Monday, October 26, 2009

India?


Just in case we had you fooled into thinking that Jon and Pam Shields were just about the most competent jet-setters around, let me burst that bubble with a tale of our trip to India.




On Thursday we awoke with eager anticipation of a week in Rajasthan, intending to join in the 50th birthday party of Pam's good friend Christine Rai from Cost Plus days.  Though of Scottish descent, Christine has lived her entire life in India, growing up on a tea plantation in Kerala, moving on to the import/export business and becoming Cost Plus's sole agent for the region.  Suffice it to say, the party promised to be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

But quickly things started going haywire.  Scrambling to pack our bags, the traveller's checks were nowhere to be found.  Then there was an accident on the A4 resulting in hellish traffic to Heathrow, and when we attempted to check-in, it turned out that our tickets had not been issued.

Running around to various airline desks, the minutes started to evaporate.  What had started as a calm, competent "we do this all the time" trip to the airport was becoming a nerve-wracking countdown. But cool heads prevailed, and thanks to many amazingly friendly agents, the bags soon disappeared down the conveyor belt with 10 minutes to spare.

As a final formality, the Finnair agent asked to see our visas.  We looked at each other: "Visas?  Surely with 1 billion people already in India, they wouldn't insist on any sort of formality for just two more?"

Not the right answer.

And calling the Indian visa office in London, we learned that we could expect to wait about 10 days to get them.  Next thing you know, I'm being escorted through the bowels of Heathrow in an attempt to intercept our luggage before it gets loaded, truly fouling-up the works.

Thirty minutes later, our new friends at the airport had us all sorted: bags in hand, canceled connections, soothed nerves, etc.  By this time, though, I fear they had had just about enough of the two of us, and were looking forward to seeing us off to London in the next cab.

But with dog/teen-sitter all lined-up, bags packed for warm weather, clear calendars and nothing but rain the London forecast, this intrepid duo was not about to simply limp home to mope.  So we scanned the "Departures" monitor for jets flying south.  The next thing you know, we're having tapas and rioja in Madrid!

The next morning we got the early jump on the city, being the first visitors to the Prado (Madrid's landmark art museum).  It was thoroughly enjoyable to walk through the mostly empty galleries of Goya, Velasquez, etc.  But with our newly learnt geography, that being of Madrid's location in the central highlands, it became clear that the dhotis and saris in our arsenal would not cut it in late October.  So it was back to the airport, and by 5PM we were on the island of Mallorca, where we are now ending a glorious 4 night stay.

Some photos:


The scenic northwest coast of the island where we have encamped.


Our village, Déia, surrounded by ancient olive groves and completely built of stone.


Hiking has been the main activity.  Here Pam scales a 'stile' separating the sheep from the olive groves.


Later, at the top of the Sierra de Tramuntana (see if you can spot Pam) about 3000 ft above the sea.


Our hotel, La Residencia.  Like Santa Barbara's San Ysidro Ranch+++


By this time completely over our failings, and plotting another assault on India later in the year.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Foliage

There is a definite crispness to the air and the sun seems to be having a yet harder time in her struggle to push through the leaden skies. Perhaps all the better not to compete with the brilliance of the fall foliage in our neighborhood parks. So this morning, with the girls turned out to school, we followed Pudding over to Primrose Hill:


Rambling with The Pudds, it is all too apparent that we humans are missing an entire dimension of autumn with our feeble olfactory equipment. Her twitching nose and quivering tail indicate supreme delights which we can only imagine:



So we live for the vicarious thrill and carry forward, stiff upper lip and all that.


Some other recent adventures include Pam having cocktails with the U.S. Ambassador and Supreme Court Justices, which she recounts here:

Colleen invited me to a cocktail party at the Ambassadors house in London friday night. The house used to be Barbara Hutton's house and is the largest property in London after the Queen's . She kindly introduced me to 3 Supreme court judges , John Robert's , Scalia, and Breyer, of course the only one I would have been Interested in meeting was Ruth but, she had to cancel due to her health. Talk about being tongue tied! The only thing I gleaned from the experience was that Scalia likes fly fishing and was going to an undisclosed spot in new Zealand, believe me I tried to get the info , but it was all top secret. I have to say John Robert's is one smooth operator. They where all there for the indoctrination of the new English Supreme court which they have just instigated. The house was gorgeous and that was what I was there to see, it was redecorated by Billy Haines in about 1960 and had been added on a bit. The main living room had beautiful chinoiserie wall paper that had been donated by the Annenbergs at a cost of 1,000,000 dollars. It really was stunning and I am sure I have seen it in Designer Interiors magazine. The ambassadors wife is bringing her modern art collection over from Chicago, to install in the house . They were major campaign financiers of Obama.

We've also been on a country walk the SJWWC (St. John's Wood Women's Club), yours truly being the only male participant besides our 76-year-old guide "Hugh". We stopped for lunch in a classic country pub, The Woodman. When Hugh and I were finally alone at the urinals, he declared his dismay at my turning up as he "normally had all the birds to himself" on these outings.

Anyway, after hoisting a few tasty bitters at the bar, then wolfing down our fish and chips, we completed our trudge amicably.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Escape to Capri

This post is a bit after-the-fact, but anyway, while Neil and Betty were here to watch over the brood, Pam and I indulged ourselves on the island of Capri. After a bus to Stansted airport, flight to Naples, taxi to the port, ferry to the island, funicular up the cliff, then a hike through town...we found ourselves at a classic cliffside hotel which is a regular haunt of our SF friends the Mendelsohns.

Words alone can not convey the sweet feeling of this romantic island in late September, nor the scent of jasmine that hangs in the air. The best I can offer is this brief slideshow:

video

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Arrivederci Italia

We're back in cool, wet London this morning, and Venice is but a fading dream. A few final shots...

Pamela, looking right at home in elegant surroundings (as usual). This time the Hotel Daneli near San Marco.


Our girls gliding along a canal, piloted by Tomaso, who does a reasonable Madonna impression with his 'Like a Virgin' rendition.


In the water taxi bound for the airport.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Noi siamo in Venezia

Having returned from Morocco just in time for Simone's birthday dinner at "Bam Bou" in Fitzrovia (excellent asian fusion), I dumped my still wet surfing gear in London and joined the girls on our next extravaganza: a long weekend in Venice. Though the rain followed us down from London resulting in a soggy arrival, this morning the sun broke through to reveal the beauty of this city in slanting October sunshine:



The last time we were in Venice was on the way to our friend Alberto Finali's wedding, 16 years ago. It was in peak sweltering summer, crazily mobbed with tourists and frankly rather unappealing. I believe we had sworn to never come back.

But still, it is one of the wonders of civilization and we thought it would be worth another try. Plus this time I would not be lifting Simone in her stroller up and over a bridge/staircase every ~100 yards. (Although with her being recently hobbled with a severe soccer injury, it nearly came to that again.)

Wanting to obtain maximum initial impact for the girls, we were transported to our hotel via beautifully varnished Water Taxi...


...in which our "signore della dolce vita" seemed completely at home,


including Bella Ragazza Uno:
& Bella Ragazza Due:

After this bit of extravagance, exploration resumed on foot. It is amazing what a different experience it is, in the off-peak season. Not having to jostle for position amongst the throngs, we've easily entered the main attractions, including San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale, and the Peggy Guggenheim museum.

But perhaps the best is just strolling along the narrow passages and back canals, tuning-in to the richness of architectural detail, but always alert to the paparazzi like these three:





Monday, October 5, 2009

Just a few more Maroc photos


The old man pulls a bottom turn at mushy 'sunset peak'


Beach stampede


Suiting up for a session at Boilers


The take off at Boiler's, and its namesake lurking in the impact zone.


Moonrise over our beach

Exploring the coast in our Renault "Kangoo"

Camel rides available.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tree-climbing goats

October already!  I knew it would be hard to keep this blog timely.  Oh well.

Much has transpired since our last meeting here in cyberspace.  To summarize, we had a very fine time with Pam's folks (Betty and Neil) who have now gone back home.  A big highlight was a night on the town, starting with the London production of "Billy Elliot".  Though the genre sometimes disappoints, this show will keep us going to musicals, that's for sure.  Incredible performance and very apropos to see in Britain, with Neil to fill us in on the politics and translate the northern accents.  We followed up with dinner at "Rules", the "oldest restaurant in London".  Eye-popping Yorkshire Puddings (approximately the size of a birthday cake) in an interior reminiscent of the SF's Big Four with photos and news clippings smattering the walls, but obviously covering much richer/deeper history.

While Betty and Neil were here the girls had a school trip to Budapest and Pam and I skipped out to Capri for a few days.  We had a romantic stay, playing a rich and famous couple on a second honeymoon.  This deserves a blog entry of its own, which will be done once I get access to our photos!

Alas I now find myself at the end of my first week in Morocco.  I'm with a very humorous bunch of surf-crazed 40-something year-olds.  There is our group leader "Kiwi" (Steve McCulloch) a New Zealander; "Lorenzo", and englishman named Lawrence married to an Italian (hence the mockery); "Captain", another yank from Novato;  Guido a bona-fide italian living in Switzerland; Guido's wife Linda, a Finn.

To me, the Morocco coast is Baja with tagines instead of tacos, taqiyas instead of sombreros, djellabas (robe) instead of panchos, and so on...  It is uncanny.  But the twist makes it far more interesting and exotic.  I'm really enjoying it, and its fun too to be with a group intent on getting by on a tight budget, unlike the bourgeois travel style we've all adapted too in our mature years.

Some shots!

The view from the balcony of our dwelling, looking south down the coast.  Note blue fishing boats that head out at about 5AM, sounding like a swarm of bees with their outboards.  The disruption is no problem though – we're already awake having been called to prayer over the warbling village loudspeaker 20 minutes beforehand.


Some of the crew members loading the car for surf exploration in the alley outside the apartment.


The view from the wheel.  Roads are good, driving pretty darn civilized.  A few beasts now and then.


Speaking of beasts, this is something you don't see everyday: tree-climbing goats.  They ascend the "Argan" tree in search the berries, later excreting the nuts.  These are harvested, then pressed to make the prized Argan Oil.

So what about the surf?  We've surfed several sessions everyday, mostly beachbreaks, nothing noteworthy until this morning.  Our first swell hit last night, and we caught "Boilers" at dawn with overhead lines pumping through.  I had a good (aka lucky) session, scoring the wave of the morning over the pack of european surfers, most decades younger than me.  Hah!  Lucked out really, when a sneaker set hit, paddled out on a leftwards diagonal hard to not get caught, managed to whip around, dropping in late, standing up way too far back and wobbling down the face (booties!). But I recovered and had a very nice fast, workable wall for about 80 yards.

Satisfied with that for now, I've skipped the mid-morning session to get caught up on the blog and save energy for low tide at sunset.