Monday, November 30, 2015

Rain, Wind and the Sunday Mail

We're back in London, our flight yesterday morning taking off in beautiful, sunny weather and landing in rain and gusty wind. Ah, England!

We took the Lisbon metro out to the airport at 7:30 a.m., and I didn't even get a cup of coffee into my body until we were in the terminal about an hour later. I was flagging a bit by that time, but I survived. The flight was uneventful -- we ran into one of our coworkers, Pete, and his wife in the Lisbon terminal, which was kind of funny. And at Heathrow we met another group of teachers from school, as well as a family with kids who are students, who had all just been in Bilbao. I guess everyone comes and goes on the same tides.

I finished my book, "The Night in Lisbon," on the plane. It was OK. I was then left without anything to read, so I resorted to the in-flight magazine -- which actually wasn't bad -- and then a borrowed copy of the Mail on Sunday. You know I'm desperate for reading material when I'm driven to a conservative newspaper.

Some of you asked the other day whether I have pictures of certain things I've mentioned -- the Marilyn Monroe potato chips, for example. The answer is yes, and when I get all my Portugal pictures uploaded to Flickr within a week or two I'll give you the link so you can see them.

Olga hasn't rejoined us yet. She doesn't come back from the kennel until this afternoon, when Dave will be home to meet her.

(Photo: The Beatles Store on Baker Street, Nov. 21.)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cats, Dogs and Roosters

Yesterday we had a decision to make. We could take the train to Sintra, a town northwest of Lisbon where the nobility used to go to escape the rabble of the city, or we could spend our final day wandering a few more neighborhoods.

This wasn't a decision to be taken lightly. Sintra (which my spell-check wants to change to "Sinatra") is a UNESCO world heritage site and it's pretty much the one day-trip every Lisbon visitor is expected to do. Apparently there are forests and a colorful palace, among other things.

But Dave wasn't convinced, and since I am always fine just walking around and exploring, we did that instead. We walked through the neighborhoods of Mouraria (named after the moors, who lived among its steep, narrow streets in the middle ages) and Graça.

I was seriously considering doing an entire blog post about laundry in Lisbon. You see such an incredible assortment of clean clothing, towels and bedclothes hanging out to dry!

In Graça we sat at a cafe with an incredible view overlooking the city and had grilled cheese sandwiches. We watched a very energetic golden retriever annoy his owner by playing with a huge plastic bottle.

Then we kept walking back down into Alfama and eastward. We wound up getting kind of lost, which is always fun. We stumbled into Lisbon's famous outdoor flea market, which was packed with vendors selling vinyl records and toys and used pottery and clothing and all kinds of junque, but we didn't stay because Dave is not a fan of flea markets. (One point on which he and I differ -- I could have spent hours there! But it's just as well I didn't, so I don't have treasures to haul back to London.)

We eventually found our way back to our hotel, past more laundry and the occasional sleeping cat.

A huge Holland America cruise ship has been moored in the river below our hotel for the last few days. From the wine bar, with its infinity pool, we watched as it set sail yesterday evening. Then we went to dinner at a little tapas place, coincidentally near the flea market where we were earlier in the day. We hired a tuk-tuk, a sort of auto rickshaw, to take us there -- it was a Portuguese version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Our tuk-tuk driver, Lisa, was a master of the back streets and took us past Lisbon's grand, illuminated São Vicente de Fora church and the domed Panteão.

Today, back to the airport and home!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Grinding Up and Down Hills

One thing I can say for sure about Lisbon -- the weather is just about perfect.

We spent yesterday exploring on foot and in a tram, a transportation method so ubiquitous here that it appears on t-shirts and souvenir refrigerator magnets. We took a special tram tour through Lisbon's older districts, with the driver cranking levers and the car grinding up and down the hills on metal rails. It was quite theatrical. Apparently on some of the steeper hills, the drivers have to lay sand on the tracks so the car can get a better grip. Woo hoo!

We found the British enclave, such that it is.

And we found the American enclave, too. Or at least a sign from a bygone era.

And the Norwegian one, too!

We had lunch at the Mercado de Ribeira, a huge food market near downtown where there's a sort of gourmet food court. I had a salted cod sandwich and "batatas Marilyn Monroe," which I ordered just because of the name. It turns out they're very thinly cut potato chips -- or crisps, as the British say -- and after I got them I realized they closely resemble Marilyn's swirling skirt in the subway grate scene of "Some Like it Hot."

After lunch we went to a Portuguese wine-tasting room near the main waterfront square (top photo) and sampled some whites and reds. Dave really wants to buy some port, but unfortunately our plane ticket specifies that we cannot check luggage without paying an extra £30, so we can't bring any back. (No liquids in cabin baggage, and all that.) I'm thinking we may be able to get some at the airport duty-free shops on the way out.

In the afternoon Dave headed back to the hotel for a nap, and I continued on foot exploring the neighborhoods of Barrio Alto, Baixa and Chiado.

I stopped at the Cafe a Brasileira, an apparently legendary Lisbon haunt, for a coffee. A Brazilian (I think) band played nearby on the public plaza.

Finally, last night, Dave and I went to a restaurant recommended by one of my coworkers. I'll avoid naming it so as not to attract search engines to my somewhat negative review, but think of the capital of California. It had a very red interior including huge red cellophane hanging lamps. Dave said it was "like being inside a blood clot," and we found the food unremarkable. Oh well. You can't win 'em all!

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Look at Lisbon

Here we are in Lisbon, where the sun is so bright and the shadows so deep that photography beckons at every turn. I took 230 pictures yesterday, and although most of them will be deleted, I am once again thankful to no longer be constrained by the limitations of film!

We got here bright and early. Our flight left England at 7 a.m., so we were at the airport before 5:30, and on the ground in Lisbon by mid-morning. Needless to say we were a bit bleary-eyed for the rest of the day, but we survived.

I had no idea what to expect of Portugal. So here's some of what we found. For one thing, many of the buildings are completely covered in tile, like the one above. They're colorful and super-shiny. Also, many sidewalks are composed of black-and-white cobblestones organized in patterns (now I know what inspired those famous sidewalks of Rio de Janeiro).

We're staying in an old neighborhood with narrow streets called Alfama. Our hotel is super-modern and super-minimalist. The room is white on white, with a blond wood floor, and the shower controls are so simple I couldn't figure out how to turn them on. I was about to go to the front desk and ask when Dave came to the rescue.

I learned the Portuguese word constipaçião from an advertisement in the airport. I hope I never have to use it. Other Portuguese words: bom dia, for good day, and obrigado, for thank you.

Judging from the street art, the Portuguese like to have some fun with their politics!

Yesterday at lunch, Dave and I stopped at a cafe in a secluded square and ate outside. I had roasted sardines, which were fabulous, and Dave had pork. We each ordered a small jug of wine -- the smallest amount possible -- which turned out to contain about half a quart. The sun was so intense that we had to change tables in the middle of the meal -- quite a change from England!

Then, last night, we went to an excellent restaurant with some live fado music, which is apparently a thing here. I'm not yet clear on what distinguishes fado from other types of singing, other than its Portuguese origins -- maybe I should read up on that. I had octopus for dinner, and Dave, once again, had pork.

Unbelievably, the passive-aggressive dog boarder e-mailed us yesterday and insisted that we buy her harness. So I threw in the towel and said fine, but politely and firmly added that we weren't coming back after Christmas, when Olga is scheduled to board again. (We've already paid a huge deposit so there's no canceling that.) I realize it's ridiculous to carry on this debate for days when it comes down to £25 and I just want to enjoy my vacation. I'm putting it behind me.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Foxy Fox

I happened to have my camera handy when one of our neighborhood foxes took a stroll around our back garden yesterday. Here he (or she) is -- in all her (or his) foxy glory.

Do you think it's the same one I photographed in August? This one seems to have lighter coloring, but that could be seasonal, I suppose.

It seemed quite confident and not at all skittish, maybe because it could tell that Olga wasn't home. It even walked right up to the back door, with Dave and I sitting in the living room. (I didn't have my camera ready at that moment, sadly.)

It's a pretty healthy looking fox, with a nice bushy white-tipped tail and nice fur, and a penetrating gaze.

And there's our garden cam, fastened to the tree behind the fox, helpfully pointing in the wrong direction.

Work yesterday was non-eventful. Olga got picked up at about 7:30, so I got to work in time to attend our annual Thanksgiving assembly and then spent the rest of the morning shelving and organizing books. I found an unopened Cadbury's candy bar (chocolate and caramel) beneath one of the library couches and ate it for my midmorning snack. I'm not proud.

Then, in the afternoon I got an e-mail from the passive-aggressive dog boarder wanting to sell us a new harness for Olga. They said the old one is torn (and it is, mildly, on a purely ornamental part) and isn't strong enough for the dog. You may remember that this is part of what I hate about this boarder -- the woman who's in charge is constantly pushing us to buy stuff. So I said no, and they pretty much insisted, and I handed the matter over to Dave. It's still unresolved, but for now the harness is not on our bill. I couldn't help but laugh because when Olga got picked up in the morning, I thought I'd avoided dealing with her. And then she GOT ME ANYWAY!

I'll be coming to you tomorrow from Lisbon. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Olga Departs, and a Feeder Update

I had the craziest day yesterday. I guess everyone was getting books to read over the Thanksgiving holiday, because the desk was constantly busy. On top of that I had to help supervise and find books for two classes simultaneously while my coworkers were in meetings -- including one boy who'd been assigned to read a biography and was being somewhat stubborn about the subject. (A footballer, preferably Ronaldinho, and not an American footballer and certainly not a baseball player, all within a rather narrow window of reading level.)

Fortunately, today will be much easier, because we don't have kids in school. It's a professional development day. Which means I will be re-shelving books.

First, though, the dog-boarding folks are coming to collect Olga and take her to their spa resort in the countryside, where for the next four days she will no doubt receive Swedish massage and steam facials complete with cucumbers over her eyes, her ears done up in a towel. At least that's my assumption, based on the price.

Yes, I still feel guilty. But with her gone, Dave and I can focus after work on getting ready for Lisbon before flying out early tomorrow. (And we have dinner plans tonight.)

As you can see, our squirrel feeder has become more of a pigeon feeder, especially now that the squirrels have knocked out the protective little plastic window in front. I wonder what our neighbors think of this development, since the pigeons tend to sit on their balcony railing upstairs.

The squirrels, not content to relinquish such a reliable food source, periodically come and chase away the pigeon hordes, a process that involves a lot of insane wing-flapping.

The big Eurasian blue jays also come around almost every morning. I've seen them pop an entire peanut (in the shell!) into their gullet and hold another in their beak and fly away.

(Top photo: Flags of Tunisia, Palestine and Saudi Arabia in Cricklewood, on Sunday.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ye Olde Camera Shoppe

As I was walking Olga to the Heath on Sunday, we passed this old camera shop, Photo Craft, in Hampstead. We've been walking past it almost every week for a year and a half, and sometimes I'd look at the lenses in the windows and think, "I need to check that place out." It seemed like a bit of an anachronism. How many family-run independent camera shops do you see these days?

And then suddenly, in October, it closed. So much for that.

When I stopped to take these photos Sunday, workmen were dismantling the facade. (The guy on the bottom, hiding his face, told me he's "camera shy.") They told me the shop had been there for 50 years, and sure enough, when I looked it up online, I found a couple of news articles about the closing that said the same thing.

I was interested in this even older sign underneath the photo shop facade. The workmen had no idea what Leonards might have been. A cursory Google search couldn't tell me either. Maybe when they take the rest of that old clapboard away, all will be revealed.

Unfortunately I may not be here to see it, since we'll be gone this weekend. It depends on how quickly the new tenant, a beauty shop, moves in.

We're having a rainy, wet, cold morning here. I slept until 6:30, about an hour later than usual -- Dave even got up before me, which almost never happens. Olga, however, is still in bed.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Boom Boom!

So here's Sunday, in a nutshell -- Olga and I at Hampstead Heath. We were out and about quite a bit yesterday. She was inside all day on Saturday so I felt like I had to make it up to her.

A more detailed account of the day begins before we even went to the Heath, when Olga and I took a long walk through the neighborhood early yesterday morning. The gates to the cemetery were closed and we couldn't go in, but while walking the public path through it, we found these little handmade webs hanging from a tree. I have no idea what purpose they could serve.

Have I mentioned that it was freezing cold? This was our birdbath yesterday morning -- a solid block of ice! (With leaf garnish.)

Olga and went out again for our Heath walk a few hours later, at 11:30 a.m., and were gone until mid-afternoon. Then we came home and in between doing laundry and eating dinner, Dave and I watched a hilariously bad sci-fi movie called "The Langoliers," from the '90s. Apparently it was based on a Stephen King novella. We basically created our own Mystery Science Theater, mocking the movie out loud. We cracked each other up.

This helped:

A Washington state vintage with a particularly eye-catching label.

Olga, however, was interested in neither the film nor the wine. You know how I always say the object of our long, weekend walks is to exhaust the dog?

Mission accomplished!

Oh, and as we discussed, I did make a new video of me speaking Tashelhait. Here it is, if you're interested. I've already uploaded it to the school so now that obligation is done! I probably should have shaved first, but oh well.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ribbons, a Frosty Hibiscus, and Extremism

We had snow yesterday morning! Huge, wet, fat clumps of snow that melted immediately upon touching the ground. Just barely snow at all -- I suppose a few degrees warmer and it would have been rain. But still.

I brought in our geranium and our venus flytrap, but I forgot to bring in our hibiscus. So now it looks a bit frostbitten, some of its leaves drying and curling. I think it will survive, though. I doubt that it got cold enough to damage the wood.

I sat inside with Olga during the slushy downpour and debated staying home from French class. I didn't really have a good reason, except that I was feeling lazy and didn't want to go out in that weather. In the end I went, and I'm glad, especially since I'm going to miss next weekend.

Afterwards I took a walk around Marylebone to find this shop, V.V. Rouleaux, which I'd heard about. It sells ribbons, trimmings and flowers, although I notice it also has women's hats, candles and even deer antlers in the window. It looks like a pretty eccentric place! I didn't go in -- I just wanted some photos. It took me a while to find it -- I thought it was on Marylebone High Street and I walked up and down in the clear wintry chill without success, before stumbling onto it in a side street.

At the risk of being a downer, and apropos of nothing I've mentioned above, I've gotta write about the reactions to the Paris attacks -- the bombing campaigns launched by France, the efforts to mount a European military response. I understand the desire to retaliate, because part of me feels the same desire. But I'm not sure bombs are going to do much good. Extremists, and people who lean toward extremism, are all around us, after all. They aren't easily contained and concentrated in one neat, bombable area. They're going to pop up here and there, the way the Mali hotel attackers subsequently did.

The only way to defeat extremism is with education and opportunity. That is the only way. Bombing campaigns just make extremists angrier, help them recruit and motivate them more.

The other day I read an article in The Nation that mentioned an extremist recruit who grew up in northern Iraq as one of seventeen (!) siblings, children from two wives of the same man. He was educated to a sixth-grade level. He had no friends outside his family. He was married with two children of his own, but an injury left him unable to work as a laborer, so he turned to ISIS to provide for his family. Although religious, he saw it merely as a job.

Likewise, extremists based in Europe -- where you'd think education and opportunity are more readily available -- don't see much of a future for themselves. Maybe they can't take advantage of school because they get mired in drugs or feel discrimination or they're just not academically astute. Maybe they are raised in angry or abusive households. They fixate on cultural differences, blame them for their problems and fight back.

The millions and millions of people crammed into ragged, war-torn countries -- or living on a shoestring in dreary European suburbs -- must be shown that they have something to live for here on Earth. Otherwise, they'll be on a constant quest for a better afterlife.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Moroccan Candle Labels

I've written before about my odd affection for banana stickers, those little branding devices that are often stuck on supermarket bananas.

In a similar vein, when I lived in Morocco in the early '90s, I became infatuated with the labels from packages of candles. You could buy candles -- eight simple white tapers wrapped in paper -- in any town market. But the brands varied by region, so whenever I traveled I'd pick up the local lights and I soon developed a little collection.

I came across them again recently while working on my journal transcribing project. (Which, by the way, is going to take me years.)

There's a definite "big cat" theme going on with these first two. In fact, I'd say someone was ripping someone else off.

Many of the labels seemed to have a religious theme, depicting a mosque. Maybe they were often used in mosques. (I never went inside a mosque in Morocco -- in that country, you must be a muslim to enter. It's actually a law.)

In the town where I lived my first year, the mosque (and our house) had electricity. But in my second year I moved to a nearby village where candles were my only light -- and perhaps the only light in the mosque, too.

Falconry, anyone?

I think they're a fun little look at Moroccan graphic design. I wonder if these brands even exist anymore, or what's replaced them. It's been so long since I've been to Morocco. I really need to go back. Dave and I keep talking about it but something else always comes up first.

Speaking of which -- Lisbon, in just five days!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Notepads and Mold

We are in the depths of November, that damp, dark time. The sky is mostly gray, the trees are mostly bare. The soggy leaves piled on the sidewalks have been "trodden black," as Robert Frost put it, and are slick under the heel.

This time of year seems like a slog. I go to work; I come home in the dark. I'm finding that I have very little to say about my days at work, even to Dave. There's a sameness to them all, sitting at the desk, handing out the same computer chargers to the same kids. I need to come up with some library projects to keep me occupied. I have a few lingering in the back of my head.

The past few days I've been making notepads out of leftover printer paper. The kids (and staff too) send massive quantities of stuff to the library printers, and then often forget to pick it up. The one-sided printouts go into a stack, ideally for "second use" as scrap paper on the blank side. Problem is, no one wants to use those loose sheets. So my boss bought some binding glue and we've cut the paper down into halves and quarters, and glued it along one edge to form two sizes of notepad. It's pretty smart, I gotta say, and people seem to like them.

We have a pack of ninth-grade boys who colonize a corner of the library every day during morning break and lunch. It's become their space. They are a big group -- 15 to 20 kids, all sitting and lying on the floor in a jumble of jackets and books and backpacks. I don't mind them too much, but they do occasionally get loud and they kind of take over. I try to chat with them a bit each day so that when they get really crazy and we have to intervene, they'll be more inclined to cooperate. Everything is political, as I wrote yesterday!

One good thing about this November -- Dave and I have not seen a recurrence of our mold problem at home. We've been more careful to keep the heat on, to use the clothes dryer rather than hang clothes to dry indoors, and to contain after-shower humidity in the bathroom by closing the door. The flat is noticeably drier.

(Photo: Knightsbridge, on Sunday. It's a very lipsticky neighborhood.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The OAP Critic

Yesterday Dave and I went to see "High School Musical," which our school drama class has produced on stage. I've never seen the movie so I wasn't sure what to expect. Now I think I'll skip it. At the risk of sounding old and curmudgeonly, it's not "South Pacific."

The kids, however, did their best with the material at hand, and many of them surprised me by effectively playing characters so unlike their everyday personas. Now at least I can talk to them about the show, which will hopefully win me some points so I won't be seen strictly as the Library Enforcer. (Everything is political, right?)

Each year local OAPs, or Old Age Pensioners, are given free access to the Wednesday show, and yesterday was no exception. But at least one of them, sitting in front of me, felt the way I did about the script. He kept frantically waving his hands in a dismissive manner and in a quiet moment I heard him mutter "garbage" out loud. Yikes! Old people really lose their filters, don't they?

(Photo: South Kensington, on Sunday.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sneakers and Furry Creatures

Sorry about not including the Tashelhait video yesterday. That was kind of a bait-and-switch, I know. I think I may record a new, shorter one, because the last one is a bit too hesitant and rambling -- so if I do and it isn't embarrassing, I'll link it here. I promise.

Once again, I have been on a getting things done rampage. I called a liquor store in Tampa and ordered the beer and wine for our wedding party: 15 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, about the same amount of bubbly and two small kegs of ale (different kinds, one local). Now, with the food and drinks taken care of, I feel like the big hurdles have been jumped!

Also, we've had two pairs of khaki pants lying on the table in the foyer for a couple of weeks. Dave ordered them and didn't like the way they fit, so they were in limbo, waiting to be returned. I grabbed them on Monday night and said, somewhat over-assertively, "OK, we're sending these back. Now is the time." We printed the mailing label and taped up the package and they are now on their way, and out of our lives.

Finally, last night I decided it was once again time to check the garden cam. So I retrieved the camera and then couldn't find the USB cable to connect it to my computer. We looked everywhere. We thought it might have been accidentally thrown away, so we even retrieved our latest bag of garbage from the can in the alley and went through it. No cable. Turns out, though, that the cable for my regular camera also fits the garden cam. Whew!

We downloaded the pictures, and check it out:

We finally got some nice pictures of the foxes!

How we did this is pretty funny. About a week ago, we noticed that an old pair of Dave's sneakers -- which we'd set outside for temporary storage, for olfactory reasons -- had been moved from the side of the house up to the lawn. We immediately assumed the foxes had done it.

So we set the sneakers out in the grass, within view of the camera.

(I'm not sure why we get these color variations in the photos. Maybe it has something to do with the weather and the time of day.)

Sure enough, Dave's shoes make great fox bait. In fact, the fox above seems intent on trying to carry one of them away!

(Top photo: Another bit of furry wildlife in West Hampstead, several weeks ago.)