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July 2007

Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig...

Spiderpig I know, I know, I still haven't posted our Euro camping trip report.  I've been busy doing, uhh, not much of anything.   The Two Crabs and friend "A" made a rate trip to the movies Sunday to see "The Simpsons" at the Screen on the Green -- a beautiful old-fashioned, one-screen theater in north London.  I haven't laughed that much or that loud at the movies in ages.  I give the film four fingers and one "doodle" up!  And for the past 24 hours, I have had a song from the film STUCK in my head.  I immediately went online and downloaded the lyrics, video clip and song. Of course, now I can't stop singing it.  The lyrics:

Does whatever a spider-pig does
Can he swing from a web?
No he cant
He's a pig
Look out,
He is the spider-pig!

And here's a clip from the film. Warning, the video is a spoiler as it contains actual footage from The Simpsons Movie!

Greetings from Luxembourg!

The Two Crabs are back home in London after a week-long camping trip through BeNeLux (Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg), Cologne Germany and the Champagne region of France. Full report TK...after we get back from the Islington Screen on the Green to watch "The Simpsons" movie!!

Sex, Becks and Grease

Img_8519So this morning, I wake up, look out the front window and find this lovely vision of Islington starring back at me.

Yup, we have a new porn shop. Directly. Across. The Street. "A world of adult pleasure."

I had noticed a lot of construction at this shop lately, but until today it had been covered up by scaffolding so I had no idea what it was to become. It used to be a video store. Technically, it still is a video store, but they also sell whips, dildos, vibrators and assorted leather goods.  We have not had the pleasure of ENTERING this establishment yet; I only know the contents because I peeked in the open front door today on my way to -- no kidding -- the library.

So summer has FINALLY arrived in London. It was 75 and sunny today.  Compared to last year, we have had a VERY wet, rainy, chilly spring and summer.  Last year, we were baking in 90 degree heat and a nationwide drought.  It was nice to be able to walk outside today in T-shirts and enjoy ice cream in the park this evening.

Tomorrow is Mrs. Crab's last day of school for the year. Woo hoo!  We're leaving Saturday morning for a week-long camping trip through Continental Europe. Our plan is to take the train to Dover, then ferry across the English Channel to Calais, France, and rent a car. From there, we'll be making a small circuit, hitting Belgium, southern Holland, western Germany, Luxembourg then back up through northeast France. Full report and photos TK!

(Note: In newspaper & printing lingo, TK means "to come."  I don't know why it's not TC)

Img_6150Last week, Mrs. Crab's drama students performed "Grease."  For several weeks, Mrs. Crab has been absolutely obsessed with her role as "Props Mistress." I swear she must have hit half the antique shops in London looking for odd bits like a 1950s WORKING rotary-dial telephone and fuzzy dice, and making several props herself including pom-poms out of Sainsbury's grocery store plastic bags, a letterman sweater and hair curlers. She even finagled her sister into mailing her a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes for a touch of authenticity (never mind that you couldn't see the package from the audience!)  But compared to the last high school plays, Grease was a big hit. It sold out three nights straight. And because Mrs. Crab works for an all-girls school, all the parts including Danny and the T-Birds were played by girls!  Here's a few shots from the big week:



So the other big news in England today was the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, and the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, admitting that they smoked pot in college.  Smith is the equivalent of the U.S. Secretary of State; Darling's is equivalent to the U.S. Treasury Secretary.  So why is this news? Because yesterday their boss,  the new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, announced that his administration will toughen laws on marijuana use.  Several years ago, former Prime Minister Tony Blair decriminalized marijuana. It's still technically illegal today, but police usually don't bother somebody for carrying a small amount of pot for personal consumption. It's not uncommon to see people openly smoking joints in London, especially at festivals or outside pubs. Brown's new administration is considering reversing that decision and possibly reclassifying marijuana as a hard drug like crystal meth. As if the government doesn't have more important things to worry Russia.

POSH WATCH:  Today's Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham photo of the day from Los Angeles.  Victoria and her alien-like pouty face continues to scare small children during soccer practice :


Posh WHO?

1wcoverbeckhamap_468x623 Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham and David Beckham are moving to America today. My question for you, dear reader, is: Does anybody give a rat's arse?

The Becks, as they are known in the British press, are household names around the world.  Not a day goes by that the British tabloids aren't running a photo of the pouty-faced, fake-boobed, rail-thin Posh or her famous football star husband.

The Becks are moving to Los Angeles because David Beckham has accepted a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy, after a sucessful career at Manchester United and, most recently, Real Madrid. He plays for the England national team. Although a bit older and slower now, he is still the Pele of his generation.  Posh is considered a fashion icon, with her own line of clothing and perfume.  The Becks are recognized everywhere on the planet...except the United States of America.

Apart from her brief stint in the Spice Girls, most Americans have no idea who Victoria Beckham is, let alone care about her move to America.  Even fewer Americans follow soccer (football) which, despite its growing popularity, is still considered a little girl's sport there.  Soccer never has, and never will be, as popular as American football, baseball or basketball.  The Beckhams are trying to change all that, by launching a massive publicity campaign in the American media with everybody from Matt Lauer to W magazine.

I can't imagine that Posh will care for LA, or vice-versa.  She's too, well, posh, for the relaxed and laid-back L.A. attitude and lifestyle.  David might do better, as he's seen as an average T-shirt and jeans kind of guy (albeit an average guy with $250 million contract). She loves publicity and the limelight, which she might get from the European paparazzi in Los Angeles. But will the American media or public care to follow her every move like they do in London?  Doubtful.

The Absent-Minded Expat

I've always prided myself in having a pretty good memory. I'm especially good at remembering useless trivia on subjects like history, geography, movies, and especially geeky topics like Star Wars and Star Trek.  I also have something of a photographic memory when it comes to places, directions, maps, and where things are placed.  Whereas Mrs. Crab would misplace her head if it wasn't attached to her neck, I rarely lose things. I don't think I've ever lost or forgotten my keys or wallet.  I've never had a problem finding things...Until recently.

Lately I seem to be misplacing everything.  A few months ago, I left a very expensive pair of hat and gloves on the bus.  A few weeks later, I lost Mrs. Crab's favorite umbrella on the Tube.  Just this weekend, I left a pricey razor in the hotel bathroom in Melun, France.  I can't seem to find my glasses when they are on my head. I left my umbrella at the grocery store. And on that same trip on Monday, I also left by debit card there in the self-checkout cash register. 

This was the lost item that really freaked me out.  I didn't realize my debit card was missing until Tuesday night, when I opened my wallet to pay for pints at our local pub.  I spent the next few hours losing sleep, wracking my brain to recall where I last used the card.  On a whim, I went back to Sainsbury's customer service desk to ask if any missing cards had turned up.  The woman acted as if she had heard the same question about 10 times a day. In fact, she had.  She opened a drawer beneath her register and pulled out a giant STACK of about 50 debit and credit cards. "I'm glad to see I'm not the only idiot," I told the woman. "It happens ALL the time," she said with a smile as she rummaged through the cards. Indeed, my card was in the pile, in an envelope ready to be mailed back to my bank.  I had to present my passport to prove it was my card, but all was well.

The whole incident still has me freaking out. Do I have early-onset Alzheimer's? Or am I just an absent-minded idiot? I'm going to go with the latter!  It's easier to deal with, but unfortunately not a very good excuse for my failing memory of late

Although I've always had a pretty decent memory, I've never been good at recognizing or remembering names and faces. I'm a complete blank. Everyone looks exactly the same to me.  I'm a complete blank with faces, not a good thing when you're a journalist.  Occasionally, somebody will come up to me on the street and say "Oh, hello Mr. Crab!" and launch into a conversation, while I'm standing there smiling, listening, and thinking to myself, "Who the HELL is this person!?!?"  When I'm with Mrs. Crab, it's a bit easier because I can flash her a silent, inquisitive look as if to say, "Throw me a bone -- who is this and how do we know him/her?," at which point she'll insert a clue or two into the next sentence.

Turns out there is actually a medical condition for this problem with the really original name of "Faceblindness." The scientific name is prosopagnosia. I think I may have a less severe version of this memory impairment. So now I have a scientific excuse for not remembering you! 

Mrs. Crab chalks up my forgetfullness to stress. I think I'm just a moron. But if it is stress, I've found a new outlet.

Last month, I joined a gym.  It's nothing fancy; just a local community gym about a mile from our flat. It has a large indoor swimming pool, sauna, and very nice gym with new equipment. The locker room could use some help and it's packed with bratty kids during the lunch hours but it's otherwise decent, and relatively cheap.  It's the first time in nearly two years that I'm going to the gym regularly again. I've been putting it off ever since my 2006 ski accident that broke my right collarbone. Ever since then, my right shoulder has felt weaker than my left, and sometimes aches and feels sore after a bit of heavy lifting.  Met with the fitness instructor yesterday, who wrote up a training regimen that will hopefully get my collarbone back in shape. 

However, the gym is making me feel even more sore. I wake up the next morning feeling like I was hit by a double-decker bus. My drill sergeant used to say that, "Pain is weakness leaving your body!"  But since I've started my gym routine, I've noticed that I'm sleeping a lot better now and feeling, yes, less stressed.  But so far, exercise is not improving my memory!


Paris, the last word

After I blogged about my latest Paris experience, this story moved on the wires yesterday:

Arrogant' Paris on tourist charm offensive

Mon Jul  9,  1:57 PM ET

Img_8353 (AFP)  Paris launched a charm offensive Monday aimed at foreign visitors after a survey showed that while the French capital was the most visited city in the world it was also one of the rudest.

Mayor Bertrand Delanoe launched the campaign at the Eiffle Tower, hoping to win the hearts and minds of tourists and not just their hard-earned cash.

Leaflets were handed out proclaiming a "charter for the Parisian and for the visitor" in French and English, whereby the French were asked to be more friendly and visitors were asked to "respect the city."

Parisians should "take the time to give information to visitors" and "make use of foreign language skills to reply to them in their language," it said.

Tourists were meanwhile asked to "experience the Parisian lifestyle," "take advantage of (their) stay to try French products" and "respect the city and use public transport."

The campaign was launched after a Global Market Institute study ranked the French capital as the world's most visited city, ahead of London and Rome.

When it came to hospitality, however, Paris only made 52nd place on a list of 60 cities.

Despite that ranking, 97 percent of tourists intend to return to the city, according to a survey carried out by the Paris Tourism Office of 2,837 users of its website.

Tourism Office chief Paul Roll said the charm campaign aimed to "demolish the stereotype of the arrogant Parisian and to show capital residents how important an activity tourism is for them."

According to the agency, 20 percent of people working in Paris are directly or indirectly dependant on the tourism industry.

In 2006, 16.3 million visitors, including 9.7 foreigners, stayed in Paris hotels. By 2020 the number of foreign tourists to the city is expected to climb to 20 million annually, according to Tourism Office figures.

Paris, revisited

Img_8416   I'm back home in London after covering the Eva Longoria-Tony Parker wedding!  A fun time was had by all, except for me. I am dead-tired, wiped out, KNACKERED.

I ended up waiting 7 hours outside the Church of Saint Germain l'Auxerrois with about 1,000 other paparazzi and curious tourists. I ended up with a PRIMO spot, and knew if I left I would never get it back. So for 7 hours I held my bladder and ate only a day-old baguette for lunch. Next time I'll pack a picnic and wear Depends!    Anyway it all worked out well. I saw Eva Longoria, Nicolette Sheridan, Felicity Huffman and her hubby William H. Macy, Sheryl Crow, Jessica Alba and my personal favorite, Mario Lopez of "Saved by the Bell!" 

If you asked me last week about my favourite city in the world, I would have said Paris.  Yeah it's a cliche answer but I've always felt at home in the City of Lights. But after this most recent trip, I may reconsider that verdict.  We've lived in Europe long enough that we're starting to see the underbellies of cities here. I've been to Paris about a dozen times over the years, usually to visit my sister who, sadly, has now moved away back to the good old U.S. of A. And on each of those visits, we usually do the usual touristy things and see the touristy sights, along with some hidden gems that my sister introduced to the Two Crabs.

Compared to London, Paris is absolutely beautiful. The city looks cleaner (except for the dog crap everywhere). The architecture is old and classic. Despite the stereotypes, Parisians are quite friendly and eager to please foreigners. They take pride in their appearance, unlike the many slobs in London who are beginning to adopt the fashion sense of Kevin Federline and Britney Spears.

Img_8417 But on this particular trip, I was working. So without my blinders, I was exposed to some seedier, negative signs of Paris.  Like the piss. 

Yup, I'm talking urine.  I have never seen so many men so quick to drop their fly and piss anywhere, anyplace, anytime.  In Melun, I saw a guy take a leak in a corner outside the main entrance to the train station, right in front of women and children.  While changing trains in Gare du Lyon, I found an empty spot on the platform and set my briefcase on the floor. My expensive Kenneth Cole black leather briefcase I use as my laptop carrier.  When the train arrived, I gathered my gear and suddenly felt a sticky substance on the shoulder strap and bottom. It was all over my fingers too. I sniffed my fingers. I sniffed the strap. NO FRACKING WAY.  Yes, it was piss. Human urine. Somebody had taken a piss right there on the platform. Somebody's urine is now all over my hands and luggage. As soon as I got to Gare du Nord, I ran to the toilets and scrubbed my hands until they were raw and chapped, and thoroughly washed my briefcase. When I got home, I washed everything again and took a long long shower.

Then there's the homeless. Oh sure, we've got homeless in London just like in any big city. But they are nowhere near as aggressive or visible as in Paris.  At Gare du Lyon, I literally had to step over a sleeping guy who was lying sprawled out at the top step of a staircase to the Metro.  Most people were going out of their way to avoid him and taking long detours to another staircase. I just stepped over his legs. He didn't even flinch. For all I know, he was dead. Two policemen passed me on the staircase, walked past the guy and kept going. They didn't even check to see if this guy was alive, or wake him and tell him to move on. You see these homeless everywhere, even at the major tourist sights like the Louvre and Eiffel Tower Metro stops.  On the banks of the River Seine, there are entire homeless campsites.  Near my sister's house, there used to be a camp of homeless tents directly in front of the Asian art museum around the corner from the Eiffel Tower. It was there for two years before the city finally did something about it.

And if it's not the homeless, it's the gypsies. I know it's politically-incorrect to use that term now. But for a lack of a better word, Paris is FULL of gypsies. They, usually women and children, accost tourists and locals alike, begging for money, sticking their hands in your face and demanding money.  Around the Eiffel Tower they are particularly adept pickpockets. You just don't see that crap in London. And if you do, the police are usually all over them in a heartbeat and deporting them faster than you can say "illegal immigrant." 

There is one stereotype of the French that, sadly, I would say is true. It's one of personal hygiene.  On my way back from Paris to Melun yesterday, I was stuck on the most crowded train I've ever been on in my life. I imagine this is what it's like to take a train in India, but without people on the roof.  I was squished in the train so tight that I could not even raise my arm to hold the bar. Everyone around me clearly had no concept of soap or deodorant. For about 30 minutes I had to breath through my mouth to avoid burning my nostrils from the noxious fumes. 

The more I visit Paris, the more I love London! 

Paris, London redux


Mrs. Crab narrowly missed being involved in a train wreck today. As she does every morning, Mrs. Crab took the Central line Tube to the East London school where she works.  About 15 minutes after she got to her destination, the train behind her DERAILED.  About three dozen people were injured, none seriously. But the gym at Mrs. Crab's school was used as a triage center for the injured. Talk about a close call.

731566990_73f4b8a599 Mr. Crab, meanwhile, is in Melun, France, a small suburb 30 miles southeast of Paris where he is covering the Eva Longoria-Tony Parker wedding. Woo hoo.  Tough gig but somebody had to do it.  The wedding reception is being held at the nearby Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte (above) in Maincy, France. Is this gorgeous, or what?

This chateau was built in 1656-1661 by Nicolas Fouquet, who served as finance Minister to King Louis XIV. When the king showed up to the castle's housewarming party in August 1661, he was so jealous of the mansion and the extravagant party that he had Fouquet arrested on trumped-up charges.  Not to be outdone, Louis XIV immediately ordered the construction of the much larger Palace of Versailles. 

And the rockets' red glare...


Happy Independence Day from the mother country of merry ol' England!

The Two Crabs are proudly flying the flag from our London flat.  So far, nobody has thrown eggs at our window!

London is still reeling from last weekend's attempted terrorist attacks. The story is dominating the news media with silly headlines like "The Docs of War". 

I've had a few friends and family members e-mail me about the situation here in London, including a few tourists who are contemplating postponing their trips to England.

One word: DON'T!

Don't give in to terrorism. Don't succumb to fear and media hype.

If anything, now is the PERFECT time to visit the UK. The police and security forces are extra-vigilant. There are machine-gun toting police patrolling all the major tourist sights, airports and rail stations -- something you don't see very often around here. Security everywhere is extremely tight.  Yesterday I was down on Oxford Circus and Picadilly Circus, the heart of London's shopping and West End theatre district. I was happy to see that streets were still packed with tourists and locals alike.

On Sunday, I covered the Concert for Diana. More than 63,000 people turned out to Wembley Stadium for the show. I interviewed a few Brit families with children who said they were completely unphased by the attempted attacks. One woman said she was not going to let "THEM" stop her and her family from enjoying a day out together. Brits have always been resolute in the face of adversity.

So come to England; come and spend your hard-earned dollars! (Incidentally, the Pound reached a 26-year high against the Dollar today: £1 = $2.01). And don't forget to bring your "brolly" (BritSpeak for "umbrella"). It's been raining EVERY DAY for the past two weeks straight.  Ugh...

And by the way: Is it just me, or were these "doctors" the DUMBEST terrorists in the world?  These idiots (heretoforth known as "Dumb & Dumber") are 0 for 3.  They made three car bomb attempts, and failed all three times.  The last idiot in Glasgow tried to set himself on fire, and he couldn't even do that right!  Plus these rat-bastards left their tracks all over the cell phones that they used as potential detonators; they called the phones several times to set off the bombs. But the bombs failed to explode, so police were easily able to find the bombers identity by checking the caller ID on the phones. A 12-year-old, tech-savvy kid with a pocket full of bottle rockets could have concocted a better plot.  Don't get me wrong. I'm very glad these attacks failed and nobody was hurt. But damn, these guys were just plain DUMB!!  Good riddance!


Happy Fourth of July!

PS: I'm going to sunny and dry Paris tomorrow for a few days for work. It's a tough assignment but somebody has to do it!