Friday, September 28, 2007

Hola From Barcelona

If you thought no chef would ever be able to combine sea bass with peach ice cream in a single dish that anybody would eat, you'd be wrong.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Talk Amongst Yourselves For A Bit

For accompaniment, I give you the Miles Davis Quartet, as seen on the Steve Allen Show:

(For those of you who are fortunate enough to own the studio album from which All Blues is taken, you know most of the recording was from first takes. They were just that on.)

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Things That Are Better Back Home Cont'd


Hockey is played on ice. The players wear padded shorts and sweaters. The object in play is a rubbery disc called a puck. The players are often toothless men named "Guy" or "Jacques." One need not specify that this game is "ice hockey."

Hockey is not played on grass. It is not played with a ball. Skirts are never part of the hockey wardrobe. If any of those things are true of the game you are playing, it should be properly called "field hockey."

That is all.

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Friday Catblogging

This week's edition of Friday catblogging will take place on Thursday.

And now, a cat. On Thursday.

"Nobody has ever escaped from Stalag 17. Not alive, anyway."

From Schmutz' kitten collection. The Person Who Lives With Schmutz said that the kitten went in there all by its kittenself, since The Person feeds the kittens in the cage to keep the big cats from swiping their grub. The Person is probably a trustworthy person, although I hear that The Person also has some odd views about baseball.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Tale of Two Taxis, or, the Wives of Cab Drivers

I had two very different taxi experiences today, and thought I'd share them:

This morning, my hotel was loading luggage by the score (that's 20 to you young'uns) into a giant truck, and so I had trouble getting a cab. When I did get one, I explained in my rubbish Spanish that I needed him to take me to the hotel where my colleagues were staying, and then take me to the conference center. Immediately, he launches into a long explanation (in Catalan-accented Spanish, no less) about why he can't take me to the conference center. I managed to gather that it had something to do with his wife, because he kept saying "la senora" and making a gesture with his ring finger (though there was no ring on it. Hmm.).

This afternoon, upon leaving the conference center, the caballero who picked us up misunderstood our Spanglish instructions and had to backtrack to my friends' hotel. Once he and I were alone in the cab, he tried to have a conversation with me after I apologized for the mix-up. (One thing you have to admire about Spanish cabbies is their persistence: They will continue talking long after you've stopped understanding them.) But he was actually making an effort, and between the two of us speaking bits of each other's tongues, I managed to tell him what kind of conference I was attending, when it ended, and so on. Unfortunately, my attempt at the word "journalist" got misunderstood as "cardiologist" so he was telling me how well he ate, that he was a runner, and that he had stopped smoking a year ago. He credited his wife, said she was "la generale de la casa" (pardon my grammar). I said I was at my house too (after an awkward pause in which I struggled to remember my first person pronouns). He asked if I had children (there was a precious hand gesture for this, a rounded tummy!) and I said no, sadly. When we got to my hotel, he told me it had been a pleasure and he shook my hand! Quite the charming fellow, the complete opposite of the first cabbie.

Of course, I tipped generously... And now I need to hit the cash machine before dining here.

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It's still September. I'm not turning on the boiler no matter how cold my hands are.

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More Things That Are Better Back Home

Peanut butter.

Some of you may know (or have been enlisted into this effort) that we ask our American visitors to bring us peanut butter. The British peanut butter tastes funny. I don't know if it's the sugar content or the oils, but it just don't taste right! The American brand that we've seen here, Skippy, comes in these laughably small jars. Peanut butter is a staple, folks! It is not a condiment!

As a postscript: I've complained of the tiny little jars on an online forum of mostly Brits. One response: "No, our jars are the correct size. American jars are too big."

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007


As I've mentioned in the past, we tend to have a mild climate in Great Britain, with extremes being certainly rarer than the continental climate I come from. So it was with an arch of the eyebrow that I greeted yesterday's news that a bunch of tornadoes had hit southern England.

It seems that my skepticism is somewhat merited:
Nina Ridge from the BBC Weather Centre said that the winds reached 60mph.

In a statement, the Met Office said that the gusts were "conducive to tornadoes" and measured T2 or T3 on the TORRO scale (which ranges from 0 to 10), meaning they were "moderate to strong".

It gets better.
Ruth Spaull of Luton said that she saw "a funnel of wind" lift her daughter's trampoline 15ft (4.52m) into the air.

Ma'am, a tornado sounds like a freight train, lifts cars 100 feet in the air, and, if you're lucky, will leave the first floor of your house behind. What you had was high winds, or maybe a dust devil on steroids.

ADDED: I should probably not demean the damage or the injuries suffered by the folks here, but when I think of tornado, I think of this.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hola from Barcelona!

It's been a while.

So I thought I'd give y'all a shout-out from Barcelona, where the festival of San (something said very fast in Catalan) is going on. (Photos to come.)

In my hotel room, which has a TV AND a phone in the bathroom (for people who take a loooooooooong time in there, you know who you are), there is a little sign. It says, "While the water in Barcelona is drinkable, we recommend you drink the bottled water from your mini-bar." Of course, I read this after I'd consumed the agua de tap, but I'm not dead yet.

Viva Espana!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Catblogging

One of Schmutz' kittens, with new companion. (I love happy endings!)

And this Lucy classic, in what Mrs. Werbenmanjensen calls her "Playkat pose."

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007


It be International Talk Like A Pirate Day, and to celebrate ye day at Americans Amuck, wa're gonna remind folks that the first, and greatest pirate of all time was ye Sir Francis Drake, who was such a scalawag to ye Spanish and their shipping that e'en the Queen harself made him a knight! So thar's hope for all ye pirates out there. Arrrrrr!!!!

Updated: Tom Smith, the world's greatest filker and a fellow commenter at this site, has his own Talk Like A Pirate Day Song. Feel free to join in: Yo, ho, yo, ho, it's Talk Like A Pirate Day ....

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hello, September

September is my favorite month, and not just because of this. About a year ago, I was out for a bicycle ride and struck up a conversation with a fellow cyclist about, as happens here, the weather. I commented on how much I was enjoying the weather. He said, "You're lucky. Usually it's ----ing rain now."

At that point it occurred to me what one cabbie and several people who have lived in San Francisco have said about September in their city: They call it the "secret summer," the month it's most likely to be warm and dry. Perhaps my cyclist friend was wrong, and that in a northern, temperate, marine-influenced climate like London's September is the finest month.

I could go back and link back to all my carping about the rainy, cold summer we've suffered through, but that would be even more tiresome the second time. Suffice it to say, September has been a fine month in London, and I won't even complain about the fact that our boiler kicked on overnight last night and that I had to turn it back on midday because the temperature plummeted when the sun swung overhead ....


Monday, September 17, 2007

Things That Are Better Back Home Cont'd

Public service announcements.

This one is the stuff of kids' nightmares:

This one is, well, a little overwrought:

My chief objections to both of these ads are that they come from the "scare you to death" school of safety videos, which always causes me to turn off the message.

I do like this one, however:

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

London Open House Weekend

This weekend is London Open House Weekend, when thousands pre-book to get into the Gherkin, and hundreds of other buildings of significant architectural interest are also open. Our church, St. Joseph's, is open, although shoehorned in between masses.

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I volunteered this afternoon to be docents for visitors, which also allowed us to get some photos (including from the organ loft, where we would otherwise not be allowed to go).

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Friday Catblogging

This week's edition of Friday Catblogging will occur on Saturday.

And now, a cat:

Thanks to friends Ed and Mary, who got a snap of this gorgeous tabby during a bicycle ride last weekend in the mid-Atlantic of the United States.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Things That Are Better Back Home

Inspired by the discussion prompted at this post downstairs, I think it's time to kick off a new feature called "things that are better back home" (or, conversely, "things that s@*! about Britain").

OK, I'll start. Banks.

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Devon: The American Connection

The words on the above plaque are hard to make out, but it commemorates the departure from Plymouth, in Devon, of the religious refugees we've come to know as the Pilgrims, who landed in 1620 in the American colony we know as Plymouth. (Click on the photo to see a big version of it so you can read it better.) The plaque sits on a harbor wall above the steps ...

... that the Pilgrims are said to have descended before boarding the Mayflower. (Mrs. W got the best Pilgrim's-eye-view.)

The stone arch also commemorates the New England pilgrims and gives a viewing platform for the steps.

Happily for us, down the street is the Plymouth Gin distillery. Had it been there in 1620, I doubt the Pilgrims would have partaken.

Over in Torquay, some aging concrete ramps are also preserved for historical purposes. These were the "hards" that were used to load troops and supplies for the Normandy invasion in WWII. (You can read about it a bit at the Wikipedia entry linked above.) We didn't take any pictures of them because, well, they're just aging concrete ramps.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Everyone's A Winner

I'm a couple days late with this, but ....

It's often noted among sporting fans in Great Britain that England invents games and the rest of the world learns how to beat them at it (cricket: Australia; rugby: New Zealand; football: everybody). On Saturday, however, all three of England's national teams were at play, and all three won, including a bit of a drubbing of the U.S. team in the Rugby World Cup.

Will this continue? If you ask the sportswriters, they're all awful.

UPDATE: England (football) plays Russia tonight in Euro 2008 qualifying. Let the teeth-gnashing re-commence.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

The Radio's In The Hands Of Such A Lot Of Fools Who Want To Anesthetize The Way That You Feel

Thanks to my DAB radio, I have stumbled upon Radio 6 Music, a BBC station that appears to have no playlist. Listening this morning, I heard It's The Time Of The Season from the 1960s followed closely by If I Could Talk I'd Tell You followed by the Vines' Get Free from the '00s followed by a return to the 1990s with The Diamond Sea by Sonic Youth, a band that to my knowledge has never ever been on a major radio station in the United States.

Now lest I be accused of constantly saying "everything's better in Britain," I have to say that I have a hard time imagining a U.S. radio station that would dare to play such a mix of music. If somebody dared to, the marketers would come to them and say, "You're a mess! You appeal to 50 year olds for a minute, then GenX the next, then 20 year olds. We can't sell ads." I remember how the Washington, D.C., market was such a clanging mix of soundalike Modern Rock and Classic Rock stations, with a seasoning of soundalike Talk and Sports Talk thrown in (plus a couple of Spanish language stations), all looking for the specific market segment. And what it was for me was boring and predictable (with one exception, WRNR, but because their broadcast antenna was on the east side of the Chesapeake, it was difficult to pick up). But if your funding is public and you don't sell ads, you're free to do a lot of things that ad-driven broadcasters can't.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday Catblogging

Another from reader Schmutz' cat collection.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Welcome To The English Riviera

Which has all the scenic appeal of the French Riviera ...

... but none of the climactic (hot chocolate in August?)

A region of uplands ...

... and seascapes ...

... where the English crowd(?) to the beaches.

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A Strange Distance

I've just picked up a copy of the London Marathon's official magazine from the London Marathon Store and learned a bit about the history of the great race. Some of this I knew, but other parts I didn't know.

The "official" marathon distance of 26 miles 385 yards wasn't established until the 1908 London Olympics. Early versions of the race (the first-ever race called by the name "marathon" was the national selection race held by the Greeks for the 1896 Olympics) ran variable distances, but were roughly set around 24 miles, equal to the distance that the Greek warrior Pheidippides ran from the battleground at Marathon to Athens. Indeed, early versions of the Boston Marathon were run from Natick, closer to Boston's downtown than today's start line in Hopkinton. For the 1908 games, the start line was set at Windsor Castle, and the finish at the Olympic Stadium in Shepherd's Bush, West London, a distance of about 25 miles. Organizers planned the start at a grand entrance boulevard to Windsor, but the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary, wife of George V) thought it would be a lovely idea for the royal children to be able to see the start of the race. So the start line was planned for the east lawn of the castle, extending the race to 26 miles. Then, Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII, decided she should have the best view of the finish, so an extra 385 yards was added on the track inside the stadium to a finish line beneath the royal box. Thus, a distance was born. As a walking guide said to Mrs. Werbenmanjensen, "In England, we do things once. If it goes well, we continue to do it, and it becomes a tradition." Likewise, Wikipedia tells us, an event called the London Polytechnic Marathon came to be at the 26 mile, 385 yard distance, and as a result of its prestige, the International Amateur Athletics Federation adopted it as the official distance in 1921.

Now about that 1908 Olympic marathon: An Italian runner named Dorando Pietri staggered into the stadium in first place. He fell five times in the 385 yards to the finish line, but each time rose to his feet to the cheers of the crowd, and crossed the line first. An American named Johnny Hayes, crossed the line in second without the Italiante drama, then protested because Pietri had been helped to his feet. Pietri was disqualified, and Hayes awarded the gold medal. Queen Alexandra, impressed by Pietri's bravery, gave Pietri a gold cup. Dorando is remembered in Shepherd's Bush ...

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... with a street named for him on the site of what used to be the Olympic Stadium, now a BBC broadcast center. And there is an athletics stadium nearby, named for British sprinter Linford Christie.

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