Monday, October 29, 2007

Cultural Exchange, The Final Word

The New York Times had this to say about London's NFL game:
For most of the game, a spritzing drizzle fell through the hole, and with some swirling breezes, it sometimes felt like playing in a sneeze.

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How About A Weather Post?

Well, this green island has moved its clocks back to Greenwich Mean Time, leaves are leaping from branches, and the ground is taking on the permaslop texture (the tundra has permafrost, but Britain has permaslop), so autumn must have caught us. While I'm a big fan of the secret summer of September, I have to admit this time of year is hardest of all--not for the cold, but for the lack of light. Losing approximately an hour of daylight at the winter solstice compared to Washington, D.C., was even harder than I expected last year. We're about six weeks away from our earliest sunsets (3:50 p.m. from Dec. 12 through Dec. 15), so maybe I should consider getting used to it. At least I can look forward to mince pies, a dish which I believe has its roots in the ingredients a royal chef put by mistake in a pie because his kitchen was too dark in December.

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More On That Rugby Song ....

Commenter Joy Suzanne visited from her Montpelier-based blog to find out if there were others who found the use of "Swing Low" to be offensive as a rugby fight song. I can't say I'm necessarily offended. Just baffled. (Although the obscene hand gesture pushes it into the offensive territory, I suppose.) But she has some thoughts about this over at her blog, which has the great title "The Same Only Different."

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Even More Cultural Exchange

Hi, we're back. Well, uh, that wasn't the best the NFL had to offer its overseas fans ... between the low score, the poor passing, the five or six consecutive plays the Giants were penalized and the last comic onside kick that ended up as a line drive out of bounds, there wasn't a whole lot to cheer about. But some cultural notes:

1. The British were gaga over the cheerleaders. A British spectator sitting one row in front of us (who listened to the 1-1 Arsenal vs. Liverpool draw on the radio as the game was on) said to us, "We don't have these here. Well Wigan Athletic do -- it's two guys."

2. We dressed for rain, but in true British soccer fashion, Wembley Stadium has fairly effective sheltering for the spectators. Not for the players, though.

3. The razzle-dazzle of the NFL was a bit foreign to the British. At Premier League matches, our friend said, "There's nothing before the game and maybe at the half somebody will kick penalties for charity. Nobody watches." Compare that to the loud music thumping from loudspeakers an hour before gametime, the banners, the cheerleaders, and an opening musical act that the NFL put on the field.

4. To hear "Bollocks!" shouted out by a fan disagreeing with a call just seemed strange.

5. Our friend asked, "Fans for both teams sit in the same section?" Evidently, this is not done in English soccer because some rather foul, vulgar, and probably even actionable things happen between opposing fans even when separated by a fence. (It's not restricted to the sectarian-rooted rivalry at Scotland's Old Firm. I did point out, however, that Philadelphia fans are in a class by themselves among NFL fans.) As a side note, I met my rugby enthusiast friend for coffee this morning and he pointed out that fans for opposing rugby fans can mix in the same sections without anything untoward happening.

I'm sure there's more, but it's late.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

More Cultural Exchange

The London Paper, one of the free newspapers thrust into commuters' hands as they head for the Tube in the afternoons (and later at night carpets many train carriages), sent a reporter to accompany Miami Dolphins fans to a game last week. Among the passages:
We hear the first strains of the tune as we approach Dolphin Stadium on Dan Marino Boulevard--named after the Dolphin star who's one of the the greatest quarterbacks in history. You may know him as the one who got kidnapped in Ace Ventura.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Cultural Exchange

And if you haven't had enough of me writing about sports this week ... this Sunday is the first regular NFL game outside of North America, in Wembley Stadium, which Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I will be attending. (One of Mrs. W's English colleagues said to her, "So it's rugby for wimps?") The Guardian, which yesterday informed us of acceptable elocution in the House of Commons, including the use of scatological terms, noted without comment that while fans of the Miami Dolphins call their team the "Fish," dolphins are actually mammals.

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Friday Catblogging

We now return you to our regular programming:

Another one from reader Schmutz' kitten collection. I believe Schmutz titled this one "What Do I See?"

The Greg lookalike was back earlier this week, as I was leaving for an early-morning bike ride. He/she was curious and eager for attention, but appeared to be spooked by all the lights on my bike. I got a couple of small pets in, but the Greg lookalike kept scampering away under cars after getting close to me most of the time.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

And If Hanguns Were Legal Here, They'd Have To Make The Stripes Two Football Pitches Apart

The things you learn from reading a newspaper (warning: word offensive to some is used below):
The two red stripes in the House of Commons carpet are to remind MPs not to lose their rag with rivals. They are two sword lengths apart and MPs may not cross them when speaking. MPs may not use a raft of provocative words either. Accumulated over centuries of rulings non-words include: blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, ignoramus, liar, rat, swine, stool pigeon, and traitor. Shit is apparently OK when used as a noun rather than a bodily function. But euphemisms for lying are also frowned on. Hence the Tory roars of "Withdraw" yesterday when Gordon Brown accused David Cameron of "misleading people". But after checking the record the speaker Michael Martin told MPs the prime minister had not used unparliamentary language because he had not accused the Tory leader of misleading fellow MPs - only people. Mr Brown was either smart or lucky.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Swing Low, Sweet Oval Ball

Via email, Mrs. Werbenmanjensen provides context to some cultural commentary downstairs:
Coming into the last match of the 1988 season, against Ireland at Twickenham, England had lost 15 of their previous 23 matches in the Five Nations
Championship. The Twickenham crowd had only seen one solitary England try in the previous two years and at half time against Ireland they were 0-3 down. However during the second half England scored six tries to give them a 35-3 win. Three of the tries came in quick succession from Chris Oti, a black player making his Twickenham debut. A group from the Benedictine school Douai started to sing a rugby club favourite - the gospel hymn Swing Low, Sweet Chariot - in honour of their new hero, large sections of the crowd joined in. The song is still regularly sung at matches by supporters. There is also a series of gestures that accompany the song, one of which is sexual.

The England national rugby union team returned from the 2003 World Cup triumph in Australia on a plane dubbed 'Sweet Chariot'

(Note: I don't know where this comes from, so if somebody wants me to give them a citation, please ask politely in comments.)

Still, the idea of English public school toffs singling a spiritual made famous by African-American slaves strikes me as a bit absurd.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

At Least There's Darts

This is the headline on the print edition of The Sun, Britain's trashiest newspaper, reflecting the typical British attitude about sport. This weekend saw the English rugby squad crash out of the Rugby World Cup championship with South Africa. Then British Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton missed out on a chance to win the 2007 drivers' title in the last race of the season. These two events came only a couple days after the England football team lost against Russia, potentially knocking them from the Euro 2008 tournament finals. The British don't have high expectations for their sportsmen, but they occasionally have them dashed anyway.

Three cultural notes: Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I went to a local pub, one we'd never been to before, to watch the rugby finals with a friend who's a rugby enthusiast and his wife. The pub erupted in laughter each time the camera cut to Gordon Brown's stern visage. (My friend had to keep interjecting: "He's Scottish, you know.") Then we learned that "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" is the English rugby song, which makes no sense whatsoever, to begin with, and, in addition, just doesn't sound right coming from white Englishmen. Third: Believe it or not, rugby is the sport of the upper class in Britain. It's the game learned by public school toffs, while football (soccer) is the game of the streets. I asked my friend if the class issue was why there was a notable absence of St. George's Cross flags fluttering everywhere when compared to the run-up to the football world cup last year. He said, "No. It's that nobody expected the rugby team to get this far."

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Friday, October 19, 2007

I Am Somebody

A letter arrived today from the Department For Work And Pensions advising me that my National Insurance Number (NINO) has been allocated. It is, of course, not a proof of identity. I'm glad I didn't do all that for nothing.

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Friday Dogblogging

We interrupt our regularly scheduled catblogging to bring you a dog.

Meet Daisy, Mrs. Werbenmanjensen's sister's dog.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Jersey As A Second Language

Overheard at the Grounds for Sculpture, a conversation about the piece pictured above, titled "Eye on the Ball."

"Dis one's cwalled 'Oye on the Bwahl.'"
"'Oye on the Bwahl' or 'Oye on the Bwowl?'"
"'Oye on the Bwahl!'"

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Americans Amuck ... In America

Howdy. A quick update ... Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I have been in America for more than 48 hours now, in New Jersey. Yesterday, Sir Kevin and I kicked around Manhattan, visiting the Guggenheim Museum, Natural History Museum and Central Park. Today we were at the Grounds For Sculpture, an amazing sculpture collection on the former grounds of the former state fairground (insert jokes about Jerseyites winning blue ribbons for shivmaking and body-dumping here). Lots of photos from the sculpture gardens, but no way to actually get them on the web right now, so you'll have to wait.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

The Continuing Adventures Of English As The Best Bureaucracy A Second Language Can Buy

This is a combination of two of our favorite features at Americans Amuck, English As A Second Language and The Best Bureaucracy Money Can Buy:

Last week I had to report to the Job Centre in Camden Town. Long story short: In order to file my taxes properly as a self-employed individual, I need a National Insurance number (equivalent of Social Security number in the United States). For many of the same reasons as Social Security must be vigilant against fraud, so too must National Insurance. So I had to go through an "interview" at which I presented documentation indicating that I was running a bona fide business. I show up for my 14:30 interview at about 14:25 to a somewhat squat office building a few blocks from where the goths and punks of Camden Town tend to congregate to buy Doc Martens, piercings and black apparel. It was, and this won't surprise you, a somewhat shabby building: Too many coats of paint trying to disguise age, decaying dropped ceilings, broken lift, modular furniture in my waiting area that would have looked more comfortable on the set of Laugh-In.

I was eventually called to my interview with Barbara. The "interview" consisted of me presenting passport and visa, along with documents demonstrating the existence of my business, and her filling in the forms and asking for more documents that I wasn't actually asked to bring in the letter that confirmed my appointment. There were long silences between the questions as she filled out my application or as she disappeared to make photocopies of my documents. I entertained myself by listening to an interview with a Romanian man whose friend was translating for him:

"Ask him if he has a wife."
"Something in Romanian."
"Something in Romanian."
"Ask him if she's with him."
"Something in Romanian."
"Something in Romanian."
"Ask him for how long."
"Something in Romanian."
"Something in Romanian."
"For about six months."

Barbara asked me if we banked in the United Kingdom and, of course, we do, at Vogon Galactic. Of course, I didn't bring a checkbook with me, but would have had I known that they would be asking my account number, so then she asked which branch. I shrugged and said, "It's some branch downtown."

At this, Barbara smiled. "I liked how you said that: Downtown."
I sheepishly said, "Oh yeah, of course I mean, the City."

(Dang it, I don't care if "downtown" is an Americanism, Petula Clark belongs to Britain, not America.)

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Friday Catblogging

One more from reader Schmutz' kitten collection. Schmutz calls this one "You Have Dirty Claws."

On a side note, as I returned to our flat at some point last week, a gray tabby who looked like a small, more mobile version of Greg scampered across the front garden of our building and made my acquaintance. This Greg lookalike wanted into our building, but alas ....

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Monday, October 08, 2007

More Gaudi

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen captured these images of a Gaudi-designed house on Barcelona's answer to Oxford Street. The nighttime photo was just luck--we realized we'd walked out of the subway right underneath the house and decided to get a photo with the facade illuminated.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

It's Smiling At Me, The Answer

Congratulations to Oldest Kid, the resident foodie of AA's readers, for getting two out of three, sort of (something tells me OK had help). The hair was oxen meat (and an ox is just a bull with an education), the face was truffle oil, and the head was whipped cauliflower.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Friday Catblogging

More from the Ethel collection.

Halloween is quickly approaching, and I'm reminded of the first Halloween Ethel lived with us, when she played the role of "black cat" to perfection: A couple of times she scared the dickens out of some trick-or-treaters by leaping at the door as they approached. She is a devil cat.

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La Sagrada Familia

Without even being finished, La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family in Catalan) is the signature building of Barcelona. I won't waste too much time describing its history, since Wikipedia does a better job, other than to say that its creator, the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, has works throughout Barcelona.

Are those bowls of fruit atop the spires? Yes they are. George Orwell wrote that the Anarchists showed bad taste during the Spanish Civil War by not blowing up La Sagrada Familia when they held Barcelona. But given that the work was barely a decade old at that point, perhaps Orwell couldn't appreciate what the building would become.

(Pretension alert) I only like to shoot with natural light.

Is that sky beyond? Yes it is. Did we say it was unfinished? Uh-huh. This is an inside shot, but as you can see, the covering from the elements is not quite finished. I also like this shot because it shows how Gaudi topped his columns in the basilica with four fingers to support the weight. Gaudi preferred biomorphic shapes, rather than the rigid lines of classical architecture, and the columns reflect his tastes.

Ironically, the building is undergoing a renovation at the same time as it's still being completed. But that's probably standard operating practice in cathedral building, where centuries can pass between laying of cornerstones and final completion. Or as Gaudi put it, "My client is not in a hurry."

The main front, where all visitors enter, depicts the passion of Christ. This side entrance pictured immediately above depicts the Nativity, with fanciful images of Christ in the manger, angels, magi and shepherds.

Five million people a year visit this unfinished cathedral.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

One Blogpost For Burma

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Food Of Your Choice

While I ready some photo posts from Barcelona (Mrs. W's camera went to work with her yesterday in her purse), I've left another clue about the unidentified food product downstairs. In the meantime, I, along with Sean Cullen, would like to remind you that the Food Of Your Choice Could End Your Life Tonight:

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Monday, October 01, 2007

It's Smiling At Me!

What food is this? Take a guess: Hair, head, and face.

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