Saturday, July 22, 2006

A night at the movies

Where's the one place in America you are guaranteed to escape from the heat? The movie theater, right? They crank up the A/C so high in those theaters that my mother used to send us to the movies in coats (stuffed with candy, because you know that theater candy is way overpriced).

But, as we discovered last night, not so in London! In fact, there were signs everywhere in the theater warning us: NONE OF THE AUDITORIA ARE AIR CONDITIONED. So I really felt like I was on location in the West Indies as we took in the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, which I can describe in one word: Tedious.

Now, one of the classier things about going to a film in London, at least the two times that I have done it, is that you actually get assigned seats. It's not like U.S. theaters, where it's first come, first served seating. Oh no. And there are different levels, just like in a when you go to the West End for a musical. "Would you like regular, premiere, or luxury seating?" the gent at the door asked us. We went for luxury seats, which meant we were sitting on a love seat (comfy) at the upper level of the theater (uncomfy, as heat rises). I can't wait to go back -- in November.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Forgive me, my readers, for I have sinned ...

Hello everybody (hi Smitty!) I've committed a cardinal sin of blogging, which is failure to write. I have a couple of good excuses.

First of all, my clients seem to want More Of Smitty. In one case, I am the garrison force left behind while my client engages in an European invasion. In the other case, I am the European invasion. This is very good for me. However, it has consumed much of my writing time lately.

The other is that we're in the thick of the Tour de France. Here, they show the races live, and the very best ones, the rides in the Alps and Pyrenees, they show start to finish. When I'm not writing, I'm watching the race. Quite frequently, I'm doing both.

Now everybody forgets that it wasn't until after Lance Armstrong won his first maillot jaune in 1999 that Americans got to see anything more than a half-hour daily highlights show on ESPN. In 2000, the Outdoor Life Network started showing the Tour live (or at least the last 90 minutes or so) every day, with a rerun at night. So I can't say that I've watched more of the Tour than anybody. I have watched a lot.

Yesterday's ride by Floyd Landis was the most incredible ride I've ever seen, and perhaps the most incredible thing I've ever seen in all of sports. It was a performance that matches Bob Beamon's world record long jump in just how improbable it was. After an absolute disintegration on a final mountain ascent the previous day (he looked sick at the finish, and I've been in the same boat he was at the end of a long bike ride), to nearly erase an eight minute deficit yesterday and put himself back into contention is just too amazing to describe.

OK, enough of that. I hope to resume more regular posting next week.

Monday, July 17, 2006

98.6 degrees Fahrenheit

Many of you will recognize this as normal human body temperature. It also happens to be the forecast temperature for Wednesday. (That's 37 degrees Celsius to the world outside of America.)

You folks in, say, Phoenix, or Houston, or Washington DC, may say, so what? That's because you probably have air conditioning. We don't. We have screenless windows, a fan and some cold beer. And let's hope that's enough.

When OK's family was visiting, we thought that one weekend might have been the hottest of the year. Well, this past weekend was hotter. And 37 will be the hottest day yet since we've been here. I never thought I'd miss the rain living here, but I miss it now!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Birmingham Views

If a picture is worth a thousand words, consider this a 5,000-word post.

Behind the convention center (this area is called Convention Quarter) is a canal that has been restored to rather nice conditions. It's lined with cafes and shops. Some restored canal boats had put in alongside the canal. Some were of the pleasure-boat/houseboat variety. The big building straight ahead is the indoor sports arena where I mentioned they hold a major indoor track meet next year. In front of that, this canal intersects with another than goes to Wolverhampton (left) or Worcester (right)--at least I think it goes to Worcester.

To the left, the path parallels some luxury apartments for a couple of hundred yards. Then, it goes through a stile, and then there's a dirt path on the other side. You enter the abandoned warehouse/council housing/railyard zone at that point.

A floating coffee company? Count me in!

The view up the canal. A couple of hundred yards past the bridge, the canal forms a basin. At the top of the basin is a shopping center they call the Mailbox. Again, more cafes, including a delightful sushi bar that serves its fare on a conveyer belt. While the meal isn't necessarily the entertainment like Benihaha, as Homer Simpson might say, it is oddly hypnotic.

The view from inside the floating coffee company. I never got my sea legs while I was on board.

If you didn't know better, you'd think you were in London.

The city has grown on me a little. I think it's clear that there is a civic commitment to bringing the city back from what was probably a low point when manufacturing went into a tailspin. It seems like a much more manageable city than London to live in. It's probably like David Byrne wrote in "The Big Country": "I guess its healthy/I guess the air is clean?I guess those people have fun/with their neighbors and friends/Look at that kitchen/and all of that food/Look at them eat it/guess it tastes real good." And yet, I'd probably come to same conclusion Byrne came to: "I wouldn't live there if you paid me to."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Another Day, Another City

I'm in Birmingham right now, England's second city lovingly known as Brum. The wireless connection at this conference center is somewhat fakakta--if I buy four pounds worth of food or drink at the cafe, I get 15 minutes of access--although my wireless at the hotel is free. I was told of Birmingham's "second city" status by the bartender at the hotel last night. It's a short train ride via Chiltern or Virgin railways up to here, although I'm not sure why anybody would come here if not attending a conference (this is the reason why cities build conference centers). Downtown Birmingham reminds me of a cross between Dallas and Pittsburgh, with a little Peoria thrown in. There's a nice restored canal lined with cafes and a number of civic amenities, including a sports center where a major international indoor track meet is held each winter. Anyway, more later.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Tuesday Gravestoneblogging

I wonder what Jean-Paul Sartre is doing in the afterlife.

And some of the notes left on Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir's grave.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Monday semiscooterblogging

America, meet your new car. It's fantastic!

When your car is this small...

... you can fit it into a lot of small parking spaces, sometimes in unorthodox ways.

Coming soon to a republic near you.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Allez les bleus!

There's a saying: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Well, when in France during the World Cup, say "Allez les bleus!"

Yes, we were in Paris on the night that France beat Brazil in the World Cup. I can still hear horns honking and police sirens, as well as the occasional shout, outside our hotel window. We watched the game in a local bar in the Montparnasse area, and shouted "Allez les bleus" which translates basically as "Go France" into some guy's cell phone along with the rest of the bar. It was certainly better than watching England lose to Portugal in London. By the way, why are there so many Portugal fans in Paris right now? Or is it just that the French were happy to see the English perish?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Live, from Paris, an Eiffel Tower Photoblog

With special musical guests ...

... the Pixies.

Pioneer of aerodynamics
(Little Eiffel, Little Eiffel)

They thought he was a real Smart Alec
(Little Eiffel, Little Eiffel)

He thought it big and they called it a phallic
(Little Eiffel, Little Eiffel)

They didn't know he was panoramic

Little Eiffel stands in the archway

Keeping low doesn't make no sense