Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Cotswold WayFifteen miles of sheep dung cover the northern end of Cotswold Way, a series of footpaths that meander through English farmland from the city of Bath to the town of Chipping Campden. This is the heart of England’s Cotswold region, with its yellowish stone villages, rolling hedgerows, and loosely piled rock walls. On the beautiful October day I spent along these paths, it was easy to understand why walking is such a beloved English pastime, second only to standing in orderly queues.

Broadway Tower

Finally, I am able to get a photo without anyone in it. No wait…

The official Cotswold Way is marked with a National Trails acorn, which is variously displayed on metal waymarks or carved in posts and signs along the trail. But the main path is crossed and re-crossed by countless other public trails, bridalways, and something the English tantalizing call “permissive paths.” With all the connecting trails, it is easy to put together a loop through the countryside rather than needing to backtrack. This means that you might pass the same walkers going in various directions two or three times on your way to a destination. It also makes it easy to get lost.

Much of the Cotswold Way is not a path at all, but just a general direction to be followed across a field of grass or mud or crops. Arrows point vaguely toward an unseen stile or kissing gate somewhere beyond the horizon, and you are on your own to find a way there.

The most distinctive structure along the northern leg of the Cotswold Way is an architectural folly called the Broadway Tower. I spent much of my time at the tower trying to capture a photograph of it without any people. I told myself that others would like to see the structure itself, but there were so many walkers, and they kept getting in the picture. In retrospect, I should have focused on the people. Broadway Tower, like Chartres Cathedral, remains essentially the same through the centuries. But the tourists, after a time, become increasingly strange and interesting.

Leaving Broadway Tower with a walk across Clump Farm, I came upon something that was already strange and interesting. Potato Road. Now here is something you will never find at Chartres Cathedral.


Potato Road in Clump Farm



St. Nick’s Church in Saintbury


One field, many choices.


Cotswold Way Maintenance Committee

Cotswold Way Maintenance Committee

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ATM Soup

underground_gazpachoLast night I dreamt I was using an ATM in the London Underground to get cash, but inadvertently ordered a £17 bowl of gespacho. Then the machine ate my debit card, and I came away with nothing but a voucher for cold soup. I’ve heard that heart attacks are most common in the early morning hours. Maybe this has to do with circadian rhythms and heart rate, but I think it is more likely related to the stress of having to endure a good night’s sleep.

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divorce plate

Charles and Di Divorce Plate at Windsor Castle

A rival pub owner described Windsor Castle to me as the cluttered basement of an eBay addict. He was talking about the little Windsor Castle pub near Edgware Station in London, which I should point out is not the actual castle where the British royal family lives. That is a different Windsor Castle.

But this Windsor Castle is definitely worth a visit. The walls are covered with curiosities that seem at first glance to be dedicated to the House of Windsor, but also include collections of obsolete tools, celebrity photos, countless plaques, and—my favorite—a bas-relief of the exploits of Sir Francis Drake.

Prince George Plate at Airport

Prince George Plate at Heathrow

The ceiling is covered with commemorative plates, which if you come from earthquake-prone Seattle can be a little unnerving. These plates are really where the royals get their best tribute. Kings and queens, princes and princesses, maybe a distant cousin or two. Having visited the pub in August 2012 (based on the “cluttered basement” recommendation), I was eager to return this year to see what sort of plate they had commemorating the July 22 birth of Prince George. But I couldn’t find one anywhere. Finally I asked the barman, who politely explained that it would be unbecoming to exploit the birth of a child with a plate. That was a private family matter, he said. He said it standing below a plate commemorating the divorce of Charles and Diana—complete with a jagged painted crack.

At Heathrow Airport a week later, my colleague found a plate celebrating the birth of Prince George of Cambridge and was kind enough to share the photo with me. Possibly it is too unbecoming for the hoarder’s museum. Also it is £30 new, and might still be too expensive on eBay.

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Ghoulish GirlTwo blind contour drawings  from my son’s junior high art class: Good Girl and Ghoulish Girl. The exercise required sketching a classmate without looking at the paper. It did not, however, require creating a gruesome version of the model. That was Nick’s idea. Good Girl fulfilled the assignment. Ghoulish Girl took the inevitable distortion of blind sketching to a perfectly (un)natural conclusion.

Good Girl, I tell myself, is real and outgoing and full of confidence. But I see Ghoulish Girl and I remember Annette from my own childhood, who lived in the last remaining farmhouse on Pacific Avenue with its peeling apricot paint and grandiose porch columns; Annette who was never ready when the school bus stopped in her long gravel driveway each morning so that the driver had to sound the horn while thirty kids watched for movement in the pulled draperies and closed front door, waiting for the shy girl who never wanted any special attention but found it day after day; who one afternoon in fourth grade broke a full bottle of perfume and brought a classroom of her enemies to its knees.

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Red Pup

molly_mediumThe dog trainer eyed our puppy suspiciously for a moment before quizzing me. “What kind of Labrador is this?” I sensed a trap, but was prepared. I knew that the AKC only recognizes three variations: black, chocolate, and yellow. Red Labs like ours are officially yellow, whereas yellow retrievers are officially gold, and golden poodles are officially apricot. Makes perfect sense. Talking about breeders made the trainer animated and grumpy. He was looking at a yellow Lab, but he was seeing red.

A week later, our puppy outraged a woman by prancing about happily in a park without a leash. The woman pulled out her cell phone and began photographing the license plates of every car she could find near the park, presumably so that she could turn us all in to the authorities. This may have been unfortunate for the owner of the car behind us, whose dog was also off leash. But our puppy is not yet registered with the city, so in addition to not being officially red, she does not officially exist.

Regardless, the red puppy cannot be bothered with philosophical problems when the physical world is so engaging. Yesterday she found a taxidermic piranha and chewed it to smithereens. All puppies are existentialists.

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This quail is going to be eaten.

I would like waiters to stop using the simple future passive voice to describe my food. As in:

The special today is going to be a sablefish, which is going to be lightly grilled. And it is going to be served with bright saffron sauce and quince puree.

I understand that my food is going to be prepared in the future. That’s not so special. And as far as the passive voice is concerned, I think someone has tricked America’s waiters into believing that it creates a more formal dining experience. Perhaps they don’t realize that I tip more for the active voice.

Latest incident: This Tuesday at Wild Ginger, our waiter came by to ask what food we would like boxed up for leftovers. Panang curry? Yes. Duck? Yes, please. Then someone at our table carelessly motioned to a half-eaten short rib. What about this? The waiter looked serious for a moment, and then explained that we should not try to save the rib. He offered helpfully, That is going to be a bone.

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Facebook Hurricane Sandy

On Facebook, October 29 around 8 PM Eastern Time, buried amid stale political rants and drolly amusing someecards, I found a status update from my friend in Morris Plains, New Jersey:

Power keeps flickering and I think my windows are going to blow in. Storm hitting now. #timeforadrink

By this time on that terrible night, most of Christine’s 550+ Facebook friends were watching Hurricane Sandy on TV, safely hundreds or thousands of miles away. Surely everyone in its path had long ago evacuated. But there it was in a simple status update: Christine had stayed.

Now the storm was personal, and the social media network of virtual “friends” that skeptics often downplay became very real. Friends from years past and far away kept vigil, posting prayers and good wishes and the jokes which sometimes seem to help most of all. Friends watching conversations develop between Christine and other locals as they reported from the heart of the storm—familiar buildings torn apart, fires breaking out, the strange calm of the eye as it passed over. And through it all, the cracking winds, bowing windows, exploding transformers and flooding neighborhoods, we stayed connected. For Christine and for each other.  Television news suddenly didn’t matter so much. Who cares about Al Roker when you have your very own friend in a hurricane?

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