Feb. 2, 1903 - Dec. 31, 2005
Just before midnight tonight, New Year's Eve, I learned that my grandfather had passed away in El Paso, Texas, just shy of his 103rd birthday. He was my last remaining grandparent.
Abuelito (Spanish for 'grandfather') was an amazing man. He was living history. He was born in Chihuahua Mexico. At the age of 15, he was drafted to fight Mexican revolutionary hero Pancho Villa (depending on which day you asked him, he either fought WITH or AGAINST Pancho Villa. But my grandfather had a huge 5-foot tall mural of Pancho Villa in his living room, so I think it's pretty obvious whose side he was on!) He was a swashbuckling caballero, or cowboy, grazing cattle and livestock. I have a great photo on my living room wall of him in a big cowboy hat, pistol at his side, looking every bit the part of a Mexican caballero. He and my grandmother had 9 children total. Eventually the dire family financial situation brought him to America, here he moved from state to state working odd jobs, mostly as a migrant farmer on the west coast including Washington state and southern California until eventually settling in El Paso. My grandmother preceeded him in death in 1975.
In the 1970s, my grandfather, a longtime pipe smoker, had been diagnosed with throat cancer. His voice box was removed so for the remainder of his life, he could only speak in a loud whisper. But other than that, he was in terrific health and remained in control of his faculties until his death. Up until he was 99, he would routinely walk to church every day, or the local McDonalds where he met his senior citizen pals for games and gossip until he was the final remaining member of the group.
Two years ago, the Two Crabs were fortunate enough to attend his 100th birthday party, where my grandfather was still spry enough on his centennial to dance a jig with a live mariachi band! He lived a great life, and never lost his sense of humor. A few days after his birthday party, Two Crabs were taking a day trip across the border to Juarez, Mexico. We asked my grandfather if there was anything he wanted from Juarez. "YES," he said in his loud Spanish whisper (he never learned to speak English.) "If you see a young single widow, please give her my phone number!"
That was my grandfather.
We miss you and love you, Abuelito.
We woke up Wednesday to our first snowfall in London! After several hours of heavy snowfall, all we got was a dusting,which melted about 5 minutes after this photo was taken.
Compared to "Noreaster" fronts from back home, it was a pretty pathetic snow storm. But the Brits are going absolutely NUTS! Ok, imagine the Washingtonian "bread-milk-toilet-paper cliche" at the sight of the first snowflake, and multiply that by 10 times. That's what London was like yesterday morning at the sight of the white stuff. Panic buying. Live 24/7 media coverage on TV. Granted, other parts of the UK did receive significant downfall, but even then it was only an inch or two.
Earlier this fall, UK meterologists predicted a record cold and snowy winter for 2005-2006. So far, it's been rather mild by DC standards. But we still have plenty months of cold, dark London winters to get through. Stay tuned...
The Two Crabs have returned to snowy London after a fantastic, magical, festive, romantic Christmas holiday in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.
This is how I always imagined Christmas season in Europe to be: a grand Christmas tree in the center of an town square, surrounded by gorgeous old buildings in the shadow of a beautiful cathedral, locals and tourists sipping hot chocolate and hot wine, listening to carolers while shopping the market for Christmas trees, ornaments and maybe a unique gift or two.
The only thing missing was snow...which we got one day late! We woke up on December 26, Boxing Day, to a blanket of snow covering the city. It snowed continuously through the day to the point where our return flight to London was delayed while the plane was de-iced.
A few of the highlights of our trip: Prague Castle and its walled colorful city including the picturesque "Golden Lane;" hoisting dark Czech beer and singing along to an acordian player at the noisy, 500-year-old U Flecku beer hall; walking across the tourist-packed Charles Bridge to the west bank of the River Vltava; then aimlessly wandering until we found a delightful non-touristy pub; figuring out our way around the subway and tram system; dining two nights in a row at Giovanni's restaurant, a cute bistro hidden in an alley near our 600-year-old B&B on Franz Kafka Avenue; hoisting more pints in an outdoor bistro under heat lamps in Old Square while watching the sights and sounds of the Christmas Market; attending a Christmas evening symphony concert by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the grand Rodolfini hall.
By UK and US standards, the Czech Republic was DIRT cheap! Our dinner at Giovanni's including a steak meal and 6 beers was $20. A pint of good Czech beer in most pubs is $1. An unlimited 90-minute ticket for use on Prague's subway/tram/bus system is about 75 cents. For $2, you can enjoy a huge foot-long grilled sausage and a glass of hot wine from the Christmas market vendors. Does this sound like a commercial?
--Handmade Santa Clause "Babuska" nesting dolls: $12
--Second-row orchestra seats for Christmas concert by the Czech national symphony: $24 each.
--Christmas in Prague: Priceless
Another day, another stamp in our passport! The Pineapple Princess and Lil Coconut are currently on their first trip to the Czech Republic. GORGEOUS is the only word to describe this town. And compared to Eurozone countries, its also DIRT CHEAP! We're staying in a 600 year old hotel in the middle of the Old Square in the shadow of the Our Lady of Tyne gothic church. Arrived late Thursday on EasyJet...contrary to all the nightmare stories from the TV show Airline, our trip was smooth and uneventful. 90 minutes later we were in Prague. Spent our first day Friday touring Prague Castle and of course the famous Czech beer halls! Photos TK. I will post more photos and blog entryies later but at the moment I cant download the photos and plus Im getting frustrated trzing to type on this strange Czech keyboard with its out of place lettering.
Until then, Merry Christmas ya'll!
I took the train out to Windsor today to cover the gay wedding ceremony of Elton John & his longtime partner David Furnish. Ok technically it was not a "wedding", but a civil partnership, but the new UK law that went into effect today essential gives same-sex couples the same legal rights and responsibilities as straight married couples.
Windsor is a cool-ass town and I shall have to get back here soon to tour the castle and surroundings.
It was quite an atmosphere, with hundreds of fans screaming and cheering the "newlyweds." Most of the people in the crowd seemed to be busloads of Japanese tourists who just happened to stumble upon the event; the ceremony was held at the town hall known as the Guildhall, a 17th century a block away from Windsor Castle, the official residency of Queen Elizabeth II. (insert your own double-entendre queen jokes here).
Elton & John seem very much in love. Kudos to them. Personally, as the brother of two gay siblings, I welcome the new UK law. Now if only the neo-cons in America would get their head out of their arses and join the 21st century.
The following item was published Friday in London's "Independent" newspaper. It appeared in a special section titled: "Nostaligia Ain't What it Used to Be. The Dictionary of a Lost World by Michael Bywater." Posted without comment:
America, The Idea of
"Once upon a time, America was our hope and our enchantment. We yearned for its manly men, its hats, its deserts and its saloon girls; we yearned for its can-do culture, the rough shock of its cities, the smooth suits of its Mob, the sense of infinte possibilities in its violet dusks and blue, blue mornings. We yearned for its beer and jazz, its smoke-filled nightclubs, its Edward Hopper bars, the melancholy of rainy Manhattan Gershwin nights and the ring of its telephones; we yearned for the musicals, the high corn; we yearne dfor the prairie farmhouses and carried in our drizzled souls an inward small-town Main Street to comfort us. We yearned for its big cars and, in our staid northern climes, we yearned not just for its detectives, its soda fountains, its cold beer and sardonic desk clerks, but for its fun.
"Now we yearn for America to be, not itself -- a greedy, domineering, isolated, stomping, hypocritical land of political correctness at home and blatant savagery abroad -- but the self we always believed it to be. And that, more than anything else, is why we are so angry. We have been let down. The America we yearned for has gone. Did it ever exist?"
We've posted some belated photos of the 400th anniversary of Guy Fawkes Night, aka Bonfire Night, (Nov. 5), which easily wins the award for what must be the oddest celebrated holidays in the Western world. Basically the day commemorates the failed terrorist attack by Guy Fawkes, a Catholic rebel who was planning on assasinating King James and his government by attempting to blow up the British Parliament Building in order to restore a Catholic government to power. He very nearly succeeded but was caught on the eve of the attack.
To commemorate the day, Britons across the country host large bonfires, set of fireworks, hold carnivals and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes and other historical figures like the Pope, Tony Blair and George W. Bush.
"We don't need no water, let the mother fucker burn. Burn mother fucker, burn!"
Above: The ice rink and Christmas market in the 600-year-old town square of Brugge, Belgium.
The Two Crabs are spending Christmas in Prague, much to the disappointment of my mum.
Why Prague? It's cheap, it's beautiful, it's a guarantees white Christmas and neither of us has ever been to the Czech Republic...yet another new stamp for the quckly-filling-up passport!
But the thought of not returning to the States has left some hurt feelings with friends and family. The Two Crabs just could not justify the costs with returning home when there is still so much to see right on our European doorstep.
Plus, this might sound crass, and upsetting to some, but I have NEVER felt homesick for the USA. Ever. Sure I miss friends and family, and certain things and conveniences about the USA (lower cost of living, driving, first-run TV shows and movies, SPACE), but I have never felt pangs of sadness or had sudden urges to return "home." I could definately see myself living here for many more years.
Home is where you hang your hat? Home is where your heart is? We say, home is where you pour your pint! Home today is London. Home tomorrow could be Paris, Phuket, Key West, St. John, Sydney, Maui, Mexico. As long as there's a neighborhood pub there, and as long as it's not landlocked, the Two Crabs will always feel at home!
On another topic:
This has been a long week. We had our company Christmas Party on Friday. Unlike the old parties in Virginia, where we would be home by 10pm, our party in Convent Garden (a chi-chi area of London) lasted until 3am! I'm still not quite sure how we got home. We tried to hail a taxi but had no luck because it was one of the busiest nights of the year for cab companies. We ended up taking the night bus home, which was unfortunate because my company had given me a 20-pound budget for post-party transportation expenses. We spent all of 1 pound, 60 pence to ride the bus home.
If you haven't experienced a Christmas season in London, I highly recommend it. Everywhere the streets are decorated with lights and trees. Harrod's department store has a live figure skater who twirls in the window display to entertain passer-bys. Childrens' groups sing Christmas carols at the entrance of Tube stations. Nearly every neighborhood has a temporary outdoor ice rink, serving warm mulled wine and hot chocolate, and Nuetella-filled crepes. Landmarks like The London Eye ferris wheel and St. Paul's cathedral are decked out with boughs of holly. And shopkeepers here still say "Merry Christmas".
As we will be in Prague on Dec 25, we were originally planning on not decorating our flat. But the festive atmosphere got the better of us. We bought a tiny, live (always live) 4-foot tall Christmas tree at the Sainsbury's supermarket for 15 pounds, and decorated it with a dozen silver and red balls that we bought at Chapel Market for all of 1 pound. The most expensive decoration was the lights: a string of 100 lights that costs about $3 at your average American CVS, was 8 pounds here, or nearly $15! Bah Humbug.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!
Pineapple Princess points out some other differences between young Yanks and Brits from her experience teaching at an all-girls school in East London:
--Like, American kids, they like, say "like" a lot. But, really, British kids, really, they say "really" a lot. Really. Or "OK". Example: "So, ok, me and Emma went to the dance. Really. And we sawr this really really fine guy, ok. And, really, he was checking me out. Really. Ok."
--American kids say something is "cool." British kids say it's "wicked" (a throwback to the 80s in America!)
--Calling a British girl or woman a "tart" is EXTREMELY INSULTING. It's the equivelent of calling an American woman a "cunt".
--"Shyte" or "shite" (rhymes with kite) means shit.
--"Snogging" means to make-out.
--If you say "fanny" as in "fanny pack" or as a synonymn for "butt," expect to get lots of raised eyebrows. That's because in England, a fanny is a vagina!
--Incidentally, a "fanny pack" is called a "bum pack" here. And if you wear one, you will immediately be labeled as an ugly American tourist.
--If somebody asks you for some "Tipex", they don't want Tampax, (the two words sound very similar in a Brit accent). Tipex is a brand-name for White-Out.
--If you ask for a pair of "pants", you will be handed a pair of underwear! Pants in the UK are called "trousers." But jeans are jeans.
--A "jumper" is a sweater.
--A "dummy" is a baby pacifier
--"Hoover", used as both a noun and verb, means vacuum. Example: "I'm going to get the hoover so you can hoover up the room."
--There are no newspaper machines ("honor boxes") in London. That's because all newspapers are sold by real-life humans, either at "Newsagents", which are convenience stores like 7-11 were you can buy newspapers, magazines, snacks, tube and bus tickets and even top-up your electricity meter; or from actual newspaper hawkers on the streets.