Friday, December 17, 2004

Thank you Rachel :)

Today my coworkers gave me the most lavish sendoff I can imagine, with presents to remind me of London and very kind words. Rachel wrote me this poem and I post it in her honoUr:

Ode to Erin…

She arrived in the UK all smiles but no visa
In Kangol hat, along with her geezer[1]

We've introduced her to shandy[2] and other things too…
Why go to the restroom when you can "pop to the loo"

She savoured many and varied UK delights
Mushy peas[3], bread sauce, biscuits[4] and tights[5]

Thanksgiving was fab with green beans and pie
Roasties[6], and pudding[7] - spirits were high

You'll miss us we know but you'll be OK
Keep your pecker up[8] love, that's what we say

As soon as you're gone, we'll reclaim your desk
In that special corner that is so picturesque…

We'll spread out our stuff and with a wry smile
remember the Texan who was here for a while

Have a wonderful Christmas and fab New Year
We're just sorry you won't spend it here…

On a serious note, bye bye and farewell
We're sure you'll go home with a few tales to tell…

[1] Meaning: bloke, man

[2] Meaning: beer mixed with lemonade

[3] Meaning: mashed up peas, not very nice

[4] Meaning: cookies

[5] Meaning: Hose

[6] Meaning: roast potatoes

[7] Meaning: Christmas pudding, fruit pudding flambéed with brandy (or whisky when brandy is missing)

[8] Meaning: keep your chin up, keep smiling, be happy

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

D-Day sights

Friday, December 10, 2004

Ferry to Normandy

Earlier this week I returned from a trip to visit the WWII sites in Normandy, France. To get there I crossed the English channel on a ferry, going from Portsmouth, England, to Cherbourg, France.

Taking the ferry isn't the most time-efficient way to travel, especially the route I took to Normandy. The over-the-water part alone took around 6 hours each way, not including the hour and a half train ride from London to Portsmouth.

But taking the ferry is leisurely and interesting. I wanted to experience crossing the channel on water, and I needed time to read more about D-Day and contemplate what I was going to see.

I arrived at the passenger check-in at the port an hour or so ahead of time and was surprised to find I was one of just a few people there. Most ferry travel, especially in December, is commercial. Two entire decks of the craft were devoted to big rig parking. I think there were more truck drivers on the ferry than foot passengers.

And excluding the truck drivers, most passengers had driven their cars onto the ferry, so that once they arrived in France they could drive where they wanted to go. It blows my mind that you can just drive your car onto a boat. It's even more surprising to me how popular it is for people to take their cars onto the Eurostar train that goes through the channel tunnel, but that's another story.

So in all there were about a dozen foot passengers. Me, an American guy and his Portuguese wife, and the boozers. At least 8 people were in a group going to Cherbourg to buy alcohol and planned to turn right back around and come back to England on the night ferry. That's how much cheaper it is to buy alcohol in France.

The ferry has eight decks and includes a food court, a bar, a fancy restaurant, a sun deck, and shops. Everyone warned me about seasickness but it didn't seem too wobbly to me. It seemed there was a lot of boat traffic in the channel -- we were never out of sight of another boat whenever I was looking.

Upon arrival, I took a taxi to Avis and rented a manual transmission Corsa pill car. By that time it was dark, and I just wanted to park my silver capsule and check in to the hotel. I finally managed to get to the right hotel parking lot.

Most cars in France are really small, and the parking lots and lanes seem even smaller. This lot was about full, and so when I spotted an opening I quickly turned down the lane where I thought it was, only to find a dead end. No biggie, I thought, I'll just back up. Oh it seems so simple doesn't it! I couldn't get it into reverse. I could see the "R" on the gear shift, to the upper left of first gear, but the stick just wouldn't go there. Mistakenly going into first, I kept inching closer and closer to a brick wall.

What to do, what to do. In retrospect, I suppose I had a lot of options. Call a British friend for advice. Look in the glove compartment for an instruction book. Poke around the car a bit and use my noggin some. Michael pointed out after the fact that I could have put it in neutral and pushed it backward. Not the best option, but an option nonetheless. With my heart racing and my anxious thoughts spiralling to some foggy yet enormous disaster, I chose an absurd and difficult way out of this situation. I got out of the car and decided to ask a French person for help. I waited what seemed like forever (but was probably no more than a few moments) for someone to park who didn't look like he would steal my car.

"Bonsoir, parlez-vous Anglais?" I sheepishly said.

A very definitive "non" from the French man, his wife clinging to their minivan.

I could say "I cannot go…. I cannot go…. I cannot go…" in French, but not the critical "in reverse."

My caveman sign language demonstration of the concept made up for the rest and he understood. Thinking about it now, it probably helped that the nose of the car was awkwardly close to the brick wall. So he got in the car, demonstrated the ultra hidden and super difficult to find gear shift release (saving face here). And all was OK. Merci monsieur French man!

Here are links to my pictures from the ferry and one of the car. I'll post Normandy pictures shortly.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Pictures of Paris

"Paris is not only a place but a state of mind. Whoever goes there takes away the greatest meal he has ever had in his life, a romance that will linger forever, and a dream that will never be repeated. All you have to say is “Paris” and the movie will begin.—Art Buchwald, author

I came across this quote about Paris and feel like it sums up the city. It's been a few weeks since I was there, and I've struggled with words to describe the place and how great it really is, so I figured I should just post the pictures. Be sure to see the ones of us on segways. Michael has some good ones too but I don't think they're posted yet.

This weekend I'm returning to France on my own, taking a ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg, Normandy, to visit the D-Day landing beaches. I'm crossing my fingers for a smooth ride, as people warn me the chop can cause seasickness. I'm about halfway through Steven Ambrose's 600-page book about D-Day, which I plan to finish on the 6-hour channel crossing.

And this evening I am going to Royal Albert Hall for masters tennis. John McEnroe is playing tonight, as well as some others.

Paris pictures here:

Friday, November 26, 2004

Giving thanks UK-style

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and my sympathetic friend Rachel hosted a dinner party to celebrate the holiday. Nine British and one Australian (plus me) in attendance.

With just a few substitutions (no French's canned fried onions?) and a couple additions (what's bread sauce?), the food was quite traditional. Rachel and I split up the menu, and I took on a few of the more American dishes -- dressing, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie. Unfortunately each of those had one item I either couldn't find or could only sort of match. Namely, cornbread, dried canned French fried onions, and canned pumpkin. Fortunately, Rachel was able to fly to New York last weekend and pick up a can of pumpkin puree at an American grocery store.

We said grace before the meal, and I accepted some flak for the U.S. having elected Bush. I told an abridged version of the origin of the meal following one guest's inquiry about whether Thanksgiving was related to the aftermath of our civil war. I know comparatively we're a baby nation, but that's off by a couple centuries.

British feast additions included sausage, roast potatoes, and bread sauce.

It was a great party, and we gave thanks until around 2:30 in the morning. I'm worthless today, greasing the mental wheels with a little lunchtime blogging.

This evening I'm going to a ceilidh with a big group of people. It's a traditional Scottish dance party where everyone participates.

Pictures below. I feel like something's wrong with my camera, everything's starting to come out blurry. I think it's tired.

I'll take that $50 tourist t-shirt over there...

More exchange rate rants. This is an interesting story.

Thank goodness I'm American

Like many Americans in the past few days, I have contemplated things for which I am thankful. Unlike many Americans, I am living in a place that makes it really easy to identify those things. Automatic hot water, wide open spaces, straight roads…..

I am also quite thankful just to be American. I mean no disservice to the British, or the rest of the world for that matter, but I appreciate the U.S. and realize now just how comfortable it is to live there.

Not long ago I received the email trail pasted below, which is maddening. I don't know why I'm posting it really, other than that maybe it offers several levels of insight into how many British people feel about the states. I feel confident I could write a really biting reply, but it's not worth the keystrokes. I will just say that on days after a crummy night's sleep on my futon, having breathed motorbike fumes and dodged the screechingly loud and limb-catching scary Camden sidewalk-vacuum cleaner machine on my walk to work, I would rather not replace Z (not zed!!) with S.

18/11/2004 10:28

To: London/GrantThornton
Subject: British Reaction to Bush II

A series of very good points - one to add would of course be the prohibition of all incompatible food mixes, such as say peanut butter and jam sandwiches or peanut butter chocolate.

I want to hear your first rendition of the national anthem by lunchtime. That goes for all three of you confused individuals.

----- Forwarded by /London/GrantThornton on 18/11/2004 10:23 -----
-----Original Message-----
From: Richard Beltran
Sent: 18 November 2004 10:06
Subject: British Reaction to Bush II

British reaction to Bush II


In the light of your failure to elect a human as President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchial duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories, except Utah which she does not fancy. Your new prime minister (The Right Honourable Tony Blair, MP for the 97.85% of you who have until now been unaware that there is a world outside your borders) will appoint a Minister for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire will be circulated next year to
determine whether any of you noticed. To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

1. You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up "aluminium". Check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'favour' and 'neighbour'. Skipping the letter 'U' is nothing more than laziness on your part. Likewise, you will Learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters. You will end your love affair with the letter 'Z' pronounced 'zed' not 'zee') and the suffix "ize" will be replaced by the suffix "ise". You will learn that the suffix 'burgh' is pronounced 'burra' e.g. Edinburgh. You are welcome to respell Pittsburgh as 'Pittsberg' if you can't cope with correct pronunciation. Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. Look up "vocabulary". Using the same twenty seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "like" and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. Look up "interspersed". There will be no more 'bleeps' in the Jerry Springer show. If you're not old enough to cope with strong language then you shouldn't have chat shows. When you learn to develop your Vocabulary then you won't have to use strong language as often.

2. There is no such thing as "US English". We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of "-ize".

3. You should learn to distinguish the English and Australian accents. It really isn't that hard. English accents are not limited to Cockney, upper-class twit or Mancunian (Daphne in Frasier). You will also have to learn how to understand regional accents - Scottish dramas such as "Taggart" will no longer be broadcast with subtitles. While we're talking about regions, you must learn that there is no such place as Devonshire in England. The name of the county is "Devon". If you persist in calling it Devonshire, all American States will become "shires" e.g. Texasshire, Floridashire, Louisianashire.

4. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as the good guys. Hollywood will be required to cast English actors to play English characters. British sit-coms such as "Men Behaving Badly" or "Red Dwarf" will not be re-cast and watered down for a wishy-washy American audience who can't cope with the humour of occasional political incorrectness.

5. You should relearn your original national anthem, "God Save The Queen", but only after fully carrying out task

#1. We would not want you to get confused and give up half way through.

6. You should stop playing American "football". There is only one kind of football. What you refer to as American "football" is not a very good game. The 2.15% of you who are aware that there is a world outside your borders may have noticed that no one else plays "American" football. You will no longer be allowed to play it, and should instead play proper football. Initially, it would be best if you played with the girls. It is a difficult game. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play Rugby (which is similar to American football", but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full Kevlar body armour like nancies). We are hoping to get together at least a US rugby sevens side by 2005. You should stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the 'World Series' for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.15% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. Instead of baseball, you will be allowed to play a girls' game called "rounders" which is baseball without fancy! team strip, oversized
gloves, collector cards or hotdogs.

7. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry guns. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous in public than a vegetable peeler. Because we don't believe you are sensible enough to handle potentially dangerous items, you will require a permit if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

8. July 4th is no longer a public holiday. November 2th will be a new national holiday, but only in England. It will be called "Indecisive Day".

9. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and it is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean. All road intersections will be replaced with roundabouts. You will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go Metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

10. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips. Fries aren't even French, they are Belgian though 97.85% of you (including the guy who discovered fries while in Europe) are not aware of a country called Belgium. Those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called "crisps". Real chips are thick cut and fried in animal fat. The traditional accompaniment to chips is beer which should be served warm and flat. Waitresses will be trained to be more aggressive with customers.

11. As a sign of penance 5 grams of sea salt per cup will be added to all tea made within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this quantity to be doubled for tea made within the city of Boston itself.

12. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all, it is lager. From November 1st only proper British Bitter will be referred to as "beer", and European
brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as "Lager". The substances formerly known as "American Beer" will henceforth be referred to as "Near-Frozen Donkey Piss", with the exception of the product of the American Budweiser company whose product will be referred to as "Weak Near-Frozen Donkey Piss". This will allow true Budweiser (as manufactured for the last 1000 years in Pilsen, Czech Republic) to be sold without risk of confusion.

13. From December 1st the UK will harmonise petrol (or "Gasoline" as you will be permitted to keep calling it until April 1st 2005) prices with the former USA. The UK will harmonise its prices to those of the former USA and the Former USA will, in return, adopt UK petrol prices (roughly $6/US gallon - get used to it).

14. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns or lawyers. The fact that you need so many lawyers shows that you're not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you're not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone then you're not grown up enough to handle a gun.

15. Please tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us crazy.

Tax collectors from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all revenues due (backdated to 1776). Thank you for your co-operation,

Her Majesty's Government

Sunday, November 21, 2004

international conference

i suppose i should have written about the international conference sooner, because now it's a big blur. lots of conversations and introductions and interesting stuff separated by long periods of quietly waiting for the next session to end.

in the run up to the event i felt it was similar to a huge, barely manageable wedding. three hundred guests -- plus accompanying persons -- from all over the world. my colleagues and i were bridesmaids, and the bride (no one in particular to you grant thornton readers) had some pretty out-there requests. for example, every lunch and dinner had a menu. there were no choices, the food having been tasted and selected weeks in advance, and yet we folded thousands of very nicely printed menus, stuffed them into covers, and added colored tassels to the bindings.

the evening dinner parties were fantastic. wenesday - landmark hotel buffet and cocktails, thursday - dine with the dinosaurs at the natural history museum (complete with jazz band), friday - evening london eye trip followed by dinner at the london aquarium, and saturday - royal marching band plus dinner and dancing at the historic london guildhall.

for much of the time during the day i helped with the international internet room, the place where managing partners from grant thornton firms all over the world would come to check their email or learn about the new international IT programs. i remember chatting with partners from korea, spain, ireland, france, south africa, australia, and i'm sure others i'm not remembering. guess which nationality is most manic about checking email? ;)

fanciest computer award went to a partner from jersey, which is part of the channel islands near here. to move there you have to have something like a million pounds in the bank! fascinating. i found all of the conference interesting, but most of all just meeting people like that guy and talking with him about where he lives.

one odd thing i remember is that whenever a session would end, delegates who i think were from mexico would shoot through the doors into the foyer and immediately light up cigarettes. by the time the sessions started again the common area would be filled with a dense haze of dirty air. it amazes me how much the rest of the world smokes.

pictures here:

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

curiosities in copenhagen

once upon a time a realty company sales rep in her early 30s went to a party where she lived in sydney, australia. like many single women she may have gone with a skeptical eye toward sleazy dudes. but instead, she hit the jackpot -- she caught the eye of a real prince who was there on vacation, and now she will be the next queen of's a true story, and people in copenhagen love this couple. who wouldn't? it's a fantastic real-life fairytale. mary and frederik are everywhere. you can read more about them and their june wedding and how she even lived in texas for awhile on the royal danish website here:

found copenhagen to be a land of contradictions. the people were all tall and blonde and healthy looking, but they smoke more than all other europeans, or so said my guidebook. excluding the UK, more people speak english in denmark than anywhere else in europe. but for some strange reason, culturally they behave quite rudely, or perhaps stiffly is a better way of putting it. the guidebook warned of this and reported that there is no word in the danish language for "please." moms would not like it there.

i also found copenhagen to look quite a bit different than what i've seen elsewhere in europe. for example, in general, kings in the UK and elsewhere look like they never missed a meal. every time i see a photo of henry VIII he looks like one could tip him over and roll him down a hill. not so in denmark -- king christian (the first important one) and all the kings christian and/or frederik (they're all named that) after him, were warriors. king christian's bust in his castle shows him wearing an earring and braids, with one really buff pec showing, his battle toga covering just half his chest.

one time when christian went to battle, he caught some shrapnel and lost an eye. no biggie, he just put the shrapnel in his pocket and had two of the finest pieces MADE INTO EARRINGS FOR HIS WIFE!! you can see these earrings in his castle. dangly gold chains, each with a little lady-like gold hand at the bottom, grasping the metal bits from the war-king's eye.there was another quite odd piece of jewelry displayed in this castle. sometime way back in the 1500s or so there was some king who was upset that his wife had been cheating on him. for their anniversary, he gave her a ring that showed her hand shaking? grasping? a rather private part of the male anatomy. subtle!

despite the nonstop drizzle and the nasty cold i got there, i thought it was a great place. also, we have denmark to thank for some really great things:

legos (click here for the danish site):

danish modern design:

futuristic stereos and flatware:

really great teapots and really great dinnerware:

the whole place is very modern. you will notice the space age subway in the pictures i posted. totally clean, right down to the space beneath the tracks. no new york style rats swimming in muck there. what the pictures don't show is that the escalator is so smart, it speeds up when you step on it.

dollar decline