Friday, September 12, 2014

UK and Us

Scottish Consensus
 [Click to enlarge]
Monday, September 8, 2014
This trip is strongly colored by memories. The main event for us was the 50th wedding anniversary of David and Kathleen (McConnell) Mervin, which was celebrated with a big party in their home community of Arnside, Cumbria, on the northwest coast of England. Along with Kathleen's three lovely sisters, I was the only other guest to have attended the wedding, held in Durham, New Hampshire, at the home of the president of the University of New Hampshire, who conveniently happened to be Kathleen's father.

Of the 70 or so guests this weekend in Arnside, I counted 4 adult Jews, several hundred percent more than can usually be found in Arnside or anywhere closer than 100 miles.

We arrived in London yesterday afternoon, and checked into Fleming's Mayfair, 7 Half Moon Street, reputedly the oldest hotel in London. Even if it proves to be a Johnny-come-lately, just being situated on Half Moon Street qualifies it as a place to stay. However, memories powered my selection of this hotel. In March 2002, America's Favorite Epidemiologist, with me in tow, brought her son and daughter to London to celebrate their upcoming graduation from law school and medical school, respectively. The busyness that would immediately follow the end of their formal studies required us to take this trip a few months early. And, sure enough, we stayed in Fleming's Mayfair, one entire renovation before its current manifestation, but thoroughly pleasant at the time. We saw plays; had nice meals; met dear New Jersey friends, also on vacation, for tea at the Connaught, where Bibi Netanyahu was hustling a blonde in the lounge, not yet burdened with the mantle of leadership.

I don't know how Bibi made out, but I recall the trip as one of the best that I've ever taken, the hotel, the diversions, and, mostly, the company.

We spent a few hours in the Victoria & Albert Museum today. It has remarkable collections of stuff. I spent much of the time in the large area devoted to Islamic art. I realized that I enjoyed it far more than the typical array of pre-Impressionist European art, because it ain't churchy, no saints, no martyrs, no angels, no saviours. Just beautiful shapes and colors adorning walls and clothing and ceramics and rugs. I imagine that Islam, like classic Judaism, eschews the graven image, and thank God for that. However, after looking around for quite some time, I had to ask (myself), is there current Islamic art of this caliber? Or, an even more difficult question, where is the spirit that produced such beauty? Islam once swept over much of the known world with the power of its message. What does it bring today?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014
We went to see the Book of Mormon last night, and cannot help but agree that it is a great show. It was even greater by virtue of only costing £52.25 a ticket for orchestra seats, about 1/3 of New York prices. (Note that the issue of the 2 extra tickets that, at first, we were not allowed to buy, and then could not get rid of, was resolved in our favor. Thanks for asking.) Of course, waiting on line at the box office to pick up our tickets, we were hardly surprised to be standing next to Nicolai V. and his wife, the only two people from Bulgaria that we know. Why not?

For all the noise that I made last week about Zephyr Teachout as my preferred candidate for governor of New York State, I find myself comfortably installed in downtown England on the day of the Democratic primary election. I hope that the margin of victory/loss is more than one vote. Mostly, I hope that Andrew Cuomo, the incumbent, realizes that many voters took his promise to deal with corruption in Albany somewhat seriously, more seriously than he has.

I am facing another dilemma, that might last longer than today's electoral oversight. I've taught Boaz, born on the day that the New York Giants won Super Bowl Zwei und Fertzig, that there are two professional football teams to root for -- the New York Giants and whoever is playing the Dallas Cowboys. Well, the Dallas Cowboys have picked up Michael Sams -- the Michael Sams -- after he was cut by the St. Louis Rams. I hope that he succeeds as a professional football player, as long as it is in a losing cause.

We had lunch today with David and Katherine Brodie, who hosted a delightful dinner for us Sunday night, to which David allegedly contributed more than commentary. They also went to the theater with us last night, qualifying as stalwart friends and companions. We ate at the Capital, 22-24 Basil Street, an exquisite small hotel very near Harrod's, where my young bride and I have eaten a couple of times in the past, always feeling and being treated as lottery winners. If I were to win, I might actually be able to stay there overnight, not just showing up for lunch. Just showing up for lunch, however, resulted in one of the finest afternoons that we have spent in ages. The Capital has a three-course lunch for £27 and worth every nickel. I had quail as an appetizer and then duck, sticking to the fowl side of the menu. Dessert was a poached pear with small scoops of stem ginger (not stem cell, as I suggested) ice cream and dark chocolate mousse. A few glasses of rosé helped wash everything down and kept the conversation going for 2 1/2 hours.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
By 8:30 last night, the physical effects of our wonderful lunch had subsided, so we ventured forth into Chinatown, an area in London that has remained pretty compact over the years compared to the vast expansion of New York's Chinatown, not to say anything about the emergence of other Chinatowns in Brooklyn and Queens. We went to Canton Restaurant, 11 Newport Place, the first London Chinese restaurant that I ever went to, 29 years ago. We didn't order much, sharing Thai style fish (£8.80) and egg fried rice (£2.80). The small portion of fish consisted of deep-fried fingerlings, tasteless themselves, but served in a delicious sweet and spicy sauce. The fried rice was not cooked with soy sauce, leaving it white. Yet, together, the two dishes made for a satisfying snack. Canton was the place where I first ate Singapore chow fun (called ho fun here), a turning point in my life.

While many British people speak funny, they are often eloquent, even poetic in their utterances. However, I've noticed even before this trip, by watching British crime shows on PBS, cable and Netflix, that the British are as promiscuous in their use of the word Brilliant as we are with Awesome. It often sounds so inappropriate, having nothing to do with a person, place or thing's index of refraction. Also, British folks of almost any age seem unashamed to use Brilliant, while I think that Americans begin to limit their use of Awesome as they approach full height and weight.

The upcoming vote on Scotland's future has been the first or second most prominent news story ever since we arrived. In fact, with the young cancer victim reunited with his family after his parents were temporarily jailed for removing him from a hospital without permission, the front pages now are devoted to the fate of the United Kingdom. An interesting byproduct of this situation, regardless of its outcome, is the strengthened interest in autonomy for other groups -- the Basques and Catalonians in Spain, the Walloons in Belgium, the Kurds embedded in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, for example. May I propose something closer to home, a reconsideration of the Civil War, allowing the Confederate States to go their own way. I, for one, will not miss the whole Bible thumpin', gun totin', stock car racin', science denyin', gerund mispronouncin' lot. Of course, I would grant Cindy and David McMullen compassionate asylum before I line our side of the Mason-Dixon Line with specially-trained Mexican, Honduran and Guatemalan border guards.

Thursday, September 11, 2014
It was admittedly a strange day to be flying into New York, but it met our needs otherwise. The flight was thoroughly uneventful, noticeably less crowded than the flight to Edinburgh. We got to Heathrow by simply riding the Piccadilly Line, with a station three blocks from the hotel, probably the easiest (cheapest) trip to an airport that I can recall.

Friday, September 12, 2014
Back home and safely in the hands of those nearest and dearest to me, the waiters at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street.


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  2. We appreciate you graciously granting us US/Union citizenship and will be happy to welcome you in Scotland should independence win the day. We are hosting a cocktail party on Thurs the 18th in part to share a bit of T&T's time with friends and then to either celebrate or mourn the results of the vote.