb-wrestling contest, were plucked from the crowd. More on those two in a moment.

Last night’s roll call was an impressive lot, featuring Theodore Roosevelt, Henry David Thoreau and the two most prominent “modern” names, both of whom were good friends with Roosevelt  former V.P Joe Biden whose presence on stage was sponsored by Crest Whitening Strips and his semi stunt double in entitlement benefits, Bernie “Let’s turn Wall Street into a plowshares project” Sanders who took every opportunity to remind the crowd that it was he who was the architect of FDR’s New Deal

bidens teeth

Aside from the  killer B’s, the stage show featured 12 candidates from Colorado including the newly appointed Ministers of Bong Hits, Pot Brownies and Hemp made USB’s and along with two of the seemingly least cool people in politics, former Governor John Hickenlooper and Senator Michael Bennet, both of whom benefit tremendously from the Colorado election”pre-gaming” ritual of choice.

Fortunately for my eyes, none of the candidates was particularly tall and Bernie washed his hair for the occasion so he did not look like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future. However, the popular Pete “my last name is just a bit too ironic given his sexual orientation” Buttigeig, who is perhaps my candidate of choice, was really short.

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Mayor Pete can’t help but ponder why he wasn’t placed next to Gillibrand

Speaking of short, the other popular Obama-esque candidate Kamala Harris abused her Miami Red light privileges more than any candidate, using each prescribed limit of 1 minute to tell at least three anecdotes, and remind everyone that she was the Attorney General of California with the second largest justice department in the country, perhaps the World (Certainly larger than Venezuela’s). She also found time within that “minute” to share the top three songs on her playlist, push for KD to re-sign with the Warriors and recite Shabbat prayers since her husband is Jewish.

But the unexpected storyline of the night was that two golden tickets to participate in the debate were awarded to members of the audience. The first was a spiritual guru, Marianne Williamson, who provided chair massages to the other 92 candidates during commercial breaks and somehow found a way to channel both Depak Chopra and Jesus Christ in each of her responses, especially when asked about how to best handle the border crisis. Her presence alone gave the otherwise saccharine event a really new-agey, pot brownie type of feel.

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Marianne Williamson’s favorite Trump quote

One “candidate” over from her was a supposedly A-team tech executive named Andrew Yang who was clearly asked to troubleshoot the sound engineering for NBC and then rewarded with a podium place on the stage. He also happened to be the only one in the audience who was educated at exclusively elite schools as he did High School at Exeter, undergrad at Brown and Law School at Columbia. If there was any doubt he was not part of the original cast of debaters,  he was not donning a necktie, apparently in homage to another Trump hater, Steve Kerr.

Out of the 130 minute debate, Yang was given a total of 2.5  minutes  of speaking time, almost all of which he used to propose something that sounded more complicated than explaining the mechanics of the great financial market crash of 2008. Nonetheless, it said something about giving every American worker including Kevin Durant, $1,000 a month to to pay down the electricity bill.

For the most part, the topics were interesting, ranging from how to get local drivers to use their turn signal when switching lanes to why tow truck operators can make more in a month than most teachers make in a decade. Other contentious topics included who could singlehandedly provide affordable, quality and accessible healthcare to every single American, undocumented immigrant and Paw Patrol character without cracking a smile, as well as if high school students could replace the traditional fare of Macbeth, Hamlet and The Odyssey with the 50 Shades of Grey series.

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Giving new meaning to “Mile High” stadium

Unsurprisingly, both Biden and Sanders exited the stage at least 20 minutes before the debate ended for reasons that their campaign insiders agreed were merely “to give the other candidates” a chance to speak while the debate moderators, Stephen A. Smith, Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd all used their platform to compete for the most likely to spend a weekend with the representatives from Colorado.

Today the pundits of all stars and stripes will chime on in who won the debate, why and to what effect going forward into the next 106 debates. Early returns give the nod to Williamson and Yang for being the least Miami-fied debaters as well as affording Kamala Harris more time to tell her 97 semi-maudlin anecdotes, at least five of which were about saving Central American migrants at the border and then provided them free health care.

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Kamala Harris gets in touch with the most benign side of her inner Trump

On cue, the event which was scheduled to finish at 11 wrapped up about 11:20 but not before Yang and Williamson were given a collective total of 12 seconds to give the crowd their phone numbers and plea for at least a ride back to the metro mover.

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Apparently Asians who don’t wear ties have limited first amendment rights

All in all the night seemed to live it to its billing, especially if you run a local tow truck company. In this case, the candidates have little to no interest in what you do since they all get driven around in limos for this point of the election season on.

Adios Miami. My guess is the  candidates will really miss that extra speaking time.

The Undercard

I watched the opening act of last night’s Democratic Debate with fervent interest.

Well for about twenty minutes or so.

nbc-debate-night-1

Eventually I had to shut off the TV for several reasons. First, I need to pace myself during the 2020 election slog. With at least 107 debates, town halls, partisan bingo games, why burn out so early in the trek? Second, I was having trouble with the “mise-en-scene”. The background looked like a combination of an arcade and a post-Super Bowl confetti artillery while the candidates seemed misaligned in terms of height and hue. 

super bowl confetti

But these justified reasons pale in comparison to the main ones, notably that I get too sympathetic if one candidate isn’t either photogenic or frequently displays that lingering high school social awkwardness. Aside from the fact that I can relate to them, I really do feel bad when others lose. Then there is the other extreme which is sympathy for the Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren’s of the race who seemed to have been, supposedly by sheer algorithmic chance, relegated to the kiddie table. I remember having to play down in tennis to accommodate a much lesser ranked bunch and it wasn’t a lot of fun.

Alas, there is a more serious element at work. The questioning style. Most of the questions are canned, contrived and unnecessarily wedging. This may be necessary to set the right Darwinistic tone but still, I feel I would do a much better job as moderator. First, I would throw them some curveball questions such as name at least 15 Congressional reps from California or what U.S. state has the lowest population.

Rather than hearing them make grandiose promises such as how they can equalize a $19 trillion economy or eliminate carbon emissions within their first 6 months in office, promises which are impossible because one, the Congress is about 80 percent male and of that 80 percent, a good chunk believe neither Jews, blacks or any other minority should be allowed to join country clubs.

southern weddings

Thus, if I was the moderator, I would ask more “getting to really know the candidates” questions such as “You come home from a grueling day at work and have at least 75  minutes to go “loco” on your refrigerator and TV.. Now take the audience through that binge.”

Perhaps I should have given the debate more viewing time. Maybe those pointed questions came up and I missed them, but even if not, I could have taken some more time to visualize each candidate as our next president. Jay Inslee, the Governor of Washington had stage presence but not quite the presidential variety while Julian Castro and some dude with a last name of Delaney looked like they were plucked from the audience and asked to stir things up a bit. As for Beto O’Rourke, my attitude is if you can’t beat Ted Cruz for a senate seat, you really shouldn’t be aiming for the highest rung on the political ladder.

On the other hand, the Congresswoman from Hawaii Gabbard is smart, and hot, and Booker looks and acts like a slightly lighter shade of Obama so there is serious potential there.

gabbard etc

But it’s possible, much like most of the sporting events that I “watch”, that I missed the key plays of the game.

Still I am looking ahead to tonight’s Main Card. For one, it doesn’t even begin until 9 so maybe both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, both of whom have been running for president since FDR’s third term ended, might actually fall asleep on stage. Then again, knowing my weekday hours, I am likely to fall asleep before they do.

Regardless, it should be an interesting 18 months though my guess is none of them will be asked to apologize for any unscripted videos of them touting their ability to grab young twenty-something women by the you know what

Name That Dame

My wife and I are in the process of trying to choose a name for what we now know will be a daughter.

Technically, this may not be a bad place to end this blog because the more I write, the more I am reminded that (1) Be careful what you pray for as you approach the dead center of your lifespan (2) One of the few things that is actually more complicated than a woman is trying to choose a suitable name for her.

Speaking of decision making, I have seen my wife whose name I do find rather sexy, trying through online shopping to select an i-Pad cover. Two hours after her initial search entry, she was still  deliberating. Such a process would have taken me three minutes maximum, most of which would have been spent trying to find my credit card. I have also seen how many outfits she places on the bed when trying to decide what to wear to a toddler’s birthday party in 92 degree heat. Too many.

indecision

But back to the topic at hand – the name game. Now I am perfectly fine with simply picking a name out of a hat provided it does not include names from popular 70’s TV shows or ones sported by waitresses from Versailles, but that may not fly with my architect wife. She likes the science of name choosing including knowing the Greek and Latin root behind every name as well as slightly favoring names that are pronunciation friendly to waitresses at Versailles.  I tend to favor the instinct method. But since architecture is going to win out against poetry  this time around, here is a little sample of how the early stage of the name game is conducted.

First, I get to submit a list of names I like. This is somewhat complicated because if you are a teacher who has been around a few moons, especially in Miami, you have taught several girls by pretty much every name in the book. For good or for bad, you can’t help but have a definitive association with each name.  In a way just thinking about possible names generates a Google-like memory scan. So if we choose Gabriela, what are the five Gabriela’s who I am teaching now going to think?

Once the initial list is submitted, it must undergo the local vetting process. Any name that does not have a Spanish friendly equivalent is out and even under such circumstances, it cannot sound like “abuela” is chewing ice cubes when she calls her by that name – so Ashley, Chloe, Jacqueline, and Alison are also out (not that we considered any of those).

funny spanish names

My response to this caveat is are we really going to be in so many Spanglish situations a decade from now that it is really going to matter? But that debate is unwinnable, because we are likely to be in one, and two, science trumps art in the name game.

With list in hand, my wife will do a minimum of 20 Google searches on each name, looking for as many biblical, psychological, sociological and metaphysical associations as possible. She will also check 23 and Me for 300 years of genealogy to make sure no relatives from the 17th century share that name. This leaves us with about three remaining possibilities – Fred, BillyBob and Venus.

For the record, our top ranked names now are Ariela, Ariana, Adriana, Madison, Marissa and Melanie, along with the aforementioned Fred but we have yet to fully scour her Facebook or the list of former colleagues.

Now I recognize that some of these names are semi common in my teaching or coaching circles, but when I see some of the top names of 2017/18, I am quite comfortable with our initial list. As proof, let’s take a quick look at the top 10 names according to the SSA

baby names

Now this happens to include so very beautiful names, many of which finish with the requisite “a”, but as soon as I hear that something is “popular”, I immediately hit the red flag button.  As for number 9, Harper, I have to wonder from whence that comes. Is it an ode to the author of “To Kill A Mockingbird”, Harper Lee. Is it a reference to Bryce Harper who drew a lot of media attention in his extended free agency? The rest make much more sense, at least here in Miami. Now of the names I am familiar with from my childhood in New Hampshire, I think only Evelyn makes the list.

I am sure much like the College Basketball regular season top 25, there will be significant reshuffling of the rankings. If we had to choose today, I think the winner would be Ariela. We have begun the “speaking to the belly” trick and as of yet, we haven’t had any kicks when we call her Ariela. But my wife has five more months to do her research and I will have a whole new batch of girls this falls in the six classes I teach.

So in the meantime, I am ardently following the top 50 Women’s Tennis Association rankings to see if there are names that will meet my wife’s criteria and hopefully help launch a successful tennis career. Right now, three of the top players are named Ashleigh, Naomi and Simona. Frankly Naomi Elman or Simona don’t sound half bad. My wife, meanwhile, is carefully examining every name tag of the cashiers of the various grocery stores we frequent, and looking at my FB to make sure I am not selecting the names of any ex-girlfriends.

1 1 [AUS] Ashleigh Barty 21 6540 17
2 1 [JPN] Naomi Osaka 21 6377 18
3 0 [CZE] Karolina Pliskova 27 5685 22
4 0 [NED] Kiki Bertens 27 5425 25
5 1 [GER] Angelique Kerber 31 4685 20
6 1 [CZE] Petra Kvitova 29 4555 20
7 1 [ROU] Simona Halep 27 3963 16
8 1 [UKR] Elina Svitolina 24 386 18
9 0 [USA] Sloane Stephens 26 3682 20

As much as that strokes my fragile ego a bit, she is giving me way too much credit. Safe to say, there is absolutely no one named Fred, Ashleigh or Consuela.

If only I had spent more time at Versaiiles.

 

Subway Savage

Are you a Subway regular? If you graduated from college less than a decade ago, or work either in or near a corporate office building, spend a fair amount of time in airports or simply like to get decent bang for your lunch buck, then probably so.

Or are you more like me, a Subway “in-a-pinch” kind of guy? Normally, that means we have exhausted all other options and are in an O.J. Simpson in his famed Hertz commercial type of rush.

The Juice Hertz commercial

Maybe I am being a little hard on Subway here; rarely have I left the place hungry or with a major case of indigestion, at least not by virtue of what I ate. Regardless, here is what inevitably happens in scenario number 2. As in nearly every time I frequent the place Jared built.

First, I march into Subway somewhere between anger generating hunger and pernicious anemia. I also have the utopian vision that somehow I am the only one in this part of my booming metropolis who thought Subway was the antidote.

However, my  fantasies are dashed the second I open my eyes to realize that some guy or gal, usually a little bit high on the cholesterol side is in front of me. It’s the same type of guy who usually cuts  me off in traffic because he needs to make it to Krispy Kreme while the daily special is in its last hour.

This same dude has also apparently decided, likely subconsciously, that this will be the last sandwich he ever eats. Thus he is planning to order every topping and condiment Subway has to offer, including chocolate chips and napkin edges. Even worse, he places his order in deliberate stages.

The order goes something like this, and despite my overactive imagination, this following depictions is almost 100 percent accurate.

Krispy Kreme lover dude:  “I’l take a ham sandwich (which I already find disgusting), actually make it meat lovers, 12” on Italian Herbs and Cheese.” The bread base takes him about two additional minutes to decide even though he has already been in the store for ten. “Make that with extra provolone, and double meat, toasted“.

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The building block

Despite my repulsion with the ham and salami, I breathe a sigh of relief sensing his active palate may be satisfied and will ask for no more. A minute later a sandwich which better resembles  a nuclear missile emerges and the question I dread the most when I am in a rush ensues ” And what would you like on it?”

Mind you when I go to Subway, even if the sandwich involves two different preparers, the toppings take 12 seconds at most to order.

There is a pause, his belly contracts, he salivates like a Pavlovian dog and his eyes begin to scan the toppings counter like a Miami CSI agent. Now catch your breath for a moment because this is the request with maybe only one or two embellishments:

pavlovian dog

Thanks, sure. I’d like lettuce, tomato, spinach, onions, cucumbers, green peppers, banana peppers, spicy peppers, Julius Peppers, olives (this is when I really start to cringe), anchovies, pickles, brown olives, broccoli and guacamole. 

Like a kid in an all-you-can eat jellybean store, the deli person starts scooping out handfuls of each. But not before the orderer belts out, “With some mayo, Chipotle Sauce, and a bit of Honey Mustard too please.

Now at this point, if I were the “sandwich artist”, or “customer connoisseur” or “toppings specialist” or whatever the modern day euphemism is, I’d tell him either just to order a salad instead or spit on his sandwich. But if I were to exercise a tad of self-restraint, I would not let him say another word other than “it’s to go, thank you”.

But no. The “artist” begins to shovel on the 3.5 lbs. of toppings landfill style and then has the audacity to ask the customer if he wants anything else on his sandwich.

oversized sandwich

“Anything else?” I mutter under my breath. Even with a trash compactor, it’s not even possible to fit more on that sub, which really does resemble a small submarine or banana boat.

“Krispy Kreme Dude: “Yes, I’d like…..

At this point, and I am getting a little nauseous just thinking about it, especially the fact that he ordered mayonnaise and olives (I’d rather eat bark and deer perspiration), I would tackle the dude for thinking he was on a cruise buffer line with absolutely no one in any form of rush. But what pisses me off even more is why he didn’t just include these additional 7 toppings in the original wish list. Clearly he was no Subway newcomer.

I’d also like oil and vinegar, some mustard, salt, pepper, a few green onions… (pauses) do you have anything else?”

He didn’t actually pose such an audacious question, but if he had, the conversation might have continued something like:

Deli Artist:  “Yes we have pencil shards, condom flakes, Elmer’s Glue and a little cinnamon bile.

Krispy Kreme Dude:  ” Perfect, I’ll take that too. And can you make it a combo meal? I’ll take Salt n’ Vinegar chips with that”

Where’s Larry David when I need him most.

ice cream taster abuser

Four minutes later and many blown nerves later, I get to order my 6′ tuna sandwich on wheat with lettuce, pickles, tomato and mustard. I thought about cucumbers too but it felt as if I was ordering too much. Meanwhile, Billy Bob after needing a hotel porter to carry his sandwich to a nearby table, is carving his Buche De Noel with an axe.

buche-de-noel-horizontal-1540928371

7 bites, a completed half sandwich, and two minutes late to work later, I renew my vows. From now on, I am either going on a “coffee until I have time to eat” diet or packing a lunch. And in the event I have no other choice but to go to Subway, I am either forming my own “Express Line”there or settling for cookies and a soda.

I’d rant more but I really cant’ stop visualizing what Krispy Kreme Dude and legions of Subway savages like him order on their sandwich. Just the ham, olives and vinegar alone, not to mention the diabolic mayonnaise, are enough to make me barf.

But in all seriousness, and obviously this is a very serious, “news of the first order” type of blog, we need to exercise a bit of self-restraint when it comes to using freebies. From now on, I am going to propose a little mantra for those toppings abusers to practice:

“Just because you can put something on your sandwich, doesn’t mean that you should!”

subway jared

Even the once and famous Jared, despite some of his other bad habits, knew that.