Archive for May, 2012
SWEDEN WON EUROVISION HOORAY!!!!!!!!!!!!
We got back up to our room just in time to see the end of the voting. I can’t believe I missed all but the last five minutes, but at least I got to see Sweden announced as the winner! Joe thinks the victorious song, “Euphoria,” sounds just like Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory”; judge for yourself. Amazingly, the Russian grannies came in second.
The reason I couldn’t watch the competition is because we were attending the CrimeFest Gala Dinner. Adrian, the organizer, seated me between Swedish authors Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström. They were very nice and complimented me on my Swedish, which I appreciated.
It’s been such a super-packed day at CrimeFest that I hardly know where to begin. There were great one-on-one interviews with Lee Child, P.D. James and Sue Grafton — talk about a killer line-up. Child, of course, talked a lot about the upcoming Reacher film starring Tom Cruise. He acknowledged that Cruise isn’t what most readers visualize when they think of Reacher, who is described in the books as an intimidatingly tall man, but stated that there was no actor in Hollywood who was a perfect match in every way for the hero. Anyway, Child promised his fans that Cruise is not going to break into your house and steal your Reacher books. I thought Cruise did a fine job in “Mission Impossible 4,” so I’m willing to give the movie a shot. Plus, how can you resist Werner Herzog as the villain?
Sue Grafton, on the other hand, has vowed never to sell Kinsey Millhone to Hollywood, and she has gone to great lengths to make sure her heirs can never do so after she’s gone. I’ve seen Grafton speak a bunch of times (I think the first time I went to one of her events was right after F is for Fugitive came out) so I am pretty familiar with her talking points, but she’s always entertaining and she’s from Louisville, so her accent reminds me of my friend Janet Appel. Grafton said she’s about 1/4 of the way through W and the book is still untitled. She anticipates finishing Z in 2019, and doesn’t know what she’ll do after that (she said something along the lines of, “Do you know what you’ll be doing in 2019?”).
Probably the highlight of the whole CrimeFest weekend was the appearance by P.D. James, who is 92 years old and amazingly sharp. She is a bit frail physically, walking with a cane, but I think everyone here must have been delighted to see that she is in wonderful shape mentally. She participated in a lively Q&A for 45 minutes, and then signed books for an hour. Her latest novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, continues Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice with a murder mystery. Austen, of course, lived part of her life in Bath, not far from Bristol; James spoke fondly of how she read Austen’s work during the Blitz, escaping into the serene world of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. She even named her daughter Jane. James was so gracious and generous to her fans; what a model she is for younger crime fiction writers!
There’s still more CrimeFest to come tomorrow, believe it or not. Before I hit the hay, I have to update the Awards page with the winners (announced at the banquet), so check over there if you want to see who picked up a Bristol Blue Glass trophy.
One thing about visiting England in the summer: you hear American accents everywhere you go. We Yanks love to visit the old country. I feel self conscious every time I open my mouth; my broad American vowels seem extra-exaggerated, as though I’m parading around in a giant cowboy hat. How I envy the Brits, whose way of speaking just sounds so much more melodious to my ears!
The one place where I didn’t hear a single other U.S. tourist was in Trowbridge, a smallish (population 30,000) town which used to be a center of textile production, particularly wool; the last mill closed in 1982, and is now home to a lovely museum (free admission!). When we went into the post office to buy stamps, the clerk seemed surprised to encounter a pair of Americans, and asked what brought us there. It’s my ancestral town, and only 30 minutes away from Bristol by train; how could I not stop by?
If your last name doesn’t happen to be Trowbridge, you’re probably not going to go out of your way to visit. But there are a lot of historic buildings — the town dates back to the 10th century, though unfortunately, Trowbridge Castle (first mentioned in the 12th century) is long gone. Parts of the George Hotel, pictured here, date back to the fourteenth century; the inside was rebuilt and it is now occupied by a shoe shop. In fact, Trowbridge is a shopper’s paradise — downtown is dominated by a bustling indoor mall, and outdoors, the streets were filled with people on one of the warmest days of the year.
Another historic structure here in Bristol is the cathedral, located next door to our hotel. I always enjoy visiting old churches, and this one is really gorgeous. Bristol Cathedral dates from the 12th century, though like many European churches, it’s a bit of a pastiche — the Chapter House was begun in 1150, though much of the building went up in the 1800s.
Somehow, in the midst of all of this sightseeing, there also has to be time for panels and activities at CrimeFest! Celebrating its fifth anniversary, CrimeFest is clearly a well-organized convention with exceptionally strong programming, though it might be outgrowing the Marriott — this year’s event sold out well in advance, and the rooms have been crowded with enthusiastic crime fiction fans. Today’s highlight was the Scandinavian panel, featuring Thomas Enger, Ragnar Jonasson, Åsa Larsson and Gunnar Staalesen. Åsa was the token Swede and said she’s frequently asked whether or not she’s related to Stieg (she isn’t). There was also some discussion of how the relationship of the Nordic countries has changed over the years. Åsa was asked if Swedes feel superior to other Scandinavians (I sort of thought they did, since Stockholm’s branding of itself as “the capital of Scandinavia” has proven controversial). She said that when she was young, Swedes were always telling Norwegian jokes (similar to Polish jokes in America), though now that Norway is so oil-rich, she hasn’t heard any in years. When I was a kid, I used to love Norwegian jokes! (One old favorite: “Why can’t you get ice in your drinks in Norway? The Norwegian who knew the recipe died.”) I guess our neighbors to the west had the last laugh.
A special treat today: a guest blog by Joe!
Day 4 of our trip was a day of movement and reflection. Crystal skulls and baking babushkas in song. Welcome to London.
We got to the hotel in London last night and settled in to an efficiency room in a business hotel. The internet was flaky and of course there’s no one working at 11:30PM that understands how to fix a problem with authentication. Luckily, we got a little bit of signal, so Sue was able to get some work done.
I wasn’t able to work, so I tucked into Lee Goldberg’s latest, King City. A mere three hours later, I finished it, because I am constitutionally unable to put down a book by Lee before I’m done reading it. Crime fiction at its most addictive and compelling.
Today, we set off to the Tate Modern Art Museum. Sue & I both love museums, and she’d wanted to see the Tate, renowned for its cutting-edge exhibits. Split from the regular Tate Museum in 2000 and situated in a disused power station, the Tate Modern is a lot of museum: 5 floors, dozens of rooms, and hundreds of works.
The entry hall of the Tate had been the turbine room of the power station – 5 stories high and 3,400 square yards in size. To celebrate the current Damien Hirst exhibit, the curators are displaying “For The Love Of God” in the Turbine Hall. It’s a human skull encrusted with $1M in diamonds. The piece is installed in a black-painted maze the size of a 2-car garage. The skull is the size of a small cantaloupe. Very interesting comment on size and value in the art world. You can buy any number of posters, mugs, and even a tea service with the skull on them. Enter through the gift shop, please.
The skull was enough Damien for me, so we moved up to the 5th floor to start a survey of modern art. In our 4 hours at the Tate, we managed to get through 2 floors, encompassing 3 exhibits. Scattered at regular intervals throughout were elementary and middle-school classes, some being asked their thoughts on minimalist pieces made from stones and others trying to draw a reasonable approximation of Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart’s “Composition No. 15.” At least half the classes were French. Parisian schools send children to the Tate; American schools can’t afford crayons.
Sue & I were wonderfully accosted by 2 French students who asked us whether we’d been to the Tate before and who our favorite artists were. She said Vermeer, but I couldn’t answer. I’m not sure who my favorite artist is. I like Georges Seurat, Edgar Degas, Ed Ruscha, and others – guess I should pick a favorite. There’s so much art, though!
There were great photomontages by John Heartfield, an anti-Nazi artist working in Berlin & Prague during WWII, and we saw Carl Andre’s “Equivalent VIII”, aka “The Bricks” – probably the Tate’s most notorious piece. My favorite work was “Tree Of 12 Metres” by Giuseppe Penone. Seeing a processed block of wood return to its “roots” as a tree is very moving.
Speaking of moving, we did quite a lot, walking more than 5 miles to get to and through the Tate. Exercise breeds hunger, so after a brief rest, we set off to satisfy another of Sue’s London musts: fish & chips. About 1/3 mile from our hotel is North Sea Fish, reputed as one of the city’s best fish restaurants. We ordered the jumbo size cod fillet with chips and peas. What we got was a battered fillet the size of Shaquille O’Neal’s sneaker sole: some of the flakiest, meatiest, tastiest fish I’ve ever eaten. Sue called the tartar sauce the best she’s ever had, and started putting it on the chips just to avoid spooning it directly into her mouth. A cream-drizzled bread-and-butter pudding made a great finish to the meal.
What goes better with a full belly than warbling Europeans? Tonight was part 1 of the Eurovision semi-finals. If you’re a faithful reader of this blog, you know what Eurovision is, so skip the rest of this paragraph. Everyone else: Eurovision is a yearly singing contest with entries from 25 European/Central Asian countries. The music is almost uniformly either Eurodisco or strange homegrown music involving fiddles or bagpipes. ABBA’s international debut was winning 1974′s Eurovision with “Waetrloo”.
There tend to be at least a couple wacky Eurovision entries every year. This time around, the first semi-finalist was a 50+-year-old arhythmic rapper from Montenegro dropping science about the European debt crisis. He was followed by a gorgeous Greek singer who was dangerously good, considering the winning country’s obligation to host the contest the following year. The nuttiest contestants this year were from Russia – a sextet of Russian grannies who sang while baking bread in a revolving oven. At the end of the song, out came pies! The Greek sweetie and the babushkas both made it into the finals. Thursday is the second round of semis, then on to the finals on Saturday. Keep tuned for details and results.
Quite a long day, and tomorrow off to Bristol for Crimefest 2012!
Hey, seasoned world travelers! Did you know that the U.K. and France have totally different plugs? Because we didn’t! So here I sit in a London hotel at midnight with a laptop with a rapidly depleting battery, and the adapter that worked so beautifully in France last year will not fit in the U.K. wall socket. One of our first orders of business tomorrow will have to be finding a new adapter, so I’m going to have to write fast.
I wasn’t ready to leave New York — I’m never ready to leave New York! — but our Sunday there was a pleasant one; we had brunch with our Brooklyn-based friends, and then caught a matinee of Richard Bean’s “One Man, Two Guvnors,” a raucous British farce that has been a huge hit on the West End (it’s still playing here). If you’ve seen “Noises Off,” another wildly popular British farce, you know what to expect — slamming doors, mistaken identities, and mildly naughty sex jokes. James Corden, who originated the lead role of Francis on the West End and recently scored a Tony nomination for his Broadway turn in the same part, reminded me a bit of a cross between Andy Richter, Chris Farley and Ricky Gervais. There are a few audience participation bits, one of which seemed to throw Corden for a loop. A running gag in the first act is his perpetual hunger, as he can’t afford any food; he breaks the fourth wall by asking the audience if anyone has a sandwich, and somebody actually offered him one. (A hummus sandwich, no less — “you do know that this play is set in 1963?” asked Corden incredulously.) It was all very funny, but it also illustrated the dangers of flirting with the fourth wall — you never know what might happen!
The long (90 minutes) first act ends with a set piece that had most people in the audience laughing so hard they were gasping for breath; the trouble with the second act is that they have to wrap up all of the various storylines and pair up the characters romantically, and it’s a bit anticlimactic after all of the inspired lunacy that came beforehand. Still, anyone who loves a good British farce will have a great time at the theater. Plus, there’s a skiffle band playing during the set changes that’ll really get you in that early 60s mood.
We took an early (8 AM) flight to London, which I thought sounded brilliant because usually you arrive in Europe early in the morning and have to stumble around like a zombie until your hotel room is ready, then attempt to stay awake ’til you collapse out of sheer exhaustion at 8 or 9 PM. At least that’s been my usual routine. Now we arrived at Heathrow around 8 PM, breezed through customs, and took the tube to our hotel. For those of us who can’t sleep on planes, I think daytime flights are a very good idea.
On last week’s “30 Rock” finale, Jenna Maroney taunted Hazel the page, who can’t find a place to live in New York: “Aww, poor baby, can’t hack it in the big city? Gonna move to the Bay Area now and pretend that that was your dream the whole time? Have fun always carrying a light sweater.”
It’s funny because it’s true — there are maybe three days a year in the Bay Area where you don’t have to carry a light sweater! And while I do believe I live in the most beautiful place in the U.S., there’s no denying that New York is special. Usually, I’m not a fan of crowds, noise, or traffic, all things New York has in spades, but what I do love so dearly is the sense of endless possibility here — the feeling that there’s so much to see and do here that you could never exhaust it. I always hate to leave New York, because there are always a hundred things I wish I’d had time to do.
It’s always hard to decide which plays to see, even after eliminating the obvious dreck like the “Spiderman” or “Ghost” musicals. We were lucky enough to get tickets to the new revival of “Porgy & Bess,” starring the legendary, multi-Tony-winning Audra McDonald. The remount became controversial when Stephen Sondheim slammed it (before it opened) in the New York Times, decrying the changes that had allegedly been made; as it happens, I’d never seen “Porgy” before, so I wasn’t distracted by any deletions or substitutions. (Apparently it is a pretty faithful version; a new ending was tried and discarded.) I feel like I’m kind of stating the obvious by saying that “Porgy & Bess” is a stunning play — it’s sort of like someone seeing “King Lear” for the first time and raving how that Shakespeare fellow was quite a writer — but really, I was blown away by the beautiful music, the dramatic situations (if you don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s pretty suspenseful!) and the brilliant performances. David Alan Grier, perhaps best known as a comedian (we’ve seen him do stand-up at Cobb’s), does a charismatic turn as Sporting Life; Norm Lewis is an enormously likable Porgy, a man you can’t help but root for; and McDonald gives one of those searing performances that people will remember for years. I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a few Broadway shows over the past couple decades, and this one ranks right up there with the best.
My farmor (Swedish for “father’s mother”) would have celebrated her 100th birthday today. I remember telling her on her 90th birthday, a magnificent party that was attended by dozens and dozens of friends and relatives, that we’d have to do something even bigger for her 100th, and she assured me that there was no chance she’d make it to that age. She was right — she passed away in 2005 at the age of 92 — though when I Googled her name just now, wanting to confirm that I had correctly remembered the date of her death, I found this:
Much as I’d like to imagine that she faked her own death and is still alive and kickin’ down in her wintertime home of St. Pete, I know she’d never do something like that. Family was too important to her.
I have been sorting through stacks of papers in my ongoing efforts to tidy up the place, and I found a card she sent me, dated April 20, 1994. I was actually rather scrupulous in filing away all of her correspondence to me in a box several years ago, so I’m not sure how this one, which predates my move to California, got loose. However, it’s a very significant letter and if she were here, I don’t think she’d mind my sharing it with you.
Would you believe I found the article that changed Farfar’s life so much? He had given up a trip in 1937 — because of a “deal” (we would have seen Berlin — attended a friend’s wedding in London, etc.). He always regretted not going. From the time he read the enclosed (I think it was 1946) we began enjoying all those wonderful trips around Europe. I’m mighty happy our lives changed so much — as we both treasured all those great memories — and I still do — to this day!
Have 1,000 things to do between now & May 7 (tea here put on by your Mom & friends) — so I’m keeping very busy.
I have no doubt that she was concerned about making sure the house was clean for her tea party on the 7th. Some things just run in families.
I also can’t help but wonder what a visit to Berlin would have been like in 1937. I think I would have been happy to miss out on that particular place and time, considering what was going on then.
Along with the aforementioned article and the card was a clipping showing the late Sen. Edward Kennedy standing next to a woman identified in the caption as Ingalill Thunborg, “wife of the Swedish ambassador to the U.S.” Farmor had written, in her elegant handwriting: “This lady better not get too friendly with this poor excuse of a man!!” Ah, that was my grandmother, all right!
Anyway, I thought I was going to have to type in the article — what were the odds that an essay from the November 1946 issue of Readers Digest would be available online? — but I guess everything is findable in the world wide web, since here it is. I hope you will read it, but the gist of the article, written by an OB/GYN in Piedmont, California (a town located very near to where I live), is about a workaholic physician who is inspired by a stranger’s letter to take a three-month-long vacation. He invites his best friend along, but he demurs, because he’s been “waiting to close a deal.” Finally, the doctor is able to convince his friend to go. At the end of the article, the writer tells us that his friend has since passed away, but “over and over again he said, ‘Fred, I am so happy that we went to South America together. I thank God we did not wait too long.”
The timing is kind of funny (I would say coincidental, but is there really such a thing as coincidence?) since a week from now I’ll be on a plane. Of course, the difference between now and 1946 is that we don’t have to choose between work and vacation. Both Joe and I will be doing our share of telecommuting — I have many clients who depend on me, and as for him, is there any full time worker in 2012 America who can afford to go on vacation for a month? (The French and Germans, on the other hand…)
Still, even doing some work along the way, the most important things we’ll be doing are visiting with friends and family, and enjoying other cultures. My grandmother loved to travel, and I sort of feel like this was her way of wishing me a bon voyage.
Here’s a fun spring cleaning game you can play: try to find the item in your refrigerator or pantry with the oldest expiration date. Unless you’re one of those hopelessly organized people who checks out every last condiment on a regular basis, you’ll probably find something fairly ancient. In my own fridge, it was a bottle of sesame oil that expired in 2009.
Believe me, I am pretty embarrassed to have unearthed such a relic (obviously I haven’t cooked anything involving sesame oil in a very long time). I tend not to pay too much attention to what’s in my fridge unless I’m running out of room in there, or need to replace an oft-used staple. Now, however, I am tidying mercilessly. The reason is that in a week and a half, Joe and I will be leaving the country for a month, and while we are away, our home will be occupied by a couple of very, very kind and generous house- and dog-sitters. I would be absolutely mortified if someone else were to pull out a bottle of sesame oil, only to find that it should have been tossed out three years ago.
As a regular “Hoarders” viewer, I know that my home, while not exactly pristine, is not a danger zone of six-foot-tall stacks of newspapers and moldy food. But I do have a tendency to get wrapped up in my work and hobbies, and neglect the dust bunnies in the corner. I once saw a web site that described the clutterbug’s lot as C.H.A.O.S. (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome). In my case, it’s more like C.H.A.O.W.A.C.H.N. (Can’t Have Anyone Over Without A Couple Hours’ Notice). The last time we “entertained” in our home was back in November; we tend to meet our friends at restaurants, since cooking for a crowd isn’t in my particular skill set, but quite frankly, it would be very helpful if we did have guests come by more often than once every six months. It’s usually the only thing that really motivates me to do some intense cleaning.
Because I know my housesitters all too well, I realize that no matter how much I bust my butt to clean this place before they arrive, I will come home and it will be in a far more pristine state than I left it. I’m sure there is dust lurking in places I never thought to look… and despite my best efforts, I’ll probably overlook some two-year-old half-empty box of crackers stuck in the back of a cabinet.
Incidentally, I’m going to try really hard to blog way more often than usual while I’m on the road, so starting in a couple of weeks, plan to check in frequently to find out where I am and what I’m up to!
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- Janet Appel on A Reader’s Voyage
- vallery feldman on A Reader’s Voyage
- Bill Gottfried on A Reader’s Voyage
- Janet Rudolph on A Reader’s Voyage
- Sue on A Reader’s Voyage