08 December 2011

Joel Robuchon

After an unforgettable meal at Joel Robuchon at the Metropole Monte Carlo, I had the great privilege to sit down for an interview with the man himself - undoubtably one of the greatest chefs of the modern era.  I can truly attest he is as delightful as his food is delicious!

Attached is the link to the article in CityOut Monaco.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed the entire experience of writing it!

http://www.cityoutmonaco.com/monaco-food-drink/articles/king-of-kitchen-joel-robuchon

09 October 2011

Steve, 'C' and Me


‘Even those people who want to go to heaven, don’t want to die to get there.’  Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Address 2005


Like most of the world, I woke up last week to the shock and sorrow that a man I had never met, Steve Jobs, had passed away. And like most of us, I felt as sad as if I had lost a personal friend. I will not attempt to eulogize him any further – in the past few days people from all over the planet have paid their tributes. Certainly, the world has lost a visionary far before his time. Certainly, had he lived, he would have continued to generate the remarkable ideas and products that have impacted all of our lives and made us mourn as if for someone we knew.

But truth be told, in addition to my sadness, I felt something else.  Something that I think that others like me might also have felt, and that is fear. Because, like Mr. Jobs, like far too many whose lives have been struck by that range of disease we know as cancer, I too am a survivor. Most days the breast cancer I had is but a background memory – one that plays only a tiny role in my life and reminds me to get regular checkups. Still, all it takes is news of the premature death of someone from the ‘Big C’ to catapult this bit player to front and center stage. The thought of it is always waiting in the wings, despite constant (and in my case, largely successful) attempts to banish it. Banished from my body, it nonetheless rests in the back of my mind and comes forth when even a stranger dies.

No doubt, one need not be a survivor to experience this fear. Death is shocking, even when expected and doubly so when it is premature and robs us of someone who touched our lives. I must have watched Job’s brilliant Commencement Address at least three times since last week and the part in which he speaks about death resonates deeply. Receiving his doctor’s diagnosis ‘to put his affairs in order’ one of Steve’s first thoughts was how to tell his children in a few months everything he thought he would have years to tell them. Maybe I imagined it, but it seemed to me that he choked up a bit or at least had to swallow hard to get through that part of the speech.  I understand.

Since beginning this blog, I’ve been asked many times why I never write about having had cancer. The answer would have to be, because I don’t really want to. I don’t dwell on death and the cancer is not that important a part of my life. I look after my health and it is excellent, the cancer I’ve overcome enjoys an ever-improving rate of remission and complete cure.

Yet what I ultimately took away from Job’s talk is something that I too have experienced: yes, death scares us, yes, we dread it. Still, the idea of death is the ultimate freedom. Used wisely, it is an incredible tool to live life.  Early in his youth Steve said he was touched by the idea of ‘living as if each day was your last.’ We all know what that meant for Steve Job’s remarkable life, but we must each define it for ourselves. For me, it doesn’t mean jetting off around the world or indulging my every whim. It’s about normality, hopefully with an enhanced appreciation for the little joys – for fresh snow, for laughing out loud, for Sunday pancakes ‘en famille’ for canyoning down a waterfall behind three fearless boys. It is all those things but not necessarily any one of them. In all honesty, I think I would have appreciated the little joys anyway.  But it is about examining the life you live, about not waiting for what you want, about imparting any wisdom you might have gleaned to those you love, about making the most of everything that comes your way, about living even the minute intensely.



20 September 2011

A Loss and Lament

In a few short weeks, the M-men and I will be heading to New York for our much anticipated, annual autumn visit. On the agenda is everything from university tours (they are never too young) to Trick or Treating (they are never too old.) And, of course, as any American expat returning ‘home’ will appreciate – shopping, shopping and more shopping – visits to stores that seem to say ‘welcome back to the USA - land of so many, many things.’

But sadly, this year will not be quite the same. I’m not talking about the depressing economy: we will do our part, as always, to give it a boost. (It’s amazing what you can justify when you compress several months’ worth of shopping into ten days.) But as I said, it won’t be the same. This year we might well find the land of so many, many things but books.

When I told my sons that the last Borders bookstore closed this past Sunday, there was a collective ‘NO-OH’ in full three-part harmony. A visit to Borders was special – even if later it entailed lugging back immensely heavy suitcases filled with latest edition hardcovers (waiting for paperbacks is not an expat luxury.) It was a price we gladly paid.

Borders did not go bankrupt for lack of M-support. When the boys were still little, back in the Magic Tree House/Berenstain Bear days, a store manager approached me. She saw us racking up piles upon piles of books and asked if I would like to open a corporate membership. When I replied I didn’t have a corporation, she said a family of readers was ‘close enough.’

We treasure our books. It runs in the family - my mother still has the books she brought to America when she emigrated from Greece some sixty years ago. She passed on her love to me and luckily I’ve passed it to my boys. Maybe partly it is because living in a foreign country; the boys realized English books were not always easy to come by. Sure there are libraries, but book lovers want to own the books they love, want to be able to pick them up and re-read them at any time. 

I also know the availability issue has since been solved with instant downloads on kindles, ipads, laptops – even phones.  But it isn’t the same – you can tell me what you like. They are nice supplements, not the real thing – in many ways better, in many others worse.  For example, when you see your kid with a book in hand, you have a pretty certain idea of what he or she is doing.  See a kid mesmerized by an ipad, well, the possibilities for various activities are infinite and not all likely to improve SAT scores.

Still, I fear the book lovers will soon have little choice. Borders is not the only bookstore chain, but its closing might well be indicative of others to come. Schools all over the world are trialing ipads to supplement (and eventually replace?) textbooks. It makes sense. But since when has loving meant being rational?

I will miss wandering through a bookstore – touching and feeling and opening the glossy covers, smelling the new book smell. I will miss the well-read salespeople who came up to my kids, saw what they were reading and said, ‘I see you like this series, have you tried this one?’ Their suggestions opened new worlds for my boys with books I might never have known to recommend. I will miss the carpeted kids’ corner, its reading nooks, beanbag chairs, the soft and wonderful colors. And I will miss seeing my kids sitting there, unable to wait to start reading one of the latest treasures they selected.

The books we have bought back to Monaco over the years take up a lot of space. They are well worn and dog-eared.  I always thought I would someday donate them to our school’s library. But I just might have to keep them. I want to know that my boys will have these treasures to share with their children someday. It is no longer something I take for granted.

12 September 2011

Remembering

I did not expect to be so moved. Ten years to the day, September 11th 2001 – much of the world gathered to remember the events that impacted so many lives. In Monaco, the American expatriate community gathered too – so far from where the terror occurred so many years before. You sensed a tangible wanting to come together, to assemble, just like after the attack. On that day, wherever in the world you might have found yourself, there was a need to connect to what had happened. It was hard being away from home.

Yesterday’s anniversary was the same. The memorial service was attended not only by Americans, but also by people of multiple nationalities, reflective of this diverse and international village. It was held in the Cathedral, where I couldn’t help thinking of another woman who had left America behind, who became Princess Grace of Monaco and who now lies here forever in rest.

The Cathedral was packed. So many convened not just to commemorate the day, they came to share their where-were-you-when-it-happened. From New Yorkers such as myself, to foreigners who had once worked in New York, from people who knew people, to police officers who work here so proud of what the police did there. From the priest who told his story of being called to the Pentagon the morning after, to tourists who craned their necks to look up at the impossible height the many mornings before– everyone had a story to tell.

So much has since been written; so much has since been read. The words to describe the horror and the loss have become clichéd with over use. To say that the images of the planes crashing into the towers are seared into our collective consciousness is a cliché, but it is true. They are.  To say we will never forget is a cliché, but it is true.  We won’t.

To watch the commemorations with children who were too young to realize what happened ten years ago and try to explain to them now what it meant is nearly impossible. Fury on such a scale will never be explicable. Nor will the ways those acts changed the world, the wars and loss of life entailed, the doors that have closed. Even the lesser annoyances experienced by children like my own, who have grown up thinking it is perfectly normal to remove shoes and belts and be patted down before flying back to the U.S. No, I tell them, it didn’t used to be like that when I was your age, but then again, neither was it normal to have an iPad and be able to watch any movie you want on the plane.

I spent yesterday indulging in memories. Memories of my time in the city – the one and only New York. Memories of working next door to the Towers, of taking them for granted, of laughing with co-workers as we walked through them to lunch or to have an after work drink at Windows on the World. They are memories that begin to be hazy, that start to feel far away compared to the more vivid, ‘like yesterday’ memories of 2001.

Yesterday was a day of reflection.  While it is sad that the painful memories of friends and lives lost are still so intense, it is important to remember and it was good to gather. The expat community, then and now, felt like the closest of families. It reminded me that there was good, greatness even, alongside evil that terrible day – in the kindness, the heroism, the courage, and the indomitable spirit that manifested itself. The world, wherever one was in it, felt like a global village united against terror. The way people all over the world came together, it felt like home.

05 September 2011

Facing Fear


 
As I might have mentioned in a prior post or two - I am an admitted worrier. I worry so well that I even worry about it. I come from highly evolved worrier stock on both parental sides and while I might not always have been quite as expert as I am today, four M-men later, the genes were there to develop.

And develop them I did. I can always find something to worry about – it is one well that never runs dry. I worry about everything from whether someone like Rick Perry could become President of the United States to whether my boys are going to find jobs when they graduate. It doesn’t matter that I’m jumping ahead here and first have to worry about them getting into good universities or passing their IB – a pro worrier such as myself can jump back and forth between present and future, long and short term worry without the slightest effort. I still have left over worries from the boys’ toddler days to the point that even now I can only boil water on the stove’s back burners.

Nonetheless, I’ve made some limited progress. Rarely, if ever, am I concerned that my sons could choke on toys with small parts. Problem is – no sooner is one worry eliminated than another appears – with three boys the possibilities are endless, and they haven’t even started driving yet.
 
Currently, my sons’ skateboarding provides major cause – with some justification. It has already resulted in one broken M-bone. We argue about it pretty incessantly,

Thus, I was shocked when my eldest pointed out something so obvious; it hit me like a looming vert ramp. (Skateboard lingo.) Last June, when I was once again pointing out the relative safety of staying home and studying versus riding a speeding wheeled object down concrete steps, he turned to me, fed up, and said, “Mom, you are only afraid of us doing things you don’t know how to do yourself.  You never worry about us skiing, for instance, because you ski.”  

I had to admit he was absolutely right. Although, don’t get me wrong, I have not the slightest intention of ever, EVER getting on a skateboard so as to eliminate this particular worry that causes my sons so much angst.

I did, however, attempt something else this summer. Something so brave, I am not only exceptionally proud of having tried it, I still have difficulty believing I did. In an effort to conquer worry, fear, sheer terror in the face of untried sporting endeavors, I agreed to take the boys canyoning while we were in Switzerland.

For those who don’t know, canyoning (known as canyoneering in the US) involves a technical descent of a canyon or gorge, using a wide variety of techniques, such as jumping, leaping, sliding, hiking, swimming and abseiling. In our case, it was down a magnificent granite canyon with glacial waterfalls and stunning views. The force of the freezing water is so immense as to leave one breathless. I can’t say I loved it, although now that it’s over I love the fact of having done it. Overcoming the sheer panic of leaning all the way backward over high cliffs and roping down to land or to leap into raging water is amazing. It was utterly terrifying and totally exhilarating at the same time (at least for me – for the boys only the latter.)
 
In retrospect, all I can say is that it certainly managed to put a lot of my other worries into perspective.  I don’t intend to ever go canyoning again, although I’m sure my sons will. But at least when they do my fear for them will not be magnified by the unknown.  And in the meantime, if they want to go skateboarding, I hope they have a great time (as long as they remember to wear their helmets and make sure they bail before a slam.)

17 August 2011

The Easy Out


‘But the Lord says, be submissive, wives, you are to be submissive to your husband.’ – Ephesians 5:22–24, à la Michele Bachmann

I don’t want to go too deeply into semantics.  Although there are those who claim the contrary, there really are big, huge, enormous and consequential differences between the meanings of the words ‘Respect’ and ‘Submission.’ The former is commonly defined as a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements.  The latter is ‘the act of submitting to the power of another.

Much like Michele Bachmann, Tea Party candidate for President and winner of the recent Iowa straw poll, I respect my husband and I believe he respects me. I do not, however, submit to him, unless, of course, he were to insist that I do something I want to do anyway, in which case, why not?  For instance, if he were ever to order me to go on a shopping spree, or command me to take a day off and check into a spa, or require that I must allow him to whisk me off on a romantic weekend – in all those instances he would find me as submissive as a kitten. There are maybe a couple other examples that come to mind too, but I’m just not going to go there.

But – and it’s a big but, when it comes to submission as a general concept governing the relationship of married women to their husbands, then I do have a problem. I especially have a problem with a submissive wife running for President of the United States, who believes she should submit to (or let’s face it, even respect) a man who runs a clinic to convert gays to non-gays. Of course, as she has a habit of doing, Bachmann has already backtracked on her words and stated she meant mutual respect: uh, duh…

Nonetheless, it’s that the submissive concept appeals to certain women at all, be they evangelicals, Tea Party members or any other that most frightens me. Michele Bachmann is who she is. (That, in my opinion, is a dangerous fanatic and utter nutter.) I can safely dismiss her since I refuse to entertain for one second the notion that such a bigot could ever get elected President.

Still, Bachmann does have many followers, women who obviously like the concept of submission. You have to wonder why. The only reason I can fathom is that submission is the easier option.  A submissive wife bears little, if any, responsibility for her actions. She goes from the little girl who obeys Daddy to the little wifey who obeys her husband.  Such women never grow up. They are not responsible for their own actions. The one who submits is not one who must bear the consequences of her decisions. She doesn’t have to make any. Hence she makes no mistakes; she learns nothing and never becomes a responsible adult. It’s an easy out where you get to throw up your hands and say ‘I had nothing to do with it.’ Nothing because it’s what my husband wanted or even what God willed. It’s the blame game, passing the buck, or just plain copping out. The thing is, when those thrown high hands belong to the President of the United States, then we all bear the consequences. If that doesn’t frighten all women, at least all those outside of Stepford, then it should.

08 August 2011

Long, Lazy & Life of Pi

Dear Readers: It has been a while. We left off last with emergency preparations and a well-provisioned sailboat for a Corsican holiday.


Fortunately, the extensive drills prior to departure were precautionary only. Nobody fell overboard. No emergency distress signals were emitted. The EPIRB rested firmly in its holder. Yes, we did see a whale on the crossing, albeit at a distance far too far away to smell. In short, the M-family made it back from Corsica intact– luckily still in the midst of long, lazy days of summer. And hence the reason for the radio silence - there’s just something about slowing down that makes it too easy to grind to a halt.

I must admit that being a self employed blogger, I have (am) the nicest boss. Sometimes too nice, in that there aren’t great repercussions if new posts remain unwritten. (O.K, my hits do go down, but hopefully that is reversible.) Said boss might wave a stick, but I know she won’t wield it too hard. All of which makes it difficult to get back to work. Still, the writing nags – a little conscience saying here’s an idea - you could write about this, you should write about that. A bit annoying, but I realize I missed blogging, and it’s been gratifying to hear from readers that they have too.

The sailing holiday itself was fun. Not the greatest-vacation-we’ve-ever-had-fun, but a good first trip that taught us a lot. It began perfectly - swimming and snorkeling in crystal waters, barbeques at sunset, nights anchored in quiet bays. Corsica ‘isle de beauté’ did not disappoint. 

The weather did. Deceptively at first – hard to believe that warm sunny days without a cloud in the sky could hide such menace. Menace known as Le Mistral. I didn’t realize our magnificent planet could generate that much wind without once stopping to inhale. It blew for almost the next ten of the total fourteen days. The resulting white-capped waves meant either we were stuck in port or one of us (guess!) was seasick.

It wasn’t all that bad – actually the first storm was kind of exciting. We found shelter in the tiny bay of Girolata, which looked almost exactly like the lagoon in Gilligan’s Island. Not a port but a protected mooring. Protected on almost 300 degrees – very unlucky that the wind blew straight from the 60 degrees facing open sea. The beach consisted of a couple shacks and a few surprisingly good restaurants. No Internet, sporadic cell phone, access by land only via two hours on a quad bike, which was highly NOT recommended for tourists. So we were stuck.

It was a bit of a shock, to say the least, to be so completely cut off. Our usual family pace, whether at work or play, tends to be pretty frenetic. And all of a sudden it wasn’t. No places to go, no sites to see beyond white-capped water and a small island inlet. We went on some beautiful hikes and ate a lot.

But we also discovered some ways to pass the time that seldom happen in the ‘connected’ world. Monopoly, for example, is great at whiling away the hours – though with all the M & A’s the M-men came up with, I’m not sure it was the game Parker Bros intended. The boys attempted the almost obsolete, classic boy art of whittling driftwood, and learned it’s maybe not the best idea on heaving seas. They even listened to me read aloud from Life of Pi, one of my most favorite books that I thought rather appropriate for our first sailing adventure. It’s amazing what kids will do when there are no friends around to bear witness. 

08 July 2011

Save our Souls!


Dear Readers: Please note this post is rather longer than usual because State of Minder is already in a Vacation State of Mind. Back in two weeks. Thanks always for reading and sharing and Happy Summer!

Save Our Souls!

Tomorrow we are off on holiday. The last time we left on holiday was in February and I was rather stressed because, well, I’m a highly stressed person and amongst other things I hadn’t finished laminating my kids’ certificates before we left. (For those who might have missed the post or would like an explanation: http://www.stateofminder.com/2011/02/winter-holidays.html )

Little did I know then how good I had it. Pre-ski holiday stress was nothing… Tomorrow we leave for a two-week sailing vacation – crossing the Med to Corsica for the first time on our boat. That’s 12 plus hours across open water, no land until we reach that distant and rocky isle. Apparently we stand a good chance of seeing whales en route, which would be awesome, even though I’m told they smell unbelievably bad. I wouldn’t care; I would love to smell a whale up close (not too, though – the image of a thrashing Moby Dick-like tail near our boat does nothing to calm the stress level.)

Seriously, pre-sailing preparation is very demanding. First of all, I’m in charge of ‘Provisioning.’ It sounds really official and important, I know, but it’s basically the same old grocery shopping I do all the time. Except now I have to do massive amounts in advance to feed four men for two weeks and think of everything we might possibly need in terms of food, drink, medicaments and household items. Anything forgotten will probably not be available in the small convenience stores we’re likely to find in port (and if it is, likely to be 10 times overpriced and a week past expiration.) As I’m not particular good at foreseeing what we need to create dinner even one day in advance, ‘provisioning’ for two weeks is more challenging than you would think. So far, in keeping with my priorities, we’re fully stocked with rosé and cleaning products, and at least we have two fishing poles on board.

Then, of course there’s the emergency ‘Grab Bag.’ Now contrary to what you might imagine, or at least what I might, a boat Grab Bag is not filled with fun little gifts items and nicely wrapped presents. No, this is a big waterproof bag that weighs a ton, which one is supposed to grab (hence the name) in the unlikely event we have to get into the life raft. (Highly unlikely, my husband assures me.) So I figure if I forget anything in my provisioning efforts, at least the bag is guaranteed to keep us from starvation for about a month. Military style tinned rations, but, hey, sustenance is sustenance. I’m thinking I should probably get another one to keep in the house.

So last night, in preparation for the big crossing, we go to the boat for the emergency debrief/training. My husband was in charge and he really knows his stuff on a boat. This is one place where I never second-guess him, which could be why he loves sailing so much. So the boys and I gathered around him on board and we all got right down to business. It went really well, I think.

The first thing my husband showed us is the life ring. We have one on the back of our boat, of course, international maritime law requires it. Problem is that you can’t undo the thing if your life depends on it. Which it very well might, as that is the whole point of a life ring. So, in addition to the official one you can’t undo, we have an emergency canister. In the event of man overboard you just unhook it and toss it into the water, aiming near the point where you last saw the person. Uh huh. All well said and done, but as you have to heave the thing overboard on a rocking moving boat while trying not to fall overboard yourself, well - all we can do is give it our best shot. After the canister is thrown, then one person is assigned to be the ‘Spotter.’ The Spotter’s job is to watch the floating head in the water as the captain tries to maneuver the boat back to the person in the water. Of course, this had all three boys immediately arguing over who had the best eyesight. After considerable discussion we moved on. Spotter To Be Determined.

Down into the main cabin, where my husband proudly opened a closet to show us a cute, funny little gadget he had installed. Although I didn’t know what it was, as soon as he asked ‘Schatz, what’s this?’ – It came to me in a heartbeat. A heart that swelled with pride as I proclaimed: ‘an EPIRB’ with the utmost joy. You see, an EPIRB is the ONE thing I’ve learned about boating in 17 years of being married to a boat lover, sailor and yachting expert. Boy, do I know my EPIRBs. Sometimes we will be at a cocktail party and my husband will call me over to a group of people and use my knowledge just to show off. I, of course, am happy to oblige – after all, what are spouses for if not to do their partners proud at cocktail parties?  So he asks, ‘Schatz, what’s an EPIRB?’ And I answer, faster than I can say my own name, ‘oh, you mean an Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon?’ (Real casual-like.) Men tend to be especially impressed and look at my husband admiringly, as if to say ‘Wow, you married a woman who sure knows her EPIRBs – guess some guys have all the luck.’

Not to brag or anything, but not only do I know how to define an EPIRB with lightening speed, I even know all about how it works. Although this was my first time actually seeing a real one, I know that either you pull the switch and it emits a radio signal and tells the nice rescue people where you are, or in very worst case scenario, it gets submerged in water and then it works all by itself. You don’t have to do anything other than try to stay afloat somewhere in its vicinity.  It’s a cute, cute little gadget if I’ve ever seen one.

So then my husband decides we should run through some actual emergency procedures. The boys are thrilled and we all think this is a wonderful idea. We start with the radio. Channel 16 is the emergency channel. Being not just a laminating but also a labeling maniac, I kindly offer to make a special ‘Channel 16’ label for the radio when we go home. Just in case I should ever forget this particular channel number  - a reasonable assumption considering the actual state of panic that would undoubtedly ensue if I ever need to make an emergency call. My husband, however, summoning up stores of patience I never knew he had, told me that it was a very nice offer but not strictly necessary, as, if I forget the number, there is a big red button I can press instead. It tunes directly to Emergency Channel 16. Cool.

So, we start. We begin with a simple scenario in which the boat breaks down, or fails to respond, but one in which we are not in immediate danger. In this case, the signal is ‘Pan, Pan, Pan.’ Given that we are sailing in French waters I at first assumed my husband was saying the French word for bread (i.e. ‘Pain’ pronounced the same way.) Which doesn’t make sense, I realize, unless you’ve lived in the French region as long as I have. Then you realize it could very well be a Frenchman’s emergency call/dying wish. But I digress, apparently the signal has nothing to do with bread. So then I logically assume that Pan means, broken, as in my car is ‘en panne’ i.e. not working. Wrong again. It’s just plain pan, pan, pan which apparently is some sort of internationally recognized code. Like, I should be expected to know this?

Anyway, after thrice signaling Pan, proper procedure is to follow with “This is Mindblower“ to identify the boat. Then one gives a brief description of the problem. Here I helpfully interrupt my husband to point out that if it is not something simple, like being unable to detach the life ring, then I’m not much good at either recognizing or describing mechanical problems. Still in a bid to retain my fast departing former glory, I offer that if they want to test me on how quickly I define an EPIRB then I’m the one for the job. My husband sighs and we move on.

Same channel, worse problem. This time my husband asks, ‘If I have a heart attack, what do you do?’ I politely answer that he and I both know that in that case I would never, ever be able to restrain myself from immediately saying “I told you so” – followed by something along the lines of ‘all these years I’ve been telling you to watch your cholesterol and now look what happens!’ Apparently not the right answer either. We try again. Imagine, he says, I’m having a heart attack and we’re in a Force 10 gale, and the boat is taking on water. What do you do? So I try to lighten this heartbreaking scenario with a little joke: ‘I call the guys on the radio and order some bread?’ I think it’s kind of funny but nobody even smiles. We move on. My husband decides we must run through this again and again until we get it right (all in the highly unlikely event, he assures me, that it ever happens.)

I suggest the training would be far more realistic if he were to get on the floor and writhe around clutching his chest and moaning. Despite enthusiastic encouragement from the boys, he refuses. I sense the patience is wearing a bit thin. Instead he lies on the couch and says, ‘I’m having a heart attack.’ A bit BOR-ING but we go with it.

So. Needless to say, I play my part with great enthusiasm. With staged and frantic panic, I look dramatically around the cabin until I locate the radio in its holder next to the command station. Where it always is. ‘Ah HA!’ I cry, grabbing it with a flourish, and then I simulate pushing that red button to perfection. ‘JULYDAY, JULYDAY, JULYDAY!’ 

‘CUT!’  My husband roars as the boys crack up. ‘What the hell …?’

‘It’s the International Distress Call’ I reply with enviable calm and considerable disdain. ‘Seriously, I would think YOU, of all people, would know that.’ (I am completely kidding of course, but I decide to play it up and my husband sadly thinks so little of my sea-faring expertise – apart from the superb EPIRB-reciting-skills previously mentioned- that he actually believes I am serious.)  So, I go with it. ‘It’s MAYDAY in July,’ I tell him.

Now for the record, not only was I an English major, I speak French and have lived in Monaco for 16 plus years, where French is the official language. All this to prove that I know what MAYDAY means. It comes from the French phrase ‘Venez m’aidez’ (come to help me, or come to my aid) which over time and multiple drowning was shortened to M’Aidez or MAYDAY. I WAS JUST MAKING A JOKE HERE!

Again, nobody laughed and so we tried yet again. This time, my husband begged us to take it seriously and even made a half-hearted clutch at his chest as we repeated the scenario. It was going swimmingly until our oldest son asked out of the blue, ‘Hey Dad, if you have a heart attack, can I have the Miata?”

I tell you, we are an ADD family if you ever saw one. Not one of us can concentrate for a single second. Except maybe my husband, who started turning slightly purple. At which point I thought it best that we postpone the emergency run-through for another time, lest he actually had a heart attack and how ironic would that be? Now what was that channel number again?

To be continued… post holidays.



03 July 2011

Vive les Mariés

I don’t know where to begin.  My husband and I had the honor and happiness of being among the 3,500 guests of Prince Albert and Princess Charlene as they married yesterday. So I can tell you first hand, despite the rumors circulating, despite whatever might come after the honeymoon, that the wedding itself was simply beautiful: warm and emotional, grand and dignified.

It’s always a difficult balance between a hugely public, state occasion – an extraordinary show in front of thousands of viewers, multiplied by the cameras to reach millions – and an intimate ceremony between two people, their families and closest friends. Cheers to the Grimaldis who pulled it off, exceeding everyone’s expectations.

Princess Charlene walked the decidedly long aisle across the palace courtyard with an athlete’s trained grace, looking stunning and serene. Her gown was perfect. The seven little bridesmaids who followed her, adorably dressed in regional costume and shyly smiling, almost stole the show. Prince Albert looked relaxed and dignified, if a bit warm on a hot and humid July day. They whispered to each other throughout the ceremony, not too much but enough, of course they kissed, but for me the most touching moment took place as they held hands. The Prince gave his new Princess’ hand a comforting squeeze as the magnificent music filled the Cours de Palais. All in all, it was something to remember, flawlessly executed with to-the-minute precision.

The disconnect between what I’ve since read in the press, and what I saw with my own eyes is not to be believed. One newspaper’s account had Charlene ‘bursting’ into tears and ‘sobbing’ throughout the wedding. It is patently false. To the contrary she was calm and smiling, solemn and dignified. Another proclaimed Albert ‘ashen faced.’ Here again the warm weather might have come into play. Still, he looked perfectly normal to me both throughout the ceremony and after as they made the joyous and triumphant walk back down the aisle and we tossed white rose petals at them as they passed.

As to the supposed sobbing, it was merely a few tears, completely understandable, after the wedding ceremony was over. The couple got into their waiting convertible and drove through the cheering streets of Monaco, to the small chapel of St. Devote. There, during a haunting and lovely duet came an emotional moment. The music was evocative and beautiful, bringing a few tears to the eyes of a just married bride. One who had spent three days in the enormous stress of the global spotlight – the ultimate star of a glamorous, highly star-studded event. It was as real as you get. Those tears made a lovely woman believable and I hope forever put to rest those who called her an ice princess.

But it was the rumors flying before the event, the whispers during and those still circulating after that bothered me the most. Prince Albert’s father, Prince Rainier once supposedly said that ‘gossip was invented in Monaco.’ If perhaps not invented, one can certainly say ‘perfected’ in this global village where it seems to be the national pastime. I am guilty of indulging too – who doesn’t like a good rumor? Yet, after all, when it remains unconfirmed innuendo it is truly hurtful to the real people concerned and all of us living in the Principality they represent.

Happily today, the day after, the fireworks finished, the receptions, the concerts and the incredible parties offered by the newlyweds to the people of Monaco ended, what is left is a village thrilled and proud and deservedly so. It was a perfectly organized, fun and simply beautiful party that gave the Principality its long awaited Princess.  Let’s hope that it won’t just be the clichéd ending to a fairytale and that the reality will be, after all, that they live happily ever after!

29 June 2011

Roses and Rumors

My husband and I began our relationship as a long distance one. He was living in the Bahamas and I in New York. So it happened we were far apart on my birthday, the first one that fell shortly after we met. I celebrated without him by going to dinner with some friends.


New York city can be a tough place to impress people, but my husband managed that night, to say nothing of how he managed to thrill me. Because as my friends and I were in the middle of dinner, two waiters in the restaurant came to our table, carrying a stunning and enormous bouquet of 100 long stemmed pink roses. For me. You could literally hear the gasps from the surrounding tables – the entire room stopped dining like in an EF Hutton commercial (for my non-American readers – a famous ad campaign in which people stopped in their tracks as a voiceover announced ‘when EF Hutton talks, people listen.’) 

Then came the overheard comments.  Those from the women were mostly along the lines of ‘Ohhh!!!’ ‘How beautiful!’ ‘So romantic!’ etc. Most of the men grumbled it was ‘over the top’ ‘better to send a dozen a few different times’ and ‘what a waste, all going to die.’  In short, my husband’s gesture resulted in a restaurant divided. (And – final note to the non-romantics, although the roses did of course perish after a few days, my wonderful memory of them has never faded.)

So I was thinking of this story this past week. Like New York, Monaco can be a difficult place in which to impress, and unlike New York, it is a village. As Monaco gears up for the wedding of Prince Albert and Charlene Wittstock it is a village divided. The resident villagers gossip endlessly. Along which lines depends, like that New York restaurant so many years ago, on one’s perspective. One can choose to believe in the romance, or one can look at it as staged. 

There is plenty to fuel both viewpoints. Residents are justifiably tired after the Grand Prix and the hectic month of June. Rumors abound, and like in any village, one has only to go to a local hair salon to get the full scoop – ranging from the fantastic to the yes-so-I’ve-already-heard. With a major event coming up, tourists are invading in numbers far beyond the usual summer amounts. Local life is again disrupted. Even the legendary order is in slight upheaval, as all parking tickets between now and July 1st are forgiven.

But, as I said, it depends how you look at it. There happens to be quite the party planned. An Eagles Concert, offered to Monegasques, residents and locals, conveniently falls on the last day of school, kicking off both summer holidays and the wedding weekend. The next night Jean Michel Jarre is giving a sound and light performance over the main port for everyone, which promises to be fantastic. And then there is the religious ceremony on the 2nd, providing me with my first ever occasion to wear a hat along the lines of some of those amazing creations at Kate and Will’s wedding. Needless to say, I fall into the ‘excited about it’ camp.

As for what makes a marriage, that only concerns two people, and not a single one of the villagers, tourists and onlookers. I personally wish both Prince Albert and Charlene the very best and only hope for they will be as happy together as my husband and I have been in these many years since he sent those roses to a restaurant in New York.


26 June 2011

A Flake by Any Other Name


There are moments, I must admit, when I look at my country in a state of stunned and utter and utterly stunned disbelief. When a Fox News interviewer (Chris Wallace) asks a GOP candidate (Michele Bachmann) ‘Are you a flake?’ is one of those moments.

To be clear, it’s not the question itself, it’s not even that it was asked by someone at Fox. Nor is it that it was an ‘uh, DUH!’ question if I’ve ever heard one. Instead, it is that a woman like Bachmann can be considered as a candidate for high office. It is that at this moment she is currently tied for the GOP lead in the Iowa polls.

But it is a specific part of Michele Bachmann’s answer that led me to consider, at least momentarily, if I could ever give up my US citizenship if this woman was elected. Michele answered Wallace by saying that she’s ‘worked in serious scholarship… (that she has) applied (herself) to education reform.’ So she has.  And that’s what I would like to look at.

Especially because, a few weeks ago, I came across an incredible story about a young high school senior in Louisiana named Zach Kopplin. Zach decided to challenge Bachmann’s educational policies; concerned she might someday bring them to the national stage.  Specifically, he challenged her comments asserting ‘considerable controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact.’ Bachmann’s claims, which so concerned Zach, stated that ‘hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, believe in intelligent design.’ (Intelligent design is code for people believing in creationism, or the literal truth of the book of Genesis.)

Zach didn’t buy it. Not only did he not buy it, he proved it wasn’t so.  He challenged Michele Bachmann to find him even two Nobel Laureates to defend her position, while he presented her with 43 Nobel Laureates who endorsed his own. In a royal flush poker analogy if I’ve ever heard one, he said “Congresswoman Bachmann, I see your ‘hundreds’ of scientists and raise you millions of scientists.’

There has, to date, been zero response from Bachmann. A high school student, undoubtedly one incredible kid, has shown up a congresswoman/presidential candidate. In Zach’s website he notes that the 2009 National Center for Education Statistics ranked Louisiana as second from last in national 8th grade students’ science education. He rightly fears Bachmann bringing an anti-science, creationist stance to the national stage – brilliantly propounding the case that such efforts in Louisiana have not only impacted his own future, they have hurt the state and all students in it. Zach asks how colleges and universities are to take Louisiana students seriously; given the kind of education they have been receiving. And he’s backed not only by major science organizations, such as the 10 million member strong American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest general science organization in the world, but also by The Clergy Letter Project, an organization of 13,000 plus clergy members who affirm their support for teaching evolution. All one can say, is ‘Go, Zach, Go!’

I’d like to know what has happened to the separation of church and state I’ve always believed America to have? How religious theory can be taught on an equal footing with scientific fact? How tea party members profess surprise in the recent, upsetting PISA results (Program for International Student Assessment) while even considering their darling Bachmann to become the country’s next leader?

All I can say is that I am very proud, and deeply thankful, that there are students like Zach to show up Bachmann for the flake she is!

18 June 2011

A Midsummer Month's Madness



So, we are more than midway through the month of June. Celebrating every special occasion ever invented by man, woman and child. Gathering for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, concerts, graduations, midsummer fetes, weddings, anniversaries. Singing Happy Birthday for the umpteenth time, not just for those born this month but also for all those born in July and August – months when ‘people are away.’ Home becomes a pit stop, which we run into and out of, changing clothes at a speed the Formula One teams just last month in Monaco could only envy.

It is crazy, it is exhausting and yes, it is fun. If I dare say so, maybe too much fun for one single month. There are, after all, eleven other months in the year that could stand to have a little extra amusement packed into them (possibly excluding December.) With the logical exception of Graduations, could not some of these other events be spaced out so that we maybe have more merriment in say, March?

I know, I know, it seems necessary to pack everything into June because afterwards people scatter for ‘real’ summer as defined by school vacation. Holidays. Lasting what, a couple months? Much as I love and adore my friends, summer holidays do not entail our final goodbyes, they just mean we will see each other again on a regular basis after about 60 days.

I don’t mean to sound grumpy, and it could well be that I’m just tired, that I’ve had too much to eat and too much to drink at too many year-end events. Which is what at least half of the celebrations are called – year-end choir concerts, year-end shows, not to mention the year-end exams to get the kids through before the year-end-say-goodbye-to-the-football-coach-picnic. It all goes to prove my long harbored belief: celebrating New Year’s on the 1st of January is idiotic. The New Year begins in September and ends in June. In between there are July and August, as I said, the months ‘people are away.’

But it’s crazy. It’s not just me. Talk to anyone and that’s what they say, it’s crazy, I’m crazy, it’s insane – an insane month. If you don’t believe me, you need only look up some of the ‘official’ June celebrations. I’m not talking about Father’s Day (which of course has to fall in the month when mothers are already at their wit’s end and like, they need to buy yet another gift and oversee kids making cards.) No, there are other official celebrations like the North American Yell  ‘Fudge’ at Cobras Day (I promise all my readers I could not make this up – it is an official holiday and well beyond the scope of my imagination.) Its purpose is to keep fudge-detesting cobras south of the Panama Canal. I can personally offer no greater proof of June’s insanity than this single fact. Then again, maybe it’s just my grumpiness and it’s only a good excuse to bake some fudge. Which leads me to wonder, does anyone in the world still have that kind of time? To make fudge? And in June?  Are we not squeezing our not yet tanned bodies into bathing suits by now? Fudge, anyone? Come on, just one little piece to scare a cobra!

There are, of course, others reasons to celebrate in June for those who don’t have enough friends and occasions of their own. Like the birthdays of Helen Keller and Captain Kangaroo. And Teddy Bear Day and Independence Day in Slovenia, Croatia and Mozambique. There is Yo Yo Day, Egg Day, Juggling Day and a nice one, Best Friend’s Day. There is also the Happy Birthday to the Happy Birthday Song Day – like the song needs this. Then, the month ends with Superman’s Birthday on June 30th. That’s right. The flying man made of kryptonite was born the last day of June – and there are websites full of party ideas to celebrate his birthday. A cartoon character’s fictitious birthday. Who decides these things? Why JUNE? He isn’t real! Why not when things are calmer?  Superman, I am so very sorry to disappoint you, but we’re just too busy to give you a party this year.  Let’s talk in November.

13 June 2011

Uh, Oh!



“I never make stupid mistakes.  Only very, very clever ones.” John Peel

Like most Moms, I’m always encouraging my boys to try new things, to explore novel ways of doing the same old, same old, to take measured risk and in general, to open their viewpoints and thus, their worlds. Along with this encouragement, I offer the standard reassurances that ‘we all make mistakes,’ that ‘mistakes are how we learn’ and that ‘it’s fine to make a mistake.’ (My favorite on the rare occasion it happens to me.)

I’m joking, of course, but kids can’t take the risks they need to grow without knowing it’s allowable to fail, especially with all the pressure piled on them today. I used to tell my boys a story about my father, who learned to fly a P-47 fighter plane during the Second World War. When he began flight training, he made more mistakes than anyone in his entire squadron. He made every mistake in the flight manual and then some he invented, so many he despaired of ever getting off the ground. But it turns out he was the very first person in the squadron to solo. And he soloed first because of all the mistakes he made. They were his opportunities to learn how to recover from errors that are inevitable. He went on to become half an Ace.

It’s not always as easy to see the correlation between mistakes and achievement, and of course my father’s was a different generation. A generation that could not begin to imagine the lives of my sons today – the instant access they enjoy, the corresponding reach that comes under the names of Google and U-tube and Facebook. Yes, these entities provide tremendous opportunity for our kids, but they rob them at the same time. They steal their anonymity, the essential ability previous generations enjoyed to make erasable mistakes. Because nothing in our children’s lives can be rubbed out today. Every mistake is photographed and posted in the indelible ink that permanently illustrates cyberspace.

So sometimes I question whether my ‘it’s o.k. to make mistakes’ is really the right advice. Am I setting my sons up for more serious failure down the line? Like when they seek admission to a university or to be hired for a job? How much will be held against them when an admission officer finds evidence of a poor decision, a party photo in questionable taste, or something worse, all on the permanent public record of their lives? Rationally I know such mistakes will be made – even that they should be made, that from them my boys will learn. But it is a different world. Mistakes are no longer lessons which one hopes to remember but hopes others forget. They are out there and they stay out there, just ask Anthony Weiner.

Unfortunately, protecting our kids is probably impossible. Keeping them off Facebook doesn’t help because you can't keep all their friends off it too. Eventually someone is going to post some photos whether your kids are on social media sites or not. So now I'm thinking the only solution is to create a party nickname/identity to be used for social purposes, a societal doppelganger if you will, which can then be abandoned when it’s time to resume their true identities as serious adults. They would have to maintain both. Using the true identity, they can post every award they've ever received, photos of them going in to take the SATs and coming out smiling, photos of sports competitions and charitable activities like teaching orphans to read.

Of course, those activities will only be part of the picture. So here is where the nickname identity comes into play. For all those other pursuits, less esteemed by admission officers, job recruiters, and those with the power to admit them into the next stage of their development, they will need to use the nickname identity. With this they will go to parties, they can be photographed in all the stupid rites of passage we once endured without lasting effects. You have to establish some basic ground rules for this identity, of course. I suggest wigs and dark glasses for girls and a wig and fake mustache for guys. I wonder what color I should buy?

06 June 2011

Gotcha!

I almost felt sorry for Sarah Palin last week. Really, I did. Almost.

Even with Sarah’s countless gaffes, her “ringin’ those bells to warn the British” response as to the purpose of Paul Revere’s ride – well, how could it not elicit pity? Remember when the teacher would call on the dumb kid in class, the one who never studied? Even though you knew the kid was a nitwit you couldn’t help but feel sorry for her when she was actually up in front of the whole room proving it. Sarah had one of those moments and I almost felt for her. Albeit very briefly. Because then I remembered she didn’t really get called on – Sarah got on the bus and raised her own hand.


Then, it occurred to me that it was all The Donald’s fault. Let’s face it: the guy brags nonstop about how rich he is and all he comes up with for the Palins’ big New York night out is Famiglia’s Pizza? If he had only taken Sarah to one of my old time favorites, 17 Barrow Street (better known as One If By Land, Two if by Sea) this latest, lamentable doozy of a Palinism could have been avoided. Even though the restaurant itself has nothing to do with Paul (it’s actually Aaron Burr’s old carriage house) its name would certainly have sparked conversation about the famous ride and the damage been mitigated. At the very least Sarah would have eaten better and been fortified to wither any reporter who dared pose an offensive question like ‘who was Paul Revere?’

It sure was a gotcha. After all, we are not all history buffs, nor can we be expected to remember the many facts we learned in grade school and five different colleges. Especially when we have such great disdain for facts and all that ‘elite-y’ knowledge stuff. And we just know those pesky reporters in Massachusetts were on a feeding frenzy. It’s so obvious they smelt blood. Didn’t Michele Bachmann recently add some tea chum to those very same New England waters – something about the shot heard around the world and the Concord not in Massachusetts?

According to Sarah, this trip is purportedly nothing more than a family vacation with a goal of ‘publicizing Americana and our foundations and how important it is that we learn about our past and our challenges and victories throughout American History.’ Yeah. And Sarah is going to teach us. Considering she handpicked the sites, is it unreasonable to expect she might have tried to learn a little bit about them?

I know when I set off on educational family trips I always brush up on the details beforehand. I’ll do whatever it takes to maintain for my kids the illusion that I am the fount of all wisdom. (They just think I’m a nerd.) But I do it in the hope of teaching them, to make the history relevant.

Sarah obviously did not  – and she got caught out. You need only watch the clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oS4C7bvHv2w to see the proof. It’s all there in her shifting eyes, her pauses, and the ever-rising sing-songy voice. The class nitwit. A national figure for whom basic facts are beyond the grasp.

Yesterday Sarah went on Fox News Sunday to defend herself. She told Chris Wallace that in no way did she make a mistake, that she ‘knows her American history.’ Sorry, Sarah, but I just don’t buy it. You throw out massive quantities of utter babble in the hope that one factoid passes as an acceptable answer. Even Chris barely seemed able to suppress a smile, but what is truly frightening is that so many other people out there seem to believe you.

So once again the battle between the lame stream media and the SP Defenders takes off – more entertaining than the original story. Even Wikipedia was obliged to close its Paul Revere pages. (Note: the letter from the editor to Sarah Palin’s fans is worth reading but might prove offensive to SP fans seeking to make changes so that the historical accounts reflect their sage Sarah’s wisdom. It isn’t easy to be wrong.

But I have a confession to make.  I also have difficulty admitting when I make a mistake. At least according to my husband, who very rationally makes the case that it just is not statistically possible that I am always right and he is always wrong. I, of course, am not admitting he might have a point.  But I’m not considering a run for President either.

01 June 2011

On Cupid & Culture

Shortly before our wedding, my husband-to-be and I travelled to Zurich. Whilst wandering around the city one afternoon, I came across a small English bookstore in which a collection of short stories, Cupid’s Wild Arrows, caught my eye. Intrigued, I read it was edited by an American woman married to a Swiss and of course, bought the book. I then proceeded to laugh my way through very funny tales of mixed marriages – wonderful anecdotes by various authors in intercultural relationships ranging from English/German to Indian/French, from American/Lebanese to Iranian/Chinese.

The stories were immensely entertaining, but I didn’t particularly relate at the time. Approaching wedding bells had me under the impression (highly mistaken) that my husband and I were soul mates of an order that made the mere notion of differences between us ludicrous.

Fast forward. I might have been a trifle optimistic back in those pre-marital bliss days. Despite a wonderful relationship now in its 18th year, my husband and I are not only very different in all traditional male/female, Mars/Venus, XX/XY, simple/complex ways, we are also Swiss/American different.  It just adds an additional layer of delight to an always stimulating relationship.

And of course, it's the differences that keep life interesting. It’s only a few areas in which they are, say - challenging.

Time management
Any good Swiss will say ‘if you are on time you are five minutes late.’ My husband was raised on this little maxim. I was not. In fact, it has caused untold angst over the years. Particularly as someone who prides herself on being reasonably on time – reasonable being the key concept here. The mere fact that an invitation says 8 o’clock does not necessitate ringing the bell at precisely 7:55, when chances are the hosts will still be showering.

Rule Following (as a general philosophy)
·      Swiss Husband: yes, always, without question.
·      American Wife: most of the time, probably, sometimes, maybe, if it suits.

Driving – Enormous cultural differences. Stressful ones.
·      Swiss Husband: finds it completely normal to engage (with various degrees of frustration/temper/choice-Swiss-phrases) with complete strangers. In other cars. Particularly those unfortunate souls who might not be organized enough to have the exact amount of change prepared and so actually fumble for their wallets at tollbooths. 
·      American Wife: so what’s another minute more or less? Hope they don’t understand Swiss German.

Driving Speed
·      Swiss Husband: no-real-speed-limit-to-speak-of-Autobahn fast.
·      American Wife: 65-mile-per-hour-since-state-troopers-could-be-lurking fast (which is to say, not very.) So what’s another minute more or less?

Meal Planning
·      Swiss Husband: elaborate menus planned well in advance but with ingredients purchased daily for maximum freshness and taste. No repetition in any given season. Starter, Main Course, Dessert. 
·      American Wife (at around 6 p.m): Wonder if there’s anything in the freezer that we could have for dinner tonight?  

Cleanliness – I’ve mentioned this area before. It is one in which I not only appreciate my husband’s cultural heritage, I exemplify it. Like Switzerland’s finest, I have adapted to cleaning items no one but the Swiss would imagine could even be cleaned. As for my husband, suffice it to say he is not very Swiss in this regard, which just shows one should never stereotype.

Cupid, kindly take note!


28 May 2011

Grand Prix


Today’s post comes to you live from the 69th Monaco Formula One Grand Prix. I will say right from the start that my only qualification to write about Formula One racing is that I’ve been driving the circuit for the past 16 years. Which is to say, no qualifications whatsoever. Everyone in Monaco drives the circuit as the race takes place on the same roads on which we live and commute to work and take the kids to school. 77 laps, 263 kilometers squeezed into the two square miles that constitute the Principality.

It’s easy to take for granted how exceptional that really is. Aside from our roads being always perfectly paved (no Pothole Watch in Monaco!) one is occasionally reminded when driving along the port in say, November. An out of town tourist in the next car revs his motor. You can literally see him (it’s always a him) thinking “How cool am I – driving the Grand Prix circuit!” But usually, few residents give it that much thought, mostly braking and accelerating, wondering how such a little village can have so much congestion.

My relationship with the Grand Prix is a love/hate one, as I suspect it might be for many a resident. My friend Joanna summed it up perfectly in a mere three words: traffic, tourists and tarts.

In fact, it is all that, and as the saying goes, much, much more. Even for those of us who are not fans of the race itself (I claim the excuse that Formula One is not a big part of American culture) one has to admire the energy and excitement that pours into the Principality each and every year.  It is thrilling. The harbor overflows with the most gorgeous yachts in the world. The streets are colored with hundreds of thousands of people, and there are some truly stunningly beautiful women, professional or not. In all, Monaco literally glistens like the Med that surrounds it.

Certainly, residents complain. I know I do, first because I like complaining and truth be told, because the barriers and stands going up a month before, with the inevitable chaos and traffic and difficulty getting around, provide plenty of good reason. The necessary safety measures turn Monaco into something resembling a prison for much of May and June, two of the most beautiful months. On the other hand, it is impossible not to admire the organization that takes a living, working city and transforms it into a track for the most prestigious car race in the world.

Perhaps one of the most interesting facts of the Grand Prix is that were it not already in place (and run practically continuously since 1929) it would never be allowed to establish today. In this day and age where everything is evaluated and safety concerns/fear of litigation take precedence over risk taking and innovation – it is saying something that Monaco can still make the Grand Prix work.

And work it does. The stands, souvenir shops, stadium seating have all been erected. Thousands line the streets. Rooftops and terraces are festooned and caterers have delivered. Restaurants are full. Parties start with bowls of earplugs passed around to guests even before the hors d’oeuvres are offered. The engines roar and we watch the drivers exercise powers of concentration unimaginable to mere mortals. In short the entire village becomes a 4-day (and night) non-stop, incredibly glamorous block party, a marathon of celebration, with people watching like nowhere else on earth. You gotta love it. Happy Grand Prix!

24 May 2011

Bling a Bling Bling



Like most women, I love a bit of bling. Cliché as it may sound, the only thing I love more than a bit of bling is a lot of bling. In fact, really obscene amounts are just fine with me.

Full Disclosure: I am a jeweler’s daughter. My father was president and owner of Raymond C. Yard, an exclusive New York jewelry firm established in 1922 that catered to generations of America’s founding families. When the firm’s founder, Raymond Yard, retired in 1958, he had sold over one million dollars worth of jewelry to three separate families. Trust me, in ‘58 that was a lot of shine. The Herald Tribune wrote at the time Yard’s career could ‘factually be described as fabulous.’

I grew up with all the glamour associated with the business. My father’s first kiss, as a young salesman just starting out, was from none other than Joan Crawford. She was a friend and client of Mr. Yard, who set it up as a cross between a favor and a joke. Whatever it was, it made for a great story and a memorable first for my father.

However, while Yard boasted generations of Rockefellers, Flaglers and many others celebrities as clients, it has never been patronized by one Mr. Newton Leroy Gingrich. (Aside: and Obama’s name is supposed to be a liability?) So for the record, as far as my issue goes with Newt for spending half a million in jewelry – really, it’s only that he spent it at Tiffanys and not at Yard. It’s his money and his business.

But I do have an issue with hypocrisy. If you can run that kind of tab at Tiffany’s, then you can’t turn around and say ‘we don’t do elaborate things… we are very frugal.’ Say I am wealthy and successful; say I can spend my money as I see fit – but own your actions. They are not frugal ones. It’s kind of like Newt going after Clinton for his indiscretions, all the while indulging in a pretty major illicit affair of his own. Smacks of deceit. Not to mention Newt divorcing two wives while they were sick, marrying a third and blaming his less than virtuous behavior ‘on working too hard for America.’ Reminds me a bit of the old ‘lay down and think of England’ line, but as a rationale, uh, it just doesn’t work for Newton Leroy.

Back as a student, I spent a few summers working for my father. One of the first things he taught me was never to mention prior purchases when a husband and wife came in together, as there was no guarantee it had been purchased for the wife. A good jeweler is nothing if not discreet. But I certainly was not surprised to read that Callista Gingrich was the one disclosing that Tiffany account. I’m guessing she must manage that revolving charge pretty closely. Given her husband’s track record, you might almost call it prudence.

Still, there are sufficient other issues with Newt, that I think we can safely let this particular story drop. After all, as this jeweler’s daughter also happens to be a man’s wife, far be it from me to discourage anyone from buying all the bling they want and can afford. It can be an excellent investment, and it’s certainly more wearable than stocks and bonds.

O.K, sweetheart? Knock yourself out!
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