Wednesday, August 29, 2007


On leaving England I could hardly imagine that one day I might feel nostalgic for the imbecilic tones of Neil Morrissey, but having endured a dubbed Bob the Builder refer to Wendy's caravan as a "trailer" before constructing a "porcupine" crossing, I feel some sort of diplomatic protest to be in order; perhaps anyone in the locality could follow Simon's suggestion and throw a few bottles of Snapple into Newhaven harbor?

This coming weekend will take us south to Ashland for Derek and Sonia’s wedding, and at this moment I am nursing the inevitable hangover that resulted from Mr Finn’s stag do, a relatively staid affair, at least at the point at which I bid the rest of the party farewell - at the entrance to a dubious establishment named Mary’s Club, off Broadway and Burnside.

When Rachel took Ethan to New York a while back, I had the brilliant idea of taking the day off work to visit the very gates of hell themselves i.e. the bubbling cauldron of lava makes its presence felt at the crater at Mount St Helens. I took Monkey along for company but alas that was about as much planning as I could muster that lazy day, naively approaching from the south which lacks any vantage on rim. Going around was not an option (a hundred mile detour – apparently no-one had the foresight to build a volcano ring road) and apart from a fairly gentle hike cut short by reaching the snowline (needless to say I’d neglected to borrow snowshoes) and several cups of coffee and a slice of apple pie at a charming diner, that was that. Although I did get to put the ginger dream machine through its paces on the country roads (Monkey was egging me on rather). The experience reminded me that even with a map in front of you, it’s easy to lose appreciation for the vast scale of this area and – once one leaves the I-5 corridor – the sparsity of human life within it.

Monkey and I set off with much optimism.

Monkey posing in the snow.

Yes, it may be Twede's Cafe, North Bend, WA, in real life, but this is in fact the Double R Diner from (David Lynch's) Twin Peaks. Actually it's not, because the one that was used in the series was destroyed by arson. But they still have the star's signed photos on the wall and you can still get a slice of cherry pie and a damn fine cup o' coffee.

And to think they sell children's toys...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Florida - Part Three

The next day and a half were marked with farewells as various family members made their way back to their respective corners of the country. In the interstices we enjoyed a lovely meal for Elaine's birthday, a lazy hour or two by the hotel pool and a hastily abandoned beach-trip before a coming storm. Sunday evening made up for Saturday night on the booze front; cocktail hour at the hotel, a Manhattan over dinner, a mojito and further gin and tonics at a faux beach bar rounded off with several glasses of port in the hotel lobby, all of which were enjoyed in the company of Rachel's Uncle Danny and Aunt Toni, her cousin Rob and his wife Amy, Julie and Ben.

Considering just how inebriated I was in the early hours of Monday morning I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself no worse for wear at breakfast - nothing that a strong cup of coffee and a couple of key lime dunkin' doughnuts couldn't cure in any case. The afternoon found the stragglers (myself, Rachel, Ethan, Linda and Leon) heading south. First stop a beautiful stretch of beach happened upon by chance just to the south of Fort Lauderdale. Next a late lunch in South Beach, Miami – fascinating and distinctive, a promenade reminiscent of the French Riviera abutting a heterogeneous collection of Deco architecture defined in the shades of sugared almonds. Culturally one had the distinct impression that the whole of Brooklyn had won the lottery and decided to move en masse to the Caribbean; direct, preoccupied and mildly confrontational.

Then south once more, through the tip of the Everglades to Key Largo, we watched the sun set across the bay and then, on the horizon, a lightening storm raining down upon the swamplands to the north.

On the Tuesday Rachel and Leon went snorkelling, whilst Ethan, Linda and I enjoyed a dolphin show. And a parrot show and a sea lion show. Then north once more, pausing only to take in one of the world's largest shopping malls (went mad and purchased a hat, a t-shirt, some after-shave and Tigger and Pooh cuddly toys) before finding a hotel near the airport and saying a fond farewell to Florida, an unexpectedly sublime and simultaneously ridiculous corner of reality.

Katrina relaxes in the pool. I'm particularly proud of this photo.

Aunt Toni and Ethan at the beach. Ethan discovered that he was not fond of the sand.

Ben and Ethan.

Julie snapped this shot of myself and Ethan in full flight from the storm. He seemed to really enjoy the wind in his hair.

Ethan relaxes underneath a palm tree.

Leon and Linda with baby boy.

Sunset over Key Largo.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Florida - Part Two

They might call it the Sunshine State, but it doesn't half rain. Each summery afternoon was met with a thunderstorm of biblical proportions, lightning bolts poised to deliver any number of hapless octogenarian golfers from their mortal coil during an ill-fated backswing in this, the flattest of states. Of course the whole place is a swamp and ill-suited to human life in general - with the exception of hardy natives and depraved Hemingwayesque fisherfolk - until the invention of air-conditioning, upon which it became economically viable to pave paradise and sell it off (Glengarry Glen Ross style), to wealthy New York retirees; draining the water into adjacent, go-nowhere canals that become havens for the large, frightening reptiles for whom this is a natural habitat.

The human geography of the Eastern shore follows a certain pattern; high-rise apartments and hotels along the ocean front occupied by a mostly white and latino population, flanked a mile back by the poorer, single-storey, largely black neighbourhoods which provide the staff for the resorts, restaurants and retail outlets, all along the arterial I-95. Then for a mile or two in Palm Beach the pattern is broken by the ocean-side mansions and private beaches of America's ruling class, the Kennedys, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts et al, x-generation robber-barons who winter here before returning to the Hamptons or Cape Cod, and, by unwritten rule, circulate the real estate only amongst themselves despite the hyperbolic sums allegedly offered for the properties by nouveau riche drug barons and hedge-fund managers.

Saturday was the big party itself, grandpa Jack's ninetieth, and a thoroughly good time was had by all. It was held at a country club – another first for me – and we were served with great politeness and efficiency by a host of starched and polished staff, the kind one reads about in all the best novels but which are an extinct species in the old empire. I for one would have taken even greater advantage of their services had I known in advance that the bar would be closing at 8 o'clock. Uncle Steve explained the arrangement to me thus, "Jews don't go out for a drink, they go out for dessert" - though I found this explanation unconvincing, having observed several thirsty looking jews and goys alike at the desert buffet. If ever there was a time for my mother's sherry trifle, it was this. In any case, the man of the hour clearly had a marvellous time and was absolutely on his best behaviour – a mild concern for many – indeed Lewesians may recall his theft of a serviette from the Dil Raj and his outrage that the Brewer's Arms refused to take his money (US dollars) in payment for a round, also his general annoyance at everything being "so old" when he visited the town for our wedding. He was also particularly delighted to be surrounded by the vast majority of his "great ones" or great-grandchildren, of whom Ethan was of course the youngest, though soon to be supplanted by Max come October when he is due to arrive courtesy of Jeanne. Jessica also made a big hit at the event with her range of novelty hats, previously touted to nerdish twenty-somethings but adopted with gusto by the children.

I then managed to put my foot in my mouth re Uncle Steve for the second time that evening when I bid him farewell and mentioned that I'd see him tomorrow.
"Great! Where?" he said.
"Your place. We're popping over for brunch?"
"Oh, you are?" he said. Apparently no-one had told him.

Rob and Amy's daughter Avi takes an important call.

Hannah wearing one of Jessica's hats. Get your own at Younger sister Lauren in the background.

Rachel's cousin Jessica and half of boyfriend Scott. In addition to teaching and hat making, Jessica has been engaged to illustrate future best-seller The Marmalade Shore.

Rachel's cousin Rob, her cousin Sandy in the foreground.

Rob's wife Amy is a professional photographer. Am hoping to become her apprentice one day.

Sarah with her father (and Rachel's cousin) John in foreground. Is everyone Rachel's cousin? More or less, yes.

Jack with a selection of his "great ones"; David, Hannah, Lauren and Sarah.

Nancy and Ethan.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Florida – Part One

Being in possession of unreasonably low expectations of virtually every forthcoming social event once again paid dividends last week in the form of an unexpectedly joyful expedition to that far-flung sub-tropical corner of the country known as Florida. In this particular instance Rachel had played her fair part in poisoning my mind against the territory, a slow-drip of nine years duration containing a cocktail antifloridian memes designed mostly to avoid all mention of it as a potential holiday destination: sprawling, centreless near-necropoli of retired New Yorkers interspersed with alligator-laden faux-canals, golf-courses and endless strips of chain stores and highways populated by speeding myopic centegenerians and good old boys, their Chevrolet trucks plastered with "guns for Jesus" bumper-stickers.

Of course, this turned out to be an over-simplification.

The clan had gathered in West Palm Beach in celebration of Rachel's grandfather's ninetieth birthday, a city pretty much as far from Portland as it's possible to be whilst remaining in the same country; Ethan was however an angel on both flights, sleeping and playing and generally making the best of it. Friday night took us to Elyse and Steve's condo which we found located at the heart of a gated community – a first for me, it might be otherwise conceived as an outer suburb of purgatory, a rather grand suburban mausoleum of the twenty-first century. The houses lacked front doors, and instead each residence was fronted by a double garage, conceived as the primary entranceway to the home; pedestrians meanwhile were directed to what might in earlier days have been termed a tradesman's entrance at the rear, unmarked and nondescript in comparison to the grand portal offered to the SUV, which also enjoyed the liberty of the apartment's ground floor. The streets beyond were marked by a disquieting Lynchian manicured seriality and the lack of any discernible signs of life or associated detritus.

Fortunately there was a party on the inside and everyone had a great time catching up. Having been brought up in a comparatively small family it is a real joy to have married into a significantly larger one, with all their charming personalities and idiosyncrasies (not to mention genuine pleasantness), whilst at the same time having avoided any of the psychological trauma that might or might not have arisen from actually having grown up with them. I'm sure that sounds worse than I mean it to; I am really very fond of them, and, strangely enough, they seem to get on well enough with me too.

Ethan unruffled by his transcontinental expedition.

It's Uncle Steve!

From left to right: the edge of Jessica's face, her boyfriend Scott, Jeanne, Katrina (looking at Gene in background), Ethan in Julie's arms, Jody and Steve.

Grandpa Jack - ninety not out.

Nancy gives Ethan a big smooch.