Archive for the ‘London’ Category

Secret Santa

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

I’ve been Christmas shopping along Newbury Street, for my Mom, for my nieces, and for The Dog.

The Dog absolutely loves Christmas. He loves the company, the smells from the kitchen, the crumbs of dropped food. He loves the tree. He especially loves the presents. He has always been a present-dog, helping to rip wrapping paper from multitudes of birthday, anniversary and Christmas presents through the years, ever since he was a puppy. But Christmas trumps them all. There are so many presents! Bags of gifts being carried into the house! Presents laid out on the floor, right there underneath the tree! Oh, the anticipation, the excitement of it all!

We have had a few unfortunate incidents over the years…

There was the year he found his toys before Christmas. (Well, so did The Cat.) We had a very tall house when we lived in London. Five stories, with flights of stairs going up, up and around the landings. The kitchen, dining room and family room were in the English basement. That was truly The Dog’s domain.

One flight up, to the living room and My Husband’s study – described by the British estate agent as a double drawing room.

Up again to the children’s bedrooms and baths.

One more flight to the master bedroom, dressing area and bath.

One more (I know, I know!) to my desk, nestled into the dormer window under the roof, with a view out over the tree tops and chimney pots of Notting Hill.

Then as now, I had been out Christmas shopping. I carried all my bags and packages up to the master bedroom, where I would set up a card table to wrap presents, and deposited them behind an armchair. (No peeking!). A day or so later, I came home to find The Dog quietly napping in the kitchen, upside down against the kitchen counter.  I made my way up the stairs, up, up, up, to the bedroom. There, on the floor beside the armchair, I found a shredded shopping bag, pieces of damp, grey, well chewed cardboard, and the remnants of a box of dog bones. Yes, The Dog had smelled his presents, from the basement, and in the quiet of an empty house had made his way up three flights of stairs to the master bedroom. Ripped open the bag, clawed and chewed open the box, enjoyed the majority of the contents, and made his stealthy way back down the stairs to the kitchen. Not a trace of guilt. Not a trace of dog bone either. No, butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

(Yes, The Cat did the same thing one year, found her Christmas catnip mouse and shredded the paper as she played her way down the stairs, leaving a flagrant trail of evidence. Like she cared… But you almost expect that of a cat, don’t you?)

Another year The Dog forgot himself in the presence of the Christmas tree. With memories of past Christmas gifts dancing in his head, The Dog made his way into the living room when no one was about and started unwrapping presents all by himself. We had words after that episode. But we also stopped displaying presents under the tree until Christmas Eve. A Dog can only stand so much temptation after all.

This year we will be celebrating our first Christmas in Boston. Our Boston apartment is spread over one and a half floors of a turn-of-the-last-century townhouse, but we live mostly on the main floor. So when I returned from Newbury Street laden with my packages yesterday, I knew The Dog would be waiting for me, tail wagging, a toy in his mouth in greeting. So where to hide his gifts?

Quick, into the coat closet! I hung the pet shop bag on a hanger, off floor level. Then I proceeded nonchalantly into the bedroom with my other shopping bags.

The Dog knew of course. He came right over to me and sniffed my hands. And raised his nose into the air and sniffed some more. And walked to the door of the bedroom, sniffing about. Okay, I’m a meanie, but The Dog made me laugh.

Don’t you just love keeping secrets before Christmas?

Safely behind the closed door of the front hall closet, suspended on a hanger, with the scent of the pet store slightly masked by the aroma of cedar hangers, repose The Dog’s Christmas gifts.

Shhh. Don’t tell. They are a surprise for Christmas morning..


Scene Along the Thames

Monday, July 9th, 2012

I have been thinking about the Henley Royal Regatta and trying to analyze its particular British magic. This process has made me think about contributing factors, and how climate, heritage, and national psychology work together to create a particularly British ‘sporting’ experience.

Climate, for starters. That is a big subject.

The Brits talk about the weather all the time, and that makes sense because the weather in the United Kingdom changes all the time. Yes, it rains on a majority of days in the UK, but ‘just’ for part of the day. Unlike in the US, a period of rain doesn’t necessarily mean a day will be considered a rainy day. And rain certainly doesn’t mean the Brits will act any differently – as though it actually is a  rainy day. There will usually be patches of sun and cloud in addition to rain, and they will use the best of what they have. Often on this seaward island the day will dawn a cloudless blue, but will be interrupted – as at Henley on this particular Saturday – by what the weatherman would describe as “short, sharp showers.”

Yes, a cloudburst. A drenching rain. But the short, sharp showers might end within twenty minutes, as they did at Henley, and the day will go on as though there had been no rain at all.

In a nod to practicality, you may see long skirts with ‘Wellies‘ at the tailgates in the ‘carpark’ at Henley. The Brits love their country pursuits, so they are well prepared with outdoor wardrobes. This is also the home of the Barbour afterall, the perfect jacket for the odd spot of rain…

Another example of British weather and sporting events: one April I attended an Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race Party in the ‘backgarden’ (said as all one word) of an historic brick townhouse (mid 1700’s) built overlooking the Thames along Chiswick Mall in West London.

While April can be “the cruellest month,” London often experiences a prolonged period of summer-like weather over a week or two in mid-April. It is not unusual to see office workers stripped down almost to their unmentionables, picnicking in London’s parks during a ‘fair spell’ in this early spring weather.

This particular April did bring summer-like conditions, so the attendees of this early season garden party were decked out as if for a June wedding: the ladies in floating skirts with candy-colored kitten heels, the gentlemen in blue blazers with bright ties, pale flannels and the odd Panama seeing early service in advance of the summer cricket season. The British do not miss a chance to enjoy fair weather because they do not get enough of it. So if it is warm and ‘summerlike’, and if it is afterall a garden party or a summer wedding, the ladies will wear chiffon or blossom-printed “frocks”, and go sleeveless, with just a bright pashmina to ward off gooseflesh, and be damned to chilly, damp or freezing conditions. This April morning started out bright and blue; the guests took to the damp lawn for a better view of the river, with Pimm’s Cup or a flute of  champagne in hand. There is nothing like a summer ‘tipple’ in the British sunshine.

Dark clouds appeared over the south bank of the Thames, and rolled through the West London suburbs, bringing a drenching downpour and stinging hail. The guests quickly sought the safety of the house, laughing as they pushed through the open French doors into the living room. They stayed indoors just until the rain and hail had stopped. As soon as the sun reappeared, the guests headed back onto the back lawn along the river, heedless alike of damp and cold and the looming threat of another shower. The ladies adjusted bright pashminas around their bare shoulders, and managed the wet grass in their stilettos expertly without sinking into the turf too deeply.

Black clouds weighted with showers -and the occasional band of hail- came and went several times over the course of the afternoon, and the guests fled to the safety of the house and then poured back out onto the lawn repeatedly. No one considered it a challenge to the enjoyment of the day. In fact, it may have added to the sense of fun.

That day, amid much yelling along the banks of the Thames (they can and do cheer), Oxford triumphed over Cambridge.

Yes, there is quite a lot of cheering from the Enclosures at Henley Royal Regatta too.


“Jolly Boating Weather…”

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

I have just returned from a week in the UK.  One of the loveliest things I did while we were there was to spend a Saturday at the Henley Royal Regatta with My Husband and ‘the boys’.

Henley is one of those uniquely British sporting and social occasions, and it is an annual ‘fixture’ on the social calendar of many. Henley belongs in the rarefied company of such mythic events as horse racing at Ascot and tennis at Wimbledon.

I might argue that the British excel at staging the world’s most elegant and enjoyable sporting events. The sad and ironic thing is that they so rarely win them….

The Boy has rowed at Henley twice,  on one occasion his ‘eight’, as they say in the UK, winning through to the final day of competition in The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup, and as a result we all have many, many fond memories.

The Henley Royal Regatta, situated along a straight stretch of the Thames, has an almost magical atmosphere, and it regularly attracts a spirited crowd that is fully prepared to live up to Henley’s aristocratic history.

Within the manicured grounds of the Stewards’ Enclosure, you see a world straight out of My Fair Lady, with ladies in broad-brimmed hats and gentlemen in flannel rowing blazers, shod in white bucks and summer-colored high heels, promenading about on emerald lawns smooth enough for croquet, which run right up to the edge of the tranquil ‘stream’ of the river. Literally at your feet, amid the fashionable throngs, the dueling boats row by, two by two. Ralph Lauren eat your heart out.

I had hoped my sister and her husband would be able to join us this year at Henley, but she had already booked tickets for one of London’s hottest shows, Gatz. This production promises to deliver every word of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby, onstage, over the course of seven hours. Audiences are apparently riveted.

The Eldest said, “Why spend seven hours watching The Great Gatsby on stage? Henley IS The Great Gatsby…”

It’s almost enough to make you start singing The Eton Boating song


The 25th Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts & the Silver Anniversary Campaign

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

When we lived in London I helped to found, and then Chaired, Friends of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, UK. This independent British charity supports and advances art by women of all periods, past and present, with a connection to the United Kingdom. Friends of the NMWA, UK also forms part of a growing international network that supports the mission of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington, D.C., which is to bring recognition to art by women of all nationalities and periods.

In 2012 the National Museum of Women in the Arts celebrates its 25th Anniversary. This is a momentous occasion, and Friends of the NMWA, UK are commemorating this milestone by organizing  a Silver Anniversary Appeal in the United Kingdom.  This Appeal begins with a dazzling exhibition called Silver by Women, a curated showcase of  extraordinary silver by contemporary women makers, to be held in London on February 2nd, 2012.

Friends of the NMWA, UK has launched the year-long Silver Anniversary Appeal, hoping to raise funds to purchase New Bird II, a stunning piece  by gifted British sculptor, and Royal Academician,  Dame Elizabeth Frink  (1930-1993), which they hope to donate to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. As the NMWA’s Chief Curator Dr. Jordana Pomeroy says, Elizabeth Frink is the “archetypal British sculptor—virtually a national treasure.” Pomeroy also explains that, “Frink held her own with the men and worked large scale. Her influences are evident but she took Rodin (and, I believe, Giacometti) down a British path.”

Friends of the NMWA, UK hope to see British women sculptors, and Elizabeth Frink in particular, represented in the growing collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

You too can help Friends of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, UK in their effort to add this significant piece of sculpture to the NMWA’s collections. Visit

to make your contribution to the Campaign.

You can also join in the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Visit the museum this year! There are several major celebratory events in the works, including An Evening in Monte Carlo, the NMWA’s inaugural anniversary event, to be held at the museum on February 3rd, 2012. Or follow womenswear designer and artist-in-residence Celia Reyer as she re-creates a Brunswick traveling cloak, inspired by fashions in historic portraiture,  for In the Galleries: Royal Dressmakers and Haute Couture.  Make sure to visit the installation of Chakaia Booker‘s monumental sculptures, for the visionary outdoor sculpture initiative known as the New York Avenue Sculpture Project.  These works, created from intricately sliced, carved and layered segments of discarded black rubber tires, will be dedicated on March 8th, International Women’s Day. Or join almost 300,000 supporters in the US and worldwide and become a member of the NMWA. Take advantage of Members Preview Day for Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections, to be held on February 23rd, 2012. Make your visit and make your donation. Promote art by women today, and, you can help to write the contributions of women artists back into the art history books, and help to hang their works on the walls of galleries and museums, where they belong.


Snow Day

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

It is the 21st of January, a quiet Saturday morning, and we are receiving our first proper fall of snow. Outside all is white, inside all is snug. Suddenly it feels like winter, like the New Year has officially begun.

There was a plan to attend a two hour Spin class at the YMCA this morning. On a cold and clear and snowless Thursday morning it seemed like a good idea to me.  How delicious to decide not to go. I am blaming it on the snow storm. At this point we have only received some two to three inches, but “they” are forecasting five to six inches over the course of the morning, or the course of the day. And for a first snowfall, five to six inches sounds quite substantial, doesn’t it? So I have declared a snow day.

What to do on a snow day? So far I have spent several hours of the morning tucked up in bed re-reading Julian Fellowes‘ wickedly insightful novel Snobs. There is nothing like staying in your warm bed on the first snowy morning of the year, banked up against pillows, reading a sharply observed, darkly humorous novel. That, and a large mug of coffee, brewed from grounds spiked with a sprinkling of cinnamon. Can I allow myself to stay there, and finish the book…?

Much of America is currently in the grip of the second season of PBS’s Downton Abbey. Yes, I would have to include myself in that number. But I have revelled in Julian Fellowes’ (a.k.a Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford, DL) other works, both novelistic and for the screen, from the early delights of Gosford Park to the more recent The Young Victoria.

For now, I am all wrapped up in Snobs. Yes, and my sheets.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.


Meal in a Mug

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

I had to say goodbye to The Eldest on Tuesday night.

Yes, he had to take the train back to Boston in order to be at his trading desk for work on Wednesday morning. Work. Ugh.

The holidays are coming to an end.

Luckily I get to see The Eldest again over New Year’s Eve, so I didn’t go straight into a decline. (Unlike The Dog, who put his head on his paws in grief when he saw the suitcase come downstairs.)

I don’t like saying goodbye to my grown children, even though I’ve been doing it for years. I’ve certainly had plenty of practice. Turns out it never gets any easier.

Well, in this family we have developed a strange tradition for late afternoon and early evening departures….

When The Eldest was a schoolboy in London (that’s what they call middle school students in the UK, schoolboys and schoolgirls) he determined he wanted to compete for a prestigious merit scholarship to attend a  ‘college’ (read high school). He has always been academically inclined, and he was an extremely capable student. He had ambitions to attend ‘college’ as a ‘scholar’. The scholarships (and the colleges) he wanted to compete for are ancient. Eton College – with its ‘King’s Scholars’– was founded and funded by Henry VI, in 1440. Westminster School, with its Queen’s Scholars, was re-established (after the dissolution of the monasteries by her father, Henry VIII) by Queen Elizabeth. The First. In 1560.

The Eldest had thought this ambition through. As is so often true, the child was way ahead of his parents. Because here’s one thing he knew, and we were a bit slow to learn… In order to take up an offer to be a Scholar, you have to reside at the school. By default, you become a boarder.

High school in the UK begins at the equivalent of our American eighth grade, so the Eldest – if he won a place – would be going away to boarding school at age 13. To the Brits this – age 13 – is quite an acceptable and developed age. After all, some little boys (though fewer little girls) still go off to boarding school at the tender age of seven. That is an almost impossible scenario for an American parent to get their head around. Age 13 is tough enough. You give up so much. (Though I had one British mother assure me that boarding school for seven year olds was nothing like as rigorous as it had been back in her husband’s day. “They go off with their own duvets, their teddy bears, everything,” she told me. Yes, I wanted to say, but they are still seven.) My sister, who has lived in the UK for over 25 years, surmises that British parents, fathers in particular, love the nursery years so intensely – the dressing up, the birthday parties, the bedtime stories – because it is really all they had and remember of their own brief childhoods.

So my clever student of a son decided that if he were to win a place as a Scholar, he was prepared to become a boarding student.

He prepared for the exams with his teachers’ full support. In the spring we drove him out to the school, where he stayed overnight with a ‘beak’ (teacher) for several nights while ‘sitting’ (read taking)  the Scholarship Entrance Exams. He came first. (I’m his Mother. Give me a moment to brag…) Yes, he placed at the top of the Scholarship results.

And the next autumn he enrolled as a K.S. (King’s Scholar) in College, at Eton College, originally “The King’s College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor”. Between you and me, after we had finished packing all of his required possessions for school, his new uniform of black tailcoat and striped trousers, his striped wool athletic socks and navy sports shorts – everything carefully ‘name taped’ with his initials and last name, K.S., and his laundry number – I had to take myself for quite a lengthy walk around the neighborhood. I spoke to myself sharply. I knew what was in his best interest.  And if I arrived back at the house with rather reddened eyes, well, what is it to you? I made sure I had myself well in hand before I drove him out to College.

We visited The Eldest at Eton when he allowed it, and he came home for the occasional scheduled long weekend, known as an exeat. Sadly, on these long weekends he was required to sign back in to College by dinner time on Sunday, so that he regularly missed our family Sunday suppers.

In those family days, Sunday suppers in our house often involved comfort food – home cooking at its most familiar and beloved: beef stew, lasagna (I substitute mascarpone for 1/2 the ricotta. Yum…), shepherd’s pie, even macaroni and cheese. The Eldest was always very sad to be missing these favorite meals, and sad too not to be eating his Sunday supper with us.

Sunday afternoons and evenings are hard enough… so I decided The Eldest must be able to enjoy these childhood meals, even if not at our table. I took to making Sunday suppers early, so that they would be ready before he had to climb into the car with his father or with me to head back to Eton. I would serve up his portion – in a ceramic mug – and hand the warm mug and a spoon to him to enjoy in the car, during the hour to hour and a half drive from West London out to Eton, straight west along the M4 into Berkshire.

Comfort food on the go is still comfort food, and a Meal in a Mug has become a parting token of love in our family.

Last night, as he packed for the train from the suburbs to New York City, to wait for the train from New York back to Boston, I packed him a dinner. A symbolic Meal in a Mug. Swedish meatballs on a bed or watercress. (Okay, in Tupperware, not a mug.) Italian cookies from Natale’s in town. And a beer.

No, He never got a beer on his way back to Eton, but he’s a grown man now.


‘Tis the Season

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Thanksgiving is done.

Next, on to Christmas…

They lit the lights on New York City’s Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree on November 30th. Are you ready for the Christmas Season?

No, my house isn’t decorated yet. My grown children won’t be home until half way through December at earliest, so I will wait a weekend or two to decorate my mantels and put up our Christmas tree.

When we lived in the London, Christmas decorations went up around the city in October. Well, they have no Halloween to celebrate or decorate for in the UK, and no Thanksgiving holiday to slow the march towards December 25th. It gets dark quite early at London’s latitude, and perhaps they need a little cheer. So it is pine boughs and red candles in store windows before you know it.

If you are not quite ready for Christmas, maybe a visit to New York City will put you in the spirit.

As you walk down the Avenue of the Americas (a.k.a Sixth Avenue.) you will see the enormous string of Christmas lights  in front of The McGraw Hill Building. Complete with plug. Quite, quite charming. (See photo above… Many families seem to be taking their group photographs here this year!)

And the giant ‘glass’ ball decorations outside of 1251 Sixth Avenue. Stylish. Maybe these displays count as street sculpture?

The merry crowds lining up outside of Radio City Music Hall.

Even the sidewalk vendors – here’s a Sabrett hotdog seller – have decorated their pushcarts with ribbons and holiday lights.

Are you in the spirit yet?


Thanks Given

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Three generations. Seven families. One day of Thanks.

I missed this day, the actual Thursday of Thanksgiving, during the twelve years we lived in London. Oh, we celebrated Thanksgiving sure enough. On Sunday afternoon, on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Unimaginable, right? In America of course Thanksgiving Thursday is a holiday. A sacrosanct day off from work and school both. Increasingly, so is the Wednesday before and the Friday after, creating a possible five day mini-holiday. Christmas without the presents, some friends say.

The traditional long weekend of Thanksgiving in America certainly creates an island of time to relax, to overeat perhaps, but also to linger in the kitchen, around the table, over the pie crusts, with friends and family. To gather with many generations, for a tradition of people as well as food.

Pretty obvious, but consider: in the UK Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday. What does that mean, to an American family living in London? The children are in school that Thursday, the adults are at work, and relatives and friends are probably far away. Some American families still celebrate on Thursday, cooking the traditional meal, or a version thereof, for a late weekday dinner. There is no loitering pre-meal and pre-game in the kitchen, living room or den of course. Perhaps the cooking is rushed, and it makes for a late night at the dinner table for school age children.

I have always loved the build up to Thanksgiving, the preparatory shopping, the anticipation of menu planning. So I opted for a Thanksgiving Sunday lunch, when the family could be home in the house, inhaling eau de turkey, and scraping the mashed potato bowl as I cooked.

Sunday lunch is an established tradition in the UK. Families and friends often gather for a roast, a leisurely meal, a post-prandial walk in the park. So Thanksgiving fits nicely into this construct, if shorn of its pairing with major travel, extended family and American football.

It was always a challenge shopping for an American Thanksgiving in London. The Brits are great on turkey. In fact turkey often forms the centerpiece of the traditional Christmas menu in the UK. Remember Bob Cratchit and Mr. Scrooge? And there is always a plenitude of potatoes. But sweet potatoes? Pumpkin pie filling? Cranberry sauce? Especially in 1996, the year that we arrived in London.

Strange to think that these staples of our Thanksgiving menu should be considered imported foods in the UK. In the early days I would make my way to Partridge’s, in the King’s Road (note ‘in’ the King’s Road vs. on the road. British usage…) and pay a fortune for Libby’s canned pumpkin, Ocean Spray Cranberry sauce, Nestle’s Chocolate Chips, and whatever else my homesick heart craved. Over the years, with the growth of the American expat community in London, and the increased familiarity with the American Thanksgiving tradition, many of these foodstuffs, or their British equivalent, became more readily (and inexpensively) available. (Should I mention the time – perhaps not – when I bought the kids a box of Lucky Charms at Partridge’s? And My Husband saw the price in pounds, converted it, and cried, “Are we really eating seven dollar cereal?! Seven dollar cereal?!”)

I ordered my annual Thanksgiving turkey from Lidgate the Butcher on Holland Park Avenue, W11. The men and women behind the glass counters in Lidgate’s still wear white butcher’s aprons over green striped shirts, and straw boaters with a green ribbon band. I always purchased a Kelly Bronze Turkey– an old fashioned American bird breed in fact – from Mr. Lidgate. When you ordered from the shop (note shop – not store – in the UK) they would give you a number for your order, the number of the page within the number of the order book in which they wrote your order. Pity those who arrived to stand in line in the shop for their holiday order without their order number. Christmas time (turkey season and a British national holiday remember) was much worse, and the line for pick-ups and new orders at Lidgate’s snaked out the front door, down the sidewalk and around the corner – on Christmas Eve, and even on Christmas Eve Eve. Dickensian indeed.

We shared Thanksgiving with my sister and her family in London, and it turned out that I – a mere sister in the extended family at home – was old enough to cook the Thanksgiving meal.  When we began celebrating together in 1996 the children – all the cousins – were small, and our dining room easily encompassed all of them. As the years passed and the children grew to youths, and then to young adults, the capacity of the dining room was strained, and we sat shoulder to shoulder, barely fitting, in a cramped but cozy solidarity. I remember looking around that table, wondering what had happened to those cherub cheeked children. Had it only been a few years?

Over the years in London we also adopted quite a few friends and lonely Americans for the Thanksgiving meal. The children’s American friends from boarding school for instance, or graduate students studying at Oxford or Cambridge, too far from home to travel back for what was considered a regular weekend. They were thrilled to be in a home, seated at a crowded table, digging into a plate of ‘foreign’ i.e. American food. A plateful of turkey and the trimmings, a plate of pecan or pumpkin pie, a taste of home. Of course, we often adopt friends and neighbors and travelers and stray students for the Thanksgiving meal at ‘home’ in the US. But Thanksgiving overseas, well, perhaps you do feel another level of rescue and national identity is offered.

Now we are back ‘home’ in the US, and spending Thanksgiving at Grandmommy’s, with three generations, and seven families, for one day of Thanks. Thanks Given.


Tales of… Cheese?!

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

The Eldest and I were reminiscing recently, while enjoying a room temperature wedge of triple crème St. André cheese, served with sliced baguette and multi-grain crackers from Trader Joe’s. We were sharing tales of cheese.

Reminiscing over cheese? Does that sound unusual? Well, I suppose we really like our cheese in this family. And frankly, The Eldest has been a cheese addict for years. Let me explain that. When the Eldest was a little boy – maybe five or six years old – he was enamored of a TV cartoon show called “Rescue Rangers”. Come on, people, date yourselves. Go ahead, admit it; you remember that show.

“Rescue Rangers” featured four Indiana Jones style explorer-detectives: the familiar characters of Chip ‘n Dale, the lovely and ingeniously clever girl-pal Gadget, and the bluff Monterey Jack, known to his fellow explorers as “Monty”. Okay, they are all cartoon rodents.

Monty had a particular weakness: he entered an almost hypnotic state – his eyes became spinning wheels of black and white, and his mustache twirled – when he smelled CHEESE. Cheese was identified as something to savor, something to crave, and The Eldest believed.

When we moved to London in 1996, our family world of cheese expanded. Add to such 1990’s American favorites as Brie and Havarti the entire world of British cheeses. A short list would include Farmhouse Cheshire, Double Gloucester, Lancashire, Red Leicester, Wenslydale, and Stilton. And many of our European vacation adventures featured cheese, for instance raclette (mmm, served with little potatoes and cornichons) and fondue, enjoyed on skiing holidays, and the gruyère featured in Croque-Monsieur sandwiches served almost everywhere in France. Those are some of my remembered tales of cheese.

But The Eldest has some stories of his own…

In his late teens, The Eldest embarked on a rigorous three week backpacking expedition through the mountains of Colorado with Kieve West. Each hiker carried all their own gear, in addition to a portion of the communal foodstuffs. These food supplies were only supplemented from time to time at fixed re-supply points along the route. The backpackers also carried out all their trash. Leave No Trace and all.

One night the expedition set up their tent camp along the edge of a scree slope and an alpine meadow, beside a clear blue glacier lake. When they awoke in the early dawn, they spotted something floating out in the middle of the lake. Or they thought they did. What could it be? The day dawned fully, and binoculars determined that yes indeed there was something man-made floating out in the clear blue water. As they began to pack up their camp, the truth became clear. One member of the expedition (Thankfully not The Eldest!) had had the clever idea of refrigerating their one pound block of mozzarella cheese by wedging it between two rocks at the edge of the lake, to be cooled in the glacier run-off water. Overnight the cheese had escaped, and now bobbed freely out in the center of the lake. The campers felt that 1) they needed the cheese for both its calorie and menu value, and 2) they could not possibly leave a plastic wrapped pound of cheese free-floating in a mountain lake. Yes indeed, the poor hiker who had allowed the cheese to float away had to swim out into the depths of the ice-melt water to retrieve the errant cheese. Brrrr… That would have snapped even Monty out of his cheese trance.

Years later The Eldest found himself living for several weeks in a residential hotel room in Boston. He did not have a kitchenette, but he liked to feed himself whenever possible, and he took to storing perishables on his windowsills. We have all seen this done, and many of us should admit that we may have experimented with refrigerating beverages and more on the windowsills of our own dormrooms and early rental apartments.

One day, yes, you’ve already guessed, a block of Vermont Cheddar toppled from the windowsill onto the sidewalk many, many stories below. From floating cheese to falling cheese… Thankfully the black-waxed block of cheddar did not strike an oblivious passerby, who might indeed have been felled by falling cheese. The Eldest prayed the object would be mistaken for a block of masonry.

Shortly thereafter he moved into a rooming house in Somerville, into a suite of rooms with a kitchen, and a proper refrigerator for cheeses of all types. Maybe the future will bring safety in cheeses….

What is your favorite Tale of Cheese?



Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Over the past week we have been visiting with friends in the UK – revisiting or perhaps reclaiming past days. There is a dinner in London, a luncheon, a wedding weekend in Oxfordshire. We are invited, we attend, we participate, we enjoy beyond measure. And we carry it with us like treasure.

I am trying to understand the pleasure of these events. What is the substance of these long lingering afternoons over luncheon and wine?

Of course, it is May, and we are on holiday, and it is summer in England with everything in bloom, and we are among friends of long standing. But it is more than that. We visit friends in their houses, but it is not the friends alone; it is not the houses. It is the living thing amongst us, the sharing it, the celebration together. This is the warp and the weft of our lives together.

Ephemeral and yet permanent. (I am wishing I were a poet.)

“the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art;… we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.” Virginia Woolf, A Sketch of the Past.

“Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that endures.” Mrs. Ramsey, in Virginia Woolf’s,  To the Lighthouse.