24 July 2009

Great Weather - not where I am!

I'm in Cambridge at Troy's. The weather outside - you guessed it - is grey, drizzly, cool. Just had some champagne to celebrate being together with Troy after two years. Troy is making lasagna for dinner. We're listening to Jason's band. Marie is one of the background singers. Today was quite a full day. It started with a drive into Wembley. Angie, her friends, Suzie and Richard, and Daryl and I got in the car and with the helpful guidance of our GPS found Ealing Road in Wembley. We could easily have believed we were in India. OMG! All the stores carried colorful, wonderful Indian stuff - saris, spices, the works. Lots of fresh produce places too with some pretty exotic veggies. We had masala tea and Indian snacks at a vegetarian restaurant. Wow! It was all sooo good.

After lunch we left London and went back to Bury St. Edmunds to see Bob Tapson, Daryl's grammar school math teacher. We had a good old chat with him, then drove back to Cambridge where we had to part with our rental car.

Last night, we had a delicious meal at our favorite vegetarian restaurant in London. It's called Peking Palace - a Chinese place - on Holloway Road near the Archway Tube station. Our Historian friend, Debra, from Santa Barbara who is in London for most of the summer, joined us. We walked across Hampstead Heath to get to the restaurant. The rain had stopped and the sky cleared up briefly while we walked. The heath was fantastic, the air so fresh and sweet. The food at Peking Palace was superb as usual. Afterwards, back at Angie's flat, we sipped Bailey's and sang London's praises.

23 July 2009

Summer holidays

So what have we been up to? Lots and lots. London is just the most exciting city. Just strolling its streets and parks is so goddamm entertaining. Yesterday (Wednesday) we walked and walked - from Hampstead to Primrose Hill, through its gorgeous park, took a moment to enjoy the view of London's skyline, then on through Regent's Park, where the roses in full bloom provided heady scents. This brought us to Marylebone, where we strolled along the High Street to Baker Street on to Oxford Street. Whiled away some time at Selfridges, then made our way to Soho in search of Moaz Falafel. Soho was wonderfully atmospheric, Carnaby street and area all too twee, and the cafes and pubs overflowing. We gorged on Moaz Falafels - delicious as was expected, then bought a Myrtille Tart from Paul's bakery (French) next door. Next we decided to take in some culture so we went to the British Museum, where we spent a few hours enjoying their Greek, Roman, and Egyptian collections. The Parthenon Collection (Elgin Marbles) was my highlight. It amused me to see all these flyers in the gallery defending their right to hold on to these friezes rather than return them to Greece where they belong. Daryl enjoyed seeing the Rosetta Stone for the first time.

After the museum we were quite exhausted. So we hopped on Bus 24 and sat upstairs at the front. Ooh, did that feel good. At home we collapsed for about an hour. I had volunteered to make dinner, on account of having brought loads of vegetables acquired from Suffolk gardens and Marie in Cambridge. I made Courgette crepes and a green salad. We had a special ale brewed in Bury St. Edmunds (where whe bought it) with the meal. Quite satisfying, I have to say.
After dinner we went to the theatre. Aren't we just so civilized? Angie had bought us tickets for a South African play - Koos Sas - which was performed at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. The production was outstanding. I enjoyed every single moment of it. The main character was a Khoi San - indigenous to the Karoo region of SA - and the play's theme was the abuse and exploitation suffered by this group. What was funny was that the entire play was in Afrikaans with English supertitles. If anyone had a prejudice toward the language of Afrikaans, this play provided a cure. The play was extremely critical of the attitudes of the colonisers, especially the Afrikaans speakers, and fully sympathetic with the Khoi San. After the play we had drinks at the bar where the actors showed up and we got to chat with them a bit. Quite interesting to engage in a discussion about a group of people who are largeley ignored in history books.

Today we are going to have a much more easygoing day.

21 July 2009

London (after Cambridge)

Being on vacation is hard work. For instance, I have just minutes to scribble this post. It's Tuesday morning. I'm in London at my cousin, Angie's, flat near Hampstead Heath. It's grey outside. We're about to take a walk into Camden Town. Last night Angie prepared the most delicious meal I have ever eaten. She made a biryani served with green beans in a curry sauce, eggs in a tomato/tamarind sauce, sauteed calabash, and carrots in yogurt. OMG! We had a Nederberg Sauvignon (South African) to accompany this. Dessert was pears poached in red wine with cardomom and cinnamon flavors. Angie's friend Suzie joined us so we had great company and conversation too.

In Cambridge on Saturday evening we had dinner with our friends Meena and Emanuel, whom we met in Cape Town a few years ago. The weather was pretty decent so we ate outside in their lovely garden. They prepared an Italian feast (Emanuel is Italian) and served excellent wine from the Verona area. Other friends of theirs were there too. It was great fun getting to know them. The conversation kept going to South Africa - all of us had some connection to the country. We raved about Cape Town's beauty and vibrancy and then expressed our great regret about the crime and poverty. C'est dommage!

Sunday, despite waking up to drizzly skies, we stuck to our decision to go punting. We prepared a picnic and off we went. The weather kept improving and it turned out to be a wonderful day out on the River Cam. Sailing along and drinking in the beauty of the trees and bushes flanking the river was quite magical. Jason and Daryl were quite the heroes, punting furiously, and getting us all the way to Grantchester. Midway along Jason opened up a bottle of champagne and got out the strawberries. Now let me tell you, if you haven't sipped French champagne and munched on strawberries (Sweet, juicy, English) while relaxing on a punt as it sails along the River Cam on an English summer's day, you haven't lived!!! I invite you to share experiences that can match this.
The two kids, Luc and Kristal, were thoroughly enjoying it all too. We were ont eh boat all of four hours. We would have got out for a tea at Grantchester, but for an overprotective family of Swans who wouldn't let us get past them. Oh well!

Yesterday, Monday, we went into Suffolk, to the villages where Daryl grew up. We visited his Grammar school in Bury St. Edmunds and strolled through the Abbey GArdens. An excellent cream tea in Bury kept our tummies happy for a long while. The day was peaceful and it was a real treat to take in the countryside. All lush and quite pretty. A walk through the fen across from Willow House (where Daryl was born) was splendid indeed.

Today we will be spending hte afternoon with our dear friends, Roger and Gil. Right now, I'm dashing off to Camden Town.

18 July 2009

Vacation at last!

Quick! We had lunch at a pub called The Hat and Feathers? What country am I in?

I had mushroom stroganoff (mediocre), and Daryl had a veg burger (also mediocre) which came with chips. I mean real chips - fat, freshly fried - sprinkled with malt vinegar. It was so good that Daryl scarfed it down in seconds much to my annoyance! I had to resort to 'stealing' chips from two kids - our two year niece, Chrystal - adorable little thing, and seven year old Luc (also adorable, but brainy is his signature quality). Imagine that!

As I write this - Saturday late afternoon in Cambridge, England, the sky is turning grey. It was mostly blue today, but a tad cool. We are staying with Jason, Marie, and their two little 'uns, Luc and Chrystal. Their house is beautiful - very modern, spacious, with a terrific gardern. Marie is passionate about her garden and the design of it is pretty awesome. Many vegetable planters - triangular in shape - are full of the healthiest plants ever - red onions, beans, zucchini, and other squashes. This is so inspiring. The house, out in the countryside, has many big windows and French doors to provide lovely views of the open fields and greenery.

Tonight we meet up with some friends for dinner and tomorrow we'll be punting on the River Cam.

06 July 2009

4th of July Weekend

Wow! I'm just getting out of my zombie state. Went to bed past midnight four nights in a row. We sure had an action packed weekend even though we didn't leave town. The fun started on Thursday evening when Premi, Sri, Daryl, and I packed a scrumptious picnic dinner and drove up to Solvang to see Les Miserable. PCPA is a consistently top notch theater company and they certainly didn't disappoint with this wonderful musical production. Excellent atmosphere under the stars, perfect temperature (only slightly chilly), and superb acting. I thought they did a terrific job of transporting the audience into 19th century Paris and into the lives of characters that tugged at your heartstrings. There are few better ways to start a holiday weekend - especially since Daryl and I worked so hard all week on our projects.

On Friday evening we had our friends Phil and Melinda over for dinner. They have just returned from Barcelona and the Costa Brava and wanted to shared their fun experiences with us. The evening got a little exciting when Phil criticized Obama for not being more vocal about the Iranian elections. Daryl, a passionate Obama supporter, popped a few buttons. In my skillful way I managed to steer the conversation back to the Spain trip. Premi and Sri were with us too and Phil and Melinda enjoyed getting to know them. For dinner we had a selection of salads. I made my favorite summer pesto salad. In a pesto sauce you toss steamed red potatoes, steamed french beans, ripe, juicy tomatoes, and olives. It is a guaranteed success. I also made an edamame salad and an orzo salad. Premi made a garbanzo bean salad which was delicious.

Saturday, 4th of July, the sun appeared early (the fog disappeared by 9:00) and the weather was stunning. We had a terrific dinner party in our garden. No traditional barbecue since most of us are vegetarian. Our dear friends Bruce Hale and his wife Janette, came over and made us champagne cocktails. Olivia brought exquisite vegan appetizers - spinach and tofu inside philo pastry. Premi made lentil samoosas. Janette provided the dessert - Thai sticky rice (white and purple) served with fresh mango. Sheer bliss for the tastebuds! That Janette is one awesome lady. We ate, drank, and talked and talked and laughed and shared our stories - funny, sad, neutral. We had fun.

Yesterday Premi and Sri decided to have a 'braai' - a South African tradition. So the meat eaters had lamb cooked over charcoal and the vegetarians had soya sausages. We had baked beans salad and potato egg salad with this. We finished off the evening with the movie 'Doubt' - a bluray disc which we saw on our plasma screen.
The movie was fascinating. Superb acting by Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour. It was one of those movies where everyone has his/her own interpretation. Was the priest a pedophile or not? Was the harsh, rigid principal right or was she way off the mark? There are no clear answers. And on that note of doubt the holiday weekend came to an end.

My goals for this week are to polish up my novel THE STARS ARE DIFFERENT IN DURBAN and to send it off to to three editors.

01 July 2009

Summer Holidays

Six months of '09 are over! OMG! Almost a month of summer vacation over too. In two weeks we'll be off to the Old World. July 16 we fly to London. We'll divide our time between London and Cambridge the first week. Then off to Stockport (near Manchester) for a sort of family get together and birthday celebration for Glynis. On July 28 we fly to Milan, and drive to Verona where we'll indulge in a couple of operas at the outdoor arena. We have tickets for AIDA and Turandot. Should be fun.
August 1 - 8 we'll be enjoying the French Riviera or Cote d'Azur. Ah yes, swimming in the Med., sipping wine at the cafes, shopping at the markets, and oh, all that beauty. It's going to be great.

Meanwhile, I spend my days writing, or rather revising an old manuscript. Summer in Santa Barbara is hard to beat. I love the warm days, the long, long evenings, getting together with our wonderful friends, the farmer's markets, and gardening.

It's funny how my teaching job fades into the past when summer vacation rolls around. I have to say last year was one of my best teaching years. I do love 3rd grade. I connect with this grade much better than any other. Last year I had a group of kids who were nice people, who wanted to learn, who were well mannered, and who were surprisingly responsible. I could tell right from the first day that they were going to be an easy group. They did their work without asking annoying questions. They kept their name labels on their desks neat. They brought in their homework. They took their work seriously. What more could a teacher want?

I know it's going to be a whole more challenging next year. With 25 kids in the classroom there is no way I'll be able to give them the individual attention necessary to get them working at their best. With 20 kids, every child, including the advanced ones, were able to get quality time from me. It's a pity this is now a thing of the past.

Anyway, the main problem we're facing is the job losses. So many teachers have been laid off and many of them won't get their jobs back. It's s depressing to think about all the cuts we will have to face next year because of the state of California's economy.

I guess I'll just try to enjoy each moment of vacation and not think about the fall.