Sunday, January 31

Officially 8

Madeleine blows the lights out on 7 - can another year have gone by? (I give Sonnet a kiss for being a great mother). Neither of us realise the impending over-night where the real work begins. The six kids, including Eitan, have ongoing boundless energy. They spread their kit on the top floor and hunker down for a night of .. screeching. Jumping. Wrestling and so on and so forth. Sonnet or I may bark occasionally but otherwise we are resigned for a wakeful evening, oh, boy. Finally, Madeleine too tired to continue and begs for her bed. A scuffle breaks out re who will join her room and I command: enough! and send each to his quarters. The separation seems to work and I hear only whispers (Madeleine to Jackson: "Don't lie too close to the radiator because you might catch on fire."). By 1AM, all is quiet. Home free, I think.

Bang! the first pops awake. It is .. 7AM. God damnit, I mutter, but Sonnet up and gone. The little animals wander downstairs and Sonnet prepares a kip of sausages, morning cake, eggs and fruit. The boys and Madeleine discuss their sleep time - general consensus 3AM or beyond. The later the more macho, of course. Around the table it is all chatter, chatter, chatter. I drink my coffee and listen silently. It is a wonderful sound, really - the kids compare favourite foods, cartoons, teachers... girls are just on the fringe and soon will make an appearance but this seems like years from now. And our birthday girl? She is interested in the opposite sex for a good rough housing but nothing else. Soon parents arrive for the pick-ups leaving Madeleine with the blues. We talk about this for a bit then the sure-all remedy: The Muppet Movie, which she watches for like the umpteenth time.

Eitan: "I am going to talk like Yoda."
Eitan: "Long the journey will be, Luke."
Me: "Backyard chores you be doing, Eitan."

"Movin' right along (doog-a-doon doog-a-doon)
We're truly birds of a feather,
We're in this together and we know where we're going.
Movie stars with flashy cars and life with the top down.
We're storming the big town"
--The Muppets

Saturday, January 30

Birthday Prep

Madeleine has her birthday party this afternoon and invites all boys and Camilla, who is a brave sole, God bless her. Madeleine too excited to eat lunch, pictured, and waits for her guests by the dining room window, through the curtains. The lads descend upon us and, bam!, it is an indoor hurricane. Fortunately Sonnet prepared - treasure hunt! - and the children group into Pirates and Buccanneers. Each's captain responsible for reading clues spread around the neighborhood. It works, too, as the kids race ahead with us screaming after them to stay on the sidewalk and etc. My group is Eitan, Alex, Billy, Ewen and Nathaniel who drive hard - their curiosity reminds me of a kennel of bloodhounds - no hiding place untouched nor porch unexamined.

We come together at the common and their hard work rewarded with crisps, chocolate lollies and other various drugs. Personally I wonder how I ever ate such crap - soury chewy strips or sugary florescent gum drops. Powder sugar in various flavas. In my day it was a honourable chocolate caramel 'Reggie' named after the NY Yankees star who homered thrice in the '77 World Series. Or the hefty 'Marathon Bar' and singular 'Now And Laters." Yes, we ate them now and later.

Back home, pizza arrives and the kids .. freak out. One forgets the work involved with eight-year olds. They .. cannot... sit .. still. From outside to inside and upstairs and again. The birthday cake fuels their frenzy and I worry about injury but, hey, this probably unnecessary since the animals seem quite comfortable knocking off the wall or falling on the ground. Every now and then I scream at their screaming (Madeleine: "You know, Dad, you can be louder then us."). I guess my stream of thought that eight year olds are generally the same between them and across generations. I know I lost sleep the night before my eighth birthday party. And I remember the over-nights like yesterday, which Madeleine does tonight with a Chosen four. And of course, the parent - whoever hosting - yelled bloody murder at some point. Same as it ever was.

Madeleine: "Oh, Dad, just so you know: there will be violence by Nathaniel."

All: "who likes brussel sprouts? Who likes pizza? Who likes brocolli? Who likes aubergine?"
Madeleine: "Aubergine? That's disgusting!"
Me: "I've got some in the fridge - any takers?"

The afternoon party.
Me: "No walking on the pond!"
Me: "Get out of the mud!"
Me: "Keep your pants on!"
Me: "You are not allowed to say those words!"
Me: "Stay out of the street!"
Me: "No jumping from the bed!"
Me: "Leave the poor hamster alone!"
Me: "Take that pizza out of your hair!"
Eitan: "Dad, why do you always stop us from having fun?"

Friday, January 29

River's Bend

I read an interview in Time Out of architect and planner Sir Terry Farrell, who has worked in London for more than 30 years. Farrell's new book - "Shaping London" - published by Wiley and out now. I will buy it. Here are two comments I find particularly fascinating:

On why London is where it is on the Thames: "The ideal place to put a city is south-facing outside bend of a river because it gives you direct sunlight and a navigational channel for shipping. Becauses of the tides, the north bank will be deeper and better suited for boats than the shallower south side. And you want that outside bend to be at the closest possible bridging point to the sea. That's why London is on the north side of the river, and that's why it is at that bend and not one of the others."


How did the docks 'straighten' the Thames?: "The logical thing to do with the Thames is to cut out the bends and straighten the river, and if you look at a map you'll see that is what happened with the docks incrementally. If we were French, we'd have just straightened it in one go, but that would not have anticipated the size of the ships that would come afterwards. The London way was to build a dock between bends to straighten the river, learn from it, build the next bit and carry on until you eventually get the Royal Docks, the biggest inland waterway in the world in its time. Certain nations go for the big thing, but the London way is to try something and perfect it, which works, providing you follow an intuitive logic and keep an overview."

Thursday, January 28

Eitan Does Kumon - Jet Lag - Catcher

And so here we are again, Friday morning. I return home on yesterday's red-eye and, just like that, on the other side of the planet. From Heathrow, the motorway jammed by rush-hour so my driver takes the side roads which, I can assure you, less then inspiring on a grey, damp London morning. I have learned, post long-haul, to power through the day and avoid aggravation. Like work. Or talking to other human beings. JD Salinger. All of us wish to believe we are Holden Caulfield a little bit. I read "Catcher" in tenth grade, as did many of us, selected then I suppose for its impact on our forming psyches. In many ways Holden's dis-association, his isolation, what we crave - a fantasy of independence free from others stupidity. Free from government. Free from taxes and stupid wars, adults and everything else. Who hasn't found himself wandering a late-night urban scene after being dumped by a girl or feeling without a friend in the world? Such lovely self-pity. I know I've been there and happily can report: like many things, a passing phase.

Me: "Madeleine, please put that away."
Madeleine forgets, walks out of the kitchen.
Me: "Is that what you kids call 'cleaning up'?"
Eitan: "That's the way it is, Dad. Kids are slobs."

I tell Eitan to button up his pajamas; dry his hair; put on socks.
Me: "What I am saying is, like, Eitan I want you to feel good. Not be sick. Here is what you hear: blah-blah-blah-blah-blah."
Eitan: "It's like the sound of a tape recorder. On fast-forward."

Madeleine: We will be needing that computer after dinner."
Me: "Why don't you try saying that again, but more elegantly."
Madeleine: "We will be needing that computer after dinner please?"

Holden: "You know that song, 'if a body catch a body comin' through the rye'?..."
Phoebe: "It's 'if a body meet a body coming through the rye'!.... It's a poem. By Robert Burns."
--JD Salinger


Now this is how a skyscraper should look. Powerful. Direct. Pointy. None of the new fangled designs with their space age materials compare. Prince Charles agrees BTW.

I am fascinated by the visible wiring everywhere in the New York subway - I mean, does it serve some purpose? Here is what Arthur says: "This question reminds me of when we were trying to put the police radios down in the tunnels of the London Underground. Somebody important (can't remember who) said the London Underground was a victorian rail system run by a Victorian organization.

"In other words a worn out antiquated system run by worn out antiquated people. The other thing I learned was that LU had very little information about what was actually down in the tunnels. In modern engineering, we call this "configuration control", which is the business of understanding how your equipment is configured. This can be challenging when you have a large system spread out geographically with many people working on it. People have to keep accurate records or you pretty quickly lose control. Apparently, it was not uncommon for crews to go into the tunnels at night (the window of opportunity is very short from about 1:00 to 5:00am) to do installations or repairs and discover that the equipment or layout of the equipment that they went to work on didn't match the drawings and they didn't have the right parts to make the repair or the new equipment wouldn't fit where it was planned.

"So to answer your question, I suspect most of the wiring is associated with signaling, that is, determining where trains are (sensors in the tracks) and controlling the "points" or switches and also the safety control systems that can stop a train that runs a red light. There's probably also various communication links between the stations.

"But it's also possible that as new systems are installed, which probably use far less wires, the old stuff is just left in place. Maybe you could reach out of the window and snip a wire to see what happens?

"And one last thing which I thought was a pretty neat piece of trivia. When the fiber-optic boom hit, entrepreneurs were looking for ways to run major fiber trunk lines across the UK and somebody realized that just about the only pieces of land that provided continuous access over long distances were the rail lines. So they all leased space along the sides of the rail lines. "

God bless.

28th St

Katie on a high-powered business call. She sticks her tongue out at me and signals "peace" with her fingers. Her offices on 5th Avenue and 28th or several blocks from Madison Square Park, named after President James and famous for the weirdly triangular Flatiron Building, one of the city's first skyscrapers. You've come a long way, baby. I meet several of my sister's colleagues from Fenton Communications, who support her Op-Ed Project and where she co-habitates. We then go to dinner at Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar in the East Village. The restaurant a hole-in-the-wall seating twenty and the latest venture of husband-wife owners of successful sushi Jewel Bako. It is perfect in a New York kind of cool. Candles and clutter. Joining us is Duane who engages my sister on her favorite topic - media. Each has a view on the Internet's disruption and for a moment I think all may be lost. But Katie does not take the bait and it is all good. From dinner, Duane's evening begins while Katie and I head to the Upper West Side. 10PM, dude, and I am lights out.

I listen to a Radio 4 report on a cockroach's ability to survive the nuclear winter. The myth rubbish - a parasitic wasp, for instance, can withstand a 1,000X more radiation than humans vs. 10X for the roach. Good to know, really.

Tuesday, January 26


Tim and I meet at a diner on Clark Street in Brooklyn and head north, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge then Canal Street and China Town before settling for lunch in the Lower East Side. The weather torrential and I am soon soaked - my umbrella useless in the wind and my down jacket worse. We observe Stuyvesant Town - one of the most successful post-war private housing communities in America - which was bought by Tishman Speyer for $5.4 billion in 2007 - at market's peak. A tenant-sponsor offer was rejected BTW. The dough boys bet on the fly boys leaving, by will or by force, taking their "rent control" with them. Everybody sued and today, by coincidence, Tishman gave up the ghost by handing Stuyvesant to the creditors and avoiding bankruptcy.

Tim and I met in London via Sonnet's cousin Bru whose father shared a partnership with Tim's dad in upstate New York. Today, Tim and his family live in Brooklyn surrounded by writers and thinkers - he tells me Brooklyn compared to Berkeley in the '60s and I believe him. A special place and the fourth largest city in America if separated from New York. We last saw Tim raising $40 million for an airport security company and today he looks into renewable energy opportunities on the west-coast. I can see him in the East Bay no problemo.

Katie has a day full of meetings and we talk a couple times on the phone. She is now downstairs stretching, after a night-jog in Central Park, and watching TV.

Wedding Day

This photo of Eric and me from, I believe, my wedding day (sent by Best Man Roger). That said, none of us (Eric, Roger) can remember the exact where or when or why I am in a tuxedo and Eric black Converse All-Stars. A mystery, no doubt. What I do recall from that day: while Sonnet with Catherine doing her preparation, Roger meant to perfume and prime me at the barbershop. Instead, the three of us went to a Chinese on Russian Hill then took a two-hour nap before the 5PM kick-off. I am still earning that one back, oh boy.

I arrive at JFK without incident, though the enhanced searches at Heathrow force me to discard a bottle of expensive after-shave lotion. My 200ml over the allowable 120ml. I note that my bottle half full, or less than 120ml. And this earns the attention of three "security specialists," all Indian, who finally agree it is not the lotion but the container size that matters. It takes them ten minutes to reach this conclusion. In fairness, the cream pink and does look suspicious and my offer to "eat some" did not help.

Katie and I go to her local Frenchie and sit at the bar drinking beer and eating steak and watching the NFC Championship game. The Saints win in over-time.

Sunday, January 24

Sunday Chill

Eitan checks out the football scores, pictured. His KPR defeated Hampton Youth 3-nil in an away game this morning. The boys a bit rusty following the year-end break and bad weather post-ponements. Us dads, meanwhile, in full force: Jergen sold a division of his company; Eric back from Amsterdam with his family ("we went one canal too far" and confronted "with an enormous pair of tits" he reports); Jean Luca moving into a new house ... meanwhile the boys grunt and puff, back and forth, their breath visible in the cold air. Madeleine had the option of joining or sleeping in, which she does until 9:30AM. Good on her.

Yesterday we spend the afternoon with Dana and Nathan for tea then scoot back to our neighborhood for dinner with Puk and Lars. Lars a retired hedge-fund manager who has written a book on his experiences to be published by the Financial Times and in Waterstones 27 May. He notes that his book will include "the usual suspects and many people you know." I agree. I ask him if there is a paragraph about my negotiating a sublet in his office in Mayfair? Happily I am spared.

I am picked up for the airport in 15 minutes and will be with Katie in New Yawk this evening.

Eitan: "Have you ever seen (Brazilian football legend) Ronaldihno's teeth? He has teeth like a horse!"

Saturday, January 23

Gross Magic

Eitan has been talking about Madaeleine's birthday present for several days so today, following football, we go to local toy store Pandemonium. He, like a radar guided missile: "Gross Magic." Eitan reads the box on the ride home: "Gross Magic is just revolting. It's the most radical thing in magic you can get. If the idea of dragging a brown sticky blob out of a toilet upsets you then Gross Magic is not for you. It isn't pretty, it isn't nice but Gross Magic is very funny. Gross Magic plumbs new depths in bad taste (and bad breath). Take a filthy snot rag and clean it with the flick of a wrist, liquidize an eyeball into red goo and shock your audience with "live" Cockroach eggs. Yeuchy doesn't begin to describe it." Eitan: "Do you think mom will like it?"

Gross Magic costs more then Eitan's immediate liquidity so we discuss how he will pay for his gift. I give him the option of covering half the cost but the present from me and him. Or he can write me an IOU and take full credit. He thinks about this for a bit then decides he does not wish to share the gift - good lad. Always go for the debt. At home (after a plan to secret the box away from Madeleine agreed) the boy wraps his present with red paper. I lend a hand with the Scotch tape but otherwise it is all him. He shows me the note which includes "9 X 9 = 81." Eitan: "it will help Madeleine in Kumon" and, as always, this kid thinking with his heart.

Sonnet a blur around me as I blog. Saturdays are about kids activities and organising the house. While Madeleine at Stage Coach, Sonnet fills a garbage bag with Madeleine's crapola - old newspapers, random sketches, broken remote control race car, a scarf (cut into pieces), polished stones, homeless crayons, broken remote control airplane and on and on. "Don't tell Madeleine" she says. From there, Sonnet straightens the upstairs and tidies the garage, does a laundry, makes chicken soup for lunch ... she is .. possessed. I ask Eitan what he is worries about these days. He: "Nothing, really. I do think about pollution."

Friday, January 22


I pick up Eitan from swimming ("37 laps" he tells me) while Sonnet with Madeleine and Lorena and Camilla at the museum showing the girls the behind-the-scenes+"tea and cake." This grey day starts, for me, at the Wolseley then coffee with my "personal banker" and lunch at Cecconi's. There I see Reza who ran HBOS and Halifax's joint investment business Insight until they were acquired last year by Bank of New York. Reza tells me at some moment in the negotiations he was not receiving the terms he needed and so BONY told him "to quit." So he did, taking the top four executives with him. 24 hours later he had his deal. Bad ass.

Reza Iranian and so of course following the country's elections and protest. He takes a personal interest in Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death in '09 broadcast over the Internet becoming a rallying point for the reformist opposition. Reza tells me that by chance "Neda" means "voice," or "divine message" in Persian and she is now "the voice of Iran." When he learned his alma mater Oxford's "Angel of Freedom" scholarship sponsored mostly by the English, he took it upon himself to raise money from the Iranian community in London and abroad, which he has done with his other alma mater Columbia U. - recall Columbia allowed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak on campus then Lee Bollinger castigated Ahmadinejad in his preamble. Embarrassing for him, embarrassing for the university. Columba and Resa have raised substantial donations while thumbing their nose at the regime, which really Reza's motivation to begin with. Bad ass.

Reza and I also share a love for spirit and we discuss the methodologies behind our Holy Grail: the perfect martini. We agree the best cocktail bars Claridges, Dukes and the Laneborough's Library Bar which has the most lovely glasses, perfect for a yellow lemon rind.

"I openly declare that no one, apart from the government, killed Neda. Her killer can only be from the government."
--Ali Agha-Soltan from Iran

Thursday, January 21


This is just as cool now as when I watched for the first time the summer of '82 (while at San Diego Swim Camp):

Morning And Teddy

Madeleine is a tough riser and here we are, Thursday morning. She chooses to sleep on the pull-out, otherwise reserved for guests, and I wonder how long this interest will last? Eitan does it to. There was a while when the kids experimenting with the floor - as in, no mattress. Sonnet and I would protest but to what effect?

How sad that Senator Kennedy's vacated seat falls to a Republican and Obama's health-care bill now in doubt. Though imperfect, the mish-mash would, I have to believe, be an improvement to the status quo and itself would be improved upon. 40 million Americans going without or to the Emergency Room cannot be good. The Congressional Budget Office anticipates health care costs will be 27% of GNP by 2037 ... my friend Dale argues: so what? given health care is a 'superior good,' the richer you are, the more (in percentage terms) you want to spend on it. This is all fine and good accept that it is not sustainable. And it kills GNP growth. But why worry? As for the political opera - it continues to astound. Dim wits on the public stage; wars revisited and lost by the Son of the Commander. Now Health care. Poor Teddy.

"The alcohol industry is a conspiratorial collective pushing an addictive palliative to numb people to the misery of their own existence. Just as bad as Big Tobacco."

Wednesday, January 20


I like the photo of my favorite spirit - very 1950s US. Mad Men. I think of my Grandmother in Upper Arlington, Ohio, hosting all-night bridge sessions where my Grandfather stirred a frozen pitcher of Martinis and a pitcher of Manhattans. The following morning, my Grandmother cooked everybody breakfast. Now this is how to drink, unlike these Brits who binge and obliterate themselves. And the Scots, these poor bastards, drink the equivalent of 46 bottles of Vodka each year, or 25% more than the English or Welsh. How do they get up in the morning? The 50 million litres of pure alcohol sold in Scotland last year enough for every drinker over the age of 18 to exceed the consumption guidelines for men every week of the year (source: the Scottish Government). To combat this disease, government intends to raise the cost of alcohol which, today, is cheaper then water on the High Street. They have tried before to great resistance.

And what about the Ruskies who, we all know, can drink. By 2009, the average Russian consumed three times as much pure alcohol as he did 16 years ago. A report I see by Gennadi Onishenko, head of the consumer protection agency, found that Russians drink 16 litres (26 pints) of pure alcohol per year compared to 5.4 litres in 1990 (Vodka BTW accounts for 16% of Russian alcoholic sales). The study calculates that at least 2.3 million Russians are alcoholics, and blames rising mortality rates, particularly among men, on drink. Russia consumes 100% more than the critical level set by the World Health Organisation and an estimated 600,000 die from consumption each year. Yeltsin drank on his death bed.

Raising drink prices a start. Youngsters must be given alternative messages about alcohol and so the media can help. It wouldn't hurt if our role models weren't winos. It starts with the family - myself, I would put these binge-drinkers to work, work, work. These kids beg for it.

My Grandmother would not be impressed.

Tuesday, January 19

The Wharf

This what greets people as they exit Canary Wharf tube station. Imagine Monday mornings. Canary Wharf London's answer to Midtown, Manhattan - it is money. One feels the waves of capitalism ebbing and flowing while i bankers filter the nutrients for themselves. Like Wall Street, The City - London's traditional financial district - grew tired. Banks demanded space for their modern trading desks and fat data pipes. The Isle of Dogs, shallacked during the WW II, became the home of bad ass. Bad ass bankers doing bad ass deals making insane amounts of money. Ebb or flow, it matters not. This always so on the Isle - From 1802, the area one of the world's busiest docks until the Krauts put a stop to that. And, I am happy to say, my old firm Credit Suisse First Boston came up with the idea to convert Canary Wharf into back office. Others signed on and the project sold to Olympia & York the year before I arrived at PAZ. The first buildings opened in '91, including One Canada Square pictured, that became the UK's tallest building and a symbol of regeneration. Soon after, the London commercial property market collapsed and Olympia filed for Bankruptcy in 1992. Nobody learns.

Madeleine's school pal Mattie moves to Cape Town next week. Me: "What will you do when you arrive in South Africa?"
Mattie: "I don't know. Watch TV?"

Sunday, January 17

Tom Ford

Tom Ford's menswear collection greets me this morning in the IHT - full page, no less. Ford's work showcased in Sonnet's New York Fashion Now exhibition when Ford up-and-coming. Recall he became known for turning around Gucci then left Gucci to start his own shop in '04. He began with accessories and bling, then eye-ware and finally men's clothing always promoting himself with sex, sex, sex! God bless. His first store opened with fanfare on Madison Avenue in '07 followed by Europe in '08 with a boutique in Zurich. Last year Ford at Selfridges to launch his new fragrance Bois Marocain whose ad offered us, the male punter, a glistening female body (with a "Hollywood") whose otherwise exposed vag hidden behind a small bottle of the perfume. C'est tout. It causes a stirring. Ford also designed costumes for the world premiere of "The Letter" which performed at the Santa Fe Opera last year. I wonder if Stan and Silver caught it?

Madeleine and I in the pet store looking at a small container of live crickets (meant for the snakes/lizards/tarantulas): "Can I have one, Dad? Oh, Please?"

In the pet store, Madeleine spies a container of crawling maggots (for fish food): "Mom would freak out if she saw that."
Me: "Shall we bring some home and put them in a bowl on the kitchen table?"
Madeleine: "Oh-h-h, Dad. I cannot even imagine that."

Madeleine sets the table: "Aw, dad, why do I have to wash my hands after I have been picking my feet?"

Eitan: "Do you think there is more good, or more bad, in the world?"
Me: "What do you think?"
Eitan: "I don't know."
Me: "You will spend the rest of your life trying to figure it out."
Me: "Do you think you can make a difference?"
Eitan: "Well, one tiny thing will make a small difference and one big thing may make a big difference."
Madeleine: "He read that on the bus, dad."
Me, privately: "Eitan, you can make a big difference. You can be somebody and people will follow your lead."

Madeleine and I spot an algae in the pond, which leads to a discussion about the earth's transformation from rock and gas via photosynthesis:"Without those little buggers we would not be here right now."

Madeleine: "Can I use this paper?"
Me: "Sure."
Madeleine: "Can I use the Super-Glue?"
Madeleine: "Can I cut this photograph?
Madeleine makes a poster: "Eitan Wanted! Thief!"

Moe names his special meat loaf after Eitan "because he know it's my favorite."

Martin, Helen

Madeleine bravely announces she reduces her "buddies" from 115 to 30: "I want the best buddies, not all the buddies that I don't like. I am keeping all the buddies given to me by you and mum."

We have our neighbors, Helen and Martin, to afternoon tea. Helen quite serious - proper- and Martin loquacious. He is filled with stories of the area as he should be having been born in the house he now lives in. Actually born, Sonnet points out. Martin in his 70s, I would guess, and probably 20-years older then Helen - they met via their parents who played tennis together. (side story: Martin's mother, Kitty Godfree, ranked Top Ten in women's tennis from 1921 when rankings began to 1927; she won five Olympic medals at '20 Antwerp and '24 Paris still the most medals ever won by a tennis player; Godfree also won Wimbledon twice. A blue plaque on their house).

Martin an electrical engineer and advises Big Projects on electrical rigging which takes him around the world like Brighton, where he advises on ten miles of undergound traffic tunneling. We talk about the Shard of Glass, soon to be Europe's tallest at 72 floors, rising above London Bridge. Martin tells me he plans electrical platforms every twenty stories for the building phase.He notes "a perfectly nice" 42-story demolished next to Tower Bridge station to make way for .. progress. "A frightful waste of good materials" he adds. "We used to use wonderful materials on our buildings, like local timber and stone, that moved together allowing the properties to age."

I ask Martin about World War II and he recalls being relocated to Devon during the air raids."Only one house on the block had a bomb-shelter" (on our cul de sac). "After the war, it was not very practical for the garden, you see, so he had it removed. He dug it up and drove it away." Sheen was spared most of the Luftwaffe's destruction since we are West London while the planes followed the river in from east, destroying the docklands (now Canary Wharf) and looking for juicy targets in the city's center. A bomb did flatten a part of nearby Palmerstone Road and five new houses recognizable. Martin recalls a bomb falling through the roof of number 53 "but it did not blow. (interned) Polish workers probably did a number on the fuse." By us, pilots dropped their left-over payloads or went after a now defunct electricity plant. Or maybe the Stag brewery to demoralize the public. "The Putney (train) station or Barnes bridge targets- they always want the bridges." How unusual to learn that massive anti-aircraft guns in Richmond Park on top of a hill.

Strange factoid: George Orwell's given name Blair. How 1984.

Saturday, January 16

Katie And The Mountains

Here's my sister - hey cutie - pinched from Facebook. The holidays now long gone and the brown Christmas trees still appear on the roadside. I am always amused by the last tree usually sometime in March or April .. the thought of some poor slob clinging on desperately disturbing. So, today, we are fully into our routines of work, school, swimming, football, Spanish, stage class, music, horses and Kumon. Eitan will have a tutor from next week preparing for entrance exams next year. He has met Stephanie, who is light-hearted, enjoys children and will spend one hour a week with the boy. If ever there was an idea of going truant to fish or catch frogs - not in this house.

Eitan's class examines the world's mountains. He banks the Andes, the world's longest at 4,300 miles and highest range outside of Asia. Eitan tells me Acongcagua rises to 6,962 meters above sea level. I show my knowledge by pointing out Everest the world's tallest, which he flatly rejects. Ok, I think to myself, here comes the battle between Everest and K2 so let the little twerp have his fun. Eitan: "Actually, the world's tallest mountains are on the ocean floor" and God damn, he nails me again. While Eitan doesn't know the name, the island Mauna Kea has an altitude of 4,205 meters above sea level, much lower than Everest's 8,848 meters. Measured from the bottom of the nearby ocean floor it rises over 10,000 meters. Bada bing!

Eitan also studies fantasy stories and surreal pictures "and stuff." Madeleine, as we know, in the thick of Roald Dahl and we agree most of the kids found it "rather strange" that yesterday's Kit Kat Cowboy friends with Dahl. The "inside Roald Dahl's brain" did not go down so well either. A tough crowd.

Friday, January 15

The Return Of Kit Kat

Strolling along Rue du Faubourg St. Honoree in the 8th arrondisement - a church and the school crossing. Just below the dome on the right, a waft of smoke or steam makes me wonder: what and whom?

This morning I take Eitan and Madeleine to school (they bicker ceaselessly) as Sonnet wraps up her conference. Mrs. X in Madeleine's class invites me to revisit Kit Kat Cowboy and, since the children studying Roald Dahl, I bring Dahl into the story. Initially I was to read "The Enormous Crocodile" but Mrs. X and I decide much more entertaining to go off-piste. So I do. In my story, Kit Kat and Dahl friends and, since Dahl needs some new material, Kit Kat is off to find the nasty troll Gramelin who is the best story-maker around. Gramelin lives in Nottingham Forrest by a never-ending hole. Once there, Kit Kat meets a clever fox. Willy Wonka shows up with the Vicar and of course Matilda and Pelly pass by holding hands. James says a warm 'hello.' The class knows of Dahl's sad history (he lost his older sister and a daughter) and I tell the children that everybody has a hard time sometimes. For Dahl, writing saved his life. My story concludes - we are actually inside Roald Dahl's brain and the pit his endless fear and sadness - but I think this bit of surrealism lost on the youngsters. Probably best for them. Madeleine beams.

"A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men."
--Roald Dahl

Thursday, January 14

Paris Encore

Here we are, leaving St Pancras back to to Paris. Rough life. This time we go for Sonnet's presentation to Les Arts Decoratifs at the Institut National du Patrimoine at the Louvre. She is today's First Act on "Restoring and Conserving Haute-Coutre: The Example of Madeleine Vionnet." Sonnet weaves her story from acquisition to restoration to exhibition then conservation using photo-examples of la mode. A gorgeous red Vionnet dress from the 1920s shown from rags to riches at the V&A's Haute-Couture exhibition last year. Really, the conservationist the museum's unsung hero - who knew they were there, protecting the valuable collection hidden from the public eye? This esoteric trade gleaned from years of experience; the narrow market means each opening attracts considerable interest and talent. Sonnet acknowledges her colleagues. She begins her talk in French and sure enough, an elderly lady in front of me mutters: "Ah, elle parle le francais" and she has won them over.

After the morning session, Sonnet and I have lunch at La Duree, famous for its macarones, with our friend Xavier at Astorg. It is a nice New Year re-union since I have not seen him since Biarritz.

Me: "Have you learned anything in your French lesson?"
Eitan: "Je veux une pomme."
Me: "Great. How about you? Can you offer anything better?"
Me: "You must know one word?"
Madeleine: "Crap!"
Me: !
Madeleine: "I didn't say crap, Dad. Crepe!"

Wednesday, January 13


Buddy Cianci was the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, from 1974 to '84, just before I arrived for college. Mayor, that is, until the Providence Journal reported Cianci and the Chief of Police tortured a fellow for having an affair with Cianci's wife. Specifically, cigarettes were ground into the dude's back and genitalia. So imagine my surprise when Cianci ran for a second term in '91 and won in a landslide. His slogan: "I never stopped caring about Providence" and perhaps that was so: the city entered a renaissance uncovering the US's largest cement bridge exposing a .. beautiful river; redesigning the down-town train station and opening the city centre to green-space, wooing the Providence Bruins from Maine. New hotels, shopping malls, an ice skating rink.. Providence became an alternative to Boston and a whole lot better than Philadelphia. Artists moved in followed by the gays and then young families. Even tourists sniffed about looking for authenticity. And the zoo.

When I was at Brown I could see the city changing - and I should know since I painted most of College Hill (52 houses in the summer of '87). Cianci connected like nobody's business into Federal Hill, the Italian blue collar community which defined city life. My favorite - and first legitimate -Italian restaurant Raphael's on Vine Street. I took Michelle there for a date and felt like an adult; later my family celebrated my graduation here with then-girlfriend Elise and Roger... Federal Hill otherwise infamous for its mob, who had wired every hotel and building in the neighborhood for the penny rackets (Providence remains gambling free somehow). I was warned about the rough side during my college interview and Cianci made it true.

I knew Buddy from Olivers Bar, an off-campus dive popular with Brown students who were rarely carted (Rhode Island also enjoyed a "grandfather clause" which meant that we under-21s could still drink though drinking age bumped from 18 to 21. There was a time when this the only thing we talked about). So Buddy loved Olivers where he could hook an arm on the bar and surround himself with the Ivy League. And college girls. He also favored the wrong-side-of-the tracks Fox Point restaurant Cafe at Brooke's where I washed dishes when not painting or swimming the summer following Freshman year. Cafe at Brook's owned by three corrupt Jewish brothers Jake, Nate and Saul who also owned the house I lived in. They were scumbags and a lot of coke moved through their restaurant. They still owe me my security deposit, fuckers. Cafe at Brooke's hired super-fine waitresses who I flirted with shamelessly with Joe, the RISD Chef who had never cooked before the Cafe. It was by far the most fun I have ever enjoyed on the job. And again Buddy, who grunted his recognition whenever around me.

So no surprise when Cianci indicted in 2001 on federal criminal charges of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, witness tampering, and mail fraud. It is in his blood - he wants to be a wise guy. The Judge said of the case: "Clearly, there is a feeling in city government in Providence that corruption is tolerated. In this mayor's two administrations, there has been more corruption in the City of Providence than in the history of this state." Because Cianci faced a jury of his peers, he was acquitted of 26 of 27 charges but found guilty of racketeering conspiracy which put him in the slammer for five years. Worse, it forced him, by law, to give up the mayorship.

And, now that his time served, guess who is back to politics? Our man Buddy. The elections coming, after all, and Providence whispering come to me, Buddy. Come.

Providence loves this guy. Providence is this guy. Cianci has a tomato sauce, "Mayor's Own Marina Sauce" whose proceeds go to public schools. He has a talk radio show; he has made numerous cameo and spoof television appearances. He is type-casting from America's favorite Italian family, the Sopranos, years before HBO. We have not seen the end of him yet, no sir.

"There's no retiring from this."
--Tony Soprano

Tuesday, January 12


This shot from designer Vivienne Westwood's cat-walk some time ago. Dame Westwood largely responsible for bringing modern punk and new wave fashions into London's mainstream. It all started from her second marriage to Malcolm McLaren, who became the manager of The Sex Pistols. Malcolm decided to open a shop at 430 King's Road, Chelsea, in '71 - called, aptly, Let It Rock (also known as Sex, Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die, Seditionaries). Westwood began to sell her designs to the shop - which included bondage gear, safety pins, razor blades, bicycle or lavatory chains on clothing and spiked dog collars for jewelry. And of course the Sex Pistols wore them. The rest, as they say, is history.

The V&A did a retrospective of Westwood's work the year before Ossie, Britain's second most famous designer. Ossie was a major figure in the swinging '60s scene in London and the fashion industry of that era and the change from him to her quite remarkable.

"I'm not trying to do something different. I'm trying to do the same thing but in a different way."
--Vivienne Westwood


Yes, I tore out the kitchen sink basin, which Madeleine kindly models, to replace our garbage disposal. Used: wrench, screw-drivers, metal cutters, hammer, industrial chisel ... happily I put my new tools to use which, Edwin snidely noted the other night, would otherwise be amortised over one use. After applying a silicon sealant and forced to wait 24 hours (the DIY'ers worst nightmare) the inevitable: standard plastic pipe kit don't fit. I had more luck assembling Madeleine's Habitrail. A quick call to the local hardware suggests that I might be able to jerry-rig the thing, which I am inclined to do after suffering the plumber's charge from the replaced hot-water cylinder and a burst pipe. Not cheap. Still, the fun is in the doing and I try to keep this in mind. At first, Madeleine thought so, too, joining me to the local Homebase. After about the fifth visit the joy wears thin and the promise of some undefined "treat" an ever-less effective bribe for her to keep me company. She's no dummy.

Last night, while I labor under the sink, Madeleine makes a loving effigy of her teacher, Mrs. X, complete with towel-pipe legs and red shoes. Eitan constructs a chair from cardboard and Xmas wrap and both exclaim, thanks to movie Avatatar: 3D! Once complete it is a nifty little construction and we ponder how to transport it to school. The Shakespeares want the car, of course, but Sonnet holds firm on her principals plus it is inconvenient to her commute which is by bus. I bang away at the pipes.

Mom and Dad and Katie get back from their Miami cruise with Moe's side of the family - 22 in all and forevermore known as the "Jew Cruise" in my family.

Madeleine: "Dad, why are you doing that?"
Me: "Because I am trying to fix it."
Madeleine: "It doesn't look fixed to me."
Madeleine: "Will we ever be able to use the sink again?"
Eitan: "Do I have to do the dishes outside?"

Sunday, January 10

Public Snow Job

Private vs. public pay, source: Office for National Statistics.

The public sector creates jobs at the fastest rate in eight years and 4X that of the private sector in 2009, according to the ONS. Also surprising: publics earned 7% more than their private sector peers, a gap which has doubled since the recession began. Official figures show publics get bigger pay rises, work fewer hours and receive pensions up to 3X the privates, which publics can withdraw 7 years earlier (publics retire at 58 vs. 65 for us, the working stiffs) according to The Sunday Times. "However you look at it" says Nigel Hawkes of Straight Statistics, "public sector workers have done better than most in the private sector over the past decade- and the gap is widening."

Since arriving in England in '97, the year Tony and Labour came into power, the public sector has added 914,000 jobs to more to their six-million or one-fifth of the workforce. Youngsters no dummies - they head for the fatted cow: 39% of public sector workers are graduates up from 25% in '98. Only 20% of private sector workers have a degree, a rise of 5% over the same period. Says David Frost, Director-General of the British Chamber of Commerce: "Small and medium-sized businesses - the firms who will be vital for the economy's recovery - lose staff to the public sector because they cannot compete with pay and benefits big state employers offer."

What I find shocking: public's productivity has declined by 3.4% in the 10 years from 1997 - compared with a 28% rise in the private sector over the same period (source: ONS).

This bullshit. I have no problem investing in schools, NHS, roads, infrastructure. Instead we - the private sector - funding sloth. And labour votes.

Me: "What do you think about having a job?"
Madeleine: "A job?"
Me: "Yeah, like when you are older."
Madeleine: "Hmm. I think it would be fun. I would work at the pound."
Madeleine: "The dog pound. No, no - not that. Maybe the V&A. Or maybe I want to be a musician."
Me: "Anything else?"
Madeleine: "I have no clue."